Unlike some of my past examples of social media crises, this disaster is unfolding right now. To my amazement, it’s happening to one of the brands that, just three months ago, I honored as a SoMe Superstar. Let’s see how the mighty have fallen.
- 102,000 Facebook likes
- 14,000 followers on Twitter
- 571,000 views on YouTube
Through its encouragement via social media, the Italy-based maker of journals and notebooks had built a loyal fan base of writers and artists, eager to share their work and their love of the brand. This combination of brand affinity and design skills seemed to make a perfect environment for a design contest. So on October 10, 2011, Moleskine announced a competition for a new logo. The winner would receive 5,000 euro (about $7,000), but Moleskine would retain the rights to all the entries, allowing it to choose a different logo in the future.
While many brands find success with similar contests, such as Doritos asking for fans to create Super Bowl commercials, Moleskine didn’t seem to realize that spec work is a contentious issue in the design community, even more so in this difficult economy. And this competition was definitely spec work, since thousands of designers who didn’t win would be working for free and giving up their copyrights. Moleskine was essentially asking its fans to do their regular 9-to-5 work, for free. Even worse, the contest “devalue[d] the role of the designer and the client-designer relationship,” said ad agency New Kind in a post titled Betrayed by the Brand. “When a company runs a contest like this, it sends a message that a brand is little more than a logo…that can be designed by anyone regardless of their level of knowledge of you and your brand.”
The backlash was immediate and fierce. Comments on Moleskine’s Facebook wall included “This is unethical,” “Shame on you, Moleskine,” and “I will never buy another Moleskine product again.” On Friday, Moleskine made matters worse by issuing a clarification, without apologizing, that basically said, “Other companies are doing this. If you don’t like it, don’t enter.” As you can imagine, the fans became outraged, to the point that Moleskine began deleting angry comments from the wall. The following Monday, Moleskine posted another response, which began, “Let’s start by apologizing for being so late with our reply” – though fans weren’t complaining about punctuality. The post went on to say “It has never been our purpose to exploit any of the authors” and “we made a mistake.” But Moleskine’s only action was to change a single contest rule, saying it would retain the copyright of just the winner, instead of all the entries. The competition would go on, without apology.
The competition’s deadline is November 10, and Moleskine seems to have no intention of canceling its inexpensive crowdsourcing strategy and hiring a professional designer. As one commenter put it, “I don’t see how someone would actually desire to win this ‘contest’ now. You would certainly not be well-received in the design community.” The backlash continues on Twitter and the Moleskine official site.
How can you avoid Moleskine’s week of disastrous social media PR?
– Know Your Audience
Moleskine knew it had a following of artists but it didn’t seem to know that community’s harsh feelings towards crowdsourcing and spec work. While this attitude wouldn’t necessarily come up in a customer survey, Moleskine has multiple channels where it could have tested the waters. One tweet like “How would you feel about a logo design contest?” could have shown the notebook company that its fan base was against the idea, avoiding this social media disaster with one click.
– Fix The Problem
The company’s responses have been consistently unsatisfying. For five days, Moleskine did nothing. Then it offered a brusque statement that showed no compromise or remorse. Instead of engaging the commenters, it never mentioned the matter on Twitter and began deleting critical comments on Facebook. Finally, it posted a semi-apology and changed one contest rule, never addressing the issue of the contest itself. That latest post has 71 comments, but Moleskine itself hasn’t entered the conversation.
– Friends Can Become Foes
Hell hath no fury like a fan scorned. Moleskine had built a passionate audience…but that passion is now aimed against the brand. Just because people love you doesn’t mean that they’ll love everything you do. Moleskine fans feel truly betrayed. The latest posts on Facebook talk seriously about a boycott, with commenters promoting notebooks from Moleskine competitors Piccadilly and Canson. Still, Moleskine remains silent.
Can Moleskine win back its fans? If the contest goes on, how will the fans treat the winner? How did a company with so many active social media channels fail at all of them at once? The fallout from this social media PR disaster should be very interesting.
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