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Dell’s aborted social share and earn scheme: Clever or controversial?

11th Apr 2012
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Dell's social media 'share and earn' recommendation scheme, announced last week, was short-lived. examines why it terminated its program.

Last week, the marketing media began circling reports of a new and innovative campaign from Dell to reward customers for social media recommendations.
According to The Drum, Dell had announced the launch of its ‘share and earn’ social media campaign – offering cash rewards to customers that promote its products via social networking sites.
It was reported that customers could participate via a ‘share and earn’ button which the company would distribute to its 200,000 email newsletter subscribers, offering £5 to those whose recommendation resulted in a purchase worth £70 or more. More than 355 social networks were apparently compatible with the strategy, including Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.
The campaign, implemented by UK digital marketing agency DigitalAnimal, was the first in which Dell had embraced the concept of brand ‘micro affiliates’ with performance tracked by TradeDoubler, according to the report.
To illustrate the campaign, comparisons were drawn to social measurement site PeerIndex's PeerPerks scheme, which allows brands to offer free products to “social influencers” in return for promotion.
Mission aborted
But in an apparent quick u-turn in strategy, Dell subsequently posted a statement at the header of The Drum article, stating that the campaign had been terminated.
“Since Dell began our social media efforts in 2006, transparency has been key. Paying customers to share positive stories about Dell products violates our social media policy.
“This announcement was distributed without our knowledge. It is based on a five-day affiliate test program that ran last week in the UK and has since been terminated. DigitalAnimal has been directed to remove all external communication immediately.” contacted DigitalAnimal but no further information regarding Dell's 'share and earn' campaign was given.
So, why did Dell “terminate” the campaign; and, if it violates the company’s social media policy, why did it initiate a campaign based on cash to begin with?
Expert opinion
Dell historically has a strong relationship between its sales strategy and social media. In 2009, the company reported that it had earned a total of $6.5m in revenue directly through Twitter by posting coupons and highlighting new products on the micro blogging site. Additionally, the firm generated revenue from people who clicked from Twitter to @DellOutlet to and made purchases.
But was the approach taken by the aborted campaign just too brazen for users of social media?
Marc Blinder, director of European Operations at Adobe’s Social Media Strategy Team, believes that the promotion would have left customers with a sour taste.
“My concern is that this campaign lacks the subtlety you'd expect from good marketing. I think customers will feel uncomfortable doing something transparently selfish in front of their friends and I don't think it's a good association for the brand. If it becomes widely known, that Dell pays for shares, it could make some fans much less likely to share in order to preserve their personal reputation.”
Steve Richards, MD of social media agency Yomego says the concern would have been that the scheme could have quickly been overrun with spam.
“The issue here is that Dell is offering straight cash – basically a straight affiliate programme – and surely catnip to spammers, given the low returns (in hundredths of percentages of pence) for normal spam.
“The customer response may be hard to gauge. It’s hard to see people recommending anything they wouldn’t genuinely rate on the basis that one day someone might give them a fiver for it. But similarly, friends might begin to recommend when they know a contact is in the market for a new laptop, say. However, people can see through insincerity and unless the products are genuinely great and recommended, it’s unlikely to sway an undecided buyer and might lead to unfriending the unscrupulous.
“We might even see people creating false accounts to recommend themselves a computer that they would have bought anyway – so there’s potential for fraud as well as spam. If spam and fraud become a big problem then Dell could stand to lose in brand reputation, but it’s an interesting experiment. It’s far too early to say how successful this will be, but I will certainly be watching with great interest.”

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