This post is the the first in a two-part series looking closely at
how corporate brands can begin engaging with consumers through other
peoples blogs. The second post is going to be published on Wednesday 6
August, so make sure you drop back in to catch that.

  1. NAB spamming: maybe its time to take dance lessons
  2. The rules of engagement for marketers in the blogosphere

The path to social media nirvana is long, winding and fraught with
perils, especially if youre the kind of business most people wouldnt
bend over backwards to befriend.The NAB (National Australia Bank)
found this out the hard way recently. But the problem wasnt that NAB
wanted to get all warm and fuzzy on blogs in the first place.

Like
all types of social interaction, there is a certain etiquette to
getting involved, a complex dance to learn between those interacting.
And in the case of interacting on blogs, the NAB example shows that it
pays to spend some time mastering the steps before you hit the ballroom
and tread on peoples toes.

In this post Ill introduce the NAB
example and discuss some of the issues raised by the banks actions. In
the follow-up post next Wednesday, Ill expand on some of the ideas
around social interaction and offer up some simple steps that brands
should consider before they decide to ask their customer for the next
dance in the social media ballroom.

What happened?

Crikey were the first to break the story in an article by Dr. Stephen Downes on June 16:

Last
week, the National Australia Bank spammed the comments sections of
private blogs in an attempt to secure free promotion for the launch of
its new SMS banking service. NAB is standing behind this decision.

With a new SMS banking service to promote, the banks PR agency Cox+Inall
(part of the BWM group) advised the corporate to seed a promotional
offer relating to the commercial message in the comments area of
selected blogs about the AFL. The message read as follows:

Hi
guys, NAB is giving away free tickets to the Collingwood v Carlton game
on Saturday afternoon @ the MCG. Hop on down to Fed Square tomorrow…
this is all to launch the new NAB SMS Banking! Thank you

Of
course, what followed was a backlash from the bloggers targeted and
from the blogosphere as a whole, and the way the story unfolded is a
great case study of how not to get involved in social media, and of the importance of playing by the rules of engagement in these spaces.

The bloggers bite back

I
simply ask this: could I walk into a branch of the National Australia
Bank and openly promote my business to those in attendance? I’d
encourage EVERY Australian blogger who has an account to the National
to close it.

Prominent blogger and old media gadfly Duncan Riley
had no qualms about encouraging bloggers to boycott the bank after its
rather heavy-handed PR strategy. And he wasnt the only blogger that
took offence to the NABs approach.

Local self-proclaimed SEO guru Jim Stewart of StewArt Media
decided to follow up on comments made by Cox+Inall that they had no
regrets about their initial strategy. Before you watch Jims interview
below, its worth reading the argument put forward by NABs media
relations spokesperson, Felicity Glennie-Holmes (thanks to Crikey again for
the text):

Blogs are a public forum, said Ms
Glennie-Holmes. NAB and Cox+Inall felt this meant commercial interests
could feel free to contribute unsolicited and irrelevant commercial
material as comments, placing the onus on blog moderators to reject or
delete unwanted comments.

We identified
five or six blogs where we felt wed give it a try, explained Ms
Glennie-Holmes. We chose blogs where we thought the moderators would
review and decide whether or not to carry our message…it was up to the
blogger to decide whether they would leave the comment there or delete
it.

The fact that the message posted to
the blogs was very openly promotional and not deceptive also
justified the banks conduct, Ms Glennie-Holmes said.

Now have a watch of Jims interview with NAB – you can find the video below.

If you want to read Jims post around his video, check out the links at
the bottom of this article. What emerges from watching Jims video is
that Cox+Inall and NAB have a very different understanding of the rules
of engagement in the blogosphere to incumbent bloggers. Its a case of
a gap in understanding leading to unsuccessful communications. But more
seriously, its about a brand misunderstanding the way to approach
their customers.

And while Jim Stewart pursued an interview with
NAB, for Julian Cole, the solution wasnt to boycott the banks
financial services or talk to the bank. He took Duncan Rileys advice,
and decided to see how NAB felt about being on the receiving end of a
similarly unsolicited commercial message.

So, NAB thinks its cool spamming bloggers. Well, well go see whether its cool spamming their banks.

Have a quick watch of Julian Coles Nab Spamming video below. It
shows how ridiculous the situation would be if we approached our
offline interactions in the same way as NAB approached their online
spamming interactions.

If youre waiting in line for the bank
teller, you dont expect to be accosted by somebody selling you a
product or a service, however nicely they address you 🙂 Simply
mimicking the language of real conversation – Hi guys – doesnt
substitute for understanding the communicative needs and wants of your
target audience.

Sure, a bank is a public environment. But when
we visit the bank, we assume that they will make sure that that
environment is free from other commercial messages from third parties.
In effect, the bank are responsible for moderating their own
environment, much as many bloggers are ultimately responsible for
moderating their own environment.

But imagine if every time you
went to the bank, NAB employees were having to deal with
entrepreneurial salespeople hawking their own products in the branch?
Imagine the time and money the bank would have to expend keeping the
branches free from this outside spam, and then consider the potential
impact of this on the banks ability to deliver the services and
products to their customers.

If you knew that the bank was always
going to be crowded, noisy, spam-infested and underresourced, would you
still go into the branch, or would you consider accessing the financial
services some other way?

Now imagine if every time you bought a
copy of the Australian Financial Review, entrepreneurial financial
services agencies had spent time placing flyers in newsagent copies of
the paper. You want to read the content you have decided to invest time
(and therefore money) in accessing, but every time you turn to a new
page, you have to wade through unsolicited spam. Wouldnt this start to
change your enjoyment of the AFR?

What if every time you visited
your favourite blog, and you wanted to engage in stimulating debate
around a topic you cared about, you had to scroll through acres of
promotional spam, unsolicited communications just to have your say.
Wouldn’t you consider going somewhere else to engage in conversation?

Moderation
takes time and energy, but it is important because ultimately a
spam-free environment is a better experience for the user. If brands
like NAB want to endear themselves to customers (and which brands dont
want to do this), they need to think outside of simple promotional
messages, and they need to understand how people want to be engaged in
different environments.

Its ultimately about the rules of
engagement in these environments, and in the follow up to this post
next Wednesday (6 July)
Ill be discussing the question of rules of
engagement. If youve got something interesting to say on this matter,
please dont hesitate to get in touch. Email me on scott.drummond@niche.com.au and we can have a chat about it.