Taste the social media rainbow

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One of the conversations we've had most often at SAS around our participation in social media channels involves the control of our brand, or more accurately the realization that every company has come to in the last few years: We no longer control our brand. Our message is determined as much or more by what people are saying about us than what we're saying about ourselves. That's pretty much an accepted Social Media 101 principle these days.

Skittles, the candy company, has taken it to the furthest extreme. As of now, if you go to www.skittles.com, their homepage is a Twitter search feed for "skittles." A pop-up box gives you further options, including Friends, which takes you to Skittles' Facebook fan page. The Media link gives you the choice for Video, which takes you to YouTube, and Pics, which takes you to Flickr.

By doing this, Skittles has turned their brand over to the public more than any company I can think of. Is it a good idea? There's lots of debate about that on Twitter, with opinions ranging, as they inevitably do, from "brilliant" to "idiotic." But by the nature of the change they've made, the conversation is essentially taking place on Skittles' homepage. And, most important of all, it's taking place. When was the last time you thought about Skittles? What else could have gotten me to blog about Skittles?

Of course, the discussion will die down, and generating a lively debate in social media channels isn't going to sell more candy. But this decision makes a lot of sense for a consumer product like Skittles. I never looked at their website before today, but I imagine they had a hard time keeping it interesting. How much is there to say about fruit candy other than contests and maybe a new flavor every now and then? Skittles has made the medium the message, and by adopting social media channels as their primary means of communication, they have a lot more chance of getting people talking about them. Naturally, some people can't resist the urge to spam the channel with anti-Skittles childishness, but they'll get tired of that eventually. In other words, I don't think they had a lot to lose, and a tremendous amount to gain.

What's the lesson for an enterprise technology company like SAS? Well, it's not "replace the homepage with a Twitter search." SAS solutions come in a lot of flavors and sas.com does a great job of conveying information to customers and potential customers that couldn't be accomplished through social media alone.

But what about the people who would never think to come to our homepage? There are lots of people in business, in academia, in government who use SAS software every day but don't think to come find out what's new. Plus, SAS software plays a behind-the-scenes role in nearly everybody's life. Those are the messages we can convey in social media, to audiences who don't know yet how much they want to know about us.

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