Boycotts, Blackouts and Brands: The Tale of SOPA and What It Means to Marketers and PR Pros
By Jeff MacGurn, Vice President, Earned Media Services, Covario, Inc.
There were no leaders, no headquarters and no official organizations coordinating the anti-SOPA effort, and yet, somehow, a grass roots movement was able to strike a number of very coordinated blows against the legislation knows at the “Stop Online Piracy Act” or SOPA.
It seems that everyone has been covering the politics and the players in SOPA ad nauseam, but what hasn’t been discussed is just how SOPA has changed the way marketers and brand managers should think about social media in their jobs. It is rare that marketers and brand managers would pay so much heed to social media movements, and certainly it’s never been very common to allow those movements to affect brand and marketing strategies.
Social groundswells have traditionally been more political in nature and brands have stood silently on the sidelines. Then along came SOPA, in more ways than one.
We are all abundantly familiar with the blackout, but what many of us either didn’t hear about or forgot about completely was the misstep of GoDaddy early in the SOPA debate. You see, GoDaddy was an early supporter of SOPA and declared so publically, but that wasn’t the issue. On Dec. 22, 2011 on the social media site, Reddit, GoDaddy was identified as a SOPA supporter and the suggestion was made to have a “move your domain away from GoDaddy day because of their SOPA support” on Dec. 29.
Then came GoDaddy’s response to ArsTechnica on the issue. “Go Daddy has received some emails that appear to stem from the boycott prompt, but we have not seen any impact to our business.”
It was this response that illustrated one of the biggest mistakes a brand, marketing executive or PR practitioner could make. That is not understanding the social sentiment of an issue related to your brand and product set.
Had GoDaddy done its research, the company would have seen the tens of thousands of people on social media sites who not only agreed with the boycott, but were downright upset with GoDaddy’s stance on the SOPA issue. Even more, the company would have seen the sharks circling in the water, because as GoDaddy failed to understand the sentiment of their users and target users, its competitors began to circle and attack.
Within no time Name Cheap (name.com) and HostGator began offering discounts for GoDaddy users upset with SOPA to move their domains. So by simply paying attention to social sentiment relating to the market issues, GoDaddy competitors were able to obtain thousands of new clients, wide-reaching brand exposure, and the association of their brands positively with a popular online movement for what amounted to very little cost.
But if you are a marketer in an industry that was affected by SOPA, your chance to have an impact on the legislation and get favorable exposure related to the SOPA debate wasn’t over.
In December, social media users called for a blackout of websites in protest of SOPA and shortly after, Wikipedia announced that it would participate. And that brings us to that fateful Wednesday, Jan. 18, when some of our favorite websites were blacked out.
Although some of those websites stood to lose lots of money for blacking out, our estimates at Covario put Craigslist’s potential losses at more than $800,000. Those brands had what they believed was a positive impact on major legislation. They were mentioned ad nauseam in the news media for that entire week and even now. Those companies developed thousands of links to their websites to assist their SEO efforts. Plus, they enjoyed significant positive sentiment from social media sites around the Web.
If you are a brand manager in an involved industry, you may have missed out on a great opportunity to not only do what you may have thought to be good policy, but also supported and gained support from a significant demographic.
So what exactly should marketers be doing? For starters:
- Monitor related social media communities.
- Follow the popular issues, memes, and sentiment of those social communities so that when something new comes along, you are ready to respond or ever proactively participate.
- Follow your competitors and understand where they’re participating online.
- And when you do participate, make sure you optimize your participation in order to generate the maximum benefit for your brand.