Why Skittles Killed Its Web Site by David Berkowitz , Tuesday, March 3, 2009
When I was six years old, I wrote my first letter to a company when a box of Rice Krispies didn't contain a pack of Rain-Blo bubble gum as advertised (I received a letter back, with two packs of gum). Many more letters followed over the years, from when I discovered the Magnetic Doodle Balls game had only 91 balls instead of the promised "over 100," to when, at age 16, I noticed a version of Broderbund's Print Shop software only represented African Americans as jazz musicians and tribal warriors. It's a hobby I still revive on occasion, while sometimes adapting it to new communication channels -- as with my recent PowerPoint photo essay on a horrible Las Vegas hotel experience. >
Today, when contacting a company, the first place I'd likely turn is its Web site. I'm saying that tentatively, as Skittles makes me wonder if corporate Web sites will be around much longer. The company's new site seems to herald the fact that the corporate site is nearing its expiration date.
Go to Skittles.com, which relaunched yesterday, and you'll see very little branded content. All that's branded is a small box the size of an average widget hovering over the top-left of the page. The background, which takes up most of the screen, is a live feed from Twitter Search showing results for the term "Skittles." Tweet a link to this column and mention the word Skittles, and you'll soon see that link appear on Skittles.com (let me know too; I'm @dberkowitz ).
Here's the message Skittles is sending: What consumers say about the brand is more important than what the brand has to say to consumers.
Skittles.com isn't exactly a top destination online. Compete, Quantcast and Google Trends respectively report the most recent month's Skittles.com unique visitors as 18,000, 15,000, and too few to track. To paraphrase Kris Kristofferson, Skittles.com's just another word for nothin' left to lose.
By just about any rational indication, Skittles went too far. Highlighting Twitter Search in particular seems absurd, especially since Twitter tends to skew older relative to other social media properties, and Skittles seems to target a younger audience. I came home and showed Skittles.com to my wife. Her first reaction, before I even told her why I was showing it to her, was, "That's it?" Then she added, "What happens if you don't care about Twitter or don't know about Twitter? It seems like it's only for people who are really technical. I just wouldn't care."
But why would anyone care about what Skittles has to say? What, pray tell, could Skittles ever say that was so important, unless we woke up one day to find out that eating Skittles is the world's tastiest cancer cure, or alternatively that Skittles lower men's sperm count. Then, perhaps, the world will listen.
Consider the alternative. On Facebook, Skittles has nearly 600,000 fans. In other words, Skittles has over 30 times the number of fans on Facebook than it has monthly visitors to its site by the most generous estimate. It's little wonder that one of the six tabs on Skittles.com links to its Facebook Page, in the same way as it does for Twitter Search with the official mini-site as an overlay. The Media tab links to Flickr and YouTube and unearths some interesting brand research; a good number of the photos on Flickr seem to be of pets named Skittles. Maybe Skittles.com should add another tab linking to pet social networks Dogster and Catster.
There are risks to what Skittles is doing, the biggest of which is a brand hijack. When I checked earlier yesterday, someone wrote, "Skittles suck! Skittles suck! Skittles suck! #skittles". When I checked later, it devolved further, with several posts including "Skittles" and the word "gay" written repeatedly, along with "Skittles" paired with a derogatory term for African Americans. Other posts were nonsensical or irrelevant, such as when an Ohio man named Nathan wrote, "Funny. Skittles was the name of the twinkie that was hitting on me Saturday night (because I was in the kilt)."
Most brands don't need to scrap their sites. Brands are allowed to control their own spot on the Web and offer something of value to their visitors best as they can. If they do highlight their social media presence, it should fit as part of a more coherent strategy. Otherwise, they'll have to face people like my wife, who will wonder what else there is and why they should care.
Praise Skittles for making a statement, though. Through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Wikipedia, it can reach far more people than it can through Skittles.com. Skittles still needs Skittles.com, if for nothing else than controlling its own domain and posting some nutritional facts and contact information for the handful of people who need it. Yet its social media strategy is a mess. While Skittles.com is dominated by Twitter Search, twitter.com/skittles has one follower, three updates, and is run by Sara -- who appears to be a cat.
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