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Careful, Murphy-Goode, Social Media Just Might Spit Wine in Your Face

July 11, 2009

Murphy-Goode did a not-so-goode job of managing their recent social media campaign for the Wine Country Lifestyle Correspondent.

That’s what I thought as I was putting my video together and observing the campaign, but I kept it to myself.

I read the fine print–the fine print on the site that said the Top 50 would be selected by an HR firm. The fine print didn’t say anything about the Top 50 being selected by the voters or that popularity had anything to do with it.

Knowing this, I still encouraged my friends and family to vote for me–as well as my network of friends and their friends and friends of friends at the college where I teach, through twitter and through facebook. And I didn’t make public my musings about what the upshot would be if a popular candidate wasn’t chosen.

Today’s SF Chronicle however, is not keeping quiet–and neither is top vote getter Martin Sargent. They published a story today about Sargent who used his social media savvy to attain many thousand more votes than anyone else. According to their story, Sargent got 6,000 votes.

Which surprised me because watching his video he didn’t impress me. But it wasn’t about the video–it was getting his network to vote for him.

“Yeah, we screwed up,” said Caroline Shaw, senior vice president at Jackson Family Enterprises and a winery spokeswoman.

His network came out for him. I remember seeing that he had over 6,000 votes when other top 10 vote getters like one of my favorites Hardy Wallace had under 2,000. I happened to be on-line at midnight 24 hours before they were to announce the Top 50. I was checking the number of votes people had when all of a sudden, the site changed and I saw the Top 50. I tweeted the results, facebooked and emailed a few of the Top 50 I knew or had gotten to know as well as congratulating VinTank’s Paul Mabray that 7 of the 8 candidates he was advising had made the cut.

Not that I’m an expert, but I’d already been done this “Dream Job” road as a candidate for the Island Caretaker on the Great Barrier Reef job and I’d seen how social media can bite the hand that feeds it.

I saw how Island Caretaker candidate Claire somehow ended up with many thousands of votes –and heard many say how easy it is to hack a vote counting system.

I watched first hand the uproar about Julia, the Top 50 candidate dubbed the “Porn Queen” who was dropped from the campaign. I’m still getting hits on my blog post about that!

I saw how supportive, how ugly, and how bizarre a ning can get over a competition.

And I also experienced the backlash when not only I wasn’t chosen but that the choices were skewed in a way that I and my supporters didn’t approve–and many other candidates complained about as well.  As much as they’re fans of the great barrier reef, my loyal friends were not too loyal anymore to the brand I’d been pushing. I know at least one candidate who decided to go to New Zealand instead of AUS when she didn’t make the Top 50.

With the Murphy-Goode job, some of my friends wondered why I was so gung-ho on what they dubbed a “goode” but not a great wine, w winery part pf a huge “family” of wineries, and a greenwashed winery at that. Wasn’t there a better winery for me to work for they asked?

A winery that’s part of a company that’s issuing lay-offs, including one to the guy who came up with the idea in the first place?

Here are some excerpts from the original SF Gate article:

Murphy-Goode, part of Jess Jackson’s Jackson Family Wines empire, devised a dream job – $60,000 and lodging over six months for one savvy social media wizard to make the Healdsburg winery the talk of the Internet.

Nearly 2,000 eager applicants emerged, and some 900 videos were posted online, a key part of the application process. Many took to their Facebook and MySpace pages, gushing about the chance to live the “Goode life” and pleading with fans to vote for them in a running tally of popularity on the winery’s Web site.

But when the winery unveiled its top 50 finalists in late June, top vote-getter Martin Sargent of San Francisco, a former TechTV host and Internet celebrity of sorts, was not on the list. The winery has removed the tallies, but Sargent’s reported 6,000 votes put him well ahead of the pack. His video application had received 34,090 YouTube views as of Thursday.

Of course, the winery had portrayed the “Goode Job” campaign as an extended job search, complete with interviews. But voting on its Web site complicated that picture, especially as social media thrives on popularity rankings. The purpose of the votes wasn’t explicitly stated, but candidates quickly lobbied their networks for a boost.

Digital marketing strategist Paul Mabray of VinTank in Napa, who is advising several finalists, said the winery fell short by trying to embrace social media without fully understanding its rules.

But it couldn’t have predicted the backlash that would ensue. Sargent posted word of his rejection to his many Twitter followers, news that quickly made it to Digg.com, the news-ranking site, then to the Twitter feed of Digg founder Kevin Rose. The same day, Rose wrote that Murphy-Goode “just screwed @martinsargent (even though he won most votes),” a missive that went to Rose’s more than 900,000 followers. The item shot to the top of Digg’s rankings, fueling tempers.

“You can’t ask the community to help you vet candidates and then just disregard what they said,” Rose said.

Aside from a podcast in which he called it “a real slap in the face,” Sargent has been gracious, publicly congratulating other applicants. But he does see irony in the results. He says he was told by a winery executive that he was “overqualified.”

The winery soon realized that what Shaw calls “the Martin Sargent snafu” was not going away. On June 28, it posted a lengthy Facebook reply, saying votes were less important than being a “deft, multi-faceted social media communicator,” arguing that the choices had been weighted to give “equal shots” to last-minute entrants and those “who may not have quite as intense a personal PR machine as others.”

By that point, seemingly nothing could stop the flood of irate tweets. “You’re on my list Murphy-Goode,” tech author Leo Laporte wrote to his 132,000 followers.

If this dust-up was the most visible ruffle in Murphy-Goode’s plans, some industry insiders were already grumbling about the timing of the “Goode Job” offer, which came in the wake of significant Jackson Family Wines layoffs in January. The company, which is private, does not disclose employee numbers. But additional layoffs came in June. Among those dismissed: Jim Kopp, a senior marketing director who had been instrumental in creating “Goode Job.”

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2009 5:16 pm

    There’s really no way to insure that a social media (or any advertising) campaign won’t turn on you and bite you in the ass. The key is to be nimble and try to turn it around as soon as you can.

    Perhaps Murphy-Goode could have offered the top vote getter some sort of consolation prize, e.g., a free case of wine or have him write a blog post for them.

    But the worst thing anyone can do is ignore it. Bad publicity spreads fast and all the good you may have done up until then can be wiped away.

  2. July 11, 2009 5:52 pm

    Thank you, Larry, for reading my blog and commenting!

    You also pointed out something I should make more clear in this post: that the Island Job allowed for the top vote getter to be in the Top 10 and get flown to Hamilton Island to “compete” for the job.

    A case of wine would have been a very easy way to thank the top vote getter as well and generated much goodwill! In fact, everyone who had x number of votes whould have re’d a bottle of wine –but there may be laws against that. Maybe a tshirt or something saying: I am a Murphy-Goode loser

  3. July 11, 2009 6:35 pm

    You’re right, there is a law against giving away wine free, but something could be done. I like the Murphy-Goode loser T-shirt idea!

    This whole episode shows that there’s really no magic bullet in social media or any other kind of promotion or advertising. Just learn from mistakes you and others make and keep going.

  4. July 11, 2009 6:54 pm

    The trick is learning fast! I’m actually working on a post that ties into this, and the nature of viral marketing and being able to capitalize it…I may get it up today or else tomorrow. Please come back to check it out!

  5. July 11, 2009 7:31 pm

    It’s fairly typical though of companies that don’t have a presence in the social media. All they see is the vast numbers of ‘clicks’ available and believe they can control the means of exposure.

  6. July 11, 2009 8:00 pm

    Controlling the means of exposure is exactly the opposite of what social media is all about. And I’ve seen exactly that. In time people will figure it out. I don’t think everyone has to jump in right away. It can be harmful to your brand too if you don’t quite know what you’re doing and don’t feel comfortable with it.

  7. July 13, 2009 8:35 pm

    I think part of the problem is the timing factor and the old school vs new school.

    Think about it. MG gives the list out on Friday (before the office closes down for the weekend–old school). Martin Sargent posts his wee tweet and diggs it later on Friday, when all his fans etc. have nothing else to do but surf the net and fire each other up (new school–constantly plugged in).

    The top ten, on the other hand, were announced during the daytime, mid week. They are learning. Can’t perdict how this will all pan out, though.

    But honestly, did anyone think this would go off without a “scandal”? Geesh. And come to think of it, a winery who places liar’s dice (gambling 8O *shock*) on their morning programme… it actually kind of “fits” to have such a ruckkus…

  8. July 13, 2009 8:47 pm

    It’s easy to look back and see evidence of how this wasn’t going to work smoothly, but I don’t think anyone can foresee all the pitfalls and problems that can ensue after a promo is launched.

    I have a feeling this isn’t the last of the campaigns that go awry in some shape or form. Everyone is learning how to use social media to best advantage, and just as old-school advertising can be expensive and a complete waste of money, so can social media promotions and ideas backfire.

    This is all so new and so many people weigh in on what should be done and what shouldn’t be done, that it’s going to be very difficult for very many to navigate. Over time, that will change. And I don’t think MG or anyone else will suffer truly lasting damage.

  9. July 14, 2009 11:53 pm

    One of the old saws of marketing is that any publicity is good publicity. The initial contest certainly did it’s job of getting Murphy-Goode’s name into play. Coverage on blogs, websites, in the press and magazines was substantial and pretty nicely targeted with many mentions on sites, and in sections or publications that the wine interested view. Backlash to the ultimate selection process has been substantial too and much of that has occured exactly where you don’t want it, in the social networks where people go for their wine recommendations.

    On balance, though, I think that even with the selection snafu, the publicity is and will be good for M-G. The M-G brand is, after all, a supermarket brand who’s age demographic I’d guess trends older than most in the friendosphere . If M-G’s plan was to lower that age range, well, a negative tweet to 900k in the core young, tech savvy demo, well, ouch! Well publicized abject apologies and face saving compensation of some kind offset a lot of that. On the other hand, if the promotion it was simply to garner media hits, to get their name more widely known, and to expect that to impact sales positively, then I think that they win. (I’d be claiming that if I was the bonehead who decided to leave the top vote getters out of the final cut or preliminary final cut, or whatever it was. And I’d be praying for good depletion numbers).

    For wine marketers at other outfits, this is definately a win, because they get see the need to think through the ramifications and potential for problems inherent to social media campaigns.

  10. forexltd permalink
    July 16, 2009 1:47 pm

    Mass media is not about controlling the means of exposure . Later people will understand that. I don’t think everyone has to jump in right away. It can be bad for you too if you don’t quite know what you’re doing and don’t feel okwith it.

  11. August 11, 2009 11:27 am

    One way that PR firms and wineries could answer the challenges with entering social media is to hire more people like Hardy and Rick Bakras. I.e., hire bloggers to head up their on-line media work!

  12. August 11, 2009 4:00 pm

    Unless wineries are fully on board with the concept of social media (not always a given) it is unlikely they will find room in their budgets for another full-time person. It makes more sense to show wineries how social media can play a part in their marketing strategies. Social media is a tool rather than an end in itself.

    A few big and bold wineries such as Murphy Goode and St. Supery can take a chance on Hardy Wallace and Rick Bakras, but not everyone can or even should do this. And just as there are good, bad, and indifferent bloggers, there are good, bad, and indifferent managers who can both create the good marketing strategies and recognize the good bloggers who may be able to assist them.

    The best way to achieve the goal of hiring bloggers to head up wineries’ online media work (and it’s a good goal) is to work with them to develop a strategy and find the best fit in order to succeed with that strategy.

    @larrythewineguy

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