Tuesday, January 6

Saving Sony: Social Media?

In June 2008, Sony presented several initiatives designed to build on its previous three-year revitalization plan. Six months later, reaching even some of these goals seems further way than ever.

• Expand PC, Blu-ray-related products and component/semiconductor businesses while joining the LCD TVs, digital imaging, and mobile phone markets; which all seems contrary to rumors that Sony will abolish "several major divisions."
• Ensure 90 percent of its electronics product categories are network-enabled and wireless-capable by the fiscal year ending March 2011, which seems to be born out of necessity over innovation.
• Roll out video services across key Sony products by 2010-11, which started with the launch of the PlayStation Network despite some obvious trouble.
• Double annual revenue from BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries by 2010-11, which is another goal that seems dampened by Microsoft.

Since, Sony cut 16,000 permanent and temporary jobs worldwide, simultaneously expecting profits to be down 50 percent compared to last year. And even while Sony announced it did not plan to introduce additional restructuring measures, the writing keeps popping up on the digital wall.

Can Social Media Help Save Sony?

In an effort to directly connect and converse the public (and perhaps regain control over its apparently errant communication), Sony Electronics is placing its faith in social media. Today, it launched a new social site — housing the company's blog, videos, photos, polls, and consumer profiles. The rushed launch coincides with the Consumer Electronics Show.

"The Sony blog has enabled us to speak frankly and directly with our customer base and the public at large, not only in the U.S. but around the world," said blog host Rick Clancy, senior vice president of corporate communications, Sony Electronics Inc., before the site was truly live. "Now we're looking to make the blog the cornerstone of a more interactive community site that provides people with the opportunity to talk to us and to each other about their opinions, experiences and observations with respect to Sony, our products, the industry and even our competitors."

But does it really? While it looks great, there is just something missing from a pre-launch post written by "Sony Admin," who purchased DSC-W130 in pink to tame his precocious daughter. Transparency, which probably isn't needed at Sony as much as authenticity, is only believable when it comes from a person with a real name.

Sure, sure, Sony is still in beta. But it really is difficult to relate to an ambiguous "Admin" handle who shares personal stories. "Admin" posts are better left to generic content whereas, if the author really is Clancy, he might as well use his real name. After that, he can get his company to pitch in on products so he doesn't have to "buy" them for those future cameo posts.

Much sharper than the blog is the community hub section. Backstage 101 is dedicated to helping people learn how to use products; The Digital Darkroom is a photo gallery site to share photos with others; Frontline is an online research community where you can provide feedback to Sony through online surveys, panels, polls and focus groups; and Voice your Opinion promises to allow consumers to do exactly that about Sony products.

Yes, the categories are a bit awkward, but I expect they'll shift quite a bit while the site remains in beta. Eventually, I imagine that the company's classifications will be replaced by the way consumers think, which will place product sections — eg. I have a camera — front and center. Frontline and Voice Your Opinion can be consolidated to make room for such a move.

In addition to its on-site efforts, Sony is also promoting itself with several other social media accounts, including: a push PR Twitter account, Facebook page, Flickr account, and YouTube.

The Flickr and YouTube accounts appear to be the most promising of the bunch. They deliver the best of what you might expect from Sony whereas the Twitter account reinforces that the company behind this social media move has never been known for being upfront in its communication. That fact alone might even make a few mistakes along the way forgivable.

Sony Social Promises To Mix Slick And Silly

Mistakes? Yep. Expect them. For instance, in an effort to initiate engagement, Sony is asking for help in naming the new community site and encouraging consumers to submit their ideas. According to Clancy, his favorite name so far is "Sony No Baloney." Um, right.

If authenticity is going to be part of any social media arrangement, you cannot force it. Most would agree that this blog has a better chance of being renamed "The Sausage House" than Sony would picking "Sony No Baloney" for the banner of its new social media effort. Then again, it's the silly stuff like this that makes Sony our first living case study of 2009.

While there is plenty of potential, it's also painfully apparent Sony intends to struggle through social media all in beta. And considering we had the new release in hand several hours before "Sony Admin" had a "Sony's New Community Site Goes Live" post up, we anticipate some oddness now and again in the year ahead. Let's just hope in what seems to be a sincere effort to adopt some of the so-called "new rules of social media" that Sony doesn't break its own brand in the process.


Rich on 1/7/09, 6:41 AM said...

More words:

According to the Times of London, which most media has followed, Koya Tabata, a Credit Suisse analyst, recently warned investors that the restructuring of Sony is perilously overdue and must be radical. — Times of London

Magnus on 7/11/09, 11:43 AM said...

Found your post when looking for some context information about the Sony Bravia launch (different story, but also related to social media). Found the "new" Sony-site through this and must say I really agree with what you write - insightful.

It is actually a bit akward to visit the site. I am writing a master thesis on Social Media now and cases studies are an important part of this thesis. The first case i looked at was My Starbucks Idea. When comparing these two concepts I see one big difference: the scope of the initiative. Sony seem to try everything at the same time: blog(S), reviews, communities and so on. Starbucks stuck to one idea and got the organization behind the initiative. Personally I think this is a big difference.

Rich on 7/12/09, 7:59 AM said...

Hey Magnus,

You've reminded me that I'm overdo on a follow up.

One of the biggest challenges for most companies, Sony included, is they try to do too much too soon. It's almost as if they cannot help themselves. In most cases, the best programs launch in phases.

Part of the problem, I think, is that companies like Sony think of social media in terms of campaigns — which requires you to suddenly pop up all over. Social media doesn't really work like a campaign.

Feel free to drop me a note some time; I'd love to learn more about and keep on your thesis.

All my best,

Magnus said...

Agree, it seems to be that Sony is taking quite a giant leap from a fake blog to a really comprehensive site. Having said this, I have not studied Sony in detail yet, so I should be careful being too dogmatic.

I agree that seeing social media as a campaign is not always the right perspective. However, I guess you can do good campaigns where social media is a part of the marketing mix as well. Think for example of the launch of Sony Bravia which was a huge campaign where traditional offline tools where used effectively in combination with feeding bloggers with information to spread the word. But I guess if you have social media as a part of your strategy, then your possibilities for succeeding with campaings are a lot bigger since you then know more about how the game is played - and , as you say, you do not need to pop all over all of a sudden.

I see you work professionally with this. Maybe I can send you the main takeaways or something from the cases I write later and you can give me a comment or two. Your gain from this would be to get summaries of comprehensive research on social media campaigns.

Tonight I am looking at the Wispa Case. Both this and the Starbucks case is interesting since they concern consumer feedback in product development - though in quite different ways.




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