Vine: Best Buy’s Big Earned Media Bet On Black Friday

Today’s family-and-food fest will end early for thousands of retail workers: stores like Walmart, Kohl’s, and Macy’s plan special Thanksgiving Day hours for shoppers eager to cut down on family togetherness and get a head start on Black Friday deals. But one retailer’s mission to capture what’s arguably the most tedious part of holiday shopping appears to be a PR disaster waiting to happen.

Best Buy’s #VineInLine campaign urges its customers to take seven-second videos of themselves waiting in line for the big-box retailer to open and offer them their big deals on electronics. The goal must be to get its audience to engage with the brand and with other shoppers, to trade stories about deals, and to attract more customers to what could become a nationwide social media event.

That social media event, however, could turn ugly pretty quickly: coupled with the power of real-time sharing, the fact that the big-box retailer doesn’t have any real control over Vine’s platform means that millions of social media users could post just about anything—good, bad or ugly—with that hashtag. What could possibly go wrong?

The risks of audience participation

We’ve seen social media campaigns spin out of control, despite a brand’s best efforts. With McDonald’s #McDStories on Twitter last year, the fast-food giant learned that once they invited users to engage, they had to take what they got. Because Twitter is an earned media platform, brands must rely on their audiences to steer the conversation—and that means relinquishing control over a brand’s image.

Best Buy is gambling on the desire of Vine users to use the #VineInLine hashtag favorably and responsibly—but there’s no guarantee that will happen. In fact, given the increasing chaos of combativeness of Black Friday shopping, there are bound to be videos showing rude, annoying, bored, and otherwise disgruntled customers. Not the best way to engage new audience members.

Waiting for good deals?

And then there’s the concept itself. What could possibly be more boring than standing in line? Despite—maybe because—the videos are only seven seconds long, how can Vine users post anything that will be inviting or fun?

Here’s a taste of what the general public is used to seeing when it comes to Black Friday lines:

Hundreds of people bundled up in winter gear and blankets, flanked by police cars and their flashing lights, waiting to score an extra ten percent off a video game console. Is this what a brand wants to show its customers? Is standing in the cold in the middle of the night now Best Buy’s official kickoff to the holiday season?

Black Friday has been an American tradition for years now, and not even the encroachment of retail sales is likely to stifle our love of early Christmas shopping deals. But brands eager to take advantage of social media must weigh their need to get in front of new customers with their desire to maintain standards. No matter how good a brand’s deals are, a bad campaign can spell disaster all holiday season long.

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