The Smartwool Experiment: A Story About the Corporate Response to Social Media

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Smartwool ExperimentLet’s talk about socks. These often over-looked parts of your ensemble are a 3.3 Billion dollar per year industry. And you probably take them for granted. Smartwool has been earning accolades for their socks, especially for active outdoor use, since 1995, and their marketing campaigns have been augmented by word of mouth support for their products by passionate consumers. One of these consumers, Beck Tench, has been telling people about Smartwool socks and promoting them ever since her own co-worker whispered the secret of Smartwool socks to her years ago.

Certain expectations are set when you pay $18 for a pair of socks, and Beck started to question her devotion to Smartwool when she discovered that her socks were developing holes after less than a year of wear. Thus was born The Smartwool Experiment, in which Beck documents her own product testing of the socks. Besides being interesting and fun, this blog is a great example of a conversation taking place about a company and product outside the normal networks and without any company-affiliated talking points. Beck appears to be a genuine fan of Smartwool who is concerned about the durability of the product she loves, and she’s sharing those concerns with the rest of the world. She even wrote and sang a song about her socks!

While it carries a rather small audience, the blog ranks number one on Google for the search term “how long do smartwools last”. This makes it relevant to Smartwool, whether they like it or not, because consumers are getting information about their products directly from this blog instead of Smartwool.

The responses to the blog from Smartwool and others provide valuable lessons on how companies should handle social media marketing:

  1. You need to be monitoring your brand.
    • Had Beck not reached out to Smartwool herself to engage them in the conversation, would Smartwool have found the blog? Does someone there listen to what is being said about their company, their competitors and their industry?
  2. Although it can be difficult and harmful to engage in every conversation about your brand, you have to make an effort to get involved in the conversations that ask you to do so and that have a large reach.
    • Smartwool appeared to be starting off on the right foot by first issuing a short response from customer relations. Then, they said they would follow up with a more in-depth response from a Smartwool sock designer. Smartwool seemed to be exhibiting a great understanding of social media by promising to bring someone extremely relevant into the conversation.
  3. You need to be transparent and do what you say.
    • Unfortunately, the supposed “sock designer’s” response read very much like a Public Relations letter complete with Trademark symbols instead of engaging with a genuine concern for the quality of the product, and it put the blame for the worn out socks on the customer.
    • Thus, in the next blog post, Beck described her increased disillusionment about the company and their products, opening up a chance for competitors to take her business.
  4. A little bit of sincere attention in the social media sphere can go a long way.
    • Sure enough, in the experimental nature of the blog, Darn Tough, a Smartwool competitor, sent Beck a sample of their socks to try out. Darn Tough followed each of these previous rules. They monitored the social conversations and discovered Beck’s blog. They respectfully engaged in the conversation by e-mailing Beck first to see if they could send her a pair of their socks to try and to add to the experiment. And, they followed through with a package of four pairs of socks.

Is your company monitoring your brand and joining the relevant conversations? Are you being transparent and going the extra mile when it’s called for?

If you’ve discovered a fan page/blog about either a business or product, let us know about it in the comments. How has the business responded?


Social Media Monitoring says:

June 30, 2009 at 12:11 am

Dialogix is another great social media monitoring tool – while it is a paid form of monitoring, it tracks sentiment about specific brands or entire industries, across every social media platform, giving companies the opportunity to find those actively spreading positive or negative sentiment about their brand.

joerodgers says:

November 8, 2009 at 4:13 pm

I loved Smartwool comfort, too, but soon began to notice that the “rugged” outdoor socks kept developing holes within a very few weeks of wearing: and I have none of the faults/excuses for wearing out which they publicize. I wrote them asking that they improve their product and asking if they’d live up to their online “commitment” and replace a few defective pairs ifI sent them ( the “committment” —misspelled , incidentally says to just send such defective products to “the address below” —but no address appears) –That was a month ago and they’ve never even answered. I’ve also written my reaction to the product on a couple of trade-oriented websites . like “Wildernet” , which feature “rave reviews” , and somehow these never seem to appear online after being “monitored for content.” All in all , thisi situation is best characterized, I think ( Paerdon the pun, but it’s better to laugh than to cry) as a “rip (Get it?)-off” .
I will now try Darn tough—Thanks for the lead.

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