Social Media Marketing and Transparency: The i’m Talkathon and Parker Whittle

Today is day 21 of the Microsoft i’m talkathon. The i’m talkathon is a 30 day social media marketing campaign, starring Parker Whittle, designed to raise awareness about the i’m initiative: “a Microsoft program that gives to a social cause every time you use Windows Live Messenger or Windows Live Hotmail.” (straight from the i’m talkathon page). What basically happens is that you sign up for the i’m initiative, and use a logo next to your screen name and a signature on the end of all of your emails from your Hotmail account and Microsoft gives money to the organization of your choice (out of the 10 they sponsor). You can also add badges to your social network profiles, etc. Here is a great video outlining how to use it:

On day 1 I saw an ad on Pandora about the i’m talkathon.

i'm initiative on Pandora

I was of course intrigued because most advertisers on Pandora are really plugged into social media, and I usually visit their sites. When I went to the page I read this:

i'm initiative Homepage

I thought, “that’s a pretty great idea”. I obviously knew that it was Microsoft sponsored, but I still thought it was a great idea. One problem: there is a (alb-eight funny) disclaimer at the bottom of the page that doesn’t only say that it is Microsoft affiliated, but that Parker Whittle is an actor.

i'm talkathon disclaimer

There are two sides to how people can (and very vocally do) feel about this:

1. Who cares? More people now know about the i’m initiative and that’s great!

I have to admit, I did revisit my Hotmail account and sign up. I also downloaded the newest Microsoft Messenger to my desktop and signed up. So it worked, right? That’s really the whole point is to brand Microsoft as caring, and to get people to actually use the services.

2. He’s a FAKE and I feel gipped!

A lot of people commented on the blog posts their disappointment that Parker was fake. I also found some other places that people were having this conversation too. Here is a great conversation from both sides:

MySpace Forum Talk about Parker Whittle

I totally see both sides. Here is a summary of my thoughts as I’ve had 21 days to consider this social media campaign.

  • The i’m initiative is pretty cool. I love when companies donate money without asking the consumer to give anything for it. Both services are free, and it is pretty simple to sign up for the initiative.
  • It’s only appropriate that they do a social media campaign to promote this initiative. And they used great social media outlets. On the homepage of the i’m talkathon, they link to a Flickr account, a Facebook fan page, a Twitter user, a MySpace account, a YouTube channel, and a LinkedIn account. All of these are great outlets for what they are doing- except the LinkedIn profile. (LinkedIn is a professional network, not a network that you would use for a 30 day campaign.)
  • The actor playing Parker Whittle is memorable and the other actors are pretty funny. Their videos are cute and I see their attempt at just getting people to watch without pushing the initiative the entire time.
  • I LOVE LOVE LOVE their interviews with the people from the organizations. They make the site feel more real and they highlight what the initiative is supposed to anyways: the charities.
  • I commend Microsoft for leaving commenting on the blog unregulated. That is a scary thing to do, but it is so important.
  • You can’t really talk to Parker. There is no commenting back, etc. In fact, for trying to “get a bunch of people talking for 30 days” in an effort to see how much Microsoft will shell out, he’s not really talking a whole lot himself. At first, his blog posts were sparse and his tweet updates were almost non-existent. I wish that Microsoft would have recruited real people to post comments, real pictures to Flickr, substance-filled tweets, etc. Since day 1 that has improved, and now his blog has much more substance, but if that was all you were doing for 30 days we all know there would be ALOT more there. (At first glance I couldn’t even find his screen name and I wrote him a Tweet and never got a response.)

    Tweet Message to Da_P_Whit

Parker Whittle Not Online

  • His Flickr page is pretty lame. His tweets, not so good. And some of the videos are just korny.

So the question remains, is this attempt at transparency successful? Or to become more effective would it require authenticity of Parker being a real person? While this campaign shows great examples of social media, over the past 21 days, other people have felt resistance towards this technique. If Microsoft had chosen to use a real person or a group of real people instead of an actor and staged videos, would they have achieved a better response? I am glad, however, that I now know about the i’m initiative. 🙂

p.s. I’d love to hear your views on the i’m Talkathon and Parker Whittle! Leave me a comment!

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