Target’s “Off Target” Social Media

With mine and Jim’s previous posts about Wal-Mart’s missteps in social media, I couldn’t resist the temptation to share a little about Target, who has recently been caught as it is learning its lesson on transparency and disclosure. Target is

To get a feel for what happened, you may want to read this article by Jackie Crosby over at the Star Tribune which gives a pretty good encapsulation of what happened. Basically, to put it in a nutshell, Target reached out to a group called “The Rounders” ( a group of students who receive discounts and products from Target to share with friends and to provide feedback) to promote its Facebook page.

This in and of itself is a valid effort – reaching out to advocates and promoting other social media efforts is always a smart move in my opinion (after all – that’s how Jim gets Facebook friends…). However, Target decided to tamper with the lines of transparency within social media and specifically encourage these Rounders not to disclose their affiliation with the program.

In fact, according to the Star Tribune article, the newsletter sent to this group stated the following:

“Your Mission: Try not to let on in the Facebook group that you are a Rounder,”

“We love your enthusiasm for the Rounders, and I know it can be hard not to want to sing it from the mountaintops [and in the shower, and on the bus]. However, we want to get other members of the Facebook group excited about Target, too! And we don’t want the Rounders program to steal the show from the real star here: Target and Target’s rockin’ Facebook group. So keep it like a secret!”

From this messaging, Rounder Rosie Siman (who I now want to hire by the way), posted her personal concerns of this request on Facebook – a concern regarding the ethics of asking paid/compensated advocates to specifically hide this information in a fan-related forum.

From there, after Siman’s posts were mysteriously archived/deleted, Target was forced to play a typical corporate crisis communication plan of action – including displacing blame to other affiliated parties and vendors, making vague corporate statements, and making it seem like they had no idea of how something like this happened. Target’s response was as follows:

“An e-mail from a company employee, identifying herself only as Laura, told Siman that her concerns “were completely founded” and that the newsletter urging Rounder members to stay anonymous “was not endorsed by Target.”

“Clearly it was a mistake from this vendor, and that’s why they did the follow-up,” said Target spokeswoman Amy VonWalter. Target’s intent, VonWalter said, was not to ask Rounder members to hide their affiliation, but to discourage them from dominating the Facebook site and making it feel like an exclusive, members-only club.

Now – I’m not sure either if Target wrote this newsletter or it’s vendor – or the exact details to how something like this happened- but it blows my mind how 1) a company like Target can claim that something clearly branded to their advocates is “not endorsed” by their company (in my world if you farm something out you are ultimately responsible for it) and 2) how whoever was responsible didn’t think that “it’s our little secret” sounds outright sketchy and unethical and 3) how large companies like Target and Wal-Mart haven’t hired a dedicated social media agency.

That’s all I’ve got to say. If anybody has answers to this please let me know!

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1 Comment
  • sidtech
    Posted at 12:23h, 29 June

    Great article Liza! Can serve as a road map for a hotel willing to join the social media bandwagon!

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