business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

If you had any doubts about social networking becoming mainstream and reaching beyond cool products and a hip, young audience, look no further than the laundry detergent aisle.

We’re talking about Wisk, the stodgy stain remover I remember my mother using in the 1970s while the annoying “Ring Around the Collar” jingle blared from the TV console. This week the brand is formally introducing Wisk-It, a Facebook application that promises to help eliminate embarrassing, objectionable or unwanted photos and “clean up your image.” The app essentially allows you to find and identify photos of yourself on a friend’s Facebook page and then ask that they be deleted through Wisk-It.

For many, this is not a vanity play, but rather a way to “wash away” (as Wisk puts it) any unflattering images (i.e. the limbo contest at your high school reunion) that a current or potential employer may find less than professional. Or a photo you may not want family or friends to see.

Wisk’s foray into Facebook apps, a savvy move for a soap, brought to mind a recent survey which showed that U.S. executives have come to value social media very highly but still have fears about its impact on the workplace.

The study found that 81 percent saw social media as being useful for both brand-building and enhancing customer or client relationships, 69 percent see it as a valuable recruitment tool, 64 percent think it is useful for customer service, and 46 percent thought it improved employee morale.

But more than half of those who did not use social media said they did not know enough about it, 40 percent worried about confidentiality and security and 37 percent had concerns about employee productivity. A worldwide study earlier this year found that 50 to 60 percent of the firms surveyed blocked access to social networking sites in the workplace due to similar concerns.

I’m sure some of these same employers felt the same way about the telephone, not to mention the cell phone.

The latest report prompted several insightful blog postings which echo the MNB take on social networking: If you don’t embrace the consumer interaction opportunities on the internet such Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, you risk losing your competitive edge.

Said one post: “Social media and viral marketing are a part of the consumer experience and most companies can bet that if they aren't participating, their competitors most certainly will be.”

Another blogger wrote: “They will get it, they'll have no choice. Social media is fast becoming basic communication between brands and their audience/customers. We're going to see a tipping point where brands that won't open up are going to have to work very hard to keep up with those who do.”

Also, social networking keeps a company in the loop and able to respond quickly, to both positive and negative reactions. Just look at role Twitter has played in everything from Iranian elections to a marketing miss-step by Motrin.

While it’s way too soon to assess if the Wisk campaign will take off and increase sales, we can find similarities in the social networking success stories out there today: Starbucks, Whole Foods, Zappos, Ford, Coca-Cola, Dunkin’ Donuts, Pringles, to name a few. A future column will delve into why they succeed, and what other retailers, manufacturers and service providers can take away from their social media presences.

You can reach Kate McMahon via email at .
KC's View: