Supercalifragilistic Target Screwed This Chat Up: A case study in what not to do with online events


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Let’s start at the very beginning… a very good place to start …. Every now and then we find lessons in unexpected places. Last Thursday, having the first slow day in several months, I stopped to check a few Facebook messages and noticed this:

Live Chat with Julie Andrews – I LOVE HER! Starting NOW? Fun!

From Mary Poppins the Sound of Music, to her appearances on the The Muppet Show, and The Carol Burnett Show and her films, including Victor/Victoria and even the Princess Diaries… I’d followed her all my life. Since I also track how businesses use social media, participating sounded like a bonus of a case study to me… so, I clicked to chat.

The chat was obviously getting off to a slow start. I couldn’t see how many had joined, because they didn’t display this in the chat application. Incidentally failure to show participant numbers not only violates commonly accepted practices; it’s a poor way to show the formation of a gathering. There was also Less than one update coming per minute! GRRR…. I almost left, but I really like Julie Andrews.

So I waited… A full 10 minutes and a mere nine (!!) posts later, part of me wanted to scream and the other part was rooting for the event and hoping things would pick up! I jumped in and out of the chat window (easy to do because it was so slow, I didn’t miss one update). Leaving the browser window open, I sought some answers elsewhere for my outstanding questions.

What was Julie Andrews’ relationship to Target and why were they doing this chat? A visit to the Target Fan Page reminded me that Target is promoting the first annual National Princess Week. The image provided no information – only more questions (Right Click to enlarge).

“Ohhh.. of course,” I thought, “It makes sense to promote this event with the beloved, Academy Award Winning Stage and Cinema Actress, Singer … and more recently, Queen of the Princess Diaries movies.” However, I still didn’t quite understand: What was National Princess Week, anyway? Was it something Target made up to sell princess merchandise? You’ll note that I wasn’t the only one who wondered about this.

There was nothing on the website about it…. Some people also complained that there was no retail-store tie-in for National Princess Week?

Eager to post a question or two, I went back into the slow grinding chat. Unfortunately, Target opted to use a third-party app that required me to log in with either my Facebook or Twitter handle. I am very conservative with apps on Facebook. I wouldn’t opt-in, because I didn’t like the blanket permissions Target’s suggested third-party app offered, including posting comments to Facebook on my behalf. Yeah. No thanks!

Seeking an alternative route to ask a question, I visited the #Targetchat Twitter chat hashtag that was being **actively promoted** by Target. I went as I thought “Really? They’re promoting a twitter hashtag for a Facebook chat? Maybe they’ve integrated Facebook and Twitter chat in some way… that would be cool. If not, this is going to be really convoluted.” Convoluted, it was. I saw less than 10 posts here — and there was no Twitter-based response from Target (!!) for anything. Twitter users are usually more tech savvy — yet I wasn’t the only one that was confused:

NEXT, I jumped back into the chat, which continued to grind painfully ahead. I learned nothing surprising. Lots of light questions with simple answers… Julie likes tea, roses, poodles, is proud of her daughters and delighted with her grand children. She has favorite moments, ice cream, etc. She seems enchanting and writes like I would imagine she speaks. Lovely.

However, I wasn’t really learning anything deeper about Julie Andrews. I also couldn’t help but continue to wonder what her stake in this event was…. AND THEN… 23 minutes in to the 45 minute chat, Dame Andrews mentioned her writing with her daughter and posted a link to her website! “Huzzah!” I thought! “Maybe I can find some answers there!” I clicked immediately and here’s what I got:

Criminy! A 500 internal server error message. I refreshed about five times… and got the error each time. I jumped back into Tweet Deck and did an @Target #Targetchat tweet, asking them to tell Julie about the problem. Unfortunately, no one seemed to be moderating the promoted Twitter hashtag, so I have no idea if that comment was shared with Ms. Andrews’ team, or not. I got the error for 5-10 minutes.

I was, at this point, rather flabbergasted by the mismanagement of this event. From this unfortunate problem, to the very poor event moderation, to the chat application Target had selected, to the fragmentation of the experience between Twitter and Facebook, to the arduous and slow discussion going on — it was all just so poorly executed! The strategist in me did a forehead slap.

I jumped back into to the Target Facebook page, where I noticed more problems. First, I noticed someone posting on Target’s wall that the chat application they used by “CoverIt Live” (by Demand Media) wasn’t working.

Again, no responses from Target Community Managers (do they even have them?). Next, I noticed a mounting number of COMMENTS in two of the Wall Posts about the Julie Andrews Chat. One post (an update to the one I originally saw) had 47 Comments, 1000+ likes and 67 Shares. The original one that drew me in had, at the time, 134 comments, 791 likes and 32 shares.

Okay, that sounds good, right? A decent number of people sharing… commenting? WRONG…. Here’s what I saw in the comments fields…

As if Chat Application vs. Twitter Chat confusion wasn’t enough – people were trying to use the comments fields within Target’s Wall Posts as a kind of Chat Window – and Target wasn’t monitoring or moderating any of this feedback to redirect people to the right place, either!!

Further, if you read through them yourself, you’ll see that many not only asked great questions, but others complained their questions hadn’t been answered – or were deleted!

A large number of people in this audience didn’t understand that they needed to click to participate — or use the chat application. People came – but they could not participate in the event! It would have been so easy to engage these people. So much for community management! Fortunately, there was a least one tenacious user:

While the chat slightly improved the last six minutes or so… it never really got going to begin with. Ms. Andrews’ answers were polite, positive, light and witty but had little-to-nothing to do with “National Princess Day” — and I still didn’t know what it was all about. I certainly wasn’t alone, as this user points out:

Outside of finding out that her favorite song in Mary Poppins was “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (spelling), I wasn’t sure what we were accomplishing here. Jumping back into my other open tab, I refreshed the link to Julie’s website and the site opened for me. FINALLY – 30 minutes into a 45 minute chat, I began to connect some dots.

While I found her site a bit difficult to navigate, getting into it made Target’s promotion with Julia make a lot more sense to me. I think that’s when the true failure of this promotional effort became crystal clear.

Perhaps worst of all, the positive mission of Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma, was completely LOST in the confusion… The goals behind the Princess movement have to do with the creation of self-esteem and self-respect within young girls. Her site also promotes reading to kids and encouraging kids to read. These seem like such an important messages – yet they did not come out during the chat. No one stepped in to help critics like the ones below understand these simple facts. It was all terribly unfortunate, indeed.

In the 50 minutes that transpired, there were less than 1.5 comments per MINUTE. There were gaps of 2-3 minutes between posts, and outside of Julie and Target’s comments, there were only 36 unique active participants (active chatters who posted questions). I have no idea how many inactive participants, or “lurkers” there were because this view was blocked by the chat application administrator. However, in parallel to the chat, there seemed to be hundreds posting on the Facebook wall and comments fields – all quite lost and unattended by Target.

This isn’t Julie Andrew’s fault, at all. In fact, I’d say she was the spoonful of sugar that made it tolerable for me to stay on for more than 2 minutes. I find her practically perfect in every way – to the point that I’m a bit intimidated by issuing any criticism less it be misconstrued by Ms. Andrews or her daughter. I don’t mean to be ungracious.

Unfortunately for Ms. Andrews, due to Target’s mishandling of this situation, they were unsuccessful in effectively promoting National Princess Week, her mission to help build self-esteem in young girls and to get children to read, or to make participants aware of products and materials that could make the celebration even better. Further, the audience was unable to make those new, fresh, positive associations to Ms. Andrews, Target or Disney that should have been easy to make! A missed opportunity, really.

I’m not saying this from a high horse… in this confusing era of apps and social tools — we’re all learning at some extent — especially as these channels converge and complicate communication. However, I expect that a giant like Target would have done the basics much better. I expected they would know better, and I hope they learn from the event instead of shuffling it under a reasonably priced Princess rug.

The fact that I stayed on to write a post about this on a perfectly great beach day is a testament to the weak nature of this promotion. It was such a good case study in “what not to do” for online event management, I may even write a follow-up post that highlights what can be done to make your online event a smashing success – online and offline. But not on a day off…or when I have clients to serve! 😉 Back to the real work.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Leigh Durst
Leigh (Duncan) Durst is the principal of Live Path. She is a 19 year veteran in business, operations and customer strategy, ecommerce, digital and social media. As an active consultant, writer, speaker and teacher, she is an advocate for creating remarkable customer experiences that harness digital media and improving business outcomes.


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