Ikea Is Facebook’s New Frenemy

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Join a social network, they said. Be creative about it, they said. Great brand-building move, they said. Swedish furniture and lifestyle juggernaut Ikea is now maybe wishing it had never heard of Facebook. The brand is certainly offering its cautionary tale of how an initially trumpeted social networking brand promotion can turn into a brand eroding nightmare. Ikea would like to “un-fan” Facebook.

It all started last year when Ikea went beyond the normal corporate identity step of creating a brand page for users to become a fan of. Ikea leveraged Facebook’s photo-tagging feature on the personal profile of its Malmo store manager. The manager’s photo album contained photos of the showroom, but there was a catch; the first Facebook user to tag his or her name on a pictured piece of furniture received it, for free. Cnet lauds the genius:

“Facebook being what it is, word got out and needy, enthusiastic Swedes begged for more pictures so that they could tag themselves to a new sofa, a new bed, or a new vase… [soon] thousands of Swedes were spreading pictures of IKEA showrooms all around the personal galaxy known as their profile pages.”

With one tweak that cost the brand almost nothing, Ikea had devised a genius brand promotion. Then things started falling apart.[more]

In just the last month, Ikea has already been forced to shut down four counterfeit Ikea-branded pages offering similar deals to “fans.” ClickZ explains how one scam worked:

The program centered on a free $1,000 IKEA gift card. To sign up, Facebook users were instructed to invite all of their friends on the social site to become fans. And many have taken the bait. From noon to 2 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time today, 8,000 people became Facebook fans of the page titled, “IKEA Get a FREE $1000 IKEA Gift Card! (ONLY AVAILABLE 1 DAY)… Those who chased the offer were taken to an affiliate marketing page hosted by GiftDepotDirect.com, where they were asked for information such as name, address, date of birth, and telephone number. From there, they were led through a multi-question survey and were then presented with lead-gen ads from Netflix, Vonage, CreditReport.com, car loan marketers, and vacation/cruise advertisers.”

By the time that fake Ikea page was shut down it had amassed 40,000 fans.

Less than three hours later a duplicate was chugging along.

Facebook says it’s working on the problem but that “Bad guys are always coming up with new attack vectors.” So what Facebook is really saying is “buyer beware,” or, in this case, brander beware.

The takeaway here is that even when a brand-building idea seems tremendous, it might be damaging in the long term. Ikea took an unconventional route that some argue was a violation of Facebook’s terms, which ban promotions in the network’s “native applications.” And it’s paying for it. The obvious lesson? Comprehensively think through all of the potential downsides of unconventional promotions.

There is another question, though. Even if Ikea anticipated this sort of abuse, should it have gone ahead with the promotion anyway? Indeed, while damage is being done now, the original promotion is no less successful.

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