It started with a "Rawr" and ended with a ' roo. But Samsung Canada's latest social media marketing effort has grown into something more than the tiny whimsical exchange that began on Facebook.
On Wednesday, Samsung customer Shane Bennett, who owns a Galaxy smartphone as well as a laptop and LCD TV made by the company, wrote a private message to Samsung Canada on Facebook. On a whim, he asked whether he could get a free upgrade of his phone to the latest model, the S III, not yet in stores.
To sweeten the request, he added, "I have attached a picture of a dragon I just drew for you."
The crudely scribbled green monster, which sports a beaver-like tail and an amazing ability to breathe fire despite the fact that his mouth appears to be closed, appeared beneath the message. A helpful sound effect, "Rawr" was scrawled above the flames.
Samsung Canada has just one online community manager for its Facebook pages, Twitter feed and Google+ profile, so Drew Bomhof did not receive the message until Thursday. His response was to politely deny the request for a free phone, explaining that if they gave them to everyone who asked the company would go under. (Mr. Bromhof, an employee of agency Cheil Canada, noted in an interview that comparable smartphones retail in the $800 range.)
"That being said, your drawing of the dragon is epic," he wrote in his reply, "so we're returning the favour. Please find attached a drawing of a kangaroo on a unicycle."
Mr. Bomhof clarified in an interview, redundantly, that he is "not an artist."
Despite that, Mr. Bennett was so pleased with the reply that he took to Reddit, the self-proclaimed "front page of the Internet" and a widely respected forum where readers vote the best content to the top of the site. Mr. Bennett posted a picture of the message thread, with the dragon and kangaroo, on the site and watched as it was voted up to the front page on Thursday evening.
"So that page just got liked," one commenter wrote on the Reddit feed.
As the post was viewed by more people, some were driven back to the company's Facebook wall.
It also raised some ire, however, as others flooded Reddit with comments expressing suspicion that it might be a viral marketing ploy.
"I am not affiliated with Samsung in any way," Mr. Bennett said.
The case is illustrative as marketers struggle with how to represent themselves on social networks, and how to get the most out of their marketing efforts online. General Motors famously pulled millions of dollars out of Facebook advertising in the days leading up to the social media giant's IPO last week, saying that Facebook ads don't deliver enough bang for the buck. Advertisers are instead turning to community management, maintaining Twitter feeds and branded Facebook pages instead of buying ads.
But the labour involved with keeping up a continuous presence there has proven to be a challenge. And the speed with which a social media campaign can fly out of a company's control has spooked some companies into craving greater control than the platform naturally provides. The struggle between cultivating a lively presence and keeping a handle on messaging is constant. And then there are the massive blunders, such as the one made by Belvedere Vodka when it made an inappropriate joke about sexual assault on its Facebook wall. The company apologized, but has yet to explain who posted the joke and why it was not vetted.
The kind of "earned media" that arises when a social campaign goes right, can also become a curse in cases like these.
Mr. Bomhof has been working at Samsung for roughly three months, and notes that for any controversial content, there are processes in place to run his responses by the higher-ups in marketing. However, daily back-and-forth with consumers is left to his judgment -- and his cartooning skills.
"It's the most far-out thing I've done since I've taken this position," he said.
The consumer reaction suggests it's the type of social media marketing the company will want to continue to pursue. Samsung Canada president James Politeski dropped by Mr. Bomhof's office on Friday on his way out the door to congratulate him on his efforts. To extend its goodwill, the company invited Mr. Bennett to a launch party for the Galaxy S III in Toronto in June.
"I think more companies should definitely use this same approach. It seems more personal, and that they are actually reading your messages," Mr. Bennett said. "That is very hard to come by with such large corporations."