Someone needs to tell the folks at Glad: Unless your customers pay for the privilege of wearing your logo, don't build an online community around your brand. That's rule #1 in marketing with social media — and reason #1 for instead taking an approach we call reflected glory marketing. In reflected glory marketing you create a web site that resonates with your brand, but focuses on something your customer cares passionately about. Think of Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty, or Amex's Members Project. Or think of some of the projects we've launched in-house: BC Hydro's Green Gifts application for Facebook, or Vancity's Change Everything.

In my keynotes and presentations about marketing with social media, I often make this point by referring to an over-the-top scenario: a company that tries to build an online community about plastic wrap. It seems obvious that people just aren't that passionate about plastic wrap…..but it wasn't obvious to the folks at Glad, who launched the 1000 Uses site in 2006 to promote their Press 'N Seal product.

The site solicits tips on all the different ways you can use plastic wrap, organized by room. It's got a very swishy interface that lets you click on different rooms in a house to see the fantastic things you can do there with plastic wrap. And it aims to incentivize user contributions with a chance to win $1000 each month by submitting a tip.

1000 Uses site snapshotThat's a pretty generous prize, and it succeeded in eliciting well over 1000 tips between the site's launch in October 2006, and the beginning of August 2007. At that point the site appeared to go into….hibernation. That's right, not a single tip posted between August 2, and December 10.

Well, not a single tip published.

In an obsessive quest to plumb the psychological and managerial depths of the 1000 Uses team, I spent a rather enjoyable evening in early November coming up with tips that I hoped would give me a sense of the Glad team's tolerance for creativity:
Pet stain tip


Heirloom tip

The first two were attempts to test the level of moderation (are they moderating for tastefulness? public safety?) I added the third just to have something I'd feel confident about them posting, but none of my entries made it onto the site. I'd chalk it up to clever sleuthing on their part — perhaps someone thought to google my name, and figured out I'm a social media blogger? — except for the conspicuous four-month dead zone between August and December. There was a batch of twenty tips posted between December 10th and 13th (evidently I'm not the only one who thinks of mid-December as plastic wrap season) but nothing since.

I'm going to go out on a big, tightly-wrapped limb here and suggest a few general lessons that can be inferred from the Glad example:

  • User-contributed content isn't enough to create a community: even if you can incentivize people to contribute, unless they actually care about the topic (and each other) they have no reason to come back.
  • You may spend your way to traffic, but you can't spend your way to success. Glad's traffic strategy seems to involve pointing a kabillion high-value URLs at the 1000 Uses site (,, and were just a few of the URLs that I found pointed towards when I searched on google). I guess if you have a whack of unused URLs sitting around, why not, but a site full of interesting content would be a far more efficient way of generating traffic.
  • Contests can't motivate people to write about something intrinsically boring. And of course, before people can be motivated to contribute to a contest, they have to know about it….which is tough when you give other sites and bloggers absolutely no reason to point people your way. (Until now!)
  • Don't spend big bucks to build a pretty site — spend big bucks building a living community. Glad should be grinding its teeth at the four-month gap between contributions, and at the three months since the last batch went live. (Which leads me to wonder…where did the January and February winners announced on the site come from, given that the most recent tips are dated in December?) I'm guessing that the flurry of tips between December 10-13 didn't represent a spike in tips; it's just that someone finally took a few days to go through and post. More regular infusions of attention wouldn't make the site a humming concern, but it would at least convey some sense of sustained interest on the part of Glad consumers.

Could we have brought 1000 Uses to life? I doubt it. Some sites are dead on arrival: even the best-managed, best-incentivized site can't overcome an intrinsically flawed concept that offers little reason for return visits or serious customer engagement.

But this is exactly where reflected glory marketing can offer a better way. Instead of creating a site around its immediate product, Glad could have launched a useful, engaging community that resonates with the market for its product. For example, it could have built on themes like

  • Home organizing: Broaden the request for user-submitted tips to any tips about home organizing, and you'd tap into a massive community of interest in topics like home storage and family organizing. Plastic wrap might be one tool to highlight….along with baskets, boxes, label-makers, etc. Even the room-by-room structure could work, but by inviting users to talk about a wider range of topics, you can create a real community rather than a vaguely interactive ad. Turning user-contributors into "curators" of special topics like closets or craft organizing, and you'd deepen the legitimacy and commitment of the site.
  • Leftovers: Unleash a passionate community of family cooks with the features of a web 2.0 foodie community like Group Recipes, crossed with the leftovers focus of a LeftOverchef. Invite people to exchange recipes for using leftovers along with food storage and safety tips.
  • Preservation: With more and more attention on sustainability, preserving things — whether it's food, sofa cushions, or kids' art — has a new urgency. If we can be careful with what we have, and use it as long as possible, we reduce our need for new products or chemical cleanings. Much of the Glad site focuses on preservation uses of its wrapping; why not open a larger conversation about the value of preservation? From preserving art or historic buildings to storing wedding dresses and mementos, many people are passionately committed to some aspect of preservation. Bring them together to talk about what they are keeping, why they are keeping it, and how they are keeping it safe, and you engage them at a far deeper level.

Each of these themes offers a different opportunity for reflected glory marketing. Creating a site like this offers real value to customers — value they build on as they become more and more passionate, active members of the community. That passion, associated with your brand, is worth far more than a pair of eyeballs en route to the next contest. It builds brand visibility, customer loyalty, and even customer evangelists.

And unlike a brand-centric approach, reflected glory marketing doesn't have to be wrapped in contests to stay alive. It's sustained by the energy and passion of the community itself. And there's no better way than true community passion to ensure your site has a nice, long shelf life.