Schadenfreude 2.0

The blogosphere has been exhibiting a bit of Schadenfreude 2.0 over the demise of WalMart’s “The Hub” site, which until recently was found here.

At SearchViews, the epitaph was: “Launched as part of a back-to-school promo, the entire project is an embarrassment – and an excellent example of How Not To Build A Social Network.”

At Militant Geek, it was described as a “crass attempt at showing the kids how ‘wid it’ a place Walmart is” and Walmart was described as “putting its social networking tail between its legs” in closing the site.

Mashable‘s version has WalMart’s MySpace Clone Dead on Arrival, claiming that:

It’s pretty much universally agreed that TheHub was a complete failure. Aside from the fake profiles and unabashed attempts to make users buy WalMart gear, WalMart screened the content and emailed a user’s parents to check whether it was ok for them to sign up. There’s nothing wrong with trying to build a safer social network (both Piczo and Mashable sponsor Multiply are having a go), but this was a little too much.

Worse than the attempt to screen content (which one can easily see as a risk-averse but understandable move given the age of the target audience and the furor over MySpace-as-pedophile-target that’s been all the rage most of this summer) in Mashable’s view was the fact that WalMart “totally misunderstood what’s cool these days.”

Mashable’s correct to note that the “failure” of The Hub “doesn’t mean WalMart was wrong to pursue social networking as a marketing strategy,” it’s just that “Making WalMart cool is a big challenge and one that probably shouldn’t be tackled by out of touch marketers riding skateboards and listening to Avril Lavigne.” (Ouch, take that, Sk8er Boi.)

So why do I detect such glee at seeing WalMart fail in this endeavor?

Is it just the long standing fear and resentment many have toward WalMart itself? (See WalMart is Pure Evil).

Chris at Shotgun Marketing Blog imagines this interchange between “social networking bloggers” and WalMart:

It’s not about just having the tech tool to “connect” with the community and going out and trying to be something you’re not. You’re not MySpace and you’re never going to be. You just be yourself. A monopoly that destroys small towns and is slowly unraveling the American economy . . .

But how would the WalMart of this version go about “being itself” in a social networking way? In this view there’s really no way WalMart could “succeed” except by staying on its current path.

I think that there’s more fueling this little dancing-at-your-funeral party. Isn’t there a bit of compensation for all the media frenzy around social networking – perhaps this is the start of the backlash? There have certainly been other failures in the Social Networking space – but none of them were large enough targets to pin the banners on.

I prefer to think of The Hub’s failure (if, frankly, we can even be sure that it was considered a failure by those who funded it and set its success criteria) as a baby step by a large (the largest!) discount retailer in the right direction. Perhaps they faltered in finding the right balance between control (good to control for safety, bad to control for “on brand message”) and flexibility, perhaps they mis-aimed from an audience and content perspective (what Mashable calls not knowing “what’s cool these days”). The point is, they see the direction that e-commerce must take and is taking toward interactive, participatory, social collaboration and they tried to take a step in that direction.

What other major *multi-channel* retailer (not Amazon) has made such an attempt?

2 Comments

  1. The point is not that they “tried”…it’s the fact that they seemed to have no clue as they “tried”

    Anyone with some common sense (*who wasn’t blinded by being inside the walmart org) could see that the kids would see this as fake and lame. I mean, I’m way past knowing what passes as cool for a 13-18 year old…and even I could see it as they launched.

    True skill (and coolness) lies in projecting the perception that you’re not “trying” and you’re not trying to be cool.

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