Social Media Management At Hublot: Here It Comes, There It Goes

| December 6, 2010 | 11 Replies

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In a shock decision we’re still struggling to understand, Hublot and its newly appointed Community Manager, Jérôme Pineau, to whom we have dedicated several articles here and here, have decided to go their separate ways barely two months after their initial union.

A Backwards Step?
Certainly it is not our place to speculate on the possible reasons for this split and we won’t. Indeed all we can do is lament what appears to be a step backwards by what we view to be one of the most innovative companies in the industry (especially in terms of communication) from this actively and effectively managing this revolution sweeping the world known as Social Media.

At a first glance, this is not good news for the watch industry. Recognized now as an efficient strategist and burgeoning visionary in the area of watch-making communication, it seems almost unbelievable that Jerome was considered an outsider not so long ago. Yet his open attitude and willingness to listen and learn meant that he was able to absorb and act upon a great deal of information about this rather unique industry in a very short period of time.

It was this success that led many, ourselves included, to believe, perhaps somewhat prematurely, that the role Jérôme Pineau had forged for himself was indicative of a changing tone in the industry, namely that many of the brands would eventually start to re-think their Web 2.0 communication strategies.

That’s not to say that many haven’t already. For example, brands like Marvin, with which Jerome first worked when he came over from the US, or Baume & Mercier or Vacheron Constantin, have really embraced this new form of interaction and are reaping the benefits.

The Challenges Ahead
Everybody is unique, however, and so we’ll see how this area continues to develop in our microcosm. Still, it’s becoming harder to imagine the highly anticipated convergence between Media Relations and Community Management if it continues to take so long for the latest change or trend to be officially recognized. Whilst some may argue the gap is not getting any wider, we would also suggest it’s not getting any smaller either. In these times when consumers are spending more and more time on forums and miscellaneous social networks, many brands are still largely missing in action, despite marketing budgets that seemingly would allow for a real conversation with their stakeholders.

The Final Word
We can only hope that the strategy so wisely engaged by Hublot in the first place will resume soon, perhaps with some other initiatives that will allow the brand to renew its connection with Social Media Management?

Only when they do this will Hublot be able to get back on the path it pioneered before, and perhaps drag with it some of its peers into the world of meaningful online conversations, leaving – at last – the world of simple one-way communication where so many brands are still stuck.

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About the Author ()

Olivier Muller is half Swiss, half French, and has been raised in the world of haute horlogerie & luxury watches right from the cradle. He now works in Public Relations in Paris.

Comments (11)

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  1. As the online strategist-cum-brand architect for the recently-revived Lonville Watch company, I have been watching Hublot’s social media rocket blast off with particular interest as it serves, and will continue to do so, as a case study for the rest of us.

    Only Jérôme knows the true story but I do feel for him. Past experience tells me that when you set out to build an online community you have to do so in line with your brand’s particular marketing objectives and that in itself is governed by a very specific agenda. Call me cynical but I have a slight suspicion that the imbalance between the social media ideals of Jérôme and the quantitative goals of the company he worked for were what led to this rapid departure.

    Those ideals can be summarized thus: When a company decides to embrace social media, it enters into an unwritten yet binding contract with its chosen audience – something I call the “ripples of influence”. Social Media is and always will be a two-way conversation. If you want your message to be heard – and most brands do – the agreement is that you in turn listen to all and any responses to your messages and act on them. Anything else is just broadcasting.

    Every watch manufacturer reading this article will have its own particular online communication benchmarks and growth forecasts and, if I may offer my own $0.02, those should come before any kind of turbocharged marketing activity – something that unfortunately appears to be the overriding trend in the case of Hublot.

    As you said in the article we operate in our own “microcosm” and that alone makes it very difficult to see how a high-end watch manufacturer can go viral without setting off some kind of internal time bombs.

    If you’re looking for conspiracy theory for this separation, or just want to take the social-media-for-watch-brands discussion further, look at the numbers: well over 200K fans in Facebook yet just 1,563 followers on Twitter (at time of writing)? Sorry for being so blunt but that imbalance alone is enough to smell a single channel number-chasing came with very little true value for the fans (not customers, fans) and I’m willing to wager that a professional at Jérôme’s level was able to smell that a mile off.

    If any of you followed the rise of Dell Hell and their subsequent turnaround through social media, you’ll appreciate that Jérôme’s idea of “creating meaningful relationships with customers and enthusiasts alike” cannot be done unless you build these relationships organically with each and every member of your community. There is a method to this social media madness and it involves incredible hard work and a hell of a lot of planning to keep it all in check.

    A community of 1,000 avid enthusiasts is entirely different to the two hundred plus thousand on the Hublot Facebook page which is way beyond critical mass. With that kind of following, you need either balls of steel to keep it all on track or at the very least a Plan B as what started as a cool marketing add on suddenly becomes the driving force behind your brand’s communication strategy.

    At the end of the day it’s the rest of us who suffer and it’s easy to be discouraged by a high profile spat of this calibre. My advice to my social media colleagues is to “keep calm and carry on” and learn from this unpleasant episode so you yourselves don’t fall into the trap of looking at the numbers while forgetting the reason you started with social media in the first place which was to open up your brand and your ideals to the people who matter most: your customers.

  2. Well thought out and very insightful if I may say so Michael! Incidentally, speaking of “balls of steel”, I’d say you need a pretty heavily plated set to shoot something out like this: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150101855211535&set=a.121499651534.132422.53352786534

    What are your thoughts about that one? :)
    Cheers.
    J.

  3. Michael, thanks a lot for your in-depth thoughts and comments. It would deserve a full dedicated article to deal with all the great insights you provided here, in fact ! Our mission is to highlight the major trends in our industry, and the Community Management might be the key able to leverage brands above the smoking ashes of the last century. As you said, and what is my deep conviction too, is that we don’t care any more about communication, but about conversation. And you don’t measure a conversation, that’s a nonsense. You get part of it and you monitore it.

    Thanks !

  4. Hey Jerome, no kidding! The sub heading on that piece is incredible. F1 King Power? (read it fast) Would love to see where in the Hublot Brand Guidelines that tone of voice sits or did they just see a quick eyeball count opportunity and temporarily throw the book out the window? I mean, was there really a need for this? It’s one thing being chums with Bernie and all that but even if it’s a joke, had I been advising them, I would have just framed it and let it slowly become a legend in Mr Biver’s office. But hey, it’s their Facebook page and their reputation at stake so live and let live.

    Just to get really social media nerdy on all of you, according to Charlene Li’s Open Leadership book (aka corporate social media bible), a brand must match its outward openness (social media strategy) to its inward openness (internal communications policies). If the guys at Hublot are this blasé about their openness then good for them – a purple cow indeed!

    Olivier thank you for raising the discussion in the first place. You’re right and I promise to make the effort to keep this conversation alive as we all stand to benefit from greater insights. What I personally see here and what I hope my colleagues in the watch industry do not try to emulate or, worst, compare themselves with, is a communication strategy that’s slowly diluting the brand value rather than building it.

    I may be wrong but there’s a rule of thumb for social networking that also serves as a benchmark for interactions and engagement strategies and it will, perhaps prove my point.

    If you assume that for every 100 people who read an article on a blog, just one will leave a comment, whenever they do you treasure the interaction as it usually has taken a bit of effort on their part and whatever they have to say in some way adds value to the article and, ultimately, to the blog/brand. With Facebook how much effort does it take to “like” something or even just add some silly throwaway comment? How simple is it to post something trivial just for the hell of it? How simple was it for Nestlè to completely lose it to a scandal-hungry crowd back in March?

    The simplicity of the medium is why the ratio for interactions is much higher at, say, one every 10, if not 5 and also explains why the intrinsic value of these interactions to a brand is, consequently, considerably less (you wouldn’t see this kind of discussion over on FB would you?).

    Transfer that knowledge over to your brand-building strategies and you can see that quick clicks and viral hype is only a small part of the brand building process. If you build bridges with your audience at every level and hype is part of your strategy, then no problem. But if it’s your company’s only strategy, or a disproportionately significant part of it, then I’d be worried.

    ’nuff said.

  5. LOL too funny…on the F1…King Power you’re the only one who picked that up besides one guy on Twitter last Sept.

    To think I was going to write a whole blog post about this but alas (rather, thankfully) you summed it up in one fell swoop: “a brand must match its outward openness (social media strategy) to its inward openness (internal communications policies)”.

    Where are you based and why the heck haven’t we crossed paths before??

    Best,
    J.

  6. Currently in Milan, making inroads in Lugano and thinking about a stint in London.

    In answer to your question, I’ve been locked up in a bunker churning out high level strategic marketing projects for Acer Group for the past ten years and only recently realized that I need to get out more.

    We should do beer. :-)

  7. Yeah I saw that with Acer. Quite a project! We should hook up – my email is jerome.pineau@gmail.com

    Apologies to the TWL owners – didn’t mean to treat your blog like the next FB platform ;)

  8. Our magazine is yours, dear Jérôme and Michael !
    Thanks for all the great insights you shared here.
    Michael, same comment as Jérôme : we have locations in Australia and in Paris, France, so if, someday, somehow, you’re in town, we’d be glad to share a….glass of wine (yes, I’m the one based in France ;) ).

  9. Paris and wine. Sounds like a plan. :-)

    Will definitely be reaching out to both and more than happy to share insights and thoughts here as the best way for this industry to move forward with its approach to online communications is for the many players find a common ground and share ideas and TWL is simply perfect for that purpose. I’m just sorry I wasn’t here earlier.

    Look forward to much more of this, and some wine too! ;-)

  10. Tom Mulraney says:

    Hey guys,

    Thank you for the fantastic insights, it is really great to see discussion of this calibre on TWL. One of the founding pricinciples of this site is education, and I believe this can’t happen without quality content and open, meaningful discussion like this.

    This is a topic that continues to come up in many conversations for me and certainly while I think many brands are aware of it and perhaps are trying to implement their own strategies, they are certainly having various levels of success, which is yet another reason why I encourage them to open more direct, meaningful communication channels with the on-line communities (rather than just sending them press releases and expecting it to be published verbatim.)

    To be honest I was really surprised and a little disappointed by Hublot’s decision to use Ecclestone’s misfortune to promote their product, even if just in jest. Keep an eye out for an article on that in the not too distant future.

    In the meantime, please keep the comments coming!

  11. Bizarre move – as recently shown by rruegger at http://rruegger.blogspot.com/2010/11/luxury-watch-brands-und-facebook-18.html Hublot has had such dramatic success with its social media engagement that this move is difficult to understand…

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