Gap, Digg and the Power of Social Media

By Nirosha Methananda | 15 Oct 2010

Does social media give consumer’s a mandate to be consulted and included when brand’s are making major business decisions? Gap and Digg learn that social media can be a double-edged sword.

At the start of the week, well-renowned apparel retailer Gap unveiled its new logo, which was two years in the making and represented an evolution of the brand’s identity.

Four days later the company announced on its Facebook page:

Gap Logos

Old vs. New - Gap redesign causes social media outpouring

“Ok. We’ve heard loud and clear that you don’t like the new logo. We’ve learned a lot from the feedback. We only want what’s best for the brand and our customers. So instead of crowd sourcing, we’re bringing back the Blue Box tonight.”

Why this backflip on an initiative that has clearly required a lot of hard work, money and effort? Simply put, the power of social media.

Situation: Out of Control?

Upon launch of the new logo, Gap received a multitude of scathing comments through its Facebook and Twitter profiles – in reaction to this, the company posted a message on its Facebook page ‘crowd sourcing’ for a new design:

“Thanks for everyone’s input on the new logo! We’ve had the same logo for 20+ years, and this is just one of the things we’re changing. We know this logo created a lot of buzz and we’re thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding! So much so we’re asking you to share your designs. We love our version, but we’d like to see other ideas. Stay tuned for details in the next few days on this crowd sourcing project.”

To reinforce the message, this was followed by a blog in the Huffington Post from company President, Marka Hansen, who reiterated, “Given the passionate outpouring from customers that followed, we’ve decided to engage in the dialogue, take their feedback on board and work together as we move ahead and evolve to the next phase of Gap.”

Gap FB Comments

Facebook comments in response to the Gap 'crowd sourcing' proposal were not positive.

However this proposal garnered close to 2000 comments on the Gap Facebook page and was met by a resounding slap in the face to the company, with many fans and designers taking offense to the company’s attempt to get it’s logo redesigned for free, ‘devaluing not only its own brand, but its customers’.

“Alyssa Lee Welch: How much money does your company makes and you are going to crowd source a bunch of designs for free from possibly hundreds of designers? Completely insulting to the industry, and to your designer as well. Gap has the money to either fix the logo or to just switch back and count it as a loss. Terrible.”

“VVel Gnuehc: No one here likes this new logo……change it back and focus your time on changing the style of your clothes so I will buy them again! GAP to me is as American as Apple Pie. I’d love to support and wear the brand again if you guys would step up on the design end.Did anyone also think about how much money it will cost GAP to change all the bags, signage in ALL their shops and everything their logo is on?! For that amount of money they are about to spend, hire top notch clothing design team and bring the magic back!”

A number of alternate Twitter accounts were also formed in response to the logo redesign – the most notable being  @gaplogo.  With  5069 Followers, the account sends out tweets from the new Gap logo’s perspective. The account which is not verified, but directs back to the gap website, is a clever way in which to capture and engage followers.

Fans don’t ‘Digg’ Upgrade

Similarly, link sharing site Digg faced a backlash from users when it launched a new version of its website. Users were concerned the changes meant that the ‘quirky’ content (which the site was well know for) was pushed from its front page in favour of content from mainstream media outlets. Removal of various features from the website, such as the ‘bury’ button and ‘upcoming’ page, were also perceived as disruptive to the user experience.


Digg V4 spawns backlash from users.

In response, many Digg users revolted by digging posts from its competitor Reddit, as well as posting numerous topics and comments around the subject – pressuring the website to revert back to its previous version:

“scientistblah: Just stopping by here. I left digg for reddit when the v4 change came around. I’m glad that digg is making an effort to bring back these features because I’ve been a member for quite some time and was disappointed when digg essentially comitted suicide. It really does appear to me that most people who left won’t come back unless something is done about sites submitting their own content. Reddit has a much better sense of community, I come back here and the majority of the content is either site submitted crap or stuff that was on reddit yesterday. Fix that problem and I’ll give digg another chance, but can’t guarantee I’ll stay around if the community doesn’t come back because in the end that’s what I loved about digg.”

In order to deal with the backlash, Digg reinstated a number features from its previous version. In addition to this, Digg’s newly appointed CEO, Matt Williams’ first blog opened with an apology to users:

“As many of you know, the launch of Digg v4 didn’t go smoothly, and we’re deeply sorry that we disappointed our Digg community in the process. Thank you for your patience and your extremely candid feedback — we hear you loud and clear.”

Social Media – The Double-Edged Sword

With over 700,000 Facebook fans and 36,000 Twitter followers, Gap can safely say that it has amassed a sizeable social media following. Gap utilises its social media platforms to keep consumers up to date with all of its latest information, etc – however, when looking for the announcement around the new logo, it was conspicuously missing.

Was this Gap’s mistake? In keeping its fans and followers updated on all other goings on, but as put by Hansen ‘without a lot of fanfare’, the company introduced a new logo and did not inform its clearly engaged audience. Did the company simply underestimate the value of its longstanding, world-renowned logo? Or (as some have suggested) was this simply a ploy to attract attention, engage/enrage fans and followers before the holiday season? It is yet to be seen what impact Gap’s social-marketing gaffe and/or success will have on it’s bottom-line.

Similarly for an online community that relies on users, will Digg’s apologies and revisions be enough to pacify those who were alienated by the changes? Further to this, as companies that depend on and actively engage with users, why didn’t Gap or Digg involve users in this process?

Both companies have learnt a hard lesson –  though you may create a strong following and engagement through social media, this it is not a channel that can be  switched on and off, and it is not so easily controlled.

This example also raises the issue: where do retailers draw the line? In these instances, both Gap and, to a certain extent, Digg have bowed to the power of social media. Still, it will be interesting to see whether other companies put in similar positions, with years of planning and expenditure on campaigns, would follow a similar course of action.

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