The CEO of Yellowcakes, a provider of artificial coloring solutions for the gelatin-based desserts industry, recently attended a strategies, growth and innovation conference in Las Vegas. Profits were plummeting and he was anxious about the long-term stability of jelly. He needed food for thought, even if most of it would be an indigestible melange of trans-fats and sugar-coating.
Predictably, ninety-percent of the conference seminars were ebullient round-tables about harnessing the power of social media to increase business, each speaker more manically fervent than the last. The other ten percent, run by bi-polar project managers, broached the idea of staging next year's conference - if there was still a gelatin-based food industry to confer about by then - as an interactive webinar. Everyone was captivated by the notion that the Internet could not only make them money, it could also save them money. All you needed was a Twitter feed and a Facebook page and somehow the money would start flowing in. It was like listening to a cloudy-eyed herbalist extolling the virtues of honeysuckle marshmallow as a cure for terminal cancer.
So, lacking any truly innovative, imaginative or even pragmatic inspiration, the CEO of Yellowcakes returned to his office, determined to ponder whom he should Friend and Follow. He started with both loyal and prospective customers, before expanding his net further afield to companies like his own, and even some fictional characters such as Mr Peanut and the Rice Krispies' elves. It wasn't long before he found himself re-tweeting the profound philosophy of the Pillsbury Doughboy and linking to YouTube videos of chocolate egg eating contests. By the end of the first quarter, over two thousand hipsters had "liked" Yellowcake Artificial Food Colorings on Facebook, mostly for ironic purposes, but the CEO didn't know that. He decided to print a run of vintage Yellowcakes' logo t-shirts to be sold on Cafe Press.
He also contacted me about writing the Yellowcakes' daily Twitter feed and maintaining the various gelatin blog forums that he sponsored. Updating the company's various online profiles was consuming too much of the CEO's valuable time, as you might expect. I explained that I was both slow and expensive, but this didn't seem to bother him. Who isn't? he replied with a shrug. We discussed the ratio of actual product marketing to banal links and pop culture babble; if it was a good idea to follow Martha Stewart or not; and whether it was worth having a booth at Comic-Con called Gelatination.
And so, in the guise of my gelatinous avatar, Monsieur Aspic, I tweet daily about which celebrities prefer gummy worms to jelly babies; my fantasy Jell-O wrestling matches with the real housewives of various cities; how regular gelatin consumption promotes bone health; and occasionally, something very brief about bovine spongiform encephalopathy risk or the new FDA guidelines for infusing animal by-products with chemical color dye. Yet for some inexplicable reason Yellowcakes' sales still keep falling.
Feeling sorry for the CEO, yesterday I advised him to hire a conventional travelling salesman to visit customers in the flesh, since internet social networking services didn't seem to be connecting with his traditional client base. He said that such a drastic solution was too old-fashioned for his forward-thinking company. It's not old-fashioned, I told him, it's just old skool. He brightened at that notion, but mostly he just liked the spelling. What if we post some click-through banner ads on Foursquare, he suggested, advertising Yellowcakes Old Skool Gelatin Food Coloring? He had such a faraway look in his eye that I don't think he noticed my raised eyebrow.
Financial circumstances forced him to lay off six employees this morning. I haven't tweeted about yet, but they have already de-friended me on Facebook.