Social Media Not So Sweet

This time of year, it’s hard to walk two steps without bumping into an eager group of Girl Scouts selling their delicious cookies.  Even if you bring your own lunch to work, it’s inevitable that a box (or 15) will creep into the office at the start of Spring.  What started over 80 years ago in the personal kitchens and ovens of the members has since evolved from the traditional door-to-door promotion of the cookies to now include viral campaigns and online marketing techniques. 

This year, not only are the Girl Scouts on every street corner, but their national organization, Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), is turning to social media sites, such as Twitter, Myspace, Flickr, Facebook and YouTube, to help gain exposure for the organization and with the hopes of increasing cookies sales (which were shockingly down in 2009). 

This is a relatively new form of interacting for the scouts, and while the organization is embracing these techniques, individual scouts are prohibited from doing so.  In fact, during last year’s cookie season, there was a huge controversy when one of the Girl Scouts tried selling the cookies online.  To read about this, check out the New York Times article, “Girl Scouts Battle With One of Their Own.”

Since then, marketing cookies via e-mail has been given the thumbs up by the organization; however the use of other social platforms has been prohibited.  To me, this seems contradictory.  On one hand, the Girl Scouts Organization Is Going 'Viral', engaging with their community and creating an online voice.  On the other, they're not allowing individual Girl Scouts to use social media.  It seems to me that any organization that prides itself on teaching young women valuable life skills would recognize the value of teaching girls to email and use online tools.

I wonder if the social media initiatives that the organization is embracing this year, such as the YouTube video "What Can a Cookie Do?” (viewed 39, 235 since January 19th), will help the company increase sales this year.  If these initiatives are successful, maybe the organization will re-evaluate.  What do you think?  Should individual Girl Scouts be allowed to embrace social media initiatives like the rest of the world?

- Contributed by Chantal LeBoulch. Follow her @cleboulch