Let us park all the talk of ROI from social media engagement for a bit and explore the ROI of speaking at an event, preferably as a result of sponsoring the event too.

I’m referring to the ad:tech session by Fashion and You’s Pearl Uppal. I was away in Mumbai on that day, but the Twitter noise on Pearl and her speech (and her dress) was relentless.

An incredible majority of tweets (opinions) were about spam tactics used by Fashion and You to build its user/fan base, while Pearl’s dress was a close second.

The most retweeted opinion seemed to be this one, on the spam angle,

All hail the spam queen, the won and wonly Pearl Uppal! #adtechin (URL)

And Pearl’s dress got many, many tweets about how….transparent it was, to put it mildly. This part is completely beside the point of this post and I’m adding this only to show that the negative buzz about the spam tactics was perhaps the force behind getting this personal…with a vengeance.

The point I’m looking at is to wonder aloud on the perceived ROI of speaking at an event like ad:tech. As an unbiased onlooker, it seems to me that Fashion and You ended with up with a lot of negative buzz from this speech/appearance by Pearl, than anything positive.

So, the first question is simply this: Does Fashion and You know the kind of opinions people hold against it, online?

Being a largely fashion-unconscious (!) person, I couldn’t care less for a fashion brand, but having spent a LOT of money online to buy assorted things, I’d be worried about the kind of opinions floating online, if I was at Fashion and You.

My last tryst with the brand was a blog post that I had retweeted on April 25th, just a few days before ad:tech. It was titled, ‘How Authentic is Fashion and You? As much as a Thief can be!‘ and was much less about Fashion and You’s offerings, spam etc., and was specifically about use of certain images without permission – a completely ancillary issue, in my opinion.

But what made for amazing read is the comments section in that blog. It was a huge outpouring of ground level issues with fulfilment and quality – broken goods, late delivery, non-delivery, painful returns process and so on. It was amazing to see people chatting up about everything else besides the main content of the blog post. That was perhaps also the reason why I chose to retweet that blog post, despite having no personal experience with Fashion and You.

So, if as a brand, you are aware of the negative perception around your offerings, would you put your CEO out on a platform infested with people who are most likely to crib and complain about your brand? After all, ad:tech Delhi was teeming with people who were known to be very-to-reasonably influential online.

Next up: What should be the content of your address?

Assuming you are aware of the severely negative buzz, should you continue to speak about things like business as usual? Wouldn’t the awareness of negative buzz and more specifically, questions around the business model (alleging massive spam tactics) be good fodder to customize the content of your speech to address it head-on and change perception, if it was indeed possible?

I wasn’t there. So, it would be completely unfair of me to say anything more about what she spoke that day. I can only go by the summary provided at the ad:tech Delhi page. And of course, by the many tweets that referred to her talk being largely generic.

Pearl Uppal coming up. Social Commerce : shopping meets social media. #adtechin Hopefully no strategies on how to spam & get away. (URL)

And the opinions floating around the Q&A session.

#adtechin most common question for fashion and you’s pearl uppal still remains – why do you spam?â? (URL)

And finally, what happens after this speech?

Considering the speech is over, what I’m (as someone away from the speech and reading opinions only online) left with is an overwhelming perception that “Fashion and You is a massive spam machine with poor quality products and delivery going usually awry”. That is indeed a tragic way to describe it…and hugely unfair too, since I still do not have any personal experience with the brand. Even if I was planning to, this opinion is stuck on my mind since it comes from many people I regularly follow and trust online.

After all, there is a reason why people go ga-ga over online brands like Flipkart and Cleartrip. The positive buzz is literally out there, about these two brands, if I were to take them as examples. And it is not difficult to find someone in your online social circle who can opine on these 2 brands, particularly if you are reasonably well networked online.

Obviously, I’m merely using Fashion and You as an example – this could happen to any brand and any CEO. The basic crux is that it may be better to be aware of what people may expect or opine during your speech so that you remain topical and connect with them…and even take them by surprise by good old research on fulfiling your audience’s immediate needs and expectations.

It’s classic PR advice, incidentally.

Photo courtesy Matthew Oliphant via Flickr. The use of a generic speaker photo was entirely intention. It was easy to use Pearl’s photo or Fashion and You’s logo here, but that is not the point since I’m merely using this incident as an illustration.