Category Archives: digital media

Misaligned Interests

Did you happen to hear about (or read!) the NY Times article on how a young man got “sucked into the vortex” of radical videos on YouTube? It’s an interesting and scary read. It’s about how a person goes to YouTube to watch a video on one thing and ends up multiple videos later watching something completely different and often dangerous.

As the article says:

YouTube has been a godsend for hyper-partisans on all sides. It has allowed them to bypass traditional gatekeepers and broadcast their views to mainstream audiences and has helped once-obscure commentators build lucrative media businesses.

As usual, we’re not here to rant about the politics of these videos. It’s just as easy for the videos to be dangerous and non-political and even though YouTube specifically bans harmful or dangerous content, they can’t catch everything.

The real issue here is YouTube’s – and many other platforms’ – business model. They make money by keeping you engaged and the way that they do that is often via a recommendation engine. That engine uses an algorithm that rewards videos that have lengthy watch times by promoting them more often. Of course, the more engaged you are, the more ads you’ll see and that’s really the problem. Most of the popular platforms follow that business model and their interests don’t necessarily align with yours. They all have some sort of algorithm which on YouTube, as the article says, is

the software that determines which videos appear on users’ home pages and inside the “Up Next” sidebar next to a video that is playing. The algorithm is responsible for more than 70 percent of all time spent on the site.

Of course, you can turn off the recommendations. You can also delete your search history, pausing it going forward, and your watch history which will prevent the algorithm from determining what you usually watch. If you haven’t hidden the video suggestions (it’s in your settings) at least you’ll see lots of pretty neutral offerings. More importantly, you’ll take back control and realign their interests with yours.

It would be easy for YouTube and others to prevent a host of problems by killing off the recommendation engine but they never will because it’s the thing that drives their business model. In a perfect world, every business’ interests would align perfectly with those of their customers. Maybe it’s because the big platforms are out of alignment with us that there is so much anger directed toward them?

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Filed under Huh?, digital media

We’ve Been Robbed

An important, thought-provoking piece today from Roger McNamee in the NY Times. It’s entitled A Brief History of How Your Privacy Was Stolen and it raises some disturbing issues which concern – or should concern – us all. Mr. McNamee is a long-time tech investor and author. “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe” is his book and I think the title gives you a sense about his concerns, especially since he was an early investor in and advisor to Facebook.

This is the gist of his position:

Why it is legal for service providers to comb our messages and documents for economically valuable data? Why is it legal for third parties to trade in our most private information, including credit card transactions, location and health data, and browsing history? Why is it legal to gather any data at all about minors? Why is it legal to trade predictions of our behavior?

Good questions, and if you’re not concerned by the answers or the implications of the questions themselves, here are a few things to consider. First, go to Facebook, click under “settings” and look at the “Ads” tab. Scroll down a bit and open up the line that says “advertisers and businesses.” There you will see a list of all the companies that uploaded your email or phone onto Facebook so they could serve you ads. The companies listed have run ads in the last 7 days containing your information. Scroll down and keep opening the “see more” rows. I quit when I got over 500 companies. Most were companies – car dealers and realtors – with which I’d had no dealings. Why do they have my information? Of course, I’m aware of list brokers but why would a car dealer in Arizona pay for my information? That’s their issue; mine is that they have it.

I’m willing to bet that you’ve given Facebook and others way more information than I have. I use the DuckDuckGo search engine so my search history is private. I’ve locked down my browser so the “bugs” from Facebook, Twitter, and others don’t follow me. You can start by disabling the “ad settings” on the Facebook “ad” tab you’re on. That’s only a small part of the issue.

Anyone who is paying attention to China has seen the rise of a totalitarian “Big Brother” state built around constant surveillance. In 2015, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security announced it was looking to implement an “omnipresent, completely connected, always on and fully controllable” network using facial recognition systems and CCTV hardware. It’s largely in place. What does this have to do with you?

Google, Facebook, and others know pretty much everything about you. Where you’ve been, your friends, your shopping habits, etc. McNamee’s point that “Platforms are under no obligation to protect user privacy. They are free to directly monetize the information they gather by selling it to the highest bidder” underscores the problem. What happens when the highest bidder has nefarious intent? What if it’s the government? What if your insurance company wants to raise your rate because you’re buying fast-food and cookies?

I make it a point to do unpredictable things every so often to mess with whatever algorithm is paying attention. That can be as simple as shopping for products in which I have no interest or “liking” something that I really don’t. Sometimes I wish that we could put the tech genie back in the bottle, even if it’s a bottle I had a hand in opening in some small way.

Read the McNamee piece and tell me what you think, ok?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Reality checks

Masking The Message

Chase Bank did something really dumb the other day while they were actually doing something smart and necessary. It’s a good lesson for any business that how you communicate is every bit as important as what that communication entails.

Chase tweets out something on Mondays hashtagged #MondayMotivation. This week they attempted to inject a little humor into something that really isn’t humorous for the folks who face it: a depleted bank account. Chase tweeted out a fantasy dialogue between a consumer and their bank account. The customer wonders why their bank account is so low and the bank account replies, and I’m paraphrasing, because you spend money on things like buying expensive coffee and dining out and taking taxis when you could walk. The customer replies “I guess we’ll never know”. It came across as snarky and patronizing, especially coming from a bank that makes millions in profits on the fees charged to their customers for ATM use and overdrafts (not to mention a multi-billion dollar bailout from taxpayers).

Politicians jumped in, as did a lot of pundits. Frankly, when I heard about it and the responses to it, I thought it was too bad that a good, important message got lost in a bad presentation. Many younger consumers (and quite a few older ones) don’t realize that making coffee at home can save them hundreds or thousands of dollars a year, as can walking and bringing lunch to the office or learning to cook at night. Those $4 lattes add up and many younger people never learned the financial management skills as they matured that one needs to cope with the money demands that adult life makes. While I don’t discount the effect that stagnating wages and creeping inflation have, having the skills to think through the bigger picture can help.

Any business needs to ask itself “what baggage do I carry” before they message their customer base. Are they angry about anything? Smart businesses constantly have their ears to the ground to listen for any disruption in the force. They monitor social media, their own customer service reps, and the news media generally. Money, or the lack thereof, is one of the most sensitive topics the bank could have addressed. Snark, condescension, and arrogance are rarely the right approach, even when the message is spot on.

Chase was smart enough to delete the tweet and replace it with something humble – “Our #MondayMotivation is to get better at #MondayMotivation tweets. Thanks for the feedback Twitter world”. That’s something every business should constantly try to do – get better – don’t you think?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Something Could Be Gaining

I was watching TV last night and on came a commercial break. There were 5 commercials in this pod along with a couple of promo spots for the network I was watching. When the pod was over, something dawned on me and that has prompted today’s thought.

Not one of the five companies that were advertising was in business a decade ago. Every single one of them was digitally-based and every single one of them was disrupting an existing business sector.

There was an online realtor who would buy or sell you a house without using a local agent. There was the online employment site that would find you a job and serve as your headhunter. There was a site that would pack your pills into individual doses and mail them to you, no trip to the pharmacists needed. The next company would book your next vacation and notify you if now was not the optimal time to book.

I wonder, a decade ago, if the pharmacists thought that they would be threatened by a company that could fill prescriptions in a way no drug store could and at prices that are reflective of their no physical outlet cost structure? Why bother going on interviews with headhunters when you can post your resume and let the algorithm find you interested employers? Why spend on a recruiter when you can have candidates screened electronically and only see the best?

Satchel Paige is quoted as reminding us “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” I think that’s optimistic. If you are in any business these days, something IS gaining on you and they may be the advertisers whose commercials you watch as they go by. Disruption is a fact of business life and unless you’re thinking about how your business could be replaced, you’re missing the boat.

Make sense?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Inauthentic Behavior

I generally rip Facebook pretty hard in this space so, in the interest of fairness, I rise to give them a pat on the back. A number of outlets reported today that Facebook pulled down 2,632 bogus accounts and pages from their platform. They mostly came from Russian and Iran. The reason was that they were conducting “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” In other words, they were troll farms spreading lies and hatred. Lest you think that no one reads and/or believes that sort of vitriol, about 1.7 million people joined one or more of the Russia-linked groups, while roughly 1.4 million accounts followed one or more of the Iranian pages.

Back in January, Facebook took down more than 400 pages linked to operations in Russia. Obviously, this is not a problem that began and ended with the 2016 election and it’s going to get worse as 2020 approaches. Good on ya, Facebook. There is, however, a lesson in this for any business.

The internet has been weaponized and not always in a way that would constitute benign marketing by several companies. Destroying a brand’s reputation is just as easy as foreign governments found it to be in disrupting our elections. I suspect that many of the resources Facebook and others are deploying are focused on election interference and not on businesses. How hard would it be to start up a group or page that’s negative toward a brand? How difficult might it be to promote that page? In the January wave of takedowns, 364 pages and accounts spent approximately $135,000 on advertising and garnered 790,000 followers. $135,000 in marketing is a pittance to destroy a competitor’s brand, right?

If you don’t have a system in place to monitor brand reputation everywhere, you’re likely to be ambushed. Negative reviews on product and review sites, whisper campaigns on social media, and other weapons might be pointed at you right now. Do you know if that’s true? How?

I don’t mean to alarm anyone today. OK, maybe I do. The era of digital being used to connect people has passed. Now it’s being used to divide us, so negativity doesn’t stick out and falsehoods are more readily seen as truths. Pay attention!

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

Servers And Small Customers

I wasted some money the other day. I thought I was being smart and using my knowledge of social media marketing to promote my franchise consulting business. I was looking to acquire some new candidates who are ready to change their lives so I created an audience of folks whose demography matched that of most of the candidates with whom I’ve been working. What I found weren’t leads but I did get a great deal of information and I want to share some of that with you today.

One truism I’ve always sworn by is that you can tell someone’s character by how they treat people who can do absolutely nothing for them. Servers, for example. Oh sure, they can bring you your order but they’re not going to help your career along. Receptionists are another example. When you treat people who you perceive to be in a subordinate role like dirt, it shows an awful lot about your personality and character.

The same holds true for how big companies treat little customers. The big guys get all the attention because they have all the dough. What’s forgotten is that the big guys were once little guys, either in sum or in their spending with you. To cultivate budget growth you need to treat every customer as if they are the most valuable.

So why the rant? My lead campaign generated several leads from Facebook. The cost per lead was substantially better than I usually have to pay to generate a lead. The problem is that when I went to download the information from Facebook I received a file that contained digital garbage. I don’t mean bad leads; I mean unreadable digital garbage. I sent a note to support to ask if I’d done something wrong. Crickets. A few days later, I sent another note which is still unanswered, not even with an autoreply letting me know that my message was received. I’m assuming that if I were one of their big customers (the Russian Internet Agency maybe?) I’d have a dedicated rep who would get back to me immediately. As a self-serve slob, I’m pretty much on my own.

Any business can learn from this. Sure, millions of small customers can’t each have a personal rep, but you’re a tech platform, dammit. Put some of those technical smarts to work and figure out how to support the little guys. If you’re not a tech platform, find one that can help you and use the reporting it will offer to make sure you’re treating the little guys the same. After all, you’re nice to the person who serves you your meal, aren’t you?

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints, Huh?

More Fake News

It’s holiday time, and holiday time is shopping time. Now if you’re anything like most people, a fair amount of your shopping is done online. Even if you don’t actually buy from an online retailer, you probably do a fair amount of your research using online reviews and they are our topic today.

A marketing solution provider called Uberall released its “Customer Review Report,” which analyzed how consumers evaluate reviews online. They found that consumers think brands should be very active online responding to reviews. In fact, 65% of consumers think brands should respond to every online review every time, whether the review is positive or negative. Other observations from the study were that 18% of consumers believe brands should respond only when the review is negative, while 10% feel they should never respond, and 6% think they should only respond when the review is positive.

How do you feel about it? Personally, I think it’s critical that brands monitor the reviews of their products and not only should they respond but they should also verify. I’ve found that review verification sites such as Fakespot provide a wonderful service. I recognize that some brands actually pay for fake positive reviews in order to mask the crappy stuff they’re selling. That’s short-sighted since the revenues they make will be far offset by the costs of returns, customer service calls and maybe even lawsuits. Running an Amazon URL through Fakespot or ReviewMeta can save you a lot of trouble and also tell you a lot about how well a company curates its reputation.

There was a study a few years back that found that 20% or so of Yelp reviews were fake. You can spend $1 to get one written and you just might end up having to pay up to $40,654 to the FTC for having done so. Online reviews are a great source of, if not THE best, information for consumers and a generally accurate reflection of how your brand is perceived. You should influence that perception through positive interaction and not through creative writing. Most of all, you should respond, especially at this time of year when it’s a crucial sales period for most brands. Are you doing so?

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Filed under digital media, Growing up