Category Archives: digital media

Digital Graffiti

Suppose you own a building and someone sprays a message on the facade. Maybe the message is as benign as just the “artist’s” tag or maybe it’s hate speech or maybe it’s as simple as pasting a sticker promoting some commercial venture. Whether you might find the message offensive or not, you probably wouldn’t hold the building’s owner responsible for the message unless you notified them that the message was there and they didn’t remove it. In NY, it’s illegal for landlords to leave graffiti up and the city will come and remove it for you at no cost. Of course, the city will also fine you once they’ve been told your building is hosting graffiti and you’re doing nothing about it.

English: Graffiti tag on train station buildin...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You might be wondering what this has to do with your business since you probably don’t own a building. In my mind, the same principle applies when users post links to content on a particular platform or when a news site reports on content hosted elsewhere and links to it. This very notion is at the center of a lawsuit filed by Playboy against Boing Boing. The latter posted a story about someone aggregating all of the Playboy centerfolds. As  Techdirt reported:

it’s a blog post titled “Every Playboy Playmate Centerfold Ever.” There’s a very short paragraph that reads:

Some wonderful person uploaded scans of every Playboy Playmate centerfold to imgur. It’s an amazing collection, whether your interests are prurient or lofty. Kind of amazing to see how our standards of hotness, and the art of commercial erotic photography, have changed over time.

Boing Boing then linked to the images and a video, both of which were off-site (on Imgur and YouTube, respectively). Playboy is suing for copyright infringement even though it’s pretty obvious that Boing Boing didn’t create or host any of the material. They merely reported on it (fair use, kids). I’ll let the lawyers decide if this is what’s known as a SLAPP action (designed to intimidate and be costly) or whether it has any merit, but it’s not unique. Web hosting companies have been sued for hosting pirate sites that stream copyrighted material.

You might know that under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Internet service providers (ISPs) may not be liable for copyright infringement from copyrighted material passing through their systems if they take certain steps to police infringement on their site(s). There are some requirements for you to claim this protection, but generally, if you didn’t post it and take it down when you’re told about it, you’re fine. It’s the equivalent of digital graffiti in NYC. Clean up the eyesore when you’re told about it and you’re not penalized.

I can pretty much guarantee that your business has a website. It might have a public-facing comments section or some other place where consumers can post things. You need to monitor and moderate it, and if you’re notified that someone is posting digital graffiti – whether it’s infringing materials or worse – you need to take action. Yes, fair use and the DCMA can protect you up to a point but ultimately you want all of your digital presences to reflect well on you and your brand. Being covered in graffiti doesn’t get you there, does it?

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints

Keeping It Real

Back in 2015, an engineer at Twitter asked his security team to look into fake accounts. He said he was stunned to find that a significant percentage of the total accounts created on Twitter had Russian and Ukrainian IP addresses and he also found that they were, for the most part, fake. They were “bots”.

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

No, today isn’t a political rant about how our Democracy might just have been hijacked by a foreign power. Rather, what happened next, as told in this piece by Bloomberg, is instructive to any of us in business because it raises a few issues that are common to us all.

The engineer was part of the security team. That team was tasked with keeping the platform secure. He took his findings to another team – the growth team – which had the responsibility for increasing the user base. That user base number is critical for every business since how the business is valued is based in part on how many users (we can’t really say people in this case, can we?) are active. Discovering that a significant percentage of the user base was fake could have a negative effect on the business’ balance sheet, and in this, we begin to see the problem.

There is a misalignment of goals. If part of security is keeping the platform free from spambots, the people responsible for deleting the spambots can’t have any goals which make deleting those bots counterproductive. In this case, the engineer was told to “stay in his lane”. In other words, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain – the reality of our user numbers – it’s not your job.

No organization should have these kinds of silos. No organization can base its public statements about growth and user engagement on numbers it knows are fake. It’s one thing for users to inflate their follower numbers by buying fake followers but it’s quite another for Twitter itself to be aware of these non-human accounts and to do nothing about them because they want to keep their user numbers up.

I don’t mean to single out Twitter. The same issue persists on Facebook and other social platforms and it’s way more insidious than research can find. There is a term – dark social – that refers to sharing activity among the network’s members that isn’t easily measured. Let’s say a fake account spreads a lie and maybe even buys an ad to do so. We can see how many impressions the ad had or how many followers the fake account has. What we can’t easily see is the network effect. I see the post and am outraged about it. I tell five friends, who tell five of their friends, etc., particularly when it’s shared off the network itself via email or text.

I am fairly certain that each of these networks could identify and stop this activity despite what you might have seen in Congress last week. Those were the lawyers testifying, not the engineers. The point for your business is to keep everyone’s goals in alignment, don’t build silos, and to be honest with yourself and with your investors. These are public companies who might just be committing fraud, but every company has the same responsibility for honesty and transparency.  You with me?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Are We In An Information Death Spiral?

Sometimes I wonder if we’re in an informational death spiral. That’s when an aircraft is out of control, loses lift, and heads in a corkscrew motion toward the ground. My pilot friends say they usually begin with a random, increasing roll and airspeed. That’s where I think we all just might be with respect to information. We’ve had a random, increasing rolling of what “real” information is and the speed at which it is generated is increasing.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Why this matters to you, both in business and in life, is that it’s becoming increasingly impossible to tell fact from fiction. The revelation that the Russian government created thousands of fake accounts across the social sphere to generate and amplify “news” items that were made up out of whole cloth is devastating to anyone who tries to figure out fact from fiction. That devastation is multiplied by the findings of this year’s Pew study which found:

Two-thirds of Americans (66%) use Facebook, and a majority of those users get news on the site, similar to 2016. Looked at as a portion of all U.S. adults, this translates into just under half (45%) of Americans getting news on Facebook. While a large share of its users get news on [Twitter} (74% say they do), its audience is significantly smaller overall. This means that overall, fewer Americans get news on Twitter (11% of U.S. adults).

In other words, we’re increasingly relying on the least reliable sources for news and information. Imagine if you were doing this in your business. Rather than looking at actual revenues, you based your appraisal of how things were going on how full your warehouse seemed or how busy your staff was. Sure, a warehouse that’s becoming empty can signal great sales but it can also signal an issue with your supply chain or with your accounting department who hasn’t been paying suppliers. Maybe it’s a collections issue. You don’t know until you get the real facts.

Being able to separate fact from fiction is the basis of being an educated, competent person. When others are out there trying as hard as they can to mask facts or to impose fiction, that job is thrown into a death spiral. When Facebook changed from being a place when you could focus on friends and family to a platform for news and information, the spiral began. When their algorithm began to reward the click bait that was able to deceive enough people by being outrageous, our collective noses headed toward the ground.

Don’t be fooled by fake news, either in the office or out of it. Find the facts, level off your wings, and fly on.

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Getting Social

You might think that after a decade or more of social media as a legitimate channel through which marketers can engage consumers we’d be doing a decent job of it. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s true for the bulk of the marketing world. In the interest of improving both results and the quality of the messages with which we’re all deluged, here are a few things I’ve found to be helpful when engaging in social media marketing.

First, research has shown that the vast majority of brands today invest most of their paid social media budgets into brand awareness marketing. I get that the sales cycle has to begin with lead generation and that begins with awareness, but if you’re spending all of your budgets on the news feed and not enough on conversion, retention, and service than you’re doomed to massive churn rates and ultimate failure.

Next, ask yourself how engaging you really are. The news feed, whether Facebook, Instagram, or elsewhere, is a place where consumers go to interact with their friends and to be entertained. It’s also becoming a primary news channel for many. Nobody is there to interact with you. Let me repeat that. Nobody is there to be sold to; they are there to be entertained. Are you doing that or are you the guy at the cocktail party who keeps asking all the guests if they have car insurance because that’s what he sells?

Whatever messages you’re sending out, how are you deciding about targeting? The holy grail of marketing is the right message to the right person at exactly the right time. It’s extremely tailored. If you’re buying big, untargeted audiences (Men, Women 18-34, People living in Maryland), you’re using a wrench as a hammer. It’s a misuse of a tool.

Finally, are you being you? Has your brand created a distinctive personality or is it all corporate ad speak? People don’t want to engage with robots so don’t sound like one. Be real and listen a lot more than you speak. Let your customers guide your marketing. Don’t respond to a question just with a “that’s on the FAQ page of our website.” Use it as the basis for your next blog post which then goes through the social channels.

I’m a fan of social media marketing even as I recognize that it’s full of landmines. You don’t want to be the company that “goes viral” for the wrong reasons (DiGiorno, Red Lobster, and many others) due to some social media faux pas. You want to be unique, interesting, relevant, inspiring, authentic, and entertaining while staying focused on your target audience and your own goals. Doable?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Helpful Hints

Do We Really Want Mullets?

Anyone remember the mullet? You know what I’m talking about: the haircut that’s “business in the front, a party in the back.” I think the last time the mullet was popular was when it was sported by members of the Pittsburgh Penguins when they won The Stanley Cup in the early 1990’s. Since then, it’s become more of an object of ridicule than a hairstyle to be admired. I think we’ve come to recognize that we can’t be both businesslike and a party at the same time.

I thought of the mullet the other day when I read that Facebook was testing resume-building features so that users can share their work history with their Facebook friends. They’re obviously trying to hone in on a space dominated by LinkedIn. The curious thing is that your “resume” doesn’t really display. It seems as if Facebook is simply gathering the information which one can assume they’ll use to fuel a service for headhunters and active job seekers. There’s actually a couple of points we can think about here.

The first is that most of the people I know (myself included) use different social sites for different purposes. Many of my Facebook friends are not work-related. We’re not generally connected on LinkedIn. I don’t cross-post (other than the screed) content on the two sites since I don’t especially think my business contacts care about what food I’ve eaten or what concerts I’ve attended or my political views. Conversely, I don’t bore my non-work friends with the three or four business-related articles I might come across that I find interesting.

From what I can tell, most users can distinguish between the appropriate content for the two sites. Frankly, I think Facebook knows way too much about each of us anyway, and I’m not sure that I want them to know much more about my work life, my contacts, or anything else I keep in the workplace. I certainly don’t want potential clients considering anything other than the professional qualifications available to them on LinkedIn – not my musical tastes, not my politics and not my sad attempts at humor with friends.

More importantly, every business needs a focus. Facebook, in particular, seems to have decided that anything is fair game. They’re trying to out video YouTube, to out marketplace Amazon, and to compete in areas such as food delivery. In the meantime, they can’t even decide if they’re a media business (hint: they are).  Each of us needs to figure out what business we’re in so we can channel our resources, focus on our competition, and understand what problems our solutions can solve to serve our customer base. Chasing the next shiny object or growing beyond our core competence generally is more trouble than it’s worth. That’s how we end up with a mullet and is that what we really want?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

Taking One For The Team

When was the last time, other than The Super Bowl, that you actively watched an ad? I suspect that you’re like me and you’re actively doing what you can to avoid seeing ads at all costs. You wear out the buttons on the remote or you record your favorite shows and watch them later. You might even have jumped into the camp of those of us who pay not to see ads. We pay Netflix or Hulu or Amazon or all three to watch the content we love in an uninterrupted way. I pay SiriusXM not to hear my favorite music interrupted by product ads (still can’t seem to avoid those promos, although they’re usually appropriate to the content I’m consuming).

Then there is the web, both computer-based and mobile. It makes a NASCAR vehicle seems as uncluttered and virgin as the newly fallen snow. Pop-ups, pop-unders, hidden ads that spew sound from a minimized window, multiple windows popping in succession, far too fast for the consumer to read but quickly enough to record an ad displayed and a marketer charged. It’s a nightmare.

Let me digress. There is one topic we hit hard here in the screed: customer experience. We’ve covered the customer service rep that screws you over, the faulty products delivered without shame or recourse, and the airline that my friends and I call “Air We Don’t Care” (actually our name is a little different and a lot more obscene). We’ve also covered the other side of that – the customer service rep that goes the extra mile and solves your problem beyond your expectations. All of that relates to what is called the user experience in the digital world.

It’s nice to see that there are finally a number of publishers who recognize that a focus on user experience over driving maximum revenue call pay off in the long run. Digiday ran a piece about it, explaining how some brave publishers are overcoming their fear of losing money in favor of cultivating a more loyal audience. It finally dawned on these publishers that people aren’t coming for the ads.

I spent many years selling media. I know that our customer is really the marketer and their agency. However, in order to attract those customers, we need to have viewers and readers that consume our content – a LOT of our content – and keep coming back for more. Improving the user experience makes that happen even if it might cause a temporary drop in page views, ads displayed, and revenue. Heck, when even the NFL is recognizing that they have to reformat their games to speed them up and make the ads less intrusive (a better user experience!), all other content providers need to take notice.

Is the sales department taking one for the team as the editorial group improves the user experience? Probably in the short term, yes. But in a world where ad-blockers, remote controls, DVR’s, and streaming rule, it’s a smart sacrifice in my eyes. You?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

The Pivot

Way back when in 1995, I was working at ABC Sports as their VP of Marketing. My job entailed meeting with advertisers and constructing packages of media and on-site benefits. We’d collaboratively design in-program elements, popularly known then as “enhancements”, to capitalize on the marketers’ involvement with a sport or an event. These things all took place on-air or on-site. The other big “on” – online – didn’t exist.

One day the president of ABC Sports walked into my office and asked me if I knew anything about computers. As a user of AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve and other early services, I replied that I did. He informed me that I was in charge and was to attend a meeting. ABC corporate had made a deal with this little start-up of under a million users called America OnLine and I was now to provide sports programming on behalf of ABC.

That was my pivot into digital. I didn’t realize it at the time, but saying “yes” to my boss’ question and being willing to take on some new, different responsibility had changed my life forever. None of us knew at the time that digital was going to disrupt the television business. We certainly didn’t think of it as anything other than an interesting sideline. But we began to see a little money coming in based on what we were doing, and once in a while, I could add some online stuff to the broad package of rights and benefits I was offering in my “real” job. Less than 5 years later, my job had become fully centered on digital, as I was now running a division of the NHL that didn’t even exist when I entered the digital world.

Being willing to pivot is a critical thing. Many businesses would be long gone if they were unwilling to do so. Foursquare, for example, pivoted their business from a consumer product to a B2B product, providing “location intelligence” to marketers. 90% of their revenue comes from that change. YouTube started as a video dating site. Nokia was a paper company. Twitter was a podcasting network. None of those businesses would be as successful, or maybe even exist, if they hadn’t been willing to shift their business paradigm and pivot.

I’d love to tell you that I saw the digital tsunami coming and got out in front of it on purpose but that would be a lie. I was lucky enough to ride the wave once it did show up because in my mind we were just doing what we’d always done – making great content and deriving value from the attention users gave it – albeit through a very different channel. The pivot was allowing my mind to be open enough to make that connection and to take the risk that it would be a rewarding road. Is your mind open to things like that?

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Filed under digital media, Growing up, Reality checks, sports business