Category Archives: digital media

Is There Anybody Out There?

Over the years, I’ve been privy to a lot of data. My own business analytics (my website, blog posts, social presences, etc.), as well as those of my clients, kick off a lot of information. Combine that with the ongoing streams of data from the various marketing campaigns – both search Engine ads and social media ads – I’ve administered over the years and I’ve seen a lot of information about how readers are captured and interact.

Except I don’t believe much of it anymore. Let me explain why and what it means to you.

A few weeks ago, there was a report that Facebook was breaking up an “extensive fake account scam” targeting publisher pages with false “likes.” The idea was to obtain more “friends” for the scammers they could later spam. USA Today was the biggest page hit, losing nearly 6 million “likes.“ because they were fake accounts. Facebook also came under fire for giving publishers and advertisers faulty metrics to evaluate audience reach. Even in the last day, Facebook found an error in how its video carousel ads were reporting and is having to give back cash to advertisers. I don’t think it’s news to anyone that a huge percentage of Twitter accounts are bots, and impressions generated against those bots are a complete waste.

If you read web analytics, you’ve probably encountered “referrer spam.” This has the effect of goosing your visitor numbers up while providing no value. It skyrockets bounce rates and kills conversion rates among other things, but the worst part of it is the added time it takes to address, either through filtering or other means.

Programmatic advertising, which is now nearly all of display and other ads on the web, is rife with fraud. The industry is struggling to verify if ads are seen by humans or even if they’re visible at all. Middleman after middleman “clips the ticket” as money moves from advertiser to publisher, and with over 2/3 of those dollars going to just two entities (Google and Facebook), it’s slim pickings in the publishing world. That means the pressure is on the generate big numbers and bigger results. Of course, if you can’t believe the numbers, how can you evaluate anything anymore?

Here’s how. I know I’m old school and what I’m about to say isn’t as efficient as a trading desk’s programmatic solution, but it actually works. First, take the time to look at the only results that matter. It may be revenue, it may be downloads or app installs, it may be the phone ringing, it may be physical store traffic. I used to worry about conversion rates but since we don’t really know who’s a human out there, the conversion itself is what’s key. Make friends with the sales reps from key publications. Have face to face meetings. You don’t want your sales rep to be a bot either. Pay premiums for premium content and premium results. Programmatic is a race to the bottom, even after you cut through the fraud and waste.

We need to rely on people and only upon the data that can’t be subverted or corrupted. Yes, there are people out there. Let’s go find them.

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

Legalized Discrimination

I work with a number of startup companies, as I’ve mentioned before. There are a whole host of issues that these newbies face but one they don’t, if they’re digital, is the same sort of access to their potential audiences as is enjoyed by their much larger, entrenched competition. The reason for this is an underlying principle of the Internet which is that all traffic – those little packets of information that carry data, pictures, sound, etc. – is handled equally, both by the “backbone” companies responsible for transport and by your Internet Service Provider. You know – the folks (or folks, if you have a cable provider that provides internet access and a wireless company) to whom you send a check each month in return for the ability to send cat videos to your friends.

The reason for this post is to call your attention to the increasingly loud noises out of DC about giving those ISPs the ability to discriminate. Three years ago, John Oliver did a fantastic job of explaining why this issue is important and last Friday night, he did so again. Why did he need to? Because rules that were put in place to protect everyone are being changed.

Suppose you watch those cat videos on three different video platforms: YouTube, Vimeo, and a startup called CatVideosRule. You notice that the first two are crystal clear and in full high-def, while the last takes forever to load, buffers a lot, and isn’t very clear. It’s likely that the reason for that isn’t that the startup is using bad technology but that your ISP is prioritizing traffic. Maybe they are getting fees from YouTube and Vimeo. Maybe they don’t like cat videos and are slowing down the startup. The reason doesn’t matter. What does is that it’s discrimination and it’s going to be legal. In my mind, once ISPs get to pick and choose, it’s not a big step for them to begin censoring the content as well. You know: if you want to be on our network at full speed you will not criticize us, etc.

The new head of the FCC is suggesting that we just ask the ISPs to promise they’ll play nice. These are the same ISPs that promised you 50MB speed and deliver 30MB with no fee adjustment or apology. We are already seeing some services become “zero-rated”, which means that using them doesn’t count against any data plan you may have. It’s bad enough that the ISPs are boosting their own services at the expense of others. Legalizing another form of discrimination could be the death knell of one of the things that have fostered the dynamic, disruptive growth of our digital world. Do you agree? Are you following this story?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

New Isn’t Synonymous With Good

A decade or more ago (2003, actually), there was an early attempt at a VR world called “Second Life.” It’s still in existence although in my mind it reached its PR peak way back when. Many sports and entertainment properties rushed to set up virtual home bases in the virtual world. If memory serves, MLB built a stadium and the NBA built an arena.

I was running the NHL’s digital stuff at the time and as you might expect, the Second Life folks came to us to participate. You should also know that sports leagues keep an eye on one another (duh) and so the fact that the other leagues were there had some folks internally asking why we weren’t. I had a pretty simple answer for them: we weren’t because it made absolutely no business sense. Back then, Second Life’s business was almost a real estate play. We would have had to have bought “land” on which to construct our presence as well as to build and maintain whatever we build. The audience numbers weren’t all that great when compared with other options. When we put all the numbers together the cost was well into six figures and the potential return was pretty nebulous at best. I explained all this to my management and said that if they wanted to be involved from a marketing perspective (and pay for it out of that budget) we’d proceed but if they were asking if it was a smart business deal the answer was no.

The Second Life folks were way ahead of their time (VR is just starting to take off) but the lesson from that is just as relevant today. Look at the rush of sponsors to new platforms, whether they’re the latest hot app or a new type of programmatic buying. There is no vetting. Many of these things lack any form of third-party verification or transparency. Frankly, my guess is that many of the folks involved don’t even know what questions to ask since ad tech has become incredibly complex. Add in the controversy about rebates driving placements and investment in much of this new stuff might make a visible splash but bellyflop as a business decision.

Good strategy is timeless. Yes, we need to push forward with respect to how we display our messages and engage with our consumers. No, we don’t need to rush off a technological cliff as we try to do that in the name of being cutting edge. Newness for newness’ sake is not synonymous with good. You agree?

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints

How To Cure A Headache

My introduction to the business side of media came when I was a teenager. My dad was a television rep who sold time to ad agencies. Broadcasting Magazine showed up every week and once in a while, he’d have a Nielsen book in his briefcase for me to peruse. From my perspective, the business seemed pretty simple. The seller and buyer agreed on a price based on how many people they thought might be watching and how narrowly defined the parameters were with respect to when the ad could run. In other words, they negotiated and measured based on ratings, rate, and rotation.

Drawing "THE CLUSTER HEADACHE" Subti...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I actually followed my father into the media business, not much had changed. Sure, the numbers were more demographically-based instead of on household counts, but the business was pretty much the 3 R’s. Not anymore. In fact, a recent study by ID Comms found that most advertisers see media as a complex headache. It is pretty overwhelming now, both from the perspective of available media options as well as the addition of digital channels such as social media. The fact that a huge percentage of media is now bought programmatically through systems that are often rife with fraud and lacking in transparency adds to the headache.

I don’t think it’s the complexity of the media world that’s causing the headache. I think it’s a misplaced emphasis on buying efficiency at the expense of both strategic thinking and measuring results on things other than easily-manipulated metrics such as CPM. If a campaign makes the cash register ring, it’s effective. If it doesn’t, what good is it to have delivered something useless in a highly-efficient manner?

I’ve spoken with friends on both the sales and buying side of the equation. There seems to be universal frustration but not much in the way of solutions. It really needs to come from the people who control the purses – the clients. They need to stop thinking about CPM’s as a measure of efficiency (at least when it comes to digital, anyway) and place a lot more emphasis on strategy. Is the register ringing? Is the phone? Are there more interactions on social even if the number of “likes” isn’t rising? Is there a buzz about your brand? Those are the modern metrics that are relevant in the long-term and that kind of thinking can cure a media headache many folks are now experiencing. You agree?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Thinking Aloud

Ignorance Is No Excuse

I don’t think any of us like being deceived unless we’re watching a magic show. It’s especially angering when you find out that what you believed to be a trusted source has told you something based on someone paying them to do so. You might be aware that several years ago the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued rules about the need to clearly label paid social media posts as ads so that consumers aren’t deceived by ads masquerading as content.

English: Fined Stamp text

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several companies have been fined as a result of failing to follow the rules. Lord & Tayor, for example, was fined because they paid 50 online fashion “influencers” to post Instagram pictures of themselves wearing the same paisley dress but failed to disclose they had given each influencer the dress, as well as thousands of dollars, in exchange for their endorsement. The folks at Warner Brothers were fined for failing to adequately disclose that it paid online influencers thousands of dollars to post positive gameplay videos on YouTube and social media. Over the course of the campaign, the sponsored videos were viewed more than 5.5 million times.

I bring this up because I saw a piece this morning headlined

Marketers ‘Unaware’ of FTC Social Media Guidelines Regulating Influencers

Only one in 10 know sponsored posts should be tagged as ads, study finds.

Seriously? These rules have been in place since 2009 and were updated in 2013. 60% of influencers – the people who are paid to put this stuff out there with their endorsement – are fully aware of the rules and do a good job of following them. The people paying them? Not so much.

But wait! There’s more! I found this especially perturbing:

A significant minority of influencers said it’s not uncommon for brands to ask them to hide the fact that their post is sponsored.

I’m not sure which is worse – ignorance of the rules or the willful violation of them. Either way, it’s really a problem. Ignorance of the rules is certainly no excuse. One could argue that consumers are sophisticated enough to understand that even traditional product reviews often came based on the product being made available to the reviewer for free. I think most folks assume that unless we’re into the realm of reviews posted by normal people on Amazon or Yelp or Trip Advisor, most “influencer” reviews or posts involve money changing hands. All celebrity endorsements do and seeing an athlete or actor endorsing a product, one can safely assume it’s an ad.

Maybe these marketers can shrug their shoulders and think of the fines as a cost of doing business. That’s short-sighted since the hit to their reputations is larger than the fine, whatever that fine may be. All of us need to know and follow the rules that are in place when it comes to paying people to promote our products. If we don’t the choice is to be labeled ignorant or sleazy, and neither is a great option. You agree?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Learn To Shut Up

I don’t suppose it will be a great shock to any of you that there is new research out that shows marketers can be their own worst enemies. The study comes from Bridge Ratings and is entitled The Facebook Fatigue Dilemma. There is quite a bit in the study but the section I found of relevance to us today concerns why users unfriend or unlike a brand. Not surprisingly, it’s because they are being inundated with marketing messages, and while they can’t really control which ads they’re seeing (more about that in a second), they can control what pops up in their news feed by telling the brand to go away via unfriending.download

What they study shows, as reported by eMarketer, is “44% of respondents “unliked” a brand on the social media platform when the company posted too frequently. Likewise, 43% of those polled said they “unliked” brands because their Facebook walls became too crowded with marketing posts, forcing them to cut down on the number of brands that they follow.”

As marketers, we forget sometimes that our brilliant messages are not the only messages the consumer is seeing. While what we have to say is important both to us and the consumer (hopefully), we are just one of a thousand messages the consumer is seeing that day. We need to learn to shut up unless and until we have fresh content that’s relevant to the consumer.

Of course, we can also do a little educating. Going off on a tangent here, I’m convinced, based on my discussions with many Facebook users, that most people have no clue how to tune their Facebook feeds to serve them. I’ve yet to see any marketer run a campaign within Facebook helping users to use the platform (and to presumably keep your incredibly helpful posts front and center). Do you use the little drop-down tab in each and every news feed post to tune the stream? How about using lists to segment various things? Do you actively report your feelings about various ads to the Facebook algorithm to help make what you see more relevant?

Media isn’t a megaphone. Marketing isn’t a monologue. We need to learn to shut up until we really have something to say, don’t we?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

A Law Against Being Dumb

We all hate it when people say negative things about us. Obviously, if you’re a business and this happens, the odds are that the mean things are posted in some very public places, which can be damaging to your business. I’ve written a few times about various tactics a business can use to respond to negative reviews or comments: ignoring them, denying them, addressing them in a positive manner, or suing the person who posted them. This last tactic, which is, in my mind, the least effective and most dangerous, is no longer an option.
One of the last things the outgoing Congress did was to pass H.R. 5111 – The Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016. This law, in its own words:

makes a provision of a form contract void from the inception if it: (1) prohibits or restricts an individual who is a party to such a contract from engaging in written, oral, or pictorial reviews, or other similar performance assessments or analyses of, including by electronic means, the goods, services, or conduct of a person that is also a party to the contract; (2) imposes penalties or fees against individuals who engage in such communications; or (3) transfers or requires the individual to transfer intellectual property rights in review or feedback content (with the exception of a nonexclusive license to use the content) in any otherwise lawful communications about such person or the goods or services provided by such person.

In other words, businesses can’t sue someone because they impose a form contract that prohibits the customer from making negative comments and it forbids businesses from slapping fees on customers who do so. We’ve seen this done by several businesses over negative Yelp reviews. Then there is the case of the company that bricked a users software after he posted a negative review (and I’m unclear if the Act actually prohibits this!). As you’re reading this, I’m hoping your response is “why do we need a law to stop businesses from being stupid?”

Good point. That said, some consumers have spent many hours and thousands of dollars defending themselves against voicing their honest opinions which are based in fact (the law doesn’t by the way, negate existing libel or slander laws). But let’s not stray from the important point: how to handle negative reviews.

  1. Apologize. Do so loudly and in the same forum where the consumer voiced their opinion. It doesn’t matter if they’re dead wrong.
  2. Take a deep breath and ask yourself if there are grounds for the complaint. Be honest. Is this a one-off or have others complained about similar issues?
  3. Ask to take the discussion offline into a private forum – email, phone, direct messages, etc.
  4. Make it right – no “buts” and don’t “try.” That doesn’t mean you should accept a ridiculous offer from them (lifetime free meals because they found a hair in their salad) but you should compromise on something that is reasonable and lets the customer know they’ve been taken seriously and not ignored.

We shouldn’t need a law to help businesses from being dumb but until many of us wise up and quit suing our customers for voicing their opinions, this one is on the books. Thoughts?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?