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Zuckerberg Unbound

Philip Roth wrote a series of books in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The middle one is called Zuckerman Unbound and deals with the relationship between an author (Roth’s alter-ego Zuckerman) and his creations. It’s not a great relationship although it is a pretty good book. Roth’s character seems to express regret for the books his younger self brought into the world, and at one point he finds out that a book he wrote has caused his mother a great deal of pain and suffering.

English: Mark Zuckerberg, Founder & CEO of Fac...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought about Zuckerman as I watched (and am watching as I write this) another Zuck – Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook – testify before Congress about how his creation, designed to bring people together, has morphed into something that has blown many people and institutions apart. I doubt any of you reading today’s screed touch billions of people every day the way Facebook does, but I think there are some lessons to be learned here.

One thing that rings hollow for me is the apology offered to the committees. I and many others have been writing about Facebook’s lack of privacy and transparency for years. This isn’t something new nor is it something about which Facebook was unaware. One might suppose that they, like so many others in business, were of the mindset that it’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. Bad call, and they’ll be doing a lot of begging as the inevitable new regulations on the use of data are put into place. That’s lesson one.

My favorite moment of yesterday’s hearing came when one senator informed Mr. Zuckerberg that Facebook’s “user agreement sucks.” It does, but it’s far from alone. I’d also argue that any “simple” agreement that links out to a dozen other pages for further explanations of things not explained in the initial policy is far from simple. I doubt I could pass a quiz on what Facebook can and can’t do with my information and I’ve been on the platform since 2006. Anyone that generates data that you’ll use to benefit your business should understand what they’re giving you and why. Lesson two.

I do know that Facebook gives the user a lot of control over who sees what although it really doesn’t do so by default. I’m less clear as to what they gather although I’ve downloaded my data and gone through it. Some of what is in there comes from activities off of Facebook, probably either through my use of a Facebook ID to log in or via the Facebook Beacon. How many users understand that they might be tracked EVERYWHERE by Facebook and not just when they’re using the service? Facebook would argue that you’re using the service when you use your Facebook ID to log in elsewhere but I think that’s specious. Yet another lack of transparency, and lesson three.

I wonder where Facebook goes from here. As far back as 2010, it’s been under attack for its privacy failures. It’s a business founded by a man who called users “dumb f^&ks” for giving him their information. Maybe like Zuckerman, he’ll come to realize that he needs to be unbound, cut loose from everything that made him what he was and fix the problems in a way that fulfills the promise of connecting the world that he espouses. At the moment, it appears that others may step in and take steps that alter his world forever.

What’s your take?

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Getting Permission

Some of you send me social media love for or comment about the little photos I generally include with each blog post. Once in a while, you ask about where I get them. That actually prompted a thought in my mind that probably applies to whatever digital presence your business has.

First, let me answer the question. I source my photos from a few sites that offer royalty-free images that are donated by photographers, illustrators, and artists under a Creative Commons license. My two primary sources are Pixabay.com and Unsplash.com, and I highly recommend either or both to you.

Second, the question this raises for me is how many of you are aware that not every image you find via a search is OK to use? More importantly, how many of you realize that not every piece of content a user posts on their social sites or on your site is content that you have permission to use for commercial purposes? If and when you do an image search, you need to filter the results by “usage rights”, located under “Tools” on Google, for example.

I’m sure each of you read the “Terms of Use” for every site you use or every social service. Who doesn’t love a good 20-page legal document? OK, not so much, but contained in that document is some clause that might allow a service (Facebook, Instagram) to use what you post on the service for their own purposes, but that doesn’t mean that you can use something a consumer posts publicly on those services. It also means, even though you do have some permission from the user, that the user may not actually have the rights to give you if, say, they photograph your product along with several other legally-protected things or in a commercial environment (think theme park, store, etc.). If I post something you created that infringes on a third-party’s rights, I”m just as screwed as you are should they come after you.

The thing to remember is that just because something is posted in public doesn’t mean it’s free for anyone to use. Not photos, not videos, and not even reviews. You need to get permission from the creator as well as from anyone or the owner of anything in the piece of content. Overkill? Maybe, but better safe than sorry as my lawyer friends remind me. In a time when content is everywhere and being created by everyone, so too are the potential problems with using it.

BIG LOUD NOTE: This isn’t legal advice since I’m not a lawyer. I don’t even play one on TV. However, I did spend a lot of years going after people who used copyrighted content without permission. Trust me: you don’t want to be on the receiving end of that situation. Heard?

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Fighting About Data

I think everyone knows that a lot of data is collected as we conduct our daily digital activities. Google and the other search engines know what we’re looking for, Amazon and other commerce sites know what we’re shopping for, Facebook knows what we like, LinkedIn knows who we know, etc., etc., etc. These data footprints are collected and in many cases sold to marketers and their agents to allow them to serve ads to you. If any of that comes as a shock to you, I’m not sure where you’ve been for the last decade or more.

What you might not have thought about, however, is that the ads themselves collect data. How many times has someone seen it? What kind of person (that pesky data that the aforementioned guys have) has responded to an ad, and how well do the ads translate to sales (lovingly called the conversion rate as if someone is changing religions…). As it turns out, there is a bit of a controversy about who actually owns that data: the advertiser or the agency. The marketers believe that they are the rightful owners while the agency folks believe just as strongly that they are. Neither side feels that the publishers who serve the ads and, therefore make data collection possible, have much of a claim to it. Of course, even publishers came out ahead of one other group as the rightful owners in the survey: consumers.

As you can see in the chart, only 10% of advertisers and 15% of agency respondents believed that consumers had a claim to their own information. That’s tragic. Why? Because it represents a mindset that is ultimately self-defeating. It can lead to legal problems at worst and consumers opting out (if they can figure out how) at best. What have the advertiser or the agency done to give the consumer value for the data? Nothing, in my mind. One could argue that the ads they serve make possible the content the consumer enjoys, but those very ads make that enjoyment nearly impossible given the state of ad-serving today, particular in mobile.

Unless and until we on the marketing side see the consumer as at least an equal partner in our business and not as a bunch of rubes or just as “data”, the problems with ad blocking, anti-spam rules, and other protective measures aren’t going to go away. What will go away are the people represented by the very data over which the agencies and marketers are fighting. You agree?

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Digital Marketing 101

A friend and I were chatting about his business and he asked for my help in clarifying how he could do a better job of using digital marketing. Now while I’m not in the business of providing free consulting services, I figured I owed him at least a quick overview since I’d eaten a lot of his food over the years (and probably even more of his wine). Besides, I’m getting a blog post out of it, right?

We spent minute clarifying his business goals – what things did he want to improve and how could he make that happen? I asked him to tell me about his typical customers – personas in marketing terms – so we could focus his efforts a bit. I asked him to think about any research he had, customer lists, analytics, or even just his own impressions. Those two steps – goals and targets – lay the foundation for the marketing plan.

Next, we went through his current assets. Not the financial kind you’d find on a balance sheet. Instead, we filled out the three buckets of media – owned, earned, and paid. The first are things that are yours: your website, your social media profiles, a blog if you have one, etc. The second – earned media – are things that have been written about you – reviews, PR, word of mouth, etc. The third bucket is pretty obvious: what you are paying for at the moment, and includes things such as Search Engine Marketing, paid ads on social, etc.

After that comes the plan itself. I know that seems obvious but only about a third of businesses have a formal digital marketing plan. We talked about his business cycles and creating a marketing calendar that coincides with his needs. We put together a quick outline of a plan that listed priorities and the best channels to reach his target at the right time. Most important, we talked about how to measure the results and the need to adjust as you go. I stressed that measurement of things irrelevant to the goals we outlined was a waste of time.

I realize I just summarized an hour’s conversation in a post that took you a few minutes to read. I don’t mean to make all of this sound simple – it’s not –  but then again, what part of your business is? I can tell you that if you follow the process outlined above you’ll be a lot further along than many of your competitors. And, of course, I’m here to help if you need it!

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I Think I’m Fried

Here we are, the last week of the Summer, and I think I need to take a writing break. For you loyalists in the audience, you know that I try to post 300-400 fresh words each weekday. That’s on top of trying to keep up with the income-generating portion of my life meaning doing consulting work. As I’m sitting here this morning, I’ve realized a few things:

  • Not a lot of folks are working or reading stuff this week so my brilliant take on the world will mostly go unheard;
  • There isn’t a lot of “stuff” going on in the media, marketing, or tech worlds this week so there won’t be a lot of news to write about;
  • I’m kind of tired and maybe even burnt out on this blogging stuff.

It’s the last point that is most relevant. I don’t want to short-change your investment of time in the screed by delivering meh material. It’s what I’m always writing about: understand your customers and surpass their expectations. It’s not that I didn’t have a few topics hit me as I read the paper this morning but they’ll keep.

With the above in mind, I’m taking the rest of the week and the long Labor Day Weekend off from the blog. I hope to come back next Tuesday with some new perspectives and insights that are worth your time. In the interim, you can find all the older posts archived if you miss me. You can always email me too, especially if you’re in need of someone to work with your business (shameless plug!). Have a good week!

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Give Them A Reason

This Foodie Friday comes in the midst of various companies announcing their financial results. One of those companies is Wendy’s, which reported weaker than expected sales growth. That’s not particularly unusual for any company, but I think there’s a business lesson in the thinking behind their reasoning for the weak results. Let’s see what you think.

Foto de una carretera en la cual se destacan a...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Wendy’s, people aren’t dining out as much because it has gotten even cheaper to eat at home. Bulletin to the financial folks at the company: it’s generally been cheaper to eat at home. I can’t ever recall anyone I know saying let’s go out to eat and save some money, even when our destination is a fast-food place. In my mind, that’s not why people choose to dine out. It may be more convenient or they might just not feel like cooking. Maybe there is a time crunch (although unless you’re already out and about, you can probably whip up a couple of burgers in the time it would take to get to Wendy’s and eat). Wendy’s isn’t alone in either the weak results or the unusual reasoning, at least according to this article:

The results from Wendy’s follow disappointing sales from other chains including McDonald’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks. The other chains have cited a variety of reasons, including the political uncertainty created by the presidential election, for their performance.

Let’s accept that their reasoning is sound (hmm). Any of us in business realize that there are always any number factors beyond our control. Commodity prices, which can be strongly influenced by the biggest thing out of our control – the weather – are certainly one factor in the food industry. What we can control is how we give our customers a reason to come patronize us, regardless of the cost. We ought to be selling value. Unfortunately, in the food business “value menu” has become synonymous with “cheap.” That can only work for so long, especially, as in this case, as the costs of making our product or providing our service rise.

Solve consumers’ problems and provide excellent value at a reasonable (but profitable) cost. Give them a reason to turn off the stove and get in the car. Let’s see where that gets us.

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Asking Questions

We’ve all been through a job interview at one time or another. Even those of us who work for ourselves meet with potential clients or vendors and an interview of sorts takes place. I always judged the success of those sessions by the quality of the questions asked and I’d like us to take just a minute to think about that topic. I’ve written before about the specific questions I ask a job candidate.  Today is more abot the quality of questions that the candidate or prospective partner asks you.

First, who is doing the talking? Is the candidate or the interviewer guiding the discussion? My feeling is that the candidate should do more of the guiding of the meeting by asking phenomenal questions. Obviously, there are specific things the interviewer or potential client must elicit, but the truth is that a hiring candidate needs just as much information to be divulged in that discussion.

For example, for every discussion point made about the current business, can the speaker provide a concrete example? If not, maybe they’re speaking about that they want and not about what they have. When they talk about metrics, are they actionable and insightful such as cost per acquisition and the average customer value, or are they vanity metrics like web traffic or social “likes”?

Candidates or potential suppliers/partners who ask the right questions and challenge assumptions are way more valuable than those who don’t.  Which are you?

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