Tag Archives: Digital marketing

Fending For Yourself On Facebook

We used to be awfully smug when I was working for network television. After all, if an advertiser wanted immediate national reach there were no other options. If they didn’t want to go through the hassle of buying dozens or maybe tens of dozens of individual markets in spot television, then they had to come to one of the big networks. Over time, cable TV cut into that dominance but adding a few broad reach cable networks into the mix didn’t hurt us too badly. Until it did.

Today, the audiences for network TV are big but they certainly have been bigger. More importantly, there are many others with comparable audiences and advertisers have a lot of choices. More often than not, when the channel of choice is digital, the medium of choice is Facebook. They bill themselves as a content platform but that’s not really true. They’re a publisher. They curate content from others and control the content that appears, just the way the TV networks used to do before they started creating many of the shows themselves. Slowly, they’re learning that they are responsible for the content that appears on their platform since they’re picking and choosing. Publishers (think the Times or Journal) are responsible when their publications (platforms?) are used to spread lies or infringe on copyright. There is one area, however, in which they claim no responsibility at all.

This is from an Ad Age article:

When Facebook’s Campbell Brown addressed an auditorium full of magazine executives in New York Tuesday, she did not mince words: The social network is not here to save their businesses…It was a sobering and frank message for an industry looking for answers. Facebook has endured criticism from media companies for encouraging them to invest resources into its distribution platform. Facebook has persuaded publishers to push into live video, fast-loading Instant Articles, longer Watch videos and other offerings, for example, but none have reaped significant returns.

In other words, while we encouraged you to invest in our platform and grow our engagement with audiences using your content, you’re on your own when it comes to reaping the rewards. In fact, it’s worse than that since Facebook now demands that publishers pay for any significant visibility. Facebook is in a position analogous to where we were at the TV networks 30 years ago. We didn’t realize at the time how tenuous our grasp on our audiences was nor did we do a good job of working in a balanced partnership with our advertisers. Facebook manages to piss off the marketing community almost as often as they do privacy advocates. As one analyst note said, “Facebook is at risk of being massively unfriended by its 7 million advertisers.”

Personally, I’m wondering why they have as many as they do, given their attitude to their audiences, to content providers, and to marketers. Yes, I get the numbers but I also know that there are many other choices in marketing today. Maybe the digital platforms of the TV networks? Remember them?

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Break Up Facebook

I’m a capitalist. I’m a big believer that the free enterprise system should be left to work pretty much without outside interference. We can have a lively discussion as to whether that really ever happens (I don’t think it does) but I think we can agree that where the free enterprise system needs to have some controls imposed are when the system results in anticompetitive and/or anticonsumer behavior. Historically, the government takes action at that point, as it did with Standard Oil and with original AT&T. I think we’re at that point again with Facebook and I think the company needs to be broken up.

Many of you don’t remember the old AT&T. It controlled local phones, long-distance services, and the manufacture of most telephone equipment. You can read a detailed explanation of the hows and whys of the breakup here but the net result was that phone services got more competitive, equipment improved, and the number of wireless services and broadband providers we have now is a result. AT&T was a  monopoly, and when its monopoly power was removed, it struggled.

Facebook is a monopoly. They’ve become so massive that you can’t escape their data collection system. They’ve bought any company that seems as if it might become competitive. They aren’t “winning” because they have a better product; they’re doing so because we don’t really have a choice or because they’ve cheated. Facebook bases its business model on anti-consumer behavior and, frankly, lying. They lied to publishers. They lied to video creators.  They lied to the government about data collection and the role they played in spreading misinformation and propaganda while accepting money to do so. They’ve lied to you. Think about the number of times you’ve read about some horrible thing the company has done only to promise it won’t happen again and they’ll be better. Until the next time.

Germany just did something that could show us the way. Germany’s antitrust regulator has told Facebook it must stop forcing users to allow it to collect and combine their data from sources outside Facebook. Among such sources are Facebook-owned apps like WhatsApp and Instagram as well as third-party websites that include Facebook features like the “share” button. Since Facebook derives 99% of its revenue from advertising based on that data collection, this is a great first step.

The last straw from me was the realization that Facebook is monetizing data from people who don’t even have a Facebook account. When people navigate around the internet, sites that use Facebook’s advertising pixel or other social APIs linking back to Facebook (like the “Like” button) send data about those site visits back to Facebook. Facebook collects that data on everyone who visits these sites, whether they’re a registered user or not. You might not be on Facebook but that doesn’t stop them from selling your data. It’s also why any ad-based digital publishing business is probably going to have to survive on crumbs since Facebook scarfs up most of the ad dollars since they have most of the data. Yes, I know Google grabs just as much but it’s a different business model. Search isn’t display.

Break up Facebook. The digital world needs its walls to crumble so that new businesses – better and more ethical businesses – can survive. Start by breaking off Instagram and What’s App. Don’t let them make any new acquisitions of competitors. That’s where I’d begin. You?

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How Did We Get So Far Off Track?

I started working in the digital world in the mid-’90s. While I wasn’t exactly there for the dawn of the digital age, I was a relatively early member of the group of executives that began building businesses on the internet and on walled gardens like AOL used to be. A couple of things that have happened recently have me shaking my head, wondering how it’s all gone sideways.

First, I asked Twitter to send me something:

Keith Ritter, your advertiser list is ready! The list attached includes the advertisers that have included you in a tailored audience. These advertisers have included you in one or more tailored audiences. Tailored audiences are often built from email lists or browsing behaviors. They help advertisers reach prospective customers or people who have already expressed interest in their business.

I figured since I do a fair amount of cookie-blocking and other means to prevent tracking that I’d turn up in a handful of audiences and I was right. I appear in exactly 9 audiences. However, the rest of the 57-page document (not a typo) listed the similar audiences Twitter has decided I fit. They market me as a part of these audiences and I have no control over it. I can opt out and it will change the ads I see on Twitter. It won’t however, remove me from these audiences. I am included in over 1,000 of them, my data used and sold quite unwillingly.

Then there are the constantly apologizing folks at Facebook. This article in the NY Times is both frightening and disappointing. It talks about how Facebook “gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.”  Their privacy track record is abominable and every week it seems there is another apology and a promise to do better. Fool me once…

It’s taken years for the marketers and publishers to push back on the rampant fraud and abuse of programmatic ads. Social media is rife with “influencers” who buy fake followers and regularly violate FTC regulations on advertising. It seems that everyone under 30 is either a ninja or a guru. Fake reviews for products that are complete rip-offs are everywhere (run a link to an Amazon review through Fakespot if you don’t believe me).

All of this leaves one question: what the hell happened? How did the digital business world get so screwed up? At some point, Facebook and many other digital businesses decided that making money is way more important than serving their users is, I think, the basic answer. I’m all for making money, as my business track record shows. There are limits, however, and I have a fundamental belief that making money can only happen over the long term when you respect the customer. As the great David Ogilvy once said, “The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife.” Because most of the people who use digital have no concept about how they are tracked and marketed, most businesses treat them as morons and therein lies the problem.

I could rant on but I’ll end it here with a plea. To any of you who are in the digital world, please resolve to get back on track. Way back when in 1995, all we wanted to do was to amuse a few people and keep them engaged. Yes, we sold ads but we also didn’t track people once they left our domain. We didn’t treat them as numbers or rubes. You shouldn’t either. I get that the tools are more sophisticated and more powerful and that the world has changed. Basic business principles and human decency haven’t, have they?

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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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Why Does Anyone Buy Digital Ads?

Billions of dollars are spent marketing via programmatic advertising. Many billions more are spent paying for app installs – money that changes hands when an ad convinces a consumer to install an app on their smartphone. Ask yourself this: in what other business do you as a customer have a pretty decent chance of being defrauded? Off the top of my head, I can think of used cars and the investment world as places where customers should tread exceptionally carefully. Each of them has a certain subculture of ripping people off and there is a small percentage of bad actors who cause the bulk of the problems.

Try to wrap your head around these numbers. Somewhere between 3% and 37% of ad impressions were found to be from robots and not actually delivered to human eyes. That doesn’t seem bad until you do the math and see that over $6 Billion is spent on fraudulent ad impressions.

Do I have your attention yet? How about this from eMarketer:

eMarketer estimates that $7.1 billion will be spent on mobile app install ads in 2018, up from $6.5 billion last year…Several companies have conducted research that indicates how expensive install fraud is for marketers. Mobile marketing analytics firm Adjust estimated that between July and September 2018, 13.7% of app installs were rejected as fraudulent. According to Tune, app-install fraud cost marketers nearly $2 billion in 2017. DataVisor stated that for some ad networks, half of their app installs are fraudulent.

Is the industry trying to solve this? Of course it is, but it’s almost a Sisyphean task. One problem is solved and another method to defraud marketers and publishers pops up, and it’s been going on this way for as long as I can remember. Even among the legitimate ad service providers, there is an industry-wide reluctance to share the “black box” of how these systems actually do what they do. Do you think it’s only the little guys? It’s not. Facebook has been sued for overreporting how much time users spent watching videos. The suit says that Facebook knows that the majority of video ads on its platform are viewed for very short periods of time—users scroll right past. They claim that if advertisers were more widely aware of this fact, and in particular, if they knew that their advertisements were among those that were not drawing viewers’ attention, they would be less likely to continue buying video advertising from Facebook.

I tell clients that they need to be extremely careful if they go beyond search engine ads into other forms of programmatic. While I am well aware of how effective digital marketing can be, I constantly wonder if the bad actors are making that effectiveness almost impossible to achieve. I don’t know why anyone would enter the sewer that the digital ad world has become, at least not without full protective gear. Am I being too critical here?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Ethics And Profits

A bit of a rant today. Suppose you had a friend who lied about things. Maybe they told you that they had a great way to help your business when, in fact, their plan was to use your money to build up their own business. Maybe you gave them money to invest and they lied about the returns. Maybe you tell them information about yourself that you don’t really want public and they tell people anyway. Maybe you let them use your phone or your computer for a few minutes and they installed malware that spied on your constantly. Some friend, right?

Welcome to doing business with Facebook.

Now before you accuse me of hyperbole, let me remind you of the incredible breaches of trust that Facebook has committed over the years. If you look up “Facebook apologizes,” you get over 17 million results. They, like many companies, seem to be focused on one thing: shareholders. As one person put it in speaking about the fall of Sears:

“What’s happened is that shareholders’ interests have squeezed out other stakeholders,” said Arthur C. Martinez, who ran Sears during the 1990s and was credited with a turnaround. “The mantra is shareholders above all else.”

What happens to workers doesn’t matter. Amazon gave raises with one hand and took away stock grants with the other. What happens to partners doesn’t matter. Facebook begged marketers to use their platform to distribute content and then, once the platform had grown to an unimaginable size, cut off marketers who didn’t pay them from access to their audience. What happens to users doesn’t matter. Alphabet, Google’s parent, has over 88% of mobile apps gathering data for them whether users know it or not. Ever wonder how the ads Google serves you with a search seem to tie to something you were doing on a news or productivity app that had nothing to do with Google or search or even ads? Here’s a study that will explain it.

Why is it so hard to follow a moral compass to profitability for many companies? If the bulk of non-tech people truly understood how their data is gathered and used, they’d go back to flip phones. Why not put your customers first and treat them as you’d expect to be treated as a customer? Why not reward employees so that they’re doing better as you’re doing better? Why not put partners’ interests on a level footing with your own so that deals are equitable and profitable for you both? Why not allow vendors to make an honest profit? Without those four things – customers, employees, partners, and vendors – what the shareholders have will be worthless pieces of paper and not an interest in a profitable, growing enterprise.

My friends don’t lie to me and I don’t lie to them. We’ve had our share of messy moments because of that but we’re still friends because of that honesty. We need ethical standards in business every bit as much as we need profits; probably more so. OK, rant over, but do me a favor and think about that, won’t you?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

A Foundation Of Trust

Bruce Springsteen wrote about trust on his “Magic” album:

Trust none of what you hear (trust none of what you hear)
And less of what you see

That’s good advice these days but it’s far from a current issue. In far, The Boss was only echoing Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote in the short story “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether”:

“Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.”

I don’t think Poe, however, envisioned the dramatic lack of trust that most consumers have in the very people upon whom much of their digital lives rely. We see it in the reports that Pew stated that over 40% of Facebook users between the age of 18 and 29 had deleted Facebook from their phones in the past year. While Facebook disputes that number, there’s no doubt that even one user choosing to avoid your product or service on the basis of trust is a huge problem.

How do we solve this? As is my style, I tend to dumb it down to a very simple thing. Don’t do anything to your customers that you wouldn’t want to be done to you or to a member of your family. If you’re OK with your spouse being surveilled and his or her data sold to the highest bidder than be my guest in doing so to your customers. If that notion gives you pause, however, maybe you ought not to be considering doing so to anyone, at least without their full knowledge and consent. That means what you’re doing is front and center and not buried in a 3,000-word terms and conditions clickwrap agreement.

Once trust is lost, it’s extremely difficult to rebuild. You might have experienced this on a personal basis with a friend. As difficult as that might have been, it’s even harder for a business where there is generally not a human face on the brand or service nor an individual with whom to speak. The best solution is never to jeopardize trust in the first place. It’s a foundational issue. Your customers need to trust you and all of what you say. Don’t prove Bruce and Poe right, ok?

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