Tag Archives: facebook

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

How Dumb Do You Think We Are?

We’ve all been lied to. It always feels bad when we discover the lie and we often get angry at the liar. A co-worker of mine had an expression that comes to mind all the time: “Forgive and remember.” It’s fine to “forget” in that holding a grudge is self-defeating. It’s better to remember (without anger if possible) so that you’re a lot warier the next time you hear something from that person.

It’s in that context that I shook my head when I read about Facebook pivoting to privacy. Now if there is one company that has violated user privacy more than Facebook I’m unaware of it. Frankly, I thought it was something that The Onion had written, but no, it was a blog post from Mark Zuckerberg.

“I believe the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won’t stick around forever”

Seriously? This is the same guy who is literally at this minute lobbying against privacy laws everywhere. This is the same company that encouraged you to give them your telephone number to use for two-factor authentication (yay privacy) and then used the phone number to target ads. Oh, and there’s no way to delete or disable that.  Then there was that time that they used an app to steal everything you did on your phone. Suckers…

Fool you once? Um, no. Back in 2010, there was a piece in the NY Times that outlined just how hard it was to make your data private on Facebook. To truly opt out of sharing all your personal information, you had to click through more than 50 privacy buttons, and then choose between more than 170 total options. There were some options that you couldn’t even opt out of at all. How dumb does he think we are?

No business can afford to lie constantly to its customers, especially one that is almost completely reliant on those customers for every bit of content. If and when users wake up, as many under 21 users of the platform have, we won’t need regulatory intervention to “fix” Facebook or any other company that lies constantly. It will just die, buried in its own untruthfulness. We’re not that dumb after all, are we?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

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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Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud

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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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, What's Going On

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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