Tag Archives: Social media marketing

It’s A Scam

A couple of decades ago, as I began spending more and more of my professional time in the world of digital, I worked for a guy who wasn’t a believer in all of the hype. He thought that the prognostications of the coming demise of mass media (we worked in TV) and the rapid disruption of business models was BS. Actually, one of his favorite things to do was to pop his head into my office and say “You know this Internet thing is a scam, right?”

I used to laugh it off but 20 years later I’m thinking he might have been right. He certainly was when Web 1.0 blew up, washing away billions of investment. No serious person involved in digital business makes those same mistakes but there is a whole lot of grifting going on nevertheless. Let me explain.

First, there is the whole bots thing in programmatic advertising. If you dig paying real money to put ads in front of fake people, be my guest. The fact that the continuing race to the bottom with respect to pricing results in many legitimate publishers’ sites looking like an Arabian bazaar or a NASCAR vehicle should tell you there’s a problem. The fees taken at every step of the way by vendors who add little to nothing to the process and won’t disclose how their systems function nor the actual ways they’re blocking fake traffic is another scam. Obviously, putting profits before people (servicing your pocketbook before servicing your reader!) is a scam of sorts, too. You’re promising great content but you’re forcing your readers into suffering through a horrible; experience to get to it. Any wonder that Google is adding an ad-blocker to Chrome or that a third of US web users employ some sort of an ad blocker?

Then there are the “influencers.” As one executive who works in influencer marketing stated: 

It’s basically the biggest scam started by the countless influencer marketing platforms that popped up over the past two or three years, who find it a lot easier to recruit and work with super small influencers who will do anything for a $100 gift card. Everyone talks about how these “micro-influencers” have such high engagement, but who cares about a 20 percent engagement rate on a post when only 10 people liked it?

It goes beyond the little guys. The FTC had to once again send out more than 90 letters reminding influencers and marketers that influencers should clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationship to brands when promoting or endorsing products through social media. In failing to do so, these folks, many of whom are big-name celebrities, are scamming their fans by failing to tell them that they’re paid to say nice things about a product they may or may not even use.

I’m not meaning to fault the tools here. I’m just pointing out that one effect the democratization of media has had has been to facilitate many more scams. Easy access means for easy for everyone, including those with less than sterling intent. Back in the day, they would never have got past the Standards people every network had or the accountants than every media outlet had. Today, anyone with an ad and a credit card can get involved. It’s like anything else though. At some point, you have to figure out if you’re about lining your pockets at the expense of your customer in a dishonorable way or if you want to solve the customer’s problems in a way that rewards you for having done so. Your call!

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

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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You Calling Me A Liar?

The screed is a little late today because I’ve been tied up on the phone trying to get the central air conditioning fixed. This saga started a week ago when I noticed that the house seemed rather warm. While the vents were blowing air, it was not cold air. I called the American Home Shield folks with whom we have a warranty and they set me up with a local repair firm. This is where the fun – and today’s business point – begin.

Last Wednesday, I set up an appointment for yesterday. They were supposed to arrive between 3 pm and 5 pm. I was not happy that it would take them almost a week to get to me, but I was told that’s the first appointment. On my calendar it went (not knowing that AHS has a 48-hour service policy, by the way, and that I could have asked them to set me up elsewhere. Doh!).

At 4:30 yesterday when no one had arrived or called to say they’d be arriving, I called the repair folks. The customer service rep had my info from AHS but didn’t have my appointment. In fact, she said they’d tried to call me, failed to reach me, and never set anything up.Obviously, someone screwed up and didn’t write down the initial appointment. I was told that after 8 minutes on hold, a hang-up, and calling them back. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy, but I became far less happy when I was told that the next available appointment was next week sometime, two weeks after I initially set up a repair with them. The manager got on the phone to inform me that I was making the whole appointment up. I offered to email him screenshots of my phone’s call log, showing that I spoke with them twice last week but he didn’t care. I asked him if he was in the habit of making up appointments and adding them to his calendar because I certainly wasn’t. He wasn’t either. I asked him if he was calling me a liar and he said he didn’t know what I was but I certainly never had an appointment. Finally, I mentioned that I wrote a business blog and that he was providing me with great material for what a business shouldn’t do and he laughed and said: “as long as you tell the truth.”

So I’m here to tell you the truth. None of us can ever call our customers liars or make them feel that way. None of us can ignore evidence that someone on our end screwed up and blame the customer instead. None of us can shrug our shoulders and tell a customer who has been harmed to get to the back of the line. Finally, none of us can ignore the potential social media backlash. Not that the screed is read by millions, but it only takes a few readers to start a backlash against your business. Hey – don’t you know who I think I am? The odds are you don’t know anything about the megaphone any of your customers hold but you should know that it doesn’t take more than a few minutes of writing to do a great deal of damage to your reputation.

AHS reached out to these bozos this morning. They again denied I ever spoke to them. We set up an appointment with another repair company, who called me 10 minutes after I spoke with AHS. By the way – when the new guys couldn’t see me until next week, AHS escalated my issue to a unit they have that will call all the area vendors to find someone who can cool me off (in both the physical and psychological sense at this point) in 48 hours or less.

So to the folks at Modern Mechanical HVAC, hopefully this will help you see why you can’t call your customers liars, along with the bad Yelp review, the link to this screed I’ll be posting on Nextdoor (a local bulletin board), and a bunch of other local information and review sites that will advise people to stay away from you. I’m just doing as you asked: telling the truth.

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The Luck Of The Scottish

This Foodie Friday, we have a fail to discuss. I’ve been trying to figure out if this is a demonstration of abject stupidity or just a stunt designed to make some viral noise. If it’s the latter, it’s a very dangerous game they’re playing over at McDonald’s. Yes, they’re on the screed again!
As St.Patrick’s Day approaches, McDonald’s decided to promote its Irish Shamrock Shake – a combination of chocolate and mint – in Ireland. They did so with a little video clip they released on their official Twitter page ahead of St Patrick’s day, targeting their Irish customers. You can click through here to see it. What’s amazing is the number of things whoever did this screwed up in so short a period of time. It’s equally amazing that they managed to do so and offend their target audience.

The clip shows a man “playing” a Shamrock Shake like a set of bagpipes and there are multiple straws inserted in the shake cup to give the appearance of same. In the background, scenes of the countryside click through. The clip features the word “instrumint”, a play on the drink’s minty taste. Clever, right? Wrong. The man is wearing a Scottish style hat, playing a Scottish instrument to the very Scottish-sounding soundtrack. One of the scenes is of Stonehenge, which is in England, not Ireland. In short, just about everything in the clip is from somewhere other than Ireland.

The lessons are pretty clear. First, whoever did this could not have been Irish. When you’re targeting a specific group – and a country is a group! – have someone who is intimately familiar with the culture, preferably a member of the target group itself, review the work. The history of marketing is littered with mistakes by people who were writing in a language whose nuances eluded them or for a group of which they have no more than a passing knowledge. My favorite, by the way, is the introduction of the Chevy Nova into Mexico under that name. “No va” is Spanish for “won’t go”, not the best name for a car.

But let’s suppose this was done on purpose. Maybe the creators of this were trying to have the ad go viral and figured they could do that by making it so wrong. That’s a very dangerous game since the hit to McDonald’s reputation has been pretty severe, even as the ad gets tons of earned media. Setting yourself on fire in the street will get you lots of attention but it’s a tactic you can only use once since the damage is serious and usually fatal.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the folks at Mickey D’s here on Foodie Friday and I thought that if I were to write about a drink that contains more calories than 4 Krispy Kreme donuts I’d do so on the basis of the chemical swamp it contains. Who would have thought that the ads could be worse than the drink itself?

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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

My Totally Fake Life

I came across an article last week that I found disturbing. I don’t think it’s news to any of you there that it’s possible to buy fake followers on the various social media platforms. You can buy hundreds or thousands of “followers” on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook fairly cheaply. I had assumed that this was something that some (dumb) businesspeople did to make their metrics look better. More on that in a second. The article set me straight.

What it said was that researchers at:

Huron University College in Ontario, Canada, who surveyed around 450 participants ages 18-29 through an online polling platform, and found that 15% admitted to buying “likes” from Web sites for their Instagram profiles…25% of respondents said they engaged in digital plastic surgery before posting photos.

Yikes! I guess these people figure that by having large numbers of people following them on some platform that they appear to be more influential. The reality is exactly the opposite because it takes very little effort to figure out that those people are fakes. Running a Twitter handle through Twitter Audit showed me that some person who claimed his million plus followers as a reason to do business with his had, in fact, 96% fakes in that million. It’s ego gratification, the same reason why people lie about their age or their weight or name drop, and it makes for a serious level of insecurity. And yes, there are other tools for other platforms to help spot fakes.

The same can be said when we do this in our business profiles. Some warped social media person will buy likes to show the boss that they are becoming more popular and that the efforts they’re making to garner new followers are paying off. Of course, engagement rates will drop off to nothing (those fake names don’t interact), and in fact, could do your brand harm by becoming spammy through your account.

It’s a little frightening that many of us feel the need to live a totally fake life online. The study found that 31% of respondents said they edited out all the boring details to make their life seem more exciting, and 14% said they specifically craft their profile page to make it seem like their social life is much more active than it actually is. Maybe it’s possible that the people who are posting the most are actually living the least glamorous lives?

Maybe one benefit of getting older on a personal level is the realization that the only one with whom we’re competing is ourselves. More “stuff” – cars, clothes, or followers – can mean less happiness. On a business level, more can be great but fake never is. Your thoughts?

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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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