Tag Archives: social media

Keeping It Real

Back in 2015, an engineer at Twitter asked his security team to look into fake accounts. He said he was stunned to find that a significant percentage of the total accounts created on Twitter had Russian and Ukrainian IP addresses and he also found that they were, for the most part, fake. They were “bots”.

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

No, today isn’t a political rant about how our Democracy might just have been hijacked by a foreign power. Rather, what happened next, as told in this piece by Bloomberg, is instructive to any of us in business because it raises a few issues that are common to us all.

The engineer was part of the security team. That team was tasked with keeping the platform secure. He took his findings to another team – the growth team – which had the responsibility for increasing the user base. That user base number is critical for every business since how the business is valued is based in part on how many users (we can’t really say people in this case, can we?) are active. Discovering that a significant percentage of the user base was fake could have a negative effect on the business’ balance sheet, and in this, we begin to see the problem.

There is a misalignment of goals. If part of security is keeping the platform free from spambots, the people responsible for deleting the spambots can’t have any goals which make deleting those bots counterproductive. In this case, the engineer was told to “stay in his lane”. In other words, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain – the reality of our user numbers – it’s not your job.

No organization should have these kinds of silos. No organization can base its public statements about growth and user engagement on numbers it knows are fake. It’s one thing for users to inflate their follower numbers by buying fake followers but it’s quite another for Twitter itself to be aware of these non-human accounts and to do nothing about them because they want to keep their user numbers up.

I don’t mean to single out Twitter. The same issue persists on Facebook and other social platforms and it’s way more insidious than research can find. There is a term – dark social – that refers to sharing activity among the network’s members that isn’t easily measured. Let’s say a fake account spreads a lie and maybe even buys an ad to do so. We can see how many impressions the ad had or how many followers the fake account has. What we can’t easily see is the network effect. I see the post and am outraged about it. I tell five friends, who tell five of their friends, etc., particularly when it’s shared off the network itself via email or text.

I am fairly certain that each of these networks could identify and stop this activity despite what you might have seen in Congress last week. Those were the lawyers testifying, not the engineers. The point for your business is to keep everyone’s goals in alignment, don’t build silos, and to be honest with yourself and with your investors. These are public companies who might just be committing fraud, but every company has the same responsibility for honesty and transparency.  You with me?

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Be Inefficient – It’s Better For Your Business

Representatives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter have been summoned to Capitol Hill to explain what they know about how Russia used their platforms to interfere in the last Presidential election.  Their testimony began yesterday, and there was a recurring theme that I think has implications for any business. It has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with serving your customers.

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may remember something from a few months back. There was a kerfuffle about Facebook using human editors on the News Feed who had a liberal bias. Whether that’s true or not is immaterial to our discussion. Facebook removed human editors from the “trending topics” feature seen in the news feeds of users. Given the decreased human oversight, gaming Facebook’s algorithm became easier, as demonstrably false news reports spread with increasing speed during the election. As Recode reported:

Sen. Jeff Flake is asking Facebook how it monitors its service — humans or artificial intelligence or both? Stretch (note: Facebook’a lawyer) said both, and explained a bit about how algorithms can detect non-human behavior, like someone creating many accounts in a very short amount of time. But while software can detect some of this stuff, humans often need to make a final decision on whether or not contents should be removed. Twitter and Google confirmed they have similar setups.

Fewer humans means fewer edits, apparently. What caught my attention yesterday was that each of the three platforms testified that putting in human-based solutions are inefficient for their business. What about the people on their platforms? A significant percentage of young people get their news only from Facebook. How can they be expected to understand the issues when the facts that are presented to them may be propaganda and not news or factual at all?

None of us in business can afford to make decisions solely on the basis of what’s good for the business. We need to stay customer and consumer-centric. After all, you wouldn’t want doctors in an ER failing to administer expensive drugs because it’s inefficient for the hospital, right? The restaurant that cuts the quality of their ingredients or service because they need higher margins won’t be around for very long.

Like most of you, I use these three platforms every day. Twitter is a cesspool, in my opinion, filled with trolls, hate-speech, and spam, but it’s also critically important. It’s a shame that they use the “free speech” argument to ignore that crap. There are limits on speech – try yelling “fire” in a theater and see what happens to you – and Twitter needs to clean up its act. All three of these companies need to quit using the profit motive and their responsibility to shareholders as excuses to let the bad actors do their thing. Be a little less efficient and more customer-friendly. Facebook admitted they knew something was going on and did nothing, allowing the “fake news” and propaganda to disseminate. That’s not consumer-friendly, is it?

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Getting Social

You might think that after a decade or more of social media as a legitimate channel through which marketers can engage consumers we’d be doing a decent job of it. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s true for the bulk of the marketing world. In the interest of improving both results and the quality of the messages with which we’re all deluged, here are a few things I’ve found to be helpful when engaging in social media marketing.

First, research has shown that the vast majority of brands today invest most of their paid social media budgets into brand awareness marketing. I get that the sales cycle has to begin with lead generation and that begins with awareness, but if you’re spending all of your budgets on the news feed and not enough on conversion, retention, and service than you’re doomed to massive churn rates and ultimate failure.

Next, ask yourself how engaging you really are. The news feed, whether Facebook, Instagram, or elsewhere, is a place where consumers go to interact with their friends and to be entertained. It’s also becoming a primary news channel for many. Nobody is there to interact with you. Let me repeat that. Nobody is there to be sold to; they are there to be entertained. Are you doing that or are you the guy at the cocktail party who keeps asking all the guests if they have car insurance because that’s what he sells?

Whatever messages you’re sending out, how are you deciding about targeting? The holy grail of marketing is the right message to the right person at exactly the right time. It’s extremely tailored. If you’re buying big, untargeted audiences (Men, Women 18-34, People living in Maryland), you’re using a wrench as a hammer. It’s a misuse of a tool.

Finally, are you being you? Has your brand created a distinctive personality or is it all corporate ad speak? People don’t want to engage with robots so don’t sound like one. Be real and listen a lot more than you speak. Let your customers guide your marketing. Don’t respond to a question just with a “that’s on the FAQ page of our website.” Use it as the basis for your next blog post which then goes through the social channels.

I’m a fan of social media marketing even as I recognize that it’s full of landmines. You don’t want to be the company that “goes viral” for the wrong reasons (DiGiorno, Red Lobster, and many others) due to some social media faux pas. You want to be unique, interesting, relevant, inspiring, authentic, and entertaining while staying focused on your target audience and your own goals. Doable?

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How Do You Know?

There is an old joke about the greatest inventions of all time. The last one mentioned is the thermos, which can keep soup hot on a cold day and water cold on a hot day. When asked why that makes it the greatest invention of all time, the respondent asks “how does it know?”

You probably face that question all the time in your business. How do you know? More specifically, how can you be sure that you’re in touch with what your customers really want? Maybe you think as Steve Jobs did: customers don’t know what they want until you show them. Here’s the unfortunate truth: you’re not Steve. He may have had a wonderfully intuitive gift for understanding what it was that customers wanted (although there are several examples of him being wrong several times along the way) but you probably don’t.

We can’t spend our time in business finding solutions for problems that don’t exist nor can we build products for which there is no demand. You might not have heard of any companies that do that. The reason is that they’re out of business.

We need to listen to our customers and to the market. We don’t need to spend a lot of money to do so. Analytics are a form of listening and the data doesn’t lie. There are numerous free survey tools available. If you have social media presences (and what business doesn’t?), you are getting feedback on a regular basis, as you are if you have commenting turned on for your blog posts. Maybe you have listings on any number of review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor. Do you review those for insights into what it is your customers are thinking?

Make stuff people want. Fall in love with your customers and their needs and not with today’s version of what it is you’re offering. Move quickly to get closer to your customers’ ideal product. Ask them about things and listen to the answers. That’s how you know. OK?

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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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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

We The People

If you’ve spent any time on social media over the last few years, you’ve probably seen a petition circulated by someone you know. You might have even clicked on the petition, either out of a shared concern or just to support your friend. But have you ever wondered about the efficacy of doing so? Is there anybody on the other end? And since we’re addressing this here on the screed, what can it tell me about my business?

Many of these petitions are run through an online petitioning system called “We The People.” This was set up in 2011 by The White House. As one article explains it:

The White House promised to use the site to engage with the public and to issue responses to all petitions that reached a given number of signatures within 30 days of creation. The original threshold was set at 5,000 signatures but was increased to 100,000 in later years.

So yes, there is someone on the other end. We know that because a few of the online petitions have actually resulted in legislation that became law. For example, you now can unlock your phone and port it to another carrier. That came about from an online petition. If you saw President Obama on Bill Mahr’s show you were watching the result of an online petition. If you’re a Yogi Berra fan, you can thank an online petition for him being given the Medal Of Freedom. There are several other cases, but the important thing is that yes, someone is listening and, more importantly, someone is following through.

That’s what you can take away for your business. First, there needs to be an easy pathway for consumers (and we’re all consumers of government!) to reach out and express something. Second, someone needs to pay attention to what it is they’re saying. Don’t dismiss ideas out of hand when thousands of consumers voice support for something that’s not on your radar, much less your agenda. Third, act. Even if you’re unable to to do what the petition (or whatever form you choose) is asking, let the people know that their voices have been heard and the reason for your course of action.

“We The People” is the basis of our system of government. It’s not a bad basis for guiding your business either, is it?

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