Tag Archives: Social network

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.

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(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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Do We Really Want Mullets?

Anyone remember the mullet? You know what I’m talking about: the haircut that’s “business in the front, a party in the back.” I think the last time the mullet was popular was when it was sported by members of the Pittsburgh Penguins when they won The Stanley Cup in the early 1990’s. Since then, it’s become more of an object of ridicule than a hairstyle to be admired. I think we’ve come to recognize that we can’t be both businesslike and a party at the same time.

I thought of the mullet the other day when I read that Facebook was testing resume-building features so that users can share their work history with their Facebook friends. They’re obviously trying to hone in on a space dominated by LinkedIn. The curious thing is that your “resume” doesn’t really display. It seems as if Facebook is simply gathering the information which one can assume they’ll use to fuel a service for headhunters and active job seekers. There’s actually a couple of points we can think about here.

The first is that most of the people I know (myself included) use different social sites for different purposes. Many of my Facebook friends are not work-related. We’re not generally connected on LinkedIn. I don’t cross-post (other than the screed) content on the two sites since I don’t especially think my business contacts care about what food I’ve eaten or what concerts I’ve attended or my political views. Conversely, I don’t bore my non-work friends with the three or four business-related articles I might come across that I find interesting.

From what I can tell, most users can distinguish between the appropriate content for the two sites. Frankly, I think Facebook knows way too much about each of us anyway, and I’m not sure that I want them to know much more about my work life, my contacts, or anything else I keep in the workplace. I certainly don’t want potential clients considering anything other than the professional qualifications available to them on LinkedIn – not my musical tastes, not my politics and not my sad attempts at humor with friends.

More importantly, every business needs a focus. Facebook, in particular, seems to have decided that anything is fair game. They’re trying to out video YouTube, to out marketplace Amazon, and to compete in areas such as food delivery. In the meantime, they can’t even decide if they’re a media business (hint: they are).  Each of us needs to figure out what business we’re in so we can channel our resources, focus on our competition, and understand what problems our solutions can solve to serve our customer base. Chasing the next shiny object or growing beyond our core competence generally is more trouble than it’s worth. That’s how we end up with a mullet and is that what we really want?

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Why Can’t You Yell Fire?

I think we all know that you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater. It will cause a panic and someone will get hurt. At a minimum, the odds are that someone will also call in a false alarm that distracts the fire department. That is a common-sense limit to free speech. Almost 100 years ago the Supreme Court said that the First Amendment, though it protects freedom of expression, does not protect dangerous speech.

I thought of that the other day when Google and Facebook announced that they would take what I think is a great first step in purging themselves of fake news by cutting off the access those sites have to revenue-generating or promotional ads. As Reuters reported:

Google said it is working on a policy change to prevent websites that misrepresent content from using its AdSense advertising network, while Facebook updated its advertising policies to spell out that its ban on deceptive and misleading content applies to fake news.

As someone who is devoted to the First Amendment, you might wonder why I’m OK with what seem to be limits on free speech. Fake news – or outright lies – are a big source of the divisive atmosphere most of us recognize exists in our country. They’re not hate speech, which I’m actually OK with because it’s so obviously slanted. They’re worse because they wrap themselves in a cloak of truth. As we’ve discussed here many times before, many people – both in business and out – don’t bother to do the research to find out if what’s being presented to them in factual. The presence of these sites and their fabricated BS makes a very difficult search even more so. No, the Pope didn’t endorse Donald Trump and yet 100,000 people shared that story as if His Holiness did.

By removing the financial incentive to create and promulgate this crap, Facebook and Google are taking a positive step in helping those of us who want to make decisions based on factual material. It’s not censorship; it’s arresting the idiot who’s yelling “fire” for a profit. Hopefully, the next step is some method to annotate and fact check the sites that remain. I also see that Twitter is suspending the accounts of some alt-right leaders.:

In a statement, Twitter said: “The Twitter Rules prohibit targeted abuse and harassment, and we will suspend accounts that violate this policy.”

There is no question that Twitter has become a bit of a cesspool and they certainly need to take some actions that clean up the rampant trolling and harassment that goes on. This, however, doesn’t sit as well with me since it starts down the slippery slope of censorship. The difference is my mind is that the fake news folks are making stuff up for profit while the hate groups are expressing (in theory) their own beliefs, however misguided.

Interesting times, aren’t they?

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Behind The Big Ears

One of the challenges in any business is to systematize operations and processes.  It’s nice to be able to do something well once, but what distinguishes great from merely good is the ability to repeat that activity over and over at the same high level.   I raise this because I’m not sure many businesses think of social media as that sort of process yet.  Maybe they consider it to be jazz – mostly improvisational – without understanding that even improvisation in music has a lot of built-in systems.  In any event, one companyCisco – seem to “get it.”  Here’s why and how it can affect your business.

Fingers in ears

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Chris Brogan coined the expression “grow big ears” when it comes to social media.  I like that notion since it distills what’s critical in social down to three words.  It means companies need to listen – to put together ways to monitor activity on the various social media sites and to draw actionable conclusions from the data they gather.  It’s a process, one that needs to be put together and run by executives with enough business experience and company awareness to make it productive.  Yes, that’s a shot at the businesses who turn the social media keys over to interns with little or not instruction other than to stay active.

What Cisco has done goes well beyond that.  As Media Post reported, Cisco, using Radian6, has developed:

…a rapid routing and tagging system as part of its social monitoring strategy that automatically opens a service ticket after detecting a negative tweet or post on the Web… Aside from complaints, social reports also guide the company’s marketing strategies for campaigns by allowing search and social marketing teams to share information. The search engine marketing team feeds keywords to the social team related to products and topics. In turn, the social team feeds search marketing new lists related to social networks they wouldn’t typically find for themselves. This allows the company to identify features and technology internal teams should emphasize to customers.

In other words, big ears that feed a replicable process.  The process yields benefits (search keywords, features, customer service) that go well beyond being able to tweet out a clever quote or informative article.  Even the most engaging social media activity pales when measured against this sort of intelligent back end.  Something to consider.

How big are your ears?  What’s on the other end of them?

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Is Facebook Becoming A Ghost Town?

How many of you are familiar with Facebook?  OK, silly question.  After all, it’s the biggest social media site.  Let’s try again.

"Ghost" Town - NARA - 543356

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How many of you are familiar with Wanelo, Vine, Snapchat, Kik, or 4chan?  If you have a teen in the house, you might be, since these are, according to a Piper Jaffray study, the social sites in which teen interest is rapidly growing.  Final question:  how many of you are familiar with, and used to frequent, Friendster, MySpace, or Second Life?  Emphasis on the “used to” since they’re pretty much gone.

If I was a Facebook shareholder (which I’m not), I’d be very concerned.  Not just about a couple of things I’m going to mention but also about management’s plans to grow revenues.  Let me explain.

First, the research.  According to Tech Crunch’s reporting of the aforementioned study:

Interest in Facebook seems to be declining heavily among teens. Though teens still dub Facebook their most important social network, Piper Jaffray reports that the numbers are down regarding how many teens see Facebook as the most important social media website. Over the past year, the number of teens who deem Facebook as the most important social media site has dropped from more than 30 percent to just over 20 percent.

I realize teens are fickle, but they’re also trendsetters in a lot of ways.  They’re also a notoriously difficult group to reach via ads, and the social media chatter about brands—positive or negative—is a big factor in their purchasing decisions.  Which leads to my second concern.

AdAge reported on Facebook’s plans to insert video ads in users’ news feeds:

While the format of the units isn’t totally nailed down, it’s widely assumed that they’ll be autoplay and presented in a video player that expands beyond the main news-feed real estate to cover the right- and left-hand rails of users’ screens on the desktop version of Facebook.

It won’t matter if the user or any of his or her friends have engaged with the brand on Facebook.  Users will at most see three ads a day. Now I will shut almost any site that autoplays video, especially if it’s advertising.  Let’s think about how strong the user backlash is going to be if the autoplay report is accurate, and will that backlash spill over to affect the sponsors as well as Facebook?  It just might.

One doesn’t have to look too far into the future to see the beginnings of a ghost town in the making.  If a town’s young citizens are moving away for greener pastures, can businesses and their parents be too far behind?  What do you think?

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Is Facebook Viable?

There’s been a lot written since Facebook did their IPO a while back questioning their business model.

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Image via CrunchBase

Some analysts say that once the company solves monetization of the mobile traffic all will be well. Others speculate that a better, more marketer-friendly platform is needed. Personally, I like to let the companies themselves identify where the problems may lie. Facebook did exactly that in their S-1 filing a year ago as they prepared to go public:

If we fail to retain existing users or add new users, or if our users decrease their level of engagement with Facebook, our revenue, financial results, and business may be significantly harmed.

Fair enough.   After all, without users continuing to add content, what’s there?  Which is why a couple of things I’ve read lately have me wondering if Facebook is a viable business in the long-term.  I know – it’s huge, it takes in a lot of money, and it seems sort of ubiquitous.  At one time, many of those things were said about MySpace or the walled-garden version of AOL, so bear with me.

A decent amount (low double digits at one point) of Facebook’s revenue came from Zynga‘s games.  Is anyone you know still “Villing”?  That goes to the engagement point.  More important than that (since revenue sources are fungible), is the fact that younger people don’t seem to be using the service.  In fact, the real young crowd – those reaching the age when they would normally join Facebook – seem to be focused on other services.  Instagram and Tumblr, by many accounts, are more popular with the young teen set than Facebook is, and that’s been the case for a year.

A Pew study came out the other day that should set off te fire alarms at Facebook HQ.  What it found was:

  • 61% of current Facebook users say that at one time or another in the past they have voluntarily taken a break from using Facebook for a period of several weeks or more.
  • 20% of the online adults who do not currently use Facebook say they once used the site but no longer do so.
  • 8% of online adults who do not currently use Facebook are interested in becoming Facebook users in the future.

They asked the 61% of Facebook users who have taken a break from using the site why they did so, and they mentioned a variety of reasons. The largest group (21%) said that their “Facebook vacation” was a result of being too busy with other demands or not having time to spend on the site. Others pointed toward a general lack of interest in the site itself (10% mentioned this in one way or another), an absence of compelling content (10%), excessive gossip or “drama” from their friends (9%), or concerns that they were spending too much time on the site and needed to take a break (8%).  Many of those reasons are NOT things Facebook can fix since they’re a result of what users are doing and not the platform.  That’s troubling.

So I’ll put it out there:  is Facebook a viable business in the long-term?  If it’s just old folks like me catching up with high school pals we haven’t seen in 40 years or our grandkids, is it going to be long before all we see are supplemental Medicaid insurance ads and sponsored posts for hearing aids?  What do you think?  Have you taken a break from Facebook?  Have your kids?  Is Facebook viable in the long-term?

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How Educated Do Consumers Need To Be?

A piece came out yesterday that got me thinking.  The article was a write-up of a study conducted by Harris Interactive for the folks at The Search Agency and you can have a look at the results here.  The highlights are that most consumers have no clue how much of digital works from a business perspective even though they do know how to use the services:

  • 70% of U.S. online adults know how to post to a Facebook wall, but only 54% understand how Facebook makes money
  • More than one-third of U.S. online adults believe search engines sell users’ personal data to marketers
  • Nearly 29% believe that companies pay annual dues for use, while 20% believe that users pay for premium search features

That got me thinking about why that is or isn’t important.  The author of the piece thinks that “it may seem incidental, but a better understanding would produce higher engagement and conversion rates.”  She says this believing that understanding would increase participation.  I’m not so sure.  In fact, it might have just the opposite effect.  Knowing about EdgeRank and how it affects what information passes into your news feed as well as about the plethora of information Facebook has about everyone on the service could bother some folks and scare quite a few others.  Many people don’t understand that the search results they see are skewed (unless they are savvy enough to turn off the personalized results).

Here is a question for you:  do you know how your car works?  What happens when you turn on the ignition?  I can probably answer this for you – you don’t have a clue.  You do know, however, when the car is NOT working.  I think that’s the same with the digital services we use – we don’t need to know how they work as long as we know that they are, in fact, working.  That said, we probably do want to know if our cars are tracking where we’re going and how fast we’re driving (they are, by the way) and I continue to believe that privacy and data collection are big consumer issues that will continue to grow in importance as the details of those activities become more widely known.

What do you think?

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