Sssh Facebook, it’s going to blow over

Earlier this week $FB suffered a sharp drop to $150 before rallying, on news that several states and the FTC had initiated investigations into their role in the Cambridge Analytica affair. The #DeleteFacebook movement continues to remain visible, and Elon Musk famously deleted Tesla and SpaceX’s company pages. The litany of bad news is unrelenting, isn’t it? Advertisers must be leaving in droves, right?

Yet if you search for news on advertisers pulling out, as of today the media has managed to find only three names: Mozilla, a non-profit, auto parts dealer Pep Boys, and Germany’s Commerzbank. Of course if the news continues to get worse, more brands could still desert the social giant, but the slow trickle at this stage is indicative of how most advertisers are taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Truth is, Facebook’s wounds are self-inflicted. Any first-year PR pro will tell you never to threaten publications with lawsuits to silence them. Neither is trying to get in front of a story by banning accounts, yet not giving the full context. That’s the opposite of getting in front of the story. Waiting four days while a scandal brews before the world-famous CEO makes a public statement, not too clever either. Cavalierly allowing advertisers to access user data, that’s the biggest sin of all.

Yet why aren’t more advertisers deserting the platform?

Beyond Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google, there aren’t many online platforms for reaching consumers at the scale, accuracy and efficiency that digital advertisers demand today. Facebook already owns two of them, three if you believe ads will one day come to WhatsApp (I hope not). Doesn’t apply to China, of course, but that’s a different story.

Like it or not, Facebook today is an advertising platform more than it is a social network. The majority of our clients use it that way, with ad campaigns that often bypass their brand page. Fan count is already completely irrelevant as a performance metric, and engagement doesn’t resonate as much as conversion does, in this e-commerce age. Most importantly, Facebook allows you to target users precisely, track their user journeys including conversion, and offers the richest trove of insights and metrics.

But Facebook would be wrong to be complacent, and all signs point to them taking this as an existential threat. But I bet that in six months this will blow over, federal investigations notwithstanding, leaving a company that will have found a way to balance privacy concerns while satisfying advertisers’ insatiable demand for user data.

Besides, have you checked out MySpace lately? Don’t bet on there being a viable alternative to Facebook any time soon.

 

The Currency of Social Media: Attention

Dotcommers called it “eyeballs.” Advertisers measure it by “impressions” and social marketers by “reach.” It’s the precious metal that marketers mine, and the fight for it is brutal.

I am talking about Attention.

The attention YOU give to the content you view, read, hear, touch, experience, talk about.

Your attention is money to advertisers and marketers. Your attention is the product that social networks sell to advertisers to make money.

There is a problem though. Share of Attention is a finite resource. On average we spend 3-5 hours every day looking at screens, including PC, mobile, tablet, and TV.

Content publishers must fight each other for a slice of that precious, precious time.

We already live in a world where it is impossible to consume all the content you want to see, because there is so much of it.

As gatekeepers and curators of what you see, social networks grab more of your Attention by constantly introducing new formats to deliver content: short videos, 360 videos, VR, live-streams, cinemagraphs, animated GIFs, games, quizzes, personality tests…the list keeps growing.

I may work in social media, but I try not be enslaved by it. Using dedicated software, I check the performance metrics of the countless Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts that we manage, but when it comes to my own social media presence I wouldn’t call myself an addict. At most I spend 10 minutes total per day checking my newsfeed. If I’m putting together personal content to post, that number may go up to 30 minutes, that’s it.

On my daily drive into work I listen to audiobooks, podcasts, radio stations. Some days I drive in silence because that’s my thinking time.

Attention works for *me* too, it’s a resource that if used wisely, makes me a better manager and leader.

When we pay attention to the right things, in the right amounts, we reap the benefits. Don’t let social media take that away from you.

Facebook’s Balancing Act

There’s so much fear-mongering over Facebook’s recent tinkering with their newsfeed algorithm, dramatically reducing organic reach to the point where publishers are now told to expect zero organic reach eventually, meaning they will need to pay up if they want anyone to see their content in future.

Facebook is caught in a catch 22. They made a decision to monetise the service by offering ads (because revenues), so a few years back they artificially decreased organic reach to drive brands to advertise. As brand pages started to advertise, and sponsored posts started appearing in news feeds, users have become alienated: they visit less, they post less original content, they share less. To keep attracting those eyeballs, Facebook’s algorithm only shows you what you like to see, by carefully measuring a ton of factors such as how much time you spend reading a post, your engagement actions, your scrolling patterns and so on.

But users don’t like sponsored posts (i.e. ads) with content they don’t like, so Facebook’s algorithm must now decrease your cluttered newsfeed even further, and organic reach is the easy way to reduce that clutter. Conveniently, this means brand page owners and advertisers now cannot expect their 2-4% organic reach to stay available indefinitely. As content explodes on Facebook and users seek cleaner newsfeeds, newsfeed content share by brand pages is just going to dwindle even further.

What are publishers and advertisers to do? Not much, apart from continuing to create content that drives engagement (but avoiding clickbait articles, the cheap and easy way to cheat you way to engagement). The trick is to think long-term, invest in a strategy that connects your brand to genuinely useful, engaging content, and never waver from that despite temptation. For publishers, the way forward is subscriptions, witness the success of publishers like New York Times and The Economist. For advertisers it’s a thornier problem, because of the inherent tension between creating content that people want to consume, and using that content to achieve commercial goals.  As a content marketing agency, we walk the fine line of this tension daily.

Are you looking for advice on how to balance between maximising reach, and building your brand? Drop us a note at ask@rfi.asia and let’s have a chat.

Fake news is killing us dead (thanks Facebook)

[cs_content][cs_text]My friend Fritz’s six-year-old son likes to say “I’ll kill you dead!” but of course he doesn’t mean it and won’t act on it (god forbid).
Tim Cook was quoted yesterday in an interview with the Independent saying fake news “is killing our minds” and tech companies should do something about it. I sure hope he will put Apple’s considerable resources behind doing something about it.
Tech giants have the financial wherewithal, and I would argue, moral responsibility to elevate the quality and accuracy of all content they have influence over.
It’s commonly acknowledged that social networks, by prioritising clicks and eyeballs, are creating echo chambers that are killing critical thinking, allowing fake news to thrive.
Here’s an interesting quote from Steve Jobs (emphases mine):[/cs_text][x_blockquote cite=”” type=”left” style=”font-family: ‘oswalddemi-bold’;font-size: 20px;”]When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want.[/x_blockquote][cs_text]Facebook is making it easier to report fake news, but that would require consumers to think critically and be able to identify fake news in the first place. I think it’s time social networks accept they owe society a duty to curate content, because of their tremendous influence. It’s crystal clear why they are reluctant: they want to avoid liability for harmful or illegal content that slips through their vetting. That’s a cop out. If the New York Times, or any traditional media, can accept the risk of being occasionally sued for content they produce or curate, and accept that as a cost of doing business, why can’t a giant social network with billions in cash do that?[/cs_text][/cs_content]

5 ways to liberate yourself from smart device slavery

We are all slaves. On average we spend 3-5 hours every day looking at screens, including PC, mobile, tablet, and TV. If your work involves sitting at a desk your number is likely to be much higher.

As gatekeepers and curators of what you see, social networks do everything they can to capture your attention, by constantly introducing new formats, or seeking new screens to deliver that content. The result is a generation of smart device slaves. Sadly, I’m one of them. How do you know you’re a slave?

Addiction. We devote more and more of our available attention to consuming content, to the detriment of valuable, personal connections. Witness the archetypical Dai Tau Zuk (低頭族) out on the town, sitting silently in a restaurant, their faces lit by the faint blue glow of their phones.

Mindless multitasking. We spread our attention thinner and thinner, leading to mindless reading and viewing. Ever read something online distractedly, then suddenly realize you cannot recall a single fact?

Sleep disruption. Research has shown that prolonged phone use, especially before bed, disrupts your Circadian Rhythm and leads to poor quality sleep.

What can we do? I’m not the best at uncoupling from social, but I have smart friends that have come up with some creative ways:

Do the PhoneStack. I’ve started to do this with friends, or even colleagues when we dine out. The game goes like this: everybody stacks their phone in the middle of the table for the duration of the meal, and whomever caves and touches their phone first, has to buy the entire meal for everyone. Try it, it works like magic, and you won’t believe how easily normal conversation returns.

Limit your device time. My friends Allen and Jacco have a rule in their house: phones only in the living room before bed. No bringing phones to bed. You can set your own house rules, such as: no devices at the dinner table; no devices in the car, and so on.

Declare a “FayKay”. Announce on your social network that you are taking a break. Deactivate your account for three months, so that friends must actually call or write you to get your attention.

Declare your limited availability. Many people like me have multiple social networks, messaging and email accounts. I try to limit my use to only a few (Facebook, SnapChat, Whatsapp, Gmail), and on the platforms that I don’t check frequently, I declare in my status message my preferred networks.

We are only slaves if we allow ourselves to be. What has been most liberating, and revealing, has been the realization that all you have to do is declare your boundaries. Don’t use Facebook? Declare it and don’t apologize! Only prefer Whatsapp and don’t want to be reached on WeChat? Declare it.

Together we can embark on a mission to free ourselves and live life in the moment.

What is Authenticity in a world ruled by social networks?

A fellow marketer recently advised the CEO of a mid-sized company on dealing with a social media crisis. Essentially the CEO had been personally attacked by the host of an online forum, for reasons that are not important but not unsubstantiated either. Regrettably, the CEO insisted on personally responding to the anonymous critics on their page, in defiance of her marketing team’s advice, believing that authenticity and transparency is the best policy. Needless to say, she was massacred and in the end had to halt responding as wave after wave of new accusations surfaced with her every post, laced with profanity and dripping with outrage.

I’ve dealt with my fair share of online crises and firestorms on behalf of clients, so this got me thinking, what went wrong? (Apart from her not listening to her team in the first place, of course.)

The CEO took anonymous criticism personally. Faceless keyboard warriors love to push buttons to get a reaction, so the more personal and profane their comment, the better. They are called trolls for a reason. Hidden behind the anonymity of a username, they attacked the CEO’s morals, ethics, and worth as a human being. When attacked this way, the reaction of any normal person is not just psychological, it’s physical: racing heartbeat, shallow breaths, clenched fists, and anger, so much anger. Acting on that emotional poison, was her first misstep.

The CEO underestimated her critics. She attempted to explain and clarify, stating her version of the story. Problem was, she wasn’t telling the whole truth. 95% true, but still not the whole truth. The 5% was confidential internal information she omitted, but she underestimated her critics, who were able to gather evidence from other sources, and call her a liar. She thought she was being authentic, but she really wasn’t. She was being 95% authentic, which doesn’t work. 95% truthful is the same as 100% untruthful.

What have we learned?

Social Media requires a thick skin. If you operate a public-facing business nowadays, social media is likely a part of your marketing toolbox.  Yet we often forget that social media is fundamentally personal, so where that crosses with business interests can often create conflict. The most effective attacks are personal attacks, because any Internet user knows how easy it is for a faceless corporation to ignore you. Learning how not to react emotionally is very important. When I worked in the restaurant business many years ago, we taught frontline staff to deal with belligerent customers by imagining they are attacking their uniform, not them. We taught them to visualize the customer scolding an empty uniform on a hanger, looking ridiculous. This hits home the point that they are not being personally attacked; they are being attacked for their job. This helps them compartmentalize, and not react emotionally. Likewise, when attacked personally online, we must respond on behalf of the brand, not ourselves.

Authenticity requires absolute honesty. If you cannot share part of the facts, you need to be proactively upfront about which part you cannot share, and why. Transparency means transparency, not translucency. The Internet will always find a way to uncover evasion and lies by omission. By being not completely honest, you are already not authentic. Likewise, if you cannot feel the feelings you think you ought to feel, don’t fake it.

Authenticity is binary, either you are, or you are not. You can’t fake it.

 

P.S. Some details above were modified to protect the innocent.

Have you painted on Facebook’s Canvas yet?

Facebook is never one to slack when it comes to launching new ad formats that meet specific objectives, such as lead generation, video views, and even event registrations. Now there’s a new format called Canvas that you may want to look into if you want to tell a story, or have a product narrative that is too constricted by the standard ad formats.

Canvas is a new mobile ad format that creates interactive, multimedia ads that are delivered via Facebook post or page ads. Once the user the clicks on the ad, they can see the Canvas ads, and interact with them. Canvas ads are multimedia experiences that ONLY run on mobile, and can contain any mix of video, pictures, text, delivered in a carousel format both horizontally and vertically.  For wide or panoramic pictures Canvas also supports horizontal scrolling by tilting the phone left and right. The entire experience allows embedding CTA buttons pointing to multiple destinations, typically web pages for e-shopping or offer claims. 

It is important to see Canvas as a multimedia experience and not a single ad, as the production of a Canvas experience involves a ton of design work, and in some cases videos need to be natively produced as well to make the whole experience very integrated.  The best way to think of it is a storytelling experience. Daylight believes the Canvas experience is a perfect way to explain brand stories cohesively, while keeping engagement high.  For example of a typical Canvas experience, here’s one from L’Occitane.

What Facebook’s view of their future means for you (Hint: More time spent on it)

Facebook just concluded F8, their annual technology conference where they announce new products, technology roadmap, and vision for the future.

Here is our interpretation of what some of the announcements means for you:

Facebook is evolving from a social network to a content network. You first joined Facebook because you wanted to stay connected with friends, families and acquaintances, to share moments. Social sharing was the original motivation for billions like you to join Facebook, but motivations change over time, impacted by changing user habits, competing services such as Messaging, and competing networks such as Snapchat and Vine. Social sharing, especially among longtime users, is decreasing, while third-party published content is rapidly rising. Sponsored content (aka advertising) is relentlessly rising, which means a need for non-advertising content to balance, or users will bolt.

What does Facebook’s revenue rely on? Your continued engagement within their platform, so they must find new ways of keeping you there. That means offering more content you want to read/watch/hear. Enter the Content Network.

New products such as Live video, VR/AR, and Instant Articles, are all designed to keep you inside Facebook. With Facebook Live, you can now broadcast a live video stream from your mobile, with viewers commenting in real-time. Facebook is also opening up its API to third-party developers, creating a funnel that links you back to, what else, Facebook. VR/AR (Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality) are emerging technologies that Facebook believes will radically transform the way you experience their network in the future. (At Daylight we agree, which is why we created our Immersive Storytelling team.) Widespread prevalence of VR still requires a year or two due to hardware limitations (clunky headsets and motion sickness after prolonged use, for example) but these will be solved, there is no question. Once the technology matures, we believe Facebook will be one of the largest platforms for virtual shared experiences, from large arenas such as concerts and conferences to intimate one-on-one interactions. To make it easier for content creators, Facebook has also unveiled an open source 360 VR camera.

Messaging is the Next Big Thing.  Mark Zuckerberg, smart cookie that he is, saw the writing on the wall, and invested massively in Messaging (WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger), seeing it as an emerging connected ecosystem that could complement and perhaps supplant Facebook one day. Don’t see this potential? Just look at what WeChat has built, and could potentially be capable of. On WeChat you can already shop, get customer service, consume brand content, and yes, communicate with contacts, among many other things.

The introduction of Bot Engine for Facebook Messaging is an attempt to take messaging to another level, to enhance your experience using such ecosystems. Developers can now create bots that let you interact conversationally with companies, to shop (“Show me the latest tote bag from Coach”), get customer service (“I ordered a tote bag last week but I haven’t received it”), and look up information (“Where is the nearest Coach store?”)  No doubt more uses will emerge over the coming months.

Pseudo-AI assistants such as Siri, Cortana and Alexa have proven chat AI technology is rapidly maturing. Facebook wants you to get used to interacting with companies by talking to Facebook Messenger. People will type less, and talk to their devices more.

What of the Facebook future, and how can marketers take advantage of it?

  • Re-engineer marketing campaigns and customer service for chat messaging. Start planning IT infrastructure changes that allow systems to hook up to chat software and hardware. Design campaigns that feature a chatbot in innovative ways.
  • Missed the YouTube boat as a KOL? Now’s your chance. Brand ambassadors and KOLs must understand live video inside and out and explore the possibilities. Livestreaming events and moments is just the beginning. How about a live reality show for 15 minutes every day? Innovation and Creativity is key.
  • Learn to tell stories in VR, understand the radical changes in planning shoots, from script-writing to storyboarding to post-production, and hone your craft. The technology is still maturing, so you’re right at the start of the curve.

 

Why I quit PR and started a digital agency (or, To hell with swim lanes)

Three years ago I quit PR after 20 years and started a digital agency, Daylight (this one, yep.)

I did it because I was tired of head-butting this perception that PR is just writing press releases and media relations. I did it because I was tired of being excluded from creative pitches because we were a PR agency, or coming up with great Big Ideas that were given to advertising agencies to execute because clients said we hadn’t done it before. I did it because PR as a descriptor is archaic anyway. (Who is the Public? What Relations are we having?)

Recruiting digital talent (or what I call, talent) was an uphill battle because digitally experienced marketers want to work for “digital” agencies, not PR. This even though many experienced PR practitioners are skilled storytellers and masters of messaging, regardless of channel.

Brands tend to confine agencies to swim lanes labeled PR, Advertising, Media, Creative, and Digital. We’ve done ourselves no favors by inventing new labels such as Content Marketing, Influencer Marketing, Sensory Marketing, ad nauseam. These swim lanes are a holdover from pre-Internet days before it totally disrupted the marketing and media industries.

Clients know agencies don’t like to be boxed in, and over the years we’ve met enlightened clients that bring agencies in for “agency days” where the team with the best idea gets to lead the campaign, regardless of discipline. That’s great, until the client has to decide how much each agency should be paid. Then the Media people scream bloody murder. Or the advertising agency.

It’s time for CMOs to lead the charge, break down the silos, cultivate cross-discipline synergies and make a paradigm shift into a world without swim lanes (Us marketing folks also like our buzzwords.)

Simply said, clients need to be daring, to put their money where their mouth is when they say the Best Idea Wins. They need to nurture the flame of invention from smaller agencies (especially when it’s hard), and challenge their larger agencies to be more inventive.

I founded Daylight because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a PR agency, because digital agencies are granted more flexibility in the sandbox these days. But isn’t Digital just another swim lane you say? This is where it gets interesting, because Digital isn’t a swim lane, it’s the water.

Let me repeat that: Digital isn’t a swim lane, it’s the water.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know with a comment below or send mail to David@Daylightpartnership.com

Social Media isn’t making the world worse, Advertising is

The news that Instagram will join Facebook to impose an algorithm-curated feed is causing all sorts of hand-wringing, but of course the writing was on the wall the day Facebook acquired Instagram. Why else but to monetize all that Attention from their users, and maintain Facebook’s dominance? (Or prepare for eventual irrelevance, if certain pundits are to be believed.)

The real danger is more insidious, and there is no broad-based solution in sight, at least that I know of. It’s the societal impact of Social Media in our lives, but not for the reason you think.

If you’re a TED talk fan like me, you might have heard that social media networks have created a “filter bubble” that has led to polarization of views and a general decline in civility online (YouTube comments, anyone?) Search engines are guilty of this too: Google searches are highly personalized. Don’t believe me? Have a friend (preferably with a different demographic or cultural background) google the same keyword and compare your results.

This bubble enslaves you in an online echo chamber where you only see content by people that agree with you.  How did this happen? You.

  1. In order to serve ads that are highly targeted and effective, Facebook and other networks must know your interests, political views, travel habits, preferred news sources, and so on.
  2. They know what you like by tracking what content you engage with the most, from tracking your Likes and Shares, to measuring how much time you spend on each post.
  3. In order to keep you on their platform so that you can be available to be targeted by advertisers, Facebook (and Instagram, and Google) must create a content stream/newsfeed that is finely tuned to what you like to see. You stay because your natural desire is to keep consuming content that YOU want to see.

This bubble effectively hides dissonant content from you.

Exposure to diverse points of view is critical to developing a balanced, largely unbiased view of the world, so this filtering of what you see, can polarise you. When the online world meets offline though, people with extremely different POVs can clash, often with severe consequences.

While the social networks are not going to change this state of affairs anytime soon, there are a few things you can do as an individual:

  • Switch your Facebook newsfeed setting from “Top Stories” to “Most Recent” (Find out the settings in other social networks that allow you to do this. Warning: It’s not always possible.)
  • Actively subscribe to news sources with a different viewpoint from yours. If you’re liberal, make sure you include a few conservative news sources in your feed.
  • Spend less time consuming your news online, and more time cultivating a natural curiosity by speaking to people you meet offline. Take an open, non-judgemental stance when listening.
  • Ask lots of questions. Question everything you read.

 

 

Picture credit: NYT