Industry View April, 2018 Facebook’s data privacy saga: What does that mean for you?

[cs_content][cs_section parallax=”false” separator_top_type=”none” separator_top_height=”50px” separator_top_angle_point=”50″ separator_bottom_type=”none” separator_bottom_height=”50px” separator_bottom_angle_point=”50″ style=”margin: 0px;padding: 45px 0px;”][cs_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” style=”margin: 0px auto;padding: 0px;”][cs_column fade=”false” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px” fade_duration=”750″ type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px;”][cs_text]As a branded content agency, RFI creates campaigns for our clients across different channels and platforms, including social media and digital advertising. As a valued client or partner, you may be interested in our view of what’s going on with Facebook, and how that impacts you.

Recent revelations that Cambridge Analytica, a Trump-linked analytics agency, had compromised the private data of millions of Facebook users, primarily in the west, has caused massive uproar and led to calls for Facebook to be regulated, with some users claiming to quit the social network under the hashtag #DeleteFacebook.

Users in the US and UK are understandably disturbed by the realisation that this breach may have contributed to swaying the US presidential election and the UK’s Brexit referendum.

While the number of daily active users may fall in the US, concrete response to this crisis has been muted in Asia, and we do not believe there will be significant impact, partly due to the continuing momentum of social media adoption growth here. For example, the number of people using social media for the first time in 2017 grew by 90% in Central Asia, and 33% in South Asia.

Hong Kong has one of the highest Facebook penetration rates, with 5.5M users out of a population of 7.4M. In spite of this broad user base, the number of new social media users in Hong Kong still grew by 5% last year. [Source: Facebook, Internetstats]

Against this backdrop of growth, Facebook continues to be one of the digital platforms of choice for advertisers, surpassing more traditional channels by reach, targeting accuracy, and conversion effectiveness.

In the short-term, Facebook will implement several changes to protect consumer data that you should be aware of. For example, they will require admins of “large” brand pages to have their identities verified, including brand owners and agencies. Details regarding what size of page and when this will be implemented have not been released, but RFI will monitor the requirements closely and make this process effortless for our clients when it is required.

While most third-party data advertising hooks may be disabled, Facebook has announced a permission tool appearing in Q3 to allow agencies to continue to use third-party data for targeting. We do not believe this will have an impact on current development and import of Custom Audiences using an advertiser’s first-party data, such as email addresses in a CRM database. If the situation changes however, we will keep you informed.

In the meantime, how might this incident affect marketers?

Continue to invest across PESO. RFI advocates a digital strategy that distributes marketing investment across paid, earned, shared and owned media. For example, owned content such as campaign web sites play a crucial role as content hubs, while contextual search and display ads capture consumers at their moment of purchase consideration and intent. Influencer marketing can be effective but predicting ROI can be problematic. To solve that, you can ask RFI’s insights & analytics team about our suite of data tools that can, for example, reveal the purchasing power of a specific celebrity’s fans, by product category.

Add Dark Social to the mix. Dark social is defined as social sharing within a closed group. While recent events may cause active users to decrease slightly on Facebook, the migration to private sharing on messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and WeChat already started a few years ago, and will continue to accelerate. With the introduction of WhatsApp for Business, RFI has begun to offer an end-to-end solution that helps clients manage their brand, build a community, and use their WhatsApp presence to inform, influence and convert. In addition, our team would also be happy to speak with you about our WeChat Social CRM service.

Make Data the centre of your marketing decisions. Big data is the norm today, but data is meaningless without thoughtful analysis. RFI has invested tremendously in our I&A tools to help marketers decide who to reach and how, as well as mitigate crises and monitor conversations. Our I&A team also offers a custom research service to solve thorny business challenges. Ask our team about Beacon Social Visualisation to optimise your Facebook campaigns.

Talk to your RFI consultant for an unvarnished analysis of your current marketing strategy. Agencies like us strive to understand your business and operating environment, but with the advantage of a third-party perspective that can help you identify blind spots.

Questions? Please contact us at[/cs_text][/cs_column][/cs_row][/cs_section][/cs_content]

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.


Two Ads I like and One I Don’t

This article originally appeared in Branding In Asia.


“I want them to cry!” said the client with glee, as we concluded yet another campaign brainstorm. Emotional storytelling is such a cliché now: tugging at the heart strings equals emotional resonance, which translates to warm fuzzy feelings for the brand, which aids recall, which leads (hopefully) to awards, which leads to more briefs from aforementioned client. Hopefully. Oftentimes the most tenuous of links to the brand proposition is enough for a client to sign off an ad concept, if one can promise results akin to slicing onions.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a purist; I love emotional storytelling as much as the next person. But an emotional ad must serve a higher purpose, regardless of storytelling and production values. It must tie intricately to the brand promise, it should strive to surprise and delight.


It takes an army: Apple’s “Three Minutes”

“Three Minutes”, a video filmed entirely with iPhone X by Hong Kong director Peter Chan, passes the smell test. Critics may cry foul at sighting a Focus Puller in the credits, not to mention a veritable army of crew, but an iPhone on a jib is still an iPhone.  I loved the talented cast, working off a screenplay that perhaps demands too little of its child protagonist, whose only lines are multiplication table recitations. Not much emoting required there. But it works.

A love letter to a vast market pivotal to Apple’s fortunes, Three Minutes taps into the national anxiety that is China’s annual chunyun migration, where hundreds of millions of migrants head homeward for a brief visit. A tense on-screen timer evokes the brevity of those precious few days, metaphorically compressed here into three minutes, and the importance of capturing those memories on your phone. Not just any mobile phone, mind you, but iPhone X, with a camera so superior it can make movies like the one you just saw.


Redefining Wholesome: Honey Maid “This is Wholesome”

Before Black Lives Matter, before marriage equality, before the Muslim ban, Honey Maid, a cereal brand, debuted its “This is Wholesome” campaign in 2014, redefining unconventional families as wholesome, whether mixed race, LGBT, black, or immigrant.

Honey Maid rode the resulting tide of controversy to an elevated affinity with its target demographic, in the process redefining its brand as hip and of-the-times. This may seem quaint a mere four years later, but Droga5 did an admirable job of helping their client blaze the way. Honey Maid then masterfully continued the momentum, producing another video where they asked artists to literally craft negativity into an expression of love. Very clever.

So much wood: SingTel “Mr. Lim’s Reunion Dinner”

Singtel’s “Mr. Lim’s Reunion Dinner’, lauded for its millions of views on social media, doesn’t cut it for me. The story is bland, the acting wooden. Mr. Lim tells a hawker he’s expecting his children home for dinner, one flying in from Sydney, the other from Hong Kong. They of course will disappoint him with last minute absences, so that we can be shown a scene of Mr. Lim dining alone, talking to a picture of his deceased wife.

The denouement is, surprise surprise, his children showing up unexpectedly, but not before realising that next time, they need to coordinate parental neglect. Presumably by calling each other on Singtel.

Apart from bad news being passed around along phone lines, it’s not obvious how this ad ties into Singtel’s services. The son in Sydney calling the daughter in Hong Kong was most likely on an Optus line anyway.

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 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]

Targeting 101 (or, calling them Millennials is so 2014)

Labels are just labels. People are messy and contradictory.

Our need for patterns helps us make sense of the world, it’s how our brains are wired, but it doesn’t always make it easy to predict behavior. In fact, seeing patterns and labelling a group as a stereotype can be counterproductive these days.

We were tasked by a client to “target millennials” for a campaign, so we conducted research and created a series of personas of this group, including “affluent millennials”, “lifestyle millennials” and so on, within a certain geography. Labelling a specific age segment with an aspect of their generation’s consumption habits can be risky, but it was useful for the campaign because we were mapping specific product attributes to specific behavior. What we couldn’t get the client to understand though, was that they could target product attributes to behavior while ignoring common demographics like age, income and gender.  For example, there are people in their 20s who will pay over a hundred dollars for a nice cab sav, in the same way that there are forty-year-olds who skydive on vacation. You may call them the long tail, but bucking trends is the trend these days.

So what is the new approach to targeting?

Target by behavior, not gender or age. Microtargeting on social platforms makes it relatively straightforward to deliver content to targeted audiences, but many marketers make the mistake of targeting by broad stroke demographics, not behavior. Not all Justin Bieber fans are aged between 14-25; many scuba divers are above 55. Age is no longer a reliable predictor of behavior. Targeting affluent travelers? Aim your social content at people who have traveled overseas at least once the past month, and who have liked the brand pages of relevant airlines and high-end hotel groups.

Mine data to spot non-obvious patterns that predict future behavior. For example, Target, a large American department store, identified 25 products that women expecting commonly purchased together, and sent coupons to them. In the process, they inadvertently outed one girl’s hidden pregnancy to her dad. Here’s what happened:

[A] man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.

On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”

You can read the original New York Times story here.

In a nutshell, as marketers we should start with behavior, instead of making assumptions based on demographics. Straightforward and obvious, right?


7 Digital Marketing Trends to watch in 2017 and beyond

I’m fresh back from vacation, so it’s time to roll up those sleeves and dive deep into 2017, which will be an exciting year especially now that we’re part of the awesome Ruder Finn family. (In case you haven’t seen the news yet.)

Here’s a look at my predictions for what will matter most to digital marketers in 2017 and beyond.
Dark Social
First coined by Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic, Dark Social refers to social sharing not on semi-public platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, but messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and WeChat, and of course Facebook Messenger.

This shift to person-to-person and closed group sharing is a massive trend, with some estimates claiming over 60% of people share exclusively in Dark Social. Anecdotally we’ve all seen it happen: I now share much more with friends and family on WhatsApp than Facebook. It’s more intimate, you’re not bombarded by sponsored messages, and there’s no danger that your personal conversations are stored and analyzed on a server somewhere.

End-to-end encryption will be the norm, ensuring that private conversations stay that way. Content marketing will rely less on social platforms and more on private sharing, using tracking codes similar to UTM to track every piece of content as it is passed around, whether it’s a blog post, whitepaper, magazine article, or online video.

Immersive Storytelling
It seemed every year was going to be the year VR took off, but in 2016 we might have finally seen critical mass, with the launch of Oculus Rift and the Samsung Gear VR.

Sino Group, a Daylight client, became the first property developer in Hong Kong to create a VR mini-movie, VR@SaiKung, and Digital Domain, another Daylight client began sending out tens of thousands of Google Cardboard VR viewers to fans. You may know Digital Domain as the Hollywood special effects house responsible for the CG effects in blockbusters like Transformers, Avengers, Fast & Furious, and many more.

As VR becomes more mature and accepted, we will see it move in exciting new directions such as short-form dramas.
In 2017 we expect to see Augmented Reality (AR), or Mixed Reality (MR), come to the fore with Microsoft Hololens coming out of development, and while the jury is still out on Magic Leap, it is indisputably one of the most well-funded stealth startups at US$4.5 billion and counting.

Brands will continue to dabble in holograms for campaigns, following the VR model, beginning with OOH activations, gradually moving to individual headsets as they become more popular.

In the same way that robots have taken over much of manual labour, software is gradually taking over white collar fields as well, including digital marketing.

Chatbots, first made popular by Facebook’s launch of their chat API in April 2016, will increase in prominence in 2017 and beyond. Customer service, e-commerce – even Facebook fan engagement – will be more than adequately served by chatbots.

This month, Daylight helped Pacific Place, one of Hong Kong’s most premium retail malls, create their Christmas Chatbot on Facebook Messenger, answering fan enquiries about their Christmas campaign as well as playing simple games.

I’d hate to add another buzzword by calling it Conversational Marketing, but this is a trend we cannot afford to ignore.

Social VR
VR as a way to share unique, real-time experiences with tens of thousands of individuals will start to take off, aided by native support for VR viewing in platforms such as YouTube and Youku.

Digital Domain broadcast the world’s first real-time VR concert on 30 December, featuring Chinese pop superstar Faye Wong. Other events will surely follow, including sports.

With data rates at 100 megabits per second for mobile users, 5G, expected to start rolling out in 2020, will accelerate Social VR even further. We will soon see social chatrooms and completely virtual events where each spectator may be hundreds of kilometres apart, yet share in an experience as if they are in the same room.

Micro KOLs
Influencer marketing has risen in importance and become a key part of any social strategy, but engagement rates are steadily falling. Many Instagrammers and YouTubers have been accused of being shills for hire, eroding their influence and fan enthusiasm.

In 2017 we will see the appearance of Influencer Mapping tools adept at discovering Micro KOLs, who are influencers within niche areas with followers in the hundreds or thousands, instead of hundreds of thousands or millions.

Replacing the brute force approach of paying huge dollars for celebrity KOLs, marketers will migrate to Micro KOLs with a passionate and loyal following within a specific niche.

Predictive Analytics
Analytical tools will emerge that finally achieve the Holy Grail of predicting a shift in consumer sentiment as soon as they happen, giving brands a head start in managing events with a significant impact on their reputation.

While sentiment analysis is nothing new, Asia, with its multitude of languages and geographies, has made it challenging to develop sentiment detection with acceptable accuracy.

With the maturation of Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology combining AI and linguistics, aided by large corporations like Google making their NLP tools available to developers everywhere, we expect to see predictive analytics become an essential part of every marketer’s toolbox this year.

Emotional Conversion
We constantly talk about the necessity for brands to have an authentic voice, but in this post-truth era of media, is that enough?
The story of the year in marketing, of course, was the rise of fake news and how it can lead to individuals making decisions and forming opinions that defy logic and reason.

Emotional conversion is a form of halo effect that leads to perceptions of an individual or brand not correlated with reality. Marketers have pursued emotional conversion since the dawn of marketing; you might even say it’s the essence of advertising.
What’s different today is how social media has polarized opinions via its echo chamber effect. In 2017 we will see a backlash against fake news and its effects. Online tools will emerge that enable consumers to verify the authenticity of any content, on the fly.

Can we all be “ruthlessly fearless” marketers?

I just spent a week in Tokyo, attending the first Asian Advertising Week conference. Best part of the week was the keynotes, featuring speakers like the chairman of Shiseido Group,  head of Asia for Google, LinkedIn and Facebook, and many more luminaries. Most inspiring was two presenters: Bonin Bough, Chief Media and eCommerce Officer at Mondelēz International, and Jimmy Smith, Chairman and CEO of Amusement Park Entertainment, a brand storytelling agency based in LA.

What struck me most was one thing Bonin said, that marketers need to be “ruthlessly fearless”, so as to achieve results, change minds, move the needle. As an example he cited the Honey Maid “This is wholesome” campaign featuring diverse families such as gay dads and mixed races, and the tongue-in-cheek rebuttal ad to the haters. Or the Walmart rebuttal to a New York Times article where they redlined all the factual inaccuracies in the article. That takes guts, taking on the NYT when under fire. Did it stop Walmart’s labor practices from being further attacked? Probably not, but I bet it made all the critics fact-check more carefully.

Forgive me for being a cynic, but I just cannot imagine a brand in Asia that would dare to go out on a limb like that.

During breaks my colleague and I also discussed the phenomenon of scam ads, campaigns created specifically to win marketing awards. We all know it’s a common practice for agencies to design a campaign from the ground up based on what wins awards, then find a client to sign up for it, and place a few media buys before award entry deadline. That practice is vilified by many in the industry, but then I wonder, if clients challenged agencies to do great, fearless work, and gave them the air cover to fail, perhaps even spectacularly, would scam ads even exist?

Of course us agencies are at fault too, for giving up. I’ve had the honor of working with a client for many years, a brand consistently among the top 10 in the global brand value league, yet we rarely did work for them that pushed the envelope. Brainstorms with the client inevitably resulted in great ideas that were watered down in successive rounds of discussions because their bosses “won’t understand it” or “it’s not on-brand.” After a few years, a challenge from any client in that company (usually a marketing manager fresh off the boat) to think outside the box would lead to silent despair, because we knew whatever brilliant but unusual idea we came up with would never see the light of day. Perhaps we should have persevered though.

Are us Asians just too timid? Are we too afraid to rock the boat and therefore turned it into an immovable barge?



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.