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]

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?

 

Reading Trump supporters’ tweets (it’s not what you think)

Social media puts us in echo chambers where our own extreme views become normalized.

Social media allowed fake news to proliferate, putting populists (and some demagogues) in power.

Social media has made it easier for populists and their supporters to sway public opinion.

Social media makes it easy for us to publicly hate and despise those that disagree with our views.

But demonizing “the other side” is the opposite of what we should do. I was inspired by this recent article in the Washington Post about Hugo Chavez’s rise to power, and how it should not be allowed to repeat. One passage stood out for me:

The recipe for populism is universal. Find a wound common to many, find someone to blame for it, and make up a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them: the minorities, the politicians, the businessmen. Caricature them. As vermin, evil masterminds, haters and losers, you name it. Then paint yourself as the savior. Capture the people’s imagination. Forget about policies and plans, just enrapture them with a tale. One that starts with anger and ends in vengeance. A vengeance they can participate in.

That’s how it becomes a movement. There’s something soothing in all that anger. Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity. The narcotic of the simple answer to an intractable question. The problem is now made simple.

To fight the rise of populist demagogues, we must reach across the aisle, the income gap, digital divide, what have you, and understand the other person’s point of view. Read their tweets, find out what drives them, and we will soon realize that at the end of the day, we all want the same things: Love, comfort, security, a future for our children, the freedom to enjoy what we earned. Understand what makes a suburban mother of two vote for a misogynist, sexist demagogue. She didn’t do it to spite liberals, she’s fearful because she sees the loss of jobs around her, and growing income inequality. She wants her children to have a future, so she’s doing what she believes will bring about change.

From the same article (emphasis mine):

You can be different. Recognize that you’re the enemy Trump requires. Show concern, not contempt, for the wounds of those who brought him to power. By all means, be patient with democracy and struggle relentlessly to free yourself from the shackles of the caricature the populists have drawn of you.

It’s a tall order. But the alternative is worse. Trust me.

Will private sharing make Facebook irrelevant one day?

In Hong Kong where I live, 98% of active Internet users are on Facebook. If you don’t have a Facebook account some people consider you a social pariah. You certainly miss many invitations to parties.

I joined Facebook in 2008, to share significant moments with my friends and co-workers. How I use the network has evolved. Over the years I’ve posted less frequently, and now I mostly consume news on it, occasionally posting a photo or two. Genuine moments, the sharing of joy at a newborn member of someone’s family, a minute of commiseration over the death of a friend’s pet, are fewer and farther between.

Last week one friend announced (on Facebook) that he was quitting Facebook for good. Separately a business associate announced he was taking a temporary break while he went home to England for the summer.

What’s going on? It might be the rise of sharing in “dark social”–messaging networks such as Snapchat, WeChat, or Whatsapp. For example, I have three Whatsapp chat groups that are more than a year old. One has 256 members, comprising fellow students from my high school year. Another is my Polytechnic year-mates, and a smaller one, my immediate family. Each group is active, in fact one of them averages over 100 messages a day. I have notifications turned off for that group so I don’t wear out my battery. A ton of sharing goes on in those groups. I use Facebook Messenger too, but most of my friends don’t use it unless they have to. (Facebook was smart to acquire Whatsapp.)

I’m also on Snapchat. Snapchat today feels like using Facebook five years ago: you only connect with your trusted network of friends or colleagues, you share genuine moments that don’t feel like humble-bragging (mostly); you are not afraid to be silly and fun. Because after 24 hours…poof! It’s gone.

For work we use Slack, a closed messaging system, for friendly social sharing we use Whatsapp or Snapchat. What do we use Facebook for? My company spends a ton of money advertising on Facebook on behalf of clients, so we knowingly take advantage of how consumers use it to stay close to brands. But what drew those consumers to Facebook in the first place was the social connection, which is gradually weakening.

Is this a threat to Facebook? If it is, what can they do? I’ll address that in another post.

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.

Chatbots
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?

 

 

Let VR make zoos obsolete

Like many people online, I was distressed and angered by news of Harambe the western lowland gorilla who was shot dead at the Cincinnati Zoo just one day after his 17th birthday, for the actions of a neglectful parent who allowed her four-year-old toddler to slip through the barrier and fall into the enclosure. Michelle Gregg, the parent, has been defiant and unapologetic in a Facebook post, calling it an accident. All the online hate she has received is not going to change her mind, but perhaps we can direct that hate towards a positive outcome.

Let’s question this: why do we need zoos? If we are trying to preserve near-extinct species, might we not direct our money and efforts towards combating the actual causes of extinction, such as over-fishing, hunting, poachers, and unscientific traditional Chinese medicine remedies, to name a few? If we want economic ways for children (and adults) to observe animals in the flesh, there are new technologies today that are just as good.

How close can you get to a predator in a zoo anyway? 20 feet? 10 feet? Is that worth them being locked up in a cage or enclosure for years? Animals’ stress in confinement conditions is a well documented phenomenon. We know we are doing these animals harm. Yet we do it anyway because “every city deserves a zoo.”

Perhaps it’s time to call for an end to public zoos. We call Josef Fritzl (the man who imprisoned his daughter in a cell for 24 years) and his ilk monsters, yet we routinely imprison animals for their entire lifetimes in the name of science, companionship, or “education” for children. Perhaps letting a child experience a gorilla up close through VR goggles instead of from 20 feet away in a zoo, is a small price to pay to spare an animal years of misery and stress?

If you haven’t already, get yourself and your child a VR headset (the cheapest is Google Cardboard), and see the potential of the technology. I’ve swam with dolphins and penguins, stood within 5 feet of a lion, and soared next to an eagle.

What zoo can match that?

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.