Good cop – bad cop: why only Facebook is evil

In a lot of our discussion about the future we tend to bunch Facebook and Google together.  After all they are two Goliaths that rely on advertising.  Unlike Microsoft that has spread its income sources, or Amazon who is in a different arena all together.  Grouping them together however is unfair, misleading and dangerous.

“….the great organ of social life, the prime element of civilization, the channel through which native talent, native genius, and native power may bubble up daily…”  The quote is not from a recent Zuckerberg motivational speech but from James Gordon Bennett, who published the Morning Herald in 1835, one of the first newspapers which tried to sell an audience to advertisers.

Facebook has a simple and similar target.  To get us to spend more time on their platform.  Wasting time?  Sure.  With fake news?  Of course.  It is the newspaper of our time and it is a tabloid newspaper for sure.  Facebook will do anything to get you to stay.  It will interrupt you and make sure you get no work done.   It will buy out other platforms like Instagram only to gradually turn them into…Facebook.  It will copy features from Snapchat with no shame if Snapchat or any future smaller company isn’t willing to be bought by Facebook.  Facebook has no purpose by definition.  Mark Zuckerberg has excelled since his college days in dreaming up new ways for people to waste time.  There is no purpose.   He simply thrives on studying your time wasting habits per se, whether it is flicking up and down a timeline, looking at photos of friends or creating controversy.  (Which his systems always reward in one way or another.)

The opportunistic approach is best illustrated in the erratic way it deals with its customers.  Advertising on Facebook is not a science.  It can’t be.  Because they are always changing it in order to make whatever worked yesterday not work tomorrow unless you pay more.  The scandals about false video impression numbers and all the other scams Facebook has got caught for so far are just the tip of the iceberg.  The elephant in the room is that Facebook ads simply do not work as well as they want you to think they work.  Why?  Because people shop much less when they are simply wasting time.   Nobody will tell you because digital marketers are too busy taking the money you are no longer spending on “old media” and giving you fancy stats that impress you.

Contrast that with Google.  You know, that place you go when you actually want to get things done.  When you research a product purchase.  Where you find out useful stuff about your world.  Google has a much tougher job.  They have to give you services like Google Maps which are simply so useful and so much better than any other option and then find ways to monetize them without losing the title.   Advertisers that understand the difference are much more effective for their customers.  Lazy advertisers simply give in to the marketing director who only understands Facebook ads because that is what they use every day.  A Facebook ad “impression” is in no way similar to a Google Ads “impression”.  Facebook reminds me of Nazi Germany radio wardens, people that walked the streets to corral citizens all together and force them to listen to Adolf Hitler speak on the radio.  We need shared experiences and Zuckerberg is going to give you the ones he can sell.  While Google figures out machine learning, automatic translation and organizing the world’s knowledge for everyone Facebook adds smiley faces, dislike buttons and the amazing new way to say something with a colored background.

The way Facebook treats fake news is a wonderful illustration of its hypocrisy.  Much like the first tabloid newspapers almost two hundred years ago, it seeks out and promotes anything lurid and boisterous.  In the old days newspapers based on advertising for revenue had people in courts looking for scandal or even reported on the slave trade for effect.  Facebook today pretends to be politically correct but makes sure similar content reaches you.  And plenty of it.  It is a bit like newspapers pretending not to control the classifieds section or not carrying blame for readers’ letter in “opinion” pieces.

In the mid 19th century, the first “trolls” were in fact journalists working for cheap newspapers in a constant effort to increase circulation so that they could sell advertising.  Some things never change…

Your social media “strategy” is a pile of steaming… social media

Do you remember SEO?  Some people went around “optimising” websites.  Others sold courses on  search engine optimisation.  No, please, try to remember exactly what went on then.  You were a bit vague how “those Google things” worked.   So you outsourced.  Something worked more or less, you didn’t get fired over low rankings.  Probably because your boss didn’t understand SEO fully either.

There is a good reason why this happened.  It is that nobody fully understands how Google works.  It is secret, personalised, it changes often and Google spends a great amount of time and effort making sure it is difficult to reverse engineer what they do.  Through it all, some of us had an attitude that is more pragmatic.  I always said “if you can tweak it that easily, Google will take it into account automatically.”  All those silly tags, the time wasted adding fields, alt texts and gobbledegook for what?  Google does a better job at figuring out which content should be shown to who than you could even imagine.  From phone usage, to browser habits, email content and million of other signals, Google’s algorithms are simply astounding.  And useful.  Yet still some people pay good money learning about SEO.  Which brings me to the current fashion:  social media training.

A whole industry has been built around teaching you “how to succeed on Instagram” or “how to promote your business on a Facebook page”.  Friendly, trendy, graphic heavy sites, emailings, courses and videos with gurus full of a burning desire to help you “get ahead”.  Training in technology was always a challenge methodologically.  In times of rapid change such as these it is damn near impossible to stay current.  Taking a “course in social media” is essentially admission of a handicap.  You have no real projects to learn from, you lack the drive and bravery to put yourself out.   Sure, you can’t improvise with the facebook account of a Fortune 500 company, but you sure as hell can experiment with any number of other ones.  From the school committee Instagram feed to a blog about your kids’ basketball team.  The cost is zero and the experimental opportunities infinite.  Don’t read about it.  Do it!

I started writing this article after seeing a scary directive in a pretty large corporation defining – among other things – the “correct time for Facebook posts” on their official page.  This is an excellent illustration of just how stupid “social media gurus” have made people.  Google it and you will find loads of scientific looking “papers” by “data scientists” claiming to have crunched millions of data points to “prove” when you get maximum traction.  At first it seems clear or even “obvious”.  You want to post when most people are online, more likely to see what you posted.  But wait a minute.  Those two statements aren’t even connected!

You want to post when most people that are interested in your message are likely to see it.  Not even that.  When some people which might actually react in a way that will have a beneficial impact to your brand will somehow see your social media post.  The more you think about it, the more disclaimers you would need in order to even make sense of what exactly you are trying to achieve.  What is your brand?  Which parts of the audience do you think you will reach?  What mood will they be in at one time versus another?  How will Facebook’s algorithms react to your message at that time in relation to everything else going on when potential message recipients log in?  There is only one way to learn and – you guessed  it – that is not by going to a seminar or reading my articles.  Even if you hire me to experiment and measure for your company, as I propose you do yourself, my fine conclusions will have a very limited shelf life.  If anyone discovers a “silver bullet” for getting great traction in social media, by their very design, social media will have killed the opportunity in days or weeks at best.

Thinking, reading, talking to people and going to seminars are all useful idea generators.  I often discover new tools from the fantastic people around me in the real and virtual world.  We all need training and we all need mechanisms to make us rethink what we do.  People like me should be paid vast amounts of money to help others in this noble cause.  We can all improve in ways to test our hypotheses. But there is only one way to take responsibility and that is directly.  Don’t hide behind management gurus for things you can quite easily test out and know yourselves.   Until Facebook, Google and everyone else change the parameters that is.  Which they have probably done 5-6 times in the time it took you to read this article.

My point precisely!

 

 

In praise of fake profiles

If you are in sales or marketing and above 25 years of age, you are probably wrong.  The assumptions you base your decisions on are severely limited.  We often thank our kids for ideas, for keeping us “in touch”, but it is much much more complicated a matter.  And extremely important.   I have hundreds of fake profiles.   Not sure if “fake” is the correct term.  I pretend to be someone I am not as a form of market research.  In fact it is often the first thing I do when presented with a new project.

It starts with a fake Google account.  This is vital.  Search results are personalized.  You will never get it all perfect, but if you at least persuade it that you live wherever you are researching and then make sure you do Google searches logged in from this fake Google profile, the world you are seeing will be a little more like your target.  Sign up for whatever products and services you are looking for from this signed in Chrome browser.    You have to try and live the part.

With Facebook things are even more dangerous.  That person in marketing you think is “up to speed with all this new stuff”, well, just isn’t.   If I have a really successful Instagram account, or a very active personal Facebook profile I only see what that particular profile’s take on the world is.   Some days I might whiz through multiple profiles to check up on them, just housekeeping.  Hard to describe just how different it feels to be in each newsfeed.  Some are simply based in different locations, with friends from a particular island or city.  Age differences are even more stunning.  The same political event which fills your friends’ timelines when you are 50, doesn’t even appear when you are 16.

It isn’t fashionable anymore, but I always make sure my fake people have a website, blog or other public trove of information on whatever topic I am researching.   This gives me unique insights into what people are looking for.   It is the “honeypot” approach.  In content marketing it is easier to just start testing ideas like this.  And when the first organic google searches land my way, it is like Christmas day!  Somebody wrote what they wanted to know in Google and came to me, fake me, this particular person.  Why?  How?  What cyberspace hole did I fill with what I just did?

If anything, building a fake profile is a humbling experience.  Because you realize just how complex a web social beings like humans create.  We earn trust.  Slowly.   A “follow” by a 13 year old is a very, very, very different action to a “follow” by a 60 year old.  He then posts what he just had for breakfast without thinking about it, while the senior citizen is carefully crafting a comment as if he is writing to the Economist.

Marketing people are often fooled by their own brand.  In the case of social media they are also sidetracked by their personal profiles and habits.  These are extremely dynamic, immature new mediums, still jostling for position, changing architecture and interfaces.   There is no agreed way to assess them, no specific assigned meaning to what we all do with them.  So get off your high horse and mingle with the natives.

Jesus, fig trees and checking your car brakes

“Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!”

Immediately the tree withered.”     – Matthew 21:18-22

Israel_Bethany_Stone_church_with_silver_domeThe excerpt is well known, the explanation less so.   Most religious researchers believe that Jesus was crucified probably on the 6th of April, 30 A.D.  Which means that when he met the above mentioned fig tree it was not meant to be in fruit anyway as it was long before summer.  However fig trees at that time produce taqsh, small hard, almond sized knobs on the plant which poor peasants were often forced to eat for lack of anything better.   If the tree has no such fig precursors it means that it will not bear fruit this season.  Jesus was not cursing the fig tree but simply announcing what any person who lived in those times would know.  After a long day walking, Jesus perhaps hoped to have a small snack, was disappointed, and thus pronounced the tree barren.

Google searches for “fig tree” are also, as expected seasonal.  From March through until September people are more interested in it either because they want to plant a fig tree, or take care of a fig tree.  A modern day Jesus could see the following pattern of seasonality in Google searches:

figly datachart seasonality of google searches for fig tree c 2015 figly

That green line is the amount of searches (U.S.) for “fig tree”.  Every year they spike from March to September.  But what is that blue line which follows them so closely?  It is the google searches for “brake caliper”!    In fact the correlation is extremely high at r=0.9069.  Similar in seasonality, yet not so exact in volume are searches for “paint code”, “oil filter”, “valve adjustment”, “oil drain” and “gear oil”.  It seems that as Americans come out of winter they have two things in mind:  fixing their car and tending to their fig trees!

Here is the full excerpt from the book “Hard Sayings of the Bible”, (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred Brauch)

“The problem is most satisfactorily cleared up in a discussion called “The Barren Fig Tree” published many years ago by W. M. Christie, a Church of Scotland minister in Palestine under the British mandatory regime. He pointed out first the time of year at which the incident is said to have occurred (if, as is probable, Jesus was crucified on April 6th, A.D. 30, the incident occurred during the first days of April). “Now,” wrote Christie, “the facts connected with the fig tree are these. Toward the end of March the leaves begin to appear, and in about a week the foliage coating is complete. Coincident with [this], and sometimes even before, there appears quite a crop of small knobs, not the real figs, but a kind of early forerunner.  They grow to the size of green almonds, in which condition they are eaten by peasants and others when hungry.

When they come to their own indefinite maturity they drop off.” These precursors of the true fig are called taqsh in
Palestinian Arabic. Their appearance is a harbinger of the fully formed appearance of the true fig some six weeks later.

So, as Mark says, the time for figs had not yet come. But if the leaves appear without any taqsh, that is a sign that
there will be no figs. Since Jesus found “nothing but leaves”—leaves without any taqsh—he knew that “it was an ab-
solutely hopeless, fruidess fig tree” and said as much. But if that is the true explanation of his words, why should anyone trouble to record the incident as though it had some special significance? Because it did have some special significance. As recorded by Mark, it is an acted parable with the same lesson as the spoken parable of the fruitess fig tree in Luke 13:6-9.

In that spoken parable a landowner came three years in succession expecting fruit from a fig tree on his property, and when year by year it proved to be fruidess, he told the man in charge of his vineyard to cut it down because it was using up the ground to no good purpose. In both the acted parable and the spoken parable it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the fig tree represents the city of Jerusalem, unresponsive to Jesus as he came to it with the message of God, and thereby incurring destruction. Elsewhere Luke records how Jesus wept over the city’s blindness to its true well-being and foretold its ruin “because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Lk 19:41-44 RSV). It is because the incident of the cursing of the fig tree was seen to convey the same lesson that Mark, followed by Matthew, recorded it.”