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.

In defence of experiments

The recent uproar concerning experiments run by Facebook is really worrying.   Because without experiments, there is no business, there is no progress and we learn nothing.   Most of my working day is spent conducting experiments or setting up experiments.   Most of my business advice ends with “well, let’s try it!”  Facebook being accused now is ludicrous.  Google runs much more experiments on a much grander scale and nobody has ever complained about that, have they?

Anything we do on the internet is set up as an A/B experiment.  I, Facebook or Google do exactly the same thing: we send one user to one type of setup and the next to another.  Then we measure.  It is no different to what I did when I was in retail.  You set up a shelf one way, see how it sells, how people react.  You set up a different store differently.   Then you measure.

This attitude really is the only way to learn.  Whether you are Leonardo DaVinci or Bill Gates, this is your tool.  Experimentation.   And of course in business, until animals get their own credit cards, most experiments concern human behavior.    We want to sell more, change attitudes, change beliefs, influence you.   We play music at different volumes to change the speed you walk in the supermarket, we use different colors to change the way you eat in McDonalds, we use even smells to sell more in a travel office.   You do the same thing everyday in your job too.   Two year olds do the same things to test their parents limits.

Much of my best consulting has been in finding ways to conduct experiments despite limitations.   How to test demand for an eshop idea without actually building it for real?  How to find potential buyers for a service which hasn’t been completely defined yet?   How to run a competition for our product without risking the edgy concept backfiring on us?

So give Facebook some slack and stop pretending.   Look at your everyday life.  If you’re not experimenting all the time, you’re not learning.

No Zuckerberg, I don’t think we will ever trust you

Facebook wants us to trust it.  Zuckerberg says they need to change their hacker mentality.  Stop taking advantage of users and start seeing our point of view.  It’s not going to happen.  And he isn’t putting his money where his mouth is.   Facebook is still essentially the same scammy way of thinking he had from the day he ripped off the idea from others and rushed to do it first.

It is also about how businesses react to pressure.  Google is a fine example.   They do the philantthropy angle much more convincingly.  They did from day one.   Purple cow, Project X or anything else you want to call it, they made it part of their branding all along.

But there is more to it;  the whole social network idea is simply not the right message.   Don’t look at youngsters leaving Facebook.  Look at Google starting to phase out the Google Plus logging from other sites.  Why?  Not because Google plus failed.  Because a Google identity either from Gmail or from an Android phone is pretty ubiquitous.  And serious.   Nobody will blink if you tell them you have Gmail.  Tell them you use Facebook and it takes a bit of explanation:  what, how, when, why.

Social networking is not a core life activity.  Communicating is.   Facebook made it’s mission (along the way) sharing the things you care about with the world.  Well, Facebook is not the best way of doing that, is it?  Windows dressing, slogans and reacting to market research won’t save Facebook unless it really, really changes its actions before its words.

Facebook has a secret weapon: making money from politics

In Greece, the media has always depended heavily on politics in order to survive.   Which is putting it very politely.  Private TV is the playground of rich business tycoons.  They pay money, to get eyeballs and influence and then use that influence in order to get big public sector projects.   We also have a public broadcaster with  thousands of journalists on its payroll, most of them doing nothing other than taking a fat salary.  They also dish out money for “external productions”…   Both of these ways of controlling the media agenda are still working, but are not as powerful as they used to be.  Not so many big projects, not so easy to give a job to your wife’s brother or whoever else you want to make happy as a politican without everybody noticing.

But this corrupt model of media financing is so powerful that everyone still tries to emulate it.   So right now, as we are gearing up for the next elections, hundreds of small or medium media people think they have the masterplan.  They set up a website, get a lot of traffic and then get business people or politicians to pay them to write whatever they need written.  At first it looks like a genuine new news portal.  They invest in building it up.   Which means getting some content from somewhere, maybe even hiring a few journalists and…

…facebook ads!  It is part of the package and at first they simply tick it off:  build website, get social media entities, email blast, google ads, facebook ads…  But then they notice that it’s the only thing that drives traffic.  Their content is rubbish, or – at best – the same as everyone else.  It takes time to build an audience like that and they don’t have time.   They try a few email blasts and then get blacklisted all over the place.  Even in Greece, it is getting harder to simply email a list you picked up from “a friend of a friend”…  So Facebook ads are easy.  They are relatively cheap.   And they bring clicks.

Because all a Greek (new) media tycoon is interested in is his ranking on alexa.com.   This is all this market understands so I assume it will apply to probably 80% of the countries in the world too which are even less advanced in understanding media.  So find a Facebook ad that seems to work and just plaster it all over the place.   No need for fancy targetting, just blanket position to “anyone that has a pulse and lives in Greece“.  Does it bring clicks?  Sure it does!   Do they hang around much?  Of course not!

Google has a different system.  They usually setup a mechanism whereby they have a fixed sum, something in chunks of 50 thousand Euros, and they go straight to the top of the food chain.  Much like a pimp, political parties will pay them directly for protection.  Under the auspices of a Google Ads campaign, the search giant turns the screws of the algorytm in your direction.  But a similar amount of money on Google Ads will not bring you the same number of clicks outside of the run up to elections.  People searching for information, looking for answers, don’t idly click on an advert of an article on some news portal they have never heard of.  

I proved the extent of this problem in the past (details here http://alexanderchalkidis.com/blog/?p=18670 ) when a lazy advocate of the technique used a Goo.gl shortener so I could track the number of clicks.  More than 64 thousand paid clicks for an article which was bait.  What they wanted us to read were other, political, articles next to it.  It cost them maybe 7 or 8 thousand Euro to get a topic into the public limelight.  Seems cheap to me!  And – an important added advantage – it is the media equivelant of money laundering.  Nobody needs to know how much you spent.  Sure, they might see your advert plastered on the top of all ads in their personal Facebook profile, but that doesn’t prove anything.    I could have taken out an ad and paid with my personal credit card simply because I am a fanatic reader and wanted to share it with the world.  It is my favorite news portal…

A news portal of course that they probably won’t hear much about after the elections…

 

Just how bad is Facebook at programming?

Cute picture of my son today.  Huge smile as he looked through a Holy Crepe.  He had eaten out some of it and looked to the camera; cute as ever.  Gotta have this as my profile picture.  Facebook profile, upload picture, wait….wait….wait some more.  Finally it uploads.    Sometimes it doesn’t of course.  Go to Twitter.   Same objective.  But hey, it magically shows me a preview of the picture instantly.   And wow, I can even crop it to the part most relevant to a profile picture.   Must be rocket science.  The boffs at Facebook haven’t figured it out.   Some ultra secret patented method Twitter is using…  The picture even uploads faster at Twitter!  Must be they have more money for better servers…

Or Facebook is simply terrible at designing their infrastructure.  And no, it’s not about the scale of the exercise.   Facebook has always been a terrible platform.  Sure, we don’t get as many major hiccups anymore, but does anyone there even bother to test the user experience?   Tech journalists and social media pundits have a field day with every major overhaul.   Facebook cause pages are created demanding we change back.   Plug ins appear to make it “look like the good old Facebook”.   They never work.

Because Mark Zuckerberg is still carrying the mentality he had when he started.   He is more concerned with the people gaming his system than the experience of the rest of the users.

Here is a simple example.   Accepting friend requests.   You may never even consider this if you get 1 or 2 per day.  But anyone building up fake profiles and trying to amass a lot of Facebook ‘friends’ might have two or three hundred friend request to accept.  No, there is no “accept all” button.  Because Mark, knows some people will abuse it.   If you really are a popular person, just starting on Facebook and you have 250 friend requests, you have to click them one by one.   And of course the buttons aren’t at the same place.  No, that would be to easy to get an automated script monkey on to.   As you accept one friend request, it morphs into something else so you have to physically scroll to the next right position of  “Accept”.

There are dozens of examples like this.  Most people with just one genuine personal account, will not even notice them.  What they will notice and what we all experience daily is just a really really bad user interface.   They build little hoops for cheats but penalise everybody else while they are at it.    The fact that it has never been done in this scale and that it has to serve billions of very different customers is no excuse;  many of the niggles I have with Facebook are due to the fact that Zuckerberg is obsessed with people that are as sneaky thinking as him.  And he can’t think of clever algorithmic ways to get over it.   In a sense, Edgerank is this magic ingredient.   And all the recent changes are a move in the right direction.

Now let’s hope Edgerank gets good enough so that Zuckerberg relaxes the stupid interface hoops some more.  You can now accept hundreds of friend requests from the left button directly which is faster.  When I see an “accept all” button I will know Facebook has finally got a real and stable business model.

A new Facebook feature: The “I told you so!” button

Facebook is, essentially, a Content Management System.  (CMS)  Only it is a really, really, extraordinarily bad content management system.   Its search function is rudimentary to say the least.  There is little categorization and even less user generated categorization.  It is almost impossible to find something from the past.

To large degree this is because Facebook’s engineers are obsessed with making the interface impossible to automate.   Any script you might like to have such as “accept all” (friend requests) or “delete all” (messages)  is reverse engineered so as not to work.   It stops people like me from making so many false accounts and conducting experiments to some degree.   Which means the user has to jump through all sorts of unnatural hoops to get anything done.   “Who cares?   Isn’t Facebook just for wasting time and socializing?”  Well, yes, but even when socializing, some of us like to maintain a higher level of discussion.

Case in point.  Surprise, surprise, Lance Armstrong was doped.   Where are those discussion I had about this topic a couple of years back?   Who was that friend that insisted I was being extreme?   Whether I am simply a pedantic friend, or someone actually looking for an old joke in my status updates, this is a practically impossible task right now.   I would have to scroll down my wall for a very very long time and then use my browser’s “search” capabilities.   Depending on the kind of search this would be either difficult or impossible.  Multifactorial searches out of the question.   I can’t ask Facebook things like “probably a year ago, a female friend of a friend commented on something I wrote about homeopathy.  What was the name of the substance she recommended?”

It may seem petty or minor to you.   Some psychological deficiency of mine personally maybe that makes me want to make these things clear all the time.   Or a hypersensitivity to long term trends which I am always searching for.   I studied theory of knowledge at university and tend to make an extra effort to calculate long term odds for anything I see.  Cycling is of course “one of those sports” which is more susceptible to doping.   If you don’t see the point of such functionality, you were probably not around when Zuckerberg announced he wants us all to use Facebook as our digital life store.  Well Mark, do you mind if I organize mine a bit better than you?   It does seem that your main concern is making money and mine would be finding my stuff.

 

Does the stock market work better than journalism?

The bias of stock market movements and the psychological phenomenae that affect it have been pretty well documented.   The purposeful ways of manipulating it less so, though with every new scandal we learn – usually retrospectively – something new.   As a person with some history in technology, what never fails to impress me is how tech journalists get carried away.  A recent example is Facebook.   Glowing reports and hyperbole, dotted with a few lifestyle titbits and dashed with vague futurological questions was all we got for years.

And then came the IPO.

Suddenly we learnt all about its internal management issues.   Guess what?   A major percentage of  Facebook’s users (that enormous number journalists flouted about in the titles) is fake accounts.   Oh my, what a surprise!   We learnt about Zuckerberg’s lack of skills for the job.    The huge problems in the business model, the enormous questions about the kind of advertising it sells.   The possible impact from legal action in relation to privacy concerns.

All this was either non existent in the press before, or glossed over.   But when it comes to paying good money to buy a stock, we are obviously more careful than we are when choosing what to read.

Facebook screws up on the international business etiquette

“Right now you may only reach 16% of your fans each week.  Reach Generator guarantees that you reach 75% of your fans…”   This is Facebook’s grand plan to show us they know how to make money?  Instead of “connecting people” or “helping us share with the people we love”…  Facebook is openly admitting to allowing advertisers the right to dominate our timelines!

The idea is of course nothing new.   It’s just advertising.   Google has been taking money to tweak search results, make items disappear from autocompletion and promote certain results for years.   But they don’t tell everyone about it!   Not even pretty high ranking Google executives know the whole picture regarding what you can make disappear from Google if you have enough money.   Only people and companies with…well, enough money, know that sort of thing.

It could be some twisted campaign to show that Facebook is opening up regarding privacy.   But no.   This is just inexperience of global corporate rules.     Worse still they are testing out a similar thing for consumers as the “highlight you want to be sure your friends see”.  If I am going to pay 2 New Zealand dollars for that luxury, I might as well make my own website Mark!   People already distrust Facebook big time (not so much Google).

This is not the way to beat Google.  Take a page out of Apple’s book instead.   You don’t like Android?   Go out and buy 2-3 mapping companies and produce a spectacular rival to Google Maps for starters.   Buy a company and throw in a free Siri for people to start relying on that instead of Google search.   Give us freebies so that we use your service.

But maintain appearances please!