Social media explained – with the help of some dubious statistical illustrations

May 28, 2012

If only the maximum character count were 200, 90 million Germans could finish a sentence on Twitter… Already, 150 children have been given a first name starting with @…. 27% of Facebook server capacity is taken up storing “LOL”… The second biggest lie after ‘I love you, too’ is: ‘You have been successfully unsubscribed from our database’.

These and numerous other imperishable social media factoids are to be found on a video made for satire site The Poke. It purports to be a parody of a promotional video for Erik Qualman’s book, Socialnomics, though the parallel is light and the irony heavy:

My thanks to George Parker, at Adscam, for that. And here’s the video Technology Will Kill, for Qualman’s latest:

What will The Poke do with this I wonder?


Research underwrites Facebook’s stratospheric valuation

May 3, 2012

Handily, just weeks before an IPO tipped to give Facebook a value twice that of Ford, some research has come to light underwriting investors’ colossal projection of faith.

Here, to give the flavour, is Mediapost’s take on it:

Social media has surpassed search, and is poised to overtake online display advertising as the No. 1 source of digital media planning and buying, according to the latest edition of a quarterly survey of US advertising agencies. The survey, conducted by Strata, the agency media software and processing firm owned by Comcast, found that 69% of agency executives now consider social the “focus” of their digital ad spending — up 32% over the past year, and now a close second behind display (71%) as the dominant digital media-buying platform in the minds of agency executives.

“The survey demonstrates that there has been a shift from search -– which has dominated the digital part of the business for the last five to 10 years -– to social,” says Strata CEO and president John Shelton.

Shelton said that view was affirmed to him this week while he was attending a technology conference of executives from small and mid-size agencies in New York City this week in which social was the main topic of discussion and nary a word was mentioned about either display or search.

“I did not hear the word ‘search’ once,” he said, “ and maybe two out of three of the vendors [presentations] and three out of four of the [agency executives’] questions were about social. Social media is absolutely their main focus right now.”

Enough said. At least, for now.


Just Lovin’ It (Not) – Part 2. McDonald’s chokes on its social media initiative

January 26, 2012

When will brands with a corporate reputation problem finally realise that social media – whatever its siren attractions – is not for them?

Not yet, as evidenced by the so-called “McFail” initiative. Last week, McDonald’s (yes, the Brand the World Loves to Hate, see my earlier post), bought two “promoted tweets” – Twitter’s answer to generating advertising revenue. The aim, apparently, was to persuade McDonald’s customers – those presumably with an excess of serotonin in the bloodstream – to share their happy-clappy experiences with the world.

Surprise, surprise, the clickable Twitter “hashtag” McDStories was (all too easily) purloined by mischievous malcontents. Very soon, instead of reading about McNuggets like Grandma used to make them (not), we were subjected to tsunami-force tirades on alleged animal-welfare abuse, wage slavery, food poisoning induced by McD fare and graphic descriptions of the bodily symptoms that accompany it.

By about 1400 hours Eastern Seaboard Time, D-Day, Operation McDStories had been ignominiously aborted. “Within an hour, we saw that it wasn’t going as planned,” explained a baffled Rick Wion, McDonald’s US social media director. “It was negative enough that we set about a change of course.”

Too right, Rick: a 180 degree one, to avoid losing your job.

Before you ask what planet Rick and his McD chums live on, let me explain: it’s the same one inhabited by the folk at Dr Pepper (owner, Coca-Cola), Nestlé, Wendy’s and Qantas. All of these brands have, at various times, lived under the narcotic delusion that social media is a marcoms nirvana utterly divorced from the everyday travails of brand management – and experienced brutal cold-turkey on discovering it is not.

When they go well, social media campaigns are a dream: they inexpensively capture the zeitgeist. But the gains are purely tactical, while the reverses, however infrequent, tend to have asymmetrical, strategic consequences. Why? Because negative high-profile media coverage brings the feckless actions of Rick and people like him to the immediate attention of their CEOs, for all the wrong reasons. If McDonald’s chief Jim Skinner was previously unaware of Wion’s existence, he is no longer. #McDStories has, with one fell blow, managed to poleaxe Jim’s precious Good News story: burgeoning corporate growth in Q4. Not great for Rick’s career advancement, I suspect.


Forget Big Brother Facebook – it’s sneaky little sisters we really need to worry about

January 20, 2012

By Robert Dwek 

Talk about love-hate relationships. We read this week that Facebook – with a mere 800 million plus accounts worldwide – is now among America’s most hated companies – thanks to the perception that it doesn’t really care about its users’ privacy.

When are we finally going to have the real debate about privacy – the one relevant to the 21st rather than the 20th century ? It’s what we might call Big Brother versus little brother, for reasons that will become clear in a moment.

Facebook was founded, as we all know thanks to the movie, by college geeks who wanted to assess the “fitness” of female students. In that respect, it was an extension of American high school, where the only privacy invaders are your peers.

This Facebook DNA has remained at the core of the company, no matter how world-conquering and gargantuan it has become. The Big Brother is not so much the evil corporate that is Facebook HQ – or for that matter the evil corporates who pay Facebook to promote themselves. No, the Big Brother lurking deep within Facebook is in fact … us. We, the 800 million users.

And that brings me neatly onto my little brother – actually, little sister – story. The other day my younger sibling who lives far across the sea, popped up on my computer screen, via Google Talk, with the words: “Enjoying Abba are we ?” What the ?! How the !! did she know my partner had been blaring out a bunch of Abba songs on her iPhone ? For a couple of seconds it was quite spooky.

But the (prosaic) answer came soon enough. I’d forgotten that sometime recently, in yet another unmemorable online moment, I’d allowed Spotify to tell the Facebook universe all about my music-listening habits. That is why Spotify-Facebook assumed it was me listening to Abba and put words to this effect on my Facebook page.

Here’s the problem when it comes to the potential evil of Big Brother: corporates like Facebook and Spotify – both relying on incredibly small numbers of employees relative to their global reach – will do almost nothing of interest with this data that they have collected about “me”.

These companies – and indeed most modern companies – have neither the resources nor the inclination to exploit all this data that they are supposedly collecting. I remember writing breathless stuff about the “database revolution” back in the early ‘90s, waxing lyrical about the impending golden age of “personalisation” and “one-to-one” marketing that was about to dawn. Well, frankly, it never did.

Most companies are utterly incompetent in using our data. Phone calls that are “recorded for training purposes” disappear into a black hole of indifference.

But marketers persist in believing their own propaganda. More to the point, consumers believe in it too!

The fact is, Big Brother died with the end of communism – he’s so last century. Little brother, however, or indeed little sister, is alive and well. Marketers finally caught onto little bro when they realised they were too lazy and incompetent to do the spying themselves. So they outsourced it – to their customers.

OK, I’m being somewhat tongue in cheek. Is forwarding a “viral” email spying ? Is my little sister’s commenting on my apparent musical taste something sinister ? Odd and unexpected, maybe, but sinister, no. The point is that We-The-People, we the seething mass of little brothers and sisters – we are the only ones who give enough of a damn to spy on each other.

So, the potential “evil” of a massively understaffed company like Facebook amounts to no more than its ability to empower our voyeurism.

The thing we should “hate” in a “most hated company” is not what they might do with our data but what we might do with it. And maybe we should be grateful for small mercies: my sister at least did something, and in a very timely way, with the information presented.

God bless outsourcing.

Robert Dwek is a writer, journalist and blogger, whose interests include marketing and social media.


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