The Death of Facebook?

Menlo Park, We’ve Got A Problem

Facebook’s got a problem. One that I saw coming last year (Ed. note: I certainly wasn’t the only one).  I was at a Facebook event in

Facebook Has A Facebook Problem

Facebook Has A Facebook Problem

New York as they explained to marketers how their system worked and how marketers could best leverage the platform. I remember sitting there and thinking, “So, this EdgeRank system is going to let Facebook determine what people see and don’t see in their feeds? Facebook is going to manipulate that so brands will have to pay to be in people’s feeds.” Again, I wasn’t the only one who came to that conclusion.

Fast forward to December 2013 and what do we see? Headlines like this:

Facebook Admits Organic Reach is Falling Short, Urges Marketers To Buy Ads – AdAge

Facebook Wants to Be a Newspaper. Facebook Users Have Their Own Ideas. – All Things D (WSJ)

Facebook Brand Pages Suffer 44% Decline in Reach Since December 1 – Ignite Social Media

Facebook Finally Admits That You Do Have To Pay For Ads To Reach Your Fans – J Campbell Social Marketing

That sounds problematic.  While this is certainly an issue of Facebook’s own doing, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the platform behind this.

People Are From Mars, Brands Are From Venus

What we’re seeing is a mismatch of purposes. What people want to do on Facebook and what brands want to do on Facebook are, depending on your outlook, either simply different or fundamentally opposed.  I have over 1,000 connections on Facebook and the amount of times I’ve seen those connections talk about brands, unaided and with positive sentiment, is something I could count on one hand. Complain about a brand? Sure, all the time. Make fun of a brand? Frequently.  Most people just aren’t on Facebook to have a “relationship” with a brand. They want to wish a cousin happy birthday; talk about the big game on Saturday; post a photo of their daughter going to her first day of 5th grade; or share a video of an adorable dog trying to catch its own tail. These are all personal, intimate expressions of people connecting with other people.

By contrast, most brands are posting stock photos of their products or trying to solicit engagement with entreaties like, “share this post if you think Fall is the best season!”  That is when they can find time between bouts of self-immolation with posts that range from insensitive to downright insulting.

So, at its core we have a purpose problem, not a technical one, and brands are caught between Scylla and Charybdis. On one side they are being squeezed by Facebook, asked to invest money if they want to be seen by more than a small percentage of the people who have self-selected as being interested in the brand. On the other hand, be careful what you wish for because a lot of people would try to figure out how to turn off updates from brands if they were exposed to the pablum most brands turn out on a regular basis.

So, Should Brands Even Be On Facebook?

As exposure rates continue to decline (without paying to play), should brands even bother with Facebook? The answer, as with most cases in Social Media, comes back to this fundamental question: What do you want to do?

If driving sales is the primary business objective right now, and you need volume, I’m not sure Facebook is the best platform. Especially if you don’t have an established community of millions of people. But having some presence on Facebook certainly makes sense. People are there, they want to know that you are there. But maybe your Facebook presence should be less about your products and more about the story of your brand. Or what if it was completely focused on your employees? Or your customers?

The Problem Isn’t Facebook, It’s You.

Remember in Ferris Bueller when a stoned out of his mind Charlie Sheen is talking to Ferris’ sister in the police precinct. She’s telling him about the cosmic injustice she faces daily as Ferris lives a charmed life. He tells her the problem isn’t Ferris, it’s her. She should stop worrying about Ferris and just deal with her own issues. Very Zen.  Similarly, brands should stop worrying about Facebook and its constant tinkering with its own system and start worrying about the time of content they create – whether on Facebook or any other platform, from Twitter to YouTube to a website or mobile experience.

If you create content that contains value, that entertains, informs or educates, people will find it (and share it). If your content contains a human truth, if it speaks to people’s emotions, you’ll build a community that will want to engage with you.

The “C”-Curve of Social Media Campaign Awareness

I’ve been struggling to reconcile an issue for a little while now. As I look at my Twitter and Facebook streams it is quite obvious that there are hundreds of people with all the answers regarding social media. I see a non-stop torrent of links to tips, key learnings, best practices and everything else under the Sun. But on the other hand, it seems every week brings a new example of brand self-immolation on some social network.  How can this be? In an entire lifetime you couldn’t read all the expert content on the How-Tos of social media, and yet…

Well, first I think it’s important to understand that we probably only hear about a fraction of the social media campaigns that are activated, and those fall into two categories: wildly successful and catastrophic. Take a look at this:


The "C"-Curve of Social Media Campaign Awareness. The "C" stands for Culture.

The “C”-Curve of Social Media Campaign Awareness. The “C” stands for Culture.

Why do social media campaigns, at least the ones we are aware of, tend to fall into one of these two extremes? I believe it is because of the way they connect, or disconnect, with culture. The best campaigns play with, align, leverage or otherwise amplify something happening in culture. From kittens to Star Wars to the Oscars, the winners usually are the ones that we can relate to, that are working with some sort of visual shorthand for an idea or concept we all know.

Conversely, the ones that bomb often do so due to cultural tone-deafness. When you don’t understand the conventions of a platform, or you don’t realize that you are using a term that the “kids” use to signify distaste, or you don’t think your post has racial, sexual or religious overtones, well, you are headed for trouble.

Strategy is important. Solid technical and tactical execution is important. But I think an understanding of culture, especially when we are talking about social media, trumps everything else.



Social Media Influence + Contextually Relevant Content = Compelling Engagement

I like Syfy. I’m rooting for Syfy. But as a guy who has spent a lot of time in the Social Media space, I worry about these ads I see during Upfronts Week here in New York.

IMG_0094 IMG_0095 IMG_0096









Syfy is suggesting that their audience is both highly engaged and influential. I’m sure they’ve got data that backs that up too, but these ads display either Syfy’s misunderstanding of social, or are willfully misrepresenting how social works. These ads may some pretty strong claims: Let’s take the images from left to right.

  • 12,000 people heard me rave about your hotel
  • I told 9,000 people what cell phone to buy
  • 10,000 people re-tweeted my movie review

A few questions here. First, are these people credible/relevant voices in the areas of hotels/consumer electronics/movie criticism? Would I value her hotel review any more than I would value her thoughts on political unrest in the Middle East or the best nail polish color for beach season? In other words, what is their relevance as an expert in these scenarios? Second, what is their reach? How many people follow the guy on the right so that he can generate 10,000 retweets? Here’s the tweet for the last movie review from Roger Ebert, certainly the most famous movie critic in this country.


JE here: Roger Ebert's final review, of Terence Malick's TO THE WONDER :
Roger Ebert


It got 1,300+ retweets. Ebert had about 844,000 followers, so to generate 10,000 retweets our Syfy-watching friend would have to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-10 million followers. For context, Bill Gates has about 11+ million followers. So yeah, I guess it’s possible for him to get 10,000 retweets, but they are presenting this guy as just a regular Joe, not some combination of Bill Gates and Roger Ebert. Check out this interesting Quora thread for a look inside social media numbers. Now let’s move to the gentleman in the middle. He just told 9,000 people which cell phone to buy, and presumably if you were, say Samsung or Nokia, and you advertised on Syfy, that could be a good thing. But did his comments resonate with those 9,000 people? How many went to the cell phone brand’s website, or added the phone to their consideration set? How many of those 9,000 were even in the market for a new cell phone? Or as Rob Clark, Director, Insights and Measurement at Edelman Digital, notes:


The person who influences me regarding what to eat for dinner is different than the one who influences my purchase of computer #SMMeasure


I get what Syfy is doing – they are selling their audience as a desirable target demo. They are selling them on the posters as a brand’secret weapon, “I’m your social media,” they tell the brand. I’ve made my share of ‘Top Influencers” lists, and I think they tend to be link bait for those creating the lists and an exercise in vanity for those on the lists. But things like relevance, reach and resonance are important. That’s why Traackr exists.

Here’s where I think Syfy is missing the boat: How are they creating an engagement strategy that ties the brands to the network’s programming in a relevant way? It doesn’t feel like they are connecting the dots. As an advertiser, I could reach the three above in a wide variety of ways, how is Syfy making my brand fit with the content that Syfy distributes? The logic they seem to be banking on is: Run an ad on our network, and our audience will tweet about you. But does it work that way? These people are fans of Syfy programming, not advertising from Syfy sponsors. If I’m watching Defiance on Syfy, I’m tweeting about the show – characters, plots, etc. – not about the latest spot from a hotel chain. That’s why context is so important.

If Syfy wants to sell Syfy viewers as a lever for advertisers, they have to make their advertisers contextually relevant to other audience memebers. Here’s where someone like Hyperactivate comes in. These guys are masters at building engagement around contextually relevant content. Entrepreneur magazine tabbed them as one of three startups to watch coming out of SxSW 2013. They’ve worked with brands like M&Ms, Ellen, Katy Perry, MLB and many more. They recently ran a social media-driven engagement campaign for a popular video game, and in some cases big engagement was driven by people who wouldn’t normally be called “influencers.” Hyperactivate explains:

“One user engaged through Facebook, where he only has 490 friends. From his single entry, he activated 25 people. From those 25 people, his reach grew to 6,077 with a total of over 200 clicks, and further people activated. Normally, this person wouldn’t be seen as any sort of influencer yet he’s activated a good amount of people and spread the brand message to an even larger audience.”

And now we get to the Duncan Watts v. Malcolm Gladwell argument regarding what an influencer is, and that’s not my main point. My point is, regardless of how you define influencer, or if you even believe in that at all, Syfy is playing a bit fast and loose with the true mechanics of social media and they are potentially missing the larger point around providing contextually relevant content. If Syfy wants brands to play ball with them, they need to make sure they are integrating the brands around the content that the Syfy audience has come to enjoy.

Are we ready to enter the Age of Onlinetenment?

Heading towards an Age of Onlinetenment

Last week Jinal Shah, a Digital Strategist at JWT, shared an essay with her friends titled, 2012: A Year of Digital Behavioral Shifts. It’s a great piece and Jinal puts together a strong case for changing the way we operate online, with a renewed focus on thinking, rather than just sharing, liking and retweeting. She believes this new era is upon us, calling it the age of enlightenment in our digital history. This transformation will be led by:

[…] thinkers, artists and storytellers not programmers and geeks. These are people driven by a vision that’s a bit more individualistic, centers more around exploring the tapestry of human opinions, intimacy and feelings instead of connecting the world into one large immutable being.

And what will this lead to? According to Jinal: a mindful web… systems that:

1. Are designed for constructive debate and dialogue by exposing us to different points of views
2. Are designed for quality and intimacy – not quantity. Where there is less immediate gratification.

It’s a compelling vision and one I wholeheartedly support. But it’s also a big task. The simple truth is that the vast, vast majority of people aren’t interested in changing their behavior. They enjoy the relatively simple gamification elements of Foursqaure and the ability to express their opinions view a digital ‘thumbs up.’  Even when viewed at the micro level, exploring just the world of marketers that both Jinal and I are part of, it’s evident that not everyone is interested in exploring the new possibilities.

And yet, I’m literally inundated by the highly intelligent thinking of people in our industry who are committed to building something better, to thinking deeper and exploring ideas that are challenging. From Tim Stock to Justin Briggs to countless others the issue is how do we build the type of web Jinal is talking about that will not only connect all these great people and ideas, but allow them to be connected in a meaningful way?  How does an idea I write about, say, The Cultural Singularity Paradox connect or build upon an idea like Interdependence, Chomsky and the crowbar by Eaon Pritchard, a winner of Neil Perkin’s Post of the Month Hall of Fame?

I think we still need the “programmers and tinkerers and computer scientists,” the builders of the web’s Industrial Age according to Shah. We need them to continue to build, but this time to build a web that intelligently connects and combines the work of those that will create the Age of “Onlinetenment” (my term, not Shah’s).

In her book, Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal relates the story of Halo 3 and the collaborative effort to record 10 billion kills by game players. How can the marketing industry create that sort of collaborative effort?  On the subject of games, a subject I’m passionate about, Shah says, “Gaming will have a larger role to play in the age of enlightenment, but perhaps not so overt. It’s job will and should become about elevating the meaning and importance associated with a like, number of friends and followers etc.”

And while that’s important, I think gaming can play a bigger, more important role in a different way. Games can solve bigger problems than improving the meaning of the quantitative issues Shah mentions. Games can be used to rally people (marketers?) to work for a common cause, to unite for a single purpose greater than themselves. That’s something I think we could use. Rather than everyone writing and thinking in isolation, we need to figure out how to write and think together. When that happens maybe we will enter the Age of Onlinetenment.

SoLoMo: Your Buzzword for 2012

Early contender for 2012 Word of the Year

I ended 2011 by taking a look at the Millward Brown and Dynamic Logic (Disclosure: Both agencies are part of WPP, as is my employer, Y&R12 for 2012: Top 12 Digital Predictions for 2012 report and want to pick that up as there was a lot of good thinking in there. Prediction #5 takes a look at mobile marketing.

If nothing else, marketers love a catchy name.  If you don’t know SoLoMo yet, you will soon. As the report notes, “The most successful marketing messages will combine relevance and location with the right timing.” SoLoMo is a portmanteau of Social-Local-Mobile and speaks to the rapid advancements in geo-targeting and the equally rapid adoption of smart phones as the essential device of the 21st century.

Jennifer Okula, the essay’s author, also notes:

We will see increased SoLoMo marketing prevail in existing geo-social apps like Foursquare, Shopkick and Yelp. Retailers will experiment more with geo-fenced mobile marketing with companies like Placecast. Social buying companies like Groupon and Living Social will become more app-focused and provide push content and alerts on real-time local deals.

This is where I see the real value. Brands need to make themselves relevant in the existing behaviors of people. Getting discounts at places I’m already going through mobile apps I’m already using is real value.  However, Okula goes on to state:

Brands will create more of their own apps that tap into both geo-location services and social networking.

This is where I get nervous. When brands try to create their own apps they can run into several problems. First and foremost, they aren’t in the app business.  The resources, both human and financial, that go into creating an app is something most companies don’t have. Then, once you create and publish the app, you have to promote it heavily. Second, brands need to think long and hard about whether people really want an app from them. What real added value is there? Is it enough to get me to use the app in addition to the other ones I’m using?

SoLoMo will be a buzzword in 2012, but like most buzzwords, it’s likely to be misused or misunderstood. The opportunities here are great, but a thoughtful strategy is required.

Interview with Greg Burney of #DrawMyFollowers

Greg Burney's #DrawMyFollowers Project

If you’re an artist, and by artist I mean that in the broadest sense, how do you stand out in a world where everyone is an artist and has the ability to distribute their work easily and broadly? It’s a tough question, one that every artist grapples with and answers in a way that works best for them. For Greg Burney the answer was making drawings of his Twitter followers. For free.

I grabbed a few minutes of Greg’s time to ask him some questions about this project:

Rick Liebling: How important is personalization in something like this? Do you think you would have had the same response if you had offered just an original drawing, as opposed to an original drawing of each person?

Greg Burney: I think it’s absolutely essential that the drawings are of each person. This project is all about connecting to people in a personal way, and that would be totally lost if I offered them just an original drawing.

Rick Liebling: How important is “the story” in this? One guy trying to draw all these Twitter followers. That’s a different dynamic than artist sitting at the cafe, charging $10 for a quick sketch.

Greg Burney: I guess its a very simple premise. I’m not asking for anything, but offering something. I’m one guy, I’m not an illustrator, I’m rubbish at drawing, I’m working from home. I like to think its a nice, honest project that makes people smile and takes advantage of today’s immensely powerful social media.

Rick Liebling: I’m interested in the value exchange of this project. The followers receive a unique, personalized piece of original art. What are you getting from this project?

Greg Burney: A sore hand. No, it really is a buzz seeing people’s reactions. I like to think the little bit of happiness I give with every drawing accumulates to a massive impact. I also get many supporting messages every day and I have cool conversations with many of my new followers. It’s fun to be part of a huge project. The thought of it being finished is very exciting.

Rick Liebling: What would have been your response if a brand had approached you to be part of this in some way? Would you have been open to such a proposition?

Greg Burney: I’m not sure how I would react. I’d like to think I would say no. As soon as there are third parties involved, I no longer have 100% control of the project, and the premise stops becoming so simple. It might also lead people to be suspicious of what the real intention of the project is, fun or money. Saying that, if the right brand came along, perhaps one that supports illustrators, or large scale internet projects such as the wonderful Ze Frank, who knows.

Greg brings up several issues that perfectly illustrate why so many brands struggle with connecting with people online.  How many brands can create personalized engagements with each person? How many brands can create simple, honest engagements? How many brands looks to create engagements where the value generated goes to the consumer, not the brand? And what brand is willing to take the time to do more than just slap their logo on an idea, and really support the content creator?

I’m not saying it isn’t or can’t be done, I’m just saying that it is rare. But I think it’s a solid recipe for success.