Facebook fallout: Lots of talk … much less action on the part of users.

Over the past month or so, the drumbeat of ominous news about Facebook and how its user data have been used (or misused) by the social platform and customers such as Cambridge Analytica has been never-ending.

To hear the hyperventilating of reporters, you might think that Facebook was teetering on the brink of an implosion or similar corporate catastrophe as a result of all the nasty revelation.

Well … maybe not so much.

Securities firm Raymond James has surveyed a sample of ~500 Internet users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica “user abuse” allegations in an effort to determine just how concerned people are about the news, and how it might be impacting on Facebook usage.

It comes as no surprise at all that a clear majority of those surveyed have concerns about Facebook’s use of their personal data. To wit:

  • Very concerned about Facebook’s use of personal data: ~44%
  • Somewhat concerned: ~40%
  • Not concerned: ~15%

But when asked how they may be changing their use of the social platform as a result of knowing about Facebook’s treatment of their personal data, it turns out that only ~8% of the survey respondents have stopped using (or plan to stop using) the platform.

On the other hand, a solid half of the survey respondents report no changes at all in their use of Facebook – now or in the future.

For those in the “mushy middle,” the majority of them plan to use the social platform “somewhat less” rather than “significantly less” than before.

So, what we’re witnessing is unmistakably heightened user concerns generated by a flurry of news reports that lead to … very little.

In fact, in a report that accompanies the survey findings, Raymond James’ analysts go even further, predicting that user concerns will likely ease as the news cycle slows on this topic.

Considering how strongly Facebook has integrated itself into many people’s daily lives, that prognosis comes as little surprise to me.

But what about you? Have you made changes in your usage of the social platform?  Have you noticed changes made by your friends on Facebook?  Feel free to share your perspectives with other readers.

Amazon’s Spark that Fizzled …

Amazon Spark: Less like a sizzle … more like a fizzle.

It’s now been more than nine months since Amazon launched its social media platform Spark … and so far, it’s hardly sizzled.

In fact, it’s made barely a ripple in the market.

There are plenty of people who contend that the last thing the world needs is yet another social network. But others would like to see new alternatives to the recently beleaguered Facebook platform.

As for its trajectory, it looks as if Spark is following the former rather than the latter path. The question is, “Why?”

Very likely, the answer lies in Spark’s questionable underlying raison d’etre.  Essentially, Spark is a social feed of photos and other images. That makes it similar to Instagram … sort of.

One difference between the two platforms is that Spark is open to exclusively to Amazon Prime members.  That limits the potential number of Spark users pretty severely, right from the get-go.  [It’s true that non-members can view Spark feeds — but they can’t post their own content. And what’s a social platform if you cannot interact with it?  It isn’t one.]

Another difference with Instagram may be even more of a fundamental problem. The rationale for Spark is to focus on products that Amazon sells.  Spark is directly “shoppable,” which differentiates it from Instagram and other social networks.  It also makes it less like a true social network and more like a garden-variety e-commerce site.

In other words, rather than being an interesting and engaging social platform, Spark is boring. Informative – but boring.

It isn’t that Amazon/Spark allows brands themselves to post content there; posting privileges are granted only to people it dubs “enthusiasts” or “onsite associates.” Brands must seek out “regular people” [sic] who are members of Amazon Prime to post content on their behalf about their products.

And I’m sure that’s happening – along with varying levels and forms of compensation flowing to these supposed “enthusiasts” in return for the product plugs. But can anyone imagine less compelling content than what results from this kind of commercialized “AstroTurfing”?  No wonder people are ignoring this social media platform.

Andrew Sandoval, a group director for media planning agency The Media Kitchen, summarizes Spark’s predicament by noting that lifestyle-focused people tend congregate on Instagram — a place that shows people living their lives through products. By contrast, “Amazon Spark is mostly just talking about your products, which is the hard-sell.  Ultimately, the e-commerce social experience is a little too far from the social experience,” Sandoval opines.

Have you interfaced with Spark since its July 2017 launch? If so, do you see redeeming qualities about the platform that the rest of us might be missing?  Please share your comments with other readers.

Twitter is looking more and more like the old, hidebound player in social platforms.

tWe’ve been hearing for a while now that Twitter’s go-go-days might be in the rear-view mirror.

But even so, the latest growth forecast for the company still seems pretty shocking for a “new media” participant.

In its most recent forecast of Twitter usage in the United States, eMarketer has lowered its projections of Twitter growth in usage to essentially “treading water” status.

More specifically, digital data research company eMarketer forecasts that by the end of the year, ~52 million U.S. consumers will be accessing their Twitter accounts at least once per month.

That will represent just a 2% increase for the year.

Long-term growth prospects for Twitter don’t look any better. At one point, eMarketer was forecasting growth estimates of nearly 14 million new Twitter users by 2020.  But today, that forecast has been downgraded significantly to only about 3.5 million new users.

In the world of social media platforms, such paltry growth expectations mean that Twitter’s share of domestic social network users will continue to decline. (It’s at around 28% now, which is already a bit of a drop from last year.)

What’s making Twitter seem like such a “passé player” in the go-go world of social media? Oscar Orozco, an analyst at eMarketer, sums up its challenges succinctly:

“Twitter continues to struggle with growing its user base because new users often find the product unwieldy and difficult to navigate, which makes it challenging to find long-term value in being an active user. Also, [Twitter’s] new product initiatives have had little impact in attracting new users.”

Who’s eating into Twitter’s market presence? How about Snapchat and Instagram, for starters.  A host of other messaging apps are also hurting Twitter’s growth prospects.

It hasn’t helped that Twitter has been struggling mightily to monetize its service offering. While it has made valiant efforts to do so, Facebook and LinkedIn have done a more effective job of leveraging their massive user data into attracting advertising dollars.

Facebook is a cash machine … LinkedIn does a respectable job … while Twitter seems almost hopeless by comparison.

After flying high for so long – even to the degree that many companies still speak about social media as one mashup term “Facebook-Twitter-LinkedIn,” Twitter’s decline is all the more surprising.  Poignant, even.

Twitter’s Continuing Monetization Challenge

Press reports have been pretty consistent over the past year or so about the underwhelming financial performance of Twitter.  Here’s the trend line for Twitter shares of stock since the beginning of 2014:

 

Twitter share price trend

 

… And beyond the financial performance, I’ve been writing about Twitter’s fundamental business challenges off and on for well over five years now.

While Twitter undoubtedly has its place in the social realm — its place in “breaking news” is a biggie — it remains a frustrating platform for advertisers, which is one reason Twitter’s business model has turned out to be less effective than Facebook’s.

Recent stats from eMarketer reveal that over 50 million Internet users in the United States are accessing their Twitter accounts via any device at least monthly.

That equates to about fifth of U.S. Internet users — and nearly three in ten people active on social networks.

So … this means that many people are seeing ads on Twitter. And that’s confirmed through an evaluation conducted by Cowen & Company which finds that well over half of U.S. adult Twitter users are e encountering ads on their Twitter feed at least every 10 or 20 tweets.

Predictably, most of the advertising pertains to retail, app installations and travel. Those are pretty relevant as broad advertising categories.

It’s just … many Twitter users aren’t finding the ads effective.  Here’s what Cowen’s findings show in terms of user feelings about Twitter advertising:

  • Ads on Twitter are relevant and/or insightful: ~3%
  • Ads are OK: ~26%
  • Ads are not really relevant: ~45%
  • Ads are usually a poor fit: ~14%

These results suggest that advertisers need to improve their targeting capabilities significantly if they wish to reach the right audience segments with relevant messages.

More fundamentally, current attitudes about Twitter advertising pose continuing challenges for Twitter as it attempts to further-monetize its platform. The tepid performance of Twitter shares since the beginning of 2014 underscores how the company continues to cast about for answers to that fundamental challenge.  I wonder when (or if) the company will ever figure it all out.

Social media data mining: Garbage-in, garbage-out?

gigoIt’s human nature for people to strive for the most flattering public persona … while confining the “true reality” only to those who have the opportunity (or misfortune) to see them in their most private moments.

It goes far beyond just the closed doors of a family’s household. I know a recording producer who speaks about having to “wipe the bottoms” of music stars — an unpleasant thought if ever there was one.

In today’s world of interactivity and social platforms, things are amplified even more — and it’s a lot more public.

Accordingly, there are more granular data than ever about people, their interests and their proclivities.

The opportunities for marketers seem almost endless. At last we’re able to go beyond basic demographics and other conventional classifications, to now pinpoint and target marketing messages based on psychographics.

And to do so using the very terms and phrases people are using in their own social interactions.

The problem is … a good deal of social media is one giant head-fake.

Don’t just take my word for it. Consider remarks made recently by Rudi Anggono, one of Google’s senior creative staff leaders. He refers to data collected in the social media space as “a two-faced, insincere, duplicitous, lying sack of sh*t.”

Anggono is talking about information he dubs “declared data.” It isn’t information that’s factual and vetted, but rather data that’s influenced by people’s moods, insecurities, social agenda … and any other set of factors that shape someone’s carefully crafted public image.

In other words, it’s information that’s made up of half-truths.

This is nothing new, actually. It’s been going on forever.  Cultural anthropologist Genevieve Bell put her finger on it years ago when she observed that people lie because they want to tell better stories and to project better versions of themselves.

What’s changed in the past decade is social media, of course.  What better way to “tell better stories and project better versions of ourselves” than through social media platforms?

Instead of the once-a-year Holiday Letter of yore, any of us can now provide an endless parade of breathless superlatives about our great, wonderful lives and the equally fabulous experiences of our families, children, parents, A-list friends, and whoever else we wish to associate with our excellent selves.

Between Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and even LinkedIn, reams of granular data are being collected on individuals — data which these platforms then seek to monetize by selling access to advertisers.

In theory, it’s a whole lot better-targeted than the frumpy, old fashioned demographic selects like location, age, income level and ethnicity.

But in reality, the information extracted from social is suspect data.

This has set up a big debate between Google — which promotes its search engine marketing and advertising programs based on the “intent” of people searching for information online — and Facebook and others who are promoting their robust repositories of psychographic and attitudinal data.

There are clear signs that some of the social platforms recognize the drawbacks of the ad programs they’re promoting — to the extent that they’re now trying to convince advertisers that they deserve consideration for search advertising dollars, not just social.

In an article published this week in The Wall Street Journal’s CMO Today blog, Tim Kendall, Pinterest’s head of monetization, contends that far from being merely a place where people connect with friends and family, Pinterest is more like a “catalogue of ideas,” where people “go through the catalogue and do searches.”

Pinterest has every monetary reason to present itself in this manner, of course.  According to eMarketer, in 2014 search advertising accounted for more than 45% of all digital ad spending — far more than ad spending on social media.

This year, the projections are for more than $26 billion to be spent on U.S. search ads, compared to only about $10 billion in the social sphere.

The sweet spot, of course, is being able to use declared data in concert with intent and behavior. And that’s why there’s so much effort and energy going into developing improved algorithms for generating data-driven predictive information than can accomplish those twin goals.

Rudi Anggono
Rudi Anggono

In the meantime, Anggono’s admonition about data mined from social media is worth repeating:

“You have to prod, extrapolate, look for the intent, play good-cop/bad-cop, get the full story, get the context, get the real insights. Use all the available analytical tools at your disposal. Or if not, get access to those tools. Only then can you trust this data.”

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with Anggono’s position? Please share your perspectives with other readers here.

A Bombshell Forrester Finding? Brands are Wasting Time and Money on Facebook and Twitter

Forrester logo

This past week, marketing research firm Forrester published a new analytical report titled “Social Relationship Strategies that Work.”

The bottom-line conclusion of this report is that brand marketers are generally wasting their time and money focusing on social platforms that don’t provide either the extensive reach or the proper context for valuable interactions with customers and prospects.

In particular, Forrester’s research has determined that Facebook and Twitter posts from top brands are reaching only about 2% of their followers.

Engagement is far worse than even that:  A miniscule 0.07% of followers are actually interacting with those posts.

Much has been made of Facebook’s recent decision to reduce free-traffic posts on newsfeeds in favor of promoted (paid) posts.  But Forrester’s figures suggest that the lack of engagement on social platforms is about far more than just the reduction in non-promoted posts.

Nate Elliott Forrester
Nate Elliott

Nate Elliott, a Forrester vice president and principal analyst, believes that brand managers need to make major changes in how they’re going about marketing in the social sphere.  He notes:

“It’s clear that Facebook and Twitter don’t offer the relationships that marketing leaders crave.  Yet most brands still use these sites as the centerpiece of their social efforts, thereby wasting significant financial, technological and human resources on social networks that don’t deliver value.”

With Twitter and Facebook being such spectacular duds when it comes to social platforms, what does Forrester recommend that brand marketers do instead?

One option is to develop proprietary “branded communities” where fans can hang out in zones where brands can be their own traffic cops, instead of relying on a giant social platform to do the work (or not do the work) for them.

e-mailEven better is to return to greater reliance on an old standby tactic: e-mail marketing.

If this seems like “back to the future,” Forrester’s Elliott reminds us how e-mail can work quite elegantly as the centerpiece of a brand’s social marketing effort:

“Your e-mails get delivered more than 90% of the time, while your Facebook posts get delivered 2% of the time — and no one’s looking over your shoulder telling you what you can and can’t say in your e-mails.  If you have to choose between adding a subscriber to your e-mail list and gaining a new Facebook fan, go for e-mail every time.”

I can’t say that I disagree with Nate Elliott’s position.

Now it’s time to hear from the rest of you marketing professionals.  How successful have you been in building engagement on social platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn?  Have your efforts in social paid off as well as in your e-mail marketing initiatives?  Let us know.

Pinterest: Will it ever become a male hangout?

Pinterest logoHere’s a statistic about social media platform Pinterest that will probably surprise few people:  As of June 2014 statistics reported by digital analytics firm comScore, its user base is more than 70% female.

… Which means that Pinterest remains the most “gender imbalanced” of all the major social media platforms.

For the record, other social platforms have far more gender balance among their user bases – with at least 45% being male:

  • SnapChat:  52% male
  • Tumblr:  52%
  • Twitter:  48%
  • Facebook:  47%
  • Instagram:  45%
  • Pinterest:  28%

But here’s the thing:  Pinterest has been trying mightily hard to attract more male participants, but the proportional figures have yet to budge.

This points to a fundamental challenge.  It’s very difficult to change the image and atmospherics of a social platform once they’ve become so firmly entrenched.

And it’s not just a question of image.  The platform’s content says it all.

Jill Sherman, vice president of social and content strategy at marketing communications firm DigitasLBi, puts it this way:

“If you pull up Pinterest and go into any content section, you will see purses, dresses and women’s shoes — because women are the user base.  When 70% of the users are female, then 70% of the content is going to be female-oriented.” 

Pinterest for menHope springs eternal, however.  Pinterest is continuing its effort to attract more men.

Or at least … to make the site more “guy friendly” when a new member goes there signs up.  This means making sure to show items more stereotypically catering to men’s interests rather than things like women’s fashion items.

But how to get men to the stage of even signing up?  That challenge falls to Pinterest’s new “head of brand” – who just happens to be a man.

David Rubin
David Rubin

He’s David Rubin, erstwhile senior vice president of marketing at Unilever, where he worked on marketing the Axe brand of men’s body care products.

Mr. Rubin might wish to start his tenure by asking himself what would bring him to engage with Pinterest more … because according to news reports, Rubin had posted only 22 items on Pinterest prior to joining the company.

DigitasLBi’s Jill Sherman sees a challenge for Pinterest that is fundamentally basic.  “They haven’t cracked the motivation code:  How to attract men and keep them using the platform beyond saving things that pique their interest.”

I agree – and I’d go a step further.  Convincing people to visit Pinterest to find or view something of interest “feels” like a function a search engine such as Google Images is doing quite well already.  Who needs “yet another place” to tap into that functionality?  Especially if one is a male of the species?

In order for Pinterest to evolve beyond where it is today, perhaps it needs to look at what Facebook and others have been doing to create communities and interaction beyond just pretty pictures and videos.

It could be a tall order.