Why Facebook’s Data Mishandling Hurts

Facebook’s sort-of apologies in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal have unleashed another round of tut-tutting across the internet.  If you (still) use the network, I’m sure you’ve seen friends make good on promises to delete the app or even their entire account because they no longer trusted Zuck with their personal info.

Funny thing is, I don’t recall a similar response to credit card breaches by retailers.  People shrugged and said “cost of doing business, I suppose.”

If I may venture a dubious opinion, I believe people got more upset at Facebook than at, say, Target because relative to other social networks, Facebook encourages something approaching honesty.

Yes, you heard me: honesty.  Sure, Facebook has featured more than its fair share of humblebrags and flat-out fabrication.  However, on Facebook more than other networks, we tend to know our contacts, so they know us better.  Meanwhile, Twitter has succumbed to robots and flame wars while LinkedIn feels like a motivational speaker tryout.  I can’t speak for other popular networks such as Facebook’s Instagram or the oldie-befuddling Snapchat.

For whatever reason, we seem to put our trust, not to mention baby pictures, political opinions and general goings-on on Facebook.  We manufacture ourselves less there.  And feeling that someone has exploited that unmanufactured self really feels like betrayal.

The Marketer’s Case Against Cambridge Analytica

By now, you’ve probably read about how digital analytics firm Cambridge Analytica acquired Facebook profile information from about 50 million people without their express permission.  Not to put too fine a point on it, that’s stealing.  And marketers should be outraged about it.

Since Cambridge Analytica used the information to benefit Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign, the news has taken on a political cast.  For once, I will not get political.  Nevertheless, marketers should recognize this news as a teachable moment about why data privacy matters.

At first read, it may seem hard to understand what happened.  Here’s how it worked, according to the Times:

Researchers there [a center at Cambridge University that worked for Cambridge Analytica] had developed a technique to map personality traits based on what people had liked on Facebook. The researchers paid users small sums to take a personality quiz and download an app, which would scrape some private information from their profiles and those of their friends, activity that Facebook permitted at the time.

In other words, the researchers gave a few people–270,000–some money to get access to their information.  They used those 270,000 to scrape profile information from a total of 50 million people, who did not give any permission whatsoever.

Since Cambridge Analytica scraped the information unseen and their clients used the information to power opaque campaigns in social media, it may seem harmless.  After all, no one got a credit card bill with thousands of dollars in fraudulent charges, which happens when hackers breach stores and banks.

It comes down to fairness.

Specifically, I think of something I learned years ago when I had a timeshare company as a client.  I spoke with owners (i.e. the people who owned shares, not the people who owned the properties), who genuinely liked their vacation ownership (per the preferred term).  They advocated timeshare properties to their friends.  And that’s where the trouble started.

My client offered shareowners a bonus for referrals, a common industry practice.  I don’t recall whether they paid the bonus for names and phone numbers alone or based on actual sales, nor do I recall the amount.  What I do recall is the satisfaction one shareowner felt when he told me that he sent my client his church’s congregational phone directory for them to mine for prospects.

“Friends, heaven is beautiful.  But have you seen Myrtle Beach?”

In my mind, the situation looks the same as Cambridge Analytica’s.  One person got paid, but he compromised hundreds of others who a) did not give permission and b) probably didn’t know why they got calls from a timeshare company.  Clearly, these kind of tactics will erode trust in and favorability for the brand.

Certainly, three minutes trying to get a timeshare salesman off the phone does not rise to the level of damage from a campaign to manipulate an election.  However, in terms of trying to show how marketers should not try to gather information, I think it fits the bill.

Why rent when you can buy? The argument for marketing platforms.

In my last post, I argued that Facebook’s decision to shift their news feed algorithm away from publishers’ posts and back towards friends’ and family members’ posts should encourage marketers to build platforms as a hedge against changes that might hurt them.  Solid advice.

Now what the hell is a marketing platform and why should marketers invest in one?

In terms of description, a marketing platform is a long-term marketing initiative, often but not always digital, that engages customers and prospects at one or more points along the customer journey in a brand-owned space.  Let me emphasize that last point about a brand-owned space.  In some ways, platforms work like branded content in reverse; rather than engage consumers in a trusted publisher’s space, platforms build brand trust by becoming media properties themselves.

Some of my favorite examples of marketing platforms include:

Society of Grownups, Mass Mutual’s content platform for adult financial education

These models are about as psyched as you are to learn about IRAs

Society of Grownups speaks to a segment of recent-ish college graduates who need to start making financial decisions with lifetime consequences.  Creating the Society of Grownups platform gives Mass Mutual’s content some credibility without relying on a publisher brand.  They update it frequently with new articles, graphics and calculators to encourage ongoing learning.

DIY Projects & Ideas, Home Depot’s tool and project tutorial series

Now I have a nail gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.

Home Depot has, of course, featured live tutorials in their stores for ages (and these, incidentally, serve as a great example of non-digital platforms).  Putting these tutorials online might represent an obvious next step for our connected and busy world.  However, they also encourage consumers and maybe even some pros to keep visiting the site and to build their trust with Home Depot.

Yeah?  So?  Why should I spend money on one?

Obviously, platforms such as these, which depend on fresh content and functionality, don’t come cheap, so why build them?

In terms of the investment discussion, it helps to think of platforms as a way to buy your audience’s attention rather than to rent it.  A successful platform reduces the need to acquire and re-acquire customers and prospects every time they reach the “shop” or “buy” phase of the customer journey.  They keep showing up because the platform has something of value for them.  Continued visits build brand trust that ultimately leads to purchase.

Speaking specifically of digital platforms, they can also play a valuable role as CRM tools.  At their simplest, any platform can have a “buy now” button or something similar.  The nail gun video above has links beneath it to drive users to a nail gun buying guide that leads to product pages.  More subtle approaches can gather data about visitors (assuming proper permissions, of course) and provision them with appropriate content and offers when they display buying behavior.

In a subsequent post, we’ll discuss how to build, maintain and most importantly measure the performance of marketing platforms.  For now, though, think of what you could do with your audiences if they belonged to you and not Facebook.

Facebook’s Revised News Feed is a Hint-and-a-Half for Your Ass

Pundits have not yet finished the volley of thought pieces in the wake of The Zuck’s decree that his kingdom’s news feed will focus more on posts by your friends and families and less on posts from publishers and, more to the point for our purposes, brands.  This move reminds me of the advice of noted marketing guru Eddie Murphy to people in horror films: “that’s a hint-and-a-half for your ass to get out.”

OK, maybe I exaggerate a little by suggesting that brands get out of Facebook (hey, clickbaiters gonna bait), but I think they should stop relying too much on Facebook for engagement and start building their own platforms.

It’s not an ark.  It’s a species diversity platform.

First, let’s acknowledge that no one, maybe not even Zuck himself, knows what the news feed change really means.  On the face of it, the change seems to limit opportunities for brands to buy their way into Facebook users’ consciousness.  However, Zuck didn’t become a gajillionaire by ignoring marketers’ and publishers’ wants.  Based on my studies of the Mafia and OPEC, I suspect that the Hoodied One wants to drive up margins by artificially limiting supply.  Take that as someone who grew up in the home state of Tony Soprano and Exxon.

Regardless of Facebook’s endgame, marketers should take this moment to acknowledge the media duopoly.  Facebook and Google account for 77% of all digital ad dollars spent.

As an alternative, look to create platforms rather than campaigns.  Specifically, I mean digital platforms such as The Wirecutter, an e-commerce platform owned by the New York Times or American Express OPEN’s Forum platform.  While campaigns and platforms both engage consumers around a brand, platforms seek long-term engagement rather than a limited time capture of consumers’ attention.  To put it another way, platforms help engage consumers when they’re interested in something, not merely when marketers have something to say.

Over time, successful platforms reduce the need to rely on Facebook or Google to snag consumers’ attention.  They become self-sustaining.  Facebook can restrict its news feed to French bulldogs for all your brand cares.  As my friend and mentor Tim Suther likes to say, “why rent your customers when you can buy them?”

Take the hint.  Build a platform.

It’s Like When Your Grandma Got Email

Do you remember when your Grandma got on email?

I remember because I got a call from mine.  She said “I just sent you an email!”

In other words, her understanding of the technology resembled an email I got from AYSO, the youth soccer overlords here in the soccer-ambivalent US of A:

 

Screenshot 2016-04-30 11.38.14

My semi-communist Grandma would have spit out her martini over the date

I miss my grandmother dearly, but I don’t miss her ignorance of how digital communications work.

AYSO, let me break it down for you.

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Holiday Marketing for Atheist Brands

Now that our calendars have flipped over to November, we all know what to expect from marketers.  Our inboxes will teem with tinseled evergreens.  Santa will peek out over seemingly every banner and lightbox.  Red and green will dominate Facebook’s purple.  Every marketer who racks up big sales for Holiday will open the floodgates.

Many of my esteemed colleagues have great advice for enhancing Holiday emails and other addressable media.  However, I’d like to address another group: what do you do when your brand doesn’t celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa or anything else in December?  After all, not every brand relies on big Holiday sales to make a living, but they still gotta remain relevant in digital channels somehow.

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I don’t want to die alone. Pass the guacamole.

Superbowl 49 had more viewers than any other in history.  Turns out that football wasn’t the only thing on everyone’s mind:

184811

That’s right: 3% of you were using dating apps on your phone or tablet during the game.  By my calculations, that’s 1.6 million Americans (114 million viewers x 46% using apps x 3% using dating apps).  Roughly speaking, the population of Philadelphia was looking for love on Sunday night.  (Understandable, given that a 10-6 record didn’t merit the Eagles a playoff berth.)

If I were Match.com or even Ashley Madison, I’d really want to break those numbers out further (male vs. female, straight/gay/bi/etc., age ranges), but if nothing else, I’d at least consider running local TV spots in key markets during the game and have football or I-hate-football content or offers on the app as well.

For the record: I logged one Tweet and ten Facebook updates.  I even spoke with my wife during the game, so don’t get any ideas!