Monthly Archives: September 2012

John Ritter Facebook Marketing Fail

Does Social Marketing Reward the Wrong Behaviors?

“On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

When The New Yorker published that cartoon by Peter Steiner in 1993, they were commenting on the anonymity of Internet users. 20 years later, social networks have greatly eroded our anonymity, but the joke is still on us. Because while we’re all demonstrably ourselves on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, the advertisers on these networks seem convinced that we’re actually all dogs.

What’s worse is that we’re proving them right.

“LIKE this Photo if You Have a Pulse!”

Social networks were built for people, not brands. But wherever large groups of people congregate, salespeople are sure to follow. As “social media” became “social marketing,” the needs of advertisers fueled a push for measurable data, resulting in the endless drumbeat of “ROI” to help us measure which of our marketing messages are “working.”

Unfortunately, we have a problem: we reward activity instead of impact.

For example, take this recent Facebook trend:

Radio station Facebook update asking people to LIKE if they're a fan of Three's Company, a TV show from the 1980s.

Majic 95.5 is a radio station in Austin, Texas.  To stay in business, Majic 95.5 needs to get people to listen to their radio station. The more people who listen to the station, the more money the station can charge for advertising.

How does asking people if they liked Three’s Company make Majic 95.5 money?

Directly, it doesn’t.

Indirectly, you could make an argument that widespread sharing of a popular image that was originally posted by the radio station increases the station’s brand awareness… except most people don’t live in Austin, Texas. So unless Majic 95.5 is trying to raise national awareness for its digital radio feed (which would allow it to court national advertisers instead of local) getting the attention of people outside of Austin doesn’t even have an indirect impact on its bottom line.

So why post this image at all?

Because a picture of John Ritter is much easier to “like” than an infographic of Majic 95.5’s ad rates would be. And so we’ll continue to see pointless pop culture references shared by brands all across social media, not because they’re directly (or even indirectly) effective, but because they trigger activity.

Ring the Bell and Watch Us Drool

A funny, touching or incendiary image is an easy thing to “like” or share on Facebook. That action requires no thought. It’s a reflex. And when you “like” or share that image, your friends also have a chance to see it, where they might also “like” or share it, and on, and on…

And because activity creates sticky repeat usage of these social networks (so that the networks themselves can sell ads), “activity” is grossly overemphasized regardless of whether or not it’s actually good for the businesses (and advertisers) themselves.

What kinds of Facebook posts generate the most activity?

  • Simple questions, like “fill-in-the-blank” sentences
  • Inspirational quotes
  • “Caption This” pictures

Of course these kinds of posts generate the most activity.  They require the least amount of effort on the part of the audience.  So now we’re creating a social marketing ecosystem built not upon valuable customer engagement but on triggering Pavlovian reflexes in our audience (“I love John Ritter!”), which tells us nothing useful about them or in any way elevates their interest in our brand or increases actual sales.

But, by God, we can tell our CMO that we had 100,000 likes last month on Facebook.

You Can’t Eat Compliments

“Even if a tweet can’t directly cause a sale,” we tell ourselves, “at least it can trigger a retweet, a response, a follow or a click-through.”

Well, sure. But that’s a bit like saying, “I’m in the business of selling pies,” and then measuring your success at the pie festival by how many people complimented your packaging.  Yes, compliments are an indicator that you’re doing something right, but they don’t sell pies.

Unfortunately, social marketing has become a business of compliments.  We spend time and money developing content intended to trigger the only actions we can measure, rather than content that moves our potential customers further along the path toward purchase.

This isn’t [entirely] the marketers’ fault, because they’re doing the best they can to measure what’s made available by the networks. And it’s not [entirely] the networks’ fault either, because they’re doing their best to provide any data that can be measured.

The rest of the fault lies with us, for rewarding brands that provide distraction, not value.

Think about that the next time a brand wants to know if you remember a certain ’80s TV show, or if you know the name of the unboxed vintage toy in their shared photograph. And then resist that urge to “LIKE us if you know what this is!!!”

Let the Internet know you’re not a dog.

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Why Are We Afraid to Be Inspired?

I am most proud of my integrity and least proud of my cynicism.
— Chloe Sevigny

I’m normally a cynical person, but get a cynic drunk and he’ll admit that he’s really a romantic who’s just trying to avoid getting hurt.

A cynic wants to believe in the good things he hears, but he’s been disappointed enough in life that he feels as though getting excited about something new would be an illogical risk. He’d rather be seen as the guy who can’t be blamed for not caring than the guy who never learned from his mistakes.

Cynicism is an intellectual solution to an emotional problem.  It doesn’t add up.  But it does let us think we understand more about the world than those poor optimistic idiots who don’t know they’re going to get let down yet again.  It’s just as much a self-delusion as optimism is, but it feels worse because your sanctimony doesn’t even allow for the luxury of hope.

The Year of the Cynic

Maybe it’s just me, but we seem to be more cynical than ever.

Maybe it’s our sour economy. Maybe it’s the petty, tribal, clannish behavior we see popularized during an American election year. Maybe it’s the polarizing social issues we debate now instead of our economy — a practice that requires no intellectual rigor from participants, but instead rewards passionate opinions.

Whatever the cause(s), the effect of subjectivity’s modern triumph has been threefold:

We now live in a world where everyone can form not only his own opinion or worldview, but his own reality, thus rendering logical discussions functionally impossible. Arguments are made based on specious facts, facts are declared irrelevant, and otherwise sound theories are rejected based upon the reputation of the theorist.

In short: nothing matters, so why bother?

And while I truly think American politics has a lot to do with this trend, it’s not just an American problem.  Cynicism is contagious in a way that optimism isn’t, because optimism requires an innocence that adults reject in favor of the street cred that comes with doubt. But whether Americans are fueling the cynicism or just reacting to it, it’s spreading, and not in a good way.

A Political Aside You Should Read Even if You’re Not American

This could be the most Orwellian political year I’ve ever seen, in which at least one of the presidential candidates admits that facts are of no use to his campaign. And given that the US presidential election is always a 50/50 shot for the two finalists, American voters find themselves in the unthinkable position of trying to figure out which worst case scenario they fear less: re-electing the socialist fascist communist, or dethroning him in favor of the identity-less plutocrat.

No wonder we’re cynical.

And while I personally prefer to be inspired by Obama than be admonished by the GOP, I’m more troubled by the correlation that being inspired is to be naive — as though, by preferring to focus on the bright side of a flawed opportunity instead of dwelling on the flaws of the man behind that shiny curtain, I’m a weak-minded idiot who needs to be “assisted” toward a more mature mindset.

I’m not in the market for parochialism. Give me two dueling ideals and I’ll be thrilled to have to choose between competing inspirations, but if you’re selling a product intended to make me feel worse than I already do, don’t be confused when no one wants your free samples.

How Do We Justify the Act of Becoming Inspired Again?

Look, the world kind of sucks right now.

Then again, it always has — if not for you, then for the country (or business, or person) next to you. If we’re not at war (and we always are), then our economy is “in a rebuilding year,” or our social values are being torn apart, or our climate is trying to kill us, or someone else is. And if they aren’t now, they’re planning to do it later. And if they aren’t even doing that, they could.

By that rationale, the mere act of not being terrified every day is, itself, revolutionary.

In the face of so much negativity, choosing to be inspired might seem illogical.  But since logic is no longer in vogue, you’re free to feel any way you’d like to feel.  Given the gamut of possible emotions, why not choose to be inspired?

Here’s how it works (for those of you who’ve forgotten):

  • Envision the possibility that things could get better.
  • Identify at least one symptom of what that improvement would look like.
  • Investigate what it would take to make that change happen.
  • Take efforts to effect that change.
  • Succeed or fail.
  • Figure out what went right (or wrong).
  • Repeat.

Yes, those are a lot of steps, whereas cynicism only has one step:

  • Do nothing.

But if we all sit around waiting for our bosses, our coworkers, our spouses, our parents, our kids, our government, the rich, God, or someone else to solve our problems, we might never have anything to feel better about. (Ever.)

Plus, look on the bright side: if one of those entities is going to swoop in and solve your problems for you, why not solve a few yourself while you’re waiting? That way they can help you with the really big things you haven’t gotten to yet, instead of the small things you keep complaining about every day, like media rhetoric, poor customer service, interdepartmental miscommunication, rebellious teens, unemployment, obesity, racism, sexism, and the absence of quality reality television.

Any one of those problems — and hundreds more — could be solved by not saying, “This won’t work,” and instead saying, “I think this could work. How can you help me make this better?”

And if all of the above are solvable by us working together, rather than against each other, what’s stopping us?

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Interview: Making It Up as I Go Along

Last year at PodCamp Pittsburgh 6, I was interviewed by Eric Williams.

He asked me my thoughts on social media, which is always a dangerous topic.

Social Media in Four Questions, Interview #15 from Eric Williams on Vimeo.

In this video, you will learn:

  • Why I think social marketing can be a bad thing
  • What I like best about social media
  • What’s so great about Pittsburgh

And you’ll have a pretty good idea of why they called me “keyframes” in art school.

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13 Quotes About Twitter from People Who Died Before It Was Created

None of these people lived to see the birth of Twitter (which was founded on March 21, 2006), but that doesn’t mean some of their most famous quotes don’t still apply to our 140 character world. Whether you tweet for fun, business or boredom, these unrelated observations are surprisingly relevant.

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. — Mark Twain

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. — Benjamin Franklin

Brevity is the soul of wit. — William Shakespeare

Aim for brevity while avoiding jargon. — Edsger Dijkstra

To flatter and follow others, without being flattered and followed in turn, is but a state of half enjoyment. — Jane Austen

There’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words. — Dorothy Parker

If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people. — Virginia Woolf

I envy paranoids; they actually feel people are paying attention to them. — Susan Sontag

I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained. — Walt Disney

If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you. — Billy Wilder

Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another. — Napoleon Hill

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. — Maya Angelou

Trust, but verify. — Ronald Reagan

UPDATE: It has been pointed out that Maya Angelou is still very much alive. (Whoops.) Looks like that Reagan quote just got timely…

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Are You Having the Right Conversations?

Fuck money. Just for a second.

Yes, we all need money, but there’s always more to be made and there’s no shortage of ways to make it. So let’s stop pretending that’s what we’re all really focused on, because that’s like saying we’re all really focused on breathing.

Instead, let’s talk about influence.  (And I don’t mean Klout, because seriously?)

The people you attract to you are a symptom of the person you want to be.

When you create media — a tweet, a blog post, a Facebook update — about a subject, what happens? Who responds? Are those the conversations you want to be having? Are you learning anything?

Are you getting better at the things that matter?

To answer that, you’d need to know the answer to a few other questions first, like…

  • What do you want?
  • What do you know about what you want?
  • What do you not know about what you want (or about life in general)?
  • Who knows what you need to know?
  • Why would the people you should be talking to want to know you?

To get better at life — or at your chosen pursuit — you need more knowledge.

Knowledge is power, but here’s the rub: you rarely get more powerful while you’re learning. They’re separate but related, like dance steps: one foot in front of the other, then repeat.

When you’re learning, you’re investing in yourself and your future. You’re exhibiting humility. You’re testing theories and admitting that you may not have all the answers, but you’re in search of them. You’re a student who wants debates and deep discussions — not to be proven right, but to be able to determine what is “right,” contextually speaking.

When you exercise your knowledge, you use it to create power for yourself. When you know something, you can do something. Doing something directly changes your world, and it gives you something to document now and analyze later. And in that analysis, you once again find questions you’ll need to seek the answers to.

Learn, then do. The process repeats.

Converting knowledge and power into influence.

When you share your knowledge as a means of helping others, you begin to attract followers. These people see you as a source of knowledge — the answers to their questions — and those followers empower you to… do what, exactly?

That depends on your followers.

Are you attracting peers or mentors who possess you the knowledge you seek?  Or fans who’ll give you the feedback you need? Or people who agree with you, envy you, or look up to you?

In other words: do you want an audience that challenges you, or one that gratifies you?

How to tell if you’re wasting your time.

Look back at your tweet stream — both the tweets from the people you’re following and what you’ve said yourself.

Look at the conversations that do (or don’t) happen in your blog’s comments.

Look at what you share on Facebook, and who comments on your updates.

What do they say?

Is it helping?

Do you know where you’re going?

Do you know what you want to build, and what you need to get there?

If not, figure it out. (At the very least, figure out where you don’t want to be.)

Then start having the conversations that fuel you, instead of derailing or idling in place.

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