After much speculation, Facebook’s Instant Articles are here. Instant Articles gives publishers the opportunity to post their content direct to Facebook, in a move that some are proclaiming as ‘selling their soul’ to the social giant. The concern, given Facebook’s history of changing the ground rules, is that while the initial offering from Facebook on Instant Articles is good, the other shoe will eventually drop once the process has become embedded and publishers are reliant on the new practice. Like Darth Vader, the expectation is that Facebook will alter the deal, and once it’s become a key part of publishers’ overall strategy, they’ll be left with no choice but to simply pray that Facebook doesn’t alter it any further.
How does it work?
Instant Articles translates publisher content via HTML and RSS into good looking, easy to consume content, available direct on Facebook. There’s also a range of additional publishing options exclusive to the new platform to boost the presentation of content in the News Feed, things like auto-play video and interactive maps, all of which will function smoothly within Facebook’s mobile news feed. It’s worth noting that Instant Articles are only available via the mobile app right now – trying to access the same content on your desktop PC will take you to the normal, mobile web version of the article (though Facebook specifically notes ‘for the moment’ as a qualifier on this).
Instant Article posts load much faster than normal links, which is one of the major pain points Facebook is seeking to resolve with this option. The average mobile load time for an external link from Facebook is around eight seconds. Now, that seems like nothing, right? Eight seconds isn’t long to wait for an article to come up, but on a wider scale, when you consider how many people are using Facebook each day, that time is significant. Facebook has 936 million daily active users, if each of those users opens just one link per session, that eight seconds load time equates to more than two million total hours that people around the world are waiting, each day, for posts to load – time those people could be spending doing other things. Like reading more content on Facebook. From that perspective alone, Facebook’s move has a significant pay-off, even if they maintain the current ad revenue split, which, at present, looks pretty appealing for publishers.
How do publishers make money?
One of the biggest concerns about publishers posting first-run content direct to Facebook was that they’d be surrendering their own audience in favour of Facebook’s. If people no longer need to visit your site to view content, that’s going to result in less traffic, and by extension, less opportunity to monetize your audience. Facebook’s worked to alleviate this by offering publishers the ability to display their own ads within their Instant Articles, with all revenues from any such ads going back to the publishers. Facebook will then fill any unsold ad spots, and will take a 30 per cent cut from any revenues generated by those ads, with the rest going back to the publishers.
Facebook has also worked with comScore to ensure Instant Article views within Facebook’s app will count as traffic for the original publisher, not Facebook. So while publishers are ceding control to The Social Network, they’re getting a pretty good deal on advertising and losing nothing in audience stats. Facebook will also provide performance data on Instant Articles, better enabling publishers to work out what’s resonating best with their Facebook audience and make improvements.
Sounds like a pretty good deal, right? And considering many publishers are already significantly reliant on Facebook referral traffic anyway, partnering with the network via Instant Articles makes sense, as it’s likely (despite Facebook saying this is not the case) that Facebook’s algorithm will give preferential treatment to Instant Articles over other posting options. Though that, too, is where publishers hesitate in shaking Facebook’s outstretched hand and look down at the feet to see if their standing on the trap door.
What’s The Issue with Instant Articles?
The problem with Facebook’s new option is not what Instant Articles are now, but what they may become. Major players posting direct to Facebook is a fundamental shift in the publishing process. While, right now, the deal looks good, and it seems as though Facebook has done a lot of negotiating with their launch partners to ensure the deal beneficial for all, as with the many changes to the News Feed algorithm, Facebook has the right to change the game whenever it sees fit.
If publishers don’t sign up to Instant Articles, will that see eventually their content de-emphasised by the algorithm, making it harder to reach potential audience on the platform? If Instant Articles are given preferential placement in the News Feed, will that further reduce the reach of all other content as there’ll be less News Feed real estate remaining as a result? If Instant Articles are a big hit, and publishers become reliant on that as a new source of revenue, will Facebook re-configure the advertising split, leaving publishers with no choice but to take the hit and give over more money to the social giant?
Obviously, there’s no way of knowing how it will play out, but it’s generally agreed that building a reliance on ‘rented land’, in social networks or any other platform of which you don’t control the back-end, isn’t sustainable practice in the long-term. But maybe Facebook is, as they say, only seeking to improve user experience. Maybe eliminating that load time results in more people spending more time visiting other areas of Facebook or direct posted articles further enhance Facebook’s status as a key source of information, increasing time spent on platform, and thus, opportunities for Facebook to serve ads, and that, in itself, is enough reason for Facebook to maintain the system as is. It seems unlikely, in the long term. The initial deal being offered seems a little too good to be what it will in its final configuration. But it sure is appealing. You can imagine many publishers would be willing to sign-up to get better reach to Facebook’s 1.4 billion users.
Instant Articles is definitely an interesting development, and one everyone in the content, media and publishing space will want to keep a close eye on.
The new battleground of combined social and search is going to become a significant storyline in the world of social media marketing this year. Last week, we saw the first examples of what tweets might look like in Google search results as part of Twitter’s new deal with the search giant. It’s now being reported that Facebook is testing a newsearch feature – not quite on the same path, but more significant than it may, initially, seem.
Facebook is testing out a new functionality for iOS users which enables people to search for links while composing a status update, in-app. Just like adding a picture, the function would enable users to click on a link icon, then do a keyword search for articles related to that topic in order to share that content with your update.
At a glance, this seems relatively minor, adding in links is no major upgrade, it’s just streamlining that process – and really, it may be slightly restrictive, most people like to be able to share the exact links to the exact posts they want, and searching via this method might not necessarily help you locate the right content any more efficiently than searching outside of the app and cutting and pasting the link yourself. But then again, it might. And considering the massive amount of mobile sharing Facebook hosts, this process could prove hugely popular, effectively cutting Google out of the equation and keeping users on Facebook longer. And what’s more, it would also grant Facebook more control over more information, in the form of search data, which it could use to entice more publishers to its publisher platform. And that might just be the start.
Mo’ Data, Mo’ Options
So, let’s say this becomes a popular practice, that people are finding the links they want via this search process, Facebook learns your favourite websites and can better provide contextual searches, based on your previous sharing behaviour. That being the case, couldn’t Facebook then use that in building its case for publishers to post first-run content direct to Facebook? What if, as part of their pitch, they could say that “people use this new in-app search functionality 35% of the time, and we control the search results they get – we could ensure your content appears high in those results, significantly increasing the chances that users will link to your posts, thereby increasing your overall audience.” That’s interesting, right? What, too, does that increase in searches on Facebook do for Google traffic and Google’s share of audience? We know that Facebook leads social referral traffic by a significant margin (and that’s not even counting dark social shares) – if this addition were to catch on, it could be a significant concern for The Big G’s hold on search traffic.
Obviously, these are extrapolations, we have no idea how this is going to go till we see it in the wild and we get some stats on how users view this addition. But it could be something. It could be more significant than it may seem, at this early stage.
The first examples of the new Twitter/Google partnership are staring to filter through, with Search Engine Land providing screenshots of confirmed Google tests of tweets in search results:
As you can see from this example, a search for ‘#maythe4thbewithyou’ on Google has provided results from Twitter, where the topic was trending. You can see too, the option to click through for more tweets. This example is via mobile, where the current testing is taking place, but it provides our first insight into how Google may be looking to incorporate real-time tweets.
The first question I had about the new Google/Twitter partnership was whether this would provide SEO value. If Google opted to show tweets high in search results, then definitely, there’d be SEO interest there – showing up at the top of the SERPs, in any form, is a big win for brands – and these early examples show that there is, indeed, clear SEO value. Twitter results may only appear for trending issues or maybe there’ll be a recognition value placed on Twitter activity to determine whether listing the Twitter results is likely relevant to the user query, but these screenshots show that it may be possible to reach high-visibility areas of Google’s SERPs via your Twitter presence.
This will invariably mean more brands will be investing more into their Twitter presence, as it significantly increases the audience reach potential of tweets. The change also underlines the fact that social search is going to be a significant battleground, and one that organisations will need to take into account.
A likely element of Google calculations on when and where to display tweets in search results will be the relevance of the person or people tweeting about the topic. In the example above, #maythe4thbewithyou was a trending hashtag (and the search is specifically for that hashtag), so it makes contextual sense that Google consider this relevant to the users’ search, and thus, would show the user tweets relevant to the topic. But in one of the other examples provided by Search Engine Land, the logic behind why the tweet was shown seems slightly different.
As you can see, beneath the first result, the search conducted was ‘mayweather pacquiao’ and a tweet from Gary Valenciano has appeared in the results. Gary Valenciano is a verified account with 2.43 million followers, so while the correlation between the tweet itself and the search term isn’t as clear as the first example, it does seem that a profile’s social clout will play a part in Google’s logic on what tweets to show and when. The first contention is supported again in the third example shown in Search Engine Land’s post:
Steve Benfey has 286 followers and isn’t verified, but #CarlyFiorina is a trending topic, so just like #maythe4thbewithyou, it’s the popularity of the topic that’s dictated its relevance in the SERPs, not the tweet originator. This would suggest there’s at least two different logicalities that will dictate the appearance of tweets in search results – there’s a ‘Popular on Twitter’ break-out, which’ll show tending tweets related to the search query, and another option which shows related tweets based on the social standing of the tweeter (or possibly the engagement levels on the individual tweet).
In the case of trending topics, this is effectively word-of-mouth SEO. You’re getting a display of real-time discussion – the more discussion about the topic, the more likely the searcher will be shown tweet results in the SERPs. From a marketing perspective, this addition will likely increase the rate of newsjacking and brands trying to tag onto trending topics, as, if successful, they’ll get the double-benefit of appearing not only in the trending discussion on Twitter, but also in related Google search results. It’ll also highlight the importance of brand awareness efforts in regards to trending topics – imagine if you were searching for ‘Nike basketball shoes’ and a trending topic was how an NBA players’ Nikes fell apart on him during a game. That sort of discussion would be hard to ignore for a prospective customer – it’ll be more important than ever for brands to be monitoring Twitter trends to manage or remain aware of such occurrences in order to mitigate potential negative associations.
Of more marketing value, however, is option number two presented here – appearing in the search results based on tweet mentions from prominent users. This will amplify the importance of influencer marketing on Twitter – using the same example as above, what if you were searching for ‘Nike basketball shoes’ and a tweet from NBA star Kobe Bryant appeared high in the results, thanking Nike for making him such great sneakers? That could play a part in your decision making process, right? Of course, as with everything, staged responses or canned endorsements will be obvious to the searcher, and it’s likely people will filter out any such tweets that are overly promotional. But real responses, from real influencers on Twitter, might just have a whole new value proposition for brands, depending on how these tests play out.
The Sleeping Giant
Social search, elaborating on the context of your search results with the real-time discussion from social media platforms, is fast becoming a big deal. People are placing less trust in brand messaging these days, and a significant impetus for that change may be that they simply no longer have to. In times past, brands had more control over the flow of information, they told consumers what they wanted them to hear and managed the message according to their own strategic goals. But in the connected era, in which people have access to all the information, all the time, consumers can inform themselves. Studies have shown that people are already more than halfway along the purchase cycle before they even get in touch with brands, they’re not coming to your sales reps looking for more info the way they used to do. The value is in relationships, in having a higher value proposition than the product itself. In this context, social search is more important than ever – because what’s more valuable than a recommendation from the people you know and trust?
The Google/Twitter partnership only underlines the rising importance of social search and of adding that additional context to the search process. But Facebook knows this too, and you can bet, they’ll be planning their own response.
Graph Search 2.0
Facebook Graph Search was largely seen as a failure. Or not a failure, as such, but a glitchy system that never quite delivered on its massive potential. Facebook acknowledged this – Mark Zuckerberg himself has noted that the results weren’t consistent. But just as Google and Twitter move to stake their claim on social search, Facebook will be looking to roll out Graph Search 2.0, and it will be a massive improvement on the first iteration.
Facebook’s been quite overt in its efforts to keep its audience within its own walls – most specifically with its push to get major publishers to post first-run content direct to Facebook. A big part of holding audience attention and maintaining user experience is search, giving users the ability to easily find what they want within the Facebook eco-system. Facebook has been cautious about how they roll out Graph Search due to privacy concerns and the need to protect the value of their treasured user data, but a new version of Graph Search will be coming soon. The Google/Twitter partnership will only hasten its arrival.
Whatever comes, it’s going to be interesting to see how the digital marketing world responds to having real-time tweets in Google search results. These first examples show that the new partnership could have significant implications, and will likely raise the value of Twitter as a marketing and brand-relevance platform. It’s an exciting development to watch, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all comes together.
Not a great day for Twitter. After the micro-blogging giant’s first quarter earnings report was leaked an hour earlier than expected, Twitter stock dropped by 6%, and finished the day down close to 20%. The losses were on the back of a less than spectacular earnings report, where Twitter reported revenue of $436m – around $20m below estimates. Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo, in the company’s official release, said the gap was ‘due to lower-than-expected contribution from some of our newer direct response products’ – these would include some of Twitter’s latest product offerings, like changes to direct messaging, native video sharing, and live-streaming, via Periscope. Twitter’s report also outlined the areas where growth has been solid – but of more interest at this stage is what this result will mean for the future development of the Twitter platform, particularly when considering the rate at which they’ve been pushing out changes in the last few months.
Change is as good as…
Twitter is pushing out more changes, additions and updates than ever before. Senior Vice President of Product Kevin Weil was appointed in October 2014, and his leadership has seen a significant shift in momentum for Twitter products. Whereas once there were long delays in testing before rolling out, Weil appears to have streamlined the process – this is evident in the array of changes we’ve witnessed, from new advertising options to improved embedding options in order to spread the reach of the platform’s properties. While every platform change is approached with some scepticism – every platform has its traditionalists, overly protective of their cherished user-experience – most of these updates have been integrated and adopted well by the growing Twitter community. The latest move on this front was the recent unveiling of Twitter’s new home page for non-users, an attempt to entice more people to sign up and build its overall audience.
While these changes have gone well within the overall scheme of things, one concern stemming from the latest results is that the company will be under pressure to move even faster and seek more ways to monetize the platform. The last thing Twitter users want is to see it go the path of Facebook and start restricting reach in order to incentivize ad buy-up, but that’s invariably one element that could be considered. This is where the delicate balancing act has to be maintained – how do you incentivise new users, monetize the audience you already have, and at the same time, maintain harmony amongst your existing user-base? It’s a challenge facing every major platform, and one which is in stark view for Twitter today as it weathers the backlash resulting from its numbers.
Plenty to smile about
But it’s not all bad news. Twitter’s official report actually painted a fairly strong picture, with monthly active users up 18% and advertising revenue up 72% year-over-year. There’s little doubt the company is in a good position – it’s not as if people are turning away from the platform – it’s just not moving at the rate many (including Twitter itself) had hoped. But there’s a range of solid options coming up that may help the company turn the results in its favour very quickly. The recent growth of its new live-streaming company Periscope is a big positive, particularly the rate at which it’s increasing its market dominance over early-released rival Meerkat. The first element of Twitter’s deal with Google has been announced, with Promoted Tweets now available via Google’s Doubleclick ad platform. The Google deal, in itself, is loaded with potential and could see a significant boost in new users and user engagement, particularly if there’s an SEO value linked to tweets. There’s also the additional search functionality likely to be included as part of the partnership, and the subsequent ad options that would go along with that capability. Twitter’s overall picture looks good, despite this tremor in investor confidence. But tremors can cause lasting impacts, and it will be interesting to see what happens next.
The next battleground
One of the biggest user concerns stemming from unsteady results is the fear that the platforms will change, and the service they know and love will be impacted. Twitter is acutely aware of this, and over time they’ve shown their understanding of the value of user-experience by not making large scale changes and not balancing too far in favour of ad dollars or new users. An imperative on every listed company is the need to increase revenue, a need which always puts pressure on the way things are. But social media networks know that users can and will migrate, attention is the true currency of the social media industry. As such, I wouldn’t expect to see massive changes in user-experience, though I am looking forward to seeing what new products and options come about in the coming months – particularly as a result of the new deal with Google. One of the next big battlegrounds will be social search, an area Facebook is already pushing into with the refinement of Graph Search. The Twitter/Google partnership is likely to be their biggest competition on this front, and as social search becomes more important, as people look to validate more of their search queries via their social graphs and groups, the competition in that sector is will become significantly more intense. I, for one, am pretty interested to see where it goes.
Earlier this week, Facebook updated their News Feed algorithm again, in what many are seeing as the next move towards ‘Facebook Zero’ – i.e. 0% organic reach for pages. Facebook announced three updates – the first is around users who don’t have a lot of content to see. Previously, the algorithm ensured people were not shown multiple posts from the same source in a row, they’re relaxing this measure for people who run out of content to view and are seeking to view more. Nothing major there, the impacts should be minimal.
The second update has a bit more to it – as noted in Facebook’s announcement, this update:
…tries to ensure that content posted directly by the friends you care about, such as photos, videos, status updates or links, will be higher up in News Feed so you are less likely to miss it. If you like to read news or interact with posts from pages you care about, you will still see that content in News Feed. This update tries to make the balance of content the right one for each individual person.”
So the focus of this one is on those friends who you regularly interact with, on showing you more content from those users and ensuring those posts appear more prominently in your feeds. This is based on your interaction history – Facebook will use past behaviour as a guide to add weight to the prominence of friends’ posts and ensure they appear higher in your results. This will impact page posts because it will be adding increased preference metrics to content posted from certain profiles – most probably, the impact of this will be minimal, but if a person is more likely to be shown content from friends, they’re conversely less likely to see posts from pages in their daily News Feed allocation.
The third update relates to posts that friends have liked or commented on:
…many people have told us they don’t enjoy seeing stories about their friends liking or commenting on a post. This update will make these stories appear lower down in News Feed or not at all, so you are more likely to see the stuff you care about directly from friends and the pages you have liked.”
Again, the precise impact of this change is hard to predict, but it underlines the fact that ‘likes’, in themselves, are becoming little more than an aesthetic measure – and worse, that even interactions like comments are not necessarily going to increase your post reach. This change inadvertently puts more emphasis on shares and on prompting users to take direct action to explicitly promote their support of your page.
So what’s that mean for Facebook marketing? This change further underlines the need for brands to move from a broadcast focus to making themselves part of the conversation. With this update, Facebook is essentially saying that their users want to use the platform to interact with friends and the content they’re individually interested in, and the only way to effectively promote your pages without moving to paid ads is to generate conversation amongst people independent of your properties. That’s obviously easier said than done, but the principle for Facebook marketing remains that you need to create great content, you need to listen to what your audience wants and is responding to, and you need to become part of those conversations in order to attract more direct interactions with individuals and ensure your brand is part of any relevant conversations.
This also underlines the need to work with individual advocates – I’ve already seen it suggested by some that maybe brands should create personal profiles to help get better reach amongst their communities, but that won’t work, as it’s in violation of Facebook’s terms. Having people speak on your brand’s behalf is the best way to ensure you’re maximising Facebook reach – this is why employee advocacy is becoming a big focus, because who better to speak on behalf of your brand than those who live it everyday? Happy, engaged, socially-empowered employees can play a big part in brand awareness, and this update only reinforces the need to consider ways to facilitate authentic conversations across Facebook’s social graph.
This also sets the stage for updates to Facebook’s own search capabilities – Facebook recently announced changes to their API, effective April 30, which will reduce the capabilities for third party apps, particularly in relation to personal profiles, groups and search functionality. These changes seem relatively small, but for Facebook to be restricting them, my guess is that they’re close to releasing improved search functionality within their own walls, hence, these changes are designed to keep people on Facebook, as opposed to managing their Facebook presence via other platforms. This News Feed update somewhat supports this, in that it puts more emphasis on search to find content, as opposed to tangential organic reach.
Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that this update doesn’t help Facebook marketers and further supports the looming dawn of Facebook Zero. So should you just move on and forget about Facebook marketing? Depends on your audience, depends on how this changes your engagement levels – depends on many individual factors that can’t be answered in a generic sense. The fact is that Facebook has 1.44 billion active users, and many of them are likely interested in your products and services. Reaching them might not be as easy as it once was, but it is still totally possible, and totally viable when done in a considered way.
So, if a social media expert, or someone going under a similar moniker, comes to you and tells you that absolutely have to create video content, it might be time to look for a new advisor. Video is powerful, no doubt, and it’s a great way to generate engagement and build your brand online – the expanded capacity of our mobile networks and the evolution of apps and social platforms has enabled a new age of video communication. But if you’re only producing video content in order to make videos, to ‘do video content’, it’s quite possible that you’re missing the point, and will struggle as a result.
A Question of Quality
The thing is, bad content is bad content. It won’t matter if it’s video, audio, performance art – if no one likes it, it won’t get shared. Actually that’s not true, maybe people not liking it is what you’re going for, and that leads to people sharing – if it’s not sparking an emotional response of some kind, it’s going nowhere. And this is the biggest risk in the new wave of video content – while everyone should consider and be encouraged to think about how they can utilise video, if you don’t have an original or interesting idea, it may not be worth doing. The increased emphasis on video is seeing people make video content for the sake of making it – I’ve seen people post video of themselves holding their new products as they wave a description card along the bottom of the screen. I’ve seen content like this, from Mike, who, evidently, buys golf clubs:
Okay, bad example, that’s actually been shared a heap of times, but you get my point – making video for the sake of making video is probably not the best way to go. I mean, it won’t cost you a heap – the array of video recording and production apps these days enable anyone to make good quality video at low cost – but the problem is, if the quality of video content, overall, starts to drop, and people’s news feeds get flooded with average quality posts, users will rightfully complain. And complaints lead to algorithm shifts.
“And Like That… He’s Gone”
Facebook, above all else, values user experience. This has been debated over time, whether they care about users or money, but Zuckerberg’s line has always been that user experience is their number one priority. And it’s hard to argue it isn’t, almost every major Facebook algorithm shift has been triggered by user feedback; users said they didn’t like clickbait, so Facebook altered their filter; users didn’t like overly promotional posts, so they were de-emphasised by the algorithm. Facebook knows that, above all else, their power is in audience engagement on the platform. And they also know that people can and will migrate to other platforms, the social landscape can change very quickly. They know this, of course, because that’s how Facebook supplanted MySpace. In social media, if you lose the crowd, you lose, a fact that all the major platforms are acutely aware of, and as a result, they tread more carefully than ever when rolling out updates and features.
So what happens when people start seeing an increase in content they don’t like? They complain, and Facebook is forced to re-evaluate how that type of content is distributed. Right now, native video content is getting the highest organic reach of any post type, but that could change, and that change could literally happen overnight. Currently, Facebook’s distribution algorithm is pretty good at filtering out low quality content – organic reach is, of course, at the lowest it’s ever been, so it’s pretty hard to reach a significant audience either way, and their ad filtering works on a quality scoring-type system to reduce the reach of ads that no one’s responding to. Low quality content, in whatever form that may be, degrades user experience and forces Facebook to re-evaluate how they distribute content to satisfy the needs and expectations of users. Making bad video content is bad overall, as you’re not only potentially hurting your own reach (in terms of post performance influencing future content), but you may also be contributing to a wider resistance to video posts, overall.
There Can Be More Than One…
The argument here is not video or Facebook-specific. – there’s an inherent risk to over-emphasising any one type of content. If you force people to create video – or blog, or post infographics – making people focus on any one type of content will inevitably lead to some people struggling to produce quality work. I love blogging, I write all the time, but I know plenty of people who struggle with it and I’ve seen them post average quality work which, understandably, is getting little engagement, and this is frustrating for them because they’ve been told they absolutely, definitely have to blog. But maybe they’d be better off focussing on something they can do confidently – it’s possible that they could have massive success producing live streams for Periscope. Maybe they’re no good at writing, but really good at conversation – Hangouts on Air or Twitter chats might be a better focus. Definitely, written content is a key element, particularly for SEO purposes – and outside production assistance is always an option (cost prohibitive) – but you might also be able to also utilise transcripts, Storify logs – there are different ways to ensure you’re ticking all the content boxes.
To say anyone needs to create content of any specific type is potentially risky, and with so many options now available to connect, it may be keeping them from their best option to generate interest and engagement.
What’s Good for Them is Good for You
So what content should you focus on? The best way to make content your audience will love is to listen to them. Analyse what your communities are talking about, look at the key interests and topics being discussed amongst those most likely to buy from you or your business. You can use apps like Social Crawlytics to establish where and what content is driving the most social referrals to your site, or BuzzSumo to search for what content is being most shared amongst those in your industry. If you don’t have enough content to go on, run your competitors’ websites through those apps and see what’s driving the most engagement for them – if they’re seeing a heap of engagement with image posts or quizzes, maybe that’s what you should do too.
If you can identify trends or commonalities amongst your audience, you can let those fuel your ideas for content – this will enable you to work with what your audience is after, what they’re most likely to respond to. And of course, this is not to say you should be afraid to try or resistant to testing out what can be done with any type of content – video is generating great response and there’s a wide range of tools available to experiment with. But you shouldn’t be making video for the sake of making video. There’s no point to that and you’re likely not helping your brand any by posting video content that lacks passion, purpose or any spark of creativity. Content is crucial, but what type of content you create should be driven by what your audience is responding to and what’s within your capacity to provide.
But then again, it’s always possible that your worst idea might end up getting the most attention. Now, I’ve gotta go find some old golf clubs.
I was doing a talk recently on the correlations between Facebook likes and personality traits when someone put their hand up and said: ‘so what?’ What does this mean – what does it matter to the average business that Facebook likes can indicate a person’s personality? It got me thinking about how to better communicate the relevance of social media and social media data and how it relates, not only to academic studies, but why it’s important, and indeed, good for all businesses to be involved and to understand the possibilities of quantifiable interactions.
The Facebook Study
Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Cambridge and Stanford University released a study which suggested that a person’s Facebook ‘Like’ profile could be more indicative of an individual’s personality traits and leanings than their friends, family members, even their partners. The study was conducted by getting 86,220 participants to complete a 100-item personality questionnaire, based on the International Personality Item Pool (IPIP) five-factor model, which measures each person’s responses and maps them to build a personality profile, based on the ‘big five’ personality traits.
Within each of these categories are sub-sets, more specific data points based on these over-arching personality points. Based on those responses, each participant’s personality profile was created, then matched against their Facebook ‘Like’s.
Now, on a small scale, this doesn’t mean a heap – a person who scored high for anxiety also likes Star Wars – so what? But on a wider scale – when matching this data over, say, 86,000 responses – correlations between interests solidify. Change the equation to 95% of people who scored .80 or above for anxiety also liked Star Wars and you’re starting to see that map. The researchers found that when the individual had 150 Facebook likes to go on, their model could predict their personality traits better than their family members. With 300 likes, it beat out their partners. And when you consider that the average Facebook user has liked more 220 things, you can see how this system could be used as an accurate predictor for a person’s traits and behaviours.
So what does that matter?
So what? What’s the big deal, right? It’s one thing for academics at some big name institution to some up with a complex methodology for indexing personality traits – and good for them – but what does this actually mean for you or I, for the everyday business owner? This is an interesting question, because you can’t just extract these sorts of insights in any easy way. It takes teams of data scientists to build such a model – months, years of learning to implement at such scale. What this research does highlight is the possibilities and potential of big data and social media. What it shows is that business owners should not be resisting social or avoiding it – they should be actively embracing and encouraging its use. Even if that business wasn’t overly interested or inclined to get involved themselves, the potential value of such insights for their own audiences are so great, so massive, that they should see these interactions as access to a whole new way of thinking.
How so? Consider this:
Ninety per cent of the world’s data has been generated over the last two years. Ninety per cent. That means everything that exists now, all the resources, status updates, like profiles – all but ten per cent of that was non-existent just two years ago. It’s not possible for any of us to truly understand what that means for business, for our day-to-day lives, for everything as we know it, because we haven’t had enough time to process all that info and figure out how it all relates. Definitely, where the emphasis has been on big data in recent years, the latest push is on how we rationalise and contextualise all that info. Big data has become a buzzword, people have become more wary, because for all the insights and intelligence we have at our fingertips, no one’s really sure how to utilise it. This comes back, somewhat, to futurist Ray Kurweil’s ‘Law of Accelerating Returns’, which stipulates that more advanced societies and technology progress at a faster rate than previous ones – so we’re now progressing faster than any generation before us, and thus, we can’t rationalise and compute all these new inputs all at once because our brains are still adapting and working to get up to speed.
This is, in large part, why we’re often not able to see the possibilities of big data and all those advancing connections – that, and the context for them is often presented in such a way that it’s difficult for someone without an advanced qualification in psychology or analysis to fully grasp the significance of a concept like Facebook knowing you better than your wife. The consideration that I see is actually two-fold: the future and the present.
As data advances, I see massive potential in all those reference points leading businesses and individuals to each other. In the case of the individual, let’s say that your Facebook profile – which we now know can be an accurate indicator of your personality – is only part of the overall puzzle.
Combining an individual’s activity on all three of these platforms would form an even clearer picture of who they are, not only in a personal sense, but professionally as well. When you consider that the next generation has grown up on social (remember, Facebook is now more than 10 years-old), and think about how much information each user has accumulated and logged online, you can imagine that if this data were combined, at scale, you would have a pretty accurate indicator of personality and career-oriented traits. This would enable you to make better decisions about employing people, build better understandings about the correlations between performance and personal traits, track the specific interests and personality types of the people who have purchased from you, enabling you to target future customers based on informed correlations.
At present, this data is not easily combined, as each platform keeps their own knowledge graph, but there are ways to extract such insights. There are methods you can use to build accurate personas – the next step is to build systems that track and expand your own data analysis in real-time. Imagine if you could build a system that logged the traits and behaviours of people who both Liked and went on to purchase from you, which updated in real-time. Imagine then that, armed with this knowledge, you could target your advertising or identify people to connect with based on those same traits, effectively highlighting your most relevant and responsive audience, based on data, and showing you new opportunities, every day. This is where the true power of social media data and data analysis lies – being able to locate and reach the right people, with the right content, at the right time – all the time. And with more and more data being entered, the reality of this scenario is becoming increasingly present. It pays to know what’s happening in this sector.
But again, that’s the future, that’s still some distance – and some cost – away from your day-to-day business, your real world grind. How does social media data deliver real, actionable, insights for you, right now? Really, with the amount of data we’re talking, how could it not?
For instance, let’s say members of your target audience – the people you need to get your brand name in front of – are active on social media. You can work out who, specifically, you need to be listening to, who your most likely prospects are, based on people who’ve previously purchased from you or people in positions that will make the call on whether or not to buy your stuff. You can analyse the presences of those target prospects and get an idea of what their questions are, what they’re discussing, what they’re most interested in. Let’s say you identify that a large portion of your audience is talking about a new TV show – you could use that in your own communications (contextually relevant, of course) and create content that’s more likely to resonate with the people you need to reach based on their specific interests.
Or you could work out who they listen to – word-of-mouth is the core thread of social selling. If you can work out that your target audience is listening to a specific influencer or influencers, you can examine their profiles, work out what they’re interested in, then reach out to them and connect to your target audience that way, by connecting through their established information sources and getting your name in front of them.
You can analyse your fans, followers, lurkers – there are any number of free or freemium social tools out there that enable you to extract specific insights and data about your social media audiences – both current and desired. And as the amount of interactions being undertaken online increases, so too do your chances of locating the information you need in your research. Right now, you can do this, right now, you can analyse the profiles of your business and your competitors and extract data insights and virtually no cost.
The Interaction Evolution
The Facebook Like study, to me, actually just reinforced or legitimised the power of social media data. Many people still see social as a fad, as nothing more than kids sharing pictures of themselves and/or their food. But if academia has found that those very actions can paint an extremely accurate picture of who a person is, you must also see that such data can form a map connecting your brand to your audience. Even if you’re not interested in social, if you’re not on the bandwagon, so to speak, have no interest in hashtags and LOLs and cute cats, you still have to recognise that social is the most powerful audience insights tool ever created. As Jay Z says:
If you can’t respect that, your whole perspective is whack”.
Maybe your audience isn’t on it – but are you sure? Maybe your customers don’t use it – but will they soon? The way people communicate has changed, the way we interact is evolving. Right now, you can livestream your life to the world, a level of connectivity that is unprecedented, would have been unfathomable just years ago. And that evolution is accelerating at a rate that we may not even be able to fully comprehend. What we do know is data. That which is happening is trackable, traceable, laid-out and accessible to anyone who cares to look. Used well, this can provide your business with a level of insight you’d never have even considered.
And that is good for business.
Recently, I got to thinking about how social media and the transformational impact it’s having on our broader communications process might be affecting overall political awareness. This came up during the election lead-up in my home state – throughout much of the campaign the general consensus of people I spoke to was that they didn’t really have much of an opinion either way on who won. Of course, the people I spoke to are not indicative of everyone – a great many were very invested in the outcome – but in seeing the low levels of engagement around me, and the sense I got about the campaign overall, I wondered whether social might be lowering our levels of political engagement.
The arrival of social has given people a whole new way of consuming media. Online sources are now among the main players in news media, and through social media, people can now curate and customise their own info feeds. This enables people to choose which outlets they read, where they get their news from – and it also means people don’t need to see content they’re not interested in. For many, this may mean cutting out politics, which effectively weakens political influence and leads to a less politically engaged society overall – but is that what’s really happening?
The Numbers Don’t Lie
I sought to test my theory – if I was right, the easiest way to prove it would be to look at the rate of donkey and ‘informal’ votes in recent elections. If that rate was increasing significantly, year-on-year, that would suggest political engagement is falling, which would tie into my wider theory of the impact of social media. And in Australia it is – the rate of informal votes has jumped from 3.78% in 1998 to 5.55% in 2010, and it’s increased every year except 2007, which was the year that the Kevin Rudd won the Australian Federal Election – in which the ‘#Kevin07’ hashtag formed a key element of his campaign. This aligns with my theory – people are overall less interested in politics, but the incorporation of a social media element into Rudd’s 2007 strategy may have actually countered that and kept those less interested more engaged.
But there was a flaw. Yes, informal voting was increasing, but it’s been increasing every year since compulsory voting was introduced (rates jumped in 1984, but that’s attributed to a change in the voting process). Looking at the data, and considering social media’s influence, any real impact from social engagement would only possibly be significant in the last ten years, and the higher 2007 result is among the three elections held within that time, so it’s hard to draw any definitive conclusions from those figures alone. State-based elections provided no definitive logic either – informal rates had dropped in some, increased in others – there was nothing concrete in the numbers to conclude that the changing media habits, caused by social media, were impacting negatively on voter engagement. At least, not at this stage – in five years time, when the communications shift is really in full effect, we’re likely to have a better understanding of the potential impacts.
I found the same with US Presidential Elections – voter turnout in the United States has remained steady at around 55%, with an increase to 57.1% in 2008, the election in which social media was a key platform for eventual winner Barrack Obama (labelled by some as ‘The Facebook Election’). Other nations too showed no significant patterns – while the case may be that people are less politically engaged, the sample size, at this stage, is too small to draw and solid conclusions – though the increases in participation relative to social media activity did indicate the importance of engaging audiences on new mediums.
Of wider concern with the shift towards more customizable media inputs is the potential spread of reinforcement theory. Reinforcement theory is where people seek out and selectively remember only information that supports their pre-existing beliefs. You see and hear this all the time, people will pick and choose certain aspects of an argument in order to support what they choose to believe. And it’s damaging – people who’re locked into certain thought processes are not beneficial to the advancement of rational debate – you can’t argue with a mind that’s not open, you can’t reason with a person who won’t listen. If you’re stuck in your view of how things are, and you align with that perspective as indisputable fact, then there’s no way that you’ll ever be able to empathise or re-align your view if new facts emerge. It’s one thing to stand up for what you believe – that’s something that should always be encouraged and supported – but it’s another to stand up for what you believe while being closed-off to any other point of view. There’s an onus on everyone to learn the facts, to educate ourselves on all aspects of any particular issue before we set forth on solidifying what our opinion will be. But too often we see people accept a narrow perspective, form a belief based on a limited amount of information, and then perpetuate negative influence through their own confirmation bias, seeking out sources that support they’re stance.
While people have always been able to do this to some degree – you listen to the same radio presenter regularly or read the same newspaper and you’re effectively enlisting your own reinforcement theory on some level – there is a level of concern that the customisation of our media consumption might actually narrow people’s worldly awareness. While social media and the web are great for connecting with likeminded people and building communities around shared beliefs, the potential negative of that is that it may also embolden the disenchanted and facilitate more siloed cultures around limited and narrow viewpoints. If you choose, you can create a news feed of totally one-sided perspectives and shut out everything else. Whereas in the past people would need to watch the nightly news to get an understanding of the events of the day, many people now rely solely on their social feeds for the same info, which reduces the breadth of information being shared. Is that a good outcome? Is that what will lead us to a more understanding, connected society?
‘Is This Thing On?’
There have been various studies on the impact of social media on political consciousness, particularly among younger generations. In general, the findings seem to indicate that social media is good for political engagement because more people are talking about a wider range of issues online – trending topics, for example, inspire more people to evaluate their opinions on a particular subject. What studies can’t conclusively deduct is what impact those increased discussions are having on our wider political awareness – that can only be evaluated, effectively, by voter participation, which, as noted, is inconclusive given the data at this stage. What is clear, however, is that it’s becoming increasingly important for political parties to understand the growing reliance on social platforms as a means for building and fostering political engagement. It may be that the time for political jargon is dying out – it’s much easier in the connected era for people to tune-out anything that’s not engaging to them. Parliamentary Question Time, which is broadcast on TV in Australia, is a complex performance of political formalities and strategic doublespeak – you can easily see why people might opt to change the channel. The problem is, with the growing application of algorithms working to show users only the news relevant to them, based on their historical activity, the more people are switching away from politics, the less likely they’ll ever be switching back. Given that, it’s crucial for politicians to understand where their constituents are at, what they’re discussing, and importantly, how they’re discussing the issues of relevance to them. Just like businesses, politicians can access the abundance of audience data being logged every day online, the opportunity to build an understanding of the electorate is available and accessible to them. But it may mean a change of tact for the modern-day politician, a move away from the spin of old and towards a more connected process.
We were discussing the upcoming Super Bowl and newsjacking in a Twitter chat recently when Diana Wolff said this:
And she’s right, that tweet’s been discussed and lauded and referred to ad-nauseum in the two years since it was sent. And while there’s much to appreciate about the ‘Dunk in the Dark’ tweet, the real question is ‘was it effective?’ Did more people buy Oreos as a result of that tweet? Is that the true measure of success for real-time marketing? The question is, does getting sixteen thousand re-tweets correlate to positive ROI?
Did People Buy More Oreos as a Result of ‘Dunk in the Dark’?
This is hard to say, and really, only Oreo and their parent company Mondelez International are able to judge the return on their Super Bowl 2013 efforts. In terms of financial results, the actual attribution of that tweet is cloudy, as noted in by Danielle Sacks in her piece “Oreos Tags Pop Culture”:
Since Oreo embraced culture, the brand’s annual sales growth is up from the low double digits to more than 20%. But analysts attribute that to its expansion into emerging markets in Asia. It’s very hard to prove that new-media campaigns increase sales. During the Grammys this year, viewers who tweeted #SendMeOreo received a box of limited-edition cookies in new flavors that landed in stores a week later. “In terms of revenue, it was the biggest limited-edition launch that we ever had,” says [Janda] Lukin, Oreo’s North American chief. But no one at the company can tell me how—or if—”Daily Twist,” the Super Bowl tweet, and the Twist, Lick, Dunk app affected cookie sales. Asked specifically about the Super Bowl, Lukin admits, “There isn’t a great way for us to directly link it.”
Given there were so many campaigns and changes occurring around the same time, it’s difficult to directly attribute that tweet to an increase in revenue. But it definitely generated coverage, every media outlet from Forbes to CNet to The Huffington Post praised the genius of the Oreos tweet, which was universally considered to have won the Super Bowl ad blitz – some even questioned whether that one tweet did more for the Oreos brand than the $4 million Oreos ad that aired during the game.
Definitely the cumulative presence of these campaigns has had a significant and lasting impact, and has helped keep the brand within the awareness of many consumers, so in that sense, ‘Dunk in the Dark’ was obviously a huge win. Though the correlation is not as straight forward as many might suspect.
Did ‘Dunk in the Dark’ Improve Brand Perception?
Of course, sales alone may not be the true measure of the success of such coverage, it’s possible that Oreos saw increased brand perception, became better placed in the market or within certain demographic brackets as a result. This, too, is very difficult to measure, and no doubt the flood of coverage Oreos has received as a result of that tweet (including this piece you’re reading) has increased their brand awareness – but how beneficial has that one tweet been for overall brand sentiment?
Brand perception can be significantly influenced by a well-placed, real-time message. Arby’s, for example, would likely have seen a major boost in brand perception amongst a younger, hip audience when they sent this tweet in response to Pharrell Williams wearing a that now famous hat at the Grammys:
That single tweet brought them significant recognition, and helped them reach an audience they may not have been able to otherwise – their brand perception definitely got a ‘cool’ boost in the reflection of that tweet. There are regular examples of brands utilising real-time response to benefit positive brand perception – just recently, Australian telecommunications giant Optus posted this to their Facebook account in response to a iPhone error which had caused the alarms of many of their customers phones to go off an hour earlier than set, due to a time zone glitch:
Of course, giving people a free coffee doesn’t get them that hour of sleep back, but that extra effort to connect with their customers would have some impact on overall brand perception – no doubt better than just ignoring it and doing nothing at all.
So what about ‘Dunk in the Dark’? Would that message have improved the perception of Oreos, made customers more aligned the brand? Outside of maybe making a few more people feel like eating some chocolate biscuits, there probably wasn’t a significant increase in brand sentiment as a result of that message. It’s possible, like Arby’s, that they were able to reach a specific audience, through retweets and shares, that they’d otherwise not have hit, but again, how much would that perception reflect in the bottom line, at the end of the day?
Cause an Effect
The question of effectiveness really comes down to the specific people reached and the actions they subsequently took as a result of exposure to that brand message. The numbers themselves, in relation to the re-tweet, followers and favourites, are not, in themselves, a true measure of success. As noted recently by Gary Vaynerchuck, metrics like follower counts don’t necessarily correlate to success – reaching more people definitely increases your opportunities to convert, but getting through to just one person with the right message at the right time can be more successful than reaching 1000.
The discussion of ‘Dunk in the Dark’ and it’s relative success, based on impressions and interactions alone, is the perfect illustration of were traditional broadcast focus collides with new-school targeting and analytics. In the past, the way to win at marketing was to hit as many people as you could, get as many eyeballs as possible looking at your stuff in order to increase the chances of reaching the right few. This is why blast radius is still seen as such a significant measure to many marketers – but are impressions and reach really reflective of your success? As big data becomes more embedded and we learn more about analytics, and how to link specific data points to profitable results, it’s likely that bigger won’t necessarily be seen as better when we reflect on marketing effectiveness.
Of course, exposure is, and always will be of significant value, and research has shown that there is a link between social interactions and website visits. And far be it for me to make a call on the success of ‘Dunk in the Dark’ – the only people who can do that are Oreos themselves – although it as interesting that for such a huge, massive, win, they didn’t even try to replicate it, noting before the 2014 Super Bowl that they were ‘going dark’ this time round. No, the purpose of this post is to widen discussion of the metrics and what constitutes your own success, particularly as brands gear up to wade into the trending currents of Superbowl 2015.
Effectiveness is relative, it’s up to us to correlate the data and show what it means in the wider scheme.
I’ve had an overwhelming response to some recent articles on Social Media Today looking at SEO and social media best practice and the future of Facebook. There’s been quite a few more visitors to this page because of it (alot more than I’d expected), and I’ve generally kept this page confined to my fiction writing work, but I’m looking to add more social media insights here as soon as possible.
Thanks for reading, will have more info on the ‘Social Media Content and Strategy’ page soon.