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.
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.
Back in early 2014, I came across a content discovery tool called BuzzSumo. Steve Rayson, who regularly writes for Social Media Today, had referenced BuzzSumo data in one of his posts, so I clicked through, checked it out – and honestly, I was awed by the many varied applications I could immediately use this data for.
In basic form, BuzzSumo shows you the social share stats for any URL, website or topic. In itself, this is pretty helpful, but one of the more impressive elements of BuzzSumo is the developers’ awareness of how this data will be used, and what data will be useful. As such, over time they’ve added a range of additional features: you can filter the results by language or region; you can narrow the listing down to content type – infographics, videos, interviews; they added the ability to search for influencers on any given topic, reports to compare domains or examine backlinks, by URL or domain. As more new functions have been added, I’ve found myself using and recommending the app ever more frequently.
If you’ve not taken the time to check out BuzzSumo, you should, it really is a great app. And now they’ve got another addition – Steve recently got in touch to give me a look at their latest feature.
BuzzSumo’s latest trick is monitoring trending content. The new feature enables you to set up a dashboard of trending or most shared content based on whatever keywords and topics you’d like to keep tabs on.
In this example, the dashboard is set to show the most shared content under the topic of ‘social media’ over the last 24 hours. You can see the keywords I’ve used to track this in the listing just above the posts:
The dashboard is tracking the terms ‘social media’, ‘LinkedIn’, ‘Facebook’, etc. Any topic that mentions those terms is included in this dashboard, which is sorted by most shared to least. There’s a range of additional filters you can apply to the results – you can include results from the last 24 hours, or the last 2 hours, and anything in between. You can also narrow the listing down by country and by either ‘Most Shared’ or ‘Trending Now’.
If you choose ‘Trending Now’, the results will be listed based on each item’s trending score, which measures the velocity of shares within a specified time period. This is a great way to stay on top of the content attracting the most interest in specific niches or based on your target keywords – you can also include hashtags in your search terms to capture all relevant discussion.
What’s more, you can share your dashboards with anyone – logged out users can view the content, so you could make a dashboard capturing all mentions of, say, an event and the BuzzSumo trending log will form a comprehensive overview of the most discussed and trending content related to it – this one, for example, is looking at the UK General Election campaign:
Now, if you’re mind’s not already floating off with the various possibilities of this new function, here are a few ways in which the feature could be useful:
- Content curation – The most obvious benefit of this new functionality is for content curation. Being able to identify the most popular and trending content, based on your specified keywords – in your specific region – is great insight into what’s resonating, and what’s likely to be of relevance to your audience. Not only does this enable you to stay on top of developing discussion points and issues in your niche, it can also act as a guide when considering what to share with your community to keep them up to date
- Content creation – So, if you have a trending dashboard set up and you can see that a certain issue is running hot, and you have your own perspective to add to the discussion, that’s probably a good cue for you to get writing. Adding your personal insight to a trending issue can go a long way towards reinforcing your position as a leader in your field – having the list of trending topics, right there in front of you, could save you a heap of time in searching and locating relevant content by other methods
- Insight – Not only are you getting valuable insight into what content is trending, BuzzSumo’s listings also show you where that content is reaching an audience. You can see below the preview images for each post that there’s also a listing of how many shares each story has generated on the five major social platforms. This effectively highlights the platforms you need to be active on in order to reach the audience discussing those topics – locating and tapping into those conversations could prove extremely valuable, as, targeted with your specific keywords, it’s leading you directly to your where your target audience is at. There’s obviously a bit more to it than just logging on and jumping into a trending conversation, but it’s a guide, an indicator of where to look. And maybe it’ll show you opportunities you’d not have previously considered
These are the three main uses for the trending dashboard from a straight marketing and research perspective. But as noted in the event example above, there are a heap more ways you could consider using this. There’s also an RSS feature that you can use to stay informed with the most up-to-date info on trending topics in your industry – and the terms you use to create the board are defined by you, so you can make it as specific or broad-matched as you like.
As noted previously, I’ve been pretty impressed by BuzzSumo’s progression – their features always add a new level of depth, and they’ve really thought through the functionality and user-friendliness of the process when putting together these features. Trending topics again adds another level, and there’s a wide range of possible applications and uses for this option. No doubt you’re already considering using it for your own purposes, beyond what I’ve noted here. If you aren’t using BuzzSumo, you definitely check it out, and if you are, you’ll no doubt love the new feature – another solid addition from the BuzzSumo team.
I wrote a piece recently questioning whether the rise of social media has been a positive or negative for our overall levels of political engagement. The idea for that post came from the general level of ambivalence to a recent election in my home state, and how that same sense of lessened political impact seemed to be pervading through social networks and online conversations. The question, really, was about whether giving the audience more specific control over their news inputs would mean we they would actively tune-out content that was of little interest, and whether political news would suffer as a result.
My findings in that investigation were that social media is not necessarily lessening political engagement, but that political parties do need to consider where and how the audience is interacting in order to keep them engaged and maximise the potential of their messaging. In large part, it seems many political organisations have not advanced their communications and outreach strategies in-line with the social media communications shift, and as such, they’re not reaching their audiences as effectively – a concern that will exacerbate as the next generation of digital natives move into more politically and socially aware phases of their lives. Failing to reach them on the platforms where they are most active will lead to political failure – the numbers do indicate that political campaigns that had received traction in social media were significantly more impactful and ensured wider awareness of local political issues.
In order to extend this further, I decided to investigate political and news engagement based on Google search trends – the news stories people are seeking to learn more about via online search. While not definitive, Google search patterns can provide a indicative measure of the public ‘pulse’, the issues of most relevance to any given region. By looking at what we’re searching for, I hoped to get an idea of what issues were gaining the traction amongst Australian internet users and build an understanding of what that means for how we communicate and engage with digitally savvy audiences. What I found was both obvious and enlightening, in equal measure.
What People Want to Know
To start with, I wanted to get an idea of internet news trends, of the stories have gained the most traction over time. My suspicion was that by looking through the most popular Google searches, year-on-year, I’d find that we are, indeed, far less politically engaged or news driven overall, as I suspected the charts would be increasingly filled with searches for Justin Bieber and One Direction as time went on. That wasn’t the case – the above chart looks at the most popular Google queries globally. I shaded each topic in a colour – blue for tech, pink for entertainment, orange for news and current affairs and green for sport. As you can see, if anything, people are searching for news content more than ever in the last few years, which suggests the interest in news and current affairs is still strong, or at least on par with gossip and entertainment.
What I also found interesting was that tech queries on Google went way up in the mid-to-late 2000’s, dominating search in 2006-07, but have died down since. Now, given the growth of social media since then, I don’t think this suggests people have become any less engaged in tech – I think it’s more likely that this exemplifies a change in search behaviour. These days, you’re much less likely to go to Google to search for ‘Facebook’ because everyone knows where to find it. Everyone accesses it through apps or links – social media and apps are definitely more prevalent now than they were in 2007, but the way we come to them has changed. That behavioural shift is indicative of the larger trend of how search is being used – it’s hard to say people are searching for news content more frequently in 2014, despite these numbers, because the way people come across news content online has totally changed.
In any event, looking at global trends only forms part of the overall picture – news stories that are relevant to people in Australia might be totally irrelevant on a global scale. Breaking down the search to a regional level would provide more indicative insight into how politically engaged Australians are.
First, I looked up the trending Google searches for Australia over the last four years. What was most interesting about this is how few local news stories made the cut – the mentions of ‘RFS’ and ‘AEC’ in 2013 are related to bushfires and elections, and the mention of ‘MyGov’ in 2014 is news related, but the rest is dominated by entertainment. This suggests that maybe we’re not seeking more information on important local issues, but then maybe, I thought, generic search is probably not the most indicative measure of news engagement. I switched the analysis to searches conducted in Google News instead – the news stories Australians have been seeking more information on in that same time period.
Again, not much local content in that list – I highlighted the local stories specifically to better exemplify the data. As you can see, we searched for ‘Julia Gillard’ and ‘Qantas’ in 2011, ‘Mysogynist’ is related to Gillard also in 2012, and we have the ‘Melbourne earthquake’, but outside of that it’s all world news. The most searched for news content by Australians is rarely even about Australia – which is concerning, considering the impact local news issues have on our day-to-day lives. The question is, are we paying more attention to global news to the detriment of local issues?
The Currency of Clicks
Here’s the thing: there’s been much angst in recent times about the negative affect online media is having on journalism, and the quality of journalism in general. Just recently, Edelman published a study on modern media consumption and part of their findings were that 75% of journalists now feel more pressure to think about their story’s potential to get shared on social platforms. Whether you like it or not, the media economy is now driven by the currency of clicks – the website that gets more traffic, makes more money, and those signals, the stories that are generating clicks, are now being used to decide what stories get covered and what gets more attention. You see this every night in the evening news, there’s far more entertainment and gossip type stories making it into the news feed because that’s the content that’s generating clicks online. News outlets want to provide the audiences with what they want, therefore more of this content, of arguably lesser news-relevance, is being reported.
In considering this, and looking at the Google search data, what I think we’re seeing is the effect of a more connected global community. Social networks have provided us with unprecedented access to the global conversation – just last week, I tuned in and watched a building fire in Brooklyn being streamed live via Periscope. The connection is immediate, we’re more connected to the wider world than ever before, but as a result, our attention may be being dominated by global stories, while local issues fade into the background. To clarify this further, I sought to match up Australia’s news search habits with those of other nations to see whether we, as a smaller news nation, are seeing less local content than others.
A Question of Relevance
Using Google Trends, I looked up the most searched terms in Google News – Australia for the past 6 years. As you can see, the local issues (pink) were still not largely prevalent, with world news dominating in 2014.
I then compared that to the US:
Local news searches in pink.
Now, it makes sense, to a degree, that there would be more local news stories searched in the US, as many of these stories are of international relevance. But have a look at the political discussion in America. Politics features prominently, a lot more prominently than it does in the Australian topics.
In the UK, political issues also feature, though their news searches are dominated by sport, particularly in the latter years. But even when it is sport, that’s still local discussion, something largely absent from Australia’s news searches. For comparison, I charted the mentions of local news from each region:
Comparatively, the volume of local news searches in Australia is well down on the US and UK, especially when you add-in local sport as an extension of local news content. What this suggests is that we are, in fact, becoming more global in our approach to news – which is undoubtedly a good thing, greater global awareness leads to increased understanding overall. But our newfound connectedness with the global conversation may mean we’re becoming less engaged with the not-so-shiny, less attractive, more boring local news content. But those local issues need our attention and interest.
Relevance vs Popularity
So let’s say this is indicative, that we’re losing the local audience on the news and current affairs issues of significant relevance to them and their day-to-day lives. What then? What can we do to address the regional news attention deficit? The stories that people are clicking on and searching for are the ones they’re interested in, that engage them, so how can we make local politics or societal concerns more popular? This is a question that all political groups need to be considering – in no way should issues be made more divisive or sexy through artificial means, but there is a legitimate concern that local issues are going to receive less and less attention over time, and that’s incredibly bad news for the advancement and improvement of our immediate surroundings. Political groups need to be working to integrate social media and social media communications into their overall mix, into reaching their audiences where they increasingly are. Many are doing this, there’s a whole range of politicians who are actively engaged on social platforms, but there’s a definitive need for politicians to be using social media to connect with their audiences and increase awareness of issues. If the public loses interest in politics, we lose in general – we need our elected officials and leaders to be representing the views and interests of the wider community, and to be relating their messages back to the people in the methods and means they are most engaging with.
While only one part of the puzzle, the Google trends shown here indicate local news engagement is slipping. There’s no definitive answer as to how to combat this, but it’s a question all communicators should be considering – if global news items are dominating attention, how do we tell stories that raise attention and awareness among our audiences? How do we ensure important local issues remain at the height of public interest?
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.
Ever since my early teens I’ve been a big basketball fan. I played football when I was young, but a playground accident (in which I broke both my arms at the same time) meant full-contact sports were off the cards for an extended period. During my recovery, I found basketball, and I never looked back. This was also right in the midst of the Michael Jordan-era – Charlotte Hornets jerseys were everywhere, Shaquille O’Neal was smashing backboards on TV. Basketball was blowing up in the early nineties, and like many passions of our formative years, it took hold and has stayed with me ever since.
One aspect that really captured my imagination was statistics. I collected NBA cards, poured over the numbers and info on each one. I developed an encyclopedic knowledge of useless facts about players and their outputs – you wanna’ know who had the best three-point field goal percentage in the 1992-93 season – I got you. Need to know the career averages of Bill Wennington? Right here. I wasn’t alone in this, there were a heap of people more informed and more detail-oriented than I, but what I didn’t know was that that very passion, that interest in obscure details and numbers, would one day change the very way the game was played.
Evolution Through Analysis
At the 2012 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, cartographer Kirk Goldsberry gave a presentation on what he called CourtVision, an advanced basketball analytics system he’d put together in his spare time. Goldsberry had worked out how to extract data from ESPN’s shot charts – which showed where each player had made and missed shots from during each game – and he’d put all that data into a comprehensive set for each individual. He’d mapped every shot taken in every NBA game from 2006 to 2011, a huge data bank which, when filtered down to specific players, highlighted tendencies, weaknesses and strengths.
Basic field goal percentage data was nothing new – as noted earlier, any kid intoxicated by the smell of a freshly opened pack of basketball cards had some level of similar insight, but Goldsberry had taken it to the next level. He’d sought to show why this data was important, how it could be actioned. And as he presented, an audience full of NBA owners all sat forward in their seats.
Data analytics in sports has become the “in” thing in recent times. Growing from the success of Billy Beane’s “Moneyball”, analytics is now big business – virtually every major sports team now employs some level of data analysis in their preparation and evaluation process. And it makes sense – winning is everything in professional sports. More than pride or showmanship, it’s winning that makes money for pro athletes. Careers depend on it, clubs rely on the ability to perform. Winning teams get better attendances, more TV coverage, more success as a business overall. And it is just that – business. While it’s sports and it may not seem so different from your local leagues, where participation in itself is seen as a level of success, professional sport is a massive industry, and winning is a fundamental requirement. You’re either winning now or you have a plan to win in future. Or you’re done. With so much riding on the result, every little bit matters, every advantage you can get helps – if deflating the ball by one p.s.i can provide some tiny advantage, you best believe someone will try it.
With every detail under so much scrutiny, professional sports teams need to get things right. You could fly blind, stick with the way things have always been done – rely on your gut instinct, as many traditionalists still uphold. But the fact of the matter is data has become a critical part of modern pro sports. Numbers don’t lie, statistics are fact, and while it takes more than mere numbers to build any actionable insights from the info, used well, data can unlock the secrets that lead to that one goal – winning.
Data vs Instinct
Goldsberry’s formulas, or variations of them, have been adopted by players and coaches all across the NBA. The actual results of this are difficult to definitvely pin down, fuelling critics of the advanced statistics and data approach. Some, like TNT commentator and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, have come out strong with their opposition:
All these guys who run these organizations who talk about analytics, they have one thing in common — they’re a bunch of guys who have never played the game, and they never got the girls in high school, and they just want to get in the game.”
Barkley’s view is simple – all the numbers and all the data have not yet lead to a team winning a championship. And he’s right, but still, many clear winners have emerged.
Shane Battier defined his career by being a defensive specialist, someone who’s sole aim was taking on unglamorous task of shutting down opposition scoring threats. Battier was also an analytics advocate, someone who’d seen the power of numbers and had been using similar statistical correlations for some time. Battier became renowned for his success in stopping or slowing the game’s biggest stars, most notably Kobe Bryant. What Battier had determined with Bryant was that he was no where near as efficient when he shot from particular sections of the floor – so rather than work to stop Bryant, as such, Battier tried to keep Bryant out of his hot spots and shepherd him into taking bad shots. The tactic was a success, but one which isn’t necessarily quantified in the box score.
This sort of basic extrapolation of the data highlights the subtleties of utilising performance statistics as a predictor of successful behaviour. The data itself was never going to alter the nature of the game, but the accumulation of those subtle complexities, when used and applied in the right way, can sway the outcome and deliver results. The problem is that you a) need to know the right data to analyse and action, and b) need the right personnel to action it. Those two variables are what leads to data being seen as an inexact science – generally, it’s not a case of 1 + 1 = 2 – it’s more like 1 (in the right scenario with the right preparation) + 1 (with the correct understanding of the specifics of the moment) = 2. This is where there’s some truth to the old ‘go with your gut’ way of thinking – you need people who can ‘go with their gut’, but that gut needs to be informed and to understand the variables of overall success.
For instance, let’s say you have the ball and your team’s down by one with only seconds remaining and you’re rushing up court for the last play when you spot your teammate open for a shot on your left. An informed, analytical, mind will know how good that shot is, how good a shooter that player is at this stage of the game. Through understanding the shot charts, like Goldsberry’s CourtVision stats, the informed player can make a smarter decision and either execute or switch the play, and that quick thinking can win or lose the game. Such interpretation is both gut and analytics, and that’s more likely where you’ll see success in the world of data – human interpretation layered over informed insights. One without the other is an inferior approach.
New Ways of Working Require New Ways of Thinking
This is an important distinction in the intersection of big data and human analysis. Right now, the business world is trying to understand the implications of all this new data we’ve been given access to. The proliferation of social media has fed an explosion of online tracking and data systems and most business haven’t yet been able to get a grasp on what all this new information means, where it might lead. We know it’s important – if professional sports teams are effectively entrusting their success to the numbers, then it’s surely valuable – but because there are so many variables, because it isn’t so black and white, many are opting to stick with the ‘go with your gut’ approach, the ‘we’ve done it this way for years’ ethos.
So a heap of people on Facebook click ‘Like’ – so what?”
Established mindsets pose the biggest challenge to the possibilities of data, because it’s hard to see the logic when we’ve never been asked to look at things from a wider view. As with the quote above, a single person clicking ‘Like’ on your Facebook business page is virtually meaningless in the larger scheme. But we’re not talking about one thing. Often we go looking for simplicity because it’s what makes us comfortable, it’s logic we’re familiar with. But new ways of working require new ways of thinking, and we need to break out of what we know in order to break through.
Here’s an example in practise:
- Person A has 500,000 followers on Twitter. Person B has only 5,000.
- Person A has followed a heap of people and gained these followers over time by collecting as many people as possible, following whoever will follow back, actively seeking to up their follower count at every opportunity. Person B has never focussed on followers, but has instead focussed on community and having genuine interactions with the people to whom she’s connected.
- Person A has a Klout score of 55. Klout score, whether you agree with it or not, is an indicative measure of how many interactions a person has within their community, how many times they’re mentioned, the impact of their actual conversations. Person B has a Klout score of 75. This would suggest that despite Person B only having 1% of Person A’s following, Person B is actually more influential in their community and more likely to have her message reach a wider audience.
Knowing the above details, I’d be willing to be large sums of money that most people would still pick Person A and his 500,000 followers to be their brand ambassador over Person B. Because Person A has the biggest reach. The fact that they’re not listening to him is largely irrelevant – because we’re used to seeing things as we know them. What we know is that reaching more people is better – years of marketing and advertising theory has taught us this. We know that the chance of reaching 500,000 is better than reaching 5,000, because the audience is so much bigger. So what if not all of them are listening to Person A – even if you can reach 1% you’re still beating Person B, right? Even though, through the logic detailed above, we can see that partnering with Person B is probably more likely to generate better results, the majority of people will still go with what they know. The unknown is exactly that, and despite our data getting more informed, our approach isn’t quite there yet.
Data Analysis and the Evolution of Expectation
So going back to Goldsberry’s CourtVision stats – what if there was a way to correlate that same info, but for people who are buying or are interested in your products? What if, rather than shots made and attempted, you were looking at actions taken online – pages liked, interests listed, relationships. One of those things in isolation is nothing – someone who buys your stuff also happens to like Nirvana, so what? But what if, like Goldsberry, you could collect a wide set of data, a range of actions and preferences and map those on a chart which suggested that a person who undertakes certain, specific actions is highly likely to be interested in your stuff? You can do this. You can do this right now with Facebook data and Twitter info – you can correlate all the info from your pages and fans and you can build your own data sets that will map out the people most likely to be interested in buying from you. The trick is in finding the right data, the data you need.
For instance, correlating all the data from all the people who’ve liked your page might not be beneficial, because many people like pages for different reasons – they might be friends or family, they might have done so to enter a competition. Those people are going to skew your data, because they’re not the people who are most likely to buy. But you can narrow it down, specifically, to people who’ve made a purchase, to people who’ve interacted with your content. You can choose the specific info, most indicative of your typical customers, then build your datasets based on that. As noted recently, Facebook likes can very accurately indicate a person’s personality or leanings, when applied on a wide enough scale – those findings are the perfect business-case for conducting your own analysis and working out your own most relevant audience. Once you know this, you can target your marketing accordingly, you can focus your questions based on the queries amongst this sub-set, you can calibrate your focus around expanding your reach to people similar to this, people with the highest probability of being actual paying customers.
But that’s not broadcast reach, right? That’s not hitting the widest audience possible, which, as we know – as we’ve learned – is how to succeed and sell more stuff. And of course, that may well be the case – focus your dataset wrong or too narrow and you could miss out on an entire market of other buyer personas you’re not catering for by honing in on one group. Narrowing focus is a risk, and that risk is going to enflame oppositional forces, the old-school chiefs who know how things are done. This is the challenge of being an innovator, and has always been the challenge. You’re presenting a new way of thinking, and people aren’t necessarily going to like it. When you’ve achieved success by doing things a certain way, do you appreciate it when someone new comes in and suggests something different? No. Because you’ve done it, you’ve got the runs on the board, you have the experience, and experience is concrete. You know what works. Social media and big data are new, they’re different, and they’ve got a lot to prove – this means you, by extension, digital marketers have a lot to prove also.
But it can be done. The stats and figures can be located and correlated, you can work out the most minute and specific details about your target customers, and those details will inform the future of your audience approach. As communications become more individual, as more and more people grow-up online and develop their interactive and communicative skills via social media platforms, people are also growing to expect their voices will be heard. This is what social media is about, empowering people by giving everyone a voice – the brands respect and listen to those individual voices will advance and move ahead, in-line with customer expectation. Targeted advertising, for example, is becoming so specific that it’s scary – but to the next generation it won’t be scary, it’ll be how it’s always been. Brands responding in real-time will be standard, individual preferences will orchestrate the detail of each person’s media experience. What we know and have always known is evolving, whether we like it or not.
The possibilities of big data are amazing, the breadth of social media is hard to get your head around. But what we can say for sure is that people’s experiences and expectations are moving away from what we’ve always known. The businesses that can move with it, will.
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.
After months of speculation, Twitter video has arrived. Users of Twitter’s mobile app can now quickly and easily shoot-and-share video clips to be sent along with their tweets. And it’s pretty great – the functionality’s very similar to that of Vine (also owned by Twitter), though the maximum clip length has been extended to 30 seconds. You just compose your tweet, click on the camera option and switch it to video, hold down the video icon to film, then you’re done. It’s easy, seamless and will be a massive boost for brands and regular users alike. But, of course, that functionality isn’t startlingly new – you’ve always been able to record video in another app, like Vine, and share that video via tweet, right? While that is true, the immediacy and ease of use of having video functionality in-built takes video on Twitter to another level – here are three reasons why Twitter video will go big time.
1. Video infinitely enhances personal connection. Gary Vaynerchuck touched upon this in a recent post – as we’ve all seen from the massive growth of video on Facebook, video content is powerful. We also know that people are on social media to be social – social platforms are personal platforms, places from which people can voice their opinions and share their thoughts on everything from global issues to their favourite biscuits. Sharing your voice enables you to be heard, and that capability is extremely powerful, particularly when it comes to how that voice is acknowledged. Listening and responding to those voices is a key element in building brand loyalty and advocates – if people are using social to be heard, the brands that win are those that are hearing them and responding to those signals.
While it’s best practice, and common courtesy, to acknowledge users who’ve shared your content or commented on your tweets, sometimes those acknowledgements can come across as robotic or non-genuine. Sometimes, even if they’re totally genuine, it’s unavoidable that your message will seem cut-and-pasted – I’ll often respond to people who’ve shared my posts with ‘Thanks for sharing my post, Ben, much appreciated’ – and that’s a genuine sentiment, and I always try to include the users’ actual name to show that this isn’t just a repeated tweet, but there’s only so many variations you can do on that message. But now I have Twitter video – what if I made an individual video personally acknowledging that person for sharing my content. And maybe my doing it is no big deal, I’m not a big name celebrity, but what if Jay Baer did it? Your CEO, maybe? What about Beyonce?
The power of an individual video message is significant – that sort of interaction can turn a person into a fan for life. And now, with that video capability in-built and readily accessible, it takes literally only a few more seconds of effort to make a stronger connection through video recognition. Click reply, press the video camera, create a message, send. Simple, fast, powerful.
2. Immediate and fast access to video will make it easier to contextualize with ‘how-to’ and ‘walk-through’s. Have you ever seen the Lowe’s ‘Fix in Six’ videos posted to Vine? In short, quick clips, people were able to produce amazingly helpful – and popular – ‘how-to’ content – and now you can do the same, but with longer clip duration. This aspect will reinforce Twitter’s capacity as THE customer service platform. Brands and helpdesk assistants no longer need to restrict their advice to 140 characters – a challenge at the best of times. Now you can take a quick clip, right there, in-app, and show the person on the other end of the line how to do something.
Even better, it’s often equally, if not more, difficult for users to explain their issues within Twitter’s character limit. Now you can just get them to film the issue and tweet the video through. This will avoid confusion over what’s being discussed, where the actual issue lies. Again, the immediacy of being able to press one button and create a video of the problem is significantly different to taking a video in another app and sharing that way. Having the functionality right there, within the platform that people are already using, will change how video is used in this application. Problems will be resolved faster, responses will be more in-depth and helpful. The change will be significant for the brands that utilise this functionality to best effect.
3. Twitter video will bring more users to Twitter and keep them there longer. Tech investor Jason Calacanis wrote a piece about Twitter video in early January which looked at the platform’s capacity to capitalise on the rising popularity of video content. In Calacanis’ post, he made a very relevant point about how celebrities use Twitter – he noted that many celebrities and influencers are highly active on Twitter, but not many have their own YouTube or Vine channels, so they’re not actively posting a high amount of video content. He also noted that Facebook has been trying for years to get celebrities and influencers more active on their platform, as evidenced by the creation of Facebook Mentions, an app targeted specifically at celebrities (which, co-incidentally, just got an upgrade). Twitter already has those big names on-board – providing them with the ability to easily share videos with their huge follower bases (and once they see how their fans respond to that video content) will lead to more of them posting more video content, which, in-turn, will lead to more people coming to Twitter to view it.
What’s more, Twitter video’s can only be shared through embedding or posting links back to the original tweet, there’s no easy way to extract the video and re-post it on YouTube or direct to Facebook. When those celebrities do post clips, that content will, of course, be shared across other platforms, and the way that content is accessed through other channels is by providing, or linking back to, the original tweet, which, again, generates greater exposure for Twitter. This is in-line with Twitter’s view that it reaches a significantly larger audience than it’s actual user-base through ‘logged-out’ users, people who are exposed to Twitter content but are not on the platform. As it moves to better monetize this element, growing that exposure can only be a good thing. It may also prove to be a huge thing in the long run.
Overall, Twitter video is not a massive shift – the ability to post and share video via tweet is, essentially, nothing new. But the integration of video into your Twitter stream, having the option right there, a click away as you compose your message, changes the equation significantly. There are so many opportunities, so many simple and effective ways to use this new process. If you’re not thinking about using Twitter videos, you should be. Because have no doubt, other brands are thinking on it. Even minor innovations can be the difference between a 7/10 and a 10/10 customer experience.
Here’s a question: are plaudits for advertising and marketing campaigns awarded under a similar scale of merit as we apply to film and literature? Should they be?
Miranda Ward posted an interesting piece on mUmBRELLA recently which looked at the effectiveness of Metro Trains’ much awarded ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ campaign. While no one can debate the virality of the campaign and its success, in terms of gaining attention, Ward’s piece puts a spotlight on the actual effectiveness of the campaign, as matched against its core objectives, and putting those results into hard numbers is slightly more elusive. That’s not to say it wasn’t successful, but there’s no clear argument to suggest it was either, despite it being the “most awarded campaign in the history of Cannes (with 28 Lions, including five Grands Prix)” (source).
This reminded me of the Oreo’s ‘Dunk in the Dark’ tweet from the 2013 Super Bowl, which was a topic of discussion recently in the lead-up to its 2015 equivalent. It’s a similar situation – ‘Dunk in the Dark’ was also very creative and garnered a heap of attention and awards, but in terms of actual effectiveness, in getting more people to buy more biscuits, the correlation isn’t clear. That gap, between awarding great work, as opposed to awarding effectiveness, reminded me a little of the way we praise movies and film – the films that earn the most money tend to also be among those most hated by critics (i.e. Transformers 3). Film awards, meanwhile, go to more creative and innovative works that, for the most part, don’t produce the same financial results. But then again, that’s not really the point of making a film – an advertisement does have a definitive objective.
What this debate highlights is that there may not be a perfect way to judge such pursuits. It’s art vs. science – we all want to support creativity and innovation, but in doing so, we may, at times, lose some balance with overall effectiveness. Really, the awards for advertising and marketing should go to the campaign that gained the most attention whilst also producing the best results, in alignment with the campaign objectives – the more concrete those results, the better. But ad reach has always been somewhat subjective – tying exact results to metrics like ‘reach’ isn’t an exact science. So what do we do? I want to see better ads, I can see from the numbers that ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ has successfully gained attention – that type of creative work should be encouraged. But if I can’t link it back to definitive figures…
This is a debate that’ll always exist – awareness is something that’s tough to quantify, but the onus is on brands to produce work that’s both engaging and in-line with overall mission. In that sense, Dumb Ways to Die has succeeded, but would it have been more effective if they went for a TAC-style, hard-hitting campaign? It likely wouldn’t have got the reach, and it wouldn’t have got the awards, but it might have been better at delivering the actual message and raising awareness. Maybe. But the question, really, is around how we award advertising and marketing effectiveness, how we align the metrics we can account for back to the overall goals. This is getting easier, or at least, we’re getting access to more comprehensive data based on conversion tracking and data analytics, but it’s still some way off.
And the real question that stems from this is ‘are we establishing the right expectations for marketers and advertisers by awarding works not anchored to objective results?’ The important thing is for marketers to analyse their own campaigns and build an understanding of what they’re trying to achieve. Getting attention is one thing, but keeping it is another – you might be able to get more click-throughs by posting a video of your cat, but is that then leading to more people buying your handmade soaps? If it is, that’s what you should be doing, but amidst the emphasis on Followers and Likes and Pins and re-grams, it’s important to understand how that behaviour relates to the actual results you’re seeking to achieve. This is made more difficult when Facebook strangles organic reach and puts increased emphasis on brands getting more likes. More likes means more reach, and more people looking at your content – and those likes also increase the chance of your content appearing in more news feeds next time you post. The trick is in balancing the imperative need for attention with the fundamental requirement for audience action. There’s no perfect way to measure this, but it’s worth considering the balance when thinking on how you can ‘go viral’.