2019 will be a year of upheaval in the social media universe, IMHO. Some predict the demise of one or two major brands, a prediction that can be rather easily diverted with some timely and judicious mixes of savvy marketing, PR, and policy change. I don’t believe Facebook is intentionally malicious, as some claim, but it has been more than a little dumb, to be blunt. Engineers are renowned for their brilliance, but also for their tone-deaf pursuit of iterative project advancement. This year should be a year of listening, adapting, and evolution. The consequences of doing otherwise could be dire. 

(December 2018 poll of 39,496 Twitter users)


I recently conducted a far-reaching poll, the results of which confirm that Facebook is struggling with its brand reputation. This needs to be addressed promptly. What also needs to be addressed is the reputation of social media platforms and channels, in general, as isolation chambers, echo chambers, and breeding grounds for extreme and intolerant voices. Social Media promised a brave new world of community, consciousness, and communication. The reality has been far less appealing. What will the likes of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and even LinkedIn do in 2019 to moderate the narratives and dialogues on their platforms, sufficient to more equitably encourage and realize the promise once seen? It’s not a request easily fulfilled, but it’s worthy of the effort, if businesses and individuals are to effectively leverage internet technology in pursuit of more meaningful and rewarding connections and relationships.

It’s worth noting that the results of the above poll are strongly influenced by several factors:
1 – the poll was conducted on Twitter, which partly accounts for the massive Twittaffection. Let’s subjectively assume a 3X factor of skewing, which means a more objective platform might have yielded a comparative 25% loyalty marker.
2 – Poll respondents seem to suggest that the Instagram brand is not as adversely affected by the Facebook scandal as investors have presumed.
3 – LinkedIn is the most specialized of the above 4 brands, focused as it is on those business communities that might benefit from digital networking activity. I estimate this means their 8% mark is a far stronger and more focused group, and thus less susceptible to having their loyalties changed.

Given the above, I posit the relative contextual strength of the four brands might be better compared as follows:

LinkedIn – 36% 
Facebook – 8%
Twitter – 35%
Instagram – 21% 

These numbers are subject to wide variances, depending on the business decisions made by Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook, in the coming year.

 

 

The power of live streaming is incontestable, as most recently demonstrated by the awful but important footage captured by Lavish Reynolds (warning: this video is graphic). This media innovation has the potential to revolutionize journalism, communications, storytelling…but then Twitter had that same potential, when it rose to prominence. Technological innovation will usually manifest compelling results, but many pioneering brands will stumble along the way. Is this unavoidable? Are there better ways to grow a product or solution, so it may realize its best potential more effectively, efficiently, and sustainably?

The recent Democrat “sit-in” in the US House of Representatives launched Twitter’s subsidiary Periscope into the spotlight (at the edges of which it had been operating for more than a year). This app has the potential to merge the functional merits of both Twitter and YouTube. Will this “Video Twitter” evolve into a long-term media platform enhancement, or is it little more than the latest social media fad? Who remembers Meerkat?

Snapchat took over from Instagram, which itself apparently supplanted Pinterest, after the latter briefly challenged Facebook. Of course, some will argue that I have one or two of the brand incursions mixed up, but that only underscores my contention: Will everyone have the Periscope app on their smartphones for the next 6 months, only to hop to the next shiny bright object, as soon as some bright young startup creates it (with a surfeit of investment from Venture Capital companies eager to reap quick cash rewards, before their latest vaporware is supplanted)? Will Periscope instead grow “too big to fail”, as Twitter seems to have done, yet – like Twitter – represent little clarity, in terms of functional positioning? Are our social platforms and channels destined to come and go with the whims of youth, or are some focusing on developing a degree of operational maturity that will more securely establish their merits and utility, both on our smartphones and in our communities? For all of Facebook’s flaws, it has consistently pursued this maturation with the degree of academic humility and professional confidence that is the hallmark of most engineers. Its relative longevity is as much a result of its willingness to adapt and iterate, as it is due to its refusal to be molded by its user base.

Therein lies the lesson.

Too many brands have relied upon the “Crowd” to manifest and elevate their identity and fortunes, simply because it was this same “Crowd” that first adopted the company’s initial value proposition. The “Crowd” is a powerful current, but while it runs most aggressively in shallow waters, it carries the greatest power in deeper seas. In much the same way, it behooves companies that operate in the Social space (which effectively includes all M&E and Communications companies, along with a host of other markets) to study more assiduously the role of their user base in the ongoing development and growth of their brand. It is not the Crowd’s responsibility to identify or define the brand, nor its value proposition. Furthermore, the longer we allow Startups to scale too quickly, simply as a means to secure larger investments, IPOs, and other Get-rich-quick objectives, the weaker our innovation pipeline will become. The vast majority of Venture-backed startups fail in their first year, and the many articles acknowledging this long-known but too often ignored fact effectively concur that the solution lies in more sustainable development, both of IP and workforce.

I have spent the past 15 years promoting this thesis: that Startup success should no longer be gauged by how fast a company sells, but rather how solidly it is able to build its value proposition; how securely it is able to hire and retain talent; how reliably it is able to integrate its offering into the physical and functional communities within which it operates. While the ROI may not be as immediately “sexy” as the silly Unicorns investors still chase, the longer-term returns generated by the far less mythical “workhorses” I have been supporting are more rewarding, both financially and otherwise. With this in mind, I look to brands such as Periscope, and I wonder: will they be seduced by the noise and sparkle of short-term ROI aspiration, which more often than not represents little more than a mirage of unattainable yearnings, or will they plot their course with thoughtful care and imagination, giving themselves, their investors, their employees, and users the best chance of hitting the mark, and driving forward into an increasingly valuable future?

The music industry is admittedly not my wheelhouse, but an undeniably creative video, released yesterday by Coldplay, has highlighted a conflict that lies within the creation of promotional content: to what does the content owe its principal allegiance? In this case we have a marvelously impressive creative visual production (CGI heavy as it is), ostensibly produced to promote a song. If the core consideration is the song, however, it is arguable whether the video is doing it good service. Then again, if the song were abysmal, no amount of production sophistication could help. So, what role do music videos play today? Are they supposed to principally increase sales of the song, raise consumer awareness of the musician, or win awards and the media coverage that (sometimes) comes therewith? Is there some other purpose (such as simply generating buzz for the director, sufficient to springboard them into a commercial or feature career)?

Obviously, different music videos have different objectives, but I would posit that a core goal ought to be either to increase fandom (and purchase) for the song itself, or to increase viewer investment in the musician, sufficient to garner increased sales – be they merchandise, concert, or content. Maroon 5 achieved the former with their video for “Sugar”, while also generating a good deal of buzz for their inventive approach. Sia achieved the latter with her video for “Elastic Heart”. Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” achieved both, I would argue (and the sales numbers corroborate that claim). I have long championed the videos of FKA Twigs, which establish the artist firmly as the lost love child of Madonna and Bjork. Indeed, there exist a number of compelling music videos that successfully compel the viewer to either buy the song or follow the artist more enthusiastically.

What, however, do Coldplay’s videos (or those by OK GO, for that matter) accomplish, extant high YouTube views? Obviously, those who never liked the music might claim they mitigate an otherwise painful audio experience, but a massive investment in a music video is not going to sell the song or musician to someone who hates the music. Nobody suddenly became a new fan of U2’s after watching the video for “Numb”. If you didn’t love Christina Aguilera before, watching her embarrassing Lady Gaga copycat for ‘Not Myself Tonight’ was not going to endear her to you. Then again, Lady Gaga did herself no favors with her Madonna copycat for the forgettable “Judas”. So where’s the value?

After watching Coldplay’s recent video for “Up & Up” (the third single from their last album, “A Head Full Of Dreams”), I barely remembered the song, and I notice that all the online comments are about the video, with nary a word about the song or musicians.

Securing viewers of content on YouTube is a tough challenge these days, with the vast majority being relegated swiftly to burst traffic. It stands to reason, therefore, that content posted to online video aggregation sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, (arguably) Facebook, and soon Amazon Video Direct, needs to be compelling enough to merit swift and sustained viewership, but at what cost, and with what intended outcome? Content production without strategic context will rarely return satisfactory value. People will notice something attractive, but to what end? If that is the goal, kudos. Music videos are supposed to promote further action on the part of the viewer, though, aren’t they? Is clicking “Like” or “Share” enough, these days?

At 8:43pm last night, ABC News posted a ridiculously framed tweet about the terrorist incident in Oregon:

ABC Tweet

Denizens of the Twittersphere went ballistic, in response to this apparent double standard in journalism (White American armed takeover of Federal sites is “peaceful militia action”, while *anything* involving Muslims is a “terrorist cell”.) You can find some of the responses in the growing number of blog posts, such as this one from Raw Story.

In the face of this indignation, ABC News was sadly silent, and the trolls jumped in. The news organization’s inability to understand social brand management left the door open for erstwhile fans and trolls to take over their online brand narrative. ABC News seemed to think that ignoring the matter would make it go away…#OldSchoolMarketing

If something more interesting happens in the next 12 hours, they might get lucky, and the hubbub may abate somewhat. The damage is done, however, to any sense that their news brand is anything worth considering as “above” the fray. ABC News is now fair game, simply because they could not be responsive in the first hours of their mess-up. All they had to do (simply as one possible option among many available) was post one follow-up Tweet at 10pm, just over an hour after the first “unfortunately phrased” post: “Many viewers hold strong opinions about the situation in Oregon. We want to hear/share all reasonable views. Chat on [Periscope/Facebook] in one hour.”

ABC News could have hosted an online chat for exactly 30 minutes, with all the fair and not-so-fair comments that would have ensued, and then summarized with a nicely woven acknowledgement of the fact that “sometimes ABC does not frame a breaking news situation as effectively as – in retrospect – we would have liked to, and it is with the help and feedback of viewers and fans that the news team is able to get a better sense of…blahblahblah”…Thank everyone for their thoughtful comments and assure them you’ll “continue to work hard to responsibly explore and report on the stories that affect our lives and communities….blah blah blah…”

In short: be seen as responsive, and manage the narrative enough so it doesn’t look like you are completely tone deaf and out-of-touch. News obviously never quite works when you let it go the way of fanfic, as CNN has discovered. However, BBC News has been doing quite a good job, of late, using social tools to bring their news stories closer to their viewers and listeners. ABC News could learn a thing or two from them.

The Facebook brand risks suffering from the multiple personality disorder that plagues companies that make too many acquisitions and market launches, without clarifying the nature of the independent parts, and how the aggregate merits augmented consideration. With the launch of Alphabet, the company formerly known as Google​ has clarified that its strategic brand is much akin to the old Idealabs: a parent holding entity that creates and nurtures businesses that are each destined to form their own ecosystems of sustainable operation. The aggregate value is early on, when the nascent entities may benefit from the mentorship of Alphabet corporate resource providers, and the collaboration of other companies in the family.

Facebook, meanwhile, keeps adding arms to its body, without clarifying anything. When their Messaging app launched, they took pains to give it its own functional space, thereby keeping the core Facebook​ clean (or relatively so, considering we’re talking about engineers here, who love to tinker, patch, repatch, and otherwise refine Frankenstein’s monster as an iterative process, rather than design and create Michelangelo’s David as a fluid act of final artistry). When they updated their Photos section, it wasn’t so dramatic that people began to seriously consider leaving 500px. However, Facebook’s latest iterative improvement is big enough to begin to strain against the bonds of the core Facebook brand proposition. The embedded Video update caused consternation, but the integrated Notes update is causing confusion.

Facebook Notes has long been “just another OK feature” amidst a wealth of tab features available to users seeking to enrich their personal brand value, whilst also engaging with their communities, both online and off. Facebook was a “connectivity facilitator”: not so much a platform, as a conduit. As users began to discover their voices, they might gravitate their expression to another brand that represented a richer immersion in to a particular form: 500px for the photographers, Medium or Tumblr for the essayists, YouTube for the video diarists. They continued to rely on Facebook for social community, whilst delving in to the new realms as channels of more specialized expression and exploration.

Now, however, Facebook has made it clear that they want all those voices to remain in their castle, and I fear this may prove counterproductive in the long run. Had the Facebook Video platform been launched as a standalone adjunct to the core Facebook brand (as was Messaging), I might have seen some potential in the move, so long as the UI and UX were consistently and intuitively improved. But Facebook wants it all to stay in the room…a room that becomes more and more crowded every day. We all know what happened to the Tower of Babel.

The latest update is to Facebook Notes, and makes the tab a direct competitor to Medium, but without giving itself room to breathe and spread its wings. Admittedly, the improvement is attractive, on its own merits. Maybe what we are witnessing are the latest growing pains of Facebook, experiencing a form of metamorphosis: once complete, the new entity will be more beautiful, more functional, more elegantly obvious than ever before. For now, it becomes more unwieldy and cumbersome, and risks losing its shape and functional value.

Facebook_creatures

 

A single body, made up of increasingly disparate parts, has historically proven to make for a great story, and a range of mediocre film adaptations. It has rarely functioned as a cohesive unit. However, if the organically solid parts are allowed to find relevant combinatorial sums that best express the identity of each individual Facebook user…

If Facebook builds out their tab improvements as standalone entities, a la “Messaging”, but with a design and structure sensibility that gives users the ability to connect the pieces together to better express their individual brand identities. Now, that might be an exciting proposition. If Facebook controls the clutter (so it doesn’t become another MySpace V1), but allows each user’s Facebook presence to become their de facto website, tailored toward their unique preferred mode of expression, that would be a truly revolutionary manifestation of the Web.

Today was election day in Burbank, California. I walked in to my Polling Station, and was – as usual – crushed in the sweaty masses of nobody who had bothered to come vote. According to the volunteers manning the station, only 15% of residents were registered voters, and less than half had so far turned up (with less than 2 hours before the polls closed). Assuming the final tally might be an ambitious 10% voter turnout, that means my lone vote in a city of just over 100,000 represents 1,000 statistical ballots. When you consider that my wife and two neighboring families do me the honor of trusting my research at each election, and generally vote as I recommend, this means that my voting behavior accounts for a representative voting bloc of 6,000. I should be thrilled at the power I wield, but instead find myself dismayed – once again – at how lethargic and uninvolved Americans are in the process of influencing the communities in which they live.

Elections in the United States of America are like an Annual KKK Minority Recruitment Drive: sparsely attended. Yet most voters do not stay away out of fear or strong disagreement with the values of the candidates. I would understand the current pitiful voter turnout statistics a little more if they were a reflection of citizens driven by a fervent compulsion not to vote. I don’t believe, however, that laziness can be defined as a “fervent compulsion”. A nation with ample time to build Pinterest boards, post photos of food on Twitter, spend hours watching reality TV, and lurk randomly about the Facebook universe has no excuse for not taking the 10-30 minutes it takes to vote (unless, admittedly, you live somewhere like Florida).

I honestly have no data-driven knowledge as to why the USA posts such shameful voter turnout figures: at the Federal, State, and Municipal level. I leave it to others to hypothesize on that matter. If I had my druthers, I would follow Australia’s example, and make voting an obligation of citizenry. It’s a small price to pay, to ensure that our elected officials and proposed programs are elevated or obliterated by a truly representative bloc of the citizens they affect.

In the meantime, I continue to vote…for two reasons. First, I see it as my right and obligation. If I want to participate in this program called citizenship, I must be engaged in the process that governs and guides it. Second, I don’t ever want to be one of those people who complains about “the System”, only to be reminded that I abdicated my right to complain, each time I opted to stay home and watch the latest episode of [insert one of many possible examples of mind-numbing TV drivel], instead of taking the short walk or bicycle ride to my local polling booth.

Everything I’ve voted for in the past six Burbank elections has come to be. That’s how powerful I am with my thousands and thousands of virtual votes. So why do I feel so utterly powerless, as our political system continues to demonstrate a lack of maturity, leadership, gravitas, and vision for which I never voted? When our elected officials represent only 10% of us, they are rarely going to feel empowered to demonstrate the type of leadership we need. No matter what measures, programs, resolutions, or politicians I select, when I enter the polling booth, if I remain in the minority, these issues and figures will do just as the majority of their constituents…in this case, little to nothing.

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I was recently messaging with a colleague, discussing the finer points of republishing content posted on a Facebook Page, when we got on to the topic of crediting sources. The conversation got me thinking, and following are some of those thoughts, for what they’re worth:

  • Sharing content is cool, giving credit for the source is even cooler.
  • Illegally sharing hundreds of films or music tracks online is not cool, no matter how you cut it. Everyone uploads or downloads a song here or there, or surreptitiously catches an episode they missed of their favorite series, but wholesale mass theft of content is just that – stealing.
  • Trolling is for idiots.
  • Flame wars are for fools.
  • Cat pictures should be limited to Furcadia.
  • If you’re redistributing a Twitter post that someone else made, it’s called a “retweet”, and there’s a button for that. It is not called a “cut and paste and pretend I thought of it”.
  • Don’t tweet, post, or otherwise publish content just to be the first, coolest, or any other attention-grabbing reason. For most of us, High School ended a long time ago. Try limiting yourself to publishing content which you SINCERELY believe will Inspire, Challenge, Educate, or Empower (my version of Tony Hsieh’s very compelling ICEE philosophy for tweeting).
  • Empire Avenue, Klout, and Kred are Casual Games. They have no other functional value (with the exception of advertising). Don’t pretend otherwise. This may change one day, but for now it’s all just about as useful as milking a virtual cow. Enjoy the diversion, but don’t make any more out of it than that.
  • Your follow count – be it on Twitter, Facebook, Quora, or elsewhere – has no metric value other than to tell you how many people clicked “Follow” or “Like”. Relatively few of them actively read your content, so suck it up and get on with your REAL life.
  • Once in a while, something you post will publish at *just* the right moment, and the content will resonate at *just* the right frequency with the community in to which it is launched, sufficient to go viral (for whatever short period and distance it does so). Take a moment to enjoy the moment, and then get on with your REAL life.

Social media is engaging, immersive, sometimes even addictive. However, it is counterproductive when it becomes anything more than a utility. If you manage online communities for a living (or as an important aspect of your identity), then social engagement (a term I coined in 2005) will understandably hold a central place in your daily life. Everyone else, look upon it as you would the telephone or television: a game-changing innovation that serves to bring the world closer together, and facilitate communication, education, information, and commerce. Used in moderation, it represents an extraordinary leap forward in personal expression, global connectivity, and cultural rapprochement. Used to excess, it erodes the intellect, dumbs down the conversation, and reduces us to yabbering consumers of junk, and little more.

Great tools and platforms have been (and continue to be) developed. Let’s use them with a modicum of wisdom and restraint. The promise they hold is immense, but only if we use them responsibly.

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One of the many April Fools joke postings yesterday involved a claim that Nielsen was abandoning “People Meters”, in favor of tracking audience viewing data via Facebook and Twitter posts. I fell for it long enough to think about the implications of such a move. April Fools Day, however, being the one day of the year that people critically evaluate news articles before accepting them as true, gave me pause. Once I cottoned on to the ruse, I was left with an abiding sense that an issue had been revisited that was far from resolved: Nielsen is obsolete as a tracking mechanism, and the various solutions they and their network clientele keep percolating are almost as useless as the systems currently in place.

The technology exists today to unobtrusively track actual viewing patterns and numbers, so why is Nielsen *still* extrapolating data points from subjective choice-oriented pools, such as Nilesen “diaries” and set-top boxes? Opting for social network-oriented insights would be just as subjective – even without taking in to consideration the fact that there is a drop off in usage of such apps as IntoNow, as people make a move toward reclaiming their privacy.

If IP is being patented to monetize ad-skipping, why not reward opt-ins for more granular tracking? One possible scenario: if viewers let DVR and live viewing data be recovered through hardware-embedded tracking tools, on an anonymous basis, they could get a certain number of credits. Increasing the demographic visibility of their viewership might increase their credits, and credits could be used toward ad skipping, network related bonus content, and so many other rewards. The possibilities are endless, and yet Nielsen et al prefer to look only as far as the end of their noses. The transparency of many social platforms is testament that consumers don’t mind sharing their habits, while the backlash against many misguided practices of some social endeavors (“Beacon” anyone?) demonstrates user commitment to managing their transparency, and not having it co-opted or monetized by third parties, without their consent. It’s not even about consent, in fact. It’s about collaboration. The consumer has begun to see that their life has value – monetary value – and they are willing to share that value, so long as the returns are worth the exposure. For some, it’s as simple as badges and upvotes, for others it’s perks and awards. If Nielsen gets smart, it will recognize this trend, and add a seat at the partnership table for the end-user, and audience tracking in the 21st century could become a much more accurate, rewarding, and dare I say enjoyable exercise for all involved.

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I was recently interviewed on a nationally syndicated radio talk show, and we ended up chatting about Facebook, Twitter, and other social engagement oppportunities. Here below is the audio of that interview:

If you don’t have Flash, you can listen here.

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Twitter is in the midst of launching a complete redesign of its service, which will either – once and for all – clarify the purpose of this trend in our personal and business lives…or – once again – confuse most of us as to why everyone is so excitedly asking us to “follow” one another.

Follow @usdew

Despite my consistent use of the service, I grew frustrated with the Twittersphere nearly 3 years ago. Indeed, my very first tweet was a cynical jab at the concept: “To tweet to who? The owlish academic in me wants to understand the long term value in this app…so far not seeing it, but give me some time”…

My criticism waned a little as I developed a set of principles to follow, in the case of my own use. I would not tweet content, unless (with the exception of conversations) it was informative, inspiring, challenging, educational, enlightening, or empowering. I still remained ambivalent, though, due to the widespread practice of most Twits (I use the term in both its connotations) to ignore the content of Twitter feeds, and focus instead on the volume of their followers. In the absence of a clearly digestible value, Twitter has grown to become a points scoring mechanism, whereby users randomly follow as many account holders as possible, in the expectation that those strangers will immediately follow them back. If this convention is not slavishly honored, the initial outreach is unceremoniously rescinded, and the fishing expedition continues. As a result, it is not uncommon to see mundane twitter accounts followed by tens of thousands of other users, simply due to the fact that those users are returning the favor of an initial “follow”. Nobody bothers to read each other’s tweets, and nobody has any idea, in truth, what the final objective of this scavenger hunt may be, but the primitive desire to amass more than our neighbor continues.

The new Twitter incorporates some changes that might encourage the Twitterverse to grow up a little, and find a truly valuable purpose in the platform. There’s no denying that Twitter has been an extraordinary tool in geopolitical change making. The Arab Spring, Russian protests, and Occupy movements are testament to the fact that this cannot be laughed off as little more than a mindless time suck. However, the value of Twitter in our everyday lives is still in flux. Is it a news broadcasting channel? Is it an infosource? Is it a multidirectional conversational “egosystem”? Opinions and articles abound, but clear direction has remained conspicuously absent, until now.

The new Twitter, as it rolls out, proposes to move its user base more into the conversational ecosystem, in which only some have indulged, to date. Embedded Tweets will now become multifunctional media sparks, transportable and interactive as never before. The “#Discover” tab will encourage a degree of exploration and interaction heretofore ignored (or, if you’re feeling charitable, unseen). The “@Connect” tab, while still somewhat encouraging of self-absorbed grandstanding, will also open the door to less self-centered time-sensitive call-and-response interactions between accounts. Add to all this the new “Brand pages”, and you now have a brand positioning framework more akin to Google+ and Facebook…

Do you use Twitter? What do you like about it? What frustrates you still? Have you been switched over to the new UX, yet?

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