Beat the algorithm

It’s election season and impossible to escape round-the-clock coverage of everything the candidates do. If you’ve already decided on your choice for November, you might prefer to consume your content from a partisan source. Most online platforms claim neutrality and an unbiased presentation of content…except for the fact that your own actions (e.g. likes, shares, click-throughs, time spent) signal what you prefer, which results in a more relevant – and biased – feed. To see just how stark of a difference this can become, visit Blue Feed, Red Feed.

A few years ago while doing research for a client, I found some strangely dissonant reviews on TripAdvisor, like this:

TripAdvisor review

The reviewer had great things to say about the hotel and rated all six elements as “excellent,” yet the overall rating is one circle, which means “terrible.” If you look at the other one circle ratings, you can see language that’s more expected: “disappointing,” “ridiculously bad service,” “horrible experience.” If you want to understand the worst about this property, you’re going to see this review and maybe write it off, but maybe think twice about the others.

When individuals share content on social media, Facebook in particular, it’s filtered for relevance. When people share the latest political update in support of their candidate or in rejection of the other, the posts are always going to be “preaching to the choir.” Campaigns woke up to the power of digital and social media during the 2004 election and have refined strategies since then to fundraise and get out the vote.

So after 12 years, why are we still seeing what’s expected, rather than operatives who can game the system effectively? Where are the tactics like that one circle review that shows up where you’d least expect it – and where it’s not supposed to be? Maybe Facebook would simply filter out dissonant content as clickbait and does already. I try to follow a wide sample of sources, but can see that filters still limit discourse. Maybe there is no way to beat the algorithm. We helped create it and now it’s in control.

Predictions: from trash to treasure

Trash

Usually, year end “what’s next in marketing” predictions are a bunch of BS. Last November, I was asked to contribute thoughts to a roundup of The best ads of 2015. Here’s what I wrote:

“My favorite advertisement of 2015 was the New York Times declaring that it’s not dead yet. Its promotion with Google Cardboard, MINI, and GE to launch the NYT virtual reality application was a pioneering step forward for a brand built in a different era. Enough with emoji, femvertising, and consumer generated everything. NYT VR is an idea that moves people forward in a medium built for now.

http://www.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2015/nytvr/
or
http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/oct/20/new-york-times-google-nyt-vr-cardboard-virtual-reality

Unfortunately, my thoughts didn’t make it past the cutting room floor, perhaps because I didn’t choose a 30-second spot. However, The New York Times just won a Cannes Lions Grand Prix award in the Mobile category for its VR efforts. The entire marketing world should’ve seen this coming.

Marketers and their agencies need to start thinking differently about a lot of issues — including diversity, renumeration, and what’s “best” — before the answers become too obvious to miss. There’s always next year, right?

Cannes Lions 2015: The Next Ten Years of Social Media

With Cannes Lions just around the corner, I revisited my presentation from last summer. So I guess it’s now “the next nine years of social media.”

The ten trends for the next decade:

  1. Gone
  2. Shoppable
  3. Snackable
  4. Automated
  5. Connective
  6. Filtered
  7. Integrated
  8. Chinese
  9. Subcutaneous
  10. Empowering

For a summary of coverage and media takeaways from the speech, click here.

Ten years of Being Peter Kim

Last week marked ten years of existence for this blog. I set a reminder in iCal but I missed the actual date because I was busy with things. Like my new job after moving to New York after a year and a half in Seoul. And finishing up at the office in time to make it home for dinner. So I forgot to write a post on the actual “blogiversary.”

10th BirthdayIf you weren’t around for the early days of this blog, you didn’t miss much. Maybe the post that explains how I got into blogging would be an interesting read. Most of the other stuff was written in a different age of social media. However, if you’re interested in reading some posts that I enjoyed writing, here are some off the top of my head:

A couple years ago I switched platforms from Typepad to WordPress for long-term stability. WP Engine isn’t cheap, so if you’ve made it this far, maybe click on a banner ad to help me celebrate a decade of blogging!

So long, Seoul

My life as an expat in Seoul ends…for now.

Seoul Sunset

After 18 months, my life as an expat has come to an end. In January, I’ll be returning to the U.S. as CEO of The Barbarian Group.

Some final observations on life in Korea:

Everyone has a mobile; everyone is on KakaoTalk.

Kakao_friends

KakaoTalk is a way of life, just for communicating with friends, colleagues, clients, and beyond. The app auto-adds users based on numbers in your phone, so I ended up with friends ranging from the CEO to the lady who reads my gas meter.

Korea is rewriting history, literally.

Koreans are proud of the rapid ascent of their economy, especially after the 1998 IMF crisis. The phrase “never been done before” is one that’s often used to describe the country’s recent history, the only nation that has gone from IMF loan recipient to donor. However, these days history is being revised as history textbooks are being rewritten under government supervision. Everything moves quickly and changes often here, not just pop culture and fashion trends.

You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.

A lot of English words have made their way into the Korean language, mostly because there aren’t words to describe unfamiliar objects or concepts. A few in particular that took some getting used to include “service” (in a restaurant, getting something for free; not being waited on), “digital” (something new; not necessarily tech-based), and “beyond” (more; not an evolution from, but more akin to incremental progress).

Korea Immigration

So long, coffee shops on every corner. So long, paying on your way out at restaurants. So long, ubiquitous high-speed internet. So long, televised EPL and MLB games featuring Korean-born players. So long, yellow dust. So long, Für Elise alerts. So long, heated toilet seats. So long, Seoul.

(For earlier posts in this series, read the Minority Report.)

If the unicorns die, we should all be worried

1. Here we go again.

During the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, it seemed like everyone who worked at a “traditional” company was waiting for the right opportunity to leave and join a startup. Many did. For example, George Shaheen left Andersen Consulting to join Webvan. Lou Dobbs left CNN for space.com. They wanted to be like Jeff Bezos, who had left a job in investment banking five years earlier to start amazon.com.

cat_on_unicorn

It’s happening again in the social era. Perhaps Sheryl Sandberg should be our archetype, having departed Google for even bigger and better things at new-economy company Facebook. Individuals are getting rich quickly again and a lot of people want in on the action. Plenty of people are leaving agencies in search of unicorns and startup riches.

2. Capital Contagion

In Michael Lewis’s 2012 book Boomerang,  we learn about how national economies are connected on a global level, hearing stories from Greece, Iceland, and Ireland leading up to the 2008 recession.

euro

The lesson should be obvious, but in case it isn’t: despite nationalist pride, economies are all connected. Even after 2008, we learned in summer 2015 that a Greek debt default would still have hugely negative implications on the Euro. The decline of the Chinese stock market and yuan devaluation also sent ripples worldwide.  America is not immune.

3. Who’s the boss?

In 2010, my Austin, Texas-based startup held a meetup/recruiting event at a Rainey Street bar. About an hour into the evening, I met a guy named Caleb who was quick to mention that he knew all of our company’s executives and investors. Later, he started ordering people to get him drinks because he was “their boss.”

DG_Meetup

It turns out that Caleb was a junior accountant with the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). TRS is one of the largest pension funds in the U.S. and like many others puts its capital to work in venture capital funds. Although TRS wasn’t even an investor in the Austin Ventures fund that bankrolled my startup, we invited Caleb to subsequent parties for comedic value. He never showed up again.

4. What, me worry?

Startup fever is at an all-time high, driven by greed, envy, and ego. Pride comes before the fall and lately companies are trying to back down before it’s too late.

"Sprinklr's conference rooms are named Honesty, Passion, Perseverance, and Humility. 'It would be kind of hard to be arrogant in a room named Humility, wouldn't it?' Sprinklr's founder Ragy Thomas told Walter. "

However, even if you’re an “Underground Man” and find solace in not having wasted your time and energy at a failed startup, don’t get smug too soon. The ripple effect of a dying unicorn to venture capitalists to fund investors to individuals seeking returns for short-term income rather than long-term growth will impact you and the economy that you live and work in, regardless of nationality, industry, or speciality.

The Chinese Financial Crisis: Danger or Opportunity?

Prestigious Wealth Management

Crisis: 危

China’s stock market has been in global headlines for the past two months as share prices have lost all of this year’s gains and uncertainty remains over what lies ahead. A financial crisis in the world’s second largest economy certainly warrants the attention of marketers, who must determine what impact the situation might have on their brands and regional operating strategy.

In Chinese, the word for crisis is “危机,” or “weiji.” The word is a combination of two characters: danger and opportunity. The current crisis in the Chinese stock market illustrates the need to take both perspectives.

Danger: 危

On one hand, it would be easy to dismiss the current situation as a fringe concern, only impacting the cash flow of small number of investors. After all, according to some estimates only one in 30 Chinese citizens owns stock. Despite the portrayals in Western media of novice day traders: retirees, at-home parents, and office workers on smoke breaks, only a small percentage of people have actually lost money. Even new investors who have only been in the market since the start of the year are back to break-even. However, there is real risk lurking beneath the surface: Chinese consumer confidence might drop in response to the market movement, resulting in fewer goods purchased and triggering a long-feared economic slow-down. Moreover, with the recent devaluation of the Yuan, foreign brands have suddenly become relatively more expensive in China. This double-threat danger to brands requires revisiting growth forecasts through the end of year and for 2016 planning.

Opportunity: 机

However, smart brands must seek the other side of crisis, which is opportunity. In recent years China has been the largest contributor to global GDP growth and remains a market with huge potential for foreign brands. “Singles Day,” coming up on November 11th, is still the world’s single largest e-commerce sales day and twice as big as the U.S.’s “Cyber Monday.” Chinese social network services (SNS) are still growing and more active than ever, as evidenced by discussion of current market events; brands must still determine how to incorporate Youku, Weibo, and WeChat into integrated communication strategies. Finally, e-commerce giants have started to expand beyond borders, offering foreign brands easier access to China’s US$670 billion e-commerce market. For example, JD.com has started to open locally-focused portals in countries like South Korea to facilitate the distribution of small and medium brands into the Chinese market.

One lesson that we have all learned over the past decade is that any country-focused economic crisis can have a global impact, whether Iceland, Greece, or now China. With the lessons of history in mind, marketers should to keep calm and carry on…with caution. By keeping a clear head and being ready for quick action, brands will be able to benefit from both sides of this crisis, minimizing danger and maximizing opportunity.

[An edited version of this post appeared last week in Marketing Magazine.]

A Year in Seoul

Namsan

Today marks one year of living in Seoul. To update some thoughts from my first month here:

A lot more Instagram, a lot less Twitter.  Snackability applies to posting and to reading.

It’s been interesting to see censorship in the media and how freedom of the press is limited in South Korea. For example, when the government refused to release the names of hospitals involved in the MERS epidemic, rumors filled KakaoTalk and message boards. Eventually, citizens created their own “MERS map” mashup to spread information that institutions wouldn’t. Native advertising / sponsored content is typically not called out either.

It’s still tough to get used to the price of coffee.
Coffee

Traffic is awful. One of the reasons traffic is so bad in the city is that double parking happens everywhere. The police never seem to ticket violators (perhaps it’s not actually illegal). Taxis are the worst offenders. They wait anywhere for a fare; a popular spot is in the middle of crosswalks.

Taxi in the crosswalk

The internet is fast and carriers here are working on 5G wireless. Korea Telecom has already taken a step in this direction; Samsung Galaxy S6 users on their network already have access to LTE+ speeds.

LTE speed in Korea

The South Korean government finally announced the phase out of ActiveX by 2017. But with the cost involved, I won’t be surprised if it takes longer for legacy websites to update to a more modern infrastructure. Maybe some owners will realize that there’s a competitive advantage to interoperability and allowing users of many different platforms to actually buy the stuff that’s for sale.

Some of the unexpected things that I’ve encountered:

Heated things. In the winter, heated floors. Heated toilet seats. Warm tap water served in restaurants.

Für Elise. This song is often used as an alert sound. When someone needs help with a subway gate. When an electric cart is driving through the airport. When you need help getting out of a parking garage.

Where are you from? This can be a tricky question to answer. This TED talk from Pico Iyer starts to explain why.

Over the past year, when seeing people I’ve known from the past, the question I’m most surprised to hear is “how does it feel to be back?” As in “how does it feel to return to Korea, country of your birth?” Others, upon meeting me for the first time, comment “your English is really good!” As the world seems to be getting more open-minded every day, it’s interesting to see how deeply held and unassuming most stereotypes reside within most people.

The Next Decade of Social Media

On Stage at Cannes Lions

Last week, I shared some thoughts on the next decade of social media at the 2015 Cannes Lions festival. The key points are highlighted in this Guardian article:

  1. Gone
  2. Shoppable
  3. Snackable
  4. Automated
  5. Connective
  6. Filtered
  7. Integrated
  8. Chinese
  9. Subcutaneous
  10. Empowering

More coverage of the talk is available in these write-ups:

More images from my week in Cannes:

The cost of Being Peter Kim

What I pay to publish this blog.

Twelve months ago, I decided to move this blog from Typepad to WordPress. I had been paying $127.07 annually and switched to a more expensive (and more functional) WordPress install, in addition to serendipitously dodging the Typepad DDoS attacks.

Over the past year, I’ve paid a total of $451.71 in fees. To offset some costs, I added Google AdSense display ads to the sidebar; total revenue has been $127.07 over the past year. Thus the net cost has been $322.60.

So, was it worth it?

As this blog enters into its tenth year of being, the options available for self-publishing have certainly evolved since its inception. When I was starting out, I had a tough time deciding whether to publish on Blogger, Typepad, or WordPress. In 2011, a couple of high-profile bloggers ditched their blogs in favor of Google+. Others eventually migrated to Medium and more recently to LinkedIn. Many people have just stopped blogging.

Over the years, this blog has always been an outlet to complement my day job, whether writing syndicated research at Forrester, building the Dachis Group consulting business, or leading digital business at Cheil Worldwide. This year I also added the “minority report” category to reflect on life as an expat in Seoul.

I’ve never worried too much about the expenses and they’ve also never gotten too crazy. For about $1 a day, the cost of having a platform for self-expression is certainly worth the money!