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.

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.

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 answer is no.

Last year, I wrote a post asking “Can brands be human?” A year later, I’m certain the answer is “no.”

Seeking Shambhala

Last year, I wrote a post asking “Can brands be human?

A year later, I’m certain the answer is “no.”

Now, this may seem obvious. But for almost a decade we’ve been hearing about how social media “humanizes” brands.

After another year of social media strategists trying their best to be “modern marketers” with “content marketing strategy” and “real-time marketing tactics,” many brands have missed the mark on their 9/11 tributes.

Brands can’t be human but the operators of their social media accounts are (for the most part). So what motivates a brand manager to plan and publish a post that belittles a tragedy like 9/11 into an opportunity to sell? I wonder if it’s the same profit mentality of individuals trying to profit from the Boston Marathon bombing or missing Malaysia Airlines flight. Or maybe it’s a more simple issue that has stuck with advertising forever — people act differently when concealed behind the shield of a corporate logo.

In either case, it’s clear that brands should stop trying to be human and just stick to being businesses. Don’t forget to be respectful of your consumers along the way.

Understanding China’s digital and social media landscape

China is the world’s largest digital market, with the most online users and social media participants. While brands can use many lessons learned regarding consumers and content, the unavailability of familiar channels requires marketers to better understand the nuances of China’s digital marketing and social media landscape.

Pudong
China is the world’s most populated country, with over 1.3 billion inhabitants. It also maintains the world’s second largest economy, on track to become the largest by 2016. This growth has contributed to the rise of consumer classes within the country and in turn captured the attention of global brands.

As brands ramp up marketing efforts in China, they are increasingly prioritizing digital channels. The country has 560+ million internet users – more than any other country – and the average user spends more hours per week online than with TV, print, and radio combined. Despite this high amount of time spent online, adoption of major digital and social platforms in China has been limited. Many Google properties including YouTube, Blogspot, and Google+ are blocked to regular web browsing, along with Facebook, Twitter, and others. Instead, Chinese users spend their time on country-specific sites like Kaixin, Douban, and Jiepang.

From what I’ve observed, there are many similarities to global marketing tactics than one might assume, given China’s restricted access. However when you get past differences in channel and focus on consumers and content, the lessons are similar. People have become the medium. Listen first. Your real job is storytelling.

But of course there are differences as well. China’s social media sites are similar to US sites and analogies can help keep things straight, but they have different capabilities and user bases. “Weibo” (微博) is Chinese for microblog, but should you use Sina, Tencent/QQ, or another? Pinterest-like sites Mogujie and Meilishuo don’t have monetization challenges, however many brands (particularly outside of the fashion industry) are struggling to find a place for these sites within their digital strategy.

And don’t forget scale: during the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony, Twitter recorded almost 10 million related mentions. Sina Weibo? 119 million. The biggest day in the history of US e-commerce was Cyber Monday 2012, with an estimated record US$1.5 billion in sales across online retailers in a single day. Last year, Taobao doubled that on Singles Day (11/11), seeing US$3.06 billion in sales.

On the surface, the landscape appears similar to the rest of the world, but the details are where the differences start to matter.