Facebook is big, profitable, growing, and at a crossroads. The little social network that started in a Harvard dorm room is no longer the cute app that people can use to hook. It’s going through its terrible two’s as in its second decade and there’s plenty of evidence that the world wants it to use its indoor voice and to play nicer in the sand box.
Several recent news items provide background.
First, governments all over the world are trying to rein in its anything-goes approach to its presence on their turfs. In the West we might think a lot of the right to free speech but that’s far from a universal truth especially in the East. An article in the New York Times highlights Facebook’s fungible approach to free speech in repressive societies like Vietnam where according to authorities, the social network
“…had agreed to help create a new communications channel with the government to prioritize Hanoi’s requests and remove what the regime considered inaccurate posts about senior leaders.
It’s hard to tell what’s worse the company’s stand on the first amendment in this country or its capacity to be easily rolled over on the subject by foreign dictators. It seems they’ll do anything to gain market share with which to sell ads. Facebook is happy to aid and abet repression while at the same time it stonewalls investigations into how its service was leveraged in the 2016 election.
Perhaps most dangerous to life as we know it, Facebook is not in control of its sales process or its platform. In the mad rush to sell, sell, sell their algorithms inadvertently sold questionable ads to people fronting Russian institutions during the 2016 election. After denying it for months, the company finally came clean admitting as much last week. In the process they gave up a number of ads to the authorities and cancelled the accounts of fake individuals. So much for fake news, there are now fake people to worry about.
Reporting in the New York Times as well as most major media outlets says that
Worse, it’s clear that law enforcement doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. Another Times story says that
“The users who purchased the ads were fakes. Attached to assumed identities, their pages were allegedly created by digital guerrilla marketers from Russia hawking information meant to disrupt the American electorate and sway a presidential election.”
The times also said that we still don’t know what the ads looked like, the content, who paid for them, and how many Americans interacted with them. There’s even more to the story and it’s easily pursued through the links provided in this story.
This is important because it profiles a company and an industry that grew fast, reaps huge profits and is poised to influence how we live and it is being coy about its legal rights and responsibilities.
This is a difficult road to tread. On one hand we have federal law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act xxx 5, which prohibits government from unduly spying on electronic communications. While that might seem reasonable, should the protections of this law apply to foreign governments intent on disrupting a US election at the same time that the Federal Elections law prohibits any spending on American elections by foreign entities?
In many cases, social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and the other social sites like What’sApp, WeChat, Snapchat, YY, VKontakte (Russia), QZone (China) are awakening to their responsibilities in free societies, or have reached critical mass to impose significant strictures on the free flow of information around the world. It’s a situation that cries out for the “R” word, regulation, before freedom of speech becomes a quaint memory.
Some of my friends say this is no different from the US having tried to influence elections overseas for decades. They are right about US attempts but the US always did so in an above board way. We identified ourselves for instance as the Voice of America. We didn’t invent fake news we simply reported the truth, which was often bad enough. In the 1960’s former Illinois Governor and UN ambassador, Adalia Stevenson, told the Soviet Union, “I offer my opponents a bargain: if they will stop telling lies about us, I will stop telling the truth about them.” That’s the fundamental issue.
In disguising their efforts to upset the 2016 US election, the Russians hid their efforts in social media, inventing fake identities and made effective use of psychological research to plant ideas that divided the American people. They didn’t need to hack into voting machines (though they did some of that too).
In the aftermath a bigger set of questions arises for free societies and for heretofore unfettered social media companies like Twitter and Facebook. Is there a point beyond which appearing to protect cherished values like free speech does more harm than good? More specifically, is there missing nuance to such positions?
Other societies such as the EU are chafing under the open rules of a Vox Americana and are they are organizing to circumscribe not only Facebook but the other big American companies that make up what they’re calling GAFA or Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon.
Various governments have serious objections to how these companies operate and it would not be surprising in this era when they are, for the most part, maturing into their colossal world-girding selves, to see some initiatives to regulate or even break up these behemoths. It would be smart if the GAFA members plus Über and a few others, decided to short circuit the uproar and develop a set of rules to live by that go beyond not being evil, whatever that means. But that’s not how free markets typically work.
It’s (mostly) Rock ‘n’ Roll
Then there is this from Weekly Standard writer Matt Labash who writes a long rant on Twitter and why it is eating our brains. Didn’t they say things like that about Rock ‘n’ Roll? Obviously, they were right. Matt seems like a man off his meds but like many such savants he can make some interesting points sometimes.
Labash’s target is Twitter, and he points out, “Even after seven years of nonstop media hype, only 16 percent of Internet users tweet, the same as the percentage of 14-49-year-olds who have genital herpes. The difference being that the latter are not proud of their affliction, while the former never shut up about theirs.”
I suspect the herpes numbers are kept down by increased condom use, but what about Twitter?
Ok, seriously, I get it. Twitter. One hundred forty chars. Bad.
Maybe I don’t though.
You may have noticed that about the only things I Tweet are blogs like this or pieces from the New York Times. I don’t read my tweets unless they are delivered by email and I hardly follow anyone. When I go to shows they supply me and my buds with tables, WiFi and power in the hopes that we’ll live tweet the event. I write articles and check email. Ever read the tweet stream from a show when the twits reach critical mass?
“Look at Marc’s sox!”
“Stripes gonna be big!”
“Talkin’ ‘bout Marketing Cloud”
“Marketing next big idea”
“You going to the dinner?”
It’s not for any political reasons that I am Twitter agnostic, I am just an introvert. I can go for days hardly interacting with humanity, truth be told. My wife hates it but I think it’s normal and no, I am not shy. When I have something to say, I… you know…say it. There’s a lot happening in my head and I don’t usually have time to check out just to check in. It’s more interesting in there. I suspect most writers are like that, which might explain Labash’s incredulity about Twitter.
But introverts make up only about 25 percent of the population according to Susan Cain, author of “Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. Perhaps the paperback might modify the title to include those who can’t stop Tweeting.
Regardless of my habits, I think I get Twitter. It’s a communication mode that unfortunately enables people with a need to know, to inquire as often as they like from the whole world about their status in it. Twitter and some other social media have vast power to amplify our thoughts as well as our insecurities. But look, only 16 percent, according to Labash, are that insecure. And if insecurity is a form of neurosis then we haven’t made much progress since Freud and Jung but neither have we backtracked a lot.
I am developing an appreciation of the Occupy Wall Street movement that surprises me. You know the news about it and how, over the weekend the movement went global. You probably also know that the authorities are not dealing effectively with it. They’ve been content to watch and wait hoping that the movement will exhaust itself. That’s a good strategy for the last millennium and the movement may wear out if only because as winter approaches it gets harder to remain committed to living on the street. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
That end game is not assured and my interest is in the day-to-day workings of the movement. There is no leader and as yet no demands which is part of the brilliance of everything that has transpired. Let me tell you why I think so.
Demands would require a leader, someone to give a face and a name to the demands. Without formal demands we are left to presume from the actions of the loose group that it is protesting the situation that drove the economic crisis in 2008 which has not been resolved to anyone’s satisfaction and which is responsible for the dismal economic outlook — especially for people in their 20’s looking for their first real jobs.
So there’s neither message nor demands but with a nod and a wink we all know what’s unspoken. But look at the effect this has. No spokesman means no individual for the media to fixate on and that means the message can’t be diverted very easily.
Compare this to the WikiLeaks situation. Julian Assange quickly became the focus of the controversy. His organization made the leaks but Assange’s personality was quickly the story and it was instantly trashed up to and including arrest on specious charges related to sexual misconduct. In short order the controversy became the man and the issues he’d over which he’d hoped to spark a discussion evaporated when a more salacious story became available — one that required much less effort on the part of the fifth estate to bring to us. This well-worn script suddenly isn’t wearing well.
Occupy Wall Street (and similar protests) has none of this and, to borrow a metaphor, it seems to be cloud based and very social. It resembles the protests of the Arab Spring. We never heard about leaders and messages or anything else from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and we didn’t need them. We knew what was going on. All of these movements have social media as a rallying point that loosely coordinates activities and spreads the protest from city to city.
This is a big new lesson about mass movements in a democracy and the growing power of social media and those gadgets we carry in our pockets. For instance, not long ago (March 2011), Tom Glocer, Thomson Reuters CEO, told media executives in the Middle East, “Systematic denial of freedom of accessing information will lead to a revolution.” http://bit.ly/peVHwn The headline from the site Emirates247 said he called the internet a basic human right.
At least in the Occupy Wall Street situation, there’s no shortage of information and it’s readily available as is the basic story (just as in North Africa, no one had to tell people they were oppressed by corrupt regimes). What’s fascinating is the way people have chosen to use the internet and what they know. They’re curiously united but they keep their distance from the center of it all, which could easily bring the movement down.
In the days before all of our new social and mobile technology it may have been necessary to operate close to the center with leaders and manifestos. How else could people rally others to their causes? Social media does that work now and it is work done friend to friend. New technology has caused some people to think differently about how best to unite and get a message out. They are ahead of the curve, operating out of the reach of conventional media and political jujitsu. This is both instructive and beautiful. Like watching a no hitter in progress.
Marketing has become the new hot spot in CRM. During the recession and even before, there was a great flurry of interest in customer service and related things. Consequently, we have seen a lot of attention being paid to customer experience and much of the social media oriented growth in that period was centered on the existing customer.
As the economy has begun to improve the orientation has been more toward sales but with a decided twist. By their actions, vendors have made it clear that they understand that the rule of the day is cross selling and up selling the customer base. That’s a big difference from rushing out to sell net new brands, products and categories. With that shift it becomes more important than ever to market well and at a macro level that spells the rising importance of marketing automation. This might seem redundant but it is not.
When we sell net new categories marketing is rather bare bones. Uber-marketer Thor Johnson describes marketing in explosive new markets as PR and brochure marketing and he has a point. When the world is a green field you need little more than a list of names to cold call. But the tenor of these times requires more incisive understanding of customer motivations and needs, hence the emphasis on data gathering through social and other channels, analytics and even revenue performance management.
I have written about all of these ideas before but the difference between then and now is that I was early then and today the change is upon us. You don’t need to look far for proof. The Salesforce-Radian6 nuptials are proof enough but if that was the only proof point you could be skeptical. However, numerous indicators suggest that this is real. Revenue performance management (RPM) with its emphasis on embedding analytics into sales and marketing business processes is a case in point.
RPM is all about building greater certainty into the sales process and if you dig a little it makes perfect sense. When selling into an established customer base the demand is relatively lower than it is when selling into a new market but the costs don’t change much. Consequently, a smart vendor will not simply chase every suspect but gather evidence of need, demand and ability to pay before committing expensive sales resources. Depending on the market, the vendor might forget all about direct sales and opt for channel representation or retail selling, each of which off-loads significant expense.
The reasons are manifold. Margins are smaller the second or third time around and subsequent products have to pack more value. Look at your latest wireless phone, how does it compare in features and functions with the device you had at the beginning of the century? Now, how does your monthly wireless bill compare with the bill you paid ten or more years ago? I rest my case.
All of that speaks to an era when marketing is ascendant. The last time something like this happened, in the US at least, manufacturing was king and we were able to stamp out any number of products for pennies. To keep the engine of commerce running we marketed the heck out of products and ushered in the golden age of advertising abetted by the rise of new technologies ideally suited to mass marketing — broadcast medial.
The situation is not identical today. Manufacturing went to ultra low wage countries and we became an economy dominated by the service industry. Smart vendors have tried to raise the idea of service to an art form calling it an experience and, of course, the experience starts with marketing, and our own new messaging technology, social media.
This entire preamble has a CRM point. If you look at the major CRM suites marketing is, in many cases, under-represented. It is a sub-division of accounting in many places and that might be a good thing. Before marketers could take an equal place in a company’s revenue discussion, they had to learn to talk the corporate talk. In addition to the usual lingo of clicks, responses, placements and square footage, marketing has had to learn the language of ROI and it has done that or at least the process is underway.
Today, in addition to the understanding of the art of marketing, advanced marketers are speaking the language of cost per lead, campaign ROI and revenue. This change comes along at precisely the right time as vendors in both B2B and B2C worlds grapple with a dynamic marketplace where success requires more than brute strength cold calling or uninspired retailing.
In this environment I expect to see more of the established CRM companies taking a second or third look at marketing and to strengthen their offerings beyond the basics. This makes for an interesting time if you happen to be an independent software company specializing in marketing, social media marketing or analytics. The IPO market is beginning to build but as the Salesforce-Radian6 deal shows, a good company doesn’t necessarily need to IPO in order to have a big payday.