Actually, Twitter won the 2016 Election.

twitter_politicsI know what you’re thinking. How can Twitter win anything, with its paltry 317 million users and its lame sub-$15 stock price? Compared to the giants like Facebook (1.87 billion users,) WhatsApp (1 billion,) and WeChat (846 million,) you could fit Twitter in the garage of their respective CEOs’ second mansions. Heck, even Instagram – the Etch-a-Sketch of social media platforms – has 600 million users. (Source: statista.)

So on what metric, exactly, could Twitter be outperforming all these titans of social chatter?

In a word, politics.

Trump tweets. Pence tweets. Anthony Weiner tweeted his ass off (and other parts.) And the world reads Merkel tweets. And Putin tweets. And May Tweets. And the usually-epic JK Rowling tweets.

Politics has reinvigorated the in-the-moment DNA of Twitter in a way that perhaps no other sector could. And perhaps no other social media platform could so readily respond to the challenge.

Part of it is the “gotcha” nature of American politics in particular. We’re all taken back to hear one party or one candidate say something that’s very damning in nature, and then double-shocked to hear those words come back to bite them on the ass when someone digs out a tweet from six or twelve months ago. Consider this telling headline from Mashable about Mike Pence as a classic case in point: “This old Mike Pence tweet on Hillary Clinton emails is coming back to haunt him.”

In it, we learn that Vice President Mike Pence used his personal email address (yes, still using AOL,) for official business while governor of Indiana.

The facts are what they are, and I have no intention of arguing whether it’s better, worse, or same as when the former Secretary of State did the same thing. But what’s interesting is where the hearings are taking place: not on television. Not in newspapers. Not on Facebook.  But on Twitter.

Pence’s boss is no stranger to the daily-death-by-Twitter phenomenon. Trump’s tweets are so varied and so erratic that CNN has a live website tracking every one of his tweets.

And because he’s President, every tweet becomes part of the official record of his tenure. In case you’re scoring at home, they could become evidence of any number of things in the event of any criminal investigations that may arise. (And, you know, they may arise.)  And based on certain tweets regarding certain former US presidents conducting unauthorized wiretapping, investigations are already en route, and with a motorcade, to be sure.

No other social media platform, no matter how cool, or how many fun filters it offers, could offer such a perfect distribution channel for the gotcha fodder: nasty things said, declarative things said, and all that darn fact-checking.  Why is that?

A few possibilities include the content-capping.  140 characters are just enough to say something really pithy.  Or really dopey.  Also, the in-the-moment-ness of Twitter makes it a “now” social media platform, whereas Facebook or Pinterest, as examples, are excellent “linger with it later” platforms.  And of course, the fact that Tweets.  Stay.  Alive.  Forever.  (Sorry, Snapchat.)

You don’t need to go far to see how the Twitter-back-and-forth-and-back-again is playing out. But pay careful attention to how only one platform is invited into this A-list party, while all the others huddle outside trying to sweet-talk the bouncer with their pleas of “have you seen how many registered users I have?”

Facebook, please.

In marketing terms, Twitter has a highly defensible point of differentiation, and it should seriously consider exploiting it for its own gains. How that manifests is yet to be seen, but if I were the agency of record, I would seriously be trying to strike while the iron is hot and while 45 is tweeting away.

Advertisements

Wherefore art thou, Facebook?

belgium_hands

By now, you’ve heard of the terrorist bombing attack that took place at multiple locations in Brussels. Awful news. And awfully reminiscent of the news that came out of Paris back in November of 2015.

And when major news events like this happen, people around the world are saddened, or maddened, confused or conflicted. Or all of those things. We can’t quite comprehend these monstrosities, and we yield, typically, to our softer human nature to offer support.

In the modern world, social media provides a forum for us to do this and tell our friends and our networks how we feel. We can demonstrate, protest, or mourn in many digital forms.

Back in November, after the Paris attack, Facebook quickly offered an opportunity to all its billion plus users to show solidarity and support for the French by offering a profile picture overlay of the French flag. This was offered at the top of your news feed.  Your usual mug shot was now overlaid with the red, white and blue stripes of the French flag colors. And millions upon millions of people rushed to switch their pics. Of course, it doesn’t change the horror, but it certainly helps people to know that others around the world are standing with them – whether in prayer, or in purpose.

This was not the first time Facebook enabled such a broad-based community alignment. Several months earlier – in June 2015 – Facebook offered a “pride overlay” where you could have your profile picture draped in rainbow colors, following the Supreme Court’s decision to allow same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Here, it was a more exuberant mood, and Facebook enabled its community of users (especially here in the United States,) to show support for the landmark decision. (See below.)

fb_pride_pic_maker

But, interestingly, Facebook has been conspicuously quiet following the Belgium attacks. There is no Facebook-offered profile pic overlay of the black, yellow and red bands of the Belgium flag. Why is this? Does Facebook hate Belgium? Does Facebook favor France over Belgium? Do Belgians matter less than Parisians or gay couples?

This seems odd, and ill-timed for Facebook to be so…selective. Surely, it’s not a DIFFICULT piece of code to offer the profile overlay. And surely, there’s no denying that the deaths of 31 innocent civilians and hundreds more injured don’t merit global support, especially since a terror group has already claimed responsibility.

It wouldn’t be an oddity if Facebook hadn’t done it – nearly immediately, I might add – for the two events I mentioned in June and November of 2015. Indeed, they have set a precedent for this kind of offering. And when they did those others, it was within the Facebook platform – you did NOT have to go to a third party to have it done. [An unofficial user-created page sprung up yesterday on Facebook called “Belgium Flag Overlay Tool.” ]

Why now, then – after something this important and impressive on a global scale – is Facebook so…absent? (And some may also argue, where was the overlay tool for Turkey, or for Mali?)

In my opinion, it’s sending a blurry signal. And blurry signals from a brand so ubiquitous and so central to so many people around the world are dangerous, if not deleterious, to the future of that brand.

Does Facebook hate Belgium?  Of course not.  But it kinda looks that way.  And in terms of brand image and management, that’s about all that matters.

[As a note of fact, if you do prefer to have your profile pic draped in the Belgian flag colors, you can visit the Rainbow Filter website, and choose from the preset “Belgium Filter.”]

The Curious Case of Apple and the FBI

apple_magnify

There’s a lot of talk going on right now in Silicon Valley about this case the FBI and Apple are grappling over: it’s an attempt to unlock the iPhone 5C of Syed Farook, the Pakistani-born terrorist who, along with his wife, killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California.

At the heart of the case is a request by the FBI, now filed into a court order, to impose upon Apple Computer to help the FBI unlock this device. As you know, iPhones can be locked with a numeric code, and after numerous attempts to unlock the device with the WRONG code, the software has a built-in “erase all” function. This is built into iOS, and it’s a protective device. The FBI is specifically requesting Apple to write NEW software that will override the built-in protections of iOS, so that the FBI can try 10 or 20 million different passcodes without erasing the contents of the device.

The first issue, of course, is how the FBI can’t figure out how to get into this device. You could probably throw a rock in Silicon Valley and find a dozen entry-level hackers that could circumvent the passcode to get into the device. How does the FBI not have 10 of these people on staff already?

Sure, the nature of this attack was awful, and would get even your garden-variety patriot up in arms about getting to the bottom of the crime, and especially finding out if anyone else was involved. It makes perfect sense, from an investigational perspective, to see what information that phone has on it.

However, I’m not sure that’s Apple’s responsibility. And as the Tim Cook-penned response indicated, it does set a dangerous precedent about privacy and the reach of government. He wrote:

“Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.”

But more than all that lofty ideology, this seems like a pretty cut-and-dry case of “it’s not our problem.”

In some sense, I think the FBI is confusing Apple with other tech giants like Google or Facebook. These companies DO have oodles of information about their users – usernames, passwords, location history and much more. But this is not the business Apple is in. Not by a long shot. They make their money on selling devices.

And that’s where I think this discussion hinges. All Apple did was sell a device to a consumer. What that consumer subsequently did with it is his business. Now, if that device was used in a horrible crime, (and that’s not a fact, but rather only an angle being pursued,) it certainly makes sense to see what information is on there. But how that is Apple’s responsibility seems, at the very least, confusing – if not downright dangerous.

From a brand perspective – this is a high-stakes game for Apple. If they capitulate (or are forced to,) then the risk of floodgates opening becomes a likely outcome – expect every country around the world (especially high-iPhone-penetrated countries like China and India,) to issue similar orders to the company.  And then expect similar orders to flood the executive offices of every technology company, social media company, e-commerce company and so on.

If Apple holds firm here, they could come off looking like heroes of privacy and vicars for establishing the boundaries between technology and civics. But at what cost? Is there a public backlash against the brand for “not cooperating in the war on terror?” Or is there a sentiment for honoring our rights to privacy that Apple would have stood steadfast to uphold?

This is dicey, indeed. And if I’m a brand manager for Apple, I would be constructing about 17 different contingency plans. Let’s stay tuned.

Rainbow-colored Research

fb_pride_pic_maker

So, were you one of the millions who “rainbowed” your profile pic on Facebook to show your support following the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage? I was, and quite happily. Then the Atlantic ran this story,  speculating that perhaps Facebook was conducting some far-reaching “experiment” on its users. It also speculates (in the subtext, of course,) that Facebook has likely done this before, and leads readers to surmise that the company may even be actively doing it for pay.

Facebook has never made any claims that it is NOT collecting your data, even on a random Wednesday. In their data policy, which you can find at  https://www.facebook.com/policy.php,  they clearly state – in a jillion different ways:

“we collect the content and other information you provide when you use our Services”

and

“we collect information about how you use our Services”

and

“we collect content and information that other people provide…about you”

and

“we collect information about the people and groups your are connected to”

and

“if you use our Services for purchases of financial transactions…we collect information about the purchase or transaction.”

Now, it’s likely that out of the billion or so users on Facebook, approximately 23 of us have probably read the privacy policy in its entirety. (Busted!) In a previous post on this blog,  I’ve asked about why consumers are so busted up about online tracking, when it makes our lives so much better, and more streamlined. As I said then, tailoring makes our lives better. Cookies make our lives (and our online experiences) better.

If we boil this down to its essence, we’d likely see that the average or typical social media participant is more than okay with the idea that their information and online activity are being tracked in an effort to achieve various ends, like a cooler/faster/more contextual social media experience, or more targeted advertising, or even for social studies. And although we don’t typically read the privacy policy, we’re probably pretty much okay with it, as long as you don’t snag my credit card and go buy $800 worth of frozen pizzas at Wal-Mart.

And so what if Facebook WAS conducting some big-data test with the pride-your-profile-pic exercise? Big woop.  It’s astounding that, in an age where we share more personal information than ever, that we’ve become so hyper-sensitized to that information maybe kinda sorta being “used” for some purposes other than my Grandma Susie seeing my latest motocross bike race. (It was kind of badass, by the way.)

Whether we like it or not, we’re slowly but surely crossing the threshold from web 2.0 to (the social web) to web 3.0 (the predictive web) as a result of all this data tracking that’s going on. It, too, will ultimately make our lives better in ways we probably can’t even imagine right now.

So let’s do a snap poll – provide a simple YES or NO answer in the comments section below (and of course, any comments you care to share are more than welcome):

Are you okay with social media corporations like Facebook and Twitter monitoring your online activity to make assumptions or test hypotheses, whether they be theoretical or commercial in nature?

I’ll start. YES!

Facebook’s Mobile Phone: Three Reasons to “Unlike”

facebook-phone
Concept art courtesy of Gizmodo

Facebook is set to announce this Thursday the release of the Facebook Phone in partnership with HTC. According to the latest mobile report from The New York Times, the plans are to manufacture the first smartphone designed around the total social/sharing experience that Facebook enables. Maybe it’ll be called PhoneBook? Ugh.

On paper, it’s a really good idea. More than a billion people use Facebook on a regular basis to connect with friends, weigh in on political ideas, and just generally brag. And as it turns out, MOST of them are posting, liking and commenting from a mobile device.

However, this announcement is NOT on paper. It’s real. And on most levels, it’s kind of silly. Facebook has become one of the most visible, one of the most recognized, and one of the most important brands on the planet, (although, according to the stock price relative to the IPO, NOT one of the most valuable.)

And yet, with all the Stanford MBAs on staff in their marketing and operations departments, is there anyone there voicing an opinion that this is a thinly veiled brand extension that’s simply designed to appease shareholders with a strategy to create more revenue streams? Because, let’s face it folks, that’s what it is.

The subtext of the “exciting” and “new” direction for Facebook is to have another screen for advertising. Period. Facebook’s entire valuation was built – however hastily, however erred – on the idea that a billion+ eyeballs is a road paved with advertising gold. Add another screen, and you can charge another scale. The new rate card must be getting a design makeover just like the news feed.

But that road to gold, being paved this week with this mobile announcement, is pocked with obstacles. From a marketing perspective, these three obstacles indicate a likely FAIL and another rough year for Zuck & Co.

Obstacle #1: A partnership with a questionable partner.
Facebook is partnering with HTC, a manufacturer that, as of the end of 2012, has less than 5% of the total global smart phone market share. What’s worse, the HTC moniker is inextricably linked with another epic fail of corporate overreach, RIM, and the BlackBerry platform.

Why not partner with the #1 or #2 player? With the heft of Facebook, why not approach Samsung or Apple and design a custom “version” of their popular phones designed more smartly around the Facebook experience? The full version of Android (the HTC model is using a modified version of the system,) or iOS would provide more seamless integration into the consumer’s current mobile experience. Facebook is still acting like a startup strapped for cash, when it should be carrying itself with the mien that they ALREADY have a seat at the big boy table.

Obstacle #2: Consumer adoption.
Brand extensions are a dangerous proposition, even in the best-case scenarios. And in this case, (which is not the best case,) it’s super-duper dangerous. As it stands, the consumer already has the option to have a BETTER piece of hardware than HTC, (with S3 and the soon-to-be-the-most-popular-phone-on-the-planet S4 or any of Apple’s iPhones,) a BETTER piece of software via the Facebook app on either the Droid or iOS platform, and the chances are the consumer ALREADY owns a device she’s happy with.

So it’s highly unlikely that someone is going to rush out and buy an inferior piece of hardware, running an inferior operating system to run an OS that’s focused on a social network so they can take pictures and post status updates from their home screens. The rest of the world already does that with relative ease and great enthusiasm.

Obstacle #3: Increased operational workflow and costs.
As if Facebook doesn’t have enough going on internally, (acquisition plans, acquired partners spinning off, implementation of contextual advertising, implementation of graph search, etc.,) now they’ll have to add a bunch of new pieces. This might include a coding team to fix v.1 bugs, a customer service department devoted to mobile, internal teams to interface with HTC, a dev team to work on v.2 and beyond, marketing and advertising expenditures around the device, operations around packaging and distribution and on and on. Yeccchhh.

I’m no Stanford MBA, but when you have increased operational expenditures, increased marketing expenditures and are projecting – at best – to penetrate a 5% piece of the pie, chances are you’re going to have to dip into your pocket to support this new initiative with a boatload of short-term cash.

Zuck, here’s my advice. KILL this deal before it erodes the stock price and further erodes consumer perception about Facebook quickly becoming the “uncool” social platform.

Want some free ideas?

– Blame HTC as an unreliable partner.
– Cite your unusually high expectations for the platform as a reason to delay the rollout.
– Say you’re working on even bigger and better features and you think you’ll roll out by Christmas.

In the last year or so in Menlo Park, you’ve already misstepped with the privacy policy bungle, the pace of HTML 5 integration, un-hipping Instagram and more. Right now, you need some WINS. And acquiring Hot Studio last week is not what I mean.

Wanna have lunch?

This article first appeared on Technorati.

The Butterfly Effect of Marketing

Illustration:  Bruce Crilly

Have you heard of the Butterfly Effect?  It’s a chaos theory-based rubric attributed to Edward Lorenz for explaining the sensitivity of the dependence on initial conditions relative to widely dispersed outcomes.  The theory is expressed in the saying “the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Thailand can set off a tornado in Texas.”

Okay, so what does that have to do with marketing, especially for small to midsized companies? If you drill down into the Butterfly Effect statement, you learn that small, seemingly insignificant actions can, in time and to a great degree, affect or evolve into great, often extraordinary results not easily conceived in context of the original event.  And conversely, you see that the auspices of great outcomes can be found to have relatively benign provenance.

In marketing, we’re often overcome trying to “think big” and “make it rain” and “blow it out,” and a zillion other clichés of bigness.  The truth, however, is that we can sometimes reach these astonishing aims by applying the Butterfly Effect and initiating small actions and – this is the key – setting them on the right course.

Here’s a simple viral marketing example:  you put a status up on Facebook, for instance, and tell 10 of your friends to pass it to ten of their friends, and so on.  Perhaps you’re promoting a secret concert of a popular band.  How many times does this have to be passed on for your initial (small) action to have a great effect?  In just four repeats of your original action (tell ten friends,) you have 100,000 screaming fans show up at the concert.  Uh oh – only 20,000 seats! So, sure, there’s very little chaos there.  But you can see how quickly simple actions can scale outward to a great degree.

Social media is really the Butterfly Effect in action in today’s marketing world.  Brands are seeding conversations, and then setting them off into the ether.  And in an extremely democratic (and sometimes terrifying) manner, the brand is weaved into conversations by people, and expanded, and turned into recipes or planking videos or mashups or hashtags.  Who knows? It’s chaos, but it’s usually good for the brand.  Sometimes (see AdFreak’s recent post on ChapStick’s social debacle,) it’s not so much.

One last point.  It doesn’t have to be social media.  You can start generating big marketing effects through small actions in lots of ways.  It could be a new merchandising program, a refresh of your menu, seeking new talent, or adopting a cause, or a new partnership, or a next blog post.  It could be anything.  But it has to be something and it has to be started.

A few keys to applying the Butterfly Effect:

Chaos. An important aspect of all of this is that it’s painfully hard for mere mortals to calculate chaos.  [An easy task for a math-head.  Not for me.] So it’s easy to imagine outcomes that are too likely.  The Butterfly Effect is constantly evolving, ever shifting and morphing into outcomes that, while predicated on the action before it, often do not travel a predictive pathway.  Get with that.

Direction. Don’t think about the outcome, because you often have little or no control over it.  Just ensure that the initiating action is set off in the right direction, is well-intentioned and is aligned with your brand values.  The rest is the market’s work, with all its environmental and evolutionary vagaries. Indeed, the chaos is part of the fun of watching this theory in action.

Distance (whether it’s measured in time or space) is a necessary factor.  You can’t expect these great things to happen in sixteen minutes.  Be patient, and integrate the Butterfly Effect along with your other, more urgent, plans.  If you launch a rocket in the air, and then measure its effectiveness in six seconds, you’ve failed to reach the stars.  Measure again in four hours, and you’re dancing among them.

How does this apply to your brand?  What can you START today?  What ten things can you start today?  Even if it’s a small but pertinent action that can evolve, it’s probably worth it. So start flapping.

Death and Social Media – version 2.0

Illustration:  Bruce Crilly

The below is a follow-up to a post I wrote back in July 2010. First, the original post, then the follow-up:

Death and Social Media
This is a morbid way to discuss an idea, but let’s talk about death. And while we’re at it, let’s talk about social media. I was (briefly, fleetingly) thinking about what would happen after I die, and the kinds of things people would remember about me. (And more exactly, the kinds of things I hope people will remember about me.)

In my life, (and I’m not quite done yet,) I have created volumes of content in the social media world: blog posts, and blog comments, Facebook statuses and comments and likes and picture uploads and all those Tweets, reTweets and direct messages on Twitter! I’ve yelled about firing the head coach of my beloved Buffalo Bills on the fan forums on buffalobills.com, and helped people solve technical problems on support forums for Apple computers and some software platforms. I’ve written record and book reviews on iTunes and Amazon. I’ve uploaded and even commented on videos posted on YouTube! (Eeek. What a geek.)

So I wondered, will this become part of what people remember about me? Will there be people at my funeral saying, “yeah, nice guy…oh! And did you see his Tweets from the IAB mobile conference back in 2010? So insightful.” Instead of a collage of photos, will there be a screen somewhere with a streaming feed of my life’s digital output?

On one hand, I seriously doubt that these bits and bytes of my recommendations, forwards, hashtag snips and extemporanea will have any bearing on what people think about me. But on the other, there’s no getting around the fact that social media content is now a contributing editor to my legacy. I also submit that I think it would be an interesting, revealing and even fairly intimate way to chronologically peek into the ebbs and flows of my (mostly) professional life. Which makes me think: are we (am I?) Tweeting accordingly? Is the overall tone of my social commentary admirable/useful/honorable? Will my children be proud of what they read? Does it really matter how many check-ins I have, or if I’m the bloody mayor of some local bar? Jeez…maybe we better start looking at all of this in context.

In older days, we might have discovered a diary under a bed, or a journal tucked away in a closet somewhere, long after the departure of a loved one. But now, we have a digitized database of someone’s every thought and comment for years and years. And since most people in the world will never author a book, or write a professional article in a real journal, or be interviewed for television or radio, is the chronicling of social media verbiage a new means to endure? [Uh oh, I think I smell a new business model being hatched.]

Follow-up [September 2011]
So it turns out I was on to something about new business models being hatched, and people starting to talk about this morbid stuff with a more, um, opportunistic tone. A year after my blog post, a journalist named Adam Ostrow gave a TED talk that covered this topic – and outlined some new business models that are indeed being hatched at the intersection of death and social media as “opportunities for technologists.”

The first (and perhaps weirdest) is ifidie.net, a service that lets you create a message or video to be posted to Facebook after you die. Check out their website…kind of a wacky approach to a fairly serious topic.

“My Next Tweet” is a service that uses an algorithm to predict what your next (and perhaps last) bit of social output would be on Twitter by analyzing all your previous tweets and retweets.

Finally, Ostrow points out 1000 Memories, a service that allows you to organize, share and ultimately post a collection of photos, memories, writings and more to Facebook or an area of their site. Not just for the dead, apparently.

On the flipside of all that nonsense, there is a beautiful side-effect to digitizing one’s last days. I recently read a gorgeous narrative by Rebecca Armendariz chronicling a series of Gchats with her lover that is both heartwarming and gut-wrenching, and exquisitely written. Read it and (be prepared to) weep.

I suppose all of this does lend gravitas to the idea of self-monitoring your digital expressionism. Once you’re gone to the great mashup in the sky, you don’t want one of these dopey services misrepresenting your life’s social work. So if today is indeed the beginning of the end of your life, social-ize accordingly.