Apr 282016

It seems Facebook has found its river of gold with the company’s quarterly stock market statement reporting a 57% increase in revenues and a stunning 195% in net profits.

Particularly impressive was mobile sales made over 8o% of the company’s advertising revenue, up from just short of three quarters in the previous years.

For other online services, particularly Google, Facebook’s success on mobile must be galling as they struggle with the shift to smartphones.

How long that growth can continue remains to be seen. For the moment though, Facebook is showing how to make money on the mobile web.

Mar 212016

What’s your ethnic affinity? Apparently Facebook thinks its algorithm can guess your race based upon the nature of your posts.

This application is an interesting, and dangerous, development although it shouldn’t be expected that it’s any more accurate than the plethora of ‘guess your age/nationality/star sign’ sites that trawl through Facebook pages.

Guessing your race is something clumsy and obvious but its clear that services like Google, LinkedIn and Facebook have a mass of data on each of their millions of users that enables them to crunch some big numbers and come up with all manner of conclusions.

Some of these will be useful to governments, marketers and businesses and in some cases it may lead to unforeseen consequences.

The truth may lie in the data but if we don’t understand the questions we’re asking, we risk creating a whole new range of problems.

Mar 022016

Last year Twitter managed to lose five hundred million dollars in losses.

It’s possible to see how a car manufacturer, steel maker or airline runs up a half billion dollars loss. But a social media company?

Twitter has lost its way and a complete change in management is needed. Maybe it’s time to time to turn the company into a user co-operative, at least the subscribers have an idea of how the products works.

Feb 292016
Santa Claus is largely an invention of the coca-cola corporation

“If you have anything negative to say, please don’t use the hashtag” implored the organiser to her stable of ‘influencers’ ahead of a recent social media campaign.

Like everyone in the PR, marketing and advertising industries, that organiser was desperately keeping a shiny patina on their clients’ brands at a time where they are one tweet away from disaster in today’s world of message obsessed management.

With influencer programs those risks are magnified as marketers co-opt amateurs to promote their clients in return for access and freebies*. Those unpaid posters on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook may be happy to give a positive view to everything but their fans may not be so kind.

Given their clients’ aversion to risk, it’s not unusual to see marketers setting out terms to ‘influencers’ demanding the brand has the right to vet posts – as one telco requested to this site last year – or outright prohibiting anything negative being said about their client.

Happy Shiny People

Perversely, selecting happy shiny people to promote brands on social media while suppressing critical thinking could actually create distrust of brands argues communications consultant Joanne Jacobs who states “this distrust is caused by campaigns of undifferentiated positivity and uncritical thinking.”

A good example of this potential damage is a recent influencer campaign by Chinese telecommunications Huawei where a group of influencers were flown to the 2016 Mobile World Congress to post about their experiences with the brand.

The Facebook post below shows the influencers enjoying the vendor’s hospitality but it also illustrates the lack of diversity in the group, something that was quickly called out in the comments.


For the Huawei influencers who had spent the previous week gushing about the vendor’s products and events this was an opportunity to provide leadership on the lack of diversity in the tech and telco industries..

Instead the critics – some of whom had more influential online audiences than the ‘influencers’ – were dismissed with the passive aggressive accusation of being ‘negative’, the cardinal sin of social media marketing.

For Huawei, there was a real risk their happy shiny influencers clumsy attempts to protect the brand would damage for the company and it was unsurprising the company’s professional PR managers stepped in to defuse the situation which in the hands of amateur ‘brand ambassadors’ threatened to become a self inflicted disaster.

Brittle brands of happiness

Huawei’s experience illustrates a key problem with the happy shiny influencer campaigns in their brittleness when faced with genuine criticism. The happy consumerist gleefully liking Instagram photos of shoes or hamburgers will quickly abandon the product should the brand be perceived as acting dishonestly or unethically.

For those influencers who’ve tied themselves too closely to brands, such a scandal could find their own names tarnished and their hard won audiences and reputation deserting them.

In an age of conversation where critical voices can be heard, the nice shiny facades can easily collapse. The days when the tobacco industry or brands like Coca-Cola could drown out critical voices simply by the weight of their advertising campaigns are long gone.

Struggles with a fragmented media

The struggles for the PR and marketing industries in dealing with today’s fragmented world are not to be underestimated – the old models of broadcast advertising and engaging with journalists and celebrities have lost their effectiveness and the industry is grappling with what works with the new channels.

In a building a brand that will last in today’s media landscape, pandering to shallow thinking consumerists is at best going to be a short term fix. To succeed, building a believable trustworthy name that tolerates dissent, allows complaints and acknowledges informed criticism is much more important and exponentially more valuable.

Shallow thinking and shiny people might have worked for Coca-Cola selling to young baby boomers in 1965 but fifty years later things the critics and deeper thinkers have a voice to. Co-opting those voices will only strengthen the brand.

*Disclaimer: This writer has been on a number of influencer programs and received various degrees of corporate largess including a Huawei smartphone.

Feb 112016

Poor Twitter. Today’s earnings report showed what everyone knew, its user growth has stalled with the number of active participants – Monthly Active Users as the company calls them – didn’t grow in the last quarter and are only up nine percent on the previous year.

The good news for shareholders is advertising revenue grew 48% with both US and international markets showing strong increases. Despite user growth flatlining the company still remains on track to becoming profitable.

As Farhad Manjoo argues at the New York Times, maybe the service needs to focus on more modest ambitions. The company’s dreams of competing with Facebook or growing like Google are never going to be achieved.

We’ve argued at this blog for a year that Twitter’s management and investors should accept the market’s expectations of the business were too lofty and while there’s no reason the company can’t be profitable, it’s not going to be a massive river of gold like Google.

There’s nothing wrong with being a healthy billion dollar business. The risk for Twitter is the greed and ego of investors, founders and shareholders could condemn the company in trying to meet impossible expectations.

Jan 262016

A few days ago we looked at how sports organisations such as the Australian Open tennis tournament are increasingly treating their data as an asset almost as valuable as broadcasting rights.

Now Facebook has entered the space with its own Stadiums sports data service that it hopes to become an online centre for fans following major events.

How enthusiastic sports organisations will be in sharing their data and audiences with the social media service remains to be seen.

Sports have been a priority of the social media services in their quest to attract audiences, however unlike television broadcasters Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook have found their cosying up to contests and stars has been less than successful.

It may be statistics are what’s needed to attract fans and certainly Facebook is well placed to be a destination for fans however it is early days for social media and the model that works is yet to be found.


Jan 072016

Twitter is in trouble, its share price has fallen 70% in the past two years and the service is not gaining new users. To halt the stagnation, CEO Jack Dorsey is reportedly considering ditching the 140 character limit.

Commentator Josh Bernoff suggests playing with character limits will do little to address Twitter’s lack of momentum which is almost certainly correct given the underlying problems at the service.

The one most desired feature by Twitter users is the ability to edit their posts, although the New York Times points out this may not be a good thing, another popular change would be for the service to crack down on abusive behaviour.

Stagnant management

It seems however that Twitter’s management can’t make those changes and this is understandable given the company’s executives not understanding how the service is used and their desperate obsession to justifying its stock valuation which, despite falling 70% over the past two years, is still $14 billion.

Justifying that stock valuation with no clear path to monetising the service is a paralysing problem which means other useful changes aren’t being made while the company still embarrassingly cosies up to sports, pop and movie stars in the hope their fame will bring advertiser dollars to the platform.

For Twitter the solution is to accept they aren’t a fourteen billion dollar company which would take the pressure off the executive team to find unsustainable ways to justify that valuation and instead focus management’s efforts on improving the user experience.

Making Twitter useful

To make the service more useful, management has to understand how Twitter is used which means finding experienced and capable leaders who also use the service.

Adding features that allow users to make some changes to tweets and lists would be a start and clamping down on the bullies, trolls and frauds to make it more friendly to new entrants would be a start. Creating an easy way for new users to find useful information would also help engagement and retention.

The most important task though is finding executives who actually use Twitter and have an understanding of social media instead of hiring from the tech, advertising and broadcasting industries without any regard of whether those individuals have ever used the service.

Twitter is a valuable service but it’s dying as management play games. If it is to survive, accepting it isn’t as big as it wants to be and finding leaders who understand why its users find it so useful is essential.