How do we know if viral marketing is effective?

In 2013, Lufthansa Airlines was in a price war with other airlines on its busiest route – Stockholm to Berlin. To change the dialogue – and shift the focus away from pricing, Lufthansa created a viral promotional campaign challenge called “Are you Klaus-Heidi?” 

Now I must come clean and say that this is one of my favourite campaigns ever – and I’m not sure why.  Maybe the opportunity of a new life for a year in one of the world’s coolest cities is a private fantasy we all share – but in exchange for something so significant as our names, that’s a big ask.  And maybe that it was it became viral.

 It certainly is one of the most successful viral campaigns as measured in exposure.  Without any paid advertising it achieved

  • 42 people legally changed their names to Klaus-Heidi
  • 240 million impressions
  • Covered by major news outlets in over 30 countries
  • Was included in 25% of Lufthansa’s mentions in social media.
  • Main traffic driver to Lufthansa’s website, second to Google.

However, did the success of the campaign change the profitability of the Airline?  It’s true that the campaign did create a strong emotional link between Lufhtansa and Belin but was this strong enough that customers would pay more to fly on the airline?

It’s difficult to say – as price and tickets sold were not supplied as a measure of the success of the campaign.

Certainly, it did change the dialogue.  Lufthansa owned the Belin experience in Sweden in the minds of Swedes (and the rest of the world during this campaign).  But if they were unable to break free from the pricing of their competitors should we as marketers consider it an effective campaign?

Like all things in marketing it depends. 

We don’t know what Lufthansa’s goals were in launching this campaign. 

But as this the busiest and most price competitive market – one can assume that they wanted to move away from price-cutting and start charging more than their competitors and fill more of their seats at higher prices to Belin.

And while Lufthansa may be emotionally linked with Belin in Sweden – does this have any affect to their bottom line?  Does being emotionally linked to a brand guarantee that you’d pay more for it – when essentially its offering is identical to its competitors in the market (transport from Stockholm to Berlin).

If viral campaigns as this one do not have an effect on the bottom line – what value do they have other than entertainment?

If there isn’t an increase in revenue for Lufhtansa (and I’m not saying that it didn’t just that we don’t know) should we consider it a successful campaign?

How should we measure the effectiveness in viral campaigns when they are not directly about making a sale?


Is the Hodis Facebook Segmentation Matrix Useful in Real Life?

Proper segmentation is the first step in building a scalable, efficient and effective marketing communications strategy.[1]

If facilitates effective targeting and saves money by allowing us to direct our marketing budgets more effectively by focusing only profitable or desirable segments – moving away from broad or mass approaches.

In their academic paper by Monica Hodis and Colleagues[2] propose a segmentation of Facebook users (four segment matrix of Facebook users.

These segments are summarised and described as the following (Hodis, 2015):

  • Attention seekers users with low level of consumption and high levels of creation on Facebook (Hodis, 2015.
  • Devotes – users with both high level of consumption and creation on Facebook
  • Entertainment Chasers – users with low levels of consumption and creation on Facebook – simply use Facebook as a means to avoid boredom
  • Connection seekers – high level of consumption and low level of creation

In the paper several examples are given on how certain segments can be used in marketing campaigns – but these are quite lightweight – and do not, in my opinion provide for a serious foundation for marketing planning.

For example – it is noted that if you could recruit an attention seeker to embrace your brand on line – there would be greater credibility in this form of branding that simply advertising. 

Additionally – the paper also promotes the use of games, quizzes and competitions to involve consumers of Facebook who provide less content on Facebook (being Entertainment chasers and connection seekers in their example).

And while I agree that marketers need to take a different approach to marketing to Facebook users than ads targeting users on their “interests” which users claim to be “creepy”, I’m not convinced that this matrix is the solution.

According to Kottler et al [3] and what we are taught in Marketing 101 there are several guidelines that should be followed when implementing a segmentation of a market.  These include:

  1. Segments should be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive –- every person should only belong to only one segment targeted, and everyone should be in a segment
  2. Segments should be homogeneous- people in the segments should be alike, beit income, gender, opinions, life stage, lifestyle, etc. 
  3. Segments should be identifiable – you need to be able to identify the people in the segment so that you can find them to target them in your campaign

Of course, there is much more to Segmentation that these three points – but I do believe that the Facebook Segmentation Matrix fails on all three of these points.

On the first point, in reviewing the segments – I found it difficult to identify where I was in the matrix.  Sometimes I’m highly active on Facebook and upload a lot of media (photos, videos, posts), sometimes I don’t.  I almost always use Facebook to connect with friends and my family which is overseas.  So, does this make me an attention seeker or a connection seeker?  Or both?

It concerns me that movement between the segments can be so fluid.

On the second point, the groups in the four segments are anything be homogeneous other than their behaviour at one point in time.  With over 1 billion people on Facebook segmented into 4 groups – any segment is going to be a heterogenous. 

The model considers the Attention Seekers the “stars” of the segmentation – but this group is anything be homogeneous – think of high-volume media posters – these users vary by age, nationality, gender, interests. 

Apart from being a highly heterogeneous group – consideration must also be given to the subject matter and the quality of the material they are posting – consider the high number of cat videos posted every day – is this the “star” segment that you are looking for in your business?  (Actually, it might be if you are in the pet business – but you don’t need a segmentation model to find them – they seem to be everywhere!).

The use of high profile Facebook (and YouTube, and Instagram) posters with large followings have long ago been cherry picked by marketers to act as ambassadors or influencers for their brands.  These are valuable assets to markets.  But there are very few of them – and are individually matched to an industry (cosmetics, motor vehicles, etc) – and while the Segmentation Matrix no doubt includes many of these posters – it cannot be assumed the entire segment is valuable or relevant.

And the final point – the segment should be identifiable to be actionable.  How do you actually locate this segment on Facebook – if you want to target say Connection Seekers, how do you do this on Facebook?  How do you find them?  Is there an algorithm that can search for users who connect with friends but don’t contribute content to the sight?  How do you accurately find them when people are moving in and out of segments all the time based on what they did on Facebook that day or that week.  When the segments aren’t stable – it isn’t possible to allocate individuals to a segment.

I find that Facebook Segmentation Matrix an interesting exercise in understanding how users spend time on Facebook and what the motivations are in using the site.  However, I believe the segmentation tool too broad to be used as a useful marketing tool to better identify and target attractive segments.

What do you think?

[1] Monica Hodis et al (2015): interact with me on my terms: four segment Facebook engagement framework for marketers, Journal of Marketing Management.

[2] Monica Hodis et al (2015): interact with me on my terms: four segment Facebook engagement framework for marketers, Journal of Marketing Management

[3] Kotler, Philip & Keller, Kevin Lane (2017), Marketing Management Pearson Education International, 17th Edition


It’s still marketing, Mark.

After watching this weeks required viewing – Mark Ritson’s presentations at mUmBRELLA “Beyond Digital Marketing: Why the D-word is Hurting Marketers[1], and “Why Social Media is a Mostly Waste of Time for Marketers” (Marketing Week)[2], it wouldn’t surprise me if you believed that Digital and social media are not important for marketers.

In my blog a couple of weeks ago, I discussed how I believe that Traditional Marketing and Digital Marketing run the risk of being in managed in silos.  Prof Ritson in his Marketing Week presentation shares the same view.  But the difference in our opinions is that I believe that digital and social media platforms are more important now than they ever have been, and he thinks that they are a waste of time.

Social media is very important to marketers. This is where in a large number of our customers are spending their time.  In Australia, 62% of the Australian population uses social media an average of 10 hours per week.  And of these users 50% of them claim that they are more likely to trust a brand on social media.[3]

These numbers are difficult to ignore.  These customers are actively engaged on social media.

Prof Ritson is controversial in suggesting that there is no place for social media platforms in brand marketing. 

One of his points is that while 50% of articles about marketing are about social media – only 5% is actually spent on social media.  As though spend was an indication of reach and impact.

Social media marketing by design is a very targeted space for organisations, for both advertising and having a presence in social media (Facebook pages, etc).   It’s also inexpensive and for some brands is free of any cost (other than human labour).  Using the dollar amount spent on social media as an evidence that it is insignificant is not a good argument.  Spend does not reflect presence nor engagement with the consumer.

Prof Ritson claims that TV and Radio are still better media for targeting consumers – due to the reach and amount of time consumers spend watching TV and listening to the radio.  I believe this is true, these media are very effective in reaching customers, but they can also be very expensive and there is a lot of waste – and definitely are less targeted than are social media campaigns.  

These media are also in decline – and television viewing has changed since the spread of “on demand viewing” which is offered by Netflix, Stan, and HBO – free of any advertising.  Live free to air tv viewership is less than 52% of Australians.[4]  Opportunities for TV ads to be seen is reducing.  Radio is also in decline as an advertising opportunity as many listeners have moved to Pandora, Spotify, or digital radio to avoid listening to ads.

The longstanding rule for TV advertising is – the better the program the more people are reached- and the higher the cost of the ad is.  Advertising on TV requires not only reach but also frequency as well to get the message across to the target audience.

However, social marketing is not a mass media platform, it is a direct marketing medium. As such, it can be more efficient at targeting your market — at a lower cost.

I agree whole heatedly agree with Ritson that marketing must begin with strategy – not budgets and not specifically with social media budgets.

Many marketing strategies will ultimately result in recommending social media strategies.  This is logical for two reasons – first, it’s where a lot of the market is, and second for many of small and medium enterprises it is all that they can afford to promote their business.   

I agree with Ritson in that Digital and Traditional should not operate in silos, but unlike him, I don’t agree that social media as part of the marketing mix is a waste of time.

[1] mumbrella.com.au/mumbrella360-video-beyond-digital-marketing-keynote-mark-ritson-381972

[2] http://www.marketingweek.com/2015/11/13/why-social-media-is-mostly-a-waste-of-time-for-marketers-mark-ritson-presentation/)

[3] Yellow Social Media Report (June 2018).

[4] ibid

Click Farms: An ethical dilemma in launching a new brand

Imagine after months of hard work and market research you have developed and are ready to launch the perfect lipstick brand.  Everything you’ve done so far predicts that this will be a winner in the competitive cosmetic market.

It’s environmentally friendly, not tested on animals, has shades for all skin colours, and stays on without bleeding for 8 hours or longer.

Market research has indicated that this lipstick will outsell its nearest competitor two to one – and this new brand name is catchy and relevant with your young upwardly mobile target market.

You plan your communications plan – a fully digital launch – twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and bought ads on relevant websites and search engines.

The only problem is this new brand only has 16 followers on social media platforms for the day that you are scheduled to launch the communications plan.

What to do?  To launch with so few followers makes the brand seem smallish and amateur.  First impressions, especially in social media matter. 

So, what do you do?  Do you launch and hope to build a following or do you purchase followers, likers, and retweeters from a Click Farm to make the brand and product look like it already has a large following of loyal customers?

A Click Farm is an organisation that sets up fake accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc) and replicates engagement on accounts such as likes, views, and retweets.  It is an instant way to increase the perception that you have many more followers or engagement with your brand than in reality you actually do.

This is an interesting dilemma – everyone seems to be buying “likes”, “follows”, and “views” from Click Farms to make their followings seem larger than it actually is. 

In Australia, it is believed of the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison’s followers about 30% are fake; with the opposition leader Bill Shorten’s estimated followers are believed to be 60% fake.[1]

Even the President of the United States – Donald Trump’s. 100 million followers on Twitter are believed to be 50% fake accounts.  The US State Department admitted to using Click Farms to make their social media post look more popular than they were and in 2013 spent US$600,000 for fake followers.[2]

So, is this a legitimate business tool to use to boost the perception of your brand online or is it a fraudulent activity that should be made illegal?

If the leaders of our country and the leader of the USA all do it surely it must be legit!

This is clearly a grey area that needs to be reviewed. 

Launching a product or message with fake followers, likes, shares, views or retweets – is deceptive.  In fact, that is precisely the reason why organisations and politicians purchase them from Click Farms – it’s to appear more popular than they really are!

We know that marketers and consumers alike take these numbers seriously.  Marketers pay influencers to promote their brands based on the strength of their followers.  Consumers look at these numbers as an indicator of the popularity of a brand or message – and will respond accordingly. 

This isn’t merely a manipulation of the digital tallies – but jades the entire message.  To report that a product has 90,000 likes when it doesn’t have any – is just as bad as claiming a film has had 90,000 viewers when it has none.  

We all know – that while likes and number of followers – are not part of the message that we write as marketers – it is a big part of how the message is interpreted by our consumers. 

And while it may be tempting to launch a new product with 100,000 followers or likes – which would greatly improve the perception of that product in the eyes of the consumer – to do so is being dishonest and deceptive.  Deliberately deceiving the consumer is illegal under Section 52 of the Trade Practices Act. 

So even if the ad itself is not deceptive – to purchase followers or likes from a Click Farm makes the total message deceptive.

I believe the purchasing of fake followers, likers and retweets is deceptive to the consumer, which according to Section 52 of the Trade Practices Act is illegal.

So while the practice of purchasing from a Click Farm may be tempting, and an easy way to get traction with a digital campaign, ultimately it is deceiving to the consumer making it an illegal activity – but not only that – it’s just wrong to deliberately lead people to believe something about your brand that is untrue and fake. 

As marketers we are better than this.

At the very least we are better than our politicians.

[1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-30/farming-for-likes-fake-social-media-engagement/10944078

[2] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-30/farming-for-likes-fake-social-media-engagement/10944078

It’s digital, but it’s still just marketing

This week’s topic of Digital media and Integrated marketing communications (IMC), highlights a growing concern of mine that Digital Marketing is treated as new and a separate discipline to traditional Marketing, and shares the title of my blog.

Universities and other organisations offer courses in Digital Marketing as a separate stand-alone subject – positioned as they way of the future and out of context from the discipline of Marketing as a whole.

I’ve seen this in the workplace as well – many large organisations have separate departments for Marketing and Digital Marketing – often with different reporting lines.   The justification for this is that Digital (including social marketing) is a new and two-way form of communication requiring different skills – and therefore the assumption is made that it is its own type of Marketing,  It’s often treated as an alternative to the traditional discipline of Marketing – not just a different channel of communication or delivery.

While it is true that digital communications do require different skill sets and  utilises different ad agencies to older traditional forme of advertising such as print or broadcast media – it is not a different type of marketing – just a different way of communicating to and reaching out targeted consumers.

The growth of digital communication channels has displaced and, in some cases, replaced ‘traditional’ media advertising.  The table below, however, demonstrates that while digital is taking a larger place in the consumers’ media usage – traditional media is still part of the marketing mix.

Treating Digital Marketing as a separate from Marketing puts at risk the heart of what marketing is all about – the whoWho do you want to serve?  Whose needs do you want to satisfy?  Who is your market?  Who is your target audience?

It is only after understanding the who of your market – can you then develop products and services to satisfy their needs.    And only then should we consider how to communicate to them.

Digital Marketing is an answer in “how” we communicate to our target audience – and even then – it may not always be the best way to communicate to everyone.  We as marketers need to understand the customer first, and their needs second; and only the then start understand their habits and be able to create a strategy to communicate to them.  This may or may not be using digital channels.

My problem with Digital Marketing being taught as a stand-alone course, or as a separate department in an organisation is that it is a “how do we communicate to them” tool –a communication channel – rather than a pure market focused tool.

By taking it outside the umbrella of overall Marketing – we run the risk of focusing on the channel rather than the customer.  The focus becomes the message delivery system– but not necessarily delivering what the customer wants and needs.

The channel offers so much excitement with new communication channels opening up every day, it’s easy to become seduced by the glamour and the adrenaline of digital marketing. 

But, this too can become a trap – as marketers we should be driven by excitement of our brands and our customers and our driving need to satisfy the needs of our customers.  When we focus too much on the channels we use to communicate to our customers – we risk losing focus on what is really important about being marketers.

Digital Marketing is not a separate discipline that needs to work in conjunction with traditional marketing practices, it is a channel of communication which like all other channels should be used when it’s the best way to reach our customers.   It is not an alternative new way of marketing – just a new way of communicating and delivering products and services via websites and online media.

The benefits of analytics for small business.

Website analytics can provide an organisation very rich data about the performance of its website and marketing campaigns allowing for quick tweaking to strategies and implementation of promotions in real time.

So why do so few companies, especially small businesses use it?

In a study in the United States it was discovered that less than 30% of small businesses use website analytics, call tracking, or coupon codes and 18% of small businesses admit to not tracking anything.[1]

Although measurement is an important part of maintaining a website it is often neglected when it is first created[2], this is especially true for small businesses that see a website as a means to an end, an extension to their business – not a separate entity to be managed and monitored.

As part of the assignment on a Company Report for this subject -working with a small company operating out of the Queen Victoria Market – my first question, knowing they had a website was “what sort of traffic do you get to your website?”

The proprietor was unable to answer this most basic question – which is the number of visitors to her site – let alone understanding where the traffic came from, how much of her business was repeat sales, etc.

Clearly from as discovered from the research above, this is not an isolated incident.

A survey conducted by Calther and Stern (2008)[3] identifies that the main obstacles in analysing web data as in organisations is due to

  1. Lack of qualified personnel to do the work (31%)
  2. Data overload (19%)
  3. Lack of technical resources (19%)

It is understandable therefore to understand – how a small business enterprise – that is not particularly web or tech savvy could fail to use web analytics as a tool to improve their marketing.

In my experience working with small organisations and websites – the completed website is often seen as the “completion of a project” rather than an ongoing tool requiring maintenance and feedback loops.

Small businesses don’t have to be tech savvy to use web analytics to improve their businesses.

At the very basics business owners should know how to track their website traffic to

  1. How many people are coming to your site – and where customers are coming from – are they coming via a Facebook link, google search, other promotions.   Once you know where you are getting your website traffic – you can use this information to inform decisions on where to advertise your website for the best return on investment.  It also always to better calculate the cost of acquis ion
  • Which pages are they going to – understanding what pages your customers are going to can assist in understanding what products and services your customers are most interested in, and those that they are not interested in?
  • Time on site – the amount of time people spend on your site or the “stickiness of the site” can provide an indication of the engagement your customers have with your brand and your offerings
  • Items added to cart (but not purchased) – this information can help identify problems in the purchase process on the website.  Are there barriers to the purchase being made?  What pages are the exiting?  This might help to identify problems with your system or issues of security perceived by your consumers.  Perhaps they need an incentive to purchase – such as an offer made by email offering a percentage off or free shipping.
  • Test the effectiveness of different messaging – web analytics can demonstrate in real time how consumers are responding to messaging in different media by measuring their clicks into your website.  This can allow you to discover the most effective messaging and media to use in future campaigns.

As there is much to be gained by businesses using website analytics – this needs to be a large consideration when making a website for your own company or behalf of someone else.

Tools such as Google Analytics – which are not technically challenging for top line findings should be part of every website built for a small business, as well as a session on how to use it and what it can do for their company.

A website is not meant to be a static entity. – it is meant to be displayed, measured, tweaked, and re-displayed with knowledge derived from studying who is coming to the website and how they use it.  Analytics make a site better and improve the consumer experience which hopefully results in more sales.

[1] www.bluecorona.com, Betsy McCloud, October 2, 2018

[2] Chaffey et al. (2006) internet marketing 

[3] ibid

The Internet of Things (IoT) and our responsibility as marketers.

The Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to the billions of physical devices around the world that are now connected to the internet, collecting and sharing data.

The falling costs of sensors and microprocessors coupled with an increase of wireless networks, has made it possible to turn anything, from a pill, to a smart watch to a self-driving vehicle into part of the IoT (ZDNet.com).

The early innovators and largest users of such devices have traditionally been in manufacturing and logistics – where devices can as simple as tracking where and how much stock is in inventory to being as sophisticated such that it can predict when a part may require changing, enabling real time data to be communicated without human intervention.

As the prices of devices continues to fall, organisations are using them more and more in consumer products and services– such as wearable devices,well home management systems like Alexa or Google home, Google glasses and other devices. 

This data, in conjunction to other internet based sources such as social network platforms (Facebook), blogs, and miniblogs (eg Twitter) captures a very rich tapestry of information on our prospective customers.

The increasing proliferation of IoTs has been a source of an enormous amount of data s known as Big Data.

All of this has made it a very exciting time to be a marketer.  Never before has there been so much data available about our customers or prospective customers.  Artificial intelligence has been developed to predict consumer preferences purchases. Actual behaviours can be tracked, recorded and used to improve the quality and relevance of new products in the market.  We can actually witness actual customer behaviour, and predict future actions based on currently obtained data.    We have never had so much information on so many people in the history of marketing.  However, before charging ahead with this information at hand, I there are two factors that must remain integral in the collecting, analysing and using of this data – and these are security of information and privacy of individuals.

Recent database breaches at Facebook, Sony, and Australian Government websites have highlighted just how vulnerable even the largest organisations can be.  Security of information must remain a primary objective, or customer trust will be lost. So far, I don’t believe that businesses have been successful at guaranteeing security of data, therefore it is our obligation to ensure that consumers are provided with privacy.

And the second issue is privacy.

The IoT, Big Data and AI has been advancing much faster than legislation can keep up. Some practices which may be deemed unethical are not necessarily illegal as there is a lag between innovation and regulation.

Additionally, consumers are already weary of data collected on them and analysed through Artificial Intelligence (AI). According to a Genpact Report 2017[1] of a study conducted in the UK, USA and Australia:

  • 71% of consumers fear AI will infringe on their personal privacy in some way.
  • 63% of consumer are worried AI will make impactful choices without them knowing.
  • 59% think their government should do more to ensure their data is protected from AI.

It is our jobs as Marketers to maintain the privacy of our customers and use data in ethical and positive ways.

So while there is great opportunity for marketers to adapt in real time to consumer behaviours and sentiments, there is also a great responsibility on us that we maintain the trust and confidence of our customers.

[1] http://www.techrepublic.com

Mobile Marketing: when it can hurt your brand

There is no doubt that mobile marketing is different that marketing designed for other devices and media.  For one thing, mobile phone ownership is nearly ubiquitous in Australia with 87% of Australian’s owning a smart phone (Yellow Social Media Report, 2018).

Additionally, the relationship we have with our phones, is unlike any other device, according to research carried out by IDC the typical smartphone user uses their phone consistently throughout the day actively.  79% of all smart phone users have their phones on them for all but 2 hours of their waking day.  4 out of 5 owners, check their phone within 15 minutes of waking in the morning.

Smart phones are rarely shared – so the opportunity or marketers to obtain and track information on the users is incredible.  The attachments we have to our phones is more than just a utensil – it’s almost an extension of our selves.

However, marketers, when they see these figures, they extrapolate great opportunities to advertise and communicate to their target audiences via their phones – and why not, they are always at hand, actively used day after day.

However, I believe that marketers can do damage to their relationship with customers by using mobile advertising inappropriately.

Take for example the classification of mobile marketing applications developed by Andreas Kaplan[1]

In this classification he makes a distinction between push and pull triggers of communication.

Push triggers are unsought messages sent to consumers- which can be sent to both customers you know and don’t know.

I think that there is a great danger for markers to advertise their products in Push advertising on mobiles.

Without being requested from the consumer – the company does not know if these messages are wanted or If they are even considered a nuisance. 

Mobile phones are a unique device in the digital world of media – it is an extremely personal device which holds most of a person’s personal and important information such as contacts, banking information, photos, social media, text messages; not to mention where they’ve been, who they’ve called, and online purchases they have made.  People don’t hand their phones over to just anyone.  They protect the content with a password.  T is an extremely personal possession; one that they pay to use monthly for calls and bandwidth.

So, for an organisation to send them unsolicited and unwanted messages is worse than ‘Junk Mail” it is almost a violation of their privacy.  A recent example of this is the Australian National Party sending text messages to nearly all Australian’s prior to the upcoming election.

Most of the population do not support this party.  A text message from this Party was unwanted – and the bit question was “how did they get my number?  And what else do they know about me?”.

There are amazing opportunities for marketers to use mobile marketing as a means of building stronger relationships with customers (meaningful moments), but Push marketing, I believe has the opposite effect.

What do you think?

[1] If you love something, let it go mobile: Mobile marketing and mobile social media 4×4

Should you be friends with Facebook?

Facebook by all measures has been an incredible success story.  From humble beginnings in Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room, to a global juggernaut – all in span of few years not decades.

Globally there are more than 2.32 billion monthly active users[1] and is increasing, with a net worth of over $US138 billion.

If Facebook were a county – it would have the largest population on the planet.

In Australia, 91% of Australia’s online population are on Facebook [2].

Facebook is the most active of all social media sites and we access the site on average 37 times a week for a total of 10 hours on the site each week.  79% of online users also use Facebook’s messaging app Messenger.

Never before has there been an organisation which so much information about so many people – which it commoditises and commercialises for profit.

Facebook has been a powerful ally in connecting us with friends and family – has let us know who’s single, and who’s not.  We’ve been able to share our own and other’s holiday photos, baby pictures, successes, trials and tribulations.

Facebook has enabled us to share inspirational thoughts and made us laugh – it’s kept us up to date with what’s going on in our friendship groups without having to leave the house – or our beds.

One of the greatest features of Facebook was the feature that allows us to choose who gets to see our posts, pictures, and stories.  We feel safe in our communications because we know that these would only be seen by our ‘friends’.

The benefit of Facebook was so impressive that when the site started to sell advertising – we understood – Facebook was free and without ads for so long we understood that it was only right that they should start making money.

I recall a friend thinking it was funny that when she changed her relationship status to engaged that she started getting ads for wedding planners and wedding cakes – of course we thought – they are smart – they can target ads to such things.

However, that is nothing compared to the predictive analytics that can and are currently being performed by scientists on the data of Facebook users now.  According to Jennifer Goldbeck [3] scientists can use Facebook “likes” to predict gender, age, pollical preference, personality, and mental state.  Further analytics can predict if a person is a drug user, alcoholic, works well in teams and level of intelligence.[4] All of this simply on the basis of what we “like” using no other information.

A significant problem with this information is that the Facebook user has no control of how this information is used.  They are powerless in how and when it gets disseminated.  None of us would know how we are categorised.

Contrary to what we think, we are not the owners of our personal information – Facebook is.  Goldbeck goes as far to state that “Facebook users aren’t the customer, they are the product.”  This is unlikely to change as the business’s revenue model is based on the commercialisation of user data.

Ethically it might be fine for Facebook to calculate that you are a recently engaged 30-year-old woman living in Melbourne, living in a rented apartment looking to buy a house – and deliver advertising to relating to that knowledge– wedding planners, real estate agents, etc.

However, where do we draw the line between what is commercially benign and what is ethical?

Can we trust facebook with our personal information?  Can we trust how they might use this information?  Can we trust facebook not to cross the line and target potential alcoholics with ads for alcohol or bars or similar venues?  Would this sort of targeting be fair or is it unethical? Is it fair to uncover our vulnerabilities only to use them against us to make a profit? And all the time under the radar of our consciousness?

Many people, myself included, consider it fair game for an ad to follow me after I have visited a website.  For example – I have visited the Woolworths website and the next three sites I go on have ads from Woolworths which follow me though the internet.

However, is it fair game if you mention to your friend in a Messenger message that you are going to the supermarket later in the day to have such an ad follow you on the internet?  Is it ethical for Facebook to drop into your messages to pick up cues on how to advertise to you?

What is to stop organisations from discrimination based on Facebook predictive analytics.  Goldbeck gives the example of selling lists of names to potential employers – who may choose not to hire people based on likelihood of being drug users, alcoholics, or poor team players without even meeting the candidates? 

And while we may ‘trust’ Facebook to keep our secrets – Facebook has been woefully negligent at keeping our data secure and its users safe. 

In 2016 Cambridge Analytica’s made questionable use of 50 million Facebook users to support the Trump campaign in the USA.   This has been followed by troubles with data theft, trolling, harassment the proliferation of fake news, conspiracy theories and Russian Bots.[5]  And in October last year data was stolen from 29 million user accounts (including Mark Zuckerberg’s) due to a data glitch – which has now been rectified.

How and where this stolen data is being used is not known.

So where does that leave things?  Should we quit Facebook altogether?  Some people I know are.  And I personally think that we’ll start to see a decline in Facebook users and time spent on the site.  

There will be new social networks that will take up the slack.  A new disruptor to take on the status quo.

And in the meantime, I would suggest that you bear in mind that every time you like a post, share or make a comment on someone’s post – it’s being recorded and somewhere down the line used as a predictor of who you are and what your preferences may be.

Also keep in mind that the photos that you share are not private – the posts that you write are not private and that the messages that you sent are not private – they are all pieces of data to build up a profile about you.  A profile that will be sold as a commodity to marketers (at best) but who knows who else.

For the time being Facebook is still an excellent way to stay connected and share those selfies and holiday photos.  Just don’t make the mistake that it’s only your friends that you are communicating to.  Nor is the purpose of the site from Facebook’s perspective about connecting with your friends.

Facebook is about data commercialisation and making a profit on using your data to predict what you will buy – whether you know you need it or not.

[1] https://zephoria.com/top-15-valuable-facebook-statistics/

[2] Yellow Social Media Report – 2018 Consumer Part 1

[3] Jennifer Golbeck: The curly fry conundrum: why social media “likes” expose more than you think.

[4] ibid

[5] https://theconversation.com/dont-quit-facebook-but-dont-trust-it-either-93776