The only hope: let’s return to its roots.
The best thing that ever happened to social media marketing was the Russians hacking the US election of Donal Trump in 2016. Why? Because it revealed what many in social media marketing have known for a long, long time: That social media platforms are a joke, their valuations are based on imaginary users, and their integrity lies somewhere between Lucifer and the guy who eating people’s faces in the movies.
For marketing consultants like myself, it has been increasingly difficult to recommend existing social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram because – frankly – many of us do not trust the metrics.
And why should we? Facebook does not.
This is from Facebook’s 2017 SEC filing (weight mine):
The figures for our key metrics that include our daily active users (DAUs), monthly active users (MAUs) and average revenue per day. User (ARPU), is calculated using internal company data based on activity in user accounts. While these figures are based on what we believe are reasonable estimates of our user base for the current measurement period, there are inherent challenges in measuring the use of our products across large online and mobile populations worldwide.
The largest data management company in the world says it doesn’t really know if its numbers are accurate. Discretion? Which marketer wants estimated results after this?
It gets worse. My weight:
In the fourth quarter of 2017 we estimate that duplicate accounts may have represented approximately 10% of our worldwide MAUs. We believe that the percentage of duplicate accounts is meaningfully higher in developing markets such as India, Indonesia and the Philippines compared to more developed markets. In the fourth quarter of 2017, we estimate that fake accounts may have represented approx. 3-4% of our worldwide MAUs.
Let it sink in. Facebook admits that “about” 10% of its monthly active users are fake. Interestingly, they do not mention what percentage of their daily active users are fake.
And that’s the problem with social media. You don’t know what’s real and what’s fake anymore.
Social media has not been real for a while.
As marketers and advertisers, we are proud of accuracy. In the old times of marketing and advertising, we occupied the number of television shows, readership for print campaigns and delivery success for direct mail.
In all cases, today’s platforms were heavily revised. You knew with reasonable certainty that the audience was for a particular medium or channel because there was usually a place to go through a place for the numbers.
Traditional media such as radio, television and print had existed long enough for thousands of case studies to study success or failure of individual campaigns. Because these media were part of the public record, it was easy to work backwards to see what mix of media and budget worked and what didn’t.
As an industry, we were able to quickly establish benchmarks for success – not only based on our personal experiences – but in the collective experiences of very clear strategies laid out for everyone to dissect.
It all went out the window with social media.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram numbers were always a joke.
Over the days, the company valuation was based on revenue, assets and human capital and performance.
It all changed when someone came up with the concept of “daily active users.”
The drive to get users became the driving force for social media platforms in a way we have never seen before. Now the occupation of user growth opened the door to advertising and marketing scams on a scale that just wasn’t possible before.
Let’s get something clear: any platform that allows people to create thousands of fake profiles so others can buy likes, followers, retweets or shares is toxic to both advertisers and brands.
Now I understand that the word “allow” does a lot of work in that sentence, so let me expand on a little what I mean.
I don’t think I get many arguments when I say that no matter what I think of them, the most successful social media platforms on the planet are also some of the most sophisticated tech companies on the planet. They have – probably – some of the best AI around, as their entire business models revolve around being able to crunch numbers, facts and hide data millions of times a second.
They are also massive companies, with an army of lawyers and IP bulldogs waiting to protect their fire from any hostile external forces.
So explain to me, how is it that even after everything we’ve seen in the news, people can still buy Facebook likes, Twitter followers or Instagram fans?
The reason: it was always a scam. And we got in touch with everyone else.
If your business is valued on your number of users and the activity of those users on your platform, what do you care if they are fake or not? If you did, you would hire an armada of accountants to ensure the integrity of your user base. I don’t think they ever did and never will.
Social platforms use their taxes.
Initially, social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter attracted brands and businesses on their platforms with promises of free marketing and advertising. The ability to quickly grow a fanbase and subsequent base without the need to hire marketing shmucks like me. Why waste time hiring a professional when you can do it all for nothing?
At first I was in favor of this. I believed that marketing and advertising were often something that only larger companies could afford and that small business marketing was left behind. Social media marketing enabled even a mom and pop shop to compete online.
So many companies spent countless hours and thousands of dollars in human resources to expand their followers online.
After luring them into their honey trap, companies on social media then held followers and fans hostage. You had to pay to access the user base you built and cultivated.
Suddenly, the numbers make no sense. You had to pay to promote or increase positions when it was previously free. The result was disastrous for many companies. The ROIs didn’t add up, but with so many of their customers on those platforms, they had no choice but to keep trying to get the value they could for them.
The transition to such campaigns also opened Pandora’s box for further abuse. Revenue-driven, apparently, got social platforms to continue to look the other way on fake profiles and social media bots because they drove ad sales. Personal data was harvested and manipulated in ways that users could not understand and did not accept.
Most often, it did something about marketing that I’m not sure we can recover. For many digital marketing companies and marketing agencies, it forced us to put down Kool help with everyone else. People who should have known better were doubled with social media marketing for our clients as we knew – for most of them – it was unnecessary.
Marketing and advertising agencies became complicit after this.
As I said earlier, marketing and advertising agencies and consultants must be obsessed with accuracy. We want our customers to have the very best ROI available.
However, as professionals in any vertical business, we are self-service.
One of my favorite examples of how people who would know better would say something for money is real estate agents.
Have you ever heard a real estate agent tell you that it is a wrong time to buy a house? In all my days, I have never read an article by a realtor saying people should hold on to a purchase. House prices rise? A good time to buy; you make your money right away! House prices fall? It’s a buyer market! Lock your savings now!
Marketing and advertising professionals did something similar with social media marketing.
We saw the rise of the platforms in popularity and did not want to get caught up in a severe. The fire was building behind them, and clients often demanded that we help them. So while Facebook and Twitter were mostly untested with little to no actual case studies to speak of – many companies told their clients to throw money into the black hole of social.
What was the result? The majority of social media campaigns are disasters. I know of only a fraction of companies that continue to be serious on social media compared to the rates companies did with traditional advertising or even SEO and non-social digital ads.
You see it in the positioning. When digital marketers talk about social media, they discuss it regarding “reach”, “exposure”, “presence”, “awareness”. It’s the password for “throw your money away.” Do an online search for the effectiveness of social media, and you’ll find the results full of SEO and marketing media on social media praising platforms and strategies.
Real marketers talk about ROI. Impact on sales and impact on lead generation. You cannot pay the rent for the brand. I say this as someone who builds brands for a way of life.
And it’s not just me who says this. One of the biggest brands in the world, Proctor & Gamble, cleared their ad budget and walked away from a number of agencies due to the fact that they were not involved. digital advertising and marketing scams.
Social sharing has been automated to death:
According to Buzzsumo, the average social shares per Article dropped by 50 percent in 2017 compared to 2015. Their data also shows how fast most hot topics become saturated with articles, which leads to only a relatively few winners getting the majority of the community’s shares and hyperlinks.
Another found that bots automate nearly two-thirds -66% – of all HTML links posted on Twitter.
Again, if social media platforms really valued their user experience and were interested in being social, they would have banned such practices many years ago. No more social automation. If you want to engage with your fans and followers, you have to be there for them. You must be live, online, ready to connect.
However, bots are good for business. They increase their daily active user accounts; they make their platforms look more popular than they are. Bots send content, bots like content, bots share content, bots follow people, bots message people – it’s endless.
Bots account for an ungodly 52% of internet traffic in 2017. This number is only expected to rise further as social media continues to be an arms race. In the midst of all this are companies that believe their digital marketing metrics matter.
Your influencer is not that influential.
I am a particular believer in influencer marketing because I believe it is a natural extension of relationship marketing. People will buy from people they trust and will accept suggestions from people they like.
But with the growth of online influencers, things have taken a turn for the surreal.
First of all, many fans and supporters of social media influencers are as fake as anything else. Bots on social media follow celebrities as a means to spam their pages and / or as a means of scraping a list of people for spam later with content.
Second, as marketers and advertisers, we need to be interested in accuracy. But the ability to verify the fan base of an influencer is almost impossible within the platforms. You need to go to third-party apps to try to get a real understanding of legitimacy. Furthermore, you are even the third party grace to give you accurate data. If Instagram decides to close the API for these applications, you have no idea how popular your influencer is.
The future of social media: live, direct and transparent.
The way to solve the social media problem we face today is simple: social media was excellent when it was social and personal. It is necessary to return to the basics.
No more automation
If you don’t have the time or energy or the interest to actually engage with people, social media is not for you. What’s more, you’re not into social media.
Automation needs to stop. Period. Let’s return to a more natural engagement between brands, companies, customers and prospects. Human interaction is the most powerful driver of revenue and sales, as is the best metric for a platform’s real value.
See and be seen
Using live video to establish authenticity in an age when everything is anonymous will be a dominant driver of change for the next five years. Instead of hiding behind memes and curated content, companies should leverage influencers and their employees to advocate for their brands. Reconnect with the basics: one-to-one or one-to-many communication.
I truly believe that the majority of social media companies have cheated the books when it comes to their user base, activity and popularity. It’s time for investors to demand third-party audits of the data before the entire card house falls on people’s heads.
Look, I’m one marketing consultant. I enjoy using social media. It allows me to stay in touch with the people and brands I am most interested in in the world. But at the heart of it is a bug – a bug in the matrix – that needs to be sorted.
There’s a bubble out there, and social media companies that allow fake profiles and anonymous users are at the heart of it.