Sleeping Giants Take on Fake News and Brands – Is Your Brand Ready?

We have all heard about the vast network of fake news sites that spread disinformation during the recent US Presidential Campaign. These sites use the same clickbait strategies that propelled sites like Upworthy to the top of the digital media scrapheap – inflammatory headlines, sensationalist stories and catchy hooks that tempt you to click just once more.
What Upworthy’s content strategy revealed was a unique combination of skilled teams, data and insights would help the organisation create content that was “viral ready”. As Joseph Lichterman explained in this Nieman Lab article:

Using the user data it’s collected, Upworthy found that elements like humor and a story structure that built in suspense would draw in readers and keep them on the page and better engaged.

This meant that even to tell a story with real information and verifiable facts, the goal for Upworthy was to grab and own the attention of readers as a priority, delivering news and information as a lower priority. As Amy O’Leary, Upworthy’s Editorial Director explained, “If I were to tell you, ‘Hey, I’ve got a 5,000-word piece on fast-food workers’ wages,’ very few people would be excited about that”. Instead the story would focus on building rapport with the audience, engaging through an imaginative framework of shared experience and emotionally engaging writing and opening up into the ethical challenges that come with enjoying something you eat while knowing the background and facts of its production. As O’Leary suggests, “I think we’re reaching deeper into people, because the approach is one of openness and not judgment”.

It’s worth reading more of the article to learn how Upworthy used data to drive its curation process – but what is fascinating (and concerning) is the way that this model has been co-opted by the fake news movement. By ignoring facts as the basis of news, these fake news sites have effectively defined a whole new genre of content catering to our own sense of digital isolation and disconnectedness. If we have learned anything from the last decade in this Age of Conversation, it is that when we (as consumers) come face-to-face with the vast anonymity of the internet, we rapidly seek our tribe – and we do so through the media at our fingertips – visuals, text, keywords. We seek the connection via keyword and conversation – and naturally enough find ourselves in an echo chamber.

Those of us who work with digital technology and audience strategy have – to be honest – been taking advantage of this approach for years. I often say that both love and hate Facebook and its targeting for I know how useful and powerful it is as a marketer, but equally how invasive and manipulative it is as a consumer. So much so that I consciously manage my engagement and sharing on Facebook and limit what I click on etc. But I also know that even my limited engagement there – and on every other digital channel – leaves enough breadcrumbs to be valuable to the brands and businesses seeking my attention. These days my choice to click comes down to context and location.

Because I know that every click rewards not only the brand but the advertiser too.

With the massive rise in programmatic advertising over the last two or three years, most advertisers and planners are unlikely to even know where their branded advertising will appear. It could appear on alt-right websites (the term used to mask white supremicist oriented websites), pornographic websites or even across the dark web. The powerful retargeting tools now in the hands of marketers and their trained algorithms means that ads that you first see on a mainstream website will follow you wherever you may go online. And while the web has some amazing resources, it also has some deep and nasty crevices.

So what do you do when your brand starts advertising in this murky digital world?
Imagine, for example, that you visited a fake news site with outrageous headlines and you did so out of curiosity. What kind of advertiser, you wonder, would support a platform that knowingly creates fake news and information that demonises your own audiences (the people who are your customers and supporters). This NY Times article explains such a situation:

One day in late November, an earth and environmental science professor named Nathan Phillips visited Breitbart News for the first time. Mr. Phillips had heard about the hateful headlines on the site — like “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” — and wondered what kind of companies would support such messages with their ad dollars. When he clicked on the site, he was shocked to discover ads for universities, including one for the graduate school where he’d received his own degree — Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “That was a punch in the stomach,” he said.

Rather than to let this slide, the professor sent a tweet to his Duke questioning its affiliation with a “sexist and racist” site. Eventually this was sorted, as the NY Times revealed.
But in the background, a movement known as “Sleeping Giants” was arising to combat this kind of fake news. This shared Twitter account and network of followers are using a similar approach – naming and shaming the brands that support these fake news networks. The Sleeping Giants publish a list of brands who have discontinued their support for fake news sites – starting with the Breitbart network. But we can expect more of this kind of activity in the coming months and years. The question for brands in all this – do you know where and who your ad dollars go to? And how will you respond when you find your brand in places you don’t expect or want?

Facebook Steps in to Train Journalists

Software companies have built and scaled their businesses by creating and nurturing developer ecosystems for decades. They start with a few, dedicated and passionate evangelists and stoke that passion with fire, autonomy and cool technology. Just look at the dedicated developer programs like those run by SAP or Microsoft, Salesforce or even IBM.

Years ago, when I worked for SAP, we realised that the developer ecosystem was not keeping pace with the demand for software and services. Looking into the future, we recognised that the changing demographic and technological landscape posed a risk to future earnings. So we did something about it.

Over the following 12-18 months we put in place highly targeted programs designed to attract more computing students into the ecosystem. The aim was to build overall capacity, not to create a talent pipeline for ourselves – and it worked spectacularly. Well within 12 months we had vastly exceeded our targets in half a dozen countries, and were able to scale back the acquisition aspects of our program, focusing then on a more operational cadence to our efforts. In short, we kept the fires burning.

But we learned a very important lesson. We learned that because the technology continues to change and advance at an ever increasing pace, it’s essential to train your ecosystem of developers on not just what the technology does today, but on what it will do tomorrow. We learned that our ecosystem of developers – and the corporations and partners that hire them – receive greater value, faster, when we show them our secrets, share our best practices and actively engage them in planning for the future. It’s a win-win-win outcome.

So it comes as no surprise to learn that Facebook is now following this well worn, but successful, path – providing eLearning courses for journalists.

The courses are available through Blueprint, Facebook’s global training program, and focus on the three core pillars of the news cycle: discovering content, creating stories, and building an audience.

No doubt, the course will prove a vital and useful resource for journalists of all ages and experience.

But it will do more than this. It will create a language, focus and framework for journalists and the way that they discover and create content and grow their audiences. Of course there will be a Facebook focus to the courses, but the principles will also apply to other social and digital media properties. And at some time in the future, you can expect there to be certification and qualification programs. There may even be university level partnerships.

And all of this works to create a deeper, richer and more focused ecosystem.

It was only a matter of time.

Sign up for the courses here.

The Importance of Brands in the Social Media Sphere

Facts and figures are boring. Yet almost every B2B brand relies on facts and figures to tell the story of their products or services. Countless whitepapers, videos and presentations wheel out the features and functions or a particular platform, technology or product line, yet everything that we know, as marketers, as data analysts, tells us that there is a better way. A more efficient way. In fact, neuroscience has provided vital clues that help us understand not the power of logic to drive purchase, but the importance of emotion to tip our decision-making.

So at the point of decision, emotions are very important for choosing. In fact even with what we believe are logical decisions, the very point of choice is arguably always based on emotion.

But it is one thing to know something and quite another to do something about it. Just imagine being the marketing director pitching in a new campaign to your CMO where there is little reference to product features and functions. Imagine the questions. The feedback. The personal-professional risk.

This week I recorded a podcast with the NewsModo team. We talked about branding, social media and content marketing. But mostly we talked about how storytelling allows brands to tap into the minds and emotions of their customers. One of the examples I had in mind was this video from the recent election campaign. The video captured my imagination because it’s a great example of how facts and figures can be incorporated into a campaign that drives not just action but activation. In fact, if brands (and political parties) can learn anything from the election results, it is this … listen to your audiences, understand what drives their collective mindset and help or encourage them to act on that mindset.

When you have a moment, check out the NewsModo podcast. There have been some great guests – and it may just inspire your next, best idea.

When the App is Free, You are the Product. Swipe Buster Brings a New Level of Reality

How often to we blithely click “ACCEPT” on the terms and conditions of a new website or app, hungry to explore the digital domain before us? How often do we happily hand over personal information without a second thought?

In the world of social media, it is claimed that we have come to a grudging acceptance that the utility of platforms like Facebook or Twitter far outweighs the cost to our privacy. But is this true? Is it simply the case that we have not yet experienced the full impact of our decisions? Sure we have advertising. Targeting. Remarketing. Automation and nurturing. And more.

But what happens when our private information is available at a fee. To any buyer?

New app, Swipe Buster now lets you find out if someone is using the dating app Tinder. You could, for example, enter your partner’s details – and for $5 tap the Tinder API to reveal the answer. Of course, you could also use Swipe Buster for more mischievous purposes.

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In this world of ever increasing transparency, privacy and cyber security is becoming a hotter and hotter topic. I have said previously that cyber security is now part of your brand – but it goes further than this. HOW you choose to commercialise “your” data can radically impact the lives of your customers.

There is no doubt that “we” are the product being sold across an infinite web of social connections. In aggregate this may not worry us too much. But as more of these kind of platforms emerge, seeking to monetise the vast data in storage, we may well regret our decision to accept those terms and conditions.

And those businesses that have built their valuations on public trust may find them suddenly friendless.

Don’t Tweet at Me in that Tone of Voice

Setting tone of voice in social media is a challenge. How do you balance the assertiveness and authority with a sense of engagement and approachability? How do you strike a tone that delights your customers and attracts new prospects? And what is that “distinctive” personality that can only be expressed through text and how do you create it consistently?

Tone of voice is not just a problem for social media. In a business world where communication occurs largely through the written word – in email, messaging, enterprise social networks and so on, a misplaced word or misconstrued meaning can cause much drama.

Consider the hastily worded email that you sent after a bad meeting. Or the tweets you made in response to a troll. What about the situation where you really wanted to recall an email but realised that you could not?

IBM has been experimenting with language and semantics for some time. Their Watson platform specialises in natural language processing, and with the Tone Analyzer service, you may just catch an overly aggressive email in the nick of time.

How Tone Analyzer Works

We often rely on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to help us profile individuals. It is still widely in use despite being largely dismissed as a scientific method – but I have always found its indicators lacking. I much prefer Sam Gosling’s OCEAN framework. It measures:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

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This framework is used by IBM to assess your social tone of voice. Watson also gives you a score on writing tone and emotional tone. You simply cut and paste your text into the field on the demo page and have Watson analyse your words. It then returns a visual assessment. This is the assessment from the first half of my last blog post. You will see, the post was:

  • 80% analytical (good for this kind of article)
  • 96% confident (I do want you to believe me)
  • 87% agreeable (please, please like and hire me).

You can also integrate this platform into your enterprise tools using the API platform. That could make for a very different form of communication within and beyond the enterprise.

But here’s a question – would you dare to run your marketing copy through this system? What would you find?

Talking Social and Digital Trends on the Echo Junction Podcast

GavinHeatonx300 Podcasts are one of my newly discovered joys. A well curated list of subscriptions basically means that you can remain up-to-date with your fields of interest independently of the mainstream media. This is particularly useful for topics that are too niche for the media or too controversial – which is why my personal subscription list includes podcasts on the topics of digital and social media, Australian history, and the history of writing and language (often including large amounts of swearing).

Podcasts also mean that you have a greater role in programming your own media content, so if you don’t like what you hear, you can unsubscribe and find something you like more.

One of my regular casts is Adam Fraser’s Echo Junction. With dozens of podcasts recorded this year, he has been seeking out and presenting some of the best thinkers and doers in the online world for the last year or so. He meticulously researches, prepares questions and challenges his guests to connect the dots between the enterprise and digital worlds. Some of the best episodes include:

Back in April 2015, I joined Adam to talk social business and the enterprise landscape, and last week we got together again to think about the future – 2016 – and what it might hold for the world of social and digital. It wasn’t an interview. It was a discussion. You can listen in here (and argue with me on Twitter).

Forget Millennials – Trust is the Secret Sauce of Online Commerce

The topic of “trust” is one that we return to over and over again. No matter whether we are wanting to build awareness, consideration or purchase for our business, or establish ourselves online as thought leaders, every word we write, every video we produce and every image we take and share online has ONE CLEAR MISSION. To build trust with our audiences.

When Acquity Group surveyed 2000 US-based consumers on brand engagement, there were plenty of insights and data points. Take a look at the infographic below for a neat summary.

But look deeper. The underlying theme of every data point isn’t the shifting power of millennial consumers. It isn’t about the devices we choose or use. It isn’t even about what we buy or when. It is the REASON we TRUST.

And when it comes to social media, the TRUST EQUATION is simple:

TRUST = Reputation + Action

So the question you need to be asking yourself about your next campaign, your next innovation or project is not “who can I target” but “How do I build trust”. And if you answer that question, you may find that the rest of the marketing funnel falls into place.

 

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Will Social Media Make Politicians More Likeable?

Over the last few days, Australia has found itself with yet another Prime Minister. It is our fifth Prime Minister in five years.

What is fascinating is not just that there has been so much change but the speed with which that change has taken place. In fact, some time ago I suggested that with social media, we are all swinging voters now. And so the transformation in the highest office in the land happened in broad view of the voting public – we were privy to a vast range of opinion mixed with insight as and when it happened.

While the Liberal Party met to decide whether Tony Abbott would be trusted with another six months as Captain, ABC reporter, Chris Uhlmann reminded us that behind the public persona of any politician is an individual – and that at times such as this, that individual faces great pressure and personal challenge. “We forget politicians are human”, he said.

But broadcast media has framed the political landscape in a particular way. It constructs meaning very specifically – broken into catchy slogans, sound bites and images. The meaning, messaging and positioning of every action, announcement and “door stop” interview have been carefully crafted and rehearsed towards a specific outcome – to appeal to particular segments of voters. And in the endless repeating of these messages, the words and actions of our politicians have lost all meaning. We are living Baudrillard’s simulacra, caught on endless loop.

When Stacy Lambe and Adam Smith first created the Texts from Hilary blog, I thought it was genius. It was so clever, in fact, that I suspected that it had been created as part of a deliberate strategy to “humanise” the Hilary Clinton brand. My next thought was that the Australian Labor Party (or one of its supporters) should take the same approach and apply it to then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. It seemed like a no-brainer:

  • A proven and popular model to engage the imagination of the voting public
  • Low cost, high impact media that allows non-scripted communication in a shareable format
  • Distance between the creator of the account/content and the person herself.

But the “Texts from Julia” account never appeared.

About six months ago, a Texts From Malcolm Instagram account appeared and has been steadily gaining a following. Like the Hilary account, it uses text overlays to create imaginary conversations between well-known players on the political scene. In a way, politicians are becoming the cats memes of the internet – instantly recognisable, unusually intimate and slightly irreverent.

Now that Malcolm Turnbull has taken over the big chair at Parliament House in Canberra, this account has become even more interesting. And given NSW Premier, Mike Baird’s blisteringly strong social media performance over recent weeks, it seems that political media strategists are keying into the vast potential of social media. And it makes me wonder – is Texts from Malcolm a clever setup by the former Communications Minister? Will it create the necessary distance and psychological space between the knock-down political action and the voters to engender a new form of electoral trust? And, ultimately, will social media make politicians more likeable?

We’re entering a new understanding of media communications with politicians leading the experimental charge. Brands and businesses largely remain on the starting blocks, but politicians and their advisors – whose very jobs rely on the goodwill and support of the people, are clearly realising that there is advantage to be made in the occasional tweet, video or blog post. It will be interesting to watch this play out in the coming months.

When a Brand Ambassador Takes Control

They say that you can’t control social media. They say that the message is in the hands of your customers. But is it really? What happens when that customer is on your side. And which side, exactly, is that?

During the US summer, Target received a range of online complaints about gender focused signage. In response, the company decided to take on the feedback and transform the shopping experience, making it more gender neutral.

In making this kind of change, Target no doubt, expected some response on social media. But it seems they didn’t expect a customer advocate to step in and take control of the conversation. But that’s exactly what one brand fan did.

Over a period of about 16 hours, a fake account setup with the Target logo and the name “Ask ForHelp” trolled the commenters on the official Target Facebook page. Provocatively arguing with other customers, the account was eventually suspended.

This kind of activity has occurred in the past. Two comedians from Atlanta, Ben Palmer and Nick Price setup an account with the name “Customer Service” and spent time randomly arguing with customers on various brand pages. And while all this makes for light entertainment, no doubt, there are social media managers working furiuosly behind the scenes to clean up the fallout.

While the Target page has been cleaned up, there are plenty of screen captures circulating. Here are a few samples. But the question is – how would you respond? What would you say to your CEO. And where do you go from here?

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