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I Forge Iron

A theory on marketing via social media

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I read an article today about how Twitter is adding a scoring feature to corroborate whether a given retweet is being discussed or simply repeated by bots.  From what I understand "bots" are programs that generate tweets.  Some are legitimately useful like weather alerts,  whereas some are generating twitters version of email spam.

In recent months I've seen articles about how major companies are pulling away from advertising via social media, and paid online ads because they're not generating (or even leading to) sales.  There have been some significant scandals pertaining to paid advertisements that didn't actually get seen by the number of people claimed.  Major players have coughed up big-time refunds for ad campaigns that very few people saw.

All of which got me thinking about the root cause of "social ills" on social media.  First off, it's a business that's surreptitiously gathering users personal information to resell it to advertisers in exchange for social connectivity via their service.   The business can command more money for the information it's selling if the data set is statistically meaningful. This means there's an incentive to allow trolls, bots, advertisers, and other annoyances into the total population to boost the numbers.  As these services grew, the marketing utility of advertising elsewhere dropped tremendously.  When I solicited bids from several marketing firms, they were all 100% focused on online marketing via the biggest names in the game.  Social media is second only to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) which might as well be called "Whatever Google thinks is important...today".

Back in the dark ages of the 1990's the local phone company would deliver phone books divided into white (people) and yellow (business) pages.  In every place I've ever lived, the yellow pages were more than double the thickness of the white pages.  It occurs to me that if the 1990's ratio of business to private identities was rolled into social media, a whole lot of stuff starts to make sense.  If the majority of social media posts are actually generated by or for businesses, then the majority of the information getting gathered (and sold) becomes a chorus of salesmen singing to themselves.  

I think another factor is less obvious because it doesn't feed our natural impulse.  What if people aren't as stupid as social media would have you believe?  If a company is building an algorithm based on constant stimulation to keep people engaged, it doesn't serve the purpose to promote material that kills debate. "Look at this fool" is a common trend in social media.  It's better for business if idiots and firebrands get amplifiers, while experts get ignored.  The obvious intention to connect every aspect of an individuals identity means that social media presents a huge risk of ruining relationships in a persons life.  Given that threat, it's reasonable to suspect that average people are curating what they do on social media accordingly.  That sanitized version of an identity is unlikely to correlate with what a given person would actually choose.  

So why does any of this matter?  If someone wanted to figure out if a given business plan was viable, they'd need to know where their potential customers are, what they'll pay, what they have, what they need, etc.  This kind of information is incredibly hard to come by.  My local marketing firms had absolutely no idea how to generate this kind of demographic information. Their suggestion to buy ads with Google and Facebook just ran up huge bills with little more than a few charts and graphs to show for it.

So I asked myself, if the information is useless, where is this headed?  It seems like every week I see an article about a country passing legislation or pursuing a legal case pertaining to abuses, fraud, and whatnot on social media.  The cynic in me wonders if we're actually entering a second phase of social media's business plan.  Step one is to grow to where selling information is hugely profitable.  Step two is to ensconce the business in regulations that protect it from competition.  If a piece of legislation hurt their profitability, it would serve as a deterrent to competitors entering the market.

Consider what would be visible if that were happening.  It stands to reason that new legislation  to protect children and consumers would lead to  purging the bots, the jerks, the salesmen, and the trolls from social media's ranks.  Facebook recently revised their news feed rules to focus on friends and family instead of bots and businesses.  As I mentioned at the beginning, Twitter is adding a scoring feature to illustrate whether bots or people are behind viral retweets.   If I'm right, every successive rule going forward will be geared towards forcing businesses out of the social media population and into their advertising channels.  Whether that advertising is worth paying for or not is an entirely different proposition.  A whole lot of  business software is really terrible but it's popularity makes it difficult to conduct business without it.  

Either way, I think there are big changes afoot that collectively make marketing on social media akin to swimming against a whirlpool.  

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I've listened to radio ads for services to craft a continuous stream of connectivity to your customers---which I found funny as after a certain amount of elbow shaking I will block a sender even one in a field I'm interested in; and so create the exact opposite of what they say they are selling.

Of course I'm not on FB or Twit and am even finding linkedin annoying lately...

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Twitter and Facebook are good advertising platforms for some products but lousy for a large number of other products. 

Google on the other hand ... if you can pay enough to be on the first page of a google search, you are in business. If you don't, it is like not being on the yellow pages before 2000.

By the way my experience with the balance between white and yellow pages is different. Either the same or less yellow than white. 

Today, they are completely irrelevant and as far as I know non existent. Their on line version, is outdated and full of old obsolete information. 

The collecting of personal information online without consent or with an implicit consent is illegal but no one is enforcing anything. 

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16 hours ago, ThomasPowers said:

Of course I'm not on FB or Twit and am even finding linkedin annoying lately...

I agree wholeheartedly about Linkedin.  It seems like it's all headhunters (who don't have openings to offer) and unemployed/underemployed people trying to boost their odds of finding something.  The "articles" that get posted in the fields I read are often as misinformed as they are discriminatory.  


14 hours ago, Marc1 said:

Google on the other hand ... if you can pay enough to be on the first page of a google search, you are in business. If you don't, it is like not being on the yellow pages before 2000.

Marc1, first page of Google is unquestionably the best place to  get "found" by people looking for your services.  Paying Google Adwords for top results is based on keywords that are your burden to figure out.  Every additional word, exponentially increases the reach but doesn't necessarily refine the searches.  Any word that obviously works in a competitive field means the keyword cost goes up, and your odds of snagging top billing go down.  A lot of people assume that being seen is a proxy for exposure to paying customers. For the ordinary business, Google can not, and will not, define which individuals searching specific key words will actually buy your product.  Therefore, you can't pay them to send customers your way.  You can only pay for traffic, some portion of which is bots, scammers, and other flotsam.  "Traffic" is assumed to mean popularity, which is assumed to mean productive.  In real life, I have found there's very little correlation between these things. 

When I participated in online marketing for a spa, I can tell you that the top three paid results for my local sector were for competitors who were in dire-straits financially.  Their calendar was completely free of appointments, nobody's ever in their shops, everything is on sale or installment plans.  One of the three listed their business for sale in a trade-specific exchange.  I can tell you that we invested $2,000.00 in Adwords that were limited to our region at a rate of $1.5 per click.  That two grand lasted roughly nine days.  That's 1,333 individual visits and not a single solitary contact with a client resulted.  We didn't even get someone calling with an inquiry.  Most of the visitors spent a few minutes on a page before leaving the site.  Ballpark that at $6,500 per month, it comes to $78,000 per year.  That would be excellent compensation for a full-time salesperson plus marketing materials in my area.  

In contrast, I work for a firm that doesn't have a website, we're not in the phone book, and we don't advertise in any media.  We've been in business for twelve years.  The quality of our work build a reputation that keeps invitations to bid coming through the door.  The sort of high-end client that we are looking for, is not using Google to find an Electrical Contractor. 

Part of the reason I harp on blacksmiths to knock it off with naming their business "XYZ Forge" is because "Forge" is an extremely popular marketing term for stuff that has nothing at all to do with blacksmithing.  If you give yourself a name comprised of overused marketing words, Google won't find you.  That's the reason that big companies use short made-up names like Uber, Lyft, etc.  If they called themselves "Forge Taxi" they'd have to spend the GDP of a small country in Google adwords to land on the first page.

As a marketing strategy, it's much more cost-effective to have a name, and a site that's serving a unique purpose that Google would recognize.  If your site features articles relating to significant industry key-words, you've built-in a ranking advantage for search engines.  It's somewhat analogous to building a memorable and attractive shop that serves an obvious purpose to the community.  People looking at a long list of competitors would recognize the one with a familiar name even if it's not in the top billing.  



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1 hour ago, rockstar.esq said:

As a marketing strategy, it's much more cost-effective to have a name, and a site that's serving a unique purpose that Google would recognize. 

I agree ... and in relation to your comments on how Google can be less than cost effective, you are of course right. There is an art to be found by Google and if you don't know how to do it you pay someone to do it for you.

However the reality in business is that no amount of advertising will turn or make a business if that business is not offering value for money to the customer. Imagine trying to make vinyl popular again, or sell grease for hair to schoolkid, or Lada cars and advertise heavily for that. A lot of business fail, not because they fail to advertise or use the wrong platform, but because what they sell is not what the target customer wants. As simple as that. Then you have the other side, personality, attitude, customer service or disservice and all the other things that kill a business. None of them can be rectified with advertising not even with millions spent on ads. 


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Those are sound observations.  I meant to comment before, but I'm not sure if it's illegal in the US to sell private information. Even if it were, I'm not sure that we have effective law enforcement on that score.  

I agree with you that advertising isn't a cure for a faulty business model.

I think the "art" to being found by google is like building on shifting sands.  The instant that Google's ranking priorities are defined, and "actionable" (not sure that's really a word), Google changes them.  To stay on the first Google search page of a local market requires a near-constant degree of maintenance, improvement, and restructuring.  Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a lucrative business for web developers and a limitless expense for businesses.

Very much like social media, Google is moving away from connecting interested parties, to serving as a gatekeeper of commercial access.  Every SEO change makes it harder to be commercially successful.  This isn't an accident, or a coincidence. 

I've read about efforts to completely upend the internet advertising model.  From what I understand, the idea is to "pay" visitors for watching advertisements.  The pay can be; access to the site, a discount on purchases, a download of a file, etc.  Sites could set up "offer walls" where visitors can choose between offers to watch ads, pay a subscription, or apply tokens from other ads they've watched.  Content providers get paid by the advertisers, both of whom benefit from having visitors who actually chose their products.  Advertisers offering visitors a better value for their attention, would attract more views.  Horrible pop-ups with strobing colors and auto-play commercials at maximum volume will have little reason to exist.

Nobody would need to steal private information because visitors are actively selecting/responding to the advertisements they want to watch.  It would completely change the incentives of social media and search engines.  I can imagine that quite a few people would object to the idea that they'd have to watch advertisements to use formerly "free" stuff like Social Media.  I also think that social media would be completely unrecognizable if it were purged of commercial activity.  My bet is that a whole lot of real people would immediately quit because most markers of their "popularity" were advertisers. 



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