Category Archives: Social Media

I BEGGED to be cancelled, and failed. Where did I go wrong?

Lots of people are getting cancelled these days. For most of them, it wasn’t something they wanted.

Cancel guy

I, on the other hand, wanted desperately to be cancelled, and my best efforts yielded exactly no results.  It left me somewhere in between ticked off and sad; call it pissappointedMy story is below, in blue.

We are referring, of course, to subscription auto-renewals (aka ‘evergreen clause’ or ‘negative option clause’, or in the words of one congressman, ‘zombie contracts’).

Auto-renewal practices are a critical way of sustaining revenue, but if done too aggressively, there are potential huge costs in losing customer goodwill and provoking litigation.

https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2017/02/27/didnt-see-that-renewal-notice-some-states-are-trying-to-help

auto-renew cycle

One survey found that 59% of consumers had been auto-renewed in one way or another without their informed consent, at an average cost of $186https://www.nclnet.org/ftc_autorenew

This is often related to free trials with a commitment buried in the fine print, but it’s not always the case, as I experienced.

section-free-trial-mobile

Auto-renew allows companies to lock in revenue, often without the consumer even noticing. And they rely heavily on this practice; you will have to pry a company’s cold, dead hands off your money (usually with a lawyer’s help) before you get anything back.

Turns out I’m not the only one who’s been disappointed.

As a result, a lot of states are working on legislation to control abuse of the auto-renew, led by California’s Auto-Renewal Law (ARL), which took effect July 1, 2018 and prohibits automatic renewal of subscription or service fees without first presenting consumers with certain terms, and obtaining their affirmative consent.

The questions here:

  • What is the moral obligation to inform customers before they are going to be charged?
  • Is the retention of some proportion of ticked-off customers worth the blowback when they tell their friends/colleagues about it?
  • What actions can you take as a marketer or as a consumer, to avoid the need for litigation?

My story:

  • April 2018 – signed up for one year of online survey company’s premium package to support consulting work.  Not aware of any auto-renew commitment.
  • April 2019 – found out my credit card was automatically charged for another year.  Still used the service so no big deal; still, irritating to get neither a heads-up nor a confirmation that a charge was made.
  • March 2020 – didn’t need service anymore.  Through my account portal, cancelled and switched off auto-renew a month before renewal (on advice of the company).
  • May 2020 – surprised to find that I’d been auto-billed again, despite cancelling.   No email notice.
    • Emailed company: ‘must have been a mistake; don’t need it anymore, please reverse charges, thank you’.
    • Company responds that a) their records show that auto-renew was reinstated on my account (which it definitely wasn’t!)  b) you are ineligible for an exception because it renewed over a month ago  c) we cannot give full or partial refund.  d) you should know this; it was in our T&C when you signed up (you noob).
    • Increasingly animated emails from me met with consistently anodyne ‘geez, we’re real sorry, you messed up, we can’t do anything about it’ responses.
    • Stopped payment on credit card; company now has cover and responds with: “Although our system showed that you re-instated your subscription, from your words, I know this was a mistake and clearly a human error.  Even if I could make an exception for you, because a dispute has been filed with the card issuer or bank, we can’t take any action on the account.”
    • Thankfully, the charge was ultimately reversed. 

But it was LOTS of effort, and let’s just say it won’t help their Net Promoter Score if I am asked for my opinion.

online-reviews

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This is a big, popular, generally well-regarded company and they’re clearly taking all steps possible to maximize revenue retention.  How many other companies are using the same tactics?

Disable auto-renew

Well, in the last few years, over 100 companies have been sued for deceptive auto-renewals, including those shown below (spawning a cottage industry of how to disable auto-renew):

Screen Shot 2020-08-23 at 8.25.16 PM

Sirius XM

Noom

Angie’s List

Dropbox

Spotify

Hulu auto-renew

 

 

 

 

Hulu

SeaWorld

Birchbox

LifeLock

AAA

Blizzard Entertainment (World of Warcraft)

Gunthy-Renker (Proactiv skin products)

Apple-Music-Auto-Renewal1

Apple

eHarmony.com

Tinder

Blue Apron

Cancel-McAfee-Subscription

 

 

 

 

 

McAfee

Ancestry.com

New York Times

Consumer Reports

WalMart’s Beauty Box

It is no secret that a renewal is way more profitable than acquiring a new customer, and the fight for customers is fierce, so the focus on retention is understandable.

Retention-844x422

But at some point the negative impact of heavy-handed tactics, in terms of brand goodwill and image (not to mention litigation costs), could overwhelm the benefit.

My advice:

IF YOU’RE A MARKETER OF SUBSCRIPTION PRODUCTS OR SERVICES:

  • Become familiar with, and follow, California’s ARL; it looks to be the standard going forward
  • Offer in-between solutions that give the customer relief, but keeps them in the fold and positive.  (Example: when I tried to cancel my Audible subscription when my commute was drastically shortened, they offered a deal of $10/year to retain the books I already had, rather than losing everything.  That was a good solution for me.)

ec4fd5905c6732f9-800x386

IF YOU’RE A CONSUMER:

  • Read the fine print on everything you sign up for, and keep careful records
  • If you want to downgrade your level, challenge the company to provide a better option.  Frequently they’ll do anything possible to keep you.
  • Certain apps like TRIM https://www.asktrim.com/ automatically detect recurring charges on your credit cards; they can help identify needless renewals and help with cancellations

Loyal customers

IF YOU’VE READ THIS FAR:

  • Thanks for your patience and loyalty. You have automatically been renewed to follow The Armchair MBA for another 5 years.  You have no opt-out before that time.

A playdate video app for dogs? Well, why the hell not?

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Well, desperate times call for desperate measures.  The oppression of everyone being confined at home all day, every day is testing the limits of patience.  And this extends to Fido.

Dog with laptop

The good folks who brought you Match.com have decided that enough is enough – – there is now a video doggy hookup, er, playdate app that is intended to keep your four-legged friends distracted and occupied for hours at a time while you’re trying to work.

On the surface, it seems silly, but when you consider that your dog is missing out on daily dog-to-dog interaction, this sort of stimulation might come in handy over what is certain to be several more months of isolation.

Just look at that little buddy, bored and looking up at you.  Here’s a way to let technology assuage your guilt!  (it’s actually pretty cool)

bored pup

Full text of the press release is below:

 

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DoggoVision offers a videoconferencing alternative to Doggy Daycare

Dallas, TX – April 1, 2020

Dallas-based Match Group, Inc. today announced DoggoVision, a videoconferencing play date solution for dogs, in partnership with Zoom Video Communications and virtual reality developer Spaces.

Doggy 2

DoggoVision uses AI to match dogs

This innovative networked service is a response to sweeping stay-at-home rules, requiring entire families to work and/or study under the same roof, which for many families had never been experienced before.  Compounding the situation is the closure of pet sitting facilities and services, which in many cases had provided an outlet for pets and a break for their owners.

Doggy 3

While working from home has generally increased the number of walks dogs are getting, human social distancing during these walks has severely curtailed dog-to-dog interaction.

DoggoVision provides dogs (and their owners) access to a video community in which dogs can interact in real time, in both audio and video, with other dogs selected for particular affinities.  Selection criteria include dog size, breed, temperament, etc.  Enabled by the virtual reality of the Spaces app, dogs can see, bark, investigate, engage in play behavior, and even virtually ‘sniff’ other dogs.

Doggy 4

A variety of video background images can be artificially projected behind the dogs’ video images, so that the dogs can think they’re at the beach, in a forest, in the AKC show, on the couch, etc.  According to the company, in beta testing most dogs quickly accepted the scenarios, were transfixed for up to several hours at a time, and there were very few fights.

Doggy 1

Sign-up is free through http://www.doggovision.com, and requires the owner to enter their dog’s description, disposition, favorite activities, typical daily schedules, and any triggers that drive bad behavior (e.g. mailman, vacuum cleaner, etc).  Fees are based on session length, time of day, and size of group.

dogs dating

The DoggoVision software, in addition to using Zoom technology, uses Match.com AI algorithms to optimize dog matches globally.  An owner has the capability to swipe a ‘paw’ icon if a proposed dog or dog group is objectionable.  Software automatically verifies that dog preview photos are current.

Doggy reclining

According to a spokesperson from Match Group, owner of Match.com, OkCupid, Tinder and other services: “Match Group’s mission is bringing people together.  DoggoVision extends this concept to our best friends, and in providing diversion for dogs, creates a little peace in the home. 

Our existing software platforms were essential in developing this product in record time. This is not a simple watch-only video product – it’s fully interactive, inspired by the natural outgoing and playful spirit of dogs. There will be no equivalent version for cats.  Importantly, while DoggoVision fulfills a specific need, it is not intended as a substitute for the obligations of responsible dog ownership.

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Mom’s making lemonade – what’s your excuse?

Mom’s making lemonade – what’s your excuse?

Over the last week, shelter-in-place restrictions due to Covid-19 have turned the work landscape upside down.

This is one story of how one person, given lemons, has made lemonade.

Mom turned 89 last week.  She has been a lifetime pianist, still does performances at senior homes several times each month, and has been teaching now for about 65 years, currently with about 5-10 weekly students.

Mom then and now

The new workplace rules prevent in-person lessons, and as anyone who ever took piano lessons knows, skills deteriorate quickly.  This is not good when you’re a piano teacher.  You need your students to continue to move forward with their skills.

So, with guidance from a former piano student (now at MIT), Mom decided she would try to teach remotely.

And that is exactly what she’s done.

chrome zoom

As she described it excitedly yesterday:

It’s really very easy.  I’m using Chrome, and the Zoom app.  My students (aged 7-17) are quite capable of setting up a camera to show their hands on the keyboard.  I send them an invitation, give them the code, and off we go.  I see their hands, and they see me.  It actually works better for the younger students because they are forced to figure things out for themselves”.

Mom online

Mom has successfully completed her first 5 online teaching sessions, with more to come.

She did not have this skill last week.

What barriers are you facing?  What’s your excuse? 

Love you, Mom.  And yes, I’m washing my hands.

Mainstreaming #Foodporn – – has it come to this?

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A story, perhaps apocryphal, describes the past-his-prime comedian who, when the laughs just aren’t coming, drops his pants, revealing brightly patterned boxer shorts.  Unfailingly it gets a reaction.  Problem solved.

There is an analog if you’re in the business of selling consumer products – – you need to have a compelling story to tell.  Brands who don’t know why they’re better than the competition often resort to fail-safe attention-getting tactics – – puppies, babies, tear-jerker stories, corn syrup…

…and of course, sex.

Burger Girl

Carl’s Jr./Hardees and GoDaddy.com are just two of the many who made sex their Unique Selling Proposition.  You can check their commercials out on YouTube; I cannot safely post a link here.

Both appear to have moved on, ostensibly to broaden their audiences as they move out of copywriting adolescence.  In the #MeToo era, many advertisers have thankfully become more sensitive in how they go to market.

Screen Shot 2019-05-29 at 11.26.16 AM

But there is a convenient alternative: #FoodPorn.  With a wink and a nod and a hashtag that telegraphs ‘we’re hip’, #FoodPorn is titillating with words otherwise not used in general conversation, but without the photos.  The buzzword gives permission.

In the most recent Super Bowl, Kraft Heinz’s Devour frozen food brand actually advertised on a real porn site, Pornhub.com, blurring the line between metaphor and reality.  The brand is positioned as ‘flavor first’, the very embodiment of FoodPorn, and thus this stunt was all a humorous, one-time attempt to make the point and get some attention.  But based on their website, they’re sticking with the FoodPorn angle.  Not sure what the results were, other than a ton of attention.

Screen Shot 2019-05-29 at 11.38.55 AM

But do we want to go there?  Despite the old adage, not all attention is good attention.  Most brands would prefer to focus on the product and avoid the crass associations that undermine credibility and turn off potential customers.  But not all.

Burger 1

At a favorite burger chain recently (not fast food – – burgers are $10-14), where it talked about ‘friends and family’, part of the menu was blacked out.  Upon inspection, it revealed that the blacked out words completed the language: “Post that #BurgerPorn and tag us.  We never get tired of seeing them sexy burger shots.

Burger 2

Upon conversation with the waitress, this is a case of man bites dog.  The headquarters marketing staff decided to send sexed up menus to all of their restaurants, and in at least this case, the local owner disagreed with their judgment and took a marker to it.

I’m guessing the owner knows his customers, sees a lot of moms and dads, and drew the connection that they might not be interested in explaining to the kids what that all means.  (I had a similar experience explaining the Clinton impeachment hearings to single-digit aged kids).

The irony is that these guys have a great concept – outstanding quality, reasonably priced food in a very pleasant environment.

Why mess all that up and distract attention with references to #FoodPorn?

Screen Shot 2019-05-29 at 12.00.24 PM

Does Your Marketing Have Holes You Can’t See?

You may have seen this interesting visual story recently as it made the rounds.

blog_raf_bullet_holes_0

It is a diagram of a World War II Royal Air Force plane showing where bullets had hit the plane.  The purpose was to direct where extra armor should be placed to protect other planes.  Makes sense, right?

Abraham-Wald-left-is-credited-for-saving-many-American-planes-and-pilots-based-on-his

As Mother Jones magazine puts it – ‘Obvious but wrong’.  Hungarian-born mathematician Abraham Wald explained that because all of the studied planes had returned, the study ignored those planes that were shot down – – and therefore where the true vulnerabilities were (the engines).

This is a pretty good metaphor for a classic error in marketing – focusing on the easily studied while ignoring what really needs attention.

streetlamp_v02-800x533

It’s like the guy looking for his keys under a lamppost rather than in the field where he lost them: “Yes, I did lose them over there, but the light’s better here”.

Studying only data at hand means you could be ignoring bigger opportunities that you can’t see.  For example:

  • Optimizing Instagram or Pinterest (or Google AdWords) can be of little use if your most valuable customers don’t go online that much
  • Segmenting your target based on demographics can be very ineffective if your target is attitudinally defined
  • Orienting marketing messaging to older buyers can be largely wasteful if the key influencers are their children
  • Paying attention to only those customers who Opt In in LeadGen may be ignoring higher potential customers who are too busy to be bothered and for whom email may not be the best approach
  • Spending a ton of money optimizing a trade show space may be less useful if only a small % of decision-makers still attend trade shows
  • etc.

Portrait of the artist as a shadow of his former self 1969-72 by Keith Arnatt 1930-2008

 

The solution is to make sure you truly understand your customer, their key attitudes, influences, preferences and pain points. 

Target customer

Only then can you put your reinforcement where it really counts – – and sometimes it’s the customers you can’t see.

Why Online Reviews Haven’t Totally Replaced Word of Mouth (yet)

First recorded word of mouth reco:

Caveman Danook: “Good rock”

Caveman Gok: “Need rock like Danook rock”

danook-larson

Direct, personal, effective.  The best type of recommendation.

Fast forward a few millennia – – millions of shopping decisions are routinely made based on star ratings or online reviews – from total strangers.

In other words, online reviews are often less credible sources than Caveman Gok had.

amazon5-star

While technology has provided lots of review resources (e.g. Yelp, Glassdoor, Amazon Stars), it has not yet figured out how to protect the integrity of these reviews – – thus making them not totally dependable.

And consumers are increasingly realizing this.

At the end of the day, a personal reco from someone you know may still be your best bet.

Consider these news stories from just the last few weeks:

Joanna Stern – WSJ
Is it Really Five Stars – How to Spot Fake Amazon 5-Star Reviews

I visited a Facebook group called “Amazon Reviews” and was promised a full refund on a $44 Amazon purchase of a pet fountain if I did the following on the mega-retailer’s site:
1.
Write a positive review. 2. Post my photos of the product. 3. Rate it five stars.
Not only is this ethically problematic, it is also against Amazon and Facebook user policies.”

There are 4 types of reviews mentioned in the article:
1. Legit reviews – you bought it, you review it, good or bad.
2. Vine reviews – incentivized reviews for prolific reviewers. Objectivity not guaranteed.
3. Incentivized reviews (like the pet fountain above). Objectivity clearly suspect.
4. Fake reviews – often from Asian click farms. Totally bogus – often products reviewed are not even remotely what is listed.
Not exactly encouraging.

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Rolfe Winkler and Andrea Fuller – WSJ
How Companies Secretly Boost Their Glassdoor Ratings

To allegedly combat the bias for negative reviews on sites like Glassdoor, some companies are apparently gently encouraging (and in some cases providing incentives) for employees to leave positive reviews.

Last summer, employees of Guaranteed Rate Inc. posted a stream of negative reviews about the mortgage broker on Glassdoor, a company-ratings website.
“An American sweatshop,” read a one-star review in June. “Worst company I ever worked for,” read another in July. The company’s rating on Glassdoor, which is determined by employee feedback, fell to 2.6 stars out of 5.
– Concerned that negative reviews could hurt recruiting, Guaranteed Rate CEO Victor Ciardelli instructed his team to enlist employees likely to post positive reviews, said a person familiar with his instructions. In September and October these employees flooded Glassdoor with hundreds of five-star ratings. The company rating now sits at 4.1.”

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One study estimates that while 88% of consumers put their trust in online reviews, at least 20% of them are in reality fake (the reviews, not the consumers).

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As time goes on, consumers will judge online reviews with an increasing dose of skepticism, until AI figures out a way to effectively and convincingly screen out reviews that are just not legit.  It’s complicated (see example from the Boston Globe).

reviews-big

So what can a marketer do to encourage the most credible endorsements of their products —  enthusiastic, personal word of mouth recommendations?

chewy

Here are 3 examples, 2 of which involve reaching out and delighting the customer such that they take some sort of action that could influence others:

  • Chewy.com. Over the Holidays we received a mystery package that it turns out was sent by Chewy.com, and included an ink-on-canvas portrait of our dog, and a very enthusiastic hand-written card that said “Surprise!  We hope you and your furbaby enjoy the portrait.  Remember we’re open 24/7.  Call us anytime, we’d love to hear from you!”  So cool.
    –  Yes, this cost $, but they got it back in multiples from the number of people we told about it or who saw our social media posts.  (Not to mention the fact that we’re just a little more likely to continue buying from them ourselves.)yeti
  • YETI.  To become an object of their affection, we merely had to go to the trouble of registering online for a gift we received – – a thermo mug, not one of their over-the-top coolers.
    Shortly thereafter we received a thank you card with several YETI stickers, some of which of course will end up in a visible place, thereby providing a passive reinforcement of the brand to others.
  • Nextdoor.  A bit different from the ‘delight’ category is the true word-of-mouth category, represented by the neighborhood network Nextdoor, which is an avenue for sponsored ads in addition to personal recommendations.  The credibility factor is high.nextdoor
    There are lots of other ways to engender a personal relationship and loyalty well beyond what stars on a review can do.
  • Customer Support that has a personal touch and continuity – so the customer feels a connection with the help desk person (chat, email or phone)
  • Personalized customer outreach (email or snail mail) not asking for anything, just staying in touch and inviting the recipient to provide any feedback they may have.
  • (Making great products and backing them up doesn’t hurt, either).

Random acts of kindness may be seen as an incremental cost, but the personal connection can not only encourage current customers to be loyal, it can encourage them to tell others about their great experience.  And that’s the name of the game.

Just keep in mind: WWDD?

Don’t Overlook Podcasts!

I’ve been wasting valuable time listening to podcasts, and I bet your target audience has been, too.  Why not take advantage of this and reach out to them?

Last Podcast on the Left

In the ever-shifting world of digital advertising, podcasts – serialized audio shows – are a fast-growing medium worth considering:

  • Allows targeting by attitude / preference / affinity rather than simple demographics
  • Highly engaged (addicted) audience – self-selected by interest in the subject matter
  • Loyal audience – regularly tune in to serial episodes – facilitating multiple exposures
  • Multi-platform accessibility – web, mobile, etc. – because listeners need continuity
  • Personal reading of ads by host(s) – ideally live reads – are more authentic and compelling
  • Bite-sized – typically 15-60 minutes per episode

SerialFor example, I listen to Casefile, one of the many true crime podcasts.  The ads seem to fit the tenor of the podcast, and because they are read live in a conversational style by the host, they seem more genuine and less likely to be skipped.Casefile_A_True_Crime_Podcast

My behavior has changed because of this podcast – – I’m more likely to walk the dog (plus!) for some alone time with my podcast.  More likely to ignore family members, professional obligations, personal growth (minus!) by finding excuses to listen to my podcast.  Ultimately, though, I’m listening attentively to who murdered whom, and I pay more attention to the ads than I would in other settings.

According to iab research, podcast advertising spending is growing fast – – from $169 million in 2016, it almost doubled to $314 million in 2017, and is expected to double again to $659 million by 2020.  At some point it will level off, but for now it is an evolving advertising option in growth mode.

Planet Money

Podcasts can help you get smart (or distracted) on topics ranging from personal finance to true crime to trends in medicine to true crime to politics to true crime to business to true crime.  Not surprisingly, podcast audiences vary widely by subject matter.

Stitcher is one of several sites that rank listenership of podcasts, among other things. Most podcasts have well-defined audiences. Top-rated My Favorite Murder, for example, has female hosts and skews highly female, while its true-crime male-hosted counterpart Last Podcast on the Left, skews more male. Mostly because those guys can be pretty disgusting. https://www.stitcher.com/stitcher-list/all-podcasts-top-showsFreakonomicsMore interesting, podcast audiences also vary widely by geography.  Why Illinois prefers Felonious Florida and neighboring Indiana prefers Stuff You Should Know, may remain a mystery.

Podcast Ranking

At any rate, mark this as a medium that’s on the rise.  If you haven’t listened to a podcast, audit one from the Stitcher list.

MyFavoriteMurder

One caution – normal FCC language restrictions don’t apply.  So be careful – – some of these podcasts can get quite earthy.

An additional trigger warning: they can be addicting.  My 20-something daughters referred me to the aforementioned My Favorite Murder, hosted by two very talented female improvisational comedians, and which consists of 50% true crime and 50% random stuff that women apparently discuss among themselves and which should have zero appeal. (“ate 2 pints of Halo Top, stayed in my sweats all day, that’s ok, right?”,  etc.)

Rationally I shouldn’t be that interested.  But now I need my fix.

Which is great for the dog, and great for advertisers.

Facebook is Actually Not Free

This is our monthly installment of ‘Delayed Grasp of the Obvious’.

Just before Facebook Week last week I volunteered a point of view that was posted in Kevin Coupe’s excellent retail blog MorningNewsBeat.com, questioning that as FB doesn’t charge, how can it compensate users for breach of their private data?  (the letter is shown below).

Fair enough question and we saw Zuckerberg, Sandberg & Co. take some baby steps last week after the Congressional rotisserie.

But I made a huge error when I said “Facebook is free already”.  Palm to forehead.

Facebook is not free.   Nothing is free.

As has been famously stated and variously attributed, ‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”.  Meaning, there’s always a hidden or implied cost or quid pro quo with anything positioned as ‘free’.

In Facebook, you don’t pay cash, you pay with something much more dear:  YOU.

In fact, Facebook, and all other ‘free’ sites, are not benevolent social facilitators, they are essentially match.com-like dating sites that try to hook up advertisers with hot to trot consumers.  Except you don’t volunteer things like ‘long walks on the beach’.   All you do is go about your daily life, posting and clicking, and your profile is created in the background, with data you didn’t even know was being collected.

Basic stuff, but really brought home by the latest Facebook issues, which look to become a watershed moment in privacy practices.

As a marketer doing anything online, understand that your future efforts to connect with consumers is going to have to deal with increasing amounts of skepticism, where consumers make a more informed decision about whether hitting that last click-bait article, or signing up for something that looks free.
– and increasing privacy laws will likely mean greater disclosure and more overt opt-in requirements.

As a consumer, realize that online you are first a commodity, not some company’s friend, and you need to take exceptional care of YOU.

The days of ‘free’ services are waning.  And this is not just another conspiracy theory.

MNB_Logo1_257x98
April 6, 2018

I liked this email about the Facebook situation from MNB reader David Tuchler:

So here’s the thing: any normal business that screwed up or compromised its customers’ privacy or violated any other customer rights would be compelled to offer some sort of make-good (morally if not legally). If the laundry scorches your shirt, they cover the cost of the shirt or give you a credit. Even Equifax offered a identity protection service, even if it was sort of a ‘honestly, you can trust me again’ thing. The point is that the injured party is somehow compensated.

Facebook is different – it does not collect revenue from its consumer users. So even with millions of its users’ confidential data breached and a market cap of $464 Billion (that’s over $200 per user or $6000 per affected user), does Facebook have a responsibility to somehow make things right? And how would that even happen? In-kind gestures (we’ll extend your subscription another 3 months) doesn’t necessarily work here – – not only because FB is free already, but I don’t want any more FB – – I actually want less.

This is one of those areas where the law hasn’t kept up with the fast-moving nature of online activity (sort of analogous to the online sales avoid sales tax loophole). To the extent these social media companies have no avenue to make things right, I would have to agree with the European direction of requiring more strict and obvious safeguards and opt-in mechanisms so that risks are made clear and users can make a more rational judgment on whether to join or not.

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‘Facebook Real’ can help you handle fake news – – from your friends

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As you may have heard, social networking giant Facebook today quietly announced the test marketing of an updated version, called Facebook Real, with the stated objective of improving the Facebook user experience.

Facebook ratings

Facebook has always taken some flak about its negative effects, so this seems a worthwhile goal.  But cynics as we are, The Armchair MBA feels Facebook Real is just a misdirection play to divert attention from the ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal (CEO Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before the US Congress in the near future).

In any case, this is an example of how a seemingly innocuous reason-for-being (exploit the constant human needs of attention and affirmation to create an online community and attract eyeballs) can instead have the opposite effect (while also creating an international political scandal).
In today’s online world, nothing is 100% predictable.   Or even 50%.
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Since its founding in 2004, Facebook in 2017 has reached over 2 billion active users and a market value of over half a trillion dollars (although the recent scandal chopped about $50 billion – !! – off its market cap).

Along the way, however, the effect of never-ending positive posts from friends combined with lack of personal interaction has drawn increasing criticism for its negative psychological effects – – leading to a press release in December 2017 from Facebook’s own researchers admitting that sometimes people “felt worse” after spending time online.

FB Research

Facebook has itself experimented with a ‘dislike button’ (which they call a ‘downvote button’) to give users some measure of control.  But this hasn’t gone anywhere.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/facebook-is-testing-a-dislike-button-called-downvote-with-select-users

Downvote 2

How will Facebook Real be different?
Facebook Real is a different way to help some users better cope with a continuous stream of positive posts, while still staying connected.

It is well known that the carefully curated posts of acquaintances’ positive experiences – – an accomplishment, a great vacation, a financial windfall, a celebrity sighting, etc. — are in reality your friends’ personal Highlight Reels.  No one has a life as fabulous as any single person on Facebook, let alone everyone combined.
Indeed, as the Facebook researchers noted, “reading about others online might lead to negative social comparison” – – in other words, feelings of relative inferiority.

 

Facebook Real takes a different approach that is elegant in its simplicity. It essentially attempts to make feeds more representative of real life, including the ups as well as the downs – – and relies on Facebook’s seemingly endless personal data trove, combined with some remarkable algorithmic programming.

FacebookReal

In the test, every 2 or 3 actual positive posts from a person will be supplemented by one ‘fake’ post that is designed to reflect the realities of life. These ‘reality’ posts will be woven into the feed naturally, based on what Facebook knows about you.

For example, if Person A posts ‘my daughter is on the honor roll’ followed by ‘my husband just achieved his karate green belt’, or ‘got first row tickets to the Final Four’, it will be followed by a random post that Facebook has created but which is based on the person’s actual life.
If Facebook’s data shows that this person has, say, experienced a drop in credit score, a mortgage default, a threatening blackmail note from a spurned co-worker, a pet that failed obedience training, or a child that was recently bailed out of prison, this will be skillfully used to create a real-looking post sent from that person.  The ‘sender’ will not be aware of this ‘faux post’.

fb - final

The result will theoretically provide a break from the incessant stream of positives and show that everyone actually deals with real life, leading to a more interested, engaged and stable universe of Facebook users.

The downside is of course that Facebook Real relies on leveraging ever-increasing and ever-intrusive data on its users, which is not consistent with current attitudinal trends.

Look for more information on Facebook Real in coming weeks, and please contact The Armchair MBA if you suspect you may be in the test group. We’ll (anonymously, of course), provide an update in a future post.

Inside Candidate URL Guerrilla Warfare!

Recently Donald Trump’s campaign acquired the domain for jebbush.com* and directed it to donaldjtrump.com.

This raises the question, what sort of campaign is Jeb! running when his staff hasn’t even registered his own name?

Classic domain warfare dictates scooping up all likely (as well as expected negative) URLs so you can control the message.

As it turns out, Jeb! is not the only one who has missed this rather basic tactic.  (the screen shots below can be clicked through to the actual sites).  In fact, depending on whether the middle initial ‘J’ is involved, The Donald missed a few himself.

—> http://www.tedcruz.com was taken over by a group promoting immigration reform, forcing Ted’s people to base operations on tedcruz.org (wouldn’t have been his first choice).

—> http://www.carlyfiorina.org was hijacked by someone with an axe to grind.  (spoiler alert: the last screen tells us it was 30,000 people – – all of whom had families)

…and Donald himself was caught flat-footed when he allowed http://www.trumpsucks.com to be directed to none other than Fox News’s Megyn Kelly!  Megyn punks Donald!

By the measure of controlling the URL landscape, overall, aside from the Megyn Kelly thing, Trump does pretty well.  He grabbed Jeb’s site (probably paid a squatter for it), and got ahead of a few ‘Ihate***.com’ sites, including some of his competitors. (see chart below)

Ted Cruz and Jeb! fare worst.  They don’t have their name.com URL and both need a less obvious URL for their base of operations.  Jeb particularly has been rumored as a presidential candidate for at least 30 years.  You would think he would have been savvy enough to get ahead of the game and grab his own name domain.

John Kasich, Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson, and Hillary Clinton have decided to invest in only one URL.  The others are somewhere in between.

Is URL control a huge deal?  Probably not – – someone who gets redirected is likely not going to be automatically swayed just by landing on an unexpected site.

But still, there’s something to be said for controlling access to your message.  Maybe it’s time for each of us to look at www.(your name)sucks.com and see what comes up!

URLMatrix

*in WordPress, jebbush auto-corrects to nebbish.  hmmm.