Tag Archives: Social Media

‘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%.

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.


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.


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.


Chicago IFT: Michael Jacobson, CSPI, the Food Babe and the curious impact of social media

I had the privilege of attending a recent meeting of the Chicago Section IFT (Institute for Food Technologists).  The guest speaker was Dr. Michael Jacobson, Executive Chairman of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), who spoke about America’s progress in becoming a healthier-eating nation.

Dr. Michael Jacobson

Dr. Michael Jacobson

Over the last 40 years or so, the CSPI has helped to reduce saturated fatssodium and sugar in our food supply, among other things.  While CSPI has often been a thorn in the side of Big Food in America, its efforts have resulted in meaningful change, usually brought about by government mandate (as opposed to corporate altruism).  And Jacobson is no party-line activist –  – he independently assesses the social benefits vs cost on any initiative, including things as controversial/PC as GMOs (he’s open-minded on this, in case you were wondering).

My key takeaway:  regardless of the advances in food science, our chances of becoming a healthier nation lie in the hands (and mouths) of the consumer.  The locus of influence in food and nutrition is becoming decidedly less institutional.

Food Scientists – heal!
Dr. Jacobson offered that while food scientists have culpability in having created most of the ‘Franken-foods’ that he reviles (“…a breakfast cereal that is nothing more than vitamin-enriched marshmallows…”), these scientists now play a key role in creating healthier alternatives that can be adopted by mainstream America.  

Two things occurred to me during Dr. Jacobson’s presentation, illustrating both the weakness and strength of the consumer:

1) You can build it but they will not necessarily come.  These healthier foods need to appeal to intended consumers for this to work, as was brought home by an attendee who commented that her school district’s new, more nutritional lunches, in addition to costing more, are also discarded much more often by the kids.

The problem is that consumers typically don’t want foods that make health claims.  Putting ‘reduced sodium’ on a package, for example, is almost like saying ‘don’t buy me’.

So the conundrum is:  how do you get people to eat healthier foods without them knowing it?  Not easy.

2) According to Dr. Jacobson, the rise in social media has accelerated the process overall, despite consumers’ sometimes misguided crusades.
Consumers, who previously had no voice, are now collectively applying pressure through social media.

Just this week, the so-called ‘Food Babe’ helped prompt the removal of azodicarbonamide from Subway bread, through a petition that is at 78,000 signatures and counting.  We have been unable to detect one shred of relevant credentials in the area of nutrition, food science, or science in general, about the Food Babe.  She apparently has an undergraduate degree in computer science.  But she cleans up well, is able to get access to influential people, and operates a successful blog.  And guess what – she’s helping dictate your food options!  Deal with it.

Vani Hari - the Food Babe

Vani Hari – the Food Babe

Earlier examples of removed ingredients include:
Kraft Singles removing an artificial preservative (sorbic acid)
General Mills’ Cheerios removing GMOs
And that’s just 2014.
Other recent examples are here, including Starbucks, Gatorade, Kraft Mac and Cheese, and Chick-Fil-A.  These are not inexpensive or simple changes to make, and speak to the power of the consumer.

Yes, the consumer is a fickle, capricious creature and quite often prone to acting immediately (or signing petitions) without checking facts.  But overall, the ability to project a collective voice is starting to make a difference in the food landscape – – and on balance, it appears to be for the better.

Marco Rubio and the New Watergate: Missed Opportunity

These days it’s simply not good enough to have a token effort at social media – if you’re in, you need to be all-in.  A recent column by Kate McMahon on MorningNewsBeat (below) summarizes it nicely, using the recent case of Marco Rubio and comparing Poland Spring’s inaction to Kraft’s opportunistic action for Oreos during the Super Bowl (instantly creating and Tweeting a catchy message during the blackout).


Oreos Super Bowl

The new imperative is not just to manage your followers in real time, but to take advantage of the ability to jump on opportunities real-time, as they present themselves.  So there’s a defensive reason (manage potential crises proactively) and an offensive reason (take quick advantage of spontaneous good luck by leveraging through social media).

The full text and link to Kate’s commentary is below.  By they way, MNB is a great quick digest of a variety of consumer and retail issues, every day.



Kate’s Take: Drip, Drip, Drip

by Kate McMahon

Welcome to Watergate 2013.

We are referring, of course, to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s awkward lurch for a bottle of Poland Spring water and subsequent slurp during his Republican rebuttal to the president’s State of the Union address last week.

Within minutes the Twitter universe lit up with #watergate tweets, and social media watchers anxiously waited for Poland Spring to capitalize on its prime-time product placement moment.

And waited.

And waited.

Even Rubio himself good-naturedly tweeted a photo of an empty Poland Spring bottle right after the speech and has since parlayed his guzzle into a $125,000 boost to his campaign PAC coffers through the sale of Rubio water bottles (certainly abetted by a “Saturday Night Live” spoof).

But as the hours ticked by, and the gulp was replayed on newscasts, parodied on YouTube and the talk of Twitter, Poland Spring remained radio silent.

When contacted the next morning a spokesperson said: “I haven’t seen what’s going on on Twitter.”

Not an acceptable response, particularly for the top-selling spring water brand in America, owned by the multi-billion dollar international conglomerate Nestle.

And finally at 1:20 p.m. Poland Spring weighed in with a Facebook post showing a tiny Poland Spring bottle looking at its reflection in a mirror with the caption: “Reflecting on our cameo. What a night.”

Witty, yes, but way too late. The headlines that followed shouted “squandered,” “missed opportunity” and “fumbled.” The Huffington Postcompared the 14-hour lag to “roughly 14 years in social media time.”

Turns out Poland Spring stopped posting on its two Twitter accounts as of July 2010 and January 2011, respectively. Really?

The lead-footed response had the bad luck to follow a timely moment of social media marketing by Oreo during the Super Bowl blackout. Oreo was already in the game with a commercial, but tweeted “Power Out? No Problem” and a picture of an Oreo with the caption “You can always dunk in the dark.”

(Tide also sent out a tweet saying “We can’t get your blackout. But we can get your stains out” and Walgreen’s chimed in with “We do carry candles” but it was Oreo that got all the attention.)

In fact, the Oreo tweet was retweeted 10,000 times in one hour and lauded as the advertising winner of the night.

And it illustrates the phenomenon that major nationally televised events are essentially “two screen experiences” – what people are watching and what they are tweeting simultaneously.

Since Oreo had a commercial airing during the Super Bowl, cookie execs and its ad agency team had gathered in a “mission control center” to watch the game and monitor social media channels.

With all the key players on hand, they were able to design – and get approval for – a witty graphic within minutes.

Granted, Oreo had a multi-million dollar investment in the Super Bowl telecast and Poland Spring had no way of knowing its product would capture the nation’s attention, thanks to a parched freshman Republican from Florida.

But the two cases illustrate that real-time interaction with consumers on social media is dictating the discussion. If you aren’t prepared to join in, you will find yourself left high and dry. 

Comments? Send me an email at kate@morningnewsbeat.com .

Would you prefer pink slime or horsemeat with your burger?

Well, neither, actually, thank you.  If you’re talking about things that we’d rather not see in our food, you can add melamine to the mix.  All three caused quite a commotion when stories broke revealing their presence in the food supply.

In that respect they have similarities; in other ways they couldn’t be farther apart.  In all cases, the media played a key role.

First, a brief recap (if you’re up to speed, skip to the meat of this post below).

Melamine – – an organic compound, used to make familiar things like Formica, dinnerware, laminate flooring, and white boards.  Melamine also is toxic, and can falsely indicate high protein content in foods.  These characteristics came together with tragic consequences in 2007 and 2008, when Chinese-sourced infant formulas and pet foods that had had their protein counts ‘boosted’ with melamine led to six infant deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries, as well as a lot of killed or harmed pets.

Melamine mom

Pink Slime – – known more commonly in the meat biz as Lean Finely Textured Beef (‘LFTB’), is ground-up low-grade meat byproducts that has had the fat removed, and was approved in 2001 for use as a filler at up to 25% of ground beef content.  In 2012 a scandal arose when it became known that as much as 70% of the ground beef sold in the US contained LFTB but was not required by the USDA to be identified on labels.  While not posing any health risk, public outcry focused on the fact that with no label disclosure consumers were not able to make informed decisions.

pink slime

Horsemeat — just this week, An Irish meat processor recalled 10 million burgers from supermarkets across Ireland and Britain amid fears that they could contain horsemeat, a discovery that poses no danger to public health but threatens to harm Ireland’s important beef business.  While the concept of horsemeat is not particularly appetizing to a US culture that idolized Seabiscuit and Mr. Ed, apparently that’s not a universal feeling.  In fact, according to Food Manufacturing, “much of Europe happily consumes horsemeat as a delicacy.  Still, ‘The Irish are known for their respect of the horse, and they’re not used to eating horses,’ the French newspaper Le Figaro explained Wednesday to its readers.”

tescoscared horse

How are these three things similar?   Easy:  with all of them we were served a nasty surprise regarding our food, which is never going to go down smoothly.

How are these different?  Well, in a few ways.

1) Benefits/Dangers – – Melamine is toxic, period.  It provides no benefit in food other than to increase profits for the producer.  LFTB is clearly not harmful, although it has less protein than the beef it replaces.  On the other hand, it helps reduce beef’s fat content, which is good, and can help reduce retail prices of ground beef, a benefit generally appreciated by consumers.  Horsemeat is similar to LFTB in that it is not harmful, but in this case it seems to have been secretly added to ground beef solely in an effort to increase profits.

2) Outcome of the scandal – – Melamine – – boycotts of Chinese products worldwide, 21 convictions, including 19 long sentences and two death sentences in China.  On the plus side for consumers, it has led to longer-term enhancements in food supply chain testing and security.  LFTB – – as a result of the media frenzy, several beef processors went bankrupt, eliminating thousands of jobs and driving higher prices at the shelf.  Horsemeat — still unfolding.

melamine china

3) Role of the media — with melamine, the media was essential in uncovering the scandal and demanding quick action and accountability.  With LFTB, the media seemed less interested in pushing for the public good than in fanning hysteria (and circulation) using the irresistible ‘pink slime’ nickname.  Certainly without that name there would have been far less outrage.  With horsemeat, the media is somewhere in between – – apparently staying mostly objective and reporting the facts, so far.

slime headline

What is the meat of the matter here?  What are lessons for producers and retailers?

–> With the broad footprint of upstream suppliers and the highly dispersed market for downstream finished products, there can be no such thing as too much supply chain traceability and security, and with access to the right information, consumers will increasingly be willing to pay for safety.  Manufacturers and retailers have a potential danger in the event of an ingredient scare, but also an opportunity to use traceability and source of supply as differentiating advantages, by simplifying sourcing, and investing in supplier audits and shipment tracking automation.

food supply chain

–> Consumers will continue to demand transparency regarding what’s in their products.  Manufacturers and retailers will need to increasingly provide it to stay competitive.  To some extent this is not easy; research shows that consumers often have a knee-jerk reaction to the sound of an ingredient (e.g. ‘pink slime’) without bothering to know the facts.  But pink slime is a very obvious example; there are more subtle perception dangers even with very useful ingredients (propionic acid is naturally occurring and helps prevent bread mold; alpha tocopherol is just another name for Vitamin E; and ascorbyl palmitate is an antioxidant and nutrient; etc.).  Claims like GMO-free can provide a marketing benefit but can also generate significant added costs.  Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is a great concept but can get murky depending on where a product is grown, processed or packed.  Net, providing transparency is a worthy goal but it is still very tricky and will require ongoing management.

ingredient line

–> Social media has helped create a situation where consumers act immediately on rumors and don’t want to wait for facts, which puts all producers at greater risk of a Pink Slime-type incident.  In some ways, this is a risk that is hard to mitigate.  The best advice would be twofold:  1) err on the side of greater disclosure of ingredients so the message can be proactively managed; and 2) in the event an ingredient issue surfaces, use the same social media to immediately acknowledge the problem, present the facts, and communicate what the company is doing about it.

twitter panic

–> The media must remember that with its power comes a responsibility to maintain objectivity, balance and context in reporting the news.  A pink slime-type episode, where sensationalism trumps perspective, can make for interesting copy, but can also have real consequences for real people.

wendys finger