3 Reasons Why Facebook Communities Are Dead

Facebookcrack

When Facebook started to pop and roll, brands got very excited about the prospect of creating online communities of customers, prospects and fans. The idea was a powerful one: cluster like-minded people together, share information and engage.

Brands flocked to Facebook. They hired community managers and social media experts. They posted daily as if they were filling up the cafeteria bulletin board. They began collecting fans and likes like they were gold nuggets.

And then three important things happened that changed everything about Facebook and killed the idea of a brand community.

1. First and foremost, turns out people don’t really want to belong to brand communities.

There are exceptions of course. Some brands attract legitimate dedicated fans – Apple, Starbucks, etc. But these kinds of brands are the exceptions, not the rules. Most people have no desire to engage regularly with their phone or gas company or exchange holiday greetings with their online storage vendor. And most brands don’t have the ability to engage with real people without talking ad nauseam about themselves. They aren’t really interested in listening, but in waiting for their turn to talk – about themselves.

It’s also difficult to run real-time communications when companies generally operate 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Or that most of the content written for Facebook (and other social networks) is generally done by committee, making it impersonal and extremely boring. Go ahead and read most of the post from a brand and you’ll find that the language is mostly the same: vanilla.

2. Facebook became too big.

Once people started connecting with people beyond their immediate friends and family, it became impossible for Facebook to serve up all that content. The News Feed is only so big. If you “like” 200 people, brands and groups and they each created one posting a day – that would be 200 individual pieces of content – everything day. Double that and its 400 pieces of content. Double that and it 1,600.

The Facebook algorithm simply couldn’t keep up without turning the Facebook News Feed into a Twitter stream. So Facebook needed to start prioritizing the content. It became to serve up content that it guessed you like: content from people and brands that you had interacted with before or shared before. The friends and brands that you didn’t interact with got put on the back burner. In fact, you can be friends with someone and never see their content.

3. Facebook turned into a paid platform.

Facebook went public. When a company goes public, it needs to be profitable. They came up with a simple, yet fundamentally anti-community solution. Only brands to interact with their fans, but only if they pay for the privilege. We are now at a place where most brand content is only seen by about 2-5 percent of their fan base when they post organically. If they want to reach more people – they need to pay to do so.

It’s hard to create a brand community on Facebook when the brand’s post only are seen by a randomly generated 2 percent.

———-

So what does this mean? Social communities – for better or worse – are dead on Facebook and probably on every other social network as well. As all social networks become too large and move to monetize there’s no real opportunities to foster and grow a community.

So what are social networks then?

They are distribution networks for content – much like email lists. They are places where people have opted in for content about the brand – as long as it is valuable and informative content. Otherwise, they will likely leave or block you.

So brands need to abandoned the idea of community on Facebook. It’s not about that anymore – if it ever really was.

It’s about the content.

Fewer Choices, Please…

BigOptionLet me set the stage:

  • Amazon Instant Video has more than 40,000 movies and TV shows
  • Kindle offers more than one million book titles
  • Google Play has 1.5 million apps
  • Spotify offers 20 million songs (including 4 million that have never been play even once)
  • There are 157 “white” colors available from Benjamin Moore (and if you can tell the difference between Sandy Beaches and Sandy Shore then you are a better man than me)

You get the picture. There are too many choices in the digital world. It probably why you have a hard time picking the right movie or the right book. It may be why there’s no way you’re going to paint your bedroom when “blue” has turned into a decision among 510 different kinds of blue.

Too many articles. Too many blog posts. Too many Facebook status updates. Way too many tweets. And what does too many choices lead to?

Confusion, paralyzation and, ultimately, unhappiness.

I recently got to experience this first hand while looking for a coffee maker on Amazon. Search for “Coffee Maker” on Amazon and you get – in less than a second – 24,136 results. You can narrow this down, of course. There are 2,927 different types of coffee machines, but thankfully only 472 espresso and coffee maker combos.

How to decide?

Reviews, of course. But even sorting through the only 4-star and above reviews for coffee machines, I still had 394 products. And that was in aggregate. Even the best reviewed coffee machines got slammed by a few people. How did I deal with all of this?

Postponement.

I threw up my hands and decided to read Gawker instead.

As Fast Company noted recently:

“As the number of options increases, the costs, in time and effort, of gathering the information needed to make a good choice also increase… The level of certainty people have about their choice decreases. And the anticipation that they will regret their choice increases.”

Exactly.

Even reading the reviews on the good coffee machines, I would come across negative comments about it. That stopped me. Got me nervous about committing.

It was easier to push the decision off.

But even worse is the fact that when we’re tired, annoyed and confused – we tend to make bad decisions. This is called “Decision Fatigue.”

Again from the Fast Company article:

“The mind can only sort through so many options and make so many choices before it starts to run out of steam. That’s why impulse buys like candy bars and magazines at the checkout aisle in the grocery store can be hard to resist. We’ve exhausted all our good decision-making skills.”

Forbes put it even better: “Complexity leads to indecision, leads to stagnation.”

Can’t we go back to black or white? Paper or plastic?

I’m interested in hearing from you. Do you get paralyzed by the number of choices for, well, everything? Does having too many choices make you unhappy?

Links:

Digital Music News on Spotify’s unplayed songs

Fast Company on how choices make us unhappy

Forbes on the poverty of choices

Going Live is Really, Really Hard

Technical-Difficulties

For the last two years, I’ve co-led a live broadcast offering for Weber Shandwick.

It’s called – ta da! – GoLive.

GoLive differs from a regular “live stream” in that it is a produced TV-quality show – scripted, multi-camera and with high-quality roll-in content. A GoLive is interactive and embedded within social media. It’s a like a TV show on your website or Facebook page that you can engage with.

We have produced dozens of them and have gone live from three continents.

So that’s why when Apple’s live broadcast yesterday went horrible wrong, I felt that sickening sensation in my belly followed by a utter relief. Relief that the Apple broadcast wasn’t a GoLive. I know that’s terrible, but true. I’ve been there and it isn’t fun.

In case you missed it – and I’m not sure how you could have – Apple’s live broadcast was riddled with mistakes.

The stream kept cutting out. Internal slates popped up in the middle of the broadcast. And for about 30 minutes the Chinese translator spoke simultaneously over the main audio.

It was a disaster.

It’s too late to help Apple, but if you’re going live remember these three tips:

1. Rehearse

2. Rehearse again

3. Rehearse a third time

This means from a content standpoint and from a technical one.

There are so many moving parts in a live broadcast that rehearsing is very important. So is having checklists, best practices and a solid run of show. Something will go wrong – that’s a given. Watch any live broadcast on TV – from the Super Bowl to the Academy Awards – and you’ll see mistakes. But because the directors and producers are experienced and understand live, they know how to disguise them.

That comes from practice.

Going live and real-time communications is what the Internet was made for. It pumps energy, engagement and excitement into any event, product launch or news announcement.

Apple had a rough time of it yesterday, but don’t let that dissuade from going live. It’s worth it.

Links:

If Apple can’t stream an iPhone 6 event… via ZDNet

Viewers on Apple live stream… via MarketWatch

More about Weber Shandwick’s GoLive

What is Brand Content Supposed to Do?

AwesomeContent2

It’s primary mission? It’s prime directive?

Simple.

Inform, entertain or do both.

Brand content shouldn’t be about hawking products. Or services. It be showcasing them in a way that tells a compelling story about what the brand, product or service can do for its customers – whether they are businesses or people.

Content should be grounded in the essence of a brand, but not be about the brand.

Nobody (well, few people) want to watch a product demonstration video about software speeds and feeds. Better would be a video that shows how the software solved real business problems for real people. And done as a story with conflict, drama and a resolution.

The best content inspires action. It gets people sharing it. Clicking on it so they can learn more or participate. It should get them talking: commenting, liking and retweeting.

Too often brands think their digital content should be glamorized advertising. It shouldn’t be. People don’t want advertising. In fact, they actively try to avoid it.

But provide content that entertains and informs and you’ll have customers opting in to read, watch and experience.

Links:

Best Brand Content of 2013 (via Digiday)

The Best Branded Content of 2013 (via Contently)

 

All Media is Paid

MediaRelations

Can we stop pretending there are media categories called earned, owned and paid?

They are ALL paid.

And they always have been.

Earned media is pitching stories and concepts to existing publishers and having them write about your company, product or service. The idea was to tell publishers – be they reporters or producers – a compelling and interesting story and they would want to write or produce a piece about your brand.

It still works this way, in theory, but in an environment where PR consultants now outnumber journalists more than 3 to 1, the pickings are slim.

And pitching news stories is costly. Most brands hired PR agencies to help them break through the noise. That always cost money. Now, however, publishers are struggling mightily. They have entered into native advertising – a polite way of referring to paid content – in a big way.

Brands now have all kinds of opportunity for paid partnerships and sponsored content with publishers.

Call it “paid earned” if you like. And the best way to enter into this paid partnerships with publishers is produce content – worthy content. Content that speaks more to consumers than it does to brand messaging.

Owned media is a brands own publishing channels – websites, email newsletters, social media and blogs. It’s the content the brand creates – be it articles, infographics or videos – that it then self-publishes directly to its fans, followers and customers.

This is also a paid category. It cost lots of money to create digital content, especially the type of content people want to share and comment on. It costs money to build, maintain and manage digital properties like websites, microsites, Facebook pages, mobile applications and Twitter pages.

Now, however, social channels are requiring that brands pay for distribution. Facebook is the tip of this “paid owned” spear. Most brands are now getting about 2% fan penetration on organic content on Facebook. In other words, when a brand posts content only about 2% of their fans see it in their News Feeds.

Two out of every 100 people seeing your content is a lousy number. But Facebook now has many paid distribution options to get that content in front of more fans (and even friends of fans).

Owned media, especially social media, is paid more than ever.

Paid media remains paid media, but with distinct differences. Paid used to mean advertising.

Not anymore.

In fact, paid advertising has been losing its impact for years. People tune out advertising. The paid options that show real traction and interest are “paid distribution.” Using a piece of brand content – designed specifically for a target audience – and then paying to distribute it directly to them.

The effectiveness of “paid distribution” vs. advertising is that brands don’t pay for impressions – a vague way of kind of saying that someone saw your ad – they pay for an action: a view, a click or a read.

If you have a cool brand video why would you pay for an impression? The goal is to get people to watch it. That’s what paid distribution is all about: opening up your content to new, but targeted audiences.

———

Be it earned, owned or paid – ALL media is paid. To be a success, brands need to strategically design programs that tap into the paid aspects of ALL media.

Because if you aren’t, you aren’t doing media right.

Links:

Paid media becomes a mainstay of web series (via GigaOm)

The B2B marketing guide to paid content distribution (via B2B Digital Marketing)

Could your content go further? (via HubSpot)

What’s Wrong with Facebook? You Can’t Scale


Scale2

And that’s ultimately the problem with every social network.

The more friends you get. The more brands, bands, movies, books, groups, restaurants, and organizations you like – the less you’ll see of all their content – even if you want it.

You, my friends, have limits.

There’s only so much “content” that Facebook can deliver to you without it becoming a mighty waterfall of free-flowing content that would drown you and everyone you’re following.

Every social network faces the same dilemma. The more their users grow – the more they follow and friend – the more complicated it becomes for them to deliver you the right content. The content you want. Add to this mess the fact that most people are, well, people. So their content needs shift and change. That’s why Facebook is having a heck of job trying to figure out what you want.

It’s also why organic reach is plummeting for every content creator on the platform. There’s just too much content for every person.

Twitter is having the same problem – they just disguise it better. Twitter allows us to easily segment those we follow into groups a.k.a. lists. I have lists for news, sports, social media, books, co-workers, my team and many others. Without lists I’d be forced to try to keep up using my main feed. I follow so many people – too many – that my main feed moves to fast for me to even read.

Without TweetDeck and my list segmentation I’d be toast.

The solution is actually a simple one. And one that sends shivers down the spine of every social network.

Scale downward.

That’s the bitter pill. Less is more on social media.

Follow fewer brands, fewer friends and co-workers. Fewer news organizations. Clean out your friends and follower lists regularly. Be ruthless. Keep the ones that provide value. Be rigorous and you’ll get better content. You’ll have a better experience. You’ll be able to learn more, engage more, and your content will become more valuable.

But that’s not a message Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the rest can take to their stockholders.

But it is one that will be best for all of us. Be your own filter. Because right now Facebook is learning that they are a terrible filter.

Links:

A Chart that Explains the Reachpocalypse on Facebook (via Convince and Convert)

Don’t Post If You Don’t Have Something to Say (via Richard Nevins)

 

 

All the Fake News Fit to Print

InternetNews

Fake news is now a regular occurrence. A news story that’s just too good to be true rockets around the internet. Just a sampling from the last couple of months:

  • Catholic Pope Francis declares that all religions are true
  • North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un murdered his uncle by feeding him to a pack of 120 starving dogs
  • Sarah Palin accidentally flies to South Korean for Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa
  • Facebook is banning all religious posts at the end of March

All of these “news stories” are patently false. Most fake news sputters out. But not as often anymore. Now some of them are being picked up by legitimate news outlets, especially on their social channels like Twitter and Facebook.

Take the Kim Jong Un fake news story. That not only circulated on FOX-News, the Daily Mirror, NBC News and dozens of other outlets, but these news outlets wrote their own news stories about it before it was finally debunked.

Being fooled by fake news is now a given for consumers. But here comes the media!

The problem for consumers (and now media companies) is the way many of us are now accessing the news.

Gone are the days when people read the print newspaper with their morning coffee or on their morning commute (take any subway in any major city and all you see are people reading devices. Nary a paper in sight.). Who tunes into the 6 p.m. local news cast anymore? Heck, most people are still at work or commuting home at that time.

The advantage of those news sources was the rigor of their fact-checking. Fact-checking, however, takes too long in the age of the tweet.

News now comes in two major flavors: Search and Social. And fake news thrives on the latter.

Social media is instant and rumors and speculation can spread like a virus. Your friends mean well, but often they post the photo with the political quote without checking if it is accurate. A quick search on Google (or at Snopes.com) can often provide you with the right information – but that takes time.

Some of these fake stories are manufactured by pranksters, but some of them are just poor reporting that spreads before it can be corrected.

Look at some of the “news” stories that raced across Facebook the last few weeks:

  • Sarah Palin opining on FOX-News that Flight 370 may have flown so high it went to heaven
  • Asparagus cures cancer
  • Obama has been caught using a stolen Social Security number from a dead man

While I wish the middle one were true, all of these “news” stories are fake. Sometimes I wonder if the majority of the news I’m reading and viewing on my social networks can even be defined as “news.” Much of it is disguised propaganda, opinion dipped in pseudo journalism, and facts that have been cherry-picked to make a point – rather than to inform.

Are we moving into the golden era of misinformation?

What do you think?

Should we be teaching people how to check the validity of news sources? Is fake news becoming a real problem? Have you been fooled by a fake news report?

Links:

The FAKE news story about Sara Palin and Flight 370 going to heaven

Kim Jong Un DIDN’T feed his uncle to the dogs (via Washington Post)

 President Obama stolen social security number DEBUNKED (via Snopes.com)

 

 

 

This Blog Post Will Forever Change the Way You Read Headlines

Headlines

My headline is an example of where online journalism is heading – or should I say “sinking.”

Once upon a time this kind of “link-baiting” headline was limited to, well, bloggers and to low-brow online publishers:

  • BuzzFeed
  • UpWorthy
  • Gawker, etc.

And, yes, I’m guilty of reading ALL of them.

But I don’t read those publications for journalism or even for news. In fact, my skepticism meter is on high alert whenever I’m reading anything on Valleywag and its lot. Use these types of tactics and you begin to lose trust. That said these publications are masters of getting people to click through to their articles and stories. The magic, of course, lies in link-baiting headlines on trivial, but enticing pieces of content.

UpWorthy may be the king with recent headlines like this:

  • “The Only Thing Wrong in This Little Girl’s World is the People Who Won’t Accept Her for Who She Is”
  • “Here’s What Happens When Public Defenders are Overworked and Underpaid”
  • “This is Probably the Funniest, Most Effective Way to Deal with People Who Ignore Science Facts Ever”

Unfortunately, link-baiting headlines and the trivial content is infiltrating real news publishers. I’ve seen them on New York Times and TIME magazine. The latest guilty party and one closer to my geography is the Boston Globe. Or more correctly its sister organization Boston.com. Some sample headlines from Boston.com can’t really be distinguished from UpWorthy:

  • “5 Boston Characters More Disturbing than the Staten Island Creeper Clown”
  • “9 Hotel Nightmares That Could Happen to You”
  • “3 Reasons Why the Fashion Industry Needs a Makeover”
  • “17 of the Weirdest Things Seen on the T”

It’s shame to see the Boston Globe emulating the online equivalent of a supermarket tabloid. But expect more newspapers and legitimate news sources to follow suit as it becomes more about clicks and revenue and less about journalism.

It’s too bad because eventually people will tune out the link-baiting headlines.

What do you think?

Links:

A lot of Top Journalists Don’t Look at Traffic Numbers (via HubSpot)

Stop Link Bating Before It Ruins Content Marketing (via Mashable)

Content First, Website Second

ContentFirst

No one goes to websites anymore, except when they do.

Sounds nuts, I know, but let me explain.

I don’t purposely visit many websites anymore, especially websites that produce their own content. You probably don’t either. The idea of going directly to a website and exploring its content is becoming an old-fashioned notion.

That just isn’t how we discover content anymore. Instead, our content comes from search engines and social networks. We look for something specific and type the inquiry into Google. Or we browse our Facebook and Twitter feeds and a piece of content catches our attention. In both cases, we click a link to get to the content source.

That’s what brings us to the website – the content. We aren’t going directly to the website. A piece of content has taken us there.

There’s a third way as well – email and RSS subscriptions. But the same principle applies. A piece of content grabs our attention and click…

Once there, we read it. Or view it. Sometimes we’ll share it or like it or leave a comment behind.

I know that I rarely stay on the website after I’m done with the content that brought me there. I’d argue few of you do. In fact, the majority of people probably don’t even know what “website” they are actually on. That’s why you get more and more people saying things like: “I read it on Google” or “I saw it on Facebook.”

Would it surprise you to know that only 5 of the top 100 visited websites in the world could rightly be called content destinations (defined as websites that produce their own content)? And that the first one on the list doesn’t appear until #49 (it’s CNN by the way)?

Look at the top 10 websites (according to Alexa):

1. Google

2. Facebook

3. YouTube

4. Yahoo!

5. Baidu (the largest Chinese search engine)

6. Wikipedia

7. qq.com (a Chinese social network/messaging service)

8. LinkedIn

9. Twitter

10. Taobao (a Chinese consumer marketplace)

What do these websites have in common? They are sites that aggregate content – lots of content. They don’t create it, but provide easy access to it and a way for people to react with it. These are places where we can discover content and interact with it – all in the safety and comfort of being among our own peers and social circle.

So what does this mean for brands?

It means they should spend less time promoting their websites and more time promoting specific content. Websites are not destinations, but places for brands to collect and curate content. So treat them as such.

There is no way brands can’t compete with Google or LinkedIn on being web “destinations.” Few brand websites will ever be destinations so why invest in trying to do that?

Where brands can compete is in content. By creating compelling content, especially content with a smart distribution strategy that takes advantage of this new way that people find and discover content. Put your content where people are and where they can get and share it.

Face it, search and social destination sites need your content. So give it to them. But make sure your content drives home the brand message, the brand experience and gets people excited.

More content.

Less website.

 

Hey, Brands, Stop Talking About How Great You Are

Metoo

Let me tell you about an energy company I know called EnergyX.

They are a real company, but EnergyX isn’t their real name. You’ll see why so enough. They are a public company with about $400 million in revenue. They employee 800 employees and have technology products that can only be described as cool.

It’s why I keep up with their news.

But it’s a struggle.

Why?

Because they are one of the dullest companies I’ve ever seen. EnergyX’s content is terrible. The presentation of their content is terrible. Their social media is terrible.

Go to its website and you’re greeted with a big feature banner. It reads “EnergyX Expands European Footprint: Acquires Leading Demand Response Providers in Country Y and Country Z. Read the press releases!” I’m serious – in the age of interactive media, EnergyX wants you to read a press release.

Unfortunately, when you click to do so you aren’t even taken to the relevant press releases. You go to their press release page and are served up ALL of EnergyX’s press releases – in the order they were published by date. EnergyX makes me – the reader – try to figure out which press releases are the right ones (the correct press releases are seventh and eighth ones on the page).

Likely no one does this. Why in the heck would they? All that work to read two poorly written, cliche riddled press releases that describe EnergyX as “a leading company in blah, blah, blah” in the first sentence.

No thanks.

EnergyX likes to talk about itself. A lot. And it thinks because they are interested in EnergyX that everyone else is, too. They are wrong. Rote news about acquisitions, new customers and product upgrades aren’t interesting. Few people get excited about a news release with a headline like: “EnergyX Announces Investment in Software Company: Adds Licensing Rights for Key Energy Intelligence Software Functionality.”

Zzzzzzzz.

What’s maddening is that energy is hot right now. It’s a booming industry with lots of innovation. Think of the topics! Climate change. Global warming. Energy prices. Fossil fuels. Rising gas prices. Home heating. Alternative energy sources. Solar. Nuclear. Wind. There is a ton of news, trends, and content about energy and EnergyX is stuck talking about itself like that boring guy at a cocktail party who keeps droning on about how interesting he is.

EnergyX needs a digital content strategy. They need to learn how to be storytellers – multimedia, interactive storytellers. Forget the press releases. Launch a content hub. Write about issues. Write about trends. Write about the problems its customers face. Excite people. Move them. Compel them to act. Get them emotional. Get them caring. Tell real stories with real people and voices. Make it visual! Photos and videos. Make it engaging and gripping.

Stop being boring. Stop taking about yourself.

Don’t be EnergyX.

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