Is Facebook Polluting Itself From Within?

By now, if you’re on Facebook enough each day, you’ve probably noticed the persistent presence of some people who think you should know about them. They aren’t your friends and they aren’t Fans of your business page.

No, instead these special un-invented guests to your Facebook News Feed belong to a category of what’s called Suggested Posts. And if they’re any indication of how Facebook “knows” you, its brain isn’t looking so smart.

In any given week, I get posts polluting my Facebook stream pertaining to lowering my bills (with a picture of the ugliest senior citizen you have ever seen), annoying Multi-Level-Marketers, political figures I would never support and more. You’ve undoubtedly run into them too.

Sometimes we want to help our social media channels get to know us better, but we have to be convinced that the networks we choose really “get us” within a very short period of time. If Pandora can help us discover better new music based on our preferences or Amazon can find us better book recommendations, the bar of every channel’s “brain” is going to be raised in terms of speed and accuracy. We’re only going to demand more.

But here’s the thing. I don’t want to help Facebook know me. It’s not even a privacy thing as much as my believing Facebook can’t make better recommendations than they currently do without a lot of work – and it shouldn’t need to come from me.

After all, I have “Liked” 267 things online that Facebook could monitor and learn from as is. It would not take a rocket scientist to understand many of my major passions in life: Branding, the Chicago Bears, Mexican food, craft beer, Apple and more. This isn’t guesswork. Anybody can see it.

If it’s truly a suggestion based on my preferences, the fact that these suggestions are, more often than not, just plain awful doesn’t give me a great deal of confidence. And call me lazy but do we need much more than a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” voting mechanism? Do I need to choose from about 6-7 different reasons to tell Facebook why I didn’t like the suggestion?

I think Facebook underestimated one thing about these Sponsored Pages – they’re a prisoner of their own genius in that people have a fascination with checking their stream multiple times per day – anything that interrupts that action, even temporarily, causes a reaction between mild annoyance and downright anger. Especially when it’s something intended to blend in and clearly doesn’t. Therefore, while they might’ve thought “friends of friends” equals instant results for an advertiser, the fact that 5 of your friends might’ve liked that page actually still gets trounced by the fact that it’s still your stream and you want control over what you see.

Natural human behavior beats functionality of technology. Oh wait – a Big Datahead just told me that the Math Men of data were defeating the Mad Men of advertising. Oops. Just maybe not in this case, then.

Facebook Ads a better way to go?

If you want to run a true ad for your business, then run an ad. I don’t know how to say it any plainer than that. Don’t make it a wolf in sheep’s clothing by making it look like a post that belongs in a news stream. Run an ad and don’t apologize for that. If there’s room for it, tell them what you want them to do.

Not everybody has had glowing reviews of Facebook Ads but I’ve actually been very happy with the results for clients thus far. When appropriate, it can work very quickly for generating an audience in a matter of weeks.

Know what I really like about them? I know they’re ads. I know where they are and what they’re trying to do. They’re not masquerading as posts. So I know they’re not trying to barge into my Facebook conversations like an obnoxious drunk guy at a dinner party.

Are we trying to get someone to like a single post or build relationships for the long haul? I assume the latter. So why not put more energy into getting them to Like our brand by clearly defining ourselves or a compelling call to action/offer in ad form – and then having them feel rewarded for that Like with ongoing messaging they want and have asked for?

We have to remember we’re still living in an opt-in world that doesn’t merely pertain to eNewsletters. It’s not just about e-mail sign-ups or RSS feeds. It’s about respecting the circle of friends that person has constructed. It’s something your brand needs to earn.

That takes work. That takes smart content. That takes a manner of writing in a way that tells the person, “It’s like I wrote this with just you in mind.”

These latest avenues from Facebook are shortcuts. It’s all too easy to pay to get into the party. But if the organizers realize they didn’t invite you, your brand will be tossed out quick. Instead, show you know the room or act like you do. What does the audience enjoy reading about, what are their current challenges, what do they love to share with others and if they comment, what are they saying? No matter what mechanism you use, Facebook or otherwise, laser focused targeting of your audience has never been more crucial for placement and messaging.

Still think just talking about yourself works?

Sorry. That’s an idea I just can’t sponsor.

Rose’s Brand Thornier Issue Than It Should Be

I never thought I would see a day in Chicago when Derrick Rose would have his heart questioned, but it’s obvious that we’re officially there. While we can debate to no end whether it’s right or wrong for him to sit on the bench when he’s been medically cleared to play for two months now, the fact remains that there is a definite faction in this town that is flat out frustrated with #1. They see his teammates playing on less than two healthy legs, throwing up in the locker room due to the flu, getting stitches in the head, wearing gear that enables them to play but probably isn’t terribly comfortable and so on. These guys don’t care. They just suit up and go to war.

Ironically, in the Bulls (and the absolutely brilliant Tom Thibodeau) turning their MASH unit of injured players into a Cinderella story, the questions about Rose grow larger – in fact, there’s a giant issue here far beyond this season that speaks to his brand, namely:

How much of a hit does he take as a result of all this?

Do endorsements slow down?

Do not as many of his Bulls jerseys or Adidas shoes or Giordano’s pizzas get sold?

Is he seen as any less of an icon?

The answer for many of us who follow any kind of major sport lies in the psyche of the typical fan, which is always this:

If you help our team win, all is forgiven.

You can think of hundreds of examples of brands that have been slightly dented to outright damaged over the years and still come back (usually Michael Vick or Kobe Bryant come to mind first, though).

Just look at the examples in our town alone.

Michael Jordan was, is and always will be the greatest basketball player of all time but never met a poker table he didn’t like, has not exactly reminded people of Red Auerbach as a General Manager and gave what was probably the angriest, most bitter Hall of Fame induction speech in the history of halls and speeches.

Of course his brand didn’t really suffer from any of that. People remember that stuff occasionally but they’re still going to buy his merchandise and think of him with reverence.

People can occasionally recall Scottie Pippen not going to into a game at the last second because he had a migraine. We’re a great sports town so we may remember that stuff where people in other places wouldn’t – hell, they don’t even stay for the game. But that’s not going to stop people here from thinking of the much larger picture of how great he was as Robin to Jordan’s Batman during those championships.

Some folks wish Brian Urlacher was still with the Bears while others still gripe about how he said, “I don’t care about what the fans think.” Yet I’d bet some of those complaining did it while wearing a #54 jersey.

Bears fans wanted to trade Jay Cutler a couple years ago when he came out of a playoff game with the Packers due to injury and called him “soft.” Some even saw him at a club going up and down the stairs that night. Yet that seems like a lifetime ago and now we talk about how we need to get him a thousand more players to protect him. Sure, many may not love him, but if they hated him they wouldn’t want to acquire so many offensive linemen to prevent him from eating Soldier Field turf.

See the pattern?

The same will hold true here with Rose and bodes well for the future of the brands he’s associated with – especially since this is still mostly a medical challenge rather than a character one, even with people questioning his heart. We can dissect an athlete’s comments and actions (or lack thereof) to death in the moments immediately during or after. But in our attention deficit culture of rapid-fire tweeting, what-did-the-Kardashians-do-today, wondering who we’re going to be at war with next, etc., we simply don’t have it in us to hold on to these minor quibbles with athletes and celebrities for very long. If our issues with famous people we will never know are not literally here today and gone tomorrow, it’s safe to say that we will forget about what those issues were 6 months from now.

The exception would be if Derrick opens the 2013-2014 season by saying, “You know, I’ve practiced hard for all these months but I’m still just not comfortable with playing.”

But that can’t possibly happen. Can it?





The Challenge of Writing One Original Sentence.

I was having an interesting discussion recently on LinkedIn about whether or not you accept people who invite you to connect with no personal message other than “I would like to add you to my network on LinkedIn.”

Apparently in the eyes of some, ignoring this message is egotistical. That we’re passing up potential opportunities for business. That we’re navel-gazing and only care about ourselves.

How dare we get so high and mighty to ignore the invitation from a faceless person who has no ability to write one original sentence other than the template given.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Are we being social or are we social networking? There’s a difference. Because if we’re striving to create satisfying, mutually beneficial relationships, the initiating party should show they give a damn beyond collecting one more name. This is kind of like the person who comes up to me at a networking event, talks 100% about what they do, gives me a business card and then leaves (I swear this has happened to me more than once and it’s probably happened to you).

Here’s the next argument: “You need to be clear about who you want to deal with in your intro.” Ah, but I do. And yet, I still get these blanket intros. Which is expected when you have millions of people on a social network, I suppose. But this is about taking back ownership and control of your circle of who you want to deal with and who you don’t. And somehow, saying “No” to a person who makes absolutely no effort to show they value your acceptance of the introduction one way or another is…being snobby? Really?

“I saw your website.”

“I read your book.”

“I read your profile.”

“I’m a friend of ____.”

“We share a Group.”

“I’m a Chicago Bears fan like you.”

ANYTHING. This is…hard? This is considered expecting too much of people?

Well, put me in the camp of greater expectations of my fellow man and woman. On LinkedIn and elsewhere.

I’d say the people who accept everyone and anyone need to re-evaluate themselves and their relationships more. It’s not being snobby. It’s part of being a professional. It’s part of striving to achieve strategic partnerships instead of being Connection Collectors.

Deeper business relationships aren’t born from a template.

Social Media Gurus with No Social Skills

Here’s an ironic moment – we’re sitting across from a person at dinner who is chatting non-stop and loudly about trends in social media. She’s talking about the changes in Facebook search, the Recommendation she just made for someone on LinkedIn, Google’s next big move, etc.

And yet, she never looks up once from her smartphone at her own family. Never puts the phone down. She actually has a fork in one hand and her smartphone in the other.

That doesn’t make her cool. Or cutting edge. Or in the know. It’s actually kind of sick and pathetic.

If we’re to truly understand how to interact with people and build communities, we have to know how to…interact with people.

Hey, it’s really awesome that you know how to grow someone’s social media presence. Kudos to you that you know all about the latest and greatest happenings in social media. That’s important stuff and I’m not being a smartass about that.

But if you don’t know how to have real conversations with real people outside of your smartphone/tablet/computer, you are a social media expert with no social skills. The problem with that beyond the fact that it hurts you in building genuine, meaningful relationships is that we’re not just in the “Like” Building business or obsessed with getting more Twitter Followers.

We’re here to understand the emotional reasons of what makes people tick. What makes them laugh, cry, share certain things and feel intensely motivated to comment. And yes, what makes them purchase things repeatedly and keep them loyal to certain brands.

If we don’t understand that, we’re missing an understanding of brand strategy and messaging toward the very people who could be customers and advocates. If we can’t converse well with people in the physical world, how genuine can our conversations be in the digital space? Maybe some of us can fake it and be immersed in social media without developing social skills…but do we really want to go that route with such a lack of perspective? Do we really think that makes for creating better content?

This isn’t preachy, “remember your family, friends and other important people in your life” stuff. This is about understanding how to communicate with those who have flesh and bone, not just a Twitter handle. Glad you caught Mark Zuckerberg’s press conference on the latest Facebook rollout, but did you also have a dialogue with a person who could be your next strategic partner or customer? How often does that dialogue occur in a restaurant, coffee shop or just a setting that isn’t digital?

To me, brand communication isn’t filled with jargon or what the CEO wants to hear. It’s how you make a connection with the audience that makes them feel something. It’s not about being present but listening and asking questions. It’s not about assuming we know everything about the other individual but coming in with an inquisitive thirst for learning more so we can tailor our conversations in a more personal way – the way that makes someone say, “They really get me.”

To get there, you’ve got to look up from the screen more often and look a human being in the eyes.