TMW #058 | A world without social media, click farms and crypto scams.

Oct 10, 2021

Welcome to The Martech Weekly, where every week I review some of the most interesting ideas, research, and latest news. I try to look to where the industry is going and make sense of it all.

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Two quick things from me before we get started:

  • Thanks for your emails on last week’s column on thought leadership, seems to have struck a chord, or a nerve. It got picked up on The Headway. If you missed it go here.
  • I wrote something on value propositions a year ago, forgot about it and one of my colleagues made it 100x better. You can read it here.

Here’s the news:

  • A world without social media: Facebook went down for 6 hours this week, costing the company $2.3 million a second. What would the world of Martech look like without supermassive social networks?
  • 88% of clicks are fraudulent: Good advice for measuring effectiveness, trusting your data, and avoiding click farms.
  • Crypto scams: After six months of fever pitch proselytizing about the value of NFTs and cryptocurrencies, the high-profile scams have arrived.
  • Everything else: Youtube bans climate misinformation, new analytics toys, the rise of streaming networks, IBM and the public cloud, where is half of your web data? An update on the pandemic impact on ecommerce, the blockchain CMS, a search engine for emails, and Zuck! The Game.

👇 Here’s everything you’ve missed in marketing and tech this week.

✍ Commentary

A world without social media. Here’s a thought experiment for you: What would the marketing technology landscape look like without Facebook, Instagram or TikTok? Thinking about this leads to interesting ideas about where marketers would turn next and how the apps that rely on these massive social networks could change.

As you probably have read about or experienced this week, Facebook went down for 6 hours due to a server error. This took the entire suite of apps down, locked Facebook staff out of the server rooms needed to fix it, and limited communication inside the company. For those six hours, it got me thinking - these platforms set the many principles for how people use the internet, but what would happen if they didn’t exist?

The Facebook outage happened against the backdrop of the senate enquiry this week, and the reveal of the now-famous whistleblower. The hearing used internal documentation “the Facebook files” to show that Instagram is bad for teenage girls and that the platform has been deliberately tweaking the newsfeed algorithm to maximize rage and human misery for engagement.

There was also another not-so-reported, but significant research study into TikTok, the company which, by the way, just hit 1 billion active users. 3 years faster than Instagram.

The research looked at how fast it takes to radicalize someone with extreme content in the “for you” newsfeed. In the study, about 28% of the 400 videos watched became transphobic and homophobic just by engaging with a small amount of this type of content. The algorithms created by TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram are designed to give you more of what you want and doesn't discriminate between what that “want” is.

We’ve known since the dawn of advertising that leveraging people’s insecurities, and stoking their fears is an easy way to drive interest. After all, what were teenage gossip magazines designed to do? And why do we watch horror movies? I’ll tell you the answer: Dopamine. Because of this, public trust in Facebook has been on the decline for years, but daily active users continue to rise. You don’t need to trust your drug dealer to keep coming back.

Okay, so back to our thought experiment. The algorithmic newsfeed has been a boon for advertisers and marketers over the past 15 years. Surrounding social media algorithms is a fast-growing economy of SaaS companies, apps, and data services, the plumbing that makes it all work.

Martech is a phenomenal marketplace of apps that integrate directly with, have been informed by or had their business model disrupted by the major social networks. Without aggregated user attention and demand that is monetizing a large proportion of the world’s population, the use of these technologies would perhaps be relegated to other areas, say email marketing, SEO or SEM. What remains is a large gap between bottom-of-funnel consideration technologies and top-of-the-funnel tactics powered by the passive insertion of brand messages in a social media feed.

If you talk to any social advertising specialist, what they will tell you is that social advertising is not really about converting customers all of the time. It’s about staying relevant and top of mind with people who one day might want to buy. And so the aggregation and holding of large amounts of attention is the core value proposition of social networks like Facebook and TikTok.

A fascinating perspective on this is the concept of how a social feed highjacks our ability to create connections between topics through spacial and design context - if everything’s forced through the windowpane of an Instagram post then people generally create connections between a brand’s message and the other good things on their feed. The point is that associations matter and social networks are melting pots of associations and connections.

Without social networks, we don’t have the kind rich, contextual targeting across demographics blended with first-party data like purchasing and engagement. The Facebook Pixel is a great example of this. The Pixel is one of the world’s least understood innovations which has had a direct correlation with the growth of Facebook’s ad model.

By joining up events that users take on your website or app, with the demographic, location, and interest categories derived from on-platform interactions,  you have a supercharged, highly granular, and automated process for creating predictable revenue. Facebook pioneered this kind of data collection to drive ads performance, and without it, you’d have far less to work with.

Marketers are masters of outsourcing what they are doing, especially in the enterprise, and this is no different when it comes to dealing with social networks. What has been historically outsourced is the automated targeting and algorithmic bidding for ad placements across these platforms. Sure, you can set criteria for who you want to target with what content, but the rest is determined by a nameless and faceless algorithm that will place your content where it can maximise value and leverage existing engagement. I’d say that most marketers and agencies have been far too comfortable with not knowing what is happening behind the scenes. Without social networks, marketers would be jacking up their creative capabilities to advertise elsewhere. Because getting attention will rely less on the ability of a social network to insert an ad into someone’s stream of consciousness and more on creating a message that is impactful, relevant, and enticing.

If this week has taught the industry anything it’s this: Facebook is a utility that can easily be shut down and replaced. However, social media as a concept is as irreplaceable as the internet itself, and the engagement-driven algorithms that are always giving people more of what they want (for good or ill) are here to stay. Despite all this, it’s nice to take a step back and consider what the world would look like without it, even if it’s only for six hours. Links: Facebook outage. Reliance on Facebook. Public trust and Facebook. Facebook Files. TikTok and buying persuasion. Tiktok reaches 1 billion users. TikTok and radicalisation. The feed and tokenization of reality. Email as a post-social media platform. Against platform determinism.

📈Chart Of The Week  

Ad fraud is bigger than we know. I like this chart because it’s a creative way to say you’ve been wasting a lot of money on programmatic advertising. 88% of digital ad clicks are fraudulent, according to Oxford University, a number that’s significant enough to consider when planning your next round of campaigns. Link

📰 Latest Developments

Crypto scams. After six months of fever pitch proselytizing about the value of NFTs and cryptocurrencies, the high-profile scams are now here. The first one is Evolved Apes, an NFT project that generated early hype, then the founder disappeared with $2.7 million of funds. The other is Tether, a cryptocurrency pegged to the US dollar, revealing that they don’t have enough of the US currency to make good on the 1:1 exchange rate for the $69 Billion held. Links: Evolved apes, Tether.

Youtube bans climate misinformation. Another interesting trend in social media has been the ongoing increase of moderating bad ideas. Vaccine deniers, last year’s US presidential election, and now climate change have become reasons to de-platform people. Climate change signals a big step into content moderation, as a historically older issue with a larger diversity of thinking, this stance is surprising. However, I’d expect nothing less from a private company like Google to move away from misinformation. It’s interesting that many people expect these platforms to have an anything-goes approach to moderation, but in reality, it’s far from it. Link

New analytics toys: Google has announced the new GA 360, built on top of the new GA4 platform. Adobe has also announced real-time personalization capabilities between their fairly new CDP offering and Target, the onsite testing tool, offering a same page “in the moment” personalization capability. GA360, Adobe.

📚 Reading

The rise of streaming media networks. There are brands that are looking at streaming services pioneered by the likes of Netflix as a marketing strategy. The technology is already here where many brands can convert video content into a subscription service or join forces into a content coalition. Streaming is becoming a marketing department commodity. Link Also see this.

Rethinking crypto innovation. NFTs are bad art, bad for the environment and bad for creators. DeFi (decentralized finance) has major enforcement issues when it comes to privacy, safety, and security. Sober thinking for crazed times. Links: NFTs and Art Rethinking decentralized finance.

Why IBM lost the public cloud war. IBM is a historical tech leader but missed the train on public cloud and the consequences have been severe. Culture, strategic investment missteps, and a misunderstanding of how important the cloud will become had something to do with it. Link

🔢 Data & Insights

Where is the other half of your web data? New research from Plausible suggests that about 58% of people, particularly those who are a little more tech-savvy are blocking Google Analytics. There was a joke in adland that about 50% of your ad spend is wasted, and you not knowing which 50, perhaps this can be applied to the world of web analytics too? Link

Ecommerce and the pandemic: An update. The ongoing restrictions of 2021 have continued to propel significant growth in the eCommerce industry. Shopify is up 57% ($1.1B) GMV year on year, the UK reached a record $10B eCommerce revenue in July, and that’s the tip of the iceberg. Link

Are CMOs using all this data they are collecting? Not really, according to Capgemini. Link

💡 Ideas

A search engine, but for emails. This site scrapes emails to give everyone access to promotional codes and discounts without having to sign up. Expect more of this. Link

The blockchain CMS. Blockchains are associated with cryptocurrencies, but the technology can easily be adapted to manage records, and even content, and perhaps is a more viable long-term solution than your typical storage frameworks. Link

The error of media efficiency. Digital marketers are obsessed with maximizing their ad spend through targeting and suppression tactics. But what happens when targeting becomes unreliable, and attribution techniques can’t be used? The argument of this piece suggests that the whole philosophy of media efficiency is flawed and should be rethought. Link

✨ Weird and Wonderful

Zuck! The Game. Can you build The Facebook? Link

Balenciaga x The Simpsons. Today in strange brand collaborations. Balenciaga has created a full episode of The Simpsons for their upcoming collection. Outside of the irony angle, the demographic misalignment is interesting. Link

F*** You Pay Me. Influencers are banding together to take down brands that don’t pay. Is this what unionizing the creator economy looks like? Probably not. Link

Stay Curious,

Make sense of marketing technology.

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Juan Mendoza

Juan Mendoza is an expert in researching global media, marketing, data, and technology trends. He is the CEO of The Martech Weekly, a media and research brand with subscribers in over 65 countries.

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