Avoiding being blindsided in marketing

When it comes to things that are going to impede your ability to be an effective marketer, there are three broad categories, made most famous by Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (hat tip to Tom Webster for continued reminders of the quote):

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“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know.

We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Despite winning the dubious Foot in Mouth award from the Plain English Campaign, Rumsfeld’s quote is actually useful, particularly for marketers who are worried about the future.

You know what you know. You know the things that are going to affect your marketing, such as Google SEO algorithms, email open rates, etc.

You know what you don’t know. If Google’s newest algorithm has hit the Internet, you may not know its impact, but you can read up on it and learn what you don’t know.

It’s the last category of things you don’t know and aren’t aware of that are the problem, because this creates a massive blind spot. Think about something as primal as the martial arts. If you step into a boxing ring, you know what you know, your skills. You know what you don’t know, which is what the opponent is going to do, but you have ways of handling that. Finally, there isn’t a whole lot that you don’t know and you aren’t aware of. It’s unlikely that there will be a sniper in the stands or that the opponent has secretly put lead shot in his gloves. Thus, you have an environment which is predictable. On the other hand, if those other things could happen, and you didn’t know that the rules had changed, you’d have a very short boxing match.

In marketing the danger isn’t competitors per se. They are known for the most part. The danger is what we don’t know. We didn’t know how mobile would change behavior, but more importantly we didn’t know that we didn’t know mobile was going to fundamentally change human behavior. We just thought mobile was a miniature desktop computer.

So the next question is how to learn what we don’t know that we don’t know. What is it and where do we go to even start learning about it?

For me, that begins with having a strong social network that is highly diverse. People from all kinds of social and economic backgrounds, people all across the technological adoption curve are going to be the sources from which you’ll first catch wind of something new. Your network will naturally surface new trends if you listen carefully. If you don’t have that network, you won’t have the advanced notice you need to prevent being blindsided.


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The business of building social media rockstars

One of the most common problems organizations face is the social media rockstar. Now, you may say, hold on there – a social media rockstar is a good thing! It gets our brand visibility, it gets conversation going, it gives a public face to the organization. All of these are good things, important things, but the problem isn’t the person. The problem is the structure. A social media rockstar by default is a single point of failure, a shatter point that, if it breaks for any reason, breaks a whole bunch of things.

The most common problem is that your rockstar leaves and represents another organization, potentially even a competitor in places where non-compete agreements are unenforceable. It’s not just leaving, though – lots of different, complex, difficult situations can arise where you lose a visible personality in an organization.

So how do you deal with this situation? Some organizations just bury their heads in the sand and make blanket decrees that employees shouldn’t go out and be rockstars. I’d like to think that the ideal solution is one that’s an actual employee benefit: increase the number of rockstars you have until you have a full bench. Rather than just a star quarterback, have a star team.

Be in the business of building rockstars.

There are countless recipes for building the social media authority of individuals. The simplest, lowest overhead recipe that works is what I call the rule of 5.

Find 5 things a day to share, only 1 of which should be related to your company, and suggest that employees share those things. You can do this with a variety of tools; one of the easiest is Buffer, which not only lets you schedule social media updates across social networks but also gives you relevant suggestions for content.

Buffer

Find 5 people a day to follow, ideally in the topic area that your company is a part of, on each social network. Tools like Klout are a decent starting place for the individual employee to work with, particularly if they are not super socially savvy.

Read 5 relevant articles, blog posts, or news items a day that increase your knowledge of your space and industry, whether or not you share them, so that when you do engage in social conversations with other people, you’re well-read and well-informed.

That’s it. That’s the simple recipe to teach to employees to get them started on an upward social media trajectory. Start to finish, it will probably take between 30 and 60 minutes a day; you can make the process more efficient by curating recommendations for your employees in all three categories so that they don’t have to do the digging themselves. If you provided all of the data above to employees, the process could take as little as 15 minutes a day.

Build up your staff to grow as many rockstars as possible!


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Why Facebook’s Emotional Testing Isn’t Just A/B Testing

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Much ink has rightly been spilled about the revelation that Facebook wanted to judge whether emotional states were affected and contagious in their most recent research on 600,000+ people. You can read more of the details here.

On social media, reactions have been mixed, from people calling it an outrage to people saying, “What’s the big deal, it’s just A/B testing, get over it”. This latter point is one worth digging into. A/B testing normally is used to optimize conversions and provide a way of understanding how your content performs. What’s different about what Facebook was doing deals more with professional ethics in research. As both Tom Webster and I have pointed out, many organizations in the research space have codes of ethics that give researchers guidelines about what they should and should not do. Here’s one from AAPOR, the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers, from section I A:

1. We shall avoid practices or methods that may harm, endanger, humiliate, or seriously mislead survey respondents or prospective respondents.

2. We shall respect respondents’ desires, when expressed, not to answer specific survey questions or provide other information to the researcher. We shall be responsive to their questions about how their contact information was secured.

3. Participation in surveys and other forms of public opinion research is voluntary, except for the decennial census and a few other government surveys as specified by law. We shall provide all persons selected for inclusion with a description of the research study sufficient to permit them to make an informed and free decision about their participation. We shall make no false or misleading claims as to a study’s sponsorship or purpose, and we shall provide truthful answers to direct questions about the research. If disclosure could substantially bias responses or endanger interviewers, it is sufficient to indicate that some information cannot be revealed or will not be revealed until the study is concluded.

Where Facebook fell down is on points 1 and 3. On point 3, yes, the Terms of Service permit them to legally do anything they want to their data and their users, but there’s a difference between implied consent buried in the Terms of Service and informed participation in a research study. All Facebook had to do would have been to put up a little header at the top of the News Feed to say, “Facebook would like you to participate in an emotional research study (click here for details), are you willing to participate? If so, click the Like button on this banner.”

The biggest part where Facebook fell down was on point 1. The difference between A/B testing the conversion rate of your website and intentionally altering peoples’ emotions positively or negatively is the impact of the potential outcome. If I succeed in manipulating your behavior to get you to buy X% more stuff, there’s moderate to low risk of me causing serious permanent harm to your life beyond financial impact. If I succeed in manipulating your emotions to make you sad and depressed, there’s a certain percentage of people – small, but non-zero – who will amplify that to the extreme of harming themselves or others.

That’s the difference between regular A/B testing and what Facebook’s experiment did wrong. I would wager a class action lawsuit will be on its way in no short order, and it’s deserved for an ethics violation that has had realistic potential to cause serious harm to participants of the study.


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