Almost Timely News: The End of the Public Watercooler (2022-10-30)

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Almost Timely News

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Almost Timely News: The End of the Public Watercooler (2022-10-30)

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What’s On My Mind: The End of the Public Watercooler

A lot of folks spilled a lot of digital ink this week about the change of management at Twitter. While that’s certainly a discussion topic, there’s a bigger picture angle here: the demise of the watercooler.

As media continues to fragment, there are fewer and fewer places that serve as central points of cultural synchronicity. By that, I mean media and culture we all have in common. In the questionable old days, there were very few media outlets – your local newspaper, the local radio station or two, and three TV channels. For good or ill, almost everyone had the same mass-produced cultural point of view, even when it was horribly repressive, racist, and sexist.

As time has gone by, we’ve added more and more media. Cable TV brought us dozens of choices, and then the Internet made those choices effectively infinite – and bidirectional. We weren’t just media consumers; many of us became media producers. The moment you post on a blog, a video hosting site, a podcast, or on social media, you’re a media producer (quality irrelevant).

In the early days, public social media – like MySpace, Twitter, Friendster, etc. – became cultural watercoolers where people could gather. They were loud, confusing, rowdy, and contentious. Like BBSes and forums before them, fights were frequent and could get ugly, but those spaces still allowed for a lot of serendipity, a lot of meeting new folks that you otherwise would not.

Mired by scandals like Cambridge Analytica, politicians behaving badly, hostile foreign powers co-opting systems to undermine adversaries, and many other issues, public social media channels have become less and less like watercoolers over time, and that trend is accelerating with the changes in public social media. For example, after recent management changes at Twitter, usage of racial slurs accelerated by 10x:

Racial slurs on Twitter

That sort of thing causes people to leave public spaces for greener pastures. Those pastures are private communities like group chats, Slack, Discord, and other private social media communities have fulfilled that role for many people. Now, instead of dealing with random, hostile people in public spaces, you can hang out with like-minded people in private spaces. This phenomenon is something I talked about in the Members Only paper I shared a few months ago.

The consequence of an increasingly fragmented media space, where people (and their attention) is more diffuse than ever, is that lack of a cultural touchstone. As groups become more insular and polarized, we have fewer and fewer ways to bridge those differences. Should you choose to, you could set up your life easily today to never see, hear, or think about anything you don’t agree with, surrounded by like-minded people all the time.

None of this should be news. We have been talking about the fragmented media landscape for a quarter of a century now. But the pace of fragmentation is accelerating. For example, every Discord server is its own community, a closed group of people interacting with each other in ways that are not visible to the outside world unless you’re a member of the group. Take a look at how many Discord servers have been created in the last couple of years:

Discord servers by public link

That’s thousands or even tens of thousands of new communities every month.

Every time a new private social media community is stood up, public social media takes a hit. Why? Because the time we spend in these private communities, these velvet rope communities, is time we’re not spending at the public watercoolers. It’s time we spend with people we have affinity towards – and away from the prying eyes of advertising technology.

The watercooler is gone.

What does this mean for us marketers? The short version is that in a fragmented media landscape, we can’t be everywhere. We can’t even be most places. So we have to find the places where our best users are and invest in those places. That requires market research, requires asking our existing best customers where they spend their time online, and figuring out how to integrate those places and cultures into our marketing.

It means embracing the current new media model, which is creator-led. The creator economy is booming; MrBeast on YouTube earns $54 million on content alone, according to Fortune Magazine. As the media landscape fragments, we can’t rely on a channel – Twitter, Facebook, etc. – for our marketing opportunities. People aren’t tuning into a channel. They’re tuning into creators, into people, into individual media properties. We’ve seen this trend for the last 10 years, highlighted by folks like Tom Webster at Sounds Profitable who has said people don’t listen to podcasts, they listen to specific individual shows. This holds true across the new media landscape.

If we are to advertise, we advertise on public channels that lead to creator communities. For example, a creator has a public broadcast outlet of some kind – YouTube, Twitch, Tiktok, etc. – and then motivates people to private communities like Discord, Slack, Patreon, OnlyFans, etc. If we know specific creators have our audience, we can market to their public audience in their creator spaces. However, it might be more productive to simply sponsor specific creators, rather than target entire media properties as a whole.

One key, undiscussed aspect of these changes is that today’s influencer marketing identification tools are woefully underpowered for detecting this kind of influence. It’s harder than ever to effectively measure influencers, and that’s only going to get worse before it gets better.

Media fragmentation inherently means more polarization and insulation, which are societally detrimental. However, they also mean more focused groups of people, and for the purposes of reaching very specific groups of folks, this is a silver lining. The absence of cultural touchstones also means we can no longer bank on generic, general content and creative; what we create as marketing has to be as specific as our audiences are becoming.

The big public watercooler is gone, and in its place are a million new ones, smaller ones, located all over the place. Our job as marketers is to show up respectfully at the right ones, listen carefully, and participate when we have something of value to contribute to the conversation. If we do this right, we embrace the new media landscape and continue to be effective. If we do this wrong, we will be exiled and lose access to our audiences, perhaps permanently.

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ICYMI: In Case You Missed it

Besides the new Google Analytics 4 course I’m relentlessly promoting (sorry not sorry), this week I did an entire five part series on the US Government’s proposed AI bill of rights. It’s not about the rights of machines – it’s about our rights as people and what machines should or shouldn’t be allowed to do.

Skill Up With Classes

These are just a few of the classes I have available over at the Trust Insights website that you can take.



Get Back to Work!

Folks who post jobs in the free Analytics for Marketers Slack community may have those jobs shared here, too. If you’re looking for work, check out these five most recent open positions, and check out the Slack group for the comprehensive list.

Advertisement: Private Social Media Study

πŸ‘€ I’ve just published a new study called Members Only: The Rise of Private Social Media. What’s it about?

  • What private social media platforms are and aren’t
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  • How many people use private social platforms like Slack and Discord
  • What does and doesn’t work for marketing to these communities

πŸ‘‰ Download your copy of the study for free here. You can get it in PDF, ePub for ebook readers, or MP3 if you want to listen to it instead.

What I’m Reading: Your Stuff

Let’s look at the most interesting content from around the web on topics you care about, some of which you might have even written.

Social Media Marketing

Media and Content

SEO, Google, and Paid Media

Advertisement: Google Analytics 4 for Marketers

I heard you loud and clear. On Slack, in surveys, at events, you’ve said you want one thing more than anything else: Google Analytics 4 training. I heard you, and I’ve got you covered. The new Trust Insights Google Analytics 4 For Marketers Course is the comprehensive training solution that will get you up to speed thoroughly in Google Analytics 4.

What makes this different than other training courses?

  • You’ll learn how Google Tag Manager and Google Data Studio form the essential companion pieces to Google Analytics 4, and how to use them all together
  • You’ll learn how marketers specifically should use Google Analytics 4, including the new Explore Hub with real world applications and use cases
  • You’ll learn how to determine if a migration was done correctly, and especially what things are likely to go wrong
  • You’ll even learn how to hire (or be hired) for Google Analytics 4 talent specifically, not just general Google Analytics
  • And finally, you’ll learn how to rearrange Google Analytics 4’s menus to be a lot more sensible because that bothers everyone

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Tools, Machine Learning, and AI

Analytics, Stats, and Data Science

All Things IBM

Dealer’s Choice : Random Stuff

Advertisement: Ukraine πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦ Humanitarian Fund

If you’d like to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, the Ukrainian government has set up a special portal, United24, to help make contributing easy. The effort to free Ukraine from Russia’s illegal invasion needs our ongoing support.

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Events I’ll Be At

Here’s where I’m speaking and attending. Say hi if you’re at an event also:

  • Heapcon, November 2022, Belgrade, Serbia
  • SMPS, November 2022, Las Vegas

Events marked with a physical location may become virtual if conditions and safety warrant it.

If you’re an event organizer, let me help your event shine. Visit my speaking page for more details.

Can’t be at an event? Stop by my private Slack group instead, Analytics for Marketers.

How to Stay in Touch

Let’s make sure we’re connected in the places it suits you best. Here’s where you can find different content:

Required Disclosures

Events with links have purchased sponsorships in this newsletter and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

Advertisements in this newsletter have paid to be promoted, and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

My company, Trust Insights, maintains business partnerships with companies including, but not limited to, IBM, Cisco Systems, Amazon, Talkwalker, MarketingProfs, MarketMuse, Agorapulse, Hubspot, Informa, Demandbase, The Marketing AI Institute, and others. While links shared from partners are not explicit endorsements, nor do they directly financially benefit Trust Insights, a commercial relationship exists for which Trust Insights may receive indirect financial benefit, and thus I may receive indirect financial benefit from them as well.

Thank You!

Thanks for subscribing and reading this far. I appreciate it. As always, thank you for your support, your attention, and your kindness.

See you next week,

Christopher S. Penn


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