So I closed my Facebook account
Could it be that folks aren’t in a buying mood when hanging out digitally with their friends? – Stephen Baker
“I think we changed the world, but this notion that we shouldn’t be self-critical and that we shouldn’t be hard on ourselves is irresponsible.” – Jaron Lanier
As a citizen of the world, no one will really care if you close your Facebook account, (except for your “friends” of course) but if you work as an interactive strategist you had better brace yourself for a flood of questions about closing your Facebook account. The good news is that the questions are all built around the same premise – why? And the best answer to that is to turn the question on its head and ask – why not?
It goes without saying that humans are fallible and we reward ourselves in very strange ways. For instance, our brain’s pleasure centres light up when we pick up (cuddle?) our iPhones. We find it hard to ignore them. I find this sad. And yet it is just one offshoot of our anthropological need to always be in touch with our loved ones, our social groups, and, if you use Facebook, your old high school buddies. There’s nothing new in this. In centuries past, lovers would send notes to each other across town, delivered by a servant who arrived by horse and carriage, the transport technology of its day. Modern technologies simply shorten the distance between us.
I wasn’t using Facebook to stay in touch with people – how could I, I had 3,800 friends? I used it to share posts such as this one, or post news links (mainly political and economic news.) I would also check Google Analytics to see how much traffic was generated on North.com from Facebook when I shared my blog posts. Turns out, not much. Twitter does a far more admirable job, as does Reddit and LinkedIn. And of course there’s Dark Social. For me then, Facebook was all business. The North Facebook page can handle that perfectly well, expertly overseen by our two social lab mavens, Alison and Jessica. They also run our North Tumblr and our Pinterest and Twitter accounts.
Facebook is a great tool for staying in touch with friends and family, I’ll give it that. As I wasn’t using it for that, and it wasn’t driving much traffic to the North blog, then it just became a time suck, as I found myself voyeuristically clicking around the site. What I am suggesting is that Facebook and business, especially the advertising business, don’t get along too well. Here’s Stephen Baker mulling Facebook’s place in business and culture:
“As I researched the social media story that ran in today’s Times, I kept wondering whether Facebook is really made for the advertising business. Could Mark Zuckerberg be in the wrong line of work?
Facebook of course has enough going for it, including a billion networked members, to make a good business in advertising. Revenues top $4 billion. But despite its towering strengths and limitless potential, the company struggles to please traditional advertisers and investors. The company reminds me of a brilliant student who’s following the path his parents have mapped through med school, even though he’d rather be building skyscrapers or writing songs.”
I don’t want to dwell on whether Facebook can get beyond its struggles in re brand advertising and marketing, but Baker, in the aforementioned article in the NY Times, ends on this note:
“That, in fact, may be the ultimate lesson to draw from the social media marketing miracle that wasn’t. The impact of new technologies is invariably misjudged because we measure the future with yardsticks from the past. [My emphases.]
Dave Morgan, a pioneer in Internet advertising and the founder of Simulmedia, an ad network for TV, points to the early years of electricity. In the late 19th century, most people associated the new industry with one extremely valuable service: light. That was what the marketplace understood. Electricity would displace kerosene and candles and become a giant of illumination. What these people missed was that electricity, far beyond light, was a platform for a host of new industries. Over the following years, entrepreneurs would come up with appliances — today we might call them “apps” — for vacuuming, laundry and eventually radio and television. Huge industries grew on the electricity platform. If you think of Apple in this context, it’s a $496 billion company that builds the latest generation of electricity apps.
Social networks, like them or not, are fast laying out a new grid of personal connections. Even if this matrix of humanity sputters in advertising and marketing, it’s bound to spawn new industries in consulting, education, collaborative design, market research, media and loads of products and services yet to be imagined. Maybe, just maybe, it will even be able to sell soap.”
This all speaks to the fact that pure web companies don’t last forever. Yes, Facebook could go away if it doesn’t keep shape-shifting. As Baker says, the company needs to change the face of advertising completely but that may be a Herculean task.
Back in 2010, my pal Roy Christopher interviewed danah boyd about privacy in his smartly titled post: Privacy = Context + Control. And earlier in 2010 I had been struggling with Facebook and privacy in two posts: Facebook and your privacy – part 1 and Facebook and your privacy part 2 – or how to be alone. Not to mention Facebook likes are not engaging.
Every now and again the big scoop comes along, and because our memories are short, or people are willfully ignoring the evidence that is presented, there’s a flare up and then things die down very quickly. Wired magazine ran a story in late December titled ‘How much data did Facebook have on one man?’ 1,200 pages of data in 57 categories as it turns out. And when you take a look at the list of those categories, you will see that Facebook takes a huge dive into your personal data. The term Orwellian doesn’t come close to describing what’s going on here. The reason we can even see those data is because Facebook was prodded by European laws, as European’s take their privacy far more seriously than North Americans:
Now, that data is gathered so that Facebook can parse the information and monetize it for advertising and marketing purposes. The trouble is, quantifying data is a messy business. Stephen Baker again:
“While the rise of search battered the humanists, it also laid a trap that the quants are falling into now. It led to the belief that with enough data, all of advertising could turn into quantifiable science. This came with a punishing downside. It banished faith from the advertising equation. For generations, Mad Men had thrived on widespread trust that their jingles and slogans altered consumers’ behavior. Thankfully for them, there was little data to prove them wrong. But in an industry run remorselessly by numbers, the expectations have flipped. Advertising companies now face pressure to deliver statistical evidence of their success. When they come up short, offering anecdotes in place of numbers, the markets punish them. Faith has given way to doubt.”
Social media marketing evangelists will now have to create a new edifice to preach in. Big data is not the friend of social media evangelists. It acts like Joshua’s horns when called upon to breach the walled gardens of Facebook et al.