Marketing Nonsense: Meaningless Words and Red Herring Concerns

What is it you do again?

It’s that time again – the Word Carnival has come to town. This month’s topic: Dirty Deeds and Due Diligence – what to watch out for in 2015! The New Year is bright with all sorts of new ideas, but in certain circles there’s still plenty of shady tricks and underhanded practices that we think should be called out.

My take: how to know when you’ve been sold a marketing bill of goods.

The world of marketing is chock full of manufactured problems. They’re manufactured in that – placed in the proper context – they don’t really exist. Some well-meaning and some not-so-well-meaning marketers will then attempt to sell you a panacea to these manufactured problems and your general marketing woes.

Take for instance how uppity people get any time Facebook changes something about their algorithm. I hear it without fail at least once a month.

Wah!” they cry. “Facebook is going to make us PAY to connect to OUR fans*!

That’s when I look something like this:

Picard Facepalm

*caveat: if you own a brand that has worked hard to build your own network via a blog or email list or things you own – through creating great content – you’re doing it right (and you also wouldn’t be saying stupid shit like this).

Why is Facebook’s “zero reach” issue a manufactured problem?

Let’s consider that from Facebook’s perspective you, me, and every other business owner with a small network they already have access to are parasites. A parasite that attaches itself to a behemoth and attempts to divert and convert Facebook’s nutrients (“users”) for our internal needs (“fans/customers”).

You’re not Robin Hood valiantly attempting to save people from the attention-taxing King Richard of social networks. You’re a tapeworm crapping in their information bloodstream.

Bigger brands with their own hard-earned network to leverage like Amazon or Oreo – they’re more symbiotic to Facebook. They add to the relationship by providing useful content to Facebook’s stream that a large portion of users find interesting and want to see/interact with; they also bring users into Facebook from their large, hard-earned network who Facebook might not have otherwise reached.

Hold on to this disgusting analogy for a moment.

The heart of Facebook’s “zero reach” problem is really thanks to something called network effects. 

If Facebook were a country, it would be the most populous on Earth. You are personally connected to X number of Facebook’s users. Your X is probably much greater than the 150 or so proposed by Dunbar’s number of social connections you can keep active in your brain at any given time.

With that X number of people you’re connected to posting around 3 times per day, you’ll already have more to read/look at than you would be able to read in your daily time on Facebook. Reading between the lines, even people you are “friends” with get compressed in the stream – or, weighted as more or less important, if you prefer that terminology.

For instance, while your mom might get 1.2x weight (conspicuously not a fat joke) because you interact with her more often, your “BFF” from HS who you talk to once a year at Xmas maybe gets a .3x weight to anything they post. As a result, you see your mom’s posts much more often and you might go a few months before seeing your BFF’s Facebook-only birth announcement (awkward!)

This happens based entirely on your actions and interactions (in other words: without any business/monetary cockbaggery), so you have more room to see things you tell Facebook through your actions are important. Your news feed is FULL and so far, we’re only talking about your mom and your friends.

Add to that Groups. Add people you’re connected to, but not friends with (Facebook calls that a “Follow”). Add to that posts shared by your friends from pages they like. Add to that promoted posts from Facebook pages your friends like. Add to that events you’ve been invited to. Add to that pages you like. Add to that games you or your friends might play. Add to that apps you or your friends have installed.

It’s hard to visualize the raw number of sources feeding content to you. Let’s put a number to it:

According to KissMetrics, the average Facebook user spends 23 minutes per day on Facebook and is connected to 130 friends and 80 pages/groups/events. That’s 210 content producers, each pumping out around 3 updates daily.

That adds up to 630 unique pieces of content you need to stuff into 23 minutes per day to see everything in your feed (assuming every piece of content is treated equally).

If you take just 10 seconds for each piece of content (including clicking on and reading links, watching videos, etc), that’s 105 minutes required to clear your non-weighted feed each day.

Maybe you’re a speed-reader and take only 5 seconds per piece of content. That’s still 52.5 minutes required to clear your non-weighted feed each day.

Your compression gets bigger and bigger for each new “channel” in the lineup. Holy shit, right? There’s sex to be had and money to be made, ain’t nobody got time for 52.5 minutes of “whatever random crap everybody decides to post on Facebook that day”.

Hence, THE ALGORITHM (not a Eurythmics tribute band led by Al Gore).

Now, recall our disgusting your-business-is-a-tapeworm metaphor from before.

Bigger businesses with their own networks of thousands of customers/readers/whatever will naturally share things that get more play (comments, likes, shares, and straight out views). Your business does not have this same advantage. Ergo, businesses with a HUGE FUCKING NETWORK – by nature of how the Facebook algorithm works for everybody and their mom based on your actions – will naturally have higher weights for their content.

As a result, you, small business owner with 2,000 or so likes and a blog with 4K readers per month and 1.5K on your newsletter – you must pay to have a similar weight and achieve a similar reach as the big boys (short of having really kick-ass content).

Really kick-ass content gets engagement no matter who it’s from. The Oatmeal, Wait But Why, or your mom.

Facebook isn’t punishing you, or being greedy (for the most part) – they’re adapting to the network effect of being a broadcaster with an insane number of channels and shows through which their users surf on a daily basis… and nobody wants to see ads for Draino when they’re missing posts from their mom, right?

So the end-all-be-all lesson of this is: write better content that your users want to share and engage with.

That’s it. That’s all there is.

In just over 1,200 words, we’ve proven something a lot of marketers won’t tell you: most of what’s been trumpeted as “the best advice” for marketing is near total nonsense invented to solve manufactured problems.

What’s not nonsense? 3 things:

  1. Creating great, compelling, customer-focused, original content from a platform you own (your blog, newsletter, etc).
  2. Building relationships (physical and digital) handshake by handshake with partners and customers to get your content out there – grow your own network. THEN share on FB.
  3. Testing your assumptions, backing up your assertions with data, and changing your plan based on empirical evidence (rather than a spit and a prayer).

Fail to do those three things and you’ve built your marketing efforts in the intestinal pit of a behemoth one anti-tapeworm pill away from utter ruin.

Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments.