Last week one of their Facebook administrators forgot to logout of the M&S account and updated her personal status on the corporate one by mistake. The status update was that she had now found her missing phone. Oops! Not the worst thing to put on a status update, but still, it isn’t really the done thing for a corporate account. Although M&S deleted the update, rather than ignoring it, they asked for other stories of lost and recovered items instead. They quickly got over 40 comments with tales of tragedy and joy, and 150 likes. Not a massive gain, it shows how having a human face is important in brand social media.
As something of a Facebook skeptic (at least when it comes to a personal account), this handy inforgraphic lays out the history of problems with the social network. Interestingly, it was the failure of others, such as Friendster and MySpace that paved the way for Facebook’s success. So in spite of getting it wrong on a regular basis, the rise and rise of Facebook continues. Never mind the privacy, its the functionality that counts.
Following the weekend’s riots in Tottenham and elsewhere in London, the police, other authorities and The Daily Mail (of course) were quick to blame ‘social media’ for fuelling the unrest. Steve O’Connell of the Metropolitan Police Service was quoted (by Bloomberg) as saying: “The bad guys were using these sites to target areas quickly. Small bands of ne’er-do- wells were descending on high-quality stores to loot.” he also said: “The police are ahead of the curve in information technology and would have experience of the use of social- networking sites by troublemakers,” Ahead of the curve? Really? Throughout the day, it has become obvious communications are not happing on Facebook or Twitter but rather that BBM was the communication tool of choice for young, urban rioters.
The Guardian has reported that the evidence of an organised social media campaign is pretty scant. As far as Facebook goes, most of the activity related to the death of Mark Duggan and the subsequent vigil and peaceful protest. In fact, the fan page was set up on Saturday night after the peaceful protest took place. Whilst posts on Twitter were a little more inflammatory, the main target was a festival in Hackney which was cancelled as a result.
There is growing evidence, though, that the choice of communication for many of those involved in the unrest is BlackBerry’s instant messaging system BBM. Messages have been flying around in this channel since Thursday, shortly after the fatal police shooting. For those of us who study our handset demographics, this isn’t a great surprise. iPhones are the choice of the middle class, aged 25+. Android, on the other hand, appeals to a younger, male audience. But that appeal is to a more techie demographic, than an urban one. The choice of BlackBerry and BBM is, in part, a highly practical one: BBM is free and largely anonymous – you don’t need phone credit to use it. You can quickly create groups and forward messages anonymously. A trend in BBM is also to use status updates as the conversation itself turning BBM into a kind of Twitter (without the hashtags), speeds up communications further.
But the choice of BlackBerry is more than a cost/practical one. After all, why did they not Tweet (although some have re-tweeted BBM messages), or checked in on Foursquare? The reason is that those social media channels are just too middle class and lack the urban appeal (and I don’t see Foursquare ever creating a ‘looters’ badge). I have often said, that the choice of the phone you have is as much about fashion and identity as practicality. BlackBerry is the choice of rappers (Dizzy Rascal even promoted his album through BBM) and the choice of poorer, younger, urban dwellers. Mark Duggan, for example, sent a BBM message to his fiancé shortly before the incident in which he was killed.
However you want to name it – ‘criminality’, ‘greed’ or ‘revolt’ - the causes of the current unrest go way beyond the technology itself. There will be inevitable calls for the censoring or banning of BBM, just as there were calls to end the purchase of anonymous SIM cards after the London student riots. The police have already threatened to pursue and prosecute those who are making ‘inflametory’ comments in social media. Whilst BlackBerry have offered their help to the authorities, at the end of the day, the UK riots would have happened regardless of BBM. It just so happens to be the choice of communication channel for that particular group. But blaming BBM for it is simply blaming the messenger.
Tim Berners-Lee was right when he said that Facebook was anti-web. The Comscore chart below shows the almost exponential rise of Facebook, and the almost inevitable decline of The Web as we knew it. A decline of 9% in fact. Given that Facebook has essentially created their own web, within the web, how will Google+ compete with that? Many users are effectively locked in to Facebook and need a massive incentive to move social accounts. Google+ has great functionality, but Facebook is a past master of implementing good technology and doing it quickly. The chances are, Facebook will simply implement similar features to Google if they appear to becoming successful. Google do search brilliantly, and did mobile (Android) surprisingly well, but when it comes to their ability to do social, the track record isn’t so great. At best, Google+ will be for the real social media geeks and not a true mass market product.
Google have failed at a social media a few times already – take Buzz or Latitude, for example - however, Google + has lots of whizzy features that make it useful – Circles looks like a good concept. But there’s one key point about Google+ that may actually make it successful. It’s not Facebook …
It was only a couple of weeks ago that Facebook announced there were 102 million users accessing the site through the iphone app, along with 57 m on BlackBerry and nearly 12 m on Android. The social networking site has now changed it’s mind, and said that the figure is closer to 44 million. Or 66 million depending on what you read! The 44 m was quoted by FB to Engadget, and the 66 m is quoted on Facebook’s own page. Confused? It looks like everyone is.
A company engineer recently blogged that there were 150 million people accessing the site through their mobile phones, but it looks like that figure will also have to be revised down. Which ever way you look at it, it is fair to say that FB has many mobile users, but the exact figure is now a very cloudy one. It highlights one of the many problems with mobile marketing – getting acurate data is difficult, or near impossible.
It’s always a problem with these social media-type sites. Where’s the money? The model is usually one of building up a large base of users then either introducing advertising and/or selling it for a gazillion dollars to some big internet company (probably Google, or maybe Yahoo).
So far Foursquare, the social media location site, has relied largely on VC funding. Their only revenue has been in making deals with major brands, such as Conde Naste and Mark Jacobs, but they aren’t exactly raking in the cash. “Some are paid, some are exploratory,” as co-founder Dennis Crowley put it. So, we’re not talking large sums of money. This summer their business chief Tristan Walker said: “We could imagine something akin to a Google AdWords-like model, where merchants can have featured placement based on latitude and longitude, time of the day, or day of the week, we’re still exploring, and encouraging all retailers to get on our platform and help us find the product that we could actually charge for.”
The problem is that in spite of some successes with the likes of Starbucks and Dominos, the check-in offer is only known to just a few percent of people who use Foursquare. Why would retailers pay to be on something with such a tiny reach? In the meantime, Facebook Places is establishing itself. If anyone was going to benefit from brands paying for check-in offers it is likely to be Facebook.
Now, Foursquare are taking a new approach. Merchandising. I realise that it isn’t a serious long-term revenue model but hey, at least they can make some money now. They are selling badges and t-shirts of their famous icons which they hope their obsessive users will buy. In a way that makes sense. I’d previously blogged that Foursquare isn’t really social media at all. Yes it has those elements in the system, but when I look at how people use it, they don’t login to see what their friends are doing or make new ones. People use it largely to compete for mayor status and other badges. It’s not social media, it’s a game. Given that kind of engagement getting into the merchandising business is not a bad idea at all.
For those of you who can’t live without their Mayor’s T-Shirt, here’s the store.
Facebook‘s ‘Posts by everyone’ feature has been taken up by a new site, Openbook, and shows how much people are prepared to (over) share. The feeds are full of people stating how they cheated in exams and took drugs. Not exactly a job reference.
One could argue that this isn’t Facebook’s fault, after all users are both responsible for what they post and can manage their own privacy settings. The ‘over-sharers’, as I call them, aren’t just on FB, Twitter and FourSquare have the same types in their own way. Why do people do it? I suspect there are two reasons: firstly, a few people just don’t realise and secondly, the rest are showing off to their mates and the rest of the world. You could argue that the second category deserve everything they get, but I don’t always feel that is the case.
Last week a man in the UK was arrested, had his computer equipment seized and was fined for a Tweet threatening to do serious damage to an airport after his flight had been canceled yet again (volcano rage). His Tweet may have been ill advised, but I can understand someone seeing red and just loosing it. It was pretty obvious that he didn’t actually mean what he said, but in this paranoid society we live in you have to take care.
I believe that social media sites have a far greater responsibility to take care of their members privacy than they do. It goes beyond offering settings options. These options should default to the most secure. Certain posts should be filtered … if Openbook can pick on people admitting to cheat in their exams, how hard would it be to have a message along the lines of ‘do you really want to post this update?’, before they click the button?
However Facebook have a difficult path to tread. If they are to realise value from their site, then they need to offer advertisers more and more options for targeting customers. From that perspective, the ‘post to everyone’ feature is advertising gold. The flip side, however, is that as privacy concerns increase, more users will leave the social networking site.
From a mobile perspective the issue is significant. We have already seen security issues with FourSqaure, and with FB adding location into it’s settings these issues will significantly grow.
From an advertising perspective Facebook is a dream. With the data it has no it’s members it can offer a very accurate behaivoural targetting of it’s ads. And Facebook has made a great success of it. Whilst it was struggling to make money last year, in 2010 their advertising revenue has sored. Comscore measured Facebook as offering over 16% of all ad impressions online.
However, to the Facebook member, behavioural targetting, and more importantly, privacy issues are not a dream, but actually a nightmare. Many of the recent changes in profile status etc are aimed at improving FBs appeal to advertisers. This blog here, expresses some of those concerns. We may see a situation where FB is loosing as many members as it gains with it’s changes to their privacy and user settings. And I’m not making it up. Look at the huge traffic surge on wikiHow on how to delete a Facebook account.
Long term, if I was Facebook I’d be worried.