a spotter’s guide to the revolution: apologies, bankruptcies, and forwarding addresses

recently facebook has amped up its apology tour with the launch of a new, highly criticized ad campaign, and the promise of being able to actually wipe all the data you don’t want shared. WhatsApp co-founder jan koum confirmed he is leaving Facebook, reportedly because of a clash over its approach to personal data and encryption. cambridge analytica is filing for bankruptcy, and reputable news coverage continues to roll out evidence of data rape by everyone from google to wireless providers

citizens and ex-tech executives alike have been hedging their bets on what happens next: when this social house of cards falls to the ground, what do we build in its place?

brian acton, co-founder of WhatsApp, left Facebook a year ago for similar reasons to jan koum. acton’s non-profit signal, an encrypted messaging service, “could become a high-profile example of a better path to tech success — one driven by a public-good mission and user benefit instead of profit.”

alternatives to facebook are a good place to start. but i think what comes next also needs a new narrative that replaces the fear-based one we’re currently living.

Right now the social “town square” feels dangerous, and it’s fueled by fear. The overwhelming evidence is that we’re a nation living in a cortisol state, our minds overwhelmed with stress, which according to neuroscientist tara swart, “biases our decision-making systems to avoid risk, avoid change, and avoid anything we feel like we can’t control.” 

A new, productive narrative for our social discourse that is not, as jaron lanier puts it, mediated by a third party who wishes to manipulate us, is crucial. We’re being had by fear mongers, and doing very little to stop it. We’ve all joked about FOMO, but from a brain chemistry perspective, the worst thing that can be done to a human is to cast them out as it triggers feelings of physical and emotional vulnerability — and it triggers a big dose of the stress hormone cortisol.

The opposite of this would be high societal oxytocin, or something more like the hope that India is expressing. Oxytocin is the brain hormone associated with optimistic, good feelings and human bonding.

To shift our brain chemistry, we need new inputs and a new context. That’s going to take creative leaps from each of us. I’ve been a creative director for nearly 30 years and I have never, ever, not once, seen great creative leaps come from fear. I have seen, however, time and time again, great creative leaps take place when there is a known challenge and a context that nurtures risk, change, and relinquishing control.

a spotter’s guide to the revolution: facebook, data rape, and social refugees

facebook has 2.2 billion active users worldwide — and most of them have had their data scraped “by outsiders without their explicit permission.”

In other words, without their consent.

people feel violated. and for good reason. the social media giant is plagued by scandals linked to their disrespectful behavior, sketchy privacy policies, and invasive innovation.

as horrifying as it is, the facebook problem has provided us all with a mirror. Facebook only works because we let it, and it won’t change unless we are all willing to give up the dopamine teat of scrolling our feed.

“I don’t believe our species can survive unless we fix this. We cannot have a society in which, if two people wish to communicate, the only way that can happen is if it’s financed by a third person who wishes to manipulate them. In the meantime, if the companies won’t change, delete your accounts.” -jaron lanier

the majority of consumers, according to a forbes study, now demand transparency. “When a brand offers complete transparency, 94% of survey respondents are likely to be loyal to that brand. And when consumers switch to a brand in favor of increased transparency, they are likely to stay for the long haul. In fact, 56% said they would be very likely to stay loyal to a completely transparent brand for life.” We’ve seen businesses meet consumers halfway, putting their values front and center and letting ethics redefine the rules.

We, consumers and users, need to be willing to do the same. We need to take some personal heat.

we need a social network whose measure of success is different, one that mirrors the values we look for in other aspects of our lives. A network that expresses the same values we expect from the brands we vote for with our cash. And that’s part of the problem: Free. “First rock’s free” and now we’re hooked, with no sense of what free actually costs.

who will give the seedy middle man the boot? It’s proving more easily said than done. for users, #deletefacebook, is a chinese finger-box, impossible to get out of unscathed — and perhaps, more importantly, there’s nowhere to go. Facebook cord cutting makes us refugees with no safe haven in a global crisis of social climate change. If you had somewhere to go, would you leave?*

It’s no day in the park for business either. the platform has become a centerpiece of digital marketing efforts, accounting for 19.9% of digital ad spend in 2017. To give that context, recode just reported that “Digital ad spending reached $209 billion worldwide — 41 percent of the market — in 2017, while TV brought in $178 billion — 35 percent of the market — in 2017.”

what does a business do if their audience is no longer on facebook, and what kind of reaction does business have when the giant implements changes (as it did in January) that make it more difficult for that business’s audience to see their content? 

That’s the tactical part of the problem. but it’s also ethical. “When it comes to marketers, the issues were basically about measurement, impact, those kinds of things — now it’s become a larger issue which is about trust and law,” said Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Growth Officer for the Publicis Groupe, in the New York Times. “Because of the recent events, the chief legal officer, the Chief Financial Officer, and the C.E.O. of every client company is asking, when we run campaigns on this platform, what data of ours are we sharing, what legal risk do we have and what reputational risk do we have, because now this has become a political hot-wire.”

While marketers may be frustrated right now, few have actually left Facebook. The company is the second-biggest seller of digital ads with $40 billion in annual revenue. Last week, Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions, said at a conference that the company did not expect “major changes to our overall revenue and business model.”

Yeah, at what point does using facebook make us dirty?

It only works because we let it. Whether you’re a user hooked on the teat, a brand that pays facebook for user data, or a business that uses facebook’s data blind to target users, you’re participating. That makes us all complicit in the non-consensual use of our selves — complicit in the data rape.

I thought it would be no big deal to delete my Facebook account. I am a complete loser in the ways and means of social media mastery so it wasn’t a giant thing, and yet, it hurts. Maybe because it was small. I hit delete in a fit of pique and left behind people and communities that I care for. Now I have a bunch of texts and emails to send… I would do it differently after writing this, maybe a countdown clock and a going away party. I wish I had a forwarding address.

a spotter’s guide to the revolution: attention, trust, and the bottom line

While changing perspective — from looking at automotive brands to looking at media brands — a thought occurred to me: All brands have become media brands.

That is so self-evident that it seems sort of duh. But it’s also outrageous.

The idea that all brands, to be competitive, must create news or entertainment content to generate deeper engagement with their customers is as weird as tulip mania in the 17th century — and it’s peaking in a moment where it is very high risk to be a media brand.

Trust of media brands is at an all time low while expectations of the ethical practices of brands is at an all time high, with Edelman research reporting that 50 percent of consumers now “buy on belief.”

The axiom has been accepted for now: To compete, a brand has to create content, a lot of it. Preferably viral.

Here, guidelines for the spotter:

Read more…

Rule #1: Change happens.

Business has accepted, for now, the axiom that it needs to create news or entertainment content to create deeper engagement with its consumers. But what if that isn’t true? What if creating content all the time is as bad for a business as consuming it all the time is for its customers?

According to media futurist Richard Notarianni, our number of connected hours has gone above 14 hours per day, every minute 300 million hours of video are uploaded, and each day 5 billion videos are watched, yet, consumers are expressing a desire to turn off. In a Pew study, 89 percent of phone owners said they’d used their phones in their last social gathering, but 82 percent felt that when they did this it damaged the interaction.

Does every brand have to compete by these rules, or has business slid as unwittingly as consumers have into the attention economy engineered by tech businesses like Google and Facebook? “You can see where this is going. Technology is not neutral,” says Tristan Harris, a Former Google design ethicist who founded the group Time Well Spent. “It has one objective: to capture our attention. And it becomes this race to the bottom of the brain stem of who can go lower to get it.”

I believe we’re witnessing a content burst. Ninety percent of the content on the internet has been created since 2016. People are saturated. The axiomatic “truth” that a brand needs to create fan-friendly content all day every day is going to appear as crazy in retrospect as did having an investment portfolio comprised of 90 percent tulip bulbs in the 1600s.

Rule #6: Context has consequence.

“On the positive, your brand footprint is bigger than you think. On the negative side, your context is usually not what you think.” -Kenyatta Cheese, CEO and Co-founder, EA1

Years ago, as the idea of digital was beginning to crest, the agency I was with was pitching to add the digital business of our client Jaguar Cars. The pitch was lead as a joint effort between the brand and digital teams inside the agency. The digital team was lead by Jeff Brooks, now CEO at Casper, and he asked the prescient question: “What is digital when everything is digital?”

At the time, all advertising content was beginning its march onto the web. TV still held sway, print and OOH far out-stripped spend on banner ads… It’s a context that seems archaeologically long ago. Digital was a silo lead by a few who understood its mechanics — and its potential. We won the business, and the question “what is digital when everything is digital?” sparked turf wars within the agency. It has also been a mental niggle for me ever since.

Recently, I’ve been asking myself, “What is social when everything is social?”

Today everything, absolutely everything, is up for grabs because everything is social. Legislation that has been held in place for decades by a minority with big money has been cracked wide open by intelligent, outraged teenagers with mobile phones.

All brands are media brands. All brands are competing in the attention economy. And, according to Kenyatta, “You don’t control the context of your content because your content is always social even if you don’t know it — even offline. These are the lessons from meme culture.”

Rule #3: Be where your fans are (aka: Relevance is a fan thing.)

Fan culture is values-based. Both community and business leaders are seeing the same truth.

According to Andrew Benett, CCO at Bloomberg, “We can’t lose sight of what binds [our customers] together. Smart marketers get that. Segmenting offers overarching insight on behavior, but how people live that insight does differ, especially from a media perspective. I’m seeing a change — from [clients and partners] believing they need to be always on, producing as much content as possible, to being much more thoughtful about what and how much they create.”

“Fandom is almost a training ground for how you develop your ethical or moral compass for the real world,” says Molly Templeton, co-founder of EA1. “I use Harry Potter as an example all the time: There’s a generation of people who are now in their 20s and 30s who grew up reading Harry Potter, who have a very distinct view of the world.” A generation that’s now assuming the mantle of leadership on right and wrong.

The vitality, or value, of a fandom is generally agreed to be defined by fans who care passionately, take action, and want to be a part of a community with a high level of shared values and trust. For them, it’s always about the community or the moment being an expression of themself — giving them the opportunity to proclaim, “I’m part of this.”

My take-away on relevance with fan bases (when 50 percent* of consumers are “buying on belief,” and everything is social) is that trust and hope pull people together. Business relies on a group of people pulled together around them — that’s what a consumer base is. And while, for instance, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ has power, it doesn’t tend to play out with the same vital market force as does ‘the friend of my friend is my friend.’

* According to the same research, 60 percent of millennials “buy on belief.” (Edelman)

Rule #4: Vision is a skill.

Research is proving out that “ethics is the new luxury.” People are aligning around their values and demanding the brands they buy from do, too.

Business is being called upon to put their values on view. 

Everything about a business is in the tiniest bit of it, wherever it turns up. This is a real world test of the marketing shorthand of “brand DNA.” All of a brand is in every part of a brand. Businesses, by being very clear and consistent about their values and how they bring those values to life, are actually creating protection for their content when it shows up in environments which they cannot control.

Delta has experienced the momentum of being behind this DNA curve, and ahead of it. The world has told them that taking a toddler’s seat away was not one of their finer character expressions, and that standing up for their convictions in Georgia is.

“While Delta’s intent was to remain neutral, some elected officials in Georgia tied our decision to a pending jet fuel tax exemption, threatening to eliminate it unless we reversed course,” Ed Bastian, Delta CEO, said recently. “Our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale.”

As Forbes has noted, “Social media, among many other platforms, has led to unprecedented corporate transparency and leadership accessibility; as brand stewards, CMOs at many companies have become the faces of those brands, and they are using that exposure and brand weight to push change around hot-button issues such as gender bias, diversity and inclusion, and gun control.”

Trust and hope are at an all time low. I’m being both an opportunist, and deeply true to my own values in saying: that sounds like a great opportunity. Trust and hope bind people together, fear and dread pull them apart. For the time being, all brands are media brands competing in the attention economy. All of which points to the best strategy for a healthy bottom line being a focus on our shared values, and action to make our shared hopes and dreams a reality.


a spotter’s guide to the revolution: slow social

several years ago people began talking about this idea of slow social. like slow fashion or slow food, slow social emphasizes quality, connection, and meaningfulness over quantity and quick consumption.

but while there were some canaries signaling the dangers of our increasing connectedness, slow social never really took off. but now, with distrust of the media at an all time high, our social currency being traded away by others, and absolutely everyone wanting to just fucking turn off already, i think the slow social movement is poised for a second wind.

“this shift is not a total abandonment of social platforms but more about using these platforms for […] true connection and community and learning.” -geoffrey colon, branding strategy insider 

if social media so far had a rallying cry it would be FOMO.

but fear, including the fear of missing out, doesn’t really lend itself to the cultivation of connection, community, and learning — at least not in any real, sustainable way. But joy does, and so the emerging rallying cry of the slow social movement — JOMO: the joy of missing out — gives me hope.

The idea itself gives me joy.

a spotter's guide to the revolution: too much, too big

on average, we have 16 waking hours per day. according to media futurist richard notarianni, our number of connected hours has now tipped to 12:07 hours each day. (Every minute 300 million hours of video are uploaded, each day 5 billion videos are watched, and 90 percent of content living on the internet today has been created since 2016.)

and unsurprisingly, consumers are expressing a desire to turn off.

“for years the narrative has been more and bigger,” says notarianni, emphasizing how “americans are consuming against the future, spurred on by advertising pushing an agenda of abundance.”

but as we have sought to acquire more things and consume more content, research has shown we’ve become increasingly anxious and unhappy. now, happiness research and positive psychology tell us that simplicity and connection are the way. 

according to a study published in the journal of positive psychology, practicing the mantra “less is more” can improve happiness and overall life satisfaction.

in this climate of overstimulation and distrust in the media, business groups like wbcsd are starting to seize the opportunity to change the narrative from the post-war fantasies of a big house with a big car in the driveway to dreams of smaller houses and smaller cars — full of happy people having fun.

a spotter’s guide to the revolution:
the twining of hope and trust

i’ve been super curious about hope for a while now, it’s hard not to be at a time when so many of us are so full of dread.

recently i turned to my friends, family, and colleagues and asked them how they cultivate hope. i received a variety of beautiful answers. there were themes — mindfulness, self-care, connection. the insights so generously offered suggested that, for most of us, when we feel full of dread we cultivate hope by taking small actions towards better.

so, how does that play out for business, or for a nation?

the edelman trust barometer illuminates how trust and hope have a direct relationship on each other. as trust wanes, hope diminishes with it. They’re intertwined.

As an example, while the u.s. cannon-balled to the bottom of the trust index in 2017, countries like india rose to the top. why? The short answer is that the population of the United States does not trust its institutions, while India trusts that institutions are taking actions towards a better future, even while believing more needs to be done. “Respondents believe companies must do more – treat their employees well, offer better products and services, place customers ahead of profits and pay more attention to customer needs and feedback. Companies must be transparent in their practices and take responsible action in the face of crises.
 This weaves in with the overall trust conferred upon the government – the need to do the right thing for a better future.”

Currently in the U.S., business is taking up the mantle of cultivating hope in a provisional partnership with consumers. According to Edelman, 50 percent of people now “buy on belief.” “They will buy your brand, switch from it, avoid it and — at the extreme — boycott it over your stance on a controversial or social issue. This is the new normal for belief-driven consumers.”

a spotter’s guide to the revolution:
trust is in crisis

trust decline in the u.s. is the steepest ever measured. according to the edelman trust barometer, in 2017 the u.s.’s informed public trust index score placed it 6th amongst the most trusted nations — this year, it has fallen 23 points to the very bottom of the index.

the media is deeply distrusted and polarized in the u.s. which, if you’ve been paying any attention, is not surprising. but it’s still curious. it’s a time when we’ve seen a major shift around business and values — ethics is the new luxury and both consumer and brand decisions are being driven by the moral principles they’re willing to stand by (or stand down). but as the demand for action based on right and wrong increases, trust wanes. 

that means things aren’t looking so good in the hope department either.

worldwide the general population’s trust in their key institutions has declined since 2012, which edelman concludes means that hope is flagging, noting that most people “don’t believe that individuals [in power] are working towards better.”

if all brands are media brands, and media brands are distrusted, is being a media brand bad for business — or is it an opportunity to demonstrate your leadership toward better?