Facebook now allows users to include clickable hashtags in their posts. The decision seems Twitter-inspired, right?
Sort of, but not completely. Though they are using the tags made popular by Twitter, Facebook’s new feature has just as much to do with an old media dinosaur - namely, live television:
During primetime television alone, there are between 88 and 100 million Americans engaged on Facebook – roughly a Super Bowl-sized audience every single night. The recent “Red Wedding” episode of Game of Thrones, received over 1.5 million mentions on Facebook, representing a significant portion of the 5.2 million people who watched the show. And this year’s Oscars buzz reached an all-time high on Facebook with over 66.5 million interactions, including likes, comments, and posts.
Speaking of the Big Game, recall that Super Bowl Sunday was a big night for Twitter this year - half of the commercials mentioned Twitter in one way or another. Watch almost any live programming and you’ll catch hashtags superimposed on the screen almost as ubiquitously as the logo of the channel you’re watching. All this takes advantage of multi-screen media consumption - the fact that audiences usually mess around on their phones and tablets while zoning out in front of the warming glow of TV.
And if you’re a show, product, or even a politician in a debate you want to own both of those screens. Facebook wants to be a gateway to the buzz – and the sweet, sweet marketing dollars that follow it.
Here’s the headline from Sarah Palin’s Facebook post yesterday: “Another ‘WTF’ Obama Foreign Policy Moment.” The content of Palin’s post, by and large, is actually quite interesting stuff about how many secrets we are simply giving away to the Russians. That’s a pretty intelligent topic, and Palin does grasp it. But even in discussing an issue over which she has mastery, Palin leans on blunt-force and simplistic messaging. ”WTF” is, of course, shorthand for “what the f—.”
It’s vulgar and coarse and unfitting a President. And as long as Palin continues to look unpresidential, she will only be considered a Presidential contender by a cadre of Ron Paul-esque followers and the “lamestream” media she claims to abhor but who gives her more attention than she currently deserves. She will win nothing.
A Presidential adviser might be able to get away with such language, and perhaps Palin needs a James Carville. Bill Clinton could never have dismissed allegations of his extramarital affairs as the product of dragging a $100 bill through a trailer park. Carville did, and in doing so he said what many people were thinking but afraid to say. He acted as the lightning rod for criticism, but he got his boss’s message out there.
Instead, Palin tries to be both the candidate and the firebrand. She too often talks down to an electorate that is really looking for someone who can talk up to them.
This is part of the challenge Palin and other outsiders face in political campaigns; the inability to surround themselves with media-savvy professionals leads to clumsy, overly populist messaging. Sure, a few will take it seriously, but most will either dismiss it out of hand or respond with a quizzical “WTF?”
Since at least 2009, Facebook has kept an office here in Your Nation’s Capital, but the company became an official part of the DC community this week when their PR consultant got caught trying to recruit bloggers to write anti-Google stories.
As consulting snafus go, this is pretty mild – especially when a reading of the original emails suggests that the PR consultant was not doing anything wrong, underhanded, or illegal. This isn’t Jack Bonner’s “contractors” cooking up fake letters, it’s a PR person recruiting someone to sign an op-ed – in other words, exactly what they are paid to do.
The problem is they asked the wrong person. Sure, Chris Soghoian lists himself as a “security and privacy” researcher. But the name of his blog is “Slight Paranoia.” That’s the type of blogger who asks questions about why you’re barking up his tree and encouraging him to take a public stance against Google.
The situation highlights how trying to wage public affairs battles anonymously can backfire. Clearly, Facebook wanted to sling mud without getting their hands dirty. But they had a legitimate point about Google and privacy. Google collects an enormous amount of information on people, many times without users understanding how they are sending that information. People have had beefs with Facebook on privacy, but the information you put out on Facebook is information you actively put on the internet; if the world suddenly knows you like My Little Pony and Elmer’s Glue it’s because you signed up for a Facebook account and clicked “like” on those pages, you sick, pathetic degenerate.
Facebook isn’t the only big player going after Google; both MicroSoft and AT&T have put big money into public policy campaigns taking shots at everything from privacy to intellectual property.
Like those other companies and many others in all kinds of industries, though, Facebook figured out that the government’s activities could impact their business. Because they tried (through their PR agent) to get too cute, Facebook’s message on privacy is obscured because of a tactical misstep.
Welcome to Washington.
President Obama’s first campaign event kicked off on Facebook this afternoon just a few hours after Micah Sifry at TechPresident did a basic overview of the online landscape of for the 2012 race thus far.
Sifry’s attention-getting headline – “It’s not Facebook, It’s the Data, Stupid” – seems to be an indictment of social networks. But his key point is that knowing the audience is more important than having thousands (or even millions) of friends, followers, or likes. It’s a point that many have made since 2008 repeatedly, yet it isn’t repetitive. There are still folks who believe that online success is measured by the easiest metrics of Facebook and Twitter, and not in the more difficult (and final) measurement of votes on election day. Ultimately, success or failure of the online campaign is tied to the success or failure of the overall campaign:
Facebook and other third-party social network platforms aren’t the central battlefield. It’s data and targeting and figuring out how to use online strategies to enable motivated volunteers to identify, persuade and get out the vote.
Sifry does miss an important shift in voter engagement, though. He downplays Facebook, noting that the Obama 2012 effort still has the advantages of the MyBarackObama.com networking infrastructure left over from 2008 (with roots stretching back to the nascent Howard Dean effort in 2003). But that campaign architecture is outdated if it doesn’t work with Facebook.
Consider that in the 2004 and 2008 election cycles, social networking was a varied market. Friendster, MySpace, AIM, Friendfeed, Twitter, and of course Facebook all had significant shares of the market at one point or another. Now, Facebook is the unquestioned market leader. What’s more, Facebook is built as a platform for other services. For instance, the biggest social network to gain traction since the Obama campaign, Foursquare, allows you to sign up for their service by using your Facebook log in.
There’s no room for MyBarackObama.com in the modern online media and networking environment unless it works seamlessly within the Facebook interface. If the Obama campaign tries to copy 2008 tactics in 2012 they will fail.
Sifry talks glowingly about the Facebook apps deployed by the Pawlenty and Obama campaigns – and rightly so, because these little programs are monumentally important in bridging the gap between social networking success and data management. Liking a page is a tangential connection, that can be severed easily and surrenders little information; running followers through an application that allows them to submit contact information and self-identify their interests and issue priorities is much more powerful.
The idea that activity on Facebook is separate from data management is a recipe for a losing campaign; the winner in 2012 will have both working together. (And despite the attention-grabbing headline, Sifry seems to get that.)
Time Magazine ignited some controversy this month by naming Mark Zuckerberg their Person of the Year. Zuckerberg deserved the award, said Time, for “connecting more than half a billion people and mapping the social relations among them, for creating a new system of exchanging information and for changing how we live our lives.”
Indeed, Zuckerberg did all that – but he arguably did so in 2003, when he invented Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. So why is he the person of the year seven years after actually making this contribution to humanity? Or did Time discover Facebook only weeks after their grandmother, as “Julian Assange” suggested?
There are actually two questions here, so there are naturally two answers. Question 1 is why Time gave Zuckerberg the award this year; and Question 2 is why 2010 is The Year of Facebook.
Culturally speaking, the last half of 2010 is a perfect storm of Facebook hype. The Social Network was a big hit and created some preliminary Oscar buzz. The next time you watch live TV, watch how many commercials end with URLs for a Facebook page. And Zuckerberg scored headlines with his pledge to donate half his fortune to charity and $100 million to Brick City, NJ. The success of social gaming in 2010 is linked directly to those games using Facebook as a platform for popularity – even non-gamers have seen their friends’ Farmville, Cityville, or Mafia Wars updates pop up in their own news feeds.
In short, Facebook is everywhere in a way it hasn’t been in years past. But why is 2010 REALLY the Year of Facebook? It turns out, there are some numbers to back it up.
Facebook’s traffic numbers surpassed Google’s in 2010. That indicates a huge difference in how people are consuming information – instead of searching the internet and relying on Google’s algorithms to tell them what’s important, they are relying more and more on friends (a point I made yesterday in a post on Pundit League). Trusting friends is something people are most likely predisposed to do; Facebook makes it easier to do that.
More important, Facebook continues to report increases in ad revenue. It’s one thing for a website to have a good and popular idea; it’s quite another for a website to make money. That Facebook has proved it could do the latter is no small feat and guarantees solvency for the foreseeable future.
So 2010 was more than just the year when America collectively noticed Facebook; it was the year when Facebook set down stakes as a permanent entity that gave legitimacy to its foothold in the public consciousness and culture.
And for that, Mark Zuckerberg really is the Person of This Year
Facebook announced “Project Titan” this week. With a code name like that, one might have wished for the press conference to open with Mark Zuckerberg bellowing, “Welcome to the world of tomorrow!”
Unfortunately, there was no such bellow.
There was, however, an unveiling of a drastically revamped Facebook messaging service. The new interface is supposed to allow users to integrate Facebook’s internal traditional messaging and chat features, but what really sticks out is the entry of Facebook email address into the equation.
This is the biggest opening of Facebook’s walled garden yet. And aside from the obvious possibility of an email client (like Microsoft’s Outlook) operating as your Facebook inbox, there’s the possibility that a person – or, more likely, a campaign or company – can send you a Facebook message as easily as they send an email. It could open the door for mass-messaging through the Facebook environment – even though Facebook is taking steps to keep that from happening.
For all their efforts, though, the fact is that there are plenty of campaigns and companies who want to seize upon Facebook data just to have another avenue of communication – and a good Facebook app can expose this data pretty easily, with the user’s tacit permission. Most likely, Project Titan is not the final iteration of Facebook’s messaging platform.
With the mid-term elections fresh in the rear view mirror, the serious contenders for the 2012 Presidential nomination are unofficially kicking off their campaigns. And the two likely front runners, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, have started with a pretty smart Facebook strategy.
At TechRepublican, Ethan Demme noticed Mitt Romney’s new Facebook ads running immediately after the election, congratulating “high profile” candidates. Tim Pawlenty has been doing the same thing. But the strategy appears to be even more specific than that. Here are the ads I saw:
What does incoming Arkansas Congressman Tim Griffin have in common with the Feingold-conquering Wisconsonite Senator-elect Ron Johnson? Turns out, I’ve clicked “like” on both of their Facebook pages. (I’ve also seen Romney ads supporting former and future Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, whose Facebook page I’ve also liked.) In other words, I’m a self-identified supporter of these politicians – a factor that Facebook’s ad platform allows campaigns to take into account when they target advertising.
By playing on the interest of possible supporters, Romney and Pawlenty share an excellent outreach strategy. The question will become what each campaign does with the supporters they recruit. Pawlenty has already made a push to take advantage of Facebook’s capability for activation through interactive town halls, while Romney’s page is more or less a one-way communications channel – but neither has taken a decisive lead in innovation on this platform.
Facebook pointed out yesterday that House candidates with more popular Facebook pages won 74% of the time, while Senate candidates with more likes winning at an 81% clip. This is quite a trend, but the metric goes a bit deeper than clicking a like button on a politicians Facebook page. It means very little to have thousands of Facebook fans, given how inexpensive Facebook advertising is.
It’s just a hunch, but I bet an evaluation of other online metrics would indicate the same thing. The winning candidates probably had more Twitter followers, YouTube subscribers, and email list members, too. People joining these lists involve self-identifying as a supporter of a candidate. It doesn’t lead directly to victory, but it’s a good indication that a campaign is doing the right things that will lead to victory, such as reaching out to people and getting them involved.
Having a horde of Facebook fans is the symptom – not a goal – of a well-run campaign.
The launch of Facebook’s new Groups feature last week was largely overshadowed by this week’s Bing/Facebook social search announcement and the success of Facebook: The Movie (a.k.a. The Social Network). But in online organizing circles, the new feature presents some questions about the future of online organizing – namely how
The answer to those questions depend on who is asking them.
The Basics of Groups
Facebook Groups is essentially the love child of a glorified list serv and a wiki, with similar functions as Google groups. Group members can send blast messages to the rest of the group, chat, and share content. What makes Groups a bit more interesting than a list serv is that a user creates a group, he or she can add other users without their permission. Adding someone to a group is as easy as tagging them in a photograph. If you’re a Facebook user, you can be added to a group without actively joining (barring some privacy setting adjustments, of course).
Groups vs. Pages
Facebook’s pages are easy to set up, and getting a user to join a fan page is as easy as having them click a “like” button. That’s why many campaigns, causes, organizations, and companies use these pages – aside from operating like a website within Facebook, it’s relatively easy to rack up big numbers of followers if you have some money to spend on Facebook’s cost-effective advertising. Communication with followers is somewhat passive – your posts wind up in their news feed, but you can’t send mass messages – so followers are not always engaged.
Groups are even easier to build than Pages, thanks to the aforementioned tag-style recruitment method. Group members can be engaged more actively that page followers, but a group administrator has less control over the direction of the discussions that take place among group members. This is fine if you are using Facebook Groups for discussions among members of a task force or working group, but gets problematic if you want to use it for a political or issue campaign that relies heavily on message discipline. If you’re part of a small group of activists, though – such as a local Tea Party group – Groups as it currently exists can be very helpful. In many ways, Groups is built for the citizen activist.
Groups and the API
“As it currently exists,” though, may be the operative phrase thanks to the recruitment-as-tagging method mentioned above and another, potentially quite powerful facet of Groups: the open API that lets applications access, communicate, and essentially mine information from Groups:
The API currently enables developers to pull a Group’s basic info including name, description, owner, last updated time, and privacy setting; access the Group’s picture, view existing posts; see all members; and post to the Group… The API will allow developers to build applications over the feature, such as Group feed readers, Group recommendation engines, and more.
What this means is that smart online organizers will use Groups as a recruiting tool, reaching out to these small, self-organized communities to build “like” counts on pages or to join other groups, depending on their specific goals.
(Of course, with all the controversy Facebook and other online networks have suffered due to privacy loopholes, this may not last long.)
The Real Nature of Facebook Politics
Either way, Groups illustrates something very important about Facebook organizing: Recruiting for volume is less and less important than recruiting large numbers of the right kind of connections, either as group members or page followers. Having 100,000 followers or 1,000 members is, ultimately, no big deal – all it takes is money for ads or the chutzpah to tag all your friends (and some of their friends, perhaps). The real question is what those followers and members do to help your ultimate goal – whether that goal is votes in an election or a phone call to elected representatives.
“Likes” are cheap, but action is valuable.