Facebook and Business Ethics: Five Questions to Ponder

By Todd Bacile, Ph.D. | January 21, 2014

Five Ethics Questions about the Social Giant

Ethical business practices are imperative for today’s business leaders. So, how does our social media giant, Facebook, fare in the ethics department? Let’s examine these five questions to find out.

#1: What am I agreeing to in Facebook’s user agreement?

Facebook

For the users of Facebook’s mobile app you should know the following. First, Facebook can monitor you by microphone at any time. Second, Facebook has the right to take videos and pictures using the phone’s camera at any time without permission. Third, Facebook has the right to read your phone’s call log and capture data about your contacts, such as the frequency you have called, emailed or communicated with each.

Mobile aside, the Facebook user agreement at one time or another has stated things such as Facebook does not guarantee that its site is safe or secure; Facebook owns a worldwide licensing right to any content you share; and Facebook may use your name or images in ads.

#2: Will Facebook use my likeness in advertisements without my explicit permission?

Starbucks Sponsored Story ExampleBuilding on that last point, Sponsored Stories was one of several types of Facebook’s advertising models. The engagement rate with these types of ads outperformed competing models. Why? Because your friends and family members were depicted in an ad-like format as if they were promoting certain products.

By the way: your friends and family members often had no idea Facebook was using their name and / or image in association with product promotion. Of course this led to lawsuits against Facebook. Legal pressure “persuaded” Facebook to discontinue Sponsored Stories. Yet, one must wonder if these types of ads will resurface at a later date.

#3: Have we seen the last of our deceased friends and relatives used in Facebook’s advertisements?

Facebook and Deceased UsersI’ve written before about Facebook “accidentally” using deceased persons in ads such as Sponsored Stories. How could this happen you may ask? Well, a friend/family member with a Facebook profile dies. It is not uncommon for people to post positive messages and tag the deceased in posts/pictures for peace of mind and a type of memorial. Facebook’s algorithms would notice increased engagement surrounding the deceased’s user account.

And like any advertiser, if someone is influential, popular, or being talked about then an effort must be made to promote products associated with that person. Sure enough, Facebook would serve up Sponsored Stories featuring the deceased to friends and families. Facebook claims it did not serve up these ads on purpose; and it has since tweaked its algorithms to prevent this from recurring.

#4: How private are my “private” messages sent to other Facebook users?

Facebook’s algorithms read your private messages that you send to other Facebook users. Facebook claims it does so to detect criminal behavior. Oddly enough, though, if you send a private message which includes a hyperlink, Facebook may automatically assign a “Like” for the hyperlinked page! It makes you wonder what else is happening to your so-called “private” messages.

#5: Will Facebook crack down on fake “Likes”?

Facebook LikesItem #4 points to another problem: “Like” Fraud. There are two distinct fraud activities happening on Facebook. The first is “Like” scams. This occurs when a page posts provocative images or offers prizes in an effort to gain a lot of likes. The owner of the page then attempts to sell the page to a third-party.

Why? It takes time and effort to build a social following. Some unscrupulous companies want to avoid the work and simply buy a page with a “following”. In fact, there are online markets to facilitate such sales. At the time of this writing, it appears the asking price of a Facebook page with 42,000 likes is $50!

The second type of like fraud is when a page decides to purchase likes in bulk. The practice of buying a large following has been popular on Twitter for years. Well, it is also happening on Facebook. One reason is that a like count is a vanity metric. It looks nice to have a larger following, but there is a debate as to what likes actually mean.

To its credit, Facebook has claimed it is cracking down on all fraudulent “Like” activities.

Ethical Social Media?

These five questions and answers raise serious concerns about ethical business practices used at Facebook. Many consumers are skeptical that their information and privacy are safe within Facebook’s servers. Facebook is the king of social media at the moment, but this may change as social technologies progress and consumers are presented with other social networking options.

Dr. Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans and holds a Ph.D. in Marketing from Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. Have a question or comment? Post it here and you will receive a response.

A Blog: The Path to a Social Media Job

By Dr. Todd Bacile | October 9, 2013

Want a Social Media Job? Get a Blog

blog word cloudI often hear the following question: ‘What can I do to land a social media job?’ My answer: write and maintain your own blog. My work as a marketing professor puts me in a unique position of working with people who have big dreams, yet limited professional experience. Working in social media as a career is appealing to many students. Having a blog is a great first step for several reasons.

A Blog Showcases Writing Skills

A knock against many young people — and U.S. business students in particular — is that writing and communication skills are lacking. Authoring blog posts with some degree of frequency is one way to showcase writing skills. In this way, a blog serves as a portfolio of not only topical areas of expertise, but also the ability to write well.

Writing in Micro-bursts is a Talent

USA TodaySociocultural shifts change how information is disseminated and digested. For example, one of the founding principles for USA Today in 1982 was to write stories geared toward consumers who grew up in TV’s soundbite era. This shift in writing style to shorter stories and inserting more images was a huge win for USA Today. We no longer live in 1982, but similar evolutions in media consumption are occurring.

people checking smartphonesMedia consumption is moving toward micro-bursts of information dissemination. Old “rules” are dying. You need shorter stories. Shorter paragraphs. Shorter sentences. For example, many blogging professionals suggest very brief paragraphs in a blog post. I strive for 60-70 words. Look at something you have recently written: do you write in 60-70 word paragraphs? This is one example of how blogs are unique to traditional writing. It’s a talent to be honed.

The World Needs Content Creators

One of the more popular entry-level positions in social media marketing and public relations is as a ‘content creator / writer‘. Your blog illustrates to prospective employers that you have the baseline skills and knowledge to create compelling content people want to read and share with others. A personal mantra I live by is to ‘Go where the jobs are!’.

A Blog is a Networking Tool

social capital graphicThe more you blog, the more connections you will make. How or what you make of your network is up to you. Every comment, retweet, Like, +1, and/or the action of sharing one of your posts has the opportunity to build your social capital. In this manner, the content you write serves as a valuable springboard to turn posts into conversations; and conversations into meaningful relationships.

The rest is up to you

The beauty of the social web is that there are many experienced people willing to share success stories and helpful social media resources. If you are not an expert, do not get discouraged. Seek out helpful tips and tutorials. You learn by gaining hands-on experience. Writing a blog is no different.

Dr. Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans and holds a Ph.D. in Marketing from Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. Have a question or comment? Post it here and you will receive a response.

Social Media Marketing & Mobile Marketing: A Useful Resource Guide

By Dr. Todd Bacile | August 27, 2013

social media books

A question posed to me from a fellow professor last week was, “What books or resources would you recommend for new media marketing topics?” The following books in each subject area highlight marketing philosophies and paradigm shifts that social media and mobile technologies have introduced. I personally have read each of the resources below and see great value in each book.

Follow the Authors on Twitter

Following each book’s summary is a link to the Twitter account(s) for the author(s). If you want more information or have comments for the authors you can connect with them on Twitter!

Connected Consumers

The End of Business as Usual presents a complex “connected consumer” revolution that is taking place. Ubiquitous mobile connections and social networks have created a network economy and interest graphs, where consumers easily share experiences and influence others. The author, Brian Solis, points out that a firm’s marketing audience has now become an audience with an audience of audiences, among many other unique perspectives.

Socialnomics posits that social media has created a people-driven economy through connected networks. The author, Eric Qualman, makes several interesting points, while serving up memorable quotes such as, “The 30-second commercial is being replaced by the 30-second review, tweet, post, status update, and so on.”

Information Transparency

Youtility shows the reader how helpful, useful, relevant information supplied by a firm is turning traditional marketing upside-down. The author, Jay Baer, uses several useful statistics and easy-to-read charts to support his positions. There is business value in these numbers!

Influence Marketing with Social Scoring

Return On Influence presents the topic of social scoring metrics such as Klout and PeerIndex. The author, Mark Schaefer, is well known for his social influence consulting work and discussing Klout on his blog. Influence marketing is controversial for some people and often creates a lot of buzz. This book illustrates how influence and social media go hand-in-hand. In effect, “Influence has been democratized.”

Second Screen Marketing

Social TV shows that the internet has not killed TV. Instead, this book posits that the internet has become TV’s best friend! Examples and cases illustrate TV programs are social; and in combination the web, social media, and mobile devices serve as the second-screen lightning rods to amplify consumer-to-consumer conversations about TV shows. The authors, Mike Proulx and Stacey Shepatin, use strategically placed and QR codes to link to “bonus” content.

Social Media Marketing 101

Social Media Marketing: A Strategic Approach is geared toward a college course, with a nicely designed array of chapters focusing on social media marketing strategy and planning. The book contains an eight-step social media marketing plan model, along with a completed plan for a fictitious company. The authors are Melissa Barker, Donald Barker, Nicholas Bormann, and Krista Neher.

Mobile Marketing 101

Go Mobile presents a nice array of mobile marketing strategies and topics that any marketer should be familiar with. Mobile optimized ads, SMS campaigns, mobile apps, tablet computing, and location-based marketing examples are plentiful.  The authors, Jeanne Hopkins and Jaime Turner, have a chapter devoted to how several Fortune 500 firms use mobile marketing.

Fundamentals of Mobile Marketing: Theories and Practices is a nice supplement to the prior text. This book delves into a highly technical summary of mobile’s evolution, along with several academic theories and models prevalent to ubiquitous devices. The author, Shintaro Okazaki, is a widely published European marketing professor.

E-Commerce

E-Commerce 2013 is a detailed text delving into the world of E-Commerce, in more detail and in a manner much different from all of the other social and mobile books discussed in this post.  While this book presents many cases and chapter information that intertwines with social and mobile, the book is devoted to E-Commerce with a progression through an intro section, the technology infrastructure, business concepts, and E-Commerce in action. The authors are Kenneth Laudon and Carol Guercio Traver.

The Microblogging Mindset

The Tao of Twitter is the best book I have found that steps a person through the beginning stages of learning to Tweet to advanced Twitter usage relevant to business goals and strategy. The author, Mark Schaefer, is the same author on this list for Return On Influence and Born to Blog.

Twitter Power also takes a humorous – and useful – look into Twitter. You know the book will have some fun content when you realize that the author, Joel Comm, was the inventor of the iFart app.

The Blogging Mindset

Born to Blog  walks the reader through the beginning stages – and struggles – people may have when blogging. It then progresses to tips and writing techniques needed to become a successful blogger, regardless of your industry. The book contains several personal experiences of the blogging challenges and triumphs that the authors, Mark Schaefer and Stanford Smith, have gone through.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive for the sake of maintaining brevity in a single blog post. There are many other excellent resources available; and in many other topic areas. What books have you found useful to navigate social and/or mobile media?

Dr. Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans and holds a Ph.D. in Marketing from Florida State University. He teaches Electronic Marketing and Advanced Marketing Strategy.  Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. Have a question or comment? Post it here and you will receive a response.

Real-time Engagement Using Social Media: The Qualtrics Case

By Dr. Todd Bacile | August 21, 2013

Social Media Engagement

A benefit that social media has over mass media is the ability to hypertarget individual consumers. While much is made of hypertargeting advertisements, another non-invasive communication strategy is for a brand to engage with consumers in real-time, as needed by an individual person. Personalized content relevant to a segment of one person.

For marketers to successfully engage consumers via social channels in this manner, a brand must provide context-specific relevant information, when and where a consumer needs it. Jay Baer refers to such highly useful content with his conceptualization of Youtility. To provide useful information in this manner takes more than hypertargeting advertisements: it requires a firm to provide helpful information a consumer would like to see at a particular moment.

For a firm to truly achieve relevance, authenticity, helpfulness, and information availability when needed by a consumer requires real-time engagement. A simple operationalized example happened to me in a Tweet chat last week. Here is a recap of how one firm successfully engaged consumers in real-time.

Qualtrics: Real-time Engagement

Among the ways I use Twitter is to participate in Tweet chats and help others by answering questions. Tweet chats are easily facilitated using a hashtag on Twitter. One chat I participate in is the #AskAngel tweet chat every Tuesday from 2:00-3:00 pm EST hosted by @afmarcom. The thing I love about this chat is the range of questions people ask, along with the helpful people who choose to answer. Below is a snippet of last week’s #AskAngel chat, where Holly posed a question for the group:

Real-time engagement with

The screenshots from the #AskAngel Tweet chat depict an organic (i.e. non-paid) real-time conversation about a brand as discussed by consumers. The conversation continues with retweets, replies, and favorites as the conversation unfolds:

Real-time engagement 4

Brands understand that mining social conversations can produce useful marketing information. However, Qualtrics took this one step further by joining in the conversation in real-time as it was unfolding.

Real-time engagement 6

The customer service people manning the Qualtrics Twitter handle tactfully jumped into the conversation in real-time. The above conversation achieves several things for Qualtrics. First, the brand is exposed to in-depth qualitative data about what consumers like about its product. Second, consumer-endorsed positive word-of-mouth is exchanged among several people; and retweeted or shared to other social networks and followers. Third, Qualtrics provides a useful resource (a link to their online Qualtrics University) when another curious consumer asks for more information. This was most likely totally unexpected by the Tweet chat participants!

There is a certain “Wow” factor associated with such an exchange. It shows the brand is listening, cares about helping consumers, and does not use a sales pitch in an effort to close a sale. It is real-time social media engagement strategies such as the one pulled off by Qualtrics that enables brands to begin to build relationships with consumers.

Dr. Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans and holds a Ph.D. in Marketing from Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. Have a question or comment? Post it here and you will receive a response.

Fake Followers: The Social Media Brick Wall Effect vs. The Herd Effect

By Dr. Todd Bacile | August 16, 2013

The Brick Wall EffectBuying Twitter followers, Facebook Likes, and other artificial means to create a facade of a large brand audience happens every day in our electronic marketing environment. While I don’t condone this type of activity, it is a natural extension for marketing managers who are trying to support the popularity of their social media presence. However, firms need to be careful because creating artificial engagement often leads nowhere in the long run. Or does it?

The Social Media Brick Wall Effect

The social media brick wall effect is a label I use to describe the outcome of buying artificial engagement. The going rate to buy 1,000 Twitter followers starts at $5. With a few dollars a person or brand can build thousands of connections to their brand in less than a day. But, if a company purchases these followers what comes afterward?

The answer: nothing. No engagement. No retweets. No organic consumer discussions or recommendations. It is as if a brand has run into a dead-end brick wall without any two-way communication.

What are you really buying when you purchase followers or likes in bulk? A lot of these social media accounts are empty shells. The person – or computer algorithm – that created each fake account does not actively manage it or produce meaningful content. This means there is never any engagement or discussion about the brand. This is the antithesis of social media: the brick wall effect is non-social with zero engagement.

Status People Faker Scores

Some people may argue, ‘But, if I buy a few followers nobody will ever know. Then I can build with real followers.‘ Maybe so, maybe not! Services such as Status People’s Faker Scores can inspect any Twitter account to generate an estimate of how many followers are fake (i.e. bought).

Faker ScoresRun your own Twitter handle through Faker Scores. What percentage of your following is fake?

And when people or brands are outed regarding a fraudulent social media following it can make the headlines! Brands or people in the spotlight have been accused or busted for buying a large following, which then often creates defensive, negative PR surrounding the person or organization. Instead of engaging with other people to create meaningful relationships, energy is spent defending a silly ploy.

The Value of Fake Followers

A recent publication in the research journal Science empirically showed how a news story that planted an initial, single “like” (in the form of an up-vote) versus zero likes on a news aggregation site significantly increased engagement by others. The reason was posited to be a herd effect: people will like or follow something that other people already like. This research did not examine fake likes or followers; however, the results suggest that planting some fake likes may cause other people to engage. If someone liked it, then it might be worthwhile.

The reason fake engagement may produce some value is due to the nature of vanity metrics. Vanity metrics are measures such as the number of downloads, page views, or “Likes”. Vanity metrics are easy to manipulate and do not always correlate to measures that have business value, such as sales and profits. The measures may produce some useful information, but more often than not are superficial in nature.

The following quote sums up the limitations of a vanity metric:

A useful metric is both accurate (in that it measures what it says it measures) and aligned with your goals. Making your numbers go up (any numbers–your bmi, your blood sugar, your customer service ratings) is pointless if the numbers aren’t related to why you went to work this morning.” – Seth Godin

Whether the brick wall effect or the herd effect trumps one or the other remains to be seen. Social media research will most likely delve deeper into these effects.

Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. All questions or comments are welcome and will be responded to!

Facebook News Feed for Small Business Owners

By Rickey Helsel & Dr. Todd Bacile | August 6, 2013

How-To-Become-More-Visble-On-Facebooks-NewsFeed_fw_

How do I get my posts to show up in my Facebook audience’s news feeds?” It’s a question that is often asked by many small business owners. The following is a simple and concise explanation that the non-technical business person should understand.

The first step to optimizing your social media content is recognizing that Facebook is also a business. Facebook stays in business by keeping users engaged. And its success is attributed to the EdgeRank algorithm.

What is EdgeRank?

EdgeRank is a formula that Facebook uses to predict which posts a particular user (i.e. your customer) would like to see in their news feed. All of the components of this proprietary formula are not made public; however, we do know that it contains three main variables:

  • Affinity
  • Weight
  • Time Decay

Focusing your content creation in these three areas will optimize your posts to appear more often in news feeds.

Affinity – Who posted it?

An affinity score is Facebook’s numerical value assigned to how much a user likes your brand’s page. Affinity is unique for every relationship. For example, the affinity score between Johnny and your Facebook page is different from the affinity score between Sally and your Facebook page.

Affinity is important because it is tied to engagement. Facebook measures engagement (and thus affinity) through actions such as:

  • Clicks
  • Likes
  • Comments
  • Wall posts
  • Shares

Actions requiring more effort result in a higher level of affinity between the customer and your brand’s page. For example, a “like” is valued less than a comment on a post, because typing a message requires more effort than simply clicking “like”.

Brands stimulate engagement by asking customers to act upon posts on the brand page as a means of increasing the customer’s affinity score with the brand. Asking questions, asking for comments, requesting pictures to be posted, and asking people to like a wall post are all popular calls to action used by brands. Taking this one step further, creative brands build contests or promotions around these engagement activities.

Weight – What kind of post is it?

Different types of posts are weighted higher, and therefore have a better chance to appear in a news feed. Posting videos, photos, and links are reportedly the heaviest in weight.

Also of relevance to engagement is that Facebook users vary in which types of posts they prefer to engage. Some of your customers may prefer text, while others may prefer pictures. It is important to spend time analyzing your Facebook Insights to see which post type is most popular before tailoring your content.

As a general rule, post type variety is important. If you see that your users engage pictures more, it isn’t wise to only post pictures. Solely posting pictures alienates those who prefer to engage text or video. Find the right post type balance based on Insights.

Time Decay – How old is the post?

Think of Facebook posts as potato chips: new chips are crispy and fresh, while old chips grow stale. Facebook keeps our news feeds “fresh” by adding the element of Time Decay, which is simply a fraction of 1/X. As the age of a post grows, so does the denominator (X), which results in a smaller value.

The strategy for time decay is simple: post often (but not too often as to be a nuisance). The more fresh, quality content you put out there, the better your chances are of appearing in your audience’s news feed.

Rickey Helsel (@rickeyhelsel) is a rising new media star, with experience in mobile application development, social media advertising, electronic marketing business plan development, numerous programming languages, and management information systems. Find out more about him at RickeyHelsel.com. Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans, where he teaches Electronic Marketing and Advanced Marketing Strategy. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter.

Social Media Complaints and Dysfunctional Consumers

By Dr. Todd Bacile | July 17, 2013

Social Media ComplaintsSynopsis: consumers who are choosing to use social media to complain to brands about legitimate issues are being met in some instances by fellow consumers exhibiting dysfunctional behavior, such as casting insults to a complainant while defending a brand. This is creating new challenges for brands from a customer service perspective.

Social Media Complaints

Social media are conduits for consumers to share complaints and seek resolution with brands. Even a brand’s most desired customers may post a complaint to a brand’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, or Google+ page. This is positive for firms attempting to resolve complaints, as research shows consumers who receive a complaint resolution have a higher probability of repeat business versus consumers who do not receive a resolution. For the brands that ignore or delete  social media complaints, watch out for the fall out!

Social media complaint resolution is an extension of traditional service support now entering virtual social media pages owned by brands. A company’s social media page is a virtual service setting, where consumers have expectations of a brand’s attentiveness to comments and complaints. Companies are realizing social media complaints must be addressed. Timeliness is a factor, too, as many consumers believe a firm should respond to social media complaints within an hour.

However, the presence of dysfunctional consumers is creating new challenges for firms in social media complaint resolution.

Dysfunctional Consumers

Dysfunctional consumers are individuals who exhibit some form of misbehavior that negatively affects other consumers, employees, or a brand. Examples include people in a service setting acting rudely, using vulgar or abusive language, making unreasonable demands, or even illegal acts such as theft or physical assault. Basically, any violation of acceptable norms of behavior in a business setting. Why should brands care? Dysfunctional consumers negatively affect other consumers’ satisfaction with a brand, future purchase intent, and brand loyalty.

Dysfunctional consumers are entering social media complaint and resolution scenarios. Occasionally, a dysfunctional consumer may interject in another consumer’s complaint posted to a brand. A typical example is a response from a dysfunctional consumer that defends a brand while insulting or degrading the complainant. Below is an actual screenshot (redacted for anonymity) from my research:

Social media complaint with dysfunctional consumer response

I interviewed a social media marketing company’s executive manager. He was asked how he deals with situations where “Consumer A” complains to the brand and “Consumer B” insults “Consumer A” in the thread. “We represent the brand and only reply to the complainant. We don’t do anything with other people who comment or respond, even when they border on insults. Unless it’s extremely offensive, we let consumer interactions work itself out.”

Stimulated by his response, I proceeded to collect data from several brands’ Facebook wall posts over several weeks. Thousands of consumer posted wall posts were content analyzed. Hundreds of posts were categorized as complaints. Several complaints had dysfunctional consumer responses that insulted the complainant, while defending the brand. Guess how many times a brand addressed a dysfunctional consumer insulting the complaining consumer? Zero!

Dysfunction and Complaints: A New Challenge

Findings from my research suggest brands are mishandling these complaining interactions. Brands are adapting traditional in-person complaint resolution tactics as if a dyadic conversation is occurring. Within the traditional complaint dyad there is a brand communicating with a single complainant, while all other consumers are uninvolved. However, social media complaints are one-to-many (or many-to-many) conversations instead of the one-to-one dyad brands are familiar with.

When dysfunctional consumer responses enter a complaint thread, companies should not only respond to the complaint in a favorable manner, but also address the dysfunctional response (i.e. ‘We appreciate your comments, but please maintain a polite atmosphere on our Facebook page’). This is how traditional in-person service settings operate. Service managers in in-person settings have a responsibility to maintain a peaceful atmosphere by attending to consumer misbehavior. Social media should be no different as consumers consider these interactions to be virtual service encounters in a brand’s environment.

Todd Bacile (@toddbacile) is a Marketing Professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Social Media Marketing Magazine ranks him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. The content posted here is a small portion of larger social media complaint studies he is currently conducting. Questions or comments regarding social media complaints are welcome.