Thursday, July 03, 2014
THE GREASY PALM OF THE MIDDLE MAN
What would the world be like without Facebook?
Like it or not, Facebook is a cultural phenomenon.
1.3 billion active users. Yes, with a 'B'. On a planet of 7 million.
Meaning, at any gathering, Snow White would have to tell at least one of the dwarfs to "put their phone away and be social". Multiply that by a factor of the entire planet, and you get the scale of this behemoth.
And it's not just for individuals to find people they dated during pubescence. There are organisations and creatives living in this social networking petri dish, all looking to engage with you.
Facebook, organisations you love, your friends, and you. One big happy family, all communicating freely with each other.
Well, no, actually.
Facebook you see, is not 'free' at all.
I know you don't pay in monetary terms, but the Faustian pact is for your data.
In case you haven't worked it out, Facebook follows your every move. Your every whim. Your every communication in Facebook. Your every search. Even the searches of the people you connect with.
Oh, and those 'private' messages? Sorry. Private in name only.
Why the violation of privacy?
Money. Always money.
Facebook went public in 2012, and is now worth something in the vicinity of $65-70 billion. With a 'B' again.
So, how does a 'free' service, become a golden goose? By selling every detail it can glean about you to marketers. That's how you 'pay' for the service, with access to your online profile.
There has been some awareness of this behaviour for a while. People, generally, are more savvy than they're given credit for. But you accepted this dubious trade-off, as long as the communications were allowed to flow unfettered. It seemed like a bizarre, egalitarian social contract, didn't it? You sacrificed some privacy in return for unfiltered updates from the people and entities you wanted.
But alas, that's not the case either.
Facebook is desperate to make revenue. After their initial IPO, the share price tanked, and a large number of lawsuits were filed. The main wound of contention was the allegation that insiders, like banks, were given a clue to the fact that Facebook doesn't make much actual money. The result was that the insiders bought and sold the Facebook stock on the first day, making a tidy profit, while the 'mum and dad' investors were left holding a dud.
It's called a 'pump and dump' scam.
Since then, Facebook has become pathological about actually providing a service that generates real revenue.
Their first brainwave was to sell your data. Not a blindingly clever idea, but with over a billion users, a cash cow none-the-less.
Their next scheme is far more suspect. I would go as far as to suggest that they have broken their part of the Faustian bargain.
'If this microcosm of statistics is taken to be broadly emblematic of the whole, then the truth would appear to be that each of your Facebook posts is now reaching only 6% of the people who Like your Page. That’s around 1 in 16 people who have actively chosen to follow you and take an interest in what you do. Conversely, 15 out of 16 of your ‘followers’ see nothing. The only way to increase that is to pay, on average somewhere between $30 and $50 per post, to reach anywhere close to 100% of your followers.'
You should read this article, whether you are an organisation using Facebook or not. Everyone should know the real terms of their deal with the Facebook devil.
Essentially, Facebook's second scheme involves them squeezing organisations to pay a fee to 'promote' their posts, to ensure that their Facebook communications actually reach their existing followers. That's right, not to reach strangers, but to reach the people who have already agreed to follow the organisation's Facebook page.
To many of you this may not be a terribly important issue.
To many filmmakers and creatives, however, not having a direct line to your audience is a serious problem. This should serve as a warning shot. Over your head as opposed to your kneecaps.
I have heard too many entrepreneurs, particularly filmmakers, boil down their promotional strategy to 'we are going to build an audience via social media'. This expression has become the mating call of people who either do not have the funds or the brains to run an effective marketing campaign.
It's an Ackbarian trap.
Acquiring 'likes' may give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, but it means close to nothing for the awareness of your project. Zuckerberg and his cronies have seen to that.
So, for the Facebook users out there, enjoy Facebook if you must, but know that you are selling the online version of yourself, to stay in contact with people you would probably cross the street to avoid in person.
For organisations, know that the price of using Facebook for your marketing activities just went up substantially. Whether it is more or less competitive with traditional marketing channels, remains to be seen.
And, for my fellow filmmakers, know that your work to build an audience for your film or visual story is going to have to extend far beyond the 'thumbs up' universe.
Because, for now, we do not have to contemplate a world without Facebook.
And yet, strangely, communicating with our audiences is becoming harder than ever.
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