Ethical considerations for consumers and marketers in a digital landscape

Don’t you know? Talking about a revolution sounds like a whisper. Tracy Chapman is an extraordinary musician, though listening to this song recently, I wonder whether she could have conceived that her very words could also be used to describe a revolution of a digital kind, where our data is silently being harvested and sold, until one day we find, it’s too late.

This week I will be discussing ethics in relation to digital marketing and our experience as consumers engaging with the internet. I know I’m not alone when I say I am both concerned about my data privacy and at the same time, am all too flippant about what I choose to share online (particularly when it comes to signing in to third party applications with my Facebook account). My brother (who has never had a social media account) and my partner (who refuses to use Google) were hardly surprised when Facebook was involved with Cambridge Analytica (potentially influencing the US election) as, if, yeah, of course, how could you not know something like that would happen? It shook me though, and I imagine a lot of others, who were comfortably living in a bubble of digital ease, never imagining that they could be the product, so easily manipulated.

More-youngsters-sharing-personal-data-online-with-strangers-701x467More youngsters sharing personal data online with strangers, Morung Express

But in a way, that’s the very issue – social media and digital connectivity is just so easy and over the course of the last 10-15 years, has completely penetrated our lives. All of my international friends use Facebook and it’s one of the easiest ways for us to keep in touch. One could argue too, that we chose this, that we as adults continually made (informed) decisions to give parts of ourselves to others (and it’s all there in the fine print). But what if those sharing their data online are children? It’s articles such as these, from the Sunshine Coast Daily that really do worry me. To summarise, 56 percent of children 8-13 are circumventing age restrictions and creating accounts with fake ages, meaning that they are not only potentially exposed to damaging content, but are sharing details of their lives from a very vulnerable age, which could in turn expose them to online predators or identify theft. If online predators are something you are interested in, I highly recommend you watch Catfish, which is a very weird but intriguing ‘documentary’, entirely relevant to the world we live in now.

To that end, Tim Berners-Lee’s vision for the internet – an open platform that allows anyone to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographic boundaries – seems to have come true, however there is also this parallel future unravelling, the world wide web is a juxtaposition of light and dark. As Berners-Lee states, ‘we are so used to these systems being manipulated that people just think that’s how the internet works. We need to think about what it should be like. One of the problems with climate change is getting people to realise it was anthropogenic – created by people. It’s the same problem with social networks – they are manmade. If they are not serving humanity, they can and should be changed.’

internetmapconnectionssplash copyInternet map, Chris Harrison

So where do marketers stand in all of this? Well, I would argue, on a very delicate line, between influence and manipulation. Market research has entered an entirely new territory with digitisation. No longer are researchers simply observing patrons in a café behind a carefully placed newspaper-disguise, but they are able to track eye movement across a website, analyse digital facial expressions and translate them into emotions with AI, use analytics tools to investigate online search behaviour (the real goldmine) and conduct sentiment analyses from social media and public forums. In further understanding the inner-workings of consumers’ minds, advertising can become increasingly targeted. Information is power.

Of course, targeted advertising in itself is a bit of an ethical conundrum. On the one hand, it could offer a timely reminder to purchase something you were genuinely interested in, but on the other, what if the person being targeted is in some way vulnerable (whether that be through mental illness, disability or age) or unable to control their impulses? An elderly person for instance, unaware of the implication of their actions (clicking buttons seems so easy and harmless) or a game-addicted teenager, using their parent’s credit card or all of their pocket money on in-game microtransactions? There really are almost too many ethical situations to explore and they are all equally disheartening. So is there anything we can do to save the internet?

Have-a-Spine-and-Say-No-to-Microtransactions-in-Full-Price-Games-457839-2Have a spine and say no to microtransactions in full-price games, Softpedia News

Well, Jaron Lanier seems to think so. He suggests that because the internet began as a free platform, businesses such as Google and Facebook were ‘forced’ to go down the road of advertisement-generated revenue and that if we as consumers demanded (deleted our accounts), they could be ‘forced’ once again to change. That we have the power to drive ethical behaviour and accountability in terms of data protection and our right to privacy. Here’s hoping he’s right.

A wise lecturer of mine once said, ‘ethical behaviour is a privilege not all have’. How do you feel about behaving ethically as a marketer? Is ethics something you would consider when you start working in industry? Let me know your thoughts in the comments on the sidebar.

What is SEO, SEM and PPC and how do I utilise these acronyms?

If you’ve been wondering how to navigate the digital world , but have no idea how to make sense of all the jargon, you have come to the right place. Let’s start with some definitions.

SEO – Search Engine Optimisation – is the process of maximising the number of visitors a website has through free or organic means by ensuring that the site features high on the list of results returned by a search engine.

As an example, when I was working for an e-commerce homewares store in 2013, with each new product uploaded, certain key terms were repeated and utilised (as the image title and in the product description) in order to maximise exposure. It’s best to implement SEO (on-the-page and off-the-page) as you are building each component of the website. Essentially, by using SEO, this lets Google (or the applicable search engine) know that this site and its contents are important for searchers of certain terms. If search engines deliver relevant results and websites rank highly and gain greater traffic, this is essentially a win-win. The more relevant a search engine is, the more popular it is among searchers and the more likely it will stick around and generate revenue through advertising.

While I could break down every component for you, it’s actually fairly complex and you might be better off checking out the periodic table developed by Search Engine Land.

2017-SEL_SEO_Periodic_Table_condensed

SEM – Search Engine Marketing – is an internet marketing tool which involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility (primarily through paid advertising).

If you’re wondering how this differs from SEO, I can understand the confusion; they’re actually interlinked and are therefore fairly similar. To illustrate, SEO is the process of tweaking content within your website, while SEM is the culmination of all of your internet marketing activities, such as the aforementioned SEO as well as social media marketing and pay per click (explained below).

PPC – Pay per Click – is a business model (SEM tool) whereby a website (typically a business) agrees to pay a certain amount per click generated in order to gain exposure. Essentially what this means is, every time a searcher clicks on the website, the website owner pays Google (or the applicable search engine) a fee for advertising its content or ranking it at the top of the search.

For high end products (think more luxury cars or international airlines than peanut butter), Pay per Click can be a great way to ensure a high degree of traffic when searchers enter key terms. It is also easily measurable (you know how many people are clicking on the site and can track what key words were most commonly searched or resulted in the greatest interest towards the website). Of course, it does rely on having a certain degree of information – Pay per Click can be costly, so you want to know that you are reaching the right market with your choice of search terms to target and ensure you are monitoring the campaign’s success.

apple-gadget-google-38286Google search Poland, Pixabay, Pexels.

Now that we have all the basics out of the way, what does SEO mean for marketing and what is the nature of search going to look like in the future?

Well, in case you haven’t heard, mobile is booming, which means that utilising mobile SEO is also becoming increasingly important. A lot of consumers (myself included) will often search for key terms using their mobile, researching potential purchases on the way home from university or work. It’s still a little clunky to buy a lot of things through the websites we may be browsing (because optimisation hasn’t yet caught up with demand), so when arriving home, consumers open up their laptop and make the final decision on the big screen. It’s possible there is also a psychological phenomenon going on here – I personally would feel a little nervous purchasing big ticket items on my phone such as international flights, as I may accidentally click something I didn’t intend to with my uncoordinated thumbs. Again though, this just comes back to a need for business to address website usability and functionality to create an increasingly fluid mobile experience.

Search Engine Land (can you tell I am now their biggest fan?) claims that a responsive website is no longer enough to survive in this rising mobile digital landscape – designers also need to ensure that the desktop website has translated correctly to its mobile counterpart in terms of structured data, pagination (mobile may use infinite scroll for consumer ease, but this isn’t ideal for SEO pick-ups), internal link structure (less links = happier consumers, but also less SEO points), site configuration and a variety of other components. Because mobile is an entirely different platform with a significantly smaller screen, it’s possible that SEO information traditionally built into desktop websites may get lost in translation with the never-ending jostle between user experience and exposure.

Mobile-Responsive-WebsiteMobile responsive website, Orange Mantra.

These are big issues. As a designer and a consumer I can certainly understand the conundrum. On the one hand, you want to maximise usability for this new mobile generation, but on the other, you may be completely messing up your SEO.

So what can we do about this? Well, Google’s RankBrain (which uses AI learning) looks for conversational human-generated content, so perhaps the best advice is don’t sound like a robot (rather ironic considering AI is judging this) and to the best of your ability, keep up with the current algorithm and deliver meaningful, relevant and quality content. I wish there were a more definitive answer to this, but it would seem as though SEO is as much a science as it is a blindfolded finger painting that Google is trying to squash in the mud.

So, all that aside, have you implemented some of the SEO success factors into your website? How do you see the future of SEO and the interlink between optimisation and AI learning? Let me know your thoughts in the comments on the sidebar.

Entering the machine: how mobile marketing taps into our inner world

Every morning I take the train and pass through South Yarra station, where there is a collection of billboard images from Apple’s ‘Behind the Mac’ campaign. Grimes is featured second from the left, her eyes glowing like a cyborg. I always wonder whether that was the intention, whether this advertisement wasn’t just a reminder of a well established brand, but rather a commentary that we are, increasingly, entering the machine.

With a growing number of smartphones in circulation (in Australia, 87 percent own a smartphone while 76 percent own laptops) and an internet search rate to rival laptops, mobile marketing is becoming increasingly important for business to reach consumers precisely where and when they are about to make a purchase. For the uninitiated, mobile marketing is ‘any marketing activity conducted through a ubiquitous network to which consumers are constantly connected using a personal mobile device’ (Kaplan, 2012).

While mobile marketing is clearly an expanding channel (it’s predicted that by 2020 mobile advertising will exceed 30 percent of global advertising), I question how beneficial it is for the consumer. The understanding that we are, through the use of our smartphones, constantly sending and receiving personal messages regarding our location and real-time preferences (to a relatively unknown audience) is truly cause for concern. Everything we consume, view and engage with is monitored and then regurgitated back at us in the form of targeted advertising. As a marketer, it’s genius, but as a consumer, I am continually disturbed at the thought of being watched.

98b03e87-e1ac-4f67-892c-819b7122ae3e-1020x612The abandoned Presidio Modelo complex in 1995, The Guardian

In a weird sort of way, it’s quite funny to think that Steve Jobs, through the release of the iPhone in 2007, essentially opened the doors for the entire mobile marketing channel. Before the iPhone, there were a couple of smartphone contenders, but nothing which would have allowed personal and seamless connection to a ubiquitous network. Perhaps it was also the steadfast Apple consumer loyalty that initially drove such a wide number of smartphones into circulation.

Of course, in the 10 years since the iPhone’s introduction, consumers have increasingly begun to see their smartphone as an extension of themselves, meaning they are no longer question marks, but real-time reachable targets. Truly, in conducting a small train survey on my way to university, 14 out of 15 people around me were glowing in the light emitted from their phone screen, entirely engulfed in a virtual world. As strange as it sounds, it’s more likely marketers would be able to reach them with a pop-up on the screen than if they were standing on the street waving like a hooligan.

To continue on from that thought, how do businesses actually use mobile marketing to reach consumers while delivering value? According to Brian Solis, brands interested in mobile marketing should seek to increase engagement in micro-moments (coined by Google), which are moments when consumers rely on their smartphone to inform decisions in their personal or professional lives. As an example, I went to a bookstore in Hobart last week, but because I only had a limited luggage allowance with Jetstar, I used my phone to price and location-check a couple of books I was interested in purchasing, while still standing in the store. I was then able to determine that I didn’t need to purchase them (and thereby purchase a greater luggage allowance), as they were freely available elsewhere. It was very convenient, however this convenience is only possible if brands are implementing their mobile marketing strategies correctly.

bag-electronics-girl-359757.jpgElectronics Girl, Tofros.com, Pexels

Demographic information about consumers is no longer enough in order to reach people in these very personal moments. Brands need to understand the exact terms consumers use when they are searching for a solution. Additionally, mobile marketing is best appreciated (and less seen as an invasion of privacy) when it provides useful or helpful information. As always, consumers want to be delivered value, not blatantly sold products.

In adding to Solis’ advice, Kaplan (2012) goes further, having developed a framework (the 4 I’s) for mobile social media behaviour as a brand. The aim is to Individualise (tailor communication based on the individual user’s preferences or interests), Involve (engage in two-way communication rather than direct selling), Integrate (create seamless activities which enhance a user’s life, such as a weather app in temperamental Melbourne, rather than being a nuisance) and Initiate (encourage user’s to generate their own content and collaborate with the brand’s platform, as seen with review sites such as TripAdvisor or Zomato).

What’s interesting though, is that, for all of our concerns as consumers, that our privacy is being invaded, that phones are just becoming advertising devices, that social media is increasing personal isolation, anxiety and insecurity despite being touted as connecting the world, we are so reliant on smartphones that it may be becoming an addiction. Like our wallet and keys, we cannot leave the house without them. When my phone went flat in Switzerland, I ended up getting stranded in a nowhere town called Brugg at midnight due to a cancelled train, forced to wait until morning. If I had had a working phone, I could have called my partner, found a hotel or researched the best way home, but without one, I was essentially invisible, as if I had a disability. Food for thought, as they say.

So, that’s it from me this week. Do you have any interesting stories about your own smartphone dependency? Let me know your thoughts in the comments on the sidebar.

So you want to go viral? I’m here to help

This blog has been a long time coming. Since I last posted, I went to a wedding, spent a week in Noosa, inspected a forest in which to build a house, got roped into doing some group assignment work I really didn’t want to do, checked my partner’s visa status for the 1000th time and spilt tomato-covered chickpeas all over my little couch. It is now Sunday evening and I am drinking wine.

What I’m trying to convey here is that, life is an unpredictable mixed bag, full of all sorts of different stimuli that, good and bad, can often get in the way of what we really want to be doing (such as writing this blog). The interesting thing about viral marketing is that it manages to transcend the everyday and truly connect with the zeitgeist, if only for a moment. How does it do this, you ask? Well, like everything of such magnitude, it’s pretty complex.

There are three main schools of thought on how marketing messages ‘go viral’ or how ideas spread, which have been developed by Jonah Berger, Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin. Berger argues that it is the message that is the key centrepoint when it comes to spreading an idea virally, while Gladwell and Godin believe that ideas spread because of the influence of either the network or an individual’s ability to be remarkable. I know no one likes a fence sitter, but I am inclined to believe they all hold value in explaining how sometimes, ideas simply explode.

STEPPS-Contagious-Framework

STEPPS framework, Jonah Berger

Take Fortnite for instance, the biggest online zombie free-for-all of 2018 that was only released a year ago. It just about ticks all of the boxes of Berger’s STEPPS framework – it enables social currency (other players can see gear and skills, but also, if you’re playing Fortnite, you must be ‘in the know’); it is often triggered by others (I don’t even play Fortnite and yet am continually reminded by YouTubers that everyone else is); it encourages emotional engagement from players (your home is being attacked by zombies and you have to band together and build forts!); it is absolutely public (the game is free to play on PC, Mac, Playstation 4 and Xbox One as well as on IOS 11 and Android); and, the stories surrounding the game are, in a word, ‘excellent’. Perhaps the only negative is that the game doesn’t hold much practical value, although fans may disagree with me. Just about anyone who is anyone in the online gaming community is playing this game, and while this may have began with the trailer and zeitgeist-channelling female voiceover, word of mouth, personal recommendations and accessibility have spread it like wildfire.

I can tell what you’re thinking. This is easy, Hannah. We have all of Jonah Berger’s secrets and we could make our message go viral tomorrow. But truthfully, you can’t, at least not without a little luck, or magical precision timing or simply the right intuitive ‘feel’ for the market. Because for every Fortnite that is released, there are numerous similar games that just missed the mark.

Fortnite_2Fblog_2Fannouncing_fortnite_battle_royale_2FFortniteBattleRoyale_OutlookScreenshot_1920x1080_552bd26a97f66973123f3d9375767ff467662c89.0

Fortnite Battle Royale, Epic Games

At times like these, I often think back to an interview I read with Wes Anderson. He was wondering why his film, The Darjeeling Limited did not receive the same accolades or audience reception as Slumdog Millionaire which was released a little over a year later, despite him thinking that they weren’t terribly dissimilar. Admittedly both films are set in India, but from an objective standpoint, that’s where their similarities end. In a way, Wes Anderson is too niche to ever be mainstream enough to be viral, and to be viral, one needs to be accessible and to stimulate arousal (that is, intense emotions).

Now, it’s possible that Wes Anderson just missed the timing, and that Danny Boyle saw The Kite Runner in 2007 and realised audiences love emotional tearjerkers of struggling children, destiny and true love, but it does make you wonder whether there is more to it than just a six-step framework. Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘The Tipping Point’ explains this quite well. While I have only just started reading his book, one of this main points is that 80 percent of the network that spreads ideas is 20 percent of the people, and that viral success depends on whether those ‘contagious’ 20 percent are involved, as they are the connectors, the mavens and the salespeople. Additionally, he asserts that to start an epidemic it needs to be more than contagious, it needs to have a certain stickiness to ensure it remains in the minds of consumers.

the-darjeeling-limited-still
Adrian Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman, The Darjeeling Limited, dir. Wes Anderson 2007

A prime example of stickiness (and perhaps one of my favourite advertisements) would be the 2010 Old Spice commercial which set the internet on fire. I still remember this vividly 8 years later, even though at the time, being an Australian female teen, I had not even heard of Old Spice. Between the visual transitions, constant eye contact and highly engaging dialogue, not only is it impossible to look away, but became infinitely quotable and addictively shareable. If that isn’t sticky, I don’t know what is.

Of course, this example also relates to Seth Godin’s belief that remark-ability is what drives messages to go viral. His TED Talk (linked in my third paragraph) uses a purple cow as an example – which, in similarity to Old Spice’s ‘the tickets are now diamonds’ and ‘I’m on a horse’ is entirely odd and really very remarkable when compared with the kind of mundane imagery we are exposed to every day. So instead of tuning out the message, we stop and listen. When we do not only stop and listen, but share and encourage others to see it as well, it becomes viral. To build on that, I’m going to leave you with an Australian example.

maxresdefault

Dumb ways to die, 2012

Dumb ways to die was released when I was studying design at Monash University in 2012. I distinctly remember discussing the formula and techniques they used in order to make the video go viral with my lecturer Ned Culic who was particularly excited by it. Yes, you read that right – to go viral was built into the strategy, it wasn’t an accident. The foundation was created in order to allow it to happen (it was highly accessible, sticky, intelligent, innovative, and animated with a trendy flat style), but it still required the public to accept it, share it and engage with it positively. While I wasn’t entirely ‘in the know’, I imagine they would have sourced connectors, mavens and salespeople to assist in spreading the disease.

So, what do you think? Are you on team Jonah Berger, Malcolm Gladwell or Seth Godin? Or are you more of a moderate like I am, believing that they all hold insight into how ideas spread? Let me know your thoughts in the comments on the sidebar.

 

Social media, what is it good for?

As you can probably tell, I took the title for this blog straight from a song called War by Edwin Starr (which you are welcome to listen to while you read this post). While I do not believe social media is good for ‘absolutely nothing’ as Starr suggests regarding war, the usage of ‘good’ in this instance is something I would like to dissect. For what exactly is ‘good’?

In the words of Peter Singer, ‘good’ would be classified as the greatest benefit to society in which we are able to contribute. But as a marketer or business owner, ‘good’ is entirely dependent on what strategy or objective is in place when it comes to delivering customer value, and the channel or platform’s ability to achieve that.

Over the weekend I have been reading various articles suggested by the RMIT university syllabus – relating to digital strategy, social media strategy and the ways in which business and consumers interact with online platforms. And honestly, it’s clear to see, through my own research and the university readings, that there is a thought trend among industry veterans that differs from those starting out in digital careers (newsflash: digital may be big, but it isn’t everything). Whether this is an inability to adapt to the new generation or simply wisdom, I am inclined to believe the dinosaurs. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.

apple-applications-apps-607812

When it comes to the average social media user, most would think that getting the highest number of likes and thereby exposure, is what social media is good for. Seeing the numbers tick over, the little ping on your phone indicating a notification can be intoxicating – it can make us feel as though we are really doing something important. Now, don’t get me wrong, exposure is great, but as we all know, 100,000 views does not necessarily translate into an equal number of sales, or even consumer attention a day later, making this myopic definition of ‘good’ fall rather flat.

It isn’t the numbers we should be paying attention to (unless we’re looking to become employed by YouTube), but rather, questioning, are they the right numbers? Is this the right strategy? And, could we be reaching the right numbers (our true segment) through a different avenue? For such a labour intensive undertaking, you don’t want to be marketing blind. Indeed, according to Erin Williamson from Yellow, ‘all businesses agree that the most frustrating aspect of social media is constantly thinking of new content and making those constant changes’.

Like any marketing channel, social media isn’t inherently ‘good’ or even better than any other (and in some ways, it may even be damaging or unethical, but we’ll get to that later). It should also be understood that there are a multitude of social media platforms which all perform differently and no matter what marketing tools you are using, your content still needs to be worthy of attention. According to Kaplan & Haenlein (2010), these platforms can be categorised as collaborative projects (such as Wikipedia), blogs (such as what you are reading now), content communities (such as YouTube), social networking sites (such as Facebook), virtual game worlds (such as Fortnite, League of Legends and other online games) and virtual social worlds (such as Second Life or Habbo Hotel). Whether a brand gains the attention of the consumer is entirely dependent on how intelligently they have researched how to reach their target and how inventive they are at implementing their strategy. The way you reach a consumer playing Fortnite would be a completely different set of tasks and goals compared with Facebook.

blur-buildings-busy-861102

So, enough waffling, we all know we need to be strategically creative to succeed in marketing and in business. Let’s look at some stats. In Australia, the Yellow Social Media Report 2018 (split into two parts) has come up with some insights for both consumer and business behaviour alike. For consumers, the most popular platform is Facebook (79 percent), followed by YouTube (53 percent) and Instagram (39 percent) – Twitter (19 percent and falling) appears to be going down the gurgler, but I doubt anyone is surprised by that. Additionally, perhaps the most important learning for business is that 68 percent of consumers read online reviews prior to making a purchase. I know I personally am apprehensive about making a purchase online if there aren’t any reviews available to use as a benchmark for my decision and I doubt I’m the only one. There is a reason why websites that allow you to compare your options such as TripAdvisor, Zomato and Skyscanner have become so popular.

The images in this blog post weren’t chosen by accident either, according to the Sensis Social Media Report, a whopping 81 percent prefer to use their smart device (rather than laptop or desktop) to access content, and of the 96 percent who use social media primarily at home, 84 percent are viewing posts in the lounge room more than any other area. Outside of the home, social media is accessed mostly at work or on public transport. This means that businesses need to continually focus on improving their integrated marketing communication to work in a variety of different formats and at different times of the day, as dictated by their target market – if you can seamlessly translate your website into a functional mobile app or scalable iPad design with relevant content geared towards the time in which it is viewed, Australians will thank you for it.

There is no doubt the numbers are big, which is why social media marketing can be so enticing for business, particularly SMEs or start-ups with small monetary budgets (yet surplus human capital). However, when something appears too good to be true, it usually is.

boys-cellphone-facial-expression-1036804

With so many consumers using these platforms, and the world becoming increasingly global, brands need to have a solid contingency plan within their social media marketing strategy for when things go pear-shaped. Diplomacy, empathy, accountability and humility has never been more important for a brand to display – a press release tomorrow morning isn’t going to solve a blow up happening on Facebook right now because one consumer found a huntsman in their bag of lettuce. What’s more, the internet never forgets – everything is published forever, which, if managed incorrectly, can be lethal for even an established brand.

With the recent congress hearing regarding Facebook’s privacy policy, ethics and social media are in an extremely delicate balance. Never before have marketers had access to such intimate details of such a wide range of consumers, but is it really fair for business to capitalise on information (or data) that was never intended to be advertised to anyone other than family or friends? There seem to be two key conflicting thoughts here – the consumer and legal bodies say ‘no’, while the businesses, scientists and researchers say ‘yes’ on the presumption that studying consumer behaviour will make the world a better place when it comes to product selection, services and future technological developments. Of course, like ‘good’, ‘better’ is a pretty vague measurement tool, and as shown above, entirely subjective. How digital giants such as Facebook and Google face off against the growing legal concerns will certainly be an interesting future to watch.

adult-american-asian-1083622

So, what do you think? Should we all as marketers be on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitch etc. with a focus primarily on social media? Or should we be thinking critically about how to manage our time and resources, across various marketing platforms and channels? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

All images are royalty free and have been sourced from Pexels. All text © Hannah Dunlop 2018.