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A Gold Rush for Brands...Until [the Day] The Algorithm Changed

Business

January 11th started out like any Thursday. Then the earth shook. A seismic shift happened in the marketing world, its impact so far-reaching, that two months later, it was the topic of the opening keynote at the Social Media Marketing World [SMMW] annual conference.


“You probably remember the fateful day – January 11, 2018," stated Michael Stelzner, CEO of Social Media Examiner, as he stepped on the conference stage. He went on to say that “on that day, the man Mr. Mark Zuckerberg, said, 'we are making a major change to Facebook'." This algorithm change, like those that are instituted on other major marketing platforms, can have positive, or often, devastating effects on businesses.

Before you think this it's an over dramatization to say an algorithm change can put you out of business, you must first understand the ecosystem that surrounds Facebook. While the public enjoys social networking on the platform, brands and entrepreneurs depend on Facebook to drive leads and ultimately sales for their businesses. It wasn't just revenue at risk, but entire companies, jobs and ultimately families would be impacted.

Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube all need content and users. There is a symbiotic relationship between the platforms and their contributors, who are dependent on what the other has to offer to thrive. The key component that is important not to forget, is that the platform owner is always in the driver's seat, and while they need brands and users to generate and consume content, they will act in their own best interest every time.

The January 11th announcement, and the algorithm change, proved fateful for LittleThings, the millennial, female facing company that built its business primarily on Facebook over the last three years. On February 27th 2018, LittleThings announced the sudden dismissal of their 100 employees and the last day of the business. The reason? Facebook's algorithm change proved devastating to both traffic and engagement, and the millions of followers on the popular page were effectively squandered. "Our organic traffic (the highest margin business), and influencer traffic were cut by over 75 percent. No previous algorithm update ever came close to this level of decimation. The position it put us in was beyond dire," a statement from the company reads. It's worth noting that LittleThings existed only on Facebook, taking a trendy route for today's crops of influencers by building their life's work on a third-party site.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket

It's always risky business to put all your eggs in one basket, or in this case, build your entire business on one platform.

It's easy to see how companies get seduced into it. Like the Gold Rush or the heady days before the Dot Com Bubble, companies and entrepreneurs are easily seduced by the shiny object and the promise of riches, so much so that they lose perspective and rationality and throw caution to the wind. Heavy or total reliance on one client or platform, is never sustainable as it leaves you at the mercy of their whim, or in this case, algorithm change.

So just how did LittleThings, a former pet e-commerce site, hit a winning formula for sharing unique, inspirational stories about people and pets, and come to depend too heavily on Facebook?

Paul Kontonis, Chief Marketing Officer, of influencer marketing platform Whosay explains, “In a bid to woo publishers into producing content for their platforms, i.e. - Facebook, the early days of each platform were typically marked with fantastic reach and ease of building an audience for a business, whether a publisher or brand. Basically, this a pure feed that rewards early adopters who produce a lot of snackable funny, inspiring or emotional content."

In the case of LittleThings, after pivoting from pet e-commerce to content publisher, hit upon a successful formula on Facebook, rising at a meteoric rate reaching over 50 million unique views in three years. With business skyrocketing, it's easy to understand the temptation to keep riding the wave, feeling invincible. In fact LittleThings CEO, Joe Speiser was interviewed on the Digiday podcast in 2016 and said: “As long as you constantly pivot within the Facebook ecosystem, you'll be fine." This, unfortunately, turned out not to be the case.

With the discovery that fake identities were created on its platform by Russian operatives to interfere with the U.S. election, it's safe to say that 2017 was a difficult year for Facebook. With the additional disclosure that users were passively consuming content, and therefore less likely to make purchasing decisions via the platform, also Facebook's shining brand image.

In the wake of the news that Facebook was looking to support organic community building rather than business agendas, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “I'm changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful interactions." The shift, of course, meant that brands would get less visibility, as Facebook prioritized the content of our friends and connections. According to Zuckerberg, the move underscores Facebook's responsibility to provide value, as well as ultimately drive more revenue (as brands are forced to spend more of their advertising dollars).

Are we relying too much on 3rd party social sites for brand awareness?

Brands put a lot of marketing efforts and dollars behind raising brand awareness and getting in front of their target audience on a regular basis. The easiest way to get in front of your audience is to position yourself where they already spend time – on popular platforms.

“Publishers who focus all of their resource and energy on one platform are playing an extremely dangerous game. Algorithms are built with the sole purpose of eventually allowing the platform to monetize their service through ad-selling or requiring publishers to pay for reach. This means at any point, if it suits the platforms, the algorithm can completely switch without any warning, leaving your page in a position where it's barely half as effective as before," cautions Catty Berragan, Creative Director of Social Chain.

While the temptation can be great to rely on other platforms, marketers need to create compelling reasons for their audience to return to their own platforms, again and again. Marketers, like algorithms, must stay on top of their audience and foresee change on the horizon so they can be ready for the change before it arrives.

Ingredients for long-term success

Berragan advocates for more diversification and looking at 'less busy platforms' to publish on, while Kontonis recommends focusing on content that is irresistible to your target audience. Both ideas need to be embraced by brands that want to be successful in both the short term and the long term.

New platforms, new algorithms will come and go. Mark Schaefer, the author of Return on Influence, closed his SMMW keynote with this sage advice:

“Embrace this chaos, we'll be seeing more of it."

Brands that succeed over the long term will go back to basic good business practices of creating great content their audience wants, distributed over a healthy mix of their own platforms and those that they don't own, but that their target audience frequents.

Listening to customer feedback and being nimble, adaptable and ready to turn on a dime, as prevailing tastes and engagement shift are key components of long-term success for brands. While large numbers have dazzled advertisers, the truth remains that a smaller more relevant and engaged is more valuable than a larger, less engaged one. Know your audience better than they know themselves. The right kind of content in front of the right audience is very valuable, just make sure you keep most it on platforms you own or control.

Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.