How many scandals does it take to reform social media? While companies cannot survive without an online social presence, there must be ways to live with good, bad and really ugly social media. Oh, and Instagram for Kids? (Not quite yet.) Is there a clear enough trade-off between kids and profits? (Apparently not.) Now what?
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), 60 Minutes and Frances Haugen told us more than we wanted to know about Facebook. Social media platforms have been called “dumpster fires,” “cesspools” and “derelicts.” But with more and more transactions moving online, companies have no choice but to build and nurture their social brands as they improve their customer experiences. There’s money in those digital hills, that’s for sure. So in many executive suites, social media is the technology everyone needs but – if the executives have children – often hate. It’s too essential – and too dangerous. But at the end of the day, it makes tons of money for lots of companies and individuals. Just look at the market caps of social media companies and the net worth of executives in the social media business who, according to the WSJ and internal Facebook documentation, jeopardize kids, especially young girls, while knowing their platform is potentially dangerous — very dangerous. It also makes tons of money for the companies who build brands and execute transactions on and through social media relationships. So now what? Another Congressional hearing? A slap-on-the-wrist-sized fine? This is a clear challenge to every legislator, parent and citizen of the United States and countries where Facebook and Instagram are prominent social platforms. But given the attention span of most Americans, Facebook can just wait for it all to blow over, replaced by another media-hyped event that distracts us from actual proof that the largest social media company on the planet may be downright dangerous. All bad, right? Not at all: companies need social media to profitably grow their businesses. It’s the channel no one turns off. It’s where the money is. It’s the future. Without social media – in addition to their direct online existence – companies cannot compete.
Necessary, Though Still Risky, Social Media Analytics
Social media analytics (SMA) – the process by which companies collect and analyze data collected from their “social” presence and transactions – is absolutely, positively necessary. Companies must invest in SMA every year to continue their digital transformations. They must realtime track the data on their social media dashboards. They must be persistently creative and engaging, and their customer experience (CX) processes must endlessly pursue seamlessness and pure digital joy. Without social media analytics, companies fly blind, which is an impossible state of being for “Internet companies,” when all companies are Internet companies. The ecosystem around social media analytics is huge and growing. The analytics platform business alone is enormous, and services, like sentiment analysis, are now essential (and routine). Everyone must scrape data from the same social platforms to understand what their customers think of them and their products and services.
But there are also risks. Remember the demonstration of how shatterproof the glass on the Tesla Cybertruck was promised to be? But shatter it did – twice – and now the world can see it shatter over and over again. There are lots of embarrassing – and potentially very costly – social mistakes. Just ask Snapchat, Dolce & Gabbana and Dove, among so many others who’ve suffered social media blunders. Not to mention, of course, what we recently learned about Facebook. (What’s a “Whitelist,” anyway?)
Good, Bad & Really Ugly Addiction
Like some other behaviors, a lot of – but by no means all – social media activity is addictive, and addictions can cause major problems. We all know this – including Facebook executives. The problem is that dopamine addiction is good for some social platforms, though often horrifically bad for many of the people who use them. Companies want addictive content to stimulate interest in their products and services. Research shows that the most creative content that appears regularly and frequently builds digital brands. “Attention engineers” addict users to their products and services with a set methods, tools and techniques – algorithms – that work. But dopamine is also released as part of hate and disinformation campaigns where clicks and persistence are off the charts. No one wants to leave a good digital fight – and Facebook (and others) knows it. The more clicks, the better the business. Should induced dopamine be a regulated substance? Yes … and no. Yes, if it hurts anyone, but no, if it stimulates the sale of products and services. Right? A double-edged sword. A comfortable dilemma. You pick the metaphor. You get the idea. “Creative and engaging content” is ideally addictive. Creative and engaging content builds brands and stimulates sales. All good until-and-unless it hurts anyone. So what do you do? (I just suspended my Facebook and Instagram accounts.)
Living with Double-Edged Swords
How do C-Suite conversations about social media go, especially among insanely compensated executives with teenage daughters? While their sales and marketing teams beg for more money to create engaging addictive content, enable more transactions, and enhance the customer experience, executives are hearing about how social media is harming their children. What about the employees who work at social media companies? There are hundreds of companies vying for the same customers. They’ll use any means possible to acquire, engage and delight customers. But wait, does this mean that “the end justifies the means”? No one likes that default interpretation as “good business.” What do the employees think? And what about the users of these platforms? How many women and men will abandon Facebook and Instagram to protest the obvious? Did droves of users leave Facebook after the Cambridge Analytica scandal? (No.) The WSJ revelations and Frances Haugen present just the latest scandal. Why is the platform seemingly invulnerable? We’re back to addiction and the lack of regulation (since self-policing never works). But here too we see little if any real legislative intent, let alone action (yes, there’s lots of political posturing, as usual). “It is what it is” is the conclusion. Companies cannot live without social media while many of its users would clearly benefit from an intervention. But addictions are tough to conquer – even with overwhelming evidence of their harm. Is “it is what it is” the best we can do? Looks like it, but let’s hope not. I’ll suggest some ways to address this mess next time.