tag:econsultancy.com,2008:/topics/reputation-management Latest Reputation management content from Econsultancy 2017-04-25T15:00:00+01:00 tag:econsultancy.com,2008:BlogPost/69007 2017-04-25T15:00:00+01:00 2017-04-25T15:00:00+01:00 Allergan Facebook initiative shows the risks of social media for pharma marketers Patricio Robles <p>For instance, patient testimonials posted on Facebook received "more than 3.5 million views, while the overall work generated 35 million impressions and resulted in a 10.5% lift in ad recall."</p> <p>But when looking at the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/RESTASIS/">Restasis Facebook Page</a>, I couldn't help but notice that many of the responses to the company's Facebook posts were complaints about cost.</p> <p>"Can not afford cost with savings card. Do you have any help. I am on social security," one person wrote. "Sad, my dad has severe dry eye and Restasis could certainly help, but he's got Medicare and can't afford it. Your savings program excludes Medicare recipients and he's got no other options," another wrote.</p> <p>The team managing the Restasis Facebook Page responded to these comments, in most cases apologizing for the situation and directing the individual to call a toll-free number or visit a page on which they can obtain information about a patient assistance program that they might be eligible for. But many consumers aren't eligible for patient assistance, leaving them out of luck.</p> <p><img src="https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0008/5482/restasisfb.png" alt="" width="537" height="399"></p> <h4>Pharma almost always takes the blame</h4> <p>Allergan's team deserves credit for responding to comments complaining about cost and availability, but such comments also serve as a reminder of one of pharma's biggest challenges: even when it effectively markets its drugs directly to the consumers who need them, there's no guarantee that those consumers will be able to access them. </p> <p>On social media, consumers have a voice, and for an already <a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/67747-pharma-marketers-should-use-storytelling-to-improve-the-industry-s-reputation">reputationally-challenged industry</a> grappling with outrage over drug prices, that means that social initiatives like Allergan's Restasis Facebook Page come with the risk of highlighting these issues, as consumers who find themselves unable to obtain the drugs they need have a platform for speaking out about their experiences.</p> <p>Of course, drug pricing and availability are complex issues and pharma companies aren't always responsible when consumers aren't able to obtain particular drugs. Healthcare providers and insurance companies play a big role in pricing and access. But because much of the frustration and outrage over these issues is frequently directed at pharma companies, they are most frequently the target of consumer complaints and that's bound to be true in social media.</p> <p>To be sure, the risk that consumers will post complaints about pricing and access on their social accounts doesn't mean that pharma marketers should avoid social channels, which are <a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/67993-why-pharma-marketers-are-increasingly-turning-to-social-media">increasingly popular with pharma marketers</a> and have the potential to be <a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/68846-three-effective-ways-pharma-brands-have-used-facebook-for-marketing">quite effective</a>. But as the Restasis Facebook Page demonstrates, pharma marketers should be prepared to deal with these when launching social initiatives. At a minimum, this includes being ready to field complaints, including those difficult ones related to cost and access.</p> tag:econsultancy.com,2008:BlogPost/69009 2017-04-20T11:31:51+01:00 2017-04-20T11:31:51+01:00 Can Wells Fargo's new brand platform help it restore consumer trust? Patricio Robles <p>Wells Fargo recently revealed that new checking account openings have dropped by 43% year-on-year and new credit card applications have plunged by an even greater amount – 55%.</p> <p>According to some observers, dealing with the fallout from this scandal represents perhaps the biggest challenge the bank has faced since it was founded in 1852. Ironically, the scandal could have been avoided if the company had heeded the advice of its largest shareholder, Warren Buffett. The legendary investor famously once stated, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently."</p> <p>Now faced with the task of rebuilding its reputation, Wells Fargo <a href="https://stories.wf.com/new-brand-platform-wells-fargo-building-better-company-every-day/">has unveiled</a> a new brand platform dubbed Building Better Every Day.</p> <p>According to Jamie Moldafsky, Wells Fargo's CMO, "Our research clearly shows our customers are ready to hear a different message from us, and the 'Building Better Every Day' platform behind this advertising came directly from the research results. In addition to showing our customers how we are building a better bank – fixing things, and making them right – this effort is focused on how we are helping customers achieve their financial goals."</p> <p>The Building Better Every Day platform will rely on marketing across virtually all channels, including digital, television, print, radio and billboard. It aims to highlight how Wells Fargo is helping customers through "customer-centric" technological innovation, guidance and personalized service, security and community involvement.</p> <p><iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WJGAO63-IKs?wmode=transparent" width="560" height="315"></iframe></p> <p>Phil Wang, a marketing manager who was involved in the platform's development, says that the ads will focus a lot on interactions between Wells Fargo and its customers. "Team members are front and center in these spots, and portrayed as helping customers in a way that's in keeping with our vision and values."</p> <p>To hammer home the bank's commitment to the diverse communities it has a presence in, Wells Fargo is even creating ads for specific audiences in other languages, including Mandarin, Cantonese and Spanish.</p> <h4>All of this sounds like a textbook plan from a marketing perspective, but will Wells Fargo's new brand platform really heal the damage caused by its scandal?</h4> <p>There are reasons to be skeptical because not only was the scandal itself really, really ugly in nature, the timing couldn't have been worse for the banking behemoth.</p> <p>First, big banks are among consumers' least favorite institutions today thanks in large part to the financial crisis of 2008, which was widely blamed on out-of-control financial institutions. While Wells Fargo had the most pristine reputation of any big bank following the crisis, having emerged from the Great Recession largely unscathed, the unauthorized account scandal plays right into Wall Street critics' argument that big banks are out of control and simply can't be trusted. </p> <p>Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, banks find themselves under attack from fintech startups that are attempting <a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/68159-five-ways-fintech-upstarts-are-disrupting-established-financial-institutions/">to disrupt</a> their business models. From consumer, business and mortgage lending to brokerage services and everything in between, many of the financial services that consumers used to obtain from the bank where they kept their checking and savings accounts are increasingly acquired through standalone non-bank service providers in an unbundled fashion. By some estimates, this <a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/68981-could-established-financial-services-firms-lose-a-quarter-of-their-revenue-to-fintechs/">could soon cost established financial institutions a quarter of their revenue</a>.</p> <p>In fact, that Wells Fargo employees were opening unauthorized accounts to meet aggressive sales quotas hints that it is increasingly difficult for banks to successfully cross-sell to their customers <a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/68334-wells-fargo-scandal-shows-why-banks-are-vulnerable-to-fintech-startups/">in the age of unbundling</a>. </p> <p>Unfortunately for Wells Fargo, the damage caused by the actions of thousands of its employees probably won't be undone with a new brand platform and an aggressive and expensive marketing campaign. While it's not too soon for the bank to start employing marketing in an effort to re-engage consumers, ultimately Wells Fargo will probably have to accept that the old Buffett nugget of wisdom is pretty accurate.</p> tag:econsultancy.com,2008:BlogPost/68978 2017-04-13T01:00:00+01:00 2017-04-13T01:00:00+01:00 Three brands recently 'shamed' in China and how others can avoid a similar fate Jeff Rajeck <p>Last August, <a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/68232-china-introduces-far-reaching-new-internet-ad-law-why-it-matters/">Econsultancy warned brands advertising in China</a> to become familiar with new advertising legislation in the country.</p> <p>In particular, they needed to know that <strong>the Chinese State Administration for Industry and Commerce is looking for exaggerations and falsehoods in ads</strong>, especially for companies that sell health-related or financial products.</p> <p>Brands in China should also be aware of the TV show known as '315' which names and shames firms on national television for stretching the truth, including large brands such as Apple and Volkswagen in previous years.</p> <p><img src="https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0008/5330/1.jpg" alt="" width="800" height="450"></p> <p>Here are the stories of three companies that fell foul of the examiners in March of this year and what other brands can do to avoid the same thing happening to them.</p> <h3>1. Blackmores (Australia)</h3> <p>Blackmores is a manufacturer and distributer of vitamins, minerals, and nutritional supplements. <strong>It has also had enormous success in China with double-digit growth over the past two years</strong> and sales of over A$100m in 2016.</p> <p><img src="https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0008/5332/3.jpg" alt="" width="800" height="440"></p> <p>One <a href="http://readysetgochina.com.au/blackmores-success-hiccups-with-china-the-real-reason/">overview of the brand's strategy</a> in the country says that Blackmores has been successful in China because of its strategy on China's biggest social chat platform, WeChat.</p> <p>Yet it seems that WeChat was also the cause of the brand's recent shaming.</p> <p><a href="http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/companies/blackmores-fined-65000-in-china-for-false-claims/news-story/200cac6b72cf60609d80e3754a01a9de">According to the Shanghai Administration for Industry and Commerce</a>, the company's advertising on WeChat claimed that its products could 'prevent and cure cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases and arthritis'. Additionally, the bureau noted that Blackmores made an unsupported claim to be "the No 1 Australian nutritious product brand." </p> <p>As a result of violating the new advertising laws, <strong>the firm was fined RMB346,600 (around US$50,000) and consumers were entitled to claim three times the price they paid for comparative products as compensation.</strong></p> <p>If the brand or its agency had reviewed the law before advertising, it would have read that <a href="http://hk.lexiscn.com/law/interim-measures-for-the-administration-of-internet-advertising.html">Article 6 bans the advertisement of medical treatments unless it has been examined by the 'advertising examination authority'</a>.</p> <p>While the law does not indicate how to seek approval, brands should learn from this incident and seek legal advice before advertising products with health benefits or medical treatments and ensure they are not violating current legislation.</p> <h3>2. Nike (USA)</h3> <p>Like in the rest of the world, Nike is a very popular footwear brand in China and more that 10% of the brand's global sales are in the country.</p> <p>Recently, though, the TV show '315' (so named because March 15th is World Consumer Rights Day) found that 300 of its Hyperdunk sneakers were advertised as having 'Zoom Air' airbags. Yet when the shoes were cut open, <strong>no 'airbags' were found. </strong>315 proceeded to name and shame Nike on its most recent programme.</p> <p><img src="https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0008/5331/2.jpg" alt="" width="800" height="500"></p> <p>According to industry experts, it's unlikely that there will be any legal implications due to this error. Nike has, however, <a href="http://www.campaignasia.com/article/nike-muji-targeted-in-china-consumer-rights-expose/434712">admitted fault</a> and "will fully cooperate with the government regulators regarding their inquiries." When asked about the gravity of the incident, the CEO of H+K Strategies in China said that "the damage is more to [Nike's] public image."</p> <p>So what can brands do to avoid a similar situation?</p> <p>While it is highly unlikely that a brand the size of Nike's could ever ensure that 100% of its products were absolutely to the advertised standard, other brands can still learn from the experience.</p> <p>First off, <strong>marketers should note how far '315' will go in order to challenge a claim made in an ad</strong> and so they should be careful about making grandiose statements.</p> <p>Other <strong>brands should also learn from how Nike handled this issue.</strong> It was clear that Nike had a PR response ready to go and did not dig the brand in deeper by hesitating or trying to explain it away. The truth may hurt, but it's best to suffer it quickly rather than letting it get out of hand.</p> <h3>3. Muji (Japan)</h3> <p>Muji, the Japanese household items, stationery, and apparel brand, was also shamed on the most recent broadcast of the consumer watch show '315'. The company was accused of importing food into China from an area of Tokyo where high levels of radiation were detected in 2015.</p> <p><strong><img src="https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0008/5333/4.jpg" alt="" width="800" height="400"></strong></p> <p>Unlike Nike, Muji's parent company Ryohin Keikaku quickly announced that <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/076736c8-0d42-11e7-b030-768954394623">the firm was not selling products in China from any areas affected by radiation.</a> This claim was subsequently confirmed by the Financial Times who backed up the claim that <strong>the address in question was the food company's headquarters, not where the food was grown.</strong></p> <p>Again, there is little that Muji could have done to avoid the accusation as memories of nuclear contamination from the Fukushima disaster are still very clear in consumers' minds. </p> <p><strong>The lesson from this episode is that Chinese consumers are very sensitive to food safety issues.</strong> There are numerous cultural reasons for this but another important factor is that, in 2008, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Chinese_milk_scandal">six infants died from infant formula which was intentionally tampered with</a> and at least another 50,000 were hospitalized.  </p> <p>After such a scare, it is unsurprising that food safety is still of great concern in the country and so <strong>any brand that sells food in any capacity needs to be extra careful about the quality and safety of their product.</strong></p> <p>Muji will probably suffer unnecessarily from the accusations but, again, it was smart to address the issue head on through rapid crisis response.</p> <h3>So...</h3> <p>China and its billion or so consumers are a tempting target for many Western brands. In order to become and remain successful, though, <strong>companies need to understand the many quirks of the markets and to be prepared to manage the fallout if they make a mistake. </strong></p> <p>For most brands, this will mean working with a local partner who will ensure that the company doesn't commit any egregious mistakes but <strong>brand marketers should also become familiar with the law and institutions such as the '315' TV programme as well.</strong></p> <p>Doing so will hopefully keep their company from 'losing face' in the country and a subsequent humiliation, and expensive, retreat.</p> tag:econsultancy.com,2008:BlogPost/68980 2017-04-10T15:00:00+01:00 2017-04-10T15:00:00+01:00 Digital advertising is totally out of control Patricio Robles <p>In the past several weeks, major advertisers and ad agenices have pulled ads from Google and YouTube <a href="http://fortune.com/2017/03/27/google-youtube-ad-boycott/">in a boycott</a> that was sparked by a Times investigation which found that ads from prominent brands were being displayed alongside extremist content. By some estimates, the boycott could cost Google hundreds of millions of dollars this year alone.</p> <p>In response, Google has promised change, but the truth of the matter is that the problem appears to be even larger than estimated, as practically everywhere observers look, they are finding examples of offensive content being used to serve ads from major brands.</p> <p>Heat Street, for instance, <a href="https://heatst.com/tech/many-popular-youtube-toy-channels-for-kids-contain-bizarre-graphic-poop-videos/">has detailed</a> how popular toy channels on YouTube targeting parents and children, some with millions of subscribers, are home to bizarre "poop" videos. "The videos feature children, some as old as 10, playing with fake human excrement-sometimes even eating it. Often these videos will wrack up exponentially more views than straight toy videos on the channel," it writes.</p> <p><img src="https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0008/5338/weirdyoutubevideo.jpg" alt="" width="619" height="379"></p> <p>One disturbing video published on a YouTube channel with 4.5 million subscribers and run by a family that has had a book published by Hachette "shows two young girls who appear to mock defecate in a toilet and smear themselves in fake poop. One of the girls even throws a realistic-looking stool at the other girl, who catches it and then drops it on the floor."</p> <p>Another channel features even more bizarre and disturbing content, such as a video with the title "POOP EXPLOSION Silicone Baby Doll Poops and Pees Diaper Change Poop Drink and Wet Feeding Baby Video." The channel is run by a school teacher who says she's now making so much money from YouTube that she has stopped making toy dolls, ostensibly to focus on her videos.</p> <p><strong>That money frequently comes from brand advertisers whose ads are displayed with this content.</strong></p> <p>It's not that advertisers are intending to be a piggy bank for YouTubers who produce bizarre poop videos. When Heat Street reached out to Dell and Citibank, whose ads were displayed on some of the disturbing videos it identified in its investigation, Dell explained that it "works with our media partners to indicate what types of sites we'd like to be associated with and which sites to block. Unfortunately these sites are proliferating at an accelerated rate and often slip through the cracks." </p> <p>Citibank offered a slightly different spin, telling Heat Street, "We have a number of policies and procedures in place for our vendors designed to help prevent our advertising from appearing in connection with inappropriate content. In the rare event that an ad appears on a site with inappropriate or offensive content, we demand its immediate removal."</p> <p><strong>The problem for advertisers is that incidences of their ads being displayed with questionable content are anything but "rare."</strong> On platforms like YouTube, it doesn't take much time to find ads appearing with videos that are offensive by any reasonable measure. </p> <p>Take, for example, the countless "prank" videos that have proliferated on Google's crown jewel of video. Many contain content that is objectively violent, sexual, degrading, racist, sexist or just downright disgusting. No brand would reasonably consider this content "brand safe," but that doesn't mean their ads aren't being displayed with it.</p> <p>Unfortunately, while there are almost certainly steps Google and advertisers can take to deal with some of the most egregious examples of brand-unsafe content, there is a more fundamental problem: the incentives for advertisers and content creators in the digital ad market are totally perverse.</p> <p>Whether the industry wants to accept it or not, the digital advertising market is currently in a race to the bottom. Content creators are going to extremes, literally and figuratively, to create content that captures eyeballs because...wait for it...advertisers want eyeballs.</p> <p>To its credit, Google has started to take action. For example, YouTube last week <a href="https://youtube-creators.googleblog.com/2017/04/introducing-expanded-youtube-partner.html">announced</a> that it will now require content creators to rack up 10,000 views on their channels before those channels can participate in YouTube's partner program, which allows content creators to monetize their videos. But while that will likely help protect content creators from impersonators who steal their content, it's not clear that it will do much to improve the overall YouTube advertising ecosystem. After all, as Heat Street's investigation demonstrated, there are content creators whose videos have generated far more than 10,000 views publishing content that no brand advertiser would see value in.</p> <p>At the end of the day, unless and until advertisers reign in their unhealthy thirst for reach and efficiency at all costs and start <em>forcing</em> content creators and ad platforms to do better, the digital advertising market will continue to be the source of an unpleasant stench and brands will increasingly find that they are on the receiving end of the complaints about it.</p> <p>Fortunately, <a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/68259-are-online-advertisers-wising-up-about-content-quality/">advertisers seem to be wising up about content quality</a> and the YouTube boycott suggests that advertisers may have finally reached a breaking point. But if they expect meaningful change, they will need to continue to put pressure on content creators and digital ad giants like Google because the out of control situation will not be fixed in a matter of weeks or even months.</p> <p><em><strong>Related reading:</strong></em></p> <ul> <li><a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/68650-the-future-of-programmatic-2017-and-beyond/">The future of programmatic: 2017 and beyond</a></li> </ul> tag:econsultancy.com,2008:BlogPost/68944 2017-03-30T13:55:00+01:00 2017-03-30T13:55:00+01:00 United shows how brands can stand up to social media mobs Patricio Robles <p>The incident was witnessed by Shannon Watts, who posted about it on her Twitter account, which has more than 34,000 followers. "Since when does @united police women's clothing?" she asked.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> <p lang="en" dir="ltr">2) She's forcing them to change or put dresses on over leggings or they can't board. Since when does <a href="https://twitter.com/united">@united</a> police women's clothing?</p> — Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) <a href="https://twitter.com/shannonrwatts/status/845993122186211332">March 26, 2017</a> </blockquote> <p>Watts' tweets sparked a firestorm on Twitter that even caught the attention of numerous celebrities who collectively have millions of followers. They too jumped into the fray, criticizing the airline.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> <p lang="en" dir="ltr">Hey <a href="https://twitter.com/united">@united</a> I fly a LOT. About to go on tour all April and changing all my <a href="https://twitter.com/united">@united</a> flights to other airlines</p> — Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) <a href="https://twitter.com/SarahKSilverman/status/846081905711710209">March 26, 2017</a> </blockquote> <p>While some headlines suggested that United was engaging in sexism and arbitrary foolishness, there was actually a less nefarious explanation for what happened: the passengers who were denied boarding were "pass riders" and subject to a different dress code than regular fliers.</p> <p>Pass travel is a perk given to airline employees, which can also be extended to friends and family, and it offers travel at no cost or a heavily discounted cost. Pass riders are considered to be representing United when they fly and thus they are subject to the dress code.</p> <p>United's dress code for pass riders explicitly states that certain clothing is not permitted. This includes "form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants and dresses."</p> <h3>Outrage on demand</h3> <p>United's legging incident demonstrates the fact that social media can be a source of outrage on demand. In an instant, and with little more than a tweet or two, brands can find themselves under attack from trigger-happy individuals all too eager to rail against a company regardless of whether or not they have accurate information or all of the facts.</p> <p>While reasonable people might suggest that United's dress code should be revisited, and less reasonable people will argue that companies shouldn't be able to implement a dress code at all, the truth is that many companies have dress codes and most are sensible and appropriate to the line of business the companies operate in.</p> <p>As pass travel is a benefit offered to airline employees, it's not unreasonable for United and other airlines to hold their pass riders to a different standard than paying customers, who can of course wear leggings if they so desire. As one individual who flew as part of a similar program <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/27/opinions/united-airlines-leggings-opinion-cevallos/">noted</a>, United's dress code is less stringent than the "business casual" dress code that many employers enforce.</p> <h3>Sometimes doing the right thing isn't easy or popular</h3> <p>Since the full and accurate context around the leggings incident has became known, more observers are acknowledging that this was a scandal that wasn't. And given the facts, United probably won't suffer any lasting damage from this incident, which explains why the company is sticking to its guns. Instead of apologizing, United has taken the time to explain its position.</p> <p>If there's one thing United could have improved, it might have been the speed at which it responded to this incident. While the airline quickly responded to Shannon Watts' tweets, as the backlash grew the company might have been wise to even more quickly post and link to <a href="https://hub.united.com/our-customers-leggings-are-welcome-2331263786.html">a statement on its website</a> better explaining the specifics of the situation, because 140 characters isn't always sufficient for providing a detailed response. </p> <p><strong>But otherwise, United's overall handling of this incident is a great case study demonstrating that companies don't have to give in to social media mobs when they have a leg to stand on.</strong></p> <p>Apology for apology's sake might be expedient when facing a social media backlash, but brands shouldn't be afraid to demonstrate some backbone when they're upholding their values, enforcing their established policies that have been applied consistently and fairly, or disputing inaccurate claims.</p> tag:econsultancy.com,2008:BlogPost/68910 2017-03-27T12:04:45+01:00 2017-03-27T12:04:45+01:00 Why so many website relaunches fail (but shouldn’t have) Paul Randall <p dir="ltr">But this is 2017. Surely, we have better tools than ever to unearth what it is customers want. We’ve never been better equipped to test web pages before they are rolled out. So why do brands continue to make a hash of launching a new site?</p> <p dir="ltr">One basic reason might be the temptation to go for a big bang launch, complete with PR fanfare. Great if it works. But what if conversion rates suddenly drop through the floor? </p> <p dir="ltr">You won’t have enough usable analytics data to identify where the problems are so you’ll either have to make changes and hope for the best, or quickly restore the old site. When you can make a series of controlled and tested incremental improvements, why take the risk of the big bang relaunch? That’s the riskiest thing you could do!</p> <p dir="ltr">It’s interesting to compare the approaches of Google+ and LinkedIn when they relaunched. LinkedIn seemed to do a great job of annoying the hell out of some of its most important users by plonking the new version on their desktops without much warning (I'm referring to LinkedIn's previous relaunch here, not the one currently underway).</p> <p dir="ltr">These people shared, very publicly, what they didn’t like about the new version. As the roll-out gradually reached other users there was an expectation that they wouldn’t like what they were about to see – even though for most of us it turned out to be okay.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0008/5026/old_linkedin.jpg" alt="" width="700" height="622"></p> <p dir="ltr">Google+, on the other hand, went out of its way to keep users informed. Google ran the new and old versions side by side for several months and people could switch back and forth at will. By the time the new version was fully rolled out there had been changes based on the feedback and there was very little outcry.</p> <p dir="ltr">The BBC website is also one that seems to be in a constant state of development. It offers new options for keeping up with news, sports results etc., that you can try out, but always with the option of going back to what’s familiar. When new features are fully rolled out, users have been involved and everything is thoroughly tested.</p> <p dir="ltr">Surely this is a smarter way to approach website upgrades and relaunches. Compare this to CNN which, in a desire to ‘update and refresh’, launched a site that used more resources and made it harder for readers to find the news that interested them – users hated it. Or how about the legendary <a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/6477-is-digg-digging-itself-into-a-hole-with-its-new-design">Digg.com relaunch that almost killed the business</a>.</p> <h3>Learn from your current site before relaunching</h3> <p dir="ltr">A classic mistake is to assume there’s nothing to learn from your existing site. Okay, it’s going to get binned. But you have thousands of customers using it every day providing data on what they want, how they want to do things and what they find difficult. You need to make use of that data.</p> <p dir="ltr">Yes, it does make sense to do usability studies even on a site you are replacing. That way you can focus on improving the parts people dislike, and keep hold of the things you know they like and use.</p> <p dir="ltr">And while you’re at it, talk to your customer service teams. They’ll have some excellent insights to offer on where people find the current website troublesome, as well at where there’s room for improvements to be made.</p> <h3 dir="ltr">What does your business need to achieve?</h3> <p dir="ltr">Every business has targets: the number of new customers, sales growth by product/service category, <a href="https://econsultancy.com/reports/customer-lifetime-value/">lifetime customer value</a>, cost of acquisition. How often do these business goals feed directly (and I mean <em>directly</em>) into your website redesign?</p> <p dir="ltr">It’s one thing to launch a new website because you need to increase sales by 20%. It’s quite another to identify exactly <em>how</em> the new site and the activities that feed traffic to it will achieve that goal. And it’s yet another thing to have the test data to show that the new site will deliver the conversions you need.</p> <p dir="ltr">Businesses rarely approach website relaunches with this degree of confidence. That’s because they don’t join up the dots between what the business needs to achieve and what the website is designed to deliver. And they rarely put those assumptions to the test before they launch. Result: disappointing return on the investment.</p> <p dir="ltr">With clear goals and certainty about the weak areas on your current site you can focus the development priorities more productively. Are your current below-target sales because people struggle to select the right products, or because too many shoppers abandon carts before completing a purchase? It certainly helps to know.</p> <h3 dir="ltr">What user experience do you want to create?</h3> <p dir="ltr">You’ve collected data and insights on current issues. You’ve blended these with the business goals you need to achieve. The next step is to define a user experience that will satisfy customers and deliver your goals.</p> <p dir="ltr">What, exactly, do people need to do on your site? How are you going to make this simple, enjoyable and rewarding?</p> <p dir="ltr">Draft a succinct and crystal clear statement for each key page across the website that defines the main objective(s) for your new, improved customer experience. Refer back to this constantly as you design and build the new solution to ensure you’re still focusing on your primary objectives.</p> <h3 dir="ltr">What does your brand stand for?</h3> <p dir="ltr">A website redesign is an excellent opportunity to revisit your fundamental brand values. What do you stand for? What is it that particularly appeals to your customers?</p> <p dir="ltr">What needs do you meet, what value do you create, and why do you do it better than your competition? What emotional drivers decide how visitors will act? Do they want to picture themselves as being more healthy, successful, in control, influential or contented? Or are they looking for something else?</p> <p dir="ltr">This analysis will guide colours, imagery, typography, content and vocabulary. Your insights will help you create more powerful CTAs and better performing landing pages.</p> <p dir="ltr">Here’s a great example of some content guidelines we recently came across from the team at uSwitch:</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0008/4825/Screen_Shot_2017-03-17_at_15.32.32.png" alt="uSwitch tone chart" width="790" height="274"></p> <p dir="ltr"><em>uSwitch tone chart guide: <a href="https://ustyle.guide/language/tone.html">https://ustyle.guide/language/tone.html</a> </em></p> <h3 dir="ltr">Making it real</h3> <p dir="ltr">So now you’re clear about what your target audience think of your current website; you understand how the new site needs to perform, and how it needs to support visitors on their journey to becoming customers. What now?</p> <p dir="ltr">Wireframes let you test the structure and navigation against defined user journeys. How obvious will each step be? Are there too many steps? You can design the prompts and help users will need at each stage. You can make better informed decisions about content, headings and CTAs.</p> <p dir="ltr">Design visuals start to build a realistic picture of the look and feel of the new site that you can test against the business objectives and brand values.</p> <p dir="ltr">Everything you design can, and should, be tested before launch on a variety of devices. There are great tools out there for usability and A/B split testing that will take the risk out of your new web pages. </p> <h3 dir="ltr">The testing never stops</h3> <p dir="ltr">Launch isn’t the time to put your feet up. It’s a time to dive into the data and see whether all the hard work is paying off. It’s a time to be plotting tests and optimisation efforts to keep the metrics improving and to squeeze even more value out of your investment.</p> <p dir="ltr">The digital world moves quickly. Technologies emerge, and your customers will be trying to outdo your user experience. Plan how you are going to stay ahead in the long term.</p> tag:econsultancy.com,2008:BlogPost/68914 2017-03-23T15:07:12+00:00 2017-03-23T15:07:12+00:00 Sentiment analysis: How consumers feel depends on who you ask Patricio Robles <p>The announcement, which was written by Starbucks' founder Howard Schultz and also came with statements about the American Dream "being called into question," sparked calls for a Starbucks boycott, and #BoycottStarbucks became a trending topic on Twitter. At the same time, Starbucks also found itself receiving calls of support for standing up for its beliefs.</p> <p>So what was the cost or benefit of its announcement? As it turns out, answering that question with any level of confidence is really, really difficult.</p> <p><a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-starbucks-refugee-idUSKBN16H04P">According to</a> the YouGov BrandIndex, which "tracks public perception of thousands of brands across the world every day," Starbucks' reputation took a big hit following its announcement. </p> <p>Prior to the announcement, YouGov's data indicated that 30% of consumers would consider making their next coffee purchase at Starbucks. After the announcement, that dropped to 24%.</p> <p>Additionally, Starbucks' YouGov BrandIndex Buzz score dropped from 12 to 4. The Buzz score measures how consumers respond to the question, "If you've heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?" and can range from 100 to -100. </p> <p>According to YouGov BrandIndex CEO Ted Marzilli, "Consumer perception dropped almost immediately. That would indicate the announcement has had a negative impact on Starbucks, and might indicate a negative impact on sales in the near term."</p> <p>Most interestingly, Marzilli noted that while Starbucks has seen its Buzz score drop before in connection with initiatives that have political overtones, this time Starbucks' announcement negatively affected its purchase consideration numbers, signaling that perhaps the calls for a boycott were indeed resonating with some Starbucks customers.</p> <h3>Starbucks says "wait a minute"</h3> <p>Not surprisingly, Starbucks felt compelled to respond to headlines suggesting that its brand was hurt by its announcement. On March 10, the company issued <a href="https://news.starbucks.com/news/starbucks-brand-equity">a press release</a> detailing how Kantar Millward Brown, a market research firm, found no evidence that the announcement had any negative impact whatsoever.</p> <p>The press release quoted a letter from Brian James, Kantar Millward Brown's Brand and Communications practice president, which stated: "Following the recent release of results from a YouGov Brand Index Survey, several news organizations have reported that Starbucks is suffering from consumer backlash related to its announcement to hire 10,000 refugees globally over the next five years.</p> <p>"Such backlash or declines are not substantiated in our own measurement of Starbucks Brand Health and Consumer Sentiment.  Kantar Millward Brown has conducted on-going monthly measurement of Starbucks Brand Perceptions and Consumer Sentiment toward the Brand and saw no such impact in February 2017.  </p> <p>"In fact, in February 2017 — after the announcement — we did not observe any substantive impact on Customer Consideration, Future Visitation Intent or Brand Perceptions or any other key performance metrics for the Starbucks brand.</p> <h3>So who should we believe?</h3> <p>It's reasonable to be somewhat skeptical about Kantar Millward Brown's findings. A cynic would suggest that because Kantar Millward Brown works for Starbucks, it is biased. But even if that's not a totally legitimate or fair argument, it's interesting to note that no actual figures for the firm's "Starbucks Brand Health and Consumer Sentiment" were released.</p> <p>While Starbucks would likely cite the confidential nature of such figures, if the company is going to issue a press release promoting the fact that a market research firm it hired "did not observe any substantive impact" following an announcement that was heard around the world, refuting an independent source that did provide actual numbers, it's not unfair to suggest that Starbucks should have provided more data and details of its methodology.</p> <p>At the same time, it's worth considering the possibility that YouGov's data might not paint the most accurate picture of sentiment either.</p> <p>While the firm says that BrandIndex data is "nationally representative of adults in each country," its data is gathered by "interview[ing] thousands of people from its panel of 2.5m people worldwide online." For comparison, Starbucks serves more than 60m customers per week, so tracking sentiment accurately for the brand based on daily polls of just thousands of consumers seems fraught with challenges.</p> <p>At the end of the day, Starbucks offers an interesting case study that demonstrates just how difficult it is to, with any confidence, take the temperature of consumers.</p> <p>This doesn't mean that sentiment analysis isn't worthwhile, but as more and more businesses are implored to invest in it, particularly as part of their social media investments, companies should remember that ultimately, there's no substitute for keeping a close eye on basic KPIs like revenue and store traffic.</p> tag:econsultancy.com,2008:BlogPost/68780 2017-02-23T14:22:11+00:00 2017-02-23T14:22:11+00:00 The growing politicization of brands in a polarized world Patricio Robles <p>Target, for instance, chose to weigh in on a 2016 North Carolina law that required individuals in government buildings to use the restroom that corresponds to the gender specified on their birth certificates. The law sparked debate around the country and in response, Target announced that its policy was to allow customers to use the bathroom of their choice based on which gender they identify with. "At the end of the day, Target is all about inclusion. We want everyone to feel comfortable in our stores," the company stated.</p> <p>Not surprisingly, Target's announcement was met with praise and criticism, and a firestorm ensued. Critics called for a boycott of Target, and boycott leaders claim to have collected nearly 1.5m signatures online. Since Target made itself a center of controversy, its sales have fallen by more than 7%, but while the company acknowledges that it's difficult to pinpoint the exact causes of the sales decline, it believes the decline isn't related to its bathroom policy. Boycott organizers, not surprisingly, disagree.</p> <p>In an apparent effort to appease everyone, Target has since announced that it plans to spend $20m building single-toilet bathrooms at more of its stores.</p> <h3>Brands do battle</h3> <p>Target isn't the only brand that has found itself in a politically-charged fight. A boycott of Breitbart, a conservative news site that has drawn criticism from the left, <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/nation-now/2016/12/01/brands-pull-ads-breitbart-nissan-stays-put/94732782/">has reportedly resulted in more than 800 advertisers agreeing to pull ads from the site</a>, which has been accused of publishing racist and hateful content, among other things. These include major brand advertisers like Audi, Charles Schwab, CVS, REI and Kellogg's. In response, Breitbart <a href="http://www.breitbart.com/dumpkelloggs/">launched a #DumpKelloggs boycott</a> of its own, which it claims has garnered over 400,000 signatures online.</p> <p>Battles like this seem to be increasingly common. Case in point: following President Trump's executive order temporarily halting immigration and travel from seven nations, Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz, who had made no secret of his disdain for Donald Trump and support for Trump opponent Hillary Clinton prior to the presidential election, announced that Starbucks would aim to hire 10,000 refugees over the next 10 years.</p> <p>In <a href="https://news.starbucks.com/news/living-our-values-in-uncertain-times">his announcement</a>, which was sent to Starbucks employees with the title, "Living Our Values in Uncertain Times," Schultz also commented on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and President Trump's plans to build a border wall with Mexico, two politically-charged topics.</p> <p>As one would expect, Starbucks' move drew praise from those who agree with Schultz's positions and criticism from those who disagree with him. Not surprisingly, the former rallied to state that they'll support Starbucks while the latter called for a boycott of the coffee chain.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> <p lang="en" dir="ltr">Had a <a href="https://twitter.com/Starbucks">@Starbucks</a> latte this morning. If you support refugees, I support you. Thanks <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Starbucks?src=hash">#Starbucks</a></p> — Kat (@mockingjay617) <a href="https://twitter.com/mockingjay617/status/827167616808677379">February 2, 2017</a> </blockquote> <p>But Starbucks' move didn't just draw a response from consumers. In response to the firestorm, Black Rifle Coffee Company (BRCC), a "veteran owned, small batch, roast to order coffee company" based in Salt Lake City, Utah, announced that it would hire 10,000 veterans.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> <p lang="en" dir="ltr">Our mission has never changed. Spread the word and join the coffee revolution. <a href="https://t.co/g7WMB6iZqG">pic.twitter.com/g7WMB6iZqG</a></p> — Black Rifle Coffee (@blckriflecoffee) <a href="https://twitter.com/blckriflecoffee/status/827338950788386816">February 3, 2017</a> </blockquote> <p>In <a href="http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/veteran-owned-black-rifle-coffee-company-stands-up-for-small-businesses-and-america-while-disgusted-by-starbucks-propaganda-300402198.html">a press release</a> and on Twitter, the company took aim at Starbucks, and the company has since seen its message go viral. While it's not clear that BRCC has the scale to follow through on its goal, the company's website currently states "Due to an increase in demand for Black Rifle Coffee customers will experience delays of two weeks in shipping timelines," so it would appear that the company's message has resonated with some consumers.</p> <p>What's more, BRCC's campaign appears to have attracted Starbucks' attention, as the world's largest coffee chain <a href="https://news.starbucks.com/news/message-from-starbucks-armed-forces-network">posted</a> "A Message to Customers from Starbucks Armed Forces Network" that aims to "set the record straight" about the company's support for veterans.</p> <h3>The problem with brand politics</h3> <p>As the Wall Street Journal <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/politics-and-business-dont-mix-in-trumps-america-1481305844">notes</a>, "until recently it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for a company to wear its political leanings on its sleeve." For years, many companies have supported causes that are directly related to politics or have political overtones. But in today's highly-polarized environment, it's increasingly difficult for brands to make statements that are political, or could be construed as being political, without creating controversy.</p> <p>In reality, many of the most polarizing topics today, such as immigration, are highly complex and nuanced. It's simply not possible for brands to craft simple messages around them that aren't bound to offend large numbers of people who hold reasonable but opposing views. Given the amount of hyperbole and spin present in today's media landscape around these topics, brands are all but asking for controversy when they try to make simple statements about complex matters, no matter how well-intentioned they are in doing so.</p> <p>Some argue that the impact of such controversy is still minimal, if it exists at all. For every person who boycotts Starbucks, for instance, another person will support Starbucks. Or so the thinking goes. But as the Target case study demonstrates, it's hard to correlate political controversy, and the increasingly common boycotts that accompany it, with sales increases or declines. That means it's all but impossible for brands to quantify and analyze the risks, short-term and long-term, of their politically-charged statements and initiatives.</p> <p>Major brands that serve millions of consumers should recognize that their customers come from all walks of life and more often than not can't be easily segmented based on their beliefs around the most personal and political subjects. </p> <p>This doesn't mean that brands shouldn't <em>live their values</em> to quote Starbucks' Schultz, but brands should also consider that there's a huge difference between true values and political positions and consider how their statements, initiatives and decisions can unnecessarily conflate the two, dividing their customers and turning themselves into political props in the process.</p> <p>Perhaps it's time for brands to add humility to the list of values they prioritize, especially in light of the fact that <a href="http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/294348/maybe-its-time-brands-just-deliver-on-their-promi.html">according to</a> a Havas Media Group study, consumers "wouldn't care" if nearly three-quarters of the brands they use "just disappeared."</p> tag:econsultancy.com,2008:BlogPost/68814 2017-02-16T11:15:00+00:00 2017-02-16T11:15:00+00:00 How utilities brands use social media for reputation management Nikki Gilliland <p>Before we go any further, what exactly is <a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/65523-what-is-online-reputation-management-and-should-you-use-it/" target="_blank">online reputation management</a>? Well, though it largely comes under the umbrella of social media monitoring, this practice can also involve dealing with online reviews, producing content and general <a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/66439-three-ways-community-management-drives-loyalty-for-charities/" target="_blank">community management</a>.</p> <p>In this article, I will specifically be focusing on how utility companies use social media channels for reputation management.</p> <h3>Basic principles</h3> <p>Online reputation management on social media refers to <em>how</em> brands respond to customer conversation.</p> <p>For example, if people are complaining or even praising a service, but the brand remains entirely unresponsive – this can have a detrimental effect on its overall reputation. </p> <p>Here are a few basic rules for effective management:</p> <ul> <li>Monitor mentions</li> <li>Respond quickly</li> <li>Be transparent</li> <li>Prepare for a crisis</li> <li>Address criticism</li> </ul> <p>Let’s look at a few examples of utility brands putting the above into practice.</p> <h3>Hawaiian Electric</h3> <p>Not many electricity suppliers have an Instagram account, let alone use it to effectively communicate with customers, but Hawaiian Electric is different.</p> <p>When a storm hit shores in 2014, it utilised the channel to let customers know about areas of power outage and repairs, as well as reinforce messages about safety. It has since continued to do this, expanding its strategy to incorporate general posts relating to the local community. </p> <p>By using a visual medium like Instagram, the brand is able to project a positive image and reassure customers in the process. </p> <p>After all, while it might be useful to hear that a company is repairing a broken electricity pole, seeing a photo of it in action is far more powerful.</p> <p><img src="https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0008/3927/Hawaiin_Electric.JPG" alt="" width="760" height="489"></p> <h3>SSE</h3> <p>Figures from Citizens Advice revealed that SSE received the lowest number of customer service complaints last year, making it the top energy company overall for customer satisfaction.</p> <p>A big contributing factor appears to be the way it handles queries and criticism on social media, with a fast response time and polite tone of voice across the board.</p> <p>This is particularly evident on the brand’s Facebook page, where it ‘typically replies within an hour’. And although complaints are still common, the brand’s approach appears to be effective for calming angry customers. </p> <p>With <a href="http://blogs.forrester.com/kate_leggett/15-03-03-consumer_expectations_for_customer_service_dont_match_what_companies_deliver" target="_blank">77% saying</a> that valuing the customer's time is the most important thing a company can do – a fast response is one of the most effective ways for brands to ensure that they can maintain and improve a positive reputation.</p> <p><img src="https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0008/3928/SSE_energy.JPG" alt="" width="780" height="469"></p> <h3>PSEG</h3> <p>PSEG – a gas and electric company based in New Jersey – shows that social media can be used for brand reputation management in alternative ways.</p> <p>In 2014, it started planning for an infrastructure upgrade to replace 250 miles of gas line - a project that would result in a lot of upheaval for local residents.</p> <p>Instead of an announcement on its website, PSEG chose to use micro-targeted Facebook ads in order to let people know what was going to happen and how it would affect them.</p> <p>When users clicked on an ad, they were taken to a specific page where they’d be able to select and view a work schedule and relating disruption.</p> <p>By utilising social media in this way, not only did PSEG demonstrate transparency, but it also pre-empted its customers' needs.</p> <p><img src="https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0008/3929/PSEG.JPG" alt="" width="540" height="716"></p> <h3>Ovo</h3> <p>Brand Q&amp;A’s on Twitter are always risky. A few years ago, British Gas suffered a huge backlash from angry customers over price hikes, leaving the social media team with egg on its face and even more of a negative reputation than before.</p> <p>On the other hand, this type of activity can work well for smaller brands. <a href="https://www.ovoenergy.com/about-ovo" target="_blank">Ovo</a> is one brand that has utilised an ‘always on’ strategy to monitor brand mentions and successfully draw in new customers, often using Q&amp;As to highlight the shortcomings of competitors. </p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> <p lang="en" dir="ltr">We came here to have breakfast and help our customers. And we've just finished our toast. <a href="https://t.co/Bcr3QYnRGP">pic.twitter.com/Bcr3QYnRGP</a></p> — OVO Energy (@OVOEnergy) <a href="https://twitter.com/OVOEnergy/status/828513583000592387">February 6, 2017</a> </blockquote> <p>Despite its overall approach to social media being far more appealing than most utility companies – using a conversational and personal tone – Ovo has not had an entirely positive couple of years.</p> <p>Having failed to compensate customers for missed or late appointments, the company recently agreed to pay £58,000 to charity instead of undertaking formal enforcement action.</p> <p>While the experience has undoubtedly tarnished its reputation, Ovo’s charitable donation and intent to improve customer service is part and parcel of online reputation management in action.</p> <p><strong><em>Related articles:</em></strong></p> <ul> <li><em><a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/68789-how-smart-switching-energy-apps-are-tapping-into-customer-need/" target="_blank">How smart-switching energy apps are tapping into customer need</a></em></li> <li><a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/65478-how-20-top-uk-retailers-handle-social-customer-service/"><em>How 20 top UK retailers handle social customer service</em></a></li> </ul> tag:econsultancy.com,2008:BlogPost/68518 2016-11-11T14:54:58+00:00 2016-11-11T14:54:58+00:00 Following Donald Trump's election, the war against algorithms has begun Patricio Robles <p><a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/66613-new-amazon-algorithm-to-shake-up-product-reviews/">On Amazon</a>, an algorithm determines which product reviews should be highlighted. <a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/67515-twitter-unveils-new-timeline-feature-what-you-need-to-know/">On Twitter</a>, an algorithm determines which tweets should appear at the top of each user's timeline. <a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/67656-instagram-is-shaking-up-its-feed-with-an-algorithm-what-brands-need-to-know/">On Instagram</a>, an algorithm determines in what order posts should be displayed.</p> <p>In short, it's almost impossible to find a popular digital service that doesn't in some way employ algorithms to deliver content to users.</p> <p>For marketers, the <em>algorithimization</em> of the web has been a fact of life for years.</p> <p>While <a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/66378-facebook-s-algorithm-update-what-it-means-for-marketers/">changes</a> to algorithms have been the source of angst and frequently complaint, marketers have been forced to accept the fact that their success or failure on the web will in large part be determined by algorithms they don't control and their ability to understand them and make the most of them.</p> <p>Some marketers, of course, have fought against the way algorithms are used. For example, numerous companies have accused Google of tweaking its algorithm to favor its own properties, and such claims have frequently been cited in discussions about whether regulators should pursue <a href="https://econsultancy.com/blog/66277-google-could-face-eu-antitrust-charges-imminently-report/">anti-trust charges</a> against the search giant.</p> <p>But by and large, Google has escaped a Microsoft-like crackdown, perhaps in part because marketers themselves are an unfavorable lot to regulators and the public.</p> <p>Now, however, a real war against algorithms appears to be underway.</p> <p>Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced the concern that "algorithms, when they are not transparent, can lead to a distortion of our perception, they can shrink our expanse of information." She <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/27/angela-merkel-internet-search-engines-are-distorting-our-perception">explained</a>...</p> <blockquote> <p>I'm of the opinion that algorithms must be made more transparent, so that one can inform oneself as an interested citizen about questions like ‘what influences my behaviour on the internet and that of others?'</p> </blockquote> <p>Her concerns are being echoed by others following Donald Trump's stunning upset victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US presidential race.</p> <p>Now, many are accusing Facebook's algorithm of helping Donald Trump win the election he wasn't expected to win by allowing misinformation to be widely spread across its network.</p> <p>Writing for New York Magazine, Max Read <a href="http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/11/donald-trump-won-because-of-facebook.html">went so far as to claim</a> that "Donald Trump won because of Facebook."</p> <p>He argues: "The most obvious way in which Facebook enabled a Trump victory has been its inability (or refusal) to address the problem of hoax or fake news.</p> <p>"Fake news is not a problem unique to Facebook, but Facebook’s enormous audience, and the mechanisms of distribution on which the site relies — i.e., the emotionally charged activity of sharing, and the show-me-more-like-this feedback loop of the news feed algorithm — makes it the only site to support a genuinely lucrative market in which shady publishers arbitrage traffic by enticing people off of Facebook and onto ad-festooned websites, using stories that are alternately made up, incorrect, exaggerated beyond all relationship to truth, or all three.</p> <p>"All throughout the election, these fake stories, sometimes papered over with flimsy “parody site” disclosures somewhere in small type, circulated throughout Facebook: The Pope endorses Trump. Hillary Clinton bought $137m in illegal arms. The Clintons bought a $200m house in the Maldives.</p> <p>"Many got hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of shares, likes, and comments; enough people clicked through to the posts to generate significant profits for their creators.</p> <p>"The valiant efforts of Snopes and other debunking organizations were insufficient; Facebook’s labyrinthine sharing and privacy settings mean that fact-checks get lost in the shuffle.</p> <p>"Often, no one would even need to click on and read the story for the headline itself to become a widely distributed talking point, repeated elsewhere online, or, sometimes, in real life."</p> <p>While Trump himself claimed throughout his campaign that the media was treating him unfairly, a claim that seems to have resonated with his supporters, many others are, like Reed, largely <a href="http://www.niemanlab.org/2016/11/the-forces-that-drove-this-elections-media-failure-are-likely-to-get-worse/">attributing</a> Clinton's loss to internet-spread misinformation instead of, say, <a href="http://adage.com/article/campaign-trail/hillary-clinton-wrong/306676/">her messaging</a>.</p> <h3>Algorithms aren't perfect, but people aren't either</h3> <p>Not surprisingly, those who appear to be unhappy with the results of the US presidential election seem to be leading the criticism of Facebook and the algorithms that help determine what content is displayed to users.</p> <p>But that doesn't mean they don't have a point. They do.</p> <p>There is a real debate to be had about the power Google, Facebook and others wield through their algorithms because the potential for abuse and harmful effects is real.</p> <p>For example, in 2012, Facebook conducted a psychological study by tweaking the number of positive and negative News Feed posts displayed to a random selection of over half a million of its users.</p> <p>It did not alert them to the fact that they were part of a study or obtain their permission. For obvious reasons, the study, which found that emotions could be spread through social networks, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/30/technology/facebook-tinkers-with-users-emotions-in-news-feed-experiment-stirring-outcry.html?_r=0">was widely criticized</a>.</p> <p>But, psychological studies that push ethical boundaries aside, it's not clear that there's an easy way to address concerns that algorithms are directing people to potentially bad information.</p> <p>Some suggest that Facebook and others need to involve humans.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> <p lang="en" dir="ltr">Facebook needs a public editor. About three years ago. <a href="https://t.co/TVLGEnn9Gr">https://t.co/TVLGEnn9Gr</a></p> — Vacation Alex (@alex) <a href="https://twitter.com/alex/status/796815389917184000">November 10, 2016</a> </blockquote> <p>But humans aren't perfect. If companies like Facebook start relying on human editors to vet the content that circulates on their services, they will arguably cease to be technology platforms and instead come to function as media organizations.</p> <p>That would open many new cans of worms as humans are themselves vulnerable to bias and manipulation.</p> <p>For example, during the election cycle, Facebook found itself under scrutiny when former Facebook staffers <a href="http://gizmodo.com/former-facebook-workers-we-routinely-suppressed-conser-1775461006">claimed</a> the world's largest social network routinely suppressed conservative news from its "trending" news section.</p> <p>The accusation that the one of the world's most influential companies was engaging in censorship to favor liberal news sources led CEO Mark Zuckerberg to meet with conservative leaders. The company subsequently decided to rely more heavily on algorithms instead of an editorial team.</p> <p>Perhaps the most balanced solution to the challenges algorithms present would be to increase transparency as Germany's Merkel has suggested.</p> <p>But this too isn't likely to have the intended effect. If companies like Google and Facebook provided the intricate details about how their algorithms function, the knowledge would almost certainly be used by those seeking to manipulate them for personal gain.</p> <p>In addition, the average person probably isn't going to have the interest or technical knowledge required to understand the mechanics of these algorithms even if this information was accessible to them.</p> <p>Finally, bad information isn't going away. Human editorial controls – and censorship – might be able to reduce the spread of information deemed inaccurate or harmful, but misinformation and its ill effects existed well before the internet came along.</p> <h3>An inconvenient truth</h3> <p>Founding father Thomas Jefferson wrote, "A properly functioning democracy depends on an informed electorate."</p> <p>With over half of adults in the US getting news through social media today <a href="http://www.journalism.org/2016/05/26/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2016/">according to Pew</a>, there is no doubt that social media plays an increasingly important role in how the electorate is informed.</p> <p>But Jefferson also wrote of the importance of education and critical thinking:</p> <blockquote> <p>An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight.</p> </blockquote> <p>The 2016 US presidential election, following the UK's Brexit vote, has turned algorithms into something of a scapegoat.</p> <p>And while we should discuss and debate the role they play in all aspects of our society, from how marketing messages are delivered to consumers to how news is disseminated to citizens, we should also be very careful that we don't blame algorithms for our own shortcomings.</p> <p>If we do, it will sadly pave the way for an Orwellian web that is less free and more subject to the abuses of concentrated power.</p>