Tag Archive: social media

  1. What’s Facebook’s problem?

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    For years, Facebook has been the darling of the tech and media worlds. Is the inevitable conclusion of its latest quarterly report that its star is fading?

    The unstoppable rise of Facebook – until now

    For many years, Facebook seemed unstoppable, unbeatable. Since its beginnings in Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room in Harvard University, it has grown into a technology behemoth with 1.47 billion daily active users and 2.23 billion monthly active users. Facebook has very efficiently monetised these users’ data, with advertisers flocking to Facebook and contributing to a company value of over $500 billion, and to Zuckerberg’s personal fortune of around $70 billion. But it is Facebook’s handling of its users’ data that seems to be at the root of its recent reversal in fortune.

    What went wrong?

    Facebook’s sheen started dimming two years ago, when it was first implicated in fake news and political meddling. This didn’t seem to have any impact financially until its second quarter 2018 report last week, which made for painful reading for its investors. The report disclosed that the number of users in Europe dropped by 3 million, ending its nine-year streak of quarter-on-quarter growth in numbers of European users (note that this was for Facebook only, and not its other owned properties such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus), and user growth in North America flattened. It gained just 22 million users worldwide in quarter 2 (largely in Asia), less than half of the quarter 1 figure. Worse, in the eyes of investors, was that it missed revenue forecasts for the quarter, bringing in $13.2 billion versus the $13.4 billion that analysts had projected. All this led to $120 billion being drained from Facebook’s value and a 20% decrease in stock price in after-hours trading on Wall Street, as investors were spooked further by Facebook’s predictions that its revenue growth would continue to decelerate.

    Scandals, data, addiction and saturation

    With the problems that have beset Facebook over the last few years, it was perhaps inevitable that this point would come. The first and perhaps most serious headaches for its leadership have been the twin issues of political interference – notably in the US presidential election and the UK’s Brexit referendum – and fake news. This culminated in the Cambridge Analytica scandal of earlier this year. Facebook was fined $656,000 – the maximum possible – for breaching UK data protection act, but has had to spend much more to offset the negative press. It exacerbated Facebook’s increasingly toxic reputation as a company that interferes in and affects society and politics, and it is likely that many users deleted their accounts in disgust, particularly in the UK where Cambridge Analytica was based.

    Another challenge for Facebook this year has been the implementation of GDPR in the EU, which set guidelines for the collection and processing of the personal information of individuals within the European Union. It is believed that GDPR was directly responsible for the loss of 1 million of Facebook’s monthly active users in the EU, with many possibly choosing to opt out instead of confirming assent to Facebook’s new data collection practices.

    Facebook, as with all media largely consumed via mobile phones, has of course been affected by the growing concern among consumers of the effect that spending a lot of time on smartphones and social media is having on their mental health and concentration. Across the world people are choosing to cut down on the amount of time they spend on their phones.

    Scandals, data protection and switching off aside, it may be that saturation is Facebook’s most serious long-term issue. Of the 3.5 billion internet users globally, 2.5 billion use at least on Facebook app, which means that user growth in many places, especially in mature markets, has naturally stagnated – there simply aren’t many people who don’t use Facebook, at least occasionally. This means that the business model must focus on increasing revenue per user, which Facebook has struggled with – newer initiatives such as Stories (Facebook’s answer to Snapchat) have proven difficult to monetise compared to the Newsfeed. And compared to Google’s parent company Alphabet, Facebook appears to be over-reliant on ad revenue: $13 billion – over 98% of its overall second quarter revenue of $13.2 billion – was from advertising, compared to 86% of Alphabet’s. This is thanks to Alphabet’s more diversified product offering, which includes hardware, the Google Play Store and Cloud services that are non-ad revenue. This discrepancy could be part of the reason that Google appears more resilient than Facebook, despite the fact that its record isn’t squeaky clean either.

    All is not as gloomy as it seems

    Despite the recent doom and gloom around Facebook’s latest financial reporting, the future isn’t too bleak for the social network. While the financial and user growth figures didn’t meet investors’ expectations, they’re still extremely healthy, particularly considering the storms that it has had to weather. The furore around its Q2 report is rooted in the fact that its growth has slowed, rather than in any actual crisis. Facebook has announced that it is investing billions into safety and security initiatives; these will future-proof the company but do eat into profit margins in the shorter term. Perhaps Facebook’s real problem is that it has been the subject of – and purveyor of – too much optimism and exuberance in recent years: it’s now time for it to settle down and accept its responsibilities as one of the world’s major technology companies.

    Thumbnail image: Wachiwit/Shutterstock.com 

  2. Media audits: the big four or specialists?

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    In an increasingly complex media landscape, media audits are becoming ever more important; should advertisers choose one of the ‘big four’ firms or a smaller media specialist to carry out their audits?

    The media audit – understanding efficiency and transparency in media activity

    In an increasingly digital and competitive world, where brands are concerned about transparency and about the effectiveness of every single dollar invested in advertising, the media audit is a very important tool in the CMO’s toolbox. Not only does it help advertisers to ensure that their agency partner(s) are delivering on their marketing and business objectives in the most efficient and transparent way possible, but it also enables them to identify errors and troubleshoot effectively: particularly crucial in an age of automated buying.

    Choosing a media auditor

    Once an advertiser has decided that they are going to carry out a media audit with their media agency partner or partners and established the KPIs of the audit, the next step is to select the auditor themselves. The options here are not myriad – this is not a huge industry – but they can be more or less divided into two camps – big generalists, or smaller specialists. The former, comprising the ‘big four’ audit firms – KPMG, EY, PwC and Deloitte – carry out audits across many industries for blue chip clients across the world, and are often chosen by clients for their undoubted auditing and accountancy experience, or because they have successfully audited another part of the company. The other camp comprises the smaller specialists, among whom we at ECI count ourselves. While these specialists do not boast the vast scale of the Big Four, there is huge value in having media specialists audit media activity.

    The big four versus the specialists

    In 2016, Sir Martin Sorrell urged advertisers to choose one of the Big Four to carry out their media audit, largely because they are chartered accountancy firms and are therefore subject to regulation. Sorrell said that he was concerned about giving specialist media auditors access to his group’s privileged information, given that they ‘lack professional rules and regulations’. This is a view

    commonly held by media agencies, an unkind interpretation of which is that they are nervous of having their activity audited by media specialists – some of whom may have even worked agency-side and know which stones to turn. In any case, we are convinced that, in an industry renowned for complexity that increases by the day, it can only be to an advertiser’s advantage to have experienced media practitioners examining and analysing agency practices – because they do indeed know what they are looking for.

    Impartiality issues

    In the wider business world, the big four are having to answer big questions about their work, having been involved in the auditing of failing or failed businesses such as Carillion in the UK, which went into liquidation earlier this year. Their impartiality has also on many occasions been called into question; PwC and Deloitte’s creative offerings (PwC Digital Services and Deloitte Digital respectively) are among the largest creative agencies in the world, putting them directly into competition with the holding companies that own the very agencies they are being hired to audit. Meanwhile, Accenture – not one of the Big Four but similar in offering and scale – has recently launched its programmatic offering, negating, in our view, impartiality for its audit function: this is indicative of a wider industry trend.

    In the end, the choice is of course up to the advertiser themselves, who should make their decision based on their specific needs and preferences. The key is to ensure you study the media agency contract carefully and agree on the scope of the audit with both the agency and the chosen auditor. Ultimately, it is about ensuring that every media dollar is used as effectively and efficiently as possible in order to drive higher media value.

    Thumbnail image: chase4concept/Shutterstock.com

  3. The Digital World Cup

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    There are few events that unite audiences like the FIFA World Cup. The passion, excitement and anguish evoked by the beautiful game crescendos for one month every four years, and this year fans from Poland to Peru and Saudi Arabia to Senegal have turned their attention to Russia, pinning their hopes on their national team and praying that this will be their year: the fans of all but one country will have those dreams dashed. Even Americans, whose national team failed to qualify and who are traditionally less interested in soccer, are still gripped by the drama that unfolds daily.

    Sports audiences are turning their attention towards digital channels

    Of course, such focus and emotion makes the World Cup fertile ground for brands who are looking to coherently engage a global audience. Once, TV was the obvious choice of channel for these brands, who would plough millions upon millions of dollars into sponsorship, premium TV spots and experiential activity. However, the increased adoption of digital and social media in recent years has forced advertisers to take a step back and consider how to best to reach those who have migrated away from TV: while 62% of the 3.2bn-strong audience still plan to watch the games on TV, 30% will stream them online – a figure that increases in developing countries and likely in countries with a dramatic time difference to Russia. Over half of the TV viewers will use social media while they are watching. Some had feared that the all-important millennials were drifting away from sport in general but, as this McKinsey study found, they are in fact simply fragmenting their viewing habits, streaming games and using social media to check highlights, scores and news. This is backed up by a Google study which shows that there has been a 90% increase in searches for highlights videos in the last year. This is compounded by the fact that many social platforms are becoming increasingly video-heavy – see Instagram’s recent announcement that it will allow users to post videos of up to 60 minutes.

    TV is losing broadcasting rights as well as audiences to tech giants

    All this is happening against a backdrop of an equally seismic shift in the live sports landscape: the buying up of broadcast rights for sporting events by non-traditional entities such as telco companies and even tech giants such as Amazon, is having a profound effect on traditional broadcasters and, by extension, on advertisers. Not only do the broadcasters lose viewership during the sporting events, but also afterwards as they lose the opportunity to market for future programming to the large sporting audience: smaller viewership means fewer eyeballs on ads. At the same time, the new players like Amazon finance the purchase of their rights through means other than ads, for example subscription fees, thereby removing a huge message distribution opportunity for advertisers. This means that the pricing of what remains increases, particularly around high-value programming.

     

    So, what does this all mean for marketers who might previously have relied on international sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympic Games to reach the often elusive younger male audience, as well as the others who only engage with sport every few years?

    Advertisers must respond by adapting and innovating

    The answer is, as so often, to follow the consumer and to innovate. It goes without saying that advertisers need to look at allocating a large proportion of their budget to digital channels; however, they should also be looking for ways to enhance the enjoyment of the event for consumers and give them what they want by creating exciting new products for added value. We know that millennials have short attention spans thanks to the huge range of options available to them, so products such as fun contests, easily shareable gossip and opinions and ‘whip-around’ highlights could be great ways to engage with them and hold their attention.

    Sporting influencers are a huge opportunity

    Sport by its very nature creates influencers with huge followings: Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo drove 570m social engagements between January and May this year, while Neymar drove nearly 300m (both figures from Nielsen). Savvy brands are capitalising on these figures: McDonald’s in Brazil incorporated Neymar and his Twitter activity into their #prepara World Cup campaign, while Vodafone has not only featured Egyptian Mohamed Salah in their World Cup activity, but harnessed his social following as well. Visa’s global campaign features six influencers, most notably Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimović and makes the most of his innate charm and popularity.

    TV is still important – but it no longer monopolises audiences

    TV is by no means dead and still commands the lion’s share of audiences for live sporting events, including for major ones such as the World Cup and the Olympics. However, advertisers need to be mindful that the trend of audience migration to more digital viewing behaviour shows no sign of abating, and should respond accordingly.

    Thumbnail image: Pasko Maksim/Shutterstock.com