Email forever

Why Email Marketing is the Most Important Online Channel

In our beautiful and colourful digital world there is hardly anything that changes with greater reliability than our app usage. Since the dawn of the smartphone (sounds like half a century ago, but in fact it’s only been 10 years) we’ve used thousands of apps and services – many of which have long been forgotten, all of which have fundamentally changed in the way they work.

All apps? No! A service populated by indomitable users does not stop resisting the intruder: the e-mail.

Because despite all the growth stories of WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram and whatever TikTok is, e-mail can’t be killed. And that’s why email marketing is indispensable.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

The evergreen e-mail meadow

How little this channel has changed is soon clear when you look at the extension of your e-mail address (please raise your hand if you still have a AOL, Yahoo or Hotmail address). My email account is the first login I had on the Internet. And the chances are good that I will keep it forever. What other service could you say this for?

And the figures also speak for themselves: 98 percent of respondents to a survey conducted by the German Digital Industry Association stated that they use e-mails (Mysterious: Who are the two percent not using email?). Industry leader Gmail has an estimated 1.5 billion users, but in any case more than 1 billion downloads on Google Play. That’s a fifth of the world’s population.

It is unlikely that these figures will change in the future. An e-mail address is practically indispensable for life on the Internet: you need an e-mail address for every login. And if you don’t need an e-mail address, but can log in with Facebook, Amazon or even TikTok, you need it to log into these services. The e-mail address is the one unique identifier, the digital identity card. And without it, is anything possible in the digital life?

Email is the trump card

If almost everyone uses e-mails, then almost everyone can be reached with an e-mail. The potential target group on this medium is gigantic, no other medium can keep up here: Social media comes with great power, but in fact only has 73% of users on board. Other major media such as television, radio and newspapers are even below that. The direction for marketeers seems clear: e-mail is a must-have if you don’t want to do without 27% of the total population as a target group right from the start.

And yet email marketing is often hung up behind social media, SEO, SEA and even display advertising in terms of importance to companies. The question is: Why?

Because the marketing aspects also give a clear recommendation: With good email marketing campaigns, you can expect a click-through rate (CTR) of 3-5 percent, often significantly higher. With paid advertising campaigns on Facebook, LinkedIn or Google Ads, you can usually only dream of these results (I don’t even start with ads in magazines or TV commercials).

And of course you have to buy the clicks on these third-party portals – every interaction with an Instagram Ad is followed by an interaction with the marketing budget. Sending an email, apart from any license fees for the email tool, is free.

Know your customer 2.0

And last but not least, there is the fine detail of the customer relationship. If my digital marketing mainly consists of advertisements in search engines, social networks and map services, I also hand over the complete control of my customer relationship to the bad guys (GAFA: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon). And I am therefore absolutely dependent on these services.

If then one of these Internet monopolists decides to limit my access to their goods (and yes, those are the users), there’s usually only one option left for me: looking silly.
By the way, many companies have already made the mistake of exchanging their customer relationship for reach. Media companies know full well about it.

Good Email takes time to ripen

The reasons for the relative neglect (measured by the benefits and importance) of email marketing in many companies are manifold.

Often excessive expectations are placed on this channel. Expectations that increase even further due to the rapid success of advertising in reach services such as Google and Facebook: “With Facebook, I can achieve 40,000 impressions with a 200€ ad. Our e-mails just reach about 500 people.”

This is a valid argument – building up a relevant e-mail recipient list takes time and time always costs money. Especially if a company is not active in eCommerce and therefore already has many possibilities to build up a recipient list, you have to work hard on your customer base. But the more relevant question is: “How often would I like to spend this 200€ on a Facebook campaign? Is it worth it in the long run?”

Another problem that can be shown using the same example is the monitoring of false KPIs. Those who define marketing success in terms of quantity will have a hard time getting into email marketing. If you look at long-term, result-oriented key figures, such as cost per lead (CPL) or customer lifetime value (LTV) by channel, “e-mail” is often the best. However, if you measure e-mail marketing with short-term key figures, you will get inferior results, but on the other hand you will not do justice to the long-term interpretation of this marketing approach.

The tip of the iceberg

One of the main reasons for the often underdeveloped email marketing in many companies is probably the following: The whole thing is much more difficult and complex than you might think.

The email that ultimately reaches users or customers is only the tip of the iceberg. What is the purpose of this e-mail if you can’t simply discount products from the online store and put them in an e-mail (because you are not an eCommerce business)? More importantly, where does the content of this email take me?

So when we talk about email marketing, we automatically talk about content marketing in all its facets: Blogs, videos, landing pages, CRM, lead nurturing and sales processes. Good email marketing is an interface between the various tools and stations of content or inbound marketing and helps to send potential or existing customers on the customer journey.

The most important resource

Ultimately, good email marketing requires one thing above all else: the right personnel. Because only this personnel is qualified to find solutions for these complex problems and questions.

How do we ensure that an e-mail is displayed optimally (or at least legibly) on hundreds of end devices and various e-mail clients?
How do we segment our users in the CRM?
What content do we need for each part of the customer journey?
How do I run multivariate tests?
Where does the Lead Funnel take us?
How can we personalize the content of our email?
How do we measure the results of our campaigns?
And who actually writes the texts?

Depending on the scope and size of the company, e-mail marketing can thus be turned into one or two full-time jobs. And this is also the reason why many companies prefer to neglect the topic.

However, if you have managed to establish email marketing in your organization, you will automatically make progress in topics as SEO and social media, as these benefit directly from the content created for the purpose of e-mail marketing. Unfortunately, the other way around – not so much.

tl;dr

Email marketing is the most important and successful online marketing channel. With its own user database, the control over the customer relationship remains within the company, and e-mails are cost-effective and efficient. But the actual e-mail is only the tip of the iceberg: e-mail marketing sits on a mountain of customer relationship management, content strategy and lead nurturing. And to manage it well, you need the right people and the commitment of the organization.

PS: For the sake of completeness you can subscribe to our Futuccino newsletter here. The newsletter is very irregular and is guaranteed to be less frequent than you expect.


Why the SPIEGEL fails at digitization

DER SPIEGEL is an icon of German journalism. Hardly any other publisher in Germany produced equally outstanding journalism for decades. And that’s why it seems worthwhile taking a look at the change of the last 10 years and why the magazine staggers between “Innovator’s dilemma” and wrong product alignment and fails at digital transformation for the time being. And no, this will not be another cheap lament on printed journalism.

1. Digital Products
2. “DER SPIEGEL”: The Innovator’s dilemma
3. Newspaper business in the Digital Space
4. The Product Problem
5. Journalism, Publishing and Marketing

1. Digital products

The driving force behind the ominous change we call digitization is the loss of friction. Friction in the production process (or more precisely throughout the value chain) provided for decades and centuries that products could only slowly circulate through the economic cycle through manufacturing, storage or production processes. The shift of the economic processes into the digital space makes some processes faster and some redundant. Overall, the whole production process runs smoother, in essence without friction. While some industries digitize by migrating only parts of their value chain, for other industries all components of the service provision gradually move into the digital territory.

Designing and creating completely digitized products is very difficult. Young, highly focused companies venture to master the new space, albeit at the very high development costs associated to it. On the other hand, established companies, especially if they have been successful in the market so far, often encounter considerable problems (apart from providing gigantic amounts of money) due to the firmer structures and – despite their effort – a certain digital clumsiness. Often they attempt to pour their product into a digital framework in order to gain cost-effectiveness. And often they fail at this attempt. Although the reasons for those failures become more and more obvious, they are surprisingly little known.

In the digital economy rules are different than in the post-world-war-II-economy. To start with, digital markets work according to the “winner takes all” principle: Because of the
lack of friction, it is sufficient for a product to have a small advantage, to be winning. For example, imagine two Kebab shops in your street. Kebab Shop A tastes just a little better than Kebab Shop B. Nevertheless you will probably go to Kebab Shop A. But besides yourself, all other customers probaby go for the same kebab, so that sometimes the qeue is very long and sometimes they do not even have a kebab anymore. Which is the latest point, when you switch to Kebab Shop B. After all it is only slightly worse. In the Internet this does not happen. Why? Because Shop A produces a new Kebab in milliseconds. After all, here Kebabs are made of ones and zeros, replicable infinitely. There are no queues. Everyone wants Kebab A? Everyone gets Kebab A. Winner takes it all.

Once you have developed a product with a demand (nowadays they say: “A product customers love”), it is infinitely reproducible and available. From an economic point of view, this is a fantastic business model, for providers and customers. Which in the case of Facebook and Google leads to digital monopolies that are very popular with the user. For the suppliers of professionally crafted content, another party in the game, however, this monopoly alliance of users and distributors has developed into a nightmare. Example: journalism.

SPIEGEL magazine, Zoo station
There is still plenty of printed journalism. “Der Spiegel” in the Kiosk display at Zoo Station, Berlin.

A good counterexample of a friction-less process is the production of a magazine, because magazines are made by people. They research and write, make photos, typeset the texts, manage ads, print and deliver. Friction is daily business here. To be able to overcome that friction is the core of the business model. From the point of view of the newspaper publishers, the question arises, whether it in this friction-less world, will be possible to have a viable business? How compatible are friction-less space and friction-burdened business model? The answer is clear in my view: it is difficult, but – with really thoughtful strategic choices – possible. And it does not work without changing your old model to the new digital one. Align rules and resolutely rebuild.

2. “Der SPIEGEL”: The Innovator’s Dilemma

The SPIEGEL, for example, seems to lack a correspondingly strategic vision. And that may be exactly because “Der SPIEGEL” is an icon of the German Post-war journalism. Hardly any other publisher in Germany can claim its reputation for good journalism. And that’s why it’s worth taking a look at the change that has taken place here over the last 10 years and why this journalism also happens to fail in the digital change. And no, this will not be yet another cheap lament on printed journalism. Journalism is by no means dead. It only happens to be a less interesting business. It’s about time that those with a heart for journalism get in gear and realize that the existence of journalism does not depend on a product and its reason for existence is more than whopping profits with printed paper (That is difficult, considering that the human brain is already confused for days, if you place the garbage bin in the kitchen in a different corner).

What stands in the way of the SPIEGEL Group is the self-image of the newspaper publishing house. How deeply these values ​​are anchored in the company can be grasp with a quick look into the self-depiction on the SPIEGEL website (shortened):

“The SPIEGEL is published weekly in an edition of approximately 900,000 copies, printed by Mohn Media in Gütersloh and Stark Druck in Pforzheim. To be punctual and to be as quick as possible at the kiosk and with the readers, the entire edition is printed in about 20 hours and processed into issues. That means: more than 750 magazines are printed per minute. For the production of “Der Spiegel” a lightweight, coated paper of 54 gsm is used; for an average issue just under 280 tons of paper are required. The quality provides an optimum of brightness, color and opacity under consideration of environmental requirements. The cover of “Der SPIEGEL” is printed on a high-weight, 115gsm paper.”

280,000 kilograms of paper printed at high speed; curious readers expecting their edition … at the newspaper stand? (Aren’t they called Späti (Late-y) in Berlin nowadays, selling, well.. Beer?) And the whole thing takes, what? 20 hours?

Perfectly at home in the world of printing and its industrial blooming, the portrayal of the sober corporate side turns out as a trip to the late Sixties. In the paragraph one feels all the pride and the drama of the dwindling old-time journalism. It’s ultimately those cultural roots, which make it so impossible for the SPIEGEL to arrive in the new paradigm. If then you take look at the numbers, you have an innovator’s dilemma in its purest form.

At first glance, the financial results of the SPIEGEL 2017 were not bad: The profit climbed to around 30 million euros, compared to 2016 with around 26 million and just 6 million the year before that. Responsible is an uncomfortable restructuring course. The advertisement disposition went to the SPIEGEL co-partner Gruner + Jahr, around 150 colleagues had to leave. The goal of the renovation: costs have to decrease by € 15 million annually from 2018 onward. Why that cost reduction is so drastic becomes clear, when you consider the two reasons for it: less magazines are sold and the extra money from advertising sales shrink. The publisher faces the problem of sinking revenue which can’t be compensated by new profits from growth on the product side, but must be made up for by savings on the production side. This may be difficult but possible with a product like a car and over-the-top innovations. For a product that is mainly the result of the clever minds of its employees shrinking means loosing brain; the product is rapidly deteriorating. The downward spiral begins to turn.

In 2016, the group sold an average of 783 575 magazines per week (IVW). In the fourth quarter of 2017, the number dropped to 730,990 copies. Also, ad sales have declined: In 2017, SPIEGEL sold 8.2 percent less classic print ads than last year. The negative numbers are dramatic because that printed magazine in which these ads appear is responsible for two-thirds of the SPIEGEL Group’s total turnover. The share of ad and sales revenue of 269 million euros in 2016 was around 68 percent.

So there can hardly be any doubt that the printed SPIEGEL magazine still is the heart of the group. Without the printed editions revenue, the group cannot survive. But at the same time, with the cultural and economic hegemony of this branch within the enterprise,the chances of a digital re-orientation are significantly lower: The Innovator’s dilemma. Furthermore “Der SPIEGEL” has a unique ownership structure, where the majority is controlled by privileged employees, mostly working within the printed journalism branch. If they don’t support restructuring, nothing moves.

3. Weekly magazine business in the digital space

Publishers of journalism had a competitive advantage on their side up until mobile came along. Namely, the industry’s own friction in the form of print shops and printed paper as a content and advertising medium. Printing a newspaper was and still is expensive. That is what made the limited space on paper so valuable. This limiting factor made for a good business for about 150 years, as long as enough readers were interested. In addition, the newspaper publishers often also controlled the printing companies as the decisive point in the value chain.

Just to put this into perspective: A printed advertising page in “Der SPIEGEL” today costs about 77,000 euros – the production of this site is likely in the low cent area. This advantage turned into a disadvantage, as the attention of the readers slowly migrated into the digital space and this space became available everywhere and at any time. Here, you could purchase and offer a similar added value for advertisers (that actually only consisted of printing a page) and a similar product offer with almost no costs. The companies, who wanted to attract new customers, followed the attention of the desired audience, because they were not particularly interested in the journalistic product per se (or the printed unit), but rather in its readers and their attention.

Unsurprisingly, the publishers moved swiftly into into the digital space, transferring their business model and their product with as little changes as appeared necessary. They used the new possibilities diligently and partially economically successful, at first glad about an additional sales channel. The proceeds were confined, however, now exclusively to the former “Zubrot”, the Advertising money, because nobody wanted to pay for the old service in the new environment. The problem was and is that the publishers did not realize that with the loss of friction their business model was no longer sustainable in the digital environment. The perceived channel was none at all. The conditions had changed fundamentally.

People do not buy great content

Ad slots are theoretically unlimited in the digital sphere and thus worth very little. Remember the Kebab Shop. You want Kebab A, you get it. Infinitely. Furthermore, ads are sold, for example on Google, by automatic auctions. Machines run the business. Usually you get your search ad placed on Google for a few euros, often only cents. But because ad space providers have virtually no costs to place the advertisement, they are still highly profitable. Yes, servers do cost a lot, but costs can be distributed over billions of ads, leading to marginal cost approaching zero. That alone was bad enough for the business model of the printed newspapers and magazines, because there, people sell ads. And space is limited.

At the same time, on the internet content is virtually unlimited. That may vary for every single topic, but overall the normal state is abundance. That’s why Google’s service is so popular. Finding content has been the central problem for more than 20 years, not offering content.

When Facebook entered the stage, especially after mobile took off, they added a variant of the internet, where personal relationships were digitized. Now the transition from an anonymously used “open” internet to personally used “closed” network was becoming the norm. People spend their time on Facebook, with data connected to their personal interests. Now the abundance of content could be delivered to you on a personal level based on your interests, paid or unpaid, without you even searching for it. (Remember: ease of use wins)

In retrospect, it is obvious that with this change, the nature of content also radically changed. The norm was no longer mass media, but personal, or “social” media. Linkedin, Pinterest, Facebook (and Google) are so successful because they guarantee the quality of choice for each user idividually, but not the content itself. In the state of abundance, you don’t necessarily win on the best content offer, but by serving the demand most accurately and comfortably. Going back to our tasty Kebab: It does not even have to be better than Kebab B for ever. Once it has aggregated demand, good enough is enough for the user to keep coming back.

On the internet everyone can be a content provider who wants to offer content (or everything else). The limiting factor “printed copy” and the associated increase in value of a any piece of content solely by the shortage of supply is no more given (after all, you read this essay completely free and that’s only because I decided to be a provider today). Mediation of demand is what really counts in the digital space.

For a company that produces journalism, one revelation is central: People do not buy magazines or newspapers because the content is so great. Neither the form nor the content was the USP, but controlling supply. It is tragic that the self-image of many journalists is still built around the perception, that their texts generated demand. That was clearly wrong. There just wasn’t an alternative before mobile internet. With the realization that the articles in a printed magazine have never been that important to the reader, producer of printed content
a) need to change the way they control their customer relations in the digital world
b) need to change the nature of their content

4. The product problem

I think you cannot blame magazine publishers in general and the SPIEGEL in particular, for not having tried. “DER SPIEGEL” has created three different formats designed to monetize their journalism in the digital world: “SPIEGEL daily”, “SPIEGEL Plus” and Bento.

The per-click payment service LaterPay (this is the service provider that monetizes “SPIEGEL Plus”) gives a hint on its Website, how successful the SPIEGEL is at selling individual articles:

“SPIEGEL Online has sold more than 3 million articles with LaterPay since the introduction of it’s paid content offering SPIEGEL Plus.”

An article costs 0.39 cents there. The extra money adds up to around one million euros. That however contributes little to the company’s result. But above all, the number should not fool us into believing that disposable content items are not a sustainable, secure approach for company success. Why? Because one-time readers are not an attractive customer group for a company that wants to produce journalism (And here the emphasis must be on “produce” rather than “journalism”).

The SPIEGEL has high fixed costs in the form of offices and personnel costs and an unpredictable and perishable raw material in the form of news – you would expect a disposable article at low prices to be produced differently. If the SPIEGEL wants more one-time sales, they maybe should just be selling directly through Facebook. But then their customer relationship would be weakened even further. Facebook would own the customer, not the SPIEGEL. The SPIEGEL needs to produce its “Original SPIEGEL journalism” regularly with predictable proceeds, not one-time revenues.

Stefan Plöchinger, former head of sueddeutsche.de is now expected to get online products on track. As head of product development, he will have to take care of the paid-content strategy and increase revenues. That alone gives us a clear hint that the strategic implications have not arrived yet. The SPIEGEL shouldn’t be concerned about paid content, but about paid journalism. The SPIEGEL does not win with products, but with customer relations, which is the only way to guarantee a fixed revenue stream, which would allow journalists to produce high quality content. As I have tried to argue, the customers do not first and foremost buy lines on printed paper or HTML code in the browser. They buy the special perspective, the special kind, the choice of topics, the attitude, in short the Journalism of the SPIEGEL. In other words: The customer pays for the production of journalism, not the single product. This distinction is essential to be successful.

DER SPIEGEL opted instead for a very contrary approach. A product that does not have much in common with the journalism of SPIEGEL at all: Bento.
Bento is – in its self-depection – a medium for a younger audience:

“Bento is the young offer of SPIEGEL ONLINE. Bento shows what 18- to 30-year-olds are really interested in, what concerns us and where we stand. Because if there is news everywhere and too much, we choose what’s important to us. “

That may sound nice in theory. In practice, Bento is a portal, which works through click-baits, thus distributing even more unimportant news (which Bento actually promised to filter out). Click-bait articles are dumped into the internet in order to create space for ads and paid content offerings. When I have a look at the Bento homepage, there are articles waiting for me like “A passenger doesn’t stop farting – plane has to perform emergency landing” and “Soon there will be vegetarian hot dogs at IKEA “(both no joke). There is little left of the SPIEGEL’s quality journalism here, the brand SPIEGEL is consistently diluted further – and this is a continuous phenomenon.

DER SPIEGEL had already founded “SPIEGEL ONLINE” in 1994, a new company apart from the original staff. To date, the editors of “SPON” (SPiegelONline) and the SPIEGEL magazine writers are hierarchically and spatially separated, as well as the Bento editors. From the outset, it was clear that SPIEGEL Online is a different product offer and is not to be confused with the actual product.

But that does not matter to users. You notice that with the SPIEGEL, but alos with SPIEGEL ONLINE and now with Bento that its contents are ever further watered down, the researches are becoming more superficial. To establish a payment service like SPIEGEL plus or SPIEGEL daily into a market situation like this (Dilution of the umbrella brand, establishment of superficial content portals) is a strategic mistake. The signal that is being sent is not “If you want more good SPIEGEL journalism, then you have to subscribe to SPIEGEL “, but rather: “If you finally want some sensible content, then, trust me, you have to buy the good items for 40 cents a piece. ”

Nevertheless, the SPIEGEL seems undeterred by customer needs. They set their minds on new products to solve the declining sales figures. I have found 21 products that have any combination with the word SPIEGEL in their name, Bento not included. Almost all are text. Unfortunately, lots of product launches also failed: The best-ager magazine SPIEGEL Classic was dumped after one issue. SPIEGEL Television did not even start because the market tests failed. And also the success of the daily newspaper SPIEGEL Daily is apparently limited. Such failures are the logical consequence of the wrong product- and content-centered strategy. One wonders why the SPIEGEL thinks he knows better than the giants Amazon and Netflix. At Amazon you buy the cheap subscription with attractive content and then you pay for filet pieces extra anyway. Netflix eliminates single purchases altogether.

No one expects everything to be free

Instead of continuing to play on reach, the SPIEGEL would have to be very stringent to align to his loyal customers and by sharpening the journalistic profile and the technical possibilities, renewing the values ​​proposition for this special circle: Becoming more personal, not cheaper. Offer fewer products, not more. Simplify with all technological possibilities to create convenience for your customers.

The share of subscriptions for the sold circulation is 49.8 percent, which adds up to around 370,000 loyal customers. With 56,000 subscriptions the digital edition of the SPIEGEL is round the highest of a magazine in Germany already, but certainly has a lot of room for improvement. And with SPIEGEL ONLINE there is enough customer contacts with potential new subscribers. It would be a good starting point for a new strategic approach: To finally face the fact that the online ad business has been lost to the monopolists. Let the adds go. That would make it clear to each new subscriber what he or she actually buys. The core users will also be willing to pay, probably more. Because this basic condition has changed tremendously on the internet in recent years: No one expects everything to be free.

5. Journalism, publishing and marketing

Although the components reporting, publishing and marketing were closely linked in printed journalism, it has become clear that in the digital framework they may have significantly fewer synergies than before. That brings its own challenges for marketing. However, it frees journalism’s business model from being tied to the idea of mass media, opening the way to profitable closed systems.

The idea of a mass media in the classical sense is obsolete, and we can witness several of its former functions seize to exist. The new status quo is: Everyone can say everything to everybody. In public. That’s as scary as it is real. The journalistic form of the last 60 years could only shine under the conditions of friction. The same business with similar (albeit shrunken) structures cannot operate profitably in the digital paradigm. Consequently, after Stefan Aust, all chief editors of the SPIEGEL failed at the “Innovators dilemma”. While Aust still had success integrating other media types into the brand, aiming to shape a media group out of the printing business, all chief editors after him lacked a vision and failed. Because consequently they could not overcome the dilemma with counter-intuitive, long-term strategic decisions, which would have harmed the core of the company, but would have secured a passage into a different future.

But what is true for the SPIEGEL, is not necessarily true for journalism in general. Because the familiar production and distribution of journalistic work has never been identical with journalism per se. It was just one possible form of it. New technical possibilities require and allow a new, contemporary form and a new and different organization. And the basic need for journalism remains: People continue to have great interest in topics and decisions that concern them personally or as a group; where they live, in the language that they speak.

For all the worries about a technologically forced change that we cannot determine or stop: The digital world offers exactly the technological possibilities necessary for a new kind of journalism. Only when this new journalism is strategically aligned with its business model and the business model is fundamentally rooted within these new possibilities of the new paradigm, it will be sustainable.

Of course we are especially happy about thoughts and feedback from all of you, who managed to read up to here. Just send an email or use the comments section.

Revelation: Marvin and Florian wrote the article together. Florian worked 15 years ago for a company of the Spiegel Group.

Facebook’s News Feed Changes: Content That Matters

One of the first entries on my Facebook timeline dates back to the 22nd June 2006. A guy called Phil writes: “Guten Tag! Can’t wait till you get here.” That was eleven and a half year ago. And when I think back to these times, I’m actually getting a little sentimental.

Since I have been a Facebook user for such a  long time, I will grant myself the right to take a little stroll through my digital past with you (it’s like one of those “grandpas’ war stories”). Compared to the majority of users (especially in Europe) I might actually be a pensioner of the Facebook user group. The reason is simple: In 2006, an exchange student from the US stayed with me (Hi, Ben). Back then, Facebook was an invite-only network. So I sort of became a student of a High School in Arkansas and was in on it. The first twenty posts on my timeline are a result from that strange educational decision: Young american fellow students I didn’t know, congratulated me on a) listening to Jack Johnson, b) watching Sex and the City or c) just for being German and drinking beer (great time).

 

Thumbs up

But one detail still seems peculiar when watching these old posts (and that’s the ultimate prove what ancient of a Facebook user I am): none of them had any likes.
Why is that? Because the like button hadn’t been invented yet (it started in 2009). That was a really romantic time in the history of the internet . You really felt connected with people thousands of kilometres away, engaged in real interactions with you!

Since then (and probably because of the like button in question), Facebook has changed a lot. When in the past you wrote a post on someone’s timeline or virtually poked them, today’s average interaction on Facebook looks like this: “XY linked you in a comment > Like the comment > The End.” And then you are bombarded with “funny” corporate or trash news videos, that are neither funny nor interesting. And when you close the app you feel empty and dumb.

Back to the roots

All of this is well known and probably not worth a blog post on futuccino. However, tada, here’s the thing : Mark Zuckerberg obviously feels the same way about his network, too. And that’s why Facebook announced in January that it was planning to revalue its news feed. Value in terms of human interaction. Facebook also stated that this will lead to less public content and videos will find their way to the news feed. Simple as that.

The next big announcement followed one week later, when Facebook explained that not only would less corporate content be shown within the newsfeed, but in the future those posts will get more airtime, that the community finds trustworthy and informative. “Trustworthiness” in this case applies to the content publisher and is generated through some kind of test group (like the audience rate for national television).

 

The capital up in arms

The effect of these announcements: Everyone creating profits through Facebook went nuts. The share price dropped from 187 to 176 Dollars within one week. Major news networks worried about their business as a whole, anticipating the loss of huge parts of their audiences. Various news sites created how-to-articles  “educating” their Facebook followers what they could do to still see their treasured news content after the changes would apply. Come on, as if anybody in the world was really waitng for their favored news content to pop up.

Many news outlets only input to the digital community is the sharing of short videos and mushy articles for (linking) profit without any additional value just to create some kind of basic internet noise, to still be able to run their banner ads fueled web page.

If the new standard for successful articles on Facebook really is “trustworthy and informative” then their fear might not be without reason. And if you trust the statistics of parse.ly and assume that users find 40 percent of all content on the internet via Facebook, the fear gets more real. A solid angst (finally, a German word) is certainly experienced  right now by those companies who got hooked on FB-clicks in the first place. To be dependent on Facebook-clicks and the networks functionality is an uneasy place for news providers. Ben Thompson says it best in his article about Facebook Instant Articles and compares the situation of dependent companies to a scene in Star Wars when Darth Vader changes a deal – and nobody can do shit about it.

 

“Content that matters? We have never done that before!”

But it will not only be news sites affected by Mark Z.’s little modifications. Some other company profiles will also find themselves on the black list, especially when their content strategy also consists of sharing videos, GIFs and other people’s posts. When in the future there will be less videos and less corporate content in the users news feeds, only those posts will stand out, that provoke real interactions. And call me a doomsayer, I don’t see that happening for many company posts at the moment. If Facebook gets down to business with it’s changes, some companies might think of a real content and social media strategy for the first time to reach any users via social networks. Bad news for everyone who saw Social Media as a colourful, funky attachment to the real marketing. Good news for those companies that developed a content strategy over the years, already producing articles and video that are in line with the company’s’ goals and mission, following corporate communication guidelines and targeting meaningful interaction with their audience. Unfortunately, there are too few of them. We all know some colleagues baffled with disgust: “What do you mean, “create relevant and informative content”? We have never done that before.”

I think there is no doubt: Facebook had to improve the user experience and make their customers happier again (and no, when I say customer I am not talking about the companies who tend to spill their money on ads on the plattform). Because although every statistic is telling you stories of an increasing number of users, my personal perception is: Facebook sucks. Facebook makes you dull.

And before Facebook risks losing their treasured users and in the same instance their aggregation power, it will simply ban those crappy contents that people dislike when browsing the network. Good management.

 

Flicker of Hope

And after painting with (admittedly) broad strokes that somehow dark a picture, I think it is time for a possible loophole for fellow corporate social media teams: Employee Advocacy. Those tools use the social networks of their employees to generate reach by letting them share corporate content with their private accounts. Providers like Smarp or Trapit offer a social network like timeline from where contents can be shared easily and often come with a gamification concept to motivate the employees to actually sharing the content. Maybe not a new way to entirely get around creativity again, but it might be an elegant way to fool Mark’s content police. For some time, that is.