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Firms abandon social media, return to email for marketing

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There was an excellent story in the Wall Street Journal in January, titled The Hot New Channel for Reaching People: Email, and I just caught wind of it while reading another blog.

Companies are once again embracing email for marketing, after tiring of the games being played by social media.

“Consumer email services have been around for almost three decades, but to hear email’s most ardent fans talk about it now, it’s an undiscovered country too long neglected by those who could benefit from it the most,” wrote Christopher Mims.

“In the #deletefacebook era, it’s become a way to fight back against the algorithms that try to dictate what people see,” he added

Mims is right on the money in that regard.

Social media started off with the best of intentions — to connect people all over the globe. It really did bring us all closer each other.

When my daughters were little, we had a teenage foreign exchange student stay with us for half a year. She became my Polish princess, or my fourth daughter. Today, she has a teenage daughter of her own.

Facebook allowed us to remain connected, and I could share in their lives even though they live half a world away.

If anyone ever watched the movie The Social Network, about the founding of Facebook, the seeds for the firm’s demise were planted early on. Greed became the engine that drove Facebook off the tracks.

Back then, the idea of even advertising on the social network was considered “uncool.” But, during a party at a nightclub, the character who played Sean Parker, the founder of file-sharing service Napster, stunned the group with this dialogue, as found on IMDB.com:

Sean Parker: You don’t even know what the thing is yet. How big it can get, how far it can go. This is no time to take your chips down. A million dollars isn’t cool, you know what’s cool?

Eduardo Saverin: [Sarcastically]  You?

Sean Parker: A billion dollars.

Nobody ever imagined that a website designed to let people see who was in relationships would have ever grown to a billion dollars. Today, Facebook is worth somewhere around $530 billion.

How did it get so big? By treating other businesses like strung out crack whores.

“Build an audience for free on our platform,” companies were told 15 years ago.

The firms were encouraged to use Facebook to reach customers and their friends by injecting photos, jokes and information into the conversations followers were having with other users. “Like us on Facebook” became the mantra of business.

Businesses that wanted greater exposure could buy sidebar ads that targeted people looking for specific products or services based on their profiles showing what they liked.

Then the bean counters and vulture capitalists took over.

Suddenly, whenever a company posted something, only half of the audience the firm built was allowed to see it. Companies had to pay $5 to “promote” the post to the rest of its audience. But, that wasn’t enough.

Soon Facebook employed a scheme to show a company’s post to just a tiny fraction, often 1 or 2 percent, of the firm’s followers. It would cost the company $5 to let 10 percent of the audience see it, or $20 to get it to half or $100 or more to expose the post to everyone.

Businesses gave money to Facebook hand-over-fist just to buy another quick attention fix from their pimp.

Then Facebook introduced the “unfollow” feature. Companies could have thousands of followers, yet if the firms weren’t careful and posted too many irrelevant items, a fan could simply click to unfollow the brand.

As far as the company knew, it had 100,000 followers for which Facebook was charging big money to “promote” the firm’s information to its entire audience and others who may be interested in it — even though half the audience no longer wanted to see the firms’ posts.

Factor in ads appearing after every five posts, political nonsense, social issue activism and mathematical algorithms that determined what people would see whenever they logged into their account, and in what order, based on “relevance,” and it became impossible for companies to control their message on Facebook.

Then, Facebook allowed people to leave “reviews” of companies. These permanent records of a company’s likeability created a heyday for spammers and competitors to trash a firm for any reason at all.

The more one-star reviews a company received, the less likely its posts were shared with others — even the company’s hard-built audience.

I saw that play out in real life back in 2016 when a guy hired by the RV Industry Association to promote the RV lifestyle on a media tour, was seeking funding to write an anti-Trump book at the same time. I wrote an editorial calling attention to the issue, and RVIA responded by yanking the family’s contract to serve as industry representatives.

The family howled loudly and the story was picked up by CNN, the Huffington Post, and as far away as the Guardian newspaper in London.

Hundreds of people who had never heard of RV Daily Report and probably couldn’t spell “RV” without a tutor, started leaving unflattering reviews, and thus negating the need for me to pay to promote anything on Facebook. When I sold the publication in 2016, the new owners rebuilt the page, and the negative reviews were eliminated.

That’s why companies are giving email serious consideration once again.

“Unlike on Facebook, readers receive everything they signed up to receive, in neat chronological order, alongside missives from friends, family and their various communities,” Mims noted in the New York Times.

“For marketers great and small, the algorithms that power social media represent the ever-rising cost of doing business on the platforms owned by the duopoly of Google and Facebook,” he added. “Email allows authors to intimately connect with readers, lets brands address their most loyal customers and budding startups develop armies of influencers.

“Readers’ ready access to the ‘unsubscribe’ button is largely a good thing for all involved, since it nudges email content creators to produce authentic, high-quality experiences rather than superficially engaging ones, and to connect in ways that are deeper than what advertising-first mediums like Facebook generally allow,” Mims explained.

His article should be a must-read for company marketing professionals.

Evidence of damage social media and Google is doing to business is just now bubbling to the surface.

Content is king. It always has been and always will be.

Companies would be wise to develop their own networks, rather than pumping out money to support a platform that actively works against their goals.

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Greg Gerber

A native of Wisconsin who moved to Arizona in 2009, Greg Gerber is a DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three grown daughters. He worked as a journalist for many years before pursuing a career as a faith-based writer, author, coach and speaker. Greg is the author of Pornocide: How Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life.

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