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Killing the Goose of Engagement: Facebook and YouTube’s Biggest Mistake

Menzie Pittman • July 2019Small Business Matters • July 10, 2019

Image by Coffee Bean

When Advertising Fails the Customer

Customer engagement is the only thing that matters in branding and businesses. That’s it – nothing else matters…Nothing. Imagine a corporate executive suggesting an idea that is intended to bring advertisers on board in droves, but is absolutely guaranteed to kill “brand engagement” and ultimately lose the advertisers they so desperately seek. That’s right: it is absolutely, 100 percent guaranteed to destroy engagement. Do you think a team of well-paid advertising executives would ever sign on to such a risky proposition and incorporate such an idea? No way, right? If you said, “No way,” I’m afraid you are wrong. Look at social media platforms. Social media is one of the last great addictions. It should have warning labels stating the possibility of dependence, much like warning labels on cigarette packs. Social media hosts such as Facebook are emboldened by the understanding of what causes that one endorphin, that one celebrity molecule of happiness – dopamine – to surge in our brain. They have weaved into their platforms techniques that commandeer us to return perpetually. They believe no one will ever leave.

What Could Possibly Kill that Golden Goose?

Greed over experience is the answer. Ask yourself, “What could be so off-target that customers would leave?” Perhaps the answer is ads placed in the middle of a music video, or videos that are story-based.

The first time I experienced this, I thought, “OMG! This is just wrong. Tell me they will never stay with this idea.” Why is it such a bad idea? Just ask the inventor of eight-track tapes what happened when the cassette tape hit the marketplace. Can you lose a market in which you have a total monopoly? Maybe. Ads that are placed in the middle of music videos is possibly the worst idea I have ever witnessed. It will kill engagement, guaranteed, but it’s the new trend in advertising.

Take, for example, the video where Derek Trucks, John Mayer, and BB King are playing together, and Trucks is playing a solo that is executed so beautifully that John Mayer is visibly losing his mind as he sits and watches. It’s a two-minute video and at 1:12 a 20-second ad interrupts Trucks in the middle of his solo. This is a solo that King is so moved by, he refers to the slide solo as the best he’s ever heard and says so in the video. After twenty seconds the ad concludes and the video resumes – you can’t skip it or escape out of it. What happened to the moment? What happened to the engagement?

Eight-track tapes sometimes changed sides in the middle of a song due to limitations in physical design. It was not by intention. Facebook and YouTube, however, do have choices. They are deliberately deciding to place the ads. For the most part, YouTube places the ad in front of the video with an opt-out button, but not always. In longer videos they strategically place the ad to interrupt the content. On a purely artistic level, I can’t even comprehend that decision. It kills engagement. On a business level, I understand marketing pressures. It seems that social media platforms have begun to succumb to financial competition. These businesses have chosen greed over brand.

Like Pandora, perhaps YouTube will begin to offer you a minimum monthly payment for your “advertisement-free” experience. Remember when people turned from commercial TV stations to “advertisement- free” cable channels for a monthly fee? Then folks turned to streaming platforms like Hulu, but advertising began to appear there. Now streaming platforms offer “advertisement-free” or “advertisement-pause” packages for a price. You have to ask yourself, “At what point do people become unengaged with your platform and leave your brand?”

Don’t misunderstand. It’s not just Facebook and YouTube making terrible choices. Just this week Spotify reorganized the way their platform worked. They had a 71 percent negative reaction to the “improved platform.” These companies believe the customer won’t leave, but they are horribly wrong. Take me, for example. I have reduced my personal engagement on Facebook by 90 percent and recently, I had an experience with a tech giant that was so unproductive I will change brands. Think about what I’m saying: I will change brands!

Engagement is Everything to a Business

It’s no secret that a popular rating site buries your business’ reviews if you don’t participate with their advertising. Do yourself a favor and look up “Chef Davide Cerretini,” the restaurant owner who asked for 1-star Yelp reviews in exchange for discounts at his restaurant.

This story is fascinating because this tiny restaurant owner had reached a crossroads with rating sites. He thought of an ingenious way to confront what some might call extortion. In the process, Chef Davide increased engagement in his business and dealt with his problem at the same time. His strategy was utterly brilliant.

As we continue to move into the new frontier, we are going to see enterprises making more unproductive decisions. Everyone is taking their eye off the ball and attempting to ring every last dollar out of the towel – no matter what the cost. Be assured, no one can make a business work if you lose customer engagement and customer trust. Can you name a tech giant that you respect anymore? I certainly can’t.

When greed, power, and arrogance replace engagement and customer satisfaction, the result becomes akin to the game of Jenga. You can be doing well for a while, but then you move the wrong piece, and it all comes crashing down.

In Closing

I want to speak fairly about practices that do or don’t work. Facebook has recently changed their review practices to a, “Would you recommend this page?” system. It has improved visibility for all businesses, especially those that have active customer engagement like music stores. That simple change has tripled our “share” engagement. Facebook got that one right. They focused their energy on bettering the platform for the customer, and that is the right thing to do.

Always remember, your brand defines who you are. Invest in improving your brand rather than falling victim to the latest marketing trend. Put integrity foremost into your brand; remove the need for excessive greed, ill-gotten power, and egotism. When you do, my guess is you will enjoy increased client engagement and customer trust.

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