The Age of Authority Ending?

We have seen an increase in Internet hacks and leaks undermining corporate and personal integrity alike. Sony, Anonymous versus the Ferguson Police Department, the Ray Rice elevator security tape, starlet cell phone pic hacks, and on and on.

As noted in my Cision’s 5 trends for 2015 post, vigilante style attacks will increase and continue to negatively impact individuals and businesses alike. There is little we as a society can do to stop it.

In a recent Pew Internet survey on future media, dozens of experts agreed: Cyberwar, hacks and vigilante attacks are expected to continue. Attacks involve a wide complicated group of parties, ranging from governments, companies (yes, we have to know some corporations engage in hacking), organized vigilante groups like Anonymous, and of course, individual hacks. Below is my contribution to the Pew study.

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The bottom line: Authorities may act to apprehend and prosecute online offenders, but it has become harder bring vigilantes to justice. The Fifth Estate can go farther than speak their mind, now. They can act — right or wrong — and escape.

Impact

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We are now living in a Neuromancer-esque world (see William Gibson’s book) where anyone or any entity’s data can be exploited.

Surveillance is everywhere, personal location can be surrendered by our phones, watches and clothes, and our wallets are on our phones, there is no turning it off. The reasons why can be as simple as angering the wrong person with an axe to grind. In some cases, people will be completely innocent, but cannot stop their credit cards, email, photos and more from being used against them.

Inevitably, we will all be touched. Just last month I found my check card cancelled, its number one of many captured by a hacker who had raided one of my online retailers. There as no follow-up, just a new card.

Companies, athletes and stars who have a public stake in their business would be wise to prepare for the worst. No secrets are safe. And on the Internet there is little recourse for exposed wrong doing or naughtiness.

The Wild West is upon us. There is no true security, no safe haven.

In the online world power is determined by security skill, hacking creativity, and resources. Authority, right and wrong, well, these concepts of justice have become weakened. In fact, they may simply be antiquated.

What do you think?

Facebook Will Not Die Easily

Did you know that more than two million people still access the Internet through AOL dial-up services? Or that the company grew by 6% last year to reach $2.3 billion in revenue? While AOL is oft considered dead by pundits, the company is surviving just fine as a media company with a legacy dial-up business.

In August of 2012, I wrote that Facebook will decline like AOL. I think its worth revisiting given all of the hot debate over Facebook’s impending cancerous death.

Before I wrote the AOL post, I originally modeled a MySpace-like death for Zucerberg and company, but that was wrong. Facebook will not die a fast death. In fact, in the past couple of years it’s become clear that the full and complete collapse of the company is impossible.

Don’t get me wrong. On a personal level, I really dislike Facebook. I personally find a vast majority of the conversations to be mundane or toxic. I am not alone, many users have a wide variety of dislikes, according to Pew Research.

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Like Olivier Blanchard, I think marketers would be wise to develop alternate methods of galvanizing their social communities. There are too many warning signs for any risk-adverse person. Facebook is vulnerable. For example, it’s not the first social network for healthy swaths of the B2B and youth consumer markets.

At the same time, Facebook is almost ubiquitous across the Internet. It’s social share buttons are everywhere. Even with McDonald’s-like weaknesses, Facebook is far and away the largest social network. It has more than three times the amount of active users (900 million) than its nearest competitors, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Economies of scale of this nature don’t collapse over night, nor do they fall in a year. In fact, the only thing that could possibly destroy Facebook is an epic scandal of an unimaginable level… Or Rupert Murdoch buying the company.

What goes up, must come down. Much of the conjecture about Facebook’s death revolves the anticipation of Something Else.

Another parallel can be drawn to broadcast TV. In spite of cable, satellite and Internet-based on-demand video services, broadcast TV continues to survive.

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Why? Because like other markets, the networks have a leadership share that’s hard to overcome. CNN, Fox, ESPN, Netflix, the Weather Channel, etc., may carve their niches, yet they cannot overcome the economies of scale that other networks have. As a result, the original broadcasters continue to purchase quality programming with top actors and newscasters, and sporting events like the NFL and the Olympics. Individual competitors can’t compete on this level day in, day out. As a result, a portion of the U.S. population retains a very basic brand loyalty.

Like AOL and the original broadcast TV networks, Facebook is never going to die. It will acquire other properties like Instagram. It will dwindle, it will likely decline, but Facebook will never disappear. The network is too big to completely fail.

What do you think?

Featured image by Louhan.

Overvaluing Twitter

Scale-A-Week:  25 November 2010
Image by puuikibeach

Given the increased focus on “Twinfluence” thanks to measures like Klout, there are many organizations eager for success with so-called influencers (at least by Twitter metrics). Though some of these measures integrate more than just Twitter, they tend to be extremely 140 character centric. That may be a huge mistake for companies and nonprofits who overvalue the importance of Twitter in the larger social web context.

Let’s start with the fact that Twitter doesn’t even represent a strong minority of the U.S. population. According to Twitter’s last update in September, the network has 145 million members worldwide. Yet regardless of the number of accounts worldwide, active users are estimated to be significantly less. One study released a year ago pegged the active rate at 21%. Can you imagine literally reducing Twitter follower counts by 79% to get the accurate number?

How does this translate to the United States? According to Edison Research, while 87% of Americans are aware of Twitter, only 7% are active users, or approximately 21 million Americans. Compare that to the 41% who are active Facebook users (approximately 123 million Americans).

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Want more statistics? Pew Internet pegged Twitter usage at 8% of the American population. The numbers get worse, according to Pew. Only 6% of American households grossing more than $75,000 use Twitter. Additional analysis reveals that 48% of all active account users check other users’ updates every few weeks at best. Half of your followers are not listening!

This should tell a communicator that only 3.5% to 4% of Americans are actually using Twitter AND are actively reading their update streams. It sure seems like marketers are spending a lot of investment on influencer programs for a relatively small percentage of the population.

So why all the hype still? Unlike Facebook, Twitter is public and searchable (see Google Social Search story). And that makes Twitter imminently more friendly to two key stakeholder communities; marketers and content publishers, such as the media. Given what marketers and media companies do professionally, everyone hears a lot of noise about Twitter, but that awareness has not converted to actual usage (thus Edison’s very revealing statistics).

In 2009, the New York Times has attributed 10% of its web site traffic to Twitter. But according to Pew that gives the New York Times access to three audiences; young adults, minority internet users, and of course, urbanites. At that, consider that these are still small percentage of these demographics. What about the other 96% of the country?

One can have a lot of success with Twitter. But it is not the primary social network, and one with a lot of inactive accounts and relatively limited portion of the population. Proceed with caution if your market needs to reach more than this limited group of communities.

More importantly, make sure you know who your communities are, and where they like to talk. Don’t over value Twinfluence. Given that 92-93% of Internet using Americans don’t actively use Twitter, consider looking elsewhere an essential part of your research.

What do you think? Is Twitter overvalued as a medium?

3 New Knowledge Layers About Twitter

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They say that life is like peeling an onion. Every time you think you understand it, a new layer is peeled, revealing more about the onion. Recently two separate documents — the Pew/Internet study on Twitter and an Ad Age article on Twitter trends — shed new light on the social network and its use. While the Pew report was well discussed, there were a couple of critical points which were overlooked. Here are three takeaways from the two studies:

1) Approximately 1/2 of Twitter isn’t listening. Consider the above chart from Pew. A whopping 48% of Twitter users don’t check other users’ updates frequently (at best every few weeks).

That means a lot of accounts broadcast without two way dialog. Twitter dubs itself as an information service, but if no one checks then information is not getting spread as far as one would be led to believe. This amazing stat blows a hole into a lot of metrics purported by marketers claiming reach on Twitter. It’s likely these are the same marketers who create corporate accounts that broadcast tweets on accounts with little engagement…

2) People care less about celebrities on Twitter than one would think. So much has been made about Twitter and the mega-accounts created by Hollywood types with millions of followers (in spite of their zero influence). But as the following AdAge chart of top ten topics from last week shows, people don’t talk about them. In fact, they talk about jokes and games of wit more than anything else.

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3) The digital divide is falling on Twitter, according to Pew’s research. The U.S. demographics on Twitter have the social network leaning towards Latin and black users. 18% of hispanic adults use Twitter, 13% of black adults use Twitter, and only 5% of white adults are on the information network. The Ad Age article notes that hashtags featuring games of wit (who’s snark is best) often start in the African American community.

Conclusions

This news (particularly points 2 and 3) is great! It’s refreshing to see tools used in the manner that reflects the preferences of communities that adapt it. While mass media celebrities and marketers broadcast on Twitter (point 1), they aren’t necessarily listened to… Instead, an entirely different social network is developing, one that doesn’t match the criteria of pop social media. Let the witty hashtag games continue!

It’s also encouraging to see that Twitter has become a leading information exchange for minorities. Ironically, the primary news about the Pew report dubbed the overall U.S. adult adoption rate at 8%, but didn’t focus on the leading communities. Perhaps there’s more to discuss about the digital divide, and how news is reported about it online. In either case, the news is encouraging with a primary social network leading the way towards equal access of information.