21 Oct 2016

Facebook Does Useful Things, Is Still Creepy

Facebook is a company with a vision and aspiration. The social media giant’s very public initiative to bring the internet to the poor and recent test of a ‘conversation topics’ AI demonstrate there is a drive in the company to push the boundaries of technology and bring the benefits to all.

But why does it always seem so creepy when Facebook does it? Its announcement this week that users could order food within the Facebook platform seems quite useful but more than a little possessive.

Fundamentally, Facebook has an image issue that it needs to address in its comms. This ‘creepiness’ vibe stems from all announcements circling back to some form of self-interest. It feels like the embodiment of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who is portrayed as money-driven and ruthless in the Hollywood adaptation of his rise to fame The Social Network.

Time and time again, the justification for Facebook to expand its services has been to either gather more data around the user, or to use this data to sell something to the user.

Why can Google, another internet giant renowned for hoarding data on its users for use in advertising, launch products that blanket your home in wifi, automatically turn on your lights, sort your emails for you, or listen to your voice largely get a pass from the media when it comes to the ‘creepy’ tag? Because these things are designed and messaged around making your life easier first.

As Facebook comes of age, it has to prove itself as a ‘real business’ with a viable business model for its investors. Part of that struggle appears to have meant communicating like a traditional enterprise. It sorely needs to recognise it is part of a new wave of enterprises that are built around relationships with their users. It needs to start to work on communicating what’s in it for them first if it is to start being less creepy.

Wall Street Journal Faces Revamp

As a flack, I am unable to refrain commenting on the activities of those on the other side of the fence (who we lovingly refer to as hacks). Sadly there hasn’t been much positive news to comment on as of late. Most of the focus has been around the industry’s struggle to shift business models away from advertising and print sales.

There’s sympathy to be had here – the ‘correct’ course is frankly non-evident at this stage. For every The Economist, which remains a widely read and purchased source of authoritative global thought leadership throughout all the changes, there’s a relative upstart like the Huffington Post, which has seen success riding the new wave of information sources.

It strikes me that the publications with a palpable identity and personality are the ones that have struggled the least (if not prospered) in the modern communications era. This is especially the case in tech media space. El Reg’s editorial staff roster has fared much better this past decade than its tech-news-driven competitors. Its reputation and cynical approach to reporting have made it the bane of many a flack’s existence – it famously isn’t allowed to Apple events. This fact alone would make many an editor wince at the lost clicks from an Apple launch article, but its continued commitment to its audience and publication identity appears to be paying off in the long run.

The venerable Wall Street Journal announced yesterday that it was having a revamp, with its print edition to become “livelier, sharper and more concise”. Whether the WSJ manages to keep its personality and identity or just ends up looking like Microsoft when it tried to use young people speak in its intern recruitment social media strategy, remains to be seen.

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