This post is most likely the most important one I have written, next to “The web is a Liquid“, “The 5 Cs of Viral Marketing” and “Quantum SEO – A shift from Einstein Relativity“. The past two years have been highly disruptive for online marketing, with the introduction of preference, personalisation and sentiment into the algorithms that govern the online world. Here I choose to call the “it” controlling all of it, The Index. Yes. It is a bit foil hat flirting, however, this is the new framework I will be working with, in order to reach results that will make people look like children on christmas. Enjoy! It will probably take you 30 minutes to an hour to read.
Where the connections started in my head
This summer I was fortunate enough to work with a client who wanted their sponsorship of a live event, be shared in digital media to a greater extent than before. The ROI was essentially reach and brand association with the event.
For some time I had been developing this theory that the messaging apps and p2p sharing of stickers etc was a real threat to brands visibility. However, I saw opportunity in the growth of Whatsapp, LINE, WeChat and the other big players.
What if, we instead of focusing on digital stuff to get reach in a digital world, started to convert people to believers in the real world and simply used the digital space for amplification?
This question grew in me during spring 2014 and I decided to implement some of those ideas on this event. In other words. I decided to turn the world into a website.
Turning the world into a website
The idea builds on using the same kind of conversion ideas as you do on a website, but onto the real world. This means you have to understand your users motivation, give a valid value proposition and limit the offer with an incentive to do it now. It means you have to lower the perceived friction and most of all, you have to remove any anxiety that the user might have.
In plain context of an event, this means creating a spot in the ground, or hanging a frame on the wall, which gives people a perfect reason to take photographs there. You call it a selfie spot, and anyone who passes, will get a perfect excause to take a selfie.
Just as you would with a signup to a newsletter on a website. You simply apply the theory that there is traffic, and then use whatever you know about the visitor in order to make them convert.
And converting is not about the big things. Just as it is fewer people who buy the Porche, then there is people sharing photos with themselves next to a Porche. No. Conversion happens when you end up in line with the visitors user journey, and somehow use your knowledge of their existence, being and needs, to enhance that user journey.
In terms of a festival for youth. This meant giving them a non-embarrassing way to take photos of themselves, telling the world that they were there. YES, they would have done this otherwise as well, however, they wouldn’t have used our props, our branding and our messaging if we wouldn’t have insterted our small little things into their path, which enhanced it.
Thus. Turning the world into a website, is creating conversion points along the users journey from a to b, giving them a reason to convert into whatever you feel you want to convert them too.
In this video you can hear me elaborate on this theory.
What did I learn from my experiment
Well. I learnt that it worked. In total, over the few days we were there, there were just under 120 000 people visiting the festival. From these 120 000 people we got a digital reach of at least 1.5 million people with an interaction on the posts being shared of approximately 5%.
Put into context, this amounted to about 11% of ALL photos, blog posts and shares being posted onto public forums and social platforms etc. So I believe it was a great test which can be optimized for even greater spread.
However. The result was not my greatest learning. The greatest learning came from the fact that we reached 10x of the initial traffic. I started to think. What the heck. When did I last receive a 10x reach on an input in a digital context?
We could see from the trackers that my prophecy of the instant messaging, wasn’t really true yet. However, something else was there.
A few days ago, everything fell into place for me. I started drawing, and I realised that it is not so much that we turned the world into a website, which got us the results. The results came from us being able to break outside The Index.
What is The Index
Since 1998 I have been working in digital media in one way or another. First as a quite crappy developer, then as a manager, then as a “strategist” and finally ended up where I should have been from the beginning – in the realms of tactics. Meaning, trying to figure out how things really work, and then use that knowledge to my advantage when implementing whatever it is that I have as the assignment in front of me.
The idea of the index stems from the notion that there is just so much content out there, that we need a sorting mechanism to surface what is important to us.
Back in the days of non-digital, this sorting was done by an editor at a newspaper. Today, in the digital context, this is done by algorithms. Google killed Altavista when they invented the algorithm based on PageRank, Facebook killed their opposition when they invented the EdgeRank, YouTube killed their competition… well, by using some broken form of index that is yet to be fixed, but they are the place to be, cause no one does it better than them.
Thus, The Index is used to sort information to us, so that we can live on with our happy lives without having to dig into too much shit in order to find the gold. From our perspective.
The Index Evolution
At first. The Index operates freely. It has transparent rules and those who know how these rules are applied, can easily “hack” the index and make a fortune out of it.
This was the case with Googles PageRank, and the case with Facebooks EdgeRank, AND with YouTubes version of PageRank as well.
However, after a while, as the abuse of the index becomes a problem for delivery, or for the authority of the platform, the businesses governing The Index makes it less transparent, more complicated and a lot less easy to decipher from a traditional perspective. Its purpose moves from bringing all the right content in, into holding the wrong content out.
Thus, the evolution of The Index, works very much like a early stage organization, where everyone is welcome at first. As popularity grows, you start getting goofy people gaining traction within the organization, which threatens its existence. This leads to a period of exclusion, where the evolutionary organization survives at it bullies out the people who are not “representative” of the groups social rules.
In terms of Google, this meant that they started excluding content, they found were abusive to their system. Meaning, anyone who had turned on The Index, by trying to cheat it, in order to get their content out on top of it, started getting excluded.
The world of SEOs shrinked as the simple tactics to reach visibility dissipated and were replaced with more complex means of ranking in the search.
The Introduction of the Sentiment
If the story would have ended there, I wouldn’t have given this more thought. The Index would have simply been a question of content delivery to the world, giving Google, and its index a serious power-position in world affairs. From business to politics, to every day life and decisions.
However, the story doesn’t end here.
As Facebook entered the market and brought their Like button along. All major players in The Index started to play around with sentiment. This meant that The Index started learning what to deliver, not to the world, but to each and everyone of us – individually.
The Index and its algorithms were updated to meet the preference of the receiver, and not any anonymous target group.
Google already had the early child of this, with their link algorithm, however, most consumers don’t link, and so they had to find their own signals in order to deliver the most important and preferable content to each and every single user.
Thus sentiment made the internet, and The Index all about pleasing me. The more it managed to please me, the more I would use it, as friction and anxiety would be extremely low, considering I only received opinions, products, ideas and other types of content, which I agree with.
The Business model of The Index
This leads me to the next part of this, which is about sustainable business models in the world of The Index.
Early indexes are immature. Almost gullible like a child. They are easy to fool and to toy around with. They trust you, and as marketers, growth hackers, and tactics players, we abuse that trust in order to get our points across.
Thus, the business model of an early version of The Index, lies in the hands of those outside the controlling the index. In terms of Google, this meant the SEOs, and in terms of Facebook, this meant the “Social Media experts”.
As content aggregates and The Index does its best to keep the trickery out, the balance of power shifts, and the opportunity for quick wins dissipate from the hands of the hacker and ends up in the hands of The Index controller.
As their power grows, advertising costs on the platform increase as more and more brands, people and other types of players (mainly other algorithms), compete for visibility. As personal preference algorithms become more and more skilled at content delivery, the more brands have to pay, in order to keep up the pace with the stuff that people really care about.
I mean, why should I care about a new detergent, when my sister in law uses one that she recommended for this specific type of spot. Why should I buy that dress, when my favourite blogger wrote I should buy another.
Whether we receive the content, effecting our behaviour, through The Index operating on Google, or when it operates the Social graph on Facebook. The Index is now in control, and it is giving the user exactly what he or she wants.
Anyone who wants to enter this world, without agreeing with the user, will have to pay the price.
The backside of The Index
This doesn’t come without cost. The Index controller of an early stage index is generally a human being. However, as content grows, the power and the real controller of The Index becomes the algorithm.
In fact. Humans go from controlling an index, to being an obedient servant of The Index.
There is simply no chance in hell, that a human can be as fast as an algorithm in determining what content best suits a single person. Thus it is also the fact that whoever designs an algorithm that can solve the preference ideals of a user, the fastest, will be the winner in the end. And so, the algorithms, although designed by humans, become self beings with the control over what we see, learn and believe.
This might sound a bit like a foil hat reasoning. However, you simply need to look at the algorithms controlling the financial markets, to understand that this is exactly what happens as content grows, transactions between users grow, and development of ranking derivatives gets better.
Another issue with the sentiment based index, delivering high usability and that is built with “the end user in mind”, is that it is information bias. Thus, it confirms and reconfirms peoples opinions that they already have, rather than help us find greater understanding in other perspectives. In a sense, the only one knowing the full scale of things, is The Index itself, as we as humans, groups etc, only see, know and believe what is confirmed by the information we see.
This is a huge challenge for us right now, as the digital open social platforms become increasingly governed by algorithms based on sentiment.
For a person with good intentions, wanting to bring peace to the earth, this development will only reconfirm his or her position and commitment to do this. However, it might also remove a bit of his or her incentive to do something about these beliefs considering the person only gets to see information which is filtered by The Index.
And, contrary, when you have a major belief, such as “climate change”, the reasoning behind “The Index” explains why the Tea Party Movement can be so resilient in their belief that it is a fraud, considering the majority of the content they see, is tailored to meet their belief that it is.
Same goes for racism that is growing in Europe. Same goes for politicians disconnecting from their electorate, same goes for virtually anyone operating and getting a majority of their information from digital media types controlled by The Index.
They might not understand why society is moving in one direction, when they, themselves are only fed information which reconfirms their already conformed opinions. Thus their resentment towards democratic structures, powers and people with a different opinion grows.
This goes against the non-filtered, non-indexed philosophy of the Internet, which advocated that the access to information would bring us closer to eachother. However, as the information increased to such extent that we needed The Index to take over the control, and as sentiment based analysis brought us only the content that we like, the opposite actually becomes true.
And thus the major challenge of The Index and The Internet, is now that it has turned from being an open space to interact, into closed nodes of conformed opinions, moving further apart.
Which also explains the evolution of p2p messaging systems, that totally exclude others from joining in the discussion. Bringing their ideas to the table.
What the power of The Index means to a marketer
This also explains why digital marketing is becoming increasingly difficult as visibility scores decrease more and more. Although we engage the same amount of people, by getting them to like our posts, comment on our blogs, link to our transactional pages etc – we do not get the same reach, influence growth nor visibility.
As The Index starts disregarding your information, as it is not the most preferred by an end user, you will have to start paying up to reach the same people you previously reached for free.
The price increase as more content, links and people enter the platform you’re on, or the Internet as a whole.
So. What is our way through this as marketers?
Some are left outside The Index
There are still entities in the digital world which doesn’t operate within The Index. An example of such are all platforms that operate on timestamps rather than on popularity or sentiment. Examples of such platforms are personal blogs and forums where users see the latest post or thread on top. Yes, they also see where most discussion is taking place, but usually, the most promoted content is what has been published most recently.
Same goes for some of the worlds news websites. The ones who haven’t confirmed to BuzzFeed click baiting, retargeting and contextual ads philosophies yet.
These platforms are unfiltered by The Index and are as such, opportunities for other perspectives to reach people around the world.
Using The Index perspective For Marketing
Skills you need to market within The Index
Let’s get down to the tactics of these bigger dystopian thoughts. I will not even begin to elaborate on what we have to do as a society. But as marketers, we have to ask ourselves three questions:
- Is the platform we are marketing on, a part of The Index, or is it still a gullible child?
- If mature, conformed to The Index, are there ways in which we can bypass it in order to leverage its algorithm?
- If too rigid and strong, are there ways in which we can run with it, give us what we want?
As we find the answer to these questions, we need to build tactics that suit them. And I will give a few examples below to show you how you apply the knowledge of the index to your marketing tactics.
Understanding Marketing through Nodes generated by the Index
But first we need to understand what the index does to us as groups online.
Essentially, as The Index blocks content that we may not like from our reach through various platforms. In plain text, as Facebook doesn’t show posts from Peter as you seem to hate Peters posts, and as Google doesn’t show you that 99.5% of all researchers finds support for Global warming, since you seem to be a member of the Tea Party movement.
This means that people with the same opinions and preferences end up with different sets of information, confirming their beliefs and opinions. Thus, content with one opinion or set of inputs will only reach the nodes which agrees with it.
Think of it as the web, at first being one big glass of water. If you poured syrup into that glass of water, then it turned into the colour of the syrup and might pick up its taste. The same was true for great ideas and great marketing online. As you put your idea into the web, it was shared between users, until all were contaminated or influenced by your perspective.
What the index has done, is to make the web, or turn that big glass of water, into several smaller shot glasses. If you pour syrup into one of them, the other ones won’t be affected with colour or taste. Same goes for an idea or marketing campaign. It will remain within one small community, and not reach other communities unless you use tactics to make it.
The segregated campaign structure
This also forces us to drop the integrated campaign structure and move towards the segregated campaign structure, where we let our marketing efforts take on different shapes and forms in different communities, nodes and in communication between people.
We need to have a 360 approach, without a 360 creative or messaging. We have to have a purpose to share an idea, offer or belief, but we also need to frame it – not in format – but in our complete messaging, if we want to reach through the nodes.
We also need to consider that there is no such thing as a strategy for Facebook or for Google, but there is a strategy for visibility that uses forums, facebook, google and a whiskey tasting session at a local bar in Paris.
Cause, if you understand how The Index operates, you also understand that turning the world into a website, might help you break through and enter nodes you otherwise would have been disregarded from.
Thus. Just two quick examples for now… just to set you off with some tactics.
1. Getting Facebook Likes – in the world of The Index
If your goal is getting Facebook Likes, then the best tactic might be to start a blog, embedding the posts from your Facebook page, posting the links from those blog posts into forums that are not filtered by The Index, entering the forum post links as you content for a Tweet, which discussion it then generates, is embedded to the blog post in order to create a second wave of promotion in the same cycle, all generating organic visibility for your content, between nodes, thus increasing your total visibility, reach and thus also ability to gain more likes on that post AND on your page.
You move inside The Index, then outside, then inside, then outside, then inside, then outside, poking new communities, preference bubbles and people along the way.
2. Getting reach on a Video – in the world of the Index
Let’s say I want my latest video, inserted into The Index through YouTube, to gain traction.
Once realising the power of The Index, it makes perfect sense that 80% of all views on viral videos are generated outside the platform. Knowing this, I must develop a tactic which breaks The Index and gets my content outside YouTube in order to make it visible.
Thus a mix of PR, spam (read purchases of advertising – non earned) and forum tactics are in place. Just posting a great creative and purchasing ads, will not make it viral.
- You need to employ viral tactics to the content in order to be shared with people within a specific node.
- AND use your knowledge of The Index in order to know where to turn to in order to reach to new nodes.
THIS is how you do tactics and marketing on the web of The Index, and I will try to build on this idea, just as I have built on the 5 Cs of Viral Marketing in order to give you a framework to work with when developing marketing tactics for yourself or for your clients.
Stay tuned as this perspective turns into tactics by registering for my newsletter which popup should be resting somewhere annoyingly overwhelming to the bottom right of this screen.
As I said. I believe this is the most important piece of content I have ever written. I am sure someone has written this before, however, this time it is me. I believe that there might be about four (4) of you out there who read this far in this post. So, for that I want to thank you for giving me your time, and make yourself noted in the comments so that I know who you are and can thank you individually!