2200 words, 8 minute read.
A hammer, a machine gun, social media – using force multipliers for good and bad
The below is a Facebook Ad I ran to a subset of Irish TDs. It cost me €1.65 for 39 of them to see it. €0.04 per TD. I would think most didn’t even know it was an ad.
(When Facebook advertising started it was for the U.S. only so I created a U.S. account and this is why my prices are in dollars)
Wikipedia definition of Force Multipliers
factor or a combination of factors that dramatically increases (hence “multiplies”) the effectiveness of an item or group, giving a given number of troops (or other personnel) or weapons (or other hardware) the ability to accomplish greater things than without it
Using digital tools for PR tactics, common enough
Years and years ago a client’s friend had a communications crisis with their firm and asked me how they could solve it. Sadly their board took the advice of a traditional PR company who said shut everything down, say nothing and it will blow over. When you Googled about this issue, the first two pages were mostly negative news articles about it and their website was at the bottom of Page 1. When you Googled their name you got their website and the next 8 results were negative results. You mostly can’t get articles with bad coverage removed from Google. Instead you have to make positive or neutral articles to rank higher than these. Working with bloggers and pumping out PR over the next few months was the solution that worked in this case.
Using Wikipedia to push an agenda
Nowadays if you google that issue, the first result for it is a Wikipedia article of the company with a section about that crisis. Page 2 has some of the original bad news articles but nobody reads Page 2 of Google. That Wikipedia article was created by someone not connected to the company but who did it to aid the company. The article had some basic company history and a section on the crisis. Wikipedia articles always rank well. The Wiki article has been slowly changed over time to add more company facts so the crisis section is one of many sections on the Wiki article. The facts on the Wiki are all true verified facts but the narrative is positive towards them. Years back I did a talk on Crisis Communications that covered some of these areas, I need to update this as I’ve learned so much since.
With media people being under huge pressure to produce quantity over quality and despite media articles shitting on Wikipedia so much, the media copies and pastes from Wikipedia the whole time. Now look at the start of this article … who came up with that definition of Force Multipliers? I didn’t check, how many check where their Wikipedia information came from?
Influencing the influencers with digital
For another gig I researched how teens decided what colleges to apply for. For Leaving Cert students, one factor that actually influenced them moving away from home to college was their mothers. Mammy Power. Mammy could veto a move to some college based on her perception. So to keep Mammy happy we sent Facebook ads to Mammy. The kids don’t use Facebook but their parents and Grannies do (and those that think they can market to Leaving Cert students on Facebook). We also boosted articles about how great the college was to those Mammies. “Don’t take our word for it, look at what the Irish Times have said.” Was there a PR pitch to that paper with that Mammy angle you ask? Hmmm.
A State body a while back asked me to research how an American startup built up their media profile so quickly. At that stage they had been in the Wall Street Journal, Techcrunch and all over “the blogs”. Lots of research later and we had a plan on how Irish companies could build up their media profile like they did. What was lovely about what they did was that they started building relationships with specific bloggers that wrote about that industry area. The startup was small but they gave advanced access to the smaller bloggers who never get exclusives and spend most of their time reporting what was already covered and rewriting Mashable type sites. Uncritical coverage in fairness. Then the company started doing PR with larger blogs, who when they Googled their name (as media always do) and they saw positive coverage and also “seemed” to copy and paste these opinions. And then the company went up higher again to the big media sites and eventually to “traditional” media types. All iterations. Influencing the influencers who influence the Influencers. Boy does this work well. See Mark Ecko on “swag bombs”.
(Aside: In the Digital Strategy Workshops I do, we always find the satellites of influence of your clients, same idea, not at all new to marketing people and PR people have done this since they did a great PR job of getting propaganda changed to PR post World War I)
Ryan Holiday talks about this in Trust Me I’m Lying where he had Wikipedia articles created that referenced facts he seeded on smaller blogs that then got copied into articles from bigger media orgs. Then he edited the Wikipedia pages to reference the new media coverage. Wiki article says “according to Xblog Company Z made 10 million dollars”. Later the New York Times copies this fact in an article. Then changed Wiki article to “according to New York Times Company Z made 10 million dollars” and removed the old blog reference.
So far this is slight use of digital for what are traditional PR tactics…
Along Comes Facebook
Facebook is a political tool or a political weapon, mostly a weapon
One of the biggest protests ever in State history was the water charges protest and the Irish Times didn’t even assign someone to cover it as it wasn’t in their bubble. FF, Sinn Fein, FG, Labour all misjudged this issue yet everyone on Facebook saw the updates before, during and after. Millions on Facebook saw the size of the crowd and the videos.
A hammer is a tool, is a weapon, is a negotiating tactic, is a precise instrument. She who holds it, decides what it is. Back to that Facebook Ad to TDs.
For €0.04 each I got a positive news story about Ireland into their timelines. And one clicked it.
I did the same with a bunch of Cork politicians with a ‘local kid does well” story into their timelines:
What was great about that is while I paid next to nothing for them to see it (€1.55) just €0.036 each, some of them shared the story to their connections and so I got an extra 178 free views from this. (you only see the paid views above)
So the cost per view was actually €0.007 – 0.7 of 1 cent! This is what makes Facebook so utterly scary. The ads to reach people are cheap but when they interact with your ad you get a lot more people to see it and the politician or whoever it is spreads the story on your behalf.
Changing election results with your pocket money?
I have also run tests where some of the Advisors to TDs and Ministers saw an ad from a Facebook Page of mine that shared a news article. This was a much smaller list but we are getting “news” into the timeline of people that have strong influence over Ministers and TDs.
And yeah I ran some tests where I got news stories into the timelines of political correspondents. These tests as you can see are single digit euro budgets.
So basically you can get stories into the face of a large number of national politicians, local politicians, their advisors and those who write about these people and who these people read, for mere pennies. Fucking! pennies! get! you! this! influence! Now, consider multiple Facebook Pages with slightly different takes on things going into timelines of this bubble = “oh my God everyone is talking about this, what are we doing about this?”
What it really means is = Look at all the ads in my bubble who are targeting me. Again, none of this is new for people that work in PR and marketing. Just like you run ads in the Farmers Journal if you sell to farmers.
This is what some of the Brexit campaigners did. Business People for Brexit, Muslims for Brexit, Catholics for Brexit, Racists pretending to be Patriots for Brexit, Doctors for Brexit. Each one of these groups had a set of talking points specific to them and for their audience and off they jaunted with them. Decentralized but with the talking points decided by 1 person.
Read “All Out War” to understand the not-rocket-science stuff that the Leave Campaigns did. We’re seeing this in Ireland around Repeal the 8th. 10 people or less seem to represent 20 different groups but all seem to have the same mailing list. And they always get into the media.
Targeting a constituency
€67 – the cost to me if I want 16,000 people in a constituency to see a news story in the next 24 hours about their TD who barely got in at the last election.
Force multiply that article about your local FF TD who voted against the Repeal Referendum, for example. If 500 less people gave them their number 1 and left them off the ballot paper or put them way down the line, would that be enough to lose their seat? €67 spent by someone else could cost you €90k a year, outside of expenses. 0.07% of your salary. That’s a force multiplier.
(Light entertainment break)
And this is a force multiplier:
Force Multipliers for Media Coverage
Just like you can use Facebook to send updates into timelines of politicians and political media you can do the same for many different media types. A client recently got themselves on television. A follow up press release was sent out to the media “as seen on T.V.) which got them a little more coverage, here the media came to them after the release with new angles for their publication. Great! Then a promoted update from them was also sent out on Facebook to media types and that got them more media coverage too. Being in the media can get you into more of the media and doing this with a proper strategy can get you into it on a regular basis.
Using all this media coverage, you then do a promoted update to the type of client they wanted with a “As seen on T.V. and in the Times and Indo”. The Sunday Times got crap recently for boosting Facebook posts. I like this idea. Up to now I’ve only seen media boosting posts that are editorial so they can hoodwink sponsors and say “10,000 people on Facebook saw our editorial about you”. Getting into the media is not the end of that PR cycle, it can just be the start.
Force Multipliers for stakeholders
Getting companies into the Irish Times or Sunday Business Post despite their potential clients not being readers still makes sense if you look at who their stakeholders are. Potential investors, existing investors, business partners and media types will be reading it. Investors seeing coverage of their investment will appeased them and give them golf course bragging rights. It’s amazing that you may be burning through cash but an investor seeing their name in a paper can keep them at bay for another while. A positive side-effect is that traditional media coverage gets you nice Google results too as media orgs have really good Google rankings. So when your name is Google, a front page of positive views.
If you’re a B2B organisation then marketing on Facebook at first doesn’t make sense. There are better places to do marketing but if you want to build your reputation then targeted ads to the decision makers in organisations can work. Be nice if a CEO came in on a Monday and said “I keep hearing about this CRM company, look in to whether we should be using them.”
Whoever your stakeholders are, you can get into their Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter timelines directly or indirectly. You can use Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and Twitter to influence people even when they are not using these places because those who do influence them are in these spaces. You’re really only two hops away from both online and offline people on social media.
And all of this within “the rules”.
And you don’t need the liars in Cambridge Analytica to do this (like they had the brains to do it)
And all of this is adhering to data protection and is legal. You don’t need to hack Facebook and download data to do this and that is not how they won the election in America or how Brexit was won. However a be-bubbled media really want to unlose the Vietnam War of their generation – Trump and Brexit.