Each time Site Strategics CEO Erin Sparks and Digital Media Director Tom Brodbeck kick off an episode of their award-winning EDGE of the Web podcast, you can count on hearing the latest in digital marketing news. In Episode 304, special guest Mark Schaefer joined in to provide commentary and analysis on the week’s news:
The Golden Age of Podcasts
- Erin Sparks: We’ve been into podcasting here since 2004 and we love it. Unlike other text-based news and blog channels that have gone through waves of centralization and disruption, podcast has remained stubbornly decentralized, and I like it that way! You can dial right in to listen to your niche interest. There are dozens of podcast players and aggregators, but there’s no single gatekeeper. In other words, there is no Netflix of podcasting. But now you’ve got Spotify trying to do exactly that with the purchase of Gimlet Media, a startup podcast network, and Anchor, a company that provides creators with tools to build, publish and monetize podcasts. Spotify paid $340 million for these companies, which is a lot given that the entire industry was only valued at $317 million in 2017.
- Tom Brodbeck: The stats in this article are impressive: According to a CBS News poll, there were 20 million more people regularly listening to podcasts in 2018 compared to the previous year, which is a 50% increase. An average of 575 podcasts were started every day in 2018. Chartable tracks over 670,000 podcasts in the Apple Podcasts directory, and more 210,000 of those published their first episode in 2018.
- Mark Schaefer: Stories like this make me nervous. When the headlines start saying podcasting is the hottest thing ever right now, then you know will happen. The big companies will get involved and then we could lose that decentralized melting pot of podcasts, which we all agree is a big part of why we love podcasts. It could end up being institutionalized, the smaller players will get pushed out as the production value standards keep going up and up. Then there will be more promotion by those players with the resources to put into it, and networks will start to form. It’s a pattern that happens in every platform. There was a time when there were lots of TV networks, then everything consolidated down to a few. Same thing with social networks, where there used to be dozens. Now something like 98% of all social marketing dollars go into six or seven platforms. I’ve had the Marketing Companion podcast for six years, so maybe we can ride out what will inevitably be a content shock coming when the pattern plays itself out.
- Tom Brodbeck: But remember that podcasting is hard to do well – especially when you’re first starting out. So that might keep a lot of potential players from jumping in. The other factor that’s important here is that it’s still not that easy to find the podcasts that interest you most. Discoverability is still a challenge. The hosting platforms don’t have good ways for podcasters to promote their offering. The growth in podcasting has outstripped the technological capacity of the platforms to keep up.
Social Media Influences: Should They be Regulated?
Special guest Mark Schaefer wrote this story on his own website, asking the question: Is it time to regulate social media influencers? After all, when social media influencers are less-than-scrupulous, you can end up with disasters like the Fyre Festival fiasco. And yet his short answer the question of regulating them is solid NO.
- Mark Schaefer: They are already regulated to some degree. Back in 2013 the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) came out with a disclosure regulation, and it’s being ignored by a lot of people. This is why it’s not always clear when content is sponsored, and it’s supposed to be clear. But how do you monitor hundreds of thousands of social media influencers creating millions of posts? The FTC tried to get the word out by cracking down on a few high-visibility examples like Kim Kardashian, but it’s clear that the regulation is nearly impossible to enforce. Secondly, the burden should be borne not by the influencers themselves but the companies who hire them. Those companies should be vetting them and managing them just like other hires so then the FTC could focus on the companies and not the influencers. Thirdly, although I don’t have any evidence to back this up, I’d be willing to bet that more than 95% of influencers don’t even get paid. Many of them do what they do because they love it, and that covers most influencers (who are more like micro-influencers or nano-influencers). A lot of B2B companies use these kinds of influencers and don’t pay them at all, or maybe give them some free gear or swag. The influencers are willing to do it because they’re getting exposure. There are very few of the high-visibility, glamorous, wealthy influencers. I’m defending all those other influencers who are owning their voice and doing what they love.
- Erin Sparks: Regulation is always a slippery slope. You had some really huge influencers promoting the Fyre Festival, which turned out to be a disaster. But the influencers didn’t know that the whole thing was going to be a wreck. But having said that, shouldn’t the influencers also be vetting what they’re asked to promote to make sure it’s legitimate?
- Mark Schaefer: The influencers promoting Fyre Festival didn’t know it was going to be a bust. They’re actually the only ones who did their job! The people in charge of the festival totally failed to deliver. But I give the influencers the benefit of the doubt. If you’re given a stellar presentation of what the event is going to be and who is involved and it all looks good, then the influencers are going to promote it. The disaster wasn’t’ their fault.
FTC Cracks Down on Fake Amazon Reviews in Landmark Case
As reported by Mariella Moon in Engadget, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) gave the fight against fake product reviews a boost by taking action against a weight-loss supplement company selling its product on Amazon and purchasing fake reviews from amazonverifiedreviews.com, with the express aim of achieving and maintaining an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars. Amazon has been trying to reduce fake reviews for years, so it welcomed the FTC action, which included fining the company $12.8 million. The supplement company have to pay the full amount of the fine.
- Erin Sparks: This is another story of government regulation in digital marketing space. It still seems like a slippery slope to me. And how did the FTC come up with that $12.8 million figure for the fine?
- Mark Schaefer: It’s similar to the influencer discussion because product reviews do influence consumers. My only question is why this took so long. I remember reading a story at least several years ago where Carnegie Melon had come up with a tool that could identify fake reviews with something like 90% accuracy. Amazon is supportive of the FTC action because they know fake reviews lessens people’s trust in their platform, but Amazon could have tackled this issue better a long time ago.
- Tom Brodbeck: It does seem that Amazon bears a good deal of responsibility for not doing more sooner.
- Mark Schaefer: Absolutely. There was a well-known author who was buying fake reviews for his book. And it was so obvious that when the author was speaking at a conference, and audience member called him out on it and the author became so flustered he admitted on stage that the reviews were fake. That book had something like 250 reviews. But people pay attention to this stuff and the incident went viral and his next book only had something like 25 reviews. Amazon battling fake reviews is very similar to Google battling black-hat SEO techniques. They’ll eventually get it right.
Connect with Mark Schaefer
Twitter: @markwschaefer (https://twitter.com/markwschaefer)
Latest book: Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins
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