Front Porch Paranoia

Two Christmases ago, we received a Ring doorbell as a gift. If you’re unaware of Ring doorbells, they are video doorbells to be used at the front door of your home. They serve as a sort of security camera for your front porch.

We asked for the Ring doorbell because our front door has no windows and installing a glass door would have cost hundreds of dollars. So a Ring doorbell provides us the ability to see who is at our front door without having to open it.

We didn’t ask for the Ring because we’re afraid of evildoers. We’ve never had any packages stolen. We don’t usually have shady suspects roaming our streets. There are no children ding-dong-ditching us like my friends and I were prone to do when we were kids. We just wanted the convenience of a view out our front door without the high cost of installing a glass door.

Who’s Watching Your Porch?

This might sound a bit weird from someone who works in social media, but I’m a little bit paranoid when it comes to technology. However, working in social media is precisely why, I am paranoid when it comes to technology. I interact with that stuff all day, every day. I’ve seen enough to stay away from a lot of it.

All location services are turned off on all my devices.

When our daughter is born in April, you won’t see any pictures of her on the internet, much to the chagrin of our loved ones.

We don’t have a smart home.

We have no Alexa.

Siri isn’t around.

I’m simply not willing to trade my private conversations for the ability to order paper towels with the sound of my voice.

We have the Ring. We have a smart thermostat. But it all stops there.

Earlier this week, the New York Times published an article by John Herrman called, “Who’s Watching Your Front Porch?” It’s a great article about how Ring doorbells and other such devices have exploded in popularity the last couple of years.

He writes:

The growth of easy-to-install home-surveillance equipment, and in particular doorbell cameras, has changed American life in ways obvious and subtle. Marketed in part as a solution to package theft, which has grown alongside e-commerce, especially from Amazon, Ring has found an ally in law enforcement.

More than 500 police departments have partnered with the company, gaining access to a service called Neighbors Portal, which allows users to “ask Ring to request video footage from device owners who are in the area of an active investigation,” according to the company. (This footage is often shared by law enforcement with media organizations for broadcast segments.) Some police departments assist in marketing Ring devices to local citizens, in some cases offering government-subsidized discounts, according to documents obtained by Vice.

We have loved our Ring doorbell, but like the data from a voice-activated device, I am concerned about what happens to the raw footage and data streamed from my front porch.

I would never give law enforcement access to it unless I knew a crime was committed on my front porch, and I certainly don’t want some random person monitoring who comes in and out of my house on any given day.

To be honest, and this is all a bit off the path of the rest of this post, there is a lot that concerns me about Ring doorbells, data privacy, surveillance cinema, and other issues.

I am concerned about the data and privacy issues regarding video doorbells. But even more than that, I am concerned about the sociological issues that arise out of constant front porch surveillance.

Beyond the eery issues around the data captured by these devices is the social media platform that accompanies Ring devices.

The app is called Neighbors, and it’s baked into every Ring app.

It’s a Scary Day in the Neighborhood

Herrman explains Neighbors:

Ring encourages users to join Neighbors and share videos with locals, and provides fodder for other neighborhood social networks, such as Nextdoor, where conversations already skew paranoid. The company also selects videos from its users to be shared on Ring TV, a video portal run by the company, under categories such as “Crime Prevention,” “Suspicious Activity” and “Family & Friends.” The videos are, essentially, free ads: The terrifying ones might convince viewers to buy cameras of their own; funny or sweet ones, at a minimum, condition viewers to understand front-door surveillance as normal, or even fun.

In short, Neighbors is a hyper-local social media platform built around Ring footage and related conversations.

I have worked in social media for almost 10 years, and I have never seen anything like the Neighbors app, well, except Nextdoor. Both apps are filled with paranoid people who seem to be waiting for something suspicious to happen.

We’re more afraid of our neighbors than we have ever been.

The internet and social media have opened our eyes to the evil of the world, and we’re afraid it may be lurking across the street.

Greater Fear Despite Less Crime

Not everyone who has a Ring doorbell is afraid. We didn’t ask for one because we were afraid. But it makes sense that people who have video doorbells may be a bit more suspicious than those who don’t.

Ring doorbells are just one modern example of our increasing fear of the other.

We are more afraid than we have ever been.

Blame it on 9/11. Blame it on the internet. Blame it on whatever you want. But Americans have never been safer, and yet we have never been more afraid.

According to the FBI and Pew, violent crime decreased by over 50% in the last couple of decades:

Yet we are more afraid than we have ever been.

Why?

I think it’s the internet and social media. I think the internet and social media have exposed us to more evil than we’ve ever seen, and we’re afraid it will arrive on our doorsteps.

In 1993, you didn’t know if someone tried to break into your neighbor’s car at midnight last night. But today you can know that when they post their Ring footage to Facebook.

Even though it’s about half as likely for a property crime to happen to you today than it was in 1993, you’re more likely to fear it today. Why? Because you know more than you ever have.

I won’t be giving up my Ring doorbell anytime soon, but I’ll be more careful to avoid the over-informed paranoia of my neighbors and be better about waving at them.

Slow Cooker Sundays and Social Media Strategy

Every Sunday for the last three years, millions of people watch a man prepare a slow cooker meal while talking about the telecom industry.

It’s compelling. It’s sloppy. It’s brilliant.

Excuse Me, What?

John Legere is the CEO of T-Mobile, which is the third largest wireless carrier in the U.S. (behind Verizon and AT&T). He is a pretty interesting character. He would be pretty easy to spot in a crowd considering he always wears T-Mobile’s bright magenta.

He’s super active on social media and he interacts with people regularly, or at least someone does on his behalf (but I seriously think it’s probably him).

Every once in a while, a sponsored social media post from T-Mobile will appear in my Facebook feed, and every time I see it, I am impressed.

It isn’t a re-purposed TV ad made for social media. It isn’t an impressive discount on wireless service. It isn’t a celebrity pitching a new phone.

It’s a Facebook Live of T-Mobile CEO John Legere preparing a slow cooker meal in a kitchen while giving updates about T-Mobile, their competitors, and the telecom industry as a whole.

It is absolutely brilliant, and I smile every time I see it.

“But,” you may be wondering, “Why on earth does it make sense for the CEO of a major U.S. wireless carrier to spend his incredibly valuable time preparing a slow cooker meal on Facebook Live?”

That is a fair question. Let me explain why it is a brilliant strategy.

Rise Above the Noise

One of the biggest misunderstandings about marketing on social media is that it should basically be treated like a billboard or a radio advertisement.

A lot of people think social media is just another avenue through which to offer sales or discounts or some other kind of “deal” that will make people purchase a product or sign up for a service.

There is a bit of truth to that. Running paid or organic social media content offering some kind of deal or discount isn’t stupid or anything like that—it just probably isn’t the best and most effective use of social media for marketing purposes.

Why?

Why aren’t deals and steals and coupons the best use of social media?

Because it’s all just noise.

Social media is best used for marketing when companies or organizations or whomever use it to build a relationship with an audience and provide as much value as possible to the audience.

Social media is best used for marketing by creating community and building relationship. It is not best used for making a sale. Other avenues are better for that (like search or email).

John Legere’s Slow Cooker Sunday videos are brilliant because it’s advertising that rises above the noise.

Further, the video is clearly being recorded by someone holding a phone in their hand! The Facebook Live isn’t professionally done to look as clean as possible. That would make it feel more like an ad, and it would be more likely to become noise. By recording the Facebook Live with a shaky hand, Slow Cooker Sundays feels more like an authentic, impromptu, intimate piece of content instead of a polished TV ad. This all makes it more interesting.

The idea of a multi-millionaire CEO slow cooking sweet potato casserole on Sunday afternoon on Facebook Live is outlandish, and it is because it is outlandish that it gets my attention!

Once I watch some of these videos, T-Mobile can re-market to me on Facebook or other platforms because I watched the video. They can re-target me with more hard-sell promotional content.

“Now that he’s watched some of a Slow Cooker Sunday video, he’s more likely to consider T-Mobile,” is the logic, and it’s true! It’s unlikely that I switch off Verizon anytime soon because the deal we have is reasonable for our needs, but if ever did consider a switch, I would consider T-Mobile before I would consider AT&T, and it’s because I feel more affinity with them now that I’ve seen their CEO be goofy and have some fun.

Honestly, it just comes down to this:

The success of a social media strategy largely hinges on one metric: engagement.

Interesting content is more likely to generate engagement than uninteresting content.

A CEO prepping food for a crockpot is more interesting than a graphic with some discounts on it.

Therefore, a CEO manning a slow cooker is better social media content than a promo graphic.

Add in the fact that the guy recording Legere cook is holding the phone with his hand, and the video feels authentic, unpolished, and more intimate.

It really is brilliant. It’s brilliant because it’s different.

A Word on Social Media Strategy

One of the most common obstacles I come across when talking with people about social media strategy is this: marketers care about selling so much that they often forsake building community.

I’ve seen it all over the place. This isn’t a dig at LifeWay, trust me, but I am sure we are guilty of it too. It’s natural.

But, this is why I love social media: it isn’t supposed to feel like marketing.

I didn’t get a degree in marketing. I don’t care about conversion rates or sales numbers or anything like that. It all bores me. I know it is all important, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t get into the social media world because I like marketing.

I got into the social media world because I love people, and I love creating content that’s helpful and interesting to them.

Social media marketing is best done when the needs of the audience are considered more important than the needs of the company.

Social media is best done as a means of service, not as a means of selling.

Social media managers are really better considered “community managers.” They help facilitate community and discussion. They aren’t standing on a street corner with a bullhorn selling newspapers. They’re having people over for dinner and hosting discussion and perhaps providing some entertainment.

Social media managers need to represent their audiences in meetings within their company as much as they need to represent their company amidst their audience. Why? Because they’re listening to the wants and needs of their audience more than the executives are.

In order for a social media manager to best serve his company, he needs to think like an audience member and make the company prove why it should be paid any attention.

It is imperative that social media managers not get romantic about their company and subconsciously assume they will have their audience’s attention. Social media managers must fiercely evaluate the company’s social media content through the eyes of the target audience in order to make sure it is worth anyone’s attention.

The moment a company thinks its audience is coming to its social media platforms because they are wildly interested in the trinkets it is selling, it has lost. Attention cannot be assumed; it must be earned.

People don’t follow brands on social media because they want to be sold. People follow brands on social media because they want to build relationships with other people interested in the brand or with the actual people who make up the brand.

Sure, down the road the affinity and relationship that social media managers build will hopefully turn into better sales numbers for the company. But that isn’t the primary goal of the social media manager when he or she creates content every week.

T-Mobile understands this. Their CEO records video of himself cooking every Sunday because it helps build a relationship. It facilitates community and affinity. Not because those people are going to pause the video and go change their phone carrier.

Social media managers must not be terrorized by the tyranny of the urgent.

Social media strategy done right sees social media as a long game. It requires patience. It requires caring about an audience because of who they are, not just because of what they might buy from you.

Social media strategy done right requires compassion. It requires putting our audiences before our sales goals.

And I have a feeling that’s why so many people deploy bad social media strategies.

We’re more interested in what our audiences can do for us than what we can do for them.

We artificially inflate follower counts because we don’t care about building a tight-knit community as much as we care about building a hollow brand.

Bad social media strategy finds its roots in selfishness.

Good social media strategy is fueled by a focus on others.