Why a Refocused Emphasis Needs to Be Put on AI and Not on Social

'History doesn't favor Facebook'

Too much ad spend is being dedicated to platforms rather than emerging tech. - Credit by Getty Images
Headshot of Jay Friedman

When the first trans-Atlantic cables were laid to connect the U.S. and Europe with the telegraph, it was believed the world would finally begin to understand each other. Similar claims were made with the introduction of radio, the internet and now social media. Facebook long wanted to “make the world more open and connected,” but recently revised this to “Give people the power of community to bring the world closer together.”

Stronger human connections don’t appear to be happening, though. Thirty-one percent of Facebook users have changed their settings to be less connected to friends because of politics. Most of us have had the experience of opening up Facebook only to see a post that infuriates us. Despite past leaps forward in technology not bringing us closer together, I still believe there is hope.

For advertisers, there needs to be hope. There needs to be change. Brands will surely discover they’re advertising all too often in toxic environments in what, on any other site, would not be considered brand safe content.

Just when no one thought anyone could overtake Xerox in the 1970s, along came IBM. Then Microsoft. Then Google. History doesn’t favor Facebook.

An AI-driven (not AI-enabled) platform that forces curiosity, disallows rants and fake news and helps people learn about each other’s perspectives is possible with today’s technology.

When we follow someone on existing social platforms, we are provided with an experience into the whole person (or at least the person they want us to see). When I follow an ad-tech reporter on Twitter, I read their tweets about ad tech but also rants about the NYC Subway system. Twitter provides a quick synopsis into someone else’s thoughts at that exact moment. But when we friend someone on Facebook, it’s laborious to filter what we see about them and too easy to fully mute or unfollow them. Facebook has created an experience that can be unpleasant and is too often crowded.

The solution to better social networking and better marketing on these platforms can be broken into three stages.

Product innovation

A simple solution to the overcrowded social experience is for platforms to enable people to create, follow or subscribe to streams. Social isn’t working because platforms aren’t allowing users to innovate and create their own experiences that are tailored to their needs. For instance, I might choose to have dedicated Twitter streams for ad tech, FC Barcelona soccer and hip-hop music. My followers can decide which of those streams they follow, effectively filtering the noise and clutter of today’s platform. Those that follow me for my ad-tech thoughts would be spared my thoughts on the new Lil Wayne album, and vice versa.

Why stop at Twitter? Even LinkedIn can benefit from the ability to filter content, given the vast range of topics most of us follow and want to learn about. And what a boon to marketers. An ultimate taxonomy of the world’s interests will bring data to marketers and enable better ad targeting in a privacy-friendly way. Users are signifying their exact interests in black-and-white, making it easier for retargeting and hyper-personalization efforts.

Refining AI

Second, refined AI techniques can and will play a major part in shaping our communication and bringing us together. On the platform side, it can be as gentle as showing less of what users have no interest in or as forceful as cautioning or suggesting alternate ways to word a social post. AI cautioning against inflammatory or counterproductive content to the dialogue the platform is trying to create will go a long way in reducing political scandals and racism-fueled debates.

Specifically, for consumers, a user-adjustable version of AI could help different people choose how aggressive they want their feeds to be adjusted and to filter through relevant content. For marketers, AI can help determine the level of safety they require within the environment where their ad appears.

New platform for the curious

Finally, continuing the thought of more aggressive AI, there is room for a social network platform for the curious. President Obama called social networks an echo chamber and encouraged voters to get out and speak with each other. But what if technology really could enable us to learn from each other? An AI-driven (not AI-enabled) platform that forces curiosity, disallows rants and fake news and helps people learn about each other’s perspectives is possible with today’s technology. We have made sufficient progress in social psychology and neuroscience to create the first pieces of a platform such as this.

And what better place for an ad than an environment that people are forced to be open-minded? Marketers will have an easier time engaging with users by providing insightful ads that aid and are catered to their experiences.

Facebook is the dominant platform in social media, and it does not appear to be bringing us closer together. For brands and marketers combating brand safety, Facebook as a platform has not been anyone’s best friend.

Social is not the answer. In fact, it’s causing more problems than if we were to simply communicate with one another. While consumer perceptions of Facebook are down, it also brings down the credibility of partners and content on the platform.

As an industry, we must all come together to decide how to combat brand safety and create an environment where everyone is safe to share their ideas and opinions. Social platforms should also be a place where marketers and advertisers shouldn’t have to worry that their ads aren’t being shared next to unsavory content. What we need is change from all angles, whether it’s from the human touch with innovation or the robot touch with incorporating AI. The fact is that social media is doing more harm than good.

Today’s social networks are not the answer to bringing the world closer together. For marketers, social in its current form is not the answer to successful, safe brand building. The major social networks today must embrace significant change or become the Xerox of the 2020s.


Jay Friedman is president and partner of Goodway Group.