Google, Apple, And Social Media Changes Rocking The Digital World In 2021

google analytics apple data tracking social media changes owned online content

In the first tumultuous weeks of 2021, a few major events occurred in the digital marketing world. While the mainstream publicity focused on the new pandemic economy, all the major social media and digital platforms banning Donald Trump, suspending right-wing platform Parler, and Republicans calling more fervently on Section 230 to be removed ... other impactful changes were made to content. 

Device Level Tracking Will Be Different

First of all, lots of marketers learned that Google would be following in Apple’s footsteps for blocking certain kinds of device-level advertising tracking. Secondly, around the world new privacy laws and court judgments are taking effect, such as the nullification of the Privacy Shield agreement. This decision, known as Schrems II (which was passed in court last July), means that unrestricted data transfers between the EU and US are no longer permitted, in essence expanding the GDPR scope. 

Don't Build On Rented Land

What does all this mean for your digital content? It means the same thing I’ve been saying since 2005: you own nothing on services that aren’t yours, that you don’t pay for. Your Twitter account? Your online content is leased from Twitter or any other platform and at any time the service may terminate your account. The same is true of Facebook, YouTube, and even that crusty old MySpace account that’s probably still out there under your name somewhere. You know the one, with the sparkles and Top 8 friends.

Organic Traffic Decline On Platforms

It was a huge wake up call around 2013 when Facebook page owners that made used it instead of their website started to lose organic traffic reach each year until now it's under 1%. YouTube views significantly went down as well for the average channel since around the same time as the platform became more congested and competitive. The same is still true to this day with Instagrammers, Snapchat users (to a much lesser extent now), and the latest soon-to-be victims: TikTokers.

These Facebook Pages operating as websites from 2010-2013 or YouTubers with no diversification should have invested in their own websites, email marketing, and SEO to back up their leased platform presence. And consider platforms like MySpace, Vine, Google+, and Tumblr fell off a cliff in terms of traffic and use, with Google+ closing completely in 2019 (after snagging all your data first since 2011) and Vine closing in 2016. And look at newer social media platform Parler, which was suspended from Google Play and Apple's App Store with it's web hosting revoked by Amazon Web Services (AWS).

What Do You Actually Own Online? 

Assuming you pay your bills, you own your website (if it is hosted by you and not hosted or Google-owned Blogspot, etc) and don't violate terms like Parler with AWS hosting) and domain name. You own your email marketing list. You own the data in your CRM and marketing automation software. You own your lists of phone number contacts. These are assets under your control, and you retain control of the relationship with your customers, so you should be building them up at all times. 

GDPR, Cookies, And Third-Party Data

As we see privacy and security ramp up substantially over the next couple of years, including a proposed federal privacy law in the United States as well as more stringent enforcement of international laws like GDPR, we must decrease our reliance on third-party data. From ad cookies to social networks, we should leverage those technologies while they’re available to attract attention, but always with an eye towards bringing audiences to the places that are ours, so that we own as much of the relationship as possible. Never build your home on rented land. 

How To Grow Your Owned Assets

What are the concrete next steps for you to take to grow your personal digital and offline assets under your direct ownership? If you don’t already have an email list and accompanying newsletter, now’s the time to start one. If you do have one, keep it clean and mail it with high-value content frequently. Run campaigns to grow your databases - text, phone, email. Invest more of your time, effort, and budget on properties you own. If you have a marketer who is spending 50% of their time on owned content and 50% of their time on social media, start moving them more towards owned content. Always publish your best stuff on places you own. For things you don’t or can’t own, like Facebook Groups, Slack groups, etc. make sure you’re offering frequent, valuable calls to action to your community to convert them to your email marketing list or SMS text message marketing list. 

Invest In Personal Online And Offline Assets

In more than 25 years of digital marketing, starting with my first website in 1994, I have never once regretted pouring effort and resources into things that are mine like websites, versus feeding a third party that doesn’t have my best interests at heart. I urge you to take a hard look at your overall digital marketing strategy, identify how dependent you are on third parties for data and access to your audience, and move your focus to your own stuff as quickly as practical.

Use Google Analytics And Tag Manager To Track

Second, the links on the landing page are tracked with Google Tag Manager, tracking each link click, which then shows up as an event in both Google Analytics 3 and Google Analytics 4. If I wanted to, I could specify those events as conversions, if I wanted to be able to do attribution analysis on it. More important, these two steps work in tandem. Google Analytics already assigns every unique visitor a random numeric ID, which you can then track and trace without any personally identifying information. So if someone downloads the book and then clicks on a link in the book to a converting page, Google Analytics will sew that data together

Gated Vs Ungated Content

This partially solves the quandary of ungated content. There are two schools of thought on it - one being “everything needs a registration so we know who the users are” and the other being “throw open the gates and let everyone in, don’t gate anything, and just let the market work itself out”. As a consumer, I dislike registration forms on everything. It creates friction and you lose a lot of viewers, readers, and listeners. As a data-driven marketer, I was uncomfortable just flinging my stuff into the wind and hoping it finds its way back to me. This approach, of using meticulous tracking that at least partially tracks - and feeds data into attribution systems - is a good compromise. I can give away the goods without giving up all the data. But you need to weight the pros and cons of gated vs ungated content for your own digital marketing goals. 

Retargeting ROI

If I wanted to get more sophisticated, I could add retargeting click tracking on all the links, so that anyone downloading one of my ebook or white paper files would be enrolled in a retargeting audience I could then track and advertise to later. That would be useful for a real business, but for a personal email newsletter, I felt like that was a little bit of overkill. Next time you’re faced with the gated versus ungated content quandary of gating, try my approach. It’ll give you enough data to report on the success of the campaign in aggregate while still satisfying users by not putting obstacles between them and the content they want. 

Stay On Top Of Tech And Content Trends

The digital landscape is changing significantly right now, even faster than it's usual breakneck speed. If you don't stay on top of the latest online news and build up your owned assets, your internet business could be left in the dust for 2021.

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