Stop looking for hacks.

I had a really interesting exchange with someone who is fairly well respected in the Facebook marketing community today on Twitter named Andrew Foxwell.

For those that don’t know Andrew, he runs Foxwell Digital all with his partner (in more ways than 1) Gracie Foxwell. They’re a stellar team that has earned his praise from industry leaders such as Jon Loomer and has worked with some really impressive brands. More than that though Andrew is always giving out pretty stellar advice on Twitter, and for those of us in the digital advertising world, it’s clear he is one of the better Facebook advertisers out there.

The exchange we had today is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. First, we hit on a recency bias that is prevalent in the digital marketing world. Which, to some degree, I understand. You want to get in on the next Facebook before it’s overrun with advertisers. In addition being the first or an early mover into a promising new area is a great way to build authority. People crave it, and it’s hard to keep up with demand, but it is what it is. I think one thing though that I thought of when I saw his original tweet was something else entirely. It was a trend that I absolutely hate and yet have no idea how to handle as both a marketer and a content creator. That trend?

The bias towards “hacks”

There have existed, do exist, and will exist system exploits. Whether that’s in advertising or anything else, they are there and someone will use them to make money. My rant isn’t some sort of denial of their existence. My rant is about this very unfortunate trend towards marketers caring primarily, or only about finding the next hack.

First, what do I mean by “hack”? So I’m defining hack as something that primarily finds some sort of loophole or unfair advantage inside of a system, and in this case a digital advertising platform. Typically it will look something like a video game cheat code but IRL. Basically, you do some out of the box, odd, or downright counter intuitive practice, not because it per say makes sense or it follows advertising best practice, but because it takes advantage of some weird platform quirk. An example might be bidding $500 cost per click because the platform over prioritizes high margin bids over other factors to some absurd degree that means you always get the best inventory for the same or a lower price. Maybe it’s that if you run a video in a lead campaign where you pay by the cost per lead, and you make the form super overly complicated so that your video is seen millions of times but no one ever fills out the form so you get tons of impressions for nothing. Things like that.

People crave these, and it’s easy to see why. When we all only talk about our biggest wins, and never about our losses, it creates a culture where everyone, even true experts, mostly feel inferior all the time. So you start wondering what you’re doing wrong, abandon your experience and skills, and start looking for the quick fix to save your clients and your business. It’s to some degree understandable, but it is almost always counter productive for a number of reasons.

Here’s the hard truth.

  1. No guru is going to sell you a course or tell you for free about an exploit like this until it’s no longer useful to them.
  2. Finding and chasing hacks doesn’t make you into a better advertiser. In fact it actively makes you worse. Rather than honing your skills and learning advertising fundamentals you never have time because you’re panicking about finding the next hack.
  3. Finally, you’re building a house of cards. You will eventually run out of hacks and when you do clients will bail. You’ll be basically playing an anxiety inducing confidence game where you can never get ahead because your retention is shit. You will be on the treadmill forever. The big win that you think will get you out will never come.

So I now find myself in a predicament. I love making content. It’s my favorite thing. Honestly if I could I would probably just make content about marketing all day every day. I want to make great content that helps people learn, and grow, and live their dreams. I try my best to make that sort of thing. The truth is though is the handful of “hack” videos I have out there drive probably 80% of all my reads, views, engagement etc.

It’s a sinking feeling. I want to teach people to be better marketers, but they all just want the secret shortcut that doesn’t exist. Ultimately I want to create cool stuff, but I also want to meet people where they are and produce content they want. I’m trying to figure out how to reconcile these things. Maybe it means I need to step up my content game, find some sort of middle ground, spend more time on production value. I honestly am not sure.

I also want to be clear I know this isn’t something that is just in the marketing industry. It’s endemic to everything in life and in every industry. Hell, my kid wants to eat more chocolate chip pancakes but he needs broccoli. All of us, at least until we change our mind set, want to cheap win until we become disciplined enough to go for the hard but valuable wins.

I’m being genuine when I say I want to hear your ideas. Let me know what you think in the comments. As with all good things testing is probably the best way to figure out this balance. My first instinct is to take the “spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down approach.” to this issue. Figuring out ways of showing the hacks, but then explaining how this isn’t sustainable and if their goal is “X” where X could be cheaper media, higher click throughs, more leads, whatever, I would focus on these other things instead. Showing the fundamentals but teaching the core skills. Basically being a high school science teacher who has the power of fire to compete with iPhones so he can try and teach people what an electron is in between explosions. Not sure if it will work, but on some level I have to be true to myself, and myself wants people to become better marketers and not run on the digital hedonistic treadmill. I want to be known for my content and frankly I want my content to directly or indirectly propel me to the place I want to be professionally, but not at the expense of substance.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

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