Durban’s Facebook con shows why digital agencies need to demystify, not take advantage

Durban Grey

A story has broken in the South African media about an over the top Facebook campaign that is being run on behalf of the Durban municipality.

R500 000 for a 10 day campaign, comprising of two Facebook status updates per week, three picture uploads to Facebook, send a bulk email, tweet with the hashtag #welovedurban, upload YouTube videos, upload 20 Instagram images and advertise on its website.

An agency will be paid R500 000 for the above, skirting the tender process which is in place. There is, however, so much more at play here. This is the industry in which I make a living, and when I see bandits and conmen, I get mad.

It maddens me to see this, as it casts such a poor light on proper agencies actually doing good work for clients. Unfortunately, they will now be lumped in the same group as the team at this unscrupulous agency

Issue 1

The municipality says there are no other service providers. Ushaka, part of the municipality, has had a tender process every year for the last four years (minimum) which includes all the above services. At each time, companies register and there have always been a minimum of three agencies trying to get the business.

That makes 12 local businesses that exist in the supplier database. All it would take is a phone call to Ushaka, but maybe that’s asking too much. The current incumbent has been doing stellar work for them, adding it to its workload would have been easy.

Issue 2

There are at least 10 highly skilled, competent, ethical digital agencies in Durban that provide such services to massive clients. A quick google “digital agencies durban” brings them up. Is the public meant to believe that none of the 50 staff at the communications team could not use Google to, well, simply Google?

Issue 3

Social media can be done yourself, it’s true. However, you pay experts, or you learn how to do it yourself as it’s a cluttered medium (only 16% of your Page’s posts actually get seen) and it’s highly technical. Brands that want results, hire people who know what they are doing.

The campaign outlined would have had no impact. Do they honestly think that two statuses are going to make a difference? On average, a person gets 1 500 updates in their Facebook feed per day, and Facebook’s algorithm cuts that to 300. That makes two out of a possible 1 500 updates per week or 0.01 % a chance of being seen.

There is not a snowball’s chance in a Durban summer that this campaign ever would have worked, and any digital marketer worth his salt or who had a shred of ethics, would have told the client so.

We, as agencies, have a duty to demystify, not to take advantage.

Campaigns are tricky, but must always be evaluated in terms of final ROI. So what was it? Leads? Sales? Brand affinity?

Oh! It was to win a fabricated (more on this later) public vote in social media, with no discernible value to the municipality. Is it going to bring the city’s beaches more tourists? Fill up its hotels?

No. Not a chance. But it’s a cool logo that the city can slap everywhere to make it look good. It can stand at People’s Park and have muffins, and we can feel safe that at least we are doing right by the business owners and taxpayers who ultimately end up paying for this pack of lies.

Oh, and the Instagram shots? Are those stolen from other Instagram users without credit, or are those shot by the team? #hashappenedbeforeonthispage

Issue 4 – A fabricated “brand”

This is how it works: The Facebook Page, “We love Durban”, has taken advantage of the “031, we heart durban zeitgeist” that has prevailed in Durban over the last four years. The agency has grown the page, ostensibly to 100k people (a side note would be some analysis on the page to find out how many are actually real fans), but back to the main argument

So, the weekly modus operandi is to post a question to this page, which a lot of the public assume is a community based objective, e.g. ‘Where do you get Durban’s best burger/breakfast/curry/ice-cream etc?’

The public then offers their opinion, and the commenting goes crazy. We all like to support our favourites. Often, fans will contact the business in question, and assist in contacting others in a well-meaning gesture to support their favourite. It’s happy days all round, until..

The business in question is then visited by a representative from the same agency, selling them advertising on the ‘We love Durban’ page and website.

Should the business choose not to participate, they are “losers” who did not get enough votes. There is another word for that, it’s called extortion. This has actually happened to a client of mine.

Here’s the actual wording from the terms and conditions document if you did enter into an agreement with them. A two-year debit order service agreement that can only be terminated with 60 Days notice.

3.1. The customer shall pay to “I Love Durban” for services as selected now or anytime in the future in terms of the Agreement either monthly or annually and strictly by debit order.
3.2. The customer shall not be entitled to withdraw or revoke the authority of “I Love Durban” to draw against its banking account, during the currency of the service agreement.
3.3. Over-due amounts due shall accrue interest at a rate equal to the maximum rate allowed in terms of the Usury Act, 1968, calculated from the due date to date of actual payment.

One wonders how many businesses have fallen into this trap. Anyone notice what went on at the Sharks game this weekend?

Again, this local agency abuses its position to dupe local business, and to enrich itself at others’ expense.

A business should enrich its clients, delivering results that power it forward, and that will enable itself to move forward. You need to do right by your client first, and yourself second.

And clients, you really should do your homework.

Update: The site at the centre of the allegations has written a response in which it claims that a number of other costs around the campaign were omitted from the reporting of it.

This article by Mark Smith originally appeared on the Medium network and is republished with permission.

Image: Jono Dempster Photography.



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