Monday, November 19, 2012

The Alan Jones Facebook experiment

Alan Jones is a right-wing radio shock-jock in Australia - in the tradition of Rush Limbaugh or maybe even Howard Stern. He offends many people (myself included). But then I am an avowed liberal.

He has a moderate but rusted-on audience - about 160 thousand people - or a low single-digit percentage of the population. This is not the the biggest audience by number - but it is the biggest audience by hours listened because the audience is rusted on. They turn the radio on and do not turn it off. He has the largest average audience. He probably also has the most swing because the audience hews so close to his view that he moves markets and votes.

Jones is after all fabulously persuasive with a microphone and an ability to drown out all opposing views. He is truly a "great communicator".

Whether you take offence at "Jonesey" depends partly on your personal politics. Jones does not offend my (avowed conservative/libertarian) business partner (though I doubt BP ever listens to him). He has always been (in  a Rush Limbaugh sense) important to the conservative parties in Australia - he motivates right-wing voters in that swathe of outer-Sydney metropolitan seats which are crucial to electoral success in Australia. Conservatives (at least publicly) tend to like him. The conservative press rally around him.

Alan Jones unsurprisingly is opposed to our unmarried female, athiest and left-of-centre Prime Minister*.  When he said that she (along with the Sydney Lord Mayor) should be sown in a chaff-bag and dumped at sea it was interpreted as a joke. The joke went too far though when he suggested at a closed dinner that the Prime Ministers father (who died that week) had died of shame. An anti-Jones sentiment that had been simmering below the surface for some years came ripping out.

Alan Jones has long been a master of vicious personal attack politics. He is frequently sued for defamation and in Sydney (sometimes even called Jonestown) getting on the wrong side of Alan Jones can be a career limiting move. He has a soapbox and an audience and he frequently attacks his enemies.

Many years of doing this and Jonesey has many enemies - rusted on enemies.

Now Jones is victim of personal attacks mostly organized through Facebook. The tactics that "Sack Alan Jones" with 21 thousand likes on Facebook use don't look that dissimilar to Alan Jones and watching Jones criticize their tactics has a touch of irony about it. The Anti-Jones-anti-mysogeny group Destroy the Joint** (also with about 20 thousand followers on Facebook) uses similar tactics.

There were also over 100 thousand signatures on an electronic "sack Alan Jones" petition.

Now every time someone advertises on the Alan Jones show I get Facebook feed naming the offending party. Advertisers are staying away in droves. Here is a picture presented by Destroy the Joint:

It is not looking good for Jonesey now.

But not so bad either. His audience has gone up prodded a little by controversy (although advertising revenue has plummeted). And the right-wing News Corp press have been relentlessly pro-Jonesey through the whole affair - with the press even saying that the campaign has turned Jonesy into a "free speech martyr". Even the left-wing radio host Phillip Adams tweeted that "media scandals seem to have the shelf-life of yoghurt... Jones has gone from dangling in the wind to back in full swing".

Moreover some advertisers have come back. Local restaurants - ones who do not care if 100 thousand people don't like them as long as a few thousand people do - were very fast to advertise. Indeed because nobody else was advertising they did so in quantity and with great success. (A paid endorsement on Alan Jones will fill any restaurant in Western Sydney...)

Sure, some major brands have advertised and retreated - cowered by hundreds (maybe thousands) of people hitting their complaint page. Personal-attack campaigning by the anti-Jones crowd still works at least on some advertisers.

The Apple Adverts

Strangely Alan Jones started doing straight-to-the-microphone adverts for Apple - the most powerful consumer brand of all. The message was clear - if Apple are not afraid to advertise on Jones show then the blockade must be over.

It turns out that Apple did not buy that advertising. Jones was just giving away free space. The anti-Jones crusaders would argue that the Apple adverts were just part of the Jones deception - a deception that Jones is back in business.

Here is the question: can a couple of Facebook groups with 20 thousand members each and a 100 thousand strong email list maintain the rage? Is social networking more powerful than a fabulous communicator-with-a-microphone and a rusted on audience? Can personal attack campaigning be sustained on Facebook? Note that the Murdoch press (which is very prominent in Australia) is - consistent with its political leanings - backing Alan Jones.

There is a direct stock market way of playing this. Macquarie Radio Networks - the company that controls the Jones show is listed. But honestly the Business Partner and I cannot decide.

So we just had a bet. It is only $50 (we are not big-swingers here) but I think the Jones show will be gone in six months and that social networks provide very high and sustainable advertising values and negative feedback from social networks is a major-corporation nightmare.

The Business Partner - he thinks that over time people will be civil - they can't "maintain the rage". Over time the anti-Jones groups will fade and Jones will come back - maybe a touch chastened and less strong on the personal attack. But he thinks the results of those attacks (by Jones as well as by his critics) is more likely to be temporary. [Besides BP accepts Jones' line that the attack on him is an attack on free speech.]

Five and a half months from now we will declare a winner and $50 will duly change hands.

It is the Facebook mob versus Radio demagogue - a powerful but admittedly uncontrolled experiment in social media versus traditional media. From an investing perspective from this we will learn a great deal about the power and the limits to that power of Facebook.


PS. We argue more generally about the value of Facebook. We own a small amount of that stock which I think is unjustifiably cheap - but again the Business Partner disagrees.

*Full disclosure: I don't like our Prime Minister either - but for other reasons.

**The name of "Destroy the Joint" comes from Jonesy's assertion that women (namely the Prime Minister and the Sydney Mayor and a female police chief) are destroying the joint.


Richard said...

EUnioldwDear John,

I sincerely hope that you win the bet!

Anonymous said...

I think you will lose. What has been set up is a pretty powerful tool, but I don't think they will be able to get rid of him that easily.

Mike said...

Your bet seems really naieve. Advertisers are just riding out the storm. No one is going to care down the road that people who don't like this guy still don't like him.

A couple of cry babies with a Facebook page is not going to build a lasting backlash.

Ben said...

Hi John

I think you will probably lose the bet, although I'm hoping you don't!

Jones' influence on NSW politics is absurd given his relatively small audience. If it's any comfort, I'm sure of his 160k listeners a fair few keel over from old age every month, so there is a use by date in there somewhere.

To claim that what is happening to Jones is somehow anti-free speech makes no sense. I'd love to here the argument for that one, but perhaps it's for another post.


brandsinger said...

I would bet with you, but I have to disagree with the whole premise of the bet. It's not a case of new vs. old media. It's a case of the ever-present threat of liberal political power to suppress speech. It's an old story stateside -- political correctness on campus, the so-called Fairness Doctrine which forced right-wing radio to offer air time to adversaries, campaign finance reform itself!, which has been a means for regulating election speech and thus influencing elections. That's how liberals operate, dude -- suppress speech they don't like. This is typical.

Hey, want an example? JUST LAST WEEK Fordham University in New York DIS-INVITED Ann Coulter from speaking due to pressure from the university establishment.

FROM the WSJ a couple days ago:

...last week at Fordham University...President Joseph McShane scolded College Republicans for the sin of inviting Ann Coulter to speak.

"To say that I am disappointed with the judgment and maturity of the College Republicans . . . would be a tremendous understatement," Mr. McShane said in a Nov. 9 statement condemning the club's invitation to the caustic conservative pundit. He vowed to "hold out great contempt for anyone who would intentionally inflict pain on another human being because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or creed."

To be clear, Mr. McShane didn't block Ms. Coulter's speech, but he said that her presence would serve as a "test" for Fordham. A day later, the students disinvited Ms. Coulter. Mr. McShane then praised them for having taken "responsibility for their decisions" and expressing "their regrets sincerely and eloquently."

Typical pious liberal f--k. So John - I predict you will win your bet because those SOBs on the left try, can and do successfully silence their opponents.



Darrell said...

Actually, I am a believer in free speech; the right to say what one thinks in a tolerant society advances the well-being of the society. After all it is biblical to love your enemies; by responding with love one allows for the possibility of positive change in the situation.

In my old age, I have become a fiscal conservative, but an adamant believer in social programs and an adamant believer in the use of nonviolent practices to resolve conflicts.

If Alan Jones upsets someone then I suggest they read the following essay by Archimandrite (Bishop-elect, now Metropolitan) Jonah. The title of the essay: Do Not Resent, Do Not React, Keep Inner Stillness - Part I, there is also a part two: So How Do we do this? And part three: confession.

Anonymous said...

A sad commentary on a "free" society.

Anonymous said...

Jones' show is an exercise in free speech, sure. But criticizing his show is also an exercise of free speech, not an attack on it. Ditto encouraging advertisers to drop him or encouraging customers to boycott advertisers who refuse. That's all free speech. A true attack on free speech can only come through the legal process.

Kris Tuttle said...

In the US we have an example in Rush Limbaugh. He's a "big fat liar" but has a large and rabid following that always persists in keeping him on the air.

The most recent one of note was the time he referred to law student Sandra Fluke as a "slut" and a "prostitute" because she was for birth control. Advertisers pulled out and there was an outrage but months later, it faded and Rush continues on.

The points made here about free speech are good ones. People can say what they want no matter how uninformed and annoying they may be to others. There are laws that protect individuals and against incite to riot in the US but they don't cover "assholery."

狂猪 said...

Hi John,

Can you do a write up on your investment in Facebook?

Anonymous said...

I think you need to clarify your bet. What happens if the show is suspended?

One parallel is Don Imus, who made some comments I think most people thought he shouldn't have made (even if he was joking). If the comments are offensive to enough people, the network will suspend him. But like Imus, he will continue.

Peter said...

John, I hope you're right, but the ability of the mob to maintain the rage has faded since Gough's time.
And Jones is an extremely effective manipulator of his own image who's come back from worse - being caught in a public toilet giving someone a greek handshake and being sacked from Kings school for "inappropriate relations with students"* are examples that come to mind.

Scuttlebutt, but Chris Masters is a reasonably reliable source..

Benny said...

Anonymous said...

the cranky old man "get off my lawn!" (does that translate to Australian Eng.?) demographics is a waste of ad dollars unless you're selling boner pills, adult diapers or gold.

However the opportunity cost of dumping Jones is greater as there is nothing else to fill his block and make money as people under 50 are listening to a lot less over-the-air radio than even five years ago.

Jones will probably survive but any advertiser who wishes to reach out to anyone under 50 and women will be radioactive if they run ads with Jones.

Anonymous said...

No idea who the person you are referring to is, but unless I'm misreading your comments it seems to me you would be happy to see him go. Why? Because he's an idiot and you disagree with his viewpoint? But that's true of many personalities. I think OWS is populated by morons, but I also think they should be allowed to assemble as they please, to say what they want, at taxpayer expense, if necessary.

Freedom of the press, of religion, of assembly, of speech, are disappearing. I am worried many basic rights will be eviscerated in my lifetime, and I ain't young.

DangerousDave said...

As you sow, so you shall reap.

I'm with you John..

Not first time commenter..and long term reader!

Anonymous said...

Jones is likely to survive, as it's really hard for 10s of 1000s of people to maintain focus in the same direction for any lenght of time (short of an existential external threat, which Jones isn't for them). Herding cats comes to mind.

"new" media can mobilise lots of people very quickly, but the quickness itself works against it - I'm yet to be persuaded that their attention span is longer than few days (on average, at the very best). The attention span stuff is why the "old" media have to keep getting a new story every day. Things that do not threaten us directly (or people we directly know and care about) go into background for most of us fairly quickly. School runs and BBQs take over.

When you have to build your base slowly, you get less but more committed. It's the cost-of-effort stuff, the more effort you spend on something, the more you value it. So if you'd get each of those 1000s of people not just pres "like" (which is low real cost), but say donate $5 (which is still low, but much much higher then pressing "like"), I'd side with you.

Re freedom of speach. I find it fascinating (although alltogether too easy to explain) how tactics used by libelous populist used against them is all of sudden "free speach impediment" or whatever. What does it tell you though is that he really believes what he says, which in my book puts him on par with the late Osama.

Anonymous said...

GThanks for the post. Why do you think FB shares are cheap? I do not disagree with you. Just wanted to understand how you are looking at it. I have been looking at valuation on every metric possible to try to make sure I am not missing something.

Anonymous said...

How are you looking at valuation on FB? I have been looking at it on every metric possible. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Jones saying an attack on him is an attack on free speech is really funny. He has a history of charging a lot for his speech. Look up "Cash for Comments" on Wikipedia. He got away with that and he'll keep getting away with this. Australian politics is controlled by the media,so he will continue to make his inflamatory remarks on air with immunity because he follows his masters agenda. The politicians and regulatory authorities are scared to touch him. If he was a 'nobody' who posted the same remarks online, the site would be down within hours.

Anonymous said...

Jones may be a clown, for the reasons which you put.

But he has one or two redeeming virtues.

Firstly, he doesn't just swallow the spin that is generated (in tsunami-like proportions) by the battalions of media advisors employeed in the PM's office. I think that a degree of scepticism is healthy in public discourse. Wouldn't you agree?

Secondly, Jones tends to look at things from the perspective of the common man. Constrast that with what is done by a plethora of political pundits who are obsessed by what is repeated endlessly by their media colleagues.

In many ways, Jones' detrators behave as mere cyphers (rather than the independent minded observers that they pretend to be) and they operate in a sphere which is at odds with the concerns of ordinary people.

Who do you think is more in touch with working families? Michelle Grattan, for goodness sake?

Anonymous said...

Freedom of speech does not guarantee a pulpit.

Anonymous said...

This is so easy. Jones survives, no worries.

The anti-Jones team have had their catharsis. They've made their point. They feel good. It is already forgotten.

Nothing to see here, move on please.

Ric in Sydney said...

There are still many people in Sydney who are actively boycotting any business that advertises on the Alan Jones Breakast Show.

I am one of them, because I do not want profits made from any of my expenditure to fund the bigotry, racial hatred and misogyny promoted by this man.
That's my free choice.
When I announce which companies who advertise on this show are not getting my patronage, that's free speech.
Anyone who defends this man's right to free speech is defending disinformation and the incitement of race riots (remember Jones' role in the Cronulla riots?)

Anonymous said...

I predict that Alan Jones survives while Mel Greig and Michael Christian will go...

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