The Incredible Shrinking World of Social Media

Mar 23, 2018

“What ’cha gonna’ do when they come for you?”

Two news items largely escaped notice this month:  Twitter “restricted” a tweet from the President, and one from Donald Trump, Junior, that could be “offensive”.   The offense?  Linking to an article on Drudge.

And YouTube “restricted” the videos from Prager University, the online series of conservative videos hosted by such notables as Mike Rowe and Denis Prager.  The explanation from Prager’s website:

Conservative ideas are under attack.  YouTube does not want young people to hear conservative ideas as they currently list over 40 PragerU videos… under "restricted mode" making it difficult for many young people to access our videos.

Until this week, these actions were the latest by the giant social media companies as they’re under pressure from Washington to police the postings on their social media sites.  Presumably, Congress is concerned about be-heading videos and Russian Fake News, but what we’re getting are adjustments in invisible “algorithms” to block or restrict videos and posts that oppose the progressive thinking of the multi-billionaires who own the social media companies.

Meantime, firearms companies have been pouring money into the production and posting of social media videos to almost insignificant promotional effect. YouTube makes it embarrassingly easy to see how little effect these “digital campaigns” are having.

One major firearms company commissioned a reality series of episodes, with a group of selected women competing in physical and firearms challenges.  It was nicely, and expensively, produced and might well have made a successful TV show.

But in one full year of promotion of the series through Internet advertising placement, the viewership of the seven episodes has averaged a hair over 6,900 interested watchers.  Not 69,000 that might be the household reach of an outdoor category television show in a single airing, and definitely not Internet viral, matching the millions of views of the latest cat video on YouTube.

What happened?  The unseen “algorithms” apparently detected “Guns" and suppressed viewership.

Then on Monday, the roof fell in on all Gun Video Channels, with broad new regulations from YouTube banning anything that might be promoting the sale of guns, or ammo, or ammo components. Any mention of a firearms sponsor by a YouTube Star is now a violation and will be removed.

Some prominent gun channels put up by manufacturers have already been wiped out, disappearing overnight. In time, YouTube will find and delete all of them.

And it’s not just YouTube:

A few months ago, when we first put several full episodes of Shooting USA up on YouTube to reach beyond the 40 Million subscribers to Outdoor Channel, I thought it a good idea to invest a little promotion money to “boost” the posting of the shows on Facebook.  The algorithms first checked and approved the boost and began spreading the message to a wider audience.  But 12 hours later the approval was reversed, stating we were in violation of the Facebook policy prohibiting the sale or promotion of weapons. Some Facebook human apparently looked and decided they would not take our money to spread the viewing of a positive image show on gun sports.

Then there’s the more recent experience of a veteran-owned Apparel Company that was growing a business from a major paid ad campaign on Facebook.  But after the founder made an appearance on Fox and Friends, airing their new patriotic commercial supporting the police, the military, veterans and standing for the flag; their paid social media reach suddenly collapsed to a fraction of what they had been reaching when Facebook thought they just made T-Shirts. Promoting Patriotism is apparently more restricted on Facebook.

The Gun Buffs who never could see Internet Video:

There is one more element in the false promise of Social Media promotion, one I mention to marketers excited about streaming video, and frequently get blank stares in return.  

It’s the question of who can see Internet video. 

Few marketers seem aware of County rankings by population as A, B, C, and D counties.  A and B counties are urban and suburban and most all residences have high speed Internet available from some provider.

C counties are further out from the central urban core, and frequently are beyond the reach of both cable and DSL service. D counties are fully rural with no high-speed Internet service. You’ll know when you are out in a C or D county when you start seeing satellite dishes on most every house, the only way to get television in those areas. Few of those houses will have a second dish for a subscription to very pricey Satellite Internet service.

What’s it mean?  

That the people who live where firearms are most frequently enjoyed or needed, outside the no-shooting laws of urban and suburban communities, can’t stream promotional Internet video.

The President has recently offered his support to bring high speed Internet to more rural areas of the country. 

The coming introduction of 5-G cellular systems is thought to be one solution. 

You may have seen a TV ad promoting Internet service from the bellies of commercial airliners flying overhead, and Google has developed Project Loon, an apt name for high altitude balloons providing high speed Internet coverage across America. 

None of these are yet working to distribute Broadband Internet in C and D Counties.  

And by the time those more rural residents do get their high speed internet, there won’t be YouTube gun videos to promote gun ownership and shooting to new prospects.

We shouldn’t be surprised.  

The major broadcast and cable channels have prohibited any form of firearm advertising for years.  25 years ago we struggled with ESPN in the first year of our gun show series when Colt was a sponsor, but couldn’t advertise their guns.  Since then we’ve moved three times to new networks as each was taken over by anti-gun New York City-based owners. We’re pleased to make our television home now on the pro-second amendment Outdoor Channel.

There are other methods of posting firearms streaming video segments, including Outdoor Channel’s subscription service, My Outdoor TV.  

But the free ride for firearms video is now over.

In difficult times, “free distribution” was certainly seductive, but it’s high time to ask some hard questions about ROI before your director yells “action” for the next video hardly anyone will actually see, even if YouTube decides you’re not in violation of their ever more restrictive anti-gun policies. 

-- Jim Scoutten

Jim Scoutten has been producing and hosting television gun shows for 25 years.  The series has appeared on ESPN, TNN, OLN, and for the past seven years, has anchored the Wednesday night firearms block of programs on Outdoor Channel.  Scoutten’s independent production company is based in Franklin, Tennessee.

Illustration by Johnnie Scoutten