Facebook Has Been Receiving Users’ Financial Info From Tax Preparers

Illustration by Gabriel Hongsdusit for The Markup

Major tax filing services such as H&R Block, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer have been quietly transmitting sensitive financial information to Facebook when Americans file their taxes online, The Markup has learned. The data, sent through widely used code called the Meta Pixel, includes not only information like names and email addresses but often even more detailed information, including data on users’ income, filing status, refund amounts, and dependents’ college scholarship amounts.

The information sent to Facebook can be used by the company to power its advertising algorithms and is gathered regardless of whether the person using the tax filing service has an account on Facebook or other platforms operated by its owner Meta.  Each year, the Internal Revenue Service processes about 150 million individual returns filed electronically, and some of the most widely used e-filing services employ the pixel, The Markup found.

When users sign up to file their taxes with the popular service TaxAct, for example, they’re asked to provide personal information to calculate their returns, including how much money they make and their investments. A pixel on TaxAct’s website then sent some of that data to Facebook, including users’ filing status, their adjusted gross income, and the amount of their refund, according to a review by The Markup. Income was rounded to the nearest thousand and refunds to the nearest hundred.

The pixel also sent the names of dependents in an obfuscated — but generally reversible — format. TaxAct, which says it has about 3 million “consumer and professional users” also uses Google’s analytics tool on its website, and The Markup found similar financial data, but not names, being sent to Google through its tool. TaxAct wasn’t the only tax filing service using the Meta Pixel.

Tax preparation giant H&R Block, which also offers an online filing option that attracts millions of customers per year, embedded a pixel on its site that gathered information on filers’ health savings account usage and dependents’ college tuition grants and expenses. TaxSlayer, another widely used filing service, sent personal information to Facebook as part of the social media company’s “advanced matching” system, which gathers information on web visitors in an attempt to link them to Facebook accounts.

The information gathered through the pixel on TaxSlayer’s site included phone numbers, the name of the user filling out the form, and the names of any dependents added to the return. As with TaxAct, specific demographic information about a user was obfuscated but still usable for Facebook to link a user to an existing profile. TaxSlayer has said it completed 10 million federal and state tax returns last year.

The Markup also found the pixel code on a tax preparation site operated by a financial advice and software company called Ramsey Solutions, which uses a version of TaxSlayer’s service. That pixel gathered even more personal data from a tax return summary page, including information on income and refund amounts. This information was not sent immediately upon visiting the page but only when visitors clicked drop-down headings to see more details of their report.

Even Intuit, the company that runs America’s dominant online filing software, employed the pixel. Intuit’s TurboTax, however, did not send financial information to Meta but, rather, usernames and the last time a device signed in. The company kept the pixel entirely off pages beyond sign-in.

“We take the privacy of our customers’ data very seriously,” Nicole Coburn, a spokesperson for TaxAct, said in an email. “TaxAct, at all times, endeavors to comply with all IRS regulations.” Angela Davied, a spokesperson for H&R Block, said the company “regularly evaluate[s] our practices as part of our ongoing commitment to privacy, and will review the information.”

Megan McConnell, a spokesperson for Ramsey Solutions, said in an email that the company “implemented the Meta Pixel to deliver a more personalized customer experience.”

“We did NOT know and were never notified that personal tax information was being collected by Facebook from the Pixel,” the statement said. “As soon as we found out, we immediately informed TaxSlayer to deactivate the Pixel from Ramsey SmartTax.”f

After The Markup contacted TaxSlayer, spokesperson Molly Richardson said in an email that the company had removed the pixel to evaluate its use. “Our customers’ privacy is of utmost importance, and we take concerns about our customers’ information very seriously,” she said, adding that Ramsey Solutions “decided to remove the pixel” as well.

Rick Heineman, a spokesperson for Intuit, said the company’s pixel “does not track, gather, or share information that users enter in TurboTax while filing their taxes,” although Intuit “may share some non-tax-return information, such as username, with marketing partners to deliver a better customer experience,” like not showing Intuit ads on Facebook to people who have accounts already. The company said it’s in compliance with regulations but has modified the pixel to no longer send usernames.

“This is appalling”

Mandi Matlock, a Harvard Law School lecturer focused on tax law, said The Markup’s findings showed taxpayers “providing some of the most sensitive information that they own, and it’s being exploited.”

“This is appalling,” she said. “It truly is.”

On Monday, after TaxAct was contacted by The Markup for comment, the company’s site no longer sent financial details like income and refund amount to Meta but continued to send the names of dependents. The site also continued to send financial information to Google Analytics. Also as of Monday, TaxSlayer and Ramsey Solutions had removed the pixel from their tax filing sites and TurboTax had stopped sending usernames through the pixel at sign-in. H&R Block’s site was continuing to send information on health savings accounts and college tuition grants.

How the Meta Pixel tracks users

Meta makes the pixel code freely available to anyone who wants it, allowing businesses to embed the code on their sites as they wish.

Using the code helps both Facebook and the businesses. When a customer comes to a business’s website, the pixel might record which items the customer browsed, say, a T-shirt, for example. The business can then target its ads on Facebook to people who looked at that shirt, allowing the business to find an audience that may already be interested in its products.

Meta wins financially, too. The company says it can use the data it gleans from tools like the pixel to power its algorithms, providing it insight into the habits of users across the internet. The strategy has been successful for Facebook. In 2018, the company told Congress that there were more than 2 million pixels across the web — a massive data-harvesting operation most internet users never see.

“The practice is ubiquitous,” said Jon Callas, director of public interest technology at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who said he was left in “shock but not surprise” at The Markup’s findings.

Some of the sensitive data collection analyzed by The Markup appears linked to default behaviors of the Meta Pixel, while some appears to arise from customizations made by the tax filing services, someone acting on their behalf, or other software installed on the site.

For example, Meta Pixel collected health savings account and college expense information from H&R Block’s site because the information appeared in webpage titles and the standard configuration of the Meta Pixel automatically collects the title of a page the user is viewing, along with the web address of the page and other data. It was able to collect income information from Ramsey Solutions because the information appeared in a summary that expanded when clicked. The summary was detected by the pixel as a button, and in its default configuration, the pixel collects text from inside a clicked button.

The pixels embedded by TaxSlayer and TaxAct used a feature called “automatic advanced matching.” That feature scans forms looking for fields it thinks contain personally identifiable information, like a phone number, first name, last name, or email address, and then sends detected information to Meta. On TaxSlayer’s site, this feature collected phone numbers and the names of filers and their dependents. On TaxAct, it collected the names of dependents.

The data collected by the matching feature is sent in an obfuscated form known as a hash, which Meta states is used in order to “help protect user privacy.” But the company can generally determine the pre-obfuscated version of the data. In fact, Meta explicitly uses the hashed information to link other pixel data to Facebook and Instagram profiles.

This pixel feature was turned off by default when The Markup set up a test pixel attached to a business account but could be turned on by clicking a toggle during setup.

When TaxAct sent dollar amounts like adjusted gross income to Meta, they were transmitted as parameters to a “custom event,” which are sent only if the pixel is configured beyond the default by a website operator or another application the website operator adds to their site. TaxAct did not respond to questions about whether and why it configured the pixel in this manner.

Once a tax return was filled out on Taxact.com, information including an individual’s adjusted gross income, federal refund amount, and number of dependents was sent to Meta via the Meta Pixel. Data in the screenshots is not real user data. Image: Taxact.com and The Markup

There are limits to the types of data Meta says it will collect through the pixel. The company says it doesn’t want sensitive information sent to it, including financial data, and that it uses automated filtering to block potentially sensitive data. Its help center states that it prohibits sending information including bank account or credit card numbers or “information about an individual’s financial account or status.”

Still, one specific type of prohibited data — income — was exactly what two tax sites sent to Facebook, The Markup found. Data sent to Facebook by TaxAct suggests it was also previously sending a parameter labeled “student_loan_interest,” which is now being filtered by the pixel before being sent.

Meta says it doesn’t want to receive sensitive financial data

From January to July of this year, The Markup tracked websites’ use of the pixel as part of the Pixel Hunt, a partnership with Mozilla Rally. For the project, participating users installed a browser extension that provided The Markup with a copy of all data shared with Meta via the pixel.

The Markup initially discovered sensitive information was shared by the tax preparers through data shared by Pixel Hunt participants. The Markup then signed up for accounts on the companies’ web applications and used the “Network” section of Chrome DevTools, a tool built into Google’s Chrome browser, to replicate and confirm the data.

Earlier this year, with the help of Pixel Hunt participants, The Markup found sensitive data sent to Facebook on the Education Department’s federal student aid application website, crisis pregnancy websites, and the websites of prominent hospitals.

Meta collects so much data that even the company itself sometimes may be unaware of where it ends up. Earlier this year, Vice reported on a leaked Facebook document written by Facebook privacy engineers who said the company did not “have an adequate level of control and explainability over how our systems use data,” making it difficult to promise it wouldn’t use certain data for certain purposes.

At the time, a company spokesperson told Vice that Facebook has “extensive processes and controls to manage data and comply with privacy regulations.”

In response to The Markup’s questions about the tax websites’ use of the pixel, Dale Hogan, a spokesperson for Meta, pointed to the company’s rules on sensitive financial information.

“Advertisers should not send sensitive information about people through our Business Tools,” Hogan wrote in an emailed statement. “Doing so is against our policies and we educate advertisers on properly setting up Business tools to prevent this from occurring. Our system is designed to filter out potentially sensitive data it is able to detect.”

Google spokesperson Jackie Berté said in an email that the company “has strict policies against advertising to people based on sensitive information” and that Google Analytics data “is obfuscated, meaning it is not tied back to an individual and our policies prohibit customers from sending us data that could be used to identify a user.”

The IRS closely regulates tax data

Nina Olson, the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Taxpayer Rights, was the national taxpayer advocate at the Internal Revenue Service between 2001 and 2019, a position in the agency meant to represent the interests of taxpayers.

As part of her role at the IRS, she contributed to the development of regulations that govern disclosures of tax information. Olson said the IRS regulations controlling the way private tax filing services can use data are intentionally “very strong.”

Under the regulations she helped develop, tax preparers — including e-filing companies — can use the information they receive from taxpayers only for limited purposes; for anything beyond immediately facilitating filing, the preparer has to get signed consent from the user that explains the recipient and the precise information being disclosed.

The government goes so far as to prescribe even the font size of requests for disclosure, saying it must be “the same size as, or larger than, the normal or standard body text used by the website or software package.”

Penalties for disclosing data without consent can be steep

The penalties for disclosing data without consent are potentially steep: fines and even jail time are possible, although Olson said she wasn’t aware of any criminal cases that have been pursued.

The Markup reviewed the tax preparation websites for disclosures that specifically mentioned Meta or Facebook but did not find them. Instead, some companies included relatively broad disclosure agreements.

TaxAct, for example, requested users approve sending their tax information to its sister company, TaxSmart Research LLC, so it could “develop, offer, and provide products and services” for users. It also stated, “TaxSmart Research LLC may use service providers and business partners to accomplish these tasks.” H&R Block, meanwhile, included nearly the same disclosure request so “H&R Block Personalized Services, LLC” could provide products of its own. Those sites provided the user with the option to decline to share tax information, although data was shared with Facebook regardless of which option users chose, according to The Markup’s tests.

Any disclosure from a tax preparer must provide the exact purpose and recipient to be in compliance, Olson said. “Do they have a list saying they’re going to disclose the refund amounts, and your children, and your whatever to Facebook?” she said. If not, they may be in violation of regulations.

The IRS declined to comment or answer questions about whether any of the sites sharing tax information were in violation of tax law.

No way out for taxpayers

American taxpayers have few options but to turn to private companies to file their returns.

Unlike other countries, the United States has a heavily privatized system for filing taxes, one that often requires the use of third-party tax preparers. In other countries, the government handles the calculations and taxpayers simply approve the numbers. But after a successful lobbying push from private companies, tax preparers in the US effectively act as middlemen between taxpayers and the government.

Tax preparation is now big business: market researchers have estimated that it’s a more than $11 billion industry in the United States.

A free preparation and filing option exists, but it’s limited to people making $73,000 or less and can be difficult to use. Companies offer their tax software at no charge through an agreement with the IRS but have been criticized for not making the option easily available.

Using the pixel, The Markup found that the IRS even effectively directs taxpayers attempting to file for free to some of the companies. A handful of tax preparation services — including TaxAct and TaxSlayer — are part of the agreement, known as the Free File Alliance. TurboTax and H&R Block have been part of the program in the past.

Harvard’s Matlock said The Markup’s findings showed the almost inevitable consequences of relying on for-profit companies to handle a government requirement. It’s a process that provides users little choice but to hand over their data to Facebook if they want to comply with the law, she said.

“It’s frustrating because taxpayers have been pushed into the arms of these private, for-profit companies simply to comply with their tax filing obligations,” she said. “We have no choice, really, in the matter.”

By Simon Fondrie-Teitler, Angie Waller Colin Lecher

Source: Facebook has been receiving users’ financial info from tax preparers – The Verge

.

Related contents:

Tax Filing Websites Might Have Given Facebook Your Financial Information: Report The Daily Caller

Facebook Under Scrutiny for Receiving Tax E-Filers’ Personal Financial Information (Report)

Tax preparation services have been sending ‘sensitive financial information‘ to Facebook: Report Just The News

03:40 Tue, 22 Nov
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How To Learn To Stop Worrying And Love The Inbound Marketing Process

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We live in a day and age when we can basically have whatever we want the moment we want it, and this has conditioned us to crave and often expect immediacy. For example, want a burger at 10 p.m.? That’s no problem because there are likely eight places within a 10-mile radius of you that can have it ready in minutes.

Of course, this is the exact opposite situation when it comes to inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is the long play, and it took me a long time to stop worrying about seeing quick results and begin to love the process.

Here’s how I did it, and how you can too.

Accept The Six-Month Slow Burn

On average, it takes around six months for your efforts to begin paying off. Once you accept that there is no immediate gratification with inbound marketing and that a campaign can take half a year to start yielding results, you can stop stressing and instead enjoy the act of building a great strategy.

For some perspective, a study by HubSpot found that 83.9% of companies that used inbound marketing were able to increase lead generation within seven months. Did those companies think it would take seven months to see results? Probably not. But did they give up on their efforts? Clearly not.

Inbound marketing does work, but it takes time.

Stick To The Process

Accepting the fact that it can take a long time to see any results from your efforts means nothing if you can’t stick to the process the whole way through. In my experience, the best way to do this is to plan.

Plan each month, or phase, with necessary tasks, due dates and goals. Having a concrete plan is a complete blessing when you are three months in and feeling discouraged. It is not easy to stay motivated and continue pushing out great content when you’re not seeing results. Having a plan that you and/or your team can follow will keep you on track and pushing forward. There is a reason many psychologists encourage people to write down goals, because it works.

Here is my recommendation for how to break down your plan:

• Audience phase (month one): Focus on defining your target audience and learning everything you can about them. This information will inform all of your future content.

• Writing phase (months two through four): This is honestly an ongoing phase, but it should begin after you know your audience and then be your main focus for the next three months at least. This is where you write, write, write — blog posts, articles, landing pages, downloadable offers, social media posts and so on.

• Tracking phase (month five): After you have pushed out all of the above content, begin more closely tracking your web analytics and lead generation and see the impact that your campaign is beginning to have.

• Improving phase (month six): Now that you know your numbers, you can see what needs improvement. On top of that, it is great to establish a system where every so many months you return to previous blog posts and add more to them, in both length and SEO.

I should note that my content team is always in the writing and improving phases.

One Thing You Need

One thing that is necessary for following the six-month slow burn is proper finances. Now, I don’t mean you need to be turning some huge profit to launch a new inbound marketing campaign, but you need to make sure that you either have a steady source of income from a different product or enough saved up to support your team.

As an example, my multifamily marketing agency launched a new product last year, and we were able to devote substantial time and effort to building an inbound marketing campaign for it in 2020. We could comfortably do this because we were still generating revenue from our agency clients.

In the end, the money you spend is typically well worth it. On average, content marketing gets three times more leads than paid search advertising, or in other words, outbound marketing.

Buckle Down For The Hardest Work 

The six-month slow burn requires not only patience but also persistence. This is the time when you will be doing the hardest work. It really helped my team to mentally prepare for this as well as prioritize it each day.

We even began holding weekly meetings so we could stay on top of all the moving parts and communicate our progress on ongoing projects. It was also helpful for my content team to pre-decide how many articles they were going to write each month. It ended up being a combination of four new blog posts and three reworkings of old blog posts per month, three to four posts per week for each social channel and weekly emails. As I said, it’s hard work.

Remember Consistency Is Key 

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you can lay out a plan and stick to it, you will likely be golden. It is all about continually staying in front of your audience and constantly providing them with value.

For my new product launch, it took about a full year of growing our social channels and pushing out content for us to start driving new leads. We were able to increase our Instagram following by 207% and grow our email subscribers by 89%. Even though it took us six months longer than the average, I am not ashamed in any way to share this. We were consistent and did not give up, and now we are reaping the rewards.

Owner of Criterion.B, overseeing client strategy and company culture. Read Jon Simpson’s full executive profile here.

Source: How To Learn To Stop Worrying And Love The Inbound Marketing Process

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Related contents:

Things to Consider When Planning Content Marketing Strategy Adrants (Weblog)

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8 Simple Tips to Improve Your Business Blog

With the rise of the digital age, there are plenty of ways to get your business’ voice heard, but don’t discount the importance of your blog. Business blogging is a valuable investment that your business should be putting time and consideration into.

You’ve probably heard it before: blogging provides the perfect platform for thoughtful, long form content that will help you better connect with your target audience. So your business started a blog and then what happened? Did you see the results you were hoping for?

If done well, blogging can enable your business to experience many benefits beyond just sharing information with your audience. It can help you increase conversion rates, generate awareness of both your business and the products or services you offer, and can even play a major role in helping you boost your search ranking. In fact, if you keep your blogs updated, lively, and informative, and your marketing engine can coast effortlessly to lead generation.

But, if you don’t know what it takes to create a successful blog, you might be wasting your time. In this post, I’ll provide tips on how to improve your blog so you can reap all of its benefits and move your business forward in the digital world.

1. Learn about your audience

Starting a business blog will give your company a chance to nurture your website visitors and build a sense of trust between your ideal audience and your brand. But to build genuine connections with your target audience, it’s important that you write about topics they care about and that match where they are in their customer journey.

With that in mind, you need to have a detailed understanding of the people you’ll be writing for. One great way to do that is to develop buyer personas. If you’ve never created buyer personas, or if you’re unsure how to create them, try out this buyer persona template from HubSpot. It will walk you through how to conduct research to build buyer personas and create a clear picture of your ideal audience.

Once you’ve defined who your audience is with your buyer personas, you can use tools like BuzzSumo or forums like Quora to learn about what your potential buyers are searching for and connecting with on social media. Understanding your audience and their needs will help you better tailor your content to them and their interests.

2. Interact with other blogs

With so many online blogs, making your blog unique might seem like a daunting task. Remember that your blog should be a part of the wider conversation regarding your brand and your industry. You should be linking to other blogs and sources of research whenever you write a new piece of content. This can lead to an increased amount of sites backlinking to your own site, too.

While it may seem counterintuitive, you want other sites to grab your information, as long as they give you credit by linking back to your original content. Backlinks are like online referrals, with other sites saying they think your information is so good they’re pointing others there.

As you garner backlinks, search engines note the popularity of your site and move it up in search rankings. So, treat your links to other sites as networking tools to help improve the authority and relevance of your business.

3. Be consistent

Your blog needs to be a reliable source for your readers. Sporadic blog posts are frustrating for people who are interested in what your blog is saying! This means that you should be organizing what you post and when you post it.Consistency is key to building a steady audience that repeatedly comes back for more and moves through your sales pipeline.

If you haven’t already, consider creating a content calendar for your blog to help you better plan out your posts. Whether you choose to post every day, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, make sure you keep a regular schedule so that your readers know when to check out your latest content.

4. Highlight your products and services

Blogging isn’t necessarily about selling to your customers directly, but don’t underestimate the power of well-written blog to help convert prospects. Sharing information delivers a valuable sample of what you have to offer. In fact, did you know that 57 percent of the purchase decision is already complete before customers even call the supplier?

That means that most of the buying journey has taken place digitally before the customer has contacted a sales rep. So, your blog articles should act as an introductory sales person, highlighting the benefits of your products or services to help accurately inform your prospective customers.

5. Be a valuable resource

One of the best ways to attract more readers is to produce highly valuable content. This works on two levels. The first is that your current readers will recognize that you have depth of knowledge in your field and will continuously turn to you whenever they have a question pertaining to your industry. Think Neil Patel and Brian Dean, both of whom are marketing gurus with a huge following because they’ve proven themselves to be credible experts through their online content.

It’s similar to a test drive. Most auto buyers take a test drive before falling in love with a vehicle. Even those who have the willpower to walk away to “sleep on it” are drawn back. Your blog should do the same for your business. Readers click in, read, and cruise away; but you will inevitably pull them back for more if you’ve provided them with helpful content.The second level has more to do with your search rank and how it drives traffic.

Google’s number one goal is to create an incredible user experience, and it does that by providing searchers with the most relevant answer to their search query.So, if you’ve written the most valuable blog post on Google RankBrain (Iike Brian Dean did here), then Google will recognize that through your website analytics and will reward you by placing you higher on the SERPs. And we all know, the closer you are to the top of the results page, the more clicks you’ll attract.Not sure how to write valuable content? Check out this video from Moz on how to 10X your content.

6. Let your audience be a part of the conversation

Your blog should be a knowledgeable resource for users, but you need to be careful not to sound too removed from your audience. Readers want to feel like their engaging with a resourceful community, not being lectured by an anonymous source. You can achieve this by focusing on the tone and style of your writing.

Use your blog to generate action and gather user details (subscribe to a newsletter, follow, like, respond to a poll, etc.). Get them to interact with you, and be sure you give them some incentive to share their contact information with you.If your readers message you on social media or write a comment at the end of your post, make sure you respond. One major key to a successful blog is to build a relationship with your readers, and engagement is a sure way to help you build those relationships and increase your readership.

7. Write well

This seems like a pretty obvious tip, but it’s important nonetheless. Your blog should be easy to digest, so make sure to maintain a conversational tone and keep your paragraphs and sentences short. Incorporating pictures and white space throughout your post will help break up large chunks of text that are harder to read/focus on.And, always triple check for grammar and spelling mistakes. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but multiple typos can count against your credibility and can easily convince readers to click out of your post. Try using tools like Grammarly to catch errors before you hit the publish button.

8. Focus on topics, not just keywords

SEO is part art, part math, part mystique. With search algorithm updates like Google’s RankBrain, search engines are getting better at understanding searcher intent, rather than just matching results to the keywords in the query.With this in mind, the best way to improve your rank is to prove you’re an expert on topics as a whole. One way to do that is to write quality content (see tip number five above) and the other is to write about various aspects of the same topic.

For example, if you’re a jeweler, you can write about the many aspects of purchasing an engagement ring, such as “How to Determine a Ring Budget that’s Right for You,” and “Why Cut is More Important than Clarity,” and “Diamond Alternatives for the Nontraditional Bride.”By writing multiple helpful posts about a given topic, rather than simply stuffing various keywords into one post, you can establish topical authority, and over time, Google will recognize you as the best resource for anyone searching about engagement rings.For more information about gaining topic authority, check out this post on how to create topic clusters.

Stick with it and see the results

If your business has started a blog, but you haven’t seen the results you were hoping for, try implementing these 8 simple tips to improve your blog. Don’t get discouraged if your blog traffic doesn’t skyrocket right away.As is common with content marketing, it may take a few months for your content to get indexed by search engines, but if you remain a consistent source for original, high-value articles, you’ll reap the benefits of blogging in no time.

Source: 8 Simple Tips to Improve Your Business’ Blog – Relevance.

Related contents:BLOG: Outsourcing property management and client accounting can be a risky businessThe Negotiator Magazine

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How to implement a trade secret strategy that realises greater revenue for your businessIAM

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Influencers Are Utilizing Collaboration To Win Against AI Algorithms; Here’s How

Visitors use their mobile devices to take pictures of themselves posing in a pink ball bath at the ... [+]DPA/AFP via Getty Images

It’s normal to hear the cliche, two are better than one, but this statement has been proven true among influencers in the last five years. Growing followership and influence on social media is not an easy feat, and with changing algorithms, it’s even more difficult.

Social media has become the top cultural influence on society. More people, especially Gen Z and Millennial generations, depend on social media platforms for their information, advice, and counsel, especially as regards lifestyle and fashion choices. This reality has placed social media influencers on a pedestal as some of the most relevant figures in modern culture.

The biggest question that influencers and aspiring influencers have to answer consistently is, “Can we still grow a healthy following organically in the age of changing algorithms?”

Renowned supermodel Stefanie Gurzanski seems to think that this is possible. In her words, “Value is king, the first step to doing it organically is finding your audience and determining what they consider as value. Then you have to create content around that and dish it out consistently. When all is said and done, you need help from others as well.”

As a supermodel, Stefanie Gurzanski, who is more popularly known as Baby G, has featured on the cover of some of the world’s most prestigious magazines like Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Elle. She has also stunned at many of the world’s most prestigious fashion shows and red carpets.

However, one of her most significant accomplishments has been turning that success into a digital media empire and becoming an Instagram influencer with millions of extremely loyal followers. Stefanie believes that collaboration is one of the most powerful keys to growing followership in a world where algorithms are becoming more demanding. In this article, Stefanie shares why she thinks collaboration is so important.

According to Instagram, the main rule about Instagram algorithms is that not one but many algorithms influence a user’s Instagram experience. Different AI algorithms analyze user behavior on the different parts of the app; reels, feeds, and explore. All these algorithms work together to determine what we see or not see on Instagram.

The Instagram model is more or less the same on Facebook, Titok, and youtube, where various AI algorithms are used to achieve these exact results.

According to Stefanie, “Instagram has been a bit more transparent about how their algorithms function and this has helped influencers build systems around their brands that help them get the most out of the platform. What I have found is that the key ingredient that enables us to get the best out of all the algorithms is collaboration.”

Adam Mosseri has taken his time to summarize how the Instagram algorithm functions in a post. Four key factors influence the Instagram algorithm for feed posts.

  • First, the algorithm considers the basic information about the post; Is it a photo or a video? When was it posted? How many likes does it have?
  • Secondly, it considers the information about the poster; How interesting does the user find them to be? How often does the user engage with their content?
  • The third factor is the user’s activity; is the user a heavy video-watcher, or does the user prefer other kinds of content?
  • The final factor is the user’s interaction history; does the user typically engage with the poster’s posts by liking or commenting?

In summary, on Instagram feeds, the algorithm would typically show a user posts from creators who create the kind of content they typically engage with, and who they have previously engaged with or tend to engage with frequently.  On reels and explore, Instagram goes further by showing users the content they think they will like based on their previous activity.

Stefanie explains it with a more straightforward example; “I am coming up on the two million followers mark and one thing that is readily noticeable is that many of these followers found me because they initially followed other supermodels who do what I do.

Likewise, when my followers consistently engage with my pictures and videos, they are also likely to see posts from similar creators who do what I do on their explore page or their reels. Now imagine what we can achieve as influencers if we become more intentional about giving and getting this exposure. The results are simply stunning.”

Collaboration as a Powerful Tool For Exposure

Since 2016, when Instagram made these changes to its algorithm, collaboration has become perhaps the most effective tool for exposure.  Creators collaborate in different ways, but the end goal is the same, and the results are similar.

Live broadcasts by Sponsored Influencers have become a thing. 82% of audiences prefer live video from influencers and brands to other generic content, which has made live videos both the present and the future of video content.

Since Instagram launched its new feature, which enables creators and users to go live with a friend remotely, influencers have used this feature to invite other creators on their platform for live broadcasts. Content ranges from talk shows to casual conversations, and the results have been favorable so far.

“Live videos have such an engagement boosting effect,” Stefanie explains. “The algorithms give live videos more exposure, so when influencers can link up via this feature, it helps the algorithm make the connection between their two sets of audiences. This can easily grow the platforms of both influencers by exposing them to new audiences.”

Hosting Account takeovers is another powerful collaborative tool that creators use to force the algorithm to give more exposure to their content.  An account takeover is a strategy where an influencer can surrender their account to another influencer for some time, either by posting only content from that influencer or giving the influencer access to their platforms to post directly.

The basic idea is to create a feeling that that influencer is in charge for that period. This is a powerful way that influencers use to expose their work and brands to other influencers’ audiences. The results are usually remarkable as the algorithm is forced to make that connection.

Collaborating with Aspiring Influencers is also becoming more popular. Stefanie recently launched the Baby G Mag, a subscription-based platform where other creatives can be featured and grow their own platforms. She explains why she thinks this strategy is helpful; “With all the algorithm changes, it has become difficult to grow organically today than it was a few years ago.

So, I built Baby G Mag specifically for other girls who want to grow their brand, make money, and can be seen by a guaranteed amount of paying customers. Right now we are collating with other magazines as well. Playboy Mexico has already seen us as an interesting platform to collaborate with in just our first few weeks.”

While many influencers are looking to connect with influencers with bigger platforms, Stefanie realizes that collaborating with up-and-coming influencers is a win-win. It exposes her to new audiences as these smaller influencers usually have a smaller but fiercely loyal audience. It is also her way of helping these influencers grow faster and gain more influence.

User-Generated Content (UGC) is also becoming stronger among influencers. 85% of users find visual UGC more influential than brand photos or videos. It also drives 6.9-times-higher engagement than generic content.

UGC is a form of collaboration that Influencers build with their followers. This is effective because followers tend to engage with UGCs at a higher rate. Since the algorithm gives more exposure to posts and platforms with more engagement, the Influencer’s platforms usually get seen way more. It’s a win-win for most influencers.

Influencer Pods are becoming robust as well. Some influencers have decided that the best way to link their audiences is to create pods of influencers. These pods usually have 10-15 influencers from within their industry who engage authentically with each other’s content; they share, like, and leave thoughtful comments on their most recent posts.

Many see pods as a way to skew the system and game the algorithm, but so far, no social media platform has cracked down on them yet. Stefanie believes that collaboration in whatever shape or form it comes is the key to consistent growth as influencers;

“In my case, my fame didn’t necessarily come from social media, but I have been able to maintain it on social media by continuing with the things I became famous for. My merchandise, my videos, and my photos are what people value about my brand, and so I remain consistent.

However, I also believe that helping others rise has helped me rise even more. Collaboration will probably always be a successful route to go even if the algorithms change again, because it is at the heart of what social media is trying to do, which is to connect people and to help people discover other relevant people. It’s a silver bullet by every standard.”

Stefanie’s points are valid; at the heart of most social media platforms is a desire to connect people and increase engagement. Their money-making structures are built around these same values. So it is likely that finding valuable ways to collaborate will always win in the end, and It’s difficult to have any problems with it whatsoever.

Annie Brown is the founder of Lips, a feminist technology organization at the forefront of the inclusive design movement, building products

Source: Influencers Are Utilizing Collaboration To Win Against AI Algorithms; Here’s How

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Want To Attract The Right Clients? Try These 10 Strategies

When looking for clients, you may be tempted to cast a wide net to increase the potential for success. However, this can be a defeating strategy if you aren’t careful—some clients just aren’t a good fit for a business, and vice versa. That’s why it’s important to focus your search on clients who could potentially be a good fit for you.

We asked members of Young Entrepreneur Council to share the strategies they employ to narrow down their target audience and attract the right clients. Their top 10 tips are below. Young Entrepreneur Council members share their top tactics for attracting the ideal client for your business.

1. Lead Questionnaire Forms

My company offers a wide variety of tech solution services. From web development, mobile app development, social media management, smart forms, business automations and payment gateways. With such a variety of services, potential leads tend to get confused about what they exactly need. We are very selective about who we work with.

Therefore, we make our potential clients fill out a questionnaire form where we ask them exactly what they need, their problems and their budget. This form has helped us sort through the good leads versus the bad leads. The bad leads are the ones that don’t have a budget at all, and good leads being the ones that are specific on their budget. We then can customize our services according to the client’s needs. – Fritz Colcol, ABN Circle

2. Carefully-Crafted Marketing Assets

The best strategy a business can use to attract the right clients is to clearly state—on their website and in all of their marketing material—the precise type of client that they service. That way, as an interested buyer is reading about what you offer, they’ll know right out the gate that you typically service someone other than themselves.

And, when a buyer that does fit your target persona reads that sentence, they’ll identify with your company immediately because the marketing material speaks directly to them. – Keith Shields, Designli

3. Disqualifier Questions

You don’t want every client. You don’t want most clients. So, use your contact form to discourage the wrong clients from even completing the form. When I was consulting, I incorporated disqualifier questions like, “Which area of your business is the largest pain point right now?”

If the prospect chose “finding more customers” or something marketing and sales-related, they weren’t a fit for my operations consulting services, so the form would end early and suggest a few better resources for them to check out. Don’t be afraid to send business away. A narrow focus on your product or service is a magnet for more of the right customers. – Chris Ronzio, Trainual

4. Helpful Lead Magnets

Lead magnets such as whitepapers and free courses can be good for finding new customers. This tactic is not only a way to get people interested, but it also helps you target the right prospects. If your lead magnet addresses a specific pain point of your ideal customer, you’ll be attracting the very people who can best use your service.

Of course, you have to create a lead magnet that’s truly helpful while, at the same time, not giving too much away. You need to study your market and look for specific issues and problems that your audience is seeking to solve. – Kalin Kassabov, ProTexting

5. Raising Your Prices

Some entrepreneurs and freelancers who are just starting out have a tendency to underprice their own work. This may be because they’re inexperienced or they may be hoping to attract more clients with lower prices. But a low price will only attract the type of clients who are difficult to work with and who expect a lot of quality work for a low cost. You don’t want to be working with those types of clients.

If you want to attract better clients, you need to raise your prices. Think about the type of clients you want to work with and what they can afford. You could even take a look at what your competition charges to get a better idea of what your prices need to be in order to attract high-quality clients. – Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

6. Earning Referrals

It sounds a bit old-school, but referrals are still the best way to get high-quality clients. There are things you can do to maximize referrals. First, never ask for a referral until you know you’ve added value above and beyond for a customer. Focus on your best customers, those who’ve been with you for a long time and really trust you.

It’s about quality, not quantity. Ask directly. It’s amazing how many businesses fail to do this. Your best customers want to help; show them how! Don’t incentivize via discounts or referral fees. This cheapens the referral and may even dissuade the original client who doesn’t want to seem self-serving. It works better when all parties involved are genuine and believe a good connection can be made. – Patrick Ambron, BrandYourself.com

7. An Optimized Social Media Strategy

When social media first emerged, people probably never would’ve assumed it would one day be used for businesses to grow. If your social media marketing strategy is optimized to cater to customers and serve them based on their needs, they’ll come to you. This starts by creating a strong profile that highlights how your brand benefits and serves its audience.

When your followers start to add up and users interact with you, respond in a timely manner and address concerns. Be proactive about helping users with issues and offering support where needed. Every step you take on social media adds up and determines how successful you’ll be, so make sure you’re active. – Jared Atchison, WPForms

8. Targeting Ideal Clients Where They Are

The best way to attract the right clients is for businesses to define their ideal client. It is very hard to appeal to the vast majority, so defining an ideal client is key. When businesses get really clear about who it is they are serving, then they will know where to find this type of client and how to develop strategies to attract them. What is the demographic of your ideal client?

What is the problem they might be facing that your business can help solve? What is your ideal client’s mindset or beliefs that may impact their purchasing decisions? These questions and more can help you narrow in on who you serve and who you should attract. – Diego Orjuela, Cables & Sensors

9. Defining Your ‘Red Flags’

A huge part of avoiding clients who waste your time is by having key identifiers in mind, or “red flags.” There are certain signs to tell if a client will take advantage of you, not pay you on time, etc. Stay away from clients who demand extra of you but aren’t willing to pay a fair price.

Clients who ask for a lot and try to change the guidelines you both already set are asking for trouble. Everything comes with a price, and you get what you pay for. Know your worth and set rates that match your skill set and expertise so you don’t get ripped off by cheap clients. – Chris Christoff, MonsterInsights

10. Articulating Your Unique Positioning And Differentiation

Not every client will be a good fit as clients themselves may not know what they want. You see, the best clients are not pursued, rather attracted. Instead of you pursuing them, let them come to you by what they believe in and what you have delivered to others. You want as many people to know about you and your business as possible—even if they will never become a customer.

One thing that will help the right customer learn more about you and convince them to work with you is defining your positioning and differentiation strategy. Instead of being everything to everyone, figure out what you’re best at and go after it. If you do an amazing job and you have built a reputation for yourself, client acquisition is a cakewalk. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invitation-only, fee-based organization comprised of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs 45 and younger. YEC members

Source: Want To Attract The Right Clients? Try These 10 Strategies

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PixaStudio    https://jvz1.com/c/202927/373089/
Pixivid   https://jvz6.com/c/202927/385213/
PlanB Muscle Growth   https://jvz1.com/c/202927/36517/
PlayerNeos   https://jvz2.com/c/202927/376962
Podcast Advantage   https://jvz8.com/c/202927/379995/
Podcast Masterclass  https://jvz3.com/c/202927/379998/
PodKastr    https://jvz1.com/c/202927/369500/
PopLinks    https://jvz2.com/c/202927/368095/
Postradamus     https://jvz6.com/c/202927/108695
Power Reviews    https://jvz8.com/c/202927/384625/
Powrsuite   https://jvz1.com/c/202927/376361
PR Rage  https://jvz4.com/c/202927/343405
prime stocks   https://jvz8.com/c/202927/369164
Profile mate    https://jvz4.com/c/202927/358049
Promovidz   https://jvz8.com/c/202927/375692/
Push Button Traffic   https://jvz2.com/c/202927/301402
QR Verse   https://jvz3.com/c/202927/383865/
Quintex Capital     https://quintexcapital.com/?ref=arminham
Quit Smoking    https://jvz3.com/c/202927/359081/
QuizMatic   https://jvz6.com/c/202927/387116/
Reputor   https://jvz8.com/c/202927/380159/
ReVideo  https://jvzoo.com/c/202927/381761
ReviewReel   https://jvz6.com/c/202927/382663/
Rewriter   https://jvz4.com/c/202927/353373/
RSI SEO   https://jvz6.com/c/202927/384381/
Scriptdio   https://jvz4.com/c/202927/385387/
Seniors Income    https://jvz2.com/c/202927/383888/
Senuke  https://jvz6.com/c/202927/279944
ShopABot   https://jvz2.com/c/202927/291955
ShopFunnels   https://jvz3.com/c/202927/384069/
SocialAgency360   https://jvz1.com/c/202927/385357/
SociCake  https://jvz2.com/c/202927/321987
Socifeed   https://jvz6.com/c/202927/375706
SociJam  https://jvz2.com/c/202927/309649
Soronity  https://jvz6.com/c/202927/368736
SqribbleEbook   https://jvz6.com/c/202927/283867
Stackable Picture   https://jvz1.com/c/202927/385046/
Steven Alvey’s   https://jvz2.com/c/202927/351754
Stoodaio   https://jvz1.com/c/202927/372094
Storymate    https://jvz3.com/c/202927/320972
StoryReel   https://jvz3.com/c/202927/387813/
StreamPilot   https://jvz2.com/c/202927/385431/
Studioninja   https://jvz1.com/c/202927/374965
Sunday Freebie  https://jvz1.com/c/202927/267113/
Super backdrop   https://jvz8.com/c/202927/376524
Survai    https://jvz8.com/c/202927/380933/
Syndranker    https://jvz3.com/c/202927/378143/
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Tonai Voice Content   https://jvz8.com/c/202927/383117/
Toon Video Maker    https://jvz2.com/c/202927/357201
TrafficForU   https://jvz3.com/c/202927/381950/
Trendio  https://jvz3.com/c/202927/381003/
TubePal   https://jvz6.com/c/202927/379863/
Tubeserp   https://jvz3.com/c/202927/370472
TubeTargeter  https://jvz6.com/c/202927/377211
TuneMingo    https://jvz3.com/c/202927/386556/
TV Boss Fire  https://jvz6.com/c/202927/379480/
Ultrafunnels A.I   https://jvz2.com/c/202927/381129/
VIADZ Ad Template  https://jvz4.com/c/202927/379307/
Vidcentric   https://jvz4.com/c/202927/376095
Viddeyo    https://jvz6.com/c/202927/382326/
Videevolve   https://jvz4.com/c/202927/381011/
Vidently   https://jvz2.com/c/202927/387798/
Video Campaignor      https://jvz4.com/c/202927/387058/
Video Games   https://jvz3.com/c/202927/184902/
VideoEnginePro     https://jvz2.com/c/202927/372916
VideoGameSuite    https://jvz3.com/c/202927/366537/
VideoRobot Enterprise   https://jvz8.com/c/202927/291061
VidKreate   https://jvz6.com/c/202927/386029/
VidMingo   https://jvz6.com/c/202927/378359/
VidRaffle   https://jvz2.com/c/202927/386840/
VidSnatcher    https://jvz3.com/c/202927/342585
VidVoicer   https://jvz1.com/c/202927/379983/
Vidzura   https://jvz4.com/c/202927/385754/
Viral dash   https://jvz6.com/c/202927/375959
Viral Quotes      https://jvz2.com/c/202927/386984/
VirtualReel   https://jvz8.com/c/202927/376849
Vocalic  https://jvz2.com/c/202927/383848/
VoiceBuddy    https://jvz1.com/c/202927/342854
VR Studio  https://jvz1.com/c/202927/388296/
WebCop  https://jvz4.com/c/202927/378683/
Webinarkit   https://jvz3.com/c/202927/383937/
Webprimo   https://jvz1.com/c/202927/379455/
WordPress Mastery   https://jvz1.com/c/202927/386249/
WowBackgraounds   https://jvz2.com/c/202927/381556/
WP GDPR    https://jvz8.com/c/202927/299907
WP Simulator    https://jvz3.com/c/202927/46987/
Writer Arc   https://jvz1.com/c/202927/386602/
writing job   https://jvz8.com/c/202927/213027
XBrain Forex   https://jvz3.com/c/202927/372305/
XFUNNELS   https://jvz2.com/c/202927/310335
Xinemax  https://jvz1.com/c/202927/381749/
YoDrive   https://jvz2.com/c/202927/384700/
YoSeller   https://jvz4.com/c/202927/387544/
Your 3DPal   https://jvz2.com/c/202927/381685/
YTSuite   https://jvzoo.com/c/202927/381179
Zappable   https://jvz3.com/c/202927/367328/

 

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