I’ve committed the cardinal digital publishing sin in the past few weeks: I haven’t been publishing regularly since about mid-July. I had a few personal commitments over the past few weeks and have been heads-down on some new business. And of course, people are busy with their own summer holidays in July and August, right? Yes, I know that this is not a good reason to stop posting for as long as I have – but it’s the only reason I have. Sorry to have been dark lately. Now, on with the show…
Meet Google Duo (Google Blog, 8/16)
Google has finally made its play in the one-to-one video calling space that has until now belonged to FaceTime and Skype. Working against Duo: proliferation of video calling features, audiences that have settled into their video calling habits, the fact that Duo is not an auto-install… and perhaps Google’s own unfortunately scattered history with apps and platforms that stray from its core competency. In its favor: the ability to switch seamlessly between WiFi and cellular connections without dropping the call, a less cluttered interface, better call quality (so Google claims), the ability to make video calls between Android and iOS devices (something FaceTime cannot do), and perhaps most intriguingly, a feature called “Knock Knock,” which allows you to see a caller before you pick up — perhaps allowing you to decide whether you want to answer them right now. Time will tell if Duo can make a dent in one-to-one video calling, but at least Google has gotten into the game.
The War Between Platforms And Adblockers Goes On…
(USAToday, 8/9; Business Insider, 8/11)
Red Sox vs. Yankees. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant. Greasers vs. Socs. And lately, joining the classic list of antagonistic rivalries: Web information platforms vs. ad blockers. The war has been on for more than a year now. In the red corner: information providers — news outlets, even social media platforms — who argue that advertising allows them to publish ‘free’ to the web, and that ad blocking is nothing short of an armageddon that threatens the very existence of the free Web. In the blue corner, ad blocking software providers and users who consider advertising and marketing on the web to be at best an unwelcome intrusion, and who are determined to keep ads from being part of their experience.
Facebook joined the fray a week ago, announcing that it would begin making it harder for ad blockers to work on the desktop version of its platform. While many ad blockers aren’t as effective on Facebook on mobile devices, the social network is obviously taking the threat to its greatest revenue source very seriously — even listing ad blocking as a risk during its most recent quarterly filing. Facebook’s tagging in to this fight signals the arrival of a potent ally to publishers aiming to protect their revenue sources.
But within two days, the ad blocking community had developed and implemented a workaround. AdBlock Plus posted on its blog just 48 hours later that it had added a new filter that will tell its software to continue blocking ads on Facebook.
I think we’re all half-expecting someone to pull Zuck aside and say, “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way!”
Twitter Expands Moments To Brands And Influencers (BrandChannel, 8/9)
Is this another anxious attempt by Twitter to generate ad revenue from brands? Is it an admission that Moments as currently constituted isn’t really working and therefore it might as well transition to being an ad platform? Is it just that storytelling or variations on it is the most effective way to communicate, and brands and Twitter have figured out that this is the best way to do this on Twitter’s platform? If you rep a brand that’s active on Twitter, this bears watching.
Twitter’s Share Of US Social Network Users Is Dropping (eMarketer, 8/15)
I wish the news for Twitter was a little more encouraging; beating up on Twitter has taken on all the challenge of beating up Punch Out!s Glass Joe. But alas, eMarketer has revised its projections for 2016, suggesting only a 2% increase in active users for Twitter in the US. (eMarketer had previously projected an 8% increase.) eMarketer is also now projecting that Twitter will actually lose share of social network usage through 2020. Most concerning, perhaps, is the projection that Twitter usage within the 12-17 age group will remain stagnant through 2020 — so as users progress from adopting a platform, getting adept at it, and then eventually making it into the coveted buying demographic brands pay big bucks to target… they’re not really going on Twitter, which means they won’t be going on Twitter as 18-24 year olds either. Meanwhile, upstart platforms like Snapchat and Instagram continue to gain users more quickly and add share. It’s possible that Twitter’s days as a mainstream platform (as opposed to a niche platform) might be drawing to a close. (I am not suggesting that Twitter is going away… only that it could be approaching the end of its lifecycle as a pop culture phenomenon.)
Inside Twitter’s 10 Year Failure To Stop Harassment (BuzzFeed, 8/11)
Of course, another contributing factor to Twitter’s decline is that for many users, Twitter is not a friendly destination nor a comfortable experience. Much has been written in the past about bullying and harassment that happens on Twitter — from the #Gamergate debacle, to racist and sexist tweets driving actress/comedian Leslie Jones off the platform in the aftermath of the release of the Ghostbusters re-do, to countless examples of Anonymous attacks and doxxing incidents. (Abuse always seems loudest and most violent and hateful when directed at women; the history of trolling, threats and misogyny on Twitter is long and painful.)
But perhaps never has there been as damning a look at Twitter’s failure to effectively combat — or even really try to stop — bullying and harassment on its platform as this week’s feature on BuzzFeed. The platform’s (largely male) founding core see themselves as defenders of a bastion of free speech, even when such speech is unpopular… but even when Twitter leadership recognizes that some conduct crosses the line, the organization is just not prepared to effectively respond or take steps to combat or end that conduct.
If you’re interested in a case study on how an organization can fail to respond to one of its biggest threats — or if you’re concerned about online bullying — this is an unfortunate must-read.
FTC To Crack Down On Paid Celebrity Posts That Aren’t Clear Ads (Bloomberg, 8/5)
For heaven’s sake, you’d think brands and their agencies would have gotten the message by now; the FTC’s only been warning us and harping on disclosure requirements since 2009. And yet, we in marketing never seem to learn. (To be fair, I’ve certainly run across my share of bloggers and influencers who didn’t want to clearly disclose that they were being compensated, because they thought it might “cost them credibility” with their audiences. Sigh.)
We in marketing can decide that we do not like the rule. We can argue that clearly labeling a celebrity’s post as an ad or making clear that they’ve been paid to post might make them seem less authentic or lessen their impact. But: a) the rules are the rules, whether we like them or not, and disliking a rule does not relieve us of our responsibility to follow it; b) if as advertisers or marketers we think that our work, if clearly labeled as our work, is not effective or authentic… we have a bigger problem requiring a deeper look in the mirror than just some FTC guidance. If our industry believes that the only way we can be impactful is to cloak our footprints or even to deceive audiences about the fact that we’re involved with something… it doesn’t say a lot about how we see our own work, much less how audiences see us. We can do better — and every poorly, unclearly, or deceptively disclosed compensated influencer post just discredits our industry further and exacerbates the very problem we’re trying to work around.
Anyway, the takeaway here is that the FTC puts the onus on brands and agencies to make sure the clear disclosures are happening — either through the content we draft for the influencer or in the follow-up we do with an influencer writing on their own.
Facebook’s Changing The News Feed Again To Make It More “Informative” (Marketingland, 8/11)
Three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and Facebook News Feed algorithm changes. This time, the changes are intended to make your news feed more informative — the hope is that the change means you’ll see more news stories or how-to pieces in your feed, and fewer videos of cats that look unhappy or the latest sad Keanu face. As a user, this should make you happier. As a brand manager who’s responsible for trying to get your brand’s content in front of more Facebook fans and users? Well, if you’re already focused on producing quality, smart content, this algorithm change shouldn’t impact you too greatly; informative, solid, intelligent content should in theory be boosted by this algorithm change. On the other hand, if your strategy is built around “real-time marketing” and hitching your brand to whatever meme or trending topic seems most open to brandjacking, you might be in for a rough patch. (Of course, if that’s your strategy, you probably weren’t hitting many of your actual business objectives anyway, but that’s another story.)
Blab Is Dead… Long Live Blab (Blab Medium, 8/13)
The fact that a podcasting/livestreaming platform has shut down isn’t necessarily the big takeaway from this story – although the rapid decline of Blab does indicate how quickly fortunes can turn in this volatile space. But Blab founder Shaan Puri was constructively candid about what went wrong, and one of his top conclusions is informative and instructive for brands looking to build out live streamed content.
“#1: Most Livestreams Suck.
Of the 3.9 million total users, only 10% (~400,000) came back on a regular basis. Why?
Because most live streams aren’t interesting enough to justify stopping what they are doing to watch your broadcast.”
This candid assessment of why his livestream platform failed is mighty helpful to brands, especially those trying to ramp up a livestreaming program. Just like any reputable digital expert has been telling you for a long time, success is all about the content. New platforms can offer us opportunities to develop new kinds of content, and they certainly adjust how we deliver that content… but at the end of the day, what you publish has to be good. It has to engage your audience, tell a story that is relevant to the audience’s needs or interests rather than your own messaging, has to help the audience do something they already wanted to do, or achieve something they need to achieve. Being first to a hot new platform doesn’t do you any good unless you’re producing quality content on that platform. Stop worrying so much about whether you’re on the coolest, latest platform and trying so hard to get first-mover advantage; instead, focus on producing solid, useful, relevant content.
As it relates to livestreaming: Think about your story lines first. What are you sharing with a live audience? Is it important, useful, or interesting enough to get them to drop what they’re doing, stop their day, and watch your broadcast? What will they get out of it for having invested their time? And maybe most importantly:
If you didn’t work there… would you stop your day to watch this live broadcast?
When you can answer those questions, then it’s time to turn to livestreaming.