Where Do We Go From Here? Up.

As you likely know by now, this is a big week for a venture six years in the making, and something I’ve been working on recently with my partners Scott Monty, Tim Hayden, Frank Eliason, and Angus Nelson.  Yesterday morning, we officially launched Brain+Trust Partners, our new executive consultancy helping busy leaders manage an evolving marketplace with common sense and strategic guidance.

We’re based in Austin, TX — home to some of the most innovative companies in the world. We’ve also got partners in Nashville (great start-up scene!) and Philadelphia (in the heart of the northeast business corridor). But I’m proud to say that we’re also very well represented in Detroit — where the start-up scene is burgeoning and playing a big part in our city’s rebirth. Scott Monty and I will remain based in Michigan and will bring some Detroit flair to the business world both here and outside of our home city.

Our consultancy, Brain+Trust Partners will provide clients with clear, common sense strategic guidance in the areas of:

  • Strategic communications and marketing
  • Management consulting
  • Digital transformation
  • Innovation planning
  • Advanced technology strategy

Our premise is simple: the business world is changing rapidly. Between emerging technologies, shifting customer demands, and new employee expectations, businesses are entering a period of even more disruptive change than has taken place over the past decade. A consultancy rooted in business experience and understanding of real business environments, while also providing expertise and comprehension of how emerging technologies (digital and otherwise) can impact business processes across the board, can be invaluable to businesses in any industry. That’s what we’re betting on, anyway. And I can’t think of better or smarter people to be going into business with. No one ever starts a business pessimistically, but I feel extraordinarily positive about the future with this bunch.

So given where my focus has been for the past couple of months, it’s not surprising that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about both the past and the future, as I consider how my career to this point has been shaped by business change and how the next stage of my career will be defined by even more dramatic change. The future of marketing, the future of employment, the future of customer experience, the future of business processes and structures themselves are all about to change.

The Future Of Marketing And Communications

We’ve written at Brain+Trust about the five things that are shaping that future: people, technology, operations, mobility, and regulation. Sometimes these apply independently, but often their full impact comes from how they intertwine. Such is the case with the future of marketing. You can look at marketing’s evolution as something of a combination of people, mobility, and technology.

There will be time to dive deeper into this evolution in future posts, but let’s briefly look at the dynamic currently at play in digital marketing. More money is being spent on digital video advertising and content than ever before — some sources report that more money will be spent on digital than on TV advertising in 2017 — and yet between the rapid rise of adblockers, alogorithm shifts that de-emphasize publisher and brand content (judged as frequently unwanted by users), and simply the increase in the sheer amount of sources and content that are out there to sift through and realistically pay attention to… all that content is being seen less frequently than ever. People have done, largely, what they were doing before the rise of digital: they’re ignoring most brand content as irrelevant to their interests and needs.

When digital and content marketing fails today (and too much of it does) it does so for one of three reasons:

1) It’s not relevant to the audience. People have hundreds of potential content sources, pumping out literally millions of pieces of content each day. The human brain can only process so much before it naturally begins to filter out, forget, or ignore — so we begin applying a natural filter to content, and we only pay attention to things that seem relevant to our wants, needs, or interests.

But too much brand marketing isn’t produced with that realization front of mind. When we develop content, we still think about marketing and content first in terms of the brand’s key messages, selling points, or what we want the viewer to walk away with. Too often, we don’t start by thinking about the customer’s need state, what is going on in our customer’s life or business that is front of mind for them, what they’re naturally paying attention to already. We think too much like marketers and not enough like consumers. We need to be more customer-centric in our content development and creation

2) We don’t know how to effectively tell stories that grab an audience’s attention. Consider two things: (1) the average person now has a shorter attention span than a goldfish; (2) Human brains are wired to positively receive good storytelling. Traditional marketing often takes too long to grab an viewer’s attention, and fails to invest the audience in its completion by telling a strong, relatable story. Human beings have been communicating via story — and sending desired messages through story — for thousands of years, since we began communicating in the first place. Storytelling ahead of advertising is an effective tool to have in your arsenal as a marketer, and not enough marketers truly understand that.

To that point… “storytelling” is a buzzword that people are already sick of. And I’ll concede, there are a lot of folks out there who’ve latched onto storytelling as a trend without truly understanding what it really means or why it works. But the problem with most reflexive brand storytelling (i.e., the storytelling done by marketers or would-be thought leaders who’ve latched onto it as the latest conceptual buzzword) isn’t that storytelling is a bad or empty concept. The problem is that they’re looking to co-opt the basic elements of storytelling for marketing purposes rather than genuinely committing to storytelling.

It’s like the difference between a paint-by-numbers watercolor and a showpiece created by a master artist. Sure, both methods give you a discernible image on the paper or canvas when they’re completed — but one is mechanically correct while lacking heart, and the other is born from passion and creativity that shows through in the final work. “Brand storytelling” that seeks to incorporate the basic elements of classic storytelling to convey a brand message, but fails to recognize the desires of the audience and build from that desire, is destined to fail — and it’s that kind of storytelling that has deservedly engendered the backlash.

A good story involves relatable characters with a discernible purpose and a clear journey; audiences will respond well to a story featuring “someone like me” facing challenges or having a need similar to their own. This gets back to customer-centricity.

(3) Too often, marketing interferes with the experience people are on a platform to have. How many people do you know who go on Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat primarily to check out what brands have to say, or (outside of the Super Bowl) watch broadcast or video content to see the commercials?  I’d venture not many. Too often in marketing, we forget that people don’t usually engage on a network or platform to hear from us. They’re on to connect with and keep up with their friends, to find funny or relatable stories to share with their networks (whether the heartwarming kind or the “isn’t this outrageous” kind), and to inform themselves. We forget this, and we develop strategies to push our content into as many streams and in front of as many eyes as possible.

The problem with this? It basically relegates marketing to being an intrusion on the experience the audience wants to have. And they resent it. Adblockers (and 15 years before them, skipping commercials on DVR) became popular for very good reason; people don’t want to see advertising and marketing interfering with the experiences they’re seeking. We need to be more creative and considerate of the audience’s desired experience, and find ways to make our brands part of that experience, not an intrusion upon it.

We rightfully get excited as marketers and advertisers when thinking about the future of marketing in the context of technology and mobility. We think of all the possibilities unleashed by mobile devices and the ability to reach any audience anywhere. We rub our hands together gleefully when thinking about proximity based marketing and the potential ability to reach customers with targeted offers and messages precisely when they are in the physical location to most likely act on them. And these technologies do hold tremendous promise for marketing and advertising, undoubtedly. They are an amazing opportunity.

But if we think that proximity and location-based technologies will just enable us to push the same unwanted crap that audiences have been ignoring and blocking in other venues, we will fumble this opportunity as well.

We have to think of future marketing holistically — exploiting what technology makes possible, using mobility to better inform ourselves about customer behavior and desires, and most of all keeping in mind the “people” aspect of marketing — making our output more relatable and customer-centric, and less intrusive and more of an augmenting of someone’s desired experience.  Do this, and we’ll be best positioned as marketers to make the most of the change factors affecting business in the next few years.

Please be sure to follow Brain+Trust Partners on social:

Facebook: facebook.com/braintrustpartners/

Twitter: @YourBrainTrust

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/company/brain-trust-partners

Instagram: instagram.com/braintrustpartners




















On Your Marks…

You know that feeling you get just before something exciting, awesome or otherwise highly anticipated and spectacular  is about to happen? Like when you go to a Broadway show and the house lights dim on and off and then dim altogether, and you’re left in a few seconds of darkness before the orchestra launches into the overture? Or when you’re at DisneyWorld and on Space Mountain, and the bar goes over your shoulders and locks into place, and you know the ride is just about to start?  Or even, if you were a pro wrestling fan in the 90s, when the house lights go down for a few seconds it’s black in the arena, and you just know that you’re about to hear The Undertaker’s bell?

I’ve had that feeling for the past couple of months, and it’s reaching fever pitch this week. In fact, if my career and life had a soundtrack right now, this is what it would sound like:

  • I’m So Excited – Pointer Sisters
  • Mr. Blue Sky – ELO
  • I’m Into Something Good – Herman’s Hermits
  • Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life – Monty Python
  • Higher And Higher – Jackie Wilson
  • Hold On Tight – ELO
  • Here Comes The Sun – The Beatles
  • Gonna Fly Now (Theme From Rocky) – Bill Conti
  • Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now – McFadden & Whitehead
  • Let’s Get It Started – Black Eyed Peas

You get the picture; I am super optimistic and excited. I’m feeling like I’m at Comerica Park, the game is tied in the bottom 9th inning, the Tigers have a runner on 2nd, and Miguel Cabrera is coming to the plate strides to the plate and digs in to face the other team’s pitcher; the whole crowd stands and roars in anticipation, and the adrenaline is palpable. Yeah, it’s like that.

The core of an idea first sketched out on a cocktail napkin six years ago — no really, it was; we still have the napkin — has been expanded upon, improved upon, made bolder and smarter in the past few weeks. I’ve been working with some friends and colleagues on What’s Next. And very soon, we’re going to be letting the world in on this venture, which has until now been our exciting secret.

Stay tuned, because stuff’s about to get really cool.


Wednesday Afternoon Quarterback: August 31, 2016

Facebook makes Trending Topics both annoyingly useless and infuriatingly inaccurate; the US government figures out what brands have known for years about the most effective social media content; and Google continues to evolve its social network strategy – with both Google+ and YouTube. Here is your resource for the stories that matter in digital, content, and advanced emerging technology for the past week: The Quarterback report.

Facebook’s Editorial Purge Has Completely Backfired (The Verge, August 30)

Faced a few months ago with allegations that the human team behind the Trending Topics feature was introducing political bias and impacting which stories trended, Facebook vowed to make changes to the feature. In the past week, they revealed and implemented those changes — chief among them the shifting the human element from the process, replacing 18 human editors with a combination of an algorithm and human editors with less journalistic training and more technical backgrounds— with pretty ugly results.

A demonstrably false story about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly trended Sunday and didn’t get taken down until well into Monday, leading some publications to wonder whether Facebook might actually be guilty of libeling Ms. Kelly. Other trending topics boffs during the first few days after the change: headlines were not accurately matched with a subject, trending topics were classified improperly, and the feature simply promoted many more irrelevant, dumbed down topics.

The net effect of the change has been disastrous; even absent the troubling issues of accuracy and promoting false stories, it has rendered Facebook’s Trending Topics irrelevant and, to many observers, kind of useless. (Even the revised presentation, a simple list of topics that requires hovering or clicking to determine why the topic is trending, renders the service no more useful than Twitter’s better-established list; one of the things that made Facebook’s feature unique and added value was the context it placed around topics as they spiked.)

A hardened cynic might wonder if this was the intent of the critics all along – to discredit the feature or make the stories trending there less relevant. It’s certainly a valid question to ask how the accusations of bias might have influenced Facebook to make ill-advised changes that have negatively impacted the feature. Another, less cynical factor in this debacle — first suggested to me by my friend and top digital pioneer Richard Binhammer — is that Facebook has perhaps an overabundance of young Silicon Valley coding types who simply have maybe a little too much faith in the power of algorithms and technology. Algorithms, for all their power and wonder, are still flawed — and aren’t smart enough yet to separate fact from opinion (or truth from falsehood).

And in another indicator that Facebook may be a little too in love with technology, Slate reports that by Facebook’s own admission, the humans they have kept in the process aren’t journalistically trained, but rather have technology backgrounds.

“We are shifting to a team with an emphasis on operations and technical skillsets, which helps us better support the new direction of the product.” — Facebook statement

Wow. You’re crafting a feature that purports to be an information source (and is used by many as such), but you’re building it using people not with journalism or content skillsets, but technical ones?  Ouch. Just… ouch.

Putting a lightning rod feature like Trending Topics in the hands of an algorithm and technologists may not have been what Facebook needed. Even with future revisions, the Trending Topics feature may have had its credibility so wounded, you wonder if it will survive.

US Revamps Line Of Attack In Social Media Fight Against Islamic State (Wall Street Journal, 8/28)

Brands (well, at least the ones that understand audience dynamics) have known for years that third party content and third party opinions from “people like me” move perceptions more effectively and are seen as more credible than organizational content. Amazingly, the US Government didn’t seem to get the memo, at least when it comes to combatting and countering ISIL online. Not only was the government creating its own content — far too easily dismissed as propaganda by its target audience — but it was doing so in English. Really?  From the WSJ article:

“One of the government’s earliest messaging campaigns against Islamic State began in 2013 with a Twitter account run by the State Department called “Think Again Turn Away,” which aimed to dissuade people interested in joining the terrorist group. But the account would often tweet directly at pro-Islamic State accounts, sparking back-and-forths on Twitter that drew more attention to the voices of individual jihadists.”

Sigh.  The government might have looked at our own recent history from the Cold War and examined whether Americans ever considered Soviet propaganda anything but a joke; this was not a strategy destined for success.

Thankfully, the government seems to be now taking a cue from the business world, engaging in a strategy brands have used for close to a decade now: find third party influencers whose credibility with a target audience is greater than your own, then equip them with information or tools to create their own content —  leveraging their credibility for your own benefit.

“Over the past year, the government has helped tech companies like Facebook create competitions for college students around the world to come up with their own campaigns against extremism. The efforts recognize that young people will respond best to messages created by other young people.”

No effort is ever going to completely stop bad or even dangerous ideas or content from spreading online, but at least the government’s now taking a more informed, more realistic approach to countering terrorists.

Google Reboots Its Social Networking Efforts

Google’s history with developing social networks has been, to say the least, challenging. Two stories regarding Google’s social efforts caught my eye this week. First, they have finally rolled out the redesigned Google+ to all users (VentureBeat, 8/30). If you thought Google+ was dead you could be forgiven — but actually Google has been gradually rolling out a redesign since November, focusing on “communities” and “collections” — emphasizing small like-minded group interaction and visual (photo, video) content curation over being a broader social network. The strategy may be working; according to VentureBeat, since November the network has seen twice as many Collections followed per day, and 1.6 million daily new community joins. This week, Google is making the redesigned Google+ available to everyone. The broader rollout features the debut of some new features, including the ability to add links and photos to your comments (wow, it took them this long for that?) and allowing community owners and moderators to enable approved posting, basically controlling who is allowed to post what in a community. Plus will also become a core Google For Work service within the next few weeks.

The initial launch Google+ was so fraught with challenges and carried such an air of “failure” that it may not ever be possible to turn Plus into a mass social network — but that no longer appears to be the intent (if it ever was). Google Plus’s best shot at surivival appears to be looks like it might be creating value as a niche network serving targeted communities. It will be interesting to see how the new features impact the platform and its network.

The other Google-related social networking story that caught my eye this week: reports that YouTube may soon be a social network with text and image posts. First, this is just a report and isn’t confirmed. But if true, this project — known internally as “Backstage” — would seem to be a tacit acknowledgement that Facebook and even has been raiding YouTube’s users and content creators; by allowing users  and creators to expand what they share and how they interact with followers (two-way interaction rather than one-way communication), YouTube might reinvigorate the communities and creators on its network who might have begun being tempted by other networks. Given the increasing shift toward video-first content and information, YouTube’s history as a video-first platform might lend it an edge over Facebook and other rivals.

Other stories that caught my eye this week:

Twitter Is Finally Paying Its Best Users To Create Video (Recode, 8/30)  Will a more generous revenue split be more attractive to creators, and enhance Twitter as a video destination? Related: Twitter is now letting US creators add pre-roll ads to videos (VentureBeat, 8/30).

Report: Twitter Will Let You Filter Abusive Hashtags And Keywords (The Next Web, 8/27) Twitter’s response to its harassment problem so far seems centered on keeping you from seeing abusive content you choose to filter out. That’s a good start, but will Twitter address the damage that can be done to a reputation even if you can’t see it being done — and will it choose to police language that could incite someone to take negative action (anything from doxxing to hacking to physical assault) against another user? I’m not sure that protecting the eyes and feelings of harassment targets goes far enough.

Snapchat Just Deleted Its (Facebook) Account (The Next Web, 8/30). Hard to tell whether Snapchat might have ever been able to develop a community on Facebook; they hadn’t updated their page in going on three years. Snapchat is, however, actively maintaining its Twitter account. Is this simply a matter of Snapchat’s leadership not ever having found value in a Facebook page and having grown quite well without it? Or is this a message from Snapchat, possibly signaling some growing frustration with Facebook (or Instagram)’s “borrowing” so many of Snapchat’s more popular features?

Instagram Adds Stories To Explore Tab, Says Over 100 Million Use It (The Next Web, 8/30). Speaking of things Facebook/Instagram “borrow” from Snapchat… while many users may think the original (Snapchat Stories) is better than the copy, Instagram may have figured out how to better use Stories within a network. On Instagram, “under the Explore tab, users will now see Stories from accounts Instagram thinks they should follow.” Using the Stories feature to help users find relevant content or creators with similar interests may give Instagram’s Stories an edge (over time, of course) over Snapchat by holding a user’s attention and keeping them on Instagram longer.

Helping Users Easily Access Content On Mobile (Google Blog, 8/23) Google’s shift toward mobile has been so successful that at this point, the company finds that 85% of all pages in mobile search results now meet its mobile-friendly criteria. While they’ll still use those criteria in search rankings, they’re ditching the “mobile-friendly” label — when 85% of pages fit the definition, is it really something to highlight anymore? More significantly to me, beginning in January 2017 Google is going to begin penalizing pages with pop-ups and interstitials because are intrusive and make the user experience more frustrating. That sound you just heard was a bunch of web marketers ripping their own hair out.

Intel Reveals Project Alloy, An All-In-One VR Headset With Mobile Positional Tracking (Road To VR, 8/16) I’m a little late on mentioning this, but count Intel now among the major players developing VR hardware and software. Interesting and promising: Intel’s inclusion of an onboard processor to handle inside-out positional tracking — which would make their headset fully portable and tetherless.

Boeing’s ‘Father Of The 747’ Has Died (CNNMoney, 8/30) It’s not really digital or marketing-related, but it’s hard to think of the evolution of international business without considering the impact of the Boeing 747 on international business. The 747 was the first true wide-body commercial aircraft; it changed the physical layout of airports, made over-ocean travel more comfortable and less costly. For its time it was groundbreakingly fuel efficient — dropping costs and shifting fuel-per-passenger ratios so much that it infused money into the airline industry and opened up international air travel to both the middle class and the non-executive employees of business.

The man who led the engineering team that developed the Boeing 747, Joe Sutter, died Tuesday at the age of 95.  All of us who have ever flown across an ocean to conduct business — or even to go on vacation — owe Mr. Sutter a debt of gratitude. The next time you’re in an international departures terminal waiting at your gate or shopping duty-free, spare a thought and some thanks for Joe Sutter.





Tuesday Afternoon Quarterback: August 23, 2016

The Olympics are over, though the second-guessing and grumping about NBC’s coverage continues. The New York Times buys an experiential agency. And despite the assurances from Millennial-courting writers and brands seeking their But Really, We ARE Cool – Trust Us! Badge, a majority of marketers don’t think emojis are appropriate in business settings. Here we are with your guide to the important marketing, content, and digital stories of the past week or so: Tuesday Afternoon Quarterback.

Rio Olympics: The Brand Winners And Losers (Digiday, 8/19)

Not surprisingly, the big loser out of the Rio games was Ryan Lochte, the swimming bro-tool who decided that Rio provided him an excellent platform to hone his storytelling skills. (Sarcastic note to content marketers: while I am a big proponent of storytelling, your storytelling has to basically involved truth in order to be effective.) But I didn’t see any positive discussion about NBC’s coverage of the Games – and true to observation, NBC are listed among Rio’s big losers in this piece. To an extent, covering the Games in the US is a thankless gig;  a lot of people go into the Olympics gunning to bark about the coverage. Still, NBC gave the critics ammunition – between its demeaning coverage of female athletes, its emphasis on pre-packaging the Olympics as a collection of soap opera stories, and its failure to fully adjust to digital reality. (I wrote last week about how to change Olympic coverage for the better.)

It will be interesting to see if the increased visibility and online engagement for the brands listed as “winners” will reap ongoing benefit; will Kellogg’s see sales of Special K Red Berries increase? Did Coca-Cola experience a sales spike during the Rio Games? The two other brands listed as “winners” won not through mentions or share of voice, but via tactics. GE continues to lead just about every big brand in how it successfully adopts digital technologies to tell stories and make itself relevant even in storylines where their involvement is not readily apparent to a general audience.

But to me, the trailblazer may well have been Under Armour. The apparel company might just have given brands a playbook on how to best capitalize on the Olympics without getting caught up in the IOC’s draconian Rule 40 regulations or paying through the nose to the IOC for sponsorship:

Continue reading “Tuesday Afternoon Quarterback: August 23, 2016”

On Gawker’s Demise

In case you missed it… Gawker.com is ceasing operations this week.

The news has generated a lot of commentary online — much of it warning of the dangers presented to journalism as a result of this case. Some are even painting Gawker as victims in this case of a mean old Mr. Potter-like billionaire, Peter Thiel (the PayPal founder whom Gawker had outed as gay in 2007). The warnings have gone up about the influence wealthy individuals can have on the process of journalism, and the influence of money on justice when journalistic rights are concerned.

Well, I’ll say it, because not everyone’s been willing to: Gawker editorial leadership were horrible people who made the profession of journalism look awful. They made involuntarily outing people for sport and clicks their stock and trade, and they didn’t care whose lives they ruined in the process. Far too often and on most days, Gawker leadership and the editors of its publications badly confused snark for wit, and mistook jerkishness for “hard-nosed journalism.”  As all the pieces mourning Gawker’s demise and warning of chill effects get published, let’s not lose sight of something: Gawker’s raison d’etre was humiliating people for fun and profit.

Even the cases that would eventually cost them their existence were based on trying to humiliate and embarrass another human being — be it outing Peter Theil a decade ago, or the publishing of Hulk Hogan’s private sex tape. Gawker didn’t care about the impact they had on anyone’s life, so long as it generated clicks. Gawker justified its reporters’ behavior under a weak and phony rationale that no one (except Nick Denton, apparently) is entitled to secrets or a private life; everything is a matter of public interest if a self-proclaimed “journalist” says it is, in the Gawker world.

That justification is a lousy and unaccepted excuse. Gawker’s leadership and editorial staff were bullies of the worst order, pure and simple. They hid their behavior behind the shield of the First Amendment, justifying their conduct and vindictiveness like the schoolyard bully who says his wedgies, threats, and mockery were “just a joke.” Many of Gawker’s vendettas and crusades against their targets had nothing to do with the public interest journalism is supposed to serve; the modus operandi was simply to generate traffic through salaciousness, no matter the cost to the individuals placed in the Gawker spotlight. I am not mourning the loss of Gawker.com; I have a healthy case of schadenfreude about seeing its leadership suffer.

And yet…

There is something admittedly disconcerting about the way Gawker went down. Peter Thiel demonstrated the Trump principle: if tie your adversaries up in court for so long that they can’t afford to continue the fight, you win. And while no one — and I do mean, no one — should mourn the demise of Gawker.com itself, you have to be concerned about the dynamic that was demonstrated in this case. As USA Today put it, “Money talks. Sometimes louder than speech.”

While I will never argue that the First Amendment was intended to protect a bully’s right to torment people (as Nick Denton and his staff did regularly), I am concerned about the precedent. What happens if another moneyed billionaire — say, the Koch Brothers or George Soros — decides they don’t like what’s being published about them or causes dear to them? Did Peter Thiel just provide a playbook to billionaires on how to shut down unfavorable coverage or a journalistic outlet whose editorial outlook they find distasteful? Could we be entering an era in which the moneyed can’t just “buy coverage,” but can shut down and darken any spotlight that shines upon them, simply through superior financial firepower?

Is it important, as some have suggested, to take a stand here on behalf of journalism — even yellow journalism — so that the kill ’em-through-dragging-out-the-courts precedent isn’t set in stone?  Is this a case where we should invoke the famous Niemoller quotation, “First They Came…” and worry that if we don’t speak when “they” come for Gawker,  there will eventually be no one left to speak for the Washington Post, New York Times, or Wall Street Journal?

For me, the answer lies in a hard truth: It’s hard to defend Gawker.com. This is kind of like having to be vocal about opposing the death penalty when confronted with the case of a confessed serial killer who is on death row… does disdain for the subject of the case override one’s principles about the overarching issue?

In the end, I don’t think this case will have this kind of long-term, first-they-came impact. Gawker simply didn’t have enough allies; there were lots of people in the rest of the media and in corridors of power who were disgusted by its M.O. — the Washington Post ran a column last July titled “Gawker Is Keeping Its Sleaze Game In Shape,” just as one example — and no one really wanted to put money or their own reputation on the line to protect what Gawker represented to them, or to defend the posting of a sex tape with no actual news value.  Despite Nick Denton’s repeated attempts to paint himself as the bullied victim of a bad guy vindictive billionaire, too many people just really believed that Denton and Gawker had this coming. It seems to me that many people may have felt that Thiel was justified. I’m not the only one experiencing a little schadenfreude, this much seems clear.

But should a similar case ever arise against a more reputable, more decent bunch of people who practice journalism in the actual public interest? I think you’d see think tanks, journalism schools, interest groups and activists jumping into the fight, both financially and via the tone of their editorial coverage. I think if the Thiel playbook were implemented against actual journalism, the case would become such a cause celebre that a similar progression would be unlikely.  To me, anyway.

I’m certainly not a legal scholar, and I don’t claim any special expertise here. It’s just one guy’s opinion about one case, one publisher, and one editorial staff. I’d like to know your thoughts… if this case had involved an outlet that was easier to defend, do you think the result might have concerned more people?  And do you think the Thiel playbook sets a precedent that concerns you?





Wednesday Afternoon Quarterback: August 17, 2016

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 basisWhy?

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.




An Olympic-sized Challenge: The Future Of The Olympic Content Model

Olympic fever has gripped… well, a few of us, anyway. NBC’s television ratings for the Olympics are down about 15.5% from 2012 in London. NBC is averaging about 27.9 million viewers per night for the Rio games, as compared to an average of more than 34 .2 million per night for the Beijing games.

There are a number of reasons NBC cites for this drop, some of which are quite valid. Among the most prominent: Viewing habits have changed — people aren’t just accessing Olympic events across all of Comcast NBC Universal’s cable networks, but importantly, they’re streaming events live online rather than waiting for primetime coverage or needing to be in front of a television. This is certainly no surprise; it reflects the same shifts in viewing habits that have impacted entertainment and informational content consumption across the board.

Where this might be truly impactful: advertising. Advertisers spent $1.2 billion on television advertising for the Rio games. With ratings being down — and down 30% amongst the coveted 18-34 demographic — NBC may find it difficult to incite similar levels of spending for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, much less the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. With the half-a-day time delays in the US from Asian host sites, we can anticipate that livestreaming will be the even more greatly preferred viewing option for more of those watching those Olympics — especially as Millennials and Generation Z become an even bigger part of the viewing demographic. What will this do to advertising rates for television networks?

Perhaps even more interestingly and importantly, will the IOC respond effectively to these shifts, embrace the new viewing patterns, or innovate new models for either distributing Olympic content or monetizing their product? Given the IOC’s clumsy handling of social media for the 2016 Games, that seems unfortunately unlikely.

Continue reading “An Olympic-sized Challenge: The Future Of The Olympic Content Model”