The Obligatory Social Media Guru Pokemon Go Post

It’s been virtually impossible to miss this week’s top story — the meteoric, runaway success of Pokemon Go. Released less than a week ago in the United States, the game is already approaching (and preparing to pass) Twitter for numbers of daily users (going on 300 million), even though it hasn’t launched globally and is only currently available in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The craze is impossible to miss; if you’re not reading any of the myriad articles online about it, you’ve seen the parade of people — not just kids! — in virtually every public place with their faces buried in their smartphones, paying more attention to whether their is a Pokemon near them than where they actually are.  By any measure, the game is a runaway success.

But there’s a darker side to the game’s viral adoption. As many outlets from The Guardian to The Huffington Post to industry experts like RedOwl’s Adam Reeve  are now reporting, Pokemon Go is riddled with security concerns. The standard line now resonating from security experts and industry observers is that by playing Pokemon Go, you have handed the developer, Niantic, the keys to your Gmail account and your life on Google, from your search history to your location data. (Note: Niantic has issued several statements and taken action to address the most disturbing of the concerns.)

Up next: I predict a backlash to the backlash, with pundits accusing the naysayers of overblowing the concerns, engaging in hyperbole or scare tactics, and generally accusing them of being cranky old people with no sense of fun in their lives.

But when all the hype is stripped away and we take a reasoned look at the Pokemon Go phenomenon, what’s really happening?

1. Augmented reality just hit the mainstream. As the New York Times has pointed out, Pokemon Go is more than just a game; this week represents the moment in which a technology — augmented reality — just evolved from being a toy and interest of only technophiles, early adopters and those in touch with their inner geek, and hit the mainstream in a very big way. In that sense, Pokemon Go may ultimately prove as significant as Pac-Man or the Netscape browser in terms of bringing an emerging technology permanently into the consciousness and experience of “everyday people.”

2. The mainstream (or at least the mainstream media) is waking up to the fact that no one pays attention to privacy policies. Forget the occasional stupid meme floating around that Mark Zuckerberg now owns not only everything you’ve ever posted on Facebook, but controls your webcam, has the copyright on everything written on your hard drive, and has naming rights to your children — but how you can prevent all this by pasting this status update.  The otherwise inexplicable resurrection of those memes every so often may well have clued us in to a lesson that has been driven home in spades this week by the Pokemon Go: Very, very few people actually read the privacy policies for the online apps or platforms they participate in.

Part of the concern with the access granted to Pokemon Go — intentionally or erroneously, as Niantic and Nintendo have claimed — is the idea that so few of its players (many of them kids and teenagers) don’t have any idea what they’ve just signed on for or the information they’ve allowed Niantic and Nintendo to accumulate on them — or how that data can be used. By the terms of their privacy policy that anyone who downloads the game agrees to by virtue of playing the game, Niantic can turn personally identifiable information over to law enforcement agencies, sell it off to any marketer or advertiser or share it with any third party they wish,  and even store it in foreign countries with lax privacy legislation. The fact that outside sources might well have access now or in the future to all that information, and the questions about what they might do with it, probably haven’t occurred to the strong majority of the people playing Pokemon Go right now.

And even if we take Niantic at its word and trust the marketing, advertising, and sales industries not to use this information in ways that violate people’s trust (like, say, we have with the telemarketing industry and the ways to get around the Do Not Call list), there is always the disturbing possibility of a hack. (I have to think that the unscrupulous among the hacker community have to be licking their chops at the idea of going after Niantic servers and data right now, as the Daily Beast has pointed out.)

This isn’t new; security and privacy experts have routinely sounded alarms about online privacy and apps. But the meteoric rise of Pokemon Go thrusts the issue into the mainstream spotlight in ways that nothing before it really ever has. (While illegal breaches have garnered lots of media attention, there’s nothing illegal about what Niantic is collecting… this is probably the biggest ‘what you voluntarily share’ story we’ve seen.)

What Happens Next?

So what’s going to come of all this? What does the future hold?

It’s only one guy’s educated guess, but I have a hard time seeing something that got this hot this fast staying this hot. Pokemon Go itself will always have dedicated players and fans, but I think there are a lot of casual fans playing because it’s currently the hot new thing — and much like Draw Something or Angry Birds, the bloom will come off the rose for many of these casual players as soon as the next hot game comes along. I’m not proclaiming Pokemon Go dead by any measure, but I do think the adoption curve will look more like a bell than an S. My advice to Niantic is to enjoy it and monetize it while they can, but keep working on the next app; much like the Macarena or the Whip and Nae Nae, there’s probably an expiration date on Pokemon Go’s ubiquity and wild popularity. It won’t go away completely, but it isn’t going to be this big forever.

But augmented reality has crossed a Rubicon, in my opinion. Now that something featuring A.R. has reached the consciousness of so many people, you can count on two things. First, take it to the bank that a whole bunch of developers will try to copycat or piggyback on Pokemon Go’s success and will come up with a next generation of A.R. games to tempt the players who burn out on Pokemon Go or are scared off by privacy concerns. Pokemon Go is just the first mass adoption A.R. game; there will be lots of others.

Second, the appetite for A.R. has now been whetted. Gaming, driven by casual gamers now aware of the possibilities, will be first to demand more and better A.R. options. But now that the average Joe or Jane “get it,” I can see A.R. being increasingly adapted for retail use (imagine “capturing” a coupon or deal for Starbucks or Banana Republic, or even an automaker offering swag or points toward free or discounted accessories via an A.R. application). I also see applications in tourism — if you’ve ever had your kid play the Phineas & Ferb World Showcase Adventure at Epcot, you know how fun and enticing a ‘scavenger hunt’ type application can be; I could also see art museums and galleries or history museums hiding easter eggs within their walls, or national parks or monuments using A.R. to share ‘secret’ tidbits with visitors. In this sense, I think Pokemon Go will prove historically significant even after downloads have dropped off and user numbers have flattened.

Expect a rise in articles and anecdotes about how people have become so wrapped up in A.R. games that they tune out the world around them — walking into light poles, other people, or even into oncoming traffic, not to mention playing while they drive. And just like distracted driving/hands-free calling and the campaign to get people to stop texting while they drive, I would expect we’ll see public service and safety campaigns about the dangers of playing A.R. too intently; I can see something like “Play Out There But Stay Aware” being Gen Z’s crying Native American or “this is your brain on drugs… any questions?”

As location and GPS become a bigger part of A.R. and digital and mobile gaming, I would anticipate that at some point Congress will get involved, holding hearings about possible misuses or breaches of data collected by A.R. apps and possibly legislating about how location-based personally-identifiable information can be collected or used. They’ll present it as an issue of safety and protecting minors in particular. Some citizens and media will agree and position the industry (and the marketers and advertisers hoping to leverage the collected data) as predatory or unscrupulous. Others will be alarmed at what they see as government interference in private enterprise, and will warn of a chill effect on technological development. It ought to be an interesting debate, that’s for sure.

Finally — I can only hope! — the rise of Pokemon Go and the rapid backlash and raising of concerns about the data it collects will increase both public awareness about the data we share, and developers’ sensitivities to that awareness and possible concerns. If a few more parents are having discussions this week with their kids about exercising caution about the private information they’re sharing in order to be part of a game or app, or if a few more developers are thinking about security and privacy of users as they develop their apps and games, then Pokemon Go is invariably a good thing.

That’s one guy’s take. What are your thoughts about Pokemon Go and A.R. in general?

 

 

 

Tuesday Afternoon Quarterback, July 5, 2016

Happy Belated, America! If you were making merry during the USA’s birthday celebration and missed some of the stories that hit the digital or media world, here’s some that caught my eye.

Snapchat’s Teen Fans Wince As App Catches On With Their Folks (Wall Street Journal, 7/4)

Don’t we do this every time a social media platform approaches mainstream adoption and maturity? Someone writes a “sky is the kids are uncomfortable here because their parents are on it now” post, and everyone starts fervently looking for the “next” platform the kids will embrace while proclaiming the end of the old platform’s “cool” factor. Of course, this mindset overlooks the very real issue that in order to monetize and maximize their value, platforms pretty much have to add older users. This is the vicious circle of social media: the kids make it hot, but the adults make it money… and thus begins the uneasy balance of trying to attract older users without losing the newer ones.

Meanwhile, the last time we listened to this storyline was in 2013 or so when many proclaimed that too many parents were hanging out on Facebook, and all the kids were going to leave Facebook. All Facebook has done since then is add about 350 million users and make $3.7 in profit last year alone. So, take this bevy of stories with a grain of salt before you conclude that the kids are all about to bail on Snapchat.

For brands, the story here isn’t that the kids are weirded out that their parents have started getting on Snapchat (don’t worry kids, very few people over the age of 35, at least in my sample set, can actually figure out that hideous UI long enough to see anything you snap anyway!). The story here is that fully 14% of Snapchat’s user base is now over the age of 35. If you’re a brand manager and you’re still dismissing Snapchat as a playground for teenagers using silly filters to send photos of themselves with rainbows streaming out of their mouths, you’re not seeing the whole picture.

PBS'”Live” Fireworks Aren’t, And The Network Hears It From Viewers (7/5, NBC News)

Huawei Implied This Pic Was Shot By A P9 Phone, But It Was Actually A $4,500 Canon Combo (CNet, 7/4)

Heavy sigh. You’d think by now that publishers and brands would have recognized by now that disingenuousness or falsehood is quickly sniffed out, exposed, and is rightly demeaned or belittled on social networks. You can’t get away with faking something or trying to mislead the audience anymore; it was always bad practice by people in the media/PR/advertising business, but it’s especially inadvisable in today’s environment. PBS and Huawei are just the latest publishers/brands to learn that this lesson the hard way.

No matter the motivation (in the PBS case, cloud cover made the National Mall fireworks less than optimal viewing, so PBS interspersed footage from previous years’ fireworks into their broadcast), deceptive or misleading content is always a bad idea. Whether you’re working for a media outlet, a brand publisher, or a non-profit organization, if anyone in your work circles ever suggests deliberately deceptive or inaccurate content, shoot the idea down in less time than it would take for someone on social media to figure out that you did it. And in cases where misconceptions are even possible, take pains to be absolutely clear and candid with your audience (looking at you, Huawei).

9 Mistakes You Might Be Making With Your Content Marketing Strategy (7/5, Content Marketing World)

Neil Patel offers some wisdom for content marketers (and would-be content marketers) as to what you might be doing wrong. Obviously, since I am sharing this piece I agree with its points and premises, but the mistakes he identifies that resonated most with me (read: the ones I see happening most often) are #2 (“Your content isn’t useful” #3 (“You’re selling instead of teaching”), #5 (“You don’t know what you want your content to achieve”), and #7 (“Your content isn’t ideal for your audience”).

Three of these four mistakes involve the fact that brand publishers still far too often create content that primarily focuses on their product, services, or branding rather than trying to create relatable content that an audience is going to watch. (Remember, you’re not the hero; the audience member is the hero, and you are the sidekick. Build your content with the audience’s interests, needs, and problems front of mind, and work backward to fit your brand into it, with your brand or product’s role being to support the audience member in achieving their quest or desire. No one goes on Facebook or Instagram to be sold to.

Why People Unfollow Brands On Social Media (Digital Marketing Institute)

This isn’t a “new” infographic or survey; it’s been floating around since March 2015. Yet it’s not a horrible thing that it still occasionally resurfaces.  Most commonly cited reasons to unfollow a brand: boring or repetitive content, posting too frequently (more than 6x per day), especially on Facebook; lack of engagement or slow response times. Take care to try and avoid these annoyances to users by building a strong, user-centric content plan, avoiding spamming your followers, and being sure to build in some time to actually interact with people who ask you a question.

Telling, Not Selling: A Peek Inside Jack Daniels’ Social Media Playbook (Digiday, 7/1)

It’s always useful to see what other brands are doing with their social media programs. IN Jack Daniels’ case, success has involved developing a brand voice (and the content to match) that celebrates and embraces the brand’s heritage and history, as well as giving fans an inside look into the artisanal distilling process and making fans feel part of that heritage. Good case study worth spending a few minutes with.

Nearly One Third Of The World Will Use Social Networks Regularly This Year (eMarketer, 6/30)

First of all, it is remarkable to think that just a decade ago, we were talking about 12 million people on Facebook (almost all of them in the US), and that most of the other platforms that today constitute “social networks” — and in 2016 we are talking about 2.34 billion people around the world. For better or worse, social platforms have been an absolutely transformational technological and experiential development in human history. But beyond the hyperbole, the important note here is that the growth opportunities — at least for adding new users — are very much in the developing world: Asia-Pacific, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. For global companies, this is a significant thing to note: your efforts in these developing markets over the next few years had really ought to include a social network and messaging strategy.

How Fortune 500 Brands Use Instagram: Top Filters, Best Times And Days To Post (Marketing Profs, 7/5)

While every brand is different and no one should adopt a posting or social media strategy just because “everyone else does it this way,” there are some interesting tidbits in this observation. Among them:

  • 99% of interactions on Instagram for the Fortune 500 are likes, not comments; if you’re looking to set engagement metrics, you probably should weight yours heavily in favor of likes.
  • 89% of Fortune 500 Instagram posts use no filter; when filters are used, the most effective at driving higher engagement seem to be Mayfair, Hefe, and Ludwig.
  • “88% of Fortune 500 Instagram photos are posted between 9 AM and 9PM ET. Photos posted outside this timeframe, between 10 PM and 3 AM ET, have the highest impact scores, on average.” Frankly, this one shocked me. While most of us have long recognized that posting outside of regular business hours is effective and better leverages the times most users access social networks, I don’t think I saw it coming that posting late at night (ET) could have such an impact.

This survey is worth your review.

5 Things Marketers Need To Know About Gen Z (The Content Strategist, 6/30)

I know, I know… you have just gotten used to Millennials’ expectations in the marketplace and you’re starting to feel comfortable working with and marketing to them. Pat yourself on the back, but then get back to work — because here comes Gen Z.

Born between 1996 and 2008 (or so… darn generational tags are hard to pin down when it comes to start and end dates!), Gen Z are even more digitally native than the Millennials who proceeded them. For Gen Z, there has never not been a Facebook or Instagram; the oversharing we all worried about in Gen X is just what Gen Z has always known and always done. (I would argue that as younger Millennials and Gen Z hit the workforce in force and older Millennials move into positions of hiring authority, the dreaded “what you’ve posted on social media” will stop being as automatic of a career killer. Racism and hate speech will still cost people jobs, but that embarrassing photo of you throwing up in Mexico for spring break will not matter as much. But I digress.)

By 2020, according to some estimates, Gen Z may make up as much as 40% of all consumers. (Gosh, I am aging fast! Poor Gen X.) This piece gives you some insight as to what Gen Z wants from marketers. Hint: if you put authenticity and realism at the center of your marketing and content, and you make audience participation a big part of the experience you offer, you’re probably going to be okay. This is a really fascinating article and a really interesting look at a generation we’re all going to have to learn how to engage with really soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Facebook’s News Feed Changes Mean To You

Businesses and brand marketers could be forgiven for thinking that Facebook really, really doesn’t like them. It likes your money, of course — so much so that it wants to force you to spend much more of it to reach the audiences you’ve spent years acquiring (and that Facebook loudly touts while trying to convince you to spend that money).  But there have got to be at least a few brand marketing reps this afternoon doing a Captain Picard.

Picard.gif

In case you missed it, Facebook has announced yet another change to its News Feed algorithm that greatly favors friends and family within a user’s network, at the significant expense of brands and publishers that maintain pages.  Essentially, the changes mean that content posted by a user’s friends and family will be given higher ranking in their feed while Pages content is de-emphasized; Facebook is operating under the assumption (perhaps justified, if we’re being truthful with ourselves) that people don’t really want to see a brand’s new commercial, someone’s native advertising via a publisher, or the latest self-serving brand post.

(Facebook also published what it calls  its News Feed Values, opening the kimono for the first time in any kind of detail about how the News Feed works; this transparency may well be in response to the [manufactured] controversy last month about how its Trending Topics lists are compiled.)

To be fair to Facebook, they’re under a lot of pressure. Personal posts are down by double-digits in the past year or so, whether attributable to the rise of personal sharing tools like Snapchat, disenchantment with the plethora of branded and sponsored content, or some other combination of factors. To stem the tide, Facebook may feel it has to take steps to make its platform more of the friends-and-family network that it began life as.  And let’s face it, many users — including many of us when we’re using Facebook personally and not professionally — will probably be happier with the resulting shifts to their News Feed.

This is going to be little comfort, though, to brand marketers and community managers who now more than ever basically have to pay to reach even the audiences that have chosen to follow their brand. It’s true that publishers will see an even more severe impact than brand pages, but even so, the frustration was evident in today’s marketing and digital industry coverage of the news.

So what does this mean for you, if you manage either a brand’s Facebook page itself or the budget that supports its activity?

  1. You need to publish more video. As many industry observers and digerati have noted (including me), Facebook is really pushing Live and natively uploaded video. We’ve all talked at length about the importance of video to success on any digital platform in the current and emerging environment; this algorithm change makes it even more important to you. Why? Because if Facebook really, really wants video and your brand gives it lots of video, it increases your chances of breaking through the algorithm and the clutter and still finding your content in users’ feeds.
  2. Keep your eye on the sharable content ball. This sounds silly; of course we all create content hoping it will be shared. But this is where many brands fail at Facebook: we create content that keeps our C-suite happy because it has all our messaging in it, but we don’t really think about what our target audience is truly interested in, will find relevant, or will find either compelling enough or clever enough to share. Given that our own pages will appear less frequently in News Feed, we’re really counting on users choosing to share our content with their family and friends. So it becomes all the more important to be customer-centric with our Facebook content. Have we told a relatable story that our followers can see themselves in? Have we provided information that, instead of providing our latest message or announcement, gives people information that they can actually use or apply in their real life? The more we focus on our consumers’ needs or interests instead of our own, the more likely our content is to be shared. The onus is on us to be creative enough to find ways to work our desired information into this kind of content, rather than continuing to push out brand-centric content that will too easily be ignored.

Even with some changes like this, your brand should still expect to see a decline in both reach and referral traffic in the coming weeks.

 

Tuesday Afternoon Quarterback, June 28 2016

Here’s this week’s roundup of the stories that caught my eye or that I think are worth your attention this week. (For the record, I am not leaving the EU. No Bargxit for me.)

Brexit And Social Media

Passions have been running high regarding the British vote to leave the EU and what might have been motivating the “leave” supporters. I’ll check my opinions at the door on what this means or why people voted the way they did. (I am sure you’re very pleased not to have to read my political perspectives.)  But from a social media and digital perspective, there were a few aspects to the Brexit vote that warrant attention.

For starters, analysis indicates that social media activity in the weeks leading up to the vote leaned significantly in favor of the “Leave” side. There could be any number of explanations for this; given that this vote was positioned by many as a “revolt against the elites,” it could be that disaffected or angry people use social media more frequently to ‘find’ one another online, skipping over what they perceive as a biased media industry. It could be that the “Leave” faction believed it was in danger or losing in the days ahead of the election and made a much more aggressive push to engage and energize their voters via social platforms. Whatever the reason, the observation could provide an indicator of the likely result in the US election in November. Will Trump supporters be more active and engaged than Clinton supporters, or vice versa? Could that be a bellwether as to how the election may swing? Worth paying attention to in the run-up to the US election.

Much has been made of the spike in Google searches in the UK for “what is the EU” (TheNextWeb, 6/24), but this may not actually mean that many of the “Leave” voters didn’t know what they were voting for. People could have been looking for deeper expert analysis (although it would have been nice for them to start listening to the experts before the vote occurred); the searches might have been from people who didn’t vote or were too young to vote.

Meanwhile, VentureBeat reports that the Brexit vote could have serious impact on the UK’s position as the gaming industry leader in Europe.  It probably won’t have as big an impact on the consumer side as on the development side, say Venture Beat.

Continue reading “Tuesday Afternoon Quarterback, June 28 2016”

Tuesday Afternoon Quarterback: June 21, 2016

Here’s my weekly roundup of stories and news items in the digital space from the past week or so that I think are worth your attention. This week: it’s all about video. Well, most of it, anyway.

New Ways To Tap Into Video On Twitter (Twitter blog, 6/21)

As if there wasn’t enough evidence that video is the content vehicle of choice for digital platforms, Twitter has announced a bevy of new features designed to enable and promote more video sharing on its platform. Chief among the changes: you will soon be able to upload videos of 140 seconds instead of just a 30 second max. Another change: tapping on a video Tweet or Vine on your timeline will take users to a new, full-screen viewing experience. These changes are likely to benefit publishing outlets — a CNN or Wall Street Journal could upload entire news stories to Twitter — as well as brands looking to leverage Twitter’s audience and convey broader or deeper messages than the traditional 140 character limit allows. Vine, too, will be expanding beyond its previous six second limit. The final of Twitter’s announcements, Twitter Engage, is aimed at power users and influencers, making it more compelling these high value, high attraction users to stay on Twitter by making it easier for them to see their analytics, track other power users who are following them, see what’s being said about them, and cut out the noise from the mass public on the platform.  The big news today isn’t Engage; it’s the video features. One more sign that your brand ought to be devoting more resources to video production inside your communications or marketing program.

YouTube Is Introducing New Ways To Help Small Businesses Make Better Video Ads (AdWeek 6/15)

This is a significant move by YouTube to help small businesses compete for attention in an increasingly crowded market for online video. With the increasing importance of online video, small businesses that don’t have the financial or staff resources of a Fortune 1000 company can now produce high quality, well-edited video pieces that don’t make them look poorly resourced. Smart move by YouTube/Google that will likely be most welcome to SMBs.

Tumblr Launches Live Video Tools With A Little Help From Other Apps (Digiday, 6/21)

If you’re noticing a recurring theme this week, you should: Video rules. Unlike other platforms which built their own livestreaming capabilities or apps, Tumblr is outsourcing to third parties to make their live video work. But however they get there, the important thing is that Tumblr, too, is recognizing the influence and importance of live video in the digital environment of 2016. For right now, this is more for publishers like Mashable, MTV, and Refinery29… but it’s likely only a matter of time before we see Tumblr trying to monetize its live video via advertising.

Facebook Makes It Clearer When An Instant Article Is An Advertorial (Marketingland, 6/17)

Beyond FTC disclosure requirements, there’s been another issue with brand Instant Articles; they’ve been largely far too promotional and full of marketing messages and feel sales-y.  Facebook acknowledged as much in their blog post announcing new tools for brands using Instant Articles. So the platform has done its part to help brands stop selling so hard and start providing users content that they actually care about. The onus is still on brands to remember: in a good branded story that users will care about, your brand is the sidekick and the user or someone like the user is the hero. Users have to be able to see themselves in the story or related to the character or the problem told and resolved; if they don’t or can’t, and see only marketing messages, they will tune out and ignore your content. Getting back to these new Facebook tools, businesses may be able to utilize them for branding and to visually distinguish their sponsored content from organic content — meaning that in theory, a brand won’t have to spend so much time branding itself in the actual content, and can focus more on the reader’s interests and needs.

Report: 87 Million People Will Use An Ad-Blocker In 2017 (Digiday, 6/21)

87 million people is up about 24% from 2016. Still think that “the way we’ve always done it” will work on digital platforms? It’s not that people resist brand content on digital platforms; they resist irrelevant, hard-sell content from brands that still think that the best way to reach an audience is by forcing product or brand messaging on them in an environment more designed and used for personal interactions. Ad blocking isn’t going away, no matter how much the advertising and marketing worlds wring their hands. As marketers, we have to be conscious of the experiences users are on social media to have, and find creative ways to make ourselves part of that experience rather than imposing messaging into it. Good, relevant digital content will not be blocked. Bad, brand-centric content will be.

 

Instagram Doubles Monthly Users To 500M In Two Years, Sees 300M Daily (TechCrunch, 6/21)

The numbers are impressive enough — and having 300 million people checking the platform daily is mouth-watering enough for marketers. Instagram users clearly value the platform and spend time on it. But the amount of content being shared on the platform is slowing and isn’t growing as fast as you might think for all those daily users. Could this mean that Instagram is slowly morphing into something like Twitter — more of a platform people go to review and digest others’ content rather than sharing their own? (If that’s an increasing trend, this would signal even more importance for established influencers whose content is readily consumed by the Instagram audience.) Could Snapchat be siphoning away content from Instagram? (Would this mean that user growth will begin to stagnate as it has for Twitter?) And will the slowing — or even a slight decline — in the amount of content being posted matter to advertisers as Instagram puts on its full court press to attract advertisers and marketers?

GhostBot From Burner Lets You Blow Off That Weirdo From Tinder Really Easily (The Next Web, 6/21)

On its face, this is a pretty funny story. But look deeper, and there’s a slight concern about bots just as they appear poised for explosive growth. The promise of bots is that they can automate individual interactions and potentially even change the relationship customers have with brands (Shel Holtz has posted frequently about this).  But if it’s this easy to create bots that are designed specifically to avoid genuine interaction, will that have an effect on how people perceive bots, on the level that consumers trust interactions with bots?  Might it be kind of like the effect of finding out a popular corporate executive’s blog is ghost-written by the communications team? For bots to live up to their potential, consumers and users have to trust that the bot will eventually get them where they want to go, or get them the information or resolution they’re looking for. Too many stories about bots written as an agent of misdirection or deception might well turn bots into an annoyance rather than a convenience — the 2020s version of voice prompt systems that were intended to automate customer service but instead so often frustrate consumers who just want to talk to a real person.

Tuesday Afternoon Quarterback: June 14, 2016

It would be understandable if you were distracted this week and weren’t paying much attention to digital stories, given the horror in Orlando over the weekend.  But here’s a handful of stories that had resonance in the digital space in the past few days that you might have missed.

Texas Lt. Governor Deletes Bible Tweet After Shooting (ABC News, 6/12)

Taking the politics out of it (I think we’re all happy to not have me ranting about politics) and assuming that Lt. Governor Patrick’s office is telling the truth, and that this was just an awful coincidence that this tweet was previously scheduled and unrelated to the Orlando incident… this is a dramatic and supremely unfortunate reminder for brands that the first thing a brand should do in times of emergency is check your scheduled tweets and posts. I’m not a huge fan of scheduling social content anyway, but I’ll readily concede that for many larger publishing programs it’s necessary for efficiency’s sake.

But when news of a crisis or tragedy breaks — whether a mass shooting or terrorist incident, a plane crash, or some other situation in which there is loss of life — the first reaction of brand publishers has to be to check the schedule of posts. The brand publisher can use their judgment as to whether a post or tweet seems insensitive, and should consider holding all publishing while the story is still playing out. You never want to get caught in a situation where your brand inadvertently publishes something that comes off as tone-deaf, insensitive, or worse yet upsets people, while a national or international tragedy is playing out. As Peter Shankman has said many times, no brand has ever gone broke because they shut up for 24 hours. So when something like Orlando happens, the smartest thing to do is check your schedules and go on a publishing hold for a day or so.

Microsoft Buys LinkedIn For $26.2 Billion (New York Times, 6/13)

On its face, this is a good move for both organizations. The integration possibilities are certainly intriguing; if Outlook and LinkedIn profiles are connected, for example, the integration of direct email with professional backgrounds — not to mention material a prospect or contact has published on LinkedIn — could be a gold mine for salespeople. And for Microsoft, the possibility of using LinkedIn as a distribution channel for its software systems has to be exciting. LinkedIn gets financing and exposure to potentially tens of millions of new users.  I wouldn’t have thought the platform would go for as much as it did — $26 billion seems a little higher than I might have expected — but this move makes sense for both companies, if they get the integration right.

As Snapchat’s Ad Biz Expands, It’s Pressing For Shorter Ads (Marketingland, 6/13)

Snapchat continues to walk a very fine line between trying to monetize via advertising, and annoying or alienating its user base with too much ad content. 10 second ads get skipped often, apparently. Shorter ads mean it’s less likely that people will swipe up to skip the ad, I suppose, but I can’t see advertisers being all that happy at shortening their messages and content even further to suit a finicky platform and its very resistant user base.

Snapchat To Grow 27% This Year, Surpassing Rivals (eMarketer, 6/8)

True, eMarketer is defining “user” a little differently than many platforms define it (eMarketer defines a user as someone who logs into an account at least once a month consistently over a calendar year).  But it’s still interesting to see Snapchat’s rapid growth compared to other networks — and that it has more regular users now (at least by this estimation) than Pinterest or Twitter. One thing for consideration for brands: one factor in Snapchat’s popularity is its focus on one to one interaction between users — the same aspect driving the growth of messenger apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. It may be an area for brands to explore across multiple platforms: how to get back to one to one communication (or the appearance of one to one, anyway) in order to drive engagement and interaction from consumers.

Facebook’s New Ads Will Track Which Stores You Visit (Recode, 6/14)

This is a fascinating new effort to do something digital marketers have long wished was more precise: tying online ads to offline activity. Because while online sales continue to grow, physical in-store purchases still represented 92% of all retail sales in Q1 2016.  By being able to demonstrate that online ads drive foot traffic and even in-store sales, Facebook would be taking a quantum leap in providing value to retail brands and would clearly stand out among social platforms.

Facebook’s New Support Tool For Suicide Prevention Rolls Out Globally (The Next Web, 6/14)

This story is close to my heart as someone who is deeply concerned with mental illness issues. I applaud Facebook’s effort here to help users help those in their network who might be in danger or in need of help. There’s no real application or lesson for brands, but individual brand reps and all marketers should take note anyway, just in case there is ever anyone in your network who need help.

Twitter Aims To Keep The Trolls At Bay With Improved Block Feature (The Next Web, 6/14)

While I still wish social platforms could be more active in patrolling the posts and content their users publish (and taking action against those engaged in bullying, trolling, or threats), this is a good consolation move by Twitter — improving the block feature so that not only do you not see the tweets of someone you’ve blocked, but they don’t see yours either. Perhaps this will cut down a little bit on trolling and bullying on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Afternoon Quarterback: May 31, 2016

It was a long holiday weekend here in the States, meaning that not too much went on in the days leading up to the weekend and over its course. Still, there were a few stories worth noting over the past seven days or so. Here’s your afternoon quarterback report.

Pew Research: 62% Of US Adults Get News From Social Media (Marketingland, 5/27)

This isn’t really a surprise when viewed in aggregate; anecdotally we all know in our bones that social media has become increasingly important as a news source (which has people looking more cynically at how Facebook’s “trending topics” are calculated, for example). But the big surprise to me here is just how much of a gain Facebook has made since the last time Pew did this survey in 2013. Facebook has grown as a source; in 2013, 47% of Facebook users said they get news from Facebook; in 2016, that number went all the way to 66%. That they’ve achieved this as an algorithmic service without a dominant “real-time” engine is intriguing. (Also intriguing is the fact that Facebook still finishes only second to Reddit, which isn’t always thought of by the mass sense as a breaking news source. 70% of Reddit users report getting news from Reddit.)

Also surprising to me: only 59% of Twitter users report getting news via that platform. Given its nature and how many news organizations are very present there, I am surprised that number is so low — and has grown at less than half the rate Facebook has.

PJ_2016.05.26_social-media-and-news_0-08

(image via Marketingland)

But the biggest lost opportunity lies with YouTube. With video becoming such a dominant form factor over the past three years, conventional wisdom might have been that a video-driven platform like YouTube would have seen significant growth as a news source. The fact that it hasn’t happened could be chalked up to any number of factors: publishers not using the channel in real-time (using it instead for evergreen content), a user interface that isn’t conducive to looking for or discovering “breaking” video or information, publishers putting their video on their own sites instead of YouTube, or just the rapid rise and extensive reach of Facebook. Whatever the reason, it feels to me like a perhaps permanently lost opportunity for YouTube to capture a more real-time audience.

Publishers’ Facebook Videos Are Shared 7 Times More Than Links (Digiday, 5/31)

In case you are one of the holdouts whose brand or organization hasn’t yet allocated resources or creative talent toward video content development, here’s a report that videos generate seven times the engagement than links alone generate. And since engagement is that all-important factor and a key metric for measuring content performance, publishing the kind of content that drives that much more engagement seems pretty central to a winning digital strategy.

Report: Usage of mobile ad blockers jumped 90 percent last year to 419 million (Digiday, 5/31)

The industry will probably respond with the same urgent warnings issued for months about how ad blockers are an unethical threat to the free web and an infringement on free expression. This would be a classic case of killing the messenger. Instead, we in marketing and advertising need to take a good, hard look at why people choose to block ads — what is it about our content and how we deliver it that people hate so much? — and applying the creativity we’re so proud of ourselves for having to trying to find new, less intrusive, less off-putting ways to reach consumers. Fighting the ad-blockers would only reinforce the image of a bloated, out-of-touch industry circling the wagons to protect its old model because it’s unable to adapt to a new environment.

Meanwhile, as an individual brand, you should be thinking less about what you want to push or promote, and more about what your audience is interested in or needs, and how you can play into their interests rather than trying to make them interested in your message. Remember, your brand should be the sidekick in your stories, and your audience should be the hero.

Periscope Has A New Plan To Fight Back Against Internet Trolls (Recode, 5/31)

This is, to me, the most personally interesting story of the week. On its face, it shows a greater sense of responsibility than I believe most of the other social platforms have demonstrated when it comes to abusive commentary or bullying behavior from its users. They’re launching an active effort to combat problematic behavior, versus the slow-moving, passive responses common to most other platforms. And as I generally think that trolls have largely ruined the internet — and carried the banner of incivility and bullying behavior into the real world — there is a big part of me that is cheering this move and saluting Periscope for trying to make its environment safer, more inclusive, and more welcoming than other platforms have been.

(I’ll say again for the record: it takes a weak coward of a person to hide behind the anonymity of the web and be vulgar, abusive or cruel, or to engage in bullying or threatening behavior online — whether done by an individual or as part of a coordinated group activity a la Anonymous or the community on 4chan.)

The problem I can see is that Periscope may well be fighting bullying by enabling or encouraging vigilante justice to shoot it down. True, that’s obviously not their intent; what they mean to do is to empower their community to police itself. Here’s how the system is supposed to work. Reporting an abusive or vulgar comment triggers what Periscope  has identified as a “flash jury” of other users watching the same stream.

Periscope will ask this flash jury, which consists of five other random users, if they also consider the comment abusive or offensive. If the majority agrees with you, the commenter will be placed in a one minute time-out with commenting disabled. Repeat offenders will be muted for good.

But I could see situations popping up where coordinated group activity gets users muted or placed in time-out for less than abusive behavior. In a stream discussing Gamergate, for example, if a woman is discussing the treatment of women in the gaming community and the trolls don’t like what she has to say, what’s to stop one of them from reporting her as abusive and five more to jump in and agree, effectively censoring her contribution? How about political discussions? In our currently very polarized climate, it’s easy to see a group of Trump supporters banding together to shout down a #NeverTrump person as “abusive” and censoring them out of a conversation; it’s equally easy to anticipate nastiness between, say, Bernie Sanders supporters and Hillary Clinton fans.

I’m all for trying to shut down trolling and abusive online behavior, and I do think Periscope deserves a ton of credit for taking a proactive step here. I just think this solution could too easily lend itself to additional abuse. The solution may have to lie with the platforms themselves taking a more active role in policing their communities rather than leaving it to the user base to determine what is abuse and what is merely disagreement.