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.


(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.


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