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.

In non-Brexit news…

Did Facebook Just Deliver A Crushing Blow To Native Advertising? (Fast Company, 6/22)

Facebook’s recent change, which now requires publishers to explicitly acknowledge when content is native advertising, seems to be just a way of staying true to FTC guidance that native advertising be labeled clearly as such. But dig deeper, as Fast Company did, and there are some more challenging ramifications.

The cover could be ripped off the idea that native advertisers are paying to reach a publisher’s audience with native ads. Per the Fast Company piece:

“Facebook’s new tag will allow brands to access all of the insights on a Facebook post or ad that they’re tagged in. As a result, brands will be able to see how much traffic to native ads comes from Facebook ads rather than organic website traffic. That could break the illusion that marketers are buying access to a publisher’s sacred audience. Instead, they’re just getting Facebook users who may or may not be regular readers of that publication.”

There’s a bigger concern to me, though, then whether BuzzFeed will be able to keep generating as much revenue from native advertising. This piece touches on a dynamic that is very troubling to me as a marketer…

Basically, publishers could share native ads from these pages without revealing that they were native ads…. But now that publishers have to tag the brand and explicitly acknowledge that they’re sharing branded content, there’s a very good chance they won’t be nearly as effective as the more deceptive system publishers were using before.

The implications here are clear: [1] Users won’t like or view content as frequently when they know the content is paid advertising; and [2] the advertising and marketing industry knows this, and has been utilizing native advertising as a way to sort of “trick” users into viewing our content.

To be clear, Fast Company is hardly the only publication or observer to suggest as much; I do not mean in any way to excoriate the writer of this piece. In fact, I’m bothered specifically because I think the piece articulates something that many people — users, and even some people in the marketing and advertising industry — believe. It’s a widely held belief, if one we don’t like to acknowledge publicly

If users don’t pay much attention to paid content, that’s a message to our industry that things really need to change. (The exponential rise of ad blockers is just another proof point that “what we’ve always done” is no longer effective, is no longer welcome, and needs to change.) Our solution can’t be to mislead, deceive, or “trick” people into viewing our content; doing so just reinforces their distaste for what we do. I don’t think that all of our industry uses native advertising to be deceptive or fool users — but I do think that some do.  The fact that a publication like FastCo has no issue publishing a piece whose underlying premise is as much is an indicator of just how widely held this belief is.

And that’s a problem — certainly ethically, but moreover because it implies that not only do we know that what we do doesn’t work, but that we’re not creative enough to come up with better, more relevant ways of reaching an audience than tricking them into watching our stuff.  This is one reason I think consumer-centric storytelling is so important; we have to find ways to be relevant to users and to be part of the experience they’re already on digital networks to have, not to impose ourselves from the outside or inflict our content on people.

I don’t mean to bury native advertising; clearly marked and disclosed material can still be useful, relevant, and effective. I just don’t think we need to trick or deceive people into viewing it. But if warning bells are clanging in the industry because more clear disclosure is now required, it implies that our whole profession is on the precipice of a change we don’t yet understand how to navigate or effect. That idea should scare all advertisers and marketers, especially the majority who practice ethically.

House Democats Broadcast Sit-In On Periscope And Facebook Live (TechCrunch, 6/22)

The congressional sit-in regarding gun control legislation may have been the “mainstreaming” moment for livestreamed video. Sure, digerati have been talking about Periscope and Live for a while now and emphasizing video — but there were probably a whole bunch of people last week who’d never heard of Periscope or really paid attention to Live, but were suddenly either tuning in or reading about the tools. I’ll leave the politics of the sit-in for my personal page… but from a social standpoint, it was fascinating to see livestreaming tools become part of the United States’ political discourse and landscape.

YouTube Adds Mobile Livestreaming To Catch Up To Facebook, Periscope (Marketingland, 6/23)

YouTube has lost a lot of ground in the livestreaming space over the past year; this new mobile feature is its hope to get some of its mojo back.  The real question is whether YouTube truly can offer greater reliability and better performance from its tool than Facebook or Periscope; it says it can, and Google certainly has the resources to make YouTube technologically superior.

But the real differentiator may be this: YouTube is an established celebrity-maker. From PewDiePie to Jenna Marbles to Michelle Phan to Tyler Oakley and more, there are dozens of YouTube stars popular enough and viewed enough to generate hundreds of thousands, if not millions in revenue. As these stars adopt livestreamed mobile video on YouTube, their initial audience is likely to be as big if not bigger than anything Periscope has achieved so far. What’s more, the YouTube “star” audience is largely pre-teens and teens — people who may well bring their viewing habits into the next decade.

I’m not prepared to declare YouTube the winner in livestreamed mobile — not by a longshot. But they have a star-making machine in their favor that neither Periscope nor Live have achieved yet (though Chewbacca Mom shows that Live has the potential). YouTube may yet see an increase in users taking advantage of the tool and restoring some of its livestreaming roar.

Facebook Is Getting Closer To Putting Ads In Live Videos (Marketingland, 6/23)

Not to be outdone in taking big competitive steps in the livestreaming space, Facebook is inching closer to putting ads in Live videos — which would allow for the most watched Live’rs to begin generating revenue for themselves, much as YouTube stars do. This is a big step in the development of a star-making machine for Live, and would likely set Live up even more formidably — which is a prescient move given YouTube’s impending big launch of mobile livestreaming.

Facebook Is Spending A Ton Of Money To Get People To Watch Live Videos (The Next Web, 6/21)

Related somewhat to the previous story, Facebook is said to be spending $50 million on 140 contracts for celebrities and publishers to stream Live in the next year alone. While this initial investment would be largely to the benefit of established celebrities or influencers, it also sets the precedent and primes the user base for increased viewing of Live streams, which in turn will mean more users producing Live streams, which will mean more quality content available (if only through the law of averages!), which will mean more influencers whose channels or content Facebook can charge advertisers to appear on. It’s all part of the plan, it would appear — and a smart plan at that.

Introducing Stickers On Twitter (Twitter Blog, 6/27)

This is Twitter trying to be more like Snapchat; the stickers they’re debuting are a lot like Snapchat filters. As Wired put it,

Events are where Twitter Stickers become a uniquely Twitterish feature. Stickers work like hashtags: tap on one in a photo, and you’ll jump to a timeline of other people’s photos using that sticker. It’s kind of like Snapchat’s Shared Stories, which bring together fun snaps from lots of people at events like the Oscars or the NBA Finals

Visual content is key to Twitter’s future, and these stickers seem designed to encourage greater sharing of and interaction with that visual content. Smart move, but it’s yet to be seen whether users will adopt new features even when they seem to make sense and borrow from the best of other platforms.

 

A Team Of Facebook Employees Will Soon Suggest Events For You To Attend Off Of Facebook (ReCode, 6/27)

There are a number of different angles to this story. On its face, it represents an effort by Facebook to become more of a social calendar for its users; it will sift through your friends’ interests, your own interests, and make recommendations to you about which offline events you might want to attend. It’s pretty much a “Things to do in your city” guide, embedded with your own list of upcoming events. Could be a nifty and useful feature.

But there’s a deeper significance to this move. First, as the ReCode article points out, this is a further nudge by Facebook into the realm of “media” rather than “platform” — like other media before them, Facebook will now be using editorial judgment to determine which events you might want to know about. Using editorial judgment to make recommendations as to what an audience sees…. hmm, sounds an awful lot like what print and broadcast media have done for generations.  Thankfully, Facebook seems to have learned from its trending topics debacle when it comes to sensitive subjects like politics or religion; including those events would have just been asking for trouble.

But where this really gets interesting to me is when one considers whether this could become a monetization play for Facebook. Could they set up a system in which event organizers pay Facebook to be “featured” or recommended in this curated list of events?  Would brands or organizations or event organizers be willing to take a risk and pay the likely high rates Facebook would charge to be featured? (Probably. Until someone proves that it doesn’t work, many marketers will likely assume that it will work.) Would there be backlash from the user community, with people resenting not only Facebook’s intrusion into their ‘what should I do this weekend?’ process, but the inclusion of paid promotion into the list? (I would tend to think not, at least logically; event organizers have promoted on radio or through TV commercials — Sunday, Sunday, SUNDAY!!! — for forever… but digital audiences can sometimes be finicky.)

But if users accept the idea, there could be all sorts of opportunities for brands — not just organizations — to promote their events, which could in theory allow for the building of offline, deeper relationships with community members than mere digital advertising or even a few interactions on a Facebook page facilitates. It will be interesting to see how this feature evolves and is received.

Snapchat For People Who Don’t Understand Snapchat (The Next Web, 6/23)

I readily admit to being one of those people who doesn’t get Snapchat, and specifically being one of those who finds the UI hideously non-intuitive and hard to understand. (If Snapchat had tried to, they could not have found a better way to keep parents from being power users than its confusing UI. As the author notes, Snapchat has “an interface that is so confusing you need to be young to get it.”)

This piece won’t teach you how to use Snapchat. But if you’re of that certain age that hasn’t gotten it yet, this article does explain why Snapchat users feel such an attachment to the platform and why it is growing as quickly as it is. As the author’s 14 year old daughter put it, “Instagram is just to impress people. You pick one moment in your life, add a filter, come up with a comment, and hope the rest of the world is impressed. Snapchat is not about that at all. It is real and unfiltered.”

If you remember the halcyon days of social media’s infancy, that was its appeal from the beginning. Corporate blogs were supposed to be a step away from polished, filtered corporate-speak, and would offer executives’ or employees’ “real” thinking. (This was why Bob Lutz was so appealing and successful as a corporate blogger for GM’s FastLane blog in the mid-2000s; he spoke his mind and gave people insight they wouldn’t get from a press release.) When corporations and businesses first started getting on Facebook and Twitter, the initial excitement around it was because consumers would finally have a name and a “face” to interact with at a company, not just some faceless, nameless person on the other end of a 1-800 number. (This is one of the reasons that people like Scott Monty at Ford, Richard Binhammer at Dell, Frank Eliason at Comcast, or yours truly at GM became ‘internet famous’ — that and that all of these people were darn good marketers and corporate spokespeople.) For a couple of years, those online ‘relationships’ with corporate influencers were what drove users to follow and interact with brands.

Snapchat offers its users this kind of intimacy, this kind of direct connection — the kind of thing that’s been lost, to a lot of people’s minds, on Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms. And that’s what brands really need to understand about Snapchat: even if they never make the UI any more intuitive, the prevailing zeitgeist is always going to be about that lack of artifice, that “real” connection. To be effective at Snapchat, brands need to bear this in mind and apply themselves to relationship building and “real” content; polished advertising is never quite going to cut it.  More than anything else, this is what Snapchat is really about.

Facebook, YouTube Said To Be Automatically Blocking Extremist Videos (CNet, 6/26)

Prima facie, this looks like a no-brainer; platforms do have, in my opinion, a responsibility for the content that is posted on their sites, especially when it is the kind of content that puts people’s lives at risk. But there are free speech implications that are going to rear their head here. What, exactly, constitutes “hate speech” vs. just expressing an unpopular opinion?  In the case of ISIS, it’s pretty cut and dried. But what about any of the other subjects that deeply divide our society (Brexit, gay marriage, transgender issues, gun control, race issues, or even niche discussions like #GamerGate, etc.)? Do people have the right to express unpopular opinions, even if those opinions make someone else uncomfortable? And who gets to decide what is “hateful” and what is not?

Whether done by technological filter or by human curators, platforms like Facebook and YouTube will have a fine line to walk between protecting free speech and protecting users and the community at large. (Personally, I am in favor of increased monitoring and blocking by platforms; I think the social media world would be a better place if more steps were taken to stymie bullying and intimidation online, and to create a less hostile environment. But I am cognizant of the free speech issues such moves would raise.)

 

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