The Weird Things That Come Up with Twitter Earnings

(This post was originally on the Voce blog) 

Twitter announced its quarterly earnings and other updates yesterday. In short, monthly active users are up (though they seem to be using some creative math to make that case, which led to the inevitable investor discomfort) and revenue grew while losses shrunk. Sounds like good news, no?


Of course not,because this is Twitter. The investor call yesterday has led to a number of stories that seem to appear in the wake of each such call such as “people don’t get Twitter” and over-analysis of comments by interim CEO Jack Dorsey (himself the subject of plenty of hot takes) about how Twitter continues to question the reverse-chronological timeline.

Perhaps Twitter was easier to understand back in 2007 or 2008, before Facebook became the juggernaut it is now and when we were all still pretty entranced by personal blogging, which Twitter closely resembled, mostly because both use the reverse chronology as their core feature. So a whole group of people who were committed to their blogs jumped into Twitter and said “Oh yeah, I totally get this.”

Now though that group of users is at least two or three generations (in terms of internet users) in the past and the current group of young people (I refuse to use the term “millennials”) has their own set of preferred apps and communications tools. In some cases – Snapchat and the like – those completely do away with profiles, timelines and such conceits in favor of focusing exclusively on what’s happening RIGHT NOW. But in other cases – particularly Instagram – the same model Twitter uses is in place with people needing to set up accounts and profiles and the feed of updates displaying in reverse chronological format, with new photos right there at the top and no algorithm deciding what is or isn’t relevant, at least not yet.

So maybe it’s not that the format in which updates are displayed is the major sticking point. Maybe it’s just that Twitter, as I’ve long maintained, will never be a mass audience product.

It’s telling that Twitter’s active user count shot up like it did as a result of adding people who receive updates via SMS and don’t visit the site, use an app or heavily engage with other people’s updates. They are part of what I suspect is a large contingent of users who enjoy getting updates but don’t see the value in engaging or doing much publishing of their own. They want to use Twitter as a news service, essentially, and not as an engagement and conversation platform. Or they just want to lean back with Twitter while watching The Bachlorette and see everyone’s updates but not participate themselves.

And maybe that needs to be OK. There is only one big reason why that wouldn’t be something Twitter – and the endless array of analysts covering its every move – wouldn’t think these are still valuable users and that’s advertising. By going public years ago and needing for its every move to be one that increases revenue, Twitter is no longer the “use it as you see fit, that’s cool” place it was in its early days. Now if you’re not engaging and posting actively you are a missed opportunity.

I’m a big fan of a messy Twitter. I like the unfiltered stream and find those who don’t are the same one who, years ago, said they were ditching RSS feeds because they got all their news on Twitter, thereby showing they failed to understand either. I get that doesn’t work for everyone, which is why I continue to believe if the company *were* to introduce tools to better manage the feed (Lists already exist, but it’s not something most people use) they need to be opt-in.

Twitter was easier to explain – and for people to understand – when “microblog” would suffice. Now, though they need to face a world where it’s not necessarily the difficulty to define or understand that is keeping people away but the fact that the world of communication has simply evolved past what it offers, while a core group of committed user keeps it alive. In other words, it’s Twitter’s choice whether to change core functionality to adopt features that might appeal to a group that would never use it regardless or focus on maintaining a tool whose current features continue to appeal to a smaller but devoted audience.

PN: U2’s Livestreams and Real Authenticity

Originally published on Porter Novelli

I’m a big U2 fan. Have been for 30 years, when I first heard the opening of “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and was amazed that rock music could feel so open, so freeing. I’ve been down for every album since then (including their wrongly maligned Songs of Innocence, which is a really good record and…I’ll stop now), though I only saw them in concert once, in 1992 during the Zoo TV tour.

If you aren’t already hip to it, U2 has been using Meerkat on their current Innocence+Experience Tour. Each night they pluck someone out of the audience and give them a specially rigged phone that’s hooked up to not only livestream to the outside audience but also to the huge screens they have suspended above their stage. It’s an incredible moment for that fan and brings a premium view to anyone watching at home.

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 10.33.51 AM

As I was watching one such stream I noticed I was hearing the drums in particular live, not through the stadium sound system. And I could hear Bono actually singing just feet away from the device, again, not through the speakers. They were there. You could see them looking at each other. You could hear the actual instruments. Their movements around the stage looked less epic than they do when you watch a clip of a U2 concert on YouTube or DVD. There’s no editing, no special intro…It’s just a band. Compare that to this highly-edited clip from a 2010 show.

We talk a lot how social media allows brands and companies to really connect with the audience on a more personal level. That kind of statement has always contained a certain amount of buffalo chips since, if we’re being totally honest, social network publishing isn’t really about making everyone hold hands and feel awesome, it’s about leveraging the strengths of a tool to try and sell someone more stuff.

But this kind of moment really delivered on that idyllic, occasionally naive promise. This was the biggest band in the world (sorry Rolling Stones fans…) completely devoid of their usual pomp. All the lights didn’t matter. The sound mix was set aside. They were raw and completely stripped down. Their brand image was pulled down and what was left was…and I can’t believe I’m about to say this…an authentic connection and experience.

There are chances for real (gulp) authenticity. But they involve stripping away all the artifice from the presentation. And those opportunities are fewer and farther between than you may think.


Voce: Social Media and Defunct Sites

Originally published on Voce Nation

I’m a movie fan. Anyone who’s talked to me knows this. While I may not be able to watch all the new releases I still eagerly keep up with film criticism, reviews and more. I love talking about movies and writing about movies when I have the chance. Which is why I’m so bummed the world of online movie writing has lost two great outlets in the last few months.

First FilmThreat was shut down after a last-ditch effort at raising crowdfunding to keep it going was unsuccessful. I have a special connection and place in my heart for FilmThreat since it gave me my first online outlet, first for a column called Movies on the Brain and then as the home for Movie Marketing Madness, the latter of which I would continue as a blog for several years. Then The Dissolve announced last week it would be shutting down simply because the economics of running the site no longer made sense for the parent company.


Both of these are huge losses to the online film fan community. FilmThreat has always, going back to its beginnings as a print fanzine, championed the weird in film, supporting all kinds of movies that would never rise to the level of getting attention from the major industry pubs. And The Dissolve in its short life had become a home for some of the best, most intelligent writing on the web as its writers not only covered current movies (albeit without stooping to the same “scoop” level other sites did) but also celebrated classic movies, frequently producing longreads on decades-old films that needed to be revisited.


While it’s certainly unfortunate that these sites will no longer be homes themselves to their writers that doesn’t mean, though, that the brands themselves can’t continue supporting the writers they previously housed.

Understanding that this would be an unpaid effort, both FilmThreat and The Dissolve could conceivably live on on Twitter, with someone managing their accounts to link to not only the writing of their previous stable of writers but also to the best of what else is out there. Those accounts could curate content that is in line with their overall mission statements. So @FilmThreat could keep linking to obscure independent movies deserving of support and which would appeal to the special kind of nerd the zine/site used to be read by. And @TheDissolve could keep linking to new articles from its writers as they wind up somewhere else as well as to long-form content that is the kind of stuff those writers used to produce.

So this begs a larger question: Can a brand continue to exist on social networks when its hub site has faded from existence?

My answer would be “yes.” The editorial mission of a brand doesn’t need to end even if the site no longer exists. Someone can continue to fulfill that mission and speak to the audience even if the links go elsewhere and there is no core site.

As I said, yes, there would be no money for doing so. It would be an effort entirely built around servicing the fan base, not working for ad revenue. And yes, it would be hard to call those efforts a “success” since there are literally no concrete goals to work toward. But these accounts could keep the fandom going and become a valuable touchpoint for fans who may not know where the writers they’ve been enjoying have wound up. There are an end unto themselves.

Social network profiles mean that while sites may come and go, the editorial missions that powered them don’t necessarily need to. These pro bono efforts may fall victim eventually to corporate machinations in case someone else swoops in and buys up the name and other assets. But for as long as they remain independent they could still add value to the overall conversation long after their home sites have officially passed from the online world.

PNConnect: Reddit’s Troubles Could Be Blood in the Water

Originally publishing on PNConnect

reddit-logo-01-674x501Ellen Pao was run out of reddit on a rail last week, following several days of controversy and upheaval following the dismissal of a popular moderator, one who managed the site’s well-known AMA sessions, which attracted both celebrities of all stripes and subsequent media coverage, which pulled out notable quotes from a just-completed AMA. If reddit is indeed “the internet’s front page” then AMAs were a lot of people’s introduction to it. And now in the wake of Pao’s ouster the site’s chief engineer, who had only been there for two months, has left, her assertion of the two being unrelated ringing a bit hollow.

But now the luster has come off and everything about reddit seems to be under the microscope. People who weren’t hip beforehand are realizing the site is managed by unpaid moderators, that there’s minimal oversight from management and that the decentralized power structure has fostered a community whose power isn’t always put to the most positive use. And, most importantly, the liaison between brand managers and that community is no longer there. So a single point of contact may be missing.

It would be hugely premature to write reddit’s obituary at this point based on the events of the last couple of weeks. It’s more than likely the site will weather this storm and continue to be the weird hangout that generates much of what shows up on other sites. But this moment does present an opportunity for other sites to seize some of that momentum.

In May of last year Quora, one of the big Q&A sites (some people oddly used it as their personal blog for a period of time…which was weird), introduced Verified Profiles and President Barack Obama, the person to be Verified, answered questions about the Affordable Care Act. No, it wasn’t as interactive and devil-may-care as the reddit AMA he also participated in (no one asked him about duck-sized horses and the like) but it was effective, at least at showing Quora wasn’t ceding the playing field entirely.

Now there’s an opportunity for it and other sites to gain some marketshare by taking advantage of the discord at reddit. I’m not saying everyone will abandon it for another site, but Quora or someone could use this as a chance to do some major brand outreach, presenting themselves as the safe place for them to come and interact with fans on a site that doesn’t also feature sections devoted to topics those brands and celebrities wouldn’t want to be associated with.

Again, this isn’t going to happen overnight. And it won’t be an overnight transition, nor will it be complete. But this is a “blood in the water” moment and even if it results in only gaining a percentage of the attention paid to reddit on a daily basis that could be a big win for some sites.


PNConnect: Live-Streaming Best Practices

Originally published on PNConnect.

The consumer marketplace loves a good rivalry — Ford vs. Chevy, Windows vs. Mac, Star Trek vs. Star Wars (note: the second option is the correct one in each of these matchups). For social media enthusiasts, the hot rivalry of the moment is Meerkat vs. Periscope, two apps that make it easy to live-stream video to your followers.

Both apps are newcomers, and both have seen rapid adoption among brand publishers who are eager to stay on the cutting edge of social media. But live-streaming itself is hardly new. The now-defunct made a big splash in 2007 by allowing anyone to stream live video to individual channels on its site, and YouTube has long allowed users to set up live broadcasts. The critical addition from Meerkat and Periscope is painless live-streaming on mobile devices.

Still, we can look to the longer history of online live-streaming to define some best practices. Whether or not Meerkat and Periscope stick around, these tried-and-true tactics will prove useful whenever you’re considering live-streaming.


  • Know your copyright law and other applicable restrictions: Don’t rebroadcast someone else’s video, and know the rules for video and pictures at an event. Simply put, make sure you have the right to broadcast whatever is appearing in your stream — events, logos, people, and anything else.
  • Have a plan: Since everything happens live, make sure you know what you want to shoot before you start streaming. Like attacking a Death Star, you only get one shot. While it’s fine — even expected — to be a little rough around the edges, you don’t want major missteps.
  • Define your audience: Set out to meet the needs of a specific audience, and make sure they’ll find your content compelling enough to watch. Live-streaming is a niche area of social media right now, so it’s okay to target a niche audience if the content is a natural fit.
  • Promote, promote, promote: For bigger events especially, such as Q&As, and major news announcements, make sure people know when you’ll be broadcasting so they’ll actually tune in. Both Meerkat and Periscope allow you to set upcoming events that show you’ll be broadcasting at a certain time. Make sure you leverage other networks for publicity, too.
  • Keep it professional: Again, while there’s certainly room for things to look a bit less polished, ensure the person shooting the video has a good handle on the basics, like how to frame a shot.


  • Sync to existing accounts: Both Meerkat and Periscope connect to Twitter, and Meerkat talks to Facebook, too. In addition to promoting individual events, make sure you’re also encouraging users to follow your Periscope or Meerkat account so they’re notified and in place for future events.
  • Engage with the audience: Engagement can be tricky, since the person shooting the video may also be responding to viewers. Still, when possible, take the time to answer questions and interact with viewers.
  • Create a strong call-to-action: When the stream starts, make sure the promotional updates sell the video effectively, making a good case for why someone should bother watching. You need to convince followers that your video is so good that they should drop whatever they’re doing and immediately tune in.
  • Gather available metrics: Metrics for both Meerkat and Periscope are still fairly sparse. Familiarize yourself with them in advance so you can set expectations and have a plan for gathering the data you need.
  • Establish clear goals: What do you want to achieve through your live-stream? Are you simply targeting a certain number of viewers, or are you hoping for some other next action? Make sure you define the target end result clearly at the start of the process and keep it in mind throughout.


The New Moral Standard For Pulling Media

I won’t defend Bill Cosby. While the man’s talent for humor and entertainment cannot rightfully be denied, the facts mounting against him of repeated instance of drug-assisted rape are terrible and do cast a long shadow over his contributions to the culture of the last 50 years. It’s right that we view his work differently in light of what’s come out of the realm of open secret and become public knowledge.

But I can’t help but wonder who’s next, and if we as a culture will apply the same standard to everyone who is guilty of similar crimes.

In the wake of the revelations about Cosby not only are we judging his material differently but almost all TV networks that aired reruns of “The Cosby Show” have pulled that programming, not wanting to be seen as supporting or condoning his actions. His comedy albums, though, are still on sale in iTunes. They can still be streamed on Spotify. The same can be said of countless bands and artists who are or whose members are guilty (whether known generally or not) of offenses like murder, rape and so on.

So why are the same rules not being applied? What makes it so essential, from a cultural sensitivity point of view, while the other continues to be seen as business as usual?

This is a question I’m legitimately curious about. If it’s so wrong to be seen as supporting an alleged rapist by airing his TV show how comes there’s no move to stop supporting an alleged rapist by pulling his comedy albums? It seems to me that if we’re going to hold our media to a standard of not supporting criminals the 1) The standard needs to be consistently applied, meaning we can’t let one convicted criminal off completely while the other gets completely unremembered and 2) The standard needs to be absolute.

But this is a disturbing world we’re creating for ourselves. At the same time as activists rightly try to ease the restrictions and prejudices that dog former inmates and keep them from getting jobs that would keep them out of a lifestyle which would return them to prison we’re also saying that a celebrity who’s been convicted – either in a court of law or the court of public opinion – should no longer receive income from the music, movies and other media they’ve produced. That’s a disturbing level of mob mentality on display. It’s certainly not one I’d be anxious to take part in.

Facebook Has the Same Responsibilities As the Rest of the Media Industry

With the rise of Instant Articles, it’s become clear that Facebook wants to not just be a player online, it wants to be the definition of “online.” By hosting stories itself for media companies like The New York Times and others it wants to eventually eliminate the pesky notion that the web exists on anything but a URL and that information exists that hasn’t been shared on the network. It wants to be the internet.

That has led to an interesting formulation for the media, who are trying to see if accepting Facebook’s promise of faster load-times, preferential treatment in the Newsfeed and a sliding advertising revenue scale will bolster the problems they’re having on all of those fronts and keep feeding the monetary sinkhole that is journalism.

Jeff Jarvis has laid out his thoughts, stating that Facebook needs to embrace the concept of being a media entity, including the responsibility to maintain a well-informed citizenry. But Mathew Ingram points out that Facebook’s sole responsibility is usually to its shareholders, who demand ever-increasing user numbers and subsequent ad dollars.

Ingram is right, but overlooks the fact that being beholden to shareholders isn’t confined to Facebook; It’s the position every media organization is in. That’s clear from their own recent history as they race ever-faster toward the bottom of the journalism barrel.

Yes, there’s still increasingly great journalism being done at many outlets, from The New York Times to Buzzfeed and everywhere else. But there’s also a steady supply of garbage content being produced that serves no purpose to inform, adds no value to the organization’s brand value and is meant almost exclusively to be cheap, quickly produced fodder to create ad revenue through social media clicks.

I’m no defender of Facebook. I think their power-grab for control of the internet, in all seriousness, often varies between comic book villainesque and blithely naive. Their statements on the role they play in the media equation sound like Doctor Doom level dialogue (they’re the only ones doing mobile right so everyone needs to get on board or be obliterated) or make them look like a toddler with a gun, innocently unaware of the power they wield (the “we’re not editors, it’s all up to the algorithm” line).

But to cast their motivations as being wholly, completely different from those of other media companies (Facebook is and will continue to be a media company, despite their ignorant statements to the contrary) is to overlook the base motivations behind media at all tiers devoting time and space to an Instagram of Justin Beiber’s buttocks, speculation as to what Kit Harington’s hair length means for Game of Thrones and just how tasty Shake Shack’s new chicken sandwich is. While the levels of journalistic integrity may vary from one company to the next, everyone is being held accountable for the bottom line and, by extension, shareholder value. That’s why you see so many writers talk about spending more and more time either examining their story’s stats themselves or sitting in meetings about those stats and how to pump up the numbers. That’s why legacy media are using “The one thing you don’t know about….” headlines and the like.

To assume otherwise is to ignore the blatant pandering happening right under our noses.

The Double Standard for Suspending Social Media Publishing

It’s a given among social media leaders and practitioners that when tragedy strikes we hold on social media publishing. No one wants the brand they manage to be the one selling movies or mac ‘n’ cheese or anything else in the middle of an unfolding incident. So as soon as that CNN alert hit our phones, the tweets start pouring in or we hear/see on the news that there’s a bombing in Boston, a shooting at a school or anything else we push the pause button and wait for things to die down before resuming. But this is almost exclusively focused on large, single and unusual incidents and this approach ignores the everyday violence that too many people in the U.S., much less countries across the world, have to deal with. 

Over the 4th of July weekend 54 people were shot and wounded in Chicago while 10 were killed by gunfire. But no one stopped publishing their sales, promotions and deals on Twitter. People were asked to buy or read about toys, gadgets and recipes, just as they usually are. It’s an interesting bit of hypocrisy and one that mirrors the 24-hour news channels. What it shows is that for all the talk about brands – and the people behind them – being sensitive to tragedy, what they’re actually reacting to are a subset of tragedies that are 1) Concentrated and 2) Unusual. And while last month’s horrific and tragic shooting of parishioners and clergy at a South Carolina church in a matter of moments fits both those criteria, the same number of people being killed over the course of two or three days in Chicago does not. 

Let me be clear that I’m not saying one is worse than the other. That’s not the case at all. But we can see that one passes the test while the other does not. 

Concentrated: The kinds of things that result in the decision to suspend social brand publishing usually happen in a matter of moments. It’s a single incident like the Boston Marathon bombing that has long-term repercussions. Or it’s an evolving situation like a school shooting that can unfold over the course of hours. But it’s there. There’s a distinct time where it is and isn’t happening. A weekend of shootings in Chicago, though, happens slowly, over the course of 48 or 72 hours. 10 people weren’t killed in a single house in a single moment. They were killed over time, something that makes their deaths less worthy, it seems, of respect and silence. 

Unusual: Let’s be honest: We don’t expect a shooting in a small Southern church. But, no matter how racially and culturally sensitive we claim to be, gun violence on the south side of Chicago probably doesn’t surprise us much. While we may be individually appalled by it, there’s a heavy lack of shock about the latter incident that results in most social media brand managers not even considering that this might rise to the level of needing to take a respectful pause on the hard-sell to their online audience. 

Again, I’m not advocating that brands *not* suspend publishing in the wake of tragic incidents. What I am saying is that we need to be honest about how the rules are not hard and fast. We operate using a double standard that labels some moments as rising to a higher level of importance than others. Keep that in mind the next time you pat yourself on the back for your sensitivity. 

Medium Wants to be the World’s Op-Ed Page, But We’re Better Off On Our Own

Medium-logo-dark500The Washington Post today is talking about Medium and the disruptive role it’s trying to play in the media world, positioning the site as the go-to outlet for politicians, celebrities and others to post their op-eds.

There are an increasing number of media outlets who are using Medium as their primary long-form publishing outlet. Backchannel and others have gone totally native on social channels, including Medium, and skipped setting up their own sites, though recently saw the advantages of a stand-alone site and created one. So this felt like a good time to review some of the pros and cons of embracing Medium.


  • The Network – Medium is, at its core, Twitter for long-form content. So while the publishing functionality may not be overtly different from anything else that you can connect with people and have them connect with you is a powerful incentive here. But this is the same advantage presented by something like LinkedIn.
  • Ease of Use – Even if you’re one of those people (like me) who doesn’t think there’s anything tricky or confusing about WordPress there’s no denying Medium is pretty easy to use. Create an account and start publishing. Again, this has more in common with a social network than what could be termed a traditional blog platform.
  • No Tech Needed – No need to install anything on your own server, no need to choose any sort of VIP package. It’s up and running from the moment you sign in.


  • Off-Domain – This is still off-domain publishing, which comes with its own set of risks and trade-offs. There’s little branding flexibility, the design can’t be modified at all and it’s not monetizable. On top of all that it comes with all the usual set of content decay concerns, that this isn’t content that you own since you’ve published it on a managed, not an owned, channel.
  • Alerts Still Needs Work – Seeing updates from the people/profiles you’ve followed on Medium still isn’t super-intuitive. There’s no easy front page that’s customized for your own preferences, search and discovery still leave plenty to be desired.

wordpress-logo-notext-rgbSimilar thinking has been done by Alexandra Samuel at HBR here. She’s wondering if LinkedIn and Medium killed stand-alone blogs by making publishing on those channels so good that, combined with the draw of Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, people have simply stopped thinking about “blogs” in the way they did 10-15 years ago. That’s a legit point. But so is her point that stand-alone blogs allow a measure of flexibility that those other platforms don’t. You can go off-topic when you want to. You can collect more data. You’re not beholden to someone else’s terms of service.

Again, while I would strongly encourage independent blogging I understand why people are attracted to these other platforms. But when we completely abandon the owned-channel approach – as individuals much less as organizations – we’re effectively handing over control of our digital future to other parties that may not always be around and may not always have our best interests guiding their actions. As Samuel states, independent blogging allows a kind of messy freedom that not only supports the open web but also just lets people play around until they find their own groove, something the high-minded Medium and the professionally-important LinkedIn don’t allow for. Those two are important – and I use them regularly – but I also see the importance of having my own digital outlet.