Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 11/22/17

This is a fantastic overview of what happened to the DNAinfo and Ist site as they faced down the last days before being shut down by billionaire owner Joe Ricketts and just what the communities they operated in have lost in terms of watchdogs and local voices.

That may seem worrisome when you ponder the future of a fair and independent media, but don’t worry.

It’s not as if the FCC wants to eliminate the guidelines that keep the internet a level playing field for companies both big and small to survive and thrive based not on how much they can afford to pay internet providers but on the quality of their products while ignoring comments from the public. Or that it wants to relax other rules that will allow a single company to own multiple outlets in every market, creating a homogenous media ecosystem that is accountable not to the truth but to profits.

Or that bunch of secret companies are tracking your web usage to a degree it can tell who you are, how much you make, what illnesses you might have and more, all without you opting into any such profile building.

Or that the current administration seems to be opposing the merger of two media/tech companies based largely on how one part of one of those companies has been critical of the president.

Or that the tech companies that dominate our lives still can’t get over the mindset that their algorithms can be perfected without ever once delving even once into philosophy or remotely human perspectives but seem to be content manipulating our emotions and behaviors without thought to the consequences and continuing to allow illegally targeted ads.

Or that the problems seen last week in the media world are nothing compared to the crash expertly outlined by Josh Marshall, one that will result in a number of other failures and even more layoffs that result in a glut of talent that drives wages down even if new video distribution and monetization models do emerge.

Or that a legitimately insane tax plan going through Congress could have massive ripple effects throughout the entire economy that could exacerbate already staggering income and opportunity inequality.

So, you know, we’re totally fine.

In Other News…

The FTC has updated its disclosure guidelines around influencer marketing on social media to address various issues and close various loopholes that were being exploited (sometimes with the explicit endorsement of shady agencies) to keep the audience in the dark on the presence of a paid relationship.

Yeah, it’s kind of weird that things like coffee machines and pizza are serious rallying points for political speech but that’s where we are in 2017 it seems.

I was wondering why I was getting a whole bunch of new followers on Ello (I never deleted my profile for some reason) and it seems it’s finding new life as a portfolio community for creative types.

Apparently The Washington Post is a software company now, licensing the custom CMS it created to others. Interesting, but this isn’t exactly groundbreaking as I’m fairly sure this kind of thing has been happening elsewhere in the media world since about 2005.

Following up on the post I wrote last week about how various social networks try to cater to creators as much as possible to keep their loyalty, Facebook has introduced a whole new set of tools to help people make engaging videos.

Facebook will now let you view web-based VR experiences from directly within the News Feed.

Not only has Instagram enabled people joining live broadcasts but you can now request to join the stream of the friend you’re watching.

Want even more recommendations? Check out my Pocket Shared Items.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Yesterday Was a Rough Day for Media

It’s hard to overestimate the impact of the various body blows sustained in different sections of the media world yesterday, none of which bode well for the future of a free and independent press.

Meredith May Buy Time Inc.

After two previously unsuccessful attempts, magazine publisher Meredith (home to Better Homes and Gardens and more) is reportedly close to finally acquiring Time, Inc. The deal is dead to have the backing of the Koch Brothers, the libertarian billionaires that have used their vast wealth and political influence to take down various regularity agencies and policies. The Kochs don’t seem to be interested in editorial independence and it’s likely this will turn the entire stable of magazines, including Time, into outlets for solely conservative viewpoints.

Ziff Davis May Buy Mashable

Just a year after Mashable, begun over a decade ago as a personal tech blog and now part of a media empire, was valued at $250 million it’s said to be worth just $50 million to Ziff Davis. What the long-term value of the site (or any site, really) might be is a big question mark, especially since the “pivot to video” Mashable engaged in just a few months ago doesn’t seem to have improved its fortunes any. Mashable’s editorial was increasingly watered down as it tried to move into more general news categories, realizing tech was played out. Ziff Davis last year sought to buy Gawker as it was being threatened by billionaire Peter Thiel.

Buzzfeed Misses Revenue Targets

The website that supports its important hard news with GIFs of Nicki Minaj expressing how you feel about Labor Day is going to fall well short of its yearly revenue target. That could mean the IPO everyone suspected it was planning could be put on hold or completely scrapped as it seeks new revenue streams, which it’s doing with an army of commercial content producers, to make up for increased expenses in the production of original videos and other content.

FCC To Dismantle Media Ownership Rules

Expect a new wave of media mergers and purchases if the FCC’s new rules to do away with media ownership restrictions are implemented without legal challenge. Taking away these rules means companies can own multiple TV and radio stations as well as newspapers in a single market, drowning out independent voices. The change comes, not coincidentally, as the FCC is pondering the proposed merger of Sinclair Media Group (a major conservative company) with Tribune Media. Considering Sinclair has been so willing to carry the water for the Trump Administration it’s curious that this seems to be no big deal while the proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner has been weighed down with the requirement TW sell CNN, which has often clashed with Trump and his loyalists. Oh, and the FCC also wants to dismantle net neutrality, opening the door for media companies to add self-serving payment tiers to the internet that will reward the few while stifling innovation.

Ownership consolidation is dangerous to media. We’ve seen that in stark relief in the last couple years as billionaires shut down independent outlets for their own, often petty reasons. Similarly threatening is governmental meddling in media, deciding who is or isn’t allowed to survive without consideration of the public good, just corporate profits. Yesterday was full of signs that both situations are going to get much worse and might even lock out any mechanism for them to be made better.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 11/16/17

Hoopla, which offers movies and TV shows (as well as e-books, audiobooks and more) on behalf of local libraries, is launching apps for Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV.

Both Google and LinkedIn have launched new career search tools. Google has added information on companies including salary, job application choices and more to search results and made it easy to apply to positions you find. LinkedIn is using the power of its network to encourage people share career advice with seekers and new grads, who can find people to connect with and turn into mentors.

Kickstarter has launched Drip, a new model that expands beyond the single project to let people subscribe to their favorite creators on an ongoing basis. That’a a clear move against Patreon, which has roughly the same deal.

People are cutting the cord on traditional cable TV faster than ever, with twice as many doing so in the last quarter than made the move in the same period last year. They’re being replaced by skinny bundles delivered via over-the-top services.

The Trust Indicator is a joint venture of Facebook, Twitter, Google and Bing – along with Trust Project – that assigns verification to various news media outlets that signal it is in line with the best practices the organization has outlined. That’s good because a recent study has shown those news organizations are way out of their league when it comes to fighting disinformation online.

The FTC is cracking down on a company that has made up quotes from celebrities to sell shady supplements via ads that have run all over the internet, especially in those “Recommended Stories” units. It’s also taking a look at George Takei, who failed to disclose being paid by various news outlets to share their stories.

Want even more recommendations? Check out my Pocket Shared Items.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Marketing Always Follows Consumer Trends

I was intrigued by the headline to this piece on Vice the other day that examined a few examples where music videos from popular artists seemed to closely resemble the kinds of photos posted by popular Instagram travel influencers. Not that those people are being copied overtly, but there are similarities in the approaches and the kinds of images shown.

It’s not surprising that artists and singers would look to the world of social media celebrities for inspiration. That’s a good indicator of what’s resonating with the audience. Those influencers are tastemakers and music videos have always reflected the larger media world around them, whether that meant including leggy models shot in high gloss black and white, experimental indie film, or narrative portraits of complicated characters. Videos are advertisements for the artists and their products and so, just as ad agencies are hiring influencers to help them navigate trends, so too their habits are being analyzed and copied to sell music.

What was more notable to me was the fact that, like the Chicago River in 1900, the flow has been reversed. It’s not artists and other more traditional celebrities providing the influence, it’s the everyday person with an Instagram or other social media account that’s influencing the culture.

I’m much less interested in what visuals or themes may have been lifted than the fact that it’s no longer the traditional media that’s doing the influencing. That’s a profound shift in the dynamic that’s been in place since, roughly, ever.

It’s true that many fashion and other lifestyle trends, along with definitions of what’s hip or not, have often percolated up from the general public before they’re fully captured by the media. So the idea that consumers are driving these areas isn’t wholly original. But that handoff has usually meant the move from a niche to mainstream awareness.

Whatever direction the trends are flowing, one thing remains constant: It’s brands and companies that have a vested interest in defining “cool” that still have much of the power and play a large role in determining what is or isn’t seen. In the old days, they would work magazine and other editors to include their products on “Must Buy” lists, have their fashions worn on movie premiere red carpets and otherwise have them seen by those with the power to change habits. The goals are still the same, it’s just the tactics now include working with social media influencers.

So music videos and other popular entertainment retain their position as the outlet for secondary explosions from the initial efforts. You send review product to an influential person, that product becomes part of a trend because of those efforts and then that’s reflected in the entertainment world.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

(Featured image via Vice)

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 11/14/17

A new study shows that headlines of 90 to 99 characters have the highest click-through-rate, but that runs counter to best practices for search engine optimization and other platforms, so who the hell knows, just do what’s working for you, man.

There seem to be flaws with this study on how the timing of news released on Twitter can influence conversations, but it’s an interesting premise and one that seems worthy of further exploration.

Pinterest has official launched board sections to help people better organize the material they share on that network. And it’s rolled out QR-like codes businesses can add to packages and other material that quickly create shoppable pins, the latest example of the QR code concept being a solid one, even if the initial execution didn’t take off.

There are a number of reasons outlined here as to why Musical.ly may have sold to a giant Chinese company for a reported $800 million, but the point is that this site didn’t exist three years ago and there’s arguably still a lot of potential that remains unlocked.

Mattress company Caspar becomes the latest business to launch its own unbranded print lifestyle magazine.

YouTube has heard the recent round of criticism about the inappropriate nature of many videos that appear at first glance to be aimed at kids and announced moves to try and clean up the problem.

After an unsuccessful rollout of an events-specific app, Facebook is trying again with Local, a new app that offers a single source of local recommendations and reviews from those you know. It also merged Stories with Messenger Day to make posting Stories across channels a bit easier.

Interesting stats here on the top publishing platforms, including how WordPress not only dominates in general but does so specifically in business usage.

I get what Amazon is doing with its reported plans (which it has disputed) to offer a free, ad-supported video service, but I’m failing to see how that can be described as a Netflix competitor, which is what many headlines have done. Meanwhile FullScreen is shutting down its streaming video subscription service, citing the high costs of keeping it going and the fact that the money might be better invested in other areas. And Philo announced it’s launching a subscription service that will, at least initially, only include entertainment content.

Advertisers on Snapchat can now link their Sponsored Lenses and Geofilters to their websites to increase conversion rates and extract more value from those ads.

ESPN is the latest media company to announce big Snapchat plans, launching twice-daily SportsCenter shows on the app.

Artists on YouTube can now add links to Ticketmaster events like concerts to their video descriptions to ease conversions.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 11/9/17

Instagram has made its branded content tagging tools available to more creators with high levels of engagement to make sure everyone is complying with required disclosure around paid relationships. Making that disclosure easier also has the benefit of encouraging more people to use Instagram for their content.

Brand marketers are beginning to work with influential and popular account creators on Musical.ly, something the company’s management is encouraging and facilitating.

Website owners can now embed Facebook Messenger chat functionality on their sites to encourage everyone to use that platform for customer services conversations.

So cool that it seems the future of business depends on how friendly any given company is to the current administration. That’s exactly how both free-market capitalism and democracy are supposed to work, right?

Slow clap for Sen. Al Franken for calling out the closed-system monopolies being created by the big social technology companies like Google and Facebook, which are acting recklessly and irresponsibly given the influence they have over the information presented to the electorate.

Oh, and the fact that Facebook and other companies collect metric tons of data you may not even be aware of to build a profile of you and make various forms of recommendations to you.

If Instagram thought it was going to avoid conversations about how its platform is used to spread political disinformation, nah.

I love this example of The Washington Post participating in conversations on Reddit in helpful and non-promotional ways that are authentic to the platform, not ham-handed and terrible.

One of the cooler product integrations I’ve seen of late, as LinkedIn and Microsoft (which owns LinkedIn) have created Resume Assistant to quickly and easily create resumes based on your profile and keep it updated.

Millennials don’t have a ton of disposable income, even during the years when other generations have been at the peak of their spending power and most susceptible to marketing messages. Crushing student debt and a poor job market will do that. They’re more choosy with where they spend what money they have, focusing on both bargains and companies they view as responsible and ethical socially.

Revenue sharing is the hot new way social networks are buying the loyalty of top creators.

Twitter has launched Promote Mode, a simple system that costs a flat fee of $99 a month for small business and individual brands to promote their profiles without jumping through a lot of hoops.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Snap Scrambles To Keep Momentum

Snapchat has to start delivering if it wants to continue being seen as hot tech.

Yesterday was a rough day for Snap, the parent company of Snapchat. For the third quarter in a row it reported it failed to meet analyst expectations on a number of fronts. User growth was the slowest it’s been since early 2012, with just 4.5 million people joining the messaging service. And the introduction of automated, auction-based advertising is driving prices down, especially when compared to the fixed pricing that is in place when a company works through Snap’s own sales team. To add insult to injury, it admitted that Spectacles, rolled out earlier this year to much fanfare and sold exclusively through pop-up vending machines, were a dud and that it’s cost almost $40 million to store devices that were either never sold or which have had their orders canceled.

In response CEO Evan Spiegel said the company was making a number of adjustments:

First, it’s going to begin opening its wallet for creators who are using the platform to incentivize continued usage and would add more monetization options in the near future. Additional production features may also be forthcoming. That could be helpful since a recent study found influencers were cooling on the platform and going where there’s more money.

Second, it’s going to undertake a redesign effort to make the app easier to understand and use. Details on what that might entail were not offered – and may not yet be decided – but any substantive change runs the risk of being more generally acceptable while alienating the core user base.

Shades of Twitter

If this all seems vaguely reminiscent of the conversations we’ve had around Twitter in the last few years, you’re not wrong. Twitter has struggled for a while to define its unique value proposition and answer the core question of “Now what?” that’s asked by new users. It’s balanced the need to smooth out the on-ramp with not upsetting the power users of the network.

Those efforts have been hit and miss. Changes to the app navigation, the introduction of Moments, the shift to an engagement-driven Timeline, even yesterday’s roll-out of 280-character updates, have been greeted warmly by some and derided by others. Only in this most recent quarter does their story seem to be turning around as daily active user growth, ad revenue and other numbers all begin to solidly move in the right direction.

What’s At Stake

Snap reported Snapchat has 178 million total daily users at the end of last quarter. While it might not be as high as investors and others would hope for, it’s not insubstantial. Even more than the sheer numbers, it’s the app’s popularity among teens and young adults that makes it so popular. 47% of teens told Piper Jaffray it was their favorite app. Almost 60% percent of those who use it are under 25 years old. It’s used these stats to attract the attention of media companies, encouraging them to create original productions as well as buy Sponsored Lenses and other ad products.

Snapchat has also firmly positioned itself as the chief innovator in the social tech industry. The Stories format it introduced years ago has gone on to be copied or mimicked by almost all competitors, sometimes with unintended consequences. Likewise for face filters and other photo manipulation tools. It’s experimented with AR and other boundary-pushing features.

What’s Next?

Yes, Snap has to prove it not only has appeal for those over 25 – and that it’s easy to use without needing to bring in a Millennial consultant for assistance – but that it’s viable as a long-term business. Even Silicon Valley will only tolerate so much experimentation, no matter how cool it is, before a company has to produce tangible results.

That reported redesign will be a major test, not just for users’ tolerance for change but for how much investors feel they were sold a bill of goods when the company IPOd back in February, though it’s not as if the numbers were all that great at that point either.

In short, so far Snapchat has been attractive to investors, advertisers and media producers because of the promise of what it could be, not necessarily because of what it is. Eventually, we’re going to have to get to the point where it delivers on that promise.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 11/7/18

Interesting findings here that longer headlines on branded content have higher click-through rates. Perhaps because they’re more effective at quickly drawing the reader into the story?

Google is deprecating old RSS feeds from Google News next month, taking a convoluted approach that involves discarding the old but offering new feeds without setting up redirects or other accommodations for those subscribed.

Polls are the new big thing as Facebook follows Instagram with a feature allowing people to post polls using GIFs across desktop and mobile platforms.

Twitter has responded to the constant calls for better enforcement of its terms of service by clarifying the rules around what will get your account suspended or banned. Actual application of those guidelines continues to be spotty, though.

Hard to argue with the conclusion that the DNAinfo/Gothamist situation show that not only will local news not scale to the level needed for large companies to view it as successful (even if it is in the black financially) but it’s also too vital to leave in the hands of profit-motivated individuals or entities. Even national news is under fire from advertisers who are considered coverage of unpleasant issues hurts ratings and are threatening to pull their ads if it doesn’t change.

All brands will have access to Sponsored Messages on Facebook Messenger later this year. Yay?

More people are worried any regulations of tech companies resulting from the current focus on foreign manipulation of democracy through social media will go too far. I have to laugh at the comment about needing to expand our worldview beyond the self-selected media bubble it’s easy to create given our president almost daily reacts to one cable almost exclusively.

It’s kind of hard to fathom the implications of a potential Disney acquisition of 21st Century Fox. Putting aside the control over IP, the consolidation of control over a bigger percentage of media production and distribution – specifically news dissemination – is frightening, especially given the recent example noted above.

Even beyond what it produces itself, such a combined entity has potential repercussions for the press. Disney reportedly shut out the Los Angeles Times from press screenings as punishment for a negative report on its theme park business, a dangerous stifling of the free press. In response four critics associations announced Disney films would not be eligible for their annual awards as long as the policy is in place, seemingly creating enough public pressure that just today Disney relented and lifted the ban.

Twitter has rolled out 280-character updates to its entire user base, meaning…well…nothing, really.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Pew: How People Use One or More Social Networks For News

Pew last week released the results of a new study on which social media sites Americans were getting their news from. Those numbers are not only insightful in and of themselves but also in regards to the ongoing conversation about what responsibility the companies operating those sites have to their role as news sources.

Facebook Dominates

Not only is Facebook the most widely-used social network, but half of the people who get their news on that site do so exclusively, meaning they don’t turn to any other social media site for additional information or context.

That stat needs to be used the next time Facebook is called to account for the influence it wields and who may be using it as a disinformation platform. That includes not only foreign but domestic actors. If 45% of U.S. adults use Facebook for news and half do so exclusively, that means it is the only source of news for roughly 23% of U.S. adults. The fact that the company does not seem to take that role seriously is breathtaking.

Messaging App Users Stay In That Lane

In general, the number of people who get news from messaging apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp are small – 5 and 2% respectively – but if they do they tend to stay in that category. So WhatsApp users also turn to Snapchat for news, as well as Instagram.

Twitter and YouTube Numbers Are Surprising

It was surprising to see that only 11% of respondents said they turn to Twitter for news, especially given its role in the conversation around breaking news events. That came into stark relief a few years ago when Twitter was filled with updates of the protests and other events in Ferguson, MO while Facebook dominated by the Ice Bucket Challenge. That contrast lead some to refer to Facebook’s as the “Ice Bucket Feed.”

Just as unexpected is the appearance of YouTube as the second most used site for news, with 18% of people turning there, 21% exclusively. Just last year there was a report that YouTube had fallen out of favor with media companies who were being lured by pitches from Facebook, Snapchat and others that focused on how they reach vital demographics and encourage viral sharing. YouTube apparently wants to lean into this role as just a few months ago it introduced a “Breaking News” section on the desktop and mobile app front pages.

[pilatevoice] What Is News? [/pilatevoice]

What’s left unaddressed in the Pew report is what the definition of “news” being used is. While all these platforms certainly deal in what might be called “hard” news, they also feature more than a little “softer” news, as well as content that can only be termed news through a significant stretching of definitions. Are people using these sites to stay in tune with politics and government?

A 2013 Pew study found that “Entertainment” accounted for 73% of the news people saw on Facebook while “National government and politics” was just 55% and “International” just 39%. So when people are going to YouTube or anywhere else for news, what does that mean? It can’t be assumed it’s the kind of news that would make the lead on a local TV broadcast or the front page of The New York Times.

Not only that, but the study doesn’t address what sources are providing that news. As Facebook seeks to increasingly marginalize the role of the traditional news publisher – at least those who don’t either pay for promoted posts or adopt whichever native format is preferred that week – it can’t be assumed that the news people are seeing is going through any sort of vetting or editorial review to determine veracity.

That’s exactly what the hearings Facebook, Twitter and Google took part in last week in Washington, D.C. were all about. If you’re getting your news not from a source that, whatever its editorial bias might be at least ascribes to traditional journalistic principles but from YourRightDaily or whatever that is designed to inflame passions through the spread of “emotional” content that plays into prejudices, the “facts” you’re getting are very different.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 11/2/17

While the attention has been on Facebook, Twitter and Google for their politics-related fake news problem, Pinterest has its own issues with health- and food-related material shared there that’s of questionable value.

The share of money earned by video creators on Periscope through “super hearts” is increasing as the company says it will take only a small administrative fee, the hope being to attract more influencers to the platform.

Facebook is touting the usage numbers of both Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status.

Snapchat advertisers can now more measure track cross-platform stats like site visits through the introduction of pixel tracking, something that’s common most other social networks and ad tools.

Parents can exert a bit more influence on what their youngins are watching with the introduction of YouTube Kid Profiles, which allow for viewing controls to be set and more.

Shopping this holiday season is expected to be a primarily mobile experience as people get more comfortable using those devices for purchasing in addition to awareness and research.

Sick to my stomach at the news that Joe Ricketts has unceremoniously shut down the DNAInfo and Gothamist sites, removing their archives completely. That’s a lot of talented writers whose hard work has been erased, all coming just a week after those writers voted to unionize.

I was reminded of the experience of discovering random oddities and hidden treasures in a video store while reading this story about how the cover art of VHS tapes is so much more engaging and interesting than the generic thumbnails used by Netflix in displaying its viewing options.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.