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.

The One Thing Tech Companies Could Do To Fight News Manipulation

Facebook, Twitter, Google and other tech companies have been, and will continue to be, testifying before members of Congress about what the hell just happened. Specifically, lawmakers want to know how those platforms were used by foreign agents to disseminate false information both organically and through paid ads in the lead up to last year’s elections.

Given how much of the electorate gets their news through these platforms, the stakes are fairly high. Both Twitter and Facebook have continued to revise the number of people exposed to these ads and messages up as time goes on. At this point over half of all Americans saw some sort of propaganda designed to destabilize our democracy by inflaming racial, religious and other prejudices.

In response to all this, the tech companies in question have reverted to their favorite line of defense: “We’re just a dumb platform.” They claim they can only do so much because the users are responsible for the experience of what they see. They also downplay the efficacy of whatever ads were displayed, something they do have control over, seemingly unaware this position is exactly opposite to the “you need to buy ads on our network because they work” pitch made to every business in the country.

Ironically, the quagmire Facebook finds itself in hasn’t hurt advertising revenue as companies continue buying. It did, though, attempt to stave off regulation by claiming that really fighting the spread of fake news and weeding out manipulative advertising would cost so much it would hurt future profits. Essentially, it’s stating that if lawmakers really love capitalism they’ll back off. It’s the same argument the banks have made for years.

Those warnings may be true, though you could argue acting in the public good is more important to America than profit levels.

Instead of throwing money at attempting to solve the problem, there seems to be one simple solution that might hinder the impact of outside influence before it begins.

Verification

What if those additional hires (more likely low-paid contractors who don’t enjoy all the perks of full-time employees) were tasked with reviewing the authenticity of any new Page for someone claiming to be a news organization or advocacy group?

Based on the examples exposed in recent months, it seems most of these groups don’t stand up to the most cursory research, something that’s surely within the capabilities of companies like Facebook, Google and others. They have more tools than the average person and would be able to see that a group claiming to represent Native Americans just launched their website three months ago and why is it registered in Myanmar?

The companies in question would likely argue that such research and verification isn’t their responsibility. But it is. Landlords have to verify the party wishing to rent an apartment is who they say they are, and the repercussions there don’t affect the lives of all Americans in the way those using rented online land do.

Put those resources up front and stop the problem from becoming a problem. If anything comes out of the scrutiny being turned on the tech companies responsible for what we do and don’t see, I hope it’s that.

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

The One Thing I’ll Remember About AIM

Last week the internet held its collective breath and gasped as it was announced Aol would soon shut down AIM, the instant-messaging service it’s run for 20 years.

The news spurred an outpouring of remembrances from people, especially who grew up with the service, for whom it was the proto-social network. Most of them were young – high school age or younger – when the service was introduced and most popular. It’s where they shared song lyrics, connected with like-minded friends regardless of physical proximity, digitally flirted and more.

I was a bit too old to ride that particular wave and so didn’t have quite the same level of emotional attachment to AIM. There’s no deep nostalgia for late nights spent discussing miscellanea, developing the linguistic shortcuts that helped facilitate speedy conversations. There’s no memory of away messages using lines from whatever poet best represented my current existential angst.

That’s not to say I didn’t use it. In the days before Slack, Facebook Messenger and more – all of which are the “new ways” we communicate that have lead to the demise of AIM – IM was a great long-distance communications tool. So it was part of my productivity mix for many years, especially through Adium, which allowed for the use of AIM, YIM and Gchat.

For me there’s one abiding memory of AIM: It was how I communicated on a regular basis with Tom Biro after I began writing for AdJab, the now-shuttered advertising blog established by Weblogs, Inc. Tom and I chatted regularly, he in New Jersey and me in Chicago, as one of us wrote new stories and more.

One moment in particular jumps out. I had written a story about some new development with TiVo and its implications for the ad industry, I don’t remember the specifics. In the post I mentioned how while TiVo was great for ad-skipping, sometimes you had to rewind because you went too far and were back into the meat of the show you were watching. After doing so I added the parenthetical statement “(you’re probably drunk).”

When Tom reviewed the post he IMd me something along the lines of “Yeah, you’re fired.” It was meant in jest, of course, just one of countless times Tom would fire me in our years at AdJab and then MWW Group because I’d done something annoying. He’d also remind me on a number of occasions that my commentary on some issue was so dry he couldn’t tell if I was kidding or not, which isn’t uncommon in my life.

No, I don’t have the same “OMG a part of my formative life is ending” feeling many do. I understand why they feel such a connection to it. It’s something I have for elements of my own childhood that have been swept into the dustbin. But the way it facilitated communication between myself and my boss was just the first step in a career that’s seen me working remotely in one way or another for much of the last 12 years. For that, I’m grateful for AIM.

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

Technology Changes Consumption

Back in the early days of online video, there was one cardinal rule: Don’t shoot vertical video. That was as close to a mortal sin as you got. Everything was designed for landscape video viewing, so vertical videos displayed with window boxing on the right and left, creating a sub-optimal experience. That was in line with every other video presentation, from widescreen TVs to computer monitors, with 16×9 displays becoming the norm for both.

The emergence of mobile phones and the default portrait mode of social apps like Snapchat have upended that norm. Shooting vertical video is now common, with even platforms like YouTube adopting features that make watching them easier.

What’s important to remember is that technology always disrupts not only production but also consumption. The advent of cassettes made music far more portable than it had been with LPs. Instant cameras meant you could quickly evaluate the quality of your photo. Both of those, as well as countless others, have evolved since then as well as digital and mobile technology began to emerge.

Those changes in technology have brought with them changes in consumer behavior. The study shared there shows people are moving away from TV in favor of linear broadcasts, part of a broader trend moving away from larger screens and toward entertainment enjoyment. News consumption is not only shifting to smartphones but two-thirds of U.S. adults now use social media, primarily a mobile activity, as their primary news source. That Pew study shows that those who go to social networks are mostly supplementing that with the apps or mobile websites of news organizations.

Changes are coming so fast that cord-cutting forecasts have been adjusted because initial models were too conservative. That’s being driven by the emergence of more and more OTT platforms and services. Those services are off to a slow start at the moment and aren’t contributing much to the revenue of their parent companies. That might change, though likely not without some shakeout in the market, or it might not and these will remain niche products.

I’m not a huge fan of vertical video. But I also wasn’t a fan of square photos until Instagram popularized the format. Too many flashbacks to my old Kodak camera that shot that way. But evolution is the only constant in the media world, so it’s best to buckle up and go along for the ride.

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

Google’s AMP Subscription Plans, or “Isn’t This RSS?”

As part of a reported larger outreach program to publishers, Google is said to be working on ways to help convert casual news readers to subscribers. Specifically, it’s using its Accelerated Mobile Pages technology, which loads pages more quickly on mobile devices, to identify potential subscribers and then make the conversion process more streamlined.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but wasn’t RSS basically this?

OK, I’ll get off my usual soapbox a bit here because I know RSS, while it works great on mobile (don’t have to load images, doesn’t require big draws on servers) is anonymous. Publishers don’t know that it’s me who’s subscribed to their feed. That’s one of the big reasons, I suspect, why many sites have stopped offering RSS and switched over fully to email newsletters or social. Unlike RSS feeds, those options allow them to capture some data about me.

Still, they could see my click-through activity. They could see (if they did their job and added tracking codes to the URL) that the visit came from the RSS feed and collected a cookie about me, giving them some data and allowing for ad retargeting that hypothetically should have provided some value from my readership. over time they could see what kinds of articles I consistently opened up.

Even aside from those points, Google had that information. I would regularly check my Google Reader stats and see how many articles I had clicked on, how many items from each site I had read in the feed over the last month and so on. So that data was somewhere and Google could have easily changed the terms of service to allow it to sell that data to publishers so they could use it in some way or another.

Once again, as with the recent news about Google’s Stamp experiment, Reader could have served as the foundation for a whole ecosystem that was geared toward mobile news consumption. All the tools were there, but the endless experimentation to mimic Flipboard or Snapchat Discover or whatever else apparently took precedence, complicating what should have been a relatively easy evolution of one product into the launch and eventual folding of countless others.

The Hotel Desk User Experience

Matthew Hughes at The Next Web is here with an update on the most important issue of our time: The placement of desks in hotel rooms as a way to cater to Millennials. The Marriott chain, Hughes reports, is reversing course after previously removing fixed desks from their rooms because young people weren’t using them and preferred to work on their tablets or laptops from couches or chairs or the bed in the room. Turns out that maybe wasn’t completely true and so Marriott will put rolling, movable desks in the rooms to allow for people to work from wherever they want to.

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I’ve logged plenty of time in hotel rooms. More than some, less than many. I’ve always found, though, that the desk was the worst part of the overall experience. It’s usually at an odd height and accompanied by an uncomfortable chair, the adjustable levels of which aren’t always compatible with the desk. More than that, the desk is often against the same wall as the TV, and when I’m in that environment I like to work with something on in the background, even if it’s just a generic episode of “NCIS” or “Law & Order.” So I wind up working from a separate chair or the bed, even though I’m certainly not a member of the Millennial cohort.

More than the desk issue, hotels need to do more to address the power issue. That’s where the real point of contention usually is in the hotel experience. There are large hotels in major metropolitan markets I’ve stayed at that have three outlets in the entire room, one on or near the desk and one each hidden behind the heavy, hard to move side-tables on either sides of the bed. That doesn’t make for a great environment when someone is charging a laptop and hoping to take it anywhere in the room and charging their phone and still wanting to use the lights that are plugged in and taking up all or most of the available outlet space.

This is a bit of ranting, but what we’re talking about is how the user experience is often very different than what it’s assumed to be by designers. More than that, it evolves over time. That’s what Marriott was going for, it seems, with the announcement it was taking out desks. That was big and flashy, largely because it involved Millennials, which is a great hook to get everyone to write up your minor news. The bigger change, though, and one that would have appealed to a broader cohort (and therefore been less attention-grabbing) would be to renovate rooms to make outlets much more accessible wherever you go.

Snap’s Spectacles Are the World’s First Native Ad-Only Technology

Here’s what strikes me about the new Spectacles that Snap – formerly Snapchat and now the name of the company behind that app as well as the new video-shooting eyewear – just introduced: There doesn’t seem to be the potential to actually insert ads into the user experience. Instead, it seems the only advertising potential is in how content can be created by the people wearing Spectacles. That feeling is apparently supported by this Adweek story.

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What I mean is that ads won’t – at least what I’ve read – be displayed to Spectacles wearers. The person with the Spectacles on won’t have ads appear in their line of sight. That’s because, unlike the Google Glass being used by everyone as a point of comparison, it’s not a consumption platform. Instead it’s solely, at least at the moment, a creation tool. You can’t view other people’s Snaps through Spectacles but you can create your own videos. So there’s nothing to display ads against.

That’s a sizable and notable shift in consumer technology, at least in recent history. Phones and other mobile devices  – oh, and computers as a whole – allow you to both create and consume content, with the consumption element almost always ad-supported in some way or another. So having uni-directional device is actually kind of a throwback and it will be interesting to see if a new generation who’s always had a bi-directional experience.

For advertisers, as the Adweek story starts to mention but doesn’t go all-in on, that means the primary way they will get their message inserted in the experience is through “influencer” marketing. They will have to contract with people who have substantial Snapchat followings and get them to create videos promoting their wares. Those videos, though, will still be consumed through the mobile device Snapchat app, not through the Spectacles themselves. There’s no native Spectacles consumption experience.

It’s incredibly likely that this will change over time, with Spectacles evolving to be more full-service and including both consumption and creation. When that happens it’s easy to expect that ads will become a big element, likely with sponsored filters that can automatically be placed over what the person is watching. There are all sorts of concerns about that, many of which are similar to what were brought up when Google Glass debuted about distracted driving or walking and more. And the privacy concerns are substantial, though at least because Spectacles are single-use it’s safe to assume when someone is wearing them that they’re recording.

For now, though, Spectacles are a device that only sends content in one direction and which has no native ad experience. In order to really thrive, that will need to evolve quickly.

Quick Takes 7/11/16: Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and More

I’m going to go back to doing a regular series here on recent social media, content marketing and other news that’s caught my eye. This first edition is a bit heavy because I started saving stories last week when I was focusing on other, non-blog stuff, and future posts won’t be quite this robust.

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Snapchat’s Teen Fans Wince as App Catches On With Their Folks (Wall Street Journal, 7/4/16)

Twitter is Testing 2 New Customer Service Features That Brands Will Love (The Next Web, 7/5/16)

Generation Listen aims to bring millennials into the NPR family (Current, 7/6/16)

Snapchat Saves Your Snaps Because Hey, Memories Can Be Nice (Wired, 7/6/16)

Get Ready For More Podcasts on YouTube… A Lot More, Thanks to Libsyn (MediaShift, 7/6/16)

Facebook is *really* boosting live video (Poynter, 7/6/16)

Twitter Live is a New Thing From Twitter That Could Actually Be Useful (Quartz, 7/6/16)

A sound experiment: How video clips from our podcasts (huh? yes, really) help us find new listeners (The Economist, 7/6/16)

How Do Internet Users Feel About Buy Buttons? (eMarketer, 7/7/16)

Audible’s answer to the podcasting world is officially out of beta, and it’s looking as ambitious as ever (Nieman Lab, 7/7/16)

The Modern News Consumer (Pew Research Center, 7/7/16)

Facebook Makes Subjective Decisions on Keeping Violent Live Streams Up (Buzzfeed, 7/8/16)

Why Advertisers Are Forking Over Big Bucks for Custom Snapchat Lenses (Adweek, 7/10/16)

Google’s car only solves half – if that – of the problem

I’ll admit that yes, Google’s self-driving cars, which the press got a look at yesterday and were able to take a spin around in, are pretty cool. I love the idea that cars can be made more safe, at least in part – by taking human error out of the equation. I know that there are still risks – Garbage In, Garbage Out is one thing when you’re talking about a computer program but another thing when you’re talking about a program that puts a ton of metal and machinery out there amidst kids and other pedestrians – but it’s at least an interesting bit of innovation.
But, building off that last bit above, it’s only half the innovation that’s necessary. The most disappointing thing about the Google car is that it looks so very, very much like a car. When I think of how transportation needs to evolve I think of two things being necessary:
First, we need to dispose entirely of the internal combustion engine. This is technology that, while it’s become slightly more efficient, hasn’t practically changed since it was introduced. I’ve long felt that this needs to be less the realm of radicals like Elon Musk and more a national priority on the level of NASA in the 1960s. The automobile industry was important enough for the federal government to bail many of its major players out during the financial crisis of a few years ago, so it stands to reason that the government should show some leadership and assign the best and the brightest resources available across the nation to sustaining it into the rest of this century, something that will require we abandon the idea of burning oil for the sole purpose of being able to $5 off a haircut.
Second, we need to radically rethink the infrastructure of this country, and the idea of a self-driving car is the perfect opportunity to do that. Is there anything good about how things are setup right now? There are too many roads that have too many maintenance and construction needs and too many opportunities for a serious accident that, at best, can lead to major costs associate with repair of the car itself or some other piece of property or, at worst, injury or death to a person whether they’re in a car or walking alongside the street. These are serious problems that our current infrastructure creates and there’s nothing that’s really being done to alleviate them.
There are so many solutions here – more small businesses, fewer planned communities that require five minutes of driving just to get out of and which are devoid of any shopping or entertainment that are within walking distance, more emphasis on public transportation – that the mind boggles when I consider their obviousness. But all this will require a national rethinking of what our priorities are followed by consumer demand for these solutions. Businesses aren’t going to do any of this without knowing it’s what people want. So it’s time for people to start wanting them. The government – be it federal, state or local – can provide leadership in these areas, but ultimately it’s time to vote for a better infrastructure system with our wallets.

A non-neutral net may be coming soon

Between Stacey Higgenbottom’s piece at GigaOm and John Herman’s at Buzzfeed, I’m pretty much just counting the moments until my cable operator sends a note saying my internet fees are going up because I watch too much Netflix for their liking.

Not that I’m a huge fan of more and more government regulation, but it’s not just consumers at stake, it is, as many have pointed out, the start-ups who want to take on Twitter, Amazon and others but who won’t be able to pay for preferred access along the last mile to people’s homes. And that’s where government needs to make sure existing businesses don’t have policies in place that are meant almost solely to protect their own interests at the expense of innovation.