Quick Takes – Marketing and Media News for 3/20/18

It’s hard to top a story like that involving Cambridge Analytics and Facebook. There are all sorts of things going on here, but these seem to be the key points:

Cambridge had a contract with a Russian oil company (many of which are controlled to some extent by government officials) that seemed oddly interested in how to target U.S. voters. Those conversations were happening at the same time CA was working to cultivate largely Republican candidates in the lead up to the 2016 election cycle.

The response by Facebook over the weekend as this was developing was all over the place and almost universally terrible from a crisis comms point of view and was at least in part to blame for how the company’s stock price plummeted Monday morning. Even up to the time of this writing, the company has pointed the finger everywhere – including threatening media outlets – but at itself while Zuckerberg and other leadership have been kept out of public view, which is exactly the wrong move to make.

  • While it was quick to suspend CA, it also understated the problem by just focusing on those who had downloaded the firm’s app, not the 10s of millions of people who had their data mined as a result of that usage. The onus is also put on the user, not the company, which continues a long streak of avoiding anything approaching accountability.
  • Facebook suspended the account of a former employee that revealed some of the information CA collected, which kind of seems like they’re blaming the messenger for their bad actions.
  • It initially positioned this as a “leak” of information to Cambridge Analytica but that’s not strictly accurate. It’s at best (from FB’s point of view) an inappropriate use of data that was collected and at worst a totally appropriate use of data that was collected since audience demographic targeting is 100% what it (Facebook) does.
  • There’s also evidence it either knew CA still had the data it had claimed to delete or simply didn’t follow up or ask for proof it had done so. So either it’s complicit or irresponsible and I’m not sure which is more trouble. It will be auditing Cambridge to see if there’s any data still lying around, but at this point that seems unlikely.
  • Cambridge, meanwhile, is squirming, at one point Tweeting that “advertising is not coercive” which is rich coming from a firm that claims to be able to create targeted messaging to change behavior/attitudes. Also, that’s the entire premise of advertising, so…yeah, you’re not being honest there. If that’s their position they owe a lot of clients their money back.
  • The various “this just happened the one time” excuses don’t really mesh with new evidence it was testing messaging that wound up being suspiciously similar to Trump campaign themes two years before he announced his candidacy. Or with the fact that Facebok and CA were sharing Trump campaign office space a year after the “breach” occurred.
  • All this has lead to actual and threatened investigations by governments on both sides of the Atlantic as Facebook will testify before a House committee, the FTC wants to take a look and more.

Media

Jesus, where to start with the bloodbath last week. Just as the dust was settling on iHeartMedia’s bankruptcy, the Chicago Tribune laid off even more reporters and editors as it continues talking about pivoting into curated something and I don’t even know what because I’m not convinced the whole tronc thing isn’t a ponzi scheme of some sort. And as completely expected, Meredith has begun cutting hundreds of sales and editorial positions now that the ink on its acquisition of Time, Inc. is dry. And it’s looking to sell a bunch of high-profile titles as well, though I’m not clear who the market might be.

Don’t worry about the tronc team, though. They’re just fine, having received massive raises and bonuses *after* the layoffs mentioned above. And chairman Michael Ferro has left the building, a move that suspiciously came just hours before a report on his sexual misconduct involving multiple women was published.

On the brighter side of Chicago media, The Tribe reached its fundraising goal to provide more local journalism.

Oh but hey, Google Ventures has $12m to throw at TheSkimm.

Decent piece here on the logical and rhetorical knots you have to twist yourself into just to do something as seemingly simple as cover the President of the United States.

The AT&T/Time Warner merger is about to enter the court system and things are about to get interesting. I’m not sure measuring it against other conglomerates and making sure the parties can compete is a factor to consider. Right now we’re in the corporate consolidation phase of the media industry but I’m really looking forward to when we start breaking up these massive companies because they’re bad for everyone and everything. While I agree marketplace realities need to be part of the thinking,

Publishers find people are willing to part with some personal data in exchange for access and so are putting registration walls in place because they’re more attractive than paywalls.

Business streaming news service Cheddar has a new round of funding and may have some expansion plans it will put that money toward.

Marketing / Advertising

The death of advertising, now in its 15th year.

[extreme WOPR voice] Would you like to play an advertisement?

Twitter has suspended another batch of Tweet-stealing accounts, this time going after bigger game, including some Verified users, albeit in some cases only after they were asked by the press why they were still around.

Ads for cryptocurrencies could also be banned by Twitter if reports of plans that company has prove to be true.

More data on how consumers are increasingly expecting brands to share their societal values and are willing to spend more to have that connection. Young consumers – who are driven more by ideology than pragmatic needs that come later in life – are more willing to abandon a brand after a scandal or because of a rift in belief systems.

Both Facebook and Pinterest have debuted new ad products aimed at retailers.

It’s good news that Google and Facebook will capture less of the online ad market next year, diminishing the power of the duopoly they’ve created, but the fall isn’t that great and I’m not sure Amazon taking some of the difference is a step in the right direction.

Macy’s is planning to weaponize its workforce, turning them all into social media fashion influencers via an internal program.

Social Media

Anchor has expanded the tools it offers to create shareable videos based on the podcasts published to the app/site.

You’ll excuse me if I don’t agree that anyone but industry pundits and professional hand-wringers think anyone is dealing with the “reckoning” of social media not living up to its utopian promise. Most daily users are, I think, doing just fine, Clark and aren’t bothered by all this to any great extent.

One of the (many) things that’s become clear in the last year or so is that Facebook Groups have been used by extremist groups and organizations to spread their hate and radicalize new members. Keeping that kind of activity out is a full time job for even the best well-intentioned admins and not everyone is well-intentioned. They quickly become the worst kind of forum as new members and those belonging to any kind of minority are harassed into leaving. So it’s worth remembering that in the wake of various News Feed changes Facebook was emphasizing Groups as an alternative for publishers looking for engagement as recently as January.

So let’s all have a good laugh at how amidst all this Facebook is still trying to attract influential creators with a subscription support model that’s akin to what Patreon offers. It’s hard to imagine, though, who’s going to sign up for this given what a toxic and inhospitable place the site has suddenly become.

Technology

Reading about the expansion of Google Lens I can’t help but think the reason something like Jelly failed is because we were all waiting for tech like this to emerge. The idea is the same, in that it wants to help people figure out what an object they’re looking at is. But the approach is very different, with actual people powering Jelly.

There are about three dozen states across the country which are working on some form of net neutrality law at the state level. My biggest concern is that Republican lawmakers and regulators – usually strict Federalists who hold states’ rights up as the highest ideal – will move to squash these efforts as they’re enacted, likely citing interstate commerce as the rationalization.

A new shopping product from Google would have partner retailers place products directly within search results and allow Google to share a cut of the revenue. This seems wrongheaded in all kinds of ways. Why, given all the concern over how Google is partly responsible for damaging the media industry, would you want to replicate that model for the retail industry? As usual, Google is positioning this as making search results more useful for people but the inherent conflict of interest in this – it makes money from some purchases and not others – brings any search results returned suspect. Who is it artificially promoting and who is it artificially suppressing? Very problematic.

Important to note how male-centric WeWork’s environment and mindset is and that there are other groups that need coworking spaces as well.

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.

What’s Driving the “Broadcast With Friends” Social Trend?

For as much press as face filters and 3D augmented reality 360-degree videos posts get in the tech press there’s one trend that seems largely undercovered but which is no less real in the social media world.

Broadcasting with friends.

This past May, Facebook added the ability to add friends to a live broadcast, essentially enabling two-person video. In August Instagram followed suit by adding a feature where you can bring a viewer of your broadcast into your video. Then just last week Anchor enabled a feature where up to seven additional people can be added to a broadcast.

What’s behind this rush to make social media a group activity? There are two major points that seem prominent in the rollout of these co-hosting features.

It’s About Market Saturation

Between 2005 and 2010, the period of social media’s infancy and ascendency, adoption rose from just 5% to 47%. But since then it’s grown to just 69% of U.S. internet users, and much of that growth is coming from older demographics. Younger social users are more interested in messaging apps which have group activity (such as the much-copied “Stories” feature that’s now pervasive) baked in.

So there’s a push to get the existing user base to do more within the apps since growth can’t necessarily be depended on. Facebook counts 80% of the U.S. population as members, so it’s hard to see where any growth is going to come from unless it starts signing up infants. 76% of U.S. teens are on Instagram, though that’s growing while Facebook’s teen hip quotient is flattening in recent years.

It’s About Influencers

Everyone who’s not already considered an influencer wants to be an influencer. They want the prestige, the stardom, the paycheck from marketing agencies, the potential book or TV deals. So they are polishing their broadcasting chops, and interacting with a cohost in a way that’s not constrained by geography is a great way to do that.

Adding the ability to bring in a cohost offers more opportunities for conversations and the product mentions those conversations often include. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that adding in additional hosts was a top-requested feature by the influencers social networks often court and turn to for guidance regarding their product roadmaps.

There are surely plenty of other reasons social media companies are adding similar features to their apps and sites. Whatever the rationale, there’s a desire to make these apps and sites stickier, even if it means blatantly copying functionality from competitors.

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

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 10/27/17

The Content Marketing Institute is out with a new study that takes a look at the state of the industry. Basically people are feeling things are working better than they have in the past and it’s all going quite nicely, thank you very much.

Apple is taking a conservative, at least in terms of subject matter, approach to producing original content, focusing on all-ages material as opposed to the edgy “peak TV” material that other distributors have created.

Patreon has released a set of tools and apps that integrate with other platforms to make fundraising and ongoing support from fans even easier.

30,000 businesses have reportedly begun using Workplace, the inter-office messaging tool from Facebook that’s meant to go up against Slack and other offerings.

Not that shocking to find that premium placement in the “featured” section of Apple’s App Store leads to increased attention and installations.

GoFundMe has launched a content creation studio to produce stories based on the heartwarming and inspirational campaigns run on the site. Similarly, GroupOn has launched a campaign using retailer success stories to attract more interest.

Lots of interesting stuff in Twitter’s latest quarterly report, including revised user numbers based on an error in previous calculations and the expectation it will be turning a profit later this year.

Spotify has decided original video productions just aren’t working and has canceled them en masse while it reimagines and reinvents the whole concept.

Speaking of which, Buzzfeed management appears to have been so mad it got scooped on the Harvey Weinstein news it’s fired a handful of entertainment editors as it rejiggers processes.

Both Instagram and Facebook have introduced Halloween-themed face filters and other toys.

Medium opened up its wallet of investment money to help attract some big name publishers to its newly-open Publisher program, putting select stories behind a paywall.

The latest social app to jump on the “and friends” broadcast trend is Anchor, which now lets you easily add people to episodes you’re recording.

Facebook joins Twitter in announcing increased transparency into advertising buys, particularly those involving politics. The smell of pending federal regulation must be getting strong in Silicon Valley.

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.

Content Marketing Updates for 8/25/17

  • Snapchat has introduced Crowd Surf, a new system that uses artificial intelligence to find when many people are sharing video from a concert and assemble also those clips into a single video.
  • Facebook has redesigned its “trending news” section for mobile reading, making it easier to sort through updates and including related stories from a variety of outlets.
  • A redesign of the mobile News Feed in general is designed to emphasize visibility into who’s engaging with a post, where a link might take you and more to make the whole process, presumably, a bit more transparent. It also updated a number of features in the Camera app.
  • A new green dot will show you when someone has been active on Tumblr recently, letting you know who might be available to chat.
  • Instagram has added comment threading to help keep conversations going more naturally.
  • LinkedIn has introduced a new native video creation tool for the mobile app that will be rolling out to all users over time.
  • I’m not going to be switching over to Ghost anytime soon, but it’s great to not only see someone innovating in the blog platform space but also doing so in an open-source manner.
  • Twitter’s Explore tab will begin showing people topics they may be interested in sorted in a way that’s based on their usage of the platform. That’s an attempt to make valuable, relevant information more prevalent, especially to new users.
  • Interesting statistics here on why young adult shoppers prefer the experience on a brand’s own website as opposed to that of a retailer.
  • Could be bad news for Snapchat as influencers identify it as the one they are or are most likely to drop in favor of Instagram and others.
  • Facebook is selling in-stream spots separate from bundled News Feed buys, something that was apparently high up on the list of requests from agencies.
  • The photo you’re responding to on Instagram will now appear as a sticker in the photo you take as the response. Sure, why not.
  • Facebook’s latest target in the News Feed: Video clickbait. Specifically, it’s taking aim at some of the slimy tactics disreputable publishers engage in to trick people into playing their videos.
  • Apparently we’re more prone to make rash, impulsive shopping decisions on our phones than we are in person or on our desktop computers.
  • After bringing GIF-like previews to YouTube, Google is now introducing six-second previews of videos directly in search results to, it says, help inform people as to what they’re about to click on.
  • YouTube is curating a “Breaking news” section across platforms to help people stay connected and/or know what level of panic and despair to maintain.
  • Digital video advertising is growing ever bigger in absolute dollars, but as a percentage of overall digital ad budgets it’s remaining pretty flat.
  • Chat bots are something marketers need to educate themselves on ASAP.
  • Facebook’s new tool lets brands directly boost posts from influencers they’ve engaged in branded content campaigns, keeping the original person’s branding on the post. Ad execs, though, worry that this will lead to influencer posts being suppressed in the feed, diminishing reach unless dollars are spent.
  • Snapchat is the latest platform company to announce it will be moving into providing a home for exclusive scripted video content.
  • Some early success stories coming out of Facebook Watch, though I have to wonder how much of that comes from these videos being given preferential treatment in the News Feed.
  • You can now take 360-degree photos and video from within the Facebook app itself.
  • Publishers in the Medium Partner Program will have the option of making stories available only to members and then be paid based on engagement and reach. That also includes a metered paywall limiting non-members to a set number of “free” posts they can read per month.
  • As part of its effort to help restore trust in what news is shared on its platform, Facebook will display media brand logos next to stories from that site.
  • New updates to the Musical.ly app include a section of recommendations based on what you’ve watched and enhanced user profiles.
  • Email management software is the most common tool used by content marketers, followed by content management systems.
  • Snapchat will let advertisers control whether their ads appear alongside all content or just that produced by the company itself and its media partners.
  • You can now edit Anchor’s new videos and share snippets.