Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 9/15

  • Your regular reminder to be careful when it comes to working with social media influencers and popular YouTubers because they could turn out to be really really racist.
  • Bezos is panicking because Amazon’s original series aren’t big enough hits, cancelling some shows and ordering new ones that fit with a new vision.
  • A new study says 18-34 year olds spend over half the time they devote to video on time-shifted viewing to TV programs.
  • Snapchat is officially rolling out its program to enlist more college publications in Discover.
  • Engagement on Instagram videos is apparently growing significantly after traditionally lagging behind the easier-to-consumer/browse photos for years.
  • Influencers continue to abandon Snapchat due to the ability to make more money elsewhere, particularly Instagram and YouTube, and Snap’s lack of hand-holding and outreach to them.
  • Mobile is the only format that’s driving any growth in web traffic, though how that’s spread around (or not) isn’t helping apps.
  • Interesting stats from Pinterest on how women use the site to browse and shop for new styles and clothes.
  • Nope, tagging news as “fake” or “disputed” on Facebook doesn’t do much of anything and could, in fact, reinforce its appeal among certain close-minded groups.
  • Facebook Instant Articles will no longer be available via Messenger, a change that comes due to apparent lack of usage and interest.
  • Hard to argue with the points made here about how RSS is a much better news-reading system than social media.
  • Google is trying to appease publishers by ending its “first click” free trial policy, pitching the change as one that will result in rising subscriptions offsetting drops in ad revenue.
  • There’s a new purity test in place at Facebook that publishers hoping to make money on the network through ad sales have to pass in order to qualify.
  • Advertisers can now run cross-channel campaigns on Instagram Stories now that it’s been integrated into its Canvas program.
  • Changes in media consumption sometimes lead to subsequent changes in job titles.
  • It’s not that surprising – at least it shouldn’t be – that Facebook doesn’t lead to substantial revenue for publishers, who nonetheless have no plans to stop prioritizing Facebook as a primary distribution node.
  • A new study shows the sweet spot for influencer marketing ROI is somewhere just below the top celebrities, who charge too much, and the micro-influencers who are all the rage. The difficulty in finding just the right person is why both Microsoft and Google are working on software to find them accurately and efficiently.
  • Pinterest is touting crossing the 200 million member mark.
  • Snapchat’s integration with Bitmoji now allows users to include animated versions of their avatars in their Snaps.
  • Make sure you read this study concluding radio is failing at keeping up with current music because it can’t adapt at the rate artists are releasing new songs or full albums.
  • Spotify is struggling with its pivot to video, finding most success by seeding videos in popular playlists as opposed to creating a destination portal for shows.

Google Changes News Policy to Appease Publishers

According to a Wall Street Journal story last week (summarized by Business Insider for those without a WSJ subscription), Google is making some changes that it hopes will improve its relationship with news publishers. Specifically, it’s ending the “first click free” policy that let people access paywalled stories for free if they came in from search results. The change is being sold as advantageous for publishers, who will see a decline in ad revenue from fewer page views but hopefully also see an increase in paid subscriptions that offsets that decline.

The inherent problem with this approach is apparent in the paragraph above. I’ll let you go find it.

See it yet? Yeah, it’s that, lacking a Wall Street Journal subscription, I found and relied on a summary of the story on another, free, site.

This has been an ongoing argument since the advent of the internet and media companies’ first forays into online publishing. Many sites have gone back and forth with various models, from free access to total paywall lockdown to metered freemium and more. Subscription revenue is measured against advertising revenue, each one found wanting at different times.

There are different reasons people will give for the kind of news experience and content they’re willing to pay for. And I’m the first one to say I’d love to pay for online/mobile subscriptions to a dozen papers to support the work the people who produce it do. The reality is I can’t do that right now, so I have take advantage of one of the myriad free alternatives who have developed their own business models. I’ll give them the page view, which results in a small bit of ad income, in exchange for free access.

It’s unfortunate the Google “first click free” loophole is being closed, but I understand the need of the company to play nicely with publishers. They’ve often criticized Google for stealing traffic by showing a synopsis of stories on Google News that discouraged people from clicking through. Some publishers have even, over the years, sought to restrict who could link to their stories, claiming doing so violated their copyright. That was in response bloggers who would excerpt large chunks of stories, making reading the original unnecessary. Eventually they not only lost that fight but the “aggregator” industry was born as sites like The Huffington Post and others made “summarize with a small obligatory link” into their own formula for success.

So I get that publishers want to close any loophole they can. Until there are no longer adequate free alternatives who’ve been able to achieve scaled success with bare-bones operations that draft off the work of larger publications, they’re still going against the tide.

The bad news is the one thing that will kill those trailing outlets is the death, due to lack of ad/subscription revenue, of the bigger organizations they rely on. The smaller startups have diversified their business models through industry events, deep report analysis and more, but they don’t (yet) have the reporting resources that create the stories they’re quick to summarize.

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

Google’s Feed Is Another Attempt at Algorithm Over Intention

Google is rolling out Feed, a personalized stream of news and information it feels will be relevant and interesting to users, to Android phones now with iOS and desktop web versions coming soon. You’ll be able to offer the algorithm suggestions and tell it when something doesn’t strike your fancy to help improve suggestions and follow certain topics that are shown.

That’s just another example of a company essentially deciding you’re not smart enough to be left in control of your own media experience. Instead of offering a blank canvas for you to fill in on your own, Feed gives you a select set of materials already arranged in a particular order it feels is optimal, leaving the user only enough freedom to rearrange things slightly.

More that even, we’re asked to train systems in what we like. All those likes and dislikes and other nudges are meant to help the AI that powers news display learn more about us and theoretically offer better content.

What really jars me is that there’s an inherent lack of logic behind all of these requests – be they from Facebook, Google or any other company – for readers to train the AI that powers these services. If the reader is so smart and so in tune with what they want, then why put an algorithm between them and their feed? Why not let them take the positive action to follow a social profile or subscribe to a feed and let them sort it out and manage the inputs as they see fit?

It’s because this isn’t about letting people create the media experience they want. RSS did that. Even Twitter’s firehose, unfiltered approach to updates does that. Everything else isn’t about allowing people to exercise control, it’s about gathering data on them that can be used to better target advertising. Every signal that’s sent is one more datapoint that can more finely-tune the next wave of ads.

Google’s Feed may be fine, but it still comes from a mindset that believes you’re not smart or responsible enough to be left in control of your own media experience. That’s an approach that not only carries with it plenty of opportunity for abuse but, at least to date, has come with zero accountability for problems and abuses that have already popped up.

Give people they tools they need to create their own personalized feeds. Don’t force a model on them because of the arrogance that believes programmatic curation is better, especially not when the real goal is just more and more intrusive advertising.

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

Google Wants News To Be Mobile With Stamp

Google is reportedly working on its own mobile news format. Called Stamp, the idea is meant to compete with Snapchat Discover and make stories easier to publish in a format that’s easily digestible on mobile and in a way that’s more engaging for younger audiences. Building off the success of AMP in speeding up publisher websites that are found via search, Google now wants to introduce more of a standalone format that would present stories in new and interesting ways.

It’s an intriguing idea and the notion that media formats need to evolve isn’t wrong. But I can’t help thinking it’s just another instance of purposely fragmenting media in a way that is harmful in the long run.

First, there are just so many players right now it’s a bit overwhelming. In addition to Snapchat Discover, there’s Flipboard, Nuzzel, Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News and countless other players who are all working to gain traction with the mobile news audience. While Stamp would apparently work within Google search and other apps, it still means another place that people would need to turn to for news.

Second, it’s not clear if Snapchat is exactly the best model to be following right now. The company seems overly-susceptible to the fluctuations of the ad market. While there’s good news in the wake of WPP making a major investment in Snap’s ad products, those fortunes can easily be reversed if user acquisition continues to be flat or if the demographics of that user base change substantively.

Third, this is another innovation that smaller media brands will likely be largely locked out of. Snapchat Discover only consists of a handful of hand-picked brands deemed to be relevant to the audience and who commit to high levels of content production. Getting started on Facebook Instant Articles is a laborious process. Curating a Flipboard magazine takes significant time. Those may not be insurmountable hurdles for CNN, Vox Media, The Washington Post and other media brands who often jump in, but they lock out smaller operations who don’t have the staff to scale to yet another platform.

Finally, an argument could be made that Discover is not the kind of model that publishers are currently paying attention to. Because it’s closed arena, only letting select members past the velvet ropes, publishers have instead been adapting to the “Stories” format that’s used by Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter, the latter using “Moments” as the term du jour.

That makes me think once more that Google missed a big opportunity by not investing more in Reader. It allowed people to curate a collection of links via “Shared Items” that was displayed to other Reader users who had opted to follow them. Shared Items could have easily, it seems to me, been pivoted into a tool that let people not just curate single stories but assemble a “Story” based on what they’re reading. A bookmarklet browser extension could have allowed for additional, non-Reader stories to be added as well.

We may know more about Google’s Stamp later this week as the company is said to be testing it in the very near future. But the company is now following a trend it could have innovated and which may be the wrong model for an all-inclusive media world.

Facebook Autoplay Videos, Google SEO Changes and More: Quick Takes for 8/24/16

Facebook is testing video with autoplay sound (TechCrunch, 8/23/16)

Oh come on, like you weren’t assuming this was going to happen at some point in the very near future. This is absolutely being pushed by advertisers, who are likely willing to pay just a little bit more for the sound to be on as soon as a video enters your eyeline. As I’ve said before, Facebook learned nothing from MySpace and is making all the same UX mistakes its predecessor did.

Pinterest Buys Instapaper, the Popular ‘Read Later’ App (Wired, 8/23/16)

Strip out all the hoopla about shopping habits and such and Pinterest is, at its core, a link-saving app, the next evolution of delicious and others. It has its own functionality that’s more geared to saving and sharing news stories as opposed to waffle recipes or costume designs and the acquisition of Instapaper (I use competitor Pocket myself) should help those along, opening up even more user data.

pinterest logo

Helping users easily access content on mobile (Google Webmaster Blog, 8/23/16)

That sound you heard was thousands of publishers crying out at once. Half the interstitials I come across these days are for a publication’s own email newsletter, so they’re going to have to bring their ads into compliance if they don’t want to get dinged.

Buzzfeed Divides Its News and Entertainment Divisions in Company-Wide Reorganization (Vanity Fair, 8/23/16)

Yes, the shift to video is scary to those who write. There’s a lot of speculation about what this means in terms of the company as a whole but the repercussions of the divisions won’t likely be felt for a while. More here.

Facebook suspends Domain Insights, changing rules of the road for new publishers (Digiday, 8/22/16)

Yeah, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion someone mentions in the story, which is that by cutting off access to metrics around how site content is performing on Facebook, the social network is saying publishers need to post natively there if they want those sorts of insights.

Twitter’s new button lets you accept private messages from your website (TechCrunch, 8/24/16)

Still waiting on Twitter to roll out messaging as a stand-alone app, though, which would make management of DMs that much easier.

Inside Backstage: YouTube’s plan to bring photos, polls, and text to the video service (VentureBeat, 8/24/16)

Interesting move by YouTube to try and provide some additional value for creators who want to reinforce connections with the subscriber bases they’ve spent years building up. Considering the one big thing that keeps coming up when asked why some are leaving for Snapchat is “ability to share different stuff” this makes a lot of sense. But it will only keep making sense as long as the viewer base remains loyal to the YouTube channel and doesn’t actively begin to push creators to other platforms.

Blab’s End, Twitter’s Promoted Stickers and More: Quick Takes for 8/15/16

Publishers Flock to New Instagram Stories (Wall Street Journal, 8/12/16)

Most companies – be they media or other brands – will usually flock to what’s known in times of upheaval. While Instagram’s Stories may not differ substantially from Snapchat’s, the fact that it’s not just a low barrier to entry but can take advantage of the existing audience that has been painstakingly built is a bit draw. Still a lot of experimentation, but I’d expect that to increase.

The Rise of the Internet Fan Bully (The New York Times, 8/12/16)

This is terrible. These people should be ashamed of themselves. Creators don’t owe the fans anything other than an authentic experience. People who bully someone aren’t fans, they’re just bullies. This isn’t a problem for Twitter or any other platform owner to solve, it’s a basic human decency issue that should be reported not to abuse systems but to the parents of the assholes leaving these comments.

Blab is dead…long live Blab. (Medium, 8/13/16)

The sudden shutdown is another example of tying too many horses to one wagon. There were a lot of people and brands who went heavy into Blab as a tool to livestream conversations and other shows. This kind of thing is why I’m always the one person in the room when a proposal is made to use a new, untested tool who’s saying “yeah, but what do we do when it disappears in six months?” Blab ultimately couldn’t become a “sticky” tool, which is too bad, and now it’s on all those users to find another option serving the same need.

Introducing Promoted #Stickers (Twitter Blog, 8/15/16)

Twitter’s new Promoted Stickers ad unit lets brands offer..well…stickers people can add to their photos. It’s more or less a competitor to Snapchat’s Sponsored Geofilters and takes advantage of the trend toward customization and tweaking of what would otherwise be standard images and media.


With N.F.L. Deal, Twitter Live-Streams Its Ambitions (The New York Times, 8/15/16)

I get that they want that big media content and if Twitter didn’t secure it someone else would have. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for a commentary platform to try and turn into a distribution platform. The two are very different things.

Back to our sponsor? Why publishers struggle to renew native advertising (Digiday, 8/15/16)

If you put all these things together – shrinking audience reach, increased competition, difficulties proving ROI – you’ll see that native advertising is experiencing the same issues media as a whole has over the last 10 or 15 years. Essentially everyone saw this as the golden goose and now there’s so much of it that it’s not bringing in the results everyone banked on a year ago.

Google is Ditching Hangouts on Air in Favor of YouTube Live (The Next Web, 8/15/16)

This makes sense, but it would make more if Google were at all consistently moving toward product consolidation and not, you know, also launching a half-dozen different messaging apps. Still, my opinion here has shifted from “they can’t control their own product roadmap” to one that’s more like “they’re still experimenting and adjusting as necessary.”


Facebook Messenger Bots, NFL on Snapchat and More: Quick Takes for 8/3/16

WNYC is open sourcing its tool for generating “audiograms,” shareable audio clips for social media (Nieman Lab, 8/1/16)

This is a great move. I hope other companies who are developing tools specifically to create different media types for use on social platforms follow suit and open source them, letting anyone access and build off the core idea.

5 Ways Brands Are Incorporating Facebook Messenger Bots in Their Marketing (Adweek, 8/1/16)

Some of these are just fine while some are meant to be more functional. But they show the direction some companies are taking with their Messenger bots. I think there’s going to be a shakeout here in the next six months and that most will wind up leaning more toward the “fun/quirky” angle, with these becoming distractions for people as opposed to actual customer service or other business tools.

Giphy sees opportunity in live-events GIFs (Digiday, 8/1/16)

Giphy has pretty well redefined live-GIFing of events, partly because of its easy integration with other social platforms. I’d love to see, though, what getting this kind of coverage cost the awards show and other event producers since it seems like everyone wants this now.

Your LinkedIn Feed is Coming to Life with Videos from LinkedIn Influencers (LinkedIn Blog, 8/2/16)

linkedin video

Absolutely unsurprising that LinkedIn would eventually roll out a video offering. While it’s only available to the high-profile Influencers on the network for now it’s more than likely this will be rolled out to everyone in the near future, after some initial testing.

Introducing Instagram Stories (Instagram Blog, 8/2/16)

Much has already been written about how this copies Snapchat functionality in how it encourages sharing of content that evaporates within 24 hours. I’m less interested in that than I am in how this bifurcates both the production and consumption of that content. If people only have so much time to devote to Instagram as a whole, where are they more likely to spend that time, in the standard feed or in Stories? The value proposition is now being made that Stories is where the more interesting material will be found which, when combined with frustration over the filtered standard feed, could lead to a big change in user behavior.

The NFL Is the First Sports League to Get a Snapchat Discover Channel (Adweek, 8/2/16)

This has been rumored for a while, since the NFL put up a job posting that strongly hinted this was coming. Lots of talk about touchpoints and such and it’s clear the league feels it needs to connect more meaningfully with a younger audience. What will be interesting to watch is whether or not this cannibalizes from TV viewership at all.

Google’s speedy mobile publishing tool is now coming for the entire web (Recode, 8/2/16)

I know it’s splitting hairs, but there’s something far less creepy and controlling about AMP than there is with Facebook Instant Articles. Perhaps it’s because it’s about technology that anyone can choose to adopt rather than a gun being held to the head of the media industry that makes it different in my mind. Whatever the case, site publishers of any kind can now implement AMP and get their mobile searches to work faster.

The Daily Signal created a custom engagement index to help it prioritize all its platforms (Nieman Lab, 8/2/16)

A very smart move to actually track the engagement numbers that matter and then using them to inform strategy and tactics. More like this, please.

Report: Snapchat is making scannable codes for the real world (The Next Web, 8/2/16)

Much like when Shazam announced a few months ago that it was working on its own iteration on scannable codes, this shows that QR codes weren’t a bad idea, just that it lacked the form factor for mass adoption. Specifically, no one knew what app to use to scan the darn things. Codes that work with existing apps will likely see much higher usage, assuming the prize at the other end of using them is worth the effort.

Google, Twitter and Faster Mobile News

New from me on Voce Nation…

The program, which reportedly involves a handful of publishers at first, will create articles that immediate pop up on mobile screens when they click on a link. Unlike Facebook’s very similar “Instant Article” program (which seems to come and go in fits and starts) neither Google or Twitter will host the article but will display a “snapshot” of the article, which sounds to me like some kind of cached version of the story.

Source: Google and Twitter Partner for Faster Mobile News Stories « Voce Communications

Bump gets bumped off

Bump will always hold a special place in my heart. While I haven’t used the app in over a year, it was the first app I downloaded to my first iPhone years ago. But anyone who doesn’t bet on Google offing the apps/services they acquire just isn’t paying attention.

2014 is not dawning as a very happy new year for users of the Google-acquired Bump, as Google announced on New Year’s Eve that it will shut down both of Bump’s services at the end of January. Bump was acquired in September 2013, with the company saying, “We couldn’t be more thrilled to join Google, a company that shares our belief that the application of computing to difficult problems can fundamentally change the way that we interact with one another and the world.” Four months later, Google is killing Bump’s services.

via Google’s Bump to shut down this month, team will focus on Google products | Ars Technica.

The Internship is to Google as Top Gun is to the Navy

Last week the trailer for The Internship was released. It’s terrible on a number of levels, from the ridiculous levels of cultural ignorance shown by Vaughn and Wilson’s characters (they know The Hunger Games but not X-Men? Really?) to the tired generational jokes on display here. But in an odd way it appears that this is to Silicon Valley what Top Gun was to the defense industry, a thinly veiled piece of propaganda wrapped in a homoerotic narrative.

More interesting than the trailer itself (which isn’t a high bar to clear) is the way it was released, via Google+ Hangout, showing just how much corporate involvement there was in the movie’s making and how they see the movie as a giant commercial.