Friday Wrap #196: NFL lightens up, Tinder has a podcast, Starbucks launches a chatbot

Shel Holtz's picture

Friday Wrap #196

I extract items for the Wrap from my link blog, which you’re welcome to follow. To make sure you never miss an issue, subscribe to my weekly email briefing.


Facebook patents tool to remove fake news—Facebook has filed a patent for “systems and methods to identify objectionable content.” The technology has been in the works since 2015 but takes on new urgency with CEO Mark Zuckerberg asserting Facebook has to come up with “better technical systems to detect what people will flag as false before they do it themselves.” The takeaway: This is good news for business, which is fast becoming the new target for fake news. On the other hand, I worry that a technology like this will target legitimate satire (like The Onion) and the expression of opinion. Read more

NFL lightens up (a little) on GIFs and video—Among the professional sports leagues, none are more authoritarian than the National Football League (NFL), which has slammed the door on video and GIF sharing during games. According to a recent memo, the NFL is now letting teams post non-highlight GIFs and videos (that feature no on-field action), but no more than the 16-video limit. They can also post five clips to Snapchat during a game and stream three non-game day press conferences on Facebook Live. The NFL apparently also is testing a partnership with Giphy, which may become a source of “ancillary game and historical/iconic” GIFs. The takeaway: Baby steps. Any move in the right direction is better than the draconian rules the NFL has imposed on its teams. To see what teams can do without these restrictions, check out the NBA. Read more

Reddit acts to keep ads from appearing on conspiracy-driven topics—Reddit’s conspiracy subreddit hasn’t always been a home to serious conspiracy nuts; it used to be just harmless banter. But that has changed as part of the troubling rise of fake news and unsubstantiated memes (like the PizzaGate tale that led to an arrest after a man motivated by reading fake news opened fire in a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant). To address the problem, Reddit has added the conspiracy subreddit to its “no ads” list. The takeaway: As with Facebook’s patent, above, this is another effort to disassociate brands from craziness. But brands will have to monitor where their own content appears, too rather than hope ad exchanges and social sites will take care of everything for them. Read more

Tinder rolls out a podcast with a data-driven foundation—Dating app Tinder is the latest company to introduce a podcast. DTR (Define the Relationship) is a six-part series that covers dating-related issues in the digital age (e.g., how to build an online profile). Tindr is relying on data to help frame the episodes. For example, the first episode looks at the tendency for people to start an online dating encounter with the message, “hey.” The episode points out that you’re more likely to get a response if you use a GIF than just say, “hey.” Tinder knows because the GIF search engine baked into the Tinder app reveals that people use GIFs on the app are 30% more likely to get a response and have conversations that last twice as long. The company will promote the podcast within the app. The takeaway: A dating-focused podcast from a company associated with it is a great idea, but what really excites me here is creating content based on data. I reported a similar effort last week, from Stoli, which mined Google Trends to determine what kind of content would be popular on Instagram. Read more

Top VR players create an association—The Global Virtual Reality Association is a non-profit collaboration of Google, Oculus (from Facebook), Vive (from HTC), Acer, Samsung, and Sony. The association’s website says its goal is to promote responsible development and adoption. It promises members will develop and share best practices, conduct research, and bring the international VR community together. It will also be a resource for consumers, policymakers and industry. The takeaway: I’m happy to see cooperation among the big players establishing this kind of altruistic organization, which should be able to address worrisome issues (like assault in virtual worlds, which has already arisen) so action can be taken consistently by all players. There’s more on VR in the VR/AR/MR section below.)  Read more

Tweet an emoji to Google to conduct a search—Google has enabled a new service that lets you tweet an emoji to @Google in order to initiate a search. Send the burger emoji, for example, and Google will let you know (for instance) where the closest burger joints are. The takeaway: While not the most exciting thing I’ve read this week, this does speak bot to the staying power of emojis and the changing nature of search (which is even better exemplified in the growing number of searches conducted by voice using the Amazon Echo, Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and other voice tech tools). Read more


Dedicated video tab a hit even before everyone has access to it—The dedicated video tab for Facebook’s mobile app is part of the bottom menu, alongside the notifications, timeline, marketplace, and settings tabs, opening into a separate video hub and delivering live videos and other video content based on your interests and subscriptions. If you haven’t seen it, that’s because it has only been available to a small group of users as part of a test. But it is already exciting media analysts and media buyers. A dedicated space for video makes Facebook more appealing as a platform for premium video content. The takeaway: While there’s no word on when the tab will be rolled out to everybody, the excitement among media buyers amplifies the certainty that Facebook sees video as key to its future. As one media exec put it, “Facebook video has become like Google Search in that it’s on every media plan.” At the same time, nobody is planning to abandon TV. Read more

Fake news worries brands—Brands are suddenly anxious about where their ads show up. Programmatic buying has created some awkward juxtapositions for some time—ads appearing on sites not appropriate to the advertiser—but a programmatic buying company is seeing a surge in clients asking about their ads showing up on alt-right sites that host fake news and racist language. There are two solutions: whitelists (which ensure ads appear only on sites where the advertiser wants them to show up) and blacklists (which specify sites where the advertisers does not want an ad to appear). Research reveals that only 51% of US marketers are updating blacklists; only 45% use whitelists. The takeaway: Over the last few days I have seen consumer-initiated campaigns to alert advertisers to their ads appearing on one popular alt-right website and encouraging them to blacklist the sites. This anxiety is only going to grow as the situation is bound to get worse before it gets better (if it ever does). Read more

Company values are suddenly controversial—It used to be the height of the mundane for a company to proclaim its values included tolerance, diversity, and inclusion. Now, with the rise of the alt-right, emboldened by a Donald Trump presidential victory and the Brexit vote (among other indicators), companies embracing these values are finding themselves under assault. I have covered examples Paul Holmes lists in this article, including blowback from Pepsi when its CEO reported concern among her employees and an expression of optimism by New Balance leading to the sneakers being adopted as “the official shoes of white people.” The takeaway: Holmes is exactly right: What used to be no big deal—articulating a company’s values—will become an act of courage. Read more

Marketers need to look beyond branding—Business leaders expect their marketers to help grow the business in measurable ways, but marketers appear to be stuck in branding mode, according to a report from the CMO Council and Deloitte. One reason marketers aren’t meeting this expectations is that they don’t have access to critical areas or the tools they need to make an impact on the business. Less than 10% of CMOs are working to re-engage with lost or dormant sales accounts, auditing and improving the customer experience, or looking for strategic partnerships, alliances, and acquisitions to help drive growth. The takeaway: Not just marketing, but all communication-focused teams need to be better aligned with sales, product development, customer service, and other revenue-driving parts of the organization. The job goes well beyond just brand-building. Read more

Instagram Stories drive traffic—One short month after the launch of Instagram Stories, brands report that 15-25% of the people who see a link in a Story swipe on it. For example, clothing brand MeUndies sees swipe-through rates of 15-20%. Outdoors magazine Outside averages 20-25% swipe-through rates. At this point, just having a link in an Instagram story isn’t enough to get people to take action. Customers aren’t used to swiping in links in Instagram; Instagram adds “see more” and an arrow at the bottom of Story slides that have a link in order to make the opportunity clear. The takeaway: Instagram should be on your radar and you should be thinking about how to take advantage of the hugely popular new Stories feature. (People are actually abandoning Snapchat because they have more connections on Instagram and stories provides the same kind of content they liked on Snapchat.) Read more

L’Oreal influencer program focuses on the long term—Social influencer campaigns are hot. They’re also mostly short-term. L’Oreal Paris thinks that’s a mistake. The company’s “Beauty Squad” initiative is designed to “craft a different type of relationship” with influencers. The squad includes five of the UK’s most influential beauty bloggers with a combined reach of more than 5 million YouTube viewers (and equally impressive numbers through other social media channels). The squad will be L’Oreal brand ambassadors, creating content to promote product awareness and drive engagement. Assembling a team with a cumulative 5 million YouTube subscribers rather than going after one with far more was an attempt to be more authentic; the squad members are already known for their knowledge and expertise in their fields (one is known for skincare, another for hair, for example). The takeaway: Establishing smaller, more authentic partnerships that the typical Mylie Cyrus or Kim Kardashian post can overcome a growing cynicism among audiences for paid influence. It also makes influencer marketing more affordable to companies with smaller budgets. I can even see the “squad” concept applied to B2B campaigns. Read more

Social media pressure leading extreme athletes to take great risks—Adventuresome athletes are expected to share videos and build a fanbase. With fans tracking several extreme athletes, the pressure to be more extreme and daring for the audience is leading to bigger risks—and injury and death. The takeaway: Companies like GoPro. National Geographic, and Red Bull are sponsoring these events, while new platforms like Facebook Live and Instagram Stories are offering new venues for the videos. Some brands are pulling back their sponsorships. Your brand needs to consider whether the views are worth putting people in danger. Read more

Marketing needs closer ties to IT—That’s the focus of this Harvard Business Review piece, but I firmly believe the same is true of PR, employee communications, corporate comms, and other communication-focused departments. I hear too frequently about conflicts between IT and communications, which makes little sense to me given that the same conflicts were never part of communicators’ relationships with printers. (IT, after all, is the printer of the digital age.) Read more


See fake news, believe fake news—Americans believe a fake news headline 75% of the time they see one, according to a survey which also found that people who use Facebook to get news are most likely to believe a fake news headline that crosses their feeds. The takeaway: Companies—which are fast becoming targets for fake news—have a lot of work to do to make sure the facts get out, particularly to key stakeholders and customers. Read more

Trends report finds people have had enough already—Havas PR is out with its annual trends report and finds that “Several of the trends…serve as a commentary on the unintended consequences of major events like the Brexit vote and the U.S. election,” according to Havas CEO Martin Salzman. The top 17 trends including a population more energized to act against what they don’t want more than they are to act for what they do want. People aren’t listening to perspectives different than their own. The demand for privacy will grow. The takeaway: Knowing key trends can inform everything from business strategy to communication focus. All 17 trends are interesting enough to review. And Havas has had a pretty decent track record with its previous trend reports. Read more

AI and Chatbots

Starbucks introduces a chatbot barista—Starbucks calls it an “innovative conversational ordering system.” Its name: My Starbucks Barista. It allows customers to place orders by voice command or by text. A demonstration video showed a customer making a complex order (including “double upside down macchiato half decaf with room and a splash of cream in a grande cup”) which the bot understood correctly. The takeaway: Customer service will be the first big use of AI and chatbots, but there’s more to come. Even for this kind of application, communicators need to be involved. Script-writing shouldn’t be left to IT. We also need to be looking for other opportunities to shift communication from current methods to more effective chatbot engagements. Read more

AI can remove the frustration from customer service—Artificial Intelligence can address all the expectations customers have for service from the companies they do business with while reducing the cost of customer support. “From ordering flowers to purchasing airline tickets to getting financial advice, the demand for actual reps is plummeting thanks to chatbots,” according to a TNW article. The takeaway: The example above from Starbucks is just one angle where a chatbot (activated by voice or text) can provide better service to any number of customers at one time. Are you convinced yet of the role AI-driven chatbots will play? Read more

CoverGirl stakes claim to the first influencer chatbot marketing campaign—The campaign invites fans to use messaging app Kik (which embraced bots early with its Bot Shop) to interact with a chatbot that emulates Kalani Hilliker, a 16-year-old entertainer. To date, results include 14 times more conversations with the chatbot than with an average post by the real celebrity, 91% positive sentiment, and an average of 17 messages per conversation, nearly half of which lead to a coupon deliver. The coupons themselves are driving more than 50% click-throughs. The takeaway: This AdAge article emphasizes the analytics available through the bot platform, reinforcing the fact that a well-thought-out bot will not only attract customers, it can provide far more metrics than conversations with a real person. It’s important to note that the bot does not try to trick fans into thinking it’s the actual human celebrity. Read more

Hearst team tackles voice-activated experiences—A 10-person team is developing experiences for voice-controlled technology like Google Home and Amazon Echo. For instance, the team introduced an Amazon Echo Skill for Good Housekeeping that lets users get a guide to removing stains (which also plays music in the background while you follow the instructions). Another skill was created for Elle (which answers horoscope questions) and another for two of the publisher’s daily newspapers (adding their news to the Echo’s Flash Briefings feature). The takeaway: PR agencies would be well served to consider similar teams that can build voice experiences to support broader campaigns on clients’ behalf. Read more

Google opens Assistant actions to developers—Google Assistant, the AI product that fuels the Google Home speaker (competitor to Amazon Echo) and Pixel smartphones, now features a developer platform called Actions on Google. Developers will be able to create Direct Actions and Conversation Actions, the latter of which is now available. Unlike the Echo, users “won’t need to enable a skill or an install an app, they can just talk to your action,” Google said in its announcement. The takeaway: Developers will write the code but communicators will—or at least, they should—write the scripts. We should also be determining what kinds of conversations people should have with the brand via the Home and Pixel; what problems can we help the customer solve or how can these conversations enhance the brand? Read more

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

NHL adds Snapchat’s Spectacles to fan experience—The National Hockey League’s Minnesota Wild used Snapchat Spectacles (which record 10-second videos from the user’s POV and uploads them to the user’s Snapchat account) to record behind-the-scenes action (like pre-game warmups, locker room shots, and a T-shirt cannon) during a game last month. That makes the Wild the first professional sports team to use a wearable. The takeaway: I don’t expect Spectacles to be a runaway hit, but they are popular and what the Wild di demonstrates the potential for other kinds of organizations. What kind of compelling content could you create from a person’s point of view that people would devote 10 seconds to watch? Read more

Immersive video promotes Clorox’s cause-related engagement—Clorox’s Safe Water Project—which provides materials to kill bacteria and viruses in water where clean water is hard to get—may not be as well known as their household products, but an immersive video might help. The video, shot in Peru, demonstrates how much of a difference a few drops of bleach can make in purifying water for drinking. The film concludes with the appearance of a click-to-donate button. The takeaway: Feeling like you’re there can have a far greater emotional impact than a traditional video that leaves you feeling informed but detached. The problem is that most people will watch a 360-degree video by manipulating it on a computer screen, not on a VR headset (sales of which are still underwhelming). While this creates greater engagement, it still lacks the emotional punch of watching in full VR mode. But anything that gets people thinking about these kinds of societal issues is great. Is your organization involved in making the world a better place? Immersive video could be a great new way to share that story. Read more

AR overshadowing VR—The hardware for Virtual Reality may be more widely available and affordable, but the content isn’t available to entice people to rush out and buy it. Meanwhile, Augmented Reality (as demonstrated with Snapchat Lenses and the outsized success of Pokémon Go) is creating more excitement. The takeaway: Make no mistake, VR is going to be big, but mostly for gaming and entertainment among consumers while businesses adopt niche uses (in fields like medicine). The potential for AR, though, is much bigger, especially since you can wear the headset and still see the real world. For one example, see the next item. Read more

AR could help law enforcement fight crime—At least, that’s the goal of experiments undertaken by Dutch police. An AR-fueled rig can be used to mark evidence and leave short notes about a crime scene. It could also be used to create reconstructions of crimes in courtrooms, among other applications. The takeaway: Once AR becomes widely available, the use cases will explode. It’s not too early to start considering how you can better convey a message by overlaying digital information on the real world. Read more

Hand motion comes to VR—Leap Motion, a hand tracking company, has introduced a new platform that will bring hand-tracking to VR headsets. Dubbed the Leap Motion Mobile Platform, it uses two miniature cameras embedded in a face plate to detect finger motion in VR experiences like the Samsung Gear VR and other less-expensive headsets. Demos from the company let you create and bat around objects with your hands within a VR environment. The takeaway: As the article notes, this technology does not include positional tracking, which could detect you leaning forward, for instance. Still, being able to control virtual objects with your actual hands is a big step toward the holy grail of Mixed Reality. Read more

This week’s Wrap image is of a building in Prague that looks like it was wrapped in bubble wrap (according to Michael Thomas, who shared the image on his Flickr account).



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