Friday Wrap #199: Echo witnesses a murder, Russia protests via meme, brands prep for Trump attacks

Shel Holtz's picture

Friday Wrap #199

This is traditionally a slow news week, so it’s a shorter-than-usual Wrap this week (and likely next week, as well, unless CES delivers some surprises). 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.

Webinar Alert

No, engagement isn’t dead—I have been surprised to see so many articles proclaiming the death of employee engagement. The data they cite is fine; the conclusions they draw are absurd. While employees may not seek engagement, they do crave the things that engage them. And while too many surveys are more focused on producing great engagement scores than identifying issues, there’s no doubt that companies with engaged employees outperform their competitors. In a fast-paced webinar on January 26, I’ll share some innovative and unexpected tactics communicators can employ immediately to build engagement. I’ll also talk about how engagement fits in a broader employee communication strategy designed to deliver bottom-line business results. Register


360 video comes to Periscope—It was only about a week ago that Facebook announced 360-degree video functionality on Facebook Live. Now Twitter has introduced 360 video, but so far only from celebrities and “interesting broadcasters.” Twitter says the feature will get you “an inside look with well-known personalities and go behind the scenes at exclusive events.” Twitter says 360 video on Periscope will roll out to everyone soon. The takeaway: Novelty or important expansion of live online video? We will no doubt see plenty of pointless live 360 videos, but those who understand how to use it to connect more deeply with others will attract new fans and push boundaries. Read more

Amazon resists police request for Echo data—Police investigating an Arkansas murder wanted to know what the Amazon Echo at the scene might have heard in the hours leading up to the crime. Police obtained a search warrant, but Amazon has declined to hand over the data, claiming “Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.” The takeaway: We’re getting accustomed to law enforcement wanting access to a suspect’s phone. As we interact increasingly with voice tech, which is cloud-based, companies like Amazon will find themselves facing demands for data not on the phone but on their servers. This raises all kinds of questions about privacy. Read more

Russian embassy responds to sanctions with a meme—If some senior stick-in-the-mud at your organization has rejected your idea for a meme as a communication tactic, you can now point to the Russian embassy’s use of one in a dead-serious standoff over the election hacks revealed by the U.S. intelligence community. When President Obama announced sanctions, the embassy in London tweeted its contempt for the move and included a picture of a baby duck with the word LAME superimposed over it. The takeaway: Politics aside, this is a strong indication that the standard means of conveying messages online are becoming acceptable in just about any circumstance. Tell your CMO or CEO to get with it. And yes, emojis are perfectly acceptable in business communication. Read more

Czech Republic takes on fake news—A new counter-terrorism unit tasked with fighting foreign disinformation campaigns (aka, fake news) has been created in the Czech republic. The unit will monitor internal security threats and disinformation campaigns related to internal security. The creation of the unit comes on the heels of a September intelligence service report that labeled Russian disinformation and cyber-espionage activities a threat to the country, the EU, and NATO. The report found that Russia had used “influence and information operations”—including “the covert infiltration of Czech media and the Internet, massive production of Russian propaganda and disinformation controlled by the state”—in an effort to manipulate public opinion. The takeaway: Watch for more countries to take action against fake news, though the biggest challenge will be getting those most inclined to believe such stories to pay attention to efforts to inform the public when it comes to light. Read more

Sorry for the tasteless Carrie Fisher tweet—Cinnabon tweeted a profile drawing of the late Carrie Fisher as the iconic Princess Leia, her hair bun replaced by a Cinnabon bun and the message, “RIP Carrie Fisher, you’ll always have the best buns in the galaxy.” It didn’t take long for the company to delete the tweet and apologize, noting the tweet “was genuinely means as a tribute, but we shouldn’t have posted it. We are truly sorry.” Not everyone was offended, but others were repulsed by what they saw as a company cashing in on Fisher’s death. The takeaway: It’s not worth it. Seriously, there are better ways to do real-time marketing, like monitoring Google Trends for opportunities to create content based on what people are talking about. Brands need to move beyond this Oreo-dunk-in-the-dark-inspired mania to deliver a clever tweet in the wake of a cultural event. You have to wonder if this latest example would have sold even a single cinnamon bun. Read more

Android error leads Twitter to overcharge video advertisers—Twitter has issued refunds to video advertisers whose campaigns delivered through Android devices were incorrectly measured thanks to a “technical error due to a Twitter product upgrade,” according to the company. The takeaway: Measurement must be hard, given a series of mistakes by Facebook and a recent admission of questionable metrics from Snap. While standard metrics with third-party validation will take some time to evolve, marketers need to find other ways to assess the effectiveness of their paid social campaigns. After all, counting video views reminds me of the old PR metric of “opportunity to see.” It’s nice to know but ultimately, so what? Outcomes matter more. Read more

AI and Chatbots

AI will make it easy to fake images and video—Wait, did your CEO really say that awful thing going viral? It’s altogether possible that, in the next few years, AI tools will make it easy for anyone to create a video that makes it look for all the world like he did. We already have a Twitter bot called Smile Vector that can add a smile to any celebrity by scouring the web for pictures of phases and morphing their expressions “using a deep-learning-powered neural network.” Adobe has software that uses voice samples to let you put words into someone’s mouth (that is, have them say what you’ve written in their own voice). Then there’s Face2Face, which “turns people into puppets, letting you map their facial expression to your own.” Combine these and you have the possibility of creating a video in which anyone—your CEO, a politician, a celebrity—can say anything you want her to say in her own voice. The takeaway: These capabilities—admittedly amazing from a technical standpoint—can make today’s fake news look quaint and prehistoric. There will be a lot of terrific and ethical uses of these technologies, but companies (and governments) must be vigilant for inevitable abuses. Read more

Mobile buying via voice commands—You may have seen the Amazon Echo TV commercial in which a man holding a fire extinguisher and looking with shock at the fire he just put out tells Alexa to send his wife some flowers. According to Gartner, that’s going to get a lot more common. By 2019, the analyst group forecasts, 20% of all user interactions with smartphones will happen with virtual person assistants. By then, Siri and Google Assistant, along with Cortana and the Echo, will complete more complex tasks than they can today, such as “completing a transaction based on past, present and predicted context.” Currently, 42% of US consumers have used voice assistants, and more than a third use one at least once daily. The takeaway: More than ordering will be involved. Voice assistants will help us find the items we want to buy, help with assembly of those items that require it, and deliver instant customer support. Your new year’s resolutions should include inventorying the kinds of interactions among your communication activities are likely to be improved with voice tech. Read more


Edelman releases 2017 trends report—A 50-page document covers immersive content, paid media, influencer marketing, a renaissance in search, the growth of over over-the-top streaming entertainment, chatbots and conversational experiences, more sophisticated B2B marketing, and blockchain as key trends to watch in 2017. The takeaway: It’s rare to find a detailed document so spot-on I wish I had written it. Take everything in this report to heart. Read more

Brands plan for Trump attacks—President-elect Donald Trump has had no problem criticizing companies in his tweets and remarks. Boeing suffered a stock price dip when he challenged (incorrectly) the cost of a new Air Force One, for example, and he claimed his plans for the tax code would put H&R Block out of business. Block has responded with an ad campaign anchored by Jon Hamm. That took time to create, but among companies there is now “a sense of unease among marketing executives, who must be prepared in case Mr. Trump’s insults fly in their direction.” Some are drafting informal contingency plans while others (like Block) are investing big money to bolster their reputations. The takeaway: As this New York Times piece notes, this is uncharted territory for companies who monitor for all kinds of threats but never before had to worry that a U.S. president might turn his criticism on them. It’s beyond sad, but it’s also a smart move by companies that have seen what Trump’s attacks can lead to. You might consider following suit. Read more

Shared experiences build communities—Eight years ago, Seth Godin introduced us to the concept of “Tribes,” the title of his book that explored groups of people connected to each other, to a leader, and to an idea. Now communication agency Brodeur Partners has released a study into tribes finding that shared experiences (more than other factors) are behind the formation of these communities, with millennials (“often fueled by social networks”) find and join tribes most quickly. The study looked at 70 brands, five industries, six social networks, and 1,020 American consumers. Among the shared experiences most common in the formation of tribes are food, politics, the arts, faith, health, sports, fashion, and money. The strongest tribes are based in military or volunteer service experience. Tribes matter more the younger you are. Brands attract tribes and tribes attract brands. And social networks play a big role in tribal culture. For example, Coca-Cola fans are 17% more likely to share tastes in fashion and 14% more likely to value friendships made through an artistic activity or group. The takeaway: The study is worth digging into, and more details are forthcoming in January in the form of an ebook. Read more

The hardware trend—For some time, it has been all about software. The hardware is whatever smartphone you buy. After that, your experiences are driven by the apps you download. Consider Snapchat Spectacles, though, and you can see that delivering a band experience has many companies “betting big on hardware.” Other examples include Coca-Cola’s bottle with a built-in selfie camera, Amazon’s brick-and-mortar stores, and glasses from PogoTec that users can connect to a suite of PogoTec products. The takeaway: Is having an app enough? Communicators will have to consider whether tapping into existing hardware (such as Google Cardboard) is worthwhile or even whether development of proprietary hardware will deliver a more compelling experience that justifies the cost. Read more

Is this the end for the gig economy?—Shifts in demand toward highly skilled workers spells the end for the gig economy, according to Glassdoor’s chief economist. Gig economy jobs “only work well for relatively simple jobs that are easy to measure, don’t require deep institutional knowledge and don’t rely on long-term relationships,” he said, noting the labor marketing is moving away from that kind of work. He also said automation is poised to affect all jobs, requiring workers to “upskill.” The takeaway: Companies and politicians are doing a terrible job of preparing the workforce for the kinds of skills that will result in employment. The focus on bringing jobs back from other countries is misguided, since many of those jobs will be handled by the automation explosion (aided by Artificial Intelligence). There’s work, to be sure, but it requires creativity, flexibility, judgment, and “soft skills” that characterize jobs in health care, data, sales strategy, and production management. Read more

Another brand has a hit with scripted programming—You won’t find “Royal Crush” on a TV network. It’s on YouTube, where the season finale of this Royal Caribbean-backed show had well over a quarter million views (the first episode drew 6.6 million views). The teen-focused show aims to make cruising more appealing to the 17-year-old set that things it’s for old fogies. The teen love story takes place on a Royal Caribbean cruise. The takeaway: According to the Wall Street Journal article, “Funding a scripted drama that runs over four seasons and doesn’t necessarily lead to immediate sales lifts may not be right for every marketer. But it speaks to the lengths some brands are willing to go in a media environment where it’s increasingly challenging to reach people through vehicles like traditional TV.” I have reported in this update several similar ventures that are producing equally large audiences through both scripted series and documentary productions. Read more

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

Can wireless heads set VR back?—Untethering high-end VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive from computers is supposed to make Virtual Reality more desirable, but some think it will have the opposite effect. Not being able to see where you are and what you are interacting with can lead to some bad (and even tragic) outcomes. The tether to the computer is “not a leash, it’s a lifeline.” The takeaway: More effective means of protecting users (and those around them) will be developed as incidents get public attention, but the real solution is the upcoming Mixed Reality (MR), which will merge real and virtual worlds, allowing you to play your immersive game while being aware of your physical surroundings. Read more

Augmented Reality to figure prominently at CES—VR headsets will no doubt be everywhere in Las Vegas at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, but it is also expected that Augmented Reality will be featured heavily. Intel, Qualcomm, and Nvidia, among others, plan to display AR cameras embedded into smartphones, while some tech leaders believe AR glasses will overtake smartphones as “the dominant way people interact with computers.”  While some headsets will be available in 2017, most manufacturers are focused on enterprise applications and believe we’re a few years away from consumer availability. The takeaway: AR headsets will be huge, especially when they look like ordinary glasses, but I don’t think people will wear them all the time. Instead, we’ll carry them in our pockets and pull them out when we want something from them. While they will be a massive product category, I still believe conversational tech will be bigger. Both rely on Artificial Intelligence, which is the real big story of the next few years. Read more


This week’s wrap image—courtesy of Erich Ferdinand’s Flickr account, shows styrofoam scdraps wrapped and ready for pickup.



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