Friday Wrap #201: Can you hear this? Alexa stole the show at CES

Shel Holtz's picture

Friday Wrap #201

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.


Employee engagement webinar—January 26, I’ll share 10 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 and distribute a tip sheet. Your registration covers you and all the members of your team or department. Register

Integrated marketing panel—I’m excited to participate in a panel with SNCR founder Jen McClure and Alex Parkinson of The Conference Board, as well as Monique Edmonson from Cisco, at a complimentary luncheon and research briefing presented by SNCR of The Conference Board and hosted by Xerox PARC in Palo Alto, CA on January 18th from 12-2 pm The focus is “Unlocking Value from Integrated Corporate Communications & Marketing.” Register


Trump disses pharmas, stocks plunge—Bernie Sanders promoted the idea that pharmaceutical companies should have to bid for government business and the markets yawned. President-Elect Donald Trump said it and the markets freaked out. At his New York press conference, Trump said, “We’re the largest buyer of drugs in the world and yet we don’t bid properly and we’re going to save billions of dollars.” The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index dropped 3 points and the S&P 500 Pharmaceuticals, Biotechnology, and Life Sciences Index fell 1.7%, the biggest one-day drop for both indexes since October. Bristol-Myers Squibb fell 5.3% and Novo Nordisk tumbled 5.2%. The takeaway: Wait, really? You still don’t have a communication plan for responding to a Trump attack? Were you waiting for an engraved invitation?

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Twitter dumps dashboard—The app Twitter introduced in June for brands to manage their multiple Twitter accounts will be shut down effective February 3. No specific reason was given, though VentureBeat notes Dashboard wasn’t really ready for primetime. The takeaway: If you were using Dashboard, consider a more robust social media management tool like Sprinklr (high end) or Hootsuite. Twitter has a history of being fickle with these things. (Developers are still smarting over Twitter revoking the APIs on which they had built successful apps.) Read more

Facebook launches its own version of Snapchat Discover—Later on in this update, in the “Fake News” section, you’ll read about Facebook’s initiative to address fake news. The launch of a new product that lets publishers select a cover video or image that serves as the gateway to a selection of Instant Articles through which users can swipe. Users can also subscribe to be notified when new updates are available. These story packages—not unlike the ones available in Snapchat’s Discover—are rolling out first with 10 media partners, including BuzzFeed, the Washington Post, Fox News, and USA Today. The takeaway: Whether users will be drawn to these packages is an open question, but if they do, they could usher in a whole new way to consume news and maybe, just maybe, reduce the opportunity to see fake news. In any case, I would like to see the feature rolled out to brands seeking to create immersive experiences on their Facebook Pages. Read more

WaPo newsletter features best reader comments—Here’s an idea a lot of companies should consider emulating. The Washington Post is introducing a weekly newsletter that will share some of the best comments the paper has received. “The newsletter will have three parts: one major conversation, a few popular comments from across the site, and then two or three places where you can go right now to join a discussion,” writes the Post’s Taylor Schena. The takeaway: People still love email newsletters, and you could collect comments from your Facebook page, LinkedIn, Twitter, and elsewhere and make them available to customers (or employees) in order to promote two-way engagement. If I were a full-time communicator at a company right now, I would be all over this idea. Read more

Streaming is our top music source—I’m anxiously awaiting the 2017 data from Edison Research and Triton Digital’s Infinite Dial survey in March, but Nielsen has beaten them to the punch with one juicy nugget: Streaming is now the primary mode of music consumption in the U.S. Pitchfork reports, “Overall on-demand audio streams surpassed 251 billion in 2016–a 76 percent increase that accounts for 38 percent of the entire music consumption market. Plus, ‘the on-demand audio streaming share [of total music consumption] has now surpassed total digital sales (digital albums + digital track equivalents) for the first time in history.’” What’s more there were more streams on an average day last year than song downloads for all of 2016. The takeaway: The move to over-the-top access to content is an important trend to understand. It will dictate company decisions about where to place content and how to measure its impact. Radio advertising probably isn’t the value it used to be, but Pandora? Spotify? They’re the new normal. Read more


Branded podcasting is on the rise—Some industry experts expect branded podcasting to double this year. These are shows sponsored by a company, like GE sponsoring “The Message” and eBay sponsoring “Open for Business.” This is different than being an advertiser—the idea is for the show to be associated uniquely with the brand. The head of media innovation at GE notes that someone listening to one of GE’s podcasts is essentially electing to listen to 20 minutes of branded content. “That’s a huge opportunity for a brand,” he said. The takeaway: The rise of sponsored podcasts is good news for the entire podcasting ecosystem, which continues to grow. (Edison Research is set to release its annual podcasting data soon; I’m signed up to attend the announcement and will report on the findings.) Read more

Facebook’s amazingly transparent culture—Apple is famous for keeping employees in the dark and setting up traps to catch those who leak information. At Facebook, however, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is remarkably open and transparent with employees. In response—and in order to continue being treated as informed insiders—employees don’t leak what they hear. And the peer pressure that discourages leaking is intense. The takeaway: For years I have been saying that employees will reward executives who show trust in them. Executives don’t believe it. But here’s a real-world example. Read more

Forget likes. Engagement is the key metric—“Engagement is a much better prediction of the quality of your content, which, after some time, builds loyalty in your audience,” writes Lesya Liu, a social media strategist. Besides, high-quality content will increase your likes anyway. To achieve engagement, upload or record your content directly to each platform (for instance, don’t share a link on Facebook to a YouTube video; upload the video natively to Facebook.) Create an immersive presence on each platform you use. Engage with the people who engage with your content. Use some paid promotion. The takeaway: Yes! Yes! Yes! The advice here is gold. (Of course, you already know that if you’ve been reading this update for any length of time. It’s just nice to see it reinforced so succinctly.) Read more

It’s time for comms and IT to get along—Technology is not a functional skill any longer. Everyone in the company uses technology, IT doesn’t own all the technology various departments (including PR and comms departments) use. How tech is managed is more a matter of culture than of IT department processes. I have never understood the animosity between IT and communications, yet it’s very real. It’s also increasingly counterproductive. In fact, some of the things that bug you about IT aren’t really IT’s fault. Read this FastCompany article, then invite your IT contact out to lunch. Or better yet, drinks. Read more


Employees don’t get their companies’ brand promises—Sit down before you read this statistic. Sitting? Comfy? Okay, here it comes: only 41% of employees strongly agree that they know what makes their company’s brand different from competitors. That means well over half of employees are ill-equipped to convey the brand promise to customers. And customers spend considerably less when they aren’t aligned with the brand (which happens when they deal with employees who aren’t aligned). It gets worse. Only 26% of employees “feel their organization always delivers on the promises they make to customers,” according to Gallup. The takeaway: Employee advocacy programs that shovel content to share with customers are great, but they are not the end game. Internal communicators need to rethink the outcomes they’re trying to achieve. These numbers suck, dear reader, and they suck bad. And they reflect poorly on communicators who need to demonstrate their value if they’re going to continue to be employed. Read more

Investors listen to company tweets—One of the biggest questions business leaders ask is whether there is any value in engaging in social media. From an investment standpoint, research from the Kellogg School says the answer is a resounding yes. Researchers found two categories of company tweets: those related to products and those designed to engage with investors. They also found that tweeting bad news prompted more trading volume with the number of trades trending lower when the company shared good news. One researcher concluded, “It turns out that it is okay to go overboard on the good news and be a little bit more reluctant on the bad news.” The takeaway: The key here is to not overshare bad news, not to avoid sharing it at all. Transparency still matters. Read more

A culture of employees who care about each other delivers profits—A study from Great Places to Work found that companies whose cultures encourage people to care about one another deliver above-average revenue growth. In fact, “caring” ranked as more important to profitability than a clear business strategy, innovation activities, and competent leadership. The takeaway: Combined with companies that take causes and purpose seriously, a caring culture can create a business that is hard to beat. It’s not surprising, as this Fortune report notes, “given a growing collection of data about the importance of psychological security, community, and a sense of belonging.” Read more

Books are not dead—You hear it everywhere: The book is dead. Research reveals that is nothing more than the aspiration of the digital snob community. The fact is, 35% of Americans read more than 11 books a year, 53% of young adults read between one and 10 books per year, and 73% of Americans prefer print to ebooks. Those numbers aren’t far off (and mostly better) than they were in 1980, although the number of people who said they didn’t read a book in the last year doubled from 8% to 16%—but that happened in 1990, and has remained steady since then. Older Americans are reading more books than they used to. The data comes from Gallup. The takeaway: Repeat after me: We still read printed books. The opportunities for companies based on this data are considerable, from sponsoring self-published industry-specific books (the model behind the last two books by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel) to producing their own books (as companies like Sprint and Forrester Research have done). Read more


Facebook Live now a breeze from the desktop—Facebook Live was introduced as a mobile feature, but now companies with Facebook Pages can broadcast live from a desktop. This will enable brands to use higher-end equipment for broadcasts. Facebook is also letting Page administrators designate “Contributors” who are authorized to go live on the Page without being an admin. The takeaway: This move should attract more brands to the Live movement, which is gaining momentum in a big way. The naysayers aside, corners of the web are now becoming appointment viewing venues. Read more

BMW introduces new vehicles on Facebook Live—I remember how exciting it was when Ford Motor Company eschewed traditional channels and launched a new vehicle model on Facebook. That event seems quaint in light of BMW unveiling a new model series on Facebook Live. The 17-1/2-minute broadcast remained available as a recorded video, attracting more than 26,000 views in a short period of time, along with more than 300 shares and nearly 720 comments. The takeaway: If you’re a car buff and learned from the teaser marketing that the unveiling was happening, you might make it a point to watch. And that’s the point. Read more

Airbnb opts for Periscope 360 video—BMW used Facebook Live to introduce a new line of cars, but Airbnb used livestreamed 360-degree videos to “offer people unprecedented access to local communities and help them discover the hidden gems of a city.” The livestreams were delivered from London, Hawaii, and Detroit. The takeaway: Just more evidence that livestreaming is more than just a passing fad and that brands are looking seriously at not just the ability to connect with people through livestreaming, but the potential advantages of 360-degree video, available on both Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook Live. Read more

Millennials are watching YouTube ads—Research from LaunchLeap found that 59% of Millennials watch pre-roll ads on YouTube videos until they’re able to skip them, and 29% watch them through to the end. Only 11% of U.S. Millennials are blocking YouTube ads with ad blocking software. The takeaway: If you’re trying to reach Millennials, YouTube ads are worth considering, as long as you can get your key message across before that SKIP AD button appears. Read more

Facebook will test mid-roll video ads—Facebook has been testing mid-roll ads in the middle of Facebook Live videos but will extend the test into recorded videos. The goal (which you no doubt already guessed) is to generate revenue from its growing video audience. The takeaway: I cannot begin to express my hatred for mid-roll advertising. On commercial TV, producers know where the commercials come and write to accommodate it, but someone producing a three-minute video designed to appear on multiple platforms may find their entire flow disrupted by the disruptive appearance of an ad. I have already heard from video producers who are disgusted by the plan. Read more

AI, Voice Tech, and Chatbots

Alexa was CES’s big star this year—The pre-CES buzz was all about Virtual Reality, but once the show started, Amazon’s Alexa took center stage. As the chief marketing officer for J.P. Morgan Chase put it, “Marketing is much more about providing a great experience or a product that makes a consumer’s life easier and one of the most interesting developments for our business is the virtual assistant.” The takeaway: Voice-enabled virtual assistants will be the biggest change in our digital habits. Even if Augmented Reality becomes commonplace (which it will), we will interact with it using a lot of verbal commands that will be answered via AI chatbots like Alexa. Communicators not planning to incorporate this technology are standing on a platform and the train is about to chug off without them. Read more

Microsoft’s big Cortana plans—Cortana is Microsoft’s answer to Siri, used mostly as part of Windows. But Microsoft is betting big on chatbots so Cortana’s evolution was inevitable as the company seeks to compete in voice tech. Microsoft is positioning Cortana against Amazon’s Echo and Google Assistant by focusing on improving personal productivity rather than driving commerce. To do that, a voice system needs to know not just about your life but also your work. That’s already a Microsoft strength. The takeaway: Microsoft is investing in other voice and chat technologies and at CES, the company introduced Cortana integration with Nissan vehicles and a Harmon Kardon smart speaker. Count on the company to be a player in this space. Read more

Startup plans AI to craft videos for brands—Last week I wrote about IBM’s Watson replacing 34 white-collar workers at a Japanese insurance company. Now comes word of a startup intent on creating an AI tool to create videos for brands. Anheuser-Busch InBev is backing Octi in its plans to gather video clips shot during live events and combine them into videos for sharing over social media platforms. The takeaway: The potential here is huge. It’s also a very early implementation. Eventually, as the tech gets smarter and more sophisticated, it could be used to edit all kinds of video. Will this take jobs from video professionals? Perhaps. Or perhaps it will result in more video, including that which is best left to human creativity. Or most likely, both. Read more

Machine learning coming to smartphones—300 million, to be exact, according to Deloitte, representing one-fifth of all units sold. Neural networks and machine learning in phones will work even when the phone isn’t online and will be used “for everything from indoor navigation to image classification to augmented reality and speech recognition,” the company said. The takeaway: To begin with, we have to adopt a mobile-first approach to our thinking. Second, we have to get up to speed on AI, which will inform our work sooner than you think. Read more

Just how good is AI getting?—If researchers are to be believed, an AI computer program has been beating professional poker players at heads-up no-limit Texas hold ‘em. That’s a very big deal and vastly different from beating chess masters, Jeopardy contestants, or Go players because “in poker each player’s hand provides only an incomplete picture about the state of play and requires a program to navigate tactics, such as bluffing, based on asymmetrical information.” The takeaway: Yikes! Read more

Fake News

Facebook steps up its anti-fake news game—The Journalism Project is Facebook’s latest initiative to take greater responsibility for the part it plays in the news ecosystem. The project includes training reporters to better use Facebook to publish news and helping the public figure out what news is real and what isn’t. Part of the initiative will include launching news products on the site in collaboration with publishers. The takeaway: See the item on Facebook’s very own version of Snapchat’s Discover feature. I’m guessing that’s one of the “products” they’re talking about. Read more

The battle against fake news is harder than you may think—Media companies are rallying around the idea of labeling fake news so news consumers know what they’re looking at is suspect. But research on human memory shows we don’t retain a lot of details of what we have read. You remember the gist, but not minutiae like where you read it. That minutiae could include the “fake news” flag a site attached to an article. The takeaway: The only solution I’ve been able to think of is more and better real journalism with more people paying real money for their subscriptions. But media outlets should proceed with labels anyway. Every little bit helps. In the meantime, I reiterate my call for all companies to have a plan of action in place for dealing with fake news when you are the target. Read more

Can’t we just call them lies?—Fake news refers to thoroughly fabricated articles passed off as real news. However, on the political right, the term is now being used as a label for any story that conflicts with their agenda. For example, former senator Jim DeMint said that any reporting of the benefits of Obamacare was fake news. That led Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan to suggest we stop using the term and “call a lie a lie. Call a hoax a hoax. Call a conspiracy theory by its rightful name. After all, ‘fake news’ is an imprecise expression to begin with.” The takeaway: I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment, but the fake news label will not go back into the bottle any more than blog, podcast, or gamification—also reviled labels—did. It’s best we accept it and start dealing with the problem rather than wrestle with what to call it. Read more

Mobile and Wearables

Most marketers have a Snapchat account—Sixty-four percent, to be precise, although only 67% of them are active. Research firm L2 tracks a variety of industries and noted the watches and jewelry category grew the fastest, with nine brands adding Snapchat in the nine-month research period. The report also notes that a lot of brands have struggled to produce content for their accounts. The takeaway: If you deploy images through Instagram, why not repurpose them for Snapchat? That’s just one way to reach the app’s large user base. Continued shrugging off of Snapchat will not avail you (although I remain more bullish on Instagram). Read more

Instagram Stories rivals Snapchat—Instagram revealed that 150 million people use its Stories feature daily, roughly equal to the estimate of Snapchat’s daily user count. The takeaway: Know the demographics that use each of these apps and, if you’re inclined to build Stories, make sure they appeal to those demographics. Instagram users tend to be a bit older than Snapchat’s base, for example. Read more

Airline offers in-flight chat access for free—In-flight WiFi is expensive, so a lot of passengers just pass on it, but Alaska Airlines recognizes how hard it is for a lot of people to be away from their chat apps. The airline has announced it will let passengers on its flights use Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Apple’s iMessage at no cost on planes equipped with GoGo WiFi. The takeaway: Alaska clearly recognizes how much time people spend on these chats apps and is making a brilliant move to accommodate them. I have no doubt there are people who will fly Alaska over a competitor just to be able to take advantage of this, even if the fare difference is greater than the $10 WiFi access would cost them. Read more

L’Oreal broadcast from Golden Globes red carpet using Snapchat Spectacles—It has been a mere two months since Snapchat made its Spectacles wearable available and already it has had a moment at a major cultural event. L’Oreal offered views of the Golden Globes red carpet from an insider’s POV. The takeaway: L’Oreal already has a strong Snapchat presence, making the this experience a no-brainer. More brands will find ways to attract people through Spectacles’ point-of-view videos. Read more


These paperback books wrapped in plastic were found at a book stall in Brighton’s arcade market and shared by Dave Bleasdale on his Flickr account.



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