Friday Wrap #208: Robots in the streets, media’s social domination, clueless marketers, Apple and AR

Shel Holtz's picture

Friday Wrap #208

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.


Bye-bye, net neutrality—Net neutrality is the simple proposition that all content should be treated equally over the Internet’s pipes, that no content should get preferential treatment. The FCC implemented rules to protect net neutrality, but President Trump’s new FCC chairman announced at the Mobile World Congress this week that the free market would ensure the expansion of broadband investment. Ajit Pai sees net neutrality as a roadblock to wider infrastructure deployment. The takeaway: It also means that startups without large budgets could see their content delivery slowed to a crawl because they can’t afford to pay the prices ponied up by a Google or a Netflix, both of which were able to thrive precisely because they didn’t have to pay to compete. (If you couldn’t tell, I’m staunchly pro-neutrality, though I agree that figuring out how to achieve it without too much government involvement is a challenge.) Read more

Snapchat launches IPO, gets a “sell” rating—Snap Inc.‘s IPO was offered at $17, opened at $24, and then was almost immediately rated a “sell.” as one analyst set the target at $10 on the stock. Pivotal Research Group’s Brian Wiester wrote, “Investors in Snap will be exposed to an upstart facing aggressive competition from much larger companies, with a core user base that is not growing by much and which is only relatively elusive.” The takeaway: I’m inclined to agree that Snap’s financial future is less than rosy—Weister isn’t the only analyst with a grim outlook—but this morning its shares are selling for $28.85, up nearly 18%. Anybody want to start a pool on when it will plunge? Read more

Facebook wants to stop live-streamed suicides—Streaming a suicide on Facebook Live has, sadly, become a thing. Facebook will now interrupt these streams with messages prompting the individual broadcasting their suicides to chat with crisis experts or get other help. AI will play a role in identifying and removing content marked as suicidal. The takeaway: Facebook deserves credit for taking responsibility for the activities that can occur on its service rather than adopt the position that it’s just a platform that people use for whatever they want and they’re not accountable for the content its users share. Read more

Virginia law lets robots deliver to your door—Virginia is the first state to approve legislation that will allow delivery robots to function on sidewalks and crosswalks throughout the state. The robots can’t go more than 10 miles per hour or weigh more than 50 pounds. The takeaway: Other states will undoubtedly watch Virginia to see how it all shakes out, but expect Amazon and food deliver companies to jump on the opportunity to reduce labor costs associated with delivery. Read more

A new take on comments—Publishers have been scrapping their unwieldy and problematic comments section despite the fact that there’s value in reader feedback. A company called Opinary has introduced a new way to tap into that value. With its own newsroom, Opinary creates editorial polls that are then added to the news instead of comments. A team tracks the opinions of Opinary’s 25 million-plus monthly users and shares their results. Opinary is partnering with European media companies including The Times, The Independent, and The Huffington Post, among others. The takeaway: The graphical approach to reflecting reader opinion makes for compelling content. Surely brands could take advantage of this concept. Read more

Another platform copies Snapchat Stories—A number of social networks and apps have introduced their own versions of Snapchat Stories, resulting in an exodus of users from Snapchat to apps that have bigger user bases and easier navigation. Now Medium, the long-form content publishing tool, has introduced “Series,” a similar tool that “strings together video clips and photos.” Unlike other copycats, these don’t vanish after 24 hours. The takeaway: It’s hard to build success on the back of an easily replicated idea. Users will get accustomed to seeing Story-like features on pretty much all messaging apps and channels. Read more

Twitter adds more harassment-fighting tools—More ways to fight the trolls have been introduced by Twitter. AI is at the heart of the effort, with intelligent systems looking for accounts tweeting furiously at non-followers and engaging in abusive behavior, it will restrict the tweets so they can only be seen by followers. In addition to the AI solution, users can now filter out posts from accounts that don’t have profile pictures. Twitter has also expanded its “mute” feature so you can block tweets that contain specific words and phrases that appear on your timeline, not just those that show up in notifications. The takeaway: All good moves, though I’m still not convinced dedicated trolls won’t find ways around these blocks. Read more

Omnicomm consolidates PR in European markets—The distinct brands of FleishmanHillard, Ketchum, and Porter Novelli will take a backseat as owner Omnicom merges the trio in four European markets under the label, Omnicom PR Group (OPRG). The separate agencies will continue to service existing clients but will share a common operating structure. The four countries: Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and France. The takeaway: The rationale for the consolidation—a stronger combined operation—doesn’t fall apart in other markets. Omnicom PR Group could be coming for North American and Asian operations, as well. That means less choice for clients and less distinction between the entities. Read more


It’s officially now an employee’s market—While there are some worrying indicators in the job market, the big news is that hiring has accelerated. The U.S. Job Creation Index is currently +32 compared to +18 for 2012. The number of workers opting to leave their jobs “signals greater confidence among workers who believe they have more and better options.” The takeaway: Companies are going to have to work hard to keep their best talent. These days, that doesn’t necessarily mean throwing money and benefits at them. Particularly among Millennials, working for a company that reflects their values is more important. Read more

Media companies dominate social media—Media companies dominate virtually every social media metric, leaving marketers and brands in its dust. Among 18 million posts from major media operations analyzed by SocialFlow reached 600 million unique users and generated more than 1 trillion impressions. One recommendation for media companies to bolster revenue is to publish on holidays, when marketers and content producers have scaled back their posts even though people who disappear for family gatherings and vacations take their smartphones with them. The takeaway: Marketers and other communicators should study the tactics that elevate media content and learn what they can to compete for the “finite number of eyeballs.” For instance, publish relevant holiday content—or content that will serve as a welcome distraction—rather than leave the field open to media companies. Read more

Have you heard of “intermediate targeting?”—I hadn’t, but Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says it’s the next big opportunity for reaching individuals. In a General Motors campaign that employed the technique, GM spent 7% of its total budget but returned 57% of the media impressions across all channels. So what is it? Sandberg said marketers call it the middle of the marketing funnel, “the opportunity to speak to consumers who already have some level of brand familiarity but aren’t yet ready to buy or are between purchase cycles.” The takeaway: Marketers focus far too much on the top of the funnel, but knowing where customers might be spending time when they’re in the middle of the funnel makes it easier to reach them. Read more

Fake news and the stock market—It’s not a new problem, but the rise of fake news (a term we should stop using) represents a problem in the stock markets that are already “loaded with opinion and driven by opinion.” The impact of fake news on the market is still being assessed, but consider that $130 billion in stock value evaporated in 2013 when a fake story spread via AP’s hacked account claiming President Obama had been injured in an explosion. Sure, stock prices recovered, but “this instance points to how news on social media can be manipulated to impacted high-frequency trading algorithms that rely on text to make investment calls.” Lowering the price of a stop by a single percentage point for just an instant can let someone capitalize on the fluctuation. The takeaway: Companies are on the lookout for fake news that can affect them and tools are being developed to help. It will be important for communicators to factor made-up content and other forms of inaccurate content into their monitoring activities. Read more

B2B needs to elevate its social media game—B2B companies are using social media but need to step up the research they do to understand audience behaviors and distribute “the right content to the right person, on the right network, at the right time in the buyer journey,” according to an analyst and author of a report on B2B social media. Companies that fail to do this homework—common because B2B marketers tend to see social media as a downstream method of sharing content with customers—“tend to be unsuccessful in their social marketing.” The takeaway: The fact that so many B2B marketers see social media as a publishing channel is good news for more strategic competitors like Raytheon, which has dashboards to assess where its audience is engaged in conversation and what they’re talking about in order to create and deliver the right content. Read more


Marketers clueless about FTC influencer guidelines—Influencers themselves know the rules, but only one in 10 marketers reported being aware of or having an understanding of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) guidelines for paid influencer campaigns. More than half weren’t even aware of the policies. Influencers (60% of whom know the rules) report that “it’s not uncommon for brands to ask them to hide the fact that their post is sponsored,” which is a blatant violation. The takeaway: Don’t play if you don’t know the rules. You don’t want the publicity that goes along with FTC enforcement action, nor do you want to be branded unethical in an era where adherence to a code of ethics is an increasingly desirable trait. Read more

Push notifications get a huge lift from emojis—Push notifications improve by 85% if they include emojis, according to a study. Most push notifications are opened 2.44% of the time, but if they contain an emoji, they’re opened 4.51% of the time. The reason: “People’s brains react to emojis the same way they react to people’s faces. They’re nonverbal, and therefore processed as an emotional signal, not a logical one.” The use of emoji in all aspects of business communication is inevitable. You’re better off experimenting now than having to catch up in a hurry later. Read more

Use of Facebook is slowing—Make no mistake, Facebook is still the undisputed king of social media across all demographics. It’s worth noting, however, that people are using it less often than they have in the past. Users who have been on Facebook for at least a year are growing less satisfied with it. It’s not that they’re leaving; they’re just not using it as much. Among GenXers, the number of users who say they’re not using it as much as they once did grew to 41% this year from 25% in 2012. The takeaway: The report also found that nine out of 10 social network users will use Facebook monthly, especially for mobile views of video content. Don’t abandon Facebook. Figure out how to use it effectively (which doesn’t include dumping posts onto your page just because it’s an item to tick off your to-do list). Read more

Just to reinforce that point…—While use of Facebook may be slowing, it is still far and away the social network of preference across all generations. Sprout Social found 64.7% of GenX and 65.2% of Boomers prefer Facebook. Only 33% of Millennials prefer it, but that’s still far more than the next most-popular network among Millennials (which is Instagram, which is owned by Facebook). Nearly half of Millennials and GenXers, and 25% of Boomers, follow brands on social media, the report also found. The takeaway: I still hear from communicators who don’t use Facebook because they personally don’t like it. But you know the old saw about fishing where the fish are, right? Read more

Despite meager revenues, media still bullish on social—They complain about the pittance they earn when publishing to social media, but media companies are still committed to social platforms. One study found that during election week, 14 publishers posted more than 12,000 items natively to social platforms; that is, they were not designed to drive traffic to their websites. A report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism found a continued appetite for Facebook’s Instant Articles and that publishers are getting more and more interested in Instagram. Publishers are also using Snapchat Stories to cover events. Publishers also prefer Facebook to YouTube for video. The takeaway: If content marketing is based on the idea that every company is a media company, then brands are competing with publishers for attention in the same social platforms. We’re crazy if we don’t learn from what publishers are doing and work to one-up them at their own game. Read more

Mobile and Wearables

Lessons from brands using Spectacles—Snapchat’s Spectacles are now available online, but even when you still had to find a popup location to acquire a pair, brands were finding ways to use them. Hyatt had eight employees from hotels worldwide wear the Spectacles so their perspectives could be woven into a campaign to share through social media. A celebrity makeup artist wore the glasses at the Golden Globes along with two L’Oréal Paris brand ambassadors for behind-the-scenes content. Grubhub’s approach let people say how Grubhub meals are delivered in Chicago. The takeaway: These examples make the cut because they’re relevant to the brand and fit into the larger context of their messaging. Read more

Lessons from brands using Instagram—In another “How 5 brands” story, Digiday looks at five companies whose use of Instagram can be instructive. Airbnb, for example, uses Instagram Stories the company connects holidaymakers with a curated selection of local activities, including two 15-second spots showing travelers exploring San Francisco and attending a cooking class in Japan. Bacardi has repurposed content from longer YouTube videos while Maybelline “riffs on the popular unboxing genre.” The takeaway: See the takeaway from the Spectacles story above. Case studies rock as long as you don’t copy them but rather learn from them. Read more

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

Oculus will evolve to AR and MR—Facebook’s Oculus Rift was the first big Virtual Reality headset to hit the market. Now the company has revealed plans to enter the Augmented and Mixed Reality market, as well, projecting it will be a much bigger business. Oculus’s Brendan Iribe “envisions that hardware, namely goggles and sensors…will lead first to a closed VR goggle that will…use an on-board camera to bring an accurate representation of the real world around you inside the headset.” The takeaway: There are definitely more uses for AR/MR, but commercial availability is still a ways off. Marketers are finding more uses for VR, but make sure your idea fits your strategy. There’s little point in developing VR experiences just because you can. Read more

Is Apple going all-in with Augmented Reality?—If Apple things it’s going to be a big deal, odds are it’s going to be a big deal. And now UBS has reiterated its buy rating for Apple based on its belief that the company has committed more than 1,000 engineers to an AI project based in Israel. The takeaway: One-thousand engineers is a hefty investment and we have heard Tim Cook express his disdain for Virtual Reality while acknowledging that AR will be big. I suspect the reports are true, which means we’re only a couple years away from some massive new product introductions that could propel AR into the mainstream. A not-too-distant iPhone will essentially be an AR device. Read more

Artificial Intelligence and Chatbots

AI will create ads for Coca-Cola—“Mad Men” would be pretty dull if all you saw was an AI bot churning out commercials. That’s one future for the ad business that got clearer this week as Coca-Cola announced it’s interested in using AI to develop ads. The company’s global senior digital director said he wants to experiment with “automated narratives.” Mariano Bosaz sees AI creating music for ads, writing scripts, posting spots on social media, and buying media. Other advertisers are already using AI to create commercial music and jingles. The takeaway: If you’re outraged, you need to read more on AI, which can study millions of examples, learn from them, then get specifications for creating something new based on its knowledge. Communication leaders should consider experiments to see where AI can augment their operations and how machines and creative people can best work together. Read more

Millennials most likely to buy from chatbots—A December survey found almost 60% of US Millennials have used a chatbot and more than half of those who hadn’t said they want to. Millennials are also more open to buying through a chatbot, with two-thirds saying they’d give it a try. The takeaway: The fact that chatbots are becoming a common interface for Millennials suggests that ubiquity will spread to older generations sooner rather than later. Consider, for example, the expansion of Snapchat’s audience to multiple generations. Read more

Amazon’s Alexa coming to more smartphones—If you think of Amazon’s Alexa as an appliance like the Echo, Tap, or Dot, think again. Lenovo is baking the Ai-driven digital assistant into its Moto Z smartphone, enabling users to do everything from their phone, wherever they are, that used to require them to be within speaking distance of an appliance, including operating connected home devices. The takeaway: If Alexa becomes accessible on more phones, a lot of people could switch off Google Now and Siri, especially as Alexa finds its way into more devices, including cars and home appliances like lamps, refrigerators, and washing machines. Have you considered yet what Alexa skills would make sense for your company or client to offer? Read more

Voice is a marketing channel—42% of smartphone owners have used their phone’s virtual assistant in the last three months and within four years, 20% of phone interactions will rely on virtual assistants. Siri and Google Now are used by about half of owners of iPhone and Android devices. Consumers are talking to their devices, which makes voice the next big marketing channel. The takeaway: It just makes sense for brands to increase voice interactions given the rise of voice technology and its rapid consumer adoption. Read more

What’s voice tech’s biggest problem?—According to some, it’s the fact that your voice appliance—whether it’s an Echo, a Google Home, or a phone using Siri or Google Now—can be accounted to a single user account at any given time. My wife can’t check her calendar if our Echo is connected to my account. Amazon, however, is working on a solution called Voice ID, through which Alexa would recognize our distinct voices and connect to the proper account. Google is also reportedly working on a fix to this problem. The takeaway: It’s no surprise that solutions are in development, since the convenience factor is critical to adoption. Read more

Companies will restructure based on AI’s role—So far, while AI has led to some job loss, it’s mostly redefining the work people do and even leading to new jobs for human beings. AI assumes some tasks, leaving humans to do the work best left to people. A Deloitte survey found more than half of respondents are redesigning HR programs based on digital and mobile capabilities and 33% “are utilizing some form of AI technology to deliver HR functions.” The takeaway: Restructuring will be inevitable as AI assumes predictive tasks and people are used for work that requires “empathy, communication, and interdisciplinary problem-solving.” Read more

So what jobs will AI replace?—According to Shelly Palmer, middle management, commodity salespeople, report writers/journalists/authors/announcers, accountants and bookkeepers, and doctors are the jobs that AI-enabled robots and/or systems will be able to do better than people soonest. His solution for saving your job: “Adapting to this change is going to require us to understand how man-machine partnerships are going to evolve…Our goal is to use our high-level cognitive ability to anticipate what parts of our work will be fully automated and what parts of our work will be so hard for machines to do that man-machine partnership is the most practical approach.” The takeaway: Preach it, brother. Read more

AI is transforming B2B marketing—It’s making for more efficient campaigns (Progressive Insurance used AI to increase the webinars it delivered to independent agents from nine yearly to nine daily while AMD used it to develop a global database to create more efficient email campaigns). It lets your brand get personal by incorporating what it knows about a customer into a message. And AI is best at prediction, which can provide insights into what your customers and clients are going to do next. The takeaway: I may have missed it, but I can’t find AI-related programs at any upcoming IABC, PRSA, Ragan, or ALI communications events. Why is our industry so behind the curve? Read more


YouTube viewers consume 1 billion hours of video daily—Now there’s a milestone for you: People watch a billion hours of video on YouTube every day. That’s 114,155 years, or “something like half the time humans have even been around on this planet.” The takeaway: That’s one helluva lot of video. Does it include yours? Read more

Google enters business video conferencing fray—Last week we reported on Chime, Amazon’s entry into business video conferencing. Now here comes Google with Meet, a Google Hangouts tool for setting up and joining HD video meetings. There’s an app for the web and another for iOS, but nothing for Android yet. The takeaway: There are too many video conference solutions for business. There should be a thinning of the herd before too long. Read more

Good Reads

The year’s breakthrough technologies—It’s only March but MIT Technology Review is listing the year’s 10 breakthrough technologies, some of which have implications for communicators (and the others are fascinating). In particular, the 360-degree selfie refers to “inexpensive cameras that make spherical images…opening a new era in photography and changing the way people share stories.” The takeaway: Practical quantum computers and the rise of the Internet of Things will also factor into communications in multiple ways. It pays to stay on top of the bleeding edge. Read more

A brief history of blockchain—Most people I talk to still haven’t even heard of blockchain, but it’s poised to be a bigger disruptor to business than the Internet. This brief overview of the development and evolution of blockchain from the Harvard Business Review is concise and accessible. It also suggests that blockchain’s future may lie in the hands of the state. The takeaway: While we are in the earliest days of blockchain, it’s fascinating to see that “Dubai’s blockchain strategy is to issue all government documents on blockchain by 2020.” That’s just three years from now. Brace yourselves: Blockchain’s disruption is just over the horizon. Read more

Is there a villain in your content?—We have to do a better job of storytelling, we are repeatedly told, and this piece from the Content Standard argues that stories have villains. Brand stories employ a variety of hero types, but what about villains who drive stories forward and give us a reason to cheer for the hero? “Stories with heroes and villains might inspire us to modify” our behaviors. The takeaway: I hear some communicators getting weary of all the storytelling advice, but with the various channels and alternative methods for telling a story, we should consider the various elements of a story and where to apply them in different situations. Read more

Or, put another way, should we build conflict into marketing?—It even has an acronym: CAMT (Conflict as a Marketing Tool). The basic movie plot involves a setup, conflict, and resolution. Steve Jobs characterized himself as a warrior against the forces of evil (hence the Mac vs. PC commercials). The takeaway: Read this and the item above one after the other. You’ll be drooling over the opportunity to tell a good story with a villain and a conflict in your next project. Read more

Today’s wrap image is “That’s a wrap,” from Bradley Griffin’s Flickr account.



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