Friday Wrap #210: China blocks Pinterest, bots flood Twitter, video search arrives, Lowe’s tries AR

Shel Holtz's picture

Friday Wrap #210

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.

Note: The Friday Wrap will take a break next Friday, March 24, while I’m traveling on business and won’t have time to put it together.


China blocks Pinterest—Add Pinterest to the list of website now kept from the Chinese population. How Pinterest has escaped the Great Firewall this long is a mystery since China blocks pretty much all Western social networking sites, but now the hammer has come down. The takeaway: Reaching the 721 million Chinese users of the Internet requires an understanding of the in-country alternatives those people use. And yes, there are several Chinese Pinterest clones. Read more

McDonald’s corporate Twitter account hacked—McDonald’s has confirmed that its Twitter account was “hacked by an external source” that posted an anti-Trump message. McDonald’s deleted the tweet after it was notified of the hack by Twitter and taken steps to secure the account. “We are investigating this,” Twitter declared. The takeaway: The motivation for hacking big-name Twitter accounts has intensified in the current political environment. Don’t wait until after a hack to make sure your company’s accounts are secure. If you do get hacked, react quickly lest you incur the public wrath of the president, whose attacks on companies have sent stock prices plummeting. Read more

Alphabet releases urban dictionary for tech jargon—Sideways is a new website from Alphabet company Jigsaw that offers easy-to-understand explanations of complex technology terms. You have probably seen explanations of terms like “two-factor authentication” that leave you still confused about what it is. How’s this for a definition: “It’s like Cinderella’s slipper. She can give her name and confirm where she was before midnight, but it’s only when the slipper fits that Prince Charming knows she’s for real. The Prince was an early adopter of 2FA.” There are even more analogies if you need them. The takeaway: I’ve bookmarked it. Read more

Facebook introduces Town Hall—In an effort to make it easier for you to find and get in touch with your local government representatives, Facebook has introduced a new feature. Town Hall lets you enter your address (which will stay private), after which a list of officials at the local, state, and federal levels will appear. From there, you can choose to follow or contact them. Only officials with Facebook pages appear and contact options are limited to what they have shared. So far, Town Hall is only for U.S. users. The takeaway: More efforts like this will help Facebook cement a reputation of enabling civic engagement rather than contributing to filter bubbles and spreading fake news. An API would be great so developers could incorporate it into their apps and tools (but it’s not likely). Read more

Why I use the Oxford comma—A court case went against a company, siding with the drivers who filed the complaint, because a missing comma in the guidelines by which the company expected them to abide created confusion. The takeaway: The next time somebody says, “We use AP Style here,” show them this article. Long live the Oxford comma. Read more

Life imitates art—On the iconic “Mad Men” series, Don Draper and his team created an ad campaign for Heinz ketchup. The campaign was rejected on the show because the product was never shown—just hamburgers, fries, and steak with no condiments on them; underneath appears the words, PASS THE HEINZ. Now, Heinz is running with the campaign IRL. The real-world ad agency behind the campaign, David, is sharing credit with the fictional Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. The takeaway: You have to wonder if the writers of that episode are getting anything for their idea. Still, these billboards will get people talking. Read more

Google Hangouts retools for battle with Slack—Google has re-introduced Hangouts as a business communication tool that integrates into the rest of its office suite, mirroring a move by Microsoft, which has introduced Teams as a component of its Office 365 suite. Hangouts Chat is for one-on-one chats as well as group chat rooms and is integrated into Google Docs and Sheets. Users and developers can create “app scripts” that enable bots to perform functions within the chat. Hangouts Chat will also feature Hangouts Meet, an upgrade to the Hangouts video chat service, which up to 30 people can join. Setting up a meeting will be easier, it will suck up less processor power, and no plugin will be required on Chrome or Firefox. The takeaway: A lot of companies have opted for Google’s workplace apps over Microsoft and adopting Hangouts Chat may be an easy call. Between Google and Microsoft—both of which feature integration with integral office productivity tools—Slack is facing some heavy-duty competition. I still talk to a lot of people who have never heard of Slack. They have all heard of Microsoft and Google. Read more

Microsoft rolls out Teams—As Google is slowly introducing its updated Hangout Chat and Meet, Microsoft has officially introduced Teams, the workplace collaboration tool that integrates with Office and Outlook. In addition to taking on Slack, Microsoft hopes to move business customers away from installed versions of tools like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on local PCs to the subscription-based, cloud-hosted Office 365. The takeaway: Slack and Hipchat may have innovated this space, but Google and Microsoft aree poised to own it. Read more


Nearly 50 million Twitter accounts are bots—That’s bad news for Twitter, which only has 300 million monthly active users. That means one-sixth of accounts aren’t real people. The study from USC and Indiana University said 15% of active accounts are bots “with built-in retweet and mention strategies that target specific groups.” The takeaway: Not all bots are bad, but as Twitter struggles to stay afloat, this revelation deflates its user base. If this becomes common knowledge, a lot of people considering opening a Twitter account could change their minds since they’d rather not be fooled into conversing with a bot. Read more

Engagement is the only metric that matters—Marketo CEO Steve Lucas is throwing shade at the metrics most communicators and marketers live by. “The reality that impressions drive revenue is a lie. Engagement drives revenue, advocacy drives revenue, rants from your existing base drive revenue.” Lucas explains, “There’s a difference between saying you had 67 million impressions versus 11,000 customer advocates that repeated or echoed our message to the market.” The takeaway: Steve Lucas is my new hero. I judge a lot of communication competitions and nearly all of them tout impressions as the metric that demonstrates success. Hogwash, says I. Our industry continues to measure the wrong things. Read more

Millennials go to Snapchat first—Here’s another data point in the confusing and contradictory trends emerging around Snapchat, which is trading at its lowest point since its IPO ($19.50 this morning, down from its peak of $27.09): It’s the first app college students open. That’s not to say they never open Facebook or Instagram, but 58% of college students said the open Snapchat first. Instagram is the first stop for 27% and Facebook for 13%. The takeaway: Deciding to communicate or even advertise via Snapchat may be a hard choice, but if your target audience is college students, it’s a no-brainer, which explains why so many companies are using it to promote their employer brand to students who are starting to consider where they’ll work after they graduate. Read more

Marketers sour on Snapchat—Did I mention the data points on Snapchat are complicated? A survey of 1,600 marketers found that Snapchat outperforms only AOL in terms of ROI. On an 8-point scale, marketers rated it 3.43. Google ranked nearly a 7 and Facebook more than 6.5. The reasons Snapchat is problematic, respondents said, include “increased competition from Instagram, poor targeting, and a decrease in both user engagement and open rates.” The takeaway: Like I say, if your target audience is there and using it, by all means, create content. Maybe even pay the high cost to advertise. But measure the ROI you’re getting from Snapchat and re-evaluate frequently. If your audience isn’t there, don’t waste your time. Read more

Journalists confirm importance of online newsrooms—Ninety-five percent of journalists participating in a survey said a newsroom is important. Thirty percent visit one every day and 50% visit business online newsrooms once a week. Ninety-five percent also prefer to receive alerts via email; the same number want to get news that is targeted to the kinds of stories they cover. These newsrooms need to have content that goes beyond press releases. Journalists want to find breaking news, featured stories. photographs, product information, executive bios, video, PR contacts, financial statements, and background information. They want to be able to search the newsroom and subscribe to a newsroom RSS feed. Links to social media accounts is also important, according to 86% of respondents. TMobile and Lenovo were cited as companies that got their newsrooms right. The takeaway: I continue to be amazed at the number of companies that pay little attention to their newsrooms then whine about poor media coverage. This is entry-level stuff. Read more

Marketers aren’t walking the martech talk—Virtual Reality and machine learning will have profound impacts on marketing in the next five years, as will Augmented Reality, beacons, and chatbots. So say 562 global brand managers and CMOs responding to a survey. Yet 65% will invest in none of them this year. The biggest new tech to get investment—from 19% of respondents, is 360-degree video. The takeaway: Do you smell an opportunity here? You can capture attention with well-produced tech everyone thinks is important but few are producing. Read more

Artificial Intelligence and Chatbots

Alexa coming to iPhones—Amazon has announced that it making its Alexa voice-controlled digital assistant available for iPhones. Alexa is housed in the Amazon app. If you have the app and an Amazon account, just tap the on-screen microphone icon to engage with Alexa. The takeaway: It’s not as easy to get to as Siri, which requires just a push of button or voice command, Alexa’s library of skills could appeal to iPhone users, especially those who already use an appliance like the Echo at home. Competition in the conversation marketplace is starting to heat up. Read more

Chatbots may be in the trough, but restaurant customers love them—Last week I shared the news that Facebook is rethinking its AI strategy as most chatbots deployed by brands are failing. Don’t think for a minute that means chatbots are a passing fad. They’re just in the trough of disillusionment (as Gartner puts it). In the restaurant business, digital ordering grew 18% last year; almost 2 billion foodservice visits come from digital ordering which, in most cases, uses chatbots and digital assistants. The takeaway: It’s sad that this point needs to be made, but a chatbot has to solve a problem or improve a process to be useful to a customer. Creating one because it’s the shiny new object won’t lead anyone to use it. Read more

An AI Resource Roundup—SHIFT VP Christopher S. Penn has published a nice roundup of AI resources, including links to a two-part episode of his podcast, “Marketing Over Coffee,” several of his posts, and additional resources. The takeaway: Thanks, Christopher. This is a quick and easy way to get up to speed. Read more


Facebook videos shared 1055% more than YouTube’s—Videos in ads are being blocked more and more, making native video a key strategy. Native video is also a key reason the profiles of influencer-marketing and user-generated content have risen so much. A study found that native videos performed 186% better than YouTube videos posted to the social network last December, with native videos shared 1055% more than YouTube videos. Shares of Vimeo videos have virtually vanished from Facebook. Fifty-three percent of all Facebook profiles share video in their feeds. The takeaway: Facebook’s strategy of autoplaying native videos is paying off. If you produce videos, stop posting them to YouTube and linking to them on Facebook. Publishing them to YouTube is still important, but native videos are the only way to go on Facebook. Read more

Twitter opens live video streaming to everyone—This isn’t Periscope we’re talking about, but rather the kind of video you watch on Twitter when tuning into an awards pre-show or a Thursday night NFL game. So far, only those kinds of partners have been able to stream to Twitter, but now the company plans to let “content creators and media companies of all kinds” inject real-time video to the platform. The takeaway: This is a shot across Facebook’s bow, but whether it will pay off will take time to assess. It’s getting harder and harder for the average user to figure out what Twitter is while Facebook Live has become the clear platform of choice for live streaming video. Should you try it? Depends on who your audience is. If you want to stream to journalists, then yes, absolutely. Read more

New Google tool enables video search—Cloud Video Intelligence is a Google-produced API (currently available to developers in a closed beta) that analyzes videos to make their contents searchable. You will be able to search videos that have been analyzed by the tool to get a list of videos that contain the object you were searching for. The takeaway: This development was inevitable. Keep an eye on the technology so you’ll know when to run your videos through the software to make them searchable. Read more

360-degree videos arrive on Snapchat—Well, kind of. As Digiday reports, it’s “more of a hack than a feature offered by the platform.” Nearly 70% of American adults skip Snapchat ads, but those containing 360-degree videos are getting two to three times more views than other swipe-up calls to action.The takeaway: The fact that brands are figuring out the hack to add 360-degree videos to advertising is testament to the form’s popularity. Have you experimented with 360-degree videos—or even photos—for your visual communication efforts? Read more

Facebook Live campaign lifts brand awareness among younger consumers—I am nonplussed by the continued resistance of so many communicators to Facebook Live (and live-streaming in general). Consider beverage brand Vodka Cruiser, which produced a six-part branded content series featuring an comedy team that ran for six weekly episodes. The comedy team has 1.9 million Facebook followers, leading the campaign to reach 1.35 million people, 90% of whom were in the target demographic: women 18-24. The videos were viewed 3.2 million times; during the live broadcasts, fans commented and shared photos and more. The campaign achieved 23% recall (the average is 8%) and—most important—a 9% lift in brand favorability. One company representative said, “Live video content represents higher organic engagement (and) Facebook Live offers the best opportunity for consumers to be exposed to the content during live screenings as well as post-event.” The takeaway: Live video has already passed its tipping point. It doesn’t require a huge budget (or any budget at all) to come up with something creative that will draw views along with coveted engagement. Read more

Another brand finds a great use for Facebook Live—Birchbox uses Facebook Live as a real-time R&D lab. One example: The company’s merchandise team conducted a live Q&A that led them to develop a YouTube series about skincare basics. The company’s CEO says Facebook Live is “a way for the social teams to get feedback in real time and at low production cost.” If the broadcast isn’t getting any results, they can just end it. The takeaway: I keep saying, there are good, strategic reasons to use Facebook Live. Read more

The Values-Driven Marketplace

The perils of marketing in a politically polarized society—If you have seen the Amazon Prime series, “The Man in the High Castle,” you know what “Resistance Radio” is. Amazon created a fictional Internet radio broadcast of the same name as a promotional effort, but both Trump and anti-Trump supporters who weren’t familiar with the series took to Twitter to complain and bicker over it. The takeaway: This is the lens through which you have to consider everything you do these days. Will tightly-wound people misconstrue your content resulting in a fight you never anticipated? Add that test to your planning process. Read more

Ad agencies get into the social advocacy game—Madison Avenue ad agencies have been stepping up their investments in cultural advocacy in order to affirm “their principles and beliefs in the Trump era.” While there are risks that opponents of a message could target the agency behind it, but the upside—“an increase in business from clients whose viewpoint aligns with that of the agency”—is not unlike businesses taking stands that demonstrate their commitment to their values that align with those of their customers. Industry spokespeople insist that the core motivation is “more about feeling compelled to use the industry’s skills to draw attention to issues that matter in a divided culture.” The takeaway: Read the piece for examples of the kinds of projects these agencies are undertaking. This trend is one of the most important communicators need to follow. Values will increasingly infuse all communications. Read more

How to create cause marketing—The shift to a values-driven marketplace will lead most organizations to undertake some form of cause marketing. There are steps companies need to take to make it work, starting with making the connection between the cause and the business clear. Second, take a long view of the cause; it’s not a one-shot campaign. Consider Ronald McDonald House, which is more than 40 years old. Third, walk the talk internally; it’s not just marketing but a cause that is baked into the company’s DNA. Finally, demonstrate your commitment. Patagonia, for instance, is committed to making environmentally-friendly, long-lasting products and has held events to teach customers how to fix their worn garments. (Customers wound up keeping their garments longer but sales and revenue rose.) The takeaway: These are important lessons that go far beyond the typical CSR department’s activities, which are bolted on to the company rather than woven into its culture. Read more


Blockchain hits media—For some time now I have been warning that blockchain is coming to disrupt business. As of March 14, NASDAQ launched the New York Interactive Advertising Exchange, a blockchain-based exchange that lets media owners “buy, sell, and re-trade premium advertising inventory, including futures options, on a guaranteed basis with increased transparency.” NASDAQ’s Financial Framework architecture, which powers the exchange, integrates “blockchain technology as our core ledger.” The takeaway: This is a real, tangible example of a blockchain implementation that could affect you, if you buy or sell advertising and other media. Now is it time to get acquainted with the technology? Read more

Loyalty programs could get boost from blockchain—The typical American family participates in 29 loyalty programs, creating a tangled mess of point systems and redemption options. Blockchain could solve that, according to the Harvard Business Review. “When a new digital transaction occurs (for example, a loyalty point is issued, redeemed, or exchanged), a unique algorithm-generated token is created and assigned to that transaction…For consumers juggling an array of loyalty programs, blockchain could provide instant redemption and exchange for multiple loyalty point currencies on a single platform.” The takeaway: If this happens—as it probably will—and your company offers a loyalty program, somebody is going to have to explain this to customers. Read more

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

Lowe’s tries an AR-enabled wayfinding app—Hardware big-box retailer Lowe’s is introducing an app powered by Google’s Tango that paints a yellow line on the floor that guides you to the item you want to buy. The app only works with one Lenovo model phone; more are coming out this year. The technology si also already being used in some museums. The takeaway: Lee Aase at The Mayo Clinic may remember that I suggested exactly this technology to him about five or six years ago. Now that it’s here (well, it will be when enough phones can take advantage of it), anyone with wayfinding issues should look to Tango (or similar solutions that are sure to emerge) as a solution. Read more

New light-field tech solves a big MR problem—Mixed Reality tools are awesomely cool but they still have a problem: They don’t feel like they’re actually in the room with you because you can’t shift your focus from one to the other; they’re just out there somewhere. Startup Avegant claims to have solved this with what it calls “light field” technology that lets your eyes refocus when you shift your view from one object to another; it also allows you to see the object’s details by pulling it closer to you. The takeaway: Watch the video in this article for a glimpse at just how amazing MR will be once it makes its way to consumers. As you’re watching, think about a prospective customer holding your product in the palm of her hand and examining it up close and the kind of tipping point that can create in the purchase journey. Read more

Today’s Wrap image courtesy of Vito Fun’s Flickr account.



Feedback Form