Friday Wrap #216: MP3’s demise, influencers at risk, Medium exodus, CMO promotions, snark’s appeal

Shel Holtz's picture

Friday Wrap #216

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.


FCC votes to end net neutrality—The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted 2-1 to open debate on a proposal to reverse the Title II designation used to enforce net neutrality and on whether the FCC should impose net neutrality rules through other mechanisms. The takeaway: Make your voice heard. Leave a comment on the FCC’s public comment page. Without net neutrality, the ability of small companies to compete against those who can pay for faster access will be threatened. Read more

Is the MP3 dead?—The developer of the MP3 audio file format has ended its licensing program based on the belief that other formats—notably AAC—are better. The takeaway: The decision to end licensing of the MP3 after 20 years may mean iTunes and Spotify will stream a different format, but that doesn’t mean the format will vanish. Nearly all podcasts are delivered in MP3 format and not every podcast app supports AAC. Libsyn, the most popular podcast hosting service, specifically advises against AAC “as they will not play on Blackberry devices and many other portable media players.” Libsyn still recommends using MP3. Read more

Google to launch jobs site—Google will aggregate job postings from across the web to make them more searchable. The site, Google for Jobs, will focus on matching the best candidates to open positions. Job sites Monster and CareerBuilder are partnering with Google in the initiative. The takeaway: Google’s search functionality will be a boon to job-seekers, but it’s the company’s move into the corporate world that intrigues me. They must see potential revenue here. Read more

Biz Stone returns to Twitter—Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has rejoined the company with a role focused on “guid(ing) the company culture, that energy, that feeling.” The news of Stone’s return pushed Twitter stock to a six-month high. Whether his presence will have an impact is subject to debate. His role sounds fuzzy, many of Twitter’s problems had already surfaced while he was still there, and his post-Twitter ventures haven’t exactly been blockbusters. The takeaway: Twitter needs more than an internal morale boost, but I suppose it can’t hurt. Read more

Instagram tests Location Stories—Instagram is testing a new feature, Location Stories, that dish up collections of publicly-shared images tagged with a location sticker. “Users can then visit that business, landmark, or place’s Instagram page and watch a slideshow of Story posts from there shared by strangers they don’t follow.” The takeaway: One of the key attributes of the smartphone is that it is with you wherever you are, which is why more local searches are conducted on phones than general ones. It will be increasingly important for local shops and attractions to make sure they have plenty of location-tagged images on Instagram. Read more

Big changes coming to Facebook Groups—Facebook announced a slew of updates to its Groups, one of the most underutilized Facebook features for marketers and communicators. Among other things, if you have a Facebook Page, you’ll be able to participate in Groups as the Page instead of an individual. That is, the company logo (or whatever profile pic you’re using) will appear, not the profile pic of the Page administrator. Pages can even be Group admins. More analytics are coming to Groups, as well. The takeaway: I have also heard that you will be able to create subcategories within Groups so people can find discussions more directly focused on their interests. Groups are increasingly a valuable resource for building and participating in community. Read more


Dove proves social media outrage isn’t always a problem—Social media deemed Dove’s introduction of bottles designed to reflect women’s varying body types a failure. Twitter in particular lit up with mockery. News organizations reported the disaster. Time to apologize and pull the bottles, right? Not so fast. A survey found 41% of people who saw the campaign had a more favorable view of the product and 71% said they were likely to purchase the products, compared to just 9% who saw Dove less favorably. The takeaway: Sometimes social media can serve as a bellwether. Somes not. Companies should assess online criticism in context, not in isolation. Read more

Influencer risks are being exposed—Vogue India chose Kendall Jenner for the cover of its 10th anniversary issue not just because she wears clothes well, but because she is an influencer. That choice created a backlash among readers who wondered if no Indian models were available. Influencers were also used to hype the Fyre Festival, which collapsed into infamy, dragging down the reputations of the influencers who were paid to promote it. Because influencers are perceived as having a personal stake in the brands they’re selling, they wind up bearing some responsibility for the failures. Said one executive, “The influencer bubble will totally collapse in the next 12 months if people aren’t careful about the money being thrown around as brands try to buy influencer placement.” The takeaway: Stay away from high-priced, high-profile influencers and look to micro-influencers, those with smaller audiences and less fame, but who wield influence among their more engaged followers. Read more

Universities are failing PR students—The failure of communication programs at U.S. colleges and universities to prepare PR graduates for the real world is a threat to the industry. “Somehow, they missed ensuring that (students) learned basic journalistic and communications skills, not to mention some of the more sophisticated skills necessary for success in today’s marketing environment. This includes critically observing the world and building relationships with media practitioners.” The takeaway: Yes, yes, yes. I have talked to people with master’s degrees in PR or communications who never took a writing course. It’s making it hard to recruit competent, entry-level associates unless they have acquired the necessary skills on their own. Read more

Publishers are leaving Medium—It looked so promising. A gorgeous interface, drop-dead easy publishing, and a community of readers led publishers to abandon their clunky websites and take up residence on, the long-form content venture from Twitter co-founder Ev Williams. Others created magazines from scratch on Medium. But now, faced with Medium’s pivot away from advertising, some publishers are bailing. The takeaway: Medium remains a good bet for publishers looking to build a publication without having to maintain a website, but if you’re after revenue, you may want to look elsewhere. Even publishers satisfied with readership numbers are skeptical about Medium’s direction. Read more

Nextdoor is working—Venture capitalist Bill Gurley, an investor in Nextdoor, spends time on the site, actively participating in the neighborhood where he lives and another where he owns a vacation home. What he sees is neighbors engaging around everything from lost-and-found pets to complaints about car alarms. He himself has asked about fishing lures, given away golf clubs, and sought recommendations for bike repairs. “Look at all this,” he said. “Engagement like this, those are the best signs something is working.” The takeaway: The key is relevance. People who live in a neighborhood share issues in common. In my NextDoor neighborhood, there has been a lot of discussion lately about rattlesnakes found on local hiking trails and late newspaper delivery. These things matter to me, which keeps me engaged. There’s a lesson here for anybody trying to build any kind of community. Read more

Ads targeted based on photos shared—If you posted a picture to Facebook or Instagram that included an iced tea anywhere in the shot, it’s likely that you later saw an ad for Gold Peak iced tea. An image recognition system powered the campaign from Gold Peak’s parent company, Coca-Cola. Beta tests using the technology “found conversions and click-through rates five to 10 times the industry benchmark.” The takeaway: Importantly, consumers “don’t seem to be creeped out” as this personalized approach to delivering relevant ads actually drove people to the store for Gold Peak iced tea. You don’t have to be selling something to imagine how you could deliver relevant content to people based on what they share in their photos. Read more

CMOs are getting promoted to the top spot—The marketing career path generally maxed out at the Chief Marketing Officer level. Recently, though, a lot of CMOs are getting bumped upstairs to the president or chief executive officer spot. It has happened at Dick’s Sporting Goods, KFC, QuickenLoans, and other companies. The reason: The role of marketing has been elevated, as has the focus on customers. The takeaway: This makes sense, especially as companies begin to assign revenue responsibility to CMOs. Given the convergence of marketing and PR, this is good news for communicators everywhere. Even if you aren’t the one to get the promotion, at least you know the top boss has an inherent appreciation for what you do. Read more

One-page-design is one hot trend—A growing number of designers are taking notice of single-page design, the best of which “help you convey your message into a few quick scrolls. They are well designed and compatible with most Internet browsers.” The takeaway: I was thinking about this trend before I found this collection of 35 examples of one-page design. While it won’t address every website requirement, it’s worth considering for single products and issues, as well as small companies. Read more


You may want to reconsider that snarky approach to Twitter—The fact that Wendy’s has built a reputation for its snarky Twitter presence doesn’t mean every burger chain should try to emulate the Wendy’s approach. A Sprout consumer survey found that while three-quarters of consumers find value in brands being funny on social media, only one-third appreciate hardcore snark. “This pales in comparison to the majority of consumers, who buy from brands that are honest (86%), helpful (78%), and friendly (83%). Facebook is the platform where consumers most appreciate a brand displaying its personality. Consumers responding to the survey also expressed annoyance for brands making fun of customers, talking politics, using slang, and making fun of competitors. The takeaway: This is important information, but needs to be considered in context. A sports team talking trash with a rival over twitter won’t annoy anyone since the followers are already fans, not potential customers. The most important point: Know your customer and their expectations of your social presence. Odds are, they’re looking for customer care, not entertainment. (And fyi, I love the snark in Merriam-Webster’s Twitter account.) Read more

More CEOs are being fired for ethical lapses—In 2016, only 18 CEOs out of the world’s 2,500 largest public companies were shown the door for ethical lapses. But that represents an increase in the percentage of ethics-based firings among all reasons for CEOs leaving companies. “Globally, dismissals for ethical lapses rose from 3.9% of all successions in 2007-11 to 5.3% in 2012-16, a 36% increase. The increase was most dramatic in North America and Western Europe.” The takeaway: What has changed in the last 15 years? A more suspicious, critical, and unforgiving public, among other things. View this as more evidence that we are entering an era in which values drive business. Read more


Live video boosts engagement—The New York Times flooded its Facebook presence with live video as part of a deal with the social network that netted the newspaper more than $3 million. The Times was just one of some 140 media companies and celebrities Facebook paid to boost its Live feature. The experiment meant the Times streamed a lot of less-than-great content among the 1,417 Live videos shared since February 2016. The data, however, shows that while the videos don’t attract the same number of viewers as regular videos, they do earn considerably more engagement, including more than twice the number of comments seen on regular videos. The takeaway: I would rather have more engagement than more views. Always. This is more evidence of Facebook Live’s value. Read more

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

Google unveils WorldSense VR goggles—WorldSense is mobile, untethered VR headset that tracks your movement so you can interact more physically with the virtual environment (like dodging a virtual ball). No smartphone needs to be inserted. The headset is light, small, and mostly clear plastic. The takeaway: WorldSense ups the VR ante by moving from three degrees of freedom (3DoF) found in the Samsung Gear VR and Daydream View to 6DoF “where you can move more freely and have your head positionally tracked in three dimensions, beyond mere rotational movement.” The headline on this story is correct: It could be a game changer. Read more

Chrome browser is coming to VR—Google’s ubiquitous Chrome browser will be accessible through the Google Daydream VR platform. Soon, you’ll be able to visit websites while wearing your Daydream headset. The takeaway: Since Daydream will be added to the Samsung Galaxy S8 via a summer update, you won’t need the Daydream headset; your Gear VR headset (of which far more have been sold) will do just fine. What this means is that an alternative to a physical screen will exist for web surfing. When the HoloLens arrives for consumers, screenless browsing and viewing will become an even bigger deal. Read more

Mixed Reality is more than a marketing buzzword—The Microsoft HoloLens may be an Augmented Reality device, but it exists as part of the Windows Mixed Reality platform “which seeks to enable immersive experiences” in the real environment, AR, Augmented Virtuality (AV), and a full virtual environment. That’s one definition of MR. Another is an environment in which various device categories can coexist and “seamlessly interact with one another.” The takeaway: The immediate opportunities are with VR and AR, but Mixed Reality is the destination. This article does a better job than most of differentiating between the different categories and explaining how they’ll work independently and together. It’s worth your time to read it start to finish. Read more

Artificial Intelligence and Chatbots

Google introduces Lens, an AI-based visual search app—Your smartphone is about to get a whole lot smarter. Google Lens employs AI to identify what you’re looking at and deliver more information. It works with photos, videos, or live feeds. You can find out the type of flower you’re looking at or get restaurant reviews by aiming the camera at the restaurant sign. Point the camera at a router’s setting sticker and get connected to the network. Pull up a picture you took of a sign for a concert and have it added to your calendar (and even buy tickets). Lens is coming first to Google Photos and Google Assistant. The takeaway: There will surely be opportunities here for marketers and communicators to make sure Lens delivers the right content when someone aims at your products or related items. Read more

Voice interfaces are coming into their own—Natural language interfaces are ready for mass adoption based on the number of companies introducing new products into the space. Forecasts suggest the voice-assistant space could grow to $5.1 billion by 2024. (Another forecast says it will be a $127 billion market by then.) Juniper research projects “$12 billion will be spent on voice-assistant targeted advertising by 2021.” The takeaway: We all will be talking to our phones, smart speakers, and other devices. We need to explore the communications and marketing potential. We also need to learn the ins and outs of voice tech just like we had to learn HTML and other dimensions of communicating online, and to address the massive changes voice tech will bring to SEO. Read more

Chatbots in the workforce—A lot of internships involve low-level tasks the rest of the staff is loath to do. (Ask any intern at a PR agency.) With 44% of customer service reps like the idea of chatbots handling mundane support questions so they could spend their time on questions that require more intellect. That leads some to wonder if a chatbot might replace the summer intern program. The takeaway: If all the intern does is answer phones with personalized greetings and handle office tasks like ordering food and making reservations, you bet. Who needs an intern for that when the bot is perfectly efficient? They do have limitations, though. Bots will more routinely work alongside humans to increase efficiency. Read more

Telegram adds purchase capability for chatbots—Telegram, a messaging app popular among teens, has released an update that provides support for chatbot payments. The takeaway: The teen Telegram base will have no problem buying a sodea in a shop by interacting with the shop’s bot. Read more

Slack will leverage bots to take on new competition—Slack faces new competition from Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. The team messaging company will tackle the competitive threat by making bots more discoverable from within the app. They also plan to make it easier to install Slack bots and permit a larger variety of kinds of bots. The takeaway: Isn’t it interesting that bots are at the heart of Slack’s plans to face intense competition from much larger companies, especially given Microsoft’s and Facebook’s commitment to bot platforms? Read more

Bing is delivering bots in search results—It won’t drive anybody to use Bing instead of Google, but it’s still an interesting development: Microsoft has added bots from Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype, Kik, and Telegram to Bing’s search results. The takeaway: Google will undoubtedly add bots to its own search results. The more people find bots as an answer to their search query, the more they’ll be inclined to use them. Read more


Chrome plug-in gives you control over your identity—Install MetaMask on your Chrome browser, set up an account with just a password, then visit a crypto-currency site and you’ll automatically be logged in, your identity stored locally in the browser. You can transact business on the site with the site publisher getting no details on your identity beyond what you want to provide. That makes you a customer, but not one who can be tracked in CRM or assailed with ads based on the data you shared. The takeaway: blockchain will eventually empower consumers to completely control their identities. That will be a problem for marketers, who should start thinking about alternative approaches to reaching customers. And to the guy in the conversation about blockchain on Facebook who told me I was wrong about blockchain’s potential for withholding information about yourself from companies, go pound sound. Read more

Laws will change because of blockchain—Blockchain applications are raising legal questions based on “new capabilities to engage activities in ways that don’t fit neatly into existing legal frameworks.” Among the kinds of laws that will have to adapt to a blockchain world are money laundering laws, regulation of decentralized applications, privacy laws, and contract law. The takeaway: The business implications of blockchain are becoming more apparent. It will be at least as disruptive as the Internet has been. Communicators in organizations where these issues are in play need to be prepared to help communicate their companies’ stances and activities. Read more

Awesome Content Examples

Brilliant data visualization—This animated bit of data visualization shows where Americans are over the course of a day categorized by the kind of work they do (e.g., sales, administrative, farming, transportation). The takeaway: Communicators must get a handle on delivering information in this kind of visual manner. Where are the sessions on data visualization at the IABC World Conference? Read more

How to tell a story—The New York Times has delivered another article that marries words, images, 360-degree video, 3D maps, and a compelling reason to scroll in an article detailing the collapse of an Antarctica ice shelf that threatens to raise sea levels. the takeaway: I don’t care if you’re sold on climate science or a denier. Read this piece for the lessons it delivers on how to take advantage of the web to integrate multiple storytelling elements to amazing effect. One note of caution: Don’t use Chrome to view the story. More than one person has complained that it doesn’t work in Chrome (including me). Read more

This week’s Wrap image is a gorgeous photo of a native Australian bee wrapping its body around a flower to feed on it. Thanks to Jean and Fred’s Flickr account.



Feedback Form