Friday Wrap #217: WaPo on Reddit, GIFS from data, AVEs persist, Mastodon grows, VR growth slows

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Friday Wrap #217

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.


Facebook community moderation guidelines leaked—Materials used to train Facebook content moderators has leaked, exposing some troublesome guidelines that the company is struggling to explain. Among them, live-streamed suicide attempts are fine “as long as they are engaging with viewers and threats to kill more than five days in the future are not to be viewed as a high priority. The guidelines address child abuse, animal cruelty, nudity, and other sensitive issues, offering unprecedented insight into how the company wants its moderators to treat posts. The takeaway: I wouldn’t want to be the person who has to create these guidelines, nor would I want to be one of the moderators who has to apply them, which one person called “one of the worst jobs on the internet.” As this Guardian article notes, Facebook is in a lose-lose situation, expected (for example) to curtail live-streamed crime while also being accused of censorship. Read more

Washington Post has a Reddit profile page—Reddit wants to be a venue for content from publishers, much like Facebook with its Instant Articles and other opportunities for media outlets to distribute their stories. The Washington Post now has its own profile page, giving it the ability to publish articles and conduct Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions.The takeaway: Reddit is rolling out profiles to everyone, starting with content creators, so expect more news organizations to show up on Reddit. Rather than simply duplicate content published elsewhere, they should get to know the Reddit culture and share unique items likely to earn upvotes from the community, which will lead to attention from other venues. Read more

Google introduces Data GIF Maker—Telling stories with numbers is becoming important, especially given the rise of data journalism. Companies should think about finding ways to tell their own stories with data. Google is making it easier with the launch of Data GIF Maker, which shows “how two competing ‘things’ compare to each other in terms of popularity. All you have to do is enter the data and download the GIF. The takeaway: It’s fairly limited in scope and could easily be overused, but when you want to show a comparison for which data is available, it could be a useful way to get people to sit up and pay attention to your numbers. Read more

AP Stylebook changes focus on gender—A lot of communication departments and agencies adhere to the AP Stylebook, which has introduced the use of “they” as a singular pronoun in order to make it easier for writers to be gender neutral. The idea is to provide an alternative to the “overly awkward or clumsy” wording writers have struggled with when aiming for gender neutrality. Other changes to the 2017 edition including the advice to limit the use of LGBTQ to quotes and organization names (because it can be used as a slur in some contexts) and the use of “gender” to denote a person’s social identity while “sex” explains a person’s biological characteristics. The sections on cyberattacks and fact check/fake news have also been rewritten, with “fake news” to be used “in quotes or as shorthand for the modern phenomenon of deliberate falsehoods or fiction masked as news circulating on the internet.” The takeaway: Language evolves and writers should make an effort to stay up to speed, even if the updates raise their grammar hackles. Read more

Judge finds emoji are proof of intent—A judge in Israel has ruled that emoji used by prospective tenants in a message constituted a statement of intent. The couple must pay the landlord $2,000 based on the emojis they used to signal their plan to rent a house. The landlord removed the listing based on the message, but the couple stopped communicating with him. The takeaway: If this doesn’t signal that emoji have become part of the day-to-day mix of communication methods, nothing will. Read more

Sustainable Living brands fuel Unilever’s growth—Unilever’s Sustainable Living brands grew 50% faster than the rest of the organization, producing more than 60% of the company’s growth last year. “These amazing results are testament to the commitment the business has made…to its Sustainable Living Plan,” according to the website, Campaign. Differentiating products with purpose can make them stand out in categories like fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). The takeaway: As the article points out, “purpose is becoming an essential ingredient in the mainstream marketers’ toolkit. Read more

Snapchat introduces collaborative Stores—In its war with Facebook, Snapchat’s latest salvo enables users to create collaborative stories, inviting people they know to post to a shared Story (which can also be geofenced, limiting posts to those within the designated geographic area). The takeaway: Snapchat’s problem is that collaborative Stories, like virtually any of its features, can be adapted by Instagram and other competitors with larger user bases and simpler interfaces. Read more

Pinterest adds Pin-level statistics—If you have a Pinterest for Business profile, a stats icon now appears on each of your Pins where you’ll give you (and nobody else) a look at that Pin’s total engagements. The takeaway: Smart marketers will be able to more effectively boost Pins, as well as hone the content their pinning based on what is drawing engagement. I do wish the Pinterest would make the same data available on Pins from non-business profiles, though. Read more


Airline customers don’t feel loyal or valued—It shouldn’t be surprising that consumers don’t have a very favorable view of the airline industry. Nearly a quarter of consumers surveyed believe the airlines see them as a ticket sale, nearly 60% don’t feel loyal to any airline, and only 12% feel like a valued airline customer. United bears the brunt of the ill will, with nearly 54% of consumers less willing to purchase a ticket from United and 41% expressing “disgust” as their reaction to the United dragging incident. The takeaway: See the United Airlines item in the “Cautionary Tales” section below. I am stunned that airline companies aren’t taking bolder action to make sure their employees understand the microscope under which they currently operate and provide guidelines for behavior when customer issues arise (that are most likely being recorded with a smartphone). Read more

Are AVEs finally dead?—Advertising Value Equivalencies (AVEs) have been the bane of PR measurement for decades. The Barcelona Principles (from the Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, or AMEC) has condemned them. The UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations is giving its members a year to clean up their act, after which they will take punitive action against members who use them; CIPR will also reject entries in communications competition that cite AVEs. The takeaway: According to a Nasdaq survey of CEOs, AVE’s are the most important metric for 10% of respondents, making it the third-ranked most-important metric. AVEs are every bit as bad as AMEC, CIPR, the Institute for Public Relations, and other organizations and experts say they are. More work needs to be done to get communicators to finally stop using them. Read more

Unbranded content is coming into its own—What if a can of Pepsi had never been part of the reviled Kendall Jenner TV commercial? ” If a story is moving, no one is going to care that it’s brought to you by a brand,” writes Molly DeWolf Swenson,  Rather, they’re going to be happy the brand brought it to them.” Annoying branded content, meanwhile, is being called out, inflicting damage on the brand. According to Swenson, a co-founder of smoking accessory manufacturer RYOT, “Brands must believe that a story is worth telling and that people care about it and want to hear it, but most of all that their brand should be the one to tell it.” The takeaway: McDonald’s is one of the latest big names to create a campaign in which its name is nowhere to be found. The ad shared via TV and YouTube features Mindy Kaling inviting viewers to search Google to find out where Coca-Cola tastes best. That’s not exactly what Swenson has in mind but nevertheless is an example of a company undertaking a campaign that never mentions its own name. L’Oreal has created an unbranded content hub for beauty fans, beauty company Wren got 100 million views of an unbranded video, and a UK campaign aimed at getting people to use public transportation was a brand-less tease on billboards designed to get people to visit a URL. This is a rising trend. Read more

Brands will connect to customers with voicebots—“Voice-controlled devices are changing how we communicate not just with our digital assistants, but with other people. It won’t be long before we expect this kind of experience when communicating with a business,” writes VentureBeat’s Gregg Johnson. “For the foreseeable future, the best experiences will come from a mix of voice-powered automation and human interaction,” he adds. The takeaway: While adoption of VR and AR has slowed (see the item in the AR/VR/MR section below), voice tech adoption is surging. You should be thinking about how to incorporate it into your communications. Read more

The rise of the enterprise hackathon—I have never been a fan of corporate team-building exercises, which seek to get teams to bond and work better together by putting them in situations that have no resemblance to the environment in which they actually work. Hackathons—originally just for coding—are now being employed for all kinds of work-related purposes and resonate particularly with Millennials and Gen Z staff. When done well, they enable teams to work together in a high-energy setting to address real problems well outside the scope of their daily routines. The takeaway: Done poorly, hackathons become fodder for parody, but I am looking forward to the next client assignment where a hackathon will fit within the scope of the work. Besides, it has to be better than a dreaded Ropes course. Read more

Agencies left behind in influencer marketing—In-house marketing departments are working directly with Instagram and social media influencers, leaving advertising and marketing agencies behind. In-house marketers prefer that influencers develop their own creative rather than rely on agencies to tell the influencers exactly what to publish. Not having to pay the agency fee doesn’t hurt, either. The takeaway: Agencies need to find a new value proposition when it comes to influencer marketing, which could include a stronger focus on niche influencers as the bloom is fading from the rose of big social media stars. Read more

Whatever happened to Mastodon?—Nobody seems to be talking about Mastodon, which seemed to be a big deal a couple months back when it was heralded as a possible Twitter alternative. It continues to grow even without all the attention. More than 1,200 Mastodon “instances” are in use—mostly connected with each other in a federation of networks—one of which is home to more than 150,000 users. In total, the instances serve nearly 650,000 users. The software’s developer has been streamlining the interface, including a tutorial that appears once you have signed up. Hosts of instances generally bristle at the comparison to Twitter. Some prefer to compare it to Reddit, which instances playing the role of subreddits. The takeaway: I’m not ready to write off Mastodon, which will blossom if the hosts of instances can maintain a community focus rather than become all things to all users. If it becomes easy to join an instance dedicated to, say, app development, science fiction, or drag racing, it will become useful for companies to both participate in relevant instances and even host their own. Read more


Instagram is the king of engagement for brands and celebrities—The latest SocialBakers data finds that brands get four times the engagement on Instagram than they do on Facebook, while users engage with celebrities 3.8 times more than on Facebook. Meanwhile, Facebook emerged as primarily a news-heavy platform, with media organizations getting 10 to 12 times more engagement than brands do. Not surprisingly, media organizations fare poorly on Instagram. The takeaway: Pick your platforms carefully. And keep in mind that your Facebook posts won’t necessarily fit the pattern if you know what it takes to get people to engage. Read more

Not everyone is comfortable with digital transformation—An IBM study has found that most businesses believe customers are anxious to try newfangled, digital means of engaging, consumers are mostly interested in getting quick, convenient, and affordable results. “In other words, there’s a disconnect between what executives think consumers want and what consumers actually want,” according to a Drum report on the study. Consumers who tried VR, interactive in-store digital displays, or using voice commands to explore a product, 70% said they were disappointed “and decided not to use these digital initiatives regularly.” Being a younger consumer doesn’t necessarily make you more inclined to embrace these new technologies, either. The takeaway: As the IBM Institute for Business Value notes, you need to keep in mind that consumers will always ask what’s in it for them when asked by a company to use a new technology. Read more

The power of consumers’ stories—A study into the role story authorship plays in consumer choice has found that “stories originating from consumers are especially powerful in shaping brand attitudes in social media.” Three studies involving consumer stories for two brands found “an average increase of 32% in purchasing consideration when consumer-based storytelling was employed.” The study also determined that people exposed to brand stories were more deeply connected to the brand, and had more trust in it, than those who weren’t. Stories authored by consumers or jointly created by consumer and brand were more likely to make an impact than company-created content. The takeaway: As the study advises, work with consumers to create great stories, then convert them into quality content to add to your social media efforts. I suspect the same results would be found in employer branding, with employees telling stories about working at the company eliciting a better response among prospective workers. Read more

Values have become a key reputation component—Research from Cone Communications found that 70% of Americans believe businesses must take action to address social and environmental problems even if the issues aren’t relevant to the company’s line of business. Consumers want companies to address job growth (94%), racial equality (87%), women’s rights (84%), the cost of higher education (81%), immigration (78%) climate change (76%), gun control (65%), and LGBTQ rights (64%). Eighty-seven percent of consumers report that they’ll buy a product because the company championed an issue that mattered to them, while 76% would refuse to make a purchase if they learned the company supported issues that conflict with their beliefs. Nearly two-thirds of people believe business will take the lead in addressing social and environmental change. The takeaway: Just another study to add to the piles businesses should absorb in order to understand the importance of raising the profile of their values and steps they are taking to make them real. Read more

Older adults are embracing technology—Americans 65 and older—who make up 15% of the total U.S. population—are getting digitally connected. Forty-two percent own smartphones (up from 18% four years ago), while Internet use and home broadband adoption have grown to 67%. Still, one-third of seniors never use the Internet and nearly half don’t have home broadband. Smartphone ownership is 42 percentage points below those aged 18 to 64. For those over 80, it’s considerably less likely that they are online. The takeaway: Senior use of technology will continue to rise as the population continues to age. Someone who started enthusiastically using the Internet in 1995 at the age of 40 is 62 today and not likely to suddenly give it up by the time they’re eligible for Social Security. Don’t dismiss seniors from your digital communication considerations. Read more

Digital access lags in rural America—Rural Americans are 10 percentage points less likely to have broadband than those in nonrural locations. Smartphone use also lags by 10 percentage points and rural adults are less likely to own multiple devices they can use to get online. One key reason: lack of infrastructure required for high-speed Internet in rural areas. The takeaway: If your audience includes (or is focused on) rural populations, at the very least you should consider non-digital means of reaching them. Read more

A quarter of Millennials are on their smartphones 5+ hours per day—About 25% of Millennials spend at least 5 hours each day on their smartphones while 50% are on their phones at least 3 hours per day, with Boomers and GenXers not far behind. Nearly three-quarters of consumers worldwide wouldn’t part with their phone for even a day, even if it meant they could spend the day with a favorite celebrity; a quarter are stressed, lost, or sad when disconnected. The takeaway: Given the attachment we have to our phones, the prediction that we are moving to a screenless society is most likely overhyped. At the very least, the transition will be far longer and more gradual than some anticipate. Read more


Video entertainment coming to Facebook—Vox, BuzzFeed, and several other news and entertainment companies have inked deals to provide content for a new Facebook video service. Facebook will offer two levels of video entertainment: “scripted shows with episodes lasting 20 to 30 minutes, which it will own; and shorter scripted and unscripted shows with episodes lasting about 5 to 10 minutes, which Facebook will not own,” according to The New York Times. The takeaway: Twitter is also acquiring video content, YouTube Red is offering original scripted material, and Snapchat is adding original material from entertainment entities (like Saturday Night Live) to its Discover feature. Add this to Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming services and you can see the full-blown disruption of traditional television’s model. You can also see the growing importance of video in general. Read more

Chat and joint video streams come to Facebook Live—Facebook Live, the clear leader in social live-streaming, had made it possible for users to chat privately with others during a live video. You can also share your screen with others, a feature that was previously available only to public figures. The takeaway: Facebook continues to enhance its streaming service to maintain its edge over YouTube Live and Twitter’s Periscope. These latest announcements are focused on making it easier for users to engage with others during a broadcast. Engagement rates are substantially higher on Live videos than ordinary ones, making Facebook Live hard to ignore as a communication channel. Read more

Watch-and-scroll video coming to Facebook desktop users—On mobile devices, Facebook users could keep watching organic videos while scrolling through the News Feed. That feature is now part of the desktop experience as well, “meaning consumers who use it can see two videos at once in a news feed.” The takeaway: Facebook’s goal is to create new advertising opportunities, but increased engagement would also accrue to videos shared for other purposes. Read more

Cautionary Tales

United strands passenger—A United Airlines passenger on his way from Nashville to New Zealand via San Francisco wound up spending 20 hours at SFO because a flight attendant removed his carry-on bag—containing his passport, wallet, and electronics—thinking it had been left behind by a previous passenger. That was just the beginning of nearly a full day of frustration dealing with truly clueless customer service, all of which he chronicled on Twitter, leading (of course) to media coverage. The takeaway: Once United came under public scrutiny for the incident in which a passenger was dragged forcibly off a flight, communication to managers and all staff should have emphasized the importance of heightened sensitivity to customer issues. The fact that customer issues continue to arise suggests such communication was lacking, so now, every incident that never would have resulted in such widespread coverage before will now become grist for the bash-United mill. Somebody over there needs to figure this out. Read more

British company done in by Brits’ sense of humor—When given the opportunity to name a new polar research vessel, the overwhelming choice of the voting public was Boaty McBoatface. Somehow, though, Walkers didn’t factor that dark sense of humor into its thinking when the crisps company (potato chips here in America) invited people to tweet their selfies, which would be added to a video of the UFEA Champions League final. The public tweeted images of serial killers and serial gropers, among others. Walkers tried removing the videos featuring these undesirables as quickly as they could (after figuring out who they were) but, of course, they had already been saved and retweeted. The takeaway: Before launching any social media campaign, close your eyes, project yourself six months into the future after the campaign has failed dismally, and ask yourself, “What went wrong?” You could save you and your company from this kind of grief. Read more

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

VR just isn’t catching on—Only 7% of the U.S. population will engage with VR during any given month, including 360-degree videos, photos, and product demos through any device, from connected TVs to mobile devices to headsets). According to eMarketer, most VR use involves 360-degree photos and videos on Facebook and YouTube. Only 2.9% of the population use VR via headset monthly, with growth slowing when you would think it would be growing. Augmented Reality is doing better, with 12.3% of the population expected to engage with it each month, thanks largely to Snapchat Lenses, Facebook Stories, and Instagram Stories. That should grow to 16.4% by 2019, but AR growth is also slowing. The takeaway: There is no doubt that AR will become more common (see the item below) while VR will take off within specific niches. We haven’t reached a tipping point yet—it won’t happen in the foreseeable future—but it’s coming. Whether to use these technologies depends on the audience and the nature of the content/message. Read more

AR digital ad unit doesn’t need an app—AR provider Blippar is introduced an AR digital ad unit that works inside banner ad units on mobile devices or desktop/laptops without a user needing to install a separate app. According to Martech Today, “A call to action in the ad banner requests access to the device’s camera feed. The video from the camera is then inserted live into a ‘cut-out’ area behind a 360-degree video image or a 3D model, such as a background street scene matted into a cutout of a car interior. Essentially, it’s like a green screen using your device’s camera.” Blippar calls it Augmented Reality Digital Placement (ARDP). The takeaway: The idea of experiencing AR without an app is pretty nifty and opens up all kinds of possibilities. It shouldn’t be long before this can be applied to more than banners, offering whole new multimedia experiences within other kinds of content. Read more

How one airline wants to use Microsoft’s HoloLens—Air New Zealand envisions its flight attendants wearing Microsoft’s HoloLens Mixed Reality device to detect more information about you. Are you anxious? What are your meal preferences? What’s your final destination? All this could be displayed on the HoloLens, enabling flight attendants to deliver more personalized service. The takeaway: If the service is demonstrably better, maybe passengers won’t be creeped out that you’re gathering information about them through that futuristic headset the flight attendant is wearing that also obscures their own eyes. Over time, I suspect we’ll get more accustomed to such things. Read more

Artificial Intelligence and Chatbots

Put a bot in your Twitter DM—Direct Message Cards let brands reach users through Promoted Tweets that include a bot with which users can engage. Patron Tequila is the first brand to try the product, introducing users to its “bot-tenders” who ask a series of questions, then make cocktail recommendations. The takeaway: Bots are showing up in more and more places, with companies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft introducing new uses to which companies can put them. Within the next year or two, bots will be routine tools for marketers. The communications and PR industry will lag far behind, which means there’s an opportunity to stand out for those willing to strategize an effective use for bots beyond marketing applications. Read more

Twitter is attracting more users thanks to AI—A few well-considered tweaks to its algorithm has led to a surge of growth in Twitter’s user base. The use of AI has helped Twitter display the tweets users see based on its currency, the use of images or video, total interactions, the author’s past interactions with the user, the strength of the author-user connection, the origin of the author-user relationship, and the kinds of tweets the user has engaged with in the past. Currently, 14% of users are active daily; last year that number was a meager 3%. As for new users: 18 million have joined. The takeaway: User growth has been the biggest challenge for Twitter. These statistics suggest things may be looking up thanks to AI. Read more

This week’s wrap image, of a hubcap turned into art wrapped around a phone pole, is courtesy of Joey Zaonotti’s Flickr account.



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