by Shel Holtz | April 28, 2017


It’s looking worse for Twitter—Twitter’s user base grew in the last quarter, but revenue fell while the company was outbid for Thursday Night Football live-streaming by Amazon. The takeaway: Twitter is an important conduit for news and information, but without any light at the end of its revenue tunnel, its prospects are bleak. If something doesn’t change in a hurry, I would expect Twitter to be acquired. Read more

Can 24/7 live-streaming save Twitter?—Twitter plans to air live video 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. “Our goal is to be a dependable place so that when you want to see what’s happening, you think of going to Twitter,” the company’s COO/CFO said. Don’t expect The Twitter Network (or whatever they call it) to arrive anytime soon. “We’re working on many things,” the exec said. “There’s a lot in the pipeline.” The takeaway: This could actually be a big deal if they get it right. You hear that something’s going on, open your Twitter app, and watch. Nobody else is doing that right now. The only question is whether twitter can survive long enough to introduce it and build the audience for it. Read more

AT&T launches a fake 5G network—Fake news I understand, but a fake cellular network? AT&T claimed it is launching “the next generation of faster speeds” with 5G Evolution. It’s not a new 5G network, though, just a re-branding of its 4G network. The press releases introducing the network also says (in small print) that “actually results may differ materially.” The announcement came shortly after a news report found Verizon had outbid AT&T on a large portion of the actual 5G spectrum. “AT&T is using good old fashioned marketing tricks to dupe customers.” The takeaway: This is just sad. Really, really sad. Read more

Amazon wants to put a camera in your bedroom—Amazon has introduced a new connected device, adding to the line that includes the Echo and the Dot. The Echo Look is the first with a video camera. The idea is to model your outfit for the day and get advice from Amazon’s Style Check, “a new service that combines machine learning algorithms with advice from fashion specialists,” according to Amazon. The takeaway: I suppose this could be useful for some people, but doesn’t it seem a bit creepy to have an Amazon always-listening camera in your bedroom? And what can they do with all that additional data the camera might collect? Do you appear wealthy? Are you into certain kinds of furniture or appliances? I love my Echo, but count me out for the Look. Read more

Police use Fitbit data to charge victim’s husband with murder—The data in a murder victim’s Fitbit could not have walked the number of steps that matched the story her husband gave them, leading to his arrest on murder charges. The takeaway: It’s great that police were able to arrest a killer with digital evidence. The bigger picture, though, has to do with knowing what kind of privacy you give up in exchange for the benefits of living a connected life. Earlier, there was a story about police seeking data from an Amazon Echo as part of a murder investigation; the Echo, remember, is always listening. (How else would it know you just said, “Alexa…”?) Expect more stories like this. Read more

Facebook wants to get you out of your filter bubble—Facebook has begun adding “related” articles from a variety of different publications beneath trending news posts you find in your News Feed. “For example,” according to recode, “You may see a post about Syria from the New York Times in your feed, but Facebook might also add similar stories from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and Fox News directly below it.” The takeaway: There seems to be a trend toward sharing links that address different viewpoints. The New York Times, BuzzFeed, and The Guardian are curating content that offers both right- and left-wing commentaries on news. There are lessons here for business communicators. Read more

Facebook tests video cover images for Pages—If you manage a Facebook Page, you could soon be able to use a video rather than a static photo or graphic for the cover image. The takeaway: This is a very cool development. I see this on a lot of marketing-focused web pages and it makes good sense for Facebook to let brands employ the same technique on their Pages. Read more

Microsoft to use LinkedIn data to compete with Salesforce—Microsoft has unveiled its plans to leverage user data on LinkedIn to take some of Salesforce’s market share. The takeaway: Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn is starting to make sense. Read more

United Airlines makes customer service policy changes—United Airlines has taken almost three weeks to announce policy changes in the wake of the incident in which a passenger was dragged off of a flight to make room for crew. Among the changes: United will limit the use of airport law enforcement, they won’t make anyone give up a seat if they have already boarded, they’re increasing their compensation for voluntary denied board to a maximum of $10,000, they will create a customer solutions team to provide agents with creative solutions, they will give agents more training, and they’ll empower employees to resolve customer service issues on the spot. The takeaway: Delta announced its increase of compensation for voluntary denied boarding a day or two after the United incident, but it took United three weeks and the CEO still has not accepted any personal responsibility. There is so much wrong with United’s response (not to mention a flood of subsequent customer service disasters) that it’s hard to imagine a crisis professional is involved at all. Read more

Native ad revenues are soaring—Disdain for the kinds of native advertising littering news sites hasn’t slowed down its appeal to advertisers. More than 90% of publishers experienced increases in native ad revenues last year. The takeaway: On the plus side, native advertising seems to be a key to solving the publisher revenue problem. But let me ask: Do you ever click on any of the stories under the “Paid Content” label? Since they almost always lead to user-unfriendly sites, I avoid them like the plague. That’s not good for the long-term outlook for native ads, which need to improve. Read more

Google Classroom is open to all—Formerly available only to the traditional education market, Google Classroom is now open to anyone with a personal Google account. That means anybody can create a class on the platform. The takeaway: This isn’t learning software, but it does allow you to create assignments, let students submit their work, and send feedback. For company training programs that don’t have such capability, this free service would be a great deal. Read more


Live video attracts crowds—The Livestream platform (which lets brands broadcat across Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels and dice video into small clips in real time) has seen the broadcasting of events over social channels attract huge audiences. A Tiffany event generated 24 million impressions, while a Bud Light multiday event featuring Lady Gaga earned 6 million views. A concert in a 400-person venue sponsored by Cuervo grabbed 73,000 live views. The takeaway: I still run into a lot of people dismissing live broadcasting over social channels. Yes, there’s a lot of pointless broadcasting going on. But for brands, it can make huge sense as long as it’s strategized based on what will appeal to the audience. Read more

Instagram influencers will earn $1 billion this year—Consider it a sign that influencer marketing is the big deal you keep hearing it is. A new survey finds that Instagram influencers alone will make $1 billion this year, with the payout growing to $2.4 billion in two years. The study finds 92% of influencers Instagram is their main focus. The takeaway: While the value of an Instagram star with a huge audience is undeniable, I’m still more bullish on micro-influencers who may have smaller follower counts but whose followers are more engaged on their feeds. Read more

Brands are starting to reach out on Nextdoor—Nextdoor, the social network that connects neighbors through a kind of digital bulletin board, is becoming a popular marketing channel as brands find they can reach people on a hyper-local level. For example, with about 10% of Nextdoor conversations dealing with crime and safety, the video doorbell company, Ring, found it could talk “naturally” to people thanks to Nextdoor’s targeting of neighborhoods where the topic has come up. The takeaway: As long as brands are relevant in their activities on Nextdoor, users shouldn’t complain. I’ve been on Nextdoor for a few years, and I have seen people get exercised when anybody—brand or neighbor—introduces a subject that they feel is inappropriate. Read more

Verizon uses employees in TV spots—Verizon is adding real employees to ad spots that feature Thomas Middleditch (from HBO’s Silicon Valley). According to a Verizon exec, “We thought having an employee in here would be a great way to show behind the scenes what makes our network great.” The takeaway: Southwest Airlines has used real employees in its commercials for years. Now that employees have risen to the top as a company’s most credible spokesperson (according to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer), we should see other companies jumping on the bandwagon. Read more

Manifesto marketing takes root—Manifesto marketing is “when a company broadcasts the reasons why it does what it does, its values, or its beliefs, incorporating them into its advertising, communications, products or packaging even if—especially if—they are not strictly related to the products the brand sells,” writes Tara-Nicholle Nelson. She adds, “Consumers will increasingly demand and require companies to take a stand on major cultural and political issues…in exchange for their mindshare, spend, loyalty, and brand love.” The takeaway: Companies need to ensure their values are on display across all of its formal and informal channels, as well as in its processes and behaviors. If you haven’t considered conducting a values audit yet, add it to your wish list. Read more

Now, more than ever, companies need to be crisis-ready—The threat of a corporate crisis is greater than ever. The complexity of businesses and their products is one reason. Social media spreads the word of a crisis far and wide. “The changing social contract is driving anxieties and mistrust in institutions, making irreversible knee-jerk reactions more likely.” And the speed of business is a fourth complicating factor. According to McKinsey & Company, this makes it vital that companies prepare and rehearse crisis responses. The takeaway: I am routinely shocked at the number of companies that don’t have crisis plans and even more stunned at those who do but don’t run drills. Given the stakes these days, it’s just foolhardy to think you’ll never have a crisis or, if you do, you’ll cross that bridge when you come to it. Read more


Nearly a quarter of employees can’t name their CEO—And here you thought your employee communications were making a difference. According to a survey from APPrise Mobile, 23% of Americans who work at companies with more than 500 employees aren’t sure of their CEO’s name. One-third of workers weren’t sure they could pick their CEO out of a lineup. Among Generation Z workers, only 66% could name the CEO. The takeaway: Based on experiences in my career, I’m not surprised by this, yet it’s still disconcerting. How can you expect an employee to be engaged when they don’t even know who’s leading the company? This is on CEOs, who need to become more social (both in person and online). Read more

Can you calculate the value of a like?—The value of a like exists, but it’s not what you think, according to an agency social director. People who like a page and are then shown paid posts and advertisements are more likely to take meaningful action, according to a Harvard Business Review study. Likes also provide social proof (that is, legitimacy for your brand). And now, Facebook is letting you figure out if someone who liked your page took some kind of measurable action on your site or app. The takeaway: I’ve never been a fan of using likes to measure effectiveness, but that doesn’t mean you can’t leverage a like to produce better results. Read more

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

AR will be built into apps—Using Augmented Reality on a smartphone has pretty much required you to download an AR app. A big shift is coming, though, according to a study by Tractica: “Apps with embedded AR are expected to surpass the amount of standalone AR app downloads this year. In two years, there are projected to be more than twice as many apps with embedded AR accessed than standalone AR app downloads.” That should lead to more advertising within AR, the study suggests. The takeaway: The Yelp app has featured built-in AR, called Monocle, for years. I’m anxious to see how companies innovate when baking AR into their apps. Read more

Voice tech will change SEO—Companies will need to rethink SEO as more and more people use voice tech to get information. (Consider that Microsoft projects half of all searches will be done vocally by 2020.) SEO will need to target longer-tail keywords (people say more than they type), employ conversational language, create content designed to answer questions, and focus on local information (since voice searches are three times more likely to seek local information than typical searches). The takeaway: Adoption of voice tech is continuing at a healthy pace. Your customers are using it. Will they find your content when they do? Read more

VR app could help build empathy in coworkers—Translator is an app under development that would create fully immersive experiences putting an employee in a coworker’s shoes to feel what it’s like to be a different race, gender, or gender identity. The takeaway: Other VR tools have shown this kind of immersive experience can be incredibly effective. It certainly can’t be worse than sitting in a compliance-driven diversity class. I hope this takes off. Read more

Is AR for shoppers and VR for business?—That’s the conclusion of this piece, which consumers will use augmented reality fo see what furniture might look like in their home or clothing on themselves, while Virtual Reality is more appropriate for visualizing store, shelf, and assortment layouts. The takeaway: I was ready to argue with this piece, but when it comes to retail, it makes sense. In the store, customers want information, not an immersive experience. Read more

Artificial Intelligence and Chatbots

Design will shift from the eye to the ear—It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the guy in charge of voice design education for Amazon’s Alexa thinks that design must shift to focusing on what people hear and not what they see. “Throw away what we know about design today and start fresh,” Paul Cutsinger said. “We need to focus on how things sound, not how they look.” He’s not wrong, though. The takeaway: I’m waiting to see any communication organization—IABC, PRSA, Ragan, anybody—to offer a session or workshop on designing for voice. Who’ll be first? Read more

Want to chat with Einstein?—Albert Einstein is the subject of season 1 of “Genius,” a docudrama on the National Geographic Channel. Among the promotions: a Facebook Messenger chatbot that lets you have a conversation with Einstein. The takeaway: National Geographic’s first chatbot makes good sense since the cable series is designed to reintroduce a generation to Einstein. The chatbot provides for “even deeper engagement,” according to a spokesperson for the chatbot’s developer. Read more

Google Home now recognizes different voices—Google Home now has the ability for as many as six people to connect their accounts to a single device and be recognized individually. The takeaway: This is a big step (one Amazon’s Alexa hasn’t yet taken). From an advertising perspective, it means companies can figure out which family member is searching for what, delivering a more personalized experience. Read more

Facebook recalibrates the appeal of chatbots—Facebook oversold chatbots and is now promoting them as helpers, which makes sense. Companies find that a chatbot can deal with easy questions, leaving its human customer service reps to answer more complex queries. The Aeromexico example in this piece offers some great insights into the chatbot-human connection. We’re still in the earliest days of AI-powered chatbots, which will continue to get more sophisticated. Read more

What have marketers learned about chatbots so far?—The experiences of successful chatbots have led to some early conclusions. First, know what kind of chatbot you want to deploy: a group bot (for group chats), entertainment bot, or content distribution bot. Advice includes being conversation-focused, not worrying about any key metrics for all your bots (since each one can serve a different purpose), and starting simple (with a clear understanding of what the bot is intended to accomplish). The takeaway: It all seems so basic, but that’s where we’re at with bots. Read more

More chatbot advice from those who have built them—A panel at Facebook’s F8 conference agreed that chatbots should be a choice and not forced on customers. One panelist said, “When we were analyzing how different types of customers were interacting with internet services, a lot of people preferred point and click, others preferred to chat with a bot. We didn’t want to force one specific channel. We wanted to be in the channels our customers love. And Facebook Messenger is one of them.” The takeaway: The same logic applies to 800 numbers. Don’t force your customers to use just one channel. (Are you listening, Samsung?)Read more


Spotify acquires blockchain startup—Mediachain Labs is now part of Spotify, which will help solve the company’s problems with attribution. Spotify will tap the blockchain startup’s technology to connect artists and other rights holders with the tracks Spotify hosts on its service. According to a Medichain blog post, a shared data layer “is key to solving attribution, empowering creators and rights owners, and enabling a more efficient and sustainable model for creativity online.” The takeaway: Blockchain is turning up in more and more news items, so I reiterate (and the risk of sounding redundant): Get yourself up to speed. Read more

Fake News

Wikipedia founder launching publication to tackle fake news—Jimmy Wales, a founder of Wikipedia, is launching Wikitribune, an online news publication that will tap both professional journalists and readers to produce and publish news items. The site will use crowdfunding for financing and cover topics ranging from politics to technology. Readers will be able to identify the sources for each story and journalists will share background materials. Wales called it “news by the people and for the people.” The takeaway: I have read about at least half a dozen new online news publications in the works specifically designed to combat fake news. It remains to be seen whether any of them will attract an audience, especially since so many of us get our news as shared links in social media posts. Still, I have always liked the idea of reporters sharing the notes and audio interviews that were used in a story. Read more

Google seeks user help to spot fake news—Google has introduced new feedback tools in search results you can use to identify content that seems false or misleading. As you type a query, the featured snippet will not only offer autocomplete suggestions of what you’re after but also let you flag the predictions as offensive, hateful, violent, or sexually explicit. The takeaway: Every little bit helps. I will be interested in seeing data on how many users contribute feedback through the tool. Read more

Fake news to be demoted in search results—Google is changing its algorithm to demote misleading, false, and offensive content. The takeaway: Google says the pages categorized as misleading represents a small percentage of queries, which is why it has taken this long for the company to make this move. It will be the combination of multiple efforts, however, as opposed to any one solution, that will have make a difference in dealing with the problem. Read more

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