Friday Wrap #221: WSJ shutters blogs, Photobucket accused of blackmail, doctors adopt Snapchat

Posted on July 7, 2017 12:24 pm by | Chatbots | Virtual and Augmented Reality | Content | Instagram | Audio | Blogging | Business | Facebook | Instant Messaging | Marketing | Media | Mobile | PR | Social Media | Twitter | Video

Friday Wrap #221I 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.

The Big Stories

Wall Street Journal closes eight blogs—The Law Blog (one of the Journal’s oldest blogs), China Real Time, Speakeasy, and five other blogs have been shuttered because, according to one of the bloggers, the tools for telling stories have changed. Josh Chin, who wrote the China Real Time blog, said, “We plan to transfer the same energy and insight that animated the blog to covering China on WSJ’s other platforms.” The demise of these blogs is part of the WSJ 2020 project , an internal review focused mainly on cutting costs through consolidation of sections and other steps. Earlier, The New York Times shut down its City Room blog, noting “The way technology changes and the way reader nature changes every five years now, its lifespan was just so much shorter.” Metro Editor Wendell Jamieson said, “It’s truly the post-blog era.” The Journal has also ended its news digest app, opting instead to focus on improving its push notification strategy. The social media accounts for the Journal’s closed blogs will remain active with content from Journal reporters. The takeaway: We have heard before that blogs are dead. Are they? The truth is, you don’t need one. You can publish on Medium, on LinkedIn, on FlipBoard, and on and on a host of other platforms that actually make it easier to notify your readers when new content is available. Facebook and Twitter are more aligned with sharing content from these platforms than from a privately-held blog. Still, there’s value in having all your content in a central hub that you own, even if it’s no longer your primary vehicle for sharing content. That’s my approach, by the way. LinkedIn delivers far more engagement for my posts than my blog does, but I continue to post to my blog, just in case (a) people discover it via search and (b) just in case LinkedIn decides to change or eliminate its publishing functionality. Had the decision at The Wall Street Journal been mine, I would have been inclined to change the blog to a repository of great relevant content published elsewere rather than scrap it altogether. Read more

Snapchat is becoming another social network—Snapchat has always touted itself as the anti-social network. It was designed for private sharing, not the public blasts that characterize content shared on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Snapchat Stories was the first opportunity users had to share content publicly. But all that seems to be going out the window with the latest updates. (The ability to share links is a big deal, especially for marketers and advertisers.) On Wednesday, the company introduced that anyone can share links on any snap they share, whether it’s with friends or on their Story. Snapchat had recently introduced Snap Maps, which lets any of your friends know where you are. The Takeaway: Snapchat’s growth has stalled, its shares are hovering around their IPO price, and Story users are exiting for Instagram. Snapchat has been struggling to cope with Instagram and other services copying its features, but competing head-to-head with the big social networks could be even more challenging. If the audience you’re trying to reach are on Snapchat, it remains a useful channel. But keep a close eye on it and be ready to shift should more users flee, which could happen when they realize it’s no longer focused on creating a great experience for private sharing. Read more

Communications technology requires the right people—One of the promises of communications-focused technology is the ability to match a message to the right people by using data that helps identify the customer’s interests and likelihood to buy. Having the technology to make these content-prospect matches is just part of the equation, though. “You need people to operate the technology and make informed decisions,” writes MarTech Today columnist Jose Cerbian, who has run large services businesses. The value of all this great technology doesn’t come from simply implementing it; “it comes from your ability to use the technology to its fullest.” We need to be thoughtful about whom we hire, Cerbian says; they have to have ‘the aptitude and attitude to do the work we do now and that we need to do in the future.” The takeaway: For several years, I have been arguing that hiring communication staff with requirements like “strong social media skills” isn’t adequate. You need to know the exact competencies of your staff, how they align with your strategy, and what competencies are missing. I have an enlightened self-interest in sharing this column. My colleagues Richard Binhammer, Mark Dollins, and I have developed an audit to assess the digital competencies of your staff. I can send you more information. Whether you use our service or take some other approach, though, you’ll find yourself in distress as communication and marketing technology becomes more central to our work while your staff continues to operate without the basic knowledge and skills they need to apply that technology. Read more

Can we keep up with invisible technology?—The screenless world is the theme of a talk I’m giving at a Ragan conference later this month, so I was more than a little intrigued by this USA Today piece about new technologies that will be nearly invisible to users. AI, voice, and gesture-driven computing are among the big advances that aren’t as visible as smartphones, MP3 players, tablets, and other innovations that you could see and hold. Penned by the president and chief analyst at TECHAnalysis Research, the column suggests the invisibility of these technologies will make them harder to adopt. “At the end of the day, it’s a question of trust,” he writes. “Once people come to trust a technology, they’re much more likely to use it. But when much of that technology is essentially invisible, it’s going to be a lot harder to earn that trust.” You trust a smartphone because you can see the benefits it delivers. The AI that translates your verbal request delivered to an Amazon Echo? That’s something else altogether. The takeaway: Many of the skills brands have produced for the Alexa series of smart speakers are essentially useless, nothing a consumer would want. Building trust requires delivering tangible value. These categories will be huge, even if the adoption takes longer. You are better off crafting uses for these technologies now that help customers (and others) see that what they get from using the technology is worth what they give up (in most cases, information about themselves). Read more


Users accuse Photobucket of blackmail—Pictures shared on Photobucket appear in a lot of third-party sites, like Etsy and eBay. Users listing products simply share the image they have uploaded to their Photobucket account. The company recently introduced a $399 annual fee for users who want to embed images on third-party sites, leading users to claim they are being blackmailed, since Photobucket didn’t make the update to its terms of service clear. In the meantime, all those images embedded since the site launched in 2003 are dishing up error messages. Read more

Scott launches sonic branding company—David Meerman Scott, author of a series of PR-focused books under the “New Rules” label, has started Signature Tones, a sonic branding agency designed to help companies create (and own the rights to) sounds that align with their brand attributes. Scott points to the Skype ringtone, the Apple startup chime, the NBC logo, and Intel Inside’s “Leap Ahead” sounds that consumers associate instantly with the brand. Read more

Lawsuit over Facebook tracking offline users tossed—Facebook users brought a lawsuit against the social network over the company’s tracking them after they have logged off. The judge said users have no expectation of privacy, nor has the practice hurt them economically. He also said it was the plaintiff’s responsibility to keep their browsing history private by using Facebook’s opt-out tools. Read more

Doctors send patient scans to each other using Snapchat—A panel of health and tech experts has found that clinicians are using camera apps, like Snapchat, to record details of patient information despite the insecurity of these platforms. Doctors even send patient scans to one another. These healthcare professionals are looking for solutions to inadequacies in the current systems, but the concerns are real: These channels are insecure, risky, and non-auditable. Read more

You can now reply with videos and photos on Instagram—Instagram users are no longer limited to text to reply to photos; now they can use videos and photos, which should produce greater interaction between users and keep them using the app for longer stretches of time. Read more

SoundCloud cutting staff—Streaming service SoundCloud is struggling to compete with rivals like Spotify and Apple Music. In response, the company is cutting 40% of its staff. A lot of podcasts are delivered via SoundCloud, but if its efforts to reach profitability fail, those podcasters will need to find a new platform. Read more

Supreme Court case has implications for marketers—The case, which will be heard in October, addresses law enforcement’s ability to get location data about suspects through cellphone tower records. “It could have implications for location data used by advertisers and marketers to segment and target audiences for ad campaigns, as well as to gather consumer insights,” according to MarTech. The government case argues that when you use a smartphone, you are consenting to having your cellphone data used by the provider, which can in turn sell it or give it away. If the plaintiff wins, “Third-party doctrine will no longer apply to the location data coming through cellphone networks, and that’s extraordinary,” according to Pam Dixon, founder and executive director of World Privacy Forum. Read more

RIP Jawbone—It was once valued at $3 billion, but Jawbone is now liquidating its assets and closing up shop. The co-founder and CEO is now focused on health-related hardware and software services. The company, best known for its Bluetooth hardware, including speakers and headsets, has been experiencing financial turmoil over the last year. Read more

Twitter’s bot problem could drive brands away—One company thought it had cracked the Twitter code, promoting content and suddenly getting a lot of engagement. At least 10 to 20% of that activity came from bots. Bots continue to be a concern for brands. In addition to being counted into metrics brands use to assess Twitter’s effectiveness, they wind up wasting time and money to communicate with them, follow them, and retweet relevant content. Worst, they wind up spending money when they pay for fake engagements. Read more

Public Relations Journal rises from the ashes—PRSA and the Institute for Public Relations are partnering to resurrect the Public Relations Journal, which will be a free-web-based, open-access, peer-reviewed quarterly academic journal featuring original research articles, commentaries, research-in-briefs, and case studies. The journal will reside on the IPR website. Read more


Communicators are slow to adopt new technologies—Pardon me for this blinding flash of the obvious. I’ve been saying this for years. At least now there’s data to back it up. A survey conducted by PRSA and APPrise Mobile finds companies are relying on older, more established technologies to communicate internally despite having embraced social media for external audiences. Email remains the primary channel for both internal and external audiences, messaging apps are making slow gains internally, and mobile devices haven’t yet replaced computers (62% of survey respondents have a hard time getting on to the intranet via a mobile device). Read more

Half of American workers are ready to quit—A record 47% of the American workforce says it’s a good time to find a new job; 51% are looking or watching for openings. Employees lack enthusiasm for their current jobs, with only one-third engaged in their work and workplace. About 20% blame their managers for failing to motivate them. Workers say their companies aren’t giving them good reasons to stay. Culture is another reason employees are looking for new work. Read more

Mobile and Wearables

Android phone to offer first glasses-free holographic function—The Hydrogen phone from RED, a company that makes professional digital cameras used in movie production, is being touted as “the world’s first holographic media machine,” with no special glasses required. The Hydrogen, which uses the Android operation system, will switch seamlessly between traditional 2D content, 3D content, and interactive games. Read more

Facebook working on group video app—If you’re familiar with Houseparty, the app introduced by Ben Rubin after Meerkat failed, then you have an idea of what Facebook is cooking up. Tentatively called Bonfire, the app is slated for a fall release. Facebook employees recently saw a demo. The app would notify your friends when you have the app open, inviting them to join you in a shared virtual video get-together. Read more

Brands are embracing messaging apps—With consumers downloading fewer apps than ever, brands are looking to the growing popularity of messaging apps to reach them. The big messaging apps have introduced new ways to distribute content, energizing brands to leverage the tools, which can “shorten the funnel” from advertising to sale. According to this Adweek piece, “Brands should work to create a symbiotic relationship with messaging apps, embracing the stronghold these apps have on consumers while realizing the brand limitations. You don’t want to annoy your customers, but instead, you want to become a more organic part of their life.” Read more

Influencer Marketing

Instagram shutting down fake influencers—Instagram has shut down a variety of sites that violate its Community Guidelines and Terms of Use. These include apps like Instagress, InstaPlus, and PowerBoost. “Wannabe influencers use these types of services to automate thousands of…generic comments and likes. All they need to do is pay for the number of likes and comments they want, and a bot takes care of the rest,” according to The Next Web. The company is also removing pictures with spammy hashtags so they are not visible in search or the Explore tab. Read more

Influencers on the outs at Snapchat—Social media influencers are leaving Snapchat, largely due to Snapchat’s overt rejection of influencers as an important audience. When one influencer who started her career on Snapchat told an executive the platform is hard to work with and left her feeling neglected, the executive replied, “Snapchat is an app for friends, not creators.” Snapchat’s neglect of influencers was a hot topic at this year’s VidCon, a conference for content creators. Read more

External links gives Snapchat an influencer edge—While influencers are dissatisfied with Snapchat, a recent update gives the app an edge over Instagram, which allows only verified users to link to content off of Instagram. The new feature, Paperclip, lets users add links to video. When you see the link, just swipe up to visit the external site. According to one marketer, Paperclip “has huge implications for creators and influencers on the platform.” One influencer survey found Snapchat was the social network they’d most likely have a presence on but not be active; it would also be their first choice of a network to drop. Paperclip could appease some of those influencers. Read more


YouTube will pay you $3 if your ad appears alongside extremist content—Advertisers are skittish about YouTube because of the potential that their ads will appear alongside objectionable content. The Financial Times found that YouTube had approached at least three agencies with the offer of “a couple of dollars” as compensation for their ads being compromised. At least one turned YouTube down. Read more

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

9% of homes with broadband plan to buy a VR headset—That’s up from 5% a year ago. Samsung’s Gear VR leads the VR market, but familiarity remains low, with only 23% of consumers familiar with VR “and even fewer with specific VR headsets.” Fewer than 13% of consumers have given VR a try. By the end of this year, 24 million households globally will own at least on VR device; that will rise to 77 million by 2021. Even those who want try VR, more than half can’t imagine the experience worth the cost of a headset. Read more

Oculus closes Story Studio—Oculus’s shutting down its filmmaking division, Story Studio, came as a surprise. Proclaimed “the Pixar of Virtual Reality,” the studio’s closing could be construed as a message that VR filmmaking isn’t a valid business model. At the very least, filmmakers need to wrap their heads around the vast differences between VR and traditional filmmaking. Read more

University sends AR acceptance letters—In a remarkably cool move, Northwestern Polytechnical University in China is sending letters of acceptance to students that includes AR. Students scan the code on the letter using WeChat, which downloads the university’s AR app, which allows students to see a virtual model of the campus, information about its history, and more information about the academic fields for which it is known. Any ideas for your own communications bubbling up as you read this? Read more

The Values-Driven Marketplace

Don’t co-opt the LBGT movement to sell stuff—LGBT people value authenticity more than anything else, making it easy for them to “see through brands who just want to appear to be gay-friendly in order to reap the economic benefits.” Brands seeking to reach out to the community need to “be advocates…contributing to change in parts of the world where rights are lagging behind,” such as Heineken, which is having difficult conversations with its recent “Worlds Apart” spot. “You should do it because you really believe in it as a brand, and, as a brand, you have some commitment to try and make a difference,” according to Absolut’s global communications director. Read more

People make purchase decisions based on politics—If you think the political landscape will deteriorate in six months, you’re 79.5% less likely to buy a big-ticket item than someone else who thinks things will improve. That’s the finding of a survey that determined people’s view of the future political environment will influence their likelihood to spend money on an expensive purchase. Read more

Investors back companies with strong CSR metrics—Ninety-eight percent of institutional investors say a company with strong CSR metrics—particularly around environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives—are attractive investments. Read more

Artificial Intelligence and Chatbots

Adobe to track digital assistants—Adobe has introduced new features that will help companies track how people are using voice apps on devices like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home. The features “can capture and analyze voice data for all major platforms including Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana and Samsung Bixby,” the company statement said. Read more

Samsung plans to put Bixby in a speaker—Bixby, the smart audio assistant from Samsung, will be incorporated into a smart speaker to compete with the Amazon Echo and Google Home devices. The product is currently codenamed Vega. Don’t expect to see a Samsung smart speaker soon, though. Right now, Bixby doesn’t support English. Read more

Alexa has more than 15,000 skills—Amazon’s Alexa platform passed the 15,000 skills milestone. It was only five months ago that Alexa reached 10,000 skills. Google Home, on the other hand, has just 378 voice apps. Twenty percent of Alexa’s U.S.-based skills are daily news broadcasts produced by publishers, known as Flash Briefings. Games and education/reference are the other top skills categories. Read more

Enterprises and B2B companies embracing chatbots—Enterprise chatbots, employed internally, are changing the way work gets done. An internal chatbot can provide “insight into valuable data that tells you more about your audiences, allowing you to better target them.” They also let departments within a company automate some activities and act as virtual assistants to help with day-to-day tasks. For example, “some companies have implemented HR and finance-specific chatbots that can answer questions about payroll, holiday leave, unplanned sick leave, employee benefits, and business programs.” For B2B organizations, chatbots can automate interactions with vendors and suppliers. Read more

Marketers interested in AI, but not right now—A Salesforce survey of marketing leaders from around the world found expectations that improvements in efficiency and advancements in personalization are about five years off. More than 60% of marketers plan to use AI to “create dynamic landing pages and websites;” about the same number think AI will improve programmatic advertising and media buying. Read more

This week’s Wrap image is courtesy of Mitchell Haindfield’s Flickr account.

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