Friday Wrap #204: VW rebounds, Serial is back, NYT makes Snapchat move, blowback for Starbucks

Posted on February 3, 2017 4:04 pm by | Chatbots | Virtual and Augmented Reality | Content | Instagram | Visual Communication | Audio | Brands | Business | Facebook | Instant Messaging | Marketing | Measurement | Media | Mobile | Podcasting | PR | Publishing | Social Media | Transparency | Trust | Twitter

Friday Wrap #204I 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.


Volkswagen’s crisis response apparently paid off—Volkswagen has ousted Toyota as the world’s top carmaker. That’s remarkable, given that it wasn’t all that long ago some were predicting it wouldn’t even survive its emissions scandal. Despite some serious missteps at first, the company employed a “ruthlessly efficient PR strategy” to repair the brand image worldwide. Some reports also attribute VW’s repaired image to the simple fact that fading media coverage led to less consideration of the scandal. The takeaway: The truth probably lies somewhere in between, but you can expect to read case studies soon about how VW was able to pull a JetBlue-like turnaround based on a smart crisis communication program. Read more

You’ll be able to binge-listen to season 3 of Serial—Serial is returning to its roots for season 3—a true crime story—and unlike the previous two seasons, every episode of the season will be available rather than making you wait a week for each new installment. The season, titled “S-Town,” debuts in March and focuses on the son of a wealthy Alabama family who reportedly bragged he had gotten away with murder. The takeaway: For limited podcast series like Serial, we should see more of a Netflix approach with all episodes available at the same time for bingeing. There’s no reason people shouldn’t flock to all-at-once episodes of podcasts the way they do the full season of “House of Cards” or “Orange is the New Black.” Read more

Reddit bans white nationalist subreddits—Reddit has banned two of the more prominent white nationalist subreddits—r/altright and r/alternativeright—over doxxing, the practice of sharing personal information of people (home address and phone number, for instance) online without their authorization, usually so others can harass them. The takeaway: Offenses must be pretty egregious for Reddit, a bastion of free speech, to ban a group. Consider it fair warning to other groups that engage in unacceptable behavior. It’s also a reminder to be sure to familiarize yourself with the terms of service of any network you use. Read more

Lego launches a safe social network for kids—Lego Life is an app for iOS and Android for kids under 13 to share photos of their Lego projects, watch animated videos, and compete in building challenges. To keep the network safe, Lego is building anti-harassment tools into the platform. No real-life names are permitted, only photos with Lego-related content is allowed (no people can appear in the pics), comments are permissible only via emoji, and parents must confirm their children’s accounts. Human moderators approve every post. The takeaway: Ultimately, the goal of Lego Life is to get kids to put the phone down and go build, but it sounds like a lot of thought went into the network to make it nothing but a positive experience. Read more

You’ll soon be able to watch Facebook videos on your TV—Facebook is developing an app for TV set-top boxes like the Roku and the poorly performing Apple TV designed for watching videos on the big screen. The move is consistent with its new focus on longer-form video and the popularity of Facebook Live. The takeaway: The move also reinforces the idea that Facebook is aiming to become a video-first company. Read more

New York Times publishing to Snapchat Discover—The Gray Lady is looking for a younger audience. Snapchat is most popular with the under-35 set that prefers to get its news in a more visual format via mobile devices. The takeaway: The Times is a great example of an organization adapting to changes in channels and formats by repurposing its content in order to attract new customers. Even the crossword puzzle is going to get a Snapchat makeover. It’s an example a lot of businesses should follow. Read more

Twitter users didn’t take to Moments—Once touted as a “bold new experience,” Moments is being demoted in the Twitter app to the bottom of a new “Explore” tab after the feature failed to attract much user interest. The takeaway: I’m still a fan of Twitter and a user for a variety of purposes, but there’s no doubting the trouble the company is in. They have to find a compelling reason for new users to join or things will only get worse. And I’m coming up dry on what that reason might be. Read more

Instagram may allow multiple-photo sharing—Instagram is testing the ability to let you post multiple images at the same time. The takeaway: A lot of people have wanted this ability for some time. What we don’t yet know is how it will be implemented. What we do know is that your photos will appear in a carousel not unlike those advertisers have been able to use. Read more

Facebook introduces a marketing mix modeling portal—Among other announcements Facebook made about its measurement partnership program came the launch of a portal designed to let marketers compare Facebook ad performance with other platforms, including print and TV. The takeaway: The more Facebook can do to help validate the dollars marketers spend there, the better. Now they just have to avoid any revelations that the data wasn’t accurate. Read more

Blowback for Starbucks over refugee hiring announcement—CEO Howard Schultz announced that Starbucks would hire 10,000 refugees to work in its shops in the U.S. and around the world. I thought that was awesome. Not everyone agreed. Particularly among Trump supporters, there were calls for boycotts and scathing criticism. The takeaway: I disagree with the article’s conclusion that businesses need to stay away from divisive political opinions. How to express them,, however, requires more planning and nuance. Read more

Facebook creating animated selfie masks for brands—Aimed at Hollywood advertising for new movies, Facebook is developing animated masks users will be able to apply to the selfies they take. The takeaway: With this kind of tech already available on Snapchat and Instagram, and its popularity rising, Facebook would be nuts to not try to monetize it, especially as they wage their ongoing war with Snapchat. Read more


CEOs need to weigh the pros and cons of CEO activism—Research into the effects of CEO activism indicate that there are both risks and reward. One study from Duke University and Harvard Business School found that purchase intent “rose or fell based on whether consumers agreed with (Tim Cook’s position on a proposed Indiana law that would have discriminated against the LGBT community). A Weber Shandwick/KRC study found consumers are more inclined to support a CEO’s activism when the issues are in synch with the company’s business. “Millennials are more supportive of activist CEOs than other generations,” the report concludes, also noting that a lot of people think CEOs taking positions just want media attention. Despite swift opposition of President Trump’s travel ban from the tech industry, other CEOs have hesitated because a lot of Americans share his views on immigration, the emotion wrapped up in the issue could cause people to act rashly, and because they fear Trump tweeting about them in retribution. The takeaway: CEOs need to pick their fights, but a growing collection of data indicates companies are no longer able to stay in the shadows when it comes to staking out positions on social issues, especially when they align with the company’s business. Read more

Takeaways from the #DeleteUber cycle—When Lyft announced a $1 million contribution to the ACLU in response to President Trump’s immigration ban, outrage was aimed at Uber which not only limited its response to its own drivers (with CEO Travis Kalanick originally saying he would remain on Trump’s council of business advisors), but also appeared to take advantage of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance by picking up fares at John F. Kennedy International Airport during the Alliance’s one-hour suspension of service. The outrage grew into a #DeleteUber hashtag that went viral. The key learning from the experience, as the outrage faded after a few days, is that “brands (finding) themselves caught in the social media crossfire would do well to exercise restraint.” The takeaway: As Peter Shankman said after the Boston Marathon bombing, no business ever went broke because it shut up for 24 hours. Read more

Criminals increasingly use Facebook Live to broadcast their crimes—It reminds me of a column I used to read in a newspaper called “Stupid Criminal Tricks,” but it’s increasingly common for criminals to proudly broadcast their crimes on Facebook Live. It’s more than stupidity, though. From common criminals to terrorists, “calculated use of the media can ensure that ‘bragging’ or ‘performance’ crimes make maximum impact.” The takeaway: Your corporate broadcast uses the same channel as rapists and murderers. But I wouldn’t worry about anybody conflating your Facebook Live stream with one broadcasting a heinous act. The audiences are different and no comparisons will be drawn…unless your stream is really perverse. Read more

Multinationals are in trouble—The big multinational firms are facing a significant shakeup. Their profits are down 25% in the last five years. The employ only 1 out of every 50 of the world’s workers. Political upheaval is going to make things worse. Some will have to shrink. Some will “localize their supply chains, production, jobs and tax into regional or national units.” The takeaway: If you communicate on behalf of a multinational, you can expect to be addressing the actions your company takes in your messaging. If you work in employee communications, it’s a good idea to start explaining these issues to workers now, as well as steps your organization is taking to ensure future profitability (and job security). Read more

Employees and job-seekers might want to tone down their social media posts—Recruiters looking at the social media posts of candidates may move on to other candidates when they see angry or hyperbolic posts, mainly because they think that kind of behavior will surface in the workplace. The same is true inside the organization, where employees could be taken off teams or removed from accounts based on the same worry. The takeaway: As the article notes, “If you’re going to be a professional, if you’re going to be representing your company, or if you’re going to be looking for or trying to retain a job, you have to watch what you say. You just do.” I could probably take that advice myself. Read more

Too much transparency can come back to bite you—The dark side of transparency rears its ugly head when companies overshare rather than taking a strategic approach, according to a McKinsey report. “Executives may therefore need to become smarter about when to open up and when to withhold information,” the authors assert. They explore day-to-day business activities, employee efforts and rewards, and creative work. The takeaway: A lot of problems could have been avoided just by reading Don Tapscott’s book on transparency, in which he defines it as the practice of making the information and resources available that people need to make informed decisions (the definition I used in my book, “Tactical Transparency”). Still, the insights from this report are worth your time. Read more


More data reinforces print’s resilience—A new study found readers use print for 88.5% of the time they spend with 11 U.K. national newspaper brands. Less than 8% is spent on mobile and only 4% on PCs. The report reinforces another study that criticized publishers for sinking most of their money into online channels when “real profits remain in the facing print product.” A Deloitte study also found print is the source of 88% of the industry’s revenues, a nice match to the amount of time spent reading print. The takeaway: This is another point I tend to harp on, but print is still a completely viable channel as long as your decision to use it is strategic. The rise of digital media does not automatically mean nobody ever wants to hold a printed document in their hands. Keep in mind that the publishing industry thought ebooks would account for 50% of sales but they topped out at only 20%. Read more

Gen X more addicted to social media than Millennials—A new report from Nielsen finds American Millennials are less obsessed with social media than their Gen X counterparts. Adults 35 to 49 spend nearly 7 hours weekly on social media while Millennials engage in that content about 40 minutes less. The takeaway: This doesn’t mean social media isn’t an avenue for reaching Millennials, only that it’s more second-nature to Gen-Xers, who “were at the top of (their) media consumption” at the time social media appeared, making it second-nature. Besides, 6 hours and 20 minutes per week is a lot, and may not even include time spent on messaging apps like WhatsApp and Kik. Read more

These are the words that make you sound credible on Twitter—Analysis of 66 million tweets related to nearly 1,400 actual events led researchers to “identify the words and phrases that lend credibility to Twitter posts about pertaining to specific events—even while they’re on-going.” Among the credible words and phrases are “booster words” like undeniable and “positive emotion terms” like eager and terrific. The takeaway: Use (but don’t overuse) this knowledge to your advantage. Every little bit helps in the war for credibility. Read more

How to measure influencer marketing—Measuring the impact of influencer marketing should become a priority, given the increase in its use and corresponding costs. It begins, according to the author of an eMarketer report, with evaluating the influencers to work with. Other metrics include the connection between an influencer’s audience and your target audience and “gauging the audience’s receptivity to branded content.” Once a campaign is active, influencer impact should be measured similar to metrics used to gauge the impact of paid media. The takeaway: There are good reasons influencer marketing is on the rise, with data confirming the public finds them more credible than paid endorsers or internal sources. Consequently, it is important to establish meaningful metrics. Read more

Artificial Intelligence and Chatbots

Amazon’s new Alexa hub helps build your voice-tech skills—Remember when HTML required you to learn code rather than buy software like FrontPage and DreamWeaver? We’re at that stage now with voice-tech, but signs are appearing that that could change. Amazon has launched an online hub to help marketers learn to create skills for devices using the company’s Alexa AI assistant. The takeaway: I’m diving in. Meet you there? Read more

Alexa can answer questions about your cloud platform—Enterprise cloud management platform Tintri has demonstrated the use of Amazon’s Alexa AI to trigger system management ops. In a YouTube video the company has posted, a staffer tells Alexa to update system status, provision three VMs, then report on the status of an array. Ask Alexa what Tinrti can do (assuming you’ve activated the skill) and she’ll tell you she can provision VMs, take snapshots, apply QoS, add production to VMs, and provide real-time stats, among other things. The takeaway: While the technical jargon goes right over my head, I get the main idea: We’ll soon be able to ask the computer to do what we want it to—and get a verbal response—rather than type it and get a visual response (although at times, we’ll want Alexa to produce a visual display). Thus, the message you created to appear on a screen will need to be work in the real of voice communication, too. Read more

AI goes mobile—Mobile will be greatly impacted by AI. Personal digital assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa, and Cortana are already at our fingertips, but they are poised to do more than just assist. By the end of 2018, they will recognize you by your face and voice across multiple channels, “and by 2020 smart agents will facilitate 40% of mobile interactions.” What’s more, they will “monitor user content and behavior in conjunction with cloud-hosted neural networks to build and maintain data models from which the technology will draw inferences about people, content, and contexts.” The takeaway: In other words, much of the content and messaging we do now through other channels will shift to mobile AI assistants. I apologize for sounding like a broken record, but communicators need to figure out this interface with as much alacrity as we did the web and social media. Read more

Twitter chatbot answers Black History Month questions—Twitter introduced a chatbot with which users can interact via Direct Message. The bot, launched as part of February’s Black History Month, lets you send a hashtag to get information about lesser-known black history, learn about community events in major cities, and more. Opening any DM conversation gives you the choice of four options, each of which initiates a conversation with you. The takeaway: It’s not the most sophisticated chatbot but, as the article notes, “it’s enough to get you thinking about the cause, which is what really matters.” DM to @Blackbirds to get started. Read more

Chatbots gain favor in the hotel marketplace—More than 90% of potential hotel customers responding to a study in late 2016 said they are enthusiastic about texting interfaces, noting that responding to hotels by text message would be “very” or “somewhat” useful. Texting means they don’t have to call the front desk and they can quickly confirm reservation details. A November 2016 study found travelers would like to get accommodation and travel destination recommendations from chatbots. The takeaway: Hotels aren’t the only industry finding customer enthusiasm about text messaging and chatbots. The more we interact with them, the more we will see the benefit and want more. Read more

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

VR comes to (parts of) the Super Bowl—Fox Sports and LiveLike have announced they will stream near-real-time Super Bowl highlights via the Fox Sports VR app for Android and iOS, as well as the Samsung Gear VR. Don’t expect to be on the field, though. You’ll actually find yourself in a “virtual suite,” watching clips on a big-screen TV or via wide-angle video. There will be a 360-degree video, but only on your phone; it won’t display in your VR headset. The takeaway: It’s a start. You probably will be able to view the action immersively by next year’s big game. Read more

...not to mention the Puppy Bowl—This year’s Puppy Bowl—the alternate viewing opportunity from Animal Planet and Pedigree—will be broadcast in Virtual Reality for a (wait for it) “pup’s-eye view” of the action. The takeaway: Genius. People who had never seen the value of VR will be rushing to make sure they have compatible headsets so they can see what Buttons sees. Read more

Gap set to launch an AR dressing room app—Well, virtual dressing rooms, anyway. An app built with Google and an AR startup uses AR to let shoppers try on clothes from anywhere. Add height and weight, and DressingRoom displays a 3D model to show you how various Gap fashions will fit. Then you’ll be able to purchase the ones you like directly from the app. The takeaway: This was inevitable. There was even a PC-based version of this a few years ago (though I can’t recall who was behind it). Soon you’ll be able to stand in front of an AR-enabled mirror and see the clothes on your own reflection. Read more

Snap lenses display AR billboards on any surface—Snap Inc. is developing an advanced version of its filters and world lenses that will overlay images and ads on just about any real-world object. The AR technology would be able to identify any object and wrap it in an AR layer. The takeaway: While this will be a novelty for a while, it’ll soon become a common activity. Imagine holding your phone up to a product on a shelf and being able to get safety information or watch a video about it. Eventually, we’ll use glasses instead of phones. The communication and marketing opportunities will be endless. Read more

VR is a perfect match for the travel industry—Throughout the travel industry, more and more VR experiences are showing up, and VR companies report they are getting more work from travel companies. One source counted three travel-related VR opportunities: inspirational shopping, product training, and advertising. The takeaway: Immersing a prospective customer in a remote location could be all it takes to push them over the edge and get them to book a flight and hotel, even moreso than looking at pictures. One expert quoted in the article calls VR the travel industry’s next biggest sales tool, and I suspect that’s right. Read more


An AI glossary—The tools communicators use will increasingly be infused with Artificial Intelligence, so now is the time to get up to speed on AI jargon. Fortunately, HubSpot has created a glossary with simple explanations of terms like “cognitive science,” “computer vision,” and “machine learning.” Read more

This week’s wrap image—wrapping up a kite-string—comes courtesy of Britt Selvitelle’s Flickr account.

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