Friday Wrap #213: United fallout, BK audio experiment, social CEOs, audio branding, VR joy

Posted on April 14, 2017 1:32 pm by | Chatbots | Virtual and Augmented Reality | Content | Audio | Brands | Business | Crisis Communication | Facebook | Marketing | Media | Mobile | PR | Research | Social Media | Twitter

Friday Wrap #213I 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.


SEC goes after fake news on financial sites—Articles that promote companies on financial websites for which the writers were paid by the companies they touted are the focus on a crackdown by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Reuters reports that 27 people and organizations, including a movie star, have been charged with “misleading investors into believing they were reading ‘independent unbiased analyses.’” The takeaway: The assault on fake news is coming from multiple angles. The message is clear: Do not engage in these practices. Read more

Huffington Post adds new niche Facebook-only communities—While a lot of companies consider consolidating their Facebook properties, The Huffington Post is reaching out to new audiences by creating Facebook-only content based on the type of people they want to attract. In December, the media company launched just such a page for introverts, sharing only content from Tumblr and Reddit. That tactic grew the follower count to 20,000 in 30 days; 130,000 people now follow it. That has led to new pages for Millennial Muslims, women who love to travel, and people interested in local politics, repeating the approach of starting conversations before sharing Huffington Post content. The takeaway: It’s about the user, not your brand. If you can create a space for people who share a characteristic or interest and take steps to make it engaging and worthwhile, your brand will benefit and the group will be more receptive to your proprietary content. Read more

Facebook enhances Instant Articles—Organizations that publish using Facebook’s Instant Articles will be pleased to know that their stories can now include call-to-action units that let them sign up for emails or like pages. The takeaway: Instant Articles and the Google-led AMP scheme should both be standard formats for brand content. Facebook’s move makes the fast-opening articles even more appealing. Read more

Page Society recommits to truthfulness—The Arthur W. Page Society issued a statement renewing its members’ pledge to tell the truth. “The truth is not dead, as some fear,” according to the board-approved statement. “It remains, as ever, the foundation of credibility and the lifeblood of trust. On behalf of the members of the Page Society, we reaffirm our deep commitment to ensuring truth in the practice of public communication.” The takeaway: The proliferation of fake news, and the focus on it, were clearly behind the statement, but actions speak louder than words. It just seems woefully defensive to me and unnecessary if its members are behaving in accordance with the society’s expressed values. Read more

Google’s AutoDraw tool is awesome and free—If you’ve ever needed a simple drawing but can’t draw for beans, Google’s AutoDraw is for you. Created as a way to flex Google’s AI muscles, the tool lets you sketch what you want and figures out what it is you’re aiming for, then delivers a range of its own drawings for your to choose from. And you’re free to use the resulting image however you like. The takeaway: In addition to serving a real need, it’s a simple way to see how AI works. Read more

The United Airlines Crisis

Passenger ejection could cause permanent damage—Brand and communication experts believe United Airline’s most recent fiasco could have a negative impact on its reputation and its business in the long run. The takeaway: One analyst, on the other hand, noted that the decline in United’s stock has been consistent with the declines in competitor shares. The argument continues about the long-term impact of crises like this, though even if earnings don’t take too much of a hit, you have to wonder about the impact on recruiting, employee morale, and other parts of the business. And don’t forget Wells Fargo, which is definitely suffering long-term consequences for its behavior. Read more

User-generated content aimed at United is as harsh as you would expect—A reality that didn’t exist before social media is now something brands can expect when they find themselves in crisis mode: savage user-generated content. On social media—and Twitter in particular—people have shared new slogans for United Airlines like, “You carry on, we carry off” and “Normal flights have cabin crews, we have bouncers.” Graphics featuring satiric slogans along with United’s logo are appearing, too, along with competitor logos with United-focused slogans and other graphics (like a seating chart of a United aircraft featuring first class, economy class, and Fight Club). The takeaway: The spread of clever and brutal user-generated content exacerbates and extends the life of a crisis. It also creates awareness of the crisis among audiences who may not be aware of the story. United’s big communication mistake was its slow response, dragging the story out. Read more

Rival airlines revel in United’s crisis—Royal Jordanian, Qatar Airways, and Emirates were among airlines that took to social media to troll United Airlines in the wake of its latest reputation-crushing crisis. The takeaway: Being competitive is fine but most people don’t appreciate one company kicking another while it’s down, even when they’re doing some serious kicking of their own. This isn’t a practice I recommend. See the next item, which lends support to my position. Read more

Qatar Airways jumps the shark with its United trolling—So says A-list tech reporter Lance Ulanoff, who thought Qatar Airways went too far with an app update. When you see the app ready for installation in your list of available updates, it notes the update “Doesn’t support drag and drop. We take care of our customers as we unite them with their destination.” The update text also noted the company would announce “something big” on April 24. Then the airline tweeted out the image, saying “We’re united in our goal to always accommodate our passengers, even with our app updates.” Ulanoff’s reaction: “Seriously? Trolling United and self-promotion all in one icky tweet?” the takeaway: Like I said… Read more

PRWeek gets caught up in United Airlines crisis—It’s not often a trade publication finds itself mired in someone else’s crisis, but PRWeek had to take steps to address criticism and sarcasm when the United story about a passenger dragged off a plane to make room for United employees noted that tone-deaf CEO Oscar Munoz has just last month been named the magazine’s U.S. Communicator of the Year. In an article about United’s self-inflicted nightmare, the magazine wrote, “It’s fair to say that if PRWeek was choosing its Communicator of the Year now, we would not be awarding it to Oscar Munoz.” The takeaway: Munoz isn’t the first exec to be honored by an organization only to be disgraced or discredited. He won’t be the last. Still, PRWeek needs to make changes to its selection criteria in order to rebuild the award’s credibility. Read more

That Burger King Ad

Commercial hijacks Google Hope—Google Home, the smart speaker that uses Google Assistant, started responding to a clever TV ad from Burger King. The 15-second ad features an actor portraying a BK server who notes that 15 seconds isn’t enough time to explain all the good stuff in a Whopper. He then says, “Okay, Google, what is the Whopper burger?” The trigger phrase, “Okay, Google,” prompts the Google Home (as well as Android devices using Google Assistant) to read a description of the burger’s ingredients. The ad produced a ton of buzz and even more when (as you’ll read in the next item), Google issued a server-side update to keep Assistant from responding to the commercial The takeaway: The ad is fiendishly clever, but I’m praying marketers everywhere don’t try to emulate it, which would frustrate most users. It could also represent a lift for Amazon’s Alexa, which allows users to choose from a variety of trigger words, a disincentive to trying to get responses from Alexa. Read more

Google disables response to ad, BK tweaks ad to re-enable it—Burger King’s buzz-generating stunt didn’t thrill the folks at Google, who blocked Google Home from responding to the ad. It didn’t take long for BK to release a tweaked version of the ad that’s just different enough to get around the block and get Google Home to once again describe the fresh ingredients in a Whopper—a move that generated even more buzz. BK has also created three additional versions. The takeaway: By the time you read this, Google may have disabled responsiveness for the new ads and BK may have retaliated yet again. While I don’t know how wise it is to escalate a battle with Google, BK certainly is demonstrating why it was the Cannes Lions 2017 Marketer of the Year. Read more

The Wikipedia problem with Burger King’s commercial—The listing of ingredients Google Assistant read in response to the commercial’s query came from a listing on Wikipedia. That led some people to edit the Wikipedia entry so the Google Assistant would read far less flattering information. One added that it’s “the worst hamburger product.” Another added cyanide to the list of ingredients. The takeaway: The first problem is that Burger King’s marketing team crafted the Wikipedia content to say what they wanted it to say, which is a violation of Wikipedia’s rules. The team then wasn’t savvy enough to know the entry would be sabotaged. Read more


Not everyone hated that Pepsi ad—It generated a flood of condemnation in social channels and provoked an apology from Pepsi, but a plurality of people actually liked the Kendall Jenner ad. According to a survey, 44% of people had a more favorable view of Pepsi after watching the commercial, while only 25% had a less favorable view. Among those who liked it were Latinos (75%) and African-Americans (51%). The lift for Pepsi didn’t help Jenner, though, with only 28% of people watching the ad saying they saw the star of the ad more favorably. The takeaway: I have been arguing for years that companies shouldn’t necessarily jerk their knee in response to social media reactions. Yes, Pepsi needed to address the legitimate criticisms, but assuming every consumer felt the same way ignores the plurality that liked it. Read more

Twitter is a downer—We all know Twitter is a forum for discussion of the issues of the day. But did you know that 88% of all tweets contain negative words or have negative tones? The takeaway: The report that produced this data also suggests that the tone on twitter could just reflect increasing pessimism among its users. Twitter remains a cultural touchstone and an important channel for communications when used well. And you may get some attention by standing out with optimistic messages. Read more

Social commerce is finally ready for prime-time—A survey 25% of consumers use social media to find product information and 50% say their purchase decisions are influenced by social media. Sixty-two percent have shared information about products and services on social sites. Fifty-five percent of respondents who have shopped using a chatbot would do it again and 39% of those who haven’t are considering it. The takeaway: The convergence of commerce, social media, and chatbots is continuing apace. Your communication planning needs to factor this convergence into the planning process. Read more


Crises lead brands to prepare for social media backlash—The Pepsi and United crises have been the latest in a string of wake-up calls for a lot of companies that have taken steps to better monitor and prepare to respond to social media. That includes faster responses, a recognition that consumer outrage intensified when Pepsi and United took too long to apologize. The takeaway: I still hear from people who tell me their leaders don’t take social media seriously. You have to wonder if they read the news. Read more

CEO takes action based on 5-year-old’s complaint—A 5-year-old girl wrote a letter to The Gap asking for greater variety its girls fashion line (more than “just pink and princesses and stuff like that”). The company’s reply came straight from CEO Jeff Kirwan, who said he had talked to Gap’s designers and the company had plans to do better. He also sent her some tees. And he got some really great press. The takeaway: CEOs responding to customer letters—especially kids’ letters—is getting more and more common (though still uncommon enough to produce headlines). It’s a sign that some companies are taking seriously the notion that we have entered the era of “The Social CEO.” Read more

Emoji convey emotion written language can’t—That’s the finding of an anthropologist who looked at 300 messages shared with him by students in his linguistics class at the University of Toronto. Dr. Marcel Danesi is among a group of scientists studying emoji and how people use them to interact, including a look at how they spawn misunderstandings rather than clarifying communication. The takeaway: Brands are embracing emoji, which can provide insights into how people are using a company’s services, but caution is advisable. Despite the availability of a lot of emoji, only a few are used routinely, and if they can lead people to think you meant something you didn’t mean, they can be problematic. Emoji aren’t going anywhere, but using them in formal communication should be a strategic undertaking, not a casual tactic. Read more

AI and Chatbots

Influencer marketing comes to conversation marketing—Hearst Corp. has released “O to Go,” an Amazon Alexa skill that lets listeners hear Oprah Winfrey read short excerpts from her book, “What I Know for Sure.” Winfrey has recorded 90 messages so far; users are limited to one per day. It’s an experiment that doesn’t produce any revenue for Hearst, but it could pave the way for communicators to tap influencers in voice platforms. It could also drive sales of Winfrey’s book. The takeaway: Those thinking about how to best tap into the “hearables” trend should focus on tasks that can be managed more quickly with a verbal question and answer than a web lookup. Read more

Amazon releases Echo tech to third-party developers—In a move that is certain to expand the universe of devices that can talk with you, Amazon is making its far-field microphone array and voice processing technology—the tech at the heart of the suite of Amazon Echo products—available for developers to use in their own hardware. The program is by invitation only for original equipment manufacturers. The takeaway: It won’t happen overnight, but we’re moving toward an era where we won’t be looking at screens. The combination of voice tech and Augmented and Mixed Reality will replace them. Read more

BK stunt is the latest step in the growth of audio branding—Audio is emerging as an important branding consideration, right alongside videos, as evidenced by BK’s google Home-activating ad, which has generated enviable amounts of earned media. Decades of experience with radio provide some lessons for the “hearables” space but because of its interactivity, communicators also have a lot to learn. As one agency executive put it, “Radio doesn’t know anything about you. It’s not addressable. It’s not context aware.” The takeaway: There’s good advice in this piece, starting with establishing an audio signature that everyone will recognize. You’ll have to work to get people to make your bot the default choice on their voice-tech devices. Read more

Messaging and chatbots require a new angle—A Forrester Research report finds companies are struggling to find ways to engage customers who are increasingly using messaging apps (sending 740 billion texts per month through just four platforms). Forrester analyst Julie Ask says, unlike apps or mobile Web sites, engaging will on messaging platforms means responding to customer needs when and where customers look for help. Chatbots can improve a lot of enterprise communication endeavors, but only if they’re authentic, simple, and meet the expectations of people using them. The takeaway: I’m amused at the marketers getting out of the chatbot game because their initial efforts didn’t attract users, even though those chatbots didn’t solve any customer problems or address the needs that might attract them to a chatbot. Read more

AI will play a role in content marketing—Call it “cognitive content marketing,” the automation of content creation. “The key thing to know about AI is that it is largely intended to augment, human knowledge and capabilities, not replace them,” writes PR agency staffer Paul Roetzer. Its role in content marketing will be to address repetitive marketing tasks and provide greater insights from the data you collect. The takeaway: If I haven’t stressed it enough, AI will be at the center of our work sooner rather than later. Why we aren’t seeing more professional development offerings from communication associations and more information from trade publications is beyond me. Once again, PR is closing its eyes to a vital technology trend. Read more

Chatbot retention on par with mobile apps—An analysis of chatbot retention across the Dashbot platform found that over a 30-day period, retention was on par with mobile apps. The analysis found a 36% 30-day retention rate for apps and a 34% 30-day retention rate for chatbots across the Facebook, Slack, and Kik platforms. Chatbots related to games, social, local, health and fitness, and shopping had the healthiest retention rates, all above 40%. As for topics, dating, politics, and religion produced the best retention. The takeaway: Other than the obvious quip and politics and religion, I’ll echo the lesson shared by the author of this piece: Make sure you do a deep dive into your bot’s analytics in order to improve your likelihood of capturing and retaining an audience. Read more

Will voice-powered devices benefit from disillusionment with chatbots?—That’s the argument Digiday makes, noting that the hype around chatbots is fading but that voice tech just works. The takeaway: For a variety of reasons, voice tech will become a primary means by which a growing population will access online content. But let’s be clear: The technology works via chatbots. Text-based chatbots are getting a bad rap right now because of the number of crappy, useless chatbots that were rushed into service just so their creators could jump on the bandwagon. We’re still in a screen-driven world and useful chatbots that will address people’s information needs at the moment they need information will do just fine; the category is still poised to explode. Read more

Mobile and Wearables

Instagram may be killing Snapchat—Snap Inc.‘s shared sagged below $20 after Instagram revealed more people use its Stories feature than the total number of people who use Snapchat for anything at all. More than 200 million people use Instagram’s Stories every day. That’s nearly 50 million more than Snapchat’s entire number of daily active users. Instagram also announced it is adding more stickers including selfie stickers and four new Geostickers (so you can show yourself in places like Chicago, London, or Tokyo. The takeaway: Facebook (Instagram’s parent company) now has Stories, too. I wonder if there’s anything Snapchat can innovate that Facebook can’t copy. Read more

Instagram rolls out updated Instagram Direct—The new feature combines disappearing ephemeral images and video messages with the permanent text and image messages that have been Instagram’s staple. Both ephemeral and permanent messages can now appear in a single one-on-one or group thread. The takeaway: Snapchat requires you to change the ephemeral default for each message, a more confusing approach. Snap’s share price fell as soon as the Instagram announcement hit the wires. All signs suggest Instagram will win this battle Read more

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

Try it, you’ll like it—A survey has found that people who got VR devices thought they exceeded their expectations. Sixty percent of respondents who bought a VR headset that works with a smartphone said it worked at least slightly better than they expected, and 64% of Internet users who bought headset that connect to their computers said the experience was slightly better than they expected. The takeaway: Virtual Reality lives up to the hype. It’ll still be a niche vehicle and it will still take a few more years before it becomes commonplace. But don’t let that stop you if you have a solid use for it. Read more

Band releases mixed reality app—I don’t know if it’s a sign of my age, but I had never heard of the band Gorillaz. I have now, thanks to their release of a mixed reality app that lets fans immerse themselves in the Gorillaz House. The app is “a unique blend of real world, AR, VR and 360 environments, using the technology in a narrative context for the very first time.” It’s available for Android and iOS. The takeaway: While the term “mixed reality” still hasn’t gained popular traction, it’s coming quickly as this free entertainment-focused app proves. Read more


Three music societies turn to blockchain for copyright management—ASCAP, SACEM, and PRS—three of the biggest music performance rights organizations—are banding together to tap blockchain technology to manage the links between recordings (International Standard Recording Codes) and music work (International Standard Work Codes). The idea is to match, aggregate, and qualify existing links between recordings and works to confirm ownership and identify conflicts. The takeaway: Musician Imogen Heap has long been an advocate of blockchain as a way for artists to take back control from the record industry; many of her peers have been paying attention. The industry seems terrified enough now to be looking for its own ways to head off obsolescence by embracing blockchain technology. I hate to sound like a broken record (pun intended), but communicators will need to explain blockchain as it disrupts the way their companies and clients do business while staying vigilant for emerging ways to use blockchain as part of the communication process. Read more

Blockchain charity project gets a boost—Payments company Ant Financial is expanding the scope of a charity project that uses blockchain as its foundation. Ant Love is designed to “bring more transparency to charity,” enabling greater visibility of donor histories, charity disclosures, and other information. The company is now expanding the initiative to more companies, including donor organizations, charities, and media groups. The takeaway: Along with AI, blockchain is poised to affect everything we take for granted. AI and blockchain are the two technologies every communicator needs to understand. Read more

This week’s Wrap image (“someone definitely made sure to put a wrap on ‘em”) comes from the Flickr account of Anders Nicolaysen.

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