Friday Wrap #228: Aetna’s crisis, killer robots, the digital native myth, voice shopping, and more

Posted on August 25, 2017 12:02 pm by | Chatbots | Virtual and Augmented Reality | Content | Instagram | Advertising | Audio | Brands | Business | Crisis Communication | Facebook | Instant Messaging | Legal | Marketing | Media | Mobile | Podcasting | Politics | PR | Search | Social Media | Social networks | Twitter | Video

Friday Wrap #228I 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

Aetna in crisis mode after mailing reveals customer HIV statuses—A routine mailing has Aetna doing damage control, with the plastic window on the envelope showing the patient’s name and address along with (in many cases) the fact that the patient takes HIV medications. The letter explained changes to Aetna’s plan when filling HIV prescriptions. Anybody picking up the mail would have been able to see the information. Legal groups have written outraged letters to the company, which has noted that the letters were sent by a third-party vendor and called the mistake “unacceptable.” “We sincerely apologize to those affected by a mailing issue that inadvertently exposed the personal health information of some Aetna members,” the company said, adding that it’s the company’s obligation “to do our best to make things right. We will work to ensure that proper safeguards are in place to prevent something similar from happening in the future.” The takeaway: One principle of crisis communication is addressing the aggrieved party. This one’s tough: There is no putting the toothpaste back in the tube. Since the primary concern of HIV status exposure is based on the fact that “widespread stigma still exists against people living with HIV” that can lead to discrimination in employment, housing, and education” (according to the legal groups), Aetna could make an investment in helping to eradicate that stigma. As for the promise to prevent a repeat of this mistake, that’s fine, but Aetna will also need to communicate how it is going to make good on that promise once it arrives at a solution. The lesson for other companies: Make sure requirements are clear when working with vendors (in this case, no windowed envelopes on mail to members). Read more

Generations don’t matter much—A five-year study by Hay Group found that the difference between people in different demographics are driven more by their age and career stage, not generational thinking or values. The study identified three commonly-held beliefs that are complete myths. First myth: Younger generations look to their leaders to provide meaning and purpose to their work. Actually, the idea of engaging people in the purpose of the organization is strongly valued by people older than 55. Second myth: Organizations need to use different approaches to retain younger workers. The fact is, all generations report they have the same primary reason for staying at a company: exciting and challenging work. Third myth: Each generation needs to be managed differently to keep them engaged and motivated. Nope; there are few differences across generations in terms of what people are looking for from their company’s leaders. The takeaway: There is a ton of research that contradicts Hay’s findings, including the work done by Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd, articulated in the book, “The 2020 Workplace.” Still, I’m pleased by Hay’s finding, given that I don’t fit the typical characteristics ascribed to Boomers (I prefer being thought of as a “Perennial,” a generation-spanning group defined by Gina Pell.) I also agree with Hay’s conclusion that leaders need “to engage and motivate teams by creating an environment that gets the best from everyone, regardless of age.” That doesn’t mean you should ignore generations. Consider the efforts by the oil industry to attract Millennial employees, knowing that Millennials are more sustainability-conscious than older demographics. Read more

Why remote workers are out of the loop—Twenty-seven percent of employers communicate important news through posters, leaving the 3.7 million people who work from home in the U.S. feeling “out of the loop. Despite the fact that workers have to dig out from an average 121 emails daily—not to mention scores of text messages—most of which are unimportant, businesses continue to rely on email and printed memos to get out important news and information. Forty-five percent of U.S. workers are dissatisfied with management’s way of communicating with them; 62% prefer face-to-face updates from the CEO. Seventy-nine percent of workers get company information through the grapevine, and external media is the main source of information for a lot of workers. The takeaway: This report is more evidence that employee communication as an industry is failing. Other studies show low levels of engagement among workers, low levels of trust, a disconnect between segments of the workforce on who and what drives culture), and large percentages of supervisors who aren’t comfortable communicating with staff. Add to that a reluctance to switch to communication channels that employees actually want to use (rather than email and intranet web pages), along with continued reliance on a mass media model, and things look grim. These conditions have led me to construct a new model for employee communication. Read more

More bullshit data from Challenger, Gray & Christmas—The outplacement firm annually calculates lost productivity from workers hooked on the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament. Now they have let it be known that Monday’s solar eclipse was likely to set businesses back $694 million in lost productivity. That’s based on the 20-minute break they expected a lot of workers to take during the event. The takeaway: Please ignore this data. I’m begging you. Productivity is not calculated based on bathroom breaks, attention paid to sporting events, or celestial phenomenon. U.S. labor productivity rose during the period Websense (another purveyor of this back-of-the-envelope data) said it was suffering billions of dollars in losses resulting from employees spending time on social media. Employees taking 20 minutes to look at the eclipse may have come in early or planned to stay late. They may routinely take work home and put in hours the company never accounts for. Ultimately, the measure of productivity is whether the right amount of work was delivered on time (and met quality requirements). But at least Challenger, Gray & Christmas can continue to count on headlines when they release this nonsense. Read more


Happy 10th birthday, hashtag—On August 23, 2007—the same year Twitter exploded on the scene at the South by Southwest festival, Chris Messina tweeted this message: “how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?” Thus was born the hashtag. The most tweeted hashtag in 2007 was used about 9,000 times. This year? The most popular hashtag has been used more than 300 million times. Read more

You heard about that eclipse, right?—If you didn’t catch the fact that a total solar eclipse was happening on Monday, you probably saw a tweet or a Facebook post about it. The event produced more than 9 million tweets worldwide and 240 million interactions from more than 66 million Facebook users. Read more

Supreme Court may decide if Google can keep its trademarked name—Google could become a victim of genericide, which happens when a brand name gets so big it becomes a noun or verb used so frequently that the company loses its trademark. It happened to the zipper, the trampoline, and the elevator. Now an appeal to the Supreme Court argues that “to google” is a generic term for searching the web regardless of whether Google is employed in the task. Read more

Clinically depressed? Check with Google—In its continuing quest to be the source of all information, Google is launching a certified quiz to determine whether you might be clinically depressed. Users will find the quiz when searching their mobile devices for information about depression.The questionnaire takes five minutes to complete; the U.S. National Institutes of Health describes it as “a reliable and valid measure of depression severity” and “a useful clinical and research tool.” Read more

Amazon opens influencers program to YouTube stars— Amazon’s Influencer Program is taking applications from YouTube influencers who want to participate in the service that lets social media influencers earn commissions on the Amazon products they promote. The program has been operating in closed beta. Read more

Judge rules Facebook friends aren’t real friends—A 10-page ruling has established that some Facebook friends aren’t necessarily people with whom people have close relationships. As a result, a Miami judge won’t have to recuse herself from a case because she is Facebook friends with one of the defense attorneys in the case. Read more

IAB releases podcast advertising playbook—The Interactive Advertising Bureau has published its first IABC Podcast Playbook that aims to put some structure around buying podcast advertising. The guide covers audience demographics, listener behaviors, creative treatments, ad formats, delivery, targeting, measurement, and data about podcasting’s popularity. Read more

Ban killer robots!—Tesla’s Elon Musk and Google’s Mustafa Suleyman have joined a group of tech founders to call on the United Nations to ban the development and use of autonomous weapons (aka “killer robots”). In total, 116 founders from 26 countries signed the open letter. Read more

CNN tries to reach younger demographic via Snapchat—“The Update” will deliver at least five CNN news stories and breaking news segments—all in three minutes—delivered over Snapchat’s Discover screen. NBC News already has a twice-daily news show that has been viewed by 29 million unique viewers since its mid-July debut. CNN promises the three-minute length of the show won’t mean it’s dumbing down its content. Read more

Google teams with Oreo for next Android OS—Remember Android Kit-Kat? Android operating system updates are coded with letters in alphabetical order, then matched with a related dessert item. Most have been generic (like the current Android Nougat), but for the letter O, Google is partnering with Mondelez to name the OS Android Oreo. The update features picture-in-picture video calls, autofill for navigation, and more security features. Read more

Clap for me. Maybe I’ll get rich—Publishing site Medium will allow more writer to publish paywalled articles, paying authors a share of the subscription fee based on how many “claps” they get. The clap button recently replaced the heart button on the site. Readers can click or tap the clap button as often as they like. Read more

A milestone for Microsoft voice recognition—Microsoft’s conversational speech recognition system achieved its lowest error rate ever, 5.1%, which is on par with the error rate from professional human transcribers. The system is used in Cortana, Presentation Translator, and Microsoft Cognitive Services. Read more

Justice Department on demand for website user records: Never mind—The U.S. Justice Department has dropped its request of web hosting provider Dreamhost for data on visitors to an anti-Trump website. A U.S. attorney, noting that the government never meant for its warrant to be so broad, wrote, “The government has no interest in records relating to the 1.3 million IP addresses that are mentioned in DreamHost’s numerous press releases and Opposition brief.” Read more

Snap’s slide ends—As of Monday, August 21, Snap seemed to have ended its stock price freefall. Shares had gained for six consecutive days. Read more

Retail shift prompt Starbucks to close online store—You can still buy Starbucks mugs, brewers, espresso makers, and other merchandise at Starbucks’ online store; in fact, there are good deals to be had leading up to the store’s October 1 closing. After that, you’ll find the merchandise at third-party sites, including Amazon. The commercial partnerships represent a shift in Starbucks’ approach to retail, allowing the company to be more nimble. Read more


Teens ditch Facebook for Instagram and Snapchat—An eMarketer study predicts monthly use of Facebook by teenagers will fall in the U.S. and UK faster this year than in 2016. Use of Facebook by those aged 12-17 will drop 3.4% to 14.5 million people this year compared to a 1.2% decline last year. (Note that the shift doesn’t mean teens are closing their Facebook accounts—especially if they’re migrating to Facebook-owned Instagram—nor does it mean they won’t continue to use Facebook, though less often. After all, it’s still where their families are and they may still participate in Groups or manage albums there.) Read more

Why people call out brands on social media—Dishonesty, bad customer service, and rudeness by an employee in person are the top reasons people call out brands on social media, according to a survey by Sprout Social. Other reasons include a bad product experience, overcharging, unresponsiveness, and rudeness online. Only 14% call out brands for being too political. Respondents say their motivations are altruistic: raising awareness among consumers. Only 38% say they’re looking for a refund. Read more

Welcome to the “state of engagement”—Marketo is on a mission to guide marketers through the transition from saying they engage buyers and “take steps to truly engage.” Karen Steele writes that most marketers have used social media to “put a new spin on traditional tactics of marketing to their audience.” To bolster its claim, Marketo surveyed consumers and marketers and found 82% of marketers think they understand how buyers want to be engaged but half of buyers disagree, mainly based on the amount of irrelevant content they get from brands. Irrelevant content is, in fact, the top reason consumers opt not to engage with brands. Marketers need to move beyond transactional engagements if they’re going to build relationships. Executive support is also a requirement. Read more

The evolution of live video—Research from Magid finds that 45% of people use YouTube to view live-streamed video while Facebook Live attracts 24% of viewers. Another study found that Facebook Live views are growing, accounting for much of the growth in the format. A Reuters report finds that there has been a dramatic expansion of the number of environments that support live streaming video, with short-form video more popular than long-form. Read more

Younger consumers use multiple apps for streaming and messaging—While 18-to-34-year-olds are highly engaged with digital services during the day, they use a variety of services within each segment, according to research from Nielsen. Nearly 60% of Millennials use two or more apps to stream music; 70% use two or more apps for messaging. These rates eclipse those of older demographics. Younger users are also driving podcasting’s popularity; 37% listen to at least one podcast per week, while 13% listen daily. Read more


The myth of the digital native—The belief that people born after 1984 “somehow have innate technology skills” has been harmful on a number of levels. It has led to ageism, with firms preferring to hire younger workers whom they presume are more savvy about using new tools, simultaneously reducing the number of older, experienced workers Millennials and GenZers can learn from. The myth has also led to bad decisions in schools based on assumptions that young students are different from previous generations. A study to be published in the journal “Teaching and Teacher Education” finds (as one of the co-authors put it) “There is no such thing as a digital native who is information-skilled simply because (s)he has never known a world that was not digital. There is no evidence to suggest that [so-called] digital natives are more tech-savvy or good at multitasking than older generations.” Read more

Is email really the largest social network?—The team at Inside, a company focused on “growing and monetizing its motley collection of newsletters” (and founded by Jason Calacanis), sees email as the biggest social network. Inside hosts 30 newsletters with a total of about 300,000 subscribers. Open rates average better than 40% and click rates are 10% across all of the newsletters. The kind of control Facebook exerts over news organizations and their content will never happen in email newsletters. (To me, Inside looks a lot like SmartBrief, but that’s okay—I love SmartBrief newsletters.) Read more

How one company is dealing with fewer cash registers and a decline in impulse purchases—When you wait to load your groceries onto the conveyer belt, you are faced with a lot of last-minute opportunities to buy. Magazines, tabloids, candy, gum, and other items are positioned right at the cash register in hopes that you’ll give in to your impulse and add one or more of those items to your cart. (Hence the term “impulse buy.”) As more people shop online and visit fewer cash registers, the opportunity to sell a last-minute candy bar to a shopper is shrinking. For Hershey, that means venturing into new technologies in order to recreate the experience. Hershey is experimenting with Virtual Reality, for example, partnering with an online retailer to place its products in everyday environments. Shoppers who see the item can click on it and add it to the shopping cart. The company is also working with a grocery chain “to create a seasonal aisle on its website,” where candy Easter eggs would be front and center during the Spring season. Pushing digital reminders via smartphone is another idea Hershey is testing. Read more

Marketing tool belt is getting heavier—Email marketing is still the most-used content marketing tool, but new technologies are expanding the number of other tools to manage and distribute content. A study from the Content Marketing Institute found 57% of marketers are using content management systems, 44% are using content collaboration/workflow software, 42% are using marketing automation software, and 26% are using digital asset management systems. Most also expect to incorporate Artificial Intelligence into the mix over the next five years. Read more

Airports connect with travelers via Twitter—Airlines have used Twitter to address passenger issues for some time. Airports are following suit. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, for example, has 21,000 followers; the account addresses passenger needs while promoting airport services. “The hope is to turn what the industry calls dwell time, the two to three hours that passengers spend between curbside check-in and boarding, into a positive experience—one that can be lucrative for the airport. Read more

Girls on social media experience pressure to be perfect—A third of young women feel pressured to present their lives as “perfect” on social media, according to a survey from the charity Girlguiding. Thirty-five percent of girls aged 11-21 said their biggest concern is comparing themselves to others. If their photos don’t get enough likes, they lose confidence and delete the photos. One young woman said she knows two girls with eating disorders who have huge followings on Instagram with people commenting that their bodies are amazing. Read more

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

Facebook is working on smart glasses—Facebook has filed a patent application for a “waveguide display with two-dimensional scanner,” which “may augment views of a physical, real-world environment with computer-generated elements” and “may be included in an eye-wear comprising a frame and a digital assembly that presents media to a user’s eyes.” Read more

Marketing the new Star Wars flick will include Pokémon Go-like AR game—The Walt Disney Company has declared September 1 “Force Friday,” the day fans will be able to download a Pokémon Go-like app to participate in an augmented reality treasure hunt. Unlike Pokémon Go, the game will last only three days, beginning in Sydney and involving more than 20,000 stores in 30 countries. The app is activated by “special logos that appear on cut-out figures in stores. Fans who turn up to buy action figures or drones from the new lineup of products can use the devices to discover such characters as the alien birds called Porgs, pose with them, and share the images on social media. Fans who post on social media can win prizes, such as tickets to the movie’s premiere.” Read more

United Nations uses Facebook’s AR tool for storytelling—The United Nations is using Facebook’s Camera Effects Studio tool to allow “civilians and humanitarian workers in conflict zones tell their story direct to the audience.” The tool adds a teleprompter effect to videos shared by doctors and aid workers (among others) via Facebook Live. “As they speak, the text of the words scrolls down the screen in front of them.” Read more

Colonel Sanders is training KFC cooks (virtually)—KFC has introduced a VR “room” where staff is trained in “the food preparation method that Colonel Sanders, himself, developed over 70 years ago…Using a VR headset, staff are guided through the process of preparing KFC’s Original Fried Chicken under the watchful eye of the Colonel. Would-be cooks must adhere to a strict 5-step process before they can exit the food preparation room.’ Read more

Head-mounted displays won’t go mainstream anytime soon—Some 67 million head-mounted displays will be sold in 2021 (compared to 22 million this year), Gartner predicts, not enough to qualify as mainstream adoption. The hardware will probably take off in the enterprise because employers will require them for certain tasks because of their productivity-enhancing qualities. You’re also likely to see them in “theme parks, theaters, museums, and sports venues.” But the average consumer (other than hard-core gamers) isn’t likely to jump on the bandwagon. Read more

Artificial Intelligence, Chatbots, and Smart Audio

Could the future of AI-powered search be visual? The Amazon announcement of a touchscreen version of its Alexa platform is one sign that visual AI-powered search could overtake voice-powered search. Last week, Google debuted Google Lens, which lets you point your phone’s camera at something and Google’s AI will return relevant information or take appropriate action. “It is augmented reality meets search meets artificial intelligence,” writes Scott Monty. “And Amazon ought to be concerned.” Read more

Samsung working on Amazon Echo competitor—Samsung will introduce its Alexa competitor soon, possibly with the company’s digital assistant, Bixby, at the heart of the smart speaker. The company’s Galaxy S8 and Note 8 include a Bixby Home feature that will let users control the device from their smartphones. Read more

Wal-Mart, Google team up for voice shopping to compete with Amazon—Voice shopping is dominated by Amazon (via its Alexa smart audio platform), but Google and Wal-Mart aim to eat into that market share. Google will let Wal-Mart shoppers buy thousands of items using the voice-controlled Google Assistant platform. Presumably, that would work both on Android smartphones and the Google Home smart speaker. Read more

TD Ameritrade customers can now engage via Messenger chatbot—Using AI and machine learning, TD Ameritrade’s Facebook Messenger chatbot is now answering customer questions about their investments and stock prices. In addition, the chatbot can deliver educational content, including videos. The chatbot is backed by a human customer support team, which the chatbot notifies if the interaction requires human intervention. Read more

Siri will make payments for Barclays customers—A new feature of the Barclays iOS app lets customers make payments by issuing a command to Siri. Customers have to give Siri access to their account, after which, they can say something like, “Hey, Siri, pay Jamie $15 with Barclays.” Customers “still need to tap their finger to the Touch ID sensor to confirm the transfer.” Read more

The Values-Driven Marketplace

Misalignment with values could drive away Millennial employees—Millennials are more purpose-driven than any other generation. Discovering that their employers don’t walk the talk when it comes to their professed values (such as sustainability) can lead them to seek employment elsewhere (not hard in the current market). Read more

Cause marketing failures lead to reassessment—Brands are being more deliberative in pursuing cause marketing after public backlash to campaigns by Pepsi, McDonald’s, and Dove. Telecommunications for O2, for example, has launched the O2 Planning Hub “to help its agency teams in part plan for public backlash to its marketing. This hub includes brand, media, and CRM specialists and works together from one office three days a week.” Absolut, meanwhile, knows it has the action to back up any discussion it might opt to have about sustainability. Read more

Taking sides is complicated and risky—“The public and media will increasingly look to CEOs to voice their positions on a widening range of issues,” writes Michael Maslansky. “While every position carries risks, the failure to take a position will carry greater and greater risk.” Pressure is also coming from employees, who want to work for companies they believe in. So far, “the CEOs who recognize the new reality and drive the conversation tend to be rewarded.” Read more

Recasting the voice of business in the political and social conversation—The transformation has gained momentum over the last several years as political divisions intensify over major issues like climate change. The president of the Ford Foundation calls it “a seminal moment in the history of business in America…the most clarifying voice has been the voice of business. These CEO’s have taken the risk to speak truth to power.” Read more

Brands are blacklisting mainstream news sites—Some brands are finding some mainstream news sites as too controversial to have associated with their advertising. One major automaker, for example, has stopped serving ads to news sites that didn’t align with its values. The category includes hundreds of publishers, including Read more

How to become a values-driven business—An excellent piece in the September-October issue of the Harvard Business Review offers a roadmap for companies that want to embrace a social purpose. The article is based on studies of a number of social-purpose brand programs and work the authors have done with nearly a dozen leading brands. The authors conclude, “Competing on social purpose requires managers to create value for all stakeholders—customers, the company, shareholders, and society at large—merging strategic acts of generosity with the diligent pursuit of brand goals.” Achieving that balance requires a strategic approach, which the article outlines. Read more


Blockchain could be coming to social media—Some of the benefits of social media haven’t shaken out the way proponents have expected. It’s not censorship-free and user privacy isn’t guaranteed. These are issues blockchain technology can address. “By decentralizing corporate social media, Blockchain technology removes the hub responsible for censorship and privacy leaks.” Platforms like let users interact with each other instead of through a hub. It also rewards users whose posts attract interaction with payments that currently go to hub owners like Facebook and Twitter. Read more

Why big business is racing to build blockchains—If you’re looking for an understandable explanation of business’s interest in blockchain technology, this Fortune piece may just fit the bill. If you work in corporate communication, you will be communicating about blockchain—how your company is using it or being affected by it—so it’s smart to get up to speed on it now. Read more

IBM adds Nestle, Tyson, and other food companies to blockchain project—A number of large food and retail organizations “have joined IBM’s project to explore how blockchain technology can help track food supply chains and improve safety.” Ten companies will share data and run trials, including Wal-Mart, Kroger, Dole Food Company, and McCormick & Company. An IBM spokesperson said the project “is about building the ecosystem. Read more

New Tools, Updates, and Upgrades

Now you can take 360 photos from inside the Facebook app—Users can now shoot 360 videos from within the Facebook app and upload them instantly for viewing on their Timeline, in albums, and in Groups. The 70 million 360 videos already uploaded required use of a third-party app that allowed users to take pictures in panorama mode. Read more

View tweets by topic—A new Android and iOS Twitter feature lets you view tweets sorted by topic without having to follow anyone. You’ll find the feature in the Explore tab. “Twitter’s algorithms will show you these topics based on what they know about your interests. Eventually, the platform will give users more control over what they see.” Read more

YouTube gets “Breaking News” section—A lot of YouTube users are seeing a “Breaking News” section. It contains videos related to breaking news worldwide. It wasn’t clear whether this section would appear only when a worldwide event occurs or if it will be a regular feature. I’m inclined to believe the former since I haven’t seen it yet on YouTube’s desktop or Android versions. Reports of the feed came in after the terrorist event in Barcelona. Read more

New text-based status features for WhatsApp—WhatsApp users can create text-based statuses, selecting from a choice of font, background color, and links. “Now you never have to worry about getting the word out to all your family and friends…The text-based status feature allows you to update your contacts in a fun and personal way,” the company said. Read more

Instagram update adds features when replying—When replying to a private message on Instagram, you can now use a photo or video. “In a fun twist, the receiver’s reply will include a sticker of whatever the person is responding to within the photo or video. It pretty much puts an Instagram in your private Instagram, automatically, on Instagram.” Read more

Say goodbye to airport boredom—ReachMe.TV is a new in-airport mobile entertainment network that will deliver thousands of hours of content—“including original programming, local news, sports, and weather”—to the U.S. and Canada’s top 50 airports and 750,000 hotel rooms. The content is designed to be watched in short bursts.Users can sync phones or tablets with airport screens so they can take content with them that they started watching on the larger monitors. Read more

Users may be able to upload native video to Reddit—Reddit is testing a feature to let users upload videos straight to the site rather than sharing a link to a video hosted on YouTube or other third-party service. Read more

This week’s Wrap image—a “palma wrapped in strangers leaves,” is courtesy of markgold82’s Flickr account.

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