Friday Wrap #230: Equifax’s crisis, Bell Pottinger’s ethics, Google’s “how-to” site, and more

Posted on September 8, 2017 12:58 pm by | Chatbots | Virtual and Augmented Reality | Content | Instagram | Advertising | Brands | Business | Content Curation | Crisis Communication | Facebook | Legal | Marketing | Media | Mobile | Politics | PR | Research | Social Media | Social networks | Twitter

Friday Wrap #230I 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

Equifax is the latest company to botch its crisis communication—Equifax learned a month ago that 143 million customers may have been compromised by a breach of its network, including Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, and other highly sensitive information. The company tweeted yesterday that it took action immediately despite the fact that it has known for a month and has done little to assuage customer anxiety over the breach, limiting its communication to dry, terse apologies and links to information that’s equally inadequate. It was also revealed that three Equifax executives sold off stock before the announcement was made (but definitely after they knew of the breach and that the stock would take a hit after it was announced); still, the company claims the stock was sold before the executives knew anything about the breach. The company’s CEO, Richard F. Smith, picked up an award on September 1 as one of Atlanta’s most-admired CEOs, even though he knew the breach (and the stock sale) would make headlines in just a few days The company’s pathetic crisis communication—which I’m willing to bet real money is being driven by lawyers, not communicators—has provoked scathing reports from PR observers Josh Bernoff (who called the apology “weaselly”) and Kathy Klotz-Guest. Read more

Bell Pottinger’s PRCA membership revoked—I was very happy to see the UK’s Public Relations and Communications Association terminate the membership of agency Bell Pottinger; the agency has also been banned from reapplying for membership for five years. It’s an unprecedented action by the PRCA, which has stepped up to the plate to make a resounding statement on ethics in the practice of public relations. The organization’s director general wrote noted that the group has never taken such action, but “Bell Pottinger has brought the PR and communications industry into disrepute with its actions, and it has received the harshest possible sanctions.” Francis Ingraham said the move was a “damning indictment of an agency’s behavior.” Bell Pottinger was the subject of a PRCA investigation into its campaign in South Africa that was, according to the organization, “designed to inflame racial discord.” The campaign violated a number of the PRCA’s standards. We need more of this from communication associations everywhere if PR is to be viewed as a credible and accurate channel for news and information. The industry’s tolerance for bad behavior has gone on for far too long. Read more

Media companies are creating episodic Instagram Stories series—Further highlighting the importance of Instagram Stories is the trend toward original programming produced specifically for the platform. One editor sees Stories as more than a place to share with your friends; it’s also “a place where you can really program something and take advantage of the platform itself to come up with these fun, little, brief storytelling elements.” Bustle premiered the first of seven episodic series it produces for Stories. A studio backed by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard is also producing “a new type of entertainment for audiences whose attentions were focused on their phones,” producing a pilot episode of “@TheRealAssistant,” a scripted series about a personal assistant to a social media diva designed for Instagram. The key to success here is entertainment value. There’s no reason a brand, corporation, non-profit, or agency can’t come up with a theme for Stories that attracts viewers. Read more


Here comes the fake Irma content—Be warned. Many of the Hurricane Irma videos and images you’re seeing now and will continue to infest your news feeds. Some even claim to be live streams. One video touted as a live stream had more than 6 million views and 160,000 shares on Facebook, but it was actually a three-minute loop from nine months ago. Tens of millions of people are viewing this fake content. Read more

Facebook reveals $100,000 worth of political ads bought during 2016 campaign by Russian accounts—Facebook says it has found more than $100,000 worth of ads designed to sway voter opinions during the 2016 presidential election cycle that were bought by a Russian company with ties to the Kremlin. Most of the ads didn’t refer to any candidates, but rather “focused on divisive social issues such as race, gay rights, gun control, and immigration.” The ads were associated with some 470 fake accounts and pages; Facebook has since shut those down. The revelation adds more evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Read more

Russian Facebook ad buys may prompt new legislation—U.S. Senator Mark Warner thinks legislation could be required to force social media companies to disclose how their platforms are being used for political advertising. Read more

House of Representatives gives self-driving cars a big push—The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a far-reaching proposal that lets automakers deploy up to 25,000 autonomous vehicles without having to meet existing auto safety standards in the first year. The cap will rise every year to 100,000 vehicles annually after three years. The legislation passed the House unanimously, earning praise from multiple groups (including advocates for the blind), though one consumer group is worried about safety. Read more

NFL introduces hashtag-induced emojis—Use an NFL teams hashtag on Twitter for any of the league’s 32 teams (e.g., #GoBills, #Browns, or #RaiderNation), and a team emoji will automatically add the team emoji to your tweet. Popular hashtags shared in comments during Periscope livestreams will produce NFL-themed hearts that will accompany the regular heart that floats from the comments. Read more

FTC warns Instagram influencers—The U.S. Federal Trade Commission sent warning letters to 21 influencers who had already received an FTC reminder that they must disclose paid endorsements. The letter from the FTC’s division of advertising practices, Mary Engle, told these influencers that they have to inform the commission of their material connections with endorsed brands by the end of the month. Read more

If you tweet an emoji, you may get a Toyota ad—Toyota’s ad agency has created 83 unique videos featuring Camry drivers with emoji heads. If you tweet an emoji or engage with a tweet with an emoji in it, you could be targeted with a promoted tweet containing one of these videos, with the driver’s emoji face reflecting the emotion of the emoji you just shared or engaged with. Read more

Facebook explains its questionable math—Facebook raised eyebrows when it claimed its ads reach 25 million more people in the U.S. than the country’s entire population. The answer is complicated. First, it includes profiles of people who claim they live in the U.S., along with those who are traveling in the U.S. and allow Facebook to track their location. There’s also some argument that the U.S. Census Bureau’s numbers are dodgy themselves. Read more

Institute for Public Relations releases report on fake research—The Institute for Public Relations has issued a report that lists five methods for assessing the quality of the research that is often at the heart of public relations efforts. The IPR report—summarized in an infographic—recommends we ask if research is generalizable, unbiased, transparent, objective, and ethical. In other words, apply critical thinking skills. Read more

Google introduces a “how-to” site—Google has launched a new site that uses its search data to show how-to information based on where you live. Top how-to searches deal with fixing windows, walls, and doors; cooking; dating; money; dressing; and health. The site is interactive and highly visual. It’s fascinating to see what kind of how-to help people have most needed, although if you need to know how to do one particular thing, you’re probably still better off just searching for it on Google. Read more

LinkedIn launches ad network—Taking on Facebook and Google, linkedIn has introduced the LinkedIn Audience Network, through which marketers can promote ads to audiences on non-LinkedIn sites and apps. Read more

Facebook tests cross-posting Stories from Instagram to Facebook—Some Instagram users are seeing an option to share their Story directly to Facebook. Combined with Facebook’s new Live Stories, you’ll get double exposure when you start broadcasting: in the Story and in your News Feed itself. Read more

Night mode coming to Twitter desktop—Twitter has brought its Night mode feature—already available on its mobile apps—to the desktop. Click your profile photo and select Night Mode (there’s a moon icon to make it easy to find). Read more

Google Analytics catches up with AMP adoption—The Google-led Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) initiative has been adopted by a lot of websites. That has led to an analytics problem: If you visit a site and land on an AMP-enabled page and another that isn’t, you got counted as two visitors. google has announced a fix for the problem. Google says that now Analytics “can understand if a user on your non-AMP pages had ever visited an AMP page displayed by Google. When true, Google Analytics can help you understand user behavior across these two page types as a single cohesive experience.” Read more


There’s more to computer vision than autonomous vehicles—The technology that lets self-driving cars “see” will have implications for marketers too. Companies like GumGum can identify an image on a page and display a relevant ad over it (e.g., playing kittens in the photo could result in you seeing an ad for cat food). Other companies are looking to analyze your facial expression when you see an ad on your computer or mobile device. Read more

There’s a black market for Instagram verification—It can cost anywhere from a bottle of wine to $15,000, depending on who’s offering, people who offer to get you that little blue check reserved for the Instagram accounts of celebrities, public figures, and brands. Being verified is a status symbol that translates into higher rankings in search and access to special features. Read more

The rise of LinkedIn—While many still wonder how Microsoft plans to integrate LinkedIn into its products, people are noticing that the business-focused social network has evolved beyond a resume storage site. With a vastly improved publishing platform and more polished apps for desktop and mobile, LinkedIn has become an important channel for marketers hoping to reach business leaders. I can attest to this personally: I find myself spending more time on LinkedIn than Facebook these days—and it’s all business-focused activity. Read more

Instagram Stories spreads to sports venues—Sports teams are starting to show their official Instagram Stories on the jumbotron screens in their stadiums and arenas. The idea is to grow social media followings will keeping fans focused on the field instead of looking down at their phones. Teams showing fans their Stories include the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco Giants, and Seattle Sounders. Read more

Facebook Watch already has hit shows—In the five days since Facebook opened its Watch video feature to the world, some of the shows are getting respectable views. Mike Rowe’s “Returning the Favor” has 11.8 million views and a VR blind date series called “Virtually Dating” had 7.6 million views for its premiere episode. In some cases, viral content from popular Facebook comedians is outperforming premium-produced series. Either way, it signals a shift in the kind of content people watch and how they watch it. Read more

Your Instagram photos shouldn’t be too perfect—Here’s a tip: “An expertly curated feed of flawless imagery just doesn’t produce the same results it used to, according to a group of Instagram’s in-house experts.” Highly-curated feeds have become the norm, so they’re no longer distinctive. The Instagram audience just doesn’t want highly produced images. Read more

Startup lets creators take control of their content—Unreel Entertainment is a poster child for the ecosystem changes we’re seeing in content monetization and distribution. Content creators “are able to monetize their content through advertising, leveraging subscription-based, or video on demand, pay-walls, e-commerce, or all of the above. The most exciting part is that it can all be done from a single dashboard.” Read more


Half of adults over 50 get news from social media—Pew Research Center is out with its latest report on how people use social media for news, and the results are striking. As of August, 67% of Americans get at least some of their news on social media, with 20% doing so often. For the first time, more than half (55%) of Americans 50 and over get news on social media sites, 10 points higher than a year ago. Of those under 50, 78% get their news from social media, the same percentage that said that’s where they got news in 2016. Read more

Mobile continues to outpace desktop—Mobile Google searches now account for 57% of all search traffic, according to research from BrightEdge. The research also confirmed that Google’s two separate search indices—an index for desktop and a different one for mobile—with 47% of the top 20 keywords ranking differently on mobile and desktop searches. “Different types of content will appear for the same search term based on if the user is using a mobile device or traditional desktop computer.” Read more

Fake news is raising trust in traditional media—While some people may label traditional media reporting they don’t like or disagree with as “fake news,” real fake news—totally fabricated content made to look like it comes from a legitimate source and spread through social networks—has elevated public trust in traditional media. More than half of journalists and producers responding to Ogilvy Media Influence’s annual survey find traditional media is the most trusted news source. The number two source is company websites and press releases, with only 22% saying these sources are trusted. Read more

Messaging Apps

WhatsApp will cash in on business—Facebook-owned WhatsApp will start invoicing companies for features it rolled out recently to help connect businesses with consumers. The company has been verifying business accounts as it introduces features that field customer inquiries and distributes updates to followers. Read more

Messenger tests a meet-up feature—Taking a page from Tinder’s playbook, Facebook is testing a tool on Messenger that will let you agree or refuse to meet up with Friends. Read more

Stride joins the enterprise chat wars—Stride is the latest business-focused chat app to enter an already-crowded marketplace, challenging Slack and Microsoft Teams, to name just two. Stride is from Atlassian, the company behind HipChat. Stride is HipChat’s successor, rebuilt from scratch with a reimagined mechanism for simply switching from text chatting to videoconferencing. There’s a free version that supports unlimited users. for $3 per user, a company can get more cloud storage and better security settings. The launch coincides with Slack’s first-ever user conference. Read more

Walkie-talkie app gets a boost from Irma—It’s called Zello, an app that lets you use your phone over a WiFi connection as a walkie-talkie or two-way radio. (The first thing that popped into my mind was Nextel’s old “push-to-talk” feature.) It’s free and displays no ads; there’s a paid version for enterprises called ZelloWork. The app has topped the App Store as a means for families and friends to stay in touch as Hurricane Irma approaches. Downloads also surged during Hurricane Harvey. Read more

New messaging app is a hit on college campuses—Get your messaging app scorecard out. The latest player is called Islands and it’s the hot new app on college campuses. The company behind the app is trying to leverage students’ desire to “create groups and profiles and share photos and make plans.” The company has raised nearly $2 million in funding. Its founder has nicknamed it, “Slack for College.” Within the app, groups organized by topic are called “islands”—used for anything from parties to pickup basketball games—and are displayed within 5 miles of campus. Read more

Artificial Intelligence, Smart Audio, and Chatbots

BBC taps smart audio for interactive sci-fi drama—The uses to which smart audio can be put keep expanding. The BBC plans to introduce an interactive sci-fi drama, kind of like a futuristic, audio-based Choose Your Own Adventure. Titled The Inspection Chamber, the project is inspired by the works of Douglas Adams and Franz Kafka. I’m already chuckling while a shiver runs down my spine. Read more

Google poised for voice assistant dominance—One-third of US and UK consumers use digital assistants every week, “equivalent to Netflix’s adoption level.” The installed base of digital assistance will grow from 3.6 billion last year to 7.5 billion active devices in 2021, spanning a variety of devices, including VR headsets, TVs, set-top boxes, and media streamers. Ovum research projects Google will dominate the preloaded digital assistant device market with 23.3% market share. Samsung’s Bixby—barely a blip now—will come in second, with 14.5%, followed by Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Mircosoft Cortana, all three in the low single digits. Read more

How should smart speakers respond to hostility—Users of smart speakers aren’t concerned they’ll hurt the appliance’s feelings when they lose their cool over frustration with the interface. One question resulting from this turn of events: Should the brands creating skills for smart speakers respond? There are also concerns that taking out frustration on a smart speaker could lead to “a coarsening of how people treat each other.” Read more

IBM’s Watson turns its attention to sports—IBM’s cloud-based Artificial Intelligence service is curating content from the U.S. Open. Watson has been analyzing video and audio in real time to serve up content on the various platforms employed by the U.S. Tennis Association. Watson’s first sports assignment marks the official introduction of Watson Media. Read more

Human expressions coming to bots—Facebook AI researchers have explained how they’re training a bot to emulate human facial expressions during a conversation. Those cartoonish customer support bots you’ve undoubtedly experienced in the past will look more empathetic in addition to sounding that way. Read more

Smart speakers can hear inaudible sounds—Chinese researchers have shown how Siri, Alexa, and Google Home can be given ultrasound commands that you can’t hear. It’s not a new concept; that’s how Google Chromecast pairs with your phone. If it worries you, rest easy; it’s “too impractical to be a widespread danger.” Read more

Facebook and Microsoft will open their AI research—An open-source AI repository is imminent thanks to an initiative announced by Facebook and Microsoft. The Open Neural Network Exchange is an algorithm-sharing platform developers can use “to switch between Ai engines at various stages of development.” Using the Exchange, anyone can “jump-start AI research and take advantage of resources otherwise not available.”  Read more

IBM, MIT partner on AI research—IBM will invest $240 million in the next 10 years on an Artificial Intelligence research lab at MIT. The lab will work on advancing AI hardware, software, and algorithms, as well as addressing “economic and ethical implications for intelligent machines and look at its commercial application for industries ranging from healthcare to cybersecurity.” Read more

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

Scoble and Israel will teach an online class on AR and the future of work—Their book, “The Fourth Transformation,” has been a runaway hit, revealing the likely path for the evolution of Augmented and Mixed Reality among consumers and businesses. Now, Robert Scoble and Shel Israel are teaching an online class, “AR & The Future of Work.” It’s not free, but it could position you to become the AR authority in your organization. Here’s a bonus for my readers: a $20 discount when you register using the code FYI1. Read more

Content marketing strategies for VR—Good advice here from HubSpot on using VR for content marketing, avoiding the shiny object syndrome. (On this week’s FIR podcast, Augie Ray noted that a gimmicky VR experience won’t count for much; people tend to remember the first couple of those but none of the others. Advice includes keeping your existing audience in mind (how do they consume your content now?); make it an experience, not just content; let customers seek how your product will look in their home or office; provoke emotions; and integrate user-produce VR videos onto your website. Read more

AR on the runway—Singapore’s Changi airport is introducing Augmented Reality for ground crews, who will wear smart glasses that deliver information such as scanning QR codes displayed on cargo or baggage containers to instantly see their weight, loading sequence, and where to load it in the cargo bay. Cameras mounted in the glasses will let control center staff see what the ground crew is seeing in real time. The glasses could reduce loading times by 15 minutes, leading to shorter wait times for passengers. Read more

This week’s Wrap image shows a Ball Aerospace team bagging the JPSS-1 satellite for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) with protective wrapping in preparation for shipment to Vandenberg Air Force Base. The photo is courtesy of the NOAA Satellites Flickr account.

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