Friday Wrap #212: Workplace for free, introducing Mastodon, cyborgs at work, engagement efforts fail

Posted on April 7, 2017 2:10 pm by | Employee Engagement | Chatbots | Virtual and Augmented Reality | The Workplace Experience | Content | Instagram | Advertising | Brands | Business | Facebook | Marketing | Measurement | Media | PR | Research | Search | Social Media | Technology | Trust | Twitter | Video

Friday Wrap #212 I 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.


PepsiCo withdraws Kendall Jenner ad—PepsiCo’s record of living its values has been undermined by a tone-deaf commercial that critics have accused of appropriating a serious message from the Black Lives Matter group for the purpose of selling cans of soda. Even Dr. Martin Luther King’s daughter has expressed her displeasure, leading the company to withdraw the commercial. Some analysts speculate this ad misfire will have longer-lasting fallout than most and could hurt sales. Brandwatch found consumer sentiment about Pepsi has declined precipitously over the ad’s run. Analysts are divided, though, over how PepsiCo should handle the controversy: own it or clam up. The takeaway: PepsiCo is one of those companies that has a strong and authentic record of values-driven behavior that starts at the top, yet this is an example of the perils of incorporating social issues into advertising. You have to wonder if the commercial was tested with diverse groups of consumers. Note that this will be one of the stories we cover on Monday’s episode of the “For Immediate Release” podcast. Read more

Facebook Workplace gets a freemium version—Facebook’s collaboration tool, Workplace, is getting a free version called Workplace Standard. The paid version will be known as Workplace Premium. The Standard version is aimed at teams or departments as a way to get a toehold in a company that could lead to an enterprise-wide rollout. The takeaway: Most companies using Workplace report that it’s very effective, with one global PR agency calling it a game-changer. The freemium model makes sense, especially since that’s how competitor Slack found its way into many organizations. Read more

Merriam-Webster newsjacks Ivanka Trump—In a CBS interview, U.S. presidential daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump answered a question about her and her husband’s complicity in crimes by saying, “I don’t know what it means to be complicit.” Dictionary company Merriam-Webster tweeted the next day that “complicit” had soared to the top of its lookups, generating a healthy number of shares and likes. The takeaway: Merriam-Webster was able to grab some attention without being nasty or choosing sides, a nice newsjacking play. Read more

Amazon’s about-face stuns employees—I have run into this at several companies: Employees continuously hear from management how well everything is going, then suddenly they’re told things are not so good after all. That was the case when Amazon announced it was shutting down its Quidsi subsidiary—including—because it had been unable to make the unit profitable. At an all-hands meeting just a few months ago, leaders told employees the subsidiary would turn a profit this year. The turnabout has led to speculation abut other possible reasons for the shutdown. The takeaway: Transparency is one of the critical issues for internal communications these days. Too many leaders still believe employees can’t be told bad news (or that the revelation will have external implications). The risks associated with having to admit earlier statements were just not truthful are worse than the risks of being honest with employees, who already have a healthy mistrust for leadership. And remember, the public at large judges a company’s credibility mainly by how it treats its workers, according to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer. Read more

Twitter drops the egg—The egg-shaped symbol displayed in Twitter profiles to which an image hasn’t been uploaded has come to represent unsavory people who troll and harass other users. Twitter has replaced that image with an all-grey head-and-shoulders image. Twitter downplayed the harassment angle, listing it third among reasons for the change. First was consistency with its new look; second was the fact that the egg was just too cutesy. The takeaway: If all the trolls now feature the head-and-shoulders image, that image will soon be associated with trolls. But at least it’ll no longer be too cute. (Can you see my eyes rolling?) Read more

Now you can send Instagram video and photo DMs from your desktop—The Instagram Windows 10 app allows you to send photo and video Direct Messages from your desktop (assuming, of course, that you’re using Windows 10). You still can’t post anything to your profile unless you’re using a mobile device. The takeaway: Since Instagram is one of the most popular channels for brands to engage socially with consumers, brands participating in group conversations and one-on-one interactions with customers will surely take advantage of this. Read more

Amazon introduces a new social media influencer program—Without much fanfare, Amazon has introduced a beta “Amazon Influencer Program.” The program will offer commissions to influencers based on the sale of products they have supported. Unlike the Amazon Affiliate Program, though, it won’t be open to the public. Influencers—who have to have large followings to be considered—must apply in order to participate. The takeaway: Consider this more proof that influencer marketing works. Read more

Post Office tests delivering scanned images of mail before your mail arrives—The U.S. Post Office is testing a service that will scan your mail and email photos to you. The test began a year ago but just started rolling out to metropolitan areas. You need to sign up for the service, called Delivery. The takeaway: Umm, yeah, right, I want the Post Office opening my mail. I can wait for it to show up in my mailbox, thanks. Read more


Will Mastodon stomp all over Twitter?—In just a matter of a couple days, Mastodon has become the subject of intense conversation. The new social network is being touted as a Twitter killer (though these predictions have also accompanied the introduction of Ello,, Plurk, and a host of other services). Mastodon uses the open-sources GNU Social software, with hobbyists setting up “instances” that connect into a federation. This distributed model appeals to a lot of people. Further, privacy controls are better than on Twitter and the kind of hate speech that has made Twitter a haven for trolls is not permitted. Mastodon also is not a for-profit venture and the interface is appealing (and reminiscent of Tweetdeck). Brands are already trying it out though excessive advertising is not allowed. The takeaway: Some in the digirati have been quick to dismiss Mastodon, but Twitter’s ongoing woes make it ripe for competition from someone who can do micro-messaging better. Mastodon “toots” can reach 500 characters. So far, I kinda like it. FIR tech correspondent Dan York will talk about it on Monday’s episode. Read more

Cyborgs in the workplace—Employees at Swedish startup hub Epicenter are getting injected with microchips the size of a grain of rice that replace swipe cards, allowing them to open doors, operate printers, and even buy smoothies just by waving their hands. The convenience the implants deliver have made them popular among workers, who even hold parties for colleagues who opt for the procedure. The takeaway: This will most certainly become a big trend, though communicators should be prepared to communicate proactively about privacy issues along with the benefits. Read more

Personalized content grows more vital—Generation Z (or whatever we decide to call the post-Millennial generation) is pushing the demand for personalized content and products further. In fact, each generation has demonstrated a growing preference for personalized content, with 40% of Baby Boomers citing it as a requirement for their loyalty, 48% of GenXers, 52% of Millennials, and 54% of GenZers. The takeaway: Advertisers and some marketers are all over personalization, but communicators by and large are still mired in a one-size-fits-all approach (or messaging that targets a single demographic). We need to get familiar with the tools that enable personalization in PR, corporate communications, and employee communications, or we risk being frozen out as audiences shift their attention to sources that do personalize their content. Read more

Ads get little attention on Snapchat—Another reason to consider Instagram over Snapchat: ads on Snapchat don’t make all that much of an impression. A study by J.P. Morgan found more than half of U.S. users have never engaged with sponsored filters or lenses and nearly three-quarters have never swiped a Snapchat ad. Nearly 70% have never watched a video ad. The takeaway: At least for now, the grass is greener at Instagram. Read more

Can user input be taken too far?—A viewer watching an LPGA tournament emailed the organization that he had seen Lexi Thompson incorrectly marking a ball and signing an incorrect scorecard. Based on that email (and a subsequent review), Thompson was given two two-stroke penalties, leading Tiger Woods to tweet, “Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes.” The takeaway: While there’s a role for citizen journalists, you have to wonder how much sporting events will be slowed down if it becomes routine for officials to incorporate viewer feedback into rulings. Read more

Businesses mainly monitor social media to find customer queries—We all know social media monitoring is a big deal, but 86% of companies are focusing that monitoring on identifying customer requests, questions, and concerns. A study from Clutch found a 9-point drop to the next use, keeping tabs on the competition. Only 61% use monitoring to follow industry trends and 60% to keep an eye on industry and brand influencers. Surprisingly, only 55% are monitoring their company name and 44% are watching for references to their executives’ names. The takeaway: If you’re going to pay for social media monitoring, you might as well monitor stuff that’s worth the expense. Read more

PR associations and trade publications promote cold-calling journalists with pitches—Despite ample research that reporters don’t want to be pitched by phone—and certainly not by a PR operative cold-calling—few associations have spoken out against it and many of the trade publications (including Bulldog Reporter, PR Daily, Cutting Edge PR, and Risdall) have published articles about how to do it more or better. The takeaway: When I started reading this anti-PR screed by a PR practitioner, I assumed it was another “bad PR is bad” missive. The revelation that associations and trades have not pushed pitching the way reporters prefer it—mostly email—caught my attention. In our industry, we pay far too little attention to what journalists want. For example, they want images and/or videos included in pitches, but few pitches add them. I remain confused why we, as an industry, can’t get this right. Read more


Annenberg study predicts convergence of marketing and PR—The annual study from the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations has found that nearly 90% of PR executives don’t believe the term “public relations” describes their future. Almost half of respondents believe PR and marketing will be more closely aligned within the next five years while only 8% think PR will remain a discrete function. Respondents also believe that paid, shared, and owned media will occupy more of their time, with earned media declining as a source of income. Branded content and influencer marketing will become more routine activities of PR practitioners, according to the study. The takeaway: I worry about this. When the corporate communication function is perceived as just another way to sell product, credibility will be compromised. Maybe the term “PR” will be replaced, but if so, the function that speaks on behalf of the business (not the products it sells) needs a distinct identity—or at least a clear way to differentiate its messages from marketing. Read more

More than half of Americans don’t trust brands—We already know trust in business is declining based on the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer. Now a survey from McCann’s Truth Central unit finds 42% of Americans find brands less truthful than they were 20 years ago, yet 84% believe brands have the power to make the world a better place. (Seventy-five percent of respondents to the Edelman study also believe brands can use their money and influence to make the world a better place.) The takeaway: Want to improve consumer trust in your brand? Get active in the values-driven marketplace. Read more

Engagement efforts aren’t working—The results reported in Gallup’s 2017 American Workplace Report paint a picture of engagement efforts stuck in neutral. Between 2013 and 2016, the engaged workforce has grown a mere 3%, from 30% to 33%, while the disengaged workforce dropped only 1 point (and still represents half the workforce). The actively disengaged population dropped only 3%, from 19% to 16%. Altogether, that means 67% of employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged, a disheartening number considering the millions of dollars poured into efforts to engage employees over the last three years. The takeaway: Clearly, the approaches companies are taking to engagement are not working. Culture needs to be at the core of engagement efforts along with a refined approach to management. Read more

Consumers are not bullish on the coolest new technologies—A company called Code Computerlove has released results of a survey that finds only 12.9% of consumers want to use Augmented Reality in 2017. (That may change when Apple releases its next iPhone, reported to be an AR machine, in October). Only 24.7% are interested in voice search (despite the fact that voice is destined to be the new interface to everything), 23.7% are keen on Virtual Reality, and a mere 14.4% want to use chatbots. The most popular tech for consumers this year: mobile payments, which appeal to 32.1% of consumers. The takeaway: Steve Jobs famously noted that it’s not the customer’s job to know what they want. Only after using and seeing the benefits of these new technologies will consumers embrace them. Communicators still need to be ready to develop and deploy them. Read more

What it takes to win with thought leadership—A study by the Economist Group has found that 68% of executives consume thought leadership content at least weekly and 63% have increased their consumption over the last year. These executives have, however, become more discerning about the thought leadership they consume and even more selective about the content they engage with. The reasons executives pay attention to thought leadership are to encounter thoughts that go beyond current thinking, identify new business opportunities, and address existing business problems. The takeaway: It’s always good to have data validating the importance of thought leadership. It’s even better when the data helps you focus your thought leadership efforts on the kind of content that grabs attention and spurs engagement from executives. Read more

Artificial Intelligence and Chatbots

Chatbot helps women ask for a raise—British advertising consultant Cindy Gallop has a reputation for plain speaking and foul language. That attitude is on full display in a chatbot called “Ask For A Raise,” designed to guide women through the minefield of asking for a raise. The chatbot launched on Equal Pay Day thanks to the ad agency R/GA with promotion coming from a partnership of several pay-oriented organizations. On Facebook Messenger, search for “Ask Cindy Gallop.” The takeaway: Guiding people through simulations is a perfect use for a chatbot. Why hadn’t anyone thought of it before? Read more

Consumers and CMOs see positive outcomes from AI—Despite warnings from some notable scientists and thought leaders, most of the public and most CMOs think Artificial Intelligence is going to make things better. Chatbots represent one of the first channels for AI and can help companies get closer to their customers as well as mine more meaningful data from customer interactions. Lessons from marketing chatbots introduced last year include the need to make them unbreakable, make them as human as possible, and make them smart. The takeaway: Chatbots are currently sliding down the trough of disillusionment (as is VR), but don’t think for a moment that they have had their day. See the next item as evidence that chatbots, still in their very early days, will probably become a common communication tool. Read more

Fans engage with pop idol chatbots—Celebrities are increasingly employing chatbots as a means for fans to engage with them. It’s not inauthentic since fans know they’re talking to a bot and not the actual celebrity; they just don’t care. These chatbots are just the first step into a world in which fans will eventually be able to interact with AI-driven mixed-reality holograms of their favorite stars. The takeaway: Give people what they want via chatbot and they’ll be happy to interact with it. Read more

Agencies are experimenting with voice technology—Clients are interested, so agencies are getting up to speed on voice technology. Digital agencies are conducting hackathons and internal demos designed to acquaint staff with the technology, its capabilities, its inner-workings, and how it applies to client engagements. The takeaway: Unlike some technologies that lure agencies based on their shiny-object characteristics, this is a case where client interest is driving internal education. Read more

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

Here come the affordable Microsoft mixed reality headsets—The HoloLens, available only in a developer version priced at $3,000, hasn’t been seen by pretty much anybody (except in YouTube videos that don’t begin to convey the immersive experience), but that will change by the end of the year when Asus, Lenovo, and Acer release headgear in the $300 range. The takeaway: While these cheaper headsets don’t precisely emulate the HoloLens experience, they should help spark greater interest in mixed reality and help create a market for something priced higher, but not as high as the HoloLens. Read more

VR and 360-degree video produce actionable data—This is the second piece I have read about the ability to measure the effectiveness of VR since telling an audience in Orlando last week that VR is too new to have much measurement capability. With entertainment about to shift (the extent to which is still an open question) to VR and immersive video, operators will be able to collect more data about what people are watching and deliver more relevant, personalized content. “These next-gen business models are likely to improve TV operators’ internal processes, such as content acquisition or content marketing. Outbound monetization opportunities include addressable TV through third-party advertisers or channels,” according to this analysis. The takeaway: I question the amount of entertainment consumers will watch while wearing a headset, but even if it’s just a fraction of the total, the data from those sessions will provide deeper insights to the preferences of each individual. Read more


Live accounts for 20% of all video shares on Facebook—A colleague recently posted on Facebook that she isn’t interested in your Facebook Live broadcast. Somebody is, though, because Facebook reports that one-fifth of all video shares on the platform are Live. The amount of time uses spend watching Live videos has quadrupled in the last year. The takeaway: My life goal is to figure out what I can broadcast on Live that will make my colleague want to watch. Your mission should be to do the same for your customers or other target audiences. Read more

YouTube confines ads to vetted channels—To limit the possibility of ads appearing with objectionable content, YouTube has updated its policies, limiting ad revenues to channels that have achieved 10,000 lifetime views. A new application process will also help YouTube vet channels on which ads will appear (earning revenue for the channel owners). The takeaway: These are smart moves, though they are bound to raise the ire of content creators accustomed to making a few bucks from YouTube ads. Whether it’s enough to bring back advertisers who fled is an open question, given most have already found other venues for their ads. Read more

Fake News

Google starts fact-checking search results—Google is introducing “Fact Check” tags that appear on article snippets appearing in its News search results. Established fact-checking organizations like Politifact and Snopes are involved, and Google has also opened its system to other publishers, including The Washington Post and The New York Times. Labels include “True,” “Mostly True,” and “Pants on Fire.” The takeaway: Since mainstream publishers are already the ones certain factions don’t trust, you have to wonder if this will disuade anybody from believing whatever fits their narrative. Still, the more efforts to shine a light on inaccurate articles, the better. Read more

Fake news publishers are still earning ad revenue—Despite efforts to crack down on publishers of fake news, more than 60 websites from which these articles originate continue to earn ad revenue from networks including Google AdSense. An analysis also found that sites ejected from an ad network only had to move to another ad network in order to keep the money flowing. Fake news stories mostly appear in content-recommendation ad units, the study found. The takeaway: The research explored fake news as it is generally defined: made-up stories appearing on sites designed to look like genuine news outlets. Clearly, the industry still has work to do. Read more

Coalition invests $14 million to rebuild trust in news—Facebook, Mozilla, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, and a host of nonprofits, academic institutions, funders, and tech leaders have pooled $14 million in an effort to restore declining trust in mainstream news and build news literacy. The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism will administer the coalition, called The News Integrity Initiative. One participant said the initiative is designed to “give people the tools necessary to be discerning about the information they see online.” The takeaway: It couldn’t hurt. The more focus on helping the average member of the “uninformed public” (as it’s called by the Edelman Trust Barometer) distinguish credible news from everything else, the more likely people will be to get in the habit of applying some critical thinking to their news consumption. At least, we can hope. Read more


Blockchain codified in Arizona law—Arizona’s governor has signed a bill that recognizes blockchain signatures and smart contracts. The law is similar to one passed in Vermont last year. The takeaway: Blockchain applications that affect business are coming pretty steadily these days. I continue to advise communicators to become conversant in the technology. Read more

Music IP companies form blockchain alliance—ASCAP; the Society of Authors, Composers, and Publishers of Music; and PRS for Music have formed a partnership to build a blockchain solution that will protect intellectual property. The system uses the Fabric distributed ledger (an alternative to Ethereum and other blockchain networks) and is powered by IBM. I also saw articles this week on Brazil testing blockchain for land registration, a blockchain scheme to eliminate fraud from digital advertising, Chinese insurance companies testing it, and a couple initiatives to apply blockchain to voting. It’s a big deal and will get bigger. Read more

This week’s Wrap image is courtesy of Ian Livesey’s Flickr account.

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