Friday Wrap #181: Another nail in the G+ coffin, preparing for Gen Z, waiting for the content crash

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News

Google Plus takes another hit—Google has been marginalizing Google Plus for some time and the trend continues with the announcement that G+ Hangouts on Air will be discontinued as of September 12. Instead, Google is moving Hangouts on Air to YouTube Live. Several of Hangouts on Air’s best features aren’t making the transition, notably the Q&A tool. Google suggests you use the Q&A feature in Google Slides instead. The takeaway: Google Plus is dead. It just hasn’t fallen down yet. I am planning to move the For Immediate Release podcast community from Google+ to Facebook. If you have invested in Google Plus, you should start thinking about your transition strategy. Read more

Twitter adds content filters—In an effort to combat harassment, Twitter has unveiled a “quality filter” that lets you “improve the quality of Tweets you see by using a variety of signals, such as account origin and behavior.” You can also now limit notifications to only people you follow. The takeaway: Twitter harassment has reached epidemic levels. Any tools to improve the experience are welcome. Read more

NPR drops comments—It’s a bona fide trend: Publishers are dropping comments from their online content. NPR is the latest, announcing this week it will favor other channels for communication with listeners. A post from NPR’s managing editor for digital news noted that “the comment sections on NPR.org stories are not providing a useful experience for the vast majority of our users.” The post referenced Facebook and Twitter as the best channels, each of which already are major sources of engagement. The takeaway: When most publishers (and organizations) opened comments, it was the only way users could engage. Most commenting has shifted to other channels anyway. Comment moderation is a massive time suck. Encouraging conversation on social platforms where you already have a presence—and experimenting with new ones—makes good sense. Frankly, most of the comments on my content happens away from my blog on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, and that’s without me closing off the comments on my blog, which continues to serve as the primary home for my stuff. Read more

Facebook traffic to news site drops by double digits—Facebook’s algorithm changes that favor personal posts over news content has exacted a price. Traffic from Facebook to many key news publishers dropped by double digits in the second quarter—as much as 50%. The biggest losers include Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Inc., Vox, CNN, The Washington Post, Politico, and Business Insider. While the algorithm change is certainly a key factor, another is the increasing volume of content published by news organizations resulting in lower reach for any given piece of content. The takeaway: A Facebook strategy is important, but only as part of a multi-channel approach. As I’ve been saying, it’s why a channel expert is very likely going to be a new position in most agencies and in-house communication departments. Read more

Twitter usage will grow just 2%—eMarketer projects Twitter usage will grow only 2% this year, a hefty drop from eMarketer’s February forecast of an 8% increase. “By the end of this year, 52.2 million people in the US will access their Twitter accounts at least once a month,” according to eMarketer, reflecting Twitter’s continuing struggle to grow its user base. Twitter’s share of social network users—281%—represents a drop from last year. The takeaway: Twitter is, without question, an important channel, but it’s also a publicly owned company and growth is vital to its survival. Few of its innovations have kicked off a new surge of growth. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Twitter acquired in the next year or two. Read more

Pepsi is first to use a promoted Twitter sticker—Twitter introduced virtual stickers in June, not unlike Snapchat emojis, filters, and lenses. Now, Pepsi is the first to pay for a “#Promoted Stickers” campaign. Pepsi developed 50 stickers that will be included among all the various Twitter stickers. The takeaway: I can’t wait to see if users add Pepsi stickers to their photos. With apologies to Twitter, I just don’t see the platform being used for personal photo sharing—certainly not like Instagram and Snapchat. But never dismiss Pepsi marketing ideas. They’re known for successful innovation in the social space. Read more

Instagram adds event channel to Explore lineup—Instagram has introduced a new channel to its Explore tab that spotlights video from concerts, sports, and other live events, personalized for each user based on their location and interests. Instagram is sourcing the content from users who share video from these events. The takeaway: Instagram is taking on Snapchat’s discover channels, which are hand-curated, limiting the ability to personalize them. While some may complain that the various apps are getting homogenous, Instagram is making smart moves to compete with Snapchat’s growing popularity and keep its half-billion monthly active users from defecting. For communicators, it creates an incentive to share a lot of video from marketing and other company-related events. Read more

U.S. to relinquish control of Internet governance—It has long been the plan, but the actual handover of authority for governance of the Internet is now imminent. Effective October 1, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will assume control of the domain-name system. ICANN—a nonprofit multi-stakeholder organization—has operated under American control since it was created and incorporated in 1998. The transition has been supported by the Obama, Bush, and Clinton administrations, yet it’s expected to produce partisan backlash. The takeaway: For those interested in how the Internet works, this is a big deal. Don’t expect to see anything change in your day-to-day online activities, though. Read more

Instagram begins business profile rollout—Instagram has started its previously planned rollout of business profiles in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Inspired by Facebook’s Business Pages, the Instagram profiles feature a large contact button that lets users get in touch with a business via text, phone, or email. The profiles also feature a set of analytics and a feature for boosting strongly performing images as an ad. The profiles will come to the U.S., Australia and New Zealand within a few months and globally by the end of the year. The takeaway: If your company has an Instagram account, there will be no reason not to set up a business profile. Read more

Emojis get a conference—Emojicon will be held in san Francisco in November, featuring speakers like the president of Unicode and co-chair of the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee, and the founder of Emojipedia. Sponsors include Panda Express, which wants to see a dumpling added to the emoji set. The takeaway: My apologies to those who were waiting for emojis to vanish. A conference of its own bodes well for the future of the visual messaging tool. Read more

Trends

Cars are set to become an advertising and marketing platform—In case you missed the news, Ford’s CEO shared a post on LinkedIn this week announcing the company will have a fully-autonomous fleet of cars on the road by 2021. The fact that you won’t have to pay attention to the road in a few years means the 30-to-60 minutes everyone spends driving every day (according to the American Driving Survey) will become free time. Don’t think for a moment advertisers and marketers aren’t salivating over the prospect of having your attention while you’re trapped in your vehicle. While billboards are likely to suffer (with passengers likely looking down as long as they don’t need to watch the road), Augmented Reality, audio, and geo-local deals delivered via smartphone are among the technologies marketers will use to capture your attention. The takeaway: Anything’s better than those God-awful video monitors playing a loop of news and entertainment in taxis. There’s a real opportunity here to innovate and create genuine experiences for passengers. Read more

Are you ready for Generation Z?—I can’t scroll through a feed without seeing half a dozen items addressing Millennials. Conversely, I rarely see anything dealing with Generation Z, the oldest of whom turn 21 this year. They’re similar to Millennials in a lot of ways, but they don’t align everywhere. They are, according to EY’s head of recruiting, “not a shy bunch. They’re more confident and assertive about their goals, and a lot more knowledgeable about employers than Millennials were at the same age.” They want to do work that makes a difference and has a positive impact on the world. They’re more concerned about job security than Millennials, having watched their parents’ careers tank as part of the Great Recession. They’re also more inclined to develop their skills and build their careers with a single employer than jump from job to job. The takeaway: Knowing the generation that’s just starting to infiltrate the workforce can help with employer branding efforts in order to recruit the best workers and in communicating with them once they’re on board. Read more

The speed bump in the native advertising expressway—Love it or hate it, native advertising (aka sponsored content) isn’t going anywhere. It’s making too much money for publishers who have struggled to find a revenue stream in the digital world. But there’s a problem: Only 21% of sponsors are renewing their content, a rate described as weak. Some 40% of publishers say their renewal rates are below 50%. One reason for the hesitancy in renewing: advertisers aren’t sure if they’re getting an adequate return. Eight-five percent of native advertising dollars are going to the top five publishers, with the rest divided among the hundreds of smaller publishers offering native advertising. The takeaway: I don’t expect this to spell the end of native advertising. Instead, innovation needs to occur around metrics, the kinds of native services publishers offer, and value for smaller companies who advertise with niche publishers. Read more

Employee advocacy programs come to highly regulated industries—Employee advocacy programs are ridiculously (and appropriately) popular, but they have been slow to find their way into financial services and healthcare organizations, where one ill-advised post by an employee can trigger huge regulatory headaches. Shifting demographics (two-thirds of the global workforce is under 35 years old) is leading even those industries to dip their toes into employee advocacy. The easiest and safest way to start: Tools that deliver approved ready-to-share content to employees. Humana and Capital One are using Dynamic Signal. The takeaway: Operating in the shadow of regulation is no reason to avoid employee advocacy. It’s only a reason to develop the policies and training that ensures compliance. Read more

Pokémon Go should inspire a code of ethics for AR games—Pokémon Go is something new which (sadly but not surprisingly) is resulting in all manner of misbehavior, which should lead to an industry-wide set of ethical standards for similar games and tools. The takeaway: I couldn’t agree more, but industries are slow to develop such standards and, once (if ever) adopted, even slower to abide by them. Consider the codes of ethics for communications! Ultimately, this failure frequently results in government regulation. As companies find themselves under increasing pressure to take stands on social issues, coming together to adopt such standards should be a no-brainer. Read more

Research

Employees have ideas but companies aren’t listening—Nearly 60% of employees surveyed by the Medallia Institute say their leaders aren’t listening to their ideas for improving the customer experience. That’s a huge wasted opportunity, given that 78% of frontline employees say their leaders have made customer experience a top priority. Sixty-one percent of employees say they’re likely to come up with new ways to delight customers, 56% can think of ways to improve processes and practices, 47% have ideas for improving training and development, and 43% know how to reduce costs. The takeaway: Imagine that—employees doing the work have ideas for how to improve it. Communication doesn’t work if all you’re doing is talking. Listening needs to become a strategic priority that can best be led by the internal communications department. More to come on this; watch my blog for details. Read more

Branded content campaigns grow, but so do views—Branded content campaigns grew 75% in the second quarter, suggesting that Mark Schaefer’s fear of “content crash” is well-founded. However, views of branded content grew by 2.2 times, exceeding the growth of campaigns with the click-through rate and overall viewing time remaining constant. The takeaway: The appetite for branded content, especially in the U.S., is unabated. I’d worry about content crash as a theoretical issue in order to ensure you’re always innovating ways to reach customers with content, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening as quickly as Mark anticipated. Read more

A single channel is key to the customer experience—It takes two or more channels for 55% of customers to resolve an issue with a company, according to a study from The Northridge Group, and 44% believe companies don’t make it easy for customers to contact them. Consumers value first-contact resolution and 77% have turned to social media to try to get an answer or solution, even though 21% say they never get a response from companies they contact via social media. The takeaway: Creating a great customer experience is largely about doing the things that satisfy a customer. It’s great to create new experiences but they won’t help much if the customer is frustrated trying to get a simple answer to a question. I am increasingly amazed that so many companies invest so much in customer experience yet let queries languish on Facebook and Twitter. Read more

Microinfluencers dominate influencer marketing—Brands are increasingly eschewing celebrities for microinfluencers. They may not be famous celebrities but they do have dedicated, highly engaged followers. A survey of microinfluencers found 60% believe Instagram is the best platform for engaging; only 18% said the same of Facebook. Snapchat is the new favorite channel among half of the microinfluencers surveyed, but only 1% favor it as a means of connecting with followers. The takeaway: Given that 84% of respondents charge less than $250 per Instagram post, microinfluencers could be a smart investment. The trick is finding them, but that’s why you’d want to connect with an influencer discovery tool like Little Bird. Read more

Retailers are missing the boat by ignoring SMS—SMS text messaging is one of the least frequently used modes of communication for retailers. Only 29% are employing it, versus 97% for 3mail, 66% for phone, 82% for social media, and 32% for mobile apps. A study by Internet Retailer notes that retailers that are using text messaging “are seeing success in terms of efficiency, reach, and business impact.” The takeaway: Messaging apps have become the smartphone homescreen for a lot of people who also have embraced old-fashioned text messages. It may seem old-school, but it’s consistent with an undeniable trend. Read more

Chatbots

Chatbots are disruptive—The sheer number of chatbots functioning on Facebook Messenger, Kik, SMS, and other platforms is disruptive all by itself. Now, we’re seeing the rise of bots that “use a compilation of various chatbot languages,” hybrid applications being employed by Domino’s Pizza and CNN, among others. These bots improve user engagement and brand satisfaction. More advanced bots “will cause a revolution,” using proprietary Artificial Intelligence algorithms to project a unique personality. “They can create and deliver completely measurable advertising campaigns that bring together all the elements of integrated marketing,” according to VentureBeat. The takeaway: Most of the communicators I talk to are still only mildly curious about chatbots. There are 18,000 now running just on Facebook Messenger. Bots will play a significant role in all kinds of communication. Ignoring them now is like ignoring desktop publishing in 1986. Read more

New York Times issues cease-and-desist to a chatbot—Chris McBride created a non-commercial chatbot called JULIA that answers food and cooking questions and recommends recipes from various websites. Some of those recipes come from The New York Times. Sharing a link on the web to a Times recipe is no big deal, but with a chatbot on a mobile device, the Times claims JULIA “is disintermediating us from the end user of the content.” The difference, according to a Medium post by McBride: “On the web, links are openly visible. Because a chatbot is a black box, however, it’s difficult, if not impossible for a third party to know how extensive a chatbot’s database of links is or how frequently those links are presented or accessed.” The takeaway: As McBride notes, chatbots are new territory. Publishers and developers should start working together to figure out how they can benefit one another rather than resort to legal action as the first knee-jerk reaction. Read more

Kik rethinks chatbots—Kik CEO Ted Livingston notes there hasn’t yet been a “killer bot” despite the thousands that have been built (including more than 20,000 for Kik). One reason, Livingston suggests, is the laser-like focus on human-like conversation. Even without conversation, there is huge utility for using bots, including ease of use (compared to apps), ease of discovery, the ability to use one app to access thousands of chatbots that previously would have required separate apps, and the integration of bots with messaging (that is, a common interface for interaction).  The takeaway: I earlier reported that Silicon valley is hiring writers from Hollywood to write the conversational scripts for chatbots. Don’t feel like you need to take that kind of approach to get started. Providing a more intuitive approach to interactions that currently are available only via your app will be enough to attract consumers who are increasingly agreeable to bots. (As Livingston says, on Kik alone, users have exhanged nearly 2 billion messages with bots in less than four months.) Read more

Virtual and Augmented Reality

Intel will produce a “merged reality” headset—Intel has thrown its hat in the VR/AR ring with Project Alloy, a wireless headset that will allow users to see their own hands and use them to interact with objects in a Virtual Reality space. Equipped with RealSense cameras, “the headset could detect a user’s finger movement and allow users to manipulate objects within a simulation, thus negating the need for controllers.” The takeaway: Do we really need to factor “merged reality” into the VR/AR mix? Oh, well. The concept is an important one that should create even greater utility for VR uses by businesses and brands that not only want to provide an immersive experience, but encourage real engagement and interaction. Being inside a new-model car is great. Being able to drive it, though, is awesome. Read more

Here come celebrity AR holograms—Companies are already working on 3D captures of celebrities for AR and, eventually, VR performances. No word yet on which celebrities are involved, but the idea for now is to “go to a venue and see a convincing virtual concert or lecture no matter where you sit, and with more freedom of movement for the star of the show.” The takeaway: Or feel like you’re at the venue when you’re sitting in your living room in your bathrobe. Read more

Video

Bye-bye, Blab—For a while there, Blab was all the rage. The livestreaming app attracted nearly 4 million users in its first year, but now it’s gone, the victim of too much churn. Like Meerkat before it, Blab had little trouble attracting broadcasters, but audiences were slow to return to the app. The company plans to reintroduce the tool as a video chat tool for small groups to engage with one another. The takeaway: Some were too quick to proclaim Blab the future of livestreaming. The fact is, the marketplace is crowded and Facebook and Twitter have a lot of clout along with huge existing user bases. I’m not optimistic about Blab’s pivot, either, given that Google Hangouts and Skype already accommodate multi-participant video chat. Read more

Mobile/social video on the rise—Smartphones now account for 8.6 of the 50-plus hours we spend looking at screens each week, and social networking accounts for four hours weekly. “The overlap between smartphone and social network use is quite significant, which has led a number of companies to test the viability of social-mobile (SoMo) networks for video delivery,” according to Rapid TV News. SoMo video represents less than 15 minutes of screen time (10% of the time spent on smartphones and 14% of all the time spent watching video on smartphones), but with the shift of screen time to mobile and social networks app embracing video, “all the trends are lining up in favor of massive growth in SoMo video over the next decade,” according to a research analyst. The Diffusion Group forecasts SoMo video will surge from 685 million daily viewing minutes this year to 7.4 billion by 2025. The takeaway: Channel management is a growing occupation. I spoke with the global head of internal communications for a financial services company who just hired a head of channels just for employee communication. Knowing how to produce or repurpose videos for mobile social consumption will be a routine activity in short order. Read more

Social platform popularity comes at YouTube’s expense—Sixty-five percent of marketers prefer social channels Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter for digital video campaigns, beating YouTube by 10 percentage points. The study by Trusted Media Brands found 65% of agency respondents and 42% of marketers plan to increase their digital video investment in the next 12 months, and 71% of all respondents could use live-streaming video advertising in the next year. The takeaway: Don’t give up on YouTube, but be strategic on how you use each platform. YouTube is terrible for discovery but great if you can build followers to a channel. Also, social media videos get lost after they move out of the news feed, whereas they remain evergreen on YouTube. Read more

Twitter video ads perform best—Take this study with a grain of salt since it was co-produced by Twitter itself, but the same video ad is nearly twice as memorable in a Twitter video feed compared to other premium sites (i.e., Facebook). The study—jointly produced by twitter and IPG Media Lab, showed strong performance of video ads both in the feed and as pre-rolls in other videos. The takeaway: Did I mention you should take this with a grain of salt? Read more

Video’s role in purchase decisions gets bigger—Video has become an important consideration in online purchase decisions, according to research from visual commerce company Invodo, whose marketing VP insists that product video is no longer optional. Among the report’s findings: One-third of respondents said they’re more likely to shop on a website other than Amazon when it includes a lot of product videos, shoppers are more likely to watch a video on a product page than anywhere else, and nearly 70% of shoppers say mobile videos allow for impulse shopping. Seventy percent of shoppers also say they rely on online videos to improve their in-store experience.  The takeaway: Must I say it? Especially if your company sells pricier items, offering product videos is a requirement. Read more

This week’s wrap image is from Yellowstone National Park’s Flickr account. It shows the Cougar Creek patrol cabin, wrapped in aluminized structure wrap that reflects up to 95% of radiant heat.