Friday Wrap #179: A G+ makeover, a non-word word of the year, pitching journalists via Facebook ads

A wrapped Toyota at 2014 CES -- Friday Wrap #179The Friday Wrap is my weekly collection of news stories, posts, studies, and reports designed to help organizational communicators stay current on the trends and technology that affect their jobs. These may be items that flew under the radar while other stories grabbed big headlines. As always, I collect material from which I select Wrap stories (as well as stories to report on the For Immediate Release podcast, along with stuff I just want to remember to read) on my link blog, which you’re welcome to follow.


Google+ gets a makeover—Google has unveiled a redesign of Google+ focused on Communities (interest groups) and Collections (curation along the lines of Pinterest). Employing Material Design—an Android innovation—the new look applies to both the web version of Google+ and the mobile apps. Communities and Collections are among the most popular features of Google+ that are still connected to the network (the very popular Photos has been unbundled). They focus more on streams of content than on social, and they’re highly ad-friendly. The takeaway: It makes sense for Google to pay attention to the elements of Google+ that work, but I doubt it will be enough to propel the network to the levels of popularity it needs to become truly mainstream. Read more

Facebook allows Google to crawl and index its mobile app—Google got a boost in its effort to remain relevant as a search engine from an unexpected source. As the result of an agreement, mobile Google searches will return results including content from Facebook’s app. The Facebook results will mostly be public profiles, company Pages, Groups, and Events. The takeaway: The consumer is the winner with this agreement, able to pull relevant content from an important source that has been missing from search results up until now. Read more

Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year isn’t a word—An emoji has been named Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year. The smiling face with tears of joy was selected after Oxford Dictionaries joined forces with emoji keyboard maker SwiftKey to determine which emoji were most frequently used. The organization wanted to pick an emoji for 2015’s word. Oxford Dictionaries’ president said, “You can see how traditional alphabet scripts have been struggling to meet the rapid-fire, visually focused demands of 21st-century communication. It’s not surprising that a pictographic script like emoji has stepped in to fill those gaps.” The takeaway: If you’ve been resisting learning emojis and figuring how where they fit in your efforts, consider this the wake-up call you needed. Read more

New York Times experiments with email updates for Paris coverage—You see a link on Facebook or Twitter to a New York Times story about the terrorist attacks in Paris. As you’re reading, you see a button inviting you to “Follow This Story.” By doing so, you’re signing up for email updates. The Times has sent out three so far under the subject line, “Latest on the Paris Attacks.” In addition to the update, the email also features links to coverage that you might otherwise not have seen, such as a story in the Arts section. The takeaway: The Times isn’t sharing subscription data, so we don’t know how well the experiment is working. The idea is a good one, though, one that companies might consider as an alternative to regular email newsletters. Consider a consumer who’d like to follow the development of one product rather than get news about everything the company is doing. I can envision “Follow This Story” buttons that invite readers to connect with the company who never would have subscribed to a general-interest newsletter. Read more

Another executive AMA goes bad—REI, the outdoor retailer, thought a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) with its CEO Jerry Stritzke was a good idea. After all, REI had earned huge positive sentiment for its decision to close—and pay employees anyway—on Black Friday. But employees flooded the AMA with tales of a brutal work environment. Stritzke abandoned the AMA rather than answer a tough question about pressure on store employees to boost sales of memberships, then came back to promise an answer the next day, a promise on which he delivered. The takeaway: I am constantly amazed that executives pondering an AMA don’t wonder what could go wrong. Even more, why don’t his PR people ask that question? Read more


The new pitch: Facebook ads—Facebook makes it easy to target ads to very specific audiences. There’s no reason advertisers can’t target those ads to journalists. That’s exactly what some marketers and PR practitioners are doing. While there’s nothing new in targeting ads to influencers, the idea of using ads to reach out to reporters from specific news organizations is something we haven’t seen before. And, according to some, it works. The takeaway: I have to admit, this would never have occurred to me. While it’s relatively new, it will probably remain effective, but reporters can soon find it annoying if it becomes common practice. Read more

Instagram captions: the new blogging?—Instagram is for sharing photos, but a growing number of users are supplementing those images with longer-form text, from average users to celebrities (like The Rock). Instagram imposes a character limit of 2,200, but that’s plenty of room for people to tell stories and express themselves while avoiding the noise of Facebook or the need to create and maintain a personal blog. The takeaway: The article notes that brand use of longer captions is annoying, but those of average users are increasingly popular. Brands would be wise to find a more personal way to engage using Instagram captions. Read more

Can PR agencies adopt after-hour email bans?—Banning employees from reading email after work hours is one way to avoid labor issues with employees (or unions) who expect to be compensated for work performed off-the-clock. In some countries—like France and Germany—it’s the law. There are doubts, though, that the concept can work in PR agencies, given 24-hour news cycles, time zones, and the need for clients to have access to counselors. One agency did implement the ban, though, and Edelman’s Toronto office discourages emailing before 7 a.m. and after 7 p.m. The takeaway: As a guideline, these kinds of rules are fine. As a rule, I don’t like them. An engaged employee, one working on the final phases of a project or just staying current because she wants to, shouldn’t be prohibited from doing so. On the other hand, nobody should be required to check email on their own time. Read more

On Snapchat, fake accounts allow for authenticity—“Finstagrams” are fake accounts that allow people to show their real lives rather than the glamorous and unrealistic lives so many people portray on the image-sharing service. The accounts are meant for only a small circle of friends. One user, for instance, has more than 2,700 followers on her regular Instagram account, but only about 50 finstagram followers. Finstagram users are generally teens or in their early 20s. The takeaway: For some, life online can create undue pressures, yet some of the systems provide the means to innovate solutions to the problem. Read more

Ad-blocking’s potential impact on the democratic process—Sure, ad-blockers hide those awful ads and improve your online experience—especially your mobile experience—but some are sounding a warning that ad-blockers could also harm the democratic process. Candidates, the reasoning goes, could plan to advertise on websites and apps in an effort to reach voters, but those messages might never get through. Of course, candidates use multiple channels to reach voters, so the real impact will have to be assessed after next year’s election. The takeaway: I worry about other public service-focused advertising not reaching consumers. The ads you see on TV that seek victims for class-action lawsuits are actually viewed by the legal community as a necessary service; how else do people learn they might be eligible for compensation for their suffering? It’s early days for ad-blocking. Be vigilant. Read more

Pollsters aren’t putting much faith in social media—Political pollsters are skeptical of social media metrics that purport to measure the level of support for a candidate. They’re not ignoring social media data; they’re just not willing to rely on it. The takeaway: The fact that pollsters are crunching social media data means the metrics will improve and trust in them will grow over time. By the 2020 presidential election, social media data should be as accepted as other sources. Read more


Hyatt introduces customer service via Messenger—Guests at Hyatt hotels can now reach out to customer service via Facebook’s Messenger app; no need to visit the hotelier’s company Page. Hyatt is using Facebook’s “Businesses on Messenger” tool and has integrated Messenger into its social services team’s monitoring package. The takeaway: The more channels you make available to customers for reaching your company, the better. As power shifts to customers, giving them the best possible experience should be one of your routine goals. Read more

Facebook puts Snapchat in its crosshairs with ephemeral messaging—Messenger, Facebook’s messaging app, has attracted huge numbers of users, but Facebook wants more. They want teens, many of whom have opted instead for Snapchat and its vanishing messages. Research has found ephemeral messaging encourages more natural, real-world conversation. In an effort to lure them back to its ecosystem, Facebook has introduced vanishing messages to Messenger. Tap the hourglass icon and your messages will vanish after an hour; tap again to disable the feature. The takeaway: Teens use Facebook more than some data suggests; they just don’t use it for messaging. (In one interview, a teen said a Facebook account was required, just like a driver’s license, for access to brand Pages, interest groups, photo albums, and other features.) But Snapchat has added so many additional features, the ephemeral feature alone probably won’t be enough to lure many teens back. Read more

Get familiar with YouNow—It’s time to add another social app to your list. YouNow is a livestreaming app that has taken off among teens. With 100 million user sessions each month and 150,000 broadcasts every day, YouNow ranks 34 among social networking apps. Some 70% of YouNow’s users are under 24. The takeaway: Pay attention to what teens are using. Snapchat started as a popular app with teens; look at it now. And livestreaming is growing in popularity. Read more


Do demographics matter any more?—Millennials this, Millennials that. You can’t read a news feed without seeing references to Millennials and their importance to brands. A study from Hotwire PR finds, however, that marketing communications professionals will move away from reliance on age groups. Instead, they will “look to engage consumers with age-agnostic content that emphasizes certain values.” The takeaway: I’m glad to see this trend, since behaviors are increasingly transcending the boundaries between demographic groups. But ignoring demographics altogether doesn’t strike me as a good idea. Applying balance and considering a variety of factors continues to be the best approach. Read more

Hashtags’ impact on engagement—Tweets without hashtags actually perform better than those with them, but on Instagram, those with three hashtags produced the best engagement rate, but those with no hashtags performed only a little worse; those with four or more experienced declining engagement, according to research from Locowise. The takeaway: For brands seeking to boost engagement, these findings are worth using as the basis of experimentation, but don’t take them as gospel. Things are different depending on audiences and a host of other factors. Read more

This week’s “wrap” image—of a camoflauged Toyota at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show—is courtesy of the Flickr account, Tales of a Wandering Youkai