HC+T Briefing: Using ad targeting for good instead of evil

From: "HC+T Update" <shel@holtz.com>
Subject: HC+T Briefing: Using ad targeting for good instead of evil
Date: November 22nd 2017

There was no Briefing last Friday and you won't get one this coming Friday. (Tomorrow begins the four-day Thanksgiving weekend when nobody in the U.S. should be reading work-related email. Work-related email on a four-day holiday weekend is not one of the things for which you should be thankful! Instead, I'm combining the two Briefings into this special (extra-long) Wednesday edition. You're welcome to follow my link blog, which is where I collect the stories from which I choose the contents of the HC+T Briefing.


CompuServe's forums are shutting down -- A long time ago, I was an assistant sysop on CompuServe's PR & Marketing Forum (PRSIG). I even remember my CompuServe ID (76346,627). My memories of CompuServe -- even when it was all text -- are still good ones. There was a real community in the PRSIG, with real collaboration and genuine sharing. Of course, CompuServe is a footnote in the history of the digital world and its forums have been gone for all practical purposes for a long time. However, it turns out that the forums still existed in some format as part of Verizon (which acquired AOL, which had acquired CompuServe back in 1998, long after I'd stopped using it). Now, though, Verizon will eradicate those forums once and for all on December 15. Takeaway: I shall shed a tear. The world has moved on from CompuServe and its primitive interface, but there has been little to emulate the forums since. It was likely the fact that there were no alternatives back in the day, which brought everybody who had figured out the value of online communication before 1990 and wanted to connect with others on business topics to this one gathering place. The range of options and tools that have followed are breathtaking and wonderful, but we pay a price for all that choice. Farewell, PRSIG.Read more

The end of Net neutrality -- The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing to end Title II regulations on the Internet, returning it to an information service classification as opposed to a telecommunications one. The move opens the door for service providers to create “fast lanes,” delivering content faster for companies that pay for it and throttling the speeds of that that don’t (as long as they disclose it). Takeaway: This is a political football, but the simple fact is that companies like Google and Facebook may never have achieved their current levels of success if they had been subject to large fees in their early years just to have their content prioritized over the bigger companies (like Yahoo) who had the resources to afford it. Net neutrality ensures all content is treated the same—including your little startup that would struggle to find users frustrated by the slow speeds they’ll experience unless you pay up. Read more

Honda finds a non-ad use for audience targeting and it's brilliant -- More than 10 million vehicles in the U.S. haven't had repairs made that are necessary in the wake of the Takata air bag scandal. To reach owners of its vehicles that need fixing who haven't responded to recall notices, Honda plans to use Facebook's custom audience tool, usually used for selling stuff to people. Honda will use the tool "to match encrypted email addresses associated with recalled vehicle identification numbers to Facebook users." Takeaway: Who knew Facebook's advertising tools could be used for social good? Well, a lot of people, and it has been used to encourage people to register to vote, among other things, but this is the first time I have heard of a brand using it for something like this. I hope other companies are inspired to find their own non-commercial uses for audience targeting. Read more

Mixed messages around a Hannity boycott -- At first, brands seemed to be uniting around calls for a boycott of Fox News's Sean Hannity over his support of Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. But after tweeting their endorsement of the boycott (including plans to remove advertising from Hannity's show), some clarified their original messages and others deleted their tweets, especially after backlash aimed at Keurig in which Hannity fans shared videos of themselves destroying their Keurig devices. Takeaway: Where to begin? First, deleting a tweet does not mean nobody will see what you tweeted. Second, joining in a boycott is not a spur-of-the-moment decision. Brands need to consider the consequences and decide whether the decision is aligned with their values. Changing your mind at the first sign of disagreement will be worse than doing nothing, since those customers who care about what you stand for will now see you as opportunistic and uncommitted. Read more

Twitter's verification conundrum -- The blue mark that indicates Twitter has verified a user is something of a mystery, from how you get one to what it means. On its face, it seems like a simple enough concept. When you're verified, it means Twitter knows that you are who you say you are. But now, to fight online harassment, Twitter says it will remove verification badges from users who break its rules based on the notion that verification is more of an endorsement. Takeaway: Addressing harassment is a good thing, but I'm not sure messing with verification -- already confusing -- is the way to go about it, nor am I sure it will actually have the desired effect. It strikes me as another sign of Twitter's fumbling about for solutions to its many problems. In any case, the confusion has led Twitter to suspend issuing verifications. Read more

Twitter is testing a tweetstorm feature -- Twitter is testing a feature to let you create "tweetstorms" easily. Used to overcome Twitter's character count limit -- even 280 characters isn't enough for some diatribes -- the feature has its own interface for composing tweets one by one, then published as a tweetstorm by pressing a "Tweet All" button. Takeaway: Some tweetstorms represent some of the most entertaining content on Twitter. Making it easier to employ the workaround to crank out longer-form content could lead more people to use the format. That could be great or awful. Here's hoping communicators use it effectively, should it ever be released to everyone. Read more

TripAdvisor adds badge to hotels with reports on sexual assaults -- A new badge appears on TripAdvisor hotel listings where sexual assaults have been reported. The move comes in the wake of reports that the site deleted posts about such crimes against tourists in Mexico. The red banner will stretch across the top of the listings alerting tourists that a case has been reported and recommending travelers conduct some research. The badges will vanish after three months if new issues don't arise. Takeaway: It's a sign of the times. Hotels won't be happy but it should raise the level of trust and comfort for travelers who rely on TripAdvisor for hotel recommendations. Read more

Facebook Stories will invade your News Feed -- Facebook Stories haven't gained the kind of traction that Snapchat and Instagram Stories have, but Facebook is introducing new features it hopes will change that. You'll be able to tie Stories to specific Pages, events, and Groups. Stories from Instagram and Messenger will also appear at the top of your News Feed. While some people may hate that, it could lead others to start using Facebook Stories Takeaway: While I still haven't used Stories on any social platform personally, I'm all about Stories for marketing and communications. Adding your Stories to your company Page seems like a no-brainer, especially if you want to make that page a destination. Stories are immensely popular (just not on Facebook yet), and easy enough to maintain with low risk (since those images are ephemeral). Why more companies aren't using Stories eludes me.s Read more

Tech giants join Trust Project to fight fake news -- The Trust Project is a non-partisan effort that hopes to help users distinguish between reliable journalism and fake news. Facebook, Google, Bing, and Twitter have signed on, with "Trust Indicator" icons appearing on Facebook, giving users easy insight into the ethics and practices of a news organization whose content is shared on the social network. Takeaway: Whether users will click those links -- or trust what they see when they do -- remains to be seen. Every experiment produces insights, though, that hopefully will be used to produce something that makes a real difference. Read more

Pinterest introduces a proprietary QR code -- Pinterest is rolling out its own version of QR codes for retailers and brands to add to signs and displays. Open your Pinterest app and point it at a sign in a store in order to go directly to the associated pinboard. "It's another way of reducing friction to getting to the content from those brand or retailers on Pinterest." Takeaway: Remember everyone who said QR codes would never take off, that they're dead? Their utility is only continuing to explode, especially as it becomes easier for people to use their phones to connect with digital content from the physical world. Read more

Facebook livestreamers get new tools -- Facebook has unveiled new tools to help livestreaming creators manage, improve, and grow their presence. The iOS version of the Facebook Creator app is now available with an Android version to follow. The Facebook for Creators site is available now to everyone. The site offers tips on creating videos, connecting with fans, and growing on Facebook. The app lets users create videos, go live with exclusive features, and connect with their community from their smartphones. Takeaway: Live streaming is a huge part of Facebook's video strategy. Anything that makes it easier for people to stream great content benefits the creator and Facebook. Data supports the move: People are watching live-streaming video, which should be the focus of a strategy for many organizations. Read more


  • KFC follows up its 11 herbs and spices gag -- You no doubt remember the brilliant KFC ploy, following all five Spice Girls and five random guys named Herb on Twitter and waiting for someone to notice. The tweet from the guy who did went viral and led to all kinds of media attention. KFC has followed up by sending that guy a painting of Colonel Sanders carrying him on his back through an iconic American landscape. These guys are geniuses. Read more
  • Twitter increases username length -- You can now have a username of up to 50 characters. Some people actually have long names they'd like to use. For the rest of us, we can now add all the emojis we like to our Twitter usernames. Read more
  • Facebook hides ability to delete posts from some users -- We're not sure why, but some Facebook users can no longer find the ability to delete a post in their drop-down menu. To delete a post, they had to visit their activity log. Read more
  • Snapchat introduces audience targeting for filters -- Those filters Snapchat users overlay on their snaps can now target specific audiences. Brands sponsoring filters can make sure they're available based on location, interest, age, and time of day. Read more
  • LinkedIn expands lead generation forms to Sponsored InMail -- Lead generation forms are already available for sponsored posts. Now, you can add them to sponsored InMails, sending one-on-one messages to LinkedIn users with the form that collects data like names, email addresses, job titles, and other fields from their public profiles. Read more
  • Instagram may let you follow hashtags -- Right now, it's just a test, but some Instagram users are able to search for a hashtag and then follow it. Given the popularity of hashtags on Instagram, I suspect this will be a big hit if it goes beyond the test phase. Read more
  • Pinterest lets you create sections on boards -- Finally responding to its most-requested feature of all time, Pinterest has introduced the ability to create multiple sections within a single board. "You could have a single 'living room' board with separate sections for furniture, artwork, and lighting, rather than lumping them all in together or having to keep track of multiple boards." Read more


Facial recognition poised to change marketing -- The new iPhone features facial recognition as an identity verification mechanism. Down the road, consumers willing to share their facial expressions in response to brand messaging could find convenience improved, better targeted messaging, and even rewards for sharing the feelings revealed by their faces. Takeaway: We've all heard that 90% of communication is non-verbal and marketers would love to tap into all that non-verbal data. Thanks to AI, it looks like a distinct possibility.Read more

Snapchat gets more Facebook-like -- A redesign includes a personalized feed. Like Facebook (and, more recently, Twitter), Snap will use algorithms to populate the feed with relevant stories. And that's just one change Snapchat is making to mirror Facebook, which has suffered from poor stock performance as Facebook (and Facebook's Instagram) clone Snapchat's most popular features and siphon off users who prefer the less confusing interface of familiar apps. On the plus side, Snapchat's model prevented Russian hackers from exploiting it during the U.S. presidential election. Takeaway: You have to wonder how Snapchat's most fervent users -- teens -- will feel when it transforms into something more and more Facebook-like. I remain unconvinced that Snapchat will survive in the long run. That wouldn't prevent me from using it now as a marketing channel, especially if I'm trying to reach its biggest base of users. Read more


Social media can drive long-term brand impact -- A study from multiple academic institutions found that brands that communicate via social media, "using human language, tapping into people's emotions and avoiding more functional words and phrases, tend to perform better in advertising effectiveness, on brand metrics such as aided brand awareness, ad awareness, and aided product awareness." Takeaway: Your social media campaign may not generate immediate sales, but your combined social media efforts can make sure people are aware of you.Read more

Instagram blows away the competition as influencers' preferred network -- A survey of influencers found that 93% find Instagram to be the social network where they've focused their attention in 2017; 82% expect to focus on it next year. YouTube is getting some attention, with only 3.2% focused on it this year but 12.2% planning to tap into it in 2018. Facebook is losing favor as an influencer venue, falling from 2.7% this year to 1.7% in 2018. Snapchat, Twitter, and Pinterest barely register among influencers, and Periscope didn't get a single mention. Takeaway: With influencers focused almost exclusively on Instagram, do you need any more evidence that your company should be taking your account more seriously? On the other hand, if your audience is elsewhere and influencer marketing is on your to-do list, you will need to find influencers who have juice in those alternate platforms. Read more

Quick response to a crisis maintains long-term reputation -- We knew this intuitively, but it's always nice when there's some data to support it, even if the data is a bit dodgy. B2B ratings and reviews firm Clutch established a relationship between how companies respond to crises and their ability to retain a strong brand reputation in the long term. A survey of 500 consumers familiar with crises that afflicted Pepsi, United Airlines, and Uber found that those that wait to respond to bad PR are more likely to lose customers. Newer companies can also lose customers in a crisis even if they respond quickly, mainly because their customer base is limited during their formative years. Takeaway: Respond quickly. Always. As a communicator, you know this. If you need to convince your leadership, this data could help. No CEO wants to lose customers. Read more

People don't trust Google Snippets -- When you search Google, you may get a summarized response to a query that appears above the list of results. A HubSpot survey finds only 7% of respondents consistently trust the featured snippet results. Twenty-one percent never trust them and 36% are neutral about them. The distrust is likely the result of snippets delivering information that only partially answers the query -- or doesn't answer it at all. Takeaway: Not that there's anything you can do about it if information from your website turns up in a snippet. Consider this a Google feature that needs some work. Read more


  • What's the perfect headline count? -- Between 90 and 99 characters, according to a study from Polar, a branded content technology company. That produces the best click-through rate (which is still just .43%). "Performance trended upward as the number of characters increased. Titles between 10 and 19 characters had the lowest CTR, which was .12%" Read more
  • Time spent on Facebook drops -- Facebook users are spending less time on the social network. It's still the king of social networks, attracting more visits and more time spent than any other platform, but the number of visits and the time spent per visit is dropping, according to a number of studies. Read more

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

Facebook News Feed now hosts VR content -- Brands are injecting VR-enabled posts into the Facebook News Feed. Using Facebook's React VR web development framework, Sony has produce a VR film to promote its upcoming "Jumanji" movie. The UK's National Gallery posted an interactive virtual tour of a new museum wing, with users able to click or tap on individual paintings to reveal information about them. The capability is currently open only to a few companies. Takeaway: The fact that you can interact with this content on the screen without a headset -- or put on a headset and get the full effect -- could move some people further down the VR funnel. "I gotta try this with a headset" could be the reaction that pushes some people into making the headset purchase.Read more

AR will transform city life -- The indexing of the real world, and making it available so all you have to do is point your phone to get information on what's nearby, will change what it means to live in (or visit) a city. The impact will be felt on everything from commutes to dealing with the variety of languages that co-exist in big cities. Takeaway: For an early example, read the next item. Read more

Visiting Houston made easy, thanks to AR -- The Visit Houston AR app delivers information about businesses nearby overlaid on the live video your phone's camera sees. Right now, it shows eateries, lodging, and tourist spots, but more is coming. The takeaway: I'd be surprised if it takes more than a year or two for every major city -- and some second-tier cities -- to have such VR apps for smartphones and headsets. Of course, as the article notes, Yelp's Monocle tool has been doing the same thing for years. Read more

AR is struggling to scale -- As noted above, AR is bound to become commonplace but for the time being, it's not taking off, especially in retail where it was thought to make a big impact. IKEA and a few others have bought in, but for many retailers, the initial investment and the inability to demonstrate ROI are barriers. It's also new enough that it's hard to figure out where it fits in strategically. Again, there are exceptions, like Sephora's Virtual Artist app, "which lets customers try on different makeups and colors prior to buying them...[providing] actual value to customers who can pick and choose based on broader product knowledge. It also saves Sephora associates time." Takeaway: Don't let AR's early struggles fool you, but you may want to wait until it has found its place in our mobile infrastructure before making an investment for your brand. At the very least, come up with a strategic plan (like Sephora did) rather than simply succumbing to AR's novelty. Read more

Artificial Intelligence, Chatbots, and Smart Audio

How's your chatbot doing? -- Chatbase can help you figure that out. Opened to developers by Google, Chatbase is a dashboard that "pulls together data from several reporting options that track user growth, engagement, and retention and measure(s) results across platforms...Chatbase can help to identify consumer requests that are not handled well." It's free and works with any platform or type of bot. Takeaway: Measuring the effectiveness of a bot will lead to improvements to existing bots and will entice others to give them a try. Given how easy they have become to build, we should be at the beginning of another surge of new chatbots.Read more

New voice app tools from Google -- Google has unveiled some features to make it easier for developers to create voice apps for Google's AI assistant, including Implicit Discovery, which lets you say something like, "I need to book a flight," to which Google would respond with the best flight-booking tool (like Kayak). "I need a ride" could connect you instantly with Uber or Lyft. (Amazon's Alexa platform already does this.) Other enhancements include categories (such as "Order Food") and new badges in the app store that show whether a voice app is family friendly or supports non-English languages. Takeaway: Catching up with Alexa will be vital if Google hopes to compete (which it clearly does). Expansion into languages like Portuguese and Spanish will help boost Google's footprint in the smart audio space. Both Amazon and Google recognize that smart audio is vital as more and more people interact with devices that have no visual interface. Read more

Amazon joins open-source AI effort -- By introduce a way to import Open Neural Network Exchange deep learning models into Apache, Amazon has signaled it's joining Facebook and Microsoft in their efforts to make AI an open-source resource. "Basically, this allows AI developers to keep models but switch networks, as opposed to starting from scratch," according to a TNW article. Google and Apple have yet to get on the open-source train, however. Takeaway: As the article notes, startups and universities creating machine learning technology need to be able to share their work unencumbered by incompatible formats. The open-source effort means these technologies will advance faster and become part of our lives sooner. Read more

Also... Broadcast a message to every Google Home in the house -- A new Google Home feature will let you broadcast a message to all of the Google Home smart audio devices in your house but saying, "Ok, Google, broadcast..." It's great for letting everyone know you're on your way home or asking if someone could check to make sure the oven is off (for instance). If you say, "Ok, Google, it's dinner time," a dinner bill will ring, one of several "delightful sounds.)" Read more


Blockchain's role in the future of digital marketing -- Bots are behind half of all digital ad traffic, but the ability of those ads to lead to sales will increase when marketers can target an ad to an individual, which blockchain and smart contracts will enable. With users deciding just how much data to release to advertisers -- in exchange for a micropayment for an advertiser using that data -- the advertiser can then send an ad to that user based on the information the user has provided. Takeaway: That's just one way marketers can use blockchain. Influencers represent another, with the smart contract withholding payment if a blogger hasn't yet written about the company.Read more

American Express blockchain "corridor" speeds trans-Atlantic payments -- American Express has opened a "payments corridor" that lets payments between the UK and the U.S. occur in a few seconds, dramatically reducing the current transaction time of a day or two while improving the transaction's security. Takeaway: Disintermediated from the transaction is Belgium-based Swift, which 11,000 financial institutions in 200 countries use to handle financial communications between institutions. Blockchain will render Swift useless. It's far from the only organization that blockchain will disrupt. Read more

Fujitsu opens tech to facilitate transactions between blockchains -- It was only a matter of time before someone figured out how to get different blockchains to work together. Fujitsu has introduced ConnectionChain, designed to handle financial transactions between blockchains. Takeaway: There is undoubtedly utility in inter-blockchain transactions beyond money -- Fujitsu already says it will expand the tech "beyond currency exchange to areas such as high-trust data exchanges between companies" -- but what's important here is that this will speed blockchain's adoption for financial activities. Communicators working in financial services need to get ready to communicate about the disruption the industry is facing. Read more

92% of blockchain projects launched last year are dead -- According to Deloitte, only 8% of the 26,000 blockchain-based projects launched in 2016 remain active. Takeaway: Don't take this as a sign of blockchain failure. These are open-source projects which have a ridiculously high rate of abandonment across all kinds of projects and, as Deloitte notice, "blockchain is not immune to this reality." On the other hand, don't get too excited if you read about an open-source blockchain project that seems perfect for your needs. Wait to see if it scales. In the meantime, keep an eye on the startups in the space. With venture capital or other investments, they're more likely to stick around. Read more


  • Blockchain holds promise, pitfalls for CSR -- Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a hot topic these days; you just have to look at the Edelman Trust Barometer to figure out why. Blockchain could help, creating an immutable record of a company's behaviors (such as verification that no companies in its supply chain use child labor or products harvested from the rain forest). Read more

Cool Stuff

Twitter bot colorizes black-and-white photos -- Colorise Bot transforms black and white pictures you tweet to it into color photos in a matter of seconds (using Artificial Intelligence, of course). Read more

Email bot wastes scammers' time -- New Zealand's online safety organization has created a tool called Re:scam that "engages with scammers in mindless, never-ending conversation, full of unrelated questions that waste their time." Recipients of scam emails just forward them to me@rescam.org, which will keep replying to the scammer until the scammer stops replying. Read more

November 22, 2017
Want to unsubscribe from this newsletter? Click here.

The latest from the FIR Podcast Network

  • There have been two (count 'em, two) episodes of "For Immediate Release" since the last briefing. On November 13, Neville Hobson and I recorded the November episode of "The Hobson & Holtz Report." We talked about Twitter’s new 280-character limit, how Uber’s new CEO crowdsourced a new set of corporate values, a survey finds members of the traditional media think the fake news problem is elevating trust in traditional media, pregnant moms engaged with social media on an informational website are more likely to have their kids vaccinated, a start wants to change employment with blockchain-based CVs, and Taylor Swift’s lawyers created a completely avoidable PR mess. Dan York reports on a variety of Twitter issues. Listen
  • Earlier this week, Chris Christensen and Christopher Penn joined me to talk about Todd Defren’s departure from SHIFT Communications, the newly-identified podcast “super listener,” the rise of the travel podcast category, whether you should turn your Instagram account over to a bot, AI as the “new electricity,” United Airlines’ auction of hardware from a Boeing 747 to MileagePlus members, and the importance of addressing a crisis quickly. Dan York reports on the evolution of Facebook Stories, Facebook’s rebranding of its “Mentions” app, and Google’s crackdown on AMP users who create teaser pages. Listen
  • Ethan McCarty can freak you out, particularly if you’re an internal communications professional. For example, he recently wrote a blog entitled, “Don’t Measure Internal Communications.” Wait … what? The Sharons talk with Ethan on the latest episode of "EE Voice." Listen
  • On the latest episode of "Inside PR," Gini Dietrich, Martin Waxman and Joseph Thornley talk about transparency and disclosure. Wayne and Schuster anyone? Listen
  • Two episodes of Digital India have aired since the last Briefing. Episode #127 takes a look at the Amazon Echo in India. Listen
  • Episode #128 of Digital India features a group of developers and programmers from Synup, a local marketing software company in Bangalore. Synup offers a single dashboard to make local marketing easier, with all your listings, reviews and keyword rankings all on one platform. Listen
  • The November episode of "Circle of Fellows" features four IABC Fellows (moderated by Fellow Brad Whitworth) discussing the convergence trend and what it means for the practices of public relations, corporate communications, and employee communications. Listen
  • Podcasting expert Seth Greene tells "Inside PR" hosts Paul Gillin and David Strom how businesses of all sizes can benefit from time-tested direct response marketing methods anchored by podcasts. Listen

On the Calendar

  • On December 4, I'll be in Cambridge, MA, speaking at an Intranet Best Practices conferences at IBM's offices. I'm doing a pre-conference session on December 4 and a breakout session on December 5. There's still time to Register
  • I'm delivering the closing keynote talk at Ragan's 2018 Internal Communications and Culture Conference in Chicago on March 8.
  • On March 14, I'll speak at Ragan's annual social media conference in Orlando.
Shel Holtz is director of Internal Communications at Webcor in San Francisco. For 21 years, he was principal of Holtz Communication + Technology. He has also held communication leadership positions in two Fortune 400 companies and spend five years working in the communication practices of two global human resources consulting firms. He blogs at blog.holtz.com.

Forward to a Friend
  • This mailing list is a public mailing list - anyone may join or leave, at any time.
  • This mailing list is announce-only.

The monthly e-mail newsletter from Holtz Communication + Technology

Privacy Policy: