HC+T Briefing: Big Brother Really Is Watching You

From: "HC+T Update" <shel@holtz.com>
Subject: HC+T Briefing: Big Brother Really Is Watching You
Date: November 10th 2017

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.


Twitter doubles character count -- Twitter has officially expanded the character count for a tweet to 280 characters. Most of those testing the new limit in late September didn't generally take advantage of the longer count, leading some to believe that most tweets will remain short; only 1% of tweets created by the test group reached the 280-character limit, while 9% of the control group -- still using the 140-character limit -- reached the cap. Still, as you'll see below, some users were ready to try out the new expanded count. The 140-character limit will continue on the site's Chinese, Korean, and Japanese sites. Takeaway: There has been much winging about the new character count, but I suspect it'll just settle into being the new normal and won't make much of a difference to Twitter or how people use it at all.Read more

Brands jump on Twitter's expanded character limit -- Brands have been experimenting with the new 280-character limit on Twitter, seeing just what they can do with the expanded count. National Geographic loaded a tweet with animal emojis and the hashtag #280characters, a hashtag that has been embraced by everyone playing with the possibilities. Emojis were a popular approach (used by Sony, DiGiornio Pizza, Charmin, and Spotify, among others), though KitKat repeated the lyric of its jingle and the TV series "Law and Order" SVU ran its well-known intro voiceover ("In the criminal justice system..."). KrispyKreme shared a photo of glazed donuts and tweeted, "Who needs #280characters? A picture is worth a thousand words." Takeaway: Was any of this necessary? Did any of it sell more toilet paper or pizza? Is this kind of crap the reason anybody follows a brand's Twitter account? Maybe I'm just cranky today, but shouting, "Look at me, I'm using 280 characters!" seems fairly lame. Read more

Blowback over an old media relations tactic -- A lot of companies freeze out publications that give them bad coverage. (Apple is famous for it.) The Walt Disney Company probably figured it was just employing this age-old tactic when it banned the Los Angeles Times from film screens because of its negative coverage of Disney's business operations. That, however, led other media companies to boycott Disney, leading Disney to walk back its ban. The film journalists joining the boycott earned a lot of praise for their solidarity. Takeaway: While I can't in a million years imagine tech journalists boycotting Apple's press events over a colleague the company has blacklisted, other industries should take note. Find another way to handle dissatisfaction with the press covering your organization lest you be accused of "bullying and press censorship." Read more

REI's #OptOutside campaign gets interactive -- In 2015, REI kicked off a movement by closing on Black Friday and encouraging its employees -- and customers -- to stay away from stores and spend the day outside. The campaign is back for a third year with a digital twist to help people figure out what to do and where to go. A new #OptOutside site features an experiential search engine. Type in a location and an activity (kayaking in the San Francisco East Bay, for example), and you'll get curated experiences, organized by hashtags, as well as practical advice, like what kind of food to bring.” The site also features 20 user-generated videos. Last year, 7 million people and 700 organizations joined the event, which has become a bona fide marketing asset for REI. The site, which I assume will be promoted heavily, should add more momentum to a campaign that should serve REI well for many years by continuing to buck the crazed Black Friday shopping meme by offering something much more desirable. Read more

Crowdsourced photo gallery earns a tab on REI's homepage -- REI's #OptOutside campaign features one particularly interesting element: The company has populated an Instagram gallery containing photos people from around the world have shared with the #OptOutside hashtag. "From the #OptOutside main page you can search for locations by area, activity, or hashtag, which results in a compilation of Instagram images related to your search term. For example, if you type Tuolumne Meadows into the search bar, you’re rewarded with stunning photos of recent vistas in the Sierras, groups of hikers exploring the area, and nearby features such as Tenaya Lake." Takeaway: There's much more to the gallery that sets it apart. People will tell their friends about it, creating even more awareness of the movement. What really appeals to me about #OptOutside is that it is, in fact, a movement that appeals to the values of REI's consumer base -- and it's spreading. Read more

Facebook introduces polling on brand Pages -- After introducing polls on Instagram, Facebook is now letting Page administrators poll followers. The polls (like those on Instagram) are limited to two options. "To draw attention to their Facebook polls, people and Pages can attach GIFs and photos, and they can set a time for when voting will close, such as one day, one week or a custom expiration date. The person or Page that created the poll will be able to track vote counts, as will those who cast the votes." Takeaway: Though marketers were slow to adopt them, the Instagram polling feature was an instant hit. The ability to get feedback without asking people to type an answer -- just tap -- is worth using. You can spark much greater engagement (in addition to getting some user data) than with the usual engagement techniques of shares and comments. Read more

Polls are available for users, too -- Pages aren't the only part of Facebook getting polls. Regular old users can adopt them, too, from the desktop, iOS or Android. "You just open the status composer on your profile or Page, select Polls, write your question and two answers, optionally upload images or choose from a library of GIFs, attach links to answers if you want, choose an expiration date for your polls, post and then you and everyone who votes can see the results." Takeaway: Brand polls had better be more interesting than those users develop for friends and family. Read more

CNN will charge for premium content -- CNN has set the lofty goal of $1 billion in revenue from its digital offerings by 2022. One way the cable news network plans to get there is to charge website visitors for access to premium content " on topic-specific verticals, such as CNN Money and CNN Politics, built around network personalities. A second option will provide additional, though less specialized, content across all of CNN’s sites. Pricing hasn’t been finalized." Takeaway: Pay attention to this trend, which is pertinent to all kinds of industries, not just news. Increasingly, brands are turning their marketing efforts into profit centers. The idea of charging customers from special content is not that far-fetched, as long as customers find it worth the cost. Read more

Taylor Swift's legal team creates a PR mess -- Singer Taylor Swift's legal team sent a demand for a publication to retract a story asserting a song on Swift's new album is a dog whistle to white supremacists. The lawyers also demanded that the letter be kept confidential. Instead, the publication shared the letter with the ACLU, which responded, bringing large-scale attention to the article which otherwise would have never made even a whisper. The publication has fewer than 200 followers on Twitter and about 1,100 likes on its Facebook Page. Takeaway: This is proof that not all lawyers are smart. Aren't lawyers supposed to be all about mitigating risk for their clients? You have to hope Swift will run such decisions by a PR professional in the future. Read more


  • Run Messenger from your website -- Want your customers to be able to chat with you from your company's website? Facebook has launched a closed beta for a plugin that will let customers talk with businesses via Messenger directly from company websites. Read more
  • Instagram Stories no longer need to be current -- Users ask, Instagram responds. You can now add any videos or photos from your camera roll to your Instagram Story. Instagram seems to acknowledge how people are using Stories, less to share what they're doing right now and more to share pictures and videos that are "less permanent and more casual than the main feed." Read more
  • Snapchat falls out of iOS top 10 -- For the first time this year, Snapchat is not part of the top 10 downloaded apps for iOS devices. The fall was steep, from #8 to #18. It's still #2 on Google Play. Read more
  • Instagram's latest steps to ensure influencers disclose paid posts -- Instagram is expanding its branded content program, which gives users access to a "paid partnership with" tag. Instagram is also bolstering its efforts to reach those who are violating its branded content policy. Read more A major Snapchat redesign is coming -- Due in December, the redesign is part of the company's response to lackluster earnings, declining downloads, and a falling share price. Read more
  • Twitter launches $99/month tweet boosting service -- Small businesses and power users are the target for a monthly service that lets them boost their posts. For $99 a month, the mobile feature is designed to be an option for those who don't have the means to launch a full-blown ad campaign on Twitter. Read more


Multiple social sites serve as news sources -- More than a quarter of Americans visit two or more social media sites to get their news, a substantial increase from 18% a year ago. Facebook is at the top of the heap and its users are more likely to rely on it for news. "Half of Facebook's news users get news from that social media site alone, with just one-in-five relying on three or more sites for news," according to the Pew Research Center. News users of LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp are more likely to use multiple social media sites. In general, the fewer number of news users a site has, the more likely those users are to seek news from other additional social media channels. Takeaway: If getting news across to audiences is your goal, ensuring it spreads through all the social media sites where your audiences spend time is more important than ever. Knowing how to tailor your content to appeal to each site's users is increasingly important, reinforcing the need for communicators to have significant channel expertise.Read more

Online interactivity motivates moms to get their kids vaccinated -- Pregnant women who got infant vaccination information from a website with social media elements were more likely to keep their kids up to date with their vaccinations, according to a study. The interactive element was the key factor, the study found. Parents searching for information who found an authoritative vaccine website "that provided parents a forum to voice their opinions, ask questions, and interact with other concerned parents and vaccine experts could help to address those concerns and could potentially improve immunization rates through 'build[ing] trust and combatting misinformation,'" according to the report. Takeaway: This is important on multiple levels (aside from my personal distaste for the anti-vaccination movement). The combination of an expert-moderated site that delivers current information combined with interactive and social elements is the differentiator here, and could work for other issues about which people have doubts or are being hammered with misinformation. Read more

Don't expect holiday shoppers to embrace your chatbot -- Sixty-eight percent of consumers have yet to try a chatbot (at least, as far as they know) and 23% have never heard of chatbots, according to a survey from IFTT. Eighty-three percent don't want a robot shopping for them (but don't mind if one delivered they're purchases to them). Nearly 60% are open to Virtual Reality shopping, mainly for home decor items. Thirty-six percent are fine with shopping via smart audio (Amazon Alexa or Google Home). Takeaway: We are in a transition period as new technologies -- a lot at once -- are overwhelming consumers. Most of these technologies will be routine within the next couple years; even the 2018 holiday shopping season should see more common use of VR, AR, chatbots, and VUI (vocal user interface). Read more


  • Instagram wields most influence over purchases -- Among social platforms, Instagram is king when it comes to driving purchase decisions. An amazing 72% of Instagram users "make purchase decisions based on an image of something they have seen on the app," according to a study, "more than double the influence of any other platform on shopping habits. Read more
  • By 2020, half of content will be viewed on mobile devices -- If you doubted the depth of the mobile revolution, consider that mobile will all account for half of all content consumed in three short years. Twenty-five percent of all viewing will be done on smartphones. Read more
  • People spend more time with content on mobile than desktops -- People who read branded content spend 79 seconds on it when reading on a mobile device. "Some 85.9% of readers spend on average 20 seconds with a piece of content. More than half of all visitors will spend 50 seconds or more on a branded article." Read more


Two key marketing jobs that didn't exist last year -- Jay Baer writes about two "all-new jobs that simply did not exist last year." An Audience Strategist who protects and grows the value of the collected attention brands get from fans, subscribers and followers. Digital Knowledge Managers build and protect the data "that is true about the brand...(ensuring that) it's distributed consistently, accurately, and quickly across the entirety of the ever-expanding digital universe." Takeaway: Clearly these titles aren't for small teams, yet the work is work that somebody needs to do, whether it's the agency you work with or it's part of a team member's job. If you work for a larger enterprise, add these jobs to Channel Manager and some of the other new tasks that are becoming more and more integral to marketing effectiveness.Read more

The corporate world is moving toward curated "microlearning" -- The point of this article is that higher education needs to adapt to a trend, but it's a trend I haven't heard much about. The shift in corporate learning and development (L&D, which is still called training and development in a lot of the business world) is based on the need for greater agility and faster pivots. One study found the average employee has only 1% of their time available for learning. Companies are also spending less on L&D, directing employees to free or cheap resources like Coursery and Udacity, as well as LinkedIn's online courses (from its acquisition of Lynda.com). And rather than have employees sit through day-long (or longer) training sessions, the appetite is now for 90-minute sessions (or shorter), bite-sized training that teaches just what the employee needs to know when she needs to know it. Takeaway: A lot of employee communicators work with their training departments, so awareness of this trend could be useful. Meanwhile, the marketing approach of targeting the right information to the right person at the right time is now finding its way into training. It's all media. Trends that occur in one discipline are inevitably going to find their way into others. Read more

Employee monitoring is reaching 1984 levels -- The range of techniques some employers are using to monitor what employees and contractors are doing at their computers reads like something out of a dystopian novel. The attitude that underlies it is equally distressing. According to the CEO of one of the companies that peddles this software, "If you are a parent and you have a teenage son or daughter coming home late and not doing their homework you might wonder what they are doing. It's the same as employees." Takeaway: Treat employees like children and they're far more likely to behave that way. This is not the way to build trust; if anything, it helps explain why more than half of front-line employees don't trust their employers. Companies should be managing by exception, not starting from the assumption that any employee could be guilty. Read more


  • Insurance explainer goes viral -- It's benefits open enrollment season in the U.S. and employees looking for answers to enrollment-related questions have hit on a video Aetna shared on Facebook explaining the difference between an HSA and an FSA. The explainer video -- which runs just a shade over a minute, has been viewed (so far) more than 5 million times. Explainer. Videos. Rock. Read more
  • Two-screen TV waching is on the rise -- More people will multitask while watching TV, but it won't necessarily be related to the show they're watching. eMarketer predicts 177.7 million adults will use a second-screen this year while watching TV. Read more

Artificial Intelligence, Smart Audio, and Chatbots

Pandora targets ads over connected devices -- If you have a smart device with the Pandora app already installed (there are more than 2,000 such devices), you could soon hear an ad that is targeted to you based on what Pandora knows about you. Pandora has segmented listeners into 2,000 segments that it can dish up based on who you are, where you live, and what time it is. A nearby restaurant, for instance, could send an ad between Pandora tracks right around dinnertime. Takeaway: Marketing to the individual is going to get a lot more accurate and, in a lot of cases, useful. At some point, content marketers and PR practitioners will figure out how to do the same...and reap the benefits.Read more

Site uses machine learning to enhance low-resolution photos -- And it's free. The AI-powered image enhancement tool, Let's Enhance, lets you drag a low-res photo onto the page, after which AI takes over to sharpen the image. Takeaway: Did I mention it's free? This could be a valuable tool to a lot of communicators. Read more

The Values-Driven Marketplace

Uber's new values were written from the bottom up -- Faced with drafting new values -- a recommendation by investigators following harassment claims -- new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi asked employees for suggestions. "I feel strongly that culture needs to be written from the bottom up," he wrote in a LinkedIn post. "A culture that's pushed from the top down doesn't work, because people don't believe in it." Employees took him up on it, with 1,200 employees submitted their ideas generating 22,000 votes. The company also held 20 employee focus groups to surface more input. He also labeled the resulting list "norms" instead of "values," arguing that norms govern behavior and values are "just the crap on the wall." It is sad, and a little surprising, that Khosrowsashi's move is rare. An employee voice is a fundamental enabler of employee engagement. And, as Khosrowsashi wrote, "This stuff is meaningless unless people do it." Leaders should take a page from his book. Employees are far more likely to reflect a set of norms (or values) that they own.Read more

Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality

What comes after the iPhone? -- By 2020, it could be an Augmented Reality headset. The headset, which Apple hopes will be its next blockbuster product and a replacement for smartphones, "will have its own display and run on a new chip and operating system, according to people familiar with the situation." Takeaway: It's Apple, so it most likely will sell a bunch of headsets to the faithful as well as the curious. I still doubt anything that obscures your vision all the time is unlikely to become a smartphone replacement, though people could carry them in a pocket if they're compact enough and pull them out when ready to use them, just as they do a smartphone.Read more

Niantic will follow Pokémon Go with a Harry Potter game -- Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is the name of Niantic's new AR game, set to launch next year. "There will be significant influence from the Niantic game Ingress, which allows players to roam the real world collecting power-ups, defending locations and exploring their environment." Takeaway: Given Harry Potter's popularity, I expect this game will be a runaway hit, which will introduce even more people to AR, helping normalize it. AR has practical applications and requires nothing more than a phone. As more apps provide genuine value -- entertainment or otherwise -- it will become more commonly used by consumers. Read more

Google introduces 3D audio kit -- Resonance Audio is a tool from Google that makes it easy for developers to create 360-degree audio, designed for use in VR and AR. The output is compatible across a number of VR and AR platforms. Takeaway: Google is helping to create an ecosystem that simplifies the development process, which should result in more interesting VR and AR experiences, which will attract more users. Read more


Help create the first tokenized song -- Musician Taryn Southern is using blockchain technology to write the first-ever tokenized song. "With smart contracts," she said, "we can enable multiple collaborators to split ownership of a piece of content and for that to be tracked across multiple distribution platforms. That’s what we want to demonstrate through the tokenized song challenge." That is, fans can pay the artist directly for access to the work, cutting record labels completely out of the picture and giving artists direct control over their work. Takeaway: Southern isn't the first musician to see blockchain as a way of freeing themselves from record label contracts. Blockchain will do to record labels what Amazon did to retailers.Read more

Blockchain and the future of freelancing -- Freelancers already make up 35% of the American workforce and blockchains could enhance the ecosystem in which they work. Among the ways the technology could affect the freelance marketplace is providing contractors with verifiable histories, meaning freelance can "worry less about promoting themselves and more about maximizing metrics for clients." Takeaway: This article doesn't even talk about the reduced need for full-time employees that blockchain technology can enable, with smart contracts pushing work out to freelance teams that used to be contained within the organization (something Don and Alex Tapscott discuss in their book, "Blockchain Revolution"). Blockchain is likely to bring big changes to how organizations are structured. Read more


Site calculates value of your Instagram account -- Evidence already exists that microinfluencers inspire more engagement with their Instagram posts that the A-listers. Now they can prove it, using Inkifi.com, which determines the value of your post based on engagement. Read more

November 10, 2017
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The latest from the FIR Podcast Network

  • Olivier Blanchard and Christine Perkett joined me for conversations about these topics communication associations lining up to join Richard Edelman’s global ethics initiative; the role of the CMO is changing and those who can’t adapt are being cast aside; data suggests some people hunger for longer-form content (both web pages and videos); communicators are missing important steps when planning a campaign; consumers like it when brands break gender stereotypes. Dan York updates Facebook’s “Explore” test and talks about Facebook’s new News Feed Publisher Guidelines; the rest of Dan’s report focuses on lives streaming news, including screen sharing on Facebook Live, Instagram opening its Add a Friend feature to everyone, and a new Mevo Plus camera from Mevo’s new owner, Vimeo/Livestream. Listen
  • Passport, our new podcast about travel and hospitality PR and marketing, features an interview with David Brodie talking about the use of Virtual Reality in the Tourism space. David and his team were one of the first agencies to use the technology to promote travel and tourism. Brodie is a Senior Vice President & General Manager with Citizen Relations an award-winning global communications firm. Listen
  • In episode 125 of Young PR Pros, Kristine, Julia, and Ross discuss real, concrete steps young professionals, and young at heart professionals, can take to combat fake news and protect the value and trust of our industry. Listen
  • In the latest episode of Digital India, Suresh and the team talk about how marketers exploit every platform, be it traditional or digital. Listen
  • On episode 112 of THe Voice by IABC Ottawa, you'll hear Priya Bates'ss presentation to IABC Ottawa in which she explains her employee engagement process right from strategy development to evaluation. Listen
  • Thought Leader Life is back, with host Mitchell Levy talking with The Orange Cowboy (Swami Sadashiva Tirtha), a keynote speaker, author, and expert with more than four decades of experience in integrative wellness and consciousness. This episode focuses on ow to position yourself based on your core values and get your message out to the heart of people. Listen

On the Calendar

  • On November 14, I'll moderate a panel discussion at the SocialChorus Summit in San Francisco. The event is free. Register
  • On November 16, I'll present the opening keynote address as well as a breakout session at the Library Marketing and Communication Conference in Dallas.
  • On December 4, I'll be in Cambridge, MA, speaking at an Intranet Best Practices conferences at IBM's offices.
  • On March 8, I'll speak at Ragan Communications' Employee Communications & Culture conference in Chicago.
  • On March 14, I'll be in Orlando speaking at Ragan's annual Social Media conference.
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.

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