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January 12th, 2016

Driving a New Narrative Part 1: Turning The Ignition

As the 2016 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) kicks into high gear, with media days happening now, it’s perhaps not surprising that my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds are full of automotive-related updates. I did, after all, spend a lot of time in the auto industry and many of my connections work for auto manufacturers, suppliers, or as journalists or bloggers covering the industry. It only makes sense that I’d see a lot of news from NAIAS this week.

What some might find unusual or unexpected is that this is the second week in a row that my feed’s been dominated by automotive news coming out of a trade show. Last week, as everyone in the tech and electronics industries knows, was the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Formerly dominated by advanced technology and electronics companies showing off the hottest and latest gadgets and tools that would make our lives if not easier then certainly much cooler, CES has become what Engadget calls “the high tech auto show.”

CES 2016 featured major announcements, displays, or reveals from Chevrolet, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Audi, Toyota, BMW, Volkswagen, and Ford, among others. It was even the site of the birth of a new electric vehicle company, Faraday Future, which aims to build an all-electric lineup of some of the most technologically advanced vehicles ever made. Indeed, the International Business Times gushed that “CES 2016 was as much a car show as a technology show” — and they were right. Technology publications like Wired and The Verge covered automobiles or automotive solutions as the lead stories from the show, and are even positioning CES as a more important auto show than even the industry ‘grandaddy,’ the Detroit show. Cars, it would seem, have arrived as technology drivers (ba-dum-bum).

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For people who aren’t in the auto industry, this technology leadership from automotive feels like a sea change. Most of the articles in the tech media certainly have the tone that this is new ground for automakers and their industry. It’s fair to say that the automotive industry, most prominently the U.S. “Big Three,” has a reputation among many as a slow, “old-school” industry that is behind the times; this reputation is held especially among those who work in or report on the technology industry. Technophiles certainly aren’t used to looking to Detroit, Tokyo, or even Germany for the newest, most intriguing advances in the business.

Many of those who work in automotive would argue that automotive has been among the world’s technology leaders for a long time, and it’s the world catching up to that fact rather than automotive catching up to the world that is driving all this newfound attention. The auto industry has been the leading user of computer chips in the United States for at least a decade and a half. The automotive industry would suggest that its demands have spurred development of semiconductor chip technology, haptics, and even the science of enabling connectivity.

It’s not new for auto manufacturers to be present at CES, even for the Detroit Three; General Motors’ then-CEO gave a keynote at the 2008 show, while Ford’s CEO keynoted 2010 — but those appearances didn’t drive the kind of buzz that has come in 2015 and 2016. And major manufacturers have been scrambling since the late ‘00s to out-do each other in integrating in-vehicle entertainment technology. Since at least as far back as my first year in automotive in 2007 — and very likely well before that — communications pros working for the automakers have struggled to gain acceptance for the narrative that the auto industry are leaders, not laggards, when it comes to advanced electronics and technology. But as we’ve seen, the hot story this yearand even in 2015 — is that the biggest and most interesting advances are happening in cars. Obviously, there’s something different in the air when it comes to the automotive industry, technology, and perceptions of innovation.

So what is it? Why has the narrative automakers have been trying to sell for years suddenly taking hold? Why have cars become the device of choice for many technology companies to develop to? In the next post, I’ll explore why the new narrative — in fact, the new reality — has grown roots.

About the Author
Christopher Barger is Senior Vice President of Global Digital at Voce/Porter Novelli. You can follow him on Twitter @cbarger.

Filed in Content Marketing

January 12th, 2016

Oculus Rift, Price Points and Usability at Launch

Last week Oculus VR (finally?) announced that it was accepting pre-orders for its Oculus Rift virtual reality rig, which the company hopes will allow users to cross new boundaries in immersive virtual experiences. Some fans balked at the perceived high initial cost of $599, on top of which you need to add the cost of a high-end gaming rig and of course the games themselves. Non-fans wondered why anyone would need or want VR for gaming or anything else.

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But let’s be clear that VR is a big deal, and not just for gaming enthusiasts. It’s no accident that Facebook owns Oculus VR, purchasing the company a year and a half ago for $2B while Oculus Rift was still in development. While virtual reality may seem established based on the press it gets, it really is a new frontier, and Facebook knows there’s money to be made in these frontier environments. According to VentureBeat, consumers will spend $5.1B on VR hardware and software this year, with most of that going towards inexpensive mobile VR devices instead of Rift. However, those numbers are expected to increase exponentially as the technology gains a foothold, with VentureBeat stating that VR will be a $150B business by 2020, with much of that expected to be carved out via high-end rigs like Oculus Rift.

So Oculus VR knows what’s at stake and the company has been smart in developing its key product, even as competitors such as Samsung and HTC shook things up by introducing their own, arguably less capable, VR devices. Between its extremely successful Kickstarter campaign that rang in 2013 and this year’s pre-order announcement, the company has spent the intervening three years making sure the technology worked, creating high-value accessories like Oculus Touch that add to the experience, and building up its developer community. And they’ve done all this while offering tantalizing views at the content that was being developed in parallel, ensuring that the buzz for their nascent VR offering never dipped too low. In fact, that content is really the key differentiator and one that should be examined in more depth.

In 2006, Sony announced that its new PS3 console would top out at a $599 price point. There was a collective gasp as consumers clutched their pearls and gamers clutched their puka shells (the aughts were a shameful time). What made the outrage totally justified, and which led directly to Microsoft maintaining their console sales lead after launching Xbox 360 a year earlier, was the fact that Sony didn’t roll out a suitable number of quality titles at the same time. In addition, the 12 titles they did roll out didn’t show off the processing power of the PS3, which was arguably superior to the Xbox 360.

(Disclosure: PlayStation is a Voce client and announced their own VR product that is coming out later this year. That reportedly will have over 200 titles available at launch.)

And that’s where Oculus VR strategy has diverged. Depending on where you look, the number of Rift-compatible games already numbers over 100, while exclusive titles will start at 20 at launch and reach over 100 by the end of the year. Oculus VR has worked closely with developers, releasing multiple dev kits during the hardware’s gestation period to make sure they are able to a) make great VR-specific content, and b) port existing content effectively to VR. The result is an incredible game library that continues to grow and non-gaming content that will soon follow (VR Facebook ads, anyone?).

If you have the chance, go check out Oculus Rift to see what the fuss is about. Hardcore gamers will ensure Rift’s initial success, snapping up rigs, accessories and games as fast as they appear, but it won’t be long before competitive products start appearing, price points drop and content becomes ubiquitous, so VR won’t be on the fringes for long.

About the Author
Andrew oversees PR campaigns for a number of leading tech companies, leading and executing client programs.

Filed in Virtual Reality

January 11th, 2016

My CES 2016 Wish List: Randy Ksar

For those that know me, they know that I amass quite a big collection of door stops when it comes to technology, meaning most of the stuff I try doesn’t quite make it past the 1 – 2 week excitement phase and ends up back in the box or in my office drawer of goodies. However, the ones that stand out make my life as a gadget geek, dad and digital marketer that much more productive and fun. I would say my favorite one right now is the Amazon Echo which my kids loved during the holidays saying “Alexis (my kid calls it Alexis) play Jingle Bells” – pure joy for all ages. So as I start the new year as the chief gadget officer in my household I’m always looking for the latest and greatest gadgets.

@djksar's-2

Last week’s CES 2016 brought an immense wave of announcements from companies in wearables, cars, displays, accessories and many more categories. I tried to pick 5 that I think will come to reality (because most CES products are just talk or concepts). Drool over the list below and tweet @djksar with what products you are adding to your wish list.

5. Mercedes-Benz’s Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile concept

It’s still a concept car but I was really impressed on how the body of the car adapts/changes based upon the environment. Watch this Mashable Facebook Live stream for a demo and start saving:

We’re taking an exclusive look at Mercedes-Benz’s Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile concept Posted by Mashable on Thursday, January 7, 2016

4. Withings Thermo

Being a father of two toddlers I have been known to spend lots of time in urgent care. And the first thing that my kids hate doing (besides taking medicine) is getting their temperature taken. Withings Thermo was announced at CES 2016 and all you need to do is put the device on your forehead – genius. I’m sure there are some debates on what the right place to take your temperature is but from a pure convenience standpoint for parents and the toddlers this is great. Other key feature is Wi-Fi which I thought was unnecessary but it could be helpful in tracking the temperature and giving you some immediate help instead of heading straight to the 2-hour line in urgent care on a Saturday at 2am (never happened before).

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3. Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator

I don’t see Samsung’s announcement as a new innovation in tech but using existing technology in places that should of been done long time ago. The new fridges now have:

  • 21.5” display on the front of the fridge
  • Cameras inside the fridge so you can see what you have and more importantly don’t have
  • Ability to swap photos to the fridge instead of using the annoying fridge magnets
  • Buy groceries straight from the fridge or your mobile phone

Watch the below video of the Samsung press conference (wish there was a real demo):

2. Kodak Super 8 Camera

Super 8? Are you kidding me. Retro has always been back in fashion but this camera was a surprise to a lot in the videography field, me included. They are targeting the filmmakers and not your chief household officers and the roadmap (they’ve said) is a commitment to a wide range of production tools and film services that can help the filmmaker. You can find more info on this here.

super 8

1. Muzik Convertible Headphones

The news wasn’t just the announcement of the Muzik’s new headphones but Twitter’s venture arm just invested in them. What got me excited about this product was the programmable keys. My headphone purchases has been mainly over-the-ear products and I’ve been sticking primarily with Sennheiser and Beats. There might be some competition for my Father’s day gift or my birthday later in the year. Watch the somewhat cheesy promo video below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Av6Pvu60wSQ

That’s the round-up. Lots of exciting announcements. Some available this year and some just a concept for 5 to 10 years from now. Shall be interesting. Tweet @djksar #ces2016 with what products you want.

And now I leave you with a funny musical video from my favorite tech reporter David Pogue from Yahoo! Tech:

About the Author
Randy Ksar works on the social media team at Voce. You can follow him at @djksar on Twitter.

Filed in Uncategorized

January 6th, 2016

Twitter’s 140 Character Limit May Not Be Long For This World

One of the most persistent rumors in tech is back: Reports are circulating that Twitter may build a product allowing posts of up to 10,000 characters, quite an increase from the current 140. According to Recode’s Kurt Wagner (a former Vocian…we’re all very proud), currently 140 characters would still display in the stream, but with a “Read more” call-to-action to reveal the entirety of your long-form thoughts. This news has sparked much soul-searching and hand-wringing — on Twitter of course — about the implications for the most important question of all time: What is Twitter?Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 7.12.22 AM

Considering this is still far from official, speculation is somewhat premature. But the news invites consideration about what’s behind Twitter’s product roadmap, which lately seems driven mostly by desperation for new users. Investors are pressuring Twitter to become what many people (myself included) maintain it never will be: a mass product.

With details sparse, some quick thoughts on what may be in Twitter’s future:

  • Yes, this basically makes Twitter a blog platform. And yes, it opens up questions about how Twitter might better integrate with Medium. Unlike other blog platforms, though, this would encourage primarily intra-network sharing similar to RTs, maybe akin to Tumblr reblogs. Platforms like WordPress and Blogger grew through links, but this would be more in the model of Facebook Notes, where the point is to keep people on-domain.
  • It’s unclear how this appeals to the new users Twitter wants to attract. Anybody looking for long-form publishing has a wealth of alternatives available to them. WordPress, Tumblr, even Facebook all have long-form options, so it’s not as if a 10,000-character limit is a big market differentiator. Twitter has always been about quick hits and breaking news, and it’s hard to see how adding long-form posts will work within the existing Timeline, especially on mobile, where everyone else is moving in the direction of fast, low-impact consumption and engagement.
  • If the problem truly is, as some have speculated, that links and photos eat into character count, then that’s the problem to fix. I’m certainly not an engineer (though I do have a cool hat), but there has to be an easy way for Twitter to make it so links and photos don’t eat into character limits. Give me 140 characters of actual copy to use instead of 115 or 90 if I want to add a link, or a link and a photo.
  • No one was asking for this “problem” to be fixed. Again, Twitter is by its nature more attractive to the power user set. And what they’ve actually been asking for is more robust editing functionality, more flexibility within the character limits, real changes to how abusive messages are dealt with and more.
  • Twitter, like Facebook, wants to eat the media. Many have likened this concept not only to Facebook Notes but also to Instant Articles, speculating that Twitter wants media companies to use this to publish natively on the platform. This plays into the death of links as currency on the Web in favor of a platforms-as-publishers model, and it’s easy to see Twitter offering publishers some sort of new in-post advertising unit.

One additional thought from Christopher Barger:

I feel like Twitter right now is the guy who’s breaking up with his long-time girlfriend because he’s got a crush on the pretty young woman who works at the Starbucks next to his office, and he wants to ask her out. He’s not guaranteed that the new girl will be interested, but he takes her daily banter and her smiles as flirting…so he’s basically slashing and burning with his current girlfriend because he thinks he can do even better. But if the Starbucks woman turns him down, he’s alone — so it’s a pretty big (and some might say stupid) risk.

There’s a lot more to find out as these initial reports are developed. And the finished product may look very different from what’s being discussed now. One way or another, everyone who uses Twitter should be ready for even more changes to the platform in the not-too-distant future.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Microblogging

January 5th, 2016

Voce Student Essential Reading 1/5: Facebook Resolutions, New Audiences, Mentorship & More 

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Image via TIME

Social Media

The Best Facebook Resolution You Can Make This New Year’s

“Surrounding ourselves only with people with whom we agree — blocking a friend’s updates here, unfollowing another user there — only makes things more insular. But that’s only part of the problem. Facebook constantly refines the News Feed to show you posts it thinks you’ll like (and block out those you don’t).”

Voce Insight – Following people online with whom you don’t agree with will expand your mind and open you to things you maybe thought you’d never be interested in! If you don’t find a new interest or perspective, it will at least provide some extra knowledge to keep in your backpocket for the next big client meeting.

Social Media Works for B2B Sales, Too

“Even for large companies in complex B2B markets, social media offers useful platforms for distributing these new types of content to keep customers engaged with their activities.”

Voce Insight – Businesses on social media are usually thought to be fB2C companies. However people often forget that businesses are made up of consumers, and consumers use social media, making social media an effective tool to reach business customers as well.

Public Relations

Obama Reaches Out to New Audience for News

“Among those who met with Mr. Obama on Tuesday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House were Jake Horowitz, founder and editor in chief of Mic, an online news site for younger readers, and Max Fisher, the foreign editor of Vox, another new-generation news organization.”

Voce Insight – For shyer or more stodgy clients, you can cite this as an example when you want to go to a new target audience. It’s important for your message to get to the right readers, and sometimes that means reaching out to newer publications.

Millennials’ views of news media, religious organizations grow more negative

“Younger generations tend to have more-positive views than their elders of a number of institutions that play a big part in American society. But for some institutions – such as churches and the news media – Millennials’ opinions have become markedly more negative in the past five years.”

Voce Insight – Millennials may not always trust the news media, but they trust their peers a lot more. Gaining advocates outside of traditional media outlets is another tactic to consider. Traditional press releases are not always the way to go.

Career

How Stephen Covey Changed The Life Of One Young Entrepreneur Through A Single Powerful Phrase

“Some people say they have twenty years’ experience, when, in reality, they only have one year’s experience, repeated twenty times.’”

Voce Insight – Experience isn’t everything, but asking a more seasoned co-worker for guidance is important to get the right kinds of experience. A mentor who is willing to sit down one on one with you can make or break a job.

Millennials At Work: Expectations Vs. Reality

“Expectation: You’re going to get your act together and start eating better now that you’re an adult in a workplace of business.”

Voce Insight – Your first job may not be exactly what you were expecting. Read this to feel better about yourself. Talk to your mentor to learn how to adult better.

Filed in Weekly Reading

January 5th, 2016

The FTC Addresses Native Advertising Labeling

You might have missed it as you prepared for the holidays, but just before Christmas the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued updated guidance regarding native advertising. As native advertising becomes increasingly common, this is important to both the practitioners who develop it and the publishers who share it.

To recap the new guidance: The FTC has long worked to ensure that ads do not deceive, by either content or presentation. This is a valid concern; a recent study by content marketing firm Contently indicated that a majority of consumers struggle to distinguish sponsored content from editorial content — and about half of consumers (48%) report feeling “duped” when they realize that what they thought was a genuine article is actually an ad.

figure4x-2The updated guidance establishes that the FTC considers both advertisers and publishers responsible for clearly labeling native advertising: “ …advertisers are responsible for ensuring that native ads are identifiable as advertising before consumers arrive at the main advertising page. In addition, no matter how consumers arrive at advertising content, it must not mislead them about its commercial nature.”  (Emphases mine.)

Marketers have an obligation not only to clearly label their content as advertising, but also to work with publishers to ensure that the presentation of the content clearly indicates that it’s advertising. Brands and their agencies must make sure no reader could be unaware that a piece is paid placement; it is not solely the publisher’s obligation. As marketers, we need to be conscious of this responsibility as we are creating native content, even before it’s placed. (The FTC even specifies where the disclosure should appear: on the left side of the page, close to the headline.) Build clear disclosure into your content from the beginning, and talk to the publisher about how the content will appear on-site.

At the same time, some observers suggest that the updated guidance may mean that the FTC is considering more aggressively policing publishers, too. As major publishers draw larger shares of revenue from native advertising — Gawker, for example, gets one third of its revenue from native ads — and as major digital publishers like BuzzFeed and Vox Media have established in-house ad agencies to help advertisers develop native content for their sites, the FTC may be focusing a sharper eye on publishers’ activity than before.

“Everyone who participates directly or indirectly in creating or presenting native ads should make sure that ads don’t mislead consumers about their commercial nature.” — The FTC

Clearly, the FTC is more concerned than ever with native advertising and whether consumers can be expected to understand that they are viewing promotional content versus independent editorial content. In AdAge, one prominent advertising lawyer suggested that “we can expect that 2016 will be the year of the FTC bringing native advertising cases.”

Predictably, the advertising and marketing industry isn’t happy with the scrutiny. The Interactive Advertising Bureau, in its response to the FTC, said it’s “concerned” about the updated guidance. The industry, it said, may find the updated rules “overly prescriptive,” and if the guidance is unclear, it might “stifle innovation.” Of course, the IAB doesn’t oppose disclosure overall; it’s just concerned about how the FTC will determine which terms are acceptable.

“To that end, we have reservations about some elements of the Commission’s Guidance. In particular, the section on ‘clarity of meaning’ in native advertising disclosures is overly prescriptive, especially absent any compelling evidence to justify some terms over others.” — IAB statement

Certainly, the dialogue between the FTC, the advertising industry, and publishers will continue well into 2016. But the environment is shifting, and pressure is growing to make sure native content is clearly disclosed.

So how should your brand or agency react to the new guidance? A few tips for staying in the FTC’s good graces:

  1. Discuss disclosure policies with your contacts at the publishing outlet. Understand in advance how the publication indicates which content is sponsored. This will help you draft and structure it appropriately. Remember, the FTC has indicated that disclosures should be on the left-hand side of the page, close to the headline; disclosures should also be in unambiguous language, positioned very close to the native ads to which they relate, written in easy-to-read font, and stand out against the background.
  2. As you draft your content, leave ample room for your disclosure, either by including it directly in your copy or by suggesting language for the publisher’s consideration. Yes, it can feel awkward to note at the beginning of your piece that the upcoming content is advertising — just as online influencers feel awkward putting “#ad” in a tweet you’ve contracted them to post. But the FTC is clear that disclosure must be obvious; as awkward as it may feel, remember that the onus is on both advertiser and publisher to disclose. Build disclosure in from the ground up.
  3. Before you submit the copy to the publisher, ask colleagues to give it a “sniff test.” Have a few people read it over, and see if they can easily discern that the piece is native advertising. Your colleagues usually have pretty good content sense; they’ll be able to tell you whether you’ve been clear enough.
  4. Counsel and inform your clients and managers — whether they currently engage in native advertising or not — about the new FTC guidance, the FTC’s intent, and what the rules mean for content creators and publishers. It will be much easier to get approval for content that’s clearly labeled as advertising if clients and managers understand the rules from the outset.

The sea change in the media industry’s revenue model, the expansion of digital publishing, and the subsequent popularity of native advertising have given rise to something of an uncharted world right now. Content creators, publishers, and the FTC are trying to blaze a new trail without a guidebook. Patience, understanding, and a little trial and error will be required before we get to a standard everyone understands and accepts. Just keep in mind that for now, it’s better to over-disclose and be safe than to under-disclose and be sorry.

About the Author
Christopher Barger is Senior Vice President of Global Digital at Voce/Porter Novelli. You can follow him on Twitter @cbarger.

Filed in Marketing

December 22nd, 2015

Voce Student Essential Reading 12/22: Viral Audio, Chipotle E. Coli, Email Subject Lines & More 

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Image via Facebook Newsroom

Social Media

Instant Articles Launches to Everyone on Android, with More Than 350 Publications Globally

“We’re excited to announce that everyone who uses the Facebook for Android app can now read thousands of Instant Articles every day in News Feed from publishers worldwide. Combined with our recent launch of Instant Articles to everyone on Facebook for iPhone, publishers can now deliver fast and immersive reading experiences to hundreds of millions of people daily across the two most popular mobile platforms in the world.”

Voce Insight – Since their launch of Facebook Newswire last year, Facebook has marched steadily towards becoming a regular old (and new) fashioned news publisher. Whether or not this benefits Facebook or the media organizations who supply content more is up for debate. What isn’t up for debate is whether or not this is a growing trend.

Can Audio Go Viral? NPR Launches Audio Experiment On Facebook

“NPR introduces an experiment today that will bring vivid audio experiences to Facebook users — and produce valuable insights for NPR member stations. As listenership for digital audio increases globally, NPR’s experiment will be the deepest audio integration yet between public radio and social media platforms.”

Voce Insight – Ahem, see above.

Public Relations

CDC Probes New Chipotle-Linked E. Coli Cases

“The new cases come less than a week after Chipotle Founder and Co-Chief Executive Steve Ells published an open letter to customers in about 60 newspapers across the U.S. in which he apologized for outbreaks that have sickened people.”

Voce Insight – It’s unfortunate how Chipotle went from being one of the most popular food chains to this, but it’s important to note how quickly a brand’s reputation can change. Luckily for them, Chipotle seems to have a strong crisis plan in place. The company has been diligent in their responses to media and with pushing out press releases updating investors and the general public on their efforts and apologies.

R. Kelly Shows His True Colors When Confronted with Sexual-Abuse Allegations

“After lulling him with gentle inquiries about his recent spate of success and his many fans, the web show anchor hit him with a series of questions about the accusations that have trailed him for decades.”

Voce Insight – This is a touchy subject due to the serious allegations being made against R. Kelly. However, we all know that clients aren’t all perfect and this is a lesson to PR practitioners. One – don’t be swayed by money to work with someone who isn’t aligned with your morals, it probably won’t pay off well for your reputation in the end. Two – make sure to thoroughly research all reporters that clients work with and confirm what can and cannot be discussed during an interview with the reporter ahead of time to ensure the interview accomplishes the goal it was set for.

Career

Here Are the Subject Lines That’ll Get Your Networking Emails Opened—Every Time

“Just as headlines sell stories, subject lines sell emails. And if yours is trying to get you an in at a company, or even an informational interview, you want to sell it right—or what’s the point of even crafting that perfect message?”

Voce Insight – Using the right words can be harder when you only have five or six of them. Gearing a subject towards your recipient, rather than your own interest in sending the email will increase the likelihood of your message being read.

Everything You Are Afraid to Ask About Slack Etiquette

“Launched in August 2013, Slack allows colleagues to create and message groups of people and individuals, and it’s had a profound effect on how colleagues and coworkers communicate in (and out of) the workplace. An organization can have one company-wide Slack group, or channel, for all its employees, and multiple smaller channels for specific groups inside that organization, and colleagues can also privately communicate with one another via direct messages.”

Voce Insight – If you’re aspiring to work in media or public relations, odds are you’ll be Slacking at some point. Slack can ease communication in a number of ways, but it’s not without drawbacks if used improperly. The rules in this article will go a ways in teaching you how to be the best Slacker you can be.

Filed in Weekly Reading

December 22nd, 2015

Lazy Sunday and How Media’s Approach to Video Has Changed

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of a milestone in the story of the internet: Saturday Night Live’s “Lazy Sunday” Digital Short. This was one of the first big “viral” videos – at least among those produced by a major media company or entity – since it hit just as people were becoming aware of and warming to YouTube, which launched the same year.

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Those of us who were around and paying attention at the time, though, remember the legal fights around the clip as well as its viral nature. NBC and SNL did not like that the short had been uploaded to YouTube without their permission. So as soon as a new version would pop up on YouTube it would be squashed by the NBC copyright squad.

People like me argued at the time that while we absolutely understood NBC’s desire to protect its intellectual property and got that they felt online views would cannibalize TV ratings (why watch it on TV now if you can catch it online in the morning?), the clip’s popularity was doing more for SNL than anything had for years. People were talking about it and sharing the clip and were generally excited for what the show was doing by embracing these “digital” videos. Better to use clips like this to promote the larger show than risk the ill will of the internet by taking away something it was clearly enjoying.

Which is more or less where we are now. SNL, “The Tonight Show” and the entirety of the rest of the late-night lineup now posts select clips on their YouTube channels within hours of the show finishing so the rest of the world can see Jimmy Fallon and Jennifer Lawrence play Box of Lies and so on. It makes sense to not only spread the world of whatever project the star in question is promoting but also increases the reach of the show itself. Not everyone is staying up for late night TV but still likes the clips. Most of these include a clear call to action at the top to subscribe to the show’s YouTube channel, which has benefits for not just reach but also potential ad revenue since you can be sure these clips are monetized.

What this represents is a decade-spanning shift in the thinking of media companies. They now realize the potential of the web to promote their intellectual property. This has been aided by the efforts of YouTube to combat piracy and otherwise be a partner to those media companies and not be the wild west it once was. There’s still plenty of that in the site’s DNA but it now is largely known for official channels like Vevo, Maker Studios and others. That’s a result of YouTube needing to adjust their own outlook to maximize their own ad dollars since no one’s going to spend money on a platform that’s openly hostile to their content.

So we have, 10 years later, an environment that’s more structured in many ways. But that means it has fulfilled the promise many of us saw a decade ago for YouTube to be an important part of the media promotional toolbox. That’s good for everyone since it means companies know they’re in a safe space and the audience knows they’re getting official versions of the videos they’re looking for.

Oh, and Lazy Sunday? It’s not available officially on YouTube. Years ago SNL clips are now hosted exclusively on Yahoo! Screen as part of the kind of deal that’s increasingly common in the media world.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Media

December 10th, 2015

Will Twitter Lose By Winning?

It’s not news that Twitter has seen better times. 2015 has been a rough year for the microblogging company. Its stock has plunged about 30% in 2015. On July 1, embattled CEO Dick Costolo was forced out. Its user growth remained stagnant as the company failed to expand its base. Tellingly, it stopped disclosing how many of its current users are inactive and no longer use the platform. It laid off 8 percent of its workforce in October, amid rampant speculation that job cuts weren’t the only dire problem facing the company. No, it’s not been a good year.

While there are many factors in Twitter’s rough year, things can really be boiled down to one thing: investors are unhappy with slow user growth. To that end, “new” CEO Jack Dorsey has emphasized making changes to the Twitter product that will make it easier for casual or new users to utilize the platform.

The changes have been coming, certainly. The most obvious of the changes has been the introduction of Moments: curated Tweets, images and autoplaying videos, Vines, and GIFs. Moments represents an attempt to rein in the chaos of Twitter and organize it around topics, making the platform perhaps more accessible for newbies. Twitter is so intent on making Moments a part of the regular Twitter experience that, when users didn’t seem to be taking to it, Twitter shifted their UI, switching the Moments “lightning bolt” and the “notifications bell,” in apparent hopes that people’s force of habit in clicking notifications might drive more of them to click on Moments.

Other major changes Twitter has made include testing timelines that do not follow the platform’s traditional reverse chronological order, changing the icon for “likes” from a star to a heart, and removing the 140 character limit on Direct Messages. It’s rumored that Twitter is considering adding emoji reactions to the hearts as possible responses to a tweet. There are even whispers that Twitter is considering changing the characteristic that has defined it since its inception: doing away with the 140 character limit in all Tweets.

A Willingness To Experiment, But At What Cost?

These changes (or rumored changes) certainly show a willingness to experiment or alter the defining characteristics of the Twitter experience — and for that boldness and openness, Twitter deserves some praise. Not every company would be so willing to tinker with such foundational aspects of its product that have defined it and made it unique. Not every company would be willing to risk changing the experience its customers have come to expect (and in some cases, love).

But therein lies Twitter’s problem. Long-time users of Twitter have been making their displeasure known about the changes. The reaction to Moments has been underwhelming — with some users actively airing their displeasure at Twitter notifying them when there were new Moments to view. And when Twitter exchanged positions of the Moments and Notifications icons, users responded angrily.

UntitledBut Moments is not the only new feature that is generating heated criticism for Twitter. When they changed the “favorite” star to “like” icon heart, users responded with criticism, many rightly pointing out that people “like” tweets for many reasons, including bookmarking, and that not every like is a positive thing that should be reflected with a heart. The move away from the reverse chronology timeline also met with fierce resistance from long-time Twitter users. Heck, even Twitter’s World Series television commercial met with criticism from Twitter users.

Seemingly everything Twitter does meets with staunch criticism from its established user base. Some of this, of course, is because people are creatures of habit and usually react negatively to change, especially online. Facebook famously met with harsh criticism when it carried out the redesign that introduced the expanded News Feed; major websites almost always see criticism whenever they introduce a redesign or site refresh. (See the criticisms from the redesigns of NBCNews.com, CNN.com, ESPN.com, and Bloomberg Business for examples.) Let’s face it: when it comes to our online experience, we tend to fear and resist change.

But the criticism of Twitter’s recent moves aren’t just about the way the site looks; the criticisms come from long-time users of Twitter who really dislike the way the fundamental experiences and characteristics of the site are being changed. The changes might yet make Twitter more appealing to new users… but at the expense of alienating Twitter’s power users and the community that’s gotten them this far. And you have to ask: can Twitter afford to do that?

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Adding new users is proving difficult for Twitter. As more than one pundit has suggested, there may “only” be about 300 million people in the world who want to use Twitter. The platform might well have hit a plateau as far as the number of new users it can add, or the number of people who want to be on Twitter. It seems clear that even if Twitter adds more new users, they’re not going to add the tens of millions or more that would placate investors and substantially change the community on the platform. And if they’ve reached their practical limits on the number of new users they can add, Twitter would be well advised to keep its current users happy.

It All Comes Down to New User Acquisition

But that’s not what’s happening. Twitter’s investors are pressuring them so intensely to add new users that the platform is no longer focusing on its existing community. You would think that there’d be nothing wrong with maintaining a community of 300 million and figuring out how best to monetize off of them, meeting their needs and keeping them happy. After all, it’s a well-known aphorism that existing customers spend more than new customers..

Instead, the platform changes Twitter is making are detracting from the experience its current community is there to have. The loud and harsh criticism of the changes — not to mention the apparent widespread rejection of Moments in particular, which Twitter itself cites as critical to its future — should be setting off alarm bells. Because if you add a few million new casual users at the expense of alienating millions more who have up until now faithfully used your product, are you really winning? Is addition minus subtraction really a winning business strategy?

Twitter’s changes, which in some cases could change the very fundamentals of the platform, may well succeed in attracting new users and accelerating the pace of user growth. But if it happens with a simultaneous exodus of existing users, or if the current community uses Twitter less or finds less value in it due to the changes, Twitter will not succeed. It may be that restless investors are Twitter’s worst enemy, forcing urgent changes that turn off its most loyal customers and further harm its ability to monetize.

About the Author
Christopher Barger is Senior Vice President of Global Digital at Voce/Porter Novelli. You can follow him on Twitter @cbarger.

Filed in Social Networks

December 8th, 2015

Voce Student Essential Reading 12/8: Twitter Improves Images, Wikipedia Employs AI & More

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Image via TechCrunch

Social Media

Twitter Improves Photo-Sharing With Bigger Images, Better Layouts

“Twitter is today revamping the way photos posted to its service will look, with a greater focus on a more media-heavy experience that now features uncropped photos and improved multi-photo displays.”

Voce Insight – Rejoice! This change means fewer awkward cut-off photos. An injudicious lack of photo editing skills often led to accidentally beheading the subjects of Twitter images, or various other unfortunate cropping incidents. While it’s still worth double checking after posting, Twitter is making it a little easier on us with this change.

Wikipedia Deploys AI to Expand Its Ranks of Human Editors

“In one sense, this means less work for the volunteer editors who police Wikipedia’s articles. And it might seem like a step toward phasing these editors out, another example of AI replacing humans. But Halfaker’s project is actually an effort to increase human participation in Wikipedia.”

Voce Insight – This could be an important evolution in the way Wikipedia operates, and a boon for the shrinking pool of volunteer editors with one of the hardest jobs on the Internet. Whatever changes this brings will be important for PR professionals to track. As previously shared on the Voce blog, “Wikipedia in 60 seconds” is an excellent resource to stay up to date.

Public Relations

Gannett brings its papers under new USA Today Network banner

“Gannett Co Inc, the publisher of USA Today, said on Thursday it would bring its local and national publications under the USA Today Network. Gannett was separated from its broadcasting and digital arm, Tegna Inc, in June and the new brand marks an attempt by the company to take advantage of its most well-known publication, the No. 1 U.S. newspaper by circulation.”

Voce Insight – This continues a trend of consolidation that will surely impact the relationship between local and national news. As the article points out, the Louisville Courier-Journal was the first to be rebranded under the USA Today banner.

Collaboration, computer help, and coding: A new book looks at data journalism in the newsroom

“For those who aren’t sure what benefits data-driven journalism could bring to a story they are working on, flagging it as early as possible with the data or graphics team leaves space for new approaches to the story. For those with technical skills, sharing knowledge can be a good way of flagging to colleagues areas that they are interested in, as well as bringing the broader benefit of boosting data literacy across the newsroom.”

Voce Insight – The points pulled out of the book here are as applicable to the world of PR as they are in journalism. Picking up skills in both words and data, rather than one or the other will keep you literate. And fostering communication between data wonks, designers and writers will ultimately produce better work.

Career

Why Your Email Sign-off Matters More Than You Think

“…the sign-off is the last thing the recipient reads—so it can be the “cherry on top,” so to speak. Done right, it’s like the motivating conclusion at the end of a really great presentation.”

Voce Insight – This is one of those skills that isn’t taught in school, or even at work, but it’s impact is significant. This breakdown of each commonly used sign-offs can help you decide which is appropriate for each situation.

How To Stand Out In A Job Interview

“You don’t get the job offer by giving the “right” answer to each question and then falling silent and waiting for the next question.”

Voce Insight – When prepping for a job interview, too many people are focused on providing the “right” answer, however, most of the time there isn’t a right answer. Interviewers want to see an authentic person and have a conversation rather than a Q&A.

Filed in Weekly Reading

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