Social Media


PeriscopeThe last time I witnessed a major technological “game changer” was when Twitter started to gain popularity in 2008/9. Although launched in mid-2006, it was not until the iPhone launched in June 2007 when Twitter and social media truly started to expand with the marriage of these two technologies. Essentially, social media and smart phones changed human communication forever. Now, Periscope and Meerkat have arrived, and the next revolution in human communication is upon us. What does this mean for human communication? How will live events be covered? How will Periscope affect commerce and politics? It may be too early to tell, but so far, a few answers are beginning to emerge.

The Launch of Periscope and a New Social Media Landscape

This past weekend I viewed Periscope for the first time. The Periscope app was launched by the Twitter folks at the end of March 2015 and now, two months later, it is safe to say the art of “Periscoping” has taken off.

What to see on Periscope

Over the course of three days, I was able to parachute into people’s everyday lives. Admittedly, most of the live video feed is quite inane. In fact, many people’s headlines, or titles, list their video feeds as “boring,” “chillin’ out,” or things like, “driving around” and many, many more. Periscope video feeds are “slices of life” in real-time that reflect the diversity of language, culture and ordinary human experience across the globe. Ordinary people now have, as an invited “flies-on-the-wall,” the ability to peek in and interact with an enormous range of daily and nightly events. Viewers become “voyeurs” and posters are “narcissists” that communicate through voice-to-text communication (and hearts) for minutes at a time (or longer).

A Fly on the Wall and/or an Engaged Participant?

I joined a poster’s late-night journey on a tram as it wended its way down the streets of Melbourne, Australia followed by merry people drinking in bars in Dublin, Manchester, and Edinburgh. I also found myself on the back of a bike rolling through the streets of Amsterdam and then in the back of a truck speeding down the autobahn in Germany. There were also plenty of people driving and “Periscoping” – which is scary when you can see the driver trying to read comments while driving. Yikes!

I had a conversation about Fitbit’s and exercise with a woman while she sat in a CVS parking lot waiting for her husband in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I also watched a group of Periscope non-believers conducting a rapid-fire Q&A session with a religious preacher who could barely keep up with the assault on his faith. There were also several posts by Middle-Eastern males all gathered around their phones speaking in Arabic about who knows what. Not surprisingly, there were no Middle Eastern women that I could find using Periscope.

Spanning the Banal and Inane to Events and Disasters – Viewers see the world as it happens
Periscope Events

Concerts and events are now shown live – and that expectation is now permanent.

All of these ordinary human activities are similar to what appeared in the early days of Twitter only now with video; the experience is far more immersive and revealing. Like Twitter, the content spans the complete inane to fun, to covering disasters, riots, events and mass spectacles.

For example, I saw a woman showing the live footage of a house engulfed in flames in her neighborhood somewhere in southern California. There were also many live streams of the storms and flooding across Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Iowa. In Cleveland, there was a demonstration by African Americans who were upset with a recent court decision finding a police officer not guilty of shooting a black person. What saddened me about this footage was reading the vitriol in the viewer comments. Most of the nasty comments directed toward the protesters were ignorant, racist and bigoted while some observers expressed their utter disgust with the comments they were witnessing.

It is also apparent that people love to Periscope big events. I saw live Memorial Day bands and plenty of live concert footage including U2 in LA, The Rolling Stones in San Diego, Lady GaGa in Vancouver and Rush performing in Tampa. Oddly enough, only moments later, I saw the Tampa Bay Lightning playing the New York Rangers live from a balcony seat in Madison Square Garden.

News Anchors seeking the endless spotlight
Periscope Newsroom.jpg

Periscope is being used by newscasters to speak directly with their viewers.

There were also several reporters and news anchors happily conversing with viewers on Periscope prior to going on-air and during commercial breaks. This suggests we now have the ability to converse directly with newscasters and influence the stories as never before.

Seeing people from around the world doing a variety of activities is both interesting and strange at the same time. NPR recently reported on Periscope and the rise of obvious privacy issues. Not surprisingly, the NPR reporter discovered that most everyone she spoke with was not “freaked out” by Periscope because, according to Periscope CEO and co-founder Kayvon Beykpour, “people are already used to cameras being just about everywhere.” Only now we can expect that any camera pointed in our direction is live streaming to people everywhere who are making comments about everything we do.

Troubling Occurrences that are Scary

I also witnessed disturbing events such as little kids not knowing how to respond to the inappropriate comments (by adult males). Perhaps weirdest and creepiest of all was a guy sitting in his car at a McDonald’s parking lot. He was wondering out loud how to approach a woman in the restaurant for a “date” with whom he had briefly exchanged glances with earlier. There was a surreal moment where the viewers were both freaked out by what they were witnessing while also adding comments about him getting his ass kicked, and him being a stocker and more. It was in effect, a bizarre, awkward and potentially dangerous situation being played out in real time where the poster was describing his plan while asking the viewers for advice. Eventually, the woman came outside, got into her car and drove off while the guy watched and did nothing. It is these kinds of tense situations where people are about to “do” something or confront someone while live streaming the whole incident which makes Periscope an entirely new kind of social media.

Rubbernecker’s Paradise

Today, people who were once only rubbernecker’s passing by the scene of an accident, now have the opportunity to witness and interact with all kinds of human and natural events. Only now, they can even participate and play a small role in the outcome with their comments. These situations are not new – but the difference now is that everyone with a smartphone can experience their own Truman Show while communicating with strangers. What direction will this new kind of interaction take society?

There is no telling what kind of “extreme” situations that people find themselves in may now be streamed live. For instance, someone contemplating suicide or a person about to commit an act of revenge can Periscope the whole event. Alternatively, will people facing doom in a burning building share their horror? Will victims of war-torn countries show the brutalities of war? At what point will the overseer’s at Periscope cancel the feed? Although Periscope’s software is programmed to remove porn and other inappropriate material, will it have the ability to make decisions on what is deemed offensive, dangerous and/or criminal? What can (or should) viewers do if a situation escalates into an emergency? Only time will tell – but the moment Periscope has its “mass-media moment” during some big crisis or event is probably not far off.

The Mechanics of Periscope

As for the set up of Periscope, the feed appears entirely random. At the moment, the list of headlines to choose from is confusing as it contains all languages and titles in no particular order. I suspect that as the Periscope audience grows the app will include categories for people to choose their language(s), locations and the kinds of activities or “non-activities” they wish to participate or view. There are many Periscope “stars” emerging who constantly beg for hearts and plead viewers to “swipe left and follow” them and their every move. The idea of following random people and celebrities sounds exhausting for the viewer who is sent updates whenever the people they follow are live. Too much clutter and bother!

Corporate Invasion

It will also be interesting to see how the corporate world will interact with Periscope and what promotions work and what mistakes they are sure to make (like they have done so many times on Twitter). Soon, I suspect there will be live promotions and other live “behind-the-scenes” video footage that will entice viewers to take immediate action. The businesses that create the right promotion or find ways to use  Periscope strategically will probably benefit immensely. However, as is common with all social media channels, there are pitfalls that can threaten corporate reputations.

Similar to the Twitter battles that erupt when irate consumers express their dissatisfaction with a business through tweets, there may now be live feeds showing a customer’s grievance in real time. As a result, everyone in the service industry is now open to scrutiny via live streaming video. Waiters, baristas, ticket agents, cab drivers and even celebrities all now have to contend with live accounts of their actions.

Political Fall Out

Finally, the political world will soon be dealing with 24/7 live streaming. The gaffs and embarrassing moments that politicians have suffered due to social media will now be live and contain user comments (or hearts) from friends and foe alike. The 2016 presidential candidates will be exposed to numerous voyeurs while simultaneously they can be narcissists supplying a video feed of themselves “chillin” behind-the-scenes on their campaign buses or jets.

 The Future is Here and you can see it live 24/7

Make no mistake about it; Periscope and its cousin, Meerkat, are changing social media like never before. I suspect Facebook will enter the fray soon, and no doubt, Instagram, Snapchat and Vine change the way they operate as well. Keep an eye out on those smart phones looking your way!

 

The other day I was reading  David Frum’s column “The challenge for cable news” where he stated the following:

“Things move fast in the modern world, so let’s cut straight to the point: Cable TV is no longer the place where news breaks, and has not been so for years. Social media have done to cable TV news what cable news, in its day, did to the afternoon editions of big-city papers: shouldered aside its slower and less adaptable predecessor.”

This morning I woke up and took out my iPad and perused the online news feeds and immediately saw the unfolding gunman shootout events in New York City. I checked Twitter and found the hashtag’s #ESB and #EmpireStateBuilding and from there was quickly filled in with the details of the tragedy as they came in. After about an hour I saw that Mayor Bloomberg was to hold a news conference so it was only then that I turned on the TV and clicked on DirecTV’s news directory channel where I could scan CNN, MSNBC, FOX, CNBC, FBN for their ongoing coverage. What I saw was pretty lame.

The news outlets were still far behind what was being communicated on Twitter and were also lacking in any real reporting of the facts as they came forth. CNN was by far the worst in its coverage as Ashley Banfield tried to sum up the tragedy with a number of stupid comments about the iconic Empire State Building and other inane information.

As I continued to monitor the Twitter feed and checked out the links the story became clearer. Once Mayor Bloomberg had his news briefing (seen live on YouTube), Twitter was following along with the facts as he and his police commissioner briefed the throngs of media.

Later, CNN couldn’t even get the facts straight regarding the gunman’s sequence of events. They said that perpetrator, Jeffrey Johnson, was 56 (initially reported by police as being 53 but later corrected by the NY Times as 58) and that “he will not be prosecuted for murder.” Really? A comment on Twitter made fun of the statement with the line “Thanks Captain Obvious.”

To be fair, Twitter also contained many comments that were either inaccurate or outright false, but the majority of comments continued to be updated and had the correct information. This, along with photos, onsite witness accounts and links to video footage made social media a far better choice to learn about the unfolding events. 

What the cable media outlets were missing most of all was true reporting where their reporters would gather facts and check their sources while ensuring accuracy before being communicated over the air. Instead of being first on the scene and getting it wrong, or worse, reporting from the studio with a litany of irrelevant and inane comments just to fill air time, the cable news outfits should understand that the public using Twitter, Storify and Instagram will get now always get the scoop. The traditional media, including cable news, now has the job of getting the facts straight, reporting with accuracy and giving the story context. As Frum states in his piece, “Cable should skip fancy effects, go deep and long in reports, [and] find new relevance.”  Instead, cable news organizations tend to fill the air with their so-called “experts” and other pundits wishing to express opinions as opposed to employing actual journalists that will dig deeper and provide facts and pertinent information.

From what Bloomberg and Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the perpetrator, Jeffrey Johnson, fatally shot his former boss at point-blank range five times in front of his former workplace, Hazan Import Corporation on West 33rd Street. The shooter then walked eastbound towards the visitor entrance of the Empire State Building on 5th Avenue and was followed by a construction worker who then informed two police officers that were in a van guarding the Empire State Building as part of the ongoing counter terrorism security. After informing the officers, they then approached  Johnson who immediately pulled his .45 caliber handgun from a bag and pointed it at the officers. The officers then shot a total of 16 rounds killing Johnson while also wounding nine bystanders (fortunately with non-life threatening injuries) during the confrontation.

These were the basic facts of the tragic event as told by Bloomberg and the police commissioner which I then checked by finding the details about the Hazan Import Co. address, reviewing eye-witness accounts and by further follow-up with the New York Times and New York Post.  Why CNN and other cable news outlets couldn’t seem to master the duties of basic reporting during the first two hours after the incident is only part of the reason why they are becoming less significant as credible news sources. Finally, the irony was not lost on me that Frum’s article was posted on CNN. You’d think they’d get the message.

In February, 2009 Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said the following: “The company’s success hinges on its ability to transition to online video from DVDs…” Thanks to devices such as Playstation 3, X Box 360 and the iPad, one could say the transition has been wildly successful. However, two issues still plague Netflix from gaining wider acceptance. A greater variety of current movie titles and TV programs and a future where bandwidth is not capped out.

Many consumers complain that the current selection of movie offerings on Netflix resembles walking the middle of the isle of yesteryear’s Blockbuster where only B-movies and never heard of straight-to-video releases lurk. What Netflix needs is a constant supply of the latest and greatest titles to keep consumers coming back or they may start seeking other avenues.

Striking Deals for Better Content

One of the nagging issues since Hastings made his prophetic comment is that Netflix hasn’t been able to strike enough deals with the likes of HBO and the big movie studios to gain access to the streaming rights for fresh content.

Despite these problems the 14 year old company has had some recent gains by reaching agreements with NBC Universal and CBS as well as acquiring AMC’s  Mad Men. It’s also important to recognize the success of Netflix online venture can be attributed to its ingenious use of algorithms (known as its content recommendation engine) where its vast store of titles are targeted to subscribers unique profiles. And even with its recent price increases many analysts predict the company will continue fair well because of it’s convenient and seamless ability to work on so many platforms. (Android, iPhone, iPad, Xbox360, Wii, PS3, PC and 3DS to name a few.)

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To advertisers and marketers it’s important to realize that kids and young teens are extremely media/computer savvy and the best way to engage them is to be authentic and to always converse with them on their terms. What may be surprising for parents and teachers is what were once thought to be effective and efficient methods for teaching and providing guidance may now no longer be as relevant or meaningful for todays kids. 

Just a few years ago the folks at Common Sense Media wrote, “we may think of our kids’ online, mobile, and technological activities as “digital life,” but to them, it’s just life. Their world is as much about creating media as it is about consuming it.” And that in essence is what matters most – much of how kids view their world is through technology.

Generation Z

For kids born after 1998, “known as “Generation Z”,  they know of no life without Internet, ubiquitous cell phones, iPods, iPads, social media or 24/7 entertainment.” They’re also much more brand and fashion conscious at these younger ages.

This axiom holds true when considering how kids are learning and how they are choosing to get involved in activities both online and off.

The Power of Agency

What shouldn’t be surprising are the things kids can do  – and are doing – when empowered to do so. As Melissa Clark-Reynolds, CEO of Minimonos, stated at the Sustainable Brands ’11 conference, “kids need to be given agency”, that is “they need to be given the capacity to make powerful choices and affect the world.”

Minimonos (Spanish for little monkeys) is an online game that challenges kids to think in sustainable terms by rewarding them for doing the right thing. The purpose of Minimonos is “to have a place that embodies core values like sustainability and generosity, without turning those values into a boring lecture.”  What’s more, these kids are looking for authenticity and something that will inspire them – but it has to be on their terms and level of interest.

More than most parents may be willing to admit, a large percentage of today’s kids are extremely media savvy (they totally get it!) and they can detect the insincerity of a website, a social media platform, or any game or program that may be purportedly “designed for kids” but clearly doesn’t understand what motivates and engages them. If any of the content feels like it’s being imposed or is just irrelevant, then it’s summarily rejected. However, if the content has real value where the kids feel empowered to make decisions, are able to connect with other like-minded kids and can realize social status through rewards (gamification) – and it’s fun – then there is a good chance the website/game or social media platform may be a success.

What’s also important is when kids are given this “agency” it is not to diminish or negate the need for providing safety, structure and supervision while they’re spending time online. “The very nature of their constantly connected culture means kids must understand the concept of privacy so that what they post and create won’t hurt them or embarrass them at some point down the line.” However, as Emily Bazelon writes the The New York Times, “parents and lawmakers are [at times] so worried about protecting our children that they can fail to distinguish between real threats and phantom ones.” The point is to strike a balance between protecting and monitoring kids while also allowing them to find their space online where they can flourish.

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Last week at the Sustainable Brands ’11 conference in Monterey, CA there were some prominent takeaways that many brands (large and small) are now doing as a normal part of business. Being sustainable, which is both environmental and social, has become more than an eco-trend and much more than presenting the consumer with a “green” image.  In fact, green washing is one of several varied terms used to describe businesses that attempt to fool the customer into believing that their products are safe, natural and/or do no harm to the environment. However, today’s mobile consumer is extremely savvy and often are quite cynical. In response to this backlash many businesses are finding that authenticity and transparency are the keys to building successful and lasting relationships with their customers and shareholders.

What was loud and clear to this attendee is that sustainability should be embedded rather than tacked onto existing business practices and that marketing efforts should focus on product quality first rather than any “green attributes”.  The key is to understanding what motivates consumers and one emerging movement is the use of gaming for marketing and product usage purposes. What is referred to as “gamification” is now a major catalyst for changing well-entrenched behaviors and creating new social norms while engaging consumers in fun and rewarding ways.

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From the uprising and liberation of countries in the Middle East to the heart wrenching earthquake / tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, the role of social media and mobile technology has become inextricably woven into our daily lives. The tipping point came in mid-2007 when social media really started to take off while at the same time smart phones exploded onto the scene. For marketers, tapping into this new “engaged audience” has been a windfall for some while problematic and baffling for others.

The key is to step back from traditional marketing principles by being helpful, genuine and offering a worthy experience while allowing the consumer to generate the buzz.

Social media’s appeal has stemmed from the fact that it is user-generated content that can be both personal and broad based. When social media was embraced by huge numbers of online individuals and communities it occurred so fast that even today many businesses are still trying to figure out what to do. Those businesses that recognized the true potential of social media quickly understood that by offering worthy content, valuable insight and being accommodating have resulted in creating loyal customer communities.

As we now know, the success of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have fulfilled a need for meaningful connections. And it’s no accident that the popularity of the smart phone and its numerous apps have accelerated this change. People are now connected 24/7 and can do everything from choosing where to eat, to buying books, insurance and music, to playing Angry Birds and just about everything else. It has been an evolutionary process where the best ideas, services, apps and businesses have survived and flourished while those that haven’t measured up have been discarded and largely forgotten.

Users have All the Power

For businesses still trying to figure out how to navigate and succeed in this environment they must accept the fact that first and foremost social media is a ground up medium. Users have all the power.

As Jamie Monberg stated in Fast Company, “today’s consumers are stingier with their brand loyalty than in the past because they can afford to be: they are burdened only by an abundance of choice and knowledge.” To enter this arena wisely is to provide a genuine experience and/or credible content that users will embrace and gladly promote. Being overtly commercial is a sure path to being discredited.

Monberg makes this point exactly. “Today, any brand has a potential army of credible, unpaid spokespeople that are willing to work on its behalf. And this army is the exact same group of people who are willing to work against it.”

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In case you hadn’t noticed, there is a new trend emerging with online advertising that’s more content focused and more in tune with the idea of conversing with the viewer rather than the standard practice of overt one-way advertising.

The reason is simple, most of us have learned how to ignore online banner ads and those annoying animated ads that jump out at us as we click on a new page. Most people hate these ads and all of the obstacles that prevent us from immediately accessing the content we are seeking.

As Chris Anderson, curator from the non-profit group TED, recently stated, “online ads are not adding anything to our web surfing experience. Rather, they are annoying us, boring us, and even enraging us.” Instead advertisers should be seeking to join the online community by sharing information and providing worthy content as well as joining in the conversation.

“We’re moving toward a future where advertisers and consumers are part of the same community, sharing ideas and engaging in a learning cycle, together,” Anderson continued and went on to advocate that advertisers should create ads that are worth spreading.  “We (at TED) want to encourage development of ads-with-a-difference… that engage our audience authentically, intelligently and delightfully. Ads that people will want to share because they encapsulate ideas worth spreading.”

This idea isn’t new. The 25-year tradition of the highly anticipated Super Bowl ads may well fit into this category of engagement where viewers actually look forward to seeing the commercials. It makes one ask why advertisers don’t create worthy TV spots all the time?

Non-Traditional Advertising Methods

At any rate, the idea now is to become part of the conversation. Advertisers need to engage prospects with credible content that isn’t overt, intrusive or just blatant in-your-face advertising. Those marketers that succeed in this evolving arena will likely be embraced by viewers and may ultimately create loyal consumers as a result.

A couple of months ago Science Creative posted an article on Danny MacAskill’s amazing bike riding videos that were sponsored by Red Bull, VW and other advertisers who sponsored his breathtaking stunts. This form of advertising is low key where the advertiser isn’t prominent during the spot. The talent is the content which is what attracts viewers and in-turn, makes the video go viral. The product/brand association with Danny’s talent is subtle but effective simply because it’s deliberately set in the background.

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Why is it when we’re in the midst of a “crisis” we tend to think this event is somehow unique in human history? At first there is a tendency to panic and then, after way too much hand wringing, the vast majority of people eventually pick themselves up and move on.  It’s only years (or months) later with the benefit of hindsight that historians are able to clearly see who the innovators were based on their courage and ultimate success while the rest flailed about in fear of change.

This scenario could easily be about politics, war or business since a “crisis” is often the result of a human endeavor that involves similar emotions, reactions and ultimately – solutions. In this case the subject matter isn’t about the auto or banking industry or the even the manufacturing sector that’s under siege, instead it’s about the advertising industry. At this very moment, while many insiders are worrying about their agencies, a few brave souls are charting new paths to success while also employing basic principles that still work.

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Do popular brands help define who we are? Do they help provide the visual and iconic clues that define an era or specific moments in time? And do brands need to stick to one image or campaign in order to be successful as representations of moments in time?

Brands that stand the test of time are the ones that are fully ingrained in consumers’ minds. Al Ries of Advertising Age recently wrote an excellent article that argues, “Once a brand is established with a clearly defined marketing position, the brand’s owner should ask a fundamental question before making any significant changes. Why tinker with success?”

Mr. Ries also states, “the way to build a brand is with a consistent message over an extended period of time.” The end result of creating a consistent message is what’s known as building brand equity. Brand Equity is created over time through marketing, PR, advertising and more recently social media, and is constantly reinforced by gentle or sometimes over-the-top reminders (ads) that together serve as a ubiquitous force that’s woven into our collective conscience. In other words, we become so familiar with the brand that we recognize it as being a normal part of popular culture and our everyday lives.

As Colin Drummond so eloquently wrote in his blog Brands Belong in Culture, Not Categories:

A brand’s true usefulness is in how it helps us to participate in culture… brands represent aspects of today’s America: modernity, hope, intelligence, optimism, blindness and decay. These brands are culturally useful to us when we use them or even just have an opinion about them. Because our association with them says a lot about who we are. Significant brands are never just relevant to a category, they contribute to culture at large.

Marking Time with Familiar Brands

Familiar brands from Apple and IBM to Kellogg’s and Colgate-Palmolive often form the backdrop to our daily existence and over time become the icons that help define the present and our past. As Science Creative‘s blog mentioned in an earlier post on technology, “look at any old photograph and it’s the clothes and “products” around the subjects that truly dates the photo.”

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SEE THIS ON SCIENCE CREATIVE

Picture yourself living a middle class life at the beginning of the last century. Let’s say the year is 1904. The times feel modern and technology is rapidly expanding and seemingly improving our lives.  Amazing things are happening in this new century, back on December 17, 1903 the Wright brothers actually flew an engine-powered aeroplane – magnificent! Later, in 1904 a Canadian by the name of John E. Kennedy would define advertising as “salesmanship in print”. This would ensure from that point onward, new technology would be marketed as a product or benefit that every consumer needed – now.

The onslaught of new fangled technology such as radios, the new Gillette safety razors, vacuum cleaners and even Crayola Crayons had to be marketed and the public was soon immersed in the wonderment of being able to consume and live the life of modernity.

Back then there was a sense of excitement and a feeling of anticipation with the introduction of each new technological marvel. Because so much of what was becoming available could hardly have been imagined only the year before it was a magical and incredible time.

Of course marketing and advertising helped promote this “idealistic world” that new technology offered in ever-growing abundance. Over time consumers became accustomed to the “what’s new” marketing formula. As a result, what was once “new and incredible” soon became old, dated and years later would stand as a marker of history. Look at any old photograph and it’s the clothes and “products” around the subjects that truly dates the photo.

As the 20th century progressed and wars came (which accelerated technological advancement), marketers and advertisers continued to promote an ever-growing variety of “New” consumer goods with technological advancements that were always remarkable.

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