Hurricanes, blockchains and dancing skeletons. Plus, a glimpse of our future, in which our robot overlords feed us ice cream. It’s not as fun as it sounds. All this and more in the latest edition of the Springbox Trend Report.
Hurricanes devastate the South and take over social media.
It’s been a sobering and tragic month. Here in Texas, Hurricane Harvey raged ashore, ransacking favorite communities like Port Aransas and Rockport and going on to smother Port Arthur, Beaumont and Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest metropolis, in what’s being called the most significant rainfall event in continental U.S. history. And that’s not all. The hurricanes kept coming. Five disastrous storms so far, including one that hit Ireland. That’s right, Ireland. In Europe. But if there’s a silver lining to this endless parade of angry gray skies, it’s that things could have been much, much worse. And in many cases, the saving grace was social media. While 911 lines scrambled to keep up with incoming calls, stranded people turned to Twitter, Facebook and Nextdoor. Before long, influencers picked up the pleas and broadcast them to their networks, alerting neighbors and first responders who were able to zero in on their locations. In the meantime, emergency services organizations like the Houston Office of Emergency Management and the Harris County Sheriff's Office used social media to post up-to-the-minute updates. During Hurricane Irma, even though the Miami International Airport had closed, its Twitter account kept on, even correcting misinformation posted by President Trump’s social media director.
And the conversation extended beyond those directly affected. For weeks, news about the hurricanes dominated both conventional and digital media. AccuWeather reported that this Atlantic hurricane season has been the most-Googled in history. Social feeds reeled with breathtaking before-and-after photos of Houston, and scrolling through them became a fraught pastime for those of us outside of the storm’s massive scope. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. In Galveston, this woman became a national hero when she handed a stressed-out reporter a six pack of beer. And if you’re looking for something to fire your faith in humanity, watch this video of private citizens driving their boats to Houston to help with the rescue effort. They call themselves the Cajun Navy, and they’re everything that’s right about America.
Why do we care?
There are opportunities for brands here. But they’re not marketing opportunities. This is a chance to truly make a difference. And that’s exactly what many companies have been doing, donating not just money but products like water and food. In particular, tech companies stepped up, offering crucial updates and information that allowed people to respond to the disasters in real time. The Cajun Navy coordinated their rescues by using the free walkie-talkie app Zello, which topped downloads from the App Store prior to Hurricane Irma. Facebook, Apple and Dell all donated significant funds and helped coordinate donations from users, while Google kept track of road closures to make sure everyone knew the safest route to places of refuge.
The lesson? Make yourself an ally. Or, in Texas, be HEB. The Texas-owned grocery chain has always garnered brand loyalty from Texans, but their response and preparedness during Harvey showed true dedication to a community in need along with tremendous foresight and coordination. When everyone else was closed, HEB was open and stocked with the most essential supplies, and you can bet that weather-battered Houstonians were grateful.
Linkedin, social butterfly?
Sick of being bombarded with posts from your high school friends arguing about the NFL on Facebook? Want to read articles that can actually help you with your career instead of clickbait about celebrities and politicians? Welcome to Linkedin, the calmer, more reasonable social network. You may be thinking, “Wait a minute … Linkedin? But I already have a job.” But recently, the business connection site has added “content powerhouse” to its resume. Publishers appreciate the audience of serious-minded people who aren’t going to get into some kind of Twitter-style troll-off in the comments section. After all, everything you do on Linkedin represents who you are professionally, so most users keep it civil. What’s more, the content is actually good. The platform tapped several big name influencers (Bill Gates, Richard Branson, etc.) to keep the conversation relevant and engaging and began publishing its own articles in its Daily Rundown. They also rejiggered users’ feeds to feature content related to their interests rather than posts exclusively from their networks. Engagement has skyrocketed, and the content keeps coming. Who knows? You may be reading this very report on Linkedin right now. Whoa. Things just got meta.
Why do we care?
If you’re looking for the right channel for B2B marketing, Linkedin may just be it. One of the things that makes the platform so attractive to marketers is the massive amount of data it collects from its users, much more than other platforms. This allows marketers to target very specific audiences, like executives, where they can expect much higher engagement. Linkedin claims that members share nearly 1,000 posts a minute, and while those numbers have nothing on Facebook, Linkedin users are sharing them with people who may actually want to read them.
Speaking of Facebook...
Engagement for brands is down 20% so far this year. Analytics toolmaker Buzzsumo analyzed over 880 million posts by publishers and brands and found that average engagement has fallen from 340 to 264 since January. Both Facebook and Buzzsumo cite a decrease in organic reach as one of the main culprits. To put it plainly, there’s just too much content. People’s feeds are overcrowded, and paid posts are having trouble rising to the surface. That coupled with Facebook’s reworking of its algorithm to deprioritize low-quality posts has taken the legs out from under a lot of paid posts. The report shows the sharpest decline for link and image posts, while video posts are still engaging well. Which goes to show, best social best practices can change faster than Winona Ryder’s facial expressions. It wasn’t long ago that photos were seen as an engagement turbo booster. But now, they’re out like yesterday’s mackerel. Video’s supremacy is all but assured. If only someone had warned about this before.
Why do we care?
Let me hear you say “Video!” Okay. I didn’t hear anything, but I’m going to assume that’s because we’re separated by both time and space. Guys, you have to have video. And it has to be professionally produced. And it has to be cut to suit the platform where it’s going to be posted. We can do this for you. But you have to ask nice. And you have to bring snacks. Preferably tacos.
Blockchain comes to, well, everything.
Tired of making a separate blockchain for every application? I mean, who isn’t? Well, now, with the general purpose blockchain Ethereum, you don’t have to. A few weeks ago, at Disrupt SF 2017, Ethereum developer Vitalik Buterin laid out how Ethereum works. And the weird thing is, I kind of understood him. Basically, the network uses the kind of crypto economics that power bitcoin and marries them with a programming-agnostic platform. Buterin compares it to a smartphone that can take apps that were developed in different languages by countless different developers and run them all in one OS. Buterin visualizes the decentralized network running everything from credit card networks to gaming servers, all with heretofore unrivaled security. I just wonder what this means for Pied Piper.
Why do we care?
If decentralized networks take off the way Buterin envisions, it could mean big changes for the giant, server-based platforms like Amazon, Google and Facebook, who have made entire economies out of harvesting user data. What this means for analytics is anyone’s guess. You see where I’m going with this. Digital marketers have come to rely heavily on ad tools and data from the Big Three, but as more interactions move to decentralized networks, what will happen to targeted advertising? It may not be coming right away — Etherium’s network is still too slow to scale to any significant degree — but it’s something brands should be thinking about.
WHAT’S NEW IN PLATFORM UPDATES?
TWICE THE CHARACTERS WITH HALF THE CALORIES!
You know how you love everything about Twitter expect for the brevity? Well, don’t worry. Twitter has a fix for that. Now a random selection of users has been authorized to try out a new 280-character Tweet limit. For those of you who are into math, that’s twice what the rest of us are allowed. The day that the Twitterverse has excitedly anticipated/rued is finally here! Twitter execs claim that the original character limit, in addition to being more or less arbitrary, was keeping people from Tweeting. They hope that the expansion will allow people to be more expressive. Others hope that maybe now users will finally feel like they have enough room to use actual punctuation. (Okay, you got me. I’m the one hoping that.) If the trial rollout goes well, this could mean that double characters are coming to everyone. Predictably, responses have been mixed. And in certain cases, the arbitrary assignment of 280 privileges has sparked political scandal. But I think there’s at least one Tweeterbox we can all agree doesn’t need any extra space.
FACEBOOK: IT’S LIKE TINDER FOR FRIENDS
The idea behind Facebook and all the other friend apps that have come and gone has always been to meet friends of friends. To network socially with people that have come preapproved by people you know and trust. But now Facebook has reconfigured the way it introduces friends of friends to each other, and, well, it’s … different. If you’ve ever used the Discover People feature, this essentially does the same thing. It shows you people you might like to know who have attended the same events as you or who are in your groups. You can check out their profile card, and Facebook will highlight the “things you have in common.” Where the new feature takes it up a notch is letting you do the same thing with your friends’ friends. You can navigate to any friend’s Friends tab (say, your friend Nardwuar), and it will ask you if you’d like to “Get to know Nardwuar’s Friends.” And maybe you do. And maybe it’s creepy that you want to scope out your friend’s friends. Maybe you don’t care. It’s up to you to decide!
But that’s not all. Facebook is testing a feature that asks if you want to meet up with friends you already have. Like, Facebook is actually actively setting you up on dates. Sure, they’re supposed to be friend-dates, and they do have the option to invite more than one person, but for all the people who shied away from Facebook in the beginning because they thought it was just a stealth dating site, these changes probably aren’t doing a lot to assuage their jitters.
OR YOU CAN ALWAYS HIT SNOOZE
But Facebook isn’t just cooking up features for its extroverts. It wants to take care of the introverts, too. Let’s face it: our friends are great, but sometimes they won’t shut up. Finding out about cool events is great, but sometimes you have a conflict that night, so you don’t need to see 800 posts about that cat acrobatics show, as much as you might wish you could go. Never fear! Whereas in the past, you had only two options to avoid seeing a particular friend’s or page’s posts — unfriend or unfollow — Facebook is now playing around with a “snooze” function that allows you to pause posts from a specific account for intervals of 24 hours, 7 days or 30 days. You’re not getting rid of them. You’re not even turning them off. Just taking a break. And sometimes that’s all you need.
INTRODUCING YOUR PUBLIC LIBRARY, ON GOOGLE
Even though I’m sure your public library website is a model of UX best practices, wouldn’t it be easier if you could just use Google to find the books you need? Well, now you can. Search any book, and Google will tell you whether or not the e-book is available at your public library. And then you just check it out, and then you read it. Like a book. All from your Google search. When the search box comes up, just click on the Get Book tab, and Google will show you libraries near you where the e-book is available. Click on one and you’ll go straight to the checkout page. So, if you were the savvy library user who was already checking for e-books at your local branch, now you have millions of competitors to contend with. Thanks, Google!
SLO-MO, FAST-MO, WE ALL MO FOR YOU...TUBE
Sure, we’ve all been fooling around with YouTube’s variable speed feature on desktop for a while now, watching that Future Islands guy dance in double time or running Charlie Bit Me in extra slo-mo, but now we can do it on mobile. Which apparently was really hard to pull off. Turns out, not all smartphones are created equal. Nor are all wi-fi connections. Nor are all batteries. All of which makes variable speed for mobile a formidable technological challenge. Especially if you don’t want to change the pitch of the audio. Which I always thought was the best part. But not YouTube. They wanted to be able to maintain the pitch of the original audio because people want to consume information more quickly, not more squeakily. And they finally pulled it off. Now, on mobile as on desktop, you can adjust the speed of a video in quarter-speed intervals, all the way from .25 speed up to 2X. So the next time you want to watch Ken Burns’s The Civil War, on your phone, on YouTube for some reason, it’ll only take you two hours and fifty-three minutes.
SNAPCHAT PUTS THINGS INTO CONTEXT
Team Snapchat is at it again. After the rollout of Snap Maps, the camera app is taking another run at Google Maps and Facebook’s Location Services by introducing “context cards” attached to geotagged photos within public stories. The cards emulate Google Maps’ information cards. You can click on the location, and a variety of information will pop up, from hours of operation to reviews to relevant Snap stories. But significantly, the Snap context cards also feature integrations from partners like Open Table, Uber and Lyft. So if your crush posts a Snap from a cool party you weren’t invited to, just tap the Lyft icon straight from the context card and you can be crashing that party in minutes.
IF YOU LIKED DANCING HOT DOGS, YOU’LL LOVE THE DANCING SKELETON (MAYBE)
Apparently everyone’s favorite dancing hot dog has evolved. And it’s evolved into a dancing skeleton with a pink tutu. Just like Darwin predicted. Presumably an activation to coincide with spooky non-holiday Friday the 13th, the filter is available when you tap your camera screen, and just like the hot dog, you can pinch it to expand or contract. It remains to be seen if this AR experiment will spark the same kind of obsessive fascination as the hot dog, but it’s off to a roaring (twirling?) start.
WHO’S DOING COOL STUFF?
In the past few months, it has come to my attention that we’ve featured a fair amount of uncool stuff in the cool stuff section. As a chronicler of trends, I think I can spot one taking shape when I see it. And I think it’s time to inaugurate a new feature in the trend report. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to …
HEY, THAT’S NOT COOL.
The English language is full of idioms with obscure origins. Why do you pull someone’s leg when you’re joshing them? That seems crazy. Why do you want to hear something straight from the horse’s mouth? Horses can’t talk. Right? Or am I missing something? Is someone really the apple of your eye? That sounds painful. Get that apple out of my eye. Come on now. But one expression we can all get behind is “Don’t poop where you eat.” Nobody has to explain that one to you. It just makes sense. Unless you’re Denny’s. Look, I get it — there’s nothing more appetizing than anthropomorphized food, apparently. I mean, who doesn’t want to think about cows who are self-aware and physically coordinated enough to climb ladders, manipulate a paintbrush, compose a message that deflects attention away from them (all somehow without learning how to spell) when they’re eating their chicken sandwich. And of course, everyone loves cannibalistically chomping down on bipedal, sentient M&Ms. So, it makes sense that Denny’s would think, Hey, maybe we should make adorable cartoon characters out of our Grand Slam® breakfast items. We could make a little pancake dude. Oh! And how about a fried egg lady? Right, right. Maybe a bacon guy. Sounds perfect. So far, so good. Should we make a sausage guy? You mean like a little brown sausage link? But wouldn’t that kind of look like a …? Yes. Yes, it would.
I mean, guys, you had to have seen the character before it went live. How did you not see that? Was everybody at Denny’s corporate high on Cinnamon Sugar Pancake Puppies®? Were they in a food coma from a bunch of Honey Jalapeño Bacon Sriracha Burgers? Or maybe this whole thing was supposed to draw attention away from the intangibly unsettling suggestiveness of the name Moons Over My Hammy®. Luckily, Denny’s has one of the best community management games in the biz. Their Twitter response somehow managed to be funny and make an indirect commentary on cyberbullying. And, who knows, maybe the whole thing will end up working in their favor. After all, it worked for Burt Reynolds.
AND NOW, BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED COOL STUFF.
Snickers has been having a lot of fun with its “You’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign, turning Marcia Brady into Danny Trejo or mauling Abe Vigoda and Betty White, but now they’re putting their money where their mouth is, or, where your mouth is, I guess. In a campaign by MediaCom Melbourne and BBDO, the Mars Chocolates-owned brand arranged to actually lower the price of the candy bar when people were hangry. How could they tell? Meet the “Hungerithm,” designed to analyze 14,000 social media posts a day. The chocolate company partnered with 7-11 stores in Australia, who had the power to adjust the price of the candy up to 144 times a day when the algorithm detected an uptick in angry social posts. The agency enlisted the help of Google and MIT to fine tune the algorithm, but the campaign went beyond merely monitoring social sentiment, featuring TV spots, real-time Facebook and Twitter posts and mobile coupons sent directly to consumers. The whole thing took the better part of a year to set up, but once launched, the price of a Snickers bar in Australia fluctuated an incredible 5,000 times over 5 weeks. Australians, no strangers to fun, played along, monitoring the fluctuating price on “The Morning Show” and “The Daily Edition” and even trying to game the system with fake anger. The Hungerithm was so successful at engaging its audience and driving home the brand’s value props that Mars is thinking about expanding it to other markets. Fingers crossed, because I have a backlog of peeves just waiting to become Twitter rants, and everybody knows I’m a sucker for that nougat.
People have a lot to say about herbicide, but one thing everyone can probably agree on is that the less we use it, the better. Well, everyone except these guys. Enter John Deere. The farm equipment company has long been an innovator of farming technology, and now they’re applying that spirit to killing weeds. Turns out that most weed killers are non-selective, meaning that they don’t just kill weeds — they kill everything. You may be thinking, How does that work? Wouldn’t they kill the crops? Well, yes. Yes, they would. Which is why companies like Monsanto have developed genetically modified seeds that are resistant to glyphosate, the chief chemical in its best-selling weed killer Roundup. So now you may be thinking, That sounds complicated. And expensive. Wouldn’t it be easier to single out the weeds and just kill those? Well, no. Apparently, doing so is both difficult and incredibly expensive. Until now.
Turns out, the missing ingredient (technologically speaking) may have been AI. That’s right, John Deere just laid down $305 million to buy Blue River Technology, a California company with a determined mission to bring high-tech solutions to agribusiness. Perhaps most impressive amongst these is their LettuceBot, a robot that uses machine learning to administer herbicide only to specific plants. The robot can be pulled behind a tractor and uses high-tech cameras and automated sprayers to single out the weeds. Blue River says that the LettuceBot is already being used in one-tenth of the nation’s lettuce production, and they are currently testing machines to be used with other crops. And with an industry giant like John Deere in the driver seat, this tech has the potential to change the way planting is carried out across the board. I’m not saying Monsanto should be getting measured for a coffin, but they might want to think about making a will.
“I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.” You know the chant. It’s a clever play on the homonyms “ice cream” and “I scream.” We all get it. Ice cream is delicious. So delicious it can make you scream giddily with anticipation. Or maybe the scream is supposed to be a demand, like a slogan at a labor strike. But I’m pretty sure no one ever took it to mean screaming in abject terror. For ice cream. But if you’re the lady in this ad for Halo Top low-calorie ice cream, that’s exactly what you’ll do. Because this commercial is horrifying. The ascendant ice cream brand tapped filmmaker Mike Diva to make a long-form ad that would truly set them apart. And, boy, does it. The spot starts in a clinically white room with a robed elderly woman seated in a white modernist chair. A robot approaches her and offers her ice cream. But as the commercial progresses, the robot becomes more insistent, finally declaring, “Everyone you love is gone. There is only ice cream.” Which, as far as nightmarish dystopian futures go, isn’t all that bad, I guess. I mean, at least there’s ice cream.
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