Mary Meeker’s 2019 Massive Internet Trends Presentation

“Blue Marble – 2002”, Image by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Today, on June 11, 2019, at the 2019 Code Conference being held this week in Scottsdale, Arizona, Mary Meeker, a world-renowned Internet expert, founder of Bond Capital, and prior partner in the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, presented her eighteenth annual in-depth, highly analytical and encyclopedic presentation on current Internet trends. It is an absolutely remarkable accomplishment that is highly respected throughout the global technology industry and economy.

Her 2019 Internet Trends 333-slide deck is divided into a series of eleven main sections covering, among many other things the very granular and fascinating who, what, when, where and why of Internet users and their usage, e-commerce, online advertising, freemium businesses, multi-dimensional data trends, word, education. healthcare, immigration and China.

That is just the tip of the very tip of this virtual iceberg.

Ms. Meeker’s assessments and predictions here form an extraordinarily comprehensive and insightful piece of work. There is much here for anyone and everyone to learn and consider in the current and trending states nearly anything and everything online. Moreover, there are likely many potential opportunities for new and established businesses, as well as other institutions, within this file.

I very highly recommend that you set aside some time to thoroughly read through and fully immerse your thoughts in Ms. Meeker’s entire presentation. You will be richly rewarded with a wealth of original knowledge and understanding that can potentially yield a world of informative, strategic and practical dividends.

Single File, Everyone: The Advent of the Universal Digital Profile

Ducks at Parramatta, Image by Stilherrian

Throughout grades 1 through 6 at Public School 79 in Queens, New York, the teachers had one universal command they relied upon to try to quickly gather and organize the students in each class during various activities. They would announce “Single file, everyone”, and expect us all to form a straight line with one student after the other all pointed in the same direction. They would usually deploy this to move us in an orderly fashion to and from the lunchroom, schoolyard, gym and auditorium. Not that this always worked as several requests were usually required to get us all to quiet down and line up.

Just as it was used back then as a means to bring order to a room full of energetic grade-schoolers,  those three magic words can now be re-contextualized and re-purposed for today’s digital everything world when applied to a new means of bringing more control and safety to our personal data. This emerging mechanism is called the universal digital profile (UDP). It involves the creation of a dedicated file to compile and port an individual user’s personal data, content and usage preferences from one online service to another.

This is being done in an effort to provide enhanced protection to consumers and their digital data at a critical time when there have been so many online security breaches of major systems that were supposedly safe. More importantly, these devastating hacks during the past several years have resulted in the massive betrayals of users’ trust that need to be restored.

Clearly and concisely setting the stage for the development of UDPs was an informative article on TechCrunch.com entitled The Birth of the Universal Digital Profile, by Rand Hindi, posted on May 22, 2018. I suggest reading it in its entirety. I will summarize and annotate it, and then pose some of my own questions about these, well, pro-files.

Image from Pixabay

The Need Arises

It is axiomatic today that there is more concern over online privacy among Europeans than other populations elsewhere. This is due, in part, to the frequency and depth of the above mentioned deliberate data thefts. These incidents and other policy considerations led to the May 25, 2018 enactment and implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) across the EU.

The US is presently catching up in its own citizens’ levels of rising privacy concerns following the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal.¹

Among its many requirements, the GDPR ensures that all individuals have the right to personal data portability, whereby the users of any online services can request from these sites that their personal data can be “transferred to another provider, without hindrance”. This must be done in a file format the receiving provider requires. For example, if a user is changing from one social network to another, all of his or her personal data is to be transferred to the new social network in a workable file format.

The exact definition of “personal profile” is still open to question. The net effect of this provision is that one’s “online identity will soon be transferable” to numerous other providers. As such transfer requests increase, corporate owners of such providers will likely “want to minimize” their means of compliance. The establishment of standardized data formats and application programming interfaces (APIs) enabling this process would be a means to accomplish this.²

Aurora Borealis, Image by Beverly

A Potential Solution

It will soon become evident to consumers that their digital profiles can become durable, reusable and, hence, universal for other online destinations. They will view their digital profiles “as a shared resource” for similar situations. For instance, if a user has uploaded his or her profile to a site for verification, in turn, he or she should be able to re-use such a “verified profile elsewhere”.³  

This would be similar to the Facebook Connect’s functionality but with one key distinction: Facebook would retain no discretion at all over where the digital profile goes and who can access it following its transfer. That control would remain entirely with the profile’s owner.

As the UDP enters the “mainstream” usage, it may well give rise to “an entire new digital economy”. This might include new services such as “personal data clouds to personal identity aggregators or data monetization platforms”. In effect, increased interoperability between and among sites and services for UDPs might enable these potential business opportunities to take root and then scale up.

Digital profiles, especially now for Europeans, is one of the critical “impacts of the GDPR” on their online lives and freedom. Perhaps its objectives will spread to other nations.

My Questions

  • Can the UDP’s usage be expanded elsewhere without the need for enacting GDPR-like regulation? That is, for economic, public relations and technological reasons, might online services support UDPs on their own initiatives rather than waiting for more governments to impose such requirements?
  • What additional data points and functional capabilities would enhance the usefulness, propagation and extensibility of UDPs?
  • What other business and entrepreneurial opportunities might emerge from the potential web-wide spread of a GDPR and/or UDP-based model?
  • Are there any other Public School 79 graduates out there reading this?

On a very cold night in New York on December 20, 2017, I had an opportunity to attend a fascinating presentation  by Dr. Irene Ng before the Data Scientists group from Meetup.com about an inventive alternative for dispensing one’s personal digital data called the Hub of All Things (HAT). [Clickable also @hubofallthings.] In its simplest terms, this involves the provision of a form of virtual container (the “HAT” situated on a “micro-server”), storing an individual’s personal data. This system enables the user to have much more control over whom, and to what degree, they choose to allow access to their data by any online services, vendors or sites. For the details on the origin, approach and technology of the HAT, I highly recommend a click-through to a very enlightening new article on Medium.com entitled What is the HAT?, by Jonathan Holtby, posted yesterday on June 6, 2018.


1.  This week’s news bring yet another potential scandal for Facebook following reports that they shared extensive amounts of personal user data with mobile device vendors, including Huawei, a Chinese company that has been reported to have ties with China’s government and military. Here is some of the lead coverage so far from this week’s editions of The News York Times:

2.  See also these five Subway Fold posts involving the use of APIs in other systems.

3.  See Blockchain To The Rescue Creating A ‘New Future’ For Digital Identities, by Roger Aitlen, posted on Forbes.com on January 7, 2018, for a report on some of the concepts of, and participants in, this type of technology.

Taking Note of Music Tech’s VC and Accelerator Market Trends in 2017

As a part of today’s modern music industry there exists a complementary and thriving support system of venture capital firms and music tech startup accelerators who are providing a multitude of innovative services.  A fascinating examination of the current state of this ecosystem appeared in an article entitled Music Pushes to Innovate Beyond Streaming, But Investors Play It Safe: Analysis, by Cherie Hu, posted on Billboard.com on 7/24/17. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety for its insights, assessments and accompanying graphics.

I will summarize this feature here, add some links and annotations and, well, venture a few of my own questions. Also, I believe this is a logical follow to three previous Subway Fold posts about the music biz including:

Tempo

In mid-2017, the music tech market is generating signals as to its direction and viability. For example, Jawbone, the once thriving manufacturer of wearable audio devices is currently being liquidated; Soundcloud  the audio distribution platform let go of 40 percent of its staff recently only days before the firm’s tenth anniversary; and Pandora has experienced high turnover among its executives while seeking a sale.

Nonetheless, the leaders in music streaming are maintaining “the music industry’s growth”. Music tech showcases and music accelerators including SXSW Music Startup Spotlight, the Midemlab Accelerator, and Techstars Music are likewise driving market transformation.   During 2017 thus far, 54 music startups from more than 25 cities across the globe have taken part in these three entities. They have presented a range of submissions including “live music activations and automated messaging to analytics tools for labels and artists”.

While companies such as Live Nation, Balderton Capital and Evolution Media have previously invested in music startups, most investors at this mid-year point have never previously funded a company in this space. This is despite the fact that investments in this market sector have rarely returned the 30% that VCs generally seek. As well, a number of established music industry stars are participating as first-time or veteran investors this year.

Of the almost $900 million funding in music tech for the first half of this year, 75% was allocated for streaming services – – 82% of which went only to the leading four companies. However, there remains a “stark disconnect” involving the types of situations where music accelerators principally “lend their mentorship” in “hardware, virtual reality1, chatbots, label tools”, and the issues that VC concentrate the funding such as “streaming, social media, brands”.  Moreover, this situation has the potential of “stifling innovation” across the industry.

To date, music accelerators have “successfully given a platform and resources” to some sectors of the industry that VCs don’t often consider. For example, automated messaging and AI-generated music2 are both categories that music accelerators avoided until recently, now equal 15% of membership. This expansion into new categories reflects a much deeper “tech investment and hiring trends”. Leading music companies are now optimistic about virtual digital assistants (VDA) including chatbots and voice-activated systems such as Amazon Alexa3. As well, Spotify recently hired away a leading AI expert from Sony.

Rhythm

However, this “egalitarian focus” on significant problems has failed to “translate into the wider investing landscape” insofar as the streaming services have attracted 75% of music tech funding. The data further shows that licensing/rights/catalog management, social music media, and music, brands and advertising finished, in that order, in second at 11.1%, third at 7.1% and fourth at 3.9%.

These percentages closely match those for 2016. Currently, many VCs in this sector view streaming “as the safest model available”. It is also one upon which today’s music industry depends for its survival.

Turning to the number of rounds of music tech funding rather than the dollar amounts raised, by segments within the industry, a “slightly more egalitarian landscape” emerges:

  • Music hardware, AI-generated music, and VR and Immersive media each at 5.0%
  • Live music; music brands and advertising; streaming; and social music media each at 15.0%
  • Licensing, rights, and catalog management at 25% (for such companies as Kobalt Music, Stem and Dubset)

Categories that did relatively well in both their number of rounds of funding and accelerator membership were “catalog management, social music platforms, and live music”.

Those music tech startups that are more “futuristic” like hardware and VR are seen favorably by “accelerators and conference audiences”, but less so among VCs.  Likewise, while corporate giants including Live Nation, Universal Music Group, Citi and Microsoft have announced movement into music VR in the past six months, VC funding for this tech remained “relatively soft”.

Even more pronounced is the situation where musical artists and label services such as Instrumental (a influencer discovery platform) and chart monitors like Soundcharts have not raised any rounds of funding. This is so “despite unmatched attention from accelerators. This might be due to these services not being large enough to draw too “many traditional investors”.

An even more persistent problem here is that not many VCs “are run by people with experience in the music industry” and are familiar with its particular concerns. Once exception is Plus Eight Equity Partners, who are trying to address “this ideological and motivational gap”.

Then there are startups such as 8tracks and Chew who are “experimenting with crowdfunding” in this arena but who were not figured into this analysis.

In conclusion, the tension between a “gap in industry knowledge” and the VCs’ preference for “safety and convenience”, is blurring the line leading from accelerator to investment for many of these imaginative startups.

My Questions

  • Of those music startups who have successfully raised funding, what factors distinguished their winning pitches and presentations that others can learn from and apply?
  • Do VCs and accelerators really need the insights and advice of music industry professionals or are the numbers, projects and ROIs only what really matters in deciding whether or not to provide support?
  • Would the application of Moneyball principles be useful to VCs and accelerators in their decision-making processes?

 


1.  See the category Virtual and Augmented Reality for other Subway Fold posts on a range of applications of these technologies.

2.  For a report on a recent developments, see A New AI Can Write Music as Well as a Human Composer, by Bartu Kaleagasi, posted on Futurism.com on 3/9/17.

3.  Other examples of VDAs include Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana.

Summary of An Interview on NPR with Michael Krieger, Co-founder of Instagram

Image from Pixabay

Image from Pixabay

One of Instagram‘s two co-founders, Michael Krieger, was interviewed on Saturday, March 26, 2016 on The New Yorker Radio Hour on WNYC, the NPR station in New York. In just 17 minutes, he and the interviewer, Nicholas Thompson, who is the editor of newyorker.com, covered a remarkable amount of valuable territory about the origin, operations and philosophy of Instagram.

Here is the link to the podcast entitled How Instagram Took Over the World. I highly recommend listening to it in its entirety. There is much to learned from the very insightful Mr. Krieger about the constantly changing world of startups. My admiration and gratitude to both him and Mr. Thompson for such a lively and engaging presentation.

Here is a brief summary of the subjects covered in the order they were discussed:

  • Instagram originally began as an app called “Burbn”.  It was not being used much at the time, but its photo-posting feature immediately drew the most interest of its initial users. The knowledge gained from the experience with Burbn became the foundation upon which Instagram was later built.¹
  • The co-founders’ key concerns all along have been ease-of-use in getting photos uploaded as quickly as possible and making them look good with the available filters and features.
  • When Instagram first launched, it very quickly gained an international audience. It generated early excitement because there were no language barriers in following other users. One of the initial and inspiring experiences of early users was following and supporting the rescue efforts after the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
  • At first, the co-founders were completely focused upon building the app’s infrastructure.
  • The media initially perceived the app as “something for hipsters”. In fact, a wide diversity of users was genuinely connecting with each other.
  • The co-founders needed to become well versed in copyright matters, as the users, not Instagram, own their photos. This included the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
  • Facebook purchased Instagram for approximately $1 billion in 2012. ² While FB’s philosophy is generally to get new projects implemented quickly online, Instagram prefers to take more time with their new upgrades and features to make certain they are done right.
  • Instagram has always been a “cohesive experience for users”.
  • Instagram has “changed the world” insofar as people “have a desire to tell stories”, and the app and others like it are “immediate and visceral”. Essentially, it enables users to “bring others into the moment”.
  • The ease-of-use of the app in getting photos uploaded quickly also permits users to “get back into your life” rather than taking too much time with the technology. In effect, taking more time to directly view and experience what a user has photographed after the photos have been easily uploaded and the phone put aside.
  • Both of Instagram’s founders, Michael Krieger and Kevin Systrom, have always gotten along well during the 6-year history of their company. Their respective skills in business and technology have always complemented each other.
  •  The founders have always maintained two guiding principles in their work:
    • Do the simple things first.
    • In terms of craft and design, do fewer things better.
  • The biggest challenge for startups today is getting noticed as marketing and distribution have become more difficult.

 


1.  For the full details on this story, see an article published in The Atlantic entitled Instagram Was First Called ‘Burbn’, June 2014, by Megan Garber.

2The Wall Street Journal’s coverage, as just one representative news media source among, appeared in an article published on April 10, 2012, entitled Insta-Rich: $1 Billion for Instagram, by Shayndi Raice and Spencer E. Ante.

The Predictive Benefits of Analyzing Employees’ Communications Networks

Image from Pixabay

Image from Pixabay

In the wake of the destruction left by the Enron scandal and subsequent bankruptcy in the early 2000s, one of the more revelatory and instructive artifacts left behind was the massive trove of approximately 1,600,000 of the company’s corporate emails. Researchers from a variety of fields have performed all manner of extensive analyses on this “corpus” of emails as it known. Of particular interest was the structure and operations of this failed company’s communications network. That is, simply stated, extracting and examining who’s who and what’s what in this failed organization.

No other database of this type, size and depth had ever been previously available for such purposes. What the researchers have learned from this and its subsequent and significant influences in many public and private sectors was the subject of a fascinating article in MIT Technology Review posted on July 2, 2013 entitled The Immortal Life of the Enron E-mails by Jessica Lander. I highly recommend reading this.

[July 18, 2017 Update:  For a new deep and wide analysis of the Enron email database, see What the Enron E-Mails Say About Us, by Nathan Heller, in the 7/24/17 edition of The New Yorker.]

I immediately recalled this piece recently while reading a column posted on the Harvard Business Review blog on February 10, 2016 entitled What Work Email Can Reveal About Performance and Potential by Chantrelle Nielsen. This analytical processes and consulting projects it describes could be of highly practical value to all manners and sizes of organizations. I also suggest reading this in its entirety. I will summarize, annotate and pose some emoji-free questions of my own.

I believe this post will also provide a logical follow-on to the February 15, 2016 Subway Fold post entitled Establishing a Persuasive Digital Footprint for Competing in Today’s Job Market. That post covered the importance a job candidate’s digital presence before being hired while this post covers the predictive potential of an employee’s digital presence after they have become an employee and integrated themselves into an organization.

Data Generation

The author begins by focusing her attention upon the modern tools and platforms used in the workplace for people to communicate and collaborate such as Skype and Slack. More traditionally, there is email. While these modes are important, they can also be a “mixed blessing”. Careful management of these technologies can assist is determining which forms of “digital communications are productive” for both employers and their employees.

Most importantly, these systems produce huge volumes of data. As a result, some firms are developing “next generation products” containing analytical capabilities to deeply dive into these databases and the networks they support.¹,²

The author mentions that her former company, VoloMetrix, is engaged in this field and has been acquired by Microsoft. The examples and her article concern work done for the firm’s clients before it become part of MS. During this time, VoloMetrix worked for years “with executives in large enterprises” to enable them to discern patterns within employees’ digital communications.

Predicting Employee Performance

A “strong network” can be a predictive factor of an employee’s performance. For example, a software company looked at a year’s worth of anonymized employee email data across all job categories. The findings showed that:

  • The best performers were characterized by 36% larger in-house networks, when compared to average performers, where they connected “at least biweekly in small group messages”. (This criterion was used to determine “strong ties”).
  • The lower performers exhibited “6% smaller networks” when compared to average performers.

On an annual basis, the “size and strength” of employees’ networks proved to a better predictor of their performances than managers’ more traditional assessments. Thus, being “intensely engaged” in collaborating with their peers was a driver of their work performance.

This effect was likewise seen at other business-to-business sales concerns. For instance, at a software company the top 10 workers in sales were, on average, connected to 10 or more of their colleagues. Their internal networks proved to be 25% larger than the networks of low performers. When social graph data (used to visualize the structures of networks), was examined it frequently indicated that connections within a company were even more important than those outside of it.

Predicting Employee Potential

Some businesses use “engagement programs” to assist the careers of employees are seen as having high potential to become future leaders. For example, a utility company studied the networks of a few hundreds of these people. They discovered that:

  • Those people who “were often the most connected” were shown to have networks “52% larger than average”.
  • Nonetheless, there were still others within this same group having networks of “below average” dimensions.

Managers surveyed reported that the less connected workers also had “great skills or ideas”, but displayed “potentially less” extroversion³ or emotional intelligence 4 needed to become influential. Still, opportunities are available to assist these people to “gain a broader audience” with better connected “agents” who, in turn, can promote their ideas.

Furthermore, growing a large network only for its own sake is not always the optimal approach. Rather, some networks are “more effective” because of who they include. That is, if they include people who have higher degrees of influence.

Another client, a hardware company, advanced their analysis to examine the “composition and quality” of the networks assembled by their sales reps. Their findings indicated that:

  • The “involvement of certain sales roles” corresponded to a 10X increase in the size of deals with customers.
  • Some sales roles were characterized as “middlemen” and, as such, did not “clearly demonstrate” anyone’s personal leadership potential.

Synthesizing Two Approaches

As described above, two analytical approaches have emerged for examining and leveraging the insights gained from communications networks. Both can work well in conjunction with the other. First is awareness whereby business leaders:

  • Communicate the importance of building networks
  • Provide the network analytical tools
  • Maintain the “faith” that their employees will understand this message and act upon it

The second is the prediction of outcomes, most often by sales organization to determine “which deals will close”. While this currently is applied less often than the awareness approach, this situation is now changing.

The insights gained from studying communications networks which are then applied to help build better working relationships and performance, must be “used thoughtfully” while balancing human and technological factors. Moreover, for these to work properly and “make connections more meaningful and efficient”, effectively gathering sufficient data on how employees do their jobs and communicate with their peers is essential.

My Questions

  • What standards should be established to assess communication and collaboration networks? Should they be the same for all businesses and job types or varied from field to field? Should they be differentiated further from employer to employer within a field and then perhaps for every department and job title within the same firm? (For some excellent new reading on how professional networks compare in their breadth and effectiveness in different professions, I highly recommend reading another new article on The Harvard Business Review blog posted on February 19, 2016 entitled How Having an MBA vs. a Law Degree Shapes Your Network by Adina Sterling.)
  • How should “influential” members of a network be defined in a business environment? Is influencer marketing, where individuals with a significant online presence appear to have more influence upon others in their social networks and are thus given special attention by marketers, the correct model to consider?  If so, should businesses consider developing and applying the equivalent of a Klout score to their employees? (This is an online service that rates one’s relative influence across much of social media.)
  • Would it be helpful to a company’s workforce to make this data and analytics readily available to everyone on their internal network and, if so, what would be the benefits and/or drawbacks of doing so? Would access to one’s network’s shape and reach result in some unintended consequences such as pressuring workers to increase the size of their internal and external contacts?
  • Should rewards systems be piloted to see whether they can positively incentivize employees to nurture their networks? For example, for X amount of new contacts added that support a company’s goals, Y additional days off might be awarded.
  • Can network analytics be used to fairly or unfairly restrict workers with non-competition and non-disclosure clauses when they change jobs?

 


1.   Many of these 26 Subway Fold posts under the Category of Social Media also involve metrics and analytical systems for interpreting the voluminous data generated by a wide range of social media services.

2.  A thriving market exists today in enterprise search products that can index, search and unlock the valuable knowledge embedded deep within corporate email and other data platforms. Here is a list of vendors on Wikipedia.

3.  For a completely different and highly engaging analysis of the virtues of being an introvert in social and business environments, I highly recommend reading a recent bestseller entitled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Broadway Books, 2013), by Susan Cain.

4.  The authoritative and highly regarded work on this subject is Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (Bantam Books, 2005), by Daniel Goleman.

Twitter and Facebook are Rapidly Rising Across All Major US Demographic Groups as Primary News Platforms

"Media in Central Park New York City", Image by Ernst Moeksis

“Media in Central Park New York City”, Image by Ernst Moeksis

Cutting across five fundamental demographic segments, Twitter and Facebook are now the primary sources for news among the US population. This was the central finding of a new report issued on July 14, 2015 by the Pew Research Center for Journalism and Media entitled News Use on Facebook and Twitter Is on the Rise by Michael Barthel, Elisa Shearer, Jeffrey Gottfried and Amy Mitchell. The full text and supporting graphics appear in an 18-page PDF file on the Pew website is entitled The Evolving Role of News on Twitter and Facebook. I highly recommended clicking through to read the full report.

A number of concise summaries of it quickly appeared online. I found the one written by Joseph Lichtman on NeimanLab.com (a site about Internet journalism at Harvard University), entitled New Pew Data: More Americans are Getting News on Facebook and Twitter, also on July 14th to be an informative briefing on it. I will, well, try to sum up this summary, add some annotations and pose some questions.

First, for some initial perspective, on January 21, 2015, a Subway Fold Post entitled  The Transformation of News Distribution by Social Media Platforms in 2015, examined how the nature of news media was being dramatically impacted by social media. This new Pew Research Institute report focuses on the changing demographics of Facebook and Twitter users for news consumption.

This new study found that 63% of both Twitter and Facebook users are now getting their news from these leading social media platforms. As compared to a similar Pew survey in 2013, this is a 52% increase for Twitter and a 47% increase for Facebook. Of those following a live news event as it occurs, the split is more pronounced as 59% of Twitter users and 31% of Facebook users are engaged in viewing such coverage.

According to Amy Mitchell, one of the report’s authors and Pew’s Director of Journalism Research, each social media site “adapt to their role” and provide “unique features”. As well, they ways in which US users connect in different ways “have implications” for how they “learn about their world” and partake in their democracy.

In order enhance their growing commitment to live coverage, both sites have recently rolled out innovative new services. Twitter has a full-featured multimedia app called Project Lightening to facilitate following news in real-time. Facebook is likewise expanding its news operations with their recent announced of the launch of Instant Articles, a rapid news co-publishing app in cooperation with nine of the world’s leading news organizations.

Further parsing the survey’s demographic data for US adults generated the following findings:

  • Sources of News: 10% get their news on Twitter while 41% get their news on Facebook, with an overlap of 8% using both. This is also due to the fact that Facebook has a much larger user base than Twitter. Furthermore, while the total US user bases of both platforms currently remains steady, the percentages of those users therein seeking news on both is itself increasing.
  • Comparative Trends in Five Key Demographics: The very enlightening chart at the bottom of Page 2 of the report breaks down Twitter’s and Facebook’s percentages and percentage increases between 2013 and 2015 for gender, race, age, education level, and incomes.
  • Relative Importance of Platforms: These results are further qualified in that those surveyed reported that Americans still see both of these platforms overall as “secondary news sources” and “not a very important way” to stay current.
  • Age Groups: When age levels were added, this changes to nearly 50% of those between 18 and 35 years finding Twitter and Facebook to be “the most important” sources of news. Moving on to those over 35 years, the numbers declined to 34% of Facebook users and 31% of Twitter users responding that these platforms were among the “most important” news sources.
  • Content Types Sought and Engaged: Facebook users were more likely to click on political content than Twitter users to the extent of 32% to 25%, respectively. The revealing charts in the middle of Page 3 demonstrate that Twitter users see and pursue a wider variety of 11 key news topics. As well, the percentage tallies of gender differences by topic and by platform are also presented.

My own questions are as follows:

  • Might Twitter and Facebook benefit from additional cooperative ventures to further expand their comprehensiveness, target demographics, and enhanced data analytics for news categories by exploring additional projects with other organizations. For instance, and among many other possibilities, there are Dataminr who track and parse the entirety of the Twitterverse in real-time (as previously covered in these three Subway Fold posts); Quid who is tracking massive amount of online news (as previously covered in this Subway Fold post); and GDELT which is translating online news in real-time in 65 languages (as previously covered in this Subway Fold post).
  • What additional demographic categories would be helpful in future studies by Pew and other researchers as this market and its supporting technologies, particularly in an increasingly social and mobile web world, continue to evolve so quickly? For example, how might different online access speeds affect the distribution and audience segmentation of news distributed on social platforms?
  • Are these news consumption demographics limited only to Twitter and Facebook? For example, LinkedIn has gone to great lengths in the past few years to upgrade its content offerings. How might the results have differed if the Pew questionnaire had included LinkedIn and possibly others like Instagram?
  • How can this Pew study be used to improve the effectiveness of marketing and business development for news organizations for their sponsors, content strategist for their clients, and internal and external SEO professionals for their organizations?

Eight Proven Factors to Help Make Your Web Content Go Viral

"M31. The Andromeda Galaxy", Image by Adam Evans

“M31. The Andromeda Galaxy”, Image by Adam Evans

On a daily basis, we see news, commentary, videos, photos, tweets, blog posts, podcasts, articles, rumors and memes go viral where they spread rapidly across the web like a propulsive digital wave. From YouTube postings of dogs and cats doing goofy things to in-the-moment hashtags and tweets about late-breaking current events, attention grabbing content now spreads at nearly the speed of light.

All content creators, strategists and distributors want to know how to infuse their offerings with this elusive clickable contagion. Providing eight very useful and scientifically proven elements to, at the very least, increase the probability of new content going viral, is a new article entitled The Science Behind What Content Goes Viral, by Sarah Snow, posted on SocialMediaToday.com on July 6, 2015. I will sum up, annotate, and pose some not entirely scientific questions of my own.

For further reading I also highly recommend clicking through and reading The Secret to Online Success: What Makes Content Go Viral, by Liz Rees-Jones, Katherine L. Milkman and Jonah Berger (the second and third of whom are professors at the University of Pennsylvania – – the “U of P”), posted on ScientificAmerican.com (“SciAm”) on April 14, 2015. Two fully detailed and fascinating reports by Milkman and Berger that underlie their SciAm article are available here and here. Ms. Snow’s article cites many of the findings in the SciAm piece. As well, I suggest checking out a May 22, 2015 blog post by Peter Gasca entitled The 4 Essentials of the Most Read Content posted on Entrepreneur.com for some additionally effective content strategies, not to mention a hilarious picture of a dog wearing glasses.

Ms. Snow organized her article into a series of eight individual hypotheses about online virality that she then proceeds to provide references to support them. I will put each of these in bold and quotes below as she stated them in her text. (My own highlights in orange are explained afterwards.)

  • Long, in-depth posts tend to go viral more than short ones.”: Drawing from the findings of Milkman’s and Berger’s studies that, among other things, examined the data from the feature on the home page of the NYTimes.com called Most Emailed, longer articles had a higher tendency to be shared. As also stated by Carson Ward of the search engine optimization (SEO) consulting firm called Moz, of all possible variables, word count most closely correlate with the breadth of online sharing. Further, he believes this is a directly causal relationship. (The distinctions between correlation and causation have been previously raised in other various contexts in these six Subway Fold posts.) See also, Mr. Ward’s practical and informative January 14, 2013 posting on Moz’s site entitled Why Content Goes Viral: the Theory and Proof.
  • Inspire anger, awe, or anxiety and your post will go viral.”: Evidence shows that “high energy emotions” such as awe and anger, as opposed to “law energy emotions”, are more likely to spur virality.  Among them, anger is the most effective, but it must be, well, tempered without insulting the audience. It is best for content authors to write about something that angers them, which, in return, require “some tolerance” by their readers. In terms of usage data, blog content which engages controversial topics generates twice as many comments in response. Alternatively, awe is a better emotion for those who wish to avoid controversy and instead focuses on the positive effects of brands and heroic acts.
  • Showing a little vulnerability or emotion helps content go viral.”: This is indeed true again according to the U of P studies. Readers respond to emotional content because they “want to feel things when they read”. The author Walter Kirn is quoted recommending that writers should begin with what they feel “most shameful about”. This is where conflict resides and writing about it makes you vulnerable to your readers. For other content creators, rather than shame, writers can start with some other genuine “human emotion”.
  • “Viral content is practically useful, surprising, and interesting.”: Clearly, engaging and practical content beats boring and dull any day of the week. Content that is useful generates the highest levels of online sharing. For example, posting pragmatic suggestions and solutions to “how-to” questions is going to draw many more clicks.
  • “Content written by known authors is more likely to go viral.”: Milkman’s and Berger’s reports further showed that being a known writer had a significant impact on the sharing of a news article. Name recognition translates into credibility and trust.
  • “Content written by women is more likely to go viral.”: The U of P professors also reported that on NYTimes.com, the gender of a writer had an effect insofar as the data showed that articles by female authors had a tendency to be shared more that stories by male authors. 
  • “Posts that spend a lot of time on the home page are more likely to go viral.”: Yes, insofar as the NYTimes.com goes. (The article does not mention whether other sites have been tested or are planning to be tested for this variable.)
  • “Content that is truly and broadly viral is almost always funny“: This quote about humor from Ward’s post (linked above in the first factor about blog post length), is helpful for content authors as it gives all of them an opportunity to be funny. This is particularly so in efforts to make online ads go viral.

I propose the following mnemonic to assist in remembering all of these variables tracking with the key words highlighted above in orange:

Writer + Emotion – – give- – Useful – – content – – Funny + Long + Inspiration + Gender + Homepage Time

That is, WE give U content FLIGHT!

My own questions are as follows:

  • Which of these factors will more likely endure, expand or disappear, especially now that a majority of users access the web on mobile devices? What new factors that have not yet emerged might soon affect the rate(s) of content virality?
  • Is going viral purely an objective and quantifiable matter of the numbers of clicks and visitors, or are there some more qualitative factors involved? For instance, might marketing specialists and content strategists be more interested in reaching a significant percentage of traffic among a particular demographic group or market segment and just attaining X clicks and Y visitors regardless of whether or not they involve identifiable cohorts?
  • Do the above eight factors lend themselves to be transposed into an algorithm? Assuming this is possible, how would it be applied to optimize viral content and, in turn, overall SEO strategic planning?
  • Beside the length of content discussed as the first factor above, how do the other seven factors lend themselves to being evaluated for degrees of correlation and causation of viral results?

Companies Are Forming Digital Advisory Panels To Help Keep Pace With Trending Technologies

"Empty Boardroom", Image by reynermedia

“Empty Boardroom”, Image by reynermedia

As a result of the lightening-fast rates of change in social media, big data and analytics, and online commerce¹, some large corporations have recently created digital advisory panels (also called  “boards”, “councils” and “groups” in place of “panels”), to assist executives in keeping pace with implementing some of the latest technologies. These panels are being patterned as less formal and scaled-down counterparts of traditional boards of directors.

This story was covered in a fascinating and very instructive article in the June 10, 2015 edition of The Wall Street Journal entitled “Companies Set Up Advisory Boards to Improve Digital Savvy” (subscription required, however, the article is fully available here on nasdaq.com). I will sum up, annotate and add a few questions of my own.

These digital advisory panels are often composed of “six outside experts under 50 years old”. In regularly scheduled meetings, their objective is to assist corporate managers in reaching diverse demographics and using new tools such as virtual reality² for marketing purposes. The executives whom the panels serve are appreciative of their “honest feedback”, access to entrepreneurs, and perspectives on these digital matters.

George L. Davis at the executive recruiting firm Egon Zehnder reports that approximately 50 companies in the Fortune 500 have already set up digital advisory panels. These include, among others, Target Corp. (details below) and American Express. However, not all such panels have not continued to stay in operation.

Here are the experiences of three major corporations with their digital advisory panels:

1. General Electric

GE’s digital advisory panel has met every quarter since its inception in 2011. Its members are drawn from a diversity of fields such as gaming and data visualization³. The youngest member of their 2014 panel was Christina Xu. She is a co-founder of a consulting company called PL Data. She found her experience with GE to be “an interesting window” into a corporate environment.

Ms. Xu played a key role in creating something new that has already drawn eight million downloads. It’s called the GE Sound Pack, a collection of factory sounds recorded at their own industrial facilities, intended for use by musicians4.  In effect, with projects like this the company is using the web in new ways to enhance its online presence and reputation.

GE’s panel also participated in the company’s remembrance of the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing. Back then, the company made the silicon rubber for the Apollo 11 astronauts’ boots. To commemorate in 2014, the panel convinced GE to create and market a limited edition line of “Moon Boot” sneakers online. They sold out in seven minutes. (For more details but, unfortunately, no more chances to get a pair of these way cool sneakers, see an article with photos of them entitled GE Modernizes Moon Boots and Sells Them as Sneakers, by Belinda Lanks, posted on Bloomberg.com on July 16, 2014 .)

2.  Target Corporation

On Target’s digital advisory council,  Ajay Agarwal, who is the Managing Director of Bain Capital Ventures in Palo Alto, California, is one of its four members. He was told by the company that “there were ‘no sacred cows’ “. Among the council’s recommendations was to increase Target’s staff of data scientists faster than originally planned, and to deploy new forms of in-store and online product displays.

Another council member, Sam Yagin, the CEO of Match.com,  viewed a “showcase” Target store and was concerned that it looked just like other locations. He had instead expected advanced and personalized features such as “smart” shopping carts linked to shoppers’ mobile phones that would serve to make shopping more individualized. Casey Carl, the chief strategy and innovation officer at Target, agreed with his assessment.

3.  Medtronic PLC

This medical device manufacturer’s product includes insulin pumps for people with diabetes.5 They have been working with their digital advisory board, founded in 2011, to establish a “rapport” on social media with this community. One of the board’s members, Kay Madati, who was previously an executive at Facebook, recommended a more streamlined approach using a Facebook page. The goal was to build patient loyalty. Today, this FB page (clickable here), has more than 230,000 followers. Another initiative was launched to expand Medtronics’ public perception beyond being a medical device manufacturer.

This digital advisory board was suspended following the company’s acquisition and re-incorporation in Ireland. Nonetheless, an executive expects the advisory board to be revived within six months.

My questions are as follows:

  • Would it be advisable for a member of a digital advisory panel to also sit on another company’s panel, given that it would not be a competitor? Would both the individual and both corporations benefit by the possible cross-pollination of ideas from different markets?
  • What guidelines should be established for choosing members of such panels in terms of their qualifications and then vetting them for any possible business or legal conflicts?
  • What forms of ethical rules and guidelines should be imposed panel members? If so, who should draft,  approve, and then implement them?
  • What other industries, marketplaces, government agencies, schools and public movements might likewise benefit from their own digital advisory panels? Would established tech companies and/or startups likewise find benefits from them?
  • Might finding and recruiting members for a digital advisory panel be a new market segment for executive search firms?
  • What new entrepreneurial opportunities might emerge when and if digital advisory panels continue to grow in acceptance and popularity?

 


1.   All of which are covered in dozens of Subway Fold posts in their respective categories here, here and here.

2.  There are six recent Subway Fold posts in the category of Virtual and Augmented Reality.

3.  There are 21 recent Subway Fold posts in the category of Visualization.

4.   When I first read this, it made me think of Factory by Bruce Springsteen on his brilliant Darkness on the Edge of Town album.

5.   X-ref to the October 3, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled New Startups, Hacks and Conferences Focused Upon Health Data and Analytics concerning Project Night Scout involving a group of engineers working independently to provide additional mobile technology integration and support for people using insulin pumps.

Tech Day New York 2015’s Great Success Was Clearly App-arent

IMAG0059Even though the weather was cold and windy in New York yesterday, the environment inside Tech Day New York 2015 (and on @TechDayHQ and #NYTD) was sunny and warm. Thousands of guests attended and were able to survey the exhibits and speak with the representatives of more than 400 startups from the NYC area. (Thanks and kudos, btw, to the designers and coders responsible this event’s website because it’s a very snappy and original piece of work.)

There is a thriving entrepreneurial community across this great city and its pride and spirit were well represented here. I found the hours that I spent wandering around the exhibits to be exhilarating because of the energy, creativity and determination displayed by all of these budding companies. Indeed, I found a massive group of people doing a lot of way cool things today. I took the photos above and below to try to capture some sense of the scale of TDNY.

Of course, such vivid concentrations of tech entrepreneurship exist elsewhere in a multitude of locations across the globe. But, forgive me, this is my hometown.

The startups at the event displayed a deep and wide range of online goods and services. Among many others, these included programming and app development tools, big data and analytics offerings, medical information collection and analytical platforms, cloud management and security systems, employment and benefits sites, social networking and organization apps, food preparation and delivery services, fashion industry services, music and media apps and services, education support offerings, and 3-D printing systems. There was even someone dressed up like a slice of pizza putting on some pretty cool dance moves in the middle of it all.

I stopped and talked with the reps at a number of the startups. I was very impressed with everyone’s sincerity, desire to succeed and wide-ranging knowledge of their businesses and markets. Despite the vast number of people attending, they all appeared to be making their best efforts to speak with everyone who was interested in speaking with them. I found that all of own my questions were answered in full and any of my inquiries for further clarifications were gladly provided. I also saw none of them doing hard sales pitches. Rather, they seemed more determined to make sure that the attendees to understand each venture’s goals, methods and services.

I believe that the attendees and these entrepreneurs both got much value out of participating in this tremendously exciting event. While not all of these startups will survive, they all deserve a grade of A+ for their visions, hard work and willingness to take big risks. Some will have the insight and fortitude to pivot and adapt their businesses plans to changes in the marketplace.

My very best wishes for all of them to succeed and continue to thrive.

IMAG0056 IMAG0055

IMAG0049IMAG0058

IMAG0047IMAG0046

 

What’s Succeeding Now in Multi-Level Digital Strategies for Companies

Image by mconnors

Image by mconnors

[This post was originally uploaded on January 16, 2015. It has been updated below with new information on March 22, 2015.]

It almost seems simple at first: What works and what doesn’t when companies implement their digital strategies in today’s highly competitive world of retailing? Answers such as “great social apps” or “full mobile implementation” are belied by their complexities in carefully making the right choices in the right markets, for the right products and service offerings, for right consumer demographic groups. As the global digital economy spins faster every day, businesses need keep pace and be able to rapidly adapt to a multitude of volatile market variables and evolving technologies.

In a deeply insightful and informative article posted on January 14, 2015, on the Harvard Business Review website entitled Why Nordstrom’s Digital Strategy Works (and Yours Probably Doesn’t) by Jeanne W. Ross, Cynthia M. Beath and Ina Sebastian, the retailer Nordstrom is presented as a paradigm for what does work and how the company made it so. I highly recommend reading it in its entirely. I will sum up, cross-reference some related Subway Fold posts, and add some questions to it.

The authors begin by citing a recent poll conducted by MIT Sloan School of Management, Center for Information Systems Research that found 42% of those responding anticipated a competitive edge from engaging the tech elements of social¹, mobile², analytics³, cloud and Internet of Things (SMACIT). Because each of these elements’ has a common denominator – – being their accessibility to “customers, employees, partners and competitors” – – they do not, per se, provide any commercial advantage. Rather, it is companies like Nordstrom that persistently focus on unifying all of these factors into a well-defined strategic purpose who will prosper.

For almost a century, Nordstrom has maintained their focus on producing an optimal experience for both customers and employees. Starting in the late 1990’s, they began searching for new technologies to “empower” their employees’ operations including the company’s website and inventory control that presented “a consistent multi-channel experience by 2002”. Thereafter, through 2014, they have continued to add more key innovations including:

  • Point-of-sale system that permits sales staff members to gather data on customers’ online requests
  • An internal lab for innovation
  • Apps for shopping (tightly linked to inventory control)
  • Mobile checkout that, among its other features, enables an employee to accompanying a customer through the payment process
  • Texting support for sales reps
  • A personalized men’s clothing service residing in the cloud

These systems are highly integrated with each other, firmly establishing and embedding a digital business model throughout the organization. Among its other achievements, inventory control and delivery have been optimized and, in turn, make the experience of ordering and delivering merchandise a seamless and convenient operation. Elsewhere on the web, Nordstrom’s presence on the social site Pinterest provides its employees with an enhanced understanding of customers’ interests and preferences. Most telling of all is the fact that Nordstrom’s revenues have increased by more than 50% during the last five years.

The authors again emphasize that the company’s financial and strategic successes with their digital operations, in this digital economy, is due far more to their tight woven SMACIT program, rather than just having a collection of superior but otherwise isolated elements of it. Thus, absent all of SMACIT’s pieces working in harmony with comprehensive corporate support, other retailers will not attain similar business benefits. The sum of the whole program is much greater than its individual parts.

My follow-up questions include:

  • How can other companies, including competitors in the retail industry as well as others in unrelated markets, benefit from Nordstrom’s digital business model? For instance, would this also produce demonstrable benefits for an auto manufacturer? What internal and customer-facing metrics and controls would indicate progress for such efforts?
  • Is Nordstrom’s  strategy likewise adaptable and applicable to more service-oriented industries such as law, medicine or accounting? If so, what adjustments to the planning process would be needed?
  • What new forms of jobs might emerge for dedicated executives, project managers and other enablers to make SMACIT-based plans work? Might this also create new entrepreneurial opportunities to provide additional policy, planning and logistical support?

________________________

1.  See the category Social Media for all related Subway Fold posts.

2.  See the category Telecommunications for all related Subway Fold posts.

3.  See the category Big Data and Analytics for all related Subway Fold posts.

________________________

March 22, 2015 Update:

The initial post above identified five key elements of successful contemporary digital strategies as including social, mobile, analytics, cloud and the Internet of Things, forming the anagram SMACIT. On March 18, 2015, a fascinating and highly useful posting recently appeared on AdAge.com entitled More Data Brings More Risk: CMOs Must Embrace ‘Risk Marketing’ by Curtis Hougland on March 18, 2015. I believe that its exploration and 5-point plan for implementing risk management is so important that it should be integrated into SMACIT. I further suggest adding the letter “R” and then rearranging the anagram to be CAR MITS because it’s easier to remember and “car” (as in driving a strategy) and “mits” (for wearing protective gear when handing something important).

Mr. Hougland as produced an expertly written and highly persuasive case for how “risk marketing” in inevitably part of every chief marketing officer’s (CMO) key concerns. Moreover, he presents concise and pragmatic plan for them to evaluate and integrate into their strategic planning. These include the following, which are detailed in his piece:

  • Embedding risk assessment as a core marketing practice
  • Embracing compliance
  • Borrowing the risk management playbook in marketing
  • De-siloing [read: opening] problem solving
  • Approaching data as a creative exercise

Never missing an opportunity to try an anagram, I have come up the following for this: Compliance, Open problem solving, Playbook, Embedding risk assessment, and Data. Thus, when a CMO is asked whether he or she has deploying this strategic plan they can confidently reply “Yes, I have COPED with it”.

I strongly suggest not limiting just this to the consideration of CMOs. Rather, I believe that anyone working in marketing, business development, operations, IT, legal and knowledge management can benefit and help to implement these components.

If the initial January 17, 2015 post above was of interest to you, then I urge you to click-through and read this new piece in its entirety. I believe you will find a strong synergy between both of the marketing strategies being advocated by their respective authors.