Hey, General Mills Lawyers: Better Eat Your Wheaties

(See update at the end of the post.)

While I typically support efforts to add sanity to our overly-litigious culture that seems to encourage anyone to sue anybody for anything, I don’t think the lawyers at General Mills thought through the type of social media firestorm they would ignite by adding language to the company’s website alerting customers they can’t take legal action against the company if they’ve done things like download a coupon, enter a contest or, if read literally, liked on Facebook one of the company’s products, say, Cheerios or Wheaties or Macaroni Grill or Fruit Loops.

Continue reading Hey, General Mills Lawyers: Better Eat Your Wheaties

I think my RSS news reader is smarter than your Al Gore rhythm

(Sidenote: On SmallBusiness.com, I’ve written about the new Getty embed feature like the one I’ve posted above.)

The Verge has an interesting take on the acquisition earlier this week of the mobile app owned by CNN, Zite, by Flipboard, another app that does the same thing as Zite, but differently and with greater success (apparently).

Here’s a clip from the piece:

“The premise of apps like these is that they will find interesting articles for you that you never would have seen otherwise….And yet for all the millions spent and the machine-learning algorithms that have been built, none of them have improved on the big portals — CNN, The New York Times — or social networks like Twitter or Facebook, which bring you both the news and the conversation happening around it. Newsreading-app developers hire PhDs to do the easiest thing imaginable — find you something interesting on the internet that you haven’t already seen — and then beat you over the head with it, bludgeoning you with an endless barrage of links that never feel half as personalized as they’re made out to be.”

I especially agree with the writer on two things: (1) Twitter does a good job of finding me things I would have missed if I didn’t use Twitter (along with lots of links to cat videos, but still) and (2) I agree with the premise that PhDs don’t seem to be unlocking the secret of relevancy and context necessary to make their algorithms better than what I can hack together with other tools. It’s much like the way advertising “retargeting” algorithms consistently misinterpret why a web user might surf by a product without having any interest in purchasing it).

Where I disagree with the analysis is this: There is a technology that allows people to personalize and customize a flow of news that’s been around since the Mesozoic era of the web. It’s called RSS and is an often misinterpreted part of the infrastructure of the web that enables us to access content as a real-time flow of news, audio, video, etc. (Despite the never-ending predictions that somehow RSS will die, I’ve written before why that’s never going to happen.)

Ironically, the Verge piece not only fails to mention RSS, it fails to even mention that Flipboard is a self-proclaimed RSS newsreader.

But the thing is…

Flipboard, doesn’t look like an RSS newsreader. The vast amount of coverage it has received (and that’s a vast amount) has focused on its user interface that replicates, in skeuomorphic fashion, the conventions of a print magazine, specifically (thus, its name) the virtual flipping of pages.

I’ve always considered it a bit ironic that web-based tech and media writers would buy into the notion that the ability to turn a page is the killer feature of magazines that should be ported over to the web. I would think, rather, that great writing and graphics that work together to tell great stories would be.

Setting the stage for a real showdown

So here we are in 2014 and we’re still looking for ways that the web was supposed to do something promised to us by Al Gore when he invented the internet: Customize and personalize content and deliver it up to us with our morning coffee and toast.

For a moment, I’ll ignore that this blog has 12 years of me talking about this topic and pretend that we are starting out today and no one has ever actually thought of the hundreds of ways that exist for people to do this. In other words, let’s pretend to be like the Verge article.

Let’s make this a show down between what we will pretend are “brand new” personalized, customizable news catching filters created by people who weren’t around for endless iterations of this concept.

Here’s what we can do to test this brand new, never thought of before, “algorithm vs. human” theory.

(1) First, do whatever it is that you do now to catch up on whatever topic you turn to the web for. (Sort of like what scientists might call, “the control.”)

(2) Set up a TweetDeck account (or use the one you already have) for tracking a few hashtags (Here’s how.). If you are willing to spend five minutes learning to do it, set up some lists of Twitter users or topics you’d like to follow.

(3) Set up a Flipboard account (it’s an iPad/iPhone, Android app) and follow the standard instructions of how you should subscribe to the topics. Some of the instructions will result in you subscribing to an RSS feed, but they (wisely, perhaps) have hidden the “how it works” and are focusing on the “what it enables.”

(4) Set up an account on Feedly.com (an RSS newsreader with an interface and instructions you’ll understand that has an app version and is also available in a browser). While there are other new-fangled RSS newsreaders that are far superior to Google’s now defunct newsreader, Feedly is what I use, so I’m most familiar with its strengths and weaknesses.

(5) (Optional) Set up a Zite account (like, Flipboard, an app) and let their algorithms do their magic. It looks like Flipboard but the test is over the algorithm vs. manually choosing news sources.

(6) (Optional) Download the new app from Facebook called Paper and see their version of recommending news stories based on the preferences of people who were your kindergarten classmates.

I know that I’ve already revealed what I think you’ll discover is best among this group for  delivering a consistent flow of the most relevant and personal content, in the most efficient way. I trust the network of smart news catchers I’ve put together manually more than those that aggregate their suggestions by algorithm.

I’m unfriending everyone (except the following) on Facebook

fb-thumbs-down-2As it’s apparently becoming cool to unfriend people on Facebook and then blog about how you’ve unfriended people on Facebook, I’ve decided to fall in line with this coolness. I felt it only appropriate to announce to anyone with whom I may be “friends” on Facebook what I am doing, so I posted the following announcement on my account.

As you probably don’t even use Facebook anymore (the 12 readers of this blog being leading-edge cool people), I figured you wouldn’t see my announcement on Facebook, so I’ve decided to re-post it here:

Please don’t include me in any “trend” story, but the increasingly intrusive and annoyingly irrelevant nature of Facebook’s advertising is making it easy for me to scale back how I use it.

However, I WILL NOT be un-friending anyone who belongs in one of the following categories:

  1. Anyone from Nashville or Tennessee or parts of Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Florida, southern Kentucky or DC, New York City and Boston, unless you are annoying. (That “annoying” part goes for the rest of these, also).
  2. Anyone to whom I’m related (see #1, annoying exception) or seems to be good friends with someone to whom I’m related
  3. Anyone with whom I’m told I attended any school (especially if your profile lists a timeframe that over-laps when I attended those schools).
  4. Anyone who seems to have a connection with schools my children or wife attended.
  5. Anyone who is a fan of the Tennessee Titans
  6. Anyone I’ve ever worked with or belonged to some kind of board or association or church or Triple-A (did I mention the annoying exception?)
  7. Anyone I think makes me look cool because they follow me.
  8. Anyone who may be famous to 15 people.
  9. Anyone named Rex.
  10. Anyone who regularly posts photos of their dogs being funny.
  11. Anyone who posts photos of their kids, grandchildren, nieces and nephews doing anything smart or cute or athletic or creative.
  12. Anyone I actually may know who doesn’t fall in the previous 11 categories.

GM to Facebook: Your ads don’t work (but our content marketing does)

The Wall Street Journal is reporting, in a three-person bylined story, that GM plans to stop advertising on Facebook after its senior marketing executives decided “that paid ads on the site have little impact on consumers’ car purchases.” However, while the company won’t pay for advertising on the site, they plan on continuing their content marketing activities on Facebook.

Here are the bullet points:

  • GM paid $10 million to Facebook for advertising during the past year.
  • GM paid agencies and others (companies other than Facebook) $30 million for the creation of content and the management of marketing activities on GM’s pages on Facebook
  • Facebook provides those pages to GM for free, the same price you or I pay.
  • Just to make sure you’re following this, let me repeat this another way:  GM paid 3x their Facebook advertising budget for creating the content (articles, videos, promotions, status updates, etc.) that appears on Facebook pages that are “free” to any marketer.
  • GM thinks the $10 million spent on Facebook advertising is wasted, so they are pulling it.
  • GM thinks it’s still worth $30 million to create and manage content on Facebook.

As you might expect, those of us at Hammock who spend time trying to explain the value of using “content” in addition to (or, in some cases, rather than) traditional types of advertising (including traditional internet advertising) to build deeper, longterm relationships with customers, find this kind of news a validation of things we’ve been saying since Mark Zuckerberg was in elementary school.

But that’s not why this is news.

It’s news because Facebook’s IPO is expected to occur in three days and the reported pricing of the IPO (when compared to the Price/Earning ratios of companies like Apple) suggests that Facebook has the potential of soon being able to, “attract 10 percent of all advertising dollars spent on the planet ‘across all media – print, billboards, radio, television, internet,” according to a Dartmouth professor quoted in an NPR story earlier today.

So here’s the rub:

If GM, the third largest advertiser in the U.S., with an overall annual advertising budget of $1.8 billion, finds that spending .05 percent of its budget is too much, what chance does Facebook have of capturing 10 percent of GM’s total advertising budget in a few years? And what chance does it have of capturing 10 percent of all advertising?

Hint: The answer is 0 percent.

But I’ve not written this post to bury Facebook, but to praise it. What they’ve done is incredible: the creation of a platform that causes a company like GM to spend $30 million in creating content just for it is miraculous — probably right up there with how much GM spends on paying lawyers and PR professionals to issue press releases each year.

The IPO price of Facebook is probably ridiculous, and that might fail. But Facebook is a success. Just like Yahoo! was in 1999.

Later: There’s always more than one side to a story. AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka says GM was never a big believer in social media, anyway.

Yes, the web and mobile apps are like TV shows (and magazines)

Over the weekend, the smart and successful VC Fred Wilson used the metaphor of TV shows vs. TV networks to suggest that investors (and the rest of us) sometime (often?) confuse the significance of various kinds of web-based startups.

Anyone who has used the internet for more than five years should immediately recognize what he’s suggesting. Some things we believe will define the future — that are so disruptive they will do away with institutions that have been in place for centuries — turn out to be I Love Lucy or MySpace.

If I were to debate this topic (and I’m not), my position would be this: In this metaphor TV is “the internet.” Everything else is a TV show.

In 2008, I wrote a post that applied the TV vs. TV show metaphor to magazines.  Magazines start, magazines die, was my point. Don’t confuse a magazine’s death with the death of magazines. (I have reposted it in full at the bottom of this page.)

It’s a part of a continuous theme of this blog: There is technology (or a communications medium) and there are things that one can do with that technology (or medium). When we start suggesting that a business model is the same as the technology that enables it, we head down a path of confusing TV shows with TV networks.

As Fred knows, there is lots of money to be made from investing in internet companies that seem like TV networks, but are merely TV shows. They can be massively successful as investments (again, as he has repeatedly demonstrated). But only time will tell us if Google, or Facebook, or Twitter are today’s I Love Lucy.

But come to think of it, TV as it was when I Love Lucy first aired, is hardly around anymore.

Here is what I wrote, in full, on that post dated November 2, 2008 and titled, “Magazines start, magazines die.”:

In this week’s Advertising Age, there is an article with the headline, “Will Print Survive the Next Five Years? ” And while the author of the piece provides either/or scenarios of how the current down-market will play out, the most graphic scenario (as the headline suggests) is a Print Apocalypse where advertisers leave magazines for the web, and never return.

I have a suggestion for the author of the article.

Get Advertising Age’s president and editor-in-chief Rance Crain to tell you the story of how Advertising Age got started. He’s told me the story — and I was spellbound.

Make sure you get the specifics of the dates, times and context of its creation. You will hear about a trade publication that was created a few months after the stock market crash of 1929. That’s right, after . You’ll hear about a trade publication startup whose formative years occurred during an economic Depression in which one-out-of-four Americans was unemployed.

It is a story of audacity and passion — and creative financing.

It is a story set in a time when economists and writers were suggesting capitalism itself could soon be dead. But despite that context and those fears, it’s a story about a man who started a publication about the ball-bearings of capitalism — advertising.

But yes, magazines do die

As much Kool-Ade as I drink and serve about social media and web marketing, I am less-and-less convinced by the death-of-print crowd. Again, listen: certain publications will die. I’ve pulled the plug on some, myself. No doubt, I will again in the future.

But I’m talking about the medium , not a specific magazine title — or even category.

You know how every season on network and cable TV, there are new shows premiered and other shows cancelled. Of course you know that. That’s because you’ve experienced it every year of your entire life. On TV, they even celebrate the new (without mentioning the death of the show it replaces). Just because series get cancelled, would you ever see an article suggesting network and cable TV are going to die in five years? Even if a network dies or — as they do — a cable network bombs, would you see an article suggesting the entire medium of TV is going to soon be dead? Heck, what will we do with all those flat screen TVs we’re buying if that happens?

As I have written on this blog continuously for the past eight years, the same thing happens with magazines. Magazines get started. Magazines die. It’s the whole circle of life thing. But for some reason, those who should know better confuse the closure of a magazine with the end of an entire medium.

As much as I personally do not include print newspapers in my life, even I don’t think they’re going to completely die. Become something else, yes. But die? As for magazines, I’ve said here for a long time, news weeklies and a great number of mass-marketed magazines will die — as they have done since the beginning of magazine time. And magazines like TV Guide (the listings part) will die. And trade publications that focus on breaking news and the transactions of their industry — like Advertising Age, for example — will find that the web is a better medium than print. Some day — and I think it will be a long time from now — Advertising Age may even be a web-based only product. But I’ll bet it won’t be in the next five years.

But even as those magazines die, new, tightly focused and well produced magazines will fill the vacuum created by the departure of such publications. Next season, there will be new titles on the newsstand — or sent to you by your association, employer, favorite cause, etc.

Don’t believe me?

The Advertising Age piece was inspired by lay-offs in the print media world last week. (Note to writer: There were layoffs in every industry last week.) But guess what? In the past few weeks, 52 new magazines have been started according to Samir Husni, Mr. Magazine. And that’s up from 36 starts during the same period last year.

Some won’t make it into their second year. Just like on TV.