Algorithms as the new editors

By Adrian Ma

If you catch me in an 'in-between' moment, you'll most likely find me scrolling through one of my feeds on Facebook or Instagram. It was while scrolling through Facebook that I learned of the death of Delores O'Riordan from the Cranberries. In fact, it's where I discover a lot of news.

I'm not alone in here. A Reuters study points out, 51% of us are now using social media as a news source, which marks a shift in news and content discovery that we need to build into our own working practices.

the role of gatekeeper to news stories is falling out of the hands of editors, and into the hands of the algorithms that promote organic content on our feeds on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn etc.

I don’t think that algorithms will completely replace editors. I certainly hope not, anyway (that’s another topic). But as PRs, it’s our role to manage the visibility of brand reputation, and because of this, we need to adapt our way of working to ensure that we’re considering the role of the social algorithm in content discovery.

Let’s use the Facebook algorithm as an example. Facebook breaks down the steps to its newsfeed algorithm into four stages

  1. Inventory – Facebook takes an inventory of the stories that you and your friends have posted and the pages you follow
  2. Signals – Facebook considers all data available to determine how interested you will be in a story (these include who posted a story and how much engagement it has had)
  3. Predictions – Facebook then uses signals to make a prediction to calculate how probably you are to read, comment or share a story
  4. Score – Facebook generates a ‘relevancy’ score

 

This process happens every time you open Facebook, and determines what your feed looks like.

Changes that Facebook announced recently may, of course, change all this. But the one thing that remains clear is that if you’re working on a story that you want to be discovered, it’s important to consider the role of ‘Signals’ in discovery. This is true of any social media platform and the algorithms work in very similar ways.

Mainly, this means that if you want your content (whether it be a piece of coverage, or something direct from a brand) to be seen, it’s got to be something that receives engagement.

Of course, there are those that seek to ‘game’ these algorithms. I’ve known Instagram influencers to create WhatsApp groups (or ‘Pods’, as they call them), with fellow influencers to announce when a piece of content is posted, so that they can all ‘like’ and ‘comment’ on it at the same time in the hope that it will increase visibility.

We’re not suggesting that you adopt these practices. In the long term, these algorithms always wise up to them, and you’d run the risk of being penalised as a result of these ‘Black Hat’ practices.

But at the very least, you should be considering your role after a piece of coverage has been landed, or a piece of content is live. Life doesn’t stop with coverage. In fact, for many of our clients, it’s just the start and it's our job to work with them to help get it discovered.

For more about Facebook’s algorithm, check out this article on Social Examiner.


We chat WeChat

By Matthew Taylor

As of July 2017, Chinese super-app WeChat had 900 million daily active users, with 50% of those using the app for more than 90 minutes daily. This is more than Facebook, which last year reported its average daily user time was 55 minutes.

Lauded for its stickiness, WeChat has moulded a unique, addictive platform that has combined lifestyle, commerce, communication and service into one completely immersive, disruptive life hack. Since its launch in 2011, the all-conquering platform has transformed the fabric of China’s digital landscape.

Recently we had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Edward Lindeman, Chinese Specialist and Business Development Manager at Digital Retex, WeChat’s trusted European delivery partner. In his two years living in China prior to joining Digital Retex, Edward experienced first-hand the immense power and utility of WeChat and the way that it’s changing daily life. But also, he saw the vast potential for businesses to build real, tangible consumer relationships in-app.

Speaking on WeChat's mammoth adoption, to what the future holds for the app and consumers, here’s what Edward had to say:

Why should we care about what WeChat is?

There are a few simple reasons why Europe needs to sit up and take notice. First and foremost, WeChat is setting the benchmark for integrating mobile services into social media, something that is being targeted more and more by western mobile services and social media platforms. We know that social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are paying close attention to WeChat, wanting to copy some of the incredible online-to-offline functionality inside the app. And with WeChat’s incredible user engagement rates, it’s a great example to follow in an increasingly competitive digital and mobile space.

Ultimately, if you want to predict what the future of social media and digital commerce will look like in the west, WeChat is a great place to start.

How are businesses leveraging WeChat to build consumer relationships?

Businesses traditionally use WeChat as a platform to share engaging content, in a similar way to how a company would do with social platforms in the West. This content can come in the form of articles, photos and videos that directly inform the user about a brand, and its latest offerings. WeChat is also widely used by brands as a customer service platform that allows followers to interact with a brand and ask it questions, as and when problems arise. In doing so, a brand can either respond in real time using trained staff or, as is being used more and more frequently, by using BOTS that recognise specific terms and questions. Naturally, with pro-active, intuitive and adaptive services, brands are integrating themselves closer within the lives of consumers through WeChat.

If, for example, I were a Chinese tourist following a luxury brand on WeChat, I could message the company’s page and ask where the nearest store to me is in any city around the world. To this, I can expect to get a response within a few minutes. In a wider context, we’re starting to see Facebook and Twitter pages also harness this functionality. Moving forward, I expect to see more sophisticated AI playing a key role in helping brands to build better, more tangible consumer relationships via their social channels. 

What insights can we draw upon for how WeChat works in China, for potential shifts in consumer behaviour on mobile?

One thing we know for sure is that people are spending more and more time on their phones in all parts of the world. Though our standard smartphone screen features tens of different apps like Uber, Deliveroo, Paypal, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Instagram, Google maps and many more, WeChat is showing us that it's possible to integrate these apps into one place. If a social media platform is able to replicate this effectively, then it has the very real potential to change social media from being a platform for communication and content consumption, to a place where people can also access an almost infinite range of online and offline services as well.

And more specifically, how will WeChat develop over the coming years? Are there any trends in terms of western businesses migrating to the app?

It’s hard to say exactly where WeChat will head in the coming years. It’s been one of the world’s biggest innovators in the social media space and the consumer internet in general; predicting what they’ll do next is the million-dollar question! 

I will say, though, that I think there will be a couple of main focuses that will mirror wider consumer and technological trends. Firstly, on the branding side, WeChat will likely focus on providing brands with better tools to create even richer content experiences through tools such as AI and virtual reality. Ultimately with WeChat, better consumer experiences mean higher consumer adoption and usage – this will therefore always be at the strategic focus of everything WeChat does. At the same time, I’d be surprised if Tencent doesn’t try to grow WeChat’s share of the super competitive Chinese e-commerce market that is controlled by its rival partner JD.com, and its rival arch, Alibaba.

On the user side, you can already book taxis, pay utility bills, pay for things in-store and arrange doctor’s appointments through the WeChat digital wallet. Essentially, any service that can be handled through a digital product has already been integrated into WeChat. And whilst I expect there will still be continued on this side with the arrival of new services, I see Tencent turning their focus more towards improving the WeChat user experience overseas, where it has the challenge of re-creating and scaling the experience of the app in China. Because of this, it will be crucial for western companies that serve Chinese tourists, expats and student in the UK and Europe to pay attention to what WeChat is doing in order to continue adapting their services in line with the wants and needs of this key consumer group. 

Can you give a specific example of how exactly it is that WeChat works?

Sure. A day for a Chinese WeChat user could look a little something like this…

Morning

Wake up and check messages from friends and loved ones on WeChat.

Read news stories from official media channels on WeChat.

Hire a bike using WeChat’s mini-app to ride to work.

On your way, you stop for a drink in Starbucks and pay using the WeChat wallet.

After enjoying the drink you order, you recommend Starbucks’ new style of Frappuccino to a friend via WeChat and earn loyalty bonus points as a result.

Once at work, you sign into WeChat desktop to start communicating with colleagues about daily tasks.

Lunch

Order and pay for lunch through WeChat’s Deliveroo equivalent.

Once finished, you leave a review of the food via WeChat.

Afternoon

As your Mum is coming over this evening to visit, you order a cleaner to clean your flat through WeChat.

You instantly pay the cleaner through WeChat’s digital wallet.

After checking your exes’ photos on WeChat moments, you decide that it’s time you went on holiday with your new partner.

You message your boyfriend and remind him that it’s time to book your summer vacation by sending through some options on WeChat.

You book the holiday using the WeChat wallet.

You decide that you need some new clothes for the trip so you buy a few items on Uniqlo’s mini-app built into WeChat.

You hear that you need to get a vaccination for the trip so you immediately book an appointment at the hospital using its mini-app.

Evening

You book a taxi to meet your boyfriend for dinner using WeChat.

You receive messages from your Mum saying that she’s at your apartment, asking why you aren’t here too.

You message your apartment concierge to let your mum into your flat.

Is there anything you could point us towards that really shows WeChat’s impact in China?

Whenever I’m talking to new people about WeChat, I always show them this video. It gives a great overview of the kind of behaviours that take place within WeChat, but also, it really brings to life the scale and impact of WeChat within Chinese life.

Edward Lindeman is Business Development Manager at Digital Retex.

 


More than a pout: The power of the selfie

By Megan Linehan

Entering the grand open space of the Saatchi Gallery and turning left into the first exhibition room, you are met with an unusual sight- a Rembrandt self-portrait on a T.V. screen.

The first room of the From Selfie to Self-Expression reframes the masters for the modern era, placing portraits into a screen, next to a Huawei phone (the smartphone manufacturer who teamed up with the Saatchi Gallery for this exhibition) which encourages viewers to ‘like’ the picture a la Instagram. The growth of technology has changed the way we view images, and ultimately how we as a society behave, perfectly exemplified by the exhibit.

Suddenly with technology, the power of image is not the reserve of talented painters, of photographers who can afford film, or advertisers who can pay for a billboard. Nowadays, everyone has the power to express themselves, and share it with millions online. The exhibit explores this, not only reframing the masters, but also by placing them next to selfies created by Kris Jenner (the matriarch of the infamous Kardashian clan) and various memes that undoubtedly you have seen shared across the internet (including a man who looks remarkably like Jesus).

We are in an era of democratised expression and art, where technology has opened the floodgates of pouts and poses.  And its effects are not only seen in the exhibit content itself, but also in its attendants.

In one large room, a cacophony of voices bounce off the walls, as a projection of thousands of videos (or vlogs, if you’re down with the kids) are played on loop against the walls. While this is an impressive sight- it is not the only interesting thing in the room. I helped at least three different groups of people take pictures of their silhouettes against the walls, witnessed someone film a vlog against the wall with a selfie stick, and joined in the creation of excited Snapchats.

Technology has given us the chance to express ourselves and share our world view. While selfies are often blamed for society’s down fall, they can be a tool for sharing a moment that might have been lost - even if it is only because your eyeliner looks really good that day.

An image tells a thousand words and a selfie can be shared by millions, the selfie is everywhere. The selfie is a mode of communication that should not be ignored- it’s a medium used by all, from world renowned artists to your mother accidently opening the front facing camera. A selfie can be a joke between friends or a piece of art; it’s a bodily movement that has been elevated to be a key part of this era’s cultural zeitgeist. Such a statement is validated with this exhibit. With this exhibit, the selfie has been permanently placed as a part of our culture that isn’t something to look down on; it’s an art form for all.


3 PR lessons from Bjork

By Adrian Ma

Bjork currently has an exhibition on at Somerset House: Bjork Digital. We popped by to see what this is all about, and have distilled what we learned from her into three lessons for you.

1.      There’s always a new way to engage with your audience. As an artist Bjork pushes boundaries. Her use of VR technology takes this to another level altogether. Bjork Digital is less of an exhibition, more of a show, where she controls the sensory experience through technology, in a way that no one has before. Don’t stop innovating with your audience experience.

2.      There are rewards in dividing opinion, if you’re being true to your brand. Not everyone liked all of the content. In one VR experience, you find yourself in her mouth, which distorts and contorts as she sings her song. It feels claustrophobic and uncomfortable. Yet, it’s talked about a lot.

bjork-mouth

3.      You can even innovate with the format of the press conference. Bjork appeared at the press conference of Bjork Digital as an avatar, beamed in from Iceland. This may be a good tip for Philip Green if he wants to avoid the difficult questions at his next AGM. At least he could claim that the connection is dropping out at that crucial moment when he’s cornered about BHS.

Bjork, as an avatar at the press conference of Bjork Digital
Bjork, as an avatar at the press conference of Bjork Digital

Bjork Digital runs until 23rd October. For tickets and info click here.


Five things I took from the Brands as Publishers talk at London Tech Week

By Joey Green

Sarah and I headed down to Hackey House during London Tech Week to listen to Mary Ellen Dugan, WP Engine, Paul Mikhailoff, Forbes, and Scott Wilkinson, Virgin Media talk about brands as publishers, all moderated by the very personable Julian Blake, Digital Agenda.

Quality content and placement is critical

You might think ‘well, duh’ but it’s surprising how many brands a) don’t produce enough content and b) don’t put enough effort into it and c) don’t think about where and what time they’re placing it. As Mary said, brands need a unique perspective, they need their own content and it needs to be delivered continuously to build customer loyalty. Forbes famously said ‘publish or perish’ before launching a place where brands can publish their content onto the Forbes website. A conversation will happen whether a brand is involved or not and so brands really should get involved.  The success of the content is down to its quality and audiences expect effort to be made if they’re going to engage with it.

In terms of placement, grown-up brands understand human psychology and will respect the demographic of the audience and where they’re consuming the content – whether it’s their own customers on their own channels or whether it’s Forbes’ readership. Forbes also help brands to learn to use data, something which is critical if you want engagement. Understanding channels and timings is also vital and comes with using data correctly - long-form content doesn’t work late at night when everyone’s on their phones instead of their desktops and posting ten Instragram shots in a row is an unwritten no no.

Don’t try and bullshit your audience

Although people are more willing to engage with a brand’s content (providing its of a good quality) they certainly don’t like it when you try and bullshit them with fake stuff. Audiences are savvy nowadays, more than ever before, and they know when content has an agenda so don’t bother to try and trick them. Paul said that brands need to move away from a glossy façade and start representing the people – he clarified that brands he sees that publish the best content are the ones who allow their employees to be thought leaders. We agree. Having Jeff from HR take over the brand’s Twitter for the day and post pictures of his cats and terrible yet great puns will make content more authentic and more real and in return audiences will trust the brand more. On of our clients, Tesco Mobile is great at having a funny, personable Twitter presence and often gets covered in the likes of Buzzfeed for it.

Equally, the likes of Forbes doesn’t try to hide anything from their audience and doesn’t dress up a brand’s content as journalism. If content is coming from a brand then they make that clear – according to Paul this doesn’t affect results either, a recent article from a brand received over one million views and counting.

Red Bull sets the bar high

All panellists agreed that Red Bull is at the forefront of brands as publishers. People are not only willing to engage with the content Red Bull produces but actively seek it out. Every campaign is a success – people want to know about it and journalists want to write about it – it’s one of the best examples of how decent content can deliver earned media and results.

Branded content’ is not the same thing as brands delivering content

The term ‘branded content’ doesn’t sit well with Scott as it suggests that its self-serving to the brand, not the audience, which isn’t the case anymore if you do it properly. Scott believes, and we agree, that the future will see branded content become smoother and smoother moving toward brand’s producing content as a natural thing. Could certain brand’s blogs overtake news sites? We’re not sure but it’s certainly possible. On one side, a journalist is still more trusted by the public than a brand’s employee but Red Bull, for example, regularly releases news and is arguably no less of an online publication than a sports or music site. It also boasts around 850k users per month yet isn’t listed on the PRs best friend, Gorkana. There’s still two sides to the story but we could see this changing in the next five years.

Content should be at the heart of everything

Content should be at the heart of your campaign, according to Scott from Virgin Media Business and we at Fanclub couldn’t agree more. Scott talked us through how the ‘Pitch to rich’ (now Voom) which produced tonnes of user-generated content and took Virgin Media Business from 12pc awareness to 45pc awareness over just two years.


WWDC 2016: Key points & reactions

By Sarah Boulton

It was Apple’s keynote event in San Francisco last night, kicking off its annual Worldwide Developer Conference. We’ve scraped the papers for the most important points and put them all in one place for you – thank us later!

Chief executive Tim Cook and fellow executives revealed software updates for all of Apple's products - iPhone, iPad, Mac computers, Apple Watch and Apple TV - with Mr Cook saying the company's work "should lift humanity".

Despite Cook’s inspiring statement some of the tech trades were underwhelmed with the announcements, with Gizmodo in particular claiming that most of the news from the developer’s conference wasn’t too “earth-shattering”. Although they admitted you “could sense an undeniable change in vision—Apple is finally opening up”.

This can be seen most in the annual refresh of the mobile operating system which saw iOS 10 unveiled. Siri has been opened up to third-party developers for the first time, letting users book Ubers, send WeChat messages, and watch sports, all by asking Siri to do it for them – finally making it a genuinely useful assistant some would argue!

The most prominent feature of iOS 10 according to the Daily Telegraph revolves around the Messages app, which has seen its interactivity expanded. Users “will be able to replace words with emoji in a single tap, and send handwritten notes, while special ‘invisible ink’ messages will appear when the screen is swiped, and animations can be added to a conversation that fill the entire screen.”

Other key announcements to note, MacOS replaces OS X and is called macOS Sierra in this iteration. Siri, Apple’s personal assistant, will come to desktop and laptop computers for the first time, as has the ability to pay using Apple Pay.

WatchOS and TV OS have been redesigned too, with the Apple Watch becoming faster and more health-focused, and TV gaining enhanced search.

Big brand keynotes such as Apple’s WWDC offer a perfect opportunity for tech companies and experts in the area to provide commentary – news hijacking as it’s called in PR – do drop us a line if you’d like to speak to us about how we would do this for your business. Email: hello@fanclubpr.com.


The Internet is freaking out about Talkshow. Here’s why brands should care

by Sarah Boulton

Thanks to Taylor Swift and her buddy Ed Sheeran everyone is talking about new text messaging app “Talkshow”. It’s been described as texting in public, only invited users can post, but anyone can watch.

Other ways I’ve so far seen it explained: “It’s like Periscope for texting”, “It’s Twitter with a twist”, “It’s the new Peach but better”. Riiiight.

Basically, the chat app lets users host message-based “Talkshows” about loads of different topics, from sports and politics to TV, music and entertainment. People notify followers when a Talkshow is live, encouraging anyone who’s watching to send messages, post reactions and GIFs or even join in as a co-host.

There has been reports of the platform crashing, so it appears that everyone is heading over to see what all the fuss is about. It’s just gone live on the iOS app store so join us in taking a look!

The question on everyone’s lips seems to be, is this THE new social networking platform, or is it just a flash in the pan that will go the way of the Dodo (or indeed the Peach messaging app).

We’ll be keeping our eye on it so you don’t have to, so follow our blog for future updates.