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Algorithms Are the New Content Gatekeepers Part Three: Reputation Management and Online Rabbit Holes

Alice and the RabbitIf you are concerned about how online communications affect your business, it is important to remember that businesses are made up of people.

As people, we hopefully care about other people just as much or more than we care about making a profit.

After all, if we don’t look out for our customers, we might end up not having any.

It is therefore important that we identify how the world around us is influencing the lives of our current and potential customers so that we change our communications strategy or even modify the type of product that we currently offer to them. We might even identify new products that can help fix the problems that they face.

For example, we should be watching how algorithms are having an effect on the content that users see. These algorithms often lead users down rabbit holes that expose them to very radical ideas.

Unless you are in a leadership position at one of the major search engines or social networking sites, the algorithms that these search engines and social networking sites use to help users discover new content are beyond our control. However, knowing how they can influence society, and in some cases cause harm, can and probably should change the way that we do business.

At the very least, it is important to know what is going on so that we can make informed decisions in our personal and professional lives.

Search Engines and Reputation Management

As pointed out in the last post, search engines use many different signals when determining what will show up on the first page of a Search Engine Results Page (SERP.)

While the factors that influence what shows up on page one of a SERP are constantly changing, it is safe to say that if there is a lot of negative content about you or your business online, there is a good chance that Google will find it.

If a person with a grudge against you or your business is adept at manipulating the search engine algorithms, you can be in for some pain.

As I pointed out in a post in 2015, experts have identified cases where the same tactics used by businesses to get found on a SERP were used to help sully the reputation of political figures. In one case, these tactics were used to spread a malicious and racist campaign that targeted Michelle Obama. While the leadership at Google made the choice to clean the search results for Michelle Obama and end the smear campaign against her, this doesn’t always happen.

It is therefore important to keep in mind that sometimes even the results found on page one of a SERP might not contain the best information about a topic. In fact, in some cases, the information found might not be accurate at all.

In other words, “User beware.”

From a business standpoint, it makes sense to monitor what is being said about your company and see what shows up when people do both branded and nonbranded keyword searches related to your company.

It is also important to monitor what is being said about you and your business on social networking sites, because these posts can and often do show up in a Google SERP.

That said, there are even more issues that you need to be aware of when we look at social media and algorithms. Some of these issues will be covered in the paragraphs that follow.

Social Media Is Business

Before we begin here, it needs to be pointed out that social networking sites are businesses.

In an article on The Guardian website, Natasha Schull, the author of Addition by Design, is quoted as saying, “In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention – which is measured in clicks and time spent.”

“Whether it’s Snapchat streaks, Facebook photo-scrolling, or playing CandyCrush, Schull explained, you get drawn into ‘ludic loops’ or repeated cycles of uncertainty, anticipation and feedback – and the rewards are just enough to keep you going,” the author of the article continues.

This is what helps the business sell itself to advertisers. If the site can deliver users who click on content and stay there, then it is assumed that it would be a good place for businesses to advertise their products.

That’s the way it currently is, clicks and time spent on the site get rewarded. I don’t think this is necessarily good or bad. It just is.

However, if social networking sites continue to deliver content primarily based on these criteria, the best content might not surface.

In fact, it appears that at least on YouTube, it is often outrageous or radical videos that get recommended to users. This often guides them down an online rabbit hole that can, if it goes unchecked, lead to them to even more outrageous or radical videos. If people start to believe these videos they will surely start to share them. This means they will often will be spreading of a lot of misinformation and “fake news.”

Down the Rabbit Hole

In case you are not familiar what we mean when we talk about rabbit holes, The Free Dictionary defines “go down the rabbit hole,” as “To enter into a situation or begin a process or journey that is particularly strange, problematic, difficult, complex, or chaotic, especially one that becomes increasingly so as it develops or unfolds. (An allusion to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.)”

To get an idea of how algorithms on social networking sites can lead you down an online rabbit hole, you might want to read an article published in the New York Times in 2018 that was written by Zeynep Tufekci, Ph.D.

“It seems as if you are never ‘hard core’ enough for YouTube’s recommendation algorithm,” writes Dr. Tufekci. “It promotes, recommends and disseminates videos in a manner that appears to constantly up the stakes. Given its billion or so users, YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.”

Dr. Tufekci again points out that it is Google’s current business model that is to blame. As she points out, “The longer people stay on YouTube, the more money Google makes.”

“What keeps people glued to YouTube?” Dr. Tufekci continues. “Its algorithm seems to have concluded that people are drawn to content that is more extreme than what they started with – or to incendiary content in general.”

The conclusion that Dr. Tufekci makes is that one of the unintended consequences of YouTube’s recommendation algorithms is that after being exposed to these extreme videos, people get used to them and start to search out even more extreme videos.

Again, if this goes unchecked, we could end up with a lot of people believing a lot of extreme ideas that often are not based on verifiable facts.

“This situation is especially dangerous given how many people – especially young people – turn to YouTube for information,” writes Dr. Tufekci.

What You Can Do About It

It is unclear if there is a way to fix the problem.

As pointed out earlier, most of us don’t have any control over these algorithms.

Sure, government could step in. However, is government intervention the best answer? And, would they have the expertise to create laws that would fix the problem?

I’m not sure.

However, it is important that we teach people what is going on so that they can make educated decisions for themselves.

By spreading the word about what is going on you can help accomplish this goal.

From a business standpoint, it is also probably worth your time to research what is being said about your company on sites like YouTube. It is possible that YouTube users could be directed to false claims about your company that you thought were well in the rear-view mirror.

Photo credit: Matt Brown on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic — CC By 2.0)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Algorithms Are the New Content Gatekeepers Part Two: Organizing the Web

Man closing a gate.It was not long after the World Wide Web was created that people began looking for ways to help users find content online.

In fact, the first website was created by Tim Berners-Lee on August 6, 1991. The first search engine, W3Catalog, was created only two years later. This was followed by Aliweb, JumpStation, Infoseek, WebCrawler, Yahoo!, Lycos, and many more.

Then in 1998 Google was founded and the way search engines found and prioritized content changed dramatically.

According to Wikipedia, “While conventional search engines ranked results by counting how many times the search terms appeared on the page, they theorized about a better system that analyzed the relationships among websites. They called this algorithm PageRank; it determined a website’ relevance by the number of pages, and the importance of those pages that linked back to the original site.”

Today, there are many different factors used by Google to rank content and determine what gets the coveted positions on page one on a Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

However, that is not really the point that of this post. The real point being is that maybe even before the old gatekeepers lost a great deal of their power, new gatekeepers were being created.

Once again, we are almost right back to the same place where we started.

A Way to Get Found Online—Search Engine Optimization

In an effort to circumvent the new gatekeeper, or maybe earn favor with it, businesses started to use tactics that we now refer to as search engine optimization (SEO).

As a post on Search Engine Journal (SEJ) points out, “Although it could be argued that SEO and all things search engine marketing began with the launch of the first website published in 1991, or perhaps when the first web search engine launched, the story of SEO “officially” begins a bit later, around 1997.”

“Ranking high on search engines in 1997 was still a pretty new concept,” the author writes. “It was also very directory driven.”

That was, until Google changed everything.

“Although links were only one component of Google’s overall ranking algorithm, SEO practitioners latched onto links as being the most important factor – and an entire sub-industry of link building was created,” the SEJ post continues. “Over the next decade, it became a race to acquire as many links as possible in the hopes of ranking higher and links became a heavily abused tactic that Google would have to address in coming years.”

As anyone involved with SEO knows, the tactics needed to achieve a high ranking on a Google SERP are constantly changing.

In fact, recent developments in technology have dramatically changed SEO once again.

When Google announced the use of machine learning (ML) with Google RankBrain in October of 2015, a new era of search was being ushered in.

“Since that time, Google has expanded RankBrain to run on every search,” the author of the SEJ post writes. “While RankBrain impacts ranking, it isn’t a ranking factor in the traditional sense, where you get rewarded with better rankings for doing x, y, and z.”

While it is an exciting time for SEO practitioners, it is becoming harder to tell what the search engine gatekeeper will reward.

As the SEJ post points out, there still are things that can be done to get found in Google.

However, with the use of machine learning, it appears that the way to get ranked in organic search is going to be less formulaic.

Given that it is machine learning helping make the rules, will we end up with issues that we are finding in social media today? This is something that I will explore in a future post.

But first, let’s look at getting found on social media from a purely business perspective.

Getting Found on Social Media

In the early days of social media, most of the social networking sites displayed posts in reverse-chronological order.

That worked okay at first.

However, as more people joined, the social networking sites needed to find ways for people to find new content that they might not otherwise find. Again, this was accomplished by creating algorithms that reward specific behaviors.

From a business perspective, your company wants to get its message out there to sell more stuff or accomplish some other business goal.

This is great! You just need to please the new gatekeeper and optimize your content to meet the ever-changing requirements of each social networking site.

If that is the intent, sproutsocial has a post that offers some great suggestions.

However, as even the sproutsocial post points out, the algorithms are not perfect.

“There are plenty of instances of algorithms seemingly “hiding” content on Facebook at random despite being optimized to a T,” the author of the post writes. “On the flip side, there’s a well-documented phenomenon on YouTube of videos surging to millions of views out of nowhere after being recommended to seemingly random viewers.”

“Oh, and algorithms are constantly evolving, attempting to work out the kinks and provide the best user experience possible,” the post continues. “As a result, marketers have to constantly adapt to ‘em. This means consistently experimenting with content and changing up marketing strategies.”

Paying for Access

Whether optimizing content for search engines or social networking sites, it takes a lot of work and knowhow.

Many businesses don’t have the time or expertise to be able to optimize their content to reach the right users online.

Luckily, many of the search engines and social networking sites offer you the option to pay to get your content in front of users.

In the end, whether you pay someone to optimize your content to be found organically or you pay the site directly to get your content shown to users, you are still having to pay someone to help you get past the gatekeeper.

Indeed, we are right back to the place where we started.

Photo credit: Luca Sartoni on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic — CC By-SA 2.0)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Algorithms Are the New Content Gatekeepers: An Introduction

Palace GuardPrior to the Internet, if you had a movie you wanted to make, a book that you wanted to write, a song that you wanted people to hear, or you wanted to take part in just about any other creative endeavor, you had to find the right person or company to help you get your work in front of the right audience.

Even people with everyday products would have to find someone to help spread the word about their products so that people would purchase them.

In other words, whether you wanted to distribute your content or market a product or service, you had to get the attention of the right gatekeeper who would grant you access to the media channels needed to reach the people you wanted reach.

Then the Internet was created and the game changed. Or did it?

The Death of the Gatekeeper

In the early days, people were praising the Internet for the way it helped content creators who might never have been discovered make a living doing what they love because they could now connect with their fans and customers directly, thus bypassing the gatekeeper.

And, these people were and still are correct.

As a 2017 post on the strategy& website points out, “The amount of digital content created, exchanged, and consumed is growing by the day across the world, and because the Internet has democratized access to creation and distribution tools, boundaries between professional and amateur content are blurring across all parts of the creative sector.”

The post introduces a report released by strategy&, part of the PwC network.

According to the report, “Increasingly, the power is shifting to the consumers, who decide what they want to make, what they want to consume, and how and when they want to consume.”

Keep in mind, the old gatekeepers still have a role to play, they just have more competition.

As the study points, “Traditional media players must now compete with purely digital brands and platforms for the time and attention of the consumer.”

In other words, content creators can now avoid the traditional gatekeepers if they want to and still reach the right audience.

Long Live the Gatekeeper

While traditional gatekeepers have lost some of their power, thought leaders are beginning to warn us of a new gatekeeper that might have even more influence over what we consume.

While content creation and distribution tools are now becoming less expensive and are open to nearly everyone, some of these same tools are making it increasing difficult for some content to reach its intended target audience.

The reason for this is due to the fact that discovery of new content on many online platforms is controlled by algorithms that tend to reward certain behaviors and therefore don’t always highlight the most important or best content.

Part two and three in this series of posts will provide further explanation about how algorithms control what gets seen by consumers and how it can have an impact on society, as well as some additional business implications for your brand.

Additional posts will highlight some specific case studies and give possible suggestions about what we can do about it, both as content creators and content consumers.

Photo credit: Brian Teutsch on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic — CC By 2.0)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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New Research Reveals How Many U.S. Adults Currently Own Smart Speakers

Two smart speakers on a tableAccording to the Smart Audio Report Spring 2019 that was conducted by NPR and Edison Research, only 21 percent of Americans age 18 or older own a smart speaker. This translates to roughly 53 million people.

Interestingly, about half of American adults who own smart speakers report that they own more than one, with 30% reporting that they own three or more.

According to the report there was a 78% increase in the number of smart speakers in U.S. households, increasing from 66.7 million in December 2017 to 118.5 million in December 2018.

The fact that many people own more than one smart speaker partially explains how we can have such a dramatic increase in the number of smart speakers in U.S. households and still find that only about one in five American adults own them.

Interest in Smart Speakers Among Those Who Don’t Own One

When the researchers asked people who don’t own a smart speaker whether or not they are interested in owning one, 11% said that that they were very interested and another 9% show some interest. In contrast, 43% said that they were not at all interested in smart speakers.

The report also points out that adults age 18 to 54 show more interest in smart speakers than their older counterparts.

Reasons Why Interested U.S. Adults Who Don’t Own Smart Speakers Haven’t Purchased One Yet

The report also asked U.S. adults who said that they are interested in owning a smart speaker but haven’t purchased one yet the reason for not owning one.

The most common response was that they worry hackers could use the smart speakers to get access to their home or personal information. In total 63% gave this response in 2019 compared to 41% in 2017.

Other common responses included the fact that it bothered them that smart speakers are always listening (55%), voice-enabled speakers are too expensive (53%), and that they worry that smart speakers could allow the government to listen to their private conversations (40%).

As the report points out, people who currently own smart speakers share some of these same concerns, but choose to use the technology anyway.

The Smart Audio Report 2019 Webinar

What follows is a webinar that was created by Edison Research and NPR and was posted on YouTube in June of 2019.

In the webinar, they summarize the report and provide a lot of other interesting information about the ways people use smart speakers.

Additional Resources

I plan to write more about this topic in future blog posts. When I do, I will update this post and include links below.

 

Photo credit: BestAI Assistant on Flickr.

Video credit: edisonsurvey on YouTube.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Voice Search Is Gaining Popularity, but Not as Quickly as Some People Think

Voice assistantThere are a lot of people still spreading the news that comScore predicted that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be done via voice search.

Marketers who have yet to consider voice in their marketing efforts might panic after hearing that statistic. After all, comScore is a reputable media measurement and analytics company. If they are predicting this, there must be some reason for it.

The problem is that it doesn’t look like comScore ever made that prediction. I searched several times and couldn’t find a comScore article reporting this stat.

It appears that as often happens, people are not checking with the original source. In their defense, people often link back to a trusted media website that focuses on marketing, advertising, and media when citing this statistic. However, while it is generally okay to cite a trusted source, often going back to the original source is advisable.

Furthermore, it looks like even after someone highlighted the error online, people either aren’t aware of it or ignore it and continue to share the erroneous statistic anyway. This happens a lot on social media and the Internet, in general.

Econsultancy Uncovers the Erroneous Statistic

In an article on the Econsultancy blog published in July of 2018, Rebecca Sentance wrote about several errors that she found regarding this statistic. The rest of the post that you are currently reading highlights some of the findings that she uncovered. If you get a chance, the whole series of articles that she wrote on voice search is worth reading.

The first thing that she found was that the statistic was actually based on something that Andrew Ng, then Chief Scientist at Baidu said in an interview with Fast Company. Again, in reality, it appears that comScore was not involved at all.

In the Fast Company article, Ng is cited as saying that “in five years time at least 50% of all searches are going to be either through images or speech.” The quote was then cited by Mary Meeker in her KPCB Internet Trends 2016 report and the “In five years time” got changed to “2020.”

As Sentance points out in the Econsultancy article, Ng’s estimate not only includes voice, but image search and voice search. This is the second error with the original statistic.

Sentance then goes on to make a back-of-the-envelope calculation that at the time her article was published only 13% of Google searches were made by voice queries.

That means that there is a wide gap to be filled in just a couple of years.

The Econsultancy article does give some insight into what Andrew Ng might have been thinking by highlighting a tweet that he wrote that stated, “As speech-recognition accuracy goes from 95% to 99%, we’ll go from barely using it to using all the time!”

“So, Andrew Ng believes that sheer accuracy of recognition is what will take voice search into the mainstream,” writes Sentance. “95% word recognition is actually the same threshold of accuracy as human speech (Google officially reached this threshold last year, to great excitement), so Ng is holding machines to a higher standard than humans—which is fair enough, since we tend to approach new technology and machine interfaces with a higher degree of skepticism, and are less forgiving of errors. In order to win us over, they have to really wow us.”

She then goes on to point out some other potential barriers to voice search adoption. However, that is something that I plan to take up in another post.

The Timeline Might Need to Be Adjusted

Voice search will be more important as time goes on. That is a bet that I’d be willing to make.

It’s just that 50% of all searches by 2020 is a prediction that probably won’t come to fruition. However, as we’ve learned, it doesn’t look like we can’t blame comScore for this one.

There is a prediction made by Gartner in 2016 that can be documented that says, “By 2020, 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.”

If Rebecca Sentance’s assumptions are correct, then even this number is a little optimistic.

However, only time will tell.

Photo credit: iphonedigital on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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ICYMI: Google Updated the Test My Site Tool to Help Businesses Provide a Faster Mobile Experience

For quite some time, we have known that Internet users want websites to load quickly. In fact, in many cases, if the website loads too slowly, users won’t stick around.

Since Google constantly strives to improve user experience, it is not surprising that website speed influences how Google ranks your site. This is now true when users access your site from a desktop computer or a mobile device.

In order to make improvements to meet Internet users’ expectations when they are using a mobile device, and therefore improve your mobile search rankings, you need to know how well your mobile website is performing.

To assist in this effort, Google has updated a tool that measures the performance of your mobile website and then recommends how to make improvements.

Speed as a Ranking Factor

Back in 2010, Google announced it would use site speed as a ranking factor.

At the time, Google stated, “Speeding up websites is important – not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there.”

However, until July of 2018, Google did not include speed as a ranking factor on mobile searches.

With the Speed Update, businesses now need to ensure that their mobile websites are fast as well.

According to an article on Search Engine Journal, “Now the speed at which a piece of content loads is a consideration when ranking mobile pages. Obviously the faster the better.”

The article states that this is the most important thing for SEOs and site owners to know about the update. However, the article also points out that the update will only affect really slow websites (i.e., those that take several seconds to load on a mobile device.)

The article also points out, “Relevancy is key, as Google always says. So if a slow loading page happens to contain the most relevant content, according to a user’s query, then it may still rank favourably in search results.”

The New and Improved Test My Site

In February of 2019, Jerry Dischler, Google’s VP of Product Development, announced the update to Test My Site on one of Google’s blogs.

“Because mobile is where most people turn when they want to know, go, do or buy, it’s important to deliver the kind of mobile experience that people expect today: one that’s fast, engaging and doesn’t get in the way of what they want to accomplish,” writes Dischler. “And because Google is deeply invested in the success of marketers and brands, we never stop looking for ways to develop and support new tools and innovations than can move the industry forward.”

“One of the mobile era’s clearest lessons has been that the foundation for any great mobile experience is a fast mobile experience,” Dischler continues.

To help businesses deliver a better and faster mobile experience, Google updated Test My Site to report the speed of both the entire site and individual pages, whether their site speed ranks Fast, Average, or Slow, and the potential impact of site speed on revenue.

Other key updates include a detailed list of recommendations to increase speed on up to five pages and a sharable report.

While Test My Site isn’t the only product out there to help businesses improve their mobile website speed, it is one that businesses should consider looking into.

After all, if you want to reach customers by ranking higher when they search for relevant topics on Google via their mobile devices, doing what Google suggests is a pretty good place to start.

Test My Site TWG

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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The Rise of Podcast Consumption and Why It’s Important for Your Business

PodcastsSteve Jobs was extremely adept at predicting what consumers would want even before they knew they wanted it.

It’s therefore not surprising that Jobs was bullish on the future of podcasting early on.

According to a Forbes article, “Back in the summer of 2005, Steve Jobs and Apple announced they would support podcasts on iTunes. At the time, podcasts were considered somewhat niche, but Jobs was adamant they were important.”

“Apple is taking Podcasting mainstream by building it right into iTunes,” said Jobs in a 2005 press release. “Podcasting is the next generation of radio, and users can now subscribe to over 3,000 free Podcasts and have each new episode automatically delivered over the Internet to their computer and iPod.”

Research published by Edison Research in 2018 indicates that, once again, Jobs was correct.

The Podcast Consumer 2018 – Research from Edison Research

Each year, Edison Research publishes a study on the current trends in podcasting in the United States.

In 2018, the study included findings from the Infinite Dial 2018 study (conducted in partnership with Triton Digital), The Smart Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research, and the latest findings from Edison’s Share of Ear Research.

Because the 2019 version of the report should be released soon, I don’t want to spend too much time on the specific findings from 2018.

That said, because it is the latest data currently available, there are some interesting trends that they uncovered that are worth pointing out.

The video embedded at the end of this post is also definitely worth watching if you are interested in this medium.

More People Are Listening to Podcasts and They’re Spending More Time Doing So

As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, Steve Jobs and Apple recognized the potential of podcasting in 2005.

With this in mind, it is interesting to note that according to Edison Research, in 2006 only 11% of Americans ages 12 and older had ever listened to a podcast. This percentage has slowly increased to 44% in 2018.

The more interesting number, however, might be the percentage of Americans age 12 and older who had listened to a podcast in the last month. This percentage increased from only 9% in 2008 to 26% in 2018.

Furthermore, when the research was conducted in 2018, 17% of the population of Americans age 12 and older had listened to a podcast in the last week. This is an estimated 48 million Americans.

Among those weekly podcast listeners, when compared to earlier years, the average time listening to podcasts increased in 2018.

Overall, weekly podcast listeners listened to an average of seven podcasts per week in 2018.

Infographic: The Steady Rise of Podcasts | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista.

Why Podcasts Are Important for Business

As with any medium, podcasting might not be a good fit for your brand.

However, because more people are listening podcasts, the likelihood that your customers and potential customers are among those consuming podcast content has increased.

It is interesting to note that current podcast listeners make more money than the general population, tend to be more educated, and are more likely to have a full-time job. This makes podcast listeners very attractive to marketers.

It is also noteworthy that Americans currently listen to podcasts most often on their smartphones, tablets, or other portable devices.

As smart speakers become more common, it only makes sense that more people will start listening to podcasts on these devices.

And, as Edison Research pointed out, “In-car listening is growing, and represents a major potential source of new listening.”

All this data indicates that podcasts might be a great way for some brands to connect to consumers.

At the very least, it is something that your brand should consider.

 

Photo credit: Casey Fiesler on Flickr.

Infographic credit: Statista.com.

Video credit: edisonsurvey on YouTube.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Why It’s Important to Know What Your Brand Sounds Like

Sound boardThe idea of having a distinct sound that people associate with a brand is not a new concept.

For many years, businesses large and small that used radio and television ads to reach their target audience created specific sounds or jingles that customers came to recognize and associate with the brand.

However, sonic branding is becoming even more important today as more consumers start to use smart speaker technology and other household items get connected to and become part of the Internet of Things (IoT.)

And, when you factor in the already almost ubiquitous use of smartphones, there are even more opportunities for brands to use sound in their marketing efforts.

Therefore, it is not surprising that many businesses are starting to realize that they need to think about what their brand sounds like.

Sound as Shorthand for the Brand

As mentioned, businesses have used sound to create a connection between the brand and consumers for years in their radio and television advertising.

However, many businesses that haven’t made the investment in radio or television have often overlooked the powerful impact that sound has on consumers.

This is changing quickly as technology evolves.

As more transactions become automated in the future, tones can be used to communicate with consumers to let them know that they had an interaction with the brand without blatantly announcing it. This keeps the brand top of mind with the consumer.

Sonic branding can even provide some peace of mind to the customer by reminding them that they are dealing with a trusted business.

Mastercard Debuts Its Sonic Brand Identity

When it debuted its new signature sound in early February 2019 Mastercard joined many other brands, including one of its direct competitors, Visa, in creating a sonic identity developed specifically for the new connected world of the 21st century.

According to their press release, “Mastercard tapped musicians, artists and agencies from across the globe, including musical innovator Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park.”

“What I love most about the Mastercard melody, is just how flexible and adaptable it is across genres and cultures,” said Mike Shinoda. “It’s great to see a big brand expressing themselves through music to strengthen their connection to people.”

“Audio makes people feel things, and that’s what makes it such a powerful medium for brands,” said Matt Lieber, Cofounder and President, Gimlet. “With the explosion of podcasts, music streaming, and smart speakers, an audio strategy is no longer a “nice-to-have” for brands – it’s a necessity. A sonic identity – the audio calling card for a brand – is now just as important as a brand’s visual identity.”

Additional Strategic Considerations

As mentioned earlier, many businesses have overlooked sound as a way to connect to their potential customers.

Does this mean that all brands that aren’t using sound in their marketing efforts need to spend millions of dollars to develop a new sonic identity?

As with all business decisions, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

For some businesses, sonic branding might not makes sense at all.

Jumping into sonic branding also doesn’t mean that brands should forget about visual branding. For maximum effect, both should work in concert with the other.

It is also important to note that brands might not get it right the first time. This is something that Mercedes-Benz learned the hard way.

And, as time goes on, there is also a possibility that we get a sort of sonic branding overload or sonic branding fatigue if too many businesses start using sound in this way.

That said, being among the first to create a sonic identity could help establish a deeper connection with consumers.

 

 

Photo credit: Tony Steward on Flickr.

Video credit: Mastercard News on YouTube.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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32 Things to Watch in 2019 and Beyond

Google Maps NavigationAs I write about each year, success in business often requires predicting what potential challenges and opportunities the business will face on the road ahead.

Currently, we don’t have an app that will tell us everything that we need to know.

Therefore, business leaders need to navigate the old fashioned way even if their business is driving full-speed ahead into the future.

This thought process is what inspires one of my first blog posts each year.

It all started in 2012 when I highlighted some of the recommendations that JWT Intelligence thought would be important. Then in 2013, I started to track a list of my own.

Most of the things that I thought were important in the past remain important today. The list just gets a little bigger each year.

This list also helps keep me focused and serves as a public record to show whether or not I am watching the right things.

The Things to Watch List 2019

This is the list so far [with the year that the items were added]:

1) Rapid advancements in technology [2013]

2) Mobile (user experience and marketing) [2013]

3) Mobile payments [2013]

4) Mobile-influenced merchandising [2013]

5) Privacy issues [2013]

6) Emerging markets [2013]

7) The Internet of Things [2014]

8) The evolution of retail (including omni-channel retail) [2014]

9) A global marketplace [2014]

10) 3D printing [2014]

11) Cyberattacks [2014]

12) Ethics [2014]

13) Online video [2016]

14) RFID, NFC, and beacons [2016]

15) Augmented reality (AR) [2016]

16) Virtual reality (VR) [2016]

17) SEO for the Internet of Things [2016]

18) Experiential marketing [2016]

19) Wearables [2016]

20) Dynamic pricing in brick-and-mortar stores [2017]

21) Machine learning & artificial intelligence (AI) [2017]

22) Voice-activated technology [2017]

23) Business collaboration with the competition [2017]

24) The evolution of work (changing skillsets required and the influence on the economy) [2017]

25) Robotics [2018]

26) Subscription business model [2018]

27) How online communications influence public opinion [2018]

28) Market research techniques for the 21st Century [2018]

29) Influencer marketing [2019]

30) Accessible marketing for people with disabilities [2019]

31) Sustainability brands [2019]

32) Health-conscious brands [2019]

Why These Things Were Added

As I mentioned, my list was actually inspired by a list that is published each year by JWT Intelligence.

A lot of the items on the JWT Intelligence list this year focus on ways to help people create a healthier lifestyle. This not only means creating a healthier life for the people who might buy the products, but also helping create a healthier planet, as well.

Creating marketing that is accessible for people with disabilities just makes sense and should be a best practice. Furthermore, not making your website or mobile app accessible to people with disabilities can actually result in a lawsuit.

And, as for influencer marketing… it really should have been added to the list years ago. However, there are also some new areas of influencer marketing that make it worthy of adding now.

There are also things like self-driving cars and changes in product packaging that could have been added to the list. While these things are subsets of items currently on the list, they might get added to the list in the future.

Additionally, there are some things that digital marketing experts were talking about 10 years ago that should be revisited. These basics don’t get talked about enough now even though there are new business leaders entering the market each year. (It’s not always safe to assume that they learned about these things in college.)

So there you have it. If I missed anything that you think I should have included, please let me know in the comments below.

Photo credit: freeimage4life on Flickr. (Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication — CCO 1.0)

 

 

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Cashless Stores: Ahead of Their Time or Just Bad for Business?

The end of cash?For years now, many experts have predicted the demise of cash.

Those who make these predictions are encouraged when companies like Apple report increased usage of proximity mobile payments. In fact, Apple’s Q4 2018 earnings report and conference call reported:  “Triple transaction volume year-over-year for Apply Pay.”

But even with more consumers adopting alternative ways to purchase items, it appears that cash isn’t going away anytime soon.

In fact, this is something that Jeff Hasen, one the pioneers in mobile marketing, often points out on Twitter.

Cashless Comment Jeff Hasen

A recent article on CNBC supports Hasen’s argument.

“Cash remains the most frequent method of payment in the U.S., representing roughly 31 percent of consumer transactions, more than electronic, credit, debit or checks,” the author of the article writes.

According to the same article, “Use of cash by U.S. households is consistent across most income levels, around 25 percent, and goes way up at the lowest incomes.”

That said, this is not stopping some stores from trying to follow Amazon’s lead and eliminate cash as a payment option.

I think that it’s good that stores are trying different things to see what works.

However, as you might have expected, stores that try to go cashless are often met with some resistance.

Amazon Is Leading the Way

The headline of a recent Bloomberg article says it all, “Amazon Will Consider Opening Up to 3,000 Cashierless Stores by 2021.”

If you are not familiar with the AmazonGo cashierless store concept, the basic idea is that shoppers enter the store with a smartphone app downloaded to their phone, they scan their phones as they enter the store, they shop and leave with the items that they want to purchase without having to stop at a cash register.

As the Bloomberg article points out, “Sensors and computer-vision technology detect what shoppers take and bills them automatically, eliminating checkout lines.”

In this scenario, cash is not an option.

While not going all the way to cashierless stores, other merchants are experimenting with the idea of eliminating cash in order to cut costs.

The Cost of Accepting Cash

While accepting cash as a payment option has been the norm for many years, accepting cash actually costs more than some of the other common payment options.

A USA Today article highlights some of the expenses involved in processing cash transactions, as reported in an IHL report.

According to the article, “Besides the time spent counting bills and making change, they include ensuring registers have enough change, running cash to the bank, bank fees, armored cars, employee theft and robberies, the report says.”

“All told, such hassles cost retailers an average of 9.1 percent of sales, ranging from 4.7 percent at grocery stores to 15.5 percent at restaurants and bars, IHL says. That compares to the 2 to 3 percent transaction fees credit-card companies charge merchants,” the USA Today article reports.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that some stores are looking to eliminate cash.

But this has its downside.

Going Cashless Shuts Poor People Out

This is the main point of a recent article published on The New York Times website.

According to the author, Ginia Bellafante, there are several arguments against going cashless.

“The strongest objection relates to the ways in which rejecting physical currency plays out as a bias toward the poor; advancing segregation in retail environments,” writes Bellafante.

“According to government data, close to 7 percent of American households have no one in them with a checking or savings account, while an additional 19 percent are considered “underbanked,” meaning that they rely on products or services outside the conventional financial system,” the author continues. “These include money orders and payday and pawnshop loans. The majority of people who fall into these categories are nonwhite.”

Laws Are Being Written to Prevent Cashless Brick-and-Mortar Stores

When the article on The New York Times website was published, many people wondered if it was even legal to go cashless.

As Jarrod Frates points out on Twitter, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a State law which says otherwise.”

Cashless Comment Frates

Given this fact, it is not so surprising that lawmakers in New Jersey and New York City are trying pass bills to prevent stores from going cashless.

As an article on The Motley Fool website points out, New Jersey politicians are trying to prevent cashless stores because not accepting cash can prevent certain groups of people from making a purchase. This is the same argument that was made in The New York Times article mentioned earlier.

According to The Motley Fool article, Massachusetts is currently the only state that requires brick-and-mortar stores to accept cash.

Is Cashless Bad for the Brand?

While it’s estimated that only 31 percent of consumer transactions are cash, not offering cash as an option can create hassles beyond the bad PR it is getting for creating barriers for the unbanked.

Finding out that they can’t use cash until it is time to pay can be a source of frustration for some customers.

Even customers who rarely use cash can find it frustrating when they are asked to use a credit card to pay for a last-minute addition such as mayonnaise or another condiment at restaurants or even small items at a retail store.

Cashless Complaint 1

Cashless Complaint 2

Final Thoughts

Given that customers can and often do vent their frustration publicly on social media, going cashless might be more trouble than it’s worth.

With this in mind, it is fairly easy to see why Jeff Hasen often reinforces the fact that cash isn’t going anywhere, at least in the near future.

It is also not surprising that some merchants that tried to go cashless have decided to change their minds.

Cash is Back Spero

However, as the author of the post on The Motley Fool website points out, while going cashless might not the best way to go now, stores will never know whether it is a good idea to go cashless in the future if they aren’t even allowed to try.

It does seem like there might be some easy workarounds that stores or restaurants could offer if they do want to go cashless at the checkout line. The most obvious would be making an ATM or vending machine available to customers that would give them the option of buying prepaid debit cards.

This would give customers access to the store, while still encouraging them to pay via other payment options.

I’m not sure if this would satisfy lawmakers in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York City, or any other place that makes going cashless illegal.

If you know the answer to that legal question or if you have any other comments or suggestions, please feel free to comment below.

Photo credit: Nic McPhee on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license – CC BY-SA 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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