By Adam Fraser
There has been significant discussion in the marketing community about the role of automation in marketing business processes and increasingly, as Artificial Intelligence technologies advance, the role of bots in customer service and other business operations.
The discussion about the balance between art and science in marketing, and the importance of the human touch is a significant and somewhat contentious discussion point. However, in terms of the increasing importance of bots, a recent Pew Research study has indicated that a surprisingly high proportion of activity on Twitter is driven by bots.
The study showed that an incredible two-thirds of tweeted links to popular websites are posted by automated accounts – not human beings. Wow.
To source its findings, the Center analysed 2,315 of the most popular websites and examined the roughly 1.2 million tweets (sent by English language users) that included links to those sites during a circa six-week period in mid 2017.
The key findings included:
- Of all tweeted links to popular websites, 66% are shared by accounts with characteristics common among automated “bots”, rather than human users.
- Among popular news and current event websites, 66% of tweeted links are made by suspected bots – identical to the overall average.
- The share of bot-created tweeted links is even higher among certain kinds of news sites. E.g an estimated 89% of tweeted links to popular aggregation sites that compile stories from around the web are posted by bots.
- A relatively small number of highly active bots are responsible for a significant share of links to prominent news and media sites; the 500 most-active suspected bot accounts are responsible for 22% of the tweeted links to popular news.
- The study does not find evidence that automated accounts currently have a “political bias” in their overall link-sharing behaviour.
Examples of automated bots include:
- Netflix Bot (@netflix_bot) automatically tweets when new content has been added to the service.
- Grammar Police (@_grammar_) is a bot that identifies grammatically incorrect tweets and offers suggestions for correct usage.
- Museum Bot (@museumbot) posts random images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- The CNN Breaking News Bot (@attention_cnn) is an unofficial account that sends an alert whenever CNN claims to have breaking news.
- PowerPost by the Washington Post (@PowerPost) is a bot that provides news about decision-makers in Washington.
Pew is a highly respected think tank, hence this is an important data point as we assess the ongoing role of bots in the marketing mix.
By Adam Fraser
I am a big fan of the research produced by Edison Research and have previously written on their regular Infinite Dial report into media and podcasting trends. The Infinite Dial is the longest-running survey of digital media consumer behaviour in the USA.
The latest iteration of this top quality research has just been released, and as always provides some fascinating insights into the media landscape, in particular, audio trends. You can access the full slide deck here.
For those that don’t have the time to review the detailed 66 slide pack, here are the key takeaways:
- Podcasting continues to show steady growth, with 44% of Americans over the age of 12 now say they have ever listened to a podcast, up from 40% from last year.
- Podcasting’s in-car gains continue as well: 22% of podcast listeners described the car as the place they most often listened to podcasts in the 2018 report, versus 18% last year.
- 83% of the US population over 12 own a smartphone (81% a year ago).
- Smart speaker ownership (defined as owning Amazon Alexa or Google Home) has increased sharply to 18% of the population from 7% a year ago. One-third of smart speaker owners have more than one device in the home.
- Social media usage, as a whole, declined for the first time in the survey’s history, with 77% of the 12+ age group using, social versus 80% a year ago.
- Within the social media category, the platform by platform trends were very interesting, with declines in usage of Facebook and Twitter and increases in usage of Instagram and Snapchat (LinkedIn was flat).
- The Facebook usage declines were driven by the 12-34 year-old category, with usage flat among 55+ year-olds.
- Pandora leads audio brand awareness, followed by iHeartRadio, Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music (note 46% of the sample used YouTube to watch music videos/listen to music).
- 64% of the US population is familiar with the term podcasting (versus 60% a year earlier); 44% have ever listened to a podcast (versus 40% a year earlier).
- 26% of the sample had listened to a podcast in the last month, with 17% listening in the last week; weekly podcast listeners consume an incredible 7 podcasts per week on average.
- Radio remains by far the dominant medium in cars, but 18-34 year-old, in particular, are no longer buying radios in the house.
If (like me) you are a media landscape junkie, this is highly recommended reading. Look forward to the next instalment of the Australia specific report, the first of which was produced in 2017.
By Adam Fraser
Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you will know that “something is going on” in relation to Facebook, privacy controls around its data and Cambridge Analytica.
I review Facebook’s listed company announcements and results every quarter on this blog. For some time now, going back over 2 years, I have stated that privacy was “the sleeper”; an issue that should matter. But, consumers, in their actual behaviour, showed no sign of caring.
The combination of events that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal biting has finally lit the torch paper. Attitudes to privacy and how our data is being used are suddenly at the forefront of society’s collective consciousness, as the “delete Facebook” hashtag gains traction and people as diverse as Cher and Elon Musk delete their Facebook pages.
There have been many articles written on this topic however, there is one that I wish to draw your attention to.
Not for the first time on this blog, it is an article from Doc Searls that I want to reference. Apart from curating a number of insightful pieces in the current Facebook/Cambridge scandal, it draws out the broader longer-term underlying issues at play. Beyond Facebook, the entire digital publishing adtech system has systemic issues where privacy and online tracking is concerned. Well worth a read.
Facebook lost $50bn in market cap in the days after the scandal emerged. How brutal the further shake out that comes, remains to be seen.
By Adam Fraser
What constitutes “fake news” is a thorny topic, itself. People seem to define it as everything from wacky conspiracy theories all the way through to opinions they don’t like or agree with.
While there has been a vast discussion on the topic, it has always been hard to gauge just how significant this trend was. Hence, it was interesting to read details of a study conducted by 3 MIT scholars showing that fake news spreads faster on Twitter than real news, and by some margin. Quite a stark finding.
“We found that falsehood diffuses significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth, in all categories of information, and in many cases by an order of magnitude,” says Sinan Aral, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of the paper detailing the findings.
“Oh, it must be the bots!” I hear you say. Not so, say the researchers, it is humans that are to blame:
“When we removed all of the bots in our dataset, [the] differences between the spread of false and true news stood,” says Soroush Vosoughi, co-author of the paper, whose PhD research helped give rise to the current study.
To conduct the study, the researchers tracked approximately 126,000 cascades of news stories spreading on Twitter, which were cumulatively tweeted over 4.5 million times by around 3 million people, between 2006 and 2017. Some of the key findings were:
- False news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories are.
- It takes true stories about six times as long to reach 1,500 people as it does for false stories to reach the same number of people.
- When it comes to Twitter’s “cascades,” or unbroken retweet chains, falsehoods reach a cascade depth of 10 about 20 times faster than facts.
- Falsehoods are retweeted by unique users more broadly than true statements at every depth of cascade.
“False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information; people who share novel information are seen as being in the know,” says Aral.
Very interesting findings from a respectable piece of scientific research. What this means for society more broadly, of course, becomes an arduous question.
@tomfgoodwin loved your talk with @adamf2014 on the upcoming book in the EJ Podcast. Great to hear you discuss vulnerability in doing something new. Your "radio persona" is slightly different to your LinkedIn persona 🙂 Looking forward to buying the book – https://t.co/MuQW2qUa92
— neill kerrigan (@neillkerrigan) March 20, 2018
By Adam Fraser
In a move that feels parallel with Facebook’s hiring of Sheryl Sandberg pre IPO in March 2008, Pinterest has announced the hiring of Silicon Valley heavyweight, Francoise Brougher, as its COO.
Pinterest is rumoured to be considering an IPO in 2019, and this appointment appears to cement that perspective.
Pinterest is now increasingly describing itself as a visual search tool, rather than a social network. Always a platform where people pondered, dreamed and discovered (and often had buying intent), it is upping its game in terms of advertising products and recently signed a deal with major US retailer Target, in relation to advertising and Target using Pinterest’s visual search tool within its app.
Pinterest seems to punch under its weight given its size, garnering much less press interest than Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat (if this blog is any sort of barometer, I last blogged about Pinterest in February 2015). However, it is a platform of significance – passing 200m monthly users in September 2017 (40% growth on the prior year), with 600m monthly visual searches using its lens tool and more than half of its users now coming from outside the USA. It remains the most female skewed social media user base, with 70% of its users being women. The volume of content is mind blowing with over 75 billion pins across 1 billion boards.
In terms of social commerce – buying directly from a social site rather than via the merchant’s website – Pinterest (which offers ‘buyable pins’ as a product) leads the way, along with Facebook.
According to the 2017 Sensis social media report, 10% of Australians use Pinterest (versus 94% for Facebook and 46% for Instagram).
Pinterest is undoubtedly a platform of significance, with a number of interesting, unique aspects – think female skew, buying intent, visual search capability. Whether it is suited to life as a listed company – see challenges faced each quarter by Twitter and Snapchat – is another question.
By Adam Fraser
Snapchat started life as a listed company in a very turbulent fashion, disappointing the market with its first quarter, second quarter and third quarter results, with the share price falling below its much-hyped IPO level.
However, it seems to have somewhat turned a corner with its latest Q4 results, with the share price increasing 26% in after-hours trading after the results release.
If you want to dive into the details, you can check the detailed financials, investor presentation and press release, around the quarterly numbers. If you want a quick summary, here are 10 key takeaways from the Q4 2017 results:
- Daily Active Users (DAUs) grew to 187m from 178m in the prior quarter (a healthy 5.1% growth) and 159m a year ago (18.4% growth).
- Average revenue per user was US$1.53, compared to $1.17 a last quarter and $1.05 a year ago. While this is well below the levels achieved by Facebook of over $6, the rate of growth in the quarter was impressive.
- Revenue for the quarter was US$286m, compared to $208m last quarter (a massive 37.5% increase in a single quarter) and $166m a year ago (72.3% increase).
- The user and revenue growth was above the level expected by the market, leading to the positive response in the share price.
- While the net loss reduced on the prior quarter, it remained a staggering $350m for the quarter versus $443m in the prior quarter.
- Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status now have 300m users, illustrating the impact competitors have had in imitating key aspects of Snapchat’s originally unique offering.
- USA DAUs were 80m, representing 43% of global users – a ratio that has been broadly consistent for the past 12 months. Snapchat will have been encouraged that absolute user numbers grew in all regions; USA, Europe and Rest of World.
- USA however drove 77% of global revenues, showing the more rapid advertiser adoption in the company’s home location, compared to the rest of the globe.
- Capital expenditure for the quarter was $21m, a decrease from $26m in the prior quarter.
- Adjusted EBITDA (removing the impact of stock based compensation) was a loss of US$159m for the quarter, slightly lower than the prior quarter.
“Our work during 2017 is proof that we aren’t afraid to make big changes for the long-term success of our business,” CEO Evan Spiegel said during the investor conference call on Tuesday.
Snapchat has recently shifted from a direct advertising sales model to an auction-based bidding system (a la Google) for selling advertising. The benefits of this are starting to flow, boosting the number of ads featured in its app by four times the amount from the same time last year, with 90 percent of ads now coming from programmatic systems, according to the company.
Snap’s user growth was driven partly by users of its Android app, which it has been increasingly emphasising. The company noted the retention rate of new Android users grew by nearly 20% compared to the prior year, meaning that Android users who tried Snapchat were generally more likely to become DAUs.
Management credibility improved somewhat, despite last quarters debacle with the $40m loss on unsold Spectacles.
The results were encouraging, however, Snapchat is by no means out of the woods. Its loyal, engaged millennial audience remains highly attractive to marketers, while it is attempting to broaden its appeal to the older demographic. However, competition from Facebook and Instagram is fierce, its IP is easily imitated, and the financial losses remain astounding for a company with a market cap of $22bn. Only time will tell if it can remain a viable and independent listed company.
By Adam Fraser
Twitter has delivered its Q4 2017 results and, for the first time in its history, has delivered a profit.
As ever with Twitter, it remains a patchy set of numbers with the most obvious negative the flat user numbers at 330m. Despite getting unprecedented levels of earned media via the President of the USA, the numbers continue to indicate that anyone on the planet who wants to be on Twitter is already there. The continuing growth in users at Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp must be a source of huge frustration to the board and management of Twitter.
The headline profit clearly impressed the market, with the share price rallying 25% on the day of the announcement.
If you want to dive into all of the detail, you can check the financials, investor presentation, shareholder letter and investor conference call. If you want the key highlights here are 10 key takeaways:
- Monthly active user (MAU) numbers were 330m, flat from the prior quarter and an increase from 318m a year ago (3.8% growth).
- 21% of Twitter’s MAUs (68m) are based in the USA, down 1m on the prior quarter, with small user growth coming internationally (262m v 261m in the prior quarter).
- Attempts to drive greater engagement and more regular usage on the platform continue to work, with Daily Active Users (DAU) growing at 12% on prior year v 14% last quarter and 11% a year ago. Interestingly, the company does not reveal the absolute number of DAUs and actively refused again to release this in the face of formal queries.
- Ad metrics were encouraging – in Q4, the Twitter ads platform team made optimisations to ad serving logic that resulted in a 26% increase in ad engagement rates and an 18% increase in return for advertisers.
- Video remained Twitter’s largest ad format and grew as a percent of total revenue in Q4, reflecting strength in Video Website Cards, Video App Cards, InStream Sponsorships, and In-Stream Video Ads.
- Revenue was up significantly at $730m v $590m in the prior quarter and, $717m a year ago. The revenue trends were clearly the highlight of the quarter.
- The breakdown of revenue for the quarter showed 88% of revenue coming from advertising and 12% coming from data licensing/other.
- Twitter made a GAAP profit of $91m vs a loss of US$21m for the quarter; it also discloses “adjusted EBITDA which showed a profit of US$308m after adjusting for stock-based compensation, depreciation and amortisation. Twitter ended the quarter with US$4.4bn in cash so despite the frequent “Twitter is dying” headlines, the business is solidly funded.
- Live video remains a key focus. During Q4, Twitter announced approximately 22 new live-streaming, highlight, and VOD partnerships, including nine international deals. In total, the platform streamed approximately 1,140 live events throughout the quarter, with 60% of those reaching a global audience. In addition, 28 million live user-generated streams were broadcast in Q4 across both Twitter and Periscope.
- New ad products continue to be developed – in Q4, Twitter launched a new Promoted Tweet composer that simplifies the process of creating new Promoted Tweets. Also in Q4, Twitter entered into public betas in the US, UK, and Japan with a new subscription advertising product, Twitter Promote Mode (TPM), which helps small businesses reach more people without the work of having to create ads or manage campaigns.