Society for New Communications Research Blog


Wrap Up: A/B Tests For All, Gaming Instagram, Why People Trust News, There’s Data in GIFs

By Shel Holtz

I regularly develop an overview of news stories, posts, studies, and reports designed to help organizational communicators stay current on the trends and technology that affect their jobs. This post is an overview of all the stories that have caught my eye this week. You can read the full version here.


Anybody can share branded content on Facebook—With a lot of people administering unverified Facebook pages who would like to make some money by sharing branded content as influencers, Facebook has expanded the program beyond verified pages and profiles. You’ll have to apply, but unverified pages could get access to the tool quickly based on Facebook’s assessment of how likely you are to use it. The takeaway: Good news for brands interested in working with micro-influencers who may not have the audience typically required to get verified by Facebook. Read more

Google opens Optimize tools to everyone—Google’s Optimize and Optimize 360 A/B website testing tools have been moved out of beta. An enhancement to Google Analytics, Optimize 360 lets you test multiple versions of your site to see which performs better. Optimize is the free version that lets you run up to three concurrent experiments. No pricing has been announced for the 360 product. The takeaway: There’s no excuse now for not running A/B tests on your sites. Read more

Instagrammers are gaming the system to get more views—In an effort to gain more followers and more views for their posts, Instagram users are forming “pods,” secret groups of users who agree to like and comment on each other’s posts, hoping the engagement on their posts will feed the Instagram algorithm and expose their work to more people. The takeaway: Marketers need to be aware of this trend, since measurement of influence is based on likes and shares. If your influencer is part of a pod, those liking and sharing probably don’t actually care about the product. Read more

YouTube adds filters to address its advertising crisis—YouTube has introduced filters advertisers can use to help avoid having their ads appear on objectionable content, a situation that has led high-profile advertisers to suspend their YouTube advertising. Some YouTube producers are complaining that their content has been unjustifiably caught up in one (or more) of the five filters, result in lost revenue. The takeaway: This has been a significant crisis for YouTube—and Google—as advertisers flee and consider reinvesting in more traditional TV programming. Read more

Profile pages could transform Reddit—Reddit is introducing profile pages that link to your username, include a feed of your posts, and feature the avatar you choose. No follower counts will be visible and you’ll be able to moderate discussions on your posts. The goal is to make Reddit more community-like rather than just a destination for discussion. The takeaway: Reddit has been quicksand for companies. More than any other network, brands need to immerse themselves in Reddit to get participation right. This move could wind up making Reddit a more friendly environment for business engagement. Read more


Consumers trust what they see on social media based on who shared it—Who published the news (The New York Times, for example) isn’t as important as who shared it when it comes to how people assess the trustworthiness of news. That’s the finding from an American Press Institute study, which also found that the “identity of the sharer even has an impact on consumers’ impressions of the news brand.” The takeaway: For publishers, getting readers to share content and become ambassadors is vital. The same goes for companies wanting their earned media coverage to reach more people. Read more

Some consumers think a YouTube ad is an endorsement by the brand—If brands thought they were just being cautious suspending their YouTube advertising in the wake of revelations that their ads were paired with offensive videos, new data justifies their concerns. Nearly 49 percent of YouTube viewers have seen offensive content on the site (though most say they don’t see it very often), nearly 72 percent remember seeing ads with that offensive content, 46 percent say they feel worse about the brand whose ads appear with the offensive content, and 36 percent think the advertiser is endorsing the offensive content by virtue of having its ad associated with it. The takeaway: If I were advertising on YouTube, I would be among those suspending my ads until Google could assure me the problem was fixed. Read more

Advertising surpassing media as trusted information—Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer has made it clear that trust in media is crashing to new lows. In the meantime, advertising (not measured by the annual Edelman study) is gaining trust in a big way, with 61% of people who view ads saying they trust what they read, see, or hear, an 11-point gain from March 2014. On the Net, 72% trust the ads they encounter, up from 56% in 2014. The takeaway: This is fascinating data in light of declining trust in the four categories Edelman follows (government, media, business, and NGOs). How might you use advertising to start rebuilding the trust your business has lost? Read more


Influencer marketing comes to medicine—Wego Health has introduced a web-based platform to connect pharmaceutical firms, medical device manufacturers, hospitals, and insurers with influencers whose audiences follow their posts about related issues. AminoHealth, for example, sponsored a Facebook Live session with Barby Ingle, who has amassed a Twitter following of 26,000 interested in “her guidance in dealing with insurance, living with chronic pain, and, perhaps most importantly, maintaining hope.” The takeaway: There is no understating the role of influencers. If healthcare companies can establish a connection with authentic voices like Ingle, their messages will be viewed as far more credible and authentic. Read more

Brands are analyzing GIF data—Data that reveals how people use GIFs as communication tools are enabling marketers to create and position GIFs so people are more likely to use them. That’s important given the decline in the number of people who sit through TV commercials. For example, knowing that 2.1 million coffee drinkers search “good morning” before sharing a Starbucks GIF helps the company know the kinds of GIFs to create and how to ensure they are discoverable. The takeaway: Too many companies shrug off GIFs as a way to get a message out or be more visible. That’s a mistake in our increasingly visual communications environment. Better to give it a try and use the tools available to measure your success. Read more

Brands focus on Muslim inclusivity—A growing number of brands recognize that the days of standing on the sidelines of divisive issues are over. Microsoft, Chevrolet, Cover Girl, and Hyatt are among brands that have prominently featured Muslims in their most visible marketing. The ads avoid the appearance of being political, instead promoting the principles of diversity and inclusion. The takeaway: It’s not all altruism. These brands are responding to statistical evidence that this is exactly what their audiences want. Add to that the fact that the Muslim lifestyle market is estimated to reach $2.6 trillion, and promoting Muslim inclusivity makes economic sense to brands in addition to aligning them on the right side of history. Read more


Brands want Snapchat Discover to host their Snapchat “Shows”—A growing number of brands are paying Snapchat for the privilege of creating high-quality, episodic content aimed at the teen and early-20s demographic that dominates the app. Marriott, for instance, has produced a four-part influencer-laden series of “Snapisodes” aimed at convincing users to sign up for its loyalty program. If the content catches on, Marriott hopes it’ll be added to Snapchat’s Discover section, which makes it a lot easier for content to be found. The takeaway: Content discovery remains one of the big challenges for companies establishing a presence on Snapchat, whether it’s through paid advertising or an account. Nevertheless, if there’s one thing Snapchat still claims as an advantage over Instagram and other apps that have adapted its Stories feature, it’s TV-like entertainment-oriented videos. Read more

Dove joins the entertainment fray—I report regularly here on brands turning to their own self-produced entertainment programming. Companies like Campbell’s, Kotex, Royal Caribbean, and Kellogg’s are among those creating scripted series or documentaries. Now, Unilever’s Dove brand has recruited TV veteran Shonda Rhimes to create films based on consumers’ stories. The writer and producer of “Gray’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” will create the videos based on submissions from consumers who learn about the opportunity through outreach on social media channels. The takeaway: The notion that “every company is a media company” is taking on new meaning with the explosion of scripted and documentary films and series brands are producing for online consumption. There’s potential here beyond marketing, although I’m still waiting for the first PR-focused effort that fits this model. Read more

Ditto Chipotle—Did you catch the Dove item above? Chipotle is yet another brand that is producing a series—this one unbranded and designed to teach kids about making good food choices. “RAD Lands” is available on iTunes and will be available to schools thanks to a partnership with Discovery Education. The takeaway: Seriously, you still haven’t considered producing a series? Read more

Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality

Measurement comes to VR—I was just asked during the Q&A at a presentation on Virtual Reality in Florida earlier this week about measurement of VR. My answer: There isn’t any yet. Now that’s not entirely true with HTC introducing a platform that will tell brands when a user has looked at an ad using one of its Vive headsets. The takeaway: I knew measurement methods would emerge. I’m gratified to see HTC take the first step which others (Oculus and Google in particular) will surely follow. Read more

Adobe takes initial steps into VR advertising—Adobe is “creating standardized banner and video ad formats that can be easily delivered into (Virtual Reality) landscapes,” according to AdAge. For example, imagine seeing all the ad screens in Times Square taken over by a single brand. Adobe introduced the VR ad platform at a Vegas conference. The takeaway: The introduction of advertising insertions into VR environments is a sign that the industry is maturing. If not done well, however, it could be a turnoff that slows adoption. Read more

Also noteworthy

Employees can get paid for talking to job-seekers—Purple Squirrel is a new tool that lets job-seekers pay current employees for 30-minute phone consultations about how to get a foot in the door at their company. These employees are not actual company representatives—they just work there and are happy to take money to talk to those looking for a job. Employees from 500 companies are available to offer advice on resumes and interviewing for their employers. The average fee to talk to one of these advocates: $30. The takeaway: I wonder what HR would say if they knew employees were assessing fees to talk to candidates? Especially if these 30-minute sessions are happening on company time? Read more

As always, I collect material from which I select Wrap stories (as well as stories to report on the For Immediate Release podcast, along with stuff I just want to remember to read) on my link blog, which you’re welcome to follow. If you want to make sure you never miss an edition of the Wrap, along with extra material only for subscribers, sign up for my weekly email briefing.

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