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Reddit: controversy and change

by Alberto Gomez

The Drum recently published this article by me talking about the changes and controversy surrounding Reddit, and what this means for its usersThey’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it in full below.


It’s been a tough few weeks for Reddit. When Ellen Pao stepped down from the platform last week, it seemed that she has become the latest victim of the very racial and gender controversy that she’d been fighting against. While her leaving has been described as a ‘mutual agreement’ based on reasons other than last week’s issues such as site growth, it’s hard to believe that the recent vitriol she’s experienced from the internet community wasn’t a factor in the decision.


Pao has certainly divided the Reddit community since her appointment as interim CEO back in November. While she was loved by many, she also became a symbol of unwanted change for a vocal group of Reddit users. She was almost solely blamed for a series of decisions that many felt would fundamentally change the platform, including shutting down five subreddits in June such as “Fat People Hate” for violating Reddit’s anti-harassment policy.

Tension culminated with last week’s poorly handled firing of Victoria Taylor, Reddit’s popular director of talent and a key contact for the site’s moderators. A petition on Change.org for Pao to be fired quickly followed, along with protests that involved moderators shutting down hundreds of subreddits.

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Reddit management will undoubtedly be hoping Pao’s departure will placate its community, particularly as users seem to be already exploring alternative options. In the midst of the last few weeks’ controversy, users reportedly flocked to Voat, which offers a similar proposition to Reddit. Voat’s creator, Atif Colo recently claimed that in the last 30 days, Voat has had around two million unique visitors and 30 million page views – a huge jump from the previous month’s 138,717 unique visitors and 1.8 million page views.

Colo told financial site MarketWatch that the influx of new users came “just around the time when Reddit would announce a change” and that “The same trend was noticeable when Reddit banned certain subreddits which were used to discuss legal subjects which some people may have found offensive.” Voat has been described in press as the ‘Reddit killer’ and its team claims that they will not make the same mistakes the larger platform has, such as curtailing the more controversial forums.

However, Reddit did get somewhat lucky – Voat is not currently geared up to truly challenge its larger rival. It buckled under demand when Reddit users flocked there following Ms Taylor’s firing – a missed opportunity to really capitalise on Reddit’s perceived failures.


Voat’s team will be working hard to gear up for the next influx; it’s unlikely this is the last controversial moment we’ll see from Reddit, particularly since its new CEO, Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman, said that he planned to stick by many of Pao’s most unpopular decisions, including deleting malicious threads and the firing of Victoria Taylor. Comparisons are already being drawn to the dramatic decline of social news site Digg five years ago, which benefited (the then up-and-coming) Reddit.

There is a much bigger argument about whether platforms like Reddit and Voat need tighter regulation; some would argue for free speech, some would say that allowing this kind of conversation online is dangerous, igniting and inciting hatred. But regardless of whether Pao’s decisions at Reddit were right or wrong, she’s become a symbol of the tech world’s attitude towards women and the urgent need for this to improve.

As for Reddit – only time will tell whether it can survive further changes from the management – or whether users will vote with their feet.

We Are Social’s Monday Mashup #267

by Nick Mulligan in News

Google indexing nearly five times more tweets than it was
After Google gained access to Twitter data earlier this year, some were surprised by how few tweets were being indexed. The figure has since shot up; Google is now indexing 466% more tweets than four months ago, though 96% still go unindexed. I’m yet to see anything from @nickmulligan in search results. Disgraceful.

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Facebook adds ‘See First’ News Feed feature
Facebook has added a new set of News Feed preferences, initially for iPhone and iPad users in the USA, including a feature named ‘See First’. Users can now choose friends or pages that they consider particularly important and add them to a list, meaning that their content will always show up, sort of like the opposite of ‘unfollow’. It’s likely to have an impact for brands, who have seen reach drop hugely over the past year or so among those who like their pages; if a brand isn’t added to ‘See First’, its posts may appear even lower in users’ News Feeds.

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Facebook changes its CPC ads
Facebook has made what could be a very significant change to its cost-per-click ads and will now only register ‘link clicks’, meaning clicks that do one of the following: link to another site, contain a call-to-action (e.g. shop now), install an app, link to Facebook canvas apps or watch a video on another site. The move is expected to have a big impact on advertisers. CPC ads will be more expensive (say 16 cents vs. 5 cents) but more valuable and directly linked to commerce. We might well expect to see Facebook ad spend increase, as advertisers can measure their ads more directly with the likes of Google.

Twitter wants to know your birthday
Birthday coming up? Mine’s on Thursday, thanks for asking*. Twitter’s now offering you VIRTUAL BALLOONS if you’re willing to share your date of birth. That’s nice, isn’t it? Yes, but it’s also a move to gain more data for ad purposes. Up to you. Here’s what the balloons look like.


*it really is. Please send me a card.

Vine adds ‘Suggested Viners’ and 720p posts
The latest version of the Vine app comes with two updates: ‘Suggested Viners’ and the ability to post in HD. The former lets users find high-quality content publishers, chosen by the network. The latter… well, it lets people post in HD.

Meerkat unveils Cameo
Meerkat has added a new feature called Cameo, which allows one broadcaster to invite another to take over a stream for up to 60 seconds. Expect to see celeb cameos in branded content.


Get verified on Tinder
Tinder has added verified profiles, in case you want to date a celebrity. For some reason, it won’t verify me. But then it won’t give me any matches either, so we can only assume the app is broken.

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Google removes G+ posts from Knowledge Card Graphs
Google is removing Google+ posts from Knowledge Card Graphs in search results. The photo below shows what the cards used to look like; now it’s the same, just without the stuff in the red square.


Amazon blocks certain reviewers due to social interactions
Amazon has been monitoring social media and subsequently banning users who have been interacting with authors from leaving book reviews on the Amazon site, in case they are ‘friends’ rather than impartial reviewers. It has since been accused of ‘Big Brother’ style tactics in a change.org petition.

MoveOn wants supporters to donate their social profiles
Progessive political giant, MoveOn, is asking its followers to donate their social profiles to allow the company to post messages from them. Benjamin O’Keefe, social and cultural producer for MoveOn said that the move was an opportunity for donation in an non-financial sense:

This is a different way for people to donate in a way that really matters. It’s great when people can chip in and donate money, but not everyone can.

Coca-Cola teaches Twitter users about their names
Coca-Cola has created a tweet-powered billboard in Times Square, asking users to tweet their name with the hashtag #CokeMyName for the chance to learn facts about it. Sorry to any Laurens reading, we’ve kind of ruined the surprise.


first direct and We Are Social launch ‘no, thank YOU’
first direct and We Are Social created a campaign to show the bank’s customers just how much it cares. Rather than just replying to messages saying ‘thank you’, the bank went one step further. Here’s an example:

Discovery uses Meerkat during Shark Week
Are you ready for a tenuous attempt to shoehorn a link between meerkats the animals and Meerkat the live streaming service? Good, here goes.

Sharks and meerkats aren’t natural allies. However, Discovery has been using the live streaming service, Meerkat, to post live camera streams of the aquatic creatures during Shark Week.

See? Tenuous. Here’s a picture.

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Brands get their teeth into shark week
Discovery wasn’t the only brand posting about Shark Week. A load of them were at it.

Brands heart emojis
Last week saw #NewMeaningsForEmojis trending on Twitter. Did brands get involved? You bet. You ruddy bet.

The Future of Robotics

by Tom Ollerton in News


We were lucky enough to be visited by robotics artist Anna Dumitriu recently, in one of our bi-monthly Lunch and Learn events. Anna spoke to us about the ethical conversations that arise around robots that are designed to look and act like humans. This isn’t science fiction, they are already among us.

Anna is an artist who works in academic science. She is Artist in Residence on The UK Clinical Research Consortium – Modernising Medical Microbiology Project at The University of Oxford and a Visiting Research Fellow: Lead Artist in the Wellcome Trust Brighton and Sussex Centre for Global Health Research at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, amongst other academic positions.

Anna has always been interested in body language and has extended that interest into how that affects robots with a human appearance. An early experiment was to try and think like a robot by removing as many of her senses as possible in front of a live audience. Her ears were blocked, and eyes and covered herself in desensitising cream.


This is typical of Anna’s work as an artist, pushing the boundaries of art and science. Whilst Anna is taping up her senses, the machines are rising. Robots are being developed for wide ranging uses and those uses raise important ethical concerns that may affect us all.

Anna asked us what kind of robot companions we’d want. A robot butler? A chauffeur? Smart washing machines and self driving cars are not far from this. Or do we want a robot to watch over our children?


How about a robot for teaching and play? KASPAR (Adaptive Systems Research Group – University of Hertfordshire) is a robot that has produced incredible results with Autistic children.


The jewel in the crown of Anna’s work is HARR1 who lives in a house with other robots on a university campus. HARR1 and the robot frat house find their way around by QR codes on the ceiling. HARR1 is programmed to perform unremarkable functions like putting his arm around a nearby person when a photo is being taken. If HARR1 sees fit he will get bored and drift off when he’s unimpressed with his human neighbours.


Anna had introduced her robot HARR1 to the people in an retirement home. She asked the residents if they wanted a robot to look after them in their old age? The feedback was that having a robot look after you protected their privacy. Would you rather have a stranger or a robot look after you in your own home?


More surprisingly, she asked if a robot could be a lover? This solution is closer then you might expect. This picture below is of a robot lover that can not only satisfy you sexually but is wifi connected and will tell you the football results afterwards.


What has this got to do with marketing? Good question.

We’ve already conceded control to robots, with auto pilot on aeroplanes, cruise control on cars and Facebook’s content algorithm deciding what is most important for us to look at in our newsfeeds. Twitter and Instagram are as-they-happen networks, but how long will this last?

We’re giving our phones personalities with early AI attempts such as Siri and Cortana. Robots are administering drugs in hospitals and entertaining our kids. The leap between current artificial intelligence and convincing human-like robots is shrinking exponentially. The natural next step is robotics that will play an ever increasing significance in war, policing, transport and entertainment. The social impact of this technology will be staggering, changing the way we communicate with each other and ourselves.

So, if you thought you were doing well if you’d just managed to get your head around Periscope… think again.

The Virtual Reality Gold Rush: Part One

by Don Anderson in News

In the first of a three-part series, Don Anderson, We Are Social’s Managing Director in Singapore, examines the origins of virtual reality and the potential opportunities for content creation and brand marketing.

In 1983 noted American special effects director Douglas Trumbull released Brainstorm, a generally unremarkable science fiction movie largely known for the tragic death of star Natalie Wood before filming was completed, resulting in an awkward ending requiring a body double and dubbed dialogue.

Largely ignored until now, the film – which also starred a young Christopher Walken – told the story of two researchers who develop a technology that allows the recording and playback of a person’s thoughts and experiences onto videotape, which others can receive through a specially designed helmet. Fast forward 32 years later and the science behind it is actually closer to reality than ever before.

Fact: The promise of virtual reality has never before been as great as it is today.

Fact: We’ve been promised virtual reality for years and seen nothing substantial out of it.

With the debut of the virtual reality head-mounted display Oculus Rift on Kickstarter in 2012, and Microsoft’s recently announced HoloLens technology, we are on the verge of a phenomenal change in media and communications not seen since the start of the Internet. By all accounts, the promise of digitally enabled experiences that are so immersive and impactful that you don’t have to leave your own living room has never been so close to being realised.

But should we believe the hype?

Hollywood has been one of the first industries to embrace virtual reality’s potential, despite a long and inconsistent relationship with the field. From The Lawnmower Man through to Strange Days, the technology has long been portrayed as a potential threat to society and has almost always involved an epic battle between good and evil.

The Lawnmower Man, the tale of a simple man who is turned into a genius through virtual reality and then tries to take over the world with his newfound intelligence. Released in 1992, two years before the launch of Netscape.

The universally panned Virtuosity, featuring future Best Actor winner Denzel Washington trying to capture future Best Actor winner Russell Crowe, focused on a VR-produced serial killer who manages to escape into the real world.

Strange Days, directed and written by two future best director winners – Kathryn Bigelow of Hurt Locker fame and James Cameron. Here, Los Angeles is a war zone and people are able to record their memories and physical sensations through an illegal device called a SQUID – a Superconducting Quantum Interference Device.

We are roughly eight to 12 months away from virtual reality finding broad mainstream exposure, (possibly longer in term of consumer adoption), with a host of original equipment manufacturers like Lenovo, HTC, Sony and others promising a raft of devices. The accompanying fanfare promises a new future for media and communications, with enthusiastic claims being tossed about by everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to Steven Spielberg.

To truly understand the virtual reality space and its potential, we need to go back some 50 years ago to the original premise of providing sensations and experiences beyond the context of traditional cinema and broadcast content.

Virtual reality’s roots were formed around 1965 via the work of American computer scientist and Internet pioneer Ivan Sutherland who introduced the ‘Ultimate Display’ – a device that could overlay virtual wireframe interiors onto a room. During this time the military was conducting its own research and investing in the technology’s potential for flight simulation and training.

Skipping a few decades ahead to the 1980s, NASA prototyped the first Virtual Environment Workstation, built from a motorcycle helmet, Sony Watchman LCD displays and wide-angle stereoscope optics. This was the first to incorporate a dataglove which included a tracker that could measure a hand’s position and orientation, and allowed the user to interact with the virtual world.

By 1993, we were seeing numerous attempts to develop the next generation, multi-player virtual reality entertainment systems. They weren’t cheap – even the cheapest commercially available VR units were roughly US$25K and upward. A few years later and we were testing out headsets that enabled users to control a camera, simply through head movements.


Just before the close of the 20th century, Nissan experimented with VR-enabled driving simulators at the annual Tokyo Motor Show.


The Humphrey II device allowed virtual free flight through a 3D reconstruction the city of Linz in 2003.

For all that research and investment, who could have imagined that here, in 2015, strapping a piece of cardboard and a smartphone to our heads would pretty much provide the same experience.

Launched at Google’s annual I/O developer conference in 2014, the simplistic Cardboard headset (you can create it yourself or order one online for as little as US$5), has finally taken virtual reality to the masses.


We could soon see more of these images flooding the social networks. Source: EpicFail.com

The company’s commitment to this space was further echoed at this year’s I/O conference through its announced partnership with GoPro, the launch of a larger Cardboard design for phablets and its Expeditions education initiative that will enable teachers to take students on VR field trips.

Coming up in the series: The Virtual Reality Gold Rush Part Two, featuring Getting ‘Luckey’ with Oculus Rift, and Brands Wade In.

The value of social thinking

by Mobbie Nazir in News

CMO.com recently published this article by me talking about five steps to putting social thinking at the heart of your businessThey’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it in full below.

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When it comes to communications planning, brands tend to look at social from an executional point of view, with a focus on building and maintaining a presence on specific channels and platforms. But they’re missing a greater opportunity; to put social thinking at the heart of their purpose and ambition as a business.

The value and potential of social thinking has been hampered by a focus on how we communicate, rather than why we deserve to be in the conversation in the first place.

Humans enjoy and seek opportunities to be surrounded by friends and share personal experiences. The popularity of social networking sites, and the explosive rate at which they’ve been adopted, clearly demonstrate this fundamental human desire. Brands that can tap into this at a deep business level, creating a unique and unassailable bond, can derive long term business benefits. But to make this happen, you have to start with the ‘why’ and then get to the ‘how’.

Ensure Social Thinking Is At The Core Of Your Purpose And Ambition
Much has been written about the value of purpose-driven leadership – business experts say it is the route to exceptional performance, psychologists describe it as the path to greater well-being. Brands also need to understand the role that social thinking can play in defining and driving them.

The key is to understand the greater role which people now play in building and maintaining successful businesses. Defining company purpose and ambition creates a focus based on why you do things, not what you do. Define this and then find ways for people to take part. Seeing your brand as part of a wider ecosystem creates a stronger, more motivating context for people to engage with you and to support and advocate what you do.

For example, Coca-Cola’s mission is to “inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions”. It has been exemplified in campaigns such as #OpenUp, which ran in the Middle East during Ramadan to encourage people to open up to each other and to different points of view, and Happy ID, which encouraged Peruvians to transform the mood of the nation.

Define Your Values And Beliefs As An Organisation
Many organisations have a dusty document somewhere defining what their values and beliefs are, but very few have made these meaningful and core to how they actually behave. Until this happens, values and beliefs remain internal, and consumers will have no basis for a relationship.

A great example of an organisation that has understood and externalised its core values and beliefs is Irish bookmaker Paddy Power. Its “mischievous irreverence” is at the heart of everything it does, from communications to recruiting. Its first interview question is “how weird are you?”

Find Ways To Create A Positive Social Value Exchange
In the social media age, sharing and liking content is a key means by which we define and explore our identity, our sense of belonging and our role in society.

But to put social thinking at the centre of marketing doesn’t mean just creating content and having a presence on Facebook or Twitter; it means developing ideas which involve and add to the interpersonal relationships that people care about, in a way that also adds brand value. This isn’t just limited to spending money; brands can harness assets such as time, effort, ideas, content, influence and distribution among others.

The way to do this is to change the way in which you understand your audience. Look for social insights; human truths based on people’s interpersonal rather than just individual motivations. Then use this understanding to generate social ideas that have the power to drive social behaviour.

For example, feminine hygiene brands tend to take a functional, product-benefit-based approach. Always turned this on its head with its #LikeAGirl campaign. It championed continued pride in being a girl at the critical time of puberty, when girls are at their most vulnerable to social pressure. The result is a hugely powerful brand campaign, which has social thinking at the heart of it and creates a new type of value exchange.

SPC Ardmona’s #SPCSunday used the social insight that people feel strongly about supporting national heritage and are willing to create communities to save a brand from extinction. Both campaigns were successful because they gave people something to care about and the means to share it.

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Hold Social To A Higher Standard
When it comes to social, even business leaders can switch off their business brain. It is important to measure the impact this activity is having on your business.

Social marketing should be held to the same standard as any other marketing channel, particularly as investment in digital marketing continues to grow. Start with a clear expression of business goals, a clear definition of marketing objectives and a robust measurement framework. Measurement should go beyond social media analytics and include areas such as brand equity measurement, web analytics and attribution modelling to closed-loop ROI and media mix modelling.

When budgets can’t accommodate deeper measurement, brands can still focus on a clear expression of goals, objectives and targets and use more readily available metrics.

Be Brave
You don’t necessarily need to change the world, but you should think of how your brand can shake up the status quo. Competitive advantage stems from doing something new – and social is a great way to amplify this. Global brands like Lego champion a disruptive approach to digital and social marketing, with social head Lars Silberbauer stating their strategy is to “be relevant, be brave and do things that others haven’t”.

Vodafone picked up a Cannes Media Grand Prix this year with its “Red Light Application/Between Us” app, live in Turkey – a country where it’s deemed inappropriate for women to actively seek help from domestic violence. The app lets women call for help by shaking their phones. Over 254,000 women have downloaded the app – that’s 24% of all women with smartphones in Turkey. It’s not a revenue driver for Vodafone but shows how taking a brave stance on a controversial issue can build goodwill and loyalty for a brand. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be the best decision you’ll ever make.