The word on ad blocking

Mobile ad blocking

I run ad blocking software in the browser on my computer that prevents ads appearing on most web sites I visit. Chrome is my default browser; as I sign in to my Google account in Chrome, and have it sync across all my devices, I have the ad blocker available to me on all those devices including mobile. I have a white list of sites that I’m happy for ads to show, but they are few and far between.

There has been quite a bit of commentary over the past few weeks on the economic cost to business of ad blockers with one influential report saying that more consumers block ads, continuing the strong growth rates seen during 2013 and 2014.  There’s a trend there.

Consider these key points from the PageFair and Adobe 2015 Ad Blocking Report:

  1. Globally, the number of people using ad blocking software grew by 41% year over year.
  2. 16% of the US online population blocked ads during Q2 2015.
  3. Ad block usage in the United States grew 48% during the past year, increasing to 45 million monthly active users (MAUs) during Q2 2015.
  4. Ad block usage in Europe grew by 35% during the past year, increasing to 77 million monthly active users during Q2 2015.
  5. The estimated loss of global revenue due to blocked advertising during 2015 was $21.8 billion.
  6. With the ability to block ads becoming an option on the new iOS 9, mobile is starting to get into the ad blocking game. Currently Firefox and Chrome lead the mobile space with 93% share of mobile ad blocking

I have no compunction about using an ad blocker and I am utterly unimpressed by arguments that actions like this will put websites that have ads out of business, or that such blocking behaviour is unethical.

Marco Arment summarizes the situation very nicely:

Publishers don’t have an easy job trying to stay in business today, but that simply doesn’t justify the rampant abuse, privacy invasion, sleaziness, and creepiness that many of them are forcing upon their readers, regardless of whether the publishers feel they had much choice in the matter.

Modern web ads and trackers are far over the line for many people today, and they’ve finally crossed the line for me, too. Just as when pop-ups crossed the line fifteen years ago, technical countermeasures are warranted.

Web publishers and advertisers cannot be trusted with the amount of access that today’s browsers give them by default, and people are not obligated to permit their web browsers to load all resources or execute all code that they’re given.

Up your game, web advertisers and publishers! Make your ads such that people like me don’t mind them (at least); or can be influenced by them in a way that makes me want to engage with them (at best). You need to be thinking of your advertising as relationship-building content. Quartz has a good model.

See also:

(Image at top via TechAdvisor.)

Labelling the C-Suite of the future

Boardroom

There could be a slew of new three- and four-letter acronyms to get used to if changes in C-Suite functions and roles take hold as outlined in 10 C-Suite Jobs of The Future, a thought-provoking report in FastCompany magazine this week.

For instance:

Chief Intellectual Property Officer

The world of intellectual property law is only getting more vast and complicated as new innovations hit the market. Not only will companies in the near future need a core leadership team member who can wade through the dizzying sea of intellectual property laws and patents to ensure their own compliance, but also remain vigilant to protect their own company against infringement.

“The patent offices do not send people out, we don’t have patent cops going around saying, ‘Hey, you violated something,” says Thomas Frey [executive director and senior futurist of The DaVinci Institute, a futurist think-tank]. “It really ends up coming down to you as a company or you as an individual to manage and defend your own property.”

The full list:

  1. Chief Ecosystem Officer
  2. Chief User Experience Officer
  3. Chief Automation Officer
  4. Chief Freelance Relationship Officer
  5. Chief Intellectual Property Officer
  6. Chief Data Officer
  7. Chief Privacy Officer
  8. Chief Compliance Officer
  9. Chief Human Resources Officer
  10. Chief Administrative Officer

I think each of these titles is most likely to appear (I’ve already seen ‘Chief Privacy Officer’) as business and societal landscapes continue to change and organization structures and cultures continue to evolve. Some might need rejigging: we already have ‘CEO’ and ‘CCO’ for instance.

But as long as such new titles have credible foundations – they’re not just fancy labels – that reflect the future of work and workplaces, then they might serve valuable purposes in organizational form and function.

Read the details behind each potential C-Suite title at FastCompany: 10 C-Suite Jobs of The Future.

Idle thumbs: Why commuters are the best audience

Commuter

A guest post by Simon Bailey, CEO of Axonix, an advertising technology company backed by Telefonica and Blackstone.

Any marketer worth their salt knows all customers were not made equal, and that’s particularly true of commuters, where getting the bus or train into work is now a prime opportunity to check our smartphones and tablets to catch up on the latest news, gossip and games. With the average number of devices set to exceed four per person by 2020, we’re increasingly reliant on the small screen, and at no time more so than when we have some time to kill on-the-go.

If you’re not ‘on-board’ with this digital shift in media consumption or don’t plan to be – I’d stop reading now. But if you’re an ambitious business with high growth targets and a clear sales objectives, your ears should certainly be pricking up. The commuter audience is a highly connected and available audience, and it’s these eyes at these times which will stand to convert the most sales leads on your campaigns.

Understanding your audience: Being the early bird

Almost 90 percent of consumers admit to browsing and buying on smartphones and tablets during their commute with over half expecting to shop even more during this time in the future. So reaching the right person with the right message at the right time between early morning and after 5pm is now invaluable to your operational longevity, and it’s critical to be able to pinpoint exactly when that is in order to get the best result.

Commuters have various stages of browsing behaviours: for instance, when bored and browsing as opposed to when they have a definite purpose such as buying a certain piece of music, and so less susceptible to additional distraction.

Elsewhere, there is a natural variation on activity which is preferred by commuters inside and outside of London, with research revealing that 20 per cent use their device to read online news and 25 percent to play games via apps such as Farmville or Candy Crush in the capital, over a third higher than those further afield.

Internet browsing, social media and streaming video content also scored highly, to be expected, and London bus users were found to be the most social, with less than 10 per cent logging on to work systems during this time and empowered with better signal leading to greater use of social and leisure based applications.

Programming into the consumer psyche

So, once your target audience is identified, and when, how can you best connect with them? It’s all about programmatic trading; buying ad-space in real-time using data-led computer algorithms, to reach exactly the right user at the right time with the right content for optimum engagement – consumers are using their devices in rush hour, while commuting – and programmatic will help you specifically target the right people during these times.

Sounds like a ‘no-brainer’ right? Programmatic tools have increasingly been embraced by many, but many more are still reluctant or uncertain about its benefits. This is largely due to a lack of understanding of mobile ad exchanges and their benefits with over 40 percent of marketers admitting they still “don’t have a clue” what programmatic actually means.

Understandably, it’s in many marketers’ interests to avoid taking a chance on new technologies, with many taking a risk adverse attitude to doing so, and preferring the more established ROI they derive from traditional media. However, these individuals could find themselves redundant in a few years’ time, replaced by their more mobile-savvy, and dynamic peers – those that understand when their audience needs to find something to entertain them whilst on the bus or the train, and just so happens to serve them a targeted ad at that time.

Mobile devices are set to keep rocketing in popularity, with vendors and networks collaborating to increase connectivity and availability of services whenever and where ever you are. And transport companies know this. Just take for example The London Underground, which is investing rapidly in a Wi-Fi programme, rolling out internet services to over 150 stations across the capital. People want their phones on the go and it’s becoming easier for them to get online anywhere – even when underground!

There’s clearly a real opportunity here for marketers to reach huge and highly available audiences – provided they take the correct approach to mobile advertising. So, with all that in mind, its never been a better time to join the crowd and connect with your target consumer. As I said above, marketers need to understand their customers – and realising when they are looking for entertainment on the move and taking steps to reach them at those times could be your rush hour jackpot.

Simon BaileySimon Bailey is the CEO of Axonix, a role which he began in April 2015, having previously served as CCO since April 2014.

Previous to Axonix, Simon was at Velti where he was Vice President, Global Demand, managing the global advertising business.

Simon started his career in advertising in 1996 working for The Times. Since then he has spent the past 15 years working in the digital space where he has sold media, developed sales teams and built cutting edge advertising technologies for the likes of Excite Inc, 24/7 Real Media (WPP) and OpenX Inc.

Simon was a member of the founding team at OpenX where he was responsible for the Product Strategy designing and building the first version of the OpenX Real Time Bidding advertising exchange.

Simon is married with four children and has a degree in French and Politics from the University of Leicester.

[Image at top via Mobile Marketing.]

#FC15 Call to Action: Let the journey begin

The crowd at FutureComms15

One of the difficulties for an event that’s intended to look at the future of communication is delivering on the promise and expectation established in the description of and communication about the event.

FutureComms15 in London – hashtag #FC15 – that took place on June 18 was a one-day event organized by MyNewsDesk, and described thus:

PR & Comms are evolving. With content marketers taking centre stage in digital, is there a place for PR? Is PR actually dead? Do PR pros need to turn into content marketers? Or will content marketers slowly take on all PR duties?

Following last year’s acclaimed event, FutureComms15 delves into the PR/content divide to unveil the future of communications.

Ah, the “future of communications.” There’s an expectation that is almost impossible to meet unless you really are going to focus beyond the horizon and offer event-goers something that captures their imaginations, that galvanizes their thoughts into actions; something that’s different, that’s beyond what you typically hear at every comms-related event you go to these days that usually has the phrase “The future is digital” mentioned somewhere up front.

I was there, in the audience mostly but also with a stint chairing a 35-minute panel discussion on SEO and PR in the morning. More on that in a minute.

If there’s one thing I took away from #FC15 last week, it’s that it was pretty clear to me that everyone broadly knows what’s needed, and the part they need to play, to create a communication landscape that is close to what many wish to see in the not-too-distant future. They also know there’s no magic wand or bullet but instead quite a lot of work to do to create the landscape to enable organizational communication – whether that’s PR, employee communication, corporate, whatever – to be valued and valuable and to be effective.

This take-away reminds me of a point I make to communicators when speaking about the future of communication or, more fundamentally, what each of us needs to do as part of the journey to that future, best portrayed in this self-explanatory slide:

be

My point is that the future of communication requires each of us to play a role. While there will be paths and maps, the navigators are each of us. That route should start with asking the question “How To Be…” for each of the eight words in the slide above, ie, what is it that each of us must do?

The “How” should feature large in  any discussion about the future of communication where such discussion often (usually) includes credible and valuable opinions on  what needs to change in order to get to that future.

Usually missing, however, is “How.”

At #FC15 last week, I did hear quite a bit of foundational stuff in some significant areas that will make “how” a lot easier to answer. For instance:

Incidentally, Sarah and Stephen are, respectively, current and past presidents of the CIPR, the PR industry body in the UK. No coincidence that.

Circling back now to that morning panel discussion on SEO and PR that I chaired – and which Sarah Hall did a terrific write-up – the discussion was interesting even if we did spend a lot of our time explaining  what SEO is understood to be in the PR business (not the same as what it is) and considering its value in contemporary communication practice. But we did get to the “How” that produced some common views on what each of us needs to do to in order to create that future everyone looks towards.

And here are two simple but powerful calls to action from this SEO panel that apply broadly, not just to the topic:

Lukasz Zelezny got us well focused when he proposed that everyone should learn about something that isn’t within their usual areas of interest or expertise. In the context of SEO, that means things like reading publications that talk about SEO, attending conferences about SEO.

In other words, if you want to really understand the role of something like SEO that has evolved hugely from what the Wikipedia description says, you need to find out about it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And each of us has the power to do that.

Gem Griff made a key point about talking, noting that people in the tech industry constantly have informal get-togethers to share thinking, knowledge and expertise. These gathering are often known as hackathons. You don’t see those in PR really, do you?

Think again – Gem started #PRFuture Hack Day, an informal PR hackathon where anyone can talk about anything with anyone else in an informal setting, the kind of setting that encourages dialogue and connection. There seems to be appetite for PRs to collaborate, Gem says. Who knows where that might lead? (It sounds a lot like The Big Yak unconference that Rachel Miller and others organize for internal communicators.)

In fact, there’s a #PRFuture Hack Day planned for July 23 in London. Why not sign up and come along? That’s part of your “How.”

See, starting the journey to that ‘tomorrow place’ isn’t difficult.

The final word on #FC15 comes from Dan Slee.

Passion is a wonderful thing.

Dick Costolo: Twitter unfollows the leader as social milestones are missed

Welcome back, @jack !!

The news yesterday that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is stepping down from that leadership role next month has attracted widespread commentary and opinion, not least on Twitter itself.

There’s credible opinions that Costolo is going because he hasn’t evolved Twitter as many observers and critics expected or believe he should have. Indeed, the stock market greeted yesterday’s announcement with a 10 percent rise in Twitter’s share price at one point.

An analysis in the Guardian today – you can read the full story below – is a pretty good assessment of a real predicament confronting Twitter, not only from an investor’s perspective but also from that of users and marketers.

[…] Twitter accounts for 1.6% of the critical US digital advertising market – a market worth $50.73bn – compared with Facebook’s 7.6%. Twitter accounts for 3.6% of US mobile internet ads to Facebook’s 18.5%. And in mobile display ads Twitter has a 7% market share compared to 36.7% for Facebook, according to eMarketer.

On user numbers alone – Twitter has 302m monthly active users to Facebook’s 1.44bn – the share of ad market doesn’t seem so surprising. Yet it’s the slowing down of growth that has concerned investors: Twitter’s monthly active user numbers have fallen 30% from 2013 to 2015, and by 2019 growth – a critical indicator of future potential revenues – is heading for a slowdown to 6%.

Yet there’s a more fundamental element that needs attention – what is Twitter?

[…] who is Twitter for? How does it distinguish itself against Facebook? And how can it expand its service while remaining simple and accessible?

Those questions aren’t new at all. Even though how Twitter itself talks about what Twitter is has become more clear in the past year or so, is it how users, marketers, etc, see Twitter?

Our mission: To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.

I’m not so sure. As a Twitter user since 2006, I’m often asking that question myself even though I’m more than happy to continue my thinking out loud and occasional engagement with others on the platform. I don’t have massive personal expectations of Twitter beyond the implicit simplicity behind that mission statement (but I have a different view if I put on my marketer’s hat).

Yet maybe Twitter’s not entirely sure about that either – the mission statement is slightly different on Twitter’s investor relations page.

Twitter strives to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.

Maybe change is afoot already: Twitter also announced yesterday that the 140-character limit on direct messages will be changed to a whopping 10,000 characters. Note this is for DMs only – the 140-character limit for regular tweets remains. For now, at least.

While that news will be appealing to many who will relish the opportunity of penning short stories to DM to their friends, I fear it also opens the door to push marketing – whether you like it or not – on a grand scale.

In any case, might Costolo’s departure herald a pivot of sorts in Twitter’s next steps with the (re)appointment of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey as interim CEO while Twitter starts a search for a permanent replacement?

There are all sorts of opinions about that.

[The Guardian report below is published here with permission via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.]


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Dick Costolo: Twitter unfollows the leader as social milestones are missed” was written by Jemima Kiss, for theguardian.com on Friday 12th June 2015 09.41 Europe/London

It says something about the extraordinary scale of social platforms when a technology behemoth with 302m active users every month can be seen as failing to achieve its potential. Yet that is exactly why it appears that Twitter’s chief executive, Dick Costolo, now has to go from the company’s top post.

In after-hours trading following the sudden announcement on Thursday, Twitter stock briefly fluttered up 8% higher. It was a reflection of the uneasy feelings from investors towards a man who fell under their increased and ultimately poisonous scrutiny as he navigated the social networking firm through its public offering in November 2013, having been CEO since he took over from Evan Williams in October 2010.

Despite being a very different product serving a very different audience, Twitter is often compared to Facebook – and often unfavourably. Therein lies an identity crisis of sorts.

For Twitter’s investors the concern was less about user numbers than the growth and aggressiveness of the company’s online advertising. While Costolo was popular with many staffers for bringing structure and co-ordination to a chaotic young company, and took it to a market capitalisation of .4bn, he also oversaw the process of risk and uncertainty in pushing towards a brand new space.

Costolo and Jack Dorsey, who now takes over as interim CEO, have both insisted that the move was not connected to Twitter’s recent financial results – which saw those user numbers grow just 4.86% – so much as a decision made purely by Costolo himself, as a capstone to discussions that had been going on since last autumn.

Right now Twitter is in danger of becoming a niche product: it is beloved by journalists (guilty) and marketers, yet viewed with confusion by mainstream consumers.

Where the selective friendship groups of Facebook make sense (to varying degrees), Twitter’s public face can be more intimidating. On the other hand, the 140-character simplicity of Twitter’s platform and the potential to be the “civic square” of popular debate offers just as much value and, usually, less flatulent conversations.

In an era of endless feeds and the digital burden of email and obligatory posts from friends, Twitter’s brevity and ambience is a welcome change; what you miss is just missed – not mourned, nor added to a tedious, ever-increasing pile like email.

But in focusing its business Twitter has made some strategic decisions, such as closing off access to selected third parties – Instagram at one point, Meerkat at another, and earlier to a wider stream of third-party developers. Twitter was under pressure to protect its valuable audience and its scale, and in doing so cut off the community that helped it grow.

All of which left many users and especially those investors wondering: who is Twitter for? How does it distinguish itself against Facebook? And how can it expand its service while remaining simple and accessible?

Twitter accounts for 1.6% of the critical US digital advertising market – a market worth .73bn – compared with Facebook’s 7.6%. Twitter accounts for 3.6% of US mobile internet ads to Facebook’s 18.5%. And in mobile display ads Twitter has a 7% market share compared to 36.7% for Facebook, according to eMarketer.

On user numbers alone – Twitter has 302m monthly active users to Facebook’s 1.44bn – the share of ad market doesn’t seem so surprising. Yet it’s the slowing down of growth that has concerned investors: Twitter’s monthly active user numbers have fallen 30% from 2013 to 2015, and by 2019 growth – a critical indicator of future potential revenues – is heading for a slowdown to 6%.

For a young public company those numbers are sounding more and more like a death knell. For investors, Twitter’s plans – and Costolo carried the can for this – have not confidently set out its future. Chris Sacca, a major investor, wrote an insightful essay on the company’s challenges: “Twitter has failed to meet its own stated user growth expectations and has not been able to take advantage of the massive number of users who have signed up for accounts and then not come back. Shortcomings in the direct response advertising category have resulted in the company coming in below the financial community’s quarterly estimates.

“In the wake of this Twitter’s efforts to convince the investing community of the opportunity ahead fell flat. Consequently the stock is trading near a six-month low, well below its IPO closing day price, and the company is suffering through a seemingly endless negative press cycle.”

But he says Twitter “has boldness in its bones” and that it can improve by making the service easier for new users, more supportive for users intimidated by the site, and by making it feel less lonely.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Fixing a polling system that’s out of sync

Latest Voting Intention

Reading the various reports, narratives and commentaries this weekend about the results of the UK general election that took place on May 7, the overall perspective I’ve formed on all of that is how could the expert commentators, opinion-formers and outcome-predictors have got it all so wrong?

The election result produced a clear win for the Conservatives with a slender majority in the House of Commons (12 seats), and the virtual annihilation of the primary opposition political parties – the leaders of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Ukip have all quit – that confounded every single opinion poll in the months, weeks and days leading up to May 7, which had all predicted a hung Parliament as the best outcome anyone could expect.

So another coalition government looked a likely election outcome according to those polls – followed perhaps by another election in six months or so – and many column inches and pixels have been spent in offering what-if? scenarios of who might be able to form a government with whom, etc (the BBC’s interactive tool was especially good), much of it based on those opinion poll results.

About the only thing the pollsters did get right was the surging Scottish Nationalist Party which triumphed in Scotland in almost a clean sweep, winning 56 of 59 Scottish seats at Westminster.

Having been in America since May 3 with hardly a moment spare to look at the TV never mind online news, I had been shielded from any mainstream reporting and commentary back home in the run-up to election day last Thursday (our election was unquestionably not a big news item in the US mainstream media). What I did see, though, was plenty of comment and opinion on social media channels, notably Twitter, that presented a view of Labour being well ahead as the likely voting preference of a majority, and reinforced much of the mainstream feeling about a close-run election and a hung Parliament.

Socialist Media - Economist.com

And so I flew back to the UK on Thursday night US time arriving here on Friday morning UK time to the news that took me by surprise as much as it apparently did all those experts I mentioned – not a close-run thing at all but a pretty decisive Conservative victory, nothing like a hung Parliament, and a political landscape that no longer looked familiar with the downfall of the traditional political opposition.

With the nationalists rampant in Scotland and the Conservatives resurgent just about everywhere else outside the large urban centres in England, the former looks alarmingly like a one-party state with the latter arguably close to that territory. Indeed, it doesn’t look like a very United Kingdom at the moment.

But analysis on comment like that is for more knowledgeable subject-matter experts to ponder over.

What interests me mostly now is those opinion polls I mentioned earlier – how could they have got it so wrong?

You can choose from a great deal of opinion on that question, to which I add my two-pence-worth to suggest a combination of factors such as:

1. Reliance on an opinion-polling system that, largely, behaves the same as 50 years ago when few-to-many was the only communication model: the few controlled the news and methods of communication (the mainstream media companies); the many (the great British public) formed opinion based on what they read in the newspapers or heard on the radio (TV was still in its infancy) – their only reliable sources of news and information; and the pollsters formed their predictions based on what the public told them in answer to narrow questions where you read what the newspapers said to help you form opinions.

That’s totally not the picture today where the mainstream media is but one element in an immersive crowded information and communication landscape that enables anyone with an opinion and an internet connection to become a content-creator, news broadcaster and opinion-former.

Anyone with an opinion...

2. Lack of trust in, and engagement by, the political process and politicians themselves: let’s start with the Edelman Trust Barometer 2015 published in January that shows a continuing trend line for lack of trust in governments and politicians on a worldwide level, not only in the UK.

3. Public tiredness and disenchantment with politics in general and this election process in particular: so much partisan opinion and commentary – yes, I do call it propaganda – where it has been tough to filter signal from relentless noise and focus on what you think is credible and trustworthy to warrant your attention and your willingness to believe.

A case in point for me was the Leaders’ Debate on BBC’s Question Time programme on April 30. Debate? Hardly. Prepared sound-bite responses by each leader individually to questions from a carefully-controlled audience. The inauthenticity of it was breath-taking.

(Of course, I should point out that some analysts are saying that this TV event was instrumental in helping many voters decide who to vote for. If that’s true, then I’ll stick to my day job.)

4. The remoteness of much of it: so much stuff by people you don’t know, with hashtags on social media like #GE2015 that are tsunamis of opinions you don’t trust because much of it is so clearly partisan; and politicians who sound so patronising with their so-sincere-sounding and constant over-use of phrases like “hard-working families” and “working people” that you eventually tune it all out.

Some or all of this probably contributed to the huge number of “Don’t know” responses when people were asked by pollsters for their voting intentions – 25 percent of voters said they didn’t know who they’d vote for on the day, according to one report I saw.

That meant that the polling organizations, pundits and others were left to predict outcomes based on incomplete data from which to glean credible insights, along with that imperfect methodology for a contemporary society – are those the major factors that let it all be so wrong?

I read of one poll where the organizers predicted the actual election outcome with some clarity (and accuracy as it turned out) but who said they didn’t publish it for fear of being ridiculed: their poll was so totally different to all the others that were predicting a neck-and-neck close race, hung Parliament, etc.

And what was their methodology? Actually talking to voters: ringing them up on the phone and directly asking them relevant questions that they would want to answer.

YouGov’s Antony Wells summarized what he thought of the polling debacle:

[…] there is something genuinely wrong here. For several months before the election the polls were consistently showing Labour and Conservative roughly neck-and-neck. Individual polls exist that showed larger Conservative or Labour leads and some companies tended to show a small Labour lead or small Conservative lead, but no company consistently showed anything even approaching a seven point Conservative lead. The difference between the polls and the result was not just random sample error, something was wrong.

It’s worth taking a look at the 700+ comments to Well’s blog post.

So the current polling system used in this kind of significant national event has suffered a severe setback in how it is regarded from accuracy, trust and credibility perspectives. This has clearly rung a loud alarm bell as the British Polling Council, the trade body for the polling industry, has announced with some understatement that it’s setting up a public enquiry into what went wrong:

The final opinion polls before the election were clearly not as accurate as we would like, and the fact that all the pollsters underestimated the Conservative lead over Labour suggests that the methods that were used should be subject to careful, independent investigation.

The British Polling Council, supported by the Market Research Society, is therefore setting up an independent enquiry to look into the possible causes of this apparent bias, and to make recommendations for future polling.

The focus of the enquiry will be on polling methodology, according to the announcement.

Looking forward to learning what those recommendations are.