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YouTube stars are blurring the lines between content and ads

our favorite YouTubers are covering smartphones, makeup, clothing, sneakers, video games and other consumer goods. But how do you know if they’re doing it because they simply love something or if it’s a brand endorsement? There’s nothing wrong with the latter, though it does turn problematic if they’re not telling you about it. And as the influence of YouTube personalities grows, particularly among millennials, more and more companies are looking to those personalities to promote their products.

YouTube’s guidelines are quite clear. Creators need to be transparent both on its backend (read: ticking a box in settings) and with viewers: “All Paid Promotion needs to conform to our Ad Policies. In addition, creators and brands are responsible for understanding and complying with their legal obligations to disclose Paid Promotion in their content, including when and how to disclose and to whom to disclose (so be sure to check and comply with your legal obligations).”

A spokesperson added, “Our policies make it clear that YouTube content creators are responsible for ensuring their content complies with local laws, regulations and YouTube community guidelines. If content is found to violate these policies, we take action to ensure the integrity of our platform, which can include removing content.” The issue is that, often, YouTubers tend to believe that by saying “X company sent me this,” they’re doing their due diligence. This may be enough if a brand sent a product without any expectations but not if there was compensation in exchange for coverage.

“Our policies make it clear that YouTube content creators are responsible for ensuring their content complies with local laws, regulations and YouTube community guidelines.”

Rules from the Federal Trade Commission, the government agency tasked with protecting consumers in the US, requires that any paid partnership be explicitly labeled as “ad” or as “sponsored.” Anything else beyond that could be considered a violation of the FTC Act. Last year, the FTC settled charges with Warner Bros. for deceiving consumers during a marketing campaign for the game Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. The company failed to disclose that it paid “thousands of dollars” to YouTubers — including megastar PewDiePie, who has more than 56 million subscribers — to post positive reviews on Google’s platform and other social media sites.

There was a similar case in 2015, when the FTC filed a complaint against YouTube network Machinima for deceptive advertising of Microsoft’s Xbox One. Machinima paid a number of influencers to endorse the console and “several of its games,” none of which disclosed that they received compensation “for their seemingly objective opinions.”

“I am always tempted to make a fun explainer video to help inform new creators,” Neistat says. “But there’s a liability that goes with being the arbiter of information like that, and I am not sure I am willing to assume it.” He’s probably right to avoid taking on that responsibility. It should be on the brands who pay influencers, YouTube and even the FTC. That said, Neistat believes that his fellow YouTubers should “assume a greater responsibility,” because ultimately they’re only hurting their own reputation and the people who love watching them.

Instagram gives businesses tools to keep comments in check

Instagram has updated its API and is giving businesses access to content metrics as well as new tools for managing comments. Now, through the API, businesses can turn comments on and off as well as hide them. Business accounts already had access to these sorts of features already, but this is the first time Instagram has given them the ability use those features through their marketing dashboards. These changes are additional steps in Instagram’s commitment to foster a safer community and follow last month’s announcement that the site would begin using AI to root out and block offensive comments.

Last year, Instagram released a feature that allowed users to filter their comments based on certain words and let them disable comments from individual posts altogether. Figuring out how to remove abusive content is a problem that Twitter and Facebook have been working on as well and there’s some evidence that these efforts might finally be working.

To use the new Instagram API features, users will need to have a business profile and will be required to use a Facebook Login when granting access to third party tools. As of now, the new features are available to all Facebook and Instagram Marketing Partners and all other developers will be given access in the coming weeks, according to Instagram.

Recommended Reading: Instagram’s influence on restaurants

Wen it came time to design their first restaurant, Media Noche, San Francisco entrepreneurs Madelyn Markoe and Jessie Barker found themselves lacking inspiration. Their designer had asked them for ideas and they felt like “deer in headlights.” Ultimately, Markoe says, they came up with a single instruction: “We wanted to be Instagrammable.”

For years now, Instagram has sat at the center of trends in food and beverages. Rainbow-colored “unicorn foods” are often designed with Instagram in mind, and entrepreneurs responsible for popular treats like the galaxy donut and Sugar Factory milkshake often see lines around the block after images of their products go viral. Firms like Paperwhite Studio specialize in turning restaurants into Instagram bait by designing twee sugar packets, menus, and coasters bearing slogans like “hello, my sweet” and “hug more.”

Now some entrepreneurs are taking the idea a step further, designing their physical spaces in the hopes of inspiring the maximum number of photos. They’re commissioning neon signs bearing modestly sly double entendres, painting elaborate murals of tropical wildlife, and embedding floor tiles with branded greetings — all in the hopes that their guests will post them.

“That’s how you know millennials are starting to open restaurants,” says Hannah Collins, the San Francisco designer charged with bringing Media Noche to life. Collins’ firm has been responsible for some of the city’s most Instagram-friendly designs in recent years, including Roman-style pizzeria Delarosa (featuring striking pendant lights), airy pasta bar Barzotto (bathroom wallpaper that recalls an Italian village), and local burger chain Super Duper (bright-white interiors punctuated with neon).

To be sure, restaurateurs have always wanted their spaces to look attractive. But in the era before social media, a designer could concern herself primarily with the space’s effect on its occupants. How a room looked in photographs was, at best, a secondary concern. Ravi DeRossi, owner and primary designer of 16 bars and restaurants, including the pioneering New York craft cocktail bar Death & Company, says he has never used Instagram, preferring to design by instinct. “I want my places to feel transportive,” he says. Death & Company, which opened in 2007, exemplifies design in the pre-Instagram age: dark wood, dim lighting, and a muted color palette. The bar has a sophisticated interior, but it’s kryptonite for Instagram — good luck getting any likes on that underexposed shot of your $16 Dixieland Julep.

When the older generation of restaurants were designed as visual experiences, they generally came across as kitsch: think of the mid-century hot dog stands and donut shops shaped as the food they served. Those made for good photographs, too, but their primary aim was to entice drivers to pull off the highway and eat there.

“There’s definitely been a pivot and swing,” says Eddy Buckingham, co-owner of The Good Sort, a vegan tea and coffee shop in New York’s Chinatown district. The Good Sort is Buckingham’s third restaurant, but his first to offer Instagram-friendly rainbow lattes and pastel-pink coffee cups. “Even predating social media, you’d see the places that were thoughtful about their aesthetic, cohesive in their brand identity,” he says. “That wasn’t invented simultaneously with the explosion of Instagram. Good operators did that previously. I just think it’s more important than ever.”

Media Noche’s Collins first remembers Instagram entering the conversation in San Francisco several years ago, when someone working on the marketing for a new restaurant asked how it would photograph. At the time, a design’s social media potential was far from her mind. “I’m a tech degenerate. I was pretty against Instagram in the beginning,” she says. “And then eventually you’re like, I give in. Now it’s one of the first questions we ask clients — what’s going to be your hook?”

For Media Noche, a fast-casual Cuban restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District, the hook was the floor. Searching through old Cuban designs, Collins found beautiful old tiles with a dramatic pink-and-green floral designs. She had similar tiles custom-made for the restaurant, and they provided a visual anchor for everything that followed. Other Instagram triggers include banana-print wallpaper in the bathrooms, an old-fashioned white board menu with removable black plastic letters, and an exterior mural of pink flamingos, their heads bowed into the shape of a heart.

For entrepreneurs, the risk is that their Instagram-driven designs will begin to look stale or inauthentic. “Some things feel like they were cooked up in a social media lab,” says The Good Sort’s Buckingham. “I think people can feel when it’s a bit thirsty.” Shortly after I spoke to Buckingham, a neighborhood in Brooklyn saw the arrival of a “boozy sandwich shop” named Summerhill; its owner promoted the Instagrammability of its “bullet hole-ridden wall.” The owner later admitted that the holes were not created by bullets, though somehow I don’t think the influencers will mind.

Ultimately, restaurants are in the business of making memories, the Old Turk’s Kataria says — and photos are the place where we store them. On Instagram, “we basically trade memories of commodities,” he says, showing off the places we’ve been like so many collected pokémon. Restaurants supply the raw material, and we come in to collect it with a smartphone lens. Kataria is sanguine. “We know that ultimately that’s the game that we’re playing.”

Before I visited Media Noche, I perused photos of the restaurant on Instagram. Individually, many of the posts are charming. Taken together, there’s an unsettling sameness to them. Triggered by hyper-specific features, diners were taking the same five photos over and over.

I was one of them. Waiting for my food there last week, I dutifully took a shot of my feet against the tile. Despite having seen so many feet in those photos, I was still somehow curious how my own shoes would look. As I waited for my pollo bowl, I saw that a friend of mine had been to Media Noche just a few hours earlier — and posted an identical shot to his story

The traditional sports world is taking eSports into the mainstream

How the NBA, ESPN and others are starting to embrace a new type of athlete.

 

Five years ago, you couldn’t have imagined video game competitions being broadcasted on the same channel as traditional sports. TV networks have been historically obsessed with pastimes such as baseball, basketball, football and soccer, but times are changing. Thanks to the massive popularity of eSports, driven in large part by the internet-streaming generation, the entertainment landscape has transformed drastically over the past couple of years. Nowadays, US channels like Disney XD, ESPN, NBC and TBS are all trying to put eSports on the same level as traditional sports, with the end goal being to reach new, younger audiences. Want to watch a EA’s FIFA or Rocket League tournament on ESPN? Well, you can do just that.

The recent interest from giant broadcasters comes as the world of eSports continues to reach new heights. Pro gaming tournaments are selling out arenas worldwide and, every time a competition is streamed on Twitch, there are millions of viewers tuning in. With business this good, why wouldn’t anyone want a piece of the pie? NBCUniversal, which owns NBC and NBC Sports, is the perfect example. The company announced it would be launching its own two-on-two eSports tournament this summer, featuring one of the most popular games right now: Rocket League. It’ll air on the NBC Sports network, right alongside the English Premier League.

“We’re in the sports business,” says Rob Simmelkjaer, senior vice president for NBC’s Sports Ventures, when asked about why his team decided to join the space. “I’ve always defined sports as competitive entertainment, and whenever you’ve got competition that people are watching to be entertained, that to me is what sports is about.” Simmelkjaer touched on how there are still people who question whether eSports are “real” sports, which he says is an argument that doesn’t make sense: “It’s got people who are passionate about it, both playing it and watching it [and] lines up with our desire to reach as many audiences as we can around the country, of all demographics, of all interests.”

ESPN is another media company making a major push into eSports, which is surprising considering the somewhat controversial comments president John Skipper made not too long ago. “It’s not a sport,” he claimed in 2014 at Recode’s Code/Media Series event in New York City. “It’s a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition. Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports.” Despite that, ESPN really started embracing eSports in 2015, when it broadcasted a pro gaming tournament (Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm) on ESPN2 for the first time ever. The year before that, the network streamed a League of Legends competition online, but giving eSports a slot on actual TV was quite a significant move.

“We are at a point now where fans no longer question why we’re covering an eSports event, but are asking for more.”

That strategy shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, since ESPN’s first-ever eSports stream netted the network more viewers than that year’s NBA Finals and the last game of MLB’s 2014 World Series. League of Legends on its own is estimated to be a $1 billion-per-year business, so it’s only natural that ESPN, NBC, Turner (owner of TBS) would want to get involved. In its latest report about the eSports industry, research firm Newzoo said it expects competitive gaming to reach yearly revenues of $1.5 billion by 2020.

“eSports has been around for some time, but its trajectory is still exciting to us because it allows us to experiment with various content, coverage and distribution platforms,” says Kevin Lopes, director of programming and acquisitions at ESPN, says. “We are at a point now where fans no longer question why we’re covering an eSports event, but are asking for more.”

“There’s a pattern there that’s been happening for years, it’s not something you can just dismiss as a one-time thing anymore,” he says. “It’s not a fad, it’s actually here to stay.” One of the challenges, according to Simmelkjaer, is figuring out ways to have a more consistent schedule across eSports competitions, which is complicated because of all the different intellectual property owners. That said, it’s something he believes will sort itself out as publishers sign exclusivity rights for broadcasting or streaming specific tournaments.

It’s crazy to think that eSports still hasn’t reached its full potential. The NBA, NFL, ESPN, NBC and many others have taken notice though, and now they’re looking to cash in. But, ultimately, that’s great for eSports and people like Etienne who have been trying to show the world that eSports are, indeed, the real deal.

Facebook Pages can now build their own communities

Today, Facebook is rolling out a new feature called “Groups for Pages,” which will let artists, brands, businesses and newspapers create their own fan clubs. The company says the idea stems from two reporters at The Washington Post who started a Facebook group called PostThis, where they interact with some of “the most avid fans” of the paper on a daily basis. Facebook says right now there are more than 70 million Pages on its platform, so this going to be great for many users who want to let their loyal supporters feel more connected to them.

Snapchat’s features could soon be harder to copy

Snap Inc. has quietly acquired a team that specializes in protection against reverse engineering. Prior to joining SnapChat, the Strong.Codes team built software which prevented dismantling a product to learn how to copy or rebuild it. This process obviously isn’t news to Snap, which has previously acknowledged the risk of other social media sites mimicking Snapchat’sfeatures. Risks that were realized when Instagram and Facebook unveiled their “story” features in quick succession.

Of course, companies can develop their own features without trawling Snapchat’s code. And the company deals with far more brazen imitation than added features on Facebook or Instagram. South Korea’s Snow, for example, is basically a carbon copy of Snapchat.

During his first earnings conference call in May, Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel said: “If you want to be a creative company, you have got to be comfortable with and enjoy the fact that people copy your products if you make great stuff.” Imitation may be a form of flattery, but the acquisition of the Strong.Codes team suggests Snapchat isn’t going to make it easy for its rivals to do that.

Facebook Live closed captioning makes videos more accessible

Facebook announced today that it’s extending video closed captioning to Live broadcasts. The move is part of the company’s attempt to make Facebook more accessible to those with disabilities.

Closed caption settings have already been available for non-live videos and, last year Facebook rolled out an automated captioning tool to make adding transcripts even easier. That tool came under fire recently during Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard commencement speech wherein it appeared to caption pure gibberish throughout his talk. However, as The Vergereported, that mishap turned out to be Harvard’s fault, not Facebook’s.

Facebook has been pushing to make its site accessible to all users, an effort that includes accessibility training for its team. And last year, following a similar move by Twitter, it launched a tool for the visually impaired that let screen readers — software that converts text into speech — describe photos.

According to Facebook, one in five videos posted to the site are now Live broadcasts, meaning a major portion of videos will now be accessible to the hearing impaired for the first time. Closed captioning for Live is available now for those who want to include it.

Facebook Is Replacing Yellow Pages Service

Last week, Facebook announced that Messenger now has 1.2 billion monthly users, making it one of the most popular messaging apps in the world. With so many users on its platform, it’s no surprise that businesses have been clamoring to be on Messenger as well. At last count, 60 million businesses are on Facebook, and 80 percent of them have messaging enabled. The idea is that be it with a real-life human or a simple chatbot, the direct Messenger conversations between businesses and consumers will make users’ lives “more seamless and fun.” With Messenger Platform 2.0, Facebook hopes to realize this even further with a new Discovery tab, chat extensions, smart replies, an AI-driven delivery service and more.

So at F8 2017, the focus is more on helping people find these businesses in the first place. “The number one thing businesses want is to be discovered,” says Chudnovsky. “So we are connecting the White Pages, the people’s directory, with the Yellow Pages, which is the business directory.” That’s why one of Messenger 2.0’s new features is a Discover tab just for businesses. Tap the hexagon icon on the bottom right and you’ll see a list of Featured businesses along with popular bots, what’s nearby and a bunch of categories like Food & Drink, Entertainment and News. From there you can find out more information about any business, book an appointment or simply start a conversation. There’s also a search field if you want to talk to a specific store.

Example of Messenger discover: https://gfycat.com/InbornAlienatedAmericanblackvulture

If you’re a business who doesn’t necessarily want a full-on chatbot but still wants an easy way to communicate with customers, there’s a new AI-enabled feature for you too. It’s called Smart Replies, and it’s really just a way to enable automated answers to frequently asked questions. So if customers ask “When are you open?”, you don’t have to keep answering “From 8 to 5;” you can just program Smart Replies to do that for you. Of course if the customer asks for more than that, Messenger will prompt you to reply just like you usually would.

Last but not least, Facebook is also rolling out Messenger Codes to businesses and bots (It introduced them as a way to find your friends last year). The idea here is that if you see one of these parametric QR codes at a baseball game, for example, you can just scan it to add the related bot to Messenger.

With all of these features in Messenger, it’s easy to see why many people are calling the app bloated these days. But Facebook really wants Messenger to be your one-stop-shop of communicating with the world, be it for chatting with your friends or ordering a pair of shoes. Whether or not it succeeds, however, is another story.

What You Should Do Right Now

Connect with me on LinkedIn for more conversion and business building advice Or visit my companies’ website at www.netgeekzcayman.com to learn more about how we can help your businesses.

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