MediaFile

On Twitter, dubious health claims from e-cigarette bots

Advertising is a funny medium. TV spots, radio jingles, banner ads — none of these are meant to get us to rise out of our seats and run to the store. Instead, most advertising is meant to impress something upon us: an idea, a favorable opinion, a subtle memory of a brand name. As social media has gotten more sophisticated, however, a funny thing appears to have happened online: People with products to sell aren’t even bothering to call themselves advertisers.

Instead, on Twitter, they open plain old accounts and start tweeting about the stuff they want to sell us. Social media has brought a revolution to advertising, but in the case of products subject to regulation regarding health, safety or efficacy claims, it’s also brought the potential for a return to the bad old days of snake-oil products peddled by quacks in the backs of magazines, where the best result would be to not end up becoming sick or dying thanks to the “cure.”

E-cigarettes — the smokeless, tobacco-free, nicotine vapor delivery systems — are being talked about everywhere lately. The devices, and their fans and detractors, are in newspapers, magazines, the mouths of celebrities, even the investment portfolios of Internet moguls. The New York Times spots one dangling out of Leonardo DiCaprio’s mouth. The Wall Street Journal notices Silicon Valley gadfly Sean Parker adding some nicotine vapor to his investment portfolio. And Bloomberg Businessweek spies an e-cig hospitality tent at the Bonnaroo music festival. This is the growth template — celebrity sightings, brand ambassadorship, big-name investments — of many new products these days. There’s even $1 billion in “traditional” advertising being spent this year by tobacco companies like Philip Morris, Lorillard and R.J. Reynolds (selling MarkTen, Blue and Vuse branded e-cigarettes, respectively) who have gotten into the vapor game. The only piece missing from e-cigarette campaigns would appear to be a social media strategy. Or is it?

A recently concluded study run by a research team from Health Media Collaboratory, based at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has in fact analyzed Twitter traffic looking to learn how e-cigarettes are marketed and promoted on social media. What the team found was a steady stream of tweets, many of which appear to be from bots, or automated Twitter accounts, that tout the health and safety benefits of e-cigarettes, primarily pushing the idea that e-cigarettes aid with the cessation of smoking the plain old paper-and-tobacco variety.

The study has the potential to open a new battle line on advertising in social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook — not just their adherence to legal regulations, but the very definition of what social advertising is. The regulation of emerging products like e-cigarettes is already a blurry field, as the fledgling industry fought to avoid being categorized as a tobacco product, a fight it lost in 2011. However, while final FDA rules on e-cigarette regulation are awaited, there is one bright line the makers of e-cigarettes are not supposed to cross. Manufacturers can, according to the study, “make unrestricted advertising appeals, provided they do not market their products as smoking cessation devices.”

In a crisis, Twitter morphs into cable news

Twitter calls itself a “real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting.” That network is defined by its personalization: The person who assembles her feed is the person who reads it. This is usually a benefit. Last Friday it became a distraction.

My unfiltered Twitter feed was basically unusable as an information source — a repetition of facts shared space with anger, and grief, and commentary, and still more of the same facts. Instead, I relied on filters, and the individual streams of people who are extremely talented at culling what’s important and cutting out the repetition.

Those who load Twitter feeds with news organizations, journalists, and news junkies encounter a – how else to put it but in Twitterspeak? – #firstworldproblem. Jay Rosen, from New York University’s school of journalism has described it well: “7 out of 10 posts in my incoming Twitter feed are about the same story.” And when that kind of critical mass is reached, no matter if they’re trivial (Felix Baumgartner’s space jump), national (presidential election night) or tragic (last week), these moments have a particular rhythm.

Jack Dorsey’s impractical double duty

Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared on PandoDaily.com.

Can we finally stop pretending someone can run two companies if they just work hard enough or are brilliant enough?

I’m looking at you, Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Twitter investor Peter Fenton and everyone else who spent years arguing that it was totally doable. In various interviews and private conversations throughout 2011, people close to Twitter consistently maintained it was no big deal that Dorsey could build Square – one of the single most ambitious, capital- and execution-heavy startups of our day – and run product at Twitter – a company that was woefully behind on any meaningful product innovation and desperately needed a visionary leader.

You know what they all said whenever anyone asked whether this was sustainable. And you know it even if you’ve never heard it firsthand. “Well, Steve Jobs did it.”

Will Twitter’s uncanny luck ever run out?

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published at PandoDaily.com

This past week I heard two rational arguments on the fate of Twitter from two smart investors.

One was an argument that it’ll likely fail in its bid to become a public company. The logic went like this: Facebook, Groupon and Zynga have proven the private markets are fundamentally horrible at valuing companies. In the early stages, that doesn’t particularly matter. But when you get into pre-IPO secondary shares being bought and sold, it does. Just ask the people who bought pre-IPO shares of all three of those companies.

Twitter – with its relative lack of a business – was always a more dubious growth bet than those other three, buoyed by the sheer strength of its product. And now, there’s just no way it’s worth anything close to the $8 billion it was valued at at the last round, this person argued. If Facebook, Groupon and Zynga have all had a greater than 50 percent haircut – Twitter can’t even dream of going public now.

Fortune 500 executives behind on social networking

With more than half of the U.S. public on Facebook and more than 200 million tweets sent each day (about 30 percent from the U.S.), American life is continuing to enmesh itself with social networks. But for the CEOs of the top 500 U.S. companies, social networking is a small — if existent — piece of successful living.

In a report released Thursday by Domo and CEO.com, the online presence of Fortune 500 companies’ top executives was compared to that of the general public, revealing that less than 30 percent have at least one profile on social networks. The vast majority have none.

Some of these accounts sit inactive — five of the 19 CEOs on Twitter have never tweeted — while others seem underutilized — 25 of the 38 CEOs on Facebook have less than 100 friends. The only social network that these executives outdo the U.S. public on is LinkedIn, the “world’s largest professional network.”

Protecting Twitter from its own hubris

Twitter created a bit of a stir late last week by cutting off LinkedIn. Ostensibly this was to project a consistent look and feel for tweets as the company adds features like threaded conversations, which LinkedIn didn’t convey. People who have accounts on both services will no longer have their tweets appear on their LinkedIn profile pages. It’s hard to know how much these updates will be missed on the business-minded network, which distinguishes itself by hosting a more focused conversation than “anything goes” Twitter. But the practical effect is that if you want to be heard in both places you’ll have to repeat yourself, unless you choose to do all your updates from LinkedIn, which still feeds one way to Twitter. More likely, you won’t because it’s too much of a bother.

Bad for LinkedIn. Much worse for Twitter.

Twitter’s ability to pipe in to other networks is a big reason for its popularity, and in doing so it has aggrandized other networks. All this has been, to the outside observer, symbiotic: People like to share their tweets everywhere they hang out; networks benefit from all that chatter and Twitter gets its hooks into everything.

In cutting off LinkedIn, Twitter doesn’t seem to be adopting the “first taste is free” business model it has previously practiced. That’s what creates addicts who can then be charged through the nose. Now Twitter seems to be calculating that isolationism is a shrewd business strategy, that it has less to lose by pulling back on sharing agreements than the networks it drops.

from Paul Smalera:

The platform problem in social media

The two speakers from Twitter -- Ryan Sarver and Doug Williams -- had just left the stage at Big Boulder, a data conference I'm attending in Colorado, when Twitter, the service, went down Thursday. Neither of them have anything to do with keeping the service up and running, but the restless audience probably still would've thrown the hotel-provided notepads and candies at them if they could've. Such was the level of dissatisfaction about the Twitter platform's outage yesterday -- and let's face it, any day a service we rely on goes out, even when the crowd in question doesn't consist of users and consumers of social big data, and the odd journalist.

The outage may have been poorly timed for Sarver and Williams, but the incident speaks to a larger problem the companies represented in this room are facing: building on top of social platforms.

Consider Zynga. The high flying gaming company, built primarily on top of Facebook's Open Graph, has faced record lows in its stock as investors have lost some confidence in the company's ability to continue growing. Or consider just about any other company, social or not, that is trying to reach its fans and customers in the social media world.

Swipp looks to quantify your comments

Silicon Valley start-up Swipp says it has raised $3.5 million in funding from venture firm Old Willow Partners, an early investors in Groupon. It will use the cash to develop and launch its first products sometime in late fall. On the subject of what exactly those products will be, Chief Executive and co-founder Don Thorson was cagey. But it seems like he’s aiming to create a social network where it would be easier for consumers and merchants to analyze or make money from data than on say Twitter or Facebook.

“With (so many) people connected we should be able to do so much more than just tell each other where we’re having lunch,” said the executive, adding that conversations on social networks like Facebook and Twitter are “pretty cool stuff but not meaningful data. The bigger the network gets the smarter it should get.”

A basic Twitter search of a particular hot topic like a service price increase or a new product can already give a snapshot of how people are reacting, But that’s not enough for Thorston “We think that’s just a really 1.0 way of being able to extract information,” he said. With Swipp “you’ll have quantifiable data on that topic.” For example, it could figure out what percentage of comments were complaints and what percentage were positive.

Apple, Google and the price of world domination

In his first appearance at the World Wide Developer’s Conference as spiritual leader of the Apple faithful, CEO Tim Cook made it clear that he intends to not just further Steve Job’s vision but expand upon it. It’s never been more clear that Apple is intent on world domination.

Conspiracy theory? No. Try inescapable conclusion.

What else are we to make of Apple removing Google Maps from the iPhone? Google Maps was a core feature on the very first iPhone, but it will disappear in an iOS software update announced Monday at Apple’s developer conference.

Apple’s tension with Google is legendary. They began as friendly neighbors in largely complementary businesses – former Google CEO Eric Schmidt was even on Apple’s board. But after the introduction of the Android, Steve Jobs’s anger at Google’s entry into the mobile phone business was palpable.

Copious revamps social commerce service with a new twist

Pinterest has yet to provide many details about how it intends to make money from its fast-growing image-sharing social service.

But that’s not stopping others from trying to capitalize on the online service’s rich catalog of product images.

Copious, a social commerce start-up, launched a new version of its website on Monday that lets consumers buy many of the bags, shoes and other fashion accessories that get shared by Pinterest’s millions of users every day.