🐇 Rabbbit Spottting: Platforms Exploring Dark Forests
Some developments around the four horse-techs of the platform-pocalypse. Plus, a Section 230 check in, ad updates, and some ideas to steal.
Hey, it’s Kyle, the guy who’s about to pat himself on the back for a pre-pandemic prediction blog post. Enjoy!
Platforms Exploring Dark Forests
Way back at the beginning of 2020 I wrote this:
Venture into the Dark Forests
Another trend arising from the shine fading from social media and similar algorithms? The growth of “dark forests”. Sounds ominous, right? It’s not, it’s just a fancy term for mediums like email newsletters, podcasts, private groups, and other non-broadcast messaging platforms. People increasingly want the information they’re interested in waiting for them when they’re ready versus bombarding them, and usually without a comment stream of sadness attached. They want community, not trolls with megaphones.
Does this mean social media is dead? No, but it is changing. Or at least we need to change our approach to it, especially as organic reach continues to decline. Approach these as focused content and story platforms more than broader social connecting.
Still feels accurate to me. Or we’ve at least matured to an ecosystem of walled gardens and dark forests sharing the internet (the open web is still there, in the cracks and outskirts).
If you add in the shoutout to chatbots and voice assistants (you know Microsoft is going to combine Cortana voice with ChatGPT generation (what if Once The Windows Company™ released the first headphones-as-standalone-computing-device? It has the pieces now, the tech is easier than glasses/optics (which it managed to pull off with HoloLens), and it’s primary audiences could let it get away with something more like a gaming headset and less like the smallest viable earbud.)
Here are the four horse-techs of the platform-pocalypse:
Many of the big engagement platforms are finding ways to turn these dark forests into features. With mixed success.
Chatbots aren’t covered below, but just think of any of the ‘ChatGPT is an existential threat for Google’ think pieces you’ve probably seen lately.
Podcasts Are Boring
Earlier this month I wrote:
podcasts are now just another boring channel to advertisers
Turns out advertisers aren’t the only ones.
While overall podcasting revenue and listenership continue to grow, the runaway exuberance many felt about the state of the medium has dissipated lately, even among some of its most ardent practitioners.
Tech’s fall from cash cow status means the money from big platforms for shows is drying up.
Exclusives also haven’t proven to be successful in driving subscribers.
Podcasts were the forest-to-feature attempt du jour during the pandemic. But it hasn’t panned out for any of the platforms…yet.
Facebook and Twitter both did some half-assed attempt at something, IIRC. But it seemed that live audio and spaces were form that took off for them (RIP Clubhouse). But Google and TikTok aren’t backing down.
TikTok added a tab called ‘podcasts’, but it’s nothing special at the moment. This could be a sign of things to come, but for now it’s just TikTok with the screen off.
Google, on the other hand…
YouTube DTR’ing With Podcasts? YouTube DTR’ing With Podcasts.
YouTube is a wildly popular video platform with a large audience. Podcasting is a (wildly?) popular audio medium that is becoming an advertising darling.
YouTube can’t really be consumed on the go (thinking scenarios like driving, running, etc). Podcasts may not be as engaging as video when your eyes aren’t occupied.
Could the two be like peanut butter and jelly? Or almond butter and dark chocolate? Or gin and tonic?
The Big Red Play Button is already one of the top podcast platforms thanks to its superior search and discovery infrastructure, but it’s currently “just another” channel podcasts get posted on.
That might be changing based on a new test allowing users to create and manage a podcast within YouTube Studio.
we’re running an experiment that allows you to create a podcast or set an existing playlist as a podcast within Studio.
No word on external distribution features (audio only RSS feed?), but there will be analytics.
You’ll also be able to measure your podcasts in analytics, where you’ll see a set of tabs with performance, audience and revenue insights for each podcast show.
And YouTube Music will soon have dedicated podcast features, including audio-first show badges and support.
“If someone wants to watch a podcast, we have a solution,” Chuk said. “If someone wants to listen to a podcast only, we should have a great experience for that as well.”
Platform exclusive shows may not be far behind. Can they make it work? (Google/YouTube has a better monetization track record than most.)
The Next Podcast Metric?
Bumper (a “podcast growth agency”) is pushing for a new podcast metric: listen time. Which makes a lot of sense.
The current North Star metric for the medium is downloads, which is kind of like a social media ‘like’—rather pointless since it doesn’t indicate a valuable action. Episodes can be auto downloaded never to be listened to, so what’s that metric mean?
If this gains traction, then it’d be pulling a YouTube for the medium.
Newsletters Are Sexy
If podcasts aren’t the hot new thing, then maybe newsletters are.
This is another realm where Facebook and Twitter tried to Substack but ultimately shuttered the efforts. (The pinnacle was when Jack Dorsey started a Substack despite being in charge of Twitter, the company that bought newsletter competitor Revue.) But just because it failed for some, doesn’t mean it will fail for all.
Not to be out InstaTok’d, LinkedIn is making profiles more visual (to make it seem more like a modern social network) and giving you some control over the display order of different content types and sections.
But the bigger deal in my mind is the build out of its newsletter feature.
We heard you loud and clear - you wanted the ability to schedule content on LinkedIn - and we’re happy to share it’s now possible. Last year, we introduced the option to schedule posts, and now we’re extending that feature to your newsletters and articles as well. This means you can plan your content in advance and share it at the best times to reach your audience.
I like this for two reasons:
It means the platform is taking newsletters seriously, at a time when other social platforms are killing off their offerings.
This is a great option for many people looking to start a personal newsletter on a topic matching the platform.
I set up a newsletter recently to test out the feature.
Rapid growth: the feature leverages LinkedIn’s social graph and feed to help people discover your newsletter. I hit double digit subscribers in a matter of minutes after launch.
Distribution: it’s a LinkedIn article that also delivers the full version to people’s inboxes. That means you get feed and email visibility from one piece of content.
Walled garden: as far as I can tell you have to have a LinkedIn profile in order to subscribe, which means your potential audience is limited (but if your topic is well aligned to the platform this may not be a huge deal, depends on your goals).
No data: you don’t get any email addresses or first-party data for your subscribers, just a list of their profile links. This makes moving to a different platform difficult (you can try lead forms, but there is no direct way to hit your subscribers right now).
Meta’s Dark Forest
The number of people posting to Meta feeds is dropping, so the megalith is focusing on its messaging features since that’s where the user action is. It’s taking a newsletter-y approach to doing so, trying to combine two horses into one. (Mega-horse?)
I recently glossed over a headline about Instagram copying a Telegram feature to allow one-to-many broadcasts via DM. Initially I saw it as just another copy-and-hope attempt in Zuck’s continued war against any platform that may steal even a few minutes of screen time from his apps, but this take made me revisit:
This is a way bigger deal than most are making it out to be! It’s essentially Instagram’s version of Linkedin’s internal newsletter feature. The more opportunities us marketers take advantage to send push notifications and get in front of our target audience, the more successful we will be! This is a huge one
Given that I’m high on LinkedIn newsletters I should be all in on this, but I want to see how things play out for a bit first. Each day a new headline is raising my hype meter.
It’s now testing Product Promotions in IG Group Chats. I’m skeptical of social commerce still (at least of the direct shopping version‡) but I can think of some ways to use this to create a VIP experience without asking users to give up their email address. Flash sales, early access, sneak peeks, low stock warnings, etc.
Speaking of newsletters, WhatsApp is reportedly experimenting with private newsletters. Details are sketchy at best for now since this discovery was made in the code, but it sounds like it could be very similar to LinkedIn’s version.
Digital dark forests (newsletters, podcasts, encrypted messaging) are a threat to social platforms. Embracing messaging and newsletters turns these forests into monetization and data-collection opportunities to help those balance sheets. The downside for businesses is you’re still tending to a walled garden and don’t own the relationship.
Word Of Mouth Still Wins
Let’s round it out with the darkest of forests, what’s in people’s heads and private conversations. (get out of here, Elon!)
But Influencers (and other user generated content) help bridge the gap between organic WOM forest and platform garden, giving the most intimate marketing channel the scale of digital.
Matter’s new influencer report dropped and has some nuggets:
81% of consumers have been influenced by posts from friends, family, or influencers
69% trust these types of recs more than ones from brands
It’s all about authenticity and relatability
11% prefer celebrity influencers, which is down 2020
Educational content (edutainment) is on the rise (this is the core of TikTok’s Chinese sibling)
Food, wellness, and beauty are influencer powerhouse verticals
YouTube is tops with consumers for authentic influencer content
But users are wising up to sponsored influencer content, thus the de-influencing trend on TikTok.
Creating a product or service people want to talk about is the best marketing. And allows you to build an advertising engine on the things that make it remarkable, including what real people are saying about it.
🤔 What if your ad campaign was designed on a WOM strategy?
A case against Google is in front of the Supreme Court. It’s about responsibility for extremist content posted to platforms, so it’s really Section 230 on trial. It’s a big deal.
Supreme Court justices reacted skeptically Tuesday to claims that YouTube parent Google LLC could be sued for algorithms that automatically recommended extremist recruiting videos
This is the latest battleground in an ongoing war over responsibility, and something worth keeping an eye on.
If you’re interested in more around 230, regulation, and potential fallout, I recommend Ben Evans.
That's your next copywriting trick. Ask "so what?" Again and again. And again.
Pick a product, pick a feature of that product, and then:
Keep asking, “So what?” until you reach one of these desires:
Physical: Food, drink, warmth, and shelter
Safety: Security and safety
Belonging and love: Companionship and intimacy
Esteem: Feelings of success and superiority
Self-actualization: Achieving one’s full potential
The Secret to Overnight YouTube Success
A handy checklist from Demand Curve”””””
Creating videos that people find valuable
Posting them on YouTube at least once a week
Repeating this for at least 2 years
New Google Ads Goodies
PMaxers rejoice, new toys cometh (or you can read this LinkedIn post from the ads liaison). Here’s what we’re getting:
Campaign-level brand exclusions for Search & Shopping inventory: so you can avoid showing on branded queries related to your brand—or other brands, from a provided list.
Page feeds: allowing you to curate potential landing pages. Or grouping them by label to use in relevant campaigns.
Page feeds + final URL expansion = steered AI performance
Build video assets directly in the campaign creation flow.
New experiments: incrementality and Standard Shopping faceoff
More reporting: asset group level metrics and budget pacing insights
Less good new: Google Ads Tests Disabling Opt Out Of Search Partners & Display Network. All bots, all the time! The reps have been pushing this approach but soon it may be the only way to advertise, which is less than thrilling.
Microsoft Teases New Goodies
No surprise, but there will be ads in BingGPT. Reports are a “friend of a friend” type grapevine so far, but here’s what it sounds like.
Some will be links within responses, search ads turned in-line links. A new format would be contextual pop ups triggered by question topic. This latter one is an example of what I think AI can unlock for digital advertising: turbocharged contextual targeting, the best kind of display targeting.
The chat interface is geared more towards focus than choice so these ad placements could turn out to be very valuable (if the hype pays off). And we may soon find out if bigger really is better.
Worth A Test?
If you’re looking for new channels and Reddit is on your radar, check out this guide.
Thanks for reading!