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Out of Scope Issue 29: Don’t Record Your Dastardly Schemes/Sexist Jokes
This week’s non-required thinking on reputation, business, and culture
This week, we’ve got a couple of cases where archived audio and email came back to haunt the subjects, so we’re offering some sage advice. Comms recommendation #1: don’t do bad stuff. Comms recommendation #2: don’t record evidence of the bad stuff. Ignoring other important lessons, anonymous message board app YikYak is back, UNC posted photos of an unadvisable tradition under the current circumstances, and OnlyFans attempts to clean up its image at the expense of its core users.
📡 ON OUR RADAR
Having a home full of plants paints a picture of a person dedicated to the environment, and while that may be the intention, it might not actually be the result. A new finding shows that the blooming house plant industry (pun intended) isn’t so good for the environment.
The “Lil Jif Project” launched this week, a Jif partnership campaign for its new peanut butter that highlights popular hip hop artists. When targeting the hip-hop fan base that has been known to have some pretty intense gatekeeping, it can be difficult to hit the nail on the head. We think that Jif did a good job of widening their audience by connecting two generations of hip hop with a video that features the new music style of long-time artist Ludacris, who first found success in the early 2000s, alongside Gunna, who is gaining popularity in today’s hip hop scene.
Crisis comms team activated! Earlier this month, Apple announced a trio of new features designed to identify and report child pornography on iPhones. Now Apple is arming staff with training, including a classic FAQ document, to deal with outcry over the way that they’re monitoring this, i.e. a tracking system on individual devices.
Will AI ever replace copywriters? Short answer: No...t yet. AI systems trained to recognize large-scale patterns in text have made great strides since their conception, enabling everything from Google Search to predictive text services. But experts warn that these models are “overused and under-vetted.” Because of the sheer amount of data they have to ingest, these systems also learn harmful biases picked up from the unregulated internet (cue: Bo Burnham).
Making a comeback that nobody asked for, the anonymous chatting app Yik Yak has returned. Its primary audience was in high school and college during its run from 2013 to 2017, leaving us wondering who the users for this location-based app are meant to be now, especially in a mid-pandemic world where many millennials have scattered across the US and around the world. Will anonymous cyber-bullying reign supreme once more?
In 2019, Twitter hired Dantley Davis as vice president of design and tasked him with changing their company culture, which was “too nice,” resulting in detrimentally slow product development. According to employee satisfaction levels, Davis’s attempts at radical candor came across as culture-killing criticism. But Twitter management gave him a promotion and said that’s capitalism, baby...or something like that. It seems like, at its root, the missing element of this culture change was communicating the difference between constructive feedback and criticism.
In other Twitter news, the platform is asking users to monitor for misinformation and help them categorize the type as “political,” “health”-related, or something else. Will this experimental “Birdwatch” feature solve the app’s content moderation problems with a more decentralized approach?
“Power Play” a new book about Elon Musk and Tesla, argues that the company’s success really comes from the flashy public image of its founder, which distracts from the relatively minor tweaks to battery technology that power its cars and storage systems. The trick to making tech less boring isn’t better tech, but a high-powered salesman.
In a new PSA from the Ad Council, Pope Francis and Spanish-speaking cardinals from across the Americas encouraged viewers to get the Covid-19 vaccine as an “act of love,” in addition to sharing more about the effectiveness and importance of the vaccine. For communities who turn to religious leaders for guidance in more than their spiritual life, these trustworthy figures could be persuasive in getting more people to get the vaccine.
From the cinematic joy that was “Cool Runnings” to NFTs, the Jamaican bobsled team continues to… sleigh — in many ways, becoming a brand in and of itself.
Kathy Hochul, who took over as New York’s lieutenant governor after Cuomo stepped down, gave her first public remarks this week. The focus? Culture change in the office, where she promises better internal communication, “No one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment.” And in case you missed it, all the Cuomo fan merchandise is so last season. A New York City boutique is offering to re-stitch its nearly $300 sweaters emblazoned with “Cuomosexual.”
You really can get everything at Ikea. Households in Sweden can now purchase renewable energy from the furniture company’s wind and solar networks. Ikea’s goal is to make renewable energy more accessible and affordable for all. We’ll be keeping an eye on how they communicate this offering and to what extent it changes their brand strategy.
South Carolina is paying influencers nearly $50K to entice tourists to the state. For anyone who’s worked with influencers, the price tag isn’t what’s surprising. What is surprising is that this is reflective of a larger advertising trend, where brands (or lately, the government) are cutting out middle-man publishers in favor of reaching their target audiences on social media platforms or personalized networks.
UNC might need to take a look at its communications strategy. From botched tenure decisions to this… Tradition may be tradition, but you’d think a line of hundreds of masked students during a global pandemic would give the hint that drinking from the same water fountain might not be the move.
One of the best parts of any corporate drama playing out in the courts is, of course, the archival email evidence. The Verge cataloged some of the juiciest bits of gossip from Apple’s email records - a reminder to all that some conversations are best saved for face-to-face conversations or the telephone, lest they come back to haunt you.
The metaverse is coming for our meetings. Facebook demoed a VR-enabled “workroom,” which lets teams interact through avatars as though they’re actually together in a room. Is this the future of work, or is this ridiculous?
🏆 REPUTATION FAIL OF THE WEEK: Jeopardy
This month, Jeopardy announced its new hosts, Mayim Bialik and Mike Richards — the latter of which has officially stepped down from the position after fans and media surfaced concerns about his selection.
From conflicts of interest to apparent displays of misogyny at work and on his podcast, the Randumb Show, Richards’ past proved to be too much to keep the gig. Pro tip: if you have big career plans, recording “locker room”-style jokes on your podcast might not be the move.
For their part, Sony’s statement on the controversy was that they were “surprised this week to learn of Mike's 2013/2014 podcast and the offensive language he used in the past,” leaving us, and many others, wondering why they didn’t conduct a more thorough background check to prevent this from becoming news in the first place.
Cue the Jeopardy jokes…
💡ON OUR MINDS:
Afghanistan and the Taliban’s Reputation
The Taliban has taken over Kabul and is now effectively in control of Afghanistan. When the Islamist insurgent first came to power in 1996, it portrayed itself as a corrective movement for civil warfare and lawlessness. The Taliban led with a harsh interpretation of religious jurisprudence that imposed brutal punishment for infractions of its law, including beatings, hand-chopping, and execution by stoning.
When the Taliban was last in power, women and girls were almost completely pushed out of public and banned employment and schooling. They feared severe repercussions for basic things like getting their fingernails pulled for wearing nail polish. Once the Taliban collapsed, Afghan women were able to make progress on their rights and take on roles unimaginable under prior rule, like politicians, soldiers, journalists, and actors.
With the Taliban back in power, Afghan women are terrified of the life-altering and threatening consequences. The Taliban is reassuring the press otherwise. “We will respect rights of women… Our policy is that women will have access to education and work,” said a Taliban spokesman. But they will also have “to wear the hijab,” he added, referring to the Islamic head covering for women.
The Taliban’s recent actions are at odds with the new and improved image they are trying to portray. Harsh consequences like public hangings have already been implemented, and militants have been going door-to-door asking for government employees. Women have been sent home from their jobs and told to replace themselves with a male relative, and some have been forced to marry Taliban fighters.
As the Taliban continues to push out their “improved” image and negate “the West’s dominate image of the group as intolerant, vicious and bent on revenge,” they are turning to sophisticated, skillful social media tactics to build political momentum while attempting to staying in the boundaries of user behavior, with more and more propaganda turning up on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
As the world continues to grapple with the effects of the Taliban’s return to power, we will continue to monitor their apparent rebranding efforts and watch tech companies navigate to handle their growing presence on social media.
OnlyFans goes PG-13
OnlyFans, a subscription service that allows content creators to accept payment from fans, is attempting a major rebrand to appeal to investors. Here’s the challenge: The platform has largely gained popularity for housing sexually explicit content, to the tune of 130 million users and a projected gross merchandise value of $12.5 billion by 2022.
But now OnlyFans wants to pivot its reputation to grow valuation as it looks to go public. Why? So far investors haven’t been willing to align with the brand despite its huge user base and growth potential. OnlyFans has taken two critical steps in an effort to change the narrative.
Step 1: They created an app that has no nudity and no payment exchange. This move was largely a marketing tactic to circumvent advertising restrictions on platforms like Facebook, which has strict policies around explicit content in advertisements.
Step 2: Yesterday, OnlyFans announced it would ban sexually explicit content starting in October because of pressures from its payment processors like Visa and Mastercard. There’s some debate as to what extent this is a brand safety concern — is it that financial partners don’t want to be associated with adult content at all, or is it because illegal content has slipped through, as the BBC suspects?
Nonetheless, a large section of the internet is questioning whether shunning the very product that made them so popular is wise.
Leading to some pretty great dad jokes too:
And… forcing OnlyFans creators, who have earned over $5 billion in the six years since the company started, to consider if and when to move their fanbase to other platforms.
There is some precedent to this according to the Twittersphere. Many people, including author Roxane Gay, point to Tumblr as an example of a growing platform that tried to limit explicit content only to find its userbase scatter.
Could OnlyFans have solved this dilemma through strategic communications without changing its product offering? Maybe, but they’d have to focus on a stricter moderation policy and target progressive investors. Time will tell just how much say the “fans” really have.
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print:
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