Huffington Goes Viral with Data Science – You can Too

Cross posted on Hack the Feed

My recent posts have explored how publishers are working with social platforms to expand audience and IMG_2875adapt story telling formats (see Publishers & Platforms In a Relationship, and Platforms as Publishers: 6 Key Takeaways for Brands). They reported the experiences of social teams and editors at some of the largest broadcast, print daily and native web outlets.

Those featured, however, didn’t go into detail on the role of advertising to boost reach.

At last week’s NY Data Science Meetup (at Metis NYC) we learned how the Huffington Post, the largest social publisher, is using data science to better understand which articles can benefit from a promotional push. Their efforts have propelled merely popular stories into through-the-roof viral successes.

The meetup was about Data Science in the Newsroom. Geetu Ambwani, Principal Data Scientist at Huffington Post, recalled the days when their editors monitored searches trending on Google to inform content creation and curation. Since then it is a new game, as more people are discovering and consuming news through social media.

In an age of distributed news, HuffPo needed a new approach.

Data across the Content Life Cycle

Geetu discussed the role of data in the content life cycle spanning creation, distribution and consumption. For creation, there are tools to discover trends, enhance and optimize content, and flag sensitive topics. Their RobinHood platform improves image usage and the all-important headline.

Geetu’s favorite part, she said, was exploring the “content gap” between what they write and what people want to read. It’s a tension that must be carefully considered – otherwise writers might be tempted to focus on fluff pieces vs. important news stories.

When it comes to consumption, data can be used to improve the user experience – e.g. via recommendations and personalization.

Project Fortune Teller: Data Predict Viral Success

Geetu and her team turned to data science to help with distribution. “The social networks are the new home page – we need to be where the audience is,” she said.

Only a small percentage of their stories get significant page views on the web. Performance on social often varies by platform. The team honed the content mix for each to improve engagement. Part of this was determining which articles out of the 1000 daily stories should get an extra boost.

Geetu wondered if they could mine data to spot the ones that have “legs” beyond early popularity. With this info in hand, they could promote these with high value ads, and populate Trending Now and Recommendation widgets to further boost sharing and reach.

And thus , Project Fortune Teller was born. The team looked for winners according to a range of data such as web traffic growth, and social consumption and sharing. But it was no easy task. There are many variables to consider. They needed to determine the optimal time window, as some articles take a bit longer to start to trend. Finally, they intentionally excluded hot news stories, instead focusing on evergreen content that was resonating.

Geetu and her team mined historical data, using time series analysis to build a model (for more details, see this SlideShare presentation). They notified the content promotion staff when there was a likely winner. The resulting quick action turned popular articles into viral successes.

Do you want to achieve data-driven content marketing success?  Click here to find out how.

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Facebook Calls the News Shots, Upending Media and Marketing

I generally don’t chase breaking news stories – my posts come once or twice a week at most. This may stormy-1472633_1920seem a disadvantage in the fast moving world of social media. But the slower pace affords some perspective – I try to look beyond the quick headline, see the bigger picture and connect the dots for readers.

And experience has shown that if I miss one news cycle, there will be another right around the corner.

For example, in just a few short weeks, Facebook drew fire for apparent bias in their Trending Now feature. Research came out confirming that it is the number one social network for news – and the chief way many of us get our news. The company changed its algorithm, decreasing the organic reach of publishers. And just this week they’re again catching flack – this time, for not seeming to think through implications of Facebook Live, as citizen journalists broadcast raw footage faster than Facebook can filter the streams (see Farhad Manjoo’s NY Times piece).

On the one hand you have admire their continued innovation. Facebook never stands still, always seems ready to shake things up to keep users engaged and coming back. On the other, you wonder how much they’ve thought through all the implications. It’s a little like the proverbial dog chasing a car. Facebook has caught the news “car”, now what does it do?

They seem to be playing all sides, trying to make everyone happy while increasing their influence. There have been the predictable media responses about impact on journalism, echo chambers and trivializing of news.

The reality is, news is is in the eyes of the beholder – and in a content and algorithm-driven world, Facebook – increasingly the arbiter – says News with a capital N needs to get in line.

Meanwhile, media should adapt their strategies, as it is clearly a mistake to focus on Facebook and platforms at the expense of cultivating other sources of traffic and attention.

Marketers go where media and users do – so they need to take a fresh look and revise their play books.

As to the impact on users, and society at large? There, I am not so concerned. We continue to have endless choices of info, news, opinion and analysis.

If people want to rely on Facebook to stay informed, that is their prerogative. If they want to ignore news and spend their time with baby pictures, that is fine too. These are likely the same people who looked no farther than the bridge of their nose for other views before Facebook.

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Israeli Startups Join Axis Innovation at NYSE

I had the great pleasure of attending an event hosted by Axis Innovation this IMG_2843morning at the NYSE.  It featured presentations from nine hot Israeli startups and culminated in a visit to the floor of the exchange, where we watched the opening bell ceremony.

Axis is an advisory firm that connects investors and corporations with tech startups. The event was part of a road show to investors, and one of many that Axis hosts in  cities around the world.  The company is based in Tel Aviv, and also operates in NYC.

According to their website, the NYSE session front-ended a  two day event that includes “leading Israeli series A tech startups and US VCs, angels, and corporate investors… to develop business opportunities and ultimately make deals.”

Below I share highlights of each presenting company.


They redefine how data is stored and transferred in the cloud, to maximize security and throughput.


Eco-Fusion’s app personalizes digital medicine to assist in preventing and managing chronic diseases.


They’re developing the next generation of visual search for mobile and connected devices with advanced computer vision tech.


They are an antidote to our tendency to consult “Dr. Google” – Medivizor tailors personal health info and updates, based on the specific of each medical situation in an easily understandable and actionable way.


Optibus enables a better public transportation system through efficient and real-time scheduling and control.  It dovetails nicely with trends like urbanization and self-driving vehicles.

Pocket Cause

Pocket Cause makes it easy to donate from your mobile device, and integrates with charitable websites. They are seeking to disrupt and improve the $26B online donation industry.

It’s a global online platform where investors can access the securities of pre-IPO companies from employees, former employees, founders and other shareholders.


They have developed a field-proven Saas agronomic platform that mitigates agricultural risks and improves farmer profits while giving corporations, governments and FIs ways to track and benchmark remote growers.


Unsupervised machine learning tech that outwits the hackers and mimics an expert cybersecurity analyst. SecBI reduces breach response time and optimizes mitigation.

The Catholic Charities rang the opening bell; in a bit of gallows humor, one person wondered aloud whether last rites or a sermon might be more appropriate, given the concerns about the markets’ continued reaction to the Brexit vote.

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“Buzzword Bake-off” Reveals the Most Hyped Tech Terms

Although we use lots of buzzwords in the tech industry, we don’t often consider how and why. My story in MarketingProfs examines their importance and role. It drills down on Big Data and compares related hype to other buzzed-about topics, like IoT and Virtual Reality.

Is it true, as Data-Driven NYC Meetup organizer Matt Turck said, that Big Data sounds “increasingly three years ago?” Was Gartner Group correct in retiring the term from their 2015 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies? Which topics come out ahead in the buzzword bakeoff?

The MarketingProfs article takes a data-driven approach to answering these questions, relying on powerful software from NewsWhip, which sifts media and online buzz to see which come out ahead. Data from the NewsWhip report was used to generate the Infographic, which was produced by Venngage, with assistance from Nadya Khoja.

“Big Data” Birth And (Reported) Death Of A BuzzwordInfographic


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1 More Reason for Media to Hate Tech; Thanks Peter Thiel

Long time readers of this blog may recall my Extreme Media Relations series, about those wordcloud (2)who go overboard to sway the press. It’s been years, but I thought I’d post another just for Peter Thiel.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, he recently proudly admitted to underwriting Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker for their publishing of a sex tape featuring the wrestler. The suit resulted in a $140M judgment against the blog.  Thiel was settling an old score, as Gawker outed him as gay years ago.

Internet billionaire, champion of odd causes, Trump delegate, comic book superhero – say what you want about Peter Thiel – he went ahead and made the situation just a little harder if you are in tech marketing and PR.

There’s already been a pall over the tech industry. The negativity emanates from Silicon Valley but extends well beyond.  It’s been fueled by perceived entitlement of the Valley’s denizens, and questions about absurd unicorn valuations for tech startups.

Throw into the mix concerns that tech is eating media’s lunch. The social networks’ news clout is growing (recall the recent flap over apparent bias in Facebook Trending Now), while media properties are struggling and journalist jobs are declining.

Then a swashbuckling Internet billionaire comes along and crushes a well-known blog with his wallet, threatening free speech and the hallowed halls of journalism.

Well, not exactly. The judge ruled that Hogan’s video was not protected journalism. But I’ll let you guess (or just do a Google search) as to the tone and sentiment of resulting press coverage – it has been overwhelmingly anti-Thiel, by my reckoning.

So you have all the ingredients for a press corps that is generally paranoid and burned out on tech. The poisoned atmosphere causes collateral damage for those nowhere near the Valley or elite VC ecosystem.

This NY Times article title captures the discord: Tech Titans Raise their Guard, Pushing Back Against News Media.  And here’s a quote from this NY Times article that caught my attention:

“Silicon Valley likes to keep the media on a tight leash. Tech executives expect obedience, if not reverence, from reporters. They dole out information as grudgingly as possible. Sometimes they simply buy a chunk of a publication, a time-honored method of influencing what is deemed fit to write about.”

Really? Puh-leeeease. I’d love to hear from my friends and readers, especially the ones who work in tech and promote companies from Silicon Valley and other locales.

Does this sound like the world you know?

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No Accounting for Bias?

There’s one thing that could put the whole Facebook Trending News bias controversy to monkey-236864_1920rest – but I haven’t seen it yet.

In case you are not familiar with the story, Gizmodo ran this piece last week: Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative Views. The story hit a nerve, given election season timing and concerns about the growing influence of Facebook and other social networks.

To quell the controversy, Facebook made a number of statements and released details of their process for how the trending news “sausage” is made (which was a real page turner for news feed geeks like me).

These moves did not settle the matter.  The major news organizations covered the details – but predictably and ironically from their left and right leaning perspectives.

The New York Times story by Mike Isaac saw no evil; he covered the checks and balances, implying that these filter out biases:

While algorithms determine the exact mix of topics displayed to each person… a team is largely responsible for the overall mix of which topics should — and more important, should not — be shown in Trending Topics.  For instance, after algorithms detect early signs of popular stories on the network, editors are asked to cross-reference potential trending topics with a list of 10 major news publications, including CNN, Fox News, The Guardian and The New York Times.

But the Wall Street Journal’s Deepa Seetharaman saw something more insidious:

Facebook researchers last year ranked 500 news sites based on how popular they were with the social network’s users who identified their political alignment as conservative or liberal. According to those rankings, eight of the 10 national news outlets that play an outsize role in determining trending topics are more popular with liberals.

I’ll leave the topic of Facebook’s response to a crisis for another post (they broke the first rule: don’t piecemeal information, that just prolongs the issue).

It seems to me that there must be some unstructured text mining tech that could settle the question.  Isn’t it possible to analyze Facebook Trending News stories to find and tabulate the ones with a slant – and compare the numbers for left and right-leaning stories?

It is no simple task, given the complexities of how this all works. Facebook’s document reveals the processes, which blend human and machine effort.  Even after the algorithms and editors pick their shots, the feeds get further tailored based on user preferences and actions.

But the bigger question: Is it really even possible to edit or curate without bias?

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Hannah and Her Sister Disrupt PR with Babbler

We started getting calls and emails from an interesting French startup called Babbler a couple of months ago. I agreed to meet with CEO Hannah Oiknine to learn more, as we like to be on top of the latest developments  here at Fusion PR.

She explained the system, which turns the traditional model of media relations on its 20160502183906-hannah-oiknine-sarah-azanhead. Rather than assume that media are the quarry, to be hounded by PR, Babbler envisions that press will gladly opt in and connect with brand content online.

It seemed like a bold bet. But I was taken by Hannah’s enthusiasm, and the demo was impressive. They’re funded, have built a solid team, and a growing user base in Europe. Babbler now has their eyes on the US market, and recently opened a New York office.

I agreed to take a closer look but got caught up in other priorities. Then, I saw the following headline just the other week: “2 Sisters Raise $2M to disrupt PR Industry.”  The news was about more funding for Babbler. It reminded me of the meeting and the inspiration for the system, which sprang from the experiences of Hannah’s sister Sarah Azan (the one on the left), who comes from a PR background. It prompted me to revisit Babbler and gave me the idea for the title of the post, based on the Woody Allen movie.

So I got back in touch with Hannah and conducted the following email interview.

What is Babbler?

Babbler rethinks the way companies interact with the press to help them be more successful. We created the only opt-in social media network that lets media and PR pros instantly share news, content and messages in a single platform.  We have a matchmaking algorithm that connects brands with the most relevant reporters.

Babbler is focused on providing the best engagement tool in the world. By moving PR out of the inbox and into a conversation-driven platform, we are helping journalists and PR professionals connect and engage in a meaningful way.

We back this up with powerful reports and analytics, giving your brand the actionable insight to improve your PR Strategy.

Thinking “out of the inbox” does sound interesting, but can you really say that the service disrupts PR?

Today, the only channel of daily interactions between PR pros and influencers is emails of reporters turned public and accessible by anyone who pays for a media database service. The consequences are that:

  • Reporters receive hundreds of email pitches / day, and 90% of them don’t match their interests or coverage areas.
  • It is hard to engage them, and they answer only 1% of what they receive.
  • PR pros spend hours filtering lists and updating them, time that could be used to create engaging stories.
  • PR pros are seen as pushy rather than effective sources.
  • It’s way too impersonal and mostly irrelevant!

By getting out of the inbox, we simplify interaction, provide a sourcing tool for reporters and the best distribution and engagement tool for PR pros that allow them to create, entertain and engage media communities in a single place.

Also, by knowing what engages media communities, PR pros can focus on creating relevant stories for each one they target. Because media don’t all want to same content or to be pitched the same way.

Why will journalists opt in? Don’t they already have access to lots of content, and PR connections ?

Reporters love Babbler for several reasons. Existing channels don’t solve the problem; emails are not opened or targeted, B2C social networks are not dedicated to PR / media pros and don’t allow you to build conversations exclusively with the press, exchange files or measure the press engagement.

With Babbler, the press can choose to follow PR pros/ brands/ agencies they are interested in, ONLY. For free, 24/7.

But they can also request information, download files they need or directly chat if they have questions. We built dedicated features for both communications and media pros to help them communicate in a smarter way. For example, reporters can post a PR request or book an interview in just one click!

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Check out Geek Art & Design at Creative Tech Week NYC

My local tech networking and meetup wanderings took me to a cool destination last night – the opening party of Creative Tech Week, at the Clemente Center on the Lower East Side.

I had been invited to CTW and did not quite know what to expect. What is all this about a mashing up creativity and tech? Do we really need another dot dot dot Week? According to the website:

From VR, 3D printing and hackathons to fashion tech, data visualization, digital art, interactive installations and STEAM, Creative Technology is front and center in innovation success stories across the corporate and non-profit landscape. Creative Tech Week… is a crowd sourced festival created to showcase the cutting-edge research, art, media, and community initiatives being generated in the field of creative technology.

The evening’s speakers broke it down further. Founder and President Isabel Davis spoke about the festival, and how it all came together over the past year. CTW It is an extremely ambitious undertaking, spanning ten days, two boroughs, and hundreds of lectures, satellite events, demos and art installations.  There is an expo, and three hubs: Community, Arts, and Industry (all explained in the About page).  The Expo and Community hubs are in Brooklyn; Arts and Industry, in Manhattan.

See this link for more about the impressive team behind CTW. After Isabel spoke, we heard from Asher Remy-Toledo and Mark Bolotin, directors of the Art Hub. They explained their roles, and ties to Hyphen Hub: a center (Hub) that encourages connections (Hyphen) between art and tech.  CTW Co-founder Dawn Barber (also co-founder of NY Tech Meetup) said a few words, before Paolo Antonelli of MoMA took the stage and delivered a great keynote.

In between the talks I had the chance to check out the exhibits at Clemente Center Arts Hub.  I was curious about how Arduino, big data visualization, and 3D printing can help create to art.  My eyes got wider as I checked out Arduino-driven hammers that smash plexiglass;  computer-driven musical instruments, sculptures, videos and images.

If it all sounds a little gimmicky, the results were anything but; they were IMG_2749stunning and brilliant, as you can tell from the images.  One of the most eye-grabbing (some might say shocking) was a wall of what looked to be ghostly white PVC plastic phalli that go up or down based on the price swings of associated stocks (it looked to be a heavy trading day).

It is not just about eye candy or art; there are many weighty topics and impressive speakers throughout the festival (which started 4/29 and will end this Saturday), addressing subjects that aim to connect art, design, community, tech and industry.

Here is the schedule.  I will try to get to a bunch of the sessions over the remaining days, and encourage you to check it out; there is just so much good stuff here.

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Social Tools Summit Cheat Sheet

Seven sessions. Two trender chats. A great keynote, product speed case, and best of all the STSummit16.jpg largechance to meet and learn from very smart social media consultants, practitioners and technology innovators.

There simply is no substitute for being at Social Tools Summit (well, accessing the live stream was the next best thing).  You could search the #SocialTools16 hash tag and read through the thousands of tweets – I suggest that you do, if you didn’t attend or see the live stream.  The tweets feature tons of great advice, links to resources, running commentary on the day’s activities – and of course lots of social tools talk.

If you are pressed for time, you could just read this post.  I have attempted to capture the highlights, by curating top tweets under each session, and sharing other details.

Check out the Storify wrap, below.  I also want to thank Neal Schaffer and Brian Mahony for inviting me back this year, and to their stellar team for organizing the event (you could call them the A team, as most of the names starts with A, including two Andreas; and let’s face, it they are an A team).

Also, I thank the great panel that assisted with my influencer marketing session: Lina Roque, CA Technologies (congrats for winning a Social Guru award!), Chandra Carson, Lindt & Sprungli, Eric Dahan, InstaBrand, Ryan Connors, Century Bank, Wayne Kurtzman, Pitney Bowes and Jannette Pazer, DragonSearch.


Keynote on Scaling Innovation

Here is a link to Christopher Penn’s keynote on scaling innovation.

Other Summaries

SoTrender has a nice wrap of the event.  Paul Gillin mentioned it in his Silicon Angle piece about social selling.  Also, see Red Javelin’s 8 Social media Takeaways from the Social Tools Summit 2016 – Boston.



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See You at Social Tools Summit Next Week

I am very much looking forward to Social Tools Summit (#SocialTools16) in Boston next STsummitTuesday, where I will be moderating a panel on influencer marketing.

Neal Schaffer and Brian Mahony invited me back following last year’s Boston event, which was a blast (see my blog wrap), and I jumped at the opportunity. It looks like it will be another great event. The day will be packed with informative sessions, tech demos, and a nice range of speakers and panels. You should really check it out if you work in social media, and are trying to get your arms around the state-of-the-technology.

The panel I’m on has good mix of of vendors, consultants and client side practitioners:

If you haven’t registered, it isn’t too late. Thanks! Hope to see you in Boston.

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