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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See You at Social Tools Summit Boston in 2 Weeks

I am very much looking forward to Social Tools Summit (#SocialTools16) in Boston on STsummitTuesday April 12, where I will be speaking about 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 is shaping up to 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.

PPC expert Larry Kim will be keynoting.  The panel I’m on has good mix of consultants and client side practitioners:

If you haven’t registered, it isn’t too late. I can offer blog visitors a discount code; just send me a note or put in a request via comments below.

Thanks! Hope to see you in Boston.

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Raising Seed Capital: Top Tips from NYETM

There is another great NY Enterprise Tech meet up tonight, on recruiting tech talent for magnet-1189869_1280startups.  Clearly I am late in blogging about February’s, which was about how to raise seed capital – so I am taking care of that now, with this post.

The topic is paramount for anyone who has a great idea, but needs potentially game changing funding.  February’s NYETM featured a panel that offered some very helpful tips. Work-bench Associate Vipin Chamakkla guided the conversation, to help attendees get answers to questions about seed investor “appetites”, pitching preferences, etc.

The panel included Karin Klein, Partner at Bloomberg Beta, Eliot Durbin, General Partner at Boldstart Ventures, Mike Brown Jr., General Partner at Bowery Capital and Brad Svrluga, General Partner at Primary Venture Partners.

As you will see, each has their own approach, yet a few common threads emerged. It helps to have connections.  Be smart when approaching investors: do your homework and make sure that there is a match.  Every venture and market space is different; there’s no single formula for evaluating startups.

The demo portion is an important part of every NYETM, and I should mention that were some very cool demos before the panel took the stage – see the end of this post for further details.

Please feel free to chime in via comments, or e-mail me if you think I’ve missed anything.

Describe your focus, portfolio examples and average funding check

Eliot Durbin said that Boldstart invests in enterprise tech, smart data, big data, and the Googlization of IT. Their checks are in the $750K range. A portfolio example is Replicated, which was on the evening’s demo roster (see the end of this post).

Bloomberg Beta invests in companies that make work better, in the $200K-1M range, said Karin Klein.  The technologies range from security to HR, and include analytics, bots, and machine intelligence. They were in early on Pathgather, an online learning solution.

Mike Brown of Bowery Capital tracks ventures that relate to Internet natives and their influence on IT spend.  They like to lead or co-lead investment rounds, in the $500K range.  ActionIQ, a marketing tech play, is in their portfolio.

Brad Svrluga said PVP invests $250-700K and likes SaaS, enterprise mobile, and vertical industry solutions, including fintech. They funded Alloy, an API to Know Your Customer (KYC).

When is right time to approach seed investors?

Eliot: “We want to be the first check.”  The timing can vary, for example in Replicated’s case it worked out well, as they saw and solved a huge pain point.

Karin said that earlier is better, in general – but this depends on who you are.   A founder with a track record can afford to wait longer.

The prototype stage is a good milestone.  But this can vary, e.g. Pluralsight bootstrapped for nine years before seeking funding.

If a venture is pre-product, what else does it need to have?

Mike said there are some non-obvious factors.  In enterprise tech, it is good to see that the founder appreciates implications of the long sales cycles involved.  They should have an ideal customer profile in mind and factor in sales velocity equations.  Could the founder sell him the pen sitting on his desk?

Brad likes founders who are solving a problem they’ve lived through, and to see that they have a real understanding and passion; as opposed to business school projects.

What KPIs do you evaluate when vetting startups?

Eliot: “It’s got to have magic.”

Karin said that it is a highly contextual, and hard to generalize.  E.g., with HR tech you want to see easy end user adoption – Pluralisght hit upon a pricing model that was very attractive.

What is the best way to pitch seed investors?

Karin loves to see demos; use a pitch deck if it helps tell the story.

Brad likes a good Genesis story.  He really cares how they’re pitched, because it’s the “single best data point for how founders pitch customers and employee candidates.”  A pet peeve is unrealistic market size numbers.  Coming in through another founder in their portfolio is the best way. Sending a cold email suggests that you are not being strategic.

Eliot: When pitching, walk in with a good sense of what they are looking for and what you want.

Mike likes those who are very good at selling software.

Audience Questions: One bootstrapped to $40K monthly revenue, and was wondering if they should go to seed or A round funding.

One of the panel members said “Skip us if you can – you will retain more equity.”

Why take your money?

Elliot said that Boldstart can help get customers.

Karin offered that Bloomberg Beta can help fill in gaps in the venture’s team.

Brad talked about PVP’s expert network, which saves search fees for portfolio companies.

What percentage are repeat vs. first-time entrepreneurs?

“Both are nice.”

“This depends on the bias of portfolio.”

“For the very first time, there’s not as good a chance”

Brad said that about half are first timers.

Before the panel, two vendors showed their wares.  Replicated is a container-centric platform that enables software companies to manage and distribute an enterprise-grade, installable version of their product behind the firewall and into their customers’ private data centers or private clouds.  HYPR   decentralizes the storage of biometric data to enable secure password-less authentication across mobile, desktop and IoT systems.

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Social Media Week NY Seminar Wrap

If you are in PR or marketing, it is probably a familiar feeling.  You have some great news or content to promote – but it SMW New Yorkis really tough these days to get anyone to care.  Our Social Media Week New York seminar yesterday addressed the challenges and offered solutions. Thanks to all who attended, and especially Work-Bench for letting us host the event there; and our own Vladimir Spencer and Mike Bush, for their help in managing the event.  Mike led the charge with live tweeting – you can see the Storify wrap below.
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No one Cares about Your News – Now What? Join us on 2/23

The game is changing in marketing and PR. There’s increasing competition for the SMW New Yorkcustomer’s attention. It’s difficult to get anyone to care about news, content and brands.

Traditionally, most sought press coverage to build awareness and credibility. However, it is tougher to get the media to cover PR-driven news these days. And people don’t need to read articles to vet new products and services.  They can just search Google, or learn about them from friends, family and colleagues on Twitter or Facebook.

But you have KPIs nipping at your heels! You need to build buzz and visibility now! What is the secret to getting attention and motivating action?

Join us at our seminar in two weeks during Social Media Week NYC to find out. It is on 2/23, from 2-4pm at Work-Bench (110 Fifth Avenue).

Click on the link to sign up through SMW (if it says “Sold out” or you are having any difficulties, please send an email to – we will do our best to make room for you).  Hash tag #SMWGetNoticed


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New Tech Reality Show: It’s Magic, is it a Leap?

While many were anxiously awaiting the results of the Iowa caucuses yesterday, tech magic-154526_1280media were caught up in another drama. They were buzzing about $793 million funding for Magic Leap, a secretive startup now valued at $4B.

The back and forth was about what Magic Leap will deliver, and whether they’ll live up to the hype – see the following tweets:

This is how Gizmag described Magic Leap:

“… it appears to [create] the illusion of 3D objects in the user’s field of vision…. Magic Leap’s device … beams a digital light field onto the user’s retinas.”

That actually does sound very cool. But language geek that I am, I latched onto the words some articles used to describe the technology: “mixed reality”.

Ahhh, reality used to be so – um, real – and much simpler.  These days we have many flavors: virtual, augmented, and now mixed.

That is great, but if you work in tech PR, you should avoid another kind of reality: distorted.

Distorted reality is when companies exaggerate. I always say “promise less, deliver more”, but the following articles detail journalists’ frustrations about overstated capabilities in cloud services and DevOps.

The Register: Whew! How to tell if a DevOps biz is peddling a load of manure

Wall Street Journal: When it Comes to Tech Services, Cloud can be a Nebulous Term

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