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Inspired by Navalny, Russian bloggers stand up to corruption

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Russian blogger Igor Grishin is trying to save historic buildings in the small town of Koroloyov


Russian blogger Igor Grishin is trying to save historic buildings in the small town of Koroloyov – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Alex Brandon

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Armed with only a phone and selfie stick, blogger Igor Grishin has set himself the task of fighting corruption in his hometown beyond Moscow, following in the steps of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Grishin, 25, has leveraged his blog to save historic buildings and local parks that would otherwise have fallen victim to developers in Koroloyov, a small but important town for Russian and Soviet space history.

But in Russia, where criticism of the authorities is quickly silenced, Grishin is already feeling the pressure from the police.

“I love Korolyov. I was born here and I want to defend what I love,” says Grishin, walking through the small town just six kilometres (4 miles) outside the Russian capital.

The town of just over 200,000 people is named after Sergey Korolyov, the father of the Soviet space programme, and houses the Russian Mission Control Centre.

Strolling through the town, Grishin points out around two dozen multi-coloured buildings — each between two and four storeys high — that were built between 1946 and 1953.

They were once home to Soviet scientists like Sergei Kryukov, a ballistic missiles engineer, and Konstantin Bushuyev, who was involved in sending the first satellite, Sputnik, to space.

But there are plans to demolish the historic district to make way for high-rise blocks — dull and grey — plans that Grishin is determined fight against.

– Inspired by Navalny –

With his comrade-in-arms Roman Ivanov, the duo have been trying to speak up in a country where independent media have recently suffered a far-reaching crackdown.

After Navalny’s arrest in January last year, authorities ramped up pressure on journalists, bloggers and opposition activists, with many forced to flee abroad.

Ivanov, who worked as a journalist for over 20 years, says he was fired from a state-run television channel last May after he started a YouTube channel called “Honest Korolyov”.

“My boss called me to fire me because, according to him, I shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds me,” he says sitting in a town cafe.

He tells AFP that in today’s Russia: “journalism has been replaced by propaganda”.

Ivanov created his channel in 2019 after joining protests against Korolyov’s former mayor, who was accused of profiting from ties to property developers.

In videos for his 5,000 subscribers, Ivanov criticises local officials pointing to electoral fraud, poor infrastructure and development plans that would destroy historic buildings.

The Korolyov mayor’s office did not respond to AFP’s request for comment.

Ivanov describes Navalny as a “talented organiser” and says he respects the opposition leader’s investigations put together by a team that probes the wealth of Russia’s elites in slick YouTube videos.

Russia on Tuesday added Navalny and a number of his allies to a list of “terrorists and extremists”, as authorities further clamp down on the opposition.

“In our city practically all media are financed by the administration. What we have left is the internet and social networks,” Grishin says.

– Official ‘revenge’ –

He is the chief editor of a blog called “Official Korolyov” hosted on Russia’s popular social network VKontakte.

But even internet giants are not immune to state control.

Facebook, Twitter and TikTok have all been repeatedly fined for not deleting content at the behest of Russian authorities. Apple and Google were all forced to remove a Navalny app from their stores.

Ivanov says their publications have mobilised locals and “saved four parks which would have been torn down to make room for shopping centres”.

Another victory he cited was the ousting of mayor Alexander Khodyrev last October after he was accused of falsifying election results by the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

However, the bloggers’ efforts have not gone unnoticed by police who came in late October to search their homes, taking away their phones and computers.

Grishin is now accused of being involved in a fight while monitoring local elections and Ivanov is facing charges of revealing pre-trial information in one of his interviews.

Ivanov thinks that authorities want to “scare activists”. Grishin sees the moves as “revenge” from the ousted former mayor.

In another Moscow suburb, bloggers Alexander Dorogov and Yan Katelevsky — who also probed corruption — have been in detention since July 2020, on charges of blackmail.

Dorogov, who faces 15 years in prison, told AFP in court in Moscow last November their work was taken offline to protect officials.

“Our YouTube channel was deleted to hide facts we published there: bribes, corruption among funeral companies, police, investigators and prosecutors.”



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Publicis Performance Marketing Unit Acquires Influencer Platform Perlu 01/30/2023

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Publicis Performance Marketing Unit Acquires Influencer Platform Perlu 01/30/2023

Publicis Groupe-owned performance marketing agency CJ, which specializes in affiliate marketing, has acquired Perlu, a Syracuse, New York-based influencer networking and technology platform.
Perlu’s platform enables companies to activate, network, and collaborate with a community of influencers.   

Perlu will initially retain its name and organization as it is
integrated …



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Reports Show that Facebook Usage is Up, as Meta Continues to Develop its AI Targeting Models

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Reports Show that Facebook Usage is Up, as Meta Continues to Develop its AI Targeting Models

While Facebook is no longer the cool app, especially among younger audiences, it remains a key platform for many users, and its capacity to keep people updated on important updates from friends and family is likely to ensure that many continue to return to the app every day for some time yet.

But more than that, Facebook usage is actually increasing, according to internal insights viewed by The Wall Street Journal, which also include some interesting notes on overall Facebook and Instagram usage trends.

As per WSJ:

Data gathered in the middle of the fourth quarter showed that time spent on [Facebook] was up worldwide, including in developed markets, over the course of a year.”

Which seems unusual, given the subsequent rise of TikTok, and short form video more generally. But actually, Facebook has been able to successfully use the short-form video trend to drive more usage – despite much criticism of the platform’s copycat Reels feature.

Indeed, Reels consumption is up 20%, and has become a key element in Meta’s resurgence.  

How is it finding success? Increased investment in AI, which has driven big improvements in the relevance models that fuel both Reels and its ads, which are also now driving better response.

On Reels, Meta’s systems are getting much better at showing users the Reels content that they’re most likely to be interested in. You’ve likely noticed this yourself – what was initially a mess of random clips inserted into your Facebook feed has now become more focused, and you’re probably finding yourself expanding a Reels clip every now and then, just to see what it’s about.

Reels has actually been too successful:

“Because ads in Reels videos don’t currently sell for as much as those sold against regular posts and stories, Reels’ growing share of content consumption was denting ad revenue. To protect the company’s earnings, the company cut back on promoting Reels, which lowered watch time by 12%.

So again, while Meta has been criticized for stealing TikTok’s format, it’s once again shown, just as it did with Stories, that this is a viable and beneficial pathway to keeping users engaged in its apps.

You might not like it, but replication works in this respect.

But for marketers, it’s likely the development of Meta’s AI targeting tools for ads that’s of most interest.

Over time, many performance advertisers have been increasingly recommending that marketers trust Meta’s AI targeting, with newer offerings like Advantage+ driving strong results, with far less manual targeting effort.

Advantage+ puts almost total trust in Meta’s AI targeting systems. You can choose a couple of targeting options for your campaigns, but for the most part, the process is designed to limit manual impact, in order to let Meta’s systems determine the right audience for your ads.

Which may feel like you’re ceding too much control, but according to Meta, its continued AI investment is now driving better results.

Heavy investment in artificial intelligence tools has enabled the company to improve ad-targeting systems to make better predictions based on less data, according to the interviews and documents […] That, along with shifting to forms of advertising less dependent on harvesting user data from off its platforms, are key to the company’s plans to overcome an Apple privacy change that restricted Meta’s capacity to gather information about what its users do outside its platforms’ walls, the documents show.”

That’s likely worth considering in your process, putting more trust in Meta’s targeting systems to drive better results. At the least, it may be worth experimenting with Meta’s evolving AI for ad targeting. 

It’s not all good news. Meta also notes that while time spent in its apps is on the rise, creation and engagement is declining, with fewer people posting to both Facebook and Instagram than they have in the past.

That’s particularly true among younger audiences, while notably, usage of Instagram Stories is also in decline, down 10% on previous levels.

So while Meta is driving more engagement from Reels, which draws on content from across the app, as opposed to the people and Pages you follow, that’s also led to a decline in user posting.

Is that a bad thing? I mean, logically, engagement is important in keeping people interested in the app, and Meta also relies on those signals to help refine its ad targeting. So it does need users to be sharing their own content too, but if it can get more people spending more time in its apps, that will help it maintain advertiser interest.

In essence, despite all of the reports of Facebook’s demise, it remains a key connective platform, in various ways, while Meta’s improving ad targeting systems are also helping to drive better results, which will keep it as a staple for brands moving forward.

If you were thinking of diversifying your social media marketing spend this year, maybe don’t reduce Facebook investment just yet.

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Effective Ways To Personalize Your Customer Touch Points Even More In 2023

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Effective Ways To Personalize Your Customer Touch Points Even More In 2023

Will 2023 be the year of personalization? Consumers hope so. For the past two years, shoppers have been craving the personal touch: In 2021, McKinsey & Company noted that 71% of customers expected companies to deliver personalization. In 2022, a Salesforce survey found that 73% of people expected brands to understand their needs and expectations. So, this year is looking like one where personalization can no longer be seen as a “nice to have.”

The problem, of course, is how to get more personalized. Many companies have already started to dabble in this. They greet shoppers by name on landing pages. They rely on CRMs and other tools to use historical information to send shoppers customized recommendations. They offer personalized, real-time discounts to help buyers convert their abandoned shopping cart items to actual purchases.

These are all great ideas. The only problem is that they’ve become widespread. They don’t move the needle on the customer experience anymore. Instead, they’re standard, expected, and kind of forgettable. That doesn’t mean you can afford to stop doing them. It just means you must devise other ways to pepper personalization throughout your consumer interactions.

If you are scratching your head on how to outdo 2022’s personalization in 2023, try implementing the following strategies:

1. Go for full-blown engagement on social media.

One easy way to give the personal touch is through your social media business pages. Social media use just keeps growing. In 2022, there were about 266 million monthly active users (or MUAs) on Facebook, one billion on Instagram, and 755 million on TikTok. Not all these active users will fall into your target audiences, but plenty of them will.

Make engaging with your social followers one of this year’s goals. People spend a lot of time on social media. It’s where many of them “live,” so it only makes sense that it should be a place to drive personalization.

One quick way to ratchet up your company’s personal touch on social media is to personalize all your retargeted ads. Quizzes can also offer a chance for personalization. Simply set up an engaging quiz and allow people to share their results. It’s a fun way to build brand recognition and bond with consumers. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with going very personal and answering all comments. Depending on your team’s size and the number of comments you receive, this might be a viable option.

2. Leverage AI to go beyond basic demographics.

Most companies rely on customer demographic information to bolster personalization efforts. The only trouble with this tactic is that demographics can’t tell the whole story. It’s impossible to get a lot of context about individual users (such as their lifestyles, personal preferences, and motivators) just from knowing their age, gender, or location. Though demographic data is beneficial, it can cause some significant misses.

Michael Scharff, CEO and cofounder of Evolv AI, explains the workaround for this problem: “The most natural, and therefore productive, personalization efforts use demographics as a foundation and then layer in user likes, dislikes, behaviors, and values.”

You can leverage AI’s predictive and insightful capabilities to uncover real-time user insights. Scharff recommends this technique because it allows you to stay in sync with the fast-moving pace of consumer behavior changes. He adds that AI can be particularly beneficial with the coming limits to third-party cookie access because it can be a first-party data source, allowing you to maintain customer knowledge and connection.

To flesh out your organization’s strategy, look to other companies that have gone beyond demographics. Take Netflix, for example, which constantly tweaks its AI algorithm to help improve personalized content recommendations. Bottom line? Going deeper than surface information makes all the sense in the world if you want to show customers you know them well.

3. Keep your data spotless.

The better your data, the better your personalization efforts. Period. Unfortunately, you are probably sitting on a lot of unstructured or otherwise tricky-to-use (or impossible-to-use) data. One recent Great Expectations survey revealed that 77% of data practitioners have data quality problems, and 91% say that this is wreaking havoc on their companies’ performance.

You can’t personalize anything with corrupt or questionable data. So, do your best to find ways to clean your data promptly and routinely. For example, you might want to invest in a more centralized data system, particularly if the personalization data you rely on is scattered in various places. Having one repository of data truth makes it easier to know if the information on hand is ready to use.

Another way to tame your data is to automate as many data processes as possible. Reducing manual manipulation of data lessens the chance of human error. And you’ll feel more confident with all your personalization efforts if you can trust the reliability and health of your data.

4. Go for nontechnical personalization.

It’s the digital age, but that doesn’t mean every touchpoint has to be digitized. Consumers often react with delight and positivity when they receive personalization in decidedly nontech forms. (Yes, you can use tech to keep track of everything. Just don’t make it part of the actual personalized exchange!)

Consider writing handwritten thank-you notes to customers after they’ve called in for support or emailed your team, for instance. Or send an extra personalized gift to buyers who make a specific number of purchases. These interactions aren’t technical but can differentiate your customer experience from your competitors’ experiences.

A groundbreaking Deloitte snapshot taken right before the pandemic showed that people were hungry for connection. By folding nondigital experiences into your personalization with customers, you’re showing them that you see them first as valued humans. That’s compelling and appealing, making them more apt to give you their loyalty in return.

Putting a personal spin on all your consumer interactions takes a little time. It’s worth your energy, though. You’ll wind up with stronger brand-buyer connections, helping you edge ahead of your competitors even more.

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