Restaurants face their demographic dilemmas.

There’s no question that the U.S. economy has been on a roll the past two years. And yet, we’re not seeing similar momentum in the restaurant industry.

What gives?

As it turns out, the challenges that restaurants face are due to forces and factors that are a lot more fundamental than the shape of the economy.

It’s about demographics.  More specifically, two things are happening: Baby boomers are hitting retirement age … and millennials are having children.  Both of these developments impact restaurants in consequential ways.

Baby boomers – the generation born between 1946 and 1964 – total nearly 75 million people. They’ve been the engine driving the consumer economy in this country for decades.  But this big group is eating out less as they age.

The difference in behavior is significant. Broadly speaking, Americans spend ~44% of their food dollar away from home.  But for people under the age of 25 the percentage is ~50% spent away from home, whereas for older Americans it’s just 38%.

Moreover, seniors spend less money on food than younger people. According to 2017 data compiled by the federal government, people between the age of 35 and 44 spend more than $4,200 each year in restaurants, on average.  For people age 65 and older, the average is just $2,500 (~40% less).

Why the difference? The generally smaller appetites of people who are older may explain some of it, but I suspect it’s also due to lower disposable income.

For a myriad of reasons, significant numbers of seniors haven’t planned well financially for their retirement.  Far too many have saved exactly $0, and another ~25% enter retirement with less than $50,000 in personal savings.  Social security payments alone were never going to support a robust regime of eating out, and for these people in particular, what dollars they have in reserve amount to precious little.

Bottom line, restaurateurs who think they can rely on seniors to generate sufficient revenues and profits for their operations are kidding themselves.

As for the millennial generation – the 75 million+ people born between 1981 and 1996 – this group just barely outpaces Boomers as the biggest one of all. But having come of age during the Great Recession, it’s also a relatively poorer group.

In fact, the poverty rate among millennials is higher than for any other generation. They’re majorly in debt — to the tune of ~$42,000 per person on average (mostly not from student loans, either).  In many places they’ve had to face crushingly high real estate prices – whether buying or renting their residence.

Millennials are now at the prime age to have children, too, which means that more of their disposable income is being spent on things other than going out to eat.

If there is a silver lining, it’s that the oldest members of the millennial generation are now in their upper 30s – approaching the age when they’ll again start spending more on dining out.  But for most restaurants, that won’t supplant the lost revenues resulting from the baby boom population hitting retirement age.

Despite privacy issues, social media adoption remains as high as ever.

The question is, why?

It seems as though privacy issues in social media have been in the news nearly steadily over the past several years. Considering that, it might come as a surprise that social media adoption remains as high as it’s ever been.

Today, nearly 9 in 10 Americans age 18 or older are regular users of one or more social media sites (interacting at least one or two times per week).

If anything, that’s a higher percentage than before.  So what gives?

Here’s the answer: According to data from a recent survey of nearly 2,200 Americans age 18 or older conducted by Regina Corso Consulting, two-thirds of respondents believe that people on social media should not have any expectations of privacy.  None.

Thus, it seems pretty clear that social media users have factored in privacy concerns and decided that, on balance, the “price of admission” when using social media sites is to leave their privacy at the door. It’s a tradeoff most users recognize, understand and accept.

This isn’t to contend that all users are deliriously happy with their current social media practices. In fact, nearly 40% of the respondents in the Regina Corso survey would like to reduce or stop their usage — but are afraid of what they might miss in the way of news and updates.  The “FOMO factor” is real.

In the end, that’s what Facebook and several other social media giants have long understood:  Once a certain critical mass is achieved, any concerns about social platforms are negated by the sheet universal nature of them.

Just as millions of American choose to reside in places prone to hurricane storm and flooding damage while fully recognizing the potential danger, millions more choose to be on social media despite the privacy risks that everyone has heard about them.

What about you — have you changed your social media behaviors in the wake of news developments over the past several years?

Bait for the phish: The subject lines that reel them in.

To those of us who work in the MarComm field – or in business generally – it may seem odd how so many people can get suckered into opening e-mails that contain malware or otherwise wreak havoc with their devices.

But as it turns out, the phishing masters have become quite adept at crafting e-mail subject lines and content that successfully ensnare even the most alert recipients.

In fact, the phishers actually exploit our concerns about security by sending e-communications that play off of those very fears.

To study this effect, cybersecurity firm KnowBe4 conducted an analysis of the most clicked-on phishing subject lines of 2018. Its evaluation was two-pronged – charting actual phishing e-mails received by KnowBe4 clients and reported by their IT departments as suspicious, as well as conducting simulated phishing tests to monitor recipient behavior.

What KnowBe4 found was that the most effective phishing e-mail subject lines generally fall into five topic categories:

  • Passwords
  • Deliveries
  • IT department
  • Company policies
  • Vacation

More specifically, the ten most clicked-on subject lines during 2018, in order of rank, were these:

  • #1. Password Check Required Immediately / Change of Password Required Immediately
  • #2. Your Order with Amazon.com / Your Amazon Order Receipt
  • #3. Announcement: Change in Holiday Schedule
  • #4. Happy Holidays! Have a drink on us
  • #5. Problem with Bank Account
  • #6. De-activation of [recipient’s e-mail address] in Process
  • #7. Wire Department
  • #8. Revised Vacation & Sick Time Policy
  • #9. Last reminder: please respond immediately
  • #10. UPS Label Delivery 1ZBE312TNY00015011

Notice that nearly all of them pertain to topics that seem important, timely and needing the attention of the recipient.

Another way that KnowBe4 analyzed the situation was by pinpointing the e-mail subject lines that were deployed most often in phishing e-mails during 2018.

Here are the Top Ten, ranked in order of their usage:

  • #1. Apple: You recently requested a password reset for your Apple ID
  • #2. Employee Satisfaction Survey
  • #3. Sharepoint: You Have Received 2 New Fax Messages
  • #4. Your Support Ticket is Closing
  • #5. Docusign: You’ve received a Document for Signature
  • #6. ZipRecruiter: ZipRecruiter Account Suspended
  • #7. IT System Support
  • #8. Amazon: Your Order Summary
  • #9. Office 365: Suspicious Activity Report
  • #10. Squarespace: Account billing failure

Commenting on the results that were uncovered by the evaluation, Perry Carpenter, a strategy officer at KnowBe4 had this to say:

“Clicking [on] an e-mail is as much about human psychology as it is about accomplishing a task. The fact that we saw ‘password’ subject lines clicked … shows us that users are concerned about security.  Likewise, users clicked on messages about company policies and deliveries … showing a general curiosity about issues that matter to them.”

Carpenter went on to note that KnowBe4’s findings should help corporate IT departments understand “how recipients think” before they click on phishing e-mails and the links within them.

How about you? Are there other e-mail subject lines beyond the ones listed above that you’ve encountered in your daily activities and that raise your suspicions? Please share your examples in the comment section below.

Klout’s gone (thankfully) … but get ready for Skorr.

Social influence/reputation scores – what no one really wants – come back for Round 2.

Who remembers Klout anymore?  When the social media “influence rater” was quietly shuttered in mid-2018,

Klout was just a faint glimmer of what it had once been.  Over a 10-year arc, the social influence “Klout Score” went from being something some people cared about to being something no one bothered with.

Through some rather opaque algorithms, Klout purported to measure the reach and influence of people’s social networks and correlate the content they created to measure how others interacted with that content.

Klout used major social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia and LinkedIn (plus a few less important ones like Foursquare and Google+, but not SnapChat or Pinterest) to create a person’s so-called “Klout Score” ranging from 0 to 100.  The higher the score, the more “social clout” the person presumably had.

The resulting score was something that many people discounted, noting that prolific bloggers ended up having Klout Scores significantly higher than even the president of the United States.

Others looked at their own modest Klout Scores and freaked out.

But as it turned out, all of it was “much ado about nothing” — so much blue smoke and mirrors.  MediaPost columnist Kaila Colbin put her finger on the reality of it all when she wrote this about the foundation upon which Klout was built:

[The idea that] “the carrot, the reward, is the influence you have — that is backwards. Influence is not a reward or an end-result.  It is a byproduct of actually being good …”

Colbin continued:

“A service like Klout promotes the ambition of being influential, but there are no shortcuts. Show up. Express yourself wholeheartedly. Deliver value. Ask yourself what you can give your community. The influence will take care of itself.”

As if on cue, starting about halfway into its decade-long life, Klout began to show significant cracks in its foundation. Klout’s presence began to weaken as more people raised questions about the company’s well-guarded methodology by which its scores were determined.

Still others began to label the scheme “socially evil” in that Klout was in the business of exploiting the “status anxiety” of the people who paid attention to the scores.

But perhaps the biggest knock came when search engine specialist Sean Golliher analyzed the Klout scores of Twitter users and discovered that the number of Twitter followers was sufficient to explain 95% of the Klout scores assigned to those users. That finding validated the suspicions many had about Klout all along that its rating system was an elaborate architecture based on very little at all.

The last few years of Klout played out like so many other high-flying wonders of the cyberworld:  A change of ownership that failed to stem the negative trends, followed by mounting irrelevance and finally closing down the entire enterprise.

At the time Klout was shuttered in May 2018, few even noticed. Indeed, for many Internet users it was as if Klout had never existed.

But cyberspace being what it is, no sooner had Klout disappeared than a new social influence/reputation protocol emerged to take its place.

This time it’s Skorr, sporting the high-minded tagline “grow socially” and described by its backers as follows:

“[We] are now building a decentralized reputation protocol for the Internet: making reputation immutable and anonymity accountable … This reputation protocol allows individuals, organizations and things to create one or multiple reputations, depending on their identity.  Each reputation will be immutable, verifiable and traceable — and as such, the actor can be held accountable.”

Over on the company’s website, we read that not only will Skorr allow people to measure their influence, it “will also allow you to challenge your friends on different social contests and invite them to social media disputes.”

Isn’t that just what we need: more ways to help people argue more online.

Let’s hope that this new influence/reputation “protocol” will go the way of the last one — and that it happens a whole lot quicker this time around.

Reuters: In 2019, publishers will experience “the biggest wave of layouts in years” … and massive burnout among the journalists who remain.

The bad news continues for the publishing industry in 2019.

I’ve blogged before about the employment picture in journalism, which has been pretty ugly for the past decade.   And just when it seems that news in the publishing industry couldn’t get much worse … along comes a new study that further underscores the systemic problems the industry faces.

The results from a recent Reuters survey of publishers worldwide point to declines that will only continue in 2019.  In fact, Reuters is predicting that the industry will experience its largest wave of layoffs in years, coming off of a decade of already-steadily shrinking numbers.

The main cause is the continuing struggle to attract ad revenues – revenues that have been lost to the 600-lb. gorillas in the field – particularly Facebook, Google and Amazon.

Growing subscription revenue as opposed to a failing attempt to attract advertising dollars is the new focus, but that will be no panacea, according Nic Newman, a senior research associate at Reuters:

“Publishers are looking to subscriptions to make up the difference, but the limits of this are likely to become apparent in 2019.”

In addition to boosting subscription revenue, publishers are looking to display advertising, native advertising and donations to help bankroll their businesses, but advertising is the main focus of revenue generation for only about one in four publishers — a far cry from just a few years ago.

Putting it all together, Reuters predicts that it will lead to the largest wave of publishing job layoffs “in years” – and this in an industry where employment has been shrinking for some time now.

With yet more layoffs on the horizon, it’s little wonder that the same Reuters research finds employee burnout growing among the employees who remain. As Newman states:

“The explosion of content and the intensity of the 24-hour news cycle have put huge pressure on individual journalists over the last few years, with burnout concerns most keenly felt in editorial roles.”

A major reason why:  Even more is being asked from the employee who remain – and who are already stretched.

Journalism salaries are middling even in good times – which these certainly are not.  How many times can an employee be asked to “do more with less” and actually have it continue to happen?

Even the bragging rights of journalists are being chipped away, with more of them relegated to spending their time “aggregating” or “curating” coverage by other publishers instead of conducting their own first-hand reporting. That translates into perceptions of lower professional status as well.

In such an environment, it isn’t surprising to find editorial quality slipping, contributing to a continuing downward spiral as audiences notice the change — and no doubt some turn elsewhere for news.

Last but not least, there’s the bias perception issue. Whether it’s true or not, some consumers of the news suspect that many publishers and journalists slant their news reporting.  This creates even more of a dampening effect, even though in difficult times, the last thing publishers need is to alienate any portion of their audience.

How have your periodical and news reading habits changed in the past few years? Do you continue to “pay” for news delivery or have you joined the legions of others who have migrated to consuming free content in cyberspace?

(For more details from the Reuters research, you can sign up here to access the report.)

Yet another knock on business travel.

“Don’t let the bed bugs bite” becomes harder to do …

Recently, an article in Meetings & Conventions magazine caught my eye – and not in a good way.  The big headline blared that Baltimore has kept its title as the “Bed Bug Capital of the United States.”

Seeing as how Baltimore is the big city closest to where I live, this didn’t come as particularly welcome news. No one wants to be singled out for such a dubious “honor.”

Adding insult to injury, nearby Washington, DC came in second on the list, which was compiled based on metropolitan area statistics of the national pest control service provider Orkin, and where that company has performed the most bed bug treatments over the past year.

For the record, making up the Top Ten bed bug infestation listing are the following metro areas:

  1. Baltimore
  2. Washington, DC
  3. Chicago
  4. Los Angeles
  5. Columbus, OH
  6. New York
  7. Cincinnati
  8. Detroit
  9. Atlanta
  10. Philadelphia

For Baltimore, it was the third year in a row landing on top of the metro area list.  Meanwhile, several others made it onto the list that weren’t there previously (Atlanta and Philadelphia).

On the other hand, Dallas and San Francisco have now dropped out of the Top Ten.

Entomologist Chelle Hartzer, an Orkin spokesperson, was quick to point out that being on the Top Ten list shouldn’t be viewed as a reflection of general lack of sanitation or cleanliness, stating:

“Bed bugs are the #1 urban pest in many cities today. They are master hitchhikers, so no one is immune.  Sanitation has nothing to do with prevention; from public transit to 5-star resorts, bed bugs have been and can be found everywhere humans are.”

When you think of it in that context, it’s actually little wonder that Baltimore and DC have so many incidences of bed bug infestations requiring treatment, considering the amount of travel to and from the National Capital region from all over the world.

[I’m completely clueless as to how and why Columbus, OH should come to outrank New York City, however.]

The bigger question is … what to do about it?

For its part, Orkin has come up with some suggested personal “dos” and “don’ts” for travelers regarding managing their exposure to beg bugs.

Among the precautions Orkin recommends that people take are these when checking into your hotel or motel room:

  • Lift and look around typical hiding spots including the mattress, box spring, behind baseboards, pictures, and torn(!) wallpaper.
  • Check carefully for tiny, ink-colored stains on mattress seams, in soft furniture and behind headboards.
  • Avoid placing your luggage on beds, and also avoid proximity to walls and carpeted surfaces(!). Whenever possible, keep luggage elevated, such as on a hard-surface counter.
  • The safest location is placing your luggage in the bathroom(!).

Reading the ways Orkin recommends limiting exposure to bed bugs while on a trip seems designed to take all the pleasure out of traveling. Maybe it’s time to consider Plan B:  staying home!

Speaking personally, I have yet to be subjected to a bed bug infestation — either on the road or “hitchhiked home.” But I know several people who have – and their stories weren’t pretty.  Do you have any personal experiences of your own to share?

Facebook’s bad publicity in 2018 lands it at the top of the “least-trusted technology company” list.

The trust is gone …

One has to assume it’s a citation Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has tried mightily to avoid receiving. But with a massive data breach last year and poor marketing decision-making accompanied by a wave of bad publicity, it shouldn’t come as a major shock that Facebook is now considered the least trusted major technology brand by consumers.

The real surprise is by how much it outscores everyone else. Really, Facebook’s in a class by itself.

Recently, online survey research firm Toluna conducted a poll of ~1,000 adults age 18 or older in which it asked respondents to identify their “least trusted” technology company.

The results of the survey show the degree to which Facebook has become the “face” of everything that’s wrong with trust in the world of technology.

Here’s what Toluna’s found when it asked consumers to name the technology company they trusted least with their personal information:

  • Facebook: ~40% of respondents trust least
  • Amazon: ~8%
  • Twitter: ~8%
  • Uber: ~7%
  • Google (Gmail): ~6%
  • Lyft: ~6%
  • Apple: ~4%
  • Microsoft: ~2%
  • Netflix: ~1%
  • Tesla: ~1%

The yawning gap between Facebook’s unflattering perch at the top of the listing and the next most-cited companies — Amazon and Twitter — says everything anyone needs to know about the changing fortunes of company image and how fast public opinion can turn against it.

About the only thing worse is not showing up on the Top 10 list at all – which is the case for Oath (the parent of Yahoo and AOL).  That entity has become so inconsequential, it doesn’t even enter into the conversation anymore.  That’s a “diss” on a completely different level, of course. As Oscar Wilde once said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is … not being talked about.”

What about you? Do you think that Facebook should be tops on this list?  Let us know your opinion below.