Salesforce’s Slack pulled the plug on Future Forum, a think tank it incubated in 2020 that, among other things, produced quarterly research around flexible and remote work.
Future Forum kept the Slack brand relatively subtle and independent of its work – but of course, Slack had an interest in the results of research around remote working. “I think we’re trying to have a broader conversation around how to make work better… I think what we’ve seen, especially those early days in the pandemic is just how broken work was. And that was the original vision for Future Forum: how do we make work better for different types of employees?,” Sheela Subramnian, vice president at Future Forum, said in an interview with Anne Helen Petersen last year.
Now, that alignment has shifted, at least for Salesforce. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is pushing workers to return to the office, making Future Forum’s findings that remote work is popular slightly at odds with Salesforce’s own priorities. On a podcast a few weeks ago, Benioff said he “knows empirically” that new hires perform better “if they’re in the office, meeting people, being onboarded, being trained.”
It’s unclear what happens next; Slack CEO Lidaine Jones wrote in an internal message first reported by Fortune that “The Future Forum team has been critical to crafting our market position and helping companies envision a new, more productive way of working. We remain committed to flexible, inclusive work at Slack and will carry forward your impactful work.”
There are also other factors at play, including the well-publicized cost-cutting that is underway at Salesforce. The company announced another round of layoffs just last week, part of a plan to reduce the workforce by 10%. But it’s a reminder that brand publishing can never be truly independent of a company’s overall business strategy or goals.
Relatedly, Salesforce’s publishing strategy has largely been pandemic-driven. Future Forum came out of research that started during the early days of COVID-19. Salesforce+, the company’s streaming operation, was a direct result of the company being unable to maintain its large-scale physical events, and an attempt to bring that content online and to a wider audience. Now that we’re mostly out the other side, Salesforce+ and its fortunes are also worth keeping an eye on, to see if it changes focus, or if it manages to survive.
AI threatens publishing strategies
The New York Times wrote about how content publishers on the Internet are worried about the effects AI chatbots will have on audience growth and readership. Publishers are now pulling together ad hoc committees to figure out how they can be paid for the use of their content by chatbots.
As we covered over a month ago, AI chatbots risk seriously undermining content products at both news publishers and brand publishers. At the time, staffers at multiple publishers told Toolkits they were scrambling to understand if and how their content is being used by AI chatbots, whether they can prevent chatbots from weaving their original reporting and information into responses, and – ultimately – if it’s even worth trying to stop them.
On the brand side, marketers who have invested significant resources in content operations and branded publications are also worrying that generative AI could significantly impact their ability to attract and engage with audiences, the chatbots will answer queries directly rather than directing them to brands’ sites.
For any content publisher, expertise is no longer a viable differentiation strategy. Instead, brand publishers are now trying to understand how they can bring original, new information to their publications.
How Google is building a brand publication
One of the longest-running brand publications out there is operated by one of the biggest companies in the world. Think With Google covers news and analysis about marketing and advertising for a B2B audience of decision-makers in marketing and advertising.
Leading the charge at Think With Google is Natalie Zmuda, who is global head of content.
Natalie joined me on this week’s episode of the Brand Publishing Show for a wide-ranging discussion on how she balances “content” with “marketing”, and the Herculean task of telling stories from across a company the size of Google.
Also worth noting:
- Speaking of Think With Google, the company launched a new series with Katie Couric called “Wake-Up Call at Work,” focused on fresh career advice and demystifying the modern workplace.
- A new survey shows that many companies are falling short of building trust with employees, and highlights opportunities for companies to do so.
- According to Indeed data reported by Axios, postings for internal and employee comms roles have seen an 8% decline since February 2020. There was a boom in those types of roles in the past couple of years, potentially due to the upswing in remote work.
- The branded entertainment movement continues: Duolingo has created Love Language, a new reality dating series on Peacock where ten singles who don’t speak each others’ languages will try to find true love. Check out the trailer here.