New On PNConnect: Viral Sameness

If you follow many news sites on social media, you may have noticed a numbing trend over the past few years. Every site shares the same stories, often with identical angles. Time will cover the same story as Mashable, which is the same story Vox shared earlier, which originated on a Reddit thread. It’s been called “viral sameness,” and it has the effect of taking a piece of web ephemera and mainstreaming it.

It happens for a simple reason: When a story is spreading, readers are going to click somewhere to see what it’s about, and no one wants to leave those page views on the table. Growing social usage means the overall pie is bigger, but everyone’s getting a smaller chunk of that pie. With so much advertising revenue at stake — and with so few alternative business models — there’s a continual race to grab as many readers as possible.

via In a World of Viral Sameness, Strike Out on Your Own Path « PNConnect | Digital Marketing Services from Porter Novelli.

Approval Buttons Are No Substitute for Approval Workflows

What Is It: Tweetdeck yesterday unveiled it’s added a confirmation step allowing users to setup a workflow that means someone could not send a Tweet without another person approving it. This is not unusual and is a common feature for many other CMS platforms.

What Does This Mean: This is meant to help prevent Tweets being sent that are…regrettable. Things like someone publishing a personal update from a corporate account, or making a really bad joke that you think is funny but someone else is going to realize is in poor taste.

This sort of technical insurance is great, of course, but it’s only part of the equation. Any sort of social publishing program should have layers of approval that are worked out well ahead of when any individual Tweet or other update goes out. Build a process that takes into account any stakeholders who need to see a piece of content and insures they are seeing it before it goes live. In addition to that, create a workflow that makes sure any post should pass through at least two hands (or sets of eyes) before it even makes it into the CMS.

Essentially, if the only time content is being approved by a second person is right before it gets queued in the CMS then you’re putting yourself into a precarious position alright. That should, ideally, be the final step in an approval process that everyone is aware of, good with and part of.

Comment policy tips

This is my latest post for PNConnect. Read it here.

More and more media companies are eliminating comments from their sites, as they realize they lack the resources for effective moderation and that much of the worthwhile conversation has moved to social networks. Others have installed Facebook or other external comment tools so they don’t have to host an infrastructure themselves. But no matter where interactions take place, every publisher needs an effective and publicly accessible comment moderation policy in place. If a brand is going to be its own publisher and start a conversation, it should be prepared to host and manage the resulting discussion.

Wordpress-Adds-Facebook-Twitter-LoginsA comment policy’s goal is simple: To inform everyone, openly and clearly, what the rules are for polite discourse. Here are our guidelines for the key areas to cover.


Every blog and social channel profile has a specific content focus, whether it’s a brand, a product, or some other topic. Some profiles are scaled to deal with customer service issues while others restrict themselves to promotional content. However, the audience doesn’t always know or care about this distinction. People will naturally find their way to your profile with a question that should be directed elsewhere, and it’s your job to clear up the confusion and redirect them. This begins with clarifying, upfront, what topics comment responses will address, and how off-topic comments will be handled.

Sample copy:

This Facebook page is about news and updates relating to ACME Corporation. Please do not leave customer service questions in the comments as such comments will be removed and forwarded to the customer service department, which can be reached at 800-555-5555 or


Alongside topic guidelines, specify when and why you’ll delete visitor comments.

There are three common reasons a comment would need to be deleted:

1. It’s rude or insulting: Everyone knows that comments can devolve into name-calling, personal attacks and more pretty quickly. (We’re looking at you, YouTube.) Specify upfront that this is out of bounds.

2. It’s spam: Comment sections sometimes fill up quickly with accounts promoting themselves, selling mail-order medication, or sharing get-rich-quickly schemes.

3. It’s threatening: Occasionally, a comment will cross the line from annoying to actually concerning — for instance, threatening a company executive.

Sample copy:

We reserve the right to remove any comment that violates this policy because it uses vulgar, illegal or inappropriate language; is threatening or defamatory of ACME Corporation, its executives, or its customers or invades their privacy in any way; infringes on the intellectual property rights of ACME Corporation; or contains links or messages relating to political campaigning, commercial solicitation, chain letters, or other inappropriate material or topics.


The ultimate objective is to move from the negative (moderating and removing comments) to the positive (fostering productive conversation) in your channels’ comments sections. Here are the key ingredients to maintaining the right tone:

  • Moderate comments effectively and consistently. A healthy garden is a well-tended garden. Set a regular schedule for comment review and stick to it.
  • Assign an owner. Someone should be running point on vetting inbound comments and directing them to whoever can respond most effectively.
  • Create a response workflow, including a manager and response teams. Know who is responsible for vetting comments, who that manager is assigning comment responses to, and what the expectations for turnaround are.
  • Encourage individual writers to monitor comments on their posts for the first 24 hours. This can help the writers learn more about the responses to their posts and about common questions or areas of interest.

The Advantages of A Unified Editorial Space

What Is It: A story at PBS MediaShift recounts the story of a university student newspaper that was close to being kicked out of its newsroom workspace until the case was made that having a single newsroom was more efficient. To build on that, the story gather quotes from student editors from other universities, all of whom say having a newsroom space is essential to their operations, saying it allows for better team communication, more efficient task assignments and follow-ups and more, despite the reality that many of these jobs could technically be done by a largely remote staff.

What Does This Mean: Distributed teams can be hugely effective since they allow for the best people to be found, not just the best people who are in a specific geographic region. But while remote editorial is all the rage there’s a lot to be said for the knowledge-sharing and communal culture that comes from having everyone in the same room or rooms. The story here focuses on college papers, where the education considerations are even more important than it would be in other situations.

Even when it comes to the so-called “brand newsroom” though there are distinct advantages to having a unified space for the team that allows them to not only talk amongst themselves but also have equal access to other stake-holders and information-holders. Otherwise you get a team that has a single leader with all the access, leading to the others seeing limited access and therefore limited opportunities to advance up the ladder.

This is not to say remote teams aren’t effective in any way. But there are unique advantages to a unified editorial space that just can’t be discounted, and this story is a good reminder of them.

Facebook Weighs in on Newsfeed Diversity

Facebook has released the results of a new study that essentially shows people are responsible for the diversity of opinion they see – or don’t see – in their Newsfeed.

The results are staggeringly unsurprising in that they show that on a self-selecting network the news and opinions you’re exposed to there are going to be more or less in line with your own. There may be some crossover from the other side of the political divide, but since the study shows only 23%, of average, of people’s friends claim opposing ideology there’s likely not to be much of that. More than that, the Newsfeed is heavily influenced by what the individual person engages with. So if you are constantly Liking things because you agree with them, you’ll see more from the person you agree with. If you’re constantly commenting about how someone is so wrong, you’re setting yourself up for more from that person.

Zeynep Tufekci has an excellent piece on how the presentation of the study’s results takes pains to play down the role the Newsfeed algorithm plays while playing up the self-selection component. And she highlights how things differ for liberals and conservatives and some very fundamental issues with the study make skewed (at least somewhat) results almost inevitable.

When you combine this with the recent study showing many people don’t know there even *is* an algorithm filtering what they see and you can see how Facebook cannot wash its hands of the role it plays in displaying news and other updates. It may not be as overt as the experiment that was uncovered last year, but every day it’s making a decision as to what is and isn’t shown. They may say they don’t make editorial decisions like a news outlet would, but the human programmers building the algorithm are not off the hook.

So what you have is a study that says “the algorithm isn’t a factor” but when the entire ecosystem operates within the confines of the algorithm then that argument loses a lot of validity. It’s the equivalent of saying “we all stay rooted to the ground because we’re heavy and gravity isn’t a factor” while ignoring that gravity is what makes things heavy.

Live-Streaming and Facebook Just Don’t Mix

It’s hard to see how live-streaming is going to work well on Facebook, but that’s what’s happening as Meerkat runs into Facebook’s arms after being shunned by Twitter, which has given preference to its own Periscope.

The reason this seems like a head-scratcher is that Facebook is consistently dinged by everyone as not being about what’s happening in real-time. There’s never really been a time, despite all of Facebook’s efforts to counter this, that it is the place to discuss breaking news. That’s because unlike Twitter, which displays the real-time stream in all its messiness, Facebook adds the Newsfeed algorithm between publisher and audience. So I’m just now sure how instantly-disappearing video is going to play when the post it’s attached to finally appears in people’s feeds six hours – or three days – later.

Live-streaming is great, but there will need to be some sort of replay feature, even if it’s for a limited time, that’s added if it’s really going to take off and if Facebook in particular can be a viable promotional platform for it. Right now Periscope allows for rewatching for up to 24 hours, but even that’s going to have to get expanded. Or maybe this is something that can become a feature for paid accounts.

It’s easy to see Facebook adding its own functionality in the near future and turning it on so it cuts through the Newsfeed and automatically appears at the top of people’s pages.

Social Networks Are, and Will Continue To Be, Media Companies

You’ve heard it from just about every social network: “We don’t want to be a media company.” These statements come from companies who want to be the connection point between media companies and the audience. Twitter, Facebook, Google and most every other major web company has uttered this or some sort of similar sentiment in the last decade as they try to assuage the fears of those media companies and position themselves as helpers, not competitors.

Yet repeated actions by many social companies shows that they *are* media companies. Because any time you either make decisions on what information is ranked and in what manner or create something wholly original out of other parts, you are creating media and therefore are a media company.

Google and Facebook, as Emily Bell at CRJ points out, are very much “frenemies” of the media industry. Both try to position themselves as helpers but both make decisions about how news will be discovered. Twitter reportedly tried to by Mic. Instagram launched @Music, a profile it will use to highlight artists. Twitter has long offered an email digest featuring the “best of” updates you may have missed and recently added a “While You Were Away” feature that shows you updates you may have missed since the last time you logged on.

In all these cases there is some form of editorial judgement being used. In some cases that’s is based on an algorithm, though that’s not a veil to hide behind since those algorithms are designed by humans to match certain criteria. In other cases it’s actually a human being doing the publishing. And there’s no end to how far these editorial encroachments can continue. Why would Instagram, for instance, stop at Music when they could also launch Sports and Movies and then get super-granular and launch ChicagoSports and other locally-targeted channels?

These social networks have seen the power that publishers have and want at least some of that for themselves. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s well past time media companies who have used these networks to reach an elusive audience realize that they’re no longer just competing with other legacy brands, or even with newer upstarts like Vice and so on as well, but with the very networks they’ve come to rely on. That changes the playing field drastically.

Turning Strategies Into Tactics

Goals beget strategies beget tactics beget metrics. That’s the simple path most communicators – and most everyone else as well – go down when working on their program planning. Sometimes the hardest gap, to bridge though, is the one between strategies and tactics since too many people too often get them confused. So here’s an example of just how different they are.

“Pictures get great engagement on social media” is, at this point, an accepted truism. Study after study shows that posts with pictures perform much better all around and indeed entire social networks like Pinterest and Instagram are built completely around them. So you see all sorts of media organizations doing just that. “Post pictures” then is the strategy. But look how Fast Company has turned that into a tactic.

That image isn’t included in the story that’s linked to. It’s custom made for usage on Twitter. They’ve taken the broad strategy of “post pictures in Tweets” and made it very specific, using specific images that are tied to the story. These always pop out in my feed because it’s not just a generic image, it’s something that’s a lot more interesting and, therefore, more engaging.

I don’t have access to Fast Company’s metrics and so can’t say for certain that they are or aren’t working. And it’s always dangerous to say “well I think it’s interesting so everyone else will too.” But independent of specifics this provides a good example of how to follow best practices, adopt a strategy and then define tactics that support and are in line with both.

May the Fourth Be With the Power of Fans

Today is, of course, Star Wars Day. No, there’s no connection between May 4th and any movie in the Star Wars franchise, any books or anything else. But years ago fans rallied around the date because of the fun “fourth/force” play on words and made it their won day to celebrate everything they love – and mock some of the stuff they don’t – about the movies and the entire Star Wars universe.

In the last five years the day has been increasingly celebrated by brands, including the official Star Wars team. This year in particular it seems there’s no end of consumer products – and other – brands who are jumping on the bandwagon and looking to either sell items that are directly related to the movies or at least show off some nifty visual their creative team cooked up. It’s gotten to the point where there seems to be an active backlash, not just against the overwhelming number of fans (despite the fact that those fans have to endure six months of Fantasy Football updates…so who’s the bigger geek?) but against how commercialized the day has become.

Social media experts have for a decade or more been advising clients and managers to look for opportunities to officially endorse and amplify fan celebration moments. It’s a good idea. If your fan base is rallying around some moment then it can make that base feel heard and important if the company they’re celebrating acknowledges them. But there is a point where it goes too far and becomes co-opting, crowding out the fan voices and drawing attention away from them. It’s an important line to be aware of and walk. Otherwise you may find that spontaneous outpouring of fan appreciation is snuffed out by those who are most in need of it.

Learning the Language of Emojis

You’ve always heard that it’s easier for kids to learn non-native languages, apparently because the pathways in their brains are still forming, making it easier for them to absorb all this information. That’s why you see parents pushing their kindergarteners to enroll in language classes and speaking something you probably don’t recognize in the grocery store aisle.

In 2015 a lot of old people – and by “old” I mean anyone over 30, including myself – are suddenly finding ourselves needing to learn a new language: Emojis. Emoji usage is everywhere. Not only is it a standard in any text you’ve received in the last two years but Instagram now supports it, Star Wars worked with Twitter to roll out custom emojis in Tweets a couple weeks ago and…well…it’s essentially all over the place. At this point it’s harder to find a social network that doesn’t support emojis than vice versa.

image via tumblr

image via tumblr

This represents yet another skill for those for whom this doesn’t come naturally – for whom it represents what amounts to a foreign language – to learn. While it’s never a good idea to, when managing a corporate publishing program, go too far into internet-native speak (I’m looking at everyone who’s used “on fleek” in a brand Tweet) it can be something that, used judiciously, adds color and personality to a program. It’s so easy to speak either in the most boring, dry tone or to lapse into inauthentic marketing-speak, and interjecting emojis, frequently-used acronyms and so on can add some flavor. But it’s important to not just learn *what* to do but “why” and “when” as well. So it’s not just a a skill it is, like many things, an art as well.