Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 9/29/17

  • YouTube’s Studio app now lets creators schedule videos for publication right from within the mobile app.
  • The FTC has stated the in-app features for influencers to disclose paid relationships aren’t sufficient, making it clear once more that brands are responsible for ensuring adherence to guidelines.
  • New tools from YouTube will allow for automated remixing of video assets and better targeting based on both online and offline behavior.
  • Fox is doubling-down on its own FX+ streaming service, removing its shows from other OTT providers.
  • Three-quarters of social media efforts in support of sponsorships are handled in-house, not by agencies or other parties.
  • Instagram’s touting 800 million monthly and 500 million daily users, as well as two million advertisers.
  • WordPress has connected with Google Photos to allows photos and videos shared on the latter to be used in posts on the former.
  • Facebook has committed to including “dark posts” in its report on advertising activity, a step Twitter says it doesn’t need to take because promoted content works differently there.
  • Vimeo will acquire Livestream and is launching Vimeo Live, bringing livestreaming to the service for the first time.
  • There are new ways for you to control who can or can’t comment on your Instagram posts, part of a move to increase security.
  • Rolling Stone is the latest media outlet to announce it’s “pivoting to video” as a way to save money and make itself more attractive to potential buyers.
  • Advertisers using Facebook Messenger chatbots for their campaigns will have new objectives available to them.
  • Yelp is leaning into the success it’s found with home services with a new “Request A Quote” feature for users to quickly get estimates from providers.
  • Marketers are making adjustments based on changing consumer search patterns, including the growth of mobile usage.
  • Giphy’s new Sticker Embed tool lets you essentially vandalize your favorite (or least favorite) website by adding stickers to it.
  • The New York Times will be participating in Facebook’s new push to encourage subscription, but others, including The Washington Post, are sitting it out.
  • The NYT is also experimenting with customization, showing people different versions of its homepage based on their preferences and behaviors.

Media Companies Chased Shiny Objects, Now It’s Time for Sober Heads

Three recent stories nicely encapsulate the state of the media industry in various ways.

The first is an excellent piece by Heidi Moore at CJR that catches everyone up on how all those “pivot to video” strategies are turning out. Unsurprisingly, it’s not well. Pageviews are dropping like a rock as publishers take a three-page story and replace it with one video, put that video on Facebook and make it indistinguishable from the other 15 videos you see there each day. They not only aren’t creating unique, engaging videos but those they aren’t creating any brand loyalty, aren’t bringing in ad revenue (while costing more money because achieving reach takes advertising spending) and aren’t being measured accurately, if at all.

Second, BBC Labs covers most, if not all, the media formats that are now available for publishers to choose from. Everything from short-form video to live blogs to data visualization to chatbots is included here, along with examples of how to use those formats effectively. It’s a practical-minded list but it also serves to show how thin publishers have to spread themselves and how much internal knowledge they need to have in order to accommodate even a quarter of these options. Also unstated but implicit is that each format (and platform) has its own set of metrics that are completely unique, making the final judgment of what worked and what didn’t a frustrating experience.

Finally, Ricardo Bilton at Nieman Labs analyzes the differences between how stories posted using Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages and Facebook’s Instant Articles perform. Basically, have those platforms lived up to the sales pitch? AMP articles have a longer lifespan (likely because they’re found via search) and spend more time on the story and both load significantly faster than the average mobile story. But what’s unclear is how any of that is translating into revenue.

Panic In the Streets

There’s been so much change in the media world over the last several years it’s no wonder publishers are spinning wildly, grasping at any possible solution that’s offered to them. That’s why so many have been more than happy to agree to whatever terms and whims Facebook has presented, why so many have suddenly added teams of dozens of people solely to create Snapchat Stories and more.

As Moore points out in her story at the top, though, a reckoning is coming. All of these shifts and changes and pivots haven’t stopped the bleeding, at least not to any substantial degree. Google and Facebook combine to eat up 77% of the online advertising market, leaving less than a quarter to be split among other social networks/tech companies, publishers, and other players. That’s not a big piece of the pie and one that’s not enough to maintain quality journalism for very long.

Which is why some of the biggest newspapers have been focusing on driving digital subscriptions. They know print is fast becoming a niche market and so want people to embrace digital reading. The Washington Post recently made headlines with the news it had topped 1 million digital subscribers, double the amount they had at the beginning of the year, though still behind The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

That strategy at least seems sustainable. While WaPo and the others have used or experimented with many of these new formats to some extent, they are focused on growing their own brand and building an audience loyal to that brand. Platforms will come and go and the preferences expressed by those platforms will shift to reinforce their own self-interest. Owning your platform, on the other hand, future-proofs you against tying your own fate to the whims of others.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

What Keeps Me From Speaking Up?

(Note: This is based on one of the prompts from Robert S. Kaplan’s book What You’re Really Meant to Do.)

Years ago I served on my church’s Board of Elders alongside nine other laymen and the two pastors. Every other week we would sit in one of the meeting rooms of the church and discuss the issues facing it and its members, working to find ways around those problems.

At one point somewhere along the line one of the pastors said something like “Chris, you don’t often speak up in those meetings, but when you do I value your input tremendously.” It was true. I usually sat and followed the conversations as they flowed among the other members, waiting for a good opportunity to offer my own thoughts.

I’m a bit more verbose in client meetings, readily sharing my opinions and recommendations. Still, though, I usually wait until others who have strong opinions and points of view have hashed them out. It’s not that I don’t have similarly strong opinions, but these conversations tend to be circular, as two sides air their perspectives and grievances. There’s a lot of throat-clearing and making sure you’ve gone on the record as saying this, that or the other thing.

No, where I like to finally join the fray is in the last quarter of the discussion. Some common ground has been ironed out, some points disagreed on and possibly rejected. Now we’re ready to get down to brass tacks and decide what to do with the facts and opinions everyone has been sharing. We’re ready for action items.

My favorite contribution to meetings is some variation on “OK, this is all well and good, but what are we going to do about it?” Suddenly the conversation turns from a theoretical one to a practical one, involving a number of steps to take us down a defined path. Not that the Socratic discussion before wasn’t good, but this is where we’re going to get serious about the issue at hand.

There are other ways of speaking up, of course. My career is filled with emails that have been sent because I’ve got some idea or thought to share and I just can’t help myself any longer. There’s about a 50/50 success rate there, which isn’t bad.

Mostly when I think about “speaking up,” I think about raising my physical voice. It’s something I might seem hesitant to do, but that’s just because I’m waiting to get to the good part.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Violent Movies Encourage Violence, But Only If Violence is an Option

There’s a big problem I see with the conclusions of this study. What it found was that kids from 8 to 12 years old who are exposed to violent movies are more likely to then use a gun, one of the toy or disabled ones provided by the researchers. The study then concludes, in short, that viewing violence leads to an increased tendency toward violence.

Here’s my problem: The toy and other guns were made available.

There’s a decent case to be made the exposure to violent media – movies, TV shows, music, video games – will increase one’s tendency to be violent. See more guns and you’re theoretically more likely to use them. That’s the case that’s been made by those on both sides of the conservative spectrum who want to regulate the output of the entertainment industry.

But the means to act on the impulses have to be available in order for them to do so. The gun has to be available for it to be used. If it’s not available, it can’t be used.

And that’s where the political unity ends. Democrats will tell you that the next logical step is then to enact gun control measures that will keep weapons out of the hands of those most likely to use them. Republicans, though, will stop you and argue that the fault lies entirely with the liberal media and its everyone’s right to own guns, even those with a history of mental issues and other violent behavior.

So one wants to address at least one root cause of the violent behavior and eliminate a primary means of acting on violent impulses.

The other wants to address at least one root cause of violent behavior but then do nothing about the means by which that behavior is expressed.

I would have loved to have seen a variation on the study that sent some groups of kids to a room with no violent toys. What would have happened then?

It’s an interesting hypothetical, but it remains just that. In the real world that’s not even an option. These kids will grow up, most likely, in the same reality we’re in now, where guns are freely available to whoever seeks them out, regardless of the intentions for usage and irrespective of red flags in their backgrounds.

In the movie Grand Canyon, Steve Martin (pictured above) plays a movie producer who specializes in over-the-top action films, a character modeled after Joel Silver. One day he’s shot in the leg during a robbery and has a conversion, promising to put less violence into the world because he’s now seen its impact up close. After he’s healed, though, he quickly goes back to his old territory, essentially shrugging and saying he can’t save the world.

It’s a cynical moment, but an essentially accurate one. We can’t expect the movies to change us for the better. We need to do that ourselves in real, tangible ways. Gun control laws that respect the rights afforded by the Bill of Rights but also respect the right of six-year-old kids to not be shot while walking home from school. That’s much more within our grasp.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

I Retweet More When I Can’t See Numbers

So here’s something interesting I noticed recently: I’m far more likely to Retweet someone when I’m using TweetDeck in my desktop browser than I am when using the mobile Twitter app.

When I realized I was doing that I began wondering why. It comes down to one clear difference between the two experiences: On TweetDeck I can’t see how many Retweets, comments or Likes that Tweet has already received, at least not within the main column-based experience. Those numbers are clear on the mobile app, though.

When I see a Tweet that I’d love to Retweet or reply to, I stop myself when I notice on the mobile app that it already has 10,437 RTs or 37 replies or whatever else. I start to think my reply won’t be noticed or that my Retweet will just add to the noise, sharing something most of my network has already seen. There’s no value add there.

Does that happen to anyone else? I’m curious to know if you engage less if you see a lot of people have already weighed in or if that’s just me.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Brevity Isn’t Always a Bug

Yesterday afternoon I was shocked to see news circulating that Twitter was conducting a limited test allowing some users to post updates of up to 280 characters, double the long-standing limit. Twitter is billing this experiment as one that allows for more and deeper self-expression and one that takes into account the additional characters often needed in non-English languages.

Hints and rumors that Twitter would adjust the character limit have been circulating for years. Last year there were reports it would basically become a blog platform, allowing up to 10,000 characters. Similar rumors swirled in 2015 that a “new product” would break the 140 character ceiling. And just a few weeks ago people found hints of a new feature that would make Tweetstorms easier to post. On top of those rumors, Twitter has made adjustments to the character limit, including no longer counting images/videos or usernames in replies against the 140 max.

There are some good points to make about why “character count” isn’t the place for Twitter to be focusing its attention right now. Not only does it continue to be a haven of sexist, racist trolls (as well as straight-up Nazis) who circumvent TOS on technicalities, but it needs a damn “Edit” button, even if it’s only available for 60 minutes after a post is published or something. Also, stop showing me Tweets out of chronological order or so help me…

With all those points stipulated, there’s also just a craft reason why 140 characters has always been a value, not a bug to fix. Todd VanDerWerff put it well last night.

That’s been very true in my experience. More than once (a day) I’ve typed out a Tweet and found it’s well over 140 characters, especially including a link. So I’ve had to review my copy and edit it down, removing superlatives, unnecessary digressions and other instances of overt, showy verbosity. I’m a better editor and writer for being aware of these things, even if I don’t always practice them on WordPress, where no such character constraints are in place. At least I’m aware.

The thoughtful approach necessary to conform to Twitter’s limitations is just the latest iteration of that kind of on-the-job learning. I’m convinced I’m a better writer for my experience at AdJab and the other Weblogs, Inc. blogs I wrote for over a decade ago. On AdJab in particular the sweet spot was about 150 words for a post, something that would fit on the front page without necessitating a “Read More” click. So I became quite skilled in the art of summarization and distillation, able to pull out the key points of an important or interesting story and present them concisely.

I remember an interview I once read with Lee Loughnane, the trumpeter for the band Chicago. He was asked why the band stopped making double albums after the release of “Chicago IV.” That, as well as the first three albums, were both two-record sets but “Chicago V” began the shift to single records. He said the economics of the record industry had changed and the label, Columbia, was only willing to pay for the copyright on 10 songs maximum per record. So they had to change their songwriting approach and cut some tunes that might have remained if they had the extra disc available to them.

You can argue that the creativity of the band was stifled by these constraints. No longer was Jimmy Pankow able to write his seven-movement suites. Some of the songs on “Chicago Transit Authority” that are essential to establishing the band’s identity would have been the first cut to fit under the limit. But it also forced them to sort the wheat from the chafe, taking only the best shots and identifying which ones were the most essential both from self-expression and commercial perspectives.

The same can be said for 140 characters. With that limit in place, you have to get to the damn point, and quickly. Threads and Tweetstorms are fine, but as I’ve said before I’ve yet to see one that wouldn’t make a better (and more easily saved/referenced) blog post. If the 280 character expansion rolls out widely, we’ll complain and then adjust over time. Everything will be fine. A key tool to hone your thinking, though, will be gone.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

I’ve Never Been A Top Blogger!

I recently read a blog post by someone who began writing in May of this year. The writer was crowing over being nominated as a “top blogger” in her category by a major publishing platform. Her name appeared alongside various individuals who have well-known “brand” names and legions of followers, along with reputations for not doing any work and having zero case studies to their name. This writer had already amassed over a thousand followers of her blog, several thousand on Twitter and more.

Part of the post about the accolades talked about how the writer “felt” the needs of the audience and was sure to address those in posts, a strategy that had helped in the accumulation of a massive audience.

While I’ve been able, over the last year, to move ever-closer to my dream of being a full-time writer, my own stuff continues to be a niche hit only. My posts rarely go “viral” and become sensations. I have a few hits on Medium and my blog stats spike occasionally, but not enough to break me into any sort of upper tier. I’ve never been nominated for “top blogger” in any category in the over 13 years I’ve been blogging. My combined network on Twitter, WordPress, TinyLetter and Medium is ~4,300 people. I’m not blowing anyone’s socks off.

I’d love a larger audience. Cinematic Slant is growing slowly but surely. But I know that the stuff I publish – here and there – is usually original and not geared to address the “felt” needs of the audience sufficiently. And I realize that focus on different perspectives and contrary opinions is likely limiting my appeal.

Perhaps it’s a symptom of my age or something about me that inherently zigs while others zag, but I’d rather achieve minimal success on my own terms than succeed by following the crowd. It would be great to see some of the pieces that I devote hours and hours of research and thought to crafting become more popular, but I want those to succeed, not some drivel I’ve pounded out because a search trends analyzing tool says that’s what is most likely to be read widely.

Much love to the people who are doing well by doing these things, good for you. That continues to be a game I have little to no interest in playing, though. I’m content making a decent living doing what I love and using my own publishing platforms to express myself and share my thoughts and interests than cater to the fickle preferences of an ill-defined audience. I’ll take whatever accolades might come my way, but won’t compromise to seek them out.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Make The Art You Love

One of the bits of advice often shared for struggling or frustrated artists is a variation on “Make bad art.” It’s meant to be an encouragement to do what you feel inspired to do without stopping to listen to the inner dialogue that might be telling you the result won’t be loved by anyone.

I never cared for that phrasing, though. No one wants to make bad art and continuing to label it as such won’t work to break down the barriers that keep people from chasing their dreams. “Make bad art” is followed by “and have your friends criticize you behind your back.”

Instead I propose the following: “Make art you love.”

Create the painting that’s been clouding your dreams for years. Write the story you can’t stop thinking of and which you think is cool and/or important. Release the mixtape you’ve been fine tuning in Garageband for two months now.

It might not go anywhere. The prospect of it eliciting no reaction may actually be more intimidating and imposing than it being reviewed and received poorly. That’s understandable.

The next one might be better, though. Or the one after that. Each subsequent effort becomes easier to let go of because it’s not breaking through the self-imposed ceiling that’s in place.

That’s the approach I’ve taken with this and other blogs. Each post is easier to push “Publish” on because I’ve done so many times already. It’s also the approach I’m working to keep in mind as I keep working on my novel, preparing for it not to be a massive success on its own, but the wedge that breaks the ice and shows me how easily it can be done.

I don’t want this post or that novel to be “bad,” though. I’m writing that novel because I believe in the story. I might be the only one who feels that way, but I’ll have put something out into the world that I created and which I hope others will enjoy.

It will be art that I love, even if no one else does.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

People Prefer Ads, But Do They Know the Trade-offs?

A new study is out reporting that 67% of U.S. adults are fine with online ads because they’re unwilling to pay more for ad-free versions of the services they enjoy. This despite the fact that 75% of adults find such ads intrusive, especially online ads that follow them around from site to site.

The way the question was framed is interesting to me: How much would people be *willing* to pay?

I have to wonder what sort of results might have been found if the question “How much are you *able* to pay?” were asked.

Personally, I’d be willing to pay up to $100 a month to not only have an ad-free experience but to opt out of ad-tracking entirely. I don’t want Google, Facebook or anyone else adding either online or offline behavior to their profile on me. I want to support media and the work they do but just can’t afford to do so right now. I’m sure I’m not the only one in that position and with that same attitude.

In this way, media companies and are exploiting those at the lower end of the income spectrum, those who can’t afford to even entertain the option of paying for an ad-free experience. These people will continue to be tracked by advertisers to an ever-increasing degree because of social media, accessed to a great extent via mobile device, is how they connect to the world. As this post says, Facebook and Google are essentially surveillance companies acting on behalf of advertisers.

More affluent consumers have the luxury of opting-out of ads when they feel compelled to do so. They have the means to do so.

Those without those means don’t have a choice, even if they have a theoretical preference. People obviously know ads are increasingly intrusive, but they may not know all the ways media companies are tracking them to help facilitate that intrusiveness.

There need to be protections in place to guard those who are at the most risk of serious exploitation but least in the position to do something about it themselves. Without those safeguards, they’ll continue to be inundated by ads that are more and more finely-targeted to the point that companies running those ads know intimate personal details about the individual than anyone else does. That’s a system ripe for abuse in various ways, something we’re already seeing.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Location Determines Mobility

Illinois funds its public school system through property taxes. That’s lead to a system that many decry as unfair, as rich suburbs are able to provide full-featured educations from top-tier teachers assisted by the latest technology in well-maintained facilities. Conversely, it means those in poorer neighborhoods, including many in Chicago, can afford none of those things because there isn’t the tax income to support them. Changes to this system are usually advocated by reformers in Chicago as well as downstate but rejected by those unwilling to sacrifice their own standing for the good of others.

A new report by the Economic Innovation Group and shared by Axios doesn’t address Illinois’ school funding disparity specifically. But when you look at the map of income distribution and see that job creation and growth is happening largely in the same sort of areas that enjoy quality education systems, it’s hard not to draw the correlation.

What the map shows is that where you are born continues to be a major determining factor in how well you do both in school and in life. If you’re born in a “distressed” community, your opportunities for upward mobility are limited. New businesses aren’t starting there and existing ones aren’t growing there.

Many politicians, when faced with stats like this, will shrug their shoulders and say people should move if they want to be where the jobs are. That simplistic mindset overlooks several factors making such moves all but impossible:

  • The loss of support networks: If you’re a young family, you may rely on friends or family for childcare or other support. If you’re older, your kids may be entrenched school. whatever the case, substantial structural underpinnings in life would be torn out by a move.
  • Too expensive to move: Young people are drowning in student debt already, so the thousands of dollars required to move are simply inaccessible. Someone who was laid off five years and subsisting on part-time retail work is also in no position to take on that expense.
  • Uncertainty: If you’re moving because of the potential of a job, you’re taking a big risk on the unknown. If you’ve already lined up a job, you’re hoping it goes well and this doesn’t look like a huge mistake in six months, after you’ve separated yourself from your support network.
  • Too expensive to live: Unless someone has won the sweepstakes and secured lucrative work with a huge salary, there’s no way someone can move from Selma, AL to San Francisco, CA or New York, NY.

Let’s put to the side the canard that any child in this country can for up to be as successful as they want to be. It might have been true decades ago, but entrenchment of jobs in specific areas and the neglect of vast swaths of the populace have made it a lie, one clung to largely by the powerful who see the poor as leeches waiting for handouts.

That’s exactly the sort of thinking on display in comments by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. When talking about the elimination of protections for students scammed by for-profit colleges, she said, “Under the previous rules, all one had to do was raise his or her hands to be entitled to so-called free money.

It’s hard to believe that when you see for-profit colleges account for 35% of all student loan defaults there isn’t something institutionally wrong with the practices of those businesses. They attract new students with the promise of an education that will help them advance but can’t deliver on that promise.

DeVos thinks the people who have filed for protections – which don’t eliminate debt and still leave the student hanging without a degree and barrels of wasted money – are just looking for handouts. That’s not surprising when you consider for-profit college students tend to be black, female and at a low-income level currently. Just the sort of people those like DeVos, who came from a privileged family, want to keep in their place by denying them access to education, voting booths, healthcare and other opportunities to better themselves.

It’s not free money people are looking for, just the opportunity to provide for their families. Between the concentration of jobs in few outrageously expensive locations and the active elimination of protections against abuse by private corporations, that’s getting harder by the day.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.