Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 11/30/17

Facebook’s move to offer a “breaking” label select publishers can use on their stories to help them be found in the News Feed is a step in the right direction in terms of addressing the spread of fake news in that it assigns some level of verified status to the publisher.

You can now mess with and add your own drawings or stickers to your friends’ Instagram photos and then send it back to them. Seems like the kind of thing that’s designed to be “fun” but which could be used for “abuse” and “bullying” pretty easily. Another example of Silicon Valley not being able to see beyond its own limited intent.

Mass messaging from brands to customers could be coming to Facebook, which sounds awful.

Evan Spiegel is laying out his vision for the future not just of Snapchat but of social media in general here, citing the self-expression possible on messaging apps versus the “fake news” found on social media while also discussing the balance needed between human curation and algorithmic discovery. A look at the redesigned app makes it clear there’s a separation being found between personal and media-based updates

YouTube has introduced Reels as part of a rollout of new Community features. Reels allows creators to create compilations of videos in much the same way other social platforms have adopted “stories.”

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

Word of Mouth is Word of Mouth

There’s an interesting story in the New York Times from over the past weekend about the difference between online and offline consumer sentiment.

Nothing in the story should be all that surprising to the seasoned social content marketing professional. Yes, there’s often a clear divide between online and offline sentiment and conversation. And yes, people often make impassioned, knee-jerk statements on social media that they don’t wind up following through on. Finally, yes, social media is terrible at conveying nonverbal cues that can add nuance to comments being made.

Where I have more issues is in the arbitrary distinction between “social media conversation” and “word of mouth.” That’s never been true.

Social media *is* word of mouth, just in a different manner. We don’t apply different labels when people share their opinion of a brand or experience in church as opposed to Starbucks. And we don’t call it something different when it happens over the phone or via text as opposed to in-person.

If you’re a business owner and you find that 85% of your online conversation sentiment is negative but 85% of your offline conversation sentiment is positive, you have mixed word of mouth. The one can’t be discounted or weighted differently because of the platform it happens on.

In-person word of mouth may have more influence on the receiver. A 2015 Nielsen study showed recommendations from family and friends – the kind of input you’re largely going to get via personal interaction – are among the most trusted someone can get.

Online recommendations have a longer half-life, though. For more and more people social media plays an important role in either the awareness or research stages of the sales funnel.

In short, you have to address the whole picture. A disconnect between online and offline conversations and attitudes may mean the situation is more nuanced than one or the other may initially present itself to be. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore either. Doing so means you’re setting yourself up for failure in one way or the other.

The one big difference between online and offline for brand managers is that the former is more immediately addressable than the latter. If you find sentiment on social media has suddenly turned negative, you can take steps to remedy that and engage with people to clear up misunderstandings, fix problems or otherwise turn their attitude around. You can measure and execute. That’s harder offline, where you can’t immediately access the thoughts of hundreds or thousands of people and begin talking with them efficiently.

Stop segregating online from offline word of mouth. It’s all part of one big ball that needs to be recognized and dealt with appropriately if you’re going to be a responsible brand manager. That’s the only real way to ensure a consistent and reliable brand reputation that reaches all your customers.

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

Study: Social Media and Life Milestones

A new report from Sprout Social provides an interesting insight for brand social media managers: Pay attention to the milestones and other life moments people are posting about on social networks.

The gist of the report is that people are not only sharing those moments on social media but that they’re using social to research and get recommendations about upcoming purchases related to them. Those moments range from vacations to holidays to weddings, promotions, home purchases and more. Of course the more positive the moment the more likely people are to share it. And when they do so they’re often mentioning a brand in some manner.

Those mentions are intentional and often come with a purpose in mind. They might want the brand to recognize or acknowledge the mention in some manner as they may want something more tangible, like access to an influencer program or at least a coupon as a form of thanks.

sprout life moment social media brands

In the other direction, people are being influenced by what brands post when it comes time to make a purchase in preparation for a life moment or milestone. That’s especially true for younger people.

There are lots of ways brands could potentially take advantage of this trend. It shows how valuable listening programs are since that’s how managers are going to find these opportunities for engagement and acknowledgment. And if you in content that’s specially designed to be tied to some sort of life moment – the specifics will vary from one brand to another – you increase the potential conversions.

There’s that old quote about how no has ever gone broke underestimating the intelligence of the public. That’s certainly true, but this report and the underlying behavior hint at a new maxim for the content marketing age: No one ever went broke underestimating the narcissism and vanity of the social media public. The opportunities for marketing here involving playing as much as possible to the habits of the online community, including their penchant to reward the companies that speak directly to them and give them access that seems exclusive or special.

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

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 11/28/17

Meetup, the popular event-organizing service, is being acquired by coworking company WeWork, like part of the latter’s plans to basically own or manage any sort of space that any group of two or more could ever gather in.

Facebook has clarified its advertising principles, making their efforts appear as innocuous and customizable by the user as possible, a position that strains credulity and is clearly a response to recent criticisms.

A number of big tech media companies used yesterday, Cyber Monday, to emphasize how damaging the repeal of net neutrality could be to online commerce and innovation. The Wrap has a good recap of the winners (ISP companies) and losers (literally everyone else) from a potential lifting of net neutrality safeguards, which seem based on a willful misinterpretation of how the internet works. The FCC also seems to be ignoring evidence that the vast majority of pro-repeal comments were fakes generated by bots. And marketers are worried advertising prices could rise significantly as a result of repeal.

Snapchat’s AI is now powerful enough it can analyze the subjects in photos and suggest relevant filters. In other words, it will offer you something different for a picture of your dog or a child than it will for you. Not creepy at all.

It has also introduced Promoted Stories, which adds a branded Story into the Stories tab of the app that comes from a paid advertiser.

David Karp is exiting Tumblr, the company he built, as it becomes more and more a part of Oath.

The Koch Brothers have begun assuming control of Time Inc but claim they will not exert any influence over its stable of magazines and I’m sorry but I can’t stop laughing who believes that?

The ability to save posts for later is the trend of the week as Facebook tests “Collections” where you can save things you want to retrieve at a later date and Twitter tests Bookmarks for the same reason.

YouTube continues to make adjustments to its content and comment policy in an effort to make the site safer for young kids who are often confronted with wholly inappropriate material masquerading as something far more innocent.

Want even more recommendations? Check out my Pocket Shared Items.

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

Study: Fortune 500 Gets Blogging Again

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research has released its latest analysis of social media usage in the marketing efforts of companies on the Fortune 500 list. As always, the study has a number of interesting insights into how corporations view different online platforms and how they can contribute to their marketing efforts. Here are some of the report’s key takeaways.

Blogging Continues Rebounding

In 2015 corporate blog usage fell to a low of 21%. That was the height of the buzz around “distributed” media when everyone was seeking off-site solutions. After beginning to grow again last year it’s now at 42%, twice the 2015 number and, in fact, the highest it’s ever been. Blog usage is still highest among those at the top of the list as well among tech and other consumer-centric industries.


umass blogging 2017

All of that is good news, but there’s also that fewer corporate blogs than ever before allow on-domain comments, just 51%. On the one hand that’s not surprising and forgoing comments in favor of social media conversations is a trend throughout the media world. But it’s also disappointing since allowing such comments can be a valuable customer service and audience feedback tool.

As the study notes, one reason for the resurgence in blog adoption is that it’s a wholly-owned platform, a notion that seems to be coming back into vogue as companies get whiplash from ever-changing algorithms and terms of service on other services. They are unencumbered by character restrictions, can offer a variety of distribution options for the reader to choose from and more while owning their content.

LinkedIn Dominates, Twitter Beats Facebook

Because it appeals to all industries and is a valuable corporate reputation tool, LinkedIn continues to be the most widely-used social network by companies of all types. 98% of the Fortune 500 maintain active LinkedIn profiles, which can be used not only for news but are powerful recruiting tools.

umass social media 2017

More surprising given Facebook’s dominant stature worldwide is that it falls to third place in usage after not just LinkedIn but also Twitter. The numbers are close – 88% to 85% – but Twitter’s second-place showing indicates it’s still viewed as more important for its timeliness in breaking news and as a customer service platform than Facebook.

Visual Platforms Usage Grows

Instagram continues to gain more and more usage among these companies, growing to 53% this year from just 95 in 2013. Specifically the study calls out its usage as not just a marketing/corporate reputation tool but also a sales platform, something the company has been trying to encourage with more tools geared in that direction.

Also growing is Snapchat, which is used by 10% of the Fortune 500. That may seem small, but it’s going to keep getting bigger if the company can make changes, as it plans to do, that ease the on-ramp for new users and make advertising a more sustainable revenue source.

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

Owning Your Social Media Missteps

There’s a scene from the 1994 Tom Clancy novel adaptation Clear and Present Danger I think about a lot. The president has just learned a longtime friend of his was just killed by members of a drug cartel he appears to have been involved with and is receiving advice from staff on how to handle the crisis. Most everyone in the room is telling him to distance himself from the guy, downplaying the friendship to a casual acquaintance. Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) grumbles and says no, the president needs to make it clear the two were close personal friends. The facts will come out eventually, so own up to it now and give the press nowhere to go.

That scene came to mind once again over the weekend when I saw the following Tweet from McDonald’s making the rounds.

Obviously, someone in advance of the long weekend had accidentally moved this update from “drafts” to “scheduled.” It was a placeholder that should have been removed long ago, meant to show that there was something planned for the day but that what exactly it would be hadn’t been determined yet.

There are lessons here about editorial calendar management and workflows and all that, sure. Most times the Tweet would have been deleted and an intern blamed for letting something like that slip out. Instead, not only is the Tweet still alive, but the company seems to have a sense of humor about it, as shown in the reply it sent to its own update.

mcdonalds black friday tweet

Years ago I found myself in a similar situation with a client I was managing at the time. I wrote a Tweet about a product announcement that included the name of someone involved, someone I thought I was familiar with. So I referred to that person as “he.” The update went live and the replies started coming in that no, it was a woman. This was early on in the client relationship and so a brief conversation with the marketing team ensued where I rightfully had my hand slapped a bit.

They wanted me to take the Tweet down but I argued doing so was disingenuous. Yes, it was a mistake, but it wasn’t fatal. Instead, I convinced them to let me post a reply basically admitting the mistake and blaming it on some fictional construct that resulted in crossed wires. After I did so everyone in the audience seemed to laugh it off and we all went on with our days. Importantly, it set a precedent for the future, allowing us to quickly make light of the few times we made a non-fatal error in our program.

I prided myself on the fact that for a program that published 1,200 updates a month across almost two dozen profiles, our error rate was roughly .0025, a quarter of one percent. That included everyday typos along with misspellings of branded elements. That’s a testament to the editorial workflows that were in place as well as the talent on the team I managed.

When we did commit an unforced error that was a bit more serious, we tried to lean into it and admit the mistake in a good-natured way that placated fans and proved that having a sense of humor and admitting you’re human is a good approach. Too many marketing types believe every misstep needs to be erased from existence as soon as possible and its very existence denied, lest someone begin to believe the brand is less than perfect. On social media, though, acknowledging the error and laughing along with the audience is often the better approach. Doing so can have more benefit for brand reputation – you’ve shown not only are you fallible but that you’re not going to throw some mid-level program manager under the bus – than whatever negative impact you’re afraid such errors might result in. You’ve gained more than you worried you might lose.

My one hope here is that the person who was responsible for this going live didn’t feel any behind-the-scenes repercussions. These are opportunities for learning and evolving the program, building in more safeguards or at least evaluating current processes, not for punishing someone who accidentally clicked the wrong button as they were trying to get ready for the long weekend.

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

This Week Elsewhere – 11/24/17

Cinematic Slant

Cinematic Slant is where I write about movies, including the campaign recaps I’ve been doing since 2004 along with other news and opinions.

Going In Style (After the Campaign Review): The movie is enjoyable enough as a light-hearted comedy, which is how it was sold. It left me wanting more on a few fronts, though.

going in style pic

Call Me By Your Name – Marketing Recap: Sony has put together a nice campaign for the movie that emphasizes not only the emotions felt by Elio and Oliver but, of course, the gorgeous locations in which the story takes place. This *looks* like a high-end art film that is going to have limited appeal to the mainstream audience.

call me by your name pic

Hollywood Is Out of Unoriginal Ideas: What seems to be building speed is not just the adaptation of existing material but taking second or third stabs at doing so in a very short period of time.

watchmen movie

Coco – Marketing Recap: …there’s a wonderful branding that flows throughout the campaign. From the colors to the title treatment, no matter where you encounter an element of the marketing it’s clearly tied to the movie.

coco pic

What Happened to Justice League?: So what happened? How do you fail to capitalize on the promise of assembling some of the best-known superheroes in popular culture into a single film? Turns out there are a variety of factors that lead to Justice League underperforming, and that’s without even counting.

superman man of steel

Darkest Hour – Marketing Recap: If the audience isn’t too busy seeking fluffy entertainment that distracts them from the problems of the world this weekend, it might just find inspiration in this story.

darkest hour pic

This Writing Life

This Writing Life is where I share my thoughts, experiences and tips on the writing process.

What Did You Imagine A Writer Looked Like?: I had few, if any, real-world references for what a writer looked like or was expected to do. There was no one I could turn to and look at as an example. My impressions were almost solely formed by the media I consumed.


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

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 11/22/17

This is a fantastic overview of what happened to the DNAinfo and Ist site as they faced down the last days before being shut down by billionaire owner Joe Ricketts and just what the communities they operated in have lost in terms of watchdogs and local voices.

That may seem worrisome when you ponder the future of a fair and independent media, but don’t worry.

It’s not as if the FCC wants to eliminate the guidelines that keep the internet a level playing field for companies both big and small to survive and thrive based not on how much they can afford to pay internet providers but on the quality of their products while ignoring comments from the public. Or that it wants to relax other rules that will allow a single company to own multiple outlets in every market, creating a homogenous media ecosystem that is accountable not to the truth but to profits.

Or that bunch of secret companies are tracking your web usage to a degree it can tell who you are, how much you make, what illnesses you might have and more, all without you opting into any such profile building.

Or that the current administration seems to be opposing the merger of two media/tech companies based largely on how one part of one of those companies has been critical of the president.

Or that the tech companies that dominate our lives still can’t get over the mindset that their algorithms can be perfected without ever once delving even once into philosophy or remotely human perspectives but seem to be content manipulating our emotions and behaviors without thought to the consequences and continuing to allow illegally targeted ads.

Or that the problems seen last week in the media world are nothing compared to the crash expertly outlined by Josh Marshall, one that will result in a number of other failures and even more layoffs that result in a glut of talent that drives wages down even if new video distribution and monetization models do emerge.

Or that a legitimately insane tax plan going through Congress could have massive ripple effects throughout the entire economy that could exacerbate already staggering income and opportunity inequality.

So, you know, we’re totally fine.

In Other News…

The FTC has updated its disclosure guidelines around influencer marketing on social media to address various issues and close various loopholes that were being exploited (sometimes with the explicit endorsement of shady agencies) to keep the audience in the dark on the presence of a paid relationship.

Yeah, it’s kind of weird that things like coffee machines and pizza are serious rallying points for political speech but that’s where we are in 2017 it seems.

I was wondering why I was getting a whole bunch of new followers on Ello (I never deleted my profile for some reason) and it seems it’s finding new life as a portfolio community for creative types.

Apparently The Washington Post is a software company now, licensing the custom CMS it created to others. Interesting, but this isn’t exactly groundbreaking as I’m fairly sure this kind of thing has been happening elsewhere in the media world since about 2005.

Following up on the post I wrote last week about how various social networks try to cater to creators as much as possible to keep their loyalty, Facebook has introduced a whole new set of tools to help people make engaging videos.

Facebook will now let you view web-based VR experiences from directly within the News Feed.

Not only has Instagram enabled people joining live broadcasts but you can now request to join the stream of the friend you’re watching.

Want even more recommendations? Check out my Pocket Shared Items.

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

Marking One Year of Retail

Today is an auspicious day for me. It marks one year since I began working a part-time retail customer service job for the first time in 10 years.

When I first started the job we kept saying “It’s only until…” with a date that kept being moved out. I never thought it would be a year later and that I’d still be working there.

I’ve written before about the lessons I’ve learned from working with people who are often roughly half my age, how I think an experience like this would be useful for everyone to have occasionally, how being underemployed is very different than being unemployed, the challenges of starting a part-time job after so long.

Earlier this year I also wrote about how I was trying to be productive, using as much time available to me as possible. You can do anything in 10 minutes, I wrote at the time. Well here’s a slightly different perspective on that.

You can do anything for a year.

You can do it. It might seem hard. Adjustments will always be difficult. It may not be what you want to do or what you envisioned yourself doing. Sometimes you will want to pack it in and call it a day and throw a temper tantrum like a five year old denied a candy bar in the grocery store checkout lane. All of that is understandable and reasonable.

But you pick yourself up and you do it. Things are OK. They’re good, even. You remind yourself of the good things that are coming out of the situation. You keep moving forward and take the wins where you can get them.

This has certainly been an eye-opening year, reinforcing over time many of the points I’ve already made. Not only has working part-time retail been an interesting and educational experience, but I’ve also grown as a freelancer. I have a good amount of steady work that keeps me busy (and paid) and I fill in the gaps with my various personal blog projects and other writing.

Things are moving forward in my life, both personally and professionally. They’ll do so today and they’ll do so tomorrow. I couldn’t do any of this without the support of my wife and family, who have listened to me rant and rave as well as share whatever successes I’ve enjoyed.

Again, I never thought this would last a whole year. But here I am. I can honestly say I think I’ve grown as a result of this experience. It’s certainly given me insights into the human condition I didn’t have before. More than anything, it’s shown me that you can do anything you need to and set your mind to.

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

Well, Twitter Now Owns User Behavior

The good news? Twitter last week seemed to finally take at least some responsibility for the content posted on its website when it removed verified status from a group of white nationalist and other accounts. That followed a period where it had ceased all new verifications until it could introduce new guidelines around behavior.

The bad news? Twitter now has signaled its 100% aware of what happens on the site and therefore has assumed a level of accountability for the content people share.

A central tenet of the defense mounted by Twitter, Facebook and other tech companies when confronted by the hate speech and other offensive material posted there is that they are just dumb platforms whose sole goal is to enable free speech. That argument has never held up to much scrutiny since not only do most all companies rely on an algorithm that analyzes content for various components to determine what is or isn’t shown but the search features offered make it clear it’s possible to find literally anything. They’re certainly capable of finding information when they want to, so pleading ignorance has never held much water.

Previously, Twitter’s Verified status was meant to simply denote that someone was who they said they were or were the most prominent and well-known person with that name. It was awarded to politicians and celebrities. The designation was awarded in secret through a process known only to Twitter. Eventually, the waters got muddier and anyone could apply to be Verified.

The primary problem is that it became a badge of honor, signaling importance or prominence. While Twitter has never been great about fighting the kind of harassment and other problems women and people of color have been subjected to, the fact that so much of it seemed to be stemming from or was encouraged by Verified users was especially problematic. It created the impression that those people were too vital to Twitter to sanction.

There were exceptions, of course, but the problem only got worse as the level of vitriol coming from various hate groups only intensified in recent years. People often pointed out the hypocrisy of someone who’s been reported for clear hate speech going unpunished while the people who call them out are suspended or worse.

Now, though, it’s stating clearly that there are certain actions that will get you suspended or have your Verified status stripped. That includes the promotion of violence both on and off Twitter, engaging in hate speech or making sexual threats and more.

That has the effect of making Twitter absolutely responsible for what people are posting. It is now on the hook for the behavior of its users and, if it fails to act in accordance with the guidelines it’s laid out, may even find itself culpable to some degree.

As an example, by saying that it has the power to prevent certain content that violates its operating principles from trending, it signals it knows full well what kind of material is bubbling up. So any instance where it does or doesn’t act on that knowledge raises the question of why it failed to do so in other situations.

It’s good that Twitter is doing *something* to fight back against those who use its platform to share hate speech and other repulsive ideologies. Limiting their ability to spread those messages isn’t a move against free speech. Those individuals are free to take their ideas to more hospitable waters. It just means that those on Twitter can do so without being subjected to the sexual harassment that’s all-too-common for women online, the anti-semitism that’s all-too-common for anyone of Jewish descent and other groups.

A commitment to free speech doesn’t by necessity mean an “anything goes” atmosphere that can create a toxic environment for many. It’s laudable, but also requires the assumption of due diligence and responsibility for fostering discussion, not facilitating abuse. The first duty has to be the protection of users. Without that, all the rest is meaningless.

Twitter’s new guidelines, while still flawed, appear to be a move in that direction. It also could mean it’s exposed to even more responsibility for the content that makes it past the filters and safeguards, which may have unintended consequences for everyone.

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