One Slightly Related GIF For Every Book I Read in 2017

Star Wars: Catalyst – James Luceno

jyn erso

Hand To Mouth – Linda Tirado

barely hanging on

Age of Empathy – Frans de Waal


The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander

13th documentary

Threat Vector – Tom Clancy

jack ryan

Boundless Potential – Mark S. Walton

cant just give up

What You’re Really Meant To Do – Robert Steven Kaplan

luminous beings yoda

A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

you know swedish

America the Anxious – Beth Whippman


Enduring Love – Ian McEwan

hot air balloon

The Girl Before – JP Delaney

this is my home

Startup – Doree Shafir

live tweet

Decisive – Chip and Dan Heath

youll get nothing

Locked On – Tom Clancy jack ryan 2

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace – David Lipsky

end of the tour

The Shambling Guide to New York City – Mur Lafferty


Ghost Train to New Orleans – Mur Lafferty

shaun of the dead zombie

Star Wars: Bloodline – Claudia Gray

princess leia

How to Build a Nontraditional Career Path: Embracing Economic Disruption – Ron Elsdon

doctor who make it up

The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

[nope, nothing funny here. let’s move on.]

The Bully Pulpit – Doris Kearns Goodwin

teddy roosevelt

Draft No. 4 – John McPhee

this is the worst thing

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time – Bridget Schulte

overwhelmed take a nap

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

This Week Elsewhere: 12/22/17

First, let me crow a bit about a few things. First, I updated my post about selling Star Wars: The Last Jedi with screenshots of how a link to my Adweek column was both curated by Jeff Beer for his “After These Messages” marketing newsletter and used by Adweek itself as a paid ad on LinkedIn, both of which are pretty cool.

Also this week, WordPress Discover featured my Cinematic Slant post about Hollywood now resorting to remaking adaptations as one of the Editor’s Picks, a screenshot of which is below.

cinematic slant wordpress disover

It’s been a decent week…

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.

The Post – Marketing Recap: Finally, a campaign that makes me feel like it’s awards season. This is the kind of movie, with the kind of stars and the kind of director, that *should* be released in the last month of the year because everything about it says not “escape” but “ponder.”

the post pic

Downsizing – Marketing Recap: …he funny, pleasant campaign may not be accurately selling the film, setting up the potential for audience expectations to be upset or at least not met when it opens.

downsizing pic

Bright – Marketing Recap: The marketing certainly isn’t going to appeal to everyone, just as it wouldn’t if we were talking about a theatrical release. It’s geared toward fans of Smith’s as well as genre fans and the kind of person who would want to play a deeply immersive video game with a similar premise as the movie. It sometimes looks silly, or as if it’s taking itself too seriously.

bright pic

The Greatest Showman – Marketing Recap: Ultimately the movie is being sold as a story of American exceptionalism, of how one man used his imagination and creativity to carve out his own destiny and create a global institution while doing so.

greatest showman pic

Pitch Perfect 3 – Marketing Recap: There’s certainly an attempt here to recapture the magic that lead to the first Pitch Perfect being an unexpectedly large hit in 2012 and which kept going through the 2014 sequel. The poster, as already mentioned, keeps the branding going with the same look and feel of what’s come before.

pitch perfect 3 pic

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – Marketing Recap: There’s certainly nods in the direction of the beloved original in the formal marketing and the cast mentioned it on occasion, talking about the connective story tissue between the two films. But there’s a real desire, it seems to me, to present it as its own thing, not tied down to what’s come before.

jumanji pic

Hostiles – Marketing Recap: There’s nothing about the marketing here that puts it in any of those categories. Instead, it’s presented as a somber meditation on topics such as duty, honor, human kindness and death. That may not be the message audiences are looking for over the holiday or one they’ll react positively to.

hostiles pic

Father Figures – Marketing Recap: I’ll be honest, I considered ditching this one and leaving it off the list of movies I was covering because it looks like kind of a disaster. The comedy seems forced and largely unfunny and the story thin.

father figures pic

This Writing Life

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

Edit Others, Edit Myself: Over the course of my career I’ve been asked to edit numerous items. To do so I’ve relied on a handful of points to guide my thinking and decision making.


My Next Writing Challenge: Music: For as deeply as I feel music, I don’t write about it well. Conveying how it moves and affects me is difficult and I struggle to put into words emotions that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s too much for me to clearly explain how a driving, powerful big band horn section sounds to me like fire sweeping across a landscape.

rush time stand still

Do I Have a Calling to Write?: A calling is a tricky thing. It means, in its most religious sense, what God has meant for you to do. It’s the answer to the question “Why are you here?”


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

Sharing My Editorial Calendar Template

After I wrote a while ago about how I used an editorial calendar to manage my personal publishing schedule I had a few requests to share it. I’ve hesitated to do so because it felt like I might be giving something away. Finally, I’ve realized that there’s nothing there that isn’t based on common sense and it actually has the advantage of helping to show off my thinking around managing a content marketing program.

When I’ve shown this to people in the past I’ve had to fight the tendency to expound on the format for hours. I get very passionate talking about it, eager to explain the details I’ve added to it.

So that’s exactly what I’m going to do. You can view the editorial calendar template I’ve been working with for the last several years here.

There were three big pieces of thinking that went into the creation of this calendar:

First, social media is lousy at taxonomies. In WordPress and other blog platforms you can easily go into the admin screen and sort by categories, search tags and so on to get an idea of what you’ve published. You can’t do that on Twitter or other social networks. Some CMS tools might allow for it, but those are hit-and-miss. Lacking native functionality along these lines, you have to build the framework for that taxonomy yourself.

Second, the lack of taxonomy means there’s valuable data that’s unavailable to your reporting. SimplyMeasured and other tools are great at giving you big-picture data, but what if you want to see how many posts you published on a particular topic or other factor? You may have to still do some grunt work manually pulling data, but you’ll at least know where to look when you can sort the spreadsheet at the end of the month and get some insights.

Finally, while many CMS tools contain some form of native editorial calendar feature, I’ve never been a fan. In some cases the functionality or format just doesn’t appeal to me. Mostly, though, I fundamentally believe planning should be completely separate from publishing. The only time I want anyone anywhere near the “PUBLISH” button is after content has already been approved. That reduces the risk of something still in need of editing being erroneously posted, which can cause a lot of problems. Basically, it’s one more intentional step that needs to be taken that allows for a moment’s pause.

So now let me explain what’s going on in that template, column by column.


This is self-explanatory, showing when the post in question is being scheduled for. You’ll notice that this template uses 15 minute increments, a result of the original use of this being on a program that needed that level of publishing. Not that we were publishing to the same platform once every 15 minutes all day, but between the nearly two dozen platforms we managed for this program, the calendar got pretty full.


Where is that post going? I’ve included a few of the most common platforms here, each color-coded so they pop easily when reviewing the ed cal. If you’re managing multiple profiles on a single platform (e.g. more than one Facebook page) you can get more specific in your labeling.


This is where the magic happens. The ed cal is designed to be where planning, drafting and approvals takes place (NEVER in the CMS directly). So drafting is done in this box for each bit of content for later review.


If you’re running a hashtag-based campaign or need to designate a specific one for usage, it can be dropped in here. That can be done by either the editor/manager who’s overseeing the program or the staff drafting the content. While there can certainly be multiple hashtags for a single post, this is meant for the “core” one, the one that’s most important.


Content marketing programs frequently use bitly or another shortening service for links to aid in reporting. That can be dropped in here primarily so that if you ever need to go back to an old post and see how that link performed, it’s readily accessible.


Here’s where it starts getting interesting. How I arranged this is that when a staff person had finished drafting content that was ready for me to review they would add “PENDING” to this column, which would automatically turn the cell red. That quickly indicated to me what I was supposed to be looking at and stopped anyone else in the ed cal from queuing that post for publishing. When I had reviewed, edited and approved the post I dropped “APP” here, which turned the cell green, indicating it was literally a GO for publishing. After who ever was responsible for publishing put it in the CMS and scheduled it they put “PUB” along with their initials there.

All this is an additional accountability tool that makes sure only reviewed, edited and approved content was being published. It needed to go through at least three different steps – by at least two if not three different people – between the time it was drafted and queued.


If you’re running a global campaign and targeting certain content to specific territories, you can drop that information here.


The first drop-down menu in the calendar, this is meant to show where you’re sending your social traffic.

  • Site – Any owned website, including a blog.
  • Off-Domain – Generally meant to include media website or page. This can be applied as broadly as you like.
  • YouTube – Because YouTube is an important part of content hosting and distribution I broke it out here.
  • Social – Basically you’re linking to another managed social profile, doing some cross-promotion for one reason or another.


The intention here is to drop the name of the publication or site you’re linking off-domain to. So put “Chicago Tribune,” “Variety” or whatever else here.


A better name for this might be “Business Unit.” If your program collects content from a variety of different divisions and branches, specifying which one that post is related to can be very useful when evaluating how much of the program is devoted to that division.

Post Type

I always explained this column by saying it was meant to answer the question “What information are we trying to share or action do we want the audience to take?”

  • Engagement – The expectation is that there’s nothing to click or other action to take, it’s just meant to encourage engagement such as Like, Share and so on. There’s usually no link in these posts.
  • Interview – The link is to an interview with someone from or related to the company.
  • News – The link is to a news item about the company in some manner.
  • Sales – The link is to a conversion page, whether that’s an actual sale. The expectation is that dollars are being spent after someone clicks.
  • Enter – Same idea, but the link is to an email signup, sweeps entry or other non-monetary conversion.


If the post is part of a larger campaign, that can be designated here. Not every post will be part of a campaign like that, so don’t expect every cell to be filled out here. Think of a major initiative like “Widget X Launch.”


Every post should have information here, though. This is what the post is about. Where the Campaign is big-picture, this is more granular. So if the Campaign is “Widget X Launch” this might be “Lead Engineer interview.”


Ideally, you’ve done some audience research to the extent that you know what kind of people you’re reaching on each platform. This will allow you to clearly mark which segment of the audience you’re reaching by publishing about X topic on Y profile. This column is informed by the “Audience Category Matrix” tab of the spreadsheet, which is where you define that intersection of interests and outlet.

Paid Social

A simple X or other mark here will let you track which posts should or have been promoted through ads on that network.


Questions? Comments?

Again, I know there’s a lot here, probably more than most people really need. What I’ve found over years of using this is that it’s customizable to your needs. You can add whatever other platforms you like and as many business divisions as are necessary. You can delete columns that aren’t needed and collapse the times to just be hourly or whatever. Fiddle with it as you see fit.

The template hasn’t broken for me yet, though. It’s bent plenty, but whenever I’m creating a new ed cal I go back to this and then customize as is appropriate. If it works for you as well, that’s great.

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

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 12/21/17


TicToc is the new breaking news channel from Bloomberg and Twitter, showing the latter is serious about being a media distribution platform. I have to think between this, Cheddar and a few other video shows Twitter will eventually break out some sort of separate channel akin to Snapchat’s Discover to get more attention.

Penske Media, which already owns Variety and other entertainment publications and websites, has acquired a controlling interest in Rolling Stone, which the company says it will revamp.

Content Marketing

The sponsored filters on Snapchat can now feature animated messages and images, a change the platform hopes will make the feature more engaging and therefore more widely used.

Enhanced direct message functionality on Twitter is being rolled out more widely, allowing brands to add more buttons to replies and better manage conversations, enhancing its usefulness as a customer support platforms.

Social Media

Facebook is removing the “Disputed Flags” from stories deemed to be questionable or outright false, citing research showing such labels actually reinforce its veracity among people whose preconceived notions or beliefs are validated by such stories. Instead it will show related stories from trusted sources and fact checks, shown to be more effective. I’ve long posited that Facebook simply validating news sources would help this problem since it’s little different from what any media editor would do. But oh, that’s right, it claims it’s not a media company. Sorry.


More music labels are signing on to YouTube’s upcoming new or revamped subscription music service. Facebook has also signed a licensing deal with Universal Music Group that will allow music from that label’s artists to be included in videos uploaded by users and be used for a variety of other vaguely-defined purposes.

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.

Scale Doesn’t Mean Success

Nieman Lab has been publishing their regular series of predictions for the coming year in the last couple weeks. There’s been some interesting speculation and thinking in there, as there always is, as various people from a variety of backgrounds share what they think 2018 will hold.

One jumped out at me: “Zines had it right all along.”

The short extrapolation of that statement calls out features that were inherent in zines, the niche-oriented magazines that were printed on borrowed equipment and hand-distributed to a core group of interested readers: Freshness. Surprise. Diversity.

Those were the attributes that attracted audiences. Zines covered topics not deemed worthy of mainstream press attention and did so with the heart of a fan behind the effort. They were usually devoted to obscure miscellanea that would have been uninteresting to a mass audience and weren’t what advertisers were keen to support. Readers got hooked because finally, the conversations they were having with friends were clearly being had by others as well. That created a sense of community.

If that sounds like the early days of blogging, you’re not wrong. The same ideas were behind the online self-publishing movement. You could write about whatever niche topic you wanted because the barrier to entry had essentially been removed. And anyone with access to a search engine and an RSS reader could keep up with your posts, creating the same sort of distributed community zines first tapped into.

Maybe that’s where we should have stayed.

The biggest blogs to come out of those early days are either gone or are a shadow of their former glory. TechCrunch is no longer the personal blog of Michael Arrington, it’s one cog in a massive, faceless corporation’s media strategy. Mashable went from the passion project of Pete Cashmore to huge success to selling for a fraction of what it was once valued at. GigaOm used to be a must-read when it was Om Malik sharing his thoughts. Same with PaidContent from Rafat Ali. Most all of the blog networks that once dominated the landscape are gone for one reason or another. Countless other sites have been bought by bigger media companies, been shut down because success leads to bloat that couldn’t be sustained, or simply faded away for another reason.

(Side note: Give it five years, tops, and we’ll see the same thing happen to the podcast networks that are popping up to much acclaim and investing venture capital in original programming.)

The blogs, in the truest sense of the term, that continue are either continuing to attract small audiences but do little for the people behind them or are aiming for mass audiences by publishing content that’s so generic it could have easily been posted 10 years ago.

The problems are driven by the mindset that these publications should be something more than what they initially set out to be. There’s nothing wrong with reaching a substantial audience. Diluting your quality and chasing ad revenue introduces motivations that lead not to success but to just more chasing and headaches. It was the desire to turn blogs into a business in and of themselves that got a lot of people in trouble and lead to a lot of the problems we’ve seen in recent years as the foundation began cracking. Advertisers want pageviews, not quality content.

To paraphrase Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises, “You either die a niche outlet or live long enough to see yourself become a pile of crap.”

Zines had it right. So did the first wave of blogs. So did the alt-weeklies that were so popular for 30 years in major metropolitan areas. All fell victim to scale in some way or another.

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

Ignoring Advice Seems to Be Working For Me

Not every tactic is perfect for every program

I mentioned briefly before that over the course of 2017, and even reaching back to 2016, I attempted to integrate a handful of content marketing tips and best practices into my promotion of posts both here and on Cinematic Slant.

For years I’ve resisted doing so, insisting to myself that it wasn’t necessary. Many of these tactics, while I certainly understood their value, didn’t seem right for me. I’d implemented some of them for client programs over the years and seen success to varying degrees, but when mulling using them myself I couldn’t get past my feeling they just weren’t the right fit.

But this is a content marketing program I’m running here. Realizing I have a tendency to be a bit stubborn and stuck in my ways, I decided to move past my resistance and give a couple things a shot. After all, the same recommendations kept coming up in everything I read about running a good social content program and, again, I’d used many of them myself for other clients. So I dug in.

The Tactics

There were two tactics I decided to try because they seemed to present the most value to what I was trying to do.

1) Resurface Old Content

I have a decent archive of old posts, many of them the movie campaign reviews I’ve been writing since 2004. And I was writing a bunch of new stuff that could be considered “evergreen” and brought back to the forefront repeatedly because it fit in with how I was trying to position myself in the marketplace. So for quite a while I would Tweet out links to old Movie Marketing Madness posts because the movies featured a director or actor or some other connection to a movie hitting theaters that week. Or maybe it was the anniversary of that movie’s release.

More personal posts were brought back up in regular rotation because they weren’t tied to any specific event of news beat when they were published and so could still be considered relevant. They were part of the image I was working to create and maintain as I continue looking for freelance and other work, so fit in.

2) Participate in Current Trends

This was a bit trickier, but I started tracking all the various goofy hashtag holidays, watched Twitter a bit more closely to see what kind of conversations were trending and so on, then either finding old material that could be resurfaced or creating something new. Again, having an archive of old posts to mine was useful here. While I wasn’t able to get in on everything because this isn’t my full-time job, I did *more* and that was a start.

The Results

So what came of that experiment? Almost nothing. I’m serious, almost nothing. Any traffic bumps were negligible and didn’t lead to any long-term benefit. I wasn’t becoming any more popular on Twitter or getting scads of job leads because of what I was doing.

It wasn’t as if I gave up too quickly, either. I kept this up for almost a year and a half, more than enough time to see if it was going to pay off or not. And it most certainly was “or not.”

This isn’t me saying these tactics are useless entirely. As I said, I’ve recommended and executed them a number of times in the past. They make sense. Having an archive of old posts to dust off and present in a new context is a big part of why I’m a believer in the hub and spoke content strategy as it gives you not only a platform you manage but combats the content decay that’s inherent in social networks.

Instead, it’s a reminder to always be mindful of your metrics and do what’s working for you. No matter how many times you see a tactic mentioned as an “essential” part of any strategy, it doesn’t mean it will work for your program. That may not be who you are or what your audience wants. Go ahead and experiment as I did, but then measure and evaluate. How much work was being put in and what was the tangible benefit? If the former drastically outweighs the latter, it may be time to cut the rope and let it go.

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

(image via pixabay because I thought it was funny)

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 12/19/17

Today’s Must Read

This is a great piece on the “other” tech bubble, the one that’s building up inside a Silicon Valley ecosystem that’s still playing as fast and loose as it did in the late 90s, regardless of the changing social scene in the rest of the world. That kind of mindset, where tech founders still see themselves as disruptive geniuses, is just as dangerous as the monetary one that burst in 2001, but with the added potential to take down vast chunks of society when it pops because it has completely cut out an entire culture.


A new report says the number of Netflix subscribers is now equal to the number of pay TV subscribers, something that can’t be good news for those companies but which explains why they want net neutrality dead. The only way they can compete is to eliminate competition.

Leaked information shows Mashable was in really bad shape before Ziff Davis bought it at what was seen as a steep discount recently. What’s interesting is that ZD says it will focus on SEO to help turn the site around. Weren’t we all told that social optimization was the key to success like just yesterday? Was that not true?

The latest in a series of articles and profiles over the last year or so claiming the cassette tape is making a comeback. I remain skeptical this is anything but a niche trend, but you never know.

While release dates are still largely unknown, Apple has picked up its third original series, showing its using its horde of cash to compete with Netflix and Amazon.

Social Media

There’s apparently a major problem at Periscope with creeps of indeterminate age and gender (so probably dudes of all ages) asking young girls to do sexually explicit things. That’s just the kind of behavior and unaddressed issue that’s not going to help the app win over new users much less build in any monetization model, particularly not as other services work to at least appear to be fighting that kind of problem.

A couple new features have been introduced by Facebook in the last few days. One lets you “snooze” updates from a person, Page or group for 30 days to take a break from whatever’s annoying you. The other is a new set of tools to address and prevent harassment, including facial recognition that will let you know when a photo of you have been posted even if you aren’t tagged. Putting aside how creepy that is and the myriad of potential uses for unwanted surveillance and tracking that allows for…no, I can’t get past that.

Facebook also announced the News Feed will begin downgrading “engagement bait” posts that have never been a good idea in terms of content strategy and now are officially so. That probably won’t help that the majority of what people see in their News Feed isn’t news of any kind, a finding that’s particularly disturbing given the huge number of people who identify it as their primary news source.

In a bid to woo more creators by offering them money,, the popular lip-synching app, has created a $50 million fund that could used for scholarships and other incentives that all come back to using the app more.

The “context cards” tested by Snapchat to add AR-like informational overlays to locations containing reviews and comments from friends have begun rolling out to users.

Twitter has begun cracking down on and deleting obvious alt-right and neo-nazi accounts, setting off the expected reactions from those groups. Hopefully this is just the first step in making the network a nicer place to converse and share news and opinions.

Good news for Snapchat that it’s still super-popular among U.S. teens, who view it as the single most important social app in their lives. The problem then is that they’re the only group that has the opinion, with literally everyone else not grasping how to use it or what it does, which is why parent company Snap has experienced issues with both user and revenue growth of late.

Content Marketing

Some interesting insights here from the Wendy’s AMA where the social media team talked about managing their sassy brand account. Of note particularly are the comments about how the voice was developed and has evolved as well as what kind of approvals are or aren’t needed.

A new study shows that corporate blogging is still an essential part of content strategy, one that produces results beyond just “engagement” assuming you put some attention and effort behind it.


All that talk around net neutrality that focused on how repealing it would foster competition runs in stark contrast to how it seems conservative groups don’t like any sort of competition when it comes to laying broadband fiber. Efforts around the country to stifle public-sector investment and infrastructure show the truth that it’s always just been about protecting certain businesses, not any initiative that will provide the best consumer option.

A bunch of new mobile apps that include not just news but chat functionality and thread moderation have been introduced by reddit, which hopes those will help it stay sticky among mobile users.

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.

What If Links Previewed Content?

As I’ve discussed extensively in the past, one of the main problems with many technologies online and on the mobile web is that symbols and icons and other items don’t always have a clear purpose or necessary action. Clicking on the RSS icon that was once ubiquitous across the web didn’t do anything, often just opening a page full of confusing code. It wasn’t clear people were supposed to copy the link and paste it into the discovery tool of the aggregator they’d already setup. So too, QR codes never delivered on their initial hype because there was no education of the public that they needed a specific app on their device to read the code and unlock its content.

The most successful mass adoption of RSS came when services like MyYahoo essentially masked the technology, allowing people to do what they expected – click an icon – that created a clear result, in this case adding that feed to their personal Yahoo portal. Similarly, QR codes have continued to languish as a niche feature but the concept – scan an image to trigger an action – has been adopted by a number of services such as Spotify, Snapchat and a number of others because the users know what to expect.

All of that came to mind when I saw the link highlighted below on a story I was reading on Bloomberg.

bloomberg terminal link

The link takes subscribers to the Bloomberg terminal readout, something that’s clear because in the middle of it there’s a small image of a screen or terminal. Seeing it got me thinking: Do we need to rethink links to be more explanatory?

In the last few years there’s been quite a bit of hand-wringing over the death of the open web, a fear powered by the rise of Facebook and other sites/services that want you to stay within their closed ecosystem as well as the growth of mobile apps. The open web is powered by links, but within an app links don’t play a huge role unless they’re “deep links” that lie behind an ad or which take you to a specific section of the website of the company behind the app. If people don’t see something in their Instagram feed, in a Snap sent to them or within some other app they may not see it.

The thing about apps is that they usually clearly label certain actions. Click something that says “News” and you’re going to get news. Everything is designed to make the user experience as seamless and worry-free as possible.

Links admittedly don’t work like that. When you see a word or phrase that’s been linked on the web it isn’t immediately clear what lies on the other side. If you hover over the link with your mouse you can usually see a preview of full URL so you can judge the quality of the site before clicking, but not everyone is savvy enough to do so. That questionable sites could be masked behind short URLs is one of the reasons Twitter began its own link-wrapping service to at least do a small amount of vetting. And many content marketing people say sharing long links on social media more clearly presents the value proposition to the audience and is worth sacrificing the click-through stats available if you use a service like

But what if links worked differently? While I will admit the Bloomberg terminal example above is a bit clunky in how it interrupts the text, there’s an idea worth exploring. I don’t want to propose something like those annoying text link ads that open up a massive box everytime you move your mouse over them on a page, but there must be some way to better present a clear message and set expectations when including a link. It might be an icon of some sort. It might be a small window that opens in the corner of your browser that shows the page being linked to.

I’m not sure what the perfect solution here is. There seems to be a strong need for a reeducation campaign around the power of links and what they mean, how they power conversations and have the ability to squash fake news in a way that the social networks dominating the media landscape today don’t seem interested or capable of doing. That power largely comes because they’re not driven by the misguided or narrow perspectives of engineers working for a single company but because they’re a community standard that work across devices and platforms.

Do you know of anyone innovating on new ways to make links as essential to the mobile web as they were to the initial social web?

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

Let’s *Not* Insult Customers With Data Marketing

Last week, Netflix stepped in it a bit when they Tweeted out the following.

At first the reaction was mildly interested. Data-based marketing is something that’s become more and more common from the entertainment companies that are heavily used by the viewing and listening public. Spotify pioneered the concept to a great extent with a number of efforts over the last several years where they crunched numbers to find the most popular songs in each state and so on. Hulu is getting in on the fun with a year in review infographic that calls out how people are watching, what has proven popular on the platform and more.

As the days went on a backlash to Netflix’s “who hurt you?” Tweet grew. That’s unsurprising because they’re basically shaming their users, acting as if there’s some problem with what they were watching and obviously enjoying.

Using data for marketing in a public way like this (as opposed to the behind-the-scenes usage that informs ad retargeting, on-site recommendations and such) may seem like a good idea. What we’re seeing, though, is that there are cons to the tactic just as much as there are pros.

The Upside

From a content marketing point of view, there are a few clear benefits from mining data on consumer usage patterns.

  • Quirky, shareable stories: If you can find some truly interesting stories and present them effectively, as Hulu did and as Spotify has done, you can get decent coverage.
  • Showing off for advertisers: There’s an element of this that’s clearly a pitch to advertisers, showing them how deeply you can target audience behavior.

The Downside

On the other hand, there are a number of ways this tactic can go pear-shaped quickly. That happens for largely the same reason most other Silicon Valley things go wrong, because [ianmalcomvoice] the engineers were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. [/ianmalcomvoice] As we’ve seen repeatedly in the last several years, engineers almost always only see their ideas as good and well-intentioned, not contemplating any sort of other interpretation or usage.

  • You’re not as funny as you think: As in the Netflix example, there’s a fine line between joking about edge cases and engaging in hurtful behavior. This is like a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” scene, where what one person thinks is funny is painfully awkward. You’ve moved from roasting into just insulting, which isn’t a great transition. Unless you’re Ed Debevick’s, insulting your customers is almost never a long-term growth tactic.
  • Your tracking is showing: We’re all aware we’re being tracked every moment we’re online. Sometimes that’s overt, as Facebook ads display the exact item we were just looking at on Amazon. Sometimes it’s never seen, part of the massive database of very identifiable (though technically anonymized) profiles being created by a handful of companies about us. This kind of marketing unintentionally reminds the audience that nothing they do is private, even if they’re not sharing the data publicly themselves.

Data, in and of itself, is neutral. It has no point of view. The people who use it do, though, even if they just claim they’re pulling out what seems “interesting.” That determination alone assigns a motive that comes with a perspective. Hulu could have picked any number of stats from what’s surely available, but the marketing team chose 1) What fit in with its brand mission and identify and 2) What seemed quirky and slightly embarrassing. Both of those helped it gain the attention and interest of the press.

This is another instance where having someone internally who can act as a check on any of these “funny” marketing efforts may prove helpful in the future. There needs to be someone who isn’t afraid to push back and make clear what the worst, most annoying reaction to a proposed tactic might be. That kind of person could have said “Hey, are we sure we’re not crossing a line because it kind of reads like we’re trying to make people feel bad” and at least created a momentary pause before someone hit “Publish.”

Without that, or some other form of check on the program, you wind up letting engineers run the marketing program. That’s not their job.

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

What I Learned In 2017

There’s been… a lot…that’s happened in 2017. Even more so than 2016, when I was let go from my last full-time job and began what might generously be called an “unexpected” career path, this year has been one of learnings, new beginnings, shedding of old notions and much more.

I don’t want to overstate things. No one got married. No one died. There were no great “milestones” as they’re commonly defined. Instead what 2017 contained was a steady progression in a number of directions that were unusual and far different from the model I thought my life would be going down.

“Then” is “Now”

Yes, it’s an excuse to use my favorite Spaceballs GIF once more. But the reality is that it wasn’t until the middle of the year that I stopped waiting for things to return to normal and began accepting that this is the new normal. I felt a weight lift when I realized that there was no use in continuing to expect a reversion to what had come before. The reality, as of now, is that I’m a full-time freelancer/contractor who also works part-time retail. That’s not a situation I’m waiting out, it’s one I’m embracing and making the most of.

when will then be now

Finding Work Is Hard

That being said, finding new freelance opportunities has been at times a struggle. I’ve worked consistently over the last several months, but adding clients and projects isn’t easy. The job boards and other sources of work have turned up a number of things, but most of my best gigs have come from referrals from friends and colleagues. Looking for work is as much of a job as the work itself, something I’m slowly becoming savvier at.

Starting a Blog Is Still Hard

It’s never been easy to start a blog from the ground up, even back in the halcyon days of RSS and comments and such. It takes hard work, focus and dedication. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing over at Cinematic Slant, which is still a work in progress but which has been growing month to month, which is encouraging. It’s still going to take a while before it achieves any sort of critical mass but that’s alright, I’m having fun with a dedicated outlet for my movie writing. And it’s been great to see the audience build over the first six months of its existence.

Making It Up As I Go Along

If you’ve been reading this blog or Cinematic Slant you’ve likely seen a number of features come and go. I start out writing some ongoing feature with the best of intentions but for one reason or another many either fall by the wayside or morph into something different. I know that has the potential to create a little audience whiplash, but I also hope it’s clear that I’m experimenting in public and that those who are truly interested have been following along. I don’t want to make promises for 2018, but I’m working to plan some things a bit more clearly and consistently to settle down the back and forth.

raiders indiana jones making it up

Writing About Writing

I’d never really written about my own writing style, practices or thoughts before this year. That changed when I started doing so first on this blog and then on Medium. And I really believe doing so has made me a better writer, especially when combined with various freelance editors and clients. While writing about writing can come off a bit self-indulgent at times, it’s also accomplishing exactly what writing in general has always done for me; Allowed me to think out loud and, in doing so, organize my thoughts a bit more.

Best Practices Aren’t Always Best

At one point in the last year I went deep in the paint on various tactics commonly appearing on lists of good ideas for content marketing, tactics I’ve used from time to time on one client program or another. That is what I’m trying to do, after all: Market myself through content publishing. What I found, as is often the case, is that those aren’t universal. Resurfacing old blog posts did nothing for my stats or leads. Being super-timely and trying to draft off current trends didn’t work. It was a good reminder that no matter how many consultants might try to convince you they know the keys to success, one solution almost never fits all.

I Can Surprise Myself

The biggest lesson of the year is that there’s been any change at all. I’ve moved so far outside my comfort zone on any number of topics it’s hard to know what that location felt like at all. It turns out you can make anything work for a year. That’s especially true if you know you have the love and support of your wife and children as well as your extended family. A healthy dose of German Lutheran “Well, that’s what needs to be done” attitude helps, too. But that love and support…that’s the big one. It allows you to be fearless and dedicated.

2017 is coming to a close. 2018 is just around the corner. There are new adventures around the corner that haven’t been planned for or contemplated. They’ll be met and handled and adjusted to. Next year will likely have plenty of big surprises and twists, just as the last two years have.

Let’s go to work.

angel lets go to work

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