Gender-Swapping Characters Opens Up New Potential

On a couple recent occasions, I’ve found myself, while very pointedly not sleeping, working through ideas for short stories or TV shows.

In each case, I’ve had a basic premise that seems interesting and like something I haven’t read or seen a dozen times before. So I start to mentally work through a very rough outline of how the story could progress and what sort of situations I would put the characters in.

As I thought about it, the story seemed to be going roughly nowhere. “Maybe this one’s just a dud,” I figured. Oh well, on to the next one. But with each one I realized the key problem holding the story back from realizing its full potential: Both main characters were white men.

Now, I am, of course, a white man and it’s always good advice to write what you know. I’ve been very careful about trying to write characters who aren’t that because I want to avoid doing more harm than good, not giving in to cliches or stereotypes, no matter how benign they might seem to me.

So I kept going down the new road that had been opened up by changing the gender, color or both of the protagonist in the stories. All of a sudden there were all sorts of possibilities for interesting scenarios and situations. Again, I was very conscious of not putting the characters in situations that would be offensive, writing the story just as I would for my original Generic White Guy and not doing much of anything to cater to the newly-assigned gender or race.

Neither of these stories is anywhere near finished. They’re barely at the “jot down the rough idea in Evernote for later mulling” stage. So there will be adjustments and changes made that will require much more conscious effort on my part to avoid stepping on any landmines. They got out of the gate, though, which is a better position than they were before.

If you’re feeling stuck with a fiction story of whatever kind you’re developing, take a couple days and consider how things might change – and be improved – by drastically shifting who the main character is. It can open up all sorts of new possibilities and give you the opportunity to tell a story that’s outside of what’s done before, opening your eyes a bit wider to the world around you at the same time.

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

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 1/30/18

Something decidedly not-great is happening at the L.A. Times. Sunday night it was announced (apparently publicly before staff was informed) that a new Editor-in-Chief had been named who comes from parent company Tronc’s business side. That comes after a week where the Times’ newsroom has been trying to figure out what’s going on with all sorts of new hires who have editorial titles but who don’t fit into any existing editorial workflow and who, again, all seem to be reporting into Tronc’s business side.

Fears among Times’ staffers are that Tronc is building a “shadow newsroom” of new hires who are there to replace them after having voted to unionize a couple weeks ago. If that turns out to be the case, Tronc would be just the latest company to dismantle a news organization after unionization, shifting to a model that dissolves the editorial/advertiser wall and relying on unpaid contributors for content.


Director Damien Chazelle becomes the latest big-name talent to sign on to produce an original series for Apple, though the company still hasn’t offered any details on how it’s going to distribute these shows, how much it will cost, where it will be available or when it will launch.

A new deal with Chinese media company ByteDance will see content from many of Buzzfeed’s sites and brands distributed in that country, clearly a decision based on the mounting ad revenue and other issues facing Buzzfeed.

ESPN is hoping all the young people who are cutting the cord and eating into its revenue will turn out for a new fan-driven “First Take” show on Facebook Watch that will bring one citizen commentator on to share their opinions. The timing is sketchy on this because CNN just announced it was shutting down Beme, an app it acquired a couple years ago, that had a similar concept in inviting people to share their opinions on the stories of the day.

The expiration of Nate Silver’s contract with ESPN later this year could mean the future of FiveThirtyEight, the blog he founded and still manages after selling to the cable network, is up in the air.

Look, it’s great that Self has found new success on Snapchat that apparently outstrips what it had in print (before folding that operation) as well as what it sees on its website. My question is this, though: What’s the long-term plan? When Snapchat is no longer the hip place to be, what happens? Migrating all those people over to another platform will take time and basically be a “from scratch” operation, with little of the existing value surviving the transition. This is the core problem with distributed media and one I just can’t reconcile in my mind.

Content Marketing

The Interactive Advertising Bureau has released new guidelines meant for both publishers and marketers to help them both get the most out of their influencer marketing efforts and avoid any ethical potholes they might fall in.

I understand it’s more or less the height of navel gazing in the social media content marketing industry, but I do enjoy a good brand-to-brand conversation on Twitter. A lot of them are forced and unfunny, but a recent exchange between Wendy’s and Moon Pie, to brands known for their strong original voices, is lots of fun.

Community managers (often a term poorly applied to social media specialists) have been wrongly undervalued for too long, a symptom of companies (still) not getting how strategic you have to be when it comes to content marketing executions. While this story argues their role will become more demonstrably important in the wake of Facebook’s recent News Feed changes I’m skeptical. If someone doesn’t get it by now, this isn’t going to change their mind.

Social Media

Because “innovation” doesn’t actually mean anything anymore, Twitter is hoping copying the video-sharing functionality of Snapchat will help it lure and retain younger users.

TV show conversations happening on Instagram will now be tracked by Nielsen, which already does so for Twitter and Facebook. The idea is to give networks and studios a more comprehensive view of the activity around and engagement with their programming, all of which can be used to determine a show’s fate.

Sponsored Moments on Twitter are being called “new” but it’s really just an iteration on the Promoted Moments ad unit that was introduced back in 2015.

It’s been widely-shared already, but I can’t recommend this investigation into how people’s social media profiles are cloned and sold by the gross to those looking to artificially boost their Twitter follower count enough. The interesting tag-along, at least for those of us here in the Chicago area, is the Sun-Times decision to halt publishing Richard Roeper’s work after his name appeared at the top of the list of media people with fake followers. I understand the desire for accuracy by the paper, but this seems poorly thought out. 1) Doing so for Roeper means they should, by all rights, conduct the same investigation into the social media accounts for all their writers and editors. 2) I’m not so sure any media organization wants to look too deeply at *any* numbers since they usually bristle when someone suggests auditing their online ad traffic or print circulation. This is a conversation they don’t really want to have.

“Local news” is the next topic Facebook says it’s going to prioritize in the News Feed, which is fine if you ignore or overlook how Facebook sucking up all the ad revenue in the industry has killed many local news sources AND that the general degradation of news means this doesn’t really amount to much of a statement.


It seems like I say the same thing every week, but I’m having a hard time coming up with a worse idea that the reported consideration by the Trump administration to either build their own or nationalize the 5G network being built by wireless companies. It’s not just my dislike of the current administration, either. Government ownership of communications channels is to be avoided under any president. There are so many terrible scenarios that could play out from such a situation it’s hard to wrap my head around them. Officials have denied any such plans are in the works, which isn’t the same as denying they’ve been considered.

Child development experts want Facebook to pull its Messenger Kids app, which is meant for those under 13. Facebook says it just wants kids to be able to communicate with their parents and other trusted adults but at the same time doesn’t want them to do so on any platform or tool that’s not part of Facebook.

Seems podcast publishers are actually getting some useful data out of Apple’s new metrics offering.

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.

My History of Live Event Blogging and Social Media Coverage

The other day I had a conversation with someone who was interested in hiring me for a freelance gig. He’d reached out and we’d traded a few messages when he asked something along the lines of the following:

So, do you have any experience with live-blogging?

Yeah…you could say that.

“Live-blogging,” for those of you who are new to the industry, is what we did before social networks were around and we wanted to share updates from events we were attending. As the name would imply, it happened not on distributed networks but was focused on the blog that was (and should still be) at the center of an owned content marketing strategy. There were variations, of course, but they generally came in one of two flavors:

First, there was the execution where a series of posts were published that recapped events from a period of time. You could do whatever felt right, either one post a day, one for the morning and one for the afternoon, or one per panel/session.

Second, there was the “single post with running commentary” approach. You could do this one of two ways, either natively (republishing the post at regular intervals as you made updates) or with a widget embedded into the HTML of the post, publishing to that and letting it dynamically update the post when someone visited it.

That eventually evolved into social media coverage, where the role of the corporate blog changed to accommodate the real and valuable presence of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other networks.

All told I’ve been doing live event coverage online for at least 13 years. In that time I’ve learned a number of lessons.

Know Where To Look

One of the most valuable aspects of live event coverage is that you’re part of a much larger conversation that’s happening. So you want to participate in that conversation, contributing to it and seeing what others are saying. In order to effectively do that you need to know where that conversation is happening. In the old days that meant learning what Technorati tag everyone would be adding to their blog posts so you could check them out later. With social media that meant finding the event’s hashtags (and/or making up your own) and following along to see how people were reacting to the news, you and others were sharing.

Have a Schedule

As I’ve written about before, a schedule is a must-have for any event coverage plan. You need to know who’s going where and when and for what purpose, especially if you’re part of a team. Yes, that schedule may need to be constantly rewritten (or thrown out entirely and created from scratch) but you still need to have one. You don’t want to be wandering aimlessly on one side of a quarter-mile long convention hall and get a text that you’re needed urgently on the exact opposite side. Even with a schedule in place you may get that text, so you need to know how responding to it could cause ripple effects on the rest of the team and the day.

Coordinate Important Beats

Live events are in large part about spontaneity and serendipity. They’re also venues for companies to make major announcements from important panels and keynote presentations. So make sure you’ve gotten the necessary information from other teams – publicity, marketing, PR or whatever – as to what news is most crucial and time sensitive and align your coverage plan accordingly. If something needs to go out at 9:17 AM, it better go out at 9:17 AM or there’ll be hell to pay. This comes from someone who’s both successfully pulled off these moments and…let’s just say “not.”

Pick a Format

There’s nothing worse for the team on the ground or the end reader than a muddled, confusing publishing experience. If you’re focusing on a live blog, make sure everyone is on board with that execution and not undermining you by doing their own thing somewhere else. Likewise, if you’ve promised the audience an exclusive reveal on Twitter, make sure someone doesn’t spoil it by leaking it to the press a half hour in advance. These and other instances of miscommunication (often rooted in the lack of faith some parties have in the content program) just make everyone look bad.

Engage With the Audience

As we were planning one event, the client contact I was working with and I were talking and we decided to step things up a bit with the coming show and really make bring it to the people who couldn’t be there in person. We wanted them to be able to smell the foot sweat and stale pretzels. That means not just focusing on core messages, but having fun with the general audience. Share pictures and funny anecdotes. Catch executives or others in candid moments and post them without saying anything, hoping no one notices. Lean into capturing not just those big publicity beats on your schedule but the *feel* of the event.

Indulge Your Experimental Side

I admit, this is the kind of thing that could have blown up in my face if it had gone badly, but on more than one (or six) occasions I did something while covering an event for a client that was completely off the reservation. They were decisions made on a whim, more or less, without any prior approvals or consultation, and I only told anyone about them after they were up and running and starting to get traction. You can get away with something like this only after you’ve proven you know what you’re doing overall and have internalized company/client values and ideas. If you have a little bit of slack on your rope, though, don’t be afraid to get a little crazy.

Have Remote Backup

This one I’ve found is among the most essential elements of live coverage you can include. Sometimes internet/wireless service in a venue is spottier than you anticipated to the point where you can’t get a photo uploaded to Twitter, but it will go through via text to someone else. So you use that option. Or maybe you need someone who’s not tied to a physical schedule to handle monitoring and engagement. Whatever the case – and there are many – it’s incredibly important in my experience to have someone who’s remote from the event who can be a resource for the team on the ground.

Take a Nap


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

Google’s Bulletin Serves No One But Google

Last week it was revealed Google was launching a new app called Bulletin. Here’s the basic product description from The Next Web’s story:

(It) lets anyone publish a news story just by blogging and sharing images and video straight from their phone through the platform’s mobile app – without the need to create an outlet of their own. The idea is to highlight stories from within communities, by making them visible through Google search. That’ll likely boost Google’s own News service and make it more relevant to people who are looking for information about what’s happening around them.

So, just to be clear: Google is launching an app that allows anyone to contribute stories, primarily about their community, that will then be part of Google News. That ties nicely into an initiative the company launched a few months ago where local news would be displayed more prominently, one it positioned as an attempt to help inform citizens of local events and happenings.

It’s hard to completely wrap my head around what a bad idea this is for many parties, but let me try.

It’s Bad for The People Contributing

Nowhere in the news about Bulletin does it mention anything about how the people posting those stories might benefit in any way. Let’s assume that contributors will have profiles that will show who they are, what community they live in and what stories they’ve published. That’s fine, but what else? They become part of some kind of feed of updates that’s essentially anonymous and transfers no name recognition value to them.

There’s also no mention of any sort of compensation that might occur so let’s also assume that everyone is contributing for free. You know that even if ads aren’t part of the wide rollout, Google will sell advertising on Bulletin to local businesses that want to reach a highly relevant targeted audience. It doesn’t seem as if the people actually creating that content will see any of that. Contributors may feel some satisfaction from having shared interesting or important information, but that’s it.

It’s Bad For The Open Web

What Google is doing here could 100% have been done without asking people to participate in a whole new platform they have no control over and can’t monetize or benefit from themselves. Local bloggers could have been asked to submit their sites to a system that curated posts and then presented an RSS-like feed that sent traffic back to those individual blogs, which the owners would be free to do with what they will.

That kind of solution would have not only allowed for sources to be better vetted (something that’s unclear in the write-ups about Bulletin) since they would have to be reviewed for inclusion and been good for the long-term health of the open web. Unfortunately this is Google continuing to adopt the Facebook mindset that links are bad and content needs to exist only within a closed ecosystem it manages itself.

It’s Bad For Local Media

You know how the demise of local media has been driven largely by the increased power of the Google/Facebook duopoly, which sucks up almost all online advertising spending? Google, like its competitor-partner, has now officially moved from playing Ivan Drago (“If he dies, he dies.”) to Al Capone (“I want him dead. I want his family dead…”). This isn’t just letting market forces do their work and hey, if we provide a better alternative than your local newspaper that’s not our fault. It’s taking an active role in the demise of that media by enlisting an army of unpaid creators to produce content that can then by monetized in some fashion.

Hyper-local media has always been a tough nut to crack, at least at scale, because the issue of money always comes up. Outlets like Patch and others have struggled at times because they’re not bringing in enough revenue (it’s all going to Facebook and Google) to maintain site infrastructures much less pay writers or others more than a few bucks per article. Those problems are only going to get worse if the competition is Google in a much more direct way.

It’s Just Bad

I might be wrong. There might be nuances and details to Bulletin that haven’t been included in the coverage to date that make it much more of an attractive option and a value-add to the overall online and mobile landscape. At first blush, though, this seems like Google wanting to corner the market on local media in an intentionally harmful way. I’ll be pleased if I’m mistaken.

I’m a proponent of the idea of local, citizen journalists. You want to encourage that, great, you have my support. This isn’t that. There are already countless people in every neighborhood running blogs and social network profiles offering that kind of coverage, most of them doing so out of passion more than anything else. Tapping into that passion and developing a system to showcase and reward it would have been welcome.

Instead we’re seeing Google adopt the same platform mentality so many other companies have. That was true when it shut down Google Reader in favor of trying to prop up Googlel+ (or any of the various non-RSS news reading apps it’s tried to launch over the years, almost all of which have folded) and now it’s true here.

For an initiative that purports to be focused on communities, it’s ignorant of the fact those communities already exist. But because they aren’t natively owned, they aren’t of any value, apparently.

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

This Week Elsewhere – Week of 1/26

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 Clapper – Marketing Recap: Everything about the campaign makes it seem like the kind of movie that, in 1992, you’d see a box for on the Blockbuster Video shelf and wonder when *that* came out and why *they* had made it.


Little Bitches – Marketing Recap: The biggest problem with the campaign then is that there isn’t more of it. It would have been nice to see Sony put some level of effort toward promoting it, even just with earned media.

little bitches pic

New to Home Video This Week: Sacred Deer, Christopher Robin and More: Here’s a short list of this week’s new home video releases and how they were sold during their theatrical campaigns.

killing of a sacred deer pic

A Futile and Stupid Gesture – Marketing Recap: This is one of those movies I’m just kind of genetically predisposed to look forward to. It’s got everything I enjoy: Revisiting and acknowledging some classic comedies and their creators, a fantastic comedic cast and crew, and a meta approach that pokes holes in the whole thing.

futile and stupid gesture pic

Please Stand By – Marketing Recap: Magnolia put together a nice little campaign here for a movie that very likely is going to fly under many people’s radars. It’s not huge, of course, and there’s nothing terribly innovative or original in it, but it presents an interesting story of a woman who wants to do what’s important to her and is unwilling – or unable – to accept “no” for an answer.

please stand by pic

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

What Excites Me About The Work?

(Note: This is based on one of the questions asked in Ron Elsdon’s book How to Build a Nontraditional Career Path: Embracing Economic Disruption.)

Over the course of my career I’ve had the opportunity to write about a lot of topics, industries and products. I’m sure I’m leaving more than one thing off, but the list includes:

  • Health insurance exchanges
  • Comic books
  • Movies and TV shows
  • Dentistry
  • Embedded technology
  • Marketing, advertising and public relations (and variations thereof)
  • Domain registry
  • Motorcycles
  • Condominiums and apartments
  • Enterprise translation software
  • Online publishing
  • Construction and architecture
  • Healthcare
  • Banking
  • Small businesses
  • Education

That’s not a bad list. I’m sure others have done more and would have a more varied portfolio, but that’s mine.

When someone asks me, usually in the context of an interview for either a full-time or freelance/contract position, what I enjoy writing about (they want to see if I’m going to be a good subject-matter fit for them) I truthfully answer with something like, “I just enjoy writing.”

It’s true, not just a vague deflection to say the not-quite-right thing while avoiding saying the totally-wrong thing. I simply enjoy the act of writing.

Each freelance project, each new client assignment, is an opportunity for me to learn something. I know more about motorcycle safety than I did six months ago because I had to complete a handful of assignments on that topic for a freelance client. That experience was channeled into the finished product, which was meant to inform people.

Writing helps me channel that learning into something useful. You know how your teachers always told you that taking notes was the best way to retain information because you had to process it and do something with it? Same basic concept.

Even when it’s not a freelance project, I’ve often described my personal writing as “me thinking out loud.” My posts often sound like I’m kind of working out an idea in real time because that’s what they are. I write a little, do a bit of research to see if my thinking can be supported in a substantial way, write a little bit more, do more research and so on.

I was never the greatest student in a formal classroom structure, but I swear if every class had been “Here’s a book (this was the 80s and 90s, remember) or three on a subject and here’s what we want you to learn, so go write 1,200 words on it” I would have dominated. It’s the way my brain works. That’s why the part of my work as a writer I enjoy most is the opportunity to learn new things and share what I’ve learned with others.

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

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 1/25/18


Peter Kafka has a great graphic that shows what media platforms are owned in part or whole by what media companies. It’s actually a bit chilling seeing how few companies control such vast portions of our entertainment and news.

Conde Nast is once more trying to get its entertainment division, launched years ago to shepherd stories that first appeared in its magazines along into film and TV adaptations but languishing ever since, off the ground.

Funny or Die isn’t immune to market forces, it seems, and has become the latest company to layoff a number of employees, including most or all of its content division, as competition from other sites keeps driving revenue lower.

More details here on Spotify’s inclusion of more content formats, including various news media as it seeks to hold even more of people’s attention.

It’s just two simple questions Facebook is asking people regarding whether they trust a news organization/site or not and we all know the best way to unearth nuance and opinion is by asking two questions.

Content Marketing

More shady actions in the world of freelancing, contributor networks, pay-for-play publicity and other underhanded and unethical schemes.

Influencer marketing is getting (more) out of hand as those superstars proactively ask business owners for freebies and perks without offering anything in return.

Social Media

Yep, Snap doesn’t believe its own platform is viable or attractive and so will begin allowing Stories to be embedded on other websites to they can be viewed by non-users. They can also be sent by users to people outside the Snapchat ecosystem. The move is being positioned as one that could broaden Snapchat’s exposure among older audiences, but I see it as making the content more generic and diminishing the value of the app.

You can now add GIF stickers to photos and videos on Instagram because that’s what counts as “innovation” in 2018.

The creators of the late, lamented Vine are slowing beginning to offer more details on V2, the new iteration of the app they’re working on that reportedly is more focused on community and which is being launched with an emphasis on moderation to cut any abuse off before it gets out of hand.

It’s now even easier for retailers using Salesforce to create shoppable Instagram posts featuring products from their entire catalog and including a whole host of information about those products.

Buzzfeed has a look at a test of Facebook’s coming local news and events section could look like, including how it’s going to drive people there by putting one of those big prompts at the top of their feed. I still think this is an idea that goes nowhere because people don’t want to leave the News Feed.


At some point in the future we’re all going to be part of the WeWork network. It already is growing its coworking spaces and has branched out into living quarters and more. Now it’s making inroads on education, partnering with an online classes company to offer free space in its facilities to those enrolled in courses.

YouTube has been busy on a number of fronts in the last few days, announcing it was going to consolidate most artist’s individual channels with their Vevo-branded ones as well as an initiative to help creators produce and distribute positive and uplifting (and brand-safe) videos. The company didn’t tout quite as loudly a reported development where it would help promote the work of artists only if they signed a non-disparagement agreement

Apple is taking on Facebook Messenger and other chat apps that have expanded their brand customer service capabilities with a new Business Chat feature in an upcoming version of iOS that will allow people to use iMessage to communicate with a company’s service reps.

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.

Creating a Content Program’s Audience Matrix

A couple weeks ago I shared the template for an editorial calendar that’s served me well, in various incarnations, over the last seven or eight years of content program management. It’s a flexible format that can be adjusted to meet a program’s specific needs and I like it more than anything else I’ve found, so I’m going to keep using it.

That ed cal included a column for “Audience,” which I said should be used to tag which audience segment that particular nugget of content was being drafted to appeal to. Knowing that can help you draft different social posts differently to make different value propositions and calls to action that appeal more directly to the needs and behaviors of different audience types.

In order to do that effectively, I and my colleagues developed an audience matrix, a screenshot of which is shared here.

editorial calendar audience matrix

Before I get to what all is here, let me briefly recount the origins of this beautiful program resource.

I think it was late 2012 or when a client shared with us a massive report they had commissioned that detailed the demographics, interests, habits and more of its customer base. Paging through the report you could find out what stage of life someone was in and what they were looking for from the company, what kind of buying behavior they were engaging in and so much more. There were four distinct groups that were of high interest to the client.

We immediately wanted to use this data to better inform what we were doing with the social program. If we knew that X Person was on Y Platform for Z Reason, we could take the customization of our content production up several notches. But we needed to figure out how to do that.

For about an hour, we whiteboarded different models. Eventually, we arrived at a rough version we thought had potential and over the course of the next week or so I refined it, working through not just the categorization system itself but also how it could be applied to the daily content program in an easy and sustainable way.

This matrix was the result of all that.

It works roughly like the timetable for a train: If you want to find out what audience will be most interested in – and likely to take action on – the news you’re about to post find the appropriate outlet on the left and follow your finger over until you land on the row for the business unit that news relates to.

So let’s say you have four audience types: Sizzling Seniors, Exciting Xers, Marvelous Millennials and Terrific Teens.

You also have four business divisions that are part of the content program: Sales, Recruiting, Marketing and Brand PR.

Finally, you have four platforms you publish to: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

In this scenario, you want to share news of a corporate acquisition. You’ve determined you’ll share the news on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn because you know the audience on Instagram doesn’t care about these kinds of announcements. The metrics you track regularly clearly show that.

So you consult the matrix and see that on LinkedIn it’s Sizzling Seniors who are most interested in Brand PR news while on Twitter it’s Exciting Xers and on Facebook it’s Marvelous Millennials. It’s not that there aren’t other cohorts on each channel, but that kind of news is going to be most interesting to those specific audiences.

Because you’ve put the work into a brand style guide for the content program (the subject of several possible future posts), you know that to reach Seniors you have to be serious and informational while both Xers and Millennials want a more self-effacing tone.

That information will help you create unique copy that has a greater chance of resonating with that audience.

This isn’t easy. And for every company and program, it’s going to be different. It requires a level of audience analysis that isn’t easy or cheap. Getting everyone in the program on board with that kind of customization is a labor unto itself, something that’s often overlooked in the fluffy industry trade stories about brand Twitter accounts featuring a snarky attitude that becomes everyone’s obsession for roughly three weeks.

Believe me when I say it’s worth it. Implementing this kind of rigor and structure – which again came *after* the creation of a program style guide and then informed a revision of that document – takes work, though it helps if you have talented people who are skilled communicators (not just “good at Twitter”) on the team.

It pays off, though. After we went through this exercise and worked out the operational kinks the program saw a rise in already-substantial engagement levels across all the networks we managed that was sustained over the life of the program. Not just that, but click-throughs and conversions improved as well. The benefit to the program was tangible and measurable.

Have questions about what’s here? Hit me up in the comments or on Twitter and I’m more than happy to talk through things. As my colleagues who were involved in the creation of this matrix can attest, I tend to geek out about it and relish any opportunity to do so.

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

Even A Missing Clock is User Experience

The casinos in Las Vegas and elsewhere famously don’t have clocks on the walls. The owners don’t want you to track how much time you’ve spent there and it’s much easier to glance up casually and see a clock on the wall than it is even to look at the watch on your wrist or the phone in your pocket. It’s something you might even do accidentally or subconsciously, suddenly rudely aware you’ve lost an entire afternoon on the slots.

As I was standing in the waiting area at the train station recently I began wondering what time it is and looked around. Surely in a public space like this, especially one managed by a municipal transportation agency, there would be at least an $11.99 wall clock from Target.


Apparently the local suburban commuter rail system has the same philosophy as a Vegas casino, not wanting anyone to really know what time it is. The reasons might be different – they don’t want you to know how late your train is going to be, because it’s *going* to be late – but the execution is the same.

When we talk about user experience, which we’re doing a lot of recently in light of the recent “incident” where Hawaii thought it was about to be hit by a ballistic missile, we often about what the user or customer is able to do.

There’s just as much thought put into what the user or customer is *not* able to do. In this case there’s a very clear action the agency does not want you to take and so has designed a user experience including that restriction.

In Steve Jobs from a couple years ago there was a scene that spoke to this idea. Faced with a problem that could significantly impact the effectiveness of a product demonstration that’s just moments from starting, there’s no way for the Apple team to actually diagnose what’s wrong. The reason is that Jobs insisted the housing to the computer use screws that required a special tool to loosen, meaning people couldn’t open it up themselves at home using a common screwdriver.

The next time you’re using software, driving your car, standing in a building or anything else, take a moment to consider both what kinds of activities the space or system have been designed to facilitate as well as what kinds of activities are clearly restricted. Only by accounting for elements falling into both categories will you have a more full appreciation for how the complete user experience has been designed.

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

Quick Takes – Content Marketing and Media News for 1/23/18


Amazon Studios seems to be in the midst of a bit of upheaval in terms of direction, canceling a number of beloved shows (many of them by female creators, which is coming off as a bit tone deaf) and with reports it’s shifting its film acquisitions away from indie fare to bigger blockbusters. That’s being positioned as an evolution in its approach but it’s hard to figure how this is going to endear it to anyone. Basically what the studio is saying is that those smaller filmmakers were great to use to build prestige and get its foot in the door but now it would like some of the buzz Netflix got for Bright, thank you and good day. That makes this report from a Sundance panel where streaming platforms were praised for their support of underrepresented filmmakers and quirky stories a bit awkward.

At the same time, Moviepass announced it formed a division that will seek opportunities to acquire films in partnership with distributors, which is 100% a move designed to set the stage for it to launch its own streaming subscription service because theaters don’t want to do business with it any longer than they have to.

The writers at the L.A. Times voted to unionize and, I imagine, Joe Ricketts spent four hours vainly trying to shut down the paper before someone was finally able to remind him he didn’t own it.

It’s hard to adequately measure how nonsensical and poorly thought-out Facebook’s move to let readers rank the authority of news outlets is. This isn’t a Maytag clothes dryer here, people. It’s the news. Plus, isn’t “rank the authority of the news” kind of the point of how the News Feed worked before, with engagement and interaction with content signaling the opinion that you trusted that outlet? This is going to fix nothing and, by encouraging small, devoted groups of indoctrinated followers to game the system, could make things even more problematic than they were before.

Rupert Murdoch thinks the key is for Facebook and Google to start paying publishers carriage fees similar to what cable companies pay to networks and I can’t ever stop laughing.

Content Marketing

Marketers don’t think pre-roll (or any other form of “roll”) ads are going to be much good long-term and so are increasing their plans to invest in the branded content publishers are offering to produce and distribute.

Speaking of which, look for Facebook to address branded content in some manner in the near future because it wants to emphasize just the kinds of pre- and other-roll ads in videos that marketers are no longer interested in.

Social Media

Facebook is hoping adding the ability to create and add to Stories from the desktop web will help spur use of a feature that is seen as a major ad revenue engine but which hasn’t been widely-adopted to date.

Snap last week laid off about two dozen staffers, many from its content team, which isn’t exactly the “everything’s fine here” message the company wants to be sending amidst multiple reports of falling revenue and internal chaos.

About 40% of Facebook users have viewed a Watch video since that feature launched. Cool, but I’m curious as to what that number will be after the recent News Feed change and after the curiosity factor wears off and people realize it’s just Facebook creating a less-interesting version of YouTube.

Not really surprising that the biggest YouTube creators – the ones with existing massive audiences – don’t get why smaller creators who fell just below the line the site recently imposed to participate in the Preferred Partner Program are upset. Remember, these are the same “big” stars who cry foul every time YouTube changes anything that *does* impact them even slightly.


Lots of headlines around the opening of Amazon’s first official Amazon Go quick convenience/grocery store that doesn’t take cash or feature checkout clerks but charges people based on what various scanners around the store determine you walk out with. Great news for anyone who isn’t at all concerned with the erosion of privacy, the collection of biometric data by private companies and how automation is killing the kinds of jobs often filled by young workers, those trying to cobble together a variety of part-time work or immigrants who can’t get other work for various reasons. So…yay?

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