Creating an Ownership Mindset For Myself

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

When I was still working for Voce, I would often refer to the programs I managed as “mine.” Sometimes that was awkward when I said it in the presence of the client and I had to quickly correct over to “our.” I was the one who was responsible for the day to day operation of those programs, though and so felt a sense of ownership over them.

That’s just one manifestation of the way I personally invested in my work, often to the detriment of other aspects of my life. I was seriously committed to them and the success we were all working to achieve. That kind of emotional involvement had the subsequent negative effect of making me feel clients who fired the agency were firing me personally, that I had not only failed them but also was a failure in general.

In the year-plus since I was let go I’ve needed to adopt an even more comprehensive sense of personal ownership over my work because there’s literally no one else responsible for it. As an independent freelancer/contractor, it’s all on me. If a client no longer wants to work with me, that’s my fault. If I can’t bring in new work, that’s my fault. I’m the owner, operator and employee.

It’s a role I’ve struggled with. I still tend to take things very personally, so will get down following rejections. But it also allows me to revel and feel a great sense of accomplishment when things go well. Oddly, I’ve actually been able to put more emotional distance between me and the work in the last year because otherwise I’d never get out from under the desk. It’s just one part of who I am, not the complete and total definition of myself.

Thinking of myself as the owner of my actions isn’t new, but my mindset has certainly changed. I’m still where the buck stops, though. I just don’t take it nearly as personally as I once did.

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

Wait, Bloggers Are an Influencer Marketing Afterthought Now?

I’ll admit I was taken somewhat aback by this story, which laid out some very sensible reasons why those engaging in influencer marketing should remember to include blog publishers in those efforts.

Umm…”remember”? I’m old enough to remember when bloggers were not just the primary but pretty much the only category of self-publishers you could target with any sort of influencer marketing effort. Of course this was back in the day when we were making all this up as we went along, with just our conscience and good judgement, our desire to not pollute the watering hole, to guide us. We didn’t have the luxury of FTC and other guidelines to follow (or not, as is apparently often the case these days), we just had to do what we felt was best.

While blogging has faded in recent years as social networks have begun to dominate our time and attention, the stats around it continue to be impressive enough to warrant serious attention. WordPress dominates the field, powering almost 30% of the entire internet, from personal blogs to the sites of major media outlets. Over 80 million posts were created on WordPress sites in August, 2017.

For its part, Tumblr shows it now hosts almost 368 million blogs. Squarespace and other platforms also boast of impressive usage numbers.

So there’s a massive audience out there of people who would be more than happy to not only be part of your marketing efforts but also comply with whatever disclosure requirements you put in place for the program. For the most part, these are people who are attracted to the additional features and functionality blog platforms offer and who understand the advantages of a slower, more methodical approach to publishing online. They’re also likely active on social channels but prefer to have the owned home base provided by a blog.

This story – and these stats – should also serve as a reminder for marketing professionals to keep monitoring blogs for important insights into their products, brand reputation and more. It can’t all be focused on social signals, it has to include blogs as well simply because they’re still a big part of online publishing, even if they’re not covered in the press to the extent they used to be.

Yes, blogs are important. Social networks may want to kill them and take over more control of the previously-decentralized web publishing power structure, but they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Plan accordingly.

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

Expanded (Complete?) Agency Archives

Over the years I’ve been one of the primary writers for a number of corporate blogs for my employers. Those posts and articles represent a substantial portion of my professional portfolio and provide insights into what the prevailing conversations were at the time as well as how I viewed the blog medium and what I was doing with it.

Over the last week or so I’ve worked to make sure this site represented that history and experience as best as possible.

Bacon’s Blog

When I proposed the launch of a blog to Bacon’s Information, the Chicago-based media directory/monitoring service I worked for, blogging was still pretty new. I argued, though, that the company needed to have a voice in the growing world of self-publishing. Eventually, I was given the latitude to set up a TypePad blog (this is before WordPress was widely available and I thought Blogger might be a bit too low-tech) and give things a try.

While I got my hand-slapped a couple times, the effort overall was a success, I thought. It not only helped establish Bacon’s “new media” credentials but gave me a platform where I could write posts like this that responded to conversations about the company in a full and complete way. Monitoring blogs and keywords also allowed me to find situations, where people were upset with Bacon’s for some reason and reach out to them, leading to stories like this, were someone’s previous comments were retracted.

Unfortunately, Bacon’s deleted the blog a few weeks after I left the company since there was no one there who wanted to keep it going. Thankfully I archived all those posts and have republished them here for the sake of completeness.

MWW Group’s Open the Dialogue

When Tom Biro hired me at MWW Group in 2005, it was after we’d already been working together for a year or more. I’d been writing for AdJab and other Weblogs, Inc blogs in that time and Tom was the editor for AdJab and the two of us quickly developed a close working relationship via IM and other channels. Outside of that he was already a well-known media/marketing blogger, managing The Media Drop, a blog chronicling changes and updates in the media world. And he’d started Open the Dialogue, the official blog of MWW’s new media practice.

So when I came on board it was natural that I’d join him on that blog. Over the next two years we kept up a pretty steady cadence of writing there, each of us contributing as we had time, even if it was just one of our “LOTD” (Links of the Day) roundups of quick-hit stories we weren’t able to give more attention to. We live-blogged BloggerCon, BlogOrlando and more, reviewed books, weighed in on general industry conversations and more. Writing with Tom both there and at AdJab continues to be one of the highlights of my career, even outside of the incredible client work we pulled off.

Again, though, those archives were taken off the internet shortly after both of us left MWW in mid-2008. The site was redesigned and replatformed, which is why I’ve republished my posts, which I grabbed on my way out the door.

Voce/Porter Novelli/PNConnect

I wrote a lot in my time at Voce. Not surprising, given I was there for nine years. The Voce Nation Blog was already well-established when I got there thanks to the efforts and leadership of Mike Manuel, Josh Hallett, Nick Gernert and others. So I was honored not only to contribute but quickly become editor-in-chief of that blog, able to write my own stuff and manage the contributions of others. It was a great responsibility and one that I didn’t take lightly. After Voce was acquired by Porter Novelli I took over similar duties on that blog, as well as the subsequent PNConnect blog for the agency’s social media marketing practice.

While there are countless great things I did at Voce – check out my case studies for DC Entertainment and Sony Entertainment Network for just two examples – one thing I’m most proud of is the evolution of what would become a much bigger effort. At some point, probably in mid- to late-2009, I started sending weekly news roundups to the eight or nine folks within Voce Connect because not everyone read as extensively as I did. Eventually I realized that would make good blog content and so started publishing those roundups there. Years later that was formalized as PNConnect Weekly Reading, a weekly download on recent news that was first sent to the entire Porter Novelli network and then published as a public blog post.

Thankfully both Voce and PN have kept their blog archives alive, even if the activity waxes and wanes as time allows. While many of the posts are excerpted here you can read them in their entirety on the Voce, Porter Novelli and PNConnect sites. If that changes, I have the exports and can add the full posts here at a later date.

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

Writing? Not a Problem. Speaking? Ummm….

I’m not what you might call an effortlessly eloquent speaker. My tendencies are to be a bit too casual, I indulge in a few too many verbal ticks and speak more quickly than I’d like, the result of nerves. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely comfortable in front of an audience and in a room full of executives and other stakeholders. It’s often a struggle for me to slow down and organize my thoughts, though, which can be problematic.

The best advice I ever got about public speaking came in high school from a teacher whose subject I honestly don’t remember right now. Following a presentation of some sort, I had given he spoke to me after class and told me to watch the tone of my voice. Specifically, he said my voice tended to get higher when speaking to a group than it was normally.

I’ve remembered that advice every time I’ve stood in front of a group. Deep breaths, control my nerves, slow down, keep my voice low and even. Don’t wig out.

At some point, my substantial ego takes over and I begin to think “Yes, this is fine. I deserve to be here and have their attention.” I slip into the same mindset that pushed me on stage to perform in plays and musicals in high school and college. It becomes a role I’m playing, something I’m much more comfortable with.

When it comes down to it, I’m a writer. I like the opportunity afforded by writing for me to consider my thoughts a bit more fully. Sometimes I may not know what I want to say until I’m three paragraphs in, but that’s better than hemming and hawing and stammering to the annoyance of everyone around me.

Again, put me in front of a group of people I need to convince of the rightness of my point of view and I’m golden. But extemporaneous speaking has never been my strong suit. Yet another skillset I’m constantly working on developing and improving.

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

Twitter Finally Gets Into Curation

I’ve spoken time and again about how much I miss Google Reader Shared Items. I loved how I was able to see the items being shared by those I was connected to in what was really an under-utilized social network and share my own items of interest with them in return. That was a great way to be exposed to new posts and stories that may fall out my regular reading habits.

More recently that void has been filled to some extent by Nuzzel, the app that uses social signals such as Tweets to show you what your network is talking about. I’m getting alerts all the time that “5 friends shared: “ a particular story, which in many cases I would have otherwise missed. It allows me to see what stories are circulating widely and consider giving them some additional attention.

Now Twitter is building its own version of that idea with the introduction of Popular Articles. Available in the “Discover” section of the app, it shows you stories your network is engaging with and sharing as well as more stories from your local area.

While I’ve decried the influence social networks have exerted over news discovery and consumption, with algorithms that take the place of your own judgment, features like this and Nuzzel are different. Instead of assuming you can’t make your own choices and using unknown signals to decide what you see, these tools surface what’s best in your network.

That’s a value-add, particularly in an environment such as Twitter’s where the timeline moves so fast it’s easy to miss things if you’re not watching 24 hours a day. It enables you to get the pulse of your network, seeing what they obviously feels is important.

It’s also much better than Twitter’s “In Case You Missed It” feature, which inserts a chunk of old updates toward the top of the timeline. Those stale tweets may be what Twitter thinks are relevant, but they create a disjointed experience, introducing time-shifting where none should exist.

I’m sure there’s room enough for both Twitter’s Popular Articles and the continued success of Nuzzel, which has built up a good reputation over the last few years. Both play a valuable role in a media world that sometimes moves faster than one person can handle and can easily become an echo-chamber devoid of new or outside thinking.

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

How New Media Verticals Reinforce Concentration of Power

In a way the news that NBC is launching a new coverage vertical focused on media technology is kind of disappointing. The additional beat is being added because, as a CNN exec says, it’s not just Los Angeles and New York but San Francisco and Seattle that are major media hubs.

This kind of attention is all well and good, but it’s naturally going to gravitate toward the current roster of big players who are already based in those locations. New startups seeking coverage will then either opt to launch in those cities or relocate there to be close to the media who provide the coverage they need to be successful. It’s the same self-perpetuating cycle we’ve already seen with tech and social media.

The problem is that we’ve already seen tech companies like those this new vertical will cover gain outsized control over what media reaches the public. The influence of Facebook and Twitter for good and ill has been well-covered, even while those and other companies will shrug and hide behind the “we’re not a media company” canard. They’ve gotten away with being black-box operations for so long there’s little incentive for anyone to come along with a more transparent approach.

That’s a big shift from the decentralized web of 12 or 15 years ago, before Facebook began its rise to dominance. By managing their own blogs and not relying on artificial gatekeepers, people were able to exert some control and change the face of media. The blog revolution brought new and vital voices to the forefront. Facebook and others have shoved them right back down, limiting exposure unless you played their game by their own ever-shifting sets of rules.

I’m not going to hold out hope that this or other efforts are going to actually pull the curtain on the companies who are defining our media consumption and by extension our society. The last year has afforded plenty of opportunities to do so without creating whole new ventures. Instead my fear is that this is going to consist of the same obsequious coverage that permeates politics, sports and entertainment, where reporters focus on high-level executive shifts and over-hype new developments while not poking too deeply lest they lose their access.

As more companies flock to these new centers of power, those outside will see their fate defined by a very few, which isn’t much better than it was in the days before blogs. Putting the media at their doorstep will only hasten the speed at which the big get bigger and the rest are left by the wayside.

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

I Already Signed Up…

If your online reading habits are anything like mine, you’ve likely seen some variation on the below prompt at least a dozen times a day every day in the last two years.

The email newsletter “sign up” prompt is the new site interstitial. In fact about half the time it comes either before or after an interstitial ad, meaning my attempt to read the story I’ve clicked on is interrupted at least once, if not twice. Then, after I’ve said “no thank you” to the offer, there’s sometimes a second bite at the apple. “Are you sure you don’t want to receive free, awesome content?” reads the interstitial, necessitating another click from me to get to the story I’m interested in.

What’s supremely frustrating about this is that a lot of the time I’m coming to the story *from* an email newsletter. And the site knows this, because I can see the tracking code they appended to the URL in order to track click-throughs. So the technology is smart enough to know that in the last 30 days I looked at Avengers comics on Amazon and serve me retargeted ads but not smart enough to say “Woah…he’s already subscribed. Let’s not annoy him.”

Email newsletters have experienced a resurgence in the last three or four years. With social media happening so fast (Twitter), hiding so much behind an algorithm (Facebook, Instagram) or being so ephemeral (Snapchat), email is a different beast. As Wired put it in 2016, it’s slow. You can take your time with it and get to it on your own schedule. Because it’s private, not like the pages you’ve liked on Facebook, you can opt out whenever you’d like and it’s your own business.

There are a plethora of newsletters you can subscribe to on topics either broad or niche. Bigger publications will use MailChimp, SalesForce or ConstantContact or another enterprise vendor while countless individuals and smaller organizations have embraced no-frills alternatives such as TinyLetter. “Letters” is a big part of Medium’s offerings, with an email newsletter baked into its platform. Nuzzel lets anyone aggregate news easily into a daily email blast.

Marketers and publishers love the email revival because unlike just about any other distribution platform around these days it allows them to capture audience data and information. When I subscribe I’m usually offering my name and email at least, if not more. I’m giving that publication permission to reach me on a regular basis. While RSS and social media are also opt-in platforms, none combine the inherent invitation and the personal behavioral data email does. And none allow for the content segmentation email does, with different campaigns sent to different segments, either on a planned schedule or because of recent purchase or other activity.

That’s why so many sites in the last couple of years have ditched RSS in favor of going all-in on email newsletters. At some point I realized Digiday, the advertising industry news site, was no longer publishing to their RSS feed. When I visited the site I saw a feed wasn’t even offered any more. It wanted everyone to subscribe via email. Many “new media” sites including Axios and others have never embraced RSS, going the email route from the outset.

The problem with this is that email is still, like social media, somewhat of a filtered platform. I’ve tried a number of times to subscribe to Digiday’s daily newsletters but they’re getting lost in the network somewhere. Gmail, as good as it is at fighting spam, sometimes goes too far. Not only that, but its redesign from a couple years ago will segregate email newsletters to a separate tab that may not be checked as regularly as the primary inbox. Or they’re sending those newsletters to a wholly unique address they’ve created for such blasts.

There are a number of email newsletters I dig and continue to subscribe to even after nixing several about a year ago because it got to be too much for any of the reasons stated here as the motivation for why people opt-out of an email they’ve been receiving. If I had the option to do so, I’d move all that reading to Digg Reader, where I’ve established an efficient reading system and workflow. Lacking that, email is fine for the time being.

I just wish when I clicked from the email the site would recognize that and not ask me once again if I’d like to subscribe. You’ve already got me, now let me read in peace.

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

Three

In the past three weeks I’ve been turned down for three separate jobs. That is, to say the least, disheartening. At least two of the four I was 100% qualified for and would have been amazing at. The third was a little more iffy, but it was nothing that I didn’t have at least some experience with, so could have still done an amazing job.

That’s a pretty tight timespan and has, quite frankly, impacted my usually sunny disposition. Without naming any names, here’s what happened in all three situations.

Job 1: Freelance Writer and Editor

This came in through a recruitment firm I receive regular emails from. After I responded with my qualifications the firm set up a time for me to talk to the company itself. I had two interviews with them in one day where I heard about the job, shared my experience and background and expressed a strong interest in working with them. It wasn’t a full-time hire but a 40-hour/week freelance gig but the opportunity to work with this company and be involved in story discovery, editorial planning and more was very alluring.

It was about a week after those two interviews that I heard through the recruitment firm that they’d selected someone else. The news shouldn’t have been that big a deal, but it came right in the middle of one of my part-time retail shifts and so it hit me a bit harder than it otherwise would have. The narrative my internal voices filled in was that no, you’re not good enough and you were silly for believing otherwise. I’ll be honest, it was a couple days before I shook that one off and moved on.

Job 2: Content Editor

This was a position I applied for directly myself. One of my stated goals in the last year and a half has been to work for or with a Chicago company since I haven’t done so since 2005, when I left Bacon’s Information for MWW Group. This would have given me the opportunity to do just that and be in an exciting field with lots of room for growth. I’d be managing a nationwide team of writers and, again, doing story discovery while balancing an overall editorial calendar. Once more, I had two interviews – this time over the course of a couple weeks – and submitted both a writing and editing sample, both of which I felt I nailed.

Last week I got the form email saying the company had selected someone else. This one came in while I was shoulder-deep in a couple other freelance projects so the news was received much better. Maybe not positively, but it didn’t send me down into the Pit of Despair. I was actively engaged in something else and so took the attitude of “OK, well, on to the next thing.”

JOB 3: Growth Manager

Again, this came to my attention through a recruitment firm, but just because the recruiter felt I’d be a good match for it, not after I responded to a listing. The company was looking for someone to manage paid ads and do content editing. That meant the Venn Diagram of what they were looking for and what my experience/skillset is overlapped to the least extent of the three possible gigs. Still, nothing I couldn’t handle. This one didn’t even make it to the interview stage as I was sent a link to a survey to fill out where I answered two sets of questions: What personality traits did I feel best described me and which ones did I feel were most applicable to the job in question. The same ~40 traits were listed on each page, though the order was mixed up.

Yesterday I received word from the recruiter that the company would not be bringing me in for an interview. It seems my answers had revealed a personality that was too “methodical” while the hiring personnel were seeking someone more prone to “risk-taking.”

This is perhaps the least useful feedback I’ve ever received. The decision was made by calculating the value of a few dozen checked boxes, not after getting to know me or hearing about my experience and mindset. The other two, at least, resulted from a decent amount of both quantitative and qualitative information. It’s the kind of test that should tell you what sort of job you’re qualified for, not whether or not you qualify for a job.

Of course I’m disappointed that I didn’t get any of these three positions. With a bit of perspective, it may be more signs from above that freelancing from home is where the good Lord wants me to be at the moment. At least the first two I can feel came after I was able to present a fully-rounded picture of myself and my talents. If I wasn’t who they were looking for, OK, I’ll accept that. All I ask is the opportunity to do just that, not be judged solely on the basis of a test I didn’t know I was taking.

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

RT Or It Doesn’t Happen

To indulge in a popular Twitter form of commentary, I’m old enough to remember when begging for Retweets was simply, my dear, that was not done.

Now, though, my Timeline is awash in overt plays for Retweets. On any given day I see a half-dozen variations on the “Quote RT this with…” format. “…with the name of a movie you used to hate but now love.” “…with the last book you read but add ‘Harry Potter and the’ to the title.” So on and so on.

I can remember not that long ago when posts like that, or ones on Facebook encouraging fans to fill in a blank by leaving a comment, were seen as the worst form of engagement-bait. They were cheap ploys to appeal to people’s vanity, empty content with no intrinsic value.

So what changed? Is this the natural evolution of social media? The result of a generation of “experts” that’s followed my own and isn’t holding itself to the same standards we did? Am I just an old man who doesn’t like how the neighborhood is changing and so spends his days throwing firecrackers at the kids on the sidewalk?

It’s probably all of the above. Tactics change, I get that. That doesn’t make it any less head-scratching to see what was once considered to be common sense and a violation of best practices now so commonly used. Apparently it’s no longer beneath anyone to overtly seek empty engagement, which is a change in mindset I’ll have to adopt.

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

Tracking Ads to the Physical World Is The Next Threshold

As part of remarks made at a recent industry conference, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told anxious advertisers the company was working to not just provide better ad tools but also on ways to tie those ads to physical sales. Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey made similar comments, promising better measurement for advertisers.

Facebook announced last year that integrated maps of physical stores into ads and then showed advertisers who acted as a result of those ads. What seems likely is that it and other companies will take this kind of tracking even further. Let’s put two facts together to see how they add up to something even more intrusive.

First, Facebook knows when you’re in a store to enough detail that it can not only show a relevant ad but show an ad that’s relevant to the *section* of the store you’re in at the moment.

Second, Facebook knows when you’ve been exposed to an ad, whether that’s on mobile or desktop.

Put those together and you have the ability to know when someone visited a store after seeing an ad and, with just a little tweaking, can likely tie that to exact purchases and revenue that can be used to…yes…target further ads. This solves the age old question of outdoor, TV and other advertising that lacked direct response, which is whether or not that billboard on I-55 actually lead to a Snickers bar purchase and when that happened.

Imagine the following: You see an ad on Thursday on Facebook (LinkedIn or Twitter or any of their associated audience networks that take ads to other sites) for a sale on jeans at Old Navy. Facebook knows you’ve seen that ad because you had to scroll past it to see your friends’ pictures from Aruba. You don’t take an action then but when you’re out on Saturday you stop into Old Navy and get not only some jeans but also a t-shirt and some socks. The location-tracking Facebook is capable of knows you were there and can report to Old Navy it took three days but you finally acted on that ad. That’s valuable enough.

Now if you provide some details that Old Navy enters into its CMS it has a list of the products you bought and the amount you spent. It wouldn’t take much to tie those details into Facebook’s database and create a comprehensive report showing you spent $67.43 on four items three days after seeing an ad and based on the items you both bought and looked at (remember, Facebook can apparently track you down to the square foot), serve you ads later on offering you more deals at Old Navy.

As ad revenue growth begins to level off at Facebook and ad volume hits the extent of audience patience, expect the ads it serves to be all that more intrusive, which means more tracking. Retargeting online shows that’s already in full swing there, now it’s likely to come to you via your real-world behavior as well.

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