Content For Your Audience

This post from UnionMetrics isn’t the first I’ve seen that has offered advice on how to tailor your content for the various algorithms and recommendations in play across the web or how to stay abreast of changes to those systems and remain nimble enough to change. It’s just the latest example of an online genre meant to be helpful and provide guidance in uncertain times, when your finely-crafted content marketing plan can fall apart because of a few lines of code committed by someone in Menlo Park, CA.

Those sorts of algorithm and recommendation system changes certainly keep social media content marketers on their toes. As frustrating as they are, they keep us busy and employed because someone has to keep up with what’s happening and provide insights to those who aren’t plugged in. Adjustments need to be made constantly to tactics, strategies and goals based on what’s reasonable in the new reality that month.

To that end, professionals in the field need to make it a priority to stay on top of new developments. I’ve long talked about “The Newsweek Effect.” In short it’s when a new social network or other bit of news finally bubbles up from the niche blogs and early adopters to warrant coverage in the mainstream press. At that point, the social media marketer gets an email from a C-level exec or VP asking what it is they just read about. By then, a professional worth his or her salt should already have a perspective on it and be able to speak intelligently about why it should or shouldn’t be adopted.

What I’ve also found, though, is that tailoring your content strategy to every change in the algorithm is a fool’s errand. You send your entire day/week/month/year chasing a rabbit that’s always just two feet out of reach. As soon as you adjust to what’s in place now there’s something new requiring your attention. Last week you had your graphics department creating social images with a “Like for Option 1, comment for Option 2” call to action. Now you need to explain to them that the images need to have “Type ‘yes’ below to agree.”

It never ends.

So stop.

No seriously, stop.

Don’t be fooled by anyone who presents tactics designed to game the algorithms in place on social networks as “best practices.” They’re not. They’re cheap plays to an indifferent machine that will never buy your product or sign up for your newsletter.

Post for your audience instead.

That’s not a revolutionary idea, but it’s one that bears repeating. Don’t adjust your tactics or strategies based on what’s going to work within a recommendation engine. Use your own statistics – what gets engagement, what drives the most click-throughs – to guide your strategy. Those are the people you actually want to be appealing to, so do that.

There’s much more long-term success that’s possible by actually using your audience for insights on what the audience will like than using some algorithm-optimization checklist to do so.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that social media content shouldn’t be optimized in some very basic and recommended ways. Make sure you’re using key terms in your copy, that you’re using a well-formatted image, that your link works and so on. All of that is *essential.*

I’m just saying that if you have to make a choice between what the algorithm would prefer and what has been proven to get a good reaction from your human audience, choose the latter. That group is much less fickle and won’t turn on a dime, leaving you in the dust. Use your own metrics, not those offered by one of the many CMS companies, to determine when the best time to post is, what the ideal format and style is and everything else.

The important thing to do, then, is be ready to explain yourself. When an exec who’s not part of the daily program asks why you’re doing this and not that (or worse, if they bring in a “consultant” selling snake oil who asks the same questions) have the data. Know what your rationale and reasoning is and make the case.

Having documents like program frameworks and style guides will help with this greatly. If you’ve already received buy-in on a set of principles and an overall approach then you have something to point to. Those are your maps, the navigational stars orienting your journey toward its destination. They’re living documents that can and should be updated as appropriate, but making changes should be difficult, not done as a knee-jerk reaction to any one moment.

Again, there’s nothing new that I’m proposing here. It’s just important to remember that your job as a marketer is not to appease the ever-changing algorithm but to reach a human audience. The former is one way to achieve the latter, but not the only one.

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

Quick Takes – Marketing and Media News for 3/22/18

More on the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal:

  • At a time when the EPA and other governmental agencies are following conservative directions to strip power from regulatory agencies (if not dismantle them outright) it seems unlikely calls for a digital protection agency or updates to copyright law will be heeded. If politicians don’t believe their needed for banks, why would they see a need regarding tech?
  • CEO Mark Zuckerberg was neither seen nor heard for almost a week before his first statement , accompanied by another official Facebook post, that reads as remarkably tone-deaf, basically saying “we’ve already covered this.” That may be true, but the outrage is happening *now* about what was even possible then. The failure to address that is astounding.
  • Following that he did the media rounds, apologizing, sounding contrite and even saying he’s open to testify before regulators “if it makes sense,” but nowhere in what I saw did he address that there was very little out of the ordinary from Facebook’s point of view that happened here. While CA did keep more data than they should have, it was collected within the bounds of what FB allowed. *That* is what needs to be addressed.

Media

It’s a fair point that Hollywood is embracing the 50+ crowd with a string of reboots on TV and older-skewing films in theaters. But while some of these feature more ethnically-inclusive casts, we’re drawing from a cultural period that was still dominated by white people and that’s just not reality – or even what’s proven to be popular on either media – recently.

Media companies would be just as ill-advised to put their fates in the hands of Google with that company’s new “Subscribe With Google” feature as they were to line up for Facebook Instant Articles. If not now, these tech companies will want to shut down the kind of reporting being done on them (see efforts by Facebook to kill the Cambridge Analytica story at The Guardian and The New York Times), at which point they will adjust the spigot under their control accordingly.

Meredith is laying off 1,000 former Time, Inc staffers across a number of publications in addition to the 200 it let go last week, in part to make those publications more attractive to potential buyers.

The future of radio is…not great. Between corporate bankruptcies, falling ad revenue and declining listenership, radio stations don’t seem to have a whole lot of track in front of them. That’s also because those companies and stations have failed to evolve to meet consumer preferences and it might be too late to start.

This is an essential reminder of the vital role the press plays in the informing of the public. If you don’t have someone who starts from a place of skepticism, you can’t be sure the information you’re consuming is accurate or truthful. This is why independent outlets are important in an age when a few big companies are gobbling up more and more of the media landscape and subsequently stifling critical reporting. It’s also just as important for members of the press to start from a place of skepticism and not buy in to the hype handed to them by publicists.

Marketing / Advertising

If you’re not going to pay for YouTube’s music streaming service it’s going to increase the number of ads to the point where you finally submit. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is similar to the “play heavy metal outside Saddam’s compound until he surrenders” approach taken during the first Iraq War.

Artificial intelligence may be able to surface a lot of numbers and metrics important to marketers but it can’t tell you what’s important about those numbers, which is problematic.

Social Media

Two new features from YouTube in the last couple days. “Director” is geared toward small businesses who may be hesitant to create video ads by pairing them (after they’ve committed to spending at least $350 in advertising) with someone to film and edit the ad for them at no additional cost. I’m super-curious about the behind-the-scenes arrangements here, since I would imagine YouTube maintains a directory of freelancers or contractors to do this work and then pays them itself. At the same time it’s rolled out a webcam feature that allows you to go live with a video directly from your desktop browser, which is is a clear shot at other platforms that have emphasized live video recently.

While everyone has been focused on the problem of fake followers on Twitter and Russians on Facebook, fake views on YouTube continue to be a serious problem as it games the recommendation system, usually for profit but sometimes for even less moral reasons.

You can now add filters and text to your LinkedIn videos. I’d question whether or not this is a smart move for the network given its more professional connotations but I suspect younger members for whom this kind of feature is standard on other platforms simply expect it and would turn away were it not offered.

If you buy movie tickets on Facebook via Fandango or Atom Tickets you get $2 off. The deal is available through either a unique page or on the pages of select movies. My hunch (based on scads of precedent) is that the $2 discount won’t last long but is a subsidy being paid by Facebook to entice behavior to the point where it doesn’t need to.

Hashtags and @ usernames are now live links in Instagram bios. Oh, and the photo-sharing app is partially reverting back to something kinda sorta close maybe to a chronological feed to quell user dispeasure.

Technology

If you ever wanted to draw white lines in the air around you, that’s exactly what Google’s new “Just a Line” AR app will let you do.

It’s good that we’re scrutinizing the tech behind self-driving cars in the wake of a pedestrian death. I just wish the same standards would be applied to the whole infrastructure model that puts massive cars of all types just inches away from people on foot or on bikes. Oh, and guns.

Trying to solve for the bias and favoritism that are rampant in human judgement by replacing them with an algorithm that’s cold and merciless, failing to make any sort of full-featured evaluation of individual needs is not an improvement. Particularly when it comes to something like law enforcement or healthcare. Expect these stories to become more frequent as companies seek to maximize profits and reduce expenses, including staff. Assuming, of course, that the media brands owned or controlled by those same companies allow the stories to be told.

I get why they’re doing it, but woof, this may not be the best time for Slack to roll out a feature that allows channel owners to download all public *and private* messages without notifying members.

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.

Quick Takes – Marketing and Media News for 3/20/18

It’s hard to top a story like that involving Cambridge Analytics and Facebook. There are all sorts of things going on here, but these seem to be the key points:

Cambridge had a contract with a Russian oil company (many of which are controlled to some extent by government officials) that seemed oddly interested in how to target U.S. voters. Those conversations were happening at the same time CA was working to cultivate largely Republican candidates in the lead up to the 2016 election cycle.

The response by Facebook over the weekend as this was developing was all over the place and almost universally terrible from a crisis comms point of view and was at least in part to blame for how the company’s stock price plummeted Monday morning. Even up to the time of this writing, the company has pointed the finger everywhere – including threatening media outlets – but at itself while Zuckerberg and other leadership have been kept out of public view, which is exactly the wrong move to make.

  • While it was quick to suspend CA, it also understated the problem by just focusing on those who had downloaded the firm’s app, not the 10s of millions of people who had their data mined as a result of that usage. The onus is also put on the user, not the company, which continues a long streak of avoiding anything approaching accountability.
  • Facebook suspended the account of a former employee that revealed some of the information CA collected, which kind of seems like they’re blaming the messenger for their bad actions.
  • It initially positioned this as a “leak” of information to Cambridge Analytica but that’s not strictly accurate. It’s at best (from FB’s point of view) an inappropriate use of data that was collected and at worst a totally appropriate use of data that was collected since audience demographic targeting is 100% what it (Facebook) does.
  • There’s also evidence it either knew CA still had the data it had claimed to delete or simply didn’t follow up or ask for proof it had done so. So either it’s complicit or irresponsible and I’m not sure which is more trouble. It will be auditing Cambridge to see if there’s any data still lying around, but at this point that seems unlikely.
  • Cambridge, meanwhile, is squirming, at one point Tweeting that “advertising is not coercive” which is rich coming from a firm that claims to be able to create targeted messaging to change behavior/attitudes. Also, that’s the entire premise of advertising, so…yeah, you’re not being honest there. If that’s their position they owe a lot of clients their money back.
  • The various “this just happened the one time” excuses don’t really mesh with new evidence it was testing messaging that wound up being suspiciously similar to Trump campaign themes two years before he announced his candidacy. Or with the fact that Facebok and CA were sharing Trump campaign office space a year after the “breach” occurred.
  • All this has lead to actual and threatened investigations by governments on both sides of the Atlantic as Facebook will testify before a House committee, the FTC wants to take a look and more.

Media

Jesus, where to start with the bloodbath last week. Just as the dust was settling on iHeartMedia’s bankruptcy, the Chicago Tribune laid off even more reporters and editors as it continues talking about pivoting into curated something and I don’t even know what because I’m not convinced the whole tronc thing isn’t a ponzi scheme of some sort. And as completely expected, Meredith has begun cutting hundreds of sales and editorial positions now that the ink on its acquisition of Time, Inc. is dry. And it’s looking to sell a bunch of high-profile titles as well, though I’m not clear who the market might be.

Don’t worry about the tronc team, though. They’re just fine, having received massive raises and bonuses *after* the layoffs mentioned above. And chairman Michael Ferro has left the building, a move that suspiciously came just hours before a report on his sexual misconduct involving multiple women was published.

On the brighter side of Chicago media, The Tribe reached its fundraising goal to provide more local journalism.

Oh but hey, Google Ventures has $12m to throw at TheSkimm.

Decent piece here on the logical and rhetorical knots you have to twist yourself into just to do something as seemingly simple as cover the President of the United States.

The AT&T/Time Warner merger is about to enter the court system and things are about to get interesting. I’m not sure measuring it against other conglomerates and making sure the parties can compete is a factor to consider. Right now we’re in the corporate consolidation phase of the media industry but I’m really looking forward to when we start breaking up these massive companies because they’re bad for everyone and everything. While I agree marketplace realities need to be part of the thinking,

Publishers find people are willing to part with some personal data in exchange for access and so are putting registration walls in place because they’re more attractive than paywalls.

Business streaming news service Cheddar has a new round of funding and may have some expansion plans it will put that money toward.

Marketing / Advertising

The death of advertising, now in its 15th year.

[extreme WOPR voice] Would you like to play an advertisement?

Twitter has suspended another batch of Tweet-stealing accounts, this time going after bigger game, including some Verified users, albeit in some cases only after they were asked by the press why they were still around.

Ads for cryptocurrencies could also be banned by Twitter if reports of plans that company has prove to be true.

More data on how consumers are increasingly expecting brands to share their societal values and are willing to spend more to have that connection. Young consumers – who are driven more by ideology than pragmatic needs that come later in life – are more willing to abandon a brand after a scandal or because of a rift in belief systems.

Both Facebook and Pinterest have debuted new ad products aimed at retailers.

It’s good news that Google and Facebook will capture less of the online ad market next year, diminishing the power of the duopoly they’ve created, but the fall isn’t that great and I’m not sure Amazon taking some of the difference is a step in the right direction.

Macy’s is planning to weaponize its workforce, turning them all into social media fashion influencers via an internal program.

Social Media

Anchor has expanded the tools it offers to create shareable videos based on the podcasts published to the app/site.

You’ll excuse me if I don’t agree that anyone but industry pundits and professional hand-wringers think anyone is dealing with the “reckoning” of social media not living up to its utopian promise. Most daily users are, I think, doing just fine, Clark and aren’t bothered by all this to any great extent.

One of the (many) things that’s become clear in the last year or so is that Facebook Groups have been used by extremist groups and organizations to spread their hate and radicalize new members. Keeping that kind of activity out is a full time job for even the best well-intentioned admins and not everyone is well-intentioned. They quickly become the worst kind of forum as new members and those belonging to any kind of minority are harassed into leaving. So it’s worth remembering that in the wake of various News Feed changes Facebook was emphasizing Groups as an alternative for publishers looking for engagement as recently as January.

So let’s all have a good laugh at how amidst all this Facebook is still trying to attract influential creators with a subscription support model that’s akin to what Patreon offers. It’s hard to imagine, though, who’s going to sign up for this given what a toxic and inhospitable place the site has suddenly become.

Technology

Reading about the expansion of Google Lens I can’t help but think the reason something like Jelly failed is because we were all waiting for tech like this to emerge. The idea is the same, in that it wants to help people figure out what an object they’re looking at is. But the approach is very different, with actual people powering Jelly.

There are about three dozen states across the country which are working on some form of net neutrality law at the state level. My biggest concern is that Republican lawmakers and regulators – usually strict Federalists who hold states’ rights up as the highest ideal – will move to squash these efforts as they’re enacted, likely citing interstate commerce as the rationalization.

A new shopping product from Google would have partner retailers place products directly within search results and allow Google to share a cut of the revenue. This seems wrongheaded in all kinds of ways. Why, given all the concern over how Google is partly responsible for damaging the media industry, would you want to replicate that model for the retail industry? As usual, Google is positioning this as making search results more useful for people but the inherent conflict of interest in this – it makes money from some purchases and not others – brings any search results returned suspect. Who is it artificially promoting and who is it artificially suppressing? Very problematic.

Important to note how male-centric WeWork’s environment and mindset is and that there are other groups that need coworking spaces as well.

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.

Quick Takes – Marketing and Media News for 3/15/18

Media

Two things: 1) It’s interesting that FaceWE’RENOTAMEDIACOMPANYbook now wants to create a single destination for video news that can be used to get people’s attention, and 2) It’s unbelievable that any publisher would sign up for this given the 78 other times Facebook has clearly shown it’s only interested in using partnerships as a means of gaining user behavior insights, at which point it casts partners aside.

Nothing but respect for the editor of National Geographic who has published a remarkable letter admitting that the magazine has, since its inception, traded in harmful and terrible racial and ethnic stereotypes in its coverage. That can’t have been an easy thing to do, but note that it comes from someone who’s both the first Jewish and female editor at the august magazine. If there’s a single example of how inclusion can change perspectives, it’s this.

Toxic masculinity is apparently so bad at Rotten Tomatoes that a site specifically and exclusively for female critics, CherryPicks, needed to be brought into existence.

PopSugar becomes the latest media brand to decide the key to financial stability is selling its own line of physical lifestyle-based consumer goods.

Reports are that Netflix is planning a weekly news magazine type show akin to “60 Minutes.” That could be…something.

If you subscribe to a newspaper or magazine that’s part of Google News, results from those outlets will appear higher in search results and be more clearly branded. That’s a great idea and would have been even more useful years ago before Facebook and Google killed all the newspapers and magazines.

If you visit the Fox News website you’ll find the biggest problem facing America is (squints) female teachers having sex with their male students. Well I guess that’s easier than addressing your own history of sexual harassment and assault and fits in nicely with the overall editorial mission statement of the network that things were better when everyone who wasn’t a white man knew their place.

I can’t argue with the logic of media companies embracing YouTube more than Facebook, it’s just the story not only reads like one I’ve read 15 times over the last five years but also like an angle specifically pitched by someone with a vested interest in YouTube being seen as an attractive media outlet.

iHeartMedia becomes the latest company, along with Toys ‘R’ Us, to declare bankruptcy not so much because of market forces but because the massive debt their owners have saddled them with has made it impossible to weather or adjust to those market forces while also servicing the debt.

[gets popcorn] Leaked Amazon Prime Video user and revenue numbers.

Marketing / Advertising

Google has joined Facebook in banning ads for cryptocurrencies because the rule, not the exception, is that these are scams and not legitimate opportunities. And look, I’m not even going to point out that this is just the kind of editorial judgement a media company would make despite Google *totally* not being a media company, alright?

Let’s see how the reddit community reacts to the introduction of native ads on the site’s mobile app. That should be fun to watch.

The time spent consuming ad-supported media is going up but people are consuming more overall so the percentage allocated to ad-supported media is going down.

Social Media

A few recent exposes in the media on the problem of fake followers and bots plaguing social media has apparently created a cottage industry of companies who have positioned themselves as ersatz detectives to root out those accounts.

Silicon Valley: “We need tens of millions of dollars in financing and will sell your data to anyone who asks.” / Also Silicon Valley: “That seems hard and we don’t want to so it’s literally not my problem and we’re going to put the onus on a non-profit we’re not contributing to.” Case in point, YouTube farming out any responsibility for the prevalence of conspiracy theory videos on its site to Wikipedia, of all places. But…uhh…the Wikimedia Foundation says it wasn’t aware of such an arrangement and isn’t part of a formal partnership. Jesus, these people.

Literally Everyone For The Last Year: “Engagement-based news algorithms on social media platforms are part of what’s causing many of the problems we now face in terms of news literacy.” / Twitter: “We’re testing an engagement-based news algorithm.”

After picking up the rights to stream a couple dozen Major League Soccer games, Twitter has renewed its deal with NASCAR to stream video from races.

Technology

Compelling thoughts here that it’s not the platforms that need to be regulated – they’re operating exactly as they should – it’s the entire capitalist model that positions revenue and profits over any sort of social responsibility.

The net neutrality bill introduced by a California lawmaker for that state would include zero-rating tactics by wireless carriers, which is something that’s been used by those carriers to promote partnerships and get around other restrictions.

Aaaaaand just as I expected, Netflix has cancelled the rest of its test rollout for a “patch” incentivized viewing program geared at kids for totally predictable reasons like parents feeling it turned their little ones into even bigger zombies than they were before.

It’s not a question of when artificial intelligence-driven machines will learn to discriminate, it’s that they already are in countless ways that the public – and regulators – have zero insights or access to. Eventually there’s going to be a falling out period where we realize these systems are doing as much, if not more, damage based on discriminatory processes than their human predecessors.

Lots of good stats here on mobile video usage in the U.S. and elsewhere.

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.

Quick Takes – Marketing and Media News for 3/13/18

Media

That the sizzle reel of violent video game sequences put together by the White House has become such a big hit on YouTube isn’t at all surprising given that violent sequences are a big reason vast swaths of people play the games. I’m not sure anyone understands either the First Amendment issues in play here or that banning some video games because they encourage gun violence while not addressing *actual* gun violence seems makes it clear you have no interest in an actual solution to anything.

Now that Reddit is trying to make money it’s reaching out to publishers to help them find ways to engage more with the community on the site, something that has been strictly frowned upon by everyone for, roughly, ever. There’s still a ways to go to get past the reputation reddit and its polarizing community – which includes hefty doses of blatant racism, sexism, xenophobia and more – have, but it’s working on it.

All that recent bad press is apparently catching up with Newsweek, which sounds like it’s circling the the drain after the defection of a number of advertisers.

This list of the “top reporters” on Facebook based on engagement is being widely – and rightly mocked for how it includes a mix of blatant satire and wingnuttery and is Example 9,437 why Facebook doesn’t actually care about journalism…or accuracy. Getting less attention is all the other data on that list, which shows the kinds of news and information that gets shared and therefore attention.

I continue to be fascinated by how skeezy so many of the executives, publishers and owners who were involved with The Tribune Company in the early 2000s and who are now continuing their skeezy ways at tronc actually are.

While I continue to be a big Farhad Manjoo fan, this analysis from CJR showing his “I unplugged from Twitter for two months” claim doesn’t really hold water is fascinating. Yes, it’s a bit of inside-baseball, but still there’s nothing inaccurate and it’s right to call BS on something if it doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny.

ABC spikes scheduled episode of “black-ish” over creative issues apparently with how a discussion of the rights of athletes to protest during games is handled. [chin-scratching emoji]

The true-crime genre that has run like a virus through other media in the last couple years comes to Snapchat in an original series produced in partnership with Conde Nast.

As Peter Kafka pointed out on Twitter last night, Apple’s purchase of magazine subscription service Texture is kind of funny because it was created by a group of publishing companies to achieve a scale meant to counter the dominance of…wait for it…Apple.

Marketing / Advertising

This is just the latest piece to examine how the rise of Instagram fashion has changed how lifestyle brands market themselves and their goods but is informative nonetheless.

These are the reasons why your site visitor abandoned their shopping carts without converting on the purchase.

Snapchat is hoping to wring just a little more revenue from the days it has left on this earth by introducing the ability for publishers to post branded content to the Discover news section.

Sponsored GIFs are now officially a thing on Tenor and here’s how they work.

Social Media

I’m torn on the news that Twitter wants to open up the verification process to anyone. On the one hand it’s a smart way to get out of the business of appearing to validate the opinions of terrible people and just lets the company enforce its policies. On the other hand, it cheapens the label and if Twitter can’t enforce the policies now why would it be more likely to do so in the future? Remains to be seen if this becomes official or is just speculation.

A deal with Warner Music means Facebook has now licensed music from all the big labels, allowing creators to use those clips in the videos they create with Facebook paying the fee to the labels. It’s hard to believe this won’t become a premium feature or in some way change to alter the economics since I think Facebook is about to get a harsh lesson in how much royalties cost. Also, literally no one wants more sound as part of their social network experience.

Speaking of rights management sports is the hot topic with social networks as Twitter signs a deal with Major League Soccer to stream select games and Facebook signs a deal to stream 25 Major League Baseball games. I think Twitter made the better call.

Just a couple weeks after a major reporting on “tweetdecking” – the coordinated theft of someone’s Tweet and then its republishing on scores of connected accounts – Twitter has shut down a number of known perpetrators.

The availability of a racist GIF has lead to both Snapchat and Instagram to remove, at least temporarily, their integrations with Giphy and all I can think of in response is to look at both companies and say, “Oh, sweetie…”

WhatsApp messages can now be deleted after up to an hour, but you then have to hope whoever you sent the embarrassing message to actually hasn’t checked their phone for a whole hour, which seems…unlikely.

It does seem super weird that Musical.ly would allow people to search for terms related to self-harm and it’s good that they’ve now been blocked, but this seems like another example of programmers ignorant of teen culture and concerns just blithely going on about their business with zero regard to the consequences.

Technology

I’m intrigued by the “audio augmented platform” Bose is reportedly working on both because it opens up some much more interesting avenues than visual AR has to date and because audio is notoriously more portable and easy to consume on the go than video content. I still don’t think glasses – or any other additional hardware – is the answer here, but if this technology were to become part of existing mobile devices it could be very cool.

It’s going to be incredibly hard for Google to apply its AMP technology to the broader web. The danger is that it’s going to do what people have feared telecom companies want to do with the repeal of net neutrality, which is create fast lanes on the internet that give preferential treatment to some while excluding others. If it can actually offer it as a standard and work with the parties that creates and applies those standards, great.

I thought we were past the “gamify everything” stage, but Netflix testing collectible badges on select kids shows makes me wonder. Also, while the increased viewing it’s likely to spur as kids compete with their friends will certainly help the company’s retention I’m not sure it puts Netflix on the right side of the culture when it’s inevitably sued by someone for contributing to childhood obesity or some such.

There are at least four industries – mostly owned by or employing immigrants, women or other similar groups – named in this story about the potential disruption caused by autonomous vehicles.

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.

Remember To Focus on Function, Not Form With Branded Content

As has often been the case on a number of different topics, I can’t help but read this story about how branded podcasts have taken off and really resonated with listeners and not think that the content industry continues to suffer from a terminal case of platform myopia.

Branded podcasts, it seems, are the new key to gaining audience attention. The benefits, as mentioned in the Fast Company piece, include but are not limited to:

  • They engage and entertain
  • They are advertising that doesn’t feel like advertising
  • They allow brands to engage in industry thought leadership
  • They reach an educated, affluent and influential audience
  • They create a tighter audience/brand connection

If you’re finding all of that to be very, very familiar there’s a reason: They’re largely the same reasons brand blogs were such a good idea 10-15 years ago and continue to be so.

All of those benefits have been part of the brand approach to self-publishing for over a decade. Blogs were seen as ways to offer deeper insights into a brand’s operations and persona than traditional advertising would allow. While no one (at least no one who wasn’t the marketing equivalent of an ambulance chasing charlatan) has ever recommended completely replacing media relations with blogging, the best executions utilize the advantages of both approaches: Traditional media gets some stories for X reason while the blog gets other stories for Y reason.

We shouldn’t be shocked by the rise of branded podcasts for just this reason: It’s just another content marketing execution. The best consultants and marketers (again, not the ones who go chasing after every shiny object) have long advised clients and executives that it’s not about having a “blog strategy” or “Twitter strategy.” It’s about having a “content strategy” whose framework, principles and goals can be adapted to any platform.

Those companies going all-in on a podcast strategy – and throwing serious money around while doing so – are hopefully approaching it with the mindset of building out long-term content workflows and principles that can be applied to the podcasts they’re involved with but are also able to be applied to whatever the next thing is. Without that kind of thinking, all that money has been spent with no long-term benefit.

Put it this way: I can either:

  1. Spend $100,000 of your money building out a workflow and program that might be focused on podcasts right now but whose ideas and systems can be applied to video, blogging, social media and other content forms and can be molded to meet the needs of whatever happens a year from now. While operating the program will require ongoing expenditures, you’ll see the benefits of that initial $100,000 for the next 10 years.
  2. Spend $75,000 getting you going on a podcast-specific program that will be awesome and the best in the industry, but that’s only going to get you through the next year and doesn’t account for new developments or content formats.

Option 2 might get you headlines, but Option 1 offers deeper value. It’s the difference between strip mining and organic farming. One is sustainable, the other very much not.

On top of that, there’s one issue where podcasting, as great as it is, continues to fall short of blogging and makes the investment in it questionable: Discovery. Here’s the one line from the FC story that addresses that.

Companies also have to pony up to buy ad space on other podcasts to ensure that they’re discovered, basically advertising their advertisements.

Say what you will about blogging, but at least it’s both much more friendly to discovery via search and easier to link to or reference in a way where the audience can take direct action.

If I’m an independent podcast host and I want to mention – organically, not because of an ad – that Brand X has launched a really interesting podcast you should check out, I will. But that’s it. My listeners can’t click on anything or take any other form of immediate action that’s traceable back to me. They might open up their podcast app and search for it, but what are the odds they’ll get distracted before converting? I’m guessing high.

When you have to pay for discovery, you’re playing someone else’s game. That’s been the realization everyone has awoken to regarding Facebook, which has stifled reach and encouraged publishers to buy ads if they want to reach the audience they thought they were building organically. And that’s the case with podcasts, where search and recommendation systems are less than optimal, usually focusing solely on the biggest and most high-profile brand names at the expense of smaller, independent producers.

There were certainly instances where companies with corporate blogs engaged in some search advertising to drive the audience from time to time. But those were very much supplemental efforts, not primary discovery mechanisms.

Coming at the same time as that was this Wired story about the recent rise of podcasting that makes an error that’s become all too common in the last couple years: It seems to use 2014’s “Serial” series as the creation point of the medium. While it certainly did get a great amount of mainstream attention, podcasts were common a decade prior to that and, one could argue, started gaining mass interest around 2005 when iTunes added native podcast support to its desktop app.

But making that admission would mean dismantling the idea that the podcast boom hasn’t been an overnight phenomenon, which apparently cannot be done. So those of us who have been exploring podcasts for years and years are just kind of…forgotten.

What’s being lost in the constant discussion of the podcast production powerhouses like Gimlet Media (which is heavily involved in the creation of several branded shows) is that podcasting, like blogging, is an open platform. Anyone can start a show with just a microphone and a few open source online tools.

Unlike social networks, you’re not dependent on someone else’s TOS to simply produce your show. There may be distribution roadblocks thrown at you when you fail to meet the standards of iTunes or some other platform, including Anchor, Soundcloud and others that have added easy podcast recording features. If you’re not concerned with that and want to take your message directly to the audience without that intermediary, you can.

The conversation then comes back to discovery. If, for whatever reason, you’re not welcome on the major distribution platforms or have decided you don’t want to be locked into one particular set of tools, that’s your right. But then you have to work harder to be found through web search, social media, word of mouth or other means because you won’t be included in the category directories of those platforms.

That, then, is the main advantage the brands working with Gimlet and other shops have, that they will be included in the listings found when someone clicks the big shiny button in Apple’s Podcasts app bearing the production company’s logo. They work with them partly because they’ve streamlined the recording and distribution process and have access to talent but also because they are the dominant force in discovery.

What will be interesting to see is what happens a couple years down the road. A recent story pointed out that more companies were bringing advertising and marketing creative in-house after farming that work out to agencies for years. The reason for that shift is that agencies were able to add expertise in niche fields faster than the companies could, making them valuable partners. As those niches became mainstream (programmatic advertising, video production etc), the economics of scaling in-house teams became more advantageous, leaving agencies hanging. It’s not unrealistic to think the same could happen with podcast production, which could leave Gimlet and others in a substantial financial lurch.

Which is why, to bring it back around to my initial point, it’s so important to spend the time and money now to establish and codify content workflows and standards. They will help you guide today’s program and, even if you’re outsourcing production now, provide the foundation for whatever is added tomorrow.

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

Quick Takes – Marketing and Media News for 3/8/18

Media

Publishers continue to grapple with the various scenarios that would allow for news to continue to be reported and distributed that serves the public good in a financial environment that’s been almost completely abdicated by advertisers.

Turns out slow news – relying on print, in this case, as opposed to staying glued to digital media – offers much more accuracy and much less anxiety. Even better, the news that makes it to you is the result of a deliberate process, not based solely on the whims of a black box machine.

Being able to draw on additional resources to fight the advertising duopoly of Facebook and Google will be good for publishers, but I’m wary of any effort that exempts media companies from antitrust provisions. That’s mainly because once suspended for any reason, it becomes hard to enforce them once again.

Just like everyone else, CBS sees original content as the key differentiator to bring in audiences.

No big deal, just Newsweek – which is already under fire for various issues regarding its journalistic ethics and standards – inserting ad fraud code onto the machines of website visitors.

Look, it’s great that NPR One will be available on Xfinity’s on-demand service, but I take issue with tying distribution of publicly funded content on privately owned channels.

Penske Media continues to build out its entertainment and lifestyle portfolio, acquiring SheKnows Media, the brand behind the popular BlogHer events and more.

Say what you will, but unlike Yahoo at least Google sells off the companies it buys and only then figures out it doesn’t know what to do with. The latest example is it divesting itself of Zagat, which was always a weird fit.

On-air talent at Sinclair Media stations are being ordered to read media-bashing on-air promos that are meant to position everyone else as a liar trading in fake news, because that’s what you do when you are angling for a monopoly and have the chairman of the FCC at your beck and call.

MLB Network is now available on YouTube TV.

Marketing / Advertising

Coworking juggernaut WeWork has acquired a content marketing agency – Conductor – largely as a way to gain access to the agency’s roster of clients, who WeWork then hopes to turn into customers of its own. It’s just the latest sign of the company’s increasingly large ambitions, but you have to wonder what will happen when the venture capital runs out and they have to fund these operations with actual revenue.

Shouldn’t be at all surprising that ads on Facebook are more expensive given that less ads are being shown and less pages being viewed. That’s how advertising works.

Cookies are no longer the end-all-be-all of online advertising tracking. The bad news is things have only become more invasive.

As corporate social responsibility continues to evolve and gain importance in the mind of young consumers, a number of companies are beginning to pledge to reduce or eliminate the use of plastic in their businesses.

Social Media

Hearst continues to expand its media footprint on Musical.ly, adding Cosmopolitan to the existing Seventeen profile on the popular app.

Enhanced metrics are coming to YouTube as it takes its Creator Studio out of beta and into wide usage.

Audio publishers using Soundcloud who are part of the site’s “Premier” tier of creators have access to new features, functionality and marketing opportunities. Matt Maldre has some solid thoughts on why Soundcloud is better for podcast creators and listeners who want to engage in a social conversation.

You can now @ mention people on Snapchat, in case that’s something you were anxious to do.

Falsehoods spread fast – really fast – on Twitter and it’s not because of an algorithm or anything, it’s because people don’t read what they RT and just kind of are…what’s the word…dumb.

Technology

There really won’t be any improvement in the diversity of the needs addressed by technology of the viewpoints represented in its development until there’s change in the percent of VCs that are white males.

I’m not the only one who thinks Google search results shouldn’t be littered with self-promotional, Twitter-like posts from musicians or anyone else, right? Like…wasn’t the whole point of search to be that it surfaced the *best* material, not just a bunch of crap?

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.

Pew Brings Social Media Stats Up To Date

Pew Internet Life last week released the latest results of its ongoing tracking of the social media usage of U.S. adults. As always, there are some interesting insights and takeaways from the study, even if the overall message is that not much has changed in adoption, usage or preferences since last year.

YouTube Keeps Dominating

You would be forgiven if you keep forgetting – as I often do – that YouTube is classified as a social network. It very much is and therefore dominates the rankings of the most-used network in the study. What Pew doesn’t call out is how many people actually use the social features of the site – following feeds, leaving comments etc – and how many are just there for the copious “Parks & Recreation” clips. That’s a study I’d be interested in and I’m guessing it would change the rankings significantly.

Facebook Has Plateaued

The growth between 2016 and 2018 is essentially flat, a trend that’s been reported elsewhere but which has new weight with Pew backing all that up. More concerning have to be the other numbers that show increased weakness on what still is the most popular non-YouTube social network. Snapchat is basically just as sticky as Facebook, with 49% of people saying they visit the former multiple times a day compared to 51% of the latter. And Snapchat has better age demographic numbers. While both have roughly similar usage numbers for those 18-24, Facebook is much more dependent on older users than Snapchat is. Basically, Facebook’s core user base is going to start dying off soon while Snapchat’s still has a long ways to go, assuming redesigns don’t alienate them.

Twitter Is Surprisingly Not Sticky

The number of people who visit Twitter multiple times a day is half (26%) of those that report doing so for Facebook or Snapchat. That’s a bit shocking given that Twitter is so focused on the live stream of updates while Facebook is still showing you that post from three days ago that your friend from church just liked. One would think that if Twitter had a solid value proposition to sell the public it would be much more frequently visited than Facebook or even Instagram, which also filters everything through its feed algorithm.

Cross-Platform Usage Is High

About 73% of those surveyed are active users of at least three of the networks that were included on the list. But you have to keep in mind that three of the eight platforms are or are owned by Facebook. So while the cross-network adoption is interesting and the demographics of each one slightly different, you have to consider that Facebook owns not only its own audience but also that of Instagram and Whatsapp. I’d love to see Pew crunch the numbers again with ownership in mind.

BONUS: What’s Being Shared and How

Pew’s study came out just around the same time BuzzSumo released a report on social content sharing trends. From a high level, the message is that sharing activity is down because of factors like Facebook’s algorithm changes and the influx of low-quality publishers who rush into every new topic and flood the market, all of which means less referral traffic for legitimate publishers. There are some bright spots – LinkedIn is becoming a more important source of news – but overall the big are getting bigger and everyone else is left to deal with the scraps.

One trend they identify is worth calling out: Backlinks are essentially a thing of the past for all but the biggest, most authoritative websites. In layman’s terms, no one is linking out anymore. That’s been a problem for several years now, as blogs began prioritizing linking to their own archives or category pages and not to any outside websites. That’s always struck me as a betrayal of core principles when it came to blogging because that was the whole damn point. For years those of us in the early waves of blogging railed against The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Newsweek and countless others who might mention that an item came from a blog but strictly forbade anyone from linking to it, lest valuable traffic be squandered. Now they’re more likely to do it than the blog of your average social media thought leader.

I also find the report’s recommendation to focus on long-tail evergreen content interesting. While BuzzSumo puts that in the context of social shares, that’s the sort of content that’s going to play much better for search, which other studies have shown is gaining traction as Facebook’s value to publishers fades toward irrelevance.

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

Quick Takes: Marketing and Media News for 3/6/18

Media

Thank God for The Onion, which writes the “state of the media industry” piece the rest of the industry is afraid to.

Publishers are having a hell of a time trying to figure out why their Snapchat traffic, engagement and other metrics are all over the place as a result of the app’s redesign and a new way news and other media updates are displayed.

I haven’t had to do anything quite as extensive as what’s outlined here by the Columbia Journalism Review, but I can tell you that the “edit tests” I’ve been part of have been borderline ridiculous in a number of cases. There have been a few instances where the tests assigned to me have taken several hours to complete – without any form of compensation – and zero follow-up. For all I know those publications have used my ideas or work on their own.

Wow, Sinclair, way to not even try to hide how you’ll be flouting media ownership rules.

Hip, young news brand ATTN is the latest to get a cable show, this one coming soon to Showtime.

Facebook continues to try and lure more media from Twitter by expanding the number of publishers with access to its “Breaking News” tag, something that’s supposed to help the platform be seen as more timely, which it isn’t. No word on how “use Facebook for breaking news” and “see less news on Facebook” will be reconciled as contradictory goals.

Rotten Tomatoes will use SXSW to roll out a new brand identity while Funny or Die is moving over to the Vox Media site platform.

Great question here on how Rolling Stone, under new management, can reinvent itself for a new generation that has zero emotional ties to the culture – particularly the identity that’s tied to the rock scene of the 1970s – the magazine used to represent.

Marketing / Advertising

Oh look, gender-based double standards in what ads Facebook approves or rejects.

NBC is hoping a commitment to reducing advertising volume across the board will not only make the ads it does run more valuable but appeal to an audience that is increasingly choosing ad-free environments like Netflix. Fox is making a similar declaration.

Two things: 1) SXSW events and sponsorships have always been iffy propositions for brands because no one really cares where they get their free beer, BBQ or Wi-fi from, they just want it and 2) Just because you’re talking about SXSW events and sponsorships doesn’t mean you have to use the word “activations.”

The “Brand Safety Officer” could be the next marketing title to become all the rage as agencies, companies and others look for solutions to the various problems that lead to ads and other content being placed alongside undesirable material. Maybe those BSOs will be anxious to take advantage of the premium price (of course) being affixed to Facebook’s offering verified safe placement of ads on its site and app.

Everything old is new again as brands embrace live stunt ads on TV to break through the clutter and create a talkable moment for the audience.

Twitter is reportedly testing a system that would open up its ad-buying system to programmatic networks to make the process as seamless as possible.

The number of companies who are buying Snapchat Discover ads is ridiculously low, which does not bode well for the company’s continued monetization plans.

Techmeme has launched a podcast, which makes so much sense.

Social Media

Based on what some people have dug up in its code, Instagram may be planning to add voice and video calling to its app because sure, why not.

If you’re a social media manager at an international corporation there’s a new cautionary tale out there: A Marriott employee was fired for liking, as the brand, a post regarding Tibet that angered the Chinese government.

Yep, Reddit and Tumblr were both part of Russia’s social media-based manipulation of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

A survey that was interpreted by many as slightly condoning pedophelia has gotten Facebook in a whole new batch of hot water.

There’s some new data showing people are actually more comfortable leaving their ideological social media bubble than may be expected, though I wonder how much of this is inaccurate self-reporting as people want to look better than they actually are.

Technology

Snap may try again to enter the hardware market as a report claims the company has two new versions of its failed Spectacles in the works.

Congratulations to Uber, which has managed to invent paratransit, a service that’s existed for a long while, but without the “medically qualified individual” behind the wheel. In fact, according to a recent study, many of those drivers will likely be making less than minimum wage. I will recommend you visit this Twitter thread for many of the reasons that this is a bad idea that will only get worse the longer it goes on.

30 percent of the web is now powered by WordPress and that can only be good news.

Not surprising that liquor companies would be among those most excited for the rise in adoption of autonomous vehicles since it would free people up to drink more.

I’m just saying that in a moment where we’re starting to realize the potential of technology to create realistic, believable fake videos it may not be the best time for YouTube to introduce a pseudo-greenscreen tool allowing you to change your background.

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.

Quick Takes – Marketing and Media News for 2/27/18

Media

This is a great read on the problem we keep running into with tech companies completely dropping the ball when tragedy strikes, consistently caught with their algorithms pushing conspiracy theories, fake news and other hoaxes. In each case, the companies in question talk about how hard it is to police the trillions of data points their systems are meant to process and promise to do better and each time they drop the ball. While yes, the problem would likely be solved in large part by shifting resources from algorithms to human editors, that would entail them dropping the useful fiction that they’re not media companies, a fig leaf that protects them (for now) from more serious government scrutiny.

A Danish television intentionally took a two-week hiatus from posting stories to Facebook to see exactly how much of an impact it could have and the results will shock you!

At least some of the Ist/DNAInfo news sites are coming back to life under a new deal with the public radio stations in a few markets. Too bad Chicago isn’t on that list.

Speaking of site takedowns, new details have emerged on how Peter Thiel wound up being able to take on Gawker and erase it from existence. It boils down to the reality that powerful people don’t like organizations and people that don’t play by “polite” rules (see also: every the entire conservative media’s reaction to the Parkland, FL teens) and will use their money to punish them. Also on the “behind the scenes” front is this examination of the problems that have plagued Newsweek for the last few years.

Publishers cut the number of native videos they were producing for Facebook in half, on average, after the network, stopped subsidizing them. But that’s alright because Facebook got what it wanted, causing the entire rest of the industry to “pivot to video” and make other changes that have come back to bite it in the backside, leaving Facebook to keep dominating on other fronts with lots more data at its disposal.

Warner Archive always seemed odd in the idea but awesome in execution. Now its substantial catalog of classic films is part of FilmStruck, which makes so much more sense.

Meanwhile CBS Sports is launching a free OTT service that’s pretty much meant to take the wind out of ESPN’s sails before that service debuts.

Marketing / Advertising

It’s good that Facebook is working to make ad metrics more streamlined and understandable, eliminating quite a few redundant or confusing numbers and offering more education on what remains. It would be even better if it opened up their ad business to auditing and verification by a third party service, but we’ll take baby steps for a (checks notes) decade-old company, I guess.

A super-interesting read on the various forces at work that have resulted in the logos for many tech and other companies looking remarkably similar.

Overlooked, I think, in the ongoing discussion of which companies have or haven’t cut official ties with the NRA is that while these companies may benefit from conservative policies, more and more studies are showing that younger people want to work for or do business with those that align themselves with progressive causes and viewpoints. *That’s* what I believe is driving a lot of that movement.

Social Media

There are a dozen things that are disturbing or mind-blowing in this piece at Wired about how Facebook’s ad marketplace seems to have been custom-built to benefit someone as outrageous and shock-inducing as Donald Trump, a situation that allowed his campaign ads in 2016 to achieve a reach that significantly outstripped ads bought FOR THE SAME AMOUNT by the Clinton campaign.

Automatic captions, location-tagging, enhanced chat and more are all part of the update package coming to YouTube.

Technology

As expected, Google made a big announcement about its augmented reality platform at Mobile World Congress, including the news it would have an exclusive Pokemon Go-like AR game called “Ghostbusters World.”

Mobile devices will, according to Forrester, play role in one-third of all retail purchases in 2018, though that could fall anywhere along the customer journey, from awareness or research to final purchase. Activity is still split between native apps and the mobile web, meaning retailers can’t ignore either format.

Yes, Google is a monopoly that uses its dominance to snuff out smaller – or even bigger – competitors.

No big deal, just data-mining companies analyzing not just your actual health information but your interaction patterns with your mobile device for clues as to your physical and emotional well-being.

At first I was going to be snarky about this story and how tech jobs that don’t require a college degree or the same amount of experience are popping up in the Midwest, but then I realized that’s a good thing as it means people don’t have to incur the expense of moving to an often-unaffordable area like San Francisco just to work in their desired field.

More airlines are considering creating customer profiles based on IP addresses and more that could be used to create a variable pricing model that will almost certainly wind up having issues of racial bias because that’s what’s happened with literally every other instance of something like this being implemented.

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.