Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 9/22/17

  • Hulu is committing $2.5 billion to the arms race it’s engaged in with other streaming companies who see original content as the key to success.
  • An analysis by Parse.ly shows Flipboard is second-only to Twitter in terms of sending referral traffic to publishers on mobile devices.
  • The pilot of the new supernatural comedy “Ghosted” will premiere on Twitter days before it airs on TV, part of a deal between Fox and Twitter.
  • Brands are adding social media influencers to their marketing rosters to harness and own their creativity and I will be over here never stopping hitting my head on my desk.
  • Interesting thinking here about the future of AI in the news industry, both as part of production and consumption.
  • Pinterest is finally rolling out “Sections,” allowing people to create sub-boards to more finely tune their saved and shared links.
  • No surprise that thanks in large part to the (largely) free nature of the platforms, social media is a big part of the marketing plans of small businesses.
  • Audience ad targeting on Pinterest just a lot more detailed.
  • The RIAA is out with a mid-2017 report showing just how much money it’s making from streaming services, a big change from the download model of not too long ago.
  • I’m actually quite shocked at the percentage of traffic to Nordstrom’s that’s reported to come from influencer marketing programs.
  • Medium continues to pivot, including plans to hire editors and curators as part of its next iteration, though Ev Williams still doesn’t have a clear answer to what the site/platform is.
  • Female influencers aren’t huge on Snapchat, preferring Instagram and even Pinterest.
  • Facebook is introducing a new way to target offline retail customers with ads and tie those ads to physical sales. This is super-creepy and not far off from what I predicted here.

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.

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.

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.

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 9/8/17

  • An eMarketer study shows over one-third of teens, especially girls, don’t think they could go even one day without their mobile devices.
  • Publishers have a lot of problems to deal with if they want to increase video load times, but little incentive to do so because it’s all those ads that are causing them.
  • Older audiences are more open to the brand advertising that’s becoming a big part of the Snapchat experience than younger audiences.
  • The size of Facebook’s code on the average website is enough of an issue, but what it does and how many other similarly-huge chunks of code are also present create some issues.
  • YouTube has introduced new live-streaming functionality that’s specifically designed to accommodate e-sports broadcasts.
  • LinkedIn has launched its own Audience Network to extend the reach of ads to other sites.
  • Musical.ly seems to be having issues cashing in on its success, particularly among teen girls, due in large part to the lack of a dedicated sales team and sky-high ad rates that turn buyers off.
  • YouTube is both the social platform teens use most often according a Forrester study and the one they feel is too overloaded with ads.
  • According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is planning on spending up to $1 billion on the production of original video content next year.
  • The FTC has settled with a couple of high-profile video game influencers over failure to disclose they owned a company it turns out they owned.

What Issues About the Content Marketing Job Concern Me?

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

There are issues with the content marketing industry, many of which I’ve discussed openly here or elsewhere previously and so won’t reiterate or otherwise list. You work in any field for any significant length of time and you’re going to have some strong opinions about certain aspects of it and certain people who are a part of it. This is still a fun and interesting area and I don’t want to bad-mouth it or anything. Constructive criticism is useful and welcome though, right?

There is one thing that continues to concern me that doesn’t seem to be going away and it’s this: There are no time limits.

Over the last 10 years I’ve spent countless nights up and working on editorial calendars and blog posts and everything else well past when I should have turned in. But because social media and blog posts can be published 24 hours a day, people think you’re going to be available to answer their questions 24 hours a day. Or that you’ll be available to make changes.

If there’s one advantage to freelancing it’s that at least the billing is more accurate now. In agency life, because we billed most clients on a retainer and not for actual hours burned, a lot of those late-night hours went unbilled. While I still got paid (which was great) it looked bad when I was only billing 80 hours a month but reporting that I actually spent 130 on work for a client. Now if I work it, I’m billing it.

Plus, I’m more able to draw some boundaries around my availability now. I’m not beholden to a reporting hierarchy and can set some expectations with clients about when I am or am not on-call. That may not be hard and fast but it’s better than the “we’re paying you, you better respond within 20 minutes even if it’s 11 pm.” attitude that’s all-too pervasive in the agency environment.

Platforms like Instagram and Snapchat that don’t allow for scheduled posting have only made this problem worse. I can queue up Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and blog posts, but those other two are still very immediate. And everyone knows this. The agency world is so cutthroat, with everyone competing on service and price, that saying “No” or daring to sleep can cause a client to question their current situation. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of one of those phone calls, you know how unpleasant they can be.

There’s no easy solution here. It will take a systemic pushback against unreasonable expectations to affect any real change to this this issue. And for every one person that does there will be three ready to pounce and promise 24-hour coverage, no problem. It is a problem, though, one that needs to be addressed.

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

Quick Takes: Content Marketing News for 9/1/17

  • Facebook has confirmed it won’t take a cut of the subscriptions it’s going to help publishers sell, though I feel like “yet” needs to be added to each one of these promises.
  • As my friend Jeremy Pepper pointed out, Snapchat’s sudden overtures to influencers seems driven by a tanking stock price and slowing user growth, both of which the company is trying to shore up.
  • Eventually we’re going to hit a point where so much of what’s posted on Facebook are based on memory prompts that nothing new will ever be shared, just an endless cycle of revisiting posts made between 2007 and 2016.
  • There are all sorts of options people can choose from but marketers still prefer email as a message delivery platform and people in general feel likewise, though they do have some suggestions for improvements.
  • Nice move by Giphy adding GIF view counts for its official Artist and Partner channels, giving managers of those programs some numbers to be used to prove program effectiveness.
  • Truly the end days are upon us as Buzzfeed finally casts aside its moral superiority and accepts banner ads because it wants to make more money.
  • WhatsApp is the latest to offer verified account badges to select business accounts, which comes with special features and functionality.
  • A bunch of new features have been added to Tumblr’s mobile app that increase the style people can apply to posts and weblogs.
  • A new logo and layout are just two of the changes YouTube has made to freshen up the look and functionality of the site.
  • Instagram has introduced new tools for branded content that ease disclosure by the creators and give sponsoring brands more insights in the performance of those posts.
  • Highly recommend this piece on how YouTube evolved from being simply a utility for hosting videos into a feed-centric discovery platform.
  • Founder Ev Williams talks about Medium’s recent business model shifts and how he sees the site in terms of supporting quality writing.
  • Anchor has introduced even more editing features and explains how the team worked to create the best possible product.
  • You can new view Instagram Stories on the web.
  • After some push back from users after a recent redesign, Flipboard is reinstating some key content navigation functionality
  • Facebook is rolling out its new Watch video hub to all U.S. users and of course there’s already a desire by publishers to sell advertisers on sponsored videos.
  • To combat and head-off the spread of fake or misleading news on the platform, Snapchat has a team of journalists that review stories it curates for accuracy.

Sprout Social Quantifies the Call-Out Culture

Sprout Social is out with a new report on what it calls “Call-Out Culture,” the tendency of people these days to use social media to use social media platforms to air their complaints, bad experiences and other grievances involving brands. As always, there are a number of interesting points made throughout the report but a couple large-scale takeaways jumped out at me.

Call-Outs Revolve Around Frustration or Anger

The reasons people take to social media – which they do more than any avenue other than in-person customer service – to air their grievances or issues is because they see it as a public service of sorts. They want to call attention to something, espy bialy some form of a bad experience they had that they want to warn others of. That’s important because the number one reaction by other consumers to what someone posts is that they’re glad they saw it while they were researching a company or product prior to purchase. Mostly those negative call-outs are being done for just that purpose, to warn others, while smaller percentages are seeking refunds or discounts as a result.

There are a few charts in the report regarding consumer reactions to various kinds of brand responses to those complaints. Negative responses will lead to further negative action while positive action can turn things around and encourage more positive follow-ups from the consumer, though that’s not guaranteed.

Of course what’s left out of that is what constitutes a “good” response. That, in my experience, can run the gamut from the simple acknowledgment of someone’s point of view and issue to demands the company makes drastic changes to a product or business model. Some of those are wholly unreasonable but still may be lumped in with the “poor” response consumers think they’ve gotten.

Consumer Brands Feel the Burn

Unsurprisingly, consumer goods brands are the ones that feel the brunt of consumer social commentary. That category is both the most complained about and the one that’s seen as the most in-need of improvements to its social customer service efforts.

Those are, though, also the same companies that have the biggest challenges of scale to surmount. Those companies sell hundreds of products to millions of customers every day, so a social customer service effort that could handle that worldwide would be massive, the size of a large PR agency and still likely not tackle everything. This is something that’s often overlooked by hard-core adherents to the “every Twitter mention/Facebook comment *needs* a response, mostly because those consultants aren’t the ones who stick around to actually build that response workflow.

We Live In Public

It’s still fascinating to me that complaining publicly about a product or experience is, seemingly, the go-to tactic for so many people. I’m guilty of doing so from time to time, but almost always go back to delete that post because I feel bad shortly after doing so. Or I wind up apologizing for my public trash-talking, as I did one early morning after a bad experience with an airline. I posted my frustrations on Twitter and got a response from the brand, which is a credit to them. But I realized I didn’t need to do that, that doing so was kind of rude, and apologized.

That’s partly rooted in my personality, which is geared to suck it up and keep my thoughts to myself like a good German Lutheran. And it’s rooted partly in my own experience on the end of Tweetdeck, the one who’s trying to monitor comments, triage those in need of care and respond where appropriate. That can be draining, soul-sucking work since you’re indirectly being blamed for an experience you had nothing to do with. But it’s your work that will determine how the consumer responds and if you can salvage the relationship.

Before you take to Twitter to talk about some brand’s #epicfail, keep in mind that those are people who you’re talking about and to, not a faceless corporate entity. That may change the calculus when determining what or what not to voice your frustrations over.

The Value of Professional Social Media Management

“Chris, didn’t you work in web design or something?”

“No, social media marketing.” 

“Oh cool…want to start an Instagram account?”

That was the conversation that lead to my starting a photo feed for the store I’ve been working at for the last several months. Since I fired it up I’ve tried to post regularly and put into practice everything I’ve learned over the last decade of content marketing program management, even if it is just for a single local store and not a worldwide consumer brand.

Over the last few days, though, I haven’t posted anything. That’s because I feel it would have been insensitive to do so while a huge chunk of Texas is underwater and preparing for a recovery process that could take months if not years. I’ll ramp it up again in the near future, but there’s a crisis happening and so I’m going to take a break.

My decision is based on those years of experience. It’s based on seeing one brand after another called out for continuing on with business as usual while people were suffering. The account isn’t huge, but even if no one were to take us to task to the extent that we become a cautionary tale in Adweek it’s the right thing to do.

The experience and insights that culminated in my making this decision are mine. I worked hard to accumulate those instincts. When social media management is simply one of the tasks you assign a part-time office manager, you don’t get that. But that’s who’s being given the reins if many of the job postings I come across are any indication.

They may do a fine job and the profiles will be managed without headache. If so, great. But when a crisis, either internal or external, comes along, you’re going to want someone whose experience extends beyond their own personal use of Facebook.

Content Marketing Updates for 8/25/17

  • Snapchat has introduced Crowd Surf, a new system that uses artificial intelligence to find when many people are sharing video from a concert and assemble also those clips into a single video.
  • Facebook has redesigned its “trending news” section for mobile reading, making it easier to sort through updates and including related stories from a variety of outlets.
  • A redesign of the mobile News Feed in general is designed to emphasize visibility into who’s engaging with a post, where a link might take you and more to make the whole process, presumably, a bit more transparent. It also updated a number of features in the Camera app.
  • A new green dot will show you when someone has been active on Tumblr recently, letting you know who might be available to chat.
  • Instagram has added comment threading to help keep conversations going more naturally.
  • LinkedIn has introduced a new native video creation tool for the mobile app that will be rolling out to all users over time.
  • I’m not going to be switching over to Ghost anytime soon, but it’s great to not only see someone innovating in the blog platform space but also doing so in an open-source manner.
  • Twitter’s Explore tab will begin showing people topics they may be interested in sorted in a way that’s based on their usage of the platform. That’s an attempt to make valuable, relevant information more prevalent, especially to new users.
  • Interesting statistics here on why young adult shoppers prefer the experience on a brand’s own website as opposed to that of a retailer.
  • Could be bad news for Snapchat as influencers identify it as the one they are or are most likely to drop in favor of Instagram and others.
  • Facebook is selling in-stream spots separate from bundled News Feed buys, something that was apparently high up on the list of requests from agencies.
  • The photo you’re responding to on Instagram will now appear as a sticker in the photo you take as the response. Sure, why not.
  • Facebook’s latest target in the News Feed: Video clickbait. Specifically, it’s taking aim at some of the slimy tactics disreputable publishers engage in to trick people into playing their videos.
  • Apparently we’re more prone to make rash, impulsive shopping decisions on our phones than we are in person or on our desktop computers.
  • After bringing GIF-like previews to YouTube, Google is now introducing six-second previews of videos directly in search results to, it says, help inform people as to what they’re about to click on.
  • YouTube is curating a “Breaking news” section across platforms to help people stay connected and/or know what level of panic and despair to maintain.
  • Digital video advertising is growing ever bigger in absolute dollars, but as a percentage of overall digital ad budgets it’s remaining pretty flat.
  • Chat bots are something marketers need to educate themselves on ASAP.
  • Facebook’s new tool lets brands directly boost posts from influencers they’ve engaged in branded content campaigns, keeping the original person’s branding on the post. Ad execs, though, worry that this will lead to influencer posts being suppressed in the feed, diminishing reach unless dollars are spent.
  • Snapchat is the latest platform company to announce it will be moving into providing a home for exclusive scripted video content.
  • Some early success stories coming out of Facebook Watch, though I have to wonder how much of that comes from these videos being given preferential treatment in the News Feed.
  • You can now take 360-degree photos and video from within the Facebook app itself.
  • Publishers in the Medium Partner Program will have the option of making stories available only to members and then be paid based on engagement and reach. That also includes a metered paywall limiting non-members to a set number of “free” posts they can read per month.
  • As part of its effort to help restore trust in what news is shared on its platform, Facebook will display media brand logos next to stories from that site.
  • New updates to the Musical.ly app include a section of recommendations based on what you’ve watched and enhanced user profiles.
  • Email management software is the most common tool used by content marketers, followed by content management systems.
  • Snapchat will let advertisers control whether their ads appear alongside all content or just that produced by the company itself and its media partners.
  • You can now edit Anchor’s new videos and share snippets.