Content Marketing Programs Require More Than Three Steps to Develop

Over the course of the last several years there have been countless blog posts, videos and other material shared by various experts (both real and otherwise) on how to effectively create and and manage an online content marketing program. Just recently there was a post that crossed my RSS feed that boiled developing such a program down to three simple steps:

  1. Define goals
  2. Obtain shareholder approval
  3. Define success and measure results

Those steps are, of course, overly simplistic and vague. There’s almost nothing actionable in there.

What that kind of thinking shows is how the concept of content marketing has become reduced to the lowest, most basic ideas without an idea of how to dive deeper. It shows the kind of “everyone/anyone can do it” mindset that has been common for a few years now as the standards for how and when to manage such programs were lowered.

These programs aren’t easy. They aren’t something everyone can do. At the risk of sounding haughty, it takes a particular kind of skill set to not only launch them but also continue managing them and achieve significant business results through them.

Allow me to add a bit to that initial list:

  1. Develop a program framework
  2. Create a program styleguide
  3. Obtain stakeholder approval
  4. Determine content types
  5. Build a program team
  6. Develop a content workflow
  7. Create community engagement guidelines
  8. Report on program metrics
  9. Offer analysis and recommendations
  10. Repeat at regular intervals

Over the course of the next several weeks I’ll go in-depth on each one of those points, offering insights and opinions based on the experience I’ve gained in the nearly 20 years I’ve been running and participating in programs like this.

Content Marketing Has Always Been About SEO

All due respect to the writer of this post at MarTechToday, but if you’re just coming to the realization that content marketing and search engine optimization are the same thing you’re approximately 12-15 years behind the curve.

Back in the day when corporate blogging was the hot new marketing tactic, the pitch to clients was usually along the following lines:

  • The blog will allow you to take select messages directly to the audience, allowing you to offer commentary and expertise in a way you control and respond to inaccuracies and other problems.
  • The blog will significantly expand your search footprint because search engines *love* current content, so let’s be sure each post URL uses the MM/DD/YYYY structure.
  • The blog will allow you to use keywords important to the business (though not in an obnoxious way) so you’re found in relevant searches.
  • The blog will allow you to link to other sources and give other people somewhere to link to when they reference the valuable material you’ve published.

Three out of four of those points are directly SEO related. I speak from experience that a whole group of marketing professionals spent a good chunk of time obsessing over XML sitemaps, keyword lists, post slugs and more specifically because of how important they all were to search.

As social networks came on the scene around 2007 and especially as they went mainstream in 2009 or 2010, the focus of blogging – either for corporate or personal purposes – became more about the first “communicate directly” point while the other three were cast aside by many. That point was initially about the media, whose gatekeepers were hard to get past. Your press release might be ignored completely. A three hour CEO interview might be cut down to two quotes in a larger piece. With a blog, you could reach the end user audience without that filter.

Initially social networks offered that same promise, though now the filtered feeds in place on Facebook and elsewhere making breaking through almost as hard as it was through media relations. In that time, blogging was seen as either less hip or less essential. We forgot that 3/4 of the rationale for doing so was that it offered substantial search benefits social networks simply couldn’t match.

It’s good that it’s coming back. Recent studies have shown the share of traffic to media publishers from search engines is rebounding, taking that resurgence directly from social networks that are now more questionable propositions. Even corporate blogging seems to be coming back from a few years of declines. More people are realizing that while social media might give you a quick spike, long-term value is derived from owning your content and making it visible via search.

If, though, you think content marketing – which is just the most recent label affixed to a practice we used to call “new media marketing” or “social media marketing” – has ever not been about search engine optimization, it’s possible you’re new to the field. I and my colleagues have known this for over a decade.

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.

Branded Content Isn’t New. Who’s Producing It Is.

Reading this piece about what it’s like to work in one of the many branded content studios that now operate within and alongside the editorial teams at various publishers and media companies, I spent a lot of time scratching my head.

What’s described in that “day in the life” profile sounds a lot – a LOT – like what I and countless others have been doing for clients for over a decade, since the emergence of corporate blogs as a brand marketing tool.

The process described is roughly the same: Receive direction from the client and work with them to produce material that tells their story in their own way, without having to go through the media filter. There are drafts and revisions and feedback and the process occasionally entails traveling to an event, photo shoot or other location to get photos or additional details and background. You have to source media and so on and finally produce the finished piece.

Even that wasn’t all the new or innovative, just the latest iteration of the kind of ghostwriting that’s been part of the PR, advertising and marketing industry for, roughly, ever. All those CEO contributions to industry trade publications…they weren’t all written by the CEO themselves but by a talented marketer somewhere in the organization or at their agency.

I get that “branded content” is hot right now. A recent study indicated marketers were intending to increase their budgets for that in the coming year, seeing it as an effective way to get around consumer distaste for traditional advertising. The same rationale was offered in 2004 with corporate blogging on the rise, something I can attest to because I was among those making that case both publicly and to clients. Podcasts are a hot outlet for branded content, with a number of companies like GE and others working with Gimlet Media and various other producers on branded programming. A 2016 study showed branded content had a much higher level of recall than other ad units.

There is one key difference that says more about the current state of the media industry than anything else: Who’s producing that content.

As I said, for decades this sort of material has been produced by internal marketing/publicity teams or those at the agencies they’ve hired. The results are either pitched or distributed to media organizations or published by the brands themselves on owned platforms.

Now, it’s the media companies themselves who are running these branded content studios and distributing the results on their own sites or networks. The studios have been launched by companies who have seen ad revenue fall drastically because of “disruption” by one upstart or another, first craigslist and now Facebook. Brands are pitched the promise of tapping into a talented group of writers/producers who will then leverage the distribution of that media company to reach the audience.

Various rules are in place – some more stringent than others – around dividing these advertising groups from the pure editorial operation of the media brand to preserve the integrity of the latter. Disclosures are needed on the resulting stories because branded content is often displayed right alongside actual editorial and audiences need to know the difference.

So the producer has changed even if the content itself is roughly similar to a long-standing marketing and publicity tactic. Those branded content studios seem to keep growing even as journalists, writers and editors are laid off by the dozen at an endless stream of media organizations. That’s creating a situation that will likely come to a head in the next year or two and result in a media industry crisis of some form.

The demand for branded content will keep growing and media companies – specifically the conglomerates that own them – will be only too happy to oblige, continuing to grow those operations. But the effectiveness will wain because in order to have value that content needs to enjoy the halo effect of the media brand’s reputation with the audience. As that reputation diminishes because layoffs and ownership consolidation means smaller staffs that are pressured to tow the corporate party line. That, or they’re even more drastically cut because a Chicago (or wherever) staff isn’t necessary with everything produced elsewhere and distributed across the country. So the rates charged for branded content production fall, resulting in layoffs in those studios.

In short, if no one trusts the media brand because it’s putting out diluted, generic garbage, the value of the branded content will likewise diminish. The latter counts on the former and can’t survive without it.

While branded content has been seen been seen a a lifeline to publishers, much of its success is still dependent on networks like Facebook. That’s *how* the content is distributed, with teams working to help those pieces reach an audience and deliver the kind of exposure the brand is paying for.

Unfortunately that makes the media companies subject to the whims of those platforms. In October 2016 Facebook changed the rules to allow any Verified Page to post branded content as long as it followed disclosure guidelines. Now it wants to strictly define “branded content” as material produced by that person or organization, not content it was given by another company and paid to publish and distribute. So if the media company can’t apply the appropriate label to the content, they can’t distribute it on Facebook, which is going to cut into reach and therefore revenue. Once again, Facebook doesn’t want anyone but itself to get paid.

Branded content, like owned media (e.g. blogs) is a decent idea and can be a useful marketing tactic. The fact that it comes from the media brand itself is both a result of the financial pressures facing the industry currently and, I think, the cause of the problems it will face in the future.

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

My History of Live Event Blogging and Social Media Coverage

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

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

Yeah…you could say that.

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

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

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

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

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

Know Where To Look

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

Have a Schedule

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

Coordinate Important Beats

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

Pick a Format

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

Engage With the Audience

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

Indulge Your Experimental Side

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

Have Remote Backup

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

Take a Nap

No…seriously.

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

Creating a Content Program’s Audience Matrix

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

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

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

editorial calendar audience matrix

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

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

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

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

This matrix was the result of all that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Takes: Content Marketing and Media News for 1/9/18

Media

Look past the headline about how a Sinclair-dominated media world is worrisome to liberals (Sinclair has a well-documented conservative/libertarian POV it imposes across its properties) and think about how one company reaching 72% of U.S. households is bad regardless of political affiliation.

If you enjoy reading Variety, Deadline and other Penske Media-owned websites, the experience will continue to be awful as the company has expanded its deal with sponsored content company Outbrain, resulting in more of those irritating “From Around the Web” type ad units.

Content Marketing

A statement from MailChimp’s CEO reassures people TinyLetter, which is purchased a couple years ago as a free-to-use service, won’t be shutting down this year. The motivations behind the statement are unclear, as is TinyLetter’s fate beyond that, but nothing is changing for now. Still, the panic over the unknown could have publishers looking for alternatives sooner rather than later, not wanting to be caught unprepared when the plug is pulled.

Influencer marketing agency/platform Whosay has been acquired by Viacom, part of that company’s efforts to expand its influencer footprint.

Social Media

CBS has signed a deal to debut clips from both “The Late Show” and “The Late Late Show on Facebook Watch. That’s not quite the super-attractive exclusive content Facebook is hoping for, but it still could provide an alternative to YouTube, which might be enough for the moment.

Twitter apparently feels enough time has gone by and has begun verifying select users again. Once more, the process of deciding who does and doesn’t qualify for verification seems to be opaque and confusing, which is exactly how this all began.

Technology

The battle over net neutrality isn’t quite dead yet, as enough Democratic Senators have now agreed to fight it that a vote to reinstate the rules the FCC dropped could be called. It might be symbolic, but it forces other lawmakers to take a stand on the issue. That follows the news Netflix and a consortium of other internet companies are joining the fight.

I still can’t really believe cassette tapes are making a comeback. Even when tapes were a big deal, they were never really ideal. Not surprisingly, it’s nostalgia that’s driving the boom, specifically releases featuring just the kind of music we all bought on tape the first time around.

All the humans who were helping teach Facebook’s “M” virtual assistant have been let go as the learnings from that project are applied to other areas. M seemed to suffer from a lack of clarity around what it was meant to be and what purpose it was meant to serve.

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

Media

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

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

Content Marketing

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

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

Social Media

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

Technology

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

Want even more recommendations? Check out my Pocket Shared Items.

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

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

Today’s Must Read

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

Media

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

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

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

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

Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Content Marketing

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

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

Technology

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

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

Want even more recommendations? Check out my Pocket Shared Items.

 

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

More on the Paid Promotion of Earned Media

In my latest Adweek column I offered a few reasons why I felt there were ethical lines being crossed when companies choose to use earned media stories in paid media ads. Over the course of a couple conversations it’s become clear I’ve touched a nerve and so I wanted to offer some expanded thoughts on why I have a problem with the practice.

First off, I’ll acknowledge that this is now apparently standard practice. A quick Google search reveals that “pay to boost the reach of your positive coverage” is a thing now, something that is common enough to be wholly unremarkable apparently. But it’s a big change from just a few years ago and I wanted to explain more fully why I remain skeptical of the practice, or at least dissatisfied with the reality that makes it necessary.

Different Goals, Different Tactics

There’s a very good reason that paid, earned and managed media have been – or at least were – separate practices for so long: They’re meant to accomplish different goals. Paid was about conversions/sales, earned was about changing reputations and perceptions and managed was about long-term message dissemination. The goals were so different and the tactics employed that they had to be. Now, though, those responsibilities and areas of expertise are starting to blur.

There were exceptions, of course. Paid ads often pointed to managed channels, usually because there was an end goal or conversion that was being tracked. Earned media could be shared on managed channels because doing so expanded the reach of the stories that had been placed, exposing them to a larger audience.

Paid Is The New Organic

Ethical issues aside, I’m frustrated at the state of the industry that makes payment necessary. Changes made by Facebook and Instagram, the increasingly cluttered nature of Twitter and other upheavals mean it’s now necessary to pay to achieve the same reach you could get organically just a few years ago. The social networks that promised marketers a way to naturally fit into the flow of the feed and reach a massively scaled audience have now pulled the rug out, making it clear payment is table stakes. You could make the case that organic reach is now so paltry that all social network marketing is paid advertising.

I Was Promised An Ad-Free Future

OK, maybe not quit that. But the original promise of content marketing was that telling your own story was so much more powerful than advertising. Ads were for suckers without interesting stories to tell. Corporate blogs (and by extension any form of owned media) was so much more convincing and freeing because you weren’t beholden to the confines of an ad, nor were you subject to the whims of media editors. That dream was ripped away by social networks that were thirsty for all that content and then, like any good drug dealer, hiked up the price after they’d gotten customers hooked.

I understand that this is now table stakes. That doesn’t mean I have to be a fan.

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