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Building brand awareness through content creation and community engagement.

August 31st, 2015

My God…It’s Full of GIFs…

It used to be that a media brand could make news by announcing they were going to be creating real-time GIFs during an event of some sort. The idea that they would have a dedicated team capturing moments from an awards show and sharing those GIFs was, it seems, pretty notable.

Now it appears to be the rule, not the exception.

I opened up Tweetdeck last night to follow along with the Cubs vs. Dodgers game (which resulted in Jake Arietta’s first career no-hitter, further bolstering the belief of Cubs’ fans that this year’s team is something special), apparently forgetting the MTV VMAs were also happening. I was reminded, though, when I was inundated by a barrage of GIFs from…well…everyone.

Heck, even the @Cubs account I was following for updates last night responds to most audience questions and comments with GIFs and shares plenty of their own during and after the game.

We don’t need to talk about how popular GIFs are with the general audience. We’ve seen study after study that show Tweets with images get significantly more engagement than those without. Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest and others all support GIFs natively. And Facebook is making moves in that direction, perhaps fearing they’re about to be left on the wrong side of the media divide.

What we’re seeing is this media format having made the leap from what may have once been a niche affectation of Millennials young people firmly into the mainstream. If you’re not talking with your graphics or art department about how GIFs can become at least a significant part of your media production slate you risk being left in the dust.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Media, Social Networks

August 27th, 2015

It’s No Longer Hip (or Required) to Be Square on Instagram

tumblr_inline_ntpl4dTjFa1qm4rc3_540What Is It? Instagram has dropped the “square photos only, please” requirement and will now let you publish pictures in any orientation and aspect ratio. That means you can select a video or photo of any size and format and you don’t have to either futz with it to make sure the photo is in a square already or decide which square portion of a larger image it is that you want to show off.

What Does This Mean? Well in addition to the above it means fewer awkward emails to your art department asking for a square version of the artwork they just created. But what it really means is that Instagram wants to be more friendly to a wider variety of photos, both from individuals and from brands. They want to lower the barrier to entry for the app and so removing the “ugh, but it has to be a square” reaction is a good move.

But by doing so it also removed what had been a significant point of differentiation between it and other apps. If there’s nothing unique about Instagram – and the square photo format was a singular point since Twitter in particular has rolled out photo filters itself – then what’s it’s “thing?”

Right now the most clear answer to that question is “the people.” I was tempted to write “the network,” but that wasn’t quite right. It’s the people who are producing the ridiculously high engagement levels that are seen on Instagram. And it’s the people who are using it as a way to communicate in a fun visual manner with their friends.

So marketers, adjust your visual tactics accordingly. But let’s watch and see if any stats start to surface a few months from now showing one kind of photo sees higher engagement than others.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Mobile, Social Networks

August 25th, 2015

News Sites See More Traffic from Facebook Than From Google

What Is It? New data from Parse.ly shows that referral traffic from Facebook to news sites has passed similar traffic from Google. This is the second time in the last year that this has happened.

google-v-facebook-referral-traffic-800x443

What Does This Mean? Well, it means it worked! After all, news sites went chasing after that sweet, sweet Facebook traffic like a greyhound after the electronic rabbit, adjusting their headlines and other editorial tactics when they saw sites like Buzzfeed, Upworthy and others trouncing them because they were being shared by people on that network. This change – which sometimes included completely redoing a publishing CMS – has been drastic and it seems those efforts paid off.

Which makes the hand-wringing that went along with this news a bit surprising. It’s as if somewhere, people realize that putting Facebook and its algorithm in control of news distribution put short-term gains ahead of the long-term value of search engine optimization, which had been the key to the last 15 years of web publishing.

Any tactic that works should be used. You can like the current trend in online publishing or loathe it (I fall somewhere in the middle) but these are the current set of an ever-changing set of rules. That’s the thing about the content marketing field, there’s always something new to learn and adjust to. But it’s also the responsibility of those of us tasked with giving counsel to our clients – and ourselves – to make sure that short term bets aren’t made that will make long-term payoffs impossible. So a balance of solid, time-tested SEO and current, play-to-the-Newsfeed tactics should be found. Going all-in on one or the other is often a mistake.

It’s the same game, it’s just that the playing field looks a lot different than it did a decade ago.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Media, Search

August 24th, 2015

Messaging Apps Are All The Rage

What is It? Pew is out with a new study focusing specifically on usage of messaging apps among (obviously) smartphone owners. The big takeaway is that 49% of those between 18 and 29 – the group commonly referred to as Millennials – use some kind of messaging app while 41% use ephemeral messaging apps like Snapchat that delete messages shortly after they’re sent. Men and women use messaging apps in general about equally. The study also has some updates on usage of and growth on networks like Facebook, Instagram and more.

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What Does This Mean? There are lots of examples of media companies and brands getting in on the messaging app wave, but almost all of the case studies are focused solely on the advertising side of things and not so much on pure play content programs.

There are a variety of factors that hinder publishing programs from fully embracing these apps, ranging from access – most programs simply aren’t designed to produce the kind of content that works well on Snapchat et al – to content differentiation, or defining the unique value proposition for the audience on one of these apps. None of these can’t be overcome, though, with a little creative thinking and, to address the first point, getting the right kind of access.

The question remains, though, of whether engaging on these apps makes sense for any given brand. As Ian Malcolm says in Jurassic Park, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. While marketers will look at the above audience and drool over their buying power, social influence and other desirable traits, someone with power in the program should be the one asking questions like “OK, but is it sustainable? Is the content going to actually be engaging or do we just think it’s cool because that’s our job? How are we going to measure success?” and more.

Assuming real – not “marketing real” but “real” – reasons can be found to jump in on messaging apps, the study from Pew shows there are lots of people there who may – MAY – be interested in what you have to say. But be prepared with content that’s contextual to that channel and get ready to adjust at a moment’s notice. Even more than on Twitter or Facebook, publishing to messaging apps is very much playing in someone else’s sandbox as you intrude on a platform people are using to communicate with friends and family. Keep that in mind and make sure you’re doing so respectfully and smartly.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Mobile

August 20th, 2015

Starting New Channels Just as Difficult as Sunsetting Existing Channels

We’ve written before about streamlining social channels and when to sunset existing channels that may no longer be working. But what about the decision to start something new? This has been on my mind ever reading about Univision embracing a new strategy on Vine, Snapchat and YouTube in an effort to reach a different, younger audience.

SpaceX Falcon9 Eutelsat Launch - March 1, 2015

Based on my experience – either directly or through listening to my Voce colleagues and hearing about their successes – there are a number of criteria to evaluate when making this decision. This is not to say a proposed channel must meet ALL of these in order to be a valid option, but these are the questions to ask:

  • What’s the business need for it: This can range from brand protection to wanting the channel to achieve something specific like needing to break off a specific kind of content that’s overwhelming an existing one. Whatever it is, make sure there’s a specific internal need that, through plenty of discussion, can only be met through creating something new.
  • What’s the value proposition for the audience: What are you offering the audience that makes adding this Twitter profile, Facebook page, Instagram profile or whatever it is to their life? Odds are good their social network influx is pretty full as it is, so you have to know what is going to be the big attraction. Make sure, when doing so, that you’re thinking about this like a fan and not like a marketer who thinks the brand allure itself is enough. It’s not.
  • How will the new channel be promoted: The nice part about doing something on an existing channel – particularly a long-lived one – is that the audience is already there. So before launch, figure out how this new channel is going to get people’s attention. That can come through cross-promotion on owned channels (though that should be limited since the whole point is to launch a differentiated channel), cross-promotion on partner channels or through paid promotion.
  • How does the new channel fit into the existing workflow: If we’re talking about a Facebook page or some such this likely isn’t a big deal. It can be slotted into the same ed cal (you have an ed cal, right?) as the existing channels without much fuss. But if you’re talking about something that’s coming in from left field like, say, Snapchat, there may be different considerations in place.
  • Who’s the audience: This is paramount. If you don’t know what the audience for your new channel – or any existing channels – is going to be, don’t launch the channel. It’s as simple as that.
  • What unique assets does the channel require: Much like the workflow point above, there may be something specific that is needed. For example if you’re launching on Tumblr, you need to have a GIF-creation workflow in place. You just do. If you’re launching on Instagram, you need to make sure there’s a process to produce appropriate images. Know what the unique language of that platform is and make sure you’re delivering on that.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but these points are where the process needs to start. If you don’t have good answers – or at least a plan to get good answers – to these questions then you may want to stop before launch.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Social Networks

August 19th, 2015

Crowdsourcing the Government? What the GSA’s Deal with Yelp Really Means

Yesterday’s news that the General Services Administration (GSA) will be partnering with Yelp to use reviews to find new ways to better serve taxpayers is welcome news, and it potentially represents a massive sea change from the delays, bureaucracies and poor customer service people have come to expect when it comes to government agencies. What I find most exciting is that the GSA is going where people already are sharing reviews and ratings; too often government agencies try to push people to cumbersome portals of their own (e.g., USAjobs.gov).

Yelp logo. (PRNewsFoto)

Yelp logo. (PRNewsFoto)

Elected officials have long been adapting to the digital age – starting with President Obama’s 2008 election campaign and continuing through the unconventional methods of communicating elements of the Affordable Care Act. But this step is the highest-profile embrace of the digital age outside of elected officials – and it represents a big step forward for an organization that doesn’t need to campaign for re-election every few years.

But asking people to rate their experiences with TSA, national parks or the Social Security office is simply a first step – an important one, but not an end on its own. As I told the Associated Press yesterday, while the GSA promises that they will use the data to help inform improvements, as the saying goes, the proof is in the puddin’.

The real trick will be smartly analyzing what’s driving the reviews. Not everything is customer service-driven – there are a host of infrastructure, resourcing, maintenance or other factors that drive a bad experience or a recommendation for improvement. Add to that Yelp’s troubled history with how it displays ratings and reviews, and it’s hard to see how the GSA can simply refer to a Yelp page and make quick decisions.

Instead, the GSA will face the daunting challenge of sorting through millions of reviews to identify how to prioritize funding, training or other investments to improve the experiences of citizens in their dealings with the government. Smart implementation will require technology, people and processes to systematically put the crowdsourced data to work.

It will also be important for the GSA to connect specific improvements or investments being undertaken directly to the Yelp feedback that spawned them. That can be as simple as signs where repairs are being made that say, “Thank you for your feedback; this improvement is brought to you by your own Yelp reviews.”

I for one am excited about the opportunity to have my voice heard from a notoriously stodgy organization – and I look forward to seeing how the newfound willingness to crowdsource feedback will drive positive improvements.

Filed in Marketing, Social Networks

August 18th, 2015

Voce Student Weekly Reading 8/18: Funny or Die on Platforms, Snackable Content & More

Via Wired

Via Wired

Social Media

How Funny or Die learned to stop worrying and embrace platforms

“While other publishers like Funny or Die are getting wise to the need for social platform experts, not all recognize the extent to which each platform demands its own approach.”

Voce Insight – This story highlights the fact that each platform has its own unique language. For example, you shouldn’t dare post on tumblr without being prepared to speak in gifs. You can’t just blast the same content and copy across all your platforms.

Facebook Isn’t a Real Threat to YouTube… Yet

The antagonism between the two behemoths appeared to ratchet up earlier this month when YouTube celeb Hank Green vented his frustrations over Facebook’s current video setup. He complained about how Facebook measures video views; what he saw as its fast-and-loose attitude to copyright; and how its News Feed seems to prefer videos hosted on the service rather than those from somewhere else.

Voce Insight – Facebook has been facing criticism lately for how they define their various video metrics. The Facebook vs. YouTube video competition continues to wage on, but until both services can be compared on the same metrics, it’s hard to justify who the true winner may be.

Removing the 140-character limit from Direct Messages

“While Twitter is largely a public experience, Direct Messages let you have private conversations about the memes, news, movements, and events that unfold on Twitter. Each of the hundreds of millions of Tweets sent across Twitter every day is an opportunity for you to spark a conversation about what’s happening in your world. That’s why we’ve made a number of changes to Direct Messages over the last few months.”

Voce Insight – People won’t be writing novels in Twitter Direct Messages. At least there’s no precedent with other messaging apps to suggest this will happen.But this change certainly encourages deeper, private conversations between users who might otherwise go elsewhere to talk.

Public Relations

The Pitfalls of ‘Humanizing’ Your Brand

“Those companies expend a great deal of effort attempting to present themselves as a particularly earnest, passionate (and sometimes, bizarrely, “street”) teen rather than a multinational conglomerate headed by a number of 60-year-old white men. It’s a strategy littered with risk and problems. A poorly thought-out approach to “humanizing” a brand leads to boneheaded, idiotic, sickening, or just downright stupid messages coming out of brands.”

Voce Insight – It’s important to consider your audience when you want to add some spice to your brand messaging. People expect humor from brands like Taco Bell, Old Spice, etc., but it could come across as tacky if a corporate tech company uses the word “bae.” Make sure that your messaging aligns with the audience you’re trying to reach, otherwise you risk alienating your fans.

The Death of Snackable Content

“According to a report from BuzzSumo, long-form articles are shared more than short-form articles — based on the company’s analysis of more than 100 million articles over eight months. The study found that, on average, articles with 3,000 to 10,000 words had 8,500 shares, whereas content with 1,000 words or less averaged 4,500 shares.”

Voce Insight – The headline is a bit misleading, since the Internet will always have snackable content (the author himself agrees). Nonetheless, it’s encouraging to see substantiated interest in longer articles. Listicles may be an easy way to get something published quickly (for a PR executive or writer), but deeper articles are the ones that stick with your audience.

Career

Smart Answers to Stupid Job Interview Questions

“Another brainless but common interview question is “Why do you want to work here?” How in God’s name would a job applicant know whether or not they want to work for you until they’ve had a chance to learn anything about the culture?”

Voce Insight – It’s no secret that interviews are tough, especially when the interview questions leave more to be desired. Prepping for these common questions may be the difference between wowing your interviewer or being shown the door.

Stop Claiming Subjective Traits on your Resume

“Your resume is for experience and accomplishments only. It’s not the place for subjective traits that anyone could claim without evidence. Moreover, hiring managers generally ignore anything subjective that an applicant writes about herself, because so many people’s self-assessments are wildly inaccurate; what they’re looking for on your resume are facts.”

Voce Insight – They key here is showing, not telling. Put down your accomplishments achieved at each position, show how you’ve progressed since you started working, speak to your experience during the interview and let the hiring manager fill in the positive adjectives for you.

Filed in Career Development, Weekly Reading

August 18th, 2015

Howl’s Podcast App an Interesting Experiment in Providing a Premium Experience

howl-logo-300w-300x286What Is It? Podcast network Howl – home to Marc Maron’s popular WTF? show and a host of others – announced a new premium plan that, for $5 a month, will give people access to all show archives as well as exclusive bonus features. This will all be through an app, available now only for iOS, that will provide a unique experience for listeners.

What Does This Mean? There are lots people making the claim that this is the “Netflix for podcasts” but that analogy isn’t quite right. Netflix – and iTunes, and Amazon and Spotify and so on – all pull from different studies, labels and other producers. While specific content is subject to licensing agreements and distribution windows they are more or less agnostic as to the originator. This Howl app is more akin to an app that allows you to watch all the shows from a single network, but only if you’ve verified that you’re also a cable subscriber.

That being said, there are a few things this app gets right and which point to the importance of owning your distribution points. Anyone can go to iTunes and subscribe to any of these podcasts at no charge. And for many that will be fine. But there’s a hardcore group of fans who want more and will gladly pay that $5 a month for access to get more from their favorite shows or the ability to experiment and try out things they otherwise wouldn’t have come across.

This isn’t all that different from any media brand launching a native app. There’s X level of material that’s available for free but then to go above and beyond that – often after the value proposition has been adequately made to the free audience – brands can go for the upsell.

So, content producers: What are you doing to push people to a premium experience?

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Social Networks

August 17th, 2015

Facebook Opens Another Front In the Blog Wars with Notes Revamp

What Is It? Reports are circulating that Facebook has revamped Notes, a long neglected feature that allows people to write longer posts.

Facebook-logo-PSD

What Does This Mean? Everything Facebook does is done with the goal of increasing the amount of time people spend on and within Facebook. Similarities to Medium aside, the idea that Facebook wants people to do more long-form writing on the network is a new one. While they’re somewhat late to the game – Tumblr as the kids, Medium has media analysts and TED talkers, LinkedIn has the thought leaders, WordPress has serious writers and so on – they could bring their considerable power to bare to make this a popular feature. Much like they are promising efficiencies to media publishers with Instant Articles they could make a similar appeal to individual blog writers, showing optimized load times and more advantages.

This would, of course, come with the same considerations and trade-offs for individuals that media companies are (hopefully) wrestling with: Not owning your content is always a problem, your success is at the whim of Facebook.

It seems a bit strange that a new front in the blogging wars would be opening in 2015. But with Medium looking to grow its sphere of influence over the last couple years it’s only natural, it seems Facebook foe that time was right to make a move to capture some of that market share and throw its considerable weight around to pull people’s attention. It remains to be seen if this is indeed the first shot in a larger push into long-form updates. If it is it’s unclear who exactly the target audience is since the demographics of Facebook are, to put it mildly, in flux.

There will likely be more to come on this. But brands should be mindful that there may be yet another place where people are sharing their opinions and insights that will need to be monitored.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Social Networks

August 12th, 2015

Tinder’s Reaction to a Vanity Fair Story Kind of Makes Sense

Everyone is talking about how Tinder went on a bit of a Tweetstorm (copyright Marc Andreessen, 2014) last night in reaction to a Vanity Fair article that was, in reality, only kind of about Tinder and mostly about the mobile dating culture that has spawned around it and similar apps. It turns out some guys are jerks who use the apps only for commitment-free hook-ups and some girls aren’t fans of being seen as simply one of thousands of potential “options” for men. Because obviously Tinder and the like created these mindsets.

tinder

But let’s not focus on the narrow-minded “the world only came into existence five years ago” premise of the story and instead talk about Tinder’s response, which has become today’s punching bag for marketing and media types to mock.

It’s long been accepted wisdom that, with self-publishing platforms like blogs and now social networks, companies and brands should use those platforms to not only tell their own original stories but also to respond to inaccuracies or misrepresentations in the press. See something wrong and use the power of your blog to correct the record.

In and of itself what Tinder did makes sense along those lines. They felt the story was unfair to them and so went on Twitter to speak to that feeling. That’s fine. So where did this go off the rails and turn into a target to be made fun of? There are a couple factors that play in to this:

  1. The story wasn’t that bad. No, it wasn’t complimentary and there were legitimate points Tinder could have taken issue with. But it also comes off as having a bit of a glass jaw since this was a lightweight hit that was more about the culture than the app. So someone should have taken a breath and walked around the block, after which it may not have seemed so bad. This may speak more to the tech industry culture of expecting nothing but glowing profiles and not knowing what to do when reality comes crashing down.
  2. This was on Twitter. Let’s be honest and admit that, for as common as it’s become, Tweetstorms are still not a great form factor and lend themselves to head-shaking on the part of the audience. If this had been a blog post I firmly believe the points Tinder tried to make would have been received in a better way. A blog post would have also allowed for more substantial thought than the quick takes that Twitter is a home for.
  3. There was no comment by Tinder in the story. No, this wasn’t an official press release. No, this wasn’t an embargoed announcement. So, objectively, there was no actual need for the writer to reach out for a comment from the company. But considering how one-sided the story was – to believe the attitudes presented are 100% applicable to all of New York, much less the entire dating world is laughable – reaching out for a comment about the culture that is being presented would have gone a long way toward defusing the potential powderkeg here.

Stories are coming out today that this may not have been the spontaneous right-swiping on indignation it initially appeared to be, with a Buzzfeed writer saying she was tipped off by Tinder PR that a Tweetstorm was about to begin. The way these comments are framed, though, it seems that both versions of the story can be true. It could be that Tinder PR knew the social media team (assuming they are different teams) was about to engage in this online rant and wanted to make sure press knew about it AND that this was a legitimate, for lack of a better phrase, outpouring of emotion.

If in fact that’s true – and there’s no reason to think it isn’t – it doesn’t dilute the bigger lesson to take away, which is that social media is a powerful outlet for brands to react to the press. Sometimes that’s done well, sometimes that’s done poorly. Don’t let the response today dissuade you from calmly, rationally and with plenty of facts – or at least a strong perspective – at hand responding to stories you feel are in error. That’s a legitimate tactic that self-publishing allows for and it can be a powerful option in the corporate communications toolbox.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Marketing, Social Networks

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