We Are Communication Architects

Building brand awareness through content creation and community engagement.

June 5th, 2012

It’s Not Curation; It’s Storytelling

If you want to get into the social media equivalent of a bar fight (and who doesn’t, they’re a hoot) there’s no better way to do so than to bring the conversation around to “curation.” Choire Sicha’s recent post on the topic is a great one that’s well worth reading, especially if you stick with the bar fight metaphor and read it with a “your mama” type of voice in your head.

Let’s be clear, for the sake of argument, about some definitions here. I’m not in this instance talking about taking someone else’s content and repurposing it in some manner on another site. So this isn’t about a story that first appeared on the New York Times’ site and rewording a couple sentences before posting essentially the same story on another site. The “curation” I’m talking about is taking links to stories, posts, photos and other material and linking to it from a platform like Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr. And that’s something that doesn’t need to be controversial since it’s simply all about telling a story.

I’ve been pondering Matthew Ingram’s post about blowing up the concept of the news article for several days and how it relates not just to journalism but also corporate publishing programs. Specifically I’ve been focusing on where he makes the point that increasingly the model that works best is “small pieces, loosely joined.” That’s where the idea of curation comes in since it’s those smaller pieces that curation fills in.

There’s a new study from (of course) a company that specializes in content curation services that shows the number one reason a company will engage in a curation strategy is “thought leadership” and that makes sense. “Thought leadership” looks nice on a presentation slide and hey, who doesn’t want to be leading the thinking. But when you stop and think about it the idea of achieving a leadership position (where people pay attention to what you are saying) through curation (where you are riffing off of what others have already said) falls apart rather quickly.

It’s better, in my mind, to curate with the mindset of it being just one part of an overall storytelling strategy.

If you know what the story your company (or brand or division or whatever) is trying to tell is then you’re already likely executing the biggest chunk of that on your home blog or other publishing platform. But there’s only so much that can be put there, both because of time constraints and because the audience will only support so much output.

That’s where curation comes in. If you’re trying to sell vacuum cleaners and the main blog is 75% about your product and the remaining 25% is about the industry that’s a pretty good mix. Then your status network outposts (Twitter, Facebook etc) can become where you share stories not just links to those posts but also to reviews of your products, consumer stories, industry trade show information and whatever else, all in proportion to what you have found your audience to be most interested in.

So those links to other people’s information, writing and other material isn’t because you want to be the end-all-be-all of your space and the first mover whose every word is hung off of (though that would certainly be nice. Instead all those links and updates that you are curating are ultimately helping you to better tell your story. They are the small, loose pieces that fit together to make something bigger.

There’s an example I go back often: If you have three big stones and a bag of gravel and you need to get them all in a single bucket the best way to do so is to put the big stones in first. Then when you pour the gravel it will fill in all those small spaces to fill the bucket.

So too with publishing material. The best way to fill a program is to start with big stones (your own blog posts, photos and videos) and then allow the smaller pieces (retweets of fan comments, links to reviews on industry news sites) to fill in the holes.

That’s not to say any of this is easy. It may seem quite a bit simpler to retweet a bunch of other people’s updates than to write a whole new blog post but it really isn’t. There are serious considerations that need to go into every single bit of material that’s published, every interaction and more. While the level of difficulty is similar, though, the payoffs are much different in terms of how it connects the organization doing the talking with the people who have opted in to listen.

The reality of the current media world is that we rely on filters. That’s always been the case, even when the dominant media was radio since people ultimately decided one station (or filter) was better than the other, but now it’s been heightened because of the sheer volume of potential inputs. Some of those filters will likely be corporate-based since it’s easier than ever to connect and interact with the companies and brands we have chosen to align ourselves with publicly.

Curation is a means to an end, and that end is reaching the audience with a meaningful story. Ultimately that should in some way lead to a conversion of some sort (there are a plethora of potentials to choose from here) but they don’t mean a thing if the story isn’t working at reaching that audience. Which means it comes back to simple, solid storytelling and the tools and tactics put in place to achieve those goals.

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 Publishing Programs

May 30th, 2012

Bit.ly Makes a Play for Publisher’s Attention

If you’re a user of bit.ly then you were likely taken aback at some point yesterday when the site refreshed and presented you with a brand new interface. The site, which is extraordinarily useful for shrinking links for use on status networks and then tracking the analytics of those links, made some significant changes to the user experience as it looks to expand beyond that initial functionality. But while there’s some good stuff in the redesign there are also some changes that are going to be quite jarring to current users.

First off, though, the goal of the redesign is that bit.ly wants to do more than shorten links. It wants to become a destination brand and so the way the changes are being positioned are around the ideas of saving, searching and sharing links.

So to aid those actions the top real estate of the page is no longer a big field inviting you to shorten a link. That’s now relegated to the top right of the page. Now the main action you’re invited to take is “Search” and just above that are prompts to view your Bundles, Profile and more.

There’s also a new section at the top titled “Your Network,” which shows you the public links – bitmarks in the new terminology – of your Facebook and Twitter friends who are using bit.ly. So there’s an immediate social networking component baked in that requires no effort. Sure, there may be some privacy concerns here but these are all public links anyway so those are minimal.

With that network in place one of the primary new actions that can be taken is to Save a link that someone else has created. This, it seems, is meant to act like saving a link to Delicious in that you’re not only putting that under and ancillary arm of your own social curation platform but also adding to the meta-data around the aggregate link, giving the original saver some insights as to how popular his material is.

What’s also been emphasized is the sharing of those links to Twitter and Facebook. There’s now a big megaphone button that invites you to share the links you save to those networks.

But all this new functionality has come at the expense of some basic usability. Shrinking and then copying a link was formerly a two-step process but is now four since you have to find the “Copy” prompt somewhere in the Information section. And stats for each link are now only found when you look at your overall Stats.

So if bit.ly wants to be a publishing platform how does it stack up? That’s still to be determined. It’s great if you’re sharing the link you’ve just shortened/saved at that moment but it lacks the scheduling features that most enterprise-level tools do. And there’s no engagement aspect to it that would allow you to participate in any conversations. So while it’s interesting and certainly has some useful features it is, right now, one of those “in the middle” situations where the core functionality is still very cool but where the added-on features don’t create, at least not yet, a compelling alternative to some.

There was quite a bit of backlash upon the initial announcement but, I think, a lot of that was overstated. There are certainly some things that could use a little tweaking but that’s true of a lot of platforms. It’s certainly a big change, which can be off-putting to a lot of people but it’s nothing that you can’t get used to with some usage and exposure.

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 Publishing Programs, Social Networks

May 3rd, 2012

Google+ Gets a Real “Share” Button

The question that needs to be asked in the wake of Google announcing last week the rollout of a new “Share” button for Google+ that’s more about curation and less about endorsement (which was the primary purpose of the existing “+1″ button) has to be this: Does this fill an existing gap in my publishing program?

There’s nothing monumentally different between this Google+ Share button and similar buttons from Twitter or Facebook. Except for the big one, which is that it has the potential to expose your content to the audience on a whole new network.

Now it’s true that the real size of the Google+ is fuzzy at best. Various studies will tell you various things about adoption rates, engaged user bases and so on. And there’s more than a little overlap likely between the audiences on those three networks. But even with those considerations in mind it can still be a solid idea to make sharing on Google+ as easy a process as possible since there’s little harm in whatever extra attention might be garnered there.

This is, though, simply a next step and there are plenty more to be taken. Recommendations in the form of +1 were find and now full throated sharing of content is possible. The next necessary steps to making Google+ a platform that gets serious business investment (stories of big trials have fallen sharply since launch) involve off-domain publishing tools. Google+ needs to be integrated into third-party suites that allow for both publishing and moderation/interaction.

The question then comes back to whether or not adding this – or any other – button serves the audience and the program. Does that extra button increase visual clutter? Are there so many “share” options that users are feeling overwhelmed and opting not to take any action? Those are just a few of the considerations to keep in mind whenever you’re thinking of adding yet another appeal for interaction to what’s being published.

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 Publishing Programs

May 1st, 2012

Market Research with Social Media: “Beyond the Echo Chamber”

This past week, I attended Social Media Breakfast 27 in Boston; its theme was “Beyond the Echo Chamber” with an emphasis on conducting market research using social media channels.

The #SMB27 Speakers Q&A

Realizing this focus, I recalled the early days of what we now call “social media” – before Twitter and Facebook – when blogging almost exclusively ruled our thinking.

Monitoring solutions (like Cymfony- now Visible Technologies- a client where I worked at the time) focused on mining blog comments in particular to glean market insights. Having recently spent time at a market research company, I was intrigued by the prospect of a ready-made group of research subjects; people who were not only easier to acquire than the typical research panel (probably one of the most difficult and expensive aspects of research), but had already expressed their opinions. One need only find, collect and analyze them.

Right?

Of course, it’s not that easy. The slow, uneasy evolution of social media monitoring tools is testament to the real challenges behind this difficult science (If I’m not misusing that word).

At the breakfast, speakers picked apart some for the challenges and dangers, along with the opportunities, in using social media for research.

They Called the Event “Beyond the Echo Chamber” for a reason

It is vital to any market research to keep in mind the potential biases of your sample, whether they be used for qualitative research (such as focus groups) or quantitative (such as surveys). Jeffrey Henning of Affinova pointed out that one must account for the tendencies inherent of the users of any platform. Surveying Twitter users? No matter their background, you are likely selecting a group skewed toward early technology adoption- certainly, they have access to the Internet via PCs or mobile devices that many on the planet still cannot access or choose not to use. This may or may not be important to your results, but no matter how many people use online social networks, they are not representative of the entire population; more importantly, they may not represent YOUR entire audience. Twitter itself? Still (according to Henning) only about 7% of the online population, and even less of the overall population. Again, a fragment that may or may not represent the well-rounded sample you need.

The best quote (paraphrased) I pulled from Henning: “For best results you need to tie social media research into other results from outside social media.”

Online Personae May Not be True

Manila Austin of Communispace (the event’s host) pointed out that the opinions and emotions people express online may not be representative of their true selves. People censor themselves online, especially in public forums. I find that easy to believe, as anyone who belongs to private online forums with me know that I express myself much differently in those groups than I do in the public social streams (in which I try not to swear, and might pull critical punches a bit more than I do elsewhere). That “built-in focus group” I savored seven years ago? You may have to throw away those opinions as valuable feedback and capture these folks in a private setting, where they might be more honest and provide much more valuable feedback.

Don’t Let Your Expectations Limit Your Findings

Natasha Stevens  and Michelle Bernardini  of Visible Technologies (the program sponsor) brought up expectations. First, don’t go into research with preconceived notions of what the results will be because you will skew the results to fit your preconceptions. That sounds like basic market research practice but if social media is opening the doors to more companies conducting some sort of research, it bears repeating. Also, they brought up demographics; again, the social media world is not necessarily the whole world and the demographics that are present may not be the ones you need; their dominance does not necessarily mean others are not there. Take “Mom Bloggers.” They are a well-established, prolific and vocal group of people. They have built up such buzz that I found it necessary to capitalize “Mom-Bloggers” and put it in quotes (I’m not sure if that feeling influenced my hyphenation). Surely there are dads? Of course there are, but you still have to go find them if you are marketing to dads, rather than polling moms simply because you know you can find them.

It was refreshing to see the social media community get its claws into a meaty topic like research, as social media presents enormous opportunity to gain profitable insights, but also enormous opportunity to screw it up if you pursue it with the wrong frame of mind and expectations.

 

Photo credit: Derek Peplau on Flickr

For more from this event by other participants and attendees, most content will contain the “smb27″ tag.

About the Author
Doug Haslam is a Supervisor on the Voce Connect Client Services team, managing client programs and developing strategy. In addition to Voce Nation, Doug writes his own personal blog and you can find him on Twitter as @dough.

Filed in Events

April 17th, 2012

“Manage Multiple Content Streams Like Monster.com” at PRSA Digital Impact

At PRSA’s Digital Impact Conference at the beginning of April, our Monster.com client, Kathy O’Reilly, and I were honored to be asked to speak about how we manage Monster’s social media publishing program. The session, titled “Manage Multiple Content Streams Like Monster.com,” addressed the many elements of planning and executing a complex social media program from both the company and agency sides. A lot of the basics we covered are felt and articulated throughout this blog and our main Web site, but I would like to point out some of the more interesting notes from the talk.

Blogs are not dead

The “blogs are dead” meme didn’t rear it’s ugly head that I saw at Digital Impact, but the basic concept of a “hub and spoke” content strategy- the hub being on-domain content, usually a blog, and the spokes being off-domain platforms such as Facebook and Twitter- was prevalent throughout. Certainly our program with Monster.com, as well as with our various other clients, is predicated on this concept, but I also saw it outlined from different points of view. Most notably, Lee Odden’s session on optimization espoused Hub and spoke from the standpoint of search effectiveness.

Simple Hub and Spoke Model

“Hub and Spoke” is not Always that Simple

While we started from “hub and spoke” our presentation quickly noted that a simple hub and spoke is not always possible or ideal. In the case of Monster, there are three main blogs on the company’s domains. feeding several Twitter accounts and Facebook page, serving a variety of audiences (which nonetheless cross over), and being fed by other content platforms such as Youtube, SlideShare and Flickr. On top of that is the constant onslaught of new platforms that we research, consider and try (such as Google Plus and Pinterest). The image I created to express this, versus the clean and simple “hub and spoke” slide, purposely expresses the chaos which we work together to bring to order.

Monster.com's Complex Hub and Spoke

Personal Voice is Important, but Corporate Voice is Paramount

In this age of overemphasis on “personal brand” and the cliche status of terms like “join the conversation” and “engage,” it is still important to have voice- and voices. We covered the various people who represent the different sides of Monster.com’s personality, from the job-seeker focus to employers to the straight corporate voice. Monster stresses the identification of real people with names, faces and their own voices (this includes guest authors) but with a consistent company voice running through all the content. This isn’t easy, but constant communication among all those producing and coordinating the content results in a consistency that can survive the personnel changes that all companies must endure- even among their social media spokespeople. Monster is not immune to those changes, and we have helped them make a number of transitions.

Inter-Agency Cooperation is Not Just an Ideal

For years, I have dreamed of the perfect agency-client relationship where all the departments responsible for communication speak to each other and coordinate efforts to a single clear goal. It doesn’t always happen; otherwise we wouldn’t hear so much about “breaking down silos.” Something we have also learned is that the various agencies need to be brought into a unified planning strategy. Therefore, we work with Monster’s PR, branding, advertising, media buying, and any other outside agencies along with the larger internal communications people to coordinate long -term efforts and larger campaigns. It’s essential, and I fear that not every company thinks that way. The pain of coordinating so many moving parts (and squeezing too many people into a conference room) pays off on the other end

We Put Tools Last, But You Knew We’d Do That (Right?)

The time we spend on tools is disproportionate to t their importance to the strategy. We need them, but only after we know what, why and how we are doing. We feel one of the agency’s jobs is to know what wew can about tools so we can:

  • Recommend the best tools for the job
  • Know how to use the tools- not every client uses the same systems
  • Be able to recommend and jump in with the various “point solutions” on a short-term basis when needed for quick turnarounds

Tools are in their place.

Illustrating the system as “complex” is not the same as saying it is too “complicated.” It was a pleasure for us to talk together in front of a crowd of peers and validate our approach to content publishing.

 

About the Author
Doug Haslam is a Supervisor on the Voce Connect Client Services team, managing client programs and developing strategy. In addition to Voce Nation, Doug writes his own personal blog and you can find him on Twitter as @dough.

Filed in Publishing Programs

February 21st, 2012

“New” Rules of Content Marketing; Not So New, and Other Thoughts

This past week, I attended Boston’s Social Media Breakfast 26: “The New Rules of Content Marketing.” Since much of what we do with Voce’s PN Connect team centers on content, I figured I would hear a lot of interesting things, and I was not disappointed. Among the potential social media bingo games (claim your prize if you had “Infographic,” “engagement” and a Marshall McLuhan quote on your card) was a useful discussion of what content means in this world of the expanding notion of “publisher.” The panel, moderated by Social Media Breakfast’s own Robert Collins is listed here.

Social Media Breakfast: Content Marketing

Here are some of my own takeaways:

First of All- None of These Rules are New

What is new are some of the channels involved, and the people making content may often be people who weren’t in that game (or, like me, had gotten out of the traditional media content game at some past point). So, are we really talking about new rules for content? No. What we are doing is indoctrinating new people into an expanded notion of the “content producer.”

Nobody Reads Long-Form Content

At one point, one of the panelists remarked that nobody reads white papers. I don’t believe this for a moment. It depends on the audience. In fact, when the question, stated more broadly about “long-form content,” was asked to the panel, CC Chapman, to his credit, said as much: “It depends.”

While digestible (ok, someone said it: “snackable”) content is often desirable to draw in audiences without taxing them, the notion that nobody wants long-form content because our attention spans are crippled in the Internet age is nonsense. Certainly, pundits said the same as radio, television, and other popular forms of entertainment came to be. The truth is, you may better serve your audience with long-form content such as whitepapers. The key questions to ask have to do with identifying your audience and matching them with your end goals for putting content out there.

Always Remember that “Infographic” Begins with “Info”

Speaking of taxing your audience, the headlong tumble into infographic-mania has made people like me grumpy. We have been assaulted by a new form of so-called infographic that neither imparts information nor is a particularly compelling graphic. Panelist Joe Chernov of Eloqua said it best when he admonished us to remember that “Infographic” begins with “Info.” He also quoted noted statistician Edward Tufte; “It doesn’t matter how cool your interface is, it would be better if there were less of it.”

How do you balance “less is more” and actually imparting something valuable? It’s a hard line to walk, and sometimes it’s just a judgment call. As a Boston guy, I’ll refer to my favorite recent infographic: the Boston Bruins’ bar tab at Foxwoods Casino after they won the NHL’s Stanley Cup last spring:

This infographic fits in one viewing screen, imparts the main thesis at a glance, and provides optional details which can be gleaned quickly through the visual, with “fine print” that is merely optional. Why can’t more (all?) infographics be more like this?

Zero Out the Brand in Content Marketing?

This topic follows along the ‘balance” theme I mentioned above. I’ll agree it is important not to be in “hard sell” mode all the time, turning off potential audience members through incessant hawking of your products and services. However, the notion of “zeroing out your brand” in content raised by the panel makes very little sense to me. In the end, you have goals, which probably involve driving leads, customers, and/or sales to your company. At some point you need to have that ask in there. Whether you are simply but obviously sponsoring “neutral” content or more pointedly laying out a point of view that leads to your company as solution but also espouses your founding values, there needs to be some value to you as well as the audience.

What Was Not Discussed?

Context. Part of the solution to the question of balance is in creating a context around every piece of content you publish, from a Tweet to a white paper and beyond. I wish context had been mentioned more in the panel, because it is important.

Context is what leads people to react in a certain way to your content. To some extent you can’t control your audience’s surroundings and mod at the time they consume your content. However, the more information you give them – say, repeating a link in a follow-up Tweet or response on a topic, or reframing the overall theme in each episode of a multi-part video seriesYou have to constantly make and remake context, the more successful your content. Even the most renowned content creators in the social media world screw this up from time time- that’s how hard it is.

It is hard– that’s why we keep bringing people together for events like this.

About the Author
Doug Haslam is a Supervisor on the Voce Connect Client Services team, managing client programs and developing strategy. In addition to Voce Nation, Doug writes his own personal blog and you can find him on Twitter as @dough.

Filed in Events, Publishing Programs

February 14th, 2012

How Much is Too Much? Best Practices for Streamlining Corporate Social Accounts

Brands often find themselves facing the difficult question of how many social media accounts is too many? What divisions within the company are allowed dedicated social media accounts? Which ones should have their social efforts integrated into broader corporate accounts?

The answer for each company may be different, but it should be based on the core principles of frequency, topic, purpose, duration, local needs, and discoverability. In order to identify which divisions or initiatives warrant a dedicated social account, a brand must consider questions such as: What topics does the account cover? How frequently is it updated? How does it differ from broader corporate accounts? Is there a specific geo or language need? Are there individual evangelists within the company who can be the voice of the initiative on social?

Below is a sample framework from which to review existing accounts for consolidation and to evaluate new social account requests from specific teams. Note that in this post, an “account” refers to a team, program, or region’s social presence; one “account” can include Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and other relevant platforms.

  • Frequency: Regular and sustained updates should be the number one consideration. Maintaining dozens of largely dormant, topic-specific social accounts not only clutters the brand’s overall social experience; it also confuses followers and dilutes the impact of the most critical centralized accounts. A general guideline is to ensure that no social accounts are updated fewer than two times a week. Beyond that, however, it is also critical to maintain regular engagement with fans and followers; an account that simply syndicates links to press releases or blog posts twice a week will not cut it.
  • Purpose: Each official corporate account must have a unique purpose and rationale. For example, a marketing team for a single specific product likely wouldn’t require their own dedicated social profile (there may be exceptions for products that are brands in and of themselves). Instead, this content can often be folded up into an account that covers a family of products, all products, or a centralized corporate account.
  • Topics: Similar to the above point, each social account should cover unique and different topics. If overlap exists, you can generally consolidate multiple accounts under the umbrella of a single account. When evaluating a new account request, a good stress test is to request an initial editorial calendar for the account – make the requesting team put some thought into the content they want to send out over the first month. Compare this proposed content to the existing topics covered by other accounts to see how much overlap exists. Then ask the requesting team to either adjust their focus or join in under another umbrella account.
  • Duration: Social accounts by their very nature should be designed as ongoing communications channels, not temporary accounts to support a short-term initiative or event. There may be rare exceptions where an account can be set up to support a short-term initiative, but there must a very compelling reason to create a new channel. Instead, consider a dedicated hashtag for use across other corporate channels in support of the short-term initiative.
  • Global Geos: Because geos across the globe often have different areas of focus, different audiences, different timezones, and even different languages, most brands maintain geo-specific social accounts to fulfill the localized needs and reflect an understanding of local intricacies. The key here is to leverage local teams’ knowledge of what unique elements are going to best resonate with local audiences. Typically we’d recommend no more than 2-3 accounts per geo, but there should be flexibility based on language needs and specific team/content needs.
  • Discoverability: Be sure to make it easy for visitors, fans, and customers to find and engage with the corporate social handle most relevant to their needs. Each team should be responsible for promoting their own social channels to their key customers, partners, and stakeholders. In addition, be sure to maintain a centralized resource with links to all of the corporate accounts; this often takes the form of a dynamic, easy-to-find social landing page on your site.

These core considerations can help streamline the brand online and minimize confusion. Keep in mind, though, that each brand’s needs are different; your brand may see value in maintaining dozens of accounts dedicated to specific items or in centralizing everything under a single account.

Either way, don’t overlook individual evangelists. Chances are you’ve already got a bench of experts at your company who are active online and who cover all sorts of relevant topics on their own. Leverage these resources as ambassadors for the brand – first equip them with training and governance, and then set them free to build relationships and expand the reach of your brand.

These folks already have a social audience you can tap into, an expertise to demonstrate to key stakeholders, and an ability a corporate channel does not have to build relationships and engage on a personalized level. No, you don’t want to hinge your entire social strategy on an individual who could leave the company, but building a broad bench of internal evangelists can “diversify your assets” and simplify your corporatesocial channels.

Filed in Programming, Publishing Programs

February 7th, 2012

Web Browsing is Changing, is Your Site Being Left Behind?

“Your site is out of date!” Let’s be honest, you hope I’m not talking to you. You’re thinking to yourself “Nah, we’ve been constantly tweaking it since it launched 2 years ago.” Even if that is true or it only launched a year and a half ago, is that still fresh enough? Start thinking of how long ago the wire-framing and design process started before that? A 2 year life span for a website design doesn’t seem that old, but consider what has happened in the past two years.

Back in February 2010, desktop browsing accounted for 98.14% of device browsing. Mobile + tablet browsing was in its infancy but it hadn’t quite made a strong presence at 1.65%. Most people were fairly content doing the majority of their browsing on a desktop or zooming and pinching to look at sites on their (i)phone. Fast-forward 2 months to April 2010 and the unveiling of the original iPad. Labeled by most people as a game-changer, people could now browse (most of) the web from anywhere they went on a much larger screen than before. Not long after, tablets became the focus of competitors trying to get a slice of the market. As more tablets emerged, their technologies trickled down and more advanced phones followed. All of this meant that more and more people were getting access to full websites on the go.

In less than 2 years mobile + tablet browsing shot up from 1.56% to 8.77%. In the past 3 months alone, mobile browsing has seen an average growth of 1.08%. Desktop browsing is suffering the hit, dropping to 90.84% at the end of January 2012. Click here to see a more detailed version of these numbers. Stay with me, I’m slowly getting to my point.

Sites today are being looked at on devices and in places designers weren’t even considering two years ago. Designs that tried so hard to get that no-scroll look on the homepage bow to the dimensions many people are using now. Elements that were ‘prominent enough’ or even ‘subtle enough’ before are now lost on a smaller screen. Where does that sidebar content go when the user zooms in to read the main content? And what about your ad placement? Nobody wants to pay the same amount for an ad placement that isn’t going to be seen nearly as much. There’s obviously a lot to consider and thankfully some good options out there.

Responsive Web Design

Responsive Web Design is an increasingly popular choice. Hell, even if you don’t think it fits for your needs, at least know what it is so you can throw that term out there to sound hip. Seriously though, its popularity is based on its flexibility. It centers around framing out your design based on how it will look and shift when the design is displayed on different dimensions. One of the most popular examples is The Boston Globe. Open it up in your browser, then drag the corner of your browser in and watch how the columns resize automatically. They ultimately collapse under each other as the viewport gets smaller. A lot of planning goes into this method as you must decide which content shifts around so your most important items are always the most prominent. When done right you get an extremely flexible solution that keeps the design integrity on multiple devices. There are lots of people talking about this now but the one I’ll mention is Ethan Marcotte since he was the first to introduce me to it and one of the key figures in The Boston Globe redesign.

Mobile First

The thought of designing your site centered around the mobile experience first is another way to ensure your site is effective for the mobile trend. Luke Wroblewski has been talking about this since 2009 and the idea of starting with the mobile site and then progressively enhance to devices with larger screens is gaining a lot of traction lately. According to Luke, “Mobile devices require software development teams to focus on only the most important data and actions in an application… So when a team designs mobile first, the end result is an experience focused on the key tasks users want to accomplish without the extraneous detours and general interface debris that litter today’s desktop-accessed Web sites. That’s good user experience and good for business.” Cloud Four has another nice summary of things that need to be taken into consideration here.

I’m confused, but in a good way

So now you’re cursing me because you went from thinking your site was modern, listening to why it isn’t, getting presented with two fantastic options, and now you’re left wondering which is best for you. While the two approaches seem like a complete contrast of direction, they’re really quite similar in their objectives and can actually be used together. Brad Frost shows us how to create a mobile-first responsive web design. The main objectives are defining the core pieces of your site and making sure they are prominent on any screen, presenting the user with a dynamic yet consistent brand experience and creating a site that is flexible enough to adapt with future screen variations. In other words, setting your site up so you’re not sitting here in 2 years listening to me tell you how you need to adapt your site again.

About the Author
Pete Schiebel is the lead front-end developer for the Platforms team, described by some here as the "front end MacGyver" for how he works to make sure client projects look and function as advertised. Follow him on Twitter @sneakepete.

Filed in Uncategorized

January 31st, 2012

Blog Publishing Falls Among Fast-Growing Companies

Following up on a recent study looking at Fortune 500 companies, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth has now released one focused on the social media usage by companies in the Inc. 500, a list of the fastest-growing companies as opposed to those with the largest revenue.

  • Among the more startling findings of the study is that the use of blogs by these companies has actually declined, the first time it has done so since the first study in 2007. Where last year adoption had risen to 50% it has now dropped down to 37%, below even the level found in 2008.
  • Facebook and, somewhat surprisingly, LinkedIn are the most widely used social platforms, with 73% of respondents saying they were being utilized and around 25% saying they were the most valuable publishing platforms in the respective company’s arsenal.
  • “Brand awareness/reputation,” “web traffic generation,” “lead generation” and “customer support” were all called out – in that order of importance – as the corporate goals a social media program was helping to achieve.

So first off, yes, 37% is higher than 23%, meaning the Inc. 500 still outpaces the Fortune 500 in terms of blog adoption and usage. But where the previous study showed some (minor) continued growth this one shows regression. And it’s regression among companies that, presumably because of their rapid growth, are the ones that are the most active in terms of customer acquisition, something that social media is supposed to be super at.

What’s even more surprising for me is that video usage is also dropping year to year, down from 36% in 2009 to just 24% in 2011. We’ve been told that video is the hot new way for companies to connect with consumers. Further down the survey report YouTube is pegged as being a successful tool for 87% of those using it, so perhaps there’s some barrier to entry that is keeping it from being more widely adopted.

You can read the whole study here. And, as I stated in my previous post, it’s far better that companies use the tools that are going to work for them and not be bullied into maintaining channels where there is no return for them and no engagement with fans simply because the prevailing conventional wisdom says they should.

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 Blogging

January 26th, 2012

Uncage Your Inner Superb Owl: Nominative Fair Use On Social Media

As the Super Bowl approaches, the NFL’s historically aggressive enforcement of its trademark on the term “Super Bowl” comes into focus as we start to hear broadcast ads from non-sponsoring entities use terms like “the big game” and “superb owl.” For this reason, around this time of year, brands tend to grow particularly sheepish about how they can or can’t use trademarked terms. Because brand social media accounts on Twitter and pages on Facebook are about both conversation and commerce, but are also free, unpaid platforms, it’s difficult to get your head around which rules might apply there. It’s of course always easier to say “our lawyers say we can’t” without necessarily having had the conversation specifically about the use and platforms in question and the related case law.

@superbowlsays

 

I am not a lawyer (though I have watched an episode of Franklin and Bash), but the salient question in the law would be whether or not a usage of a trademarked term qualifies as “nominative fair use.” In a piece on the Broadcast Law Blog about use of the term “Super Bowl,” David Silverman explains:

When it comes to use of the trademarked term SUPER BOWL, the NFL will take action against third party attempts to use that term in a commercial sense, in other words, to sell goods and services using the term SUPER BOWL in advertising. This is because commercial sponsors pay the NFL to be the official car or soft drink or whatever of the SUPER BOWL. Any unauthorized use of that term in advertising could imply a false sponsorship or affiliation with the NFL. So, what is permitted? It is fine to use the term SUPER BOWL in news stories about the game and in conversations about the game. There is a trademark concept called “nominative fair use” that allows others to use a trademarked term when there is simply no better way to refer to it. But that concept does not extend to commercial use of the term.”

Sounds pretty clear, but it seems to be mostly talking about “advertising” – i.e. paid media. What about forms of speech that are free and unpaid, like a Tweet or a Facebook status update? Do they qualify as “…in conversations about the game…” or are they still commercial in nature if hosted by the brand?

One of the key tests for nominative fair use involves whether or not the statement creates confusion about whether or not the brand has a sponsorship or other type of paid relationship to the trademark holder. Using the term to initiate conversation on Twitter or Facebook – “Brand X: Which team do you think is going to win the Super Bowl?” – would not seem to suggest any relationship to the “big game” or create any confusion about that and would seem to meet that standard. Similarly, a brand congratulating a musician for winning a Grammy does not in itself suggest that the brand is an advertiser on the Grammy’s. It’s a part of conversation and the name of a publicly bestowed award. On the other hand, a Super Bowl contest or giveaway done in social media might create confusion about sponsorship, so that’s generally a case where the trademark is not used.

The origins of nominative fair use came from the New Kids On The Block vs. News America Publishing case in 1992, wherein USA Today and The Star ran a poll asking readers to call a 900 number – for a fee – to vote on which member of New Kids On The Block was their favorite (obviously, that would be Jordan.) Interestingly enough, the ruling notes that “The USA Today poll generated less than $300 in revenues, all of which the newspaper donated to the Berklee College of Music. The Star’s poll generated about $1600.” So these were in some sense commercial uses.

The court ruled that that was nominative fair use and that it did not in itself imply that NKOTB sponsored the poll or that the newspaper had a relationship with NKOTB. If you think that sounds like the kind of conversation that might take place on a brand Facebook page about a band, sporting event, movie, or pop culture topic with which they have no direct relationship, then you think like I do. It would seem that it’s OK to refer to trademarked terms in the course of public conversation, even in a paid communication vehicle (like a newspaper), provided it’s nominative fair use. The same should apply to Twitter and Facebook.

In practice, the burden often falls on the mark owner to demonstrate confusion, but courts have applied slightly different standards and tests. Michele Schwartz and Prisca LeCroy from Andrews Kurth LLP suggest that no matter what the exact test is, the questions are the same – did the user imply endorsement or sponsorship by the mark holder, and did the user overuse the mark beyond just identifying the mark holder’s product:

“Different courts have applied different factors for finding nominative fair use and have differed over whether it is an affirmative defense or merely an alternate means for determining whether the public is likely to be confused. But the analysis basically comes down to two questions: Has the user employed the mark more than is necessary to identify the mark holder’s product and has the user done anything, other than use the mark itself, to imply sponsorship or endorsement by the mark holder? If the answer to these questions is “no,” the use is probably not infringing.”

Obviously, promos and paid placements on Twitter and Facebook, like promoted Tweets/trends and FB ads or merchandise giveaways/contests, would be a different story, but based on the above it appears that brands are free to use trademarked terms in the course of updates provided they don’t make excessive reference to the holder, are necessary to practically refer to the thing in question, and aren’t likely to create confusion about whether the holder of the mark endorses the user.

Filed in Marketing

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