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Building brand awareness through content creation and community engagement.

April 4th, 2013

SEC Clears Up Social Media Confusion

But the SEC has now found that companies *can* use social media platforms to announce information and make statements like this – as long as investors are told to look there. So the key point here seems to be that as long as investors – and others – know that statements will be made on Twitter, Facebook or other platforms, the onus is then on them to  check those platforms regularly so they’re not left behind.

Read more at the Porter Novelli Blog.

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

April 2nd, 2013

The Emerging Need for Hashtag Search

If you’ve been part of this social media party for more than a few years you likely remember when Technorati was an indispensable part of the marketing and monitoring toolkit.

Technorati was great because while Google, Yahoo, Ask or some of the other search engines that were around at the time worked well for web-wide discovery, T’rati allowed you to not just search blogs specifically but also search for tags and categories. So you could not just find everything related to “movie marketing” but also refine your search to look for posts that had been tagged with “movie marketing.” There was a taxonomy to the early social web that brought similar information together under similar headings.

As Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms came to the forefront we started to lose that taxonomy. You can’t categorize your Twitter updates as “Social Media” or your Facebook post as “Digital Publishing” the way you can on a blog. So we started to lose some of that aggregated community knowledge.

Hashtags have emerged as the taxonomic currency (an excellent band name) of the current version of the social web, having been adopted by Twitter (where it was originally a user-generated feature), Google+ and Instagram for the time-being, with Flickr beginning to integrate them and it being part of Facebook’s roadmap for getting more real-time conversations (and subsequent ad dollars).

But what’s missing is the Technorati for hashtags, a universal search point that stretches across and brings in content from all platforms.

While I have little doubt such functionality will eventually become part of standard search engines that doesn’t really get to the point of what’s needed. While having hashtagged social posts be part of a standard page of search results would certainly be inclusive, it doesn’t provide the kind of actionable intelligence that can be drawn out of social-specific results.

There are certainly limitations to this kind of search being implemented. Chief among them is that many of the platforms that would need to be indexed don’t want to be part of a larger ecosystem and are fine with their own walled gardens, thank you very much, no matter how much they might talk about connecting with outside websites.

But as hashtags become more and more part of the public conversation – watch a major network TV show and you’ll see at least one as a transparent bug in the corner of your screen – there’s going to be a need for this sort of collection. Those TV show calls-to-action to use a hashtag rarely specify a platform to use, de facto leaving it up to the audience to decide what they’re comfortable with.

A recent study showed most people use hashtags either for discovery or for some sort of self-expression. Respondents found it useful for searching for and connecting with brand publishers and about 40% will click on a hashtag to see what everyone’s saying about that topic, though it’s safe to assume what they’re seeing is specific to the platform they’re on.


So it’s hard to imagine companies who are trying to rally people around these conversation hubs not putting increased pressure on those platforms to open up so they can monitor the entire conversation in one place.

The social web has traditionally relied on taxonomies in some form or another to help make sense of the chaos. To bring out the signal from the noise. But that necessitates a single point of search. That needs to happen sooner rather than later or we risk losing all that great information that’s sitting out there, just waiting to be surfaced.

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, Publishing Programs, Social Networks

February 25th, 2013

Voce Monday Morning Reading: 2/25/13

Filed in Marketing, Programming

February 22nd, 2013

The Rise of Unowned “Middle” Blogging

A couple weeks ago Quora, the question-and-answer platform that has made a number of shifts to increase its relevancy to a broad audience, launched a blog platform. The company pitched the blogs to people who don’t have an established online identity and want to have their writing easily surfaced to potential readers. It specifically called out how what people write will be quickly discovered so they can build an audience and even made an appeal to those who do already have a primary online home, positioning their platform as a further distribution point.


But here’s my question: What’s the long term value of the audience that’s eventually built?

Let’s table that for a moment and look at how Quora appears to fit into a trend that’s emerging in the online space that I’m calling “middle blogging.” Other players in this area include Medium, Svbtle and LinkedIn and even includes Tumblr and Branch to some extent.

Quora, along with those other players, is looking to satisfy a craving for people to share longer-form thoughts with their networks but in a way that, to the outside eye, is fairly transient. By that I mean the people who are gravitating toward these platforms don’t seem to be interested in putting any sort of customization effort into their online presence and don’t really seem to have a desire to plant a flag and say “This is me, bask in it.”

So these platforms, then, make the value proposition based on on-domain engagement, that you can build up a network there and get meaningful feedback and interactions with other members of that community. The question then remains of how you go about building up that network. If you start to work on one platform, find it’s not your cup of tea then it’s on to the next to see what that offers. Unfortunately that often means starting from scratch and leaving behind a dead, withering profile since export functionality isn’t something that’s offered by most of these tools.

Hunter Walk has called them a new form of content farm, though he points out that instead this latest iteration of that concept seems to be focused more on quality than it is on making a quick buck, a mantle that in my opinion has been taken up by a handful of other sites that I won’t go into here. Mathew Ingram at PaidContent comes to much the same conclusion on that point.

I’m still left wondering what is behind this shift toward tools that are unowned and which offer little in the way of profile management. Is it that, with so many new platforms emerging all the time, it’s more important for them to follow their network from place to place instead of settling down and owning their online presence? Is it that they’re not thinking long-term about having a central hub as their primary online outpost?

Whatever the answer might be, this is a trend that only seems to be increasing and so is absolutely worth watching over time. But what also needs to be kept in mind is how, as some studies have shown, people eventually graduate from some of these platforms to something more fully-featured like WordPress. It often seems to be the case that these social-focuesed platforms act as a proving ground, allowing people to test out what they like, what they don’t and figure out what they want to do. Then, when they’re ready, they often move up to a site that gives them more control over their publishing and allows them to build more value.

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

February 15th, 2013

The Unrealistic Real Time Expectation

Poland-Spring-B2We all know about Oreo and their “massive win” a couple weeks ago when they turned around a fun (if largely inconsequential) image during the Super Bowl. The company got a lot of headlines in media industry publications for the image they released during the game’s blackout and it was shared quite a bit by normal people on Twitter and Facebook. So, you know, good for them. They captured a moment and had a laugh and both of those are good things.

But the speed with which they were able to produce that doesn’t mean that anything that takes longer than 20 minutes to produce is automatically a failure.

Sadly that seems to be the prevailing opinion regarding Poland Spring’s “blown opportunity” in the wake of its appearance in the Republican response to this past Sunday’s State of the Union speech. The company didn’t produce a fun little image taking advantage of the unplanned appearance until Wednesday, which many considered too late. Here are five reasons why that’s simply not the case:

  1. The “too late” argument hinges on every company having a social media command center staffed 24 hours a day, complete with art director and traditional copywriter, which is massively unrealistic. 
  2. Yes, it’s fair to point out that Poland Spring’s two Twitter accounts haven’t been active for over two years. But that may be part of an overall strategy decision we’re not privy to the logic behind, not an automatic sign of a company that doesn’t get social.
  3. There’s no way the company could have seen this coming, meaning that unlike Oreo there was no rapid response team already gathered together.
  4. The same “social media experts” who are calling this a big fat fail would have advised no official response just a few years ago, instead saying that letting the audience have their fun and not getting in the way was the better course of action. Beware of anyone who gives you guidance based solely on putting their finger to the wind.
  5. This wasn’t a crisis and therefore was not an event that needed to be managed. Having fun is great if it fits with the culture of the company and the goals of their social media program. If not there’s no shame in not jumping on everything that comes up, regardless of what might make the news on any given day.

There are a lot of good reasons to be involved in real-time conversations, especially around fun little mini-memes like this. But not doing so isn’t an automatic failure and I’m hard pressed to believe that lack of official participation is impacting sales one way or the other since the people most likely to be counting the clock are media and marketing industry pundits, not ordinary consumers. Let’s not hold anyone to unrealistic expectations that we wouldn’t want ourselves to have applied to us.

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

February 11th, 2013

Voce Monday Morning Five: 2/11/13

  • HMV_Tweets_dUniversities Turn to Tumblr to Reach Prospective Student: A great example of using the platforms your target audience is in order to reach them in new and interesting ways. But it’s also important to note what the article has to say about how the universities have adopted their content strategy to not be pitch-focused 100% of the time but instead include memes and other material to give their publishing a more organic and genuine feel.
  • HMV cuts 190 jobs; Twitter account vents frustration: A case study in why you require the social media team lead to be on the crisis comms team for any major announcement so that they can plan accordingly and making sure that more than one person has the passwords and log-ins to the social accounts so that things can be attended to if the social lead is terminated or has an issue.
  • Twitter Confirms Purchase Of Bluefin Labs To Boost TV Analytics And Advertising Services: With this acquisition, Twitter is recognizing that its top brand partners have very demanding research needs, both to drive campaign insights and for ongoing market share measurement that the current crop of tools don’t necessarily support well. This is particularly true for verticals like TV and Automotive, which have had years of refinement and lots of independent measurement systems pop up over the years and so have a different expectation for research in social media.
  • Brands Responding to More Queries on Facebook: It’s great that brands are, overall, getting more responsive to fan questions and comments on social platforms. But the myth of 100% is still something forwarded by lots of people despite it being largely unachievable and may not even be something to be aimed for.
  • Introducing Your Instagram Feed on the Web: This is a big upgrade for a service that didn’t have much of any web presence as little as six months ago. It show, to some extent, the influence of Facebook, to which the “feed” is everything. But it remains to be seen whether people are really interested in this type of experience or if mobile remains the primary way they browse through photos.

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, Microblogging, Social Networks

February 4th, 2013

Voce Monday Morning Five: 2/4/13

  • Google+ moves up to second place in social networks: It was unwise of anyone to completely write-off Google+ as a “ghost town,” which was the conventional wisdom a year ago. Google has made a lot of improvements to the network and has increased its hooks into other Google products, all of which have added up to more active users, or exactly the expected result.
  • YouTube Set to Introduce Paid Subscriptions This Spring: This isn’t so much surprising as it is question-raising. It’s obvious that YouTube wants to position this as a money-making opportunity for big channel creators, but only the biggest would stand to benefit from the 45-55 split between themselves and YouTube that’s projected. But it does show some belief on YouTube’s part that the micro-payments model is a good one. It also shows YouTube is placing long term bets on being a destination for professional content and not solely the user-generated material that it is conventionally known for.
  • Lady Gaga Loses 156 Million YouTube Views on Official Account: While this particular instance seems to be restricted to VEVO and YouTube, it serves as a reminder not only that some of the numbers we rely on to gauge program success – video view count, number of Likes and so on – can and probably are artificially inflated due to fake accounts and other factors. These platforms occasionally crack down on such problems and clean up their systems, which can drastically change how we’re measuring success.
  • New York Times editor to take 75,000 Twitter followers out the door with him: Not only is the question of who owns a social media account one that will likely play out in court at some point in the next few years but this sort of situation – where a big audience is lost when someone exits, voluntarily or otherwise – is one that media orgs will likely seek to minimize through the creation of more official branded channels that aren’t tied quite as closely to one writer/contributor.
  • How Facebook comments affect trolling for news websites: That’s the key point in what has become the new version of a conversation begun in the early 2000s over what was the best commenting system. Software – whether it’s Disqus, Facebook or another product – will only do so much and each has its own limitations that make it not ideal for all circumstances. Online commenting will always bring out a certain type of person to some extent and it’s ultimately up to human moderators to separate the wheat from the chaff.

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 Community, Measurement, Media, Social Networks

January 28th, 2013

Voce Monday Morning Five: 1/28/13

  • Even if It Enrages Your Boss, Social Net Speech Is Protected: While it may eventually become settled policy that an employer cannot fire someone for what they say on social media there can still be discouragements about doing so that lay out the potential downsides. More here.
  • Twitter Blog: An update to embedded Tweets: Some very nice updates to this functionality that should make embedding Tweets that much easier and more attractive for publishers who want to make it a decent user experience and not just a glorified screenshot.
  • “Brand Connected Consumers” Want Their Social Feedback Recognized: Some of these stats show a certain hubris among the general public, particularly in the number that believe their comments, wherever they’re made, are likely to be seen as important to the brand they’re talking about. But the attitude behind it is nonetheless and needs to at least be taken into account when devising social response tactics.
  • Social media dispute resolution stumps some companies: The story seems to advocate, as some indeed do, the idea that customer service through social media is both an inherent good and that it’s an all or nothing proposition. Neither is actually true, with some very good socially minded companies doing very little in the way of customer service triage and some companies seeing success with a more selective approach to how they deal with customer issues.
  • 5 ways journalists can use social media to resurface old content: There are good tips here for both journalists and brand publishers who may want to take advantage of breaking news by digging up related news or announcements from the past

Filed in Social Networks

January 24th, 2013

Social Media Policies Come Under Legal Review

(Note: Hat tip to Christopher Barger for flagging this story and for making sure the below made some sort of sense.)

An incredibly important decision has been made with, as reported the other day, federal regulators and other officials finding that some common aspects of corporate social media policies infringe on the rights of employees.

Specifically various regulators and boards have found that policies that seek to limit what employees can say about the company they work for on social media platforms are illegal. These platforms – Twitter, Facebook and the like – are instead increasingly seen as being like a neighborhood watering hole, where everyone is free to kvetch and converse as much as they like regardless of the topic of the conversation. That includes complaining about your boss, your co-workers, your employer, its customers and everything else, all without the fear that a misstep will get said employee fired.

On the one hand this makes sense; You’re not going to get fired for complaining to your friend about your boss when the two of you are together in person. So to some extent it follows that the same sentiment expressed to your friends on Twitter should similarly be protected.

But that logic only holds up so far and eventually falls victim to a fundamental misunderstanding of how social media communication works. If I share a work-related gripe with a friend that stays (hopefully) between myself and him. If I share the same gripe on Twitter I’m immediately broadcasting it to some subset of my 2,300+ Followers.

That’s a seismic shift in the proportion of the spread of that message. And it doesn’t even begin to take into account the fact that everything said on social platforms is assumed to be “on the record” and therefore fair game for any industry reporters who follow me. And then there’s the issue of how such gripes are seen and perceived by any current clients who follow me and who, by seeing my gripe, may have a changed sense of how the company operates that could eventually have repercussions on whether they continue to work with someone. It could also impact recruitment, new business ventures and maybe even stock price if the mix of elements is just right.

Social media policies, including bans on or warnings against disrespectful or disparaging comments about an employer or its staff, clients, vendors or other partners, are there to protect the interests of everyone involved. So while it may eventually become settled policy that an employer cannot fire someone for what’s said on social media there can still be discouragements about doing so that lay out the potential downsides.

Also – What happens the first time that a manager sues an employee and a company for disparaging (and perhaps untrue) remarks made about them in a social network by an employee? The NLRB has ruled their speech protected… but does a fellow employee who happens to be above them on the chain of command have a right to not be disparaged?

It goes back to the idea that such corporate policies need to be just one part of a broader dialogue between employers and employees. HR teams should be monitoring what employees are saying on social media to the extent that’s possible and, if a complaint is registered, then it should be addressed in the same manner as if it had come in through any other outlet. Most important, the question “Why do you feel like this?” needs to be addressed.

The next most important conversation needs to be educating employees – either singly or en masse – about the potential pitfalls of bad-mouthing some aspect of their work environment in a public forum. It may be that, independent of whether or not they think they may be fired for what they say, someone just hasn’t thought through all the other ways it can come back to burn either them individually or the company as a whole. So some friendly reminders about all the ways their legally protected complaints are still a really bad idea are going to be helpful here.

As with many things, the legal and regulatory issues surrounding this will likely continue to be discussed and worked out over the next couple of years. But outside of that it’s important that companies review their policies for what parts may be in dispute and what parts can be adapted into educational components instead of outright penalties.

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 Media

January 22nd, 2013

Get visual with your publishing

Among the social media predictions for 2013 in this AllThingsD op-ed, I think the point that visuals will play a more important role in brand-created content is the one that has the most profound potential impact. The others – measure ROI, optimize for mobile and more – are all sound, but there’s nothing that is so important for how the idea of content creation needs to adapt and change.

I’m not actually talking about infographics here. Those are (when done well) fine and can be really interesting, especially if they’re designed with a specific audience in mind. More than that I think it’s data visualization that has the most potential to make for compelling brand journalism.

Two examples of this that have caught my eye recently are Foursquare’s recent map of the last 500,000,000 check-ins around the globe. It’s a fascinating look at what people are doing with the app. And the fact that it’s interactive is even better.

The other is Twitter’s Oscars Index, which shows how often people have been talking about the movies that wound up getting Oscar nominations. Again, with some interactivity, this allows for the reader to really dive in and get some interesting information on what’s being presented.

Both of these can be turned into static infographics that can be shared on various social networks, yes, but how much more engaging are they for being interactive elements you can get your hands dirty with a little bit?

These are extreme examples and not every story is going to warrant something as time-intensive to produce. But the axiom “Everything gets a graphic” is going to be even more important for managers of social publishing programs to live by if they want to see their content spread by the audience. Studies consistently show that readers engage much more often and fully with multimedia, so it’s time – past time, really – to start thinking visually.

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

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