Category Archives: Content Publishing

Approval Buttons Are No Substitute for Approval Workflows

What Is It: Tweetdeck yesterday unveiled it’s added a confirmation step allowing users to setup a workflow that means someone could not send a Tweet without another person approving it. This is not unusual and is a common feature for many other CMS platforms.

What Does This Mean: This is meant to help prevent Tweets being sent that are…regrettable. Things like someone publishing a personal update from a corporate account, or making a really bad joke that you think is funny but someone else is going to realize is in poor taste.

This sort of technical insurance is great, of course, but it’s only part of the equation. Any sort of social publishing program should have layers of approval that are worked out well ahead of when any individual Tweet or other update goes out. Build a process that takes into account any stakeholders who need to see a piece of content and insures they are seeing it before it goes live. In addition to that, create a workflow that makes sure any post should pass through at least two hands (or sets of eyes) before it even makes it into the CMS.

Essentially, if the only time content is being approved by a second person is right before it gets queued in the CMS then you’re putting yourself into a precarious position alright. That should, ideally, be the final step in an approval process that everyone is aware of, good with and part of.

Comment policy tips

This is my latest post for PNConnect. Read it here.

More and more media companies are eliminating comments from their sites, as they realize they lack the resources for effective moderation and that much of the worthwhile conversation has moved to social networks. Others have installed Facebook or other external comment tools so they don’t have to host an infrastructure themselves. But no matter where interactions take place, every publisher needs an effective and publicly accessible comment moderation policy in place. If a brand is going to be its own publisher and start a conversation, it should be prepared to host and manage the resulting discussion.

Wordpress-Adds-Facebook-Twitter-LoginsA comment policy’s goal is simple: To inform everyone, openly and clearly, what the rules are for polite discourse. Here are our guidelines for the key areas to cover.

RULES FOR COMMENT TOPICS

Every blog and social channel profile has a specific content focus, whether it’s a brand, a product, or some other topic. Some profiles are scaled to deal with customer service issues while others restrict themselves to promotional content. However, the audience doesn’t always know or care about this distinction. People will naturally find their way to your profile with a question that should be directed elsewhere, and it’s your job to clear up the confusion and redirect them. This begins with clarifying, upfront, what topics comment responses will address, and how off-topic comments will be handled.

Sample copy:

This Facebook page is about news and updates relating to ACME Corporation. Please do not leave customer service questions in the comments as such comments will be removed and forwarded to the customer service department, which can be reached at 800-555-5555 or companysite.com.

POLICY FOR COMMENT DELETION

Alongside topic guidelines, specify when and why you’ll delete visitor comments.

There are three common reasons a comment would need to be deleted:

1. It’s rude or insulting: Everyone knows that comments can devolve into name-calling, personal attacks and more pretty quickly. (We’re looking at you, YouTube.) Specify upfront that this is out of bounds.

2. It’s spam: Comment sections sometimes fill up quickly with accounts promoting themselves, selling mail-order medication, or sharing get-rich-quickly schemes.

3. It’s threatening: Occasionally, a comment will cross the line from annoying to actually concerning — for instance, threatening a company executive.

Sample copy:

We reserve the right to remove any comment that violates this policy because it uses vulgar, illegal or inappropriate language; is threatening or defamatory of ACME Corporation, its executives, or its customers or invades their privacy in any way; infringes on the intellectual property rights of ACME Corporation; or contains links or messages relating to political campaigning, commercial solicitation, chain letters, or other inappropriate material or topics.

GETTING POSITIVE

The ultimate objective is to move from the negative (moderating and removing comments) to the positive (fostering productive conversation) in your channels’ comments sections. Here are the key ingredients to maintaining the right tone:

  • Moderate comments effectively and consistently. A healthy garden is a well-tended garden. Set a regular schedule for comment review and stick to it.
  • Assign an owner. Someone should be running point on vetting inbound comments and directing them to whoever can respond most effectively.
  • Create a response workflow, including a manager and response teams. Know who is responsible for vetting comments, who that manager is assigning comment responses to, and what the expectations for turnaround are.
  • Encourage individual writers to monitor comments on their posts for the first 24 hours. This can help the writers learn more about the responses to their posts and about common questions or areas of interest.

Turning Strategies Into Tactics

Goals beget strategies beget tactics beget metrics. That’s the simple path most communicators – and most everyone else as well – go down when working on their program planning. Sometimes the hardest gap, to bridge though, is the one between strategies and tactics since too many people too often get them confused. So here’s an example of just how different they are.

“Pictures get great engagement on social media” is, at this point, an accepted truism. Study after study shows that posts with pictures perform much better all around and indeed entire social networks like Pinterest and Instagram are built completely around them. So you see all sorts of media organizations doing just that. “Post pictures” then is the strategy. But look how Fast Company has turned that into a tactic.

That image isn’t included in the story that’s linked to. It’s custom made for usage on Twitter. They’ve taken the broad strategy of “post pictures in Tweets” and made it very specific, using specific images that are tied to the story. These always pop out in my feed because it’s not just a generic image, it’s something that’s a lot more interesting and, therefore, more engaging.

I don’t have access to Fast Company’s metrics and so can’t say for certain that they are or aren’t working. And it’s always dangerous to say “well I think it’s interesting so everyone else will too.” But independent of specifics this provides a good example of how to follow best practices, adopt a strategy and then define tactics that support and are in line with both.

Learning the Language of Emojis

You’ve always heard that it’s easier for kids to learn non-native languages, apparently because the pathways in their brains are still forming, making it easier for them to absorb all this information. That’s why you see parents pushing their kindergarteners to enroll in language classes and speaking something you probably don’t recognize in the grocery store aisle.

In 2015 a lot of old people – and by “old” I mean anyone over 30, including myself – are suddenly finding ourselves needing to learn a new language: Emojis. Emoji usage is everywhere. Not only is it a standard in any text you’ve received in the last two years but Instagram now supports it, Star Wars worked with Twitter to roll out custom emojis in Tweets a couple weeks ago and…well…it’s essentially all over the place. At this point it’s harder to find a social network that doesn’t support emojis than vice versa.

image via tumblr
image via tumblr

This represents yet another skill for those for whom this doesn’t come naturally – for whom it represents what amounts to a foreign language – to learn. While it’s never a good idea to, when managing a corporate publishing program, go too far into internet-native speak (I’m looking at everyone who’s used “on fleek” in a brand Tweet) it can be something that, used judiciously, adds color and personality to a program. It’s so easy to speak either in the most boring, dry tone or to lapse into inauthentic marketing-speak, and interjecting emojis, frequently-used acronyms and so on can add some flavor. But it’s important to not just learn *what* to do but “why” and “when” as well. So it’s not just a a skill it is, like many things, an art as well.

Secret and the Risk of Chasing Shiny Objects

News broke the other day that Secret, the anonymous sharing app, would be or is or has (the details are fuzzy) shut down. The site was just a year old – a veritable newborn when measured anywhere outside of Silicon Valley. Suffering from a user exodus and what seems to be an unclear vision of what the app should be about, the founders and others decided to exit the game rather than continue on what appears to be seen as a losing battle.

We’re often asked how soon clients should jump into any of the new apps or social networks that launch on a regular basis. Secret’s fall from the mountain top of buzz, something it achieved by being an outlet for the tech world’s secrets, serves as a reminder that these startups can disappear at any moment. You can build a strategy, you can source content and establish a workflow, but tomorrow the rug could be pulled out because the company decided running the product no longer made sense, ran out of money or any other reason.

Even the most stable of these networks brands are using to reach people – sites like Facebook or Twitter – are essentially sand castles, only as stable as the people around them are careful and subject to the whims of nature or, in this case, market forces. That’s why we recommend not only being careful about jumping in, making sure it actually makes sense to establish a presence there, but also making sure one network isn’t seen as a single source of salvation (read: traffic) and therefore isn’t at risk of becoming a single point of failure.

How Much of the User Experience Is Outside Your Control

Allow me to take a moment to admit something personal: I drastically dislike shopping. I always have, with the exception of bookstores, which I could browse around forever. There are plenty of stereotypes about how men’s version of shopping consists of going in with a list, getting what’s needed and getting out before the dust settles that (again with the exception of bookstores) I would neatly fall into.

This dislike of the shopping experience is partly about things that are directly related to the experience itself: I’m not a huge fan of crowds, the incessant barrage of lights and music gives me a headache quickly and while there are plenty of places to get coffee, the lack of…other…drink options still seems like a drastic oversight on the part of most mall planners. Even more than that, though, is the parking lot. Most parking lots are, in my view, part of a long-running experiment designed to see how far people can be pushed before society crumbles.

Outside of that, though, the parking lot is something that’s essential to the physical (meaning “not online”) shopping experience but is wholly disconnected from the actual experience of searching for, finding and purchasing the item/s in question. My local hardware store has optimized the in-store experience, but MY experience doesn’t begin and end as I walk in/out of the doors. Instead, it’s when I pull into the parking lot.

And it got me wondering: How much of your business relies on infrastructure built by others? It’s a question worth asking whenever you look at program goals and measure whether or not they’re being achieved.

Essentially all of social media is, as we all know too well, built on land that’s not even rented but…I don’t know what the right word is. “Owned” certainly isn’t appropriate and even “Managed” implies a level of functionality and oversight that doesn’t exist on most networks. Instead the businesses that have social profiles are subject to the whims of Facebook, Twitter and others not only in how they do or don’t control reach, engagement and other factors but in how they market the overall experience to the general public as well. In other words, X business has zero control over whether Y network can or can’t market itself and achieve a critical mass of users. Even online storefronts like Amazon and others are not owned in the traditional sense, as sellers there are still only as visible as the site’s algorithm and “featured product” curation process allow them to be.

So the question remains: How do you work around the aspects of the user experience you have zero control over?

When we – PNConnect and Porter Novelli as a whole – talk about content programs we used “owned” when referring to websites that the client (or we on behalf of the client) manage and have full control over. So PorterNovelli.com is an “owned” channel because it’s built by us, for us and can only be changed by us. Owned channels are an important – nay, an essential – element of content programs because because of that fact. No third party is going to pull the plug on your website because its ad-based business model collapsed. And no one can throttle the number of blog posts published to an on-domain site.

But – you knew there was going to be a “but” – discovery and distribution are still largely controlled by others. Search algorithms change regularly and, again, social networks are increasingly dicey propositions when trying to reach the audience. You’re only as findable as the person optimizing your headlines and Facebook copy allows you to be.

It wasn’t always this lopsided in favor of tools outside of the control of publishers and web managers. Before social networks began pulling everyone’s attention, forcing brands to do likewise, the two main points of distribution were 1) Email and 2) RSS.

The first one was totally under the control of the publisher. They controlled the list, they controlled the distribution time and so on. People could opt out, of course, but outside of that this was very much something that was wholly grasped by the publisher. And the second was -and still is – a gloriously dumb technology that, as long as someone took the positive action of subscribing, would send updates to them regardless of how many other feeds they were subscribed to, with items building up until they were ready to read them.

(It’s my contention that if publishers had been better able to explain RSS to the mass audience it would have gone on to form the cornerstone of the social network explosion. Indeed Twitter is largely an XML-based platform. But that’s another post for another day.)

Strategies that emphasizes fully owned channels – on-domain blogs, email newsletters and the like – are emerging as must-haves for brand publishers who are seeing diminishing returns from the social networks they spent years building up audience numbers on. Not that those networks aren’t still an important part of the mix, but they’re just that: Part of a mix. It’s no longer safe to place big bets on one or the other of these non-owned platforms, but to spread bets around, with This being good for conversions, That being good for engagement, The Other Thing being good for distribution and so on. It all comes back, though, to having that on-domain managed channel that is the hub and archive for the program.

In short, you may not own the parking lot and you may never will. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore that part of the user experience is impacting the results of the program you’re trying to manage. Instead it needs to be accounted for and tracked so that adjustments to the elements that *are* under your control can be made.

Committing fully to corporate blogging is the only way to see its value

RSS-feed-iconGenerally when an industry blog – in just about any industry – covers breaking company news it happens in one of three ways:

  1. The story links to an on-domain blog post from the company, citing it as the source of the news
  2. The story references the news as coming from a company blog post but, for some reason, doesn’t link to it
  3. The story references the news as coming from the company but doesn’t specify whether that means a blog post, an email press release or carrier pigeon

The first is great, at least as far as we think about corporate content publishing programs. The corporate blog – the “hub” in the “hub and spoke” model we evangelize – has become a source for media and other interested parties to get their news from. It has done what it needs to do and while there may be separate press outreach to add context, the blog is often the source of the news.

The second shows an odd evolution in online media. Namely, that it’s adopting many of the virtues and traits that were once evinced by legacy media. In this case specifically we’re talking about “not linking out.” 10+ years ago one of the key differentiators between old and new media was in the approach to linking. The first and second generation of blog publishers understood that links were indeed love and that linking to someone else’s post or story didn’t detract from their own, it added to it. It was a way of substantiating your own point of view, by linking to supporting points or to a post you disagreed with. But slowly those blogs became fiefdoms of their own, many being bought up by bigger media companies. And the focus shifted from making sure people got the best information and went to the original source to linking to archives, topic pages and so on. So the link went not to a source elsewhere but to all that site’s previous coverage of the company so additional page views could be gathered.

The third is actually (despite the obvious diatribe I just went on) the bigger point that I want to make: That companies are often not just missing pitches but not even steeping up to the plate. By which I mean they either don’t have a corporate blog of their own or aren’t utilizing it to get the full value from it.

“Own your news” is a frequently-repeated phrase as we advise clients that once you have the production workflow in place the incremental costs of each post are minimal. In other words, publishing nine posts a week doesn’t cost much, if any, more than publishing five posts a week. So put it all up on the corporate blog, letting it serve as a complete archive of news and announcements. This creates an archive both for on-domain and general search and easily allows for resurfacing of news later on in connection with something else.

The recent study of corporate social media usage among Inc 500 companies by The Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth showed blog adoption had dropped from 2013’s 52% – its three year peak – to just 46%, only slightly above 2012’s 44%. That almost has to mean that not only did few, if any companies start new blogs but some who had been running them shut them down. And I have to wonder how many of those who shut them down never really fully committed to the idea to begin with, always acting with one foot fully and the other foot mostly out of the pool.

Tactics usually only work when they’re fully executed, which only comes when everyone is on board. Watching corporate blogging take a hit like this is disappointing since I truly believe it makes the most sense in the evolving media world. There are multiple ways to execute the idea, but having an owned on-domain source for all corporate news is the only long-term hedge to place against the managed networks that will fall in and out of fashion, often faster than a company and its publishing program can keep up.