Category Archives: Online

Earned media distribution isn’t hard, but it takes structure

According to The Holmes Report, which recaps a session from the Global Public Relations Summit, earned media has a distribution problem.

The issue, according to those on the panel, is that earned media – getting story on CNN, for instance – has a very short shelf life and it’s hard to draw people’s attention to them. So, if I’m understanding this right, the issue is that while the CNN story might help persuade those who see it, the right people aren’t always seeing it.

With A Megaphone By A Wall

Yes, that is a problem for PR. But that’s why so many PR practitioners have evolved into content marketing practitioners.

Any good content publishing program should include two major elements: Original and curated content. And those media stories the PR team works so hard to pitch and secure fit snuggly into the “curated” section. So they can be shared on a brand’s Twitter, Facebook and other social profiles to bring them to the awareness of people who aren’t regularly checking the media sites they originated on.

(For the record, “original” content then refers to material that, for instance, is published on-domain.)

So while on-domain content may be 75% original and 25% curated (there’s still room for sharing some of those stories on your blog or other site) a social profile may be the exact opposite, favoring curated content as opposed to own. Ratios and percentages are going to vary from program to program of course, but that’s the general idea.

The point is, distribution of earned media is only a problem if you’re not trying hard enough. And the nice part of having owned channels you’re distributing curated earned media hits through is that, if desired, you can hit that beat more than once. If the article hits on Wednesday and you want to make sure the people on Saturday have seen it? You can post it again! And no one can stop you MWAHAHAHA.

Obviously there’s also a paid element here, and it’s telling that some of the people quoted in the story go immediately from earned to paid, without considering owned.

Maybe this is why native advertising is usually the first thing that some comms people turn to when they feel earned media isn’t getting it done. Those deals, to my understanding, almost always include distribution of those stories on the publication’s owned channels, which sometimes have larger reach than the brand’s own.

Again, if distribution of earned media is a problem, it’s one with a multitude of fixes available. This doesn’t need to be something where hands are thrown up. But it takes realigning resources behind making sure the infrastructure is in place to fix that problem in an effective way.

*Image via Flicker

Brand journalism can be a good thing but requires transparency

News broke yesterday that Verizon was starting up its own tech-news site, a venture meant to compete (theoretically) with the likes of Wired and others that would also position Verizon as a thought-leader in the space. After all, that’s the end goal of all such brand content programs where the scope expands beyond that of company-specific news: To be an influential voice in the industry conversation.

But there was a hitch. As repotted by The Daily Dot, the online magazine, StringSearch.com, would be actively avoiding the topics of U.S. government surveillance of its citizens and net neutrality, two topics Verizon has an active interest in, or at least stories that Verizon is often the subject of.

As the story points out, Verizon is hardly the first to get into the brand journalism game and certainly won’t be the last. Companies are producing media (beyond just a corporate blog and social media program) right and left that rivals trade publications in some regards. And they’re not the first to turn an intentional blind eye to issues that paint them in less than a stellar light.

(later update: Verizon has tried to walk this back, but not very successfully)

As this story in the Columbia Journalism Review points out, “brand journalism” is the result of internal comms people and other consultants smelling an opportunity in the wake of so many *actual* media newsrooms experiencing severe cutbacks. But this isn’t just a void being filled, it’s a beachhead being secured by the brands who get to cut out that whole “objectivity” thing.

Hoe's_one_cylinder_printing_press

This sort of media production by brands is usually labeled as a bad thing that’s harmful to the common interest. Indeed you can even see my bias toward that point of view here, though I realize it’s not always a black and white issue. at least it doesn’t need to be, but that would require the brands doing the production of these outlets to be proactive in their approach.

The biggest hurdle to get over is that of transparency and the realization that they can’t just ignore the uncomfortable topics. The media world is rife with examples of an outlet having to report on itself. The example that comes to mind first is the protracted drama within the Chicago Tribune having to do with debt negotiations that resulted from the miserable era of Sam Zell’s ownership. The coverage exposed all the gritty details of how talks with shareholders were going and contained a disclosure that, of course, this was all very naval-gazing for the paper. ]

With corporate ownership of “legitimate” media now a common thing, the audience is more used to the disclaimers that “X is owned by/owns Y” than they were even 20 years ago, when this started to get seriously out of hand. So a story about, say, net neutrality can be accompanied if necessary by a statement on the company’s position on the issue and a link to read more. Ideally this should be inserted *after* the story has been reported, edited and approved free of corporate interference.

Is this all a little naive? Sure, I’ll admit that. But I think there can absolutely be a place for this sort of brand-owned media outlet to exist peacefully alongside the ones that aren’t, or which at least aren’t produced explicitly by the brand even if the chain or corporate ownership ties them together in some manner. After all, the influence of brand publishers (again, I’m referring here to those programs that go above and beyond an external-facing blog to something that’ more full like a industry zine) is just going to grow, likely at the continued expense of traditional outlets who are hampered by not just the need to cut expenses but by an arguably outdated model not just of editorial distance but also distribution and other logistics.

There’s lots brand journalism can offer to the audience. But as it gets more and more mainstream it will need to adjust in its own way, just as the more traditional media outlets will need to make their own adjustments in order to survive.

Facebook says it’s not an editor, but it is a gatekeeper. And it’s one with no accountability

facebook_logo.pngIn Sunday’s New York Times, Ravi Somaiya offers the latest in a long string of stories about how Facebook is changing how people get the news.

The story opens with the usual invocation about how people don’t visit home pages any more but are instead visiting single pages. While this has been true since the advent of RSS and other technologies of the early social web it’s den more true when Facebook, Twitter and other social networks are considered.

RSS in particular was – and is – a dumb technology. It tells you exactly what to do and when to do it. Even Twitter follows a similar model, at least until it decides to implement some sort of algorithm-based feed. But Facebook is always there acting as a gatekeeper, using thousands of behind-the-scenes calculations to decide for you what you will think is important.

In Somaiya’s story, though, Facebook engineer Greg Marra offers up this quote to show a complete lack of self-awareness:

“We try to explicitly view ourselves as not editors,” he said. “We don’t want to have editorial judgment over the content that’s in your feed. You’ve made your friends, you’ve connected to the pages that you want to connect to and you’re the best decider for the things that you care about.”

The key word, I think, in that quote is “editorial” and it’s there that the entire concept of what Facebook is doing and what role it plays in the media equation hinges.

In Facebook’s world they’ve off-loaded the role of “editor,” someone who makes decisions as to what does and doesn’t get seen by the mass of people, to the News Feed algorithm. That way they get to continue to say that publishers should just publish good content and it will get to the people who want it without having to do anything to back that statement up.

“Editorial” implies value judgements and while they say they don’t want to do that, the assertion is invalidated by how they set the standards for the content that’s shared. A certain type of headline will perform well until they decide it’s become too pervasive, at which point they make a change to penalize it in the feed. So you go from “….And You Won’t Believe What Happens Next” to “Five Things You Missed In…” to incredibly condescending troll-ish headlines. And that doesn’t even get into how these networks employ teams of people to take down what’s deemed to be offensive, something that’s clearly an editorial decision.

And just like every other editor, the Facebook team’s decisions are being made based on what will benefit them most. Not to get all Old Testament, but engagement begets engagement, which begets ad revenue.

(Later Update: Jay Rosen destroys the idea that Facebook is some sort of impassive and impartial facilitator of news delivery in ways I could only dream of.)

So when, in David Carr’s accompanying NYT piece about Facebook and mobile publishing, Facebook says it may encourage publishers to build reading experiences that are solely within Facebook, publishers should take it as their cue to double-down on Google+. While Facebook says it’s all about optimizing load times and such by keeping all that data on its own servers, but what it’s actually talking about is owning the entire reader experience.

But at this point what can publishers realistically do?

Abandoning Facebook may not be a realistic solution. Too much traffic would be instantly lost and, because not everyone would do likewise, that ground would largely be ceded to a competitor. But they can do more to encourage use of those “dumb” technologies. Go back to writing for SEO, Show people how to use RSS. Do more to support the content agnostic platforms that treat everything that comes in equally, or at least isn’t so easily manipulated.

At this point Facebook is dangerous, arrogant and naive, a combination that spells trouble for publishers. The social network has been playing an extended game of “rope a dope” with the media industry for years now, And there’s almost no way out of it until a challenger comes along to know Facebook from its perch.

But there is something we as the readers can do: Switch over to “Most Recent.” See everything. Discover posts you may not have otherwise seen. And demand Facebook offer that as a perpetual option, not a decision you have to remember to make every morning. Either that or get outside the Facebook ecosystem entirely and discover new ways to get the news. Only these sorts of steps will do anything to hold the Facebook gatekeepers accountable for the decisions they’re making on your behalf, decisions based on data that could be inaccurate at best or massively off-base and potentially dangerous at worst. There’s no other system in place to get them to pay attention to how their actions are impacting the world outside of their own network.

Trailers not the most-shared movie marketing videos

800px-Movie_Trailer_Preview_ScreenI think I speak for everyone when I say I’m a little shocked that trailers aren’t the most frequently shared form of movie content. That comes from a study done by UK advertising firm Unruly Media.

So what is? Funny stuff and music videos.

The study showed the people who watched those other forms of video content (presumably after having it shared with them by a friend) were much more likely to wind up buying a ticket than if they just watched a trailer.

The lesson is remarkably simple and applies to just about all marketing: Don’t be boring. Material that defies expectations is going to not only cut through the clutter more often but also resonate more strongly and create more affinity.

That’s why you see more and more actual marketing and advertising trying to mimic the sort of videos that get passed around from person to person. They want their stuff to be shared and have found a way to do it.

On LinkedIn: Ello and Brand Identity

This was originally publishing on Linkedin here

elloBy now we’ve all heard of Ello, the upstart social network that some are hailing as the “anti Facebook” and some are dismissing out of hand for a variety of reasons, many of them legitimate.

While I remain skeptical about the role Ello can play in changing the social network landscape there was one point that was familiar to almost every new social network launch I can remember: There was no built in mechanism for discerning legitimate brand profiles from ones being created by random fans or other squatters.

That point has come into sharp relief (for me at least) when I read that The Atlantic is wondering just who it is that’s running an Ello account using their name. And I’m sure there are other instances of brands who have suddenly found they have an Ello profile without ever having set one up. (Update since I started writing this: They found out)

Just once I would like to see a social network launch with an official process in place for brand names to be registered, accompanied by one that allowed for fraudulent profiles to be easily disputed. Instead this is a problem that seems to crop up every time and take everyone by surprise. It would be nice to see one that stopped people from registering whatever they want.

Some have lauded Ello for being so unrestrictive, saying that freedom is welcome in an age when Facebook is under fire not only for its apparent advertising-driven development policy but also its insistence on real names and identities, something they say restricts the internet and free speech. All valid points.

But the reality is we’re not living in that “wild west” era of the social web any longer. We’re operating in a world where brands want to be part of the social network experience. We can debate the role they should or shouldn’t play, but the reality is where there’s an audience there will be companies looking to reach them, especially when it’s on a hip new network where they can not only be seen as incredibly hip to what’s new and shiny but maybe get a little press for doing so while they’re at it.

The next big social network looking to make a splash would be well-advised to have the question of how to deal with brand accounts, either real or impostors, before launch so situations like this don’t keep cropping up.

Twitter needs not just active users but ad revenue

Twitter_512x512John McDuling at Quartz says Twitter is closer to fixing the problem of what to do with its passive audience – i.e. those who see tweets but never log in and create themselves – but I don’t think he actually says what that solution might be.

The “problem” is that people are engaging with Twitter or seeing updates from Twitter in ways that don’t translate into them becoming active users. Or, for that matter, that they aren’t even registering to become users int the first place. So they may see a tweet embedded on another page or something but that doesn’t prompt them to actually get onto Twitter and get involved themselves.

McDuling offers one suggestion for making things a bit more welcoming for people with the idea of providing a curated Timeline around a single event/theme like the World Cup. That makes a lot of sense and Twitter has played around with ideas like that both on their own and with the ability to create Custom Timelines, though that’s something that’s only available on the power-user tool Tweetdeck. But it makes sense to continue this notion and offer someone like the NFL the ability to add a custom experience for, say, Bears fans at NFL.com/TwitterBears or something like that. Bring in curated tweets, offer custom video and so on. Make it a destination.

But I think McDuling overlooks something big: Ads. While user acquisition is certainly an important thing they should be focusing on I think Twitter also needs to look at ways to monetize the logged-out user experience. I’m not more a fan of advertising than anyone else, meaning I tolerate it as a necessary tool that’s in place so that I can enjoy “free” entertainment and other content. But now that Twitter is a public company I don’t think they can continue to hold Wall Street’s interest by just focusing on how to get more people to sign up. There will always be X percentage of people who are never going to sign up, so the company needs to figure out how to still make money on those individuals.

On Medium: Why Don’t I Use Medium More?

Originally published on Medium here.

I’m going through one of my periods where I wonder why I don’t use various social platforms more. On that list is this one right here, Medium. So I felt it only appropriate to talk about why I don’t use it as much as I could/should and offer some thoughts as to how that might change *on* Medium for many reasons, but mostly because the meta-ness of it made me chuckle.

First off let me state that I *get* Medium. It’s a publishing platform that has a social network tacked on to it. Kind of. But it’s also party a curated magazine that wants to highlight the best of what’s written here. It’s attracted high-profile writers and become kind of a prestige outlet, where “important” thought pieces are shared.

But it’s never worked its way into my daily routine, something that’s completely my fault. Medium has set itself us a destination site, by which I mean you generally have go there (come here) in order to read what people have written. What I presume to be the best/most important stuff is shared by Medium itself on Twitter and people are always sharing good pieces there as well. And that brings me to the couple things that Medium could do that would help make this more engaging to me and others like me.

First, get on the RSS bandwagon. One of the benefits of all the changes Google, Facebook and others are making when it comes to search and feed algorithms is there seems to be a renewed appreciation for blogging and RSS. Personally, if it’s not in my RSS reader it’s more or less invisible to me with the exception of the stuff I come across by happenstance on Twitter.

The second thing that would make Medium more Thilk-friendly (and which is even more necessary without RSS support) is a better front page. Right now I have to click around to find new posts by those I’ve opted to follow here, new posts in the categories I’m following and popular/trending pieces. What I need is for those to be collected on a single front page that greets me with choices of things I should be reading.

That last one in particular I think would be particularly welcome and it needs to be replicated on the iOS app. Especially there I have the mindset of “I have a few minutes, let’s find something interesting to read” and Medium is positioned perfectly to be just that.

I offer these suggestions from the point of view of wanting to use Medium more. But right now the user-experience for me isn’t condusive to that. A couple small changes could have a big impact on that.