content

Shutting Down Blog Comments

I think that I provoked the blog comment Gods today.

Sorry about this, but the ability to comment on blog posts here at Six Pixels of Separation has been disabled. It’s not you. It’s not me. It’s the spammers. I was recording a podcast today with Gini Dietrich of Spin Sucks (it will be published in the coming weeks) and we were talking about the many bloggers and news sites that have shut down their blog comments (Copyblogger being the one that has most recently decided to do so: Why We’re Removing Comments on Copyblogger). I was marveling at how awesome and consistent Gini is at both engaging and connecting with the myriad of comments and feedback she gets all over the Web (and, you can read her side on the blog comments debacle right here: Why We Won’t Shut Off Blog Comments)… and then this happened.

It’s been going on for a few years.

As you may (or may not) know, I have been blogging for over a decade. Every day (or almost). That’s close to 4000 pieces of long form content. The blogging platform used here is not WordPress (we’re on MovableType because WordPress didn’t even exist back then). We have a strong IT team here at Twist Image, but never had the need/desire to switch over to WordPress. With that, we have been using the blog comment capabilities of MovableType since the beginning. Don’t get me wrong, it still catches way more pieces of spammy blog comments than the ones that go live and, every day or so, I would hop on to the backend and simply delete the ones that made it through. Lately, things are getting out of control and, in full disclosure, I started falling behind in cleaning them out. So, now it’s a bit of a massive mess. That’s not the real issue. Once Gini and I finished recording today, there was this massive and sudden influx of spam blog comments that made it through the filter. We had to shut it down. Like I said, I think I was tempting the blog comment deities after my chat with Gini.

I’m sorry… and what this means.

First off, I apologize. I love your comments, feedback and even those that disagree with me. I may not always respond or be quick to respond, but I care about your thoughts… I really, really do. I read every comment, tweet, status update and more surrounding these posts. So, I hate the fact that you can’t comment here (for the next little bit). I also believe that one of the core components that still makes blogging one of the most fascinating publishing platforms in the world is the ability for anyone to add to the discourse. Our team is going to check out Livefyre and Disqus to see which solution might best remedy our current situation (and, if you have any thoughts, please do shoot me an email). I’m hopeful that it will happen soon/fast, but I can’t be sure.

Until then…

Please don’t stop commenting. I typically post to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn when I publish a blog post, and I would love to hear from you there (or even on your own blog, if something inspires you to write). Blog comments will come back at some point soon on Six Pixels of Separation, and it pains me to let the spammers win, but it is what it is at this point in time.

Once again, thank you for following, reading, engaging, commenting and sharing. Please don’t let the lack of blog comments below stop that. 

Tags:

Some Questions About Your Questionable Content

Marketers, we have a problem…

Do you know how long an effective Facebook post should be? If I told you forty characters, what would your reaction be? A tweet should be 100 characters (even though Twitter affords you 140 of them). It makes perfect sense, right? I know that people like Tom Webster over at Edison Research is, without a doubt, rolling his eyes. I’m with him. But, that was the latest headline from Fast Company in an article titled, The Proven Ideal Length Of Every Tweet, Facebook Post, And Headline Online. All over the world, junior brand and community managers are building PowerPoint decks with charts, graphs and quotes from this article in an effort to demonstrate both how “in the know” they are, and how antiquated the upper echelons of the marketing and communications are. Those silly dinosaurs running the show in their corner offices, don’t even know how valueless most of what they do has become.

Don’t be fooled by the numbers (even if they are small ones).

Length does not equate to quality, value or substance. It’s an arbitrary number that is being allotted to a very crowded (and hyper-saturated) marketplace that hosts very finicky and tough to understand consumers who, in one instance, will “like” a picture of a dog licking itself and within the same brush of the finger also like a group denouncing human rights in Syria. Ahh, the human condition. So mystical. So difficult to pin down. The question is asked often, and in various ways:

  • How long should a tweet be?
  • How long should a Facebook post be?
  • What is the right balance between content and images?
  • How long should a podcast be?
  • How long should a blog post be?
  • How long should a business book be?
  • How long should a movie be?
  • How long should an article be?
  • How long should a… you get the point?

What matters more than the mechanics?

We get caught up in the mechanics and completely forget about why we’re creating anything in the first place. Ultimately, it should be twofold:

  1. Create value.
  2. Create awareness.

The answer to all of the questions above surrounding length is rather simple: content should be as long as it needs to be to create value. I’ve seen movies that have been three hours long and movies that have been thirty minutes long that have changed my life (and how I think about humanity). Research Brief posted a fascinating article – at just around the same time as the Fast Company one mentioned above – titled, Trusted Content Closes Vendor Selection. So, it’s not about the content… it’s about the quality of it and the level of trust that it inspires. It’s true, we often ask the wrong questions about the content that we’re creating and, in doing so, we wind up creating content that doesn’t get traction. The net result being a perception that either content marketing doesn’t work or that content marketing doesn’t work for our brands. Both are misnomers. Putting aside any kind of viral effect that some are lucky enough to achieve (do you believe in unicorns?), we need to be asking more profound (and real) questions about the content that brands are putting out into the world. So, before you put finger to keypad in an effect to pump out an extra few free impressions to a saturated social media channel, sit down and ask yourself the following:

  1. How trusted as a source of information is our organization?
  2. Is there a third-party who might be better suited to help us with our content?
  3. What is point of this content and who is it educating?
  4. Is this content “me too” or unique and additive to the current flow of discourse?
  5. Who are we looking to speak to with this? Customers in discovery mode? Qualification mode? Final selection mode?
  6. Once this content is created how will it be distributed? Our own channels? Third-party channels or platforms?
  7. How will this piece of content help the decision makers be influenced?
  8. How will this content help our potential customer make the best decision (and yes, this may even mean buying from someone else)?
  9. Is our content broad and expansive or is it myopic and narcissistic?
  10. Are the people we are speaking to more interested in fresh research and data or editorial-like content?
  11. Is our content the type of work that the industry influencers would pay attention to and share or is it closer to a de-jargonated press release?
  12. Does our content allow for honest commentary between us and the community?
  13. Is our content both findable and shareable to everyone that it needs to be?

The path to purchase is complex.

That’s the main thing that every brand needs to focus on. Content that understands and responds to the thirteen questions above will change the brand and help it add more value to the path to purchase. What this Research Brief article also illustrates is something that many digital marketing pundits (like myself) have been banging the drum about for some time: Yes, the path to purchase is complex, but “The Internet is the primary place where business buyers begin the path to purchase. 68% start their content sourcing at search engines and portals, 40% go to vendor websites, and 25% are activated by an email from a trusted source or peer.”

If you read nothing else, go back and re-read that last sentence.

If there was ever a case for digital marketing to lead all marketing initiatives (B2B, B2C, a small impulse buy or a year-long sales cycle) this is it. The Internet is the primary place where business buyers begin the path to purchase. This is a critical and key message. So, if you thought that the thirteen questions above are going to make you bang your head against the wall, start asking yourself a whole new set of questions about what your brand is truly doing to to engage with those who are simply kicking tires, those who are looking for a preferred vendor and those who are trying to validate the choice of vendor that they have already made. Too many brands are churning out this chum of content without the focus, intensity and voracity that is truly required to qualify any/all of this content marketing as a “success.”

Make no mistake about it… it starts with you. That being said, it all starts online.

Tags:

Let’s Stop Mixing Up Digital Advertising With Digital Marketing

I get into this fight all of the time.

When people talk to me about advertising agencies – especially ones that claim to be “fully integrated” – what I (still) hear is: digital advertising. Make no mistake about it, advertising is a juggernaut in the world of marketing, but it’s not everything. That’s the main gripe I have when people look at advertising agencies with digital capabilities, and try to compare them to a digital marketing agency. Here’s my theory on this (and it’s not perfect, there are variances and exceptions to every rule): An advertising agency (whether they have digital capabilities or not) are in the hammer and nail business. To an advertising agency (which would be the hammer), everything can be solved with an ad (which would be the nail) – and yes, to a hammer, everything does look like a nail. There is nothing wrong with that. Advertising is an essential component of a strong communications platform, and it is still a very efficient way for a brand to communicate a message to an audience. Brands can complain all they want about the diminishing returns on advertising, but this is a problem that gets exacerbated when lack of compelling creative meets a faltering scarcity model (too many channels and opportunities).

How does a digital marketing agency fit into this?

It depends on who you ask. We’ve been running Twist Image since 2000 (that’s 14 years, for those who do not want to do the math). And, for all of that time, we were never looking to solve a business challenge with an ad. We have always looked at the business challenge and tried to develop a solution that is based in the digital world. So, we’re looking to create products and/or services that can help a brand leapfrog both their competitors and the more traditional ways of connecting with consumers. From there, we build a framework for success (and, if you’re struggling to understand the difference between a framework and ROI, check out Avinash Kaushik‘s amazing article titled, See-Think-Do: A Content, Marketing, Measurement Business Framework). Once we have that product or service (and yes, that could be an e-commerce solution, a game, an app, social media initiatives, a website, etc…) and a framework for it, it becomes a question of communications. From the communications standpoint, we’re trying to leverage a healthy mix of paid, earned and owned models to help the brand to be successful.

Can you feel the difference?

Advertising is one component of the communications challenge. The reason this confusion is so prevalent in the marketing industry, is because we use media spend as the benchmark for some kind of marketing mix comprehension. Just today, eMarketer published the news item, Digital Ad Spending Worldwide to Hit $137.53 Billion in 2014. I thought it was a typo. From the article: “Spending on ads served to internet-connected devices including desktop and laptop computers, mobile phones and tablets will reach $137.53 billion this year, according to eMarketer’s latest estimates of worldwide paid media spending. Digital spend will be up 14.8% over 2013 levels, according to the forecast, and will make up just over one-quarter of all paid media spending worldwide. That’s up from about one-fifth of spending in 2012, and it is set to rise to nearly one-third of the total by the end of our forecast period, when advertisers around the world will invest $204.01 billion in digital.”

That’s a lot of bank.

Actually, that’s a misnomer. It’s a staggering amount of dollars. And, when marketers are pouring that kind of financial resources behind the paid media spending of brands, it’s easy to see how the distinction between advertising and marketing gets foggy. If you don’t think it’s staggering, just check out this chart: Internet Advertising Revenues Hit $7.3 Billion in Q1 ’11 from the IAB. I remember when the paid media spend was well under the one billion dollar level (I remember it so well, because I was selling online media back in 1999). Now, digital advertising spend is rivaling that of TV, and for one good reason: brands put the money where the consumers are. And, where do you think that the consumers are?

It’s about more than media.

When was the last time you read something about a brand and said to yourself, “you see… that is smart!” That my reaction when I read the AdWeek article, Why Johnson & Johnson Treasures BabyCenter’s Data. Moms and soon-to-be moms tend to like BabyCenter for information. That digital property is owned by Johnson & Johnson. Think about the business solution that J&J solved with this marketing solution. Think about the data capture that is happening on this site. And, ultimately, think about how they can leverage all of this information to better target both the advertising on this site (and even when J&J advertises on other mom-related sites). It’s staggering. It also demonstrates the massive chasm between digital advertising (the last mile of communicating the brand to the world) in comparison to the digital marketing work (develop a platform for moms, build a framework around it and push a communications platform to either get the message out or, in this case, even monetize it).

Don’t dismiss advertising.

It bears repeating: advertising is big, massive and growing (especially in the digital channels). Just look at those numbers: $137.53 billion in 2014. Still, advertising is but a subset of the communications platform which – in and of itself – is a component of a greater marketing good. Be floored by the media dollars that are being shifted to digital, but without a sound marketing platform that runs horizontally throughout the brand/organization, those messages will – for the most part – fall on deaf ears.

Still, digital continues to look healthy, growing and ever-evolving – even when we confuse the terms.

Tags:

Where Great Content Comes From

This could get gross. You have been warned.

Last week, I was lucky enough to have attended the TED conference. I’ve been going to this event since 2009. While most people can’t stop talking about how incredible the TED talks are (and yes, they are incredible), I wholly subscribe to the notion that they are but a small part of a much bigger (and more profound) experience. This year, one of the highlights was the return of Sarah Kay (you can watch her first TED talk below). Sarah was a part of the all-star stage, where famed TED speakers from events past got the chance to riff on what they have been up to since cranking million of views on YouTube and beyond. Kay was about to launch her latest book of poetry, No Matter The Wreckage. I know what you’re thinking at this point. You’re thinking that this is going to be some high brow blog post that you need to read with one pinky sticking out. Not the case. What makes Kay so awesome is her pragmatism. She’s all about getting everyone to try poetry. She’s about the democratization of poetry and spoken word, and encouraging young people to try it.

I’m a poet and I didn’t know it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anything about poetry. In fact, the only thing that I may know less about than poetry is ballet. So, I’m not that cultured. I choose Metallica over Monet on any given Sunday. Still, I love the work of Sarah Kay. After talking about her new book, recent travels and the fame of being famous because of TED, the host asked her about the construct of poetry, her levels of concentration and the effort it takes to create a poem. As someone who creates content, this line of questioning is fascinating. How does a poet toil over their prose and decide which words should go where? Do you know what Sarah told the audience?…

“Poetry is like pooping. If there’s a poem inside of you, it needs to come out.” 

There’s brilliance in this thinking (and yes, it’s pretty hilarious). It’s not just about poetry either. That statement is as true for brands who are posting to Facebook or can’t figure out what to blog about, as it is to the art of crafting a poem. I did a real life LOL when she said this, because it jettisoned me back to the moment when I knew I had to write my second book, CTRL ALT Delete. I don’t work in isolation. Everything that I do, create and publish has a direct relationship with Twist Image. The whole purpose of my work is to help people become better in marketing and business, with the hopes that should they require a digital marketing agency that Twist Image would be top of mind. I don’t just decide to write a book. I sit down with my three other business partners and have a conversation about it. I remember telling them how excited I was about the concept and more. We then discussed if the timing was right, considering the growth trajectory of the agency or if the market conditions made sense for a second book. All fair questions, but the book needed to come out. I remember telling them that my water broke, and the baby was coming. Timing and perfect market conditions could not be factors at this point. I was in labor!

Where do babies come from?

I get where Sarah Kay is coming from. Sure, innocuous content like a tweet or Facebook status update doesn’t require that type of urge, but even a blog post (or article) should give the content creator that type of feeling. You need to have something to say! All too often, brands (and certain individuals) are just looking to fill up space, to be present, to not waste an impression, to not fall off of their consumer’s radar. That’s silly. That’s content for content’s sake, instead of content because there is something important that needs to be shared. As brands struggle to figure out the secret to creating compelling content in a world where everyone is a content producer, and the levels of saturation continue to rise and rise, it would be wise to pay attention to the words of Sarah Kay. We all need to make sure that whatever it is that we’re producing needs to come out. That’s good poop. Let’s try to stay away from the content that’s being created just for the sake of creating it.

That’s bad poop.

Tags:

The Secret Life Of Social Media

Shhhh, don’t tell anybody anything (even though I just posted this secret online for anyone to see).

It has been brewing for some time, and it’s a difficult trend for businesses not to understand and embrace. As much as our social lives are now made public in everything from 140-characters of text on Twitter to long-form videos that we post of ourselves on YouTube, there is a growing mass audience (and developers behind them) that are creating an entirely new (and private) layers to social media. And, if all goes according to their plan, it could very well be the proverbial needle to pop the balloon of how brands have attempted to market to consumers using modern technology.

What’s the hottest thing happening right now?

It’s Snapchat, of course. Isn’t it? Lauded by the younger generation because they can send each other photographs/mini videos via smartphones and tablets that are incinerated once viewed (leaving no trace for parents, etc…). The app has become so formidable, that Facebook offered to buy them late last year for a reported $3 billion, which Snapchat turned down. Turning down $3 billion dollars buys a lot of attention and street cred. The private online social network continues to grow, as brands like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Acura and others have been jumping on board to figure out if Snapchat’s community of 30 million-plus users (and growing) cares to get this type of micro-disposable content from brands. Maybe, it’s not Snapchat that is the hottest thing anymore. One could argue that the hottest thing happening right now, is the fact that Facebook bounced back from this rejection and managed to acquire the cross-platform mobile messaging platform WhatsApp for an astonishing $19 billion two weeks ago. With close to 500 million users and growing, WhatsApp is, in its purest form, BlackBerry Messenger (which, of course, is now available for Android and Apple users as well) that works on any mobile device and any mobile carrier. In fact, the deal was so massive that it completely over-shadowed the fact that a similar messaging platform, Viber, was also recently acquired for $900 million by Rakuten (a Japanese online commerce platform).

Think about it: private pictures, videos, messages and more. That doesn’t sound very social, does it?

While companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter monopolize the growing areas of online social networking, what we’re beginning to see is continued growth and interest in private online social networking. The types of content, conversation and sharing that is done outside of the public limelight. Sometimes anonymously. Sometimes between two friends. It just doesn’t feel like the place that brands can insert themselves to monetize a growing user base, does it?

I have a secret to tell.

While they have not been acquired for hundreds of millions of dollars (yet), the San Francisco based startup Secret (that was founded by two former Google and Square employees) is getting tons of attention, followers and fans. In short, you can write anything that’s on your mind, add photos or colors to the background and customize this content while being able to share it – free of judgment – and without attaching any of your personal information or profile to it. It feels like a more modern, mobile and more social version of Post Secret (where individuals physically mail their anonymous secrets on the back of a postcard to a group that then scans and shares the most creative ones online). While Secret isn’t the first or only app like this, it is currently getting the lion’s share of media and consumer attention. Do you really want brands to share secrets with you? Does that even make sense? Secret follows in a long line of increasingly popular platforms that are moving towards more private, restricted and personal interactions. Path (which launched back in 2010) seemed like a more mobile version of Facebook with one major distinction:Path only allowed a maximum of 150 connections (which followed Dunbar’s number theory that human beings can only maintain a total of 150 true relationships). Small stuff, right?

What matters most to you: Public life? Professional life? Social life? Personal life?

What we’re now seeing is motion away from all of this publicness that we have been experiencing at the hands of social media for the past decade, or we’re simply seeing the mass development of a completely different type of private online social networking. In fact, if you look at where the venture capital dollars and user growth is currently happening, we could well arrive at a juncture which finds consumers much less interested in the public chest beating of their semi-consequential day-to-day accomplishments on social media, and a much more focused desire to use technology as a communications platform to add more personal meaning. Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp could substantiate this (why wouldn’t they want to own both the public and private online social networks of consumers?). So, while Ellen may have broken Twitter with her a-list selfie stunt from the Oscar’s, we may be at the nascent stages of seeing a brand new type of social media play that is small, intimate and, seemingly, impermeable to brands, advertisers and media companies. A place where twerking could well find it’s perfect home… behind closed doors and not out in public.

Are private online social networks the future of social media? More interesting will be how brands will react and engage with this new reality. 

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

Tags:

Another Public Speaking Horror Story

This isn’t one that happened to a specific individual.

This is a horror story that happened to all of us… and continues to happen to people each and every day. This is not what happened to Michael Bay. It’s much worse. It’s a pervasive horror story that is a part of our educational system, and sticks with us to the boardrooms and convention centers of every city, in every country where meetings are held. Let me explain by telling you a story: the other week, I was at a family dinner. We were discussing my nephew’s pending public speech, and I was being asked for any tips or tricks that might help him be successful. I asked him where was in the process of being ready, and this is what he told me: “I’ve written out the full speech and I’m almost done memorizing it.”

My knees buckled.

I had these sudden and terrible flashbacks to being in both elementary and high school. Being forced to write out a four minute speech on index cards, and then being forced to memorize it. The index cards weren’t there for support. Those index cards were the bain of my existence. They had every word – as they should be spoken – on them. They were not be used. They were there as moral support, in case I had forgotten what was supposed to be memorized. Every peek at those cards while speaking, was a physical sign to the class – and to the teacher – that I was not prepared. In a “break the glass here in case of emergency” scenario, I would see my fellow classmates cower in panic and wind up head down, nervously reading/mumbling their way through the reading of the cards, in a effort to simply finish the speech and make it (however pathetically) across the finish line. What was learned? From the speaker’s perspective, it was all about writing an essay, attempting to memorize it and then, ultimately, reading it aloud (nervously) to the class. From the audiences perspective, it’s hard to remember any of the content, because we were all too busy trying to figure out if our friend before us was about to have a public meltdown. Overall, it’s hard to focus on why we’re there (hint: it’s to learn) when everybody is focused on the performance instead.

Brutal. We still consider this public speaking.

If you look at what constitutes a good public presentation, the core of what we’re teaching young people is fundamentally wrong from the first instance. Here is a breakdown of what is happening when we teach public speaking contrasted with what we should be teaching…

  • Step one. We are teaching people to write out the full speech. We should be teaching people to choose the three most important aspects of what they need to explain about their chosen topic. Let’s say you are asked to give a speech on the electric bass. We are asking people to study the instrument, and then write three minutes worth of something to say. Instead, I would recommend breaking it into three (or four) chunks. Like this:

    1. Where did the electric bass come from?
    2. What is the electric bass (from a hardware perspective)?
    3. How is it played (techniques and styles)?
    4. Which bass players are inspiring?
  • Step two. We are asking people to memorize the full speech. We should be teaching people to look at each component of these three/four parts and simply write out – in easy to remember bullet points – a couple of lines about each section so you can better understand both the content you should be covering and the flow. As an example, for the first main section (Where did the electric bass come from?):

    1. In the 1930s, musician and inventor Paul Tutmarc from Seattle, Washington, developed the first electric string bass in its modern form.
    2. In the 1950s, Leo Fender developed the first mass-produced electric bass. His Fender Precision Bass is still an industry standard.
    3. In the 1960′s many music instrument manufacturers began mass producing these instruments because of the popularity of rock music.
  • Step three. We are asking people once they have memorized the speech to then learn some basic physical and vocal moves to improve the performance of memorizing a written story. We should be teaching people to add color (a funny story or anecdote) to support their three key points. If you do a quick search online about bass players or funny stories about the history of the electric bass, there are many interesting and hilarious anecdotes. Takes some of these stories, think about how you can best tell them, and then insert those stories into the framework above. Knowing the stories will also be a great way to remember the key bullet-points of your story.
  • Step four. Practice. Start by trying to remember each of the main three/four concepts you are going to speak about (this is also your agenda). Then take each main point and remember the two or three pieces you will talk about within each one of them. Then repeat the last step, but include the stories/anecdotes that you will be adding in to add color and depth to them. Lastly, set-up a bunch of times in your agenda and start practicing it as if you were speaking in front of an audience (don’t wait until the night before!). Practice it a lot (or as much as you can). If you can pull together a small group of friends (even if it’s via Skype or Google Hangout) to watch you do it, all the better.

No more horror stories.

There is no need to write up a story and then figure out how to read it or memorize it and say it to an audience. That is not giving a presentation. That is reading something in public or reciting something from memory that was written. Writing is not the same thing as speaking and/or presenting. What this all boils down to is learning about a topic, figuring out what makes it interesting to you, supporting those thoughts with stories and anecdotes, and then practicing it enough so that you are comfortable to present those ideas in public. We need to do a better job of holding our educational system accountable to produce people who are good at speaking in front of audiences and sharing ideas. Death to writing out speeches. Death to being forced to memorize these written words. Death to index cards. Death to feeling nervous or anxious about memorization.

Let’s put an end to this, shall we?

Tags:

Some Cheez-its, A Mountain Dew, A Snickers Bar… And A Kindle

It sounds like the set-up to a bad joke, but this is no laughing matter.

As Amazon continues to grow, expand and diversify itself as one of the largest retailers and technology service providers in the world, attention is always paid when the virtual store does something physical. Every so often, rumors crop-up that the online retailer (that has a market cap of over $157 billion) is about to open up physical retail locations or is providing delivery lockers (known as Amazon Locker) or some other unique way to change the retail experience. It’s the kind of news that, typically, sends shock waves through the retail and technology landscape. Some rumors are blatantly false, others are true and some of them don’t work out so well. What makes Amazon so fascinating (and dangerous to their competitors), is their desire to disrupt, try and change the shopper’s status quo. So, when last year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) rolled into Las Vegas, many were surprised and intrigued by Amazon’s presence.

It’s not what you think.

They didn’t have a typical booth on the trade show floor. They didn’t engage with a celebrity tie-in for a major product launch. They didn’t even throw a wild party at one of the trendy casino nightclubs, in the hopes of getting some b-list reality television star to talk about them to TMZ. Instead, they set up a Kindle vending machine inside the Las Vegas airport (near the ATM and soda pop). You may be thinking to yourself that this is nothing new. Apple, Best Buy and others have all deployed vending machines that sell electronics over the past several years. For some consumers, it’s hard to imagine buying a $250 pair of headphones the same way that you buy a bag of chips on the way to catch a flight, but the technology of these machines has advanced to the stage when these more expensive and complex sales can be done without human intervention and on-the-go.

There could be something more going on here.

Amazon has a lot of muscle. Both in terms of brand affinity and a war chest to experiment with new ways of retailing. It’s easy to dismiss this Kindle vending machine as simply another parlor trick. It feels like Kindles are just the beginning of this story. Vending machines could well be the perfect way in which Amazon can be on (almost) every corner of the world. They are a very cost-effective way to grow a retail presence, without the traditional infrastructure that a retail chain must endure (long leaseholds, landlords, square footage negotiations, employees, overhead, etc…). In fact, vending machines are becoming as hip and as cool as pop-up stores (if you can imagine that!). They offer a nice surprise to potential consumers who are either sitting around or passing through a public space, and are used to nothing but Pop Tarts and stale peanuts.

Retail everywhere.

This isn’t about Kindle Fire tablets or Kindle Paperwhite readers. It’s not about the accessories, either. This is about Amazon engaging in a “retail everywhere” strategy that the traditional retailers need to think deeply about. Amazon has optimized the online shopping experience – from Web browser to smartphone. 1-click ordering and Amazon Prime have only pushed their success to a level of near-dominance. What seems like a simple PR play of plopping vending machines in areas that may garner them some media attention, may be something much more. What we’re really seeing is another step in Amazon’s desire to ensure that if a consumer needs to buy something… anything… they’re doing it from Amazon. What makes this even more interesting is thinking about what this can all lead to. At the SC Business Fair 2014, which took place last month in Japan, Toshiba previewed a digital signage system called, Smartphone-linked Signage, that uses Bluetooth low energy wireless technology to link digital signs with smartphones. This creates an ability to send unique offers that can be controlled and optimized by the consumer on their mobile device. What this means, is that if multiple people are staring at the same display, they may be receiving different offers or forms of content. Suddenly, you can start seeing how the convergence of digital and physical retailing can create an entirely new paradigm.

When Amazon knows all.

Right now, these vending machines will sell you an e-reader. It’s simple enough. Tomorrow they could easily be linked to your Amazon account. They could easily present you with recommendations based on your historical purchases that you could buy on the spot and easily decide if you would like to get it right there or have it shipped via Amazon Prime to your front door. These vending machines could interact with your smartphone and/or tablet to create a much richer shopping experience and, suddenly, everything we always thought we knew about what a vending machine is (and can do) gets completely upended. That may seem lofty or off too much into the future, but the technology exists. It’s a retail format that big brands are playing with. It’s an additional direct relationship that a brand can have with a consumer.

Who knew that the future of big retail may come be coming from these little vending machines?     

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

Tags:

The Blog Turns 20 This Year

Can you believe it? I had to re-read the headline a couple of times as well.

Yesterday, The Guardian posted an article titled, The blog turns 20: a conversation with three internet pioneers. It made me do a double-take. This blog, has been around for eleven years. With over 3600 posts and over 40,000 comments, it is much more than a publishing platform. It is much more than a place where I share what I am thinking about or tinkering with. It is an ongoing space where people come together to think differently about how brands can better connect with consumers. I can’t thank you enough for being here, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am that blogging was invented.

Twenty years is a long time.

Brands struggle to understand digital marketing. To say that this is nothing new, is to acknowledge just how slow companies can be to adapt, and how adverse to change many people can be. You can head over to your local bookstore (if you still have one) and look at the most recent business books being published, and there will – without question – be several titles about how to get started with blogs and how important they can be to a businesses success. When I was writing the first draft of my second book, CTRL ALT Delete (which came out in the latter part of last year), I was genuinely anxious to use the word “blog” in the book. I felt like people reading it may misinterpret my use of the word and think that I was dismissing some of the newer channels, or that I had become an old man, clinging on to this thing that had lost its shiny luster and media darling position in the world. When I look at new media platforms like Huffington Post, Business Insider, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or whatever, I just see some kind of variance on the blog. A blog – for my dollar – has simply become the catchall phrase for the ability that human beings now have to create content (in text, images, audio and video) and instantly share that with the world for free. Blogs were better defined as an online journal that enabled writers to instantly publish their content to the world for free (it could also be easily distributed through the power of RSS – a term that is also all-but-forgotten). Now, it’s not just words. It’s not just on a computer. Still, Instagram just feels like photo blogging to someone like me.

Twenty years… and it’s just getting started.

In a world of disposable technology (both the hardware and the software), I still believe in the power of words. In a world where books are moving from bookshelves to iPhones, I still believe in words. In a world where pictures can be sent via mobile and then destroyed so that no trail ever exists, I still believe in words. This hesitancy of brands to embrace these channels are both a personal frustration to me, but have also afforded me an incredibly rich life of work that continues to keep me inspired. Still, I have a hard time believing that the concept of blogging is two decades old.

If you love to write.  

Often, people will ask why I love to blog so much and so frequently. The answer is simple: I love to write. If you love to write. If you love to share… you should be blogging. To me, the notion of blogging is still as exciting and powerful as it was over a decade ago, when I published my first post. Back then, I could not believe that this piece of software existed. I could not believe that I didn’t need anyone’s permission (be it an editor or a publication) to reach an audience. I could not believe that if my words resonated, I would be able to find my own audience and build my own community. Twenty years later, I get that same tingle – each and every day – when I lift the lid of my MacBook Air and stare at the blank screen. I don’t often know where the journey will take me, or how easily the words will flow, but I am deeply grateful and forever thankful for the pioneers who built this platform.

It’s not about me.

As I read the article in The Guardian, I started to realize that while I am thankful that I was able to find a corner of the world to share my words, that I much more grateful that I am able to read, consume and engage with the thinking of others. I have met some of my closest friends because they are bloggers. Because they share. Because they write. Because they care. These people are real. More real than the digital pixels that transform and distribute their words instantly around the world. If you look to the left of this blog post, you will see something that says, “Check Out These Blogs.” Those people are just some of the big brains that I think about, read and follow with each and every passing day. In a world without blogs, I would be waiting years or months (at best) to hopefully grab a new book from them or an extended article in a magazine or newspaper. No more. Blogs destroyed the chasm that existed between writers and their audiences, by giving them the ability to share on an ongoing basis. I marvel at that more than anything else. I hope you do as well.

Happy 20th Birthday, blog! I’m looking forward to decades more of your goodness.

Feel free to share below what blogs mean to you…

Tags:

Great Content Is The Least Of Your Worries

If a brand is looking to do something more than traditional advertising, what would be your recommendation?

The natural answer is: create content. And, to leverage that content through digital (re: social media) channels, so that consumers will see it, share it, talk about it, etc… Even that is not a simple and easy thing to do. We’ve seen – on a constant and consistent basis – just how hard brands struggle to get the right type of content into the right channels to see any type of movement happen. It’s still few and far between for most, as they grapple with defining what success (or ROI) looks like in comparison with their traditional advertising measurement models. With that, too many brands dismiss the myriad of other reasons why consumers like what they see. In the end, having great content or great advertising is a fraction of the work that defines success for a brand. 

What else are consumers looking for in a brand?

  1. Utility. As you know, utilitarianism marketing, is a huge part of my second business book, CTRL ALT Delete, and still remains a vastly untapped opportunity for brands. Consumers want to have a tool (or utility) that adds value to their already cluttered lives. Newsfeeds are filled with links and how-to articles. This is just more clutter for them to sort through. It’s not just about valuable content, but how that content is cased for them to actually derive a true benefit from it. The content that goes into this case is critical, but until a brand knows how much of a utility their apps, websites or wearable technologies are adding to their consumer’s lives, it will be hard to break through the clutter.
  2. Functionality. This can best be described as the opposite of “death by a thousand paper cuts.” Functionality is all of the small, smart and simple ways that your marketing creates value to the consumer by removing layers of friction and adding in thousands (hundreds?) or little things that make the experience of the utility that much easier and fluid than anything else they had used previously. Think about the “slide to unlock” functionality of smartphones versus the old days of multiple button combinations to get your device into working mode. The easier it is to navigate and use coupled with the valuable content will build more loyal consumers.
  3. Design. In two words: design matters. I’ve watched consumers – on countless occasions – attempt to navigate a website on a mobile device or try to work through a “mobile-friendly” version of a brand’s digital experience only to quit or calmly state, “this sucks.” Consumers don’t care about your IT roadmap or your marketing department’s apprehension to spend budget on a native mobile experience, they simple find it to be a brand weakness. Period. This isn’t just about mobile either. So few brands spend any semblance of time designing better experiences, that we wind up having two instances occur: One, a general homogeny, where it’s hard to tell the difference between one brand from another. Two, a brand that believes design is at the core and is able to create such a chasm between themselves and their competitors. Content surrounded by poor design is poor content.
  4. Integration. It’s a digital world. This pushes content well beyond the realm of simple text. We live in a world of text, images, audio and video. Consumers have an expectation to have that entire experience fully-integrated. They want access to the content as apart of the experience. Push this to think about ways to build a proper integrated player or embedding the right tools, so that the consumer can best benefit from a holistic experience. 
  5. Apps. This may be contentious to some, but apps are the new reality. Consumers are looking for new and interesting things on their smartphones and tablets. There is no reason why brands should not play an important role in this space. Sadly, most of the branded apps don’t follow the notions being put forward here and relegate themselves to narcissistic tendencies. They’re looking to pimp and shill over utility, functionality, design and integration. Consumers love and want more apps. Apps are the new websites. Brands need to get used to this.
  6. Alerts and notifications. If consumers love what you’re doing and creating, they want to know when more of that good stuff is coming. There is a balance here and subtlety that is hard to master, but the brands that consumers know, love and trust are also the ones that they want to be most connected to. Consumers do like alerts and notifications that are valuable. Don’t forget about that. And don’t be annoying. Remember, this is a very sensitive issue. Brands are trying to add value with alerts and notifications, not bulk up on impressions.
  7. Interaction. Arianna Huffington quite beautifully stated that “self-expression in the new entertainment.” Consumers love access. They love commenting, sharing, complaining and more. Do you know what they love more than that? Doing it in public. People love to share and tell stories and add to those stories. Great content is no different. In the early days of blogging, I used to say that the biggest difference between traditional media and blogging is that in the tradition world, the last period at the end of the last sentence is the end of the piece. In digital media, the last period at the end of the last sentence is where the story begins. Having great content without building in the hooks for people to have interaction, social play and commentary renders the content neutered.
  8. Distribution. This is something that I have blogged about on countless occasions. Content without an even stronger content distribution strategy is useless. This is a hard one for brands to understand. They want to control the content on their own platforms. Great content wants to be free. Brands can help with this. It means breaking down the walled gardens and finding new and interesting places where customers (and prospective customers) play and connect, and to get your content into those channels of distributions. Think about your industry trade publications or other, more adventurous, places for your content to live and breathe.

So, are you still just worried about the content side of things?

Tags:

Reboot: Marketing With Inc. Magazine

WARNING: Self-promotional blog post ahead…

I am excited to announce that starting tomorrow, I will be a regular contributor to Inc. Magazine with the launch of my twice-monthly column, Reboot: Marketing. The column will focus on how technology and marketing is working harder than ever to make businesses better (and what entrepreneurs need to know to capitalize on it!). As usual, I will be posting the unfiltered, unedited version here on Six Pixels of Separation once Inc. Magazine’s final version gets published. The version on this blog will also include all of my regular slew of links, tags, etc…

Why would I write for Inc. Magazine?

In simple terms: content distribution strategy (more on that here: The Failing State Of Content Marketing). Every week, I blog six times plus the Six Pixels Podcast on Sunday. My current thoughts are that this content should not just be shackled to my own platforms, but to extend the thinking into as many interesting and unique corners of the publishing world as possible. I will continue to be a regular contributor to The Huffington Post (look for my newest column next week) and I will be shifting my contributions to Harvard Business Review to a monthly format. All of those pieces will be posted here as well (in their original format).

But wait… there’s more!

With that, I am equally excited to be announcing that I will have an upcoming monthly column in Strategy Magazine (it will be published in the third week of every month). The focus of that column will be innovation in marketing. With all of that, my weekly Monday morning radio hit on CHOM 977 FM’s Mornings Rock With Terry And Heather B will continue on. Will there be other business books? Yes! More speaking engagements? Yes! Other new and interesting ways of sharing this content in new and interesting venues? Just wait until you see what will be happening in the coming months.

Too much content?

People complain that there is too much content. I am guilty of this from time to time. Still, I believe deeply in these digital channels and the ability for an individual to share their thinking with the world. I’m also a firm believer that so long as the content adds value to people’s lives, then it is a worthy pursuit. This is an exciting time for brands, publishers and marketers. But, I have another thought: I don’t believe that everything that I create should be consumed, shared and loved by everyone (I wish more brands would think like this as well). You don’t have to listen to all of my podcasts to derive value. Individuals can pop in and out. That’s great too (in fact, it’s my expectation that this will happen). Too many brands (and individuals) are on the drug of “more.” Thinking, hoping and praying that every new tweet gets a few more retweets or moments of engagement than their last. That is not the true spirit of creating a legacy of content. This blog post may not be of value to you. I’m hoping that the next one (or the one after that) will.

Until then… let’s Reboot: Marketing.

Tags:

The Internet Will Break Your Creative Block

Writer’s block? Creative block? Can’t come up with something to create?

Steven Pressfield hates the words “writer’s block.” He believes that we’re all just fighting the “resistance” to create something (writing, that new startup, a project, whatever). His books, The War of Art, Do The Work and others are all about “putting you ass where your heart is,” as he calls it. Seth Godin feels that there is no such thing as writer’s block, because we don’t have thinker’s block or talker’s block, so if you write the way that you talk, there is no way to ever be unable to create. I believe that some days the creativity simply flows better than it does on other days. I can’t tell you how many times I have done a similar presentation, and on one day everything seems to be flowing wonderfully, then the next day it feels like I have to dig a ditch to string together the most simplest of sentences. I also believe that it’s hard not to create so long as you are inspired. The more you see, feel and hear, the more things there are to be inspired be. Be the infovore.

Inspiration is now everywhere.

Of course, that’s nothing new (thank you, Internet), but it is something that is often forgotten or dismissed. We used to have to go to the museum to be inspired. Some might go to a concert, a movie, the library, have a deep conversation with a friend at the coffee shop or even hit the local stand-up comedy club. At best, we might be inspired by something we read in a newspaper at home, saw on TV, read in a book, or heard on the radio. If you are tinkering in the right spaces online, it’s impossible to not be inspired. Always. Constantly.

Pushing beyond memes, Buzzfeed and Upworthy.

It’s easy to get lost in listicles and the bulk of snackable content that the Web provides. Look no further than your Twitter or Facebook feeds for hours and hours of animated GIFs, useless YouTube videos and Reddit randomness. There’s nothing wrong with it, but to then turn around and say that you have writer’s block or that you’re struggling to come up with an original idea, would lead me to believe that you’re simply skimming along the Internet instead of digging deep into the treasure trove of amazing, free and powerful content that is everywhere. There have been days that I have looked up at the clock – in the later part of the evening – only to realize that no topic, piece of news or anything has brimmed to the top and had me begging for a keyboard to blog. It’s at that point that I turn back to the Internet and start digging in random corners looking for inspiration.

It has never failed to inspire me.

Criticize the amount of content on the Internet. Balk at the true value and merits of it. Do as you will. I can’t imagine going back in time to a day and age when I found myself waiting at the local newsstand/magazine store for a new issue of Fast Company magazine to show up in the pre-Internet days. Plus, you would be surprised at just how much of the most juvenile or uninformed content that you come across online can be completely inspiring to get you creating. How often have you read something and wanted to immediately Javex your eyeballs, because you could not believe how stupid a perspective was? Well, guess what? That’s inspiration knocking on your noggin and begging for you to set the record straight by creating something with your own twist and perspective on it.

The Internet is the great liberator of creativity. 

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Don’t believe me? Go pull up any piece of content (or, feel free to use this one) and write your own little article, post or journal entry about it. If you choose this one, ask yourself what you think about creative blocks, finding new ideas or how to be inspired? Now, share it! If it’s not this piece of content, but something, just start with this question: what do you agree/disagree with what you just consumed?

See, it works! Let the ideas flow!

Tags:

If You’re Going To Speak In Public, Please Don’t Do This…

Everyone is talking about the Michael Bay meltdown that happened at CES.

I hate the whole “kicking someone when they are down mentality,” but this is worth watching if you ever have to present or speak in public…

Ugh… it’s tough to watch, isn’t it?

Because I am often asked to speak in public and I have a personal passion for the art of public speaking, my email, social feeds and phone have (literally) been a-buzz all day about this incident. I can’t imagine how Bay currently feels (if you’re interested, he has posted a response on his personal blog and did a brief interview with TMZ). The human side of this is brutal. I would hate for this to happen to anyone. I’m sure he’s not feeling all that great about the situation. And, to make it even worse, I feel like even commenting on this incident simply creates more attention to it (which, I am sure, Bay does not really want). That being said…

This incident has nothing to do with public speaking, a fear of public speaking or anything like that!

It’s true. Michael Bay was not doing any form of public speaking. He was going to read on stage, live in front of an audience (something that he has never read or rehearsed before). That’s not speaking. That’s reading. He was going to attempt Public Reading not Public Speaking (these are not the same thing). I write a lot about this particular issue/fear right here: Overcoming Stage Fright. Bay is not a professional speaker. Bay never claimed to be a professional speaker. Still, Samsung paid him and he agreed to this event. The teleprompter either broke or he said the wrong line and this threw off the script and flow. The truth is that none of that matters because Bay broke the cardinal rule of presenting in public long before the wheels of his plane touched the ground in Las Vegas: he did not prepare. Not even for a second. You can tell by watching the video. Regardless of the teleprompter, it’s clear that Bay had two speaking points: what is his work day in and day out, and what does he think of the new curved glass TV? He got so flustered that he couldn’t even respond to those two questions, so he bolted from the stage. Five minutes of preparation would have changed all of that. Yes, five minutes.

It goes like this…

Here’s how the five minute preparation should have gone in terms of giving Bay some direction: “We’re going to use a teleprompter and it has our whole script on it. Let’s meet 30 minutes before we go live and run through it a couple of times to get a feel for the stage and the interaction between everyone on stage. Technology might fail us, so if it does, let’s just be sure that you’re comfortable speaking to two key points: what your job is every day and how you work, and what you think about the new Samsung TV. If things really start going bad, be comfortable acknowledging it by letting the audience know that you’re a director, that you’re nervous but you’re also really excited about this new TV and everything it can do.” Obviously, nobody wants to be at the point where we’re apologizing and letting the audience know that we’re nervous, but that is the parachute for moments like this. In that quick five minute conversation, Bay would have had a mental framework, and would have been able to take ownership of the content instead of being paralyzed because he didn’t know or prepare any of the content (regardless of the teleprompter).

…And here we are.

Bay is right. In his TMZ interview he said that he had a “human moment.” We all have them. Good, bad and ugly. So, what turned out to be a bad day for Bay and an embarrassing moment deserves some empathy, but it’s not something that could happen to any of us. It’s something that happens when you don’t know the content and don’t do any preparation. So yes, it’s a human moment, but it is a completely preventable one. I write this because it’s moments like this that people will point to as a reason/excuse for them to not present (“I don’t want to pull a Michael Bay up there, so I better not speak!”). You don’t have to be a master presenter. You don’t have to be a pro. You do have to have a semblance of knowledge as to what you’re going to speak about, and you do have to prepare for it (more on that right here: How To Give A Great Presentation (Seriously). I feel terrible for Bay. I watched that YouTube clip once and could not watch it again. It is very uncomfortable for everyone. What’s most important is that it doesn’t act as a deterrent for you (or anyone you know) to speak. If you do know your content and you have prepared, and you do freeze up (which can happen), please don’t run off. Just stop. Let the audience know that you’re human and that you are nervous. Apologize. Nobody will die and no one will hate you. At the same time, also let them know that you have prepared. Then, ask yourself this one question (in your mind): “what did I want to tell these good looking people?” And answer it to the audience.

You will be fine.

Tags:

The George Costanza Approach To Getting Things Done

Do the opposite.

Do you remember that Seinfeld episode when George Costanza decided to do everything the opposite of what he had done to date? Watch this:

Do the opposite.

I’m not telling you to do the opposite of everything you have done to date, but sometimes the best case scenario or the white paper or the certainty of an expert’s opinion could lead you down the wrong path. Case in point: at this time of the year, it’s almost impossible to not be inundated with content around how to have the best year ever. It could come in the form of productivity tips, New Year’s Resolutions, self-help books, perspectives on diet and exercise and beyond. You see this content in the mass media, on blogs (like this one), in tweets, motivational pictures on Instagram, specific Pinterest boards and more. As an infovore, it has been the bulk of content that I have seen (and been consuming) for the past little while. It’s hard not have some of this thinking seep into my own thinking around the type of year that I would like 2014 to be. One of the recurring themes that I have seen, heard and read is to ignore things like email, making phone calls and social media first thing in the day. Many great thinkers (and you can Google it), will tell you that the first thing that you should do once you get up and get your work day on, is to focus and spend and fixed and blocked time on the really important stuff. No email. No social media. No phone calls. Start your day by burying yourself in your work and block out everything else (even if you need technology like Freedom to do so!).

That one gave me pause.

I do the complete opposite. For me to have the energy to think about the big stuff (client strategies at Twist Image, pushing forward our business development plans at the agency or even writing a blog post), I need all of that little stuff off of my radar. Watching the inbox grow or even simple birthday wishes to friends on Facebook stack up over the course of the day, doesn’t help me focus on the big stuff. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Again, this is a personal thing (and, it could well be just me who feels this way), but knowing that my inbox has been sanitized and that I’ve done a quick review on social media tends to make me feel like I’m a little bit more informed as to what’s happening in the world, and that my communication for the day is (somewhat) complete. I’m no night owl, either. It’s not like I spend my whole day on email and social media praying for a few scant moments towards the end of the day to work on the bigger things, but I do prefer the feeling like I am (somewhat) up-to-speed and not falling behind on those little things. Also, those little things tend to inspire new thinking or spark and idea. They always do.

These experts.

These same experts also tell you to stay concentrated and not to shift from one window to another. So, if you are doing work, don’t hop over to Facebook or YouTube (even for a second). There is research that states it can take close to 25 minutes to get back into the groove of what you were doing, so it is a pure loss of efficiency (that most people don’t even realize). This may be true, but I find that those mental breaks often help me in finding the right words or different ways of thinking to add more color and perspective. I often need a lot of little breaks because I tend to work best in shorter spurts. As Seth Godin would say, “your mileage may vary.” 

Don’t play music. Play music.

People love to know how other people work. We tend to believe that how they work has some kind of correlation to the actual output. I’m not sure where I sit on that fence. There are days when music helps me write and there are days when anything but silence can throw off my concentration. There are days when I am fully concentrated and engaged, but the output of my ideas don’t seem to find the right flow… and then there’s the opposite as well. Again, this is less about process, superstition and other tactics. The thing is to find your own flow and be open to having that same flow find a new river, valley and waterfall to roll into (and that can happen daily). Currently, I am writing this blog post on a makeshift standing desk (that I made using a computer lap desk) with music is blasting along with it. I’m not sure how long I’ll last at a standing desk or be able to find the right words with this modern jazz blazing in the background. Today, it works. Tomorrow, it might not. What I do know is that sometimes doing the opposite of what every expert is telling you to do can create something magical (I guess, I’m also telling you to not believe everyone and everything you read and see… including me).

True innovation and creativity is about finding your own path and not trying to replicate what someone else has done (even if you define them as successful), simply because a process works for them.

Tags:

(Almost) No One Is Seeing Your Content

Certainly, this is not the most optimistic headline you are going to read on January 1st, 2014.

We used to tell ourselves a very powerful narrative about how the cream always rises to the top, and the struggle that most brands face when it comes to content marketing and social media is that they struggle to find a true sense of human-ness in the content that they are creating. How many brands can produce stories that people would want to (no, have to!) share? We seem to believe that the brands that are finding any type of success with this stuff are going big (skydiving from outer space, delivering gifts via baggage claim to unsuspecting airline passengers, etc…) and delivering on the production of great stories (one after the other). That bubble was (somewhat) popped by the issue of content distribution strategies. No matter how great the content is, it needs a meaningful distribution strategy behind it to convert into something truly valuable (more on that here: The Failing State Of Content Marketing). So many brands actually have great content, but have a sub-par content distribution strategy where the vast majority of the work resides behind their own walled garden.

Now, even if you have a great story to tell, it could be that no one even knows that you exist. 

Do you find that hard to believe? Before moving forward, please read these two (short) articles:

  1. (Almost) No One Is Reading Your Tweets.
  2. While Everyone Else Whines, This Guy Makes His Whole Living Off Facebook Traffic.

We need Twitter and we need Facebook.

Twitter and Facebook (and there are many others) are no-longer “like to haves” for brands. If a brand is not present on these social media channels, there is a commonly held sentiment that they are simply uncaring or non-present in their consumers’ lives. While that is an arguable statement, it is undeniable that consumers now take to social media for resolution, information and more from brands. Some brands can harness these communications channels with ease and others grapple with it on a constant basis. Regardless, anybody in the marketing world would agree that these two channels alone reach a vast audience of customers and potential customers. So yes, they are important. Still, Twitter and Facebook are both faced with a similar business predicament that has yet to be resolved. On the one hand, they must protect the sanctity of their consumers by ensuring that their respective feeds don’t become overly polluted with marketing and advertising messages. On the other hand, they are a business and must generate significant revenue to please investors and the public.

This is where we wind up.

No, Twitter and Facebook don’t have the same business or consumer challenges, but these two instances point to one massive problem for brands: if these (and other) media channels continually tweak and throttle the content or misrepresent what gets seen by who, this instability will not play well with brands, media companies and advertising agencies. On the Facebook front, if brands have invested significant dollars to acquire and build relationships, but Facebook decides to pick and choose what gets shown to these individuals, marketers will have an issue. On the Twitter front, if almost all of the tweets are all but ignored, what is the exact business proposition to the brand?

Next steps.

If we wind up trying to “trick the system” by using off-channel techniques (like paying people to like and retweet or having some kind of agreement with a handful of other groups to always like or retweet their content in exchange for the same action), we’re missing the bigger point to everything. Social media enables brands to have real interactions with real human beings. I struggle to understand why the media, the advertisers and the media companies try to over-complicate this. Facebook would not have to throttle content if consumers weren’t complaining about the vast majority of it being sucky. It’s not Twitter’s fault that it became a massive (and noisy) place to post 140 characters. The issue here is not what Facebook or Twitter have become. The issue is that Facebook and Twitter (and others) have not bended to the way in which advertisers would prefer. If people using social media were getting tremendous value from all of this content marketing, we would not be faced with either of these issues. What we’re actually seeing is something that we’ve known about media for a very long time (but always want to forget): consumers aren’t consuming media for brands. They want moments of connectivity, delight and communication. Sure, that may include a brand at some point along the way, but it’s not their raison d’être.

Fair is fair.

If I were Facebook, I would open up the pipe. I would let users see and feel all of the content that everyone is posting and let them make their own choices about who they want to friend and like. If I were Twitter, I would do the same thing, but I would also allow consumers to time-shift the content. One of the biggest issues with Twitter is the real-time component of it. I may love following someone in the UK, but I’m usually asleep when they’re tweeting away. If I got their tweets adjusted to my own time zone, I may have a chance of getting more of these message through. Some of the brands having the most success on Twitter will schedule one tweet to repeat itself multiple times throughout the day to adjust, but that just seems like too much work and annoying for those who are actively paying attention. Consumers are smart. They will stay connected to those brands that are adding value. It’s pretty simple. The reason we have so much disconnect, trust issues and this ongoing throttling is that the companies like Twitter and Facebook don’t want to have people abandoning the channel because the content isn’t working for the users. We can wax poetic about this forever, but the facts remain the facts: brands are spending a ton of money, time and energy with social media and someone else is deciding what stuff gets seen by those who have already agreed to be connected.

If that doesn’t tell you something about the state of content marketing and social media, I don’t know what does.

Tags:

My Love Affair With Pocket

Where do you save and read your online content?

You would think that with all of this technology and content that we’re constantly creating, publishing and reading, that it would be a whole lot simpler to save, share and consume it. It’s not. It’s a mess. And, I’m guess that if it’s a mess for me, it’s an even bigger disaster for those who are less inclined to spend the time figuring out which services are the best and which ones can be trusted. If we go back to the early days of online content, I quickly became enamored with Delicious (which, at the time, was a bookmarking service coupled with an online social network). You could not only save and retrieve content on Delicious, but you could follow friends and see what they were saving. Most of that technology was driven by the nascent days of tagging content. Over the years, other services came online, Delicious got acquired by Yahoo, RSS readers (like Google Reader) came into play and, well, things just started getting messy again.

A system to save and find content.

For years, I would bounce back and forth. From taking physical notes of things to check out, to using Google Reader to having specific folders in my email program for areas of interest. In short, it just felt like everything was all over the place. It was less about trying to capture and consumer everything, and much more about having an efficient and unified place to get it and keep it. When Instapaper came out, it provided the most ideal place for me to save articles that I wanted to read, but proved less efficient for other pieces of content that I wanted to store (little pieces of data, ideas for clients, videos from YouTube to watch, concepts for a future book, column ideas for the Huffington Post or Harvard Business Review). Still, it felt like I was adding in another place to save my content. Then, Pocket came along. Pocket changed everything. I love Pocket.

Why I love Pocket.

Pocket seems to do everything that a lot of other tools did well, but it just works on many levels. Pocket allows you to save anything that you see on the Internet to an asynchronous experience (meaning, it is cloud-based and once an item is saved, you can view it from a computer, tablet or smartphone, so long as you have the apps and are signed in). If you see something in your email, you can forward it to a specific email address and it shows up in Pocket. If you add the Web browser bookmarklet, a little button appears in your Web browser, so you can add that piece of content. And, best of all, you can add tags to everything. It’s simple, fast and easy (I know, this sounds like a commercial, but it’s true). Because the tagging system is so well designed, Pocket makes it extremely simple to not only save content, but keep it organized from day one.

It gets better.

Perhaps one of the best features of Pocket is (much like Instapaper), is that once you save something in the app, it automatically downloads the content. This is huge. It means that while you’re not online, you can still read, review and work with the content. Sure, the vast majority of us are connected all of the time, but this is also magical because the speed of which you can access content (without Pocket having to run off into the Internet, find the link and pull the content down) makes it that much more magical. From flying to public spaces, having all of that saved content on the app (without needing connectivity) is a massive plus.

Everything in your Pocket.  

Of course, as you start using Pocket more, you start seeing the tremendous amount of work that these people are doing to make it better. They have integrated their tool into several apps like Twitter, Flipboard, Zite and more (close to 300 applications). And that is part of the magic too. Pocket made me realize how transient I can be with content. My context for content consumption is so different from when I’m on my MacBook Air to my iPhone to my iPad. Being able to save, consume, share and annotate the content that I’m devouring as an Infovore – no matter what type of hardware I’m staring at – seems to keep the tsunami of publishing from washing me away. Pocket is a true one screen world system.

Organization as part of your New Year’s resolutions.

If you want to get a handle on the content that you’re seeing, and put it to better use, I can’t recommend Pocket enough. As an example: the content that I cover on my Monday morning CHOM FM radio segment is, typically, more of the general news-y things in technology and social media that I don’t bother delving deep into on the blog, in my columns or in books. With Pocket, I can just tag all of that content from Mashable and BuzzFeed as “CHOM” when it comes in, so when it’s time to build the topics of conversation for the radio show on Sunday night, it’s all there… in one click. Once the segment is done, I delete everything with that tag in a very simple way. As human beings, we have never been faced with this much content from so many disparate places, finally you have the right tool on your computer, tablet and smartphone to keep you perfectly informed and totally organized.

If you have some down time during this holiday season, go and check out Pocket. You won’t be sorry.

(full disclosure: Pocket is not a client of Twist Image, I am not invested in this company and I don’t think I know anyone who works there. I just love it :)

Tags:

What Does Facebook Do Next?

I had an interesting conversation the other week with a senior marketing professional of a major corporation that represents many brands.

They had asked me what I thought the percentage was of posts that get through to the News Feed on Facebook from brands to people who have liked the Page? You would think that the answer is 100%. You would be wrong. There is so much sharing happening on Facebook, that the company throttles access to the News Feed (not just for brands for people too). They do this as a way to preserve and balance the diversity of content that we see on it. They also do this, so that brands (and individuals) don’t monopolize the feed. The more cynical might argue that Facebook does this as a business model. If you want more access to the News Feed, you can buy your way in with sponsored stories. I’ve heard brands say that anywhere from 12% – 18% of their posts make it through organically (without paying to promote it). It’s kind of shocking that a brand will spend so much time, money and effort to get as many likes as possible and only be able to connect with about 15% of their content/efforts, even if 100% of those people have agreed to stay connected. It is the Facebook business model: once you get a follower, you have to pay to connect with them. This senior marketing professional of a major corporation said that he is seeing percentages drop as low as 2% for some of the brands that this multi-national represents. Another analytics marketing professional told me that they are seeing the same meager numbers.

What is Facebook for brands?

I then asked the frustrated marketing professional what they are going to do about it? Are they going to allocate more dollars for advertising and sponsored stories? Are they going to continue paid fan acquisition strategies? This was their response: “we’re treating Facebook for what it has become: an advertising platform. Nothing more. Nothing less.” If you’re going to read one article this week, you may want to check out the Business Insider piece titled, Facebook Is A Fundamentally Broken Product That Is Collapsing Under Its Own Weight. It’s definitely a negative piece and slanted (so take it with a grain of salt). It’s hard to not argue that Facebook is still a viable and valuable place for brands to be, but it does point to a contentious issue that Facebook is grappling with: if everyone is sharing everything on Facebook, how realistic is it to assume that anybody is really seeing anything? From the article: “In August, Facebook revealed that ‘every time someone visits News Feed there are on average 1,500 potential stories from friends, people they follow and Pages for them to see, and most people don’t have enough time to see them all. These stories include everything from wedding photos posted by a best friend, to an acquaintance checking in to a restaurant.’ Let’s say the average Facebook user is awake for 17 hours a day. To consume all that stuff, they would take in 88 new items per hour, or 1.5 things per minute. That’s just not possible. Facebook knows it has a problem. It planned a major redesign that gave users more control over the News Feed. But it was scrapped when the first batch of users showed low engagement with the new design.”

A victim of their own success?

The people who populated, connected and grew Facebook were none concerned about the marketers or how the organization was going to find a business model. Much like any online success, once the exponential growth rates start kicking in, it becomes nearly impossible to manage success. Brands will often ask me how to best define if something has “gone viral,” and my standard answer is: when you can’t handle the results of your work. Success in the online sphere is often overwhelming to the point of near-collapse. The Business Insider article also points to newer challenges facing Facebook (couldn’t resist) like mobile as the real social platform. You don’t need to stay inside Facebook’s walled garden to share a photo (Instagram or Snapchat), to chat with someone (messaging or WhatsApp) or play a game. The social nature of the smartphone and the apps make switching from place to place completely frictionless. As mobile becomes the more dominant screen in the consumer’s life (which it is), Facebook is going to have to do more than nurture an acquisition strategy to maintain their relevance and dominance in the online social networking sphere.

What makes Facebook interesting.

For marketers, Facebook is interesting because so many people are there, connected, sharing and spending a lot time with it. For Facebook, it is attempting to ensure that as it grows, it can still enable each user to have a higher and more valuable level of engagement. Somewhere, in those last two sentences, lies the answer to what Facebook can do next. If the WestJet Christmas Miracle viral video sensation of the past few weeks has shown us anything, it’s that 30,000,000 (plus) people will spend a whole lot of time connecting with a brand, if it can tell a good story, add value to their day and give them a moment of thoughtful pause. Facebook has millions upon millions of people who are spending a whole lot of time engaged on the platform. When brands start using that opportunity to truly connect, instead of abusing that moment with an impression and repetition-based mass media mindset, they probably won’t see Facebook solely as an advertising platform, but rather a place where deep and powerful marketing connections can be built, nurtured and leveraged.

Facebook is not collapsing.

Most brand’s Facebook strategy is failing. They’re just looking for someone to blame. It seems to me like Facebook is throttling the News Feed in a bid to keep their consumers engaged and sheltered from brands doing very boring or traditional things. As this platform becomes more powerful on mobile, Facebook is going to have to be even more diligent in this process. Does this mean that Facebook is faltering, or is it that brands aren’t doing the very hard work of figuring out how they can add value to the online social network?

The more consumers share, the less consumers will see. Brands have to find their own way in this cluttered world. Obviously, more clutter is not the solution.

Tags:

Unlocking Creative Confidence

How much creativity are you bringing to your work?

For as long as I have been fascinated with business books and other types of long-form non fiction content, I have been fascinated by content on creativity. What is that secret sauce that some people have, and can it be found, nurtured, inspired and galvanized into something usable and applicable to my own life? It took decades for me to acknowledge that the words that I write are my own form of art and creativity. From those early days, the design innovation company, IDEO, has always been on my radar. Back in 2001, I devoured The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley (one of the partners at IDEO). His second book, The Ten Faces Of Innovation (published in 2005) was great as well. Most recently, he and his brother (David Kelley) published a book together titled, Creative Confidence. The book debunks the myth that creativity at work is just for the “creative types” and pushes to help each and every one of us to think and be more creative in the work that we do.

Spend an hour thinking about your own creativity.

Tom and David Kelley recently spent time at the Googleplex discussing their new book with Frederik Pferdt (Head of Innovation and Creativity Programs at Google).

Watch this…

Tags:

A New Golden Age For Television

Brands are all hot over the Internet and digital marketing, but is television entering into a new golden age?

From a purely content and technology perspective, there is no doubt that television has evolved at a rapid pace in the past decade. Some migh…