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Posted by Karl Taylor on

It’s More Like Magazines

I’ve found myself repeating the same few words over and over again.

That’s usually one of the first signs I look to when I need to know that something should be written down. When you find yourself hung up on a problem, it’s a good sign it might be worth solving.

One thing I’ve noticed an increasing amount of advertisers complaining about is the difficulty they have navigating the world of display inventory.

There are a number of very good reasons for this.

I don’t think that all of them have answers yet, either.

It isn’t always easy to keep up with the changes in the communications landscape. On some teams, this can create a pressure to keep up. When you feel like you don’t understand something, it’s natural to reach out to others who do for help.

This is a great thing, and there are many fine networks who do a great job of delivering a consistent experience to prospective advertisers.

In some circumstances, you may end up working with a network who is less than transparent about what media properties make up the basket you’re buying. This isn’t always malicious, sometimes ad networks can use a similar practice to shore up inventory or guarantee a certain type or volume of impression. Even when it’s well intentioned, it can on occasion mean not knowing where your content is being served.

On other (often larger) networks, ads follow users with a varying degree of deference given to avoiding “blacklisted” properties.

There’s one trick I’ve always found very useful for changing the way you think about online communities.

I think that there is a very real temptation to lose a sense of perspective when you begin to evaluate the way a large number of communities work.

It’s very natural to know the rules of the communities that you regularly operate in. It’s also quite likely for you to understand the relationships that govern the “unwritten” rules of that community — if for no other reason than the tremendous amount of time you’ve undoubtedly spent encountering just how powerful shared expectation can be.

This might be one of the reasons why not everyone who has used a social network in the past can directly translate that experience to using a social network “professionally” right away. This isn’t to say that people can’t make such a shift, rather that making such a shift requires a new way of looking at something you already feel familiar with.

Over the years, many people have come to derive tremendous value from a wide variety of online communities. When you’re a part of one of those communities, you can miss the changes that gradually take place over time.

When that happens, you aren’t in a good position to appreciate the subtleties and the nuances that are important to understand if you want to produce the kind of work that resonates with the people you are trying to communicate with.

The only way to recapture the magic, is to force yourself to look for it.

You have to take the time to understand exactly what goes on in around and near the lives of people who visit a web property you advertise on.

You have to take the time to make sure that you understand the complicated relationships between people who share, create and consume content. You need to understand what experiences, goals or values brought the people you’re to reach together in the first place.

You have to know what it is you’re trying to share well enough to understand if what you’re trying to accomplish is a good fit for the place where you’re trying to accomplish it.

That isn’t something that you can learn from a spreadsheet, though many fine audience research platforms can help point you in the right direction.

To truly understand a community, you have to learn to listen.

One of the best ways to do this is to take a page out of advertising history and actually enter the communities you’re about to work with.

This isn’t a new trick. It’s long been used by savvy media planners to make sure that ad buys inserted into magazines and trade journals fit into the genre they’re running against.

You might not know every site you should look at in the first place. One great way to get started is to begin by exploring the traffic patterns you can see in your user data. After a little while, you should be able to identify networks that responsible for driving your traffic. From there you can begin to explore wherelse that traffic goes.

You can also spend some time looking at the web habits of individual users you find online who match your target segment.

You might find the idea of spending some time on a forum you wouldn’t ever visit strange. I don’t think having this reaction is a bad thing.

Things that are unfamiliar can often feel uncomfortable. As we come to understand more about them, they become more comfortable.

Something like this is true of studying online communities as well.

You should ask yourself about the technical specifications of the network. You should take the time to familiarize yourself with platform documentation. These will always be unique to the platform you are working on.

You should find that while you work, you develop a series of habits that help you get into the head of your community. I have found that every marketer I know who uses a similar approach has a slightly different list of questions that they report to more or less use when identifying a new display opportunity online.

You should take the time to develop your own list. Still, here are six of the points I frequently find myself asking. It’s my hope they’ll help you start to think about your own list.

Why are these people here, now?

Each year, the variety of types of media a person could be consuming increases. There are more articles, posts and images created in a single moment than could be consumed in a month. There just isn’t any way to keep up — we’re past that part.

The way people chose to spend their time tells you a lot about what they value. When a large number of people share an interest, it’s worth paying attention to what’s going on around them.

What do these people have in common?

Part of picking apart why people are where they are when they are is going to be taking the time to ask yourself what the people you’re trying to understand have in common with each other. There’s some reason why they came together, and if you can understand the things they share, you’ll be one step closer to understanding.

Where else could these people go?

There’s a good chance more than one community serves the interest you’re trying to explore.

This can happen for any number of reasons. Sometimes, personality clashes lead to splintering. Other times, the bulk of a community may move from one network to another. Understanding these milestone events can help to shape a more accurate picture of what future obstacles the community you are observing is likely to face.

This insight can be particularly valuable if you’re trying to figure out how your team can give back to the people who rely on your product or service.

What do these people like about each other?

Once you’ve explored all the different places people who share a similar range of interests could be spending time, you’re in a really good position to start exploring what keeps people at some properties over others.

It might be tempting to try and answer this question at the same time you answer the next one.

What do these people dislike about one another?

Users who leave communities often have a pretty good reason for doing so.

A select few will break off to form a new community.

Some may join an alternative.

Others may leave entirely.

There’s likely a wealth of motivations and possibilities between each one of these paths. That’s why I’ve always found that either this question or the one immediately preceding is very easy to answer. In those situations, trying to examine the less obvious has often proven rewarding.

What types of reactions do these people have to the things they share amongst themselves?

In many online communities, it’s common to see a sort of common language develop.

You shouldn’t expect yourself to master it — you won’t be able to pick up everything.

If you can find a pattern, you’ll be able to very quickly sort out which reactions are “advertiser friendly” and which are “completely inappropriate.”

If you don’t find that 90% are “completely inappropriate” for use by advertisers, you probably aren’t looking closely enough at the values of the communities. While adblockers are still rare, they are much more common amongst highly engaged segments of internet users.

While these questions won’t be enough to make you an expert on any given community, they should be enough to kick start your efforts the next time you have to approach a part of the world you haven’t encountered before. Before too long, you’ll come to understand why many advertisers (myself included) consider this the best part of the job.

It’s More Like Magazines was originally published in Thoughts On Best Practices.

Posted by Karl Taylor on

“We’ve Tapped Out The Universe”

Advice For When User Growth Starts To Slip

It’s an all too common occurrence.

A marketing strategy that had been working, shows signs of slowing down.

Stakeholders start to get nervous.

A frantic team works to figure out what can be corrected, when and where.

Situations like the one I’m describing require more than increased output, but all too often, this is the solution I see teams applying.

Left unchecked, a situation like this one can quickly get out of control.

I’ve written a little bit in the past about a handful of ways you can identify what you should test, as well as a handful of ways you can use information like geographic breakdowns to better explore anomalies in click data, but getting value from information like this presupposes that you haven’t encountered a situation that to be frank, teams often do.

Sometimes what you’re doing stops working.

There are a lot of different ways that you can take a step back from the situation you find yourself in. For some, there is a very real temptation to start identifying each way that a program has failed to meet an objective.

The trouble with this approach is that things don’t really happen in a vacuum. When your ad begins to saturate, for example, you might only notice when the cost per click begins to rise. Information like cost per click proves retroactively useful, but it doesn’t necessarily shed any light into a problem that’s developing. As an example, it is quite possible that you could have detected a problem before it developed by observing ad frequency or response rate.

While it may be true that large portions of a marketing program may need to change, it is unlikely for example, that lists of customers are truly worthless. Design assets have a much longer shelf-life than many businesses allow them to enjoy. Recognizing the value in the efforts is part of the path to getting back on the right track.

More often than not, the reaction to proclaim “everything is broken,” is a reaction stemming from a frustration that has a good reason for existing. Instead of continuing to apply pressure to the situation, it is often a good idea to step back and take a look at the work that is actually being performed.

Many times this can reveal powerful opportunities for growth that had previously gone neglected. For example, many platforms have similar sizing requirements for assets. It is likely possible to begin experimenting in a new direction with minimal startup cost. This doesn’t mean, of course, that you can use the same strategies on every platform, but if you have good performing copy from a blog post, there’s no reason not to see what happens when you place it somewhere else. You can always go back and improve on a promising development.

That’s why when you find yourself in a situation like this, the only way out is to make a left turn. Ask yourself why you’re making what you’re making. Is there a tactic that could be more effective at reaching that goal? Giving yourself the space to take a broader approach can be just the change you need to get through.

“We’ve Tapped Out The Universe” was originally published in Observed Reflections.

Posted by Sonne Taylor on

A Reason Auto Followers Are Probably Killing Your Engagement Stats At Scale.

A few years ago, I started noticing that everywhere I looked, it seemed like everyone was using CrowdFire.

Autofollowers have been around for a really long time. Long enough that I don’t actually know where I would start researching where the first examples may have come from. I remember using scripts on MySpace. I remember ranking robots. I remember single messages spamming servers full of IRC channels. Autofollowers have been around a really long time.

I don’t know that many of the folks who employ a strategy that depends on autofollowing take the time to consider how it works, as such I’ve really only ever gathered partial rationalizations.

A practitioner will develop a targeted list of people worth following, and engage with them. Some percentage of people will follow back which is a good identifier of a “real” follower. By unfollowing everyone who doesn’t follow back within a specific window of time, you can quickly connect a page or profile with a wide organic universe.

On networks where the greatest predictor of what you see is who you interact with, techniques like this can have an outsized impact on how far your content travels.

A lot of networks work this way and even some that don’t currently operate under this sort of distribution model got their start as a glorified power map with a better UX. (This is, of course, a large part of the reason why networks like LinkedIn are folk heroes amongst data scrubbers for their superior information-grubbing practices.)

Because of this, a tactic that might otherwise seem absurd (given the labor required) can appear very attractive to a niche brand looking to gain a following.

The principles of an approach like this aren’t entirely dissimilar from the approach one might take when identifying key publications to include in a traditional media strategy, for example.

The trouble is, that when working this way, it’s really difficult to model the impact any given stream of subscribers has on your engagement. It’s also entirely too easy to make radical changes to your subscriber base faster than you can adjust your content. That can mean presenting a wide audience of people work that you might not consider your best. That isn’t ever a good thing.

In a lot of situations, “more” feels like an easy answer. You can always get more traffic, you can always find a new audience with new people in it and you can always try new creative.

For the vast majority of well-niched products, this simply isn’t the case.

The only way to work around this is to prioritize your efforts in a different way. If you’re trying to grow, it’s much easier to focus on engagement than it is to focus on the top-line user numbers.

The reason why is simple.

If 5% of the 100 people who see your content engage with it and you need more engagement you have two choices.

One approach is to increase the number of people who see your content. While this can work, it generally works best in situations where there are a large number of people looking for content like what you’re sharing.

If you have a finite universe, you need another option.

You need to look for ways that increase the rate at which the people who do see your content engage with it. If you can do that, you’ll get more out of each engagement.

That means looking at tactics that can increase the number of people who engage with the average post. More often than not, that answer isn’t found by a better following game rather the production of higher-value content (which ought to be measured by the reaction it generates) or by engaging with others in more substantive ways (which ought to be measured by the audience and reaction it generations.)

A Reason Auto Followers Are Probably Killing Your Engagement Stats At Scale. was originally published in Notes On Digital Marketing. 

Posted by Sonne Taylor on

When You’re Working Online To Offline, Take A Moment To Really Look At What You’re Doing

I first learned to make things by taking apart things that other people made.

I didn’t know that other people did this too. Over the years, I’ve learned that people who grew up to make other things did the same thing too. Ken Mazaika even suggests it in “29 Behaviors That Will Make You An Unstoppable Program,” but I have found that many of us in creative production might benefit from this simple, yet powerful advice.

One of the more curious problems we had as we figuring out how to grow our team was the problem of documentation. A good number of the things that we send to people (quick reports, sales quotations, one sheets etcetera) don’t ever really make it into the organization’s production queue. As a result, it’s hard to make sure that every asset is held to the same standard of “good work.”

Were it possible to quickly teach people to intuit good design, good designers wouldn’t be nearly as valuable as they are. Still, some of the best solutions for these sorts of problems involve empowering non-designers to make design decisions. I’ve mentioned a few big name documents because I think they’re trouble for a lot of teams, but the truth is, I’ve yet to see a correlation process that can account for the sheer magnitude

The trouble with is that crossing an education gap of this magnitude can quickly start to look a whole lot more like retraining than “empowerment.” Through sad experience I have found that this often does more harm than good.

There’s one technique I keep coming back to when I try to help coax someone who encounters a situation where they need an every-day document they make on the computer to look “good,” but don’t necessarily have the budget (monetary or otherwise) to employ professional assistance.

It’s annoying. It takes an extra ten minutes.

It’s simple, and anyone can learn to do it.

Ready?

Make a Real World Copy

The first step in the process is to print out an actual-physical-real-world-copy of your document. For this to work, you’ve got to be able to see what you’re doing. That means you’ve got to make something real.

When I show people this trick in person, I actually go so far as to make sure we have five copies handy. You may be ok with only two or three. The point isn’t really the number, multiples are just helpful for markup.

Once you’ve got your copies in hand, you’re ready for the next step.

Dress Your Copy

This is the fun part.

Think about all of the situations where your document is going to end up in the hands of a real-live reader. The truth is your document is going to get read in such a wide variety of ways, it may seem overwhelming. It might slide across a desk, resting somewhere on its side before being turned around and examined. It might never get turned around and slide right on into the circular file.

One trick to allay these worries is to simulate each one and pay attention to which parts of your document grab your eye.

Place your document flat, right side up on the desk. Look down. Where does your eye first go? What have you written there? Is it the most important thing?

It should be.

Spend some time casting your glaze on your document and focus on the big picture. Make sure you’re using space to draw attention to the things you want to draw attention to and to hide the things you’d rather people gloss over.

You can spend hours doing this, and at some point it’s diminishing returns. When you catch yourself starting to tinker with the edges of your work, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Catch The Obvious Mistakes

There’s one skill you can pick up that will help you win any word search and find most obvious typographical errors. It’s a habit long practiced by disciplined searchers of wide areas of physical space.

Start by looking at each letter in your document. Have the discipline to keep this up row by row. You’re looking for letters that are out of place, and things that are spaced inconsistently. It will seem frustrating.

It will get even more frustrating when, after you finish you return to your document to check the spacing between words and then the spacing between paragraphs.

This work is painstaking.

It has to be.

It’s the only way you’ll make sure that you didn’t “accidently” leave in a typo you could have avoided. Over time, you’ll build up the ability to move at a slightly quicker pace. Even then, you’ll benefit from taking the time to methodically work through something you’re about to produce.

Once you do, don’t be surprised if you find yourself picking apart other people’s work to figure out how it actually works for fun in your free time. It’s really is a great way to learn.

When You’re Working Online To Offline, Take A Moment To Really Look At What You’re Doing was originally published in Fits About Prints.

Posted by Sonne Taylor on

What Big Brands Taught Me This Week About Social Media Backlash, Filter Bubbles And What It Means…

What Big Brands Taught Me This Week About Social Media Backlash, Filter Bubbles And What It Means For Your Small Business

You Can Learn A Lot From Rage, Really.

So there it was.

I had woken up because one of our clients had a social media property that had offended someone. It wasn’t anything dramatic, a misspelling had suggested an offensive interpretation of a post we hadn’t intended.

A few kind words, an offer or two and just like that, things were back to normal.

Ever since, I’ve gotten into the habit of paying attention to the ways that brands respond to negative feedback. Some of my favorites are the big players.

A Big Brand

I have no real reason to pick on Home Depot, they just happen to be big enough (Facebook, 2mm Likes) to talk about, and when I had noticed that they had run afoul of a bit of fake news, I was interested.

One of the real challenges of working in social media marketing is that more often than not you end up in a situation where it’s late at night and you can’t get ahold of any of the stakeholders in your organization. It can be worse if someone has left a comment about something that doesn’t seem quite right outside of the normal hours, but the truth is these sorts of sudden off script moments present a real challenge for the modern marketing organization.

One of the real troubles with this is that all too often, you end up in the same unfortunate position that the fine folks on Home Depot’s social media response team found themselves in the encounter captured in the screenshot above.

All too often, we can find ourselves struggling to respond to something that can seem to well organized to be random. Maybe it’s a handful of users fired up about a flag story, maybe it’s a cross section of an audience offended about the way a message was presented.

Often this sort of backlash is the product of a brand receiving a measure of attention from a community or segment of the population that’s found something to object to.

That isn’t always random.

It doesn’t really matter: when it happens, it can catch even the most disciplined of teams off guard.

It would be easy to write a post about how the team could have made a joke or leveraged the controversy to their advantage. The truth is, that no marketing team on the planet should be expected to catch every reference nor can it deploy a strategy to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.

Easier still would be to explore the ways in which potential for outrage should be examined in any pre-posting review process.

But neither of these points would address the underlying problem that causes so many front line marketing specialists panic.

And, under that line of reasoning the reaction from the Home Depot team might seem strange. I think there’s more to it than that.

The truth is that backlash like this can’t be messaged around.

It can’t be predicted.

It can’t be avoided.

When it comes to backlash like this, you really only have one option. Your response has to be accommodating.

You can’t always prepare your team to anticipate the sort of situation where this kind of reaction is necessary.

That doesn’t mean you’re out of options.

Instead, try and cultivate a principled driven customer success program. Establish a system to evaluate the significance of different reactions. Highlight the values you know you need your team to exemplify. Set priorities.

That’s what I like about the example above. You can clearly tell that even if the CsR didn’t have a clue how to respond to the flag based inquiry, they knew to communicate the value of empathy and to offer to move the conversation to a more private channel.

It won’t work every time and it certainly won’t win any awards for elegance, but what I learned this week was that the truth is this sort of consistent discipline can make a big difference when it comes to maintaining your community online.

What Big Brands Taught Me This Week About Social Media Backlash, Filter Bubbles And What It Means… was originally published in Notes On Digital Marketing.

Posted by Sonne Taylor on

Dear Podcasters: Please Stop Listening To Other People’s Podcasts.

A Suggestion From Someone Who Listens To Way Too Many Podcasts

In the past week, I’ve listened to seven different podcasters lament changes in audiences, downloads or support metrics. The anguish reminded me of the way I felt when, after salivating over Jesse Freund’sThe MP3 Players,” and finally saving up over what had felt like an entire three lifetimes enough hard-earned cash to pick up my very first, I discovered most audio files were lousy fits.

(I should note here by way of tangent that Andrew Williams recently tried to resurrect one of these in an piece I wish had been called “The Diamond In The Rough.”)

I wanted to listen, but in 1999 fiddling around on my Compaq computer, it meant I had to start learning about audio file compression.

So I did.

It was a lot easier than I expected it to have been. Everywhere I looked online, the same people who were making the shows I wanted to listen to could be found talking about how they did it.

If you were quick with a search engine, you could find the specific tool or apparatus they were talking about, and more often than not start playing with it yourself.

IRC channels sprung up, there were blogs. I remember there being more to read than anyone could, and there being real feeling of excitement around the idea of what I think people were calling downloadable Internet Radio.

(For the record, yes this is a horribly revisionist history and yes there are great archival efforts like All Of The Podcasts that are amazing and worth checking out.)

That culture of sharing persists to today.

It isn’t unique to podcasters by any means, but of all of the different communities of content producers online, I’ve got to admit that I’ve always noticed that when I make a list of “best person to listen to about X,” a lot of the time, it’s a podcaster.

That’s why as I was hearing the very real anguish that surround the contemporary peculiarities of podcasting, I couldn’t help but remember a story I had read a long time ago.

I am in the uncomfortable position of needing to evoke an idea from one history’s best spoken lesser beings, through it should be noted “The Finest Story In The World,” is most often rightly avoided for its problematic account of a reincarnation of sorts. Nevertheless, I afford myself a bit of authorial luxury to highlight:

I think this portion gets missed.

“I don’t care about writing things any more. I want to read.”

In the story, the more Charlie reads the less he’s able to tell his own story.

Life intervenes, things come up and he always seem have an interest in chasing the best the world has to offer.

When you’re building content it’s natural to look at what everyone else is doing. You try to out-engineer their successes. You try to learn from their failures.

But before too long, you end up producing content that you really can’t tell apart.

Trying to keep what you consume from influencing your work is a losing battle, but making sure you work in silos can help you short circuit the inevitable bias towards what already exists.

Dear Podcasters: Please Stop Listening To Other People’s Podcasts. was originally published in Notes On Digital Marketing.