Sonne Taylor

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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. 

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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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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The Dirty Secret About How Long It Takes To Write Something.

I still think back fondly on some of my the early days of my career spent putting words on paper. I remember being annoyed that it didn’t ever seem like there was enough time to read all of the things that needed to be read and to write all the things that needed to be written.

When I thought about it, I figured that if I could just learn to write faster, I could spend all the extra time I wanted reading.

I started by counting out how fast I could type.

To my great surprise, I could type over 100 wpm on my bluetooth keyboard.

I thought about how the average article was really only 500–800 words. That meant that if you were really working at it, if you knew what you were doing and could just write great sentences off the top of your head, you could have your draft finished in about 5–8 minutes.

That’s a pretty aggressive clip, and I doubt anyone could keep that much in their head at once…but if you could keep it up?

You could knock out 7–8+articles an hour!

Thinking about it this way, you can quickly see why breaking apart your tasks into their parts can have dramatic impacts on productivity.

The very first time I had to split up a project amongst a bunch of people I knew I could count on to perform the work, I think I discovered something.

I think most people have a hard time figuring out how long it actually takes to accomplish a task.

Your business is probably blogging seriously if it posts twice a week. At the time, I’d gotten so used to doing things myself, that I didn’t have a very good idea of how long each part of a task might take. Before too long, it was taking on average 11 hours to produce a blog post.

That is entirely too long.

I didn’t sit with this problem for very long, because it really bothered me.

When I stopped to look at where the time was going, I realized that actually writing the blog was the smallest part of the task of writing a blog.

That’s not writing; that’s just typewriting.”

Bless you.

The truth is, there are lots of parts to a good post. Those parts ARE important.

They’re the difference between creating noise and authoring something that really ads value to someone’s life.

But those tasks benefit from this sort of planning, too.

The very first step in creating a good post, is a good idea for a post. That means generating an outline.

You often don’t need to perform very much research at all to put together an outline of an article. In fact, doing so can make researching the things you still have questions about much more efficient.

I won’t go through each step in the process, because the truth is there’s too much variability to write a one-size-fits-all post.

But for the sake of argument, here’s just one more example.

Many people find it much easier to write opening and closing paragraphs after they’ve finished figuring out what they want to say. For some people that means they may not know what the opening and closing of their article should be until they’ve pretty much written the rest of it.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

In fact, if it works better for you — do it on purpose!

When you beat yourself up about the way you know how to do something because the results aren’t what you expect, you end up wasting more time than it takes to just do the thing and find a work around for your problem later on. Sometimes that worry can become so powerful it stops us from doing what we need to do.

I think that’s why sometimes writing can expand to take the amount of time you give it.

From accessing data to crafting image pulls and even writing the copy itself, there’s bound to be one or two areas where a better process can improve your output rate.

You don’t have to sacrifice your integrity to get that done, you just have to start being realistic about how long it takes.

The Dirty Secret About How Long It Takes To Write Something. was originally published in Thoughts On Best Practices.

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Gorsuch’s Twitter is a Ghost Town, or Why Donald Trump Has a Messaging Problem.

Humpty Dumpty Indeed

The Trump administration has been no stranger to a large amount of media scrutiny. It seems that every other day there’s some new scandal that is “breaking news”. Good or bad many people would, and do, argue President Trump and his administration are master at manipulating the media for attention.

I would argue they’re incredibly wrong.

Case in point, the strange and largely unnoticed Twitter account of Gorsuch Facts. This thing smacks of Donald Trumpisms right down to the fascinating way of speaking that even Kanye West has an admiration for. The profile description of “ Judge Gorsuch will be fair to all regardless of their background or beliefs. This is exactly the kind of #SCOTUS Justice @POTUS promised. #JusticeGorsuch” reads like a typical Trump speech. Yet, there’s something that’s just below the surface that highlights Trump’s communications problem. The reason that this official account about one of his biggest appointments has gone relatively unnoticed.

It references the man himself.

Republicans, Democrats, Berniecrats, High Energy Nimble Navigators, and everyone in between have made the claim that Trump is a master of manipulating journalists into giving him “billions of free advertising”. Even the CEO of CBS said “For Us, Economically, Donald’s Place in This Election Is a Good Thing”. This however doesn’t make him an effective communicator. It makes him effective at building a cult of personality, not of being a great marketer. Great marketers build brands that go beyond themselves. Among the world’s most recognized brands include McDonald’s, Walmart, Ford, Coca-Cola, and more.

Name one of these companies CEOs. Name one of their CMOs.

You don’t have to. They have incredibly effective communications specialists supporting them from both the inside and out that don’t rely on outrage and a cult of personality. They communicate their value through showing you, through consistency, through discipline.

I want to be clear, I have no specific axe to grind against Donald Trump. Surely we all have seen the “marketing gurus” who want you to take their class on how to get rich online. Yet you can’t name their companies, just the person. They can’t promote a product, just a cynical brand of narcissism that preys on the hopes and dreams of the naive. While they may read this and rightly criticize me that I have no Lamborghinis in my Lamborghini account, the truth is that I, and the people like me, have hundreds of wins that we will never be known for. We work for things bigger than ourselves. We build systems instead of a reliance on people. The true test of your ability to build a competent communications organization is how well it functions after you’re gone.

So for all the aspiring advertisers, and marketers, and entrepreneurs out there, don’t emulate these people. These 1 quick secret to building the startup of your dreams. These hollow dream peddlers. If you want to get shit done, if you really want to market your startup, if you want to grow your brand, start emulating people that do it without wallowing in their own crapulence. The people that get paid, the people that build empires, are the ones that do so silently and with discipline far from the spotlight.

Gorsuch’s Twitter is a Ghost Town, or Why Donald Trump Has a Messaging Problem. was originally published in Notes On Digital Marketing.

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The Spectrum Of User Surveys

Most advice about user surveys is really bad.

I know, because I’ve been part of the problem on this one.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a video I found and reuploaded from a few years ago. It’s in a folder with a very strongly worded readme all about what was going on at the time.

The trouble with advice like this, is that user surveys happen in one of two ways.

You’ve either got a highly mechanized feedback system (think coupon codes on the bottom of Fast Food receipts) or you’ve got an incredibly laid-back “user-interview.”

I don’t think it will be very controversial to assert that contemporary thinking has largely evolved to consider this a waste of time. (That is ‘coupin interviews,’) The process is too impersonal. The feedback is too inconsistent. If you’re still relying on this method, it might be well past time to start considering an alternative.

Still, the fundamentals are sound. The fine folks at ChartMogul put together a handy runthrough of NPS, I find myself passing along rather frequently.

There’s been a lot of great work generated on the topic of user interviews however. Eleonora Zucconi put together a fantastic collection of “46 Interview Questions For User Experience Researchers…” Teo Yu Sheng breaks out how you should think about asking questions in “5 Steps To Create Good User Interview Questions…” and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the vibrant discussion on Charles Liu’s “Never Ask What They Want

Learning to write in this way is a good skill to pick up, but it won’t keep you from making one of the biggest mistakes I see teams run into during the interview process.

Formulating your questions to get real feedback takes practice, but once you’ve figured it out it can be tempting to use a slightly different framing with each person you interview.

The trouble is, inconsistent surveying tends to generate inconsistent data.

That’s why it’s so important that you set your goals with the understanding that feedback happens on a spectrum.

In some circumstances, automated feedback may actually have some utility. For example, it’s probably ideal for “transactional” uses. In other cases (like say exploring a new feature roadmap) you might want to conduct something far less formal than a regimented user interview.

Trying to force each application into one predetermined feedback rail is a mistake. You won’t have the same answer every time, and that’s the point. Instead, try to focus on picking the right feedback mechanism for the task at hand.

The Spectrum Of User Surveys was originally published in Marketing Experimentation.

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Why It’s Worth The Long Hours

I still remember one of the first nights it occurred to me that I’d need to stay up and watch how an ad served.

We had been experimenting with a few different global audiences for an App.

One particular audience segment was performing particularly well throughout what would for me, have been the overnight hours.

I needed to measure comments at the same time that I was making changes. There wasn’t any way around it but to power through.

I got together some supplies, queued up some music and movies to play in the background and started combing through data.

As my ads served I thought about what I had always been told about advertising internationally.

There’s a really unfair bit of bias against it, and while I hadn’t thought about it at the time, some of it may have been born out of reaction to the difficulties in tracking verified views.

To be honest, that’s still a challenge, but it isn’t an insurmountable one. Not anymore.

As the results trickled in, I allowed myself a slight indulgence and spent a little longer examining the profiles of the potential users we were reaching.

I watched as users would engage with an ad. Some would have a positive comment, others would tap like, still others would download the widget.

When I could, I spent a little time looking at profiles.

I saw people with lives that were worth knowing about.

I saw people with lives I’d rather not have known about.

They stay a story should have some conflict to it, and this is about the part where I would throw some in. But the truth is, there wasn’t anything conflicting about watching this.

Whenever we start working on a new project, I try to spend some time watching profiles.

I take flack from our team for it all the time and the truth is they aren’t wrong: it’s wildly inefficient.

But every time I find it hard to get through a day advertising, I come back to those streams of profiles. Every time I can’t figure out why one adset is working great and another is falling or need to pin down just which element of a program is driving results, I go back to those profiles.

Because the truth is some of us didn’t get into this to shill, and sometimes watching the people is the best way to remember that.

Why It’s Worth The Long Hours was originally published in Notes On Digital Marketing.

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A Glimpse At Two Ways To Think About “How Much Should I Post” and “When Should I Post”

I probably spend more time than I should these days working with in rooms that have TVs on in the background.

Which…is why when I noticed this.

I figured it was as good a time as any to talk about the two different ways I’ve seen people talk about how frequently they post and how much content they need to create in order to maximize distribution.

While much has been written about how decentralization works (Vitalik Buterin’s “The Meaning Of Decentralization”) and what it might mean for content distribution (I’m a fan of Meghan Keaney Anderson’s “Decentralized Content”) I’m starting to suspect that for many teams, the question of what these changes might mean for post volume are just beginning to come up.

There are probably more ways to think about this than just these two, and I’ve not really picked them for any reason other than being the two I notice teams discussing the most frequently.

I didn’t have a clip-maker handy at the time of writing, so I’ve linked directly to the relevant video clip. We’re interested in the spot between :05 and :25 or so, and we’re really only interested in a few seconds between :05 and :09ish.

There really isn’t any situation where you should see your organic reach fall to zero — on any platform.

Sometimes this gets a quizzical reaction.

I can understand why, it seems counterintuitive — especially when it seems like every other post you read about marketing is about an algorithm change that promises to destroy everything.

But say you wanted to do as Joe Scarborough says and find out if it’s true that when “you go back and look, Saturday mornings are usually the most chaotic times,” how might you do that?

It’d be pretty straight forward. You’d run the tweets and look at the timestamps and if the pattern was there, you’d spot it.

If you were following in real time, you’d have experienced it.

The truth is, there are always going to be people willing to go out of their way to find your content. In some cases these will be the people you know, in others it may be people you’ve engaged with in the past or your most loyal customers.

While you should always be looking to grow the size of the universe of people who check your page in this fashion, there isn’t much to be said about it. Consistently following best practices gets you there given time.

I think this sort of thinking is generally the right way to operate in today’s environment. One of my favorite articulations of the idea is Mike Sall’s “When Is The Best Time To Publish? Wrong Question.”

In some situations, you might be responsible for content that a larger percentage of people are willing to go out of their way for. You may encounter a situation where you need to coordinate impressions across platforms. A common example might be coordinating a post to go live at the same time a TV or radio ad airs.

In these sorts of situations, it isn’t uncommon to use a similar technique to make sure your impressions are translating into real views.

Collecting information about simple things (like when your audience is online) can make it possible for teams to measure the optimal window of time to post in. I’ve even seen teams that capture detailed information on commenters. The point here isn’t what you’re measuring as much as it’s striving to get an accurate read of who you’re communicating with.

Thinking this way, you post whenever you find the optimal window.

Thinking about what your users are doing when they are seeing your message is one really great example of using this sort of thinking in practice (figures prominently in WalktheChat’s “WeChat Posting Time.”) You can see a similar technique based on interactions in Chris Tweten’s “How To Calculate When To Post On Instagram.” The truth is, you could probably come up with an approach like this for just about any metric you could isolate.

I mentioned earlier that I’d only explore those two schools of thought, but I wanted to briefly note the existence of one more, because the truth is that in some circumstances, this level of scrutiny really is overkill.

If, for example, you only post about or around events, this is likely something that you aren’t ever going to need to worry about. By only posting about specific events, you’re already performing this sort of curation — you can post whenever there’s an event you should post about, in whatever format gets the best engagement for the effort required.

But it’s important to recognize that the only reason that exception exists is because there are people who will go out of their way to find content about an event. Were it to not be the case, you would simply alter your thinking accordingly.

A Glimpse At Two Ways To Think About “How Much Should I Post” and “When Should I Post” was originally published in Notes On Digital Marketing.

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Why Isn’t Anyone Clicking My Ad?

The Problem With Performance Based Pricing Models

Over the past few weeks, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with client deals structured around metrics like cost per click. It’s probably a little out of character, but as these alternative arrangements gain popularity, it feels worth pointing out that we may still have a few things left to work out.

Metric based pricing is one of the more promising precursors to performance based pricing. Structuring a deal around a metric (in theory) makes for better alignment between in-house teams and out-of-house talent. When everyone can agree who is responsible for what (the argument goes) it’s easier to hold individual players accountable for their performance.

The appeal of results-driven evaluation is kind of hard for a perfectionist to learn to ignore. As such, we’ve used variations of performance based pricing over the past few years to varying degrees of success.

I want to love this pricing model. It makes so much more sense. It spares my production team from having to explain the rules of one genre or another to an uninterested client. It spares my accounts team from hours spent churning out reports no one will ever read (we check.) It spares my clients from the ambiguity that comes when picking between poorly differentiated service providers. It has so much potential.

The truth is, in its current form, click based pricing can’t work.

For the sake of example, I’d like to paint an exceedingly simple picture.

Let’s say you’ve been managing a Facebook page that has 1,000 likes. Organic posts are seen by about 100 people. Each post generates 1–2 clicks.

Those are actually pretty decent numbers. A 10% organic reach is a feat, and 1–2 clicks for 100 reach would be 1–2% CTR. Could always be better, but you’d be right to be satisfied.

Let’s say for the sake of example that you aren’t and you draw up a post promotion ad. You target 100,000 people near your business who are interested in one of your larger competitors.

Your promoted post reaches 5,000 additional people and generates 50 clicks.

How do you feel?

If you’re a small business owner, you’re probably angry you didn’t get the number of clicks you were expecting.

If you’re an advertiser you’re probably excited that your ad scaled perfectly.

The trouble with a click-based pricing model is that in this situation, neither the advertiser nor the client are having the wrong reaction.

The perspective of the advertiser is easiest to speak to. When you’re promoting a post, you have a little bit of a leg up. Because you know how the post has performed historically, the only trick is figuring out the extent to which that performance is a function of the page’s audience. If you can correctly identify the larger subset of the population the post needs to be shown to, you just need to make sure that the metrics are in keeping with the reference value. As you do this, you’re able to grow the reach of an ad without compromising the performance.

The perspective of the business owner is slightly more challenging to unpack, but I think at its simplest it’s important to remember that very few people elect to work with a specialist who creates more problems than they solve.

When you’re working with someone to promote your business, it’s hard to hear that the reason your ad didn’t get the number of clicks you were hoping for is that your website isn’t loading fast enough or you need to try a different graphic, but the truth is these aren’t “opinion” statements anymore, any agency that was willing to sign a performance or metric based agreement likely has the data that’s pointing clearly towards whatever problem you’ve got.

Off-hand I can think of six or seven factors that might influence the performance of a clicks campaign. The ask in the ad, the message, the creative, the targeting, the load time on the landing page, and even the popularity of the page promoting the post can all influence performance.

The truth is a complete list would easily push this post into unreadable territory. But I think it’s enough of a list to highlight a problem.

You can’t evaluate someone’s impact on a metric unless they’re empowered to influence the factors that contribute to that metric.

In-house we have the capability to address each of those elements, but accommodating scope creep in performance based agreements is a new kind of problem.

And for that matter, one I’m not sure I’ve seen a good solution for.

Why Isn’t Anyone Clicking My Ad? was originally published in Thoughts On Best Practices.