Mark Schaefer Breaks Down the Content Code

Mark Schaefer authored The Content Code to resolve the very real challenges of brands addressing the current digital marketing environment. With a glut of too much content, attention deficit disorder, and murky evolving SEO rules, communicators find their articles, presentations and other information lying fallow. We asked Mark to keynote xPotomac 2015 to shed light on what it takes to resolve these challenges.

The following is an interview conducted with Mark on behalf of xPotomac. Don’t miss his xPotomac keynote on August 27th, which is designed for experienced digital marketers. (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off). And you can buy The Content Code on Amazon. Any typos or errors are mine, not his.

GL: I love that The Content Code is BADASS. How did you come up with this cheeky acronym?

MS: As I was developing the six strategies that became the backbone of the book, I wondered if there was some natural acronym that I could come up with to help people remember the ideas. I wrote the six on a whiteboard and stared them down. BADASS emerged. Probably one of the best moments of my life. Afterall, how many people literally write a BADASS book?


GL:: You mention the importance of sharing or transmission of content as the critical difference between success and failure. Why do most brands struggle to get their content shared?

MS: I don’t think they are aware of the problem. Right now, the marketing conversation is focused on 1) creating content and 2) building an audience. But neither one of those factors matters unless the content MOVES. The content must be seen, be shared. It must connect. The economic value of content that does not move is exactly zero.

The economics of sharing are powerful. Most Americans say their purchase decision is affected by what is shared on the web. The act of sharing content is an intimate experience that creates advocacy for our brands. I am convinced that there is no metric that is more important right now than the sharing of content.

And getting that content to move in an increasingly information-dense world is getting harder and harder to do. This suggests that marketers need to understand how and why content moves. We need to develop an entirely new competency around that factor. And that what The Content Code book is about. I think this is a such a critical topic. We need to change the conversation now.

GL: xPotomac co-founder Shonali Burke is noted as a member of you Alpha Audience. What is “Alpha Audience” and what makes them so important?

MS: So if you’re with me that the sharing of content is both strategically and economically important, the people who actually share your content are truly the bedrock of your business. Those are the people who are actually advocating you through this generous and emotional act of sharing. These are the most important people in your audience — your Alpha Audience.

I used Shonali as an example in the book because she has been an amazing supporter of my content for years. Through her story, I demonstrate the importance of building trust, not traffic, as the cornerstone of a modern marketing strategy.

Mark is pictured here at SXSW with Tamsen Webster.

GL:: In The Content Code, you mention analytics in several areas and it is clear that brand-specific data informs much of your ethos about where to share content. What tips do you have for brands grappling with data analysis?

MS: I can certainly sympathize with those grappling with analytics. Part of the problem is that many analytics packages are not sufficient to manage our marketing efforts today. We are not going to get any earth-shaking insights from looking at averages, mentions, and sentiment. It’s likely that the real value is going to come from the strong small signals from the people who really love you, from measures that can lead you to better content ignition.

Does your analytics plan include a way to discover and nurture your strongest advocates? Probably not. Does it tell you how effective your content is compared to competitors? No. That is a a big disconnect in the marketplace.

I have been working on a new company that can actually measure a brand’s ability to ignite content. We’ve developed a 50-point statistical analysis that quantifies content marketing effectiveness. I think that will help get us at least part of the way there toward more meaningful metrics!

GL: You close the book by recommending that brands build an ignition competency. What does that look like for a brand with several team members?

MS: First, I must say that I’m impressed that you read the book to the end. Thanks for that!

I think it is this simple. If you identify a resource on your team, hand them The Content Code book, and tell them to “do that,” you will have a competitive advantage. No question. Even if a business does a little every month, there will be results.

A focus on content transmission is the new marketing edge and there will be benefits to those who understand that and respond first.

Andy Gilman on How Social Media Changes Crisis Communications

Meet Andy Gilman, president and CEO of CommCore Consulting, otherwise known as “The Tylenol Man.” In 1982, when the Tylenol Crisis broke out, Andy prepped Johnson & Johnson Chairman James Burke for his 60 Minutes Interview, considered a turning in helping to resolve that issue.

Today Andy is still working with many brands to resolve crises, but in a digital world. That’s why we asked him to join us on August 27th and host a crisis exercise at xPotomac 15 (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off). Andy will be hosting a live social media crisis scenario to close xPotomac, challenging your ability to handle a tough situation on the fly.

Here is an interview I conducted with him last week.

GL: How have things changed since 1982?

AG: We often talk about what would happen if Johnson and Johnson Tylenol had occurred today in the Internet age, and it would change a lot. First of all, it would have to be faster.

Second, they would probably need to use many more channels. For example, in 1982 they could hold a press conference and get three networks to cover it. There wasn’t even CNN at the time. Now you would have to be able to communicate through Twitter, through a blog, through Pinterest, through Facebook.

The thing that links it all is that you have to develop messages, you have to be consistent in your messages, and you have to have the ability to adjust as time goes.

GL: Is the Internet a good thing or a bad thing for crisis communications?

AG: The Internet changes everything for crises. Because of the power of the Internet – think about mommy bloggers, Food Babe, It can create a crisis without all the facts. That’s bad. On the other hand, the Internet allows you to communicate rapidly to all of your stakeholders, and in some ways not use the filter of media to get out more information.

The New York Times a couple years ago did a piece on Walmart and alleged bribery in Mexico. In a typical old school style, you would have one person from Walmart with one comment in the New York Times article towards the end of the long expose.

Walmart decided to post a Youtube video that afternoon with its chief communications officer. He was able to give the company’s point of view in three or four minutes. If you are a stakeholder, an employee, a shareholder, a regulator or a customer, you can see the entire statement, not just one comment.

Here’s another way the Internet can be used during a crisis. Barilla Pasta a couple years ago had an issue. Their CEO Guido Barilla said he wouldn’t even let a homosexual be in an advertisement. They realized they made a mistake. [Barilla] did use YouTube to apologize, but then they used their homepage, they used ads featuring gay people, they met with groups, they used many more tools to reach out to people.

Now they have regained trust in the GLBT community. Organizations like HumanRights Watch can say here is one of our more favored companies because they turned it around.

GL: Can You Compare Barilla’s Response to the Chic-Fil-A Crisis?

Andy Gilman-3

AG: The Internet is just a vehicle. It really starts with who you are as an organization. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a company, a nonprofit or an NGO. What are your values and your messages? You can decide “I don’t want this community to be my customer base,” that’s your choice. But then you suffer the consequences for it, and it is so much easier to spread that information.

GL: How forgiving are people?

AG: People can be very forgiving. In the United States, it’s pretty easy to get a second chance if you’re sincere. How you get the second chance is really the question. Can you use a traditional media outlet? Do you need to use your social media? Or do you need to work with a third party? I do think people are very forgiving if you do it right.

GL: When you think of a Twitter crisis or a Reddit crisis or another social media crisis, what can a brand do? Do they have to respond within hours or is it minutes? How do they deal with this?

AG: I can’t give you one rule for how to respond. Sometimes the Internet blows up and you let it go. Sometimes you need to post a statement that says we’re aware of it, we’ll get back to you. Sometimes the damage can be so bad that the boycott and the customers’ flight to another product can be almost instantaneous. Other times people can be pretty clever and say it’s just an Internet meme and I’ll still shop there.

So much of what we’re talking about is what we do and how we react. The precondition of surviving a crisis is building your reputation beforehand.

If Apple has a problem with where their products are manufactured, any other company would be down the tube. Because everyone loves their Apple products, they excuse them. When Nike had a problem with sweat shops, the issue went viral very quickly. Yet the average consumer says, “I still like my Nike stuff so I give them the benefit of the doubt.” If Tylenol had occurred to another company without the Johnson & Johnson reputation as the baby powder company they may not have survived.

There are three parts to planning for a crisis. One is to develop your reputation and develop your crisis plan in the event that something happens. Second is your response in the moment, which nowadays has to be fast. Third, how do you recover afterwards?

5 Ways Communication on Pinterest Differs

Twenty-eight percent of adult Internet users and 22 percent of the entire U.S. population are on Pinterest, according to Pew Internet. In total, Pinterest is third amongst the social networks, trailing Facebook and LinkedIn.

According to an Ahalogy study, many active Pinterest users indicate they turn to the social network in place of traditional media:

• 43 percent use Pinterest in place of reading magazines
• 49 percent use Pinterest instead of browsing catalogs

Yet Heck, even B2B darling LinkedIn seems to get more love from social media experts.

So, why so little attention relatively speaking?

“Because to successfully market on Pinterest, you must act a little differently,” said David Weinberg, CEO and founder of Pinterest marketing firm Loop 88. “It offers a unique visual aesthetic with different uses than other social networks.”

So what does it take for communicators to succeed on Pinterest?

1) Build Content for the Pin


People don’t act the same way on Pinterest. They are searching for and adding things that are meaningful to their lives. The context is completely in the realm of the end user.

Hypothetically, if you are a travel company you usually post on why Paris is a great place to visit. But the end user would search for romantic places in Europe to propose to your fiance. While it may seem obvious to some to propose in Paris, it may not be to Romeo. A Parisian travel site may want to build content that includes the top 10 places to propose to your girlfriend/boyfriend in Paris, each location with its own image and short story.

In 2013, Target created a unique campaign for those looking for party supplies called Best.Party.Ever. They hired renowned event planner David Stark, and the board went crazy with more than 160,000 followers. It was a brilliant network-specific campaign that highlighted one of the primary reasons people shop at Target.

2) Codify for the Pin

It’s not enough just come up with great pictures that link back to a story. Communicators need to take the contextual step further on Pinterest. Build pins that fit common search terms, and place them in boards that fit larger consumer searches.

“The right pin boards and keywords are critical for success,” said Dave Weinberg. “You can see it with repins, sponsored posts, and even the successful influencers. People are looking for stuff. If you think about the lifetime of a pin, it can work for your brand over a period of years.”

3) Hire Influencers to Build the Pins


In most other social networks, influencers mention your brand and your happy. More often than not these mentions tend to be news bound, though they can be topical. With Pinterest, it’s better to have the influencers build content rather than re-pin it. This often drives incredible interest.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported how large brands are moving towards hiring influencers to work their networks rather than buying sponsored pins. The article cites how VH1 hired influencers to create pinboards for its show “Hindsight.”

“It had 600,000 followers for an influencer-created pin during a single week,” said Tom Chirico, VH1’s vice president of marketing.

4) Promote the Pin

Most social networks have native advertising products these days, and Pinterest just launched its Promoted Pins product. Promoted Pins are different in that Pinterest is building its platform now to justify its $5 billion valuation.

Success is paramount for Pinterest. To help, the social network is investing editorial control over the ads to make sure they are interesting enough that the larger community will enjoy them. As a result, the optimized pins will garner success beyond the paid reach, creating content that will perform well for the lifetime of the Pin.

Promoted Pins are new, but Pinterest says brands are experiencing a 30 percent bump in earned media, or free impressions, from their campaigns.

5) Spread the Pin


It’s one thing to work within Pinterest. It’s another to understand that Pinterest fits within the larger ecosystem of Internet websites. If a good percentage of your customers are Pinners, then integrate your Pinterest assets throughout your web experience.

Some brands are going further than just offering on-site Pin sharing. They integrate entire Pin boards onto their websites.

For example, HSN’s The List fashion show integrated a pin board onto its site and references Pinterest on the show. This is a great way to curate deep content on site, while highlighting your additional Pinterest properties and account.

What Pinterest tips would you add to the list?

This post was published originally on the Cision blog.

Why Yik Yak Makes Sense to Me and Snapchat Doesn’t

Yik Yak has received a lot of media attention as of late, most of it negative from fearful adults. One psychiatrist [on Fox News] called it the most dangerous form of social media.

Funny. Yik Yak offers the most obvious form of social media to me, much more so than other youth-driven apps like Snapchat. Yes, the critics are right. It allows people to be as mean as they want to be without repercussion, and that’s why everyone is afraid of it. But it also let’s people show their barest souls.

I’ve been on Yik Yak for less than a week, and I have seen some incredibly sad and beautiful and funny updates. It’s touching, a reminder of what Robert Scoble and Shel Israel called Naked Conversations during the blogging era (think 2006-7).

Oh, by the way, Yik Yak expressly states in its rules that people aren’t allowed to troll. Further, really nasty updates can get voted off the island. I noticed the fear mongering articles didn’t mention that.


Conversations is what social media was supposed to be about. Not providing the optimal social marketing expertise, nor was social meida meant to create personal branding platforms to generate influence (which was a movement that arose in 2008). Social media was supposed to be about people interacting with others in a transparent authentic fashion.

And Then There Is SnapChat


Yik Yak offers honesty where the more popular Snapchat network offers naughtiness and the potential for public spectacle. Snapchat’s value lies around the promise that you won’t be able to see content ever again, that it won’t exist. People love the thrill of the momentary content, some of which is wacky, weird, naughty and/or crazy.

Some brands are capitalizing on this platform, both individuals and corporate (Taco Bell pictured above). Yet, the opportunity is a fleeting one in my mind. Is Snapchat a zeitgeist, a reaction to the over-indexing of Twitter and Instagram by companies and data spiders? Or is it a network that will stand the test of time?

Personally, I find Snapchat to be absurd. I don’t understand why people would post content under their own name only to have it disappear. Maybe that’s the writer/photographer in me speaking.

Nevertheless… So you want to post something mischievous or naughty. People will still remember you posted it. And I hate breaking it to all the sexting youth of America on Snapchat, people can still make a record of those pics and updates.

So why not post it elsewhere where it is public and the content remains? I just don’t get it (cranky old man).

If I have to choose between entertainment or relating in my social media, I’m always going to lean towards the relatable. With its forced anonymity, Yik Yak offers both. But if you are going to opt for entertainment via spectacle, at least you can’t take credit for it or shame yourself for a few shout-outs.

Maybe anonymity makes Yik Yak a lot less exciting to marketers. But it sure makes for a better user experience.

What do you think of Yik Yak?

Some More Thoughts on Using Periscope/Meerkat

Periscope and Meerkat are all the rage. Like Robert Scoble I still think these services will create many bad videos. But at the same time, I’d be a fool if I denied that some brands like GE are already using these tools to build a narrative, and actively engage audiences.

So this Tuesday Tenacity5 Media will be experiment with it during GiveLocal America. C.C. Chapman came on board for tomorrow, just to help the team here in DC. I’ll be in New Orleans covering GiveNOLA, and Erin Feldman will be in Kimbia’s office here in Austin, TX and Jessica Bates will be working with C.C. in DC.

All three of us will be providing updates from our various locations about what nonprofits are doing to win their communities’ respective giving days. These updates will be short and spaced out with each oof us reporting every hour, and one of us reporting on the @givelocal15 account every 20 minutes.

Getting ready! Just under 32 hours until #givelocal15

A photo posted by Give Local America (@givelocalamerica) on

So I needed to brush up on live streaming best practices. There have been some good pieces on best practices put together already. A quick summary of some smart tips:

1) Get a tripod for the phone so the video is steady.

2) Make sure your battery is charged.

3) Use the top third of the phone for your head (and shoot vertically).

4) Turn off notifications from your other apps so they don’t interrupt the broadcast.

5) Do your best to schedule your broadcasts in advance.

One thing I’d like to see some more of is using live video to offer citizen journalism broadcasts. So I started thinking about how I was going to use live video in combination with photos from the scene. More often than not, I thought of major events and how networks cover them live


GiveNOLA will offer a live event in Lafayette Square with organizations actively fundraising. So it’s a great opportunity to use live video to execute interviews with donors as well as Greater New Orleans Foundation and nonprofit staffers.

There will be many nonprofit parties, too. So the trip offers an opportunity to show live event activities, parades, music, etc. Then there is the behind the scenes management of the giving day from the community foundation’s perspective, the metaphorical war room shots. Finally, there will surely be good stories unfolding on site, and this is an a opportunity to report on them.

One thing I think traditional broadcast media does well is that they keep video material short. I think livestreaming offers the temptation of continuing to show live coverage when in reality, we know social videos do better when they are brief. Five minute livecasts of in-street action or behind the scenes interviews is probably too long for this purpose. I am thinking two minutes give or take is the cap for these efforts.

What do you think of Meerkat and Periscope so far?

Featured photo by Iwan Gabovitch

When the Novelty of Livestream Video Wears Off

Right now people are wowed by the ability to livestream video as they go, most notably in the form of Periscope and Meerkat. But what will happen after the novelty wears off?

Perhaps the trend was predictable. Cameras on smartphones, more bandwidth and mass market adoption of social networking have combined to bring the widespread consumption of rich media. Now these technological advancements have wrought large-scale adoption of live streaming video on the go.

There will be some talented livecasters who garner significant, engaged followings. We can also expect some incredible use cases, such as great and terrible news events livestreamed by citizen journalists. Other niche uses include collaboration amongst friends and workforces discussing the evolution of now. There will be the celebrities who stoke their legions of stalkers, er, fans. Finally, others will share important moments like marriage proposals.

For every interesting livestreamed video created, we can expect thousands of bad ones. In my opinion, society’s tolerance of the Instagramization of live video feeds will be much lower than photos. We’re going to be looking at a lot of really bad content creation live.

Boring Content Won’t Succeed


The average person’s filter of quality information and entertainment is contextual at best, and frankly just piss poor most of the time. That’s before you even factor in video creation skills.

Congratulations, Joe, you’re at the zoo. By the way, every time you pan down you’re showing me the guacamole stains on your shirt. And that your fly is open. Oh, by the way, no one above the age of eight really likes the Mediterranean Donkey.

Maybe you do like Mediterranean Donkeys, and I just made an ass out of myself with this post. But I think we will grow weary of everyone’s interpretation of awesomeness in the moment, just like we have gotten tired of feet photos at the pool. Or as we have grown weary of the average social media tips blog (or article if you prefer).

Perhaps the most compelling reason is that we’ve scene this game before with webcams. You didn’t hear much about webcam streaming after the public got tired of someone showing us their world in a room over and over again. Why?

Because it’s really hard watching someone doing nothing most of the time. Some webcams are interesting in the moment, for example the Cherry Blossom Watch webcam at the Tidal Basin. But invariably, most of them are just downright boring. In fact, even the good ones become boring in a matter of minutes.

Just like 99% of Periscope and Meerkat videos are boring, too. In a time of TLDR (too long did not read), we will soon see TBDW (too boring, did not watch).

Perhaps the novelty wore off for me a little sooner than others. What do you think?

Featured image via Techcrunch. Donkey image by Helen ST.