The Unadulterated Pleasure of Going Dark

The weekend is coming and I can’t wait. After returning from Africa on Monday, re-entry has been difficult, due in part to jet lag, but also because I really enjoyed my time off the grid. Going dark for days on end was really an unadulterated pleasure.

There was no Internet in Kenya and Tanzania for hours, and in a couple of cases for days on end.
More than anything, it was a relief. I missed my friends and some of their wonkiness, but I did not miss the grind of the social media industry. The need to be present and engaged disappeared. So did having to create content to fuel the beast (I ran reruns).

I got used to not checking in, not seeing what was going on, and not getting caught into little eddies of first world problems.

While I don’t think atypical portrayals of African suffering are accurate nor appropriate for the purposes of this post, I witnessed a base level of living there. Most people just want to work hard or find work so they can get a solar panel and little bit of electricity in their lives. That way they can enjoy the evening hours with their family.

When you see life in countries like Kenya and Tanzania, the online world loses relevancy. I know the online propels my day-to-day business, but I gained an understanding of what matters from a different perspective. It became easier to let go for that twelve day period.

When we returned to the Wildlife Works office periodically, I did my business (mostly posting pics from the trip for Audi) and shared a little bit of Africa. Then it was back into this amazing, different and untethered world.

I could breathe again.

The Luxury of Going Dark

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Going off the grid is becoming a common experience for the digital citizen. Many view going off the grid as a welcome experience, a refreshing get-away.

Escaping the wired world is rarely practical. Beyond the technical difficulties, after a while you become a loner.

Instead, it seems that going off the grid is a fantasy and a luxury. Perhaps a more realistic view of digital darkness is to consider it a means of rest and relaxation from the always on world of smart devices, smartphones and tablets.

There are more and morevacation opportunities for those seeking an unplugged break. Conde Nast calls these vacations digital detoxes.

I can definitely relate. Returning to the United States also brought a return to our always on world. And it is intense.

Escape is a luxury that one needs to pay for, like enjoying a great steak. At the same time, that very same escape is difficult for those that make their living off of digital media. It’s a difficult scenario. You come to understand the relevancy (or lack there of) online media, and yet you cannot leave it behind. Not for long.

xPotomac Returns on June 12

My DC friends will be happy to know that Patrick Ashamalla, Shonali Burke and I have been very busy over the past few months. We can finally announce xPotomac 15 this June 12.

Our keynote this year is author Mark W. Schaefer, who just released The Content Code, which highlights how the marketing world has gone mad.  In his new book, Mark challenges communicators to break through information density by thinking about audiences in a new way

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This year’s xPotomac returns to the Georgetown University Campus, but will be held at the Healey Family Student Center, which includes an in-building parking garage. Special thanks to our event host and sponsor the Communications Culture and Technology programShana Glickfield, cofounder of the Beekeeper Group, will again emcee xPotomac.

The remaining three sessions and their speakers have been selected:

It’s a data driven world, but you still need creative free thinking to succeed. Senior Vice President for Social@Ogilvy Kathy Baird will discuss some lessons she learned at the Burning Man festival as they apply to digital communications.

Next up, Gannett’s Director of Social Media and Engagement Jodi Gersh and Assistant Managing Editor, Video for the Washington Business Journal Jen Nycz-Conner will discuss how digital media continues to impact the way news is developed and shared.

The first millennials are now 35 years old and taking over executive leadership positions. How does the new digital-savvy leadership impact workplace culture. DC-based authors Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant will discuss the concepts discussed in their new book, When Millennials Take Over.

After our lunch break, crisis communications expert and Commcore Consulting Founder Andy Gilman will join xPotomac cofounders Shonali Burke and Geoff Livingston for a digital crisis communications bootcamp.  Help resolve a digital crisis live! For those that don’t know Andy, he has counseled clients for 60 Minutes appearances, Congressional hearings, and most notably provided counsel to Johnson & Johnson during the Tylenol 1 crisis and the Government of Canada for the SARS Outbreak.

Register today for xPotomac 15 today! A version of this post also ran on the xPotomac site.

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

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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.

Stumbling Into the Wearable Media Era

The near future of media is wearable, at least if you watched any of the news coming out of CES. But in the short term, the market will continue experiencing an awkward phase befitting a medium that is not ready for prime time.

Consider the intrusionary nature of Google “Glassholes“, or the many awkward apps developed for bulky and somewhat unfashionable smart watches. The world is stumbling into the wearable media era.

Does that mean content creators should ignore the medium for now? Maybe, but they will also risk losing marketshare to early adopters. What to do about wearables was a primary conversation point for a DC Ad Club presentation (see below) I gave at the Newseum this morning.

There are some clear indicators about what will work with wearable media. But first, let’s talk about the square peg in a round hole syndrome.

Just because you can create an app or put a sensor into something wearable or portable doesn’t make it a hit. Further, what works on another medium, specifically smartphones and tablets doesn’t make for a wearable hit.

Glass showed us that [obvious] wearable cameras are an intrusion. People know they are always under the watch of a surveillance camera. Yet, having a wearable camera thrust upon them created animosity. The video/photography experiment failed here.

Recently, I have been testing a Samsung Gear S watch. I don’t want to watch video on my smartwatch, nor do I want to look at photos, email or social networks. I do like having an independent phone for texting and voice calls on the go. The simple functionality allows me to escape the always on nature of my smartphones.

Then there is the “stick-a-sensor” into anything you wear or use. Many of these sensor-driven apps and their incessant social rankings seem like a waste of time. Consider this: I may not want a sensor in my nail clipper. Nor do I want my nail clipping habits ranked against my peers (yuck – more for you than me!).

Early Indicators

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The first obvious area of success for wearable media is the use of audio media. Consider audio interfacing with programs like Siri or Google Talk, listening to podcasts in varying forms, or simply enjoying music. Audio is the linchpin of wearable media.

Why? Typing and reading on these devices is almost unbearable. And as we have seen with cars and even walking, over engaging portable media can be dangerous.

Podcasts may be the silver bullet of all. Podcasting is enjoying a bit of renaissance thanks to smartphones, tech enabled autos, and other mobile devices. Twenty percent of Americans already listen to at least one podcast a month.

It’s likely that podcasts will reinvent themselves a la YouTube. The standard “I am/we are talking about something important” format is just one way that audio files can be created. A food company could offer simple audible recipes, or someone could post directions on how to tie a windsor knot.

The other key feature for wearable media is usefulness. This is where the contextual media aspect of sensors comes into play.

Check out the top apps for Samsung Gears right now. They include a babysitter app which lets you helicopter back into your house and see your child. One app lets you tally expenses as you shop. And of course there are pedometer uses for training.

Almost all of these apps are low attention types of utilities that help someone on the go maintain their lives. You cannot underestimate how important is for an app to be nonintrusive and yet useful for wearable media devices.

What do you think about wearable tech hype?

Future Media Success Is More than a Path

Immersive technologies offer incredible new media experiences. These paths give us the opportunity to develop new ways of interacting with our communities.

We will create incredible experiences that alter the very fabric of our lives. As the media we use becomes accepted, case studies will emerge showing how brands compelled people with remarkable moments and applications.

Consider the movie Her and the role of personal artificial intelligence avatars in society. You may think it’s far off, but the MIT Media Lab is already working on a similar project involving personal robots. Perhaps social validation via Facebook won’t mean much when we can simply ask our own personal Carla Jung what she thinks about our deepest fears.

Whatever you think of personal AI, we are entering a time when rich media will be served to us in cars. We’ll receive directions, have tweets read to us, view overlay screens, place entertainment consoles in the rear seat and more. Watches empowered with technologies like Google Now already prompt us in our ear buds that the subway stop is just two blocks to the right, and that waiting for the third train will actually save us time.

Those are just two obvious examples of the near future or the not-quite-adopted now. Yet, these portable media offer brands and content creators new paths to explore. It’s always been this way.

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During Halloween 1938, the United States experienced the incredible impact of radio drama via The War of the Worlds. No one expected such a captivating tale. Radio moved from a medium to gather around and became an incredible, dynamic imagination machine. Broadcasters were outraged, and Orson Welles became one of the world’s great dramatists.

Every entertainment podcaster today and every bad alien movie (Cowboys and Aliens comes to mind) can thank Orson Welles and CBS for breaking new ground and creating a compelling experience with an already established medium. Welles and CBS in turn surely thanked H.G. Wells for his brilliance in novel form, all the way back in 1898.

Data and Visual Media Offer Paths

I am struck by two common themes in online marketing today: the overwhelming movement towards analytics and the increasing drumbeat of visual media. Both are necessary movements — ones I have touted, too — offering paths that lead to better relationships with customers.

Paths are important, but you need levers. That is the issue with today’s data and visual media conversations. They fail to blend levers with paths.

Data points the way to better engagement or more conversions, but you need to compel people. Data only gives us the preferences of the moment and an understanding of community needs. If we fail to build strong levers, people look for a different resolution to their needs.

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Today’s marketing experts talk about visual media, but often don’t know how to develop and use illustrations, graphics, photos and videos. So we hear a lot of chatter about visual media but see few levers. If there was ever a medium in which to show and not tell, this would be it. Instead, we have road signs in the form of blog posts that point out paths, but don’t compel people.

Boring “me, too” campaigns ensue. The first ones work. But as the signal gets noisier, common content approaches fade to black. While the path is correct, the levers are weak. They lack creativity.

What’s another store selling its wares on Halloween? How about flipping the paradigm and making fun of your overwhelming box store experience with a Shining tribute, one that speaks to your target customers (30- and 40-something families with kids)? Marketing paths need creative levers.

Compel Us

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Levers compel us. Paths give us a means to create levers, but we need to do more. We have to tell interesting stories and innovate upon the current level of useful content.

Shooting photos in Washington, DC can be tough. Some subjects are so well photographed you really have to look for a different perspective. I often look for a high or low point of view, or shoot at night, or use a long exposure.

A common subject becomes compelling, more interesting. The Washington Monument takes on a different look in the fog with a long exposure. It’s spooky! A fitting shot for a Halloween week.

You’ve got data. You know you need to become more visual. What are you going to do to compel people?

5 Tips to Liven Up Long Stories

We live in the tl;dr (too long; did not read) era of the Internet. How do you make traditional text stories and content succeed in an online world where attention spans are dwindling and success necessitates visual media?

Over the past year at Tenacity5, we’ve learned a few tweaks to drive more traffic to text heavy copy. Here are a five formatting methods and writing tips to liven up long stories.

1) Build Modules

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We know stand-alone long copy doesn’t perform well. Instead of writing essays, build out posts and white papers with sections or modules. In the old day this was creating subheads to break up a story. In a well engineered content piece for the current visual media era, I would say each section must be its own multimedia module.

Each module has its own mini-thesis or message and can stand alone as a small content piece on the Internet. Modules have both a visual communication of that message and supporting copy. Every module works together to tell a story or support an overarching thesis. Individually, they are unique. Together, they stand as a powerful piece.

Note the architecture of the visual in context with the text. Ideally, the picture, video or infographic can serve as the lead for the story or even tell it. They should work hand in hand. Do not make “snacks” here. There are many resources on the Internet to find free pictures.

Bleacher Report does a really nice job of building module-based feature stories.

2) Architect Visuals from the Beginning

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One of the biggest issues with content today is simply slapping on visual assets to create a multimedia or rich media post. There’s more on content strategy in point five, but when you add visuals after the fact, you are creating content that serves the words. And that may be OK if you are great photo researcher and can clearly understand your thesis and message.

However, more often than not when visuals are added after the fact, they have tangential meaning. When visuals are bolted on haphazardly, they don’t help content discovery and the overall meaning is less understandable.

When you know what you want to say, figure out what the right visual media is from the beginning and build it with the text in mind.

In some cases, you may illustrate points in the text after the fact, like Gaping Void did with Brian Solis’ What If PR Stood for People and Relationships. Nevertheless, GapingVoid was part of the content from the very beginning, and the content was created knowing that we needed sound bites that could be illustrated.

If you don’t already have a visual media library, start building one or research photo libraries for relevant images before you begin creating content. Drawing from a wide variety of assets makes life easier.

3) Use Lists

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When building modules, or at least creating subheads and sections, number and title content with a list. A list signals an easier more digestible content experience to your reader. Should every piece of content you write be a list? Probably not, but lists make long content pieces much more likely to be viewed and read

I used to sneer at list posts as the “BuzzFeedization” of the Internet. That was until I dug deeper and started re-engineering BuzzFeed posts. Then I built a few of them. I titled some with the numbers and others with a traditional headline. Then I watched the numbered post traffic go crazy.

I was little disappointed in this, but the fact of the matter is we are living in the tl;dr era. Breaking up long content into digestible lists and bullets just makes it easier. Or, you can run the gauntlet and try to architect the perfect long business essay that will actually be read.

(Original image by Ian Muttoo)

4) Write Ad Copy

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A writer with advertising training will fare better in the current content environment than a PR or literary writer. Ad writers focus on tight punchy headlines, snappy subheads (or module titles), and short compelling short body text.

If you go my the maxim, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter” then your copy is going to fail more often than not. People don’t have time for long blathering posts. Write short, tight compelling copy.

When I analyzed Buzzfeed’s style, more than anything it read to me like ad copy. In that regard, it is concise and brilliant.

In the same vein, do your readers a favor and edit the bejesus out of sections. Make all copy as tight as possible.

5) Composition

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Last but not least, composition is becoming a critical focus for communications, in my opinion. Some would say it always has been. In large part this is because of data. We have so much data, we are either lost in it and don’t know what to communicate or we are over-informed by it, allowing our communications to become scientific and lifeless.

When we have more data — or even better — precise data, we can inform composition. Creativity infused outreach provides the opportunity to wow people. Or we can fail, amused with our data-inspired bells and whistles. Let me give you a photographic example.

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I liked the above photo when I took it. I thought it was so cool to get all of the Cleveland Flats industrial grid iron works AND also include the bright fountain, too. After all, people love bright colorful lights in night settings.

Except one thing: Though it hit all of the data points that I know people love in night shots — long exposure, color, industrial details, bright luminescent orange fountain, etc. — the composition sucked. The fountain overtakes the rest of the photograph, and because the fountain is not well placed in the image, it doesn’t work. The composition failed in spite of the elements.

We cannot fly blind with our communications just because we know people like certain aspects of them or because we satisfy some data requirement or messaging requirement. Any communication — written or visual — must have meaning. That is why we must be intentional about composition.

What is the thesis — the message — of the conent? What are we trying to achieve with our outreach? How are we accomplishing that goal? Does the data we have support that the approach will work? Does the approach inspire our intended recipient? Composition is an area that can always evolve and improve.

What tips would you add?

Other posts you might like:
4 Storytelling Methods
12 Ways to Boost Your Visual Media Performance