Watching the social media marketing world talk about SnapChat has offered quite a few laughs. Most marketers hate it. They just don’t know what to do with it. They paint SnapChat as a way to talk to “young people” or millennials, perhaps a sign on how much the original generation of social media voices has aged.
Snapchat is pure and unaccountable. It’s really what social media was meant to be, a real goofy conversation between people. In that sense, perhaps SnapChat is social media’s ultimate revenge on businesses.
There are no parents, no employers, no tracking algorithms available to the common user or even most of the brands participating online. If someone wants to post private media to select followers, they can bypass their story and go dark. And, if someone doesn’t want to view your content, they simply don’t. Even if you pay to get your content featured in the Discover or Live areas, people have to opt in.
In my mind, Snapchat is almost pure, (yes, there are those paid content channels) uninhibited social media. That’s why it does not compute to those who want to track mentions, push brand messaging, and sell product.
It’s about people sharing experiences — silly, inane, and/or serious — with one another. Overt messaging usually fails here. That’s why corporate communicators would rather throw their hands down and quit, writing SnapChat off as a silly Millennial network.
The Untrackable Defies the Analytics Age
Perhaps the most confounding aspect of SnapChat is its lack of analytics and accountability for small and medium-based business marketers. In essence, the network is a walled garden.
Sure, you can advertise and get better analytics. But right now, you’d better bring a cool half million to the table for your entrance fee. Even getting a geofenced overlay can cost a pretty penny when compared to a Facebook boost or a Twitter ad.
The thing that SnapChat has going for it is its dark nature. Protecting customer integrity and their ability to post really interesting and generally (but not always) private social content is a huge differentiator.
Consider this. You can bash most brands on SnapChat and they will probably never find the complaint. Literally someone would have to screen capture it and send it to the social media manager. On Twitter, you’ll get stalked by someone trying to get you into private message land. If the complaint gets loud enough on Facebook, though less likely, you’ll probably have a customer service rep show up.
Then there’s the whole parental/employer thing. How many of you readers have decided not to post something because others would see it?
See, when social media is untrackable, it gives users a sense of ease about what they are posting. This free feeling is false. We all know what’s posted digitally can be picked up and sent anywhere, but nevertheless SnapChat has made it difficult. So analytics be damned, [young] people love their SnapChat.
Perhaps SnapChat really is the domain of the intern, as some older marketers would have it. At least the intern, won’t try to insert the brand in every post!
The algorithm would source the most popular stories in people’s Twitter feeds. Users believed the experience would be bad enough to kill the network. The meme was so overpowering it caused founder and current CEO Jack Dorsey to make a statement and allay concerns:
Hello Twitter! Regarding #RIPTwitter: I want you all to know we're always listening. We never planned to reorder timelines next week.
But in reality, would an algorithm really kill Twitter? I don’t think so. It would probably make the experience better by eliminating bad spammy link-based Tweets usually sourced by marketers and inane ranters.
Tweets that aren’t interesting, including the overwhelming majority of tweets marketers push out every business day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., would lose priority. Without engagement, most of those tweets would fail to trigger the algorithm. They would die in the machine.
Conversely, the tweets that get the most engagement in a stream would rise to the top. I think this would be a fantastic development that would make Twitter’s stream much more competitive with Facebook, LinkedIn and to a lesser extent Google+. And it would force brands to invest in real conversations instead of simply publishing.
Further, based on Jack’s tweet, afterwards power users can simply pull down their screen or refresh their feed to get the traditional timeline. So no, Twitter algorithms won’t kill the social network. But based on the incredible amount of spammy marketing junk and bad content on the social network — even those based on popular topics and hashtags — well, an algorithm can only improve the experience.
Letting Go of 2400 Followers
Every time I blog about Twitter losing its mojo, I receive several comments about how that’s my fault. Specifically, that I followed the people who post spam, so shame on me.
After my last post about how Twitter can improve its experience, I decided to listen to them and unfollowed 2400 Twitter users. This isn’t one of these, “I unfollowed all of you posts” that bloggers drop for attention. I actually did most of this at the beginning of last month so if I was seeking to draw attention, that would have been the time. Plus I would have dumped another 1500 out of my remaining 2000 followers.
No, this was an experiment to get rid of what Malcolm Gladwell would call weak ties on my social network. Specifically, I cut people I did not know or just had a brief acquaintance with and who are also marketers. I also unfollowed people who simply use Twitter to drop links, marketing or not).
My experience definitely improved, not enough to make Twitter thrilling again, but the stream did seem to liven up a bit. I began engaging more, too.
The funny thing was that I did not receive one peep about the mass unfollowing either, which substantiates my belief that these people weren’t vested in being engaged in a conversation with me, at least on Twitter. About 200 people have auto unfollow bots or noticed, and unfollowed me back. The rest stuck around for whatever reason.
I may go further and drop some more followers when I get a chance. Whenever I am in the network and I see someone just dropping links or posting ridiculous spam, I unfollow them then and there. It’s adding up to a better Twitter that I actually care about again.
Several folks have asked what I am doing now on the professional front in the post Tenacity5 era. I am focusing on independent consulting and photography in 2016.
Consulting remains my primary focus as it is my most valuable skill, and the one companies need the most. Give them what they want as they say, and it is something I feel very comfortable doing. I will say that I am being a bit more selective about clients as it is just me, specifically no ongoing community management accounts or the like.
This also means I will not build a new agency or a larger marketing company. Part of my reasoning to end Tenacity5 was that I did not want to invest the energy into starting a new company anymore. That remains as true now as it did six months ago. However, I am keeping the Tenacity5 site up to describe the services I am offering, but have deleted the primary Tenacity5 social media properties.
What About the Photography?
On the photography front, I am getting hired more frequently as a pro photographer, which is awesome! In fact I have three jobs this week alone, which is pretty cool. Overall, photography makes up about 10-15% of my current income, and for that I am grateful.
However, the fine art and landscape photography, while certainly a driver of social media engagement, is not producing great amounts of revenue. I believe this is in part due to distribution.
Combined, the photography is not enough to earn a living. I am exploring some possible gallery and distribution methods, but none of these will be a quick fix. Even if I am able to get my own space, I don’t anticipate that photography will become my primary business. Things could change, you never know, but for now it’s a nice secondary revenue stream.
If you want to help with my photography business you can buy or license a photo, or you can hire me to perform work for your business or custom portrait shots. I am referring personal events to my friend Camille Catherine.
What About a Job?
I did conduct a job search for several months, and while there were some near misses, things have not worked out. Some of the experiences reminded me of why I left corporate America 10 years ago. Perhaps that’s a good thing.
Rather than continue the search, I have stopped looking completely. There will be no commute for me. Instead, I am taking the aforementioned consulting and photography route. I am able to do this thanks to my wife Caitlin, who successfully rejoined the government contracting community this past October.
That does not mean I won’t take a job or won’t listen to opportunities, but it is no longer a direction I am actively seeking.
I do want to thank everyone who inquired about what’s going on. You are good friends.
This post addresses the two most popular rebuttals: 1) content is not going away; and, 2) the best content always wins, which I will call “The Best Content Myth.”
Let’s handle the first one as it comes from an incorrect interpretation of the original post. There is a difference between content itself as created by both everyday citizens and marketers, and the content marketing trend. The post clearly deals with dwindling enthusiasm for the marketing industry trend, and states that content itself will only continue to grow albeit under different trend monikers and buzz words. So, I actually agree with rebuttal one, and always did.
Rebuttal number two is a much more dangerous myth. Many marketers believe that if they create great content, then they will succeed. The best content always wins, they say. This is not true, and frankly never has been.
I’ll go a step further: Even if you have socially validated content (i.e. popular online) it still may not succeed in generating marketing outcomes. Attention is not ROI. Attention can help build brand, sometimes. But even Super Bowl ads — arguably the most sure-fire way to garner tons of attention for your content — do not guarantee a successful result.
It’s important to understand why the best content does not win. Otherwise, you will build many beautiful things that will remain unused.
The Blood Meridian Case Study
Cormac McCarthy is widely recognized as a great American author, and Blood Meridian is considered his masterpiece, a savage novel that spits up the conventional western myth in dystopian fashion. Published in 1985, Blood Meridian is often listed as one of the top 20 novels of the 20th century.
But the book did not sell. At least, not until Cormac McCarthy’s later commercial successes like All the Pretty Horses (1992) and The Road (2006). In fact, at first it only sold 1200 copies in hardback. Instead a more commercial western novel released that year — Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove — won the hearts and minds of American readers.
After the Border Trilogy and the movies that ensured, Blood Meridian enjoyed pull-through sales and wider recognition for its incredible story. But even after the lift brought about by those powerful coattails, the novel is much more of literary success than a commercial one.
Blood Meridian epitomizes best content not winning in business. To be clear, business is about sales. Comparing western to western, Blood Meridian reads like a fricking Ferrari next to the safe yet lovable Lonesome Dove, a Honda Accord of novels. That’s not to belittle a Honda Accord, or McMurtry’s Pulitizer Prize winning best-seller. But time has proven Blood Meridian to be the all-time critical masterpiece of the two novels, while Lonesome Dove is the commercial winner hands-down.
Why did this happen? One word: Distribution.
McMurtry was an established author with a reputation for good works like the Last Picture Show (1966) and Terms of Endearment (1975). As a result, Loneseome Dove was well distributed much like an unproven Stephen King novel would be well distributed and reviewed today.
On the other hand, McCarthy had some literary successes, but was not a proven commercial quantity. In fact, in 1992 — before the publication of his first commercial success All the Pretty Horses — an article in the New York Times noted that none of his novels published to that point had sold more than 5,000 hardcover copies.
Once commercial success arrived, so did distribution and reviews as well his own Pulitzer Prize for The Road. But none of McCarthy’s books have been as highly regarded as Blood Meridian.
The “Yeah, Buts”
Yeah, but that was in the 80s before the Web, social media, and email. Now with social media good content can rise to the top.
No, it’s not that easy. Anyone who has had any success online knows that it takes distribution. Distribution through your site, through a cultivated community that shares your information, through your own networks, through a sizeable email list(s) that actually opens your emails, through influencers and media that share your story, through native ads, and on and on. Content must be shared and delivered.
Yeah, but when I focus and write great content it always performs better than my mediocre content.
Of course it does. A ripe tomato tastes better than one that is spoiling. I would even agree that if you don’t create at least above average content, your effort will fail before it even starts. There is just too much noise out there!
But does a secondary player or unknown person’s outstanding content perform anywhere near as well as a market leader’s above average content? No, that’s because distribution is as important, if not more important than ever before. The amount of posts and related content is flat-out overwhelming now. It’s almost impossible to rely on the best content to rise to the top. People are increasingly looking for trusted sources — even algorithms in networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter — to tell them what’s important, rather than seeking out the best content possible.
Yeah, but I know a company that has great content, and they are getting incredible double digit returns on new leads and revenue.
Show me a good content marketing effort, and I’ll show you an organized distribution strategy. In fact, I’ll also show you a relevant product and service offering, and brand that people are at least moderately interested in. But in the minds of some digital media mavens, the success belongs to the content. In many ways, that’s like giving credit for a great dish prepared at a restaurant to the superior saucier working in the kitchen. Much more goes into the entire dish and restaurant experience.
The Hard Reality of Increasing Content Glut
This is my real beef with best content myth and the overall great creative meme. You can write the Eiffel Tower of blog posts, but it will fail if no one sees it. Increasingly, less people share content. Half of all posts get shared eight times or less, 75% get shared less than 40 times.
That’s because there’s more and more content. This decline is affecting everybody, even top content creators as evidenced by the above chart from Buzzsumo.
Mary Meeker’s annual Internet trends report shows a 20+% increase in Internet traffic year-over-year. It also shows a 75% year-over-year increase in consumer generated shares. ALl of these increases equal more noise year-over-year.
Yet, while the average amount of content dramatically increases every year, the actual time people spend online is not increasing that much. We are talking about single digit growth. You can only spread the peanut butter so far. This is the very embodiment of content shock.
The time shortage also provides the raison d’etre for why data and analytics have become necessary. Data drives successes now. Intelligence online shows you who is amplifying content and how to reach them. Of course, with data you can understand whether or not your brand is increasing its positive equity online. It shows you where customers are. Data can help you to identify which prospects best match your customer profile, and how to intentionally focus your efforts on them. You can use it to build the programmatic triggers based on algorithms to serve the right content (inbound or online) at the right time.
Yet if you read the case studies of great content these days, data and distribution are usually not mentioned. And these are case studies published by well-established content marketing authorities. This is how myths get perpetuated. I guarantee you that if you pried under the covers, every great content success uses analytics to optimize its content, and has excellent established distribution channels, earned, owned and paid. Most use marketing automation tools, too.
Winning is much more about the mechanics than the great content chefs would lead you to believe.
I remember speaking with my friends at Navy Federal last fall about their content. They saw a 14% jump in inquiries based on a content campaign via social media. Because of the increase in volume, they moved to enterprise grade social media management solutions and analytics tools to monitor conversations, log service interactions, and measure the impact of these conversations. They ended up optimizing their efforts and focusing on the channels and tactics that were driving the most customer interactions. The financial results justified further investment.
The content was very good. The optimization and tailoring was even better.
More and more companies deploy content marketing tactics now. Yes, you can have the Inbound Marketing success that the Neil Patels of the world profess. But it takes a hell of a lot more than just great content.
Make no bones about it, the best content needs amplification. Stakeholders are inundated with messages, updates, ads, and other forms of content, both corporate and peer-to-peer.
From a corporate standpoint, content is a product. It serves a stakeholder. Without the data to become precise not only in distribution, but also in targeting and content creation to actually resonate with the stakeholders that matter, that content will not be found.
To succeed, marketers need to go beyond content marketing. They need to create marketing ecosystems that blend precision targeting, product marketing, engagement, branding, distribution and yes, content.
So, no offense to the best content crowd, but your 10 out of 10 stars quality blog post with little distribution won’t perform anywhere near as well as one might think. Good content will be read and shared as much because of distribution as quality.
Good is good enough, but even the good will dwindle with ever-increasing content volumes. Precision and discipline driven by data are the answers, not just creating “the best content.” On to the next unicorn.
You’ll probably notice a new simple blog design on the site. The revised geofflivingston.com reflects a greater focus on photography, and less on books and writing as a whole.
This reflects an anticipated larger strategic shift with my own activities online in 2016. Next year will bring a professional change. With it will come a reduced focus on marketing personal consulting services. I will reveal more when I can.
As a result, at some point during the next year I anticipate letting myself off the hook for a weekly post, and will simply blog when I have something to say. I know people like to interpret these things and go off and write posts about bloggers quitting and riding off into the sunset. This is not that. It is not a resignation, nor the end. Instead, it represents a maturation and an evolution.
There are two drivers behind this change.
The aforementioned personal change will likely push any personal blogging to other venues, a corporate site, my Huffington Post blog, and/or my LinkedIn blog. If I am not marketing, building personal influence, or trying to prove my worth as an individual blogger for some other reason, then weekly blogging is a habit.
There are a variety of reasons for that habit, from maintaining a consistent presence to making sure my writing skills don’t get rusty. The truth is I will be writing, again probably elsewhere. So the only reasons to continue are to build personal influence, which frankly doesn’t interest me very much.
Keep in mind, this is not a new game for me. I don’t see much value from getting free Doritos, conference passes, and movie tickets because I am an “influencer.”
When blogging here does become something I do on my own time, it becomes a time eater, a hobby. My top two concerns will be my child and my professional activities. And I have another hobby which actually produces a dollar now and then, one that I find is less time consuming and more enjoyable, at least right now: Photography.
After regular periodic blogging for so long (see below), it is time for geofflivingston.com to become a true personal blog. That means only publishing when I care enough to write something. Writing when I have something to say effectively right sizes personal blogging to where it belongs.
I’ve Been Around Too Long
In April, I will celebrate/mourn 10 years of blogging. I have used blogs to weigh in on industry issues, market my services, help causes, and in the latter few years, add my voice to societal matters.
Blogging was unique when I began. Now it is a crazy evolving mess. That probably reflects content shock, and the corresponding impact information glut is having on the interwebs.
In the end, writers write. While I may be a marketer and a photographer, my core skill remains writing.
My experiences blogging and marketing over the past ten years have taught me one thing: A blog is just a means of publishing, nothing more, nothing less. It is an online Gutenberg press that allows people to comment on and share posted media. It’s always been that way. How marketers use or abuse the form is up to them.
My words will still have a venue if I need it. And if I am still active on social channels — and I will be — then my friends and community will still welcome those words, infrequent or not.
So blog I will. When I want to. I guess that’s what happens when you become a cranky old blogger ;)
It has also become much more than that. LinkedIn offers brands an ideal platform for employee communications — future (e.g. recruitment), present, and past. The social networks also provides B2B brands a great place to market.
For those that are still stuck in the Twitter and Facebook for brands universe (and maybe, just maybe Instagram, too), please keep in mind how big LinkedIn has become. More than 400,000 million people are using the social network to talk about their professional life. Let’s take a quick look at each of these three forms of communication on LinkedIn; personal, employer and business.
With most people looking for work online today, LinkedIn has become a nexus to build a personal profile and network. There are many ways to stand out on LinkedIn and strengthen your presence.
LinkedIn profiles serve as a place for potential employers to check out your history. In many ways, the profile has become the modern resume. In addition, potential contracts and speaking opportunities can come through LinkedIn.
Attracting people to and making your profile stand out are the primary means of personal marketing on LinkedIn. Here are a few methods:
Parse your communications so that they are professional.
This latter point may seem obvious, but don’t post your cute dog pic on LinkedIn. If social media made a level of uncouth personality acceptable on the Internet, then LinkedIn became the social media place where the old school mindset of act in a professional manner still reigns. Many people and brands are relieved about that, too. Save the personal posts for Instagram, and button it up on LinkedIn.
I remember when LinkedIn launched in the early 2000s. It was hyped as a place to network and find new jobs. After a period of time, employers started using LinkedIn for recruitment purposes.
Then LinkedIn built company profiles. Networking became smarter and you could identify past and present employees through search. The algorithms began sourcing news about company x, particularly when there was a clear tie between an employee and corporate page.
The reality for most brands is that employee communications should begin inside their physical and virtual walls and on their web site. It begins with culture in direct communications up and down the ladder. Another reality exists: Many conversations are occurring about brands out of those domains, and on social media sites like LinkedIn and GlassDoor.
With so many people talking about work and their future on LinkedIn, it can become the central hub of an HR and recruitment social media strategy. Here are some quick tactics to help facilitate that:
Not only has LinkedIn made itself a great place to engage in employee communications, it has also become a fantastic marketing venue for B2B marketing. Conversations and content galore on professional topics ranging from IT security to digital marketing are everywhere.
Businesses that offer some sort of B2B offering — product or service — need to experiment with LinkedIn as a means to brand and generate initial content leads. Here are some ideas for your efforts:
Build an engaging corporate profile page that shows what the company does, and how it helps the industry and your customers). Use Showcase pages to highlight particular product areas and include calls-to-action to drive traffic to your site.
Pulse Articles are also a great way for a brand to show thought leadership. Find spokespersons who are willing to use their profiles and publish articles, then promote them on your company profile page.