A Bigger Problem than Content Shock

There may be a bigger problem than content shock coming down the pike. First, it’s great that industry leaders are addressing the increasing proliferation of bad content populating the interwebs. More spammy content spoils the waters for the rest of us.

At the same time, I can’t help but think that a bigger problem faces the sector.

In the next twenty years our conceptions of literacy will become challenged and evolve. A media world is coming where visual and audio forms will dominate, and text will become a secondary form of communication.

Some conversations touch the tip of this massive iceberg with the current by focusing on visual media’s growing social network strength. But smaller mobile media devices and content glut continue to force a permanent focus on rich visual and audio.

I imagine many writers will writhe as they read this. Let us agree that long form blogs, eBooks and content will continue to engage stakeholders.

But in 20 years will these textual forms will become increasingly marginalized as mass consumption moves to video and imagery? I think so.

In essence, blogs, white papers and eBooks will become niche tools for specific purposes and persons who prefer reading. Further, Generation X and millennials will be the last generations that read content online first. Instead, children and adults will watch, listen, see, and then read.

I know that last paragraph will inspire debate. People are afraid of what the visual era means. When people are fearful they have negative reactions.

We cannot ignore the trends. To run from change is to be passed over by it.

Consider this: People are as likely to seek an answer today on YouTube as they would via Google. They will learn more about a research report from an infographic than a four page executive summary. Some people prefer listening to a podcast during their commute or at the gym rather than reading late at night or during their lunch break. They prefer to have business intelligence delivered via slideshare than a long blog post. The list of trends signalling the movement away from text grows with each passing season.

By the way, I would have made a deck about this trend, but when wrestling with complicated topics, I still think textually and have to write my ideas out. That is a problem for me. It’s a problem that every communicator faces right now. How do I learn how to communicate visually?

The Visual Imperative

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Last week, my company Tenacity5 had the great honor of serving as the social media counsel for Give Local America, an incredible day of giving from Kimbia that raised more than $53 million from more than 300,000 donors for well over 7000 nonprofits. To wrap things up, we created a pinboard of the best stories from the many nonprofits across the country.

The pinboard highlights many passionate stories from nonprofits, stories of beneficiaries who need the programs created by passionate causes.

I am sure there were many, many other stories that are not included in the board.

Because they were not visual and didn’t use the Give Local America social media hashtags and keywords, we did not find them. By my estimate, there were hundreds of thousands of social updates, including pieces of visual content created for the day. The visual tagged pieces of content stood out, and will be memorialized.

This is the problem. We must communicate visually within the Internet context now if we hope to be found.

It’s why AirBnb is going beyond creating unique story paths for SEO. They also contract 3000 freelance photographers to help them communicate these stories visually.

The visual imperative is one of the primary reasons I decided to focus on improving my photography skills this year. Since that time in March, my photography blog on Flickr has increased its traffic by another 50% and is now outpacing this blog 8 to 1 on traffic this month.

Learning to speak through pictures is becoming easier.

Whatever or however communicators decide to evolve their visual skills, evolve they must. Communicators can learn to storyboard, or write video scripts and screenplays, or podcast, or use InDesign, or critique visual arts, or build outlines through visual wireframes, or… There are many options to learn visual thinking well beyond photography.

Stop Making Excuses

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Many people tell me I have a natural eye for photography, that it is a gift or an art. They say that communicators can’t do the same thing.

This is an excuse.

It rankles me when people say they can’t learn or won’t be able to do so. Let me be clear: Six years ago I took crappy photos like everyone else. I learned to think visually through a camera.

Deciding you can’t take photos is an excuse for not wanting or being afraid to learn photography. This is true for any visual discipline. No one wants to find out they really cannot see the world visually. Lack of desire and fear can thwart an effort right out of the gate. Let’s be honest about these very real internal barriers.

It’s also important to be consider the market dynamics. Communicators will see this trend evolve, and they must decide whether or not to embrace visual media. If not, are they prepared for competition from other companies and members of the workforce?

I’ve heard some other interesting excuses since last March, too. Some people think that iPhones make authentic images, and that real cameras don’t.

A camera is a tool. If you want to use dull knife to cut your meat, go for it. Me, I like a sharpened knife. I’ll opt for real cameras every chance I can. They do a better job, and people want good pics. I only need to look at the performance my Nikon captured social photos versus the iPhone shots. This is why every communicator needs a camera, in my opinion.

I hear the same thing about filters and Photoshop, that these editing tools make inauthentic photos.

Look, I don’t like crazy enhanced images that are so over the top they look like something from a science fiction novel. But I do think people should use Lightroom and Photoshop to take the dust specs off your pictures, make them less grainy, and fix the lighting.

We are talking about creating and telling stories through visual means. If you think that’s not a photo, then call it a graphically enhanced image. Who the hell cares?

In my opinion, the filter touch up argument is another excuse for not learning visual media. By the way I learned how to use Lightroom in a two hour Kelby One training session. That’s it.

Sharing How-To Experiences

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It’s one thing to tell people that dynamic change is coming. Most don’t want to deal with it.

But I really believe this trend is happening, and I am doing everything I can to meet the market. If you are of the same mind, expect more blog content about the lessons I am learning, including how-tos.

I cannot compete with the many expert photography blogs out there. But I can share my experiences evolving from a single dimension communicator to a multifaceted one that weaves the visual into larger strategies.

Perhaps this will be helpful. I hope so.

What do you think?

The Quality Boom

Strong professional writers, photographers and videographers should be thrilled. Content and social network noise increasingly impact online success, making quality an increasingly necessary component to succeed. That means experienced professional producers will be in demand.

Consider the rise of new markets for quality stories. Cont3nt.com has built a place for content creators to submit their stories. Note the word stories. While photos are the baseline, journalists are looking for the comprehensive package of photo/video AND story.

The demand for better photos is a direct result of mobile snapshots (and the smartphones that people view them on), but the zeitgeist is creating a market for higher quality images. Anyone (including Chicago Sun-Times journalists) can shoot a photo on an iPhone, but most smartphone photos look flat at best.

The same could be said for video. Vine may be the home of six second shorts shot on your phone, but high quality pieces win the day.

One complaint I hear frequently when talking to my more senior colleagues is that many young communications professionals display poor writing skills. Finding quality writers to succeed in the content marketing era is difficult.

The demand for quality writing is one of the primary reasons Erin Feldman became my first hire at Tenacity5. I learned to value quality writing from team members at Livingston Communications and Zoetica. People who work well on a timely basis are more important than yet another account executive.

I believe that demand for quality content will make hiring writers and designers a higher priority than account staff for agencies and consultancies. Regardless of story type — video, photo, written or a combination — we will live and die by quality.

Hybrid Weavers

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Notice the focus on complete stories at Cont3nt.com. I don’t think companies, journalists or content creators are looking for brilliant work in a singular tactic anymore.

Sure you can create the epic photo that is shared across the world, but invariably a story accompanies the image. You can write the most beautiful prose and publish it, but if there are no visuals or video the story will have a limited audience.

Even video requires a story, a screenplay. That usually requires the videographer to write a basic story before shooting.

Content publishers — media companies and corporations alike — realize the need to produce complete stories with multiple types of media assets. Agencies and consultants that can’t provide comprehensive storytelling will need to build networks and teams of diverse producers to fulfill client needs. The same can be said for media companies.

Hybrid content needs drove me to sign up for not one, but three professional photography training classes via National Geographic and Nikon. While most folks are nice to me and compliment my photography, I need the basic fundamentals to transcend from the periodic brilliant shot to consistantly decent photography. I can use these photos in my own work (as I frequently do with blog posts)

It’s all part of providing comprehensive content. Online communities prefer quality hybrid content.

How are you serving this need?

Photos taken last night in Alexandria, VA.

My Big 5 Marketing Predictions for 2014

I am presenting a free Vocus webinar this Wednesday at 2 p.m. on the five big trends that will impact marketers in 2014. Vocus is a client of Tenacity5 Media.

Everyone wants to know the most important trends of the new year for their marketing program. After reading thousands of posts and reports and sifting through corresponding data about marketing, these are my five bold predictions for 2014, and what you should do about it.

Trend 1: Mobile Begins to Dominate

Google Glass will grab the headlines, but old-fashioned mobile marketing will command the budget. Thanks to responsive and adaptive designs, geofencing, and diverse mobile media properties, businesses can deploy customized campaigns to attract customers on the go. As ROI increases, expect mobile specific efforts to become the next marketing boom.

Key Statistic: In 2014, 3.7% of the total U.S. ad spend will be mobile ($6.2 billion). We saw 81% growth this year in the U.S. market, with that rate slowing down to 61% in 2014 and 53% in 2015, when mobile will make up 8.4% of the total ad spend. Source: ZenithOptimedia.

Trend 2: Wearable Moves to the Wrist

Wearable computing hype will move away from the head to the wrist. Google Glass is too awkward and clunky to be anything more than a niche product. Meanwhile, Nike+ FuelBand and Fitbit continue to show how wearable computing can quietly be accepted in day to day lie. Expect Apple and Samsung to take advantage of the form factor, and define the market.

Key Statistic: Google Glass will move 21 million units in annual sales by year-end 2018. Source: BI Intelligence

Trend 3: Vine Becomes a Major

In 2012 we saw the rise of Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+. 2013 was promising but less successful with Vine and SnapChat.

But toward the end of the year interesting acquisition chatter between Facebook and SnapChat commanded the headlines. Then Facebook delivered a vain attempt to replicate video messaging functionality on Instagram (the McDonalds business strategy strikes again).

There are serious monetization issues with SnapChat. Facebook is turning the Instagram platform into something for everyone, and at the same time nothing distinct.

Vine is already tied into Twitter’s ad platform, and will benefit from its unique video only format. Expect Vine to breakthrough in 2014 because of its simplistic utility, short video, and Twitter’s increasingly successful ad platforms.

Key Statistic: At the end of September, Twitter-owned Vine grew a whopping 403% between the first and third quarters of 2013 according to Mashable, Statista and GlobalWebIndex. That makes the video app the fastest-growing app of the year; it now has more than 40 million users. Source: Business Insider.

Trend 4: Native Advertisers Clean Up

As native advertising continues to expand and infiltrate traditional publishing and social media, consumer trust will decline and legal action will increase. Brands and media properties alike will come to understand the impact sponsored content makes on trust. Native advertisers will clean up their offerings, and brand reputation will take precedence over short term gains.

Key Statistic: The most popular forms of native advertising in 2013 were blog posts (65%), articles (63%), Facebook (56%), videos (52%), tweets (46%), and infographics (35%). Source: Hexagram.

Trend 5: Marketing Automation Improves

The potential for marketing automation is well documented as is its impact on the bottom line. But most automation solutions are hard to use. Marketers don’t have the analytic and technical skills to succeed.

What is hard must become easier. Companies will put pressure on their teams and vendors to make marketing automation more useful to their businesses. Training and user interface evolution will make marketing automation a bigger success.

Key Statistic: Just 16% of B2B companies use automation solutions extensively, and 14% of B2C companies leverage the solutions set.Source: Research Underwriters and Ascend2.

During the webinar I will provide actionable steps if you would like to explore these trends and stay ahead of your competitors. I hope you will join us!

Featured image by Desmond.

7 Daunting Challenges Facing Marketers

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Marketing today remains a great challenge, in large part because of the consistently changing technology and media landscape. Informational sources (conferences, blogs, etc.) consistently address these challenges yet the issues persist.

It may be time to take a step back on a macro level and look at how education and information sources are meeting these challenges.

Here are the seven daunting difficulties for today’s communicators, each followed by an idea or three on how to address them. Please add your own thoughts.

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9 Videos on the Digital Future

Happy April Fool’s Day! We now resume our regular programming…

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Five weeks ago at xPotomac, nine speakers and one emcee delivered speeches and conversation starters that sparked 25-30 minutes of questions and answers each. The following nine videos are listed in the order of presentation.

Special thanks to my client Vocus for providing videography services. Vocus is hosting the Demand Success 2013 conference in Washington, DC this June 20-21. The event focuses on marketing best practices for converging media, and includes speakers like Arianna Huffington, Content Marketing Institute Founder Joe Pulizzi, digital journalism expert Jay Rosen, and many more. Check it out.

Please feel free to leave comments and feedback about the conference here. We’re listening!

xPotomac Introduced: BlogPotomac Legacy and Future Vision

DC’s very own Shana Glickfield (Beekeeper Group) provides the introduction to very first xPotomac. xPotomac is where the digital media future meets businesses. This groundbreaking conference features seven media technologies most likely to impact businesses and marketers in the immediate future.

This smaller intimate conference features limited attendance to ensure maximum learning and networking. Speakers will present in a tight setting with the stage centered in the round or in a horseshoe formation. Each session features a gladiator like format with 15 minutes dedicated to speaking and 30 minutes of question and answer from the audience.

Opening Keynote: Voice Search Changes the Game

The opening keynote at xPotomac was provided by Vanessa Fox. Given how much of the current web — social and content marketing included — revolves around search, voice search represents a game changer, especially given mobile use with Siri and Google Voice Search.
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Vine Reflects Bandwidth and Quality Limits

There’s much ado about Vine these days. In addition to the usual porn issues, most of the controversy surrounds the video network’s six second format. Like it or not, the six second format is ideal for bandwidth constrained 4G powered devices.

Marketers are already experimenting with the weeks old social network bolt-on. But to me, it’s too early for that conversation. What’s fascinating is the medium itself and how it fits into the larger social context.

First, consider that Vine is the video short equivalent of Instagram. Load time is critical for a long stream of videos, especially given it’s mostly viewed on devices leveraging wireless carrier networks.

Competitors like Viddy and Keek also have short video formats, 15 and 36 seconds respectively. But even Vine still suffers in low bandwidth situations as I found out at a packed concert on Sunday night.

A functional stream is critical for the Vine user experience. If you are promised short videos, they better load quickly into the stream most of the time.
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