Content marketing is not new. However, with the rise of social media, content produced has exploded – Facebook users alone share 2.5 million pieces of content. Every minute! Increased content publishing creates noise and a more competitive market for potential customers’ attention.

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So what is content marketing? The Content Marketing Institute provides the following definition:“Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

There are a number of successful content marketing stories and they have been around for a while: In 1895, John Deere launched a customer magazine called “the Furrow” – it now has a 1.5 million circulation in over 40 countries and the magazine has been a substantial part of its marketing efforts. The “Michelin guide”, introduced in 1900, helped drivers maintain their cars and find decent lodging, while keeping the tire manufacturer in the back of users’ minds. More recent examples of successful content marketing includes the Scandinavian farming cooperative “Arla” that introduced safety tips for families on their milk cartons, and IBM’s “Big Data and Analytics Hub” provides readers with data-centric information that is optimized for sharing (see illustrations below).

Albeit the examples above have very different content and strategies they have in common that users engage in content provided by the company without directly being pushed to buy a product. People want to consume the content rather than avoid it. Instead of pushing a product, they are trying to educate the consumer and make them spend time with their story or product.

 

            Example 2

Example 1

Content marketing is getting increasingly important for a reason. According to the Roper Public Affairs, business decision-makers are more likely to get influenced by content marketing than more traditional marketing:

  • 80 percent of business decision-makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement
  • 70 percent say content marketing makes them feel closer to the sponsoring company
  • 60 percent say that company content helps them make better product decisions

So why is it so important and why do business decision-makers get so influenced by it? Because Marketing is impossible without great content. Content marketing is in fact part of a number of different marketing activities:

  • Social media marketing is dependent on having the right content that customers want to engage with
  • Searh Engine Optimization (SEO) rewards quality and consistency in content published
  • You need great content for Pay per Click (PPC) to work
  • Content is the key piece in “Inbound marketing” (marketing activities that bring visitors in rather than having to “go out” to get propects’ attention)
  • Successful PR campaigns focus on what customers care about instead of on the business – getting the content right is crucial for any PR campaign

Example 3

The competition for consumers’ attention is high for a number of reasons. There are many people creating high quality content without the purpose of using it for marketing purposes (journalists, independent bloggers, interest groups, etc.). Furthermore, the explosion in the possibilities for sharing through social media (e.g. through Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn) leads to businesses having to compete with millions of experts and businesses that create free content for their business advantage. Moreover, editors’ role as “gatekeepers”, controlling what content that is shared with consumers, has been reduced, as so many forms of communication now exists that requires no editorial approval. These trends makes it more important than ever before to focus on good quality content to rise above the noise, as content marketing is not going away. According to experts, staying consistent and speaking to the heart of your market gives you the best chance to reach maximize the effect of your content marketing going forward.

Example 4

 

By: Fridtjof Berge


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Social media platforms have often been critiqued as being incredibly unrepresentative of what a real person’s life is actually like. Since your social media profile is pretty much a permanent representation of your online presence and the most easily accessible avenue for the entire world to see who you are as a person, you can’t really be blamed for wanting to put up a picture of yourself enjoying the sunset on a beach in Mykonos instead of that time you waited in line at the DMV for 4 hours.

You always want to appear your best online but one could argue that this artificial presentation of your life’s highlight reel might feel a tad inauthentic, potentially alienating the very people that you are trying to impress with a well-crafted social media presence. In my personal opinion, I feel that the root cause of this is the permanent nature of social media posts, which go against the fundamental ephemerality of real life social experiences. It seems that I wasn’t alone in this line of thinking as evidenced by a wave of recent social media platforms that aim to insert a healthy dose of realism back into our internet personas using live or anachronistic video streaming.

Snapchat

Arguably the most popular of the social video platforms, Snapchat started in 2011. At its core, Snapchat is a video messaging app where friends can send each other “snaps” in the form of pictures or video clips of up to 10 seconds with captions or drawings on top. The key feature for Snapchat is the fact that the snap is deleted immediately after the recipient views it, which adds the element of ephemerality that I referred to earlier back into the social media game. Additionally, users can post snaps to their “Story”, essentially a new take on Facebook’s timeline feature, where it can be seen by all their friends for the next 24 hours before it is deleted.

The idea that any snap is instantaneously deleted after being viewed radically changes the type of content that gets generated and posted by people. There is no more obsessing about the perfect type of filter or whether a post will reach triple digit likes. People are more cavalier with their snaps and send out content that is more representative of their daily lives. After gaining a significant amount of traction over the last few years, Snapchat has taken it a step further by creating a variety of curated location-specific or event-specific stories, allowing people to post snaps from a location or event to the official story, where it can be viewed by the general public. This in turn has created a fascinating way to capture the true spirit of an event from on the ground as well as to authentically represent life in an exotic city through crowdsourcing. Snapchat is currently valued at a staggering $20 billion.

Meerkat/Periscope/Facebook Live

A more recent development in the social video space has been the launch of Meerkat in February 2015. Meerkat is a live video streaming app that allows you to instantly stream video from your phone directly to your followers or friends, depending on whether you signed up with a Twitter or Facebook account. This leads to a bunch of exciting new possibilities for the space of social media. The ability to instantly stream the experience you’re having to all of your friends immediately addresses the ephemeral reality of the moment. The spontaneity of the medium and the requirement for presence in the moment while streaming to all your friends removes any pretense of crafting the perfect social media post. In the end, you’re left having very real and potentially meaningful interactions with the people you’re connected to, which some would argue should be the point of social media in the first place.

The arrival of Meerkat on the scene and its successful adoption in a potentially lucrative market has, of course, raised the ire of the social media behemoths. In March 2015, Twitter cut off Meerkat and acquired its competitor Periscope to get in the live streaming game. Not to be undone, Facebook announced the “Facebook Live” feature in August 2015, which allows live streaming as well but was only available for celebrity accounts as of the time of the writing of this post. Which live streaming platform ends up dominating the market still remains to be seen but its rapid adoption by users and large social media platforms can only mean good things for people looking to actually have real interactions on social media.

By: Tausif Ahmed

 


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The Pitch

The expansion of social media has had a massive impact on the world of sports. Instead of relying on national news websites to obtain information regarding sports teams and athletes, people are now able to login to their respective Facebook and Twitter accounts to get updates ranging from real-time game progress, to an athlete’s favorite movie. Social media has created a transparent system that allows fans to enjoy amplified engagement in the sports world; athletes to freely engage with their loyal fan-base; and athletic organizations to capitalize on essentially free marketing to reach a broader audience. But does all this have long-term potential?

The Swing

Fans are able to fully interact with the sports world through social media platforms by expressing their opinions directly to an athletic organization, or athlete, as the game happens in real time. Studies show that a majority of sports fans are on social networks while watching games, so they can weigh-in on the action. So if a fan likes or dislikes a certain play, he has the option to immediately inform the athlete or organization directly. This transparent interaction allows the fan to feel more connected to the athlete, the game, and the sport in general.

After a game, an athlete will be able to login to his Facebook or Twitter account to respond to fans, fostering a more “meaningful” athlete-fan relationship. Although some athletes might do this out of the “kindness of their hearts”, it seems more logical to assume that they do this for good PR. Whatever the incentive is, social media provides a channel for fans and athletes to share a deeper connection. In some cases, this could pay off for athletes: Tim Tebow gained popularity with the “Tebowing” meme; Jeremy Lin rode the “Linsanity” waive as long as he could; and Nick Swisher even earned a spot in an MLB All-Star Game due to support from his loyal fan base.

The Drive

Even entire athletic administrations are now capitalizing on an avenue of free marketing by using social media platforms to disseminate athletic progress. Fans simply follow the organization’s respective Twitter account to receive real-time information on individual athletes, and the team as a whole. The popularity of social media has encroached so deeply into the sports world that we are now seeing professional lacrosse players sporting their Twitter usernames on the backs of their jerseys, instead of their last names. Mississippi State even decided to repaint their football end zone to #HAILSTATE. Given that social media platforms create an avenue for free marketing, good PR, and facilitate deep connections between fans, organizations, and athletes, it might seem as if social media hit a homerun in the sports world – what more could you ask for?

The Catch

Although it might seem that the impact of social media on sports seems to only yield positive externalities, it does have vital downfalls that could cause the system to collapse. If used ignorantly, social media could be detrimental to some athletes. Social media platforms give athletes the ability to disseminate uncensored information directly to the public by allowing them to express any opinion, at any given point in time, on any subject – as an athlete myself, it is not hard to imagine that other athletes might say dumb sh*t from time to time. In fact, it actually happens a lot, to the point where athletic administrations incur costs so they can monitor their athletes’ social media use to ensure that athletes do not post anything that could potentially tarnish the athlete’s, or entire organization’s, reputation. Larry Johnson (running back for the Kansas City Chiefs) was released from his NFL contract after publically insulting his coach on Twitter after a game. Rashard Mendenhall (running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers) controversially tweeted about Osama Bin Laden’s death and 9/11, and consequently lost an endorsement deal from Champion. Chad Johnson (wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals) was fined $25,000 for merely using Twitter during a preseason game. The negativity even extends to potential college recruits losing scholarship opportunities due to inappropriate content they post on social media.

It might seem that the only downfall of social media’s impact on the sports world lies within the athletes’ ability to express their uncensored thoughts. Sure, athletic organizations are able to pay thousands of dollars to a company that could provide some censorship, but does that really solve the problem? There has been a recent drop-off in athletes using Twitter because of the negative light associated with posting something controversial – “if something has the potential to end your career, you might as well not use it at all”. It is starting to seem that the deeply driven, homerun-like baseball of social media could turn into a routine fly-out. Given the many benefits of social media on the sports world, it is hard to imagine that athletic engagement with social networks will stop completely. This then begs the question: how do you allow athletes to share a deep connection with fans on social networks, while fully restricting them from saying anything controversial? I believe solving this problem will add enough juice to turn social media’s fly-out into a homerun, and ultimately show long-term potential.

References:

http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/morgan-2013-rise-of-sports-fan/

http://www.kttape.com/game-change-social-media-in-the-sports-world-infographic/

http://cdn.ientry.com/sites/webpronews/article_pics/sportssocialkttape5.png

 


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When Social Networks Get Political

Facebook users in the United States who logged in on Election Day (November 4th) were met with a message urging them to vote and a tool to guide them to their polling place. This feature was displayed to all users and was non-partisan in nature; Facebook has not revealed any influence from the United States government or a politically-affiliated group in developing it. This foray into influencing voter turnout begs three questions: is Facebook’s call to action effective? If so, might Facebook monetize this capability in the future, and would users be informed? And lastly, could this replace or augment current corporate speech (such as issue advocacy through lobbying, or financial donations to campaigns)? (Any questions of lawfulness will be omitted from this post, due to lack of legal expertise.)

Regarding effectiveness, Facebook has deployed similar features in 2010 and 2012 to measurable impact. The 2012 effort was affected by code bugs, but the 2010 experiment was run in partnership with data scientists who published a paper in Nature concluding that Facebook caused 0.14% of the US population to vote. (See URL below for details; the main conclusion is that these are truly incremental voters.) This increase in voter turnout is potentially significant enough to change the outcome of state and national elections. Whether users will become inured to Facebook-initiated advocacy is debatable. For example, Facebook is currently promoting donations to charities fighting Ebola in West Africa, and these types of initiatives will likely see diminishing returns if Facebook over-saturates users.

Assuming that Facebook’s efforts to get out the vote are effective, they risk public backlash under two scenarios. First, it’s conceivable that a Facebook engineer might “go rogue” and attempt to influence the actual outcome of an election, not just the level of voter turnout. This could be achieved by displaying the voting message to only select populations, or displaying different (and less effective) messages to targeted demographic segments. It’s possible this could go undiscovered, but even if spotted, there may be no redress available. Given Facebook’s recently-revealed experiment on whether it could impact user emotions (see link to summary below), it’s not clear that the Facebook engineering team can be trusted to make decisions in line with commonly-accepted ethical practices in the social sciences. Second, Facebook could evolve this “call to action” feature into a native advertising format that it sells to political actors, giving them access to voters who may not realize they are viewing a sponsored feature instead of Facebook-generated or user-generated content. (“Native advertising” refers to ad units that appear to be actual site content, and while it is generally marked “sponsored,” many users do not understand they are advertisements.) An uproar over “subliminal” political advertising could cause Facebook to kill the feature. It is unlikely that Facebook will monetize this feature due to brand risk, but the risk of internal teams choosing to selectively deploy the tool remains real.

Even if Facebook controls “unauthorized” selective deployment of the voting tool, it may still choose to intentionally influence election results. Many corporations speak publicly (through their CEOs, press releases, and corporate donations) to influence election or legislative outcomes, and Facebook could choose to do the same to support an issue or a candidate. For example, the CEOs of Starbucks, Whole Foods, and Aetna, among others, spoke publicly against the Affordable Care Act. Already, Mark Zuckerberg has been personally active in campaigning for immigration reform through his FWD.us PAC, and Facebook contributes directly to political campaigns, such as to three politicians who supported the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act. Facebook has developed and proven the capability to increase voter turnout, and has incredible insight into its users’ political leanings (based on user-inputted data such as “liking” a political party’s Facebook page, or on predictive data such as age, gender, zip code, job title, etc.) Facebook’s ability to insidiously influence election results is almost unlimited, as users cannot opt out of the messaging, and may not even realize it’s being targeted specifically to them.

Although Facebook appears to want to positively influence the American democratic process in a non-partisan manner, the risks of abuse outweigh the benefits of increased voter participation. Facebook could permanently lose user trust, substantially damaging its revenues. Facebook should restrict its political speech to currently accepted channels and avoid speaking directly to users through Facebook.com.

Sources:

Nature paper on 2010 experiment: http://fowler.ucsd.edu/massive_turnout.pdf

Description of 2014 initiative in TechCrunch: http://techcrunch.com/2014/11/04/facebook-vote/

Description of emotional influence experiment: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/06/facebook_unethical_experiment_it_made_news_feeds_happier_or_sadder_to_manipulate.html


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With over 1.2 billion reported users and close to $200B in market capitalization, Facebook is undoubtedly the most ubiquitous social network today. For most users, the core value proposition of Facebook is simple – it is a means to stay connected with their friends (and acquaintances) and to share and learn about each others’ lives. And yet, over the years and over countless tweaks to Facebook’s NewsFeed algorithm (popularly known as EdgeRank), more and more users complain that they don’t get to see any updates from a majority of their friends. Indeed, the average user has over 300 ‘friends’ on Facebook, but thanks to Facebook’s determination of what’s relevant, they are likely seeing updates from only 20% (or less) of their network. What’s going on? Why is it that I have over 1200 ‘friends’ on Facebook, yet I never see anything from almost a 1000 of those? I used to believe they simply didn’t post as much, until I checked out several people’s profiles and saw major updates I would have liked to see, but never saw, despite logging in several times a day. Why is it that I see some stories over and over for days, and several never appear?

Keep it simple….

Several hours of tweaking Facebook settings, privacy controls and reading Facebook optimization controls told me one thing – it’s complicated by design. There is a lot on Facebook that’s simple and intuitive, but customizing your experience is definitely not. There is an option to sort your feed by ‘Most Recent’ but all it does is sort the pre-selected ‘Top Stories’ into reverse chronological order of any action taken by anyone, thus being not helpful at all as it doesn’t introduce new content and in fact increases repetition. You can unfollow or block users, you can tweak content settings for people and types of content individually, or you can organize your 1200 friends in lists you then follow (like really?). For the average user, it is too much to ask, but I’d venture to say that even for power users, it doesn’t really help much.

They have the edge

EdgeRank works in mysterious ways, and the best one can gather is that Facebook measures and ranks ‘edges’ connecting any one user to another user (or Page, Group, Brand etc) by the strength, time delay and frequency of their interaction. However, only active interactions count, i.e. liking, commenting, following or sharing. So if you passively enjoy reading someone’s updates but don’t actively ‘like’ them, chances are you’d stop seeing updates from them sooner than later. This is true for both your friends as well as pages you may have liked, unless of course they pay Facebook to promote the post. The problem arises when over time you see what you like becomes you like what you see, making your Newsfeed populated by the same subset of users and content types and effectively limiting the reach of content. And lest you figure it out, they tweak (and AB test) EdgeRank all the time. So you may not even realize that the reason some of your real world friends don’t comment on your exciting Facebook updates may be that they actually never got to see it, for no lack of intent whatsoever.

“Trust us, we know what you want to see”

Let’s face it, Facebook does know a lot more about us than we think. As long as you’re signed in, Facebook knows not just what you ‘like’ and who you stalk on their website, but also most likely what articles you’re reading and what websites you’re surfing for how long. Besides, information overload is a real problem. Between friends’ updates, activities, engagement content and brands, Facebook estimates they have thousands of news stories to show every user at any point. Surely some stories are better or more important than the other for every user. But by Facebook’s own estimate, only 0.2% of these stories are ever shown to the user. With no easy way to even access the remaining 99.8% and no straightforward explanation of how those 0.2% are determined, it is unsurprising that I see check-ins every time my dorm neighbour gets down to eat and I totally missed the news of wedding and first child of my high school best friend. And these were happy stories – considering Facebook doesn’t want users to not see many ‘negative’ emotion stories, I wonder what all I’ve missed that would have been relevant to know. Or not.

It’s all about the money, honey

All this brings me to the business of Facebook. It is not so hard to gather that the purpose of ‘optimizing’ your NewsFeed is as much to show you the most relevant updates from your friends as it is to show you ‘relevant’ sponsored stories by those that pay Facebook by creating real estate. Facebook marketing is, after all, a fast growing and rather effective (for now) channel for most brands’ marketing efforts these days. One can argue that, after all, it is a free service that Facebook is providing to the users and they deserve being compensated in some way for it by selling part of the user engagement it creates to the brands who want them. And these are brands the users want too, demonstrated if not explicitly by subscription then implicitly based on their behavior as Facebook understands. Perhaps the users shouldn’t complain so much, after all. Sure, they don’t get a perfect experience and sure, there are a few ethical questions because users don’t really understand how they are being manipulated. But what about the brands themselves?

Thousands of advertisers have spent precious time and money over the years building up reach on Facebook pages, but sometime last year they realized that all of a sudden their messages weren’t being shown to all the users who had ‘Liked’ and previously engaged with their page, never mind to new users. So unless they pay for each posting, or the user is a dedicated follower who actively engages with every piece of content posted since the beginning of the change, Facebook’s reach for most brands is basically a myth and the promise of building an engaged community with two-way communication hollow. I wonder how sustainable this is, in the long run, especially as Wall Street maintains earnings pressure on Facebook and non-advertising revenue on the website continues to slip.

Bottomline, friends are not really friends on Facebook. Fans are not really fans. Don’t like the Likes too much.


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