Category Archives: social media

News sites cede control of content consumption to “push” media

I made an observation back in February that content providers were losing control of the consumer’s experience as readers increasing found content by way of a search result page, as opposed to the provider’s own navigation. The content I was referencing was customer support documentation and knowledge base entries. Now comes evidence that the phenomenon is much broader.

News sites lose content controlApparently what goes for marketers’ web sites also applies to The New York Times, and presumably other news portals. Zachary Seward in the blog Quartz reports that traffic on the Times’ home page, section fronts and even the mobile app is in freefall as readers access content from links pushed to them in social media, bypassing the news organization’s navigation. Habits are changing; people no longer sit down to read the news, but consume it largely in occasional bursts at various points during the day.

When it comes to content consumption, the reader clearly is in control, and is consuming in bite-sized snacks, pushed to him by acquaintances in social media. Is the home page really dead? I doubt it, but it’s increasingly becoming an afterthought.

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Oh boy, another social site

UK.jpegThere’s a new social network site — it’s called mi925 ; it’s based in the UK and it wants to position itself halfway between Facebook (frivolous and friendly) and LinkedIn (serious business). Is that a real niche? It does offer a Dislike button, which puts it one small step ahead of Facebook.

I set up a profile ( Does that make me obsessive? Connect with me there if you feel similarly compelled.

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Facebook organic reach is harder and pricier

Adweek reports that Facebook has been tweaking its algorithm to reduce the organic reach of its page content. Translation: If you post something on your Facebook page in the hope that people you care about as potential clients will see it, fewer and fewer of them actually will unless you also pay Facebook for Paid Reach. Reader’s Digest version: Facebook is a business, not a charity.

That’s okay. My work is mostly business to business, and I’m finding Facebook largely useless for that audience anyway. Consumer-oriented businesses will need to adjust expectations and budget accordingly.


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Twitter: Managing the inevitable

Del Harvey, head of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Team, gave a mildly sobering TED talk on the hazardous nature of running a messaging service that people use 500 million times a day.

Del’s examples are surprisingly innocuous, when you consider the odds that she and her team will encounter something genuinely nefarious on Twitter. A joke’s a joke, but this is worth thinking about: Does your tweet, or post, look like something with a dangerous payload? Are you giving people a reason to be afraid of it?

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Has “social” run its course as a career?

Facebook dislikeThe Guardian suggests that “social media is too important to be confined to a single department.” I’m inclined to agree.

The trajectories of certain disciplines have been driven by career aspirations — there have been thought leaders in Knowledge Management who labored for many years to establish a defined corporate career path for KM practitioners. That’s been unstable at best. The same has been happening to “social” — social marketing, social strategy, etc. This appears to be fading as the realization sinks in that ALL jobs are social.

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A little Black History

February is celebrated in the US as Black History Month. We got all the way into the first week of March before someone reminded me that it had come and gone, and then I realized I’d actually made a small February contribution without even thinking about the occasion or making the connection.


Jimmy Mordecai

One Sunday a few months ago, I watched two short movies on television: First, a creaky but fascinating fable from 1930, Murray Roth’s “Yamekraw.” Shot in a weird, abstracted style obviously influenced by German Expressionist films of the 1920s, “Yamekraw” is a story, told in music and dance, of a poor but happy rural Black couple who get an itch to move to the big city; predictably, the move brings nothing but sorrow.

Then, within a couple of hours, I happened to see Dudley Murphy’s 1929 two-reeler, “St. Louis Blues.” The centerpiece of the film is Bessie Smith’s performance of the classic W.C. Handy tune — it’s her only known film appearance, which is all most people remember about it. But it has a plot — Bessie has a two-timing lover, a stereotyped pimp who lives off her modest income and treats her very shabbily.

Each of these film relics is fascinating in its own way, and just by chance, I noticed they have something in common: In each, the male lead is played by a lithe, charismatic actor named Jimmy Mordecai.

Heard of him? I never had. I was struck by the coincidence, so I looked him up — or tried to. I found virtually nothing online about him, other than a few very scant references from books about Black characterizations in Hollywood films, and about dancers. I was able to piece it together that the man was one of the most popular tap dancers of the 1920s and early 30s, a creature of the Harlem Renaissance, and he obviously had some semblance of a film career. To me, that’s a substantial legacy. But he was, for all intents and purposes, forgotten. He didn’t even have a Wikipedia page, which in this day and age is true obscurity.

Well. He does now.

I’d brooded about the seeming injustice of this, and ultimately I couldn’t help myself — I had to resurrect Jimmy Mordecai before he was completely lost to the ages. After all, even film isn’t forever. Thousands of early Hollywood features have disappeared — no prints exist anywhere.

So I took whatever fragments I could scrape up from the hive mind of Google, and strung together a brief Wikipedia entry on the unsung artist Jimmy Mordecai. My romantic nature being what it is, it feels a little like rescuing the man from Purgatory. I think he deserves it.


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Stories and aspirations

Lynn Shepherd’s take on corporate storytelling — Tell-Tale Signs: Decoding the Secrets of the Corporate Grapevine, from the Huffington Post — is worth sharing.

Shepherd offers this as a caution — when an organization organically evolves its own story that becomes a tribal murmur running counter to the mission statement, it’s time for a frank conversation around the campfire.

(Yes. Me too. I hate mission statements.)

But of course, there are lots of positive ways to put an organization’s tribal myths to work in social marketing. We rally around stories; they can be concocted deliberately to focus team members on a valued objective. If a story is an honest reflection of a founder’s vision, it doesn’t have to be the literal truth. It only needs to be plausible enough to gather a consensus — a reasonable aspiration. If your team embraces the story, it will ring true in the messaging you put in front of customers.

zurichActually, storytelling is something I’ve been meaning to write about for a couple of months. We all do it, professionally and personally. We storify our experiences. It’s only human.

I spent a couple of days in Zurich with family at Christmastime, and I found myself explaining how it is that I developed such a love for that city, having spent only an afternoon there previously, more than 20 years ago. It’s a tale I’ve told many times, always essentially the same way: I’d visited on business, and spent the afternoon with a business contact, a successful woman living rather comfortably in a villa overlooking the city. She took us to lunch at an elegant place on the quai overlooking the Limmat River.

The story I tell is that this woman’s ex husband, when they divorced, gave her as a parting gift, an oil company.

Evocative, isn’t it? It’s always good for a moment’s speechless gape. (And isn’t that what every raconteur is looking for?) Of course, it’s a story about wealth, and the truth is, I’m not an uncritical admirer of wealth. But this individual impressed me in the way she wore it. Her villa was lovely but not huge or especially ostentatious. The art was tasteful, modern stuff. Of course the view was breathtaking. Lunch was in an establishment that, while not outrageously expensive, was clearly not an easy place to get a table for five on short notice — but that was childsplay for Madame.

My story isn’t so much about wealth as it is about access. It’s easy to appreciate and fall in love with the best features of a place when you can just breeze in and avail yourself of everything it has to offer.

Oh, and the oil company: My story glosses over the fact that the oil was the sort that goes into cosmetic moisturizers, not the kind that wars are fought over. And that Madame had at least as much to do with building the company as did her ex, and that he didn’t simply give it to her. He just signed over his shares.

Disingenuous? Possibly. But it’s one of those examples of a particular turn of phrase giving a story a greater economy — more bang for the rhetorical buck. Not so very different from Google’s mission statement (“Don’t be evil”) or Disney’s “Happiest Celebration on Earth.”

In an age when the unit of narrative is a photomeme, a 30-second video clip or 140-character koan, economy of verbiage is paramount. It’s an important aspiration.

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Social media crisis management: Whatever you do, don’t do this

There are at least three ways to conduct a social media marketing campaign: The right way, the wrong way, and the unfathomably stupid way.

Some months back, a large fashion retail chain focused on the adolescent mallrat segment found itself in the middle of a firestorm. It’s unclear how much time the company had to prepare for this, but it should not have been taken by surprise. Companies make questionable decisions all the time, and sometimes those decisions come back to bite them viciously. How the company manages such crises often reveals a lot about its fitness for the shark tank that is American retailing.

What I observed, over the course of a couple of days, was an object lesson in how to lose at social media crisis management. It was morbidly fascinating.

I’m going to leave the company’s name out of this post, because I’m that kind of guy.

Suffice it to say that the company was shaken – but, unfortunately, not stirred until it was too late – by a leaked internal memo, in which it informed a large number of its full-time, in-store employees that it was summarily reducing their hours to 29.5 per week and cutting off their health care benefits. The leaked letter did not draw a connection between this decision and the Affordable Care Act, but it took bloggers – and customers – no time at all to make this leap.

It would take the placid, grinning faith of a four-year-old for the individuals in Marketing to assume that such an action on the part of HR could be executed quietly – that such a memo would not quickly find its way out into the light of day. But it is clear that the company was not prepared for the deluge of savagely hostile posts on its Facebook page.

Yes, these things blow over – people exhaust their wrath quickly. But for several days, every attempt to engage and amuse the company’s young followers, and their parents, with chirpy, lightweight girl-talk was met with dozens – often hundreds – of hate-comments. Interspersed between the boycott threats and the re-posts of the blog posts about the leaked memo, were comments like this:

“Yes, another father of two teenage girls who will not allow his credit card to grace your store again. Un-American and despicable. I will repost this many times.”

“You have forever lost my business due to your actions with your employees. It is abhorrent to me to find out that you have made the vast majority of your employees part-time so that you may take away their benefits. Yes, Obamacare is taking effect…but you cannot tell me that you don’t have sufficient earnings to cover whatever might happen with healthcare costs (which by the way) may even go down for your employee population! You are just taking advantage of this change to boost your earnings by taking away other employee perks. So, count me out!”

“Unliking your page for treating your employees like crap. They are reducing hours so they do not have to pay insurance for their employees. They are cutting corners to save a few pennies at the expense of their work force. I will never shop your pathetic store again.”

…and so on, completely drowning out any positive messaging.

Obviously, these things happen, and marketers respond, if sometimes belatedly. So why am I referring to this as an object lesson?

Once it became apparent that it couldn’t simply wait for the unrest to die down, the company might have posted a large, prominent explanation of its position, presenting its reasoning and signing it in the name of someone of senior executive stature who was willing to draw fire away from the company’s affirmative messaging – the stuff about kids and their brightly colored clothes.

Instead, obviously delegating the handling of the crisis to a trained gibbon, the company crafted a response – a single, boilerplate answer, written as though it were a personal message. Then, on the second day of the crisis, that answer appeared as if addressed to the author of the first in a thread of literally hundreds of angry comments. “Hi, Stephanie,” it began, and then offered a couple of paragraphs of weak rationalization for the hour and benefit cuts.

The name wasn’t actually Stephanie, and though I would feel better if I could quote the actual text of the message here…I can’t. The company attempted this tactic for most of a day and then gave up. It has since deleted ALL of the page’s content for that particular day from Facebook.

In any case, the aforementioned simian staffer then worked his or her way down the thread, responding to each successive post, one by one, with the exact same boilerplate response. Only the name was changed: “Hi, Jeff…” “Hi, Jessica…”

Forget the words – picture the visual impression this made. After about 25 repetitions of this insipid rejoinder, the response itself started to spawn counterattacks:

“I see you’re working your way down the list of hundreds of hostile comments, responding to each with the same cut and paste rationalization for your revolting decision to cut worker hours. You’re going to be at this all day, of course. I can save you a few seconds, though. Skip me – I don’t need or accept this bullshit answer. Thanks anyway.”

The lesson then:

Social media marketing is not the same thing as advertising. It’s a conversation – a big, clamorous rally, and it is going to get unruly sometimes. There are going to be naysayers even when you don’t have a full-blown crisis on your hands. When you do have a crisis, don’t act as though you can simply reason with your critics one at a time. Remember, everything you do in social media, you’re doing in public. Imagine working a room – how long would it take your guests to catch on to the fact that you’re telling each one the same cheesy story?

Better to get up in front of the whole group, tell your story once, and then make the rounds in listening mode, with the rationalization machine switched off.

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