December 2014




Looking Back

We’re proud to wrap up another year of PNConnect Digital Essentials. It’s been a big year, and we’ve put together an unusual issue to reflect that. We bring you an analysis of 2014’s major stories in digital media, from developments in mobile advertising to a series of dramatic changes on Twitter. We’ve put together the top tips from a year of “On Workflow” interviews and a quick look at the year in social platforms stats, too. And if you’re new to Digital Essentials, this edition is a great place to start: our Complete Guide to Brand Publishing is an index of dozens of pieces from past issues, sorted into area of expertise, from publishing tactics to event planning. Start there to browse previous issues or find insight on a specific topic. Throughout the issue, PNConnectors share quotes and thoughts on some of their favorite long read articles of 2014.

Cover photo: Decor to celebrate the season

The Ultimate Marketing Machine

Favorite Long Reads

“To understand what separates the strategies and structures of superior marketing organizations from the rest, EffectiveBrands (now Millward Brown Vermeer)…initiated Marketing2020, which to our knowledge is the most comprehensive marketing leadership study ever undertaken.

“Some of what we found should come as no surprise: Companies that are sophisticated in their use of data grow faster, for instance. Nevertheless, the research shed new light on the constellation of brand attributes required for superior marketing performance and on the nature of the organizations that achieve it.”

PNConnect’s Jesse Soleil writes:

“This piece spoke to me on many levels to better understand what our clients might be going through on a daily basis and to help me align our offerings to meet those needs, as well as inform the design of more responsive and agile organizational structures and teams throughout our own ‘glocal’ agency. The challenges between verticals, functions, channels, roles, audiences and organizational lines can create such a fragmented approach to operating and marketing — it seems to me that ‘functional’ has become the new ‘innovative.'”

Social Networking Stats

The Year in Social Platform Growth


Decision-Driven Marketing

Favorite Long Reads

“None of these decisions can be made by marketing alone, because they lie at the seams between functions… That’s when what we call ‘mining the seams’ comes into play: When marketing works closely with other functions to execute key decisions, it can avoid organizational bottlenecks and get things done far more quickly and effectively than in the past.

“Judging from the experience of most marketing organizations, mining the seams is easier said than done.”

PNConnect’s Megan King writes:

“The biggest issue any marketer – agency-side or client-side – faces is strategic decision making that leads to focus. This article illuminates the intersections between smart strategic planning, collaboration and marketing success.”

The Big Stories of 2014

New Ad Formats Debut

The social media space evolves by leaps and bounds every year, so social media advertising is always coming up with new tricks to keep up. From “swagvertising” to chat bots to sponsored content on Buzzfeed, brands got creative with ways to connect. Yahoo sought new ways to monetize Tumblr, pushing brand microsites and vowing that Tumblr would generate over $100 million in revenue in 2015. Tumblr is just one part of Yahoo’s push towards native advertising: in June, CEO Marissa Mayer asserted that “Native experiences beat their traditional display counterparts in almost every metric.” This is in line with a general industry shift; a report at the end of last year touted that native ads were expanding at twice the rate of display ads.

In other corners of the Web, Amazon prepared to launch new ad offerings and Instagram expanded its ads to display to international users. Pinterest, which Forbes dubbed “the coming ad colossus that could dwarf Twitter and Facebook,” refined its ad targeting capabilities so advertisers could focus on a narrower subset of users.

Inevitably, the online ad proliferation has also led to some backlash. New ad-free social network Ello offers a home to users fed up with social advertising. And Google has a new scheme to make money by blocking ads, partnering with select publishers to permit users to pay a fee rather than viewing ads on certain sites.

Messaging Apps Prevail

Messaging apps exploded in popularity in 2014, whether users wanted to say a quick “Yo” or share new information on the spread of Ebola. WhatsApp is a major player in the space, especially since Facebook acquired it for $19 billion early this year. Snapchat is another potential behemoth; it had a great year with the launch of its first ads (discussed below) and innovative new features like “Our Story.” Snapchat is now the #3 social app among the coveted Millennial demographic. Chinese app WeChat looks poised to break out, too: Notably, WeChat was BuzzFeed’s venue of choice for its debut into messaging apps.

Mobile Advertising Comes Into Its Own

Mobile ads exploded in 2014, arriving on new platforms and improving their targeting capabilities. By the end of June, mobile ad revenues had increased by 76% year-over-year, for a total of $5.3 billion. This dovetails with accelerating growth in mobile data traffic, which increased by 81% year-over-year.

Facebook has been a leading innovator in the mobile ad space. This year the platform began targeting ads based on cell signal strength, so those with poor service see light-bandwidth versions of ads. Another new capability came in the form of hyper-local targeting, which allows brick-and-mortar businesses to place ads in the feeds of those just a few blocks away. To complement on-platform ads, Facebook launched its own mobile ad network that uses Facebook data to target ads in third-party apps.

Snapchat’s debut in advertising made a big splash. Our November case study explored the strategy behind the first-ever Snapchat ad, a promotion for the film Ouija. Snapchat continues to experiment with its ad offerings, testing out a new format during the American Music Awards. Meanwhile, Google brought advertising into the responsive design age with auto-resizing mobile ads. Google is the leader in mobile advertising, followed by Facebook and Twitter — although Yahoo is poised to take the #3 slot soon.

App install ads that point directly to an app download are particularly prominent in the mobile space, where apps that aren’t already top-ranking compete fiercely for impressions. Tumblr is the latest platform to offer app install ads, rolling them out last month.

Twitter Keeps Mutating

2014 was a year of insecurity for Twitter, as the behemoth struggled with retaining users and impressing investors. The company responded with a slew of changes and experiments. Even the fundamentals were on the table. In March, the company hinted it might ditch the framework of hashtags and @ replies, though it has yet to do so. User profiles received a major overhaul, with more emphasis on rich media, new banners at the top of each page, and the capacity to “pin” a Tweet to the top of a user’s stream. Even more change came as the company brought in a new CFO: Anthony J. Noto, a former Goldman Sachs banker who had previously helped Twitter with its IPO. And the company extended an olive branch to disgruntled developers with “Twitter Fabric,” a new app development platform intended to make it easier to integrate Twitter functions into third-party apps.

Lately, the alterations have addressed Twitter’s ongoing struggle with new user attrition. Friends’ favorited tweets and other “popular” or “related” content have started appearing in timelines, a move to help onboarding users find more compelling content and people to follow before they lose interest. In November, Twitter announced more upcoming changes directed at new users. The “Instant Timeline” will fill the feeds of newly registered users before they’ve followed anyone, giving them an instant access point to join the conversation. Another new feature will show users who haven’t accessed Twitter for a while the most popular tweets that appeared in their feeds while they were away.

Twitter’s ad offerings continue to evolve, as well. Promoted accounts now get higher rankings in users’ search results. The network rolled out app install ads and “buy now” buttons attached to advertiser tweets. An “offer” button recently launched as well, which invites users to redeem a brand’s deal via a credit or debit card linked to their accounts. The efforts aren’t limited to logged-in users, either. The company is also working on ways to monetize logged-out and casual visitors, which would offer a big boost to reach.

Video Ads Find New Niches

Video was another big hit in online advertising this year, and that makes sense: A recent study found that paid campaigns on YouTube drive more sales than those on other social platforms. Similarly, other research found that consumer packaged goods are seeing better and better engagement and reach from digital video. Facebook got in on the phenomenon by introducing new autoplaying video ads, which it recently brought to mobile, too. Amazon partnered with Geico to launch a video ad business of its own, and Yahoo is poised to make a fresh play for the space with the recent acquisition of video ad-tech company BrightRoll. Our Core Values

Favorite Long Reads

“In the coming weeks and months, we’ll roll out our online coverage of news events around the world. Before we do so, we felt it was important for you to get a sense of where we’re coming from, so we wanted to share what we consider to be core values. We’ll hold ourselves accountable based on these values, and we hope you’ll do the same to us, too.”

PNConnect’s Chris Thilk writes:

“2014 was an odd year: not only did newly-launching companies (, Ello) feel the need to make “important” opening statements — manifestos, really — but then they became fodder for an endless cycle of discussion and analysis. While we talk a lot about having a sustainable message strategy, it seems that lately, creating a first impression is drawing the lion’s share of resources. Is there anything special about’s statement? Sure, potentially. But the point here is that coming out with a big bang is a vital tactic, whether or not the hype is sustainable.”
On Workflow
2014’s Top Tips

Keep a light travel bag ready to go.

“I keep my laptop bag loaded with the bare essentials so that I don’t have to worry about it when it comes time to pack: laptop power supply, headphones, monitor adapter, business cards, Orbit gum, and a Kind bar or two in case of emergency.” – Chris Scott

Take care of small tasks as soon as they crop up.

“Writing something on a to-do list that actually takes 5 minutes or less — make a quick call, send an email, talk to someone about a task — is a waste of time in itself.” – Megan King

End each day by planning out the next one.

“Before I sign off, I make sure I map out the following day… Depending on what that looks like for the next day (and looking ahead to the following days), I know whether I need to put in extra work that night, wake up early, restructure something, or (very rarely) if I’m able sleep in.” – Andy Stoltzfus

Take time for silence.

“You need head space to promote free thinking and time to liberate those hours when we become creative. We need to innovate to take advantage of our strengths in story-mining and story-making. That necessitates blank spaces away from white noise.” – Tim Walmsley

Prioritize your health.

“I go to the gym at lunch time three days a week. It helps me prioritise what needs to be done in the morning (pre-gym) and in the afternoon (post-gym), so I know if I’m off target a lot earlier. In addition to the health benefits, I find that getting away from phone calls and emails allows time to think through problems or opportunities. I often have my best ideas for a campaign while running on a treadmill.” – Mandy Griffiths

Get out of the office.

“There’s a nice path that wraps around the LinkedIn office that takes 20 minutes to walk. Walking it solo or taking a walking meeting is always a good way to shake things up.”
Doug Madey

Take normality on
the road.

“It’s very easy when you’re traveling for business to stay at the office really late or continue collaborating into the late evening. But you’d never let yourself act the same way at home, because it’s not healthy. You need to keep yourself on a fairly normal schedule and maintain time for yourself, especially if you’re on a longer trip.” – Christopher Barger

Brainstorm ’til it hurts.

“Your first idea is probably something someone else would go right to, and the goal is to find a differentiating, unique approach that the campaign can own. Rarely is that an easy thing to hit upon on the first try.​”
Shelley Noeldechen

Know when to
power through.

“There’s a scene in the movie The Hustler where Jackie Gleason, the old pro pool player, is getting beat. He goes into the men’s room, splashes water on his face, comes back, and completely destroys Paul Newman. That’s what I do if email is getting the better of me. I step away for a second, crack my knuckles, and get to it.” – Chris Thilk

Give your team
breathing room.

“Unless you’re building a nuclear reactor or leading a team of brain surgeons, it’s usually a good idea to give your team the flexibility to do things their way.” – Sid Shuman

Reduce “visual stress.”

“Working at a messy desk to me is like trying to cook in a messy kitchen. Who prefers that?” – Mike Manuel

The Fall of Facebook

Favorite Long Reads

“Given the collective unease with Facebook, could the Internet population launch a sort of immune response against the network? Understanding the threat represented by centralizing all of your online identity in one place doesn’t require sophisticated analysis or ethical contemplation…

“And so, naturally enough, users are spreading themselves around, maintaining Facebook as their social spine, but investing in and loving a wide variety of other social apps. None of them seems likely to supplant Facebook on its own, but taken together, they form a pretty decent network of networks, a dispersed alternative to Facebook life.”

PNConnect’s Andy Stoltzfus writes:

“There’s been no shortage of handwringing throughout 2014 about the rise, fall, or impending doom of Facebook (or any other social network, for that matter), but this Atlantic piece details most eloquently what I see as the future of Facebook. That future is as one of several tools that individuals have at their disposal, but not the end-all-be-all that Facebook strives for. You see that already in situations such as the Ferguson protests, where Facebook’s warm-and-fuzzy algorithms meant that users could only get real-time updates on the situation through Twitter (or news outlets); if you looked only at Facebook, you’d have no idea the protests were even taking place.

“Nobody’s quitting Facebook any time soon, and Facebook’s product development and acquisition strategies will ensure that it is relevant in new spaces beyond its current strengths. But this phrase from Madrigal sums it up best: ‘Social networking is not, it turns out, winner take all. In the past, one might have imagined that switching between Facebook and ‘some other network’ would be difficult, but the smartphone interface makes it easy to be on a dozen networks.'”

Our Complete (So Far) Guide to Brand Publishing

We’ve covered a broad range of topics in past issues of Digital Essentials — everything from infographics to edcals to influencers. Use the index below to get a refresh on what we’ve shared so far or seek input on a specific topic.

Content Creation


Content strategy is still a fairly new concept, but it’s at the core of any well-planned online initiative. Here’s how content strategy applies to new programs, ongoing programs, and contained projects.

Story arcs create dramatic tension and give audiences a thread to follow, which means they can lend some real traction to a brand campaign.

Online focus groups offer a quick and budget-friendly solution for gathering audience feedback. Here’s how to get started.

Here’s our advice for crafting a message that’s entertaining, meaningful, eye-catching and under 140 characters.

LinkedIn’s new long-form publishing capabilities are a great chance to build your voice on the platform and showcase your professional expertise.

Right now infographics are all the rage, but they can turn into a big mess if you don’t start with certain guidelines in mind.

Publishing Tactics

It seems that during every major tragedy, a brand behaves insensitively on social media, trying to capitalize on the moment. Don’t be that brand.

From the team that brings you this report every month, advice on delivering a high-quality regular publication of your own.

Twitter cards can give your 140 characters a big boost by adding rich media and link previews to your tweets.

If your content pipeline is going through a dry spell, you don’t have to disrupt publishing. Think strategically about how to maximize your content.

Editorial calendars are a vital tool for planning your publishing and aligning with your strategy, so it’s time to make sure yours is well-built.

If your fan count’s about to reach an exciting round number, seize the opportunity to celebrate your brand and court fan loyalty at the same time.

Google’s “Hummingbird” update to its search algorithm last year shook up many of the principles of SEO.

Get an overview of the current state of SEO and what it means to have search-friendly content. Hint: keyword stuffing is over.

Building a Network

From Adobe Social to ExactTarget, the landscape of social media management tools constantly evolves. Here’s a rundown of where the major players currently stand.

Learn how to find and recruit influencers who can advocate for your brand and help bolster your credibility.

LinkedIn Groups are an oft-overlooked resource for growing your network and finding fresh professional insight.

LinkedIn has been steadily expanding its feature set with a host of useful new resources and tools.

If you’re ready to take the plunge into Pinterest, we have advice for tailoring your content to this unique but powerful platform.

Video is an increasingly vital component of many social media campaigns, so make sure your brand is nailing its YouTube presence.

Your employees have the potential to be some of your brand’s biggest advocates. See how NetApp went all in to empower its employees on social media.

Tumblr can be an intimidating platform. This examination of how other brands tackle the network can help determine where you fit in.

Apps like Secret and Whisper are all the rage right now, so your brand should know what to do if it begins to receive scrutiny via these anonymous networks.


A meet-up is a chance to make connections with followers and showcase another side of your brand. Here’s how to plan an awesome event that will get fans talking.

Google Hangouts combine the intimacy of face-to-face conversation with the accessibility of social media to make a big impression among followers.

Not everyone who’s excited about your brand can make it to your live events, but you can leverage social media to make sure everyone has a chance to keep up with the action.

Use Storify to pull together panel quotes and commentary from across the social Web into a coherent, curated storyline.

The holidays are an odd time for social media, with browsing and spending habits shaken up from their typical routines. Here’s how to adjust to the season.

Measurement, Design and More

Measurement goes beyond page views and clicks. Dig deeper into your metrics to gain valuable insights.

Goal-setting is a critical part of planning content and assessing its effectiveness. Read our advice for calibrating your goals to suit your program.

Responsive design is the key to making sure your site looks great and functions well on screens of any size.

Here’s how to bring harmony to your team even when they’re scattered to the four corners of the Earth.

If your brand entry on Wikipedia contains an error, you can’t go charging in to change it, but you don’t have to sit back and accept it, either. Use these guidelines to start a conversation with the Wikipedia community.

Do employees have to disclose their affiliation with a company on social media? Are there restrictions on what they may say? Recent NLRB rulings answer these questions.

Favorite Long Reads

“Selling directly on social media has another key benefit: Retailers and advertisers get instant confirmation of the impact of their social media marketing efforts. A recent Wall Street Journal report noted that while social media marketing budgets are expected to more than double in the next five years, only 15% of marketing executives can show the quantitative impact of spending. Connecting individual Tweets and Facebook posts with actual purchases has thus far proven to be a huge analytical challenge. But with the advent of buy buttons and in-stream purchasing, concrete revenue and conversion figures can be attached to social media efforts in a way that hasn’t been possible until now.”

PNConnect’s Christopher Barger writes:

“I’m fascinated by the move to social payments for a couple of reasons. First, this sets up an interesting scenario in which the competitive set for Twitter, Facebook or Apple could now include Capital One, American Express, and Visa — and I find that dynamic fascinating. How will the credit card companies respond to this kind of threat to their business?

“Perhaps more importantly, however, is the idea that in-app ‘buy’ buttons could allow businesses to directly quantify financial benefit from their social programs. While this is happening at a limited level within a few companies right now, the broad availability of quantifiable metrics promises to change the content game. How many pure awareness plays will we still see? How much will the promotional overtake the concept of content relevance? Will budgets for digital/social increase as the direct payoff becomes clearer? There’s going to be a lot happening in the next year on this front, and I’m watching it very closely.”


PNConnect is the global digital services offering from Porter Novelli. Our global team spans 60 countries and brings the combined digital resources of our social media marketing, creative production, paid promotions and web development capabilities together for one purpose — to help our clients share their story with the world.

For more information about our team and approach, or to learn how we can help your organization with digital strategy, development and measurement, please visit the PNConnect site.


Thank You


Many thanks to our contributors for this edition and throughout Digital Essentials history.

Mary Gaulke in Sarasota compiled the recap of 2014’s major stories. Andy Stoltzfus in San Francisco, Megan King in Washington, D.C., Chris Thilk in Chicago, Jesse Soleil in New York City and Christopher Barger in Detroit contributed their favorite longreads of the year. Amanda Wu in New York City provided the latest stats.

Apple published the Apple Pay photo. Stephen Woods uploaded our cover photo to Flickr and SomeDriftwood uploaded the machinery photo, some rights reserved. Some backgrounds courtesy of

Thanks to Jennifer Laker and Peter Schiebel from the Platforms team for providing design and development support, and to Mary Gaulke and Tom Harris for editorial oversight and proofing. Special thanks to Dave Coustan for guiding the creation and development of Digital Essentials; we wish him all the best in his Obi-Wan future.

Drop Us a Line

We’re eager to hear your thoughts on this edition and your suggestions for future issues.