…won’t get you anywhere in digital marketing. This month’s Feature takes a look at the dangerous phenomenon of “viral sameness,” which is causing publishers to blend together in a rush for easy page views. Our Digital Guide offers an overview of paid media tactics brands can use to stand out online, while our latest Case Study profiles how Palo Alto Networks turned its popular corporate blog into a powerful PR tool. In the latest On Workflow, Global Director of PNConnect Jesse Soleil shares the virtues of chaotic notebooks and awesome vacations. All this plus stats, the latest news in social media and digital advertising, and more.
“Facebook has become the Apple of digital ad sales. The social network is able to push its ubiquitous product to increasingly higher prices seemingly without any pushback from its customers. In the first quarter of 2015, Facebook got its advertising customers to pay 285% more money per ad than they did a year ago as the social network served 62% fewer ads year-over-year.”
Source: Ad Age
Facebook’s revenue per user has grown fairly consistently over time, even as the network displays fewer ads. Again, the key is mobile activity: in the first quarter of 2015, over 70% of Facebook’s ad revenue came from mobile. As mobile usage grows and advertisers become willing to pay more for mobile ads, the two trends are combining to push revenue ever higher.
to View Ads on Mobile
“According to YouTube, there is a secret to getting you to watch the ad that rolls before the latest adorable cat video: Make sure you are watching it on your phone. As a matter of fact, you are 1.4 times as likely to watch YouTube ads on smartphones. A new survey released today by YouTube and consulting firm Ipsos MediaCT says, in addition, mobile users are 1.4 times more likely to share ads.”
Source: Fast Company
This speaks to a larger trend in video advertising: While users are more inclined to skip ads in a distraction-filled desktop environment, they have more patience for ads displayed on a smaller mobile screen. The user interface itself may be a factor, too: Sometimes it’s just easier to hit the “skip” button on desktop than on mobile.
“Through the partnership with Google’s DoubleClick ad exchange, ad agencies and other buyers will be able to purchase inventory on websites around the web, as well as Twitter Promoted Tweets from a single interface… Twitter is also hoping to strengthen advertiser confidence in the return on investment of its direct response commerce ads by working with DoubleClick to properly measure when clicks or actions on Twitter lead to a purchase or conversion.”
Running an integrated paid campaign just got easier thanks to this new partnership. The unusual alliance springs from a shared desire to compete with Facebook’s growing dominance in the digital ad space (see above). Targeting parameters and metrics will be shared across both Twitter and DoubleClick, which will make it easier both to set up a campaign and to demonstrate its ROI.
“Today we’re introducing Highlights: a simple summary of the best Tweets for you, delivered via rich push notification. We want to help you get the most out of Twitter, no matter how much time you spend with it. While your home timeline is a great place to browse through and engage with Tweets, we know it can be challenging to find the time to get through everything. Highlights, a fast and simple summary of Twitter, lets you catch up quickly on the best stuff that is most relevant to you.”
Source: Twitter Blog
Twitter implemented several changes this month to make the platform friendlier to new users. In addition to Highlights (currently an Android-only feature), Twitter debuted a new, topic-focused homepage for logged-out users and automated explanations of current trending topics. All these new features have the same goal: to make it easier for casual users to see tweets they care about, while retaining the unfiltered, comprehensive stream that core users value.
“Facebook has bashed face first into an inevitable math problem. According to Zuckerberg’s Law, people share more online every year. Both people and Pages are posting more status updates, photos, videos, and links. Meanwhile, people are accumulating more Facebook friendships and Page subscriptions. But they’re not increasing the amount of time on the News Feed nearly fast enough to keep up with the increase in volume of content they might see.”
As Facebook’s ubiquity grows, the competition for News Feed real estate is constantly intensifying. That’s bad news for publishers who rely on Facebook for most of their influence and exposure. Still, it’s possible to boost reach and see good results on Facebook by focusing on high-quality content that people will want to engage with. Facebook wants to show users content that provides value, so if brands want to be seen on Facebook, that’s the content they need to create.
“On Monday, the professional network launched Elevate, a standalone app that allows companies to share content directly to specific groups of employees, who can then pass it along to their own networks. The idea is that employees of a company have broader reach — and more clout — than the companies themselves. For example, an engineering blog post shared
by one of Google’s engineers will appear more authentic than if it’s shared
With Elevate, LinkedIn (a PNConnect client) hopes to create a “win-win-win”: The platform receives more activity, users see helpful content and update more frequently, and companies get a boost through employee advocacy. As we’ve discussed before, employee advocacy can be a powerful force on social media, and early tests of Elevate bear that out: Adobe found that heightened employee activity increased views of job openings by 80% and boosted other LinkedIn metrics, too.
“Instagram also presents brands with an audience that’s enthusiastic about engagement. According to Yesmail, brands on the social network saw their number of followers grow 278% on average last year — more than any of the other platforms studied. However, brands taking advantage of Instagram’s eager audience shouldn’t overwhelm followers with too many posts, as data released in March 2015 by L2 Think Tank suggests quality matters more than quantity.”
Instagram’s high engagement rates are a major perk of the platform right now, but be careful not to kill the golden goose. Keep your content quality high and don’t overwhelm your followers with a barrage of updates to make sure you stay in their good graces.
Strike Out On Your Own Path
If you follow many news sites on social media, you may have noticed a numbing trend over the past few years. Every site shares the same stories, often with identical angles. Time will cover the same story as Mashable, which is the same story Vox shared earlier, which originated on a Reddit thread. It’s been called “viral sameness,” and it has the effect of taking a piece of web ephemera and mainstreaming it.
It happens for a simple reason: When a story is spreading, readers are going to click somewhere to see what it’s about, and no one wants to leave those page views on the table. Growing social usage means the overall pie is bigger, but everyone’s getting a smaller chunk of that pie. With so much advertising revenue at stake — and with so few alternative business models — there’s a continual race to grab as many readers as possible.
In the long term, these sites give up much of their distinct brand. A publisher may start out with a focus on a central topic or a precise mission statement, but the picture gets fuzzier when it gives attention to ephemeral stories (e.g. how quickly a contestant solved the Wheel of Fortune puzzle) simply because “everyone else is doing it.” The end result is a homogenized media landscape, where everyone is about everything and no one offers a unique value proposition to the audience.
Viral sameness presents a unique opportunity for brands, which don’t have the same priorities as media companies. Brand publishers typically aren’t focused on generating ad revenue; they have goals like building awareness with specific audiences (e.g. potential customers) or driving conversions. With these objectives, a singular editorial mission — like covering a specific industry — is all the more important, and raw page view counts are much less important.
While other media outlets throw everything against the wall to see what sticks, brand publishers have the freedom to remain true to their core editorial values. That’s not to say outside content should never be integrated into a program: Curating material from elsewhere is an important part of a well-rounded strategy, but there’s a much higher bar to clear. Brand publishers who resist viral sameness give their audiences something increasingly rare and valuable: a clear focus, with a unique point of view.
When deciding whether to share the latest viral story, consider:
- Is the story related to what you usually talk about? It doesn’t matter if it’s fun, serious or somewhere in between — the core question is whether or not it fits in with the overall editorial focus.
- Does sharing the story help you meet program goals? For example, will it attract new followers in your target audience, bring in leads, or result in conversions?
- Is everyone else already doing it? Quite frankly, if a story has already been covered by dozens of other outlets, then are you adding anything unique? If not, sharing the story isn’t likely to bring you or your audience much value.
- Where does it fall on the list of priorities? It’s counterproductive to jump on viral stories if it means diminishing the attention given to news that’s more directly related to your program’s mission.
“We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years. It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.”
Be open. Be honest. Be friendly. Communicate early and often. Tell people, nicely, when you don’t like what they’re doing, and help them meet your expectations. What people produce isn’t always going to be what you imagined, but that’s OK. When the right people are working with you, the results will be good.
My whole strategy towards management is to be someone who tries to guide success for everyone, because that’s what I want out of a leader, too. My smartest and most effective mentors are also my friends — they really care about what happens to me. There’s a mutual respect.
I have a weekly, 30-minute meeting with every individual on my team. That helps build relationships and others’ trust in me.
I took down the shelves in my office and put up a whiteboard so I can do more creative thinking, and it actually gets a lot of use. I have a refrigerator under my desk where I keep my water and green juice and probiotics. I try to keep my desk pretty clean because that’s where all the magic happens. I have a few books, but mostly I have toys and stuff: a Tribble, a Mario hat, a raygun. I have a great view out my window. I’m on the 36th floor, so lots of natural light.
Between 9 a.m. and noon. I’m able to get a lot of stuff knocked off in the morning while it’s quieter. I’m a morning person — I’m up at 5:30 or 6 every morning. My afternoons are more reactive.
Honestly? Scrabble. I find if I don’t take periodic breaks I get totally burned out, so it forces me to take ten minutes away and process a different kind of problem. I play the computer, on “expert” setting, because that’s how I roll.
A ton of research, just immersing myself and the team in all the information. Going through search results, and learning both what the brand is doing and how people are responding to it. I want to learn who the target audience is and what they care about, apart from the brand. I take every approach — data analytics, talking to friends, reading social profiles, and then trying to synthesize what it all means. Ultimately, people want to be entertained, they want some kind of helpful utility, or they want to be educated, so we have to figure out how to plug into that. It feels great to create content people really want, not just content that communicates a brand message.
I get about 300 to 400 emails a day, just on my work email. (I also have six personal email addresses.) I try to get to everything the second it comes up and respond right away or else it piles up. I still think in the mode of the old days of actual letter-writing, so I try to avoid one-line emails and reread everything I write to make sure I’m saying what I mean to say. I forward really important emails to my personal email so they’re surfaced there too, and sometimes I schedule important responses in my calendar. The ultimate escalation is when I write a reminder on a paper sticky note and stick it to my monitor until I respond.
After I’ve read and dealt with email, I delete it. I can’t stand having extra emails in my inbox.
I write everything manually. I don’t have a little Moleskine, I have a giant notebook. I’m not a neat writer; I scrawl and write all over the place. It helps me remember things better than typing would. I don’t use my notebook as a reference very often, but the act of writing helps me synthesize knowledge and use it more effectively.
I can get incredibly enthusiastic. I like to get excited about things! And I like to share that excitement, which people don’t always expect from someone in a professional environment. Right now what I’m excited about is this concept of the customer journey — how we provide value to customers throughout their interaction with a brand. I’m so invested in that process I’m trying to apply it everywhere. It probably looks insane.
Overshare. Invite people to talk. Bring people in as early as you can. Sometimes we get really focused on what we can do in our own office and we forget that someone 300 miles away can really help us on something. We try not just to extend our network, but to get people invested in shared success. For that, you have to pick people you can build relationships with. Choose a buddy! I’m trying to build connections with point people in several other offices, having regular meetings to share updates and build the relationship.
I try really hard to get home early enough on weekdays so I can spend at least an hour with my kids before they go to bed. It’s important to me to get time with them in both the morning and the night, even if I have to get back online after they’re asleep.
Also: Use all your vacation time. You don’t get a medal for not taking your vacation time, and you have to take ownership over your work-life balance. Make sure you do something AWESOME on your vacations. Every year I do a car race in Kenya to raise money for a national park to protect the last remaining rhinos. We drive a Range Rover, point-to-point. That’s coming up June 1st.
Cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks, a Voce/Porter Novelli client, runs a corporate blog that’s popular with customers and industry insiders for its original research and thought leadership. But the blog also serves as a valuable communications resource, acting as an agent for the company’s breaking news by helping convey in-depth information to the press — most notably around new security threats.
Contributions from Unit 42, the Palo Alto Networks threat intelligence team, have played a key role in driving traffic and engagement with journalists, who have learned to turn to this blog section for insight into the company’s most groundbreaking research work.
The blog’s biggest major PR breakout opportunity came in November 2014, when the Unit 42 team identified WireLurker, a new family of malware targeting Mac OS and iOS systems in an unprecedented way. Palo Alto Networks and Voce worked with the New York Times to break the news as an exclusive. As soon as the Times story was published, the blog team shared an anchor piece featuring the full research report. The blog didn’t just recap the announcement; it became a hub for resources on how WireLurker works and potential approaches to defending against it, as well as actionable advice for security practitioners. Rolling follow-up posts shared new developments and visuals that explained the technical details and new industry findings based on the company’s original research. For the first time, the Palo Alto Networks blog exceeded 100,000 monthly unique visitors.
In March 2015, the blog offered first-mover journalists exclusive insights into another high-profile threat, the “Android Installer Hijacking,” an Android security vulnerability discovered by Unit 42 that was estimated to impact 49.5% of all current Android users. Along with buildup to the company’s annual Ignite user conference, this exclusive overview of technical details helped the blog reach 100,000 monthly visitors a second time. The post not only boosted traffic, it directly reached journalists, some of whom picked up the story primarily through the blog. As with the WireLurker story, high-value content grew the blog’s reputation as a go-to source for media looking for news and insights from the cybersecurity industry.
Working with Voce/Porter Novelli, Palo Alto Networks put the PR value of its blog front-and-center for journalists with its emphasis on the Unit 42 research team and the unique insights and depth of knowledge it brings to cybersecurity news. Positioning the blog as an in-depth source when breaking major stories about Unit 42 discoveries cemented its expertise and usefulness in the eyes of media, who find the blog to be a genuinely helpful asset in crafting and researching stories.
Specifically, paid media may be a good tactic when:
- You need to reach a large number of people quickly.
- You’re targeting a very specific group of people.
- You’re promoting news that isn’t naturally generating media coverage.
- You’re promoting a contest or sweepstakes,
- You’re doing crisis communications or damage control on a news story.
- You want to build or expand a new social media audience.
- You want to test new messaging.
|Paid search||Text ads that appear alongside specific search results||Ensure select searchers see your content, not just organic results||Crisis comms, competitive positioning|
|Display advertising||Visual “takeovers,” video or image ads targeted to specific websites or groups of websites||Generate awareness (not always clicks)||Marketing/branding|
|Social media advertising||Sponsored content or accounts on social networks (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)||Raise the profile of an account or share posts with new or existing audiences||Recruit followers, increase engagement|
|Recommendation engines||Displays photo and title for select content as “You Might Also Like…” links on media sites (more in our March 2015 edition)||Expose content to new, broader audiences||Extend impact of top-performing content|
|Native advertising||The modern advertorial; a paid article or site that looks similar to general news but is created by a brand||Reinforce key brand messages, themes, and thought leadership||“Priming the pump,” providing air cover, building reputation|
|Mobile ads||Visual or text-based ads that appear on mobile devices in browsers or apps||Generate awareness and sometimes clicks, downloads, or views||Engage mobile audiences|
|Sponsorship and actions||Partnership with an outlet or influencer to have them take a specific action or give a review or recommendation||Spur endorsements and extend reach of webcasts, email, etc.||Product launch|
|“Real life”||Billboards, TV ads, radio ads, etc.||Generate massive, widespread (not targeted) awareness and impressions||Events, massive launches, branding|
- Online ads and search can be very nimble, targeted and efficient. Don’t think paid media is out of your budget.
- Utilize Google’s free tools to broaden your understanding of the context – Google Trends/Insights, AdWords Keyword Tool, Google Alerts, Google Ad Planner.
- Give your social programs a boost with social ads.
- Don’t ignore mobile.
- Take advantage of PNConnect’s expertise.
How do I get started?
To test the waters, try incorporating paid media into a one-off, smaller program and see what results you get. For both small and large campaigns, it’s best to incorporate paid media into communications planning as early as possible. Establish goals and key performance indicators in advance, and determine how you’ll examine your analytics and use them in decision-making.
Or, get in touch with us and we’ll help you brainstorm. With just a little background — goals, audience, timeline, and available budget — we can identify possible targets and tactics. If you have questions or would like to learn more, please let us know. We’d be happy to help out.
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.
Chris Thilk in Chicago wrote this month’s Feature about viral sameness. Erik Sebellin-Ross and Andy Stoltzfus in San Francisco created our Guide to paid media and Jesse Soleil in New York City stepped up for On Workflow. Stephanie Pham and Mark Avera in Atlanta and Mary Gaulke in Sarasota contributed stories and insights for the Social Networking Stats, Noteworthy News, and Advertising Trends sections, while Daniel Gahagan in Winter Haven provided the latest stats. Mary Gaulke wrote this month’s Digital Dictionary entry, and Andy Stoltzfus and Bob Nelson shared our Case Study on Palo Alto Networks.
William Tung uploaded our cover and Welcome photos to Flickr, and Tom Thai uploaded the Great Wall of China photo, some rights reserved. Some backgrounds courtesy of subtlepatterns.com and thepatternlibrary.com.
Thanks to Jennifer Laker, Jeff Stieler, and Pete Schiebel from the Platforms team for providing design and development support, and to Mary Gaulke, Tom Harris and Chris Thilk for editorial oversight and proofing.