“Serial” Does Not Portend a Podcasting Boom

"Serial" Does Not Portend a Podcasting Boom
Photo Credit: Holmes Palacios on Flickr

Photo Credit: Holmes Palacios on Flickr

“Serial,” a podcast from the producers of the public radio show “This American Life,” is a runaway hit. That’s awesome. What’s not awesome is the leap of logic people are taking that this means it’s a boom for all kinds of podcasting. It’s not. And here is why I feel that way.

A DVR for Radio: The Hit is Coming From Mainstream Media

Some marketers love to hook on to the value of podcasting, and hope for the listenership. The truth is, podcast popularity is probably higher than critics would like to think, as suggested by this data from Edison Research (the lead: 2% of all audio listening is to podcasting. That is small but yet significant). Why do we need a podcast from the producers of an established public radio entity (“This American Life”) to suddenly declare that podcasting is here? We don’t. The publicity is nice, but it doesn’t have much to do with podcasts for marketing. It has to do with time-shifting commercial (ok, non-commercial, but mainstream in this case) programs, much as we use DVRs for television programs. While Serial is a “podcast-only” program, my focus group of one (me) frequently prefers to listen to several public radio shows available on-air  as podcasts/radio DVR rather than being a slave to air times.

Do People Differentiate Podcasts From Other Programs?

Do people really think of listening to podcasts as a separate activity? Separating this from the mainstream media podcasts, it means more, perhaps, when thinking about listening to an industry or corporate podcast. It’s a good question that, as I tackled this post, I’m not sure I have the answer to. When podcasting was introduced, people didn’t necessarily know what that meant. Nor did they necessarily associate “pod”casts with the i”Pod” especially as Apple tended to treat podcasts as a second-class (e.g  non-revenue stream) citizen, at least early on. In the end, podcasts are audio. In my earbuds, they compete with music for my aural attention (and some of you listen to audio books; how different are they from podcasts?), and to me it’s that simple.

ETA: Barbara Kolbe Baker, on Facebook, articulated a point I failed to make in the original draft of this post: It’s “about the content, not delivery method.”

Podcasting is Hard (Kind of)

It’s easier to write than it is to produce a listenable 20 to 30-minute podcast. It’s not really that hard to record, edit and publish, but there is at least a small amount of know-how involved in making a listenable podcast (form both content and technical points of view) over simply doing written material.

The same could be said for video, but the allure of the moving image helps people get over that barrier (or sloppily crash through it, webcam in hand) more readily. Will podcasting as a business tool really take off as a primary medium? Only if people are willing to do the work; those who are will lead that category, whatever size it becomes.

Business Podcasting Never Lost Effectiveness

People just got lazy. Business podcasts are great, and there are no shortage of pretty good marketing and technology podcasts out there that I enjoy listening to weekly. These include the For Immediate Release family of podcasts, the TWiT family of shows and, in  an example of one podcast-only show that truly is successful on a few levels, Marc Maron’s WTF podcast.

As an early podcaster, I get the temptation to cheerlead for the medium at every potential positive sign. But rather than build theme parks around hallucinations, it’s better to just go to work and build something you believe in, that serves your audience well; that’s what will ultimately be successful.

Final Word (and Pictures)

Variety has its own take on why “Serial” isn’t really as big a deal as some people are making it out to be. It’s a good read.

And for business podcasting nerds like me, here’s some cheerleading from Jay Baer that’s more grounded in fact, and the reasons why podcasting does work and why it is successful. Note that he doesn’t mention “Serial” anywhere in this lengthy assault of images (I really do have a problem saying unvarnished nice things about infographics, don’t I? Deal with it).

The-rise-of-podcasts-as-Business-Education

Platform Shaming – No, It’s Not Twitter’s Fault

Platform Shaming - No, It's Not Twitter's Fault
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Photo Credit: Chris Vreeland on Flickr

In the marketing, PR and communications field, we (well, the smart ones at least) take great care to remember that what we do – and what happens – both good and bad, is rarely if ever the fault of the communications platform. Generally, the culprit our hero is sound communications strategy supported by a legitimately good product or service.

Just the past week we have had online blowups regarding Bill Cosby, Uber and the NFL’s New England Patriots. Not that people are widely blaming these gaffes on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and the other social media platforms, but often enough that is the knee-jerk reaction. As parent of a teenager, I am attuned to hearing other parents worry (often preemptively) about social media being to blame for bad things that could happen, when experience tells us that bad (and good) things have happened well before social media, and will still occur in their banned absence.

So why do we blame Twitter or other platforms when things blow up? I have a few theories.

  • People are lazy

Why examine the real reasons for a PR disaster – a bad product, an out-of-control executive, a just-plain-rotten idea – when we can blame Twitter or Facebook for the bad reactions? That’s easier, and if it makes people feel better about themselves…wait, that’s a bad thing. Fix the real problems and social media will be nice to you. The Gap logo flap a couple of years didn’t happen because of social media; it happened because people hated the logo. Social media may even have helped speed up their course correction.

  • We want the Magic Pixie Dust of social media to be real

Social media is a great part of any communications tool set- but strategy drives it, not the other way around. That said, this Saturday Night Live Sketch made me laugh:

  • Old-school ink-stained wretches just can’t seem to get those mom’s-basement-dwelling-bloggy-people off their damn lawn.

This is my favorite, and seems to be more prevalent with sports columnists than anyone else (at least here in Boston). The idea that the old-school daily paper sports columnists automatically have more knowledge, experience and gravitas is bunkum; for among the legions of idiot typing away in his Cheeto’s-encrusted underwear, there are a few future media-mogul idiots. Most columnists do have that over most amateur bloggers, but the curt dismissal I see constantly is short-sighted and undignified. Another symptom is more in sync with the initial premise of this post- it’s easy to blame Twitter et al rather than the real cause of the problem, such as in this column shaming Twitter for the Patriots’ accidental endorsement of a hate speech-bemonikered Twitter account. That article, to bury the lead, is the inspiration for this post in the first place. Traditional media won’t get far by misunderstanding the newer channels.

Don’t  be lazy, and when it comes to solving PR and communications problems, don’t fight the wrong enemy.

Kim Kardashian Gives Better Social Media Advice Than You Do*

Kim Kardashian Gives Better Social Media Advice Than You Do*

3776887321_7772630e5b_oOne of the funnest spectator sports in social media marketing is tearing apart the advice of others. Add to that the constant hand-wringing over whether conference presenters should give “101” talks or “advanced” seminars brings the whole thing to the brink of becoming a spectator sport. Well, what if someone outside the marketing bubble gives advice, and some silly web site gives it some editorial space? That’s just wrong, isn’t it? How dare they! Let’s tear it down!

Over the last week or so, I saw an article on ReCode titled “Five Social Media Tips From Kim Kardashian West.” It’s easy to make fun of that; after all, what’s not to laugh at when a Kardashian is trying to give advice to people? Actually reading the article, however, I found that most of her advice was common sense, and worth adopting – seriously. Here is my reasoning:

  • She is talking about using social media the way you or I might use it: Her last tip, “Don’t be weird and post more than three pictures from location,” is actually pretty sound for everyday users – and if people (God forbid) have a habit of doing Kardashian West’s bidding, there might be a little lower volume of annoying oversharing on social media. Yes, I said Kim Kardashian West could conceivably help slow the stupidization of the Internet.
  • The advice is terribly basic — But it’s not basically terrible. “I use Twitter as my Google” sounds like one of the tragically idiotic buzz-phrases you might see in any Social Media book, but on the other hand, think about how you use Twitter. I did, and I do use Twitter search frequently when looking for discussion and links to current events. It doesn’t replace Google, but Twitter works better this way than as a conversation platform these days; it’s easy to get behind the meaning of that tip.
  • It’s counter-intuitive not to make fun, so I’m on board: Being dismissive of vacuous celebutantes is overdone. Considering the (almost-complete) lack of bad advice, I think I’ll take all my advice from such famous people from now on. It’s much easier to follow, with success, than most “what time of day to Tweet” posts. And it’s much cheaper than buying a stack of glorified monitor supports from Amazon.com.
  • This is not “Five Social Media Lessons from (Today’s News Story That is Irrelevant to Social Media)”: The article is just personal tips from one person. It is far less despicable than “Five Social Media Lessons from the Ebola Panic” or other offensive desperate attempts at “newsjacking.”
  • Caveat: I can’t defend the Blackberry shout-out – I assume that was a paid endorsement. God bless ‘em.

This is an admittedly long way to go to make one simple point: sometimes the insipid make sense, while it is just as easy for industry professionals to recycle marginally helpful – or even flat-out wrong – advice. It is up to you to know the difference. So, yes, Kim Kardashian West gives better social media advice than you do.* Plus, if you really want to make fun of her and her ilk, I guarantee there will be plenty of other opportunities.

Viva Kardashian.

*Actually, no disclaimer here. She really does. I mean it. Step up your game, gurus. 

Image Credit: jen collins on Flickr

Something Different (But Not Really) – Joining Stone Temple Consulting

Something Different (But Not Really) - Joining Stone Temple Consulting

2014 has brought a career move, and I am far enough into it to finally write about it here.

After leaving an agency – Voce Communications – that did and continues to do great (albeit now Haslam-less) work, I had the opportunity to figure out what was next. The real opportunity was to redefine what it meant to be someone with communications, public relations, social media and marketing experience. What would be different enough to be a challenge, but still draw on my core experience?

197744651_177c0dd6d4_zThere were a few intriguing answers out there. In-house positions offered the social media responsibilities I had honed at Voce, while agencies offered the greater integration of PR, social and other disciplines that I knew was coming. Add to that the more socially-responsible missions in the non-profit and educational worlds, and there was quite a bit to choose from.

Finally, I chose Stone Temple Consulting (and they chose me). What is different about Stone Temple? For me, it’s the deep experience in Search Engine Optimization combined with the recognition that content marketing is a key part of that world. In PR, we have seen for years the coming collision of SEO and content, and the cumulative changes in Google’s search algorithms over the years have confirmed that good content strategy is not merely compatible with good web strategy, but it is required.

That explains the appeal of a content marketer/social media marketer/PR pro/whatever I am to a firm with its roots in search marketing. What’s the attraction to me? An SEO foundation provides a quantitative foundation on which to build sound online content marketing programs. Rather than just measuring the results of what we do – a venture that is incomplete at best for most marketing and PR firms – I am now involved in measuring the reasons why we make our recommendations. Data first? That indeed seems to be the case. Add to that the opportunity to get a deeper understanding of technical SEO best practices, and I am hooked.

It will be interesting to see how my new experience shapes my thinking – and my writing. A month into my work at Stone Temple Consulting, I am only now comfortable writing about it. Expect my comfort level to increase, and to hear more about how my thinking evolves in my new surroundings – and wish me luck.

Photo Credit: Grufnik on Flickr

It’s the Next Little Thing, Not the Next Big Thing

It's the Next Little Thing, Not the Next Big Thing
Flickr Photo Credit: duncan c

Flickr Photo Credit: duncan c

I often get grumpy about “shiny object syndrome,” when people jump on some brand-new social network or tool and declare it the “Next Big Thing,” because – well who knows where the reasoning comes from much of the time. People want to be the first to jump on the next trend, but in doing so can fail to stop and analyze what these tools mean.

“SOS” can merely be premature rather than dead wrong (Instagram was a great example) but it can still be idiotic for any number of reasons:

  • Mass adoption is a guess until it happens (Google Plus come to mind, as people rushed to crown it before its real uses became defined and apparent)
  • People declare tools “universal” before the tool is even available on all of the popular platforms (Instagram has proved to be a big winner, but people touting it when it was only available on iOS was simply premature)
  • Many tools do one thing- is one thing the “Next Big Thing?” Not really (Vine – again, a popular tool, but in many ways a limited toy, hardly a “next Big Thing”)
  • Is the content produced from these tools portable? Can I own it or at least host it on my site? Ok, can I at least embed it? No? Yes? That’s important, you see…
  • Many tools are great for some applications, companies and industries, but not so much for others (hello, Vine)

My examples might seem harsh assessments, and many of those mentioned are very useful tools that I use myself at least to some degree- but jumping from trend to trend and trying to declare that “Next Big” is largely a useless exercise.

What is useful? Seeing the “Next Little Thing.” This occurred to me most recently with the launch of Hyperlapse, a tool from Instagram that allows people to easily make time-lapse videos. The tool is pretty neat-o, lading to an entertaining (at first) burst of time-lapse videos from friends and others, something like this one:

Predictably, brands got on board. I’m whole-heartedly in favor of experimentation, but you can’t tell me this is part of a polished, professional brand-vertising campaign:

Hungry? Me neither. Not to say there will not be successful brand uses, but betting on a marketing trend based on this new tool (based on a film/video trick that is not at all new) is not smart money.

If Vine (and Instagram video) is a one-note toy, then this is more of the same. Predictably, colleagues in the social media marketing industry are doing the usual “Next Big Thing” for the moment- though that may be dying down even as I write this.

So- what is the significance? Look for the Next Little Thing. By that, I mean figure out what the “Not the Next Big Thing” tools are doing that actually means something in the bigger picture.

In the case of Hyperlapse, I did some reading and listening and found what I thought was the real innovation: Hyperlapse tapped into image stabilization and made it accessible. This means that other apps will make use of that (if some haven’t already), and that better quality video – from any number of apps, presented in any number of ways – will be at more fingertips, including more social media marketing fingertips. That’s the Next Little Thing. That’s what gets me excited about Hyperlapse, even though as an Android user I haven’t even tried it yet (and for what it’s worth I understand why there is a delay in making this work for Android devices).

So, the next time a bunch of Social Media Bloggers start breathlessly heralding the Next Big Thing, look a little closer. Take a longer view and find the Next Little Thing; it’s better than dismissing the hype.

 

 

You Won’t Get Answers, But You Need Questions

You Won't Get Answers, But You Need Questions
Photo Credit: Bilal Kamoon on Flickr

Photo Credit: Bilal Kamoon on Flickr

I once used the phrase “(Social media ‘guru’ name here) is Not Smarter Than You” in a blog post as a way of encouraging folks to create their own content and get their own thoughts out there, rather than be intimidated by those whose credentials are largely made up of starting to blog before you did.

I still believe that you, or I, are no less smart or able than the marketing consultants and – ugh- “gurus” who show up frequently on industry podcasts, blogs and webinars. Why are they there and you are not? It likely has more to do with the need to hustle and stay visible to get consulting clients and the like than much else (ok, ego too- why not?). You probably daily see a podcast or event panel, see names of “industry leaders” attached to the, and think “those people are smarter and know more about the business than me.” If that were really true, why would you bother?

Here is why you should still bother:

This is not about cutting down people because they are good at self-promotion – it is, however, about the rest of us believing in our own abilities to strategize, consult, execute and think on issues.

This is about figuring out how to listen critically and still learn from anybody rather than considering it a waste of time to pursue industry reading and listening from people who, in reality, are your peers.

This is about valuing the questions, and not (necessarily) the answers. I reminded myself of this recently as I listened to an episode of the marketing/advertising podcast Beancast, a weekly panel hosted by Bob Knorpp I don’t always listen through depending on what is going on early in my week, but the most recent episode had a segment on “Tackling Anemic Organic Engagement” that I thought would be relevant to my own current thinking and work. So I listened- were the answers enlightening? Some yes, some no – none were bad that I can recall, but I was struck by the questions: first some that I was thinking of and hoped would get asked, then by others I hadn’t thought of.

It wasn’t the answers I needed. It was the new questions. 

So it’s ok to think you’re smarter than as smart as everyone else; it doesn’t even matter if you’re wrong about that; it also doesn’t mean you can’t learn.

My Ice Bucket Challenge Post- It’s Not What You Think

My Ice Bucket Challenge Post- It's Not What You Think
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Photo Credit: Didriks on Flickr

This week, I posted a simple question on Facebook:

I didn’t say what this was referring to; I could have been talking about people using a celebrity’s death to promote a pet cause, or some other event that created my passive-aggressive query.
My friends, however, are shrewd, and immediately assumed I was talking about the Ice Bucket Challenge. The problem I had was as I was starting to see this thing pass around, it was clear the people I saw doing the challenge clearly had no idea what it was for and in the process were mangling, losing or ignoring the message.
The message? Former Boston College athlete Pete Frates started the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness of and money to fight ALS (aka “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”), an insidious illness that is generally terminal within a few years and has no known cure. That’s really great. I wish my initial exposure to the challenge had been from people who actually knew what it was supposed to be for and were promoting the cause rather than doing some fun, silly thing their friends told them to do. Something more like this (ok, this example is probably better than we need to expect, but it’s really well done):

So, is this a post ranting about how I think an Internet meme is silly and done wrong? No. It’s more about discourse on the Internet, and how it can go right.

My question could have been seen as an attack and I could have been attacked back, in one of the Internet versions of shouting matches and name-calling that we see every day. But it wasn’t, somehow. I said my friends are shrewd, but more importantly they are thoughtful. Perhaps my phrasing this as a question rather than an “I Hate the Ice Bucket Challenge it Totally Sucks!” post opened up the conversation to reasoned and passionate discourse about the meme, rather than people calling me a hater (I’m not a hater, I’m just grumpy and sometimes hard to please). I truly wanted to ask people to think about why they are posting things, rather than condemning the effort.

Perhaps I just have better friends than you do (please flame me in the comments for suggesting that).

Either way – or both – this turned into a great example of the possibility of civil discourse online. Those of you who have quit various platforms because of “haters” or other more real and serious crimes of harassment, I’m sorry for that- and you often have good reasons. But it’s not always bad- even when some wise-cracking communications professional looks sideways at a good cause.

Did I raise awareness or annoyance? I raised a question, asking people to think, and people took it in the right spirit and made me think right back. I refuse to be amazed by that, but I think it’s great.

Now you can tell me to go soak my head; I won’t, but if you are interested in donating to the ALS Association, click this link.

Metrics: It’s Never “THE” Number; It’s Always “A” Number

Metrics: It's Never "THE" Number; It's Always "A" Number
Photo Credit: Patrick Gage Kelley on Flickr

Photo Credit: Patrick Gage Kelley on Flickr

Recently, I had started seeing friends circulate articles that a study at Princeton had debunked the “10,000 Hour Rule.” That was an idea most widely flogged in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” – the idea that 10,000 hours was the magic number to become an expert in anything. Like anything popular – pop music, pop science, pop economics – I secretly cheered when some actual researchers took the time to debunk the theory.

But here’s the thing; it’s not so much that the theory is wrong. It’s that people get hung up on a number. Nobody is- or should be – denigrating the idea of practicing an art or craft to master it. But there are other factors than practice (like talent and proclivity), and the number of hours should be different for everybody (in some cases, sorry to say, the number is infinity. I will never be a concert pianist).

So, my point is not to gleefully bury some pseudo pop-economics that was gleefully spread uncritically by so many others. It is to talk about the meaning of numbers.

One of my favorite parts of social media programs has always been the metrics reports (no, seriously). One thing I learned along the way is that – and I know have typed this phrase here before – “numbers lie, trends don’t.” Another way of putting it is that numbers are meaningless, the same way words can be meaningless, without context.

Any number – subscribers, followers, likes, follows, shares, comments, clicks, downloads, sales – is good to know, but there is no meaning without context and benchmarking.

Context means numbers mean different things to different people and different companies. 10,000 followers? Great. How many did you have last month? How many do you want next month? How many are useful? What do they do?

See what’s happening here? The numbers want to tell a story. As with words, you need to get more numbers to put against them. Then, the story develops.

Numbers are not math. OK, I’m lying if I tell you there’s no math. There’s lots of math. But you are trying to tell a story. And in that story that are heroes, villains, picaresque journeys, monsters, and..the real outliers, “spikes and troughs,” which are often the plot points on which a story turns, and are just as often “Maguffins“that have no real bearing on the outcome of the overall plot (think of a random event that sends junk traffic to your Web site but has no lasting effect).

10,000? Sure, practice that long. Or find the numbers- and words- and talents- that tell your story.

Good riddance, 10,000 Hour Rule ;).

 

 

 

Newsjacking Chat on ScribbleLive

I was fortunate to be invited to a live chat on “newsjacking.” The ScribbleLive folks provided an embed link, which installs the chat below. Depending on how things go, I may produce a follow-up post, but let’s start with the live event, shall we?

Blogola Mk II: Are We Still Doing Disclosure in Social Media Wrong?

Blogola Mk II: Are We Still Doing Disclosure in Social Media Wrong?
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Photo by Fabiano Campos on Flickr

A little more than a year ago (May 2013), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) updated its Online Advertising Disclosure Guidelines. It made a big stir in the social media marketing space, because we all now knew the FTC was paying attention, and that we most likely needed to change our behaviors in order to comply. Of course, we know there need to be rules: “Blogola” kerfuffles of recent years show that companies and the influencers they employ need to be accountable to showing to what extent influence is being compensated. These guidelines are the next step in bringing advertisers and marketers into line.

In practice, the groups and clients I have worked with have worked to understand and apply the new rules, but it certainly isn’t easy. There was confusion.

Apparently, there still is.

Just a few weeks ago, I saw a bunch of folks here in Boston posting from a series of events using the #TeamLumia hashtag on Twitter. What became apparent was that Nokia, the folks behind the Lumia phone (the fact I felt I had to spell out that branding connection is a separate issue) had given phones to a bunch of “influencers” – many of them friends of mine – and compensated them with tickets to events such as a comedy concert, dinner and a Red Sox game, presumably in the hopes and expectation they would post in social media about the events and the phone.

The problem is evident in my use of the terms “became apparent” and “presumably.” While there were disclosures by participants, particularly in blog posts and some Tweets, there were no such disclosures on every piece of content, as prescribed by the FTC- yes, that means every single Tweet. Anyone who didn’t know better might have thought #TeamLumia was some sort of enthusiast club, without any compensation made. How would we know unless we happened upon the pieces of content that actually carried the disclosure? For an example, see this Storify post (not to call out an individual); the Storify post itself is a good example of clear disclosure up front, but do the individual Tweets and other elements, separately-published outside of Storify, carry proper disclosure? Some folks may disagree on the answer, but I would say that it is, unfortunately, incomplete.

This is certainly not the only example, but it shows that there is a ways to go in understanding and implementing disclosures in social media. I see this broken out into four issues:

  • Education: It has been more than a year, but we still need to educate companies, agencies and influencers on disclosure rules. Each campaign needs an education component, and the companies running them need to take responsibility for making sire participants disclose any paid relationships- and how to do so. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) published their own guide to the FTC disclosure guidelines, and they can be found here.
  • Instilling Habits: From the agency side, I saw less resistance than laziness. Laziness isn’t a slur here, but the idea that one needs to make room in 140-character Tweets for clear disclosure is hard- but it still needs to be done. For example – at agencies, it is common for an agency (or individual consultants) to Tweet client news. Those Tweets need to be accompanied by “#client” or some similar signifier. It’s hard to instill those habits, but we need to- no excuses. I’m sure if you went through my history  you may see my own lapses in this regard- that’s how hard it is, but that’s too bad – even for me.
  • Setting the Example: In the #TeamLumia example, one thing that concerned me is that many of the people involved in the recent Boston events are involved professionally in social media in some fashion (I mentioned they are friends- that’s how I know most of them). Anyone who puts themselves forward as a social media professional/expert/guru/ninja should know these rules cold by now. While Nokia bears the ultimate responsibility, it should be reasonable to expect social media professionals to act – well, like social media professionals.
  • Enforcement: The best way to get all of us to comply is to see the rules enforced. I sense an underlying feeling in the marketing space that there are little or no consequences to ignoring social media disclosure guidelines. A quick Internet search shows a few enforcement examples that predate the updated guidelines, but I did not see anything since the update. If anyone reading this knows of some examples, please leave them in comments. Regardless, a high-profile rebuke by the FTC of an ethical scofflaw will go a long way towards changing habits towards disclosure.

It’s not that hard (or is it?) to follow FTC social media disclosure guidleines, but looking around the Internet I come to the conclusion that it must not to be as simple as we would like it to be.

When in doubt, disclose.

(Let’s not get started on Native Advertising – maybe some other time)

(This post has been edited to clarify the point on the Storify link)