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5 Things You Should be Thinking about for SXSW 2016 (Friday5)

If your brand is considering a presence at SXSW next March, believe it or not, now is the time to start planning.

Here are five things to consider:

1. Think about SXSW early and often

Sure, SXSW is 202 days away. But hotels are already getting sold out and travel is being planned. The point is that now is the time to start thinking about your plan and activation, looking into venues and developing your strategy.

2. There are more places than ever to plug in

With new additions to the Interactive path (now including Sports, Create, Good and Style) – and to SXSW Film, Music and EDU – there are multiple fronts where your brand can have a presence. Remember that interactive is typically the most crowded space, so don’t forget about the not as obvious opportunities. It could be a great, unexpected way to show up differently.

3. Provide value, not noise

SXSW is large. And noisy. It’s filled with brands that are trying to out scream one another for attention. And because of that, they all get lost in the shuffle. Ask yourself, how can I make the SXSW-goers experience better? In other words, don’t ask what they can do for you, ask what you can do for them. How can you be a beacon in a sea of sameness? The brands that help make the festival experience even better (instead of trying to compete with it) are the ones that win hearts, minds and ink.

4. Think about before, during and after SXSW

Most people are laser focused on the 10 days of the festival (or maybe even just the 4 days of interactive). When you’re developing your plan, it’s important to include a “build” that leads towards the festival, engaging influencers and SXSW-goers long before they step foot in Austin. And after they go home with Texas-sized memories in their heads, how will you keep the conversation going? SXSW isn’t a moment in time, it’s a state of mind!

5. Be targeted, strategic and scrappy

With the thousands upon thousands of people in Austin during SXSW, it’s unrealistic to think you’re going to reach them all. Focus on the people who matter most to you and your brand, and develop a strategy to reach them directly. Also,know that many people come to SXSW to embrace serendipity, so be flexible and scrappy on the ground.

Image credit: SXSW/Diego Donamaria

Social Paid Media Updates to Know (Friday5)

Digital advertising platforms are constantly evolving to better serve marketers and help drive meaningful impact. Here are five recent updates to mainstream social/digital platforms that will impact current and future strategies and spends on these sites:

1. Instagram ad platform coming soon

As soon as Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, we began wondering about and discussing how they’ll facilitate advertising in the image-centric feed. It currently costs around $250,000 minimum to run a campaign, but that’s changing soon with the introduction of self-serve, no minimum ad options through Facebook’s Power Editor. Come this Fall, marketers with varying social budgets can begin experimenting with photo, video and photo carousel formats in addition to new calls to action, including app installs, driving to a landing page for more information, sign ups and e-commerce.

2. Twitter introduces Ads Editor

This week Twitter announced a new Ads Editor feature for their self-serve advertising platform. The Editor streamlines campaign creation and management by giving the option to download campaigns as Excel spreadsheets, make edits directly within the spreadsheet and upload back to the platform for easy editing. Until now, editing Twitter campaigns was a more laborious, web form-based process involving multiple steps. According to the announcement, Ads Editor is expected to roll out globally to all advertisers over the next few weeks.

3. Pinterest engagement campaigns

Last month, Pinterest announced the availability (U.S.-only for now) of promoted pin campaigns optimized for engagement. These campaigns are based on a cost-per-engagement (CPE) model, charging advertisers for each closeup, repin or click on promoted Pins. They also rolled out an update to their ad platform called Pinterest Ads Manager, which provides topline performance stats across current campaigns and suggestions to optimize Promoted Pins.

4. Facebook updates CPC definition

Along with their latest API release last month, Facebook communicated a change to their definition of cost-per-click (CPC) on the platform to only account for “link clicks,” including clicks to a website, calls to action, app installs, Facebook’s canvas apps or viewing a video on another site. Until now, CPC included any click within an ad unit, including likes, comments, shares, clicks to other sites and the like. According to the announcement, the CPC definition was changed to allow advertisers to better optimize campaigns against specific business objectives and campaign goals. The change will likely cause an initial increase in CPC and a decrease in click-through rate (CTR), though the results will be more valuable to those intending to drive link clicks and not general engagement (likes, comments and shares).

5. Yelp switching from display to native

Following reports from their CFO that its display ad business hindered growth last quarter, Yelp announced intent to sunset its display ad options by the end of 2015. According to MarketWatch, the review site will now focus on a “promoted post” format from businesses on the site, similar to Facebook and Twitter’s native social ads.

Image credit: Brady

Things We Can Learn From Military Public Affairs (Friday5)

Editor’s note: This version has been updated to accurately reflect the USMC’s involvement with Terminal Lance.

Can you imagine being responsible for 3.2 million employees? How about communicating with them? Unless you’re the CEO of Walmart or McDonalds the answer to those questions is probably “No.” The Department of Defense is the largest employer in the world with more than 1.4 million active duty servicemen and women and over 1.1 million National Guardsmen and Reservists (plus 700,000+ civilians). An organization with such scale presents an interesting challenge — how do you effectively communicate with an audience that large? How do you communicate to the public? What do you do when disaster strikes?

Our clients often have those same questions. Here are five things we can learn from military public affairs:

1. Crisis Communications

Seventeen minutes after the first shots were fired on September 16, 2013, at Washington Navy Yard, @USNavy was already tweeting. The Navy became the trusted source on the incident and they were able to control the flow of information for the duration of the crisis. The Navy did such a great job providing consistent and transparent communication that Twitter did a case study on the incident, saying, “Twitter became the news wire on that day; the Navy’s Tweets were the news bulletins.” You’ll find this type of response across all military branches because it’s muscle memory for them as a result of their countless hours of training. They embrace the idea that if you fail to plan, you should plan to fail.

2. Employee Engagement

The United States Marine Corps is known for a great many things, but few point to its humor and irreverence. Watch a show like Generation Kill or read a comic series like Terminal Lance and you’ll see this immediately. Rather than fight that culture and pretend like it doesn’t exist, the Marine Corps has largely embraced it. Last year the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Amos, made himself available for a video town hall meeting. They solicited questions from Marines on Facebook and Twitter using #AskCMC and General Amos answered them. Some of the questions were pretty tough (e.g. “How can the Commandant lead the Marine Corps in a reawakening without a ground combat record?”), but they didn’t shy away. Embracing the culture of your organization and communicating in a transparent and authentic way on platforms that your employees actually use is something the military does really well. As communicators, we should take note.

3. Media Relations

If you’ve been to New York, you know it’s pretty difficult to get tickets to Jimmy Fallon. So you can probably imagine how hard it is to get your organization on his show as a guest. When the Navy Reserve was celebrating their Centennial earlier this year, they secured an extremely favorable placement on the show that involved Vice Admiral Robin Braun commissioning 100 new Navy Reserve recruits on live television. Similarly, the Army convinced Stephen Colbert to go through Army bootcamp and shave his head in solidarity while visiting Iraq. Not only was that a huge media sensation, but it also gave the soldiers a momentary taste of home and a huge morale boost. Sure, everyone loves to support the troops, but it still requires strategic planning and execution to identify and pitch creative opportunities. The military has an extremely robust media relations operation that is both proactive and reactive. They are looked to for information during times of crisis, so investing in those relationships during times of need allows them to be proactive in the future.

4. Content Strategy

If it’s true that people “eat with their eyes,” then the U.S. military is a 5-star restaurant. From Army training missions in Afghanistan to Air Force paratroopers jumping from a C-130J Super Hercules over Bulgaria, military public affairs professionals consistently produce compelling images and creative videos to engage employees, family and the general public. Their strategy is simple: Tell visual stories from across the world and leverage the social web to get those stories in front of people back home and abroad.

And boy does it work. Just look at the engagement on the U.S. Air Force or U.S. Army Facebook pages. And in the comments you’ll see proud Americans, nostalgic veterans, homesick active duty, and future recruits all talking together. Understanding your audience and leveraging the resources you have (even if you don’t have cool airplanes) to tell visual stories is key to any content strategy and the military is leading the way.

5. Campaign Planning

On May 13, 2015, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced several groundbreaking personnel initiatives during a speech at the United States Naval Academy. As he was speaking, the Navy was sharing quotes and additional resources in real-time. His team prepared pre-recorded videos addressing each initiative, understanding that there would be additional questions, and drove social traffic to those videos. He also made the full text of his speech available online for anyone to read. It is obvious that SECNAV Mabus wanted to be crystal clear and transparent about his #PeopleMatter campaign and that likely came from months of planning and coordination. Due to the flood of information, Sailors were left with answers instead of questions and excitement instead of confusion. This flawless execution can be applied to any major corporate announcement and is a great reminder that planning across the spectrum of earn media, owned media and social media is extremely valuable.

Joe Scannell is an Account Executive on the Digital Crisis team in Washington, DC. He is also a Public Affairs Officer in the United States Navy Reserve. You can follow him on Twitter for tweets about tech, politics, and Chicago sports.

Image credit: The Joint Staff

Lessons from Improv That Benefit Content Strategy (Friday5)

About a year ago, a coworker introduced me to the DC Improv comedy school. I was definitely up for learning improv (I am an ESFJ, after all) but I was terrified of having to make stuff up on the spot. My heart was pounding like a drum line in a marching band and as my family and friends entered the room the lights went dark…

…and I said to myself, “here goes nothing,” as the stage lights were staring me straight in the face.

As a content strategist at Edelman DC, my job is to tell stories for our clients. Three improv courses and two performances later, I’m ready for SNL. (Lorne Michaels are you reading this?) Ok… Reality check… but I did learn so many skills to enhance what I do for Edelman. Here are five lessons I learned in improv that will enhance your content strategy skills:

1. Listening

Improv is all about listening. Since there isn’t a script, you have to listen to what is happening on stage and be able to adapt and react quickly. If you don’t you could miss a critical part of a scene. The same goes for content strategy. It is our job to listen and observe what our clients are doing as well as the social trends online when we write content. If we ignore what’s happening around us, we lose our audience, we lose engagement and we’re not effective storytellers.

2. The two most important words in improv are “Yes AND”

Agreeing to what is happening on stage and then contributing to what is already happening will make you a better improv artist and a better storyteller. Some of the best content comes from cooperation with others. One of my favorite examples is when Old Spice tweeted “Actions speak louder than words. So remember to scream loudly while doing things,” and the Harlem Globetrotters responded enhancing the conversation. When we write content, it important to find opportunities to not just agree but also to enhance the story.

3. Be honest

My improv teacher told me the story of an acting class that Marlon Brando was in where the class was told to act like chickens and that a nuclear bomb was about to fall on them. While the class acted like crazy chickens clucking, Brando sat calmly pretending to lay an egg. When his teacher asked he said, “I’m a chicken, what do I know about bombs?” The truth in life is comedy and when we tell stories, audiences will resonate with the truth. Why? Because they go through the truth every day. Successful content is compelling and draws the audience in because of the personal touch and the connection they make.

4. Relationships matter

In improv, you have to keep the audience engaged and without props, sets, and an entire cast, trying to advance a plot is pretty pointless. What is important is relationships in improv. At the beginning of a scene, the audience should be able to understand the emotions and relationships of the characters on stage regardless of the plot. This same skill is important in content strategy. When we write content, we’re writing for an audience. Whether its consumers, B2B, influencers, etc. When we research an audience, we become them while writing content and we keep our audience interested.

5. Don’t be afraid to fail

The best improv artists fail. They perform scenes that don’t work. That’s OK, if you don’t take risks in improv you’re afraid of what can come from thinking outside of the box. Some of the best movies scenes that we quote everyday were improv. It may not always work but it’s worth the risk. Content strategy is the same way. When it comes to telling stories we must always be willing to take risks and work with our clients to take those risks with us. What if Steve Job’s 1984 Apple commercial never made it to TV? We have to be willing to take risks!

Tatiana Posada leads content strategy for Edelman Digital in Washington, DC.

Image credit: Tatiana Posada

5 Tips for Video Amplification (Friday5)

The widespread proliferation of mobile and tablet devices has created a boom in digital video content consumption in the past few years, and video ad spending in the US is growing with it. eMarketer projects overall spend will nearly double from $7.8 billion this year to $14.4 billion by 2019. If you or a client is new to video, consider these five tips for video amplification:

1. Production considerations

Because video content can be expensive to produce professionally, consider the supplementary content that can be created during the video shoot itself. If the end product is a premier video, plan to shoot a short teaser for Instagram and/or bring a photographer to capture behind-the-scenes imagery and b-roll footage. This is especially important if you have limited time with a spokesperson or other cast members.

2. Facebook vs Twitter

Facebook and Twitter are becoming more video-focused with the former’s forthcoming pre-roll style video ads and the latter’s recent introduction of autoplay video. While they’re great for organic content amplification, both offer robust video ad targeting directly in users’ feeds using a cost-per-view model. One of Facebook’s paid video strengths is video retargeting, allowing advertisers to reach a consistent audience with sequential videos. Twitter excels with viewability, setting the standard at 100% in-view while Facebook videos autoplay when at least one pixel of the video is on the screen.

3. Native

Native advertising platforms like ShareThrough and Nativo give advertisers new options for targeting and a broader audience to complement social video ads. These platforms serve your video on premier publishers’ sites in the same format as their own content for a more authentic, in-feed experience. Videos can be played on publishers’ sites without clicking off the page, creating a seamless experience for the user.

4. Publisher partnerships

Partnering with media companies that have an ad network across multiple sites helps achieve targeted scale and reach for big-budget projects. They can serve your video to an audience segment (i.e. millennials, business travelers, etc) across their properties in the form of pre-roll or an in-unit display video ad. Some may give the option to embed a YouTube video (Flash) or use the native video file (HTML5) – the former isn’t mobile-friendly but attributes views to your YouTube channel while the latter is better for a consistent experience across devices and tracks metrics separately.

5. Measurement

With any video campaign requiring the video live on disparate platforms, it’s important to track view counts and impressions in a central location for comprehensive reporting. Tracking these details together allows for cost-efficiency analysis overall and by platform, in addition to data indicating which platform was best for driving conversions, shares and the like. Finally, before launching a video campaign, understand the difference in how platforms measure a “view.” Facebook and Twitter charge after a video plays for 3 seconds, so looking at completed views or views to 95% completion are good secondary view metrics.

Image credit: Julian

Ways to Strengthen Measurement and Reporting (Friday5)

Following a regular measurement and reporting process can help illustrate the impact of a brand/organization’s online presence and lead to content optimizations. Whether it’s campaign-focused reporting or an established monthly/quarterly cadence, here are five tactics for improving the process and final product:

1. Campaign reporting brief

For a specific campaign report, begin by outlining campaign objectives, digital tactics (i.e. social amplification, webpage overlay, paid partnership), timeline and key players. Using the brief to inform the report output ensures it focuses on the right metrics to tell the right story across all campaign elements.

2. Benchmarking

Telling a story with report data is more impactful when you offer the context of benchmarks based on historical data. Instead of saying the campaign resulted in 2,103 new Twitter followers, you can make these results more meaningful by adding that the audience growth was 70 times the typical growth over any other month of the year. Benchmarking also tells a more objective success story than comparing engagement metrics with other brands’ social channels.

3. Tracked links

Using tracked links through Google Analytics can help organize referral traffic data for reporting purposes by segmenting specific traffic sources from the complete dataset. Create tracked links for all digital assets linking back to your site, including display media, paid search ads and sponsored content to analyze how traffic from those sources differ from other visitors. Do visitors from sponsored content pieces stay on the site longer or view more pages than average? Are paid search ads driving new traffic or bringing returning visitors back to the site? What percentage of overall traffic is driven by display media?

4. Reporting ROI

Though still relatively new, the addition of ‘Buy Now’ buttons to Facebook and Twitter will allow brands to report ROI of paid social for new product launches, flash sales and the like, which adds more business-oriented metrics than reach and engagement. Even without the ‘Buy Now’ features, brands can use tracked links in paid social posts to attribute ecommerce sales to various paid social tactics.

5. Implementing optimizations to improve results

Reports are most helpful when they offer insightful analysis and recommendations for reaching goals, content improvements, adjustments in content cadence, paid strategy and the like. Ensuring optimal execution elements are perpetuated and issues are addressed should always be a reporting objective, making content creation, distribution, reporting and optimization cyclical.

The New Social Media Trends in Asia-Pacific (Friday5)

A version of this post appeared in PRWeek.

Edelman Digital APACMEA’s review of social media usage across Asia Pacific and the Middle East reveals constant shifts in the social media channels being used, the nature of usage and the users themselves. One of the most evident tendencies in this region is that when the social media party gets crowded, the cool kids move on. As social media continues to become more and more a part of the fabric of daily life, the pattern of that fabric is forever altering, as can be seen through these trends:

1. Users Are Getting Older

The average age of social media users across all six key markets in Southeast Asia now starts at 18 rather than 15 or 16 in every country except the Philippines – which has the fastest growing population (Source: comScore). The popularity of more visually oriented platforms such as Instagram – usage in the United Arab Emirates has grown from 14 to 34 percent of the population over the past two years (Source: ictQATAR) – and private networks have fragmented the markets.

2. Social Media Platforms Are at War

Of the top five platforms in China in 2014, only one remained there as of last year. And that one – RenRen – once considered the Facebook of China – was bringing up the rear at number five with less than a fifth the users of the market leader (Source: CNNIC). It’s a similar story in India, where the once mighty Orkut has gone from second-to-oblivion in the same amount of time (Source: comScore).

3. Private Is the New Black

The generation that was once seen as over-sharing has grown up to be a bit shy and now prefers to circulate their selfies among smaller, more secure networks. This can be partly explained by the growing desire for privacy among formerly socialist (the original “sharing”) societies.

4. Mobile Is the New TV

The number of people using mobile for video in China has more than doubled during the past five years, while the number of people accessing via TV has collapsed to less than a quarter, confirming that this is the dusk of the single-use device (Source: CNNIC).

5. Brand-based Engagement Is Low

Across Southeast Asia, average engagement levels for brand-based content continue to fall to low single digits, with the notable exception of Vietnam, where it is a whopping 25 percent (Source: socialbakers). Vietnamese marketers: make the most of this while you can.

Image credit: Harco Rutgers

LinkedIn is Primed to be the New Corporate Blog (Friday5)

As brands vie for a piece of the fragmented marketplace of ideas, executive blogging is fast becoming the messaging vehicle of choice for organizations across the board. This comes as corporate blogging takes hold among more executives – a trend BRANDfog ascribes to enhanced brand trust. Tangerine Bank CEO Peter Aceto points to many benefits of executive blogging, including enhanced media relations, improved recruitment efforts and greater marketplace credibility, among others.

At issue in the current landscape, particularly with the advent of LinkedIn’s* open-publishing platform, is what property to leverage in building out this executive voice, with some CEOs swearing by corporate blogs, others subscribing to a LinkedIn-only approach and still others cross-publishing across a variety of blogging platforms like Medium and Quartz. It’s in this context that LinkedIn is now the most popular social platform for executives according to the latest Fortune survey.

Here are five reasons LinkedIn is now the blogging platform of choice for executives:

1. Audience

With its 300 million-strong following, LinkedIn offers a wealth of value from a traffic perspective. The platform’s built-in following befits executives looking to grow their network. For executives, the built-in audience means content is more likely to be read, shared and engaged with on the platform.

2. Ease of Access

Equally important in choosing online platforms is accessibility. It’s rare that influencers will seek out a corporate blog in search of industry insights, according to Chris Reed of eConsultancy. Reed, in advocating for a LinkedIn strategy, notes that users, many of which access the site via mobile, are more likely to engage with CEO content they can access without leaving the site to reopen a corporate blog.

3. Thought Leadership

LinkedIn’s user base, teeming with industry influencers, is best suited to executives looking to position themselves as thought leaders in their respective industries. Cricket Media CEO Katya Andresen, for instance, leverages LinkedIn to position herself as a champion of social justice – an effort unlikely to see as pronounced results on a corporate blog.

4. Engagement

For executives with resonant content to share, LinkedIn offers the added benefit of third-party validation. Though many corporate blogs include comment features, these tools see limited engagement and lack the popularity or social proof inherent in LinkedIn’s interface. Craig Newmark, founder of San Francisco-based Craigslist, sees marked engagement on his LinkedIn posts, many garnering over 10,000 views.

5. Costs

LinkedIn’s benefits extend to the site’s design. For executives eager to get blogging, the social network is ideally-suited with a built-in interface – one requiring no UX or UI investment. Posts, filtered into follower feeds, can also be accessed via author archives.

Indeed, LinkedIn offers a wealth of benefits to CEOs on social — not the least of which are lower costs and a built-in network of influencers. It’s in this landscape that social executives have the opportunity to not only connect with key publics, but also bolster brand trust.

*Edelman client

Image credit: Nan Palmero

The Science of Content Optimization (Friday5)

When developing a strong content approach for a client community that is new to you, it can be hard to find a good place to start. Here are few ways to successfully optimize content so you can continue to evolve it to be smarter and work harder toward your goals.

1. Look at the Past

The best way to start finding your sweet spot in editorial content is to look at what has performed well before. By developing content that your audience is already prone to engage with, you are setting benchmarks you can look to for data-driven insights to inform content in the future. Be consistent in your publishing so you can develop a reliable cadence for measurement.

2. Keep Evaluating

Once you’ve got a steady flow of content planned, set up an evaluation plan in the form of a monthly or quarterly report. Set goals and select the appropriate key performance indicators. With each report you will collect more data that will continue to inform your content strategy—it should be constantly evolving, so make sure you’re shifting appropriately to make your content stronger month-over-month. Make it easier on yourself by including tags or labels in your content calendar so you can go back and see which types of content are performing well, allowing you to more easily dig into the “why.”

3. Be Intentional

When you’re ready to answer specific questions about content performance, you’ll need to set up A/B tests so that you can properly measure variables. By intentionally planning content tests, you’ll learn what resonates best with your community. This can be as simple as finding out the best time of day to publish your message, and can provide strong insights to influence your evolving strategy. Make sure to consider a relevant sample size for these posts—if you are only comparing two posts, the insight may not be reliable.

4. Give it a Fair Chance

When you test different content types, messages and more, you’re bound to run into some bumps along the way. It’s important to keep in mind that not all content is created equal. For example, if you are integrating a video strategy into your existing content lineup and not seeing the same engagement rates across the board, don’t be discouraged. Comparing photo posts and video posts is like comparing apples (engagement) and oranges (views), so make sure you are giving them a fair chance for success by measuring against similar content.

5. Fail More

Just when you think you “know” your community, they may throw you a curveball and surprise you with content that significantly over- or under-performs. These posts offer a great opportunity to look at your community from a new angle. Consider the “why” behind the performance and see how you can learn what motivates your audience to engage (or not engage) and use it to your advantage. By taking calculated risks with content, you can learn even more about your community. Maybe they are ready to be “on point,” and maybe they aren’t—you’ll never know until you test it.

Tried and true, content optimization starts and ends with evaluation. Keep in mind there is no cookie-cutter solution for content development between any two communities. Use these tips to find the right balance for your community and constantly optimize for top performance. What do you think—have you seen success using other tactics?

Image credit: Jason Rogers

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