2017: The Future’s So Bright (People, Data, and the Right Message)…

2016 was a whirlwind of a year. With all the things that have happened since I’ve joined Vaudeville Ventures in May 2016, there has certainly been a shift in my perspective on how business and media is changing. I’ve had the opportunity to manage and execute a various array of digital marketing and content strategies for some great clients. And, with the current focus on how data and more personalized content strategies can drive more meaningful and authentic consumer actions and outcomes, it’s become clear that some focus needs to shift.

First, specific to the profession, if you asked me today, “What is a skill that every digital marketer should have and why?” I would reply with: the ability to master change and adapt with a flexible comfort level. We have seen so much change in digital marketing, and to succeed, people need to quickly adapt to new tactics, technology, channels, and measures. Having this ability allows us to be educated on the latest marketing techniques.

Second, specific to the mediums used for digital, my first thought is that email, although it’s in flux, still holds its position as THE medium of choice for digital marketers aiming to drive engagement and actions. Not only are emails 5x more likely to be seen than Facebook posts, but it’s also proven to drive a higher conversion compared to all other channels, including social.

Third, I believe the biggest opportunity (and challenge) for digital marketers is putting things into context and adjusting our ways. We have the ability to target the right people and read more digital cues about what’s happening in their lives in order to put our messaging creatively into context with what’s happening at any given moment for a targeted individual. We can find them.

digital-content-marketing

That adjustment is a huge opportunity for success, but as I’m learning, it’s also a challenge. With the available data and various tools needed to gather and model it, we have the ability to put a successful program or campaign into place. A lot of people in the business know they need to do it, but the struggle is real.

Furthermore, people-based marketing, or targeting at the individual level – at scale is a huge opportunity, especially if it’s able to be pushed in real-time.

Finally, there are a lot of prediction pieces being published across the media about what the next big thing NOT TO IGNORE in 2017 will be for marketers. Here are my 5 for the year:

  1. Apps, podcasts & messaging bots will become more used by businesses to market their products and services
  2. Social media as a marketing tool will become less effective – already has, and email still reigns
  3. Recommendations by celebrities and influencers will be less respected and therefore, played down by brands
  4. In-house digital strategists will be the hot job to have in 2017
  5. If it is not on your phone, your business is in the dark ages

All in all, email and content marketing success in general lies in marketers’ ability to master real-time personalization, deliver dynamic and engaging content, and leverage traditional storytelling and creativity alongside data to deliver resonating messages to the right audience.

So, in 2017 let’s be more positive, remain flexible and embrace change, and be more data- and people-centric.

The future’s so bright…

Instagram’s Snapchat Rip-off & The New State of Social Media

You don’t just take an Instagram. It’s a production. And for those of us who may take thousands of photos of last night’s sky, your gourmet donut, or my dog, only “the best one” hits the gram. And it took time: editing it, deciding on crop or no crop, adding a filter. In a world of oversharing, Instagram was for showing our very best.

Well, not anymore. With Stories, Instagram lets you group ‘grams into one cohesive narrative that disappears after 24 hours. Add text, a sticker, even a doodle, and within 24 hours the story will disappear. Sound like Snapchat? Ding, ding, ding – you are correct.

Stealing features is nothing new for social networks, but it’s rare to see a ripoff this blatant. On social media, people are crying foul. But, it doesn’t matter, really. Does it? As a way of reaching new demographics, the launch of Stories on Instagram makes sense. The posting experience mimics Snapchat, but they’re built right into an otherwise familiar app.

If you’re a Snapchat user, it works just about the exact same way. If you’re not, read on to hear how you use it…

As far as story creation goes, there’s a new “+” icon in the upper left-hand corner of your Instagram display. Take a photo or video from there, and it lives only in your story stream, not in your main feed. In 24 hours, poof, the all the photos in that story disappear. And whatever privacy settings you’ve set for your day-to-day grammin’ will automatically apply to your ephemeral efforts.

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Now for the state of social as such a blatant rip off launches, well this isn’t just about Instagram (and, by extension, Facebook) replicating the next fad in social platforming, though that’s part of it. Today, every major platform is looking to maneuver fast and change course to grow audience. Snapchat and Twitter want to become more accessible. Facebook and Instagram want more shareable, original content. And everyone wants live video.

Clearly, none of the major social platforms feel comfortable with their current status, change is always on their horizon.

If there’s one undefeated truth across this innovation, it’s that everything that is social must converge. It really is just the way the constant pursuit of the next gazillion users goes. And for the most part, the people using these apps benefit. Snapchat stories are fun. And, now you can have them in Instagram, too. Simple.

But, this week, we have seen and heard the app loyalists eye-roll & shame Instagram at what they see as selling out. Platforms become bloated beyond simple use. Social networks suffer from a boxed in sameness. And smaller companies are left uncertain of where they fit into the ecosystem, or if they do at all.

The question is whether, as apps strive to become everything to everyone, they risk losing what made them so unique in the first place. That risk is particularly obvious in an app like Instagram, which continues its domination of the niche for beautiful photography on social media.

It’s sort of concerning to see these apps drop the features and limitations that once made them unique. Take those away and you’re left with little more than a competition for the biggest, best social gathering.

Via The New Yorker:
[…the app’s introduction of an expiring highlight reel is more than a shameless grab for one of Snapchat’s core features. It’s a response to a demand: on an Internet that always remembers, we are fighting for places we can go to forget.]

All Roads Lead to Mobile Messaging

Last week at F8, Facebook’s massive annual developer conference, the big news was bots—specifically on Messenger, Facebook’s messaging app. Messenger has a increasing user base of 900 million users per month – very enticing for companies eager to get their wares in front of customers. Facebook is turning Messenger into an open platform where any company can now build a chatbot that users can talk with. If you’re an airline, you can build a chatbot to book flights; if you’re OpenTable you can build a chatbot to allow reservations, you can even call an Uber – one-touch marketing.

People don’t use a ton of apps, and they don’t download many either. The reason is simple: There’s an enormous amount time spent with learning about a new app, downloading it, signing up for it, and then remembering you even have it. And this is why the rise of the chatbot makes sense.

The promise of chatbots is that from within Facebook Messenger you can do anything you’d like with the speed and ease that would be impossible if you were toggling between numerous apps. Moreover, because you’re already in Messenger, there’s no need to sign up all over again if you’re trying out a new service. Messenger already knows who you are. 

Your Facebook profile becomes the foundation of your online identity.

Once you start a conversational thread, your transaction history is right there, threaded into a cohesive stream of conversation that you and the bot can access.

With 15 million businesses using pages and 1.6 billion people using Facebook, actionable conversations can now come together in threads that are contextual and almost sacred. For the lifetime of the interactions everything stays in one place, unlike email.”

Chatbots in Kik and other messaging apps work much like this already, with guided options that push your chat along. But “Facebook believes that the future will yield deeper and deeper integrations between the chatbots and the sensors and data on your phone.

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courtesy Facebook, via Variety.com

Soon, we’ll see how well consumers engage with these features & developments, which really have been around since the days of IRC, if you think about it. Only users will decide if they really are faster and more fluid than apps; the proof will be in the numbers. With users reportedly sharing less on Facebook each year, it makes sense for them to create a business-friendly platform, with less and less need for Facebook proper.

Millennials Need All Five Senses Considered

When marketing to millennials, brands must consider all five senses. Their eyes are always looking, ears are always listening and fingers are always, ALWAYS typing, but figuring out how to tap in with millennials is an ongoing challenge for marketers. They must be met exactly where their attention is with an authentic, genuine message promoted by someone they trust. So let’s check in to their five senses…

Sight: What are they watching? 

Digital is the BEST way to reach millennials. This has been said over and over. But the facts remain:

  • There will be 78 million millennial digital video viewers, representing more than 92% of all U.S. millennial Internet users, according to eMarketer.
  • The above is coupled with the fact that of millennials who are consuming traditional TV, 65% are using a second, third, or more screens to consume content simultaneously, according to Verizon.
  • With multiple screens vying for their attention, millennials are texting while watching TV, or watching digital video as they video chat with friends, or engaging with more screens than just that. How about that AMC Theaters allowing texting during movies scare? Oh, for goodness sake.

With that, we know the connection to content is constant.

In today’s influential world, Millennials are more likely to listen to and be influenced by their favorite YouTube superstars compared to professional athletes. According to VideoInk in 2015, millennials watch 11.3 hours of free online video per week and 8.3 hours of TV per week on average. In the YouTube vs. TV battle, marketers should be mindful that millennials hail YouTube as the ultimate winner.

Hearing: What are they listening to?

In terms of music, Millennials are discovering and enjoying music differently than the generations before them. Younger listeners spend on average 25 hours a week streaming music from a variety of online services, according to Vevo’s new “Music Fan Report”.

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Via Variety.com

Brands need to be sure they’re mixing things up where these Millennials ears are ringing.

Touch: What methods are they using to communicate?

A millennial’s communication originates in their hands. Everything starts on their mobile phones, including snaps, Facebook posts, Instagram tags, and Tweets.  89% of adults ages 18-29 use some form of social media, according to the Pew Research Center. Millennials are finding new ways to engage with their friends, family, and their communities every day. That means that brands and other organizations must do the same to stay relevant and in front of their target audiences. Snapchat is a great example of a company leading the way, instead of following trends and adapting.

Taste: How do millennials prefer their content?

Of course content has to be informative, enjoyable, passionate, funny, original and unexpected, but for brands – IT NEEDS TO BE SHAREABLE. Period. But what do they REALLY like? AdWeek hit up many millennials and summed up a few things – click the image:

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Via AdWeek

Smell: What products are they ultimately choosing, and why?

Millennials may not be relying only on their noses to remember their favorite products, they can sniff out when they’re being marketed to. According to Animoto, two out of three say that they will stop watching a video if they feel the tone is too promotional. Brand loyalty is influenced heavily by whether they think they can trust a brand and by what others highly recommend to them, from the shoes on their feet to the snacks they eat and the apparel they wear. Fifty percent of millennials say that being real, genuine and authentic are the most important factors with regards to distinguishing favorite brands, products or services. Keller Fay Group has enormous amounts of data on this group.

To sum up, Millennials are consuming original content that has an authentic voice, connects to them personally and provides a message that they relate to and possible share. In order to succeed, brands need to be active & multi-sensory in the space that millennials are interacting otherwise they just won’t reach this demographic holistically.

Messaging Apps Are Changing Social

The way we use social media to share and interact is fundamentally changing with the rise of messaging apps and bots.

Soon we’ll notice most social activity is no longer going to happen in public, instead transitioning to private groups and messaging apps. There will be a significant change in what “social media” is.

This is a change that will challenge everything we’ve learned about social media over the past 8-10 years. Until now, standing out in the timelines and News Feeds have been the main goal of most strategies. Soon these channels are no longer the first place people will turn for discovery and interaction. As one-to-one messaging begins to dominate the social media world, it creates an array of new insights, questions, challenges, and opportunities for marketers.

In a public Q&A session back in November 2014, Mark Zuckerberg said:

“Messaging is one of the few things that people do more than social networking.”

Since then, Facebook have made huge strides in the messaging space, acquiring WhatsApp for $19bn and building Messenger up to 900 million users worldwide.

When you take a look at the data, you can see why Facebook are putting such an emphasis on messaging apps and dark social, (via The Economist):

A quarter of all downloaded apps are abandoned after a single use. Only instant messaging bucks the trend. Over 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed. Within a couple of years, that will reach 3.6 billion, about half of humanity. The market’s leading duo, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, which is also owned by Facebook, are nearing one billion monthly users each. Many teenagers now spend more time on smartphones sending instant messages than perusing social networks. WhatsApp users average nearly 200 minutes each week using the service.

When it comes to sharing, private messaging is already leading the game. “According to a RadiumOne study, almost 70% of all online referrals come from dark social globally. For the UK, this figure increases to 75%.” –Via Econsultancy.

dark-social

Dark social channels include:

  • Messaging apps: Messenger, Kik, WeChat, WhatsApp
  • Email
  • Private browsing & message communities

Messaging apps have now surpassed social networks in terms of monthly active users too, (graph from a Business Insider report):

bi-messaging-apps

The transition from public social media to chat apps could be the biggest change in internet culture and marketing since social media itself. However, how will brands maximize the opportunities presented by messaging apps?

Consumers consider messaging apps as more private than social media and may not react positively to the traditional interruption advertising model where brands pop up in their inbox without permission; though these ads could be coming to Messenger:

Messenger-ad

(h/t Ryan Hoover and Jonathan Tzou for this spot)

One brand that has started to experiment with dark social, and marketing through messaging apps is Adidas, who are using WhatsApp to build hyper-local communities in cities across the world and have previously used Twitter’s DM feature to invite a group of advocates to a private conversation with one of its sponsored players.

Comedy website Funny or Die have also been utilizing Kik to distribute content since early 2015 and have seen some great results:

“It’s amazing how quickly we built up a following on Kik,” Patrick Starzan, Funny or Die’s vice president of marketing and distribution explained in a blog post. ”It took about three months to get to 1.5 million chatters, compared to the two or three years it took to get the same number of people on social networks.”

When we send out broadcast messages to our Kik chatters – usually with links to new videos – we see conversion rates as high as 10%. That’s pretty substantial since we only send out the broadcast messages once a week, whereas we’ll send posts to social networks like Facebook and Twitter five or six times a day and see lower conversion rates.”

Right now, it’s a time for testing and learning to figure out what works and how open customers are to interacting with brands one-to-one setting.

Here come the bots – with the biggest apps, where users are spending the majority of their time, becoming platforms to which other apps integrate to.

“What are bots?”, you ask:

Essentially bots are a way to simulate conversations human users. You can interact with bots for entertainment or to get things done. For example, instead of phoning for a taxi, you can now order an Uber using a Messenger bot.

Unlike apps, bots don’t need to be downloaded, they live on servers, not a user’s device. This means using bots should provide a smoother experience for the user as switching between bots doesn’t involve tapping on another app.

The trend of apps and bots living within larger platforms has already taken off in China, where a large number of brands run bots through WeChat. And yesterday at F8, Facebook announced more about their Messenger bot store, following hot on the heels of Kik, who announced a bot store of their own last week.

According to Wired, bots within WeChat enable its 600m monthly users to book taxis, check in for flights, play games, buy cinema tickets, manage banking, reserve doctors’ appointments, and even apply for mortgages, without leaving the app.

 

What does this all mean for marketers?

Organic engagement on many social channels is in decline, but at its heart, social media has always been about connecting with people one-to-one. That won’t change. What will change is the strategies and platforms we use to connect.

As customers transition to private messaging, it’s essential for marketers to remember that above all else, messaging interactions are opt-in experiences, much like email lists. And with permission also comes a higher set of expectations.

Content delivered through messaging apps and bots will need to be relevant and more personalized than a Facebook post to your whole audience, and oftentimes users will need a reason to open up a conversation or opt in.

The possibilities for messaging apps and bots are endless, and Messenger opening up a bot store could be the most significant launch in the tech and marketing industries since Apple first launched the App Store.

I look forward to the commentary (complete with conflicting opinions) that will come out of these developments. What do you think?

Facebook reveals its 10-year road map in one graphic

Today, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg just showed off the company’s 10-year road map in one graphic at the F8 developers conference on Tuesday. Below is how he sees Facebook’s next 10 years:

 

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Via Facebook

 

“That’s the road map for the next 10 years,” Zuckerberg said. “We are building the technology to give anyone the power to share anything they want with anyone else.”

The focus is on products and revenue during the next three years involves the company’s ecosystems, while video, search, groups, and the family of apps such as WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram play out in the next five years.

But, the 10-year game involves more ambitious efforts to be made in technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR), and new connectivity offerings, such as drone-delivered internet service.

F8 is taking place at Fort Mason, San Francisco, and the company is expected to announce a bunch of new products and features.

Instagram Tools to Tackle the New Algorithm

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Is your business ready for Instagram’s new algorithm? Everyone can calm down just a little. Instead of getting nervous about audiences finding your content, let’s focus on ways to analyze your Instagram engagement. Tracking engagement will help you execute quality content that keeps you at the top of the Instagram feed.

Here I’ll outline three tools to track and evaluate how people respond to your content on Instagram. A couple weeks ago, Instagram announced that they’ll be releasing an algorithm that will prioritize what’s shown in users’ feeds. This algorithm will determine what content Instagram believes people will be most interested in and then show the most relevant posts at the top of the feed, regardless of how many accounts users follow or what time zone they’re in.

If you use Facebook for content marketing, you know how important it is to make sure you’re ranked highly within a social media platform’s algorithm. Algorithms that prioritize content in a user’s feed can (and will) inevitably affect your business on those platforms.

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When the Instagram algorithm kicks in, maintaining high levels of engagement will help keep your content on top, whether you’re a small company or a large one.

Your focus should instead be Instagram Analytics Tools.

As the algorithm launch approaches, it’s important to use analytics tools to see which portion of your Instagram audience is interacting with what content, what content is performing best, and which audience segments you may be missing. As you learn from these analytics, you can create stronger and more relevant content that your audience will be more receptive to.

Though Instagram shares the same ad platform as Facebook, the platform does not yet have an analytics tool like Facebook’s Insights and Audience Insights. But, we’re in luck! There are a number of third-party Instagram analytics tools available for businesses and marketers to measure their marketing efforts.

The following three tools will help you to track and evaluate the success of your content & strategy around it on Instagram.

Simply Measured

Simply Measured offers a variety of reports and analyses, some of which are free and some are available only with a paid plan.

free report on instagram engagement from simply measured

Simply Measured’s free user report offers detailed analysis for a single Instagram account, including metrics on top posts, best times for engagement, and the amount and types of engagement.

When you first visit the site, you can get a free user report on any Instagram account (with up to 25,000 followers) in exchange for following the company on Twitter. This user report provides an in-depth analysis of the past two months, including your top post, best days and hours for engagement, top photo tags, top filters, and the amount and types of engagement you’ve received on your posts.

simply measured graph of optimal times to post on instagram

Knowing what days and times are best to post content can help you increase your engagement on any platform.

Additional analytics tools come with pricing plans starting at $500 a month, and include features like cross-platform analysis, social brand and hashtag monitoring, and the ability to add unlimited users to the account at no additional charge.

Iconosquare

Iconosquare is my go-to tool for anything Instagram, including contests, management tools, and so on. It’s also decent for analytics.

iconosquare metrics for instagram spread rates and talk rates

Iconosquare evaluates metrics you don’t see as often, such as spread rates and talk rates.

Iconosquare’s analytics allow you to track important metrics like follower growth and losses, best times to post for maximum engagement, engagement rates, and engagement growth. It also shows your best performing content, both in terms of likes and comments.

iconosquare graphs of instagram growth history

Being able to evaluate your Instagram growth history over long periods of time can help you continue to grow your presence on the platform.

Iconosquare offers a 7-day free trial, during which you can access the analytics information to see if the tool is right for you and for your business’s needs. The plus plan is currently $28.80 a year and includes features like daily email reports, comment trackers, and analytics on the key Instagram metrics discussed above.

Sprout Social

Sprout Social is a popular tool that many businesses already use, and it offers detailed reporting on a profile’s Instagram activity.

You can find analytics under the Reports section. You can see detailed information on daily growth in followers (and how much that number increased or decreased in the past month), the number of posts you’re sharing, your most used hashtags, your most engaged hashtags, and the number of engagements (both in total and the rate of engagement per medium).

sprout social instagram audience growth graph

Being able to evaluate your Instagram audience growth by day makes it easier for you to spot growth trends.

The only downside to Sprout Social compared to the two analytics platforms above is that it only accumulates Instagram data for the analytics once your profile is connected – no past data is provided, which is a bummer.

engagement graph for instagram from sprout social

Sprout Social provides stats not only on the total amount of engagement received, but also the rate of engagement per medium or post.

Sprout Social offers a 30-day free trial, and the comprehensive reporting is available with the Deluxe plan, starting at $59 per user per month.

So, just the use of a few tools can be very important to your long-term success with Instagram marketing, as they continue to tweak the service and their algorithms. This is especially true with the upcoming news feed algorithm. The three analytics tools in this article can give you great insights that you need to create higher-performing content, both immediately and in the long run.

Yes, Instagram has changed its timeline algorithm, but no, it is not the end of the world for businesses.

My additional tips:

  • Create great content that’s valuable
  • Throw some money in the mix to create additional brand awareness and grow followers using all the amazing targeting options available
  • Change up your content with video
  • Get on the #hashtag #bandwagon – but DO NOT OVERDUE IT.

If you’re a brand that does not care about your followers, or if you don’t care if your followers find value in your content, Instagram may be dead for you. But, if you are like most business owners, you do care about your customers and want to provide value to them. After all, if there is not value in your brand, your product, your service, and ultimately your content marketing strategy, why would anyone care anyway?

In conclusion, fear not. Instagram is definitely not dead. In fact, this is an opportunity for you to fine-tune your content strategy when it matters most.

What do you think? How do you feel about the upcoming Instagram algorithm? Do you use any of these Instagram analytics tools? Share your experience. Do you use one that I didn’t mention here? Share your thoughts, experience, and knowledge in the comments below.