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Chatbots: What You Need To Know To Succeed

Believe it or not, chatbots have been around for several decades. We just haven’t noticed. You could even say they went mainstream as early as 1966 when researchers at MIT created ELIZA, that cute little computer program that talked back to you.

Today, they are quite the rage. Oracle just debuted a new developer platform and the likes of Facebook Messenger and Apple’s iMessage have opened up their platforms to host them.  The questions are 1) should you build one and 2) how do you make it work.

The first question has an easy answer – if it adds value, do it! If it expedites consumer interactions, provides easier access to your company, or is even just for pure entertainment then the bot is probably worth the investment.

The second question – how do you make a chatbot successful – is a more complicated. To answer that question, I actually looked at several dozen chatbots and consumer reactions to them by visiting Chatbots.org. The site provides online listings and reviews for chatbots as well as all sorts of useful information. There are many disliked chatbots but just a few respected ones.

The difference between a good chatbot and a bad one, besides the logical question of if they intend to peruse skynet-like sentience, is their humor.  Good bots are unafraid of being less than human. In other words, they don’t try to pretend they are a replacement for human-to-human interaction.

The best bots have an “awe dad” sense of humor about themselves. They will tell you up front what they are about and what they can or cannot do.  One of my favorites, in fact, belongs to an Israeli startup named Imperson.  Imperson creates personality-based chatbots programmed to mimic, but not replace humans.

I also love the chatbots that aren’t chatbots but more like active listeners and information navigators. Take the one created by the device manufacturer Peel, for instance. After you purchase, you can immediately opt-in to receive updates via Facebook Messenger. As someone that was eagerly anticipating my iPhone 7 case and wanted it to arrive at or before the device did, the Facebook-facing interactions were simple and easy to access. It was much easier than going back to their site and it even remembered my order number.

Again though, Peel’s bot didn’t try to be anything it wasn’t. When I asked it a question it didn’t know – it referred me to other, more appropriate channels.

If the prevalence and development of apps were any indication, there is likely to be a rush to create chatbots of all kinds. The question is how many will be used and how many will make you come back for more?

By all indications, it’s the bot developers that think thoughtfully about what they should be vs. what they could be that end up cashing in.

Politics In 2016: Slacktivism & Digital Gamification

Last week, Hillary for America launched Hillary 2016. The app is meant to empower the masses to take action on behalf of the candidate and her issues.

The genius isn’t that the app will be the absolute game-changer in the campaign or will make the kinds of headlines that Pokémon Go has. The genius, in my opinion, is how the Clinton campaign is harnessing two massive digital trends – “slacktivism” and gamification – into a single powerful tool that might prove more effective than any other single digital campaign asset we’ve seen this election cycle.

To start with, let’s define what we’re talking about. In short, slacktivism is term used to described being active in a cause online – posting, commenting, re-posting, starting flame wars – but not so much in real life.

def. slacktivism (noun)
actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g., signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website.

For years, strategists – both digital and political – have lamented “slacktivists” as being emblematic of an increasingly lazy and disconnected populous. However, recent research suggests that these tweet-do-wells are actually an increasingly positive force.

In fact, there’s even evidence to suggest that slacktivists are more likely than the average online user to take an offline action like voting.

Digital “slacktivists” are 10% to 15% more likely to take an offline action like voting.

Source: The Rise of the Slactivist

This is where gamification comes in.  If you don’t know what gamification is ask the closest millennial to you to explain Pokémon Go.

Ok…back to the Hillary app. What I love about the app is that it takes slactivism and gamification and connects the two together.  For instance, you earn points for taking actions like learning about issues, RSVPing to a watch party, or passing along key messaging points. These points are redeemable for both virtual goods.  You can “purchase” furniture for your virtual campaign HQ or even real-world rewards like an autograph from the candidate, herself.

The HFA app uses slacktivism and gamification to mobilize voters.

Given the need for turnout and voter mobilization in this cycle, the process of collecting and redeeming stars is not only fun, but it helps the campaign.

In fact, I can’t help notice that the stars animation in the app looks exactly like the end scene from Iron Jawed Angels.  In case you haven’t seen it, IJA is features Hillary Swank as legendary suffragette Alice Paul.  As the 19th amendment to the constitution is ratified, Paul and her fellow activists are showered with yellow stars.

The same effect, almost down to the frame, happens in the HFA app.  Maybe a coincidence but I like to think some UI designer was that clever.


The UI aside, I think this is a great play for politics and, in particular, for Hillary for America. This app finally bridges the final mile between otherwise online, passive activists and real world action.

By no means is this a replacement for going out to vote. Nor does the app replace an on-the-ground operation. However one, we haven’t seen all of the app’s functionality.  Second, think of all the insights HFA will be able to gain from this user base.

In 2008, Obama took the humble email list and made it the most powerful digital tool in a campaign. In 2016, Hillary Clinton could very well have done the same thing for an app. Either way, digital strategists like myself will be watching the app performance closely.

We’ll be watching to see what we can learn about human behavior.  We’ll also be watching how we slacktivism and gamification come together to impact an organization and a brand.

Shattering The AdTech Fantasy

The problem with AdTech is simple: we have way too many over-engineered hammers looking for too few verifiable nails.

It almost conjures up images of Alice in Wonderland-esque humanoid tools, blindly shattering browser screens with reckless abandon. At least that’s what I like to think the dreams of my paid media brethren have been filled with the last 5 years.

The truth is though, they’ve been sleeping like babies thanks to several well-propagated lies. As Mark Duffy points out, we’re all about to get a wake up call in a very big way.

To avoid being stuck holding the bag like so many bad mortgage loans, allow me to point out those lies in very simple terms…

First, AdTech Is Built On Data Of Questionable Integrity

When an AdTech firm sells you a programmatic solution, you’re actually being sold two different things.  You’re being sold both technology and the data it runs on.

I’ve seen this technology and can tell you there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.  In most cases, it’s actually well thought-out and theoretically sound.

However, the challenge is when you start fueling the technology with bad data.

Think about gassing up your car with fuel that hasn’t been verified, has more fillers than anyone would like to admit, and is going to get you just about as far as the next filling station two blocks away.

The data we’re being sold is just that unreliable.

It’s a blend of shopping cart preferences and third-party data bundles.  In it are ridiculous broad-based assumptions that more often than not segment consumers into ill-defined categories for the sake of expediency rather than accuracy.

For example, I’ve seen data sets from programmatic vendors that purport to accurately identify high-value, affluent consumers.  Eager to design strategies to target these individuals, I wanted to know just what parts of their behavior caused them to appear in this group.

It turns out that the segment was called “Country Club” and that the only thing you had to do to be categorized in this group was to show an affinity for brands like J. Crew.  Suffice to say, pointing out the absurdity of this correlation didn’t win me any fans among the AdTech people on my team.

Therein lies the problem. As media professionals we’re OK with the lie as long as the results reach the absolutely ridiculous, low single-digit benchmarks that we’ve taken as gospel.

Second, Creative Isn’t Changing

Unlike fisherman who change their bait based on the specific fish they want to catch, the creative we’re using isn’t changing to meet the audience.

You would think this is a huge missed opportunity and it is.

If you are lucky enough to find a verify a prospect through programmatic, you would think that media professionals would put their best creative foot forward.

You would think they would spend just as much on developing really great, specific ads that are drawn from deep-seated understanding of the audience you’ve worked so hard to find.  You would, of course, be wrong.

But what about the technology? Isn’t finding the audience half the battle? Not really.

As Mark Duffy points out, the reason that ad-blocking technologies continue to grow in popularity despite the promise of programmatic is that consumers are still seeing the same pre-adtech creative.

This is why we’re still mired in such lousy response rates.

In fact, ask anyone who does one-to-one sales.  They will tell you that if you know who your audience is, and can effectively find them, even a cold-approach should net you a 1 in 10 chance of a conversion if you put any mental effort into the pitch at all.

What these two truths add up to is a well-intentioned, wildly expensive way to get the same result as you would without the technology.

I wish this wasn’t so.  I wish the data was better and that media teams would wake up to the fact that creative needs to be just as much priority as the technology.

In my experience though, if wishes were angels…In other words, this is why I’m a bigger fan of owned and shared media than I am paid.

Though paid is a great tool and isn’t going away, there’s going to be a lot of cleanup to do when the industry wakes up to so many shattered dreams.

Is marketing technology hindering our intelligence?

Whether you call it adtech, martech, marketing automation or programmatic, far too many marketers are treating technology solutions like they’re a panacea for our ailing relationships with consumers.

Don’t get me wrong — marketing technologies are amazing. They allow us to reach greater numbers of consumers with an increasing level of personalization. However, since the dawn of the printing press, countless marketers have looked at buttons as a way to turn their brains off. These technologies somehow make them believe they can get great — even better — results by reaching more people with the same tired, old pitches.

For instance, with the invention of the printing press, marketers thought volume was the solution. So they flooded the streets with flyers, which consumers promptly threw away. And with radio, these marketers tried to get noticed by turning up the volume, which only inspired consumers to turn the channel.

Many marketers today are playing the same game with digital communications. They replace community managers with auto-responders and try to use adtech to serve millions — if not billions — of “personalized” creative.

Here’s what these marketers are missing: with each advance in marketing technology, consumers also get smarter. They find new ways to tune marketers out. And that’s why we’re staring down the barrel of a crisis in advertising. This desire to find some peace amidst this deafening and relentless marketing chatter has spawned an entire industry — one dedicated to helping people completely block markets out.

The Solution? Training Our Brains as We Build Technology

The single greatest technology marketers have is the one square foot between their ears. As we improve our ability to serve more people in the same amount of time, we have to train our brains to keep pace with that evolution.

Rather than turning our minds off, we should advance our exploration of consumer behavior, research and creativity in step with technological progress.

I know — it’s not as fun as pushing a button, but ask anyone at any gym on the planet and they’ll tell you that all the technology in the world can’t substitute for the raw effort that comes from continuously challenging and pushing ourselves.

Think of it as a proportional sunk cost in the development of new technologies: as you calculate the costs and efficiencies of marketing automation, raw time and talent have to increase at the same rate. Only then will we be able to scale the creativity and innovation that consumers demand of us — and ideally grab their attention (not to mention their business, loyalty and advocacy) along the way.

Re-Posted From Jared’s Post On MoxieUSA.com

Back To The Future: Modernism In The Digital Age

If you’re looking for what’s next in marketing, you only have to look back — way back. I’m talking back to the turn of the last century.

In the early 1900s, culture and society had been redefined by the industrial revolution. Machines had literally re-engineered our way of life and, in their transformative wake, forced businesses from railroads to retailers to rethink what consumers wanted. The new era that dawned was known as modernism, and its trademark was the rejection of traditional ways of thinking. People in every industry and trade set out to remake everything in novel and inventive ways.

Sound familiar?

Today, we’re dealing with the aftermath of a much different revolution — one driven by the dual forces of digital and social innovation. Yet, much like its predecessor, the digital and social revolution has forever altered the very core of consumer behavior. And in this new era of marketing, the old rules not only don’t matter, but they can also undermine a brand’s bottom line.

That’s why 2016 isn’t going to be about a particular technology, app or device. It’s going to be about something bigger: How brands adapt to meet consumers’ demands for more meaningful engagement — and more control — than they have had at any other time in history.

2016 is going to be the year that digital modernism takes hold.

So What Exactly Is Digital Modernism?

The modernism of the early 20th century and digital modernism of 2016 share the same core principle: the reinvention of art, science and culture based on the impact of new technology.

Digital modernism, in particular, is about how brands are dealing with things like the proliferation of social media, the rise of mobile devices and their new balance of power with consumers.

Though these elements have been considered mainstream for upwards of half a decade, only now are they becoming the norm. Digital modernism is the next phase for these trends — one where the platforms themselves are no longer “new,” yet the ways that brands use them are.

Think about it: Even the most staid, traditional brands — conservative financial brands like Lloyds of London, legacy construction brands like Caterpillar and even the super-secretive CIA (@CIA) — have now bought fully into digital. It’s not enough to simply have a presence on digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or to be active in digital advertising. A brand’s success today is defined by its ability to innovatively and creatively target and reach one consumer versus another.

Digital Modernism’s Impact on Strategy

Digital modernism’s most acute impact is on the world of strategy. Previously, strategy was about answering the question, “How?” Now we need to answer the question, “Why?”

Enter the era of modern digital strategy.

Like Michael Porter’s impact on business strategy itself, modern digital strategy isn’t just about the means in which brands articulate themselves in digital, but also how they use it to create a competitive advantage.

Digital Modernism’s Impact on Analytics

Analytics is the second area impacted by digital modernism. With the social and digital revolution specifically, we’re now looking well beyond the ability to track consumers, their conversations and behaviors.

Thanks to the combined forces of big data and digital modernism, our purview now encompasses millions of other aspects of consumers’ personalities, preferences, habits and more. We can now generate deep, actionable insights that enable us to enhance consumer relationships and privacy — at the same time. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, but it’s one that presents new opportunities for brands. And brands that can leverage big data to create experiences for their consumers that are progressively more relevant, meaningful and customized will be most successful.

Digital Modernism’s Impact on Creativity

Creativity is no longer about coming up with new ways to dazzle and captivate consumers. With digital modernism, it’s now personal: Brands must be able to use new technologies and consumer insights to craft not just one amazing experience but millions.

This type of creative won’t just be disruptive. It will have immense impact on the success rate of everything from banner ads to emails. Instead of measuring CTR in terms of halves of a percent, we’ll see many brands launch into double-digital success. By harnessing multiple customized creative ideations for each channel, brands will be able to become more relevant and more connected than ever.

Opportunity, With a Caveat

Whether we’re talking about strategy, analytics or creative, 2016 promises to be an exciting year for brands — and one full of unprecedented opportunities. The key question is how brands will respond. Remember, modernism wasn’t just a time for innovation, but also for natural selection in commerce. Ford’s Model T ignited the automobile revolution, but it also spurred competition. And competition can make or break brands. Digital modernism will no doubt bring similar pressures. Each brand’s ability to thrive will depend on how well it adapts and innovates.

Reposted From Jared’s Post On MoxieUSA.com

The Solution To Ad-Blocking? Try Better Ads


One of the things I love about social media is that it’s impossible to fake great content. This is a lesson that seems to be lost on the majority of advertisers trying to circumvent ad-blocking technologies.

If you haven’t heard about the battle between ad-blockers and advertisers, you should check out this article on DIGIDAY. It details not only the ways advertisers are getting around ad-blocking technologies but ways that advertisers can now actually buy their way past them.

All this effort, money, and frankly ethically grey behavior begs one question – why are advertisers trying to force something on users that they clearly don’t want?

Again, I refer back to social media. When a social media user doesn’t like a piece of content, it doesn’t get read, or liked, or shared. In response marketers have to come up with better content. In the end the users is – and hopefully will always be – the arbiter of whether a message gets through.

What some advertisers are tying to do is force the same intrusive content that forced ads to be blocked in the first place. Even the IAB is against this conflict-of-interest.

Personally, when an ad fails I look at the content, I look at the audience, and see if I missed some piece of the puzzle.

Almost always, I am trying to force my language on the audience versus speaking to the audience in theirs. I adjust the messaging and/or the format and see if I can’t make a connection with the audience that helps them solve a problem or realize a need. If I can’t do that in an appealing and compelling way the ad doesn’t deserve to be served.  It’s that simple.

If you’re an advertiser; please stop wasting your money on these kind of technologies.  Spend it on getting to know your audience or on great copywriters. In the end, your dollars will go way further and your clients will be much happier.

What The Burger King/McDonald’s “Peace” Situation Teaches Us About Strategy

Yesterday on Facebook I got into one of those heated discussions only strategy geeks get themselves into. My friend thought McDonald’s missed a huge opportunity passing on an “International Day of Peace” integration with Burger King. I, on the other hand, thought McDonald’s responded perfectly for their business situation.

My friend is probably one of the best PR strategists out there, if not one of the one’s most versed in how to use social media for prime gains in brand reputation. He made some excellent points including the fact that any other burger chain could easily step up, take the challenge, and score some easy and effective “brand points” in social media.

Now, don’t get me wrong. “Brand points” are great but rarely, if ever, have a lasting impact on earnings and/or revenue. If this manufactured PR tiff turns long-term, then we’re talking a different ball game.  However, and as I pointed out to my friend, to the people that care about McDonald’s this stunt is inside baseball and no one outside of the die-hard brand loyalists care.

Where some see McDonald’s as “lame” I see them as smart and measured. McDonald’s long-term strategy is about improving revenues by improving quality – or at least that’s what they say.  Their restaurants are now more cafes than they are drive-throughs and that’s a calculated measure.  They realize their revenues are being hit by the fast-casual segment, which draw away regulars.

What McDonald’s wants to do is reclaim their positioning not as a burger joint but as a wholesome food outlet.  Wholesome and McDonald’s don’t sound like they go together but when they first started out, they very much did. Roy Kroc realized that there was a vacuum in the 1950s for a clean, consistent alternative to the one-off drive-in diners. He captured the “family meal” dollar and that’s what they are trying to do, today.  That’s also what you see in McDonald’s reaction to Burger King’s overture.

Burger King, on the other hand, knows it needs to make its brand “hip” again.  It’s been on a 10-year guerrilla media blitz starting with it’s relationship with advertising powerhouse Crispin Porter.  They want to be the cult favorite in the burger wars, which is why their tactic was on-brand for them.  They knew that the McDonald’s strategy playbook wouldn’t allow them to engage and deviate from a planned and purposeful journey and that’s why they did it.  Their fans loved the overture and I’m betting it did just what it intended to do which is woo back McDonald’s customers that have defected to higher-end chains.

McDonald’s, meanwhile, is laser-like focused on building a new kind of customer.  That customer is more interested in the “family meal” than it is the latest social media craze.  McDonald’s reaction wasn’t exactly socially-savvy but it was a smart business play that not only met but exceeded expectations of their core audience.  Proving they are trying to be adult alternative may not please strategy and social geeks like my friend and I but it does show clarity of purpose and a focus on the audience behind the brand.

The conversation my friend and I had is the key difference between insider baseball and the real world. We might care about these things and even Burger King customers  – both current and potential – might care. However, PR and social media strategies have to serve the bottom-line rather than the needs and expectations of us, the “chattering class.”

Perhaps this dynamic might change in the future?  Perhaps if Burger King keeps hitting McDonald’s and the “family meal” dollar can’t be convinced to abandon their new-found love of Chipotle social media tiffs like this might make a difference.

In the meantime, though, we have to remind ourselves that we don’t get paid because customers “like” a brand on Facebook.  We get paid because they walk through the door of our client’s establishments and plunk down cold, hard cash.

Meerkat: Worth The First-Mover Risk?

Why the new live-streaming app might just be worth the risk for brands.

One of the biggest gambles a digital media professional can make is recommending a new social media platform. If it goes right, the client wins accolades for being a first mover. If it goes wrong, you’re the geek that cried “wolf” and wasted a lot of time and money.

This week, #SXSW will be abuzz about a new platform called Meerkat. Simply put, it’s a live-streaming video app that has direct integration with to Twitter. Meerkat-ers can schedule streams in advance or do one on the fly. Twitter users see Meerkat streams right in their feed if they follow the user’s Twitter accounts. Watching videos is fun and users can even tweet in-app to comment on streams.

We’ve seen other apps like this, such as Qik that never really took off. However, I’m actually kind of bullish on Meerket and here’s why:

1. It’s easy to get your head around.

Unlike Snapchat – which I still can’t figure out – the premise of Meerkat is simple. It’s interface is understandable and it conforms to video viewing and commenting behavior that users have become used to thanks to with popular platforms like YouTube and Webex.

2. It takes advantage of pre-existing platforms. 

I can’t underscore the importance of Twitter in the Meerkat equation. Rather than asking you to sign up for a new platform, users log in with their Twitter name and password. This is critical because I believe that users are at or nearing a point of platform saturation. Allowing users to skip the account creation process is going to speed adoption in a big way.

3. It fulfills a business need.

Finally, Meerkat delivers on something I think that users can enjoy and that marketers could really use – the fusion of streaming video and chat. The potential for use across PR, event marketing, and even corporate communications is HUGE. Just think about live-streaming a press conference, a product reveal, or even a just an “ask me anything” session.

Though we’ll have to wait and see if Meerkat really debuts as big as I think it will, it made a big enough impression on me to start ideating on ways my clients can utilize the new platform. In the meantime, follow me at @jareddegnan for live streams.

Countering The Issue Apathy That Kills 99% Of All Campaigns

There’s just no softer way to say it – most audiences are apathetic to any issue that doesn’t directly affect them. That’s why 99% of issue advocacy campaigns fail even before they begin.

Fully understanding why consumers care about the things they do and don’t care about the things they don’t is the first step in building better issue-based campaigns that drive better results.

Let’s start with the basics: not all people DON’T care. Chances are, however, that these people are already familiar with the issue. Many marketing communications professionals look to the people that care as their primary audience and, in certain cases, this is effective. When you have a plan to activate these people to lend their time, connections, and even fortune to a cause, this can be a great strategy.

However, more often than not, marketing communications professionals look to speak to these people that care as a way to “ignite the voices of their grassroots community.” This approach is admirable but is many times equivalent to over-watering a flower garden, washing out your message rather than inciting growth.

If you can’t reach the people who care, who is left?

One often overlooked constituency is people that maybe haven’t made up their mind on an issue. This strategy is often where we find the bulk of the audience where you can turn apathy into something more productive. You just have to know how to re-position the issue into something these people DO care about.

In order to accomplish this, we start with the basics of consumer decision-making…

  1. I care about me. – I am being asked to care about something else
  2. There’s stuff online about the thing I’m being asked to care about
  3. Does it pertain to me?No. – I’m going to ignore the issue. (50% of your audience)
    Yes. – This pertains to me but I’m going to ignore it anyway. (10% of your audience)
    Maybe. – This might pertain to me but I need more information (40% of your audience).

You see that 40%? That’s the sweet spot.

Yes, that 10% is important too but usually these set of consumers make snap judgments and ignore further overtures. The 40% though remain pliable, if you know how to serve up information on your issue that somehow pertains to them.

This 40% though is also why 99% of all issue-based campaigns fail. Organizations want to dwell on and talk about the issues that are important to THEM and that only incites more apathy.

To avoid this, take a closer look at our consumer-decision tree. The moment you make your appeal to consumers in terms they understand – in other words when you make it all about them – is the moment they start to care.

Keep in mind; most audiences don’t care about scientific studies, what bevies of experts have to say, or even the sympathetic consumer case studies. They care about themselves.

These consumers care about saving money, they care about spending more time with their family, they care about caring for their loved ones, they care about doing something for the greater good. Starting to re-position your issue so it hits on the reasons it impacts them is the key to unlocking the 40%.

That’s why opposition voices are sometimes so effective. They start by framing the issue in terms that audiences care about. They play on fears about health, they show the nasty effects of the issue on poor, cute fuzzy little woodland creatures, and generally tug at every heart string they can find. In short, they appeal to the audience’s heart.

Many marketing communications professionals, though they have a lot of heart, many times aren’t great at appealing to the heart.

This is particularly true when you’re dealing with trade groups when bottom-lines are threatened. Most organization executives and boards’ instincts are to counter with appeals to the head – with science. That approach is well intentioned but is ultimately ineffective vs. things like threats to the a fore mentioned cute, fuzzy woodland creatures.

The good news is that the 40% we mentioned do turn out to be reasonable. Their very nature tells them to give someone a chance when they talk about the issues that impact them. In other words, if issue-based campaigns appeal to the heart, and backs up their campaigns with the same science, facts, and expertise they were going to use anyway – the issue campaign succeeds.

The fact that most consumers just don’t care about anything other than themselves is a tough truth for some marketing communications professionals – particularly those run by people passionate about an issue.

However, when we start thinking about re-positioning campaigns to appeal to what consumers DO care about, our success rates start to look a lot, lot better.

Explaining The Advantages Of Emma Email Marketing Vs Outlook To Non-Techie Co-Workers

Working with folks that are decidedly non-digital can be challenging. It can also be a hell of a lot of fun…if you play your cards right. For instance , a coworker was asking about our company’s recommended move to Emma Email Marketing.

Now, for anyone who has managed any type of email marketing campaign, the reasons NOT to use Outlook are pretty obvious. However, part of digital strategy is explaining things in clear and simple terms. Observe:

Dear {Coworker},

There’s an easy way and a visual way to explain what happens when you send a blast email out from outlook:


The kitten in this picture is a blast email via outlook.  It looks like it’s all cute and normal and nothing’s wrong with it.   The things in the background…yeah – that’s the metaphorical manifestation of collective spam-sensitivity karma of the internet.

The only thing is that the karma doesn’t get the kitten…it gets the system that the kitten came out of.  In this case our company. This is what karma does to our servers when it catches up:


Karma rips up any authority our servers have because it thinks that we’re spamming people. It puts us on what’s known as a blacklist.  When you get blacklisted, it looks like this:


Basically, our ability to send any type of email is compromised because our email tends to go to spam folders.  This is what happens to Mike, our IT manager, when our servers are blacklisted:


So, in summary….

As to not incite the collective wrath of the internet, grind our ability to send emails to a screeching halt, and cause Mike a nervous breakdown, use EMMA.


PS – I might be overstating a bit for dramatic effect but that’s pretty much what happens… http://www.bluegrassdigital.com/blog/2011/june/29/why-sending-bulk-email-campaigns-from-outlook-is-a-bad-idea/

As you might imagine, this kind of response endears me to my co-workers.

Third-Party Website Functions Can Ruin Customer Relationships

It’s not like anyone likes to get a traffic citation but at least the Dekalb Country officer that pulled me over for a rolling stop was nice about it.

Despite the fact it was raining, the officer politely explained what I had done, pointed me to the online instructions on how to pay the citation, and even apologized for the inconvenience. As a customer experience, particularly in setting expectations, it was a textbook encounter.

Initial interactions like these can go a long way in building trust and the long term potential value of a customer. For instance, though I don’t currently reside in Dekalb Country, should I ever consider moving here or even spending more time and money here, that encounter set a positive expectation in how I might be treated. However, that encounter was only one touch-point.

To maintain that level of trust and continue building that relationship, that expectation of clear and transparent communication has to be upheld.

Now, I realize that only customer strategy geeks like myself intellectualize a traffic citation like this but follow along…Flash forward to a couple hours later: thanks to the officers explanation, I see I clearly deserved the citation and I decided to go ahead and pay the fine.

Flaw One – Long URLs & Broken Redirects

I followed the instructions on the citation, only to find that not only was the website they were directing me a very long URL that I had to enter manually, the page it did send me to was dead. Not cool but not altogether frustrating. After all, sometimes it takes a while to update text copy on receipts and forward progress on shorter URLs are always a good thing, right?

Flaw Two – More Than 3 Clicks To Get To What I Need

After arriving at the broken link I decided to go back to Dekalb County’s website. Surely traffic citations and other forms of revenue must be one of the more important things to the city so it can’t be that hard to find, right? Apparently not. Not only did it take me more than 5 minutes on their home page to find the right link, I had to click through several more times just to find the link to the right form for traffic citations.

Flaw Three – The Third-Party Payment System

At this point, my experience with the polite cop has been eclipsed by the “typical government bureaucracy ” frustration. All I want to do is pay the fine and get back to playing on Facebook. The fine itself isn’t that bad but apparently I also have to pay a court fee and a “convenience fee.”  Neither of these fees are explained and I feel very much taken advantage of.

This kind of experience underscores how third-party website functions can undo any goodwill for a customer.  Explanation and consistency is key to keeping a strong customer relationship. If you do have to go with a third-party system, think about those three major flaws and how you can avoid them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the citation for a rolling stop has drained me of my lunch money and I now have to go heat up my ramen noodles.

Let’s Start A Shadow Marketing Campaign For The ASO!

If a symphony plays in midtown and no one is around to hear it, does it sound as beautiful?

Let me ask it another way…what does it take to translate art into a marketing campaign? Money? Resources? Media Attention?

The truth is that great marketing campaigns are never, and have never been built on big budgets. Sure money, resources and media attention helps but what really compels marketing to touch the very heart and soul of its intended audience is the passion and conviction of its creators.

This truth isn’t new. In fact, artists like musicians have relied on it for centuries to produce some of the most compelling “communications” in human history.

It’s no wonder then, that the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is up in arms about it’s own marketing. After enduring an extended lockout, they are ready to show Atlanta why it is the great cultural epicenter of the south. You would never know it, though by looking at their marketing.

I’m not trying to pass judgement on whoever does the marketing for the ASO. However, I am interested in knowing what people that benefit and are inspired from the music of the ASO can do if they took brush to paper?

Starting today, I am going to publish one piece of marketing collateral for the ASO. A tweet, a Facebook post, a brochure, a flyer…something that says what I think the ASO means to me and to Atlanta. I am encouraging my friends in the marketing space to join in. Let’s create a shadow/grassroots marketing campaign for the ASO that helps them sustain their efforts and shows the Woodruff Arts Center we support arts in the community in a very real and tangible way.

Just to be safe, let’s set the basic standard that if we wouldn’t show it in our own professional portfolios, let’s not publish it. Post your creation with the hashtag #ASOgrassroots. Let’s see if we can even come close to creating marketing with the magic and conviction of the ASO musicians.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr User – Wally Gobetz (via Creative Commons)

PS – Flickr is a great place to find photos to support your marketing collateral.  Just make sure it’s under the Creative Commons license!  

Dealing With Facebook’s New Promotional Content Penalty

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Late last week Facebook announced a significant change to its news feed algorithm as it pertains to promoted posts.

Though the change – slated to go live in Jan 2015 – will hit retailers and/or eCommerce sites the hardest, there are some key ways you can deal with this penalty before it costs you a dime:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

The Rule Of Quality Content Still Stands

Facebook is making this change to crack down on pages that go for the “hard sell” with a direct call to action (CTA) in a promoted post. We’ve known this for a while, including their move earlier this year to eliminate “like bait.” As of now, Facebook is just trying to make it harder to get away with bad content by penalizing marketers that try to compensate with promoted posts.

Chances are if you’re creative and make your content stand out with personality, value to the reader (outside the CTA), and that appeals to the way users naturally share and converse on Facebook you’ll be fine.  If you’re {achem} more laid back about your content and it sounds a little too much like a billboard or a banner ad, you’re going to find it much more expensive to get your content read[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Avoid “Hard Sell” Keywords In Your Posts

For instance, if your post says “buy now,” “click here,” “enter our promotion,”  or similar CTAs, it will likely trigger the penalty. This includes promotions without a ton of context (i.e. sweepstakes vs. contests).

The good news is that this is not a deal-killer for promotions on Facebook.  You just have to think through how you make “the ask” for promotions and consider the venue.  It’s possible that Instagram, Tumblr or Twitter might make a better platform for a promotion depending on how explicit you need the CTA to be.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Make Ads Unique From Promoted Posts

This the easiest thing to avoid.  Facebook is now going to cross-reference your promoted posts and ads.  If the content overlaps, it will invoke the penalty and it will costs you more to reach the same amount of people.

My advice for this one is that if you have hard sells, use them in your ads.  Use your posts to tell a story, to highlight content, and/or highlight an issue.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Again, this penalty only affects promoted posts starting in 2015.  It does not mean promoted posts are going away but you may see impact on your ultimate reach numbers and cost.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The Flaw In Gallup’s Survey On Social Media Impact On Purchase Decisions

In the research equivalent to asking “did you eat the cookie?” Gallup makes a tenuous connection to real social media outcomes. The WSJ is happy to play along.

Why is it that businesses are still actively trying to disprove social media as a channel to reach consumers?

That’s the question I had to ask myself as I perused my digital copy of The Wall Street Journal, this morning.  Gallup, a noted consumer research firm, is releasing a survey today that says it speaks to the “real” impact of social media on consumer behavior.

Normally I am very enthusiastic about any hard data on consumer behavior – social media impacted or otherwise. There’s only one problem with this data: it’s self reported. In case you’re not a stat geek, self-reporting is the research equivalent of asking a little kid with chocolate smeared all over their face if they ate the cookie.

The gist of the research is that Gallup showed that consumer buying behaviors aren’t impacted by whether or not they follow or like particular brands.  The WSJ article then goes on to detail several major brands including Ritz-Carlton and how they are abandoning what was thought of as traditional social media marketing strategies.

In fairness, the Gallup survey is actually pretty solid. It doesn’t purport to represent heuristic research methods nor does it say that social media is a waste of money.  The WSJ does that job all on its own.

Here’s where my beef is: the headline of the WSJ article is Social Media Fail to Live Up to Early Marketing Hype. A closer examination of the article yields that someone originally titled the article by its sub-head: Companies Refine Strategies to Stress Quality Over Quantity of Fans. How do I know this? Check out the URL…http://online.wsj.com/articles/companies-alter-social-media-strategies-1403499658.

What this discrepancy tells me is that an editor found more utility in trying to convince readers that social media is “failing” than the real story which is that your customers don’t care about the number of fans you have. (Side note…we needed a national, census-adjusted survey to tell us this?)

The WSJ is not dumb. The editors know what they are doing and they know what their readers want. In this case, they know their readers are inherently skeptical of social media so they give them what they want in order to lure them into reading the article. This kind of bait and switch is all well-and-good but it actually obscures the actual story, which is quality over quantity.

Like I said, I’m all for research. However, we shouldn’t confuse self-reporting with actual impact on consumer behavior, which has been documented copiously in peer-reviewed journals.

The Importance Of Measuring Content Quality

At first, it might seem like content quality is subjective and not really quantitatively measurable. The fact is, though that content quality is quantitatively measurable and has a HUGE impact your success, online.

Before discuss what exactly those measures are are, let’s talk about exactly why they are important:

1. Content Quality Scores Both Measure AND Impact The Traffic To Your Page

Think of this as a “catch 22” that you can actually impact. Content Quality Scores measure how relevant your content is based on the interest and validation of your online audience.  Content Quality Scores are also used by search engines to determine what content gets what traffic with better quality content receiving the lion’s share of the search traffic.

2. Content Quality Scores Also Impact How Much You Spend On Paid Search

Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad once said “advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable.”  I’ll add onto that statement by saying the more unremarkable you are (e.g. the poorer your content quality) the more expensive your advertising will be. Sure, you can throw money at anything and make it work but because Google uses Content Quality Scores to determine search ad pricing, it might take 3 to 10 times more money to push the same volume of traffic to a page or site with poor Content Quality Scores vs. a site with high quality scores.

Now, we can talk about the scores themselves…

Domain & Page Authority

This is a score I use commonly in digital public relations because it gives me a measure, site to site or page to page, of what users think is useful.  If a user thinks a site or page will be useful, they link to it, share it or cite it in their own work.  Domain & Page Authority aggregate all of those factors into a single score of 1 to 100.  The important thing to note is that there is no single “great” number when you’re talking about authority measures.  They are a site-to-site, page-to-page, or even a measure of the same site/page over time.  Here’s an example:

A Domain Authority score of 40 might pale in comparison to a site like Wikipedia, which has a domain authority of 87. However, if your primary competitor is coming up with a Domain Authority score of 30, that means users are finding your content more useful and thus with more authority than your competitor’s site.

Quality Score

If this measure sounds rather generic its because it is.  Every search engine, comparison tool, and ad network has its own way of measuring quality. Though there are many, many sites that offer content quality scores but my favorite is the one provided by Raven. Raven tools aggregates several different data sources including Moz, WordStream, AdWords, MajesticSEO and CALAIS as well as meta-data from the site itself. By using multiple data scores, I’m able to get a pretty darn good idea of trustworthiness and a user-based measures of content quality.

Both of these scores will come up in conversation when I talk to my clients about how well the content on their site or page is doing.  My advice is to find a quality score you like and pull the current scores of your client’s web sits so you can proactively discuss how you can improve their content quality.

Of course, this is to be combined with ensuring that you eliminate technical barriers to search visibility but that’s for another time.

How To Make Social Media Conferences Not Suck

You can call me an occupational elitist, an intellectual snob or even just a plain old hatter but the fact is that today’s social media conferences are a waste of time, money and talent. Not only is the programming for these events woefully uninspired, the ones I have recently attended actually seem to make the problems of lack of innovation and accountability in social media worse.

As an example, let’s take last week’s Digital Summit here in Atlanta. The concept itself is fantastic; put on a nationally-relevant social media conference in a city that is fast becoming a hotbed for start-ups and corporate innovation. The only problem with that plan is that, of the speakers that actually showed up, most seemed to be more interested in patting themselves on the back than discussing the nuances of execution.

At one point, I even tried to follow-up with one of the speakers about the details of a “case study” they presented. I was curious about what he had done differently in his campaigns and began to try to discuss the particulars with him.  It turns out that he hadn’t actually achieved any results, yet. He said the chart was more “illustrating a theory” and that he didn’t deal with actual execution.

This pattern repeated over and over again throughout the two-day conference. Representatives of major social media sites or agencies would get up on stage, talk about their company and then tell grandiose but detail-absent stories about their “amazingly successful” campaigns.

I’m trying really hard not to hate here. I’ve been to plenty of great conferences where this isn’t the case but the fact is that it’s easy to present a case study about a popular brand backed by campaign funded by a truckload of money.  What about the challenges you faced getting there, though? What were the client objections you had to overcome? How did you track your results to an actual impact on their business?

Speakers at social media conferences aren’t going to talk about these things because that’s not what these conferences are set up to do. Instead of discussing how to make things better and setting up an event where social media professionals can help each other, these conferences have become exercises in vanity. In fact, many conferences like Digital Summit spend more time on sponsorships and stage decorations than they do vetting and arranging programming.

It’s ironic that social media conferences have turned into the exact thing social media hates most: tightly controlled, highly polished environments where speakers talk at, rather than with participants.  

Social media evolves so quickly. Time and financial resources for professional development is so scarce. Why wouldn’t we focus on setting up open exchanges of information?

To me, there are three very simple things conferences like Digital Summit can do to, for lack of a better term, not suck…

1. Encourage Presenters To Be Human

Instead of telling us how great you are, tell us what challenges you overcame that made your campaign great. If you don’t have a story to tell about innovation or dealing with the tough realities of client/brand relations then find another venue.

2. Fewer Lectures, More Interaction

One of the things I love about the un-conference model is that it encourages the attendees to participate, present and give active feedback in the sessions. Sure, I love listening to big, keynote speakers talk about what’s next in the industry but that should be desert, not the main course.

3. Create Separate Tracks For Paid Sponsors

I understand that sponsors play an important role in putting on events and there’s definitely value to their presentations. However, just like we do with sponsored content in social media, let’s call these sessions what they actually are: promotional content aimed at customer acquisition. After all, if you’re asking attendees to pay for the privilege of being sold to, at least do them the favor of being transparent about it.

When social media was first attracting real professionals, attending a conference was the most exciting thing you could do.  Not only were there great ideas and presentations, but there was a camaraderie among the attendees.  Even sponsors were humble enough to send their best teams to learn something new.

Maybe, just maybe if we talk about the realities, difficulties and aspirations of using social media to change minds and engage customers, we can rekindle some of that excitement. Until then, I am going to be very reticent to lay out any more of my money, or my company’s money on conferences that are more self-serving than anything else.

New Marketing Rule: Fight The Urge To Push The Button

Oftentimes, when marketers fail it’s not because of they got the message wrong. It’s because they were too damn lazy to do it right.

Take Sponsored Posts, for instance. Facebook has made them powerful, affordable and so, SO easy.  All you do is click that little “BOOST” button on the bottom right hand corner.  It’s just so tempting, isn’t it?! BOOST your post and all your organic reach problems will go away. BOOST and you never have to say “you’re sorry” in a KPI report.

Sure, there are reasons that Sponsored Posts work but here, elegantly in a single photo, Tom Fishburne illustrates why that kind of thinking is folly:


Tom has a little lighter touch than I do but then again, I’ve met these types of marketers in real life and its astounding to hear them talk about what they think works with audiences. The fact is that the above illustration demonstrates a critical gap in what marketers want to accomplish and how much energy and thought they are really willing to put in, in order to make that happen.

For instance, what if that Subway post accompanied a sponsored partnership with a weight loss message board.  Yeah, remember message boards? They were social media before media was social.  They still exist and tend to have some of the most on-point opportunities for marketers to engage with target audiences.  The problem is that its nearly impossible to engage as easily in message boards as it is on Facebook.

This is where footwork comes in.  If marketers think about where the conversations occur  and exactly what they can do to bring value to the conversation, they would realize that they can’t just phone it in when it comes to consumer engagement. Producing content, engaging with gatekeepers, crafting sponsorship opportunities in unconventional medium are all examples of things that are a major pain in the a$$.  The thing is that it works!

Time and again, I’ve seen the investment in knowing, understanding and crafting approaches specifically for your audience.  Yes, it takes more time, sometimes more money and definitely more brain power than throwing sponsored messaging at a wall and seeing if it sticks. You know what? So does anything worth having.

So I say to my fellow marketers its time to stop being so lazy. Put the time and effort in and see how that works out for you.

PS: Yes, that BOOST rant was also so I could feature the Ren & Stimpy reference. You’re welcome.

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