Monday, April 09, 2018

Why I’m not complaining and I'm happy for social channels to have my data.

So here we are, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica debacle, feeling data-defiled and as though we dropped the informational soap in social media prison, poised to delete our Facebook accounts. Honestly, get over it.

Facebook has done nothing you didn’t sign up for. The media are loving it and Zuckerburg is apologising left, right and centre in a year he was hoping to crack on and fix the unwieldy behemoth that his baby has become – it’s news. Giving our data away to Facebook and Facebook apps is something you and I signed up for. Did you not read the small print? Don’t worry, no one does.

We live in the information age. Arguably, with the possible exception of the industrial revolution, one of the most exciting times for the 'civilised' world. Facebook is an unavoidable part of the connectivity of the western world. It has over 2.13 billion monthly active users and Mr. Zuckerburg is worth about £50 billion. In the UK the highest number of users is 25 to 34-year-olds, with (in this age range alone) 5.2 million lasses and 5.5 million blokes using Facebook in any given month.

We’re addicted: posting; messaging; liking etc. boosts our social capital and decreases loneliness and isolation. Sure, we have those friends who are part of some digital underclass that aren’t on Facebook, but they don’t get invited to parties (events) and (let’s face it) we think they’re a bit weird unless they work as undercover cops or they’re in a religious cult that thinks “technology is evil” (which is also weird).

There’s a deep connection between Facebook and the reward centre of the human brain. It fuels our narcissistic streak (to whatever level) by giving us social affirmation, but it also keeps us in touch with friends, family, and colleagues. It lets us promote our causes, fight injustice, coordinate disaster efforts, reach our customers, remember birthdays, rekindle old friendships, share ideas, and connect with those who live far away. It’s also free and let’s face it - is the last thing we see at night and the first thing in the morning.

So here’s the thing. What about giving away our data in exchange for free connectivity? As someone who writes ad strategy, executes a metric f**k-tonne of social ads and has built numerous apps, this is a good thing. We are, essentially, the product. Get over it, that’s always how it has been. It’s the payoff and we sign up for it. How is this a revelation? Our data is what keeps Facebook free. People like myself use the information you give Facebook to create targeted advertising, and that’s the key word here, TARGETED. If you get random ads for things you’re not interested in that’s some marketing bod doing an awful job, not Facebook’s fault.

If someone exploits that data - they’re to blame, not Facebook. It’s the user who chooses to use Facebook Login to let all kind of sites use their data – LOADS of big companies from Apple to Android use this. Again, via the permissions we gave through agreeing to the terms and conditions we probably didn’t read.

Giving our data away is powerful. It makes information semantic so that it comes to us when (or before) we need it. It offers me deals on walking boots from Millets because there’s a sale on and they know I’ll be interested. It guides me to the information I’m interested in and chooses related videos for me to watch and local gigs I care about. It fuels my hobbies. It shows me other related communities and asks me if I’m interested. It brings me news I’m passionate about. It broadens my mind. It opens my horizons to new products and services. I want that. That’s a good thing, and important for the development of search and online marketing - if it works for business we'll fund it.

So don’t delete your Facebook profile. That’s just a knee-jerk reaction to the media and taking a pair of scissors to your nose. Sure, be pissed off with those who exploit our data against the rules, but our data helps us get what we need, without looking for it, and that’s something I want to be a part of. Facebook is free and useful. It's also learned from this and it'll evolve. Let’s blame the right people and get over it.

Crack on.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

My Inevitable Digital Predictions for 2018

For the past 12 years I’ve written a prediction for the next year based on reader trends, my research, and how the digital landscape is developing. Things actually move slower than you’d think. There are curve balls and new platforms, sure, but trends and the digital landscape are technology and user up-take dependent. I’ve never been totally wrong, thankfully, just occasionally ahead of my time by two or three years. So here goes for 2018.

Augmented reality edges more towards the mainstream

With Apple’s newly released technology and the new ARKit framework allowing developers to create augmented reality apps more easily, this is one to watch. I’ve always been a big fan of AR and VR, and with Facebook invested in Oculus and PSVR making VR more accessible in the home, things are looking interesting.

To date, augmented reality has been a gimmick more than a genuinely useful smartphone tool, but things (and adoption) are changing. In the last year users haven’t moved on from the mildly addictive disappointment of Pok√©mon Go, but finally the technology is catching up (if we can afford it). People are trying virtual Ikea furniture in their home and virtual make up at the beauty counter. Only the other day I was asked to put on a set of VR goggles by a ‘chugger’ in Nottingham. Marketeers are getting wise to it, and I can see more money spent in this direction in 2018.

While Snapchat spectacles weren’t massive they did prove concept, though (unlike a few years ago) I’d suggest you don’t put all your eggs in the Snapchat basket. Make the most of Snapchat – especially Geofilters – while it’s still around (and make way for the Insta-jam).

I still dream of my devices drawing data from my social/Amazon purchase preferences, applying this to real world data, knowing what I’m interested in and directing me to sales or things of interest. “Hey Nik. You have a dog. How about 20% off HiLife dog food over here in Pets at Home. Follow these arrows!” Technically, it’s possible.

More focus on Generation Z

Millennials are SO yesterday.

Generation Z are the folks who were born between 1995 and 2010. These are, at the oldest, 22 and are starting to enter the post-university workplace.

Only a few of them vaguely remember the 20th century. They are used to a high standard of living (in the western world) and total connectivity. They suffer less from the burden of traditional values and their loyalty will come from positive brand experiences over names and legacy – they will prefer brands to reach them socially and are more likely to buy online than in the high street.

Allegedly, they have shorter attention spans, due to the availability of easy-to-consume data, moving media and information. They are connected socially, but sceptical of traditional channels and security conscious - making them sceptical of those they see as hungry for their data. Access to information and connectivity are viewed as a fundamental right. They are arguably more conservative, with values formed by sexual harassment scandals marring politics, brands and institutions trusted by their peers and from Trump-era/austerity politics.

Events like 9/11 passed them by, and it is world events like the Syrian refugee crisis, Brexit, rapid advances in technology and the legalisation of gay marriage that have shaped their way of looking at the world.

They value transparency and personal engagement from brands, something businesses will need to adapt to. Like Millenials before them, they value the power of influencers and referrers over publishers and deferrers.

Generation Z are coming, and bringing their modest disposable incomes with them. Make friends with them now.

The chatbots are coming

Get used to talking to machines and speaking to smart-arsed pizza bots.

It's not exactly Terminator, but better burn it with fire now to be sure.

More ‘disappearing’ content

By this I mean the more immediate and short-lived content that disappears after a user has seen it or after 24 hours, such as via the likes of Snapchat, and Instagram Stories. If your brand is on Instagram and not using Stories you’re missing out on a BIG part of the platform. Storytelling is all the rage, as far as the Gen Z and Millennial user is concerned.

A lot of brands don’t get this kind of disposable, behind-the-scenes, ephemeral content – it kinda scares them – but more and more businesses are getting hip to the power of stories to demonstrate trust and credibility, giving their customers a look behind the curtain, getting followers involved and invested and sympathetically transforming their online presence. Expect to see more. It’s what followers want and the channels that do this are where the B2C audiences are. Celebrity Pages on FB already have this feature. Watch for Facebook rolling this out for business Pages next year - I’ll bet my dog on it.

More and more and more mobile visitors

Take a look at your Analytics data – nearly half your visitors are already hitting your site from smartphones. Do we shop through websites and e-com platforms or do we just go to Amazon and eBay? Facebook will be almost entirely mobile, with 80% of ads being served to mobile devices already. If you’re not ready for this your already WAY behind – get bootstrapped and think strategic and mobile.

The continued influence of Influencers

People trust influencers more than paid advertising or any messaging. Younger customers especially (pre-generation X) look to fellow customers and those with a neutral agenda, who they trust through experience, to inform their purchasing decisions. They don’t look to celebrities, but to personalities. It’s almost word-of-mouth.

If you’re not looking at influencer marketing in 2018 you’re missing out on a MASSIVE revenue generator, and I guarantee your competition will take full advantage of the gap in your campaign strategy.

Influencer marketing doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s measurable and targetable. Finding niche audiences following budding personalities, grateful for sponsorship or for a chance to start in product reviews, can be cash well spent.

Actually, thinking about it, we're probably due for a backlash against influencers - especially those who take sponsorship in the form of goods, holidays, cash, whatever - probably under the umbrella of fake news and celebrity/reality fatigue. Probably one to watch.

Video and live streaming

More of the same, as per the last three or four years, to be honest.

More steaming. More animated cover images in channels. Better audience connectivity. More opportunities. More big live events and launches. More Facebook TV. More unboxings. More moving stuff. Get involved. Facebook is actively paying publishers, from BuzzFeed to CNN, to create more video content.

If you don’t stream Netflix to your iPad in the bath you’re very soon going to be the odd one out. Expect more video advertising in streaming communities from YouTube to Twitch, and easier ways to create your content through social media advertising. Facebook has already tested giving content creators the ability to add 15-second commercial breaks into their videos – hinting at a more TV-style approach down the line.

Crushing fake news and spam

Everyone has a bee in their bonnet about fake news right now, and it’s justified if it’s being used to undermine elections and swing decision making. The Collins Dictionary word of the year for 2017 was actually two words, unsurprisingly thanks to Mr. Trump, “fake news”.

While taking a stand may seem like the influence of the ‘nanny state’, the amount of spam and poorly written hype posted to social channels is just one part of the battle the platforms have in re-establishing trust with their audience. Social channels understand that any channel a user clicks through to reflect on them and the quality of their data, even if it’s posted by others.

Link-bait sites, flagrant misrepresentation and urban myth publishers are being filtered out already by Facebook - through crackdown on linking protocols for publishers, manual peer review and citation from the likes of Snopes. Be ready for more of the same, as well as vetting of our motivation and the quality of our messaging when it comes to paid advertising in platforms. Users want a safe experience and the truth, without it they’ll go elsewhere.

Alexa, Siri and Cortana - oh my.

Have you thought about how you can design for 'smart speakers' or how they are changing query based search? Got an app that'd work for audio? Think about it. The price point is right and they're becoming commonplace in the home, PDQ. Expect to be asked about the possibilities from curious clients in '18.

Other things of note? Watch out for AI in SM, Messenger chatbots and automated customer service chat, more gamification, and something so off the wall and out of left field (probably a new channel) that there's no way on gods green earth we could ever see it coming.

So there you go. No massive revelations, just a collation of what we know already. 2018 promises to be another busy year for us here at Tank (our digital PR agency) and it pays to have an eye to the future of our digital markets – hey, it’s my job.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Quick tip to Increase Instagram Business Followers.

Here's a quick and cunning one. I tried this recently (for a client) and it works a treat.

To increase a following on Instagram you can export a list of customer phone numbers and contact info from your database or CRM (as a custom .CSV file) then import them as contacts into a Gmail account. Then, import those phone numbers and contact info from Gmail into a smartphone and log into your Instagram account. Then, make use of Instagram’s “follow all contacts” feature, which will go looking for any of them on Instagram and then you can select them and follow them.

This would, naturally, need to be done prior to any GDPR legislation taking effect - so do it soon.

Ya can thank me later.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

4 Easy Creative Hacks to Boost Website Click-Through From Social Media.

A common social tactic is to publish on a blog, then publish that in social networks. The basic idea of this is, usually, provide good value content on a topic your audience cares about and they’ll click through to your website, which is invariably your point of contact or point of sale.

Around 60% of the social strategies I write have an end goal of ‘increasing sales via a website’. So before we start make sure your content is of value. Will they care? Is it useful? Is it topical and immediate? Is it new? Who’s it targeted at and at what point in the purchase process? Creating small up-front editorial calendars of upcoming events, special days, product launches, conferences and trade shows with hashtags etc. is fried gold. Having newsworthy content ready for sign off well in advance is where you need to be. Remember, don’t just write for the sake of it – a well-researched paper that’s bang-on for the audience will have a shit-tonne more long tail and get shared and reshared long after those 4, quickly dashed off, keyword-soggy, blog posts regurgitating old ideas.

The best places for editing links to content, from social, are LinkedIn and Facebook. Twitter, obviously, you can write whatever the hell you like. Facebook, in a desperate attempt to stop spammers, ‘fake news’ ™, scammers and click-bait, have (in the last few days) scrapped the ability to edit a link preview (its image, title and text) before we can share. This, I gotta say, makes running Facebook Pages a seriously bloody ugly experience. There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel. Right now, Facebook is allowing ‘some Pages’ and ‘Publishers’ to identify their website domains and so any link from that domain that’s posted to relevant Pages will be editable. If you nip to the ‘Publishing Tools’ tab at the top of the Page (when you’re on desktop devices) you’ll see a ‘Link Ownership’ section, if you’ve been blessed with this functionality by the SM gods. We should all be getting it over time, as Facebook does, but it will be policed.

So anyway, we’ve got our strong/valuable content and our SM platforms. How do we make people click through?

Create strong titles.

There are a few tricks here that I can testify work.

First off, power words.

Yeah, I know that sounds gimmicky but bear with me. The more emotional headlines stimulate click through and (very often) sharing. Yes, there’s a fine line. We are not, after all, the Daily Mail (we’ll, most of us aren’t). Words are cues and triggers. We can, however, try to use words that stimulate emotion in the reader and put some passion in the headline. If we stimulate curiosity, urgency (that FOMO factor), make people question things, feel safe, inspire them, or stir up emotions we have them. If there’s an emotional benefit to the headline there’s a significant increase in click through rate.

Here are some examples of power words:


Time saving

Think about what you’re trying to say, and then stimulate genuine feelings. There’s hundreds more words like this and some will actually come from the brands traits. Just think about it. If your directing middle-aged trans-gender people to an article about skin care on a website for a laser treatment clinic you’ll be engaging the audience with a different set of words and stimulating different desires and emotions than if you're pointing millennial engineering students to an article on coastal erosion on your website about specialist surveyor training. When you’re crafting strategy, list a few and include them in sample messaging (if appropriate).

Use good, and properly sized, images.

In our busy streams of daily social media fluff we need to stand out from the heard, but be on brand while we’re doing it. Keeping a common layout, font, theme, border or style helps - even if it’s just a specific filter used on all images.

Every platform has an optimal image size for links. Use it.

Facebook, for example, uses a few: A normal link on desktop: 470 x 246 pixels. A normal link on mobile: 560 x 292 pixels. A link on right hand side column: 254 x 133 pixels. Desktop ‘carousel’ images on links: 200 x 200 pixels. Mobile ‘carousel’ images on links: 240 x 460 pixels.

LinkedIn uses: A normal link: 1200 x 628 pixels.

Can you take an optimised slice of your Infographic out of the master at this size? Can you add a few words or choose something a bit more epic or cooler than what the embedded link has trawled from the website? Can you show something aspiration or humorous (if suitable)?

Add numbers to titles.

Titles with numbers in them show value and demonstrate knowledge of a topic and/or research. Statistically (no pun intended) they garner greater click through and say – up front – what the reader can expect. They make, if you will, a promise. ‘7 brilliant litter tray hacks for your stay at home kitty’ is a much better title than ‘DIY cat litter tray ideas.’

Answer, or ask, questions.

Asking questions the user is asking is a great way to demonstrate empathy and to be of value.

Some of this comes down to research. What does your audience want to know? A quick search on Quora or Yahoo Answers around your brand's industry can give you a wealth of potential blog topics and headlines. So, simple enough. Give these a try. Remember that emotional hook and dynamic language. Have a good image, created for the link if time permits. Answer the questions the audience is asking. If you have bullet points, give them numbers and flesh them out. Remember your overall brand style and keep it on track – this shouldn’t disrupt the brand persona or existing tone of voice.

If you start seeing click through results or have any more ideas, let me know.

This was originally published over on my LinkedIn profile at

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Obligatory Prediction for Digital Marketing in 2017.

For the past 10 years I’ve blogged a prediction about the year to come. Mostly I’ve been right, if sometimes a little too optimistic, so this year I’m gonna calm the hell down and go with what I know f’sure:

Video, especially streaming, is going to be bigger than hip-hop. Get on board or get left behind. Even Twitter released an update this week that’ll let us broadcast live video from its iOS and Android app (presumably powered by Periscope) and have you seen Houseparty (because Generation Z’s on it like Donkey Kong)?

If you’re not streaming Q&As, live events, interviews or product demos then you’re not part of the conversation. Start thinking about this and how you can use it, now. The only obstacles are time (make it), knowledge (that’s what how-to’s on YouTube are for – go crack a book or phone a friend), resources (invest) and budget (find it). Trust me, in 2017 your competition’ll be streaming the b’jesus out of everything, so don’t get left behind.

Fake news is the buzzword right now, and the big boys will have to be seen to be doing something about (I hear ABC and Associated are getting involved) and if the likes of Snopes, and Politifact start selling their data to Facebook then hopefully it’s pretty much all over for the spammers – though at lot of these stories have their roots in the likes of 4chan and Reddit. Is this censorship? Probably. Did the Russians fix the US election by creating bogus news articles? No idea, but it’s more than possible. The solutions aren't rocket science - hiring human editors, algorithmic checking of reliable sources for citation and crowdsourcing accuracy. Expect this to get a mention in parlement and congrass and it not to go away any time soon.

There’s a chargeable product for the newspapers here, if they’re quick. A paragraph of flavour then a pay wall to read content that's guaranteed-accurate. They’re going to have to do something, with a further growing trend away from both print and online banner advertising.

Everyone’s going to need to at least be seen to address fake news, and social channels (not just Facebook) are going to have to start taking more responsibility for what’s published (instead of concentrating on banning pictures of breast feeding mums) to pacify the users (their source of marketing data, in most cases).

Facebook is still gonna be the daddy. With the development of feature rich messaging bots, with more practical and useful applications, expect to see an easy WYSIWHG creator inherent to the platform soon. Streaming is, obviously, gonna be even bigger.

Social media advertising is growing at 20% a year and the Facebook ad platform is going to get the bulk of any business’s ad spend – with it stealing a massive $1 billion out of print advertising budgets for U.S. newspapers in 2016. It’s comfortably estimated that Google and Facebook will take more than 70% of all money spent on display advertising online in the UK by 2020. Watch out for more video advertising, obviously, and more targeting and ad varients rolled out over the next 12 months.

Other channels, like Snapchat and Instagram, will still be big for the audiences they attract, and will probably still continue to pirate features off each other and from other channels. Something original will come along, championed by an initially niche audience, but god knows if it'll last longer than a month, what it’ll be, or if it’ll be suitable for business – remember Ello and Pokemon Go? The big boys will probably steal the best functionality out of any new channel and make it obsolete fairly sharpish - we may even see the odd legal case tackling such things.

VR is going to hit the mainstream and hopefully garner more acceptance. I’m a big exponent of VR and run a PSVR rig myself at home. I’ve been active in virtual worlds for over 10 years. Augmented is probably where it’s at, however, and we can expect some heavy investment in this area over the next 12 months. Layering digital over the real world has a billion possibilities; it just needs to sell its value to the public at large. A virtual reality version of Google Earth is now available for free on the HTC Vive, and it’s a thing of beauty, but the general user doesn’t yet have access to the kit (mainly due to price point). When it moves to Android we'll see some serious traction.

The AR market will hopefully hit an inflection point in 2017, expect to see more Smartphone integration as standard,  and we’ll see more and more uses of VR for event and stunt marketing. Expect to be handed a headset in the street to demonstrate an idea or product, any day now.

Twitter is (and it pains me to say this) becoming less important. Sure, it’s brilliant for news and publishing, but compared to Facebook it’s not where people are going to be spending their marketing dollars. People are losing confidence in the platform and, unless they pull something unique and of value out of their wazoo soon, the audience and the advertisers are going to be a lot more wary in 2017. I’m already starting to think it has less strategic value for some of my clients, which is a shame as I’m a big fan myself.

We can probably pretty much forget about Google+, unless it’s for SEO support.

In recruiting for social managers and agency employees, the polymaths and generalists will start to get some credit. People are going to be looking for younger brand evangelists and those who can generate passionate content, over those with long-term experience in other sectors.

Every year, for the past six years, I’ve said that companies will start to see the genuine return on investment of social media. Honestly, so few have. So, I think social media ROI will still elude many companies and those companies will get further and further behind – sad but true.

So that’s it. I’m keeping it fairly realistic this year. Obviously there’s a lot of other factors going on in 2017, like Trump and Brexit, but they’re probably best left for another time…

All the best for the year to come, here’s wishing you and yours a very social holidays. J

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How to set a Spotify Sleep Timer on the iPhone.

While setting up my new iPhone - I smashed my last one to pieces recently - I discovered something last night that's so damn cool and useful I'm forced to immediately blog the b'jesus out of it and hail it from the rooftops.

For many moons it's been messing with my OCD that Spotify doesn't have a sleep timer. Audible does. Why not Spotify, probably the most used app on my phone? I've whined about it at length on Twitter and even added to a ticket via Spotify customer services, who sympathised with my plight but nothing's ever come of it. Fiddling with my iPhone last night I hit upon a revelation.

I'm not sure if this is new under iOS 9 updates, but it's new to me. iOS 9 is the newest update to iOS, and launched officially to the public back in September 2015. This is pretty hidden away, but it works - and, more importantly, it doesn't bugger up my alarm clock next morning or (so far) anything else on my phone.

So, have Spotify running with your sleepy bedtime playlist of choice then, from the main iPhone screen, go to the 'Clock' and go to 'Timer'.

Easy enough. Now go to the line that says 'When Timer Ends'. You'll see a load of tone options, but you want the one down at the bottom that says 'Stop Playing'. This seems to shut down the sound on ANY application with an audio component after a specified period. Now just set your desired period of time as normal in the timer and Robert is your mother's brother.

Hidden away, or what!?

That's it. Simple as that.

Ok, you'll have to do this every night, but, SPOTIFY SLEEP TIMER! Once set up the first time it seems to stay set, so you can just ask Siri to set a timer for 20 minutes as your crashing out and it'll do the job.

Tried and tested and now used daily. Go tell it on de mountain.

Oh, by the way, I got a bangin' replacement deal on my crushed iPhone. If you're looking for mobile phone deals then these folks are spacemen amongst monkeys. Cheap as chips at twice the price :)