Tag Archives: social media

There will never be a mainstream social media app for podcasts

Podcast industry watchers love to decry the lack of social media features in most major podcast apps, but there’s actually no market for such a tool. In the below video, I explain why podcasting is a longform medium and should be compared to mediums like books, TV, and movies — all of which don’t have mainstream social apps attached to them.

Snapchat’s UI is keeping it from catching up to Instagram

Recently, Instagram announced that Instagram Stories, its tool it cloned from Snapchat, has over 200 million daily active users, which is more DAUs than Snapchat has for its entire app (roughly 166 million). Meanwhile, in its most recent quarterly filing, Snapchat announced its user growth has slowed; it only added 8 million users at a 5 percent growth rate. Why is Snapchat stalling out, and why is Instagram running away with all its best features?

To answer these questions, I interviewed David Lee, CEO of video marketing creation tool Shakr. He talked about Snapchat’s UI problems and how its future lies in the growth of its augmented reality technology.

The problem every news aggregation app faces

circa

Back in the December, I profiled the cadre of companies — ranging from Flipboard to SmartNews to News360 — that aim to be your one-stop mobile destination for news. While interviewing their founders and marketing teams, I listened as each company made claims as to the level of customization it offered, customization so refined you wouldn’t waste time scrolling through headlines that didn’t interest you. An app’s machine learning algorithm would monitor your browsing habits, and through this accumulation of data it could discern the unique elements of your taste and information needs.

But as I downloaded and tried out each app for myself, I found it difficult to detect any differentiating factor that led me to conclude the app had truly gotten to know me. Sure, I came across headlines that interested me, based in part on the broad categories I checked off when first launching the app, but the signal to noise ratio wasn’t any better than if I had visited the homepage of any major news publication. None of the apps became a daily habit in the same way that apps like Facebook, Twitter, and email compel me to open them whenever I’m staring at my phone.

The problem is that news tastes go beyond mere categories and keywords. Sometimes I read a piece not because it’s on a certain topic but because it was written by someone whose writing I admire. Other times I might be interested in coverage of a particular company, but only for specific aspects of it. I could care less about Apple hardware news but gobble up information about its various content and software plays on mobile. But clicking on an article about Apple’s streaming music service merely signals to the app I care about Apple and music (I actually hardly listen to any music). I’m not sure that any nuance beyond those broad categories is actually possible at this point.

The chief problem I have with many news apps is they don’t deliver the level of customization that I can get on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. I launched my Twitter account in late 2008. In the intervening years I’ve accumulated a list of over 700 people whom I follow, and for a significant portion of those people I wouldn’t be able to remember my reasoning for following them. In some cases they’re colleagues I’ve worked with. In others they’re writers and journalists I admire. But there are still plenty more I followed because something in their profile caught my eye or they authored an article I enjoyed but have long since forgotten.

But despite not having a complete understanding of all my follow choices, my Twitter feed is a well-oiled machine, one that produces a rich tapestry of news and commentary (and plenty of jokes) every time I open it. In addition to providing an excellent source of news aggregation, it also allows the people I follow to offer a layer of commentary over that news. They can improve upon headlines and unearth interesting stats that are buried deep within an article. These are features a machine algorithm, no matter how finely tuned, can’t duplicate.

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Since I wrote that article, a number of new news aggregation apps — including one from BuzzFeed — have entered the market. At least one major player, Circa, has ceased operation. And Apple itself is launching its own standalone app, this one likely to be featured as a default on the homescreen. It seems clear that Silicon Valley has convinced itself there is a market need for these news apps. But I find myself agreeing with Paul Cantor, who wrote a piece recently arguing that “nobody goes on the internet to read.” What he means is that nobody opens up an internet browser the same way they open a book or a magazine. They go to the internet as a point of reference, to seek out specific information or to be entertained. Yes, in the process of this browsing they may come across news articles and videos, but these are simply byproducts of a larger ecosystem that includes your friends’ baby photos, dispatches from Weird Twitter, and YouTube videos on how to install kitchen tile. To divorce news from these other offerings is to ignore the very reason we open apps or log on to social platforms. And no algorithm, no matter how personalized, can supersede that.

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The dirty secret in marketing: Most Twitter hashtags are useless

Mobile hashtag vertical concept

If you’re planning to hire a new employee for your social media marketing team and wondering whether a particular applicant is right for the job, you may want to start by taking a look at her Twitter profile. If she uses the #marketing hashtag in her bio or if most her tweets contain a hashtag for #every other #word, then the choice is simple: don’t hire her.

What I just said is blasphemy in certain marketing circles. In this alternate universe, hashtags are an opportunity for discovery; if you employ them, adding them to topic-based words like #econ or #education, then those interested in economics or education are more likely to see your tweet when they search for those hashtags. This pro-hashtag view is held within Twitter itself. When I was an editor at a major national magazine we were visited by a Twitter liaison who chastised us for not using hashtags more frequently. Whenever we write a story about drones, he argued, then we should use the #drones hashtag. He backed up his argument by citing internal statistics showing that tweets with hashtags received, on average, more engagement than tweets without them.

But this is a classic correlation vs causation scenario. Anyone who has spent any time on Twitter knows that it’s populated with millions of bots, spam accounts, and RSS feeds. The use of a hashtag usually means that the tweet was written and sent by a human, so is therefore more likely to be retweeted than a tweet sent by a bot or a spam account.

In all likelihood, most hashtags deployed on any given day are tweeted out much more often than they’re actually searched for, meaning that there are many more people including the #econ hashtag than there are people going to Twitter search and plugging #econ into the field.

What I’m saying is pretty well accepted among the most elite Twitter users. Look at the Twitter accounts that receive the most engagement, whether it’s Justin Bieber or the New York Times, and you’ll see they only use hashtags sparingly. This is partly because hashtags are ugly and make a tweet difficult to read. As Daniel Victor put it back when he was a social media editor at the New York Times:

I believe hashtags are aesthetically damaging. I believe a tweet free of hashtags is more pleasing to the eye, more easily consumed, and thus more likely to be retweeted (which is a proven way of growing your audience). I believe for every person who stumbles upon your tweet via hashtag, you’re likely turning off many more who are put off by hashtag overuse.

But even if you manage to get users to include your brand’s name as a hashtag, something many marketers would consider a crown achievement, the effect is likely to be minimum. The marketing software company Hubspot looked at three instances where the hashtag #hubspot became a trending topic, and two out of the three instances produced no noticeable spike in following.

That’s not to say all hashtags are useless. In fact, when deployed strategically, hashtags can perform extremely well at increasing visibility, driving engagement, or providing context for your followers. Here are a few examples:

Jokes: Some of the best uses of hashtags are when they’re included ironically or to provide subtext. At its most basic, this could be as simple as a #sarcasm hashtag. No, nobody is searching for that hashtag, but it contextualizes the tweet. A linguist at NYU recently studied 1,633 hashtags and found that female Twitter users were much more likely to use these “expressive” hashtags.

Beyond simple subtext hashtags, some of the most frequent trending hashtags are of the humorous “scenario” variety. For these tweets, the hashtag presents a scenario, like, for instance, the mashup of two movie titles, and users try to present the funniest version. As I write this, the #RejectedUniversityClasses hashtag is trending. Scroll through them and you’ll find plenty of gems like this one:

rejected university

Live events: One of the few instances in which users will actually turn to Twitter search to follow hashtags is when something is happening in real time and they want to find people who are responding to that live event. This includes actual current events like the Ferguson protests or the Baltimore riots as well as pop culture events like the Mad Men finale or the Super Bowl. One of the most famous examples of this was the #StandWithWendy hashtag, which quickly reached trending status while Texas representative Wendy Davis filibustered a Texas bill that placed harsh restrictions on abortion. Its quick ascendancy led to the live video feed of her filibuster receiving hundreds of thousands of viewers, most of whom discovered it as a direct result of the hashtag.

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Caused-based hashtags: Occasionally activists will band together in an attempt to raise awareness of an issue by employing a hashtag. My favorite example of this was #TakeMyMoneyHBO, a campaign launched by a software developer who wanted HBO to release a standalone app that didn’t require a cable subscription. It quickly gained traction and led to thousands of Twitter users tweeting out the exact amount they’d be willing to pay each month for such an app. As I wrote previously, it “allowed HBO executives to witness, in real time, how much money they were leaving on the table by continuing to require an expensive cable subscription as a prerequisite for HBO.”

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I’m sure my views here are likely to be rejected by some who still worship at the altar of the hashtag. These hashtag devotees will point to some anecdotal instance where a hashtagged tweet of theirs generated increased following and engagement. But this doesn’t change the fact that hashtags are ugly and, for the overwhelming majority of them, unlikely to increase the audience size for your tweet. And for a platform that limits you to 140 characters, why waste a single, precious character for something that produces so little value?

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Why are tech companies scrambling to create original content?

Hand Drawing Content Flow Chart

For the longest time it seemed major tech platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google wanted nothing to do with professional publishing, and by that I mean hiring professional content creators, i.e. journalists, to create polished media content. Why? Because Silicon Valley hates anything that doesn’t scale. Original content creation is labor intensive, expensive, and can’t be automated with code. The content created has a limited shelf-life, thereby decreasing the longterm ROI for the labor devoted to it.

You can see this philosophy reflected in how media companies have framed themselves to Silicon Valley investors, and by that I mean they’re attempting to pretend they aren’t media companies at all. BuzzFeed, when announcing a $50 million investment from Andreessen Horowitz, described itself as a company with “technology at its core,” and one of the investors compared it to Tesla and Uber. We’ve also seen the rise of the “platisher,” which is a media company that tries to create a platform for user-generated content (for instance, Forbes’ massive contributor network) so it can scale well beyond the limits of its paid editorial staff.

Why, then, have we recently seen tech behemoths, most of which already boast hundreds of millions of users, trying to enter the original content game? In some cases this has meant merely opening up their platforms so media companies can host longform content directly to them, as is the case with Facebook and Snapchat. Both have entered into partnerships with major news orgs to host content directly within their app ecosystem in exchange for a share in revenue for any ads sold against that content.

But other tech companies are wading expressly into original content creation, either by hiring journalists and artists to produce exclusive work for these companies’ platforms or by outright buying up entire media companies. The most obvious example is Medium, the blogging platform headed by Twitter co-founder Ev Williams. Though anyone can create a blog on Medium (and many do, including me), the company also employs editors and freelance journalists to produce magazine-like publications (my favorite is Backchannel, edited by Steven Levy).

A few months ago, Reddit launched a professionally-produced podcast, then followed it up with a curated email, and is now employing a team of videographers to produce original video. Business Insider recently reported that Twitter has made attempts to purchase Mic, the policy-oriented news site that’s geared toward millennials. Facebook and YouTube, both at war for top video talent, have dished out millions of dollars to entice creators into producing video exclusively for their platforms. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos decided it was worth $250 million of his own money to buy up the Washington Post and now Verizon is purchasing AOL, which has transformed itself from a platform to a media-oriented content company, for $4.4 billion.

So why are tech companies suddenly interested in labor-intensive, unscalable content creation? My guess is that it has something to do with a combination of the 80/20 rule and the 1 percent rule. Both embrace the idea that the most influential users on any platform make up a tiny percentage of the overall user population. It’s no secret that the media represents disproportionate influence on major social media sites like Twitter, both in terms of branded news org accounts and the personal accounts of their reporters.

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As I’ve written before in regard to Medium, tech platforms will sometimes use what is called a “mullet strategy” (business in the front, party in the back) by commissioning high quality content to attract readers with the hope that some of those readers will stick around to launch and run their own user accounts on the platform.  As I wrote in November, “You’re essentially paying those early influencers to populate your network with content with the hope that the masses will come clamoring to join the club.”

This is why YouTube is shelling out money to keep its stars under its own roof. One could argue that losing a few YouTube personalities wouldn’t matter for a platform that has over 1 billion users who upload 300 hours of video to its platform each minute, but YouTube realizes these stars are the foundation on which the entire network stands. If they were to suddenly leave for Tumblr or Facebook’s video platform, then many of their fans will also begin uploading video content to these platforms, thereby planting the seeds that could grow into a massive user base. Influencers matter, and these tech platforms realize that sometimes you need to pay to keep the influencers from decamping.

So perhaps the notion that original content creation can’t scale is outdated. Instead, it is a means to an end, a way to keep the business flowing in the front so that the unwashed masses of amateur users can be lured into joining the party in the back. Old media isn’t dead after all; it’s just now used as bait.

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How Government Agencies and Policymakers Can Leverage Twitter

state department twitter

It used to be that if a political PAC or activist wanted to place pressure on lawmakers to enact some kind of policy change, they’d urge you to “call your Congressmen.” Now they’re just as likely to launch a campaign on social media and encourage you to tweet at your local representative. At nearly every level of federal, state, and local government, it’s becoming increasingly common for citizens to not only air their grievances with government services on social media, but they also expect a response from the agency on that same medium.

Alexander Howard has covered the Gov 2.0 space extensively as a journalist, for O’Reilly Media and other outlets. We spoke about whether citizens are more likely to interact with policymakers on Facebook or Twitter and how local agencies can manage social media on a limited budget.

What differentiates Twitter from other social networks, particularly for government agencies, policy makers, and politicians? What opportunities does Twitter provide governments that, say, Facebook doesn’t?

Facebook has adopted a number of the features that made Twitter a little different. Twitter was profoundly mobile in a way that Facebook wasn’t, but in the past two years, Facebook put a huge amount of resources into its mobile app and now in many ways the social networks that are very popular, from Facebook, to Twitter, to Pinterest, to Tumblr, the look and feel is pretty similar.

But would you say that if a citizen is irate that they’d be more likely to tweet their frustration at a government agency or politician rather than commenting on their Facebook page? Like I know that when I’m pissed off at a company, I’m much more likely to look them up on Twitter and publicly tweet at them rather than going to Facebook and commenting because I think my tweet will be more likely to be responded to.

alexander howard

Alexander Howard

I don’t think so. We know the stats on Twitter use. It’s very popular among journalists. It’s popular among certain policy sets. It’s popular among certain minority populations. But overall, we’re talking about 20 percent of online users. Facebook has 1.2 billion users. I think the reason that we have that assumption that people are more likely to tweet at a politician is because it’s much easier to see those tweets on Twitter. You can easily pull up a politician’s account and see all their replies to them using Twitter search. But realistically just about every adult in the U.S. is now on Facebook, and it’s much more likely that they’ll go to that Facebook page or express themselves on their Facebook account than they will on Twitter. It’s not to say that people don’t go on Twitter to do that. There are millions of people who obviously do. But the sheer volume of people on Facebook is so much higher and if you look at the Facebook pages for any given Congressman, they’re absolutely jam packed with comments. And I remember something I was directly involved in by monitoring and reporting on Senator [Jay] Rockefeller putting a hold on the Freedom of Information Act reform bill — there was a volume of tweets coming at him. But the Facebook comments were in the hundreds. If you look at anyone in the public eye and compare the volume of responses on Twitter and Facebook, I think in general you will see just that the discussion is on Facebook. Twitter is something that a lot of people in the media are inclined to think there’s high usage of because other people in the media use Twitter.

So you think that focusing on Twitter would create a distorting effect of what the American electorate actually thinks?

Exactly. There’s a confirmation bias in effect with the media. This is something I’m hyper-aware of. I’ve myself spent a lot of time on Twitter. But that’s not the same as saying the average person is likely to log on and tweet at a politician. You might see highly engaged people be quite likely to follow their Congressmen, Senators, federal officials, maybe their state and local officials on Twitter and be engaged with them. That cohort might well do that. Your average Joe probably won’t.

Another thing to note is that most local politicians, if they have 10,000 followers on Twitter they’re doing pretty well. It’s only when you get to the national stage that you’ll see people with 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 followers, and it’s only the very top of the heap in Congress where people break six digits. The only people with more than that are presidential candidates. That’s where the final tier is.

Some local government agencies have tried to get citizens to opt in so that their tweets get sent as SMS text messages so they can receive any important information, but adoption has been pretty low.

Twitter though is still the most public of all social networks. Keyword search on Facebook, even though they’ve improved it in the last few months, is still not very good. As long as a policymaker keeps in mind that Twitter sentiment isn’t always representative of public sentiment, do you think it’s still important that they’re still running Twitter keyword searches to do research about problems or to get a pulse of the electorate? Just because it’s the only real-time network?

Yes, I think search is the thing. The intel part, the rawness of it, I think that’s why journalists love it so much because being able to do a search allows you to see what people from a certain place are saying about a certain thing and that’s really powerful. And it’s easy. Whereas with Facebook, it’s different. In 2009, I did this demonstration during a presentation where I showed that people were saying things in public that they obviously weren’t thinking beforehand about it being public. And what I do is basically pull up a search on “hungover.” And on any given day you see those people saying they’re hungover. And there’s no way a student or someone going to work would go and tell their coworkers in a place where their boss could overhear them really easily that they’re hungover.

With federal agencies, a lot of them might have the budget to hire someone to do social media, they’ll have an entire communications staff. But going to the local level, a lot of local governments have a hard time budgeting for that kind of commitment. What do you say to someone in government who says, “We don’t have enough time or resources to be on social media”?

Most people come into contact with local government. When I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, I all of a sudden wanted to know what the Cambridge Public Works is doing, I want to hear from the governor’s office, the emergency management agency. These are the key outlets for trustworthy information. In this environment, having really good information is really useful. And it shifts from being the press releases you expect government agencies and every level of government to be pushing out to thinking about here is what we want the public to know about a situation. Everything from traffic to weather to any kind of crisis information. So there’s a number of ways to think about this from different perspectives. From the citizens’ perspective, they want to be able to get accurate, trustworthy information quickly in the time and place of their choosing. So that’s a really strong argument for governments to join social networks and to create outposts where they post information that people can trust in an easy-to-consume format, ideally in a shareable way so that people who see it can share it with their networks so it can have a much greater impact. That’s the case for government to be there. For citizens, they might not want to be followed or surveilled by “Big Brother.” The idea that the police are following you on social media can be uncomfortable. But the expectation that many people have is if they do ask for help in these contexts, someone will hear them. So there’s a really interesting back-and-forth. On the one hand people want government at arm’s length, but at the same time they want help from the government very quickly. The Red Cross did a study back in 2010 and found that a majority of people expect help within an hour if they’ve asked for any sort of assistance.

Do you think a policy maker is more likely to act if angry citizens are tweeting out their displeasure in a way that’s publicly viewable rather than making private phone calls to where that policy maker works?

We’ve seen example after example of the pressure that concerted online campaigns combining petitions and social media have had on corporations. From airlines to retailers to studios. Pretty much anyone with a product or service is clued into the fact that they have customers who can go online and raise their issues. Sometimes it’s in a more organized form like Yelp, and other times it’s through Facebook or Twitter. If there’s a widespread reaction to a given product or service, the consumer pressure can clearly exert a lot of force upon behavior. And it seems clear that a regulator could take similar action as well in response to complaints. The state and local level are lagging on this front, but there’s the capacity for the public to express its displeasure on social media, and those can often lead to changes in the private sector and with non-profits. Government is a little different, but I don’t think that the same sources are irrelevant. If you see a massive online upset regarding the actions of government officials, or a lack of action, it can put pretty big pressure on government agencies. You can imagine what Hurricane Katrina would be like now if government officials had responded as poorly as they did. Looking at how Hurricane Sandy happened, by that time there was mature penetration of mobile devices and social media, and as that storm moved you could see people discuss it in real time, and public agencies and officials had the capacity to respond and inform.

Are there a lot of laws that limit what government agencies can say on Twitter?

At the government level there’s this Paperwork Reduction Act, which basically has limited the capacity of government officials to ask questions. And I refer you to Clay Johnson’s post, “The law everyone should hate.” It’s basically creating a real challenge around asking questions in a public forum. Back in 2009, the most powerful agency in Washington that nobody has heard of, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, issued guidance that you can ask questions over the internet, but you can’t ask for structured feedback. And we’re still not quite there. There should be a much more significant update that enables government to collect structured feedback, which is to say data, about all the things it does. That’s certainly what every other sector of the economy is moving towards. People want to know how people are interacting with their product or service. Anything and everything that can be measured, there’s now a push for it to be measured. And if you look at it with social media, you’re really hamstringing their capacity to listen in a structured way. At the local level it’s better. They’re not constrained by that. What they’re constrained by is fear of not knowing how to use social media to listen and really good technological tools to help them do it well. But I think we’re starting to see the evolution of a number of better feedback systems. This is where the civic technology sector is really fascinating, there’s been a lot more effective development from groups like Code for America, who are creating tools like Texitzen and other text feedback tools that enable states and cities to collect feedback about their services and policies. There’s a lot of genuine use by the state and local level of that civic tech space and I think if you look at Code for America under the apps section, you’ll see a whole selection of that stuff and you’ll see several municipalities that are using those tools.

One thing I’ve been really amazed by has been how the White House has allowed its staff to tweet based on their subject matter expertise. Do you think this is a strategy that can be employed by other government agencies?

Yeah, it’s always difficult to compare the White House to everyone else, because they have a lot more budget, they have great talent — it turns out they have like two dozen digital staffers. They’re really an accomplished digital shop. They’re certainly among the top teams in the world at that. There’s some considerable angst amongst the Washington press corps that the White House is using social media to cut out the media. I think they can and should use social media to go direct to the public just as previous administrations have used cable TV, radio, newspapers, whatever. It makes sense they’re adopting new technologies. What’s not OK is when they restrict press access and substitute just the government version. What the White House is able to do though is beyond what most state and local agencies are able to do because of their budget and their capacity to bring in top talent for affordable amounts because of the prestige of the job. At the local level, in order to bring in top digital talent, it may be a stretch. That’s not to say they don’t. If you look at Blue State Digital’s client list or Edelman’s, you’ll find some government customers there. But there’s often an issue there. It’s not also to say there isn’t some awesome stuff happening at the local level as well. If you look at the discussion about social media emergency management, there’s been some great maturation at the emergency management level over the last five years. There’s been people who have built up enough credibility within their government agencies that they’re able to be more creative in terms of acknowledging citizens online and saying, ‘Hey, we hear you, we’ll try to get back to you.’”

What about the opposite problem? How often do you see an agency or government official get too fragmented in how many Twitter accounts they’re running for different departments?

I think you take it city by city. I tend to think that if a government agency is significant enough to have its own website, it’s significant enough to have its own Twitter account. That’s not unreasonable. It is a challenge in respect to how people experience government and the help they want from government versus the way that government organizes itself. That’s a challenge for every agency, that people come to the website to do these top 10 things, but the website isn’t organized that way. This is a challenge that some places have met better than others. I think we can look at the Government Digital Services team over in the UK as a really great paradigm for thinking through what are the top reasons people are coming to these government websites. And how can we improve these services or provide them online if they haven’t been providing them. Even in 2015 we’re not providing some pretty obvious services at the government level.

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This article is excerpted from my book: Your Guide to Twitter Marketing. I sought out some of the world’s most powerful marketers and grilled them on their subject matter expertise. This book gives you direct insight into how the world’s top marketers approach Twitter and use it to drive sales and influence.

amazon twitter marketing

Image via digiphile

How to Use Twitter to Drive Sales

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Linda Bolg

 

While it’s certainly nice to use Twitter for thought leadership and to build brand awareness, all these things are useless if it doesn’t help your bottom line. In fact, companies have seen tremendous success in utilizing the platform to drive sales, whether it’s ecommerce orders, app downloads, or increased foot traffic at offline stores.

Linda Bolg has witnessed many of these successful campaigns firsthand. Bolg is the head of marketing at SocialBro, an end to end campaign management platform that allows you to discover and analyze Twitter data – within your own community and the wider Twittersphere – then act on that intelligence to maximize the potential of Twitter as a revenue generating channel. We discussed what kind of products are best for promoting on Twitter and how to track the success of a Twitter campaign.

In terms of actually driving sales, is there a particular type of product that Twitter is better at promoting? Like is it better at promoting an ecommerce product as opposed to trying to drive foot traffic to offline stores?

I’ve been asked this question often by brands and by potential customers themselves. I actually think that Twitter is really good for driving leads and sales for both B2B and B2C brands, whether it’s service or product based. I think what we’re seeing is the entertainment industry has probably been the fastest to use social and Twitter really well. And then we have had other industries like retail, technology, and travel that have been really good at adopting some of the practices that the entertainment industry has been doing. And now we’re seeing a lot of the B2B companies looking to B2C for what they are doing, and trying to mimic them. I think what we’re seeing are industries that are more mature coming to use Twitter and social in general, and because they’re more mature, they’ve been better at driving revenue, at driving website traffic and leads, but it doesn’t mean from my perspective that Twitter isn’t suitable to drive sales and leads for other industries, it’s just that they’re not that mature. They’re not there yet, but I think we’re going to see it.

So part of the problem is just trying to get people on board with Twitter promotion. Like they might be more inclined to go with a safer bet, or what they perceive to be a safer bet like Facebook or Google because they don’t use Twitter themselves.

Yeah, you’re so right. I think part of the problem is they don’t know what they can do with Twitter. Just to give you an example, in comparison with Facebook, Twitter is open, so it allows users to target new prospects but using Twitter analytics to do really deep segmentation that allows you to not only analyze your own following but also analyze the entire Twittersphere to see what people are saying, combining hashtags, mentions, demographic data, and creating these really detailed and focused target audience lists that you can use for both your organic campaigns and your paid, and you can marry them up with your offline campaigns. You just can’t do that with Facebook. Facebook is great within your own community, but the moment you want to reach beyond that, you’re going to have to do paid, and you’re not going to see who is part of the lists when you’re doing paid promotion. They don’t tell you exactly who’s in your target list until people start engaging with your campaign. So there’s a big difference here.

So you’re saying Twitter is better for organic strategy than Facebook.

Well, yeah. I’d say Twitter is perfect for both. And one of the things I love, one of the things most brands don’t know, is that you can marry up Twitter contacts with your email database. You can enrich the information you hold about your database. So I do think Twitter is better for organic, but I also think Twitter is fantastic for paid because you can use tailored audiences. You can use a tool like SocialBro to do really advanced segmentation, look at the mentions, the hashtags, anything you want to search for, and create this really neat, tailored audience-based list. And then you just plug them into your Twitter ad campaign and you’re good to go. So I think Twitter is really flexible. It’s the ultimate flexible network. The only time where I would say where it doesn’t work is when your audience isn’t on the network.

You mentioned the option of uploading your email list and then promoting tweets to users on that list. How effective of an approach is that?

Well, there are two elements. One of the things we do ourselves is we plug our email list into SocialBro, we marry it up with our Twitter list, and then we extract information and put it back in our database. But the other thing is if we wanted to, we could look at our database and see if we have people who are not following us on Twitter yet but they’re subscribing to our newsletter. If we wanted to we can target them with a Twitter ad promotion. But that’s not normally what we’d tend to do. We will engage with them on email and most of them will follow us on Twitter anyway. We’re more interested in things like looking at a core competitor and looking at a particular campaign they’ve been doing in a geographical region and see who engaged with that. How influential were those users? Are any of those people you would want to engage yourself? Are any of them users you’d like to turn into a brand ambassador? There’s really intelligent data analysis you can do and that wealth of data, that’s what makes Twitter so powerful, but you need that granular segmentation to apply to your marketing strategy.

How does a Twitter strategy, especially in terms of driving sales, differ from another strategy on a platform like Facebook?

I think there are certain things you can’t do with Facebook. For instance if you use the example of B2B brands, one of the things you’d do on top of offering great content and having a tailored audience, is that you’d also leverage social selling. So you’d work together with your sales team and you would target the same people. So you create your list with a tool like SocialBro, and your sales team will try to connect with them and speak to them on a one-to-one basis. That one-to-one interaction can’t be done on Facebook. It can be done to a certain extent from LinkedIn, it’s just not what Facebook is for. It would be very odd for a salesperson to connect with a user on Facebook, whereas that works really well on Twitter. So I think Twitter is stronger. LinkedIn is great, but you need to be connected to a person if you want to speak to them, but with Twitter you can speak to anyone who has a public profile.

So let’s say a brand approaches you and wants to do a sales-oriented campaign on Twitter. What are some questions you’re asking them and what kind of initial research is involved?

I can give you some examples. One is the UFC, the Ultimate Fighting Championship. They’re currently using DM campaigns…

And when you say DM campaigns you mean direct messaging?

Yes. So Twitter direct messaging campaigns, but they’re doing it in very, very clever ways. They have a bunch of automated rules and workflows that automatically put their new followers and their existing followers in lists they set up. So they’re very personalized DM campaigns. They won’t use generic wording. They use automated rules to drive ticket sales for local UFC events. They have an enormous follower basis. If it were a small brand, that would be simple to do manually. But they have millions, so it’s really hard. They have a really clever way of driving ticket sales for regional events. And that’s all done through Twitter DM campaigns and can be tracked.

And when you say DM campaigns, DM to me means something specific, which is to send a private message through Twitter.

That’s what they’re doing.

And it doesn’t show up in the stream it shows up as a direct message?

Yep. And I can give you another example. It’s Universal Music. They have a Twitter campaign for George Harrison, the Beatles player. Obviously he’s not still alive but they still sell his music and he has a lot of fans. So with the Harrison Twitter account, they did a DM campaign where they had a special offer, and they had 71 percent click-through rates to that special offer. I don’t think it was a commercial, it was more like a giveaway thing that then led to a follow-up campaign that was a commercial. We’ve done internal testing as well with Twitter DM campaigns, and the click-through rates are 300 percent higher than the average email campaign click rates. So when you start thinking about those figures, it becomes really attractive. I think the whole key to getting that right is having super targeted communication. If you get that targeting wrong, you’re going to end up annoying the person you’re sending this to, and they’re going to unfollow you. To get it right you’re going to need to use super advanced segmentation.

How much emphasis would you place on promoted tweets and Twitter advertising as opposed to a more organic strategy?

I love both. It depends on the company and what you’re trying to achieve. I would test playing around with different amounts for your campaigns and seeing what works best. If you’re B2B you might find that you want to have it 50/50. If you’ve just launched a new product, you might find it beneficial to put in a lot of money toward a paid campaign but back it up with having an integrated campaign by having a microsite where you’re aggregating all the social content. I don’t think there’s a definitive right or wrong.

What are some of the best tactics for driving offline sales and the best way to measure ROI on that?

I do think companies that aren’t ecommerce-based have to focus on tracking the right things. If you look at the social media awards all around the world, the success metrics have been based on shares, favorites, and all those things, and I think we need to move beyond that. A lot of brands are starting to. We have to marry up our systems and we have to be more clever with what we’re doing, whether it’s in our CRM or our payment system. It doesn’t matter if you’re an ecommerce business or a traditional offline business, you can use social really well, you just need to track what you can do until you prove it.

How important does content play a role? Is Twitter better for broader thought leadership and branding?

I think generally Twitter works brilliantly for both. But it depends if you think of it as this massive prospecting database or a marketing channel. Because if you’re using it as a marketing channel, you basically need to use the same rigor that you would apply to other channels. The things that people think are different about Twitter, these are the same things that are affecting other channels too. You’re less likely to get a click on a Twitter ad unless you’re offering something of true value to the person you’re targeting. That goes the same for other channels too. The creative focus is more shareable, entertaining content, but this is the same for other things. Think about TV advertising, the kind of TV advertising where you have shampoo ads where women are swishing their hair. I think they’re starting to come to look really old fashioned, and a lot of consumers just tune out. I think consumers are increasingly picky in terms of what they respond to. The thing about social is the feedback is immediate and in your face. And the customer’s voice is very audible. And some people don’t like that. But I think you’re kidding yourself if you think the judgement you’re getting on social wouldn’t apply to your previous marketing efforts, whether it’s TV or radio advertising, it still would have been there, you just wouldn’t have seen it. I think marketing just used to be about pushing your message into the homes of people, but now with social it basically brings their voices back to you. One of the great things is that because it’s so immediate, we can use Twitter and apply that feedback across the business as a whole.

We hear a lot about how brands shouldn’t spend all their time talking about themselves. Is there a risk of being too spammy if the focus is too much on direct sales?

Yeah, I don’t believe in that approach at all. If you’re in B2B, you’re a technology company, and you have a fairly long buying process, you want to be focusing on really tailored good content that’s going to help your target audience move to the next stage. And you can have really good targeted paid content that solves their challenges. So I think regardless if you’re B2B, B2C or you’re a services industry, you need to solve your target audience’s pain points. I’m not for social yelling, which is what I tend to call it. It’s about being helpful.

What are some of the best ways to measure return on investment with Twitter?

All your links need to be tracked so you can follow where the user goes using Google Analytics or whatever marketing platform you use. And I think it needs to be married up with your accounting system, like Salesforce. It’s marrying your systems, your Twitter analytics, your Google analytics, and your Salesforce. As a marketing professional you need to collaborate with your salespeople to get that. You can very much see with paid promotion, you can see it instantaneously by adding goals to the backend.

I guess it depends on whether you’re doing direct sales or branding. With branding, things like number of followers and retweets are more important whereas direct sales it’s how many people followed this tagged link and through the content funnel ended up making a purchase.

I think Twitter has now reached a stage where it’s a mature channel. It’s not something we’re just playing around with anymore. And because of that, board of directors and C management are asking for more substantial ROI figures. They’re being tougher with marketing to prove ROI. I think even when it comes to the branding, they still want to see the value to sales, that leads are being generated. I think we’re going to see more discussion around measuring ROI definitely throughout the next 12 months.

Is the advice to start dipping your toes in and spending small amounts of money on test campaigns?

Absolutely. You don’t have to spend a huge amount of money at all. The feedback is instant, and you can tweak something in a few seconds. By running tests, you’ll figure out very quickly what works for you. One of the things I always recommend, if you’re running paid Twitter ads, take advantage of all the cards that Twitter offers, whether it’s the website card, the lead generation card, and there are loads of cards for rich media.

And I’m guessing that before you spend a penny on Twitter that you should make sure that everything having to do with your brand has responsive design and is mobile ready since Twitter’s userbase is so heavily mobile-focused.

You do have the option to only do Twitter ads to desktop users, but I think personally that’s a mistake. If I’m running an ad I’d definitely go with the mobile uses and make sure that my site is mobile-optimized, that my landing page is, otherwise I think you’re going to see a lower ROI.

***

This article is excerpted from my book: Your Guide to Twitter Marketing. I sought out some of the world’s most powerful marketers and grilled them on their subject matter expertise. This book gives you direct insight into how the world’s top marketers approach Twitter and use it to drive sales and influence.

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How to Handle a Brand Crisis on Twitter

bp global pr

Let’s say you’re a major retailer and your head of IT comes to you and tells you the company has had a major data breach and millions of credit card numbers have been compromised. Or you’re the CEO of an organic baby food company and you realize you’re going to have to issue a recall on some of your products. Almost immediately, you and your team must put a plan in action for how you’re going to announce these issues to the public. A decade ago you probably just met with your legal and PR teams to determine how you’ll word the press release and craft messaging for your call centers. But these days a third team needs to be added to the mix: social media. Not only will this team have to monitor what’s being said online during the crisis, but it’ll need its own messaging in order to respond to angry consumers in real time.

Peter LaMotte is a Senior Vice President at Levick, a PR firm that specializes in crisis management. I interviewed him about how to counter activists who are targeting you on Twitter and why brands shouldn’t overreact if they receive negative feedback on the microblogging platform.

What are the kinds of company crises that will have the largest ramifications on Twitter — the kind where the company needs to devote a lot of resources to monitoring and responding to what’s happening on Twitter?

The answer is twofold. It’s usually correlated with the size of the crisis itself. With BP, at the time when its oil spill occurred, Twitter was fairly nascent, but it showed what could happen if you don’t tackle the issue on Twitter. There are those crises that actually start on Twitter. There’s the famous Chrysler tweet, for instance.

So there are crises that begin on Twitter itself, and then there are other crises that occur offline, but you know, because of the size of the company, it’s going to boil over onto Twitter.

Yeah, because Twitter, like most social media channels, it’s just a form of communication. It’s a means through which people are going to express their opinion. Companies have the option to express their position or clarify statements or refute claims in the media. Most companies are not organized enough to have their own army of supporters, all they have is their own brand. So that means they’ve got their Facebook page, their Twitter account, and maybe a few other channels if they’re a big enough company, but for the most part it’s just one or two handles. That’s their singular megaphone. Whereas if Joe Public turns on you, that’s thousands if not tens of thousands of users attacking your brand online.

If you’re a company that has activists who are trying to rile up anger against you, where are most of their efforts going to be focused? On Twitter? On Facebook?

peter-lamotte

Peter LaMotte

Because of the open nature of Twitter, a lot of people are using Twitter. But it’s almost never used successfully as a singular path. It’s usually part of an organized campaign that might originate at a microsite or a Change.org petition. Or it might be through a more traditional campaign like a TV ad with Twitter hashtags. But when it comes to dealing with the crisis, let’s take it from two perspectives. You have the perspective of someone who’s dealing with the crisis, and then you have the general public. And then you have perhaps a third perspective, the activists. The mistake many corporations will make is they’re just reactionary. Twitter is a communication tool, so it should fit into a larger strategy. Any company that is not prepared and does not have its own crisis plan will have a difficult time reacting fast enough in a way that doesn’t just look reactionary. When you look at these brands that are constantly pushing out good news and building up their brands in a positive way, when a crisis happens, they tend to have a more lenient response, because people have seen the more positive things they’re doing. But when a company is caught with their pants down, Twitter is a good way to quickly address issues and answer questions because it’s relatively real-time and can be monitored. From a communications standpoint, with the way that other platforms are closed and locked down, a lot of people don’t realize how important Twitter is for monitoring sentiment. If Twitter loses its popularity and falls off, there aren’t a lot of tools that can dig into Facebook or some of these other platforms to monitor sentiment.

The public at large is trained to search Twitter for hashtags and keywords, and an activist won’t be able to easily organize a campaign on Facebook the way he can on Twitter.

Exactly. Brands rely heavily on Twitter to get that sentiment. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than putting together a focus group. So, they rely on that and should be monitoring it at all times, including pre-crisis, before you even think you have a crisis. Most companies know where their risks are, so they should be monitoring around those risks, whether it’s a manufacturer around some kind of consumer device or anything that might be subject to litigation. So if they’re prepared, then when the crisis happens, they should have an automatic plan to put in place. In that plan, they should know who is going to say what, what the approval process is, and make sure it doesn’t need multiple layers of approval. And sometimes the industry holds you back from that. When it comes to the pharmaceutical and medical industries, a lot of times lawyers get very sensitive to what can be said, so make sure in a crisis they’ve already signed off on your messaging. If you go into these situations unprepared you’re basically walking into a firehose of people saying negative things about you. From the opposite side, it’s much easier to organize hundreds, if not thousands, of voices. They did that with the BP oil spill. If you remember, a fake BP Twitter handle was created, and people really bought into that. They thought, for just a brief moment, this was actually a BP account, and the result was brutal. That Twitter account gave BP’s haters content that they could share and retweet, which then picked up news traffic, which is why we remember this many years later that account in particular. Any PR nightmare is typically going to reverberate across Twitter, so activists are going to organize, using all the tools that brands do, to get their message out there. From a consumer standpoint, it makes it very easy to track, it makes it very easy to keep abreast of what’s going on.

Are there situations where brands have the luxury of preparing a Twitter response beforehand? A situation where you know the news is going to drop. When you do have that luxury, what’s your Twitter strategy?

It probably happens more often than you would expect, because every manufacturer, for instance, knows where the risks are in their plant. Like there could be a fire, there could be a death due to faulty equipment, there could be an explosion. It’s not to say they’re pre-writing these tweets, but they’ve come up with response templates and that would be within a crisis plan. Twitter is just an element of amplifying your messaging. So if there’s a plant explosion, even if you don’t know how or when it will happen, you can determine what will be your messaging one hour after it’s happened, when you’re likely not to have a lot of information about what caused it. What’s your messaging a day after it’s happened once you have more information? The messaging that’s given by someone at a podium, that messaging isn’t just going to be distributed at the podium, but also on Facebook and Twitter.

So is it a matter of trying to predict every kind of message that will be tweeted out by users and here’s a list of responses to all those possible reactions?

It’s not a specific as line by line responses, but at least there should be generic messaging. Let’s say there’s a major retail outlet, they’re going to have a response for if there’s a shooting. It won’t be an exact tweet, but it’ll be a general response like “We’re looking into it.” They will draft a tweet in the moment based on that more general messaging. They’ll also have a checklist about which parties need to sign off on a tweet. And so really the key here is that your Twitter strategy should never conflict with your overall messaging within a crisis. And it should never give conflicting information from what you would give to the press. What it does allow you to do from a more acute, focused level, is respond to very similar claims. If there’s a shooting at a retail store and suddenly people on the news are saying “…and there was an explosion,” you as the head of messaging who knows there was only a shooting, you can say “Rumors of any explosion are not true.” It can put down any escalation of misinformation.

What about the monitoring perspective? I’m guessing that’s a large part in developing a crisis strategy. Are you assigning someone 24/7 to monitor Twitter in real time?

I imagine it correlates to the size of the crisis. If you’re a small retail chain in a city,  you probably don’t need 24-hour monitoring. If you’re a large oil company, you’ll have 24/7 monitoring and also escalation plans in place. The good news for corporations, a few years ago if you really wanted strong monitoring you had to hire Radian6 and you had to pay an arm and a leg. Now, services are fairly affordable. The best things, like Radian6, are still expensive, but there are tiers below that, like Brandwatch, that are much more affordable but still do a good job. Sentiment analysis, I’d say, is mediocre at best.

So don’t put too much weight on claims from these tools about sentiment?

Well, if you’re going through a recall, for example, yes there will be a lot of negative sentiment, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the overall perception of your brand. A lot of people are pissed at you for one day or one week, and it doesn’t necessarily mean your brand is mud, it just means people found this to be a sexy story. But the point is that there’s much more affordable tools out there, all the way down to free. Twitter has search functionality built into it, so if you’re someone with very limited funds, you can get a very general idea of what’s being said. Startups do it all the time. They’re just monitoring whether anybody is talking about me or talking to me. But then you want to make sure to have a search tab opened about your industry or your competitors.

That was my next question: What should you be actually searching for during these crises outside of mentions of your brand?

Everything I learned about how to use Twitter was done while I was running a startup. What we looked at was our industry, our handle, but also variations of our handle. We looked at individuals, our CEO, the president of the firm. We looked at our competitors. What we’d typically get out of that is more for marketing purposes. Was anyone reaching out to our competitors and saying “Hey, can you guys help?” You’re looking for journalists who are covering your industry to get in front of them.

So you should put Twitter lists together?

Absolutely. You do what makes sense to your business. When you’re a small business and dealing with a crisis, typically you don’t have to have a team monitoring every mention of your business, because typically you’re up 24/7 dealing with it. Or if you’re not your team is in some form or fashion. Really it’s the monitoring when you don’t have a crisis, that’s the difficult part, because crises can emerge without you at first realizing it. Something you said in an ad, something you said in an interview. I think the real difficulty, and this is something we try to tackle here, is can you predict a crisis using social media? Especially from an activist perspective? Can you see the vague threats out there? Are these activists trying to organize a new campaign? And in doing so you need to determine how influential they are, how many people follow them, what’s the real impact they’re having?

Is there an analysis going on where you see people trying to stir up shit on Twitter, and there’s a debate over whether you should respond or if responding will just stir the pot and give them momentum?

In most cases you don’t want to respond at all, unless there’s a financial threat. Most activists out there, that’s their goal, which is to start the fight. They’re never going to lose, because they have no intention of ending it. So what you want to do is if they’re starting to say you’re a bad person, then maybe you should starting thinking about corporate social responsibility initiatives to provide a sort of counterweight to those claims. Then you can use Twitter to amplify and drown out the bad things people are saying about you. One thing you must realize is that people who hate you are going to continue to hate you.

Would you ever buy advertising against a hashtag they’re using?

I would first go to Google and buy those search results. Place a Google ad for any of those key terms. A lot of people who even see a hashtag might look it up on Google first to see what it’s about. And that’s why to this day BP still runs ads if you do any search for gulf oil spill, the first response is an ad for BP that shows what great things they’re doing to repair the gulf.

We know the Twitter demographics, that there is very limited penetration, at least compared to Facebook. Is there a tendency from a client to overreact based on something said on Twitter even if it’s not representative of what the public at large thinks?

If companies lose Twitter, they’re going to be hard-pressed to really get a good sense of what people think outside of expensive focus groups. And I think that’s a mistake companies make, is they see one tweet, or one tweet that’s retweeted 10 times and they think it’s a movement. The fact is it’s an open platform. It could be an ex-employee. It could be someone who has no say in the market whatsoever. If you’re a consumer packaged good, they probably don’t buy your product anyways, and unless they really get traction, they’re not going to have any impact on your bottom line. So you have to have a really good sense and err on the side of caution, because the nature of Twitter is binary. One tweet has the same value as any other tweet. Now the individuals tweeting have their own value in terms of how many followers they have, but followers don’t always measure influence. You see that when these platforms make a purge of spam accounts, sometimes you see users with thousands of followers lose 15 percent of their following because they had all these fake lists. That’s where a lot of these software applications try to measure true influence, and any of them that make this assessment just based on number of followers are not making an accurate assessment. Twitter has influence, but it’s not more impactful than if major media outlets pick up the news. There have been times where something trending on Twitter will jump over into the media, but if it’s something that’s trending on Twitter, you already know about it and you already hopefully have a crisis plan set up for that.

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This article is excerpted from my book: Your Guide to Twitter Marketing. I sought out some of the world’s most powerful marketers and grilled them on their subject matter expertise. This book gives you direct insight into how the world’s top marketers approach Twitter and use it to drive sales and influence.

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How The Atlantic Uses Twitter to Drive Traffic to Content

Jake Swearingen, The Atlantic's social media editor

Jake Swearingen, The Atlantic’s social media editor

Though Facebook drives far more traffic to content than any other social media network, Twitter plays a vital role not only as a direct source of traffic, but also to reach industry influencers who can propagate content across all platforms, from Facebook to Reddit to even the mainstream media (a disproportionate number of journalists hang out on Twitter). It used to be that websites simply set up an RSS feed that automatically tweeted out any new content, but it quickly became apparent that if you wanted to maximize the traffic-driving potential of Twitter, you needed to hire a social media editor who would apply a human touch and leverage best practices to get the community engaged with a publication.

Jake Swearingen has been running social media accounts for publications since 2011, first for alt weeklies in California and then later as digital director for the magazine Modern Farmer. In September 2014 he became a social media editor at The Atlantic, overseeing its social platforms with a combined following of millions of users. We spoke about what role Twitter plays in driving traffic and how to maximize click-through to content.

Can we start by contextualizing Twitter’s role in sending traffic to news publishers? How important is it in terms of sending traffic referrals? One of your writers recently wrote about the limited traffic impact of Twitter, but do you subscribe to this belief that it’s not a big deal?

If you look at it purely from a metrics standpoint, there’s absolutely no question that Twitter is not a huge traffic driver in the way Facebook is or even a small link on a middling blog, both of which send more traffic than a link from a very well-known Twitter presence. I remember when I was at LA Weekly we had written something about Miley Cyrus, and she tweeted it out with an explicit call to action for her followers, something like “You have to read this.” At the time she had 2.2 million people following her. I was curious so I tracked how much traffic that had gotten from Twitter, and it was about 2,000 people who had come over. So her click-through rate was abysmal. Way less than 1 percent. Way less than the click-through rate of a banner ad. When you look at it that way, Twitter doesn’t drive a lot of referral traffic, and it doesn’t drive a lot of referral traffic for us. It’s significant, usually in our top five, but compared to Facebook and Google, it doesn’t come close. Certainly there are specific kinds of stories — like [Atlantic writer] Ta-Nehisi Coates, pretty much anything he writes is going to do well, and where it does really well is on Twitter. Because when he says “I have a story,” it’s something people pass around really quickly. And the other part of it is we can only track what traffic is coming from Twitter, we can’t track when someone spots something on Twitter and then links to it elsewhere and sends a lot of traffic that way. It’s hard to nail down how much traffic Twitter is really worth.

What about Twitter as an influencer network? That even though it doesn’t have the reach of Facebook or Google, it’s where the top industries leaders congregate and something that takes off on Twitter bubbles over into other networks.

I’ve certainly seen examples where a story did well on Twitter and nowhere else, partly because even influential Twitter is still dominated by essentially media people along with a few luminaries in tech, politics, and celebrities. I do think there is something to the idea that you’re able to get in front of influencers or people who control a lot of attention. But even that, I think if we were just looking at referral traffic, I think we could stop posting on Twitter all together and we would take a traffic hit, but it wouldn’t be a significant one. The reason we do stay on Twitter is because for a lot of the people we want to get in front of, it’s the way they consume information. And it’s a way for us to immediately be a part of the conversation in a way that can’t be done on Facebook. Even though The Atlantic is not a breaking news organization and isn’t usually trying to respond immediately to something that happens, we want to be part of the conversation and you have to be on Twitter to do that.

We’ve heard that Twitter is re-entering its partnership with Google, which will allow Google to tap more directly into Twitter’s stream when it’s indexing content. Do you think that has major SEO implications to it?

For us as a publication, we do pretty well in SEO, I don’t know how much of an effect Twitter will have for us in terms of indexing better on Google.

How do you decide to launch a new Twitter account? The Atlantic has a lot of verticals and even subcategories. Is there this cost/benefit analysis going on before you launch a new Twitter account or decide you should roll it in under an already-existing account?

I think there are two big parts to it. One is how you build traffic to it, or rather how do you build followers? Twitter is a little bit easier to build followers than Facebook is at this point. Both require time and effort. The second is the workflow of it. Who is going to be responsible for it? Who’s going to own it? You can’t just set up an RSS feed to your Twitter account and call it a day. You have to write headlines and copy that is meant for Twitter. I would probably be considering whether this is a topic I could amass a sizable community around. Is there somebody on our staff who is already really interested in this and who might be already doing this regardless? I don’t think it’s something you would just start up the same way you would build up another section of the website. Really, the topic has to be good and you have to find someone who will do it out of passion. Unlike a Facebook page, where you can get away with only posting three or four times a day, a new Twitter account really needs to be going 10, 12, 15 times a day.

What’s the dynamic between the main Atlantic Twitter account versus the accounts for its different verticals? How do you decide how much play a story should get on the main Twitter account instead of just letting the vertical Twitter account promote it?

Everything we publish goes through the main Twitter account. We try to retweet our sub-accounts and hope that drives some people to go follow them. That’s the extent of it. The sub-accounts will publish everything that goes through their channel.

I’ve noticed that most news organizations, including yours, only use hashtags sparingly. Is that a conscious decision?

I think there are two parts to this. One is aesthetics, or, put another way, snobbery. The tweets that use hashtags often look like marketing or like someone who doesn’t know how to use Twitter very well. And the people running these accounts usually want to look like they’re working for a sophisticated publication or brand. The other part of it is that hashtags just don’t drive that much more attention to you unless you’re hitting upon one that has consistent interest in them. There are smaller hashtags that people are following along on their own. Or if there’s a hashtag trending and of the moment, then you can sort of ride along that traffic. So why do it?

How much are you using tools to schedule tweets and how do you decide whether to schedule a tweet or just tweet it out right away?

We use a tool that puts tweets into a hopper and analyzes when the best time is for it to be tweeted out. About 70 percent of what we do is done using that. A lot of what we write on a day-to-day basis is a little bit more evergreen compared to what you’ll see at your average publication. We’re writing things that work just as well if you write them today versus two weeks from now. That said, when we have something that’s absolutely in the news or part of the conversation at that very moment, then we will publish immediately.

We’ve heard that we’re supposed to tweet out the same piece of content several times a day because only a small percentage of your followers will see any given tweet. What’s your rule of thumb for how many times you should tweet out an article?

In my experience, unlike Facebook where people will start to complain if you repost a piece of content too much, with Twitter, just because of the pace of things getting quickly buried under more tweets, you can post a piece of content many, many times. We’ve definitely run things five, six, seven times.

In a single day?

Not in a single day. Sometimes something we’ve posted in the beginning of the day we’ll post again in the evening, but this is over a course of two or three weeks where we rerun something through a significant number of times. It’s something where people are clicking enough that it tells me they haven’t seen it before.

How important is it that you post a photo with the tweet? Is the click-through noticeably higher when you do it?

Well I don’t have any official data on that. I’ve read plenty of marketing white papers that have shown a higher click-through rate. My gut, anecdotally, is yeah, pictures absolutely matter a lot. Especially certain types of graphics. I know we can throw up a post that has a graph, a map, or basically any type of infographic, and we immediately see people start retweeting it really fast, much faster than they’d have time to actually read the article, and even faster than they’d have time to even comprehend the infographic they’re looking at. We’ll post it and within a few seconds we’ll see five, six, seven retweets. I think there are certain types of graphics people enjoy retweeting. The way I think of it internally is that Facebook makes you seem like a happy well-rounded person, and Twitter is about trying to make it seem like you’re an informed of-the-moment person, and things like graphics and infographics help them broadcast that out.

So you’re saying that information that’s self-contained on Twitter where you can avoid having to click away from Twitter performs better?

Yes. On Twitter, most people don’t want to leave Twitter, which is great for Twitter but bad for news organizations like ourselves.

The Atlantic employs several journalists that have very high Twitter followings. How important is this in terms of driving traffic? Are people more likely to click on and engage with a tweet coming from a human being versus a branded account?

My gut would say yeah. We can track this somewhat. We have a tool called Parse.ly that we use. And when Ta-Nehisi Coates puts up a tweet to his work, that will spike like crazy. More so than we ever see from our branded accounts. So it does matter if you have a big name journalist who’s working for you who also has a pretty big presence on Twitter. They can definitely drive a lot more traffic than what you’ll see from our branded account.

So how important is it then for a social media editor to focus on not only building a following for the publication but also for the journalists who write for it?

It’s important. If you’re at The Atlantic and you’re a writer who wants to do that, that’s something where we help out. But it’s also something that we’re never going to force someone to do social media. I think that’d be a terrible strategy if we went around to everyone and really got on them to post every day because we wanted that traffic. If someone wants to do it, then that’s great, but I don’t see that as something we should be adopting as a strategy. It’s just a happy bonus.

What kind of metrics are you judged by and judge yourself by? Especially on Twitter.

On Twitter, I would say I’m mainly looking at referral traffic. I’m looking at how much engagement we’re getting on Twitter. How many favorites, of course, but retweets are even more important. But mainly referral traffic. If I suddenly saw our Twitter referral traffic was dipping below what it was, then I’d want to think about if we’re doing something differently than before. I do think, as with most publications, we’re mainly focused on referral traffic and not just what we’re doing on that platform.

How do you delegate roles when the main social media editor is off-duty? Are you expected to spring to life wherever you are? Or can you email someone and say take care of this.

We’re certainly lucky that we can have a couple people who can take over when I’m not around. The day-to-day on the Twitter account is handled by my fellow, who does it with my overseeing him. Over the weekends we do a mixture where I’m doing some scheduling out beforehand and we have an editor who pulls weekend duty and helps out. Social media is not the most complicated thing in the world. If you can show someone how to write some copy and here’s how to attach a photo, then they’re good to go. The dirty secret to social media is that it’s actually not that hard.

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This article is excerpted from my book: Your Guide to Twitter Marketing. I sought out some of the world’s most powerful marketers and grilled them on their subject matter expertise.  This book gives you direct insight into how the world’s top marketers approach Twitter and use it to drive sales and influence.

Twitter marketing cover 2

How my blog reached its first 100,000 views

simon blogging 2

Back in August I quit my job at a communications firm with two goals in mind: Could I launch a website completely from scratch and build a sizable monthly audience? And once I built that audience, could I monetize it to the extent needed so I would never have to return to a traditional day job? Though I’m still a ways away from where I hope to be, I did pass an important milestone a few days ago: my articles reached 100,000 total views. Sure, lots of websites out there receive more traffic than this in a single day, but most of them either have large editorial staffs or have been around much longer than five months. And while I hope to reach a point sometime soon when I’m regularly generating 100,000+ visits a month to my content, I wanted to pause and analyze how I reached this milestone and outline some of the lessons I learned along the way.

Publish consistently

One of the brutal truths you learn while writing on the internet is that no matter how great your content, there’s no guarantee it will be seen by anyone. Especially when you’re first launching your website you have to accept that a good portion of your articles will fail to take off. A few days after I started writing full-time, I published one of my most-researched articles to date, but because it was placed on my site when I had virtually no audience, it’s only generated a grand total of 150 pageviews. So in order to overcome this hurdle, you want to begin consistently publishing content so that any new readers you do pull in will have fresh content every time they visit. You want to build momentum, so with each new article you increase your chances of it being seen by the right people who will then go on to share it to their social media streams. I’ve made it my goal to publish something every single weekday, and though most weeks I end up only publishing four pieces of content, the percentage of my articles that generate impressive traffic has increased significantly.

Site optimization

Getting people to visit your website is only half the battle. Your efforts are wasted if you’re not inspiring a sizable percentage of them to share and/or subscribe to your content. You need to optimize your site so there are calls to action. For instance, while I was building the social media strategy at US News & World Report, I noticed that a very high ratio of those who were sharing our content on Twitter were using the Twitter share buttons. Because it’s easy to control the text that’s automatically generated when you hit that button, you can modify it so that every time your content is tweeted it also includes your Twitter handle. This leads to a sharp increase in followers:

twitter optimization

There are lots of little tricks like this that can drastically increase the time spent on your site, the number of articles consumed in a single visit, the number of shares your content receives, and the number of subscribers who will come back for more.

Diversify your referral streams

Five years ago you gained a new reader when they either bookmarked your site, subscribed to your RSS feed, or signed up for your email newsletter. Now there are over a dozen major platforms that have millions of users. I was fortunate that when I launched this blog I had already built up a sizable, high quality following on Twitter, which has made it much easier to seed my content within the tech and media community. But starting in August I started looking to beef up my presences on other platforms. Though I’ve been on Facebook since its early days, I hadn’t put much effort into building out a professional audience, and for the longest time I struggled with whether to focus on building a presence on a separate page or encourage people to follow my public updates on my main profile. A few days ago I finally decided that the emphasis needed to be placed on my professional page, and so I removed the follow buttons for my personal profile from my blog.

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When trying to write daily content for a blog, you realize quickly that you only have so much leftover time to invest in other platforms, so it’s important to choose which networks can produce the highest ROI for your content. Though I’ve long been interested in trying out Pinterest, I recognize its network is better for cooking, design, and travel blogs than tech and media news. In the end, I decided to invest my efforts in Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and email. I also reprint one article a week at Medium (more on that in a minute).

Quality vs quantity

When I launched my blog, I initially decided that I would publish several aggregated posts a day with very light commentary and then work on longer, well-researched articles that I would post once every few days. But pretty early on I determined this wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. The aggregation posts were sometimes good for short bursts of traffic but I got the sense that it wasn’t high value traffic, the kind that enhanced my personal brand and led to more followers. So about a month in I scrapped that idea, and rather than publishing several posts a day, I would write one longer column per day, a column that strove to look at an issue from a different angle. My decision was vindicated pretty quickly when I saw several of these pieces gain traction. It turned out that my punditry skills were just as strong as my reporting skills.

Original research

Speaking of reporting, one of the best ways to generate a readership online is to publish original information that can’t be found anywhere else. Luckily, I have years of experience as a journalist; I started my career a newspaper reporter and have written for several major outlets ranging from US News & World Report to The Atlantic. At least once a week I publish an article for which I interviewed multiple people. Not only does this result in articles containing never-before-seen information, but my interview subjects often share my articles to their influential networks.

Syndication

For the first two months or so, I was dead set on only publishing content exclusively to simonowens.net. The thinking was that I could maximize personal brand recognition if every reader who landed on one of my articles did so on a website that prominently featured my name and photo. But because my website was so new, I was writing extremely high quality articles that came nowhere near realizing their full potential. After interviewing blogger James Clear about his success through syndicating his content to other outlets, I decided to go that route. I began by cross-posting my Monday columns to LinkedIn and my Friday columns to Medium. Though not every post took off, some saw explosive viewership. One post at LinkedIn was chosen for LinkedIn Pulse and received over 50,000 views. A column I posted to Medium last week generated 4,000 views.

In addition to this, I also reached out to my contacts at places like Daily Dot, PBS’ MediaShift, and Harvard University’s Nieman Lab and worked out deals where they could reprint my content.

There were several benefits to this strategy. Because my articles were plugged into much larger networks, my content and byline reached much wider audiences. This usually led to a sharp spike in new followers whenever a piece of content took off. The success of my LinkedIn posts has resulted in hundreds of new subscribers on that influential platform. It also led to emails from potential sources who had seen my content on these platforms. A Nieman Lab reprinting of an article of mine led to an email out of the blue from someone who ended up being a source for one of my most successful articles.

Of course there are downsides as well. Only a small percentage of those who discover your content on these other outlets will even notice your byline. And because they’re more established, they’ll usually outshine you in terms of SEO. For instance, if you Google “James Clear” and “Simon Owens,” you’ll find the reprint of my article at PBS.org. The simonowens.net version is almost impossible to find on Google.

Revisit your archives

This is one I need to improve on. There’s this assumption that once you publish a piece of content you can just share it once and everyone who follows you will see it. But the reality is that only a tiny percentage of your followers will see any given piece of content you share on social media, and though you should be careful to space out your promotions of the same piece of content, you can get away with sharing it several times in order to reach more people. Also, as you begin to accumulate new followers over a period of months, there will be a bunch of people who have signed up to read your content who would have never been exposed to your past articles. Some of my biggest traffic days have come after I shared a piece of content a third or fourth time. Back in August I wrote an article about Reddit’s public dialogues with the world’s top scientists. The piece did pretty well, generating about 2,000 views. But a few weeks ago I noticed someone share the article on Twitter so I decided to retweet him. My retweet was seen and retweeted by one of my most influential followers, and the article just exploded from there, generating an additional 8,000 views. And to think, it was all because I retweeted out an article that I had assumed was long past its expiration date. Vox tried an experiment recently where it began updating and sharing articles that were more than two months old, and it saw half a million visitors as a result.

Be patient

I have to admit, I’ve experienced many dark days since launching the blog, days when I published articles I had spent weeks researching only for them to completely flop. These were days when I was absolutely convinced that no matter how hard I tried and how much quality content I put out, there was just too much noise on the web for me to break through with a single-author blog. Luckily I’ve had friends and family there to talk me off the ledge, to remind me of the days when my content did extremely well and assure me that they would increase in frequency. That increase has definitely begun to occur, but I know I’m nowhere near where I eventually want to be, and there will be plenty more days in the near future when I get discouraged. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over all these years creating and promoting content on the internet, it’s that building an audience, one that returns to your blog over and over again, takes time, and so you have to be patient. As long as you’re creating great content and exploring all best practices for marketing that content, it will get noticed. And as it gets noticed, slowly but surely people will recognize you as an original voice and sign up for more. So while it’s helpful to pause and reflect on the first 100,000 views, my energy now is to focus on reaching that next 100,000 that much quicker.

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