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Jun

7

2016

Facebook Bots 101: What They Are, Who’s Using Them & What You Should Do About It

Facebook_Messenger_Bots.jpgBack in April, Mark Zuckerberg announced the launch of Facebook’s Messenger Platform — a new service that enables businesses of all sizes to build custom bots in Messenger.

In the days following the announcement, the tech and marketing space lost its mind. Thousands of articles were penned about the news, each one speculating on what an open Messenger platform could mean for businesses.

Why all the ardor? For starters, Facebook Messenger already has about 900 million monthly active users worldwide. Not registrants. Not people who got forced to download it when Facebook spun it out of the standard Facebook app. We’re talking about active users who have adopted Messenger as a primary communication channel.

Anytime a company as forward-looking as Facebook opens up a platform as heavily adopted as Messenger it should raise eyebrows. So the early excitement, well, it’s justified. But what comes next is entirely undefined. And as marketers, we have an exciting opportunity to help shape it.

As Zuckerberg put it in his keynote, “No one wants to have to install a new app for every business or service they want to interact with.” And bots are much different than disjointed apps. In other words, building into the already popular Facebook Messenger app could enable businesses to get in front of customers without that added friction.

At least, that’s the potential …

What Is a Bot?

“Bot” is a generalized term used to describe any software that automates a task. Chatbots, which anyone can now build into Facebook Messenger, automate conversation — at least the beginning stages of it.

What’s special about the bots you can build on Facebook Messenger is that they’re created using Facebook’s Wit.ai Bot Engine, which can turn natural language into structured data. You can read more on this here, but in short, this means that not only can bots parse and understand conversational language, but they can also learn from it. In other words, your bot could get “smarter” with each interaction.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of artificial intelligence (AI). And this is a type of AI. Natural language interface is common in most chatbots, but by opening up the Messenger Platform and providing developer tools like the bot engine, Facebook has made building an intelligent bot easier.

How People Find Bots in Facebook Messenger

So, now comes the classic marketer question: If you build it, will they come?

The answer? Maybe.

Users are able to search for companies and bots inside Facebook Messenger by name, so you’ll probably get some users that way. But, as with any new pathway into your company, you’re likely to find that adoption of this communication channel within your customer base won’t happen without some promotion. Facebook is trying to make that easier for businesses and organizations as well.

Here are a few tools and updates they’ve released to help simplify that connection:

Messenger Links

If you’ve created a Page for your business on Facebook, Messenger Links will use your Page’s username to create a short link (m.me/username). When someone clicks that link — regardless of where they are — it will open a conversation with your business in Messenger.

Customer Matching

If you have phone numbers for customers and pre-existing permission to reach out to them, you can find them on Facebook Messenger via customer matching. Conversations initiated through customer matching will include a final opt-in upon the first Facebook Messenger communication.

customer-matching.png

Image Credit: Facebook

Messenger Codes

Messenger codes are unique images that serve as a visual thumbprint for your business and bot on Messenger. If you are familiar with Snapchat codes, these visual cues act in the same way, redirecting anyone who scans them using Messenger to the corresponding company page or bot.

Bot-discovery-visual.png

Image Credit: Facebook

Messenger Buttons

You can embed these buttons, provided by Facebook, into your website to enable anyone who clicks them to start a Messenger conversation with your company.

bot-buttons.png

Image Credit: Facebook

For all of the above, if you haven’t developed a bot, the result will be a standard Messenger-based conversation. So you’ll want to be sure you’re monitoring that channel.

5 Examples of Branded Facebook Messenger Bots

Written definitions of bots are one thing, but sometimes it helps to understand how a bot works in action. Let’s take a look at a few early examples …

1) 1-800-Flowers

The example Mark Zuckerberg lauded in his keynote was the ability to send flowers from 1-800-Flowers without actually having to call the 1-800 number. A user, Danny Sullivan, subsequently tried it by sending flowers to Zuckerberg himself and documented the five-minute process here.

The bot took Sullivan through a few floral options and then confirmed shipping details.

Source: Danny Sullivan

Image Credit: Marketing Land  

2) Wall Street Journal

With the Wall Street Journal bot, users can get live stock quotes by typing “$” followed by the ticker symbol. They can also get the top headlines delivered to them inside of Messenger.

3) HP

HP created a bot for Messenger that enables users to print photos, documents, and files from Facebook or Messenger to any connected HP printer.

HP_PrintBot_Photo_NEW_Screen.png

Image Credit: HP  

4) Facebook M

Facebook is releasing its own bot for Messenger, a personal assistant bot named “M”. M can answer a wide range of requests — from restaurant recommendations, to complex trivia, to last-minute hotel rates in the city.

Its flexibility is due to the fact that M is actually a bot-human hybrid. As Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer told Recode: “It’s primarily powered by people, but those people are effectively backed up by AIs.” While the bots act as a first line of defense in fielding questions, the difficult questions are quickly routed to human assistants.

Facebook_M_Bot.png

Image Credit: The Next Web

5) Healthtap

Healthtap is an interactive healthcare provider that connects users to advice from medical professionals. On the heels of the platform announcement, Healthtap created a bot that enables users to type a medical question into Facebook Messenger and receive a free response from a doctor or browse articles of similar questions.

You can see here how the conversational interface works. The user in this example is inquiring in natural language about a specific health concern. From the user’s standpoint, this is similar to texting a friend.

HealthTap_Bot.png

Image Credit: mobihealthnews

This set up also helps the company filter inbound requests by solving some patient questions with existing responses first and then surfacing unique queries for live response.

(Intrigued by these examples? Engadget has a longer list of bots that are either released or under development for Facebook Messenger.)

Should You Build a Bot?

Ah, see that’s not the sort of question I can answer for you. Building a bot for Facebook Messenger, like any marketing or product endeavor, is going to take resources — mainly staff time and expertise — and may not result in the outcomes you’d like to see.

That said, here’s my best guidance for how you can answer the question for yourself:

Do you have a clear use case?

One of the biggest reasons so many companies went astray in building apps for their businesses is that they saw it as just another version of their website. They didn’t take the time to study how being on a mobile device would change the types of interactions their customers would want to have with their company.

Some tasks are just not well-suited for mobile. As a result, many apps sat unused. When you’re thinking about a use case for Facebook Messenger, make sure you’re thinking about it from the standpoint of the customer or user, not from the company’s standpoint. That’s the real driver of use.

Is your audience on Facebook?

This question is often too quickly dismissed by companies that see Facebook as a purely social platform, rather than one for businesses. Even if your audience doesn’t currently use Facebook for business needs, you need to start by determining whether or not the potential is there.

If you have an audience who uses Facebook heavily in their personal lives, they’re likely to adopt Messenger as a communications tool. And how they use Messenger may expand beyond how they use Facebook. Today, usage of messaging apps has actually outpaced that of social networks. And as new use cases arise, behavior evolves with them.

Can you support inbound inquiries from Messenger?

Don’t open a communication channel with your prospective and existing customers if you can’t support it. Even with the automation of a bot, you’ll still need to carve out time to 1) promote it 2) monitor any questions your bot can’t answer and 3) keep tabs on the overall customer experience you’re creating with it.

If you’ve thought through the above three questions and think you’ve got a good foundation for a Facebook Messenger bot then dive in. There’s a benefit to being an early adopter in this space. And as a newly open platform, Facebook Messenger needs thoughtful and strategic companies to shape it.

Have you used any branded bots on Facebook Messenger? What’s your favorite use case? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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May

25

2016

7 New Twitter Features You May Have Missed

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In an industry fixated on rapid growth, any slowdown in user acquisition or monitization sounds alarms. And Twitter, whether it likes it or not, has been sounding a lot of them lately.

Not only is it facing stagnant monthly active user growth, but the revenue generated from those users has disappointed a market accustomed to steady tech progression. In the face of a negative narrative, the company has been quick to take action and has focused predominantly on changes geared toward the user.

Over the last six months, Twitter has made a collection of changes, small and big, to drive user engagement and improve the overall onboarding and experience of the platform. 

We know how tough it can be to keep up with these types of updates, which is why we put together a handful of the more notable features and changes below. Marketers, take note. 

7 New Twitter Features You May Have Missed

1) The 140-Character Count Loophole

As far as debates go, Twitter’s 140-character limit is about as contentious as the oxford comma. Some say the character limit on tweets is essential to Twitter’s identity. It secures Twitter in place as one of the fastest available ways for ideas to spread. Others are ready to see it lifted, arguing that removing the 140-character cap would open Twitter up for a new and engaging range of content and possibly new users. One area where the pain of the character cap is particularly sharp is in adding media to your tweets.

By default, media links can take up 23 characters in a tweet, which is about 16% of your allotted characters. No small portion. That said, images are a boon for interactivity on your tweets: HubSpot conducted a study and found that tweets with images resulted in 18% more clickthroughs and 150% more retweets.

Tweets_With_Images_Stats.png

Image Credit: HubSpot & MDM

This week Twitter announced that soon media (e.g., images, polls, videos) attached to tweets will no longer count against your 140-character count. The same rule would apply to the @handle when replying to someone else’s tweet.

This update makes a couple of changes to the way replies and retweets are handled. Users will no longer have to add a character prior to a reply — for example, “.@meghkeaney” — to ensure their reply is seen by all followers. Not to mention, users will be able to retweet their own content if they want to add a thought to a previous post.

2) Accessible Images

Back in October, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey made a public appeal to developers to submit ideas for product enhancements:

One of the ideas generated out of that invitation focused on making Twitter more accessible to users who are visually impaired. In other words, people using Twitter’s iOS and Android apps can now add alt text descriptions to images within tweets. Websites have long used alt text to help visually impaired visitors understand the messages conveyed by images using assistive technology like a screen reader or Braille display.

Accessible images has to be set up at the user level, a drawback for it gaining mass adoption, but it’s easy enough to set up. In an Android or iOS device, go to your Twitter settings (the gear icon) and follow these steps:

  1. Tap Accessibility.
  2. Next to Compose image descriptions, turn that feature on.
  3. From there, when you add an image to your tweet just tap Add description to insert descriptive text.

Adding accessibility may seem like a win for a small population, but it’s a best practice across the board for businesses and organizations looking to grow their audience and do the right thing.

3) The Connect Tab

In the early days of Twitter a friend who had just joined told me she didn’t get it. She had followed a bunch of news organizations and recommended accounts but it just felt like a news ticker to her.

“When does this get interesting?” she asked.

It was only when I sent her a custom list of people to follow whom I knew she’d like that the value started appearing. If Twitter wants to expand its user base — as a world of investors keep telling them they must — it needs to make it easier to get to that first moment of value.

This May, Twitter took the hint and reimagined the experience of finding people to follow. They released the Connect tab, a new feature that allows you to scan your contacts for people to follow and provides custom recommendations based on your location, activity, existing follower profile, and major interest accounts.

Image Credit: Twitter

Lizzy Plaugic, news editor at The Verge, calls this a smart move for Twitter: “If you’re one of Twitter’s many users who only follows 30 random kids you went to high school with, your timeline is probably stagnant and uninteresting,” she says. “By bumping up the number of people you follow, Twitter is hoping to make your feed something you actually want to look at.”

4) ‘Go Live’ Button for Periscope

Facebook has bet big on live streaming video, giving it its own tab in the mobile app and prioritizing live streams within the newsfeed. As a result of this and the natural appeal of the feature, live streaming videos see 10x the engagement on Facebook as other posts.

Twitter, which acquired Periscope last year, has been slower to prioritize this type of format. All signs point to that changing however. Beginning with Android phones, (see Android fans, sometimes you get things first) a small percentage of users will begin to see a “go live” button when they compose tweets. This button connects to Periscope and enables users to broadcast directly through Twitter.

This feature expands the content types marketers and content creators have to play with. Instead of having a “Tweetstorm” or a complicated Twitter Q&A, user can use live streaming to compile and publish longer form thoughts and responses. This also keeps the clutter down on Twitter feeds and can garner engagement in a live — and arguably more compelling — video format.

The ability to quickly go live is important for Twitter. In a recent earnings statement, the company explained: “We’re focused on what Twitter does best: live. Twitter is live: live commentary, live connections, live conversations. Whether it’s breaking news, entertainment, sports, or everyday topics, hearing about and watching a live event unfold is the fastest way to understand the power of Twitter.”

5) Native GIF Search

Even though this list isn’t weighted for significance, it took real willpower not to place this at number one. As someone whose reliance on GIFs is beyond description, this feature release was a big one for me. In 2015, people shared more than 100 million GIFs on Twitter. When you think about the steps it previously took to share an animated image on Twitter, that number is even more impressive.

Previously you had to leave Twitter, search for the appropriate GIF on any number of GIF search engines, save that image, go back to Twitter, recompose your tweet, and finally, upload the image. Today, with Twitter’s new GIF feature, you just click a button and conduct the search there. No saving or uploading needed.

Gif Search on Twitter

Image Credit: Twitter

(By the way, if you like GIFs, I highly recommend this post by my colleague. It’s a fascinating history and analysis on why exactly GIFs became so popular.)

6) The Switch to Uncropped Photos

Twitter may have started as a text-based platform, but images are the source of some of its top engagement. That’s why the news that Twitter had adjusted its image size requirements to not force-crop most images came with such praise. The resulting experience means that Twitter is more visual and engaging right off the bat. See the before and after shots provided by Twitter below:

Image Credit: Twitter

Along with the uncropped photo update, Twitter also introduced a new view for multi-photo displays. This update allows users to see even more of the individual photos included in a collage. 

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Image Credit: Twitter

7) Increased Anti-harassment Features

One of the most serious complaints against Twitter is how easily harassment can spread and exacerbate on the network. Historically, tweets aimed at threatening or scaring individuals on Twitter have gone unfettered and caused a number of users to delete their accounts or even fear for their safety. In the last six months, Twitter has begun to respond to harassment and threats on the network with a series of features and services aimed a keeping people safe. These additions include:

These updates are critical to ensuring Twitter stays a welcoming place for all users. In a leaked memo last year, former Twitter CEO Dick Costello underscored the importance of this move, saying:

I’m frankly ashamed of how poorly we’ve dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO. It’s absurd. There’s no excuse for it. I take full responsibility for not being more aggressive on this front. It’s nobody else’s fault but mine, and it’s embarrassing.

We’re going to start kicking these people off right and left and making sure that when they issue their ridiculous attacks, nobody hears them. Everybody on the leadership team knows this is vital.”

In all the punditry on the current and future state of Twitter, most of the narrative to this point has focused on the competition. Twitter’s response, however, has been largely focused on its users. While some of these updates may seem small, in aggregate they signal a move to a much more intuitive user experience, fed largely by user feedback. Time will tell if this focus on fan-favorite features amounts to a measurable increase in usage and revenue.

What do you think about Twitter’s latest features? What else would you like to see? Share you thoughts in the comments.

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Apr

4

2016

Something Big is Happening With Snapchat: Why Businesses Shouldn’t Wait to Get Started

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There’s a funny pattern of awakening that tends to happen when a technological advancement sneaks up on us. It starts with a mess of confusion.

We don’t understand the technology or its purpose: “I don’t get Twitter. Why would I want to know what you had for lunch?”

It then evolves into miscategorization: “The iPhone is actually a pretty crummy phone.”

We get so caught up in definitions, we almost miss the larger leap that’s occurring: “Why would people use messenger apps when you can just text?”

Then, finally, we get it: “The iPhone is not a phone at all. It’s an everything device. And Twitter is not about lunch. It’s about removing the barriers to real-time publishing.”

While we’re busy missing the big picture, a rapidly growing niche of early adopters is diving in. Early adopters don’t get distracted by the need to categorize or define the technology. They just use it. And in repeated agenda-less use, the bigger picture becomes clear.

This same pattern is happening today with Snapchat.

Hang with me. Don’t roll your eyes just yet. I’m going to pay it off. I’ve been a Snapchat doubter for a while now. Like many others, I relegated it to a fad or a niche service for a subset of a subset of the population. I’m beginning to realize I was wrong.

Snapchat is Shedding Its Skin

First, the basics. Snapchat is a one-to-one and group messaging app that has more than 100 million daily active users. Long classified as an app in which teenagers exchange goofy self-destructing videos, Snapchat is beginning to shed its skin and evolve into something new. Last week, Snapchat announced a 2.0 version with a slew of new features, some of which will reshape the purpose of the app altogether. First, let’s go through the features:

  • Stories now auto-advance: To keep content flowing and viewer engagement up, Snapchat stories now auto-advance.
  • 200 stickers added in private chat: While stickers may seem small, this addition brings Snapchat in parity with one of the more popular features on other messaging apps such as LINE and Facebook Messenger.
  • Upload photos from your phone: Another crowd-pleaser, this moves Snapchat from solely an “in-the-moment app” to one that can be used to share and react to the past.
  • 10-second looped video and audio notes: With video and audio notes, users can post genuine, human reactions as opposed to falling back on “LOL” or other anachronistic responses.
  • Phone calls & video calls: This is where things start to get interesting. Users can place full phone or video calls right within Snapchat, so you can seamlessly move from sharing 10-second bursts and pictures to having a longer conversation.

On their own the features are interesting, but it’s the message behind the features that really caught my attention. Together, these features amount to a very clear benefit: The removal of limits to how you communicate with others remotely.

Think about it: Every other app or device we use for communication requires a certain category or format of that communication. Phones are great for long-form audio. SMS is great for text and sometimes images. Other messenger apps are great for short form messages and transactional conversations. But before this release, no single app or device optimized for all the ways humans communicate: long form, short form, audio, video, text, photo, and drawing.

Which means that Snapchat, for now, is actually pretty special.

Snapchat Wants to BE Your Phone

TechCrunch picked up on this immediately. In a review of the new Snapchat features, TechCrunch called the app social media bedrock, saying:

Photos that self destruct in 10 seconds aren’t even the point of Snapchat anymore. With today’s launch of Snapchat 2.0, Snapchat wants to BE your phone.”

But, I already have a phone. It’s the larger black box that contains Snapchat and the other apps I’ve downloaded. Sure, that’s true. But think for a moment about all the individual apps you’d need from within that phone to equate what Snapchat now enables you to do in one.

“It lets private conversations morph between mediums depending on what users want to show or tell,” explains TechCrunch editor-at-large Josh Constine. “Snapchat is positioning itself as the most vivid, human way to chat.”

And it’s doing so in a single, simple interface.

Last fall, Designer Tony Aube wrote a fascinating essay — “No UI is the New UI” — which  asserts that to date, much of remote human interaction has taken place through the filter of some sort of user interface. However, messaging apps are moving us toward a near-invisible UI. Aube went on to say:

What make [messaging apps] special is that they don’t use a traditional UI as a mean[s] of interaction. Instead, the entire app revolves around a single messaging screen.”

That screen, which can now nimbly move between image, face-to-face, audio, and other forms of communication, removes some of the technical congestion found in other apps — congestion which can cloud and limit the experience.

“We’ve learned a ton about how people talk, but our goal remains unchanged,” Snapchat explains in its launch post. “We want Chat to be the best way to communicate — second only to hanging out face-to-face.”

Do You Want a Side of Fries With That Hype?

It’s easy to read all of the excitement over the new Snapchat features and think we’ve all been blinded by a good PR team. But this actually isn’t about Snapchat at all. Rather, it’s an observation on how the systems we use to communicate are evolving.

One of the best explanations I’ve seen of how a single technology gains adoption and in turn advances society is the Gartner hype cycle. Here it is, as illustrated by, Luc Galoppin:

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In the hype cycle, the slope of enlightenment comes after the first rush of early success stories give way to more patterned instances of how the technology can benefit society and business. In the slope of enlightenment, those benefits start to crystallize and become more widely understood.

I’d argue that with Snapchat — and other messaging apps — we’re just starting to emerge from the “through of disillusionment.” We’re just starting to see beyond individual messaging app features. We’re just beginning to piece together the larger shift that’s happening in the way we communicate. Likely, it’s a shift that other messaging apps and devices will pick up on and adopt.

Why Should Businesses Dive in Now?

I’m not going to sit here and tell you your audience is on Snapchat. In fact, they might not be … yet. But there is a benefit to wading into this emerging channel early.

Below is an illustration — by Luc Galoppin (and annotated by me) — of the standard adoption curve in which products and technologies go through on their path to ubiquity. Note: Snapchat is currently at the tail end of the early adopter stage.

snapchat-early-adoption.png
Early adopters are both impressive and essential to technological advancement. Namely because early adopters don’t feel the compulsion to classify new technologies. They just want to get in and use them. Sometimes in doing so, they create new use cases that the app inventors didn’t even think about. In turn, early adopters shape second and third iterations of products, and have shaped this latest release from Snapchat. Behavior precedes strategy. And strategy that natively understands that behavior is all the more effective.

You won’t necessarily understand the potential of Snapchat by reading about it. You have to get in there, follow people, and use it. So even if your audience isn’t quite there yet, there’s a case for trying it out with the early majority … before the late majority arrives. That’s what we did.

Want a starting point? HubSpot just launched our own Snapchat account. You can start learning how companies use the app by opening Snapchat and searching for: HubSpotinc.

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Mar

7

2016

12 Uncomfortable Things That Will Make You More Successful

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In a truly beautiful letter to his daughter Yolande, Sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois extolled the virtues of being uncomfortable.

Yolande was headed to a new school half way around the world from the neighborhood and people she knew. It was years before women had the right to vote, and decades before the Civil Rights Movement.

Du Bois knew she would have more than a few fish-out-of-water moments. Instead of trying to shield her from them, he asked her to revel in them:  

Don’t shrink from new experiences and custom. Take the cold bath bravely. Enter into the spirit of your big bed-room. Enjoy what is and not pine for what is not. Read some good, heavy, serious books just for discipline: Take yourself in hand and master yourself. Make yourself do unpleasant things, so as to gain the upper hand of your soul. Above all remember: your father loves you and believes in you and expects you to be a wonderful woman.

I am no W.E.B. Du Bois. I have neither his fortitude nor his stunning way with words. What I do have, however, is a small history of uncomfortable experiences that have made me stronger, and an endless sea of animated GIFs through which to illustrate those experiences.

Here are a handful of uncomfortable situations in which you should take De Bois’ advice and “Take the cold bath bravely.” You’ll be better off as a result. 

12 Uncomfortable Things That Will Make You More Successful

Brace yourself. It’s about to get awkward.

1) Learning to Take a Compliment

Source: Reaction GIFs

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You work exceedingly hard. You’ve honed your skills. You know when you’ve done great work and take a quiet pride in it. And yet, the moment someone verbalizes it in the form of a compliment you can’t seem to string two words together. Instead, you revert into one of the following

  • The babbling-response.
  • The self-deprecating response. 
  • The total and complete blackout. 

That nonsense has to stop. Here’s how to take a compliment.:

  1. Realize that someone is paying you a compliment.
  2. Let them finish.
  3. Seriously, let them finish. 
  4. Take a breath.
  5. Smile and say “Thank you. That’s really good to hear.” 
  6. Move on in the conversation. Don’t over-explain. Don’t undercut yourself. Just thank them sincerely and move on with a question about how their work is going. 

Why is this so hard? According to a study by Acknowledgment Worksnearly 70% of people associate embarrassment or discomfort with the process of being recognized. Sometimes, this response is caused by the dissonance we feel when someone contradicts our own self-doubt.

But that doesn’t explain why people who are genuinely proud of themselves still balk at hearing that same praise from others. For those people, it often comes down to a learned-response. In other words, you are awkward when you receive compliments because I am awkward when I receive compliments — or, if not me, then your mom; your co-workers; your icons. We’re all making each other squirm. 

One way to turn that discomfort on its head is to realize that the compliment has more to do with the person giving it than with you. “When someone is complimenting you, they are sharing how your actions or behaviors impacted them,” explains Business Psychologist Mark Goulston. “They are not asking if you agree.”  So don’t rob them of that moment. 

2) Public Speaking

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Source: Giphy

You knew this one was coming, right? Fear of public speaking is so common it has its own phobia name: Glossophobia.  

Now, I don’t think I need to go into the reasons behind this particular juggernaut of discomfort. We’ve all been there. Having that many eyes and ears on you is stressful. It makes you feel as though any mistake or imperfection will be amplified a thousand times. I’m also certain you realize how compelling a good public speaker can be, and how much it can advance your ability to lead and inspire.

So all that leaves is the classic glossophobia question:  How do you get over it? The answer is a mix of substantial and superficial changes.

Know the essential points.

Do not attempt to memorize your speeches. Instead, memorize your key points and your pivot lines. Pivot lines are the sentences that will move you from one key point to another. They act as navigational guides for your audience and a momentary comfort zone for you. Use these pivot lines to reset, take a breath, and move to your next key point. 

Understand that everyone wants you to succeed.

You are not going into battle. You are not facing a firing squad. These people you are talking to are all decent, interested folks. Many of whom also suffer from glossophobia. So know they are friendly, and talk to them like it.

Fake it.

For this last point, I turn to Harvard Associate Professor Amy Cuddy. She is a brilliant researcher and a  self-proclaimed introvert who noticed something fascinatingly simple about skilled public speakers: They all looked comfortable, and they all appeared to be in command — even if that appearance was all a big ruse.

So she studied what happens to people’s mindset when they stood up straight, casually used the space around them, and otherwise “power-posed.” Turns out the physical act of power-posing can send biological triggers to your brain to reduce cortisol levels and increase testosterone, calming you down and empowering you simultaneously.

(Here’s a blog post on science-backed tips for better public speaking if you want to learn more.)

3) Working With Data

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Source: Reddit

If you don’t take to math easily, then delving into data can be intimidating. But learning to use data to find opportunities and underscore your points is a game-changer in your career.

The trick to mastering data is to learn it in context. Start by getting to know the core metrics that reflect your work. Play with spreadsheets at the close of a month. Learn to recognize trends. Alter the data to see how moving one metric would influence the others. The more time you spend with the data the more natural interpreting it will become.  Once you’ve done that, you can dig into the tougher stuff. Here are a couple of resources to get you started:

4) Waking Up Early

Source: ReactionGIFs

It’s exhausting, this modern life. While it may seem like you should squeeze as many extra minutes of sleep out of the morning as possible, the opposite is usually true. Your energy, focus and mental capacity are at their highest during the morning hours and proceed to wane throughout the rest of the day.

Take advantage of that time before breakfast when the chaos of the day has yet to set in. For most people, waking up early is a learned practice. 

First, make sure you’re cognizant enough to make the decision. Putting your alarm clock right next to your pillow is bound to result in you hitting snooze from a dazed state. You can’t be expected to make smart choices while you’re still dreaming. In addition, waking up early needs to become a pleasant experience. So if the thought of going straight from your warm bed to a shower or treadmill seems abrupt, then don’t do it. Instead, move from your bed to the cozy corner chair in your living room and read for a bit with a mug of coffee. What you do early on doesn’t matter, what matters is that you use the time in productive ways. (Read this blog post for more tips on becoming a morning person.)

5) Taking Critical Feedback

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Source: ReactionGIFs

This one stings sometimes, but it’s important. Learning to hear criticism without turning your back to it can be one of the most fortifying achievements of your career.

Think of critical feedback as a cheat sheet. In giving you direct feedback, your manager or colleague is giving you a shortcut  — your own personal konomi code — to becoming better at your job.

Sometimes, even with the best intentions, taking feedback well can be a struggle. Your impulse will be to protect yourself; to get defensive, or stop listening. So, be conscious of it. Much like accepting a compliment, take a breath when you realize critical feedback is coming your way. Listen to it all without interruption. Write down what you can. Then, ask questions to make sure you’re interpreting it right. 

6) Giving Critical Feedback

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The only thing worse than taking critical feedback is giving it. I’ve written about this before: Whether you’re a manager or a friend, feedback is an opportunity to help someone get better. Don’t waste it. Good coaches give feedback directly and with respect. Don’t try to soften the blow or talk around the feedback. Doing so may make you feel better but it will only serve to confuse them.

If you’re struggling to be direct, try one clear line followed by detail. For example, “John, what you’re doing isn’t working. Let’s talk through why…”

In addition, feedback is always most constructive if accompanied by recent concrete examples. Telling someone they have a bad attitude isn’t helpful — it’s far better to point to a precise moment in which that bad attitude showed up, and then explain how moments like that can become detrimental in aggregate. Ultimately, knowing how to improve is as important as knowing what to improve. The person receiving the feedback should leave the conversation feeling empowered to change, not broken down. (Here are some more tips on how to give negative feedback without sounding like a jerk.)

7) Fighting through Conflict

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You know what’s more uncomfortable than fighting through a conflict with someone? Settling for an uninspired compromise, and then gossiping about that person over drinks with your coworkers. That’s WAY more comfortable than conflict. (Not to mention, way less productive.)

There are two ways conflict negotiations get botched: Either one side gives in too easily, or both sides are too inflexible to make resolution possible. The cleanest way through conflict is to try to discover what’s motivating the other person. Comment trolls aside, it’s pretty rare for someone to be argumentative for no good reason. Discovering the reason will help you find a better route to solving the conflict. That’s why your best asset in settling conflict is a collection of genuine questions and a patient ear to hear the answers.

8) Exercising

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I keep waiting for the study that says that exercise isn’t all its cracked up to be. It’s fair to say that study isn’t coming. Not only is exercise good for your physical health, the ties between exercise and mental capacity are becoming undeniable. (Thanks, science.)

If you like working out, skip right ahead.  If you don’t, here are the only things I’ve found to work. 

Find your reason.

Maybe you want to lose weight. Maybe it helps you think more clearly. Maybe you have three kids, a constantly buzzing phone, and a dog all demanding your attention and exercise is your only chance to be alone. The reasons don’t matter.  Just find the one that feels authentic for you and use it. 

Make the time.

Treat exercise like you treat showering. It’s just something you do; a non-negotiable daily ritual. (Psst … here are 10 little ways to sneak in exercise at work.)

Get over it.

I used to hear about “runners’ highs,” a sort of delusion that sets in after you’ve done it enough that actually makes you believe jogging is fun. That may be the case for some people. It never happened for me, and wanting to like running made it easy to give up when I ultimately didn’t. Du Bois’ advice is worth hearing again here: “Make yourself do unpleasant things, so as to gain the upper hand of your soul.”

Find your genre.

The softer alternative to the above point is to find the exercise format that you hate least. If a crowded gym makes you want to run for the hills, then work out at home or outside on your own. If you find jogging boring, join a class or sports league. Work at it — it’s worth it.

9) Unplugging

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I love the internet. And smartphones? They’re like personal escape hatches that you carry with you all the time. But maybe “all the time” is not such a good idea.

According to a TIME poll of more than 5,000 people, 84% of respondents said that they could not go a single day without their cell phones, and 20% said they check them once or more every 20 minutes.

It’s not the frequency of usage that’s the problem; it’s what that level of usage does to our focus. Using our smartphones at night can make it a lot harder to sleep. When we use our smartphones nonstop it can be harder to think clearly.

So, here’s an experiment. For two weeks, set aside some screen free time blocks in your day. During that time fight the urge to open your laptop, watch TV, or glance at your phone. Sustain it for 60 minutes or more and see if you’ve gained better focus at the conclusion of the experiment. Then, go find some cat videos on YouTube to celebrate.

10) Networking and Making Small Talk

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Source: Giphy

Everyone has a small-talk formula. Some people start with the weather (nice, mild winter we’re having, eh?), while others ask how things are going with you at work. But here’s the trick to mastering small talk: Get fascinated by it and the person wielding it. It’s a little like being dealt a hand of cards, you can use what you have to get to bigger and more interesting plays.  

If someone asks you how work is, don’t say “fine” — or worse, “busy.” Tell them it’s good and follow up with, “You know, there’s one project in particular that you may find interesting.” If you’re doing the asking, take any opportunity to dive deeper. Use each question as a spring board to the next one. Eventually, you’ll hit on something substantial. 

11) Admitting a Mistake

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You know that moment right after you realize you’ve accidentally made a mistake? You know, that moment when the dread plummets into your stomach in one sweeping motion? Uncomfortable doesn’t even begin to describe it.

However, even that can be turned around. The most effective way to replace that sinking feeling in your gut is to assess the situation and take action. Ask yourself:

Is it immediately reversible?

On my last blog post, I had a glaring typo. This was not some extra spacing after a period, this was a blatant blemish smack in the middle of my post. And I missed it. Thankfully Claire Autruong caught it and let me know via Twitter so I could edit the post before it was too late. Claire is my favorite person of the week. (Incidentally, she is also a full-stack freelance marketer — inbound certified and nice as can be — if you’re looking.)

Who should know?

Whom does your mistake affect? Who is in the position who can help you solve it? Quickly scan the list of people that need to know about your mistake and contact them explaining what happened and what you’re doing about it.

What’s your plan?

If the mistake isn’t immediately reversible, you’ll need a plan of action. A good plan is the best antidote to mistake-induced discomfort. Shift from panic to determination as soon as possible, and that discomfort will subside.

12) Getting in Over Your Head

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Of all the uncomfortable moments, getting in over your head is probably the one most worth pursuing. Sure, it’s a little scary , and there’s always the chance of failure, but nothing stretches you more or makes you more creative than having no idea what you’re doing.

So how do you put yourself in an over-your-head style situation? Raise your hand. When there’s a project no one wants, step up. When there’s a problem that has existed for years, have at it. Then break it down. Take big challenges and tackle them piece by piece. It may not always be fun, but you will almost always be better for the effort. 

I’ll stop there …

… but this is really just the beginning. Who knew there were so many uncomfortable things in the world? (Michael Cera. Michael Cera probably knew.)

From negotiating salary to reading “some good, heavy, serious books” as Du Bois suggests, this list could go on and on. Hopefully it will, in the comments below.

What uncomfortable moment have you conquered as a professional? Which are you still working on that you’d add to this list? Share with us in the comments.

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Feb

29

2016

5 Key Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Manager

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When I was just starting out management didn’t seem like a career choice; it seemed like an inevitable. Something that would just sort of happen once I got old enough — like wrinkles, or gray hair, or distinctly unfashionable pants. I figured: You work long enough, you’ll manage someone.

I liked the idea of managing because it felt like progress. I wanted that nebulous trophy of achievement. I wanted it bad. But then something important happened …

I started actually achieving. I was progressing in concrete and measurable ways that had nothing to do with management. And I saw my peers do the same. They were climbing into new and more challenging roles — some involved management, but others advanced them as highly skilled and sought-after individual contributors.

Seeing the diversity of paths that careers can take, I stopped thinking about management as some sort of suit-sporting end-goal. And then I became a manager, and discovered that that realization was only the beginning of what I had to learn.

For starters, the skill set is totally different. In fact, the skills you mastered to become a top performer on your team might challenge you most as a manager. It’s like spending your whole life developing skills as a tuba player, then being handed a baton. You could be a brilliant conductor eventually, but in the beginning you’ll pretty much look like you’re shooing flies longing for the days when you played music more directly.

Management is tricky like that. Unlike some roles, which can be studied in advance, most management skills are best learned on the job. You’re going to make mistakes. Embrace them and learn from them. And if you need a little guidance, check out some of the lessons I learned below.

5 Key Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Manager

1) Don’t aim to be liked. Aim to be transformational.

The first inclination of many managers is to make sure their team likes them. It makes sense — you catch more bees with honey than vinegar, and you must be doing something right if people like you. But managers who focus too much on being liked miss the bigger picture. You do more for your team and for your company if you focus on being instrumental — even when doing so requires an unpopular decision or a bit of radical candor.

I learned this directly from HubSpot’s CEO Brian Halligan. Brian is widely regarded as likable guy, but he’ll trade in that popularity in a second if it stands in the way of a decision he thinks is critical for the company and its customers. He explained this thinking recently in a personal post:

“I think the leadership hierarchy of needs is that managers need to solve for enterprise value first, then solve for their team, and then themselves. Oftentimes when managers on my team have stumbled, it’s because they got that equation wrong. Ironically, in almost all cases where this happened, the manager solved for his team, not for himself first. Inexperienced managers tend to coddle their teams, overspend on their teams, and put their team’s interest over the company’s interest if not properly guided. This coddling works for a while, but ultimately always breaks.”

When you solve for your team, you earn popularity and your team stays comfortable. When you solve for the company, you earn respect and your team grows professionally. That’s the difference between a decent manager and a transformational one.

2) Don’t worry if you team doesn’t always need you.

I wrote this in a similar post a few years ago, but it bears repeating: The scariest realization I had when I started managing was that my team would be perfectly fine without me.

Do you have any idea how terrifying that is?

I remember thinking, “My one job is to manage these people, but they’re managing just fine.” And I felt useless. As it turns out, I was an idiot for feeling useless.

I should have felt elated. I had a strong team. If you’re hiring right, you should be bringing on people who are fully capable at managing themselves. You should, in fact, be bringing on people who are smarter than you. It turns out management has very little to do with managing and almost everything to do with developing. Developing people. Developing opportunities. And developing new uses for raw talent.

Left alone, your team will manage just fine. But here again, just managing shouldn’t be the end goal. The end goal should be excelling.

Managers who are too worried about being needed will spend all their time and energy on the wrong things. They will micromanage. They will put up hoops. They will inadvertently limit the potential of their team just to justify their own role in it. And the honest-to-God truth is: If you have to tell people you’re the authority, you’re likely not.

3) Coaches don’t couch.

I’m nice. I can’t shake it. As a teen, I listened to Rancid and Social Distortion in an effort to toughen up. I learned to curse like a sailor to add edge to my sentences. But the truth is, I’m just nice. It’s never going to leave me. That made this lesson a particularly hard one to master.

Good coaches don’t hold back hard feedback. They don’t couch it to soften the blow or sandwich it between two complements. They just tell it like it is. Couching tends to confuse the people receiving it rather than help them. You’re not doing them any favors. You’re only making yourself feel less mean.

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There are two ways people fail at this:

  1. They can’t bring themselves to give the hard feedback.
  2. They give hard feedback without building trust in the relationship first.

You can tell your direct report anything if they trust that you are doing so because you respect them.

Kim Scott, an author who’s previously worked with companies like Twitter, Apple, Google, and Dropbox credits much of her development to having mentors who understood the critical intersection between these two things. In an interview with The Growth Show she recounted the time her mentor Sheryl Sandberg told her that the “ums” Scott had been interjecting while speaking made her sound unintelligent — well, actually not unintelligent, “stupid.”

“It was actually the kindest thing that Sheryl could have done for me. But part of the reason why she was able to do it for me was that she had shown me in a thousand ways — and everybody that worked for her — that she really did care personally about our growth and our development.”

Had Sandberg softened her feedback it may not have resonated so strongly. Had Scott not trusted that Sandberg wanted the best for her, she would never have put her defenses down to truly hear it. The combination of the two made this an important and formative moment for Scott.

4) Meetings really do matter.

When was the last time you left a meeting and thought, “That was exceptional.“?

It’s been awhile, right? For many, it’s been a professional lifetime. While most productivity articles focus on finding ways to shorten meetings and optimize work-time, a better question might be: What would it take to make meetings actually worthwhile? It’s a responsibility that sits largely in the hands of managers.

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It may seem like a silly little thing, but the clearest way you can show your team you respect them is to prepare for team meetings. Don’t just show up. Don’t adhere to the same agenda month after month. Make every second of your meeting productive, educational, or interesting. You will inevitably bobble this. You will have some bad meetings, but it’s a skill worth honing.

Treat your meetings like college professors treat their seminars. Set aside time before each major meeting to prepare for it. If a meeting takes your team away from their work for an hour, then you better be sure you put in the prep time to make that hour as productive as possible.

Make your meetings interactive. Research suggests people lose focus in a lecture somewhere between 10 and 18 minutes. At that point both you and your team need a break from hearing the sound of your voice. It’s okay. Build that in. Tap members of your team to present or shift into a brainstorm when you hit that point. Again, make sure everyone presenting does the prep work and respects the time that their teammates have given up to be there.

5) You can’t approach everyone the same way.

The one thing that has helped me the most as a manager, on both good days and bad, has been understanding the people on my team. It sounds obvious, but taking the time to get to know what motivates each team member and what discourages them is a strategic advantage. Having this understanding means that you can play to the strengths of individual team members when assigning projects and adapt feedback to the way each person learns.

There are a number of trainings and personality tests that can help you know your team better. Here at HubSpot, we use something called a DiSC assessment to help classify work styles so new managers have a basic roadmap. The real understanding however comes over time, through conversation, and by paying close attention. It doesn’t hurt to ask directly how each person likes to be recognized for a job well done and what makes them happiest in their role. Use one on one meetings to discover how you can best coach the members of your team and what they’re looking to do next in their roles and their careers.

There is no grand conclusion here. Everything you’ve just read comprises a starting point, a few stumbling blocks of what could be many in the path to managing well. That I suppose is the bonus lesson: Managers are almost never fully cooked. There are always more mistakes to be made and greater lessons to learn. But if you get a few essentials right, including those in this post, you’ll have a good navigational compass for learning the rest.

What do you wish you knew before you became a manager? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Feb

9

2016

Why We’re Thinking About Messaging Apps All Wrong

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If you start to feel the low burn of anxiety rising in your gut whenever you hear about messaging apps like WhatsApp and WeChat, take comfort — you’re not alone. Much of the coverage on messaging apps to date has been accompanied by a mixture of sheer awe at their velocity and the oddly foreboding tone of a teenage dystopian blockbuster.

I asked Eytan Oren, CEO a consultancy that specializes in messaging apps called BlockParty, why he thinks that is: “The growth of the ecosystem took a lot of people by surprise — especially in the U.S. where chat apps took longer to catch on. At this point there are more people on chat apps than traditional networks, and though that shift was several years in the making, some people experienced it as an overnight success,” he explained.

“There’s also a level on which people may have grown comfortable with a small pantheon of “social media” leaders — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. All of a sudden you have a dozen chat apps with hundreds of millions of users to consider on top of those traditional outlets, and it can be daunting to know where to start.”

Whether it’s the arrival of something we don’t yet understand or unease over the sheer volume of users each of these messaging apps have accumulated, the tone around messaging apps is reminiscent of the restlessness that accompanied the emergence of social media 12 or 13 years ago. So what does that mean for marketers? Well, let’s take a closer look.

What Exactly is a Messaging App?

At their core, messaging apps enable one-to-one or one-to-few interactions in a fast, often cost-free way.

Skype and Blackberry Messenger are commonly thought of as the “grandparents of messaging apps,” which today number in the hundreds. The largest messaging apps in the world include WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Viber, Line, and Snapchat. Each of these have their own regional and demographic stronghold. The graphic below from BlockParty demonstrates their scale:

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You cannot talk about messaging apps without addressing their rapid growth of adoption. According to GlobalWebIndex, 75% of internet users today use some sort of a messaging app.

Research from Business Insider shows how quickly messaging apps have caught up to and surpassed social media network usage. Their chart below compares WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and Viber to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Oh, and by the way, it’s measured in billions – with a B. So the top four messaging apps have 2.125 billion monthly active users worldwide.

Which leads me to the next question: Is all this hoopla — billions and billions in monthly usage, exponentially growing articles, and spiking public attention — really just over the ability to send tiny little messages?

Likely not. Read on, my wise and good-looking visitor, read on.

How Are Messaging Apps Different From Social Media?

Part of understanding the import of messaging apps is zeroing in on what makes them different from traditional communication channels such as broadcast or social media.

If social media removes the barriers for people to broadcast messages out to an audience of many, messaging apps remove the barriers for people to interact one-on-one. And what are those barriers? Data plans for starters. One reason messaging apps spread so quickly with younger generations is due to the fact that they became known as the free alternative to text messaging. Whether you are talking to someone across the street or across the globe, most messaging apps enable you do to do so over WiFi without cost or impact on your mobile data limits.

Privacy concerns is another barrier messaging apps seem to address. For a generation that grew up with the highly public nature of social media, messaging apps offer a shade of privacy to talk with one or a group of your friends away from the public eye. Having private or semi-private channels for communication is of increasing importance, particularly as you look beyond messaging into a wider array of transactions. Which leads me to the next point …

Why Messaging Apps May Not Ultimately Be About Messaging At All

If you think of messaging apps as just another form of text messaging, you may be missing the larger picture.

We have a bad habit of naming things before we really understand what they’re capable of. We did it with social media. Early on we named Facebook, Twitter and similar sites “social media” because “media” was the only framework we had for mass communication. And that name colored our interpretation of it.

“Why would I want to know what you had for lunch?” Was the common retort against Twitter, for example.

The reason so many initially missed the point of social media was that they looked at it through the lens of traditional media, and “media” had historically been reserved for essential and polished information at the time. All the news that’s fit to print. But social really wasn’t media in the traditional sense at all. It was something entirely new. It opened up millions of simultaneous platforms and angles from which to see and report on the world around us.

We may be headed down a similar path with messaging apps. We’ve named WhatsApp and the like “messaging apps” because that’s our current context for them. They send messages. But what if the larger story behind messaging apps is not that they remove barriers to sending messages, but rather that they remove barriers to all digital interactions and transactions.

Today messaging apps are starting to evolve to include video, images, and even financial transactions. Everlane and Zulily use Facebook Messenger to take orders and process returns. The companies leverage an integration between Messenger and Zendesk to funnel messenger requests directly through their support channels.

What Everlane, Zulilly, and Zendesk are doing is just the beginning. Rare Pink, a Jeweler in London, is using WeChat exclusively to communicate with about 10% of its customers. Hotels like LINQ in Las Vegas are also opening up messaging apps for fast check-in and to enable guests to adjust the lighting and temperature in their rooms.

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A guest of LINQ hotel opens their suite door with WeChat

Promoting an open API for anyone wanting to build apps or integrations into it, WeChat has been quick to develop new use cases for messaging. As a result, they’re seeing it seep into every aspect of users’ lives.

For more than 500 million users in China, [WeChat is] essentially The Everything App. People use it to talk with their friends and their colleagues, and also to… book train tickets and get their laundry done, order dinner and play the lottery, pick out clothes and play videogames. It’s the remote control for your smart home, a mobile bank, and a way to renew your visa,” explains David Pierce, senior staff writer at Wired.

You can, for all intents and purposes, live your entire life within WeChat. It takes a phone full of apps to replicate its entire functionality.”

Let’s go over that again: “It takes a phone full of apps and replicates its entire functionality.”

So maybe the above chart comparing social media networks and message app usage is the wrong idea. Maybe we shouldn’t be thinking about messaging in terms of apps at all, but rather as an evolving infrastructure.

Where Do We Go From Here?

There was a time when social media was a perplexing newcomer to our lives. Today it’s hard to imagine an election season or a winter storm or an episode of the Bachelor without an accompanying hashtag. Social changed the way we absorb the world around us — from the trivial to the momentous. It took years to find its place, but it’s indelible now.

When we think about messaging apps, we ought to think about not what they are today, but what they could be — what their underlying functionality makes possible — down the line. A recent report by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism paints this picture well: “While messaging is currently a clearly defined function of specific apps, the future is likely to be one wherein the capability is baked-in to nearly all digital technologies and services. The point where a messaging app begins and ends will begin to blur,” they explain.

When you look at the unique ways in which companies like Everlane, Zendesk, and LINQ are starting to use messaging apps, it’s not hard to see how this permeation could begin. We’re a ways off still, but it’s possible to imagine a time when messaging apps will be so widely used they will become indistinguishable from any other mass utility. As NeimanLab’s Joseph Lichterman predicted, “Soon messaging will become like electricity — ubiquitous and involved in nearly everything we do.”

What do you think are the possibilities for messaging apps in your industry? What would it take for them to gain traction as a marketing, sales and service channel within your business? Share your thoughts below. 

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Jan

22

2016

Why You Won’t Recognize SEO in Five Years

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As marketers, we’ve gotten quite good at evolving our playbooks when it comes to SEO. But the changes we’ve seen to this point are nothing compared to what’s coming next. 

We are in the early stages of a new era of search — an era tied closely to more sophisticated patterns such as mobile, social, and voice search, among other things. And for the first time this isn’t just a matter of adding a new chapter to our SEO strategy, it’s a matter of creating entire new playbooks. 

To this point, SEO has predominantly revolved around browser-based search engines. More precisely, it’s been linked directly to Google. That’s where all the search activity has been. That’s where content consumption has historically started. Not anymore. 

New universes of search are taking shape outside of the browser window.  In many of them the rules for optimization have yet to be defined.

3 Emerging Search Patterns That Are Changing the Face of SEO

1) Mobile Search

Here’s a fascinating little tidbit that changes everything. We all know the lion’s share of web usage has moved from desktop to mobile devices. At last count, 60 percent of internet use took place on mobile. It’s a figure, somehow equally astounding and obvious, that leads experts like Benedict Evans to nudge: “We should stop talking about ‘mobile’ internet and ‘desktop’ internet. It’s like talking about ‘colour’ TV, as opposed to black and white TV.”

“Mobile is the internet.” He declares.

Now, that would be change enough, but the fascinating little tidbit I’m talking about? That’s still to come. According to Forrester, it turns out that 85% of the time we spend on phones is spent in apps — really it’s spent in just a handful of apps. So, if internet activity is growing on mobile, and mobile activity is predominantly spent in apps, what does that mean for search engines?

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It doesn’t look as though desktop browser use is declining as of yet, but it has flat-lined; and content consumption within apps and devices has opened up in a big way. Unfortunately, content in apps isn’t easily traversed via traditional browser-based search engines nor optimized via traditional search engine optimization. App stores, by both Google and Apple, are still the primary mechanism for finding new apps and content.

Here Evans frames the situation well again, “Today, app stores look a lot like the Yahoo of 20 years ago, and they don’t work for the same reasons – you can browse 20,000 apps but not a million. Hierarchical directories don’t scale.”  

Which means, better app search is coming. Better app search is inevitable. In the meantime, Spotlight search on the iPhone is worth taking seriously. Often thought of as a quick search tool for the contents of your iPhone, Spotlight can actually search within apps and even bypass Google to bring you some web results. Spotlight doesn’t play by the same rules as Google, Bing or DuckDuckGo. It is its own search mechanism and, as such, will need its own optimization rules. 

So, we’re in early days here. “Yahoo in the late 90s” kind of early days. Search engine optimization for apps and the content within them has not yet caught up to user behavior, and when it does it could look very different from the browser-based playbook we use today. 

2) Social Search

Something has been happening on our favorite social channels. Over the last year Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat have each released a collection of new features, which on their own would be mildly remarkable, but collectively signify a massive shift in the priorities of social channels.  

Did you know Facebook can now search for content as easily as people? Turns out, it handles 1.5 billion daily searches, gaining on Google’s 3.5 billion. More and more these searches are targeting content not just people. This is interesting for a couple of reasons, the greatest of which might be how big of a role connections and influencers play in search results. After all, this is a social channel. As such, optimizing for Facebook and other social channels may be an entirely different game than optimizing for Google.  

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Think this is a small change? Blake Ross, cofounder of Mozilla, advises otherwise: “Judge a company’s priorities by its pixels. This is an announcement that sits at the very top of a feature that sits at the very top of Facebook. It follows a year of intense, smart, and creative experimentation in this area. This isn’t a lark. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve been noticing more and more public content/search/trend features popping up all over Facebook this year.” 

The second search-related change on social has to do with how these channels are beginning to treat content. We call them social “channels” because these sites have historically been a pass-through for businesses and publications — a way to promote content and get viewers back to your websites.

However, in the last year, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat have all released features designed to keep viewers on their sites and in their apps, with no pass-through. Facebook introduced instant articles, which contain the full article within the Facebook app rather than requiring a clickthrough. Sources say that Twitter, which already has the walled garden of “Moments,” is exploring a project to enable longer form content on the channel. 

Will Oremus, senior technology editor at Slate explains, “What’s really changing here, then, is not the length of the tweet. It’s where that link at the bottom takes you when you click on it—or, rather, where it doesn’t take you. Instead of funneling traffic to blogs, news sites, and other sites around the Web, the “read more” button will keep you playing in Twitter’s own garden.”

Social media has long been considered a powerful channel through which visitors find content on your website. These subtle changes however are pointing to a future that looks quite different. And if content becomes more decentralized away from the website, optimization of that content will likely change, too.  

3) Voice Search & Personal Assistants

In the last few years, we’ve been introduced to Siri, Google Now, Cortana, and Alexa — voice-activated personal assistants created by Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, respectively. The emergence of voice-activated personal assistants has run alongside the rapid development of connected devices beyond the desktop computer or smart phone. Everything from watches to scales, home speakers to lights are now connected to the internet and its never-ending sea of information. As our access to the internet has diversified, so has our search behavior. How so? Let’s take a look.

  • Natural language: Each morning I get up, stagger to the coffee pot and utter the phrase: “Alexa, what’s new?” Amazon’s Alexa — which is based in a speaker on my countertop — dutifully answers: “Here’s Meghan’s Flash Briefing.” She then plays news and weather relevant to me and my location. I don’t structure the search query. I don’t use keywords. Alexa is smart enough to associate natural language with a request.
  • Expanded search windows: Because of the prevalence of connected devices we’re no longer only searching when seated at our desks or in a convenient place for typing on our phones. Search can happen anywhere at any time. Something that influences both the volume of the searches we’re conducting and their composition. 
  • Context and history: Unlike browser search engines which still rely heavily on the expressed search terms, personal assistant searches pull upon the searcher’s history and context. If I’ve ordered dog food before, Alexa pulls in the exact brand from past orders and asks me if I’d like to re-order. If I’m leaving the office at 6 p.m., Google now will tell me exactly how long it will take me to get home. These searches remove a step, or several, from the research and get me to the point of action more quickly.

Image Credit: Amazon Echo 

When the internet is suddenly all around you, it becomes more and more common to discard your keyboard and directly ask the universe for what you want. This changes the structure of these queries. What you want may be less specific and structured than traditional search queries. Imagine optimizing for queries like, “What should I do tonight?” as opposed to structured searches like “Best Sydney Area Restaurants.”

Preparing for a New Era

Changes in behavior always precede changes in strategy. The point in drawing attention to these new search patterns is not to raise alarms; it’s to raise eyebrows. While the future is uncertain, one thing is clear: the world of search is not ending, it’s expanding. And expanding worlds call out for exploration.

Have you notice any other emerging search trends? What are your thoughts on where search is headed? Share your thoughts and ideas below.

free guide: seo myths

Nov

11

2015

The Best Promotional Product Videos Ever (And Why They Make You Buy)

One of the wisest things I’ve ever read about product marketing came from the writer of a children’s book.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea,” said Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, creator of The Little Prince.

The goal in crafting a perfect product video is not far off. If you want your video to resonate, it should be about more than just the product. It should be about the problem, the solution, the experience, and the larger vision of what you’re trying to build. 

Considering the right video can put a product on the map for the first time or reinvigorate a company that has long been stale, it’s important that marketers have a strong grasp on this. So to inspire your own efforts, we’ve collected a list of impressive product videos for marketing a product or new release. 

Learn the secrets behind the coolest product videos and other content in this free download.

7 Examples of Promotional Videos That Make You Want to Buy

1) Blendtec: Will it Blend?

I’m digging into the archives for this one, but in the world of videos that add life to a product, few have done it better than Blendtec. The company’s CEO, Tom Dickson, became a YouTube icon back in 2006 with the introduction of his Will it Blend? series.

Since then, Blendtec has expanded the tremendous success of these videos to other channels, enabling viewers to suggest things to blend on Facebook. The company even has its own Wikipedia page dedicated to the series.

The success of this video comes down to two things: a clear, unwavering message and a company with a personality. In seven years, the series has never changed. The point of each video and the underpinning of the product positioning is essentially, “Why yes, it will blend.”

For years, we’ve been watching this product blend everything from glow sticks to an iPhone. The videos are minimally expensive, product-focused, and garner millions of views. In a recent interview, Dickson explained the history and success of the video series:

“‘Will it Blend?’ was developed accidentally by a new marketing director hired in 2006. I have always been one to try to break my blenders to find their fail points and determine how I can improve them. George, the new marketing director, discovered some of the wacky things I was doing to my blenders … With a $50 budget, George bought a Happy Meal, a rotisserie chicken, Coke cans, golf balls, and a few other items, and they made five videos. Six days later, we had six million views on YouTube. Six years, 120-plus videos, almost 200 million views later, ‘Will it Blend?’ has been named as the number one viral marketing campaign of all time [by Ad Age].”

Here’s Tom blending a Facebook request: Justin Bieber. The video earned 2.8 million views (and counting) on YouTube.

2) Dollar Shave Club: Our Blades are Great

Dollar Shave Club also made waves with their first product video. I’ll warn you now: they’re not shy with the F-bombs or referring to “your handsome-ass grandfather,” so you may want to throw in the headphones before pressing play. Having said that, what’s singular about this product launch video is how well the company knows its audience and the problem it’s trying to solve.

Dollar Shave Club was trying to crack into a demographic of young, professional men who habitually purchase big-brand razors at local stores. The problem they attempt to highlight is the absurdly high cost of store-bought razor cartridges. Thus, the company needed an absurdist, well-targeted product launch video to match. 

CEO Michael Dubin, who studied improv with the Upright Citizens Brigade, wrote the spot himself and hired a comedian friend, Lucia Aniello, to produce the video. According to reports on Quora, the video cost approximately $4,500 — and yet, it got more than 11 million views and coverage on countless media outlets.

3) Purple Feather: The Power of Words

In tight marketing budgets, professional copywriting services are often the first to be cut. Instead of hiring professional copywriters, companies opt to take on the writing themselves, figuring it’s not all that different from other writing they do. They assume the words they choose won’t make much of a difference one way or the other. Based in Glasgow, Purple Feather is a copywriting agency that set out to prove that assumption wrong. 

Words matter. In fact, they can change everything. Purple Feather made that point exceptionally clear in this powerful video:

4) Google Chrome: Jess Time

The best product videos focus not on the product itself, but on the stories of the people who use it.

Technology writer and NYU Professor Clay Shirky has a great chapter in his first book about the pervasiveness of communications tools in our lives. In it, he explains that technology doesn’t truly get interesting until it becomes so ingrained in our lives it turns invisible. No product video shows this “invisibility” of really good products better than Google’s “The Web is What You Make It” series.

The video below demonstrates how seamlessly Google and all of its products have melded into our lives and become a part of how we interact. It’s a video about experience, not software, and that is arguably what the company truly creates.

5) Apple: The Only Thing That’s Changed 

Launch videos like the Dollar Shave Club video above have a bit of an advantage when it comes to resonating with an audience. They represent a brand new company, product, or idea. But what if your company has been around for a long time?  What if the announcement you’re making is really more of a set of enhancements to an existing product than a brand new launch?

This year, Apple tackled that challenge head-on with the following video. This video takes a collection of seemingly small enhancements and strings them together in a way that underscores just how advanced the total new functionality is. Take a look:

 

6) Google: Google, Evolved

This year Google introduced a new logo for the company and a new parent company, Alphabet. It was the perfect moment for retrospection. So the company took to video to show not only how much Google’s products have evolved, but how much progress those products have enabled in the world around them.

The brilliance of this video is that it uses others to tell the story. Whereas some companies may have pointed the camera at their own designers and developers (looking at you, Apple), Google put the focus on the users, media, and cultural leaders that have adopted and promoted the products along the way. The resulting video plays more like a historical chapter than a commercial. 

7) InVision: Design Disruptors

I want to end this list with a bit of an anomaly, because it pushes at the boundaries of what can be considered a product video and, as such, opens up all sorts of opportunities.

InVision, a prototyping, collaboration, and workflow platform wants to empower designers — their primary users. Much of their content strategy is bent on this mission. This year, InVision will launch a documentary on the role of design in the modern business.

Design Disruptors looks at how 15 top businesses prioritize design in their products and overall user experience. Unlike traditional product videos, Design Disruptors will run in theaters and on Netflix. And unlike traditional product videos, Design Disruptors never actually promotes the product. The goal is bigger than the product.

“We’re trying to bring attention to the increased importance of design in a company’s success,” explains David Malpass, InVision’s vice president of marketing. “A lot of our work is based on doing things that’ll create a positive effect on the design community and that will elevate the role of the designer within their organization.”

What do you think are some of the best product videos out there? Did they inspire you to buy from the company? Let us know in the comments section below. 

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

learn the secrets behind the coolest product videos and more

 
learn the secrets behind the coolest content

Aug

7

2015

Decentralized Content Marketing: The Latest Trend We Need to Face

In the beginning, there were blogs.

Ok, that’s not entirely accurate. In the beginning there was the printing press. Then about 500 years passed and there were blogs … but let’s cut to the recent stuff, shall we?

The very existence of content marketing was predicated on the ability of any company, anywhere to start a blog. When companies, organizations, and individuals began to blog, the whole structure of power regarding how information gets distributed began to shift from a centralized channel — largely established media companies — to something that resembled more of a meritocracy.

Create good content and people will come — it was the golden rule that introduced a whole new type of marketing.

And so marketing strategies changed. Websites changed. Titles even changed. Teams that had previously acted like advertising firms started acting like journalism shops. Job boards began to list jobs for editors in chief and multimedia journalists.

The goal of all of this? Eyes on your website. Build as big of an audience as you can to center their attention on your website and your blog, and the conversions will come.  

It was a strategy that worked and continues to be a major business driver. My company, HubSpot, has over 1.5 million visitors come every month to its blog, and content generates more leads for our company than any other source by a long shot.

But something is changing in the world of content marketing. It used to be that the goal of content was to bring people to your website, which meant that all content needed to be consumed on your website. The website-based blog was the alpha and omega of content strategy. In recent years, however, content has started to become more decentralized.

The Emergence of Medium and LinkedIn Influencers

In 2012, Twitter Cofounder Ev Williams launched Medium. The point was simple, “prompt an ‘evolutionary leap’ in online sharing.” The platform didn’t look revolutionary on the surface — when it launched, it was little more than a nicely designed publishing platform.

But they did something very smart. They started with an invite-only model for publishing. You had to be recognized as a quality writer before gaining access to the site. That same year, LinkedIn launched their Influencers program, which tapped well-respected influencers to publish on the LinkedIn publishing platform.  

Guest blogging had long been a tactic in content marketing, but the quality reputation that both Medium and LinkedIn Influencers baked in gave weight to publishing on these platforms. And with credibility, came traffic. A year after its launch the average Influencer post received almost 30,000 views. By the time Medium and LinkedIn publishing became open to all, they were veritable media channels.

And then suddenly, there was a new question to consider when coming up with a great blog topic: Where the heck do I post this? 

You could post it to your company blog, where the traffic may not be as great but the objective of getting people to your site is more directly achieved.

You could also submit it as a guest blog or post it to a publishing platform like Medium, where the general traffic could be greater but then you have the added challenge of how to get people back to your site.

Which is better?

This will be interesting, I remember thinking as companies started to dip their toes in the water of publishing outside their home sites.

Finding a Happy Medium

In interim years, publishing content outside your core blog has grown in practice. It’s been a bit of a stumbling start in places, but tactics for getting the best of both worlds have emerged.

Syndicating Content

The easiest answer to how to choose between posting your content externally or on your website is to not choose. Some companies have had success with content syndication as a way to solve for both needs.

That being said, you need to use content syndication sparingly, and be careful and intentional with how you do it. Google’s search algorithm is not a fan of duplicate content and you could inadvertently dilute your search traffic. If you plan on re-posting a piece of content on your blog that you’ve previously published externally, you should follow a few guidelines.

First, if it’s a guest post, make sure the host blog is okay with you reposting the content, and build in enough of a timing gap so that the lion’s share of the traffic goes to the original post. When you do go to repost, add in a clause that explains it is a syndication and link back to the original post. Here’s an example of how you can do that:

This post originally appeared on (NAME OF BLOG). To read more content like this, subscribe to (NAME OF BLOG).

The words “originally appeared” should link to the original post’s URL, and the second URL should link to the blog’s individual subscribe page.

Next, you have two options. 

1) If you can set your syndicated post’s rel=”canonical” tag, set it to the URL of where the post originally appeared.

So if you’re syndicating a post that originally appeared on Medium, you should set your rel=”canonical” link to that Medium post. If you can do this, you should ignore the next option.

2) If you can’t set your rel=”canonical” tag, you can add a “no index” clause to your robots.txt file.

You can learn more about creating a robots.txt file here in Google’s step-by-step guide. Kathleen Celmins, content strategist for LeadG2 also wrote a helpful post on the topic.

By using either of the above options, you’ll still be able to republish a post without getting dinged by search engines.

Creating a Social Thread

Another way to connect disparate content is to create a thread back to your website through social shares.

I recently started using Start a Fire, an app (currently free) that allows you to pin hand-selected recommendations to the base of any article you share via social media. The app integrates with HubSpot and Buffer social media tools so that regardless of where the content you’ve shared is published, there will always be a path back to your company’s site, your personal writing, or other articles and pages you personally find important. Below is an example of how Start a Fire attaches to a shared article to show other content I recommend.

You can then see results of those recommendations in a dashboard. In the example below, I’ve managed to connect the free-radical content I’m sharing to three things I care about: attracting talented people to my company’s job site, writing on my own personal blog, and a post I wrote for the HubSpot blog. While the numbers are small to begin with, the click rate has been strong. Readers are finding their way from my far-flung content back to my site. 

Letting Go

Sometimes the happiest resolution is to recognize that if your content is good enough, people will find their way back to you regardless of where it’s published. One of the great realizations of modern marketing is that the company doesn’t own the brand — its consumers do. Trying to confine your content to your site alone is the equivalent of trying to control how your audience consumes it. Don’t be afraid to go where the audience is, even if that means sacrificing the direct route to your website.

learn more about INBOUND 2015

Jun

9

2015

10 Exceptional B2B Content Marketing Examples

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One of my favorite memories at HubSpot was watching our email marketer’s eyes go wide the first time she used our new email dashboard. Her reaction was was unrelenting, overflowing, and wholly genuine. Her expression mirrored the type of excitement typically reserved for iPhone launches and new seasons of Netflix series — but it was caused by software she used every day at work.

Those who think B2C companies have locked down all the truly interesting marketing angles have forgotten how passionate people can be about their jobs. For every B2B product, there are users out there looking to expand their knowledge or get inspired by their peers. All of which is to say: Nothing is uninteresting if you look at it the right way.

Done right, B2B content marketing can rival the creativity and appeal of the best consumer campaigns. Every once in a while, we like to recognize those companies breaking the mold in B2B content marketing and growing fervent, dedicated audiences as a result. Here are a few of our favorites.

For more content marketing examples, check out these 16 companies creating great content in “boring” industries.

10 Examples of Exceptional B2B Content Marketing

1) InVision’s Inside Design Series

InVision is a prototyping platform that helps companies collaborate on designs. Since its launch in 2011, InVision has built a user-base of more than 700,000 and a fervent audience of blog subscribers. 

Looking at InVision’s blog, you won’t find many mentions of the platform itself. What you will find is one of the best publications available on the design strategy and culture. That’s because InVision’s content marketing strategy recognizes one very important thing: Designers are passionate about their work. Focusing on that passion, rather than the product they offer, will make InVision a magnet for their precise target audience. 

What they do well: Focusing on rare content.

The InVision Blog features profiles on designers, thought leadership on design strategy, efficiency tricks, and design inspiration

What stands out about InVision’s content is how unique it is. In a time when a lot of content marketing shops are creating cookie-cutter posts, link-bait listicles, and keyword-stuffed content, InVision gives you a view into design that you can’t easily find elsewhere. One series in particular goes behind the scenes at a range of companies to interview their design teams about their design principles, workspaces, and culture. The Inside Design series has featured unique looks at the inner workings of Netflix, Prezi, and other notable teams.   

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2) Adobe’s 99U

In 2012, Adobe acquired Behance (a portfolio site for creative work) and its “educational arm,” 99U. To call 99U a blog would be a gross understatement. Aiming to offer the “missing curriculum” on making ideas happen, 99U has grown into a highly trafficked and oft-cited destination for current and aspiring creative professionals. Beyond the blog, it has expanded its content strategy to include a conference series, a collection of books on creative productivity, an engaging podcast, and even a print magazine. You heard me right: print.   

What they do well: Preserving the line between sales and content.

There was a bit of fear and speculation when Adobe purchased Behance and 99U that it would signal the end of journalistic content for the sites. As Communications Director Russell Brady put it:

When Adobe bought Behance in December 2012, some folks — ok the lily-livered naysayers that commentate negatively on every tech announcement, no matter who the company — predicted doom and gloom for the world’s leading social community for creatives. Adobe would come in and stamp a big red “A” over a vibrant space where creatives showcased their work and looked for inspiration from their peers. It would soon become a bland corporate wasteland or some such. Somehow this didn’t happen.”

Both Behance and 99U operate as wholly independent content hubs with dedicated followings. Does Adobe have a presence at 99U events? Certainly. But the content remains as focused, as it always has, on the creative professional — no strong sales pitches or overt marketing.

3) MYOB’s End of Year Financial Hub

MYOB is a provider of business management solutions in Australia and New Zealand. It helps companies manage their finances and connect with bookkeepers and financial services professionals. MYOB has two main audiences: small businesses that are just learning the ropes and more established companies that need greater insight into all facets of their operations.  Each audience has its own set of concerns and corresponding hub of information on MYOB.com.

What they do well: Understanding their customers.

In its content strategy, MYOB recognizes that many businesses are figuring out accounting and financial decisions as they grow. They work to be the resource that helps those businesses navigate each stage of their development. Their Hub is angled to fit the needs of each customer group well, providing tips for just starting out and guides for breaking through new stages of development.

4) Unbounce’s Page Fights

Have you ever seen a growth marketer coming off of a successful optimization experiment? They are electric. Unbounce, a landing page software company based in Vancouver, understands that excitement first-hand and has some fun with it on their microsite Page Fights. In collaboration with Conversion XL, Page Fights streams live landing page critiques by marketing optimization experts.  

What they do well: Expanding beyond written content.

Unbounce has run a successful blog for years now, but saw Page Fights as an opportunity to expand beyond written content. As the volume of content rises in industries like marketing and web design, diversifying the format of that information can keep your audience engaged and learning.  

5) Deloitte’s Expertise

Deloitte is a Boston-based consultancy firm with services that include auditing, consulting, financial advisory, risk management, and tax. The company works with a massive cross-section of industries, from government agencies to life sciences. At Deloitte, their knowledge is their selling point, so creating informed, useful content is core to their marketing strategy. Deloitte has long-published how-to guides and helpful resources based on their expertise, but recently they’ve upped the strength and gravitas of their analysis.  

What they do well: Developing specialized hubs.

Working with organizations from the financial services industry to government offices, Deloitte’s audience is broad. Executed poorly, trying to please a wide-scale audience like that could lead to an unfocused content strategy. Instead, Deloitte uses topic tags to create focused content hubs on topics from cyber security to corporate citizenship. Deloitte also has a content discovery tool built-in to their website so viewers can easily navigate between topics. 

deloitte-2.png

6) First Round’s Magazines

Picture “venture capital firm” and you may conjure up images of board rooms and freshly pressed suits. In recent years, however, a number of venture firms have started to demonstrate a different side of venture capital. From Flybridge to NextView, firms are growing loyal audiences of entrepreneurs by developing original content and empowering their VCs to publish their perspectives on personal and firm blogs. Notable among venture capital firms using content marketing is First Round Venture, which has developed the wildly popular First Round Review, a collection of nine online magazines targeted at the different aspects of building a business.  

What they do well: Flexing their network.

Led by Head of Content and Marketing Camille Ricketts, First Round’s content strategy doesn’t just pull from the minds of their VCs, it also taps stories from a network of businesses they fund or otherwise support. Ricketts, a former journalist, understands the value and appeal of learning from businesses that have gone through similar experiences. The magazines are full of rare and useful first-hand accounts like: “Bureaucracy Isn’t Inevitable — Here’s How AirBNB Beat It” and “Here’s How SurveyMonkey Cracked the International Market.” 

first-round.png

7) FireRock’s Visual Content

FireRock, a HubSpot customer that manufactures pre-engineered masonry products for contractors and home builders, has one of the best Pinterest accounts I’ve seen from a B2B company. It helps that they create really beautiful stone fireplaces, so the imagery is captivating, but they also know how to optimize Pinterest for their business.  

What they do well:

  • Clearly understanding the channel. Instead of taking pictures of the raw materials, FireRock recognized how people actually use Pinterest to get inspiration for their own designs and projects. Thus, FireRock pins pictures of their work in context of the home so people can envision the finished installation. 
  • Using geographic labeling. Many of the pictures are tagged by geography, so viewers searching by region can find them more easily.

FireRock has also learned to evolve their content strategy as new channels and media emerge. Recently FireRock expanded its content strategy to Houzz, a visual community for homeowners and home professionals. In Houzz, FireRock recognized the opportunity to reach the ideal audience for its content — people actively considering redesigning portions of their homes.

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8) Wistia’s Original Content

You’d expect video hosting company Wistia to be good at getting the angles and lighting right for its educational and product videos, but that’s not what landed them on this list. What landed them here is their consistent, uncanny ability to make viewers giggle uncontrollably at each video.  

What they do well: Embracing humor.

Wistia has been making videos for several years with the same small team of people. It could be easy to take the same approach or let their content grow stale, but Wistia keeps each new video fresh, engaging, and most importantly, funny. They’ve created videos starting dogs, unique music videos, video time capsules, and even videos featuring Zack Braff (no idea how they pulled that last one off).

Wistia_Library___Wistia.png

9) GE’s Instagram Account

With 337,000 followers on Twitter and 65,601 YouTube subscribers, GE certainly knows how to engage their audience. From my perspective, though, their Instagram is where they really stand out. Like InVision, GE uses social channels to express their awe and fascination — not with their products, but with science and innovation as a whole. GE has accumulated a massive Instagram following of 185,000 followers, many of whom are highly engaged. Each post pulls in thousands of likes and scores of comments.  

What they do well:

  • Giving their followers a nickname. It may not work for every company, but GE Aviations refers to their followers across all social media networks lovingly as “AVgeeks.” They’ve even turned it into a hashtag that their followers can use in other contexts. Injecting community into their content makes their social media presence about more than just the company, helping it spread farther and wider than it may have otherwise.
  • Not taking themselves too seriously. Having a history as long and storied as GE does might have made them more conservative when it comes to their social channels. But GE takes risks in their content. They add humor, demonstrate their own passion for the subject matter, and engage openly with their followers. Those risks pay off in a social following that is as engaged as any B2C brand.

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10) GoToMeeting’s (Citrix) Twitter Content

A webinar and remote meeting provider, GoToMeeting (run by Citrix) does a really nice job of making sure their Twitter stream is filled with valuable content. They have multiple team members dedicated to the channel, and their investment in content has paid off in more than 50,000 followers.

What they do well:

  • Sharing content other than their own. Just like GE, GoToMeeting is another great example of a B2B company acting as a curator of valuable content. Below, you can see an example of that in action.
  • Widening their focus (but still keeping it relevant). Beating the same drum again and again about online meetings can get old. Instead, GoToMeeting’s Twitter content focuses on the larger theme of working better. They include tips for productivity, working from home, and office humor.

The list doesn’t stop here. Asking for input on Twitter surfaced HelpScout, KISSMetricsGroove, Sidekick, and a number of other strong B2B content marketing efforts. There’s a world of content opportunities out there just waiting for creative B2B marketers to take on. 

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

content marketing examples in boring industries

 
examples of remarkable content in boring industries

Apr

28

2015

Inside ESPN.com’s Brilliant Redesign: Why You’re Going to See More Personalized Websites

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ESPN recently redesigned their website. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Companies redesign their websites roughly every 18-24 months. (You’re probably sick of yours right now, am I right?)

But this particular redesign garnered a ton of attention, earning coverage and analysis in Fast Company, TechCrunch, and VentureBeat, among other publications.

So why did so many other publications want to cover such a common thing like a redesign? Well for starters, ESPN’s website gets a ton of traffic. In 2014, ESPN.com attracted 22 million daily users, notably more than CNN.com, BuzzFeed, and other high-volume sites.

But that’s not the only thing they did. They made one major strategic shift: ESPN redesigned the website to adapt to the person looking at it.

Building personalization features into the fabric of the new site, ESPN.com will now reflect the interests, location, and device of each fan. For example, when I visited ESPN.com for the first time after the redesign, it took a guess at my favorite sports teams based on my location, then enabled me to tailor my view for future visits. It looked like this (Clearly, I’m a bit of a townie):

ESPN-For-Boston

Once your preferences are set, the website will prioritize relevant content whenever you visit again. With dynamic delivery of relevant stories, ESPN.com becomes, as the company put it, “a constantly updating river of content” that is tailor-made just for you. 

“We’re hoping what you will notice is that you are more engaged and immersed than ever, getting exactly what you want, when you want it, wherever you are,” wrote ESPN’s editors in the redesign launch post. “That’s what all of us fans expect.”

ESPN was not the first to add personalization to its website, but given its popularity and the sheer volume of impact this approach will have, we expect this may signal a tipping point in website personalization.

Why You’ll See More Adaptive Websites

Personalized content on websites began in the ecommerce space with Amazon recommendations, and continues to be prevalent on many other sites today. Shop Direct, one of the largest U.K. retailers, recently launched a fully personalized homepage for its main brand, Very.co.uk. Shop Direct claims that this website will serve 1.2 million different versions of the homepage to its customer base and expects that number to rise to 3.5 million by the end of the year. 3.5 million different web experiences out of one website. 

Spurred in part by early experiences with personalization on ecommerce sites and a natural proclivity for relevant content, consumers in all industries are starting to expect some level of a customized experience. According to Janrain, nearly three-fourths (74%) of online consumers get frustrated with websites when content appears that has nothing to do with their interests.

Where customer demand exists, technology shortly follows. As more websites are plugged into contact and email databases, dynamically producing different views becomes technically much easier. While Amazon and ESPN likely have robust personalization and content delivery engines powering their entire sites, a wide range of companies are using tools to leverage what they know about visitors and personalize their most critical pages or conversion paths.

How to Make Your Own Website Adaptive

Get the Technology

To personalize your website, you’ll need a database to automatically store relevant information on each visitor about their on-site behavior. You’ll also need a tool to serve up different content based on a set of criteria from that database. (Full disclosure: HubSpot software does this or we wouldn’t know so much about the topic. There are also a number of other personalization engines out there you can research, including Monetate for ecommerce and retail.)

Start With Mobile

I know. I know. You want to get to the good stuff like personalizing for brown-haired, knitting fanatics or targeting CEOs who have visited your pricing page. But trust me, before you do anything else, start with mobile. Make sure your website, blog and landing pages can recognize the various devices visitors use to view your content and adapt to give them the best possible view. The reasons for this are manifold.

First, mobile-optimization is now weighed heavily as a search rank criterion on Google. If your site isn’t fully optimized for mobile, its ranking could plummet on mobile searches, no matter how good the content.

Second, making sure any person could easily read content and click on your links your links is the very foundation of creating a good user experience. But that good experience needs to adapt as your visitor moves from their static desktop to mobile phone to their tablet on the couch at home. Customer-focused personalization has to be rooted in a responsive, device-agnostic design. As Ryan Spoon, ESPN’s SVP of product development told Fast Company, “The last time we did a redesign, there was no concept of a mobile application or fragmentation between iOS and Android. As the world has evolved, we want all our experiences to evolve.”

Add in Lifecycle Stages

Think of a brand new, fresh-faced, first-time visitor to your website. Got ’em? Aren’t they adorable?

Now think of a long-standing, loyal customer of yours.

How different are their needs from each other? Furthermore, how different are those needs from the needs of someone who has been to your site repeatedly and is seriously considering purchasing your product or service?  

You see what I’m getting at. As an individual’s relationship with your company evolves, the content that is interesting to them is going to change too. Media companies, like ESPN, may differ on this slightly, but for my marketing dollar, the most important personalization I can do is to adapt my content to fit the customer lifecycle. By customer lifecycle, I mean all of the stages individuals go through when they’re weighing a purchase decision. People begin with needing exploratory information on the field, then progress into more and more specific questions related to your product and company. After someone purchases and becomes a customer, his or her content needs shift again. 

Get Advanced With Interest- and Persona-Based Personalization

The second major personalization feature you should implement is based on what topics are most relevant to certain types of people. This is the strength of a website redesign like ESPN’s. In a world of hundreds upon hundreds of sports teams, how do you appeal to everyone?

You can get a sense of what’s interesting to each individual viewer by keeping tabs on their viewing history. That’s where the contact or subscriber database comes in. By leveraging cookies to store the pages, articles. and other content each viewer consumes in a running profile, you can start to pick up on and leverage trends based on that behavior. If, for example, I only read articles about the New England Revolution and skip articles about the Boston Celtics, you might start to guess that my interests are squarely in the soccer/football arena. By surfacing those articles above the articles on basketball, ESPN would save me the step of having to search for them, making my whole experience on the site more relevant and fulfilling.

Allow Your Visitors to Contribute to Their Own Personalization Settings

Every website visitor brings with them a certain amount of information when they land on a site — it’s kind of like a digital footprint. From the moment someone arrives on your site, your analytics can recognize the device they’re using, the channel or site from which they came, and their general location based on the IP address associated with their computer. That IP address is what told ESPN that I was accessing their site from a computer in Massachusetts.

Given that, they then took the educated guess that I would be interested in Massachusetts based sports teams. It was a good starting point because it meant the personalized experience began right away.

But what if I wasn’t into Boston sports? What if I liked the Denver Broncos, The English Premier League, or somehow (inexplicably!) the New York Yankees? ESPN was smart to follow up their automatic personalization with filters I could tweak to correct my view. Checking in with your website visitor directly to make sure you’ve gotten personalization right is a great move to keeping your viewers engaged.

When in doubt, ask — particularly if personalization is going to have a big change in the visitor’s experience of your website. Sales Benchmark Index, an entirely different type of company from ESPN, does this kind of visitor-selected personalization to send visitors down the conversion path that works best for them.

SBI-personalization

Time will tell if ESPN’s website results in better numbers for the media company. The move to create a website that acts more like living, evolving channels than static brochures, however, seems to be a trend that is swiftly finding its way toward the norm. There is still more to discover in this space, including more than a few mistakes I’m sure companies will hit along the way, but a personalization strategy rooted in the desire to create a better experience for visitors holds a lot of promise for marketers and media companies alike.

website redesign workbook guide

Jan

16

2015

What Great Data Visualization Looks Like: 12 Complex Concepts Made Easy

data-visualization-made-easy

Perhaps today was a rough day. Maybe you woke up late. You missed your workout, then your bus, then closing elevator doors at work. Maybe that project of yours is getting you down and if one more person tells you tomorrow is another day you’re going to scream.  

But seriously, tomorrow is another day. And this one? It’s not such a big deal after all.

All of those promises that “this too shall pass” become even more undeniable when laid out in an interactive, digital representation of time as done by White Vynal Design on the site Here Is Today. It’s a site I have bookmarked for moments of embarrassment or rebuke that can find their way into any life and can shatter your focus. 

Here-is-today

But why does this digital representation of “this too shall pass” work so much better than knowledge of the fact alone? It all comes down to perspective.

How Metaphor Facilitates Understanding

In 1980 Cognitive Linguists George P. Lakoff and Mark Johnson published Metaphors We Live By. The groundbreaking book examined the way cognition is built on an extensive system of metaphorical jumps between concepts. For example, we associate time with distance. We say “over three hours” or “across time” even though time has no geographical basis. We associate the concepts of happy and sad with the spatial references of up and down, for example, “He’s down in the dumps” or “cheer up.”

Science journalist Samuel McNerney explains, “Our cognition is influenced, perhaps determined by, our experiences in the physical world. This is why we say that something is “over our heads” to express the idea that we do not understand; we are drawing upon the physical inability to not see something over our heads and the mental feeling of uncertainty.”

We do all of this to create a sort of roadmap for our minds. We use the vocabulary of familiar place to help us understand an unfamiliar one. In each of the above instances we’ve applied features that are visually perceivable to concepts that are more abstract. 

Visualizations just take this practice a step further. Instead of the roadmap living in our minds, it becomes a physical object we can manipulate — all thanks to technology and design. Below are a few complex concepts that visualizations easily explain.

It Shows Scale

The universe is vast. Anyone who’s ever looked up at the stars and felt a sudden sweeping insignificance can tell you that. But getting a true sense of that vastness can be hard. There are entities, large and small, that are just beyond the grasp of our imagination — unless, of course, a visualization helps you take cognitive baby steps. 

Nikon’s Universe Scale

An illuminating interactive, Nikon’s Universe Scale attempts to give viewers an “infinite yardstick” by which to understand the relative scale of objects large and small. It starts with commonly known objects — a ball, an ostrich — then allows the viewer to pan out to entities as large as the group of galaxies to which the milky way belongs and those as small as quarks. The movement between items allows for a sense of distance between their relative sizes and helps the viewer grasp the scale of the wildly vast and the infinitesimally small.

Nikon___Universcale

Try it out.

A Million Lines of Code

When Healthcare.gov first launched, a common number cited was that it contained 500 million lines. It was a number that sparked a lot debate. Was 500 million lines a lot? Was that even accurate? It’s a hard number to get your head around.

So a team over at Information is Beautiful set out to give us a sense of scale. They created an infographic that compared the volume of code comprised in everything from a simple iPhone game to a high-end car computer. Did you know, for example, that there are more lines of code in Facebook than in the root software for CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, which spans 17 miles (27 kilometers) in circumference? Mind boggling, but the visual display helps us imagine it.

Million_Lines_of_Code

See the full graphic.

Map of the Internet

Lines of code is one way to think of the internet, but what about the reach and influence of each site? In 2012, Ruslan Enikeev set out to chart the expanse of the internet, treating each side as a planet of trackable size and proximity. Enikeev explains:

The Internet map is a bi-dimensional presentation of links between websites on the Internet. Every site is a circle on the map, and its size is determined by website traffic. The larger the amount of traffic, the bigger the circle. Users’ switching between websites forms links, and the stronger the link, the closer the websites tend to arrange themselves to each other.

The_Internet_map

Try it out.

It Underscores Trends

Change, like scale, can be a hard concept to fully grasp. Often change happens slowly, consistently, and without much affair. Even sweeping change can be so gradual you can hardly discern it is taking place. By collapsing change into a single graphic, or speeding up the passage of time, data visualizations help us better see the trends at play.

Plenty More Fish in the Sea?

A visualization doesn’t have to be complex to be high-impact. Commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts as part of European Fish Week, “Plenty More Fish in the Sea?” shows the drastic reduction in the population of popularly eaten fish in one striking image. It doesn’t take much to look at this image and conclude that something significant has happened here. 

Plenty More Fish

See the full-sized image.

Geography of a Recession

In Geography of a Recession, Latoya Egwuekwe uses a short animated visualization to show the spread of the 2008 recession across the United States. By overlaying time, data, and geography, she is able to display both the rapid progression of unemployment and the regions hit hardest. Symbolically, the country visually turns darker as unemployment spreads. This effect of time-lapse on visualization is key to provoking insight from the viewers.

In a Harvard Business Review article on a telling better stories with data, Andrew Devigal explains this approach, “By pacing through the years, the audience is able to consume the data as a visual narrative, one frame at a time.”

unemployment-geography

Try it yourself.

It Brings a Concept Home

Sometimes you can’t understand a situation until you’re placed in it. To help people walk a mile in the proverbial shoes of a situation, some data visualizations give the controls to the viewer. These visualizations are interactive in nature, enabling the viewer to actively choose different views of the data.

Budget Puzzle: You Fix The Budget

In this interactive visualization, the New York Times helps the viewer experience the difficult choices behind balancing a national budget. “Today, you’re in charge of the nation’s finances,” they tell you. “Some of your options have more short-term savings and some have more long-term savings. When you have closed the budget gaps for both 2015 and 2030, you are done.” The viewer is then given choices like, “Reduce Navy and Airforce Fleets,” “Cut Farm Subsidies,” and “Raise Taxes.” With each choice you get to see how big or little of an impact each choice has.

Budget

Try it yourself.

The NSA Files

When the Snowden Reports initially broke detailing NSA surveillance activities, some people expressed minimal concern saying they didn’t have to worry about surveillance if they weren’t doing anything wrong. To help people see the impact of surveillance from a more personal angle, The Guardian built a data visualization into a larger story they created on the Snowden files. They explained:

You don’t need to be talking to a terror suspect to have your communications data analysed by the NSA. The agency is allowed to travel “three hops” from its targets … Facebook, where the typical user has 190 friends, shows how three degrees of separation gets you to a network bigger than the population of Colorado. How many people are three “hops” from you?

Click to visit the Snowden Files Interactive

Try it yourself.

The Jobless Rate for People Like You

“Not all people feel the recession equally,” starts the New York Times in this interactive graphic. The visualization enables people to display unemployment data differently based on criteria like age, race, geographic region, and gender. In addition to giving people a more personal viewpoint, the visualization highlights stark differences between the unemployment rates of different groups.

Jobless-rate-NYT

 Try it yourself.

 

It Shows How Things Work

Sometimes to understand a complex situation, you have to break it down into parts. These visualizations help the viewer deconstruct an idea to build an understanding of it piece by piece. 

Inside the Large Hadron Collider

Let’s say you’ve been theorizing for decades about the existence of a tiny particle, one that unlocks many of the mysteries of the universe. This particle is so small that no one has ever seen tangible evidence of its existence. Then 200 scientists from across the world decide that the best way to “see” this particle is by creating a high-speed collision between larger particles in a tunnel that is 17 mi (27 kilometers) in circumference.

Simple right? You with me? Maybe this visualization will help. Created by Vu Nguyen and others, this graphic helps you to understand scope of the Large Hadron Collider and the reactions that occur within it. By breaking it down into a graphical representation and diagrammed phases, the graphic enables us to better understand the complex mechanics and theories at play.

collider

Try it yourself.

Key Players And Notable Relationships in the Middle East

To say that the relationships in and surrounding the Middle East are complex would be a sizable understatement. It is impossible however to fully understand the political climate, decisions, and points of conflict that exist in the Middle East without having a sense of the relationships that inform them. This still-evolving interactive visualization from David McCandless and UniversLab attempts to map the relationships among the nations and groups that shape the Middle East. Clicking on a country or group reveals its known allies and foes. 

Who_Likes_Whom_in_The_Middle_East__Key_players___Notable_relationships___Information_Is_Beautiful

Try it out.

Understanding Gravity

Gravity is such a constant it’s easy to forget how much it shapes our experience. Randall Munroe, creator of the webcomic XKCD took this as a challenge. With a straightforward illustration, he compares the relative “depth” of various solar system gravity wells. Each well is drawn in such a way that it represents the relative amount of energy it would take to escape from that planet or celestial body’s gravitational pull.


See the full-sized graphic.

The study and practice of data visualization has grown significantly over recent years as technology has made it easier to map data in more sophisticated ways. As data visualization has grown, it has opened up more possibilities for they way we communicate complex ideas and help viewers experience stories. As Andrew DeVigal writes, “Interactive graphics encourage people to lean forward and participate in the storytelling. By adding layers of information and the mechanics to view the data in varying perspectives, you’re essentially allowing your audience to fill in and add their own narrative.”

The examples featured here are just the tip of the iceberg. Most of these visualizations are vast and many are interactive, so if you can, spend some time with each. As you come across other visualizations that break down complex ideas, I’d love you to add them in the comments below, too.

data visualization guide

Nov

4

2014

Welcome Back, Movember: Why This Viral Campaign Is Still So Successful

movemberIt’s about to get a whole lot fuzzier in the office. That is, assuming your coworkers are among the more than one million people expected to participate in Movember this month. 

Movember, a blend of the words "mustache" and "November," is an annual movement in which people ditch their razors for a month and grow mustaches to raise funds for prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and other men’s health issues. It started as a small fundraiser in 1999 and has grown into a global tradition, spearheaded by the Movember Foundation, which has raised more than $559 million to fund 832 men’s health programs in 21 countries. 

Fast moving cause-marketing campaigns like Movember and the recent Ice Bucket Challenge may seem to erupt out of nowhere and become viral through luck alone, but there are patterns behind every successful movement. Using data from TalkWalker, a social analytics platform, we examined the social chatter around Movember to see what early lessons we can glean from the spread of this phenomenon.

Movember Chatter Starts Long Before November First

One of the most interesting findings about Movember is that it isn’t confined to November at all. While it may not have reached the fever pitch yet, Movember participants are out there early, setting the stage, readying their friends, and circulating the hashtag a full month in advance. 

Using Talkwalker data, we found that there were a full 203,500 mentions of the keywords “Movember” and “No Shave November” in the month of October across all social channels. The main channels people used were Facebook and Twitter: 92% of these mentions occurred on those two social networks. Though they were significantly less popular than Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Flickr also had some activity. Since “photo evidence” is half the fun of Movember, we do expect the instances of Movember mentions on Instagram, Facebook, and other highly visual channels to increase significantly as November goes on.

October Social Mentions Movember

As you would expect, the volume of these mentions grew as we approached November. If you look more closely at the data however, this wasn’t steady growth. There were a handful of spikes across the month that generated momentum-changing levels of chatter on both topics. volume-oct-movember

volume-movember-two

“Whoa, what happened on October 17th?” That was the first question posed by my colleague and section editor Ginny Soskey when she saw the data. Indeed, there was a sharp spike in social chatter on October 17th for the phrase "No-shave November" that generated nearly 3,000 mentions in a single day. So what was it? A TV event? A sale on mustache wax? Turns out, it was Kian Lawley. 

Kian Lawley is a 19-year-old who has grown an impressive social following through the production of original YouTube content and vines. How impressive? Over 2 million subscribers on YouTube, 1.71 million followers on Twitter, and 1 million followers on Vine. Like me, you may not have had him on your radar, but a single tweet from Kian about Movember generated 2,918 retweets in a single day (now even more).

No Shave November is coming up & I can finally participate with the somewhat of a beard I can grow

Sep

25

2014

Why We Shouldn’t Stop Innovating on Email

innovate-email-cloud-wordsThis is the part where I tell you how bleak it is to be an email marketer.

Crowded Inboxes. New ways to filter. Tougher deliverability standards. These are all reminders that anyone who’s sent a marketing email in the last decade doesn’t really need.

We all know the story. Good email marketing is tough and getting tougher — but tough could be just the environment we need to motivate a change. 

(more…)


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