Category Archives: Social

The Best-Ever Publishing Festival Line Up

PPA-festival-line-upI’m producer of the two big content streams at this year’s PPA festival, where along with CEO Barry McIlheney and his team we’ve put together the most fantastic line-up. Four stages, 60 speakers, CEO’s, MD’s Facebook, Google and…Mushpit!

The festival is Thursday May 12th, there’s still a few tickets left, buy them here.

Small, but perfectly formed

Facebook_Reactions3x2Here are the crisp new emoticons facebook is planning on us all using anytime soon. Will they give a better user experience? Maybe.

Will facebook aggressively sell the ‘nuanced responses’ to brand content that these emoticons might generate? Certainly.

facebook-emoticonsHere’s Mr Zuckerberg himself explaining how they work, using what the new pressure sensitive iPhone UI. This is a game changer in itself. Once the device in our hands starts responding to a nuanced range of physical gestures, it’s ability to express our feelings is significantly improved.

This is hardly AI, but it sure shows which way the river is running.

Fifteen hot links

20120826-Moncton_SetlistHandwritten1. This is one of Springsteen’s many back-of-an-envelope set lists, emotional, personal, and totally uneditable. So here’s my post for InPublishing on Wunderlist, the world’s best make-a-list app.

2. What do you believe in? And what are you going to do about it? Good post about how brands create trust.

3. ‘Sticky content’ bullshit. And ten other content marketing buzzwords from SXSW.

4. Seventy eight places to find free, high quality marketing images.

5. Ace photojournalist Giles Duley is setting off on his biggest project ever. Here’s an interview with him at Time all about ‘Legacy of War’

6. How Marriott Hotels aim to become the world’s largest producer of travel content.

7. Look out! How programatic trading allowed these ads to run before ISIS propaganda videos.

8. Super bitchy, and super well informed. Michael Wolff on the new Guardian editor.

9. Buzzfeed really is the new king of the world. Here’s fine insight into how that happened, along with more detail on their social strategybusiness model, ethical standards and The Dress.

10. How the Economist has stayed ahead of the digital curve.

11. Here’s a blog post headline writing template!

12. Uber releases an in-house magazine.

13. Upworthy’s co-founder on clickbait.

14. Haters ahoy! Wired redesigns its website.

15. Good post on magculture about the surge in magazine podcasts.

How to produce pointless stories, devoid of meaningful value or engagement

packed-office-desksIn an extensive interview last week the legendary marketer Seth Godin lamented the ‘industrialisation of content’. He said: ‘As soon as organisations start to measure stuff and poke it into a piece of software, then we are asking people who don’t care to work their way through a bunch of checklists to make a number go up’.

He’s making the argument for editors, as opposed to brand managers. ‘A brand can’t care’ says Seth, ‘all that can care is people.

seth-godinSeth is famous for his book ‘Permission Marketing’, still regarded as the key text on how to engage consumers online. Here’s his definition: ‘Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them’

Seth’s view now is that ‘being trusted is the single most urgent way to build a business’. If you’re paying for content, then trust is acknowledged the moment money changes hands. But as I’ve written previously, when content is essentially free, trust has to be earned.

Because without it, we’re just looking at spam.

With the decline of one-way advertising as the only way to reach and influence large audiences, marketers and ad agencies are now trying to take ‘content’ and see if that will do the job for them.

However, as Saatchi’s strategy director Richard Huntingdon points out in his recent ‘Guano Marketing’ post, content is now being ‘ordered by the yard, with quality of no consequence’.

In a fabulously ranty post he declares: ‘Never in the field of human endeavour has so much crap sat on client servers to be consumed by so few’.

crap-contentEven content marketers themselves say similar, witness this slideshare from Velocity simply entitled ‘Crap’.

I quite agree. The term ‘content’ has had all the joy flattened out of it, crushed by the need for a single description to describe ideas of every kind shared across every platform.

But let’s not shoot the messenger here. The word may be totally inadequate, but that doesn’t mean the passion, authority, service and sheer fun of the exchanges behind it are redundant.

The opposite is in fact the case. Our society may have been founded on storytelling, but right now, our appetite for powerful ideas, inspiring  images, big thoughts, true feelings and passionate opinions has never been greater.

With the reluctance of people to pay directly for magazines and newspapers, the word ‘editorial’ has fallen out of favour in recent years.

You only have to visit linkedin to see how many journalists have rushed to replace it with ‘content’ in order to stress their digital credentials. I make no apology for doing the same, currently there being no better way of saying ‘I present stories to be shared digitally’.

The question is, what exactly are we sharing?

If it’s a genuine point of view, delivered in a relatable tone, with ideas that add value, either practically, or on a deeper emotional level, then readers will react.

They still need to know who’s doing the talking, as ‘editorial’ is explicitly the voice of the storyteller, not the paymaster. But if clarity around brand is maintained, then real connections will be made, real feeling will be created and real action taken.

howard-gossageAs for advertising, the words of Howard Gossage, the original Mad Man still hold true: ‘People will read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad’.


Emotional headlines that make you cry are the new SEO

And that’s not a good thing, say critics of what’s been called “social content.”

They are talking about the way sites such as Upworthy and Buzzfeed are effectively gaming Facebook in order to get their content shared, writes Andy Pemberton from Furthr.

Their method is to tweak headlines until they drip emotion (often accompanied with pictures of crying women and children). If that makes no sense to you, visit the upworthy generator, an algorhythim that does the work for you. The downside:

Facebook are hip to what’s going on and aren’t too happy about this kind of content – content people do actually like, after all – appearing in news feeds. They’d rather people read the kind of upmarket stuff advertisers like to position against. Furthr pal Tim Tucker suggests you go to 38 minutes into this video for a really good discussion of the “Upworthy problem.”

Read more at Furthr

The best thing about The Daily Mirror’s new website ampp3d? It took just eight weeks to launch

The Daily Mirror have jumped onto the Buzzfeed bandwagon, with this new data journalism called ampp3d, here’s a story at gigaom that explains the approach:

‘The idea behind Ampp3d is to use social-sharing methods — snappy headlines, emotional content etc. — in the service of data journalism’

The speed of the development is impressive, just 8 weeks from decision to launch date. Also, the fact that Trinity Mirror are willing to experiment in this space, having already had a go with something called Which whilst looks fun, hasn’t exactly set the world on fire.

The Ampp3d site is pretty good. There are lots of smart stories, all well told with compelling visuals. The idea of simple data visualisation isn’t new, people from Business Insider to Furthr, have been doing this for ages. The thing that will determine Ampp3d‘s success, is whether users will want to share.

The visual cues are big, with social buttons front and centre at the bottom of the posts. So it’s now all down to whether the headline is engaging enough. There’s been a lot of debate about the new style of headline writing exploited by upworthy and in particular, viralnova. In short, this technique relies on doubling down on the emotion in the story, but stripping out the content. Here’s how Business Insider describes the method:

‘The headline model for the site is laughably smart. First, take a news story, add the phrase “you won’t believe” or “this ____ made me cry, but” and then the kicker sentence: “what happens next will blow your mind” or “then this happened.” There’s your recipe for viral success.’

The Ampp3d headlines are good, but if they can develop a real point of view that maintains a high level of emotion, they could do really well.

But what looks wrong here is the name. Ampp3d is hard to remember, impossible to type, and with a content and context that seems to talk more to the business model than any kind of user experience. The ‘3’ is totally confusing. Is this about the phone company, page three, or perhaps it’s just some hangover from the 3am girls. It may well be that in the digital space names mean diddly-squit, if the stuff is being shared, who cares what the site is called?

But I doubt it.

Update: Since I wrote this post, Martin Bellam, who launched the site has written a fine piece explaining how and why the name was chosen, along with many other insights into the challenges of getting a new launch out the door so fast. Recommended.

This is just genius

Richard Turley’s Bloomberg covers are generally reckoned to be the best in the world, but this surely takes some beating. The little spinning wheel of death is a masterstroke, allowing the cover to work in print, but more importantly, animate online, which is where many more people can see it.

And this is how they got to the decision. Many thanks to for drawing it to my attention.

Five must-see, must-read links

Genius. Print your twitter feed onto toilet rolls. It’s called #shitter, apparently.

Great post from Neil Perkin’s fine blog, on why big companies don’t innovate more.

Fair comment from Fast Company on Yahoo’s new logo. Given the minefield, I think it’s good work.

This kiosk prints magazines as they’re purchased. Neat!

Will magazine brands get ecommerce right?

How newsstand pressure is bending even the biggest brands out of shape


This year at the PPA conference, Top Gear magazine’s editor-in-chief Charlie Turner made an excellent presentation about what was surely the biggest motoring scoop of 2012.

When the new Aston Martin One-77 was launched a couple of years ago, it was so expensive (£1.2 million) and so exclusive that Aston decreed, ‘No journalist will ever drive this car’. The idea being that the driving experience had to remain that of the owner, and the owner alone.

A fine piece of PR, but Top Gear found a way round by way of a super-wealthy oil sheik, a collector of super-cars and a fan of Top Gear. He said he’d buy a One-77, let Top Gear magazine drive it, then sell it on.

So the editorial team had a day’s notice to get to Dubai where they had just four hours in the desert with the car. Photographer Justin Leighton took over 8000 shots, he and Charlie made this good looking video and Tom Ford wrote the whole thing up.

As Charlie told it at the PPA conference, it’s a great story, but right at the end of the tale, we learned that although the scoop was on the cover, it had been aced by a great big red Ferrari. It was, as David Hepworth, the PPA panel moderator said, ‘a duvet moment’.

When I asked Charlie how this came about, he reflected ruefully that the One-77 isn’t actually very good, and that these sorts of cover decisions were ‘political’.

He didn’t elaborate, but I am assuming that Ferrari had understandably been promised the cover in return for access to the car.

Which puts the editor between a rock and a very hard place. Why run a review of two-year old supercar which no-one will ever see, let alone sit in, mightily piss off Mr. Ferrari and risk a newstand drubbing at the hands of Car and Evo, who could very well have the Ferrari themselves. The bottom line is that Ferraris will absolutely sell more copies. Given that publishing isn’t a charity business, Top Gear did what they had to do.

But the result is that the cover ends up looking like all the others. Some kind of head-to-head test, flattening out the quality of the work, making the whole offering feel generic and not at all special, either for Ferrari or Aston Martin.

As Charlie told us the Aston story came in really late, I can only assume it was not possible to put the One-77 on a subscriber cover, as that could have solved the problem. Those would have been the issues sent to advertisers, the industry and used in upcoming PPA conference presentations, allowing Top Gear to own the event, whilst the red Ferrari happily sold its socks off in Smiths.

Top Gear is not alone in having to make very hard decisions around newsstand sales, but at the end of the day, they’re a big enough brand for this not to hurt them. Far more troubling is the way many other titles are seeing their brand DNA being bent totally out of shape by the demands of newsstand, whether they be celebrity weeklies or more specialist titles.

What’s needed are innovative ways to get cover ideas in front of potential customers without them needing to be standing in a shop or browsing Apple’s newsstand.

Social media can really work here, witness Elle’s success with David Beckham, The NME’s ‘record that changed my life’ and Time’s breastfeeding mom. Combined with traditional PR and SEO, all these initiatives drove print purchase. The challenge now is to think of new ways to seed a cover idea in a readers mind, and how to create promises that are still worth spending money on, whether that be in print or digital.