FIR Cut: What happens if you mis-label native advertising?

Water works!

Content from advertisers that resembles editorial coverage, commonly called native advertising, is drawing heightened scrutiny in the US from the Federal Trade Commission, which wants to establish guidelines for labelling it clearly. The New York Times reports that Shape magazine has drawn a rebuke for such content from advertising regulators for an unusual case in which it served as both publisher and advertiser…

Overflow from FIR #739 on January 20, 2013. Discussion reference:

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Curate and share stories in custom timelines on Twitter

Hot on the heels of its stock market debut last week, Twitter launched a new feature yesterday that lets you create timelines of tweets and share that curated content across the social web.

Called custom timelines, the new feature is enabled in an update to TweetDeck, the dashboard app that lets you manage multiple Twitter accounts with views into conversations via multiple columns. TweetDeck is a long-time favourite of power users.

Introducing Custom Timelines

If you’re a fan of Storify, the concept of custom timelines will be familiar to you. Storify is a web service that lets you create and curate stories and timelines using content published not only on Twitter but also on other social channels such as Facebook and Instagram.

It’s a hugely popular tool that gives you a record of tweets, status updates, snapshots and more, the kinds of things people create and post during an event, for instance.

Such content in timelines offer glimpses and insights into the informal, often spontaneous and usually authentic opinions of people as they experience something that they share online.

It’s very easy to understand how to use custom timelines, so creating one is quite straightforward as I discovered when I created my first one: tweets in an informal tweetchat that complemented “Is the Social Business Gold Rush Over?“, a webinar discussion organized by Our Social Times that I logged into yesterday.

Twitter’s announcement post is a good guide on how to create custom timelines in TweetDeck. The Next Web also has a useful guide.

And here is the custom timeline I created, an embed I created via the widgets tool in my Twitter account on the web around the webinar hashtag #socbiz2013:

All the tweets are arranged chronologically: that’s how it came out, not how I chose it. That seems to be the only display choice at the moment.

You manage how you share your custom timeline via TweetDeck, from where you initiate the procedure to create an embed widget, view the timeline in your Twitter account on the web, and tweet about it.

Share custom timeline

The new feature is available now in an updated version of TweetDeck for Windows (that’s the one I use), and I heard it’s also already rolled out on TweetDeck Chrome. A Mac version is coming soon, Twitter says.

I can see Twitter custom timelines – they need to come up with a snappier, memorable name for this – proving popular in the same way Storify has. Indeed, I think this will present a significant challenge to Storify as it offers another option to Twitter users that is part of the Twitter ecosystem and easily usable from within a Twitter app.

It doesn’t have the wider customization ability as Storify does – only sorts tweets chronologically, for instance; no adding notes about individual content – but I think it will get strong take-up among power users.

Twitter custom timelines also offer something quite interesting that will be of distinct interest to the more tech-minded users: the custom timelines API beta:

[...] This new API will open up interesting opportunities, such as programming your custom timelines based on the logic that you choose, or building tools that help people create their own custom timelines, as TweetDeck does.

In sum, by adding custom timelines as an interesting and useful new feature to its service that will encourage wide sharing of content by users, Twitter is aiming to increase its visibility across the social web to gain greater awareness and, ultimately, more users and more opportunities for advertising exposure.

Twitter’s debut on the New York Stock Exchange last week (stock market symbol: TWTR) is a milestone in the evolution of a simple text-messaging tool that, in seven years, has grown to be a significant and influential part of the contemporary mainstream. Take a look at its updated About pages.

Looks like Twitter means business.

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Exuberance, imagination and style on display at #somecomms Awards

Award winners!

If I’d been a keen fan of Arsenal football club, I’d have been in seventh heaven last Thursday evening.

I was at the Emirates stadium – Arsenal’s home in north London – for the huge shindig that was the UK Social Media Communications Awards 2013. It was an event that attracted not far off 300 people who mixed, matched, dined, congratulated and partied the evening away in one of the most enjoyable and well organized events I’ve taken part in in a very long time.

A different seventh heaven!

The UK Social Media Communications Awards is an annual programme of recognition, founded four years ago by Andy and Nicky Wake of Don’t Panic Projects. This was the first time it’s been held in London, having previously been a Manchester affair.

The purpose of the awards dinner and ceremony is clear:

This evening, we’re celebrating the very best in social media communications and recognising the individuals, companies and organisations that are transforming the use of online to communicate in fresh and innovative ways.

As one of the awards judges, I can attest to those sentiments. There is much imagination and creativity alive and flourishing in the UK digital communication space as evidenced by the nineteen award-winners:

  • Best Use of Twitter: Defra – News and External Communications Team, Defra
  • Best Use of Facebook: NHS Blood and Transplant – 100,000 donors in 100 days
  • Best Use of YouTube: NHS Greater East Midlands Commissioning Support Unit – Hand Washing Gangnam Style
  • Best Business Blog: TopLine Communications – B2B PR Blog
  • Best Community Engagement: We Are Social – Heinz: Grow Your Own
  • Best Use of Social Media to Research and Evaluate: MEC – Next Generation Social Insight Initiative
  • Best Use of Social Media in a Crisis: O2 – O2 Network Outage
  • Innovation: Greater Manchester Police – ‘GMPolice’ Smartphone app
  • Low Budget Campaign: The University of Nottingham – A Fresh Start
  • Public Sector: East Sussex County Council and Cobb PR – Go e-Sussex
  • Best Viral Campaign: Manning Gottlieb OMD – Should’ve gone to Specsavers & the ball boy
  • Charity / Not For Profit: Cancer Research UK – Research Kills Cancer campaign
  • Best Social Media Campaign: Hope&Glory – Meantime’s True Brew of London (AKA: Hops in a Box)
  • Mark Hanson Award: Joanna Halton – McCann Manchester
  • Best in House Team: MTV Marketing Department
  • Best Small Agency: Hope&Glory
  • Best Large Agency: We Are Social
  • Grand Prix Award: NHS Blood and Transplant – 100,000 donors in 100 days
  • Outstanding Contribution to Social Media: Stuart Bruce

The razzmatazz as each award was presented was terrific (each time I presented one, I was sorely tempted to say, “And the BAFTA goes to…”). While we wait for the professional photos to be available (check the awards website for news on that - the photos are up on Flickr, 170 of them: UK Social Media Communications Awards 2013), I think this collection of pics I took with my Galaxy S4′s excellent camera do convey a good sense of that razzmatazz.

(If you don’t see the slideshow embedded above, view the photos at Flickr.)

There’s more razzmatazz in some very cool pics by many of the participants themselves enabled by headline sponsor UKFast via the Pictures are Power photo booth.

Imaginations writ large!

There’s still more – check this Storify curation of tweets, photos and other content expertly assembled by Gabrielle Laine-Peters:

I was thrilled that my good friend Bryan Person and his wife, Stella, could be there while they’re over here on a visit from Texas. Thanks to Andy Wake for enabling Bryan to be part of things, even presenting an award.

So a great evening, expertly organized and leaving you with a sense of great pleasure for not only having had a good time, but also from experiencing the exuberance, confidence and sheer enjoyment of everyone there, award winners and participants alike.

Great work by the Don’t Panic team, led by Andy in particular. I first met Nicky and Andy in Sunderland in 2005 in those early days of social media when it was all about blogging. Indeed, it was Nicky’s and Andy’s early days with Don’t Panic.

Since then, they’ve come a long way on a successful journey. Well done, all!

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The real challenge of content marketing is when you don’t have a strategy

52% No!Two reports were published this month by MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute that assess the state of content marketing in 2013 to project a picture for 2014 in the US from both the B2B and the B2C perspectives.

Each report – The State of B2B Content Marketing: 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends and 2014 B2C Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – are worth considered study to see what similarities and differences there are between two facets of marketing – to businesses, and to consumers.

What I zeroed-in on in both reports are the challenges facing people in organizations, large and small, who communicate news and information about their businesses and the things they think will interest their customers and other people they want to connect with (aka content marketing).

Many think this activity is largely the same whether it’s to-business or to-consumer. I agree in the sense that it’s all about people talking to people whatever the business type. B2B tends to have more layers of complexity compared to B2C. Other than that, I think there is very little difference. (Christopher Penn has a pretty good comparison between the two.)

On those challenges I mentioned, what keeps content marketers up at night depends on the size of their business according to the reports.

For instance, the biggest one cited by B2B content marketers in large companies (over 1,000 employees) is producing the kind of content that engages – 16 percent of those surveyed said that – closely followed by lack of integration across marketing (15 percent), lack of budget (13 percent) and lack of time (also 13 percent).


Yet that isn’t the same case for B2B marketers in small companies (less than 100 employees) where only 8 percent said producing engaging content is their biggest challenge. What concerns them most is lack of time: a huge 34 percent said that compared to 13 percent in large companies.

It’s the same in B2C content marketing – much depends on the size of the business according to the reports – with producing the kind of content that engages being the biggest concern in large companies, with lack of time the biggest in small companies.


Overall, it’s a more complex picture than you might think and both reports go into considerable nuanced detail to examine strategy, tactical usage, social media usage, business goals, and more.

And on that topic of strategy, here are some alarming metrics.

According to the reports, almost 50 percent of B2B marketers have no content marketing strategy, while more than 50 percent of B2C marketers (52 percent, to be precise) have no content marketing strategy.

Perhaps worst of all, a small but significant percentage in each camp is unsure whether or not they have a strategy for content marketing.

No strategy...

There’s your biggest challenge right there, no matter whether you’re B2B or B2C nor how big or small your business.

First and foremost, you need a foundation, a strategy. You need to know:

  1. What you’re trying to achieve,
  2. What measurable goals the content marketing activity supports,
  3. What your tactics will be to execute on the strategy, and
  4. How you’ll know whether it works or not.

Once you have your documented strategy, I’d argue that all those other things that B2B and B2C marketers are concerned about will seem less challenging.

And one final point to consider – content dissemination aka distribution.

It seems to be a common view that a primary goal is to just get your stuff “out there,” spreading it as far and as wide as possible. Does that make sense?

Mitch Joel doesn’t think so, arguing that there is too much content in too many places. In his thought-provoking post The Failing State Of Content Marketing, Mitch offers his view of what is the true success of content marketing:

[…] You do have a distribution strategy for your content marketing platform, right? The sad reality is that many brands still struggle with a consistent editorial calendar and haven’t really thought all that much about what the distribution model looks like (and what it can become) beyond posting it on their own sites. I recently spent some time with an individual who has quickly risen the ranks to become one of the most beloved bloggers in the world. The strategy for success is more distribution [than] creation. They test things on Facebook, and then blow it out into a newsletter article if it gets traction on Facebook. Once they get the analytics from their email newsletter, they decide which pieces have done well enough to be blogged about. From [there], this individual has a handful of very diverse third-party publishers interested in their content. What does this equate to? For every hour of writing a piece of content, they spend two to three hours working on the distribution of it – within their own channels and beyond. The frequency of publishing is reduced in order to spend more time on the distribution of it.

As Mitch says, great content means great distribution. It means effective distribution. And it has a major place in content marketing.

Time to work on that strategy.

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A simple solution for EDF Energy’s marketing problem

EDFSo EDF Energy has told its customers it can only recommend lower cost gas and electricity tariffs on annual bills if they “opt in” to receive advertising material.

Reading the report in today’s Telegraph, I was pretty sure that EDF Energy’s intention surely couldn’t be a cop-out to telling customers about better energy deals. That is, to not tell them.

But the Telegraph goes on to say:

EDF last night said the Data Protection Act meant it was unable to pro-actively tell customers about cheaper deals. It said the clause was only supposed to effect customers coming to the end of fixed-price contracts.

And quoting a spokeswoman:

“If a customers has opted out of ‘marketing,’ Data Protection Act rules mean we cannot highlight the cheapest deals within the letter informing them of the closure.”

I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me as though the Department of Common Sense at EDF Energy has closed down.

It seems to me that the Data Protection Act is also about consent: if you consent to a company doing certain things with your personal information, then isn’t that part of opting in?

Here’s a suggestion, EDF Energy.

How about a specific page on the EDF Energy website inviting customers to opt in to receiving information about cheaper deals? Or enabling customers to indicate that they’d like to receive information by email or in the post – or whatever needs to be said to comply with data protection and privacy laws – specifically about tariffs, prices and cheaper deals?

The invitation to opt in could say something like this:

[ ] Yes, I’d like to receive marketing emails or letters from you that will inform me of the choices I have in choosing an energy tariff at the best price. You promise that my opt-in to such communication will only be for this purpose: you will not spam me forever more with useless direct-marketing crap unrelated to choosing an energy tariff at the best price.

Okay, the final part of that last sentence probably wouldn’t make it. But I don’t see why EDF Energy can’t simply offer customers such an invitation to opt in to receiving “marketing” communication where it’s explained very clearly what it will include.

I bet they would get a huge take-up. You might even see some buzz building online showing EDF Energy in a good light about their common-sense approach to a thorny issue of rising energy prices and the negative opinions about energy companies that has got politicians all exercised and has even led to letters being written.

This isn’t a public issue: I’ve not seen any media reports about it other than in the Telegraph. A tweet or two here and there.

But such things have a habit of suddenly becoming a major issue and before you know it, you’re all over the media  – mainstream and social – for all the worst reasons. You might consider the Telegraph’s story as an early alert, an opportunity for EDF to address the matter before it evolves.

Proactive communication, EDF Energy, surely a simple solution that offers a big benefit. The customer relationship advantage could be significant.

Not to mention public relations.

Content marketing requires a sound foundation

What If I Said...Two words I’ve heard mentioned a lot recently are “content marketing.”

I use them myself at times, often in the context of helping people understand the value that can be derived from taking ‘old’ but still valid “content” – case studies, white papers, features, etc – and re-telling those stories in ways that work well in today’s social communication climate, fit measurable business goals and meet the information needs of the people in the marketplace you want to reach out to.

The “marketing” part comes into play when you talk about disseminating the content  – not in the linear ways of old but in the far more dynamic, discoverable and shareable ways of today that extend way beyond your own outlets and embrace third parties and their outlets and channels.

Yet when I hear those two words being uttered, the meaning tends to focus far too much on the “marketing” rather than the “content.” At the same time, rarely do I hear the word “measurable” when objectives or goals are mentioned.

That’s a pity as it puts the cart squarely before the horse, and you (and most definitely your audience) will ultimately be disappointed if you do that. This is true whatever your focus: B2B, B2C, etc.

It’s not about the marketing: it’s everything about the content and measuring its value, ie, to the consumer and sharer of that content and to you as the publisher of it.

This notion was brought to front of my mind again after reading “It’s Time To Demystify Content Marketing” by Will Burns in Forbes online earlier this week.

Burns makes a good case as he goes about his demystification. While his focus is on advertising, I see his arguments valid when applied to every other discipline – marketing, public relations, employee communication, investor relations, you name it.

What really caught my attention in his article, though, are six specific points he makes as the foundation for content marketing:

  • You still need to identify a clear objective for the piece. Content marketing is like [any] other piece of communication and should have a clear business objective.
  • You still need to identify a singular message.
  • You still need to identify a clear target audience.
  • You still need to understand the brand idea intimately so you can assess what the brand would and would not do when you’re reviewing ideas.
  • You still need someone on the outside to produce the content. Outside of the agency, that is. That’s not new and shouldn’t be a worry. Might be a different kind of production house, but the model is the same.
  • You still need a great idea.

I agree – content marketing is a function, a business process, that requires the same thinking applied to its planning as you would for any other communication activity.

That means a plan that addresses or includes all those elements Burns mentions.

As part of the essential foundation for today, one of the desired goals for the content you create, curate and distribute must be that people value it, want it, will talk about it and will share it.

You know it makes sense!

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