The Best Films of 2015 So Far…

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It’s been a bit of a lean year for quality cinema. Or at least, I haven’t seen a heap of great things. When I sat down to think about my top films, it was a bit of a struggle – the main couple stood out, but it was hard coming up with even five that I thought were memorable. There were a couple that were okay (‘Inherent Vice’, ‘Kingsmen’) and a few that were really bad (‘Focus’ – so bad), but I had to rack my brain to come up with a good, five deep, list of my top films. Maybe I missed something, maybe I’m not in the loop on some of the good stuff. I don’t know – what I do know is that, of what I’ve seen, these are my top films from the first half of 2015.

  1. Ex Machina

Really, Alex Garland’s ‘Ex Machina’ is so far out in front, it’s not even close. The story of a guy winning a competition to spend time at a brilliant, but eccentric, billionaire’s secluded mansion – which turns into something totally different – is an brilliantly executed story, and one which forces the viewer into the very moral quandaries being faced by the narrator. It reminded me of Denis Villenueve’s ‘Prisoners’ and Gregor Jordan’s ‘Unthinkable’, films that force you to question what you would do in the same situation, how you would respond. It’s smooth, methodical and compelling, keeping you held there till the last. Definitely worth checking out.

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road

I really don’t understand the fuss about the early Mad Max films. I’d watched them many years ago and not fully understood them, being too young to get the complexities, but they were recently re-run in a late night slot on Australian TV. And I still didn’t get them. They’re overly stylistic, there’s not a heap of story or character development. Yet, people are drawn to George Miller’s post-apocalyptic world. With all that in mind, I wasn’t expecting a heap from Fury Road – and really, there’s not a heap to it, in terms of storytelling complexity. But it’s just so good, it’s so enthralling and crazy and it just keeps coming at you. As a friend noted, it’s basically a two-hour car chase, but the fact that your heart’s still beating fast right through to the end is a pretty big endorsement for how well it’s put together. Just, madness, some of the best examples of modern special effects, tied together with a story that’s basically “we need to get from here to here”. That’s it.

  1. Interstellar

I think Interstellar may have come out last year, but I definitely only caught it in 2015, so I’m counting it. I’d heard and read a bit about the film before I saw it, I’d seen debates about its scientific accuracy and such. I don’t know much about all that, but I do think that the ‘science’, within the world of the story, works well enough to pull it together. Mostly. Either way, it’s a compelling story that really draws you in as it gains momentum – and some of the emotional peaks are very well done. Similar to Nolan’s other big, non-Batman film, Inception, there are things that don’t quite fit, particularly in retrospect, but he certainly knows how to put together an entertaining film.

  1. The Drop

This is a lesser known one, I think, or at least, I haven’t seen many people discussing it. The Drop is about a bar tender who’s involved in organized crime money drops, one of which has gone wrong. Fingers are being pointed, threats are being communicated in non-verbal cues, while the guy at the middle of it all is just a normal guy, trying to get out without any trouble. Kind of. Tom Hardy’s better in this than he is in Mad Max, though similar role, in that he doesn’t say much, plays the quiet type (in fact, that’s him in every movie). Written by Dennis Lehane, the story rolls along at a good pace and develops the main character well. It’s a well done crime drama, above the normal, popcorn cinema type fare.

  1. The Jinx

Due to the aforementioned drought of good films, I’ve actually gone with a TV series in slot five. But in TV terms, The Jinx is certainly one of the most cinematic experiences you’re going to get. The Jinx tells the story of Robert Durst, a billionaire who may or may not have killed his ex-wife. And his housemate. And some other woman, and a former friend and… the list goes on. But he’s not in jail. The documentary series, which runs over six episodes, highlights the power of money over all else, how a rich man can, apparently, get away with pretty much anything. In case after head-shaking case, Durst subverts the law and goes on his way, left to his own, questionable devices, when it’s pretty clear that something’s not right. If it weren’t true, no one would believe it – it’s just too much. But it is, and it’s amazing.

Hopefully the second half of 2015 brings some better stuff our way, but these ones were good, they’ve definitely stuck with me after seeing them. And there is, of course, Star Wars on the horizon, a film which has millions of hardcore fans both stupidly excited and supremely nervous at the same time. I’m pretty sure that, at least, will be great. Probably. Hopefully.

Why Pixar’s ‘Up’ is the Ultimate Testament to the Power of Human Storytelling

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This isn’t going to be what you think.

Now, we’ve all seen ‘Up’, right? It’s the Disney/Pixar movie about the old man who loses his wife, then looks set to lose his house, till he launches a million balloons and floats of in that very house on a mission to go on the grand voyage that he and his beloved never got to go on. It’s a great film, everyone likes Up – it’s got an 8.2/10 score on IMDB, putting it at number 113 on the top films of all-time. Up is a story to which most viewers have some level of emotional attachment – that first fifteen minutes is possibly one of the best examples of effective, human, storytelling ever captured on film, and it’s all done with zero dialogue, you just see the events play out. It’s classic cinema, but it’s also the ultimate example of how when we have an emotional anchor tying us to the heart of a story, that all the other details start to matter a lot less.

So, (and stop reading if you’ve never seen Up and don’t want to me to ruin it for you) after that first 15-20 minutes, we’re emotionally tied to the outcome of Up. We want Mr Fredricksen to come out of this okay, because his life story is so relatable and true to life. He’s had to deal with losing the only person he ever loved, the one person he needed, and now he’s tied to the house they had together, the memories he keeps. We, as the audience, want more than anything for Mr. Fredricksen to win after that montage sequence, because that’s what we want for ourselves – it’d be terrible to think there’s no light at the end of the tunnel for him, for us. But then Up takes a turn for the less logical.

Mr. Fredricksen ties about a million balloons to his house and floats it. I can go with that, it links back to his former life selling balloons to kids and his only motivation now is to take his wife on one last adventure in the home they made. But then he finds Russell on his porch. How did Russell end up on his porch? For one, Russell was at his house the previous day, so he must’ve come back the next morning to continue his search for the Snipe – okay, I can go with that. But then he also must’ve seen the guys from the home come to the front door and that didn’t deter him at all. Okay, stretching. Russell then, when the house starts lifting off the ground, must have either jumped onto the porch, or not got off the porch, depending on where he was at, and held on for dear life as it took off. There’s no logical reason for this. But we forgive this element because, well, who cares? The dude’s flying a house levitated by balloons, logic’s already largely been thrown out the window.

But more than that, we don’t care because we’re already emotionally invested in the outcome. We’ve bought into Mr. Fredricksen’s story, and it’ll take a hell of a lot to get us to stop caring about him now – details be damned.

In this sense, Up gets away with a heap of stroyline quirks and plot holes that other films wouldn’t have a chance of overcoming. How is it possible that the adventurer, Charles Muntz, is still alive and still chasing that bird when he was already an old man when Mr. Fredricksen was a boy. This is somewhat explained at the beginning, when they say Paradise Falls is ‘a land lost in time’, but is it, in fact, lost in time? Have they somehow travelled back in time? How was Muntz able to develop technology to translate dogs in an isolated forest? Why isn’t Mr. Fredricksen more amazed about this? Why isn’t Muntz happy to see another human, why isn’t he asking how the hell he gets back – he must have family or something? Why isn’t Muntz more surprised that some old man has flown a house to the falls? Does anyone care about any of this?

No. And that’s the triumph of Up. Up highlights the absolute power of human connection, of finding the human heart of a story, as an effective storytelling practise. If you can find the human heart to a story, you can make it about anything – wars happening in a galaxy far, far away, love stories happening on a doomed cruise liner in the time before it crashes. Human connection, linking with your audience and making your story relatable to them, is more important than virtually any other element. Because we connect through stories, we relate. It’s stories that bind us together and make us feel less alone in the world.

Up is the ultimate example of this. Don’t believe me? Imagine Up without that opening montage, with no context for his relationship, other than him talking to his now absent partner every now and then. And while gaps in logic are always less of an issue in kids films, they’re almost totally irrelevant in Up. Because all we want is for Mr. Fredricksen to get that house onto that clifftop, just like his wife always wanted. That emotional drive is powerful, the heart of the story is what everything else refers back to. If you can find your story’s heart, you’re on the path to building an emotionally resonant, and connective, piece.

Facebook Instant Articles Have Arrived: The End of Publishing as We Know it?

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After much speculation, Facebook’s Instant Articles are here. Instant Articles gives publishers the opportunity to post their content direct to Facebook, in a move that some are proclaiming as ‘selling their soul’ to the social giant. The concern, given Facebook’s history of changing the ground rules, is that while the initial offering from Facebook on Instant Articles is good, the other shoe will eventually drop once the process has become embedded and publishers are reliant on the new practice. Like Darth Vader, the expectation is that Facebook will alter the deal, and once it’s become a key part of publishers’ overall strategy, they’ll be left with no choice but to simply pray that Facebook doesn’t alter it any further.

How does it work?

Instant Articles translates publisher content via HTML and RSS into good looking, easy to consume content, available direct on Facebook. There’s also a range of additional publishing options exclusive to the new platform to boost the presentation of content in the News Feed, things like auto-play video and interactive maps, all of which will function smoothly within Facebook’s mobile news feed. It’s worth noting that Instant Articles are only available via the mobile app right now – trying to access the same content on your desktop PC will take you to the normal, mobile web version of the article (though Facebook specifically notes ‘for the moment’ as a qualifier on this).

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Instant Article posts load much faster than normal links, which is one of the major pain points Facebook is seeking to resolve with this option. The average mobile load time for an external link from Facebook is around eight seconds. Now, that seems like nothing, right? Eight seconds isn’t long to wait for an article to come up, but on a wider scale, when you consider how many people are using Facebook each day, that time is significant. Facebook has 936 million daily active users, if each of those users opens just one link per session, that eight seconds load time equates to more than two million total hours that people around the world are waiting, each day, for posts to load – time those people could be spending doing other things. Like reading more content on Facebook. From that perspective alone, Facebook’s move has a significant pay-off, even if they maintain the current ad revenue split, which, at present, looks pretty appealing for publishers.

How do publishers make money?

One of the biggest concerns about publishers posting first-run content direct to Facebook was that they’d be surrendering their own audience in favour of Facebook’s. If people no longer need to visit your site to view content, that’s going to result in less traffic, and by extension, less opportunity to monetize your audience. Facebook’s worked to alleviate this by offering publishers the ability to display their own ads within their Instant Articles, with all revenues from any such ads going back to the publishers. Facebook will then fill any unsold ad spots, and will take a 30 per cent cut from any revenues generated by those ads, with the rest going back to the publishers.

Facebook has also worked with comScore to ensure Instant Article views within Facebook’s app will count as traffic for the original publisher, not Facebook. So while publishers are ceding control to The Social Network, they’re getting a pretty good deal on advertising and losing nothing in audience stats. Facebook will also provide performance data on Instant Articles, better enabling publishers to work out what’s resonating best with their Facebook audience and make improvements.

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right? And considering many publishers are already significantly reliant on Facebook referral traffic anyway, partnering with the network via Instant Articles makes sense, as it’s likely (despite Facebook saying this is not the case) that Facebook’s algorithm will give preferential treatment to Instant Articles over other posting options. Though that, too, is where publishers hesitate in shaking Facebook’s outstretched hand and look down at the feet to see if their standing on the trap door.

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What’s The Issue with Instant Articles?

The problem with Facebook’s new option is not what Instant Articles are now, but what they may become. Major players posting direct to Facebook is a fundamental shift in the publishing process. While, right now, the deal looks good, and it seems as though Facebook has done a lot of negotiating with their launch partners to ensure the deal beneficial for all, as with the many changes to the News Feed algorithm, Facebook has the right to change the game whenever it sees fit.

If publishers don’t sign up to Instant Articles, will that see eventually their content de-emphasised by the algorithm, making it harder to reach potential audience on the platform? If Instant Articles are given preferential placement in the News Feed, will that further reduce the reach of all other content as there’ll be less News Feed real estate remaining as a result? If Instant Articles are a big hit, and publishers become reliant on that as a new source of revenue, will Facebook re-configure the advertising split, leaving publishers with no choice but to take the hit and give over more money to the social giant?

Obviously, there’s no way of knowing how it will play out, but it’s generally agreed that building a reliance on ‘rented land’, in social networks or any other platform of which you don’t control the back-end, isn’t sustainable practice in the long-term. But maybe Facebook is, as they say, only seeking to improve user experience. Maybe eliminating that load time results in more people spending more time visiting other areas of Facebook or direct posted articles further enhance Facebook’s status as a key source of information, increasing time spent on platform, and thus, opportunities for Facebook to serve ads, and that, in itself, is enough reason for Facebook to maintain the system as is. It seems unlikely, in the long term. The initial deal being offered seems a little too good to be what it will in its final configuration. But it sure is appealing. You can imagine many publishers would be willing to sign-up to get better reach to Facebook’s 1.4 billion users.

Instant Articles is definitely an interesting development, and one everyone in the content, media and publishing space will want to keep a close eye on.

The Latest Development in the Social Search Battle – Facebook Adds In-App Content Search

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The new battleground of combined social and search is going to become a significant storyline in the world of social media marketing this year. Last week, we saw the first examples of what tweets might look like in Google search results as part of Twitter’s new deal with the search giant. It’s now being reported that Facebook is testing a newsearch feature – not quite on the same path, but more significant than it may, initially, seem.

Linking Up

Facebook is testing out a new functionality for iOS users which enables people to search for links while composing a status update, in-app. Just like adding a picture, the function would enable users to click on a link icon, then do a keyword search for articles related to that topic in order to share that content with your update.

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At a glance, this seems relatively minor, adding in links is no major upgrade, it’s just streamlining that process – and really, it may be slightly restrictive, most people like to be able to share the exact links to the exact posts they want, and searching via this method might not necessarily help you locate the right content any more efficiently than searching outside of the app and cutting and pasting the link yourself. But then again, it might. And considering the massive amount of mobile sharing Facebook hosts, this process could prove hugely popular, effectively cutting Google out of the equation and keeping users on Facebook longer. And what’s more, it would also grant Facebook more control over more information, in the form of search data, which it could use to entice more publishers to its publisher platform. And that might just be the start.

Mo’ Data, Mo’ Options

So, let’s say this becomes a popular practice, that people are finding the links they want via this search process, Facebook learns your favourite websites and can better provide contextual searches, based on your previous sharing behaviour. That being the case, couldn’t Facebook then use that in building its case for publishers to post first-run content direct to Facebook? What if, as part of their pitch, they could say that “people use this new in-app search functionality 35% of the time, and we control the search results they get – we could ensure your content appears high in those results, significantly increasing the chances that users will link to your posts, thereby increasing your overall audience.” That’s interesting, right? What, too, does that increase in searches on Facebook do for Google traffic and Google’s share of audience? We know that Facebook leads social referral traffic by a significant margin (and that’s not even counting dark social shares) – if this addition were to catch on, it could be a significant concern for The Big G’s hold on search traffic.

Obviously, these are extrapolations, we have no idea how this is going to go till we see it in the wild and we get some stats on how users view this addition. But it could be something. It could be more significant than it may seem, at this early stage.

As noted by Josh Considine in his TechCrunch post – “the garden’s walls grow ever taller”.

The First Examples of Real-Time Tweets in Google Search – What Comes Next?

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The first examples of the new Twitter/Google partnership are staring to filter through, with Search Engine Land providing screenshots of confirmed Google tests of tweets in search results:

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As you can see from this example, a search for ‘#maythe4thbewithyou’ on Google has provided results from Twitter, where the topic was trending. You can see too, the option to click through for more tweets. This example is via mobile, where the current testing is taking place, but it provides our first insight into how Google may be looking to incorporate real-time tweets.

SEO Value?

The first question I had about the new Google/Twitter partnership was whether this would provide SEO value. If Google opted to show tweets high in search results, then definitely, there’d be SEO interest there – showing up at the top of the SERPs, in any form, is a big win for brands – and these early examples show that there is, indeed, clear SEO value. Twitter results may only appear for trending issues or maybe there’ll be a recognition value placed on Twitter activity to determine whether listing the Twitter results is likely relevant to the user query, but these screenshots show that it may be possible to reach high-visibility areas of Google’s SERPs via your Twitter presence.

This will invariably mean more brands will be investing more into their Twitter presence, as it significantly increases the audience reach potential of tweets. The change also underlines the fact that social search is going to be a significant battleground, and one that organisations will need to take into account.

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A likely element of Google calculations on when and where to display tweets in search results will be the relevance of the person or people tweeting about the topic. In the example above, #maythe4thbewithyou was a trending hashtag (and the search is specifically for that hashtag), so it makes contextual sense that Google consider this relevant to the users’ search, and thus, would show the user tweets relevant to the topic. But in one of the other examples provided by Search Engine Land, the logic behind why the tweet was shown seems slightly different.

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As you can see, beneath the first result, the search conducted was ‘mayweather pacquiao’ and a tweet from Gary Valenciano has appeared in the results. Gary Valenciano is a verified account with 2.43 million followers, so while the correlation between the tweet itself and the search term isn’t as clear as the first example, it does seem that a profile’s social clout will play a part in Google’s logic on what tweets to show and when. The first contention is supported again in the third example shown in Search Engine Land’s post:

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Steve Benfey has 286 followers and isn’t verified, but #CarlyFiorina is a trending topic, so just like #maythe4thbewithyou, it’s the popularity of the topic that’s dictated its relevance in the SERPs, not the tweet originator. This would suggest there’s at least two different logicalities that will dictate the appearance of tweets in search results – there’s a ‘Popular on Twitter’ break-out, which’ll show tending tweets related to the search query, and another option which shows related tweets based on the social standing of the tweeter (or possibly the engagement levels on the individual tweet).

In the case of trending topics, this is effectively word-of-mouth SEO. You’re getting a display of real-time discussion – the more discussion about the topic, the more likely the searcher will be shown tweet results in the SERPs. From a marketing perspective, this addition will likely increase the rate of newsjacking and brands trying to tag onto trending topics, as, if successful, they’ll get the double-benefit of appearing not only in the trending discussion on Twitter, but also in related Google search results. It’ll also highlight the importance of brand awareness efforts in regards to trending topics – imagine if you were searching for ‘Nike basketball shoes’ and a trending topic was how an NBA players’ Nikes fell apart on him during a game. That sort of discussion would be hard to ignore for a prospective customer – it’ll be more important than ever for brands to be monitoring Twitter trends to manage or remain aware of such occurrences in order to mitigate potential negative associations.

Of more marketing value, however, is option number two presented here – appearing in the search results based on tweet mentions from prominent users. This will amplify the importance of influencer marketing on Twitter – using the same example as above, what if you were searching for ‘Nike basketball shoes’ and a tweet from NBA star Kobe Bryant appeared high in the results, thanking Nike for making him such great sneakers? That could play a part in your decision making process, right? Of course, as with everything, staged responses or canned endorsements will be obvious to the searcher, and it’s likely people will filter out any such tweets that are overly promotional. But real responses, from real influencers on Twitter, might just have a whole new value proposition for brands, depending on how these tests play out.

The Sleeping Giant

Social search, elaborating on the context of your search results with the real-time discussion from social media platforms, is fast becoming a big deal. People are placing less trust in brand messaging these days, and a significant impetus for that change may be that they simply no longer have to. In times past, brands had more control over the flow of information, they told consumers what they wanted them to hear and managed the message according to their own strategic goals. But in the connected era, in which people have access to all the information, all the time, consumers can inform themselves. Studies have shown that people are already more than halfway along the purchase cycle before they even get in touch with brands, they’re not coming to your sales reps looking for more info the way they used to do. The value is in relationships, in having a higher value proposition than the product itself. In this context, social search is more important than ever – because what’s more valuable than a recommendation from the people you know and trust?

The Google/Twitter partnership only underlines the rising importance of social search and of adding that additional context to the search process. But Facebook knows this too, and you can bet, they’ll be planning their own response.

Graph Search 2.0

Facebook Graph Search was largely seen as a failure. Or not a failure, as such, but a glitchy system that never quite delivered on its massive potential. Facebook acknowledged this – Mark Zuckerberg himself has noted that the results weren’t consistent. But just as Google and Twitter move to stake their claim on social search, Facebook will be looking to roll out Graph Search 2.0, and it will be a massive improvement on the first iteration.

Facebook’s been quite overt in its efforts to keep its audience within its own walls – most specifically with its push to get major publishers to post first-run content direct to Facebook. A big part of holding audience attention and maintaining user experience is search, giving users the ability to easily find what they want within the Facebook eco-system. Facebook has been cautious about how they roll out Graph Search due to privacy concerns and the need to protect the value of their treasured user data, but a new version of Graph Search will be coming soon. The Google/Twitter partnership will only hasten its arrival.

Whatever comes, it’s going to be interesting to see how the digital marketing world responds to having real-time tweets in Google search results. These first examples show that the new partnership could have significant implications, and will likely raise the value of Twitter as a marketing and brand-relevance platform. It’s an exciting development to watch, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all comes together.

Twitter’s Latest Results and What They Might Mean for Future Changes on the Platform

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Not a great day for Twitter. After the micro-blogging giant’s first quarter earnings report was leaked an hour earlier than expected, Twitter stock dropped by 6%, and finished the day down close to 20%. The losses were on the back of a less than spectacular earnings report, where Twitter reported revenue of $436m – around $20m below estimates. Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo, in the company’s official release, said the gap was ‘due to lower-than-expected contribution from some of our newer direct response products’ – these would include some of Twitter’s latest product offerings, like changes to direct messaging, native video sharing, and live-streaming, via Periscope. Twitter’s report also outlined the areas where growth has been solid – but of more interest at this stage is what this result will mean for the future development of the Twitter platform, particularly when considering the rate at which they’ve been pushing out changes in the last few months.

Change is as good as…

Twitter is pushing out more changes, additions and updates than ever before. Senior Vice President of Product Kevin Weil was appointed in October 2014, and his leadership has seen a significant shift in momentum for Twitter products. Whereas once there were long delays in testing before rolling out, Weil appears to have streamlined the process – this is evident in the array of changes we’ve witnessed, from new advertising options to improved embedding options in order to spread the reach of the platform’s properties. While every platform change is approached with some scepticism – every platform has its traditionalists, overly protective of their cherished user-experience – most of these updates have been integrated and adopted well by the growing Twitter community. The latest move on this front was the recent unveiling of Twitter’s new home page for non-users, an attempt to entice more people to sign up and build its overall audience.

While these changes have gone well within the overall scheme of things, one concern stemming from the latest results is that the company will be under pressure to move even faster and seek more ways to monetize the platform. The last thing Twitter users want is to see it go the path of Facebook and start restricting reach in order to incentivize ad buy-up, but that’s invariably one element that could be considered. This is where the delicate balancing act has to be maintained – how do you incentivise new users, monetize the audience you already have, and at the same time, maintain harmony amongst your existing user-base? It’s a challenge facing every major platform, and one which is in stark view for Twitter today as it weathers the backlash resulting from its numbers.

Plenty to smile about

But it’s not all bad news. Twitter’s official report actually painted a fairly strong picture, with monthly active users up 18% and advertising revenue up 72% year-over-year. There’s little doubt the company is in a good position – it’s not as if people are turning away from the platform – it’s just not moving at the rate many (including Twitter itself) had hoped. But there’s a range of solid options coming up that may help the company turn the results in its favour very quickly. The recent growth of its new live-streaming company Periscope is a big positive, particularly the rate at which it’s increasing its market dominance over early-released rival Meerkat. The first element of Twitter’s deal with Google has been announced, with Promoted Tweets now available via Google’s Doubleclick ad platform. The Google deal, in itself, is loaded with potential and could see a significant boost in new users and user engagement, particularly if there’s an SEO value linked to tweets. There’s also the additional search functionality likely to be included as part of the partnership, and the subsequent ad options that would go along with that capability. Twitter’s overall picture looks good, despite this tremor in investor confidence. But tremors can cause lasting impacts, and it will be interesting to see what happens next.

The next battleground

One of the biggest user concerns stemming from unsteady results is the fear that the platforms will change, and the service they know and love will be impacted. Twitter is acutely aware of this, and over time they’ve shown their understanding of the value of user-experience by not making large scale changes and not balancing too far in favour of ad dollars or new users. An imperative on every listed company is the need to increase revenue, a need which always puts pressure on the way things are. But social media networks know that users can and will migrate, attention is the true currency of the social media industry. As such, I wouldn’t expect to see massive changes in user-experience, though I am looking forward to seeing what new products and options come about in the coming months – particularly as a result of the new deal with Google. One of the next big battlegrounds will be social search, an area Facebook is already pushing into with the refinement of Graph Search. The Twitter/Google partnership is likely to be their biggest competition on this front, and as social search becomes more important, as people look to validate more of their search queries via their social graphs and groups, the competition in that sector is will become significantly more intense. I, for one, am pretty interested to see where it goes.

Facebook’s Latest News Feed Update – Time to Move On?

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Earlier this week, Facebook updated their News Feed algorithm again, in what many are seeing as the next move towards ‘Facebook Zero’ – i.e. 0% organic reach for pages. Facebook announced three updates – the first is around users who don’t have a lot of content to see. Previously, the algorithm ensured people were not shown multiple posts from the same source in a row, they’re relaxing this measure for people who run out of content to view and are seeking to view more. Nothing major there, the impacts should be minimal.

The second update has a bit more to it – as noted in Facebook’s announcement, this update:

…tries to ensure that content posted directly by the friends you care about, such as photos, videos, status updates or links, will be higher up in News Feed so you are less likely to miss it. If you like to read news or interact with posts from pages you care about, you will still see that content in News Feed. This update tries to make the balance of content the right one for each individual person.”

So the focus of this one is on those friends who you regularly interact with, on showing you more content from those users and ensuring those posts appear more prominently in your feeds. This is based on your interaction history – Facebook will use past behaviour as a guide to add weight to the prominence of friends’ posts and ensure they appear higher in your results. This will impact page posts because it will be adding increased preference metrics to content posted from certain profiles – most probably, the impact of this will be minimal, but if a person is more likely to be shown content from friends, they’re conversely less likely to see posts from pages in their daily News Feed allocation.

The third update relates to posts that friends have liked or commented on:

…many people have told us they don’t enjoy seeing stories about their friends liking or commenting on a post. This update will make these stories appear lower down in News Feed or not at all, so you are more likely to see the stuff you care about directly from friends and the pages you have liked.”

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Again, the precise impact of this change is hard to predict, but it underlines the fact that ‘likes’, in themselves, are becoming little more than an aesthetic measure – and worse, that even interactions like comments are not necessarily going to increase your post reach. This change inadvertently puts more emphasis on shares and on prompting users to take direct action to explicitly promote their support of your page.

So what’s that mean for Facebook marketing? This change further underlines the need for brands to move from a broadcast focus to making themselves part of the conversation. With this update, Facebook is essentially saying that their users want to use the platform to interact with friends and the content they’re individually interested in, and the only way to effectively promote your pages without moving to paid ads is to generate conversation amongst people independent of your properties. That’s obviously easier said than done, but the principle for Facebook marketing remains that you need to create great content, you need to listen to what your audience wants and is responding to, and you need to become part of those conversations in order to attract more direct interactions with individuals and ensure your brand is part of any relevant conversations.

This also underlines the need to work with individual advocates – I’ve already seen it suggested by some that maybe brands should create personal profiles to help get better reach amongst their communities, but that won’t work, as it’s in violation of Facebook’s terms. Having people speak on your brand’s behalf is the best way to ensure you’re maximising Facebook reach – this is why employee advocacy is becoming a big focus, because who better to speak on behalf of your brand than those who live it everyday? Happy, engaged, socially-empowered employees can play a big part in brand awareness, and this update only reinforces the need to consider ways to facilitate authentic conversations across Facebook’s social graph.

This also sets the stage for updates to Facebook’s own search capabilities – Facebook recently announced changes to their API, effective April 30, which will reduce the capabilities for third party apps, particularly in relation to personal profiles, groups and search functionality. These changes seem relatively small, but for Facebook to be restricting them, my guess is that they’re close to releasing improved search functionality within their own walls, hence, these changes are designed to keep people on Facebook, as opposed to managing their Facebook presence via other platforms. This News Feed update somewhat supports this, in that it puts more emphasis on search to find content, as opposed to tangential organic reach.

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that this update doesn’t help Facebook marketers and further supports the looming dawn of Facebook Zero. So should you just move on and forget about Facebook marketing? Depends on your audience, depends on how this changes your engagement levels – depends on many individual factors that can’t be answered in a generic sense. The fact is that Facebook has 1.44 billion active users, and many of them are likely interested in your products and services. Reaching them might not be as easy as it once was, but it is still totally possible, and totally viable when done in a considered way.

BuzzSumo Adds ‘Trending Content’ Feature

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Back in early 2014, I came across a content discovery tool called BuzzSumo. Steve Rayson, who regularly writes for Social Media Today, had referenced BuzzSumo data in one of his posts, so I clicked through, checked it out – and honestly, I was awed by the many varied applications I could immediately use this data for.

In basic form, BuzzSumo shows you the social share stats for any URL, website or topic. In itself, this is pretty helpful, but one of the more impressive elements of BuzzSumo is the developers’ awareness of how this data will be used, and what data will be useful. As such, over time they’ve added a range of additional features: you can filter the results by language or region; you can narrow the listing down to content type – infographics, videos, interviews; they added the ability to search for influencers on any given topic, reports to compare domains or examine backlinks, by URL or domain. As more new functions have been added, I’ve found myself using and recommending the app ever more frequently.

If you’ve not taken the time to check out BuzzSumo, you should, it really is a great app. And now they’ve got another addition – Steve recently got in touch to give me a look at their latest feature.

On Trend

BuzzSumo’s latest trick is monitoring trending content. The new feature enables you to set up a dashboard of trending or most shared content based on whatever keywords and topics you’d like to keep tabs on.

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In this example, the dashboard is set to show the most shared content under the topic of ‘social media’ over the last 24 hours. You can see the keywords I’ve used to track this in the listing just above the posts:

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The dashboard is tracking the terms ‘social media’, ‘LinkedIn’, ‘Facebook’, etc. Any topic that mentions those terms is included in this dashboard, which is sorted by most shared to least. There’s a range of additional filters you can apply to the results – you can include results from the last 24 hours, or the last 2 hours, and anything in between. You can also narrow the listing down by country and by either ‘Most Shared’ or ‘Trending Now’.

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If you choose ‘Trending Now’, the results will be listed based on each item’s trending score, which measures the velocity of shares within a specified time period. This is a great way to stay on top of the content attracting the most interest in specific niches or based on your target keywords – you can also include hashtags in your search terms to capture all relevant discussion.

What’s more, you can share your dashboards with anyone – logged out users can view the content, so you could make a dashboard capturing all mentions of, say, an event and the BuzzSumo trending log will form a comprehensive overview of the most discussed and trending content related to it – this one, for example, is looking at the UK General Election campaign:

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New Possibilities

Now, if you’re mind’s not already floating off with the various possibilities of this new function, here are a few ways in which the feature could be useful:

  • Content curation – The most obvious benefit of this new functionality is for content curation. Being able to identify the most popular and trending content, based on your specified keywords – in your specific region – is great insight into what’s resonating, and what’s likely to be of relevance to your audience. Not only does this enable you to stay on top of developing discussion points and issues in your niche, it can also act as a guide when considering what to share with your community to keep them up to date
  • Content creation – So, if you have a trending dashboard set up and you can see that a certain issue is running hot, and you have your own perspective to add to the discussion, that’s probably a good cue for you to get writing. Adding your personal insight to a trending issue can go a long way towards reinforcing your position as a leader in your field – having the list of trending topics, right there in front of you, could save you a heap of time in searching and locating relevant content by other methods
  • Insight – Not only are you getting valuable insight into what content is trending, BuzzSumo’s listings also show you where that content is reaching an audience. You can see below the preview images for each post that there’s also a listing of how many shares each story has generated on the five major social platforms. This effectively highlights the platforms you need to be active on in order to reach the audience discussing those topics – locating and tapping into those conversations could prove extremely valuable, as, targeted with your specific keywords, it’s leading you directly to your where your target audience is at. There’s obviously a bit more to it than just logging on and jumping into a trending conversation, but it’s a guide, an indicator of where to look. And maybe it’ll show you opportunities you’d not have previously considered

These are the three main uses for the trending dashboard from a straight marketing and research perspective. But as noted in the event example above, there are a heap more ways you could consider using this. There’s also an RSS feature that you can use to stay informed with the most up-to-date info on trending topics in your industry – and the terms you use to create the board are defined by you, so you can make it as specific or broad-matched as you like.

New Depths

As noted previously, I’ve been pretty impressed by BuzzSumo’s progression – their features always add a new level of depth, and they’ve really thought through the functionality and user-friendliness of the process when putting together these features. Trending topics again adds another level, and there’s a wide range of possible applications and uses for this option. No doubt you’re already considering using it for your own purposes, beyond what I’ve noted here. If you aren’t using BuzzSumo, you definitely check it out, and if you are, you’ll no doubt love the new feature – another solid addition from the BuzzSumo team.

The Apple Watch is Going to Be a Huge Failure. Maybe.

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The Apple Watch is coming, and many are already decrying it’s demise. Think it’s gonna’ be a loser? The tech giant’s definitely had it’s fair share of doubters over time:

“Mark my words, these new ipods I think they’re calling them are just the latest fad, and will soon flounder and disappear along with other bad ideas like DCC, Eight-tracks and Betamax videotapes.” – “iPod: 7 Reasons Why Apple’s Walkman Knock-Off Is Doomed To Fail”, What Culture

“I question the company’s ability to sell into a tight consumer market right now at the iPod’s current price” – “Apple’s iPod Spurs Mixed Reactions”, CNET, October 23, 2001

“Great just what the world needs, another freaking MP3 player. Go Steve! Where’s the Newton?!” – “Apple’s New Thing (iPod)”, MacRumours, July, 2001

“Prediction No. 1: The iPhone will be a major disappointment. The hype has been enormous. Apple says its iPhone is “literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone.” A stock-market analyst says, “The iPhone has the potential to be even bigger than the iPod.” I think not. An iPod is a divergence device; an iPhone is a convergence device. There’s a big difference between the two. In the high-tech world, divergence devices have been spectacular successes. But convergence devices, for the most part, have been spectacular failures.” – “Why the iPhone Will Fail”, AdAge, June 18, 2007

“The Apple phone will be exclusive to one of the major networks in each territory and some customers will switch networks just to get it, but not as many as had been hoped. As customers start to realise that the competition offers better functionality at a lower price, by negotiating a better subsidy, sales will stagnate. After a year a new version will be launched, but it will lack the innovation of the first and quickly vanish. The only question remaining is if, when the iPod phone fails, it will take the iPod with it.” – “Why the Apple Phone will Fail, and Fail badly”, The Register, December 23rd, 2006

“[The iPhone’s] virtual keyboard will be about as useful for tapping out emails and text messages as a rotary phone. Don’t be surprised if a sizable contingent of iPhone buyers express some remorse at ditching their BlackBerry when they spend an extra hour each day pumping out emails on the road.” – “The Futurist: We Predict the iPhone Will Bomb” – TechCrunch, June 7, 2007

“The iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks” – “Apple iPhone Will Fail in a Late, Defensive Move”, Bloomberg, January 14, 2007

“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I’d prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, “CEO Forum: Microsoft’s Ballmer having a ‘great time‘”, USA Today, April 30, 2007

“What Apple risks here is its reputation as a hot company that can do no wrong. If it’s smart it will call the iPhone a ‘reference design’ and pass it to some suckers to build with someone else’s marketing budget. Then it can wash its hands of any marketplace failures… Otherwise I’d advise people to cover their eyes.” – “Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone”, MarketWatch, March 28, 2007

“Yes, [the iPad is] a sharp piece of technology, and given Apple’s track record, it’s going to be fun to use. But other than satisfying a lust for new gadgets and shiny things, can you think of a real need for a device like this?” – “10 reasons the iPad could fail catastrophically”, Games Radar, January 29, 2010

“Tablet PCs suck. They’re underpowered, only marginally portable, and awkward to use in anything but a traditional seated position, with a desk to support them.” – “Why Apple’s rumored iTablet will fail big time”, InfoWorld, December 22, 2009

“In the end, I think that the iPad will eventually be regarded much like Apple TV – a product that Jobs should have left on the drawing boards.” – “Why the iPad will fail to win significant market share”, TechRepublic, February 23, 2010

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Still confident the Apple Watch is destined for the scrap heap?

Brand Journalism Versus Brand Storytelling – Is There a Difference?

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I read an interview with author Arnold Zable recently in which he discussed his work in championing causes through his writing, notably asylum seekers. Zable talked about the power of storytelling in such efforts, saying that ‘story is a very beautiful way to lead people somewhere else’. Zable noted that more than statistics and facts, telling the real story, revealing the true, human experience behind issues is the only real way to cut through and make people take notice.

Zable’s words definitely rang true to me – we’re constantly berated by numbers and figures behind issues like asylum seekers or climate change, to the point where their effectiveness is diminished. But a real story, of how a mother fled a war-torn land to save her children, that brings the issue home in a far more visceral and powerful way. You feel it, you respond to it. While data and figures are important, logical cues, the power of storytelling should not – and cannot – be underestimated.

The Rise of the Brand Journalist

This got me to thinking about how we’re discussing storytelling in content marketing. There’s a big focus on story at the moment, because emotional triggers are what drive social sharing. The ever increasing amount of people using social media leads to an equally increasing amount of brands looking to utilise social channels to reach their audience, and the best way to do that, to compel people to like and share your brand message, is through content. Storytelling has always been the strongest way to deliver a resonant message, but now, with the audience having more control than ever over their media inputs, compelling content is crucial. Shareable content. You need to give people a reason to like your brand, a reason to want to talk about your business or business message. People aren’t on social to be advertised to, they want to be part of something bigger than themselves, they want to join in on the wider conversation. The more your content can form a part of that discussion, the more successful your brand will be at maximising social channels.

One thing I have noted, in seeing the growing emphasis on content and storytelling in marketing, is that the term ‘brand journalism’ has also grown in step. The pervading view is that all brands are now publishers in the modern digital landscape – the audience needs a reason to align with you, so you need to tell stories, and online platforms provide you with the means to do just that. This has seen an increasing number of businesses look to producing their own stories, their own angles on relevant discussions, and that, effectively, is brand journalism. But every time I see this term I question whether a brand journalist is what you really want.

The Power of Story

Definitely, journalists are accomplished writers who are able to communicate the facts of the story, and many of them are, at heart, storytellers who are passionate about finding the core of a piece and building an experience for the reader. But a lot of journalism, too, is facts and figures.

For instance, this was a piece in an Australian newspaper recently, looking at the tragic disappearance of Dane Kowalski:

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This is solid news journalism, all the facts are there, all the detail. But compare that to this single post from a friend of Dane’s, who’d been doing all he could to locate him:

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In two sentences, this post has captured far more emotion, delivered far more resonance, because this is something this person is living. The pain is raw, real – the story is more than a piece in the news section. Every story is – there’s more to a news item than the who, what, when and where – the why is the real story. The people living it are the real connectors. You can read over a set of facts like:

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Yet none of those figures are as compelling as an actual story:

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Nothing comes from no where. In every story, in everyone’s life, in every event, there’s a passion, a human heart at it’s core. That story is what people relate to, what people identify with, and ultimately, what people respond to. Given that, in many cases it may not be ‘brand journalists’ that you need, but ‘brand storytellers’, people who can uncover the true purpose and passion behind what you do.

A Human Story

Of course, many, if not most, journalists are driven by a passion to tell human stories, to share that core truth of a story in order to let the audience develop an informed opinion on the subject. But it always stands out to me when I see the term used. And a lot of the content that does get shared via social networks is facts and figures based, so it’s not to say that a news-style approach doesn’t work either, but I guess the point here is in understanding what gets shared, why people share content – it’s in understanding what stories resonate with audiences. Those are the real stories, the human side. A news story might be about a man’s company going bust, but that didn’t just happen. There’s a long trail of events that lead to that business collapsing, a story behind those details that would allow the reader to build a better understanding and emotional connection with the material – and this type of investigative journalism, based in true storytelling, is what’s most beneficial to building better discussion and understanding. Because people make judgements based on what they read. If they only have the basic details, their opinions will be established on those. But if they have all the information, then they can absorb it and make a judgement based on the whole picture.

The TV show Catfish is a great example – someone will be scamming someone else online by pretending to be someone they’re not – and it’s easy for us, as the viewers, to side with the victim, because they are the ones being lied to. But more often than not, the perpetrators themselves are just sad, or lonely, or lost and when you hear their side of the story, the right and wrong of the situation isn’t so clear. They’re all people, they all do things for their own reasons. Those reasons are powerful and add real insight. Those are the stories we need to share.

Not everyone wants to read the detail, not everyone will appreciate the story, but it’s important to understand what resonates, what style of storytelling works to reach people’s emotional triggers and subsequently generates discussion and community. Facts and figures and important, but why are they important? What do those numbers actually mean for the real people involved?  Great storytelling reveals this, great journalism reveals this, but you need to recognise what you’re actually aiming for when establishing a content plan and working with writers and writing staff.