Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Dark Social Media and Content Marketing

What is Dark Social? Dark Social is the sharing of content that's not trackable through traditional analytics -- that is, for business purposes, it's in the dark. Beyond more traditional channels like email, SMS and instant messages, Dark Social sharing also includes ephemeral platforms like Snapchat and WeChat.

Tom Edwards recently published a fascinating article in Social Media Insider on the topic: 2015 Will See the Rise of Dark Social. What's most staggering are the statistics:
According to a recent Radium One study, 59% of all online sharing is via dark social. Further, a whopping 91% of Americans regularly share information via dark social methods. This study also showed that 72% of sharing is simply users copying and pasting long URLs and either e-mailing or texting the information.
While I agree that Dark Social is on the rise and will only continue to grow in 2015, I'd like to focus on how we as digital marketers can prepare for this shift. So what does it all mean?

Social Media is about connections. While this may seem quite obvious, it's easy to focus on trendy new platforms and lose sight of social media's original reason for existing: people want to connect with other people. Whether that's publicly on Twitter or privately on SnapChat, one thing is certain: channels are variable, but connections are constant.

Great content fuels conversation and sharing. With so much conversation happening off of more "traditional" social networks and visible channels, the need for quality content to inspire sharing and discussion has never been greater. Content can be anything from feature films to 6 second Vines; graphic novels to single panel comics; double albums to hit single teaser snippets.

This is just the beginning. I expect this segment of social to only continue to grow in 2015, so get ready and stay out of the dark!

Monday, January 26, 2015

How to Make Animated GIFs from YouTube Videos

With the ever-increasing popularity of platforms like Tumblr, there's never been a better time to learn how to create animated GIFs. Without further ado, here's my short tutorial on the subject:

Friday, December 12, 2014

Prediction: Perceived Personalization

It was sometime between my first battle with an Uruk captain and overthrowing my first war chief that I realized something was special about Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. While the gameplay itself was fantastic, it was something in particular about the game's enemies that struck me. Each Uruk had a unique name, appearance, and set of weaknesses, strengths and fears. Each Uruk had its own personality that was only present in my game. If I fell in battle to one, he made sure to let me know the next time I saw him -- in alarmingly specific detail.

This is all thanks to Monolith's Nemesis System. What the Nemesis System has managed to accomplish is something extraordinary -- and noticeably lacking in many other of its AAA game brethren: perceived personalization. It wasn't a matter of going after these Uruks because the game said I had to -- I went after them because I wanted to. For sweet, sweet vengeance. It was no longer purely a game mechanic. It was personal. It was as if I KNEW the Uruk and he existed purely to antagonize me and make my life more difficult. All of this made it that much more satisfying by the time I was able to exact my revenge by parting his head with his shoulders.

So what does this all have to do with digital marketing? Everything.

You see, Monolith has stumbled onto something utterly brilliant. Mechanics that go a long way in making you, the consumer, feel like you're having a completely unique experience. At its core, the Nemesis system is essentially a bank of possible names, attributes, personalities and sound bytes that combine to form randomly created characters. But it's how it all comes together to form a cohesive experience that's where it really shines.

You could apply this same logic to attributes in product design, custom web experiences, or experiential events. If you feel like you're the first and/or only person to experience something, how much better of an experience is that compared to a one-size-fits-all approach? By creating something truly unique, you're creating social currency and empowering your consumers to speak on your behalf.

But why perceived personalization? Isn't it just personalization? Yes and no. Yes, the experience is unique and personalized to me, the end user. But where I see the differentiation is the fact that it's unique without any additional input from either the development side OR the user side. It's a highly sophisticated automated system that makes me FEEL like it's built specifically for me. That's the magic. And something I believe we are going to start seeing even more in 2015.

Disclosure: I worked on a marketing program with WB Games and GameStop to promote this game, however, all opinions and commentary are mine and mine alone.

Friday, September 5, 2014

How To Make Trends and Influence People

One of the proverbial Holy Grails of social marketing has been to get your brand to trend on Twitter. It signifies scale and social value, it's easy to explain, and not everyone can do it. Or can they?

First, let's begin with some definitions.

What does it mean to trend on Twitter?
It means appearing in the top trends box on Twitter's home page and mobile app. The trends are tracked and viewable at a global, national and city level.

What are trending topics?
Trending topics represent what people are talking about the most at a given time. But it's not just a traditional word cloud, tracking individual words -- rather, Twitter uses an algorithm to identify the larger conversations related to topics and distill them down to hashtags and keywords. By clicking a trending topic, you can see all related tweets, profiles, and headlines.

How does something become a trending topic?
The most certain way to trend on Twitter is to pay for it using Twitter's Promoted Trends product. These opportunities are offered once per day at a fixed rate -- typically $100,000 - $200,000 for 24 hours. While this is a surefire way to get your brand in front of the massive Twitter audience, what we're discussing today is how to do it the old fashioned way: organically.

There are a few things to note about organically trending topics. 
First, there's no telling how long or short their time to trend is going to be. I've seen trends last less than 20 minutes and up to a majority of the day. It really comes down to the size and nature of the audience that's engaging -- that is, fans of One Direction and Justin Bieber are incredibly passionate and show up in the millions to create organically trending topics quite frequently.

Second, a big part of the algorithm that causes content to trend is based on two things: frequency and volume over time. That is, the more people are tweeting about a given topic in a shorter amount of time, the more likely that content is to trend. This is why you see topics related to live television like sports and The Voice trending -- the viewership is so massive and active on social media that, at any given time, thousands upon thousands of conversations are occurring about these cultural events.

So, what does this mean for me and my brand?
When it comes to trending topics, there's a lot to do with chance -- right content, right time -- but there's an equally important part that can be affected with the right strategy to put your best foot forward. Here are a couple thought starters that should get you on your way to your first trending topic.

1) Live Events
What better way to replicate the momentum achieved by a live television or sports event than to create one of your own? I'm not saying you need to produce a television show or host the next Dodger game. Quite the opposite, in fact. You can create an online event targeting a smaller but passionate audience. The most common example of such an event is a Twitter Party -- an event hosted by a popular Twitter personality, centered around a hashtag, and designed to get their audience talking about a topic. Another type of live event that I have personally have seen success with is a live trivia event. Working with a gaming client, we devised a program that offered up high value prizes to the first Twitter follower to answer each of a series of increasingly difficult trivia questions using a designated hashtag. We hosted a similar event for four weeks and organically trended three of the four times.

2) Mass Appeal
Don't have the means to make an event of your own? You can try appealing to the masses with something that hold a universal truth or can be entertaining to everyone. A program I created for the same gaming client was designed to tap into the passion around nostalgia for a particular franchise and the result was the topic trended within the first 10 minutes of publishing the original tweet. It comes down to understanding your audience and their motivations. What are they passionate about at scale?

Friday, August 15, 2014

I Love Gaming, But It Doesn't Define Me

This morning, I read a fantastic article by Ben Kuchera at Polygon titled "Gaming Is Not the Most Important Thing In My Life." While I highly suggest reading the entire thing, here's a quick summary: as a writer in the gaming industry, you'd likely assume that he's consumed by gaming all of the time. And you'd be wrong. A self-proclaimed 15% gamer, he prides himself in being multi-dimensional. He's fortunate to have a job that allows him to scratch the gaming itch which allows him to pursue other interests in his free time.

This is something I've given a lot of thought to as well. As someone who is working in the industry, I've been exposed to every kind of game, and in turn, every kind of gamer. Ben points out that the notion of a "hardcore gamer" carries a certain negative connotation -- particularly the most vocal ones -- in that they allow gaming to define themselves, and in turn, asses their self worth. What this equates to in Ben's position is any criticism of a beloved franchise or console is interpreted as a personal attack.

Make no mistake -- gaming is an important part of my life. I choose to spend a fair amount of my spare time gaming. I love it. In terms of variety of experiences, platforms, and accessibility, there's never been a better time to be a gamer. Anyone with an idea can create and become the next big thing (see: Flappy Bird).

However, that's not all I am.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Google's Updated Search Algorithm Puts Greater Onus on Social Content Marketing

What's changed?
Google recently announced significant changes to their legacy algorithms -- Hummingbird, Panda, and Penguin, which impact 90% of the world's searches -- that took the war against spam links and black hat SEO to new heights. At its core, the change is putting a much greater emphasis on content relevance and quality by stripping out bad searches (keyword stuffing, duplicate content, and hyperlink manipulation) and clearing the lane for the good stuff.

So what does this mean for digital marketers and brands?
The bottom line is this: great, relevant content will prevail over all else. No longer will marketers and SEOs be able to stack the deck to artificially inflate the presence of bad and/or irrelevant content. If the ever-increasing demand for original, quality content wasn't already apparent -- this is your wake up call.

The good news in all of this is, if you're already creating engaging, high quality content for your marketing campaigns, this is some of the best news you'll hear all year. With the clutter out of the way, your content stands that much greater of a chance of being discovered by your intended audience.

As a brand or agency, there has never been a more important time to focus on the creation of original content in real time. By reacting to global events and trends quickly in an authentic manner, you'll not only ensure your content is original and fresh, but you'll be poising your content (and brand) for discovery. And the changes to Google's algorithm have cleared the lane of clutter to make a clearer path to the top of the search engine results pages.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Adventures of a Videogame Rebel: Tim Schafer at Double Fine

After picking up SF Weekly in the Coffee Bean in San Francisco's financial district, I read an amazing article about Tim Schafer and his recent Kickstarter success. What was most interesting to me was the run through his personal history. The man's brilliant and this article captures it perfectly. Definitely worth the read :)

P.S. If you haven't already, pick up the Indie Humble Bundle V - it comes with Psychonauts, arguably one of Schafer's best AND the soundtrack. Just name your price...