(Ice-bucket) Challenge Not Accepted: When Viral becomes Annoying

How the Ice-Bucket challenge surprised, inspired, and then ultimately, turned us off

I don’t doubt that when this article comes out there will still be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people dumping perfectly good water, seasoned with ice, all over their bodies.  The nature of any fad/craze is that it will take a while to simmer down.  As the craze gradually subsides (don’t expect any ice-bucket challenges this winter!) there are a number of points of reflection for all of us, particularly those of us who “do social media” as a profession.

Charities

There have been hundreds of ad hoc board meetings, phone calls, and email threads in the last few weeks among charities and causes.  The burning question of all these exchanges was: “How can we also capture the imagination of so many?”  Here’s the bad news, charities and causes: you can’t.  Or at least it will be very difficult for you to plan to.  The ALS Ice-Bucket challenge caught on for a number of reasons.

1.  It was summer when it peaked and it’s a borderline prank – albeit one you do on yourself and is fun and harmless.

2.  It’s extremely social – one gets nominated via social media and then promotes their video via social media, nominating others in the process, and so on.

3.  There’s a feel-good factor: you get to say you are raising “awareness” (whatever that means) for a terrible disease.

All these frantic communications hopefully had at least one eminence grise present to remind everyone that people give to charities or causes because they are deeply connected to or affected by those causes or charities.  Sure, ALS has raised some record-breaking amount of money.  At last count it is on its way to $100M.  And maybe there will be some progress towards a cure because of those funds.  But it’s unlikely they have created a large number of lifetime devotees to the disease.  People don’t care about diseases that don’t directly affect them.  That’s the truth.

ALS should, if they are smart, see this for what it was – a fun prank that benefited them greatly, but is unlikely to change the rules of engagement for a disease that has eluded defeat for decades.  You can’t blame them.  All of modern society seems to have bought into the notion that if you throw enough money at a problem, it will be fixed, whether it’s schools, health care, or a disease like ALS.

Society

In the era of television we were able to simply turn the device off when we didn’t want to see anything more about a tragedy or fad.  In the era of social media, tragedy and comedy sit side-by-side.  I can scroll through my social media feeds, over a 2-minute span, and see friends pouring water over their heads, links to articles about murdered Palestinians, and an infographic about everything the iphone doesn’t do or doesn’t have.

But this means that, entirely against expectations, our social media universe forces us to see what we would rather not (we aren’t going to unfollow/unfriend people because they are doing the challenge).  Some champions of the challenge would argue that’s exactly why it was a success.  I would argue that’s precisely why it will go the way of the snuggie: you can’t make people care about a disease.  There’s no social media solution for that.  And if you don’t explain your cause to the many neutrals who are yet to be convinced to give you money, you’ll turn them off.

Individuals

People all over the world are at liberty to do what they wish with their money.  But each of us might have been fascinated to watch friends, families, and celebrities champion a cause they had never heard of before.  What motivated them?  A passion for ALS?  Unlikely.  A desire to do something fun?  Yes.  To participate in some global event with friends?  Sure.  Will they likely give to ALS again?  Probably not.  Indeed, one of my colleagues, when asking a client why that client had donated to ALS, was told that the challenge wasn’t a fundraiser but was simply a way to raise awareness.  The irony wasn’t missed by us.

Social media is just like regular life, but digitized and faster.  People get annoyed even faster on it than in real life.  As charities and causes plot their next moves, they would be wise…to not plan some viral prank.  They might also look to be involved in a greater coalition, as more and more people realize that disaster or disease-specific charities are not the most effective way to beat something.  As is always true in life, it is the passion that will drive the cause, not the cause that will drive the passion.

But you can’t blog for us: we’re too specialized!

Some time ago we wrote about one of the services we offer: blogging for clients.  In that article and in other places we’ve made the point that while you or one of your staff might be the ideal person to create content, your current schedule may not allow for it.  You’re allowing the “we really should be blogging” turn into the “I thought we talked about blogging six months ago – why isn’t it getting done?”  But you might still hesitate and say: “Stephen, I’d love to outsource this but our industry is just too darn specific.”

I hear you.  May I turn your question around a bit?  Why do you think we enjoy working with “specific” industries?  It is the age of the niche.  As Google morphs over time from an analog search tool to a sophisticated partner that can process orally-asked questions, those blogs and that content which have pre-answered the most important questions will have the edge in being found by info-hungry potential customers.  No matter what the industry of our client, we always have to think small in order to think big.

So, in reminding you that the scope of our articles often leans niche, I’m happy to say, we like “niche” firms too.  Is there a bit more uptime as we learn your industry through blogs, white papers, videos, and other content that you boot-camp us through?  Yes.  Is hiring us and taking the time to teach us about you still cheaper and more efficient than using your time or your staff’s time to do this?  Yes.  Does the very act of starting to create content – even through an external source – get the wheels turning for you so that you can start to contribute too?  Often.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of conversations about your industry happening on the internet right now.  Are you doing everything you can to be part of those conversations?  If you have any doubts, send an email to info AT wordworksinc.com and let’s see if we can make what you’re already doing even better.

Tumblr 101

Today won’t be the day that I postgame Yahoo’s acquisition of tumblr last year.  I do think it’s funny just how far Web 3.0 has distorted our notion of wealth that Forbes had an article detailing how tumblr founder David Karp would ONLY be worth about $200M after the acquisition.

Tumblr is one of the edgiest and most interesting (or at least was at the time of oh-so-boring Yahoo!’s acquisition, the hipsters would have us believe) social sites out there.  The site is a mix of bloggers and brands, but can be broken up into two main categories: curators and creators.  We’ll start with the second one first.

tumblr basicsCreate

You might want to share photos.  Indeed Instagram has the functionality to share its content right into tumblr built into its app.  Maybe you want to share inspiring quotes or news stories…hey wait a minute…is this facebook??  Fair question.  In this particular aspect, it’s not.  Facebook also allows you to share photos, links, etc.  But there are some (read: many) users on tumblr who would never go near facebook.  This might be because they are “too cool” for facebook but others simply want to limit their social media profile and figure tumblr is just cozy enough for them.

Also, unlike facebook, tumblr allows you to customize the look and feel of your homepage.  With facebook, you pretty much have what you have, though you can add a cover photo and profile picture.

Remember what we said about going where your competitors aren’t?  This is more advice along those lines.

Curate

Okay – you don’t want to simply replicate what you are doing on facebook, twitter, and google+ and call it “creation.”  You’re hip; you’re with it; or at least you want to be, and there’s nothing less cool than just the “copy/paste” move to replicate what you’re doing on every other social channel onto your oh-so-cool-and-edgy tumblr.

Then curate.  Follow cool and interesting tumblrs, be they a historical one, a funny one, or a pretty one.  Find things that are interesting to you and potential clients.  People will follow good curators.

As we said in our instagram/flickr piece, realize that this is yet another channel which you can add to your social media portfolio.  And as you make the transition away from resenting social media and its new kingship to an acceptance of its being a great – and free – way to brand-build and connect with your customers, remember that it only asks for your time.  You know, that commodity we all have a lot of.  For those of you with less of it than the rest of us, you can always hire someone competent and passionate (insert shameless plug for Word Works here) to do it for you.

Can you believe March is gone already?  See you in April!

Page Rank vs Domain Authority

We don’t assume that our readers have followed all the ups and downs and changes over the years in how Google indexes and ranks websites.  But a brief trip down Memory Lane will allow us to better understand where we are headed.

In the beginning, there were keywords

Remember when people would repeat key words on their websites and blog posts in order to drive rankings?  Spammers, as they always do, figured out the score pretty quickly, and just like that keywords lost relevance.

Then came PageRank

PageRank, named for Google co-founder Larry Page, has been out for some time now.  It is a score from 1 to 10 and is mostly garnered from the amount of no follow and do follow backlinks.  There are other factors, but Google doesn’t publish what those are under the claim of “proprietary information.”  To give you some social media context, Twitter has a PageRank of 10, Facebook 9, and Google self-deprecatingly gives itself a 9.

And now…Domain Authority?

If we started with keywords, and then moved on to PageRank, it makes sense to move on past these rather 1 or 2 dimensional systems.  Domain Authority does that in spades.

Scoring is from 1-100 and attempts to use a holistic rubric to measure overall quality.  There are over 100 factors used to determine Domain Authority.  Some of the big ones include:

domain authority vs page rank1) How long is the website registered for? (longer = better)

2) How old is the website? (older = better)

3) How many indexed pages are there? (more = better)

4) How deep is internal site linking? (deeper = better)

5) How frequently is content updated? (more frequent = better)

6) What is the bounce rate? (lower = better)

7) How diverse is the content? (good mix of images, text, videos, and graphics = better)

If you are scoring 40 in Domain Authority you are doing a lot of things right but keep in mind that it gets progressively harder to climb the mountain from there.

Domain Authority was created by MOZ and looks to be the new metric until…well someone else seeks to replace it.

But as you can see, Domain Authority is fully the product of a richly iterated, app-driven webverse.  If you are making your content engaging and diverse, well, your rankings will reflect that.

Being rewarded for “doing the expected.”  That’s something we can all look forward to as Domain Authority takes us beyond the lies of keywords and the tricks to game PageRank.  And that’s good for everyone.

Email Marketing: it’s not dead…yet.

Just as the poor-plague-ridden peasant says in the Monty Python video above, so too email marketing cries out (truthfully), “I’m not dead, yet!”  One of the services we offer here at Word Works is MailChimp campaign administration.  We create and administer your email newsletter campaigns by making the best use of that email list you’ve worked hard to obtain.  We know that email newsletters are on that nagging “to-do” list that never gets done unless you lock yourself in the office and put a sign out front that says “do not disturb!” and power through it for a few hours.  It’s “important” but not enough – in your estimation – for you to set aside time to do it.  And yet it is important, which is why we provide that vital service to our clients.

In all the fawning over social media these past years, people miss the huge opportunities that email marketing still presents.  Don’t you love the feeling of “found money”?  You’re putting away clothes or unpacking them and you found some cash in the pockets.  It’s a great feeling – because you didn’t realize it was there but you are so happy now that you’ve found it.  Email marketing is the same and here’s why you should use it:

#1: It works.  Do you ever wonder how/why Amazon, Netflix, Apple, or Gilt use email marketing?  Because they’ve spent millions of dollars in research and experience to prove it.  Can you honestly say you’ve never bought a product or service via an email prompt?  Indeed you have.  It’s about crafting the right message.

#2: It’s another medium.  As people push back against the mountains of email they receive every moment of every day, the very fact that they haven’t unsubscribed – these days a simple one-click motion – to yours is an indication to you that they are at least open to anything you have to say.  So say something meaningful!

#3:  It gives you an opportunity to track behavior.  MailChimp (we don’t dismiss Constant Contact – but we prefer a service that is freemium-based, like MailChimp).  You can see what “clicks” with your customers and shape/pivot accordingly.  It also gives you an opportunity to share “heart-to-heart” letters or nmailchimpotes that just don’t share as well in social media or websites, which are more and more the mediums of a moment.  Email pauses for a few moments more.

#4:  It’s where your competitors aren’t.  We all know that the best businesses do almost everything right.  As you aspire to be among the best you too must do things that your competitors aren’t doing, especially when it’s in a channel that is ignored and underutilized because it takes even more work than social media.  More and more people are realizing that all these things take a lot of work and you can’t just dump an email newsletter, like social media, as an additional task on a regular employee.

The golden age of email marketing may have passed with the peak of Groupon or LivingSocial (which are still around!), but there’s still plenty of business to be had in a silver or even bronze age that follows.  Don’t miss those opportunities!

Should your business be on Instagram or Flickr (or both?)

As a content and social media firm, we are often asked which channels a company needs to be part of.  Today I’d like to make the case for adding Instagram and Flickr to your social media mix.

Let’s state a couple premises we operate from at the outset:

1.  No matter how much Google AdWords has trained us, not everything is trackable.  The classic example is the Instagramcustomer who has heard about you from two different friends, seen you on Facebook, and calls after getting a direct mail piece.  Do you credit that sale to a direct mail or would the customer have eventually contacted you based on the personal referrals and/or fb visibility.  In social media, as in life, 50% (or more) of success is just consistently showing up.  Adding one or two more channels to your social media mix is only a marginal increase in time spent.

2.  Visual mediums are not restricted to visual products.  Instagram and Flickr curate photos, it is true, but you can also insert infographics and pictures of your stuff, special occasions, and interesting happenings (Just because you make an “uninteresting widget” doesn’t mean you can’t have an interesting account).

With those two premises in mind:

a.  Do you want to reach a younger, tech-savvy, social audience?  Instagram is great for that.  Both Instagram and flickr have tools to allow people to “discover” using hashtags.  While facebook and Google+ are now getting into this game also, it is at the heart of Instagram and is a great way to engage your audience.  One example?  Throwback Thursday, also known as #tbt.  It’s a way to have a “retro” shot.  Here’s a creative way I did this on my personal account a few weeks ago.flickr-logo-alexleite

b.  Do you want to challenge yourself and your team to be more creative in your outreach?  Nothing like a visual format to force that.  You’ll be amazed at the insights gained and thought processes formed by creating and maintaining good Instagram/Flickr accounts.

c.  Do you want to discover new resources and inspiration for yourself, even as you seek to share yourself?  Something great about this medium is you have so many opportunities to be inspired yourself.  Check out Red Bull or Ben and Jerry’s for cool ideas as to how to make your Instagram sing.

d.  Do you like to break up the routine of Facebook, Twitter, and Google+?  These channels, which only the best of your competitors are on, will give you a real chance to not just differentiate yourself, but also break up the routine of those other channels as you cross-post and cross-promote.

Yes, it’s “one more thing” in social media – but it’s something that can be thought through, added, and maintained.  If you want help, reach out and contact us!