Original Content, Not As Easy As It Looks

Not long after writing about my respect for Snapchat and their foray into the news publishing world, Deadline Hollywood (yet another news source I never expected to attribute) tells of the end of Snap Channel, Snapchat’s department for self-generated original content.

This doesn’t mean they don’t value content beyond the duck-lip-selfie-pictures often seen via their app, but they are quickly bailing out of the original content world. Snapchat garnered a lot of attention just a few months ago with they hired former Fox SVP Comedy Marcus Wiley as their Head of Program Planning and Development. Now they’re cutting him and a small staff loose, ending that piece of their content strategy.

This is probably a wise move for Snapchat, and shows their ability to experiment with new ideas, and recognize when good experiments don’t evolve. Developing original content is not an easy or inexpensive proposition. Traditional news operations have been trying to cut costs (read:staff) for several years now and the cutting isn’t over. The Chicago Sun-Times is losing high-level news executives – and even their CEO – and simply not replacing them.

So, hat’s off to you again, Snapchat. You took a chance, pushed out to the corners of your content strategy, and knew when to step back from the ledge before it was too late.

Update – 10/14/2015

Further proof that Snapchat is in the Content Strategy game:

Digiday Snapchat

I’m Starting to Understand, Maybe Even Respect Snapchat

Snapchat in the news

That’s right, I’m starting to respect Snapchat and their plans for world domination. As I wrote about earlier, the way we get our news has to change or those responsible for reporting on the news will be left on the sidelines. The current generation is showing signs of becoming much more aware of the world around us than previous generations and it has everything to do with how they get their news.

Two stories in the news just this last week (that I found in my emails) tell of two fascinating aspects of Snapchat’s news delivery strategy.

First, NeimanLab reported on how Snapchat wants to slip a little news into teens’ social smartphone time. With the goal of being more educational than news delivery, Snapchat leverages the millions of users they have around the world to tells stories from their users’ point of view. Users who are in middle of a presidential campaign can show the rally from the middle of the rally – where they are, what they are doing.

Even internationally, Snapchat can cover news using a “geofence” that locates their users and broadcasted directly from them.

While media outlets from around the world covered the Hajj, especially after the deadly stampede last week, Snapchat could take its viewers into places, such as the mosques, that traditional TV crew couldn’t reach. (The Hajj Snapchat Live Story was compiled before the stampede happened.)

Their power of their users is in the numbers and locations :


So you think, how many teens really want to learn about what’s going on in Hajj? Maybe that’s a stretch, but how about the Teen Vogue Young Hollywood party and the Vanity Fair Oscar Party?

That’s right, Conde Nast struck a deal to post video on Snapchat from those events,

Anyone who opens Snapchat around the time of one of Conde Nast’s events will be offered video in the platform’s Live Stories format, which curates footage from various users at a given location. Snapchat says it has 100 million unique daily active users and that 20 million people view a Live Story each day. Conde Nast’s Live Stories will be available for 24 hours each.

It’s no surprise then that brands and publishers alike are flocking to the opportunities that Snapchat offers. Delivering an audience that is glued to their phones, and love it even more when they can share what they’re seeing is the holy grail of an engaged audience.

And, here’s the part I like – you don’t really have to be a teen to “get it.” Just ask the Terminator, or whoever is managing The Arnold’s social media channels.

This generation stands a chance of saving “the news.”


More Fun at Fuelfed – Winnetka

Fuelfed car show in Winnetka

Cars, coffee, and fun.

Something about Fuelfed and Winnetka bring out as much bad weather as beautiful cars. But in the end, the weather turned nicer, and the cars stayed amazing.

From  Jaguars to Ferraris, Healey’s to Lamborghini’s, and the rare to the unusual, a wonderful way to spend a Sunday morning.

News is Dead, Long Live the News

Today's news

This isn’t your Dad’s news anymore

There have never been more ways to get your news than there is today. Each generation has seen its “new media moment” from the newspapers, to radio, and then live television, but in the last 20 years we have jumped light years ahead of the previous generations in the ways in which we can get our news fix.

In the early days of the Internet, most traditional news operations created websites that let anyone read their news. Soon after, some publishers (newspapers, mostly) complained other sites like Huffington Post and local bloggers would aggregate (steal) their content use it to boost their website traffic. The answer to that issue, by some news sites, was to require a subscription to the site in order to read the content they produce. That is a hotly contested strategy that is still playing out.

Then, just when you thought the battle would be just between news publishers, social media took off and offered yet another way for readers to receive news feeds. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter suddenly had “the eyeballs” and they could gather all the news you wanted from many different sources.

Again, tradition publishers (newspapers, mostly) complained their content was being pilfered and that their audience was being lost. While they were still locking down some of their content for just subscribers, they started to see that they had to look at other ways of reaching an audience.

Recently Facebook offered a way for publishers to reach the coveted Facebook audience in a more publishing-friendly way. With Instant Articles publishers can better control what they publish directly in the newsfeed and make money doing it. It’s making a lot of noise in the industry bringing most famously the New York Times onboard.

Apple made news yesterday with their upcoming Apple News app, which looks to be a combination of Google News and the Facebook Instant Articles.

But how you get your news isn’t what the publishers should be watching now.

Years have gone by and most newspapers really haven’t made any progress toward reaching the next generation’s audience. Some say that the younger generation just doesn’t care about current events and news, but I don’t agree. There are now not just a new ways of getting the news, there are new sources of news.

Getting a lot of attention recently for their coverage of the Pennsylvania Amtrak crash, “local news startup” billypenn.com shows how a small team of journalists can beat the big publishers at their own game. They also may show a glimpse into what that next generation of the news audience is looking for. Digiday does a great job of breaking down billypenn’s coverage and the way their audience followed the news. It’s a great read.

And if you still think Snapchat is just a cute photo-sharing app for the kids, it’s time to look again. They are adding content experts like Sean Mills (previously president of NowThis, CEO of Nerve.com and president of the satirical news site The Onion) to be Head of Original Content. They have also hired political reporter Peter Hamby from CNN, and most interestingly now looking to hire “content analysts” to help them cover the 2016 presidential election and other major news events.

The way you get your news isn’t the only story now, it’s who will be filling those screens with the news that will be news.


Mary Ellen Mark – The End of a Legend

Mary Ellen Mark

An inspiration to so many photographers

The term legendary is thrown around often when someone passes, sometimes deserved, sometimes not. The value of that title is obviously most relevant to the people who appreciated the talent of the individual who has passed. In the world of content strategy that relevance plays an important role in how to reach and serve that audience.

In the past month, legendary musician BB King passed away, he was one that easily deserves that title. Even if you didn’t like his music, you had to appreciate his talent. Hundreds of news outlets and websites wrote thousands of words about his life, and shared so much of his music.

Then, just yesterday, photographer Mary Ellen Mark passed.

Legendary, indeed.

Many books have been written about her talents, but her personal homepage said it best today, with just a simple, beautiful, photo.

Just For the Fun of it, the Fuelfed Car Show

I spend a little time last weekend at the Fuelfed car show in Lake Forest. A nice mix of nice cars and relaxed people. It was fun to shake the rust off the Canon 40D, too.

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Publishing Platforms Exploding – Welcome to LinkedIn Publishing

I’ve long been a fan of publishing platforms that make it easier for the everyday content junky to get their word out. In the early days of the web, the first “enablers” came from titles like PageMill, First Page, and Dreamweaver. These were WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) software programs that you could use on your computer and then upload to your website.

Then came WordPress (both .org and .com,) Moveable Type, and Blogger.com. While they may have started out as outlets for bloggers, this next generation of web tools has become important “publishing platforms” of today. With a quick signup on your browser, they will let an everyday Citizen Kane build entire websites using simple templates online. Now growing past their blogging-platform days, they are more often competing with content management systems (CMS) on corporate levels.

Now comes word that there is another player in town, and they bring a built-in audience to the game. The LinkedIn Publishing Platform is now rolling out with the goal to let it’s members “write longer form posts about their expertise and professional interests.”

For now it’s by invitation only, and the latest group of invites brings the tally to about 25,000. Among them is Barry Feldman, a self professed “Copywriter & Content Marketing Professional.” If his early postings are any indication of what’s to come, you’ll be hearing a lot more from this platform. After just a few posts, Feldman is gushing that:

  • “It’s easy—Like Apple easy. No platform is easier.”
  • Huge reach—With only four posts, he’s seen more than 16,000 views so far.
  • Great user engagement—”The readers are writing. I’ve received more comments than I’ve ever got elsewhere. Love that.”
  • Built-in analytics reporting view, likes, comments, followers.
  • Traffic to his site from LinkedIn has climbed from #10 on his list of refers, to near the top.
  • Connections, the bread-and-butter of LinkedIn scores huge for his reach now that he’s a LinkedIn publisher.

How will this affect the other publishing platforms? Probably not much. This will likely be a place in which individuals do exactly what LinkedIn is describing, a place to write longer form posts about their expertise and professional.

Where this could get interesting would be if they open this up to businesses, brands, and companies in general. Many brands are already looking harder at publishing outlets other than their own website for better reach into their customers’ lives. Given the right situations, this could become as important to a publisher’s toolbox as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all of the other social medias.

A Collectible Car’s Story Tale

Sport and Specialty sells at Bonhams

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When you’re building a content strategy you can talk about everything from content inventories to project deliverables, but at the end of the day what it all comes down to is that you’re deciding on how to tell your story. That story can be about a corporate philosophy or how your company builds the best widgets in the world.

Sport and Specialty sells at Bohhams
The details of both images and content let the potential buyers that this 1955 Austin-Healey 100 BN1 Competition Special has a great story to tell.

That story can also be about something as simple as a used car. In this case, a very special automobile and very elite auction service. The car is a 1955 Austin-Healey 100 BN1 Competition Special, and the sale was The Scottsdale Auction, presented by Bonhams Auctions in Phoenix, Arizona.

The car was meticulously restored and customized by it’s owner and acclaimed as one of the finest examples of an Austin Healey in the country. When the owner passed and the family decided to sell the car they had several offers, but not to the value they expected. They tried to auction the car at the nationally recognized Barrett Jackson Auction, but again the car didn’t bring the right price.

When they stepped back and reconsidered their options they realized they still weren’t reaching the right audience. That’s when they reached out to Bonhams Auction, who not only could deliver the car to the right audience (collectable european car buyers) they knew how to tell the right story.

Read the description of the car presented on their website. While the details of the restoration are in-depth, what really comes through is the story of the car. When you’re done reading you know about a 16-year-old kid who fell in love with the car 40 years ago, sold it, and then got it back so he could finally build his dream car.

Described as a “Brilliant expression of what might have been,” …the description of the restoration goes into more detail, “by a renowned Healey aficionado, this 100 impresses with its extraordinarily tasteful craftsmanship and choice of period-correct performance upgrades,” and, “…the restoration and design of Baker’s 100 BN1 Competition Special is nothing short of breathtaking.” The potential buyer of the car knows that this is a car with a history, and a passion.

With that story in their heads, the collectors saw the Austin-Healey roll up to the auction block. They were at the right place at the right time. The result was a price almost twice of any other offers they had received before, $136,400.

In the end, the goal was met. The sellers were happy with the final sale, and the new owners have a truly unique car with a new story to tell.


Governance And Your Content Strategy

Content Governance
The Huffington Post shows the dramatic before/after pictures from fashion shoots, an acceptable practice in the industry.

Content strategy has gained a lot of attention in recent years. Not very long ago, a brand’s major concerns were hiring the right agency to get the their message to consumers and then punching out press releases to try to hook some “free press.” The strategy for getting that content to the customer had few other options.

Those options have now exploded making it easier to publish, but more difficult to control that message. That control comes with the responsibility of representing your message in an intelligent and truthful way throughout your editorial process. It’s a process that requires a strict set of guidelines — or governance as it’s being referred to in many operations — that ultimately provides your quality, your message, and establishes the trust your audience has with your product.

AP severs ties with photographer who altered work
The Associated Press severed ties with Pulitzer Press winning photographer for removing the image in the lower left corner of this picture.

We read often about glamour magazines Photoshopping images of their models to make everything as perfect as possible. It has come to the point when it’s bigger news if a “raw” image sees that light of day. There are now regular features that make comparisons of before and after they were “shopped.”

Recently a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist was fired from the Associated Press (AP) for digitally removing what he believed was a small but distracting image in the corner of his picture. Compared to what you see from fashion shoots, it was a speck, a fly on the windshield. But for the AP, that manipulation was absolutely unacceptable. So much so, that after firing him, they even removed more than 500 of his previously published images (that they say were never in any question of manipulation) from their database.

[update 2/4/2014 – Yet another example: That Picture Of That Guy Holding Nissan’s New Engine Is Photoshopped]

So where do you draw the line of “tweaking” or “massaging” an image, or even story, to represent your brand in the best possible light? The answer ultimately is up to you, the owner, the brand manager. But the only way to be prepared for any outcome is to put in the work upfront, set your governance standards in concrete.

At a recent MeetUp for Content Strategy professionals in Chicago there was a lot of discussion and a lot of things to consider:

  • Having a governance plan early in the process allows you to build in excellence upstream, instead of expecting it later.
  • Make sure that your governance planning is part of any content creation budget.
  • Do you need to have a governance plan for each division or project?
  • Ask those in charge of the budget:
    • How much does governance cost you if you don’t put it in the process?
    • How many hours are you spending editing and re-editing your content due to errors or non-standard language?

The bottom line is that at some point you’ll need to decide how you’re going to represent your product to the world, and how much that quality is really worth.