The Media, the Web and Influence – a Journalist’s Response

 I wrote earlier this year about the waning influence of media, and how the media could tackle this through more transparency and better use of digital.

The piece elicited a response from one journalist here in the UAE whom I greatly respect. I wanted to share that response with you below.

On auditing and transparency:

Yes, there’s a lack of transparency and yes, there should be auditing but I’m not sure how much that would help. Most advertisers either don’t care or don’t understand that a publication with smaller numbers but the right target audience could still be valuable. In any case, an insane amount of deals are done because the media planners/agency guys and publishers are friends. So to your point, even if there were to be proper auditing, I’m not sure how much it would help the media industry regain its influence. 

On influencers and audience profiles:
Okay, the media and influencers should be treated separately. By default, media (and journalists) are – or should be – influencers, but in the context of the way the term is used here, they are not. So, why are we talking about an influencer who will give a breakdown of their followers? This is an issue, but a completely separate one.
With regards to media building reader profiles, yes they should but it’s important to define whether it should be sales or editorial. The issue of trust and transparency is relatively not as pressing when dealing with editorial because they have nothing to gain per se by bluffing/inflating numbers and audiences. Moreover, if editorial is interested in covering a story, they will do so (or at least, they should) regardless of PR/comms professionals pitching or not pitching said story. In fact, PR/comms need to think beyond what they want to communicate and instead look at what journalists want to do and try and be a part of that – something I’m sure you’re more than familiar with. It’s frustrating, to say the least, to speak to a company when they want to push something but not when you’d like them to weigh in on something.
On journalists as influencers:
There needs to be a line between journalism and whatever passes as content nowadays. Journalists should NOT be content creators and distributors for brands. It has to be either/or. They can’t have a balanced view if they’re speaking for a brand (understandably so)…it’s the whole reason we strive to keep editorial and sales apart. If anything, we need more journalists – not content creators or influencers – to dig up new stories, angles, and perhaps most importantly, be brave enough to pursue those stories.
Have a view? If you do, then drop me a line. I’d love to hear your thoughts. And to the journalist who wrote this, I’d like to say thank you.

Snapchat and what it offers communicators

I’ll be the first to admit, that Snapchat is still a mystery to me. And, judging by my conversations with others, I’m not the only one. However, Snapchat is the social network for young millennials, with 60% of users in the US aged between 13 and 24 years. The service has over 150 million daily users (these numbers are higher than Twitter’s own daily usage). The service reaches 41% of all 18 to 34 year-olds in the US. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see similar numbers over here in the Gulf.

As communicators, we have to embrace Snapchat (whether we understand it or not). While much has been written on Snapchat, on how to use it, as well as how Snapchat compares to other products such as Instagram, I wanted to share different ideas on how to reach an audience via the hottest social media channel for youth in the Middle East region.

Several of the most effective options that we communicators have to reach out via Snapchat are paid-for. Snapchat’s advertising solutions are very different to what you’ll be used to on other social media platforms. Here’s three of their top solutions.

Your Traditional Video Ads

Let’s start with the basic Snapchat ad. Called Snap Ads, these products begin with an up to 10-second vertical, full screen video ad that appears in the context of other Snaps. Brands can give Snapchatters the choice to swipe up and see more, just like they do elsewhere on Snapchat. Snap Ads give brands the opportunity to embed further content as well; by swiping up on the video, the Snapchatter will be able to access extended content including long form videos, articles, app install ads, or a mobile website. Snapchat claims that the swipe-up rate for Snap Ads is 5x higher than the average click-through rate on comparable platforms.

Sponsored Lenses

And now we get to the fun stuff. Sponsored Lenses offer a different take on brand activation, offering not just an impression, but what Snapchat calls “play time” — the time Snapchatters spend playing with the interactive ad you’ve created for your brand.

It couldn’t be easier for Snapchatters to use the Sponsored Lens product. To activate Lenses, Snapchatters press and hold on their faces. The product is designed to promote engagement; lenses can include prompts like “raise your eyebrows” to trigger an animation. Snapchatters can send Lenses to a friend or post a Lens to their Story. On average, Snapchatters play with a Sponsored Lens for 20 seconds.

Sponsored Lenses can prove extremely popular – take the example of Taco Bell and its Cinco de Mayo Snapchat Lens which was viewed 224 million times.

taco-bell-filter

The Taco Bell Sponsored Lens was the most popular in the app’s history, and was used by millions of Snapchatters.

Sponsored Geofilters

The third option for creating paid-for engagement on Snapchat is sponsored geofilters. This product does what it says; when Snapchatters in a specific location(s) take a Snap, they’ll be able to see the Geofilter and use it to explain where, when, and why they took the Snap. The campaign can cover a country, a city, or even a location such as a mall, an airport, a monument or a hotel. In the US, a single National Sponsored Geofilter typically reaches 40% to 60% of daily Snapchatters. A good, simple example of a Geofilter is shown below from Yankee Stadium, and was created by 6S Marketing.

6s-snapchat-sponsored-geofilter

Snapchat Geofilters give Snapchatters the option of branding their Snap with your location-specific messaging. Check this out this filter from Yankee Stadium courtesy of 6S Marketing

The Drawbacks

These options aren’t available as of today in the MENA region. However, my hope is (well, it’s more than a hope) that Snapchat will be opening up soon in Dubai and provide these products to brands locally. The other caveat is cost. Snapchat advertising products don’t come cheap. The Fast Company reported that Snapchat was asking US-based advertisers to cough up hefty sums of cash for a Sponsored Lens: $450,000 per day for Sunday to Thursday, $500,000 for Fridays and Saturdays, and $700,000 for holidays. There are cheaper options, but you’ll have to have a decent budget to play on Snapchat.

However, if budgets allow and once Snapchat expands into the Middle East, be prepared to go Snapchat crazy!

Freshly Pressed and why it’s good for you and your WordPress blog!

I was Freshly Pressed last week by the good people at WordPress and all I can say is WOW, what an experience! Not just content in offering one of the best blogging tools and content management systems around, WordPress has a wonderful feature called Freshly Pressed.

Basically Freshly Pressed is a means by which WordPress promotes a handful of blogging sites on a daily basis through their home site (have a look here at http://wordpress.com/#!/fresh/). Freshly Pressed aims to bring to a wider audience some of the great content being produced and published in the blogosphere.

The team at WordPress have a great write-up as to why you should care about being Freshly Pressed and how to be noticed by their editorial team – you can access their tips and hints here at So You Want To Be Freshly Pressed.

To date there’s 425,657 bloggers on WordPress and 891,995 new posts being published daily, so there’s a lot of content to be read and reviewed by the editorial team at WordPress.

However, if you are one of the lucky ones to be featured on Freshly Pressed you are going to find yourself being viewed by a whole new audience of bloggers who will engage, read and follow you. It brings a whole new meaning to the concept of content distribution and is an example of the importance of promoting your content. No matter how good you are, if your words are comparable in quality, wit and style to Shakespeare, Chaucer, or Sophie Kinsella, you’re only good if you are read. Get out there, be read, and gain an audience!

My experience with Freshly Pressed was just remarkable. A hundred fellow bloggers liked the post, I had fifty insightful comments, and then there was the traffic. Put simply, it’s the blogging equivalent of Christmas Day.

Thank you once again you lovely people at WordPress, and all of you bloggers who engaged with me. You really do make all of the time, effort, energy and research that I put into blogging worthwhile.

A screen shot capture of my blog on Freshly Pressed. Once you’ve gone Freshly Pressed blogging will never be the same!

Is the Middle East’s Communications Business now 24/7 due to #SocialMedia?

There have been a slew of articles coming out from the US and Europe on social media and when to communicate to ensure that a message gets heard by a maximum number of people. Blogs from Bitly and other social media tools have highlighted the issue of timing and its importance in terms of how content goes viral.

The When Should I Post this Infographic by digital agency Raka was based on Bitly’s data for social media content distribution

I hadn’t heard of anything along those lines in the Middle East until recently, when one agency told me they’d won a contract to promote a national sports league via social media. The agency in question claimed that they had an ace up their sleeve during the pitch; they’d guaranteed the client that they would communicate in the evenings during the matches themselves, rather than promoting the games during office hours.

The thinking was simple. The target audience would be most focused on the sport an hour or two before, during and an hour or two after the games.

By that logic, wouldn’t the same also ring true for a variety of other audiences across the region? For example, for non-alcoholic drinks such as Barbican one of the prime times for selling is during football games. Similarly, wouldn’t restaurants and other venues which do most of their business in the evening do well to communicate afternoons and evenings rather than in the morning?

It’s an interesting one to think about for marketing and communications professionals. I’d love to see someone coming up with similar studies to the bitly blog and Infographic above, particularly for the GCC region. But I’m guessing most business and brand-related social media communications in the Middle East are being posted during office hours.

Everyone I know in the marcomms industry has a smartphone, a laptop, a tablet, and a 3G mobile connection. Connectivity doesn’t seem to be the issue to communicating outside of office hours, so then what is? Is it all down to the permissions and approvals processes that companies here have in place?

There are a myriad of tools which can help measure responses and even suggest the optimal time to post messages on social media based on previous data. One to look at is Crowdbooster. This online tool is free to use and you can use it to schedule messages to Twitter and Facebook. If you’re looking for a basic but useful tool to work out when to post to social media, try out Crowdbooster.

Crowdbooster is a great tool to use when you need to know the best timings for posting messages

But do remember, don’t sleep and tweet or Facebook! Or else you might end up writing something that you will regret.

Google, Blackberry and Apple, where’s the Arab content?

I had the chance to sit with some very switched on and influential telecoms executives twice this week. While the first was a shin-dig for the most widely respected telecoms awards ceremony in the Middle East, CommsMEA, the other was a tea and dinner with a number of senior people from Saudi Arabia.

I love to sit down for a tea or a coffee. You hear more over a cup of warm water and a tea bag than you will ever do in an all-day meeting. The one thing that the executives were discussed was a content portal. One in particular was fed up. He told me, Blackberry and Google move too slow. All Google wants to do is sell Adwords rather than provide our country and region with a portal to sell applications.

Let me tell you a bit about apps, in case you didn’t know. Those programs that you can download to your smartphone are big business. The global leader by a mile, Apple has sold or given to iPhone owners 18 billion apps through its online store. Apple today offers over half a million apps to customers worldwide. Well, anywhere apart from the Middle East that is.

The problem for most of us consumers in this region is that we cannot pay for content online for our smartphones. Why? Because our credit and debit cards aren’t accepted by these online gateways. While consumers with a US or Europe-based credit card and address can choose from millions of songs, apps, and videos, those less fortunate souls in nearly all of the Gulf can only access free-to-download programs (the one exception is the UAE where Apple launched an online content store for local credit and debit card holders in August of this year).

What annoys telcos so much is that they’ve deployed state-of-the-art data networks based on LTE technology. In other words, they’re ready and waiting to see consumers download hundred of megabytes of data a day. Data is the next big cash cow for mobile carriers in the Middle East. So it’s annoying to see yourself all ready to go out and having no ride to get there.

But while Apple rules the roost when it comes to content, where’s Google and Blackberry? Everyone I know in this region has a Blackberry device, and yet the only application people seem to use is Blackberry Messenger or BBM for short. Similarly, Google’s Android mobile phone operating system is winning fans from across the region. So why aren’t they willing to beat Apple at its own game and roll out content stores for the region?

It’s getting to the point of desperation when operators have to develop their own online content and app store. But if that’s what it’ll take to get Google, Apple and Blackberry moving then so be it. Similarly, the more apps we shift in this region, the more content we’re actually going to get in Arabic (there’s always been a issue in the Middle East with the lack of Arabic-language applications for smartphones). The more content we have in Arabic, the more apps the operators and content owners will sell. It’s simple logic, and it’ll make lots of money. So what are you waiting for Google, Blackberry, and Apple. Where’s the Arabic content.

The only thing I’d like to know is whatever happened to Microsoft?

PS Claire good to see you at the CommsMEA event. Did you ever hire that comms director?