Mark Higginson

How people's attention flows on the web

The web is a social artifact.
Here is a selected collection of related items:


27 October 2014

Working in coordination with Ad Block Plus, AdNauseam quietly clicks every blocked ad, registering a visit on the ad networks' databases.

Clicking ads so you don’t have to

While this extension does "obfuscate browsing data" I wonder if this is both a benefit to the user and a benefit to the ad networks. Given the industry suffers from widespread problems with click-fraud it doesn't seem that the quality of the data is the issue provided advertisers are still willing to throw money into display. More clicks across more areas of interest generating more data for 'targeting' is superficially good news. The accuracy is not something the networks are likely to shout about.

Given this extension requires AdBlock Plus and adblocking has gone mainstream if reporting consists of showing a chart that goes up it's in no one's interests within the marketing industry to look too closely.

This is incredible. Furthermore, in Europe anywhere up to 1-in-3 users are utilising adblockers with 15% of UK internet users availing themselves of this technology – especially among the more technically able where users who download and install an alternative browser are five times more likely to also use an adblocker.

The response from a marketer is predictably delusional:

"... successful ad campaigns for producers that are viewed as neither intrusive nor annoying by consumers... must involve such tactics as improving ad targeting, increasing the variability of ad content, and diversification across ad forms."

People's motivation is simple: they don't like advertising. Once an adblocker is installed they aren't coming back.

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27 September 2014

Most popular web trackers used by UK universities.

Keeping an eye on which universities use which web trackers tells me a lot about the sector as a whole and about what individual institutions are up to. I keep a complete list and track changes.

Every university apart from Bristol uses Google Analytics.

Total trackers in use by 126 institutions rose from 202 back in March to 471 by September.

This rise was due in large part to the increased use of advertising trackers. 58 universities were using 146 trackers related to online advertising in its various guises.

The most popular tracker related to advertising was Doubleclick, used by 38 institutions.

It remains to be seen if this was related to Clearing specifically and whether many of these trackers will be removed. Alternatively it may represent nearly half the sector making budget available to sustain ongoing advertising.

Advertising tracker use is related to league table position. The median value for tracker use occurs at the 87th position in the table.

Amazingly nearly a quarter of UK universities run no other trackers besides Google Analytics. Nothing to assist with usability testing or any kind of conversion optimisation.

More to come.

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05 September 2014

A majority of articles never make it onto Twitter or Facebook.

86% of News Articles Not Shared Within 72 Hours

If you've read any of my previous posts on this topic you'll know that I believe the majority of the marketing industry present an at best overly optimistic and at worst completely false picture of how useful it is to engage in large-scale web publishing efforts.

The above is yet another piece to add to the canon:

"From a sample of 612,212 articles published over 72 hours in April, we measured the total sharing activity for each. We found that 527,793, or 86% of the articles, never saw any engagement on Facebook or Twitter. It’s a long, long tail."

Furthermore only 0.02% achieved 10,000 to 100,000 interactions.

0.0005% achieved over 100,000 interactions. Five ten-thousandths of a percent!

Marketing is about delivering a relevant message. Easy to do for those who show intent or have indicated prior interest, but to achieve greater awareness you need to have massive reach in order to stand any chance of being seen. The implication here is that relying on social sharing to deliver that at scale is a terrifically difficult proposition.

This is what I have said repeatedly, all along.

However, the same site also carries posts such as this: People Are Sharing More News Than Ever On Facebook. From this it is easy to look at the numbers and commit the logical fallacy that this means that your stories stand a greater chance of receiving a slice of this attention. In actual fact you already have to be one of the 'winners' in as much if you aren't already a major hub the chances of your content being shared is approaching zero. Even if you're a major publisher you'll still be subject to the brutal effect of the long tail.

This is why 'brand' content destinations are a terrible idea.

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14 August 2014

Advertising university Clearing via social platforms.

Today was A-Level results day which also means Clearing – the process by which students without an offer contact universities with space on a course they wish to study. By the afternoon it's largely all over. The whole process of university application, governed by UCAS, makes for a highly constrained set of circumstances as students check their results and, if necessary, see who has courses available.

From a marketing point-of-view it's interesting to think about the psychology of the individual going through this process. Above all you need to be helpful, sensitive and treat them as more than a set of grades and a warm body to place on a course. From a social platform perspective it's important to remember that Clearing is irrelevant to the majority of followers of a university's page.

My favoured approach is to provide relevant information, i.e. the number of the Clearing line for anyone happening by our social profile on the day. That's it. On Twitter I share the occasional nice tweet from excited students who are glad to have their place confirmed. The reason is simple – an emotional response from someone on such an important day is good to share and a reminder for a good proportion of the people who follow the university profiles of their own results day, as they are or have been students themselves.

Spamming your own stream is a no-no. The University of Sussex were posting course-specific entry requirements to little or no response:

I very much doubt people are using Twitter to search for available courses. A test would be to create a campaign based on this keyword with the objective of a 'website conversion' or 'leads on Twitter'. You'd then keep these tweets out of your own timeline and could properly measure the reaction.

As a general rule I only 'speak when spoken to' when representing the institution. Barging in is poor etiquette, as we can see here:

If you do this enough times it's bound to go wrong:

... and you end up with your best performing tweet of the day and appearances on Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post.

This was even worse:

Sussex Clearing

Ultimately one should consider when taken as a whole whether this both best represents the institution and whether it's effective at helping students find a suitable course on which they'll be happy. I'd suggest not. In my opinion Sussex get the tone wrong.

For an event such as Clearing paid advertising gets the best results without requiring a huge budget as your goal is to gain significant reach within a limited time frame. The other advantage is that it keeps these specific messages away from your existing followers and, through targeting, hopefully reaches relevant people.

It's also important to remember that social media provides a supporting role among many other factors influencing a decision. This year we led with a short film made by two students which was a low-key look at life in Brighton. It conveys a sense of mood and place and has nothing to do with grades and league tables. For the right person it implicitly communicates that Brighton is a place that would suit them. For the prospective student considering their options it's a nice way of putting the university forward without a hard sell.

This film was combined with a few sponsored posts and promoted tweets pointing people to our main site. Overall our campaign needed:

Around 15,000 people interacted with things we created and posted to Facebook, Twitter or YouTube and each was linked by the 'living here' theme. Given the limitations on our ability to directly target people in Clearing and having to use the proxy of age, other interests, etc. when creating our adverts this was a good result.

I generally dislike 'awareness' as an objective as it isn't immediately measurable but where specific content is available it can be useful, especially in the run-up to a specific event, hence the use of the video in conjunction with other activity in this case.

Typically I regard 'paid social' as the unspeakable in pursuit of the unmeasurable as this activity is very traditional in its nature, even if the mechanism is different. To my eyes this isn't social media as none of this is peer-to-peer sharing; it's advertising using data people have either explicitly or incidentally made available to the social network whose advertising functionality we happen to be using.

Interestingly this thread on reddit worked very well: Some UCAS / Uni Advice with 82,000 readers, around 400 users on the thread at any one time and several hundred comments.

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11 August 2014

I was starting to be haunted by a feeling that the world itself was so weird and so rich in cognitive dissonance, for me, that I had lost the capacity to measure just how weird it was.

William Gibson on Why Sci-Fi Writers Are (Thankfully) Almost Always Wrong

A Gazan teen live-tweets being bombed by the IDF to tens of thousands of followers on Twitter.

A Russian soldier's geotagged selfies place him inside Ukraine during a time of increasing instability.

A militant group using their social media followers to intimidate the population of a city on which they are advancing.

A team of civilians operating a 1970s NASA satellite out of an abandoned fast food diner.

The future is here and is being distributed whether we like it or not.

Let me know what you think on Twitter