Mark Higginson

How people's attention flows on the web

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


05 August 2014

We have seen a huge increase in Facebook traffic, an area where we hadn’t been focusing. It had previously been all about Twitter. Journalists are all on Twitter, and obsessed with it, so that is where the energy had gone. An assumption had been made without looking at data.

Facebook and fewer stories behind rise in web traffic, says Telegraph chief

Remarkable. Facebook has over five times the active user base of Twitter and yet the Telegraph Media Group’s editor-in-chief says they didn’t look at the data. I would also worry that he seems to see the two as equivalent; if you chase ‘traffic’ your thinking narrows to the point of only seeing the numbers. Yet he also states “the goal is to maintain a quality product”. This is contradictory in so many ways, not least of which is the equating of ‘journalism as product’.

Let me know what you think on Twitter


25 July 2014

Creating, aggregating and curating.

I like the idea of using aggregated content from social platforms as a way to contextualise an event. It’s the sort of thing Storify offers. However, I don’t want to point people to Storify nor do I like the appearance of their embedded version or want to pay in order to be able to customise this.

Fortunately the major platforms make embedding content trivially easy; just select the ‘embed’ option on an item and paste the markup into your page. The hard part is sourcing relevant material, which despite the promise of ‘user-generated content’ solving this problem, remains largely something you either need to produce yourself or guide people to create.

Here’s part of the base column of items I knocked up from the Faculty of Arts Graduate Show 2014 ready to be dropped into a suitable template within the dreaded CMS.

For those not comfortable with the markup it’s the kind of thing an hours training would solve; that’s the super-easy part. Far more important was preparing to cover the event itself. Get in touch with me if you’d like my guide to live-tweeting an event and I’ll send you a copy.

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23 July 2014

Executives hope to shift the perception of Twitter from a social network to a broadcast platform.

### Under Pressure, Twitter Tries to Resize Itself

This article from The Wall Street Journal says that Twitter has continued to double revenue quarter-on-quarter. However it has yet to make a profit. The notion its purpose is less a social network and more about broadcasting messages is indicative of the need to fix this; yet this is a problem for shareholders rather than users.

This focus on making a platform beneficial to advertisers is what ruins social networks. Much of Facebook’s functionality is still surprisingly poor which makes you wonder where the engineering focus has been directed. This recourse to what amounts to traditional advertising, with an element of targeting, is depressing given the promise of the medium.

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05 July 2014

We’re a business, and if this wasn’t successful we would pull the plug. That we’re expanding this program as fast as possible should tell you something.

### Should Coca-Cola quit its content marketing journey?

The above is a reference to my popular piece on Coca-Cola’s content marketing that popped up in a presentation by local Brighton agency Brilliant Noise recently. Bizarrely they chose a quote Ashley Brown, former group director of digital communications at Coca-Cola, left in the comments on my piece to substantiate their point-of-view that brands should be churning out content.

It’s a somewhat circular argument given that businesses do unsuccessful things all the time when they don’t understand the facts of the situation, which is what my original post had evidenced. Simply, the biggest obstacles aren’t ‘leadership, operations and content systems’ as stated in the presentation but entrenched viewpoints. If you’re job is to sell the idea of ‘content marketing’ as a solution to fragmenting attention then you’re part of the problem and no amount of data is going to convince you otherwise.

In the case of Coca-Cola, as far as we can see, the majority of their content doesn’t get shared. This means that anyone reading a post is a visitor who is aware of Coca-Cola for some other reason than the specific piece of content they’ve ended up clicking through to read from elsewhere on the site. The content therefore has limited incremental value to Coca-Cola beyond potentially reinforcing a perception in someone who is already aware of the brand. This content only gains potential value if it’s then shared by the reader with people who would not have otherwise visited the website. This is the social recommendation that carries the message to other people. If your content isn’t spreading and you aren’t a publisher, in that your core business is not getting people to look at pages on your website, then you’re wasting your resources.

The whole presentation from Brilliant Noise is very muddled. On the one hand there is talk of ‘taxonomy and ontology’ referencing this interesting post by Paul Rissen at the BBC. Wonderful stuff if you’re Charles Darwin or a publisher of thousands of items a day. For the rest of us the term ‘category’ or ‘tag’ will suffice quite nicely and we don’t need to worry much more about this. The subsequent speaker then states that you’re ‘not trying to emulate a publisher’ which confuses rather than clarifies given the main thrust of the argument throughout.

The real moment for me was when Ken Punter of the University of Warwick asked for examples of brands doing this well who weren’t publishers or Red Bull. This was met with a pause that spoke volumes. The eventual response was: ‘we’re working with our current clients to get this in place’. I’d suggest if your claimed ability to model a ‘customer decision journey’ is actually viable you should be able to demonstrate several hundred examples per client of content being read, being spread and leading to a business benefit. Otherwise this is meaningless handwaving. If you’re going to emphasise the importance of measurement then put numbers against what you’re saying. The fact that zero examples were given we could go and look at online was exceptionally telling. This is an industry-wide problem and a typical marketers’ tactic of discussing the possible shape, size and weight of the elephant in the room without ever addressing who invited the elephant in the first place. I posted about this three years ago.

Behind the rhetoric of ‘digital this and that’ what you have here is an attempt to bolt-on what are ultimately very traditional and expensive structures to existing business marketing functions. This is good for agencies selling all the attendant services. Whether this actually helps your bottom-line is the perennial question. What you need is a clean-sheet reappraisal that looks at this without assuming the answer is the recurring expense of a content team. Such a team will leave you a minimum of hundreds of thousands of pounds out of pocket before you’ve even published your first piece that gets widely shared with people who may or may not be your potential customers.

If you want to find out what a clean sheet approach looks like get in touch with me and I’d be happy to talk you through what I’m working on.

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20 June 2014

Although most brands are active on social media, they’re also starting to understand the value of building their own communities through their own platforms.

4 Ways Brands Can Battle Facebook’s Fast-Decreasing Organic Reach

“A few months ago, Sephora built its own Instagram-like platform called the Beauty Board. Coca-Cola also has a platform dedicated to football (soccer) fans. And American Express has created a vibrant community of small business owners through OPEN Forum. (Full disclosure: Both AmEx and Coca-Cola are Contently clients.)”

I wrote about my suspicions regarding AmEx’s OPEN forum back in April 2013. Up it pops again in this post on Contently. Again, the examples given are not substantiated and form part of a post telling the reader what they ought to do, rather than showing them provable successes.

I signed-up for Coca-Cola’s site for soccer fans, built on a generic community platform service called Backplane. I’m still waiting for the confirmation email. It does not look like much is going on.

Compared to when I last checked OPEN forum’s top posts are getting thousands of shares… but only on LinkedIn. If you dig deeper the majority of posts see the same complete lack of activity. My suspicion is that whoever is running the site is throwing money at promoting a small selection of posts. The Facebook Page achieves less than 0.1% of followers ‘talking about’ its content.

Full disclosure: I think if paying to be liked is what social media has been reduced to then there is no point. It is disingenuous to keep repeating this message that people have any interest in being part of brand-created ‘communities’.

Let me know what you think on Twitter