Mark Higginson

The web is a social artifact.

This short manifesto covers what I hold to be self-evident about modern marketing practices, particularly related to online activity.

This piece about how people's attention flows on the web highlights the fundamental misunderstanding that causes almost all online marketing to be ineffective.

The blog that follows consists of a series of short posts that support my arguments.

 

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.

Let me know what you think on Twitter

 

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

 

17 April 2014

… we’re seeing a trend of these accounts supporting a cluster of records that other accounts support, and no account activity before or after this immediate activity.

Has SoundCloud Created Their Own Bots to Sway Numbers on Selected Accounts?

The linked post highlights suspicious accounts that follow, like, play and repost content on SoundCloud. Where high numbers are seen as ‘better’ it is inevitable that automated services will be developed to game these figures.

Veritasium pointed out how fake followers were a major issue on Facebook, especially when it seems that paying for reach, as Facebook are effectively forcing Page owners to do, exacerbates the problem.

Because these platforms are businesses, where success is based on the activity of their user-base, you are rapidly led down the rabbit-hole of wondering how complicit these organisations are and how hard they are really working at policing this activity. Or even if they are behind some of it.

Further reading: 61.5% of web traffic is not human

Let me know what you think on Twitter

 

01 April 2014

Business is political

OkCupid have weighed in on the Brendan Eich gay marriage issue by inserting a splash screen for Firefox users actively dissuading them from using this browser to access their website.

OkCupid Firefox splash screen

You could argue this is a fantastic piece of marketing by OkCupid. Their business is inclusivity and here they get to underline their values in opposition to those of Mozilla’s CEO. That said, I’m interested to know what the drop-off rate is for Firefox users clicking away from OkCupid as a result.

This stance is interesting as pretty much all businesses maintain an apolitical veneer. This is of course completely disingenuous as being in business is a political act, framed by and contributing to the dominant discourse.

Let me know what you think on Twitter

 

30 November 2013

To spawn the next Facebook or Twitter, first launch a start-up contest. Promise the winner a sizeable equity investment, say £1m, and let firms from all over the world compete.

Start me up

This is the culture that has ruined the social facet of the web. Becoming successful, in terms of attracting a large number of people to actively use your service regularly, is enormously difficult. Further to that, if you’re goal is to have a profitable business then you’re looking at achieving the near impossible. Of course, this isn’t the intent of most ‘start-ups’. The game is to flip the business; an expanding userbase gives the business a notional worth which may attract investment on the basis that yet more investment might be attracted at a later date with the potential for a sale to a larger business, or in the rarest of cases, a flotation.

The former motivation, that of a desire to provide a useful service, is to be lauded. The latter, one of profit, is to be condemned. Profit is an outcome of an excellent service, not an end in itself. The reason is that it isn’t the business per se and the mythlogical ‘founders’ who create the value but the users of the service. And it is the users who are often neglected as the business behind the service tries to attract investment or sell itself. Take the appropriately named ‘Sold’ as an example:

“… we wanted to create something that affected people in a positive way. Something they had an emotional connection with. Something they trusted.”

Something which they can now no longer use.

This is why my own level of trust in new services is very low; it is also why I blog here rather than the attractive looking Medium, whose future path to profit is a mystery but I suspect will somehow be at the expense of all those currently creating the value through writing and attracting readers to their posts.

“It’s not hard to make money on the internet… if what you build is popular, it will make money. The question is will it be popular. They’ll make money once we try, if we get popular — not that we’re necessarily going to wait to get popular to make money. There are a lot of ways to do that.”

Evan Williams

How reassuring.

This post makes further interesting points: The Problem With Profitless Start-ups

Let me know what you think on Twitter