RSS in 2018

There’s so much wrong with this post, but I’ll point out my biggest gripe here… RSS (like podcasting) doesn’t need the metrics of behavior tracking for it to be a success. It’s distributed. It’s not commercialized. It’s not tracked with clicks based on eCPM’s or eCPC’s or brand quality engagement views.

And that’s ok.

It serves a heck of an important purpose.

Let’s all start using RSS readers again, btw. The internet will be a much better space.

RSS’ true failings though are on the publisher side, with the most obvious issue being analytics. RSS doesn’t allow publishers to track user behavior. It’s nearly impossible to get a sense of how many RSS subscribers there are, due to the way that RSS readers cache feeds. No one knows how much time someone reads an article, or whether they opened an article at all. In this way, RSS shares a similar product design problem with podcasting, in that user behavior is essentially a black box.

Source: RSS is undead | TechCrunch

Don’t fall for lots of likes and retweets

Also good advice for churches and nonprofits doing social media marketing on a shoestring budget:

Bots manipulate credibility by influencing social signals like the number of aggregated likes or shares a post or user receives. People see a large number of retweets on a post and read it as a genuine signal of authentic traction in the marketplace of ideas. Do not fall for this. Trends are basically over—they’re too easy to manipulate. This goes for any information online that feeds off of public signals, including things like search autocomplete or content recommendation lists. Journalists can no longer rely on information sources reflecting some form of online “popularity.”

Source: The bots beat: How not to get punked by automation – Columbia Journalism Review

If you automate tweets for marketing purposes, you might want to read this

Back in January, Twitter announced upcoming changes to its service that would discourage use of automation tools for “amplification” of tweets. Now we’re beginning to see the effects of this change.

One of the great things about using Twitter for marketing is the relative ease of “amping” up tweets and causing increased “velocity” which signals to the Twitter algorithms that more followers should see the tweet. If you’re using the default Twitter app on the web or on your device or tablet, you’re not seeing all the tweets of all the people you follow in real time. Instead, Twitter (much like Facebook or Instagram) uses machine learning algorithms to try and determine what you might want to see. That’s still a big revelation to many, but it definitely impacts how we use Twitter for marketing and messaging purposes. Much like Facebook or Instagram, the more people that like or interact with your tweet, the better.

Agencies and social media managers have long used tools like Buffer or HubSpot or HootSuite to manage multiple accounts and cross-pollinate those tweets with likes and retweets to increase velocity.

The beauty of that approach is that it’s fairly cheap to achieve what looks like a successful series of tweets if you’re using stats or variables like “views” or “favorites” as your main metric. The trick is, you shouldn’t. In the marketing world, it’s common to brag to your clients about the number of page views or “engagements” but in reality, those metrics never measure up to much more than ego inflation. What Twitter is doing here is a healthy thing for its platform as it encourages more meaningful interactions and activity on tweets, even in a marketing context.

Unfortunately, I know of so many nonprofits and churches and small businesses that rely on “a kid down the street” or an intern or a “young person who knows computers” to manage their social media accounts. There are numerous scary and telling cautionary tells on the web of companies or churches or nonprofits causing themselves major headaches by relying on inexperienced users of social media to manage accounts because of their age or hipness or perceived credibility. Social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc) have really become your front door on the web. It’s often how you can best get people back to your site. So treat it with care and make sure the manager knows the best practices. Tools like Buffer or HootSuite allow for groups or companies on shoestring budgets to really make a powerful use of Twitter as a marketing platform. But moves like this show us that the market is changing and users are wising up.

Here are the highlights from Twitter’s changes that have begun rolling out:

Do not (and do not allow your users to) simultaneously post identical or substantially similar content to multiple accounts. For example, your service should not permit a user to select several accounts they control from which to publish a given Tweet.

Do not (and do not allow your users to) simultaneously perform actions such as Likes, Retweets, or follows from multiple accounts.

The use of any form of automation (including scheduling) to post identical or substantially similar content, or to perform actions such as Likes or Retweets, across many accounts that have authorized your app (whether or not you created or directly control those accounts) is not permitted.

Users of TweetDeck will no longer be able to select multiple accounts through which to perform an action such as Tweeting, Retweeting, liking, or following.

Source: Automation and the use of multiple accounts

As always, get in touch if you need help.

What Facebook knows about you and me and what I can do about it


Cambridge Analytica harvested personal information from a huge swath of the electorate to develop techniques that were later used in the Trump campaign.

Source: How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions – The New York Times


I often have consultations with clients involving data sources. Marketing has always been closely tied to the acquisition and analysis of data related to potential target audiences or desired demographics. A large part of what I do every day is staring at spreadsheets and trying to derive direction or wisdom out of data that Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Snap or Google has gathered from their (often overlapping) groups of products users for our clients’ campaigns.

I loathe using the term “campaign” to refer to anything marketing related… it’s not a battle and we’re not at war. Even worse is the dehumanization that often occurs in marketing conversations we all have about the data generated by real people on the web. Both are related in that our gathering and use of this data combined with our resulting conclusions and “targeting” (again with the militaristic violent language) makes actual people into abstract data points.

It’s little talked about in our industry, but data ethics are something we really need to take more seriously in all aspects of our marketing efforts, whether you’re working with a Fortune 500 company or a small country church.

I know that I personally feel a twitch of regret mixed with reservation when I click on a radio buttons to specify that I’d like to target women above the age of 40 who have relationship issues but live in this affluent ZIP code and enjoy looking at pictures of wine and spirits on Instagram. It’s terrifying. But, it’s relatively cheap and incredibly effective. Our church and nonprofit clients on shoestring budgets can’t get enough of the reach and response from this kind of data marketing (“like shooting fish in a barrel” is a common saying for a reason).

I did a good deal of work on ethics in Divinity School. I’m taking a course in the coming weeks on Data Science Ethics. Now, I need to do a better job of thinking through these types of marketing efforts and explaining the ethical implications of using this data given that most people have NO IDEA how much is known about them (yes, because of Facebook and social media but also because of the relative ease of connecting someone’s phone number or address or email with their browsing history, activity on location tracking services, voter records etc). I need to do a better job of helping clients think through the humanization and dehumanization involved with marketing and advertising and their own goals (especially for churches and nonprofits). I need to do a better job of providing real alternatives to the types of data usage that resulted in situations like our current political climate. I need to provide shoestring budget options for marketing that emphasizes humanity and relatedness rather than victory.

Otherwise, I’m just hanging out in Omelas.

Is there space for “ethical marketing” in a crowded environment of agencies driving the cost of “targeting” and “campaigning” and “development” to the lowest common denominator in terms of price and friction? I’m not sure. But I’m just crazy enough to start giving it a try.

Your logo and Instagram content

Good advice to consider here, particularly for nonprofits and churches on slimmer marketing budgets looking to make the most impact possible on social media…

What about content that doesn’t show a clear logo? What about companies with unbranded or non-logoed products? We’ve seen that a huge percentage of the content shared and posted on Pinterest is logo-free. It’s important to go beyond the logo to get the whole story of an image—how brand content is shared over time, who has shared that content and who has influence in getting it shared

via Brands Must Look Beyond the Logo to See the Big Picture – Adweek

Facebook Nones, Snapchat, and Instagram

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We’ve been hearing about the decline of Facebook’s popularity among younger users for years now. It looks like Instagram (owned by Facebook) and Snapchat are finally providing an avenue for “Facebook Nones”:

Facebook is losing appeal among teens and young adults which is contributing to generally slowing growth for the platform, according to the latest projections from research firm eMarketer.

At the same time alternative social apps Snapchat and (Facebook-owned) Instagram are seeing rising and double-digit growth in the same youth demographic — suggesting younger users are favoring newer and more visual communications platforms.

Teens favoring Snapchat and Instagram over Facebook, says eMarketer – TechCrunch

Last Night on Earth

I’m an only child. I realized rather early in life that being an only child and one of the few kids in our rather small family would have an impact on a number of aspects of my life from playing sports to how I held my shoulders at school.

I was consciously aware of myself rather early in life. I’m not sure if others go through this period of inner awareness and I wonder how that development affects us as we grow into adulthood. I have a vivid memory (for what that’s worth) of spending what felt like days and days on a working hierarchy of my mind. I laid out what I thought were all the potential body systems and thought processes I could have. Everything from “standing up” to “writing in cursive” to “reading a book.” The purpose was (I think) to be able to understand the how as well as the why of me. I wish I still had that notebook from when I was 9 or 10. As a senior in high school I used the topic of “Ego” for my year long thesis project. I explored the Id and Superego with Freud and Jung and Catherine of Siena and Hesse and Lennon and Margery Kempe. I was reading Doyle’s Sherlock stories at the time and the concept of a brain attic immediately appealed to me as I explored these new thought technologies. That was especially true as a shy and socially awkward only child growing up in a culture where I didn’t feel like I “fit in” (what teenager ever does?). I didn’t realize it at the time, but that project and those explorations have profound effects today on my views of spirituality, politics, sex, relationships, and identity.

I left that exploration behind and put the project in a neat jar in the corner of my brain attic. Sometimes, I’m tempted to go open the pithos but I worry that it will only unleash more turmoil and I’ll close the lid before elpis has a chance to escape. Other times, I meander past it and know that I should just break it and send to the trash fire where other items taking up space go.

I look at my 9 year old now, and marvel at how much she is rapidly changing but also wish I could tell her even more blatantly that it’s ok to explore the inner self. It’s an amazing journey. I hope she doesn’t put her pithos in the corner to collect neuron dust but keeps up the struggle and joy of inner discovery.

Last night, the person I freely call “my brother” messaged me a video at 2 AM from a bar where one of our favorite songs was being covered. I didn’t see the message until this morning, but the thought and intentionality that led to him sending me that at that moment in time and space made me smile. He could have shared that via Facebook or Instagram and tagged me or included me in an @ message in a sort of public shout-out meant to display our affinity for that song or each other. But the private nature of the message was intimate and special and meaningful.

Another one of my great friends that I also call a brother is fond of letter writing still. It’s hipster and chic and trendy to reflect back on lost practices like letter writing, but that doesn’t negate the impact. He’s had major life changes recently. I’ve been meaning to write him a letter with some of the thoughts and items from my brain attic that might give him some additional insights. We’ve exchanged messages and phone calls, but I’ve not taken the time to follow through with intimate sharing via the medium that I know would impact us both the most. Is that because I’m afraid of that pithos in the corner?

This week’s Roderick on the Line podcast covers this notion of sharing and online personas and what we communicate to the public about our own brain-processed visions of the world when we use Instagram or Facebook or Twitter. It’s worth your time to listen.

Connecting with other humans via social media on a broadcast level is comforting to this only child. I don’t have to really let you know who I am or what I’m necessarily seeing or thinking because I can control the message and the filter. I can bend my reality and share it with all of you in a way that helps negate intimacy. You get to see what I self-diagnose as my interesting self, but you aren’t privy to the artifacts and boxes and souvenirs in my brain attic. And that pithos.

Authenticity, Social Media, and Presidential Candidates’ Digital Strategy

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I think we have two different definitions of “authenticity,” especially as it relates to marketing…

Marketing Strategy – Ranking GOP Presidential Candidates According to Digital Strategy : MarketingProfs Article: “Donald Trump takeaways: Use social media to be controversial and troll the media—it’s the most cost-effective way to get mainstream media mentions. Obviously, you want to protect your brand with integrity—a line that Trump has crossed a few times—but don’t be afraid to side with unpopular beliefs or call out someone. People are starving for more authenticity.”

From marketing or digital strategy standpoints, there are certainly anecdotal insights businesses and groups can glean from the current crop of GOP candidates for the 2016 election.

This conclusion about Trump’s campaign raises a much needed question about the nature of social media marketing as it relates to authenticity, however. It’s a question I frequently get from clients, especially in the beginning stages of a campaign.

My take is that “authenticity” as a social media tactic involves more than just one way trolling towards something like the media. It means more than being controversial, glib, or quick-to-the-point (especially as a business). Instead, the authenticity that the author says people are starving for has more to do with communicating an experience that is possible.

That is most frequently accomplished by incorporating visual imagery with precise text. So, if you’re looking for authenticity to drive part of your marketing campaign, look to Instagram.

A few examples of product-oriented companies that do a good job of using authenticity on Instagram as part of their marketing are ThisIsGround and Bexar Goods. You can see the types of “lifestyle products” I enjoy viewing and interacting with on Instagram… but I’ve made quite a few purchases from both companies as a result of their marketing there. Or take Newspring Church here in South Carolina… they do a great job with their design, sites, social media campaigns, and Instagram by telling their story and giving glimpses of what it’s like to participate there.

If you’ve been in the public eye for thirty years, have billions in the bank, and once appeared on a network reality show… troll the media in search of authenticity.

If you’re looking to build a successful business or expand your organization or group, then think long and hard about the concept and how you might be able to use social media to showcase glimpses of the experiences that you offer.