Thursday, June 19, 2014

We're still all publishers

I want to revisit my 2014 prediction “We’re all publishers”. Why? The core concepts behind the prediction are very much front and centre of my daily digital marketing life and have been all year.

For a start; it makes sense to define what I mean by “publisher” in the first place. That’s especially true since I believe publishers and agencies are on a common evolutionary path and it’s that future I think about. I’m not suggesting that agencies will be installing ink and paper printing presses.

The role of the agency is to solve problems for their clients. Clients need to improve their business. As a result agencies are (or should be) focused on those activates which improve businesses.

Yes, we’re seeing the convergence of business intelligence (companies like Accenture and Logica), information intelligence (companies like IBM and Oracle) with digital marketing but let’s cover that later. For now, let’s assume that for the most of the time to improve clients’ businesses that agencies have to concentrate on how people (customers and potential customers) interact with them. This means earning more customers, making more money out of current customers, keeping customers happy, working on the brand to inherit all the perks that come with that and running cost effective and efficient campaigns.

I can summarise the duties of agencies by saying they have to engage with audiences and earn money from that engagement. I use “audiences” carefully. I don’t mean old style segments that you might once have bought banner campaigns for. I mean individuals and communities.

What’s the role of the publisher? Traditionally publishers turned scripts into books and put them on shelves. That’s no longer a service you need to outsource as an author. Today you can ebook publish or self-print with ease. Even outside the world of print publishing and in the glamourous worlds of video and game publication the process is becoming easier. Run away successes like the GoPro have created a whole army of cameramen capable of amazing footage. As a result the modern publisher is offering alternative services. They may deploy editors to improve (or optimise) the text. They’ll certainly help market the book or video and bring their understanding of the market to the fore.

I’ll summarise the roll of the modern publisher too. The modern publisher is about engaging with audiences and earning money from that engagement.

Agencies and publishers both use “content” to help facilitate these goals. I use the word “content” carefully. People don’t call their Facebook accounts “content” or Game of Thrones streamed over their SkyGo app to their Xbox “content” and so the word barely seems appropriate. It’s good enough as a placeholder for this blog post though.

Equally, neither agencies nor publishers exclusively use content to achieve their goals. Both parties look to use influencers, celebrities and events to help with their engagement.

But what about brands? Brands are at the heart of this. Publishers might be promoting the work of their authors. Authors are brands. That’s why big name authors can sell their ebooks for £10 even though you can find great books online for less than £1. Brands are just as responsible for making (or allowing) great content. Brands must also go that additional step and facilitate and amplify the ever important audience engagement and monetisation. Interview an author with a book out recently and ask about the social media promotion work their publisher asked them to do. The conversation is an echo of one between an SEO agency asking their client to help promote content. Or an affiliate agency asking their client to make some noise around an event.

I thought Michael Brito hit a few nails on the head in his Komfo interview How to transform your brand into a media company.

The word “media” is just as overloaded as “content”. What’s the difference between a “media agency” and a design and build agency these days? Does anyone believe design and build agencies shrug their shoulders, build what they want and without respect to what is necessary to connect that build to an audience? Of course not. The creative and build process is a supporting tier to the media requirements.

We’re halfway through the year and I still strongly feel that we’re all publishers. This is especially true if we look just a little ahead.

Lastly, LinkDex invited me to a ThinkTank to talk about SEO for 2014. What did I say? I said we’re all publishers.

Andrew Girdwood, DigitasLBi SEO For Brands In 2014 Videos from Linkdex on Vimeo.

Image credit John Biehler.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The problem bloggers face

I am a blogger. I run this blog and nearly a half dozen other. It is a passion for me. As a blogger I receive all sorts of emails, phone calls and the occasional mail package from brands and agencies.

I am also a digital marketer. I often try to work with bloggers, looking to connect them with brands. It is a fun job but not always easy.

A good digital strategy these days should, in part, consider bloggers who would like to get involved and hear about what the brand is doing. This makes sense; fashion bloggers care about the latest fashion, travel bloggers care about the latest experiences and so forth. In fact, just as an affiliate might well feel annoyed when their brand partner engages in a piece of activity and fails to tell them, I would argue so could a blogger feel annoyed if they missed out on early about a piece of brand news.

In reality, though, it doesn’t always work like that. There’s a problem with bloggers. It is a problem that agencies have created; marketing agencies, ad agencies and public relations agencies.

Most bloggers need to do multiple jobs to succeed. They need to be editors and writers. Bloggers who want to recoup hosting costs or even push ahead and earn a living through their media property also have to be business people; arranging ad deals, working out promotions and managing a brand. No wonder blogger events and advice swapping are popular activities.

A refrain from many blogger conferences is “Do nothing for free”. That is common, popular and often heard advice from one successful blogger to another.

It is a problem. Without the right context this is bad advice. Terrible advice.

Imagine a blog in which the last dozen posts were not done for free. Unless the blogger is breaking the law in the UK (or US; or many other countries) each of those posts would need to be disclaimed as sponsored or advertorial. I don’t mean tagging it with “ad” or having the post placed in the “sponsored” category; I mean the clear disclosure the Office of Fair Trading requires.

A blog with 10 sponsored posts in a row is not a blog that looks attractive to brands. If a blogger was to this then they’d harm their blog.

If a blogger fails to disclose their financial relationship with their sponsors then they’re a blogger brands, quite rightly, need to steer clear of.

Simply put; a blogger must do things for free. They must work on their own content and brand. They must grow their audience. As this happens the money they’ll be able to charge in advertising, advertorials and associations will increase. The free work is the money multiplier. Hopefully, too, the free work is what the blogger really wants to do.

This juggling between paid work and free work isn’t the big problem bloggers face that inspired me to write this post though. There’s another, related and serious problem.

The relationship between bloggers and agencies is messed up. It is messed up because of this conflict between free and paid. The agencies must take the blame for creating the problem, for not knowing what basic ASA or OFT rules are and for not helping bloggers understand the difference between an editorial, an advertorial and an ad. The latter two, of course, are pretty much the same thing. We might call an advertorial a native ad.

The problem is CONFUSION.

Let’s try and clear things up.

  1. Bloggers make editorial decisions on what content will interest them and their audience.
  2. Some bloggers will listen to editorial pitches; some bloggers will not.
  3. A press release is an editorial pitch. It is not an a RFI for a native advertising deal.
  4. The best editorial pitches are not sent as press releases.
  5. No agency should try and trick or encourage a blogger to break the law or accepted marketing rules.
  6. Corporate messaging is rarely suitable for editorial pitches.
  7. Google also has rules and both parties should know them.
  8. A few hundred visitors from a blog to a brand site is usually worth very little.
  9. There are bloggers who make their living from blogging and should be treated like respected professionals.

This list is far from exhaustive. It is just the tip of the iceberg of issues that sometimes create confusion between bloggers, in-house teams and agencies.

The way forward is to be mindful of a publishing strategy. Brands should consider their online activities to be, in essence, part of a publishing strategy. Part of a brand’s publishing strategy should be working with other publishers. Local press, trade press, national press, communities, curators and bloggers of all shapes and sizes are also publishers.

A brand with a publishing strategy is one that is thinking correctly about what might interest other publishers. This is the best way to ensure engagement with bloggers.

Bloggers with a publishing strategy are bloggers who understand the difference between being pitched an editorial idea and being offered an ad deal. This is the best way to ensure engagement with brands.

Photo credits: Shawn Clover and Todd Jordan.