Speculating on the future of the Internet

It’s very tempting, at the moment, to assume the worst about the state of the internet, particularly when most of it is owned by a small number of companies with more leverage, data and money than many countries. This interview with Tim Berners-Lee cuts to the heart of the problem – when a small number of companies hold all the power, it stifles progress and concentrates issues such as hate speech.

Berners-Lee suggests that companies should be split up for their own good, though he doesn’t try to suggest how this would be done. Perhaps corporations like Google will fall apart of their own accord, or would outside pressure have to be put on them? There have been multiple attempts by individual countries, or blocs such as the European Union, to put checks on these companies, but it seems they will always be doomed to failure when the internet exists outside some of those countries, and it is always going to, even if the United Nations ruled on it. But Google or Amazon losing the favour of some of those countries would absolutely force them to a change of tactics (I think we have yet to see the full fall-out of the Cambridge Analytica scandal on Facebook’s bottom line). The only question is, what would prompt a political change of heart like that?

Much of the major legislation against internet giants so far has surrounded copyright law and data protection, but not so much against their financial dominance; the way they can simply buy out competition, and influence governments just by physically existing. Cities vie for Google and Amazon offices just for the prestige of the name and even if it creates little in the way of real new jobs and investment. It’s the Olympics bid of the business world, and it will take a lot more negative press and public feeling for that to change. But it absolutely could, if these companies continue to ride roughshod over communities online and offline, and disappointing people as they have disappointed the original creator of the internet.

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Personalised Ads aren’t actually Complicated

So, after spending a Boxing Day doing things that are very traditional for Boxing Day and mostly involve getting cold and wet along with a large group of other people (followed by lots of food) I’ve decided to put together a quick post on a feature of digital marketing that doesn’t often get talked about.

Recently whilst browsing Twitter, I spotted some comments that stuck in my mind (though frustratingly not well enough for me to remember who said them and exactly when/where I saw them) and the basic gist was this – people are very worried about the amount of data that advertisers have on them, and how they are able to turn this into ads that exactly appeal to their needs. The concept of ads that push some kind of specific psychological buttons is pretty deep-seated in the public consciousness now – as the script for the already infamous Brexit trailer shows.

To tell you the truth, as someone working in marketing this worried me a little too at times, because it made me feel like I was floundering in the dark when it came to audience segmentation. I would read articles like this one and think, ‘yes, but I already segment the audience based on location, age, gender, interests, job type etc. etc. etc. – what else am I missing?’ Which is where the next part of that original Twitter comment came in – which was about how many people see an ad, and actually care about it.

Digital advertising, just like newspaper ads and leaflets and massive roadside billboards and stickers on lampposts and just about every other form of advertising that exists, only ever gets the attention (and subsequent sales/sign ups, whatever is being pushed) of a tiny fraction of the people who see it.

A 1% return on leaflets would be considered pretty good (and this is pretty hard to track, even with promo codes or surveys. Clickthrough rates on digital ads isn’t much higher – 3-4% would be good – imagine your ad is seen by 50,000 people. That means 1500 actually clicked through and looked at your website, and hopefully from there actually decided to buy something, or at least signed up on your mailing list so you can send them tempting offers in the future. Maybe a 10th of those 1500 looked through your collection of, let’s say, personalised ethically sourced jewellery and because a few of them bought quite a bit you’ve got an average spend of £20, you have £3000 worth of sales. If your ad cost you around £400, you’ve got a pretty good return on investment there for not a lot of work.

However, that also means 48,500 saw your ad on their screen, scrolled past it, and then probably forgot all about it, just as they probably couldn’t tell you what ads they saw on the front page of the Metro on the train last week. So, exactly how personalised are these ads?

So, you get political ads on Facebook and (unless you have clearly expressed support for a particular political party) if you’re a young person they’re probably left-wing ads and if you’re older they’re probably right-wing, because that’s simply the general trend. But if you got a timeline advert from the Labour party and you’re not at all interested in voting Labour, you’ll probably ignore it. It becomes part of the background noise of social media and/or the internet in general, just vague words and pictures in between more interesting content.

This means that really, marketeers, strategists and consultants don’t know anywhere near as much about you as you might think, but they’ve got enough data to make educated and profitable guesses (and I’m sure they’d like to think that they’ve got more then that, so that companies will employ them on large salaries to tell them how to make more money). In the end, marketing has got slightly more directed and personalised in recent years, but only slightly, and based on the exact same methods and data that marketing has always used. It’s only the medium that is truly different.

#TEC2018 – Takeaways from the Tessitura European Conference

I’ve spent the last two days at the Tessitura European Conference (which conveniently happened to be partly based at the venue where I work, and partly just around the corner!) Tessitura is a CRM system designed for event venues and attractions to sell tickets and collect data (and do a whole load of other stuff) and it is integral to a large part of my job in arts marketing.

Unlike the AMA conference earlier this year (you can find my posts about it here) TEC 2018 was partly about marketing and development techniques and ideas, and partly about the actual technical nitty-gritty of the Tessitura system. I tried to go to a range of sessions covering both sides, and not necessarily limit myself to the sessions that directly related to my current role.

The big star of the conference was the unveiling of Tessitura’s brand new analytics tool, and we got to have several demonstrations of it as well as a hand-ons demo. The big appeal of the analytics tool is the many, many varying ways in which you can visualise your data, and how much you can show from a particular audience segment.

There were two other big themes this year, at least in the sessions that I attended. The first leads on directly from analytics – the importance of not making assumptions about your audience. This is something probably all marketing teams are guilty of – assuming that ‘we know this audience and we know what they like’. Yes, analysing the data will often lead you to the same conclusion that you made in the first place, but often new data (or even non-new data) can be overlooked, meaning that either you aren’t engaging at all with a particular part of your audience, or you’ve lumped them in with another segment, and are using marketing material that either doesn’t work or will actively turn them off from your product.

The second was about new trends in dynamic pricing. Other industries have been using algorithmic pricing for years based on supply and demand, but in arts and events, there is often an assumption that it is a bad idea because ‘the audience won’t like it’ or ‘it will devalue our product.’ That isn’t to say that no-one does dynamic marketing, but instead it is done on the same kind of audience assumptions as above, manually and with a certain amount of gut feeling. The thing about gut feeling is that, unlike in Hollywood and trashy crime novels, it is very often wrong. Algorithms can calculate and forecast based on far more variables than the human brain can realistically cope with, especially across many events! This is a fascinating bit of technology that I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of in various forms.

Anyway, my next job is to write up all of the notes that I’ve taken over the past few days, and I’ll try to get those up here soon!

#Blaugust – YouTube Documentaries

I’ve only just started to write a post tonight because I’ve mainly been occupied tonight with watching mini-documentaries on YouTube – in fact, I fell down something of a rabbit-hole of YouTube channels about abandoned buildings.

It seems like YouTube has cycles of videos that are the mainstay of it’s platform. From around 2009-2012, when I started watching YouTube, most of the biggest channels were gaming related (specifically Let’s Play series related.) After this, it was the era of lifestyle vloggers – challenge videos, tag videos etc. Many of the YouTube channels from that time also seem to have stalled or faded, as advertising revenue from YouTube shrank.

Even on YouTube’s Trending page, which is mainly occupied by music videos and film trailers, the other videos are news reports and docs from companies such as Vice News. And it seems that below that, there has been a growing taste for niche independent documentary-making and reporting – often funded by small numbers of enthusiasts via outlets such as Patreon and Ko-fi, as well as podcast-style sponsorships like Squarespace and Audible.

It is also notable that YouTube used to be much harsher on use of short pieces of copyrighted film footage and music – after the early 2010s, this was allegedly relaxed which allowed a rise of cultural criticism (previously limited to now defunct platforms like blip.tv).

Anyway, here are three channels I’ve watched a bunch of videos from over the past week – as well as the video I had on whilst writing this.

Bright Sun Films (interestingly enough, I spotted when linking this channel that the URL reads ‘BrightSunGaming’ – definitely a repurposed channel!)

Defunctland (This one is specifically about Theme park history. I don’t have any personal interest in theme parks, but the social history involved is fascinating. They have a great podcast on iTunes too.)

The Proper People (This channel is very specifically about urban exploration, which does mean a lot of what they are doing is trespassing. Just wanted that noted, as I know a lot of people won’t approve of their content.)

Blaugust – How much longer is Facebook worth it?

A few days ago, a work colleague and I were having a chat about social media plans for the company going forward, and how we would be segregating certain content between Facebook and Instagram.

I started to realise that the entire model of Facebook is aging, particularly the newsfeed, which at the most basic level hasn’t changed at all since the mid-2000s (and from a design perspective, it is starting to look quite ugly compared to the streamlined approach of more recent platforms). Yes, they’ve introduced stories in Facebook, basically having moved the idea wholesale over from Instagram, but I would be curious to know how much it is used. At the moment, Instagram is the big new frontier for content and marketing, and it wouldn’t surprise me if more and more resources starting being put into it over what is now clearly the predecessor platform.

It will be interesting to see if, in the future, social media continues on this generational cycle, and another app replaces Instagram – which will then be immediately bought out and monetised by Facebook (who will still be the parent company, even once Facebook itself is truly dead!)

 

 

The Weekend Update and Social Strategies

I sat down today at my computer, and read through a few websites to get my thoughts together what to write about. This included a really interesting article on the future of Facebook advertising (unskippable stories?) and a good posting about creative writing from the lovely AlternativeChat (go follow her on Twitter for great writing).

Social Media Strategy – or at least, the way that works for me

My mind drifted back to what I was up to at work yesterday – mostly a lot of rushed admin after several days away at the AMA conference, but also quite a bit of Twitter and Facebook scheduling, since I won’t be back in the office again until next Wednesday.

I’m the main manager for my employer’s Facebook and Twitter pages – making sure there is a constant stream of short-form copy, images, videos, things shared from other relevant accounts etc. Events need to be marketed (and how much depends on how popular they are), news needs to be announced, partner organisations need to be recognised. Weekly hashtags need to be planned in – a #tbt here, a #FridayFeeling there. Space needs to be left in the schedule for any livetweeting work, or content that is likely to be finished and uploaded later in the week.

So how to start this? For me, generally it starts with a piece of paper and a hastily drawn out table, with the days of the week as the rows, and the different platforms as columns. This is based on the spreadsheets that Hootsuite recommend you put together, and certainly I often do pop the post content into an excel spreadsheet to share with colleagues, but I find for the initial planning, it suits me better to have a something to scribble on. (My office is still very paper-heavy due to the amount of copy proofing that goes on, so there is always plenty of scrap paper around to use!)

First, I lay out the topics and summary of a post, without actually writing it up. This ensures that I have a good spread of content – e.g. I can plan to tweet about an upcoming event x number of times in the week leading up to it. I might know, for example, that there is going to be a press release going out on Thursday of that week, and I can plan to have social media posts for that day. I can also space out posts with images, videos and without so they won’t look too same-y in a news feed.

Once I’ve got a spread of social media posts planned, I’ll start scheduling the ones that can to written in advance, writing them in into complete posts as I go. For Twitter, I use Hootsuite, and Facebook posts can be scheduled directly (though you can also do them through Hootsuite if you want to see everything on one screen). For posts that will need to be written later or in the moment, I make sure to leave a time gap. I tick off the posts on the original piece of paper as I go, and I’ll keep it on my desk through the week for reference. Next, I go back through the scheduler and proof my posts!

Finally, the tweets/posts can be copied and pasted in the shareable doc if needed, with notes about images/video/links or where content will be filled in later on. Once this is done (always on Monday for the rest of the week if possible) then I can ensure that no matter how busy I am or whether I’m in the office or not, these social media accounts will keep on doing their thing.

Anything else to add?

I’m looking to get back into free online courses again, so expect to see some posts relating to that very soon.

Blaugust is nearly here again – and I’ve been putting off making any kind of commitment to daily blogging because honestly with everything that is going on next month I’m not sure I can do it and keep up any level of good output. So, I’m going to do a relaxed Blaugust this year. Posts will happen, and I’ll push myself to write, but it won’t be every single day (for example, not when I’m on my sailing trip at the end of the month), which overall feels like a much better way of going about things.

I’d like to do a quick shout-out to ChilledCow’s Lo-fi Hip-Hop stream on YouTube – I know this stream is something of a joke around the internet, and it’s not at all my usual music, but I’ve found that as background music for writing, it’s actually pretty good to have on, and honestly better than any Spotify playlist I’ve found so far.

#AMAConf Prep Part 2 – What I’m up to

The Arts Marketing Association Conference starts this evening, with socials and networks before the actual sessions, workshops and keynotes which get going tomorrow. I’ve tried to book as broad a range of sessions as possible, and I’ll be planning on making plenty of notes. There is a heavy emphasis on the concept of ‘play’ in this conference, both in terms of encouraging arts audiences to be creative and interactive, and encouraging organisations to be more creative, open and flexible in their approach to marketing, especially in the current difficult economic circumstances (yes, I am absolutely talking about Brexit, and I fully expect that to come up quite a bit.)

So, these are the session that I’ll be going to (this is also a reference for myself, in case I misplace my diary!) I’m particularly looking forward to the Wednesday session on crisis management, and the Thursday session on rebranding, as these are two situations I will no doubt encounter later in my career. Also, the City of Culture panel is going to be very interesting, in covering a city-wide set of activities with both successes and failures.

Wednesday 25 July

  • Art Happens with Art Fund — playing with crowdfunding
  • Keynote — The Power of Play
  • Crisis Management — Colston Hall’s name change and how to manage a PR crisis
  • Playing with Fear — From Bystander to Ally
  • Creative Fundraising — spotlight on the North West
  • Keynote — Play and the Oxygenation of the Workplace

Thursday 26 July

  • Keynote — Putting Play at the Heart of Your Brand
  • The Brightest Heaven of Invention — rebranding Shakespeare’s Globe
  • Working Together — Shared Ambition panel
  • City of Culture 2017 — a 365 day experiment
  • Keynote — The Joy of Missing Out

Elsewhere, I have a fun evening tonight with friends and former colleagues at the Culture Calling social, and a visit to the Liverpool Philharmonic on Wednesday. Also I booked a hot yoga session first thing Thursday morning – we’ll see if I regret that one…