Experiences Redefined

A cascade of social feedback alters our construction of experience to a degree that it can no longer really be considered “ours.” With the advent of social media the stages of experience are blending together, and accelerating, for better or worse. We now have to contend not only with the experience as it occurs, but with the echoing replicants that recording engenders.

Daguerre brought us the first replicant experience, but in his day distribution was limited, feedback virtually non-existent, and iterative capabilities slow and costly. What in Daguerre’s time proved to be a mostly two-stage experience of observation and capture today stretches into 6 rapid, self-reflexive stages:

1) The event in real time – watching my 5-year-old play Galaga.

2) Interruption for the purpose of capture – the decision to grab my phone and take a picture/video.

3) The immediate re-experiencing of the event – watching what “just happened” on the device. (sometimes while the event is still in progress).

4) Dissemination of the event – uploading and sharing the picture/video.

—An abyss of ownership in which control is transferred to those experiencing its recorded replicant (i.e. those not present)—

5) Reaction to the now-public event – social feedback and reinterpretation.

6) The experience redefined – Comments and opinions generated by social feedback, insinuate themselves and reshape the original experience.

As a company, or an individual, you need to think about all of these stages. An original experience – a conference , a sale, an open house – is a fleeting moment which shrinks in contrast to the eternity represented by its social reception and reassignment. Most brand experiences quickly become content, and content has endless options for new layers. But absent a cosmic Ctrl-Z or the ability to control those endless layer, what can content become? What you create and choose to share is a handoff to strangers with bullhorns and billboards. You need to determine if you are sharing content that will help you connect, serve as distraction or find redefinition as something you didn’t expect – good or bad.

 

—Ian

The Eat Media Guide to: Coming Soon Pages

You have your logo, product/service and an awesome domain name. You’re a month or two from launch and smack-dab in buzz-building mode. Creating and pushing live a Coming Soon page should take about an hour, right? Um, not so fast, mister.

Your Readiness

1) Can you define what makes your company different?
While this may seem like something that should be nailed down before deciding to launch a project/company, it’s not always the case. Making a Coming Soon page represents a commitment to designing/developing a website, which in most new businesses will be the largest investment made in year one. It will also challenge your perception of what you do and force you to explain it in clear, concise language.

2) Do you have a tagline?
A good tagline is a natural fit and acts like a nickname, enhancing what is already obvious. A bad tagline is an obtuse, obvious generality that does nothing to differentiate.

-Tip: Segment what type of tagline you are looking to create. Start here for help —Types of Taglines

-Of note: Not having one is better than having a bad one.

3) Have you given some thought to brand attributes and voice?
If you were going to assign the design and copy to a freelancer, how would you summarize what you are hoping to convey about your company?

4) How clear are you on your service/product offering?
If you can’t score an 8 out of 10 on the “describe what we do in one sentence test” to your friends, then you aren’t ready for a Coming Soon page — really. This is your first chance at impressing the influencers and gaining some pre-launch buzz. The idea part of the show moves to the execution phase once a “Coming Soon” page goes live. There will always be iterations, V2 features and like it or not, gold-plating but having the core of your idea nailed down is critical at this juncture. How does this differ from #1? Your company is what you stand for. Your services are what you do.

Site Objectives

1) What’s the purpose of the Coming Soon page?
To build an audience? To build buzz? To prove to investors you’re in development?

2) Are you collecting email addresses or creating a limited, invite-only beta?
No: Most Coming Soon pages collect email addresses, but invite-only betas have their advantages.  A trusted, closed environment accomplishes a number of things. A. The creation of a vetted testing community. B. The why-not-me/this-must-be-fantastic buzz factor created by an “invite-only” beta. C. The ability to iterate, reinvent and fine-tune behind closed doors with expert input.

Yes: If you are going to collect email addresses you need to consider how, and if, you are are going to confirm email addresses. If you are going to confirm you will need to add in time/$ for coding and a minor database setup.

-Tip: Use web form best practices. If you don’t know what they are then get Luke Wroblewski’s book

-Of Note: People differ on strategies here. Some say, don’t capture email addresses if you don’t have a clear launch date. I say if you can estimate what season it will launch, ex. (Summer 2012) then collect addresses.

Technical Matters

1) Purchase your URL
Hopefully you have already done this. And quickly afterward you reserved your company name on Twitter/Flickr/Vimeo/Facebook, right?

2) Determine who is hosting your Coming Soon page
You don’t necessarily need to host your Coming Soon page with the same host you bought it from but sometimes it is easier (see below). Some hosting services have built-in templates that you can modify, others provide only a “Parked Domain” page, or the ever popular “Under Construction” with the yellow hardhat and pylons – Yay!

-Tip: If you’re not ready to select a hosting provider just yet, consider a landing page hosting service, which will also manage email subscriptions for you. Ones to research: Performable, UnbounceCapturely or Launch Soon.

-Of note: If you go ahead with a traditional host, know that ICANN, the international domain registry organization, has a 60-day wait policy on registrar transfer. This means that when you ARE ready to launch your full site, switching hosts may not be immediate or easy. Which is why you should consider #3.

3) Have a pretty good idea where your site will be hosted upon V1 launch.
Not always, but in most cases, you bought a domain name and have it parked somewhere. If you are reading this prior to purchasing the domain look into the hold-over time your hosting service requires before moving the domain — standard is 60 days. Depending on your time line this may be ok, or it may be a huge p.i.t.a. Better to know now.

Design

1) Do you have a logo?
Clarification — A final logo?

2) Do you have colors, fonts and a living style guide?
The design of your Coming Soon page should reflect the elements of the brand you are building. Ideally you want your brand assets to be as close to final as possible. If the logo you are using is just, “for now” stop right now and reassess. And while you may love comp 1 over comp 2 – usability should be the ultimate decision maker. There are a number of reputable A/B testing services. We like AB tests.

Copy Elements

1) Have you provided all the necessary copy elements to your designer?

  • Company Tagline
  • Headline
  • Subheadline/Hook
  • Body text (aim for 70 words or less)
  • Call to action
  • “Submit” button text (i.e. Subscribe now, Notify me, etc.)
  • Error copy for form submit errors (required field, incorrect email, email already on file, etc.)
  • Confirmation message for submission
  • Submission confirmation email
  • Social Media links
  • Twitter/Facebook push
  • Email link
  • Footer

Your primary goals are to create a buzz and collect emails.* The way to do this is with active, intriguing language and engaging call(s) to action. Keep it short, simple and sweet as Pecan pie. There is such a thing as just enough copy*. And it’s usually much less than you thought. Hat tip to @brownthings

*Or not.

2) No really. What did you name your buttons?
“Submit”, “Subscribe” and “Signup” are all clinically unclear and not relevant to what the user is actually doing. (And “Click here” is nonsensical.) Make the button name part of the narrative, something active that reflects what the user is actually requesting. In most cases your Coming Soon page is asking/convincing users if they want to be contacted when the site launches. Try: “Notify me” or the ever-neutral “Go.”

3) Designing the Coming Soon page?
From a cost perspective a well-designed/coded Coming Soon page will cost between $800-2000 depending on the designer and the scope. It will usually consist of one main page, a form-submit and a post-submit landing page. Examples of good Coming Soon pages.

Social Media

1) Will your Coming Soon page have Twitter/Facebook icons?
Do you have accounts set up on those sites? Have you built up a reasonable Twitter timeline? Is there content on your Facebook page? Do you have a social media strategy and/or someone who is going to man the social media fort? Ideally your social media campaign starts months before a “Coming Soon” page. Three Twitter followers and picture of your company mascot on Facebook does not inspire confidence.

2) Are you implementing a Facebook/Twitter push?
Giving users the option of sharing is the best way to extend your sphere of influencers. Facebook and Twitter both have simple code that makes it easy for users to share your Coming Soon page. Some gameify the push by moving users who share more up line on early invite to the beta. The line between marketing/tacky and useful/cool is a thin one, so make sure the sharing experience is about them and not you. 

Email -To confirm or not to confirm?

1) Get confirmed
In order to weed out spam, and keep your database clean, send an invite code to the sent email for confirmation. This adds either one or two copywriting projects and a small coding project to your list of to-dos. The first — the invite code email (along with the code snippet). The second — a “you’re in, stay tuned” email, or landing page, that the user receives on select of the email code snippet.

2) No barrier to entry
The other route is to keep the user in the groove and let them submit any email address. This taxes the data integrity more than a bit and changes the entire strategy of the Coming Soon page.

Getting the word out

1) Now that you’ve done all this hard work, how will people find your Coming Soon page?
A newsletter seems to be lowest hanging fruit, so lets start there.  Bear in mind newsletter coding is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, especially if you have to support IE6.  Even if you use Mailchimp be prepared for a little HTML to work around the browser background-image issues. With that said, add one more copywriting project to your growing list of to-dos. First impressions count. But the sum of that impression made up of many, tiny parts executed flawlessly.

2) Newsletter design/copywriting
Unless you are going lo-fi add another $500-800 for a professional newsletter design to your timeline and budget. When working with your designer and copywriter keep in mind that the newsletter is not a duplication of the Coming Soon page.

Good news, this can probably all be done in a 2-3 days if you are focused, and have the staff. If you are hiring an agency or freelancers you can expect this to take 7-10 days depending on scope.

—Do the hard work now and don’t turn Coming Soon into Coming Sooner or Later.

Possibly the world’s best Facebook fan page request. Ever.

From my former MFA writing instructor, Robin Hemley, author of Do Over!: In which a 48-year-old father of three returns to kindergarten, summer camp, the prom, and other embarrassments.

Robin Hemley sent a message to the members of Friends of Do-Over!

October 1, 2010 at 10:57am

Subject: Thanks and Goodbye!

Hi All:

My kind and enthusiastic neice has made a fan page for me in advance of dissolving this Facebook Group. I’m not sure what a fan page means for me. Maybe in my dotage I’ll occasionally look at my fan page and remark, “Wow, will you look at that?! Eighteen fans!” Maybe not. More to the point, I’m not sure what “liking” me on my new fan page will mean to you. Will there be a certain glow about you that others will remark on? “Why Helen (if that’s your name), you’re looking so youthful these days!” You must have pressed the ‘Like’ button on Robin Hemley’s fan page.” Unfortunately, I don’t think that my fan page will make an appreciable difference in your everyday life, but if you’re so moved to “like” me, then yes, you will make my make my coming years in the Old Folks Home pleasant ones indeed. Regardless, I want to truly (which sounds better than “sincerely” a word that always strikes me as insincere) thank you for being a part of this group and for supporting my book, Do Over!

My best to you and YOUR fan pages. May you never be “unliked.”

Robin

P.S. You can fan him here.

Top Digital Agencies and Twitter #’s

As a part of my preparation for 2010 I finally cleaned up my bookmarks. In the process of doing so I got to revisit some great agencies that I forgot about. Sleep-deprived, I culled that list and combined it with some Smashing Magazine links and a Hongkiat list focused on top design and curated my own Top Digital Agency list. After being being blown away by the work I went back and checked what sort of presence those agencies had on Twitter. Surely more data and different agencies would deliver different results but I think the numbers are interesting.

Tweets

Avg # of tweets = 327 (minus Weightshift’s Tweets = avg. drops to 214)

% of agencies with no Twitter accounts = %36

% of agencies with <100 Tweets = %60

% of agencies with >1000 Tweets = % .06

Followers

Avg # of followers 1491 (minus Big Spaceship’s Followers = avg. drops to 951)

% of agencies with <100 Followers = %47

% of agencies with >1000 Followers = %40

% of agencies with >10000 Followers = % .03

Following

Avg # being followed 264 (- Sevenedge’s Follows = avg. drops to 171)

Number of agencies Following more than they are being Followed = 4

Number of agencies with >1000 Followers not following anyone = 3

Miscellaneous/Pet Peeves

Number of annoying, long-loading flash intros = 3

% of out of date copyright footers = %36


Last year I harped on how Content Strategists need to be well rounded in all areas.  A similar strategy should be applied to digital agencies and Social Media.  When I didn’t find a Twitter account for an agency, or found one that lacked significant tweets or followers, right or wrong I took them less seriously. While some may prefer calls, emails or form submits (a turn-off) what works for potential customers, especially given the intra-agency work seems more imperative than what we like. It used to be you could be a great _______ and someone else did the marketing and selling.  9,170,000,000 Tweets (and counting) are changing your brand’s perception with or without your help. Soon the rule will be: Tweet first, Google second. Long live the generalist and his ever-longer list.

What are your thoughts about being an agency and having an active Twitter account?

Oh, and Follow me @eatmedia if you like.

—Ian

Ants, chocolate and a content strategy gone awry

I ate my first Hershey’s Chocolate Bar in many moons the other day, and from the first bite, I knew something was wrong.

Hershey’s chocolate has always had a cakey texture to it. I could have identified it in a blind taste test no problem. But this bar wasn’t quite right. It was close, but an oily texture had crept in and was taking the edge off the sweetness. My palette was not fooled and it was not amused.

So I took a look at the ingredient list to see if something looked off. It did. One of the sub-ingredients for the milk chocolate was the acronym PGPR. A quick search of the Internet revealed those letters to stand for polyglycerol polyricinoleate. It has been many years since I have taken organic chemistry, so it was unnerving to see a completely unidentifiable compound had migrated into an American icon, the Hershey Bar. My Hershey Bar. The Hershey Bar I would purchase as a treat while I was living abroad because it tasted like home. Say what you will about the quality of Hershey’s chocolate, but it’s one of those things that should never change. It’s American comfort food. The menu at McDonalds may change in countries around the world, but a Hershey Bar was a Hershey Bar no matter where you bought one.

And now it was not. It had been adulterated, and in a very underhanded way.

Another glance through the Internet revealed that PGPR is a non-ionic surfactant made from castor beans that in 2006 was added to the chocolate recipes of both Hershey’s and Nestle as a substitute for the more expensive cocoa butter. Now we were getting somewhere. My chocolate bar had been injected with ersatz cocoa butter with the hope that few people would notice. (I can totally understand Hershey not wanting to have PGPR spelled out on the package since it contains the word ricin, a poison that’s also derived from castor beans.)

But I had noticed and I was pissed off. I headed for Twitter to tweet my dismay to Hershey, but, to my astonishment, Hershey isn’t on Twitter. More swearing ensued. A quick look at Hersheys.com revealed a complicated contact form that wanted me to part with a great deal of personal information. The swearing reached another decibel level. But before I could get too mad, a fire erupted in the office and I spent the rest of the day putting it out.

I awoke the next morning with a start, realizing that I’d left a half-eaten open Hershey Bar on my desk. Our office is in South Florida. Like every other structure in this humid, subtropical climate, we have ants. I pictured my desk swarming with millions when I arrived, the scent of fried ants wafting from my smoking iMac.

I flipped on the lights and saw that my desk appeared as it had when I’d left, Hershey bar sitting there in the open wrapper. There was not an ant in sight. I sat down and picked up the Hershey Bar to put it in the trash. One dead ant fell out of the wrapper. I saw two more lying on my desktop.

I tried not to jump to conclusions.

Then I had a grand idea: Maybe the fact Hershey bars with PGPR now kill ants is actually an unadvertised feature. I was getting added value here and didn’t even know it. Hershey’s just hadn’t figured out how to market a combination chocolate snack/pesticide.

So Hershey’s, you have a big problem here. Not only do ants find you product unpalatable, but it appears to kill them. Is my evidence anecdotal? Perhaps. Does that matter? No. Will I be buying another Hershey Bar again? No.

So what are the content strategy takeaways?

1. Being cheap is never a good content strategy. Maybe you get to make a fraction of a penny more on each chocolate bar, but you’ve ruined your product in the process.
2. Don’t make it hard for people to get in touch with you. I should not have to give up my phone number and birthday to a submit a question on your website.
3. Being a huge, iconic company without a social media presence is insane. McDonalds has 11 staff members on its Twitter team. Look at what Dell has been up to. It’s not too late, but get with the program.

—Jonathan
(@bentpiton)

Content Strategy Smackdown: Johnny Appleseed (Social Media) vs. Mother Nature (Google)

Still not using social media to its full effect to promote your content? Well, maybe you can take a lesson from the President.

A couple Sundays ago, President Barack Obama pulled a what’s known as a “Full Ginsburg” by appearing on all five major Sunday morning political talk shows on the same day. Obama was plugging his healthcare reform package, and hitting all the talkies at once, and although politically risky, was really the only way to spread his message far and wide.

Why? The multiplying effect.

• Obama makes his plea on each of the news shows. Most politicians, policy wonks, assigning editors, and the entire staff of Politico are watching.
• The first round of stories and blog posts come out that afternoon. Other bloggers and commentators weigh in.
• The first round of response stories gears up and the second round of stories moves on smaller news outlets. The number of readers and commentators grows.
• And so on and so on and so on.

By Monday morning, anyone who follows the news knows what Obama’s healthcare plan is.

So for your next blog post, I want you to try what I’m going to christen a “Full Brogan,” named after social media marketing maven Chris Brogan.

Your blog post starts with you. It will be read by the usual visitors to your blog, but unless you are Seth Godin, that’s probably not a really large chunk of the populace.

So seed the post all over the place: via your Twitter feed, on your Facebook page, on Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Reddit and Fark. If you are feeling really jaunty try Mixx, Newsvine and Sphinn, among many other choices. All this Johnny Appleseed activity comes with a two-part caveat. If you are not already a member of one or all of these communities, you are going to have to join; and likely, until you’ve spent some time there listening, adding to existing conversations and starting some of your own, it’s not likely that the pebbles you are tossing in these very large ponds are going to make waves of consequence.

But if you keep giving and keep sharing quality content, eventually, the multiplying effect will take over. In August, I seeded a blog post on MIT’s Personas project around on several sites. The next morning, I checked the hit count on our blog and the numbers had gone through the roof. We’d had three months worth of hits in one day. A look slightly deeper into the blog stats saw the bulk of the traffic coming from one source: Reddit.

Determining why the post got so much attention gets a bit trickier, but it ties into how you take care with making your contributions to social media sites and not just start seeding willy-nilly.

Make sure you write a descriptive headline. This may be the only part of your material that gets read by most people and is likely your only chance to hook them.

If the site has communities within the community (like Reddit), take the time to find the right one to post to.  If you have a story about programming, but you place it in the general story pool, you may miss the core of your audience.

Pay attention to the metadata requested by the sites, especially tags, keywords and summaries. It’s should be obvious, but it bears repeating: This is how people will find your contribution when they search within those sites. (And this should not be any extra work; you should have created this data at the same time the story was written, right?)

Finally, all this is not to say that you should ignore Mother Google by failing to keep up with your SEO best practices. It’s not the active seeking of content consumers that you’re doing through your social media seeding, but it’s still important (and requires much of the same metadata).

Let me know how your “Full Brogan’s” go.

—Jonathan

(@bentpiton)

Art from http://www.timboucher.com/

Pick Your Social Media/Content All-Star Team for 2009

You're going to be that guy in the bottom left if you don't get it together—watching in awe.

Time’s up folks. Get it together this year or start working on that laundromat/bar concept you’ve been yapping about since college. By June 16, 2009, you better to have your content strategy, social media strategy and management/staffing straight, narrow and nimble.

Start picking your new team.

Point Guard

The social media ninja on your squad who sees the entire court.

Remember when employees scrambled to close browser windows when they were caught surfing the web—those people are the strategists and analysts shaping the web.

Leave the newspaper in the driveway tomorrow morning and head into work early. Find the person in your organization with 15 Firefox windows open, the one reading TechCrunch and Lifehacker. He/she most likely knows more about your industry from chatting with people on Twitter than your CMO does after that stint at Wharton.

Empower this person to spread your gospel, give them the ball and keep your hands up for a no-look pass (relevant insider information). That management behind closed doors (half-court-offense) is scheduled to be your downfall in 2009 if you don’t adopt social media, new user behavior and content consumption.

Examples:

NBA—Chris Paul
Social Media World—Bud Caddell

Tomorrow—>Shooting Guard: The creative who comes up with big ideas and takes the big shots.

12-18    Shooting Forward: The business leader who turns creative concepts into cash money.

12-19    Power Forward: The person in your organization who moves things through the system.

12-20    Center: C-level manager who empowers change.