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In Defense of the Algorithm

In Defense of the Algorithm

Keeping up with algorithm changes. It's a full time job.

When I first got out of college, Google's search algorithm was the only thing I had to concern myself with. That wasn't so bad. If you were good at dropping keywords into website copy and blog posts, you were set.

Then Facebook came along. Shortly behind that, Facebook's Edge Rank algorithm came to surface...and pretty much ruined the day of many marketers. You didn't (and still don't) always know what content played well with Facebook's algorithm and what would actually show up in the news feed.

Then, while we're fighting the Facebook algorithm with our left hand, our right is tied up keeping up with Google's changing search algorithms. As it turns out, loading websites with keywords wasn't so much of a secret and people were gaming the system rather effectively. So marketers had to adjust to that too.

Now, Twitter is testing a "while you were away" feature that will have an algorithm built in to show people the tweets they missed while they weren't staring at a screen.

Great - another algorithm. 

And all in the name of user experience. Apparently, all of these services are concerned with showing users "high quality content." Like, stuff people actually care about looking at.

The nerve...

Now, to even be seen, we have to pay-to-play. These publicly traded companies are trying to profit off of advertiser content. It's an old bait-and-switch. It appears as if riding the gravy train of free advertising on the world's most trafficked websites is coming to a screeching halt.

And I'm okay with that. For two reasons.

As a user, I get my life back

Excluding Google, you would have to stay glued to a screen to be clued in on what was going on. A story could come from anywhere ( still can). Keeping up with a trend can be a full time job. An algorithm that sorts everything out for me and only delivers me the most shared or highest quality info at the time keeps me away from a lot of manual digging. I get the information I need quickly and effectively.

This really hit home for me with Twitter. I was trying to keep up with this year's #CES2015 and opened up a saved stream of that hashtag on my Tweetdeck dashboard. The stream was moving so fast and there was so much noise I didn't want to hear that I eventually moved onto's search page. There, they delivered the top stories, the most shared photos and tweets from the most authoritative people and news outlets on-site. It made finding the information I wanted a lot easier to find.

Now that Twitter is coming out with a new "while you were away" feature, this is even better. Now I can put down the phone, close the laptop and do work.

Or read a book.

Or talk to someone and stay engaged in the conversation for its entirety. And I won't worry about missing a thing.

Sure, I may not be the first person to learn the latest news...but that's not always a bad thing. Most of the time, the first bit of news isn't the most accurate. Facebook's algorithm accomplishes the same thing.

I don't have to keep up with a rapidly moving news feed. I can see what my friends are sharing and commenting on at my own leisure...and stay in the loop with half the effort.

As a marketer, I'm forced to prioritize my time

Working in any communications field (advertising, marketing, public relations etc.) provides its own set of challenges and pressure to stay up-to-date. There's always a new platform coming out and more places to engage with audiences than any one person has time in a single day to use. Chasing the next shiny object is exhausting.

Now we have to pay to even be seen on the shiny objects. And I'm okay with that.

I work with nonprofits and low budgets most of the time, so it's not like I'm rolling in ad budgets or lack a realistic perspective on the plight of the average business. I get it. Resources are tight. Being asked to cough up more money for marketing is the last thing most people want to hear.

That said, it's easy to forget that time is money. If you are not willing to pour hard costs into Facebook promoted posts, Twitter promoted tweets or a simple AdWord campaign, you probably shouldn't be willing spend any time costs in those spaces either.

If we can agree that time is money, social media has never been free.  

Limited resources has forced me (along with many other people) to prioritize where my clients spend time online. Where are they going to get the most bang for their buck? We can't piss into the wind and call it marketing strategy or innovation anymore. Algorithms have forced us to actually be strategic with the content brands share online. It's not sustainable to produce mediocre content.

What do you think?

At the end of the day, it's all about the user experience. It's the priority all of these platforms have to keep people using their services. As marketers, we should be equally concerned with user experience.

How have the addition of algorithms and the new pay-to-play approach affected how you prioritize your time?

How have you been affected?

What are you going to do about it?

If virality is dumb luck, what's the point of trying?

If virality is dumb luck, what's the point of trying?

By the time you read this post, all of the #AlexFromTarget shenanigans should be behind us. Hopefully. In one of its most glorious moments of "why the heck not?" the republic of the Internet made this teenage bag boy at Target an instant celebrity. This was one of the quickest rises to meme-based stardom that I've seen in a while, helping this random kid garner over 400,000 Twitter followers overnight.


While most of the world worked on crafting their attempts at a clever #AlexFromTarget meme, the rest of us social/digital marketers trying to make our brands achieve levels of internet success on purpose were left scratching our heads.

I've been working on a content strategy for a new client the last couple of days, thinking through audience, channel purpose and success metrics very meticulously. When I saw Alex achieve viral fame for no apparent reason, my initial reaction probably looked something like this.


Is success on the Internet really just dumb, stupid luck?

Yes and no.

It depends on how you're measuring success.

Sure, no matter what some pundits tell you, there is a stroke of luck involved in seeing massive web success. I would be the first to tell you that Board of Man was a lucky break at the end of the day. We didn't have a well thought out strategy when we started. There were no goals or benchmarks that we were aiming to achieve. We just happened to strike Pinterest with the right idea at the right time. An idea that happened to resonate with thousands of people.

However, with that luck, we were able to learn. The team I worked with didn't just sit back and high five ourselves (though we did high five other people). We looked at what other factors  (other than luck) contributed to our Pinterest success. And we learned a lot. We applied what we learned from luck to other business-related client projects.

Even if virality is often based on luck, there are many extremely successful campaigns that most people haven't heard of. Just because a brand's video or online campaign wasn't heard around the world, that doesn't mean that brand isn't effective online.

Spend your time and energy doing what works for you and your brand(s) online, not what worked for others. Don't let a random internet lightning strike guide your strategy. Learn as much as you can from those random viral moments - but don't count on them.

Even if virality is often dumb luck, it doesn't mean we need to give up. While one stroke of luck may win the day, consistent quality strategic thinking will win out over the long haul.

What do you think? Is virality luck? Or skill?

Social Data Should Tell A Story

Social Data Should Tell A Story

big-data1 Big data - or just data in general - is a topic that marketers love to talk about. Working with data is also something easier said than done. Especially when you have a lot of it.

We do a lot of social media listening at DeMoss for several clients. When you are in the business of reputation management like we are, having a pulse of what is being said online (and where) about all of our clients is clutch. Not only has this information helped us with crisis management situations, but has also helped our clients better refine their own social media strategies and prioritize channels where they already have highly-engaged audiences. Being better informed about social media behaviors of people online has helped us be more strategic in providing digital counsel.

Despite the fact that the tool we use (Brandwatch) helps us organize massive amounts of data into easy-to-read dashboards, the information overload can still be overwhelming. We have the ability see any public post ever created about a client - which for some brands is quite a bit of data. When I'm creating a report for a client, picking out which data points to include can be daunting. Out of all the information available, which information could lead to actionable next steps?

I try to tell a story

Think of it in a real life storytelling scenario. Last year a corporate jet crashed behind my house. When I told that story here, I include the details that drove the story home. I included the loud jet noise, feeling the explosion and the fire near our back deck. There were a lot of other things going on simultaneously during that time, details that were directly related to that story. I could have mentioned the temperature outside, the reaction of my next door neighbors, the news trucks and emergency vehicles blocking roads in our neighborhood, or even all of the smoke Megan had to drive through to get to our house after the fact. However, those details weren't important for the main story I was telling - the social media impact of that event happening near us.

I had a plethora of information but chose a few details to tell a more concise and relevant story.

Journalists do the same thing (for better or worse). They may be covering an event and have a lot going on around them. Even though they could report on every detail they see, the only details that appear in the news are the ones that actively contribute the story they are trying to tell.

Data can work the same way

Nobody should ever get into the business of data collection for the sake of data collection. Everyone wants to say "oh yeah, we work with big data" but it means nothing if there's no value coming out of it. Through social listening or even something like lead capturing, you can proactively try to learn things like:

  • What is actually being said on my brand?
  • Where are people talking the most about my brand? Is it where we proactively spend time?
  • How did people react to this news story?
  • How did our most recent campaign affect our overall brand lift?
  • Through opt-ins, which channels do people voluntarily want to hear from us (SMS, email, Twitter, mobile app push notifications etc.)?

Plan what you want to learn before you try and learn it.

Sure, you may find a few surprise bits of information that are interesting and worth investigating along the way. However, without a focus or purpose, telling that story will feel impossible.

Once you know what you are trying to learn, do everything you can to gather information on it. Afterwards, tell the story of what you learned and how you went about doing it.

When it comes to data, marketing and PR should have a "scientific method" approach:

  • Ask a question
  • Do some preliminary research to draw a hypothesis
  • Perform an experiment (do the data collection via campaign, online listening query, etc.)
  • Analyze your data (what happened and why)
  • Draw a conclusion - tell the story of what you learned

What do you think? Is there value for brands to collect data without a clear intent or purpose of how they'll use it?

How else could you incorporate storytelling into big data?

A Must-Have Habit For Anyone Working in Social Media

A Must-Have Habit For Anyone Working in Social Media

Woman-and-man-reading-Dai-007 This may sound obvious but as I have observed several online crises unfold for brands over the last couple of years, I noticed one plan of prevention:

Read the news.

If you're a social media strategists, community manager, PR pro etc etc, reading the news should be part of your daily routine.

I don't mean Mashable, TechCrunch, The Next Web type of news where you're spending all of your reading time learning about the newest app, startup or rumored Apple release. I'm talking about other news that lives outside of our little technology bubble. I'm not trying to discredit reading a lot of tech news, it's what keeps us afloat day-to-day and should be taken seriously. I personally spend part of my morning watching the technology news via WSJ Live and reading other social news via all of the sites I've mentioned.

However, I've seen more PR crises occur that could have been avoided just by reading the news.

We have global audiences

Sure, you may manage a brand that doesn't feel large enough to be "global" but our content is accessible by most of the world. A statement, social post or misguided attempt at newsjacking isn't limited to our small audience but potentially available to every person with internet access. Not having at least a surface-level knowledge of what is going on in the world (or at least what is top of mind for people outside of our marketing tech bubble) could make what was intended to be an innocent post or response into something that unintentionally offends a group of people.

If you offend one group of people, you run the risk of falling victim to the internet mob.

My News Consuming Process

I try and catch up on news via my WSJ Live app on my TV at home while I'm making breakfast or morning coffee. For world news, I try and rotate the news channels I watch. Some mornings I may watch CNN while other days I may throw on Fox News. Most people have preferences for one or the other but hearing different takes on the same current event helps my perspective to hear different reporting angles and points of view. We also have news running all the time on a few TV screens around the office at DeMoss.

Not every day is so flexible (most are not) and I may only have 5-10 minutes to catch up on what is going on in the world. That's where things like my Yahoo News Digest and Circa help keep me a little up-to-date. I've found that spending just those few minutes scanning news briefs (and not just headlines) helps me keep my head out of the sand just a little bit in regards to world events.

It's part of the job

In social, or really most realms of marketing and PR, we have to know a little bit about everything. Our plates are stacked and it's hard enough to keep up with what is going on in our own industry much less ALSO know a little about everything else. It doesn't feel fair but it's the job we signed up for. A lack of knowledge in one area could accidentally help your brand be the victim of Ghana/giraffe activists that come out of the woodwork when you send a World Cup tweet with what I assume was the cheapest stock photography you could use in that moment.

How do you keep up with the news? Any tricks or favorite apps?