How to use RSS?

How to use RSS – isn’t a question that I thought would be ever asked. I put together a guide some eight years ago and had been meaning to update it for a while. I was reminded to do this by Wadds recent post on RSS. I realised  there is likely a whole generation of netizens that hadn’t used RSS; or had used Google Reader and didn’t have a clue about what under-pinned it and how it could be useful.

RSS is dead‘ is a myth beloved of the social networks that want to spoon feed you algorithmically sifted world views. This myth has leaked into web development circles and I have had to fight with development teams to keep in support for the standard.

Put simply RSS is like a ticker tape for the web that allows you to get updates about new articles posted on websites.

I started off using RSS readers with NetNewsWire. NetNewsWire was an application  that developed a swift cult following on Mac OSX. This would have been late 2002. I immediately saw the benefit as a PR person, having the news come to me, rather than having to go do a round robin of a list of sites in my browser bookmarks.

An RSS reader allows you to:

  • Collect updates from 100s of sites that you wouldn’t otherwise have time to get around
  • Read a precis of these updates
  • Organise sites into folders

At the time, only calendar, address book, email and task information synced across my work and home computers. I had only just got mobile email on a Palm PDA that connected into a Nokia 6310i via a data cable using Palm’s Mobile Internet Kit. This only allowed me to access a limited amount of the web but no RSS. This only worked with my personal email.

The problem with NetNewsWire was that there was no sync. If I read RSS at work I would then have to clear it again at home. I got around this by dragging my laptop into work and using the guest wi-fi network access. But this was misinterpreted by management.

I started using Bloglines an online RSS reader. This was eventually squeezed out of business by Google Reader. In 2013 Google killed Reader to try and force people to use the algorithmic feeds on Google+. Aside from destroying a large audience of RSS users; the cunning plan failed.

Google Reader was an RSS reader with some proprietary features including bookmarks. I decided against using Google Reader and went with Fast Ladder – which was run by Livedoor, a Japanese company. Livedoor eventually saw its CEO go to jail for securities fraud.

Since then I have been using Newsblur. Newsblur has a couple of unique features that put it head-and-shoulders above rivals like Feedly, theoldreader or Inoreader :

  • You can train the reader to highlight or hide posts that aren’t of interest
  • It provides three views: text-only (great for speed), feed and the article as it appears on the web page ‘in-situ’
  • It offers seamless integration with the pinboard social bookmarking service
Navigating your way around Newsblur

This is what the home screen looks like

Newsblur in use

What is an OPML file? If you’ve already used an RSS reader, an OPML file is a standard export file format that allows you to move from one RSS reader to another. The Goodies and Apps option gives you a bookmarklet that you can add to your browser to add new sites that you want to follow and links to apps for Mac and mobile platforms. On the desktop, using the web interface is best. On mobiles the app is pretty much obligatory to use.

Click into a folder and start reading

Newsblur home page

Keyboard shortcuts cheat sheet
Newsblur shortcuts

Preparing the ground for being a brand on social media

Master TV Control Room 2

In order to get a brand on social media it isn’t about dropping brand assets on social channels but thinking about what it actually means. Distillation of this process is likely to appear on a document:

  • It contextualises why social, there must be a business and brand reason to be there beyond ‘well everyone is on Facebook’
  • An explanation of how to use the document. Those involved need to view the document as a ‘north star’ for social. It needs to be clear that the document is a set of guidelines, but not immutable
How the brand manifests itself on social:
  • What’s the brand’s tone of voice on social media channels. Does it want to want to sound like an everyman, does it want a bit of distance and gravitas,  does it want to be an authority on a given area?
  • What’s the personality? If it was a person, what kind of person would it be. This frames the content, what questions it will answer and the view point that it will take. It’s adding extra dimensions that won’t necessarily be applied in public relations, print or even TV advertising due to the nature of social channels
  • What are the content pillars? Think of this as the core messages. Every piece of content created and shared will demonstrate at least one pillar. These are typically things like organisation innovation, heritage, values, point of leadership (thought leadership, authority / expertise, style leadership etc)
Cross channel rules:
  • How will you handle hashtags
  • How ill you handle localised domain names? (Will their be local domains?)
  • Who has the right to publish what first? For instance if you look at sports brands like Nike or New Balance; you’ll see that soccer related content first appears on their specialist football channels
  • Should local channels link back to ‘global accounts’?
  • Are there any sponsorship or IP-related watch outs? When I worked on New Balance; any club kit related content had to feature a minimum of three players. Otherwise there would be problems with the players other sponsors (notably their boot sponsors and their agents who would be looking for another pay day). Who needs to approve use of sponsorships and how long will approvals take? Can you do a flow diagram to provide insight into the process? How do you handle successes or set backs of partners?
  • How do you handle rumours and speculation? (New iPhone launch or renewal of sponsorship deal with Tiger Woods)
  • How do you handle images that might have a competitor brand in shot?
  • Do you ignore controversial news?
  • Will you share partner content? What channels and handles are legitimate partner content to share?
  • What kind of tools will you put in place? Large brands often use an intermediary platform like Percolate that provides measurement, asset management and an approvals workflow as needed. It even allows the localisation of content by the local brand team
Social channel-specific rules
  • How often will you post on a  given channel? This might be dictated to you by the kind of account you have on some channels like WeChat. With most others it will be driven by audience content consumption. Twitter generally lends itself to more frequent posts than Instagram or Facebook
  • Specific channel aims over the coming year
  • How will the channel be used? Are there particular segments that it is good at reaching?
  • What kind of content can be published? Example content categories. Best practice executions from other (non-competing) brands to get best practice ideas
Social crisis response
  • Crisis like accidents have an incident funnel marked by small events, the more of these that happen, the harder it is to climb out of the funnel.  The trick is to limit these before they take you down the funnel.
  • Have a clear workflow in place to handle negative criticism. The US Air Force had a really good workflow to borrow from.
  • Real-time monitoring should highlight things before they escalate. How is this intelligence distributed and to whom?
  • Who is going to be part of the decision group, you’ll likely need people from: customer services, product expert, public relations, management. How will you ensure that employees and the supply chain speak with one voice?

 

The influencers post

Mark Ritson wrote an op-ed over at Marketing Week on influence and influencers. Whilst it lacked nuance on the subject area, a lot of what it said is true. Go over and have a read; I’ll be waiting for when you come back.

Whilst I disagree on the finer points, what Ritson wrote needed to be said. There needed to be a turning of the tide on influencers from boundless optimism to a greater degree of sobriety and critical analysis of the influencer opportunity.

I first noticed this boundless optimism when I attended the In2 Innovation Summit in May last year.  Heather Mitchell on a panel. Mitchell worked at the time in Unilever’s haircare division where she is director, head of global PR, digital engagement and entertainment marketing. I asked the panel discussing influencer marketing about the impact of zero-based budgeting (ZBB) and the answer was ducked. ZBB requires a particular ROI on activity, something that (even paid for) influence marketing still struggles to do well.

This was surprising given the scrutiny that other marketing channels were coming under, I couldn’t understand how influencer marketing merited that leap of faith.

This time last year I noted:

Substitute ‘buzz marketing’ for ‘influencer marketing’ and this could be 15 years ago. Don’t get me wrong I had great fun doing things like hijacking Harry Potter book launches when I worked at Yahoo!, but no idea how it really impacted brand or delivered in terms of RoI. Influencer marketing seems to be in a similar place.

Just five years ago we had managed to get past the hype bubble of social and senior executives were prepared to critically examine social’s worth. In the meantime we have had a decline in organic reach and massive inflation in both ad inventory and influencer costs. What had changed in the marketers mentality?

Onward with Mark Ritson’s main points.

Ritson’s Three Circles of Bullshit

A very loose reference to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy trilogy; but for modern marketers

The First Circle of Bullshit: Are the followers real?

  • Are they bots?
  • Are they stolen accounts?
  • Are the user accounts active any more?
  • Has the account holder padded their account with bought followers and engagement. Disclosure – I ran an experiment on my Twitter account and still have a substantial amount of fake followers. More on this experiment here.

The Second Circle of Bullshit: Are influencers trusted?

  • Ritson did an unscientific test that showed (some) influencers would post anything for a bit of money

The Final Circle of Bullshit: Do they have influence?

  • Some influencers are genuinely authoritative; but this is a minority of influencers out there
  • Ritson alludes to the lack of organic reach amongst an ‘influencers’ followers which is likely to be 2% reach or less
Trends in influence

I looked at Google Trends to see what could be learned in the rate of change in searches over time. Consider Google Trends to be an inexact but accessible measure of changes in interest over time.

Global interest in influencers have been accelerating

Influence: Google Trends

There has been a corresponding rises in interest around paid influencer marketing

Influence: Google Trends

There hasn’t been the same interest peak in organic (PR-driven) influencer work

Influence: Google Trends

All of which supports the following hypotheses:

  • it’s become on-trend from the perspective of marketers, agencies and ‘influencers’
  • A significant amount of influencers are in it for the money – which brings into question their (long term authority and consumer trust)
  • A significant amount of influencers have an exceedingly good idea of their value (more likely overly-inflated)
  • Ego is less of a motivator for becoming an influencer than material gains
What would influence look like?

Propagation of the content by real people. Instagram, a particularly popular influencer channel, has made sharing posts difficult for followers historically. Re-gramming was a pain in the arse for the average Instagram user.

Slide4

If we look at the mainstream media and how it is shared on Facebook we see that only five media brands are consistently in the top ten most shared media properties. ‘Traditional’ influencer status isn’t necessarily a garrantor of consistent successful propagation either, if Newship’s data is to be believed.

Attributed sales. Some luxury brands in China have had success collaborating with influencers and selling through their channels; the post child being Mr Bags collaboration with Longchamps.

How is the best way to use influencers in marketing?

Assuming that you are using influencers in the widest possible sense at the moment.

Treat the majority of influencers as yet another advertising format

That means that reach, the way the brand is presented, and repetition are all important – smart mass marketing following the playbook of Byron Sharp.

  • Viewing your influencer mention in that prism, it means estimating what the real reach would be (lets say 2% of the follower number as an estimate) and paying no more on a CPM rate than you would pay for a display advertising advert
  • Ensure that the brand is covered in the way that you want. Some luxury brands have managed to get around this by keeping control of the content; a good example of this is De Grisogono – a family-run high jewellery and luxury watch brand. They work with fashion bloggers that meet their high standards and invite them to events. De Grisogono provides them with high-quality photography of its pieces and the event. They get the  high standard of brand presentation which raises the quality of the placement
  • Get repetition with the audience by repeating the placement with other content that delivers the same message with the same high standard of production

All of this might work for a luxury brand, IF you found that the amount of agency time and creative work made commercial sense. It is less likely to work for normal FMCG brands. What self-respecting influencer is going to be bossed around by a breakfast cereal?

Thinking about micro influencers, probably the area that has had the most interest from marketers recently due to them appearing to be better value than macro influencers.

Brown & Fiorella (2013) explanation of micro-influencers:

Adequately identifying prospective customers, and further segmenting them based on situations and situational factors enables us to identify the people and businesses – or technologies an channels that are closest to them in each scenario. We call these micro-influencers and see them as the business’s opportunity to exert true influence over the customer’s decision-making process as opposed to macro-influencers who simply broadcast to a wider, more general audience.

Brown & Fiorella focus on formal prospect detail capture and conversion.

This approach is more likely to work in certain circumstances; where there is low friction to conversion (e-tailing for discretionary value items).

It starts to fall apart when you deploy their approach to:

  • Consumer marketing
  • Mature product sectors
  • Mature brands

You would also struggle with many B2B segments where social provides a small reach and little social interaction.

Work with real influencers on long term collaborations
  • There is more likelihood of having audience trust if they can see and understand the long term relationship between a brand and its influencers
  • Better brand placement easier, with an influencer that ‘gets’ the brand
  • You’ve got a better chance of being able to get access and fully understand the underlying analytics of their accounts (which should be a prerequisite for long term relationship)
  • You can look at collaborations and attribution payment models that raise all boats
  • You can lock out rivals out of relationships
More information

Mark Ritson: How ‘influencers’ made my arse a work of art | Marketing Week
Edelman Digital Trends Report – (PDF) makes some interesting reading
Instagram Marketing: Does Influencer Size Matter? | Markerly Blog
Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing by Danny Brown & Sam Fiorella ISBN-13: 978-0789751041 (2013)
Facebook Zero: Considering Life After the Demise of Organic Reach
Quantifying the Invisible Audience in Social Networks – Stanford University and Facebook Data Science
PLOS ONE: Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks by Lorenzo Coviello,Yunkyu Sohn, Adam D. I. Kramer,Cameron Marlow, Massimo Franceschetti, Nicholas A. Christakis, James H. Fowler
Senior Execs Not Convinced About Social’s Worth | Marketing Charts
Measuring User Influence in Twitter: The Million Follower Fallacy – Cha et al (2010) – (PDF)
Visualizing Media Bias through Twitter. Jisun An. University of Cambridge. Meeyoung Cha. KAIST. Krishna P. Gummadi. MPI-SWS et al – (PDF)
Mr. Bags x Longchamp: How to Make 5 Million RMB in Just Two Hours | Jing Daily
It’s time that we talk about micro-influencers

This wasn’t the internet we envisaged

The debate over privacy on Facebook got me thinking about the internet we envisaged. Reading media commentary on Tim Cook’s recent address at Duke University prodded me into action.

What do I mean by we? I mean the people who:

  • Wrote about the internet from the mid-1990s onwards
  • Developed services during web 1.0 and web 2.0 times

I’ve played my own small part in it.

At the time there was a confluence of innovation. Telecoms deregulation and the move to digital had reduced the cost of data and voice calls. Cable and satellite television was starting to change how we viewed the world. CNN led the way in bringing the news into homes. For many at the time interactive TV seemed like the future of media.

Max Headroom

Starship Troopers

The Running Man

Second generation cellular democratised mobile phone ownership. The internet was becoming a useful consumer service. My first email address was a number@site.corning.com format email address back in 1994. I used it for work, apart from an unintended spam email sent to colleagues to offload some vouchers I’d been given.

My college email later that year was on a similar format of address; on a different domain. I ended up using my pager more than my email to stay in touch with other students. Although all students had access to the internet at college, the take-up was still very low. At college I signed up for a Yahoo! web email. I had realised that an address post-University would be useful. Yahoo! was were I saw my first online ads. They reminded me of garish versions of classified ads in newspapers.

After I left college I used to go to Liverpool at least once a week to go to an internet cafe just off James Street and check my email account, with a piece of cake and a cup of coffee. I introduced my friend Andy to the internet (mostly email), since we used to meet up there and then go browsing records, clothes, hi-fi, studio equipment, event flyers and books at the likes of HMV, the Bluecoat Chambers, Quiggins, The Palace and Probe Records.

I found out that I had my first agency job down in London when I was called on my cell phone whilst driving.

The internet was as much as an idea as anything else and the future of us netizens came alive for me in the pages of Wired and Byte. Both were American magazines. Byte was a magazine that delved deeper into technology than Ars Technica or Anandtech. Wired probed the outer limits of technology, culture and design. At the time each issue was a work of art. They pushed typography and graphic design to the limits. Neon and metallic inks, discordant fonts and an early attempt at offline to online integration. It seemed to be the perfect accompanyment to the cyberpunk science fiction I had been reading. The future was bright: literally.

Hacking didn’t have consumers as victims but was the province of large (usually bad) mega corps.

I moved down to London just in time to be involved in the telecoms boom that mirrored the dot com boom. I helped telecoms companies market their data networks and VoIP services. I helped technology companies sell to the telecoms companies. The agency I worked for had a dedicated 1Mb line. This was much faster than anything I’d used before. It provided amazing access to information and content. Video was ropey. Silicon.com and Real Media featured glitchy postage stamp sized clips. My company hosted the first live broadcast of Victoria’s Secret fashion show online. It was crap in reality, but a great proof of concept for the future.

I managed to get access to recordings of DJ sets by my Chicago heroes. Most of whom I’d only read about over the years in the likes of Mixmag.

All of this pointed to a bright future, sure there were some dangers along the way. But I never worried too much about the privacy threat (at least from technology companies). If there was any ‘enemy’ it was ‘the man’.

In the cold war and its immediate aftermath governments had gone after:

  • Organised labour (the UK miners strike)
  • Cultural movements (Rave culture in the UK)
  • Socio-political groups (environmentalists and the nuclear disarmament movement)

I had grown up close to the infamous Capenhurst microwave phone tap tower. Whilst it was secret, there were private discussions about its purpose. Phil Zimmerman’s PGP cryptography offered privacy, if you had the technical skills. In 1998, the European Parliament posted a report on ECHELON. A global government owned telecoms surveillance network. ECHELON was a forerunner of the kind of surveillance Edwards Snowden disclosed a decade and a half later.

One may legitimately feel scandalised that this espionage, which has gone on over several years, has not given rise to official protests. For the European Union, essential interests are at stake. On the one hand, it seems to have been established that there have been violations of the fundamental rights of its citizens, on the other, economic espionage may have had disastrous consequences, on employment for example. – Nicole Fontaine, president of the european parliament (2000)

I advised clients on the ‘social’ web since before social media had a ‘name’. And I worked at the company formerly known as Yahoo!. This was during a brief period when it tried to innovate in social and data. At no time did I think that the companies powering the web would:

  • Rebuild the walled gardens of the early ‘net (AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy)
  • Build oligopolies, since the web at that time promised a near perfect market due to it increasing access to market information. Disintermediation would have enabled suppliers and consumers to have a direct relationship, instead Amazon has become the equivalent of the Sears Roebuck catalogue
  • Become a serious privacy issue. Though we did realise by 2001 thanks to X10 wireless cameras that ads could be very annoying. I was naive enough to think of technology and technologists as being a disruptive source of cultural change. The reason for this was the likes of Phil Zimmerman on crypto. Craig Newmark over at Craigslist, the community of The Well and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The likes of Peter Thiel is a comparatively recent phenomenon in Silicon Valley

We had the first inkling about privacy when online ad companies (NebuAd and Phorm) partnered with internet service providers. They used ‘deep packet inspection’ data to analyse a users behaviour, and then serve ‘relevant ads.

Tim Cook fits into the ‘we’ quite neatly. He is a late ‘baby boomer’ who came into adulthood right at the beginning of the PC revolution. He had a front row seat as PCs, nascent data networks and globalisation changed the modern world. He worked at IBM and Compaq during this time.

Cook moved to Apple at an interesting time. Jobs had returned with the NeXT acquisition. The modern macOS was near ready and there was a clear roadmap for developers. The iMac was going into production and would be launched in August.

Many emphasise the move to USB connectors, or the design which brought the Mac Classic format up to date. The key feature was a built in modem and simple way to get online once you turned the machine on. Apple bundled ethernet and a modem in the machine. It also came with everything you needed preloaded to up an account with an ISP. No uploading software, no errant modem drivers, no DLL conflicts. It just worked. Apple took care selecting ISPs that it partnered with, which also helped.

By this time China was well on its way to taking its place in global supply chains. China would later join the World Trade Organisation in 2001.

The start of Tim Cook’s career at Apple coincided with with the internet the way we knew it. And the company benefited from the more counter culture aspects of the technology industry:

  • Open source software (KDE Conqueror, BSD, Mach)
  • Open standards (UNIX, SyncML)
  • Open internet standards (IMAP, WebCAL, WebDav)

By the time that Facebook was founded. Open source and globalisation where facts of life in the technology sector. They do open source because that’s the rules of business now. It is noticeable that Facebook’s businesses don’t help grow the commons like Flickr did.

Businesses like Flickr, delicious and others built in a simple process to export your data. Facebook and similar businesses have a lot less progressive attitudes to user control over data.

Cook is also old enough to value privacy, having grown up in a less connected and less progressive age.  It was only in 2014 that Cook became the first publicly gay CEO of a Fortune 100 company. It is understandable why Cook would be reticent about his sexuality.

He is only a generation younger than the participants in the riots at the Stonewall Inn.

By comparison, for Zuckerberg and his peers:

  • The 1960s and counterculture were a distant memory
  • The cold war has been won and just a memory of what it was like for Eastern Europeans to live under a surveillance state
  • Wall Street and Microsoft were their heroes. Being rich was more important than the intrinsic quality of the product
  • Ayn Rand was more of a guiding star than Ram Dass

They didn’t think about what kind of dark underbelly that platforms could have and older generations of technologists generally thought too well of others to envisage the effects. You have to had a pretty dim view of fellow human beings.

More information
Tim Cook brought his pro-privacy views to his Duke commencement speech today | Recode
Bugging ring around Ireland | Duncan Campbell (1999) PDF document
The ECHELON Affair The EP and the global interception system 1998 – 2002 (European Parliament History Series) by Franco Piodi and Iolanda Mombelli for the European Parliament Research Unit – PDF document
Memex In Action: Watch DARPA Artificial Intelligence Search For Crime On The ‘Dark Web’| Forbes
X10 ads are useless – Geek.com
Disintermediation – Wikipedia

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五) | 금요일에 다섯 가지

Things that made my day this week.

I had some meetings and discovered what a good meeting space the lobby of the Citizen M Hotel in Bankside is. The downside I managed to lose my favourite pen, that was my fault; not the hotel. Of course, that didn’t take the sting out of it.

My dream chair is an Eames lounger and I am fascinated by production processes. This video from fulfils both admirably; showing how the Eames chair is made.

This week, I went back, way back, back into time and ended up listening to this mix of Jeremy Healy at Hot To Trot. What gets me about this is diversity of the set. The slight crunchiness in the beat mixing early on adds to its charm.

This Chinese made video on privacy has more than an element of truth beneath the humour. It would give Black Mirror a good run for its money.

Last thought… 2018 Q2 Global Digital Statshot by wearesocial