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Marketers Must Adapt or Die As Social Continues to Evolve

With the year coming to an end, headlines like “The War on Advertising” and “The Perfect Storm” are becoming more common as marketers are getting the year-end jitters, asking “What’s next?” and “Where is there space for my brand in 2016?” While the speed of social has always been dizzying — new platforms, behaviors, memes and audiences are born and die every minute – the year ahead promises to be especially frenetic.

When it comes to social and digital marketing, 2016 is going to be an adapt-or-die year, one in which marketers will need to evolve as tectonic shifts in the way people use social networks and consume media on them will force massive change.

The rise of ad blocking is forcing us to focus our efforts on social, but most major social platforms are blocking off their exits. The growing dominance of one-to-one messaging platforms has us scrambling to find a meaningful way to exist inside them, but there has been little progress. Meanwhile, as every major social platform becomes more pay-to-play, marketers are frantically leveling up their advocate strategy and influencer game, and trying to maintain relevance organically. And to top it off, optimizing content for each platform has become exponentially more complex. In other words, 2016 looks to be the year that social hits the fan.

Here are five social trends marketers will not be able to ignore next year:

1. Messaging platforms will trump broadcast social networks. The explosive growth of messaging platforms continues on its trajectory toward domination, expected to expand from 2.5 billion to 3.6 billion global users by 2018 — already a full 25% larger than the audience for social media. While one-to-one messaging soars, Facebook has noted that its users are posting less and less — in fact, only 20% of millennialsuse broadcast social networks to post photos and videos at all.

Marketers face a critical challenge, trying to find authentic ways to fit their brands into one-to-one messaging platforms without annoying their audiences. Social platforms in China and Korea have taken stabs at it — brands have all sorts of ways to add value to their audience on platforms like WeChat and KakaoTalk. But will western audiences be open to these tactics, or do we have to find another way? Branded emoji keyboards are a strong first step into this space, but we’ll need more innovation, considering that the two biggest players in the game — WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger — currently offer no such options for brands.

2. Marketers will realize that Snapchat isn’t social — it’s TV. Continuing diminishing returns will teach marketers that using Snapchat as an organic social channel isn’t cost-effective, and that Snapchat isn’t the next Facebook or Instagram, but the new TV. Think appointment-watching, awareness and buying eyeballs — not growing communities, editorial calendars and real-time marketing. The language that the “new TV” uses is different, but it’s still a newfangled TV spot, not a series of regularly scheduled organic snaps to grow your audience.

3. Ad blocking turns all eyes to social. Now that Apple’s joined the war on interruptive ads, and the use of ad-blocking software has risen 48% within a year, brands will be forced to shift even more of their resources to social media, native advertising and influencer campaigns. 2016 might be the year of the nail in the coffin for digital display ads, meaning brands will need to rethink the role of digital and its place in the purchase funnel. Digital could become a pull-marketing only space, and even more synonymous with social.

4. The Hotel California effect will change the game.Increasingly, social networks are becoming Hotel Californias — closed systems where you can check out, but you can never leave. Snapchat doesn’t lead outside the network, Instagram barely does and Facebook is making every effort to keep users from heading outside of its walled garden. More alarmingly, Twitter users are increasingly hesitant to click on links — the behavior is mirroring the platform shifts. The implications for marketers are enormous: Brands will need to optimize for on-platform success and conversation, and minimize CTAs and clickthroughs.

5. Social video will get more crowded and complicated. Gone are the days of posting your brand’s video to YouTube and syndicating it across other social networks. Now a video needs to be optimized for every platform it’s posted on in order to bolster its chances of success. It starts with YouTube, but then needs to be reshaped as a Facebook video, a Twitter video, an Instagram video and potentially a Vine or Tumblr video, for starters. A single video needs to be tailored for each platform, optimized for the audience and cultural norms of each. And deciding on a bespoke paid and influencer strategy for each platform also ratchets up the complexity. With VR looming in 2016, and live-streaming gaining even more momentum, pushing out that branded content continues to get exponentially more difficult.

This article was originally published on Advertising Age.

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2015-12-16 11:27:40
How 80 Hours Of Navy SEAL Training Taught Me To Be A Better Leader And, More Important, A Better Follower

“The most intense fitness program.” That is how Outdoor Magazine describes the Kokoro Training event. It’s a 50-hour crucible designed to replicate the Navy SEALs’ Hell Week. Run by ex-Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine, owner of SealFit, in Encinitas, California, the Kokoro event is aimed at helping participants realize their untapped potential and redefine their understanding of what’s possible through a series of physically and mentally crushing tasks.

As a father, husband, and company vice president, I know that making decisions with partial information, under time pressure, while maintaining a level head is a basic necessity of life. But it isn’t easy to deliberately strengthen or train. Both work and life tend to teach you along the way, without any real sense of structure or progress. The Kokoro training event is designed to deliver deep training through intense experiences, leaving you with lessons you won’t easily forget.

My first attempt at completing Kokoro filled 30 hours nonstop in 105-degree heat. I found myself in chaotic, painful situations trying to control my mind and work as part of a team in punishing circumstances. Being called the “ugliest Asian ever” was the brightest moment, since it actually made me laugh. Unfortunately, I did not have the mental resolve to finish the full event. Despite the seven months of mental and physical training I had done to prepare, all my training, sweating, meditating, and visualizing fell short. Not to mention all the support family and friends had put in. Devastating.

“It’s only quitting if you don’t get back up.” That was a message the coaches left me with, and eight weeks later I was back to try my hand at the event again. Facing your fears can be an incredible opportunity to learn through humility. And luckily the SEALs specialize in providing that type of experience. So for my second attempt, I concentrated on staying in control, operating in the present, and dealing with the chaos in front of me, so that I eventually could make it to where I wanted to be in the future—the finish line. And after 50 more hours of “hell,” I made it.

Throughout both of my trails in the training crucible, my leadership and teamwork skills were continually tested, exposed and reframed. And in the end, I came out of the program with some key principles that stuck with me and continue to inspire the way I work with my team:

  1. Breath. Think. Execute. When faced with chaos, panic, or stress ,  do these three things, in this order. We had ample opportunities to practice this. Breathing deeply creates a moment of focus, which allows you to think, make a decision, and then act. Being decisive (even if you’re wrong) is better than being passive and letting the situation overwhelm you. Equally, this means being ready to be a leader and being ready to follow, no ego.
  1. Don’t think about what might come next. Wondering what is going to happen and where the stress (or pain) is going to come from next is a surefire way to get your brain to talk you out of things. Equally, thinking of the past and celebrating too much before a job is done is another trap. Keep your focus on the now. It’s the little things you’re doing right now that will lead to great things later.
  1. It’s never, ever about you. Accountability means that others are depending on you. Focusing on your situation and your problems is quite natural. One technique worth trying: When you are feeling down, find someone else who’s feeling worse than you and do something good for him or her. As we were doing a trail run, I wasn’t feeling awesome, so I spent my time at the back of the run pushing people forward who were clearly hurting more than me. This helped them get through the activity, and it helped me take my mind off my own pain. Double win.
  1. 100% effort, 100% of the time. I heard this about 50 times, and I will never forget it. Obviously no one can give 100% effort all of the time. And the lesson that our instructor was imparting to us was that even in the hardest of moments, if you pick a timeframe or space or distance, a micro-goal, you can push yourself harder in that parameter. If you do that continually, you’ll surpass your limits. Speed, adaptability, and audacious goals can be broken down into daily goals, which can become a practice, which will ultimately lead to success. I learned this while carrying a big rock on my shoulder, running down a beach, making what the instructor described as “labor noises.”
  1. It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of how. After we graduated, one of the senior coaches, an ex-SEAL with 20-plus years’ experience, came up to me and handed me a small stone. He said, “Clement, remember that in the SEALs we are trained to not think about the yes or no. It is always yes, which allows us to get to the how much faster. From this experience, remember, whatever you do, that it’s not if but how. I admire that you came straight back to get this done. I expect big things from you.”

Hallucinating, enduring severe stomach issues, injured joints, hundreds of cuts, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and badly blistered feet—these aren’t typical issues people face in the workplace, but dealing with uncertainty, adversity, and tired people are.

Overall, I experienced in the most fundamental way possible that you are in fact capable of 20 times what you think. Being an effective leader and partner is about embracing each of these principles and learning that being more useful to others is the greater goal.

This article was originally published in Forbes. Photo by John Scorza/US Navy via Getty Images.

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2015-11-23 15:49:14
Why ‘Fake Social’ Has Real Implications for Your Brand

What does it mean to be “Internet-y?” This series explores internet subcultures and micro-trends, explaining their underlying meanings for both brands as well as our culture at large.

From avocados to Donald Trump, parody accounts have been cultivating micro-communities across the social media landscape since the early years of Twitter, bringing people together around shared interests and points of view. While the art of parody has existed in many forms throughout history (from James Gillray to Weird Al Yankovic), social platforms have been an important catalyst for mocking pop culture by lowering the barrier of entry. Anyone has the means to create an account and use imitation and humour to broadcast their opinions to millions online.


The range of parody accounts is vast, from prominent figures to companies, stereotypes, fads, objects, fiction and nonfiction. There’s @Jesus who’s been sharing words of wisdom since 2009 and @BoredElonMusk weighing in on the tech industry and inventions. Accounts like @ProBirdRights and @media__steph have been spun out from social media and industry stereotypes. And more recently, parodies of politicians (Putinspiration) and candidates (@yaboyberniesand) have taken centre stage leading up to the election. Many accounts have amassed substantial followings, such as @lord_voldemort7with 2.12 million+ Twitter followers and @Socalitybarbie with 1.2 million+ fans on Instagram.

These accounts stay relevant by commenting on viral Internet and timely moments. But they arguably drive the most cultural impact when they share a strong point of view around larger issues. Examples being gay marriage in Ireland, #IStandWithAhmed, and U.S. immigration policies.

One of the biggest ways these accounts influence culture is by driving the attention of their large followings toward serious issues to prompt discussion and action. Their anonymity lends them the freedom to weigh in on issues subjectively, without fear of reproach, while from the audience perspective, people tend to be more willing to engage with an account that’s framed as a joke, as opposed to an actual person.


1. Glean audience insights. In order to do so, brands must monitor conversations from parody accounts related to themselves, especially ones that are attracting large followings, to understand both the pain and passion points. These candid insights are important for informing brand messaging and creative.

2. The appropriation of celebrity. Though we’ve seen Twitter suspend parody accounts for breaking guidelines, according to Twitter’s policies, users just have to label themselves as a parody in order to be able to tweet freely. So while there are certain situations when it’s necessary for brands to report these accounts, i.e., if they’re not labeled as fake and are spewing false, misleading information, in most cases it’s better to let them be and potentially even engage with them. As Arby’s response to The Daily Show’s continuous jabs has proved, when brands are able to embrace parody, it shows their ability to roll with the punches — a necessary skill in the ever-fluctuating social space.

3. Parodies entering brands’ influencer strategy. Some account’s owners are reportedly charging $500-$1000 per sponsored post. Whether or not this trend grows is up in the air, given the potential legal troubles around making profits from another brand’s likeness. However, for brands with the right voice, parody accounts that have more substance (e.g, @SocialityBarbie) can be effective content partners, allowing the brand to participate in the humour and reach a new audience.

4. The future of dark social. The scale of parody accounts indicates the appeal of anonymity on social, which is what Gen Z favours. Apps like Whisper and Secret provide a ‘dark network’ for teens, where they can openly express their opinions. For brands, dark social also presents a rich research opportunity. On public platforms like Instagram, people tend to show a filtered and edited version of themselves. But on dark social, there’s more freedom to show the imperfect, unspoken side of things. This is where brands can discover untapped insights that allows them to connect with their audience in authentic ways.

This article was originally published in Little Black Book.

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2015-11-16 11:43:19
Q&A with Digiday There was a time when TV ads commanded undivided attention, billboards dominated the landscape and glossy magazine ads stopped readers dead in their tracks (or so the story goes). Now, active moments of interaction have largely replaced passive minutes of exposure. The virtuosos of the swipe, scroll and snap have taken center stage, and they’re ready for their applause.

With the deadline extended for the 2015 IAB MIXX Awards, we spoke to Michael Lebowitz, founder and CEO of agency Big Spaceship and this year’s jury chair.

“Where a lot of the best awards shows have existed for a very long time and have kind of transitioned into acknowledging accomplishments in digital, the IAB MIXX Awards were really born digital,” he said.

Take a look at his thoughts on the role of the agency, the state of interactive innovation and more below. Then be sure to enter by July 17.

What’s the agency’s responsibility when it comes to advancing innovation?
The agency’s role is not to reflect the structures of their clients. Clients are stuck in their silos because those companies tend to be very large and their internal organizations have been established for a very long time. An agency that’s very siloed is working against the needs of the clients by reflecting their structure.

The more that people are thinking horizontally or in a more concentric way rather than in a very vertical, siloed way, the more successful they’ll be in really understanding a digital world. Anybody can produce digital work. [… But] that’s very, very challenging if you have a large vestigial infrastructure in place.

So creativity can come from anywhere? Sounds a bit cliché.
As soon as you have a creative department, you say explicitly and implicitly that there are some people who have ideas and are there to be creative and some people who are not. Whether you say you accept ideas from everywhere [or not], you have to back that up and walk the walk within your company and how you structure it.

We’ve never had a department or called anybody creatives, and we generally solicit ideas from analysts and account people, and not just solicit from them, but it’s part of their obligation. I’ve said a million times that creativity is an obligation, not a vocation. It’s a simple thing, but it’s actually not commonly practiced.

And is that all-hands-on-deck outlook reflected in the IAB MIXX Awards jury?
You’ve got somebody who runs all of marketing for Bank of America, somebody who runs all the marketing for Dunkin’ Brands, Nick Law from R/GA, me and then you’ve also got somebody who’s super high-level at Condé Nast. We can debate with each other and learn from each other in equal measure. Watching the learning process going on is incredible because it’s not just everybody standing for what they stand for.

Everybody seems so focused on content, but are you seeing a lot of innovative, interactive features in more traditional formats like display?
Advertising is undergoing a transition right now where it’s harder and harder to break through with a novel piece of interactivity. It’s very hard to surprise someone [with display advertising] when they know where you’re going to be. But that’s a great bar to set, and I’m sure that we’ll see some great display this year. Every time a new bar is set, the industry comes and exceeds it.

So where’s the real innovation happening?
We’re getting into a world of micro-interactions – a glance, rather than sitting down and looking at or reading something, and where does the brand exist in a world of micro-interactions where there’s no real estate left to occupy with a traditional message?

It’s very easy to award work that speaks with a very loud voice, that’s got a great stunt attached to it or is big and shiny and polished in some way. But a lot of work that’s really genuinely great is quiet, simplified to the point of producing no friction in an experience whatsoever. So how do you reward the best user experience that feels seamless, almost transparent, and just gets out of the way?

Why are the IAB MIXX Awards crucial to a creative industry like advertising?
Because they’re our collective sense of what “good” is now. Particularly for digital, things move so fast. Big Spaceship is 15 years old, and I’ve seen an endless number of changes. We started and there wasn’t even an iPod, never mind an iPhone. So in an industry that is so influenced by that high velocity of change, being able to freeze-frame and put those rings in the trunk of the tree and really define excellence now is more necessary than it’s ever been.

Because of the composition of the jury, it’s about as significant of an accolade as you can get from your industry because you’ve managed to break through not just with your peers, but your client-side people, your media people — that’s a really unique thing and something to take pride in.

This article was originally published in Digiday.

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2015-07-17 18:31:29
Managing technologists by day, coaching a junior-league basketball team by night

A Father’s Day reflection on leadership, teamwork and the freedom to make mistakes

Father’s Day is a time to reflect on the ways our fathers and mentors have guided and shaped us, knowingly or not. This year, my thoughts turn to my father’s decision to coach my childhood little league team. I couldn’t know it at the time, but this experience would have a lasting effect on my leadership style and the way I manage my development teams.

As a teacher, my father was hardly unfamiliar with the idea of coaching. I suspect coaching was a bit of an experiment for him, but it turns out he was a fair and knowledgeable coach, and it’s a time I look back on with fondness and appreciation. Years later, the seed of his volunteering bore fruit when my older son developed a passion for basketball and joined a local community league. Following my father’s example, I volunteered to coach.

I had hoped to have an impact on the kids, but what I didn’t expect was how much coaching would change me. On the surface, the two roles wouldn’t seem to have much overlap, but that couldn’t be further from the truth; coaching kids ended up teaching me how to become a better manager of adults.

One of the first lessons I learned was that the team only gets better when each individual gets better. In coaching, there’s a temptation to send out your strongest squad and hope they’ll get the job done. This is particularly acute in the younger leagues, where skills can vary widely and other coaches can be relied on to do the same. The strategy might work for a few games, but by the end of the season you have a very lopsided and unhappy team. The strongest players end up tired and (let’s be honest) full of themselves, and the weaker players are frustrated and unable to keep up with their peers. Come playoff time, your strategies are stale and your team is unruly.

As a manager, there are projects on tight deadlines that I know my senior developers could slash through. But that’s frequently not in the best interest of the entire team. A better idea is to have the senior developers manage the juniors through the work. Not only does it foster teamwork, it gives both the senior and junior developers an opportunity to expand their skillset. Win-win!

Another important lesson learned is to “know thy team.”

Every member of a team has something different to offer. For instance, every team I’ve coached had a few players who were never going to be offensive threats, but with a little coaching and encouragement became defensive superstars. Down the stretch those defensive diamonds-in-the-rough paid dividends as I adapted my defensive strategy around their strengths to shut down our opponents’ offenses.

As a manager, I pay careful attention to my team’s uniqueness. Developers are not interchangeable. Some excel at specialized tasks like performance optimization or database design, where others may be able to whip up high-fidelity prototypes without breaking a sweat. Extending these skills requires that I’m closely attuned to where each developer shines and where they can make the most impact.

Knowing your team’s strengths also goes hand in hand with the knowledge that once your team is “out on the court,” you can no longer control them.

This lesson is by far the hardest to accept. As a coach, the best I can do is give my team the raw skills I expect they’ll need and send them out to do their best. Once they’re on the court, it’s their game to play, not mine. As a coach, it’s my responsibility to provide the parameters and then let them be creative within those boundaries to get the job done. Trying to control every little action is not only a dangerous distraction, but it leaves the team without the critical ability to think for themselves. It’s not OK to second-guess their decisions, even if they are still learning.

Similarly, as a manager, I resist the urge to constantly dictate “how I would do that” unless I’m asked. For one, I frequently learn new techniques from my team by allowing them to do things their own way. More important, mistakes allow the team to grow and improve. My job is to establish the guidelines and then get the hell out of their way and let them do their job. Mistakes will happen, but so what? Every project, every decision, is a learning experience.

Coaching has been an incredibly rewarding experience. It’s sharpened my instincts and given me an appreciation for how important leadership skills are when things don’t go according to plan. I can only hope that my sons will be inspired by my time coaching and volunteer to coach their kids someday. At least then maybe they’ll understand why their coach expected so much from them.

This article was originally published on Campaign US.

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2015-07-17 15:45:49
Navigating the ‘Hotel California’ effect of social platforms

Facebook has been not-so-quietly chatting with a handful of media companies about hosting content within the platform rather than linking out to an external site. Hosting content on the platform buys media outlets an average of eight seconds of loading time – an eternity in Internet time. Yet, it isn’t the time-saving that has Buzzfeed and The New York Times considering taking Facebook up on this Faustian bargain – it’s our Facebook separation anxiety.

Social platforms are now built to breed separation anxiety: every new feature designed to keep you on the platform longer, taking in its content (and its ads). Facebook has done such a good job of it that many users consider Facebook to be separate from the broader Internet. It is, for the most part, a walled garden that doesn’t want you leaving its feed – especially now with its ever-evolving video service and partnership with media outlets.

Facebook’s younger, hipper cousin, Instagram is more insular and celebrated by its fans for not linking out to anything. Once inside Instagram, there’s no reason to leave. All exploration, discovery and engagement happens on the platform – why go elsewhere? Stick around and keep peeking into other users’ lives. It’s a zen experience, uninterrupted by links and all the opportunistic clamoring that comes with them.

Following the evolution of popular social networks, we’re led to Snapchat, which is arguably even more self contained. The entire Snapchat experience is divorced from anything we would consider the Internet – not only are there no links, the UI is like no other social network. It isn’t feed-centric and content can’t be re-shared. And with the launch of the Discover feature, users can now get their fill of content without ever exiting the platform.

Of course the last great hope — the major platform that doesn’t seem to breed Internet agoraphobia — is Twitter. It still boasts no algorithm and no preference for content that keeps you browsing on their feed. There are still plenty of links. Since Facebook killed organic reach, countless brands have made Twitter their lead platform. Yet, here’s the larger issue: As Derek Thompson’s article in The Atlantic confirmed what many of us long suspected, even though many tweets point places, nobody is actually clicking them.

We don’t want to leave these platforms. We want to be stuck in the Hotel California, prisoners of our own device.

The issue of course, is that there are places we still want to point people towards. As journalists and bloggers, there are articles we’d love our audience to read. As marketers there are sites and products we’d love to lead to. As artists and makers, there are things we’ve created that we want to show off.

But nobody seems to want to go. We’ve long heard the rumblings. The death of the Internet and the rise of apps is old news, as is the idea of social networks behaving like walled gardens. Yet the issue that is arising now, especially noting the trend towards insularity, is figuring out what to do with all of the content that doesn’t fit inside a social platform. How do you point your audience to your ecommerce platform, or your microsite?

And let’s say you’re paying for your ads on social platforms. Even if you don’t mourn the death of organic reach, you’re still paying for platforms that are more-and-more designed to keep people inside them – and even if they weren’t, people clearly don’t want to leave them. Link out all you want. Nobody’s taking the bait.

Given this shift, consider using social networks first and foremost for relationship-building, branding and awareness – rather than as a tool driving to purchase. Some would consider this evolution a step backwards towards traditional media, where all you can hope for is awareness and branding. You can’t send consumers anywhere or give them something to keep — you can only get your few seconds of awareness and hope for the best.

Yet, social networks still offer the power of ongoing relationships, an organic way to keep top of mind and cultural cache. The question remains: what happens to the Internet when it belongs to the generation raised on Snapchat and Instagram?

This article was originally published in Digiday. Image courtesy

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2015-06-04 16:10:25
It’s Not a Post — It’s a Gift. How to Embrace the Intimacy of Snapchat

Snapchat wasn’t built for brands, and barely behaves like a typical social platform. And yet, as it enters a new round of funding that would value the company at $19 billion, the photo-and-video-sharing app is working to become a more attractive place for advertisers. Brands see the opportunity to reach an audience that has grown to upwards of 100 million users, but how much value is there in paid placements that are ephemeral — up in smoke in ten seconds? And is there any room for organic success on a platform that takes pride in making discoverability difficult?

While Snapchat has its share of challenges for marketers, it offers something unique in the world of mostly-broadcast, feed-centric social media — intimacy at scale. Every time a user opens a snap, she has no idea who else – if anyone – is seeing it. It’s a tiny, personal gift, even when broadcast to a huge audience. And brands can use it to bring people closer to their culture, events and personalities. It’s the perfect behind-the-scenes platform because it’s built to deliver unfiltered, intimate content.

Here are a few things to keep in mind before you give up the ghost:

1. It’s a shape, not a limit.

Don’t consider Snapchat’s lack of certain features — editing, filters, the ability to upload content — as a limit. See it as a shape your content needs to take. What you lose in creating high-quality content, you gain in intimacy and perceived spontaneity. Is a perfectly-lit shot of your product on Instagram really that much more valuable than a quirky, half-doodled visual joke on Snapchat? If so, consider another platform (Or buy more traditional ads on Snapchat’s Discover section). Taco Bell embraces the quirky aesthetic of the platform, making each snap playful with lavish amounts of doodling.

2. It’s a gift, not a post.

You get an alert and a badge shows up on your phone — someone has sent you a snap! It wasn’t posted, it was sent to you, and maybe only you. While a brand’s social output on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook is measured in posts seen in feeds, every snap is delivered as a personal gift. This adds to each snap’s value immeasurably. Treat <adage_no_lookbook_links>each dispatch as a tiny present. Even Snapchat Stories feel gift-like, since no one knows how many people are seeing them or have seen them. GE does a great job of fostering science love with tiny gifts like quick-hit brain teasers and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it videos of celebrity scientists like Bill Nye.

3. It’s a peek, not a spotlight.

Most brands use social media to introduce new products or brand experiences, posting an image or video that leads to more content around the product. In effect, their posts are intended to spotlight. Snapchat is a quick, finite experience with no chance to link out to more content. Rather than trying to cram entire brand stories into each snap, craft content that feels more like a brief peek behind the curtain. Tease the audience and don’t overstay your welcome. Everlane focuses its social media efforts on Snapchat, so that every snap feels like a unique, exclusive peek, only seen by the select few who follow them.

4. It’s imperfect, not polished.

People aren’t looking for perfection on Snapchat. Clever, lo-fi messages that seem like they’re coming from a friend get love and attention. Don’t be afraid to be idiosyncratic and spontaneous. Use the doodle tool. Use geofilters. Be silly. Don’t overthink it. McDonald’s does a great job at this.

5. It’s their world, not ours.

In addition to looking to other brands for inspiration, check out what popular YouTube and Vine creators do on Snapchat. They understand the platform far better than brands, and are constantly testing their content and learning the best ways to grow their audiences on it. Start with Snapchat artists Shonduras or Mike Platco and Vine/Snapchat celeb Jerome Jarre.

Bottom line — the right brands can successfully find a voice on Snapchat, but the cost is spontaneity and access, neither of which are easy for any brand.

This article was originally published in Advertising Age.

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2015-04-02 13:09:13
I’m In Love With My Genius: A Tech Perspective on Web Apps

Since the introduction of the iPhone, the conceptual development of mobile applications has remained largely static. As browsers and devices become more powerful and HTML5 and Javascript APIs allow a user to access more and more device features, creating a web app has become more comparable to creating a native app experience. With more flexibility in the design and development process, streamlined workflows, faster product releases, and simplified testing and iteration – we can make a better product, faster.

The two ruling platforms – iOS and Android – have kept the process of submitting an app for approval for each device and platform a uniquely irritating experience. For example, Apple requires all apps be designed in Xcode and submitted for approval through the stringent guidelines of the App Store. Just as platforms have set up guidelines for how to create and distribute native applications, they have also set barriers for users who want to save web applications to their phone (Android’s Jellybean does not offer the ability to track when a user saves a bookmark to their desktop, giving an inability to have an install screen like on an iOS device).

These challenges make the strategic decision of how to create a product tricky. Each platform has its own particular interaction patterns and stylistic characters, and creating native applications allows an experience to preserve some of those unique qualities, like incorporating Android’s back button or iOS push notifications. But as technology becomes more and more flexible, and user’s expectations shift, moving service experiences from native apps to web apps is becoming the best comparable tool to unify experiences for all users and access a wider audience.

Part of the elegance of web apps is the ability to streamline the process of updating content without worrying about becoming outdated on multiple browsers and operating systems. Additionally, access to content is separated from the device itself, allowing users to access information without downloading anything to their device. There is also something to be said about stronger analytics.

BMW & Big Spaceship

When Big Spaceship began the BMW Genius App project, our first concern was to make sure the project plan allowed us to do it the right way. Our goal was to make an app that was designed for elegance and usability instead of a specific operating system or device, with the understanding of some key conditional interactions based on OS. Using bleeding-edge technology, we are able to provide BMW with a solution that was simple to update and fitting across devices.

Working Agile-ish: Adapting a New Process to Tech and Design

BMW Genius app was a unique attempt at an “Agile-ish” process at Big Spaceship. While not truly Agile, our project framework borrowed from its collaboration and iteration tools, shifting technology and development from a final building stage to an integrated component of the design process. From pitch to detailed development, a representative from each discipline was accounted for. In contrast to siloed disciplines tackling features separately in a Waterfall process, the Agile-ish approach was flexible and able to tackle holistic challenges before they became problems. From initial whiteboard sessions that established navigational structure to real-time conversations about technological constraints, the team was able to move the project along quickly and with common understanding internally and with our BMW partners.

Our Agile-ish process opened the door for high-fidelity rapid prototyping. At Big Spaceship, we believe there is value in prototyping early and often. The ability to test and iterate on navigation and high-level structure shortly after whiteboarding can ensure that the product works. Additionally, technologists are able to create a high level framework to build on in preparation for detailed development.

Trust your user testing.

It’s important to define clear goals and some rough time-oriented objectives in order to keep the project on track from whiteboarding to QA. We ran into a dilemma of almost reorganizing the way a BMW owner would find a car, not because users struggled during user testing, but we started second guessing our designs from iterating and prototyping. It’s critical to note the difference between interaction design flaws and playing with something too much. This can turn into a pitfall of constant iterating, pushing timelines and some extremely late nights.

Don’t Forget the Details

But what about the unique details that come from a native app? We wanted the BMW Genius App to feel native in a way that many web apps are unable to. To do that, we created the Genius API with our agile backend partner Williams Forrest, who curated our content from a variety of BMW outlets into a custom Genius CMS. We also decided to use the javascript library ‘Backbone’ to handle the Genius API and store (via HTML local storage) the variables and features with a custom lightweight Model View Controller layer on top to achieve scalability and organization. This means a BMW Genius app user would receive a custom experience upon each visit to the app based on the car they initially saved. As we developed the app along these guidelines, local storage along with template caching became our best friend, lover and soulmate. We were able to save and access cars quickly, and recent and undiscovered features would update through a locally stored rest API based on use.

The Big Spaceship team wanted BMW Genius to feel customized and accelerated. More importantly, we did not want BMW Genius to feel like a website. The front-end was a challenge because of a high number of transitions, and with a luxury brand like BMW, the front-end needed to feel truly polished. We developed custom, lightweight algorithms and CSS3 browser accelerated transitions to create the optimal front end experience rather than slow, memory-hogging animation libraries. This approach made the app fast and light, allowing for the web app to have the complexity and feeling of structure of a native app. When users forget that they did not purchase BMW Genius in the App Store, we have accomplished our goal.

Web apps have opened the door to a new kind of lightweight, flexible site that can mimic native applications or stand alone as unique experience on the web. The BMW Genius App was an opportunity to introduce our process to BMW and push the envelope with a robust web app that will continue to grow. Taking advantage of improved tools and workstreams can make web apps not only an economical alternative to designing multiple products for multiple platforms, but can offer users a clean, unified experience no matter what device they use.

The post I’m In Love With My Genius: A Tech Perspective on Web Apps appeared first on Big Spaceship.

2014-04-01 17:26:43
Context-aware web design can take your business to the next level

Responsive web design isn’t a new concept. Broken down into simple terms, it’s the practice of refactoring a page’s layout based on the size of the screen used to interface with it. As a result the same web page might look very different on a mobile phone and a desktop computer. This is a primitive form of context-aware computing, but I’ve been thinking about the magnificent experiences we could deliver if we pushed it even further. These opportunities are relevant to businesses in a multitude of industries.

What if we had a page that resized for the device, like in responsive web design, but also could format key portions of the site based on environmental data, such as weather or time of day? In this prototype, I’ve built a simple module that promotes coffee in the morning and tea at night. Additionally, if the temperature is under 50 degrees where you are it offers a hot drink, while if it’s over 50 degrees, it offers an iced drink.

Try it and you’ll see that if it’s a cold night where you are it will read “We have hot tea!” but if you read it on a hot morning it’ll read “We have iced coffee!”

Context Awareness in Applications

Context awareness is a property used in mobile devices to identify where the user is using an application and how that might affect what the user is doing. For instance, if you open an app like Foursquare to check out a restaurant, it might see you are a mile away and immediately give you hours and menu. On the other hand, if you’re 500 miles away you would get information on how to make a reservation.

Thanks to advances in wearable computing, contextually aware systems have been able to use more sensors to gather more data and better inform context. For instance, let’s say you’re wearing a Nike Fuelband and just finished a jog. Your phone might receive data from the Fuelband and automatically route unimportant calls to your voicemail while it waits for your pulse to drop back to normal.

In iOS7, Apple introduced an M7 coprocessor for tracking motion activity. It uses a combination of accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass to detect the type of motion a user is engaged in. This means it can identify whether users are stationary, walking, running, or in an automobile.

While this has obvious implications in fitness and health applications, there is also potential in e-commerce apps. For example, a user that is stationary might have more precise control and therefore user interface objects such as buttons can be a standard size, while a user who is walking would have less precision and need larger buttons.

A lot of these opportunities are in the realm of native app development, but there is also potential for designers to create front-end web designs that deliver their own context-aware benefits.

Context aware UI for the Web

Context is already being applied on the web, but a lot of it is happening in the back end. If a user is logged in they can be served products or content relative to their interests from the server. Facebook is the king of doing this—the News Feed is geared towards giving you the content you are most likely to engage in in an attempt to provide a satisfying experience. This version of contextual awareness is fantastic, but oftentimes the user interface itself is left behind.

There are breakpoints that can potentially be shared between touch screen devices and traditional laptop computers. I recently found this while digging deep into a clients’ site and felt unsatisfied with the tappability of certain UI elements in the tablet experience.

The mouse pointer is so much more precise and doesn’t require nearly as much space to be clickable as a touch screen. Instead of using screen width to determine all the aspects of a user interface and delegate the design into one of three buckets, “mobile”, “tablet” and “desktop”, what if we built versatility into our designs?

Level 4 media queries

Media queries gave birth to the responsive web because they allowed us to distinguish between screen sizes. As responsiveness becomes standard, there’s a new set of challenges on the horizon. In the new specifications for CSS4, there are proposals for a fourth level of media queries that address issues with interaction features as well as a media query for environment.

Within the interaction specifications, there are new rules for “pointer” and “hover.” These two provide some contextual awareness around how a user can interact with the site. “Pointer” is to address the issues surrounding the accuracy on the users pointing devices. If the pointing device has a high rate of accuracy, like a mouse or Wacom tablet, it’s identified as “fine”. If it’s not as accurate, in the case of something like a touch screen or the Kinect’s motion control, it’s defined as “coarse”. These media queries might end up looking something like this:

@media (pointer:coarse) {



Similarly, there are specifications which would identify whether or not a browser can hover. If the pointer has this ability, it uses the @media(hover:hover) media query. However, in the case of a touch screen you might want to identify with @media(hover:on-demand), which identifies devices that might not have a literal hover, but can activate a hover state with a long press. Finally there’s the @media(hover:none) for devices that have no hovering ability in the pointing system.

In addition to these, there are the “light-level” environmental features. These features give you the ability to serve rules based on the light levels of the environment the user is it. These can be passed the values “dim” for low light environments, “normal” for an ideal environment, and “washed” for a bright environment. This medium query gives you the ability to adjust the color palette of a site based on the users’ ambient light. This has huge potential for sites with brick and mortar retail locations. Users might try looking to your website to find a store location while walking around on a sunny day and would benefit from high contrast on the screen.

These examples relate to context awareness within the device itself. Unfortunately these features are all parts of the CSS4 specification and it will likely be years before they can start being used. While level 4 media queries can provide some helpful tools, what if we could gather data from outside the device to serve users’ contextual needs more directly? With Javascript, we can.

Using JavaScript for context awareness

Let’s say you sell drinks. If it’s hot out, you might want to advertise iced drinks on the homepage, and if it was cold you might want to promote hot drinks. With a little JavaScript, we can create an element that does exactly this. We simply access the device’s built-in GPS coordinates, and, using the Forecast API, we can find weather data for the user’s location.

Let’s say we want to make this a little more useful. If the user is visiting at night, we’ll promote tea, but if they are visiting in the morning, we promote coffee. We can also change the text based on the time of day. Here’s what the prototype looks like now.

While these examples show some simple prototype level examples, there can be a huge value in using even more of the data available. By using this with a social sign in capability, you could rearrange an entire front end of a website based on what the user is most likely interested in.

Say, for instance, you have a user who is logged in with Facebook. You could potentially access their relationship status to promote gift ideas for their significant other near Valentine’s day or, if they are single, promote a chocolate bar to treat themselves to.

While these ideas are nothing new for sites like Amazon or big-box stores like Target, with a little foresight and some strategic technical thinking, it’s not hard to create a website that is responsive to not only users’ screen sizes, but also users themselves.

With screen real estate diminishing as mobile and tablet take a bigger and bigger share of the total internet traffic, patience for wasted space is at an all time low. There is near limitless potential for contextual awareness in a website’s front-end. While accessing Apple’s M7 processor in a website isn’t possible yet, we can glean enough data from a user’s browser to create more impactful experiences every time we design a website.

The post Context-aware web design can take your business to the next level appeared first on Big Spaceship.

2014-03-11 18:33:47
Who Actually Broke Twitter on Oscar Sunday?

How many celebrities does it take to break Twitter?

Ellen DeGeneres sent out an historic tweet Sunday night during the Oscars, racking up over 3 million retweets and possibly even breaking Twitter for 20 social-media-silent minutes. But we wondered who was actually responsible for this monumental celebrity selfie moment.

If only Bradley’s arm was longer. Best photo ever. #oscars

— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) March 3, 2014

We analyzed this tweet backwards and forwards, trying to find out where in the world people were retweeting from and who the most influential retweeters were. We also tried to determine how responsible each individual celebrity was for setting this record and ruining the Twitter engineers’ Oscars party.

Retweet NamesRetweet Names
The Usual Suspects: Celebrities

Celebrity translates across all media, so with a dozen celebrities (counting Angelina Jolie’s hand and half of Jared Leto’s face) and the spoken challenge by Ellen, this tweet was destined for greatness. Visually, we suspect that it’s the grin of Oscar happiness, the photobombing Kevin Spacey and the confusing cameo of Lupita Nyong’o’s brother, Peter, that help catapult this tweet into the history books.

Global retweetsGlobal retweets

Retweets in North AmericaRetweets in North America

Retweets by stateRetweets by state
Where We’re Retweeting From

It’s no surprise that North America led the RTing frenzy, but when you break it down to countries, Canada, the UK, and many parts of Central and South America indulged in Ellen’s RT challenge – with a quarter of RTs coming from countries outside of North America.

When we look at US states, after the expected California and New York response follows a RT-happy Texas (maybe all those pre-SXSW Oscars parties, or that Texas is the second most populous state). And before even approaching Chicago, Florida takes a 1.1% lead. And lastly, Pennsylvania runs as the dark horse — possibly because of the budding film/TV production presence in Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia metro areas.

The Influencer Layer
Celebrity retweet influencersCelebrity retweet influencers

Individuals on Twitter can influence millions at the click of a button. It certainly helped that Ellen (@TheEllenShow), with a following of nearly 25 million, premiered the selfie (she’s also the 12th most followed voice on Twitter). But among a slew of taste-makers including Ryan Seacrest, Perez Hilton and Stephen Colbert, three Spanish-speaking voices stand out, contributing nearly 10 million followers collectively.


As this image will go down in history as the most shared image on Twitter (for now), let’s give credit where credit is due. We measured the actual space each celebrity took up in the image and distributed the 3 million RTs accordingly.

Oscar RetweetsOscar Retweets

Bradley Cooper’s face takes up a strong 13% of the image and deserves over 400,000 retweets, with JLaw and Ellen close behind with their big smiling faces. But don’t discount Peter Nyongo’o sneak attack, snatching what could’ve been thousands of RTs from Angelina Jolie and Lupita, his award-winning sister.

Awards shows will continue to evolve as we introduce more and more screens to our viewing experience. But celebrity appeal will always triumph. Especially if you cram 12 stars into a selfie. That’s one way to connect the digital and Hollywood divide.

Click here for this story in infographic form.

The post Who Actually Broke Twitter on Oscar Sunday? appeared first on Big Spaceship.

2014-03-07 15:58:25
How to deal with Twitter Cards

When Twitter announced Card Analytics, the Internet of Data-ness got a little more awesome. The new features are an indication of how the world of social and digital are becoming even more connected, and it makes us joyful to know it’s the data that binds us. For a primer on the inner workings of Twitter Cards and their analytics, check out the presentation below.

The post How to deal with Twitter Cards appeared first on Big Spaceship.

2014-02-26 15:24:24
Planning an Oreo moment for the Super Bowl? Please stop

A version of this article originally appeared on

Countless brands and agency teams are mobilizing this week, hoping to be crowned king of real-time marketing at Super Bowl XLVIII. Looking to Oreo’s blackout tweet as the holy grail, they’re beefing up state-of-the-art war rooms with copywriters, community managers, designers and a direct line to the client, so that every awkward, memorable, meme-worthy moment can be translated into the branded social post to end all posts. If this describes you, I advise you to please, stop.

Brands are going to be surrounding the Super Bowl like a thousand hyenas circling their prey, ready to pounce at any semi-memorable moment. Your brand’s jokes and commentary will be competing against countless others, choking up your audience’s feeds. Don’t get drowned out in the cacophony.

If your brand has an authentic tie-in, or history with the Super Bowl, by all means tweet your heart out on game day. But don’t dump resources into the Super Bowl if the event doesn’t jive with your brand. Does your brand have a connection to music? Try an awards show. Fashion? Go nuts during Fashion Week. Find events or holidays that fit your brand’s voice, purpose and audience. Less competition means fewer brands competing over the same moments and recycling each other’s jokes. It also means a less clogged social feed for your audience, where you have a better chance of standing out.

When Gmail went down last week, dozens of brands tried to use the mishap to their advantage with real-time marketing tweets. Did they get their Oreo moment? The most popular articles the next day showed off the lamest social posts, with Yahoo picking up a massive amount of negative press for calling out Gmail’s malfunction. The “What Brand Failed During the Holiday” article has become a popular genre on sites like Buzzfeed. People love the awkwardness of brands attempting to act human or come off as witty commentators.

Everyone loves a good David vs. Goliath story, and Oreo earning more attention with a single tweet than brands that paid millions for their TV spot was the ultimate marketing upset. So why is it unlikelly that your brand will be the next Oreo? Ads are competing with second-screen social experiences, but on social you’re competing with a cacophony of millions. You’ve got to have unbelievably good game to get noticed and shared.

Still, maybe you find the cost low enough that it’s worth a shot, and you’re itching to be part of the national conversation. Fair enough. If you’re going to do the war room, do it right. Take pains not to recycle other brands’ tweets by assigning someone to monitor brand activity across platforms. If there’s a blackout-like moment, keep in mind that you’re competing with every other brand to capitalize on it, and that 95% of you will probably get more negative press than brand love. Find a niche or angle so that your brand can say something original. There’s also the possibility that your brand will be the only one that can really capitalize on some aspect of the event, like Arby’s with Pharrell’s hat on the Grammys. Then it’s about sussing out the best way to react to that moment, and scoring that glorious touchdown.

Image: “Oreo” by Mihoda / CC BY

The post Planning an Oreo moment for the Super Bowl? Please stop appeared first on Big Spaceship.

2014-02-03 15:22:33
What 8th Graders Taught Me About Social Strategy

This article originally appeared on

I taught some teens about content marketing last week. In return, they showed me the future.

My wife’s teaching advertising to her eighth grade classes, and she asked me how she could describe content marketing to them. Realizing that it would take more than five minutes, I offered to lead students through a lesson partially about content, and more broadly about where digital advertising (and all advertising) was heading.

We started each class by pretending that we’d just created a new candy brand. ChocoMunch, the kids dubbed it in one class, describing it as chocolate candies shaped like tiny skulls. Once we’d dreamed up our product, I told them that market research had revealed our target audience to be eighth graders.

The obvious first question was, where can we reach eighth graders to tell them about ChocoMunch? Newspapers? Magazines? Radio? They laughed. When I asked how many watched TV regularly, about half of the kids raised their hands. We entertained the idea of TV ads for a few minutes, until somebody would invariably pipe up, “But we never watch commercials on TV.” Other kids added that they fast-forwarded through commercials on their DVR, or more commonly just looked down at their second screen during the ads.

I then told them that we’d succeeded in wiping out almost all the major channels ChocoMunch could use for advertising. To which they always replied, “Except for the internet.”

“So where do you hang out on the internet?” I asked. The results blew my mind: Total Kids: 120. Instagram: 115; Twitter: 85; Vine: 85; Snapchat: 80; Facebook: 2

The popularity that took MySpace and then Facebook years to accomplish was now happening in a matter of months. For so many of the eighth graders to be on Vine, a platform less than a year old, was astounding. Vine was also a platform that kids were very passionate about. It became clear that Vine was a constant topic of conversation among them.

The encroachment of “dark social” and ephemeral media, where sharing occurs beyond the reach of web analytics, also loomed large. Snapchat was widely used, and while the students didn’t consider What’s App Messenger and texting to be part of the internet, they brought them up constantly. Snapchat’s refusal of a $3-billion acquisition by Facebook immediately seemed like that much smarter an idea. This wasn’t a fad — teens are beginning their mass migration from broadcast-social networks. And, as these results made apparent, it’s starting with Facebook.

However, what I found most interesting about the students is that the words “social media” were never uttered. I might as well have asked them what Web 2.0 sites they admired; it felt like the same kind of vestigial jargon. The teens don’t think about what we call “social media platforms” and don’t consider these as stopping points between visiting websites. To them, social media is the internet.

We can’t afford to get too comfortable with tried-and-true social channels like Facebook and Twitter in 2014. Invest in experiments with up-and-coming channels like Snapchat, Kik and Vine, and keep your ear to the ground for any promising new upstarts. Also, begin thinking past broadcast social networks, and start nailing down a strategy for one-to-one (or one-to-a-few) communications with your most ardent fans. Most of all, stop calling it “social media” — that’s a limiting concept. Your social strategy is your digital strategy.

Now to find some kindergartners to lend me their take on native advertising….

Image via Giphy

The post What 8th Graders Taught Me About Social Strategy appeared first on Big Spaceship.

2014-01-28 14:46:46