Tuesday, February 27, 2018

What Matters!

With a title like that, I could write about almost anything. There are a lot of things in life that matter. However, since we make media, I'll try to narrow the scope just a little.

I've been a student of media of almost all forms for years. Even as a child, I was fascinated not only by what I saw but by the methods of communicating. I learned a lot of tricks of the trade through observation, reading, and education. As I got older, I continued to expand my repertoire into publishing and some web design. I learned a lot of really cool techniques to catch the eye or ear.

One of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons was Mr. Plow. Homer hired an expensive ad agency to make a television commercial for him. It was visually stunning with a lot of lighting techniques, cool camera angles, and stark imagery. At the end, Lisa turns to Homer and asks, "Was that your commercial?" Homer answered, "I don't know." It was full of the latest techniques and trendy styles but there was no valuable content.

No matter the medium, content must always be king! There is a place for techniques to make an ad, post, or other media stand out. However, no matter how cool the it looks or sounds, if there is no cohesive message then it will fail to produce results. People may remember it but will not likely connect it back to a product, service, or anything else.

This is more than just content marketing. If you are unfamiliar with the term, essentially it's the idea that customers and clients enjoy real information and tips from a business beyond just sales advertising. For example, when I was managing the online presence for a family owned mobile dealer, every week I wrote reviews of different apps on the company blog. We didn't make a dime from the sale of apps, especially since I focused on free apps. By the time I was done with the job, that section of the company site was the most popular and did generate traffic into the stores. We were providing value and building a relationship with our clients by helping get the most out of their devices. This is just one example of content marketing.

Content matters! Commercials, shorts, and social media posts, no matter how short, need to say something even if it's just an announcement of a sale. In the midst of everything that goes into putting together an ad of any kind, the message must be simple and central to the piece. Ignore content at your peril!

It's not just in advertising that content matters. For podcasters, ministries, and writers, content is the product (for lack of a better term). The nature of the material isn't as important for the purposes of this discussion. What matters is the quality of the message and how well it's communicated. The trick is to know your audience and how to communicate with them. Is what you have to say something that they will value, enjoy, or both? Will they understand it?

For example, say someone, we'll call him Bub, wants to do a podcast on Christian heavy metal. Bub loves metal and wants to tell the world about how awesome it is. In his first episode, he shoots video of himself head banging to his favorite band and looking a little odd. It gets a lot of views so he thinks he's hit on something. He does more and behaves more and more ridiculous in each video. For a while, he gets a lot of attention but most of it is from people laughing at his antics. He receives a lot of views but he's no communicating what he wants to say. There's no real content or coherent message. After only a few episodes, people get tired of his antics and move on to the next thing that makes them laugh.

Bub is back at square one and has not added one new metal fan and was a joke on the internet for a while. Maybe he became a meme which isn't necessarily a good thing. Time to recalibrate.

After a break, Bub tries again. This time, he's done his homework and spends each episode talking about a specific artist and a couple of their better songs. He mixes in the band logo and where their music can be found. When he has permission, he uses short segments of the music for his viewers or even clips from music videos. It's not an overnight sensation but Bub starts to build a real audience for his video blog and accomplishes his goal of sharing his love for Christian metal with the world in hopes of making new fans.

There is a place for good production values. The message can get lost with poor visual or audio quality or bad writing. There are a few basics that need to be followed but even if everything is done right, poor content will always be a killer.

Remember, content is what matters!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Internet Stuff That Makes Me Nuts!

I guess I'm a little overdue for a post. I'm especially overdue for a rant. So here goes.

There are a few things that have developed over the years that really get on my nerves. As I cruise the 'net, I come across things that just make me wonder about the good sense displayed by some people as they design sites and post comments. They may not bother everyone but they sure do me although I am willing to bet that I'm not alone. Here we go:

Autoplay Media on Blogs and Sites: Unless you're launching a player, no media should start automatically. Period. Ever. Most of the time, I have something else playing while surfing. It could be music or a movie on Hulu. It doesn't matter. When going to a site and all of a sudden an ad starts to play with full audio, I get a little steamed. It's especially annoying when the ad might be well down the page and it takes a lot of scrolling to find it. When I'm watching a geek favorite like The Pretender I really don't want to hear about dish soap or some herbal cure-all.

I'm equally annoyed by autoplay music on websites. Landing on someone's page and cheesy music starting to blare out of my speakers sends me looking for the "mute" button. At one time this was novel. I had an autoplay song on one of my first websites for a very short period of time. It went away very quickly.

Embedded Popups and Rollover Ads: I hate these. I installed a popup blocker for a reason. Watching a site suddenly go away, covered by some ad that has a tiny, hidden "close" button to eliminate it. I don't mind advertising (obviously). I just don't want it to take over the entire page and block the content.

Rollovers are just as annoying. If the cursor even grazes a micrometer into the box it either starts playing or expands to a screen dominating size and plays. I hate them. Axe is the biggest and most annoying offender with there game/ads. If I actually used the stuff, I would stop just because of the ads.

Internet Jargon: I'm not talking about corporate speak here (which annoys me in other ways) but the absurd language used by people who want to appear smarter than everyone else because they are "in the know." Terms like l33t and n00b make me crazy. Pwnd is annoying beyond words. Look, if you really are as smart as you pretend to be, stop acting like an annoying elitist and use plain English. Anyone can look your silly little language up using Google. Get over yourselves. A typo does not make for a cooler word just a wrong one.

Okay. That felt good. I'm feeling much better now. Leave me a comment and let me know what kind of stuff online annoys you. I'm curious about your pet peeves. I don't even mind if you don't agree with mine. We all have different things that annoy us. Maybe you hate LOLCats ( I do). I'm just want to know. Who knows, getting it off your chest might do you some good.

Friday, April 15, 2011

MySpace, Really?

I can already hear you out there. My street cred as a technophile and internet media guy just took a major ding with the mere mention of the site. Like most of you, I have a checkered history with the original social media powerhouse. For the brief time I used it, I had a love-hate relationship with it. Nothing much has changed except MySpace itself.

For those of you who don't know, Newscorp bought MySpace in 2008 with the hopes of revamping the fading giant. They have begun the remodeling of the site in good earnest. Most of the changes were too little and too late to save users. In January of this year, MySpace lost ten million unique users in a single month. That brings its twelve month total loss to approximately thirty million users.

Despite this, there is some potential. Before I get to the good, let's hit the bad. One of the biggest reasons I never used MySpace much was the excessive customization of the profile pages. I'm all for making a page your own however there comes a point when it becomes too much. Most of the personal pages I looked at were so pimped out that the content was illegible. Colors and images blended together to create a bright and often confusing barrage to the optic nerve. To be blunt, many of the pages prove to me that some people only have taste in their mouth. Then again, given the success of certain restaurants, I call that into question too.

I found their version of the news feed a little cumbersome and sluggish. Keeping track of friends on MySpace without going to each individual profile was not easy. I never used it enough to get better with it after several attempts to create clever posts on it or insert links with little result.

There is some hope for the site's future. Newscorp realized early on that MySpace would never again be a competitor with Facebook. Too many people had left with a sour taste in their mouths after seeing the (formerly) much freer environment of Facebook. Instead, they saw a different opportunity to go head to head with ReverbNation, Bandcamp, and other entertainment sites. They began making changes to drive usage in that direction.

I felt I had to take another look so I created a new account since my original had long lapsed. The options from the beginning were different. There were four choices: personal, musician/band, filmmaker, and comedian. I chose "filmmaker" for my page for reasons that will become apparent in the coming months. Right off the bat, the page was still very user friendly allowing for options tailored to my selection. I was impressed by the ease of customization. I'm not a fan of pimping pages but I do like having a lot of options for the information displayed.

There have also been improvements in the search engine. I looked for people I know and for bands that have pages. I found who I was looking for right off the bat with little difficulty. In fact, it was easier to find people and pages than on Facebook or ReverbNation. That's a distinct improvement over the old system.

I think they might be on the right track. If they are able to overcome the stigma from the site's original setup, MySpace could be a player again especially for those of us in media. As long as Facebook continues to make it more difficult to promote artists, causes, and other pages, page owners are going to look elsewhere to get their message out. For the entertainment industry, MySpace just might be the way if the fans can be brought back to the site.

In other words, some of the problems that caused the shift to Facebook still exist but they are making some progress with the new direction. Credit still has to be given to them for being the first of their kind. MySpace is largely responsible for the social media revolution now well underway. Will it be the vehicle that the entertainment world can use to build and communicate with a fan base? Only time will tell but it is possible.

By the way, if you want to be my friend, my fairly incomplete profile is here. Not that I expect many of you to be MySpace users.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Twits, Tweets, & The Future!

Unless you've been under a rock for the last few years, I'm willing to bet someone has asked you if you use Twitter. If not, you've at least heard of it.

For those few of you remaining who don't know much about it other than the icon on your favorite websites, this is Twitter in a nutshell. It's a microblog. Essentially, a user gets 140 characters to express something that then goes out into the ether of the web. A user collects followers who receive and hopefully read the messages called "Tweets" while in turn seeking others to follow and read their tweets.

Here's the good. Twitter was designed to be used on standard mobile phones so it does not require a data package. Creating and sending a post is as simple as sending a text. In fact, that's all that's necessary. It can be sent from there to update Facebook. This allows a user to create status updates from anywhere. That's a real plus.

One thing I will say about Twitter is that it does an excellent job of driving web traffic. Putting a link in a tweet is an almost sure-fire way to send people to the site. The results are far better than anything seen on Facebook, MySpace, or other social media. I've done experiments with this. I compared days I put one of my domains in a tweet. For three months, I alternated using Facebook alone to promote a page with sending one tweet with the link. The results were staggering. On the Twitter days, traffic was an average of three times the number of unique visitors of the Facebook only days. The reason I did it for so long was to allow for some variation for the subject matter of the tweets. Results were consistent when averaged.

When Iran was descending into chaos, Twitter was the only source of news getting out of the country. Media sources relied on tweets from the people to find out what was happening. By it's very nature, it's hard to shut down or block without shutting down all mobile communication and internet providers.

Twitter is not without its weaknesses. If you start to follow a lot of people it takes all day to read all the tweets to see the one or two out of the whole list worth reading. This is especially true since tweets are usually even more mundane than Facebook status updates tend to be. Very few of these microblogs are actually worth reading. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say this: I don't care about Ashton Kutcher's hair.

I quick glance at the top users list should be enough for anyone to figure out who really uses the service. In the top twenty, only President Obama (#4) and CNN (#19) have even the slightest chance of providing useful information. The rest of the list is mostly drawn from our cult of celebrity worship. I really doubt that anyone over sixteen really cares what Lady GaGa or Justin Beiber (numbers 1 and 2 respectively) have to say in their tweets.

That said, I've seen a huge gap in regular Twitter users. The generation you most likely guessed would be the heaviest users, young twenty-somethings, are among the smallest groups. When asked, most of them see it as useless. To tell the truth, I don't entirely disagree with them. With mobile technology getting better and cheaper by the day, a text-based media is just not that useful for most people. Why use Twitter to update Facebook when you can update it directly from your phone without the character limitations?

That may be the death knell for Twitter. Smart phones are increasing in use plus the growth of extremely portable notepad computers is eliminating the need for text-based media. I don't think it will happen overnight, but I can see the beginning of the end. It will not be many years from now when Twitter will go the way of MySpace and begin to fade into obscurity.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Unsocial Media: More Facebook Changes

I wasn't planning to do another piece on Facebook so soon but here we are. Once more, I need to start with a disclaimer: I am a proud capitalist. I believe in making a profit but I don't like having the rules changed in midstream.

This may not affect most of you directly unless you have a page for a business, band, or any page beyond just your personal one. Even if you don't have a page like this of your own, you're still affected by the recent changes.

Many of you may not have noticed the first change. A couple of months ago, several of us involved together in a project were trying to spread the word about what we were doing. At the time, I was the only admin on the page and I suggested that all of my friends "like" what we were doing. This went pretty well. We discovered the problem when the rest of the team and a few other friends tried to do likewise and couldn't. The "Suggest to Friends" link wasn't there for anyone not an admin. Open a new tab and go to Facebook and look. Odds are, you won't see it either. I've checked it from two personal profiles of my own and had many others check it too. It's just not there.

Isn't that just wonderful? I bet you noticed that the number of pages suggested to you dropped off significantly. Maybe you didn't but I'm betting you have after reading this. One simple change and a regular person can't recommend someone or something they like or support to others who might do likewise. For example, let's just say you found a local band you really like and want to tell your friends about it. Before the change, all you had to do was recommend their Facebook page to your friends. Easy, right? You can't do that anymore.

Not that it matters. Even for those of us with pages, those suggestions now just go out to the ether and are never noticed by the intended recipients. This is different now too. There was a time when if you sent out a request to friends to become a fan, which is what it used to be called, there was usually a pretty good response. Because of all the format changes and things that Facebook has done with the site, the intended recipients likely never even see the request.

I remember getting a notification when someone recommended a page just like when someone commented on a post. That is no longer the case. I still have it set up to send me an email when someone suggests a page to me. Checking my logs, those emails stopped suddenly a couple of months ago. I admit, this is really frustrating.

Maybe you're saying, "So what? I don't have a band or a business. I'm not hurt by this." That's really only true if you don't believe in anything which I really doubt. For those of us who do have pages to connect with fans or clients, it really hurts us a lot. It was already frustrating not being able to invite fans to events unless they were friends or send actual messages to them instead of bulletins that they would never see. Ultimately, all of us are hurt when businesses, not-for-profits, and others can't get their message out beyond the people the ones who own the page already know.

It has come down to this. The only way to use Facebook to grow is to buy an ad. That's it. It's all about the dollars. Spend money or die. Your fans can't tell people about you and what you're doing. If you try to tell your friends, they never see the request. Trying to communicate with the people already a part of the fan base is more difficult than ever. So, it really is down to buy an ad or die.

Again, I am a capitalist and proud of it. I believe in making a profit including from advertising. I'm not opposed to buying ads on Facebook. What I don't like is being forced. There are alternatives, like using event invitations to ask people to "like" the page, but these are of limited impact and not nearly as effective as page suggestions.

I admit that I find the irony delicious. While claiming to believe in free and open communication for all, Facebook execs are making decisions that greatly restrict that same communication. For a while, it really was free and open but not anymore. All these major changes restricting what used to be a free and open system while six of them move up on Forbes' billionaire list. Again, I'm fine with wealth. I just want it to be made ethically and truthfully. I don't like it when things used to work one way and then they don't without any notice to the people involved. If we had been told ahead of time about the extent and meaning of the changes I might be less frustrated.

For future posts, I am going to look for other media that may just be the next big social media site. Let the search begin.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Who is The Kinect For?

Right off the bat, I gotta tell you that the XBox Kinect is very cool tech. A system that reads your body motion and translates it into the motion of your game avatar sends every geek bone in my body to quivering with visions of holodecks dancing in my head.

By all appearance, it works fairly well. I put it through its paces using the system's target users, kids. My test group included young children (age four) with the oldest at eleven. It also included one special needs child, an eight year old with autism. I made the choice to use a young group for two reasons, one of which I already mentioned. The other is that kids have more erratic and difficult motions to follow and I wanted to see how the sensors responded to them.

Overall, it went very well. The games are designed for larger motions which I am certain is a limitation of the technology but not a terrible one. It is reasonably sensitive to the entire body and detects a fair range of motion. The avatars do an excellent job of mimicking the motions of the player even when the player falls down. The lag time is noticeable but not terrible.

After watching all four kids play, I was impressed by the system. The games were simple to follow but not easy to play. It did take all of them some time to catch on to the game play and they did have some difficulty with the motions. These difficulties did pass over time until fatigue started to set in. At the end there was a tired but happy pile of kids.

The Kinect is definitely a family system and not designed for the gaming community. I really can't see a serious gamer jumping up and down for the hours at a time normally spent with their controllers in their hands. Even the most athletic amongst us would be hard pressed to keep up the rigors of a game for extended periods of time. the other reason is the complexity and nature of popular games. The interface is just not sophisticated enough for play on popular titles like Call of Duty or Halo. In time, that is likely to change but overcoming the activity level required to play them compared to sitting comfortably with a controller in hand is going to be exceptionally difficult.

For family style play, it is exceptional. With this interface, Xbox has a real chance of knocking Nintendo's Wii system of the top of the hill with this key demographic. The Kinect actually does what many thought the Wii would do: get kids off the couch. It is impossible to play the game in a sitting position. With the Wii, which I own, I can play all of the games seated in my recliner. I've even learned how to box sitting down. The jumping around lasted about two weeks except for my youngest who jumps with all games. As an added bonus, there's no controller to throw through the TV. I'm just sayin'.

It is, without a doubt, a game interface that cannot be bypassed by the sedentary minded. Unless someone far more creative than I can see it, there is no way possible to play with the expenditure of lots of energy. Just as with the Wii before it, the first major market is aimed at mothers who are concerned about the lack of activity displayed by their kids. I admit, my kids are not as physically active as I was and wasn't exactly athletic as a kid. Combine that with the growing fears of childhood obesity, I am not surprised at the strong sales figures despite the sour economy. It really is a fun, family friendly system.

The marketing campaign captures this spirit. It is energetic and conveys a sense of fun. Moms, who make the majority of the decisions for this type of system, respond well to this type of positive advertising. With the exception of the commercial for the exercise program featuring a young couple, most of the ads are very good.

All in all, if you want a system for kids that they will enjoy and wear them out, this is your system. If you're a serious gamer, give it a few years. Upgrades to the tech will make the platform much more versatile. Who knows, there might just be an Xbox Holodeck in the works...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Facebook & The Opt-Out

As I'm sure most of you know unless you've lived on the top of a mountain for the last several years that Facebook is the top of the social media pile. It is so popular that last year the game "Mafia Wars" on the site passed pornography as the number one internet activity. That's the first time that anything has ever passed porn.

So much of how we communicate is being changed by the site that when they make changes it affects us deeply as individuals and as a culture. The problem is not the changes but how we are asked to deal with them and the lack of notice about them.

Remember when we were automatically enrolled in their advertising program so that our names and faces would be used in ads for pages we "liked?" We had to opt out of that one to protect our privacy. That was just an example of how we, loyal Facebook users, are regarded by what is becoming an ever larger and faceless corporation.

The most recent affects all of us and how we communicate on Facebook. Recently, they made a change to the newsfeed that was far more sweeping than would it would first appear and no official notice was given. I noticed that I didn't see postings from several pages anymore nor did I see several of my friends. At first, I wrote it off as just missing them in the vast amounts of posts on my feed everyday. After a while, I began to get a little frustrated. I also noticed decreased traffic on the pages I administrated. This is very frustrating since this is one of the main ways to communicate en-masse to the fans of these pages. Listenership to my program fell off as well. The sudden drop didn't make sense.

Then it came to my attention that Facebook made a change to the newsfeed. Starting a few weeks ago, only people and pages you interact with show up on your feed. Unless you hit "like" or leave a comment on a post (or vice-versa for friends) within two weeks, the page or person disappears. I'm sure many of you are like me. I don't comment or even "like" postings on popular pages so I don't get the annoying notices every thirty seconds. I know I can shut them off but I want some notice on the pages I do interact with on a regular basis. There's not a lot of customizing on that option. The only way to fix this is to scroll down to the bottom of the feed and click "edit options." Once there, choose to allow all pages and friends.

I'm not against the option of selecting who you want on your wall. In fact, for some people, it's a great idea. However, it does have a chilling effect on business, public figure, and organizational pages and their ability to reach their fan base. The news wall is the most effective means most of us have to share event information since we are not able to invite fans to events directly. This is why traffic and listenership dropped off so suddenly. People who did not interact with the pages stopped seeing the postings and links. The current structure makes it almost impossible to reach out without paying for an advertisement.

Although the option does create challenges for me, I am still not opposed to it. My problem is that it should be an opt-in rather than out. Facebook made the choice for us to restrict our communication. My inner libertarian just screams at an unnecessary control on my personal liberty. That may be an exaggeration but not much of one. I am a strong believer in the ability to make choices within the constraints of morality and ethics. Facebook users should have the option to add the restriction not to remove it.

I wonder what the future holds. Facebook took over when it became obvious that they offered a superior service to MySpace. As that service declines on their with each of their so-called improvements, I wonder if there's another service waiting in the wings to take Facebook's place.