Episodic Content: The Future of Content Marketing?

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Almost every company has a Facebook page now, and probably Twitter and Instagram and maybe even Snapchat. And guess what? They’re cranking out a ton of content. Most of them are posting links to their site, links to blogs or articles, text graphics, funny gifs – and more and more are posting video content.

So how can any brand stand out among all that clutter? How can you offer current and potential customers something valuable…and something interesting enough to keep their attention? What can you create that can be used across all channels? The one answer to all of those questions is episodic content.

Episodic content works because, like other good content marketing, it transcends the pitch and makes the hard sell look overzealous and uncouth. This holistic approach to content marketing also provides five key benefits for any brand. I’ll get to those in a minute. First…

What is it?

Serialized content has long been how humans have shared and consumed stories. It is a practice as old as language. Though one of the first notable examples of it in storytelling came with Scheherazade’s One Thousand and One Nights, the practice truly broke into the mainstream of popular culture in the 1830s with serialized novels, where authors would publish installments of their novels either on a weekly or monthly basis. One of the most successful examples of this was Charles Dickens’ novel The Pickwick Papers. For the sake of brevity, fast forward 180 years to TV shows like The Walking Dead or the podcast Serial, and you start to see the point I’m getting at. Serialized content – episodic content – never went away, it just became so ingrained in the very nature of the media we consume that we don’t consciously notice it.

Episodic content is how humans tell stories, and always have. So why did that change when digital marketing came along and everyone started posting one-off content with no cohesive strategy or storyline? Because episodic content is hard to create. That’s a can of worms for an entirely separate blog post, so let’s look at the five key benefits episodic content offers a brand.

What does it offer?

  1. A narrative arc

Episodic content allows a brand the opportunity to craft a narrative arc that creates a cohesive experience for customers. The content should be thoughtfully developed to provide value to viewers by sharing information that makes their lives better, by entertaining them – or, ideally, by doing both at the same time. Creating this narrative arc provides a secondary benefit: it becomes the lodestar for a brand’s editorial mission. Once you create the arc and define the mission, then every idea and every piece of content can be quickly and simply assessed with two questions: Does it progress the story? Does it further the mission?

  1. Thematic opportunities

Though you may tell a story over months or even a year or more, episodic content allows a brand to pursue different themes tied to evolving business goals, specific campaigns or current initiatives. Think of it like a concerto. The narrative is the overall composition, but, throughout, one can hear multiple variations on a melodic theme that all come together to take the listener on a unique journey.

  1. A recognizable style

Of course, your brand already has an established look and feel, and possibly has a brand book so thick that any junior graphic designer feels bound, gagged and thrown in a closet. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Sure, stick to your brand standards with your content. However, what episodic content offers is an opportunity to create a consistent style that appeals to your target audience. Do you want videos with high production value, videos that look more organic but are still clearly produced and polished or videos that are a down-and-dirty DIY style? And if your episodic content takes the form of blog posts or videos…what voice, style and imagery will you employ? The style you choose should be based entirely on the demographic/psychographic you want your content to connect with.

  1. Ethos

I taught rhetoric for more than nine years, so of course I’m going to work in an Aristotelian concept here. Ethos basically means credibility. Less basically, it is a rhetorical appeal that seeks to persuade an audience by convincing them of the high character of the speaker. It’s an appeal to authority: i.e. trust me because I’m believable and share the same values as you. Yes, it sounds familiar because, you know, politicians. At any rate, episodic content allows you to further build a brand’s credibility with an audience and begin to inspire loyalty, or at least a degree of affection,  within that audience.

  1. Return visitors

Out of all of the offerings of episodic content, the most important one is return visitors. We all know it’s significantly more expensive to acquire a new customer than retain a current customer. The same goes with viewers of your content. Episodic content significantly increases the chance that users will come back to see more of your content because it’s memorable and because it’s telling a story – and because they probably want to find out what happens next.

While I’ve mostly referred to episodic content above as video, it doesn’t have to be video only. It can take the form of a series of blog posts, articles, photo essays, videos or a mix of all of those.  

Will it work?

A case study conducted by Content Standard found that average pageviews per article included in an editorial series was 124 percent higher than that of content published outside of a series.

Buzzfeed, a publisher I consider a leader and trendsetter in the digital realm, is sinking significant resources into episodic content in an effort to grow their their viewer base and retain viewers longer across platforms. My favorite TV-like series they’ve launched is called “Worth It.” They eat a $100 doughnut in one of the episodes. You should watch it.

The person I would consider the king of episodic content is Casey Neistat. He has the luxury of his narrative arc being his relatively fascinating life, but even he recognized the necessity of labeling his vlogs as “episodes” during his year-plus long stretch of posting a video every day. The consummate self promoter, he teases what’s coming in future episodes and references previous videos to retain viewers and drive engagement with legacy content. His videos average more than 3 million views per video typically within 24 hours. In fact, his consistent episodic content is so powerful to influence viewer behavior that he just announced he’ll start daily vlogging again (to the ultimate end of promoting his new joint venture with CNN). 

Brands and media outlets like Kate Spade, Coca Cola and MSNBC are putting more resources into creating episodic content, and you can check out what that looks like.

Having spent the better part of a decade working in digital marketing, I will wholeheartedly admit this may be something no one is talking about a year from now. But the reason they may not be talking about it is because marketers have integrated it in brand storytelling so well that customers aren’t even aware of it. Wink, wink.

Exciting New Facebook Ad Targeting Functionality

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What you need to know about Page Engagement Custom Audiences

So, you can guess from the title that I’m about to nerd out a little bit. But this is a big deal! And these are helpful new capabilities if you’re trying to reach a target audience on Facebook.

The ability to target custom audiences based on uploaded lists, website traffic, etc. has been around for a while – but Facebook just rolled out additional features that allow you to target audiences based on page engagement.

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This option allows you to target people who have previously interacted with your page or posts based on the kind of media they engaged with – which is a huge leap in potential audience segmentation.

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This functionality offers advertisers the ability to follow up with retargeting ads super specific to what the user has already engaged with, which will not only likely lead to higher conversion rates but also will give advertisers the opportunity to create a cohesive experience in terms of creative execution and storytelling in the ads.

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Clearly, being able to know how a user engaged with your page or content will help you craft messaging strategies that are much more likely to connect with them and drive action than broad retargeting efforts can accomplish.

The only drawback here is that because Facebook Business Manager is a bit of a beast to navigate, finding exactly where and how to create these audience takes some clicking around. Feel free to shoot me a message if you need some help!

Digital Digest: Influencer marketing, too old for Snapchat, the creative imperative

You need to know about influencer marketing

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In a few recent campaigns we’ve run for clients at SE2, we have employed influencers to amplify the campaigns beyond traditional owned and paid media and to reach very targeted audiences in an authentic way. The practice has worked very well for us thus far because we worked with influencers who are very thoughtful about their content and who make sure not to water down their channels with promotions. The other upside for us is that we were promoting positive public health messages that would be hard for someone not to get behind – from smoking prevention and cessation to helping Colorado kids get more active and healthy.

With the skyrocketing use of ad blockers and diminishing clickthrough rates on display advertising, influencer marketing will likely not only increase in popularity with marketers but may become the most effective and essential part of any campaign. Read more about what successful influencer marketing looks like.

Will Instagram save you from Snapchat? (Because let’s be honest, if you’re older than 22, Snapchat makes you feel old)

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Even as a person who does digital strategy for a living, I will admit that I struggled at first to grasp why the hell I would ever use Snapchat personally. Then when I decided to, the interface was incredibly counterintuitive to me. I’ve since gotten slightly better at it, but there’s some good news: Instagram may save you and me and all of us who aren’t in our early 20s from having to use Snapchat. Find out more about Instagram’s alternative to Snapchat.

The Creative Imperative

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The poet Mary Oliver wrote, “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

These powerful words are especially stirring to me right now as I’m diving back into blogging, writing new music for my band and starting some fun new digital marketing projects. The description of creative power as an uprising is especially on point as it’s like something almost subconscious, something primal in those who have it that insists on getting out – like a genie out of a bottle.

I know I’ve been suppressing that uprising in myself for a few months now because creativity isn’t a joyride. If you’re truly creating something, then you’re pulling from a depth of you where, well, to put it like they used to on old maps, “There be dragons.” It’s unsettling what you find, but going to those places allows you to uncover the wisdom there too. And then there’s the self-doubt and self-criticism that comes along with every single thing you create, but that’s another topic for another post. For now, check out more of what Mary Oliver has to say on the central commitment of the creative life.

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Digital Digest: Who owns your social media, video trends and not telling chatbots your secrets

Con/Text Digital Digest: It’s like Reader’s Digest, except shorter, more cutting edge, significantly hipper…and, you won’t find it in your grandmother’s bathroom.

Do you really own your brand’s social media channels?

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Technically, those of us in communications do consider social media as “owned” media properties. But that’s somewhat of a misnomer. If you’re publishing content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or a blogging platform like Medium – you’re building on rented land. Is that necessarily a bad thing? I would say no – because that rented land has a waaay better location for foot traffic than the land you actually own (i.e. your email list and website). Nonetheless, it’s good to keep in mind that when you’re on that rented land, the landlord can jack up the rent or just decide to kick you off it at any time – and this article gets to that point.

Are customers watching brands’ video content? If so, probably not on live TV
YouTubeReachCheck out more surprising stats about video consumption habits in this article.

The rise of the chatbots

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“Chatbots get better with time and information. The more info you feed them, the better they become at mimicking natural language and making you believe they are real. Human even.”

That’s scary enough, but we also need to think about the threats chatbots could pose in terms of our online privacy and security. Read more on that.

The disease of being busy

I know I’m guilty of it – taking too much on at work, over-committing to outside projects, hobbies, social events, volunteer work. We all seem to hate being too busy. It keeps us from the things we want to be doing…but we don’t do anything to change it.

With our ever-connected world where we’re checking work emails around the clock, constantly scrolling on social media sites or swiping on dating apps, along with our packed-to-the-brim schedules, we’ve forgotten how to just be rather than always be doing. This article is slightly out of the norm for what I usually include in the Digital Digest, but in the buzz of our digital lives, we need to stop, take a breath and ask ourselves: When did we forget we are human beings, not human doings?

 

 

Digital Digest: Influencer Marketing Trends, the real purpose of Facebook’s new emojis and more

Con/Text Digital Digest: It’s like Reader’s Digest, except shorter, more cutting edge, significantly hipper…and, you won’t find it in your grandmother’s bathroom.

Influencer

Forbes starts its own influencer network

I’m currently working on a blog on influencer marketing that I’ll publish soon, but I wanted to go ahead and share this news because of the possible trend shift it represents in native and influencer marketing. You may be aware of existing influencer marketing companies like TapInfluence that build relationships with influential individuals (usually social media personalities) so brands and agencies can easily connect with them (for a price, of course) to get their message in front of their campaign’s target audience.

Forbes is launching their own influencer network strictly for their publications (online and print) that shifts this model in a couple ways. One, instead of a random popular YouTuber or blogger, their influencers are journalists, academics and topic experts (like in cloud computing or monetary policy). Two, the native content lives on their channels alone. That fact is significant because it means they may no longer host content from other native ad platforms (like Outbrain). Though it might be a long time before a critical mass of sites/publications move to this model, it is an interesting development both for native content as well as how publications can create another income stream for themselves. Read more about BrandVoice Premium in this Wall Street Journal article.

The REAL reason FB added emoji reactions beyond Like

Long story short: the more Facebook knows about what mood you’re in or what emotional response you have to certain types of posts from friends and brands, they can learn how to get their hooks deeper into you and keep you on the platform for longer stretches of time. Learn more.

Some brands going all-in on election year

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“A survey by the Global Strategy Group last year found that corporations that were seen as politically involved or attuned were viewed favorably — no matter which side of the aisle they were on.” Definitely a potentially dangerous strategy, but it can be executed effectively with the right mix of humor/cynicism. Of course, Neflix’s House of Cards is the clear winner here.

And your bonus prize of the week

From my favorite fake clickbait Facebook page…

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Digital Digest: Twitter’s new algorithm, the new dynamics of PR and more

It’s like Reader’s Digest, except shorter, more cutting edge, significantly hipper…and, you won’t find it in your grandmother’s bathroom.

Image: Brittany Herbert/Mashable

Image: Brittany Herbert/Mashable

Twitter’s timeline goes algorithmic
Facebook has notoriously used complex algorithms to decide who and what you see in your Facebook News Feed – from friend posts to updates from that band you Liked two years ago (hint: you’ll never see that band’s posts unless they pay for it). Users can now opt in to see what Twitter thinks is “the best” at the top of their timelines. This change complements the platform’s First View ads, which stay at the top of Twitter feeds for 24 hours. Learn more

Are you a content marketing curmudgeon?
Well, if you have any blog you like reading or enjoy taking those “What Harry Potter Character Are You?” quizzes, then you shouldn’t be. You can also tweet at me, and I’ll give you a thousand reasons you should be totally jazzed about content marketing. Or you could read this article by a guy who was very against content marketing until he saw the light. Read it here.

Using Content to Battle Big Brother
Apple takes a strong stance in an essay explaining their refusal to build a back door into iPhones for the FBI as doing so would compromise the current and future privacy of all iPhone users. And the way Apple spreads that message illustrates the new dynamics of PR: they published directly to the public without the need to go through any news media outlets. Read more about that and read Tim Cook’s essay.

And your bonus prize of the week:

Tim Cook took a blurry photo at the Super Bowl and got seriously trolled for it

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