Episodic Content: The Future of Content Marketing?

Episodes

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 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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You Are a Publisher (Whether you like it or not)

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If you are a major corporation, a small business, a restaurant, a nonprofit, a consultant, a brewery or even a band – guess what? You are now a publisher. Well, that is, you are a publisher if you want to be successful. With the rise of content marketing through digital media, publishing content to get your product or brand in front of consumer’s faces is now part of what you do. (And if it’s not, it should be.)

All of us in digital marketing have been doing this for quite some time – whether we were updating a website with a new feature story, sending out email newsletters, tweeting, blogging, or posting on Facebook. And finally, the head honchos are starting to realize the value of content marketing. For instance, Yahoo hired Katie Couric and Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post.

Content marketing through the web, social media and email is a welcome step in the evolution of marketing because it offers a brand the perfect opportunity to continually shape and more deeply define their image. It gives them the chance to implicitly and explicitly tell the story of who they are and why they do what they do instead of just telling the what about their business or nonprofit.

The widget or service you are selling is not what connects with people – your unique story about why you do what you do is what connects with people. And the web and social media give you the perfect mediums to share that story in bite-sized, accessible pieces to your customers and potential customers.

There are two really important things to keep in mind about content marketing, though:

1) What you write about, post or tweet shouldn’t always be about you. Folks on the interwebz want content that benefits them, so give that to them – for free. You don’t even have to brand it or sneak your sales pitch in it. Just become a source where people go to for a certain kind of content.

2) It doesn’t all have to be original content. Small businesses aren’t usually able to staff a full-time digital content manager. But, you don’t need to! The key is to take a day and find as many web sources as you can who publish content in or related to what you do or sell. Or who publish content that might appeal to your customer demographic. Bookmark those blogs or websites, follow those Twitter accounts, add those Facebook pages to a custom interest list. Then, when you sit down to post to your social media – you have tons of resources you can pull from to share info from. Just make sure to add your own comment to it as you share it to show your brand’s personality. You want to be a curator, an aggregator of the best and most relevant content for your audience.

Some great examples of not-your-traditional-publishers doing great content marketing:
Peter Shankman (PR/media consultant)
Tough Mudder
Denver International Airport
Noosa Yoghurt (small biz)
Bighorn Firearms (small biz)

Is all this going to take time and effort? Definitely. But content marketing is an essential piece to your success in today’s fast-paced digital marketplace.

Mobile Minded

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You’d think, from the title, that this post is going to be about mobile optimization or responsive design or app development, but it’s not. What I mean by “mobile minded” is that so many people I see – from tweens to people in their 40s – almost always have their minds on one thing: their smartphones.

You’ve seen it too: you’re out at a bar or restaurant, and the group of four or five people at the table next to you (or maybe even at your table) have their noses buried in their iPhones or Samsung Galaxies, only taking intermittent breaks to talk to the actual people who are sitting right in front of them.

Then there are the folks in line at the coffee shop who can’t seem to bear waiting in line for that one minute without pulling out their phones to see what’s happened on Facebook since they checked two minutes ago.

I’ve been one of those people before too – but no longer. I don’t want to be on my iPhone looking at that Instagram photo you just posted while you were sitting across from me instead of just laughing with you about whatever funny thing just happened. And I don’t want to be the person who eschews interaction with the barista or other people around me at the coffee shop for more screen time.

I’d rather nod in agreement with what you just said to me and dive deeper into that conversation than just hitting the Like button. I want to listen to you tell me about the interesting article (or, God forbid, an actual book) that you read recently so I can learn something new and learn more about you as a person instead of just hitting “Share” and posting it on my timeline because I read the first paragraph of the article you posted and thought it was sorta cool.

I was sitting waiting for a friend in one of my favorite bars in Denver recently, and I noticed the beautiful mod chandeliers they have hanging there. I’ve been going there for years, but I’d never noticed them because my eyes were usually locked onto my iPhone instead of taking in the world around me and experiencing what’s happening, here and now. And it was pretty nice. Wanna join me?

How to Deal with Facebook’s Decreasing Organic Page Reach

Pay to play on Facebook

For businesses, nonprofits, bands, consultants – anyone using a Facebook Page – Facebook is now pay to play. Things have been moving this way with increasing changes to Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm (which determines what information shows up in users’ News Feeds). But the death knell for “free marketing” on the platform has come with stirrings and rumors that Facebook is about to decrease organic page reach to only 1-2% for Pages. In fact, research shows that organic Page reach is already hovering around 4%.

There may be some social media “gurus” out there who will try to tell you that you can combat this and maintain your reach by posting more times per day, encouraging Likes and Shares, tagging people in photos, blah blah blah.

Sure, those things still help significantly right now. A recent post I made on my nonprofit’s page got a good number of shares which increased the reach of that one post by 1000%. For real. And when I post a photo of my band, reach and likes go up when I tag the band members.

But these are temporary workarounds to the growing problem of diminished reach. And I have no doubt that Facebook will enact measures to prevent even these tried and true methods from working very soon.

The solution? Well, you’re probably not going to like this answer or at least feel that I’ve teased you with the title of this blog post. But my solution has more to do with the overall social media success of your business or organization. And it’s this: spend less time posting on Facebook, and when you do post, pay to boost it.

There is no longer any point to maintaining a daily posting schedule on Facebook if those posts are only going to reach 50 or 100 people. Unless you have a large number of fans for your Page (like, over 10k), you can still promote a post for a relatively small amount – usually starting around $15.

The trick is that those posts need to really drive ROI, or at minimum have a clearly documented deliverable for your organization. Look at it this way: you used to have to buy email lists (maybe you still do). Now you can use a paid Facebook post to encourage email list signups, drive traffic to your website or to drive donations, sales or whatever your goal is.

The good news is that since you’ll be spending less time on posting to Facebook, you can spend more time on another channel that is more effective for your organization, be that Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest – or developing a more robust website or email marketing strategy.

I have no plans to totally abandon Facebook in my overall social media strategy, but I do plan to use it even more strategically than ever before – and bring my dollars to the table when I want to play.