Problogger Event 2012: The Takeaway

I almost wet my pants when I walked into Problogger Event 2012 to be met with a smile and outstretched hand from THE Problogger, Darren Rowse.

As the room filled with a surreal mass of avatars with legs, I had to shake the thought that I was in the middle of a China Meilville, Twitter inspired epic.

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Canberra anymore.”

While I attended the event in a work capacity, it was fantastic to sit in on a number of sessions and talk blogging with some truly remarkable people.

I was a messy heap of melancholy by the end of the day. Which is what happens when one’s brain bursts over their clean shirt following too much stimulation. But I did manage to extract three things that to take away from day numero uno.

We’re all still learning

Having worked within digital marketing and communications for the best part of 15ish years, it’s easy to forget that other people have a life and might not spend their days talking about branding, influence, pitching, audience development and metrics.

Many bloggers still have a lot to learn about how brands operate and what is motivating them. How to pitch and to whom, as well as why even the best ideas might need 12 months lead time. There is also a lot to learn about personal branding and marketing more generally.

Brands on the other hand still need to get their heads around how to best work with bloggers. Top of the list is figuring out how to measure success with metrics that matter to the department paying the bills. PR has been fighting this battle for years so it won’t be easy, but with self-selection of media, our old metrics are plain out of date.

So whilst many veterans within brand and blogging communities rightly see the scene maturing, it’s clear we’re not too far off the ground floor with a long ride ahead of us.

That’s why I’m calling the biggest trend of 2013 and beyond will be increased learning by all.

Here come the next generation of blog royalty

A new tribe of bloggers are coming and they’re going to take it to a whole new level of awesome. This tribe has learned from those who’ve come before them and are more strategic from the outset. Make no mistake about it, this tribe is going to change the game.

I was amazed how many bloggers who just launched or were planning to launch with something fresh. It’s similar to what we’ve seen in various cultural movements, be it the American hip hop scene as it transitioned from the 80s to 90s, or the tech industry as new start-ups rose from the flames of the first tech-bubble bursting. Exciting stuff.

Enterprise bloggers

Many of the more experienced bloggers monetised years ago. The question is now how to go from business to enterprise. Or to do away with the newspeak, how to scale up and go for gold.

We’re seeing it already from Problogger himself as his business model soars into the realms of publishing to events. Or Valerie Khoo‘s Sydney Writers’ Centre that has used a content marketing platform to become a world renowned resource for writers. Valerie has since started numerous other businesses of the back of this and is set to ramp up in 2012.

Speaking to a few bloggers yesterday, their feeling was many talks were aimed too low for where they were at. My advice was to start attending the more cutting edge business and marketing conferences to gain a deeper understanding of what they’ll need to live their dreams.

Summary

The Australian blog scene is booming. Best bit is it’s also just beginning. One of my favourite remarks from yesterday was that inspiration and energy are only as valuable as what you do with them on Monday.

With so many inspired and inspiring people in the room, it will be wonderful to watch what happens in the weeks and months to come.

As I was attending yesterday for work, I had to share with some colleagues who are repping World Vision today. Nevertheless, I still feel like I took my fair share away from the event and am looking forward to seeing everyone back next year when I buy tickets and attend the event for real.

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Revenge of the Publisher

Think like a publisher. That’s the call of the content marketer. Exactly what product and service providers are being told to do, if they wish to remain relevant in our post-industrial world.

With companies such as Nike, Red Bull and Coca-Cola leading the way, brands across the world are taking steps to increase capacity in content creation, community management and analytics.

But if the future is content, and brands are all beginning to think like publishers, then what are publishers doing?

Generally they’re trying trying to figure out how to remain relevant in the face of ever decreasing profits. It’s fair to say the publishing industry is under serious threat.

Harry Potter, Rocky and Luke Skywalker were also. And as I sat on the long flight from Melbourne to Bangkok I realised, the rebellion has begun.

Enter Monocle. A lifestyle magazine covering global affairs, business, culture and design. Or as Hamilton Nolan, editor for Gawker, described it, “a lifestyle magazine for young, stylish, business-oriented jetsetters.”

The beauty of Monocle is it has openly refused to produce online editions, other than the archives on its website available only to subscribers. Yet that’s just the start.

While Monocle does not publish an online version, it has quickly become a content marketing powerhouse. Their website houses films and documentaries. It also has a radio station. Yes, not a podcast or even radio program… Radio station – Monocle 24 – with various programs consistent with their audiences interest. Don’t forget the television program that aired internationally on Bloomberg.

All this is impressive in its own right, and something other publishers should learn from, but it gets better. While product and service providers are learning how to be more like publishers, Monocle has started selling fashion and lifestyle products which they design through collaboration with various brands. I’m not talking cheap merchandise. Rather, beautifully designed products that sit perfectly with the magazines aesthetic and brand values.

Think about that for a second. Publishers have the audience. They certainly have the skills and resources for content marketing, as well as relationships with those brand advertising with them to leverage relationships for collaboration or partnership.

Rather than being collateral damage in online (r)evolution, publishers are in a prime position to become ecommerce power players.

I may be struggling with jet lag, but it seems like less of a leap for a publisher to become a product producing, content marketing powerhouse than it is for most enterprises to become publishers.

If I were working for a large publishing house, I’d be investing in bring the right people on board to help identify opportunities and push into new markets, all while maintaining the brand essence.

It’s only a matter of time before other publishers follow Monocle’s lead; they probably already are.

So begins the take of the publisher’s revenge.

This post was written with a iPad on my lap. I promise to fix links, spelling, grammar upon my return to sunny Melbourne next week.

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The Art of Storytelling: What #GoBackSBS Teaches Charities

Applying good storytelling structure to a current issue allowed #GoBackSBS to delve into deeper issues such as the needs of those we serve as charties.

The not-for-profit world has long known the power of storytelling. Good examples are sadly few and far between with many left scratching their heads.

This past week the second season of Go Back to Where You Came From aired on SBS. The show took six prominent faces from Australian politics, television and radio, on a confronting journey that challenged preconceived notions regarding refugees and asylum seekers.

Not only did the show perform exceptionally well in Australian television ratings, it lit up Twitter in what was a prime example of social television (the live stream also provided a feedback loop that reinforces ‘the norm’, but we’ll get to that later).

What might not be evident is #GoBackSBS drove a massive spike in website traffic to international aid and development agencies, with many donating or sponsoring children on the spot. This happened earlier in the year during the week the Kony 2012 documentary aired on Channel 10 during prime time.

The question all not-for-profits need to be asking is, why? And we need look no further than to popular storytelling and fiction for the answer. That answer is the tried and true, three act structure, which while simple is arguably the most effective way to tell a good story.

Let’s look at how Go Back followed the structure before briefly outlining how not-for-profits can better apply this to their storytelling efforts.

Act 1. The Setup

The setup introduces the characters, context and scene. In Go Back we are introduced to our protagonists, including Peter Reith and friends. Their views on asylum seekers are harsh and no doubt represent those held by many Australians. In juxtaposition to our protagonists are the heros, exemplified by Imogen Bailey, who are empathetic to the plight of refugees and were eager to learn more.

Towards the end of the setup we reach a plot point, where our characters are taken out of the comfort of their everyday lives and spend time with (two inspiring) refugees. The refugees invite our primary characters into their homes and share stories of what led them to seek asylum in Australia. Their raw accounts challenge the views of our protagonist’s views, but this is just the start as the plot point provokes the beginning of a new act.

Act 2. Confrontation

The stakes get higher as our characters get sent to two of the most dangerous locations in the world; Kabul and Mogadishu in Somalia. Both cities have been war zones for decades and a rife with corruption, heartache and violence. Each new scene sees the confrontation rising, with the protagonists finding it harder to hold their views. The role of our heroes quickly becomes clear as they provide the dialogue which continually challenges the protagonists views further as the groups are introduced to the realities facing the cities’ most vulnerable people.

The second plot point arrives when they are told they themselves are to travel to Christmas Island by boat, just like so many refugees who feel they have no choice but to risk their lives on the perilous journey. This point forms the climax of the story and provokes the beginning of the final act.

Act 3. Resolution

The resolution sees confrontation decline as our characters move closer to a final resolution. Our characters in Go Back are safe again on Australian shores, but are not home yet. Before the final resolution they are taken for a tour of a refugee detention centre. By now our heroes feel empowered to push the protagonists even harder than before. While our primary protagonist (Mr. Reith) maintains his views, other such as Angry Anderson soften.

The resolution sees all our characters back at home, shaped by their experiences.

Lessons for Charities

As charities, we understand the power of stories to raise awareness and funds. The trouble however is that we often tell stories badly.

The issues we’re dealing with are complex. Those funding us, such as government agencies and our supporters, need to see the impact of their dollars. This combined with minimal resources tend to result in shallow stories that don’t engage. Or to put it simply, our stories lack a beginning, middle and an end.

Regardless of the medium, giving consideration to a three act structure is likely to elicit better results by drawing the audience in and taking them on a journey. The could be in a case study, newsletter, social media or online content.

Think also how powerful this structure might be the next time you need to pitch an idea

The other lesson… television is still the best way to engage audiences.

One step further

I’m a big fan of game theory. At risk of over simplifying, the general principle is cooperation will generally result in a better outcome than competing against one another.

What I’d like to see is Australian based international development and aid agencies pooling resources to focus on the same issue and tell a powerful story together, which engages audiences and sees us all benefit. This might be another post.

What matters is that we, as charities, need to learn how to tell stories better.

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Learning, My Way

“How many decks,” they’d ask. Any more than three and you were a champ. I could only ollie one deck. On a good day.

I used to skateboard you see. When I was eleven I’d ride my skateboard up and down our street. From the time I got back from school to sundown, rain, hail or homework.

There were no other kids on the street into skateboarding, so it was just me. For years, learning how to ollie.

The point is I loved skateboarding. I’d seen still pictures of the Bones Brigade in Thrasher magazine jumping their boards. I’d even seen some of the older kids at school do it. It was possible, and I was determined to learn how.

An expert could have taught me how to do it faster. How to ollie higher, maybe even three decks.

That might have been cool, but like Mr Sinatra, I had fun doing it, my way.

I’m pretty sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere, but I can’t for the life of me figure it out.

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Difficult People

Some people are hard to work with. They push your buttons, testing your intellect, knowledge and endurance.

It’s understandable if you prefer avoid them. Most of us do. But we shouldn’t.

Just as our bodies must be pushed to stay fit and strong, so to do our minds.

It feels uncomfortable because it’s supposed to. In the words of Paulo Coelho, ‘Change means movement. Movement causes friction and friction hurts. Stop complaining.’

Not only should we not avoid those who test us, we should seek them out. And be grateful.

___________________________

This post follows reflection on friends and teachers who pushed me on the sporting field and in the classroom. Not because someone frustrated me at the office. Although if you did frustrate me in the office I should probably say thanks.

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Unpitching Bloggers

I’ve seen a bunch of posts giving advice on how to pitch to bloggers this week. Each provides good tips, summarised by the three Rs: research, relevance and respect [some might add remuneration]. The same basic tips given to PRs when cutting their teeth forging relationships with journalists.

The problem is that this advice misses the value of connecting with influential bloggers. Let me say that again, misses the value of connecting with and enabling influential brand advocates.

Given the choice, I’d prefer to work with bloggers who are dead set passionate about the brand/product/cause. You don’t need to pitch to people who are into what you do and excited by the prospect of being a part of that. Just find them, make friends and enable them to do something they would be excited to do.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that’s easy. Far from it. Forming genuine relationships is harder than pitching a bunch of people until someone says yes. Just ask the anyone looking for love. Real relationships are much harder to find and maintain than a fling. But like love, the hard work is all worth it. For everyone.

Next time your brand is keen to harness the influence of bloggers, ask whether you’re looking for a fling or something more meaningful. When you’re ready for the later, forget the pitch. It’s takes more than that.

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What’s Holding Digital Innovation Back

Earlier this week Cyber Lions juror and JWT National Creative Director Digital, Ashadi Hopper, told Mumbrella  Australia’s poor showing in the category was due to a lack of technologists at senior levels in ad agencies. According to Ashadi, “The way agencies are structured in Australia, does not help our cause.”

While I don’t disagree with Ashadi, I do feel there’s bigger issue holding digital innovation back in Australia. And that problem is client-side my friends. 

See, agencies develop concepts, make cool stuff and submit the best of it for awards. But clients usually pay and must be persuaded to approve concepts before agencies can give birth to awesome. 

The truth of the matter is that even digitally mature organisations are – in large – well behind our international friends.

Those with resources to pay for innovative digital work are BIG. And big organisations have lots of people. Even those with hot digital teams are still having to answer to executives and other stakeholders; most of whom admit to being well behind the eight-ball when it comes to digital.

I’m proud to work for a great organisation, which I see as being digitally mature. Nevertheless, our team invests significant time increasing the digital IQ of key stakeholders. Speaking to friends in similar roles, I know my experience is not unique. We’re making progress, but we have a long way to go before Australia will be doing truly innovative digital work. 

For example, marketing teams are still trying to fit digital into a traditional marketing mix. We’re still trying to come to terms with integrated 360 degree communication, let alone 365 day communication. This week I also heard a senior communications professional express the view that the main aim of social media is to gain traditional media attention. 

As frustrating as this can be, agencies and client-side digital types must keep in mind that we started learning about this stuff some time ago. Our internal stakeholders will catch up, as long as we take responsibility for helping them get to where they need to be. 

Until client-side executives and senior managers have a mature view of technology and digital, it’s unlikely they’ll give agencies permission to innovate. And until that happens, Australia won’t see too much success with awards like Cyber Lions.

All things have their time. 

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