Hit the Ground Running with No Missteps: Online Communications Takeaways from 2017

An image of two echidnas with a "Year in Review?"

We’re 10 days into 2018 and hopefully everyone’s hit the ground running. But while it’s great to look ahead, it’s important to look back on the year that was to help us make sure we follow the right path -- and do so with sure footing!

It’s safe to say that 2017 was a tumultuous one for on-line communications. But there are plenty of lessons that we can embrace from our recent path, which will help inform solid decisions in the future.

Twitter’s death was greatly exaggerated... but it can kill you

We try not to get political on this blog, but to ignore the Trump factor would be to ignore valuable lessons in messaging.

First off, there are those who were quick to write off Twitter as a dying medium, but it’s clear that -- at least for emerging news and access -- it’s still a viable and important format. Twitter remains a great way to own your own message and distribute it to your subscriber base and beyond.

It’s also an important way to respond to challenges you may face, as I’ll discuss in a point below.

Move from 140 wasn’t the apocalypse

There were many people who felt that Twitter increasing its character count from 140 would be its downfall. The character limit forced users to be concise, but also created challenges -- intent, tone, and clarity could often be sacrificed at the altar of 140. At times, 140 was tough (especially if you’re a fan of grammar and cohesive sentence structure).

That character count increase really didn’t create the waves that the purists expected. However, brevity is still the key. I’ve happily used the extended format to add more content at times, but if you’re going on a 10-Tweet diatribe, perhaps it’s better to look at alternative formats: blogs, Facebook, etc.

If you have longer-form content or greater messaging, Twitter can be a great tool to draw people to your site, where you can provide more context and content -- and, hopefully, encourage conversions.

Immediate reputation management is not a luxury

Due to social’s influence, time is increasingly? of the essence. One comment or allegation can spread like wildfire. Last year alone, we saw reputation management challenges ranging from the Equifax leak, Pepsi’s tone-deaf Kardashianing of a social movement, and corporate sexual harassment (Uber’s, for example).

More than ever, companies need to be able to respond quickly and, if guilty of inappropriate decisions/behaviour, be able to apologise wholeheartedly and sincerely -- no caveats, no “Yes, but”s… but sincerely, heartfelt, and honest assumptions of accountability and commitments to rectify the situation.

Things don’t “blow over.” And it’s vital to have a process in place to respond quickly.

Branded content -- the rise of paid media

Branded content, or advertorials, used to be the bane of media’s existence. I remember, growing up in the industry, how it was looked upon with disdain. Today? It can play a key role in keeping certain publications afloat.

The consumer appetite for branded content is changing -- especially if it’s done correctly. Branded content often focuses on storytelling, and that’s what is going to be engaged with and shared by consumers. I’ve yet to have anyone share a banner ad with me; I have received multiple links to stories that were written by brands and posted on various publisher sites.

These Forbes numbers, from 2016, show that people react positively to branded content (in fact, 59 per cent of those surveyed are more likely to seek out content from a brand in the future if they’ve viewed branded content -- an increase of 14 per cent over the control group).

So what does this mean for businesses? It means that while the Holy Grail may still be unpaid media, there is tremendous value in creating and controlling your own branded content -- but you have to follow some basic rules:

  • Be ethical -- make sure you clearly indicate that this is branded content and be honest about its source;
  • Focus on the consumer -- make sure your branded content answers the user’s question, “What’s in it for me?”
  • Be ethical -- yes, I know I said that already, but it’s really, really important. Don’t try to deceive your content consumers in thinking that this is neutral, third-party, unaffiliated content. Let them know its source and allow them to fairly evaluate the content.

The Eyes Have It

The revolution may not be televised, but it’s sure going to be live-streamed. A Cisco report suggests that nearly four-fifths of the world’s mobile traffic will be video by 2021.

For businesses, that means finding a way to integrate video into your content presentations -- especially on social networks. This can also include integration of photos and images -- basically anything that makes your content stand out.

Hubspot compiled a compelling collection of statistics on this topic last year, but one that stands out in that Tweets with images receive 150 per cent more retweets than tweets without images. Text-only content can get lost in the constant stream of information that we receive, so it behooves businesses to focus on multi-media content generation.

So now we turn it over to you. What are your on-line communications takeaways from last year? What lessons did you learn? And what have you applied for your 2018 efforts?