Posts

Editorial, content marketing, advertorial: are we being clear?

For a while, during the earlier epochs of digital evolution, the future looked rather bleak for writers. Extinction seemed the inevitable consequence of an online marketplace whose users expected to get quality content for free. How could such an arrangement be supported; how could a writer make a living out of that?

As it turned out, things aren’t so bad. Hunger for engaging digital content has only increased as the online world begins to supersede more traditional platforms of entertainment and commerce.  Successful organisations are now only too aware that content underpins the relationship they have with their customers; without content there is no relationship. And they are willing to pay good money to keep the relationship sweet.

Content contentment

Not only that, it’s a relationship that can be traded. Advertisers looking to find ways to reach a publisher’s hard-won audience will gladly pay for access to this relationship – and are currently paying more than ever. A record £8.6 billion was splurged on UK digital advertising last year, a jump of 16% on 2014, representing the industry’s fastest growth rate since the economic downturn.

Around 9% of that – some £776 million – was used on content and native advertising, the areas of most value to writers and content designers. It was an increase of 50% on 2014 levels – and the figures don’t even account for money directed towards content marketing, online PR and search engine optimisation.

The UK enjoys the largest per capita digital advertising spend in the world, according to Clare O’Brien of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), who shared her insights at a recent Content, Seriously meetup. A happy alignment of factors, such as the UK’s highly developed creative and advertising services, its mature and ‘compact’ national news and broadcasting industries, and high per capita online consumer spend, make it extremely attractive to digital advertisers.

Predictions about the extinction of writers and other content producers were clearly misplaced. In the race to build audiences and influence opinion, there’s arguably more appreciation for their craft than seemed possible to hope for a decade ago.  And given that users expect free content and are generally hostile to display ads, banner ads and pop-ups (more than 1 in 5 online adults currently use ad-blocking software; under the age of 24 it’s almost a half), it’s no wonder that native advertising is taking an increasingly prominent role in marketing strategy.

Native advertising: softly, softly…

Native advertising is far more subtle than the rude sledgehammering of pop-up ads, and when it’s done well it can be just as appealing as the content it sits in. The idea itself is nothing new. Victorian-era companies twigged early that supplying content to gently steer customers towards a primary product, itself often far removed from the subject matter, was a highly effective way of increasing sales.

A much-cited example is the tyre company Michelin, who published their now famous maps, hotel and restaurant guides as a means of encouraging people to travel more by car – and use more tyres. Their marketing material was so popular it eventually became a brand-defining product in its own right. And even in the 1950s, Guinness was using advertorials about oysters to get people to drink more stout.

The principle online is much the same. It’s about camouflaging the main message – ‘buy our product’ – in content that an audience will not reject as bald advertising. Advertisers use promotional material that appears ‘native’ to the standard editorial content that surrounds it, matching it in style and get-up, and making it seem at face value that it’s from the trusted content provider rather than an advertiser.

…but stay honest!

Of course, advertisers are not allowed to pass off adverts as factual editorial or deceive audiences by concealing the commercial arrangement made between an advertiser and publisher. Native advertising is regulated and the UK has one of the strictest regimes in the world, underpinned by the CAP Code (rarely referred to by its full name, the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing) and enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Their remit has covered digital advertising since 2011, with sanctions that include pre-vetting of content, adverse publicity, removal of paid-for search advertisements; more serious cases can be sent to Trading Standards or the Information Commissioner’s Office for criminal prosecution. In the US, by contrast, general guidelines on native advertising were only introduced at the end of 2015.

Editorial or advertorial?

Regulatory framework has given birth to a whole new glossary of terms for the different types of content that seek to persuade opinion. Scroll through a digital marketer’s playbook and expect to find mention of content marketing, sponsored content, partner content, native advertising, thought leadership, public relations, marketing copy, paid-for content, promoted listings, advertorials, in-feed ads, and probably another small thesaurus’ worth of related terms and euphemisms.

In such a welter of overlapping and fuzzy terms, it can sometimes be difficult for content producers to be sure that they are stepping on the right side of the regulatory line. After all, content is very often designed to be persuasive or influence behaviour. Does that mean such content is automatically subject to the CAP Code?

The crucial difference between content marketing and native advertising, for instance, is that the latter has been paid for and the message is controlled by an advertiser, promoter or marketer in a commercial arrangement with the publisher. Content designed to boost the publisher’s own position, but not directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods or services in non-paid-for space on a company’s own website – what many call content marketing –does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Code.

Be up front about advertising

Clarity is the core principle behind keeping native advertising on the right side of the Code. If a publisher has been paid to communicate or endorse a brand’s message, then it’s advertising – and if it’s advertising the audience has to know it before they start to consume it.

There are many ways to flag up native advertising – one of the reasons there are so many terms for such content. For instance, it could be labelled as ‘sponsored’, ‘suggested by’, ‘presented by’; we’re all familiar with Facebook’s ‘suggested posts’ and Twitter’s ‘promoted tweets’. It could have a visual cue or demarcation to make the boundary between advertising and editorial content obvious. It doesn’t matter how it’s done, Clare O’Brien of IAB said, but it does have to be clear and up front.

In the end, advertisers are paying for a slice of the trust that you have built up with your audience. Fall foul of the Code and you risk facing the reputational damage of naming and shaming and taking your ads down. If you’re audience feels duped, the trust will go – and that was the very commodity you were trading on in the first place. Get it right and your audience will continue to trust and enjoy your content, and advertisers will continue to pay.

 

Many thanks to Clare O’Brien for her contribution to the Content, Seriously meetup. Join the next meetup: www.meetup.com/Content-Seriously-for-London-Content-Professionals/ 

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/clareobrien

What happens when content design crashes into the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)?

 

What would it be like to produce content in a total data vacuum? Picture yourself working in soundproofed blacked-out box with a computer that can only send but never receive information. You have a brief to design some content, but you haven’t been given much information about your users. You’re going to have to rely on intuition and assumption about their needs, interests and behaviour. No matter – you’re a resourceful person, so you make the best of it and cobble together some best-guess content. It’s a relief to press send.

Off it goes into the ether and you’ll never have to think about it, the users or their needs again – because there won’t be any feedback. That includes all metrics, page views, click-throughs, bounces and everything else you’re used to for assessing whether your work is fulfilling its aims. It sounds like a recipe for awful content, doesn’t it? It must be – though of course you won’t get to know either way.

Data drives content

For content professionals, such a scenario in the real world is unthinkable. Content is driven by data and databases, from analytics to A/B testing. Data is the beating heart of how content designers think about user needs and what we do to deliver on them. It’s also the biggest weapon in our armoury when it comes to dealing with sceptical and obstructive forces in the organisations we work for.

And yet, the situation above isn’t just a thought exercise. Working in a data void – or at best with a seriously diminished data set – could well become a reality for many of us in a couple of years if we don’t take timely steps to stay compliant with imminent new data protection legislation, according to Hazel Southwell, Data Protection Consultant, speaking at a recent Content, Seriously meetup.

Ignore data protection at your peril

Content producers who ignore the new rules will be destined to launch their content into the void, she warned, like the Soviet scientists who shot Laika, a Moscow street dog, into space with scant means of monitoring her progress and no hope of her survival. The ill-fated dog died from overheating after only a couple of hours and the scientists learned next to nothing from the adventure. At least she got to be the first animal in orbit – which is far more than content producers can hope for in return for their doomed efforts.

Producing content without user research and analytics (both pre and post publication) makes it far more likely to be irrelevant to target audiences – and useless to our objectives. More than that, data is the trump card, the invincible ace of spades, in any argument about the direction that content should be taking.

How often does data come to our rescue when subject matter experts are blocking improvements to clarity and readability, or when managers are resistant to important content changes? They can’t argue with the data. Without data in the armoury, we’re fighting blindfold with both arms tied behind our back.

Say hello to the General Data Protection Regulation

On 25 May 2018, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into force, making sweeping changes to rules governing the way we collect, use and store data. It will have an impact on any organisation, whether based inside or outside the European Union, that processes the personal data of any resident of the EU or any EU citizen elsewhere.

Companies will no longer be able to sidestep data protection obligations because their head office is in the US, say, or their servers are in Vanuatu. If they’re dealing with the personal data of EU citizens then they must comply with the rules. So Brexit will not provide a way out for UK organisations either.

The UK currently has one of the toughest data regimes in the world in the Data Protection Act 1998, backed up by the enforcements of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). But the GDPR knocks that into the shade, not least with sanctions that are designed to bring the global tech behemoths out in a cold sweat. Even the likes of Google and Facebook might think twice about transgressions, faced with fines totalling €20 million or 4% of worldwide annual turnover – whichever is greater.

Personal data will include photos, email addresses, bank details, social media posts, cookies and IP addresses – anything, in fact, that identifies you directly or indirectly in your private, professional or public life. And if you’re processing this data, whether you’re a multinational or working from your front room, whether you’re turning a profit or not, then you’ll need to comply.

It might be a shock for a humble WordPress blogger to find their use of tools such as Google Analytics (much of which is based on monitoring IP addresses) could fall foul of the law. And their difficulties will be compounded if they deal with personalised content tailored to their audiences – for example, if they use a formula whereby 2 users might see a different paragraph within a single page depending on their age. It seems the quest for making highly relevant content is to become even more tortuous.

So how do you comply with the GDPR?

You’ll have to get explicit consent for obtaining and keeping personal data, which must be given to you freely, rather than as a bargaining chip for accessing your services. You’ll need to ask for it in clear and obvious way, not just imply you’re taking it and going ahead.

Having obtained consent fair and square you’ll have to store it, not only so the ICO can check you’re doing things right, but also so individuals concerned can see what you have on them. They should be able to transfer their data to other data controllers if they want – what’s being described as a new right of ‘data portability’.

Consent can be withdrawn as well as given, and you’ll have to erase data or correct inaccurate data if requested, or restrict processing data if you get an objection. If the data you’re keeping gets compromised through a security breach you may have to notify the relevant authority, the individual concerned or the public at large.

You’ll have to demonstrate that you’re complying with the GDPR, through policies and procedures, staff training, monitoring, documentation – and if your organisation is large enough, with the appointment of a designated data protection officer and appropriate records of your data processing activities.

Privacy will be prioritised by better design (privacy by design) and through more stringent default settings (privacy by default), and you’ll be encouraged to use data only when strictly necessary for your services.

Privacy fights back

If it sounds tough, that’s because it is. There are some obvious exemptions to the rules – such as for national security, defence, law enforcement, public services and health and so on – but it seems the EU has had enough of companies storing and selling huge quantities of personal information, our interests, health, social background, jobs, wealth, education and much more – information that has very likely been obtained in ways we were not wholly aware.

While we unwittingly surrender the details of our address books, calendars, emails and map co-ordinates to apps and companies that seem to have no call to know them, many of us are only dimly realising that our most private information is forming part of a vast global trade far beyond our control. Marketing giant Acxiom, for instance, is said to have stockpiled up to 3,000 separate nuggets of information on each of the 700 million people in its files.

In this context, the GDPR could be a welcome rebalancing in favour of the individual. Even so, EU member states still have some flexibility about how they implement many of the GDPR’s 99 Articles – not to mention the uncertainty of how a post-Brexit UK might slot into those arrangements.

There may also be ways to anonymise or ‘pseudonymise’ data so that it can be used without stepping on anyone’s toes, or making the most of exemptions for statistical research that doesn’t rely on the identifying aspects of the data. The sweep of the legislation may be fixed, but the crispness of its final boundaries are still to be defined.

Respect privacy, improve content, win trust

However the cookie in your cache might crumble come May 2018, content strategists must start putting data protection much higher up the agenda now. Content professionals are creative people and will be able to conjure up inventive and unimposing ways for users to give consent about their personal data.

It’s in everyone’s interests that content is engaging and relevant, and it won’t take much for users to understand how important data is for the best in content creation. It will be even more important for content professionals to create the kind of compelling content that will make users care enough to click the consent button – in whatever form it takes – without a second thought.

Many thanks to Hazel Southwell for her contribution to the Content, Seriously meetup.

LinkedIn https://uk.linkedin.com/in/hazel-southwell-55781412

 

Talk to us

 

Content strategy tips for future-friendly content

No one likes stale content. That’s why we do our best to give it a long life, making it interesting and relevant to our audience in ways that could endure weeks, months or even years.

The same goes for content design, but this has the added difficulty of going past its sell-by date because of the technology it relies on.

The past is another planet

Only a decade ago, your phone was a tiny thing with a small screen and numeric buttons like a school calculator. You used it to make a call – it’s a phone, isn’t it?

Somewhere in its labyrinthine menus was an option to go online, but once you’re there it was so slow and clunky that you didn’t bother, and did all your surfing on your computer at home.

Anyway, there was no hurry, no relentless soundtrack of pings from incoming emails, chat and tweets. Twitter, Apple Push Notifications, apps hadn’t been invented. Social media was just a fuzz on the dim horizon that only a few were coming to realise would be massive.

It’s not that long ago, a decade, and yet in terms of the way we communicate with and relate to each other, it might as well be another epoch.

When Wikipedia was launched, there was up to a five year time-to-obsolescence on web-enabled services. Now it’s around 12 months, and shortening all the time – a rate of change known as ‘velocity of obsolescence’.

And if change is ever quicker for software and hardware, where does this leave content design? How can content designers meet the goal of providing fresh engaging content across time, space and devices?

A content-first approach

We may not know what the future has in store for us, but this doesn’t have to be an obstacle, according to Mike Atherton, veteran information architect and UX coach. For him, it’s not so much about defying time, but about being future friendly.

Talking at Scroll’s Content, Seriously meetup recently, he stressed the importance of putting content first. Design the content before thinking about the interface, and the future isn’t such an issue. Users get to engage with your content as and when they please, whether on a laptop, tablet, phone or watch.

He illustrated his point with his design for the latest website of the upcoming IA Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. Previously, a new site had to be designed every year from scratch, which was a good exercise for volunteers, but left the summit without a clear and enduring brand.

The task, then, was to create a future-friendly website that could be easily updated and applied to changing user needs, regardless of interface or location.

Complexity behind, clarity in front

The trick, he said, was to create a ‘domain model’ from the off, which describes the subject and how all the concepts and relationships hold together within that. It’s not the same as a sitemap – it’s a stage removed from websites – and nor is it just a summary of content.

The domain model explains the complexity of the subject and enables content designers to decide which parts they want to show on what interface. It also enables them to balance comprehensive detail against user accessibility, what Mike called ‘complexity behind the scenes and clarity up front’.

He showed how the domain model described the relationship of the main concepts to each other, such as event, venue, location, person, role, session and session format. If domain models capture the overall context, the content model zooms in to detail, its properties and how it’s offered to users, giving it its structure.

In his example, the ‘person’ concept from the domain model becomes explained in terms of its inherent properties, such as name, company, job title, biography, job title, associated website and Twitter ID.

Once content is broken down into these atoms, it’s only at this stage that the design needs inform the ‘granularity’ of the content model, where and how the atoms appear in relation to each other.

Structured content is future friendly

This makes it straightforward to apply the structured content into the content management system (CMS), which can deal with it in terms of its properties, content types and relationships.

Use an unstructured CMS and you get what Mike called ‘blob’ content – a mess of pages, titles and rambling body fields, in which the relationships between each part are lost, formatting is made ad hoc and links are added by hand.

Style clashes are far more likely, but even worse from a user’s point of view is that the core concepts that hold the content together become trapped in and swamped by the body field.

Future-friendly content, he said, is ‘stored, structured, and connected outside any interface’, but ‘ready to use in every interface’.

In ten years from now, as we zip around on hoverboards, browsing the web on our trousers, these principles are still likely to be true.

Next steps

Buzzzzt! Content is energy

Content. We hear that word all the time. But think for a minute, what does ‘content’ mean to you?

The way we think about content has a profound effect on how we approach content-related problems – and how we solve them.

For some, content is a commodity to be packed, packaged, displayed and (we hope) consumed. If it’s a popular, desirable commodity, the value is reflected in an accumulation of views, likes, shares and comments.

The trouble with this perception though is that it gives content a passive role, not only in its relationship to users, but also to the organisations it’s supposed to serve.

A decade ago, this view prevailed. Websites were built with rigid, lifeless layouts that attempted to recreate print documents online.

Unfortunately, many organisations still treat their content this way.

A dynamic view of content

At Scroll’s last Content, Seriously meetup, Kate Thomas suggested a more dynamic view.

A long-time content strategist and former Head of Content at ORM London, Kate argues that content is better seen as energy – the vital, sizzling force that powers the page.

Some content is like kinetic energy – the short, snappy, vibrant, engaging material that crackles off the page.

Other content is more like potential energy, ready to unleash its potential at the click of a mouse. You can store up this kind of content on the site – it’s always fresh, relevant, and interesting to users.

Content should fizz and pop like electricity – but it does no good if left as a livewire, wasting its power and frying you and your clients in the process.

That’s where content strategy comes in.

Harnessing content energy for business benefits

If it’s going to work properly for you, you must harness the energy of your content. A good content strategist has the systems, processes and tools to do just that.

They can plan ahead, with a full understanding of the users’ needs, backed up with analysis of the data, and fit the plan to the organisation’s editorial calendars. They understand the systems, the governance structures, the content models and content plans.

They oversee the resources, whether human, financial or content-related; and they know how to utilise the technology, including software, hardware and hard copy, applying the right media and channels to the message.

Unlike colleagues such as copywriters, SEO experts, UX teams, content designers and so on, it’s the content strategist’s job to see the whole picture and make sure it all works together. Their goal is getting the right content, at the right time, to the right people.

In this way, the content strategist channels the power of content to support the client’s business goals.

The result is real-world benefits, not just a rack-up of shares, likes and retweets in the ether.

In one of Kate’s recent projects, for example, her client saw gains of £600,000 because of improvements she made through the content strategy.

Correctly harnessed, content is the current of a digital presence – a liquid and energetic force that powers effective responses to business and user needs.

Next steps

We are a Living Wage EmployerCrown Commercial Service SupplierCPD certified

© Scroll