Originally posted on The Huffington Post Blog.
We can agree that when it comes to social media, we’re all panning for real-time gold. We’re tirelessly keeping up with the trends and coaching our clients (or bosses) about the importance of being in today’s conversation – which isn’t necessarily the one we planned on. Reach just isn’t possible without super smart real-time executions that propel our brands into the now, especially when paid dollars aren’t on the table.
But here’s the problem: our highly regulated, bureaucratic world isn’t suited for the quick movements necessary to make real-time possible. And it’s not the fault of the process. There is so much compliance involved that large companies are rendered motionless until they’re given the go-ahead from their legal departments.
But trends die out as quickly as they catch on, and in the time it takes to get something approved, your real-time relevance is gone with the wind.
So, the only times we’re able to hop on a trend or be part of a live conversation is when:
- We’ve anticipated almost every possible conversation, developed messaging that makes sense for each and gotten all of these approved ahead of time. Sounds efficient, right? No. But when it works, it works. For instance, this awesome tweet from Beats by Dre during the 2013 MTV VMAs:
Beats by Dre anticipated a conversation around Lady Gaga’s arrival and capitalized on it. The result? A shout out from Miley Cyrus…organic reach like whoa.
- We’re able to identify a conversation early enough that we have time to not only develop content, but get that content approved both internally and by our client and get it in front of legal with enough time to publish before the conversation ends. Have you rolled your eyes yet? Yes, definitely tough to overcome, but somehow brands have figured out a way to work around it – think Oreo and the #SuperBowl XLVII power outage:
Did you see that? Yep, this singular tweet received over 15,000 retweets. And it came as the result of a LIVE collaboration between agency and client, creative and listening, strategy and account. All branches coming together, likely in one room (the “war room”), to monitor and brainstorm together with their legal reps. It takes a lot of people and a lot of effort, but, in this case, the brandlive/war room approach was well worth it. But is this realistic for every brand?
- The stars have aligned and the current convo magically fits 100% into our scheduled content. We can then simply slap a hashtag on it and publish early. Yes, there are ways to strategize and help make this a reality, but it’s not a model that can sustain itself.Without a hero’s commitment and Oprah Winfrey pockets it’s almost impossible to carry any of these out. No matter the amount of relevance, if there’s no media budget for this extreme effort in relevance, no one will see it. It’s actually likely to get less traction than one of your regular promoted posts.
There’s only one exception that my colleagues and I can agree upon, and that’s Instagram. Not only do hashtags seem to trend for longer on Insta (remember#nationaldaughtersday? Yeah, it lasted for three days), but paying attention to them is actually pretty posh. However, their recent push into the advertising spotlight is likely to change that reality as well.
So what’s the solve? How do we ensure that social is truly interactive when we live in a highly regulated world?
My prediction (and maybe my childish dream), is the rise of social compliance agencies that are dedicated to learning the ins and outs of specific industry regulations and how they apply to social media. Agencies with staff members dedicated to 24/7 support who can deliver short turn around times, and, most importantly, who have their asses covered with the best legal teams in social.
But we’re trying to be real…right?
So, for the purists out there, keep trying to jump over hurdles to win your insta-gold medal. And prove me wrong by getting some ROI out of these extraordinary efforts. Until then, we’ll all settle for as real as real-time can get.
Originally written for & published on Social Media Examiner.
Want to make sure your ads stand out on Facebook and Instagram?
Have you tried Carousel Ads?
While many businesses use Carousel Ads solely to promote products, the ads also provide an excellent opportunity to showcase your brand’s unique narrative.
In this article, I’ll share how to use storytelling in carousel ads to promote your products and stand out from your competitors.
#1: Grab Attention With the First Image
The first rule of storytelling (and advertising for that matter) is to start out strong. Be sure the first image in your carousel ad series grabs attention and makes sense on its own.
Since users may not scroll through all of the images in the series, you want to get your message across right away. Otherwise, you risk confusing your audience and wasting impressions.
For example, in Progressive’s #ActYourAge carousel ads, the first image immediately stands out.
It uses a white background, which is very different from normal photography on the platform, and has a man playing with a baby’s mobile (also known as a carousel). The picture is so unexpected and kooky, the user can’t help but read the line below: “Dump your parents’ car insurance company. #ActYourAge.”
While your first image shouldn’t rely on any of the others to get its point across, it should still be intriguing enough to get users to swipe through to the end.
#2: Make Them Swipe
With any story, the point is to keep the reader engaged throughout and ultimately to read through to the end. Just as authors want to keep their readers interested, the same is true with carousel ads.
Once you’ve hooked the user with the first image, encourage continued engagement with the other images. This gives your brand more exposure and increased recall.
This carousel ad by Tesco Foods certainly elicits the “I can’t stop swiping” response. To see the entire photo users must swipe through all of them. This is a great example of drawing a user through a story and, in this case, a very delicious-looking one.
Test out this concept for your brand. Use Photoshop’s splice tool (or play with pictures in your favorite design program) to cut separate images from a larger one.
#3: Create a Scene
Relating to your audience and evoking emotion are the other important parts of storytelling. To do these, provide the context necessary for users to feel like they’re right there with you. Place them at the scene.
Choose photos carefully to create imagery for carousel ads. Then write copy to draw in your audience.
The TV series Wet Hot American Summer did a great job getting their audience members to envision themselves at Camp Firewood. Pictures show the characters hanging out and doing things with their friends. Plus the image and copy pairing is so clever that users not only picture themselves there, they also remember how they felt when they attended summer camp years ago.
Obviously it’s easier to set the scene when you’re advertising something with a plot, like a television show or movie. However, for products and services, figure out how your brand fits into your customers’ lives and create a scene that demonstrates it.
For example, if you’re advertising a shirt, rather than show still images of it, think about the lifetime of the shirt. It goes from fresh and new in a package to being worn to being cleaned to being borrowed by a friend, etc. Photos that showcase a story create a plot, which evokes emotion from your customers.
#4: Think Sequentially
The order of events is essential to story comprehension. A well-edited sequence provides a natural pace to the story within your ad. Help move your users through your story.
Showtime did a great job incorporating natural sequence into its recent ads around the second season of Penny Dreadful. In just four photos you can tell the story is about a man on the run. He shoots someone, says goodbye to his girlfriend and runs away to a church.
Keep in mind that sequence doesn’t necessarily mean chronological order. It just means every action captured leads to a reaction.
#5: Incorporate Visual Variety
In videography, visual variety means shooting multiple shots of the same scene from different locations, angles, distance and so on. Choose an assortment of images to build a story and ensure visual interest.
In this jean ad from Target, each shot has a role in painting the big picture. It brings the audience into the design studio, shares what the studio is like and displays what kind of jeans are being made.
Most feature films show multiple images to set the scene. This is something you can easily do with carousel ads.
#6: Consider the Platform
No matter what your story, if you want to stand out, think about the channel first. Look at the platform’s audience, whether it’s Facebook or Instagram, and what they expect out of it. Then design an ad that speaks to them.
For example, Buick hit it out of the park on Instagram with these ads about its new 24-hour test drive service. The photography is beautiful (an Instagram must), and it uses a popular photo filter. Buick is also leveraging some of the top content categories that receive the most engagement by users on Instagram: fashion and fitness.
Develop a channel-specific story that makes the best use of the platform, and increases engagement with your intended audience.
#7: Leave Your Audience Wanting More
If there’s a place to break the rules of storytelling, here it is: do not give a conclusion. Rather than offering a natural ending, lure users into clicking the “learn more“button, so they can finish the story on your custom landing page.
For example, Sour Patch Slurpee takes viewers through the first four images of a Sour Patch Kid story. So much excitement is generated that users want to see what comes next. After they click, they’re directed to a landing page that extended the “party” to its audience. This custom landing page asks users to share their #SPKSlurpeeSelfies.
The purpose of carousel ads is to increase awareness and engagement. However, the ultimate goal is to get the audience to continue the experience and click through to a landing page. When that happens, you’re able to establish a relationship, continue the interaction and possibly capture your users’ information.
With today’s cluttered ad space, it’s getting harder to really stand out. If you want to build a breakthrough carousel ad, start by creating an engaging story that takes your audience along for the ride.
What do you think? Do you use storytelling in your carousel ads? What techniques are most effective? Which brands’ ads really stand out?
So, if you’ve followed any of my blogs at all, you’d know that I can, at times, get a little sappy (or maybe a lotta sappy). Well, this blog is one of those times. How can you talk about Father’s Day without being a little mushy?
In any case, our fathers will always have a special place in our hearts. And that usually shines through in our work everyday. We may not like all of the characteristics we carry on from our daddy-o’s, but we have to admit that we’re thankful for some of them. And more than thankful for the lessons we’ve learned that help us as advertising professionals.
In that light, here are a few things I’ve learned from my dad:
- Be careful. Details are important and my dad taught me that a long, longgg time ago. When he took me on trips to the flea market, I was not allowed to touch anything. Take that back, when he took me most anywhere, I was not allowed to touch anything!!! If he was helping me with a project or craft, he always stressed taking my time – I can remember watching him as he cut the edges of a photo for literally 10 minutes. You better believe those edges were straight. In an age when everything is right now, it’s so easy to rush. But in the digital world that could mean a tweet with a huge grammatical error, or publishing the wrong version of a blog. So this tenant has been one of the most important to my own success.
- Never Lie. Well, it seems obvious. But it’s a basic one that my dad could NOT stand. He always would rather that I tell the truth about something I did, then lie. He always was truthful with his feedback to others and to his daughters. And he was truthful with himself. And in the advertising/PR/marketing world it can be so easy for a brand to fudge the truth just a bit about its product, or blow things out of proportion. But I’ve found, transparency and honesty are the things that make the best brands engaging and successful.
- Be a do-er. Now you may not all agree with this, but my dad is the ultimate busy body. He always has a list of things he wants to do, and he’s always doing some new hobby, whether it’s gardening, making hot sauce, drinking wine (yes that’s a hobby), fixing something, getting artsy, he’s ALWAYS doing something. Except of course when he’s asleep on the couch. I’d argue that there are times when you should just relax, but I know that I always feel more accomplished when I’m out and about in the world, taking a hike, writing a blog, even doing laundry. And that’s something I’m definitely a proponent of – there’s always something to do.
- Disconnect. Kind of counterintuitive given his busy-bodiness, but I have to say that I have never once seen my dad answering a work email or taking a work call when he’s with me. When he’s at my soccer game, he’s at my soccer game (and likely the loudest cheerer in the bunch…something I’m fond of now, but was not so fond of back then). When he walked through the door for dinner, he took a shower and he ate with us. There was no more work…at least no more actual work. In PR this one is a little harder to carry out because news never stops and neither does social media. But the basic principle of taking time to be in the moment and be present, is one that could help us all be that much more creative.
- Read the Newspaper. Okay, I admit that I don’t read the physical newspaper every day. Why would I when I have Twitter?! But my dad did. He’d come home and read the paper every night (usually falling asleep to it). I never really realized that this is something he did often until I sat down to write this blog. But his fondness of keeping up on the times trickled into my life and has become a large part of what I do on a daily basis. Social media is always changing. Journalism is changing as you read this. And if you’re not keeping your eye on the world’s broader context, you won’t keep up.
- Ask for Help. Almost embarrassingly so, my dad always stopped to ask for directions. I know, he debunked all of the stereotypes. He asked people what their favorite menu item was. He never hesitated to ask my sister or I to help him hold something while he fixed the car. This is something I carry with me everyday. Guess what, everyone has different experiences and different knowledge sets. Asking questions only fosters collaboration and innovation that never would have happened otherwise. So thanks dad, I always ask my coworkers for help or advice. It’s a way of life.
- Never get bangs. Pretty straightforward. No bangs allowed in the Wassum household. Why would you want something covering up your eyes?! Same is true in social. Open your eyes. Look around you. Listen to your customers. Be aware. If you’re not, someone else will be and they’ll be all the more relevant because of it.
- Turn the other cheek. It’s just too darn easy to retaliate, whether it be in your life or via a Twitter convo. But it never ends up the way you want it to. I learned that from my father, who never struck back with words or let someone else’s behavior affect his own.
- Never give up. I think it comes from his athletic background, but my dad never, ever let me give up. If I started something, I was going to finish it. From girl scouts to school to a swim meet. No matter what I was doing, he always taught to give as much as I could. In today’s digital world, it’s easy to look at a behemoth brand and think, “I’ll never be able to compete against them.” But it’s just not true. If you never give up, you can carve your own niche and become something great. What would have happened if Thomas Jefferson got discouraged? Or Picasso? Or Steve Jobs? All of the greatest innovations came from people who never gave up.
- Make a to-do list. I sort of alluded to this earlier, but I list everything. I even make most of my blogs into lists (16 things…). Why? Because my dad had list after list after list. My favorite was his chalkboard list of things he wanted to do around the house. I think there are some things still on that list from when I was in high school. But, he does cross things off from time to time. And it helps him remember all of the genius, crafty ideas he has. Now, I have google doc after google doc. I have a list of the lists I want to make (okay that’s an exaggeration). But my best ideas almost never come at a convenient time, so I keep lists in the Notes app on my iPhone. And to make my days more efficient, I create lists of the things I must accomplish the next day, every night before I leave. Sometimes I don’t need to look at it, but the act of just writing things down keeps me from ever dropping the ball.
- Embrace Diversity. Enough said.
- Get Smart. This one is hilarious to me. Before we could get an aquarium, we had to read a book about taking care of fish. Before we could get birds, we had to read a book about taking care of birds. Before I could get my driver’s license, I had to log 100 hours of driving time and show him I could change a tire. Before I did any craft project, in my dad would come asking “well did you read the directions?” “Did you read the book?” That was a mantra. Don’t start anything without getting smart and reading not just the instructions, but fully immersing yourself in the subject. This is almost second nature to me. We have to know everything about our clients. We have to be subject matter experts, industry experts and media savvy – how else can we help our clients tell their stories? So I always read the book. I always scan for industry trends. I always follow influencers. And I have my dad to thank for learning that early, early on.
- Give to others. Another basic principle of life, but something that’s often overlooked. My dad was so good about giving of his time, talents and resources. Whether that be at work, in the community, with his family, etc. It’s something you can’t miss about him. And now it’s something I bring into my everyday. And it doesn’t mean donating money. It could just mean helping a coworker out. Or, as a brand, making sure to commit a percentage of what you or what you earn to some cause. It makes you feel good, and that stimulates your creativity and your exuberance in life. Something that can’t be missed by those around you.
- Recycle. And I’m talking a real commitment here. We lived pretty far out, where the recycling trucks didn’t go. So we hauled our recyclables 5 miles away and separated it into huge bins ourselves. Now, you might wonder what that has to do with social media. It’s simple. Things have several purposes and they shouldn’t just be cast aside after one use. And that tenant is true in content creation. Create content that can be re-used, re-invented, recycled. It’s more efficient for you and it’s more helpful for others. A good story is a good story, no matter how many times you tell it.
- Dance. My dad never misses a chance to live it up a bit, liven up the party and dance. He’s even got a signature dance, which I’ve gotten pretty good at replicating. And I think the real point here, is that he’s not too embarrassed to have a little fun. He never lets the status quo dictate how he’ll react. And the same is true in communications. You have to embrace your brand’s personality and stop taking yourself so seriously. In your press releases, in your tweets, in your internal communications, don’t be afraid to do something a little goofy or different, because the most essential part of building relationships and meaningful interactions, is being real. And you can’t be real if you’re stodgy or serious with every piece of communication.
- Enjoy a gin & tonic. Or a glass of wine. Or a cold beer. Or a root beer. Or a ginger ale. Just enjoy your beverages.
There are a ton of other things I learned from my dad. In fact, I deleted a few to keep this post under 2,000 words – yowza! Anyway, I’m always learning and I love my ‘did’.
Happy Father’s Day to all!
My undergrad commencement ceremony, as special and Carolina blue as it was, was missing one thing. A commencement speech (most southerners can’t handle a 55 degree, rainy day in May). And today, as I watch student after student in long black robes roam the Boston streets, I wonder…
What I would have liked to hear that day from our speaker? What would have made an actual impact in my life and my chosen career? The answer: a speech specifically aimed at bright-eyed journalism and communication grads, something like this:
Good morning Class of 2015! Congratulations!!
You’re all sitting here today because you’ve taken the past four years to get book smart. To do some hard work, get good grades (at least relatively), tighten up your grammar, attend a party or two, and maybe do some good for the world. Now you’re off to enter the world of communications; the always changing, always on, always whirling world of, professional, careful, decisive conversation.
That’s what it is at the end of the day, right? We’re all just talking to one another, (and hopefully, listening too). Now your job will be to learn (over time) how to do this in a way that is meaningful and engaging. And, maybe, just maybe, in 140 characters or less!
So, what I’d like to share with you, on one of the most defining days of your life (at least for your Klout score), are the things you won’t learn right away. They’re not things to do when you grow up. No. They’re things you should be. A list I’ve developed based on years of experience from advertising agency to PR agency and beyond, 8 things I try to be each and every day.
They’re also the things that likely won’t sink in until you actually experience them. And that’s okay. My hope is that you’ll recognize these defining ways of being, even more quickly because you were here today. If not, at least you can tell an amusing story about the lame speech you heard on commencement day, and how you really wish it had rained so you could have just fast-forwarded to grabbing your diploma.
So here goes:
1. Be Personal. The old saying “it’s not personal, it’s business,” well, it’s not true. It’s all personal. It has to be. If you want to have meaningful, wait for it, “engagement,” you have to get personal. You have to dig down into your work and look at your client’s needs and their customer’s needs and you have to make products, provide services, and develop content that will resonate with them, whether they’re cognizant about it or not. I recently worked on a new business pitch alongside some amazing teammates. We all researched and then brainstormed the growing pain points of our potential client’s customers. We talked ad nauseam about how annoying a lack of connectivity across enterprises was. And it got us energetic. It got us pumped up. Why? Because we’ve experienced these problems first hand. We found a way to relate to both the brand and its customer base. By making it personal we were able to communicate the brand’s solution to this problem and, simultaneously, forge relationships with their customers in the future. When you get personal, that’s when you dig deep and come up with the really successful campaigns. This leads me to my next point.
2. Be Intuitive. In communications, you need insights. You’ll never be relevant if you can’t determine what’s of value to the person on the other side of your ad, or piece of content, or tweet for that matter. How do you develop insights? It’s a two-fold process. First, draw from your intuitions and personal experiences. If you want to have real conversations with people that translate to sales (and, drum roll please, ROI for your clients), you have to trust that little gut of yours. One of my staple statements, “WWYS,” What Would You Share?, always comes in handy. Because it’s true. If it doesn’t make sense to you and you wouldn’t share it, who would? Second, allow your personal experiences to inspire research, so that your intuitions combined with data help you to create communications strategies, ideas and content that are grounded in reality. In the pitch I mentioned before, we drew from our own dis-connectivity troubles and let those intuitions guide our research. From there we discovered the macro level frustrations that a CIO or CTO experiences around the same topics.
3. Be a Partner. Always. To your coworkers, to your clients, to your customers, and beyond. Where ever you work, your time is money. But the way to create a trustworthy reputation is to be a partner at all costs. To walk across the lines of communication, across the digital world, and help your clients, your colleagues, your bosses, your coworkers out, even if it isn’t in your job description or SOW (statement of work). Oftentimes I have coworkers or clients who are just starting out in the digital world (my specialty), and have questions…some as simple as, “What’s a hashtag?” <long pause> and some are more in-depth questions around how to become more active in the social space. Yes, it takes time to help out. But in the long term, this investment pays back in dividends, when you can see your coworker learning and getting better. And, as happened to me recently, chiming one of your isms back in your face and reminding you to practice what you preach (thanks Anastasia!).
4. Be Decisive. Just as it’s important to trust your instincts, it’s as important to give those instincts a voice. Especially when you walk into a well-seasoned company with articulate, experienced people at the helm. In front of such senior leaders, it can be intimidating to share your idea or have faith in the direction you see a strategy or piece of content going. But, trust me, you have to get in there and roll up your sleeves. I remember the first time I edited the President of an old company’s blog post. He was the owner of the agency, can I really edit his blog? The truth was I found many ways to edit it. So I sucked it up, went to his office and shared my feedback. He LOVED it! And it got to the point where we were both able to provide each other feedback in our own areas of expertise. Hello – that’s why he hired me! Ultimately, if you’ve chosen a company that values your unique POV, that places an importance on what makes you, you, they’ll appreciate your willingness to go against the grain or be bold. And, maybe, just maybe they’ll listen to what you have to say!
5. Be Creative. Take 10 minutes every day to write something. Something of your own. This is how you will begin (if you haven’t already) to form your own opinions. You’ll explore new topics, you’ll find you have something different to say. And it will help you to hone your ideas in a safe place. Eventually, inspiring a blog post, a book, a picture, a new campaign, a new strategy, a commencement speech even ;). I promise you the time is worth it. You can’t ever be too busy to take time out to plan long term, to let yourself think outside of the box and forgive your blabbering, forgive your unordered thought and just write. Don’t judge, don’t delete. Just write. I like to do this with a pen and paper, but you may very well like to dictate to your Apple Watch. Whatever the case, create, create every day. This is what will keep you in touch with the core of what makes you a communicator in the first place.
6. Be Proactive. Take every opportunity to grow and learn. Not just about other people, but about yourself. Learn how you work best. Learn what triggers your creativity. Reflect back on the most efficient times of the day and try to remember what you were doing before, what you were doing during. For instance, I wrote this speech late in the day. Why? Aside from the fact that I’m a night owl, I wanted to put my whole mind into this for you. I wanted to use my most creative time, and guess what? That happens to be later at night. We may find a shift in the coming future that accounts for these kinds of individual preferences in the work day, but until then, figure it out on your own and proactively incorporate these learnings into your everyday. It’s what will help you to not just to get by, but to also be successful.
7. Be Informed. I really can’t stress this enough. You need to keep up-to-date. You need to read, read, read. And I don’t mean just keeping up with the news or the Kardashians. I mean keeping up with your industry trends. Yes, while you need to do that, you also need to be informed about your client’s idiosyncrasies, what pressures they have. What they’re worrying about. What keeps them up at night. You need to learn the nuances of media relationships, client relationships, internal relationships, as all of these will affect your ultimate results and successes. Once one of my teams found ourselves interacting with a reporter on Twitter, on the behalf of a client. And not just any reporter, but one that would be characterized as “very opinionated” and “hard to reach.” Because we knew this about her and her reputation in the industry, we were much more confident about our approach and our conversation with her resulted in a great success for the client. There’s just no way to be decisive and a great partner without being informed. So dive into the nitty gritty, spend time daily to learn what separates your clients from the pack, learn the industry’s nuances, learn your target audience’s challenges. There will never be a new technology that allows you to skip over those steps, not even Hyperlapse.
8. Be Valued. There are way too many firms/agencies to count and as you continue your career in comms you’ll learn that there are significant differences between them. Some are team oriented. Some foster a sense of individuality and difference of opinion. Some don’t. Some work with markets that stay pretty similar. Some work with companies with new innovations on a daily basis. And these are the things to think about when you think about your long-term fit. In tech PR and I’ve found that an “all hands on deck” mentality (as my colleague Zora says), plays to my strengths. But that might not be your style. Long story short, you need to be at an agency that values you and has clients that you’re passionate about, that you (as we like to say at LPP) “nerd out” on.
I could continue. But the reality is that you’ve probably only heard a small percentage of what I’ve said, and a fraction of that small percentage is what you’ll actually remember. And I’m not even going to get into recall – that’s something I can only hope for if you see this speech again on YouTube. This is the burden and the challenge to each communications professional each day; to create things, to enable and foster conversations that are memorable. So today, move that tassel over and start cranking those engines, because in order to make the connections and create the content that will one day fuel the most memorable conversations of our time, you have to be YOU. Don’t take that lightly.
Thanks, and so many congratulations to you all!