Explainer: Data Protection in the Age of Big Leaks
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Hacking is the news story which keeps on giving. Gone are the images of ostentatious cyberpunk  seeking to bring down the Man; in its place is a class of savvy, slick criminals, taking advantage of the negligence of corporations with access to massive amounts of our data. Whether through the installation of ransomware, spearfishing, or Trojan Horses, the insurers Hiscox estimated cybercrime cost businesses $450 billion this year. 

And it’s not simply that more businesses have been hit, but that the size of hacks have kept on growing. Indeed, the biggest targets have often been felled by the softest strokes: the massive Wannacry ransom ware attack which brought down NHS Trusts was so successful because it used an exploit which was patched two months earlier, coupled with the NHS’s partial use of an unsupported version of Windows XP.

The political line between private and public enterprises has also become increasingly blurred: when Petya succeeded bringing down major Western companies, the original assumption was that it was ransomware like Wannacry. Investigations quickly suggested this was not the case – the data ‘encrypted’ was essentially destroyed, it used a very poor method for payouts (particularly for such a big attack), it hit a lot of critical infrastructure in Ukraine, and its only major Russian hit (oil giant Rosneft) was miraculously able to fight off the virus in record time. Businesses can expect this sort of financial proxy war to only intensify in the future.

The latest big fish to fall prey to hacking was Equifax, the US credit reporting agency. In an almost perfect example of big business playing fast and loose, Equifax discovered it had been compromised all the way back in July, but neglected to mention this to consumers until the start of September. Bad data management practices mean that while UK servers weren’t hit, perhaps 400,000 Britons have had their personal data exposed – whether that means being sold professionally or dumped on some PasteBin.

Equifax’s fate, in the court of public opinion, probably doesn’t vary too much on either side of the Pond (i.e. everyone agrees that they were not only exceedingly lax in the way they secured their data, but also exceedingly unprofessional in trying to fudge over that fact). In the court of law, however, who gets hurt by these big leaks is going to become increasingly important for companies hoping to avoid hefty fines. That’s because of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the mammoth piece of European legislature which even Brexit won’t stop.

The GDPR covers a series of topics related to personal data usage, and runs along the premise that the more power to the consumer, the less likely they are to get fobbed off. Amongst the regulation’s promises are the right to be forgotten, the right to access of data (in an accessible format) – and breech notification, within 72 hours of knowledge of a breech. Any European company which tries to pull an Equifax this time next year could see up to 4% of its annual income or €20 million (whichever is higher).

The European Union has been showing an increasing tendency to clamp down on the bad boys of the internet. In perhaps the most obvious case, there was the €2.42 billion fine that Google got slapped with for spinning its own search results to its favour. Even today, if Equifax had been based in Austria rather than Atlanta, it would have likely seen at least £500,000 in fines. To its great fortune, however, the American approach to internet policing is very laissez-faire – perhaps in part because of the US government’s lack of conviction that anyone’s data should be off limits to them.

This culture clash is only becoming more and more obvious as Europe pursues a draconian interpretation of data protection in the face of an American happy-go-lucky passivity masking advanced surveillance mechanisms. The EU-US Privacy Shield (designed to allow for easy movement of data across the Atlantic) came up for review on Monday – the lack of an American ombudsman seems indicative of a very different value system when it comes to privacy.

That’s not to say that the GDPR is perfect. Whilst major players like Equifax, Google, or Facebook might be the companies most visibly hurt by the need to both protect people’s data from hackers and avoid using it for unethical financial gain, the regulation is an ungainly beast. For smaller businesses, there’s considerably less capital to withstand the hefty fine for a mistake in data storage practices. Its limited publicity (with just under 250 days to go) makes that all the more alarming.

The GDPR is, at least for now, a ‘living document’, and it might be safe to assume that it won’t be the last piece of data regulation enacted in Europe. For American companies, the restrictions will rankle; for European businesses, who have to live through them more directly, there will be frustration and pain. And yet, the US alternative is to sit and wait for the next hack to happen, in the name of ease of access. Neither extreme is fundamentally stable in the long run; unfortunately, picking the middle ground doesn’t seem entirely popular these days.

Read more

Explainer: Cryptocurrency Regulation
Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the 8 years since the elusive programmer(s) Satoshi Nakamoto first floated the idea for a secure, anonymous currency, the fortunes of Bitcoin and its fellow cryptocurrencies have waxed and waned. The Royal Bank of Scotland toyed with Etherium last year, and crypto enthusiasts have touted EU investment (lead by tech paradise Estonia) to the tune of €5 million in block chain starters as a sign of greatness to come.
But all is not well in the land of the cryptocurrency. The glut of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), the sale of coins to crowdfund projects, has laid bare a mixture of the ridiculous and the criminal. The former – including Dentacoin, which promises to somehow disrupt the dental market – epitomise a sort of futurism gone wrong: the belief that everything needs breaking, and that block chain technology is always the answer. This is patently absurd: the addition of cryptocurrencies does not inevitably form a new paradigm.
The issue of the criminal element is more severe however, because it has caught states’ attention. Whether it’s the repeated failures to secure cryptocurrencies allowing hacker’s access (DAO, June 2016), embezzlement by programmers within block chain exchanges (Mt Gox, December 2013), or association with criminal elements (the highly anonymous cryptocurrency Monero and dark net market AlphaBay, June 2017), or the apparent bubble which Bitcoin has become have engendered as much suspicion amongst governments as enthusiasm, if not more.
That’s come through in a spate of regulations against cryptocurrencies, with the most draconian example evident in the Chinese ban on all ICOs and other cryptocurrency launches. Although this was announced to be temporary yesterday, the impact of the proclamation was enough to knock Bitcoin down a few hundred dollars.

More worryingly for crypto enthusiasts, rumours remain over whether this is a step towards an even more stringent act against a ‘parallel’ economy, with a massive potential shock if Bitcoin exchanges were closed. Venezuela, another country with a rather top heavy approach to politics – albeit one in considerably more dire straits – banned cryptocurrencies as it became clear that they were increasingly supplanting the local currency. Whether China might view block chain based currencies in a similar light is speculation, though not impossible.

Its neighbour India has approached somewhat more gently – while ICOs remain unfettered for now, the central bank acknowledged that cryptocurrencies were “susceptible” to abuse. The most infamous use of cryptocurrencies – illicit trades for drugs and weapons, or money laundering – smacks of the black money which Modi’s demonetisation tried and failed to remove from the system. 

The two most populous countries in the world are joined by nations including South Korea, Japan, and Ukraine, with various degrees of regulation. The assorted working groups all seem to agree that at the least, a new regulatory framework is needed for the Wild West of currencies
What does this mean for Bitcoin and co? It’s not all bad news – Canada, home of Ethereum, has shown an increasing willingness to support cryptocurrencies. The launch of the Canadian Bitcoin Fund, an investment fund based around the rising value of the cryptocurrency.

Estonia has also gone hard for block chain, announcing last month that it wanted to start a new ‘estcoin‘. This would raise eyebrows in any situation, but coming on the heels of an Italian suggestion to introduce a separate domestic currency, it looks like an attempt to gravitate away from tthe Euro.

These are glimmers of hope that in time, cryptocurrencies will gain the cultural cache and parity with regular currencies which advocates desire. But the impact of the Chinese decision to freeze out ICOs might presage a wider collapse in the crypto currency market. If countries such as Japan, India and South Korea were to follow China, even a staunchly pro-crypto attitude like Canada’s might not be able to stop as stunning a fall as Bitcoin’s meteoric rise. Where the rate of the Bitcoin goes next is down to the Middle Kingdom, and whether it sees block chain as a boon or a threat.

Read more

Why the Rise of State Media Requires Savvy Reading
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Painting of Edmund Burke MP c. 1767, studio of Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) Wikimedia Commons

The Fourth Estate, in 1787, was an embodiment of the ‘speak truth to power’ mantra. “[Edmund] Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all,” as Thomas Carlyle wrote. Burke, pictured above, would never have seen the radio, the television, or the blog, but the principle of a free, impartial, and rigorous press has long stood as part of the democratic school of thought nevertheless.
330 years later, events show that the pen and the sword are not equally matched. Reporters face harassment, threats, or death in pursuit of their duties, even in democracies. The murder of Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh is only the latest example of this trend. The image of the journalist as watchkeeper has been replaced by that of the journalist as impediment – something to be trampled over if it gets in the way of populist progress. In dictatorships and under military juntas, the ability to strike at members of the press with impunity is now viewed as routine.

And an equally pernicious trend is the attempt to blur the line between state and mass media: an approach to power perhaps best known from the dictatorships of the 20th century, given new life in the 21st.

The state media today is a far more sophisticated machine because there are more avenues of attack. The USSR’s replied upon newspapers like Pravda – a former journal of arts which would gain its political character under Leon Trotsky – and broadcasting stations including Radio Moscow, coupled with heavy censorship of both local and foreign journalists. These politics of exclusion sought to keep a strict lock on what could be accessed.

The astonishing lack of trust in the news media has done away with the need for a hermetic seal on news, allowing state-sponsored news to fill the gap with a variety of techniques. Sputnik, for example, apes Western media with its delight in viral headlines and emojis – but its bald pro-Russian stance makes it an unsubtle tool. RT (formerly Russia Today), its big brother has proven a somewhat more skilled player: in addition to its wild-eyed columnists, it has featured such noteworthy figures as Noam Chomsky, developing credibility. It has also experimented with less explicitly state-led channels for foreign markets: Agence2Presse (a clear take on APF’s full name), a Front National supporting news outfit in the vein of The Gateway Pundit, is the second iteration of ProRusseTV (many of whose former journalists have gravitated to Sputnik or RT). The use of French journalists for a French audience – and the removal of any Russian state branding – don’t mean that the influence from the Kremlin is diminished.

Social media has offered another outfit altogether. On the anniversary of the abortive coup in Turkey, TRT World (a part of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation) used its social media feeds to push out a distinctly pro-government message. Its message was delivered via slick videos, which had an added bonus – allowing users to respond. A quick scroll through found the majority of responses were strongly in support of Erdogan. Whether or not this simply reflected TRT’s readership is difficult to ascertain; what is more obvious is that TRT does not explicitly show its ties to the Turkish government.

Turkish protests in support of Erdogan in the wake of the 2016 coup d’etat attempt                                 Mstyslav Chernov – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51156155

And then there is the case of the bot – the ‘fake’ user, a profile rigged to blurt out things in support of or against a given candidate (with the potential for manual control as well). The Russian botnets I discussed last week are a particularly noteworthy example of this because they are so visible: they have targeted Western institution, and as a result have been exposed by Western think tanks and journalists. But studies on this ‘computational propaganda’ suggest it’s hardly a Kremlin secret – it’s simply that in many other countries, it is designed with a domestic audience in mind. The presence of these bots in Venezuela, for example, is little remarked upon both because of their relatively limited numbers and their lack of interference with Western geopolitics: nevertheless, they act as force multipliers for the Maduro government, creating an illusion of grater support.

This all feels a bit grim, especially as President Donald Trump seems keen to follow this route. Lara Trump’s Trump TV resembles Sputnik the most in its on-the-nose style of propaganda. Whilst it’s unlikely to gain new converts, even stabilising support from an existing audience – and further encouraging them to disbelieve non-state-affiliated media – is an achievement of sorts. Whilst it lacks the commonly seen underpinning of a party structure(in favour of a support for a demagogic leader), there’s certainly a case to be made for Trump TV being a kind of proto-state media.

It would be unfair to say that all state media exists purely for propaganda purposes – Al Jazeera’s reporting (when it doesn’t come to Qatar) is very high quality; the BBC, in spite of its many flaws, represents a gold standard in editorial independence. And yet, no matter how free they are from state interference, these institutions are inextricably linked into a form of soft, cultural power. Nor are non-state actors inherently agenda free: the objective press is a myth after all. The peculiar problem of the state media in the age of rising populism is the tendency to violence under illiberal governments, and the role propaganda plays in both legitimising and downplaying it.

Under more benevolent rulers, the question of how to fight it remains. There have been suggestions to bar state media channels from broadcast, but regulations fail to solve the underlying problems (and you can’t regulate every state media website). The only way to fight it is to have an engaged citizenry which can recognise the signs of propaganda, and treat it with the scepticism which it deserves.

Read more

The rise of citizen journalist isn’t all bad news for mass media
Reading Time: 3 minutes

I discussed Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks a few weeks back – a seminal text which predicts (amongst other things) the weakening of mass media in the face of a growing ‘prosumer’ movement. If some of Benkler’s other prophecies have not come true (most pointedly the death of intellectual property), the change of media from a one-way street to a two-way discussion most certainly has.

Benkler, however, didn’t predict that support for the mass media would collapse so profoundly. Just under a third of Americans surveyed last year in a Gallup poll had even a fair amount of trust in the mass media, compared to 40% a year before. That disbelief is much more pronounced amongst Republicans (at 14% trust down from 32% in 2015), but even Democrats had slumped to 51% – the lowest on record. The last great drop in trust was in 2004, presumably a result of the Invasion of Iraq.

That lack of trust in legacy media has paved the way for a desire for authenticity, as embodied by citizen media. The sneering of the mass media establishment for those without the mantle of ‘professional journalist’ has lost much of its bite over the years, not least because the ‘amateur’ journalist have often proven quite capable. Consider the most notable example from 2004, when Little Green Footballs and other blogs were able to score one over Dan Rather, regarding George W. Bush’s military record.

As social networks have evolved, some of the most important work comes from formal teams rather than individual bloggers. Few sites embody this better than Bellingcat, which was started by British blogger Elliot Higgins in 2012 and which “uses open source and social media investigation to investigate a variety of subjects.” Like those involved in Rathergate nearly a decade previously, Higgins work investigating the Syrian civil war started as a personal project. Today, a team of analysts affiliated with the Atlantic Council cover a wide range of conflicts, supported by crowdfunding. That citizen journalists can complete investigative work – which is so often expensive, slow, and uncertain – means it can serve as a helpful adjutant to the pre-existing infrastructure of mass media investigations.

The citizen journalist might lack the name or the funding which the mass media offers, but they also avoid the clunky bureaucracy, red tape, and any ideological agenda imposed from atop.  All of this translates into a greater appreciation of authenticity, in which being a bit rough around the edges, or not being an expert in a field,  is seen as an advantage. Think of it as the vox pop, but this time it’s the common person asking the questions.

And yet to place too much faith in authenticity can lessen an interest in verification. As the idea of journalism and political activism has become mixed up, that idea of authenticity has also helped to empower an industry of fake news, who can hawk lies and half-truths on the basis that they are saying what the mainstream media will not. Mike Cernovich, the former men’s rights activist and conspiracy theorist turned Breitbart correspondent, hosts a Patreon for his ‘high impact journalism’, peddling alt right canards including white genocide in South Africa and covert media support Hillary Clinton. Cernovich makes heavy use of Periscope, which offers the same sort of ‘unmediated’ experience as Trump’s tweets.

Even further to the fringe, Alex Jones of InfoWars has perfected aggrieved authenticity as a marketing gimmick. Jones’ violent outbursts against liberals, satanists, and assorted nasties are notorious (including one scene in which he rips his t-shirt off on camera), but they perform a kind of rawness which is rarely found in the mass media. Screaming about demonic possession or challenging random members of the public to fight is so far out of the realms of normal, mass media behaviour that it bolsters Jones’ claim to be unfettered.

It would be unfair to say that the media establishment is not immune to failures or deliberate deceptions by reporters or editors. Checks and balances don’t always work, and to ignore criticisms by the public is arrogant at best, business suicide at worst. So it is encouraging to see when citizen journalism and the mass media work in tandem. At the Washington Post, David Farenthold’s reporting of Trump’s donations relied heavily on working with a broad audience via social media. The idea of sending a reporter around the country looking for a painting would raise an editor’s eyebrow, though probably not their wallets. Instead, Farenthold was able to mobilise a massive group of individuals who previously could only have been involved with journalism through the letters page of a paper or magazine.

A more permanent hybrid currently in the works is WikiTribune, founded by Jimmy Wales of the Wikipedia foundation. “Articles are authored, fact-checked, and verified by professional journalists and community members working side by side as equals,” it claims. If WikiTribune works, it could be the missing link between authenticity and verification we need. Only time will tell, but even if such a high minded example does not play out, we can expect to see a fruitful partnership between the mass media and citizen journalists in years to come – one of the few antidotes to false news and misinformation.

Read more

The Fightback Against Misinformation – and Why Propaganda is so Hard to Beat
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The misinformation industry has had a bit of a boom over the past year or so. On the one end of the spectrum, there are the amateurs: such as right-wing activists like the Gateway Pundit, or InfoWars-style conspiracy theorists. Many of their attempts are sensationalist, relying on an audience already primed to believe fringe theories.

Perhaps more worrying are attempts to ape credible sites, as seems to be the case in a slew of stories unearthed by The Guardian. The most likely suspect is the Kremlin, given that the articles were designed to denigrate opponents such as Francois Macron. These were quite literally fake news sites, using practically identical addresses to obscure their authenticity. 

Most concerning, are when the two groups work in unison, boosting their message even further.

In any case, the net result of misinformation isn’t merely the attempt to convince readers of a certain set of facts. More perniciously, it creates alternative truth systems, at best harming public confidence in facts and at the worst increasing polarisation. ‘There’s a war on for your mind’, Alex Jones’ site proudly declares, and that mentality enables propagandists great and small to defend their positions through ad hominem attacks and strawman arguments. They do not simply ask you to believe them – they demand you don’t trust anyone who contradicts them. The public issues of politics become personal.

Deliberately fake news isn’t a new problem, as has been pointed out ad infinitum – but then, the geopolitical stakes today are unique. One of the examples often cited is William Randolph Hearst, and his attempts to spur on the Spanish-American War: his alleged telegram, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war”,  shows a man bent on skirting facts if they got in the way of a good story (an allegation perennially levelled at tabloids).

And yet Hearst’s motivation doesn’t seem to have been about creating a narrative so much as simply selling papers. Morally repugnant nonetheless – the explosion of USS Maine, which was pinned on a Spanish naval mine, was probably a naval accident – but with a different level of cunning. Hearst probably didn’t want the Spanish side in his papers, and he did want to whip up a jingoistic fury, but the end goal seems to have been purely mercenary.

Thankfully, in the age of disbelief, we are armed with various tools to counter misinformation. There are the old guard, the Snopes and the Politifact, which have simply gained a new lease of life during the past year. And then there are heavier duty systems, designed by academics, such as the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) and the German Marshall Fund’s Hamilton 68.

The two cover similar topics – namely the far-right and Russia – but present it in different ways. Hamilton 68 is  more back-end, studying a group of Kremlin/alt-right Twitter accounts and offering users statistics such as trending hashtags in their group as well as top domains and daily Tweet counts.  By contrast, the DFRLab’s work is more about verifying news stories: whilst some focus on the archetypal misinformation campaign, other articles have used tweets, videos and NASA data to track potential arson by Ukrainian separatists. 

The existence of these systems are important to a general public more wary of legacy news media – they offer expert insight without the taint which arrogant and myopic media giants brought upon themselves over the past year. But defeating computational propaganda amongst the converted may be beyond even their capacity. For a committed, core following, Hamilton 68 and the DFRLab are embodiments of the great liberal menace, with or without lashings of anti-Semitism and anti-Communism. For those convinced the academy is blinded by liberal bias, an emphasis on expertise is ripe for accusations of conspiracy.

And even worse is the simple fact that computational propagandists don’t like being contradicted – and they have ways to make this clear. As the New York Times reported,  ProPublica’s work exposing pro-Trump/pro-Kremlin networks saw their reporters targeted and their inboxes knocked out of action. Not quite physical violence, perhaps, but as the Times argues, it’s only part of a wider belief that journalism which doesn’t fit one agenda is not journalism at all, but a personal attack on the propagandists (and by association their audience).  The ‘democratising’ effect of the internet has not merely given the world the right to reply, but also offers the capacity to silence troublesome voices.

The context collapse over the past year – the movement of political issues from a public sphere into a private one – has been the basis of computational propaganda, and its greatest strength: it immures it from criticism, and legitimises its excesses. How this is altered remains to be seen, but until it is, all the fact-checking in the world won’t be able to break misinformation’s hold over a concerning proportion of its readers.

Read more

Explainer: VPN Shutdown
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Dimitry B. Flickr manoeuvre (CC BY 2.0) – The view of Pudong, Shanghai

To call the Chinese government approach to the internet ‘hands-on’ might just be an understatement. The ‘Great Firewall of China’ is widely reckoned as one of the most wide-reaching examples of internet regulation, with control so great censors censors can now block messages server-side (a feature The Register reported had been used in the wake of Liu Xiaobo). Now, the state is turning its immense digital firepower on to virtual private networks (VPNs), the secure connections which offer users anonymity and obscure their IP address.

The country has long held that accessing banned sites (a mixture of major Western and domestic sites which are classed as ‘seditious’) even by VPN was a crime. The latest decision (set to kick in early next year) is to ban all personal VPNs. At the same time, it will limit corporate access to VPNs, giving state oversight of the connections. The government’s decision is a significant one, both for politics and business.

Amongst the suggestions for the timing and motivation behind the manoeuvre came from reporting on the earlier decision to ban encrypted messaging system WhatsApp – a desire for censors to impress Communist party elites ahead of a major reshuffle. Similar motivations might explain why the Chinese government put pressure on Apple to remove VPN apps from their store earlier in the month. On the other hand, this fits a broad pattern which the internet censors have taken to slowly tighten up restrictions. Whilst often more subtle (essentially denying users access in such a way that it is not clear what they are missing), the loophole which VPNs offer is clearly a significant one.

There are economic implications to the decision as well. VPNs, as a method of secure communications, are a fixture of corporate life. The Chinese government’s coming crackdown may not be targeted at businesses, but it remains unclear what status companies (both domestic and foreign) will have. It appears that the level of security and anonymity offered by the VPN will be essentially traded in for connections heavily policed by the state.

That being said, there is one apparent beneficiary of the artificially limits on accessing foreign websites: China’s own tech industry. Already, giants like Alibaba and JD.com have succeeded in carving out massive e-commerce industries (China providing the largest percentage of online sales this year, overtaking America). Whilst in the long – or even medium – run, we’re likely to see these turn out to be giants with feet of clay, heavier policing on VPNs at least secures their position in the Chinese market against potential outside competition.

That’s not to say that Facebook and other Western websites won’t continue trying to access the Chinese market, as the case of ‘Colorful Balloons’ shows. It’s a ‘stealth app’, essentially a clone of Facebook’s Moments app with the logo sanded off and accessible through WeChat, the primary Chinese messenger service. 

Colorful Balloons has not been a rousing success, as Quartz reported – probably both because the team behind it went out of their way to keep it nondescript, and also because Weibo, the primary Chinese social media site, is an entrenched alternative. Still, whether the coming VPN crackdown might encourage other Western tech companies to invest in stealth apps in order to keep a more legal foothold in China remains unclear.

China isn’t the only country to realise the advantages of banning of VPNs of late. Russia’s law against Virtual Private Networks and attempts to hide users’ identities, will come into effect in November. Whilst the Kremlin was quick to deny this would affect law-abiding citizens, the situation presents the same problems for foreign businesses and local residents alike. Whether other heavily policed states, such as Iran, close the loophole of VPNs, is conjecture for now – but it’s hard not to imagine that they are watching.

Read more

The Age of Babel?
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The fear that the internet would be reduced to a overload of information is not new.  In scholarship, it was codified at least 11 years ago, in Yochai Benkler’s fairly ground breaking The Wealth of Networks. The Babel problem, as Benkler dubs it, essentially argues that when everyone is allowed to shout, either no-one gets heard, or money comes to determine who is. In short, it’s either information overload, or the ‘old pay to play’ model of mass media.

Benkler is not a full-on cyber-utopian, but back in 2006 – the year Twitter launched, and when Facebook and YouTube were still in their infancy – he certainly painted a rosy picture of the web to come. It was to overthrow mass media (not inaccurate), turn passive consumers into active prosumers (very accurate), and encourage an open-source ideology would overcome our obsession with copyright (yes and no). The overall effect of the networked information economy, as he dubbed it, would be far preferable to what had come before. The Babel problem would be overcome through the power of the commons, just as the old dominance of mass media would be diminished.

This was before the Arab Spring, of course, when it became distressingly clear that despots could use the internet as effectively as dissidents. And it was well before we discovered that computational propaganda (the use of bots as political weapons) could help bring American democracy into dispute.

It feels a bit like we’ve hit peak Babel today. There’s a fragmentation of readership which we are seeing in America and across Europe, in part driven by a massive proliferation of news sources (not all of them terribly professional or acting in good faith). Levels of trust in the MSM, on both the left and the right, seem to waver. At the same time, the problem of differentiating between political activism and journalism has become quite acute. And, of course, there is that stench of money hanging in the balance – the allegations about the Seth Rich story being driven by Fox and the White House, sounds like nothing but good old fashioned pay to play journalism.

But is it fair to judge the internet as the greater divider? Benkler, in The Wealth of Nations, makes clear that he thinks the success of the networked information economy should be measured against the current mass media market. The usual benchmark, the high idealism of John Perry Barlow’s ‘A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’, was rejected by its own author in 2004 to be fair.

Certainly, the erosion of mass media has allowed unsavoury elements to creep in from the fringes – but it has also given space for projects which wouldn’t have found a place when the traditional newsroom held a monopoly over information. Snopes and similar independent fact-checking organisations exist in a symbiotic relationship with media: they point out falsehoods, and the media publicises it. Similarly, we’re seeing the development projects like Hamilton 68 (which I hope to write more about in the future), a tool for tracking networks of bots and pro-Russian accounts on Twitter. Is it journalism? Not exactly. Is it a platform for journalists, as well as for civil society and ordinary citizens? Certainly.

In essence, the Babel problem seems to have provided its own upside. A mass media which cannot rely on simply saying ‘it’s right because I say so’ has gained adjutants to help say ‘it’s right because of so-and-so’. The much lower margin to entering the new media landscape, which Benkler pointed out even in 2006, means that you don’t have to pay to play any more, giving new space for hobbyists and amateurs to take their spot alongside the old timers.

This still doesn’t solve the problem of how we deal with a fragmented readership. The best argument might be to simply acknowledge that the cat’s out of the bag, has caught the train, and is already well on its way to the airport. The days of reliance on a few channels and a few newspapers are long dead. It’s a reality that the mass media might not like, but the simple fact is that ‘rebuilding’ a relatively broad audience which existed even twenty years ago is wishful thinking at best. We can expose ourselves to more ideas and more opinions, and the news establishment simply has to adapt to this.

Of course, when some those ideas are deleterious (see: Pizzagate), that’s not necessarily a good thing. No-one’s ever thought it was a good idea for pubs to start serving pints of paint stripper and bleach in the name of variety and freedom of choice, after all. And when these ideas are being presented as having equal validity to good science or rigorous journalism, you’ve got another problem altogether. What Benkler observed back in 2006 – and which should come as surprise to no-one today – is that the subclusters of political sites had stronger connections within themselves than to opposing viewpoints. When these bipartisan ties fray and finally snap, we get echo chambers. So in a sense, the Babel problem, with the resultant weakening of the legacy media and the explosion of spurious online resources, might be what’s at the heart of the conspiracy theories and political zealotry we’re seeing today.

There is encouragement to be had that we’re taking measures to see across the aisle. The New York Times runs a section featuring conservative stories in order to break the echo chamber. These were not discussions that were had in the past, when audiences were homogenised, because the need was not so apparent. Back then, though, we would never think about going out of our way to read what the other side is putting out. Today, with so many voices to listen to dodging the Babel problem and staying out of echo chambers is harder than ever. But at the least, we’re thinking about how to fight it.

 

Read more

Thought Leadership: Marketing Automation Is Your Secret Weapon
Reading Time: 3 minutes

automation and thought leadership

The phrase marketing automation has been gaining traction for quite a while now. That’s not much of a surprise. Marketing automation reduces time spent on repetitive marketing workflows. It gives great breadth of individualisation based on actionable insights. It ensures a personalised relationship with each customer at scale. It can increase revenue, it suits all kinds of businesses: B2B or B2C.

Now, smart organisations and individuals are looking at other uses of marketing automation. – as a tool to build brand authority and thought leadership through segmented campaigns, drip marketing, and curation.

Marketing Automation For Brand Authority

How can marketing automation apply to building brand authority and thought leadership?

Marketing automation leverages aggregated content to deliver relevant content directly to your audience. It help boosts your brand as influencers in your field by giving your audiences valuable content.

Marketers will be familiar with automation. Some will already have experience with it.

We define marketing automation as: “marketing automation lets you automatically send the right message to the most receptive users at a time that is convenient for them…” Marketing automation is the cornerstone to helping your business survive and thrive.

Preparing your strategy in becoming a thought leader depends on your chosen field. It may need TV spots, publications or speaking opportunities. Yet, It’s clear that for any business based online, a robust online presence is vital. Marketing automation is the point on which your online presence can hinge.

Remind Me, What Is Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation is software that automates tasks. It is applied to email, social, content channels, lead generation, metrics and management activities. It often combines insights from CRM, analytics and systems relevant to your business to drive leads.

It’s no secret we are big fans of automation. The Element Wave platform is designed for automating marketing experiences, especially on mobile. And Cronycle allows users to push curated content from RSS and Twitter direct to your website. We’ve seen automation work firsthand.

Marketing automation enables stronger communication. It lets marketers align their business with the needs and interests of their customers. It builds authority and helps position your brand as a thought leader.

Using Automation Effectively

Are you looking to utilise marketing automation to develop your position as a thought leader? We have these best practice tips to follow:

  • Are you an expert in marketing, baking, photography? Establishing long-term brand authority requires consistency. An automated email course can share your knowledge and deliver value to your sign-ups.
  • Automated email marketing gives a one-to-one connection with your audience. Newsletters with dynamic personalisation aligns your content with your audience profiles and preferences. A/B test, run reports and see what works. These drip campaigns do the hard work for you.
  • Mobile marketing automation delivers granular-level personal details to build contextual interactions with your audience. Drilling down into your user data, you can supply content to app users based on more than their interests. You can use their recent interactions and behaviours as triggers for your content.
  • Build up your customer profiles and use those to deliver in-depth authoritative content. Automatic tracking provides an understanding of each customer’s interests, habits and behaviours. Utilising long-term engagement loops means your customer profiles are always updated.
  • Segmentation is a no-brainer step for delivering brand authority. You can find out what works for your users and apply it to your content cycles. Use rules to separate your users into the groups relevant to your content and share it with them to help cement your status as an expert.
  • Marketing automation as part of your promotion cycle. Brand authority comes as a result of your content reaching the right people on the right channel. Adding your highest-performing content to your promotion cycle ensures it reaches new audiences.
  • Curate other expert content with marketing automation. Automate content from an RSS or content reader like Cronycle or Feedly to your chosen marketing automation tool. This helps release the burden of manual campaign creation.
  • Marketing automation display constant business activity. It shows that you’re putting in the work, showcasing your ability and talent.

At some point, as your business grows, you’ll need to look beyond the spreadsheets and email addresses that fuel your persona file.

If you’re making a concerted effort to build your brand identity as a thought leader, let marketing automation do the heavy lifting for you.


About the author

Cáit Power is Mobile CRM Team Lead for Element Wave. We make incredible technology that powers mobile marketing automation. Cáit’s background is in mobile marketing, journalism and travel.

Read more

The Best Five Tools to Create Awesome Email Newsletters
Reading Time: 3 minutes

email newsletter tools

When it comes to email marketing tools there are thousands of options to choose from. The one size fits all approach doesn’t quite cut it. The best tool will depend on the size of your company, what you would like to achieve, your budget and etc. There is a lot to consider. The following list will give you a run-down of the tools that tick a lot the boxes.

AWeber

AWeber is an email automation tool. This newsletter tool helps you build campaigns with easy to use templates. The tool has a WYSIWYG editor which is an excellent feature for front-end web designers. AWeber also provides email marketing classes on strategy and audience building tactics.

Features include:

  • Autoresponder capability with advanced scheduling
  • Third party integration
  • Spam check program
  • Advanced subscriber forms
  • Import contacts
  • Free templates and stock photos
  • Track emails to analyse your marketing campaign

Pricing: Unlimited emails at $19 a month for up to 500 subscribers

Publicate

This tool has everything you need to send out epic content to your readers. It integrates with tools like HubSpot, MailChimp, Gmail, Outlook and Cronycle. Publicate has an easy-to-use drag and drop editor that allows you to push your favourite content to newsletters and webpages.

Features include:

  • Simple drag and drop editor
  • Mobile responsive HTML
  • Easy to create, customisable mobile responsive HTML templates
  • All your content and favourite sources, in one place for easy management
  • Integrates with Feedly, Slack, Chrome, Pocket and more

Pricing: Get access to unlimited emails, integrations and analytics from $15 a month

Campaign Monitor

Campaign Monitor is powerful email marketing and automation tool aimed at businesses. It uses a drag and drop builder with fully customisable design. With the A/B testing tool, you can test out subject lines and optimise to boost click through rates.

Features include:

  • Hundreds of email templates
  • Send out targeted messages using audience data
  • Track, test and optimise
  • Seamless integration with CRMs systems

Pricing: Get basic email support at $9 a month, send 2500 email to a list of 500 people

iContact

The tool is designed to manage your business contacts and add them to your email list. It integrates with CRMs like Salesforce to use data and segment the audience. iContact helps you send out social updates via Twitter and Facebook to help you connect with your audience.

Features include:

  • Easy-to-use email campaign management
  • Social Media Scheduler
  • Spam Check
  • Manage audience lists

Pricing: Send out emails to 500 contacts at $14 a month

Mad Mimi

Mad Mimi is known for simplifying email campaigns. Edit emails with ease and see quick stats. Create drip campaigns for customer engagement with Mad Mimi.

Features include:

  • Customised themes
  • Add contacts via CSV files or paste from a spreadsheet
  • Integrate forms direct to your website
  • Track real time for links
  • SSL security to ensure mail delivery to subscribers

Pricing: Plan out sending emails to 500 contacts at $10 a month

What’s Next?

Pick the one suited to your needs and build awareness, boost engagement and generate leads with the right newsletter tool.

We’d love to hear about your choice of tools. Get in touch!


About The Author:

Lavanya Loomba is a content writer and marketer. He covers topics related to content marketing and innovations in the world of social media. He also loves making cartoons and painting t-shirts in his spare time.

You can connect with him on Linkedin and also view some of his work here.

Read more

How one piece of content had over 850,000 page views
Reading Time: 5 minutes

How 1 piece of content got thousands of views

At Mykidstime we’ve been working on a specific content strategy for the last 2 years, which has yielded results for our business, won us awards and ended up exceeding our expectations. Today I’m going to tell you the story of how one particular piece of content has had over 850,000 page views. It’s a fun story but it’s also interesting in terms of dissecting why it has been so successful.

The Last Time Poem

The content in question is a piece called “The Last Time Poem”. It’s a sentimental poem about the last time that parents do things for their child.

We knew from our community on social media that parents love sentimental content but what’s been amazing is that the content to date has had 852,452 page views and over 80,000 social shares.

Clearly, people love it but what’s really interesting is the process of how it came about and some key things that helped to drive the success.

best articles huge views

 

Targeted Content

If you are writing content for your business then you need to target that content at your end users, your customers, your prospects, your avatars/personas.

The more targeted the content is to the audience the more likely it is to interest them.

In our experience on Mykidstime there are 5 motivations for people reading content.

  • It engages their emotions. Whether that emotion is sentimentality about their kids as in the case of our content piece, or anger, or joy, or whatever emotion you are aiming for people to have, people love to be touched emotionally in some way.
  • It solves a problem. Why else are those life hacks content pieces that you see all the time online and on social media so shared? Because people love solving annoying problems they have in their life.
  • It adds value to their life. This could be saving them time or making them a better person, for example, so when we write content, we are competing with a million other things that people could read or look at or watch online, so adding value to their lives will make your content more likely to be read than not.
  • A very powerful catalyst. People want to know that they are not missing out. So we see this on Mykidstime in content that is about being a better parent or things to tell your teenager – the reader wants to read it to make sure they aren’t missing out somehow.
  • It amuses. Another strong contender to getting people to read, people like to be amused and funny content works well in terms of shareability.

You then have to pay attention to other factors such as title, visual, where you will distribute your content but your starting point is who is the target reader you are writing for and how can we hit one of those 5 things on our content.

Social to Content to Social

Using social media to listen to your community then delivering the content they enjoy back to them is a virtuous cycle. (Think crowd sourcing tips, for example,  which you then use to write a blog post and share back out again to your community.) Here’s what happened with The Last Time Poem:

We posted a text version of the poem on our Mykidstime Facebook page and we noticed that it had a great reaction – lots of comments and likes and shares.

So we decided to create a blog post on our WordPress website.

Finally we reshared the blog post back out on Facebook. Again great reaction and lots of comments, like and shares.

We continue to reshare this particular blog post link regularly on our social channels.

When you see that content has resonated with your audience, it’s important to continue sharing it out on a regular basis. So looking at your Google Analytics to see what content has been most viewed on your website, where the traffic has come from to that content, and including it then in your social media content schedule is a key piece.

The importance of the visual

With any online content nowadays it’s important to choose a strong visual as the lead image. We found a retro black and white image of a mother kissing her child that harked back to childhood and felt nostalgic.

An ideal lead visual should tell the browser at a glance what the piece is about. If you need to, you can add your content title to the image (and branding too), this will also increase the chances of turning the browser into a reader.

With online attention spans now being less than 8 seconds according to a study carried out by researchers at University of Western Ontario’s Brain and Mind Institute, it’s important that you choose your visual carefully to maximise the opportunity you have when people see it. And that the visual along with the title or headline entices action too.

[quoter color=”plum”]So the easier the user experience is for them to share your content, the more chance you have of driving results from your content.[/quoter]

The Importance of Social Sharing

Another element to the success of our content has been the social sharing plugins on our website. They make it easy for people to like and share our content across social platforms they use.

After all, we see it all the time on Facebook don’t we?! People share on Facebook because the platform has made it super easy to share content, all the user has to do is click that share option under the post and one further click has it spreading out to their network.

So the easier the user experience is for them to share your content on your own website, the more chance you have of driving results from your content.

And by the way, when you publish a new content piece, you should social share it straight away as that helps search engines to see that it has validity.

Don’t forget SEO

Building in keywords into your content also helps drive results. If you google “the last time poem” our link comes up first. This has helped bring traffic and drive out the content. So don’t forget to do your SEO basics like hitting keywords, structuring well etc.

Google and other search engines now look at the social shares as a measure of how relevant people found the content and as we know, relevance is king when it comes to SEO.

So to summarise, targeted content with a strong visual coupled with smart social media distribution – your own social channels and social plugins to encourage sharing – are keys to hitting wow results with your content.


About Author:

Jill Holtz is co-founder of award-winning parents’ website www.mykidstime.com and new B2B digital marketing website www.digital4sales.com. Jill can be found on LinkedIn at https://ie.linkedin.com/in/jillholtz and Twitter at www.twitter.com/jill_holtz and you can find Mykidstime and Digital4Sales on social at:

Facebook at www.facebook.com/mykidstime
Twitter at www.twitter.com/mykidstime www.twitter.com/digital4sales
Instagram at www.instagram.com/mykidstime www.instagram.com/digital4sales

Read more

How to use the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse & Recycle to create effective content
Reading Time: 5 minutes

repurpose content

In this article, we’ll show you how to create compelling and effective content using the three R methodology – Reduce, Reuse & Recycle.

Reduce

Creating valuable content isn’t all fun and games. Publishing top notch content and meeting deadlines can get a bit hectic at times. Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Even the best authors at times have published content they are not very proud of.

So why not combat the frustration, by reducing the content creation time?

Establishing a workflow

To put it simply, a workflow is a checklist of steps required to create and publish content. Workflows save time as they set a pre-defined path to follow, it ensures your efforts contribute to the larger organisational goals and keeps everyone on the same page.

A workflow includes the following:

  • Identifying a theme or topic
  • Gathering the stakeholders involved
  • Assigning the role of content governance
  • Identifying the distribution channels of content
  • Content optimisation for search engines
  • Setting up deadlines for publication
  • Promotion and amplification of content

Tools to your rescue – Trello, Meister task

Setting up guidelines

Following particular guidelines for creating and managing content, reduces the hindrances in content creation and even boosts creativity. When digital guidelines are positioned correctly, they help provide better content experience to your audience.

You can setup guidelines for editorial, design and delivery. If you miss out on the benchmarks, you can turn to the guidelines for answers.

Guidelines you can use for reference:

Editorial – How to set up editorial guidelines, writing and citation styles

Content – How to structure content for a web page

Design – Brand guidelines, type of images to be used

Delivery – Distributing content via a distribution platform

Tools to your rescue –  DivyHQ, WriteWell, Marketing.ai

Analyze data

There is no better way to find out what type of content is a hit or miss. Look at the analytics data to see what type of content is under-performing. Use data to enhance customer experience and streamline the content creation process.

A data-driven content strategy generates nearly five times more revenue than a standard content marketing tactic.

Tools to your rescue –  Buzzsumo, Google Analytics

[quoter color=”yellow”]The posts which remain evergreen are one of the strong contenders to repurpose[/quoter]

Reuse

The main idea behind reusing or repurposing content is to take something you have created and give it a fresh spin. You might already have a content pool from your blog. Dig into your metrics to find out the top posts with views, time spent on the website and social engagement.

If an article is well informative, make sure to do a quick editing before re-publishing. The posts which remain evergreen are one of the strong contenders to repurpose.

Update existing content

Actively review and change the existing articles to match the needs of today. New information about a particular topic might make your content piece look outdated. To stay relevant in search results and keep fresh content for your readers, update the existing articles.

The focus is to entice customers to visit your website by consistently delivering updated information. Find out what content you can expand on in context to the current industry scenario to get more eyes on your blog.

Social media

Look for unique content which can be used beyond the social networks. Platforms like Facebook and Snapchat let you download content which can be used to grow and create an audience.

Let’s say you create a Facebook live video and do a quick Q/A with your customers. You can later download the video and convert it to a blog post answering the specific questions and also giving an overall view of the topic.

The benefit to repurposing content from social media is that you already have an idea of what your audiences engage with. You can further utilize that content piece to gain an additional audience.

Reformat

There are different mediums you can use to convert the content you’ve created.

Some of the different formats you can use to go the extra mileage includes the following:

  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • Emails
  • PDFs
  • Podcast / Webinar
  • Live stream
  • GIFs
  • Ebook
  • Forum / Discussion
  • Case study
  • Testimonials
  • Emails
  • Remarketing ad
  • Quiz, Poll, contest

With this approach, you can make most of your content accessible and more immersive for your audience.

[quoter color=”yellow”]Collaborating creates a positive brand perception and is a good opportunity to create more audience[/quoter]

Recycle

Recycling content is a process which makes it possible to create new assets out from the existing ones. You can easily face-lift the content previously created, turn them into bite-sized chunks and reap long-term rewards.

Syndicate

Using syndication networks, can get more views to your content. Websites like Business 2 Community, allow you to syndicate content previously created. Popular paid networks include Outbrain, Zemanta and Taboola which use your content to send it across various websites.

Benefits include:

  • Reach out to more potential customers
  • Get more organic traffic
  • Stop worrying about creating content
  • Focus more on amplification

You cannot ignore these benefits as it makes your content work again and again.

Collaboration

Unleash the power of content with collaborations. As the customers you want are already the fans or followers of a brand, you have the opportunity to build a trusted relation with them. You can pool in the audience of the other company to create content which will drive demand for the products you offer.

Creating great content which impacts an audience isn’t easy, you along with a partner can successfully leverage a bright idea to build relationships.

Avis, a car rental company produced a video in collaboration with TOMS shoes, as both brands share a common impression and social values.

Collaborating creates a positive brand perception and is a good opportunity to create more audience.

Curate user generated content

Accelerate your content marketing efforts with user-generated content (UGC). Drive results with content which is real and proven. It can be in the form of pictures, videos, tweets, blog posts and is the result of users promoting the brand.

Coke’s campaign dubbed as ‘Share a Coke’ took all over the world, and for increased engagement, customers were asked to share photos of themselves enjoying the drink. The campaign resulted in thousands of UGC content which promoted the business and enhanced the brand’s image.

Tools to help you curate like a pro include Curalate, EngageSciences, Janrain, Cronycle.

Less is more

Using the three R’s with a mix of effort and creativity lets you use the existing content assets to weave magic and go the extra mile.


About The Author:

Lavanya Loomba is a content writer and marketer. He covers topics related to content marketing and innovations in the world of social media. He also loves making cartoons and painting t-shirts in his spare time.

You can connect with him on Linkedin and also view some of his work here.

Read more

The Best Examples of Content Marketing for Retention and Loyalty
Reading Time: 4 minutes

examples of content marketing for retention and loyalty

We live in a time where providing only a great product or service is not enough to retain and create loyal customers. To keep your business up and running, content is your most valuable and go-to resource.

“Content is King”, is one of the most popular sayings in the digital world.

So, how is content important for customer retention?

A business thrives on its customers. They are the single most building block for healthy business growth. Selling a product can be considered a goal, but customer retention should be the long term objective. A satisfied customer can turn an evangelist for your business and return more for the services you offer.

The cost of acquisition of a new customer is five times more than maintaining existing customers.

[quoter color=”plum”]Content is your most valuable and go-to resource[/quoter]

By creating content keeping customers in mind you are in an advantageous position to retain customers by offering them a favorable experience. If you reward customers with a good experience, they may return the favor by promoting your product.

Great content examples

The perfect content model works at the intersection of fulfilling customer’s need and achieving business goals. Let us take a closer look at the best content marketing examples for customer retention and loyalty.

HubSpot – Helping marketers deliver targeted content

The inbound sales and marketing platform creates online content for marketers daily.

HubSpot blog covers topics related to marketing and sales to attract over 2 million monthly visitors. HubSpot specifically targets users across a range of marketing topics and uses magnets and gated content to maximise the goal of procuring leads. The broad spectrum includes well-organized content with guides, eBooks and templates.

Work like the Hubspot model and break your blog content into several different topics followed by compelling lead generation magnets to ensure customers are engaged.

GoPro – Adventure is fun with these cameras

Video content has now become the primary mode of communication amongst online users. 64% of users are likely to buy a product after watching a related video.

GoPro is dubbed to be the world’s most versatile camera. Getting your target audience to work for you has been one of the quickest ways to grow a business and GoPro has perfected the art of putting customer as the hero.

Users upload their adventurous journey captured with GoPro, which is then used to entice potential customers with an array of viral videos.

The video of fireman Cory Kalanick rescuing a kitten from a burning house received over 20 million views on YouTube.

From GoPro we learn about the type of content which resonates with the audience and how it can be leveraged to bring back more customers.

General Electric – Humanizing Tech

This company has innovation in its genes. GE is changing the face of the future and pushing the boundaries of content. GE believes in innovation and covers the topic in a unique way by experimenting with various content formats.

This gives them the chance to select the right stories and put it across in a new angle.

GE has always been among the first brands to adopt new social media functionalities.  From GE using drones to producing podcast, the brand is consistently experimenting.

This makes GE produce interesting content across relevant platforms and meet the audiences demand. Tailoring content to the specific platform is the key to staying relevant in an information overloaded world.

[quoter color=”plum”]Creating content and presenting in a unique digestible format can easily grab the attention of your customer[/quoter]

NYT – Keeping users engaged leveraging IT

New York Times, a print media paper has also taken over the digital world.

It is setting an example for how to package an old medium to a modern cutting-edge world.

NYT introduced Virtual Reality (VR) to create an immersive experience for its customers. With the introduction of VR, NYT presented its audience a new way of presenting content.

Creating content and presenting in a unique digestible format can easily grab the attention of your customer.

Tactics for customer retention

  • Learn about your customers’ interests

How about creating a frictionless experience by identifying customers’ interests?

Businesses lose a customer because they cannot interpret the buying behavior.

For example, if a customer has to go through a series of steps for completing an online purchase, a drop in checkout rate might be seen. To optimize conversions, knowing what a customer would like to see will help you create a favorable user experience.

  • Don’t just sell, inform your customers

What about the latest industry news or a technique which could save time? The need to inform the customer to take the right action is more important than ever. Actionable insights which make a customer help correct or improve an action is key. Do not be sales focused, inform the customer about how your product can work wonders for him or her.

  • Employee advocacy

Looked under the hood?

Did you find the most under-utilized assets?

Yes, the employees. Serving as advocates for your brand, personalized customer experience can be easily delivered. Employees can share their passion with the customers by offering prompt customer service and also cross-sell products while interacting with them.

  • Solve a Problem for Your Customers

Why would anyone buy your product if it doesn’t help them achieve any of their goals?

Retention is the byproduct of a great service to help solve the customers’ problem. You’ll able to gain loyalty as you become the problem solver.

[quoter color=”plum”]Leveraging content marketing for customer retention requires a long term strategic approach of providing valuable content to your audience.[/quoter]

  • Keep your audience informed

Added a new feature to a product, fixed bugs in the existing software or offering discount, keep the audience informed about what you are working on. This will help keep them engaged and well-informed. Improve your product offering, encourage participation and also beta test your products by inviting your audience.

Over to you

Take time to understand how the customers perceive your product. A happy customer drives the success of an organization and leads them to another loyal customer. Leveraging content marketing for customer retention requires a long term strategic approach of providing valuable content to your audience.

Create loyal followers and grow your business using content suited to your customers’ needs.


About The Author:

Lavanya Loomba is a content writer and marketer. He covers topics related to content marketing and innovations in the world of social media. He also loves making cartoons and painting t-shirts in his spare time.

You can connect with him on Linkedin and also view some of his work here.

Read more

Four Types of Content Curation Ideas
Reading Time: 4 minutes

content curation for content ideas

‘The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.’’ –  Bill Gates

The beauty of the internet is that you can learn about anything you like. With an abundant of information out there, you can learn how to code or speak a new language, all just a click of a button.

You can also share what you like with your peers and friends. But finding stuff to share is an art we call ‘Curation.’ Curation is the act of selecting, refining and arranging to add value to the content you like. The concept of curation is interesting, as we relate it to a museum curator who is responsible for managing and showcasing cultural collections.

If you too are looking to develop that showcasing skills to your friends or followers, learn all about the art of curation and ideas to help you get started.

Content Curation & The Marketing Mix

Let’s take an example of Facebook. You might have hundreds or even thousands of friends on the social platform. But do see the posts from all of your friends at the same time, well is almost impossible to know about what each of your friends is sharing. So Facebook, introduced its algorithm update to bring the curated content of the friends you interact with. Similarly curating content over the web and integrating it into the marketing mix is now becoming popular.

Primarily because of the following reasons:

1)    Fewer resources required

Though it doesn’t mean that curation is free, it still requires curators to dig out content from the internet mine.

2)    Save time

Creating content requires you to have a proper framework for understanding the requirement to proofreading for content quality. This requires a lot of time. Curation, on the other hand, can help you dedicate the same time to uncover great content.

3)    Developing relationships

Curation is another great way to develop a connection with different brands. By linking and sharing the content developed by other organizations, you can easily get noticed. This gives you can chance to establish a relation with the brand and leveraging it for sharing your voice.

4)    The Human element

Surely search engines are a way to help you find content on the web. But a pair of human eyes viewing and sharing content also adds tremendous value. Take forums like Quora where people answer the questions posted by other users. This adds the element of human touch to the conversation, along with the discovery of useful content which might have otherwise been missed out.

5)  Building Authority

By curating content from top niche websites, you are bound to become an authority. With the result of increased website visits and subscriber base. 

[quoter color=”yellow”]The internet is a vast ocean of content so finding valuable content is a crucial task[/quoter]

Finding Great Content

The internet is a vast ocean of content so finding valuable content is a crucial task.  Spotify has over 30 million songs and 100 million users’ monthly users but even then there are soundtracks which have never been streamed. To solve the problem, Spotify acquired The Echo nest, a music discovery platform in 2014.

The same goes for you, how do plan to discover content. So, let’s dive into how you can find epic content on the internet and become a rock star curator.

Types of Content Curation Ideas

  • News aggregators

Also known as RSS (Rich site summary) reader, they were first launched in 1999 by Internet browser Netscape. One of the first popular sites using this technology was the New York times and today websites commonly use RSS feeds to give readers their latest content.

With the aggregation technology, the content of different websites is consolidated onto a single page, which reduces the time and effort required to hunt down new content. In addition to reading content, you also can retrieve the updated information as and when required. There is no dearth of news aggregation websites which allow you to aggregate content related to your targeted niche.

News aggregator websites include: Pocket, Feedly, Cronycle, Alltop, Popurls, Flipboard

  • Curation Platforms

Content curation platforms consistently help you find, organize, annotate and publish the content for your target market, so no more fear of missing out. Curation platforms can help you and your team of content creators and editors to manage and publish content successfully. There are a variety of curation platforms out there, so you’ll need to determine your objectives of selecting a platform.

Curation platforms include: Curata, Scoopit, Paper.li, Storify, Drumup

  • Follow Influencers

Influencers are the people who have an established fan base. Take, for example, Kim Kardashian; she has a loyal fan base. So, any product she endorses has the potential of becoming a massive hit. Tapping the content created by these influencers is also a way to target your audience.

Pro Tip: Using Twitter and IFTTT recipe to track influencer mentions. Select an influencer you want to target and IFTTT will help track that mention on Twitter. You can later re-use the content published by the influencer as a round-up post.

  • Social Bookmarking sites

Social bookmarking sites are used by people to discuss and share content they like. These sites also serve as a platform for discussion and provides you an edge over the discovery of content via an algorithmic search engine.

It is another way to give your content a human touch as these sites let you find how users feel about the particular piece of content. Get content inspiration, find out what resonates with your audience, what makes them laugh and share a content piece. With these sites, you can find the highest performing content of all time.

Social bookmarking sites include: Reddit, Digg, Newsvine, StumbleUpon

[quoter color=”pink”]If you can be that source of precise information, you are likely to become the leader in your industry[/quoter]

Over to You

2.5 quintillion bytes of data (which is equivalent to 2.5 Billion GB) is created every day. This data comprises of social media posts, tweets, images and WhatsApp messages to name some of the few. As 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the past few years, the need for expert curation is more than ever before.

If you can be that source of precise information, you are likely to become the leader in your industry.

Keep Curating awesome content!


About The Author:

Lavanya Loomba is a content writer and marketer. He covers topics related to content marketing and innovations in the world of social media. He also loves making cartoons and painting t-shirts in his spare time.

You can connect with him on Linkedin and also view some of his work here.  

Read more

The new rules for content on mobile
Reading Time: 4 minutes

write for mobile

The current state of content consumption looks a little like this: Mobile devices are dominating. Attention spans are shorter (are you still reading?) Thumbs are in near-constant scrolling motion and smartphones are multi-tasking. 80% of internet users have a smartphone. According to data from just last year, 68% of all emails were opened on a mobile device. Of those 52% were on smartphones and nearly 42% on an iPhone.

Traffic on mobile is outstripping desktop for a lot of the world’s leading brands. This is where content becomes your ally. Understanding the mobile consumer and their content needs and wants will help you drive conversions and long-term value. When we refer to mobile it includes the likes of – push notifications, SMS, in-app messages, email and mobile landing pages. In general terms, these channels share some similarities to desktop. It’s the subtle differences you should focus on. Getting these right can be the breaking point for your brand’s success on mobile.

Understanding

Following your customer traffic on mobile as you would on desktop and managing those customer workflows helps you pinpoint what to send and when. These consumer journeys are intimate and content needs to adhere to the new rules for mobile: where and when it’s being seen, and what’s the purpose?

According to Deloitte, a quarter of UK Smartphone users reach for their mobile within five minutes of waking up and half within the first 15 minutes. Homescreens are effectively the new point of contact for users. Take some time to learn what your consumers want and how they are getting there.

Set your metrics and follow-through. Monitor when your users are most active: perhaps it’s an early commute time and your media app wants to deliver a full morning round up? Retailers should look at in-app cart additions and follow-up with a personalised coupon to gently reinforce the call-to-action to buy. Sporting organisations can monitor timing and watch for peaks and troughs. This could be at match-time or when a team gets press coverage. Learn about your mobile consumer in the context of your vertical.

Personalisation

A one-size-fits all strategy no longer applies. Mobile consumers expect content and engagement based on their interests. Media brands like the New York Times and Guardian Mobile Labs use personalization to tailor to their audiences. Data based on demographics, geographics or behaviour can and should be used to adapt content to your audience. In the betting and gaming vertical, at Element Wave we’ve seen the impact of this in numerous ways; one example is sending content about multi bets to bettors who have previously placed these types of bets. The results were seven times as many multi bets placed in comparison to control groups.

Consumers expect information that is relevant to them. Individualisation at scale is the key to success. Not only does personalisation ease the buying process, but consumers are coming to expect it built-in.

Personalisation triggers

Adding app users, or mobile web page viewers to specific groups and sending personalised content can be the difference between conversion and abandonment. Base your content around user behaviour: In retail apps, play with sale messaging for users who visited a minimum number of pages for the same user or trigger messages as a result of a specific app action; page visit or add-to-cart. Prioritising specific content for mobile users will increase your conversions and drive consumers towards your business goals.

Multi-channel

Data says that users jump from channel to channel during the buying cycle. MyBuys says 66% of consumers use more than one device during a buying cycle. Oftentime consumers will add to cart on mobile and finish their experience on another device. Brands should look at making it as simple as possible to complete an action with one click.

Practical tips for writing for mobile

  • Use Action Words: using strong words creates urgency and taps into the psychology of app users. Reach out with words like: ‘limited supply’, ‘closing soon’, and ‘you’ and ‘yours’ to increase conversions.
  • Calls-to-action: Does each piece of content do something? Does it guide the user with ease to the next step in their journey? Whether the aim is to read more or browse a retail page, a call-to-action can can be a guide through your app experience.
  • Frontload essential information: Are you trying to communicate a sale or is this a long-read that you’re encouraging people to read through to the end. Put your most important information first.
  • Always deep link – guide users to their destination page. Sending a message to a user with a call-to-action that doesn’t link to the relevant sale or action page is frustrating.
  • Be Bold! Short and sweet is better for mobile: Your main message should be front and centre and read in the first moments a user opens the app or browser. Longer sentences get lost below the fold.
  • Message lengths: This is extremely relevant for the likes of push notifications or SMS; depending on the device, your message could be limited to 127 characters or fewer.
  • Bullet points, (like this!) Scrolling has become a natural extinct. Latest reports suggest scroll time on Facebook alone is one hour per day. Keeping content short, sharp with minimal words, ensures it’s easy to read and nudges users to follow through to the end.
  • Brand instantly: Using brand colours or logos will give your message an instant air of familiarity for a user.
  • Automation: Utilise the automation tools at your disposal to optimise the content process.
  • Keep iterating and as you would on desktop monitor what works and what doesn’t.

Cáit Power is Mobile CRM Team Lead for Element Wave, a technology company that makes market-leading mobile marketing automation. Find out more about mobile marketing, app user journeys, digital content (and great cakes in Galway) on twitter twitter.com/@IsMiseCait, LinkedIn or ElementWave.com

Read more