JESS3’s work is kind of like the J-curve: Once you notice it, you’ll see it everywhere. I first became aware of the creative agency when someone handed me a printed version of The Blog Tree. I googled JESS3, and spent hours on their site sifting through the content (and wondering how I was just then learning about them). Later, I realized that I had another piece of their work hanging on my cubicle wall, The Conversation Prism. But they weren’t truly on my radar as a leader in content strategy until I started digging into the idea of brands as publishers, and found Storytelling Through Social Media, by Leslie Bradshaw, the company’s President, COO and Co-Founder. I reached out to Leslie to talk to us about the idea, and the interview below was born.
You post your content to dozens of sites. Given that page/ profile customization and maintaining a presence takes time and resources, how do you decide which sites to invest in as launch-points?
At last count, we participate in nearly 20 online communities. For us, the decision to invest our time is predicated on two things: one, is the community a place where thought leaders in design and/or technology convene? And two, will the ROI of our participation be commensurate with our level of effort?
For example, we’ve found that having a strong presence in communities like Behance, Dribbble, and Forrst enable our recruitment and collaboration efforts, while a strong presence in communities like Visual.ly and Vimeo enable our thought leadership efforts in the areas of data visualization and visual storytelling. As for engaging with decision-makers, our business team has found that being active on LinkedIn (mostly via the Rapportive plugin for Gmail and continual updates) and SlideShare has been critical to our success.
It is amazing to me that more agencies – especially creative agencies – don’t invest more in their online footprints beyond Facebook and Twitter. Our investment is a deliberate and, in turn, successful one.
What common mistakes make you cringe when it comes to brands creating content?
Top four cringe-worthy things brands do when creating content:
- Overly branded “me, me, me” content. Unless you are Apple or Nike, most consumers don’t actually care about your brand. What they do care about is how your brand / product makes their lives easier.
- Skip the wireframe stage and jump right to design. It is critical to take an idea from concept, to sketch (something I do all the time on a whiteboard, then photograph with my iPhone), to wireframe, to design exploration, to a completed design. No matter how “simple” the content may seem, without first “outlining” what you are going to bring to life, you suffer the same fate as someone who sets out to write a paper without a proper outline: thesis, supporting evidence, conclusion.
- Speaking of a thesis, evidence and conclusion… make sure you include all three in your content. Whether you are developing a complex infographic, a two-minute web video, a deck for SlideShare or a snackable graphic for Facebook, make sure you are asking yourself: what is the key argument or statement I am making? Do I have ample evidence and sources to back up my statement? Is my conclusion well-founded, clear, and actionable for the end user?
- Forgetting to optimize dimensions and copy for each channel. This is something that we’ve been doing for clients like Intel, Nike, and Google for years and I’m always surprised when I see other brands and agencies not catch on. A few quick examples: Natively uploading an image on Facebook or G+ with the proper dimensions will out-perform sharing a link with the same content any day. Posting an infographic on Facebook is really hard to consume; posting a more “snackable” or “puzzle piece” version of the larger graphic is the way to go. Writing a mini-blog post on Facebook or G+ isn’t what those channels are for, they are for quick-hits. Keep your copy to fewer than 10 words or even better yet, bake your copy or call to action in a nice large font size into the image itself.
What should brands learn from traditional publishers – and what about traditional publishers should they not emulate?
The good. Traditional publishers do an excellent job of preparing templates and having established workflows that can react in real time to opportunities. After having a lot of success doing fast-turn content for JESS3 in the early years, we started offering the service to clients about three years ago. The idea that you have to wait weeks or months for an asset completely misses the opportunity to participate in the fast-moving conversations that are happening every second around dozens of topics throughout social media. Templates and workflows can anticipate and react, which the news industry has executed on successfully for years. In fact, I believe so wholeheartedly in this concept that I developed a workshop for brands on this topic and shared the guiding deck on SlideShare here. I would also add that traditional publishers – by and large – do an excellent job of fact-checking and sourcing their content. This is something that, as content becomes more data-driven, brands should integrate.
The bad. In terms of what not to emulate, I believe that traditional publishers failed to innovate, adopt, and evolve enough in the face of the Internet, digital media, and multi-device consumption. They are working hard to make up for it now, but there were early enough signals and signs that should have had them investing in R&D before it became such a widespread problem. BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has had a fall from grace that occurred for many of the same innovate / adopt / evolve reasons. Brands can be just as fallible.
That said, I am impressed when traditional publishers like The Economist when they develop a great Tumblr or when C-SPAN leverages an emerging tool like Tout (as an aside: while both are clients, I can’t take credit for these initiatives – both were developed internally).
Channels like Facebook, Twitter and blogs and technologies like iOS and HTML5 have proven valuable and effective, which I think has lead to more willingness to explore, take risks, fail, and keep moving for brands and traditional publishers alike.
Stay tuned next week for part two of our interview with Leslie.