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If Instagram Likes Go Away, It’s the Beginning of the End for Influencers

Late last week, a TechCrunch story made the rounds on Twitter that Instagram was considering removing the likes count from organic feed posts. Jane Manchun Wong shared screen shots that indicated she was part of a test that was evaluating this concept.

Per the screen shot, Instagram said: “We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get.”

That sounds benevolent, and it aligns with all of the studies that suggest social media is stressing people out. But as is seemingly the case with everything else involving Facebook/Instagram changes, the ulterior motive probably boils down to one thing.

Money.

Consider this: The first thing any marketer looks at when evaluating an Instagram post, feed or influencer is engagement rate, a quick measurement of how many people, as a percentage of a feed’s overall following, like or comment on a post. If you can’t tell who’s got engagement and who doesn’t, it makes working with an influencer far less appealing. 

It also becomes more likely that spends once earmarked for influencers will instead become direct ad buys with the platform itself.  Measuring the true ROI of influencer marketing is hard enough. Removing critical data from the equation would only exacerbate this problem.

Estimates say the Instagram Influencer industry is already worth $2-5 billion annually, and will become a $10 billion industry by 2020. Facebook currently doesn’t see a dime of that market. But a major change to Instagram’s platform like this would quickly derail this growth and presumably start to redirect these spends to Zuckerberg’s coffers instead. 

If like counts do go away, what becomes of Instagram Influencers? If they’re not already looking to conquer new territory, they should be. Short-from video sharing network TikTok is probably the most obvious landing spot, and Facebook recently launched “Lasso,” a TikTok competitor. Anyone who’s serious about being an influencer has a vested interest in skating to where the puck is going to be, and taking their followers with them.

The question is, will Instagram take this drastic step? I think they’ll keep it in their back pocket for a while. But it feels inevitable.

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Advertising Brand Marketing Branding Digital Marketing Marketing Photography Storytelling

Chasing snow at Zion National Park: How to market a unique experience

Here’s a dirty little secret of marketing: When you get a “limited-time offer,” it’s generally because sales are slow, and not because quantities are actually running out, or in short supply.

Marketing is all about creating urgency. In most cases, though, that urgency is manufactured. Or it’s totally imaginary.

Sometimes, however, opportunities pop up that have a legitimately limited shelf-life, or are truly rare. So you either have to act now or miss out.

This week, I got an email from a photography tour company that I’d used before, alerting me to a rare snowfall in Zion National Park. The email featured a few amazing pictures of Zion under snow and the following text:

“Alright everyone, this is the week to be in Zion and Bryce if you’ve ever wanted photos of this area under snow.  The combo of red rock and fresh snow produces vibrant, poppy images of this landscape.  Living in the area for the past 9 years, this is the wettest and coldest stretch of time I’ve experienced in the winter time.  We usually get one or two winter storms a year that produces snow that sticks in Zion, and within one, maybe two days it has melted away.”

The email continued, telling customers that even if they didn’t purchase a tour, they should make the effort to get to the park to see it for themselves.

“Even if you don’t join us for a tour, we HIGHLY recommend visiting this week for a multitude of days to be able to experience this event.  To be clear, to have this much snow, for this long in Zion is extremely rare.  Get it while it’s good.”

On the surface, the email was selling a photo class, but it was really selling an experience. And quite frankly, this email sold me instantly. As a photography enthusiast, I’ve been to Zion before, but hadn’t had the opportunity to shoot in these types of conditions. With winter winding down, it was too good to pass up. I had to go. My next chance to capture this type of moment may not come for another year, or perhaps much longer.

So I made the short drive to Zion Thursday night and woke up at 5 AM for a 6 AM excision into the park to capture sunrise and morning light around the park on a guided one-on-one photo tour. It was extremely cold, which I was prepared for, but the beauty of Zion under snow was something for which I was not completely prepared.

It was breathtaking.

The tour itself was outstanding, as my guide Seth took me to a great spot to capture the morning light of sunrise, and had planned out several options for both the morning and sunset sessions.

The day was a memorable, unique experience, and I’m very happy with the results of the photos I captured. The day was well worth the price of admission. I’ve now got a batch of amazing photos that captured the memory of seeing one of America’s best national parks under a blanket of snow.

I really appreciated spirit of the email alert. It provided valuable information, alerting me to a truly exclusive opportunity, and they didn’t hard-sell me. Instead, they appealed to my passion for photography and the desire to capture a rare moment, and provided a service even if I didn’t make a purchase. Seth just wanted his customers to know that they shouldn’t miss a rare opportunity to capture Zion this week. I really appreciated that.

That’s how you build and maintain a relationship with a customer. I’m already thinking about when I can sign up for another photography class.

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5 Tips for a Better Facebook Brand Strategy

When I think of Mark Zuckerberg, the first person who comes to mind is 80s pro wrestling bad guy “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Piper once boasted about his opponents, â€œJust when they think they got the answers, I change the questions.”

Zuckerberg could make the same claim. Facebook changes the rules every few months, tweaking their algorithm and policies regularly, often without warning or explanation. Once you’ve set your strategy, you can’t go on autopilot, because the rules are likely to change quickly, and before you know it, you’ll be wrestling with your Facebook strategy again.

But there’s no need to submit to Zuck’s stranglehold on your page. Here are five tactics to help you pin down your 2015 Facebook strategy.

Forget Engagement, Start Tracking Reach Rate

There’s a ton of information inside of Facebook’s Insights tool, and if you export the raw data files, there’s even more that you’ll likely never examine.

Three Facebook metrics tend to get the most public discussion: Likes, Comments and Shares. But the first two of those are basically worthless. Post likes are meaningless. OK, not completely, as a post’s likes do impact its organic reach, but realistically, a like is a one-second long, one-click engagement. How valuable is that? Do you remember the last post you liked on any platform?

As for comments, they’re typically considered a “deeper” engagement, since people actually have to start typing (and presumably thinking, but that’s debatable), but most comment numbers are skewed by comment spam. When automated comment spam is peaking (seemingly every other week), it can easily account for a large percentage of the comments on a given post. Facebook is constantly fighting off comment spam bots; as soon as they wipe one out, another one pops up quickly.

On its Insights dashboard, Facebook shows you “Engagement Rate” which their Help Pages define as, “the percentage of people who saw a post that liked, shared, clicked or commented on it.”

But since I’ve convinced you that likes and comments aren’t valuable, “Engagement Rate” is at best a specious number with little insight, and at worst a flawed formula that’s misleading social media managers.

Instead, I think the most important number to track is Reach Rate, which isn’t an official Facebook metric. Facebook only shows raw reach numbers in their reporting, presumably for an obvious reason – reach rates are typically in the single digits when reach is expressed as a percentage of your audience. They conveniently neglect to show you that math.

Still, the number is easy to derive. For each post, divide the organic reach number by your total audience number to arrive at a reach rate. This number will tell you how much of your potential audience you’re reaching, and it serves as a strong indication about how algorithm-friendly your post is.

You’ll realize quickly that certain types of posts, specifically videos and photos, wildly outperform status updates and links. This November, Facebook announced on its own marketing blog that they’ll be cracking down on “promotional” posts in 2015, and if your “content” is really just a blatant advertisement (“Buy now!” or “sign up here”) with little context or relevance to your fans, you can expect that content won’t reach much of your audience.

Track your own custom Share metric

Sharing is caring, as they say. In other words, your fans actually care about your content if they’re willing to share it with their friends. So you should be tracking how many people do this. The numbers won’t be overwhelming, but they can be telling if you give them context.

Share numbers on their own aren’t typically very large, especially as they relate to the size of your overall audience. For the Celtics, since we’ve got 8.7 million fans, 18 shares on a post may not seem like much. But again, it’s not about your audience, it’s about your reach. Fans who never see your content can’t share it.

So it helps to put shares in context with regard to the size of your reach and the content of your post. For the Celtics, with the size of our audience, we’re reaching hundreds of thousands of fans per post. With that in mind, we’ve started tracking “Shares per 10k Reached” to understand what content resonates and what’s getting ignored. We’ve found that content that does better than 1.0 shares per 10k reached is pretty successful. Content that over-indexes can often do 3-4 shares per 10k reached. We consider a post that does under 0.5 “Shares per 10k Reached” to be underperforming on our page.

Want more reach? Upload video directly to Facebook

Facebook made an important sweeping change over the summer. They started auto-playing videos on mobile devices. So when users scroll past timeline posts with embedded videos, the video starts up and entices users to click and play them. Mobile is a massive piece of the Facebook audience; a report from Q2 of 2014 revealed that over 1 billion of their 1.32 billion monthly active users (> 80%) access Facebook from their mobile device, and 30% access it exclusively from their mobile device.

One of the results of this shift is that embedded videos are reaching people in the timeline at a 2-3x greater rate than links to content or typical status updates. At least that’s what the Celtics have seen. And that’s why you saw so many random people’s Ice Bucket Challenges in August, whether you wanted to or not.

Simply put, Facebook is rewarding publishers by giving video more regular placement in your audience’s timeline. The results have been staggering for us. Celtics videos are reaching about 650,000 fans per post and averaging ~75,000 views since we started uploading them directly to Facebook in August. That reach rate (7-8%) is much better than links and status updates that consistently get a 2-3% reach rate. Prior to this change, if we linked off to a video on our own website or YouTube, we were lucky if it was generating a few thousand views based on the referral traffic Facebook was generating.

Recently, we posted a tribute video to former Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo upon his return to play in Boston with the Dallas Mavericks. This video reached over 6.1 million fans (that’s a Reach Rate of over 69%) and was viewed over 1 million times. Obviously, this video is an outlier, but had we simply linked back to our website, the post never would have generated anywhere near that type of referral traffic.

There’s a couple of factors at play here, but the important dynamic to understand is that Facebook is trying hard to keep users on Facebook longer and is incenting brands to generate content to do that. According to comScore, this August, for the first time ever, Facebook beat YouTube on desktop videos delivered. So, here’s the question: Do you care about generating an audience for your that carefully crafted video content, or simply driving referral traffic back to your website?

Tag other fan pages to enhance your reach

Want to reach new fans? Here’s a quick tip: Start tagging relevant entities with large followings in your posts. By tagging other fan pages, you can often reach people who are fans of those pages but not fans of your own. It’s a great way to reach new fans. We regularly tag opposing teams in our posts, opposing players and the NBA itself.

In some cases, small Facebook pages have been able to reach 2-3x their entire audience with posts by using this technique.

Spread your posts out

You can only post so many times a day before your fans will tune you out. What’s the magic number? It’s different for every brand. We’ve tried to stick to four or five posts per day on average. But for each of your posts to reach their largest potential audience, they need time to hit people’s timelines before being replaced by something else from your fan page. If you post at 10:03 am and then again at 10:31 am, that first post is likely to wildly underperform in terms of reach.

I’d recommend separating posts by at least two or three hours each, and preferably, much longer than that. Segment your content calendar into day parts, and give your posts as much time to breath as they can get. Check Facebook Insights to understand when your fans are actually online, and use that to map out when you’re going to post. If your brand has a national or international fan base, don’t be afraid to schedule posts for the wee hours of the night. Just because you’re not awake doesn’t mean your fans aren’t on Facebook.