All posts by Jake Schneider

Changes to Instagram’s ‘Explore’ Should Have Retailers Looking Differently at the Platform

Written by: Jake Schneider
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A few weeks ago, I wrote on our blog how Instagram’s new paid offerings (Carousel & Actionable Buttons) signaled a coming into the spotlight for the tiny image-based app with a massive audience. For retailers in particular, the new offerings allow brands the ability to engage audiences through aspirational and immersive content while driving to business objectives – something Instagram didn’t have the ability to do. While those offerings have yet to be released beyond Facebook’s Alpha Partners, your paid test strategy on these new offerings should already be taking shape so that once they are released through Facebook’s power editor, you are ready to go.

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Instagram’s present may be something equally – if not more – important for retailers looking to influence, be discovered, or get on-trend as users are spending more and more time in the platform (an average of 257 minutes per month).

A little more than a week after Instagram announced the future of their paid products, they made some pretty important yet misunderstood changes to their Explore functionalities that are available right now for users and brands.

It is easy to pass over the magnifying glass on your way to your content stream. Explore gives you a brand new way to shape content, understand, and ride trends while positioning your brand in visual conversations and important tent-pole events.

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The most noticeable difference within Explore is trending places. It sits in a box at the top of the screen and showcases the most relevant events (NBA Finals and Comic-Con) within your area (nightlife, festivals), or top content creators and relevant celebrities based on an aggregated topic just by scrolling to the right.

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This feature aligns real-time relevancy with tent-pole events for retail marketers looking to align with major events relevant to their industry. For example, a retailer showcasing their work on the red carpet at the Oscars can be found within these timely categories.

Instagram surfaces trending hashtags in the center of Explore, bringing the most popular topical tags to the forefront. We are urging our clients to give heavy consideration to not just creating their own trending tags but also analyzing tagging structures that help them enter conversations with current followers while also promoting discovery.

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Continuing with Instagram’s theme of positioning top creators as well as brands, and aligning them with the passions and tastes of users, the bottom third of Explore looks very familiar. Raising and suggesting creatively compelling posts, Instagram’s new user flow allows users to move easily from one photo to the next, but now without having to go back to the home Explore page between photos.

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Here are a few suggestions when considering your organic posting strategy on Instagram.

  • Know your audience (who are you trying to reach).
  • Plan your content with tent-poles in mind, and plan to participate with real-time content during events.
  • Monitor relevant and trending search tags to enter into conversations, don’t just create your own and hope others will follow.
  • Create premium content specific to Instagram that is visually compelling and tells a story.

Humanizing and Amplifying Your Brand Voice Through Employee Advocacy

Written by: Jake Schneider
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One of this year’s breakout films is Ex Machina. At its core, the sci-fi thriller is the story of an inventor’s quest to create an authentic, seamless human experience and connection through something that isn’t human at all: an android.

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We have never had more global avenues to connect and be connected to than we do today, and we do it seamlessly and authentically through these platforms of personal expression as if it were second nature. For consumers, digital authenticity is an expectation; for brands, however, it remains a goal that only gently grazes the surface.

For a brand to reach a truly authentic and emotional connection with their customers, and become a part of their lives, they have to do something in this day and age that is very foreign. In order to humanize a brand, they must give a piece of themselves over to their humans, their employees.

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External employee advocacy and internal employee engagement are not mutually exclusive of each other and have become popular topics for our clients for great reasons. In today’s highly connected world, employees provide knowledge and expertise – as well as authentic relationships – in their social ecosystems, providing value to both their network as a trusted expert as well as a valuable ambassador for their employer.

What are some of these benefits? It really comes down to the goals of the brand and what problem they are trying to solve internally and externally.

External: Reach & Trust

For brands, trust in a recommendation from an employee has never been higher or more credible. In fact, in a recent study, consumers named “a person like yourself” 62% more likely to trust, “a regular employee” 52% more likely to trust, and “a technical expert” more likely to trust 66% compared to a “CEO” or brand at 43%.  It is easy to see why. Word of mouth, even in digital form, is still the most powerful form of marketing. We still crave human interaction and connection; it’s only how we interact and connect that has evolved.

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According to a Nielsen study, 92% of consumers still trust recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising. Additionally, consumers are still 71% more likely to purchase based on a referral from a connection and 78% of salespeople using a social selling strategy outperform their peers.

Despite those statistics, less than two-thirds have any sort of strategy for sales and marketing teams and even less have a structure that empowers employees to share.

The reason? Fear on both sides.

Control of identity, message, narrative, and brand protection has been a traditional part of brand marketing, but the more restrictions and controls brands feel they have over their message the more they feel they are mitigating risk but also depreciating authenticity and approachability. Enabling employees to share and join in brand efforts means opening brands up to some risk it also means opening  up to massive scale, impact, and authenticity.

An employee assumes a great amount of risk, as well. The greatest risk is their job, and therefore financial wellbeing. Employees fear sharing, or don’t feel empowered to share, for fear they might position the wrong information or fired for sharing their personal interests, views, and activities while identifying as an employee of their company.

As early as 2008, brands were asking employees to not post to LinkedIn (the world’s largest business network), Facebook, or Twitter. As early as 2011, we were still trying to convince brands to build Facebook pages because of the fear of negative comments. As early as last week, I had a conversation with a major brand requesting that employees not identify themselves as employees for fear that their personal actions might reflect poorly on the brand.

From a brand perspective, social collaboration is the idea that everything I do remains private with the exception of what I choose to share, so that the message is controlled. From a human perspective, everything I do, I share, with the exception of what I want to keep private.

Brands benefit by breaking down this disconnect and empowering their employees.

Brands that empower their employees can see a considerable shift in organic reach on Facebook. One of the greatest complaints over the past year is the massive drop-off in organic reach for Facebook Pages where it is generally 0-5%. Person-to-person sharing is much greater. When working in parallel with paid campaigns, the brand can weave a great creative story with human content, increasing the impact of the campaigns.

For Retailers – especially big box retailers. Employee advocacy can allow you to position regionalized content, making your brand feel more local. Because employees often identify as a target demographic with the brand they work for, an employee program allows you to impact more accurately and efficiently, as the employees’ connections within their network are of the same demographic.

For Tech Brands – recruitment and the cost of recruiting are always constant. More and more companies are giving new hire bonuses as an incentive, which is a great first step but few go beyond that incentive. Employees are the best extension of your brand culture, and the theory is top talent knows top talent. Incorporating recruiting into your marketing and enabling your employees to play an active role helps reduce time and costs in finding the right people for open positions.

Internally: Purpose & Loyalty 7.14.15E

Engaged employees are brilliant ambassadors for brands, because while they are beacons externally they are also improving the foundational culture internally.

Even more brilliant is that while employee engagement seems a no-brainer, less than 30% of employees say they are engaged in their workplaces, according to Gallup. The least engaged demographic: millennials. It is easy to see why when you consider the traditional philosophy of corporate sharing (everything is private, except what I allow to be open) vs. the personal view of sharing (everything I share is open, except what I wish to remain private).   Millennial engagement internally and externally with their network is a plus.

Employee advocacy programs add a feeling of purpose and deeper involvement outside of the day-to-day mandatory productivity that employees execute. That small participation involves and empowers employees and, more importantly, it engages them.

Engaged employees can impact all areas of the balance sheet. Statistics show that there was 2.5x more revenue for companies with engaged employees than competitors with low engagement levels.

From a corporate expense number, $11 billion is lost annually due to employee turnover, yet we’ve seen that highly engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave the company they work for than their counterparts, reducing the cost of onboarding and ramp-up, as well as breaks in culture.

These are just a few reasons why to consider an employee advocacy program.

Employee advocacy programs are becoming more and more important for our clients and for the industry, in general. It is important to understand that this is not something that you just decide to do. The formation of a plan to humanize a brand through the empowered voice of its employees isn’t turnkey. Authenticity never is.

In my next post I will walk you through things to think about when considering enabling and engaging employees as advocates.

Jake Schneider is the Director of Digital Strategy for The Marketing Arm, overseeing both digital and social strategy and in particular leading TMA’s Employee Advocacy practice. You can find him on Twitter @jakeschneider.

Pinterest and Instagram Add New Features, Look to Drive Business Outcomes for CPG Brands

Written by: Jake Schneider
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June proved to be a huge month for Pinterest and Instagram, as both platforms introduced the phrase “action oriented” into our lexicon. Over the past year, both platforms have been making strides to enter the digital media space with Pinterest’s “Promoted Pins” and Instagram’s “Sponsored Posts” as introductory offerings; however, both are falling short beyond brand awareness in aligning to business outcomes for marketers.

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Pinterest has long been a passionate community, and particularly for DIY. According to a PriceGrabber survey, more than 70 percent of Pinterest users claim that cooking inspiration and recipes are their number one interest on the platform.

Pinterest added a search functionality to make it easier to be discovered, but the introduction of the “Buy It” button is a huge step for CPG brands in closing the loop that started with “Promoted Pins.” Now with Pinterest you can holistically inspire, promote discovery, and purchase direct from the platform within a few clicks, giving CPG brands another potential storefront and point of entry for commerce. 

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 8.26.27 PMPinterest is only making the “Buy It” button available through mobile for now and has limited it to a few of their partners. There is a waiting list, however, and we suggest you get on it. 

Coincidentally, Instagram introduced us to their new suite of offerings for their platform the same week. Instagram initially entered digital media via sponsored posts with a few exclusive partners a year ago as they built out their media narrative and offerings. This recent unveiling takes Instagram from peripheral, brand-awareness centric content to something much, much more. 

For Instagram, the emphasis is on quality of content and narrative with CPG brands playing on the same level with users and the best content surfacing to the top. With “Carousel,“ Instagram takes the user out of the single moment snapshot and throws them into an immersive experience with multiple pieces of content to provide inspiration or to better tell a story. 

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Carousel is still a continuation of brand, something Instagram has long been known for, and something that has taken them out of consideration when focusing energy and effort on driving to business outcomes.  

Instagram elevated themselves from peripheral to near primary with their action-oriented buttons. Brands can now direct their audience to add “Shop Now,” “Install Now,” “Sign Up,” or “Learn More,” directly through the app, making it a true channel for actionable outcomes. 

CPG brands can now promote discovery, inspire, and inform this passionate and massive audience while directing them to take deeper action, whether that is downloading a brand app, e-commerce, or other promotions. 

Like Pinterest, Instagram is only allowing a few of their partners to leverage their offerings before making them open through power editor to advertisers. 

Needless to say, these bold — and welcome — moves for each platform both ushered in offerings for brands without diminishing the user experience.  

With New Offerings, Instagram Comes of Age

Written by: Jake Schneider
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This week, the Golden State Warriors will take the floor against the Cleveland Cavaliers in their first NBA Finals appearance since 1975. As incredibly as the Warriors have played over the past month, the buzz over the past few days may belong to another Bay Area team: Instagram.

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For marketers, Instagram has largely been about building a brand through creative and visual storytelling. Like Tumblr before it, success for brands on Instagram has relied on compelling visual narratives, where both brand and user sit equally at the table as premium content creators.

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Because of this, they’ve given way to a massive influencer support channel for brand engagement and a supplementary channel for authentic content. They rolled out their first trial ads service a year ago – injecting sponsored content into newsfeeds and crafting what would be their offerings, waiting like any good Nor-Cal vintner for the perfect batch.

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What has been missing for brands is direct attribution for business outcomes for advertisers…until now.

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I checked the “this day in history” calendar for important events, and other than Marconi filing his patent for the radio and Dana Carvey and wrestler Lex Luger’s birthdays, “Instagram releases action oriented formats and targeting for ads” is about the biggest thing going for June 2 – especially for brands.

Instagram has taken the time to meld the visual narrative we love with the business outcomes (“shop”, “install”, “sign-up” and “learn more”) direct response marketers need without sacrificing the authentic feel we have come to know from Instagram.

Blending aspirational creative and narratives with specific calls to action can hit multiple goals specific for retailers looking to drive discovery, purchase, and mobile app downloads all with attribution back to campaigns.

Combining these new assets with the recently launched Carousel, Instagram gives brands the potential to extend their story and expand their ecosystem. Providing the user an interactive and near immersive experience evolves Instagram into a destination rather than a vessel for serendipitous content that relies on “link in profile” clicks to further the conversation.

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The ability to provide a deeper, richer front-facing experience through Carousel, along with the ability to extend to actionable outcomes through “learn more” CTAs, could prove to be a game-changer for Tech and CPG brands looking to drive registrations for loyalty programs, innovation sessions, or specific communities that are brand-centric.

It’s been called “a year of progress” by Instagram, but the additions of these actions and interest targeting evolves the platform, pulling it from the periphery as a support/influencer channel and adding it to core digital and digital media strategies as a viable and true power channel.

2015 SXSW Interactive: 5 Things That Stood Out

Written by: Jake Schneider
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Thanksgiving, SXSW, Halloween.

Those are my favorite holidays, in that order. 2015 marks my 9th year attending the annual conference and as TMA’s resident Austinite, nothing excites me more than hearing the words “Film,” “Interactive,” and “Music” categorized under one event within walking distance of my downtown home.

In years past, I’ve seen the transformative launch of Twitter, watched Kanye perform at the Power Plant – now home to Under Armour Connected Fitness – and taken in many great films and parties.

Last year, while there were still significant highlights like Edward Snowden’s session that I found fascinating, the 2014 version felt bloated and unmanageable.

2015, however, felt like a shift or transition probably aided by the fact that there wasn’t one super strong theme that overpowered everything. This led me to be open to the serendipity that is part of the very soul of SXSW.

With that, here are five things that stood out for me at this year’s conference:

1. Meerkat: If there was a clear winner for 2015 SXSWi, it would be Meerkat. Every single human being at badge pick-up was talking about and using the app that allows you to live stream video directly into Twitter.

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Meerkat was everywhere around Austin. It felt like SXSW activities and experiences were being streamed all over the place.

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Then somehow (perhaps through the Force), Twitter felt the surge of usage and, in realizing they recently purchased a competitive app called Periscope, put Meerkat in a chokehold by cutting its access to their social graph.

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The significance of Meerkat’s emergence this past week is that streaming content is here and it is embraced. This type of channel opens up doors to publishing experiences and helping users and brands become their own networks.

2. Verizon’s #ATXunite: For those Austinites who attend SXSW, the experience is amazing. For those who don’t, it can be downright frustrating, or so I’ve heard. There are three things we love to complain about in Austin: traffic, crowds, and traffic. Verizon took a different route this year with #ATXunite, a social campaign focusing on aiding Austin locals with survival kits featuring everything from Yeti coolers, Bose ear buds, and Philips Hue light bulbs to exclusive lunch experiences at Franklin BBQ just by following and tweeting Verizon and #ATXunite.

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Verizon nailed it with this activation by bringing the serendipitous experience of SXSW to those locals who can’t or don’t attend. Or, in this case, by bringing it to me and my coworker, Zane.

3. Virtual Reality: We are so close. You remember that part in Jamiroquai’s video for Virtual Insanity where Jay Kay, after spending so much time getting further away from the frame, comes as close as possible and stays there to finish the video? That is where I feel we are right now. So close, and from here it is all mainstream. SXSW definitely had its share of VR experiences and installations. From Interstellar’s setup for their Blu-ray release to Google’s Cardboard viewer, VR showed it is ready and the demand showed that we are ready for VR.

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I am, in fact, giddy at the possibilities that VR presents for brand experiences in the entertainment, automotive, fashion, and retail industries.

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There is demand – as you can already pick up Google Cardboard on Ebay.

4. Big Data and Social: Finally Big Data, you have arrived. There were tons of panels on utilizing and the importance of Big Data this year, and rightfully so. Big Data is no longer a nice-to-have, it is a need-to-have. Understanding your audience and gaining that competitive advantage has never been more important to brands. How to make it actionable, how it and Audience Intelligence can work together, how to use it to drive engagement – it was all on display during SXSWi. Audience Intelligence platform People Pattern even made a cool persona infographic on SXSW:3.23-7

5. Curiosity: There were plenty of speakers on hand this year, and the two that stood out most for me both focused on the value of curiosity. The first speaker was TV & Film Producer Brian Grazer, who created Imagine Entertainment with Ron Howard and has created exceptional films like “Backdraft” and “Apollo 13.” Grazer was discussing his book written about his life philosophy of having “curiosity conversations” with different and interesting people every two weeks. He uses these conversations to guide and inspire his work and build relationships.

The second was with Henry Rollins. I’ll be honest: Rollins is a personal inspiration of mine – I was initially just happy to be in the room. He was there attending and promoting his new film, “He Never Died.” Rollins covered his life travels and experiences; however, the gravy was poured when he talked about his life philosophy of how anger fuels his curiosity. The anger is what makes him curious, and the curiosity, in turn, fuels the anger. The result, he states, “makes me want to do stuff and live vigorously.”  I left both of those talks inspired.

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I clearly had better seats for Grazer than Rollins.

SXSW has been a great success for me. For anyone that is considering a future trip, I would highly encourage it. There is something for everyone. You’ll leave here more knowledgeable and inspired.

Follow Jake Schneider @jakeschneider