Casey Flanagan

What To Bet On

Two years ago, Grantland.com – a site that covers sports and pop culture – was launched. At the time, the site received a good bit of coverage – especially for a website launch. One article from The Atlantic’s title said it all – “Bill Simmons’s Grantland Is Doomed Even Before Launch.” Last week, Grantland celebrated its two year anniversary.

I’m not surprised. Its early detractors believed it would fail for many of the reasons I thought it would succeed – the identifiable personality of the site’s founder and the high-price of the site’s talent, to name just two.

Sure, hindsight is 20/20. It’s easy to pick the winner two years later. But Grantland’s success stems from two core strengths that were evident from the outset:

Fans who care

Bill Simmons – the site’s founder – was probably the most widely read sportswriter in the America. The site’s consulting editors – Malcolm Gladwell, Dave Eggers and Chuck Klosterman – all had rabid, rabid fans. As content begins to look and feel more and more similar and as eyeballs are splintering in more and more directions, why wouldn’t you bet on a core of writers who already have loyal readers?

And why are these readers loyal?

Quality content

That’s the most important thing. Always has been. Always will be. Grantland tells stories. They write in long-form. They experiment with formats. They do things differently. They are focused on not just having a point, but having a point-of-view. And while they don’t take themselves too seriously, there is clearly a pride in craftsmanship. You get the feeling that the product they put out is not just one they stand behind, it’s one they’d read themselves.

We have many choices for where to invest our time, our money, our resources. “Stories well told” and “content people look forward to” are opportunities I would bet on. Every single time.

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Casey Flanagan

Is The Future Of Television Walking Dead?

House Of Cards is the new entry from Netflix into the world of original programming. And there has been a good deal of talk lately about how it may just be the future of television. What Netflix is doing is certainly interesting. And, at least in my opinion, good TV.

But what AMC is doing with The Walking Dead is just as interesting. And much less heralded. There are many lessons for marketers to learn from how the show is creating content. Yes they have an app. Yes they have a social game. But it’s what they are doing with their broadcast content that is truly innovative. Three lessons I took in-between watching zombies get their heads smashed in:

  1. Create for the medium. One of the most interesting – and simple – tactics employed by the show is an image that is shown for three-or-so seconds during a commercial break. It is a screen full of copy, usually with an actor’s take on a character. It’s something fans would be interested in seeing. But here’s the thing: it can’t possibly be read in three-or-so seconds. AMC is thinking about its viewer and the pause button on their remote control. Why eat up more time than necessary for something that doesn’t actually need it? Interested in reading? Just pause it. Because that’s how we’re used to watching TV.
  2. Repurpose content in a smart way. Many fans of the show are fans of the original comic books. Others may be fans of the old horror movie genre. And starting this Thursday, AMC is airing the first season of Walking Dead in black and white for both. Starting over from the beginning. Same show. Same episodes. Something new. Great for new fans looking to get into the show. And super-fans looking to consume every last homage morsel.
  3. Let fans take the next step. After every episode of Walking Dead is a live talk show – Talking Dead. Polls are gathered. Hashtags are shared. Questions are taken from fans who just watched the show. Actors are invited to share their take. And fans get to not only extend, but participate in a real-time experience. Bottom line: a community is created. One that viewers see value in participating in. And according to reports citing the success of the format, AMC is considering extending this concept to other shows.

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Casey Flanagan

Why We Read What We Read

You’ve heard the term Always On. Our culture has essentially become Always On Demand.

As consumers, we have adopted our On Demand approach in part because we need to – we’re exposed to the equivalent of 34 GB of information a day. And in part because we can – if you like music, Spotify is rather mind-blowing.

And while our changing world must change the approach of marketers, the basic tenants stay the same. As Howard Luck Gossage said – decades ago,  “People don’t read ads, they read what interests them. And sometimes, that happens to be an ad.”

While he was likely referring to a media like print, his words are more relevant today. Howard Luck Gossage, 1960’s social media “rock star.”

With available attention at an all time low, the stakes have been raised. With content as king and social so personal, the bar must be raised. To be kept around, we’ll need to work even harder to earn our likes, our follows, our favorites and – most importantly – our engagement.

Step one? Be readable.

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Casey Flanagan

Finding The Extraordinary In The Ordinary.

I had the opportunity this week to attend Iconosphere, Iconoculture’s annual conference. Susan Orlean, a writer for The New Yorker and author of The Orchid Thief, opened the conference with a keynote titled “Finding The Extraordinary In The Ordinary.” Her advice was timely for both researchers and storytellers. And for those of us who consider ourselves both researchers and storytellers, it was timeless.

Ordinary life, examined closely, reveals itself to be exquisite, complicated and exceptional. Somehow managing to be both heroic and plain.

Because there is little built in curiosity, writing about the ordinary puts the onus on the reporter. But readers will like it because it is new, but familiar. They knew it, but never really knew it. That’s a powerful equation.

According to Orlean, the most read stories in The New Yorker are “about the ordinary.” This flies in the face of celebrity culture. But the reader response is compelling: the authentic stories are the ones worth telling. As long as you remember that success depends on truly finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Otherwise it’s just ordinary.

Or, said another way: Ordinary when authentic is credible. Extraordinary when authentic is compelling.

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Tim Gorichanaz

Something Really Engaging

Whatever Professor Farnsworth is watching isn't all that engaging.

Whatever Professor Farnsworth is watching can't be all that engaging.

I hear this one a lot: “Let’s put some more engaging content on this page, like a video.”

Why do people seem to equate “engaging content” with “video”? Just because it’s a video doesn’t mean it’s engaging (if you ever fell asleep in history class, you know what I’m saying). And likewise, content can be engaging without being a video.

What is engaging content, anyway? First of all, engaging content is relevant – meaning it’s audience-specific. Shoving one-size-fits-all content at your visitors isn’t going to get you anywhere. Engaging content is new or unique – or both. It’s unlike anything your visitors have seen before. And it tells a story – that’s important. Hopefully it’s also informational, educational or entertaining.

Sure, it’s easy to check off all those boxes by making a sweet video. But video isn’t always going to be the best channel for your audience or information. And besides, content should always be available through multiple means; if you make some information only available in a video – especially a long one – it may never be discovered by a chunk of your visitors.

Luckily, video isn’t the only route to engaging content. Images, infographics, audio and interactive elements can all be used. And, of course… good old text! Sure, you can bet that less than half the words on your page are going to be read, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; users scan chunks of text for the specific parts that interest them. Some marketers have concluded that text is not engaging, period – but that doesn’t have to be the case. We just have to remember to allow our text to be engaging.

Here are a few ways to help your text be more engaging:

  • Increase your line-height and let the text breathe
  • Explore new type treatments
  • Use pull quotes to highlight key phrases
  • Use lists
  • Break your text into short sentences and paragraphs
  • Make sure each paragraph has a clear topic sentence

The rule of content is simple: Video rules, but not always. People long for meaningful content, so don’t be afraid to write it if you can’t show it.

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Tim Gorichanaz

Bringing Old Content Back to Life

Picture this: You run one of the most popular websites on the Web. Your site features vibrant conversations among your millions of users and has a rich network of linked content from across the Web. Users on your site publish over 250 million pieces of content per day.

There’s so much content on your site that it’s practically unimaginable. But your users are very limited in how they can enjoy all this great content – they can barely get a few shavings off the tip of the iceberg. Once a message is posted, it circulates for a few days and then is all but lost in space.

Is this a good model? What’s the point of having all that content if almost all of it is inaccessible?

Let’s consider another website. This one has just as much content, maybe even more. It’s called Facebook. They suffered from the same problem, and they responded with Timeline, a fantastic feature that helps users make sense of all the content that was once lost in the depths of their walls. It brings old content up to the surface in a usable and useful way. It also puts the content into a unique, interesting and worthwhile context: Users aren’t just sharing pictures of cats and commenting on each other’s relationship updates – they’re constructing their Timelines. Facebook did a fantastic job positioning their content curation efforts. (Their introduction video is practically tear-jerking.)

A website without historical content strategy is like a library without any method of organizing its books.

The other website I was describing? Twitter. They could do with a little more content curation, don’t you think? They’ve started doing this with their Discover page, but it still only focuses on the here and now — what about those billions of interesting tweets that everyone’s forgotten about?

In planning our content strategies, we not only need to think about what we do with the content that was generated this week, but also what we do with the content that was made years ago. Sure, it could just lie dormant, but isn’t it better if we put it to work?

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