In no particular order, here is the beginning of learning how to "Scream Smarter."
HUMBLE LITTLE EMAIL STILL TRUMPS SOCIAL MEDIA
With all the attention showered on social media marketing campaigns, having a large mailing list, and people who pay attention to it, is still the quickest and most powerful way to drive traffic to your web page. Scarlett’s ability to reach out to a massive audience via email and get them to click on her page, gave her an insurmountable lead.
What this means:
If you find yourself trying to drive traffic to your pages, remember that just emailing people works wonders. At least at the outset. People open their emails, and if the messaging in these emails grabs their attention, they WILL click on the links and visit the pages.
So if you find yourself in a new job, where you are trying to build traffic for your stories:
1. Get the business cards and email addresses of the people in your community.
2. Get the same from the people you interview
3. When your story comes out, send these people an email list telling them of the story and giving them the link. Thank them for your attention.
4. Ask them to share this story with other people who might be interested in it.
5. If they give you feedback, respond to it as calmly and kindly as you can (people are quicker to say nasty things than nice – but if you give them a soft and reasoned answer, you can usually turn them around).
6. Of course, if they give you praise, thank them for it. Then add them as friends or contacts on social media.
7. When your next story comes out, go back to this email list and send them another message.
8. Be sure to include a link at the bottom of the emails where you tell people that if they don’t want to hear from you, they can unsubscribe.
9. Once your list gets large enough, you may need to use a program like MailChimp or AWeber to manage the list and the emails.
10. When you move from your job THIS EMAIL LIST GOES WITH YOU. These are the people who are going to keep you fed. This is your audience. Make sure you stay in touch with them and what they want/need/like.
If you get a big enough list of people who are following you, you are basically layoff-proof. Like I said in class, an audience of about 20,000 people seems to be the cutoff point. You can extract about $5 in revenue per person per year, unless your audience is totally broke or they don’t really like you. In which case, you have other problems.
How do you get $5 out of those people, you ask? By publishing a book, your own digital magazine, selling them a DVD of your greatest interviews or songs or radio pieces or whatever. Or you could put advertising on your pages and extract the value that way (but I don’t recommend Google AdSense for anything other than a little extra helping – you are going to have to do some actual ad sales work to get better CPMs. Or hire someone to do that for you).
The math is simple: $5 per person x 20,000 people = $100,000 a year, gross income. Your expenses are going to run anywhere from 15-40%, depending on how much travel you have to do to cover your stories. More than 40%, you have to cut back on your content-generating spending, because you have to pay your bills and also your insurance (if you’ve gone it alone).
SOCIAL MEDIA JUST KEEPS ON CHUGGING ALONG
Here’s the difference between an email program and social media: once you send out the emails, that’s it. You’ve reached the people you are going to reach. Unless they forward the emails to other people (or you ask them to forward them), that is going to be your audience size.
On social media, on the other hand, once you put out the messages, people get them at different times. They log onto Facebook after a while, and they see your message. Or it comes to them from someone else ReTweeting it. Or whatever.
More than a week after the contest was over, and we’re still getting 6-20 pageviews a day of the content you created. This is interesting. The only explanation for this is that people are still getting the message on social media, and out of curiosity, they are clicking through.
Social media is slow cooking, but fast-boiling.
You can see that right here. Once you put something out on social media, it just keeps going, like a ball rolling downhill. Every once in a while, that ball suddenly gets a whole lot of momentum. A post or story that you completed months ago suddenly gets linked to on Fark or BoingBoing or HuffingtonPost, and your server melts down from a million pagehits an hour, because everyone is posting that link to their Facebook pages, Tweeting about it, RePinning it on their Pinterest boards, and sending each other Instagram shots of whatever graphics you put on the page. Or sharing the YouTube video with other people. Whatever.
This is why social media can scale in a way that email never can. With an email blast, you are limited to only the people that you know or have the email addresses for. The promotion only lasts a few days, at most, as people who haven’t paid attention to your email within that time are probably not going to go back and open up the link (or at least, the percentage of them that do is going to be very, very small).
Social media, on the other hand, reaches a whole bunch of people you don’t know. If something takes off on social media, all of a sudden you can feel like a volcano has erupted beneath your feet.
YOU CANNOT IGNORE THE MOBILE WEB ANY MORE
When we drilled down into the numbers, we found that most of the people visiting Scarlett’s pages were using mobile browsers in China. Luckily, the page size that we chose for this exercise fits on an iPhone screen. If we’d had a full HD 1920x1080 page, the users would have had to scroll around to try to read what was on there and see the photos. Or we would have had to scramble to create a page that was optimized for mobile.
As it is, I can only guess that lots of users were frustrated by the layouts of our pages.
Overall, we got more than 60% of our traffic via mobile to the entire site. Desktop was only 37%. What does this tell you about the future of your content on the web?
If you’re saying that yes, we are going to have to think of how mobile users are going to be trying to read/watch/hear what we do … then you are already ahead of about 90% of the damn old-school media executives in the world. I find that media companies SAY that they take mobile seriously … but then when you try to access their pages via mobile, the load times are slow, the links cannot be tapped on (at least, not with my big fingers), and the content I want is hidden somewhere down where I can’t figure out how to get to it.
PROVOCATIVE OR INNOVATIVE THINKING GETS RESULTS
Leo famously attempted to drum up controversy with a Facebook post featuring a bunch of semi-nude bicyclists and a photographer, with a link leading back to his page(s). He also re-posted the link with an explicit “call to action” on it. There was a “traffic spike” after these events. More for the April Fool’s post than the other.
Still, this represents an interesting subject, and one that we must bear in mind in our careers. Using provocative “Can you believe this?” headlines are one of the trends of our times. Everyone is so desperate for page traffic that they are willing to “trick” the readers, using whatever means necessary, to get them to click on the links. Like any trend, once it becomes widespread enough, the public will build up resistance to it.
I foresee browsers coming with scripts that block headlines that have the phrase “You’ll never believe…” in them, the same way that they now come with pop-up blockers and email comes with anti-spam filters. It’s a way of tuning out junk. And whatever else we want to do with our careers, I don’t think we want to have what we do wind up relegated to the “Spam” folder.
YOU CAN’T WIN IF YOU DON’T PLAY
The lowest traffic scores were racked up by pages where the creators chose not to participate. This is instructive as well. In the real world, there are consequences for this. It would be nice if we could all rely on the Great Big Giant Media Company to take care of everything for us. But those days are fast disappearing, if not already a distant memory.
You’ve probably all gotten sick of hearing how we have to start thinking like entrepreneurs, and that the future belongs to those who are able to adapt to the new realities of creating news in a hyper-competitive landscape. That you have to think of yourself as a “brand,” and that in the future, we are all going to be freelancers.
Just because something is a cliché, that doesn’t mean that it’s not also true.
SCREAM SMARTER, NOT LOUDER
I’ve given my students the smallest taste of what it is like to work in a world where your survival depends on the fickle tastes of an anonymous, largely uncaring public. It may not taste good, but this is reality. The idea that “Content is King,” and that if you make something really cool, that people will just magically find it, is a delusion.
There are way too many really cool things on the internet, all screaming for attention. The response of most people is to scream louder.
I hope I've managed to teach a little bit about how to scream smarter.
All items and materials copyright 2014 David LaFontaine
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