Debunking the short-form content myths

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Human attention spans are getting shorter, says almost everybody. So why are people spending more and more time with long-form content? 

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Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2, the 2nd highest-grossing movie of the year so far, clocks in at 2:21 hours.

We’ve all heard the cliches, too often presented as “facts”: humans can only absorb content in short bursts, vying for attention on your Facebook news feed. Our attention spans are now at the same level as the poor, maligned goldfish. We are told by experts at marketing conferences that the “ideal” length for video content is 30 seconds because “Millennials” can’t handle anything longer than a minute or so. Even the President of the United States now sums up complex foreign policy in less than 140 characters. (Sad!)

For everyone who accepts all of this at face value, step back for a minute and think again. If we really had the attention span of a goldfish, would any one of us be able to leave a room? Wouldn’t we forget how we got there or where the door was or how a doorknob worked? Or for that matter, how could humans drive a car, fly a plane or file a tax return? Are we really so unfocused or easily distracted?

Think of your own content consumption as a consumer. How much time are you willing to spend with a movie or your favorite TV show?

The second most popular film of 2017 (so far), Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2, which made over USD 800 million at the box office, has a running time of 141 minutes. The #1 movie with over a billion dollars, Beauty and the Beast, clocks in at two hours and nine minutes. Arguably the hottest show on television today, Game of Thrones, is already running at around 67 hours! (Thereabouts, anyways. I can’t remember how many two-hour episodes there were.) And there’s still one more season to go!

It may surprise you to learn that, according to research by video technology company Ooyala, long-form video is now the most popular form of content consumed online. Long-form content (defined as greater than 20 minutes in length) now represents the majority of time spent watching video across all screen sizes: desktop, mobile, tablet and connected TVs.

The magical formula that dictates your video must only be 90-120 seconds  is a myth propagated by companies who want to sell you 90-120 sec videos (and the platforms that carry them).  I was recently reminded of how this misconception is propagated when I found myself quoted (out of context) in an article that argues short-form video is the “next big thing.”

It’s not true that people today will only watch short videos. What most consumers are unwilling to watch for longer than a couple of minutes is bad content: content that’s poorly conceived, with a thinly-veiled yet obvious commercial message, designed to interrupt you as you’re trying to get to the actual content you wanted to see in the first place.

The fact is that if the content is good, as the entertain industry demonstrates, consumers are willing to watch for hours and hours non-stop. The challenge for brands is how to develop content that is interesting enough, offers true value and features characters and a narrative that compels the viewer to follow all the way to the end.

If your brand has an amazing story to tell, breaking the 90-second video mold is the way to stand out. VISA’s delightful Thai-language #TokyoUnexpected mini movie clocks in at nearly 15 minutes and has already over 10 million views on Facebook (mostly organic).

Even a B2B player like industry giant GE regularly shares its many technical innovations through a series of videos, from cool things they do with drone technology to power plants, each clocking in at over five minutes each.

That’s not to say short-form content doesn’t have its place. Marketers need to think of short videos in the way that Hollywood uses trailers or preview clips: easy entry points leading to the main event. Or how comedians like John Oliver have used short clips to build a YouTube audience as large as his HBO audience. The problem is that many marketers confuse one medium with the other, treating the short form route as if it was the main content. And just as Hollywood has learned to do, marketers must also learn to convey a brand story with a Transmedia mindset, across multiple platforms and formats.

Whatever approach you decide, make sure to avoid that other great video content myth: that the content you produce, in order to be considered successful, has to go “viral.”

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Culture’s vital role in digital transformation

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Mediacorp

It’s no secret that the traditional media industry faces challenges. Today consumers are experiencing an unprecedented era of choice, not just in variety, but also how and when they choose to consume content. Traditional media companies are under extreme pressure to digitally transform and national broadcasters like Mediacorp are not exempt from this grim reality.

Often when it comes to digital transformation, much of the emphasis is on organizational restructuring, new processes or technology upgrades. But from experience, the role of culture is always underestimated. Without a deliberate plan to change company culture, any new initiatives will simply fall to the wayside as legacy and old habits inevitably creep in.

Recently I spoke at the Singapore Management Festival, hosted by the Singapore Institute of Management, and shared my experiences with Mediacorp’s digital transformation journey.

Media: a disrupted industry

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals, among many things, the erosion of trust in media, with traditional media reflecting the sharpest decline. The shift is a reflection of influence flipping: from a traditional model where what is deemed fit for public consumption is decided by a minority such as the government or other institutions to a system where anyone can be a publisher. What good are state controls when a blogger or YouTube creator can enjoy a larger audience than a newspaper columnist or a television news program?

The changes are also impacting media companies where it hurts most: their traditional revenue models. Consumers are increasingly rejecting classic forms of advertising, from the 30-second TV commercial to the ubiquitous online banner ad. This is evident whenever a consumer pays for a Netflix subscription or installs an ad blocker on their smartphone.

In order to counteract these shifting behaviors, media companies must reinvent their approaches to content creation and distribution. Mediacorp is making inroads into these new spaces, such as its foray into OTT video streaming through Toggle, the development of its own creator network Bloomr.sg and even embracing Transmedia storytelling with popular programs like Tanglin.

Innovating means embracing risk-taking

It’s not unusual these days for large, incumbent corporations to borrow language from Silicon Valley. One of the most often invoked phrases is the need for companies to “fail fast.”  Too often, this is pure lip service.

Announcing that you are encouraging employees to take risks means nothing if employees continue to fear the consequences of failure. I once worked for a company where one of its senior executives would frequently encourage risk-taking by publicly announcing, “Don’t worry, if you fail nobody will kill you.” During one such townhall, a colleague leaned over to me and whispered, “Yesterday I was in a meeting with him and he told all of us, ‘You’d better be right because if you’re wrong, I will f**king kill you.’”

Trust is a two-way street. If you want to build an innovation culture where employees are emboldened to take chances, a company must demonstrate that it trusts its employees.

Twitter rotation curation

Full control of the corporate Twitter handle @Mediacorp is given to a different employee each week

One way Mediacorp has demonstrated trust towards staff is with its Twitter rotation curation. Since July, Mediacorp has been giving full control of its official corporate Twitter handle to a single employee for a week. During that week the employee can, quite literally, post anything he or she wants. No mandated content calendar or schedule. No screening or approval process. For seven days, the employee has the reputation of the whole company in his hands.

 

Celebrate individuality

Often companies will focus on more outward manifestations of promoting creativity and individuality: casual dress codes, recreational facilities, etc. While Mediacorp has embraced those things in its own way (including an open seating concept within the Mediacorp Campus building), we turned as well to social media as an instrument for driving cultural change.  

In many companies, especially in Singapore, the typical employee’s attitude towards social media goes something like this: “I’d better keep things low key or I might attract the attention of HR.” A colleague once told me when I asked why she wasn’t more active in LinkedIn, she explained, “My boss might think I’m looking for another job.”

SIM event

Presenting at the Singapore Management Festival with my partner-in-crime, Nadeem Ashraf (right)

Earlier this year, Mediacorp began encouraging its staff to be more active in social media by sharing their stories. Since April, over 60 individuals have been featured in the corporate Instagram account, each with a personal story in a style inspired by the Humans of New York series. These stories are meant to celebrate the different backgrounds, personalities and inspirations behind the people of Mediacorp.

Also read: the importance of skills & capability training and celebrating champions

During the presentation at SIM, another speaker referred to the Human Resources department as a bottleneck or obstacle towards cultural change. My experience at Mediacorp has actually been the opposite. In contrast HR (demonstrated by my co-presenter, Nadeem Ashraf), together with colleagues from the corporate communications team, have very much been our “partners-in-crime” for all of the initiatives referred to here. Far from being hurdles, these pushes for cultural change have only been possible through the triumvirate of HR, Brand & Communications and the Digital team.

Mediacorp’s digital transformation journey is still very much in its early years but I take great pride in the accomplishments we have made so far.

Listen: brand storytelling, content marketing and transmedia storytelling in Click2View’s podcast

What Brands Storytellers Must Learn from Hollywood

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170926 Click2View Podcast

Last week I talked about why brands must master storytelling and take their lead from Hollywood with Click2View‘s Simon Kearney for their inaugural podcast.

The podcast is available on iTunes here.

You can also play it below:

 

5 tips for digital content

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Presenting at Content 360 in Singapore

SingTel has spent the last three years refining and investing in its social media and digital content strategy. In the last year alone, SingTel has produced a wide variety of content, from educational infographics to award winning video campaigns like #Need4GSpeed and #HawkerHeroes.

For brands looking to venture into digital content designed for social media for the first time, the path forward might look daunting and pockmarked with risks. Here are five tips to guide you:

1. Aim for the heart, not the head

One of the first things we learned from working with the giant social media network Facebook was the useful sanity-check question: “Why will they care; why will they share?”

When a consumer decides to share a video or re-tweet an article, it is usually either because he found the content thoroughly upsetting (to which the reaction was “I have to share this!”) or he found the content so amusing (to which the reaction was “I have to share this!”).

#HawkerHeroes worked particularly well for SingTel not just because of the presence of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay but also because it delved into an issue close to Singaporeans’ hearts: local heritage and cuisine.

As tempted as it sometimes gets to fill marketing content with information, just remember that if this was only about appealing to rational minds, social media would be about the viral distribution of white papers.

2.Accept the fact that you are not Ellen DeGeneres

“Please make this viral” is a phrase social media marketers dread. Too often, making a material viral is seen as the only goal worth pursuing. But unlike Ms Degeneres, most mere mortals (or brands) will never be responsible for the next Most Retweeted Tweet in History.

Instead, understand where this piece of content fits into your overall campaign strategy. Is it meant to educate? Or call attention to an issue? More realistic metrics such as video views or clicks to a campaign site would then be more sensible goals.

3. Have a good budget for production, but set aside a budget for distribution first

Often all the resources are poured into production with an expectation that something so brilliantly creative or funny is sure to go viral. (See Tip #2.) But even the best creative work is wasted if no one finds out it exists. Especially in today’s extremely cluttered media environment where hundreds of hours of video are being uploaded to Youtube every second, the chances of your shiny new video being discovered organically gets smaller by the day.

Combining an influencer outreach programme, traditional PR and an initial burst of paid media can give your content that boost it needs to get an audience’s attention and get that Share snowball rolling.

#HawkerHeroes, SingTel’s most successful campaign from last year, may have looked like a random viral campaign. But it only came to life through a complex, multi-channel strategy whose execution was planned down to the minute-by-minute detail.

4. Get your consumers involved

The best content campaigns are the ones where the audience gets in on the action. Consumers can be valuable co-creators, as we have seen in a number of campaigns from Old Spice to Oreo.

SingTel’s own #Need4GSpeed enlisted consumers to provide their best applications of a high speed mobile connection which were then translated into comedy sketches by comedian Hossan Leong.

5. Keep it simple

One common mistake brands make is to make participating in a campaign too complex, which can be an obstacle to a social media campaign’s success.

I personally prefer apply the “60-second Rule”. Ask yourself, would responding to the content or participating in the discussion take more than 60 seconds? Years ago, brands relied heavily on mechanics like photo submissions and anticipated no more than 10% of the audience would actually participate while the rest simply watched. Today the hashtag offers a much simpler way to participate and lowers barrier to entry.

Content-led social media campaigns need not be so daunting. While there are always risks, they can be extremely rewarding for any brand with the right concept and adequate planning.

This article was originally published in Marketing Interactive and was based on my presentation made at Content 360 on 3 April 2014 in Singapore. Full presentation below:

Creative Client of the Year

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Creative Client of the Year at the Creative Circle Awards 2013 by phatfreemiguel
Shiny!, a photo by phatfreemiguel on Flickr.

Last night at at the Creative Circle Awards 2013 (aka “The Gong Show”), I was awarded Creative Client of the Year for my work at SingTel. There were a number of awards given to SingTel that night for the #HawkerHeroes and #Need4GSpeed campaigns. (Click here for the full list of winners.)

What a ride! Just last week, SingTel took home the lion’s share of the awards at Marketing magazine’s Marketing Excellence Awards and was awarded Marketer of the Year.

I may be the one that took home the gong (yes, I get to keep that freaking huge gong in the photo) but I share the credit with our agency partners, Ogilvy, BBDO and MEC, SingTel management and most of all my amazing Digital Marketing team at SingTel. Thank you all so much.

The day we tweeted some firemen and they tweeted back

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Fire damage

We had a very busy day yesterday. A fire in one of SingTel’s facilities yesterday afternoon disrupted mobile and broadband services in some parts of Singapore. Thankfully no one was injured. Our dedicated engineers worked through the night to restore service.

For me I will also remember it as the day we tweeted some Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) firemen and they tweeted back!

SCDF Firemen

For up-to-date information on SingTel services follow @singtelsupport.

Seizing Social Media Moments

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Great content in the hands of an empowered team mean social media marketing success

SingTel’s #HawkerHeroes campaign celebrated Singapore’s food heritage with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay

Events unfold on social media in real time. That means your social media marketing team needs to have the know-how, the creativity and the authority to take advantage of events as they happen to create relevance and excitement around your brand.

Much has been said of how Oreo took advantage of the blackout at this year’s Super Bowl and became the most discussed ad campaign that night. Taking advantage of such opportunities is made possible only when you have a team that can develop an idea on the spur of the moment and have the willingness to run with it, despite the risks. In Singapore, one of the year’s most discussed events was when haze from brush fires in Sumatra caused unprecedented air pollution in the island state. A small number of brands jumped in with their take on events, including SingTel, who featured a hazy skyline on their Facebook cover photo.

SingTel reacts to social media moments every day, most of the time with helpful tips for customers or with an offer to help when they need support. Last April, SingTel’s social media team sent a special gift to a lucky cat, who had trouble adjusting to a new but smaller mioTV set-top box. The team sent the cat’s owner a brand new cat bed and a bag of goodies, together with a personalized hand-written note.

Big corporations like SingTel aren’t always associated with random acts of compassion and spontaneity. Thankfully social media allows such opportunities to be discovered regularly. And occasionally, companies also create these moments themselves.

In 2012, SingTel threw a free live concert by Korean pop band 2NE1. The event was promoted entirely via Twitter and hints to local fan clubs. Thousands of screaming fans turned up at the event in Clarke Quay, Singapore.

Earlier this year, SingTel invited customers to share how they intended to use the connection speeds of the newly-launched 4G mobile network via the Twitter hashtag #Need4GSpeed. These situations (e.g. “I want to watch my Korean dramas before my tears dry up”) were then converted into comedy skits by funnyman Hossan Leong and his team of actors. The campaign resulted in 23 videos uploaded within eight hours and #Need4GSpeed trending for two days straight.

In July, SingTel issued an invitation to celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, insisting that Singapore hawker cuisine deserved global recognition by challenging him to learn three popular local dishes. The campaign, centered around the hashtag #HawkerHeroes, set Singapore ablaze with discussion and speculation as to whether the Michelin-star chef could beat local hawkers. As the debate quickly became a matter of heritage and national pride, the story garnered coverage in local media and the #HawkerHeroes hashtag trended on Twitter for four consecutive days. The campaign reached its climax as Ramsay arrived in Singapore and thousands of fans were able to meet him and sample his cooking,

#HawkerHeroes was a rare example of great content around a celebrity and an enabled social media team are combined with an issue that audiences are passionate about. The result was one of the biggest campaigns of the year in Singapore.

View the entire presentation below. Presented at Spikes Asia 2013 in Singapore. 

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