Category Archives: Social Media

Take a Bigger Bite

When snackable content won't satisfy, consider long-format podcasts.

We’ve all heard about snackable content⏤six-second videos, memes, SMS surveys, etc.⏤short, dynamic, often interactive, content packets meant to entertain or entice audiences toward further engagement. All good. 

Snackable is a huge part of social media content marketing. It’s especially effective for mobile, consumer audiences. We create snackable content for our clients to help drive employee engagement and to push specific campaigns, like annual enrollment or wellness initiatives. For internal audiences, the goal of snackable content is not entertainment. It is to promote long-form content designed to forward important organizational goals. 

Think of it more as an appetizer. Because sometimes you need a little more to chew on.  

Slow down, take time, dive deep. 

Only small bits of information are presented in snackable content. However, many topics worth communicating to employee audiences are significant⏤situated in organizational history, strategic thought and planning. Consider the communicative value that is lost when much of the exposition and reason underlying decisions is left blank. We are living in an age when audiences want more information, not less. The same is true for employees. Better information, better engagement.  

Sure, long-form content takes a little longer to consume, but the payoff is worth it. There’s time to dig a little deeper. There’s time for managers and employees to broaden their perspectives on the inner workings, challenges and strengths of your organization. 

There’s time for long-format podcasting.

A long-format podcast engages the listener with conversations that either thoroughly cover a topic or continue as ongoing discussions. There are many ways these conversations can be formatted. They can be 10–15-minute episodes serialized for as many as necessary to cover the topic; regularly scheduled ongoing conversations lasting 20 to 30 minutes; or 60-90 minute panel discussions about very technical subjects. Time is not the issue. Depth is. 

Side-by-Side (a demo)

Below I found two pieces of content that promote long-term savings for and financial independence for younger people. The first is from financial trainers and authors, MyFi, Inc. They created a “snackable” video illustrating a familiar truism of saving and compounding interest to promote their book and services. The second is a podcast episode from the “About to Launch” podcast, a very successful financial podcast created and hosted by Jamila Souffrant. 

Check them both out and consider which one would best drive employee participation in a 401(k) or other ESP. 

Push here to play short video.

Podcasting is now.

When they first started, podcasts were an obscure way to listen to audio files on devices, like Apple iPods. Early content was generally repurposed from public radio, sports radio and other talk radio programs. Universities also made educational resources available in the form of lectures and seminar discussions.  

Two things happened over the past fifteen years to help push podcasts to the upper tier of popular digital content. First, there was the explosion of smart phones. Remember it wasn’t that long ago when most people only had cell phones. Then came the DIY movement popularized on YouTube, whereby everyday folk demonstrate their talents, discuss their interests and chime in on subjects they care about. Podcasting, both video and audio, emerged within these trends. 

Only five years ago, creating a great-sounding corporate podcast meant renting, or creating, a designated recording studio space. This made podcasting expensive, unwieldy and difficult to coordinate.

Today, podcasting is very accessible. Technology has evolved on similar tracks to other cloud-based collaborative tools like Zoom. Smith uses technology that allows our clients to create great-sounding podcasts from the comfort of their office or their home. The recording is done remotely, with Smith production staff and consultants. Prep time is minimal and editing tools allow us to turn around complete episodes quickly. We also host client podcasts on secure, private platforms so client content is only viewed by intended audiences.    

Where podcasts can help.

Areas within your organization that require deep knowledge, cross-departmental understanding or increased transparency are excellent candidates for podcast conversations. 

Setting Direction: Top-level decisions are often disseminated through various indirect channels resulting in incomplete information and decisions that appear devoid of supporting facts and logic. A regular C-suite podcast can put everyone on the same page, understanding not only the direction of the company but how and why a decision was reached.

Educating Employees: Employee education is a never-ending process. Information is only part of the education process. Other important aspects of effective learning involve presentation, accessibility and engagement. Whether the subject is changing processes, organizational transformation or employee benefits, creating a podcast can help support your internal educational goals.   

Increasing Collaboration: Does your left hand know what your right is doing? In large organizations, the answer is very often “no.” New ideas emerge when new inputs and perspectives meet existing knowledge. Opportunities to collaborate toward innovation are often missed because of a lack of cross-departmental communication. Challenges like a silo-mentality that ends in groupthink and even inter-departmental obstruction can be transformed through conversations dedicated to cooperation. 

Five Styles of Podcasts

Interview: The interview is a very familiar style of podcast. A host asks questions of guests, often subject matter experts. (Clients have used these to help explain difficult legal and investment issues surrounding retirement.) The person conducting the interview needs a solid understanding of the subject to get the most from the guest. Loosely scripting these talks can be very useful. 

Panel: This style of podcast is well suited to highly technical issues and for collaboration. Panel discussions should have a moderator/host and subject matter experts with different perspectives. One key benefit of the panel discussion is that knowledge is spread across various panelists. This takes the content load off any single person, and it often leads to surprising new perspectives and shared understandings. 

Solo: While this style has the advantage of being the easiest to schedule, produce and edit, the presenter has a difficult job. The solo presenter must hold the attention of the audience without any help. Unless you have a very talented speaker on staff, this podcast is best suited for CEO or other high-level executives. However, beware of over-exposure for key executives. A frequency of quarterly or monthly podcasts is best.

Ongoing Conversations: Unlike a serialized topical discussion, these podcast don’t have an end. The idea is to have two or three trusted voices that become familiar fixtures within the organization. Ideally, they each bring unique, yet complementary, perspectives. For example, one person may continually take the side of the customer, while the other the side of production or marketing. Together they work through challenging issues from familiar perspectives. 

Any department can host its own podcast; e.g., HR, Compliance, Marketing, Research & Development, etc. Because audiences can be very targeted, there is no need for the entire organization to hear every show. Depending on the amount of information you need to cover and the pace of change, weekly or monthly episodes can be a part of employees’ lives.  

Repurposed material: This style of podcast allows you to assemble company talks, learning sessions, outside presentations, videos and other material that different departments generate. Transforming this existing content can eventually create a singular archive for preserving organizational memory and tracking transformation. 

Getting Started

Smith can help your organization strategize and implement your internal podcasts. Contact us; we’ll listen to your specific needs and give you a more detailed presentation of our ideas and capabilities.

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Struggling With the “Me” in Social Media

Lessons learned from writing for Smith’s Ideas page

As a communications consultant, I sometimes feel like a rock band roadie. 

My job is to understand what my client is trying to get across to their audience and then figure out how to do that in their voice. I craft the message, set up the equipment, attract a crowd, and crank things up to 11. (And, of course, my clients are all rock stars.)

But, when Smith launched its social media strategy in 2016, I was asked to share my thoughts, my experiences and my knowledge — all in my own voice. The mic was suddenly shoved into my face, and I froze.

It took a year of battling self-doubt before I could stop hiding behind endless revisions and actually publish my first article. That’s a strange thing to admit given that I write all the time and the content I’ve created for clients has been read by millions of people. But writing under a by-line is different than writing under someone else’s logo. When social media is about me, I don’t do so well.

Here are a few things that I did to shake off the stage fright and write articles more regularly. If your goal is to publish more of your own original content online, maybe you’ll find some of these tips helpful. 

Describe Your Audience

Knowing your audience will answer a lot of questions regarding what you write about and how. It will give you clarity and focus. Even if you’re publishing on a platform that gives near global access to your content, you are not writing for everyone. Choose who you’re speaking to. Your audience might be a demographic, a group or just one person. For me, I write like I’m writing to my best client, not my friends and not an anonymous “HR professional.” That puts me in a state of mind from which the words flow more easily.

State Your Goal

For some bloggers, the goal is to keep readers scrolling through ads. For others, it’s to sell a product or service. For others, it’s a form of activism. Know why you’re spending time on your blog — and write it down. Having a clear purpose will prod you forward.

Write from a Place of Authority

Whenever I start typing, this nagging voice in my head asks, “Why would anyone listen to you on this topic?” To silence this inner critic, I focus on things I know about and things that I’ve done. I avoid making unsupported generalizations and back claims with data or links to authoritative sources. This not only sharpens my copy, it builds trust with readers. 

Give Away Something Valuable

That nagging voice I mentioned above has another favorite question: “Why should anyone take the time to read this?”

I think the answer is in one of my previous posts: 

“The phrase “pay attention” tells you what you need to know. Attention is like money. It’s our cognitive currency. We only have so much of it to spend, and when we spend it, we expect something in return.”

From “People Don’t Read.”

What you give away will depend on your goal, but try to make it tangible and/or practical. It could be product samples, discounts, recipes, tips, checklists, instructions, recommendations, etc. Your readers will appreciate and remember you for it. 

Don’t Not Be You

Finding a unique voice is something many, if not all, writers struggle with. For me, a more authentic voice began to emerge in my posts when I wrote regularly in this format, stuck to things I cared about, and let my personality shine through. 

There is one thing each of us has to offer that no one else does: our unique perspective and life experience. With that in mind I simply do my best to share personal experiences that I think my clients could benefit from. Maybe not everyone sees an obvious link between guitar tablature and employee communication, but I do. And maybe sharing that idea will give a client a different perspective, or at least amuse them intellectually for a few minutes. Your peculiarities will help you hone your voice and find an audience.

Sharing Is Caring

As that big purple dinosaur Barney says, Sharing is caring. That’s a handy way to sum up the advice above. Share what you care about, and care about your audience’s time and needs. Let your content flow from there.

Let’s Connect

Do you have any lessons you’ve learned from writing a blog? Are you looking for help getting your ideas into words? We’d love to hear from you. 

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Ready for your close up?

7 hacks for the Zoom anxious.

Last weekend, after a golf tournament, I listened to people at my table talking about having too many conference calls. When I say talking, I mean griping about the explosion of meetings, especially all of the video-enabled meetings, they’re having because their offices are closed and they can’t travel. In a nutshell—”Enough with all the video!”

My attention was really piqued by a friend who manages medical facilities across the southeast. She talked about how exhausted she was by trying to look and present herself only using her face. She has a lovely face and smile, and is very articulate. But that doesn’t capture her true energy. She’s an athlete (very accomplished at the collegiate level) who projects joy and vivaciousness with her whole presence. She’s one of those people that lights up a room. She said video conferencing makes her feel “examined” and “in a box.”

What she said resonated with me. I won’t claim to share her constrained athletic dynamism, but I’ve got my talents. And they don’t necessarily play well with a mic button delay and the inability to read the room. I especially don’t like video conferencing with large groups. One or two folks, ok. But being up on a Brady Bunch video grid makes me feel a little exposed.

Who’s looking at me?

If they pin me, can they see me dozing off?

Is my dog doing something untoward in the background?

Why am I looking at myself all the time?”

Zoom anxiety is a thing

So, I started looking around and Zoom anxiety is a thing. I’m not crazy (at least not in this way). The “experts” relate it to social anxiety, which I equate to the emotions I felt in high school when I dropped my lunch tray and everybody looked, or when I went up to a girl and asked for a date. Seriously, I don’t have this affliction, but someone I love does. It can be debilitating.

What I have is probably some type of reverse narcissism. I don’t like being looked at because I don’t look as good as I “should.” I’m far more shallow than deeply troubled. A psychologist might help, but it would take years.

Instead, I sought out the help of another group of experts. Great advice for the ladies or make-up wearing dudes out there. And I found some fantastic sartorial tips for the today’s Zoom-Zoom male. Yet this approach required losing some weight, which is the main reason I hate being looked at in the first place.

No. There has to be some easier way to make me feel better about my bloated face on a video call. A way that doesn’t require any sacrifice or real effort on my part. After pondering this, I decided on the time-honored techniques of avoidance, diversion and disguise.

7 hacks for hiding in plain sight

The error is sitting 17 inches away from the computer.

1. Technical problems

This is the old-school option that never goes out of style. However, over time, they might notice you’re not there (unless you’re the social media guy) and then you’ll have to employ another strategy.

You’re there, but not.

2. Phone only

Smart option for the early adopter. The jig is up once a critical mass of coworkers catch on to your strategy. Then the mandatory “all cameras on” memo goes out.

Being my best self.

3. Pencil drawing avatar

This is like the phone, but the life-like rendering fools others into thinking you’re actually live and in person. Another great thing about this approach is one’s ability to gently erase pounds and years without expensive surgery or time-consuming exercise.

A different colorful option for every day.

4. Mask it

Finally, something good from this pandemic thing. Masks have been used from time immemorial to alter and disguise one’s appearance. Plus, you’ll have a reason rock your fantastic smoky eye technique in the carpool line.

Is he new to the team?

5. Effects

Digital effects are your friend. You can use them to enhance your appearance, place yourself in exotic locales (Paris as a backdrop, anyone?), create a conversation starter, or just distract people from your double chin.

Call from a local point of interest, from your deck, or by your pool.

6. Background noise

If your backdrop is interesting enough, people will look right past you. You can do this digitally, but the unpredictability of the real world is mesmerizing. Who knows, your coworkers might even catch a glimpse of some wild life.

The one guy has his own tie, which is great.

7. Face over talent

We’ve all heard of voice over talent, those silky, resonate voices who narrate commercials, documentaries, etc. Let me introduce “face over talent.” There is a huge pool of out-of-work actors (more than normal) due to Covid-related filming restrictions. For a small fee, these actors will sit in on your call for you, lending you the stunning authority or whimsy of their photogenic visage. This works especially well if you’re never called on. If you are expected to speak, look for actors who have taken a mime class or twoand can move their lips as you give your answers. With all the annoying buffering delays, no one will know the difference.

Right now, I’m trying to decide between these two fellows. Have a favorite?

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Ban TikTok?

Should employers be concerned about data security?

Is TikTok an amazingly popular (especially with teens) video-sharing app? Or is TikTok a serious threat to personal, corporate and national security? The answer appears to be “Yes!” 

TikTok Boom

TikTok’s growth has been explosive. It’s been the most downloaded app in Apple’s App Store since 2018. TikTok is reported to have been downloaded over two billion times (175 million in the U.S.), and to have 800 million monthly active users, from over 150 countries. Users are young, with more than 65% being 34 or younger. And they spend a lot of time on the app, averaging 52 minutes a day on TikTok, with teens spending 80 minutes. This activity has reportedly produced $3 billion in profits last year. This app is no slouch. It’s fun. It’s growing. And its user demographics are a marketer’s nirvana.

TikTok Bust

Despite profound success, TikTok’s future is in serious question. TikTok’s growth story is being overshadowed by controversy. Concerns over user data security and international espionage are at the heart of a snowballing crisis for the Chinese-owned app. Unlike with other outcries over social media/technology privacy issues, these controversies aren’t merely rumors. They’re very serious allegations with matching consequences.

The types of actions governments and corporations have taken against TikTok are really unprecedented. Here’s a sample:

  • 2019: Federal Trade Commission fines ByteDance (TikTok’s parent company) for violating online child protection laws.
  • 2019: United Kingdom opens an investigation into TikTok data protection for children.
  • 2019: India places provisional ban on TikTok for issues around pornography and child protections.
  • 2019: A large class-action law suit was filed in California, claiming TikTok illegally transferred personal data of U.S. citizens to China.
  • 2020: India permanently bans TikTok, citing security concerns around Chinese government spying. 
  • 2020: The United States Military bans TikTok from all government-issued phones.
  • 2020: Amazon accidentally releases an internal employee memo asking all employees to delete TikTok from company phones.
  • 2020: Wells Fargo directs employees to remove TikTok from company phones.

So, what is the problem with TikTok? Why are these, and other organizations, so concerned about the app’s access to data. There seem to be two primary areas of concern. The first is personal privacy and illegal consumer data collection. The second is corporate and national espionage—spying done through TikTok on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Data Syphoning

It’s widely understood that mobile devices collect immense amounts of data from user actions. They track your web browsing, app usage, driving, spending, steps, sleeping, etc.  That TikTok tracks user data isn’t controversial. The problem is what data the app tracks, how it tracks it, and what it does with the data.

Not everything is publicly known about TikTok and what it’s doing. However, it is important to recognize that TikTok is a rebranded version of the Chinese app Douyin. Because it operates behind the Chinese Firewall, Douyin was developed using a very different set of priorities, ethics and protections than apps developed in the U.S. and other liberal democracies. The Chinese people are restricted and censored in ways that are illegal here. Supposedly, TikTok runs on a separate set of servers than Douyin to enable these differences. Yet, many believe the app retains most of Douyin’s “China-market” capabilities.

There are many ways a downloaded app, like TikTok, could surreptitiously collect sensitive data from a phone without users being aware. For example, Apple flagged TikTok for copying data from user’s clipboards. Also, an app developer recently reversed engineered TikTok and found that the app has the ability to intercept and open zip files and perform other functions that should not be part of a mobile app. TikTok might also be able to collect very sensitive data, like fingerprint markers. TikTok just raises a lot of red flags for consumers.

“There’s a reason governments are banning it. Don’t use the app. Don’t let your children use it. Tell your friends to stop using it. It offers you nothing but a quick source of entertainment that you can get elsewhere without handing your data over to the Chinese government. You are directly putting yourself and those on your network (work and home) at risk.” 

Bangoral

A Trojan Horse

It’s not only user data that’s at risk. Large corporations and governments are concerned with CCP corporate and military espionage. TikTok is only one example of a concerted international curtailment of Chinese technology companies. Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that the U.S. is considering a ban on TikTok. Australia, Japan and other nations have suggested that they also might join India in banning TikTok.

This is part of a greater effort against Chinese technology. Companies like Huawei are already excluded from the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Taiwan. The core issue is that many, if not all, Chinese tech companies are controlled to some degree by the Chinese military.  

Considering prior action and the strained relationship between the U.S and the CCP, it should not come as a surprise if the U.S. bans TikTok in the coming weeks and months. 

Protect Your Data

In my opinion, when there’s this much smoke, there’s fire. My response to what’s happening with TikTok is to err on the side of caution. I recommend removing TikTok from your personal phone, or any connected device that also has access to any important data. I recommend parents make this decision for their children. I also recommend any employer whose employees access any company data have employees remove TikTok from that device. 

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