Tag Archives: tactics

Your Attention, Please

Your opinions are no longer important. There’s a new type of cut-throat marketing mentality, one which exploits you regardless of your political stances or your emotional response. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, they used to say (and maybe they still do). But this is not just publicity, it’s identity. There’s a growing selection of websites, posturing – some more successfully than others – as news sites, with their eyes on just one prize. They want to polarize you to exploit the magnetic repulsion. They’re generating dirty energy just by making you angry.

Ad revenue is a numbers game, but this is not the telling element of a phenomenon which tilts the pinball machine that is the Internet. No, the real factor at play in crafting this new end-goal is search. Search relies heavily on one popularity factor – links to an article – and depends increasingly on another – social shares. The problem is that these metrics don’t, actually, measure popularity. For one, Twitter is a swirl of information where presentation trumps substance. More crucially, though, the amount an article is talked about does not correlate with the extent to which it is agreed with.

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Hence, the rise of provocative journalism as a deliberate means of upsetting and causing fury. News and opinion are separate things. We can agree that neither should be dull, but the conflation of opinion and news has meant that we no longer treat blog rants with the disdain they deserve when posted on the website of a major news publication. On top of that, we have begun to rationalize that for news to be interesting, it must (or should) be controversial. These things play into the hands of those who play the pitchforks game.

They’d argue, of course, that they’re causing debate, in the same way that fringe political parties say or do something enormously offensive just to get people talking. It would be similarly demeaning if this were the case, but it’s not. Oftentimes, there’s no argument or dispute to be played out – just unmitigated, rightful fury at the content of an article. Usually, the writer will stray into some sort of bigotry to find this reaction; frequently, it’s homophobia or racism, but we’ve also seen it with a pathological hatred of prostitutes, disabled people and fat people.

Jan Moir's article on Stephen Gately's death in 2009 was - if not deliberately, then recklessly - offensive.

Jan Moir’s article on Stephen Gately’s death in 2009 was – if not deliberately, then recklessly – offensive.

We live in what is largely, theoretically, a free information market, where pertinent information floats to the top. But the reality is that nothing enters the public consciousness without one of a select handful of public figures or news outlets pushing the story. The rest – a category, incidentally, into which these provocative stories fall – is an undercurrent of gentle ripples, of which we absorb the themes and little else. We forget about the number of times we’ve read obvious lies; we just remember the faint insinuation that marginalized group X aren’t as nice as they might seem. And so on.

Calling people out on their ill-judged, reactionary and offensive rhetoric is part and parcel of free speech. But so is an awareness of the dynamics that govern our discourse. These sites have the right, certainly, to publish controversial opinion pieces. But in the absence of their diligence and, indeed, in the presence of their deliberate and conscious aggression and their willingness to offend, it falls to their target audience to find some sort of restraint in their readership. In short, if you see something wantonly offensive online, you should consider whether the best option is to rally against it, or just ignore it. Big companies don’t like being ignored.

The question is whether this strategy will last. Social signals as search ranking factors are at the very least in their youth. if not still in an incubator. If the web can develop an up-vote/down-vote intelligence, to understand the complexities of social sharing, we could begin to see unpopular articles penalized. That’s a whole new can of worms, man.

Johnny Foreigner & Hype Management

Hype Management is probably the name of an agency somewhere in London. I apologise to them profusely.

Johnny Foreigner are an absolutely brilliant indie-punx band from Bi(u)rmingham, UK. Their debut LP Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light was a blistering but weirdly tender plummet down off-kilter guitars and since then, they’ve gone from strength to strength, culminating in the phenomenal, all-encompassing, what-is-being-young Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything in 2011. Lex, Kel, Jun & Lewes are incredible live, too.

They’re the sort of band where calling them hard-working seems a bit shoddy, because they so blatantly don’t see music as a job and that adjective is usually reserved for people like Elbow who aren’t that special but release a lot of music, but they absolutely work damn, damn hard, on top of being enormously talented and very special indeed.

More than anything, though, they’re clever. I’ve heard their new album, You Can Do Better, and it’s sublime. It’s a record that’s as thrilling as it is sweet, and ninth track “Le Schwing” is so joyous it hurts. I’ll be covering the new album for By Volume in the coming week, and I hope to be a tiny part of a huge explosion of love, the simultaneous glow that lights up the Internet when something new and exciting is clickable, is shareable, is like(love!)able. You Can Do Better is out March 10th, and the band are desperate to bottle up the waiting so that when it fizzes over there’s a real bang. In the past, Johnny Foreigner have distributed fake versions of a record through their fanbase and written at length about the importance of this anticipation for up-and-coming bands like them.

At the time of writing – and to my knowledge – everyone who has heard this album has respected the boundaries that everyone should always respect forever. Fostering a network of people you trust like that is essential to building anticipation in a product or an idea. A couple of years ago, I wrote at length about how I would despair and lay down my arms if Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything didn’t take the mainstream. Here’s to hoping that the pressure building this time shakes the city to its core.

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SEO is PR

Imagine that the Internet is a planet, and that every website is a plot of land. Now, imagine that your business owns a plot of land in the UK, but that you also want to establish a small building on a plot of land in Algeria. You think that if you can build an outpost in Algeria, people in Algeria will think you’re great. Imagine that you go to Algeria and walk onto a plot of land which is owned by an Algerian farmer, and begin to build your outpost without his permission. Imagine that he gets angry and punches you. Then imagine that the police show up.

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This is the rough, stupid end of link-building – the dregs of grey- and black-hat SEO. But the analogy of trespassing and constructing without permission serves its purpose; we can no longer think of link-building as something carried out by an individual for their personal gain. It is, at the very least, a joint venture between two people who own plots of land. I’d go as far as to say that there’s a third party whose participation, or at least consent, we need: the reader.

So what was, for a brief blip, a matter of cunning and guile, suddenly looks an awful lot like traditional marketing. For instance:

  1. We need to be aware of, and sensitive to, the business objectives of others. If a potential partner’s success is reliant upon their credibility, we need to fact-check anything we contribute three times over.
  2. It takes time to build a relationship with trust and understanding. This is not a flash-in-the-pan exercise; a couple of quick emails back and forth will not bring about the kind of partnership we need.
  3. An introduction from a mutual colleague, friend or acquaintance will help us to work better together, as will a face-to-face meeting, or at least a conversation on the phone. When the audience is involved in our thinking, we can’t cut corners on message.
  4. We need to recognise the limitations and be restrained in our co-operation. If two companies support each other all the time, it looks strange to real humans and it looks strange to search engines. What’s newsworthy or interesting is newsworthy or interesting. What isn’t, isn’t.

This is revolutionary and probably terrifying for the technology companies that have grown and made SEO their domain: an industry notorious for its lack of charisma has suddenly been asked to suit up, shave, and learn to talk to real people about real opportunities for collaboration.

Credit: Aidan Jones

Credit: Aidan Jones

Most or many of them won’t clean up their act, or at least not until it’s too late. Some will be incapable, and others will be unwilling. But the writing is on the wall: the people who will succeed in marketing their websites are the people who know how to talk, how to make deals, how to spot opportunities and how to appeal to their market.

Proper businesses, then.