Thank You, But Hightalk now Closed

No, thank you!

No, thank you!

As you can probably tell… Hightalk has been an abandoned house for months now. The pipes rattle at night. The old newspapers are piling up on the porch. No one has mowed the lawn.

I resisted formally shuttering the place because I thought the spark that kept me blogging here for more than six years would return and I’d come blazing back. New paint. Some wallpaper. Maybe put in a new kitchen.

Didn’t happen.

I’ve always believed that blogging was a temporary activity for solo practitioners. Being your own writer, editor, proofreader, publisher and social media distributor is hard work. Long hours. Thankless. Really, who can keep up with the spammers?

But I always managed to balance blogging with my real job and family commitments through sheer will and passion.

But my tastes and interests have changed. So has my time – or lack there of.

So it is time. I’m putting plywood in the windows. The doors are being bolted. Hightalk comes to formal and long overdue end.

Thanks to all my readers: colleagues, friends, clients, prospectives, partners and even family. I’ve appreciated all of feedback, interaction and engagement.


Mine is Longer Than Yours



There is endless debate about how long marketing content needs to be. Most people fall into the camp that it needs to be short.


  • Attention spans.
  • The fast and furious pace of the Internet
  • The way social networks work (Twitter, for example)

But conventional wisdom on going short may be wrong. There is evidence that longer form content is making a comeback.

Several supporting facts to back this up:

  • A new study by CrowdTap, a social media influence platform, shows that people under the age of 30 are reading more books than the over 30 crowd. The study revealed that 88% of millennials had read a book within the last year compared to 79% of those over 30. Even more telling was that 43% of millennials read from a book  day.
  • The blogging platform Medium found that the ideal length of a blog was 1,400 to 1,750 words. That’s much higher than the usual industry standard of 500 to 750 words.
  • ProBlogger found evidence of that as well. They found that its longer posts – some as long as 7,600 words – performed better than shorter blog posts.
  • eMarketer found that people did not shy away from watching long-form video content on their devices. Long-form – such as TV shows and movies – performed just as well as short-form video such as news clips and previews.

Marketers are constantly trying to find tricks and use data to game the system. Finding the magic bullet for “length” is one of those tricks they spend endless amounts of resources studying it.

But it’s an exercise in hand-wringing. As you can see, length doesn’t really matter. People will read longer form content and watch long-form video.

What matters is quality.

Is your content good?

What the research above shows is that you don’t have to be afraid to go long – if that is what it takes to tell your story.


What Millennials Read Study by CrowdTap (via Say Media)

Medium on Ideal Post Length (via MarketingLand)

Long Form Content vs. Short Series (via ProBlogger)

Long-Form Video Content Nearly as Popular as Short (via eMarketer)

Deal With It: News is a Commodity, a Worthless One


The Guardian posted a recent story called “Can Twitter Make Money Off of Breaking News or is it a PR Platform?”

I nearly choked on my coffee.

The article notes:

“Twitter’s behaviour over the last few months suggests it doesn’t think it can.”

Well of course Twitter doesn’t think it can make money off of breaking news. Why would it think it could? Because even the news business can’t make money off of breaking news.

Nobody can.

Newspapers revenues are at their lowest since 1950. The problem is a simple one: print ads were expensive and digital advertising is cheap. You can’t replace expensive with cheap and expect to say in business.

According to Slate:

“The dramatic decline in newspaper ad revenues since 2000 has to be one of the most significant and profound Schumpeterian gales of creative destruction in the last decade, maybe in a generation.”

The other problem is subscriptions. No one is willing to pay for those, especially young people who have an effective life hack to avoid subscription fees: the Internet.

I don’t need to buy a newspaper or pay to get behind your paywall to get the news. All I have to do is Google it.

Or go to Facebook or Twitter.

All the breaking news I want is located in those places for free. Because guess what? Even if you’re selling your breaking news, someone else isn’t.

It’s time for journalists to admit to a disturbing fact. One they can’t seem to grasp even though all evidence points to it (kind like Republicans and climate change).

News is now a commodity. A commodity that few people will pay for.

And, yes, this is a huge societal problem. Because news outlets continue to drive the news despite all the savage cutbacks and bleeding bottomlines.

But no one – not even Twitter – can figure out how to profit from a product that few people place a monetary value on anymore.


Guardian article on if Twitter can make money on breaking news

Slate article on the decline of newspapers

3 Reasons Why Facebook Communities Are Dead


When Facebook started to pop and roll, brands got very excited about the prospect of creating online communities of customers, prospects and fans. The idea was a powerful one: cluster like-minded people together, share information and engage.

Brands flocked to Facebook. They hired community managers and social media experts. They posted daily as if they were filling up the cafeteria bulletin board. They began collecting fans and likes like they were gold nuggets.

And then three important things happened that changed everything about Facebook and killed the idea of a brand community.

1. First and foremost, turns out people don’t really want to belong to brand communities.

There are exceptions of course. Some brands attract legitimate dedicated fans – Apple, Starbucks, etc. But these kinds of brands are the exceptions, not the rules. Most people have no desire to engage regularly with their phone or gas company or exchange holiday greetings with their online storage vendor. And most brands don’t have the ability to engage with real people without talking ad nauseam about themselves. They aren’t really interested in listening, but in waiting for their turn to talk – about themselves.

It’s also difficult to run real-time communications when companies generally operate 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Or that most of the content written for Facebook (and other social networks) is generally done by committee, making it impersonal and extremely boring. Go ahead and read most of the post from a brand and you’ll find that the language is mostly the same: vanilla.

2. Facebook became too big.

Once people started connecting with people beyond their immediate friends and family, it became impossible for Facebook to serve up all that content. The News Feed is only so big. If you “like” 200 people, brands and groups and they each created one posting a day – that would be 200 individual pieces of content – everything day. Double that and its 400 pieces of content. Double that and it 1,600.

The Facebook algorithm simply couldn’t keep up without turning the Facebook News Feed into a Twitter stream. So Facebook needed to start prioritizing the content. It became to serve up content that it guessed you like: content from people and brands that you had interacted with before or shared before. The friends and brands that you didn’t interact with got put on the back burner. In fact, you can be friends with someone and never see their content.

3. Facebook turned into a paid platform.

Facebook went public. When a company goes public, it needs to be profitable. They came up with a simple, yet fundamentally anti-community solution. Only brands to interact with their fans, but only if they pay for the privilege. We are now at a place where most brand content is only seen by about 2-5 percent of their fan base when they post organically. If they want to reach more people – they need to pay to do so.

It’s hard to create a brand community on Facebook when the brand’s post only are seen by a randomly generated 2 percent.


So what does this mean? Social communities – for better or worse – are dead on Facebook and probably on every other social network as well. As all social networks become too large and move to monetize there’s no real opportunities to foster and grow a community.

So what are social networks then?

They are distribution networks for content – much like email lists. They are places where people have opted in for content about the brand – as long as it is valuable and informative content. Otherwise, they will likely leave or block you.

So brands need to abandoned the idea of community on Facebook. It’s not about that anymore – if it ever really was.

It’s about the content.

Fewer Choices, Please…

BigOptionLet me set the stage:

  • Amazon Instant Video has more than 40,000 movies and TV shows
  • Kindle offers more than one million book titles
  • Google Play has 1.5 million apps
  • Spotify offers 20 million songs (including 4 million that have never been play even once)
  • There are 157 “white” colors available from Benjamin Moore (and if you can tell the difference between Sandy Beaches and Sandy Shore then you are a better man than me)

You get the picture. There are too many choices in the digital world. It’s probably why you have a hard time picking the right movie or the right book. It may be why there’s no way you’re going to paint your bedroom when “blue” has turned into a decision among 510 different kinds of blue.

Too many articles. Too many blog posts. Too many Facebook status updates. Way too many tweets. And what does too many choices lead to?

Confusion, paralyzation and, ultimately, unhappiness.

I recently got to experience this first hand while looking for a coffee maker on Amazon. Search for “Coffee Maker” on Amazon and you get – in less than a second – 24,136 results. You can narrow this down, of course. There are 2,927 different types of coffee machines, but thankfully only 472 espresso and coffee maker combos.

How to decide?

Reviews, of course. But even sorting through the only 4-star and above reviews for coffee machines, I still had 394 products. And that was in aggregate. Even the best reviewed coffee machines got slammed by a few people. How did I deal with all of this?


I threw up my hands and decided to read Gawker instead.

As Fast Company noted recently:

“As the number of options increases, the costs, in time and effort, of gathering the information needed to make a good choice also increase… The level of certainty people have about their choice decreases. And the anticipation that they will regret their choice increases.”


Even reading the reviews on the good coffee machines, I would come across negative comments about it. That stopped me. Got me nervous about committing.

It was easier to push the decision off.

But even worse is the fact that when we’re tired, annoyed and confused – we tend to make bad decisions. This is called “Decision Fatigue.”

Again from the Fast Company article:

“The mind can only sort through so many options and make so many choices before it starts to run out of steam. That’s why impulse buys like candy bars and magazines at the checkout aisle in the grocery store can be hard to resist. We’ve exhausted all our good decision-making skills.”

Forbes put it even better: “Complexity leads to indecision, leads to stagnation.”

Can’t we go back to black or white? Paper or plastic?

I’m interested in hearing from you. Do you get paralyzed by the number of choices for, well, everything? Does having too many choices make you unhappy?


Digital Music News on Spotify’s unplayed songs

Fast Company on how choices make us unhappy

Forbes on the poverty of choices

Going Live is Really, Really Hard


For the last two years, I’ve co-led a live broadcast offering for Weber Shandwick.

It’s called – ta da! – GoLive.

GoLive differs from a regular “live stream” in that it is a produced TV-quality show – scripted, multi-camera and with high-quality roll-in content. A GoLive is interactive and embedded within social media. It’s a like a TV show on your website or Facebook page that you can engage with.

We have produced dozens of them and have gone live from three continents.

So that’s why when Apple’s live broadcast yesterday went horrible wrong, I felt that sickening sensation in my belly followed by a utter relief. Relief that the Apple broadcast wasn’t a GoLive. I know that’s terrible, but true. I’ve been there and it isn’t fun.

In case you missed it – and I’m not sure how you could have – Apple’s live broadcast was riddled with mistakes.

The stream kept cutting out. Internal slates popped up in the middle of the broadcast. And for about 30 minutes the Chinese translator spoke simultaneously over the main audio.

It was a disaster.

It’s too late to help Apple, but if you’re going live remember these three tips:

1. Rehearse

2. Rehearse again

3. Rehearse a third time

This means from a content standpoint and from a technical one.

There are so many moving parts in a live broadcast that rehearsing is very important. So is having checklists, best practices and a solid run of show. Something will go wrong – that’s a given. Watch any live broadcast on TV – from the Super Bowl to the Academy Awards – and you’ll see mistakes. But because the directors and producers are experienced and understand live, they know how to disguise them.

That comes from practice.

Going live and real-time communications is what the Internet was made for. It pumps energy, engagement and excitement into any event, product launch or news announcement.

Apple had a rough time of it yesterday, but don’t let that dissuade from going live. It’s worth it.


If Apple can’t stream an iPhone 6 event… via ZDNet

Viewers on Apple live stream… via MarketWatch

More about Weber Shandwick’s GoLive

What is Brand Content Supposed to Do?


It’s primary mission? It’s prime directive?


Inform, entertain or do both.

Brand content shouldn’t be about hawking products. Or services. It be showcasing them in a way that tells a compelling story about what the brand, product or service can do for its customers – whether they are businesses or people.

Content should be grounded in the essence of a brand, but not be about the brand.

Nobody (well, few people) want to watch a product demonstration video about software speeds and feeds. Better would be a video that shows how the software solved real business problems for real people. And done as a story with conflict, drama and a resolution.

The best content inspires action. It gets people sharing it. Clicking on it so they can learn more or participate. It should get them talking: commenting, liking and retweeting.

Too often brands think their digital content should be glamorized advertising. It shouldn’t be. People don’t want advertising. In fact, they actively try to avoid it.

But provide content that entertains and informs and you’ll have customers opting in to read, watch and experience.


Best Brand Content of 2013 (via Digiday)

The Best Branded Content of 2013 (via Contently)


All Media is Paid


Can we stop pretending there are media categories called earned, owned and paid?

They are ALL paid.

And they always have been.

Earned media is pitching stories and concepts to existing publishers and having them write about your company, product or service. The idea was to tell publishers – be they reporters or producers – a compelling and interesting story and they would want to write or produce a piece about your brand.

It still works this way, in theory, but in an environment where PR consultants now outnumber journalists more than 3 to 1, the pickings are slim.

And pitching news stories is costly. Most brands hired PR agencies to help them break through the noise. That always cost money. Now, however, publishers are struggling mightily. They have entered into native advertising – a polite way of referring to paid content – in a big way.

Brands now have all kinds of opportunity for paid partnerships and sponsored content with publishers.

Call it “paid earned” if you like. And the best way to enter into this paid partnerships with publishers is produce content – worthy content. Content that speaks more to consumers than it does to brand messaging.

Owned media is a brands own publishing channels – websites, email newsletters, social media and blogs. It’s the content the brand creates – be it articles, infographics or videos – that it then self-publishes directly to its fans, followers and customers.

This is also a paid category. It cost lots of money to create digital content, especially the type of content people want to share and comment on. It costs money to build, maintain and manage digital properties like websites, microsites, Facebook pages, mobile applications and Twitter pages.

Now, however, social channels are requiring that brands pay for distribution. Facebook is the tip of this “paid owned” spear. Most brands are now getting about 2% fan penetration on organic content on Facebook. In other words, when a brand posts content only about 2% of their fans see it in their News Feeds.

Two out of every 100 people seeing your content is a lousy number. But Facebook now has many paid distribution options to get that content in front of more fans (and even friends of fans).

Owned media, especially social media, is paid more than ever.

Paid media remains paid media, but with distinct differences. Paid used to mean advertising.

Not anymore.

In fact, paid advertising has been losing its impact for years. People tune out advertising. The paid options that show real traction and interest are “paid distribution.” Using a piece of brand content – designed specifically for a target audience – and then paying to distribute it directly to them.

The effectiveness of “paid distribution” vs. advertising is that brands don’t pay for impressions – a vague way of kind of saying that someone saw your ad – they pay for an action: a view, a click or a read.

If you have a cool brand video why would you pay for an impression? The goal is to get people to watch it. That’s what paid distribution is all about: opening up your content to new, but targeted audiences.


Be it earned, owned or paid – ALL media is paid. To be a success, brands need to strategically design programs that tap into the paid aspects of ALL media.

Because if you aren’t, you aren’t doing media right.


Paid media becomes a mainstay of web series (via GigaOm)

The B2B marketing guide to paid content distribution (via B2B Digital Marketing)

Could your content go further? (via HubSpot)

What’s Wrong with Facebook? You Can’t Scale


And that’s ultimately the problem with every social network.

The more friends you get. The more brands, bands, movies, books, groups, restaurants, and organizations you like – the less you’ll see of all their content – even if you want it.

You, my friends, have limits.

There’s only so much “content” that Facebook can deliver to you without it becoming a mighty waterfall of free-flowing content that would drown you and everyone you’re following.

Every social network faces the same dilemma. The more their users grow – the more they follow and friend – the more complicated it becomes for them to deliver you the right content. The content you want. Add to this mess the fact that most people are, well, people. So their content needs shift and change. That’s why Facebook is having a heck of job trying to figure out what you want.

It’s also why organic reach is plummeting for every content creator on the platform. There’s just too much content for every person.

Twitter is having the same problem – they just disguise it better. Twitter allows us to easily segment those we follow into groups a.k.a. lists. I have lists for news, sports, social media, books, co-workers, my team and many others. Without lists I’d be forced to try to keep up using my main feed. I follow so many people – too many – that my main feed moves to fast for me to even read.

Without TweetDeck and my list segmentation I’d be toast.

The solution is actually a simple one. And one that sends shivers down the spine of every social network.

Scale downward.

That’s the bitter pill. Less is more on social media.

Follow fewer brands, fewer friends and co-workers. Fewer news organizations. Clean out your friends and follower lists regularly. Be ruthless. Keep the ones that provide value. Be rigorous and you’ll get better content. You’ll have a better experience. You’ll be able to learn more, engage more, and your content will become more valuable.

But that’s not a message Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the rest can take to their stockholders.

But it is one that will be best for all of us. Be your own filter. Because right now Facebook is learning that they are a terrible filter.


A Chart that Explains the Reachpocalypse on Facebook (via Convince and Convert)

Don’t Post If You Don’t Have Something to Say (via Richard Nevins)



All the Fake News Fit to Print


Fake news is now a regular occurrence. A news story that’s just too good to be true rockets around the internet. Just a sampling from the last couple of months:

  • Catholic Pope Francis declares that all religions are true
  • North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un murdered his uncle by feeding him to a pack of 120 starving dogs
  • Sarah Palin accidentally flies to South Korean for Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa
  • Facebook is banning all religious posts at the end of March

All of these “news stories” are patently false. Most fake news sputters out. But not as often anymore. Now some of them are being picked up by legitimate news outlets, especially on their social channels like Twitter and Facebook.

Take the Kim Jong Un fake news story. That not only circulated on FOX-News, the Daily Mirror, NBC News and dozens of other outlets, but these news outlets wrote their own news stories about it before it was finally debunked.

Being fooled by fake news is now a given for consumers. But here comes the media!

The problem for consumers (and now media companies) is the way many of us are now accessing the news.

Gone are the days when people read the print newspaper with their morning coffee or on their morning commute (take any subway in any major city and all you see are people reading devices. Nary a paper in sight.). Who tunes into the 6 p.m. local news cast anymore? Heck, most people are still at work or commuting home at that time.

The advantage of those news sources was the rigor of their fact-checking. Fact-checking, however, takes too long in the age of the tweet.

News now comes in two major flavors: Search and Social. And fake news thrives on the latter.

Social media is instant and rumors and speculation can spread like a virus. Your friends mean well, but often they post the photo with the political quote without checking if it is accurate. A quick search on Google (or at can often provide you with the right information – but that takes time.

Some of these fake stories are manufactured by pranksters, but some of them are just poor reporting that spreads before it can be corrected.

Look at some of the “news” stories that raced across Facebook the last few weeks:

  • Sarah Palin opining on FOX-News that Flight 370 may have flown so high it went to heaven
  • Asparagus cures cancer
  • Obama has been caught using a stolen Social Security number from a dead man

While I wish the middle one were true, all of these “news” stories are fake. Sometimes I wonder if the majority of the news I’m reading and viewing on my social networks can even be defined as “news.” Much of it is disguised propaganda, opinion dipped in pseudo journalism, and facts that have been cherry-picked to make a point – rather than to inform.

Are we moving into the golden era of misinformation?

What do you think?

Should we be teaching people how to check the validity of news sources? Is fake news becoming a real problem? Have you been fooled by a fake news report?


The FAKE news story about Sara Palin and Flight 370 going to heaven

Kim Jong Un DIDN’T feed his uncle to the dogs (via Washington Post)

 President Obama stolen social security number DEBUNKED (via