The Stream and Four Online Media Trends to Look for in 2014

By Maribeth Neelis

The Stream, described in detail by Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic, has been the organizing metaphor of the internet since 2009. Think about how a blog is structured. Content is placed in reverse chronological order—newest is at the top, and recency is rewarded by the search engines. That is The Stream, and like a flowing waterway, The Stream is never ending.

In an internet where the content is infinite, The Stream offered order.  But, for some, the flood of content to our inboxes, Facebook and Twitter feeds and news aggregators has become a bit of a burden. And it is not slowing down; the indexed web now has 1.66 billion pages.

But Madrigal suggests a change is on the horizon, that the internet may be in a period of flux, beginning to rebalance and start making more durable things.

He sites some big product and service ideas from 2013 that suggest a shift.
  • The emergence of SnapChat, an ephemeral photo sharing app
  • The launch of Medium, a site designed around collections of work
  • The popularity of Reddit, which he describes as more like a hive than a stream
  • The rise of paywalls by newspapers and magazines that are, in essence, removing themselves from The Stream, at least for non-subscribers
  • The viral successes, Upworthy, ViralNova, TwentyTwoWords, FaithIt, that take advantage of the structure of the stream, creating idealized stories with a beginning, middle and end
  • The changes to Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm that have started giving more attention to older, better performing posts
Several other trends have emerged. Some attempt to manage or counter the effects of The Stream; others are departing from the model altogether, attempting to create something evergreen and valuable, rather than churn out content.

The Longform Renaissance
With the advent and proliferation of smartphones, tablets and readers, longfrom, narrative journalism, the kind that takes 10,000 plus words to unfold, appears to be making a comeback. Last October, Pew Research Center found that 73 percent of tablet owners access longform content either regularly or sometimes; 19 percent do so each day. Meanwhile, prominent newspapers, like New York Times, and newer outfits, like Atavist and Narratively are pairing compelling narrative with multimedia embellishments. (Seriously, check this out!)

Simplicity Reigns
The sheer amount of content available is overwhelming. So it stands to reason that consumers are putting a higher value on simplicity. Whether it’s your website, social media presence, or brand messaging, simpler is better.

As an article by Forbes explained: “There is a sense that from the hyper-connectivity of our highly-digitized lives to the bright, flashy, complicated sensory input we’re fed everyday, there is no way to continue at this pace. As a result, 2013 is likely to be a year where the most successful marketing strategies will be ones that are not only simple in nature, but promote goods and services that serve to simplify the consumer’s life, or even just their customer experience.”

Like this VIP fridge magnet from Dubai's Red Tomato Pizza that allows customers to order a pizza with the touch of a button.

Image-Centric Content
Many marketers are standing out with image and video content that is quickly and easily digestible. Social media sites, like Buzzfeed and Pinterest, have seen success by adopting this model from the beginning. And successful blog posts with the most social shares usually incorporate some visual element.

Free People on Pinterest

The Diversification of Social Media
With more and varied content, it makes sense that new social media will arise to organize and share it. Most marketers focus their energy on Facebook and Twitter, a solid strategy. But as different sites (Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, Tumblr) gain popularity, it’s worthwhile to diversify your social media efforts and produce content in a variety of forms, depending on which network best fits your business.

What other trends have you noticed out there?

Celebrate the Season: Think Abundantly

By Maribeth Neelis

Around this time of year, we're reminded to appreciate what we have. But even though we may be grateful, in this digital age, it’s difficult not to compare ourselves to others and determine that we’re coming up short. There is a related philosophy that suggests the existence of two polar views: abundance and scarcity.

Originally based off of an economic principle and later adopted by the field of organizational development, the concept of abundance vs. scarcity can also be viewed as a personal philosophy that you can apply to your own life. Some say maintaining an abundant mental model will actually help you become more successful.

A mentality of scarcity reveals the overwhelming lack in life; one person’s success is another’s failure and there are few chances allotted to each person.

Scarcity sounds like:
  •  “I’ll never be as successful as the people I read about in magazines.”
  • “My company will never have enough clients to compete with the big guys.”
  • “There are just no new ideas left to have. Everything creative has already been thought of.”

As you might expect, this outlook provokes fear, anxiety, and desperation. On the other hand, the model of abundance suggests there are many opportunities afforded to all and we can prosper together.

Abundance sounds like:
  • “I’m excited for the challenge of creating my own success and good fortune.”
  • “There are plenty of potential clients out there who I can help.”
  • “The potential for new ideas is limitless.”

This way of thinking lifts pressure and inspires courage.

Focus on Scarcity and You Will Find It

You can often hear people trying to disprove abundance by giving examples of the lack around them. Sometimes it can certainly seem as though you have to work really hard just to make ends meet, or that life isn’t fair for you compared to others, but this mindset fails to take into account one very important thing: you usually see what you are looking for.

If you are searching for scarcity, you will surely find it. By focusing on all the things you lack, you are inviting more of the same into your life. Conversely, abundance as a mindset creates a different path where you focus on the things you have in plenty and the amazing experiences that you keep coming across.

This outlook is not meant to deny that there is hardship, merely that there is no reason to prepare yourself for hardship by focusing on it daily in the form of all the things you don’t have or all the ways things might go wrong. This doesn’t actually help you avoid a negative outcome; in fact, it ensures its likelihood all the more.

From the abundant view, life is fun and worth living; we’re not competing with everyone, we’re all in it together, and mistakes aren't catastrophic because they help us better ourselves and continue after our objectives. From this standpoint, focusing on the good areas of life and on their goals, people start to see more of the possibilities available to them. Not to mention, if someone is just enjoying the ride, they don’t have to take every misstep so seriously.

How to Develop an Abundant Mindset

Focus on abundance, rather than lack.
What you focus on in your world is what you will see. Turn the areas in which you see lack into opportunities for abundance. For example, don’t stress out about not having enough work or an unfulfilling job. Instead, focus on all the possible ways there are to build your business or expand your skillset. Brainstorm all the ways you can do what you are passionate about outside of work. The more you place your energy here, the more likely it is that you will see things you had previously missed.

Develop an attitude of gratitude.
When it’s hard to be grateful, start small. Every day, make a point to notice the little things that you enjoy. This allows you to see the abundance in your world. Unlike scarcity, which makes you pull in, a grateful demeanor creates space in which to see opportunities.

Pick up on good vibrations.
If commercials and social media can cause you to think in terms of lack, then you can change your input in order to think abundantly instead. Be selective with what you take into your mind. Surround yourself with optimistic people, read up on ways to increase your own positivity, and cultivate happiness by celebrating others’ success instead of just your own.

Share what you have.
If you feel you don’t have enough of something, give some of it away. Not enough money? Donate $5 to a local charity. Not enough love? Do something nice for a friend. While seemingly counter-intuitive, giving away the thing you feel you lack, will demonstrate how you actually have it in abundance and help you feel more appreciative.

Happy Thanksgiving week!

Additional Reading:
Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New York: Free Press.
Orman, S. (2001). The courage to be rich: Creating a life of material and spiritual abundance. New York: Riverhead Trade.

What's in a Brand? Everything.

By Jon Pushkin

Your brand is your promise. It defines what you stand for, but it only retains its value if you are committed to delivering on that promise. Successful brands connect with their audience through authenticity, and audiences tend to be very loyal to brands that represent their own values. Cross an audience and you’ve lost them. Maybe forever.

A tagline is a short summary of your brand. It’s typically a few words that accompanies your logo and encapsulates your brand promise. We’ve recently gone through a process of defining a tagline with several of our clients. Taglines are subjective. It’s hard to please everyone and everyone has an opinion about what works or not.

There are two types of taglines. One is a positioning statement. It differentiates you from your competitors. It stakes out your turf and claims your position in the marketplace.  The other type of tagline is a slogan. It’s your battle cry. It’s what your army shouts as it is running downhill toward the enemy. Here are some familiar taglines. Can you determine which of these are positioning statements and which ones are slogans?

Hertz: We’re Number 1
VW: Think Small
Nike: Just Do It
Budweiser: The King of Beers
BMW: The Ultimate Driving Machine
Kaiser: Thrive
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: The best cancer care. Anywhere.
KFC: Finger Lickn’ Good

Like designing a logo, the process of choosing a tagline can be contentious.  Here are some ways to make it easier:

  • Make the process inclusive. Involve staff, board members or other stakeholders. Encourage their input and participation.
  • Begin by identifying the most important attributes that define the brand. Look for areas of consensus.
  • Determine if a positioning statement or a slogan will be most effective. Test three to five possibilities to see which ones feel best.  

A good tagline can help define your brand and build loyalty for your target audience. But like a handshake, it is a promise that is only as good as your ability to stand behind it.


Expand Your Mind and Pass the Time with a Podcast

By Maribeth Neelis

Now ubiquitous, the podcast has only been around about a decade becoming popular along with the advent of the iPod and other portable media devices. While the term podcast encompasses any digital media presented in an episodic format and subscribed to or streamed on a computer or mobile device, it is usually in an audio format, like a radio program that is tailored to your interests.

There are now over 100,000 podcasts out there to choose from on a wide range of subject matter. They are a great diversion for a long commute, a gym session or a day of household chores.

In celebration of their almost 10th birthday, here’s a list of some that are worth checking out. Also, browse the list of free podcasts on iTunes or the NPR Podcast Directory; you are bound to find something that strikes your fancy.

Science and Tech

Radiolab is sort of about science, but also philosophy and humanity. Recent topics include: why people aren’t afraid of quicksand anymore, an examination of blame and why it’s necessary, and blood—everything you ever wanted to know.

This monthly podcast covers the latest brain research. Have you ever wondered how the brain imagines new experiences, like nutella pesto, how hypnosis works (or doesn’t), or what genes are behind Alzheimer’s? This show is for you.

Berkman Center for Internet and Society
MediaBerkman is produced by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. It features conversations with leading scholars, entrepreneurs, activists, and policymakers as they discuss topics like, knowledge creation and distribution in the digital age and the implication of the internet on things like art, education and surveillance and security.

Find more science podcasts here.


This podcast is a collection of interviews, cultural picks and discussion of current topics. Recently, the host, Jesse Thorn, interviewed writer/director Nicole Holofcener about her latest film Enough Said staring Julia Louis Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini.

Studio 360
Studio 360 delves into our dynamic cultural landscape looking at what’s happening in pop culture and the arts each week. Need to know what movie to see this weekend, what new book to read or what song you have to hear? Have a listen.

To the Best of Our Knowledge
This podcast, abbreviated TTBOOK, produces two-hour shows each week revolving around themes, like "Are Humans Innately Good" or "Revenge of the Nerds." Shows include interviews, stories, debates and scientific facts and stats.

Ten more culture podcasts to consider.

History and General Interest

Stuff You Should Know
Curious about Jack the Ripper, how handwriting analysis works, or the lowdown on diplomatic immunity? Co-hosts Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark educate listeners on all kinds of things they never knew they wanted to know.

On Being
On Being examines life’s big questions on topics, like religion, ethics, spirituality, and finding purpose and meaning. In recent shows, the host, Krista Tippett, interviewed Thich Nhat Hanh about Mindfulness, Suffering, and Engaged Buddhism, and explored the joy of math with Stanford University’s Keith Devlin.

99% Invisible
This show is about design, architecture and the 99 percent invisible activity that shapes our world, such as bubble houses or the broadcast clock.

Want more options, give these news and general interest podcasts a listen.

How to Listen

You can find all these podcasts online and listen or subscribe via RSS. Or, download a podcast app on your mobile device, and search for and download podcasts directly onto your phone or tablet. Most podcast apps will update automatically, so you will always have the latest episode.

5 Websites Leading the Way in Online Publishing

By Maribeth Neelis

When Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post, we all asked how will this change the world of publishing. But the truth is publishing is already undergoing major transformations, becoming more collaborative and emphasizing quality over quantity, and these websites are leading the way and worth it to check out.

Medium is a publishing platform from the creators of Blogger and Twitter. While it is still figuring itself out, its clean design makes it easy on the eyes. The content is interesting and varied, and readers can comment throughout the articles, creating dialogues with the writer and other visitors, making reading an interactive affair.

Epic Magazine is the brainchild of two fantastic narrative nonfiction writers Joshuah Bearman and Joshua Davis. Currently, they are the only writers, and the site has just a handful of longform stories about all kinds of crazy and true adventures. Think the kind of pieces that are optioned into movies. In fact, Bearman wrote the article that became Argo. And they have big plans for growing this new publishing platform.

Longform recommends new and classic nonfiction and fiction from around the web, which can be read immediately in your browser or saved for later. The site is all about celebrating well reported, longer-form writing. P.S. for any writer-types, they have a great podcast.

Atavist wants to pave the way for the next generation of multimedia storytelling and reach readers on any device. These nonfiction, longform pieces are peppered with audio, video and photographs that give the stories a cinematic feel.  They are available for purchase on the site for $2.99. 

Buzz Reads, is the longform arm of the website Buzzfeed, famous for bringing funny lists to your Facebook feed. The nonfiction pieces on Buzz Reads are on interesting topics, like searching for sunk treasure in the Great Lakes and python hunting in the Everglades.

What do you like to read online?

Behind the Scenes With Cheyenne Frontier Days' Marketing Director Nicole Gamst

By Maribeth Neelis

Cheyenne Frontier Days Marketing Director Nicole Gamst is an east coaster. Well, she used to be. Born in Texas and raised in Boston, the western lifestyle always appealed to her. So in 1999 when Cheyenne Frontier Days called, she packed her bags and headed west, something she always envisioned herself doing.

What drew her to Cheyenne Frontier Days in particular: its celebration of the western lifestyle, heritage and culture.

That, and the fact that she gets to wear many hats.

"I like the variety," she says. "I get to do everything from research to social media to advertising. I get to see the full scope of the marketing function, not just a sliver."

Nicole is pretty much always on call during the event, which runs mid-summer every year. But her  work is cyclical; there's never much downtime, even after the event ends.

Currently, she's outlining the 2014 strategy. In late fall, she will announce the artists for next year and promote them through events and press releases. The winter months are dedicated to developing advertising. In the spring, they shift to executing their strategy, hitting consumers with advertising and web features as they are starting to think about their summer entertainment.

"That's one aspect I enjoy the most," Nicole says, "There is always something new."

She also appreciates the event's historical significance for Cheyenne. "It is a well established event in the community. I get to work with volunteers who have been involved in producing this show for generations."

Come check Cheyenne Frontier Days next year July 18-27, 2014.

Everyone, Meet Healthcare Reform

By Maribeth Neelis

Until recently, I kind of put healthcare reform on the back burner in my mind, filed it with The General Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics under things I am definitely going to sit down and figure out one day.

Well, that day has arrived, at least for the healthcare part.

Just like physics theories, healthcare reform is not incredibly intuitive. But we have access to a whole division of experts who haven't been procrastinating like we have, The Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI).

Colorado Is the Best
In addition to sunshine and mountains, Coloradans have one more thing to brag about: a state government that has been proactively planning for healthcare reform.

Communications Manager at the Colorado Division of Insurance Vince Plymell says, "Coloradans are lucky, because our state is adjusting to healthcare reform in a positive way, trying to communicate to citizens their choices, creating a state exchange instead of allowing the feds to create one, as other states are doing."

To see the latest health plan choices offered through the exchange, check out Connect for Health Colorado.

Getting the Word Out
The task of preparing consumers for the changes they may face over the next few years is daunting. First of all, health insurance isn't necessarily riveting subject matter.

"It's a complex subject to communicate, so people procrastinate and don't deal with it until they absolutely must," Vince says. "Just engaging people on this topic is difficult."

But time is on the DOI's side. Love it or hate it, Obamacare is becoming a reality.

"Just the march of time is helping us to get the information out. This is happening, and people are starting to realize that, as we get closer to 2014. People must have health insurance or they will be fined."

And with a decidedly consumerist angle, health insurance has piqued the media's interest as well, which never hurts.

What Vince and the DOI Want Consumers to Know

The DOI is here for you.
The Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI) regulates the insurance industry and helps consumers with insurance issues. First and foremost, they are here for you.

Healthcare reform is going to be OK.
People will have options and choices, and should explore them. The DOI can help those dealing with health insurance for the first time. Its goal is to help educate consumers to ask the right questions and find answers about terms, benefits, and the truth about those rumors they heard around the water cooler.

There are advantages.
Now, no one can be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions or health history. And, individuals can get much more affordable coverage through the health insurance exchanges.

Please, use the DOI as a resource.
There is a ton of information on the DOI website. But Vince also encourages people to call and speak with an expert at 303-894-7490 or toll free at 800-930-3745.

The New Wave of Social Media

By Maribeth Neelis

When my dad begrudgingly set up a Facebook account “to keep track of what you kids are up to,” I thought, social media has finally reached critical mass.

According to The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, 72 percent of online adults now use social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter. And those 65+ have tripled their use in the past four years—from 13 percent in 2009 to 43 percent in 2013.

But while we were figuring out how use hashtags, wrapping our heads around Facebook’s new timeline layout or asking the teens in our lives how to hide annoying status updates from our newsfeeds, they were moving on to new social media platforms.

TechCrunch reports, interest in Facebook is declining among teens. The new cool tools among the younger demog: Wanelo, Vine, SnapChat, Kik and 4chan.

This cohort not only has unprecedented online influence, they are generally the early adopters of trends and tools later embraced by the masses. (Remember when Facebook was exclusive to college students and recent alums?) So whether you want to be in the know for professional reasons or pick up some conversation fodder for your teenage niece, here’s the scoop on these emerging social apps and sites.

Wanelo, a portmanteau of Want, Need, Love, is a community for shoppers.

How It Works
It merges stores, products and people into a sort of giant internet mall curated by its users. Every item posted links back to the original product for easy purchasing. It’s kind of like an RSS feed of products the users you follow are buying.

Why It’s Cool
The site taps into the human desire to see what our friends and acquaintances are buying and where. Who hasn’t uttered the words, “Love that shirt. Where’d you get it?”

  • Over 8 million users as of May 2013
  • Over 6 million products saved 8 million times a day 
  • Products from over 200,000 stores, from major retailers to small independent shops 

Vine is Twitter’s video app that allows users to create looping videos and share them on Vine as well as Twitter and Facebook.

How It Works
Just download the app, create a profile, find something to record and start filming.

Why It’s Cool
Follow Editors Picks, spend a few minutes watching the videos, and you’ll see some impressive work and probably wonder where these people find the time. The skill level and content choices vary greatly, but it's a fun creative outlet and innovative way to share scenes from your day.

  • 14 million users in just six months 
  • Five Vine videos tweeted every second 

SnapChat is the digital equivalent of passing a note in class, explains the company's co-founder Bobby Murphy. Well, a note that self-destructs after a few seconds.

How It Works
Snap a picture with the app, add a caption and send it to a friend, or a group. After they view it for a few seconds, the message disappears…(as long as the recipient doesn’t take a screenshot.)

Why It’s Cool
My first thought: teenagers don't want their risqué shenanigans broadcast for all to see. But the app's co-founders assure (maybe concerned parents) of its more wholesome intent.

They say, younger social media users are growing tired of the uber-polished profiles and contrived images shared on many social media platforms. And SnapChat, in its ephemerality, is more akin to a real conversation. Either way, SnapChat is the antithesis to an online world where each photo, update and comment lives on in perpetuity.

  • More than 60 million photos or messages sent each day 
  • $13.5 million raised in venture capital funding 

Kik Messenger is an instant messenger app for smart phones.

How It Works
Like iMessage, Kik uses a smartphone’s data plan or Wi-Fi to send and receive messages, allowing users to avoid the text messaging rates set by service providers.

Why It’s Cool
In addition to free messaging across operating systems, users can share photos, sketches, voice messages, and other content. Kik Messenger requires users to register a username as form of identification.

  • Reached 1 million user registrations in 15 days 
  • 50 million unique users registered as of April 2013 

4chan makes me feel old, slightly confused and kind of grouchy.

How It Works
The website is just a simple, image-based bulletin board where people can post on various topics, like Japanese animation, music and photography. Browsing the forums feels like hanging out with a group of teenaged boys all laughing about an inside joke I don’t understand.

Why It’s Cool
It may look like a chat room from the mid-nineties, but it's one of the internet’s most trafficked image boards, according to the Los Angeles Times. And its users are behind some very popular Internet memes, like LOLcats, Rickrolling and Chocolate Rain, as well as countless others. I guess teenaged boys can be pretty funny sometimes.

  • Over 25,000,000 unique visitors per month 
  • One of the highest-trafficked US sites, according to Alexa

It's hard to see how this new wave of social media will be relevant to businesses or any of us born before 1995. But then again, I never thought I'd see my dad on Facebook.

Cowboy PR

Last month I had breakfast at the Holiday Inn in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The waitress suggested the breakfast buffet. I asked what was in the breakfast buffet. She said “Well, we’ve got ham, bacon, sausage…’’ “Hmm, I don’t eat those,” I said suspiciously.  “She said, “Well, we have fruit, cereal, eggs…” So I ordered the breakfast buffet.

The truth is, we all have to make adjustments sometimes. When things don’t go your way, when a client doesn’t agree with everything you recommend, and especially when people look at you like you must be from Mars because you don’t eat bacon, ham or sausage. That ability to adjust your saddle or even change horses in midstream when you need to find some common ground is a lost art these days. That’s one thing that really impressed me about the people who run Cheyenne Frontier Days.

The Cowboy Way is no bull. These people really practice the art of Cowboy PR. They are straight shootin’ communicators who say what they think and mean what they say. Their core values include honor, respect and courtesy. It might sound old fashioned, but that culture is fundamentally what PR is all about. You may not agree with them, but at least they will respect you enough to let you voice your opinion, as long as you do it in a respectful way. If you choose to be ornery about it, they’ll just get up and leave until you calm down. In Cowboy PR, there is no time for showboating. They are too busy rounding up the truth.

For too long, Cheyenne Frontier Days let other people tell the story of how animals are treated at rodeos.  Often that story has been negative. It’s been told by people who truly believe that their perspective is the only one that matters. They make a lot of noise and they fire a lot of cheap shots. Now, CFD tells its own story in its own words and lets whoever wants to decide which story they like best.

In just three years, CFD has built a loyal following on Facebook
with over 77,000 fans. They have dozens of their own videos on YouTube and over 6,000 people following them on Twitter. Instead of only negative attacks, the media coverage also includes features on CFD’s commitment to keeping rodeo livestock healthy and safe.  Most of all, the 2,500 volunteers who run the organization feel better because they are finally being listened to instead of just hollered at.

Honor. Respect. Courtesy. That’s straight shootin’ communications. That’s Cowboy PR.

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