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Digital Media

Periscope and Facebook Live logos

Live video: Experience the world through someone else’s eyes

In this post, Bernard Muscat, Senior Social Media Officer at Macmillan, aims to demystify live video, identify key live-streaming platforms and provide best practice tips for creating engaging live content.

We are seeing a large increase in live video content on social media.  By tuning in to live video, users can experience the world through someone else’s eyes. For example, you could be at home in the UK and watch live events from the streets of New York City, Bangkok, or Melbourne, if someone is holding up their device and live-steaming.  Users watching the live video are able to follow live, respond and interact with the live content.

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Instagram Stories: New feature launched today

In this post, Social Media Officer, Alice Hajek, talks about the introduction of Instagram’s new feature – Instagram Stories and what it means for Macmillan.

Today, Instagram launched a new feature ‘Instagram Stories’, in an attempt to fill the platform with less polished, more real time content. Very similar in name (well, pretty much the same name) to Snapchat’s My Story function, the new feature allows you to share photos of your day that you may not have published to your Instagram profile ordinarily. These photos, just like Snapchat, will disappear within 24 hours. You can also use their drawing tools and emojis to enhance your photos (like Snapchat).

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Snapchat logo with QR code background

Get snap-happy

If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing a dog-face or rainbow vomit lens and felt scared, confused, or indeed delighted, you have Snapchat to thank for that. Social Media Officer, Hayley Devlin explains the who, what, and why of Snapchat - the five-year-old chat app that’s surprised everyone.

Snapchat is having its moment in the sun. Since launching in 2011 the platform has grown rapidly and is hailed as the go to app for teens and millennials. In 2015 Snapchat’s estimated project revenue was $50 million and its creators turned down an offer of $3 billion from Facebook. Not bad for disappearing images.

But why? What is it is about Snapchat that’s taken it from faddy-app to social media powerhouse? And why is it that ‘old’ people just can’t seem to get on board? (As of March 2015 over 71% of all Snapchat users were under the age of 34).
On a personal level, Snapchat is great fun and is a growing platform; in 2015 it had 100 million daily active users. It’s a platform that businesses and organisations simply can’t choose to ignore.
Snapchat is like being the star of your own reality TV show. To me, that’s why so many teens and millennials can’t seem to put it down. Thanks to the ‘My Story’ function, we’ve been able to film our lives in 10 second clips and pictures and leave them for all our friends to see for 24 hours. Snapchat gives users the chance to share intimate/funny/personal moments with the people they care about in a way that feels more personal and private than Facebook or Instagram.
Snapchat is creative. The ‘draw’ feature (the pencil icon that appears in the top right corner when once you’ve taken a picture) allows users to turn their pictures into works of art and ‘face swap’ has turned into a craze. If you haven’t had a play with the face filters yet, I’d highly recommend entertaining yourself for 15 minutes or so. Simply switch to your front facing camera, hold a finger on your face until Snapchat recognises it and swipe through the filters you want.

The real, and new found, power of Snapchat comes when you step away from the personal and begin harnessing it to reach a much wider audience. Some of the biggest players in online news and entertainment produce content for Snapchat’s ‘Discover’ channel on a daily basis. Celebrities such as Chris Pratt, the Kardashian-Jenner clan and DJ Khaled (king of Snapchat) are using the platform to deliver self produced content straight to their fans. Football teams and brands are also on board with the likes of Manchester City, FC Barcelona, Selfridges, Nike and McDonalds all creating content to add to their ‘Stories’ on daily basis. You can even follow the White House.
It’s also being used for good. In India, Rajshekar Patil, Avani Parekh and Nida Sheriff are using the app in a way that allows young people in abusive relationships to reach out to them and get help they wanted to create a helpline that young people would feel safe enough to use. To add them and see for yourselves just search for ‘lovedoctordotin’ on the app.

In February, Snapchat released it’s ‘On Demand Geofilters’ and opened up another way to advertise on the platform. Geofilters are banners you can add to your pictures according to where you are. To access them you have to have allowed Snapchat location access and all major cities, landmarks and universities have them.The Shard with Snapchat Geofilter applied. Text reads, ' The City'.

These Geofilters are free and known as ‘Community Geofilters’. ‘On Demand Geofilters’ give brands the opportunity to pay for and create their own geofilters set to a location of their choosing. Individuals can do this on too, with Snapchat touting weddings as the perfect excuse for something so personalised. With prices starting from $5 they’ve made them affordable and accessible. The process is fairly simply, you design your geofilter, upload it to Snapchat, select the date and how long you’d like it to run, select the location, and send it off to Snapchat for approval or denial. If they deny, they’ll usually give you a reason why.

 It was a no brainer that Macmillan had to have Geofilters for the upcoming London Marathon, so I worked with the creative team to get a few designed. We’ve got four filters being used across the day, so if you happen to be at our cheer points in Monument, Embankment or Canary Wharf, be sure to snap and use our filter. There’s also one at the finish line. You can find them by taking a picture and then swiping left or right until you find ours.

Beyond the frivolous fun of Geofilters, Snapchat opens Macmillan up to a wider audience. It’s an opportunity to showcase our various challenge events and adds extra buzz to our fundraising events. It gives us the opportunity to run intimate Q&As with our experts that will remain on the platform for 24 hours at a time. We already know that our main demographic is women aged 35-55 and at a time where we’re trying to get younger audiences to care about our cause, Snapchat could be the key we need.

Snapchat how-tos

Find a Geofilter:

  1. Take a photo.
  2. Swipe right or left until you come across an image like the one above.
  3. Press the arrow in the bottom right corner, select who you’d like to send it to and send your snap.

Take a selfie with a filter:

  1. Switch to front facing camera by tapping the camera icon in the top right hand corner.
  2. Hold a finger on your face until Snapchat recognises it.
  3. Swipe through filters (rainbow vomit is my favourite).
  4. Press the circular button to take a picture or hold it down to film.
  5. Tap the arrow in the bottom right corner, select who you’d like to send you snap to and send it!

 

Three different Snapchat lenses - Aged, rainbow vomit, and scary.

Questions about this post? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @mac_digital. We’d love to hear from you!

I no speak digital

As the digital world continues to grow, so too does its language. Annabel Howarth breaks into smaller chunks, some of the digital fodder she’s been served so far.

When I moved from the Campaigns team into the wonderful world of digital, I was not prepared for the fact that I would have to learn a whole new language. To save you the embarrassment of feeling like a dinosaur- here’s a jargon-buster for 10 commonly used digi-terms you can impress your colleagues with:

    1. CMS

      CMS stands for Content Management System. This means a computer application that allows you to publish, edit, modify, organise, delete and maintain online content. For example, Macmillan uses a CMS to publish and edit webpages. We are in the process of migrating all our content from our old CMS, over to a shiny new one with heaps more functionality that we hope will improve user experience.

    2. SEO

      Search Engine Optimisation is the process of affecting how visible a website or webpage is in a search engine’s unpaid results. Literally this means how high up the Macmillan webpage features on Google’s search results page when a search term is entered. There are lots of ways you can optimise your webpage, such as keyword tagging, a variety of content (such as images or videos), and generally ensuring your content is unique and high quality. You could also look at updating it frequently, Google loves new content.

    3. Meme

      Here’s where I get geeky. So I thought a ‘meme’ was purely a modern phenomenon – funny pictures with captions that my teenage cousin sends me. However, despite the popularity of the modern meme, the term was actually first introduced by Richard Dawkins in 1976. A meme is a virally-transmitted cultural symbol or social idea. Historically, a meme is a discrete ‘package of culture’, which would spread through word of mouth, like a joke, a parable or an expression of speech. Nowadays, memes are generally used to refer to pictures of cultural references with funny quotes over the top spread using social media. The best ones tend to involve cats…or Ryan Gosling.

      Image of Ryan Gosling with the words 'Hey girl, feel my sweater, know what it's made of? Boyfriend material' overlaid.

    4. Above the fold

      This is the upper half of a webpage which is visible without you having to scroll down. Below the fold would be what you see after you scroll down. Hamilton wrote a great post about user behaviour concerning ‘the fold’.

    5. Call to action (CTA)

      Basically what it says on the tin. Emails and webpages have these, and they are the bit where we ask the user to do something, this could be to donate, sign a petition, download a report, or just simply follow a link for more information.

    6. Accessibility

      A really important one…this is about making sure everything on our website is accessible for everyone, including people with a range of disabilities. Accessibility demands that you think about the fact that not all people consume web content in the same way. People with sight difficulties for example, may be accessing our content using screen readers, and people who are colour blind may be unable to read a graphic that uses red writing on a green background. Accessibility is not only about a physical impairment, it also involves accommodating people whose first language isn’t English, or who have a lower reading ability. Here at Macmillan we’re big on accessibility, and we are always trying to get better.

    7. Alt-text

      Linked to accessibility, alt-text is something you add when you are uploading an image to a CMS and aids those using screen-readers. The text is read out by screen readers at the point at which someone without an accessibility need would see an image. Great alt-text allows the user to visualise what’s happening in an image, so they remain as engaged as if they could see it.

    8. Migration

      Macmillan’s Digital team have been in migration mania recently. We are currently migrating content from one CMS to another, updating our website, making it mobile optimised and amazing looking. If you want to learn more about our migration project, have a read of Becca’s blog.

    9. Agile

      A difficult one for me to explain, but essentially Agile is a method of project management or way of working, which focuses on short phases of work with frequent reassessment and redesign to deliver quality products. Here’s a useful guide of the 12 principles of Agile, or read Andy’s post about both Agile and ‘mobile first’ to get a clearer idea.

    10. Microsite

      A small website that serves a very specific function, under the branding of a larger site/organisation. Our Coffee Morning microsite is just one example, but as an organisation we have over 15 microsites!

I hope at least a few of your digital conundrums have been solved from reading this post. But if there’s anything specific you want to ask us, tweet us @mac_digital! We’d love to hear from you!

We’re getting emotional over the new Facebook emotions

SHOCK! HORROR! GLEE! Oh wait, those aren’t part of the six new reactions Facebook has recently rolled out…

If you haven’t already heard, Facebook is now allowing you to express yourself in new ways. All you need to do is hover over the original like button and choose from like, love, haha, wow, sad and anger. So what does our digital team think of the new update? Here are our reactions to the new Facebook reactions:

loveAlice Hajek, Social Media Officer

I like anything new so I am slightly in love with these new options. I am desperately searching my Facebook feed to find something to ‘love’ but am yet to find the perfect post. We have already seen our supporters use the new reactions on our Facebook ads and it is great to see them in action. I’m really interested to see how this will help with our post engagement and if it will have an effect on our reach.

wowMairead Brodie, Digital Marketing Officer

We knew this was in the pipeline but now that this is in place I am wow’d at what this brings to Facebook- they really sneaked this update on us! I’m really looking forward to seeing how this will work on our sponsored Facebook posts and I’m so glad there isn’t a dislike button.

angerGabriella Okon, Digital Editor

The great thing about a thumbs up is that social media users have evolved to understand it as a multi-faceted expression of emotion. Why must I now think twice (nay 6 times!) before I engage with a post? And can someone please explain to me how to differentiate between a cyber like and a cyber love? If I cyber love one friend’s salad pic, and cyber like another friend’s baby pic, what ridiculous trap of misplaced over-expression have I fallen into? I predict that a global preference of the love heart will see the thumbs up fall by the wayside. And what a shame. Okay ‘pokes’ were always creepy, but a thumbs up was just fine. If it aint broke Facebook…

likeBernard Muscat, Senior Social Media Officer

Today’s release is Facebook’s biggest update on features around users’ emotions since the introduction of the Like button in 2009.  The Like button is still among the Reactions available.  It remains to be seen whether users will experiment more with other Reactions, or whether the emojification of the Like button and its longevity will mean that it remains the most popular Reaction.

hahaHamilton Jones, Digital Editor

I think the new update is going to be great fun! By its nature, social media is the platform we use to share what we find hilarious and silly. With a huge rise in videos on our timelines, it’s no surprise Facebook has added these new emojis… how else are we to express our laughter when watching fail videos if not in tiny yellow pixels?

sadAnnabel Howarth, Digital Assistant

These days we have so many hundreds of amazing emojis going round (my personal favourites is the unicorn) and yet Facebook chose these six?! Humans have many complex emotions and this makes me sad,  we can’t be limited like this, our emotions cannot be confined to just six options. Also-is this just going to give cyber bullies and trolls what they have always wanted?I’m worried..

Why I love Instagram (and why Macmillan should love it too)

In this listicle Macmillan Social Media Officer, Alice Hajek talks about why Instagram is her favourite social media network and the opportunities that #throwbackthursdays and #motivationalmonday posts can provide an organsation.

Instagram boasts 300 million active monthly users worldwide. Despite this rather large figure, it is a relatively new social platform for many brands. At Macmillan, we only got into the Instagram swing of things last April when our follower base stood at 3000 people. 10 months later, and with 12,000 new followers, we are starting to establish Instagram as an integral social media platform at Macmillan.

Here are five reasons why I love Instagram (and why Macmillan should love it too).

1. It’s pretty

I love how anyone can make average photographs look great. Of course, I don’t have this problem because all my photos are brilliant… Whether it is a photo of your spiralised courgetti, the sunset from your office (the number of times our digital and PR teams have grammed the sunset over Battersea Power Station must be in the thousands) or our fantastic fundraisers – it’s easy to make your pictures look good. What more could you want?

healthy food image macmillan fundraisers vauxhall sunset

2. Engagement is high

As Facebook cuts the reach of brand pages considerably, the amount of likes and comments on Macmillan’s Instagram posts can sometimes outperform those on our Facebook page. When you consider that Macmillan has 600,000+ likes on Facebook and 15,800 followers on Instagram, this shows just how strong the engagement is on Instagram and the high percentage of followers that we are reaching with our content. It highlights Instagram as a key social channel for Macmillan.

On my personal account, it’s all about the 11 like threshold. If the names of those who liked it are still visible (you need 11 likes to go from names to numbers) you might as well admit defeat and take the post down – #embarrassing.

10 likes vs. 11 likes

3. The younger audience

We have noticed that some of our followers are quite young. There are a lot of usernames full of kisses and ending in years of birth such as ‘04 and ‘05. We know this young audience is not really Macmillan’s target demographic but it is great that we are able to reach them this way. Are they taking in our messages in the 0.02 seconds it takes to double tap (like) a photo, who knows? But at least they know we exist.

However, this is the extreme end of the scale. From what we can see we’re reaching lots of people in their late teens, twenties and thirties as well as our usual Macmillan supporters. I must admit, the younger audience is definitely more useful for Macmillan than for me personally. It can be quite hard to contain my jealousy as my younger sister and cousins receive more likes than me…

4. Recent updates

We can now flick between different Instagram accounts without having to log in and out. YAY! This means it is a whole lot easier to go between my personal account and the Macmillan account, oh and the account my sister and I set up for our dog Angus over Christmas…

Instagram has also announced that we will soon be able to see how many times people have viewed our videos, which will be great for analysis and evaluations. Instagram are still behind Facebook and Twitter in terms of their analytic offering so we are quite excited about this update. They will be rolling the new feature out over the next couple of weeks.

5. Instagram content is the best (in my opinion)

There are lots of clichés on Instagram. Wanderlust photos, motivational quotes, throwback Thursday pics, dogs in fancy dress, cats in fancy dress, random items spread out on the most pristine white tables you’ve ever seen, but I love them all. And luckily lots of them can work for Macmillan.

We’ve shared a pug in a Macmillan t-shirt, motivational quotes from our case studies, throwback Thursday photos, minions up mountains, healthy recipes and cat coffee mornings, to name just a few. And there’s more we can do. We’re still experimenting with what works well but it is an exciting place to be right now.

pug minion quote

You can Follow Macmillan on Instagram here.

Storytelling: The superhero of communications

In the first of three blogs, Craig Melcher, our Digital Content Manager, opens the book on the most enduring and powerful form of digital content.

alan-rickman

‘Storytelling’ was once an innocent word, belonging to the bedtime ritual between parents and children or legend-sharing rituals within indigenous cultures. Then around five years ago the marketing world got its mitts on it, turned it into an ‘essential engagement tool’, and it became the topic of every agency blog, brand summit and industry podcast.

But rather than do its run as a marketing trend and fodder for buzzword bingo, storytelling is now flourishing through digital channels. Stories have become the online content people gravitate to, share and talk about – and the volume, quality and variety have mushroomed.

Aside from how successfully the most dominant modern story forms – films and books – perform online, the telling of stories has found other, more innovative forms. Major news websites have helped lead the way, using HTML5 and other web innovations to combine text, video, photography, graphics and audio into rich, interactive stories like the Guardian’s Firestorm, SBS’s The Other 9/11 and Baptism by Fire from the New York Times.

For our ears, on the back of last year’s record success of Serial (and, long before that, its progenitor This American Life), documentary and interview-style podcast series like Radiolab, Outlook, SBS True Stories, Love + Radio, Porchlight and StoryCorps have built huge audiences. Live event podcasts like Risk! and The Moth are getting big download numbers by featuring everything from story slams to people sharing personal tales onstage.

For our eyes, the web’s visual strengths make it a photographer’s playground, and professionals and amateurs alike are publishing potent photo essays, not only on Instagram but also platforms like Exposure.

For lovers of written stories, the movement has led to sites such as Longform, Wattpad, Medium and dozens more, as well as waves of online learning and collaboration options like Figment, LitLift, The Story Emporium and truckloads more.

The arc and the oxytocin

What caused all this? It turns out we humans have a thing for stories. They are how we connect to each other, generate empathy for people we don’t know, and are moved to do something for them. We’re hard-wired to tell and listen to stories.

We can explain why this happens through some basic science and basic story structure. At its most stripped-down*, the arc of a story has three stages:
1. Exposition – when a main character is introduced along with details like setting, time, situation and, importantly, what that character wants.
2. Crisis – when something happens to the character that gets in the way of what they want.
3. Resolution – when the enemy is beaten, the disaster averted, the solution found, or the first kiss finally happens.

Classic-Story-Arc-storytelling

* In books and courses by the thousands, the universal dramatic structure has been pursued, dissected, analysed, prescribed and over-complicated. But if you want one good read that truly explains the ‘why’ of humankind’s need for stories, I recommend John Yorke’s Into the Woods.

Now the science bit (your brain on stories). We all have four main ‘happy chemicals’, or hormones that act as neurotransmitters in our brains:
- Dopamine – to motivate us. Released when you realise you have a 5pm deadline on the report you thought was due next week.
- Seratonin – to make us feel valued. Released when someone compliments you on that stylish belt.
- Oxytocin – the all-powerful social bonding chemical. Between mum and baby, it facilitates childbirth and promotes breastfeeding. Between two partners, it triggers feelings from warm and fuzzy to sexual. Between two strangers, it fosters generosity.
- Endorphins – the euphoria chemical. Released via all sorts of triggers: through laughter, as response to pain and stress (the athlete’s high), favourite aromas (hello, bacon), and of course chocolate – amongst many others.

So where does the brain science meet the story arc?

1. Exposition: When we’re introduced to a main character, we connect with them to at least a small degree – and our brain releases oxytocin. The more we connect or identify with them – maybe they remind you of someone close, or their situation is one you’ve experienced, or they’re from your town – the more we go on their journey with them, and the more oxytocin we produce.
2. Crisis: As something bad happens to our character, our oxytocin levels increase. And the more we relate to them, the greater the oxytocin surge.
3. Resolution: The moment our character saves the planet and gets the boy, or just finds health and happiness, our oxytocin levels drop and our brain produces endorphins.

That’s why we’re all story junkies. And it’s why civilisations told stories before they could print. They’re the most effective vehicle of communication we have because of their power to move and connect us. Stories are how we entertain, educate and inspire. The yarns we tell in pubs, office kitchens and taxi cabs prove that storytelling is the original form of social media.

‘You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built into the human plan. We come with it.’
- Margaret Atwood

And when you combine the enduring power of the story with the nearly unlimited ability of web channels to reach people, build niche audiences and let them spread content, you get the boom in storytelling explained above, times a thousand.

What does this mean for Macmillan?

Consider our organisational ambition: To reach and improve the lives of everyone living with cancer, and inspire millions of others to do the same. So how do we inspire them? What’s the mechanism that moves them to seek help and information when they’re affected by cancer, or to give us their money, time and other support? Chances are, it will be someone’s story that plays a key role, motivating them to action.

We’re in an enviable position in that we represent the human side of cancer. (As sometimes said, we are the care, not the cure.) The stories of the people we help and the people who help us are the most vivid, compelling and authentic ways we can communicate to our audiences. A principle of our brand is ‘For and by real people’, meaning we allow them to tell their stories and, in doing so, we’re able to express what we do, the need for our services and the impact we can make.

david-for-blog

Across our website, we use stories to give weight to a message and lend personal voices to information. On our story hub you’ll find a wide range of stories covering various challenges people have faced along their cancer journeys. Many of these were produced as part of Macmillan’s ongoing Not Alone brand campaign. We’re always adding more stories and finding more places to use them, working with content-producing teams to plan the most effective story content.

A story for another day

In our next instalment on storytelling, we’ll take a closer look at how Macmillan and other charities are telling personal stories and building broader narratives, and the techniques, content and measurement needed to do it well.

Further reading

The Science of Generosity (Paul Zak), Psychology Today

The Three-Act Structure, The Elements of Cinema

Digital trends blog post image

Digital trends in 2016

With January behind us, Hamilton Jones is considering some of the digital trends set to come our way this year.

2016 is already shaping up to be an exciting year for digital, and we in the digital team are always keeping an eye out for new trends, looking at what they mean for Macmillan and how we can respond to them. Here are our top five digital trends to watch out for this year and the work everybody here in the team is doing in-line with them:

1) Unifying the online and offline user experience

As digital continues to work its way into everyone’s day-to-day lives, we are coming to expect seamless integration between online and offline. With many users’ journeys seeing them hit several touch points across both of these mediums, 2016 will bring more technologies that help organisations make their user experiences unified.

Macmillan users could see a great benefit from technologies that allow us to unify how we support people across their journey, and we are already starting to implement them: The My Macmillan area of our website has been designed to help users to feel more supported by giving them easier access to information relevant to their existing journey. When someone logs in they are able to save pages on a dashboard that they can access later, which also displays pages they’ve recently viewed. To further unify the dashboard with other parts of the website, we have developed single sign-on with our be.Macmillan domain and allow users to input their postcode to find out what’s in their area.

2) 24-hour technology that doesn’t sleep

Anytime. Anywhere. That’s the internet, and it doesn’t go to sleep. 2015 saw many organisations respond to the rise in user generated demand of always on services, but in 2016 we’ll see mass adoption of in-house and external social to be the main point of contact for out-of-hours services.

We know that cancer can be a scary place, that’s why we’re trying to make sure that nobody faces it alone. Because of this we are already offering several services for users outside of office hours. Our social media accounts and Online Community are manned on weekday evenings and for several hours over the weekend. Our website has information standard approved content that people can access at all times of the day and night, while the online community also offers peer-to-peer support that is accessed by users around the clock.

3) The year of connected devices

The internet of things is quickly becoming the internet of everything as new connected devices are starting to appear almost daily. With the advent of wearable technology and a rise in healthcare orientated apps, patients and healthcare professionals are being given the chance to diagnose and treat certain illnesses like never before. The scope for how this could impact people’s health is huge – from contact lenses that can read blood glucose levels to games that improve emotional wellbeing.

In the UK however, it might take longer than until the end of 2016 to see these really impact people affected by cancer. Without a data standard in place for apps, healthcare professionals and organisations are unable to fully utilise their potential, but we are excited to be working with organisations like the NHS on the opportunities for standards and accreditation in areas like apps.

4) Personalised data gets more personal

We are already growing used to being connected in every way, and we’re producing huge amounts of data about ourselves. Using this to create personalised experiences isn’t something new, but 2016 will become more dynamic, creating experiences that reflect people’s changing needs and preferences over time.

We want to help everyone affected by cancer to take control of their journey and access the support and information they need at a time they need it. By helping people express preferences, they enable us to provide them with personalised information that’s relevant to them and their location, while also making recommendations on where to go next. This has the potential to empower people to navigate the system, make decisions about treatment and take control over their healthcare journey.

5) Virtual assistance

Most smartphone operating systems now have personal assistants: Siri, Cortana, Google Now (this one’s tragically lacking a space-age name), and they’re starting to learn like humans. A lot of work over the past few years has been put into virtual personal assistance, with the ultimate goal of making them so slick that the user can be completely conversational and still achieve their desired outcome.

Somewhere down the line we could be using technology like this to offer support to people affected by cancer, but where we see the most benefit for this tech in the near future is to enable our healthcare professionals to have even more information at their fingertips, helping them be even more amazing for people affected by cancer.

Questions about this post? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @mac_digital. We’d love to hear from you!

R.I.P Twitter?

Social Media Manager, Carol Naylor, talks about Twitter’s proposed character limit change. Is Jack Dorsey set to ruin the clarity of our 140-character lives? Or is this a change that we will slowly grow to love?

I heard it on Whatsapp first; one of my team woke up to the news and posted it to the group chat we all share.

Image showing Whatsapp conversation between Hayley, Carol and Alice. Text reads, Hayley - According to the news, the boss of Twitter has 'dropped his biggest hint yet', that the platform is going to drop its 140 character limit (broken heart emoji_ Carol - R.I.P Twitter... Alice - (crying face emoji)

I’m really not a morning person but that certainly woke me up. We’ve all heard plenty of rumours like this before but figured that even Twitter execs would ultimately recognise what made their service so valuable to us. Apparently not.

This is what Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter (@jack) had to say:

Jack Dorsey's tweet

I checked the comments – unsurprisingly there were loads but I could only find one person who approved. So what on earth would lead Twitter to think this was a good idea?

Let’s think it through:

Competing with “the other social media network”
Facebook currently has about three times as many users as Twitter [1]. So clearly it’s the platform to beat. Consequently lots of Twitter’s recent updates have been intended to match features in Facebook. Often this has been at the expense of Twitter’s own culture. Changing their favourite star to a heart symbol brings it a bit closer to Facebook’s ‘like’, even though it totally ignored the way that many tweeters were using the feature – as a bookmark or acknowledgement rather than an endorsement.

And why change your service to be more like the competition when Facebook is already so good at being Facebook?

Greater depth of conversation
It’s true we’ve all complained about the restrictions of 140 characters in the past. And, as Jack Dorsey pointed out, it wasn’t actually an original feature, only being introduced to cater for tweets being made via SMS (which was popular back in the mid/late noughties, remember?). So I can understand the logic here.

But the problem is that we’ve got the hang of it now and we rather like it. In fact we’re quite proud of how clever you can be in only 140 characters. It’s like digital Haiku, and, given consumers’ ever-decreasing attention spans, it’s very appealing. Changing the character limit now is the equivalent of making everyone learn Cantonese in order to post and, once we’ve all mastered it, saying “No, just kidding you can use English”.

Keeping hold of users and content
About a third of all website traffic [2] is referred from Social Media posts. Facebook is the top source in this respect, but Twitter bobs about in the top five. Think about that – you’ve got 21% [1] of all internet users signed up to your service but mostly they just use it as a jumping off point to other web sites. That’s gotta sting a bit. No wonder there’s so much confusion over Twitter’s business plan and how it’s supposed to generate revenue. Facebook doesn’t have quite such a problem and even they’re trying harder to hang on to users with the introduction of locally hosted content like Instant Articles.

Searchable text
This is understandable. At present anyone wanting to exceed the 140 character limit on Twitter has to embed their content in an image to get around it. There are even online services to help you do this. And some of them look pretty cool.

Example of creative way of putting text into Twitter image

However, since most search engines don’t use Optical Character Recognition (OCR), all this wisdom is invisible to searchers.

Lessons from the direct message (DM) limit change
There’s a precedent. Limits on Twitter’s direct messages were increased to 10,000 characters last year – there were no riots, reports of pestilence or other manifestations of the apocalypse (let’s leave flooding out of it for now). In fact this has been really useful for Macmillan by allowing us to offer more detailed support to people affected by cancer. However, that’s largely because DMs are private and we can deal with confidential issues properly without having to leave the platform.

Is there a demand?
Having said that users don’t want this, there’s probably a small contingent that does. We don’t know much about how this proposed change might be implemented but it’s possible that Twitter will adopt Facebook’s technique of truncating a post after a few hundred characters and adding a link to “more”. It’ll require a culture change amongst users but it might still be possible to scroll through headings and just expand content that looks interesting. But, as marketers get the hang of it, how long before tweets just become a succession of click-bait headings? For example, “This woman was cynical about Twitter 140-character limit – you won’t believe what happened next!!!!”

Without being a mind-reader, those are all the reasons I can dream up in favour of an increased character limit. It wasn’t so hard to think of all the reasons why it would be bad idea:

Loss of immediacy
For most Tweeters the service is primarily a news source. When a news story breaks we want to know what’s happening and we want to know now. When the BBC reported the death of David Bowie it took them over an hour to get more than a sentence online about it. So I took to Twitter to get more information in the meantime – what kind of cancer was it? What was his ex-wife going to do on Big Brother? Is his son Duncan the one who was christened ‘Zowie’? And I got some of my answers just scanning down my newsfeed. Obviously when the public become the news reporters some errors or agendas will creep in, but that’s not a big problem when you can scan a whole range of tweets to get a general overview. How easy will that be when you have to read through a 10,000 character post to get the information? Even using the “more” link approach there’s no guarantee that you’d see important information first. “Above the fold” is still just jargon to most people online.

The dangers of a walled garden
This is connected to the idea of keeping as much content as possible on your platform – why would users want to go elsewhere and see other peoples’ advertising if you provide everything they need? This worked well for Internet service providers (ISPs) like AOL and Compuserve in the nineties – many of their users would refer to their services as “the Internet” not realising that it was only a small part. It got picked up by Rupert Murdoch and Fox in the early noughties as a political tool – it’s very powerful to be the sole source of news for some demographics. That worked okay for them offline but online users had become more sophisticated and didn’t like being herded. Despite that, both Facebook and Twitter seem to be favouring this tactic; it’ll be interesting to see if their subscribers are happy about that.

Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
Twitter have created a very useful demand online and have been fulfilling it successfully since 2006. It’s not longer a unique service but they still dominate the micro-blogging landscape. Why abandon something that is so fundamental to their offer?

Competition
That leads on to the next danger. If Twitter don’t want to cater exclusively for a short-form audience, then someone will. It’s no coincidence that within 24 hours of Jack Dorsey’s announcement, social media channels (especially Twitter) were buzzing with talk about Peach, a new iOS-only app from the founder of Vine that also functions like a walled garden, but is nevertheless being hailed as a challenger to Twitter. No one can tell yet whether it really is a giant-killer, or will go the way of Ello, but there’s always another app ready to step up if it fails.

So I’m not going to give up on Twitter yet but take heed guys, I’m signing up to Peach ….just in case*.

(* – As soon as it comes out for Androids obvs)

[1] http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/09/demographics-of-key-social-networking-platforms-2/
[2] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2015/02/03/social-media-now-drives-31-of-all-referral-traffic/

Image of various devices. Mobile, laptop, tablet and desktop.

Scrolling beyond the fold

How have UX trends shaped website design and why have some of our favourite homepages changed this year? As 2015 draws to a close, Hamilton Jones gives us some last-minute answers.

For many years, website page design has been dominated by above the fold design, a trend deriving from traditional print media. More recently, with the overwhelming uptake of mobile technology and higher resolution displays, scrolling has become king and the fold is being considered obsolete by many digital marketers.

But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves, as the first part of a website that a user is going to see, above the fold is still a key consideration in website design, particularly for information hierarchy. Good hierarchy doesn’t mean cramming all of your best and most important content at the top of the page, instead it should see information displayed strategically throughout the page to be served to the user at the most appropriate time and in the most accessible way.

Now that reams of information aren’t being put into the first 700 pixels of a page, we are starting to see some beautiful website designs that have a cleaner and simpler aesthetic. Some of the most popular trends of 2015 have been the long scroll pages, tile/card layouts, interactive storytelling, hero images and large typefaces. But different pages call for different approaches to layout and design.

Take for example our homepage. People that land on our homepage could be looking for any of our services, so we need to ensure that we create a story where they can understand our brand, discover what we offer and navigate quickly and easily to the section of the site they need. By introducing a long scroll web page with hero images we are able to serve content about each section of our website as the user moves down the page, providing them with enough information to understand what the section offers, but without giving them so much that they won’t want to read it.

When a user enters one of the landing pages within Information & Support, the layout changes to be much shorter and focuses on click interaction and pagination. Instead of being general like our homepage, these pages are more specific but don’t contain in-depth content, therefore act as signposts to guide the users to specific pages.

Moving down to article level and the pages become very specific. These pages are much longer and often contain a large amount of information. Here we have bigger type-face at the top of the page so the user knows immediately if it is the right content for their needs. These pages also focus on scrolling due to their length, so the user can take in the information without distraction as that is the main purpose of the pages.

Now that 2015 is coming to a close however, it will be interesting to see how website designs continue to change and evolve in 2016, and the changes that we at Macmillan will make, to continue to ensure that our users are getting the best possible experience from our website.

Questions about this post? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @mac_digital. We’d love to hear from you!

 

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