Author Archives: aaronswrite
This is a reflection on my research into the topic of influencer marketing on Twitch for a graduate course in Communication Strategies in Emerging Media at the University of Wisconsin-Stout
Twitch is a social networking site that provides users the ability to stream live audio and video content from their own devices. The number of Twitch users has grown rapidly in recent years, which has created another potential space for social media marketers to raise awareness for their products and brands. Social media influencers monetize their platform popularity in part by partnering with marketers. Influencers on Twitch can deliver content to their audience in unique ways. This research provides best practices for constructing communication strategies when working with Twitch influencers. There is a discussion about special considerations when creating marketing content, choosing an influencer to represent a brand, and measuring the effectiveness of the influencer marketing campaign.
My research into communication strategies for emerging media these past few months has illuminated the unique qualities of social media that influence its rapid evolution. The interactive nature of social media allows for the organic and dynamic growth of new ideas, melded together by professional communicators with disparate perspectives.
As social networking sites add functionalities that increase interactivity, professional communicators react by collaboratively researching how to best leverage a site’s affordances to communicate most effectively with each other and with broader audiences.
While it is largely used for streaming live video game play, Twitch is increasingly being used to stream other content as well. With over 8 million monthly users, streaming on Twitch is a growing trend for both hobbyists and professionals alike. The implications for commercial use have led marketing communication experts to use social media influencers to promote products and brands on Twitch, much in the same way they are used on Instagram and YouTube.
However, there are some unique considerations for communication strategies on Twitch. My research lends insight into influencer marketing on Twitch based on existing research on the platform and popular opinion on best practices in influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing is probably not the right strategy and Twitch is probably not the right platform for every marketing effort. Influencer marketing has limitations – it’s not always easy to measure its effectiveness. And Twitch users are predominantly young, male gamers. Other demographics exist on the platform, but a marketer may need the help of specialized software services that help filter the millions of prospective influencers by a number of attributes.
Finding the right social media influencer may be difficult, but creating the marketing content will also require additional consideration. Since an influencer has grown their audience organically by means of their personal brand, marketing content needs to be created in a way that fits with their brand. If a scripted product advertisement does not land well on an audience, it hurts both the influencer’s and the partner’s brand.
Regardless of its limitations, if viewership continues to grow, influencer marketing on Twitch seems likely to become a mainstream strategy for many brands.
A strategy for digital communication comes down to three basic components: the information you want to communicate, the audience with whom you want to communicate, and the nature of the communication. This becomes more complex when communicating across cultural divides.
In most cases, the subject of the communication is already well-known to the communicator instigating the digital interaction. Perhaps the communicator is the expert on the matter. Or maybe the communicator is a novice knowledge-seeker. There are likely many cases when the communicator is somewhere in between–an informed knowledge-seeker.
As the initiator of a digital conversation, this individual (or group of individuals) has the power to make or break the interactive experience. This is why the other two components of a digital communication strategy deserve special attention.
A professional communicator probably has “audience analysis” etched in their brain. Audience analysis is a piece of the process that is as ubiquitous as it is imperative. Part of this analysis that Barry Thatcher discusses in his chapter in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication is the intricate study of cross-cultural communication. Thatcher identifies the many categories of cultural differences that could either enrich or impair the quality of the digital interaction.
There are no shortcuts to a good audience analysis, especially across cultures. However, if you’re also planning to perform a competitive analysis or literature review in addition to your audience analysis, it may serve you well to take note of how cultural natives communicate within their own culture as compared to how you communicate within your own culture.
Genre, Medium, and Constraints
The component of the digital communication strategy that I usually leave for last is the nature of the communication. Will this digital interaction take place in social media? A blog, a Slack channel, an online forum, a wiki page? Will there be a moderator? How long will the interactions last? Will anything be published? Developing a digital strategy might require the grit and cunning of a wedding planner.
When determining the nature of the communication, keep in mind your purpose, the knowledge you’re seeking, and the audience you’re inviting to the table. The benefit to leaving these decisions for last is that you won’t have to come back and change it if you later find out your audience is unfamiliar with your medium of choice or if they find an unmoderated forum too chaotic for their disposition.
If there is one asset to pursue in life, it is community. Whether it’s in our personal or professional life, a sense of community is central to a stable, productive, and safe environment.
In a time when we’re all spending more time physically isolated, it has been difficult for many to participate in their communities to the degree they once had. Conferences, civil and religious meetings, and various social gatherings have been disrupted, as have the communities that attend them.
Communities have turned to social media and digital meeting spaces to carry the weight of the lost face-to-face interaction. It’s interesting to consider how much more difficult things would be in this pandemic if the framework for these digital spaces had not already been widely distributed.
For the past two decades, scholars have been touting the need to understand and embrace social media. (But I don’t think many of them had predicted how useful social media would be during a global pandemic.) This advanced preparation, albeit coincidental, has made it possible for us to experience community during a time of unplanned physical isolation.
Online communities do lack some of the benefits of face-to-face communities. The deeply-ingrained social meanings of a genuine smile and a firm handshake cannot be replicated on a digital display. We lose the sense of a shared experience without a shared physical environment. And we don’t always experience the escape from our own environment that often helps us redirect our focus.
But let’s not discount all of the advantages to connecting with communities online.
Digital spaces are virtually border-free. Although language and access to technology create barriers to communication, online communities can be more diverse and reach further than any location-bound community.
Social media and digital meeting spaces have built-in tools that allow members to easily share files and other resources to members. This enables productive and fulfilling knowledge-making experiences that are not often part of face-to-face meetings.
This is pretty huge. Consider the cost of a mid-size conference. Add the cost of renting a conference space for 1,000 people. Add the cost of round-trip travel for each attendee. Add the cost of food and accommodations. Then add the hourly value of everyone’s time that is spent travelling. The total cost of this one community event is enormous. When we consider also the carbon footprint these meetings leave, we begin to wonder how much longer we’ll consider these events to be financial and environmentally sustainable.
We’re all looking forward to a time when we can feel safe enough to physically meet again in any community gathering. But I hope we never unlearn what we’ve learned about fostering the digital communities that are keeping us moving forward this year.
Those who’ve become students of the writing craft have likely become so at the behest of their inner compulsion to tell all of the people all of the things all of the time.
A 2014 study found that we, the practitioners of professional and technical writing, don’t just write the spam emails and IKEA manuals, but also spend a significant amount of our time writing for websites and blogs. And it’s not just for work. Professional writers (perhaps unsurprisingly) also write in their personal time–including email and texting just as non-writers do, but also creative writing, such as blogs, poetry, and probably some apt political criticisms on reddit.
So how do writers write for leisure without it feeling like work?
Rachel Dodman wrote about how professional writing can infringe on your work-life balance. She says that her brain is always working on something to write and that it’s always analyzing the films and books she’s trying to enjoy in her leisure time. As a freelance writer, she sees this as an acceptable trade-off when balanced with the flexible work hours and ability to work from a coffee shop.
But not all professional writers are freelancers.
Redditor u/alanbowman reminded readers that “writing” is only 20% of a technical writer’s job. Much of the job is taken up in meetings and research. So when some writers write for leisure, it may be more of an escape from work life than it is for the “leisure” writers.
It seems that the separation of writing for work and writing for leisure is a matter of our state of mind. Here are a few tips on how to set some mental boundaries:
1. Establish your purpose
Before you start writing, think about why you are writing. If you’re writing for an income, make a mental note of it and get your mind in professional gear. If you’re writing for your personal life, set it in your mind that it’s relaxation time.
2. Set your goals
It’s easy enough to set goals for your professional writing–if you have any trouble, I’m sure your boss will happily set them for you! Your goals will likely fall into place according to your competing deadlines.
However, if you’re writing for leisure, you might need take some time to think about what you really want out of your writing time. Do you want to write a certain amount consistently so you can get a sense of accomplishment? Do you want to write some cathartic, stream-of-thought slam poetry to wash away the 9-to-5 oppression?
3. Measure your time spent and your spent time
Measure two things:
Measure the hours and minutes you spend writing for income and leisure. Compare the amounts and find a balance that seems right. If you’re taking care of step one and defining your purpose before you write, it’ll make this part much easier.
Measure the quality of your spent time. How much satisfaction do you get from achieving your writing goals, both for income and for leisure? If you’re not achieving your goals in either category, then you might consider a significant lifestyle change.
4. Change your environment
The best tip was saved for last.
Our environment has a huge effect on our mental functions. One struggle for those who work from home is feeling like they never leave work. Try to keep your work station dedicated to work and do your leisure writing on your couch, or Starbucks, or the beach, or at the park, or in your bed under the covers with a flashlight…or literally anywhere else other than where you do your work.
According to the same study mentioned at the top of this article, many writers use the same software for personal life as they do for their work life. Why not switch it up? Try a different platform for personal email. Maybe your creative writing could flourish in something other than MS Word?
There are just under 2 billion websites online as I write. By the time I publish this, about 7 million other blogs will have been posted today. What are the odds that any of the 4.7 billion internet users in the world will ever stumble upon my website? Unfavorable. And what are the odds that anyone who stumbles upon this article will read it from beginning to end? Again, unfavorable.
What can be done to improve my odds? How can I keep my readers from abandoning me for one of the billion other websites that are literally always right at their fingertips?
Maybe I should back up a bit and ask myself why I want readers in the first place. Is it for my sake? Or for theirs?
In Jonathan Zittrain’s talk on whether the internet is taking us where we want to go, he poses the question of whether today’s internet moguls are tools or friends. That is, are websites acting as neutral devices to be used without moderation or as software inclined to benefit end user (or society at large)?
If the posts on my website are intended to be a friend rather than a tool, then it’s not as important for me to make sure every reader finds me and never leave me. What is most important is that when a reader who needs me does find me, they will get what they need in the way that they need it.
If my intended audience is made up of communicators looking for insight into improving their craft, then I must make those insights stand out and easy to understand.
Two ways to be a friend, not a tool:
Use clear and descriptive headers
Headers are important for three reasons:
First, skimming readers brake for headers. Take a look at Nielson Norman’s article about the F-Shaped Pattern. It’s already ingrained in our nature to expect to get the best cues in the header and lead sentences. Pack them with information-carrying words.
Second, they help the reader prioritize your content. If your reader is busy, easily distracted, or simply impatient, then a good header will help them determine quickly if that section is worth reading. Yes, you might love that clever bit of alliteration in that one paragraph, but you need to remember that you’re being a friend to your reader and it’s not nice to make them spend extra time reading through things they weren’t looking for.
Third, they will improve your SEO. Google pays close attention to H2 and H3 tags, so if you have something important to talk about, put it in your header and make sure it clearly describes the content that follows.
Put your information in list form
Have you ever started reading a short article that turned out to be a very, very long one? Probably not very often because one of the first things many readers do is check to see how long an article is before they even begin.
If your information is presented as a list, and if you tell your audience beforehand how many list items there are, then you have made your content more consumable. At any given moment, the reader can know how far they’ve read and how much is left.
These organizational cues also give the impression of value through quantification. How many helpful pieces of information were in this post? Well, that is highly subjective. But how many things did my audience read about headers today? Three. It’s much easier to market an objective three than a subjective dozen.
An audience is more likely to read what they perceive as consumable and remember what they perceive as valuable.
One of the most amusing features of language is the portmanteau. When two ideas can be fused together, it’s serendipitous when their spelling can be, too. It would never have been socially acceptable to wake up late and have dessert for your first meal of the day if no one ratified it by naming it “brunch.” A utensil that’s half spoon and half fork would never have caught on if “spork” wasn’t such a delightful word to say.
In the 1980s, a new portmanteau was coined by Alvin Toffler, a futurist. “Prosumption” isn’t as catchy as spork or brunch (and is clearly not as well-known seeing that it’s highlighted by my spellchecker). However, the concept of prosumption is at the core of what is advancing us exponentially in the digital age. It’s the act of simultaneously producing and consuming.
Everything we do while connected to an internet-enabled device (personal computers, cell phones, vehicles, smart TVs, card readers, voice assistive devices, and maybe even your kitchen appliances), produces data that can be collected and shared. While there are still heated battles over our right to privacy and ownership of the data we produce, most consumers are blissfully unaware of how much data they’re truly creating.
And thus the cycle continues: the gazillion points of data our fitbits and smart coffee makers are sending to someone, somewhere, enables these anonymous mysterious beings (probably working for Apple or Amazon) to continue creating more novelty items so we can purchase them in droves and go happily prosume some more.
As they say, if you can’t beat them, join them! Here are a few neat websites that have collected data from those prosuming sheep. Use the information wisely and ethically (and try really hard to tell yourself you’re not going to use it just to get a few more views and make a bit more money).
- Let’s start with Alexa.com. Now, you’ve got to know that Amazon has a lion’s share of data about their audience. While the tools on this site aren’t free, you could guess that the tools they’re selling are backed by some solid data. The tools can help you with content research, audience analysis, and competitor analysis as well as some of the more common SEO tools you tend to find with similar tools.
- For some quick and easy (and free!) insight into the age and gender of your audience, check out the no-frills demographics.io. Just enter in the keywords for your content and get some lightning-fast data. If you were curious, about 70% of the users who searched for packers, football, or Lambeau were males between the ages of 35-65. That might not be a shocker but, at the very least, it suggests the data is pretty accurate.
- Something I know you’re going to love is AnswerThePublic.com. Do you want to know what people are asking in search engines? This tool takes your given topic and runs search data for all the questions you could possibly think to ask. If the home page doesn’t pull you in, the intuitive infographs will. (For an added bonus, use this site in conjunction with the Keywords Everywhere browser extension—you’ll thank me later.)
Whether you’ve given up on your own sense of digital privacy or still fighting the good fight against the onset of the robot overlords, the data is out there. Hopefully you can find a way to use the data for good (and for profit, but mostly for good).
Consider all the ingredients that come together and make up the food we eat. There are endless possibilities to what pastries could be made from a bit of flour, sugar, eggs, milk, and whatever else you might find in your pantry. Cakes, cookies, muffins, sweet breads, donuts, and pies all have thousands of different varieties and can be made using techniques that differ among cultures and traditions.
Now that your mouth is watering and your stomach growling, take a moment to think about how and why you know what they are and how they’re made. As humans, we need to eat. As communities, we have limitations on the availability of ingredients. As a culture, we have foods that have become a tradition. As a country founded and built by immigrants, we have been imbued with the culinary wisdom of dozens of cultures with centuries of experience.
These foods have persisted through the ages because of a singular social construct: the recipe.
Recipes transcend their creators. They are more than ink and paper. They have their own past, their own present, and their own future. Recipes live on because of their importance in the minds of those who’ve made it, those who’ve eaten it, and those who’ve taught the recipes to others.
Like recipes, all the bits of information, ideas, and values that define us will live on in the minds of those around us and those to come. In Superconnected, Mary Chayko writes that “all social connections and groupings, including those that originate face-to-face, exist in their most complete form in the minds of their members.”
The knowledge we have curated in our lifetime can be passed on through our interconnectedness and be given a life of its own. Here are a few observations on what we can do to make our blogs as consumable and memorable as grandma’s thanksgiving pies:
What is accessible to your audience?
What good is a recipe if you don’t have all the ingredients? Likewise, what good is the information you’re sharing with your audience if they lack the background knowledge to give it the proper context?
Hubspot’s blog on knowing your audience recommends monitoring audience feedback. Analyze how people are responding to your content to gauge their understanding. If the only thing people have are questions about the flux capacitor, then you know you need to edit your blog and add in some helpful notes from Doc Brown.
What does your audience really want?
There’s only one reason a recipe can disappear from existence—no one wants it. Create a recipe for chocolate chip salmon tarts and see how long it lasts. Similarly, the information you share will have to fall into two main categories:
Something familiar: Whether it’s a reliably fruitful experience or a quick answer to a quick question, some audiences know what they want and expect to find it on your page.
Something new and exciting: Audiences are often reading and researching to learn new things or to find inspiration that will bring them out of a rut.
You can prepare your audience for what kind of content you’re giving them in your page title. It can either be a “This is how it’s done” title or a “What if you try this” title.
Always add flavor.
Whether for good or bad, both food and knowledge are memorable for their unique qualities. Find a way to make your words resonates in your audience’s mind after they read it. Maybe it’s a good pun, a line of wisdom, or the perfect chart that illustrates an idea.
Your audience may not remember you or the name of your blog, but if the knowledge you share transcends the page and finds a place in their memory, you have come a step closer to bringing something immortal into the universe.
In the fifth season finale of How I Met Your Mother, the lovably despised Barney Stinson is found on the street poorly disguised as a juggler remarking to his friends that (although claiming he doesn’t know Barney or what a blog is) he’s heard that Barney’s blog is getting better. He goes on to ask in an unconvincing Estonian accent, “What is blog?”
Marshall Erickson, the archetypical Innocent, answers, “It’s just something that was cool eight years ago.” As this episode aired in May 2010, some simple math tells us that Marshall might have felt that blogging should have died out in 2002. Yet here we are in 2020 seeking answers about how we can leverage blogs to advance our own pursuits (which are hopefully more noble than Barney’s).
In writing about the blogosphere and its problems, Alexander Halavais asserts that civic nature of blogging in its early days has been undermined the “centralization and commodification of social computing.” Perhaps what made it cool back in 2002 was that bloggers were unfettered by the confines of the emerging social networks.
While blogging may have begun as a means for anyone with a computer and network connection to contribute equally to public discourse, the onset of major social platforms restricts bloggers’ liberties and exposure with their content moderation and algorithmic curation. If we believe the power of networking is in the free transfer of knowledge among the masses, then any hierarchical moderation of this transfer of knowledge might be more of an obstacle than a facilitation.
Howard Rheinhold, in Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, writes about collective intelligence, which promotes “a networked rather than hierarchical command-and-control structure.” A collective intelligence can be described as the aggregation of every contributor’s knowledge, skills and abilities. A collaborative effort among networked bloggers can accomplish more than the mere compilation of their findings.
Although blogging has evolved over the past 20 years, they are still a vital component for research, branding, marketing, and civil discourse. However, one small blog can be a hard fish to find in the vast, oceanic blogosphere. Here are two ways to make a bigger impact with your blog in a digital environment where content creators are often overshadowed by corporate whales:
While you may be an expert in your field, your content can only get better with the synergy that comes by collaborating with peers. This is not just sharing research and findings, but also making available your specialized skills and access to resources. This requires a lot of trust in your collaborators, but your risk will be rewarded with stronger content and increased exposure.
2. Make the big platforms work for you
Whether you’re blogging on a hosted platform or on your own custom website, you can use the power of social networks to boost your exposure. Cross-post links to your blog entries across multiple platforms. Optimize your blog for search engines. Purchase paid ads if your budget allows. When you and your collaborators leverage multiple social networks to pull in traffic, you will be rewarded with more organic traffic from improved search engine results.
Our current online environment might not favor the individual blogger, but collaborative efforts that capitalize on the popularity of social networks for dissemination stand a fair chance at contributing to our digital landscape.
In every passing moment, bits of information are drawn up into a seemingly infinite universe of data. We call it the Internet—a small, confining word for a thing that we sometimes regard as a self-aware entity whose influence and reach surpass our most capable government and corporate agencies. We visualize the Internet as a web that connects every human being who has access to this world-wide network. Perhaps that’s all it was when it began; however, it is so much more today.
We have instant access to humanity’s collective knowledge. Today, the synergistic interactions between billions of humans, which are myriad and growing, are merely surface-level events. With the advancing technology of machine-learning, automated software is collecting and analyzing the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data being uploaded daily and re-uploading predictive analytics in real-time.
Does this advancement in access to information and insight improve the human condition? The answer is certainly too nuanced and is likely argued by armchair philosophers in every profession. However, there is one thing that is important for everyone to consider. How are we deciding to use the information we find? Invariably, we see humanity using the information we consume as we always have: to sell our goods, to promote ideals, to instigate conflict, to resolve conflict, and to otherwise inspire advantageous reactions. The benefit to humanity relies more on human motivation and not the technology we use.
Technology advances. Human nature does not.
It is paramount that we take this into consideration when creating a communication strategy. If we can think of the Internet as its own entity, we can think of individual members of our audience as having their own unique history of relating to it. Much like their interactions with fellow humans, our audience may approach online content with wary skepticism or with innocent naivety. People who’ve been betrayed by the Internet may have difficulty trusting the integrity of your content. Similarly, the gullible among us who accept everything on the Internet as truth may react unpredictably when presented with conflicting truths.
Here are three ways to help you balance your content to accommodate trust issues with both the skeptical and the naïve:
1. Encourage Investigation
In Net Smart; How to Thrive Online, Howard Rheingold advises readers to approach online content with a healthy skepticism. “Don’t refuse to believe; refuse to start out believing,” he writes. “Continue to pursue your investigation after you find an answer.”
To assist wary readers in their investigations, we can simultaneously build trust and educate our readers by fortifying our communication with convenient pathways to curated resources. Linked citations are common and useful, but also consider widgets and page sections labeled, “Learn more…” or “For further reading…”, or inline charts and graphs that link to raw data in addition to their source.
2. Be human
Remind your audience that the content they are reading is coming from a human being. Darrin Rowse, Problogger.com author, offers advice on creating content that builds trust: Create content that is vulnerable, has personal touches, or tells a story. By presenting content in a way that shows our personal, skeptical approach to information gathering and reporting, we mirror the critical eye of the wary reader while demonstrating an attitude of rigor that may inspire the overly trusting reader to expect more from their information sources.
We can be honest about what we don’t know. We can acknowledge the validity of opposing arguments. We can question our own assertions to show readers we trust our process. We can help our audience realize there are shades of understanding between the true and the false, between the plausible and the probable. Chances are they will reward us with their trust and return visits, even if we are occasionally found to be on the wrong track.
3. Focus your content
Before creating your content, you ought to know who you’re creating it for and how your content can help them. We should always presume our audience has a short attention span. In many situations, communicators have mere seconds to prove to their content has the answers to their readers’ questions. Knowing our audience helps us write focused page titles and email subject lines.
Readers appreciate when writers get to the point quickly and stay on topic till the end. While it’s often effective to present information in story form, a story that takes the focus off topic risks losing a skeptic’s interest and leading a naïve or inattentive mind in an unintended direction.
For an excellent comprehensive (and free) resource on creating a focused content strategy, read Distilled’s Guide to Designing Your Content Strategy, by Kyra Kuik. While focused on content marketing, the guide offers helpful processes that can scale to a variety of communication strategies.
Audiences with similar needs reach your content from different places. Whether their relationship with information on the Internet is fraught with betrayal and mistrust or met with gleeful and unwavering acceptance, we strive to communicate in a way that delivers the content they need.
Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. London: The MIT Press.