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On Facebook, we like what other people have already liked before us. Shutterstock
Marian-Andrei Rizoiu, University of Technology Sydney

This is the first article in a series looking at the attention economy and how online content gets in front of your eyeballs.


You may have read about – or already seen, depending on where you are – the latest tweak to Facebook’s interface: the disappearance of the likes counter.

Like Instagram (which it owns), Facebook is experimenting with hiding the number of likes that posts receive for users in some areas (Australia for Facebook, and Canada for Instagram).

In the new design, the number of likes is no longer shown. But with a simple click you can see who liked the post and even count them.

It seems like Facebook is going to a lot of trouble to hide a seemingly innocuous signal, especially when it is relatively easy to retrieve.

Facebook prototypes hiding like counts.

Facebook’s goal is reportedly to make people comfortable expressing themselves and to increase the quality of the content they share.

There are also claims about ameliorating user insecurity when posting, perceived liberty of expression, and circumventing the herd mentality.

But are there any scientific grounds for this change?

The MusicLab model

In 2006, US researchers Matthew Salganik, Peter Dodds and Duncan Watts set out to investigate the intriguing disconnect between quality and popularity observed in cultural markets.

They created the MusicLab experiments, in which users were presented with a choice of songs from unknown bands. Users would listen online and could choose to download songs they liked.

The users were divided into two groups: for one group, the songs were shown at random with no other information; for the other group, songs were ordered according to a social signal – the number of times each had already been downloaded – and this number was shown next to them.


Read more: Users (and their bias) are key to fighting fake news on Facebook – AI isn’t smart enough yet


A song’s number of downloads is a measure of its popularity, akin to the number of likes for Facebook posts.

The results were fascinating: when the number of downloads was shown, the song market would evolve to be highly unequal (with one song becoming vastly more popular than all the others) and unpredictable (the winning song would not be the same if the experiment were repeated).

Based on these results, Australian researchers proposed the first model (dubbed the MusicLab model) to explain how content becomes popular in cultural markets, why a few things get all the popularity and most get nothing, and (most important for us) why showing the number of downloads is so detrimental.

They theorised that the consumption of an online product (such as a song) is a two-step process: first the user clicks on it based on its appeal, then they download it based on its quality.

As it turns out, a song’s appeal is largely determined by its current popularity. If other people like something, we tend to think it’s worth taking a look at.

So how often a song will be downloaded in future depends on its current appeal, which in turn depends on its current number of downloads.

This leads to the well-known result that future popularity of a product or idea is highly dependent on its past popularity. This is also known as the “rich get richer” effect.

What does this have to do with Facebook likes?

The parallel between Facebook and the MusicLab experiment is straightforward: the songs correspond to posts, whereas downloads correspond to likes.

For a market of products such as songs, the MusicLab model implies that showing popularity means fewer cultural products of varying quality are consumed overall, and some high-quality products may go unnoticed.

But the effects are even more severe for a market of ideas, such as Facebook. The “rich get richer” effect compounds over time like interest on a mortgage. The total popularity of one idea can increase exponentially and quickly dominate the entire market.

As a result, the first idea on the market has more time to grow and has increased chances of dominating regardless of its quality (a strong first-mover advantage).


Read more: We made deceptive robots to see why fake news spreads, and found a weakness


This first-mover advantage partially explains why fake news items so often dominate their debunking, and why it is so hard to replace wrong and detrimental beliefs with correct or healthier alternatives that arrive later in the game.

Despite what is sometimes claimed, the “marketplace of ideas” is no guarantee that high-quality content will become popular.

Other lines of research suggest that while quality ideas do make it to the top, it is next to impossible to predict early which ones. In other words, quality appears disconnected from popularity.

Is there any way the game can be fixed?

This seems to paint a bleak picture of online society, in which misinformation, populist ideas, and unhealthy teen challenges can freely flow through online media and capture the public’s attention.

However, the other group in the MusicLab experiment – the group who were not shown a popularity indicator – can give us hope for a solution, or at least some improvement.

The researchers reported that hiding the number of downloads led to a much fairer and more predictable market, in which popularity is more evenly distributed among a greater number of competitors and more closely correlated to quality.

So it appears that Facebook’s decision to hide the number of likes on posts could be better for everyone.

In addition to limiting pressure on post creators and reducing their levels of anxiety and envy, it might also help to create a fairer information exchange environment.

And if posters spend less time on optimising post timing and other tricks for gaming the system, we might even notice an increase in content quality.The Conversation

Marian-Andrei Rizoiu, Lecturer in Computer Science, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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News organisations and their journalists have been competing for consumers’ eyes and ears for hundreds of years. While the media industry has been turned on its head in the last 20 or so years, many of the principles that underpin competitive journalism have remained unchanged.

Understanding these principles and applying them to your brand’s content strategy will dramatically improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your content.

The concept of a ‘brand newsroom’ is not new. However, unless your newsroom lives and breathes traditional newsroom values it is merely a content production studio. Here are five principles you can apply to your content strategy.

1. Deadline Discipline

While the news cycle for daily and weekly newspapers have changed significantly since the proliferation of online news sites and a digital-first approach, the tyranny of deadlines remains.

Regardless of whether you are the newest cadet at your local weekly paper or a senior columnist at the biggest paper in the country – your day is ruled by deadlines. Some are hourly, some are daily, some are weekly (Saturday editions) and some monthly (liftouts).

Newspaper deadlines are immovable, intractable and policed by irascible editors.

The best content, like news, is fresh. A piece of content that’s not timely can quickly become irrelevant. Building a culture of deadline discipline to your brand newsroom will greatly improve the consistency and timeliness of your outputs.

2. Understand Your Audience

Newsrooms have got creating quality content en masse down to a fine art because it’s their raison d’être. They know that to really get people reading, their content needs to be audience-centric.

A few years ago the Financial Times launched a new digital data dashboard to help journalists and editors in the newsroom better understand their audience and how people interact with stories on the website.

The tool, called Lantern, integrates audience data collected across the entire organisation, which already exists but usually serves business or commercial purposes.

Using Lantern, anyone in the newsroom will be able to find out how their story is doing in real time, but also how the audience engages with it in the longer term.

While developing custom monitoring software is beyond most brands, building a system to monitor traffic, engagement  and feedback is critical to understanding your audience and constantly evolving your content to reflect the needs of your audience.

3. Employee Journalists

With so many of the skills and disciplines required to develop highly engaging content learnt in the newsroom, it is little wonder journalists often make the best content producers. Only journalists who have spent a considerable amount of time in a newsroom understand the agility and flexibility required to produce great content on a consistent basis under tight timelines.

Journalists also have specific training in writing great headlines, undertaking thorough research, prioritising accuracy, separating content from fluff, building relationships, writing in news style and understanding complex issues quickly. All of these are invaluable to a brand newsroom.

READ MORE:10 Skills That Make Journalists the Secret Weapon for Your Content Team

4. Apply News Values

Journalists commonly use six values to determine how newsworthy a story or elements of a story are. Knowing the news values can help a journalist make many decisions, including:

 – What information to give first in a news article, and in the lede (the lead paragraph)

 – Which articles to display on a newspaper’s front page

 – What questions to ask in an interview

The six news values are:

  • Timeliness- Recent events have a higher news value than less recent ones.
  • Proximity- Stories taking place in one’s hometown or community are more newsworthy than those taking place far away.
  • Prominence- Famous people and those in the public eye have a higher news value than ordinary citizens.
  • Uniqueness/oddity- A story with a bizarre twist or strange occurrences. “Man bites dog” instead of “dog bites man.”
  • Impact- Stories that impact a large number of people may be more newsworthy than those impacting a smaller number of people.
  • Conflict- “If it bleeds, it leads.” Stories with strife, whether it’s actual violence or not, are more interesting.

The newsworthiness of a story is determined by a balance of these six values. There is no set formula to decide how newsworthy a story is, but in general, the more of these six values a story meets, the more newsworthy it is.

Curate

Not every piece of content needs to win a Pulitzer. Volume counts. Recent research by HubSpot found a clear and direct correlation between the number of monthly blog posts and inbound traffic.




Sometimes your job is simply to act as a gatekeeper and curator of other people’s content. Too many brand newsrooms put too much emphasis on creating ‘original’ content.

Sometimes finding and reconextualising a third-party’s content is just as valuable to toy your audience, but infinitely less time consuming and onerous.

For most brands, relying on the product alone is not enough to sustain the ongoing volume required to build and engage with an audience. They need to establish a rich extrinsic brand narrative that can be continuously refreshed. 

Conclusion

An effective content strategy is build on the continuous development and broad-based publishing of highly engaging content that builds awareness and drives action.

Delivering an effective content strategy, particularly on a constrained budget, is all about consistency and quality. Learning how newsrooms do this is the first step to creating your own brand newsroom.


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Blog
Ah, Monopoly. Parker Brothers’ accurate prediction of the current Sydney housing market, and perhaps the leading cause of animosity between family members during power outages.

It’s McDonalds Monopoly time, possibly the most obvious example of gamification, where the dynamic duo dangle the veritable deep-fried carrot in front of millions of Australians who are battle-hardened against most marketing efforts of the fast food juggernaught.

Gamification McDonalds Monopoly
Game On

Gamification, simply put – is a marketing campaign masquerading as a game, which serves to bridge the engagement gap between business and customer to improve the likelihood of conversion. This method is proven to increase engagement, loyalty, the consumer experience and above all – move product.

How is gamification profitable? McDonalds simply restrict the quantity of specific pieces of the Monopoly real estate tokens, naturally mitigating any risk associated with too many winners. After all – the game isn’t designed to get you into that brand new Suzuki Vitara, the game is designed to make the business money.

Maccas adds another gamification layer to their marketing in their flashy, yet UX challenged phone app. This provides a modern, yet equally frustrating electronic version on the classic board game, while doubling as a facility to claim and collect your tokens.

But if winning a major prize is statistically improbable, what’s the point? Enter the consolation prize, designed almost entirely to claw you back into the restaurant: ‘Instant Win’ prizes like chips or a small soft drink. When you go to redeem these are they REALLY all you’re going to get? No, you’re likely going to order an entire meal, plus the free fries – because you want those additional tickets. On top of that, Chance Card tokens are also provided as another layer of gamification, unlocking mini-games in the app to win yet more tokens or prizes. Gameception.


Can I Play?

If you haven’t already disappeared to make the hunger-fuelled pilgrimage to the Golden Arches, how can you leverage gamification for your business?

Lets explore the three main tenets of Gamification: building Motivation, Ability & Triggers. Motivation is the dangling carrot enticing the player to play, while Ability enables the player to play by means of providing the playing field (which includes actual prizes), and Triggers get the player off the bench and into the game when they are made to feel the most empowered.


Motivation: 

Benefit to You: Breaks down barrier between customer and business, adds another person to the funnel.
Benefit to Player: Instills a feeling of easily-achieved win, promise of dopamine kick and tangible ‘prize’.


Ability: 

Benefit to You: Nothing intrinsically, this is essentially entirely a liability in terms of costs associated with prizes and marketing.
Benefit to Player: Available prizes that people instinctively perceive as goals, while being offered the pathway to achieve that goal by you.


Trigger:

Benefit to You: Customer’s illusion of choice, forced to take action by purchasing product in order to begin the game.
Benefit to Player: Starts the game which they have already imagined winning (for a small fee, this holds the most risk for player).


As you can see, this is a zero-sum game when appropriately managed. Where the motivation step benefits both parties, the ability step benefits the player and the trigger benefits the business. Once you’ve quantified your Ability in terms of the value of your marketing investment (prizes, assets & activation), and the Trigger’s value to you (products purchased, emails collected), it’s game on.

Gamification McDonalds Monopoly

Get Your Head In The Game

Obviously a partnership with an international entertainment company is out of the reach of most businesses, so here’s a few good examples of gamification that you could modify to suit your own purposes:


Facebook – Top Fans


Consistently engage with a page’s posts and you’ll have a shiny badge next to your name to show your loyalty to the business when commenting on their posts. This benefits Facebook by ensuring users stay active, benefits the business by increasing post engagement rates and reach, and benefits the user by rewarding them with bragging rights in the form of a tiny badge.


Google Maps – Local Guides Program


Regularly write quality reviews for businesses you visit to increase your profile’s level, earning badges along the way and ascend quicker by writing more comprehensive reviews, or by posting photos and videos. This benefits Google by increasing the value of it’s Maps listings to the end user by bolstering the quantity of submissions while prioritising quality content. Most importantly though, it benefits the business by means of social proofing, boosting perceived trust in the business and promoting it’s good deeds (and punishing bad customer service). Also benefits the reviewer’s profile by positioning them as an authority in their area, and sometimes, winning tangible prizes like socks.


Linkedin – Profile Completion Awards

Linkedin Gamification
Microsoft want you to complete your Linkedin profile a lot further than your name and a photo, and do so by awarding you a self-esteem boosting award to say you’re using the platform effectively. This little feature benefits Linkedin by improving the average profile completion rate, ensuring they stay competitive in a Facebook-controlled ecosystem and above all, increasing the amount of increasingly-valuable user data available to them. This also benefits businesses advertising on the platform by giving a strong insight into who the humans in their sphere (both employees and clients) are, and what makes them tick. Your willingly-surrendered data isn’t simply cast into the aether, it does benefit you by building your personal brand, and ensuring you stay competitive (ie: employable and relevant) in your own field.


Asana – Task Completion Narwhal


Asana is a project management tool which rewards habitual task-completers with a cheerful flying narwhal that flies across the screen every so-often when tasks are marked as complete. This simple animation benefits Asana by catering to younger professionals with this fun imagery, benefits the business using the platform by incentivising task completion, and benefits the user by offering a monotony-busting, unexpected surprise for doing something as simple as ticking a box.


eCommerce – Spin-To-Win


This appears most notably on Wish, where you’re given an opportunity to spin a wheel to win the chance to unlock an extra discount on a number of products dependent on the result of your spin. On other eCommerce websites, this is often a variable ($/%) discount on advertised products which is awarded in the same manner. This Wheel of Fortune benefits the merchant by potentially moving the price-conscious consumer closer to conversion with a small chance-based discount, and benefits the user by appealing to their FOMO, and saving them a small amount on an item they desire. Bonus round: Add a data capture element to this by asking for an email address to unlock the spin. 

Ace Ventura Monopoly Guy

Interested in learning more about gamification and how it can improve your conversion rates? Get in touch, I’d love to talk about how this strategy can put a fun spin on your next campaign.
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