• Five years of Hook

    Five years of Hook

    As a handful of congratulatory LinkedIn messages came my way in the last week — thanks to those who sent them — it was time to acknowledge that Hook Media had just turned five.

    They say that if you make it to two years running your own business, you’re set. We’ve made it to five and I still don’t feel comfortable. But I guess as long as we get to six, seven and so on — and I am very confident of that — it doesn’t really matter how I feel. You’ve made it as long as you keep going.

    To be perfectly honest, my vision for what Hook was going to look like in the future was always flexible, partly because the industry is changing so much, partly because people’s needs for the types of services we offer is changing a lot, and also partly because I didn’t know if where we were heading was what I really set out to achieve, for the business and myself in the early going.

    I wanted to remain open to all possibilities, for the sake of the business and for me. That has been a good and bad thing. It’s good because being open-minded has meant that we have moved into areas I didn’t expect and those have been really beneficial experiences. It’s been bad because I’ve really struggled with a sense of identity and a sense of who we really are.

    The focus has certainly narrowed in the past 12 months. We’ve done a rebrand in that time, courtesy of my great friend Peter Trigar at CC&Co. That has helped me with that process quite a lot, and has served as a springboard into new territories and new strategies.

    With this change, I’ve realised that the essence of what we do has always remained solid — we do content that is meant to be seen and consumed. How we package that is what has been the important component for business growth.

    In 2018, the types and variety of content that people want is different, and the ways that stories are being told is different and that’s been a massive adjustment, to both the day-to-day and also my career objectives. I remember chewing the ear off the then Managing Director of Fremantle Media years ago at a lunch and he said that there’ll always be a need for content. If you’re making it, you’ll have a future. If you’re selling it, or distributing it, your future is not as certain. We kinda do both, thus is the challenge.

    Working out the kinds of content that people want to consume and also how to turn that into an earning when people expect to be entertained and informed for free, has always been something that has weighed on my mind.

    These are challenges we’ll continue to figure out as we grow as a business and a big part of that is listening to what our clients are telling us, listening to what the audiences are telling us, but also using our story-telling experience and ever-developing skills to take risks.

    Currently, Hook Media is a four-person strong team of myself, Jeremy Manson, Andrew Darrington and Daniel Hedger. We each bring something unique to the table and we’re doing great work. I’d like to see that team grow in the very near future, but I want to thank those guys on being an integral part of our recent growth.

    There have been other names who have done great work for us in the past — such as Brooke Giacomin, Sean O’Kane and Nick Barber — people whose work still makes appearances in examples and proposals to this day.

    We’ve made many great working relationships over a long time, who are major reasons why we’re still in business. People like Christian Gamble, Richard Turner and Andrew Funke have seen value in what we do and have been and continue to be strong supporters of Hook over the years.

    There are those who we’ve worked with that have enabled us to merge business and common interests and passions, and they have either been or continue to be great supporters of our work, and there have been some who have served also as the lighters of under-arse fires, such as Shane Howard from CCR.

    Some of the great highlights include following Dante Exum around with a camera for Bleacher Report, heading over to my first Mr Olympia with Josh Lenartowicz and producing what I think is a great little web series, shooting some incredible action at the many Warrior’s Way muay thai events for Mark Castagnini, managing livestream basketball events with Luke Sunderland and giving young basketballers a shot at their US College dreams (I’ll never forget the moment a kid was pulled from the court and offered a scholarship on the spot over the phone), the countless bodybuilding shoots with Nick Jones and the Gen-Tec Nutrition team, publishing Muscular Development and getting back into print, albeit briefly, and stepping on the golf course with Damian Shutie and working collaboratively with a genuine media talent.

    I also want to make a special mention of the involvement and work of my former business partner and friend Ryan Mobilia. His career has gone from strength-to-strength in the last two years. He’s a leader in this space and the three years he spent at Hook helped to form the foundations upon which we stand.

    I feel like we’re just getting started in many ways and although I do want to feel like we have ‘made it’ at some point, I never want to feel complacent. Innovation is certainly a buzz word, but if we’re always thinking in that way — of chasing the change — then our work will always feel new. There is so much opportunity out there for what we do, and we’re going to keep finding it.

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  • Why an engaged audience beats a big following

    Why an engaged audience beats a big following

    How social media engagement can beat a big following.

    Sunday night’s Logie Awards were apparently the least watched ceremony since the current ratings system was implemented. Fitting, then, that media outlets have similarly expressed confusion that two underdog winners in particular took home gongs.

    Grant Denyer’s Gold Logie win was considered a ‘shock’, not only because his Family Feud has been cancelled but because the field of people he was up against were perceived as being more popular.

    Even more of a ‘shock’ was Most Popular New Talent winner Dilruk Jayasinha. Jayasinha, up against Bachelor alum Sam Frost and Matthew ‘Mattie J’ Johnson, was similarly considered the underdog.

    And yet he — and Denyer — won. Why?

    Engagement over numbers

    Some news outlets have been confused that someone with fewer followers could have beaten others with many more. There’s a few reasons for this. However, the main one? ENGAGEMENT.

    Dil’s fans were engaged to support him and vote in the Logies campaign. Having a smaller but committed fanbase always will win against pretty people with a million casual followers.

    News.com.au said: “This year’s new talent Logie winner was decided by a public vote, making Jayasinha’s win even more miraculous given the fanbase of other nominees.”

    But is it really?

    The Murdoch-owned website took pains to point out that Dil won DESPITE only having 7000 Instagram followers, whereas Mattie J has 224,000 and released his own slickly produced campaign video.

    But follower numbers only get you so far.

    Dil has been on TV, yes, but he’s made his name largely on the standup circuit and other, smaller outlets such as Australian comedy podcasts (especially the Little Dum Dum Club, who have a massively mobilized audience).

    The other performers in the ‘Best New Talent’ category were all primarily TV personalities. Their audiences are only as loyal as they are to the TV show they’re on.

    Dil’s audience is used to having to do a bit of work to see him: going to a live comedy show, downloading a podcast. He interacts directly with his ‘small’ fanbase. He replies to comments, thanks people for their support and shows up to support his fellow comedians and performers.

    With all due respect, Mattie J’s audience is used to just turning on the TV and seeing him. They’ve never had to work — maybe never even wanted to work — to find him. He’s just there.

    Mobilise your audience

    Your audience size only matters as much as you can motivate them to act.

    Denyer had a story: axed show, underdog, a long losing streak (22 nominations without a win).

    Dilruk also had the underdog story. He came to Australia from Sri Lanka as a teenager to become an accountant, later abandoning that for the much less-lucrative career path of comedy.

    So story definitely helps  — and coupled with a rabidly motivated audience, they both had more on their side than it might have appeared.

    Comedian Tom Gleeson had campaigned hard on behalf of Denyer, precisely because his show had been axed. As Junkee reported, “Gleeson’s campaign — #Denyer4Gold — clearly mobilised a large voting public.” But it’s more than that.

    It might have started as a joke, but Gleeson gave people a reason to vote for Denyer. He engaged fans who might otherwise not bothered.

    And Dil’s community of fans, boosted by weekly podcasts like the Little Dum Dum Club, made it a point to vote for him. The Little Dum Dum Club’s Facebook page and associated group fiercely campaigned for Dil, mobilising a group of people who wouldn’t usually bother to vote in the Logies.

    (There’s also some speculation that the Logie voting form making you vote for all categories helped boost Denyer, who has also appeared on the podcast.)

    Lesson for social media

    All this is to say that, when it comes to social media, it’s not so much about the number of fans or followers you have. Sure, it’s nice to have half a million of them. But how many could you call on to vote for you?

    Follower numbers don’t matter when you have an engaged audience. We are often reminding clients to focus on the reach and engagement levels rather than the raw numbers.

    Sure, Logie voting numbers might have been down overall this year, but in a popularity contest, you need to activate your fans. They have to be motivated to get out the vote.

    And if you can mobilise your audience to get them to vote, maybe you can even get them to click through to your online store and buy something. Now you’re using use social media to help drive sales.

    And you didn’t need half a million followers to do it.

    If you want help getting your followers engaged, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

    Pic credit: @dilrukj
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  • Why your thing has to be good first

    Why your thing has to be good first

    If you want people to pay in the future, your free thing has to be really good: LinkedIn, Spotify and the freemium model.

     You know what I find strange? That the freemium model of business — that is, you get a base level of something for free and you can pay for a better version of it — seems to be built around the idea that ads are terrible and nobody wants them.

    So, on Spotify’s free service, you’ll get barraged with ads in between songs, including in-house ads that say things like ‘Isn’t life so much better without ads?’ Yes, I agree Spotify, it is.

    But don’t the clients for these ad-supported services get annoyed that their audiences are constantly being told to upgrade so they don’t have to endure ads? You have to wonder.

    Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that, in the freemium model, the free version in general is deliberately hobbled in some way.

    After all, while ads are the way many freemium services pay for the ‘free’ part, sometimes it’s additional features are the lure.

    This is the case with LinkedIn.

    Now, I have to assume that part of LinkedIn’s strategy is to make its base model functionality really annoying so you upgrade. However, at $55 per month, I’m not yet in a financial position to find out if that’s the case, so I’m just speculating.

    (By the way, are they kidding with that price? That’s what you pay for Adobe CC.)

    Considering Facebook is free and LinkedIn isn’t, let’s do a little comparison in terms of UX.

    Free LinkedIn vs. Free Facebook

    Despite being free, there are basic things that Facebook gets right that LinkedIn doesn’t seem able to. For example:

    • Notifications opening in a new page, instead of a floating panel. This means that if you want to check your notifications, you have to leave your place in the newsfeed or open them up in a new tab.
    • Tagging. Uniformly, tagging sucks on LinkedIn. Nine times out of ten, if I type @ and then the name of the company or individual I want, it either won’t provide me a list of the correct accounts or nothing will happen at all.
    • Data on sharing. Did you know you can share posts on LinkedIn, just like on Facebook? Have you ever been notified directly of this? Probably not. It’s even worse if you have a business account.
    • The way articles display. That is, not at all. Wouldn’t it be great if all the articles (formerly ‘Pulses’) that LinkedIn’s users create existed on an easy-to-find main page, much like Medium’s home page? You’d be able to see which articles are getting people talking, what’s been recently published and it would give less-popular users a platform to generate some reach outside of our own networks. This would be one big way LinkedIn could really differentiate itself from other social networks, beyond just it being ‘the Facebook for professionals’.
    • Groups are even worse. On Facebook, posts from your groups will show up in your feed, so you can see what the conversations are. On LinkedIn, good luck even finding where your groups live. Discussions from them don’t appear in your timeline, meaning there’s little engagement with posts and you rarely get notified about them beyond a weekly email.

    So, are these just bugs or has LinkedIn made the platform worse for free users?

    Make your free thing good

    The irony is, if I was sure of a better service/UX with an upgrade, I might consider it. None of this is to denigrate LinkedIn. On the contrary, I enjoy LinkedIn for its business insights, connections and general no-nonsense communication (at least compared to Facebook, people are relatively polite). It’s just that when they can’t seem to get the basics of a social network right — or how people actually use social networks these days (i.e. mobile-first) — it doesn’t inspire confidence in me to upgrade.

    This brings me, in a roundabout way, to my actual point: if you want people to pay for something later, you have to make the free thing really good first.

    The reason, perhaps, we’ll put up with ads on free Spotify is that the base model is actually a really good and valuable service if you’re a big music fan. And if you do upgrade, you’ve likely done so because you recognise that Spotify Premium is what you already like but better.

    Similarly, whether you choose to upgrade on LinkedIn or not depends to some extent on how good the base platform is (you know I love you, LinkedIn, I’m just foolin’).

    All this applies to social media marketing too. If all you give your followers for free is sales-speak and ads, they’re not going to want to click through to your website. Or buy your product. Or sign up for your newsletter. They’re not going to want to join your premium closed group that costs $10 a month — Unless you’ve shown them value in what you’re giving away.

    This is where content creation — good content creation — beyond just advertising and marketing can really help your business. This isn’t a new idea either. It goes all the way back to pre-digital media.

    Adding value, adding customers

    My publishing hero is William M. Gaines, who published Mad Magazine without ads for 44 years. And when he finally had to succumb to market forces and put ads in the magazine in 2001, people largely accepted it because the audience knew that Mad Magazine had great content.

    So don’t think of a great thing, then deliberately make it less good just to charge money. That’s just gross — not to mention uncreative. Plus, it most likely won’t work. At least not in the long term.

    You have to demonstrate that you can deliver what you’re offering by making your free offering great. Then find a way to augment and add value to it so that your built-in audience of fans and followers will want to pay for that access, that product or that service. (Podcasts do this really well, by the way.)

    If you can show people through quality free content why your business is worth investing in, before long you’ll have some very loyal customers.

    If you want help with your social media content creation and management, get in touch today.

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  • Why cycling your content ‘philosophy’ can help you to grow

    Why cycling your content ‘philosophy’ can help you to grow

    Keep your audiences guessing — and your business growing — by cycling your content.

    My time working in bodybuilding media made me see many parallels between the pursuit of a more muscular physique and many aspects of life, media and business. Many are obvious, such as consistency, focus and planning, but there’s one that has really stuck with me that I see as being of increasing relevance as we move to a more digital future, for marketers, story tellers and communications professionals.

    It’s the idea of cycling, or periodising your training.

    Bodybuilders and fitness junkies talk a lot about ‘keeping your body guessing’. What that means is, from a training standpoint, mix it up. Maybe your strategy right now is to use low rep ranges — like maxing out at four reps — and subsequently lifting higher weights. Then after about six weeks, you flip it. You lower the weight, increase the reps in your working sets to maybe 12 or 15, and also the number of sets you do. Then, a couple of months down the road, flip it again. Maybe this time you train multiple body parts per session, so that each body part is getting attacked multiple times each week.

    What this does is prevent your body from getting comfortable with a certain type of stimulus. Once your body is comfortable with what you’re doing to it, it no longer has a reason to change.

    People don’t want to change

    What I noticed however is that despite this approach being well-known and scientifically backed, people are very resistant to the idea of changing your training approach continually.

    People will continue to ask: do you train for strength or hypertrophy? Do you train heavy or do you train high-rep? Deep down they know that they should probably be doing all of these things but people want to marry themselves to one philosophy. They want to wear a badge that says, ‘I do things this way’. People want to have that ‘aha’ moment, like they’ve worked it all out, and then they can just execute that forever and keep watching the results roll in.

    The same is true in the digital marketing space.

    We know that sticking to one philosophy is suicide in 2018 because what works in the digital space changes constantly.

    But more than that, it’s because for the same reason that your muscles won’t grow, if you keep giving your audience the same stimuli, the same content, the same old stories, they won’t grow either.

    By dishing out the same stuff, your followers will get comfortable with the knowledge that they’ve seen all your tricks before and they’re not expecting anything new.

    So the next post they see from you, they’ll just assume it’s another motivational video, or it’s another reason why I should use certain hashtags, or it’s a another promise of a six figure passive income per month, and they’ll just ignore it.

    Periodised content

    So what’s the solution? Well, like bodybuilding, the answer is NOT to have a random, haphazard approach either.

    Just because you change up your program, doesn’t mean that each strategy is without rules or concepts. In the marketing and comms space, you have plenty of variables to play with.

    What are the different aspects of your business? Maybe focus on producing content about one aspect this month and then switch it to another.

    Maybe it’s about emphasising your blog for a while and then shifting gears and putting out some great audio content. Then maybe it’s video. Maybe for the next few weeks it’s instructional, then it’s more philosophical.

    Plan your content strategy like you would plan your workouts. Pick a method, attack it for a while — and then flip it. A good way to know when to flip it and whether a particular strategy is working? Adopt another bodybuilding principle: measure everything. The numbers will tell you whether the current approach is working or not.

    But remember, when the growth and the engagement is starting to plateau, the time to switch it up was yesterday. Beat the curve, surprise people and keep putting out great content.

    If you need help creating great content, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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  • 3 (very) basic tips to make your social media videos better

    3 (very) basic tips to make your social media videos better

    Make your social media videos exponentially better with these quick fixes.

    Getting the basics of video right isn’t as complicated as it used to be, so there should be no excuse for some of the horrible video content you seen on social media.

    In your pocket right now is a device with more processing power than the old supercomputers that used to take up entire rooms. It’s so much easier than it was even a decade ago to shoot great video. Your smartphone has a camera that can, in a pinch, shoot really great high-quality video content — feature films have even been shot with this device — if you keep a few simple things in mind.

    Note: these are very basic tips but a lot of small businesses on social media get them wrong.

    1) No vertical videos

    This is probably the biggest mistake we see made on social media. Notice how your eyes sit horizontally across your face? That’s how we see things. There’s no surer sign of an amateur than vertical video. Tilt that phone and, congratulations, you’ve automatically become 50 per cent more professional than half of the small businesses on social media.

    2) Learn to edit — but don’t go overboard

    If you can get things done in one take, great (see below for our performance tips). However, there are cheap (and even free) editing programs and apps that are relatively simple to learn to give your videos punch. A word of caution though: unless you’re a designer, don’t get too fancy with graphics and transitions. Simple is better.

    (And once you reach a certain level, there are businesses — hint, hint —who can help you out with the higher-end content.)

    3) Focus on performance

    For the person in the video doing a talk-to-camera, it’s worth keeping in mind a few things:

    a) Keep your voice clear and your demeanour upbeat. There’s nothing more likely to turn someone off than a low-energy performance. You’re also probably speaking faster than you think you are. Slow it down.

    b) Scripting vs. off the cuff. If you’re good at talking off the top of your head and staying on-topic, great. If not, you might want to think about scripting something out — not the whole thing necessarily but jotting down key ideas in dot point form can keep you on track.

    c) As always, keep it short and snappy. Not only will this get your fans further into your videos, breaking your content into smaller chunks means you have more pieces of video content to work with overall. Try to limit each video to one or two key pieces of information per video.

    Takeaway message

    Sure, these are simple but you would be amazed at how many small businesses on social media get this stuff wrong.

    The good news is, if you’re getting these three things right, you’re well on your way to creating better and better video content for your business.

    If you need more help with your video content, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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  • George Orwell and the importance of clear communication

    George Orwell and the importance of clear communication

    Clear language and why it pays to say what you mean.

    “In certain kinds of writing…it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.”
    — George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

    In 1946, George Orwell wrote an essay called Politics and the English Language. In it, he argued that communication should always be clear, that clarity of expression should reflect clarity of thought.

    Being lax with how we choose to communicate obscures what we actually mean to say, whether on purpose or to cover up something we don’t want to reveal. Orwell believed that communication was headed the wrong way because, basically, it’s easier and people are lazy. People will imitate what’s common and thus spread bad, imprecise writing.

    As he says:

    “[M]odern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy.”

    Furthermore, Orwell believed that sloppy writing was not only annoying but dangerous. Imprecise or deliberately foggy words can be used to cover up all manner of disturbing things. He called this ‘defence of the indefensible’. Think of politicians dispassionately using euphemisms such as ‘collateral damage’ or ‘offshore detention’ when what those terms refer to are too monstrous to say plainly.

    It’s still everywhere

    Although this essay was written more than 70 years ago, Orwell might well have been talking about contemporary business communication.

    After all, corporate-speak (named for another Orwell idea, as it happens) is so infamously difficult to parse that it’s a cliché to say so.

    But it doesn’t have to be this way.

    How much would you love to read an internal email from a manager who said what she meant rather than obscured her meaning in jargon?

    Wouldn’t you be able to do your job better if you had accurate communication about your boss’s expectations?

    And surely a bad idea at a meeting would reveal itself more quickly if it was plainly spoken. (In Orwell’s words: “When you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.”)

    Not to mention that your consultants would be able to more promptly deliver their work if conversations weren’t couched in buzzwords and vague phrases.

    From Hook Media’s perspective as a media business with a wide variety of clients, we have always done our best work when everything was clear and direct. That means everybody is clear about what the project is, what the expectations are, what the issues are (should they arise) and what the end product should look like.

    You can only arrive at this through clarity of thought, which you can only express through clear language.

    Rules to write by

    Orwell’s Politics and the English Language is brilliant essay and I recommend you read the whole thing it if you’re interested in communication at all.

    It contains his famous six rules for writing that are as relevant today as they were back then:

    1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
    2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
    3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
    5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
    6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

    Clarity is what gets you the best results — no matter what your business.

    And if you need help with your communications, get in touch.

    Image: George Orwell, 1943, Branch of the National Union of Journalists (BNUJ), public domain.
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