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I (Don’t) Want My IGTV

Despite massive popularity, unrivaled cultural relevance and a billion daily active users, Instagram can’t seem to figure out long-form video. Specifically, its “IGTV” platform, which originally launched as a standalone app in June (remember that?) is largely being ignored by users, at least if multiple media reports (New York Magazine, Fast Company) are to be believed. 

Small sample-size? Sure. But the numbers aren’t encouraging when so few show have shown any interest in IGTV.

We don’t have much else to go on. Despite scouring the internet, I couldn’t find a credible reporting of IGTV’s monthly active users (MAUs). Presumably, that would indicate that the number is underwhelming, and as such, it hasn’t been released. I found a random tweet that pegged it around 65 million, but that number is unsubstantiated and seems unlikely. 

Quick, informal polls on my Twitter and Instagram feeds suggested the same conclusion. 

In my own Instagram story and Twitter feed last week, I asked followers, most of whom work in the digital marketing space, if they actually use IGTV. Of 40 responses to my Instagram story poll, only one person acknowledged actually watching the IGTV platform. 

At 2.5% percent, that’s about as effective as a PPC ad. That’s not what we industry types call a great conversion rate.

On Twitter, most replies were “Nope.” Others suggested that they’d only landed on IGTV accidentally.

Instagram launched IGTV to much fanfare midway through 2018, with analysts proclaiming it to be a potential YouTube competitor. That didn’t pan out. Almost a year later, the platform feels like, at best, an afterthought, and at worst, a miscalculation. When the initial standalone app failed to take off, IGTV was more deeply integrated into into the main Instagram experience.

However, IGTV doesn’t seem to be resonating with rank-and-file Instagram users. 

Early on, Instagram was preaching patience. â€œIt’s a new format. It’s different. We have to wait for people to adopt it and that takes time,” former Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told TechCrunch in August of 2018. “Think of it this way: we just invested in a startup called IGTV, but it’s small, and it’s like Instagram was (in the) ‘early days.’”

A month later, Systrom, along with Instagram Co-founder Mike Krieger, left Facebook, Instagram’s parent company.

So, is IGTV the new Google+? It’s likely too early to tell, but it’s looking that way.

Instagram’s main feed and Stories products have become symbiotic with the influencer community, and IGTV seems tailor-made for brands and influencers to offer longer-form content; videos can be up to an hour long. However, the people who should have the most interest in the new platform, creators themselves, are mostly just repurposing (read: cropping vertically) their YouTube content

Without a clear monetization path, they’re unlikely to continue to put any real effort into the platform. Top talent on YouTube can make six figures or more a month.

IGTV isn’t the first time that Facebook has swung and missed on long-form content. Facebook Watch, which was also positioned as a YouTube competitor, initially was paying content providers, with an estimated budget of $90 million. But as that money started drying up, outside of truly unique content like Tom Brady’s “Tom vs. Time,” “Ball in the Family” or WWE’s “Mixed Match Challenge”, there wasn’t much to see on Watch.

IGTV is not paying content creators, and it still lacks an advertising or revenue-sharing model. (UPDATE: On April 2, AdAge reported that Instagram has started to reach out to advertisers about buying spots on IGTV.)

Far more problematic beyond a revenue model is the main issue for influencers: If nobody’s watching, who’s being influenced?  Is there really a long-form content appetite to be fed on Instagram via the smartphone?

Depending on which gurus you believe, millennials either want “snackable” short-form content, or they actually want long-form content. Go ahead: Google “longform video making a comeback.” You’ll find articles from 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018 in the first page of results.

Gary Vaynerchuk has embraced the platform, but many creators have already given up on IGTV.

But here’s the thing: Long-form content never went anywhere. With apologies to L.L. Cool J, don’t call it a comeback. Long form content has been here for years. It’s called YouTube. And why is YouTube so successful?

One word: search. YouTube is the second-biggest search engine in the world, trailing only its parent company, Google.

IGTV, in an effort to differentiate itself from YouTube, launched without proper search functionality. In fact, when you activate IGTV, it opens with static fuzz, like what you would see when you turned on a TV with a cable box back in 1983 and flipped through channels, not knowing what you’re going to get next.

“Because we don’t have full text search and you can’t just search any random thing, it’s about the creators” Systrom explained at the time of the launch. “I think that at its base level that it’s personality-driven and creator driven means that you’re going to get really unique content that you won’t find anywhere else and that’s the goal.”

Search has since been added to IGTV (and it quickly auto-suggests feeds that create IGTV content), but when I opened IGTV over the weekend, I was served up content from ESPN, WWE, Gary Vaynerchuk and The Daily Show. 

This is all content I can find everywhere else, on Twitter, television, Linkedin, etc.

Discoverability is one of the main issues that’s continued to plague Snapchat, and seems to be hurting IGTV as well. With all of the choices we have today, am I going to invest five minutes into a random piece of longform content that an algorithm thinks I want to watch? Possibly.

The likelihood increases dramatically, however, if it’s something I’ve searched out.

With all of the data these major platforms have at their disposal, why do they continue to make such large errors in assessing what their users actually want? Why do they fail in targeting new spaces like Google did with social, or Instagram seems to be doing with long-form video?

In reading about the Google+ failure, one anonymous former Googler said the company was “late to market” and motivated from “a competitive standpoint” as they looked to take on Facebook.

If you’ve never read this infamous tweetstorm from another former Google+ engineer, it describes office politics, siloed teams and a lack of clear vision as major factors in the demise of Google’s failed social network. Here’s the start of that thread:

Given the recent Instagram drama surrounding the founders’ departure from Facebook, it’s likely that similar forces were at play with IGTV.

Whatever the reason, IGTV hasn’t lived up to the hype of last year’s launch, and it may never take off at all. Instagram itself doesn’t seem to be losing steam. But they badly misread the market and their users’ appetite (or lack thereof) for long form content. 

The lesson might be this: You don’t have to be all things to all people.

Or, as Facebook Watch’s LaVar Ball says, “Stay in yo’ lane!”

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Chasing snow at Zion National Park: How to market a unique experience

Here’s a dirty little secret of marketing: When you get a “limited-time offer,” it’s generally because sales are slow, and not because quantities are actually running out, or in short supply.

Marketing is all about creating urgency. In most cases, though, that urgency is manufactured. Or it’s totally imaginary.

Sometimes, however, opportunities pop up that have a legitimately limited shelf-life, or are truly rare. So you either have to act now or miss out.

This week, I got an email from a photography tour company that I’d used before, alerting me to a rare snowfall in Zion National Park. The email featured a few amazing pictures of Zion under snow and the following text:

“Alright everyone, this is the week to be in Zion and Bryce if you’ve ever wanted photos of this area under snow.  The combo of red rock and fresh snow produces vibrant, poppy images of this landscape.  Living in the area for the past 9 years, this is the wettest and coldest stretch of time I’ve experienced in the winter time.  We usually get one or two winter storms a year that produces snow that sticks in Zion, and within one, maybe two days it has melted away.”

The email continued, telling customers that even if they didn’t purchase a tour, they should make the effort to get to the park to see it for themselves.

“Even if you don’t join us for a tour, we HIGHLY recommend visiting this week for a multitude of days to be able to experience this event.  To be clear, to have this much snow, for this long in Zion is extremely rare.  Get it while it’s good.”

On the surface, the email was selling a photo class, but it was really selling an experience. And quite frankly, this email sold me instantly. As a photography enthusiast, I’ve been to Zion before, but hadn’t had the opportunity to shoot in these types of conditions. With winter winding down, it was too good to pass up. I had to go. My next chance to capture this type of moment may not come for another year, or perhaps much longer.

So I made the short drive to Zion Thursday night and woke up at 5 AM for a 6 AM excision into the park to capture sunrise and morning light around the park on a guided one-on-one photo tour. It was extremely cold, which I was prepared for, but the beauty of Zion under snow was something for which I was not completely prepared.

It was breathtaking.

The tour itself was outstanding, as my guide Seth took me to a great spot to capture the morning light of sunrise, and had planned out several options for both the morning and sunset sessions.

The day was a memorable, unique experience, and I’m very happy with the results of the photos I captured. The day was well worth the price of admission. I’ve now got a batch of amazing photos that captured the memory of seeing one of America’s best national parks under a blanket of snow.

I really appreciated spirit of the email alert. It provided valuable information, alerting me to a truly exclusive opportunity, and they didn’t hard-sell me. Instead, they appealed to my passion for photography and the desire to capture a rare moment, and provided a service even if I didn’t make a purchase. Seth just wanted his customers to know that they shouldn’t miss a rare opportunity to capture Zion this week. I really appreciated that.

That’s how you build and maintain a relationship with a customer. I’m already thinking about when I can sign up for another photography class.

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Interview: Bring your traditional brand into the digital world

I did this interview in 2015 at the DMA Conference in Boston about making traditional brands stand out in a digital world, and much of what I talked about here still resonates today.

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Instagram Marketing Photography Storytelling Technology Television Travel Uncategorized Video

Go See America

If you follow my Instagram (http://www.instagram.com/peterstringer), you probably think I travel every week. I wish that we’re the case. If anyone wants to pay me to do that, I’m all ears. But in the last few months, I’ve really rediscovered my love of photography through my passion for travel. I take my Nikon with me everywhere now. While I certainly spend some time editing the shots, they are all my own, and I’m starting to think I actually (mostly) know what I’m doing with a camera (thanks to a lot of trial, error, practice and research.) 

While landscapes are certainly far easier to capture than portraits, or action sports for that matter, and I have incredible respect for professional photographers, it’s been neat to get so much positive feedback on my travel pictures. But more importantly, I’ve consistently heard from many people who see my photos that they “need to travel more.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve made a point of traveling whenever I can, and I’ve seen much more of America than most people I know. 

Delicate Arch, from my visit to Arches National Park in February 2017.

Look, New York and L.A. are great, and hey if you want to “do Iceland” or “do Thailand” like seemingly everyone in my feeds these days, go ahead. I’d love to see them too. But there’s an amazing country out there between the coasts. Go see our National Parks. I know, they’re in “fly-over states.” (I hate that term.) But if you’re mad about the election, want to Make America Great Again, or don’t understand why the country is divided, you need to see how the rest of America lives. And you’re robbing yourself of some spectacular scenery and breathtaking sights you might not even know exist. I certainly did not grow up with an appreciation of the National Parks. I didn’t go hiking or camping as a kid. But I’ve become passionate about these places now, and I’ve made memories in amazing places like Arches National Park, Red Rock Canyon and Horseshoe Bend that will stay with me forever.

Politics and perspective aside, travel has enriched my life far more than I’d previously imagined it could. I grew up without the resources to travel as a child, beyond a few family trips where we packed the kids into a station wagon and took three days to trek down I-95 from Manchester, NH to Dunedin, FL, stopping overnight in rundown Motel 6s with abandoned pools, and dining at dirt-cheap truck-stops. I stepped on my first airplane at age 17, and it would be four or five years before I’d do it again. 

In the last 10 years, I’ve been on countless flights. I’ve done three cross-country drives and many other thousand-mile-plus loops. If I could give my younger self any advice, it would simply be this: travel more, and do it earlier, and always see something new. Go see the rest of America. I’ve spent way too much money on travel, but I’ve never regretted a dime I’ve spent on a trip.

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Media Masters #18 – Bob Ryan, Legendary Boston Globe Sportswriter

bob-ryan

Bob Ryan is perhaps the greatest American sportswriter of all-time, with a 44-year career covering some of the greatest moments in Boston sports. In this episode, Ryan discusses his outstanding career, how sports journalism has evolved over his newspaper days, and talks about his new book, “Scribe: My Life in Sports.”

For a kid who grew up wanting to be the Celtics beat writer for the Boston Globe, Bob Ryan was required reading, especially when I got to college and started journalism school at Boston University. During junior year, when I was asked to write a profile of someone noteworthy, I picked Bob Ryan and called his desk at the Globe. Ryan was very gracious, inviting me to interview him at the Globe offices, and was very generous with his time, talking for well over an hour at the time about his career and how he got started.

Decades later, Ryan’s still just as passionate about sports as he was when he started, and he was equally gracious with his time talking about his career and his new book. For a podcast called Media Masters, Bob Ryan fits the bill perfectly.

Buy Scribe: My Life in Sports on Amazon.com.

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