AOL & the NewFronts

The various Digital NewFronts coverage from the last few weeks or so has been, to some degree, quite dizzying. The only reason I’m singling out AOL in this piece is because I feel like I have more or less grown up with the platform. I was there for their first version and subsequent iterations – each time anxiously anticipating the new CD to download the latest update. In my eyes, AOL has been producing varying levels of content for eons, however, for 2014, their production plans are relying heavily on video.

 

This got me thinking: will AOL revert back into a paid service? Think of it this way – they used to charge users a monthly fee just for the privilege of signing online. They also, at that point, were producing loads of editorial content for users to consume as well as playing in the spaces of forums and chat rooms (full disclosure: I was a self-proclaimed chat room junkie). Now, though, they’re renewing seasons of content from names like Nicole Richie and Sarah Jessica Parker, then picking up a new show from, of all people, James Franco. This is all in the hopes that these various forms of video production will attract a wider variety of eyes back to AOL-island.

 

It’s true that video content is king, and it feels like all these players in the digital space are trying to pull in hyper-relevant names in order to persuade not viewers (and subsequently, advertisers), that they’re the only ones with exclusive access to their favorite names and topics in popular culture.

 

This thought is clearly a little half-baked, but when you think about it, AOL’s model used to charge for what was quality content at the time and now they rely wholly on advertisers to fill that void. Not that the removal of their old subscriptions-based model left a deep void by any means, but, when you think about it, they’re going to take the time to actually produce higher quality, hyper-culturally relevant video content in the hopes of bringing millions of more eyes to them. Isn’t that essentially what Netflix does these days? They’re a subscription-based company that previously showed video content produced by other people and now they’re making hits of their own and just increased their monthly subscription fee.

 

Wouldn’t it more or less make sense for a company like AOL who is going to invest in big names to switch their model around a bit? I watched the first season of Candidly Nicole mostly out of curiosity and was instantly hooked by Ms. Richie and her silly antics. From what I recall, though, each of those videos were roughly 5-minutes or so. Maybe AOL will stick to their current advertisers-only revenue model until they decide to produce longer form content? Seems like an interesting equation to me: Bigger Names + Longer Videos = $$ = AOL is Netflix. It’s only a matter of time!

In the spirit of proving a point.

One of my favorite scenes from “Sister Act II: Back in the Habit” is when Sister Mary Clarence, played brilliantly by the much deserved EGOT winner Whoopi Goldberg, quotes Rainer Maria Rilke’s book “Letters To A Young Poet” while also trying to prove a point to Rita Watson, a singer in her newfound choir (played by, of all people, Lauryn Hill.)

 

The quote she pulls from the book goes something like, “’… don’t ask me about being a writer. If when you wake up in the morning you can think of nothing but writing, then you’re a writer.’” In proving her point to Rita, she extends quote to draw a musical comparison, “I’m going to say the same thing to you. If you wake up in the morning and you can’t think of anything but singing first, then you’re supposed to be a singer girl.”

 

Now while I lack the overall joie-de-vivre of Ms. Goldberg conveys in superior portrayal of Sister Mary Clarence, I found myself giving my friend similar advice this afternoon. I’m going to somewhat egregiously summarize his overall defense, but in essence, he hasn’t written anything because he feels like he had nothing original to bring to the table in matters pertaining to his topic of interest. This wasn’t the first time that this matter came up in conversation between the two of us, however, it usually occurs somewhere between our 2nd or 3rd glass of wine.

 

Being that today’s stab at this debate occurred during broad daylight was certainly beneficial in terms of having enough wits about me to lay out a full offensive on the matter. The advice I gave was that, indeed, he has a unique opinion – mostly due to the fact that he’s a student of many writers on the subject matter, so synthesizing their information is useful information. Also, there are more than 10 books on the subject matter in his personal library which should be evidence enough that there is undeniably space to have an opinion, it’s just a matter of coming at it with a unique point of view.

 

The task I suggested he try was to take 25 minutes per week to transfer the thoughts from his brain onto paper. It could even be in the vein of Natasha Bedingfield’s famous song, “Unwritten” which is entirely about the existential crisis experienced through writer’s block. The mere fact that that was a hit, and then the title song to a highly popular MTV show should show that going through the motions alone could yield ridiculously successful results.

 

So, if when you wake up in the morning and all you want to do is write, well then, you better write, girl. And to prove my point further, this was done under 500 words.

Pay to Play: Amazing content seeks free home

“Pay to Play” has been the most terror-inducing string of three words since you spat out “I’ll take another” at Señor Frogs on spring break. While it was inevitable to hear (or utter) either phrase, at least you knew that there was a more immediate remedy from one-too-many yardsticks of Long Island Iced Teas in the Bahamas. Perhaps I’m projecting a little too much here with that reference, but at least that hangover was more abbreviated than the ramifications for brands in the “Pay to Play” world of social media.

Those of us familiar with the social space remember the days where every single one of your fans was exposed to your content without you having to pay any money to have the posts dangled in front of your consumer’s eyes. Ah, those were the days. As we should have predicted, as social media grew, so did the news feeds of every day folk. Brands no longer have the luxury of organic exposure of content. Facebook is almost entirely a Pay to Play space and a tweet has a life-span of just an hour. Who knows those numbers on Instagram, Pinterest, and so forth.

Some brands have seen an almost 1% or less share of organic reach on Facebook since the announcement of their latest algorithm shift to favor paid over earned views on content. Think about it from this perspective: If you’re even lucky enough to get one of your fans/consumers to see a piece of your content organically, it means that they or one of their friends who is also a fan of your page better react to it otherwise they might not be served any more content from that particular brand unless the brand pays for you to see it. From an outsider’s perspective, any quantified engagement on your organic content seems kind of “meh”, but little do they know, you actually have a 100% engagement rate because all 10 people who saw your content absolutely loved it.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the additional, non-obvious ramifications of this predicament for the last few weeks. For brands with no media dollars, that obviously means you’re not likely to get any fans to see your content on Facebook, but does that then mean you focus your priorities on other platforms? And if so, given the landscape, that means it’s only a matter of time before those other networks where you’re experiencing high organic reach will eventually turn into another hangover inducing “Pay to Play” space. It kind of seems like a cyclical conundrum, no?

This isn’t to say that brands should stop entirely at producing content on their social media properties – quite the opposite. Some brands produce amazing content that consumers and industry fan-girls alike love consuming. I myself wrapped up a content audit of a brand and questioned my own personal life choices afterwards as a direct result of their effective content strategy.

The issue then turns into deciding where to give your amazing content a home, and doing so on your own terms. My prediction is that a more long-term solution to this question means an eventual expansion of a brand’s website into less “product down your throat” experiences and more of a space that’s similar to a content publisher’s website a la Vice or AOL as it is today. In this case it would seem that the conundrum then turns into getting eyes on your website and becoming a trusted resource for content consumption outside of the “Pay to Play” spaces. I’m sure that’s nothing that an effective media strategy can’t solve. 😉

Thoughts, y’all?

The #GradSchool Conundrum

This is going to turn out to be an open letter to my tens of readers to gauge an unbiased opinion on a subject matter I’ve been struggling with for some time. So, I’ve been wrestling with the idea of graduate school ever since completing my undergrad four years ago. A few things in particular have prevented me from following through past the idea phase: loans, time and relevancy.

Loans. They are a disgusting yet useful thing and I regret accruing so much debt for the sake of a private education. Mind you, I have an awesome job that helps pay the billz, but I’d much rather prefer applying that money each month to my savings, traveling habit, shopping habit and a future home. Two of the questions that haunt me most are: do I go to school and put those loans on hold? Is it worth the emotional and financial toll of accruing more student loan debt? Of course, given that I’ve gone through the ridiculous rigamarole of loans, I can say that I’d certainly be smarter this time around and seek out more scholarships and smarter financial aid. Let’s get real, though, the cost of a great education shouldn’t be comparable to or surpass my entire annual salary. That’s just absolute nonsense and that shit needs to be figured out.

Time. Also see: Timing. Free time is a beautiful thing and I positively endorse it and adore my own spare time. Right now it’s mostly spent exploring, reading, visiting (harassing) friends, getting lost in my thoughts and so forth. How much of that do I want to apply to being a student again? If it’s to go back for the right degree then I’m totally game but not if it destroys my sanity. Timing, on the other hand, might be perfect right now.

Relevancy. First it was law school, then an MBA, then a JD/MBA. Now I’m toying with the idea of a masters in sociology (come to think of it, I even wrote a post on sociology/social media a few years back). The reasoning seems simple: I love what I do as a content editor/strategist in marrying human behaviors with social media best practices in order to get some great creative. The results on my accounts this far are going pretty well, so logically it only seems to make sense to continue an education on both tracks in order to continue in this field.

So I guess the big question is, given the points above, is it worth it?

What are your thoughts on the matter. Have you gone to, or thought about returning to get another degree? How has it worked out?! HALP

And Remember: Always Think Theta.

There are certain annual events that everyone looks forward to: birthdays, holidays, family trips, whatever. These all stand true for me as well, but to add to that list, one of my favorite annual events is Kappa Alpha Theta’s Founder’s Day luncheon celebrating the four women who started of the organization and hosted by the Westchester Alumni group.

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Kappa Alpha Theta’s founders.

Not many people know this (nor do they believe me after I tell them) but yes, I was in a sorority in college and it was absolutely amazing. Not only did it help me meet some of my closest friends, but it also helped me keep my shit together in college (give or take). Additionally, one of the main tenets of the organization is Leadership and while I believe I went through experiences prior to college to help my leadership flower flourish, I know that my time as a Theta put those skills into hyper-drive. Holding various leadership positions within the organization most definitely cultivated me into the professional I am today and I’m immensely grateful for that.

One of my favorite Theta traditions came about right as I started in the organization. The Westchester Alumni group, like my own chapter, had just colonized and invited some of us to partake in their Founder’s Day celebration at the end of January. I quickly jumped on the opportunity seeing as they would likely be the alumni group I joined after college. Needless to say, it was a life-altering experience. There I was, an 18-year-old neophyte in a world of all-stars. Here we were, a room of complete strangers varying in ages from 18-80’s united by a single set of ideals, going around sharing all of our various life stories. These women were incredibly successful in their own rights; each had their own families, careers, and had gone through the same ritual experiences as me. It was a very inspiring experience for me especially since I was still a doe-eyed college freshmen talking to a group of women who’d been through everything I was about to go through and came out the other side being badass professionals.

Founder's Day 2007!

Founder’s Day 2007!

This year marked my 7th year going to this luncheon (yikes!). When one of the event organizers, whom I met 7 years ago at the first Founder’s Day event asked if I was going to join this year, I instantly responded: “There’s no way I’d miss that.” While I haven’t joined an alumni group, mostly because my zip code changes quicker Lady Gaga’s hairstyle, this is the one thing I joyfully commit to every year.

Nowadays, all of my Theta friends from Quinnipiac are scattered (and sometimes, like in 2013, I can convince a bunch of us to attend Westchester’s event). There are a bunch of us in the Brooklyn area and then Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and even Spain (MISS YOU EJ!). I actually just came off a trip from Boston visiting some of those friends and as fate goes, one of them sent a group of us a great article from the New York Times about long distance friendship (worth the read when you’re done here). I have Theta to thank for friends like mine. We’re feisty, awesome and are on our way to becoming just as badass as those ladies in Westchester and the ones in Indiana too who founded Theta back in 1870.

A Happy Founder’s Day, indeed.

Back in a New York Groove

So much has happened since I last took some time to put my noodle towards this site. There’s no way it’s almost February of 2014!

Oh, whatever. I’m finally happy to report that I’m back in New York!

It took a little longer than I would have liked but two of my favorite lessons from 2013, everything happens for a reason and timing is everything, can be applied as two of the primary reasons I currently find myself living the Slope life. We’ll ignore the fact that both of those lessons are painfully cliché and include the word “everything” (as the latter will turn into a deeper existential discussion that none of us are willing to go into without at least three additional cups of caffeine) and focus elsewhere.

When’s the last time you actually sat and did nothing but think? I’m talking totally zone out, unplug, get off the grid and spend some quality time letting your thoughts take the best of you. I tried my best to do this over New Years – part one of the reason I coerced my sister and her man to spend it with me in Vermont. It was far away enough to spend some time alone and for me, unchartered territory, so I knew we’d get some solid quality time in by merely soaking in the new environment. Either way, our time up north was amazing, and when I wasn’t taking pictures to remind everyone of how awesome my trip was, I was spending time getting lost in my own thoughts. Here are two more adages that I finally accepted while pondering life in Vermont:

1) Stop preventing yourself from doing things that scare you: This can be applied in many ways, but for me, my second reason for the Vermont was to snowboard. I’ve told the following story beyond exhaustion but it goes like this: the first time we went skiing (it was around 1996 or 1997), my little sister broke her entire leg; I’m talking spiral fracture from ankle to hip, and she spent half of third grade in a wheelchair. Needless to say, I’ve spent the last 17ish years completely scared shitless of all winter sports involving mountains and it’s prevented me from going anywhere near a wintry slope. The closest I got was 2 years ago when some friends got the best of me after happy hour and convinced me to buy a bus ticket for a 7 AM trip to Camelback Mountain. I was a trooper, heck I even enlisted another friend, but the closest I got to that damn mountain was the lodge where she and I spent almost 10 hours catching up and drinking Irish coffees. After the year I had, I finally decided that there are bigger things to fear in life and finally attempted snowboarding in Vermont. It wasn’t scary at all (#bunnyslope), plus I got a cool outfit out of the whole thing (plus some free Barton gloves), and a few bruises to remind me that it’s never easy to learn something new but just the fact that you tried is absolutely worth it.

2) When you have a minute to take a breath, inhale deeply and enjoy it: The front half of 2013 was absolutely nuts for me. I was so accustomed to going 100 miles per hour that I was without purpose for a while when life slowed down. This time was not for naught, and I ended up using it rather effectively – so much so that I’m incredibly appreciative of that time because I realized it’s what led me to where I currently am today…

In Brooklyn, trying to make up for lost time on my blog, dreaming of what 2014 has in store for us all!

Cheers.

Metro #Fail

Melodrama would be the absolute easy route when it comes to telling this story so I’ll try my best to spare you the unnecessary and ridiculous embellishments where possible. The quick version of this story is that commuting absolutely sucks. The longer version goes a little something like this.

Life’s supposed to be a little bit easy when you move back to your hometown. For my purposes, it was to emotionally and financially regroup before turning 25 and having to take life seriously. The one downfall to this side-step in life was that my commute drastically changed from a roughly 20-minute deal to one that took approximately an hour or so.

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There’s a big tradeoff here you see, because, those extra 40 minutes of your life really don’t mean that much when it’s spent sitting in a guaranteed seat that you’re actually capable of sleeping in. It also turns out to be a great time to get some quality reading done as well, heck, maybe even some decent pondering if you feel so inclined. Those tend to be the ways I utilize the 2+ hours of my day on the tracks.

My life as a Connecticut commuter has had its fair share of nonsense. It’s generally hard to complain but my only major qualm is when there’s no sitting room and I’m unequivocally exhausted, in which case it’s an utter pain in the ass. The only big issues arise during times of unreasonable bitch slaps from Mother Nature (see: Hurricane Sandy, and/or any slight trickle of snow). It’s situations like these that the trains become horrifically crowded or sometimes cease to run due to the track’s reaction to the inclement in weather.

The morning of September 25th was one to remember in that it kicked off what would be about a week of commutation tomfoolery. A Good Samaritan in the Metro North parking lot informed me that trains weren’t running before I paid the $5.00 for the right to park my car for a day. I swiftly made my way home to get the day started since I’d be working from the home office. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the documents I needed were sitting on a laptop in Lower Manhattan meaning that I’d need to make the journey the following day into the city.

I made my way to the train the next morning with a positive outlook despite having nothing but frightening memories of cramped commutes to the city during times of bad weather. Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised to find that the entire train car was empty! Utter jubilation permeated through my veins. Not only was I flying to work during a time of what should have been an utter cluster-fuck, but I was getting there without having to fight for elbow room. SCORE.

The unadulterated joy was quickly destroyed after it was announced on the PA system that the train would be stopping in Rye (aka 2-stops from mine) where MTA employees would direct us to a bus that would help bring us to our next destination. For us folk heading towards the Big Apple, that meant taking a bus up to White Plains and then hitting the Harlem line to Grand Central.

All in all, what was the biggest pain in my ass ended up not being all too bad because the Metro North staff on hand were incredibly patient (especially since they were being asked the same questions over and over and over again). It took an extra 45 minutes to get to work which in and of itself was a son of a bitch but at least the people that helped us all get there did it with a smile on their faces. It certainly helped.