Content Marketing

Thrilled to Announce That I’ve Joined News Deeply!

I’m so happy to say that I’ve joined a fantastic journalism company as Director of Strategy & Research.


July 2015

I’m so happy to say that I have joined a small, wonderful journalism company full-time. The company’s name is News Deeply; they’ve been a client since March. It’s been a great match so far, and I look forward to continuing our work together.

I will be Director of Strategy & Research at News Deeply — thereby fusing my passion for media, content, and editorial strategy with user research. I will also be working with our philanthropic partners.

Here is the company’s exciting official description:

News Deeply logoNews Deeply is dedicated to advancing the user experience of complex global issues. Our team of journalists and technologists builds unique, user-centered resources that fuse news, live events, information design, and social participation.

Our inaugural platform, Syria Deeply, is a fusion of journalism and technology created to enhance coverage of the Syrian crisis. In recognition of the project’s innovative approach, Time Magazine called Syria Deeply “The Future of News,” while Fast Company Magazine said “Syria Deeply Outsmarts the News, Redefines Conflict Coverage.” Based on the website’s success, CEO & Founder Lara Setrakian was invited to the White House to brief President Obama on the dynamics of the Syrian conflict. News Deeply won the National Press Foundation’s Excellence in Online Journalism Award in 2013, joining honorees like the Wall Street Journal, the Center for Public Integrity, NPR, and Re/code.

The most recent platform from News Deeply is Water Deeply, which covers California’s record-breaking drought crisis.

In addition to our single-subject information hubs, the News Deeply team ideates and creates custom projects for think tanks, institutions, and private sector partners. News Deeply’s clients and partners include the World Economic Forum, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Baker Institute at Rice University, and Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. The company’s work has been featured on outlets including CNN, NPR, BBC News, the Guardian, and Wired.

How To Hire Writers For Content Marketing: Reviewing The Options For Quibb

Many companies really want to hire high-quality writers, but have trouble finding them. Here’s how to find and hire good writers.


June 2015

When companies build content marketing strategies, they typically include writing — whether blog posts, how-to lists, thoughtful articles, in-depth white papers, or full-on “brand publications” and “owned information hubs.”  For these projects, brand marketers need professional writers.

But where can they find writers?  As brand content has proliferated, a variety of solutions hit the market.  Solutions include semi-famous subculture bloggers with devoted, niche fanbases; marketing agencies with an arsenal of versatile English majors; and tech platforms that want to be the “Uber for articles.”  It’s bewildering.  How do you know what’s out there, and what’s the best value for money?

I started by drawing from my own experience as a writer and content strategist; then I interviewed my media friends and surveyed a few technical products in order to help Sandi answer this question for Quibb.  (During this process, I had to sign up for email lists run by content marketers with varying moral sensibilities, and I’m still unsubscribing weeks later!  You’re welcome. :) )

Continue reading…

Why You Shouldn’t Share That Awesome Infographic

A friend sent me an infographic from a sketchy “medical degree information website” … and I learned that sometimes, good people pass on bad Internet pages that make money for bad people.


May 2014

A friend recently sent me an infographic that supposedly shows that doctors make less in lifetime earnings than teachers. Unsurprisingly, the infographic is controversial. It also went viral and has been Liked on Facebook over fifteen thousand times.

I am not impressed by this infographic, and I could write a whole post dissecting its statistical silliness, but that’s not the point here. More importantly, this infographic is just one piece of a vast and sketchy clickbait empire. Everyone who links to this dumb infographic is helping a clever, unethical man make money. His name is Ryan Caldwell, and he’s been playing this game for years.

This wouldn’t bug me so much if Caldwell were giving out decent information. But he’s not, although his website calls itself an “independent online publication dedicated to providing accurate and useful information for prospective students considering a career in medicine.” And my smart friends are passing this on! Some of them are doctors and teachers!

Red Flags That Tipped Me Off

Many small, sketchy aspects of the site made my hackles rise. But I’ll just tell you about the big red flags:

The infographic is hosted at BestMedicalDegrees, which does not list any authors, editors, or other names anywhere. There are no names on the website’s main page, the About page, or the Contact page. Most of the articles list “Editors” as the author. I saw the name Yvonne McArthur on a couple of posts, but she has no biography on the site. If Yvonne exists, BestMedicalDegrees doesn’t offer any way to find her elsewhere (like a website or Twitter link).

BestMedicalDegrees also has an irritating “Rankings Methodology” page that says: “We rank schools and degree programs based on widely accepted measures of market reputation, academic quality, student satisfaction, and value, as well as our own editorial judgement.”

“Editorial judgment?” “Widely accepted?” Are they even saying anything at all?

Anyway, by the time I went through all that, I knew the site was nonsense. So I checked the registered owner of the site, using its publicly available Whois record, and I found a name: Ryan Caldwell. I didn’t have to work hard to figure out the details after that, because as soon as I Googled Caldwell’s name, I found this blog post from 2011 that described one of his other viral hits.

Caldwell routinely makes viral sites that pretend to be information sources about schools. On those sites, he links to school-related organizations, and those organizations pay him an affiliate fee for each person he refers. Voilà!

In fact, from Caldwell’s perspective, I’m guessing that being mildly inaccurate is valuable, because that will just get people riled up and send more attention his way.

Why My Smart Friends Helped This Guy Make Money

My friends are really smart people (hi friends! I love you!). Why are my smart friends forwarding this thing around?

I guess most people are unfamiliar with how online content makes money. Also, maybe people are lulled by the lack of ads at BestMedicalDegrees; maybe people assume that an ad-free site won’t be profit-driven. And maybe people are less critical about media that does not appear to be “political,” or that doesn’t have an obvious “agenda.”

But I’m hardly the first person to make this point, and I won’t be the last: When you pass on a piece of content to your friends, you are helping spread its influence or earn money for its creator — even if you’re saying something negative.

Are you sure you want to do that? Do you even know who the creator is?

One of my favorite things about the Internet is that it’s relatively easy for people with zero established reputation to work their way up, solely by being awesome. And personally, I really enjoy great content marketing. But people like Caldwell are not even close to legit. So don’t reward them by passing on their stuff.

For the record, I tried sending a note through the BestMedicalDegrees Contact page — I said I was a writer working on a piece about the site, and that I’d love to talk to the editors. I received no response.

P.S. Hey, if you’re planning to link to BestMedicalDegrees, then I strongly recommend that you use DoNotLink when you do so. (To learn more about DoNotLink, here’s a great writeup.)

(Image credit to 401K 2012, who posted it on Flickr under a Creative Commons license)

Brandopolis: A Big Brand Strategy Report

I spent the summer working on an in-depth report about content marketing and digital media strategy. I’m so pleased to announce that you can read it now!


November 2013

Over the summer, I heard that a marketing agency called Distilled was seeking a journalist to cover the content marketing landscape. My heart was in my throat as I applied: The assignment sounded really interesting! I knew it would give me the chance to do plenty of in-depth research and analysis.

I’m really happy to announce that the results are in! Brandopolis: A Big Brand Strategy Report.

I had a great time working with Distilled, and I’m proud of the results. I read up on lots of major brands’ content strategies, and I interviewed marketers at those brands as well as the agencies they’re working with. I had the chance to sort out some of my thoughts about online media and to explore some questions I’ve been thinking about, like how social networks act in their early phases, and how marketers think about media differently from journalists.
Lydia Laurenson in front of a camera. Photo by Paul Garber
My favorite section of Brandopolis might be Early Adoption Stories, where I discussed what it means for brands to get into certain networks early — and how to systematize that. (But all the sections of Brandopolis are my favorite!)

Special shout-out to Paul Garber and Justin Oliphant at Compound Creative! They helped me in my time of need by recording my Brandopolis promo video. Paul also took this great photo of me in front of the recording camera, and my mother keeps sharing the photo on Facebook. (I love you Mom!)