Mashable’s Pete Cashmore On Brand Storytelling: Where To Next?

In an age of rapid tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment, how does a brand stay con­nect­ed to its audi­ence and con­tin­ue to serve com­pelling con­tent?

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Mash­able Founder and CEO Pete Cash­more says tech­nol­o­gy is chang­ing con­tent cre­ation and can help brands bet­ter reach – and cater to – their audi­ences with arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI) and native adver­tis­ing.

The last decade has seen huge advance­ments in dig­i­tal and social, includ­ing the launch­es of Face­book, Red­dit, Twit­ter, Maker­Bot, Bit­coin and Kick­starter.

But, dur­ing a Social Media Week pan­el, Cash­more said it is the debut of the iPhone that is like­ly the sin­gle-most sig­nif­i­cant moment of the last 10 years, call­ing it “a thing we’ll nev­er see again in this life­time.”

Smart­phones have clear­ly had huge impli­ca­tions for both pub­li­ca­tions like Mash­able and com­mer­cial brands alike. And while Cash­more notes that con­sumers alive today may nev­er again see any­thing as big as anoth­er smart­phone launch, oth­er tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ments to look out for include self-dri­ving cars and AI.

Predicting The Next Big Story With AI

Mash­able has been using AI for sev­er­al years, which Cash­more said is “very big in jour­nal­ism now and what helps us stay ahead.”

Specif­i­cal­ly, Mash­able uses AI in its Veloc­i­ty algo­rithm, which, per a blog post, “scours the social web, col­lect­ing lots and lots of data around how peo­ple engage with pub­lished arti­cles.”

Accord­ing to Cash­more, Veloc­i­ty can actu­al­ly deter­mine what will be the next big news sto­ry eight hours in advance. Per the post, it debuted in 2013 and coin­cid­ed with a site redesign. And, over the next few years, Cash­more said data sci­en­tists did nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cess­ing to enable Mash­able to look across the entire Web to get a bet­ter pic­ture of what’s going to be big next:

The audi­ence wants to not nec­es­sar­i­ly know what just pub­lished, but what’s the next big sto­ry,. So it goes from real-time news to pre­dic­tive news – ‘This will blow up.’”

And now brands can ben­e­fit, too, which comes in handy for mar­keters look­ing for their own Oreo Super Bowl moment and/or who want to give their real-time social media war rooms a lit­tle extra fire pow­er dur­ing big events.

We’ve licensed the plat­form to brands, [so they can deter­mine what] is going to be the big sto­ry at the Oscars, so they can tweet about it or have a reac­tion ready,” Cash­more said.

Veloc­i­ty tack­les “the accel­er­a­tion in the news cycle and the trend toward more algo­rithm use in con­tent cre­ation,” which, Cash­more said, is par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful for teams that need to do video pro­duc­tion so they “can be on the trend rather than behind.”

How­ev­er, jour­nal­ists and brand ambas­sadors wor­ried about los­ing their jobs after fur­ther devel­op­ments in AI needn’t fear, at least per Cash­more. He said it’s unlike­ly the entire con­tent cre­ation process will ever be ful­ly auto­mat­ed as humans are still best to write because they pro­vide an actu­al voice and can instill ele­ments like humor:

You have the algo­rithm do the grunt work that you wouldn’t want to do any­way. Edi­tors are con­sum­ing and mak­ing big deci­sions, but it comes back to the human voice. There’s noth­ing worse than ser­vices where a robot voice reads news or it is writ­ten in a voice that isn’t human.”

Going for­ward, Mash­able plans to con­tin­ue improv­ing the algo­rithm and to spin out new ver­sions, which includes deter­min­ing not only what news will go viral, but who it will go viral with, he said.

This, he said, will be use­ful for brands try­ing to appeal to spe­cif­ic demo­graph­ics as it will show what’s going to be big for 18- to 25-year-old males in the UK, for exam­ple.

Telling Stories With Native Advertising

In addi­tion to pre­dic­tive algo­rithms, Cash­more said native adver­tis­ing is also a grow­ing part of Mashable’s busi­ness as the indus­try moves into an era of video con­sump­tion and media com­pa­nies make more video.

I think there’s been a lot of con­fu­sion around the word­ing [of native adver­tis­ing] and around what it is and there were some ear­ly exam­ples of [brands and pub­lish­ers] not doing it right, but we’re kind of past that stage,” he said.

For exam­ple, a hotel brand can spon­sor Mash­able’s trav­el chan­nel, but that hotel doesn’t dic­tate the con­tent that goes into it, Cash­more said. How­ev­er, as the indus­try moves more into video, he says it’s like­ly there will be more spon­sored chan­nel-spe­cif­ic con­tent.

I think that in the broad­er spec­trum, what we do is tell sto­ries and brands want to tell sto­ries and in a way that is clear they want [con­sumers] to like them and don’t want [con­sumers] to feel tricked,” Cash­more said. “The con­ver­sa­tion on native will keep grow­ing and will be a pos­i­tive thing and a bet­ter thing for con­sumers and adver­tis­ers and, as we move into the video era, it will be eas­i­er to say, ‘Brought to you by this group,’ and pro­vide more clar­i­ty.”

Develop A Broad Base Of Traffic Sources

Cash­more warns against rely­ing too heav­i­ly on cer­tain social net­works for traf­fic.

Some com­pa­nies are com­plete­ly opti­mized for Face­book, which sets them up for a fall if they com­plete­ly rely on a cer­tain type of head­line,” Cash­more said. “If humans aren’t enjoy­ing that, Face­book takes note of that and Google takes note and will stop show­ing it. It’s impor­tant for us to have a broad base…some of it is search, some of it is Twit­ter. We’re able to grow Pin­ter­est and oth­er net­works in a big way.”

Cash­more said he does­n’t want more than 20 per­cent of traf­fic from a spe­cif­ic net­work.

We don’t know where the winds might blow,” he said. “It’s key for any pub­li­ca­tion to have a broad base of traf­fic sources. You nev­er want to be 100 per­cent reliant on one site.”

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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