media

Gmail makes the future of email look a whole lot brighter!

The last couple of months have seen some exciting announcements, which look set to change email development forever.

Gmail now supports media queries

Google has started the process of releasing a number of updates for its family of email apps online, as well as its dedicated Android and iOS apps. These updates will not only bring it into the 21st century and allow email designers to have more control over how their messages are rendered, but it will vastly improve Gmail’s ability to render CSS style rules in HTML emails and ensure that CSS styles are not stripped out.

One of the benefits of this is that CSS rules can be defined once and will cascade automatically to the correct elements when rendering, just like CSS was always designed to do and how it’s worked in web browsers since the late 90s. Developers have previously had to ‘inline’ style rules on to every individual element in order make emails look any good for Gmail users, leading to bloated, difficult-to-read code. While developers will likely still need to inline styles for a while (there are still email clients that don’t render styles in <style> tags reliably), this latest news hints at a future where inlining isn’t necessary, taking one of the more ‘trickier’ steps out of the email development process (different inlining tools work in subtly different ways, as do automated inliners built into apps such as Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor).

The second benefit of this is that it will be possible to use @media queries within <style> tags to adjust the styling of an email to suit the user's current device. In recent years, email developers have had to develop entirely new solutions for optimising the layout of emails in Gmail and other mobile email apps without @media query support. The most popular of these solutions is known as ‘fluid-hybrid design’. Andy even developed and shared his own version of the technique to help developers apply it more easily. But even when simplified, in comparison with standard ‘responsive design’ techniques, fluid-hybrid is far trickier to master and comes with its own set of quirks and limitations.

While there are still plenty of other email apps without @media query support, Gmail is by far the most popular (with a huge 16% market share), so Google’s planned changes mean a drastic reduce in the need for fluid-hybrid. Whether that means it will fade into complete obscurity, remains to be seen. As long as it remains useful for targeting other less-capable email apps, fluid-hybrid may still have a future.

Litmus partners with Microsoft

Litmus announced in August that it was partnering with Microsoft to ensure that future versions of Outlook would give email developers and users a better time.

Microsoft Outlook (in all its guises, from Outlook 2003, right to up to the new Outlook.com) has always been a ‘thorn’ in the side of email developers all over the world. Having to use the Microsoft Word rendering engine to render HTML emails throws up all kinds of unique and complicated bugs for developers to work around, meaning that they have to code HTML emails using tables for layout - just like they did in the 90s. It has always been the weak link of the email world, making it incredibly difficult for the industry to move forward, so hopefully Google’s latest news could change everything!
 
While developers will still be tied to creating emails that work in older iterations of Outlook for a while (we can’t forget about those users just yet - every recipient is important), it’s certainly good news that Microsoft is now listening to email developers, and at least intend to make things better for them in future.

To summarise

Email as a marketing tool has seen unprecedented growth over recent years, but these announcements signify a shift in attitude by the big players of the email industry. This means that email developers can hopefully spend less time trying to solve abstract rendering bugs and spend more time creating beautifully designed, engaging experiences for more recipients.

There are still plenty of other email app developers out there that aren’t yet prioritising the same things, but with Gmail and Outlook aligning their attitudes with Apple (the Mail app that comes with iOS, which has had fantastic support for modern CSS and media queries for years), industry standards are set at a level that other developers simply cannot afford to ignore.

In the words of 1993 UK chart-toppers D:Ream, “Things can only get better!”.

Why social video marketing matters and how to do live video right

A cat playing a keyboard? A dog playing the drums?

We’ve all watched videos online, albeit some more educational than others, but how can brands use video on social channels as a marketing tool? 

Many brands are already embracing video as part of their social media marketing strategy and it’s hardly surprising with over 8 billion video views on Facebook daily. It’s predicted that 80% of Internet use will be watching videos by 2019. 

Traditional 30 second television adverts are becoming obsolete in an age of shorter attention spans (well done if you’ve read this far). You have as little as 3 seconds to catch an audience’s attention on Facebook with a video. This means that not only does your video have to be timely and relevant, but it also has to be eye catching and effective, even if the sound is turned off. 

With new formats emerging almost daily, brands are often left scrambling to keep up and work out how to use these channels effectively.

Facebook Live is one such channel. Live video had grown dramatically in popularity over the last couple of months, with other channels such as Periscope and Meerkat also used widely. There are many benefits of using live video, such as being able to share events with a larger audience, humanising the brand and allowing brands to connect to their audiences in a unique way. 

Many household names are already effectively using live video as part of their marketing strategy. Our personal favourites include Buzzfeed’s nail biting live video on trying to explode a watermelon with rubber bands and and Dunkin Donuts giving a live tour of their test kitchen (don’t watch if you’re hungry). 

Live videos shouldn't be treated as a one off gimmick though, but instead considered as an important marketing tool to regularly share knowledge with your online audience.

Here are our top tips for creating effective live video campaigns: 

  • Teach don’t preach. Provide knowledge to the viewer instead of trying to sell. “How to” videos are still within the top searches on Youtube! 
     
  • Shareability is essential to increasing audience size. Think about what will make someone share your video stream.
     
  • Plan out a video amplification strategy: send out to influencers to share, consider timing of live video and boost Facebook posts to increase audience size.
     
  • Repurpose the video for other social channels with a highlights reel.

Keep your eyes peeled on our Facebook page for when we decide to take the leap and try our first live stream.

What do Instagram’s new changes mean for brands?

Instagram was met with widespread criticism this week after it announced changes to users’ news feeds. The new algorithm is set to alter the reverse chronological order most users are used to, to one that shows the most popular posts first.

The move comes after a backlash from Twitter users when news of the company adopting a similar feature reverberated through its digital channels. In response, Twitter listened to its audience and changed the feature to allow people to opt out if they wished. So why are these major tech companies making the switch to a more ‘personalised’ news feed?

In a statement made by Instagram, their research shows that people miss on average 70% of the content in their feeds. They aim to tackle this by organising news feeds to show the moments they believe, “you will care about the most”.

Before the Stock Market

In the early days of Facebook (Instagram’s parent company), brands with company pages could post as much content as they desired and all of it would land right into Facebook users’ feeds. After a while, Facebook didn’t like this. It couldn’t make money from this system. This is why it slowly developed a more ‘personalised’ news feed, displaying popular and sponsored content first. The move forced brands to begin paying to promote their content, and thus, the Facebook money-making machine began to grow. It’s for this reason that Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram in 2012 sent shudders through its online community, as questions began to brew over what the organisation would begin to change.

The shift to a more ‘personalised’ algorithm means that brands will have to reassess their current digital marketing strategies, as organic reach to audiences on this platform will be more difficult than ever. Paying to promote content on Instagram will soon be as common as it is for brands looking to grow their audience on Facebook, as these tech giants aim to exploit the growth in popularity among the younger demographic.

If it ain't broke...

The problem consumers have with this change is that it goes against the real-time nature that makes social media so engaging. This is evident with the rise in popularity of Snapchat, as younger generations connect with it’s live and ephemeral nature of sharing content. It seems as though when social media companies begin to cater all their platforms to paid content, many people will be more open to using new platforms to gain a more real-time experience online. Brands will now face the same problem in building an audience on Instagram as they do on Facebook, as images from accounts with the highest engagement will take priority in users’ news feeds.

How can you keep up with the changes?

  1. Embrace video - As Instagram is flooded with images, a well-produced video that automatically plays on users feeds will help grab their attention and boost engagement.
     
  2. Reassess your social media strategy - If your reliance is currently on Instagram, consider using other channels to link to your Instagram account, as organic reach is beginning to gradually decline on this platform.
     
  3. Prepare to pay - It comes as no surprise that regularly paying to promote content on Instagram will soon become the norm, so it’s important for brands to consider this in their social media budgets.
     
  4. Engage with your followers - As with all social media channels, people engage with accounts who actively engage with theirs. For small brands, taking the time to look through news feeds and engaging with content is a great way to build a valuable audience of followers.