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Joe has not only been an Editor In Chief in the past, but he’s been with Contently since their early days. With Shane Snow, they’ve released the Storytelling Edge book earlier this year. In this episode, we caught up with Joe to explain one of the key frameworks journalists can use for effective storytelling and Contently’s plans moving forward.

Podcast Transcription

Vahe Arabian: Welcome to the State of Digital Publishing podcast. Digital Publishing is an online publication and community providing resources, perspectives, collaboration, and news for digital media publishing professionals in new media and technology.

Vahe Arabian: Our aim is to help industry professionals get back more time to work on what really matters, monetizing content and reader relationships. In this episode, I speak with Joe Lazauskas, head of content at Contently. He has recently released a book, The Storytelling Edge and he goes through some of the lessons from the book and how that applies to storytelling professionals. Let’s begin.
Vahe Arabian: Hi Joe, how are you?
Joe Lazauskas: Good! Coming to you here from New York, a little bit allergic, a little bit nasally, but hopefully you guys can deal with that over the next half hour or so.
Vahe Arabian: That’s fine, you said you’re sick but you sound good to me. How’s everything going with the book launch? I’m sure it’s been a whirlwind.
Joe Lazauskas: Yeah, it’s been fun. We’ve been getting a really good reception, everywhere from London to Las Vegas. Just the best part is seeing people post pictures with their books, writing reviews, reaching out to us, telling us how it’s helping them do their job better and inspiring them to tell some really cool new stories, launch some new content initiatives inside their companies, so it’s been fantastic.
Joe Lazauskas: I think that’s what you want, right, is a really actionable – I hate using that buzzword – but you want to see people doing stuff as a result of reading your book, so that’s probably the coolest part.
Vahe Arabian: Yeah, just being emotionally charged, just for lack of the inspired, just to actually do things, that’s 100 percent on the point. That’s why I brought you onto the podcast in the first place, ’cause I want you to more practically educate people around storytelling and the storytelling frameworks that you mentioned in the book.
Joe Lazauskas: Yeah, I’d love to do that. We literally spent all of our advance on marketing, so we definitely need to do this to make money.
Vahe Arabian: 100 percent. So, just for people who don’t know much about you and about the book and about Contently as well, if you could provide a background.
Joe Lazauskas: Sure, so I head up content strategy at Contently. So, Contently is a technology company that connects a network of over 100,000 freelance creatives, journalists, filmmakers, infographic artists, videographers, graphic artists, et cetera., with brands in media companies that are looking to scale their content program.
Joe Lazauskas: And we also provide a really cool AI enhanced technology platform that allows you to manage your entire content program, measure success, optimize what sort of stuff you’re creating. And really, where my team falls in is in helping people figure out what the hell they should actually do.
Joe Lazauskas: What content should I be creating, how should I get this in front of people, how am I actually measuring success and ensuring that I’m building deeper relationships with the audience I want to reach, so that’s really where my specialty lies.
Joe Lazauskas: I’m a journalist by trade, I started a news site called The Faster Times when I was in college, built one of the first branded content studios in the media industry here in New York there. When we sold that, I came over to Contently in the early days when we were just a few employees to run our internal content in media arm and then our content strategy program.
Joe Lazauskas: So, I’ve just sort of been living and breathing this for 10 years. And the book, The Storytelling Edge, is a book I wrote with our co-founder here at Contently, Shane Snow, a really great writer and journalist in his own rite, has a couple of other best-selling books in addition to this bestseller. And we just wanted to write a book that would help people tell better stories and then use them in a way that would actually be sustainable for their business model, whether they’re in marketing or whether they’re in media.
Joe Lazauskas: Because what we really saw as the transformation in our industry in the last five years or so is a lot of people being tasked with going out there and creating content online, but not a lot of folks who knew how to do it really well. Writing from the gambit of the lifelong search and SEO and lead gen marketer who had their boss pointing to them and saying, go out there and start a blog and start creating really great content that’s gonna compete with Harpers and The Economist and The New York Times, who never actually came from an editorial background or knew how to do that.
Joe Lazauskas: To the media person who might be working at a digital upstart and just stuck in a loop of cranking out meaningless, shitty, 300-word listicles every day that’s totally generic and not unique from anything else that’s on the web. So, we saw a lot of people who needed a little bit of help to up their storytelling game to figure out how to use stories really effectively from a business model point of view, and we wanted to put all those lessons that we’d learned into a fun-to-read, obviously story-driven book.
Vahe Arabian: Yeah, that totally makes sense. And with Contently, where is it at today? I believe you guys focus more on enterprise clients these days, is that correct?
Joe Lazauskas: Yeah, that’s correct. We work from everyone from fast-growth in mid market clients to enterprise clients, our solution is inherently built for people with bigger, more complex operations. So, think big banks, big tech companies like Dell, American Express, Chase, GE, those sort of companies, as well as fast-growth startups like Zappos, we also see some publishers use us to manage their editorial and native advertising program, ’cause the system’s built really well for managing hundreds of writers and hundreds of users, all in one central platform, so you’re not just using Google Docs and e-mail threads from hell to manage your editorial program, but actually have everything contained within one central software platform.
Vahe Arabian: How did you come to the opportunity of actually writing the book with Shane? How did that come about?
Joe Lazauskas: So, Shane and I are really close friends. Basically, I saw Shane speak at Techstars six and a half years ago when I was covering tech in New York, and I had started doing kind of similar stuff to what Contently was doing when building out a branded content studio at my business, and so we just got to talking, got to getting basically pizza, splitting a pizza once every two weeks, because Shane was Mormon at the time so couldn’t drink beer.
Joe Lazauskas: So, our vice was pizza to get together and kind of talk about media, argue with each other about where we thought the media and marketing industries were headed, what an actual successful model for journalism looked like in the future. I started doing some freelance work for Contently, some content strategies, some editing, then I came on full time as one of our first employees.
Joe Lazauskas: And we’ve just sorta been writing about this stuff and talking about this stuff at different conferences and presentations forever, and we just decided last summer, pretty much after we were super depressed after the election to throw our energy into, well one, protesting and donating money everywhere, but also just sitting down and spending six months just cranking out this book.
Joe Lazauskas: And it moved really quickly. We were really lucky in how fast this kind of went from an idea to a reality.
Vahe Arabian: That’s awesome, that’s awesome to hear. I think you’re able to move everything around, improving the quality and standard, so I’m all for that. So Joe, let’s go straight into what’s the overview of The Storytelling Edge?
Joe Lazauskas: Yeah, so the book is really about the art and science of storytelling. So we spend a lot of time on the new neuroscience of storytelling that’s emerged over the last decade. A lot of the work of a neuroscientist called Dr. Paul Zak, who has essentially found that there’s an incredible amount of things that happens in our brains when we hear a story.
Joe Lazauskas: As human beings, we’re uniquely wired for stories. It’s how we passed on information when we were sitting around caves and making sure that we didn’t get eaten by wooly mammoths, how we taught each other how to survive before the written language, how we taught each other how to find food, to stay safe, to build bonds within communities was through stories.
Joe Lazauskas: And a big reason why stories work so well is it actually leads to a lot of neurochemical reactions in our mind. There’s this neurochemical called oxytocin that essentially acts as an empathy drug in our brain. And it makes us feel really bonded to people and to things.
Joe Lazauskas: And for a while, we didn’t really know what oxytocin was. We knew that it would appear when a mom was with her baby, we didn’t know what other triggers there were. Over the last 10 years, what Dr. Paul Zak’s team has found is that stories are actually one of the biggest triggers for oxytocin in our brain, so this neurochemical.
Joe Lazauskas: So, when we hear a really good story, the story that follows some fundamental elements that isn’t just a generic facts sheet dressed up as an article, but a really immersive story that sucks us in, it triggers the release of oxytocin in our brain, which makes us feel more connected to the person we’re hearing the story about, or the person or entity that’s telling us that story, be it a media company or be it a brand.
Joe Lazauskas: And when we hear stories, our brain lights up at five times the areas that it does normally when we’re just passively receiving information. So as a result, we feel this really strong bond with whoever’s telling us this story, and we’re also much more likely to retain that information. Which is really key if you’re a marketer, you’re a publisher, and you want to be remembered.
Joe Lazauskas: So, we reveal a lot of what types of stories trigger that reaction in your brain, and then we detail the timeless art and tactics that you can use to learn how to tell really good stories, better stories than you’re probably telling today. The second half of the book is how to operationalize that, how to put that into practice within your business, so you’re actually using storytelling to drive business results that your CEO’s gonna care about, and it’s not this soft, fluffy, amorphous thing.
Vahe Arabian: So, you’re saying, before we started as well, that there’s a specific framework that publishers can use. What’s the one that you want to go through today on this podcast?
Joe Lazauskas: Well, one that we’re telling podcasts is the four elements to great stories. So, the four elements are relatability, novelty, fluency, and tension. So, when we think about great stories throughout history, the four common keys and themes that you see across all of them, and how they actually interact with our brain.
Joe Lazauskas: So, starting off with relatability, so we’re uniquely wired to be interested in stories or protagonists that we can see ourselves in. That isn’t immediate too foreign, but we actually see our reflection in. It’s why when you’re a teenage boy, you probably loved, if you’re like me, Fahrenheit 451 and Lord of the Flies and Hemingway novels – novels and stories where I could see myself in.
Joe Lazauskas: Even think about this in something like Star Wars. Star Wars, on the surface, is a very foreign atmosphere to be thrown into, from a story and film perspective. But Luke is such a relatable character, he’s really this all-American boy working on a dirt farm, we can immediately relate to him and see ourselves in him. He’s just sort of a normal guy in a lot of ways.
Joe Lazauskas: And a lot of the other elements of Star Wars are extremely relatable, the spaceships are kind of reminiscent of 1950s hot-rods, of these 1950s Americana. A lot of the fashion looks like the fashion of the 60s and the 70s. So, it makes it so the story isn’t so unrelatable that our brain goes, oh no, I don’t want to deal with that, it sucks us in.
Joe Lazauskas: Once you’ve made a story relatable, you’ve brought someone in through a protagonist or a situation that they can see themselves in, you can’t just tell them the same story they’ve heard a million times before. You need novelty, you need something new.
Joe Lazauskas: When we actually see or hear something new that we haven’t seen or heard before, our brain lights up. It’s this curiosity factor, this alert factor in our brain that, in evolutionary terms, allowed us to notice and adjust to new threats and new situations and learn from them. So if you want to trigger the brain, you can’t go with pure novelty off the bat because you won’t get sucked in.
Joe Lazauskas: But once you’re sucked into the relatable elements of the story, you want to introduce something new and weird. I think you can see in a million ways how Star Wars does this well. The next key is fluency, something that a lot of business publishers and a lot of brands get really wrong, which is putting up barriers between the audience and yourself in terms of the ability to comprehend and easily follow whatever story you’re telling.
Joe Lazauskas: If you look at the best writers in history, they all generally wrote on an elementary or middle school level – Hemingway, Fitzgerald, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, et cetera. They all wrote at a really accessible level. They didn’t use a lot of jargon, they didn’t use complex sentence structure, they made it really easy for people to get engrossed in the stories they were telling.
Joe Lazauskas: Same thing in really good film, in really good video. Films and videos that we like, they move quickly, they keep our brain constantly engaged through quick cuts, through action, through interesting different points of view. They aren’t just that generic talking head, old white dude, staring at a camera and rattling onto you about 401 (k)’s that we see in a lot of really bad brand videos, in a lot of really bad media content. It’s really easy to be engrossed in and easy to understand. The final one is tension. So Aristotle once said that the key to a great story is establishing the gap between what is and what could be. And then closing that gap over and over again. So closing that gap between what could be, what is for me, and say my dissatisfied life. But what could be if I get the girl if I pull off this bank robbery if I solve this problem?
Joe Lazauskas: And then moving through the story towards you close that gap, and you almost close that gap. Then it opens up again with a new problem. And then you almost close that gap, and then it opens up again. And you do this over and over again, until the climax of the film.
Joe Lazauskas: And that’s where in this story, keeps us on the edge of our seat. That’s what makes us not want to go up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the movie. It’s what makes us not wanna put down that book before we go to bed. That tension is the key to really good storytelling. And it’s something that is fundamental and yet we often forget, especially when we’re rushing or trying to tell a really safe story.
Vahe Arabian: How do you see journalists taking that approach today? Like, it was last week, on the time of this recording last week, there’s the Pulitzer prize that was released and a lot of the New York Time journalists got coverage for the Harvey Weinstein case, and different related stories. Do you think some of the elements that you mentioned in what you said now, are related in their coverage? Or what do you think are some of the examples out there that are close to what you are trying to explain and preach?
Joe Lazauskas: Yeah, I think if you look at really good, original content, they contain these elements. You look at what won the Pulitzer’s, it was really good, engrossing, investigative reporting that put something new out into the world right? You’re not winning a Pulitzer for rewriting the same Trump story over and over again. You’re doing it for bringing new information and new stories into the universe, into our media landscape.
Joe Lazauskas: And if you look across the media industry right now, I was speaking at the International Journalism Festival in Italy a week and a half ago. What you see is this transformation in the media industry, is away from just chasing pageviews at all costs. During the VC back digital media heyday of 2011 to 2015, what you saw a lot of publishers doing, is not investing in a lot of original reporting and storytelling. Instead, saying, we’re going to just chase the pageviews from rewriting the same political stories, the same pop culture stories over and over again, and just trying to gain Facebook and game Google to get as many hits as possible, so that we can scale. So we can sell more ads.
Joe Lazauskas: But what publishers are realizing, are one, advertising bad media is not the business model right now. Just chasing page use isn’t the best business model, especially because you’re always going to lose eventually, with gaming Facebook and Google. The trick they are using is eventually going to stop working. The algorithm is going to screw you.
Joe Lazauskas: So what do you do instead? Well, you provide content that people feel connected to, stories that people feel connected to, that they’re either willing to pay for in one way or another. It’s a huge theme for every media executive, like Raju, from Gizmodo. Like Renee Kaplan, from the Financial Times. We’re discussing about how it’s really not about just chasing clicks, but chasing the depth of relationship that you have to people, so that when they come, and they discover your content, they build a relationship with your media brand. And they’re willing to buy something in some way. They’ll ask you to monetize that relationship.
Joe Lazauskas: Maybe they buy a ticket to an event that you’re throwing. Maybe, if you’re the Financial Times, and the New York Times, which now see 60 percent of their revenue coming from subscriptions. They pay for a content product that you’re selling. Either paywall content, or a special paywall section, like the Financial Times due diligence deal making section, right. They’re willing to convert, and pay for a piece of content.
Joe Lazauskas: Or, in the case of Gizmodo media group, they don’t sell subscriptions. What they do have is a really healthy e-commerce business, where they round up different product recommendations across their tech sites, their sports sites, et cetera. And then, because people trust them, they like their reverent voice, they feel connected to this Gizmodo group of sites. Gizmodo, or like Deadspin, or like Jezebel, they’re willing to buy some things. They say, “Hey, I trust these guys, that when they tell me this $100 product isn’t shit, that it isn’t shit.” And then you monetize that relationship.
Joe Lazauskas: And that’s where people are gearing towards. It’s how can we tell fewer, better higher quality stories that will make people really care about us. Instead of just repurposing the same click-bait stories, over and over again. How do we put something that’s truly new, truly novel into the world, in a way that our readers are going to love it?
Vahe Arabian: So there are two things I wanted to address. The first thing is there are journalists out there, that have the opportunity to cover beats, in-depth topics. And then there are journalists who are covering news cycle. How can journalists cover adopt what you are saying if they are just covering the news cycle?
Joe Lazauskas: Well, I think there’s always intricacies to how you actually craft your story, right. How good is your lead? How much are you bringing a human protagonist into your recording, that the reader can immediately relate to? How are you establishing the tension, even in your news story, between the current state of things, and what could be.
Joe Lazauskas: Just a lot of fundamental elements of storytelling that aren’t always the easiest thing in the world, when you’re writing a 500 to 700-word news beat story. But then you can work to craft in as much as possible.
Joe Lazauskas: And then, if you have real ambitions as a journalist, or as a content creator, you should always be working on projects on the side, right, that allow you to flex those muscles more. Whether it’s a side big investigative report that you’re doing. Whether it’s a cool podcast you’re experimenting with. Wherever it might be, if you really want to hone your storytelling chops, you should always have those side projects where you’re experimenting with new things that make you feel truly satisfied.
Vahe Arabian: So you think, either way, you need to delve into long form, no matter if you are just a general news reporter versus an in-beat journalist, I guess is what you’re saying.
Joe Lazauskas: I don’t know if the long form’s necessarily the medium. It could be video, it could be audio. It could be interactive and graphic design, more visual storytelling. I think that different stories call for different mediums, and you should align it with what you’re really interested and passionate about as well.
Joe Lazauskas: Like, I have friends just doing really interesting things in interactive VR storytelling, and cool audio narrative storytelling. There’s long form definitely isn’t the be all and end all to how to tell a story.
Joe Lazauskas: But you should also be looking at your audience that you’re writing for. What are they most likely to engage with. Are they really into short Facebook videos, do they really love long form pieces. Do interactive graphics really well for them. The analytics we have at our fingertips as journalists and content creators today, has never been greater. So we need to look at all that to figure out what’s the right medium to dive into.
Vahe Arabian: How do you overlap analytics with your framework that you just explained now?
Joe Lazauskas: Well, we are always, from the start taking a very data driven approach to content strategy at Contently. We have our own analytics platform, we have a ton of first party data around what people engage with the most, what they spend the most time actively reading, sharing et cetera. As well as a lot of third party search and social tools that give us a really good idea of what people are most interested in.
Joe Lazauskas: So, how I think about that, is that data and information kind of gives you the creative box to play in. So if right now, I told you to make up a poem on the spot, you might struggle to do that. But if I told you to make up a haiku about a horse, good chance you can do that in three to five minutes, right.
Vahe Arabian: Yeah.
Joe Lazauskas: So those creative constraints can often unleash our creativity. So that data that tells us what our audience really likes actually helps us make smarter decisions about what type of story we should tell.
Joe Lazauskas: It’s something that Netflix does really well, for instance. They have so much data about what their audience really likes. What they binge watch on end, where the overlap is. If I watch show A, am I likely to watch show B. That they’re able to very finely tune what new series they green light, and how they serve lots of people.
Joe Lazauskas: There’s so much power that we have as journalists and creators today, to figure out what our audience likes, and then give it to them. We just have to put in the effort.
Vahe Arabian: So Joe, given that you said there’s a lot to put you on the spot, let’s go through an example. Let’s make up a story example together.
Joe Lazauskas: All right, let’s do it.
Vahe Arabian: Let’s see where it takes us. What’s something that you’re interested in, and think it’s worth telling the story about these days?
Joe Lazauskas: Well right now, I’m working on a piece, actually, a lot about what we just discussed around the changing media business model, and how media folks are starting to eschew chasing clicks and going more for the deep in a relationship with their audience. That’s one thing I’m working on right now.
Joe Lazauskas: Another, is on all of the … I’m working on a story for Fastco about all of these different, basically, all of these different content discovery modules are trying to re-create Facebook on the mobile web, and whether that’s a good idea or not.
Vahe Arabian: Okay, let’s look at the second one. What’s the protagonist in the story?
Joe Lazauskas: Well, the villain in the story is essentially Mark Zuckerberg. Because basically, Facebook has screwed around publishers for years. And since Facebook changed their algorithm a few months ago, it has prompted all these media executives to turn around and say, you know what, screw Facebook. Screw this model of chasing page views. We’re going to look for a deeper, more sustainable model. They’re sort of the main characters.
Joe Lazauskas: I still need to fall on a protagonist as I’m going through my interviews later today, for which one of them I’m going to focus on. We basically have the villain is Zuckerberg, and the protagonists are these different CEOs of different companies, like Adam Singola at Taboola, who are trying to figure out how to create a replacement that will help save publishers. Or at least give them the traffic they’ve lost through Facebook.
Joe Lazauskas: And the tension here, is really between the old model and the new model. So the old model of just chasing page views clicks on Facebook. Through organic and paid media. And a new model that could eschew that entirely, say we’re not going to chase traffic anymore. Or we’re going to look to recreate this through these new platforms, like Engagio putting out, and sphere that Taboola’s putting out.
Vahe Arabian: So wait, going back to the old story of not chasing clicks and views, but now you’re introducing a new topic, and the aspect around what are some of the new models that people can direct their attention, focus on, in order to move away from that. Is that correct?
Joe Lazauskas: Yeah, sort of a protagonist of these new technologies that are trying to help publishers replace Facebook in their lives. And then there’s a larger tension in the question of whether Facebook even needs replacing. Or whether they just need to adjust their businesses completely.
Vahe Arabian: And what are some of the other steps, to close off the framework that you’ve shown us for that story?
Joe Lazauskas: One is writing it in a fun, easy to read unique kind of way. Setting up that tension, that publishers are feeling right now between what is, and what could be for their model. And then the decision they have to go through, as to whether to try and just replace the technology that has allowed them to do things the old way, verses adopting a new way of doing things.
Vahe Arabian: Do you think that’s repetitive? I’m not trying to critique, but I’m curious. People trying to read that same aspect of finding new ways of doing things. Do you think that’s still relevant … Not relevant, I mean, do you think taking that approach is still the way to go in terms of just continuing offering, new different things to publishers?
Joe Lazauskas: Well, I think that’s the question. My instinct is that what these new technologies … Like Engageo, or Engagein might not really be that appealing to publishers, because of the new way that they’re thinking about building their businesses. But it’s a little more complicated than that. And that’s what I’m trying … for businesses, but it’s a little more complicated than that. And that’s what I’m trying to figure out in my reporting, actually I have an interview with the CEO of Rev right after this, so I’ll let you know what I find out.
Vahe Arabian: Cool. Watch this space, I guess. So Joe, I think another aspect which is important, and like you said, you’re gonna have the opportunity to speak with the CEO after this interview. So networking’s an important aspect. And being able to reach to different sources of stories, how have you developed your network over time, and how do you think that’s important to storytelling and connecting the pieces together?
Joe Lazauskas: I mean, it’s always really helpful when you have … folks will give you different story ideas and different scoops. I spend a lot of time speaking at conferences, going to tech networking events. And you just meet some cool work friends real often in higher up places who will give you little scoops of things that are happening, will be really good easy to reach sources, will give you their quote when you need them for a story, or will introduce you, being one of the first users for cool pieces of storytelling technology that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Joe Lazauskas: I think also when you’re doing … now I just released a book, and when you’re doing something like that, it’s so much of the marketing is just making it on favors from friends that you’ve built up over the years. To buy a copy, for pre-sales, to share something about it, write a review, write a blurb, it feels like there is this big bank of favors that I’ve built up over the last decade that I just exhausted completely, and now I need to spend the next four or five years being a giver as much as possible, and helping all my friends out. So that they might be willing to do me a favor again in a few years when I have another big project that I wanna launch.
Joe Lazauskas: But so much of it is just give to people. Be interested in what they’re doing. Talk to people, find out what they’re really curious about, what’s getting them excited at work. That’ll lead you down some really interesting roads. And then help people out as much as you can. You never know when the 21 year old intern you help out now is gonna end up being the 26 year old CEO of a really cool startup and that’s gonna help you in some way. And the more those kind of relationships that you can build with people, the more goodwill that you can build up, the better it’s gonna help you when you have something that you really need help with.
Vahe Arabian: How does that 21 year old understand the goodwill about giving back, giving to someone even though they might not truly understand what that other person might need, even though they say that to them, because they don’t have that experience, to be frank? How do you think that they can understand that and give back to that person?
Joe Lazauskas: Yeah, I think when you’re 21 and you’re hustling, in media land, you just gotta do everything for everyone. You just gotta bank up on any goodwill you can get. I remember being that age and starting a news company, and just doing stuff for free, giving people exposure, just willing to help out with different projects, from go getting coffee somewhere to helping them write or produce a deck, or writing a few stories for free for a publication that you really wanna get into and build a relationship with the editor. You’ve just gotta constantly give, give, give. And then eventually you get those few breaks that you need. People see that you’re hustling, that you’re hardworking, that you care. And they’ll give you a break of your first job, your first paid gig, et cetera. But once you get a little bit older and you’re not … that’s really when you’re not intern anymore, I think it’s really important to always try and get back to those people whenever you can. Because you never know when it’s gonna pay back.
Vahe Arabian: Yeah. Everyone has that mindset as well cause it just benefits everyone in general. So Joe, with that, what are some of the … looking forward picture, what are some of the tech innovations and trends … looking at, given that you have so much in data in contently, what are some of the tech and innovations that people might be looking at during … or publishers might be during this year through your platform?
Joe Lazauskas: Yeah, I think a lot of the big things we’re focused on is feeding AI in our system as much as possible. So we built this integration with IBM Watson, called tone analyzer. Which essentially measures every piece of content that comes through our platform across five psychographic traits, to understand the voice and tone of each piece, and how that lines up with the voice and tone that a reader is most likely to engage with. I think from a tech perspective, that’s really interesting to me, like how can we understand the behavioral triggers of the readers, based on certain words and language that we use, different triggers that we put in headlines, image triggers that actually makes their brain interested, it makes them wanna take an action.
Joe Lazauskas: Then there’s so much adaptive analysis that we still have to go, in that realm. There’s a really cool neuro tracker that Doctors Act just released. I read a story about this for Fast Company that actually allows you … just a quick, really cheap sensor that you put on someone’s forearm, and it measures the secretion of oxytocin in the brain, as well as our attention to whatever we’re seeing, based on heart rate. So say when you’re watching a commercial, or a film, or a video, it can actually see how truly emotionally engaged we are with a piece of content, and then do testing ang optimization for whether it’s TV commercials or new TV pilots or films, et cetera, off of that.
Joe Lazauskas: Another cool thing that it’s being used for in testing, is for events in our daily lives. So if I’m at a conference and I’m hearing you speak, versus someone else speak, who am I actually truly more engaged with? Who’s peaking my interest more? So from the neuroscience and psychology perspective, those are things that I think are really cool. I think there’s a lot of really cool technology platforms that are coming out to allow us to understand what people are really engaging with across search and social better. I’ve been testing out a lot of those platforms lately, we use a number of them. But the amount of data we have about what our audience wants has never been greater. I think it’s truly exciting as a content creator.
Joe Lazauskas: Those are the more immediate technologies that really excite me, around audience insights about what people really want. Of course there’s AR, there’s VR, there’s the buzzwords that everyone’s really hot on. I think VR … I have a full VR set up in my apartment, my best friends and roommates just made a interactive VR horror film, I think it’s really interesting. I think it’s still several years off from mass adoption, and VR will always be this thing like video games, that sort of at-home consul video games that you go and do in your downtime, or separated from the world. AR I think is really interesting from a utility standpoint in terms of how we use it in our daily lives. Trying on clothes, furniture, et cetera, there’s a lot of really cool retail applications. But there’s so much we need to nail first with creating stories for the mediums that people are already engaging with. Videos, articles, podcasts, TV, film, et cetera. There’s so much room for growth there, that that’s what I’m more interested in, than the sort of next platform that’s four or five years off.
Vahe Arabian: So you said that you’re trying outm as well, some of those tools, if you don’t mind me asking?
Joe Lazauskas: Yeah, so I’m analysis side. Some starter pack for search and social that I would recommend. Tend to come in cheaper. Our Buzsumo, SEMRush, Spy-fu, Concurred in England is a really interesting one that’s coming up like those guys. On the creation side, Boombox is a really cool set of tools for creating more interactive content that’s pretty cheap per month.also really have loved playing around with Watchit, which is a quick short-form social video creation platform. Basically allows you, through using licensed footage and a really easy video editor to turn an article you wrote into a minute to minute and a half Facebook video.super quickly. Loving playing around with that lately. There’s some of the ones that are gonna be the most excited, then there’s more in-depth tools for playing around with data vids and stuff like that. But if you need no skills going in, those are the ones that I’d recommend.
Vahe Arabian: I already use a few of those, I have a an SEO and content strategy  background, so a lot of the tools that you said those worked for me too, but not the storytelling ones you mention which sound pretty interesting. Joe, just to wrap up I guess, what are some of the specific 2018 initiatives that Contently is taking to help embed more storytelling into the product and just in general?
Joe Lazauskas: Yeah, so much of what we’re building is around helping folks create, tell stories not just in their blog content, or their social media content, but throughout the customer life cycles. So how do you tell stories that you can use for product marketing and sales enablement? How do you make those, usually really dry materials, a lot more interesting? And how you leverage really good storytelling in that realm. And how do you get people to get out of their own way, honestly? That’s a lot of the focus in how we build their platform, is to make it so you don’t have all these different silo-ed teams creating content within a brand. They get everyone on the same page. And that they’re aligned in what they’re creating.
Joe Lazauskas: And that strategy is really baked into everything they’re doing and they’re seeing instantly what’s working, what’s not working. This topic is working, this channel is working, this topic isn’t working, and optimizing their content accordingly. Really learning from their audience and telling better and better stories over time, but you can’t do that if you don’t have the ability to get content out the door. If you can’t get a really streamlined workflow if you don’t have a strategy that everyone’s bought into and believes in.
Joe Lazauskas: So much of what we’re building is to address those pain points that we see within our big customers because that’s where the scale is for us and for the journalists that we work with. If we can get these big brands, these big enterprise brands to truly use stories to drive very meaningful business results for them, all that money that they’re spending on shitty display ads, on re-targeted ads, just stalking around the web, around huge TV commercial media buys that aren’t work anymore.
Joe Lazauskas: If they can convince them to take that and invest that in really good storytelling with journalists all over the world, that’s creating actually meaningful content that people wanna engage with, I think that’ll lead us to have a little bit more of a positive media world, it’ll lead to a lot of journalists having a super solid source of income. We’re really proud that we maintain really high rates for the folks we work with. And that pay out tens and millions of dollars to working journalists every year. So the more that we can build our platform to scale for those companies, get them to keep investing in content, seeing results from that, seeing that’s more effective than other channels, the more awesome stories we’re gonna put out into the world, the more journalists we’re gonna get work for, and the better we’re gonna contribute to what we wanna see.
Vahe Arabian: That’s a big goal, and I wish you guys the utmost success with that. Joe, here’s an opportunity to plug or to say anything that you’d like about the book Storytelling Edge.
Joe Lazauskas: Yeah, please buy it. You can find it on Barnes and Noble, on Amazon, on possibly your local bookstore, it depends on where you live. But it’s a really fun, fast-paced book. Very story-driven. Has gotten great feedback so far, if you wanna learn more, you can go to the Storytelling Edge dot com. You’ll find the book trailer there, you can sign up for a free storytelling course, that Shane and I put together that we’ve been getting great feedback on. So yeah, just check it out, and if you have any questions, comments, find me at Joe Lazauskas on Twitter. Super active there.
Vahe Arabian: Thanks for joining us Joe, I hope we can speak again soon, good luck on everything.
Joe Lazauskas: Thank you. Appreciate it.
Vahe Arabian: Thank you for joining us on this episode of The State of Digital Publishing podcast. Have you been a reader of his book – what are your thoughts? How were you able to apply the framework in your everyday role? Would you like us to interview other authors out there? Please let us know in the feedback. In addition, be sure to follow us on the main social media channels. Facebook, Twitter. You can also visit us on stateofdigitalpublishing.com. And feel free to join our membership where you can get access to exclusive content. Until next time.

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