The New Facebook: 5 Tips to Managing the Newest Algorithm Changes

Anyone who follows the news knows that Facebook has had a sort of dark night of the soul since the presidential elections. From the proliferation of fake news and the bots that helped spread it to the advertising accepted by bad actors, Facebook has been under fire.

Even before news of psychological profile data being shared with political advertisers (during the 2016 campaign), tech reporters have painted a picture of a genuinely contrite Mark Zuckerberg.

After some genuine denial, the once brash Facebook founder changed tone. He had a come-to-Jesus moment well before his come-to-congress testimony. He made his public New Years resolution for 2018 a simple one: Fix Facebook.

Part of that has been a new formula that further limits the amount of posts users will see from the pages they like and follow. And of course an increasing importance on paid reach and advertising.

The algorithms has shifted more frequently than the weather in the last several years, so this doesn’t feel too much like news. But there is a deep, new line of thinking that underlies these latest changes, and marketers ignore it at their peril.

As the great minds at FB HQ strive to “fix Facebook,” their new emphasis is on meaningful content that generates real conversation and engagement among its users. Not just likes but actual, substantive interactions.

Facebook has studied the effects of social media exposure and identified problems that we all know exist, especially when we use the medium in a passive way. From the sinister simmer of envy to cringe-worthy oversharing to the relentless assault of politics, we have seen the problem.

Factor in the fear of personal data breaches, and it’s enough to drive users from the platform. That is what’s likely at the heart of Facebook’s new formula and approach. They want to make the Facebook experience a more soulful one for their users so they stay.

So how does a marketer navigate this new landscape? Here are some tips.


  1. Tell your followers how to stay connected. Encourage your Facebook audience to change their settings so that your posts appear in their news stream. And reach out in other media with these instructions. Post this info on your blog and in emails as well.
  2. Post less often. Social media experts agree that pages will do better by posting less often, not even daily. Think quality of quantity and aim for 4-6 posts a week. 
  3. Share engaging content. Not just posts that will get likes but posts that will trigger exchanges in the comments. Facebook will value longer comments and longer comment strings more favorably than short comments and shares. 
  4. Video is so last season. Facebook is reversing on their previous approach, which emphasized video. They now deem it as too passive. Try live streaming instead! 
  5. Diversify. Now is the time to invest more in your other platforms, like Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and Pinterest. As people leave Facebook, you want to be poised to connect with them elsewhere.

As the changes take full effect, we’ll see how our reach is impacted. What are you finding in your experience out there?

My 9 Favorite Writings of 2017: On Art, Travel & Values

The writing life is the only life for me. It’s a rare day when I don’t feel gratitude that I get paid to write. I regularly thank the Google gods for their algorithms that have taught the corner office to value good writing and invest in quality content.

2017 provided plenty of grist for the mill. Here are some of my favorite writings from the year, grouped into my three favorite themes, my specialties.



Basel Museum of Art: A survey of one of Switzerland’s great art museums, in the heart of its most important art city.
Paging Heshi Yu: A love letter to my new favorite artist, whom I discovered in 2017. See the painting above and you’ll understand why.
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts: My homage to one of the city’s best museums, nestled into one of its prettiest buildings.



The Paradox of Glasgow: I’ve worked to capture Glasgow’s two sides: its sacred, historic past and its avante garde present.
The 6 Best Markets in Florence: Back to my home turf for this one, a handy shopping guide for foodies.
Vienna Uncovered in the LA Times: The only article on this list that I didn’t write is this gorgeous placement I got us in the LA Times! (My press release is here.)

Octavius Catto


Green Travel Guide: Here’s my quintessential guide to shrinking your eco footprint when traveling. I love when “sticky content” serves a greater good.
Octavius Catto Memorial: I was so excited to highlight our new statue, Philadelphia’s first memorial to a black hero.
Untours Foundation Gift Guide: My guide to soulful spending highlights cool products from B Corps and other progressive businesses.

I hope you enjoy the “content” as much as I enjoyed creating it. Thanks for reading! The more you click and read, the more I get to write!

5 Common Sexist Slips in Your Communications and How to Fix Them

I got an email the other day, a good idea forwarded to me unedited. In it there was a reference to “the girls” helping. By the girls did he mean my esteemed colleagues in Europe? I was so annoyed that I almost lost the thread of the email, which was indeed a very good idea.

It is not that as a woman and a feminist I am too sensitive to handle accidental sexism. It is a constant. But it stands in the way of effective communication. This post is not a scold but a reminder to rid your communications from anything that might alienate a reader or distract half of your audience from your message.

Here are five common sexist mistakes in communication and how to solve or avoid them.

Dear Sirs

How many times has a woman been forced to politely answer one of these? It’s an old school mistake that makes us roll our eyes before we even read the correspondence.

Problem: How do you open an email or letter when you do not know the identity of its receiver?

Solution: Address the reader by their function or role. Remember when firemen became firefighters? A more descriptive subject may actually help your message reach the right ears, and without friction. Dear Hiring Manager. Dear Colleague. Dear Friend.

The universal He

“He or she” can be cumbersome and “they” is grammatically incorrect.

Problem: Our language has set us up for failure by not giving us a gender neutral pronoun for third person singular.

Solution: If it works, try “you”. Other options are “(s)he” or alternating “she” and “he” if there are multiple examples. Just be very cautious about using “she” for any example of incompetence.

The extraneous gender identifier

Do you need to say “female doctor” or “male nurse”? Is it relevant to the topic or story?

Problem: Gender roles and biases are so deeply embedded, we do not even realize we are making the slip. Women sometimes fall into the same trap. We assume a doctor or other professional is a male unless otherwise stated.

Solution: Reread. Rerun the sentence with the other gender as an adjective instead. If it sounds funny, eliminate it. And if you catch yourself making this mistake in speech, correct yourself.

Sports metaphors

Any good writer aims to clarify her point with vivid imagery and concrete metaphors. And that impulse is good. Metaphors can succinctly clarify meaning and crystallize a point.

Problem: Many women (and some men) do not follow sports closely and may not understand your more obscure references.

Solution: Stick with universal experiences. Instead of punting, try passing or postponing. Instead of a slam dunk, let something be a sure thing.

Disclaimer: I realize that there are plenty of women who do follow sports and who use sports metaphors. But there will be people who miss or guess at the meaning of their words. Likewise, there are men who will miss these references.

Pandering and patronizing

There are many ways this can manifest, and it is never intentional. Still, we all know pandering when we are subjected to it. Just because I am a woman buying a product pitched to women does not mean I need to addressed with hot pink headlines or called sister.

Problem: You are defining your audience too narrowly, misidentifying them, or misunderstanding them, perhaps working from shallow stereotypes.

Solution: Take the time to understand your audience. Use data and polling, and A/B test messaging and design. But before you even get that far, assemble an informal group of acquaintances who resemble your target audience and test your messages with them before launch.

Awareness is 51% of the battle in good, gender-neutral communications. A little thought can ensure your message is well received by all in your audience.



10 Takeaways from the Digital Summit

I have been lucky/smart enough to attend Philadelphia’s Digital Summit the past couple years. Like its inaugural year, his year’s conference delivered a lot of value for its money, with a day and a half of back-to-back 30-minute sessions covering everything from SEO to content marketing to social media to UX and design.

It’s a geek fest full of smart people, engaging speakings and plenty of wine, snacks, and cross-pollination.

The pace is fast enough, that I like to review my notes each year and write out the big lessons and actionable ideas so I don’t lose them as I settle back into my busy routines. Some of it is cutting edge, but much of what comes up is a simple reminder of things I know I should be doing.

So with that, here are my take-aways for this year’s Digital Summit.

1. To win at SEO over the long haul, put your user at the center of everything you do on your website. Forget keyword stuffing, crammed footer links and tag, and other tricks.You can’t game Google; algorithms change Instead, focus your energy on optimizing your site for your users! Site speed, responsiveness, and excellent content will always be rewarded.

2. Understand and speak to your audience at both ends of the spectrum. Instead of a single, shallowly drawn avatar of your customer, sketch out two or three typical but different users. Use data to guide you and shape massaging to meet all of their needs, in a unified voice or two or more navigations paths on your website.

3. Customize your email marketing to your user, not just who they are, but where they are in the sales funnel and how they interact with your website and email content. Data can and should drive everything. Email blasts are of very limited use or effectiveness in overcrowded inboxes.

4. Repurpose your best content for use on different channels. Information for a well-researched blog post can spin off into a Pinterest-friendly infographic, a brief video synopsis for Youtube and Facebook, and an audio summary on a podcast. Bundle content from a few big posts to make a valuable whitepaper, or parcel it out in small servings over an email campaign.

5. Optimize your content for each medium, and only do as many as you can do well. Take time to understand and use the best practices of each of your platforms. That might mean holding off on Snapchat and Instagram until you get Facebook right. Or waiting on video until you get the photos up to snuff on your website.

6. Clean up your email list! If people aren’t opening your emails, purge them from the list. It will improve your open rates and deliverability. Maybe send a re-engagement last-chance email to allow them to respond, but purge them if they don’t respond. If they aren’t opening and reading your stuff, you’re spamming them!

7. Audit your own digital communications periodically. Sign up for emails and catalogs and navigate the website like a customer would. Notice any glitches or missed opportunities in your autoresponders and automation, and make important adjustments. Review transactional communications as well as marketing messages with a critical eye. Do this regularly.

8. Test usability on your website if you haven’t. It need not be an ordeal if you are a small company with a limited budget. Recruit 5-7 friends and acquaintances who resemble your target user, and ask them to execute a task on your website. Sit next to them and observe, take notes, and learn. Focus on one specific task at a time. If two or more people fumble on a click through or hit the same point of friction, you know what you need to fix.

10. Find your tribe, and think small. Focus on your audience and speak to them, not to the public at large. Stand out. Take chances, and know you will lose some people along the way, but the ones who get you will stay loyal. The ones who fall away were not your optimal audience anyway. Create and deliver work of value. (Yes, Seth Godin spoke at this year’s summit.)

5 Reasons Email Marketing is Thriving

Spam and social media have not killed email marketing. In fact, marketing experts agree email marketing is having a Renaissance. Why has this “old technology” remained a reliable and effective way of reaching and moving your target audience? Here are five good reasons why email marketing still works.

  1. Customer intimacy

    One of email’s biggest strengths is its capacity for personalization. Aside from merge fields with names, you can tailor a message to speaking directly to the reader. Tracking their behavior on your website or even, more simply, their clicks within your email message, allows for the further refinement of messages, offers, and incentives to move the reader into the sales funnel.

  2. Control of incoming information

    Readers report feeling increasingly overwhelmed by their newsfeeds in social media and are returning to the inbox, there they have much more control over what they see. There they can better manage incoming information. Sorting tools like the gmail promotions box have actually helped, despite early fears, because people can chose when to engage with you and will read your message when it best suits them.

  3. Email marketing is free

    OK, not exactly free, but once you’ve selected the right platform and signed the contract, you have a reasonably low fixed cost for this marketing channel. And there are plenty of platforms like Mail Chimp that offer free plans to start, and you can scale up as you grow your list, ramp up to add paid features or increase your email quantity, list size, or feature. I like Reachmail for their large list size and excellent customer service and human support.

  4. Results are trackable

    At the very least, you can track open rates and click through rates to get valuable information on which subject lines get opens and which offers or messages drive website traffic. In a more robust email marketing platform, you can measure conversions and track sales using their reporting tools, which will help you spell out your ROI.

  5. Meaningful conversation

    In an email you have more than 140 characters to use. You can paint a word picture, engage your reader with thoughtful content, and appeal to them as a human being. The quality of your interaction is much higher and potentially much more meaningful. When you take the time to build relationships this way, you open a dialogue and create a relationship that can be fruitful for all involved.

Rebranding Untours

How do you develop a new website, redesign your email correspondence and introduce a new logo without alienating your loyal, long-time clientele?

Not an easy question to answer in a 40-year-old company with a mom-and-pop-shop ethic and a committed following of “alumni” who have travelled with us for decades. Our brand presentation has been decided unslick but at the same time has needed to evolve and tighten as our price point increases.

The Logo

Though familiar and endearing to some, I knew that aside from looking dated, our old logo sent the wrong message.

There is something topsy-turvy about the “un” in our name that is not reassuring to travelers in the post-9/11 era, when we want security and solidity. People want a brand they can trust and choose Untours over increasingly popular direct-booking apartment sites largely because they want security. Anything that hints at precariousness is unhelpful to the success of our brand.

Old logo


Our new logo is legible, playful, bright, and happy.

The Roll-out

Here is our rollout of our new logo. Our newsletter speaks to our core constituency and the blog post it links to explains the backstory and meaning of our new logo. Note the design of the newsletter itself has also changed.

The Website

Tracking visitors’ behavior on Google Analytics, we knew that moving to a responsive website was critical. And the old website design was dull, with a drab palette and dated design.

There were too many options and distractions on the homepage, with several items competing for clicks and no real navigation path or clear call to action.

Old website, retrofitted with the new logo to ease the transition.

Our new website is pending. It is responsive, with a clean design and imple navigation. The updated palette includes blue, chosen based on industry research that tracks conversions and trust. There are clear calls to action.

The photo carousel features both people and places, adding a human warmth to the site. Many of the people featured on the site are actual customers on site in Europe, and they will be labeled as such. Client testimonials and staff profiles will figure heavily on the site.

The new website, pending full database integration

The new website will be launched soon, and I will report back on its impact.