All posts by Dylan Tweney

Russian Phishing Attack Uses Harvard Emails

From Tweney Media client ValiMail, a timely post that scored incredible engagement on LinkedIn, raising ValiMail’s profile and helping to establish CEO Alexander García-Tobar as an email security expert:

Russian Phishing Attack Uses Harvard Emails — Due to Lack of Email Authentication

A Russian phishing attack used a fake Harvard email address in an attempt to get malware into American think tanks and nonprofits, the Harvard Crimson reports.

The attack shows how effective it can be for phishers to use the exact domain name of organizations that are unprotected by email authentication.

This attack also shows how difficult email authentication is for many organizations–Harvard included. Quotes in the Crimson story, and ValiMail’s domain checker, make it clear that Harvard was essentially defenseless against phishing attacks.

Worse: Phishing-led attacks account for a huge proportion of hacks, including the momentous intrusions into the Democratic National Committee. Hackers start their assault by sending phish emails to targets within the organization, and if they’re lucky enough to get someone who clicks on a link or opens a malicious attachment, they use that opening to get into the network itself.

Hey, it worked on John Podesta.

Cosmos launches at International Blockchain Week

Tweney Media client Cosmos soft-launched its website a couple weeks ago, and today the company scored coverage in the International Business Times for its demo at International Blockchain Week in Shanghai.

In addition to writing and editing the website copy, Tweney Media wrote the script and executive-produced the intro video above. We also led extensive PR outreach, generating the IBT coverage and other media hits for Cosmos.

Congrats to Jae and Ethan for a nice debut.

The standard of firms and startups presenting was extremely high. A major announcement was the first public outing of Cosmos, the “internet of blockchains” released by Tendermint. Tendermint, which is used by Eris Industries, is a free and open source consensus middleware, related to the classic Practical Byzantine Fault Tolerance (PBFT) algorithm, released in 1999.

Presenting, Jae Kwon, co-founder of Tendermint, said Cosmos is a public network of blockchains, which he called “zones” because the can have their own style of governance, their own economic models and tokens. “They are like economic zones,” he said.

… “We see it as a world wide web for tokens and blockchains, a solution to lots of longstanding problems in the blockchain world.”

For more info on Cosmos, check out its website.

5 types of virality

The Five Types of Virality

Greylock Partners’ Josh Elman has an interesting taxonomy of the different ways apps or products can “go viral:”

Every entrepreneur has the dream of making their startup’s product go viral. But too often this is couched in a naïve understanding of virality. “Let’s make our app viral!” Or your investors ask you, “Can you take your app and add a little bit more virality?” (I often hear this described as growth hacking, too.)

Sometimes it feels like people believe virality is just magic pixie dust that can be sprinkled on anything. Fortunately, it’s much more concrete than that. But to understand how virality works, you first have to know that not all virality is the same.

The post is worth a read.

Samsung SDC 2016 Keynote

samsung logoTweney Media played a key role in helping Samsung Mobile prepare its keynote for the Samsung Developer Conference 2016. Working with president DJ Koh, EVP Injong Rhee, plus various members of their teams as well as other stakeholders from Samsung and its PR agency, we helped Samsung create a compelling, visionary introduction to its annual developer conference.

We provided speechwriting services in the month leading up to the event, and augmented that with extensive consultation and support during the conference as well as contributing to PR support afterward. In all, we made substantial contributions to the first hour of this keynote.

The goal was to introduce Samsung to the world as a provider of services and software (not just hardware), and to underscore its internal transformation to a more entrepreneurial, innovation-driven culture under Koh’s leadership.

It worked: Coverage in Fast Company, CNET, VentureBeat, and other outlets talked extensively about Samsung’s multi-dimensional transformation.

Watch the keynote below.



Understanding Email Authentication, But Not Enforcing It

ValiMail logoFrom Tweney Media client ValiMail, a provider of email authentication services via a SaaS platform:

[A recent security] audit shows that most corporations, banks, and government agencies have a long way to go before they fully implement the most advanced email authentication, DMARC.

However, many organizations clearly understand the importance of authentication preventing phishing and other forms of email fraud, … It’s just that very few companies have succeeded in getting DMARC to the point where it’s actually doing anything to stop fraud.

For more, read the whole post:  Corporations Understand DMARC Is Critical. So Why Can’t They Get to Enforcement?

Quantcast: To Engage Emotion, Tell a Story

AdAge logoWe worked with Quantcast to help raise awareness for a session at Cannes Lions  in Summer 2016, featuring Pixar storytelling master Matthew Luhn and Quantcast CEO Konrad Feldman.

Luhn knows a thing or two about storytelling: He helped create the scripts for Finding Nemo, Toy Story II, Cars, and many other movies.

He laid out a few of Pixar’s storytelling principles in an article for AdAge titled “How to Put More Emotion in Storytelling,” which Tweney Media helped produce.


The focus of the article — and Luhn’s talk — is that unfortunately, most of the time, online marketing is synonymous with obnoxious, in-your-face advertisements.

Yet online and mobile advertising can be just as compelling, engaging, and entertaining as offline and TV ads. (Witness the tear-inducing Budweiser commercials with horses and dogs, like the one shown above.)

The key to making this happen is for marketers to learn how to produce emotional responses in the audiences they want to reach. Emotion, unfortunately, cannot be produced by technology alone.

The key to producing an emotion is to tell a story.

Luhn’s principles:

  1. You need a hook
  2. You need to show a change in order to engender a change in your audience
  3. You want to establish a connection with shared or universal human concerns
  4. You’ll need good story structure
  5. And finally, be authentic. You can’t fake your way to a real emotional connection.

Lives of Legal Aid

BHP Community Legal logoA pro-bono project, Lives of Legal Aid was the brainstorm of Roselyn Roark at Bayview/Hunter’s Point Community Legal, a nonprofit providing free legal services to a low-income neighborhood in San Francisco. Inspired by the “Humans of New York” blog, the goal was to make the work of the nonprofit come to life by showing, through words and photos, the stories of real people who the organization has helped.

There was an extra imperative for making this work meaningful to people: BHP Community Legal was one of the finalists for a Google Impact Challenge grant, and it was up against some big national organizations with major marketing budgets. If BHP Community Legal was able to collect enough votes, it stood to get a $500,000 grant from Google–equivalent to a whole year’s operating budget for the nonprofit. So attracting attention and motivating people to vote was critical.

Roselyn brought in Tweney Media to interview clients, staffers, and the founders of BHP Community Legal. We recorded each interview in a private room in the organization’s headquarters. Then the people went into the back courtyard for a photo session with RC Rivera Photography.

Tweney Media transcribed each interview and then edited it down to a concise, first-person vignette that was published on the Lives of Legal Aid website along with RC’s photography.

The project took a little more than a week altogether, and the results are beautiful. Photographs and the subjects’ own words make the impact of BHP Community Legal especially vivid: It helps people find homes, stay in apartments, resolve disputes, and locate resources.

And the impact? BHP Community Legal won the $500K grant from Google, collecting tens of thousands of votes and placing second overall.

The grant has enabled BHP Community Legal to hire five new staff members and expand its coverage from one to three ZIP codes.

BHP Community Legal is always in need of volunteer help for a variety of jobs. It’s a cool place making a big impact in a segment of SF that is way too often overlooked. Click here to learn more about volunteer opportunities at BHPCL.

7 thoughts on the tech media in 2016

This story also appears on Medium.

The media is in a state of upheaval. 2015 was a stormy year, and signs indicate that 2016 will be even more turbulent.

Last month brought the news that Al Jazeera America will shut down, that Facebook multimillionaire Chris Hughes is throwing in the towel on his ill-fated attempt to bring the New Republic into a more digital frame of mind, and that Quartz may be seeking a buyer.

Last year, we saw the demise (and subsequent resurrection under new ownership) of GigaOm and The Bold Italic. Nobody was happy about Verizon buying up AOL. Re/Code sold to Vox Media in an exit that few saw as a success. About the only spots of bright news in the media were Business Insider’s $200 million sale to Axel Springer and, now, rumors that Mashable might be in talks to sell itself for $300 million — both handsome exits but also indications of ongoing consolidation.

Through all this M&A activity, it’s not clear that the fundamentals have changed much. So much of media is available for free that consumers are not willing to pay for it unless it delivers tremendous perceived value — and they’re increasingly impatient with advertising, especially in the form that it takes online. These things have been true for a decade. Yet many publishers continue whistling in the dark, as though it was still 1995.

It’s time to get wise. Here’s what anyone publishing media needs to know in 2016.

1. The news business is toughest in the middle.

News is a tough, tough business, made ever harder by shrinking rates for advertising and the massive amounts of competition. In tech news, the battle is especially fierce, and you have to hustle hard every day just to stay relevant, as my former colleagues at VentureBeat know well. Not that we were unusual:Tech reporters everywhere are busting their asses to get the news out fast, and have been doing so for years.

The problem is, even with all the hustle, the underlying business is not a particularly good one for most publications — a fact that was masked for a few years by the large amounts of venture capital pouring into tech media publishers. As that VC money dries up or runs out, the actual business models will become clearer. In most cases, it won’t be pretty.

The best chances of survival will go to the giants, who are big enough to command enormous audiences and build their own networks of advertisers, and the midgets, who can find and nurture a tiny, valuable niche. The Information charges $400 a year to deliver a few, well-selected, very informative stories a day. Pando Daily charges for access to extremely lengthy, opinionated insider stories about the startup ecosystem. Small markets, both of them, but probably defensible. They won’t ever turn into media empires and are unlikely to generate VC-worthy returns, but you can make a good small business out of a well-focused media property.

The trouble comes when you try to build a fast- or even medium-growth business on a medium-sized audience. Ad networks and programmatic buying keep pushing ad revenues downward, while ad blockers cut into the margins even more. Competition is fierce, and there are so many alternatives for mid-tier news sites that it’s difficult or impossible to convince readers to pay for information. I don’t see any good alternative business models emerging this year. If anything, it will only get tougher, as ad budgets get squeezed by an overall contraction in the tech industry. That means, unfortunately, everyone caught between giant and tiny is going to run into trouble.

2. Video is powerful but capricious.

I love video. Video is engaging, immersive, and emotionally powerful. There’s a reason TV and Hollywood still make billions of dollars. There’s a reason people “Netflix and chill” but they don’t “TechCrunch and chill.” But it’s difficult to pull off. Producing quality video is both more expensive and more challenging than most people recognize, if they haven’t done it before. And there’s a certain mysterious magic to it — it’s not easy to define a formula for success. Viewers are fickle and unpredictable, and even high-quality videos don’t always find a big audience. Some standouts: The WSJ’s digital team has been producing some outstanding videos with Joanna Stern, and The Verge does great product videos.

3. Podcasts can be surprisingly effective.

Like video, audio can be very powerful. It’s an intimate medium, where the words literally go into the listener’s ears. It’s also compatible with commute-time listening on trains or in cars, and podcasts have made possible an incredible flowering of audio alternatives, far beyond what radio could ever have done.

Lately, it may seem as though podcasting has been undergoing a bit of a resurgence. In reality, it has been there all along, slowly growing, but it took a few breakout successes to bring podcasting back into the popular eye. Last year’s Serial was a surprise hit. Marc Maron got the president to sit down for an interview — in Marc’s garage! And business podcasts like the a16z podcast are doing surprisingly well. I also think Slack’s “Variety Pack” podcast shows a lot of promise: It’s diced up into bite-sized, shareable chunks, making it easier to digest than a traditional full-length podcast.

But like video, podcasts can be unpredictable. It’s hard to know what makes one take off and another fail to gain traction. I should know: I’ve done both kinds.

4. Infographics are dead. Charts and visualizations live on.

Nobody really wants your big, vertical-format, cutesy graphics that don’t tell much of a story and have your logo at the bottom.

But give us some data, attractively presented as a clever interactive visualization? Now you’re talking. Heck, I can even get excited about a simple bar graph or pie chart, if the underlying data is interesting.

Data-driven stories are especially powerful if augmented by visual presentations. And charts and visualizations can be made into shareable assets, which can help extend the reach for their stories.

5. Content published by companies will continue to grow.

Just because news organizations are struggling doesn’t mean the need for news — or information — goes away. People still want to learn about the world. People will still be looking for information about products and services. And companies will still want to tell the world about their products.

That’s why there’s such a boom in content marketing in tech: Tech companies have increasingly realized that they can reach customers by publishing their own stories.

It doesn’t always work. There’s a lot of me-too publishing going on, too much focus on SEO and short-term customer acquisition, and not nearly enough attention to quality. Too much of it is obnoxiously self-serving. Some companies and VCs have already experimented with hiring editorial people out of the ranks of journalism, only to let them go after it becomes clear the experiment didn’t work. But the overall trend is not going away. If anything, companies will be publishing more and more in 2016.

Think of it this way: If you have a marketing budget of, say, $100,000, would you blow that on a single prime time commercial? Or would you rather build your own mini media company, fund it for a year, and create your own audience?

6. Distribution is way more important than anyone thinks.

“If you build it, they will come.” This only works in the movies. In real life, building an audience is the hard part. That’s why I think the word “media” is often more useful than “content,” because the word implies a focus on the means of distribution, not just the ideas it contains.

You think the value of a newspaper lies in the information it publishes? Guess again. Sometimes that information has great value. But in most cases the value of a publication stems from the audience it has built, and the medium on which it reaches that audience.

Publishers of all kinds need to devote attention to building and cultivating an audience. Buzzfeed understands this (in fact, it is the insight on which Buzzfeed was founded). That means more than just publishing content and waiting for people to find it. You have to actively build and feed that audience.

7. Quality media will continue to pay off — eventually.

In the end, there will be a flight to quality. Most readers are savvy enough to smell out marketing or advertising, no matter if it’s concealed as “native advertising” or advertorial. Many have gotten disgusted enough with excessive advertising that they’ve turned to ad blockers to rescue some scraps of usability.

The problem is that so much of this advertising and marketing is just crap. It’s intrusive, it’s ugly, it interrupts, and it’s deceptive. And sometimes it’s just badly written and badly presented.

I believe readers are smart enough to know that many publications depend on advertising, and they’re willing to put up with the ads if the ads are tastefully and respectfully presented — or if the ads themselves are interesting. Look at a copy of Vogue if you want to see what good advertising looks like in print. But if publications can’t find a way to make their ads more acceptable, they’ll have to find alternatives. One possibility is shown by The Wirecutter: Outstanding reviews of the very best gear, with a business model based on a moderate amount of advertising and affiliate links. And Wirecutter is doing quite well.

As I mentioned above, the path will be very, very challenging for many publishers in 2016. The business of the media is in trouble. But to survive in the long term, the old principles still apply: Be useful, be entertaining, be honest — and don’t be a tool.

The Straight Dope on Cybersecurity

Withinsecurity is a blog dedicated to exploring the word of computer security from the inside: From the perspective of chief security officers and hackers.

The site is sponsored by HackerOne, a vulnerability management and bug bounty platform. H1 empowers companies to protect consumer data, trust and loyalty by working with the global research community to surface your most relevant security issues.

H1 engaged Tweney Media to develop and launch withinsecurity as an independent blog, with the goal of building an audience (and eventually creating a community) of hackers and chief security officers. Growing H1’s brand within that audience is a primary goal, but given the target audience’s natural allergies to marketing in any form, we are not taking an overtly promotional approach. The goal instead is to make withinsecurity an independent, intelligent, and useful site in its own right, with H1 as a relatively hands-off single sponsor.

We launched withinsecurity in late October, 2015, and have been publishing 3-4 posts per week since then. Tweney Media assisted with the site design and technical requirements, created the site’s internal and external positions, crafted a writer’s guide, built an editorial calendar, recruited freelancer writers, and works with the writers to produce high-quality content on a regular basis. We also continue to work closely with HackerOne’s marketing and PR teams to ensure that the publication is tracking with the company’s overall marketing goals.

As we wrote in the introduction to withinsecurity on its About page:

We might use the same clickbait headlines as other tech blogs, but rest assured: That’s just to ensure that your boss clicks through and reads the story when you forward it to her. After the headline, we promise to give you the straight dope. We won’t be blowing security risks out of proportion. We’ll do our best to explain vulnerabilities and mitigation strategies as clearly and as accurately as we can. We’ll put them into context so you can assess and prioritize more intelligently.

The Measure of a Brand

Trumaker is a maker of custom shirts and other apparel for men. Its quality is high, its shirts fit amazingly well, and at $120 or so they are really good value for a custom-fit shirt with good materials. But at that price — and with the need for someone to visit each customer to get their measurements — the company also has a long marketing cycle. It needed a way to reach its target market again and again, to help them understand what Trumaker was all about.

Even more important, Trumaker wanted a way to convey its values: Simplicity, honesty, and a definition of what it means to be a good man that goes beyond material success.

All that pointed to a lifestyle publication.

The company had been working on plans for a publication called The Measure for several months when it engaged Tweney Media to help with the launch. Working closely with the marketing team, we helped Trumaker hone the editorial mission for The Measure, and also helped refine the company’s overall message hierarchy. We established an editorial calendar and built a publishing process that was robust and scalable. We contributed a few pieces of our own, including the one quoted below, about boots. We worked with numerous freelancers, assigning and editing copy. And we edited a large amount of existing copy to get the publication ready for launch.

The Measure launched in October, 2015. While Tweney Media is no longer involved with the publication, we’re proud to say we built the rails on which it continues to roll.

My go-to boots these days are a pair of Justin ropers. They’re over fifteen years old, as battered and weathered as an old baseball glove, and about the same color. I think of them as my lucky boots.

For a long time, I felt too shy to wear such rugged, prosaic boots unless I was actually out in the country, hiking around, or just relaxing on a remote porch somewhere. My own work has been more of the sitting-at-a-desk variety, and it just felt wrong to wear these boots to an office.

But lately, that’s started to change.

… continue reading on The Measure