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Content Strategist Hits Melbourne

Friday, 25. June 2010 13:11

Thanks to the good folks at UX Melbourne, I had the opportunity to hear former Razorfish UX pioneer and current content strategist and senior partner at Bond Art + Science in New York Karen McGrane present on content strategy.

This terrific session was held at Loop in Melbourne, and was focussed on describing the what and the why of content strategy to a group made up mostly of UX practitioners, with the odd content person thrown in.

Although from my perspective there weren’t many surprises in Karen’s talk, it was a very successful top-level overview of how content strategists can (and should) be involved in web projects. The basic take-away: leaving content (and the strategy informing it) until the last minute is a recipe for disaster.

Having worked in editorial and CS roles online for well over a decade now, I’m a strong advocate of Karen’s message (indeed, some of her main points have even featured in previous posts on this blog). The most exciting things for me were that this event even happened here in Melbourne, that the conversation has started, and that so many smart web professionals are clearly interested in taking part.

If people in project teams advocate for the inclusion of content strategists, project managers and team managers will increasingly include them…and websites will be better. Promise.

So many thanks to Karen for inspiring so many people, and a big call out to Andrew Green who was instrumental in making the event happen. Yaay.

Topic: Being good, Trends, Web dev | Comments Off

Day 2 and Content Strategy

Friday, 11. June 2010 9:22

The project was enormous! The resources would blow your mind. Mistakes? Oh yeah baby! We made ‘em. Plenty. But we fixed ‘em too! The CEO was along for the ride. Then not (for a while). Then back on board.

And, finally, after months (or years) and thousands (or millions) of dollars…we launched! We actually went live!

Yaaay. We had a party. There were clowns and free drinks and little bits of cured meat on puffy biscuits that I don’t really like and lots of back-slapping and lots of recognition of foot soldiers. Why clowns? Still don’t know…

Anyhow, along comes Monday…

Day 2.

Hmmm.

The content isn’t quite right.
Marita in accounts reckons the links don’t work.
People using Chrome are getting this weird glitch on the subscribe form.
We need to update the blog categories.
An image we used wasn’t approved.

Hmmm.

Day 2. The day after. It’s the day when nobody cares. That day, and every day after.

But
But your site shouldn’t have a day 2. Every day is day 1. Every minute is a deadline. The job is never done.

Is that intimidating?

Maybe the project was too big in the first place. Are you sure your users really wanted all that stuff? Don’t they just want fast access to the thing you do best?

Business planning is about identifying your strong suit. Content strategy is about playing a confident hand.

What’s your game like?

Topic: Web dev | Comments Off

Social networking is publishing

Friday, 28. May 2010 8:51

Everybody’s doing it, doing it, doing it…
Suddenly – and presumably because Baby Boomers are now tweeting – the broadsheets and ‘serious’ news outlets are all in a lather about social networking. And for them, this means Twitter and Facebook. Don’t ask them about Foursquare.

What’s becoming apparent in recent media flare-ups is the extent to which users of these sites are still operating with old-fashioned concepts of online communication:

  • Anonymity: some users think that, even though it’s plain to everyone who they actually are, they remain somehow hidden in this online world
  • Alternate persona: it seems that some users – even celebrities – think that they can operate using a different persona or voice to the one they maintain in real life.

Be who you are
One of the key messages I deliver to clients is that when you’re online, everything you do is ‘publishing’. And, as any comms professional knows, to communicate effectively (online or off), you need to know who your audience is and – importantly here – who you are:

  • Are you just you?
  • Are you a representative of an organisation?
  • Are you a fictional or exaggerated character?

Deciding this and then being it consistently is vital. Otherwise, your message can be too easily misunderstood.

The sad tale of Catherine Deveny
Look at poor Catherine Deveny. She was until recently a writer of intentionally-controversial opinion pieces in the Age, Melbourne’s apparently more-reputable newspaper. While watching the local TV awards, she tweeted a few things that were – depending on your perspective – funny, stupid or just plain mean and inappropriate.

The next day she was told by the Age that her column was cancelled. She had crossed a line and her public ‘voice’ was not deemed approriate for the Age or its readers, apparently.

Two things here:

1) “Sacked”: Catherine Deveny then spent some days in the media descibing how she was “sacked and heartbroken”. Deveny decried the Age for “dragging my corpse through their paper for hits and circulation while I am on the phone cancelling the trip to Wet’n’Wild I’d promised the kids”. It’s pretty sad. I really liked her columns.

But she wasn’t sacked. She was never employed. She had no contract. She is a freelance writer, and publications have a right to publish what they want. She lives all the time with the threat of unemployment. All freelancers do.

Deveny has the right to say what she wants too. I hope she finds a new outlet better suited to her forthright style. But the Age did nothing wrong. Perhaps Deveny was the one at fault, selling her wares to them in the first place?

I wrote for the first 99 editions of Australia’s Big Issue magazine, with about 400 articles published. My submissions for issue 100 went unpublished, and I never had anything in that magazine again. Sure, I was a bit disappointed. But I never complained about being sacked. It’s up to the editor. That’s as it should be. I got another job.

2) Who was she? Catherine Deveny needed to decide who she was. Was she a freelance controversialist (a personal brand)? Was she an Age columnist? With a clear public identity, publishing decisions (including tweets) become more obvious. And they have predictable outcomes too. A freelance controversialist would have ‘tweeted and be damned’. A high-profile Age columnist wouldn’t have tweeted in the first place. Or, if they had, wouldn’t have been surprised by the fallout.

Kyle and consistency
While Kyle Sandilands might actually be a good bloke (his friends say he is) it doesn’t really matter. The fact it that all of his public behaviours demonstrate a consistent, nasty, boorish personality.

So props to Kyle: at least he’s consistent. He knows who his audience is. And he knows who he is, as far as his public persona goes. A Sandilands tweet from last September: “having trouble paying attention perhaps I need to go to a concentration camp?”. Just terrific Kyle.

Sadly, Sandilands has joined the ranks of celebrity Twitter quitters (Helen Razer, Ricky Gervais, Miley Cyris, that hilarious fake Stephen Conroy guy and more…). Why, I wonder? No self control? Or the result of misunderstanding its purpose, power and reach?

Tellingly, and thankfully, Catherine Deveny still tweets regularly.

Topic: Being bad, Trends, Uncategorized | Comments Off

What Content Strategy Isn’t

Friday, 14. May 2010 9:26

There’s lots of talk at the moment about content strategy. People are even calling it “CS”. For people who do it – like me – this is all a bit of a shock. We know the work we do is valuable to our clients; we just never knew it would become a movement.

But for all the aspects of content creation, production, management and deployment that DO qualify as content strategy, there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t.

Content strategy ubiquity
Do a search on Google, subscribe to a blog alert, or lick your pinkie and hold it to the wind and you’ll hear a lot of things described as content strategy:

SEO is great, but it’s not a content strategy. It’s part of one. Your SEO strategy is not your content strategy.

Deciding to outsource your writing to Media Giants or someone in Boronia or someone in Bangalore is not a content strategy. It’s part of one. Content production is not a content strategy.

Creating an online content style guide is not a content strategy. It’s part of one.

Conducting research on user needs is not a content strategy. But – yep – it is part of one.

Content strategy isn’t deciding to do better; it isn’t hiring a proper web writer; it isn’t realising that your web writers are the most valuable salespeople on staff; and it isn’t understanding why your online communication needs should take precedence over technologists and Flash-happy designers.

Content strategy is all of this, and more. It is your business, your comms plan, your brand values, your uniqueness, your site content, and much more.

Do you have someone who intuitively gets it? Do you need a content strategist?

Topic: Trends | Comments Off

Win REAL prizes

Friday, 30. April 2010 10:26

It’s the same online and offline. If you want people to help you out with market research or insights, you’ll get more (and more engaged) responses if you offer them something of real value.

Cheap as chips
I recently visited a website and was interrupted by a pop-up asking if I wanted to take part in a 10-minute survey. I’d go in a draw to win an iPod.

No. I don’t really.

First – of course – I probably wouldn’t win the iPod. Second, I actually own an mp3 player. You can buy them now for about $10. And third, what a bunch of cheapskates! [I did appreciate being told up-front that it would take 10 minutes, though. Points for that, at least.]

I might have done the survey if they’d offered a night away as their prize. Or a car.

Real rewards
A couple of months ago, I got a survey enclosed in my electricity bill. 5 questions. If I answered them and sent it back inside a fortnight, they’d knock $10 off my next bill.

Did I do the survey? You bet I did. Took a minute. There was a postage-paid reply envelope. Too easy. Happy to help.

Money for nothing?
So whether you’re offering a prize or an up-front reward, make sure you’re not just taking your web visitors (or real-world visitors) for granted. Doing real market research costs money. If you want to involve your users or community, don’t take the piss. You can still get a cheap deal, but offering the slimmest of chances of winning a $150 music player doesn’t really cut it.

Got an in-store competition? That’s great! But the same rules apply. Make the prize worth it.

Not like this in-store window display that I saw recently… Is there anything sadder than a sad bear offered as a prize to kids with lice and nits?

slumping prize teddy who might have nits

Topic: Being good, User focus | Comments (1)

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