Our Blog

Author Archive

Online Endeavors Need a Spare Tire

by Clinton Forry on June 16th, 2011

You need a spare tire in your content strategy. Otherwise, you’ll end up stranded with a blowout on the information superhighway.

Be Prepared

The Boy Scout motto is a simple two words: Be Prepared. (I am an Eagle Scout, you know.) I think of that motto often, in both personal and professional settings.

We’ve all encountered unexpected situations and issues of one sort or another while working with online projects. The anxiety level is usually in direct proportion to the lack of preparedness.

  • Online content emergency + no plan = TIME TO FREAK OUT
  • Online content emergency + content strategy = cool as the other side of the pillow

Preparedness is not always black and white. It’s more of a spectrum, really.

For example, I saw the cutest car in the parking lot the other day—a Fiat 500. I went right to my desk to look for more info on their website. While clicking through the options, I discovered an odd one: A SPARE TIRE.

 

Spare tire as an option

A spare tire. As an option. Really? (Click to inflate)

Some car companies now include a “tire repair kit” instead of a spare tire. It’ll fix some minor problems like a slow leak or a nail puncture. No biggie.

But, if you hit a big pothole and completely destroy your tire, you’ll be left stranded. This happened to me earlier this year. No repair kit would have helped the shredded remnants of my tire. To be fully prepared, I needed a spare.

Issues Known or Unknown

In 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the following quote. It remains relevant, yet somewhat garbled, today:

[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know.

Believe it or not, spare tires and unknown unknowns can have an impact on what you do online.

Online Content with a Slow Leak

The known/unknown quote serves as a reminder to account for the most likely and obvious things that might affect an online endeavor in some way. Take these flat-tire scenarios, for example:

  • Staff changes disrupt content workflows
  • A CMS update breaks your current site
  • Third-party content provider folds

These things can and should be anticipated. They are “known,” as Rumsfeld would say. Contingency plans to deal with them can be crafted and shelved until needed. It’s all in a day’s work for a sustainable content strategy.

Online Content-Shredding Blowout

But what about those pesky “unknown unknowns” that Rumsfeld talked about?

Plan as we may, there is always something that comes along to break even the most carefully assembled contingency plan. Often, the unknown unknowns are major and abrupt. For example, some tire-blowout-level  scenarios:

  • New laws or regulations change your content ecosystem
  • Upper management changes the overall business objectives
  • Competitor innovation changes the market landscape
  • Technological innovation changes the industry

What can we do? Develop a fast and flexible approach that allows content teams to address those unknown unknowns as they come up. This is not meant to be an explicit plan. Instead, it should be a modifiable process that is informed by the foundation work that goes into every solid content strategy.

Using Your Spare Tire

When the unknown unknowns make themselves, um, known, established roles and responsibilities become even more important. Some things to consider when establishing your “unknown unknowns” approach:

  • Include the proper staff and stakeholders. Not every person needs to be at the table for each discussion, but the right ones should be.
  • Keep an eye on sustainability. Changes must be realistic, and within the true scope and capability of those involved (as with any content project).
  • Set everything in alignment with your core strategy and business goals. Any one of the tire-blowout-level scenarios can lead endeavors off course.

Take the time to put together plans for issues and situations that might threaten your online endeavors. Then, create a process that will allow you (and your team) to address any other situations that come up.

Before long, issues will be resolved and you’ll have your tires on the road again.

Follow Mr. Clinton Forry on Twitter

View Comments

Posted in Content Strategy

That’s a Wrap!

by Clinton Forry on May 12th, 2011

Well folks, we’ve got our first-ever conference under our belts. Confab: The Content Strategy Conference was a huge success. Many thanks to all of the wonderful speakers, attendees, volunteers, and supporters throughout the webosphere for spreading the content love. We’re very happy. And totally spent.

Erik Westra under a Confab sign

Organizing a conference is EXHAUSTING

We’ll be back to our usual blogging next week. In the meantime, here are some tools to help you relive Confab in all its glory:

View Comments

Posted in Around the Office, Brain Traffic

Is Your Metadata Miles Away from Complete?

by Clinton Forry on April 21st, 2011

Whether your content is produced in-house or licensed from a third party, make sure it’s complete from top to bottom. Otherwise, you might send someone off in a JAZZ RAGE.

LISTENING TO MUSIC HAS CHANGED

I love music. After a lifetime of being hooked on CDs and LPs, I recently jumped into the realm of getting a music subscription online. The charm of these services is that they don’t require any downloads—all of the music is streamed on-demand.

Services like this are not new. They’ve been around for some time, actually.

I took the plunge because one of the services, Rdio, had finally created an online experience with the things I wanted. It’s easy to use. And easy to sync across different devices and locations. BUT, there are some common content issues that keep it from being a fantastic experience.

PROVIDERS NEED CONTENT

Services like Rdio work by licensing content, making it available each month to eager listeners for a subscription fee. Record labels strike deals with these online services to provide access to their catalog of titles.

Rdio has done their part, making the layout and features downright lovely. So lovely, in fact, that I’ve been going about as if I were a salesman for the company, begging people to sign up.

Being a jazz nerd, I immediately typed “Miles Davis” into the search box on my first visit. This is where the trouble started.

BUT SOMETHING MAKES ME KIND OF BLUE

First, some jazz history: Miles Davis played trumpet with bebop sax legend Charlie Parker early in his career. They made fabulous recordings. Rdio makes enjoying these rather difficult. To illustrate, here are the entries for Miles and Charlie Parker:

Miles Davis and Charlie Parker search results

Figure 1. Miles is agitated. (Click to enlarge/exasperate.)

Although it’s likely not the fault of Rdio, there are some serious content problems here. Content is duplicated. Other content has frustratingly incorrect or incomplete metadata. Some content suffers both problems.

Some of these distinctions make sense. But others feature almost comical misspellings or strange divisions (comma or hyphen or slash or semi-colon or … ).

A careful audit of this content prior to publication would have surfaced these content classification crimes. Miles himself would arrest you for such offenses against his music.

Miles Davis You're Under Arrest album cover

Figure 2. The Miles Davis album “You’re Under Arrest.”

At any rate, this many misleading options will bewilder even seasoned enthusiasts.

CONTENT MILESTONES OF THE UNWANTED SORT

Even more jazz history: In 1958, Miles recorded a classic album titled “Milestones.” Get it? Miles? Tones? Milestones? (This is as good as jazz humor gets, folks.)

That search I mentioned earlier? For Miles Davis? It yields 368 separate album choices. If you wanted to listen to the “Milestones” album on Rdio, you would be presented with yet another content conundrum:

Issues surround Milestones on Rdio

Figure 3. (Click to enlarge/enrage.)

When faced with 368 album choices, a listener can get overwhelmed, to say the least. They may switch from navigating the search results via text to relying on visual cues (in the form of album covers).

In Rdio’s case, album covers and artist names are considered metadata.  Inaccurate and incomplete metadata makes navigating the options difficult, if not impossible.

When metadata is incomplete or inaccurate, people will flee. They’ll unsubscribe from your service and take their money with them. You don’t want that.

METADATA TO THE RESCUE

In the interest of creating a satisfying user experience, the record companies would do well to clean up the catalog they license to services like Rdio. As newer editions of “Milestones” are released, this user experience will only become more unwieldy.

Complete and accurate metadata will make your life easier now.

New technology and its applications will find new uses for content in coming years. Make sure that your content—and by extension, your metadata—is complete and accurate. Because it just may make your life easier in the future, too.

View Comments

Posted in Content Strategy, Information Architecture, User Experience, Web Content

The Days of Content and Cake, They Quickly Approach

by Clinton Forry on February 17th, 2011

Confab logo

Back in October, we announced that we were putting together a conference. Not just any conference. Confab: The Content Strategy Conference. [Cue the “O Fortuna” music.]

Now, Confab is less than three months away!

So, what’s up?

  • Spots are going fast: only 50 tickets remain! Get that seat next to your smart peers and pals: Register now!
  • There are still open spots in C.C. Chapman’s and Ann Handley’s Content Rules workshop. (Unfortunately, the Brain Traffic workshop has already sold out.)
  • Speaker and session details are now posted on the Confab site. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out now. We have to keep pinching ourselves to make sure that a schedule this awesome is not just a dream.
  • Confab presenters are writing great Confab blog posts.  Ahava Leibtag & Aaron Watkins and Rahel Bailie contributed the first two, and there are more on the way.
  • People are excited. They’ve RSVPed on LinkedIn and Facebook. They’ve tweeted about it. And, they’ve told us in person!

Confab is shaping up to be the most exciting content-related event of the year. In these few remaining months, we’ll have more announcements about ways to participate, both in–person and far away. So, if you haven’t already, follow @Confab2011 on Twitter and sign up for our email newsletter. You won’t miss a Confab-related thing.
 

View Comments

Posted in Brain Traffic, Content Strategy

Own Your Content. And Keep Grizzly Bears at Bay.

by Clinton Forry on December 9th, 2010

(Dramatization.)

The best way to properly take care of your content is to give it an owner. With ownership comes responsibility. With responsibility comes reward. That reward? Content that helps you achieve your business goals.

An example of ownership: my dad’s truck

My dad takes meticulous care of his truck. He changes the oil on a regular basis and performs regular tune-ups.  He keeps an ear out for funny sounds that the engine might be making. He washes it. All of the time.

He needs to do this because he depends on it. It does the work he asks it to do—hauling things, towing things, etc.

It’s also a source of leisure for him. Every fall, he puts a truck camper on the back and goes far out West for a couple of weeks with my mom.

Not only is this truck getting them from one place to another, but it’s also serving as their lodging whilst in the mountains where the deer and antelope play.

If he were to neglect that truck, ignore regular servicing, and pay no mind to its proper operation, he and Mom may end up stranded on some mountain pass with a wild grizzly bear. (See dramatization in photo above.)

His mindful ownership minimizes that risk.

Content needs ownership

Now, keep in mind, things can be owned—and not cared for. This often leads to less-than-stellar (or even catastrophic) results. I’ve seen it happen with trucks. We sometimes see it with content.

Organizations are beginning to recognize the need for useful, usable content that will help them accomplish their business goals.

But, what they often fail to recognize is the need for staff resources and processes, which are required for the responsible ownership of that content. Or, they assign ownership to the content, but don’t tie ownership to website goals.

These organizations don’t look beyond that very instant the “publish” button is pushed. They might even think (and say) things like:

  • “The web is like a filing cabinet that never gets full.”
  • “Someone might look for that content, so keep it on the site.”
  • “Just get the content up there, we’ll deal with it later.”
  • “We’ll have an intern keep an eye on the content.”
  • “We haven’t touched it since 1999.”

Without ownership, and the maintenance and monitoring that go with it, content suffers. Goals become much harder to accomplish. Which puts us perilously close to having our content stranded on a proverbial mountain pass, with the grizzly bear of ineptitude pacing outside.

Have your content serviced every 3,000 miles

The best content owners do far more than just ensuring content makes it to the website. Regular service intervals apply to both Dad’s truck AND effective content.

Mindful content owners make a regularly scheduled habit of:

  • Monitoring content performance against goals and benchmarks
  • Ensuring ongoing relevance of content to business goals
  • Verifying  the accuracy of content
  • Maintaining usefulness and usability of content for those using it

Content (or truck) owners acting as good stewards will be able to use their content (or trucks) to do what their goals demand. People visiting their websites will be instructed and entertained, and they will accomplish tasks. Or take vacations with truck campers. Without fear of grizzly bears.

Follow Clinton on Twitter

(Truck image from Dad, incorporating bear image from Flickr user tiredofh2o (CC: by-nc-sa 2.0))

View Comments

Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, Web Content

Maintaining Your Non-Text Content

by Clinton Forry on July 16th, 2010

Many of our clients request our help writing video scripts or incorporating interactive tools into their website. We’re all for enhancing the user experience with non-text content, but only if it makes strategic sense. And only if there’s a solid maintenance plan in place. Because publishing non-text content comes with a set of unique challenges.

Be proactive about non-text content maintenance.
In an ideal world, all website maintenance decisions happen as a result of your own company’s preferences, and on a reasonable timeline. But even if you’re not living in that ideal world you can still protect yourself. Here’s how:

  • Retain source and working files from content partners
  • Consider hosting options carefully, and make a contingency plan
  • Build a third-party content revision path into your content workflows

Retain source and working files from content partners.
Anyone with a computer can edit a text file, regardless of its source. By contrast, editing audio, video, and Flash-based elements requires access to the original files and the sophisticated software used to create them.

It’s harder to guarantee that access if you’ve outsourced the content. Unless you make sure to get a complete handoff of all original source files you can get stuck editing these elements in other programs, to the detriment of file quality. (For example, video and graphics are best edited at the highest resolution, then rendered/exported/converted to the resolution at which people will ultimately use it.)

Consider hosting options carefully and make a contingency plan.
To complicate matters, content producers often choose to host their content on third-party platforms. Third-party video hosting services (e.g., YouTube) attract content producers by offering APIs, advanced embedding features, HD quality, and free bandwidth.

Using such providers may streamline your process initially, but also requires handing over a certain amount of control. (Companies get acquired, business plans evolve, etc.) If a change is made to the initial agreement, the API, or even the display/delivery of your content, you may be forced to take your content elsewhere.

Disruptions resulting from external partners take time and resources away from your day-to-day business functions. They also affect the user experience. (Think of a video-centric page missing its videos. Yikes!)

Concerns about hosting problems can be easily mitigated by retaining those high-resolution versions and their attendant metadata. With those in hand, upload to other suitable hosting services will be a snap.

Build a third-party content revision path into your content workflows.
Content workflows need to take into account the complexities of editing non-text content.  This flowchart illustrates the steps involved in successfully making both pre- and post-publishing changes to non-text content:

nontext content flowchart

(click to enlarge)

Incorporating these guidelines into your site maintenance plan will help ensure your non-text content is working as hard as it can to keep users engaged and coming back for more.

View Comments

Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, Uncategorized, Web Content

Content Battle of the Year

by Clinton Forry on July 7th, 2010

Kristina and Joe with Hulk Hands

It's our very first podcast! Wooo!

Recently, Kristina (our fearless leader) and Joe Pulizzi (author, content marketing evangelist, and self-described “poster boy for content marketing”) met up to discuss some similarities and differences between content marketing and content strategy.

Not only will you be captivated by their insights and insults (ok, no insults), you'll learn how to identify the One Thing that really sets your company apart from the competition. Bonus: find out how content strategists and content marketers can join arm-in-arm to sing "Hands Across America." 

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download the mp3

About Joe Pulizzi
Joe co-authored "Get Content, Get Customers" with Newt Barrett. He is the CEO of Junta 42, where he maintains his blog of the same name. Joe evangelizes content marketing worldwide and maintains the popular content marketing blog Junta42. Follow Joe on Twitter: @juntajoe

View Comments

Posted in Around the Office, Brain Traffic, Content Strategy

Content Strategy, or, Let’s Make a Mixtape

by Clinton Forry on April 16th, 2010

While digging through my box of cassettes the other day, I had a minor epiphany. Content strategy and the creation of mixtapes are shockingly similar.

As it has been said, content strategy plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content. For a website, certainly. But for the creation of a mixtape?

For those unfamiliar, a mixtape:

  • Is a compilation of songs (just as websites are collections of content)
  • Created for a specific someone (consider your audience)
  • Communicates a specific message (in service of business objectives)
  • Should elicit a particular response (meet user needs/assist in task completion)

Although they can now be a collection of downloads, “mixtape” is a throwback to their heyday in the 1980s when they were cassettes. Later, they took the form of burned CDs, then mp3 playlists.

For those unfamiliar, a review of some basic tenets of content strategy:

  • Analysis: Objectives defined, assumptions and risks noted, success metrics established. Account for internal and external forces that might influence them.
  • Audit: A quantitative or qualitative review of your current content landscape.
  • Strategy: Actionable, achievable recommendations. Includes editorial workflows, calendars, messaging hierarchy, content types, formats, plus much more!

First is analysis. "What do I want to do with this website (or mixtape)?" Surely you've a recipient in mind. Otherwise, you wouldn't be making a website (or mixtape), right? This goes hand in hand with the objectives and message. All websites (and mixtapes) need clear objectives. They can both do many, many things, but a focused approach will make their creation and delivery much easier.

The objective of creating a mixtape might be to musically convince the recipient that you are indeed cool, or in love, or sorry, or over them (or in rare cases, all of the above). Focus on a theme and/or purpose for the mixtape, give it a title, and dig in.

To put together a website (or mixtape), you'll need source content (songs, in this case). Now would be a good time to perform a qualitative content audit. The audit should note what content (here, your music collection) is currently available, and if it is usable.

Websites brimming with content that is redundant, outdated, and trivial are frustrating and often impossible to use. Broken links, five year old “news” articles, and duplicative pages get in the way of achieving objectives. An audit helps to determine what can stay and what gets the boot.

The same applies for the content for your mixtape. For example, your Bee Gees 8-tracks won't make it onto a mixtape if you don't have an 8-track player. Is that vinyl LP copy of "Thriller" too scratched to use? Did the tape deck in your friend's Camaro eat your copy of Bon Jovi's "Slippery When Wet," rendering "Wanted Dead or Alive" more dead than alive? Perhaps your computer hard drive crashed, corrupting all of your Justin Bieber downloads.

On this mixtape, you might choose to include some content (songs) you don’t actually have in your collection. How will you decide where to get it? The provider of that content will be selected on the basis of what best suits your needs. For instance, you may already have an ongoing relationship with a content provider. Is it the funny-smelling record store down the street? Amazon.com or iTunes? You might also pick a place all your friends are raving about. Or you might avoid one your parents happen to frequent.

With source content in hand, selecting the songs from the pool begins the mixtape editorial workflow. These questions will help you get started:

  • Does this content (or song) support the overall message?
  • Does it make sense in this context? (Not everyone will “get” your raga references.)
  • Does its place next to other selections make for a pleasing experience?
  • Will it fit in the remaining time on side B of the cassette?

Make sure that the content (song selection) is relevant to the lucky recipient/user. Putting punk songs and opera and hip-hop tracks one right after the next might be jarring for some, but not for others.

Remember: Stay true to the focus of the theme, consider the recipient, and assert your coolness.

A few additional tips:

  • Create your mix with the end user in mind (be aware of their pop culture knowledge).
  • Clearly state the title.
  • Write the title and track list in a language they can read (as opposed to Esperanto. Or Klingon.)
  • If you are making a cassette, make sure they have a cassette player.

The associated “metadata” (in this case, title, track list, and any totally sweet, custom artwork) completes the package. The tone and voice of the title and artwork are all additional opportunities to continue the theme and message of the mixtape. The track list rounds out the experience by providing a reference to the greatness you've compiled. If you follow these important rules, your final product will be so much more than the consumable tape or CD alone.  

Just like creating a mixtape is more than slapping a couple of songs together haphazardly on a cassette, creating websites with useful, usable content is more than just slapping words on a page. Taking the time and effort to carefully go through these processes will produce an end result that will make your website users happy (or your mixtape listeners happy).

View Comments

Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, Uncategorized, Web Content