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The Dirt on Editorial Calendars

by Melissa Rach on July 21st, 2011

The world loves a scandal. And there was never more satisfying scuttlebutt than that surrounding the gossip-mongers at News of the World. While the rest of the world is giggling over the guy who tried to “pie” Rupert Murdoch, I have been writing this blog and imagining what was on the News of the World’s editorial calendar. From the scenarios I’ve read, it might have looked something like this:

(click image to enlarge)

Of course, editorial calendars are not just for questionable news organizations. They can also be a valuable tool for perfectly reputable organizations who want to manage content-related activities effectively. So, here’s the skinny on making an ed cal that works for you.

Calendaring: It’s not as easy as you think

Editorial calendars seem easy enough. There are plenty of calendaring tools and templates online, free to anyone. You put some stuff into a spreadsheet or app and you’ve got a calendar (fancy color-coding optional). Easy-peasy, right?

Unfortunately, the chances of somebody else’s calendar template being exactly what you need are slim-to-none. So, before you go searching online, take a minute to focus your efforts.

Start by defining a purpose

It sounds like common sense, but the first step toward a successful editorial calendar is defining why you’re creating it. The purpose for your calendar may be a variation on one or more of these common themes (get as specific as possible):

  • Improve content quality or relevance
  • Integrate content across various channels/brands/business units
  • Fulfill user needs (by profile, lifecycle, or topics of interest)
  • Align content with business goals/campaigns/events
  • Measure/record content success or value
  • Allocate resources (human and budgetary) or justify resource needs
  • Manage all content creation/curation/maintenance activities

 

When identifying purpose, don’t forget to think about:

  • Who is going to use the calendar and why?
  • How will it be shared/used?
  • Who is going to maintain the calendar?
  • How often will it be updated/shared?
  • How will you know if the calendar is working?

Pick and prioritize calendar variables

Once you know the purpose, you can start choosing what to include on your calendar. There are literally hundreds of content-related variables that could be tracked on an editorial calendar.

List all of the variables/data points you think are relevant to your calendar, then rank them in priority order. It’s tempting to include every tidbit of information you have, but in this case, less is usually more. Focus your calendar on the top priorities, and consider eliminating the bottom priorities to make your calendar easy to use and maintain.

For example, let’s say you work for an organization that provides services to elementary school teachers. You might consider including the following variables (for simplicity’s sake, I’ll only include 10):

  • Date (e.g., May 14)
  • Channel (e.g., website, print newsletter, Twitter)
  • Content element (e.g., home page article, newsletter sidebar, video)
  • Teacher profiles (e.g., new teacher, kindergarten teacher)
  • Teachers’ events (e.g., National Teachers Association Convention)
  • Holidays and seasons (e.g., Christmas, autumn)
  • Hot topics (e.g., student testing, school security)
  • Content creator (e.g., web editor, Sue in marketing, third-party provider)
  • Content workflow step (e.g., schedule interviews, get outline approved, create content)
  • Budget (e.g., $5000)

Depending on your priorities, your calendar will vary. If the purpose of your calendar was to integrate all channels around user hot topics, your calendar might look like this:

Teacher's Aide, Inc. Editorial Calendar

(click image to enlarge)

Alternatively, if your calendar was mostly intended to manage resources and budgets, it might look like this:

Teacher's Aide, Inc. Budget- Editorial Calendar

(click image to enlarge)

One last word of advice

Editorial calendars do not have to be fancy or complicated. Whatever works for you, works. Once you identify the purpose and key information elements on your calendar, you can make your own simple spreadsheet or go online for more inspiration.

However, if you’re looking for something absolutely sensational, I hear there are several editors from News of the World looking for work that would be happy to help you.

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Posted in Editorial Strategy

Shrink to Fit

by Lee Thomas on January 27th, 2011

Whether it’s the printed word, television, or text messages, a new medium is often cause for debate: Some people lament what might be lost and warn of lurking dangers. Others celebrate the new possibilities and buy a new gadget from Apple.

So, it’s no surprise that new communication tools based on short formats—like Facebook, Twitter, and text messages—would prompt such a discussion. What are all those status updates, Tweets, and texts doing to our brains? Are they rotting our attention spans? Making us more distracted than a cat at a laser light show? Changing the very way we think?

Cat dancing with lasers

Mittens is so totally into Floyd.

There’s a thoughtful piece about this over at Tom Johnson’s blog, I’d Rather Be Writing, discussing contemporary reading behaviors and short formats. The post was prompted by feedback Tom received suggesting that he shred some already sparse content because “no one’s going to sit through this.” In the accompanying thread, Tom and his readers discuss the more vs. less balance in different media and situations in detail, so I won’t try to summarize here. Suffice it to say that, as content strategists, the issue of enough vs. too much never goes away.

How much? How many? How often?

My favorite comment in the above thread comes from Tim Rich, who proposes the following mantra: “As little as possible, as much as necessary.”

Tim’s handy phrase caught my attention because clients still ask: What’s the “right” number of navigation buttons and content categories? What’s the “right” length for a piece of web copy? How far will users scroll? How many clicks are too many?

Say it with me now: It depends.

That answer is a running joke, but it’s also true. One-size-fits-all works for a pretty small number of things. (Scarves, for example.  And possibly, eye patches.)

Most situations call for some kind of assessment. Certainly that’s true of messy human endeavors like communication, knowledge, and understanding—all of which are interlaced with content.

As content strategists, we know there’s no simple answer to the question, How much content do we need?  We have to assess a host of factors, including audience needs and tasks, business goals, the delivery medium, the nature of the content, the environment in which the content is accessed and used, and so on. And then we have to use human judgment, skill, and craftsmanship in our attempt to find the right balance.

Some clients can handle that kind of ambiguity—offer up a metaphor about tailors or house builders, and they get it; they see the value in a thoughtful, customized answer to complex questions.

Other clients want us to cite best practices or to emulate what the competition is doing. Best practices are useful, sure, but applying them blindly and without consideration for the particular situation misses a whole lot of opportunity and may even cause damage.

Less is more. Except when I want more.

Maybe Goldilocks was fickle. Then again, maybe she really knew her own mind and didn’t want to settle for something that didn’t fit her needs.

Recently, I wrote about the benefits of a less-is-more content strategy. I wasn’t advocating a “gut-and-cut” approach to content or for brevity above all. Like cocktails, politics, and reality TV, maxims should be consumed in moderation.

In the post I commented on the value of ditching excess in order to make room for what’s essential. The thing is, what’s essential changes with every situation, and imposing strict limits based on what’s “right” is arbitrary and counterproductive. Random examples:

  •  Most books aimed at young adults are under 200 pages. There are exceptions. When the content is good and in demand, attention spans stretch to accommodate 784 pages. Sales were good.
  •  Most help content is short for a reason: users want quick answers in order to get a task done and move on. But there is such a thing as too sparse. I’m looking at you, Spøklaår nightstand.

“As little as possible, as much as necessary.”

Tim’s mantra is reasonable and useful. It may be only slightly less ambiguous than “it depends,” but it is more to the point. An answer like that might help clients understand that content strategists aren’t trying to apply a set of one-size-fits-all rules. Instead, we’re trying to create bespoke solutions that fit the needs of audiences and businesses in specific situations.

(Image above adapted from adorable! by Flickr user brianschulman (cc: by-sa 2.0) and Ministry Of Sound – Laser Light Show with DJs Deep Dish by Flickr user Anirudh Koul (cc: by-nc 2.0))

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

Tidings of Content & Calm

by Lee Thomas on December 16th, 2010

Hello, December … hello, chaos. Take the usual 9-to-5 and everyday commitments, and add all the extras that come with the winter holidays: Weeks filled with social gatherings. Packages to wrap, address, and send. Air travel. And of course, the list of gifts to hunt down and buy. It’s enough to make an introvert like me cry into his figgy pudding.

Or it would be if I let it. A couple of years ago, I decided to trim my holiday activities. Most notably, I suggested to my family that we forego gifts, and to my yuletide joy, they agreed.

Now I glide through the holidays with less dashing through the snow, more relaxing by the fireplace. Yes, we gave up gifts, but we all got something we really want: more time and less stress. 

Give more with less

So what does this have to do with content? Publishing more stuff, more often, is easier than ever with today’s tools. But do audiences need it all? Do they want it all? Or are they getting a lot of pink bunny pajamas instead of the Red Rider BB gun they really want?

Perhaps there’s something to be gained by following one of the guiding principles of minimalism:  choose the essential.

Part of a content strategy should be determining what not to publish—what to cut from the website, what to trim from the page. This means focusing (again) on the essential content people really want and getting rid of the excess. Why? Because it gets in the way.

Some stakeholders may resist such cuts, given the nearly unlimited space available online. But letting go can lead to greater gains in the end.

Google’s gift

For example, take Google. Back in the day, Google attracted attention for its famously minimal home page design. While a competitor crammed more and more on to its home page—and tried to be all things to all people—Google gave audiences something truly valuable: an oasis of simplicity amid the increasing clutter of cyberspace.

That clear focus helped users get to what they really wanted: search results for their particular need. Things turned out okay for Google. Meanwhile, (for multiple reasons) that competitor is struggling.

That’s not a new example, but I was reminded of it recently when Gmail streamlined its home page. I noticed the change immediately. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on why, but the site just felt calmer and cleaner (even more than usual). The difference is subtle, but when I compared the before and after it became clear how Google’s trimming helped:

  • Focus the message. The same benefits are there, but fewer distractions (visuals and words) mean the benefits can stand out.
  • Focus the user’s attention. Fewer distractions also help users scan quickly and get to where the real action is: account sign-up or sign-in. Behind which Gmail starts making money with paid ads.

Gmail screenshot comparison

(Screen images from Google's Gmail Blog)

Ready to reduce?

If clutter and excess are weighing down your web content, it may be time to trim. Help the good stuff emerge stronger so your audiences can find and use it. Here are a couple of places to start:

  • Site metrics. Do the metrics show long-forgotten pages or whole sections of your site that are no longer generating traffic? If so, maybe it’s time to retire that content.
  • User profiles. Knowing what audiences want is hard. They’re not homogenous—what they want changes, and there are a lot of circumstances involved. Still, revisiting user profiles and comparing content to what users want is worthwhile. If the profiles are out of date, maybe it’s time to invest in some new user research. With a clearer idea of what audiences really want, you can cut content that doesn’t make the wish list.
  • At the page level. Google’s post states that they cut 250 words in streamlining. Chances are your web editor would love an invitation to do the same.

Fa-la-la-la-la

Cutting back can produce some unexpected benefits, including clearer focus and happier audiences. Users may be joyful about less quantity, more quality. When looking at content for places to trim, there’s a refrain that runs through my head (and oh boy, do I wish I could say it’s, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”): Give users what they want. Cut the excess. Choose the essential.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, User Experience, Web Content

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))

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Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, Web Content

RSS in the Olden Days

by Angie Halama on October 1st, 2010

Hand-written headlines in a newspaper office window.

(Click image to enlarge.)

Before CNN scrolling news headlines. Before aggregators. Before Tweetdeck.

Way back in 1940 the Brockton Enterprise newspaper was providing a handmade news feed to passersby on the street: by posting headlines in its office windows.

I spotted this picture in a blog post of vintage color photos. I had no idea that newspapers had ever done this, and I don’t know whether it was a common practice. But what a great strategy for selling papers: entice people with the headlines so that they want to read more.

It makes me wonder how often they updated their “feed.” Every time the daily edition was released? As soon as a story broke? Did people purposely visit, or “subscribe” to, this corner to find out what was going on in the world?

Oh, and who was the lucky one hand-printing all those headlines and pasting them up in the window? Clicking “publish” never seemed easier.   

The method may be old-fashioned, but the strategy is as modern as, well, today’s headlines.

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Posted in Editorial Strategy, Uncategorized, User Experience

Is Paper.li Good News, or Bad News, for Content?

by Angie King on September 15th, 2010

A recent Brain Traffic Twitter exchange with @dmnguys introduced me to the world of Paper.li. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out whether I like the service or not. One thing’s for sure: it’s no substitute for curation.

WHAT IS PAPER.LI?
According to their website, Paper.li is an online service that “organizes links shared on Twitter into an easy to read newspaper-style format.”  You can create these “newspapers” to aggregate content for Twitter users, lists, or hashtags. Paper.li automatically generates these feeds into a homepage that emulates the feel of a traditional newspaper’s website.

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT PAPER.LI
As Mathew Ingram writes on Gigaom.com, Paper.li is “a great way to catch up on interesting links my network has found — especially if I have been away from Twitter during the day and am wondering what I have missed.”

I’ve only been using Paper.li for a couple short days, but I can already agree that this is the main benefit of a service like this. Other things I like about Paper.li:

  • View by topic—If you want to see things only related to Technology, you can do that without paging through your full Twitter feed.
  • View by media—Gives you a snapshot view of videos and photos, without clicking a link first.
  • Create multiple newspapers—You can create up to 10 “newspapers” to follow the people, hashtags, and lists you’re most interested in.
  • No follow required—You can follow any Twitter list on Paper.li without actually following it from your Twitter account.

WHAT I DON'T LIKE ABOUT PAPER.LI
This list is meatier than the “What I like” list. Sorry, Paper.li.

Daily Tweets, without context—If you want to share your Paper.li site on your personal Twitter stream, you can click the “Promote It” link below the masthead. This requires you to sign up for daily promotional Tweets, and won’t let you do a one-time promotion of your page. Sure, you can go in and “manage” the papers you are promoting to turn off the daily Tweets—but that’s a bit laborious.

Additionally, Paper.li Daily Tweets provide absolutely no context for the content that appears on your Paper.li page. This absence of context is exactly what drew me to Paper.li in the first place.

Here’s the @BrainTraffic  / @dmnguys exchange that inspired this post:

The fact that the Paper.li daily gets “no input from us” doesn’t bother @dmnguys. Automatic generation of a Tweet absolves them from providing context. But as a user and an indirect subject of their Twitter stream, the Paper.li Daily Tweet ended up confusing instead of enlightening me.

Without the proper context around the “featured” Twitter handles and why they are being featured, the Daily Tweet doesn’t provide any value to followers. At least, not in my book.

Not all “stories” translate—Paper.li attempts to replicate the first paragraph of the links shared by your Twitter community. This lead-in doesn’t always translate well, so you end up reading a bunch of nonsense until you click the link. For instance, Kristina posted a link to some favorite articles the other day.

Her Tweet said:

Paper.li translated her Tweet as follows:

Um … WTF?

Not customizable—Because Paper.li automatically generates the sections of my daily “newspaper,” I have no say in what appears as my lead story. Also, I can’t hide or rearrange any of the topical sections.

No central dashboard—I created two Paper.li dailies, but am unable to access them without a direct URL. I expected Paper.li to keep a list of my previously created “newspapers” somewhere, especially after I’m logged in to the site. (In case you’re curious, the two papers I created are: Angie King Daily and contentstrategy Daily.)

PAPER.LI IS NOT CURATION
Granted, nobody said it WAS curation. But my experience with Paper.li just proves the importance of curation over aggregation.  Without an editorial eye overseeing the publication of my Paper.li page, the content loses value. I actually prefer just paging through my Twitter stream over trying to make sense of the no-context, automatically generated list of junk that displays on my Paper.li page.

But I can’t blame Paper.li for trying to meet a need. It just wasn’t MY need. Probably because I’m not a robot.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy, Uncategorized, User Experience, 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.

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

Content people care about: Find your orphaned baby bear

by Meghan Casey on July 9th, 2010

The Bear Center in Ely, Minn., has posted daily updates about Hope, an orphaned black bear, every day since she was abandoned by her mother Lily in May. Their audience has come to expect these updates, and the Bear Center delivers. Consistently.

I doubt the Bear Center has a name for what they are doing. But, what they actually have is … you guessed it, a content strategy. It’s simple: Give Hope fans what they want, then ask them to give money to help bears.

It’s working. Donations have increased exponentially. Even better, loyal readers are out there rustling up fundraising opportunities for the Bear Center. On their own. Without being asked. I’ve never seen such a captive and engaged online audience.

Why their content strategy works
For starters, they’ve got the cute, cuddly bear thing going for them. But there’s more to it than that. The Bear Center:

♦ Stands for something people can get excited about- Their mission is to protect bears in the wild through research and education.

♦ Takes a stand- They aren’t afraid to justify their decision to intervene in Hope’s life. Rather, they welcome conversation on the topic.

♦ Has a clear call to action- “Donate to the Bear Center” comes through loud and clear.

♦ Makes content a priority- Their researchers write daily updates. Even on weekends. After spending all day in the field studying bears.

♦ Inspires people to join a community- More than a million people “like” their Facebook page and hundreds visit it daily to talk to each other.

♦ Re-uses content- The same updates are posted to their website and their Facebook page, helping to increase their reach.

How content strategy can work for you
So what if you don’t have a cuddly orphaned bear to attract and retain an audience? That’s okay. You have stuff to say. And there are people who want to hear it.

Now for that content strategy thingamajig. Here are four things you can do now, on a limited budget, without an army of staff to find your very own orphaned baby bear:

♦ Start small- Pick one piece of your website. The section that gets the most visitors. Your blog. The home page. Whatever. Then, do the following three things:

♦ Identify your point of view- Content marketing guru Joe Pulizzi said at Web Content 2010, “It’s not what you sell. It’s what you stand for.” That one remark was tweeted about a bajillionty times. Cuz it’s true. Figure out what you stand for, make sure it’s different from what everyone else stands for, and then tell people who care.

♦ Define your core purpose- Before you go creating content, spend some time outlining the purpose of the content to make sure everything you publish is on-target. One way to do this is to answer a few questions, such as:

  •  Who is the content for?
  •  Does your audience care about your message?
  •  Does it make sense for you to talk about it?
  •  What are you trying to accomplish?
  •  What do you want people to do after they read or experience it?

♦ Be bossy- Okay, you’ve got your point of view and you’ve got your purpose. Now you need the content. Set a publishing schedule—something you can realistically adhere to—and assign roles and responsibilities for creators, reviewers, editors, and publishers.

Now, go forth and create content people care about.
 

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Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial 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).

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

Clients say the darnedest things: How to deal with bad feedback

by Elizabeth Saloka on March 18th, 2010

You spend weeks writing your client’s site. And it pays off. Your messaging is dead on. Your copy is fresh, clear, and active. Deliriously tired but satisfied, you email the document to your client.

Two days later you get the document back. You open it. 

MAMA SAY WHAAAATTTTT?! 

She. Butchered. Your. Document. Butchered it! Using track changes, she reformatted your beautiful bulleted lists into gigantic paragraphs filled with run-on sentence after run-on sentence. She added “dynamic” and “synergism” to the home page intro. As an overall comment, she requested you please “change all the links to ‘click here’, so people know to click.”
 
This feedback is bad. Very bad. But she’s the client. What do you do?
 
First, let’s clarify something.
This article is about dealing with bad feedback. Not dealing with negative feedback. Bad feedback and negative feedback are two different things.
 
Negative refers to how the client perceives your work.
 
Bad refers to how the client expresses their perception (negative or positive) of your work.
 
For my fellow visual learners, a chart:   
 

Now let’s talk about types of bad feedback—and how to deal with them.
Below, a profile of four popular types of bad feedback accompanied by coping tips: 
 

1. Jargon-y feedback.   
Your client: “I’d like the copy to be more delightful.”

You: “Sure! No problem! I’ll make it more delightful!”

Wrong move, buddy.

When a client uses subjective, vague terms in feedback, you MUST call her on it. Right away. Even if you know stopping to dissect and analyze her feedback is going to take extra time and effort. Even if you have to revise schedules.
 
In the long run, you will save time, the content will be better, and your client will be happier. Promise.
 
If you can, help your client see the flaw in her logic. If she wants the intro to be more “robust,” respond with an open-ended question such as, “What does ‘robust’ mean to you, exactly?”
 
Also, make sure you get examples—ask the client to email you “robust” copy samples. That way you have something tangible to work with. 
 
2. Vague feedback.
She says, “Looks great!!!” And that’s, like, it.
 
Your client read all 87 pages of your copy deck and had no changes? Riiiiiggghhht.
 
I’d bet my bellybutton this is what’s really going on: your client didn’tactually read your whole content doc. Or at least not thoroughly. She’s so busy worrying about the site’s design/other projects/her newborn octoplets she didn’t have time to read it.
 
So she’s cool with it. For now. That is, until her site is four hours from launch and she calls you for a boatload of last-minute revisions.

Do yourself and your client a big favor and make it very clear she needs to provide feedback now (remember, do so nicely!) or forever hold her peace.

Say something like, “I’m so tickled pink you went through ALL the content and you don’t haveANYrevisions. I’ll go ahead and send you the invoice and close out your project. It was great working with you!”

 
If she responds with, “Wait! Wait! I might still have some revisions!” you can firmly (but nicely!) remind her of the feedback process you agreed to when the project kicked off.

Tip: Include one or two questions using the comments feature in your document when you send it to the client. That way, if she gives you the ‘ol, “Looks great!” you can respond by asking if she had any further thoughts about your questions.

If she has no idea what you’re talking about, or if she responds with, “Oh, right. We’re going to have to change that,” you know she didn’t look it over thoroughly. Proceed with caution!

 
3. Contradictory feedback.

She says, “We only call ourselves ‘managers’ internally. Please don’t use that term in the copy.’”
 
You say, “Okay.”
 
What’s so contradictory about that, you ask? You’re right: It’s perfectly straightforward direction. Until you get your document back from your client and see she added ‘managers’ to the company tagline, home page headline, global navigation, footer, and image ALT tags.  

Clearly, you need to clarify what your client wants.

But, for the sake of your working relationship, you also need to be careful not to put her on the defensive or make her feel foolish. There are many ways to proceed. For instance, you could say …  

“Earlier you said I shouldn’t call you ‘managers.’ But throughout the document you inserted the word ‘managers.’ What exactly would you like me to do?”

There’s nothing wrong with that approach. I guess. But doesn’t this just seem friendlier …

“Hey! Thanks for the feedback. I had one quick question regarding the word ‘managers.’ I see you’ve added it in a few places—is it okay to use that term now? Thanks!”

See? Nicer. Generally, clients like it when you’re nice to them.

 

4. Nonsensical feedback.  
Maybe she’s high on coffee. Or she prefers expressing thoughts verbally. Or maybe she’s been up all night watching Lethal Weapon and its sequels. Whatever the reason, sometimes your client will give feedback that, well, makes absolutely no sense.

“Could you please add another future verb to this entire beginning of copy paragraph? Thanks!”

Huh?

“I talked to Janice and she said Tom’s player copy doesn’t need any more action-oriented dropdowns (except maybe for twice?). Thanks!!”

Whazza who?

“Legal review. Stakeholders. Danny Glover. Thanks!!!”

Mmm.  

If you have no clue in sweet heaven what she’s talking about (it does happen), schedule an in-person interview with her—over the phone works, too—so you can walk through her, um, “points.”

Start by reading a couple of her comments back to her. Hopefully, she’ll stop you after a couple minutes and say, “Geez. I wasn’t making any sense! I meant to say blah, blah, blah.” Or whatever. If she doesn’t, hopefully you’ll be able to glean some insight into her state of mind through verbal cues. 

Finally, a request.

It’s easy to roll your eyes when a client gives you slick, vague, contradictory, nonsensical feedback. But you know what? She’s likely juggling a billion things, from wireframes to babies to Lethal Weapon DVDs. Your copy is just one of them. Cut her some slack. And remember, she’s not a writer. If she were, she wouldn’t need you.

If you’re willing to have patience and put forth a little extra effort, you can help your client. You can educate her about content best practices. You can show her examples of successful websites with great content. You can take time to really understand where she’s coming from, so you can put her feedback in context.
 
In the end, your content will be better. And your client will be grateful. So, what do you say, ‘ol chum?

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Posted in Editorial Strategy, Uncategorized, User Experience, Web Content, Web Writing