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Four free podcasts: Curation Best Practices

by Kristina Halvorson

Can't get enough of curation? Then do I have good news for YOU!

James Mathewson (Editor-in-Chief of ibm.com and the co-author of Audience, Relevance, and Search) graciously invited me to do a four-part podcast series on the topic of curation best practices. Interviewer Mike Moran (author of Do It Wrong Quickly and Search Engine Marketing, Inc) did a great job shaping each ten-minute conversation, and I enjoyed chatting with both of them.

Listen in as we talk about the opportunities obstacles associated with content curation online. Each podcast is ten minutes long and available to download for free on iTunes (links can be found in the embedded player).

Part 1: Companies around the Web are struggling to present the content their users seek from the social sphere. Is content curation the answer?

Part 2: What are some of the approaches companies are taking to aggregating social content? Which ones are most effective?

Part 3: How can we preserve a great user experience when delivering curated content?

Part 4: Are there instances in which content curation is really the only viable solution?

And hey, if you're interested in content curation, you really need to be following Erin Kissane's five-part series on content curation. I'm fairly sure there will be no need to ever write anything about content curation again once she's finished with it. Which may inspire in you a sigh of relief. Perhaps.

Enjoy!

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Posted in Uncategorized

Maintaining Your Non-Text Content

by Clinton Forry

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

I thought I liked this site. Boy, was I wrong.

by Kristina Halvorson

Yesterday around lunchtime, I decided I was in the mood for some green curry. There’s a Thai restaurant called Ginger Hop that’s just down the street from our office. I keep forgetting it’s there. But yesterday, I remembered. Deliciousness.

I went to the Google, searched for, and immediately found Ginger Hop. Went to their website, and wow! Is it beautiful!

The graphic captures the spirit of our neighborhood perfectly. Love the colors. Love the rickshaw and the dude in the boat. Love the photoshopped Grain Belt sign. The whole thing made me happy.

Now. Because there isn’t any real navigation system—only a few icons—I intuitively didn’t expect additional content pages on the site. So when I clicked on “Menu,” the PDF file that appeared didn’t surprise me. I read the menu, I ordered the food. And then I was done. It was fast, it was easy, and I enjoyed the experience.

In the moment, I also thought it was sort of funny that I’d had such a great experience on site with no copy. So I tweeted about it.

Kristina's Ginger Hop tweet

I didn’t think much of it. But half an hour later, when I went to check my Twitter replies, there were a LOT.  Many were surprised—even disappointed—that I liked the site.

Bad mobile experience

No accessibility

I couldn’t argue with any of these points. What’s worse is that the site actually is missing some really important, valuable content…for example, their live music schedule (which they post on Twitter, which how would I know that unless I clicked on their Twitter icon):

live band announcement

Conclusion? This site, while lovely and simple, is actually a bit of a train wreck when it comes to content. So why did I tell my entire Twitter audience—the majority of whom look to me for content strategy guidance and insights—that this was a standout restaurant website?

Because I assumed everyone else’s needs were exactly the same as mine.

Don’t do that.

Do user research (even if it's just talking to a few of your friends who like to eat out). Be diligent about conducting stakeholder interviews. Tool around on competitor websites. Don't just go straight to the exciting pow! of your visual design.

Doing content-focused research (considering product, process, and people) early in any design process—or as an ongoing activity to support iterative content improvements—will keep you from becoming fascinated by your own navel. Because at some point, we all mistake subjective opinions for objective analysis. And, inevitably, you’ll end up alienating some portion of your audience whose needs and preferences are much different from your own.

In closing, I will say that the green curry was quite good.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Curation nation

by Kristina Halvorson

Curation! O hai, new buzzword.

Content strategists, you’re likely already talking about curation. If you’re not, here’s the general premise:

1. There’s too much content out there.
2. Aggregating everything in one place—the “more content =  more information = more value” formula—has been an unmitigated disaster.
3. Somebody—or something—needs to filter results to ensure that the content that’s being delivered to an individual or audience is relevant, useful, and satisfying.
4. Enter curation.

Great. We get that. This is a much better formula: curation = something or someone reviews a bunch of content (or apps) and finds the good stuff so I don’t have to.

But is that actually curation? Let us discuss.

Here’s how Dictionary.com defines it:

Late 14c., from O.Fr. curacion  from L. curationem , noun of action from curare  "to cure" (see cure)

Oh. Well. That’s not very helpful. Let’s try Oxford Dictionary for the verb, “curate”:

To select, organize, and look after the items in (a collection or exhibition).

Ah. I like where this is headed.

Lots of people have lots of ideas about content curation. Here are a few ideas I've curated (or something) from around the interwebs:

Curation works differently than simple search aggregation.  Through advanced data tracking or human intervention, or both, content can be refined so as to be more pertinent to a given search. Rather than returning all the results, curation helps to build a collection of the most valuable results. – Mike Dilberto, Curation: It’s Not Just for Museums Anymore

If you think, as I do, that the mere act of editing adds value, does Google’s new test of human selection vs. algorithmic feed pass from the realm of “mere” aggregation into curation territory? How much value do we have to add before we call ourselves curators? – Ian Greenleigh, Am I Curating Yet?

The curator is an information chemist. He or she mixes atoms together in a way to build an info-molecule. Then adds value to that molecule. – Robert Scoble, The Seven Needs of Real-Time Curators

(I have no idea what Scoble is talking about, but as I’ve never had the opportunity to quote him in this blog before, I thought I’d jump on it here.)

If you're into curation and you want to make it a regular thing, there are some really interesting platforms in place (and more popping up) to support everything from individual to social media to enterprise content curation. And I understand why: if we’re going to invest time and energy in culling through all this content, we might as well invest money in smart tools to help us do it.

Now. There are some folks who believe that content creation "may not result in measurably better content than content curation.” Still others believe the idea of “curation” is a huge copout that allows us to continue to ignore the content mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. Or, as Mike Kane says in his post, Curation: A Dead Idea of Dead Thinking:

“Curation” and “curator” are the new buzzwords the dying dinosaurs of oldthink print publishing are clinging to just like overboarded Titanic passengers clung to skimpy lifebuoys in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic.

(Mmmmm. Delicious mixed metaphors.) Oh, also? You are not a curator:

You are, at best, a filter. You may make a name for yourself by excelling at some kind of selection process, but you are not a curator. “Curator” does not mean “I have good taste”. That just makes you some kind of fleshy gauze for the rest of us. The good come to us whilst all the pus and snot that came through your information media streams stay on your side. You are a makeshift step before a more advanced algorithm is invented.

Dude.

As usual, our position here at Brain Traffic is this: we don’t care what you call it. If it’s needed, just do the work. And I think this activity of content curation is much needed.

As content strategists, it is in fact our job to sort through the wasteland of content—both online and within the organizations we serve—to find the really valuable assets, to organize them in meaningful ways, and to ensure they’re properly cared for over time.

That’s my take on this whole curation situation. What’s yours?

Follow Kristina on Twitter:
@halvorson

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Posted in Uncategorized

A big ol’ list of content strategy resources for you

by Angie King

You know that saying about the cobbler’s kids having no shoes? Yeah. We’re the cobbler, this blog is our shoes. Sorry for the long absence. There are no excuses. However, we’d like to blame it on spring.

One of the things we’ve been lucky enough to do this spring is speak at various conferences around the country. We’ve talked to a TON of great people—from content strategy newbies to CS experts alike. You guys are awesome. And you’re doing great work. Really great.

Many of you have asked us for our list of go-to content strategy resources. So to thank you all for coming out to see us speak, and to facilitate more awesome content strategy work, we’ve compiled this handy list. Enjoy!

CONTENT STRATEGY, STRAIGHT UP
Books

Community

#contentstrategy

BrainTraffic/contentstrategy

Blogs
Check out our blog roll for our favorite go-to blogs. (Blog roll, to the right.)

Other Stuff & Junk

STUFF CONTENT STRATEGISTS SHOULD KNOW
Books

WEB WRITING FTW
Books

Blogs
From Jakob Nielson’s Useit.com:

What did we miss? Please add your favorite content strategy books, blogs, and links in the comments.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Resources, Uncategorized

Top 10 infographic resources

by Christine Benson

We're infographic junkies here at Brain Traffic, and it's not hard to figure out why: Successful infographics are the marriage of great design and useful information. In other words, infographics are visually appealing content.

Converting your information to an infographic benefits your users by communicating your message in a visually compelling form. Whether they show up in internal deliverables or online, infographics seem to get everyone excited. Whenever I'm ready to create a new graphic, I use these resources for ideas and inspiration.

Great Lists from other sites
1.  Smashing Magazine They've done several infographic round-up posts, but this is the one I keep going back to.
2.  Six Revisions There's a strong consumption theme running through this collection. I've sent the coffee and beer graphics around to family and friends on more than one occasion.
3.  Blog of Francesco Mugnai 50 great infographics. Nothing else. 

 Sites dedicated to Infographics
4.  Flowing Data  Great graphics and advice about how to create them. Props to Nathan Yau .
5.  Chart Porn There's a humor category. (swoon)
6.  Cool Infographics  Lots of resources for creating graphics as well as examples. Check out the tips for designing infographics
7.  We love Datavis The browsing on this one is not my favorite (the thumbnails are tough to decipher without clicking), but the graphics they pick are really strong.
8.  How Toons Cartoons are not infographics in the traditional sense, but these are so entertaining I had to include this example.

 Print Infographics
9.  Feltron Annual Report Nicholas Felton does a report every year. It’s pretty amazing.
10.  Good Magazine You know about Good, right? No? Just go there. Go there NOW. 

 Bonus – Interactive graphics!
I know I've already named 10, but I have to end with my all-time favorite interactive infographic. It's the New York Times Olympic Medal count – there's one for the Summer and Winter. They’re both so amazing, I love to go back to them even when it's not an Olympic year.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Resources, Uncategorized, User Experience, Web Content

Free content strategy blog fodder! And a hammer.

by Kristina Halvorson

Yes. Hello.

So, I had a super great post written for you with all these detailed, inspired thoughts about the traveling I've done and the people I've met, but when I tried to do a final save, WordPress ate it. No, my dog did. No, WordPress did. Wait, what?

(You type it in Notes/Word/Notepad, the formatting is wonky when you cut/paste. You type it in WordPress, it eats it. Blogging is dumb.)

Anyhow. Let me get to the point. But before I do, please ignore everything you just read. Because YOU NEED TO BLOG.

Everywhere I go, I'm hammering on people to go after public speaking gigs. Now I'm hammering on you to start writing (or, writing more) about content strategy.

You don't need to have all the answers. You don't even need to have a single answer. Here's a list of what you need:

  1. An interest in content strategy

(That's it. There is no "2".)

So that I may straightaway crush all of your brilliantly-crafted excuses, here's a long list of questions to get you started. I collected these from my Content Strategy Forum workshop participants. The questions range from the tactical to the philosophical. Pick one, and get busy.

I'll do the same.

•  How do you see the relationship between a creative director and a content strategist?

•  "Content strategy" is such a broad term. Do you think we would be better served by breaking it down further, e.g. "editorial strategy" and so on?

•  What's my elevator speech when someone asks me what a content strategist is?

•  How can we partner with global colleagues to create consistent content?

•  Is editorial strategy a subset of content strategy? Or are they the same thing? If not, what's the difference?

•  What are some talking points when building a business case for taking a more strategic approach to content planning?

•  What should we be thinking about when working to implement a content strategy in a multilingual environment?

•  What are some of the most important methods, tools, and templates to know about when developing and executing a content strategy?

•  How can we convince stakeholders to invest in the audit and analysis phases?

•  How can content strategy begin to resolve ownership issues between print content creators and web content editors?

•  How can we sell content strategy as an integral part of the project planning process?

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Posted in Uncategorized

Don’t put content in your users’ blind spot

by Angie King

So, you’ve done your research. You know what content is important to your users. You put that information on your website and pat yourself on the back for providing useful, useable content.

But wait. Don’t congratulate yourself just yet. Because simply putting content on a page doesn't guarantee users will find it. It could be hidden in a "content blind spot."

What’s a content blind spot?
Content blind spots occur when the information is there, but users can’t see it. In general, users scan and skip content, looking for clues before committing to read. But if the clues are missing, users won’t find the content.

Problems that prevent users from finding content include:

  • Information is not where users expect to find it, based on past experiences on that website or the web in general
  • Links do not look like links (e.g., link text not underlined or not blue)
  • Copy is “hidden” inside a graphic element or photograph
  • Page titles and links do not use relevant keywords or common user terms

Just like those little Smart Cars that hide in your Prius’s blind spot on the freeway, content stays unseen until someone changes their position. While driving, that means you or the Smart Car needs to speed up, slow down, or change lanes. Likewise, content stays hidden in a blind spot until either the user changes their approach to accessing the information, or you change the way it’s displayed.

What it’s like to experience the content blind spot
While doing our taxes, my husband asked me how much interest I paid on my student loan in 2009. I went to WellsFargo.com to find out.

I get all my bank-related documents electronically, so I knew right where to find that sort of information—or so I thought. I logged in to my student loan and went to the Statements & Documents tab. Once there, I saw a link called “Available Tax Documents.” Bingo.

 

 
“Hey! I’m looking for information to help me file taxes. The 'Available Tax Documents’ link will give me what I need.” (Click image to enlarge.)
 

Wrong. I went from feeling triumphant to confused within seconds—or however long it took a “Tax document not available online” error message to load.

After a few more failed attempts, I called customer service. A friendly representative walked me through the exact same process I had just gone through. I got the same error message. She was confused. I was confused. She transferred me to another department. The call was disconnected mid-Muzak stream. I was fuming.

I gave up. But my husband was convinced the information had to be online. I handed him my laptop, and wished him luck.

He found the information in two seconds.

 

 
“Oh. The information I was looking for was there along. Now I’m mad at Wells Fargo for making me feel stupid.” (Click image to enlarge.)
 

How the content snuck into my blind spot
I totally missed seeing my 2009 tax info because I had expected to find it in the Statements & Documents tab. Then, the tab rewarded my incorrect assumption by providing an “Available Tax Documents” link.

I didn’t even look for the information on the Account Activity page. Why? Because I was used to looking at a similar page for my checking account, and there is no “interest paid” information there. It’s just a summary of my balance. So why would I look on that page for interest information on my student loan account?

How to avoid the content blind spot

My experience is just one example of how content can “hide” from your user. To avoid this type of content blind spot:

  • Be consistent in where you put similar pieces of content throughout the site
  • Use relevant keywords and user terminology—especially when labeling links and navigation
  • Don’t mislead users with links that don’t deliver what they promise

If you put content in your users’ blind spot, they’ll leave your website feeling angry, confused, and frustrated. And without the information they needed. Not everyone has a husband with eagle eyes, you know?

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

Content Strategy, or, Let’s Make a Mixtape

by Clinton Forry

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

Where’s the fire? And other burning questions about Brain Traffic.

by Project Management Team

The account services team at Brain Traffic gets asked a TON of questions from prospects and clients. After a little Brain(Traffic)storming, our team has selected a few of our top questions.  
 
 “Hi. What do you do at Brain Traffic?”
Short answer: Content strategy and implementation.
In more detail: Content strategists advocate for content that is useful and purposeful. Strategists create the big picture plan from which all other content decisions are based, including messaging, structure, workflow and governance.  
Writers and editors craft smart communication. They carefully select labels and language. They plan for what and how things are said. They are mindful of what doesn’t need to be said.
 
"Can you tell me a little more about how you work?"
First, we want to get to know you and your content. The more we know, the more informed our recommendations are. It might feel like an interrogation, but it’s for your own good. For example:
 
·      What do you like about your website?
·      What don’t you like about your site? Why?
·      What works well?
·      What other websites do you like?
·      How will success be measured?
·      Do you like long walks on the beach?
 
Okay, so maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.
 
The goal is to take a very detailed look at the “what-is” so we can help develop the “to-be.” This way, you’ll get recommendations tailored and designed specifically for you and your site.
 
That’s the thing – our recommendations come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s information architecture, or a style guide, or an editorial calendar, or brand-spanking new copy for your site. Sometimes it’s all of the above. Whatever it is, our process is designed to help you see it all come together and say, “Whoa. Now that’s what I’m talking about.”
 
 “Why on earth do you need all this documentation to work on our project?”
When we initially engage with a client, we request a lot of documentation, including style guides, metrics, competitive analyses, SEO data, org charts, workflow diagrams, etc. All of these documents have a direct impact on content. As our team begins our assessment phase on a project, it’s critical for us to get a grip on any content impact factors.
 
We provide more usable and realistic recommendations when we can fully understand the current state of your content. Although we are the content experts, we rely on you to be the expert on your business. The more information you share with us, the better we’ll be able to address your content pain points in our recommendations.
 
Have something a bit more specific you’d like to discuss? Give us a ring (or any other gift that seems appropriate). Kidding! Just kidding. But seriously, we’re here to help.

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Posted in Project Management, Uncategorized