18 practical content strategy tips in 8 minutes

If (like me) you have been tuning in to the rise of content strategy, but feel a bit lacking in actual practical know-how, then this collection of soundbites and voxpops – wrung by me from the mouths and Twitter accounts of the world’s leading content strategists – is truly the badger’s nadgers.

At last month’s Content Strategy Applied conference, I hunted down asked the keynote speakers, presenters, panellists and attending experts for one single tip they could give that would help people (like me) apply content strategy to their web work. There was also some follow-up Twitter conversation on the subject, which led to a few bonus tips making the final cut.

The full list of interviewees and contributors, with a quick summary of their one piece of advice, follows beneath the video. Which is here:

I’m extremely grateful to the following for contributing:

1. Kristina Halvorson, Brain Traffic: Start asking lots of smart questions about your content. This also helps shift the conversation around it.

2. Ken Yau, Baddit: Ask why! Be a pain in the butt. There should be a justification for content existing.

3. Fiona Perks, Bright Stuff Communications: A good content strategist never forgets about the end user.

4. Julie Mahoney, LBi: Always incorporate different channels – social media, mobile devices.

5. Richard Ingram, Ingserv: Use context to shape your content. Don’t just find out who your audience are. Discover the circumstances and emotions behind their interest.

6. Amy Laskin, Ogilvy: Don’t make assumptions about your users; they will surprise you every time.

7. Rob Hinchcliffe, Hour of Play: Find your hook: immerse yourself in your community, listen to what they’re saying, find the common themes, and then build a narrative around those themes.

8. Nikki Tiedtke, eBay Europe: Before anything, first try to find out who your customer is. Not just users but the client. Understand what they need and why. Don’t jump into solutions.

9. Jonathan Kahn, Together London: Content strategy is half collaboration, advocacy, and organizational change – the deliverables and techniques are useless on their own.

10. Steve Wilson-Beales, MSN Entertainment: Find out what your audience is searching for, what topics are trending on social networks, use autosuggest tools… CS is replying to that need and allows you to create an editorial layer.

11. Kath Ludlow, Bright Stuff Communications: Think about content as the stuff that people are going to use, enjoy, keep, share, react to and act upon. Focus on delivering a strategy that delivers this response on a long-term basis. Then you can’t go wrong.

12. Danny McCubbin, Jamie Oliver online: Be transparent in the content you put up on site. Don’t intervene too much in the community – your audience will tell you if you have got it right or wrong. Be authentic.

13. Chad Butz, Bourne: Get to know the business and marketing objectives inside out and relate all you do back to those, from selling in to analytics.

14. Seth Bindernagel. Mozilla: Localisation: ask do you intend your content to meet a global audience?

15. Lucie Hyde, eBay Europe: Don’t think multilingual think multicultural – language is just the start of localisation.

16. Charlie Peverett, iCrossing: Creating page tables? Make your life a whole lot easier – use mail merge http://bit.ly/gQ7LbS

17. Rahel Bailie, Intentional Design: It’s all about the metadata – it governs everything.

18. Jeff MacIntyre, Predicate LLC: Every content strategist is, at minimum, a professional communicator. This entails two requirements of you. One, never sacrifice clarity on the altar of the buzzword, and two, critical thinking is mandatory – develop a considered point of view (and rationale) for the trends and ideas that matter most to you in your work.

If you liked this video, please do share it. You might also find this CS Applied conference post I wrote for Firehead web recruiters useful: Content strategy in 60 tweets.

So what happened at Content Strategy Applied?

At least that’s what I always want to know from people who go to conferences I miss out on. As one of the three ‘staff’ bloggers at Content Strategy Applied, here’s an overview from where I was sitting (at the back, by the power points – can you spot me?).

IMG_1698

To be honest, I’m still processing my thoughts about it. Having one eye on tweeting for the @csapplied2011 Twitter account and the other on my camera for the conference photo pool, it’s been left to my third eye to think about what went on.

Firstly, it took place in a rather nice location, in Richmond in SW London, in both eBay and PayPal’s offices, right on the River Thames with swans floating by, geese flocking upstream, easy transport links for the conference commute, and plenty of pubs and restaurants for the evening meetup.

Conference location is no small thing for me. If I’m going to attend one, it really helps if it is in a nice venue (with plenty of power points) and an interesting location. Like CS Forum 2010 in Paris last year or SXSWi in Austin, this one ticked the box.

But what about the meat of the event: the talks, the workshops, the panels?

The big coup were the two keynote speakers: Rahel Bailie (who has the ‘perfect storm of content strategy skills’) on day one, and Kristina Halvorson (‘the queen of content strategy’) on day two.

‘If only I had a content strategy…’
Rahel Bailie keynote at CS Applied 2011
Rahel Bailie rounded up lots of cautionary content tales so that we can learn WHAT NOT TO DO with your content, such as: hiding it behind Flash pages, not optimising it for mobile, writing copy full of corporate narcissism, acting like a ‘diva’ with your online fans, and many more.

‘Do you speak content strategy?’
Kristina @Halvorson asks: Do you speak content strategy?

Meanwhile, Kristina Halvorson talked about how we talk about content and the difficulties in explaining content strategy when it isn’t yet fully defined. She gave us a list of metaphors (aka elevator pitches) to explain what it is that content strategists do.

They included: Wall.E, Pixar’s waste-collecting robot, cleaning up the mess that website owners have created; fixing a Crumbling House by doing a survey and making a budgeted plan to rebuild it properly; and content as a fragile plant needing care within a wider ecosystem of communications.

I’ll add the links to their presentations here if/when they get posted.

Content strategy in practice

But the biggest draw of Content Strategy Applied for me was the practical side of how to apply CS in real-life situations. Having recently completed my first content strategy document, I was full of questions. Here was the first conference to go beyond the theory and share the nitty-gritty of content strategy.

That’s why it was great to hear a number of different case studies, each with their own challenges. After several years of theory and banging the content strategy drum, this has been much needed. I personally found the two agencies’ tips particularly useful for general practical advice on content strategy.

The case studies
Monisha Saldanha and Danny McCubbin of Jamie Oliver Online (and Jamie Oliver lurking in the corner)

  1. eBay (Nikki Tiedtke) – a global company in need of a content localisation strategy and a more efficient way to communicate its seller news to 500,000 business users in the EU.
  2. Mozilla (Seth Bindernagel) – faced the issue of finding a strategy that would scale a global community of open source volunteers and localise global products such as Firefox.
  3. Jamie Oliver – how the online team (pictured) manage content for a ‘personality’ brand while engaging with a community of fans that socialise around the brand, producing masses of their own content.
  4. LBi (agency) – Julie Mahoney gave a long list of practical tips from how to get buy-in from the client and their focus on the competitors’ analysis, to the importance of planning and not rushing in.
  5. Bright Stuff (agency) – listed 10 things that they had learnt from working with brands on their content, including (surprising, I think) that ‘generosity is dangerous’ and over-educating the user may send them elsewhere.

Some of these presentations and other from the conference will be available online at Content Strategy Applied site – they’re coming in by degrees, so check back.

Content surgeries
Arrivals
In addition to the case studies were three strands of workshop covering content strategy 101, measurement and localisation, and these were useful in that they gave the delegates a chance to speak. But what I found really helpful were the lunchtime topic round tables.

This surprise element on the conference agenda involved a wedding guest-style seating plan posted on a whiteboard on the second day of the conference.

It offered a series of content surgeries with different experts sitting at a round table in a lunch booth. This gave us the chance to meet speakers and experts face to face, talk about the topic on the table and ask questions.

I sat down with Clare O’Brien of CDA to talk about Google Analytics, keywords and online pop-up surveys. As Clare says, you can measure everything but what do the numbers actually mean: are readers finding the content useful, enjoyable, interesting? Indeed! I came away with a number of ideas about how other drill down into site stats and the knowledge that, for various reasons, I work in a particularly difficult topic area in terms of users and keywords. Ah well.

In summary

For those who didn’t make Content Strategy Applied, check out my Content strategy in 60 tweets post for Firehead Ltd, which rounds up the best of the conference tweets and tips.

There are several more content strategy conferences coming up later in the year. I really hope they involve more ‘show and tell’ advice about the practical side because it seems that the conversation is just getting started – and that it is perhaps getting more difficult and diverse as we try to pin down content strategy for different work situations and client sites.

Contribute a tip!

At some point in the next week or so, I’ll also be editing together some of the video clips I took, asking the experts for their one practical takeaway from the conference. I’ll post it up here on the blog – so if you’d like to contribute a practical tip (in 140 characters), tweet me at @fionacullinan or leave a comment here and I’ll include it on the post.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank eBay and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry for hosting/sponsoring the event, and for having me along as a conference blogger. And, most of all, for the ‘Staff’ t-shirt. I can see this being veeery useful!

The back of @fionacullinan

A case study in content strategy?

CSforum10 workshop
Karen McGrane and Rachel Lovinger present a workshop on content audits at CS Forum 2010 in Paris. © Fiona Cullinan/Flickr

Fascinating as Content Strategy Forum 2010 was two weeks ago, one major thing that came out of it was the need for benchmarked case studies that focus specifically on online content strategy, its effects and its impacts on the development and success of a website.

Serendipity landed Kristina Halvorson (queen of content strategy) next to me at lunchtime on #csforum10 Friday – which, by the way, was a three-course  à la carte lunch with wine. (Bless whoever decided to set the first-ever dedicated content strategy event in Paris in the springtime.)

Content is a hard sell
Halvorson admitted that content strategy can be a hard sell, particularly in an environment that is prioritised for design and development with content requirement boxes full of ‘lorum ipsem’ often only fulfilled with real content at the 11th hour.

There is a lot of advocacy for content strategy going on at the moment to sort out the mess of working this way.

Halvorson herself has spent the last 18 months being very vocal about why something as crucial as content should be considered not only upfront but throughout its lifecycle. She looks for content advocates within organisations to help make the case. And last year, she wrote Content Strategy for the Web, a handbook that outlines a repeatable process to take care of the whole messy content thing.

Finally, the content strategy buzz of 2009 means that clients are starting to request content strategy directly.

Lack of successful case studies
And yet, despite reading the book and saying ‘yes Yes YES’ like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally at the common sense that lies within, the finally page is a massive deflation:

‘At the time of writing, I’m not aware of a single case study available to the public that documents a content strategy successs story.’

It was something she echoed at lunch. Part of this is because projects are often not benchmarked from the outset and then monitored for change arising from content strategy changes. Partly, it’s because content advocates are still trying to get in on the act at an early enough stage.

But expect to see some case studies soon, I think.

Facebook’s content strategy success
It was great, for example, to hear Sarah Cancilla, the solo content strategist at Facebook, talk about some basic content tweaking to make the calls to action clearer on the ‘Get connected’ section. Some simple sub-editing here resulted in an overnight rise of 56% net traffic to those three links and six million more people connecting as a result of the change.

Six million! Now that’s what I call a justification.

Facebook is now also hiring a second content strategist, unsurprisingly.

A multi-tasking discipline
But as a former sub-editor, I’m not surprised. I come from a background of 20 years’ prepping raw copy for an audience, both in print and online, and trying to make it more engaging, clear and understandable for readers.

But content strategy is not just sub-editing and clever writing. And there is still a whole lot of new to take on board…

A content strategist has to get to grips with the disciplines of information architecture, user experience, monitoring and analytics, pinning down key business goals, auditing and analysis, alignment of stakeholders, and so on. All of these inform the choice of content.

It’s a lot to get your arms around, as Halvorson might say.

But forget arms. Since coming back from Paris, I’ve put my legs on backwards and kicked myself up the butt to initiate three content strategy projects for clients. I’m hoping to create a benchmarkable case with one of them in particular.

Fierce Festival as a case study
Fierce Festival
, an internationally renowned arts festival based in the West Midlands since 1997, has become a different beast over the years. It has developed a training arm for artists and consultancy arm for arts organisations. The festival itself is also morphing and this year has two new artistic directors, Harun and Laura.

With their arrival comes a clean slate. Past sites have been archived or taken offline and a blog has been set up as a conversation leading towards a future full-scale festival website, in which all the strands of Fierce will be brought together under one umbrella at last.

I’ve volunteered to help with this from a content perspective. It’s going to be a journey but I’ll be documenting some of the issues involved in trying to unify Fierce’s radical and innovative performance side with its practical training/consultancy side.

Halp!
Of course, I’m learning here too so I’m kind of on my own journey here with content strategy – and the arts, too, since the rest of the week I’m Grant Thornton‘s freelance blogger (they’re a large accountancy firm btw).

I hope the project will be interesting to watch, document or engage with. I should be blogging about it both here and possibly on Fierce’s blog as their journey develops.

Not having been in Birmingham at the same time as Fierce festival, I’m also fresh to it, but would love to hear from fans of Fierce if you want to give me a nudge about something.

(Afterthought: how much will people be looking for Fierce festival stuff on smartphones, do you think? Great slideshare from #csforum10 on optimising content for mobile by Erin Scime. Would hate to see web/blog stuff shovelled onto the small screen.)

Five things I gained at SXSW 2010

Shuffleboard networking
Shuffleboard networking in Austin

After posting about the 12 things I learnt at SXSW 2010, here’s a more practical roundup of the things I came away with.

I gained…

* …some content strategy contacts
This was one of my main reasons for attending. Content strategy was a SXSW Interactive content buzzphrase this year. The content panels were packed out and the queen of content strategy Kristina Halvorson gave a talk that felt more like a keynote presentation. Content is messy and soaks up resource so it makes sense to apply some thinking to it ahead of where it usually gets chiselled in –ie,  right at the end. Anyhoo, there was an impromptu content strategy meetup, in a bar natch, to meet the early adopters. I now have at least two business cards in my biz-card-takehome-pile from people who I feel I can contact for help and advice. Also, Ruth Ward of Rewired PR and I are thinking of setting up a content strategy meetup in Birmingham for those looking to make the leap from web writing/editing, online PR/marketing, UX or IA into this growing field – as you can see on the link, all CS meetups are currently in the US. It’s an opportunity to bring Bham companies ahead of the curve.

* …a spontaneous urge to take up improv
Improv lessons for freelancers has inspired me to sign up for improv, which is not only a bit of fun, but also a confidence-booster when you’re being put on the spot in client-vendor relationships. Having been put on the spot in this session myself by some smart-arse on the front row, I realise I could do with learning to think and process on my feet a bit faster as well as learning the Whose Line Is it Anyway? art of the winning instant comeback.

* …the skill of shuffleboard networking
The great thing about SXSW is that it is more a festival than a conference. You can meet old friends and find new ones ridiculously easily. This year, one of the leading meet spots was at Buffalo Billiards over a game of table shuffleboard (see above). I think I had beginner’s luck with it and opened up some a can of Brummie whoop-ass on various delegates after randomly pairing up with the CEO/founder of TripLittle.

* …some potential work leads
It’s too early to say but I have a meeting lined up in April to do some blogging. And with a bit of luck, it might even lead to some international working. Watch this space. I also hope that all the chat about how digitally connected and determined we are in the West Midlands has fallen on fertile ground. With 25 of us out there shouting about the region, hopefully there will be some positive outcomes from the trip.

* …a haze of insight and context
It’s too early to assimilate all the things I heard and learnt over the five days at SXSW but it will feed into all the work that I do over the next 12 months. It feels kind of like doing an A’Level in a weekend and, at the moment, I’m post-exam with a blank mind, a whole lotta jet lag and the feeling of never wanting to work again.

12 things I learnt at SXSW 2010

I learnt…

* …that Austin looks awesome from the 33rd floor

Frost Tower AustinFringe events outside of the main SXSW programme are occurring all the time. I just found out today for example that there were THREE Twitter parties (not just the official one). But you can often only come across these serendipitously through the people you meet at South-by. One off-programme invite I got was courtesy of Stephanie Frost, a rather lovely marketing lady from Atlanta and co-author of a new book called Marketing Unmasked. Being from Atlanta, she had access to SExSW (which spells Sex SW, I know), a party put on for those hailing from the south-eastern states. Stephanie’s invite took me to the Frost Bank Tower, the second highest building in Austin, for some rather pretty views, chats and a glass of the good stuff up in the 33rd floor penthouse suite.

* …the ABC of douchey panels
Sometimes you just get a panel that doesn’t live up to its blurb. Irritating if you picked that one out of three others that you also wanted to see. It happens; there are hundreds of panels at SXSW. Here are your options:
A. Revel in the backchannel snarking.
B. Leave in search of an alternative or take a sunshine break.
C. Use the time to catch up on your Twitter, emails, feeds, SXSW blog, uploading your SXSW pictures and video, filling in job applications, etc.

* …about the digital agency workflow
Well, one agency’s workflow in particular. I kind of felt sorry for Archetype, the Interactive Agency Workflow panel guys. They had a packed room but killed it by using themselves as the only example. Result? The room emptied by degrees. They also got a slating on the Twitter backchannel. However, being a web writer/editor, I’m often at the end of the digital agency production line and don’t get to see the overall process so this was quite interesting to me. It was good to see the wireframes, hear how not to burn out your staff and some ways of dealing with the post-delivery jubilance that is then crushed by the client hating it.

* …that being called a bitch is good news
I don’t >think< I’ve been called a bitch, but according to @Cinnachick on the #sxswbitch panel, I’m missing out, because this situation is full of WIN. ‘When they call you a bitch, it means you’ve won. Why? Because they aren’t smart enough to continue the conversation,’ she says. Fair point. She loaded this up with a whole list of projects set up by women who haven taken on the establishment in some way to create their projects. Here’s the blog post/slides.

* …that heartbreak and wonderful things often occur simultaneously
The Fray Café is a SXSW regular. It’s an event where people stand up on stage and tell stories, ­with only one proviso: IT MUST BE TRUE. Having had a couple of crap years here and there myself, several stories really resonated. One in particular from Baratunde Thurston, Web & Politics editor at The Onion, was both amusing and tragic at the same time. The audience was sworn to secrecy due to the personal nature of the story, but I was reminded of 1996 – the year I lost my Dad, uncle and grandmother, but also found one of my favourite friends and went off to explore the world. HsAPaPdY.

* …that the average blog is read by 6 people
That stat from Danah Boyd’s keynote. So think about that the next time you feel pressure or guilt to produce a blog post for your audience but should really do other, more important things instead.

* …to JFDI!
Am I a video blogger? No. But Social Wayne impressed on me to ‘JUST DO IT’ in his Becoming a Real-Time Video Blogger in 2010 talk and, you know what, I think I will. After all, YouTube is the No2 search engine, the 4th most visited website, has over 20 hours of video uploaded every minute and is watched for 8.3 hours every month by the average viewer. I also remember randomly overhearing in the corridors: ‘There are just too many words, man!’ So, my takeaway: more video. (And here I am in real-time trying to video blog after 22 hours no sleep on the train to Austin…)

*…two new words
Propinquity is the coincidence of being near – in ‘physical proximity, a kinship between people, or via a similarity in nature between things’. This was brought up by Peter Kim in the Social Business Design panel. Propinquity is what business has to fight/extend/engage with in order to get people to venture beyond their near friends/family. Twelpforce was an example quoted as helping creating this engagement and getting close to consumers by offering a Twitter help squad to answer questions beyond the local store experience. Slacktivist was another word from the Little NGO That Could panel but for some reason this type of portmanteau word reminds me too much of chillaxin’. Bleugh.

* …that content strategists are like WallE
We go around cleaning up the Armageddon-like mess of crap that has been thrown up on the Web often without a thought by brands, marketers and others. And when we find something beautiful amongst the endless crap we get all excited and want to store it and share it. The WallE analogy was used by Kristina Halvorson to bookend her Content Strategy FTW talk.

*…about porn startups
I think #futuresmut was one of the catchier hashtags of SXSW this year and the potential for a smutty backchannel loomed large, especially when an attendee arrived wearing an above-the-knee kilt. While the backchannel (surely a smutword in itself) had a humour fail, the panel did with get right down-to-business (#smutgalore) with pointers for the wannabe pr0n kings and queens in the Hilton Ballroom. Conrad Hilton must be turning in his grave. Here’s what the man in the kilt doodled during the panel by the way – check out the hairy knees.

* …that journalism is getting interesting again
The panel on combining news with context (how revolutionary!), or context with attached news, had some great speakers. What seems clear is that big organisations ar failing to do this well because they are constrained by their traditional roles – which leaves opportunities for the agile. The other interesting thing was The Newspaper Club – a 4IP-funded tool called ARTHR for producing your own newspaper on those ‘magnificent bits of infrastructure that are just lying around’ – printing presses . I heard more than one classic Austin ‘awesome’ when people circulated the ‘limited edition’ newspaper the group had printed at 7am that morning on the Austin Statesman presses. As the endline of the presentation went: ‘We have broken your business, now we want your machines.’ How funny that the internet is accelerating content in the form of old-school newspapers, and how great that these newspapers are made by the readers themselves using traditional publishing infrastructure.

* …that we are networking as Rome burns
Sci-fi author Bruce Sterling traditionally does the final remarks of SXSW and this year his dour look into the future added a fat dollop of real-world context to all us little digitalists running from panel to panel, searching for answers to today’s business conundrums. But in essence we must face the digital demonetisation of our new world – many business models are broken and the numbers involved in their replacements are not large enough to sustain us. Oh and we will be hated by future generations for what we are building or throwing away now – just to warn you.

Tomorrow: the practical gains of attending SXSW this year. [UPDATE: now blogged at Five things I gained at SXSW 2010].

SXSW Wordle spells ‘Content people want’

SXSW Wordle I took 16 pages of notes at SXSW Interactive festival this year. It’s hard to get your head around all the difference panels, talks, core conversations and notes-to-self but I think this Wordle shows something of what I was getting from and attending at South By in 2010.

It’s particularly interesting that the top three words are: ‘Content people want‘. I guess that’s the key and secret to online enterprises.

There is more to blog tomorrow ahead of the long plane ride home. PS. You can click on the link to see a larger version of the Wordle.

SXSW – the Glastonbury of conferences

SXSW badge pickupA little SXSW diary catchup… It’s the halfway point of SXSW Interactive and I’m still gearing up into this festival to end all web festivals.

Here’s my personal/business mission statement for this year’s event – slightly different from last year as I’m being part-funded to attend by the UK’s Digital Mission along with about 25 others from the West Midlands. See the Heart of Austin site for more on who we are – but with a trade show stall the size of the UK’s stand and no other UK region represented here, you can see how much Birmingham UK values the digital dollar and I think is also representative of what a digitally connected hub the Midlands is.

SXSW Diary: from Miami to Austin
Arrived into Austin on Thursday at 9.30 am after 22 hours of train travelling from New Orleans and 25 hours of no sleep – you can see the state of me in this ‘Let’s look at the brewery’ video as I fail spectacularly to be a tourist guide to San Antonio from the train.

There will also be content going up on my travel blog, Tourist vs Traveller,  about my Amtrak train and Greyhound road trip from Miami to Austin via Atlanta, Birmingham and New Orleans. But mainly about the 24 hours this Brummie spent in our namesake city, Birmingham Alabama.

I’m also adding to my Flickr picture set as the days go by: SXSW2010 and USA2010 – if you want to see the trip that led up to the festival and see what Birmingham, Alabama looks like.

Thursday/Friday saw badge pickup – where I learnt that it pays to be late. Never to turn up at the listed time but at least two hours later if you want to avoid the queues.

First panels: mobile UX and improv lessons

Watching a keynote simulcast
Watching Danah Boyd's keynote simulcast in an empty hall because all my panels were oversubscribed

My kick-off panel was the UX of Mobile, which is a whole new world of design, dev and content and one that may lead website design in future rather than the other way round. In future, mobile design will be a key driver in all digital design, was the expert view, because shrinking down website to fit on a small screen (surprise, surprise) doesn’t work.

I spent most of this panel, however trying to track down a certain Bharath Kumar who had left his memory stick on a corridor floor by a power socket. It was like trying to solve a mystery. You’d think everyone at SXSW would be easily findable on the Web, but I tell you, Bharath Kumar is a VERY common name. In the end we found his mobile number somewhere on the stick and texted him. And he lived happily ever after.

The afternoon’s best session was Improv Lessons for Freelancers – and has inspired me to take up improv if there are any such sessions in Birmingham UK… This is not just about how to be charming to your clients but how to, for example, say yes positively to their ‘Make it pop’ requests without actually committing yourself to a bad design decision – or extra unpaid work.

How to network at SXSW
Over a margarita, of course. Thursday evening was the SXSW West Midlands networking dinner at the Iron Cactus, the social and business bonding oiled by the drink of SXSW: the margarita. Parties are another major feature of SXSW.

I’m a relative new arrival into Birmingham’s digital scene – see September 2009’s Why I am moving back to Brum – so it was good to cement a few friendships and to let people know that I’m a web writer, web editor and content strategy person who can plug into the commercial scene in Birmingham and create content for clients/agencies that need a professional web writer/editor.

The serendipitous Glastonbury effect

Why Keep Blogging panel
Why Keep Blogging panel

Saturday was a frustrating day. Every panel I chose to attend had a mile-long queue to get in.

But this is where SXSW reminds me of Glastonbury in that it’s all good. If you can’t get to something you want to see because it’s over the other side of the site and four floors up, or it’s oversubscribed, then there are some great little gigs right next to you. It may not be your subject but you can still take away something from it.

Critical Tits, for example, was an interesting one – a conversation where the Burning Man festival was being called to account for its new and tight restrictions on photography, where they see anything shared to a wider audience as ‘commercial use’. I think the move has stemmed from people snapping naked female artists and those shots appearing on porn sites. But the clamp down seems excessive and controlling being applied across the board as it is. I may be wrong on this, I didn’t get the full lowdown as the session was interrupted by an emergency fire alarm and evacuation of the whole Austin Convention Center.

I also attended Why Keep Blogging by some of the original superstars of blogging (SXSW is great for attracting big names) and How to Create a Viral Video – which was (possibly) more fun than useful but made by the attendance of Damian Kulash of OK Go viral video fame.

How to create a viral video
I think OK Go’s music has become secondary to their videos, but, OMG, This Too Shall Pass is a damn fine video. It starts with domino toppling and ends in the most astonishing series of pop music Mousetrap that you will ever, ever see. Ever.

An incredible idea if you can afford the 60 engineers and six months it took to make. Although the point was made that the record company couldn’t afford it but commercial sponsors State Farm Insurance could – and got very positive comments from the millions who have seen the video. And the only product plug was their logo on the side of a truck that sets the first domino falling, plus a credit at the end.

Now that’s what I call marketing 2010!

Content Strategy FTW!

Kristina Halvorson
Kristina Halvorson presents Content Strategy FTW!

Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy FTW was the highlight of my day. I received a major info download that is currently swirling around my head so will post another time on that.

Over the next year, I’m looking at employing content strategy for We Are Fierce in Birmingham and helping them to bring their festival, consultancy and training arms all under one unified web presence over the next year.

I’m not sure what will result, but it’s going to be interesting as few organisations pay this much attention to the haphazard and messy world of content. We shall bring order! And the basic premise is ‘Less is More’.

Will also be attending CS Forum 2010 – an entire conference devoted to the growing discipline of Content Strategy.

Daily Strangeness from Dorkbot to Kick-Ass

Dorkbot with dorkhat
Dorkbot with dorkhat

Finally, last night was fun. After a brief stop-off at the Dorkbot tent to twiddle some knobs (here I am with a BleepLabs Thingamagoop), we were hijacked on Sixth Street into a cab for an interview for (I think) DVD bonus features for a new superhero flick. SXSW Film Festival saw the premiere of Kick-Ass – a superhero movie based on a comic book of the same name – we signed our Hollywood movie waiver and proceeded to be drilled about what type of superhero skills we would have and who’s ‘ass’ would be like to kick and why, as we were driven around the streets of Austin in a cab emblazoned with Kick-Ass all over it.

It was one of those mad, interstitial Glastonbury moments that is tertiary to the main event but one of the things you remember most. After all, the slogan and ethos of this city and this festival is ‘Keep Austin weird’.

Off now to enjoy Tuttle at SXSWi, an inaugural Content Srategy meetup, Fray Café tonight and see what else Sunday brings. It’s going to be fun.

10 expert tips on email marketing

Rough of an e-newsletterIf you’ve ever had the job of putting your marketing email, ezine or e-newsletter together – whether designing the format, writing the blurbs, testing different subject lines or segments, sending it out to subscribers, dealing with unsubscribes – 7 Proven Tactics to Increase Response for your Email Campaigns seemed the session to attend at Search Engine Strategies 2010 London.

Having spent much of last year producing a monthly email across nine segments for a major car insurance and breakdown company, I was interested to hear latest best practice and get some inspirattion. After all, we tracked KPIs, tweaked designs, improved clarity on calls to action buttons, yadda yadda blah blah, and saw a leap in click-throughs. But what else could we have done?

Tamara Gielen, Independent Email Marketing Consultant, who ran email programmes for eBay among others, had some ideas. She promised seven tactics in the presentation but instead, I counted 30. So there’s lots to know, too much to reproduce here.

Here are 10 bulletpoints.

  • Sell your email programme on the website – don’t just have a button asking them to subscribe to your email but clarify the offer on the button, eg, ‘train me to profit’, ‘be the first to know our special offers’, ‘free email tips’, and so on. Agencies may need to advise the client to do this if emails are outsourced.
  • Tell them why you are asking for their info on the sign-up form (perhaps add a ‘why are we asking this?’ button on the page). Be transparent, it builds trust.
  • Welcome your new subscribers – send a welcome email within 24 hours, when they are highly engaged. Let them know, ‘This is what we are going to be sending you.’ Ask them to do something (of benefit to them) and send them back to your site.
  • Listen to your unsubscribers – they will tell you what they don’t want. Maybe they don’t want to fully unsubscribe but are fed up of your monthly email outs. So give them the option of getting less emails on the unsubscribe page, eg once a week/month. Or just email seasonally, even just once a year, when they are likely to be shopping for your service or product. Better this, than losing them altogether.
  • Give ‘unsubscribe’ alternatives – eg if emails are unsuitable, ask them to sign up for an RSS feed, suggest a ‘follow us on Twitter’ option or to become a Facebook fan, would they like to sign up for the catalogue – offer alternative channels for you to communicate with them.
  • Use social networks to grow your list – eg, encouraging your customer to become a fan on Facebook means other people see that in their newsfeed. Why is that interesting? Make it interesting, eg, Papa John’s on Facebook offered a free pizza if you become a fan and won a million more subscribers to their email  as a result.
  • Allow subscribers to share your content via share buttons to help acquisition. First figure out where your audience is, eg, B2B is great for LinkedIn. B2C may be on Facebook, Twitter, etc. But remember people will only share links if there is something of value in the content.
  • Emails do not have to be weekly or monthly – use triggers, eg, a Birthday trigger, such as ‘Fiona, Birthday greetings from [brand], here’s a [discount/freebie/offer] to celebrate.’
  • Subject line length/content – include the most important message in first 4-5 words, ask questions, sell benefits, and include an urgency.
  • When should you send your email? – think about when your customers are likely to be browsing and when buying, eg, a retail email may do better at the weekend when people are free to click through and buy. But test your timings. Tamara sends hers at 9.30 on a Monday morning – because few send at this time (the bulk of emails is sent on Wednesdays/Thursdays). Stand outs from your competitors. Also she notes that many have a 9am start and are going through emails at this time – her email then pops up on top (she has 50% open rate by the way).

Images: © Maxpower/Flickr

I’m launching a new travel blog

It’s been two years since I started my first travel blog, What To Wear Where, in an effort to answer the niche packing question: ‘What do you wear in trendy Reykjavik in below-freezing December?’ While I still think the idea of packing help for any destination/event still has legs, and the blog still brings in a fairly steady stream of traffic, without a community to fuel the ideas, What To Wear Where sort of got stuck in the doldrums.

So I’m going back to basics. I’ve set up a new blog as a playground for my travel journalism. It’s called Tourist Vs Traveller (not for any deep and meaningful reason but because it was free) and you’ll find it at http://touristvstraveller.wordpress.com/.

Playing with travel journalism…
Playing with travel journalism…

Crowdsourced and client-led content
The first experiment is that I hope the content will be led by others – and my opening post is asking for your input. I’m soliciting views about what kind of content to publish because I don’t want the content solely to be defined by me as a journalist. It could be anything, I am open to suggestions. What I do want to do, though, is use it as a place to experiment with lots of lovely Web tools. With a background in digital client publishing, I’m also interested in travel companies who want me to create online content for their offering – not marketing fluff, but the real stories behind the PR, the kind of content that DOES help people decide to buy your product – or not! Y’know, useful stuff.

The problem with travel writing
So what travel writing is out there right now? On the Web, we have trip blogs, review sites and an avalanche of whinging UGC that is rapidly becoming meaningless as a way to make buying decisions. There are also some nice up and coming blogs from travel journalists and bloggers – I’ll be adding them to the blog roll as time goes by. In print, we have standard travel narratives and a limited number of news items published by newspapers and magazines and written by a rather exclusive club of commissioned travel journalists (or staff writers on a freebie). And on TV, we have an increasing amount of celebrities and comedians being sent off around the globe in the name of entertainment.

What is harder to find is a middle-ground between Jo Bloggs naming and shaming their hotel and the angled/subjective narrative of the commissioned travel writer/presenter.

Finding fresh ways to tell the story
Where I do find decent content, I’ll be linking to it though. I suspect that, for now and for a while, it will be possible to aggregate good examples of experimental travel journalism.

But I think there is also room for journalistic content that goes behind the scenes of a travel product, that tells stories that the newspaper doesn’t have room for, or that revisits classic stories from new angles using audio, video, slideshows, aggregated content and social media. It would be great to break out from the form – after all, traditional travel writing is itself rather stuck in the doldrums, in style and structure, in privileged points of view, and because collapsing print budgets mean fewer outlets and options for travel journalists

And I think that the travel industry could potentially pay for this content now that their outlets for print editorial are shrinking – to explain, here’s my earlier posting on a potential new business model for travel journalists.

So that’s it for now. Please visit the blog and post your comments. I’ve got the first couple of posts up – all about the nonsense of tourism slogans inspired by two days spent at the World Travel Market (WTM) in November.

And especially for Brummies, there’s a winning marketing slogan from St Johns Hotel, Solihull at the end of Around the world in 44 tourism slogans.