Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson, a Book Review

Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson

Kristina Halvorson has really got something here.

Content Strategy for the Web is a short, snappy read that combines information about Content Strategy as a discipline with tips and tricks for throwing a lasso around your own company/site’s content.

Kristina Halvorson
content-strategy-burger (Photo credit: raphaelle_ridarch)

Kristina Halvorson is essentially the doyenne of Content Strategy. Her main ideas:

  • You probably need less content and not more.

Figure out which content you’ve got and archive whatever isn’t working for you, e. g. fulfilling some sort of purpose. Good purposes include building trust and expertise, answering customer questions and facilitating sales. Not such good purposes are things like get some content out there because we’re naked without it!

Archive that Stuff!

  • For whatever currently published content that does not fulfill a good purpose, either archive it or get rid of it entirely. It does not help you, and it may very well harm your company.

Get Organized

  • Get someone in charge of content. Not surprisingly, a Content Strategist comes to mind but definitely get someone to steer the ship.
  • Listen to the customers and the company regarding content. The company may be setting out content that’s confusing to the users. The users may be asking for something that can’t quite work. It may or may not be in the company’s best interests to fix either problem, but at least you’ll know what the issue is and,
  • Start asking why content exists out there in the first place.

This process begins with a content audit, e. g. know what you’ve got out there. Then talk to the users. And, once these processes are completed, one can start to think of a strategy.

Yes, it’s really that much time before actually creating any content. Why? Because doing the ramp-up now will save a lot of headaches later. Think it’s a bear to audit and check every single piece of content on your site now? How are you going to feel about it next year?

I bet you’d be thrilled to only have as much content to deal with as you have right now, at this very moment. So start swinging that lasso now. It’s time to audit.

I have to say, while I can see where Ms. Halvorson is coming from. Furthermore, there was also a large chunk of the book devoted to, essentially, justifying the Content Strategist’s existence. And perhaps this is necessary with a new discipline — I don’t know. But it does make for an edge of defiance, e. g. this discipline is good enough!

It is. Don’t worry.

Rating

4/5

 

Writing

Writing

Writing rules.

Writing
The Nano Rhino says… (Photo credit: mpclemens)

The Before Time, Where There was Weeping and Wailing, and Gnashing of Teeth

One aspect of my career transition consists of writing a lot more.

And I found that I had truly missed it.

Sure, I had typed tons and tons of stuff before. But a lot of it covered such thrilling topics as documenting queries, or making lists of terms used by public service officers. It very rarely encompassed topics with wit, or style. And I certainly did not have permission to make up any of it.

NaNoWriMo, I Love You

I had known about NaNoWriMo for a while, but hadn’t thought I had anything to offer.

In 2013, I woke up with an idea during the last week of October. I created a wiki and an outline for it, and signed up.

And I wrote. And wrote. Writing

Then about halfway through the month, I had finished. By the end of the month, the story was edited.

Now the Real Fun Begins

Writing

Because, yes, it was published.

It was and is the right thing to do, and the right path.

In addition, it feels fun. And it feels exciting. It feels like it’s a fit.

Furthermore, it does not feel like something where I’m stretching to fit into someone else’s idea, or parallel someone else’s vision. And I certainly don’t feel like I was going through the motions. In addition, it does not feel like ho-hum, same old-same old.

It feels right. And it feels honest. So it feels free. It feels good.

And it feels like it’s about damned time already.

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Book Review – Communicating Design by Dan M. Brown

Communicating Design by Dan M. Brown

As a part of the required readings for my User-Centered Design course at Quinnipiac University, I purchased Communicating Design by Dan M. Brown. The book is … okay.

Communicating Design

Communicating Design by Dan M. Brown
Communicating Design by Dan M. Brown (cover image is from Amazon)

User-centered design is the act of putting together websites in a way that users will understand them quickly. The last thing a website owner should want is for users to be scratching their heads over how things work. Or, worse, leaving because a site is so frustrating.

Communicating Design by Dan M. Brown  takes this idea and brings it back to site development. That is, the reader is given the tools for presenting designs and their various documentations while a site is still in its nascent format.

Documentation

The book spends a lot of time talking about design documentation. While this is all well and good and appropriate, the book also spends a lot of time talking about how to present these various documents at meetings. I have conducted numerous meetings in my career, and so this felt superfluous. But it’s not just that I have the experience; it’s also that the basics of presenting a document at a meeting were iterated and reiterated. After a while, I hope that a designer would understand how to be diplomatic and good at explaining designs and documents and descriptions. Repeating this information grew tiresome in short order. While it is possible that the intention was for the chapters to be used as standalones, the basics of presenting in a meeting were already there. Why not just tell the reader to check back in Chapters One and Two?

He thoroughly explained many documents, though, and about one-quarter of the way through the book, I realized that the process of design resembles that of iterative software development. Stop, start, tweak, start again, etc.

The document types presented were as follows:

  • Personas
  • Concept Models
  • Site Maps
  • Flowcharts
  • Wireframes (this was rather helpful to me)
  • Deliverable basics
  • Design Briefs
  • Competitive Reviews
  • Usability Reports

My rating would have gone higher if I had not already been there, done that, with so much of what was covered in this book. It’s a good, thorough resource for beginners.

Rating

3/5

The Future of Lonely Writer and Adventures in Career Changing

The Future of Lonely Writer and Adventures in Career Changing

The Future

The future? Well, more specifically, I mean the future of the Lonely Writer website.

Adventures in Career Changing | Lonely Writer | Speculating about the Future
Speculating about the Future

Wait, what?

So as some readers may recall, I started that website as my capstone project at Quinnipiac University. I needed the project in order to graduate with a Master’s in Science in Communications (social media). Well, graduation happened in August of 2016. However, I had paid for the domain until the end of March of 2017. It seemed silly to try to cancel early.

But now it’s March of 2017.

Changes

Hence I want to change things up. My life has gotten considerably more busy since I graduated. I currently hold down four part-time work from home jobs, all centered around various tasks having to do with blogging. I also podcast every month and I blog for that podcast and for its parent podcast. Furthermore, I still blog about social media and even about fan fiction.

In addition, I still write and still work. I always try to get more of my work published. As a result, I just plain don’t have the time for yet another domain. Most noteworthy, I’d also like to save a few bucks. This project does … okay. Yet Adventures in Career Changing does better.

Therefore, I realized: I should combine the two.

What Will Happen?

The Lonely Writer YouTube channel and Facebook groups will both live on. And the Twitter stream won’t be going away, either. They do not require as much work as a separate blog. Plus, they are also free of charge. I am only talking about the other domain and those particular blog posts.

So, where are they going? Why, they are coming here! As a result, the blog URLs will change, and the blog posts themselves will be removed for later re-posting. I will change them up, too, so they will be more up to date. That’s all. So don’t worry, okay? That advice and that work will not go away. It’ll all just move here, down the street. I am excited about the move. I think it will help to freshen up Adventures without losing the focus, which is altering my career and also embracing social media. And the writing-related posts, of course, will give that more of a writing bent. That’s all.

Thank you so much for reading.

Podcasting for Fun and Possibly Some Profit

Podcasting

Podcasting can get you to a wider audience. It’s a different medium from what you might be used to. And it offers practice and the opportunity to polish some skills that you, the writer, might not have realized you needed, such as thinking on your feet and being an interview subject.

Getting Started

What do you need for podcasting? This image is a pretty good summary of what you need –

Podcasting
Podcast 1 (Image by user Tim Wilson on Wikimedia Commons). File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The good news is that you have most of this stuff already. In fact, you don’t even need everything that’s in the image.

Computers

It doesn’t seem to matter too much which type of computer you use. You really just need an Internet connection. You will need some speed, so dispense with dial up if you’re still using it (someone out there is, right?). I would, though, recommend using an actual computer as opposed to a phone for podcasting, as the resultant file is going to be huge.

Microphones

The image shows a studio-style mic, but the truth is, you don’t need to get quite so fancy. My own microphone is part of a headset from an outfit called Hama. I know I bought it a few years ago. It works just fine and most importantly, the mouthpiece is adjustable. You want adjustability because, inevitably, you’re going to sneeze or cough, or the phone will ring or whatever.

Software

To be able to talk to your fellow podcasters on your show, or to your guests, you’ll need some software. Essentially what you are looking for is chat. My team and I like to use TeamSpeak. I imagine you could do as well with Yahoo! or Facebook chat. Just make sure that whatever you are using is private. Oh, and turn any sound notifications off.

If you’re going to put your podcast on YouTube (I think this is generally a good idea), you’ll need software for that, too. I use software that comes from my school, Screencast-o-matic. The school also uses TechSmith Relay but I prefer Screencast-o-matic. Either way, you want software which allows you to record a fairly long video.

You may not think that you need any sort of visual art software, but I beg to differ. At minimum, your podcast needs a logo or at least a slide that you can slap onto the front of your YouTube video. Photoshop or Gimp is ideal, but Paint or even Microsoft PowerPoint can do in a pinch.

Image Permissions

If you are going to use an image that you didn’t make, check the license! I like to use Wikimedia Commons as a lot of their images have open licenses or they just require an attribution and nothing more. Remember – just because an image exists online and you can right-click and save it, does not mean that you have permission to use it! When in doubt, use one of your own images. I like to use scenery images if I don’t have a logo. Scenery can even be something really tiny, such as one flower bud.

For sound editing, the beauty of TeamSpeak is that it allows for sound recording. But you will still need to trim something or other. I have Audacity though I admit I don’t use it for much (I don’t do the sound editing for our podcast). But Audacity is otherwise useful.

Practice

You should practice before you try to go anywhere with podcasting. It doesn’t need to be long or involved. Get to know the software. For example, TeamSpeak allows for a push to talk feature. Use it! This will help a lot when you are recording, as you need to consciously press a button for any sound to come out. Practice using this until it’s second nature.

Use Audacity, and record yourself saying something simple and scripted. It can be a nursery rhyme or the like. You don’t want to be doing this for more than a minute or so.

The idea here is to listen to playback. Can you be understood? Are you too breathy? Does your accent push through a bit too much? Do you talk too fast? Every single one of these issues can be fixed, including the accent.

Fix Your Audio

Generally, you will need to slow down and enunciate. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun, but at least in the beginning you’ll want to talk more slowly, in particular if you have a thick accent. If you’re too breathy-sounding, try bringing the mic farther away from your mouth. As for outside noises, you’ll need to close windows and doors, put pets outside, and turn off fans and space heaters. Set your phone on mute.

When you work with co-hosts, practice with them at least once. Remember to not talk over them and, if you’re laughing at their jokes, you need assure that even your laughter is being recorded.

Hosts and Guests

Consider your subject and your potential audience. On the G & T Show, we talk about Star Trek and Star Trek Online. This includes the novels and cosplay. We will also branch out to talk about other gaming and other science fiction. Having this broad a topic but with its own limitations makes it fairly easy to come up with show ideas. As for guests, our hosts network at conventions, in the STO game, and on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Cohosts

A co-host is an extremely good idea, as otherwise you’re talking to yourself a lot. While you could carry a show by yourself, it’s a lot easier if you don’t have to. Three hosts tends to be a really good number, particularly if the third is not too active. You’ll quickly find your hosts unconsciously dividing into three groups:

  1. The talker – this person won’t necessarily stay on topic all the time, but they can fill dead air.
  2. The organizer – this person understands creating a theme and keeping the show on target. This person often remembers to thank the guests.
  3. The utility infielder – this person can chime in and also cover if either of the first two cannot podcast. Along with the organizer, this person often performs research and gathers potential podcast material in advance.

Guests

As for guests, consider your circle, both online and off. You can podcast without guests, and you will most likely need to get a few under your belt before anyone will want to visit.

However, when you do get guests, the usual details apply, e. g. be polite, give them ample time to plug whatever they want to plug, and prepare questions for them in advance. If your guest writes, for example, you might want to talk about the themes in their book, where they get their inspiration, how long they’ve been writing, and how they first became published. Think outside the box and consider guests a little removed from your basic subject. Hence if your subject is books and writing, why not have a cover artist on as a guest, or a professional editor? Maybe feature a literary agent or a representative from a publishing house.

Extras

At G & T we have a Streaming page and use a minicaster. This also includes a hosted chat room – the show broadcasts live and the audience can listen and follow along in the chat room. This is not necessary, but it’s fun.

Blogging

We also blog about the show, which means that we take notes (in our case, the utility infielder does this). The blog is a great place to get the URLs in that we may have talked about but our audience might not have gotten the first time we mentioned them. With the blog, we can just make clickable outbound links. We also make sure that a player is embedded into the blog, so that a reader can listen to the show if they would prefer that.

Distribution

We always upload our podcast to not only iTunes, but also MixCloud and YouTube. These spread our broadcast even further. We use a regular logo card as the image accompanying our YouTube videos. For special interviews, we make different images, usually with our guest’s provided headshot.

To introduce new segments, we use bumpers. These are just short (less than half a minute long) introductions to various segments (e. g. Star Trek News). Ours consist of our utility infielder’s niece giving the title of the segment and then some introductory music that we have permission to use (always get permission or make sure that music is public domain!). Bumpers help because they provide a smooth transition between segments and they can cover up any ragged transitions. We splice these into the completed file. Our announcer girl has also recorded our intro and our credits portion (with music we can use), so we added these as a part of post-production. Again, these provide recognizable transitions for our audience.

Promotions

We promote our show on social media, with mainly our YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. We also have Tumblr, Google+, and Pinterest accounts but use them less. Our main promotions come from YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. We also promote at conventions, including a table at Star Trek Las Vegas for the past few years.

Why Not Podcast?

So what are you waiting for? Why not give podcasting a try?

Janet Gershen-Siegel is freelance social media marketer and a Master’s degree candidate (Interactive Media, ’16) at Quinnipiac University. Her novel, Untrustworthy, was published by Riverdale Avenue Books in 2015 and is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback editions.

Feeding the Content Monster

Feeding the Content Monster

Content Monster?

I don’t mean the happy, contented monster. Because that one wouldn’t need any feeding.

I mean the concept of adding content regularly.

Content Monster

I enjoy writing about as much as, perhaps, any blogger. But sometimes the words just don’t come. And, in the meantime, you need to be pumping out content! C’mon, chop chop! What the devil is wrong with you? Why aren’t you yammering, 24/7, like you’re supposed to?

Egad, it’s enough to put you off your feed. Or, at least, put you off blogging.

Case in Point

Content Monster
Write (Photo credit: spaceamoeba)

I used to write for the Examiner. Here is a nice recent post I wrote. I like writing, and I enjoy writing about my weight loss. However, there are days when I’m just not feelin’ it. It does not help when I have gained some weight (a perfectly normal part of weight loss maintenance, I might add).

I was supposed to post every month. And I do so. I liked having an active status there, even if it was fairly marginal by the end. It’s not like I was buying groceries with my big earnings from there. And, truthfully, they did pay me one time. It thrilled me at the time. These days, I want an actual salary for my musings. Hence a pittance from the Examiner, while considerably better than a kick in the teeth, stopped cutting it.

And it was not enough for them, anyway. Instead, they would send me a reminder every two weeks.

Whining

This being constantly reminded never gave me content ideas. Going to their content idea bank never gave me ideas, either, although I knew they tried and did not fault them for that. I tend to zig when I should be zagging (or perhaps it’s the other way around). And, in the meantime, being prodded every fortnight never made me a happy blogger.

Instead, it made me feel like I was listening to a spoiled, petulant child who was dissatisfied with what I had provided, and only wanted more, more, more!

I gave you a Honda. And now you want a BMW? Cripes. Leave me alone.

Solutions

So far as I’m concerned, there are three real solutions for feeding the monster.

  1. Make a list, brainstorming, of everything that could possibly, ever, be associated with your topic. This list will change as time goes by, as you evolve, as the sun sinks slowly in the west, etc. etc. Refer to the list often, and record when you’ve written about a particular subtopic. Let’s take my old weight loss column, shall we? The list included things like carbs, aerobic exercise, running 5K races, shopping for clothes, etc. If I last wrote about clothes shopping in 2010, then I could write about that activity again. If I last wrote about it last week, though, then forget it. So I would need to cast about for something else. Keep updating the last, even splitting out larger topics if that’s appropriate. The subject of clothes shopping could divide by season. Or write one post just devoted to buying a swimsuit.
  2. Strike while the iron is hot. That is, if you’re feeling inspired, don’t just write the current  blog entry. If you’ve got the time, write the next five. Just go until you run out of gas.  Any blogging software worth its salt provides the ability to schedule posts in advance. Take advantage of this.
  3. Repurpose, repackage, reply, rethink. Go online. Look at others’ takes on your topic. There are few new topics under the sun. Someone has written about your topic – I can practically guarantee that. And that’s fine. Just don’t out and out plagiarize. But I don’t see any laws against referencing someone else’s blog or article on a topic and then expanding on it.

Upshot

Nourish the beast when you can, for there will be fallow times, and you must prepare for them. And, when it works for you, even silence can be golden. After all, if you’ve got absolutely nothing to say, who needs to hear that?

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Online Personas and Cyber Infidelity, Oh My!

Online Personas and Cyber Infidelity, Oh My!

Cyber Infidelity?

The Cambridge News reports that author Sophie Hannah has conducted a survey of Twitter, OKCupid and other sites, in conjunction with just plain out and out asking people – is online infidelity worse than in-person infidelity?  

Cyber Infidelity
Suspected of Infidelity (Photo credit: Lex Photographic)

Results

Her results were mixed.

Some of the respondents saw less harm in a relationship where the parties never actually, physically, met. Others saw it as being more or less the same as a physical affair, or at least an emotional one.

Hannah performed the research for her book, The Telling Error. She says,

The thing about Twitter is that everything is on there, so whatever you’re interested in is there. But it is capable of being incredibly nasty. I noticed that whenever somebody either does something wrong or offends somebody, Twitter will form a kind of aggressive, vindictive mob and start slagging off that person. Almost always, the punishment is worse than the crime.”

For bored and isolated people, social media can often serve as a godsend. Yet with worries such as this, spouses might do well to be cautious. Not necessary jealous, but at least to be wondering a bit, if someone spends seemingly forever online. It does not help that a lot of online behaviors encourage an almost addictive obsession. Because we crave the latest tweets. We can’t wait to read the next gem from the Huffington Post, or take the latest meaningless quiz from Buzz Feed, or try to prank our friends with the most recent fake news from The Onion. And do not get me started on Candy Crush.

Hence the opportunities are all too ample for vulnerable, lonely people to end up typing a little too much with someone else, and for it to turn into sexting and worse.

I wonder who will tweet The Scarlet Letter now.

Cyber Infidelity

Book Review: Killer UX Design by Jodie Moule

Book Review: Killer UX Design by Jodie Moule

Killer UX Design by Jodie Moule is a decent beginning book on user-centered design. What was probably of most interest to me was how close the process of user-centered design (at least, according to Ms. Moule) is to iterative software development.

Book Review: Killer UX Design by Jodie Moule
Iterative Development Model (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe that anyone who is familiar at all with iterative software development might not need all of the basic information provided in this work.

Not High Tech Enough?

Further, I found that Ms. Moule pushed for a lot of rather manual and paper-centric activities surrounding design. While roughly sketching out a design or even a set of wireframes might be of great use to designers, those of us mere mortals who really can’t draw are going to end up with a lot of incoherent scribbles. My understanding is that Visio or even Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator would be the tools for this. Not that I don’t mind a cheaper and probably faster solution. But if all the illustrator can do is barely draw a circle or a square and a few stick figures, these sketches won’t necessarily make anything easier or more comprehensible.

Involving Users

Another curious aspect of the book was Ms. Moule’s push to involve users in numerous phases of the project. This made a great deal of sense. She starts users off with a kind of homework where they write about what interests them in the upcoming project. Users are invited to look at the sketches (again, bad sketches don’t necessarily help anyone, I feel). They are invited to evaluate the manufactured prototype, and to beta test the initial product and take it out for a spin. To my mind, the often manual and paper-based aspects of this made more sense, as users don’t always have access to the kind of technology, hardware and software, and talent that professional designers are going to have as a matter of course.

Furthermore, the book reads well. However, the end portions of each chapter (and of the entire book itself) end up as really the only parts that you need to know. The remaining details are all well and good. However, since I already knew the basics of iterative software development, they were a bit superfluous to me.

The book is better than average and is certainly of help. Hence readers with less experience with iterative software development will likely rate this work higher than I do.

Rating

3/5

Book Review: The Elements of Style, by Strunk, White, and Kalman

Book Review: The Elements of Style, by Strunk, White, and Kalman

As a part of the Quinnipiac social media writing class, we were required to purchase and reference The Elements of Style (illustrated) by William Strunk , E. B. White, and Maira Kalman.

Rather than just reference this work, I read it from cover to cover. And it turned out to be an easy read, considerably more comprehensive and better than I had remembered.

Simple Rules

Simple rules emerge in clear and concise prose which never talks down to the reader. It contains all of the rules that so many people should known, and should have learned years ago. Yet these days it seems that so many people just plain don’t know.

Case in point: forming possessives. Therefore, on Page 1 the guide just says, “Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s.”

That’s it, no more.

Information about punctuation remains equally succinct. Hence on Page 15, the guide says,

“A colon tells the reader that what follows is closely related to the preceding clause. The colon has more effect than the comma, less power to separate than the semicolon, and more formality than the dash.”

Easy to follow and remember, the above two sentences tell more about colons, semicolons, and dashes than I think I learned in most of my formal education.

Furthermore, language comes across as something knowable, with rules and formal logic, instead of what English can sometimes seem like, e. g. a messy stew of words from all over the world.

Book Review: The Elements of Style, by Strunk, White, and Kalman

The Elements of Style (illustrated)

Write better.

Review: 5/5 stars.

Book Review: On Writing Well, by William Zinsser

Book Review: On Writing Well, by William Zinsser

As a part of our required readings for the social media writing class at Quinnipiac, we were required to purchase and read On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. This was a terrific book.

On Writing Well covers a multitude of issues that writers can face. Zinsser gives writers the freedom to occasionally break some rules, or at least to bend them. Moreover, he gives reasons why one type of construction might work better than another.

William Zinsser
On Writing Well by William Zinsser

What’s Important

For Zinsser, the start and the end pack heavy punches. On Page 54, he writes,

“The most important sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead. And if the second sentence doesn’t induce him to continue to the third sentence, it’s equally dead. Of such a progression of sentences, each tugging the reader forward until he’s hooked, a writer constructs that fateful unit, the ‘lead’.”

Not only is this good advice for fiction writing, it’s excellent for report writing and for writing for the web. How many times have we had to slog through a ton of prose before getting to the good stuff? How many times have we tried to hang in there when we’d rather be doing anything but tackling an opaque garbage can full of prose?

Active Versus Passive Tense

Many writers are told to prefer active to passive tense when writing. Zinsser explains why, on Page 67,

“Use active verbs unless there is no comfortable way to get around using a passive verb. The difference between an active-verb style and a passive-verb style – in clarity and vigor – is the difference between life and death for a writer.”

A little over the top, maybe, but it does get the point across.

Don’t dance around your subject. Be bold. Be clear. Be terse.

Review: 5/5 stars.