Content Strategy

Inject Gameplay into Your Content

Gamification is a very popular term with web product managers these days. It designates the introduction of game mechanics into seemingly unrelated products and processes. With the success of social video games such as Farmville and services such as Foursquare which give you points and badges to reward engagement, social gaming mechanics have arrived in the consciousness of millions.

Getting Started With Gamification

By tying desirable rewards to actions you want to encourage, you can achieve positive outcomes in web apps but also in project management and — yes — publishing.
The basics are quite simple. To create a game-like experience, you need to:

  • define a desirable outcome
  • find a metric to measure it
  • define win conditions and corresponding rewards
  • define loss conditions and corresponding punishments
  • build a feedback loop around them.

Gamification has been around forever, like frequent flyer miles and consumer loyalty systems in hotels, grocery stores — bookstores, even. With the rise of the social web, the trend is only accelerating and becoming more complex.
New companies are appearing who try to specialize in the production and management of game-like features to add on top of your services like badges and scoreboards. Often, the basics listed above are mistreated and this results in shallow experiences. You can’t treat gamification as an afterthought; you need to incorporate it wisely into product development.
You can find these reflections and more about how they apply to popular location-based services such as Foursquare in Episode 41 of “Let’s Make Mistakes” with game producer Stephanie Morgan.
In this episode, the hosts and their guest comment on the fact that Twitter is a good game. You post something, your post will elicit a reaction or not. The reactions are the reward you’re after. Hence, crafting tweets becomes a game. You’re encouraged to post provocative and inspiring things at the right time so you can get retweets and faves.
In fact, it can work for many aspects of content creation and publishing whether you want to encourage yourself and your contributors to post more, get more comments, or encourage content discovery and engagement.

Add Gameplay to Your Work

David Seah’s Concrete Goal Tracker is a great resource for solo-entrepreneurs and freelancers. It is a printable scoreboard for your week designed to direct your attention towards the tasks with the highest pay-offs. You can use his list of achievements or write your own.

  • Shipping billable client work
  • contacting prospects
  • writing new blog posts etc

are all worth 10, 5 or 2 points. Each time you complete one of these tasks, you award yourself those points. It becomes most effective when you define win conditions: 300 points per week for four weeks, for example, and promise yourself a nice reward. You can also add loss conditions if you like.
This self-reporting makes it only suitable for yourself, really. But it is a simple example of how gamification works and a tremendous foundation to be building upon.

Add Gameplay to Content Creation and Management

You can also move beyond encouraging posting and try to have an impact on the quality of the content. Choose a metric that you want to improve and then tie a strong reward to the improvements that you seek. Don’t do that lightly. You have to think hard about what it is you want to accomplish and how to encourage behaviours which will bring you closer to your goals. In short, you have to get a strong editorial strategy and process in place before experimenting with these techniques.
Some blog publishers famously tie the revenue of writers to traffic levels or revenue streams such as affiliation programs. Again, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution. If you tie your win conditions to the wrong metric, other important metrics might take a plunge. Tying blogger revenues to traffic encourages big volumes of short lived, SEO-laden content. It may be OK for traffic hoarders who rely on ad revenue. It might not be the smartest move for niche blogs trying to establish credibility, create lasting value to drive steady traffic and close sales.

Outside the narrow realm of blogs, you can’t afford to encourage the churning of content because — remember — a piece of content that has been created must be maintained and/or retired. In such cases, you can use gameplay to encourage content audits and maintenance instead of creation. However, you have to make sure all the players who get to make decisions about your content have the right skill set and domain expertise.

Encourage Your Audience to Read and Share Your Content

The paper and pen system doesn’t scale and you can’t use it to encourage reading, social sharing and comments. There are experimental solutions to encourage engagement and sharing of content using gameplay mechanisms.
Gourmet Live, Gourmet magazine’s iPad app uses an innovative reward system. Exploring content, you will sometimes stumble upon a story which, once you read it, will grant you access to exclusive content such as recipes. Then, you can share this reward with your friends on Facebook and Twitter, so that they can access the exclusive content too.
These “achievements” don’t require any skill or real work. Therefore, it isn’t a game but it still uses gameplay. The more you explore their app, the more likely it is you will get rewards — more or less randomly. They give you the ability to share rewards with your friends who use the app, however, without asking anything in return. People crave recognition for their efforts and love it when you give them gifts they can share with their contacts and friends.
Their ambition was to create a sticky experience by blending gameplay in a beautiful app and show their audience that content itself is a reward worth sharing with your friends. If you’re curious about the design process and underlying technology which power the app, Anil Dash who worked on the project, offers more thorough explanations.

Don’t Go Overboard

The frontier between introducing gameplay in your product design and manipulation is thin. It is possible to focus on positive gameplay aspects but beware, however. Don’t fall into the Zynga Abyss: don’t use social obligations to compell your users to participate in a shallow game-like experience.
The design principles of Zynga’s social games encourage you to beg and annoy your friends on Facebook with spam. They even acknowledge publicly that it is one of the most compelling features of their games. This is a little too much cynicism, I think.
You don’t have to approach it with the same attitude. Build fun into your useful products and content from the get-go without trying to condition your audience. It is possible to focus on the positive like Gourmet Live does.

Solutions to Experiment With

If you want to try building achievements into your WordPress site, you can use the CubePoints or Achievements plugins. While CubePoints is simpler to install and run, it primarily rewards comments. It will require the development of additional components by programmers to reward the authoring of posts and other things. Achievements seems more flexible but depends on the BuddyPress plugin until the next version comes out. It is, therefore, more difficult to get up and running.
Giving away rewards for desirable actions and improvements to key metrics is a useful tip and a great way to make your products and content better. Yet, everything depends on how you do it. If you have ideas for implementation or find other great examples of gameplay in publishing, please share them with us in the comments.
Photo Credit: A Gamer by wilhelmja and LAN Party Goodness by compujeramey.
I wrote “Inject Gameplay into Your Content” on’s blog, it was originally published on May 30, 2012. Reproduced here with permission.


How to Establish a Writing Habit

Writing is the foundation you’ll build your success upon. Believe me. Whether you’re working on a business plan, a marketing kit, looking to start a blog, a newsletter or write an ebook… writing is always the first step.It can be daunting for various reasons. Yet, it’s worth the effort. First, your thinking will get clearer. Second, your ideas will get out there for the world to see and add to. In any case, you and your business will benefit. Ready to give it a try?

Just Start Writing

The first priority is to start. Grab tools that will mark the page and get to it. Forget everything else. Forget about finding a topic. Forget about the delete key and publishing. Stop your research. Ignore your inner judge and your inner editor for now. There’s just one thing that matters: you’re going to put words one after the other.

The Resistance

Obstacles might pop up along the way. Be prepared. Research, tinkering and other weird obsessions might conspire to stop you. Don’t listen to them.
Curators get plenty of input and we often crave more, right? Because we’re curious and like to explore. Our time and attention get sucked into our favourite Paper.lis or Wikipedia. It should follow that we often have plenty to say. Yet, once we become information gluttons, the fear of not knowing enough never goes away. We think to ourselves “The next link could lead me to the information nugget I’ve been seeking all my life”. So, we continue to explore the web long past the point where we know enough to write.
There’s another well-documented way of not writing: to get stuck on the tools. You don’t need a distraction-free writing environment or a fancy Moleskine notebook right now. Nor do you need to figure out which blogging software you want and which premium theme to buy. Blogging is especially tricky. It’s full of intricate details that you can get stuck on. There’s a whole advice industry living off of your confusion about these. These details don’t matter now. Just write.
Merlin Mann, productivity consultant and entertainer, has more advice about starting creative work, the different kinds of obstacles you’ll encounter and how to overcome them. He presents his insights in a 28-minute NSFW talk which has been featured in Bullseye.

Edit, Then Publish!

Once you have finished your first draft, set it aside for at least a few hours before reading it. Promise yourself to not get discouraged. You’ll realize that first drafts are most often terrible, as Anne Lamott points out in her “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life”. Her book, which focuses on fiction writing, contains nuggets of wisdom for all writers. You might enjoy it, I did.
When you come back to your first draft, resist the temptation to delete it right away. Most drafts can be redeemed by rewriting and editing. It won’t always make it good to publish or be worth the time… while you’re building up your expertise, you should give it your best anyway.
Editing is a different skill set. It is taxing in a different way: you have to read the text over and over each time looking for different things. If you can’t hire an editor or make a deal with a friend to trade editing services, you’ll have to edit yourself. It is possible but not ideal. Copyblogger has a very good guide to editing your own work in five steps. You should take some distance with the text and with yourself.  Trim it and trim it some more. Look at the style and the form. Read it aloud. For more details on what to look for and what to do, you can refer to this complete self-editing checklist.
For web writing, there are a few more things you should always take care of:

  • Test your links in “Preview” mode.
  • Illustrate your posts and credit your images.
  • Add five to seven tags.
  • Craft an excerpt if your blogging tool can manage them.

Now, you’re all set! Ready to let go of your work and send it off into the world? The “publish” button can be the hardest button to push. Seth Godin, entrepreneur and author, calls this the fear of shipping. Exposing oneself to criticism is always hard. Yet, you have to ship because as he writes:

It’s not clear you have much choice, though. A life spent curled in a ball, hiding in the corner might seem less risky, but in fact it’s certain to lead to ennui and eventually failure.

Click the button. It’s going to be relieving. I promise!


Now, you’ve written, edited and published at least once. What’s been done can be repeated. It is a state of mind that you have to reach each day anew. You can make the process easier by training yourself to write in a specific position, place and at a specific time of day.
Mornings are popular among writers of all kind. To start your process, you may commit to Morning Pages. They are three leaflets that you should fill with stream of consciousness prose. You don’t even have to make full sentences. Total freedom. Julia Cameron, American teacher and writer, suggests making it a daily practice in her “Artist’s Way”. After you’re done, you’ll be able to work on other assignments with more ease.
As for the place where you write, experiment with different ones. You can write anywhere that suits you best, everyone has their own preferences. In this post about the best places to write, Joe Pawlikowski says he gets the best results in hotels and libraries. I find libraries to be dangerous places to write: whenever I get frustrated by my writing, I jump to the comics section and there’s no turning back. So, yes, your mileage may vary.
The trick to getting good at beating the resistance and ship, is to do it often. It’s never trivial to sit down and write or push the “publish” button. It is hard emotional work. Once you’ve done this enough times, you can work towards better tools and smarter strategies. You can follow Penelope Trunk’s guide to blogging, subscribe to ProBlogger and other such resources. Happy writing!
Image credits: Princess of Lamballe by Anton Hickel, 1788 at the Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna.

I wrote “How to Establish a Writing Habit” on’s blog, it was originally published on June 20, 2012. Reproduced here with permission.


Get Started With Web Analytics Without Throwing Your Arms Up

The web is a place for connection and wonder. But it is also a place for measurements, lots of measurements. With all the numbers flying around our heads, web and social analytics tools used to make me throw my arms up in the air. They can tally:

  • how many followers, favourites and RTs you get on Twitter
  • how many unique visitors find your blogs and the conversion rates of your business sites
  • how many Facebook likes, comments and friends you have
  • how many Facebook page fans you gathered
  • how many likes and reblogs you earned on Tumblr
  • and on and on. You get the idea.

From our deep need to be liked springs the desire to make these numbers go up, up and up. Always. Even though it shouldn’t, my heart sinks a little when my Klout score goes down. And I feel better when I get new followers on Twitter or Google+.
We tie our worth to these numbers. We know it’s reductive and inaccurate but we do it anyway. It’s complicated because we can’t dismiss these metrics in bulk.

Choose the right metrics or do not watch them at all

As we mindlessly obsess about them, we find ourselves trying to please everybody. Broadening and broadening our scope until it doesn’t make sense any more. Of course, we need some of these numbers. They can tell us where to direct our efforts better. However, we need to direct our attention to the right ones.
Standard reports from tools such as Google Analytics give us every number imaginable. It’s so confusing. We focus on the numbers that are easy to understand like monthly unique visitors and conversion rates.
Paying attention to the wrong metric is worse than not following any. If you track the wrong number, you’ll take all the wrong actions. Gerry McGovern explains it best in this article about an e-commerce site that connects sellers to customers. They focused on attracting more sellers and failed to focus on their customers. Of course, it didn’t increase sales or leads. Lead generation and consumer satisfaction aren’t easy to measure but, according to Gerry McGovern, trying harder to measure what matters makes a world of difference.
Hence, if you’re not going to take the time to learn how to pay attention to the right metrics, you might as well leave your analytics tool behind. People starting out on Twitter and on blogs out of personal interest need not worry about them. If you want to embark on a journey of learning, there are a few actions to take.

Measure basic website health

There are basic steps you can take to gauge the health of your website. Avinash Kaushik, who is the world’s most respected authority on web analytics, distills his wisdom and experience on his blog. Unmissable articles are clearly labelled as such and linked from the footer.
In the first unmissable he details the 10 steps he advocates you apply to any website. I would suggest you read his long post and take all the steps one by one. However, here are the gems that most probably apply to bloggers and social media enthusiasts like us.

  1. Traffic sources show you where your visitors come from. According to him, you should have diverse sources: search engines, other sites linking to you, and direct visits should all be well represented. Social media sites are big drivers of traffic as well. Pay attention at how much traffic comes from Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, and to see which of the services brings you more value.
  2. Visitor loyalty is important for many bloggers. Our audiences may be small but we pride ourselves on keeping them engaged. The percentage of returning visitors is where most people look for information about engagement. Unfortunately, ratios are bad because they’re volatile and, hence, unreliable. Instead, look at visit frequency and recency which measure how many times visitors returned and how many days have elapsed between their two last visits. You should also take a look at the visit’s length. Again, avoid the average and watch the detailed report.
  3. Ever wonder which of your topics resonate with your audience the most? Keyword clouds will give you hints. Lists of the 10 most-used keywords to find your site are dull and looking at them too much may make you shoot for the common denominator in your audience instead of breaking it down to serve it better. Instead, go the keywords page of your analytics tool, export the raw data and paste it into Wordle. It will give you a great visualization of what your audience is looking for and found on your site.

These pieces of information constitute a great stepping stone to make you enter the exciting world of analytics. They may prompt you to take actions or, at least, ask yourself relevant questions and investigate further. Happy analysis!
Image credits: The proportions of men and their secret numbers, 1533 woodcut.

I wrote “Get Started With Web Analytics Without Throwing Your Arms Up” on’s blog, it was originally published on July 26, 2012. Reproduced here with permission.

Content Strategy

Wrap Your Content Around Regular Events

How do you ensure your content flows continuously? Publishing around current events, seasons and holidays are a great place to start.News organizations are masters at this. No example shines brighter than the month of December. Year after year, they run stories about Christmas decorations. More recently, they’ve put a “green” spin to it by focusing on LED technology and energy savings. Later they cover snow storms and how they make trains run late. Then, there are sales in the stores. It’s the same in all Christendom!You can do the same by using recurring events to generate ideas and create flow within your content streams. All it takes is a list of relevant events, some thinking and planning to create content that is both relevant to your audience and to the event.Unlike TV channels and newspapers whose content must always fill the same containers, online publications are more agile. However, publishing content that’s both good and relevant remains a challenge. Using recurring events, your publication efforts can be organized and you can start to orchestrate relevant story arcs that your audience will care about. Your ideas will flow! Populating your editorial calendar is bound to become a breeze.

What Type Of Event?

Look for near-global events like Christmas or Easter to begin populating your calendar. Don’t forget to turn to more local ones as well. Both can be very handy. For example, in Geneva (Switzerland), we have an official chestnut tree near the parliament hall. The secretary of the parliament, as part of her job, reports the blooming of the first bud. This first leaf marks the official beginning of spring in the state of Geneva and this event is covered by local news every single year.
All the examples above focus on mainstream news. You shouldn’t limit yourself to their events, however. Dig around your organisation and the online communities you’re part of. Be as specific as you can because each online community and organisation has their own pulse. You will be sure to find many events relevant to your niche. In particular, pay attention to:

  • Industry-specific online celebrations such as Social Media Day or Ada Lovelace Day.
  • Anniversaries and birthdays related to your industry’s leading companies and people,
  • Trade shows,
  • Conferences,
  • Awards,
  • Earning reports release dates,
  • and Product release dates.

How To Connect Events And Content?

Choosing relevant events is always best. However, they don’t have to be tied to the themes you cover. Get creative! It’s all a matter of finding the right angle to connect events and content.
Lifehacker — the productivity blog from Gawker Media — specializes in tips and how-tos. For a number of years now, the week of Halloween triggers Lifehacker’s Evil Week. It has become an awaited rendez-vous and fans get excited about it. Myself included. They create or repurpose content with an evil twist, so you can protect yourself (that’s their claim!). For example, in 2012, they talked about:

Another example of successful cyclical content from Lifehacker is their yearly post  “The Best Time to Buy Anything in 2012” which works so well that they have a canonical version they pledged to keep updated.
More niche communities also have their special moments. In the web design community, the «24 ways to impress your friends» advent calendar publishes great articles about cutting edge techniques. They’re geeky treats which aren’t always practical to use day to day because of poor browser support or industry standards. The period of the advent works great to make an event out of this content’s publication and gather the audience around it.
Even when the connection between the content and the events is far-fetched, it can still work. Tying together relevant content and getting it to your audience in a timely fashion is the ultimate goal.

Hit Or Miss

No one can guarantee your first efforts will be a success and you will have to resort to trial and error to get the mix right. Define success metrics in order to decide which initiatives to push and which ones to abandon.
Unfortunately, some content-event couples will simply not work or the content will prove too complicated to craft. Lifehacker tried a lot of combinations. In 2010, they held a Spring Cleaning Week, for example. It didn’t happen again in 2011 or in 2012. In fact, at the end of 2010, Nick Denton from Gawker Media moved the company away from yearly programming to a TV style weekly schedule. He said:

themes will be moved to a programming grid which owes more to TV than to magazines. For instance, Lifehacker’s personal finance coverage is popular with both readers and advertisers; like much of our more helpful content it is often lost in the blog flow. From next year, it will be showcased at a regular time, say Fridays at 3pm, a personal finance hour.

Pack your calendar full of relevant events: yearly, quarterly, monthly and weekly. Reflect on how best to cover them and launch experiments. Adapt and repackage your content. If it doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to abandon some events.

Be Reasonable

Very few have the resources to imitate Gawker’s hour-by-hour programming. Small teams or single-authors shouldn’t tire themselves trying to keep up with publishing powerhouses. Anyway, most of us don’t need to publish such high volumes of content.
However, publishing content tuned to the daily memes of your social media platforms of choice can do wonders. If you have a column about wine, think about publishing it on Wednesdays to take advantage of Twitter’s #WineWednesday.
By observing weekly rhythms and attaching corresponding hashtags to your tweets, you can widen your reach. Wine is just an example. Mashable published a list of Twitter’s daily memes such as #MusicMonday and #ThankfulThursday.
Start small! Go back to the basics and commit to #FollowFriday, for example. Tweet about what makes each person you follow worth following and add a #FollowFriday hashtag. One or two additional tweets a week is easy to put out and will represent a useful service to your followers. Such recommendations have reach and they are already content.
Using seasons and memes to plan your content can make your publishing life a lot easier. Start researching upcoming and recurring events in your area and “park” them in your editorial calendar. Oh, and once your content plan is in place, don’t forget to actually write the articles!
I wrote “Wrap Your Content Around Regular Events” on the blog, it was originally published on February 25, 2013. Reproduced here with permission.

Content Strategy

Low cognitive budgets for web projects

A cognitive budget measures the amount of time and attention the stakeholders allocate to various aspects of their business. I am especially interested in the amount willingly given to the website and other web initiatives. Web teams can work around financial constraints. However, when the stakeholder cognitive budget is low and the web team doesn’t have much power, delivering great work becomes exponentially more difficult.
Way too often, the website is a dumping ground for content and there’s, therefore, little need to discuss or even think too much about it. As for homepage real estate, carousels and slideshows make it easy to never have a conversation about that at all. So it follows that the website is a solved problem. It’s off the managers’ plate. The people in the last office before the server room have to upload things they receive by e-mail from all over the organisation and never talk back. No editorial back-and-forth. Congratulations. That’s a non-issue.
Or is it? When things are set up like this, uneasiness creeps in. People responsible for communicating through the website aren’t sure they’re reaching their target. They feel that something is off kilter. Sometimes anxiety reaches levels that warrants an e-mail to the web person with questions about the templates’ age or alerting them to a lack of “sexiness”. Of course, the website has no appeal. It is an ever-expanding closet holding three ring binders that each and every person in the organisation can add to.
When dissatisfaction reaches their ears, people ask for prettier wallpaper and wider doors to the closet, at least in part, because mandating technical fixes or redesigns doesn’t tap into their cognitive budgets. That’s when good teams or good webmasters come back with questions about branding and goals and content workflows which, in such an organisational culture, never get answered because web stuff is supposed to be a non-issue. It’s supposed to be cheap in terms of money and cognition.
It’s OK to cut corners but avoiding thinking about your organisation’s website isn’t a smart move. Websites are infrastructure that is important to your business.
When the culture is to treat the web as a solved problem and neither allocate sufficient cognitive nor monetary resources, there’s very little that can change in terms of introducing digital governance and content strategy even though these tools can bring positive change and make the website run more smoothly.
Have you tried strategies to work around this? Would you care to share stories?


Puis-je inscrire tous mes contacts à ma newslettre?

Quoi que l’on fasse, il faut résister à la tentation d’ajouter soi-même des noms et des adresses mail à une newslettre. Ces personnes qui n’ont pas donné leur consentement se désinscriront ou pire considéreront vos envois comme du spam et le feront savoir à vos fournisseurs de solution e-mail.
C’est sans doute la pire chose qui puisse arriver. Les fournisseurs de solution e-mail comme MailChimp, par exemple, appliquent une tolérance proche de zéro pour le courrier non-sollicité. Ils doivent se différencier très clairement des organisations qui envoient du spam. Les filtres anti-spam réagissent à la provenance des mails. Si plusieurs mails frauduleux ou non-sollicité proviennent d’un même serveur, les filtres vont simplement bloquer ce serveur. Comme les fournisseurs de solution e-mail utilisent des serveurs communs à tous leurs clients, ils ne peuvent pas se permettre de voir les e-mails  envoyés par ces serveurs être considérés comme du spam et ne plus arriver à leur destination.
Les dénonciations pour spam sont comptées pour chaque envoi et pourraient vous valoir un blâme — chez MailChimp, si le pourcentage de plaintes dépasse les 5% des mails envoyés. En cas de récidive, votre compte est fermé et votre liste perdue.
En marketing email, le consentement est une notion centrale. On appelle cela le “permission marketing“. Lorsque des visiteurs vous donnent leur adresse mail pour votre newslettre, ils vous donnent explicitement la permission de les contacter. Le contrôle de consentement double ou double opt-in en anglais permet de s’en assurer. Il vaut mieux activer cette option pour éviter que des tiers puissent inscrire des personnes sans leur demander la permission.
L’autorisation de contacter une personne pour des mails promotionnels a une très grande valeur. Si vous n’abusez jamais de cette autorisation, il y a toutes les chances que vous puissiez la conserver et même approfondir votre relation avec cette personne. La bonne conduite est donc très très rentable sur le long terme.
La pertinence des messages doit toujours être la plus élevée possible et concerner toute la liste pour ne pas entamer ce capital de confiance. Si vous faites preuve de parcimonie, de respect envers les personnes qui vous ont donné leur adresse mail, et que vos messages sont intéressants, cette confiance se développera et votre liste s’allongera. Dans le cas contraire, vous risquez de recevoir des blâmes et de perdre votre liste.
Si vous souhaitez vraiment allonger votre liste, attirez des personnes réellement intéressées. Vous pouvez les inciter à vous donner votre adresse en leur promettant un cadeau de bienvenue comme un e-book exclusif.

Social Media

10 steps to live-tweet debates

Live tweeting panels is hard. 140 characters is very little. The main goals when covering an event alone is to testify that the event has taken place and that people following either in-person or on a live stream have gotten something important out of it. This encourages attendance for the next events obviously and raises the profile of the organizer.
Go through the list of panelists and search their presence on social media. That maybe frustrating in an academic setting because you’ll often find that they don’t have one. However, you may be surprised! Some prominent figures in the academic world are pretty active on Twitter. Journalists and politicians are also often on social media. Try to memorize their twitter handles or make a list on your laptop. Panelists will retweet you if you show up in their notifications. Accidental subtweeting can be embarrassing but it’s bound to happen.
Announce the event, live-tweet and possible streaming a few days in advance. Give all the necessary details. If many or all of the participants are active online, prepare an announcement tweet featuring each of them. Schedule those tweets at regular intervals. Keep in mind that you might have to mention each of them for fairness’ sake.
Choose your #hashtag with care. Discuss hashtag with coworkers. Go for the obvious one. If the event is about current affairs, chances are there will be one already. Look at trending topics. Make a few searches about the subject of the event. The hashtag will come to you. If all this fails, invent one. If the topic is too controversial, try flying below the radars by using the name of the organizer and the date. Being roped into arguments about the event’s organisation and the choice of panelists during the live tweeting of the event is a nightmare. Try to avoid that even if it means loosing a little visibility.
Be there early. Find a good place. Next to the center aisle is good so you can get up to take pictures. Before the event, encourage people to join one last time and comment positively on the attendance. If there’s a live stream, add a link in those first tweets.
Be accurate. If you’re not sure that the tweet accurately conveys the things that have been said, don’t send it. It’s better to have a partial account than an inaccurate one. If you engage the responsibility of the event’s organizers, misrepresenting the guests could impact their ability to get guests in the future.
Focus on tiny statements. They might seem inconsequential in the grander scheme of the debate but that’s all you can count on. In fact, chances are the grander scheme of the debate will escape you because you’ll be busy trying to catch tweet-worthy soundbites. There’s no way you can follow, synthesize and live-tweet a debate at the same time. If you need a synthesis and live-tweets, take two different people. You can count on partners, especially if the panel has members of the press on it. There will be journalists in the audience. Follow them and publicize their content.
Describe the topic in general. If you can’t be accurate and focus on tiny statements, describe what is being discussed without conveying judgments or opinions. Tell who is speaking and what topics he focuses on without going into details that might introduce inaccuracies. This technique works especially well with pictures.
Post pictures. Pictures do well on Twitter and they don’t require detailed Sit in a place where no empty seats show. Enlist coworkers with phones to send you pictures during the event. You will be able to post pictures from various angles.
Be fair. Find a way to mention and represent every single panelist. Sometimes, this is going to be hard. Some people don’t make tiny statements especially if they get emotional. Use every trick in the books to give them the most equal possible air time. The casual observer of your live-tweet should be able to reconstruct the guest list from your tweets.
Do not make public comments on the quality of the coverage. It isn’t your place to comment on the quality of the partners’ work. You need them. You can count on your followers and the guests themselves to point things out and issue corrections. But do not like or comment on them. Interfere only to kick and ban assholes.
After the event. Round up pictures and take the good ones and put them in a Facebook album (if you got a page) as a long term testament of the event. Since it’s a public event that is publicized, you can tag people in it. If you tag the panelists, you have to tag all of them.
You can keep posting about your event until you announce the next one. Take advantage of transcripts, round-ups, video and audio as they come out.

Content Strategy

Carousels work great but not for communications

Slideshows or carousels are wonderful. They provide ample space for everything to be on the homepage for weeks. There is no need to hold meetings about the website. All stakeholders think they are getting a fair deal and appropriate amounts of exposure for their content. You may even whisper to yourself that your visitors get a well-rounded idea of your organisation’s activities.
Since the space is unlimited in the carousel, it’s free and harmless. There is no need to argue over what’s more important. Everyone in the organisation can just phone the webmaster and order a new slide. Something comes up, the web gal puts an announcement online as fast as she can copy-paste and markup, adds a new slide. Peace is kept. We’re all happy.
Except. Messages don’t get through. Experts have written about the fact that carousels don’t get people to click and take action (a sequence of events otherwise known as “conversion“) and also about how carousels are a nightmare both in terms of search engine optimisation and in terms of your site’s ease of use. If effective communications are a real priority, that should be unacceptable.
Carousels are hurting your organisation. You assume it works without having checked. This creates a huge dead angle: it makes all discussions of web governance and due process irrelevant since everyone can request the creation of homepage content. Your web presence could accomplish so much more. You could rock.
Why do we refuse to? We fear tense discussions and accusations of insubordination. We don’t want everybody yelling in a meeting or, worse, agree and hold grudges. We all love peace but we have to weigh that against our need to get our messages across.
Carousels don’t work. You might be OK with that for peace’s sake. But if you’re convinced yours is an exception, at least, measure it and face the facts.


Elevator Pitch

I’m flying to Barcelona on Tuesday for a few vacation days before going to Confab Europe 2014. Looking forward to meeting people I admire, I promised myself to write an “about page” for my site and brush up my resume to find a coherent and concise way to introduce myself.
I have to marvel at people who always could narrow their roles to a single job title — I struggle with that. And it is a problem in conferences and other events. I, either, do too many things or am reluctant to accept a single label. We all do what projects require — don’t we? But it’s an unhelpful answer. Whispering “I am called webmaster, an anachronism, from eons past. I do… everything” is too theatrical, not much more useful and increasingly inaccurate. “Jack-of-all-trades” does have negative connotations.
Hence, I devoted last week-end to taking my own advice and return to my “Skills and Professional History Assessment”. It is a magical document which I periodically update to keep professional anxieties at bay. According to this inventory of my present skills and responsibilities, I do CMS customization, copy writing, editing and social media community management on various projects. Now I just have to memorize that and say it clearly 🙂
What this also tells me is that I am indeed focusing more and more on content management. It is good news. What is still lacking is the strategy and organisational change part. Small team, huge organisation — learning a lot every day. If I keep at it, it will come.


To humanities graduates seeking employment

Lots of friends I had left behind in university ranks are now considering entering paid employment. Even though unemployment is low in Switzerland, getting a job is still difficult. Transitioning from a liberal arts education into the “workforce” is an especially long ordeal. So I worry…
The worst part is fear. Politicians and employer union representatives keep screaming that there are too many college educated people who they label as “unemployable”. It’s HR-speak for “useless”. It saddens me. It carries a lot of stigma. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to wash the label off. When counsellors at the unemployment office, friends or family say you have to work on your “employability”, what they mean is you have to weasel out of being useless. These levels of jargon and condescension are hard to stomach. No matter. They’re right on some level: you will have to change, gain experience, etc. However, you’re not as far behind as you might think. It’s a matter of attitude and learning to market your skills.
Young humanities graduates are squished between romantic ideals of our “calling” as defenders of the besieged humanities and the harsh realities of a world which seems in perpetual crisis. At my graduation ceremony, the dean of our faculty told us that starting a career would take 18 to 24 months of suffering. Right after that, an 80 year old alumnus said that it was our responsibility to “shine a light” upon the world and dispense humanistic lessons on scientists, engineers and bankers who seem to run things (poorly). If you’ve ever bought into the idea that your role would be to impose humanist values upon the uncaring, you better saddle up. It’s gonna be a hell of an attitude adjustment.

Such arrogance gives credence to the prejudice we face from employers — in fact. They don’t care about our values, what we learned about the human condition by analysing the Prose Edda, or the inconsistencies of chivalric discourse uncovered by Chaucer’s tongue-in-cheek humour. Calling knights hypocrites may get you somewhere among gender studies and feminist intellectuals, but in most workplaces it only makes people snigger at your inadequacies and question your competence. Nobody cares. The phone’s ringing — you better get to it.

If they don’t care about medieval literature, what do employers care about? They care about weird shit like getting things done on time and under budget. Since you took two years to submit that twelve page paper about “Hamlet”, you may not see yourself as an ideal candidate just yet. But don’t worry. You just have to adapt. Unlearn some old habits and learn some new ones. That’s really what this 18 month period is about. Wave goodbye to your humanities student self.
All young graduates are in the same boat. Or at least they face the same rushing river. Even people who got degrees which seemed more marketable when you started college need to adjust. It’s raining MBAs and they are more prone to grandiose expectations than humanities students.
Once you are sufficiently distraught and poor, you’ll have no scruples left. You’ll use our secret killer-rhetoric techniques to sell yourself. There are lots of experiences which come from growing in the humanities you can sell. For example, do you remember when you had to get the signature of two super-busy professors, run from one department to the next, talk to twelve administrative assistants and five teaching assistants just to register for an exam? And then had do it all over again to get the credit? Believe it or not, this kind of grit is marketable. Put that down on your resume: You know how to navigate horrible backwards bureaucratic systems and get results. That will come in handy because there are lots of bureaucratic systems in large organisations. And it’s only an example of all the things you manage very well already.

  • Revisit your past, every growth opportunities, every teachable moments and every task. Make a list.
  • Then, gather job postings that might interest you and analyse them as you would a literary text.
  • For each task description, prepare arguments with stories about how you already did a version of that.

Always speak to the fear. Looking for a job is scary. Hiring might even be scarier. The people across the table from you are scared out of their minds — always. Their hire may be a mistake and they will look bad if you under perform. It is very important that you raise no alarms in their minds. As humanities students, we always were taught to address complexity and unpack simplifications to expose flaws. Do that in private. In public, you’ll get farther by reassuring people.
I don’t expect any of this to sink in and make a difference on your first reading. There are a few resources that might help you, though, such as the classic podcast “Back To Work” — especially episode 7. Statistics do say that you’ll have a hard time no matter what you read off the internet. Make the best out of that time and learn as much as possible about yourself, work and how to get things done. Eventually, you will find a nice job and you too will know the joys of being baffled by office politics, bewildered by unclear hierarchies, perplexed by obscure expectations and inconvenienced by endless rambling meetings.

Have faith, dear reader. Have faith.