Content Strategy

Let Readers Discover Your Publication’s Personality

At first, I used simply as an aggregator of links from all the people I followed. Of course, to an outsider, the group of people I follow looks random. No wonder I am the only regular reader of my first paper. To experiment further, I made another paper about content strategy. I thought that it would be neat and orderly at last. However, the people in the list are… well, people. So of course, they share things that aren’t related to their work. At first, this bothered me and I tried to edit things out manually but I soon gave up and then came to like it. Disorder and variety are a great vehicle of personality.

Sharpness in publications is overrated

Recently, Seth Godin threw out one of his short brain poking posts. He compared the merits of sharp and well-rounded individuals. As my brain still tries to reconcile its liberal arts education with all the unsolicited advice about sharpness floating around, it got me thinking.
I have a lot of varied interests, this is also why my first paper doesn’t make much sense to anyone but me. When people tell me to be focused, sharp or pointy, I like to remind myself: “I am no sword. I am no laser. I am a man“. Personal branding experts and their followers stay “on message”. Repeat their “value proposition” incessantly until they become so dull and uninteresting, they have to stage conflicts where none exists, churn out top sevens on their blogs, etc. Many publications I used to adore began resorting to these techniques. They publish things like “Kurt Vonnegut’s ten best tips on writing” and “What five things Hunter S. Thompson can teach you about writing”.
These blogs seem to publish for search engines and forget they address people. They cover keyword after keyword to lure us onto the business sites. This strategy is short-sighted because it doesn’t show their personalities and the full breadth of their expertise.
As Mandy Brown explained in her essay in Contents magazine, editing and publishing is about people and communities. You can’t be too sharp with people, they’re made out of flesh. Publications and editing need to take this into account.

Diversity is necessary

Editing any publication requires more than focus and sharpness. We need context and diversity. In content creation as in curation, coming to the subject matter from a variety of angles will provide both.
On the one hand, it will prevent readers from getting bored by creating rhythm. As Stephanie Booth explains in “Variety is the spice of life”:

By publishing only one type of “top post”, one turns it into the “average post”. Add a sprinkle of intermittent reward to the mix, and you’ll probably positively influence the way readers perceive your content.

Gradual discovery is a delight

On the other, gradual discovery and engagement works wonders to encourage readers to come again. Providing information little by little rewards subscribers and followers. It creates familiarity over time. In turn, familiarity provides the necessary context for you to go farther into details like in a good television series when you discover the characters little by little.
BoingBoing, Kottke and Brain Pickings, for instance, are the ultimate examples.  They are difficult to grasp at first. Even after many visits, it might still be difficult to reduce their editorial line to one sentence or even a paragraph. Does that prevent people from getting it right away? Sure. Yet, after stumbling upon interesting articles of theirs over and over, curiosity is tickled. Readers start trusting them to come up with rich and fulfilling content. A relationship develops, in short. Each author has their own numerous areas of expertise and interests. Through their long history, they develop themes that subscribers can pick up on and follow.
The point is not to forget about planning all together. To convey the breadth and depth of your or your organisation’s personality requires a strategy. We made progress in our methodologies but relationships with humans can’t be mechanized. We shouldn’t forget Tara Hunt’s advice to embrace the chaos. In all forms of publishing, you are always dealing with humans. You don’t get to choose if things are messy, they will always be. You can only choose how much of a mess you want and if the mess is rich in meaning or not.
Image credit: “Table saw blade” by Santeri Viinamäki, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

I wrote “Let Readers Discover Your Publication’s Personality” on the blog, it was originally published on January 9, 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.