content strategy

Keywords, Work-arounds, and Souring the User Experience

Campaigns and other short-term online efforts can easily spoil online navigation and the user experience. Dismissing familiar cues to cut corners will leave people confused and ultimately unsatisfied. Consider campaigns early in the creation of a content strategy and you’ll preserve the online user experience.

User experience and the supermarket

I fancy milk on my morning cereal. I don’t have a cow, so I go to the store to purchase it. I like it when that process is easy. It was, for the longest time.

Ever since I was a kid, I understood the mysterious code of the milk cap:

  • >Blue cap = 2%
  • Yellow cap = 1%
  • Pink cap = skim

However, at one particular food retailer that shall remain nameless, they use different colors.

My entire life’s work of memorizing the fat content of cow’s milk at the market was destroyed on a recent shopping excursion. This store broke the unwritten code: don’t mess with another man’s visual dairy purchasing cues.

I used to be able to go into the store and buy milk WITHOUT READING A SINGLE WORD OR NUMBER. Look for the proper cap color, then purchase. Now, I have to check and re-check. My milk-buying confidence has been shattered.

That simple color-coding turned out to be a greater navigational cue than I’d ever thought. It is simple, it saves time, and is near-universal. Or so I thought.

Online user experience and the keyword

I also fancy watching PBS on TV. Our local affiliate is running a promo for their photo contest called “Capture Minnesota.” Their 30 second on-air promotional spot for the contest uses an old-timey artifact of a navigational element: THE KEYWORD.

They ask viewers to visit the station’s website, and enter a keyword for more information.

This isn’t a keyword in the Google sense. Think AOL keyword. Circa 1998.

While writing this post, I visited the website to see if I could find said photo contest. It was not in the navigation. Not in the rotating stories element. I did find a mention of it 1,850 pixels down on the homepage, effectively burying it. That’s in sharp contrast to the amount of promotion the contest has enjoyed on-air.

The keyword is not an effective shortcut

For scientific purposes, I did click on the search box. It’s actually labeled “keyword,” rather than “search.” After entering the terms “capture” and “picture,” the search results were decidedly unhelpful. The third term, “photo,” was the one they had slotted in their system to return a “recommended result.” We have a winner! Kind of:

(The “recommended result” is confusing in its own right, as it looks different than other search results, and doesn’t actually contain the term I used to search.)

The chief issue here is using the keyword as a shortcut or work-around rather than incorporating it into the current site. Better options for the photo contest?

  • Introduce it into the navigation throughout their site
  • Include it on the homepage rotating feature element
  • Create banners to temporarily supplant current ad/promo inventory

Just help folks do what they want online (or offline)

Both the supermarket and the local PBS affiliate ended up souring my experiences. (Pun fully intended.)

The supermarket could have followed convention by using the standard milk cap colors, making the selection process as simple as possible. But they didn’t, and it caused me to buy fattier milks in error.

The PBS affiliate could have used any number of other attention-grabbing standard promotional practices seen everyday online. Something milk-cap-color simple. But they didn’t. They chose to rely on the keyword, and it will no doubt cost them traffic.

Make it part of your content strategy

I think the PBS affiliate wasn’t able to fully incorporate the contest into their site as completely as they might have hoped. The contest’s temporary, rather than permanent, existence likely contributed to this decision. In doing so, they soured the user experience.

This illustrates the importance of including campaigns and other endeavors of limited duration online in your content strategy.

Campaigns need space on the site. (Think navigation elements and promotional real estate). They may require governance practices unique only to them. And their performance will likely be of great interest to those in your organization. Each of these campaign considerations should be woven into a content strategy in the context of other content and overall business goals.

Undoubtedly, campaigns will pop up when time is short. Plan for them even though they may not be on the horizon. In doing so, you’ll help maintain a consistent user experience. As we know, that makes both milk buyers and site visitors happy.

content strategy

7 Easy Steps To Keep Your Content From Sending You To Prison

Governance of online content is critical. If avoided, it will make your online presence less effective, at best. At worst, you could be facing a $2,000,000 lawsuit. These seven quick tips will help provide a better experience online. And they just might keep you out of the courtroom.

A rare story about online content and the law appeared in the news last week. Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum ran into a bit of trouble. Intellectual property trouble. Unlicensed third-party content trouble.

Presidential hopefuls need websites. They are usually better at presidential hopefull-ing than information architecture and content strategy. So, they hire firms to help them out. However, Santorum’s situation proved more harmful than helpful.

A Dutch font foundry claims the Santorum site is using an “unauthorized derivative version” of one of their products. The story from Thomson Reuters says:

“Typotheque VOF is seeking at least $2 million in damages from RaiseDigital LLC, a Virginia-based consulting company that develops new media strategies for political campaigns and politicians..”

They are seeking $2 million in damages. TWO MILLION DOLLARS.

One day, you pay someone to create an online identity, and the next day your name is attached to a $2,000,000 infringement suit. How does something like that happen?

Know your content rights

Good online content takes components from many different places, minds, and sources. In the end, the best content is greater than the sum of its parts.

Some basic categories, plus an example of each:

  • Created in-house (user interface copy)
  • Created by contractors (text from a freelance writer)
  • Licensed from contractors (font from a type foundry, as in the news story)
  • Licensed from content providers (news stories from Associated Press)
  • Licensed user-generated content (image from a Flickr user)
  • Public domain (primarily images no longer in copyright)

Each one of these components may have different legal guidelines, terms, and potential implications. It’s a wonderful thing, really. These things ensure that content creators are properly attributed and/or compensated, in public or behind the scenes.

But, when one of these things is used without the proper permission, things get ugly. $2,000,000 ugly. How can a content team avoid that?

Avoid content lawsuits in 7 easy steps

  1. Inform staff about the basics. Parts of copyright law are impossibly difficult and arbitrary. Other parts are quite clear cut. Make no assumptions on what your staff understands. A quick explanation of rights, licensing, and their potential impacts will put them in a strong position to produce content with confidence.
  2. Provide clear guidelines for acceptable content. Style guides are a great place to detail an organization’s legal and editorial copyright rules. These decisions can affect tone and voice, so consider them as carefully as you would the rest of the style guide.
  3. Review current third-party terms of service. You know those monstrously large EULAs (end-user license agreements) that we sometimes accept without reading? That’s where third-party providers dictate their terms. Look at them again to ensure that you are using them within the agreed-upon terms of service.
  4. Remain cognizant of exclusivity clauses with other content providers. This separate yet still-complicated issue comes up on more complex projects. Some content providers require exclusivity. Sometimes that exclusivity is worth it. Other times, it’s an impediment to achieving your business goals.
  5. Enter into new content agreements carefully. Examine the track record of new providers and partners. Dig deep into their past projects and output. Read the fine print with an eye on concerns and issues from the past and present. And, eliminate any ambiguity before moving into that relationship.
  6. Note where things are, and who is responsible for them. A content audit should indicate if that page contains content subject to rights issues and concerns. Advanced wireframes should also indicate if, when, and where third-party content will be used. Assign appropriate staff to manage each content provider relationship and address any concerns or issues that may arise.
  7. Devise an exit strategy, NOW. Ongoing licensing agreements will change over time. Plan for those changes on all content that isn’t owned outright. Operating with a replacement plan and process or an overall reorganization in mind will allow you to focus your efforts on “What next?” instead of “What if?”.

[Image from Flickr user Mark Strozier (cc: by)]

content strategy

Coke Fiends and Content Strategy

The Coca-Cola Company has unleashed a new type of soda fountain into the world. They’ve put some online marketing muscle to work to promote it. But is it enough?

My wife is an unapologetic Diet Coke enthusiast. When she breathlessly told me about a new sort of soda fountain at the local Dairy Queen, I was curious.

What could make a soda fountain new? Isn’t it just soda? Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, and maybe lemonade and root beer?

I was in for a surprise, as this was no ordinary soda machine. This was a Coca Cola Freestyle machine.

The Coca Cola Freestyle soda fountain

This thing is kind of a big deal. Most soda machines offer 8-10 choices. That is it. I’ve seen some convenience store fountains with more exotic options, like a shot of cherry flavor. Beyond that, the soda fountain world has been fairly static for decades.

This soda fountain changes all of that.

With a footprint smaller than a regular soda fountain, this one boasts not only a touchscreen, but a MIND-BLOWING array of options. Over 100, in fact.

Thirsty patrons touch the screen to choose a brand (Coke, Sprite, etc.) and then choose an optional flavor. Brilliant. Did I mention that there are over ONE HUNDRED OPTIONS?

How has Coke marketed the Freestyle machine?

Well, there is a sign in the window at the DQ. And another at the cash register. But what is happening online?

They have a slim microsite set up, primarily to point people to these three things:

They’ve set up a Twitter account, @ccfreestyle:

  • Listening for terms like “drink machine” “100+” etc. in addition to the brand names
  • @ replying to mentions of those terms, asking “What did you like?”
  • Getting little to no response (I’ve been there. It can be tough.)

They’ve also established a Facebook page.

  • Running a “Fan of the Week” contest
  • Offering lots of “What’s your favorite?” questions
  • Allowing users to post images in a largely unfettered fashion (not going to link to that one)

They have apps for Android and iOS.

  • Primary function: a memory game mimicking the Freestyle’s touchscreen
  • Also includes a Freestyle machine locator map, via GPS
  • Game-ified badge rewards for high scores and use of the Freestyle locator
  • Apps can link to users’ Twitter and Facebook account to share scores/badges

Looks nice. Game play? Check. Direct interaction? Check. But, I can’t help but feel that they’ve stopped a bit short.

Coke fiends and their friends

Many real-world Coke fans are more than enthusiastic. Fiendish, even. They already devote status updates to the brand. I’ve seen more than one person add it to their social network bio. With this level of devotion, a does a considerable opportunity await? YES.

The Freestyle machine begs for deeper engagement. It already has a touchscreen and an OS, for Pete’s sake. Just think of the possibilities. A couple of examples:

  • Challenge drinkers to try all 100+ choices, track progress and share
  • Award badges for different achievements, share them via Twitter and Facebook
    • All Coke flavors tried
    • All sodas in orange flavor tried
    • Number of different machines visited
    • “Mayorship” of machines (to borrow from Foursquare)
  • Facilitate the invitation of friends for competition
  • Issue QR codes from the machine send status updates via the app to Twitter and Facebook (“Drinking a Pibb Zero from @ccfreestyle.”)
  • Create a Freestyle Re-mix: make-your-own mix of sodas, name it, and submit it

These things go one step beyond brands interacting directly with the consumer. They allow people to have a conversation facilitated, originated, and/or augmented by the brand that bridges the gap between the real world and the online world.

B2C interaction is VERY important. But, the brand-facilitated consumer-to-consumer interaction is more organic. It’s happening between one brand advocate and other potential brand advocates.

Bridging the gap between online and offline

Tosca Fasso, Content Strategist at Razorfish, recently wrote a blog post about the blurring of online and offline worlds. She writes:

“Publishers are creating linkage points between offline and online media to build an ecosystem of opportunities for audiences to connect with their brands.”

There is a major shift happening. It’s already having a significant impact on content creators and those tasked with content governance.

The technology now exists to make these online/offline connections in a swipe or two on a mobile device. How does that fit within the core strategy and business goals, if at all? How can these advances be shared across department lines? Shared across other spaces? How can they be best put to use?

Ms. Fasso continues with this in her closing paragraph, detailing the impact this has on content strategy:

“It’s time to start thinking about handoff opportunities, places where our work can pass the baton. Done right, these integrated efforts can help build optimal experiences for users while helping brands meet users where they are…”

Coke has built some of the foundation for bridging the gap between online and offline worlds with the Freestyle soda fountain. They are engaging people on Twitter and Facebook. They’ve got social-graph connected apps with game layers and rewards.

By further fostering that online/offline connection, Coke could enjoy even greater brand loyalty and engagement.

Not all brands can do this. Not all brands have 100+ of anything worth sharing. And not all brands have Coca-Cola’s brand recognition.

As any wise content strategist will tell you, it is not about the tactics. It’s about the approach. Tackle those content strategy and social strategy projects with an eye on bringing real-world experiences to the now-ubiquitous social graphs. You’ll be even closer to fulfilling those core business goals.

Or one step closer to the Borg. Either way…

content strategy

Online Endeavors Need a Spare Tire

You need a spare tire in your content strategy. Otherwise, you’ll end up stranded with a blowout on the information superhighway.

Be Prepared

The Boy Scout motto is a simple two words: Be Prepared. (I am an Eagle Scout, you know.) I think of that motto often, in both personal and professional settings.

We’ve all encountered unexpected situations and issues of one sort or another while working with online projects. The anxiety level is usually in direct proportion to the lack of preparedness.

  • Online content emergency + no plan = TIME TO FREAK OUT
  • Online content emergency + content strategy = cool as the other side of the pillow

Preparedness is not always black and white. It’s more of a spectrum, really.

For example, I saw the cutest car in the parking lot the other day—a Fiat 500. I went right to my desk to look for more info on their website. While clicking through the options, I discovered an odd one: A SPARE TIRE.

A spare tire. As an option. Really?

Some car companies now include a “tire repair kit” instead of a spare tire. It’ll fix some minor problems like a slow leak or a nail puncture. No biggie.

But, if you hit a big pothole and completely destroy your tire, you’ll be left stranded. This happened to me earlier this year. No repair kit would have helped the shredded remnants of my tire. To be fully prepared, I needed a spare.

Issues Known or Unknown

In 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the following quote. It remains relevant, yet somewhat garbled, today:

[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Believe it or not, spare tires and unknown unknowns can have an impact on what you do online.

Online Content with a Slow Leak

The known/unknown quote serves as a reminder to account for the most likely and obvious things that might affect an online endeavor in some way. Take these flat-tire scenarios, for example:

  • Staff changes disrupt content workflows
  • A CMS update breaks your current site
  • Third-party content provider folds

These things can and should be anticipated. They are “known,” as Rumsfeld would say. Contingency plans to deal with them can be crafted and shelved until needed. It’s all in a day’s work for a sustainable content strategy.

Online Content-Shredding Blowout

But what about those pesky “unknown unknowns” that Rumsfeld talked about?

Plan as we may, there is always something that comes along to break even the most carefully assembled contingency plan. Often, the unknown unknowns are major and abrupt. For example, some tire-blowout-level  scenarios:

  • New laws or regulations change your content ecosystem
  • Upper management changes the overall business objectives
  • Competitor innovation changes the market landscape
  • Technological innovation changes the industry

What can we do? Develop a fast and flexible approach that allows content teams to address those unknown unknowns as they come up. This is not meant to be an explicit plan. Instead, it should be a modifiable process that is informed by the foundation work that goes into every solid content strategy.

Using Your Spare Tire

When the unknown unknowns make themselves, um, known, established roles and responsibilities become even more important. Some things to consider when establishing your “unknown unknowns” approach:

  • Include the proper staff and stakeholders. Not every person needs to be at the table for each discussion, but the right ones should be.
  • Keep an eye on sustainability. Changes must be realistic, and within the true scope and capability of those involved (as with any content project).
  • Set everything in alignment with your core strategy and business goals. Any one of the tire-blowout-level scenarios can lead endeavors off course.

Take the time to put together plans for issues and situations that might threaten your online endeavors. Then, create a process that will allow you (and your team) to address any other situations that come up.

Before long, issues will be resolved and you’ll have your tires on the road again.

(“Tired Tire” image by WheresWilson (cc: by-nc-sa ))

content strategy

“Go the F**k to Sleep”: Viral F**king Marketing, Or Not?

You may have seen the PDF of the book “Go the F**k to Sleep.”

Written by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortés, this a charming story reminiscent of the 60+ year-old storybook “Goodnight Moon.” I read the original classic to my three-year-old every night.

I first saw “Go the F**k to Sleep” forwarded in an email. It made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. As a parent, I laughed and cried at the same time. The book is just one of those things, an instant cultural phenomenon that strikes a chord with millions of people all at once.

I know this well, as I am going through this exact scenario with my three-year-old as I type this very blog post. Right now we are on our second third fourth try at going to sleep.

Share and share alike?

A PDF of the book was leaked and made the rounds online to parents and grandparents alike.

The fact that this book was shared so widely via email has created a great deal of buzz around its actual publication. The publisher has even moved up the publish date as a result.

Everyone got in on the share, and articles have been written about the impact of such pre-publish electronic distribution. James Joyner has a particularly thorough account of this at Outside the Beltway.

They upped the ante with Samuel L. Jackson

Just yesterday my social graph delivered to me the version of actor Samuel L. Jackson reading this delightful tale.

There was a 17 second preview of the audio recording on the site I visited. The preview also included an image of the book itself and a link to download the book at

Jackson’s reading was also made available on Amazon. For free. For a limited time. These are two sales tools that content providers have long used: cost incentive and timeframe. But now, these versions have been released into the digital wild.

As I went through the lengthy process of downloading the 6-minute sound file from, I thought, “This is silly.” And I was right. I had to sign up for an account, choose a device, download some software that I won’t use again, all to hear this six-minute clip. I had two colleagues tell of similar frustrations.

Fighting the current (landscape)

The moment I heard this, I KNEW that it would end up on YouTube. There was no doubt in my mind. It is the nature of things, now. Sure enough, it did. As of this writing, there are TEN versions on the first YouTube search results page. The copyright claims are already being filed:

When this sort of cultural phenomenon happens, rebel YouTube users have an illicit protocol of their own to follow. Here is how it goes:

  1. Download the hugely popular video right away. This is easy to do, even from YouTube.
  2. Upload it to a personal account. This may or may not have links to advert-laden websites or on-video advertising.
  3. Wait for the inevitable copyright takedown notices to take effect.
  4. Post to other, newly-created accounts.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4.

This didn’t have to happen

This could have been avoided. There could have been so much gained. Real dollars, press of all sorts, and the cultural currency of recognition.

Instead, will be filing claim after claim of copyright infringement for every illicit video containing that audio. Given the popularity of this one, they will be quite busy, as people will be clamoring to upload it to their own account.

What to do?

There is a more effective way these resources could have been used. All of these elements could have been combined to serve as a get-in-on-the-buzz appeal to buy the book. Like this:

  1. Create a video that featured images from the book, synced with the Samuel L. Jackson audio
  2. Brand it heavily with Audible at the head and tail with visuals including the logo
  3. Post it to a YouTube account with links to buy the book, the audio file, and a high-resolution version of the video
  4. Enable the adverts on the YouTube account to capitalize on the insane amount of traffic about to come our way
  5. Police YouTube and file claims on all accounts uploading the video to their own accounts

New business models will require some adjustment

One of the driving factors behind the decision to take this route was likely that of pay-per-download. Decision-makers likely thought that the after the free period expired, they would be able to sell it at their going rate, per download, and make some good money as the long tail tapered.

They probably could. And will.

BUT, what could have happened? Brand awareness. The good kind. The “halo effect” kind. (You know, the same that happens as when they play oldies on car commercials.)

I’d imagine that would like to enjoy even more brand recognition than what they have today. They have done groundbreaking work in the past in the realm of content distribution, and they are providing an invaluable service and business model for content creators past, present, and future.

What may have been missed here is an opportunity to ride the wave of a viral phenomenon. The times when you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that something is bound to go viral are SUPER LIMITED. It just doesn’t happen.

When you hear the idea of this book, and picture Samuel L. Jackson reading it, you KNEW that it was going to be big. We all did.

I’m certainly not calling for all publishers to upend their revenue models in hopes of latching onto some lottery-like viral phenomenon.

Instead, I’m asking them to look at the larger picture. Content needs to be created in a way that allows for easy sharing. Include the traditional appeals for purchase at the appropriate points. Lots of folks will buy.

Sometimes you have to forgo potential easy revenue in pursuit of an even greater payout. It’s scary. It may run counter to more conservative business models. But it’s also the reality we live in. We have the opportunity, every once in a while, to spin what has become the roulette wheel of advertising with odds on our side.

content strategy

Is Your Metadata Miles Away from Complete?

Whether your content is produced in-house or licensed from a third party, make sure it’s complete from top to bottom. Otherwise, you might send someone off in a JAZZ RAGE.

Listening to music has changed

I love music. After a lifetime of being hooked on CDs and LPs, I recently jumped into the realm of getting a music subscription online. The charm of these services is that they don’t require any downloads—all of the music is streamed on-demand.

Services like this are not new. They’ve been around for some time, actually.

I took the plunge because one of the services, Rdio, had finally created an online experience with the things I wanted. It’s easy to use. And easy to sync across different devices and locations. BUT, there are some common content issues that keep it from being a fantastic experience.

Providers need content

Services like Rdio work by licensing content, making it available each month to eager listeners for a subscription fee. Record labels strike deals with these online services to provide access to their catalog of titles.

Rdio has done their part, making the layout and features downright lovely. So lovely, in fact, that I’ve been going about as if I were a salesman for the company, begging people to sign up.

Being a jazz nerd, I immediately typed “Miles Davis” into the search box on my first visit. This is where the trouble started.

But something makes me kind of blue

First, some jazz history: Miles Davis played trumpet with bebop sax legend Charlie Parker early in his career. They made fabulous recordings. Rdio makes enjoying these rather difficult. To illustrate, here are the entries for Miles and Charlie Parker:

Figure 1. Miles is agitated.

Although it’s likely not the fault of Rdio, there are some serious content problems here. Content is duplicated. Other content has frustratingly incorrect or incomplete metadata. Some content suffers both problems.

Some of these distinctions make sense. But others feature almost comical misspellings or strange divisions (comma or hyphen or slash or semi-colon or … ).

A careful audit of this content prior to publication would have surfaced these content classification crimes. Miles himself would arrest you for such offenses against his music.

Figure 2. “You’re Under Arrest.”

At any rate, this many misleading options will bewilder even seasoned enthusiasts.

Content milestones of the unwanted sort

Even more jazz history: In 1958, Miles recorded a classic album titled “Milestones.” Get it? Miles? Tones? Milestones? (This is as good as jazz humor gets, folks.)

That search I mentioned earlier? For Miles Davis? It yields 368 separate album choices. If you wanted to listen to the “Milestones” album on Rdio, you would be presented with yet another content conundrum:

Figure 3. The confusing world of Milestones on Rdio

When faced with 368 album choices, a listener can get overwhelmed, to say the least. They may switch from navigating the search results via text to relying on visual cues (in the form of album covers).

In Rdio’s case, album covers and artist names are considered metadata.  Inaccurate and incomplete metadata makes navigating the options difficult, if not impossible.

When metadata is incomplete or inaccurate, people will flee. They’ll unsubscribe from your service and take their money with them. You don’t want that.

Metadata to the rescue

In the interest of creating a satisfying user experience, the record companies would do well to clean up the catalog they license to services like Rdio. As newer editions of “Milestones” are released, this user experience will only become more unwieldy.

Complete and accurate metadata will make your life easier now.

New technology and its applications will find new uses for content in coming years. Make sure that your content—and by extension, your metadata—is complete and accurate. Because it just may make your life easier in the future, too.