I’m writing in cursive again

It’s a wonderful thing, you see.

I stopped writing in cursive in the seventh grade. It was all printed letters from there on out. For some reason or other, I took up the quill (or pencil, actually) and started to write things all curly and old-fashioned once again.

I’ve tried picking it up again two other times in my adult life, but it never stuck.

My family and friends are familiar with my odd personal challenges. They rarely serve any purpose whatsoever. Like the time I listened to my entire music collection from A to Z. Or eating candy only in prime-number amounts.

Then I read an interesting article about the nature of handwriting and its effects on brain activity. From the article:

The brain’s “reading circuit” of linked regions that are activated during reading was activated during hand writing, but not during typing.


Communications? Efficiency? Ideas? WHY DO I PRINT MY DAMNED WORDS? “No more,” I promised with a better-placed-elsewhere resolve.

Polishing a skill unused for 20 years or so is tough. At the start, I could feel my brain using up extra capacity as I struggled with the simple connections between the letters of a word. But kept at it. A whiteboard and dry-erase marker really helped ease me back into the dignified way. (I hate to call it that, but boy do I feel fancy, now.)

Should I ever gain access to a time machine, I would consider going back and slapping my seventh-grade self and insist upon maintaining proper penmanship skills. But maybe not. Because, you see, my handwriting is better than it ever was.

My teachers always gave me poor marks for handwriting, and for good reason. I’ve seen some of those chicken-scratchings. You’d think I would have pursued a career as a doctor or something.

Each word more closely resembles my father’s handwriting now. Before it was large, unruly, flying off of the lines. Now it’s measured, even-handed, and tiny. (It’s also unreadable at a distance, which has its benefits.)

Many of the things I write for work or pleasure start off in written form. On paper. With a pencil. But now, those same words are slanty and flowing, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t just as satisfying as can be. Now, I’ll sit in meetings and take notes about things I have business taking notes about JUST SO I CAN PRACTICE.

Sometimes I’ll reserve a conference room with a whiteboard and a marker at work to work through some ideas. In cursive. There’s a certain rhythm and harmony that comes with praciticing a skill learned in youth, as an adult.

As much fun as it is, my handwriting will never win awards. I’m not signing up to teach cursive classes. My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Freese, probably wouldn’t grade it better than a B- at best. That doesn’t matter, for the most important part is not what happens on the page, but what happens in my brain.

content strategy publications

I Wrote an Article for A List Apart, OMG

I recently had the distinct pleasure of writing an article for the esteemed A List Apart website: “‘Like’-able Content: Spread Your Message with Third-Party Metadata.”

The article is the result of a need for a definitive guide for the creation and implementation of third-party metadata. Now that Facebook and Twitter have their own proprietary metadata schemes, the time had come to look at how those schemes impact the creation and overall message of online content.

Frustration with scattered resources and a lack of editorial guidelines led me to believe that other folks might like to learn about this as well. (I’d been thinking about third-party metadata quite a bit, as a part of a work project.) MY PAIN = YOUR GAIN.

Have a look-see. Let me know what you think!

content strategy

Five Ways to Save Your Video Content from Devouring Itself

Video content poses unique challenges to content marketers, content managers, and content strategists. Especially since it is often hosted on constantly evolving, proprietary platforms. The incorporation of outside links in YouTube videos is a fine, current example.
Search and content have a long, dysfunctional history. Search algorithms change to address unsavory content practices. New unsavory content practices pop up to exploit newfound vulnerabilities. This cycle continues, and will, for the foreseeable future.

These algorithm adjustments also apply to video content. I happened upon an article on ReelSEO, written by Chris Atkinson, detailing the introduction of including outside links on YouTube videos, and its potential search and content implications.

(These platform-specific announcements are especially important to we content folks, as they often have a direct impact on the whats and hows of our content delivery.)

Link to anything you fancy

Link placement within videos has been an option for years. Up to this point, YouTube has limited the nature of those links to other YouTube videos, YouTube channels, or fundraising appeals. Most recently, they added “merch” as an option for channel owners to link to YouTube-approved retail sites like iTunes, GooglePlay, etc.

Now, the floodgates are open. Links to any site are now allowed on any YouTube video. Gone are the days of only placing a link in the video description area. CUE THE PARTY HORNS. Sort of.

Some video content creators will abuse this. I guarantee it. Others will link to too many things in a video, causing confusion. We’ll see videos so laden with links, calls-to-action, and more that your old GeoCities page will seem like a serene utopia in comparison. Link to the Facebook page! Visit this microsite! Fill out this email signup form! LINKS!11

Start by creating great video content

The best case scenario here sees content creators using the in-video link option to focus their channel-specific video messaging even further. We want to provide the best content experience possible, links clicked, Watch Time, and otherwise. How do we do that with video?

  1. Create content that people want to watch. Think palatable, not gimmicky. Effective and straightforward trumps trying-to-be-funny or attempted-edgy on most occasions.
  2. Make content clear and concise. Make your point in as few seconds as possible. Be directly helpful. PEOPLE LOVE THAT. A shorter video makes the link placement have less of an SEO impact. It’s easier to watch a shorter video, from a life-expectancy point-of-view, too.
  3. Focus on a single topic, concept, or task. The linear presentation of a video and its (new) links precludes an easy message hierarchy. Stick to a single message, and don’t try to do to many things at once. Otherwise, you’re likely lose your audience on all of the things in frustration and confusion.
  4. Give it context. Resist the urge to start off videos with a Ken Burns-style mini-documentary about the company. Instead, give them the background they need to make use of the rest of the video. If your messaging is consistent, this context should flow easily from one platform to the next.
  5. Tell the story. Use a video’s linear constraints as a force for good. Take advantage of it with an equally-linear storyline. Beginning, middle, end. Even if it is a :30 second piece. To quote Steve Martin’s character Neil Paige from the holiday travel film, “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”: “When you are telling these little stories, here’s a good idea: Have a point.”

Place the link carefully

The ReelSEO article touched on another important part of this equation: inclusion of a “Watch Time” variable as a metric used in SEO. In other words, the longer a viewer watches your video, the better your stature in search results.

The Watch Time metric will be a considerable challenge for some. It’s not exactly new; YouTube has been doing this since March 2012. This is fine for short videos with a quick and concise close.

However, longer videos were often published with the optimistic mindset of “viewers can watch a little, or they can watch all 18 or 32 minutes.” The impact was the same. Now, the opposite is true. Watching a portion of a video to the end, once started, now has a potentially detrimental effect on the placement of the video within search results.

Atkinson notes that this presents a paradox of sorts. Ideal link placement within the video becomes a Schrödinger’s content cat situation:

  • Place the link at the beginning, where more people will see it? (Assuming more people will start your video than watch it to the end.)
  • At the end, to receive more SEO mojo? (At the risk of fewer people actually seeing and clicking on said link.)
  • In the middle, to strike a perilous balance?

Link to appropriate web pages from your video (And vice veresa.) Strive for a seamless experience across platforms with branding, messaging, and tone & voice. Great content makes it all a more satisfying endeavor, all around.

(Top image adapted from “Skip containing discarded VHS tapes” by Flickr user Rob Pearce.)

content strategy

An Intoxicating Tale of Content Strategy

An effective content strategy bridges the critical gap between online and offline worlds, and the gaps between departments. When a content strategy is put in place, business goals will be met more easily, and people’s expectations with the brand will be fulfilled. I’ll drink to that.

A new product, a new opportunity

There it sat, on the shelf in the liquor store. An unfamiliar whisky housed in one of those fancy, boutique-style bottles. It wore an already-iconic label. I was intrigued.

This distilling company put some careful thought into this whisky. They even created some delightful point-of-purchase pricing signs echoing that label design. The text at the top of those tiny pricing signs reads “Just Released”–an announcement to the world, proud and urgent.

They want people to know about the whisky. They want people to buy it. But, as of this writing, THAT’S THE END OF IT.

The portable web changes everything

Like any other whisky nerd, I searched the web from my smartphone for any mentions or reviews of this whisky. To my surprise, there was only one relevant listing. And it wasn’t a helpful listing, either: an online retailer that offered only a price and size of the bottle.

The label on this bottle includes the company’s website. Unfortunately, it, too, was unhelpful. The whisky was not listed anywhere on the site. Searching for the whisky’s brand name on the company site brought up a page full of PHP errors. (That’s another matter altogether.)

Lots of whisky enthusiasts would have stopped right there. Despite the lack of information, I purchased a bottle.

(I shan’t mention the company name, lest this post become the only thing about this whisky on the all of the Internet.)

The gap between online and offline strategy appears

Time and money were spent on the product design and retail accoutrements, but the online presence? NOT A DROP. A chasm between the distillery’s new product strategy and the online strategy quickly became apparent.

This distillery has a product, a niche whisky. They want to sell it. Lucky for them, people want to buy distinctive whiskies. But they don’t buy them blindly. They want to know all kinds of things before making that purchase: age, blend, whose grandpa distilled it in the hills 100 years ago, etc.

If that information is not presented at the point of purchase or on the item itself, they’ll seek it out online. Possibly right there on the spot.

When companies present anything less than a complete and unified presence online and offline, people notice. Really, they do. Those people may shrug their shoulders and carry on with their tasks on your site (albeit with less satisfaction and ease.) Or, in the absence of any info online, they may give up and go to a competitor.

Each item and brand, especially in a retail environment, should have a corresponding presence online. That presence needs a solid strategy to inform its messaging, target audience, distribution, workflow, and maintenance.

Instill your projects with content strategy

I’ve heard online content strategy described, at its most basic, as the alignment of business goals and user expectations:

  • Company provides a product or service
  • People complete tasks related to that product or service (e.g. learning, purchasing)

The closer we align the meeting point(s) of those business goals and the user expectations, the better. Both sides need to be addressed. The one-way, broadcast model the distillery put in place, either actively or by omission, will no longer cut it. They missed the mark entirely in this case. No pun intended.

A toast to your future content projects

Part of the burden (or joy, I mean) of content strategists is keeping up with an organization’s new initiatives and changes to ongoing efforts. The launch of this whisky is a fine example.

To avoid a similar situation, get a seat at the table early in the process to engage with all staff involved on a project:

  • Ask lots of questions
  • Consider the implications of new company endeavors in the short and long term
  • Filter each and every situation through your core online content strategy
  • Be ready for changes that will inevitably come up along the way
  • Make sure that new efforts are sustainable

Content strategists can have a great impact, but they are not a cure-all. Some projects may suffer from scalability issues, unwise decisions, or legacy organizational baggage.

What content strategists can do, however, is follow the standards for making great online experiences. They can ensure that the right audiences are addressed in the most effective way. And, they can guide the process with an overall strategic vision in place.

When your project is (hopefully) successful and all things are operating in sync, I have but one more bit of advice: pour yourself a glass of whisky.

content strategy

You May Ask Yourself These Five Simple Content Strategy Questions

1. What am I trying to accomplish?
Determine your core strategy, your unifying principles to follow. This is more critical than it might appear. Are you selling albums to adults? Soliciting donations for Dalmatians? With an honest evaluation of what you are trying to accomplish, only then should you begin down the path of content creation, delivery, and marketing.

2. What are my competitors doing?
Or not doing? Put on your detective hat and figure out where you stand in the marketplace. Though you shouldn’t necessarily copy what they are doing (or not doing), observing your peers / competitors will give you a benchmark of current market activity and user expectations.

3. What do I already have?
Complete an audit of your content. Audits uncover what you have, and what shape it is in. (Is it up-to-date? Accurate? Trivial?) Due to silo-filled work environments, many organizations are unaware of the value already in-house. The unrealized potential of ongoing initiatives may give you a head start on upcoming content marketing plans.

4. Do I have the capacity to create content sustainably?
Honestly evaluate your organization’s human resource capacity and budget for content creation. Many plans look great on paper. At the start, enthusiasm is high. As campaigns and initiatives wear on, it becomes clear that they are unsustainable. Any content marketing plan should be based on an organization’s true ability to sustain it.

5. How will we care for the content throughout its lifecycle?
To remain effective, content needs maintenance. Rather than implementing the “set it and forget it” mentality, content should enjoy regular, scheduled check-ups to ensure that it is still relevant, accurate, and supports the organization’s core strategy.

Top Six Things

Top Six Rejected Names For My Friend’s New Baby

  1. Spleena
  2. Hmph
  3. Tractor
  4. Roosevelt
  5. Nickelbackayden
  6. Diskette