Blogging impressions: content editing to content creation

The odd thing about blogging is it’s so easy. In a way. You just start typing along and words come out. They’re not always the best words, though, in the best order, so editing is a big part if you’re critical of your own writing.

Content editing

Edit or create

“After the edit” | Laura Ritchie on Flickr

So what’s it like editing other people’s texts? I’ve done so for a while now and it’s a nice way to make a living, if you don’t mind putting the dots onto other people’s i’s. But there’s a risk. There always is.

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Content propagation: pruning and cuttings

I’ve read (and witnessed) how writing one long-form piece of content, for example in the shape of an e-book, can be a source of fresh content for a long time. In gardening terms, you’re propagating your content.

It’s like taking box clippings (late September is supposed to be a good time for this, or so I was told by “Gardener’s World”) and turning them into new plantlets. This typically takes a bit of time and care, but it’s easier – and cheaper – than starting from scratch.

Which begs a question from anyone who takes box clippings or other cuttings.

Plant nursery

Nursery in Ruyigi | Trees for the Future | Click to view on Flickr

Where is your content nursery?

In content creation (or content curation, whichever you like best) you have a spot where you gather any potentially useful ideas and articles that gave you these ideas. It may be the inside of your head (if you have a reliable brain), a notebook, or even a batch of drafts in your blog itself.

You then tend these ideas: you take another look at them, and select the ones that seem strong enough to take root with a bit of help. Water them, feed them, make sure they get their share of sunlight…

Tips for creating, curating, or editing

As luck would have it, Stefanie Flaxman just published a useful post on Copyblogger for editing content in which she distinguishes three stages:

  1. Pre-revision rituals. All of these put a psychological distance between you, the author, and your content.
  2. Comprehensive cutting and pasting. This is where you get systematic about editing: using several editing sittings if necessary, focusing on your goal and on how you’re helping your audience, eliminating anything confusing… And doing it again, until there is no single paragraph or sentence you can find fault with.
  3. Razor-sharp proofreading. This means you look at your content from the viewpoint of someone who’s never seen your content before (your audience).

If you’d like to read the entire post, here it is – enjoy your editing process!

And in case you’re wondering when I started my first content gardening post

 

Content harvest: apples, pears, completely bananas?

Now that I’ve started adding a dash of gardening to my content, more and more ideas pop up. Let’s see if there are useful weeds among them 😉

One question that occurred to me was:

Is there something like harvesting content?

Content harvest: apples

I suppose it’s what you do in an organization with a lot of content creation going on in outlying regions. It’s also what you do when you’re scouring the internet looking for interesting bits of information you can then share through whatever means.

There are a few issues at harvest time of course.

  1. Some apples rot or get eaten while still on the tree. Unless you spray anything you don’t like into oblivion. But I’d like to eat apples, not chemical residues.
  2. Some apples fall before you get to them and get pecked by chickens and devoured by ants or other insects (one minuscule bite at a time).
  3. Other apples just seem to laugh at your efforts by not being worth picking. Even thought they started out looking quite promising, they haven’t ripened the way you’d like them to.

Once you’ve harvested your bits of content, you want to keep them dry and snug for a while to use when you’re ready.

So compare this with ideas for your blog. Sometimes you get plenty of ideas, sometimes it’s as though you get none at all. Jot down any idea when you have it and store it for later. In my case it really helps to get a few lines written so that later on, I won’t end up wondering why any specific idea seemed so interesting. You probably won’t use every single idea you had – some topics are too newsy to keep for a long time. But that’s fine, because you’ll have your ideas stacked all the way up to the ceiling and you’ll select anything you want to work on – when you’re ready to do so.

What do you do with all that content?

Well, that’s a bit of a luxury problem… one that anyone with a mature fruit tree will recognize.

  • Part of your ideas will be fine as they are. You’ll need to add very little to your initial idea.
  • Other ideas will need more work, especially if you left them for a while. You might end up with the content version of stuff like apple pies using your favorite content curation recipe.
  • Another part may have to go to your neighbors… you’ve got too much! This is when you consider sharing your ideas by going guest blogging – provided you also have the time and energy for that 🙂

Content management for small gardens

This post is about gardening. It’s also about content management. Let’s see how we can fit those two into the same yard.

Planting trees

Garden management and content management results

Last week I planted a tree. It’s not hugely expensive. Still, I worry about it. Sometimes I suspect I read too much. Has the following ever happened to you?

You know you need, say, a new pair of trousers. As luck would have it, all the stores sell the wrong type (the one that doesn’t fit or that makes a size six look like an overweight hippo). They do have nice shirts though, and you end up buying one of those.

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The art of content curation: mind your p’s

How do you handle existing content so that you add value to what’s obviously already out there? In this post I’d like to distinguish several aspects – levels if you will, or approaches – of content curation. I’ve handily summarized these aspects as the 3 P’s of content curation: pick, prepare, and present.

Some content curators stick to one or two aspects, but for best results, add a measure of all three ingredients.

Pick: content selection (social media)

content curation: pick, prepare, present

Pick, prepare, present – image on Flickr

Many tools, from Twitter search to Scoop.it’s suggested content or Squirro will help you make a selection of content for republishing on social media.

  1. Some accounts on Twitter will retweet just about anything about topic X.
  2. Experts make sure they build their reputation and keep it intact by (re)sharing only quality content.

The actual content stays where it is: on someone’s website.

Pick: content selection (websites)

On the other hand, a number of websites are basically one big RSS-feed by the looks of them – and some of them republish complete articles. If you’re looking for quality content and want to republish articles from certain websites on a regular basis:

  1. you’ll need to arrange something with the content creators and expect them to want something in return;
  2. your content creators may appreciate their logo, a link, and perhaps a banner on your website. One good turn deserves another?

Prepare: edit, edit, edit

Sometimes you just can’t help yourself – you’ve got to edit if:

  • the original content is so crappy you don’t want it on your own website without a bit of editing. You try to keep the good ideas while editing out the bad spelling, abysmal grammar, and bone-headed typos.
  • quality content has gone stale and it’s easy to update it. Sometimes all it takes to freshen up an article is two lines and a link to refer to recent developments.
  • a few headings and subheadings would facilitate easy reading. Some articles just aren’t written for online reading, certainly not on – say – a mobile phone.

Edit existing content on these points and it’s hard to see how you can’t improve on the original.

Present: recreate your content for your audience

Content curation is also about writing and tagging articles for your own audience:

  1. Would your audience use certain phrases – or is it better to literally rephrase parts of existing content to suit your readers?
  2. Does that mean you need to rewrite the whole article to fit new keywords?
  3. What does that do to the tags you add? After all these are based on the actual content – which you’ve changed.

Present: where content curation meets content creation

We’ve come a long way beyond ‘simple’ content curation. Writing for a different audience may involve editing existing content beyond recognition. At some point you’ll need to consider whether you need to keep the original thought only, and write your own point of view in a brand new piece of content.

This is especially true if your audience is interested in, say, video’s or infographics rather than written content. You could argue that summarizing existing information in front of a camera or designing an infographic around it is (high-level) content curation. Or could you?

Pick, prepare, present – how to balance your content curation efforts?

Alternate between levels or aspects of content curation. Finding a balance is important in order to:

  • share your own view on a range of topics;
  • avoid exhausting yourself trying to do everything every single time (unless you’re a pro blogger I guess)

After all, you are your readers’ go-to expert 🙂

Blogging stew: mixing content creation, curation, and marketing

If content is part of your profession, you need to keep an eye on all aspects. Not just the bit you happen to be responsible for at any given moment. Why?

  1. Because these different aspects are glued together and you’ll get asked sooner or later: “But what about X?” Although you could say that’s out of your jurisdiction, that answer won’t get you anywhere nice.
  2. Because it’s actually nice to stay up to date about topics that are related to what you do for a living, or for a hobby – like blogging.

Blogging stew: content ingredients

Great-looking ‘Mayan stew’. Click to view on Flickr [cloud2013].

As a content enthousiast you’re involved in content creation, content curation, content marketing, or all of them mixed up into a (hopefully) savory stew. What’s the result of putting in your time and energy? Continue reading

Interviews as a time-saving part of your business content strategy

You may have noticed that bloggers like Mark Schaefer (@MarkWSchaefer) and Steve Farnsworth (@Steveology) interview subject matter experts on a regular basis. Interviewing experts has got some advantages to asking them to produce content for your blog:

  • You don’t ask much of their time – catch them at a congress if you want a video. Or ask them a specific question through any medium: e-mail, Twitter, or their own comments section.
  • Visiting your SMEs may give you some opportunities to get video footage. If you don’t have much time, pick up the phone and get a few short questions answered.
  • If there’s any writing to be done, you’re the one doing it. That’s an advantage if your SME is not used to writing for the audience you’re interested in.

Interviews can be a valuable part of your content strategy – if you decide to make the most of them.

Bits For Your Business Content Strategy

Bits of content for your business content strategy

SME interviews as part of your business content strategy

Remember those busy subject matter experts from my post about single versus multiple content creators? What if they’re your colleagues?

You could simply make a few phone calls or pick up your mini-cam and head over to wherever your SME is hanging out and interview them for the business blog or website. When you’re done, you tell them when you intend to publish.

Then publish and let your SME know, so that they can reply to any comments – if they want to. Or you can opt to have your SME post the video themselves in an online community. If you send them the video (or URL) via e-mail:

  1. Make sure your SME knows the procedure (see 2-5).
  2. Add instructions, starting with the publishing date. Inform your SME that if the video isn’t posted by [exact time on specified date] you will go ahead and post it yourself.
  3. Add a copy-paste text for them to use or edit.
  4. Check if it’s posted.
  5. If it’s not posted, post the video yourself and notify your SME. You can even invite them to reply. Add an example like “My personal favorite from this list is actually X.” This isn’t a must-do, but it can help.

How do interviews save you time?

The time-saving won’t work if you spend an entire day on an interview then share the results only once.

You may want to share the original interview soon after it takes place. But every interview can be ‘mined’ for later use. You can structure the content you’ve collected soon after the interview to have bits of content ready which you can integrate into new posts or save for a content emergency.

  • You quote from the interview.
  • Top tips from your SME for achieving a certain goal.
  • Mining the interview to get ideas for related topics.

Getting strategic about your interviews

On the other hand, if you do a series of interviews in which you ask one or more identical questions, you can:

  • collect the answers as you go.
  • share the answers to a specific question in yet another piece of content. Or two. (Or three.)

This means you make collecting data from multiple interviews part of your business content strategy. I’ll admit it sounds like research 😉

This approach will let you (re)share parts of your content much later in a different context following the principles of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.

The big issue: content creation and originality

Sometimes inspiration drops in through Twitter. It happened to me a moment ago and since I had been planning to blog this evening (yesterday evening by publishing time) I decided to write about it 🙂

In this post you’ll find my thoughts about content creation plus 3 tips.

This post originated in something I said in a DM:

No human is ever as original as they claim to be – or as unimaginative as they fear to be. {click quote to tweet*}

I think this quote is mine, but if you’ve seen it anywhere before, please let me know. My opinion in the matter is, as you may have guessed:

  • There are plenty of people out there – some of them I’ve met on Twitter – who claim to be completely awesome. I haven’t unfollowed anyone yet for boasting about their accomplishments – but I’ve come close 😉
  • On the other hand, some people are so hesitant you’ll never get to hear from them because they never even try…

The quest for originality in content

The worst thing you can do is consider blogging, or creating any kind of content – or anything at all, from the perspective of what you don’t have.

Content creation and originality

Content originality? Parts of this picture from OCAL.

  • Your first issue is that you’re human and so is your audience (unless you’re Men In Black). This limits your spectrum to subjects humans find interesting.
  • Then there’s the marketing issue: not everyone likes the same stuff. You need to find your audience and come up with stuff they like.
  • Next up: competitors. There are so many people blogging about the same topic – what can you possibly add?
  • And so on.

If you follow a similar train of thought, the sensible thing to do is, well, nothing. But wait – let’s try the same thing from the perspective of options that are open to you:

  1. You have a personal set of experiences in your life and career that is unique.
  2. This gives you an original view on topics that (many) others are interested in.
  3. Knowing this, you can learn by watching what competitors do in coming up with (original) content without getting the nasty feeling there’s nothing left to do.
  4. Lots of competitors? Great! Keep an eye on the ones who do their research. Be nice though – no stealing.

Here’s my best advice when it comes to the quest for original content: stop searching – for now. Accept that you’re probably not producing original (unique) content. Focus on other aspects instead. Originality will find its way to you once you’re actively creating your own stuff.

Tip #1: Opt for quality rather than originality

I wrote two posts about content curation earlier. One is about levels of content curation (the good, the bad, and the ugly). In the other I talk about content curation as a way to show your expertise. Here’s my view for what it’s worth:

Content creation is basically high-level content curation.

If you have no idea how to start, try curating other people’s stuff. Collect other people’s content, select the interesting bits and re-write it so that the resulting piece of content adds value in the eyes of ‘your’ audience.

I started my collection of interesting content on Pinterest, but any tool that will let you group and re-group information easily will help you get a clear picture of what there is, and where you might add the biggest value based on your expertise.

Your content may not be original, but what’s original about the post I’m writing? I’m sure there are similar posts all over the internet. The difference is that this one represents my take on a familiar issue.

Tip #2: Focus on delivering relevant content to your audience

Create stuff that matters to the people you create it for, and do it well. The rest is BS.

What insight can you add that’s relevant for your audience?

{click question to tweet*}

If you’re wondering what content curation looks like on a good day, read this blog post by Kara Jackson that is a great example of content curation while also being about content curation. As you’ll see, good content curation is quite similar to content creation. Both require writing skills, for one thing 😉

Tip #3: Don’t, ever, advertise at me and call it a blog

This one is for you if you’re a creator of business content. If you want to tell me “you must be running into problem X, we happen to have the perfect solution, please register here”, do it elsewhere on your website.

Use your blog to build your credibility as an expert and potential problem-solver. Show me something that makes me think: hey, I didn’t know that, never viewed the subject that way, I’ve learnt something today… You’re allowed to amuse me while you’re at it. Be creative 🙂

It’s originality, but not as we know it

The truth about originality is it doesn’t exist in the way we think it does. What does exist is “something old, something new…” in new, unexpected combinations.

*Click to tweet: the first time I saw this type of link I wondered if all it took was one click to tweet. Fortunately you also need to click the actual Twitter action button 🙂

Please leave your musings about blogging, content, and originality or your tips for further reading in a comment – I will respond to any non-spammy contribution!

Levels of content curation: blogging

This week I came across the following article – I should tell you I once studied art history. You will understand my natural interest in the subject 😉 :

From Pop Music to Blogging, Everyone’s a Curator

– Kyle Chayka on Hyperallergic

In this post you won’t hear me talk about content curation from a “social media ladder” (Forrester) viewpoint. You can ignore the 1-9-90% story. Or the 75-23-2 version by Gartner. Anyone interested in the subject needs to realize:

Broken Social Media Ladder inspired by the Forrester Social Media Ladder

Broken Ladder inspired on (but not identical to) Forrester’s Social Media Ladder (for the original: click image)

  • The numbers will change as more people get (more) used to sharing their information online;
  • There are many different forms and levels of curation. You might as well lump the categories “1-9”, or alternatively “23-2” into one group.

Why would you do that? My answer:

Blogging is essentially high-level content curation.

Don’t get me wrong: not every blog reflects the same level of curation.

If you blog by selecting a couple of quotes from different articles about a subject you want to publish on and writing down why they are interesting, you’re curating content.

On the other hand, you could start by writing your view on a subject and add a few quotes. Curation or creation?

Or you could start your blog post with a quote which reflects a similar take on the subject or which contradicts your view – thus giving you an excellent starting point to explore the pros and cons of your insight. Most people would agree this is content creation. In terms of brain science it’s probably high-level content curation.

Blogging in your brain

In the Netherlands, Dick Swaab’s book “We are our brains” has been the center of some debate around free will and the question whether we have any. The controversy was largely based on Swaab’s assertion that what (and how) we think, feel, say and do is a result of influences on our brains throughout our lives, starting in the womb.

Swaabs opponents are mainly psychology experts who seem to take the idea of “No output without input” as meaning we’re compared to machines, only able to act in response to triggers. Let’s leave that kind of simplistic nonsense aside though, especially since I’ve read Swaabs book but only a few articles about the other side of the argument. Instead, I’d like you to focus on the following question:

How does this brain talk relate to the writing process?

When it comes to writing, the fact that I’ve read any number of articles and books in my life helps me to come up with all sorts of ideas. Think about it for a minute: when you’re new to a subject you need to learn about, you read, listen and think and rethink until you end up with a rough idea of what there is to know about that subject – which you can then refine over time or revise if necessary (this is the tricky bit for most of us).

Our opinions are based on the information that is available to us when we’re learning new stuff. If new information, which does not match the opinions we have formed, becomes available we have some serious ‘un-learning’ and revising to do.*

Content creation by blogging

Even if you make a point of sitting down to write without distractions, if you blog without referring to other authors and articles because you simply don’t know exactly where or when you got the first idea for what you’re writing, you are still influenced by all the information you have reviewed.

All the information you’ve fed into your brain is let out in your writing process.

This means that it may well pay off to be single-mindedly interested in one particular subject. Your interest means you can read about, and focus on, that subject and ignore other information. That in turn makes it easier to write about the subject without the distractions of a million other fascinating subjects.

So if you’ve recently taken up blogging and are finding the step from social networks or from curation platforms like Pinterest or Scoop.it a bit much to adjust to at times, I hope this post has helped you ‘revise’ your idea of blogging.

More about blogging and content curation

If you find all kinds of subjects are trying to find a place in your blog posts, you may find this earlier post useful.

On the flipside of today’s post are content curation and creation outside blogs. I could write a whole post about that, and I’ve already written one before: this one.

If you’re interested in my collection of articles about content creation (and content curation) I would invite you to check my Pinterest board.

* My first source for the term ‘unlearning’ is Frank Herbert’s book Dune. Just saying 😉

As always, you may your insights, and other contributions in a comment below this post.

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Great content curation: How using your expertise adds value

In my previous posts I have talked – a lot! – about social networks and sharing. I only briefly touched upon that which is being shared. Content. Loads of content.

This post is different. It’s shorter. And it can be summed up as follows:

Why content curation deserves your attention: a great way to add value using existing

If you hang around online long enough you’ll notice content is being reduced, re-used and yes, recycled endlessly.

I’ll be the first to admit that not everyone can blog full-time. But that doesn’t mean you can’t share your expertise. First, here is what you don’t do.

Definite don’ts in content curation

Here are some methods of re-using content you really should not consider:

  • Complete blog posts copied into a company website. Luckily I haven’t seen much of this, yet. “Text produced originally on blog X” – This had better be evergreen content because whatever it is, it’s not news. Stay well away from the murky waters of content theft.
  • Tweets that contain no reference to the author of the content it is linking to. This method suggests to casual observers that you’re rolling in home-made content. I’ve seen this a couple of times. How will anyone be able to tell quickly what your personal expertise is?
  • Blogs on company websites that contain image and some text from a different blog, add sauce “Well I think it’s a great contribution on subject X…” blah, blah. Actually I ran into one of these recently. Reading this particular blog left me feeling disappointed and guess what? I went to the original blog that was way better than the drivel I’d just read.

How to apply your expertise effectively

Great ways to use existing content without spending a lot of (extra) time can be swept into two heaps: social network updates, and the light version of blogging.

Updates are great if you don’t want to start blogging in any way:

  • Start by mentioning the original author’s name (Twitter handle for preference) in all your tweets, pins and updates.
  • Refashion the original title if necessary. Make sure your text reflects what you think makes this content worth reading or viewing.
  • Use keywords or hashtags depending on what your audience likes – only if they suit the content of course.

If this sounds like a lot of work in a tight space, you’re right. But it will cost you less time than drafting a full-length original blog post. The same goes for ‘light’ blogging:

  • Write a “Top 3” based on articles you’ve read on a subject in the past week. While you read, jot down what each article adds to your line of work. It doesn’t really matter where you do this: in Notepad, or directly into your planned blog post. Whatever works for you.
  • Or you can collect a few snippets of text and proceed in much the same way.
  • If you’re good at visual representations it’s faster and easier to (re-)visualize content than to write about it.

Your main aim should be to inject your expert opinion, however briefly.

The content curation methods I’ve just described will not lead you to eternal glory but they will allow you to show your expertise without risking your professional credibility or possibly even legal issues.

Do you curate existing content often? Did I miss any methods to curate successfully? If so, you’re welcome to add your comment to my list!

If you think this post was useful to you, please share it.