Value for time – what content is worth your while?

In any shop it’s always been like this: you’d be looking for value for money. And nowadays big online and offline stores are trying to give you (the impression you’re getting) just that.

But what about the content we consume? We don’t pay for that as a rule – or do we?

Apart from the whole “you’re paying with information so advertisers can zoom in on your unspoken needs” on the basis that your (online) actions speak louder than your words.

(If it comes to that, I need to do more online because frankly, the image of my age group plus gender I get through the advertisements vying for my attention is depressing. Apparently, as a 40+ female, I’m supposed to hanker after skin peelings (no thanks!), to be overweight (not even close), and like knitted clothes (well – okay. But I blame at least one, white, romantic bordering on cute knitted spring vest that’s been hanging in my closet for 6 years now on early pregnancy hormones).)

Value for your time?

The biggest sum we pay is the time we spend. It’s a combination of click-through (time to open a page on any website) plus actual ‘dwell time’ on the page. Mark Schaefer mentioned just this week on his blog that:

  1. people still find time for long reads (long form articles)
  2. that these long texts actually get shared more often than short ones
  3. that people are more likely to view content shared by their friends.

From my own experience (that is one person, I know) I agree that long texts are more shareable.

If you’re to click on a link and wait for a page to open, you expect that whatever you find is going to be worth your while, right? So if, after viewing any kind of content, you wonder if you should share it, what exactly are your criteria? I would expect content to be any of the following:

  • funny
  • beautiful
  • cute
  • interesting

If that content ticks several boxes at once that gets us into the Owww, Wow, what? or Awesome! mode (severely funny may also do it, but that might also sound like Ewww – yuk!).

This is probably why sunsets and kittens and people doing silly things are right up there with the must-have long reads (whether that’s neurology, climate, poetry, or fiction. Personally, I’m just about to finish re-reading a very long text on paper, which is in fact a book by Terry Pratchett).

Delivering on a promise

More time spent, the more you expect some kind of reward for the trouble you’re taking. After all, you could be spending your time on something much more fun or useful (rewarding) than reading this stuff, right? That’s what I try to tell others whenever I feel their content just doesn’t deliver. And it can be such a small thing. Sometimes there are just two or three lines missing that would wrap the whole thing up nicely instead of leaving the reader hanging (in suspense, possibly. Or, perhaps, in some measure of anger). You don’t want anyone to end up feeling cheated. So you share stuff that is worthwhile in some way. Because if you waste your friends’ time, that doesn’t help your online street cred one bit.

So… do you keep your friends amused? Informed? Or awestruck by the beauty of nature? It truly doesn’t matter. Relevance (like for example beauty) is in the eye of the beholder.

More from me to be expected in between gardening in my garden, in my sub-rented bit of an allotment, and the nearby park and our windowsill greenhouse. The offline green stuff keeps growing!

Communication or information?

In my two years as a content manager, my earlier suspicions have only been confirmed: even though I like content, and I know a bit about marketing, the two put together don’t make a content marketer. For that I’m just too much of a ‘content’ person. If I hadn’t been, I might have called this blog ‘marketingrambler’ and found myself rambling about the connection between marketing and gardening. Hmm. That doesn’t really work for me at all. Content gardening, however, has made it into my blog several time.

On to another topic: that of the connection between communication and information. Or really content, communication, and information.

  • Communication without information is … well, answers tend to range from impossible to politics to smalltalk I suppose.
  • Information without communication is just stuff sitting on a shelf.

Information is basically what people communicate. They might steer away from sharing one bit of information and convey another bit, but not communicating anything is… erm, the result of true dedication?

So basically, we communicate in order to transfer information from A to B. I think I saw something like that in a book about communication once.

And that means a communications professional views both communication and information from a very different angle than an information professional. (which is my preferred angle, whenever I get to it).

Communications teams may view communication as part of a project. However information professionals look at the transfer of information as part of a process within the organisation. When faced with tasks resembling those of communication professionals, they’ll probably view the project at hand as a process, wonder where information should enter the process, and where the process results in new information. And although information professionals are able to ‘do communication’, their hands will probably itch to improve and streamline the process, define all the information gaps, get some governance on the whole thing, …

In short, they’ll want to make structural changes whereas communication professionals will probably focus on the stuff that needs doing for that particular project.

Just my thoughts on a Friday (evening…). I’m getting seriously distracted by Gardeners’ World now, so more next time. Meanwhile, any thoughts on communication, content, or information? If so, just let me know in the comments section (or possibly Twitter).

The contented gardener

When I first started blogging, I decided not to blog about me. For more than a year, that worked really well. But then something happened. And it changed everything.

Winter garden

Photos from the garden yesterday afternoon. Call this winter? At ankel’s height there’s still lots to see. Bulbs reaching up. A cold snap with a drizzle of snow caused stubborn flowers to droop.

Over a year ago I got a new job. In content management. A great opportunity to turn all my talk about content, social media, and the like, into my daily job.

But somehow, spending hours at work fiddling with texts doesn’t motivate one to sit down at night and do the same thing all over again. Writing about content wasn’t the only problem. It was the editing, finding the right picture, and so on.

And even ‘writing about content’ was turning into a problem. Because it was ‘work’. I don’t mind work, I just don’t need to do one thing anywhere near 24/7. I craved variety. I’ve always loved doing a lot of different things at (nearly) the same time. (I know it’s getting out of hand whenever there are three different books by my bedside and another (two or three) in the living room.)

Content to garden

Then a new topic to blog about crossed my path. My garden. Actually it wasn’t that much of a garden: it was what was left after the houses had been built. After removing most of that one plant species I later learned is called lady’s thumb, because it grew nearly two feet tall all over the place, I let the other stuff grow to find out what kind of weed it was:

  • nice (like the flowery ones)
  • educational (stinging nettles – our son never had accidents with them at home)
  • slightly annoying (dandelions, but making up for it by looking great)
  • a real pain – unless you find a use for it (horsetail)

I’d added some plants but never sat down to decide which bigger plants might really add structure to our garden. It almost felt impossible to put big plants into a small garden. Partially because it would mean ripping out weeds that had grown on me. Sort of. Some of them. Partially because, well, it’s a small garden. Big plants were never going to fit, right?

Garden changes

But here I am after trying stuff in my garden for a whole growing season. I put in bigger plants and I keep seeing patches where more plants would fit quite snugly. I also started blogging about my garden.

Looking back at some pictures I took a few years ago I noticed one thing. A lot of small plants have disappeared. Having bigger plants shade the soil and soaking up nutrients and water has probably meant that the smaller ‘pioneer’ plants have left – after depositing their seeds in case a big shrub or a treelet is uprooted by a storm.

I’ve been able to retain a red clover, so hopefully it will attract bees and the like next spring. The gaps left by the pioneer plants are now begging for inhabitants -they are an open invitation for our neighbors’ cat to crap right in that spot (they don’t have a garden. Just a place to sit outside. And a cat with toilet issues). That’s one thing about some of the herbs: they die back when it gets cold and then the cats move in. Plants with woody stems are better.

Looking forward to spring. Happy New Year!

Content: relevance before cats

Christmas or end-of-the year musings… In the past year I’ve spent a lot of my time managing content for a website and making sure sufficient amounts of content get published. Over the year, I developed my own approach to that content. What happened?Christmas (warm filter)

As I got more familiar with the visitors of ‘my’ website I started to get a feel for the kind of content they consider worth their time. As it happens, the website aims to serve small and medium-sized businesses. A quick scan showed me that we were also serving a number of professionals in our own line of business (and that’s fine).

I’ve heard several times over the past five or so years the statement that content needs to be (more) attractive or even ‘sexy’. However the few times anyone got the chance to publish content considered attractive, that content somehow failed to live up to expectations. Newsletters were opened by far fewer readers.

Why wasn’t the attractive content working for us?

The persons sharing content published content they thought was interesting. However, they were not entrepreneurs. As a result, they were showing cute kittens to, in some cases, people with a cat allergy.

It’s not that entrepreneurs have no fun. It’s not that they don’t like cats. It’s just that they don’t need them in their business mailbox (unless they’re in the feline business).

Now, personally I dislike talking about buyer personas because I’ve come across way too many articles about the topic. People talking about buyer personas seem to indicate that you’re supposed to have descriptions of your different types of customers hanging on every wall. Unfortunately I studied art history a long time ago and my association (if any) is with ancient Christian icons. I do not intend to kneel before the image of my prospects. I’m hoping the ‘buyer persona’ buzz will blow over.

However you do need to take into consideration what an entrepreneur’s life and even a single day might look like. If business is good, they’re working for their customers. If business is not so good, they’re visiting potential customers. Either that or they’ll soon be out of business altogether.

So exactly how much time are entrepreneurs going to spend reading content unless it promises a return on the investment of their time?

That is why the title of this post is: relevance before cats. Because publishing horrible but relevant pieces of content (editing them when possible for greater readability) has proved itself over and over again. Making relevant content more attractive to your intended audience… now there’s an approach that is more likely to succeed.

This video from Mark Schaefer offers some useful insights into the measurement of your (PR/social media) activities. When small change starts to count in a business, you need to show results – either to your customer or your manager!

One last thing: I added a warm filter to the image above. These are the Photoshop settings:Christmas (warm filter settings)

Below is the original photo. We’ve been saving a lot of electricity in our house using LED and the like. The human eye gets used the difference after a while. But the difference does show itself in photos. Which version do you like best?

Merry Christmas!Christmas 2014

Social business: dead, alive and kicking, or business as usual?

For the past few years, ‘social business’ has gotten a lot of attention from a number of people. Very enthousiastic people. For various reasons, not everyone shared their enthousiasm. Social business has been declared dead a couple of times, probably because the innovators’ initiative didn’t seem to get a lot of tangible results very soon.

social business concept

A few recent articles point out different aspects – and views – of the drive towards social business. Continue reading

Content sharing and the unintended audience

Anyone who has shared content on Twitter will have noticed that sharing certain kinds of information attracts followers like a flower attracts bees – or, in some or many cases, like dung attracts flies.

Content and the (un)intended audience

The thing about the followers you attract in this way is that they’re often a lot like you. They share your interests. But if your aim is to attract people who might one day buy something from you, you need to share information that’s not necessarily the kind of stuff you’re personally, or even professionally, interested in.

The right content to attract the right audience

Business content

For business purposes you need to share content that your potential customers are interested in – which also relates to something they could buy from you.

What’s the right content for your potential customer? The correct answer is:

it depends…

Who is your customer?

Don’t get me wrong: your customers may be people just like you. Suppose you’re a parent. You run into the fact that a lot of kids’ clothes just aren’t practical or fashionable enough. You design items that are (of course!) wayyy better than the rest and start trying to sell them to… To people like you. To parents who are dissatisfied with the clothes already available.

Then again, you may need to attract people completely different from you. This is where buyer personas come in. Well, nearly…

Analyzing your current audience

Suppose you analyze your audience, such as it is today. That analysis doesn’t necessarily yield an overview of potential buyers. What it does give you is some idea of the groups that are interested in whatever you say – or don’t say.

In the case of a company website, you might review your e-mail list and find:

  • your competitors eagerly following what you do, so they can copy the things you’re doing right and do everything you’re not doing.
  • smaller businesses relying on you for dependable information, which they use to serve their customers.
  • a host of people hiding behind Gmail and the like, which might be competitors, or potential customers… hard to tell.
  • your (potential) customers.

Now a mix of all of these groups is normal. It doesn’t hurt to have competitors watch you. If they don’t, it may mean you’re not interesting. Your competitors aren’t stupid. If they were, they’d be out of business.

If you have a host of competitors and very few potential customers, it’s a different game. You need to change the content you’re publishing. But change it into what?

Describing your customers?

Buyer personas are basically a detailed description of a couple of very different (potential) customers for your products or services.

How much detail should you put into a buyer persona? There are plenty of sources that’ll tell you what data you need, but there are many ways to Rome:

Way back in my time as an art history student, I wrote quality descriptions of the 200 paintings and drawings I listed for my thesis. The question “Why?” will need to wait for the right blog post, but something remarkable happened after I finished my thesis, which contained all of my descriptions. Two fellow students ran into a drawing which they were able to identify with absolute certainty using my description. This drawing had actually been called lost or destroyed by earlier sources.

This is the kind of description you need for each type of (potential) customers if you want to increase your ability to share content that will attract them. You need to add the kind of detail that allows your sales people to recognize their real flesh-and-blood customers immediately. Without that kind of information about your customers, you’re basically relying on educated guesses. Which may work, if your guesses are well-educated 😉

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.

Continue reading