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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category
Always on the lookout for good articles about the importance of copywriting for online projects, I came across this posting by Shane Atchison on the ClickZ site, in the form of an interview with the lead writer at the ZAAZ agency in the US, where Shane is the CEO.
Pithy quote from the article: “Even though copywriting is an art form, it’s firmly grounded in logic: the clear communication of a concept or call to action. As such, agency writers are keenly aware of usability, analytics, and optimization, factors that drive our project goals and metrics. Words heavily determine how a site is used, therefore analytics help determine the kind of content writers develop for any site.”
Warning: shameless self-promotion alert!
Zazoo has been producing a series of podcasts on e-marketing for interactive marketing agency HotHouse. Here are some links to recent podcasts:
- Online conversation marketing: are you coming to the party? - Ray interviews US digital PR guru Chris Abraham
- A complex beast: online advertising today - Simon interviews Digital Cadet’s Brendon Cropper
- Digital opportunities for PR - Simon interviews Alan Parker from Burston Marsteller
- What the experts can teach us - Simon interviews US digital connector Susan Bratton
Also, visit the HotHouse blog for erudite commentary on the digital industry!
Looking back at past writings, I came across this one I originally wrote more than 10 years ago. Surprisingly, it still has currency today. Pleasantly surprised because many of the insights (such as the emphasis on interaction and community) have stood the test of time; not so pleasantly surprised because of some of the things that still haven’t changed, such as the continued use of the term “user” to describe web consumers - can’t we come up with something that has more humanity? So here it is:
The World Wide Web takes channel surfing to heights only imagined by the most hardened remote control jockey. If your site is boring, of no use, or takes more than a moment to download, people will click away from your page faster than Homer Simpson can scarf down a doughnut. But if you can deliver what your customers want and expect from your Web site, you’ll have a very useful tool for your marketing armoury.
Working out what consumers expect on a Web site is still more of an art than a science. As Fox Television and QVC home shopping executive Barry Diller says, “There are no mavens to be found and no research worth its salt. There are no guideposts, no divining rods to tell you what to do. It’s only with patience that you can develop a fluency in a new medium.”
The online environment is young enough that it’s still being used as an extension of old media. It’s like the early days of television, when it was just radio with pictures. Television producers simply stuck a camera in front of the newsreader, radio serial performers or an orchestra (In fact, the Microsoft Network’s first foray into online news in Australia was exactly that - downloaded video of news editor Jason Romney reading out news headlines on a Web page).
It was only when people like the legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow started taking the camera out of the studio and into the street that television evolved into a medium distinct from radio.
Or to use a non-media analogy, the Internet is still a horseless carriage and not yet an automobile. Interactive new media are largely viewed as incremental improvements to traditional media, when in fact they represent entirely new ways of looking at the world. They are capable of doing things that have never been done before.
The online world is still looking for its Edward R. Murrows. The successful pioneers will be the ones who listen carefully to their users and give them useful interactions that they can’t get in any other medium. (I use the word “user” reservedly, as an inadequate term waiting for the right term to evolve. They’re not readers, or listeners, or viewers - they’re all those things. So for now the word user is a term favoured by the IT industry until we come up with something better.)
So how do you work it out? Here’s the current thinking on what consumers want and don’t want from a Web site, based on what’s working on the Web and what’s not. Some of it is simple logic, while with others you need to turn your head slightly and look at the world from another angle.
They expect a personalised experience. The ability to serve up customised information has been a big selling point of the Web, and people have been listening. It’s now expected that a Web site will be littered with opportunities to shape their experience, by selecting types of information to be served up, whether to have sound on or off, etc. Personalisation can include building an analytic ability into a site, such as the database capability of commerce sites such as Amazon, which serves up lists of other books in genres in which you’ve performed searches. The greatest Web sites provide on-on-one specific, valuable information to one person.
They expect it to be interactive. If you don’t give visitors the opportunity to contribute to a discussion, play a game or at least send you an email, you might as well have just printed a brochure.
They expect to connect with others. Bulletin boards, discussion groups, chat rooms, mailing lists - there are plenty of ways to include features which enable people to share ideas with other people through your site.
They expect a response - now. A Web site is a prime opportunity for service-oriented companies to offer full-spectrum customer service. However, you need to ensure that your response, even if it’s an automatic email acknowledging their request, is rapid.
They expect it to be easy to find what they want. People are looking to the Web for information that is sorted and organised in a useful way, though not necessarily a conventional way.
They expect depth of information (but not breadth). It’s much more useful to offer comprehensive information on a limited range of topics on your Web site than a little general information on a wide variety of subjects. Since a Web site has no limit to the pages it can carry, it offers an opportunity for hyper-focus not available to other media. The Web is a place where people can find information they can’t find anywhere else.
They expect to use the Internet for research. The 1997 Price Waterhouse Consumer Technology survey found that Web users spent 43% of their time accessing the Internet for research.
They expect compelling content - laced with entertainment. Consumers are drawn to the Web by content - content that is presented in a way that makes it easy to find, use and understand. It is becoming clear that content without usefulness, fun and interactivity is not going to keep people coming back for more. The information must be dynamic and instantaneous. Compelling and engaging content will always be more powerful than showing off technology. If you can combine enough technology to enhance the experience of studying your content, you’ll hold a user’s attention long enough to get your message across.
They expect security and privacy. Users need to be told - and shown - that the reports about lack of credit card security, online stalkers and spammers littering the Internet are just that - reports.
They expect to be able to buy things, safely and easily. Despite the general public’s fear on security issues, current and potential Internet users agree that there are a lot of items and services they would be prepared to buy online, once their concerns about security are addressed.
They expect to be given a reason to return. Most Internet users only visit five sites with regularity -the rest are visited only infrequently or as a one-time link from another site. If your site is not going to be on your customers’ top five list, then you’ll need to employ devices such as email newsletters to keep your site top of mind and remind them why it’s worth coming back to your site.
They expect value for the time and money they have invested. True to its anarchic origins, in the present online culture, there’s very little on the Internet that people feel is worth paying for. They’re already paying for online access, time spent visiting your site is an opportunity cost, and so much information is freely available. Therefore, think very carefully before trying to charge users for information.
Having said that, consumers today are well versed in the concept of give and take - you give me something of value and I’ll provide you with something in return. The keys to long-term customer satisfaction are to provide each individual with truly useful information, presented in an appropriate context. Information that enables an individual to gain greater enjoyment or productivity from their home- or work-life will be valued, and you can command a price for it. The critical difference between useful and useless information is that you have made an effort to understand the needs and interests of your customers.
They don’t want to be treated like idiots. Most Internet users can tell the difference between objective, non-commercial information and “sponsored” information. Don’t insult them by dressing up corporate data as objective fact. Admit your bias up front and focus on giving them something useful. They’ll remember you fondly for that.
They don’t want to wait. This is the strongest reason for not loading your pages up with big graphics and animations. Make sure your design is economical and keep in mind that many users will not be using the fastest computers and modems.
If you focus on giving your customers what they expect and want from a Web site, you’ll be on the way to viewing the Web as an automobile instead of a horseless carriage.
People consume and create user-generated content in different ways for different but interdependent reasons, according to research just published in the journal Internet Research.
The three main reasons are:
- to fulfill their information, entertainment and mood management needs
- to interact with content and with other human beings
- for self-expression and self-actualisation, which help to construct their own identity
The study’s author argues that entertainment is more important than information-seeking when it comes to user-generated content, writing that “YouTube and its many imitators have dramatically reduced entertainment content to light, bright and digestible ’snack food’ so that users can consume it with increased frequency and maximum speed.”
Pointing out that because people can fulfill their social needs through interacting online with each other, responding to content is “an integral part of community development since it can reinforce dynamic content creation.”
Blogging and vlogging “not only allows the significance of who one is and what one does to show himself/herself, but also enables one to control the impression others have of him/her.”
The study concludes that the three ways of using user-generated content are analytically separate but are interdependent. “They support one another, directly or indierectly, by helping people fulfill their respective social and psychological needs.”
The usability aspects of user-generated content - how easy it is to use and how much control is given to the consumer - allow users to contribute only a little while getting a lot back, such as quickly uploading one video to YouTube while being able to view thousands of videos of interest. The study draws parallels between UGC and utility theory, which suggests people desire those things that will maximise their pleasure.
The researcher argues that these kinds of controls appeal to people “not only technically, but also psychologically.”
Attended the Thoughtworks Quarterly Technology Briefing in Sydney yesterday, where the heads of News Digital Media (Sue Klose) and Fairfax Digital (Pippa Leary) outlined developments in online media in Australia, and picked up some interesting facts about Australian online media consumption:
- There are two spikes in visits to online news sites - at the beginning of the workday, when people check the news headlines; and at lunchtime, when they eat lunch at their desk and go for more entertainment info and videos
- 35,000 people watched the live stream of Barack Obama’s victory speech on Fairfax Digital. That same day, a video on the site about how to fold a shirt was viewed by 39,000 people
- Fairfax is claiming 2 million unique user per month just to its business and finance content, with 25-30 average page impressions per user
- Online video advertising is expected to reach US$2.9 billion in the US in 2009 - 13% of the online advertising total - but the figures for Australia are expected to be only a fraction of that
Are you on the social media ‘rich list’ (apologies to Channel 7 and Andrew O’Keefe)? Probably not, because as with so many things like this, Peter Kim’s Social Media Marketing Examples list is by a North American, for a North American audience. (Kudos to Telstra and the Sydney Writers Centre as apparently the only Australian organisations on the list. If someone has done a list like this for Australia, please let me know and I’ll be happy to promote it.) In the meantime, a look at this list of 324 companies that ‘get’ social media is interesting and constructive. For example:
- Consulting giant Accenture has nine corporate blogs, five podcast channels and its own social network
- Adobe has a directory of nearly 200(!) blogs by its employees
- There are at least 135 Facebook pages, groups or applications mentioned on the list
- 86 of the companies on the list are using Twitter accounts, many of them with multiple accounts
- The renowned medical centre The Mayo Clinic has a YouTube channel (prepare to be grossed out at gruesome videos from the operating theatre)
- Even the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile has its own Twitter account (so you can say franks for the memories!)
Not all the companies on the list are large multinationals - the message here (with a nod to Anthony Johnson, who brought this list to my attention) is that all types of companies need to start getting involved in social media, because that’s where their customers are hanging out. They’re already talking about you without your participation - or worse, they’re talking about your competitors instead of you and you need to get out there and mix it up.
Hear Zazoo’s Business Guy Simon van Wyk interview CEO of Personal Life Media and Internet connector Susan Bratton on what she has learned from the Internet gurus she has interviewed for her DishyMix podcast series: http://personallifemedia.com/podcasts/232-dishymix#ep72
Vin Crosbie from ClickZ writes that media and digital publishers have been ignoring the obvious business model for online publishing all these years - aggregating all content and allowing users to choose what they want to read/view. Think iGoogle, on a wider scale.
Traditional publishers toyed around with this concept years ago, but as Crosbie points out they never picked it up and ran with it because it would mean collaborating with their competitors (I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago in a post that was inspired by another piece Crosbie wrote). He calls it “not mass media, but individuated media on a mass scale.”
I understand what he’s getting at, but, frustratingly, he doesn’t go into details about how people actually make money out of this approach. One reason traditional media companies didn’t go down this route is that they correctly realised that if they just shift their traditional advertising models to the web in a format that shares profits with all the players, none of the players is going to make anywhere near the same revenue as they used to. To me, that’s where the digital business model is still missing - what do you make money out of besides banner ads?
Like a Molotov cocktail hurled into a crowd, Publishing 2.0 blogger Scott Karp has ignited the already heated debate about the future of journalism and publishing with his most recent post, entitled “The market and the internet don’t care if you make money”.
He’s pinched the title from Seth Godin, the marketing pundit who is peddling his latest book Tribes, but Karp takes the idea and runs with it in a long screed about how the Internet has broken the newspaper industry’s business model, a topic about which plenty of people including myself have written about ad nauseum. But Karp offers a detailed and particularly articulate discussion of this issue, writing that “Nobody has the right to a business model - Ask not what the market can do for you, but what you can do for the market.”
As usual with this sort of thing, the comments are as entertaining and thought-provoking as the blog post, and as a former journalist I can relate to the responses from people in the traditional media. The words of Thomas Jefferson, author of the American Declaration of Independence, still echo in my ears as one of the main reasons I got into the media business: “Given a choice between a government without newspapers and newspapers without government, I would not hesitate to choose the latter.” The media have an important role in informing society and keeping governments honest. But while Jefferson specifically mentioned newspapers, if he was here today I think he would understand and approve of the Internet and blogging. It is the same principle he was talking about back in the 18th century - free speech. Whether it’s Rupert Murdoch or Ariana Huffington or Joe Bloggs exercising that right doesn’t matter.
At the end of the day, say what we will, the market doesn’t care about ‘quality’ journalism and comprehensive local news coverage. We collectively need to find a model that works in this new and changing environment. I agree with Karp that a future business model lies in the power of networks, not the power of monopolies.
There has been a lot of debate in journalistic circles of late about the state of denial most journalists and media academics are in regarding new media.
A recent blog on Poynter.org recounted an exchange between digital media entrepreneur Elizabeth Overholser and journalism students at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism. Osder refuted one student’s lament that online news business models aren’t working. Then she advised the students that to figure out which online business models can work, ”Start with the impact you want to have. Figure out what audience you need to assemble to have that impact. And what kind of content is needed to do that. Then price it out: How much money do you need to do it?”
According to Overholser, a J-student groaned in reply, “If I wanted to do that, I’d have gone to Marshall (USC’s business school).”
Osder countered that while that response was understandable, thinking through the business side of journalism “forces you to be relevant and useful versus arrogant and entitled.”
I say: hear, hear! Journalists need to get their head out of the sand and embrace the Internet, because, like it or not, it is changing the face of journalism. Being a good writer isn’t enough in the 21st century; you need to be able to write web copy, operate a blog, do your research and link out to your sources, even use a video camera.
Like others who have been writing on this topic, I blame the university programs, who are still churning out journalists who are too “good” to do anything other than report and write.
Much as it pains me to say this, as someone who grew up and started their career believing in the purity and hyperspecialisation of journalism, the Internet, new ways of communicating stories, and citizen journalism are all a fact of life today, and journalists who won’t admit this and who won’t widen their perspective and their activities will end up bitter and unemployed.
I have been reading the Copyblogger blog for a while, and it’s obvious why it’s rated as one of the top blogs for writers - it consistently offers practical, commercially-focused advice on how to the writing business. It often uses analogies from popular culture to get its points across, such as “What Fight Club can Teach You About Innovative Content” and, one of my personal favourites, “The Jim Morrison Guide to Strategic Content Promotion” (I am a complete Doors tragic).
Today’s entry is no exception: “Is Your Blog Ginger or Mary Ann?” Every male of a certain vintage can appreciate the iconic appeal of the two young females from Gilligan’s Island (let’s not talk about Mrs. Howell - shudder!). As Sonia Simone writes in this Copyblogger entry, Ginger represents the kind of woman men want to have an affair with, while Mary Ann symbolises the type of woman you want to marry. I never picked up the Jungian nuances of Gilligan’s Island when I was a lad, but today it’s obvious - but no less potent.
Anyway, what the hell does this have to do with digital content? As with other posts in this blog, Sonia does a good job of relating this to two types of successful blogs - the edge-pushing, paradigm-shifting, outrageous kind, and the practical, relevant kind.
As many of the commenters on this entry write, most people imagine themselves as a little bit of both (personally, I fancy myself as a bit more like The Green Hornet, but that’s another story). But one thing is for sure: I will be thinking about Ginger and Mary Ann the next time I post a blog entry - and that can’t be a bad thing!
I have found a new favourite technology writer - Robert X Cringely at Infoworld. His recent article “Is Sarah Palin more popular than porn? Search me“, is a hoot. He cites a new book by Hitwise general manager Bill Tancer, which shows that searching for social media is now more popular than searching for porn online. As Cringely (yes, that’s his real name, not a pseudonym) writes, “‘As social networking traffic has increased, visits to porn sites have decreased,’ said Tancer, [who] indicated that the 18-24 year old age group particularly was searching less for porn.
“I’m guessing Tancer has not visited many social networks, or that all his Facebook friends are old farts. Because when you’re age 18 to 24, social networks ARE pornography. In fact, they’re better. Have you seen some of those profiles? Two words: humena humena.”
I never knew how ‘humena humena’ was spelled before - you learn something new every day!
He goes on to write about something (or someone) else who has gone on to become more popular than porn on the Internet: Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
“Hitwise also measures the most popular searches for political terms. You can guess which lipstick-wearing pitbull of a hockey mom tops the charts there. Per the Washington Post: ‘… in her first two days in the national spotlight, US Internet searches on all things Palin outnumbered any other politician in the past three years…. In many cases, her name was searched alongside the word ‘hot.’ I’m guessing that also includes searches for Palin’s head photo-shopped onto various nude or bikini clad models.
“Does that qualify as porn? If so, I think Tancer needs to revisit his conclusions about social nets.”
A geek with a sharp sense of humour - got to love it.
This blog deals with all aspects of Internet content, and sometimes strays into more general content issues. Here’s one that’s a bit out of left field, but I think is worth discussing. I belong to a US-based academic institute related to my postgraduate study (I won’t bore you with the details now, but maybe in another post). Anyway, a sub-group of that society (which shall remain nameless because the issue I have has nothing to do with them, but with the tourism commission which undoubtedly fed them information) is having a conference in Oklahoma City. Here is a verbatim description of the conference city sent to me in an email today:
Oklahoma City is the capital of the Great State of Oklahoma. This city ranks 31st among United States cities in population and is easily accessible by land and air. In 1995, Oklahoma City experienced the most destructive act of domestic terrorism in United States history when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed by a disaffected U.S. Army veteran. Conference delegates to Oklahoma City can now join the over 3 million people who have visited the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial and Museum that was established on the site of the blast that killed 168 people and damaged more than 100 nearby buildings. In addition, delegates can also enjoy visits to Myraid Gardens and Crystal Bridge as well as recent MAPS developments such as the new baseball park, the civic center, the fairgrounds, and the canal to the Bricktown entertainment district, in particular.
Is it just me, or does anyone else find that ’sales pitch’ for Oklahoma City decidedly creepy? Why on earth would you lead off the description of your beautiful city with a detailed description of your worst moment? Maybe if I was going to visit Dachau I would be sent similar information, but that seems to be no way to pitch Oklahoma City. By all means, it was a terrible tragedy, and, just like my recent visits to New York included a visit to Ground Zero, I would no doubt visit that museum if I visited Oklahoma City. But to base your entire promotion around the details of the bombing? I suppose the context jarred me as well - following a very brief description of this conference, it launched into this long screed on the bombing. Maybe the fact that I first read this on my Blackberry influenced my reaction, as I was sitting there scrolling through this weird description to get to the detail of the conference. Interested to hear your comments on this.
From The HubSpot Internet Marketing blog:
“At the Inbound Marketing Summit last week, marketing guru David Meerman Scott encouraged business owners and marketing executives to ‘hire a journalist’. What was he talking about? More than 10,000 jobs have been cut this year at U.S. newspapers, and Scott sees the ‘dire situation for many reporters and editors as a tremendous opportunity for corporate marketing.’
“Why? Because journalists are trained to write, edit and, above all, tell stories in an even-handed way.
“‘Hiring people trained in journalism sounds like a good idea for marketers - they’ll be getting someone who’s more likely to be comfortable writing for a general audience, simplifying tricky concepts and telling stories,’ says Jon Fortt, a senior writer at Fortune.
“In the new world of inbound marketing, that’s what you need to do. You can’t interrupt potential customers with ‘marketing material’, you have to create rich, interesting content, that attracts people to your web site. You have to create content that’s useful to your customers, not gobbledygook about your product. Having somebody on your team who can do this will set you apart from the competition.”