The Zombie Business Cure Book Available NOW

So happy to announce that my book is out now! You can buy it at Amazon here!

Do you know an organization whose communication is lifeless or indistinguishable? The Zombie Business Cure can help. 

The book covers:

  • content strategy
  • communication planning
  • some UX case studies

It's full of practical tips! It can help whoever is managing communication for an organization (or aspires to do so). This might be a:

  • small business owner
  • non-profit executive
  • marketing or public relations professional
  • business or communication student

Do you know someone who it might be able to help? If so, maybe you could buy a copy as a gift. 

Love Your Videographers: Advice to Create Successful Videos

Videos can be very effective for marketing, but they aren’t cheap to make. And low quality videos have poor return on investment. Research by the Content Marketing Institute looked at 200,000 YouTube business videos and discovered that more than 50% of them had less than 1,000 views. Many videos created by businesses and other organizations are boring, poorly made, or just blah. When investing in video, you should aim for high-quality results that support your marketing objectives.

So how do you create the best video possible for your money?

The key to creating a terrific video and having a great relationship with your video team is to get everyone the same page - and keep them there. So says the experienced team at StoryDriven, a marketing firm with a specialty in documentary-style video located in Durham, NC. The group has made videos for organizations such as Harvard Business School, CrossComm, Durham Academy, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina.

ScreenShot of the Story Driven websiteI sat down with Nathan and Bryce of StoryDriven to understand how we can do a better job of working with videographers, keep on the same page, and end up with impactful videos. Learn from them in our interview below:

What are your goals as videographers?

Bryce: We want to make sure that we are communicating the message that truly needs to be communicated. We need to take time to understand what the client is trying to say and get all the important information before we start shooting. Success often depends on the pre-production work - figuring out the right structure of the story, doing pre-interviews, and so on - you should have a clear idea of how the video should be laid out before you start producing it. This makes for an enjoyable experience.

Nathan: Also we want to be a strategic content partner that goes beyond video. For example, we can take your video and transcribe it and then you have tweets for days or weeks. We can pull still frames with quotes overlaid for easy social media posts. We want to see that your video has maximum impact, so you can reach your business goal and feel you got the most of your investment.

What things do clients do that annoy you?

Nathan: It's frustrating when we get called in, and the client has already decided on all the things that make a story good or bad. If we don’t have the chance to give input and bring our expertise as storytellers through video, we are limited from the get-go. Some clients would rather have their video vendor execute than be a collaborative partner. And we’ve realized that videographers start to expect this. But we help our clients get more out of their video when we develop ideas together. We’ve seen what works and doesn’t over many years and types of videos.

Bryce: Good communication is key to any healthy relationship. Part of that communication is aligning expectations. Assumptions about responsibilities and workload is a formula for disaster. Our job is to educate our clients and be their guide throughout the process. Take workload for example, oftentimes clients don’t realize that even a small change to a video will require us export, compress, upload and deliver it again - changes should be sent in batches so the process isn’t bogged down with a continuous stream of minor tweaks.

What do you wish clients did more of?

Nathan: Provide positive feedback along with negative feedback - that’s always nice, we are human beings too.

Bryce: Patience is important. If someone were to come to us saying, "We need this next week," that’s just not realistic for success. Video needs to be incorporated into your strategic communications plan. Give your video partner a three month window.

How much do high quality videos cost?

Nathan: It depends on the complexity of the story being told and the length of the video. It’s actually harder to make a shorter video than a longer one. There is a wide range in the industry, but the best videographers in our area might price a video with three characters anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000.

Bryce: It's always going to cost more than you think it is. If you are deciding who to use based on a bid war, you might luck out and find someone early in their career who charges less. But, you want to make sure that you are working with someone who “gets it,” wants to understand who you are and where you are coming from, and can expand upon your brand. Keep in mind that big equipment does not equal value. Value is understanding and being able to collaborate with a trusted partner.

Do you have any other advice for those hiring videographers?

Nathan: Always give your video person a deadline even if it's arbitrary. This helps us prioritize our other work and get it to you in a reasonable time. And be sure there is one contact person for us who can consolidate feedback so we aren’t getting different direction from various team members.

Bryce: If you work with someone to build a relationship, every time you do a project together it's going to get better since both parties come in with more knowledge and understanding of the situation. We love what we do and think that not only can we produce terrific videos, but the process itself can be fun for all.

Nathan: Yes, we love what we do and especially like finding partners to work with for the long-term. View your video team as a relationship, treat them like you like to be treated, and you are going to get more exciting video and care on your projects.

Thank you, StoryDriven team!

Check out some recent work by StoryDriven:

Investors' Circle - The Investor Story from StoryDriven on Vimeo.

If you have any further questions on documentary style video, you can reach out to the StoryDriven team or contact me for advice.

Do Less, Not More in 2016

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”- Dr. Seuss

Too many people in both small and large organizations create a lot of extra work for themselves. They pump out content, send a flurry of mass emails, and rapidly develop services or products. I see lots of activity without enough planning, thought, or research. This often leads to poor results. Busyness isn’t productivity.

In 2016, I hope you do less, not more. Do whatever you do with care, thought, and deliberation. Make sure what you are creating will have impact. Don’t create unnecessary work for yourself.

keep-calm-and-do-less_small.jpg

Before creating an article, a product, a service, or anything else, ask yourself critical questions such as:

  • Who is this for?
  • How do we know they want it?
  • How long will this take to make?
  • Does this help us reach our business goals?
  • Is it worth the time?
  • Do we have the time?
  • How will we measure results?

Here are my other hopes for you in 2016:

Have a communication plan for this year. It doesn’t have to be long. A one page document with goals, target audiences and key messages can be sufficient. Plan what you are doing instead of taking haphazard actions. I did my communication plan for the year the other day in an hour. Download an example of a simple communication plan template here.

Go for quality not quantity. Whatever you plan to do online, go for quality not quantity. With digital content, especially for professional services organizations, this will serve you well. I encourage you to have short headlines, clear navigation, and straightforward language. Keep it simple and meaningful. Dump the marketing fluff. Here are 5 ways to give your website some love. Or check out my 2015 website tips that are still super relevant.

Don’t guess what the people you serve want. Talk with them, ask them, and study them. You’ll be much better at delivering items that are valued. Many companies create services or products based on intuition or false assumptions. I haven't seen it work well.

Be choosy about what ideas you execute. Ideas can be a dime a dozen. Next time you have a great idea, do some research to try to confirm it. Is it really great? Are you able to do it? Is it worth the effort? Remind me to tell you about my company called Recycled Sequins sometime. Great idea (I had a awesome tagline!), never executed (it saved me hours of work and frustration.)

Aim for joy. I hope you like what you are doing with your work life. If you don’t, what can change? Life is short, the first few days of 2016 are already gone! How are you going to spend your time?

I'll be doing more UX research and content strategy this year. Let me know if I can help you.

Wishing you a thoughtful, careful, and deliberate 2016!

Content Manager's Pledge

Here's the content managers pledge I presented at LavCon 2015: I pledge in front of my esteemed LavaCon colleagues for the superior content for which we stand,

to always have a project goal to communicate clear deadlines to provide organized feedback promptly and to treat my content authors with the care they deserve

so our one project together can become many, with unicorns and rainbows for all.

Snow Down, Slow Down

Handprint in SnowAs much as I dislike the cold weather, when snow falls, we all slow down here in the South — and that I secretly love. We have to pause because most of us don’t have experience driving in snow, and our area isn’t well prepared for “wintry mix” or serious snowstorms. There’s usually a flurry of activity at the grocery store in the 24 hours before a storm, but then a hush falls over the town I live in.

There is great value in this forced slowing down.

When I think about websites, content and technology, I deeply believe the best experiences don’t come from hurrying. I’m not just talking about the final results — perhaps a beautiful, responsive website — but also the process for the people who create these things.

There is a quote I love that I refer to often:

“We live by slowing down and saying with our lives that the world will not be saved by frantic activity.” – Stanley Hauerwas, theologian, Duke University

This is written on top of my digital to-do list. When I’m hurrying to create content, it’s not fun. It's evident in the final product. I do better work when I listen, consider, reflect, reconsider, then act.

Especially on social media, it can feel like lot of pressure to produce things quickly – for example, another blog post or more tweets. “Don’t just sit there, do something!” sometimes seems to be the message.

But when I look at the people and organizations I really value, they aren’t bombarding me with information or running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Two examples come to mind:

  1. Smashing Magazine who only emails me once a month with a newsletter. I look forward to it because I know it will have thoughtful, interesting and useful content in it.
  2. Twitter member and usability expert Steve Krug tweets every few days or less. I like reading what he tweets out, and I don't need him to tweet 5 times a day.

Much of the time on Twitter and other online spaces, there are organizations and people spewing information about nothing of value. If I came across these overly talkative folks at a party, I would likely scoot to the other side of the room.

Now you can be that person at the party who talks all the time to hear themselves talk, or you could be the person who speaks up less frequently, more deliberately and more thoughtfully. At least for many professional service businesses and organizations, the second option may serve them best (e-commerce might be another story). I value those people who are ok with the silence and the slowing down, who trust that frantic activity isn’t going to make our websites better or our lives better or the whole world better.

I vote we slow down more frequently to do more impactful work and have more meaningful conversations. We can make this world a better place to be.

Let it snow!

Focus on Author Experience (AX) for Great User Experience (UX)

Author experience (AX) is a critical factor that affects user experiences on websites — particularly for decentralized organizations like universities. In case you aren’t familiar with AX in terms of websites, you could think of it like this: Author experience includes all aspects of content authors’ interactions both with the website and the managers at an organization.

AX is a priority for decentralized organizations such as universities that have many different groups publishing websites and content. And sometimes the content development landscape in higher ed looks like this:

Content Landscape in Higher Ed
Content Landscape in Higher Ed

Helping content authors get on the same page about goals, quality, and style is essential to avoid an inconsistent and confusing user experience.

Three things that can improve AX:

  1. Training on writing, photo, and video because nobody wants to feel over their head
  2. A style guide so that there is consistency on the website
  3. Page level content strategy, since having objectives and a goal for each page leads to smarter content decisions

All three are important, but I see page level content strategy as the key to helping content authors (I’m assuming there is already a communications plan in place for the organization). For example, in a decentralized environment, it’s much easier to fix formatting issues missed (ignored?) in the style guide than to get someone to remove poor content. Once content is up online, there is something sticky about it – it’s often hard to get rid of since people are now invested and accustomed to it.

More on page level content strategy in my next post coming in January!

If you are a content author in higher ed or another decentralized organization, how can you start a conversation about what you need? And if you are a manager, what could you do to improve AX (in order to improve UX) in 2015?

One Major Content Strategy Idea that Most Businesses Have Backwards

If you remember nothing else about this blog post, take away this:

Story FIRST, then format

I talk with small business owners every week who have this backwards. Recently, I had a typical conversation with a retail business owner who had a few online videos on his website:

Me: “Tell me about these videos.” Biz Owner: “We had to create videos. You know, people really want to watch videos, we had to do it.” Me: “I’m not getting any of the important things you told me about your business in these videos. They don’t match your branding or feel or have a clear message. I was confused when I watched them.” Biz Owner: “Oh. Hmm. . . . . But people like videos so I had to do something.”

Like many business owners, he had it backwards - he was choosing to use a video to tell others about his business, BUT he wasn’t clear on the story and message that he wanted to share

We know videos have extremely high abandonment rates - many viewers will leave after 10 or 20 seconds. Bad videos aren’t going to help your business at all. In fact, they just undermine your credibility.

FIRST determine what story you want to tell. Think of stories that best tell what you do and how people’s lives are changed by your business. (If you are having trouble with this, consider checking out The Story of Telling blog by Bernadette Jiwa.)

After you are clear on what the story is, THEN choose the proper format - text, video, graphic, photos or some combination of these.

Your story will give you clues as to the best way to tell it. For example, if you are explaining a process, a graphic or video might be great. On the other hand, if you are talking about a decisive moment in your business history, a photo and text combination might work.

For example, a young woman I know wanted to start a cape business. Knowing kids and beautiful capes would be involved, she made a great video for a Kickstarter campaign. Her campaign goal was $15,000. She was wildly successful and raised $45,000 to start her business. That video really helped her.

Again:

Story FIRST, then format

Burn this idea into your consciousness and make your content decisions by it. Take a moment right now if you can to think of a story you can tell about your business. Send me an email if you want to run it by me for feedback.

In my next post, I’ll talk in more detail about when a video format may be the best way to tell a story.

Have a website? Got content strategy?

Content strategy is a relatively new term that began to be used in web circles in the late 90s. It's commonly used by many professionals now. What is it? Why should you care? Here's my short explanation of what content strategy is:

Content strategy provides useful information to your audience so they get what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. It's the planning, creation, and management of content in all forms.

If you bother to make content (create a website for example), it's worth thinking about content strategy. Simply put, you are more likely to get your goals met if you do some planning first.

Is content strategy the same as a communication plan? No. A communication plan would contain a content strategy. A communication plan is broader - it will specify overall goals for your organization, audiences, timelines, measures of success, etc.

You may be a very tiny business, perhaps a one person show, and wonder if you should be worried about this stuff. The answer is yes. You are more likely to be a successful and lasting business if you plan your communication. You will also then ensure you won't look like a zombie (book forthcoming on this topic).

If you don't have much time to devote to communication planning or content strategy, you can head the right direction by answering these questions:

  1. What is important to my organization? What values do I/we hold dear?
  2. What are my goals?
  3. Who is the primary audience I need to reach with my content? What are they like?
  4. How can I best reach them? What would they like to see?

This is a start toward a communication plan and content strategy. Let me know if you have questions or need help!