Archive | June, 2010

Creative Commons licensing makes sharing simple

Creative Commons has been around for several years, but my conversation about copyright law with Summer Huggins last week made me think it’s time for a reminder about this great service.

I grew up on The Cluetrain Manifesto. I can even still make a great argument for why your information wants to be free, but for most folks, that’s not a real business possibility. But many individuals and businesses just automatically mark all their content — words, images, audio, video — with “All Rights Reserved,” the most restrictive copyright notice out there.

For some content, that makes sense. But often, we use the Internet as a distribution channel because we want people to share our content. Often, we’re not even as interested in whether we make money off the sharing; it’s spreading the word that matters.

When that’s the case, you need to use one of the licensing options offered by Creative Commons.

You’ll notice the Creative Commons logo at the bottom of this blog — a “By-Share Alike” license. I allow my work to be re-used on other sites as long as people give me credit with a link back to this site, and as long as they also allow it to be re-used from their site in the same way.

But Creative Commons offers a wide variety of licenses, even if you don’t want to be as liberal with your content as I do. Other options allow you to limit commercial uses or derivative works of your content.

Creative Commons doesn’t manage the distribution of your content — it simply provides a licensing framework that’s becoming well-accepted online. When you’re managing content online, you can certainly choose to do so with the same restrictions that many people expect for printed or recorded content. But take the time to think through your business goals — and when it makes more sense to allow greater usage of your content, try a Creative Commons licensing option to make your life a little easier.

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The intensely personal customer experience

I’ve been light around here this week, primarily because my dad had to have his prostate removed yesterday. The surgery went well, and the surgeon expects my dad to get a cancer-free report from the lab results next week — here’s hoping!

At Creekmore Consulting, we do quite a bit of work in the health care field, and some of our clients spend a lot of their time thinking about the patient experience. Statistically, it’s something people my age — late 30s — are less likely to have to think about, but it’s been on my mind a lot in the last year for personal reasons as well as professional, since I gave birth to my 1yo daughter last April, to my 11yo’s recent visit to the ER for stitches and now with my dad’s very recent diagnosis and hospitalization.

Any business can give you a great customer experience, from the hardware store to your cell phone provider to the dry cleaner. But we put up with a lot of shoddy service from many of our daily interactions, don’t we? Exceptional customer service is the rarity.

I’m wondering, though, about industries like health care. When every interaction with your customer is potentially intensely personal, how much more important does the customer experience become? What are the downsides of screwing up — not with a medical decision, but with some service aspect of the relationship? Is it worse for the long-term customer relationship if a hospital doesn’t treat its patients and their families with service and caring, than if a restaurant staff is rude to you?

It’s an interesting question to me. It’s awfully easy to stop patronizing a restaurant, isn’t it? But I stuck with the same pediatric practice for 10 years, despite many more incorrect bills than right ones, and a rude staff to boot, because I liked the doctor so much and I really trusted her. When you’re dealing with life and death issues, it just feels like the responsibility to provide exceptional service is higher, but I’m not sure how we measure the results of poor service coupled with excellent medical care.

While I have seen those two incongruent things go hand-in-hand before, I’m glad to report that my dad and our family were delighted with both the caring attention and the medical care he received at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. I do have to wonder if high-quality medical care also tends to reflect in the level of overall patient-centered attitude at a hospital. What do you think?

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Kicking off the NAMA board year

I joined the board of the local chapter of the American Marketing Association last year, and I’m about to start my term as the chair of the Shared Interest Group [SIG] program for NAMA.

We’re working on nonprofit, health care and digital media SIGs for the 10-11 year, and we’re focusing on providing real value for our members through the SIGs year-round.

For years, I knew about NAMA but didn’t see the value in the organization. You know there’s no one more enthusiastic than the reformed skeptic, and that’s me. The minute I got involved in a NAMA committee, I began to make contacts that have proved incredibly valuable to me, both personally and professionally.

So the retreat today was a lot of fun, and serving on the board gives me a chance to give back to the marketing community that has meant so much to me.

On an exciting note: This spring I’ve also chaired a task force for NAMA to evaluate and recommend updates to our web presence. We’ll unveil our work toward the end of the summer.

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You’ve got information. Do you have content?

It’s a common refrain, professed by organizations large and small to their content strategists [or perhaps explaining how everything is under control]:

Oh, we’ve got lots of content. We just don’t have it on the website. We just need to put it up there.

Sometimes, it’s even true.

But what happens far more often is that the organization has a lot of information, little to none of it web-ready.

This is not always a popular statement, but information isn’t the same as content. For your web content to be effective, it must be designed and edited specifically for your business purposes, and optimized for web reading to meet your audience’s needs.

Information does not magically become effective web content by the circumstance of appearing on your website.

Another related, unpopular point: People with access to information and Microsoft Word do not automatically become writers.

I think I sound more negative or critical than I intend to do. If it seems like I’m talking straight to you, let me just encourage you by saying that you are not alone. Many, many organizations are dealing with these issues.

Often, we get into a situation like that because we’ve left the content until the end.

Save yourself from the content/information dilemma:

  • Craft a strategy for your content with your business goals in mind.
  • Don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that your information is web-ready.
  • Get experienced web writers to work with your topical experts to shape your information into web-ready content.
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How to hire a content strategist: It’s about trust

If you’re considering hiring a content strategy vendor, or a content strategist for your staff, I’d recommend you start by reading Rahel Anne Bailie’s recent posts:

Bailie gives a really nice picture of what you should expect from a content strategist.

I’ve just got another thought to throw out there. There’s no certification for content strategy. No “professional content strategist” exam to take. No college courses. Basically, you say you’re working in content strategy, and voila, you are!

And I think that makes a lot of people nervous. I get it.

But here’s the thing. I’m thinking about all the people that I hire who are certified. Licensed. Bonded. Insured. People who have official, professional credentials.

In no case, ever in my life, have I asked to see those credentials. Now, maybe I’m just a naive consumer. But I think you’ve got to hire a content strategist for the same reasons I’m hiring those other people:

  • They make you believe they understand your problem.
  • They inspire your trust in their abilities to address the problem.
  • They sell you on the value of their services.

That’s it. It comes down to trust for hiring a plumber, an accountant and a content strategist.

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College for content strategists

I had to laugh when reading DJ Francispost listing blog ideas for content strategists. Right about halfway through was the question I get more and more often:

How did your college degree prepare you for your content strategy job, especially since it’s highly likely you did not major in content strategy? What path would you recommend to future strategists?

Now, I’ve worked in web content and digital media for the vast majority of my career, but it seems that only recently I’ve begun to get this question. And it really mystifies me.

People, when I went to college, we didn’t even use email.

So no, I didn’t major in content strategy.

But I did spend a lot of my time in and outside the classroom preparing for this career, albeit inadvertently.

Hands-on experience
I was the editor of the student newspaper at Vanderbilt in 1992. It was some of the best professional training I’ve had, right up to the present day. I had to motivate and manage about 100 volunteers total [we had no paid staffers], make a whole lot of quick decisions with imperfect, incomplete information, and I basically spent an entire year making mistake after mistake.

It’s still one of the best things I’ve ever done.

It’s just downright embarrassing to compare the papers we put out in January with the ones we did in the second half of the year. Learn by doing.

So that definitely prepared me for a lot of the editorial experiences I’ve built on ever since. By the mid-1990s, I was knee-deep in web content, and from the beginning, the transition from print felt like drinking from a firehose. [There’s a subject for another post for you….]

Your perspective matters
I do think something else from college really did prepare me for this career, though. Vanderbilt gives students a broad, liberal arts education, even if you have a specialized major like engineering. I was a European History major, but it could have been anything, I think. I learned how to think. I continue to use the critical thinking skills I learned in college every single day.

Getting into this field
If I were giving advice to someone today hoping to get into this field, I guess the best thing I could say would be: Start managing content. As much as you can. And read as much as you can about how the field of content strategy is developing. There’s a lot of great work going on, trying to quantify the strategies that make for compelling websites. But it’s still early days, and we need more people to dive in and help to carry the banner for content strategy.

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The first Nashville Content Strategy Meetup!

OK, I’m excited to announce that we’re planning the first Nashville Content Strategy Meetup.

Mark your calendars now for:

Thursday, July 15
5:30-7p
Miro District

If you’re actively working in content strategy, curious about the topic, or just a person who enjoys a fun time with interesting people, this is the event for you.

We’ll talk about how we’d like the meetup to go from here. Several other cities have content strategy meetups, and some of them are very informal affairs, and others are structured learning events. We can do whatever we like with this group!

Please RSVP today on our meetup page.

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The right way to do a content audit

At the wonderful Web Content 2010 conference this week, I heard a couple of interesting discussions about qualitative vs. quantitative content audits. Audits and inventories [here’s a nice discussion of the difference between audit and inventory] are the retail politics of content strategy. You’ve got to know what you’re working with or your effort risks being wasted or redundant.

And while few people seem to favorite this part of our work, most agree that it’s essential to figure out what you’re dealing with in existing content.

But there does seem to be a divide on whether or not it’s necessary to do a full inventory — a quantitative, page-by-page, item-by-item review and catalog of every piece of content you own.

I hate to give you a wishy-washy answer, but I’m going to come down firmly on the “It depends,” side of the fence.

I got dragged into my first quantitative content inventory kicking and screaming several years ago. The site had several thousand documents, and my team and I had managed all of them from creation to expiration — so we knew in our heads exactly what was there. But the client wanted the comprehensive inventory, however redundant it seemed to me.

But [after the pain faded a bit] I can say that the quantitative was worth it. If key decisionmakers don’t know — and want to know — what’s there, you need a quantitative inventory. Even if you can describe what’s there, if you’re making decisions about direction and message and site design, nothing beats a full inventory.

We’re helping a client now with a smaller-scale quantitative inventory. They’re just moving to a real CMS for a new site, and there is some existing content, but it’s not in any one tool. So we all need to know what’s there — thus, a quantitative inventory is in order.

I do think there are places where you only need a qualitative review, though. Let’s say you’re working on a web project with some existing content. If your content is well organized in a good content management system, with great metadata, you may be able to simply do a qualitative audit — we have this kind of product description. Copy runs from X characters-X characters in length. Tone is technical. Etc.

I think this situation is rarer than we’d like to hope, but it’s out there.

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FTC on “saving” journalism: Disaster waiting to happen

Lest you think your government works for you….

The FTC released a “discussion draft” document [PDF] this week that outlines some of the challenges facing the newspaper industry. It goes through through the motions of evaluating all these challenges as if the FTC’s role is to prop up the news business, and this is the first stab at testing the waters.

Let’s be clear, starting off. The Federal Trade Commission is responsible for promoting trade and preventing anti-competitive trusts. Nowhere that I see does its mission include “saving journalism.”

Indeed, the doctrine of freedom of the press should prevent government from talking about this topic at all. But we’ll get to that.

Jeff Jarvis goes into some nice detail about how stupid the perspective on this project is — the FTC is writing about newspapers, as if newspapers represent journalism. So let’s also be clear that “newspapers,” the “news industry” and “journalism” are not necessarily the same thing. Journalism is primarily [but not completely] what we’re talking about when we talk about “freedom of the press.” We mean the investigating, reporting and dissemination of information to the public by independent and varied voices, outside the official government channel. We mean analysis and opinion about what government and industry and other forces in our society are doing. We mean investigation into practices that seem corrupt or detrimental to the public good.

Nowhere in any of that is it required that the practice of journalism be carried out by major corporations using newsprint. Journalism is platform-agnostic. Information can be — and today is — shared over multiple platforms.

I’m sure that the Gannett and other big news corporations would like for all of us to care about their corporate health, but my interest as a citizen is whether or not I can get information. And I can. And I haven’t taken a daily paper in years.

Now, there’s a side issue here that the FTC doesn’t appear to have the broadest perspective on, but I’ll mention just briefly. Jarvis talks a lot [not just in this post] about the disruptive technology and practices happening today in journalism. He’s positive about the disruption, as am I. But while we often assume that technology created the disruption, with the Internet putting publishing tools in the hands of the masses and therefore disrupting the news industry’s traditional business model, I think the technology opened a window near the door the news industry had been forcing shut.

When the news industry owned the means of news dissemination, it chose what to publish. And it chose what to ignore, cover up or devalue. And it turns out that disruptive technology has revealed that we as a public care about a lot of things that the news industry doesn’t want us to care about. If they’d been doing their job, it would have been a lot harder for the Internet to shake up the news industry the way it did.

But the FTC is not concerned about journalism, whatever it happens to say about that. It is concerned about the commerce of news. And it’s here that I think the FTC really goes off the rails.

Because if the FTC wants to ensure the survival of the news industry, it [of all people!] needs to recognize that competition fosters better competitors — and newspapers sure as hell could have used better competitors. So when we look at the changes happening in journalism today, we should all be excited. The technology that allows anyone to publish is creating a vibrant practice of journalism, some of which is also the foundation of new ways of practicing the news business.

The State of the News
The FTC’s document begins with 18 statements about the “current state of the news,” which cracks me up. Again, they’re talking about the news industry, not journalism. I won’t respond to each but I must bring a few to your attention:

3. They mention the dramatic decline in classified advertising revenues since 2000. Well, duh. We found out there’s a lot easier way to sell our unused treadmills than placing a tweet-length ad in a newspaper. Newspapers aren’t the best vehicle for most classified ads, so they shouldn’t be there anymore.

4. Advertisers don’t have to depend on newspapers to reach their customers anymore.
Well, since 1950 or so, they haven’t depended on newspapers, but it’s true that the Internet removes many more barriers between marketers and customers. This is a good thing. Until the Internet became popular, the owners of the printing press and the TV studios also owned your relationship with your customers. Now you and your customers own that relationship.

There’s also a lot of discussion about declining ad revenues overall and cutting staff, and the resulting change in news coverage. Here’s where the FTC starts thinking about the whole public-good aspect of this. They’re making the false assumption that if major news corporation aren’t employing millions of journalists, then the public isn’t being served with information that we need to support a free society.

Let me just say that I’m being served with plenty of information on a daily basis. More than I can handle. Do I have enough? Probably not. I could use even more hyper-local news than I actually get, honestly. But hyper-local is going to sort itself out and come up with a thousand different revenue models, only some of which may seem akin to our traditional concept of advertising-supported journalism.

I do think we should be concerned about national and international journalism, because these endeavors are expensive. It costs a lot of money to mount an investigative report into the corrupt practices of a federal agency, or to fly all over the world with the president, or to figure out how environmental disasters in the Amazon are affecting both the local population and the rest of the world. That’s worth talking about, how we sustain that kind of journalism. That’s really not discussed in this document, though. [Nor do I think the FTC should discuss it — but as a society we ought to be really talking about that.]

But overall this document is thinking about the daily local newspaper perspective, and it’s awfully shortsighted by doing that.

I’ve got to quote all of their 18th item, because I was just flabbergasted at the hubris:

18. In sum, newspapers have not yet found a new, sustainable business model, and there is reason for concern that such a business model may not emerge. Therefore, it is not too soon to start considering policies that might encourage innovations to help support journalism into the future.

Dear God, if you’re at all concerned about the future of journalism and that doesn’t have you running for your pitchfork, I don’t know what will. The last thing journalism needs is for the government to “support” it. It’s the surest way to kill the practice.

Copyright and Fair Use

The document also spends quite a bit of space talking about copyright issues. The authors do seem to recognize that the news industry really depends on the doctrine of fair use — the legal doctrine that allows the re-use of copyrighted material in certain situations when journalism requires it. I think most of the conversation in this section ranges from pretty absurd to dangerous, though. They talk about the “hot news doctrine” — established in a 1918 court case — under which some state laws still consider facts themselves as protected for a limited time period [a doctrine much-beloved by people like the AP and no doubt Major League Baseball and the Southeastern Conference, both of which have tried a heavy-handed approach to the management of information like answers to the question, “Who’s winning the game?” in the age of disruptive technology]. Federally, facts are not protected by copyright — just the way they are expressed [your actual video, article, etc.].

Some in the news industry dispute the fair use of information by search engines, like Rupert Murdoch pulling News Corp.’s content out of Google.

Here’s the intersection — no, the train wreck — of journalism and the news business. The news business puts a dollar value on information, but journalism wants to disseminate it as broadly as possible. Journalism wants credit, but more than anything, it wants you to know. We don’t live in Utopia, so money is a reality. But any “news” operation that goes around trying to limit access to its content is showing its hand, and [oxymoronically] devaluing its content. Its content is a factor of commerce, not journalism.

I don’t see how there’s a role for government here at all, really, but it’s an interesting discussion.

One problem with copyright law — as essential as it often appears to be to facilitate commerce in the creative industries — is that its consequences are poorly understood by the government and legal entities that create and sustain it. Copyright by definition stifles innovation for a period of time. The music industry has really had trouble wrapping its brain around this, and we’ve all seen the dramatic disruptions that continue to happen there. Laughably, the FTC document actually floats the idea of a music-industry-like copyright bureau to help “sustain” the news industry. Laughable if it weren’t so terrifying.

Because here’s where we get to a basic problem with most of the “solutions” proposed by this discussion: They all involve government certification of “journalism.”

The solutions range from increased postal subsidies to tech subsidies to copyright registries — all of which would be administered and doled out by Uncle Sam. You know what that means, right? Uncle Sam would get to decide who is and who isn’t a journalist. Thus abridging the freedom of the press. Which isn’t allowed. Thank goodness and James Madison.

So I’m hopeful that at best, this is an exercise in wasted time. But it could easily be an exercise in unintended censorship, years of litigation and a muted press.

Save journalism. Tell the FTC to quit overreaching.

Jeff Jarvis puts it nicely: “Get off our lawn.”

P.S. If the FTC would like to do something truly useful, I respectfully suggest it consider the plight of millions of Americans without reliable, affordable access to modern tools of communication, those hobbled by poor investment in local technology infrastructure and hamstrung by technology monopolies that drive up prices and drive down adoption. Fix the rural broadband problem. That would be a real aid to trade nationwide.

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I’ll tell you why you have to use social media…

…if you come hear me speak on Monday, June 14, at a fun networking event in Nashville that my old friend, Stephen Zralek, and my new friend, Renata Soto, have put together — WaterCooler.

WaterCooler targets young entrepreneurs in the Nashville area. It’s always an interesting crowd and I’ve learned something each time I’ve attended. I’m hoping I can contribute to the conversation.

Here’s the info they sent out — you are welcome to RSVP!

We want to invite you and your friends to our next WaterCooler, set for Monday, June 14, 2010, from 5:30 to 7pm at Miro District.

Come hear Laura Creekmore talk about “Using Social Media as a Young Entrepreneur.”  She is the owner of Creekmore Consulting, a company that provides content and community strategies that help you deepen your relationship with your customers and prospects. Laura Creekmore is an experienced, award-winning content strategist and online community manager. After more than a dozen years in digital media, Laura opened her own firm in January 2009. Her work focuses on helping clients achieve their business goals and engaging their customers in a collaborative relationship.

Do I HAVE to use social media?

(Laura answers: OK, yes, yes, you do.)

She will talk about how to get started even if you and your business are old-school. Social media has quit being a trend….now YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are just business tools we all need to use and understand. You wouldn’t say, “Oh, I don’t use that Microsoft Office stuff. It’s for kids,” and you can’t say that about social media anymore, either. Find out which tools are right for your business, and get tips on getting started, whether you’re just interested in learning about the latest news in your industry, or whether you’re ready to generate leads and clients via social media.

Come join us at Miro District on June 14. We’ll be in the upstairs room toward the back of the restaurant, to the right of the bar. For $18, each guest will get 2 free drinks and appetizers. Stick around for dinner and enjoy Miro District’s Monday night specials.

Please rsvp to Kristi at kseamon at bonelaw dot com, so that we can give Miro District an accurate headcount. Feel free to invite your friends, and let us know if we should add anyone else to the list or if you’d like to be taken off the list. See you then!

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