Screencasting: Sitting over your customer’s shoulder

Screencasting is one of those ideas that might have sounded weird when people first started doing it: You’re going to shoot a video…of yourself using the computer…and I’m going to watch it?

But screencasting is becoming widely used a tool to enhance the usability of sites. It’s my first go-to recommendation when a customer is building a help section for their site.

Because while written instructions can be very accurate, it’s so much easier when you can just show them where to click. [This is a great example of matching the medium to the message.]

Do you ever have to help someone with a computer task? Your first instinct is to say, “Give me the mouse,” right? With screencasting, you are doing the next best thing. Even though you can’t sit beside your customers as they use your site, you’re still showing them how to do it.

[Caveat: I’m presuming that you have already done the hard UX work to make your site as easy as possible to actually use. If you’re using screencasting to paper over bad technology or bad navigation, don’t bother. It’s not a panacea. But it is a powerful tool to walk customers through common processes on your site.]

crowdSPRING, a crowd-sourced design and writing market site, has built a number of screencasts for their own site — and today they offer some helpful tips to create your first screencast.

We love to create screencasts for our clients, but I’ll give you a peek behind the curtain with my two cents for creating your own screencasts:

  • We use Screenflow and we really love it. It’s powerful, but it’s also intuitive.
  • It’s absolutely worth it to buy the external microphone [even for small projects], and decent ones aren’t too expensive.
  • Buy The Screencasting Handbook. It’s more than worth the money, and the Google Group that Ian Ozsvald and ProCasts manage is also a wealth of information.

Let’s start a content strategy meetup in Nashville

Content strategy is still emerging as a discipline, but I know a lot of people working on it here in the Nashville area. Several other cities have created successful content strategy meetups, and I’d love to help create one here in Nashville.

For some ideas about what a content strategy group might do, look at the Atlanta group’s recent programming.

I’ve also posted a call on Digital Nashville. Please email me [laura at creekmoreconsulting dot com] and let me know if you’re interested. We’ll aim to get something going this summer!

We’re too meta

Perhaps digital media isn’t the only industry that suffers from the intense naval-gazing we see around us. And I really didn’t mean to sound so disparaging right here on the front end.

But sometimes it just drives me crazy to read all the inside baseball blog posts.

I had to explain the word meta to my 10yo daughter last week. She’s not allowed to watch Glee, but she’s quite culturally aware, and so we’ve shown her selective clips of one song or another when they feed into the public understanding.

So we showed her the Glee version of Don’t Stop Believin’, the Ohio State response, and Glee’s Safety Dance. [Grr. Having trouble finding quick links to working versions. Will update later as I’m able.] And so the word meta came up.

And how I love that word.

You see, I’m a semantics girl at heart. I could argue what is is for a week. I’m in content strategy for a reason, and it’s about feeding my analytical soul as much as it’s about helping my clients make stuff happen.

But at the end of the day, we need to make stuff happen. And the self-referential, meta culture in digital media can confuse the process.

Don’t make it so hard to talk about things that you can’t make them happen. Name a goal, pave the path and make it happen.

Unmanaged Content: Whac-A-Mole or Many-Headed Hydra?

Regardless, it’s not good.

Don’t feel bad; you’re not the only organization out there with a less-than-complete handle on your content. For organizations that have embraced the web for years, it may even be a bigger problem than for newbies. Because the longer you’ve been in this business, the more likely you are to have some legacy systems that never got adapted into a content management system….you know, because:

  • We don’t use the information on that microsite much.
  • It works fine the way it is.
  • So-and-so is the only one who needs to manage it and he’s familiar with that old system.

But what happens when:

  • You do need to use that information?
  • It no longer works?
  • So-and-so doesn’t work here anymore?

Ah, but that’s what happens to other people, right? Ahem.

Unmanaged content — the content you can’t name, or place, have forgotten entirely or that no one ever told you existed — will continue to loom over your head, portending your coming doom, until you physically capture and catalog it.

Ideally, you can put uncorralled content into your content management system once you find it. But even if that’s not possible due to technical constraints, a complete catalog of what you have will make your life easier.

Don’t wait for your content to find you — Murphy’s Law will bite you every time. Get out there and find that stuff!

Community management: Keeping all the balls in the air

I was talking with someone yesterday about online community management. I am still grateful to discover that I’m talking with someone who presumes that online communities require management.

I told her that I think of online community management as juggling. You have several simultaneous tasks:

  • Care and feeding of site members [tech support]
  • Content strategy [Even on user-generated content sites, the institutional tone you set is critical]
  • Nurturing people who share

If you let any of those balls drop, you endanger the community.

It’s a pretty broad way of thinking about community management. There are a lot of other items we could add to the list, really — technical structure, communication/marketing, etc. But I’d argue that many of those other items could fall under one of these three big categories.