First session of Geneva’s Content Strategy Book Club [en]

On Wednesday evening, a group of content professionals and content-curious people gathered at the AllTheContent headquarters in Geneva to talk about Margot Bloomstein’s “Content Strategy at Work: Real-world Stories to Strengthen Every Interactive Project” as part of the Content Strategy Geneva Meetup Group. This book is the perfect mix between theory, tools and case studies. The author’s writing is compelling, easy to read and fun. It is a great book to get a Content Strategy book club started.

I moderated the meeting. For the structure of the evening, I have taken inspiration from UX Romandie‘s book clubs in which we had studied Karen McGrane’s “Content Strategy for Mobile” and Erika Hall’s “Just Enough Research”. For those of you interested in doing similar things, Steve Baty has described the history and the methods of UX Book Clubs on Boxes and Arrows (Thanks @gillesdemarty for the link).

To prepare the evening, I have indexed the book around two axis: case studies and deliverables. Case studies have a way to whet people’s appetite for theory. For a long time, they were very few and far between in content strategy. Thanks to Margot Bloomstein among other practitioners, case studies are more numerous and useful now.

A photo posted by Evren Kiefer (@evrenkiefer) on

Index of case studies

Adagio Too many initiatives. Importance of strategy Tone & voice
Stonewall Kitchen Message hierarchy’s deficient
Light the hill User generated content in Academia
Johns Hopkins Medicine Governance Overhaul 2010-2011, rolling audit, editorial calendar, style guidelines
Icebreaker Storytelling, consistency in voice and tone.
TV liscensing Third-party content, balancing evergreen and timely.
Bows’n’Ties E-commerce, information architecture and content marketing
Marketo SEO from message architecture
Federal Reserve Create a culture of content management, continuous support, content modelling
REI (Outdoor gear) Dynamic CMS, gradual consolidation of IA, UX and content management, expert advice and content marketing.
Oregon Health and Science University ( Finding willing content owners is long and arduous, editorial ownership, guidelines for templates in the CMS.
MINI Cars Social Media and content strategy, message-architected shareable content, sustainability of content initiatives.
Adopt US Kids Focus on the end goal and most relevant KPIs. Stop the blog, feature a different kid per week, invested in social media. Content and expertise as assets. Consolidate around few content types.

I also asked attendees these questions…

  • Which case studies did you find especially interesting?
  • In your opinion, are there solutions that would be especially hard to implement and what would be the obstacles?
  • Where there challenges you already encountered?
  • What solutions would you implement?

This evening went splendidly. It allowed me to get introduced to great people and have rich discussions around content. I’ll do my best to keep organising events and advance the craft of content-care in our city.

Stay tuned for more.


Training for NaNoWriMo: lessons learned [en]

Portrait of the Princess of Lamballe at her desk (thinking about) writing (1788) by Anton Hickel (1745–1798) at the Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna

Lots of friends have been taking up sports or have made life-altering decisions. Since I am past the reading/writing fatigue of college, I decided to do something for myself by upping my writing output. A legit attempt at NaNoWriMo would do me lots of good, I thought. My previous attempt didn’t benefit from a strong enough commitment and social pressures. It failed at about 15’000 words. Hence, I decided to do a mock run in August first this time.

To cement my commitment, I bought the second edition of Chris Baty’s book on the Kindle app. It’s a quick and delightful read. The book has a first part that is general and then, it has a chapter for each week of the challenge. It was on August 5th that I first wrote 1700 words.

My challenge was to write 1700 words each day for 31 days and have, at least, 50’000 words by the end. If I could do that in August, I would have a shot at NaNoWriMo in November.

mock-nanowrimo-run-2015-09-05On the one hand, in actual fact, I failed to reach my goal. At the end of day 31, a little more than 48’000 words had been written. On the other hand, it is a huge victory and a source of pride. I haven’t quit. I have a draft novel today that I didn’t have 32 days and one hour ago. It is 50’010 words long. It can be done faster if I am even more rigorous and reduce social obligations further.

Screenshot-2015-09-06-01hPictured above is the finish photo with the word count of 50’010 words.

Lessons learned

Here are the lessons I need to remember for November…

Get in a rhythm and stay in it. We all have periods where we’re more productive. Me, it’s before breakfast so when I have time and energy I can make up to 60% of my daily goal then. Those days tend to be the ones where I can reach 100% with ease and go to sleep early enough to repeat the performance early the next day.

Authors will start following you and you’ll get into lists when you use the #amwriting hashtag. That’s nice and OK. Self-publishing gurus and book tour bookers will also follow you and talk about marketing your best-seller. Ignore them. You’re not writing a best seller. You’re writing draft 0 in a long series that might become decent prose one day.

Don’t count on bountiful days to repay word debt. The second wind of week #3 is less impressive than advertised. I haven’t caught it and therefore had trouble remaining steady. 3000 words days have yet to happen to me. My record is 163% on the last ditch effort. Therefore…

Don’t accumulate word debt. One thousand six hundred and sixty seven words per day is a tall order (for me, at least).

This is silly. Forget all the life altering potential of the exercise. It won’t redeem all this time you’ve been writing slowly or not at all. It won’t make you sexier. Beginner’s mind is important. Even more for the last 10 than the beginning 20 days.

Try and surprise yourself. Keep things unbalanced and moving forward. It’s the best thing about being a write-by-the-seat-of-the-pants person. Don’t resist the climax. Shit is going to happen to characters. At some point, it felt like I wanted to protect them from harm which stalled me.

A task does take as much space as it is given. If I have a whole day to write, I struggle to get to 100% just as much as if I have only a few hours.

Close your browser or, better yet, disconnect. That means you can’t rely on YouTube for music but it’s still worth it most of the time.

Don’t mix languages. If you write in English-as-a-second-language, don’t use music with French lyrics. It is exhausting. The more languages are mixed the more words I have to look up.

Hone your capacity for concentration. I have to keep working on that. I mean, who doesn’t?

Changing register and jotting down something else to clear the pipeline can be helpful. It doesn’t count in your word count but a quick blog post can help clear your mind. Projects with a nano scope can replenish your energy.

Put several reminders for the recycling and garbage collection days. Forgetting sucks. Also dishes, cleaning the toilet and the bathroom sink are sacred chores that can’t be passed.

Get people around you excited. Little gold stars, likes, comments and encouragements are tremendously helpful. Don’t hesitate to tell people when you’re struggling too as 140 characters pep-talks can save your bacon. You can use this Jaime Murray gif.


You may also be interested in the first lessons I wrote about earlier and How to Establish a Writing Habit which I wrote for more than two years ago (Gee! I do evergreen content well).


Thanks to for her kind words on Twitter and her podcast.

Thanks tofor his very useful and motivating book and kind words on Twitter.

Thanks to , , , , Benoît Perrier, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and the ones I might have forgotten for their gold stars and encouraging words on Twitter.

Thanks, in no particular order, to Julien, Jérémie, Darja, Kelly, Clément, Brigitte, Renee, Errol, Sophie, Yann, Rukkmini, Resshmini, Christina, Jeremy, Pilar, Marisa, Nicolas, Hania, Patricia, Kiara, and Fredrik for their Facebook “likes” and benevolent comments.

I feel indebted to you all because you kept me moving on the path. Thanks to everybody.

Pre-NaNoWriMo training: first lessons [en]

It’s day 7 of my pre-NaNoWriMo training session. The challenge is to write 1700 words every day for 31 consecutive days. It’s already been very interesting to see myself get back into writing and force more output.

One of the lessons is that the environment doesn’t foster low pressure, write-as-an-exercise endeavours. I’ve been working for 7 days and using the #amwriting hashtag for the same amount of time. During that week, my follower count increased dramatically.

All the self-publishing gurus

The accounts that follow me increase the pressure. I’ve been followed by self-published authors marketing their books (that’s really the good part). But there’s also accounts that give me advice on self-publishing, want to help me market my book. I even been followed by a company who proposes to book “virtual” book tours for me.

Remember, I am only in the first week of a month-long challenge at the end of which I’ll have — if all goes well — about two thirds of a raw first draft with plot holes the size of the moon. Now that is ridiculous!

The direction I am going

What’s also bizarre is that I set on a course to get out of schemas and premeditated stories and it seems my mind follows furrows that have been dug during my previous attempt at noveling in French one or two years back.

The change of language and forced writing pace unlocked some things though. The plot is still not that tight and well thought out but I checked my Inner Editor at the kennels of NaNoWriMo. “We’ll see” is my mantra.

I still don’t know if the furrows from the previous attempt help me or hinder me. I’d wager that they hinder me as I write a little slower in parts that seem clearer in my mind — just like Chris Baty wrote in his book.

As for the day’s progress. It’s time to start with my day job and I haven’t reached one percent yet. I am a little burned out because I went out last night (the sin!) and then wrote the last 50% of the day’s word count in a hurry before midnight.

We’ll see.

Low cognitive budgets for web projects [en]

A cognitive budget measures the amount of time and attention the stakeholders allocate to various aspects of their business. I am especially interested in the amount willingly given to the website and other web initiatives. Web teams can work around financial constraints. However, when the stakeholder cognitive budget is low and the web team doesn’t have much power, delivering great work becomes exponentially more difficult.

Way too often, the website is a dumping ground for content and there’s, therefore, little need to discuss or even think too much about it. As for homepage real estate, carousels and slideshows make it easy to never have a conversation about that at all. So it follows that the website is a solved problem. It’s off the managers’ plate. The people in the last office before the server room have to upload things they receive by e-mail from all over the organisation and never talk back. No editorial back-and-forth. Congratulations. That’s a non-issue.

Or is it? When things are set up like this, uneasiness creeps in. People responsible for communicating through the website aren’t sure they’re reaching their target. They feel that something is off kilter. Sometimes anxiety reaches levels that warrants an e-mail to the web person with questions about the templates’ age or alerting them to a lack of “sexiness”. Of course, the website has no appeal. It is an ever-expanding closet holding three ring binders that each and every person in the organisation can add to.

When dissatisfaction reaches their ears, people ask for prettier wallpaper and wider doors to the closet, at least in part, because mandating technical fixes or redesigns doesn’t tap into their cognitive budgets. That’s when good teams or good webmasters come back with questions about branding and goals and content workflows which, in such an organisational culture, never get answered because web stuff is supposed to be a non-issue. It’s supposed to be cheap in terms of money and cognition.

It’s OK to cut corners but avoiding thinking about your organisation’s website isn’t a smart move. Websites are infrastructure that is important to your business.

When the culture is to treat the web as a solved problem and neither allocate sufficient cognitive nor monetary resources, there’s very little that can change in terms of introducing digital governance and content strategy even though these tools can bring positive change and make the website run more smoothly.

Have you tried strategies to work around this? Would you care to share stories?


Meetup “Solutions multilingues pour WordPress” [fr]

[en] Yesterday, we had a meetup about Multilingual solutions for WordPress. It was fun and instructive.

Hier soir avait lieu la rencontre Solutions multilingues pour WordPress du WordPress Geneva Meetup. Vincent Ghilione, fondateur de Polychrome a donné une présentation concise et assez complète des différentes solutions techniques existantes pour créer un site multilingue avec WordPress. Ce qui est une gageure. Encore merci à lui.


Un jour, je souhaiterais entendre les mêmes praticiens sur les défis en terme d’organisation et de budget autour de la mise en production d’un site mutlilingue, peut-être dans un autre groupe meetup, qui sait? *wink wink*

En attendant, et pour revenir à l’événement d’hier soir, les membres sont venus nombreux et ont apprécié cette présentation qui s’est terminée par une démonstration d’un prototype de plugin multilingue maison en cours de développement. Il nous a prévenu que l’avenir de son projet restait incertain. Il pourrait être arrêté car il apprécie beaucoup les qualités de Polylang.


Puis-je inscrire tous mes contacts à ma newslettre? [fr]


[en] Adding people to newsletter mailing lists manually without asking them first isn't OK. It will damage your list's reputation with your readers and your e-mail service provider. Whereas playing by stricter rules and having interesting content will make your list grow.

Quoi que l’on fasse, il faut résister à la tentation d’ajouter soi-même des noms et des adresses mail à une newslettre. Ces personnes qui n’ont pas donné leur consentement se désinscriront ou pire considéreront vos envois comme du spam et le feront savoir à vos fournisseurs de solution e-mail respectifs.

C’est sans doute la pire chose qui puisse arriver. Les fournisseurs de solution e-mail comme MailChimp, par exemple, appliquent une tolérance proche de zéro pour le courrier non-sollicité. Ils doivent se différencier très clairement des organisations qui envoient du spam. Les filtres anti-spam réagissent à la provenance des mails. Si plusieurs mails frauduleux ou non-sollicité proviennent d’un même serveur, les filtres vont simplement bloquer ce serveur. Comme les fournisseurs de solution e-mail utilisent des serveurs communs à tous leurs clients, ils ne peuvent pas se permettre de voir les e-mails  envoyés par ces serveurs être considérés comme du spam et ne plus arriver à leur destination.

Les dénonciations pour spam sont comptées pour chaque envoi et pourraient vous valoir un blâme — chez MailChimp, si le pourcentage de plaintes dépasse les 5% des mails envoyés. En cas de récidive, votre compte est fermé et votre liste perdue.

En marketing email, le consentement est une notion centrale. On appelle cela le “permission marketing“. Lorsque des visiteurs vous donnent leur adresse mail pour votre newslettre, ils vous donnent explicitement la permission de les contacter. Le contrôle de consentement double ou double opt-in en anglais permet de s’en assurer. Il vaut mieux activer cette option pour éviter que des tiers puissent inscrire des personnes sans leur demander la permission.

L’autorisation de contacter une personne pour des mails promotionnels a une très grande valeur. Si vous n’abusez jamais de cette autorisation, il y a toutes les chances que vous puissiez la conserver et même approfondir votre relation avec cette personne. La bonne conduite est donc très très rentable sur le long terme.

La pertinence des messages doit toujours être la plus élevée possible et concerner toute la liste pour ne pas entamer ce capital de confiance. Si vous faites preuve de parcimonie, de respect envers les personnes qui vous ont donné leur adresse mail, et que vos messages sont intéressants, cette confiance se développera et votre liste s’allongera. Dans le cas contraire, vous risquez de recevoir des blâmes et de perdre votre liste.

Si vous souhaitez vraiment allonger votre liste, attirez des personnes réellement intéressées. Vous pouvez les inciter à vous donner votre adresse en leur promettant un cadeau de bienvenue comme un e-book exclusif.

Jargon hurts your website [en]

You can’t have broad appeal and also use your darling specialist phases everywhere on your site. Getting rid of jargon is the safest bet. When you use specialist phrases, making sure that the vocabulary is common beyond a shadow of a doubt is difficult or almost impossible.

Among specialists a measure of common jargon can help convey precise meaning. That’s why specialist vocabulary emerges after all. However, it should never become a way to feel smart or part of an exclusive club. Obfuscation is part of the culture of some organizations and professions. Sometimes language is intentionally difficult like in French literary theory.

When your website needs to get as many people as possible to change their behaviour, register somewhere or buy something, you can’t afford to fall back on selective and divisive language.

On the public internet you never know who is reading. You don’t have any idea of their background, reading comprehension skills in your language, etc. The copy might very well need to convert an audience of professionals. Yet, it has to convert them even if they aren’t fluent in your language, if they are rushed and stressed, if their kids are yelling in the background or if they’re having a bad day.

Using plain language is important. It doesn’t have to make you sound like an overly familiar simpleton. Within plain language, there is a lot of room for nuance. You can even achieve a formal and academic tone without using jargon.

Produire toujours plus de contenu n’est pas une solution [fr]

[en] Many cry "Our content gets out-of-date!". More content and cheaper content aren't the solution. Better content is.

«Tout évolue en permanence, nos contenus deviennent obsolètes très rapidement…». C’est un problème courant. La solution préconisée l’est malheureusement tout autant. «…il faut donc rédiger, rédiger, rédiger plus de contenu toujours plus vite pour rester à jour».

Là, je dis: «Une minute!»

Il est difficile de s’opposer à cette vision productiviste de manière crédible en tant que rédacteur sans avoir l’air paresseux. Pourtant, la multiplication sans fin d’ articles toujours meilleurs marchés n’est pas toujours la bonne formule.

Beaucoup d’organisations voient le contenu comme des paroles qu’on prononce et s’envolent. Seulement, le contenu numérique une fois créé, il peut rester en ligne pour toujours — si ce n’est sur votre propre site, dans le cache de Google, des services comme Instapaper, les archives d’ ou ailleurs.

En voyant le contenu comme une denrée périssable, on renforce l’idée qu’il perd de la valeur dès l’instant où il est publié. Et, par conséquent, on pensera préférable de faire baisser son coût et augmenter son volume plutôt que d’investir dans la recherche et la réflexion pour créer les contenus dont notre public a besoin et faire une maintenance régulière.

Le coût des contenus ne peut jamais baisser jusqu’à les rendre jetables. Les processus éditoriaux sont coûteux en ressources cognitives et en temps pour les auteurs, les experts consultés au sein de l’organisation, et les éditeurs. Tout cela coûte cher. De plus, les managers (et, souvent, le service juridique) sont impliqués dans l’approbation de contenus. Augmenter la durée de vie des contenus n’est donc pas un luxe mais une nécessité pour augmenter leur impact sans dépenser plus.

Le contenu a une durée de vie bien plus longue qu’on ne le pense. En faisant attention à la façon dont il est produit, organisé, stocké et distribué on peut encore augmenter sa durée de vie et son impact. Si on budgète des révisions et des mises à jour régulières, on peut s’assurer qu’il reste profitable encore plus longtemps. Par exemple, la plupart des contenus du blog de dont j’ai été l’un des auteurs conservent une valeur plusieurs années après leur publication et je m’y réfère encore.

Reading “On Being an Unemployed Arts Graduate” [en]

Reading “On Being an Unemployed Arts Graduate“, I tend to agree with the diagnosis. Humanities departments should be less ambiguous about their raison d’être. However, you can’t exempt the graduates and the corporations that fail to hire them of any responsibility so easily. Not seeing exactly what something is or what it’s for and pushing through nonetheless is a useful and beautiful thing. It requires a lot of grit, willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.

What I find most disheartening in this article is the focus on monetary value and individualism (and the self-helpy vibe). Therapy and individual well-being can’t be the sole purpose of Humanities. If we go down that path in reorganising universities, we will encourage creeping individualism.

Colleges have also community missions: they help cities/states govern themselves, by informing and educating citizens. Humanities have a lot to offer in the domain of the political and the communal.

  • Urbanisation is rampant: how do we make inclusive cities?
  • Innovation is faster: how are we relating to technology?

How to move towards content ecosystems? [en]

How to design a CMS for the modern newsroom in On Content by Lee Simpson describes how the Guardian develops content management as an ecosystem and not through a single specialized piece of software.

Creating ecosystems of smaller and interchangeable pieces joined by APIs instead of betting on a single integrated CMS seems to be the most robust solution. There are content exchange formats emerging and such an approach is not a utopia anymore. Lee Simpson describes the evolving ecosystem thus:

A standardised mechanism for handling content from draft to publish (and beyond) would allow us to take advantage of tools being built by other software houses dedicated to solving the problems at individual stages of the content publishing process. Similarities can be found in the bases of programming workflow — dedicated systems and tools for each step of the process.

The benefits of this approach are numerous. For one, it reduces the friction in the tools’ adoption. If you can offer collaborators options, you will get new procedures and systems adopted much faster. People who have already developed preferences for certain applications may use them. Others will have options. They’ll welcome this freedom and that will make them much more cooperative.

Such an approach will help encourage content creation in non-journalistic organisations as well. Lots of professionals do write. Simply not in their browsers. If you can let them have their writing app or their image manager, for example, that might make organisational changes less painful.

However, the centralized services and APIs necessary to make this vision a reality are shared resources. Organizations in which the power is distributed and where the departments enjoy, cherish and safeguard their autonomy tend to resist the complications of putting shared resources in place. Shared resources require common rules. Sorting this out is digital governance. These rules will be embodied both in policies and computer code. They will be — or at least appear — costly to change. All the negotiations between business units must happen up-front: requirements have to be defined, someone has to be empowered to enforce the rules, etc.  Even if the benefits are great, it takes tremendous amounts of power and goodwill to sell. And the organization must be ready.