NOTE: While the following piece was targeted at a college classroom, we felt there were insights in here that a broader audience could benefit from.
Never let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do.
— John Wooden
I had the opportunity to speak to a journalism class at my alma mater, the University of Maryland, last week. It was a surreal moment for me, as an English major who used to work in journalism and who now works as a digital strategist at an agency. While I tried to sum up nearly 20 years of experience on the web in about 30 minutes, I somewhat purposely took the students on a meandering journey, because at the end of the day, that’s what working on the web is for most people. There were basically three main points I wanted to instill in the group as they’re looking to figure out how to navigate their careers.
In no particular order:
• Be curious
• Understand how visitors engage with your content
• Always. Be. Creating.
Google is amazing. You can learn much of what you need to know to keep your marketable skills up to date with a healthy balance of curiosity and the search engine.
As my career morphed from writing and editing, to web production and development, to digital strategy, I often had to roll up my sleeves and adapt to evolving technology. Over the years I learned that the more I paid attention to how things work, the better equipped I was going to be when it came time to offering up creative solutions to various digital problems.
Very few challenges on the web are brand new. People who have already solved those challenges often share how they did it. And with a couple thoughtful search queries, the way forward can quickly and clearly present itself.
Understand how visitors engage with your content
The days of "if you build it, they will come" are over, if they ever really existed in the first place. To be a valued member of a digital content team, whether in journalism, a non-profit or a corporate environment, it’s imperative to understand not just the topics of interest your audience might have, but how they expect to discover and engage with that content. It’s also important to understand where the content you create is going to live online.
Content creators should ask questions like:
• What else is on this page?
• Are those things relevant to your subject matter?
• What else can be added (tags, related videos, photos, polls, interactive elements)?
• Can the content be shared easily?
• Does the right descriptive information appear in the Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or other service when it is shared?
I made it clear in the conversation with the students that I’m not talking about blurring any lines between business and editorial. However, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t do things to help the promotion of their own work, and to encourage audiences to be advocates for their content and publications.
The same approaches can be taken by other organizations.
Always. Be. Creating.
I also recommended they take up something of a hobby. It’s fairly simple, though not always easy when life gets in the way.
First, they should pick a topic they’re passionate about. Then, they should write about it once a week for a year. They could even take two weeks off a year and still have 50 entries. These posts should be published (ideally) to a web site that they own, with their own content management system or blog tool like Drupal or WordPress or similar.
I recommended that they be conscious of tagging their content, to see what sub-topics grow over the duration of their publishing. I also recommended that they take an active role in learning how the whole system works from a design, development and meta data / social media sharing perspective.
By taking this approach, anyone can discover new and creative ways for creating content, and ultimately learn valuable digital strategy approaches that pay off down the road.