Twitter as paperboy: The role of distribution in online publishing

Jason Preston, VP of strategy for Parnassus Group and instigator at several Seattle online publishing startups, posted some interesting observations about the need for distribution in online publishing.

Jason Preston, VP of strategy for Parnassus Group and instigator at several Seattle online publishing startups, posted some interesting observations today about the need for distribution in online publishing.

A blog platform like WordPress, or a proprietary website, is a tool for publishing; Twitter is a tool for distribution. Using Twitter for distribution takes the published message a lot further.

This is a useful paradigm, but its limits got me thinking about the powerful role of subscription in the online world. You can subscribe to have Twitter deliver information from a blog just as you once had a paperboy deliver The Seattle Post-Intelligencer — but now you can also go directly to the publisher (blog) and subscribe by email (or newsreader), eliminating the middleman.

Whether I notice something as the teaser for it scrolls by me in the Twitter stream is pretty haphazard. However, when a post from a blog I’ve subscribed to via email appears in my inbox, I’m likely to read much of it.

Increasingly, I’m subscribing directly to the publisher and bypassing Twitter altogether.

I’ve noticed that groups like XYDO and have figured out the value of email subscriptions and allow you to subscribe to read a newsletter that displays teasers to your online friends’ favorite links. The XYDO and algorithms don’t always get it right, but, even so, I’m finding myself paying a lot more attention to the content in those emails than to tweets.

“We can’t say that!” Why not?

Rand Fishkin’s public postings about the process of seeking investment capital for his company SEOMoz may represent a trend toward transparency in business communications.

I’ve been doing communications, in-house and as a consultant, for more years than I like to admit.

With nearly every client, and certainly with every in-house gig, I remember the meetings in which we’d sit with senior leaders and map out a plan to distract attention from what was really going on in the company.

Occasionally one of us on the communications team would suggest: “Why don’t we just tell people some of what’s going on?”

“We can’t say that!” was always the answer. There would be a general round of patronizing chuckles, gasps of terror, or snorts of scorn (the reaction depended on the organization) before everyone got back to the business of obfuscation.

Curt Woodward, writing today for Xconomy Seattle, describes how SEOmoz CEO Rand Fishkin is breaking that tradition by writing publicly about what he’s doing and thinking as he seeks investment capital for his company. Fishkin’s observations are interesting, and Woodward has made them even more so by consolidating all of Fishkin’s blog posts and other communications using Storify, an online tool for stitching together web-based information.

I don’t think that every company or organization is ready for transparency about its plans, nor are certain issues (such as personnel changes or litigation) appropriate to discuss publicly. But I do think transparency is a trend, and, increasingly, something business partners and consumers will come to expect.

Just imagine

I’m working on the volunteer newsletter staff at Renovation, the World Science Fiction convention held in Reno today through Sunday.

Yesterday I wrote articles about convention transportation and tipping; today I’m off to the local library, across the street from the convention center, which is honoring Renovation with a science fiction exhibit, films, and several “Meet the Author” events.

If you’re at the convention, maybe I’ll see you at the Thursday Steampunk Tea or that evening’s Girl Genius Grand Ball. Look for the newsletter, the High Space Drifter, in a hallway near you later today.

2 keys to great content strategy

The first key to great content strategy is knowing the organization, its audience, and the available tools. The second key is using that information to build realistic plans and options.

This is based on my contribution to a recent LinkedIn discussion (started by Boston web designer Craig Huffstetler) about what a content strategist should do.

1. A content strategist is responsible for knowing 4 things:

  • The communications needs and expectations of the target audiences
  • The strengths and weaknesses of the available communications tools
  • The resources (time, money and expertise) the client organization has to use the tools
  • The messages the organization wants to communicate

2. Based on that information, the content strategist builds realistic communications strategies and options.

When creating those options, it is important to:

  • Resist the lure of the tools. I see a lot of content strategists insisting that organizations use the hottest social media tools and channels — even when the organization’s audience has zero interest in receiving information through those channels.
  • Build on the existing strengths. I keep encountering organizations that have committed to content plans that, in order to succeed, would require 20 times the amount of time, money or expertise available carry them out. The plans fail — and the tools get blamed (“Facebook just doesn’t work for us!”).

The hallmarks of a great content strategist are a firm grip on reality and the ability to help the client face that same reality.

When the results come in, your client will thank you.

News about upcoming writing workshops

Clarion West is hosting a series of one-day writing workshops in Seattle this fall with Molly Gloss, Mark Teppo, and Nancy Kress.

Here’s a quick roundup of news on upcoming workshops in the Pacific Northwest for speculative fiction writers. I plan later this month to create a separate page for this information.

Clarion West announces Summer 2012 workshop instructors

The Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle has announced the instructors for summer 2012: Mary RosenblumHiromi GotoGeorge R.R. MartinConnie WillisKelly Link and Gavin Grant, and Chuck Palahniuk.

Yes, that George R.R. Martin.

Applications for the six-week intensive writing program will be accepted beginning in December. You can find more information on the Clarion West website.

Clarion West now offers one-day workshops

This fall Clarion West is hosting a series of one-day workshops in Seattle:

  • “Alive in the World,” taught by Molly Gloss
  • “Jumpstart Your Novel,” taught by Mark Tepp0
  • “Your First Scene,” taught by Nancy Kress (including a critique component for which writing must be submitted in advance)

Cascade Writers Workshop announces 2012 program

The 2012 Cascade Writers Workshop, scheduled for Vancouver, WA, in July 2012, will include workshop/critique groups led by Tor editor Beth Meacham, literary agent Michael Carr, and novelists Ken Scholes and Jay Lake. More information is available on the Cascade Writers website.

Cascade Writers reaches beyond Science Fiction and Fantasy to include Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Young Adult, Historical, Non-Fiction, and Commercial writing(though this year, when I attended, a majority of the students were focused on fantasy and science fiction).

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