Category Archives: Newspapers

Partnering with Community Organization for local Content

Hillquest.com receives about 27,000 unique visitors each month and as many as 250,000 page views a month.

Not enough to make anyone rich, but considering it’s a local site covering just one neighborhood in San Diego, it’s a pretty impressive stat.

Of course, not every local site is updated multiple times a day or has people as devoted and as able as Nancy Moors and Ann Garwood working on the site, but there are plenty of people and organizations that are already publishing community newsletters and Web sites.

Unfortunately, many of these organizations struggle because they lack the tools to create simple but quality Web sites and even more importantly, the channels to market them to readers.

Newspapers, which are always talking about the importance of local news, unfortunately have done little to actively help organizations easily and effectively connect with their communities. And this is a tragedy for both parties.

Newspapers miss out on an invaluable source of free local content, which is what readers desperately crave and don’t get from their large regional paper. In addition, by not providing the tools and bringing these publishers into the fold, they are creating competitors and losing audiences.

In fact, it feeds a common perception among many readers, that the local paper is arrogant and uncaring.

Or as Moors stated, “Newspapers have been arrogant, thinking that they are only choice for so long that they’ve blown off the community. That’s what’s given life to community newspapers.”

And she spent her whole life working for newspapers! Imagine what other people think.

On the flip side, most community organizations struggle to get the word out because they lack the tools and the channel to communicate their message to their constituents. Even sophisticated operations, rarely have reach that local newspapers have.

Not surprisingly, Moors said they’ve gotten repeated requests from various neighborhood associations to help them with their sites.

“We’re passionate about our community and that’s why we do it.”

Isn’t that why we got into journalism in the first place? And wouldn’t it be great if newspapers did a better job of tapping into that passion.

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Private Label Video Services: Picking an Online Video Partner

To quote Suzie Reider the SVP of CNET’s Gamespot, “You could hire five engineers and have a video upload service in a year,” or you could save yourself a year of work and just partner with one of the many video-sharing services that have popped up in the last 12 months.

The question is how do you decide whom to pick? Especially, when there are so many players in the space and they all more or less seem the same.

I won’t list specific companies as I’ve done work with video companies in the space and I don’t want my personal finances affecting my recommendations. However, here is what I would look for when choosing a partner.

  1. Product/Technology: Is it easy to use, implement and scalable?
  2. Services: What additional services do they offer, e.g screening of videos for objectionable content or even editing for quality?
  3. Content: What content do they offer, e.g. movie clips, sports highlights, etc.
  4. Business Model: Is it ad supported? Do they provide the advertising?

Given the wide variety of companies and different variations, no one company will be right for every publisher. In fact, I’d argue that you should expect to do deals with multiple vendors depending upon what content and functionality you want.

The goal of this article is to give you a high-level guide to help you think about how to proceed as you move forward. It is not designed to be the end-all, be-all guide to every little piece of the video puzzle.

The reality is every service has different areas where they excel and fail. And given the rapid rate of change, what’s fiction today may be fact tomorrow.

For more details and in-depth reviews on some of the players in the space, check out the following articles:

Product & Technology

While each service have fairly similar features, there are some key differences between the services. The following are just a few things to look for when reviewing the technical aspects the product.

Ease of implementation

If you can’t implement it, then nothing else matters. For larger papers that have significant IT and design resources, this shouldn’t be a big deal. For smaller organizations, it can make the difference between execution and just another good idea.

Seamless user experience

Users shouldn’t be able to tell that they’re interacting with another service. That means the service should offer single sign on capabilities and the ability to customize templates to match your own – or better yet even embed the video player directly into your pages.

Ease of use

Feature functionality doesn’t mean squat if it’s difficult to use. Ease of use for both the viewers and uploader is critical. It doesn’t matter if your developer thinks it cool, what matters is if his parents or grandparents can use it.

No Downloads

IT administrators in many companies prevent users from installing new applications – and the reality is most people don’t want to have to download and install an application just to watch a 30 second video. As a result, you shouldn’t require additional downloads to see your videos.

The exceptions to the rule are if you are using a service that provides:

  1. High definition capabilities for longer videos, what are now being referred to as “lean-back” content, as in relax and watch them like you would your TV.
  2. The ability to compress video locally on the “uploader’s” machine so that it reduces the upload time for users.

In either case people will be more likely to take the time – but always make sure to offer a download-free version.

While technically Flash requires a download, the reality is over 98% of users already have it on their systems, so it’s rare that anyone will require a download.

Cross platform

It used to be if it worked in Internet Explorer, that was good enough but with the advent of Firefox, the resurgence of Macs and the emergence of cell phones and other platforms, it’s critical to pick someone who already offers cross platform capability or will be offering it soon.

Video size

Some services offer over 100 megabytes of uploads and other less than 10. Given the decrease in both bandwidth and storage costs, expect to see the limits on upload size increase.

Tagging & Organizing Content

This is an area that is truly lacking in the vast majority of services I’ve seen so far and is a key to creating to creating easily accessible, organized community content.

However at least one company offers the ability to create customizable categories and subcategories, which is the key to organizing the content in logical easy-to-find groupings based on people’s local communities, e.g. families, neighborhoods, cities, churches, schools, type of event, and community organizations, etc.

For example, just think about a high school sporting event, what information do you need to collect in order to find that information five years from now? How would someone either browse to the video or search for it? By location of event, players’ names, date, high school, type of event, etc.?

If you have all the information, then it’s possible to either group the content together for easy browsing or by searching.

While creating the initial taxonomy will require hard work, inevitably be imperfect and require significant modifications, it’s critical to creating a usable architecture when you have thousands of videos.

If you’ve already tackled this subject, let me know what you’ve done and any lessons learned – as it will be the subject of a future article.

Review and Editing

Anyone can upload anything on YouTube, but quality is a key differentiator for “newspapers.” As a result, the system will need good editing tools that enable you to:

1. Rapidly screen the content for appropriateness. Is it porn or a Picasso? You don’t want to have to sit through the whole video to find out – and several vendors have built tools that enable you to quickly view snapshots of the video.

2. Find the good parts and eliminate the crud. As any editor knows (and most writers’ hate) the best way to improve content is to eliminate most of it. This is especially true of home videos that often consist of dead time before and after the actual event. Just think of baseball, 2 hours of boredom broken by seconds of action.

3. Merge or “mashup” multiple videos. Imagine you have two videos showing the winning catch from the Friday-night football game. It would nice to be able to stitch them together to create a highlight video.

Sharing/Social Networking

Enabling users to easily share videos with each other is a key to viral growth. It’s a basic function of almost every video sharing service.

Ranking

Making sure the best of the content bubbles to the top is the key to driving topline revenue growth. Most services offer the ability for readers to rate the videos and provide functionality to view the most popular, highest rated, etc.

Services

Getting additional headcount to do anything these days is a challenge for most newspapers, so finding a vendor that will offer services to assist you with both the initial implementation, e.g. what works best, and the ongoing maintenance may be critical for most papers success.

Currently, several vendors offer outsourced screening of content to catch copyright and objectionable content issues. However, many newspapers may ultimately want a service that will provide the editing and actual posting of the video as well.

Imagine, rather than having to add editing staff to review and edit videos from the Friday night football game, you just pay a little extra to your video service to do it for you.

If someone offered outsourced video editing services, would you use them? And would it increase your probability and/or speed of adoption? Email me and give me your feedback.

Content

While everyone is Gaga about user-generated content, many of the most popular videos on YouTube are professionally created. If you look at what the big boys, i.e. Washington Post and NewYork Times, have introduced first it’s professional content.

If you’re looking to get online video up-and-running quickly but aren’t quite ready to jump into the deep end with user-generated content or have your staff run around with video cameras, look for providers with plug and play content that doesn’t require any additional editorial resources or risk.

The first source is the AP video for a quick no-cost source of video. The second are movie trailers. They’re free and can be plunked into your movie review section.

I’m curious, if someone offered a video service with a selection of movie trailers that you could easily plug into your site, would you adopt?

If you think of the section of your site as being a series of channels, you can quickly imagine what other types of videos that would make sense, e.g. videos about cars for your automotive section, real estate videos in the homes section, sports highlights in sports, etc….

The New York Times has already done this http://video.on.nytimes.com/

Again, are you currently looking for syndicated content you can easily plug into your site? Do you know of companies offering these services? And what’s your experience been with them? Let me know.

Business Model

The majority of private-label services are offering revenue share with their partners – but with slightly different models.

The basic models are:

  1. The video company provides the advertising and gives you a share of the revenue.
  2. You provide the advertising and give a share of the revenue to the company.
  3. You pay a fixed CPM and then sell the advertising yourself.

I hope this helps. It was very tempting to write complete articles on each section – but let me know what you’d like me to go into greater depth – and I’ll try to cover it in my next piece.


Newspapers: Problem child or cash cow?

I still remember my first day at the Orange County Register back in July 1994.

I assumed, now that I was going to work at a real paper, I’d have access to the latest and greatest technology and could use my hard-earned statistical analysis and computer cartography skills to do some Pulitzer-prize winning computer assisted reporting.

Then I saw my workstation, a PC XT with 4 MHz of computing power and no floppy drive – incredibly archaic even by 1994 standards.

The next two years were both thrilling and demoralizing, as I tried to make sense of the contradictions between newspapers’ huge profits and their almost complete lack of investment in technology, training and adequate news resources.

It was always a source of grousing amongst us reporters, as we couldn’t understand why such a profitable industry paid so poorly and invested so little in new initiatives.

Then, I left the newspaper industry, became a product manager and learned about the “Boston Box.” And suddenly, I understood why such a profitable industry invested so little in its people and products.

The Boston Box, also known as product lifecycle management, divides products into four basic categories.

Boston Box

  • Problem child/Question Marks: A new product that requires significant investment to grow and become profitable, e.g. new Internet initiatives.
  • Star: Assuming the product crosses the chasm, it becomes a star – characterized by high profits and growth. A star needs to be carefully nurtured and given the investment required to continue growing.
  • Cash Cow: At a certain point the product reaches maturity and is no longer growing in market share and or revenue stagnates and begins declining. At this point the goal is to maximize profitability and milk the cow for as much cash as possible.
  • Dog: Finally, the decline steepens and the goal is to profitably retire the product before it begins sucking resources from new replacement products.

Can you guess which category traditionally newspapers belong in?

You guessed it. The cash cow. Lets see stagnate revenues and gradual declines in market share over the last 20 years as circulation declines. So what does a “smart” manager do? Minimize investments and maximize profitability. They focus primarily on cost reduction to maximize efficiency, instead of investing for growth.

Whenever possible they merge with thecompetition to create a monopoly (product quality isn’t as much of an issue) and eliminate “redundancies.”

The problem with this thinking is that if they focus primarily on cost cutting, the quality of their product deteriorates and the customer base flees, resulting in yet more cost cuts and lost customers, accelerating the downward cycle.

On the other hand, if investors view the business as a cash cow and are expecting it to deliver 20% net profit margins, it’s hard to make significant investments without upsetting the “street.”

The problem newspapers and local TV news face now is that in order for them to make the transition from the old to the new, they need to invest heavily in new ventures that will initially take away from their profitability. And not only that, but now newcomers are using market shrink strategies to grab market share, e.g. Craigslist, and stealing revenue from newspapers.

So are newspapers cash cows, problem children – or dogs? And what’s going to happen next?

Your thoughts?

Online Video & Newspapers

How Newspapers Can Grab a Piece of the Pie Before It’s All Eaten.

The combination of social networking, user-generated content and online videos is driving the next great Internet land grab.

Every week there’s yet another startup or new service being launched. And while YouTube won the initial race out the gate, jumping from nowhere to become a top 30 site in just six months, newspapers are determined not to be left in the dust again.

But while everybody wants YouTube’s audience, nobody wants the headaches associated with completely uncontrolled content because while YouTube is incredibly popular with viewers, it’s viewed with skepticism by most advertisers. Many advertisers don’t want to be caught dead on YouTube due to the mix of pirated videos, porn and other unseemly stuff on the site.

So what can newspapers do to ride the consumer-generated video wave without getting pummeled in the process?

  1. Understand the benefits and drawbacks of the existing sites for viewers and advertisers alike.
  2. Make a conscious transition from being strictly content creators to become local communication facilitators.
  3. Create new channels to capture and share the best content from around the country and world, e.g. similar to the Associated Press or ESPN but for user –generated content.
  4. Integrate, don’t segregate. Video needs to be integrated directly into existing sections.
  5. Experiment. Create new sections and new services to test what types of videos people want to share and whether they’ll pay to place or see them.

The Problems with User-Generated Sites

YouTube and MySpace are basically miniature microcosms of the Web – for better and worse. Anybody can publish anything with basically no oversight. As a result, 80% of the content is of little interest to people outside the creator’s immediate circle of friends.

On the flip side, 20% of a million videos or more is a lot of great content! But how do you find it? Friends can email or instant message you the links. And the sites have crude tools and categories to sort the content and try to bubble up the best/most popular videos to the top – but if you want to easily find the video of your most recent local high school football game, good luck.

And even when you do find it, the videos lack context. Maybe you’ll find a wedding video next to a football video next to a Nazi video next to whatever… Which is both unappealing from a user experience and an advertiser’s perspective.

Can you imagine if how many heads would roll if a McDonald’s ad appeared on a neo-Nazi video? Advertisers want the audience but they also want to ensure their brands are enhanced not damaged.

Plus while search is the dominant model for finding specific items you already knew you wanted to find, browsing is the dominant way people interact with editorial content. After all, a big part of what people expect from newspapers and magazines is the quality of the content and the information architecture.

Why local Newspapers have an advantage

Newspapers, after having been left in the dust by Yahoo!, Google and others in the race to attract eyeballs and monetize the Web, have the perfect opportunity to leverage their core competencies and extend their existing business models to dominate key aspects of the video market.

So what do newspapers have that YouTube, MySpace and others don’t?

1. A controlled environment. Nothing gets published without being screened for quality, content and context and that appeals to advertisers and audience members.

2. Strong local brands with a well-trained audience. In other words, the audience knows exactly where to look to find what they want.

So while anybody can publish anything on YouTube under any category, nobody can publish anything on a news site without it being reviewed for quality and appropriateness of the content and placed in the correct category.

Readers know exactly where to look for specific categories, e.g. local high school sports’ scores are in the high school sports section of the sports pages.

As a reader, this makes it very easy to find what you want. And since everything that appears within the site is prescreened, readers don’t have to worry about having to search through the garbage to find the occasional diamonds. And advertisers don’t have to worry about their brand being associated with neo-Nazi content.

Newspapers, while no longer the sole source of local information, are still viewed by the majority as the source of record. And while it’s great to appear on YouTube or a blog, appearing in a newspaper.com provides a level of instant validation that non-traditional sites can’t.

As a result, newspapers are well positioned to leverage their existing structures to provide a safe, controlled high-quality user experience integrating user-generated, studio and staff videos.

The vision

High school sports are immensely popular – and at every game there is either a student, staff member or parent video taping the event. Currently, the creators can post their video on YouTube or burn DVDs for sharing with friends.

Wouldn’t it be great if the video could be uploaded to the newspaper site and have a link to the video placed next to the score or embedded with the story?

While the unedited video, might not be great and only a small percentage may be interested in watching the entire game from start to finish, a higher percentage would want to see the highlights.

A video editor could easily create a highlights clip featuring only the best moments. Instead of having to invest significant time and expense actually filming the game, the newspaper only has to pay for someone to edit the video.

Once the editing is done, links to the video can be easily placed next to the box scores or wherever appropriate, so readers could quickly and easily find high-quality videos from the game.

The mix of user-generated content with the newspaper’s professionalism and existing infrastructure should enable newspaper sites to quickly become the dominant player for local events.

Beyond Local

Of course the key to profitability and audience growth and retention is to make sure the cream floats to the top. After all, while only a small percentage may be interested in any specific sports contest, people are always interested in the most exciting or unusual play of the day/week.

However, unlike the news which has a fixed viewing time, online videos can be seen at anytime, so in order to take advantage of both timeliness and timelessness, viewers should be allowed to vote for a video or play of the week, month and year at a local, regional and national level – thereby increasing interest and audience.

As Tom Mohr, the President of Knight Ridder Digital, pointed out in his speech at the 2006 Interactive Media Conference in Vegas is that newspapers need to put the network effect to compete with the Google’s and YouTube’s of the world. By creating “channels” to share the best local content, newspapers can leverage their millions of readers and thousands of employees to create and filter up the best user-generated content.

Think of the success and excitement associated with American Idol. The same competitive angle could be used to build a national competition for the Best Play of the Week, Month and Year, whereby the videos make their way through a series of local and regional competitions.

Like anything else, the logistics and details need to be worked out – but done right it would give young people a reason to visit their local newspaper site to view and vote for the best video – and create a steady stream of great videos for casual viewers and fanatics alike to view.

News

From Tornadoes to Tsunamis, Rodney King to the London Bombings many of the most dramatic news video from the last two decades has come from the general public armed with video cams.

Given the astronomic growth in portability and quantity of digital video cameras, it’s inevitable that the most dramatic news footage of unexpected events will come from the public.

As a result, newspapers need to make it easy for people to submit video of potentially newsworthy events. And just as newspapers check the wire for stories, they’ll need to be constantly on the look out for user-generated news video and photos.

It’s impossible for newspapers to possibly capture all the damage and effects from storms and other natural catastrophes using only staff reporters. Instead newspapers can supplement their coverage with user videos enabling them to provide more micro level coverage and generating additional ad dollars from the increased content.

And rather than wait for the big event, newspapers need to begin creating policies and encouraging video and photo submissions as an every day event so that they’re not overwhelmed in a crisis.

Community Events

As a reporter and editor/publisher, I knew it was impossible to cover every event due to staff and space constraints. Yet as a resident and event organizer, I know how important that validation from the mainstream media is.

One event in particular stands out in my mind. A friend’s mom owned a bridal shop in Cypress Park, a scruffy section of Los Angeles plagued by gang violence and graffiti. However, rather than give in to the urban decay, she and other local business owners created a little chamber of commerce and worked together to clean up the area. One of their first big successes was a community parade and fair.

While the event was huge for the dozens of people that organized the event and fun for the several thousand in attendance, it wasn’t big enough to even warrant a mention in the Los Angeles Times or any of the local TV stations. I keenly remember the sense of disappointment and almost sense of betrayal the organizers felt – because like it or not, people rely on the media to validate their efforts.

At the time I was a semi-professional photographer and took dozens of photos – but while I gave the group a set of prints to pass around, what they really wanted was to have them posted someplace publicly to highlight their achievements. If I had have been able to post them on the LA Times Web site for everyone to see, the newspaper would have gotten credit for “covering” the event, additional traffic and good will.

Rather than creating the content, the newspaper becomes the facilitator for community content – providing space, context, quality control and the tools for organizations to tell and share their stories.

Passages

While privacy was paramount for previous generations, the new generation is all about exposing itself to the world. Even Vegas, where supposedly what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, has multiple Web cams for people to expose themselves to the world.

As a result, newspapers should be creating sections for people to post and share their photos and videos of their births, birthdays, weddings, funerals and other passage events.

Again, while YouTube is easy to use, good luck scanning the site to find videos and photos of local weddings and other “personal” events. Plus there’s something special about having your photos and video on an “official” site, and maybe even have it featured on the site.

Video Comics

The comics have been one of the newspaper staples, and while I still love Doonesbury and Dagwood, I probably spend more time looking at the latest funny videos friends email me. While realistically, newspapers will never own the “funnies” category on the Internet, they can certainly begin capturing a little piece of the pie by partnering with video providers to create a “comics” section on their Web site.

Again the key is quality and consistency so your audience knows they can find great clips on your Web site without having to troll the Web for great stuff.

Classifieds and local advertising

Real estate agents pioneered the concept of the online video ad many years ago. Now that digital cameras and videos are cheap multiple start-ups and some newspapers are beginning to offer video classifieds.

Video classifieds can be used for everything from cars to restaurants. While adding video to the traditional real estate and car classifieds is a no brainer, newspapers need to think about how to integrate video ads for restaurants, hotels and other entertainment venues, where the customer experience is key.

The question for newspapers is where does the news content end and the ads begin? For example, is it appropriate to have a link from a restaurant review to the restaurant video ad? And as newspapers begin incorporating more staff-generated video into the mix, will some restaurants be featured in video segments as part of the article while others will be paid advertisements?

Given how hot online video is, if newspapers don’t provide an easy-to-use solution and resources for potential advertisers, they will go elsewhere, and fast.

One of the keys will be to provide local advertisers a one-stop solution that incorporates both the video, video editing and hosting. Newspapers and magazines have provided in house design staff for local advertisers for years – and now they need to quickly ramp up to provide the same. Otherwise they will lose the business to the mom-and-pop videographer/designers and startups.

The Technology & Business Models

Until recently, if newspapers wanted to display videos on their site, they would have had to buy all the hardware and software. Now there are a number of new start ups, with more launching weekly, that will provide hosted video solutions.

While most of the new start ups are focused on creating destination sites ala YouTube, others are building private label services for existing brands. Given the popularity of online video advertising with advertisers and the lack of suitable ad space, several actually provide the service for free, find the advertisers to pay for the video and will share a percentage of the ad revenue with their partners.

Online video will evolve dramatically over the next several years, which is why it’s critical not to get locked into any service or technology that won’t allow you to easily transition your content from one provider or format to another.

And while Microsoft, Real Networks and Apple were the early developers of online video players, Flash currently has the dominant market share, is truly cross platform and plays seamlessly within both Internet Explorer and Firefox, the two dominant browsers.

So while YouTube may have leapt to an early lead, given the number of solution providers, demand from advertisers for controlled content and audience desire for local content, newspapers have a great opportunity to dominate many segments of the online video market – but they need to act before someone else gets there first.

Read “Transforming Old Articles into New Revenue” about how newspaper could put generate readership and revenue from their archives for ver low cost.

Kevin Mireles helps online publishers and their technology vendors boost readership and revenue by developing new product strategies that use the Internet to create and connect communities. Kevin is a former reporter with over nine years experience developing, managing and marketing Web products.

To find out how he can help your organization, contact him directly at 858 337-2727 or Kevin@kevinmireles.com.

Eight steps to defining what goes into version 2.0 and beyond!

No matter whether you’re on version 1.0 or 10.0, the list of potential enhancements is always greater than the available resources.The challenge software companies and product managers face is to identify where they should invest their limited resources to maximize their return and minimize their risk – especially, since most software companies have a fairly limited understanding of what their customers want.So most companies use one or more of the following procedures to decide what to put in the next release.

  1. Make up stuff
  2. Collect list of known bugs
  3. Informally survey customer support and sales to get a better understanding of what customers are saying
  4. Survey actual customers
  5. Rely on user advisory board

Unfortunately, while all these processes are good starting points, they all have their problems, including:

  • Opinions are like elbows, everyone has one or more of them. Whoever is closest or has more power, can make decisions to their liking that may or may not be what customers really want.
  • Oftentimes it’s difficult to quantify what’s really important to customers. Major bugs in features people rarely use maybe less important than seemingly minor issues in frequently used components.
  • Items that irritate but don’t actually stop system from being used, e.g. software is slow, may never get reported to customer service.
  • Customer service is traditionally focused on solving not documenting the problem.
  • Difficult for visionary customers/ users with great ideas to give suggestions. As a result – may never receive many great ideas.
  • Without clear-cut information, i.e. quantitative data, it’s very difficult to identify where should invest resources.
  • Once software is built, hard to determine whether changes actually satisfied dissatisfied customers.
  • Advisory boards may not actually reflect your typical end users.

As a product manager, I too have struggled with many of the same issues. However, after having the good fortune to work at a company helping Microsoft, Yahoo! and others capture and analyze customer feedback I’ve put together an eight-step program designed to help you identify the most important issues, verify your enhancements and validate your decisions to senior management.

1. Make it easy for your users to give you feedback while they’re using the product!

Why not transform your entire user base into a focus group? IBM recently stated that over 30% of their best ideas came from customers – and since your users are the one you have to please why not make it easy for them to give you feedback from within your product?

Microsoft, Yahoo! Intuit and Real Networks are already beginning to transform the concept into reality with significant results. They’ve all begun putting open-ended feedback forms right into their products – and as a result are receiving tens of thousands of comments each month about what customers love, like, dislike, absolutely hate, suggestions for enhancements, etc.

While in the past, the prospect of analyzing thousands of open-ended customer comments was overwhelming, new customer feedback solutions have transformed oceans of messy data into simple reports with powerful drill down features.

By giving the customers the ability to easily give feedback, Microsoft was able to quickly identify a seemingly minor issue was actually the number one source of customer complaints.

Customers couldn’t resize the reading pane in Microsoft’s new “Web-based” Live Mail product – as a result they complained loud and vociferously. The product team was then able to quickly escalate and fix the problem, which lead to a dramatic drop in the negative feedback.

Having sat through many discussions and arguments about what to fix and what not to – I can only imagine that a seemingly minor usability issue like this would have either been altogether ignored or downplayed in favor of a more quantifiable feature without the ability to capture and quantify open-ended feedback, but by having the hard data to show that it was indeed the number one complaint it eliminated any debate about the importance of validity of the enhancement request.

After working as a consultant at Island Data, which makes customer feedback solutions, and interviewing Microsoft, Yahoo! and others, here are a few recommendations to increase the quantity, quality and immediacy of your feedback.

Put a link to an open-ended feedback form directly in your Web site or application: That way customers can give you feedback when they want to – as they’re actually using the product so you’re able to capture immediate feedback.

Make the feedback link as visible as possible: The easier it is for people to give feedback the higher the probability of receiving feedback.

Encourage feedback: Don’t just rely on people remembering to give you feedback. Ask for feedback. Send out emails encouraging customers to give feedback. Offer rewards for best suggestion, etc.

Ask whether the user would recommend the product or service: Fred Reicheld’s ground breaking research on the use of the net promoter score to predict company earnings and profit should be used to help you predict both renewals and new sales. Visit www.netpromoter.com for more info.

Limit the use of closed-ended questions: If you survey users, keep the number of questions to less than 10 – while you may have specific questions you want answered – your end user may just want to give you a very specific suggestion and doesn’t want to be bothered with answering irrelevant questions – and just make sure you always include an open-ended question and a big open-ended text box.

2. Capture as much additional data as possible: If a person is logged in, you can capture all sorts of additional data about them, including their email address, company, industry vertical, demographics, etc…. Even if they’re not logged in, at the very least you can capture the browser, OS, and other information to use for further analysis.

3. Use new customer feedback tools to simplify and enhance the analysis: Depending upon the size of the customer base, you may require additional technology to simplify the process of capturing and analyzing feedback. There are hundreds of different survey companies – but there are very few companies that have good tools for analyzing open-ended feedback. Two examples are

Island Data: Uses artificial intelligence to categorize open ended feedback. Currently used by Yahoo! and Microsoft.

Informative: Used by Intuit, HP and others, gives customers the ability to rank other customers suggestions.

4. Analyze feedback to identify what customers are saying.

  • Who is saying what? Segment your customers/users appropriately so can weigh the value of the complaint, e.g. complaints from secondary markets may be less important than complaints from core market users.
  • Categorize the suggestions and complaints? Try to group the comments together so you can begin to rank issues based on both the number and strength of the complaint.
  • Combine the structured data with the qualitative feedback to identify trends/root causes: Are the customers complaining about the system being slow all using dial up, on older OSs or have some other commonality that may point to the underlying root cause.

5. Dig deeper: Follow up with customers that complained to understand how important issue is and get more details on the issue. Just knowing that an organization is listening – even if the problem hasn’t been resolved is enough to increase customer satisfaction and may prevent customers from straying (at least temporarily).

So whether you choose to call, send an email survey or invite the user to a focus group – it’s important to both recognize the feedback and ask for more details so you can more quickly identify the root cause, understand the seriousness of the issues, gather potential solution ideas.

6. Test: Once you’ve decided what to fix or add for the next release, share your prototype specifically with customers who complained.

After all, since these are the people who care most – the people who are giving you an F and making most noise – shouldn’t you make sure your proposed solution actually receives their stamp of approval before investing significant resources.

And as most of us can attest to and research shows, customers feel much more positive about companies and people that went the extra mile to fix a potentially bad experience, I can attest to the power of going the extra mile.

Shortly after I bought the laptop – it had problems. Instead of being told to take a number, wait x days, etc. they worked on it while I waited. And then when that fix didn’t work, they gave me a docking station for my trouble – and replaced another piece of hardware. Since then, I haven’t a problem – but if I do, I know they’ll be there for me. And as a result, I always recommend them to anyone looking for a computer.

Once your complainers have approved the enhancements, test the prototypes on other customers to validate whether your complainers feedback matches rest of your customers.

7. Validate enhancement/investment: Once the new version is in the marketplace it’s important to validate your decisions and close the feedback loop. Depending upon the resources and size of your customer base – you can have a series of survey questions for everyone – and then create a subset of questions addressing issues that were specific to certain users.

Creating both general and more specific surveys will help you understand the impact of you changes on both the general population and the people who specifically complained about certina issues and about the product and company as a whole. Not only will this help you validate your investment, it’s giving you another chance to get more feedback and deepen your relationship with those customers.

8. Present analysis to senior management: What better way to establish your credibility than to be able to present the results of your before-and-after surveys. Since traditionally the enhancement decision-making process is pretty opaque to senior management – being able to show how and why the decisions were made and ultimately the results, higher customer satisfaction/net promoter scores will be huge for senior management.

And, if in the past, sales has always been skeptical about the value and viability of new features, being able to show customer feedback explaining the value of the enhancements will help you kick start the sales and marketing process.

Just remember, it all starts with making it easy for customers to give you feedback and actively encouraging feedback.

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I help companies successfully develop and market products. I have over 10 years of marketing and product development experience in a wide variety of industries and is currently available on a consulting or full-time basis.

Contact me at (858)337-2727 or kevin@kevinmireles.com to find out how I can help your organization.

Generating New Revenue and Readership from Old Archives

Newspapers are like icebergs. The visible content represents a small fraction of the actual content available.

Think about it. The daily newspaper represents 1/365 th of the year’s content – and since most newspapers have been around for 50 years or more, each day’s content only represents about 1/20,0000 th of the total content available for mining.

While the Internet makes information instant – it also makes it timeless. So an article written in 1886 (once it’s been digitized) can be just as easily accessed as one written in 2006. Newspapers just need to come up with creative ways of mining what they already own.

As a result of the news media’s traditional focus on what’s new, they’ve given short shrift to making their archives easy and enjoyable to access. Readers can search the archives for articles but unless a reader is searching for a specific article or as part of a research project – the archives are neither easy nor inviting.

As a result, newspapers are missing a key opportunity to:

  • Create a new category. Local history is an entirely new category that nobody currently owns.
  • Differentiate themselves. While Yahoo! and Google, can deliver news from around the globe, newspaper archives are one of the few sources of local history and contemporary perspectives on historical events.
  • Increase readership. Done right the archives can both increase the total number of readers and page views.
  • Add low-cost short and long-term revenue. A news story typically has a week-or-less half-life, with the vast majority of readership occurring on the first day. Historical content can generate readership and revenue for years without significant ongoing investment.

So what can you do to leverage the underside of the iceberg?

First, temporarily forget about the “new” part of newspapers –and think about what people might want that you have? Browse through bookstores, the Web and other places for examples of the type of information you already have or people might want.

Second, think about how and why people read newspapers and visit news sites. Do people pick up newspapers searching for specific articles? Or do they browse the individual sections looking for something of interest, something surprising, something they didn’t know before? While we occasionally search for specific items of interest, most people are browsers – and that’s why newspapers are divided into sections, etc. to facilitate the finding of content by browsing. So why should it be any different for your archives?

Third, find the right resources to make it happen. You need someone who understands storytelling, business and technology to transform ideas into profitable products. Someone who can step outside of the traditional newspaper paradigm and look at your content with an entirely fresh site of eyes.

Fourth, start small. Since the majority of the content has already been created, you can easily test ideas and see what works without investing vast resources into the project

In order to help jump start the process, I’ve come up with a few ideas – some very simple to execute and others that will require years to complete and unprecedented cooperation between papers.

Thematic Access

While the archives are a treasure trove of information and sellable content, currently readers are forced to use crude tools to search them and lack the benefit of any kind of thematic structure to guide them.

Just as papers have created different sections of the paper, and books have chapters to guide readers – archives need to have themes, timelines and other tools to engage and guide readers to their destination.

Whether you are wandering through a bookstore, searching a library database or reading a textbook, they are all designed to help you find what you want even if you don’t know exactly where you want to go. They are all facilitating your discovery process by logically grouping and presenting content in such a way that the journey is a key part of the user experience.

Newspapers need to think about their archives the same way.

A good starting point is to find a particular topic that’s hot and has deep historical roots or an upcoming anniversary event, then find stories in your archives that give local contemporary perspectives on the issue, and finally create a subsection with links to the content.

Or think about current issues, whether immigration or land-use and find stories from over the years that highlight the changing perspectives and issues, etc. Just this weekend, a story in my local paper referenced a 1957 disaster to highlight how 50-years later California is still discussing the same problem.

It would have been fascinating to be able to read some of the actual stories – instead of just references to them.

All that’s required is to find matching stories in the archives – both online and on microfilm. Given all the tools today, it’s easy to convert the microfilm to either text, JPEG or PDF for viewing on the Web.

So for just a few dollars, a newspaper can re-use their existing content to create compelling stories. And once the themes/sections have been created – they can continue to generate revenue for little or no cost.

Cataloguing

Keyword searches are very crude ways to find what you want. Especially since reading newspaper articles is often more of an exercise in browsing – than searching for specific content.

For example, I tried a search on the Latimes.com site for the “civil rights” between 1950 and 1960. It returned 6,250 articles – which is just too overwhelming.

Now imagine if someone systematically reviewed and catalogued the articles so that the term “Civil Rights” also had timelines and was further subcategorized by race/ethnicity, segregation/desegration, etc. – just like a library database or the Yahoo! Directory.

Now people can do a combination of browsing and searching to find the articles they want – providing a much better user experience and encouraging many more page views and ad dollars!

And rather than every paper recreate the wheel, why not work together to create a standard catalogue that can be used to classify your content. That way users will already be familiar with the structure and more likely to use not only your archives but other papers as well.

Sharing

Once enough newspapers have created a standard, then they can enable users to search not just their archives – but other participants’ archives as well. So someone could search for Civil Rights Act of 1964 and see articles from multiple newspapers.

Imagine being able to read articles and opinions from the New York Times, The Atlanta Constitution, the Birmingham News and dozens of others – referencing the same civil rights issues. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to be able to effortlessly glide between articles from the South and the North about key events?

Marketing the Archives

Newspapers are always looking for ways to reach younger readers. Teachers are always looking for ways to make history come alive.

Since textbooks tend to be either national or regional in scope – for most of the country the civil rights struggle is something that happened somewhere else, i.e. the South, instead of something that every part of the country has struggled with.

Growing up in Southern California, I always assumed legalized discrimination didn’t exist. Especially since the textbooks treated the civil rights struggle as something that took place in the South. So I was shocked to learn that many houses had legal restrictions preventing Blacks, Jews, Hispanics and Asians from owning them – and that some of the earliest desegregation cases took place in Southern California.

What better way to personalize a historical issue, than by creating localized lesson packets for students and teachers that point them to your archives – so a teacher can supplement his/her lesson plan with local stories.

When I published a community newsletter, I once had a group of local high school students research and write a series of articles about the local history. They were fascinated, amazed and filled with pride that their local neighborhood, known more for crime and poverty, at one time was a hang out for the stars.

So create lesson plans that leverage your archives and then use your Newspapers in Education program to publicize them in the schools. Now you’re not only getting younger readers to interact with you and training them to use you for historical research – but you’re helping educate them as well – enhancing your image in the community.

Get Personal

My father was born just two weeks after Wall Street crashed in 1929. He like thousands of other New Mexicans migrated to Los Angeles in search of opportunity. Over the course of his 76 years, he has either witnessed or played a role in many of the events that shaped Los Angeles, the Southwest and the country, including seeing the flash of the first atomic bomb and becoming the first Mexican American professor at East LA College.

Of course he’s not alone in having great stories to share. There are millions of other people that have just as many tales to tell – so why not encourage them to participate and give them the ability to submit writings, recordings, videos and photos to the archives.

What better way to give your readers a personal stake in your publication than by allowing them to share their stories? Again, by reaching out to the schools, you can transform the students from just readers into reporters and have them interview their parents and grandparents about specific issues and upload their stories to the Archives.

Of course, once people upload their own content, they’ll want to share it with their friends and family. Suddenly, newspapers now have their users marketing the site for them and creating a community.

Given all the hype and cash surrounding community sites, doesn’t it make sense to take a lesson from their playbooks?

Local Sponsors for Local History

How often have you heard the term, “Your local bank, car dealership, etc….” in an ad?

Give local advertisers the opportunity to sponsor local history. Instead of just running a typical banner ad that has nothing to do with the page, the ad can be tied to the content, e.g. “Local History Brought to You by Your Local Bank, XYZ Inc.” – without breaching the firewall between editorial and advertising.

The advertiser is now the sponsor of a cause – bringing local history to local students. Award them with a plaque. Thank them in ads announcing the site. Make them feel good about what they’re doing for the community and what sponsoring does for their brand – instead of just thinking in terms of CPM or CPC.

While Google, Yahoo! Craig’s List and others can duplicate much of what newspapers do – only newspapers have history. So dust off your archives and make them work for you.