Visit NBMA: A Companion App

While not originally from New Bedford, Massachusetts, I’ve become a New Bedford guy. I love this city, and I want as many people to visit this place as possible. In my last post, I explored reimagining New Bedford’s website. After analyzing and reorganizing NewBedford-ma.gov, I realized there is potential to improve the website, increase tourism in the city, and provide valuable storytelling elements to residents of this city. 

Website Woes

NewBedford-Ma.gov does not do a good job marketing the city to visitors and potential new residents. The town has developed Destination New Bedford, a sister website to highlight happenings in the city. However, the website is essentially a directory for things to do and does not offer much storytelling for users. The website is also incredibly dated, with the last blog post posted in November 2019. Both websites are missing that exciting energy and come off as lazy. 

I’d also argue that while Destination New Bedford is an improvement over NewBedford-MA.gov, it still misses the mark. For starters, it’s inconsistent with New Bedford’s main website. It’s set up differently, uses a different look, and uses a different tone in writing. I think New Bedford could benefit from developing an inclusive website that includes all of these elements on-page. 

A screenshot of NewBedford-MA.Gov illustrates the lack of information on the Visitor’s tab.
A screenshot of DestinationNewBedford demonstrates the difference from the main website.

A St. Paul Case Study

Saint Paul’s visitsaintpaul.com inspired me to think differently about NewBedford-Ma.gov. I found the website easy to navigate, beautifully designed, and enjoyed the simplicity of finding a place to eat in St. Paul. I am now inspired to visit St. Paul and visit some of the breweries featured on the website. Each link includes photos, a map location, and brief written information. 

VisitSaintPaul.com highlights business with rich media content.

Breweries also reside and thrive in New Bedford. Let’s look at how NewBedford-Ma.gov showcases their breweries.  There are no photos, no video, no description, nothing is available on the website. Instead, it’s only a link. Good luck finding it in the sea of links! Destination New Bedford, does have a better posting for Moby Dick Brewing Co. but also does not include any images and is text based.

A New App: 

The Whaling City is far more exciting than the city websites propose. There is so much New Bedford offers visitors and residents, including unique and fun things to do. The city is home to the world’s most significant historic whaling community, America’s largest fishing port, a bustling arts community, a vibrant and diverse culture, and an excellent array of shops and restaurants. I would love to see this app developed to get people acquainted with the happenings of the city. 

Greg Penniston works on a setting up a mural developed by New Bedford’s Eden Soares.

I’ve been thinking about a cell phone app called ‘Visit NBMA’ and derives from the Visitor’s tab on Newbedford-ma.gov. The current website includes a page loaded with links for visitors but is not the most effective way to market the city to potential newcomers. Instead, rich images and videos would elevate the city’s story tremendously. 

Information Architecture

I’ve developed an information architecture mapping out ‘Visit NBMA’ to include five areas with headers:

  •  About New Bedford
  • Things to Do
  •  Eat
  • Art and Culture
  • Transportation
A proposed site map for Visit NBMA

My vision for the app includes each heading as a swiped page on the app. Each header page will consist of no more than five links, and each page will integrate with a map highlighting the user’s location. These headers include information that is not readily available on NewBedford-MA.gov.

About New Bedford

This header will include New Bedford information, including links connected to New Bedford’s whaling history and current American leader as a fishing port. This section would also share New Bedford’s history with the civil rights movement, literary history and celebrate New Bedford’s fantastic architecture. 

Things to Do

Admittedly, I love living in this city. There is just so much to do! Whether it’s exploring the New Bedford Whaling National Park, visiting the Buttonwood Park Zoo, or visiting the New Bedford Whaling Museum, there is something for everyone. Throughout the city, there are many events, including monthly art, history, and architecture (AHA!) festivals, live music, and large-scaled folk and jazz festivals. This header will feature a calendar of events and offer visitors four additional links, including places to visit, stay, and shop. 

Eat

New Bedford, Massachusetts, is home to America’s largest fishing fleet and provides the nation with scallops, codfish, and mackerel. It’s no surprise, but the seafood restaurants in New Bedford are excellent. There are also many places other than seafood that perfect craft beer, burgers, and burritos. One of the major issues about living in this city is deciding which restaurant to visit.

This section includes a complete guide for visitors to showcase the fantastic eateries in the area. The header further breaks down into restaurants, cafés, bars, take-out, and sweet treats. 

Art and Culture

Artists and musicians have always loved New Bedford, Massachusetts. The city capitalized on a historic Star Store’s renovation project that transformed New Bedford into the Southcoast arts and culture capital. The Star Store project is absent from NewBedford-MA.gov, and there is little mention of arts and culture.



The city did create a sister website, NB Creative, but again, inconsistent with the city’s main website. It has a different tone, is formatted differently, and includes different information architecture. While it is an improvement, much more effort is needed to tell the stories of artists fully.

This section would highlight the city’s numerous murals and provide a walking tour for people to find murals in the app. The section also includes information about artist galleries, artist studios, and collections. Many visitors, and residents even, don’t know that New Bedford is home to an extensive collection of original John Audobon paintings.

Transportation

Finally, the app includes information about the city’s various transportation options, including information regarding the New Bedford Airport, the State Pier, Bicycle paths, and bus and shuttle information. 

I think this app could better engage visitors and residents of the city and include storytelling to New Bedford. Visual storytelling is crucial to connect with potential customers and can change the trajectory of brands and cities. I would also love to see New Bedford, Massachusetts become an exemplar website for other communities across Massachusetts.

Reimagining New Bedford-MA.gov

Is there a better way?

If you haven’t visited Newbedford-ma.gov recently, you aren’t missing much. Trust me. I live here, visit the website often, and wish it could amount to something much more than it currently is. The most frustrating aspect of this website is making an online payment. It’s so hard to find sometimes! The website is similar to many other municipality and city websites across the country. It offers an overloading amount of information, is difficult to navigate, and needs a serious redesign. 

It’s a curious occurrence. Why are so many municipal and government websites designed so poorly? Is it a lack of funding or lack of experience? Is it apathy? Are they attempting to provide information simply, or is it a tool used to bolster city objectives? I don’t have an answer, but I do know one thing. It’s time we start reimaging how we design these websites.

Information Architecture

Website design starts with information architecture, the art of structuring and organizing information that is most relevant and easy to locate for users. The idea is to approach information architecture with a psychological background. You can break down information architecture in the following principles.

  • Gestalt principle defines how users understand visual elements based on similarity and continuity.
  • Mental Models are assumptions people will create before interacting with a website. 
  • Cognitive Load is the amount of brainpower used by users to retain information. Cognitive load applies to providing choices for users, but users mustn’t be overloaded. Too many decisions and users will become overwhelmed and will often flee from a website. A general guideline is to include five-seven options for users, although there has been some debate recently if it makes a difference for web design.
  • Recognition Pattern inform users’ decisions based on past experience. Users have come to expect a specific experience with web design. It’s essential that information architects design information that is predictable for users.
  • Visual Hierarchy refers to website structuring in ways that are scannable. Users visit websites and often don’t read everything but are looking for clues to help retain information. Websites must have information chunked in readable portions.

A NewBedford-MA.gov Case Study

When we look at NewBedford-MA.gov, at first glance, the website greets users with some pixelated images of the city and a navigation bar that has 12 Navigation menus and also includes a second navigation toolbar. If you are looking for something specific, this gets tricky, as the website contains way too many links and not enough substance.

I developed a site map for New Bedford’s website and visually mapped out the website’s organization. Its apparent information architecture was not a priority. Gestalt’s principle and visual hierarchy need improvement.  The cognitive load is not conducive for users. A total of 16 navigation links are present, and each heading contains way too many links nestled inside. For example, on the “Resident” navigational tab, there are 12 additional links. On the “City Offices” tab, there 41 links available.

A site map of NewBedford-MA.gov

Navigational Difficulties

When looking through all the links, I was surprised to see many links repeated across the navigation menu. I was also surprised to see so many dead links, links with pdf files, and many links just led users to pages that only included 100’s additional links. I’d argue a better way. Instead of creating a wall of links for one page, it might improve the user experience to include images, video, and short chunks of writing. 

The content on the website is also relatively lackluster and demands a more engaging approach. For example, it’s probably not the best approach to include a link to a PDF in the navigational menu. It might be better to write a blog post about the PDF file and have it in the website’s news section. 

The website also includes an abundance of information that isn’t relative to most users. For example, New Bedford consists of a header link to maps. There are links essentially linking users to a Google map of the city. I’d challenge including that specific information on the website, as people can just go to Google and search for a map if they need one. The website is missing other critical information, including the vivid arts and culture sector. 

NewBedford-MA.gov includes over 30 maps for people.

NewBedford-Ma.gov does include a search option, but it is hard to find as the location is not part of the header menu. The website does have a quick navigation window but offers information that is not relative to the user. For example, I often run into issues trying to pay a bill, as it’s sometimes hard to find the “Pay online” page.  

The website also appears to be lacking a severe content strategy. New Bedford’s website attempts to fill many roles for residents, businesses, and tourists but does not align with the city’s business objectives. 

It appears the city has attempted to build additional websites to fill these holes. These websites are included on the top of the page, adding a navigational menu. While the other websites offer lots of information about the city, they are all developed on different platforms, including different layouts and different voices. The city could improve these additional sites’ messaging if the sites were universal to the City of New Bedford brand and became a part of its website. 

A Proposed Redesigned Architecture

I have given it much thought to how we can improve the organization of New Bedford’s website. I wanted to reorganize the website to lower the cognitive load for users and simplify the navigating process. I eliminated many pages from the website, and that content might be better suited embedded on pages instead of overloading users with choices in the navigation menu.

A proposed site map redesign simplifiying the website completely.

The Redesign

  1. Limiting the Header Links to four.
    1. Residents
    2. Businesses
    3. Visit
    4. Government
  2. Including a search option in the header menu
  3. Include five links per header.
    1. Residents
      1. News- On the original website, you could only access the news information from the home page. Not everyone lands on the home page and could be missing out on important information.
      2. Pay Online
      3. SeeClickFix
      4. Job Opportunities
      5. Services- This link could become a flyout link containing five important links for residents
    2. Businesses
      1. Demographics
      2. Community Development
      3. Economic Development
      4. Harbor Development
      5. NB Business Park
    3. Visit
      1. About New Bedford 
      2. Things to Do
        1. Destination New Bedford
        2. NB Creative
        3. Port Of New Bedford
      3. Eat NB
      4. Transportation
    4. Government
      1. Mayor’s Office
      2. City Council
      3. Boards and Commissions
      4. Departments- Here New Bedford can develop an entire page devoted to the many different departments without seizing control of valuable navigation links. 
  4. Include four tabs of quick links on the homepage that include information and links 
    1. COVID-19
    2. News
    3. Events
    4. Social
  5. Develop a stand alone footer that contains:
    1. Contact
    2. Calendars
    3. City Directory
    4. Social Media

Structurally speaking, the redesign simplifies the website exponentially. I think the improvements become more engaging and efficient for users.  However, organization is not the only thing that will improve this website. The content itself needs vast improvement. I’d also love to develop a content strategy for the City of New Bedford, and would love to see this website become something much more than it currently is. It would be amazing to see this website become something all New Bedford residents can be proud of.

We Live in a Thankless Society

The dark side of cell phone applications

There are over three million cell phone applications available for consumers, and many of those apps are social media companies. While many social media apps allow people to engage with one another simply, there is a sickening evil happening through technology. Many people have lost the art of interacting decently.

It’s become an accepted norm in America, where anonymous people pepper posts with disregard, often posting downright nasty comments. You can’t post anything anymore without internet trolls waiting to post disgusting comments. Social media apps have become a haven for hatred.

It’s almost as if people forget there are human beings behind the device.  Just recently, after Ohio State suffered an unexpected loss to Oral Robert’s in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, trolls came out in full force. 

Sophomore E. J. Liddell became the target of hatred. Users wrote: “I hope you somebody shoots you in the ya fr bruh you is a f****ing bum.” Another user included, “Don’t ever show your face at Ohio state. We hate you. I hope you die. I really do.”

A screenshot of E.J. Liddell’s Twitter Acount.

E.J. Liddell, Top Scorer

From some perspective, E.J. Liddell is a college student who lost a basketball game. He’s not the United States President, no one died from the loss, and the world is still spinning after the loss. I don’t understand how some people can be so insensitive. Instead of promoting hatred, I’d love to see people celebrate his accomplishments. He was the best player at Ohio State, scoring 10 for 15 (66.7%). The rest of the team went 19 and 52! 

Screenshot from Adam Jardy, reporter for the Columbus Dispatch

People offer Support

E.J Liddell took to Twitter to share with people the hate he was receiving, and almost instantly, something unique happened. People started coming to his aid and left comments that were so supportive and heartfelt. 

This story hit me hard. E.J. Liddell is young, and could have been a student of mine. Seeing this support grow real-time got me thinking, why does positivity only come out after darkness takes over? Why can’t we just all practice empathy, kindness, and positivity all the time?

Users create postive messages for E.J. Liddell

We live in a Thankless Society.

Many people in this world are exactly like E. J. Liddell. They are the mailmen,  teachers,  police officers, grocery workers, and public transportation operators. There are amazing people in this world who don’t get the attention, recognition, and appreciation they deserve. People are quick to exhibit hatred towards them when things don’t go right. Why is it so hard to celebrate hardworking people? Why is it so hard to say thank you? 

This latest instance of social media promoting hatred made me think about developing a cell phone app designed to disrupt social media’s dark side and introduce more appreciation for people in this world.

Gush- An Empathetic Cell Phone App

The application is called Gush. You’ve probably have heard about how people gush excitedly about things, and I think we need more people gushing about people.

What if we could create something that made someone else’s day brighter? If we could improve one person’s day, just one, we could completely change the trajectory of their lives forever. We should be building people up, not tearing them down.

There are three aspects of this app that I’m envisioning. 

  • Create and send a thirty-second video with praise, appreciation, or admiration for someone, or something someone has done. 
  • Get your daily appreciation. Access a finite daily feed, including warm messages from across the globe. 
  • Develop a “kindness marketplace” where people can sell their skills and abilities to deliver kindness to specific people. For example, maybe someone could hire a mariachi band to congratulate someone on getting their driver’s license.

I know what people will say about this app. “Why can’t we just text or email our messages already?” If it were that simple, everyone would be doing it. Instead, people are not using technology for that purpose. By developing an app for that specific purpose, empathy has intention. I also think people will be motivated to share their own positive messages for others once they see how contagious positivity is.

Developing this concept took place with a moleskine notebook, and a G7 Gel pen. A variety of ideation techniques to develop this concept. I created a mind map, used a provocation method, and used an analogy method.

Creativity’s Roadmap

Mind mapping success for students

Many people use the saying, “Curiosity killed the cat.” I think the cat is entirely innocent here, and instead am a firm believer that schools are killing creativity and curiosity. Think about it, from kindergarten to high school. Teachers have built a culture that celebrates correct answers and punishes wrong answers. Our educational institutions have created a world that only the right solutions exist.

Reflect on this scenario. A student is in algebra class and presented with a complex problem. The student comes up with a process and gets the correct answer. “Hurray, you developed a creative process for this problem!” Right? The teacher then reviews the problem and proclaims the student didn’t follow the teacher’s exact steps to complete this problem and is incorrect. How deflating for the student.

I see the consequence of this practice in my high school media arts classroom every day. Our classroom thrives on creativity and curiosity, and after launching a new project, I’m often met with blank stares. Many students have a difficult time starting and generating creative solutions. It almost feels like their imagination has been sucked out of them. So many students of mine will look at a film or animation project and ask me, “What’s the right answer?”

“There is none. Art is process!” I’ll quickly remind them, and then begin teaching students how to be creative again.

Divergent Thinking

Life is not a series of linear problem solving, and instead, life’s most significant problems are often solved non-linearly. Here’s where divergent thinking needs introducing into every classroom. 

Divergent thinking is when the brain synthesizes information in different directions and at various intervals. Divergent thinking allows students to engage with learning in many different ways and forces them to develop creative problem-solving skills.

Some of the core benefits of developing divergent thinking include:

  • Using play to make learning fun again.
  • Increase creative risk-taking
  • Empowering all students
  • Provides choice for students
  • Increase collaboration between peers

Mindmaps to the rescue

An example of a mindmap developed for this blog post.

There are many ways to nurture divergent thinking in the classroom. Teachers can celebrate mistakes, develop choice-based projects, or develop alternatives to essays, for example. An easy way to introduce divergent thinking is to get students’ mind mapping

Mindmapping is an organization and brainstorming method developed by English Author Tony Buzan. His brainstorming methods start with a central theme and then radiates outwards into different nonlinear paths. The pathways relate knowledge with simplistic keywords and colors and merge them with images and sketches. 

Benefits of Mindmapping

A study in 2005 produced by Glennis Edge Cunningham indicates that students who created mindmaps in biology classes outperformed those who did not. Some of the benefits to mind mapping include:

  • Improved Understanding
  • Improved Memory
  • Better Grades
  • Improved confidence
  • Deeper thought processing
  • Increased engagement from students

Mind Maps are not exclusive to classroom settings. Instead, mind maps can transform the cognitive abilities found in almost any industry where complex and straightforward problems need to be solved. I developed a mindmap for this blog post. 

Using Mind Mapping in the Classroom

In my classroom, I love introducing students to mind mapping. The response is always the same: “I can’t draw!” I’m quick to remind them “While this is a film class and drawing is not strength of many of us, You CAN think, however!”

We start with developing a random problem. Sometimes it’s whimsical: “How can I carry ice cream without a bowl?” Then the class engages in throwing ideas out while I demonstrate how to construct the mindmap, madly drawing and writing on the board. Once we have a plethora of ideas, we reflect and engage in a discussion of our findings. From there, students can now use mind maps to identify the goals of their next project.

I’ve had students produce incredible projects based on a mind mapped brainstorm. For example: “A Tip on Torment,” an experimental film produced by one of my current seniors. Mind maps empower my students to feel comfortable thinking creatively and engaging with their learning in unpredictable ways. I hope that all classrooms can provide a mind mapping experience for all students.

For more information:

Fairmont State University- Content Strategy Proposal

Fairmont State University is a medium-sized state university located in Fairmont, West Virginia. The campus is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and is home to more than two thousand students. While the campus is beautiful, the current website is not. Fairmontstate.edu is in dire need of a redesign. The website is overloaded with information, does not navigate well, and does not tell Fairmont State’s story in ways that engage people.

I’ve analyzed the current website and have identified areas of opportunity. I’ve developed a content strategy that focuses on creating content that aligns the university’s business objectives. This proposal can help transform Fairmont State’s website.

Has Branded Content Lost Its Way?

I want to issue you a warning. This post might trigger some readers. However, this topic is important and needs addressing: Ethical Branded Content, specifically the ethics of branded content from tobacco, hate groups, political organizations, alcohol, and firearms industries.

Branded Content

If you are unfamiliar with the term branded content, it’s the ability to create storytelling content outside of traditional mediums,  targeting specific users and increasing the brand’s objectives. Branded content is incredible at engaging an audience, and when done correctly, it can create more leads for a company.

Think of a taco company. They just came up with a new taco and want to sell more. Content marketers get together in a room and hatch a plan to produce a viral video of someone eating 45 tacos in one minute using #TacoChallenge as their caption. They find their taco eating man and pay him and the crew for their production services. 

The video becomes posted on the Taco company’s social media platforms and immediately becomes viral. Next thing we know,  hundreds of thousands of people participate in the Taco Challenge across the globe. News stations across the country broadcast the video to their audiences (for free, might I add), and you can’t go anywhere without seeing tacos. Quite a successful branded content campaign!

Acura

“Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” Sponsored by Acura

Let’s look at a real-world example. Jerry Seinfeld’s popular web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” is a branded content series produced by Acura. At the onset of the series, the series was available on Crackle for free, and viewers would also see brief commercials featuring Acura vehicles. Acura cars appear throughout the series. The series is now available on Netflix, and has grown to many seasons. (It’s a fun series worth watching!)

Brand content is awesome, right? Well, there’s a darker side to this accepted practice.

Branded Content Concerns

The issue I have with branded content that there are often no warnings, no labels, no identifiers that a brand produces content. Branded content integrates so well on social media and the internet, and it’s hard for people to distinguish what is branded content and what is not. I worry that the company’s branded content dupes consumers. For example, the time Turbo Tax tricked customers into paying for their free services. 

Branded content can also mask the true and hidden objectives of a company’s content. I wonder how many people have viewed “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” and did not realize they are watching a large-scale Acura commercial. 

Branded content is preying on America’s media literacy crisis. Branded content is not journalism. This practice allows any organization to explicitly misrepresent the truth, harms a viewer, and becomes a hazard for our democracy. 

Ethics of Branded Content

If an organization wanted to use branded content strategies to promote hatred, violence, drugs, tobacco, guns, or political incitements. Could they do that? Well, yes, of course, they can. Although there is much ambiguity on how much protection the First Amendment offers on social media and branded content, the First Amendment protects most free speech. Does it make it ethical?

I’d argue no, it’s not. 

I’d argue that branded content must be created and distributed ethically. Although there is no set branded content code of ethics, I’m encouraged by the SBJ Code of Ethics. When creating branded content; companies must consider the following:

  • Is it produced honestly?
  • Does it conflate the truth?
  • Does it respect others?
  • Be accountable and transparent.
  • What is the real motive/need for this branded content?
  • Does it minimize harm?

Jerry Seinfeld may be a perfect example of ethical branded content. The content is produced honestly, does not conflate the truth, respects clothes, and minimizes harm. Although it’s a blurry line of a glorified Acura commerical and entertainment, no one is going to get hurt after viewing ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.’

NRA TV

Before I continue, please understand this topic is not a debate or argument about the Second Amendment, but analyzes the ethics of the NRA’s branded content. 

NRA TV is a prime example of branded content that is unethical. NRA-TV is a YouTube channel developed by the National Rifle Association. The channel has over 17 million views and is available for anyone to view, including children. The professionally created content mimics traditional broadcast media, and much of the content has little to do with guns. However, the content promotes far-right conservative political talking points.  

The content produced by the NRA TV has dangerous consequences. The channel has become a breeding pool for hatred, violence, and fearmongering content. There are no disclaimers, no warnings, and no identifiers that tell the viewer this is branded content. The viewer can assume what they are seeing is the truth and confirms the audience’s implicit bias. The content explicitly preys on gun control fears, promotes racist ideologies and dangerous political rhetoric.

In “The Violence of Lies” the NRA calls for the “the only we stop we save our country, our freedom, is to fight violence with a clenched fist of truth.”

If we look at the five ethical suggestions I made prior, we can see that NRA TV is not honest in its branded content. 

  • NRA TV produces content that is not honest, often filled with conspiracy theories.
  • NRA TV regularly conflates the truth. Athletes are not protesting the American flag, but the injustice faced by minority Americans and law enforcement, a topic left out from the NRA TV content.
  • The NRA TV respects only one type of person, conservative gun owners. Everyone else, including Muslim congress members, are the “enemy.”
  • The NRA TV does not limit harm but instead promotes harm. NRA TV threatens democrats, media members, immigrants, and others regularly. They frequently use words “fight,” “perish,” “freedom,” “patriots,”  

The NRA shut down NRA-TV in 2019, but the content still exists. During the January incitement of the US Capitol, President Donald Trump used similar words to incite his supporters.  I am curious how many NRA-TV subscribers attended the insurrection and how many insurrection seeds were planted by the NRA TV in the years prior to 2020.

A screen shot of a commentor on NRATV YouTube calls for the “blood of patriots and tyrants.”

There has to be a better way, and we have to hold branded content to a higher standard. 

Branded Content Solutions

There was a time where information had a gatekeeper, the media. At one point, the media was the arbiter of truth, taking in information, filtering the garbage, and delivering factual information to the masses. Those days are gone, and humans must now seek solutions to a problem we created.

In a perfect world, I would love to see mandatory disclaimers embedded on all branded content. I’d love to see companies and organizations say, “this content you’re seeing is content we created, and how much we spent to make this.” I’d also love to see mandatory labels for any content that is opinion, analyst-based, or pure fiction. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see what companies were truly seeking with their content altogether?

I’d also love to see fines to encourage those who skip the disclaimer. Maybe, $35,000 per view. That might get a company’s attention and maybe get them thinking responsibly. Currently, there are Advertising guidelines available, but there is a lack of accountability and enforcement. There is also no accountability for any content that purposely misleads an audience.

Labeling and transparency will only go so far. It will require social media companies and technology to develop new solutions to limit the spread of unethical branded content, an approach no tech company wants to take. It will also require companies and people’s commitment to producing branded content ethically responsible, something I don’t see happening anytime soon. That would mean people would have to come together and find common ground.

I am an optimist and look forward to the day when ethical content distribution is universal.


Content Alignment Strategy Case Study

Belfast City Council

If you haven’t heard of Ireland’s largest northern city, Belfast, you will after this post. Belfast is home to 330,000 residents, and recently, the city wanted to take steps to improve residents’ lives. They teamed up with Bernard Marr, a highly successful consultant, and futurist, and developed a strategy focusing on three areas of concern. 

They wanted to improve their efforts to better the environment, enhance support for economic growth, and improve residents’ support. With this strategy, The Belfast City Council developed key performance indicators to identify their endeavors’ success. KPI’s are essential data points that indicate the success or failure of a specific initiative. For example, the Belfast City Council is attempting to increase the city’s recylcing initiative.Belfast officials can track the recycling usage data to see if they are reaching their objectives.

The Belfast City Council set a digital content strategy on all platforms to further support Belfast Agenda. I spent some time reviewing the content strategy of the Belfast City Council. I wanted to see if the city’s content aligned with achieving their business goals after reviewing lots of Belfast content on all platforms. It’s an understatement to say how impressed I was. The content is comprehensive, professionally designed, responsive, and mostly integrated across all content platforms. 

The content supports the business objectives of the Belfast City Council expertly. There are content areas not aligned with their overall goals, including their Instagram and YouTube pages. If you are a city looking to develop a robust content strategy, I cannot recommend checking out what’s going on in Belfast. It is simply remarkable.

Content Strategy vs. Content Marketing

One of the things I’ve been confused about lately is the difference between content strategy and content marketing. The two concepts similarly blur the lines, but have two different applications.

I’ve been seeing this quote circulating amongst content strategists recently:

Content marketers draw on the wall with magic markers, while content strategists use fine pens.”

-Robert Rose.

While both pens and markers write, the purpose of each is different—the same with content marketing and content strategy. I think I finally understand!

Content Strategy

Content strategy, in a nutshell, is using principle foundations that inform content delivery. The content strategy looks at business objectives and uses content to achieve them.  Julia McCoy, author of “Practical Content Strategy and Marketing: The Content Strategy & Marketing Course Guidebook,” identifies content strategy focused on the “how and why” of content.

Content Strategists often ask themselves:

  • Why does this content matter?
  • Who is the audience that will be interacting with our content?
  • What problem am I hoping to solve for my audience?
    How does the audience usually interact with my content?
  • How will I deliver my content to my audience?
  • How will I manage and update my content?
  • How long will this content be relevant?
  • How can I optimize the visibility of my content through SEO tags?

Content Marketing

Once a strategy is in place, Content marketing is creating content that best employs a content strategy. Julia McCoy demonstrates content marketing answers the “what, where, and when” of content creation. 

Marketers need to figure out the best channel to reach an audience and at what times. Marketers also look at ways to engage their audience that promote the goals set in their content strategy. 

  • Does a video work for this content goal, or should I make a blog? 
  • Should I send my audience an email, or should I post our content in a tweet?
  • When is my audience most engaged?

Is Content Strategy Necessary?

Julia’s illustration on her website clarifies: Content strategy is the train that pulls the content cars, delivering it to an audience. 

Courtesy:

Meghan Casey, Author of “The Content Strategy Toolkit,” agrees. Without a plan, people would just be making content without achieving business goals. Meghan writes:

Content strategy helps organizations provide the right content, to the right people, at the right times, for the right reasons.” 

Meghan Casey,

I’ve always been a content creator, and haven’t spent much time developing a content strategy. This research has inspired me to rethink and build my content strategy. My small business and my classroom could benefit from this more in-depth planning.

AHA! New Bedford Content Audit

I recently had the opportunity to explore best practices for developing content on the web. I wanted to research the effectiveness of AHANewBedford.org, a local institution in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

AHA! New Bedford is a nonprofit organization that focuses on developing a monthly art festival celebrating New Bedford’s art, history, and architecture. The celebrations increase traffic within the city and increase revenue and exposure for membered businesses.

I used Screaming Frog SEO Spider to analyze how the website is constructed and looked at various aspects of the website, including HTML header tags, page titles, metadata descriptions, metadata keywords, content, writing, and architecture.

My analysis leads me to find that AHAnewbeford.org is chock full of information and flashy graphics, but is outdated and needs some renovations to improve function and purpose.

The website is also missing essential visual elements and contains zero metadata descriptions and keywords. Search engines are not finding AHA! New Bedford as effectively as they can. AHANewBedford.org spends a lot of effort sending the user away from the site, with most links linking to external sources. The website also has some accessibility issues, with color palettes, missing alt text tags, does not include a search function, and does not translate on a mobile device as nicely as it should.

This website can perform much better with some tweaking, additional visual content, and streamlining the navigation process.

Kickstarting A Content Strategy

You know the adage, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Neither does content. Planning a successful content strategy doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it takes a great deal of preparation and foresight.

Preparing a content strategy is so important for many reasons. When developing a clean and concise content strategy, creators need to:

  • Identify the purpose and goals of the content
  • Understand who the audience is
  • Content costs money to make, and it’s essential to budget funds for content production. 
  • Develop a trustworthy and diverse team
  • Get everyone on the same page, and flush out any potential negative outcomes
  • Maintain a timeline of events
  • Communicate benchmarks, shortfalls, and achievements to the team. 
  • Execute the final strategy.

Without following these guidelines, a project is destined to fail.

Take, for example, DiGiorno. The pizza company launched a “#whyIstayed hashtag campaign on social media. Unbeknownst to the company, the hashtag was also being used simultaneously during a push by domestic abuse survivors highlighting their reasons for staying with their abusive partner. It was a terrible gaff for DiGiorno and ended up costing the company embarrassment, alienating customers, and ultimately loss of money to correct.

Kickstarting a Content Project

As a real-world example, I personally have just completed a content strategy for my documentary film project ‘Restart 2020.’

I recently wanted to create a documentary film about the artists participating in making New Bedford, Massachusetts a better place to live. The goal of this project was to tell a positive story of a place I love. I also wanted to prove to people that this is actually an amazing place. The film would cost me some money to create, and I needed to come up with a strategy. 

I turned to Kickstarter.com, a crowdfunding website designed to help fund creative projects reach their goals. Kickstarter funds a product only if the project reaches 100% of its goal. If it doesn’t reach the goal, the project fails, and the creator receives nothing.

Identifying the Audience

My campaign strategy followed the guidelines mentioned earlier. My planning started 1 year before I launched the campaign. Creating an audience became the most important aspect of my content marketing strategy. I knew I had to create an audience that would support the film, champion my cause, and help me fund the film.

I spent a lot of time identifying my audience and really spent a ton of time figuring out who they were. I knew there was a large population of New Bedford who loves being in this city. I also knew many people are tired of the negative headlines often associated with New Bedford.

I also made a database of people that I thought would be interested in this project and sought out active people with their own audience. I emailed each person and introduced myself, and told them about my project.

At the same time, I needed to expand my social media presence and solidify my project convictions. I posted a new post every 2 days on Instagram, mostly related to New Bedford, art, and a sense of community. I used hashtags relevant to the project and began following other people posting similar content. I found myself genuinely interested in what others were posting of the city, and tried to create content that was genuine to the project. In 6 months, I was able to grow my audience from 400 followers to 864. Many of these new followers became backers for the project.

I credit my success to the months of planning this project. I also am so grateful to the assistance everyone gave me to make this happen.

The Campaign

A week before the campaign was launched I posted a preview to my social media channels. I also sent out press releases to local newspapers, TV stations, and personalized email messages to friends, family, and everyone in my researched database.

During my planning time, I also planned a 30 day content calendar, releasing specific content that helped tell the film’s story, the characters, the motivation behind the film, and ensuring people I was the right person for this project.

Alison Wells, Fine Arts Painter and Gallery Owner reflects on 2020.

Once the campaign was live, I posted daily, at various times based on the data gathered from my audience on Instagram. The local newspaper published an article about the film, a local TV station ran a story about the film, and I developed a partnership with a local arts group who invited me to promote the film during an Instagram Live

Before I knew it, I achieved my goal a week before the deadline! The campaign was a major success! I would highly recommend anyone planning a creative project to think about using Kickstarter.com. However, I would caution, it does take a great deal of planning to be successful. If you’re interested in starting a Kickstarter campaign and would love to learn more, I’d love to give you more insight on the process!

The film is slated to be released this Friday, February 5, 2020 at 7:00pm.

(So excited!)