Mind your language

Last weekend I visited a local heritage site where I picked up a leaflet about its history. When I read it later I found myself getting frustrated at the lack of care that had gone in to its creation; an extra space here, a misspelling there, a complex sentence. I’ve found this happening a lot lately – I can’t disengage my proof reading, copy editing brain.

The people I was with were sympathetic; they’re also language geeks. But one said:

“No one but the people in this room will care. Just read it for the facts.”

Was she right? Probably in this case. The leaflet did its job. The information I wanted was there. The errors were minor and didn’t stop me from understanding what was written.

In a recent blog post Seth Godin asks himself a similar question – does it matter that a shop selling paper and pens doesn’t know the difference between stationary and stationery? He concludes that while it may only stop him (and me) from shopping there if formalities of language are important to us then they are cheap ways to earn trust.

I agree and think that there are times when language errors like this do matter; when they impact on your brand and your reputation. An obvious place this damage to your reputation can occur is when the errors are on your website. Especially if you’re in the business of education.

Thinking digital

I love the serendipity of Twitter. This week two unconnected people I follow posted links to articles containing definitions of what it means to be digital, or have a digital mindset. One from the museum sector and one from a renowned web development consultant. They sparked together with some things I’ve been mulling over for a while to form the idea for this post…

Has what it means to be a digitalist changed in the 5 (and a bit) years since I started writing this blog?

Let’s start with the original definition of a digitalist, the one that gave this blog its name, taken from a blog post by Martin Weller:

“Those who are comfortable using a range of digital media and are open to the changes that digitisation brings to society.”

That’s pretty broad. The key thing for me is being open to the changes that digitisation (or the increasing move towards digital) brings to the way we work, and to society and life in general. This is picked up by Gerry McGovern in his article on the difference between digital and physical:

“When we say ‘digital’ we mean flexible, adaptive and open to continuous change.”

To openness then, we’re adding flexibility and are perhaps moving away from tools (or media) and towards the way a digitalist thinks. It’s not just about what tools you use, but the mindset you have and approaches you take. Which leads me to the other post I read this week. In it, Jasper Visser collates feedback on what it means to have a digital mindset from participants at a workshop he was running for the Danish Museum Association:

“A colleague with a digital mindset shares ideas, uses the right tools for the right challenges, is present on social networks, asks and answers questions, etc. etc. For most participants, a digital mindset had little to do with digital tools and much more with a 21st century way of working: open, collaborative, lean, proactive…”

The Thinker by Dano, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  Dano 

This encapsulates my motives behind the social media and digital training programmes I ran while working at the universities of Warwick and Oxford. I wasn’t trying to get my colleagues to begin using a wide variety of digital tools, I was trying to get them to:

  • think in new ways about the way they work
  • evaluate the technologies and tools available
  • be open to changes
  • find solutions to problems
  • collaborate and share

If they found tools to help them do this, then that was a bonus.

I’ve been wondering what the purpose of this blog is. Does it matter that the context has shifted over the years, through the different phases of my career – from libraries, to learning technologies and now websites? While writing this post, it has become clear to me that this is a space for me to share things (mostly digital) that I find interesting, or useful, that I think you will find interesting, or useful, too. Nothing has changed there. That the context is different doesn’t matter much. The digital mindset is relevant in all aspects of our lives.

Content strategy at a micro scale

Notes from Clara Guasch’s talk at Congility 2014, Content strategy at a micro scale.

Having focussed on the importance of content strategies for small companies, at the end of her talk Clara was keen to know:

‘Was any of it at all useful to people in large organisations?’

The resounding answer from the audience was yes. And here’s why.

Clara started with another great analogy:

We really don’t think about the risks associated with publishing bad content. It can damage your reputation and with that lose you customers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chosen between two companies (who otherwise seem equal) based on the quality of their web presence.

This tweet summarising one of Clara’s key points presents a question we should be asking anyone who produces content for our website:


Going back to Mike Atherton’s keynote, these key messages are the benefits we sell to our customers – what do we have that will make them better versions of themselves?

Your key messages are one of four things you need to identify to produce useful content:

  1. key messages
  2. your identity
  3. goals
  4. user needs

A major take away from this presentation for me was something that Clara identified towards the end of the presentation:

Content strategy goes beyond the website; it benefits the business as a whole.

As you develop a strategy of any kind it forces you to think about all areas of your work. It prompts you to ask big questions – what are you trying to achieve, what is the context you’re working in, what are the barriers – gives you perspective and clarity, and can identify areas where further work is needed.

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