Make your website take the personality test

Your website is just like any other member of your team… Okay, they don’t draw salary (in quite the same way) and they don’t turn up at the Christmas party clutching half a bottle of tequila. But they represent your organisation, its products, services, values…

The question is – what type of personality have you got fronting the most important doorway and window onto your organisation’s world and what kind of job are they doing?

Here in the lab we’ve created a personality test for your website. It’s fun and easy to do but it may also reveal some interesting facts about your site and the way it represents your brand.

There are 6 possible types. Is your website an ‘aging’ rock star, ‘Pretty Woman’, the technical genius, the selling dervish, the librarian or the gardener? And what do these personality types reveal about your site?

personality-montageweb

In our PDF you can read more about each type and how these personality traits may represent themselves (and you) online. Oh and it’s totally free as well as fun.

>> The CDA Content Lab website personality test

The power of metaphor – discuss

candle-cartoon

I was lecturing to a room of health professionals the other week about how to handle vast quantities of information . This is not simply a question of moving and storing the stuff, but getting the right bits of it into the right hands. The health service is awash with data, much of it designed to shore up government aspiration. If you want data to become information, and from there get turned into knoweldge that is used and enthused over, you have to distil and present it in an engaging fashion. That’s why I was discussing metaphors.

I wanted to understand what metaphors this group of bright young health service leaders used when talking about knowledge. Your choice of metaphor (about anything) can say a great deal about how you view what you are talking about. There’s some very interesting research about metaphors, including work done amongst physicists, who were concerned that the traditional metaphors used to describe energy were inhibiting the way students grasped some newer scientific concepts, such as quantum mechanics ( David T. Brookes and Eugenia Etkina ).

In the Netherlands, Daniel G Andriessen, noted how many Western metaphors for knowledge equated it to ‘stuff”. This is pretty sad. Knowledge should be fluid and energic not stuff. But that got me thinking…

When clients approach large digital projects, such as a new website or email programme, they often approach the content as STUFF. This stuff has to be moved around and put into piles. It has to be ‘loaded’. The task itself is daunting. People don’t want to deal with the STUFF. STUFF is boring.

So, what metaphors do you use to describe content? Is it ‘stuff” or is it something more dynamic and fluid. If you’re a provider of digital services, what metaphors are your clients using to describe aspects of a digital project? Listen out for them. They may speak volumes about what sort of client they’re going to be.

Using metaphors online

The other aspect of metaphor I’m currently exploring is the way it can be used in online content.

Some of you are aware that I’m obsessed by the how the human brain engages with content offered via a computer screen, as opposed to traditional print medium. A University of California study, featured in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry last year, found that a simple task like searching the web enhanced brain circuitry in older adults.

Brain scans on volunteers aged between 55 and 76 showed that both searching the web and reading books produced evidence of significant activity in regions of the brain controlling language, reading, memory and visual abilities.

However, the web search task produced significant additional activity in separate areas of the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning – but only in those who were experienced web users.

The researchers hypothesised that this was due to the sheer range of choice available online compared with the pages of a book and that users developed these skills over time. I don’t know about you, but stuff like that makes my skin prickle.

I also believe that the sheer visuality of the medium engages the brain in different ways, triggering skills that we first developed when drawing in charcoal on cave walls, or carving ornate pictograms inside temples and tombs.

Is metaphor the chimera that straddles both language and image?

Our general advice to clients is keep web copy simple. Avoid the clever and be very cautious of the humorous. People on the web are seeking knoweldge at speed and have no time to decode your wit.

But can the right metaphor enhance the speed at which a web users grasps a point? Could it give them a fast visual cue and trigger the parts of the brain your words cannot reach?

Me? I haven’t made my mind up yet. But it’s worth giving some brain time to.

The 'strikethrough' as a visual cue – and maybe hypnosis thrown in

I received a marketing email the other day which used ’strikethroughs’ in the text.

strikethrough-up-close3

For a second I thought someone had just pressed ’send’ on an early proof, but I quickly figured out that the strikethroughs were being used as visual devices designed to layer some additional meaning into the text.

I’ve given up hunting about in my email inbox for the specific example but the text went something like this:

strikethrough-sentence1

A bit tricksy? Maybe. But what was rocking my boat was how the strikethroughs were being used as visual metaphors to convey both a thought process and some softer values.

I passionately believe that the way we engage with content is being profoundly changed by the visuality of screen-based media. I’m not convinced that you could use strikthroughs in printed material and achieve the same effect. (Shoot me down in flames now, if you don’t agree.)

I also came across the strikethrough technique on a website trawl recently.

All of which leaves me with a couple of questions. Can visual clues work on a hypnotic level? I’m thinking about the use of negatives in written and spoken language eg: ‘Do not think about pink elephants!’. I know for a fact that everybody who read the previous sentence ended up thinking about pink elephants, albeit briefly. This is because you have to think about whatever the ‘not’ is being applied to before you can not do it.

If you’re still with me, I need to know how people decode the information that is ‘under’ the strikethroughs and how they weight it compared to the replacement words that are not struck through (tortuous bit of past tense, but there you go).

If telling someone ‘not’ to do something actually adds emphasis, then a word under a strikethrough should be more powerful than the word it is replaced by. But I’m not convinced that’s the way this technique is currently being used. So, if you’ve got a minute, tell me what is the lasting image you retain after reading the following:

strikethrough-test-sentence2

Shut your eyes for a few seconds and conjure up an image based on what you remember from the sentence above. Is the image closest to:

Option A

The flowers in the meadow were azure and shook as the storm howled.

Option B

The flowers in the garden were blue and swayed as the wind blew.

Comment through this post or send an email to the lab rats at cdacontentlab@webwordsworking.co.uk

PS

Extra points are awarded if you enclose a pretty drawing based on which image you found the stronger.

Twitter – this summer's chart topper?

birdie-song-cartoon

Does anyone remember The Birdie Song? The original version was released in the 1960s,  but in the 1980s a UK band called The Tweets got to No. 2 in the charts with an instrumental version accompanied by a silly dance. I use the term ‘dance’ loosely. In the same way that you might describe a bacon double cheese burger with chilli sauce, caper mayo and a side order of onion rings as ‘nutritious’.

Both the Birdie melody and footwork burned itself into a collective global psyche. (As a special treat I have included a link the Indonesian version by Warkop, who built a whole comedy routine around it, at the end of this post.) Huge numbers of people hated The Birdie Song but a frightening and equal number are compelled to hum the first few bars under their breadth in moments of crisis. Go to a wedding and sooner or later Aunty Ethel and your strange cousin will loosen their clothing and start teaching the moves to anyone who dares come within striking distance of the dance floor. By 9.30 the same evening every inch of available floorspace is given over to synchronised chicken dancing.

All of which brings me to the subject of this post: Twitter.

Okay, at first glance this may seem like a gratuitous segue based on a tenuous ornithological resonance. But Twitter and The Birdie Song connect on a much deeper level. People get very hot under the collar about this particular branch of social media (as they did with The Birdie Song). It’s a love it or loathe it kind of thing. For every Aunty Ethel desperate to teach you the Twitter moves there’s an Uncle Alfred spitting tacks about collective navel gazing.

Until a couple of weeks ago I was in Auncle Alfred’s camp. I had bigger social media fish to fry. I was interested in ‘communities’, ‘platforms’, you know, ‘big stuff’. So what if Stephen Fry could describe dolphins undulating in 140 characters or less. Twitter was witter. I took words seriously.

But if you’re going to get under the skin of social media you can’t leave anything out. I sidled up on Twitter, the same way I approached Wasabi mustard and pickled ginger when I first discovered sushi. You had to poke at the condiments just to prove you knew what you were doing. Take a little dip, decide you don’t like it (can’t see what it adds) and then get back to the raw fish and soy sauce. (Okay, a serious amount of mixed metaphors going on here, but keep up with me.)

But Twitter is a very interesting phenomenon. There are layers to it. Dismiss it as geeks meet airheads at your peril. Like The Birdie Song, its predicated on some simple basic steps. First the question: What are you doing? and then the answer: as brief as you can make it. You can teach someone The Birdie Song dance in about 10 minutes. You can start to Twitter in a similar amount of time.

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Twitter is the first pure-blood content progeny of the online age. It is adapted for skimming and dwell times that you can count in nano-seconds. Even the line length is perfect for screen reading, although whether that’s by design or luck, I don’t know.

Websites, although they’re getting better and better, are still caught up in their offline heritage. Websites may embrace interactive media, real-time chat and online transactional interfaces, but every now and then they drop their aitches and start sounding like printed brochures. Blogging has shifted control more firmly into the hands of users but they’re still predicated on offline values. Phenomena such as Facebook, bebo and YouTube have further societised the internet; but they are, simply, highly accessible online manifestations of yearbooks, youth clubs and the weirder hinterlands of televisual entertainment respectively.

Twitter is an online baby. For a start, your ‘standing’  on Twitter has everything to do with how many people follow your Tweets (posts). You can’t throw money at it in order to get noticed. And people only seem to follow what engages them. There’s no brand loyalty here. I’ve come across big business Twitters with 2 followers, while mums in Maryland can number followers in thousands.

Secondly, you’re only as good as your last Tweet. And if you last Tweet was more than a few hours ago, chances are it has already been submerged by newer, fresher perspectives. Twitter has taken internet ‘currency’ to a new level. When people visit the internet they want to find information that is relevant now. Yesterday’s news is so very, very yesterday. That doesn’t mean there’s no room on the internet for historic / archive content (if presented usefully) but there’s no excuse for not being up to date, as well, particularly as publishing to web is being made easier by a plethora of content management systems.

And like The Birdie Song, Twitter is all about collective impact. It doesn’t matter that Aunty Ethel is always half a beat behind the rest of the dancers, or that your strange cousin has added a couple of unique moves to the bit where you all turn round; Twitter is a collective. It’s thousands of voices threading in and out of each other on a single platform.

Twitter also exposes the associative nature of internet information connectivity. Thanks to hyperlinking, the internet mimics and facilitates the human brain (associative thought), allowing us to move from one piece of information to another, propelled by what we’re thinking of doing. It’s this hyperlinking that allows us to get from, say, checking the cost of flights to Malaga this summer to  tracking down the right kind of rice for a great paella recipe.

Twitter is highly associative. My experience is that although each Twitter post is officially provoked by the question: ‘What are you doing?’ often the question people choose to answer is ‘What I’m thinking about’ or ‘What has got me thinking.’ Twitterers point to other Twitterers’ Tweets, a signficant number of which are crafted around a stimulating thought, or which act as signposts to useful information on other websites. (Tiny URLs and Twitter – a marriage made in heaven.)

All of which has got me thinking – what next? I’m no Darwin scholar but it seems like every time there’s an evolutionary leap it spawns a period of extrordinary fertility. Get the structure right and Mother Nature pops out a huge number of permutations. Then it’s just down to the survival of the fittest.

I’m sure they’ll be Twitter derivatives but the big question is what else can evolve around user value, equal access, immediacy, succinctness, ease of publication, associative linking and associative thinking? Answers in 140 characters… or more.

The CDA Lab Rats on Twitter

Dongkrak Antik by Warkob (The Birdie Song)

Are we all becoming users?

One of the most important  things us lab rats do (when starting to work with a client) is getting them to ‘think like users’. Instead of thinking about what they want to say they must be totally absorbed in what their users want to do.

This means organisations have to get inside the psyche of users, whether that’s visitors to websites, ‘target segments’ opening emails, or less controllable interaction via social media. “Who are these user people and want do they want?” “Can’t we just sell them stuff?”

But I think I’m currently caught up in a profound and seismic shift ,which is turning us all into users (businesses and individuals alike). As a business, do I still need to engage in a time-hungry project of Borgian magnitude to construct a website, or do I download WordPress? Is my next budget demand a massive add campaign or an imaginative poke on Facebook? Is it all about build and cost or is it all about visualisation and imagination?

Don’t get me wrong, businesses who too-eagerly embrace social media,  with no clear idea of what they will bring the millions of social mediators they seek to interact with, do so at their peril.

But it strikes me that if businesses, organisations and other coporate collectives can engage with social content generation tools wisely and thoughfully, it will bring them one step closer to being users instead of simply mimicking users in order to turn a buck.

That brings a smile to my lips.