Friday, November 12, 2010

Facebooking Uncharted, Part II

After listening to Gus last night saying we need to focus less on an app and more on the site because I've been thinking along the same lines myself. All of this hopefully ties in with making our site more appealing to Explorers who then make contributions and then get their friends to make contributions until we're to the point Slice Host has to open up a new server farm in Draper, Utah, because those mad fools at Uncharted are keeping them busy.

So, how do we bridge the gap between our Explorers and ourselves?

On a micro level, we can experiment with a few things among our own staff members who, on the surface at least, resemble our Explorer audience: Some are contributing mightily, while others have yet to do more than post a profile. Here's what I suggest we do for staff:
  1. Deadlines. Andrew is our example here (hi, Andrew!). He's busily working away on his Spiral Jetty story, now that he has even a modicum of deadline in mind (thusfar, we've set early January as his target date). Firm dates work with some, but not with others, so this far out I'm not sure setting a firm date will be beneficial. Instead, I'll just check in with him occasionally. Perhaps I'm wrong in this thinking. I can be swayed.
  2. Coaching. Alan is our example here. Alan has come a long way in crafting his writing and is thinking more about what he writes. That works well for him, as the results show. This will not work well with everyone, as each person is a bit different. My goal in coaching is to help each individual writer find his or her voice, not to produce a bunch of Brian replicants. We want different voices, different styles to appeal to the differences in our Explorers. If you're stuck, send me a draft and I'll make suggestions. Take them with a grain of salt. These are your stories, not mine.
  3. Nurturing a Gonzo (Hunter Thompson, not the Muppet) attitude. John is our example here. John's my hero, not simply because he and a crazy friend went way into the wilds of Idaho and built a raft out of logs they found floating on the lake, but because he's so willing to exit his comfort zone and sit at his computer and write really fun stories. He claims he's not a good writer. You know what? That doesn't matter. He has a distinct John Milligan vibe to each story he's written, and our site is the better for it. When I read one of his stories, even with my editing hat on, I just like to sit back and read.
So, how do we translate that to our Explorers? Deadlines don't seem to apply, until they enter the realm of “Hey, we'd like to feature you on the home page. Can you write some captions?” We've seen several Explorers respond readily to these requests, all in a timely fashion. The recognition is driving them to meet deadlines, which are then only tokens because we're letting their enthusiasm take over.

Coaching, we can do that, too. Not only through workshops, but, perhaps, through biweekly writers' or photographers' corners, posted on the blog or on Facebook, in which we offer a brief lesson, then open comments up for questions, suggestions for other posts, and such. Any time we can engage our Explorers, especially if we can engage them in ways that helps them feel we want them to contribute, we win.

We've nurtured a few Gonzos on the site by featuring their stuff. We need to do more of this. I need every eye possible on the site, sending me suggestions, e-mailing the photographer/writer immediately saying, hey, I'm contacting Brian over at editorial, we'd like to feature your stuff. Let them know we're interested, and they'll keep contributing. I'm reminded of what the founders of Flickr said as they tried to build their website: “You have to greet the first ten thousand customers by the hand.” In other words, we've got to welcome them. My challenge here: Once a week, find one Explorer whose stuff you like and let them know it on the site.

Here's another thought: E-mail. I know we've worried aobut flooding peoples' inboxes with Uncharted e-mails. But you know what keeps me going back to Facebook and Twitter? It's all those damn e-mails I get from people saying they're now following me or they wrote on my wall or that someone commented on something I posted or commented on. That keeps me going back to the site. Little, short, friendly reminders from people saying, “Hey, you're on Facebook, remember?” Uncharted ought to do the same thing.

So there's a little psychology. And if you want to know where I learned my psychology, just watch this:

Now let's get back to what Gus mentioned the other night, about working on our site to makie it more friendly to our Explorers. I've got a few ideas, and this is where Ryan and Andrew come into position and flex their muscles for the rest of us to ogle.

First, I wonder if our homepage/profile approach needs a Facebook touch. Here's a bit I wrote on that:

Simply put, when we go to Facebook, we don't go to a boilerplate Facebook home page. We go straigt to our profile where we can see what we and our friends have been up to, and where we can immediately make contributions with a minimum of effort.

We're damn close to having this already. If we could bring the comment method to the foreground, as Facebook does, rather than leaving it in the background, as we do now, I think we'd see a difference immediately. The era of making people jump from page to page on the Internet is over. They should have just about everything they need to make comments and such on the same page they're reading. Sure, we can send them to a different page to read a story or view a photoset, but we can do a bit more to encourage that social interactivity than we are now.

Then, we create more avenues for people to see what others are doing and how they can get to doing themselves. Here, I'll take a little inspiration from which, I think, has a good approach, but one that makes their site cluttered and difficult to navigate. Go to the stie and see for yourself. (They appear to be more of an aggregation site than anything else, inviting people to sned in contributions from their own travel blogs, Flickr accounts, et cetera. An excellent community-building approach, but not he one we're taking at Uncharted.)

What we could do is this: Take advantage of dead space that currently shows up on each person's profile or “My World” page and use that space for promotional/community-building activities. Here's what I'm talking about:

The “dead space” in question is the beige block around the Sierra Trading Post ad. I don't mind that the ad is there, but I think we could use that space, while keeping the advertising there, more to our purposes as well. What I'm thinking is two small Flash windows that scroll through random stories/photosets on the site, along with random profiles with a little invitation – see what Explorer X is doing. Alternating in those spaces would be slides inviting people to sign up, check out our Facebook page, links to the blog, links to Uncharted University workshops, and any other item we choose.

We could combine this element with another simple tweak that would default the friends, stories, and photo tabs on our profiles as open, rather than closed. That not only serves as a reminder that we do have friends and ought to be thinking about what they're doing on the site as well as what we are, but also offers those who come to our profiles other links to click on to explore the site more deeply. Just gives them another option. We could augment that with a simple “share your stuff too” invitation, and I think we'd see some results.

Here's another thought: Sarge is doing well with our Facebook site, promoting stories and including invitations to our Facebook friends to join us on Uncharted. I think we ought to run some “join up” promotions on the Facebook page, say, offering a premium like a bumper sticker or a t-shirt to the next five people who sign up at Uncharted and post a story or photoset. Yeah, that makes them work for the prize a bit, but I'm afraid if we leave it at a profile, then they've got no further incentive to add stuff. Setting at a photoset or story takes them through the process and, hopefully, they discover it's easier to do than they think.

So that gives us several options to increase the opportunities we have to invite people. Now, how do we get them to do it? How do we bridge that gap between amateur/professional that's maybe stimying us?

First, we find out if that's what stimying them. All we're working on is anecdotal information. Maybe we're asking too many questions as we have them fill in a profile. Maybe the submission process is a bit clunky. We need to find out. We need to ask the question: Hey Facebook people, why haven't you signed up yet? We ask this as we're prepping the site to include more invitation opportunities and make it more social. We roll all of this into a new relaunch, now that we've got a programmer on board.

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