Years of Living Dangerously Website Launch
I’m so excited to announce my newest project launch: the Years of Living Dangerously website!
What is Years of Living Dangerously?
Years of Living Dangerously is a new Showtime series about climate change.
Executive Producers James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jerry Weintraub teamed up to create a unique documentary series that tells the stories of people affected by events such as Superstorm Sandy, or drought in Texas–all as a result of human-caused climate change.
What I love about the series is that celebrity correspondents such as Harrison Ford and Matt Damon go to places where climate change has devastated the local economy, political environment, and public health. They interview the people behind what caused the climate change.
The series airs on Showtime officially on April 13, 2014–but, you can watch episode 1 in full on the website on April 7, 2014!
My agency, Kusadama Enterprises, was hired to work on digital strategy, and lead the Content Strategy on this project, through Tractor Studios.
Content is king online. It is actually the foundation of any good digital strategy. Good content drives traffic to your website, keeps people on the website, and encourages them to DO what you want them to do (whether it is watch a T.V. show, book an appointment, or see you as a thought leader!).
All websites, big or small, require solid, strategic thinking about what types of content will achieve your goals.
The YEARS project hired Tractor Studios to be the web design firm, which consisted of the User Experience, Creative Direction, and Development. My friend Jamie Zirkle was head UX on the project, and Steve Huber, the President of Tractor, was leading the agency end. When Steve and Jamie realized in January that this website was a “content monster,” consisting of thousands of pieces of content, they knew they needed my agency, since I specialize in large content sites and have a Journalism background.
(Why Ian Somerhalder with a Puppy Photo? Why One Solution for Climate Change?)
Kusadama Enterprises (of which I am the President), was hired to lead the Content Strategy, Content, Editorial Calendaring and Process, and SEO for the website. The content included everything from taglines, to choosing imagery, to figuring out precisely what types of scientific content would be appropriate for the topics section (where we detail about why climate change happens).
Exciting! But then…on to some hard work.
Before I start any content project, I look at the big picture. I ask, “What are the main goals of the website, and who is the audience?”
I then work closely with the client and the User Experience team to determine the exact pages needed on the site, and the exact content for each page.
For the Years of Living Dangerously website, I knew that I needed compelling content that would provide sneak previews of the show, and of the stories. I also wanted to really tell the story behind the story–including background information on all the correspondents. I wanted to make climate change solutions simple–one or two solutions rather than 100 (where people get confused), and, I wanted the science behind the stories to make sense.
Here’s a specific example of my role, and how I determined content.
We needed a page for Harrison Ford, who is a correspondent for the Last Stand story. We determined that the primary goal of this page was to explain why Harrison Ford got involved in the series. We also wanted to intrigue people and give them something extra about Harrison Ford, that they would not get from watching the T.V. show.
We achieved these goals by having an amazing quote from Harrison Ford about why he got involved, and, lots of behind the scenes photos that truly captured his personality, and the substance of why the story matters.
Digital Strategy, Content Strategy, Content Matrix, Calendaring, SEO
So with that said, here are the specific services my agency delivered:
1. Digital Strategy: First things first, I was brought into some conversations with the client regarding some overall decisions about ecommerce and advertising, social media, and the big picture. As I always do, I ask detailed questions about the goals of these requests. Then I talk about statistics and how people use websites. Often the actual numbers of people who will actually make a purchase, or share something on a website, help clients see that a good idea might simply not be worth the time and effort. Or, conversely, that it is something we should definitely pursue. I love these types of collaborative meetings with clients.
2. Content Strategy: Next, I worked closely with Jamie Zirkle on the overall architecture of the site–what pages were we creating, what was the mission statement (reason someone would come to the page), and what kinds of content needed to be on that page to achieve our goals.
Many people identify content needs in a very vague or high-level way, but my role was to not only identify the strategy behind what types of content and why, but also to get into the details. What would the headline be? Subhead? What other types of content might help people share the page on social media? What types of things might help someone become more involved or bonded with the content. How could the content tell the story behind the story?
And, most important, what content would help drive traffic to the website, and get people to stay and explore the content.
3. Content Matrix: Smaller businesses have often never heard of one of these, but they are essential for large website creation or for any ecommerce site. I personally recommend them for ANY sized website because it truly helps you organize your content.
A content matrix identifies every single possible piece of content, where it goes (what page, and where on the page), why it needs to be there, who is responsible for creating or editing the content, and who needs to approve the content and when.
It also schedules content, which is critical for a big launch. It even identifies the CTAs–the call to action links to another place on your site.
A content matrix reflects every piece of content, and ties it back to the goals you want to achieve with that content.
The content matrix for the YEARS website was more than 6,000 identified pieces of content, and ended up being 24 tabs in a a google docs spreadsheet, with more than 1,000 lines of content on some tabs. WHEW.
4. Sourcing and Calendaring: After the matrix (which was a living, working document for more than 6 weeks), myself and my counterpart on the YEARS side (client side) had daily content calls (at 7:30am pacific!) in order to go through each page needs, what content was still needed, and to edit and perfect that content.
This was fun because Maggie O’Brien, our client, who holds MANY different roles, is amazing to work with, and fun, and brilliant.
Plus, she sent me quotes of Matt Damon talking about the Red Sox (not for the site, but just because I’m from Boston and love Matt Damon). What more could you ask for?
5. Content Formatting, Editing, SEO: The last step of the process, once we got all the content, was to finalize it in wordpress, our content management system of choice. In wordpress, I edited and formatted content so that it would look beautiful, but also drive traffic through good Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Formatting your content means making it very readable to people. Headlines, subheads, and bullets all help a visitor to your site read the content (or scan it quickly).
I also conducted a one hour SEO session with the client, so that I could train her in basic SEO, to ensure that any new content, or any changes to the content, would continue to drive traffic. I can train anyone to learn basic SEO in an hour, and those tips can immediately drive you more traffic.
What Was The Best About This Project?
Harrison Ford with baby orangutan photos, Matt Damon quotes…James Cameron quotes…Joel Bach behind the scenes…endless photos of Ian Somerhalder (especially with the puppy). All of this was pretty great, and, if you’re going to be working at midnight, it’s not the worst type of content to be looking at.
I also learned a great deal about human-caused climate change. I will admit that prior to this project, I never felt a huge incentive to do something about it or learn more–partly out of lack of knowledge as to what little ol’ me could do, but also partly from what is known as “The paradox of choice.”
Too many solutions, all of which seem overwhelming. The Years project, the T.V. Show, and the website all make the solutions easy to understand. We made a decision on the website to spotlight one partner and one solution each week, related to the episodes that were airing. All of this helps people like me embrace the fact that we really can do ONE thing, and that one thing CAN make a difference. It feels empowering, it feels like we can solve this problem.
But also, I realized climate change truly is a problem, and we have exacerbated the problem.
Challenges of This Project
This project was 400 hours, which is fairly typical for a large-scale consumer website. Normally I’d do that work over the course of 4-5 months, but, we had an unmovable deadline, the launch of the T.V. show, so my timeline was crunched to just 2 months. That was challenging, and on top of that challenge, we had an approval and legal process for the celebrity correspondents, because they have handlers who protect their image and have to approve the context of their pictures or quotes.
I’ve done a lot of work in the pharmaceutical industry, so I’m used to approval processes and lawyers, and negotiating with anyone who is not approving content. 🙂 You simply have to “pad the time” and ensure that you work back from a strict deadline for what I call the “drop dead date.” That’s the date you tell everyone that, if you don’t have final, approved content by, you cannot launch on time. That tends to speed things up. I also have a process where I segment out content delivery dates, so that the same types of content are being worked on at once–this is more efficient. For example, working on all the biographies at once, or all photos at once.
This can help smaller businesses as well, for example–spending one day, or one week working on the About or Team section (since everyone will have bios, why not work on them all at once?). When building an ecommerce store, for example, you could focus only on one type of product each week. I find that this type of “dividing and conquering” really works for all projects.
Importance of Process and Content Strategy
For small and large businesses alike, it is important to develop a good foundation for your content, and to understand WHY you need certain content, and what goals that content will achieve. Doing this will guarantee you will drive traffic to your site, and build some loyalty for people once there. Always think about what will intrigue a person, and what types of content they might want to share with friends and family.
Even if you only have a 5-page website, it helps to use the same process as I had for the Years of Living Dangerously website. Determine the pages of your site, the mission or goals of each page, and then determine what types of content you need for each page. I find that a spreadsheet, or content matrix, helps you organize all your content and makes the actual process of putting that content online MUCH EASIER and faster.
Check Out The Years of Living Dangerously Website!
I’m so glad my agency was hired to work on this project. It was a ton of fun even though it was hard work in a short timeframe.
Let me know what you think of the Years of Living Dangerously website, and remember, watch episode 1 for free on the site April 7, 2014!