Midges, my writing process, and getting in the trenches as a community manager

Happy Monday! In last week’s post I mentioned that midges were swarming our yard and keeping me from fixing our fence. Well, it’s gotten worse since then, and our entire neighbourhood is now under siege.

Thankfully the masks we’re wearing for Covid-19 physical distancing work just as well for protecting us from these gnatty waterfront sex swarms.

Seriously. I looked it up.

From what I’ve read, these midge clouds should subside in a couple weeks as the warm weather picks up and things dry out. Here’s hoping.

My writing process

A friend of mine wants to write more as part of his professional development and personal brand-building. Since I’ve been churning out a post or two for the last few years, he asked if I had any practical advice to share.

Here’s the gist of my process:

Capture ideas

Everything that pops into my head as a topic, premise, or opinion worth exploring gets written down. I’ve hopped between physical notebooks and mobile apps. Most recently I’m back on Todoist. It does a good job of capturing everything in the "single inbox" method of Getting Things Done.

Write an outline

I favour a five point system:

  • Intro
  • Point 1
  • Point 2
  • Point 3
  • Point 4
  • Point 5
  • Closing thoughts + call to action

Each point is a major takeaway related to your topic. Or, in the case of personal blog posts like this one, it’s an idea you want to hit on. The closing thoughts and intro come last.

Why five points? Because I encounter the intro → three points → conclusion format more often than I should. IMO it’s a crutch, especially in the blogging-for-marketing space.

Yes, you could argue that five points aren’t much better. But I find that five points force me to think a bit harder about what I’m writing. I might even bump it up to a seven point outline for a juicy topic.

Flesh it out

I don’t have a problem with the rule of three. I just don’t think it should define the overall outline of a piece. Instead, I like to hit on three supporting points per major point.

Say you’re writing an essay of "I believe in X", each supporting point makes the case for why you believe in X. It could be an anecdote, a cited source, whatever suits your case.

Rinse and repeat for each major point:

  • Major point
    • Supporting point 1
    • Supporting point 2
    • Supporting point 3

Then you’ll have a big ol’ outline that looks something like this:

  • Intro
  • Major point 1
    • Supporting point 1
    • Supporting point 2
    • Supporting point 3
  • Major point 2
    • Supporting point 1
    • Supporting point 2
    • Supporting point 3
  • Major point 3
    • Supporting point 1
    • Supporting point 2
    • Supporting point 3
  • Major point 4
    • Supporting point 1
    • Supporting point 2
    • Supporting point 3
  • Major point 5
    • Supporting point 1
    • Supporting point 2
    • Supporting point 3
  • Closing thoughts + call to action

All of this work is to organize your thoughts into smaller, more approachable pieces. Instead of staring at a blank page — daunting, stressful, overwhelming — you’re taking it one point at a time.

Pull it together and self-edit

My next step is to pull it all together, transforming the list of points into headings and paragraphs. This will be easy or hard depending on how verbose my supporting points already are.

When I go through this step, I’m reading out loud, checking the flow, imagining that I’m talking through all of it with someone else.

What I say out loud might rush ahead of what I’ve written, so I pull those words into the page. I’ll keep doing this over and over as I continue building everything up.

This is also the step where I’ll drop in links, add placeholders for images, flag pull quotes, etc.

Stage your post

I don’t write in the CMS. I’ll do my writing in Google Docs, Microsoft Word or — more recently — in VS Code. When I’m happy with the writing I’ll flip it over to the CMS, be it WordPress or something else. This is the "staging" step.

When I’m staging, I’m doing a final round of edits, usually for appearance and pacing: paragraph length, line wrapping, visual flow between text and images. How a piece appears will depend heavily on the styling of wherever it’s published.

I’ll also deal with the technical details in this step: categories, tagging, meta descriptions for SEO, and whatever else needs doing.

…and that’s it! That’s my process. It’s evolved over the years and will keep evolving. I’m not a great writer, but I enjoy writing. I enjoy the craft and the flow. I figure that has to count for something, right?

Customer success & gamification

When you’re creating content for customer success, you’re trying to solve a few challenges all at once:

  • You want to pique their interest so they pay attention
  • You want them to relate what you’re sharing to their own situation
  • You want them to take the next step and apply what you’ve shared

These are the same challenges that teachers have to deal with as they’re developing lesson plans.

Games do a good job of handling this. They’ll take you through an introductory set of levels or missions to get you acquainted with the mechanics.

As you progress in the game, you unlock new challenges. By completing more challenges and participating in other activities, you continue progressing and earning rewards.

Teachers are applying this gamification model in the classroom. Where else could we take it?

I keep coming back to this comparison because it gets my gears turning on the overlap between sales & marketing, customer support, training & certification, and loyalty programs.

Community managers need to be in the trenches

If you’re a community manager for a brand or product, you should be in the trenches and using those products.

That first-hand experience will give you a better perspective on what your customers are experiencing, and it’ll boost your credibility in the community.

For example: When I joined GoDaddy back in 2015, I immediately moved my blog over to our WordPress Hosting plan. I’ve used almost every product GoDaddy offers, and every domain I’ve registered since 2015 has been with GoDaddy.

I just moved my blog again, this time to a Business Hosting plan. I manage it with GoDaddy Pro Sites. I’m also on the cusp of spinning up a reseller storefront, so I can better appreciate the experience of our reseller partners.

IMO, this is all table stakes. I can’t be an effective conduit between the community and our teams if I’m not also a user and member of the community.

Your community is a garden

Riffing on this tweet:

I’ve followed David Spinks for years. He’s a leader in the community management industry. We align more often than not, and we’re very much in alignment on this point.

You start with a seed: gathering a handful of members at a specific time and place. Then you do it again. And again. And again. The process and polish evolves over time as you figure out what works.

Low stress, moderate effort, lots of discipline.

Here’s the deal: I don’t like unnecessary complexity. I like simple templates, routines, and iteration. That’s how I approach my work and it’s how I approach community programs.

Why this approach? Because it sets reasonable expectations. I don’t want to get lost in the weeds by over-producing something before it’s needed.

"It works for me" isn’t good enough

I had another back-and-forth over Twitter sparked by this tweet from Tobias Lutke (Shopify founder, fellow gamer and Canadian):

One of the comments boiled down to "this isn’t a problem because it’s not a problem for me". It got under my skin because it’s the same sort of selfish worldview that’s held us back for decades. It’s a lack of empathy wrapped in a dismissive insecurity blanket that goes up in smoke as soon as "it works for me" stops being true.

P.S. Check these out

Listening to: Monstercat

Monstercat has become my daily soundtrack. They’re an independent Canadian electronic music label covering a broad spectrum of sounds. They stream on all the major platforms (YouTube, Twitch, Mixer) and you can grab their albums on Apple Music and Spotify. Plus, if you’re a creator, they have a killer music licensing deal.

Writing mode in VS Code (via Diéssica Gurskas)

I just followed this tutorial for my local VS Code install. It’s a winner! Back in the day I did all my writing in Notepad++ before staging it in our CMS. I liked the approach because it kept me focused on the writing and semantic markup, instead of visual styling.


That’s it for this week. Have a good one.

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