As we prepare to retire the Argo blog, we’re producing a series of wrap-up posts that capture key aspects of the model we used. This post is part of that series. You can find all our tools and lessons here.
When you work in digital media, you face a constant temptation to scorn strategy and ride the wave of chance instead. First of all, the Internet is always hungry, and any time spent planning is time you could have spent posting. And you’ve already got instant analytics, letting you see exactly what folks are responding to in real-time; why not let the whimsy of crowds set your course? Lastly, a failed strategy is much more costly than a failed post. In light of that, why not just keep churning and hope that over time your successful posts outnumber your clunkers?
One good reason: “Just keep churning” is neither an inspiring motto nor an especially viable long-term course of action. (It’s worked, don’t get me wrong. But it’s got a killer burn-out rate.) Throughout Argo, we encouraged both the stations and the individual editors we worked with to develop strategies for success, not just streams of content. This happened on at least four different levels:
- Long-term strategy for the site: One of the first exercises we undertook with all the stations was to take their topic proposals and assess the opportunity each of the proposed topics presented. But each station had to determine for itself what its long-term goals were. This was a nuanced calculation. The aspirations of some stations could be measured numerically: more users interacting more meaningfully with more content. But other stations hoped to make inroads into new communities in their cities or to develop authority on underreported issues. It’s not enough to have a goal; you’ve got to have a mechanism for assessing it, so you can figure out whether your strategy is working.
- The checklist manifesto: I, like Atul Gawande, am a believer in checklists. Over the course of Project Argo, we developed several checklists to help stations optimize their sites for greater success, including a checklist of tasks to complete before each site launched, a checklist of questions to ensure the site was being effectively promoted, and a checklist of items for editors to go over with bloggers each week to keep them focused on planning and strategy as well as on the daily grind.
- Content planning: Original content was a big part of the Argo model, and we knew that bloggers couldn’t develop big, splashy banner posts without plotting what they wanted to cover. So we encouraged them to plan their content on a daily, weekly and longer-term basis. We also advised them to write posts with an eye towards packaging those posts up into larger pieces.