first 30 days

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I’m logged into my Argo site. Now what?!

To my great happiness, several of you have the keys to your Argo sites. And from conversations with many of you, you’re now looking at that big checklist I posted Monday and saying, “Er, OK, what, when and how?” Hopefully this will bring a semblance of order to your world.

First, content is paramount.

More than anything else on that list, we want the Argo-bloggers in the system posting stuff. It doesn’t all have to be real stuff, either. Anything they post, they can delete before we go live without causing any harm. To the extent that they can be posting genuine content – quick takes on news items, quotes from the day’s events, etc. – and tagging them with the appropriate topics, that will be very, very useful in fleshing out your site for launch. But I want them to get comfortable with the system above all; comfortable composing posts there (not in Microsoft Word) and not afraid of breaking anything.

Then, focus on categories and topics.

A lot of things flow from the topics you select for the site. Crucially, they compose the main site navigation, but they also feed into Delicious and other aspects of the process. Get your four or five main categories finalized first (many of you already have), and then determine the topics you feel comfortable launching with.

Meanwhile, I’m working on an F.A.Q…

You can find that document here. (There’s not much in it yet.) That is an invitation to ask me all your questions about how to use the platform, which I will then answer and put into the FAQ. (See how this works?)

… and a number of screencasts.

We’ve started posting screencasts and how-tos to introduce you to your Argo site at docs.argoproject.org. Right now, you can learn how to customize your site navigation, how to add navigation to your station site, how to make slideshows, and more. I’m working on screencasts to show you how to post photos and video, how to dress up different types of posts (Q&As, single quote posts, long posts, and other stuff), and how to add your site metadata (all the “about the site” stuff, links to your Twitter and Delicious feeds, etc.).

Did you catch that URL?

Bookmark it: docs.argoproject.org. It’s a companion site to this one, where we’ll be storing instructions on how to use the Argo platform.

Any questions? E-mail me, or post ‘em in the comments!

Before you launch: the Argo checklist

Image courtesy of Flickr user mistersnappy.

Update: This checklist is now deprecated. Here’s the revised, canonical version.

We’re mere weeks away from launching the first set of Argo sites. Several of our bloggers are off and running, and others are just getting started. I expect a little construction debris will still be on the ground in many cases when the sites are live (by 7/26). But here’s the stuff that should be taken care of before the public christening.

☑ Nail down your Argo site branding.
We can give you legal and aesthetic advice, but the final choice is yours. Choose wisely!

☑ Finalize your tagline.
Be as economical and clear as possible about your site’s reason for being.

☑ Figure out the station site navigation that should appear at the very top of your Argo site.
Choose four or five main links in conjunction with your station site editor, but don’t labor over this, you can always configure it later. You can watch this screencast for instructions on how to add these to your Argo site.

☑ Determine the top four or five categories that compose primary navigation for the Argo site.
Consider correlating these categories to your distinct primary audiences or audience needs. Watch this screencast for instructions on adding these to your Argo site. See also: Developing categories.

☑ Subscribe to lots of feeds about your beat in Google Reader.
Set your filter low. Pull in everything you consider pertinent to your topic. You may end up pulling a few hundred feeds into your account, and that’s OK. Organize the best of these into folders sorted by priority, and consider organizing them by topic as well. See also: How we chose the topics – the market assessment.

☑ Get to know the online communities that are already established around your beat.
Become a regular presence in the main haunts around your topic. Respond to threads, engage with people on Twitter.

☑ List at least 30 – but not too many more than 100 – specific topics you intend to cover regularly.
Focus especially on people and organizations, although you can include other easily-defined subjects. For at least 20-30 of these, come up with a representative image and a quick overview paragraph explaining the topic. See also: How to choose your taxonomy terms.

☑ Start a Twitter account for the site, and begin cultivating a community there.
If you want to use your personal Twitter account, feel free. But it’s probably worth registering the site name on Twitter anyway. Aim to cultivate at least a few hundred followers by the time your site is live, and make sure your Twitter stream is a valuable read for you. See also: Five tips on getting started with Twitter.

☑ Create a page for yourself on Twitter Times.
TwitterTimes is the service we’ll use to pull together the most popular URLs spreading around your Twitter community to display on your Argo site. Once you’ve created your Twitter account, authorize TwitterTimes to synthesize the links in your Twitter stream.

☑ Set up a Delicious account, and begin bookmarking the best content you come across on your beat.
Once your topics have been set up within your Argo site instance, then start tagging the stories you find with keywords that match the list of topics you’ve created.

☑ Write some introductory text about the site topic and about yourself.
Write a short version of two-to-four sentences to appear on every page of the site, and a longer version to appear on the “About the site” page.

☑ Create a Facebook page for the site.
And reserve the appropriate Facebook shortcut.

☑ Upload your Gravatar.
Go to http://en.gravatar.com/ and upload a photo of yourself, connected to the email address you’re using on the site.

☑ Create a Flickr account for the site.
This may just be a placeholder, but it’s also good to store your best photos there (or even all of them).

☑ Conduct a photowalk for your beat.
Try to capture images of things you’ll be posting about frequently.

☑ Figure out who the best Creative Commons photographers are for your beat.
Reach out to them, let them know you’ll be writing about the topic, and ask how they like to be credited if you use their images.

☑ Developing a marketing plan for the launch.
Whether or not you have a marketing budget, you still need a marketing plan. When will you formally roll out the red carpet for the public? How will the station site point to the Argo site? What on-air promos will air in conjunction with the launch? How will you communicate the launch to local media?

☑ Start developing strong content to make a splash at launch.
Report and write four or five viral-worthy, enterprise posts that you can publish – and do dogged follow-up posting about – in the days after you go public.

☑ Start posting daily updates before the site goes live.
Save your best insights and enterprise work for the launch, but begin populating the site with updates on relevant news that’s transpiring daily. These posts will flow to topic pages and make your site feel somewhat robust at launch, and you’ll start to get a feel for the system.

(Updated to add to-dos for taglines and Gravatars. I reserve the right to update a couple more times this afternoon. [Hours later.] Updated again to add TwitterTimes and to stipulate that you shouldn’t start tagging things in Delicious until your topics are set up on your Argo site. [Next day.] Updated yet again to add links to screencasts. This is no longer the canonical version of the checklist: use this starter guide instead.)

Five tips on getting started with Twitter

Image courtesy of Flickr user ~Ilse.

I’ve recommended that our Argo-bloggers make Twitter one of their first priorities as they begin conquering their beats. But I’ve gotten a few questions on how to get started there. If you haven’t yet, read my post on why I find Twitter so valuable. Then check out my tips for getting started below, and add your tips in the comments.

1. Make your stream valuable for you.

A lot of reporters start out on Twitter thinking, “Oh great, this is one more mouth I have to feed.” The tendency is to load up Twitter.com and see only that input box, hungry for 140 characters of goodness. But Twitter veterans know that the real value of the site isn’t the input box, but the stream of tweets rolling in beneath it.

The first step towards making Twitter valuable is making it valuable to read. This means finding the best accounts to follow on your topic (Mashable: 10 ways to find people on Twitter), so that every time you load up your Twitter home page, it’s an endless river of insights and links to the best new stuff in your domain. Tend to your needs first; then tweet.

2. Find your favorite Twitter client.

One dirty little secret of Twitter is that power-users tend not to spend much time at Twitter.com. Most of the Twitterati are using a standalone Twitter client. I will warn you ahead of time that the nature of the beast is that you will always be slightly envious of someone else’s Twitter client. The sheer volume of information that flows through Twitter means somebody’s gotta have figured out the perfect way to organize all of it, right?

Nope. Sad, true story: No one’s figured out how to really organize Twitter. No matter which client you use, you’ll end up letting that river of incoming tweets wash over you.

On the plus side, you’ve got options. Twitter clients make it super-easy to keep track of @replies, direct-message conversations, hashtags, and other buzzwords. Some aspects to consider when choosing a Twitter client include how many different OSes you use (e.g. I use a Windows desktop at home, a Mac laptop at work, and I’ve got an Android phone; that’s 3 OSes); whether you prefer Web clients or desktop clients; and whether you need a service just for Twitter, or something that can also handle Facebook and other social networking services.

I’ve personally used and liked Tweetie on my Mac, Tweetdeck on my PC, HootSuite on the Web, and Seesmic on my Android phone.

Lifehacker’s got a terrific roundup of the best Twitter clients.

3. Measure out your days in retweets.

As I said before, watching a post get retweeted is one of the most instant and addictive forms of feedback you’ll find on the Web. And retweets bring followers. So make them a goal.

Even before your site launches, you can spend some time every day looking for great links to post to Twitter (posts with links are retweeted 40% more often than posts without them). Pay attention to what spreads and what fizzles, and consider this knowledge a master class in headline writing for the Web. If you come across a truly great link, sell it! Try to couch it in a way that reveals its importance. Tweet it more than once and make sure your crowd knows how excellent it is.

If you want to get really scientific about it, you can track the spread of particular links using tools such as Bit.ly (which integrates with other Twitter clients) and HootSuite (which has a Web client of its own). And if you want to get extra-double scientific, check out this Mashable story on the science of retweets.

4. Engage with the Twitter community.

When you launch a website, you always face the SETI problem: you’re not sure if there’s intelligent life out there. You can’t really do many call-outs to your community, because you don’t have one yet. The best you’ve got are a few random surfers who’ve found their way to your little corner of the Internet.

One of the beautiful things about Twitter is that you can see the intelligent life (and, of course, the not-so-intelligent life) coursing through it – the flow of tweets and retweets and replies and ideas that’s equal parts conversation, crowded room, graffiti wall and memoir in the making. When you see an interesting tweet, share it, respond to it, comment on it, and @reply the Twitterer that brought it to your attention. If you come across information that would be of interest to one of your followers, send it their way with a directed tweet.

A word of caution: Twitter often isn’t the best place to conduct protracted conversations, especially spirited ones. A lot gets lost in 140 characters. But it can be a wonderful place to start a dialogue.

5. Measure your progress and strive for growth.

Make it your goal to attract new followers every day, and keep tabs on how you’re doing. When I was in charge of the main Twitter account for the Knight Foundation, I made sure to check our follower counts at least once a day. I used Twitterholic to keep track of our progress, aiming for 30-50 new followers every day. I worked on figuring out how many good tweets would get me to that goal (usually 5-8 smart tweets a day would do it), and I made sure to hit that target. And sure enough, a month after I started, we’d increased our followers by 1,000, and I had a much better sense of how to deliver information Knight’s community would value.

I’d highly recommend using a service like Twitterholic or Twittergrader to track your reach on Twitter, if only to remind you to keep striving higher.

Addendum: If all this watching-of-retweets and counting-of-followers starts to feel a bit mercenary, bring it back to rule 1. Strive to create a Twitter stream – and a Twitter community – that’s valuable for you. And keep in mind that your goal is to produce a Twitter feed that’s valuable for many others. There are brute-force ways of gaining more followers on Twitter; follow 30,000 people and you’ll certainly garner something of a crowd.

But what I’m proposing is the hard way – day by day, pay careful attention to what people find valuable, and try to bring them more of it.

Blogger-rhythms: How to pace yourself

Picking up where yesterday’s post left off, I want to talk about the blogger’s pattern. This is where Robin’s insights about stock and flow really come into play. I think the most essential rhythmic prowess great bloggers develop is the ability to balance these two types of content.

We often talk about finding a rhythm, as though it’s something that’ll happen to you, or something you’ll discover. Just as often, I tend to think a good, sustainable, audience-rewarding pace truly is developed - planned, practiced and polished. Marathon runners don’t “find” their race-winning strides – they set goals and work towards them.

I think a helpful way to approach that goal-setting is by setting goals and organizing workflow on a daily cycle, a weekly cycle, and for the medium-to-long term. I’ll talk about each of these.

The daily cycle

Image courtesy of Flickr user Socceraholic.

There are a couple things to keep in mind about planning for the daily rhythm of the blog:

First, you never want to start your day with an empty slate. Knowing that you’ll start off with a daily link roundup every morning is one easy way to get your engine going. It’s also important to augment that with something meaty, ready to polish and post shortly after your computer wakes up. Previously, I shared Ernest Hemingway’s trick of writing some of his best material late in the day and stopping just as he was on a roll. I think it’s a great idea to end each afternoon by completing 90 percent of a post you’ll finish and publish in the morning. I also think it’s smart to head into each week knowing the original, enterprise pieces you intend to publish each day, news permitting.

Second, make sure you’re addressing each of your overlapping communities with something every day. Remember when I wrote about planning content around your audience needs? To continue the example I laid out in that post, let’s say your topic reaches (1) an audience of people employed in relevant industries, (2) a law/policy audience, (3) a scientific/scholarly audience, and (4) a lay audience mostly interested in the cultural impact of the subject. Make sure that each day, you’re offering at least one post of interest to each audience. You’ve got many types of posts you can employ to hit that target. Switch ‘em up.

Lastly, strive to publish an attention-getter at least once a day. This is a post that you think will be spread around your community, original reporting and cogent analysis that will hook in a broader audience, garnering links on Twitter and Facebook and commentary from other sites. We’re actually building content promotion positions for these featured posts into the site. Lists and guides and explainers will be some of your best friends here, as will any scoops you can develop or news you can break. This will tie into your weekly planning (and it will take planning).

The weekly cycle

Image courtesy of Flickr user Wild_Honey_Pie☂

Set aside some time every week to plan for the following week. This is when you can develop ideas for those attention-getters that will earn you regular exposure to a wider and wider potential crowd. As you plan your banner ideas for each week, think about how to hook different segments of your community. For example, in a typical week, you might plan on developing two featured posts for your business audience, a couple for your law/policy and academic audiences, and another few explainers or analyses or stories that bring in the lay audience.

Of course, the cycles of a particular beat are likely to intersect with your content planning at the weekly level. There are probably regular meetings, briefings, newsletters or document releases that relate to your beat, so you can set up the appropriate live-chats and follow-up posts as necessary.

From week to week, different stories are going to really seize the attention of your crowd, and it’s important to pursue these doggedly and elevate the level of attention you pay them (to whatever degree makes journalistic sense). Sometimes you’ll know when these are coming down the pike (e.g. your legislature is set to vote on a hot-button law). But often, these types of stories are tied to the news – so you can’t necessarily plan for specific stories to take root, but you can be attuned to them when they appear. Make sure to keep them front-and-center for the week, if not longer, altering your weekly content planning if necessary to report new dimensions to the story, write some authoritative explainers and guides, and query your crowd for their insights.

At least once a week, you should be aiming to develop an attention-getter post that can really shine. Don’t neglect your ability to set an agenda and follow up on it. If you think a post is going to make a splash, follow it up early and often with posts that add dimension and enlarge the story. Find ways to relate the story to each of your audiences with different posts.

The medium- to long-term

Image courtesy of Flickr user CIMMYT.

Your daily and weekly planning for the site will keep it flowing, but what will really make it sing is the arc – the long-term vision that will tell your readers you’re taking them somewhere. You’re not just writing a blog, you’re writing something like a book. It’s important not to lose site of that.

Think about the long-term rhythm of your site. How often are you making a splash on your topic? On a monthly or semi-monthly basis, you should be thinking about how to create the solid, informative, high-level content that will get maximum pickup in your community – your equivalents of the Sunday A1 front-pager. We chose topics for Argo that would be “locally focused, but nationally resonant.” I expect that “national resonance” to be strongest in your long-term planning, where your biggest, most important pieces are conceived and developed.

They say long-form narrative doesn’t work well on the Web, but there are a number of ways to deliver big Web stories that will be popular: comprehensive guides to hot-button issues, deep investigative narratives, analytical pieces that lay out a major trend or idea, crowdsourced packages of the most influential people in the topical domain. The key is to imagine the final packages in advance, then break them down into components you can produce as part of your daily workflow. You recognize this advice: package, repackage, repeat.

Done well, the daily rhythm of your blog feeds your long-term strategy, and your long-term planning drives your daily activity. Invariably, though, you’ll find yourself wrapped up in day-to-day matters, devoting less and less attention to the longer-term stuff. That’s OK. I promise not to let you stray too far from the bigger picture.

Blogger-rhythms: how to develop your blog’s pace

STOP: Before you read this post, I’d like to ask you to read my co-blogger Robin’s mini-treatise on the concept of “stock and flow.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Maurese Polizio.

OK, now that you’re back, let’s talk about the rhythm of the blog.

I like to think about this rhythm in two dimensions: 1) audience patterns and 2) blogger patterns. I’ll talk about them in that order:

I. Audience patterns

Any Web editor with an eye on her stats knows that there are ebbs and flows in her users’ attention. Digital news editors tend to see a prominent spike first thing in the morning, as their users are rising for work and getting booted up for the day, another spike toward the lunch hour, perhaps a mild crest in the mid-afternoon, and some post-work, early-evening traffic to cap off the day. Widen the lens a bit, and you find that traffic tends to surge during the work week and settle over the weekends.

I’ve heard evidence that these patterns are evening out a little as people’s Web reading habits migrate to phones and other devices, allowing them to sneak in some surfing while they’re waiting in line for a mid-morning coffee or waiting for dinner to cook. Also, Twitter and Facebook are often up in the background as folks work at their computers, making it likelier than ever that a post might go viral in the middle of the day. And these patterns shift, of course, according to the location, focus and demographic of the site. Traffic to the arts and entertainment site I launched in Minnesota started to rise as the weekend drew closer, often hitting its peak on Friday in the late afternoon.

Whatever the rhythm of your crowd might be, you’ll discover that one exists, and it’s typically a good idea to accommodate that rhythm, to some extent. On newsier blogs, it’s standard practice to try to have some good meaty posts ready to go when your first users fire up the site in the morning – typically including a morning link roundup. Many bloggers indulge their crowd’s loopier side as the lunch hour approaches, posting fun YouTube videos or opening up threads for free discussion. In the afternoon, people often surf around for quick, digestible info-nuggets, an impulse bloggers often satisfy with more quick-hit content – following up a morning link with an excerpt and some additional insight, writing a few grafs on an interesting news development that day, calling to the crowd to share information that will be processed into a post later in the week, etc.

What’s important is to pay attention. Once you start to acquire an audience, observe their appetites. Note times and days when you achieve reactions you like. Test out earlier and earlier post times for a morning link roundup and see if you detect an uptick worth shifting your day.

Coming tomorrow: The blogger’s pattern.

More thoughts on Twitter

After thinking about it a bit, I realized the quick bit on Twitter in yesterday’s post didn’t do it justice. Saying that it “has the potential to be a key driver of engagement with the site” undersells its value. Twitter’s not just a place to promote ourselves. It’s also a tremendous place to learn from our community and to discover what makes folks tick. In fact, it might be today’s most effective teacher of what works on the Web. Why?

It offers some quick, transparent measures for gauging influence.

Follower counts on Twitter can be driven by any number of variables. Some Twitterers pursue followers through brute force – following every account they come across and counting on some percentage of those accounts to follow them back. Other folks got boosted into the Twitter A-list after the kingmakers at Twitter HQ handpicked them to be featured users. For all these reasons, follower counts alone are a very crude measure of how much people value a particular Twitterer.

The Twitter stats of my co-blogger at Snarkmarket, Robin Sloan. The high followers-to-following ratio suggests that Robin produces a high-signal feed. And he does!

But. Every metric on the Web is a very crude measure of value. Compare a site’s standing on Quantcast with their Technorati rank with their own internal traffic measurements sometime – you’d walk away with three drastically different pictures of their place in the universe. On Twitter at least, every follower is a distinct, persistent account that opted to subscribe to the followee’s feed. When you see that a person has 3,000 followers on Twitter, you know that every one of that person’s tweets is transmitted to 3,000 accounts (some fraction of which represent people who actually read those tweets). In many ways, that tells you a lot more than a numbering of pageviews or unique visitors.

When I’m evaluating an unfamiliar Twitter account, I often take a look at the followers-to-following ratio: how many others are following that account compared to how many others the account is following. That helps me determine whether folks tend to follow this account because it follows them, or whether folks folks far outside the Twitterer’s immediate network also tend to find it valuable.

It’s a great headline-writing coach.

Perhaps the greatest indicator of a particular tweet’s resonance on Twitter is the retweet. In other words, retweeting is the sincerest form of flattery. In written storytelling, I don’t think there’s any feedback quite as visceral as tweeting something and watching it spread, retweeted again and again.

Spend some time on Twitter, and you’ll quickly start to glean the factors that make a tweet particularly retweet-worthy. Similar information couched in different ways will draw very different results. Cleverness and pith certainly help, and if you’re linking to something, the content of the link itself is paramount. But mere wording affects a lot, and I’ve found that some of the same principles that make for good Web headlines hold true in the Twitter context as well.

Keep in mind that linking to content on Twitter isn’t a one-shot deal. If you’ve tweeted an item you think is important and didn’t see the response you expected, there’s no harm in trying again later with a slightly different approach. Jay Rosen does a stellar job of reiterating or rejiggering his tweets to reach slightly different audiences. I mean, don’t go crazy, but don’t feel crippled by the perception that you only get 140 characters to make an impression.

Which brings me to the next point …

True engagement on Twitter is cumulative.

One of the hardest habits for classic news-people to shed in their approach to the Web is their tendency to care more about individual articles than about the stream of their work. I recently spent a semester working with journalism students, and they seemed to come in two varieties – those obsessed with clips and clip counts, and those watching the Feedburner stats on their journalism blogs. Don’t get me wrong – individual posts are important. Although each post doesn’t have to be a lavishly crafted viral gem, each post should provide some value for your community.

But the stream is more important than the fragment. Kudos to you if you produce the definitive, heartwrenching story on the little girl separated from her parents in an immigration raid. Now can you become the definitive clearinghouse for information on how that story is playing out? The two things reinforce each other, of course. Having a series of terrific posts means you’ve got a terrific stream. But it’s always worth keeping in mind, when our aim is engagement, 1,000 new subscribers to our RSS feed are more valuable than 1,000 extra pageviews on a post.

Twitter constantly reinforces that message. As you engage on Twitter, you’ll find yourself watching your retweets spread through the tweetosphere with delight, but the real payoff comes as those retweets turn into followers.

Building a network

Image courtesy of Flickr user formula photo.

Like any beat reporter, a beat-blogger’s social network – her universe of sources, colleagues and other contacts – is a vital component of her work. On the Web, this network becomes more explicit, more public and even more immensely valuable. And for Argo, it composes a key part of the scaffolding the blogger should build at the outset of her pursuit.

I’d start with Twitter. It’s one of the fastest, most effective mechanisms for encountering news and links around a topic, and it has the potential to be a key driver of engagement with the site. A valuable Twitter feed will be filled with voices from every corner of the beat – key organizations, experts, activists, officials, reporters and others. I’d use Twitter lists to help organize these accounts into the roles they occupy. Well before the site is launched, the blogger can also interact with her network on Twitter, setting aside a little time every day to discover and share the best links on her subject. It should be a goal to build a robust Twitter following by launch, and the best way to do that is by consistently sharing interesting, useful links and commentary.

Then I’d move on to Google Reader (or another RSS reader) and set up my feeds, pulling in links from the various subdomains on the beat. I like to organize my feeds both by subject and priority – my “rock stars” folder is the first one I check every morning. Anyway, I’ll post about RSS management tactics later. The point is – a blogger’s feed reader should be the ultimate beat-focused newspaper, a daily gold mine of information for the truly topic-obsessed. Set it up early and keep it well-groomed.

In addition to RSS feeds from some sites, there might be other places on the Web – especially discussion forums – that it makes more sense to visit than subscribe to. A custom start page offers a convenient way to navigate to these sites daily or weekly.

Given that imagery will be such an important element of our sites, I’d also look for people on sites such as Flickr and YouTube creating work that we might want to use on our sites. I’d recommend doing a Creative Commons search for tags related to the topic on Flickr and contact photographers producing compelling work licensed for reuse, complimenting them on their photography and asking how they prefer to be credited if we reuse any of their images.

Depending on the beat, a range of other social network possibilities might come into play. Are there robust Facebook groups related to the topic? Mailing lists? Ning networks?

None of this stuff allows us to set-it-and-forget-it. RSS subscriptions, Twitter accounts and other social outputs have to be maintained over time. But we can take the first, most important steps early in the life of the beat.

Developing categories

Image courtesy of Flickr user OZinOH.

We put a metric ton of thought into the best ways of organizing content on the Argo sites, considering a vast variety of approaches and taking into account the content plans and user persona information that stations provided us. We knew early on as we started talking through this material that we generally wanted to target several discrete groups of users who’d be interested in different dimensions of the topic.

Many topics, for example, have what I’d call an industry community – people whose livelihoods are directly related to the subject. Many also have an academic community – a crowd of wonks and researchers studying related matters. Then there’s the legislative and political community – the folks making and advocating for policies. And of course, what I’d call the cultural community – those whose interest in the topic takes a more personal or social bent. This isn’t one-size-fits-all – these communities break down in different ways for different topics, and some topics have an altogether different set of interests. But as we realized we had these diverse audience needs, we decided we should keep high-level navigation that addressed them. Hence, categories.

I tell this story because I think these are the first questions our bloggers should answer as they develop their content plans for their site: Who are the four or five main audiences that you’d like to convene on the topic, and what dimensions of the topic are they most interested in?

The answer to these questions will form the spine of a solid content plan. Every day, we’ll want to be producing and curating content and sparking discussions that target each of these audiences. Each week, we should be planning at least one post intended for some viral pickup among these communities. And these four or five audience needs will drive the high-level navigation for the site, e.g. “Business,” “Politics,” “Research,” “Culture.”

The blogger’s first month

Flickr photo courtesy of user Joe Lanman.

It’s rare that a beat reporter for a daily news operation gets the luxury of having weeks before the first story has to be filed for the public. But that’s the lucky circumstance our Argo-bloggers will find themselves in. It’s our responsibility to help them use that time as productively as they can.

Over the next week, I’ll be writing more about the things I hope to see the blogger tackle in that time, but for now, let me summarize those tasks in four broad and overlapping buckets:

1. Content planning

This is probably the most important thing the blogger will do during the pre-launch period. We’ll need to nail down the key audiences we hope to reach (much of which will have been determined beforehand) and plan content accordingly. An important element of the content plan will be the long-term planning – developing the long-running stories that we’ll be returning to all throughout the first year of the blog. We’ll also want to engineer content at the ground level – reporting and producing some feature-length posts that we expect will be viral hooks for various audiences at launch. For a good chunk of the pre-launch period, the blogger should be producing a flow of regular daily content to populate the site, a sort of dress rehearsal for the live performance. And I hope every blogger takes the time during this stretch to conduct a photowalk of the beat, generating a solid repository of free-and-clear imagery that will be useful over time.

2. Network building

From the get-go, the blogger will want to begin pulling together the social media network that will be essential to story-finding and story promotion. This will mean finding the places and people on the Web to pull into the RSS reader, to promote content to, and to participate in conversations with. This network will be represented on the site in a number of ways, which leads me to the next component …

3. System setup

All the work the blogger does to plan content and build a network will be reflected somehow on the final site. An essential piece of the first 30 days of the blogger’s workflow will be using the platform we’ve built to populate the site. Content planning will play into the creation of topic pages through an admin interface that we’re developing. The network of sites and Twitter users the blogger finds relevant will be crawled for links that will be aggregated on our topic pages and elsewhere on the Argo site. Throughout this process, the blogger will be using the Argo platform, hopefully identifying any rough spots or workflow kinks that we can smooth out before showtime.

4. Orientation

It’s important that the bloggers get to know not only their beats, but also their stations. We want to empower them to take advantage of their station infrastructure, so we’ll have to give them a chance to get familiar with it. They should sit in on pertinent meetings, embed with reporters and producers, and procure access to any relevant internal mailing lists and collaboration sites. Before the bloggers are on board, the Argo editors should spend time thinking about the best ways to ensure that work being done for the site is taking advantage of work being done elsewhere at the station, and vice-versa.

I’ll write in more detail about all of these elements in the days to come. In the meantime, enjoy your Memorial Day weekends!