Ask the audience: How crowdsourcing can help you tailor your messages

Last fall I was asked to give a presentation on WordPress to the Cleveland Web Development SIG. I've talked about WordPress quite often, and have conducted training sessions for end users on the care and feeding of their WordPress sites, but this was a different scenario. This time I had 90 minutes to advise developers on how to use WordPress to build their sites.

Crowd image from 2004 Vote or Die Rally
Need feedback? Ask the crowd.

As I was planning the presentation it seemed to grow more daunting every day. I don't know everything about WordPress, I'm constantly learning more, but even so, how could I cover enough in 90 minutes to give these folks a good foundation? What I realized was that I had to do some sort of messaging triage to focus on the most important topics. And I needed to identify which issues would be of the greatest interest to my audience. For the latter I would need to ask for input. So that is what I did.

I began by asking Stuart Smith, the leader of the Web Development SIG for his thoughts. As someone who knows his audience, and who had recently been digging into WordPress himself, he was able to give me some good insights. Next I thought it would be helpful to get opinions from people who already knew WordPress. This is when I turned to the crowd.

Ask your peers on LinkedIn & other social media sites

Answering questions on LinkedIn is a regular part of my personal branding and marketing strategy, so I've learned that the people there can be a great resource. Thus I posed the following question on LinkedIn.

If you were attending a 90 min. presentation on using WordPress as a CMS, what would you want to learn about?

I'm giving a presentation on WordPress to our local Web Developers group in a few weeks. In the past I've given 60 min. talks geared towards users, but this is aimed at a more technical audience. I'd like to cover installation, theme development, plug-ins and other functionality, but I also realize that 90 min. isn't really enough time to cover the breadth and depth of the WordPress Codex. So I want to focus on whatever points would be most useful to a Web developer (someone comfortable with HTML, CSS and a bit of PHP) who is about to do his/her first WordPress site.

If you're thinking about using WP and haven't yet, what would be helpful to you? Or if you're already comfortable with WordPress, what do you wish someone had told you before you did your first WordPress installation? Thanks for your input!

In return I received 13 answers suggesting topics including:

  • Security
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Parent/Child Themes
  • Theme Frameworks
  • Spam prevention
  • Hosting Requirements
  • Theme Customization
  • Client Training
  • Categories
  • Plug-ins

I posed similar, albeit shorter, questions on Twitter and Facebook, and once all was said and done I had a full list of topics to prioritize. Given my limited presentation time, I crossed-off topics that would be too time-intensive, such as theme frameworks, and chose to focus on the basics of getting set-up and developing themes. I also touched on security, SEO, plug-ins and hosting (among other things.)

By now, the list was still too broad, but I felt I had a sense of what developers would want to know.

Presenting the message: so much to say in so little time

Screenshot of WordPress Sample Site
Screenshot of page from WordPress Sample Site

Knowing I would be covering a lot of material quickly, I felt I should provide resources that attendees could access later. So instead of using Keynote or PowerPoint, I chose to build a WordPress Sample Site as my presentation vehicle. This would allow me to go page by page, rather than screen by screen, while also leaving examples in place that people could refer to at any time. This also made it easier to demonstrate the features of WordPress as I could also show them things in the WordPress dashboard for the site, or in the php files for the templates.

I used pages on the site to explore key topics, such as the WordPress template hierarchy, and blog posts to share plug-ins and related tidbits. I'll continue to add to that blog as I find new plug-ins worth sharing. So what started out as a presentation has now turned into another site that I can expand and refine over time. If you have suggestions on plug-ins or WordPress topics I should cover, please share them below and I can start adding them to the Sample WordPress Site Blog.

The results

I still get nervous about speaking, and it can be hard to tell how a presentation really went. After all, most people are too polite to tell you that you bombed. But overall the feedback was positive, and the audience asked (and often answered) many good questions. Thinking back on the process, I may have come up with a decent plan on my own, but I think I came up with a better plan because I asked what people wanted. The responses I got really helped me in shaping the nature of the presentation, and gave me the confidence to feel I was on the right track.

When we think about crowdsourcing we think of many different things. We may peruse Digg or StumbleUpon to find the most interesting news or sites. We may ask friends on Twitter for tips on what router to buy. We may even use the crowd for project collaboration. And there will be times when we disagree with the crowd. That's O. K. too, it doesn't have to be a democracy. But if you ask the crowd for their input, it can be a great place to start—whether you're planning a presentation, a marketing campaign or a blog post.

CrowdSourcing Q&A Resources
Fan Like me on Facebook—Follow me on Twitter

We all know these blog posts don't get written as frequently as I'd like. But that doesn't mean you need to go weeks without hearing me babble. Over on http://www.facebook.com/heidicool, I'm using content curation to share one link per day. At one tip per week day it won't clog your Facebook stream, but hopefully you'll find something useful.

And for more links (and ramblings that may not always be related to the Web) I usually Tweet and reTweet a few (or several) times per day at @hacool.

Bookmark & Share:
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • LinkedIn
  • FriendFeed
  • MySpace
  • email

    Share on Google Buzz

3 Comments »
  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Heidi Cool, Andreas Gotthelf. Andreas Gotthelf said: RT @hacool: Ask the audience: How crowdsourcing can help you tailor your messages http://goo.gl/fb/0pg1Q [...]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Ask the audience: How crowdsourcing can help you tailor your messages | Web Development Blog – Heidi Cool – Cleveland, Ohio -- Topsy.com — February 17, 2011 @3:51 pm

  2. Great article Heidi. I can relate to your passion to learn the many components of WordPress as I too utilize this awesome piece of publishing software. Many times I found myself reverting to the WordPress (dot) org site to search for and receive answers for the many questions I have come across over the years. I think that utilizing your Linkedin network to seek out what people wanted to learn about WP is brilliant! In the event that you're not aware of it, another good resource is "Meetup", and I've located this URL for the groups in your area: http://wordpress.meetup.com/cities/us/oh/cleveland/

    Comment by Scott@Waukesha SEO — July 8, 2011 @6:23 am

  3. Hope your speech went well. I have been using wordpress for many years and have had great success. Ran into a few small issues when I didn't update the software, but other than that, it did very well.

    Comment by Blinky Signs — July 9, 2011 @11:21 am

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. | TrackBack URL