Smart content producers know that we can produce a lot more (and better) content when we collaborate. But collaboration brings its own set of headaches and complexities. Today we talk about a nifty new tool to make it simpler.
Joanna Wiebe, conversion expert extraordinaire, two-time speaker at our live event in Denver, and creator of Copy Hackers, is launching a new tool designed for writers who work in collaborative teams.
In this 33-minute episode, Sonia and Joanna talk about:
By the way, Rainmaker Digital doesn’t have an affiliate relationship with Airstory (at least at this point) — we just think it looks very cool, and we’re looking forward to playing around with it.
Voiceover: Rainmaker FM.
Sonia Simone: This episode of Copyblogger FM is brought to you by the Rainmaker Platform. I’ll tell you a little bit more about this complete solution for digital marketing and sales later, but you can check it out and take a free spin for yourself at RainmakerPlatform.com.
Hey there. It is so good to see you again. Welcome back to Copyblogger FM, the content marketing podcast. Copyblogger FM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant.
My name is Sonia Simone. I am the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital, and once in a while I like to hang out with the folks who do the heavy lifting over on the Copyblogger Blog. Before I jump in today, remember that you can always get the show notes for every one of the episodes — including links, including free extra good things — by going to Copyblogger.FM, and there’s also a complete show archive there.
I’m here today with Joanna Wiebe, who is the conversion expert extraordinaire, a two-time speaker at our live event in Denver, creator of Copy Hackers, and co-founder of a cool new thing that we’re going to talk about today.
Joanna, how’s your day going?
Joanna Wiebe: It’s going pretty well. I love hearing about the interesting disasters and things that you talk about. That’s always fun. It’s going well, thanks.
Sonia Simone: That’s always kind of a bittersweet moment, when you see something on the web, and it’s like, “Oh, I have to podcast that. I wish that hadn’t happened, but we have to talk about that.”
Joanna Wiebe: Must talk. Yup.
Sonia Simone: We are mostly going to focus on the new tool that you guys have been developing for a super long time now. Before we do, I’m just curious. What was it that led you to create this new thing? What was it you saw going on with content creators that you said, “Ah, there’s something here that could work better, and I think we could build a tool that would help”?
Joanna Wiebe: That’s exactly the thing that brought it up too, was being around so many content creators and being an active content creator myself. All different kinds. But everything starts out with writing. Even if you’re putting a video together, you’re scripting it. And in a lot of cases, content creators do not work in isolation. They send their work to other people. They have those people give them feedback and contribute ideas.
We do a lot of research for our posts at Copy Hackers in particular, posts that I do on other sites, and for the talks that I give and things like that, like most content creators do. The struggle is moving that research into a place where you can actually create with it.
We see a lot of sticky notes, a lot of trying to move things around manually. A sticky note is a good thing because you can physically move it around. There are other ways that you can create notes or cards online, but then trying to move them into a state where you can actually write with them hasn’t been a thing. It hasn’t been a natural thing that anybody can do.
You use a couple of tools together, or you do a lot of copying and pasting. So knowing that moving from research to writing was something that was slowing us down quite a bit, we started talking to some more writers to see if they were going through the same things.
And then we worked with the folks at The Rewired Group. They run something called Jobs to Be Done, which is this methodology where you interview people who you know have this problem, and you listen for what’s called a struggling moment.
We did that with about … I think it ended up being just about 10 people. They recommend seven, so 10 is a perfectly good number. We interviewed these writers and literary agents too, editors and people from large blogging teams, and we tried to identify the struggling moment in the content creation process.
There are a lot of tools for finding an idea, like BuzzSumo — What should I write about today? There are a lot of tools for actually finding research, like even if you use a DeepDive account, or something like that, or Google Scholar. Or go around and read and use Pocket or something like that to capture your notes, or Evernote to capture notes. But nobody was having an easy time getting that into the document.
Joanna Wiebe: That’s where our idea for Airstory was born. How do we get those notes onto the document, moved around, and eventually merged into a document in a relatively seamless way that doesn’t force a new writing process on people?
Sonia Simone: Yeah, interesting. That word process. That you say praw-cess, you must be a West Coaster.
Joanna Wiebe: Is it pro-cess or praw-cess ? I’m Canadian too, so it’s even worse.
Sonia Simone: As far as I’ve ever encountered, all Americans say praw-cess, but East Coast Canadians say pro-cess.
That word, that interestingly pronounced word, it’s something I think about more and more, because the more content I create — I script podcasts, I write posts, I do teaching content. I create a lot of stuff. I create a lot of content. The more I do, the more process I need.
Maybe talk to me about, because it’s interesting that you say … I would have thought, “Okay, Airstory gives a framework. Puts a framework in place, so that the writer can create the content more efficiently.” It sounds like that’s not quite it.
Joanna Wiebe: Our struggle there is that we want that. We want the ability to have a process in place that will help everybody write faster. But the one thing that consistently comes up in every single interview, and since then with beta testers for Airstory, is that clearly everybody writes differently. Everybody has their own unique process. If you try to shift them out of that, they resist, and they eventually fall back into the one that works best for them.
Each of those processes has similar things happening in it, so there is going to be a research phase. That doesn’t stop, though. It’s not like this: “Oh, I’ve done research. Now, I will move on to the next step.” It keeps happening because writers are always writers.
We’re always thinking. Every moment, there’s an opportunity that we could have a new idea triggered. So knowing that it’s this fluid process, we couldn’t enforce a simple one. But there is the research phase of it, which, again, isn’t singular or isn’t isolated. Nonetheless, it is a real thing.
Outlining is a real thing for most of us, even if that outlining doesn’t look like a bullet list. It’s still a real thing that most of us do in the actual writing phase. And then getting that writing out of your document and into its published, or distributed, or used form. That might be exporting to your WordPress blog, or exporting to a PDF or something else, but you have to get it out as well.
We know that there are these pieces in place, and we know that everybody has independent tools for each of those things. If you’re researching, you might have Evernote, and that Evernote might be on wheels. It might be pretty intense for a lot of people.
Outlining usually happens in a tool like Google Docs or Word, where you do a lot of copying and pasting. We’ve seen people have multiple documents open, where they’ll put a bunch of information or research into, let’s say, a Google Doc, and then they’ll have another Google Doc tab open, where they can pull out the stuff that they’re not going to use in that piece, once they start writing it.
But they don’t want to lose it, so they want to put it in another document for use later, where it probably will get lost, frankly. Because how do you search through to find the right information piece, in what could become, again, a really big document of pasted, unused research?
All of those things, and there’s all of these little pieces at work. They’re not always one, two, three, four, five as a process, but they are in the process.
That’s why Airstory includes those things but doesn’t force you to first do research, then do outline, then do your writing, then invite people to collaborate with you, then go back and finish it off, then publish. It could happen multiple different ways. We do have a process that is pretty standard, but you can skip through the process if you’re a power user and you’re used to your own way of writing.
Sonia Simone: That makes sense. Let’s talk about the rough sketch, the high-level view. Product is called Airstory. In the most broad terms, what does it do? Then, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty in a couple of minutes.
Joanna Wiebe: It eliminates the blank white page, is how I put it. That’s the terrifying thing for most of us: When it comes time to actually write, and you open your Word doc or your Google doc, or whatever you’re using, and you stare at the screen.
You might have an idea. You might have that initial burst of inspiration, where you’re like, “Oh, that’s my headline” or “Oh, that’s my hook.” You write it out quickly, and then maybe a little more flows out. But then you lean back and take a look at it, and you think maybe you need a coffee now, because you’re going to get into writing mode here.
You do all these things, but the reality is that you are facing this blank whiteness. What do you do about it? It’s all been on your shoulders.
Ultimately what you would do in Airstory, in the broad strokes, is look up your research that you’ve created and drag it out of that — what we call a card library — and drop it onto your document, move it around on your document, and then either choose to merge the card, remove the card, or do whatever it takes for you to feel good about where your document is at, and add research or remove it as you need.
Sonia Simone: We’re going to take a break just for a minute or so, and when we come back, as promised, we will get into some of the specific ways that Airstory works to help make our lives easier, better, and more fun and productive as content creators.
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Hey, welcome back. Good to see you again. I am talking with Joanna about their very cool new project. This is a Copy Hackers project, is that right?
Joanna Wiebe: It is, yeah.
Sonia Simone: It’s called Airstory. I know it’s been in development for a long time. I’m going to talk about that in a bit.
We talked about research and cards. I’m curious. I have always recommended, because I always get that question, all the time, “Where do you get your ideas? How do I know what to write about?
One of the things I’ve always taught is, it’s kind of like starting a flat of seedlings in a greenhouse. You keep a bunch of ideas somewhere you can find them, and when you need to write, you look over your little seedling flat, and you see what looks promising, and you start developing it.
It sounds like there’s some of that rough structure, at least when we get started with Airstory. Does that sound right?
Joanna Wiebe: Definitely. That would be the kind of thing I would anticipate, although you could do it in maybe two different ways. You’d either, every time you get an idea, you could start a new project in Airstory and then make your quick notes in there, and go away until you’re ready to come back.
Or you could do the easy thing, which is creating a new card. If you have that idea, create that card and then tag it idea, seedling, or whatever it is that works for you. Then, when it’s time for you to write something — you have a deadline — you would go into that card library, search seedling, and all of your seedling ideas would come up. And then you could choose one and work with it.
Sonia Simone: We have these things called cards. They’re kind of little segments, yeah? Little atomized pieces?
Joanna Wiebe: Yeah. I find it interesting that when we search for something in Google, let’s say, we get in our results page. You get the full document, or you get the little snippet at the top.
The snippet is always the most useful part, right? I don’t remember what it’s called, the actual term...