Innovation, KPIs and Jerry Maguire

, Monday, June 30th, 2014

In the digital world, resting on one’s laurels is not an option, and what engages users today, may fail tomorrow.  However, the best way to create a culture of innovation isn’t clear. At a minimum, we need to take risks and learn, but we also have to make sure that we are taking the right risks and investigating and learning from those innovations quickly. And the really tricky part is how do we measure that?

Lately, I’ve been researching what would be the KPIs (also known as Key Performance Indicators to the uninitiated) to ensure that Beaconfire is innovating smartly and quickly… and the answer led me to Hollywood and why the movies get it all wrong. Hollywood is littered with movies where the protagonist goes against the grain, takes a tremendous risk and in the end is rewarded for taking that risk. Just off the top of my head, I can think of several where someone quits their job, follows their passion and then either is more successful in their new career or begged to return by their old jerk of a boss. Jerry Maguire, Baby Boom, Wanderlust, Parenthood, Mr. Mom… in every case, the main character finds greater success in the end because they took a risk.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love movies that show the virtue of risk taking — my favorite film is Harold & Maude, which is entirely about finding one’s own way in the universe. The problem I have with the typical Hollywood movie is that they reinforce the message that you should take risks in life because it will work out in the end. In my opinion, it cheapens the real lesson that taking risks is a worthy endeavor regardless of the final outcome.

And this takes me back to Beaconfire. When I was trying to identify what should be the KPIs for the next year’s innovation work, my research led me to two schools of thought. One is to measure what percentage of your risks turn out successful in the end. It makes sense. You take risks in hopes of being rewarded in the end and tracking how effective you were at getting those rewards seems logical. And if you follow this reasoning, then of course Jerry Maguire was right to take a chance and quit his job, because his new agency was a tremendous success.

However, the second school of thought is that these are entirely the wrong KPIs for judging innovation. By judging the worthiness of a risk on the end result, you are predisposing yourself to taking safe risks that are likely to succeed, and over time, an organization takes smaller and safer risks until they aren’t really taking risks at all.  Instead, the second school of thought is that innovation KPIs should judge how quickly you learn from the innovations you pursue.

Risks are likely to fail. It’s the definition of a risk. But they are still worthwhile and in the digital space, a necessity. What matters is whether you are able to efficiently judge if that risk was a success (#WINNING!) or if not, learn something and try again (#STILL WINNING!). Jerry Maguire quitting his job to open a sports agency that cared more about its clients was the right risk for him regardless of whether or not it showed him the money in the end. What really mattered was how quickly he figured out if his new agency was going to be a success, and if not, take another risk and try a new line of work…

cocktail

The Company We Keep

, Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Here at Beaconfire, we’re honored to work side by side with some of the biggest brands in the non profit, mission-focused and cause-driven world. While launching a new site is an accomplishment for our project teams, we are honestly more excited for the digital journey the new site will carry our clients on next. (yeah, that may be a bit unusual for an agency, but it’s who we are so nyah)

That being said, we get a little giddy when one of our clients is duly recognized for rocking the world with their awesomeness. To wit, the Brick Factory just named Diabetes.org, The American Diabetes Association‘s flagship website, the #1 best trade association website. This is what it must feel like when your child graduates summa cum laude from Harvard.

How did this all come about you ask? Since DC-based Brick Factory is surrounded by trade associations, they set out on a quest to determine which have the best websites and why. They started with 50 of the largest and narrowed it down to a list of their top 10. And of course our latest pride and joy was honored as the best. The top of the heap. The talk of the town. The… Oh, you get the picture.

In their words:
“This is one of the only websites on our list that doesn’t have a slider. The American Diabetes Association has an attractive, modern website that uses visuals and icons very well. Also, their original content is outstanding: relevant, entertaining, and tailored to their audience. We love the featured recipes!”

ADA-website-mainimage-500px

Lets put aside all the other accolades for a second and just focus on one: lack of a slider. I wanted to hug the Brick Factory folks really hard for calling this out. (in a non-creepy-fangirl way, of course). The market has been heralding the death of every website’s large rotating-hero-space-image-with-text-that-no-one-reads-or-clicks for a while. Yet the slider/slideshow/carousel lives on even though metrics prove it ineffective time and time again. We conspired with our client on this project to test a theory: If you actively engage your audience in your content, rather than allow them to passively consume it, what would happen?

Apparently if you’re the American Diabetes Association, all that happens is you noticed for doing something audience focused, content driven and downright fabulous. Seriously, go to diabetes.org right now and play with it. I’ll wait. (And I double dog dare you not to take an action.)

We are psyched that the American Diabetes Association was recognized, and can’t wait to see where they get honored next. Oh, and about that rumor about being so proud of our clients that I keep screenshots of their sites in my wallet, I can neither confirm or deny. (but gosh, they’re all so pretty…)

Smart Strategies for Using PDFs on Your Site

, Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

I have some news to share with you:  most PDFs on your site don’t get read.  Sad but true.  The good news is that you’re not alone.  Last week, World Bank released a report that showed than nearly a third of the reports (in PDF format) on their site were not being downloaded and read.  So much effort, so little ROI.

You may wonder if PDFs are even worth the trouble.  Actually, they can be but there are definite pros and cons to using them on your site.

Pros:

  • Allow a document to retain a visual design (colors, fonts, style)
  • Are easily printable
  • Highly portable.  You can save to your digital library and read later!
  • Facilitate browsing and reading extremely lengthy content
  • Facilitate presentation of highly formatted content – like data tables

Cons:

  • Difficult to update
  • Much larger file size than a webpage
  • Not inherently searchable

When your organization is renowned for creating lengthy or data-rich print pieces, producing a PDF can be a quick and easy way to share the content.  But posting a PDF isn’t always the best – or only – answer.  When you’re thinking about creating new content for your site, think of other ways you could present the information:  Infographic?  Video?

So you’re sure you want a PDF?  Ok then…

  1. PDFs should not exist in a vacuum.  If you’re posting a PDF, it should have a corresponding HTML page that includes, at a minimum, the Title, Abstract or Overview, Publication Date and file size with a link to the PDF.  Creating a landing page for the PDF will also give external search engines an on-ramp to index the PDFs and display them in relevant search results.
  2. When adding a PDF to your site, include metadata to the file to support it: a title, description, author, creation date, topic tags or keywords.
  3. The version of PDF is important, too.  Make sure that your PDF creator is packaging files in a relatively recent version for bug fixes and search indexing.  You may need to revisit older versions of PDFs and update them.
  4. Typical file naming standards should apply: not “123.pdf” but something like “NatureLoversSurveyAnalysis2014.pdf”.  The file name should be illustrative of the contents of the PDF.  This is good user experience and enhances SEO.
  5. Don’t forget to open the PDF to search. Make sure that your on-site search has the ability to index PDF content.  Test this out by running some site searches to verify that the content is visible in the results.  Indexing PDFs helps your users and also SEO (by making the content visible to external search engines). If you don’t have an on-site search, the on-ramp pages are even more important to allow external search engines access to PDF content.

 

What’s in our crystal ball

Two vector-based technologies that are on the horizon and may provide an alternative to PDFs are Canvas and SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics).  These provide the best of both worlds: they have tight visual control and they are open web standards.   Or will be.  SVG has been around for about 13 years but really hasn’t experienced a high adoption rate for everyday web authoring.  HTML Canvas is a second alternative.  Canvas does provide the feature-rich design capabilities of PDFs plus it also supports animation but, as a pure web technology, it requires a web developer to create the markup.  Canvas has been around for about four years and while it shows promise, hasn’t risen to the ranks and prevalence of PDF documents.

Now you know: most of the content on your site is not going to be viewed as much as you think it is or would like it to be.  So, if you’re going to expend extra effort on your content, make sure it looks smashing on your site – in whatever format – and that it works for your users.

Look Who Was Nominated for a Webby Award for Non-Profit Website of the Year!

, Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Webby Award NomineeBeaconfire is proud to share that Glasspockets.org, a Foundation Center website that champions philanthropic transparency in the online world, is one of five finalists for website of the year in the Non-Profit category! Cast your vote in the Peoples Voice awards today and spread the word!

Glasspockets is a fantastic and important resource and Beaconfire is honored that Foundation Center looked to us to envision a design and user experience that better told the story of foundation transparency and visualized the underlying data.

It was a pleasure to work side-by-side with the team at Foundation Center and are thrilled that Glasspockets.org is recognized with a Webby award nomination.

The Webby award winners will be announced at the end of the month, but you have until April 24 to cast your vote for your favorite in the “People’s Choice” awards and view the other nominees. Glasspockets is up against some big competition, we’d love to get your vote today.

Wherefore Universal Analytics

, Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Since it has come out of beta, we have been fielding a lot of questions about Universal Analytics, the latest and greatest analytics package from Google.  So I’ve decided to answer a few of those questions here.

 What Makes Universal Analytics So Different?

There are a few things that make Universal Analytics different from Google Analytics. There are the three in particular that we at Beaconfire are super-excited about.

The ability to report more on visitors instead of visits.

With standard Google Analytics, the focus has always been on the visit. While there were hacks, there has never been an easy way to say “if someone comes to the site on their work computer, then their home computer, then their phone, treat them as one person.”

With Universal Analytics, it becomes possible to link those three visits. It will work best when a user can have a unique identifier (like a constituent ID). So this may not be for everyone. But we’re still pretty thrilled about it.

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