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Content automation and Microsoft’s new OneNote Dictation tool

Creating content is really hard. I’ve been blogging now for the last 15 years and I can tell you, any way I can find to make it better, faster and more efficient, I will do it. So in this post I’m going to share why it’s important and what I’m doing in this area. This post was mostly dictated with some manual intervention from me. And I start the automating in this post with the new Table of Contents block announced recently which lists the main points I’m covering.

Importance of content

First a small note on content creation and why it’s so important? This deserves an entire post but let me just say that content is important if you want to create attention and be found, and fresh content is the most important in this regard. So regularly creating new content is something to strive for and that is the hard part. That’s all I’ll say on this for now.

Automation

I’ve written several posts around automation and I’m using several tools to automate the way that I blog. Here’s a post written with the help of Writesonic, an AI tool that takes suggested prompts from you and generates content. You can tweak that content and I had to do about 40% of that in the post. I thought it was pretty good. But the percentage of input that I had to provide was not ideal, I felt. I also felt it took away too much input from me, at the same time. I guess this balance is just something I would need to get used to.

Another way that I’ve tried to automate things is by curating content and sharing it with readers. I’m using Microsoft Power Automate to bring content in from the web through an RSS feed and automate blog post creation. This is working really well and here is where I explained the process.

Hacks and shortcuts

There are other ways to make content creation easier that I’ve discovered. One way is through automating processes within the tool that you use. I use WordPress for example and for my featured images in every post, I use a plugin to create default featured images, based on tags I assign to a post. With WordPress I also use the copy post or page function if I’ve got a really good format that I want to reuse for a new post. It words kind of like a template. The other thing I do with WordPress is create reusable blocks of content which I use frequently in posts. Finally, with Jetpack Social, I automate the sharing of posts to social media. All these activities shave many minutes on my publishing process and it all adds up.

Speech to text

Now onto the main point of this post, which is the use of Microsoft’s OneNote dictation tool, it’s just been announced. As I mentioned at the beginning, this post was mostly dictated by me, although there has been some manual intervention. I have to say I’m really impressed with the speed and the accuracy of the translation. One thing I would suggest is to take out the auto punctuation (do that in settings), because this adds full stops in when you’re pausing, and it’s probably a little too much and fast. Otherwise, I’m really impressed and this post has taken a very short period of time to create and check. I’d say that I dictated about 85% of this post and the rest was manual intervention.

If you consider it and use it in the same context (to create written content) then read my conclusion for some pointers.

Conclusion

I’m going to use this function more for future posts. One thing I have to say, I did use some bulleted points to guide my dictation and I would suggest you do the same. It’s important to have an outline for your posts and not just “shoot from the hip”. So in other words, some upfront preparation. Having said that, it’s also very useful to have your raw thoughts captured and then be able to improve and enhance them manually.

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Power Automate your content curation for WordPress

I started work a while back on trying to curate articles from a platform I use (Flipboard) and bringing them into WordPress. I started with a plugin called Feedzy, an RSS aggregator, but that had limitations. I documented those here in the first of a series of posts called SenseMaking from the web. This post is about an alternative which I am much happier with, using Power Automate from Microsoft. And a big shout out to a colleague who helped me achieve this: Amit Chug.

First, what is the purpose of curating content and who is this for?

Although I could always point people to Flipboard to the collection of articles I save in my magazine there, I wanted to be a little more intentional and bring them into this site and blog in separate posts, each taking a snapshot of recent articles I collected.

  1. Curating good articles and content from other sites around the web is a discerning process and takes time, effort and requires insights into what is good versus what isn’t. Automating the process is also very helpful.
  2. Curated content adds value to originally created content and recognises the wealth of other information and talent that exists out there on the web.
  3. It’s good for staying fresh with new content, which in return helps improve content marketing, boosts your SEO, increases audience engagement, and if that’s what you are in it for, it probably earns you more money.
  4. You become good by association if the articles you share are good.
  5. Who this is for: Anyone publishing their own content on a blog like this one or for people in companies responsible for content marketing or managing their company’s blog/s and want to achieve some of the aims above.

How to use Power Automate to do this

The above is the flow in brief, without each of the sections expanded or explained in detail aside from below:

  1. The first step is to create a recurring trigger that schedules the task weekly.
  2. The second step focuses on the feed source and details necessary to fetch articles.
  3. The filter array in the third step and the fourth step specifies further the tasks related to time period and items being fetched.
  4. The final step with multiple steps in it in the left branch, set up the formatting of the output and form it should take, namely a WordPress post containing all feed items from the last seven days should be created in draft form.
  5. Once the draft is created, I can perform some simple checks in WordPress before publishing. I have also automated the use of a featured image using another plugin called Quick Featured Images which creates a featured image based on the tag I assigned in the final step.

At this stage, I have just managed to get the automation to work but I have more work to do trying to improve the formatting of the output. If you compare the output of the Feedzy posts captured here versus the first version I achieved here using Power Automate, there is a gap I need to fill.

As I progress, I will update this post with more detail of how I improve things and how the automation works will become clearer.

In the meantime, if you are interested, I can share an exported version of the current automation if you contact me.

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SenseMaking from the Web

This post is an aggregation of recent articles that I have collected over at Flipboard on my magazine there. It captures great sense making from others, in other words, great articles from other sites I thought worth capturing and sharing. Curating good articles is a discerning process and I’ve automated the delivery of it in WordPress using a Power Automate Flow to achieve this – more on that here.

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Sense Making from the web

This post is an aggregation of recent posts that I have collected over at Flipboard on my magazine there. I’ve automated the collection of these posts around specific topics and intend to share the best here in this blog from time to time. Here is the latest batch and I have been using Feedzy, an RSS Aggregator Plugin for the job but this post is a test run. I am pretty discerning in my selection of what gets added to the magazine, I hope you agree.

UPDATE (13.7.22): After testing the RSS Aggregator plugin mentioned above, I discovered a shortcoming that I wanted to mention here. The feed below is not from a specific date or fixed in time as I had hoped, the items will be constantly refreshed as I add to my Flipboard magazine which is where the RSS feed comes from as mentioned. A conversation with the plugin provider about this and explaining more can be found here. So I continue my search for the ideal solution…

Update (16.7.22): I found a new solution 🙌 You’ll see from the conversation I mentioned above with the plugin developer that I did not want to make use of multiple plugins to achieve what I wanted. So I have stopped using Feedzy altogether, much as I liked it. Instead, I have used Power Automate to achieve my goals – see this post for details of how. The below feed is just a screenshot taken at the time of deactivation since deactivating the plugin would otherwise show a blank section.


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Content management with WordPress evolved – full site editing 1

Last month WordPress announced that full site editing was coming to its WordPress.com users of which I am one. I’ve been meaning to take it for a spin but haven’t managed to until now. This post is an attempt at documenting my experiences as I try and learn the new functionality as well as get to grips with how to test new features and functions like this on my active site without breaking it. I’ll track it all with my WordPress tag.

So on the very last point mentioned, I came across this option for How to Create Your Own WordPress Staging Site. I was going to explore that option but before I could, I came across this video below – a recording of a webinar run by WordPress on full site editing.

It does a great job not only of showing how full site editing works, but also goes through an alternative site staging option. It shows how to create a new site on WordPress and export and import your current site content and test that with a new block theme that works with full site editing. This way you test the new site theme and functionality in a kind of staging environment with existing content until happy and then you could switch to this new site when happy. Or upgrade your current site knowing what works and how.

But as attractive as this last option seemed, I soon ran into problems.

Problems with using WordPress.com as a staging site

  1. I’m currently on a Business Plan which is needed for enabling WooCommerce.
  2. My site has ecommerce functionality based on WooCommerce and using the Storefront theme currently. The Storefront theme is not currently capable of full site editing.
  3. I found a cool alternative: Wowmall – WooCommerce block based theme
  4. The problem is on a free WordPress site you cannot run WooCommerce and nor can you upload the Wowmall theme – you need to be on a Business Plan at least. This is cost prohibitive.
  5. My Plan B is to try run this on a an Azure plan I have, i.e self hosted WordPress on which I can instal WooCommerce and upload the Wowmall theme after grabbing it from here. Good article here on how to run WordPress on Azure.

So that’s all for now. I’ll update my progress in another post.

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3 ways to automate WordPress and improve content creation

This is a test post to some degree as well as an explainer. I’ve been trying to work out the best way to get a post out without needing to tend to some of the tedious chores of publishing a post every time. I want to get those out the way fast so I can focus on the writing. Read on to see what I am trying out.

I make use of featured images – a lot. I try have them in every post except when I create a DanelDoodle because then the doodle becomes the only image I want the reader to focus on.

Most of the time I create custom featured images for each post because when you share on social media, the central part of the featured image stands out. Sometimes it matters less so I looked at several ways of to automate the creation of a featured image.

One was super simple which I loved but there was no way to distinguish between posts and pages (Default Featured Image). Another broke my site since the plugin hadn’t been tested to work with my version of WordPress (Auto Post Thumbnail). The third worked a charm: Quick Featured Images.

The featured image (and thumbnail) for this post was automatically generated by using the plugin so its a step I can skip when creating posts with a specific tag. I’ve started with this and will see how I go but so far so good.

Social Sharing

click to enlarge

I had a challenge with the social sharing function in the past but I am now trying to see if it has been fixed. I’m referring to the Jetpack function that you see in the screenshot.

In the past, the message I would write for the audience would overwrite the heading and excerpt I normally capture at the start of the post or in the SEO description.

I don’t want that to happen.

I would prefer it if the message was displayed in addition to the title and the excerpt I normally see.

That is because each plays its own role in making content stand out. I have been doing it manually for the last year or so but am hoping this will now work and save me more time.

Once this post is published, I’ll come back and confirm how it worked.

Block Templates

There are two ways to do this:

  1. Reusable blocks. This entire page and its layout can be saved as a reusable block. I would first have to group the elements I would want to reuse and then save the group. There’s more on that from WordPress. This does not included the featured image however and nor the headline.
  2. Copy post. I could just go to my list of posts that have been published and copy the entire post. This would copy everything and then I just need to change the things I want to change but everything else in terms of structure, would remain. More on that here.
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What hope, the individual, drowning in a deluge of content?

I’ve been blogging on and off since at least 2005 in various forms or another, on many different platforms. This one is now 5 years old 🥳 (cue celebratory badge). The death knell for blogging has been tolled many times since. Social media and always on access through mobile phones have led to massive proliferation and consumption of content. Most is crap.

Continue reading What hope, the individual, drowning in a deluge of content?
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Content Marketing 2020 – six things that work

Six of the things that I think work in terms of content marketing in 2020, captured in a DanelDoodle. This list is not exhaustive and the brief points for each are also not set in stone. Below is a brief additional paragraph on each.

Continue reading Content Marketing 2020 – six things that work
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New directions in content creation

I’ve just enabled the new Gutenberg editor in WordPress, what I use for my site and blog.  The goal of this new editor is to make adding rich content to WordPress simple and enjoyable. This post is a test and a review all in one.

It’s not an entirely new concept since platforms like Medium and to a lesser extent, LinkedIn, have been using this approach for a while.

I’ve been using WordPress for roughly 15 years. In all that time I have striven to create content that is pleasing to consume and stands out. I understand that in an increasingly cluttered digital environment this makes all the difference.

The difference is between being read and not being read. 

Or how it effects your bounce rate (the amount of time someone sticks around to finish reading your content including posts beyond the one they started with).

Standing out means non uniform content.

This applies to the structure and form of the content in and outside of any single post. The site or blog it is housed in for instance is also important.

Great writing is important of course. Well researched, informative or entertaining.

Equally important is the form it takes. Images and video are so crucial these days and also serve to break things up.

Ultimately form and function together go to make it great content. This post is mostly about the form.

You need to be different in a sea of sameness

Out with the old

So as I was saying, I’ve used WordPress for many years and the default Tiny MCE editor has always been the way to format content. It’s been fine as far as text editors go but I’ve always had to resort to html and other tricks to achieve the  rich formatting and functionality I’ve desired. That’s all about to change. In the words of the founder of WordPress:

The [Gutenberg] editor will endeavor to create a new page and post building experience that makes writing rich posts effortless, and has “blocks” to make it easy what today might take shortcodes, custom HTML, or “mystery meat” embed discovery.

MATT MULLENWEG, 2017

The new Building Blocks

Blocks are a great new tool for building engaging content. With blocks, you can insert, rearrange, and style multimedia content with very little technical knowledge. Instead of using custom code, you can add a block and focus on your content.

The new Block editor in WordPress Gutenberg

The types of things you can add with each block:

  • Text & Headings
  • Images & Videos
  • Galleries
  • Embeds, like YouTube, Tweets, or other WordPress posts.
  • Layout blocks, like Buttons, Hero Images, Separators, etc.
  • Lists like this one of course :)

The really exciting thing for me is the potential to add functionality in blocks. So not just use it for formatting and creating rich content in a post. I imagine being able to add and embed functionality from different services. And doing this in core parts of the site like a sidebar or footer that stay permanently in place.

Latest content

Below is an example of embedding simple functionality in a block. In this case it was latest posts I wrote. This is also an example of the kind of sticky content that will keep users around and your bounce rate low.


So what’s the verdict?

It has taken some time to get this post finished as I try get used to the new way things work but so far I’m loving it ❤ I can really see the potential 🚀 It’s going to be a while before I master it fully however. 

For instance, the fact that every time I hit enter it creates a new block.  My mind and current writing style is grappling to understand the need and how to work with it. There is a lot more functionality in little hidden places I need to figure out (instead of one central toolbar).

Hey ho, that’s the way change goes and I’m relishing the prospects 😎