Last week I wrote up my very first “article” and, with a faint - and surprising - flush of trepidation, hit “Publish”. It was on Saturday afternoon, October the 13th of 2012. By Sunday afternoon my post had garnered all of 2 Comments, and was in free-fall down the FANPOSTS column.
And then Jeremy Bolander showed up. He showed up large.
Now for those of you who have ever listened to Jim Rome, I can say that while he may very well be a Prince among men in his private life, I do not care for his on-air persona. And he, much like Vezzini of The Princess Bride fame, keeps using a word which probably doesn’t mean what he thinks it means. His word is “epic”. Not everything qualifies as “epic”. If Jim Rome wanted to get a better understanding of what “epic” really means, he could read the Comment thread contributed by Jeremy Bolander.
If you are one of the members who has been less than thrilled with the recent changes, and want to get a better understanding about what has transpired here and why, then you should read it too. Forget my post; but be sure to read Jeremy’s rejoinders. That, and John Bena’s MHR Platform Rollout Update #4 will have you right up to speed.
At the end of my post - in what must have been a moment of ill-conceived hubris - I wrote this:
I haven’t touched on the actual CONTENT as provided by the writers, as it is a whole separate issue. If this post gets any feedback, perhaps I’ll do one of those.
At the end of Jeremy’s comment thread, he wrote this:
Great post, it was clearly a lot of time and work, and it was an honor to respond in kind. I hope you do take up the task of putting our actual content under criticism,…).
And so here we are.
SETTING THE STAGE
The grumblings that were springing up had two separate themes; the clarity, identity, and visual appeal of the site had been diminished, and the quality of the content was in decline. To state the obvious, my original post addressed the former complaint; this post will address the latter.
I think it’s important to note at the outset that I won’t be “criticizing” the content – and never had intended to, despite what my sloppily-worded sentence implied. I’ll be defending and supporting it. And I’m going to try to have a little fun with it.
Also, the following is entirely fabricated. I have never spoken to anyone affiliated with MHR or SBNation. I haven’t checked any my “facts”; I haven’t confirmed any of my assumptions. And I am not a writer.
THE FOLLOWING CONVERSATION NEVER TOOK PLACE
KRONK: A Type-A, muckety-muck Investor, looking to take charge of a fledgling business, whip it into shape, capitalize on the results, and bail. He’s set his sights on MHR.
SM-MHR: This is a fictional assemblage of the Staff Members of MHR.
It was an Orange and Blue morning, Broncos optimism redolent in the crisp Rocky Mountain air. KRONK has greeted the group representing SM-MHR, and they are just now taking their seats around the magnificent, old-growth-forest, 25-foot long, Giant Sequoia table… high above Denver’s 16th Street Mall. The conference room is opulence itself.
KRONK: Gentlemen, good morning. We have a lot of ground to cover here, and my time is quite valuable. In the interest of moving things along as rapidly as possible, I’ve taken the liberty of preparing an agenda for our meeting, and I will set the pace for the proceedings.
Since I am unfamiliar with your specific roles and responsibilities, when it comes time for you all to address an issue, let’s just have the individual charged with that area go ahead and speak up. On a final point, since my first name is considered a profanity in more than a dozen common languages - and “Mr. Kronk” seems rather too formal - you may simply address me as “Sir”.
SM-MHR: Uhm… well, -
KRONK: Excellent. Now you all know why we’re here this morning and, not to put too fine a point on the matter, I can’t see how I will be able to get any type of reasonable return on my investment if you people don’t turn out a better product. Or service. Whatever. We’ll call it an “offering”. You know what I mean. It comes down to Content, and the delivery thereof.
As I don’t have any actual experience with this industry, I had my people do a little research. It appears to be that the important elements as to whether someone would find Content interesting enough to repeatedly engage it are threefold:
First, they need to care about the subject matter, irrespective of how it is presented.
Second, they have some need to fulfill, in which case the “reliability” of the content is paramount.
Or third, they have some great affinity for an individual who is presenting themselves in some manner, even to the point of not caring what the actual Content may be. Sort of as if the person themselves were the Content.
SM-MHR: Sure… we would agree with that. There may be a bit more to it though. For instance -
KRONK: I can’t say that I see it that way. The power-play, of course, is to get all three of these elements working in concert. Select a subject matter that people care deeply about, provide them in a frequent and “event-timely” manner with reliable information on same, and blow them away with the power of the presenter… whether by the mastery of their craft, or sheer, sparkling celebrity.
We’ll put that in our mission statement. Give it a fancy name… something like “A Symphony of Synergy”. Yeah, not bad. I’ll get that down to Marketing. Who’s our Marketing guy?
KRONK: Hello? I asked who’s our Marketing guy?
SM-MHR: We don’t really have one. I guess that’s why no one spoke up, Mr. Kro…, Sir.
KRONK: No Marketing guy? Well, no matter for now. Back to the agenda; first we’ll take each of the elements individually - beginning with those who are creating the Content: the Authors.
KRONK: I’m starting here because I have some top shelf ideas, really top shelf, and I’m very excited about it. Now follow me here… ready for this?… we’ll bring in great literary masters! Right!? Give them each an area that they specialize in. Right!? Can you picture it? You understand what I’m saying?
I figure we’ll get Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson on the post-game reports… that’ll bring some flare. Michener can take on history and general research, but we’ll have him co-author with Margaret Mitchell. Or Wally Stegner. Let’s see… Tom Clancy on Statistics and the “X’s & O’s”. Oh!, and Ken Wilber on high-level Scheme and Strategy - that cat is perspicacity personified. For balance we’ll need a dissenting opinion; let’s get Solzhenitsyn for that… he’s a good sport about playing devils advocate.
SM-MHR: Excuse me, Miste… Sir?
KRONK: In a minute, SM-MHR. We’ll need some comic relief, too. I’m thinking Terry Pratchett or Christopher Moore. If we need a shade more wit we’ll use Twain, and maybe Vonnegut for the sardonic. And for the Police Blotter we can get Chuck Palahniuk… he lives for the unseemly and salacious. I’d love to find a spot for TC Boyle, and Kesey!, but we better send Rand packing; powerful writer, but far too sanctimonious for the subject matter. LOL, or we could just seat her between James Redfield and Neale Donald Walsch until she loses her precious mind. Aaaaaaahahahahahahaha! Next –
SM-MHR: Sir, I really don’t think we’re going to be able to do that.
KRONK: What? Which part? And why not?
SM-MHR: Well… I’m pretty sure some of those people are dead, Sir. And I’m guessing the others will be… unavailable.
KNONK: Oh. Dead, huh? OK. But the others, what do you mean “unavailable”? Writers are never “unavailable” when it comes to getting work. What’s our Writers Budget?
SM-MHR: Writers Budget? Uuhhhm… nothing.
KRONK: What? What do you mean “nothing”?
SM-MHR: Whew, I’m not really sure how to clarify that. Zero dollars, and zero cents? Is that helpful? Sir?
KRONK: Your writers are writing for free? Well who’s doing the writing now? Are they any good?
SM-MHR: We are. We try our best, Sir.
KRONK: Oh… so you folks are all writers. Well, why didn’t you say so? Get me copies of your Curriculum Vitae, and I’ll get them down to our Marketing guy. Damn, that’s right; no Marketing guy. Well, get them to me just the same, and I’ll figure some way –
SM-MHR: The thing is… we don’t really have curri…, uh, “resumes”, Sir. Not as writers, at least. Not all of us, that is. I mean, there could be… (brightening) hey, Stanislov might… (deflating) but then, we haven’t really heard from him for a while.
We’re a bit like the Military in that regard; I’m sure you’ve heard their slogan: “We don’t accept applications. Only Commitments”. It’s like that, just not the Military part. And “commitment” might be a little strong. But the “no applications” part is pretty solid.
KRONK: (A beat goes by. Then another.) Explain.
SM-MHR: We’re mostly volunteers, Sir. We all have other jobs - careers, you might even say - that consume most of the time and energy of our days. Mostly in fields outside of the Writing profession. Some of us are full time students. Either way, it amounts to the same thing. Some of us have families we care for too. That’s usually where our real commitments lie.
KRONK: You’re saying you’re amateurs.
SM-MHR: Yes Sir.
KRONK: Hhhhmmm. I hadn’t considered that. And there is no Budget for bringing in the big names - nothing to recruit even standard professionals, no inducement to retain them if there were any already on board… errrr, “volunteering”? And certainly then no Publisher, or Editor?
SM-MHR: That’s correct.
KRONK: That’s… . That’s a stumper. I’ll have to think about that. It looks like we’re going to have to rely pretty heavily on the Subject Matter. Speaking of which…
THE SUBJECT MATTER
SM-MHR: (Smiling confidently) Yes, here we’re on much firmer ground, Sir.
KRONK: Excellent. Tell me about it.
SM-MHR: The Denver Broncos.
KRONK: Yes. Go on.
SM-MHR: That’s the subject matter. That’s the heart of the matter. We create Content that is centered on all aspects of Denver Broncos football. We cover the Games with GAME WEEK ARTICLES, GAME DAY THREADS, and post-game evals and HORSESHOES. We cover the Players, the Coaches, and the Front Office. There are the Playoffs, the pre-season, and the off-season. Even the Combine, the Draft, OTA’s and Training Camp. We feel our Training Camp coverage is the best to be found.
We also have all kinds of Special Segments. Things like Greatest Players, Remembering When, or Player Profiles. We even have a Cheerleader competition, as well as Tailgate recipes and a sports bar list for people to meet up at. There are too many of these segments to mention.
On top of all that, we have a lot of things for people to participate in. There are official Mock Drafts, official Fantasy Leagues, and Pick’em competitions. We have Guess the Score contests every week where we give away Bronco swag.
KRONK: That’s not bad. That’s not bad at all. In fact that’s pretty impressive. And you folks here do all of that? “Voluntarily”?
SM-MHR: We do the best we can, Sir.
KRONK: So you’ve said. Back to the topic at hand, what would you say are the things that you are lacking, relative to Content?
SM-MHR: Not too much, actually. Over the course of time we’ve had some writers who had a great deal of technical knowledge, and would offer up some pretty impressive educational or evaluative pieces. People seem to really like those. But that’s the same issue we talked about before; we can’t entice people – monetarily - to come here and “work”, and we can’t force them to stay.
We find that those types of contributions will ebb and flow. And people can still find the originals in our ARCHIVES.
We try to make up for what we can’t produce ourselves by putting out our HORSE TRACKS each day. That’s where we provide links to a lot of the other Bronco content that we find around the web. So we act as a kind of a “Broncos Portal” as well.
We feel if we can consistently deliver our core Content on a daily and “event-specific” basis - Game specific, Draft specific, Training Camp specific, etc. - then we’ve set a fairly high “performance” floor. The Special Segments and the “unexpected” are what can blow the roof off.
THE CONTENT DELIVERY
KRONK: That’s the question then, isn’t it? Are you able to do that? Are you able to put out your full menu of top-notch Content, in a timely and reliable manner? When people come to MHR, are they getting what they expect?
SM-MHR: No Sir.
KRONK: (Blinks. Closes mouth.) Excuse me? I wasn’t expecting that.
SM-MHR: It’s really pretty simple Sir, and frankly we’re a little surprised that you haven’t been able to grasp that yet. We don’t brew our beer for the oenophile. It’s for –
KRONK: Wha -
SM-MHR: Means “wine-lover”, Sir. Calling someone a wine-lover on a Broncos blog is a pejorative – that means it carries a negative connotation, as in an insult - ; it is akin to “mouth-breather”, “paste-eater”, or “Raiders fan”. You see, we know big words too… we just try to avoid them and get on with what we were saying.
For that matter, we know quite a few things. Some of us are pretty damn sharp. We may have or are getting College degrees. Some of those may even be advanced degrees, and/or in fairly tough disciplines.
Some of us hold professional positions that are quite demanding. Some of us take on quite high levels of responsibility, and are even considered leaders in our organization or community.
We understand how sophisticated things go together. We Project Manage, and develop Process Workflow. We get it. Many of the “suggestions” we receive we had already considered long ago, although we still appreciate the input. It shows people care.
While we may not write as well as Steinbeck, Dostoyevsky, Shelley or Hesse – we read books too – it’s not exactly See Spot run. We quite often do a very good job of it, and it is certainly adequate to the task. Some of our people are flat-out excellent, even if you don’t see them often enough to remember it.
And from a strictly “dedication” standpoint, I wouldn’t be trading any of our people for anyone that I’ve seen around these parts so far.
KRONK: (Looks around; sees there is only them and him in the room. Frowns.)
SM-MHR: Our folks are often hard pressed to make those “minimum daily requirements”. The guy we have that covers Training Camp? Well he also does the HORSE TRACKS every day, and the post-game HORSESHOES, and myriad other things which make this little world go round. The guy’s a machine. Even so, neither he nor the rest of us can “do it all, all the time”. But we cover for each other as hard as we can. Sometimes there are interruptions, or even emergencies. We can be sick or busy or –
KRONK: Look, are you going to rant all day? The bottom line is that the key to “managing Customer Satisfaction” is by “managing Customer Expectations”.
SM-MHR: (sigh…) I guess what we’re saying is, our only expectation is that the people who come here love the Denver Broncos as much as we do, … but we don’t have any control over what kind of expectations they bring here with them. Those will always be difficult to satisfy.
KRONK: Yes, and I understand you’ve had some changes to the platform recently. Have you been getting any feedback about how that’s working out?
SM-MHR: Ad-fuc… (ahem), um, ad nauseum, Sir. It means –
KRONK: I know what it means, thank you. And?
SM-MHR: We’re -
KRONK: Doing the best that you can? (The room stiffens.) All right… no need to get upset. This is Business, after all.
SM-MHR: If you say so, Sir.
KRONK: Look at it this way... if peoples’ expectations are not being met, how are they likely to respond? And I don’t mean the griping… I mean what are they actually likely to do?
SM-MHR: I wouldn’t want to move past the “griping” aspect quite so fast, Sir. We feel the griping is by far the most insidious… (pausing)
KRONK: Don’t even begin to define it.
SM-MHR: (With a self-satisfied smile) Of course not, Sir. Well, in a generally increasing order of danger, the griping is aggravating and tiresome. It’s not interesting to read about. It has the capability to hijack a Comment thread to a Post or Article that someone may have worked pretty hard to create - and it certainly doesn’t serve to advance that conversation. Worst of all, griping can be similar to yawning, in that it is contagious. Which, of course, then means that the entire cycle is more likely to be repeated.
Generally speaking, we try to discourage it. If particular individuals are known to be “carriers”, we might even invite them to go elsewhere. If someone is particularly malignant, we’ll help them along their way.
Some people choose just to leave on their own. In either case, we commit to not talking them down after they’ve gone, and we hope that – in the spirit of good faith - they reciprocate; although we don’t have any control over that either.
KRONK: Alright… where do they “go”? And how “threatening” are the alternatives?
SM-MHR: Actually, we don’t really see the competition as threatening… or even really “competition” in the sense that you mean it. But if we were to use your meaning, then I suppose if we were analyzing a “Competitive Features Matrix” against the other players in the field, running it against variables such as Quality, Postings Frequency and Volume, Popularity, and Member Participation… we’d be pretty happy with how we grade out.
KRONK: That’s… pretty good. You guys do all that?
SM-MHR: Let’s just say we have a feel for it.
KRONK: Elucidate, please.
SM-MHR: OK, let’s take the three online sports locations for Broncos Content that the average fan is going to know about, and migrate towards first; the Denver Broncos official website, the Denver Post, and ESPN. The Broncos official site will have some of the “coolest” features – in terms of videos and interviews – but the drawback is that you’re going to get a sanitized version of everything. They’re protecting the brand. And from the standpoint of getting “evaluative” game-planning and execution breakdown… forget it. That’s protected for competitive advantage. The people who know best, aren’t going to talk.
ESPN and The Denver Post have the advantages of the “professional-grade infrastructure” and staffing that you were talking about before. They have big budgets, and they also have the Media Credentials to get “closer to the action” than we can pull off. The problem with both of them is that the Broncos themselves are only a portion of what they cover, so that the “power of their professionalism” is greatly diminished – at least as far as the Bronco fanatic is concerned.
All three places have Comment thread capability… but at least two of them can be pretty abysmal places in terms of either valuable input or basic human dignity.
In fact, we could throw in the other “national level” online sports arenas (Yahoo, Fox, etc.), and the situation isn’t far different.
And we may as well consider the top-level independent sportswriters here as well; their problem is that there’s no “there” there. They may write great articles, but there’s no “Broncos” section to hang out in. They freelance. And you could spend weeks waiting for them to write something specifically about the Broncos.
But in the end, we have the HORSE TRACKS - which means people can just come here if they want, and we’ll point them over “there” – wherever that happens to be - for the good stuff. Rather than being at a disadvantage, we get to “piggy-back” on the best of their output.
KRONK: That’s pretty slick. That’s kick-ass.
SM-MHR: We think so, Sir. And Sir? We’re a family-friendly site Sir.
KRONK: What’s that? Oh… yes, of course. Sorry.
SM-MHR: Good enough. So now we look at the rest of the field, and they’re pretty much what we are, although we feel we have some very distinct advantages there as well. We’ll get back to those in a minute. What “we are” is an independently run forum that focuses exclusively on the Denver Broncos.
Whether you’re talking about MaxDenver, Bronco Planet, Predominately Orange, - and whoever else you might care to name - they all have their appeal from a Broncos fan perspective.
The appeal is that they’re talking about the Denver Broncos in some way, shape, or form.
All of those places have one primary thing in common: you could go there once a week – twice at the most – and take in all they had to offer. And that’s during the season. Off-season it’s a virtual desert zone. Also, their Comment threads or other “participation points” are something between anemic and dead.
We’re always on. Every day of the year.
KRONK: No other place is all-Broncos, all of the time?
SM-MHR: Just us and IAOFM; although the local radio station is rather lamely staking that claim as well.
KRONK: Interesting. I thought you’d try to avoid that topic.
SM-MHR: (Laughing) We can’t possibly not know about them, even if we didn’t read our own Comment threads. They’re really the only ones that anyone is talking about when discussing “competition”.
KRONK: And that doesn’t worry you?
SM-MHR: I don’t see why it should. They’re good writers and knowledgeable people. They’ve elected to go with the “high end” approach, and so they take a lot of care and pride in their delivery. But that doesn’t corner the market for them.
KRONK: What do you mean?
SM-MHR: Well to begin with, by strict definition – which you would be aware of as a financier. They would have to be the only place it was possible to get Broncos coverage; which is untrue. Many places provide that, including ourselves.
Without that exclusivity, they’d have to be the only place to get “high quality” Broncos coverage; which is also untrue. Many places also provide that, including ourselves. Now not many other place make it their mission to try to put out only “high quality” Bronco Content, and do it on a frequent and consistent basis. That absolutely contributes to some people attributing “the best” moniker to them… but that certainly doesn’t mean that there then is no “high quality” coverage elsewhere.
The only area where they do have exclusivity is their own particular “voices” – as you had described in your introduction - where the person is the Content. There are people who like their specific topics, told in their specific voices.
The other point is that the sites aren’t mutually exclusive; people can frequent both. Check them out if you like. “Worrying” about them is no different than worrying about any other potentially “scintillating” new entrant to the market. We’d still do our thing.
Besides, we feel that we’d have an advantage even then.
THE CROWN JEWEL
KRONK: Really? That seems a little bold. You have a secret weapon that I haven’t heard about?
SM-MHR: No, but we have a simple one; we carry two arrows in our quiver. The first arrow is to drive to the heart of the Denver Broncos. The second is to drive to heart of the Denver Broncos fans.
KRONK: I’m listening. How do you accomplish that?
SM-MHR: We let the fans participate in a way that they cannot do virtually anywhere else: they are able to create their own Posts. They get to be the talking heads. They can initiate and direct a discussion far beyond making a short comment, and do it without hijacking someone else’s thread.
Some of the people out there are awfully good, and they can create Posts that rival anything else you’re likely to find; they just don’t have their own home to post it to.
There are also those who have their own home, and choose to occasionally post their material here - just so that they have a larger Bronco audience to appreciate it.
But the point is, anyone can do it if they want to.
Those actions feed the Comment threads, and our Comments threads can be the best that you can find anywhere. The reason for that is there are so many great contributors that come here precisely because they can “post” here. You can get some really fantastic insights by reading the Comments threads. At times they can become almost like “mini” Posts-within-a-Post.
In addition to those things, there are so many other things that members here can do that are just not available elsewhere.
Your question didn’t make the “Mailbag” that week? Write your own Post – heck, write your own Mailbag.
They didn’t have your option in the Poll, or didn’t ask the “more interesting question”? Create your own Poll.
Seen something awesome out there that no one else has found? Share it in a FANSHOT.
Can’t keep track of all of your Posts and Comments and Rec’s, and all of the responses that they have birthed? Check out your personal Activity profile. Click on the link and it takes you right there.
Can’t remember which of the 174 comments you’ve already read in that thread? Look for the new ones in yellow.
These things make a huge difference in the member experience. That’s why many of the people who also “go there”, still “come here”.
The SBNation platform – despite its’ current, temporary unpopularity – is a pretty powerful tool, even if not everyone knows it yet. I guess that would more appropriately mean that we have two arrows, and a quiver to hold them in.
KRONK: I can understand the benefits there… but isn’t that a little risky? Aren’t you in danger of letting the inmates run the asylum, so to speak?
SM-MHR: (Laughing, but not maniacally) We want them running the asylum. You were worried about delivering Content that people would be interested in, and here they are creating a massive amount of Content that they are interested in! It’s where much of our Content, and our Staff, comes from.
KNONK: (This is met with a protracted silence, lastly several long minutes. Then…) And they’re doing “the best that they can”, are they? (with a wink)
SM-MHR: (Smiling) We believe so, Sir.
THE MEETING WINDS DOWN
KRONK: (Heavy exhale) Well doesn’t that just beat all. You folks don’t really have much of a use for me here, do you?
SM-MHR: We don’t really see a strong fit, Sir - no.
You think of this as a Business. We feel it as a passion.
You want to point to a specific “segment” weakness; we try to be strong in the aggregate.
You see our people as potential customers; we see them as members, fans and friends.
You’d like a barrage of exclusively “high quality” Content, delivered on a well-managed schedule; we’re thrilled when things spontaneously blow up after a big win. This place has been on fire all week. People have come crawling out of the woodwork to participate.
KRONK: (There are a few moments of comfortable pause.) Fair enough. I’ve been thinking though; I’m a big Bronco fan too. And I’ve really come to like you guys. Is there anything I can do to maybe… help out somehow?
SM-MHR: Changed your expectations, Sir?
KRONK: (Immediately backpedaling) I mean, I don’t have a lot of spare time, really. I’m a very busy person, you understand…
SM-MHR: (In a knowing yet friendly tone) Yes, we understand perfectly, Sir. Well, you know we’re always looking for Content; perhaps you could type up what transpired here today. Submit it as a Post to the site; people may find it interesting.
KRONK: You think so?... Sure, why not; that’ll be easy enough. We always have our conferences on Spy-cam anyway. I’ll have one of my people transcribe it. Um… anything else?
SM-MHR: Actually - now that you mention it - we do have an open position that we recently created. We think you’d be well qualified. How would you like to be our new Director of Member Relations?
KRONK: Member Rela…? You mean I’m the Complaint Department!?!
SM-MHR: You’ll be fine. Just do the best that you can, Kronk. (And a wink returned.)
(The curtain falls with a whisper. It says: Go Broncos!)