Running a blog has never been easier. Running a blog well is still a difficult task. Working with a team of people on a blog increases the challenge, so anything that makes that challenge a bit easier should be given a chance to show you its wares.
Even if you’re not working with a team, I expect you have some sort of standards for your articles when publishing in a professional manner. Procedures and doing things in the right and expected order is, in my opinion, paramount to making work easier for everyone, so I’ll also be addressing that issue.
I want to introduce you to two WordPress plugins which I now could not do without, and I’m certain have improved my writing workflow over the past few years. I’ll start with Pre-Publish Reminders and then move on to Edit Flow.
Making your blog more than “Just another WordPress blog” becomes even more complicated when you’re trying to run or write for more than one - or two, or how about five? One blog may require you to use pictures of a set width, while another may require you to add a number of tags and a bio at the end of the post. Keeping track of these requirements adds extra work for the writer, leaving less time to focus on the quality content and opinions they have to share.
If you work with WordPress, there’s a strong chance know of Lorelle VanFossen and her blog Lorelle on WordPress, a renowned blogging evangelist and speaker. Lorelle had that exact problem to the point where she called for someone to make a number of WordPress plugins to solve this among other issues. Although Lorelle blogged the answer as Genki Pre-Publish Reminder plugin, I much prefer the Pre-Publish Reminders plugin, as it allows you to check off each reminder on the list as opposed to just being presented with a list. The number of downloads and installations also suggests that the latter is the preferred plugin of the two. Despite not having been updated since 2009, it still seems to work perfectly in current versions of WordPress. (At time of writing 3.2.1)
I’ll take you behind the scenes of my new technology blog, TechRant. I’ll confess, I tried to launch it a few times before, but it failed mainly because I didn’t understand the value of process - heck we didn’t even have an editor. Everyone knows you should proof read your own work, but it can be easy to forget. Adding a reminder to read over their article twice can increase quality, and lessen the burden of work on the editorial team. Articles on TechRant require the use of a featured image to be displayed on the home page. Also I think it best practice to add tags, categories, links back to previous articles and a few questions to spark discussion. The further reminders I’ve set up are better explained alongside the second plugin, so let’s move on to the functionality of this one.
Adding a pre-publish reminder is very easy. Once installed, you’ll find access to the list under the tools drop-down.
When adding a reminder, you can also choose the color of the text and background which takes advantage of a well used jQuery color picker plugin. Further you can make it bold, italic and underlined, and any combination of the three. Once you’ve added a reminder to the list, annoyingly you can’t edit it, and instead have to delete it and re-create. Luckily, you can change the order by dragging reminders up and down. If the author is willing, maybe this is something the open community could fix and publish back to the official WordPress plugins repository.
Your reminders will now appear under the main content editing area when you are writing a post, however as with most panels in the WordPress admin area, you are free to move it around. I think it works best on the right hand column, but it really does depend how many panels you have and how you see it’s integration into your workflow. When a member of the TechRant team finishes an article, by following the reminders in order, they make sure that the article is ready for review, covering all the expectations.
The early versions of the EditFlow plugin were pretty basic, only allowing you to add custom post statuses. Since then, it’s grown to have quite a number of new features and is still in active development! The idea for EditFlow came from (now closed) not-for-profit company CoPress, who aimed to help the student press write online using WordPress as opposed to paying for a bespoke CMS. From the initial custom statues feature, EditFlow now boasts editorial comments, email notifications, usergroups, a calendar, editorial metadata and a story budget view.
Because of the number of features this plugin offers, adding an extra section on the admin menu bar actually makes a lot of sense.
Adding a post status is just as simple as adding a pre-publish reminder, however you DO have the ability to re-edit a status, but you can’t change the order. You are not allowed to delete the “Draft” status, as any posts which are assigned to a status which is then deleted, are returned to the default status of “Draft”. I’m unsure why you are unable to delete the “Pending Review” status, however I’d actually quite like to keep that one! By default, you will gain “Assigned”, “Pitch”, and “Waiting for Feedback”, however I decided to only keep “Pitch”.
“Fantastic,” I hear you say, “custom statuses are just what I was after, but that doesn’t deal with the back and forth of emails between writers and editors!” This is where the Editorial Comments and Email Notifications features show what I consider to be the main purpose of this plugin.
Editorial Comments and Email Notifications
It’s pretty unlikely that anyone’s first draft will be perfect, after all, it’s a draft. When you’re happy with an article, the editor will have a read over, hopefully only have a few typo or grammar corrections to make, and give the green light to be published. If there is a more serious problem, the article needs restructuring or any other number of concerns are felt by the editorial team, would it not be handy to have all that information in the SAME PLACE when you need it?
Editorial comments allows you to do just that, leaving comments within WordPress in a panel directly under the main writing area when editing a post. The commenting system allows for threaded comments and even picks up users GRAvatar. Moreover, a notification email will be sent to the author when a new editorial comment is made.
By default, the admin account also receives an email, which is great if you want to keep track of everything, but not cool if you can expect a fair number each day. Any follow up comments will result in a notification email being sent to those who have already commented, or have been manually subscribed.
Notifications and subscriptions are all very well, but manually subscribing each member of a team to a specified post would be just plain tedious! With usergroups, you can create groups of users (fancy that). The implementation is actually pretty good.
Add a usergroup, enter name and description, checkbox the users who should belong to said group. The user selection even has a search / filter box, plus the ability to filter only selected users in the event you want to remove someone from a group. Now you can subscribe the whole legal team, management team, editorial team, or any other team your company has that need to know about editorial comments and updates to a post.
One feature I’d like to see, is auto subscribing a usergroup when the a post status is changed to pending review. Currently, you would need to subscribe a usergroup, then change the post status for them to be notified.
Calendar and Story Budget
The Calendar and Story Budget features seek to become more a part of your daily (or weekly) working and review time. Both of these features are accessed from the Dashboard admin menu.
Viewing your posts which have either been updated, scheduled or published on a week by week basis, can allow you to plan when it’s best to fit in a new article. The calendar allows you to filter posts by post status, category or author, which you will appreciate if you have a big team. Although you can move to the next and previous weeks view, I still feel that limiting the view to one week at a time is somewhat restrictive; I’d like to view a whole month, getting an overview of how the articles have / will spread.
Over the last year I have been on placement at Clock, a digital agency just outside of London. It wasn’t till the first Monday morning meeting, that I was introduced to something called a Story Budget (unsure if this is the correct name for it?). At Clock, projects have several phases, from conception, through construction, and eventually hosting and support. Viewing all the projects in each phase in turn, and talking about their current process, really gave the team a good overall feel for the week ahead, and made everyone feel included.
This view allows you to view all of your recent posts at a glance, grouped by category. You can also apply filters based on post status, category, author, or a set date range. A print button is also included on this page which is a nice touch if you work in the same physical location.
I only have one small gripe, that when categories in the Story Budget view are rolled up or down, the now free space is not filled by another category. Instead, a gap is left equal to the height of the category in the adjacent column. True, it does look neater, but this could be an option.
Another feature that makes working in larger teams easier, is the editorial metadata feature. A further panel is added the post writing page allowing you to enter the writers contact info, description of the post, due date, location, photo required checkbox, photographer (by user dropdown) and a word count requirement. I can’t honestly say I find any of these useful right now, however I can see as things progress. With more people on board, this sort of data directly to the right of the content the editorial staff are editing, will be a bonus. If a photographer is assigned, they will know about it, and know the location that is required.
Adding extra fields to the editorial metadata is also possible. The list can be accessed from the EditFlow admin sub-menu, Editorial Metadata. The metadata types include checkbox, date, location, paragraph, text, user and number. For my own multi-author blog, I decided to add an expected due date, allowing me to work out the best dates to post other content, making the publishing as even as possible.
EditFlow Options and Dashboard Widgets
If you want to just use a few of EditFlows features, you can enable / disable them at your digression in the plugins option page, found at the first link of it’s admin sub-menu.
You can also toggle the availability of two dashboard widgets. One displaying the number of posts for each post status, and the second, showing a list of posts you are currently follow. If you’re an editor, having a list of posts you to follow up on filtered for you and presented on the dashboard is just the sort of thing that makes life easier!
I don’t mean to suggest too many improvements here, but while both widgets can be beneficial, it would be nice to have an unsubscribe link next to each post on the second noted widget; going to each post to manually unsubscribe is repetitive.
Choosing to use Pre-Publish Reminders is a smart choice. Humans have a natural tendency to forget things. If you add the Pre-Publish Reminders plugin to a clients Worrdpress install, I’m pretty sure they it would be welcome! An organization may have a number of people writing, or even just one. However many people are writing, a blog is normally started with a purpose in mind, and article requirements will help writers remember the objectives.
Initially EditFlow may seem to have too many features, but once you work out which ones you need, it does it’s job just fine. Disable what you don’t need, tweak what you do, and your editorial workflow will be much better off. Defined processes are known to improve how a company works and the same can be applied to a blog.
Chances are, you already have processes in place, so combining both of these plugins can help make sure those processes are followed closer than they might otherwise be. Gone will be the emails asking what the next step is, when you expect an article to be finished, suggesting thoughts for improvements. True, you will get a notification email for new editorial comments or status changes, but you won’t have to look for those comments related to an article as they will already be WITH the article in question.
If you have used either of these plugins before, let us know how you got on. If you give them a try, report back and let others know your findings. Got any other plugins that do similar jobs? Think of other ways to improve your WordPress workflow?