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Leading marketing & communication for WordPress

Last week I was appointed Marketing & Communications Lead of WordPress. I think WordPress is one of the most essential platforms on the web and I’m really proud to be able to do my part for it. I have been in the WordPress community for well over a decade now. In that time I’ve done a lot of different things but I think this will be my biggest challenge yet.

WordPress currently powers 32.9% of websites on the web, which, especially in absolute number of sites, is an incomprehensible number. It is also a wonderful project with a great community around it. Many people outside of WordPress don’t know much about the community, something I think we should change. Very often, people don’t even know about the great steps WordPress is making in re-defining content editing. We have to get that knowledge out there. The next phases of Gutenberg will even redefine website building. I hope to be instrumental in spreading this message. Let’s show the 67,1% that’s not using WordPress that maybe they should be.

With the announcement this week has already been tumultuous, but let me describe my next steps below. I’ve also got a couple of questions people have asked a lot, so I’m adding answers to those below.

Next steps

There a few things I’ve already done: I’ve spoken to a lot of members of the marketing team. I had already seen a lot of the things they’re busy with. As I was talking to them I was surprised to find some really high quality work that hardly anybody knew about, that just need a small push. I’m very happy to be able to provide that push. I’m dividing stuff I encounter into two different buckets right now: quick wins and longer term.

I’ve started writing a marketing and communications strategy. This will be based on my own ideas plus all the input I’ve had from people so far. From that strategy we should be able to extract campaigns. Within those campaigns there will be individual tasks that people can pick up.

At the same time I’m looking to update some of the core pages on WordPress.org. These pages describe who we are and what we do. For example: we’ve already updated the Roadmap page, it now reflects our plans for 2019 much better. The Testimonials page that was broken has been fixed, and the Marketing team has a new task to update the History page.

Frequently asked questions

Let me answer the questions I’ve had a couple of times so far:

What does this mean for your day to day?

Obviously this comes with a bit of work. Several people asked me how this combines with my role at Yoast and at home. It’s clear: this is going to have to come out of “Yoast time”. I’m simply not willing to spend less time with my family. Now, I’ll admit: I do work a slight bit more than the average Yoast employee. But saying that, this is still going to impact what I do at Yoast. Most importantly it will probably impact my ability to code as much myself.

What did you think about the discussion around your appointment?

There was some discussion around my appointment, due to the fact that Bridget, the marketing team’s leading representative, had not been informed. This was, oh the irony, a communications issue between Matt, Josepha and myself. We’ve all apologized to Bridget, and I think we’re good now. Of course, I hope I’ll be able to prevent these kinds of communication issues in the future.

Let’s be clear: I’m not replacing her. She was a rep for the marketing team (she has stepped down since) and had done a good job as such. I’ve been given a wider task. I want us to do much more than just write content.

What if there’s a conflict of interest between Yoast and WordPress?

These do come up. And let’s be fair: I’m not exactly the first in WordPress’ leadership who might have a conflict of interest sometimes. Not so long ago I urged people to wait with upgrading to WordPress 5.0. (Btw: you’re fine to update now). While I hope that my deeper involvement in the project will allow me to avoid these situations, when they happen, they happen. I’ll deal with them as transparently as I can. It could mean that I, with my WordPress hat on, have a different opinion than Yoast, the company.

Are you being paid for this?

No. This is a volunteer position. I do benefit indirectly from WordPress’ growth, as that’ll probably mean Yoast will grow too, but I don’t think you can really call that payment. The fact that my position is unpaid does not mean there won’t be any paid positions within my team. I think marketing for WordPress as a whole would definitely benefit from having a few people that are able to consistently spend more than a few hours a week on it.

Are you going to fix the ambiguity between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?

No. There are limits to what I’m allowed to change and this falls outside of those limits. Not that I’d even want to: I don’t feel like it’s that much of a problem, it’s definitely an ambiguity but both sides benefit from it too.

I do think that we’re not always doing a good job of making the distinction between the two. Just pointing it out to f.i. journalists when they make the mistake might clear some things up and make the distinction more widely understood.

Does this mean Automattic is acquiring you?

It’s surprising how many people have asked me this or similar questions in the past few days. The answer is simple: No. Automattic is not acquiring us. The reason for that is simple: we’re not for sale. We’re having fun, and we’re not looking to be acquired.

More questions? Just ask!

If you have more questions for me: go ahead and ask. In the comments below, on Twitter, or on WordPress Slack, where I am @joostdevalk.

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Personal stuff

Awesome spots in Nijmegen

Next February 2019, Yoast is organizing YoastCon in Nijmegen. Yoast’s offices are situated in Wijchen, but unfortunately, Wijchen is too small to hold our conference, so we went to our closest “big” town. Nijmegen is the city I went to high school in, and even studied a bit. It’s also 2,000+ years old and has some gorgeous spots, so I thought I’d share some awesome spots and stories around them.

One of the most gorgeous buildings on the inside in Nijmegen is the conference venue for YoastCon, the Vereeniging. But lots of buildings in Nijmegen are beautiful on the outside, just to stroll around. Let me give you some things you shouldn’t miss, starting with one that’s very close to my heart:

The “Latijnse School”

Some of you may know that I never finished university. I’m one of those “drop outs”. That means that my highest diploma is my “high school” diploma, the one I got from the Stedelijk Gymnasium Nijmegen. My brother and sister went to that school too, as did several of my colleagues (Omar, Yoast’s CTO, to name one). And now, almost 20 years after me, my son is attending that school.

The building of the “Latijnse School” on an old postcard.

That school is kind of special. You see, it doesn’t just teach you about old things (a “gymnasium” in the Netherlands means that classic Latin and Greek are part of the curriculum), it’s also old itself. It’s forerunner was known as the “Latin school” and that school was founded almost 475 years ago.

The building that school was founded in is one of the most gorgeous buildings in Nijmegen’s centre, straight across from its lovely church, the Stevenskerk. I honestly couldn’t find any pictures that do it justice, but here are some fragments:

The Stevenskerk

Right next to the Latijnse School is the Stevenskerk. It towers over all of Nijmegen, and while I personally don’t think it’s particularly beautiful on the inside, it’s got a lot of sentimental value for locals. It’s also relatively old, with its oldest parts stemming from 1273.

The Stevenskerk towering over Nijmegen, seen from the Grote Markt. You get to the church by going through the gates in the bottom center. The “Latijnse School” will be on your left.

Going back from that church to the Grote Markt you’ll walk into the “Waag” building, which is gorgeous too. If you’re looking for a drink, you should go to a pub called “In de Blaauwe Hand“. In the picture above it would be in the bottom right corner, to the left of the large “Waag” building. This is the oldest pub in Nijmegen, having started in 1542, and also one of the nicest ones.

The Valkhof

If you’re done with your drink, walk back on to the Grote Markt, keeping the church to your back. You’re walking in the direction of the “Valkhof”. On the right, you’ll pass the City Hall, another gorgeous building:

The city hall. The Stevenskerk church is on the right behind the leaves. All of this is pretty close to each other.

Walk past it, enjoy it, and then keep walking. You’ll soon have to cross a road a bit and on your left you’ll see a park. That park is the site of what used to be one of the most important castles in the Netherlands, back when Charlemagne was still the big boss in Europe and the reigning emperor over an empire that contained most of the Netherlands too. That’s somewhere around the year 800, and no, I didn’t forget a 1 there.

In this park you’ll see some ruins and a very pretty small chapel. Next to the park is a museum, Museum Het Valkhof, which has a nice collection of archeological finds dating from when Nijmegen was home to a Roman legion (Nijmegen in 2005 celebrated 2,000 years of existence).

Seeing all of these things on foot will mean you’ll have to walk just a tiny bit: 1.4 km or so to walk past all of them and that includes going back and forth a bit. Here’s a link to the short walk.

There are more nice buildings and things to see in Nijmegen, if you know of more that people should definitely go see, do drop them in the comments! Also, if you’ve not bought your tickets for YoastCon yet, I’d start doing that now 🙂