New Content Features: Pen Pals, Pen Polls, Pen Mail and Pen Chat

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When we launched Call to the Pen right before Opening Day, I had a series of founding principles/objectives in mind.

This site has now been around for just over 8 months and we’ve learned a lot in that time. Our site, it’s format, the content, our goals and our plans have all evolved significantly since March 28th. We’ve found several things that work well. We have found some things don’t work so well. Heck, we’ve found some things are worth doing (or not worth doing) regardless of how well they do in terms of traffic.

Most of our founding principles have remained intact but we have deviated from some and kept others on the back-burner for too long. While on my recent sabbatical/vacation from writing, I did a lot of reflection on where the site was at, where I wanted it to go, and what gaps I felt we needed to fill to make the site better.

I came back to the table with a head full of ideas and dreams. We made some immediate changes and announcements, but that was just the beginning.

After pitching my thoughts to my fellow CttP staffers and then brainstorming with them on the viability of each, we came up with a collection of new features that will help us live up to our founding principles and make the site more of a destination. What follows is a preview and explanation of four of those new features which will be be pushing to implement in the coming weeks/months.

The vision behind Call to the Pen was to make it the flagship of FanSided’s baseball coverage. We felt that one of the critical ways to achieve this flagship status was to use this site as a platform to highlight and champion some of the excellent content that get published on the team-specific MLB sites of the FanSided.com Sports Network.

For a brief time, this was accomplished through our weekly Baseball Side of FanSided (BBSoFS) feature which lasted into the month of June. After that we tweaked Picks of the Pen (another existing weekly feature) to include links to the content of some of our team sites. The BBSoFS was then eliminated. In essence, PotP cannibalized the BBSoFS.

While the links to some of our team-based content lived on in the Picks of the Pen series, we lost some of the other features from the BBSoFS series. Most notably, we lost the platform we had established to announce the arrival of new writers to the team specific sites. With the Pen Pals series of posts, Call to the Pen will once again have a platform by which I can announce new staff/writers as they join the MLB family on our network.

Pen Pals will appear as needed when new staff join our network. Through this series I will make the general announcement of who has joined us, what site they will be writing for and the role they are taking on in our organization. These details are the same that were once provided in the BBSoFS posts, but I want to do more than that. These writers have chosen to join our rapidly growing network and they all deserve a little extra pub. You, as readers of this site (and hopefully at least a few of our team based sites as well), deserve to know a little about these folks as they become a part of the FanSided family. Because of this, Pen Pals will also provide some background or biographical information on our new writers and provide a link to a post of their choice that they fell best represents their style and ability.

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With a way to announce new staff back in the fold, another founding principle was that we wanted to make people who visit our site to feel like they are a part of a community. The fact is, without loyal readers, long term success and growth is much harder to come by. While quality content by itself can attract loyal readers in the blogosphere, interaction adds another level to that loyalty. Sadly this is an aspect of the founding principles that we set aside as we worked on building other aspects of the site. It’s past time we roll up our sleeves and start building not just site, but the Call to the Pen community. We have thus fashioned a number of content features that will become part of our routine here on CttP as we move forward.

The first feature actually made it’s debut on November 30th under the guise of Pen Polls (yes I like alliteration). If you missed the first installment on Zack Greinke please check it out by clicking here. Voting on that poll will remain open for another few days if you’d like to partake. The concept is simple, present a poll on a weekly basis that gives you the reader of the site a chance to vote. Just throwing a poll question up on the site once a week wasn’t going to fly … Those of you who read my work or know me in my personal life, know that’s not my style. So, I set out to implement something more developed and substantial. Pen Polls isn’t just a poll question, it’s a full length article complete with thoughts from some of my fellow FanSided MLB brethren with the actual poll question at the end.

The second community building feature will make it’s first appearance in the very near future. Pen Mail will be a mail bag or “ask the CttP staff” type of feature. Readers will be encouraged to ask any baseball related question they want through a variety of methods including; Twitter, Facebook, direct email, or the comments section of the Pen Mail post. Various members of our staff will then respond to the questions as quickly as we can in the best format to appropriately answer them. In some cases a question may be answered in a series of longer articles, while at other times several questions may be answered in one article that switches gears as necessary in a traditional Q&A format. Internally we are still working out the details and logistics of how we are going to handle this feature, but we are currently leaning toward opening the floor up for questions on an every-other-week or monthly basis. Since the site is still in its infancy we plan on answering all questions that come in. As we continue to grow and we field more questions over time from a larger reader base, we may have to alter what percentage of questions we answer and how thoroughly we answer them but regardless, we will do our best to get to everything. Sadly there are only so many hours in the day …

The third feature to get readers more involved will be a monthly live chat where all, or at least a majority of, the Call to the Pen staff will be available to talk baseball with anyone who wants to join us. This feature, logically called Pen Chat, will debut further down the road but it it is on the drawing board and is being discussed at the present time. It’s all about logistics.

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So that’s the basic run-down on some of the new regular features that will be implemented in the coming months here on Call to the Pen.

We hope you will make it a point to take part in Pen Polls, Pen Mail and/or Pen Chat as they come along. I also hope you will find value in learning about the new MLB writers as they join our network via Pen Pals. You never know, some of the writers you read about may wind up on the CttP staff down the road.