Our Interview with Merriam-Webster Chief Digital Officer Lisa Schneider on the M1 Podcast
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Mobile First Podcast Episode 56
Surprising result of going digital after 200 years… Unlocking the Organizational Personality & CultureLisa Schenider, Chief Digital Officer at Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Lisa Schneider is Chief Digital Officer at Merriam-Webster, where she is focused on strategy, product & content development, technology, and user experience. A lifelong word nerd who understands why words matter, she is thrilled to bring Merriam-Webster’s mission to life across all devices and screen sizes, anytime, anywhere.
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Key Insights from our Conversation
- Lisa is most passionate about problem-solving and collaboration. Problem-solving is finding out a way on how to make something better for someone and this can include the usual challenges that a project manager encounters such as finding a technical solution or solving a UX problem but can also encompass solutions for opportunities found within the organization. Collaboration is what makes problem-solving possible. This means including people, being able to recognize when a good idea comes along, having diverse teams, and we combine these, you will be able to come up with good solutions as well as support people.
- She was a huge bookworm and could not believe that she will be given a degree from doing what she likes, which was reading books and writing about them, so she jokes that this was the reason why she pursued having a BA in Literature. This curiosity and openness to learning was what enabled her to look at things in a different way and to transition to being the current Chief Digital Officer at Merriam-Webster.
- Merriam-Webster, as many people know, is a dictionary company but not a lot knows that they have a robust digital footprint. They have about 300 million page use a month and most of this are from mobile. Definitions continue to be their core product but they have redefined their mission to better reflect who they are and why they do what they do. Their mission now is to propagate their rationale of the English language and to help people better understand language so they can better understand and communicate with the world.
- How do words make their way to the dictionary? Lisa emphasizes that as Chief Digital Officer at Merriam-Webster, she cannot get a word into the dictionary. There are rules and they are descriptive not prescriptive. They do not sit around and decide if a word is good enough or what it should mean, it is not a judgment call. They describe a language is actually used and to do that they follow evidence and have rules that a word has to have widespread, sustained, meaningful and organic used. They collect citations and these are considered data. Merriam-Webster has been data driven for almost 200 years.
- In the past when they were just putting out prints in hard copies, they do not have data on how their dictionaries are being used. Now that they are online, they are now able to track usage – what words are being looked at, when and how often. They did a complete website redesign which was more responsive, has more features, just something where people can go to have a good experience. They also worked in unlocking the company’s cultural personality which was inherent to the team members as well as focused on their trend watch feature to get real time insights on what’s hot and what’s not. This led to Merriam-Webster’s effective mobile presence.
- With their new engine in place, their social media following grew to a fun number – highly organic and very engaged. It is a vanity KPI which they celebrate but it is really important to understand what really will impact the business. They value clicks to their website or the build-up of the habit of preferring and trusting Merriam versus other content when doing searches as this creates a virtual cycle with search engines. This is where the real ROI is and they are watching these numbers.
Get Lisa’s Free Download: How A Word Gets In The Dictionary [ Infographic ]
Rapid Fire Questions
- What is your definition of innovation?
The dictionary definition of innovation is the introduction of something new; and a new idea, method, or device. The definitions seem straightforward and clear but it probably encompasses what most of your guests say when they try to give more complicated answers. It is a thing of beauty.
- Would you put more emphasis on the idea or the execution? How would you weigh each of them and why?
I would put more on the idea but its close. 55% to 60% to the idea and the rest is execution. Bad execution can mock up a bad idea. The difference between good execution and great execution is almost like the quote from Mark Twain: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Execution is really important but it cannot save a bad idea.
- What is your biggest learning lesson on your journey so far?
Follow the data.
- What is your favorite business book?
Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
The Net and the Butterfly
- What is your favorite digital resource?
- What is your favorite app?
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