Wednesday, December 31

The Top Five Posts Of 2014 Mostly Focused On Writing

If there was any central topic that seemed to attract more people to Words, Concepts, and Strategies that any other this year, it would be writing. Much like many professionals see social media as being flattened — moving away from being seen as a profession and more toward being seen as a skill set employed equally by marketers, public relations professionals, and communicators — more and more of them want writing to be something that everyone can express as a proficiency.

It's possible, perhaps, as long as organizations don't under value those who have dedicated their careers to the craft. You see, it's one thing to write as proficiently as 25 percent of the population but it's another to write as impassioned as only 3 percent of the population. Still, there is something that everyone can do to improve their writing. Dozens of tips are in the top posts of 2014.

The top five posts of 2014, based on readership.

Writing Is A Process
5. Writing Is A Process That Starts Long Before The First Word. Despite recent trends in an attempt to commoditize it, writing requires hard work. In addition to knowing how to string words together so they have a maximum impact with minimal means, writers must master research techniques, organize for structure, edit for clarity, proofread for accuracy, and package the content for better retention.

In addition to highlighting a few of the challenges young writers face today, the piece includes a presentation deck that was created for a private education session about the subject. Everyone wants to become a better writer, but most aren't prepared to put in the work to make it happen.

Ten Questions For Better Writing4. Your Writing Is Almost Never As Good As You Think. Several studies have shown that there is a disparity between how well people think they can write and how well they can write. Despite what students think, only about one in four are proficient writers and less than three precent are great writers.

This article was accompanied by the top ten questions people can ask to assess their own writing abilities. Highlights include some of the most common problems encountered in various professions, especially communication and marketing, on a daily basis. The piece is interlinked with several other articles that provide additional insight and examples.

Social Media Marketing Is Wrong
3. Why Is Marketing Still Wrong About Social Sharing? On the surface, this story is about marketing and social media, but it bridges into other subjects like psychology and written communication. The short version is that the article explains why the over emphasis on measurement, search, and social platforms isn't necessarily a good investment if it is made at the expense of worthwhile content.

The article goes on to highlight five popular drivers behind the psychology of sharing, which seems to have very little to with how most marketers spend their budgets. The piece cuts both ways in showing how value is better than viral and how much content can become a slave to other factors.

Banned Books And What It Means
2. The Elephant In The Room Of Banned Books Is Gray. Rather than submitting a top ten books list for banned books week, the post highlights eight articles that tell stories about why books are being challenged in America today. The real purpose of the piece was to help people see that not all books are being challenged for the reasons one might think or that it is exclusive to one group.

Nowadays, books are challenged and "banned" for all sorts of reasons, many of which read like a snapshot of social issues Americans struggled with that this year. For my part, I don't share my own take on the topic but rather present a few questions that may help people see beyond the obvious.

What Not To Do As A Writer
1. Five Popular Content Writing Tips That Are Dead Wrong. The most popular post of the year pinpoints and dismantles five writing tips that are still being promoted around the web. They include the call for short content, spicing up word choices, rushing the deadline, fluffing facts, and transitioning to more pictures and less written content for the next trend in online marketing.

All of those tips are dead wrong. In fact, most of them can be tied to some of the reasons not everyone is excited to take a chance on content. Nobody really wants to click on an eye-catching visual that tricks them into reading a quickly written paragraph that boasts about some unsubstantiated claim being made by a product or service they don't need or want. Do they?

Happy new year and thanks for helping this space be the exception.

It seems to me that they do not. As part of a two-year experiment (and personal reasons), I opted to write significantly fewer posts (about one a week) that frequently sported higher word counts. The result is that while daily traffic dropped, the average number of readers per article is up (as well as overall readership) compared to the days when this space was a short-format daily.

While there are some other trade-offs (such as weaker reader loyalty on throwaway posts), I've found it to be more fulfilling to pick timeless topics as opposed to a couple of graphs on the topic du jour. And I'm happy to know that some folks have found some value in the topics I've taken up this year.

Thanks for reading and happy new year. And if you want to keep up weekly, subscribe here.

Wednesday, December 24

Yes, You Are Loved. Happy Holidays.

My favorite holiday story has always been the Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen. It's the story about a young, impoverished girl attempting to sell matches in the street. She is cold and alone, fearful of going home without a single sale as her father would likely beat her.

She eventually shelters herself in a small alley and lights a match to warm herself. In the glow of it and each match struck after, she sees visions of a feast, a Christmas tree, and eventually her grandmother. And it's with this last vision that the girl begins to light match after match — until all the boxes are ablaze — in a desperate attempt to keep her grandmother with her.

As the blaze dies, so does the girl. And her grandmother, no longer a vision, carries her to heaven. 

The story touched me then, as it does today, not in the beauty of a dying child clinging to hopes and dreams or only in the promise of a life ever after. Much of it had to do with living in a household with a grandmother who was dying of cancer. The story became her promise to me that she would always be there and that one day we would be reunited no matter what might happen in this life. 

A Little Match Girl, Revisited

Barefoot in the snow with blue and frozen toes, 
A match girl strikes a fire to ward away the cold. 
And in the sputter of the flame she seems to see
A stove to warm her hands; the comfort of a tree; 
A roast to heal her hunger; and arms of empathy. 

I wrote the untitled poem a few years ago for a Christmas card. And this year, I revisited my copy of the story to illustrate a scene from it. And on the back of the card, a few might notice the 13:7 verse reference. 

Any book will fit the meaning, but especially Corinthians with its gentle reminder that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things ... love really is all there is and will be.

That is why my grandmother had always impressed this story upon me. She wanted me to know that even after she was gone, her love would carry on with me until the end. There is no greater gift than that.

And yes, you are loved. Happy holidays. Good night and good luck. 

Wednesday, December 17

A Little Diversification Doesn't Make Anyone A Dullard

Prevailing wisdom dictates that that professionals are best served by being topic centric. There is some truth to the concept for those who are building a career within a specific industry or central idea. It can be considerably more difficult for writers, especially those who find anything and everything of interest — because we understand there are no boring topics (just boring writers).

So while I have experience teaching people how to develop a professional image, I also stopped worrying about being Batman. Sure, I don't always talk about my other interests in this space, but I do have them. They are eclectic as my library and play lists. And sometimes they pop up as guest posts.

In recent months, I'm very grateful for a handful of sites that have asked me to submit guest content and I think the best way to thank the publishers are to list a few of them here. Give them a gander.

Five picks from a short list of stories that weren't published here.

The Future Of Content, Part 3 with Danny Brown. When marketing professionals think about content, they think in terms that have grown all too familiar. Most of them know its easier to follow in the footsteps of best practices rather than look forward, lead ahead, and innovate the industry.

So when Danny Brown asked me to contribute to his mini-series on content marketing, I wanted to move away from practices and focus in on possibilities. The Future Of Content, Part 3 was a sneak peek into a future that is much more reliant on multimedia content, non-linear data, individualized communication, and interactive technology that some people have taken to calling enchanted objects.

Other people know it better as augmented reality. Marketers ought to think about it now or they'll have to play catch up like they did with every communication innovation since the dawn of time.

Guyside: How To Diet And Exercise Like Your Life Depends On It via Flashfree. Every now and again, it's not uncommon for people to ask me "how are you doing?" It used to be they asked because they wanted to know what's new. Nowadays, their interest is linked to being a cancer survivor.

There is nothing wrong with that. Life deals up all sorts of experiences and you can use them as an opportunity to make yourself stronger if you survive them. This was also one the reasons my friend Liz Scherer invited me to write a set of guest posts for her long-standing blog. Fitness seemed like a logical place to start, given my rapid recovery and work to become a certified personal trainer.

Beyond the obvious tips about fitness, the article is mostly a lesson in doing. It applies to almost anything. Success is a by-product of doing the things you are inspired by or have a passion to do as often as possible until you can eventually do them well.

The Art Of Being Gender Ambidextrous via Tue/Night. The concept of being gender ambidextrous hit me shortly after my friend Amy Vernon told me that the publishers of Tue/Night were looking for a few stories about father-daughter relationships. But it wasn't my idea exclusively.

My daughter was the inspiration. She and sometimes her brother are often the inspiration when I write anything about one-off marketing and communication topics like leadership, psychology, or perception. It's easy to find inspiration in their daily activities because I've always taught them both that the only hurdles in life are what they think. And yes, I include gender on the long list of what doesn't matter.

The crux of it is simple enough. As parents, the biggest responsibility we have to our children is to keep their focus on what they can do instead of what anyone says they cannot do. No hurdles needed.

Guyside: Girls Deserve More Than One Way To Wear A Bow via Flashfree. Shortly after the Gender Ambidextrous piece broke, several people suggested I follow up the story with a second piece. The timing was perfect. I had already filed away an experience that seemed to fit the series.

My daughter didn't think twice when she dressed up as Robin Hood for Halloween, which seemed to mildly put some people off because she hadn't elected to pick any number of bow-wielding heroines. On the flip side, she didn't think twice about being Belle the year prior either. I can only hope she remains so free spirited all of her life — embracing her gender (or not) without ever being made a slave to it.

Freedom doesn't come from choosing between "this and that" or "red and blue." True freedom comes from choices that are only limited by your imagination and colors from every spectrum of the wheel.

Spotlight On Stefan Bucher via AIGA Las Vegas. Although the intent of the piece was to promote the AIGA Centennial Celebration in Las Vegas, there is significantly more value to the story than simply introducing speaker Stefan G. Bucher. Think of it as more of a gateway article to the land of inspiration.

Bucher, if you are unfamiliar with name, filmed himself putting a few drops of ink on a piece of paper and then transforming the random blot into a fully realized illustrated monster. He didn't do it once. He did it for 100 days. So if you need any additional validation for the lesson of doing I mentioned earlier, I submit that you'll likely find it on The Daily Monster.

Bucher is an extremely talented graphic designer and illustrator who has created a career out of remaining true to the principles of design and being a little less willing to compromise. Who knows? With a little luck, maybe you too will find some inspiration from a drop of ink.

What's coming in the months and years ahead for this site and elsewhere?

This space — Words. Concepts. Strategies. — turns 10 years old. And while I don't want to say too much at the moment, anticipate a little more diversification. Sure, communication is an excellent framework for anyone who craves diversity, but communication can feel constrictive at times.

I know I might lose a few people in the process of this gradual change and that's all right. If you fit in that category, look for the headlines that pique your interest. For everyone else, you can always subscribe or come by from time to time at your leisure. I do appreciate it, especially when someone tosses out a topic that they want to see covered. Anything goes. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, December 10

Why Picking A Fork In The Road Will Doom PR

Public Relations
Twenty years ago, most professionals agreed that public relations could be segmented into three basic disciplines — public relations, media relations, and publicity. All three saw some overlap, with only practitioners and amateurs confusing the terms outright.

Nowadays, it's shaping up to be considerably different. When public relations decided it wanted to "own" social media, it created yet another schism within the industry, with some hoping to define its practices as traditional public relations, advocacy public relations, and social media PR. And it's this split that could eventually doom public relations because none of them resemble public relations.

According to one Forbes column, traditional public relations can be defined as media relations, with the principal endeavor being the pursuit of media mentions in a world with an ever-shrinking pool of news outlets. Advocacy public relations can be defined as the heavy guns, where strategists fund research to support whatever message points were voted on by special interests a week prior. Social PR covers everything from the 19-year-old intern managing Twitter to more lucrative content creation and social network distribution models. And that's it?

All three forks lead to oblivion. Don't pick any of them.

As author Robert Wynne points out, traditional public relations (as defined by the article) has faced a market contraction. Traditional firms that focused primarily on media relations are seeing their monthly retainers shrink as fast the news outlets they once catered to. Some have even made the mistake of accepting "per placement" rates, which only reinforces the pursuit of publicity at all cost.

While it used to be considered a nobler pursuit than writing pitches and press releases exclusively, many advocacy public relations firms have been sucked down the black hole of propaganda. Wynne cites several political spin campaigns, ranging from health care to global warming, whereby organizations invest millions of dollars to prove their points of view rather than find the truth.

The third fork, social media PR, runs accompanied by the myth that anybody can do content marketing and then attempt to sway the masses direct by creating some sort of viral phenomenon online. It was also the cause of many public relations budget cuts. In their desire to "own" social, many firms missed the memo that it meant more work for less money.

If these are the three forks from which public relations professionals can choose, the field might as well fold today. The first is too narrow, relying too heavily on a single public to be effective. The second isn't public relations as much as it is propaganda. And the third has already been played out, with the next step in online communication being very different than what we know today.

Public relations desperately needs to get back to the business of outcomes.

The real problem with thinking of public relations as being split into three forks is that it misses the point. Public relations is not a process as much as it is a concept. It's fundamental purpose is to transform "us" and "them" into "we" by evaluating trends, making recommendations, forging relationships, and providing for communication that produces mutually beneficial outcomes. 

It doesn't matter how that communication is exchanged — through a news outlet or direct to public. But what does matter is that any content shared is authentic, accurate, and truthful in order to ensure mutually beneficial outcomes. Anything less isn't public relations as much as it is propaganda. And anything more tends to compound the challenges that the field has yet to adequately address.

Maybe it's time to reconsider the original three disciplines again.

Public Relations. The job is to provide counsel on the exchange of mutually beneficial communication.

Media Relations. The job is to maximize positive media coverage without paying for it directly through advertising.

Publicity. The job is the deliberate attempt to proliferate the public's perception of a subject.

With the original model, all anyone had to remember was that the world view of public relations and publicity was fundamentally different. It otherwise worked fine, even after social media arrived. It also produced more outcomes.

Wednesday, December 3

Social Media Has Grown Up. Maybe Your Marketing Does Too.

A few weeks ago, someone sent me a long list of advice on how to use social media to market an event. Suggestions included arbitrary hashtagslike and comment contests, and keyword bombs.

You get the idea. Someone surfed and scraped up a social media campaign. And who knows? Maybe some of their ideas would have worked a few years ago, given that their punch list read like 2009.

But I had to do something different. The tactics were summarily dismissed for something more strategic, given an impossibly short promotion window of just over two weeks. Along with adding an emphasis to organic offline promotions, the revised campaign delivered approximately 350,000 first round impressions and helped sell out the event. Everyone was happy, especially the sponsors.

None of it was that big of a deal, but it did make me think. Are social media novices that naive? 

Last week, social media fueled protests over Eric Garner, helped kids with with cancer find support from their peers, became a battleground against ISIS extremismcreated a firestorm about free speech, and proved that participants are culpable for what they say online in some countries. None of this is really new, but the cumulative tone marks a lead story maturity that hasn't always existed.

Social media has grown up. And while there will always be a place for silly cat photos and memorable hashtag moments, the balloon popping party your organization has planned for next month doesn't stand much of a chance to win over the top trending news story. To drive attendance, you have to do better than the top ten social gimmicks that most search engine queries will turn up.

Most organizations need to think locally before they ever take aim globally. After all, no one benefits from a global social media campaign that tries to sell out a local balloon pop party. To drive local or regional attendance, the campaign model would have to reach party prospects through various outreach efforts, which may include social but would never be limited to an online environment.

For many events and offerings, social media can be much more powerful as a secondary touch point after introductions are made via mail, email, word of mouth, direct contact, or co-op or partnership solicitations. As such, the campaign objectives can be effectively reverse engineered to worry less about exposure and focus more on reinforcing the value, momentum, and excitement of the event to those individuals who have already been exposed. And then, if the value proposition is proven, they will compound exposure by sharing their intentions to attend and/or all the assets that prove its value.

What kinds of assets help prove a value proposition? 

The trouble with far too many social media campaigns is that companies have been trained to click the boxes or go through the motions to garner results. Grown-up marketing adds value to the event.

• Articles and interviews about the guest speakers who will be present.
• Special demonstrations that highlight the skill sets of the presenters.
• Videos that provide an expose about the event venue or sponsors.
• Event pages where attendees can share their intent to participate.
• Twitter conversations with sponsors, speakers, and other attendees.
• New raffle and giveaway rollouts that add momentum to the offering.
• Sponsor highlights, especially if they can be integrated into the event.
• Event attendance updates that project an expected level of attendance.
• Special pre- and post-event opportunities, such as lunch with the speaker.
• The promise of live event updates and post-event recaps with pictures.

More importantly, all of these ideas provide organizations an opportunity to expand their online assets while creating a lasting legacy of successful event offerings or product launches. After all, nothing builds momentum for the next event like missed event regret — online or offline.
 

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