Showing posts with label blogging. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blogging. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 2

The Accidental Hiatus After Ten Years. How Life Happens.

A few weeks ago, a long-time friend and colleague sent me a question via Facebook. It was startling to read but not because of the content. It was startling because my immediate response didn't feel right.

"Hey brother, did you quit blogging?"

"No" was my most immediate response but then I stopped myself from pressing send. I hadn't published a stitch of content in more than four weeks — my first sustained break from blogging in more than ten years. "No" just didn't seem to cut it, especially since I was asking myself the same question.

Did I quit blogging?

No, not really. It just happened. Life had become unexpectedly busy in the weeks leading up to my presentation at the NRPA 2015 Conference and never slowed down. It only accelerated. Between a whirlwind series of conferences and conventions, both parents having health scares, and a fully integrated work-life schedule, there wasn't any time left in the day. I decided to skip one week.

One week quickly escalated into two weeks. It was four weeks by the time my friend messaged me — an unexpected hiatus that I didn't have time to really address. Add four more missing weeks to it.

He didn't seem to mind. There may have even been a note of envy in the back of his head. He is coming up on the 10-year anniversary of his blog and thought giving himself permission to write and publish when he wants sounded pretty appealing. Never mind that my hiatus was never so intentional.

It will be going forward. Permission granted.

No, I am not going to quit blogging. I am, however, going to take a page from my friend's unwritten playbook to write and publish when I want without a second thought of maintaining a schedule. Sure, this might sound counter intuitive for anyone who knows anything about social media. Consistency, after all, is part of any well-executed communication plan (especially social media). I stand by it.

Except, here is the thing. My blog has never been part of a communication plan or distribution channel for my company. It could have been, but it wasn't. My goals were always more holistic within the context of education, experimentation, and engagement. Some of this still applies.

Some of it doesn't. While there will always be a place for articles and essays, the social media landscape has changed and it is on the verge of changing again. Social networks are mostly better places for engagement than blogs (even for those of us who lament the loss of long format thought exchanges that still happen but not often enough). Experimentation has mostly moved off blogs and onto other platforms and technologies (except for writing and thought exercises). And that leaves education, which is one reason why I'll never shutter the space. This has been and continues to be one of the best places to sketch ideas, receive feedback, and provide students of mine with extracurricular education — previews and supplements to material I've made part of my classes.

I'll likely spend more time in the classroom. Spring 2016.

Some of the best material I've contributed to the field for the better part of a decade has arguably come out my classrooms. Students bring in some of the most interesting case studies and questions — puzzles that inspire problem solving for the here and now or long-term future. And in the upcoming year, I'll find my feet planted firmly on two campuses.

I have four classes scheduled at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, during what I hope will be an interim schedule before continuing to build out a new Integrated Marketing Communication certificate program — with more than 40 different classes that would appeal to both working professionals and career explorers. The time is really right to introduce this program, but students are welcome to take any of the following in the interim.

Editing & Proofreading Your Work from 9 a.m. to noon on Feb. 6. This half-day program continues to be a staple for anyone interested in refining the written word by it making clear, concise, and grammatically correct. It focuses on all the essentials associated with solid writing mechanics.

Writing For Public Relations on Thursdays from Feb. 18 through April 21. For ten weeks, students learn to master a variety of writing styles and understand how best to apply them to news releases, fact sheets, biographical sketches, feature stories, media kits, and social media. Expect to write.

• Editing & Proofreading Your Work from noon to 3 p.m. on June 6. This is an encore session of the February class, except offered in the afternoon for students unable to attend a weekend session. The format is the same, but every class is different as it adapts to new people and perspectives.

Shaping Public Perception: Next Step Social Media from noon to 3 p.m. on June 25. When Social Media for Strategic Communication began to feel too mainstream, I knew it was time to expand beyond the confines of social media being a communication "medium" into a fully integrated and incredibly immersive multimedia strategy for public relations, marketing, advertising, and human resources. In a nutshell, this class explores what is happening and what is happening next.

Along with these classes, I have also been invited to teach (and accepted) a full semester course at the College of Southern Nevada. This experimental class cuts to the core of where communication is headed today. Employers are looking for a new generation of multi-disciplined professionals.

Writing For Design on Tuesdays from Jan. 19 through May 15. Search for class 35048 to enroll in a course designed to help designers master several modern writing styles that are in demand — copywriting, content marketing, and self-promotion across social networks and other media. This lecture-lab class will help students become familiar with message development, product differentiation, and brand voice while learning to understand how words and design converge.

With these five classes already slated for the spring, there will never be any shortage of topics to revisit from time to time, even if I no longer intend to keep a schedule. It is part of a bigger change.

The not-really-so-accidental hiatus. How times change.

I alluded to a direction a few years ago and I've stayed the course ever since. It came from the realization that the quantity of time we have is not as important as the quality. The thinking applies everywhere.

As I started to remake my life and profession in a very different fashion, I decided that I only had time for a handful of the very best clients I could find and not just any client I could find. This might sound as counter initiative as my opening graphs to anyone who ever wanted to build a business.

Except, here is the thing. I'm happy helping a few people build their businesses or organizations and no more than that. I'm not really looking to build another business of my own anymore. And this realization provides me a luxury that very few people get to enjoy until they are almost worn out.

Nowadays, I have to love my clients or they are not my clients. There are no exceptions. At the first sign of angst, I resign the account with no hard feelings. And, not surprisingly, for those relative few I keep close — I am increasingly passionate and proficient in everything we do. It's magical.

As I've written before: Everyone is driven by something. We can choose what drives us. I'm driven by helping a few great people who lead some amazing organizations, teaching a few students with limitless potential, living my life surrounded by the people who matter most, and carving out a few more hours out of my week so I can write stories that have been held hostage far too long by a fixed schedule. That's all there is and it's enough to fill me up — it's more than most people ever have.

How about you? If you could be driven by something, what would it be? And once you've settled on a few ideas, give yourself permission to ask why you aren't letting that desire drive you as if all that time you think you have in the world has almost run out. It had run out. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, April 8

Why I Want To Tell Writers To Stop Aspiring At Comic Con

The title of the panel that I'm participating on at Wizard World Comic Con might be entitled Calling All Aspiring Writers! The New Writer's Survival Guide, but I'll have a different message this time out. I'm going to tell them to stop aspiring all together. Very few aspiring writers ever become writers.

People who write become writers, which is why there are just as many accidental writers as there are writers who had always dreamed of becoming one. You have to aspire to be something more — a freelance journalist, copywriter, communication specialist, author, etc. — that makes more sense.

Most writers develop an affinity for one writing discipline over another and then invest less time into writing and more time into everything else around it. Very few have the time, talent or desire to weave in a bit of everything into their careers. Even closely related styles are surprisingly divergent.

Not many copywriters can write a press release (nor would they want to) and not many public relations practitioners can write advertising copy (no matter how hard they try). Even journalists who write for newspapers or magazines approach the craft differently, with the latter often lending more color, life, and perspective to their stories than the former with crisp graphs filled with facts. Most broadcast journalists admit to being further removed. And authors, especially novelists, have bigger challenges than many other career paths. Most of them have to balance their passion with a paycheck.

This is also one of the reasons I'm especially excited to be part of this panel. 

Genese Davis has assembled a diverse ensemble of writers to share their experiences and expertise to participate in an open-ended conversation that will flow and evolve with the panelists as well as the audience. What is especially interesting about the four of us is that we mostly break the convention of specialization mentioned above in favor of being creatives who happen to write about what they love.

Genese Davis is the author of The Holder's Dominion, a thriller about a young woman who joins a massive popular online game called Edannair to escape the pressures of college and the tragic death of her father. While her plan works at first, one of the game's elite clans has taken to coercing members into taking offline dares.

Along with her novel, Davis is a featured columnist at, the founder of The Gamer IN You, and an iGR Woman of the Year award recipient for her outstanding efforts in debunking stereotypes related to gaming. All of these experiences helped lay the foundation for her first novel.

Pj Perez is an American editor, writer, and musician best known for his reports on the Las Vegas culture for publications such a Rolling Stone. He has written for dozens of periodicals in Southern Nevada too, including Las Vegas Weekly, CityLife, and Vegas Seven. He currently writes for a variety of Wendoh Media publications and the MGM Resorts M Life magazine.

About six years ago, Perez relaunched his comic book and pop culture website, Pop! Goes the Icon, a boutique publishing label and online publishing house. It specializes in comic books, graphic novels, webcomics, and other forms of graphic literature and pop art.

Maxwell Alexander Drake is an award-winning science fiction/fantasy author and graphic novelist, best known for his fantasy series, The Genesis of Oblivion Saga. The epic series spans six novels that take readers deeper and deeper into a world of their own as the Talic'Hauth and follows the lives of its people over thousands of years.

He also teaches creative writing at schools, libraries, and writer's conferences all around the country. He is frequently a featured speaker at events such as Comic-Con International in San Diego, Gen-Con in Indianapolis, and Origins Game Fair in Columbus.

The accidental career path that afforded me a little bit of everything. 

As the fourth panelist, my place may seem a bit oddball in that my creative writing is only slowly starting to take shape after more than 25 years as a commercial writer — copywriter, journalist, content marketer, executive coach, political campaign strategist, and business communication strategist with award-winning work in everything from script to screen. Most of it happened by doing.

The truth is I never intended to become a writer. Although my first fictional story was serialized in a junior high school newspaper and my first poem appeared in print before that, I never intended to become a writer. I originally majored in psychology, believing art had limited career opportunities.

After studying psychology for a year at Whittier College, I learned the field primarily branched into two paths — listening to people's problems or teaching mice to press bars for cheese. It felt limited.

So I opted out of the program in favor of attending the University of Nevada, Reno with an intent to major in art and minor in psychology. The idea was to bring the two degrees together to begin a career as a graphic artist.

The university had other plans. The Reynolds School of Journalism recruited me into an advertising section of a journalism program that ranked fourth in the nation. They taught me how to channel artistic creativity into words instead of art, nurturing dual skill sets as a copywriter and journalist.

Upon graduation, I followed a girl back to Las Vegas rather than take any number of journalist job leads afforded to me by my mentors. I freelanced with a foot in two fields, writing advertising copy and collateral for agencies and articles for newspapers and magazines. Doing grew into a business.

Within a few years, as most entrepreneurs find out, growing a business is a different cut from freelancing. So while writing remained central to my career (about 15,000 words a week), new responsibilities required new skill sets — business management, creative direction, message development, strategic communication, platform architecture, public policy, and publishing among them. There were so many tasks that needed doing, it started squeezing out the creativity at times.

At one time, there were 40 full-time, part-time, and freelance writers and designers on our books. But after selling my first publication and surviving cancer more recently, I rewrote the business plan. And today, I only work with a handful of select clients while reviving my creative roots by doing.

In fact, there is only one thing more important than doing. You have to stick with the business of living. In other words, much like writing, you have to find an active voice instead of a passive one. Active living is where most writers find the inspiration to turn aspiration into action. Good night and good luck.

Friday, October 21

Dehumanizing People: How Social Connections Create Elitists

In one of the more interesting studies to come out this week, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business hint at a downside to being an "influencer" online.

Although the study does not cite online connections specifically, but rather social connections in general, it does provide a cross section for human behavior that manifests online. In many cases, the behaviors tracked in relation to the study mirror the behaviors of people who eventually grow massive social connections online, as individuals or in tight-knit groups.

Specifically, the study suggests that socially connected people have an increased tendency to view others as less than human — and even treat them as such. In fact, the study links bullying in school, gang violence, and war detainees being tortured as the negative consequences of strong social connections.

How social connections can eventually lead to disconnection.

Although researchers point out that there are many studies that share the positive aspects of social connections (increased self-esteem, happiness, and even improved physical health), they go on to point out that connectivity satiates the motivation to connect with others and create the perceived distance between "us and them."

In extreme cases, the social connections do not necessarily lead to animosity, but eventually convince participants to believe that they are superior and people outside their circles are inferior. This includes believing that outsiders have diminished mental capacities, sometimes going as far as thinking them to be objects or animals or less than fully developed people.

Does online social connectivity eventually lead to dehumanization?

Unrelated to the study, some people think so. Nathania Johnson touched on it two years ago in telling the story how of George Smith Jr. dealt with a blogger who inappropriately attempted to blackmail Crocs. He warned her away, saying he was better connected.

"He called her a nobody (in his blog, not to her face) because he claims to be so connected that he knows who the big bloggers in his space are. (He later 'clarified that she was only a nobody as a blogger ..." — Nathania Johnson, When Bloggers Attack

Ike Pigott created a near-perfect analogy in his post The Internet Is A Kennel, which retold how social connections can elevate someone to become a "chosen one" with propped up minions who will defend their idols to the death, often without even understanding the disagreement or conflict.

"I was pilloried by several people for daring to question the value of the Almighty Robert Scoble. I was asked why I think I am better than he is, and I was questioned about why anyone would bother following me." — Ike Pigott, The Internet Is A Kennel

Geoff Livingston once wrote that he found the A-List to be a condition of society's general values. And that while he understands that may be inevitable, it is not for him. He tends to avoid the ladder toward "elite hood," even at his own "ranking" detriment.

"Some A Listers follow formulas, sharing and content mechanisms to achieve their best practices. The Karaoke Show is on all of them. And they are rewarded for it with popularity and, in some cases, financially." — Geoff Livingston, When Social Media Rewards The Mindless And The Elite

Professionals are not the only ones who are sharpening sticks online. For all the altercations that have occurred on the Web between two or more people attempting to "out follower" each other in power, kids are learning from the behavior of adults. Nearly three in four teenagers say they have been bullied online, usually under the same conditions that professionals allow to play out.

But bullying isn't the only anecdotal evidence of a dehumanizing effect caused by social connections online. With more and more regularity, people who consider themselves A List material are dropping "followers," cutting "friends," and ignoring commenters who do not meet a certain rank, score, or inclusion on a list. In fact, some scoring systems reward them for dismissing the "under class."

The Study: Social Connection Enables Dehumanization. 

Beyond the most extreme cases of violence and inhumane treatment, the research suggests that more varied and subtle consequences are commonplace. It may include harassment in the workplace to overly aggressive fans at a sporting events.

"Any factor that creates disconnection from others, such as power, socioeconomic status or anonymity, may therefore enable dehumanization by disengaging people from the minds of others," the researchers concluded. "The present research suggests that social connection is one such factor that can increase disengagement with the minds of those more distant others, leading to a failure to see people as they really are."

Of course, this is not to suggest everyone is susceptible to allowing their elite status to make them feel superior over their minions and masses of followers. Many A Listers do not adopt anti-social behaviors such as those mentioned above (dehumanization or disengagement) as they begin to believe in their own celebrity. And, there are some very smart people like Arik Hanson who caution professionals away from systems that aggravate the problem by dividing and ranking people.

The study included four experiments. Researchers found that participants who were thinking about a person close to him or her were more likely to dehumanize other people. In extreme cases, they justified treating others like animals. The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Tuesday, November 16

Seeing Better: How Flipboard Enhances Twitter

As of a few days ago, Twitter had every right to boast about its 175 million registered users, up from 145 million in early September and 105 million in April. According to Ronny Kerr, Twitter could be seeing as many as 15 million new members each and every month (minus 1 million for people with multiple accounts).

What is interesting about the Kerr post is that he points out that Twitter has seen three major growth spurts in the last couple years and each can be directly assigned to individually significant site developments. What does he claim they are?

The first was in mid-2009, a direct result of widespread media coverage of the site because of Ashton Kutcher. The next surge was in its smart phone offerings, with the launch of official iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry apps, that new registrations would flow like a flood again. And the newest surge, he says, has to do with site design.

I don't think so. The new two-column platform detracts from the user experience, squishing the conversation to one side. It seems more likely the influx of new people is related to the adoption of companies, organizations, and promotion by media.

The reason could be that the entire interface is flawed, something that never occurred to me until viewing Twitter on Flipboard.

How Flipboard, despite some shortcomings, is intuitive.

Legal questions aside, while Flipboard is not suited to dialogue between people (beyond a one comment quip), it does help sort the valuable content from the chaff because it ports in the first few graphs of any link. And, after experimenting with it for a few days, it saves me considerable time and adds value for two reasons.

• Flipboard allows me to immediately see what is behind any link, beyond the 140-character pitch.
• Flipboard helps me find valuable content without relying on other factors like trust and frequency.

In other words, it levels the playing field for everyone I have weaker relationships with while vetting the content being shared by people I have stronger relationships with. And, it does this effectively enough that unless Flipboard disappears, there is no better way to consume content (noting that as I already mentioned, you cannot engage in a two-way dialogue).

The concept was originally developed as an alternative to the various applications that some publications are putting out, but some of the real value comes from social network streams like Facebook and Twitter. Interestingly enough, the Facebook experience on Flipboard is neutral because Facebook never adopted the truncated communication model.

Sure, it would be even better if you could import one blog or feed or web address as opposed to a Twitter stream, but Flipboard works well enough for now. Likewise, if little chat bubbles could accompany the one-time comment option (much like Echo Phone allows), it would change from a content delivery option to a dialogue option.

But more importantly, and the point of this post, it really demonstrates the inherent weakness of Twitter's communication model. As an interface, I've become more fond of Fried Eggs and Facebook for this reason. Both encourage shorter communication without the lockdown on those occasions when you want a longer dialogue.

Don't get me wrong. I still value Twitter because of my connections there. Or, perhaps, I ought to say I value my connections so much, I'm willing to put up with Twitter. However, long term, I wonder how Twitter will fare unless it can develop interfaces that break away from its original, ever more confining quip of 140 characters or less. How about you?

Monday, October 25

Charging Brands: Latino Bloggers Want To Be Paid

Although the national survey was limited to Hispanic bloggers, the same could be said about bloggers in general. Most of them want to be compensated.

According to the survey, monetary compensation isn't the only form of compensation (although some are only interested in monetary compensation). Free products, event passes, and insider opportunities are all attractive offers. It was also interesting to note that survey respondents placed significantly higher value on writing a post for someone as opposed to accepting payment for a sponsored post.

Highlights From the National Hispanic Blogger Survey

• 88 percent of Latino bloggers surveyed felt compensation was important to them.
• 61 percent of Latino bloggers are currently running Google and other ad networks.
• 52 percent of Latino bloggers said they wanted standardized rates for sponsored posts.
• 40 percent of Latino bloggers say they never perform work for brands without compensation.

Additional Insights From The Limited Survey Group.

• 41 percent post a few times per week and 26 percent post daily.
• 26 percent invest 5 hours or less to develop content; 30 percent invest 6-10 hours.
• 38 percent promote on Facebook; 35 percent promote on Twitter.
• 29 percent started for the journalism experience; 18 percent to develop connections.
• 38 percent valued posts at $250; 19 percent at $500; 24 percent at more than $500.
• Tweets were valued at $25 or more, with some placing 2-3 tweets at $100 or more.

"We know the topic of compensation is a sensitive one and at times controversial for bloggers," said Lourdes Rodriguez, president of HPRA Los Angeles. "But at the same time this information is invaluable to brand marketers and agencies."

Have Public Relations Professionals Priced Themselves Out Of Earned Media?

While the survey sampling is small, the study helped clarify something that has been occurring over the last few years. Just two years ago, most bloggers were satisfied with receiving attention from a company. Today, the cost of a single post can be as high as $1,000 (more if it is written by some people) and up to $500 if it is sponsored.

Wouldn't it be something if public relations professionals — working so hard to demonstrate that targeting bloggers is on par (or better) with traditional publications in a quantifiable way — never realized bloggers were listening to their conversations? Or, in other words, as public relations practitioners continued to inflate the value of circulation via blogs, bloggers decided they weren't so willing to give away space as earned media, a luxury major media could afford because of advertising dollars. Imagine that.

Wednesday, October 20

Blogging Tips: Not All Posts Do The Same Thing

blog postsA friend of mine recently asked why some posts on his blog attract attention and others do not. And, he wanted to know if he should skew his posts to the most visited. Absolutely not, I replied. Not all posts are created equal or behave the same way.

It's one of the pitfalls of relying too much on analytics. If you skew toward the most popular arrangements, people will become bored. The truth. You never know how much traction a post might have or when.

Ten Common Variations In Posts.

• Conversations. Probably the most popular among social media pros nowadays, the writers claim that they either don't know or hold back that they do know. Doing so opens the door for readers to leave opinions, suggestions, whatever. They tend to receive comments whether or not they are controversial.

• Dialogues. They're easily recognizable as an exchange, with two or more bloggers toggling back and forth between ideas and building upon the content. These used to be the most popular posts among communicators, with various people contributing their thoughts to a central theme. Unfortunately, they lost some luster when they became memes.

• Thinkers. These are posts that make people think. In fact, they make people think so much that they don't comment, respond, or add any contribution whatsoever. Sure, some people might bookmark them, but the content is rich enough that no one has anything to add, or at least, not without significant thought in composing a reply. Bloggers who write these posts tend to have discipline because there isn't much reward in terms of attention. It's just good information.

• Satisfiers. Another popular intent, lately. They are posts where the blogger already has a pretty good idea of how the audience will respond. Simply put, they are preaching to the choir and the choir offers up resounding applause, sometimes in the comments but more often across various social networks.

• SEOs Not always, but sometimes, they lead with "10 Tips …" and then ramble on about a certain subject. These tend to be popular, especially among publications and businesses looking for search engine traffic. Some people only write SEO posts. It has nothing much to do about anything other than catching some search engine juice.

• Giggles. I know several bloggers that beat this path to death. There is nothing wrong with it, but they don't always lend much value and often take advantage of multimedia. They either create something cool (or funny) or find something cool (or funny) and then offer up the briefest of descriptions. When people stumble onto it, they can't help but to say "that's cool" and then share with other people they know. It's the epitome of Does It Blend.

• Bookmarks. Not many bloggers use them (I do from time to time). They compile and curate research that might be used for another time or as benchmarks of where we are in terms of the economy or sustainability of various ideas. The downside for these bloggers is they might be the only people who care no matter how relevant the topic might be.

• Linkbaits. More often than not, they are designed to be controversial and aim at attracting attention and rebuttals. This is the reason so many ideas have been declared dead online. Some people take it even further by declaring something dead in the headline, but then leading with a sentence that says "not really." It's a trick, pure and simple.

• Circulators. Not all posts are shared publicly and, very likely, the only person who knows they're being read is the blogger. I've written dozens of these over the years. The posts won't attract visible attention in terms of page rank or comments, but they fly around emails being passed around or pop up on a closed forum for discussion.

• Sleepers. These are my favorite, but only because they tend to be so utterly unpredictable. And it's also why I advised my friend to ignore analytics (other than getting a sense of trends). Sleeper posts are those that are virtually written before their time. They won't be popular today or even this week. But then one day, out of the blue, they become your most popular posts for weeks or longer because something happened that made them relevant or a new group of people stumbled upon them.

Naturally, not all posts have to be limited to these arrangements, and different styles can be blended together. There are even a few more here that I didn't mention, including curators that compile other people's posts (often used to attract the attention of anyone included, but are sometimes employed for other purposes like an experiment). And, of course, cheerleader posts, which offer nothing much more than mindless praise to the original author.

In general, the best blogs mix and match these variations, which keeps their content fresh (or perhaps the author). People who only subscribe to one style tend to lose their passion or push content too aggressively.

However, I have noticed (and some others have too) that more seasoned bloggers abandon certain styles, but not always for the right reasons. They avoid anything that involves sourcing, linking, or attributing so they can stand alone as originators of the idea. I just read one of them yesterday, suggesting that social media is more than a campaign.

That idea popped up around 2008. But it was later popularized by Jeffrey Hayzlett, former Kodak CMO, and is sometimes attributed to Dan Blank (after his marketing firm credited the quote to him, earlier this year). Ho hum. Social media. Hope the above helps.

Thursday, August 19

Making Myths: Copywriter vs. Blogger Debate

Glenn Murray wrote a great link bait post entitled "Bloggers Versus Copywriters: 8 Reasons Why Bloggers Do It Better." Most bloggers who read Problogger loved it. But does it mesh?

1. Murray: They know what they’re writing about.
Murray asserts most copywriters write about different things every day and it's rare that they write about things they are actually interested in whereas bloggers always write about what they love.

Fact or Fiction? Mostly fiction. Good copywriters are passionate about what they write about. If they aren't passionate about it, they will be. The same holds true with bloggers. Some are passionate about the material, some aren't. Advertising has an equal chance to be informative, accurate, and helpful.

2. Murray: They have a more immediate and real incentive.
Murray asserts that copywriters write about other people's products. They are paid by the hour and not for results. Bloggers, on the other hand, get paid for selling their own stuff and thus are more result-focused.

Fact or Fiction? Total fiction. Show me a copywriter that isn't generating results and I'll show you a copywriter who is out of work. They are only as good as their last ad. Bloggers, on the other hand, will write some posts that draw hundreds and others that attract no one. It's expected.

3. Murray: They know their audience (better).
Murray says most copywriters have a vague knowledge of their audience, investing more time getting to know the product or service. Bloggers, he says, know the audience intimately.

Fact or Fiction? Total fiction. While there are some novice copywriters who work solely off creative briefs, the best copywriters invest plenty of time pouring over studies, surveys, field work, direct customer contact, competitor information, and their customer interaction, etc. Sometimes, they know more about the audience than the audience knows. Bloggers, on the other hand, know their readers and, specifically, what their readers tell them.

4. Murray: They’re not writing for clients.
Murray asserts that copywriters have to write for the client, because the client ultimately decides what ads will live and die. They are also subjected to grammar Nazis that cling to arbitrary rules. Bloggers can write any way they want, he says, as long as their readers like it.

Fact or Fiction? Fact. Unless the blogger is writing a client's blog or is deeply entrenched in pay-per-post models, they have a lot of license. Copywriters are appeasing multiple people — clients and audiences (which is better than PR people who have to write for clients, editors, journalists, and the audience). However, copywriters don't have to suck it all up. They make recommendations all the time. One of my favorite statements: We can do that, but we cannot promise any results.

5. Murray: They get immediate and real feedback.
Murray says that most copywriters know when clients are happy, but not the audience. Bloggers, on the other hand, have access to everything from analytics to comments.

Fact or Fiction? Fiction. The only copywriters that do not know whether or not their work is effective are copywriters who never ask. Sure, they may not care about a one-time pick-up job, but they will know plenty about any regular gig. Bloggers do have more information. However, their analytics are skewed. Their core readers will say every post is great, even when it's not.

6. Murray: They’re not writing for themselves.
Murray says copywriters see themselves as artists. They love to write for the sake of writing. Bloggers, on the other hand, only write as a means to an end.

Fact or Fiction? Partly fact. Copywriters, especially young ones, see themselves as artists. In fact, so much so that it conflicts with Murray's fourth point. Novices take it very personally when clients change copy. But bloggers, if they have editors or clients, do too. Give them 15 years. After that, they won't cry anymore. As far as pretentious writing? That totally depends on the client and what works with their audience. Only arrogant hack copywriters *need* to be profound; bloggers too.

7. Murray: They're not writing for their teachers.
Murray says that many copywriters are haunted by their English teachers whereas bloggers don't care. He also says copywriters tend to write with complexity despite readers wanting clarity.

Fact or Fiction? Total baloney. They are just as many complex blogs as there are clearly written ads. Heck, sometimes copywriters have space for five to seven words. Clarity is critical for any written medium and if a copywriter doesn't know it, they aren't working. Even on this blog, the only time I get muddled in complexity is when I don't have time to write less.

8. Murray: They follow best practices.
Murray wraps up by saying copywriters don't follow best practices. Bloggers do follow best practices, he says.

Fact or Fiction? Completely made up. Worst point ever. Murray ought to have stopped at seven. While he might be a decent copywriter, he doesn't seem to know what the guy in the other cubicle might be doing.

Final Thoughts On Copywriters Vs. Bloggers.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Copywriters and bloggers cannot be compared, not really. There are only good writers and bad writers (and everything in between). For anyone working in the field that really knows their stuff, they'll tell you that.

The only difference between copywriters and bloggers is the style in which they write. And, some of those copywriters and bloggers are blessed (me among them) with the ability to toggle back and forth between those styles (articles, news releases, etc.). Not all writers can do that and that's okay.

If I've learned anything over the years, it's that every style of writing can teach you to be a better writer. I've shared that with every single writing class I've ever taught. Don't discount any of it. It's all good stuff (especially poetry). After that, it's all in how you apply it and whether or not someone will buy it.

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Wednesday, July 21

Writing Stronger Leads: Six Variations For Story Openers

The most important paragraph of any story is the lead. So it stands to reason that the opening graph of any post is equally important, with an emphasis for SEO. Doubly so if you only syndicate a fragment of the post to feed readers.

But how important is it?

Let's say you're a journalist looking for a story. You don't have much time. Deadlines are looming. You scan leads (assuming you can get past the headlines)...

"To support the marketing and branding strategies of its wholesale High Speed Internet (HSI) customers, Verizon Global Wholesale is expanding its portfolio of services to include two white-label, or non-branded, HSI options." — Verizon

"RMT, Inc. (RMT), a leading energy and environment company, is expanding its services to the Federal market to offer complex remediation, energy management, and renewable energy solutions." — RMT

"Everyone looks better in butter, and thanks to Midwest Dairy Association a fun new Facebook application brings a popular state fair tradition – butter sculpting -- to life." — Midwest Dairy Association

Nothing, except maybe a blurb about turning your Facebook profile picture into a virtual butter sculpture. I almost tried it, but then remembered I don't look good in animated yellow. That, and unlike the cool Mad Men Yourself app, there is no preview before you opt in.

No matter. At least I read past the first grammatically challenged graph.

The problem, it seems to me, is that while most journalists learn to write several types of leads, most public relations practitioners (many of whom now write posts) are only taught to write one type of lead: "who, what, when, where, how" lead. Unfortunately, the inverted pyramid lead is also the most boring. They tend to be especially boring for posts too.

Six Alternative Leads For Posts And Openers.

1. Immediate Identification Lead. The immediate identification lead relies on subject prominence. This works well for stories, but not so well for posts unless paired with a unique action. Sure, name prominence is important. However, if a popular headline is paired with an action that matches everybody's headline (Lindsay Lohan Goes To Jail), you become one voice in a sea of millions.

2. Delayed Identification Lead. If nobody knows who you are or what you are talking about, it's even more important to place the emphasis on the action. The action will draw the reader into the story, assuming it has some news value. A weak action is what broke the read for RMT. Several prominent bloggers have done this to gain a readership on the front end. It's not "who they are" that attracted people. It's "what they do" or did.

3. Summation Lead. Anytime you have a complicated story, it's best to sum up as much information as possible. I'll probably use this variation when I write about CitizenGulf's Day Of Action next week (on a different site). The event has several talking points so, unless an alternative lead strikes me, a summation lead makes sense.

4. Creative Lead. Unusual leads work best for stories with some element of novelty. They don't always work for news releases, but the Midwest Dairy Association is an adequate example. It's too clunky to be called solid writing and too gimmicky to be very creative, but we did read past the first sentence. Of course, we might not have if that release was a post. It requires sharp writing.

5. Pyramid Lead. Public relations professionals who send out feature releases use them now and again. But mostly, magazine reporters are much more inclined. Rather than invert the pyramid, they lead with a small detail within the story and then expand from there. Pyramid leads tend to work best with imagery: sights, sounds, smells, tastes.

6. Promise Lead. Promise leads usually appear in releases about a study and they work great for posts with an educational slant. People who write about communication frequently use them, prosing up from what you might learn from the post. In this case, I'm merely supporting the promise that I tucked inside the headline, briefly explaining why you might care.

Nowadays, people place significant attention on headlines, but they don't always pay enough attention to the opener. I invest as much as 20-30 percent of my total time into the lead. If I don't invest that much time when I start, I usually revisit the lead when I finish. By that time, a new lead has usually developed.

Where the application of a better leads pays off is on search engines that share one line of content and third-party syndication readers. The latter, which is a choice some bloggers make because they want readers to visit the site, forces the story to live and die based on the lead. My advice is syndicate the full post. Not only will your story have a second chance as they scan subheads, but it will likely increase your subscription rate.

Interestingly enough, copywriters are the only pros who sometimes have the option to skip the lead, assuming the headline is strong enough. For everything else, it's all in the lead.

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Tuesday, July 20

Warring Tribes: When Playground Fights Go Public

another blog drama
Ike Pigott had the best analysis of a recent online spat between two consultants. What's not to love about any post that resurrects Spike the Bulldog and Chester the Terrier?

I won't be so graceful. The brush-up between Kami Huyse and Peter Shankman is intriguing because it ends with two kids meeting up after school in the playground, encircled by their pre-pubescent friends, stomping their feet, clapping their hands, and chanting "fight, fight, fight!" It didn't start that way, mind you. Confrontation never does.

One tweet. One post. One response.

If you don't want to follow the links, it sums up in two or three graphs. Once upon a time, the most popular kid in school, Chris Brogan, bought shiny suspenders. So that made it fashionable for other kids to talk about their suspenders, belts, and fancy elastic bands too. Shankman included.

So, one day, Shankman shared the news about his shiny suspenders at PE class. After reflecting on this, Huyse went into the music room and said talking about what holds your pants up, on its face, is pretty silly. Then some kid, who probably doesn't have anything to hold his pants up, told Shankman that Huyse was talking smack about him. Shankman called her out and pushed her down. Dazed, Huyse said she wasn't talking about him, only suspenders (but what if she was, so what)?

Whack. Slap. Poke. Push.

And then, wow, everyone jumped in: Joe Ciarallo, Geoff Livingston, Aliza Sherman, Doug Haslam, Warren Whitlock, and a few others, not counting the comments, tweets, updates, and whatnot. It also doesn't count the dozen or so other posts that didn't make the first few pages of Google. It doesn't matter that Shankman later said he was being sarcastic.

That's how these spats are measured. Not in physical blows, but rather Google juice and search returns. The end result? Well, once Ciarallo threw in a third-party punch, all the positive ties between Shankman and Huyse (and there were a lot) shrank in importance. And that's why, these little spats, which on their face are pretty silly, were taken so seriously.

When Playground Fights Transcend Into Tribal Warfare.

Most playground spats never get all that much attention, but a few spiral out of control, including some that ended with the threat of legal litigation and the promise of physical violence (one of which we turned over to authorities). In such cases, perhaps the epic moniker might fit, with retellings of how Sparta dragged in the whole of Greece to defeat Troy.

The interesting thing about real tribal wars, however, is that most soldiers on the field don't know the circumstances. They simply raise their home banner and press forward with erroneous conjecture. And yet others jump in for any number of reasons much like Agamemnon did. He didn't care about the petty dispute as much as the excuse to gain more power.

If you are new to social media, you might as well know there is no way to avoid disagreement. Sooner or later, there will be a flare up. And with that in mind, here are a six friendly reminders that may help you keep playground antics in perspective.

1. Never write anything without the explicit understanding that you are inviting comment.
2. Never assume omitting a name will exempt you from a reaction by those who own the action.
3. Never respond to feedback when you are emotionally charged by the unexpected critique.
4. Always remember that the Internet isn't a private call. It's a party line and people take sides.
5. Always expect disagreements to eventually become a headline where you never imagined.
6. Always remember that, in time, most people regret what happened prior to the resolution.

Keep these tips in check and most discussions, even heated ones, will remain discussions. It's generally only the overreactions that attract the most attention to move friendly banter into something more akin to kennel noise or all-out tribal warfare.

Case in point, I can blame Brogan for everything that happened between Shankman and Huyse because it's funny to do so. I also know that Brogan can take a joke (if he even sees it). There won't be a flare up, let alone a tribal war. And even if he did comment (which is rare), it would probably be light.

Now, if only those who envy his suspenders would learn that lesson too. Then civility, even with debate, might be plausible. Yeah, right.

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Thursday, July 1

Spooking Business: Maybe Social Media Set The Wrong Bar

How often do entrepreneurs post about their business on a blog? The answer might surprise you.

SmartBrief polled its entrepreneurial readers only to find that almost 75 percent of respondents say they never blog for their business. Of those that do, only 12 percent pen a post once a week. Only 3 percent post daily.

On its own, the poll is not surprising. However, SmartBrief had run a poll in May to discover that of all social media formats, entrepreneurs are most interested in blogging, with 55 percent choosing a blog over other online platforms. Facebook finished second with 31 percent; Twitter with 12 percent; and Foursquare with 1 percent.

So why don't entrepreneurs embrace social media?

While prevailing thought suggests that small business owners aren't interested in social media, the SmartBrief polls suggest otherwise. So we asked some business people we know who haven't actively engaged in social media for their businesses. This is what they told us.

1. Time. Entrepreneurs, small business owners especially, barely have enough time to get everything else done. The thought of adding an hour or four to their everyday schedule is just too much to ask. Some say they might hire someone to maintain the blog for them, but they've read enough to know most social media experts says ghosting is out of the question.

2. Fear. Most entrepreneurs don't know what to write about. Part of the problem is time, because they realize they have to study up on industry trends beyond their business. But importantly, they've read enough marketing blogs to know that there are plenty of people waiting to pounce on them for writing about what they do know about: their product or service. Worst, any mistake made online is permanent, they say.

3. Skill. What appears easy for communicators is not so easy for all entrepreneurs. They aren't proficient writers. What some social media experts, public relations professionals, and copywriters can bang out in an hour, it takes them ten hours and there is still no guarantee it will be error free or anything anybody would read. That doesn't count hundreds of apps and platforms that many communicators have grown up with over the last ten years.

4. Networks. Some of them have attended enough workshops to know that a blog is not enough nowadays. The best read blogs have networks of hundreds or thousands that hang on their every word. It's hard to attract attention when you don't have 50 people who will promote your post, whether it's good or not. It's hard to justify, they say, reaching ten people.

5. Competitors. While social media experts frequently tell small businesses they should share their secrets to success, most small business owners believe doing so will only attract competitors (not customers) who will steal their ideas. They see it all the time on marketing blogs, they say. The people at the top cherry pick the people in the middle, without so much as attribution.

While I'll slate a post to address some of these concerns, there is one overriding theme that resonated with me. The same people promoting social media adoption in the field may also be the reason why more small businesses and entrepreneurs are hesitant to start. It seems to me that somewhere along the way, the rules of how to blog have gotten in the way of why to blog.

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