Showing posts with label blogs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blogs. 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, August 20

How To Stand Out In The Content Marketing Crowd

Maybe it is because marketers have turned more than one quarter of their budgets over to content marketing and as many as 62 percent of all companies outsource content creation, but it seems to be true. More people consider themselves writers today than any other time in history. Someone has to produce the 27 million new pieces of content that are shared each day. It might as well be writers.

Sure, some of them might be designers or public relations professionals or photographers or business owners first, but writing tends to be treated as a verb more than a noun. In fact, even those writers who do embrace it as a noun mostly do so with trepidation. I can't count the number of times that I've heard writers sum themselves up by saying "Oh, I'm just a writer" as if such a thing exists.

I don't really think so. No matter what people call themselves, there are people who write and then there are writers. And no, the distinction isn't only tied to proficiency. It's also tied to sense of purpose.

People who write see the task at hand as something that needs to get done. Writers see it as an opportunity to express an idea and hone their craft. A few don't even have a choice. They must write.

But this post isn't about that minority as much as another. There are some people who write who want to become writers. The only problem for them is that they don't look in the right places. They will never learn how to write a compelling blog post by reading blog posts about writing blog posts. You have to look beyond the medium of content creation to find anything worthwhile. Learn from great writers.

Five thoughts about writing from great writers and what they mean.

1. "If you want to be the writer that you confront 30 years later without shame, then learn to ignore your readers." — Harlan Ellison

Ellison knows that his readers are terrific people and mean well enough. But he also knows that once your readers start to know what they like from you, they will demand it over and over again. If you simply deliver what they think they want, then you will look back and discover you've written the same book a dozen times over or, in the case of content creation, the same post.

People often ask why some of the best content creators come and go. It's very much what Ellison said. If you want to be successful, you'll  have to surrender to writing the same thing over and over. Few people can stomach it, which is why some of the best writers drift over time.

2. "For me, the criterion [of being a great writer] is that the author has created a total world in which his people move credibly." — James Michener

When Michener said it, he referenced works like Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray and Huck Finn by Mark Twain. But then he went on to define it as being able to give your writing its own little cosmos. Doing so gives your writing the sense that it really exists in the real world and gives people the opportunity to accept it.

When content creators talk about doing the same thing in an article or post, they often refer to authenticity. There are bloggers who do it especially well. When you read their work, you almost immediately know it is them because they've lace little bits of themselves into the writing.

3. "My advice to writers who want to write columns is to learn to think, learn about history, learn about economics, learn subjects." — Ellen Goodman 

Goodman went on to describe that journalists writing columns (and we can add bloggers and content creators to her list today) can divide much of what they write into two kinds of stories. There are stories that tell you want happened and stories that tell you what it means. So in order to transcend the experience, you have to know your subject, you have to have a view, and you have to care.

Most content today seems to be written much like Goodman describes. Some writers do something or respond to what other people have done and then write about it. Some writers look for something deeper than the surface observations and add significant depth to the content or perhaps add innovation and clarity to the another field. A few overlap.

4. "There is a terrible tendency in this country to consume art and culture, to try to package it in the same way that all our other familiar products are packaged, and that can be terribly distorting to the work, to the art and culture." — Jay McInerney 

The more a writer allows himself to become processed by the machine, the more their work suffers for it. McInerney warns writers away from becoming too distracted by publicity or critics or anyone. The only thing that really counts, he says, is the writing — the ability to convey a thought, idea, or tangible experience to someone else in such a way that it matters to them.

This is true among commercial writers too. While copywriters, public relations professionals, and even modern journalists are pressured to produce content within the tight confines of what the client or agency expects, what might produce an outcome, or what generates traffic, it's always best to push all that aside while writing the draft. All those other mandatories — packaging that ranges from word counts to headline structures — can wait until later.

5. "If you get too predictable and too symmetrical, you lull your readers into — not a literal sleep — but you put their brain to sleep." — Tom Robbins

According to Robbins, the primary purpose of imagery is never to entertain but to awaken the reader to his or her own sense of wonder. If you become too predictable, the rhythm of the language will eventually languish and lose its angelic  intensity. When that happens, the words begin to lose their emotional impact even if the readers continue to read. You have to find a way to wake them up and engage them.

This is the primary reason you'll see marketers and even some others proclaim their preference for shorter and shorter works. The problem is almost never the length. It's almost always in the rhythm and in the beat. You have to change it up. Wake them up.

Do you really think SEO alone will make one piece of content beat 27 million others?

The writing tips above were pulled, in part, from On Being A Writer, a book that was gifted to me very early in my career. It's out of print now, but readily available as an after-market purchase. I don't know if I would call it the best book on writing there ever was, but it does compile 31 interviews with great writers and poets. Their advice is timeless, even if the book is almost history.

The point of it, I suppose, it that if someone who writes really wants to become a writer, then it's more than worthwhile to look beyond the task and more toward the craft. Learn to be a writer by considering the insights of people like Ellison, Michener, Goodman, McInerney, and Robbins. They all say similar things for a reason. There is an art to the craft that transcends all those other nifty tidbits. And you will find them almost anywhere link bait doesn't exist. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, October 9

How Simple Decisions In Social Media Make Big Differences.

social media
Social media can be a mean sport in some arenas. It can be so mean that sometimes the media overreacts, like Popular Science. The publication will abandon comments, claiming that a politically motivated war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on "scientifically validated topics."

They don't want to be part of that, even if they still will be (whether they have comments or not). They might even have it wrong. The whole of science is not to continually reinforce "scientifically validated topics" but to investigate the known and unknown. After all, more than one scientifically validated topic has been turned on its head. There are things we don't know. But that's a topic for another time.

Do comment sections really make a difference? 

My interest in this topic was inspired in part by Mitch Joel, who suggested websites could turn comments off, at least until someone develops better technology to keep them free and clean. His point was that online conversations have evolved. Comments are anywhere and everywhere nowadays.

Specifically, people are more likely to share a link and/or add their thoughts elsewhere — Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Medium, or some other platform — than they ever will be to leave a comment at the source. Let's face it. Websites and blogs haven't been the center of the social universe for some time.

Today, social media requires significantly more elasticity and adaptability and the conversations that revolve around content are much more hyper-extended. They are smaller, shorter, less formal and more fragmented discussions about articles and posts. It's as if all of social traded sharing for substance.

This is vastly different from the days when bloggers used to covet comments as a measurement (despite never being able to explain why Seth Godin could succeed without them). Years ago, there were primarily three ways to respond to an article or post — you left a comment, wrote a rebuttal (on your own blog), or shared it as a thread in a niche forum. It made things orderly but also exclusionary.

That is not the case anymore. Now, some articles can sport a dozen mini-conversations within the same platform, initiated by people who might have little or no connection to each other. It's fascinating and fragmented stuff, which is why some pros like Danny Brown look to close the loop on fragmentation.

Livefyre sounds like a decent solution, but not everyone cares for it despite going a bit beyond what Disqus "reactions" used to offer before they discontinued them. Other emergent comment solutions worth exploring include Google+ comments or Facebook comments. They draw mixed reactions too.

For me, I think the issue is something else beyond nuts and bolts. Errant comments, like those that Popular Science complained about, are manageable. Moderating comments by setting permissions isn't as hard as some people make it sound. And if fragmentation is a concern, Livefyre might mitigate it.

All that sounds fine, but it never gets to the root issue. You see, there is only one fundamental difference between comments at the source and comments away from the source.

Do you want comments to be part of the article or about the article?

Comments made at the source become part of the article. Comments made away from the source, even if they are ported in by a program, might relate to but are largely independent of the article. The difference is that simple, and this simplicity is deceiving.

science and faithIt's deceiving because when someone comments, where someone comments and to whom they comment to all have a bearing on the content, context, and character of that comment. It's deceiving because people tend to write to the author at the source (or other commenters) while they tend to write about the author or source material (sometimes slanting the intent to serve their purpose) away from the source. And it's deceiving because comments away from the source will never have the same kind of physical attachment or quasi permanence that those comments closer to source seem to achieve.

Right. Most people do not search for reactions when an article is older than a week. Few have the appetite to scroll long lists of link shares that aren't really comments, whether they are ported in or not. And, unless there is historical or outlandish content, even fewer read comments bumped to page 2.

So when Popular Science made the decision to abandon comments, they didn't just make a decision to suspend spammers and people they fundamentally disagree with on topics like climate change and evolution. They made a decision to disallow different viewpoints from becoming part of an article. And they more or less told told readers to write about the content but not to the authors of that content.

In a few weeks' time, their decision will likely be sized up for its pros and cons. But make no mistake, it was still the wrong decision. Silence is no friend of science.

You see, neither science nor faith need to shirk at a politically motivated war on their mutual expertise. The truth is that they are not nearly as polarizing as some would have you believe. Science and faith are like brothers in attempting to understand the unknown, often inspiring the other to stop and think.

What Popular Science could have done instead was create a white list of commenters better suited to scientific discussion, perhaps with differing but conscientious viewpoints. Such an approach might have moved their content forward, leading to breakthroughs or a better understanding of science.

But what do I know? I've adopted a different outlook altogether. Comments, I think, work best when they are treated like someone who calls into a radio talk show. If you could talk about anything you want, what do you want to talk about today? The comments are yours or we can chat in person at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on October 19 during a 3-hour social media session.

Monday, January 14

Burping Content: It's Not A Social Media Strategy

As content marketing remains a priority for many marketing managers this year, more people have been keen to make the case that more posts means more traffic. Why not? Frequency is an easy argument to make.

More content means more leads. More content means a longer tail. More content means more to share on social networks. More site traffic means more sales. Even as HubSpot points out, businesses that post 20 times a month generate five times more traffic and four times more leads than those that only post a few times a month.

See that? Frequency is the easiest case to make about content marketing. Everybody ought to make more of whatever.

Except, burping out more content isn't a strategy. 

More doesn't always mean more. Sometimes more can help, but frequency is dependent on variables that are harder to pin down. It depends on who or whom is providing the more. It depends on what kind of more you want to provide. It depends on whether or not the content is sustainable or finite. It depends on your business objective beyond traffic and popularity.

Who will be providing more content? A single content creator ratcheting up from one post a week to five posts a week might pick up more traffic or, depending on the value of the content, could oversaturate the audience. For the creators specifically, it could also lead to burnout, writing posts with a diminishing value proposition as objectives shift from valuable to just getting something up.

The reality is that too much of one voice, especially if it wears a brand mask, can become a bit boorish. People appreciate diversity, which is how Facebook maintains a top traffic spot. Millions of people provide the content (with some content providers more appreciated than others). Imagine what it might be like if all the content was generated by Zuckerberg. Right. Crickets.

The takeaway? Every content creator has a unique carrying capacity, dependent on topic, content, ability, and presence. More content might mean more authors, but only if they can match the spirit of the niche publication. Too much deviation can carry consequences much like not enough diversity.

What kind of content will it be? One of the most written about YouTube success stories is Will It Blend? by Blendtec. It is referenced so often that doing so nowadays has almost become cliche.

However, Will It Blend? by Blendtec is worth mentioning here because more content wouldn't have helped. If it had became a daily episode, two things might have happened. The best of its content would have been buried before it had a chance to spread. And second, it could have potentially destroyed any anticipation people felt for the next installment. So, for the most part, once a month seems about right for Blendtec, even if some months never cross the million mark.

The takeaway? Some companies undo their own their impact by swinging wildly between market saturation and market starvation. But content marketing isn't suited to sprints. It's more like a marathon, with content being delivered consistently with purpose.

How consistently sustainable is the topic? When you look at website like TripAdvisor, which has become a top destination research site, content sustainability might be defined as the number of destinations that exist in the world, continually refreshed by the diverse perspectives from authors who visit and report on these destinations based on their popularity. Ergo, a hotdog stand in Nebraska is likely to receive fewer updates than a hotel in San Francisco.

So why would it be any different for the respective companies? If a hotdog stand in Nebraska and a hotel in San Francisco both had blogs, chances are that the hotel will generate more content than the hotdog stand. Sure, there are some exceptions. If the hotdog stand was managed by the Dalai Lama, it could sustain considerably more content. But then again, I doubt the content would be about hotdogs.

The takeaway? Consider sustainability based on how often there will be new content to share, which will usually be driven by how often there is something new to report within the context of the site. The concept harkens back to days when public relations firms used to promise a certain number of releases every month without ever asking the company if it could sustain that many newsworthy prospects per month. Many cannot, unless they happen to have a public relations pro digging for it.

What is the business objective beyond sales? As content marketing becomes important to marketers, marketers have to remember that content marketing is the means to an end and not an end to the means. The goal of content marketing isn't to make a website the most visited space on the Internet unless the business is a website (and even that might depend on what kind of business it is and what industry it operates in). So what is the end?

It really depends on the organization's objectives and communication plan, especially long term. While Apple always makes for an interesting example around innovation, an even better fit here would be the rock band Rush. It sounds silly, but the band isn't very different from a business.

Specifically, had Rush employed the same tactics that many social media experts do today, it would have debuted with a disco album in 1974 and not the blues-infused heavy metal that eventually evolved into progressive rock (with lyrics that draw heavily upon science fiction, fantasy, and philosophy). Of course, if they had done disco, it seems wildly unlikely that these invulnerable outsiders would have eventually sold the third-most number of albums in history, third behind The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

The takeaway? Rush stuck to its objective to make a certain kind of music while the rest of the world thrived and died by whatever trends seemed successful for the moment. The same thing happens within the rapidly evolving space of social media. Many people and companies thrive and die with whatever seems popular at the moment, only to be forgotten about the following year. Never change your strategy for something as fickle as popularity.

Wednesday, December 21

Advertising Time: Real Time Vs. My Time

Louis Gray wrote an interesting post about real time news, especially as it relates to the explosion of interest spurred along by social sharing tools. In truth, it probably started happening before social networks. Most blog posts have a perceived shelf life (even if freshness might not matter).

Most people readily jumped on the bandwagon, with some people saying that delayed news will no long be acceptable. When they don't have enough time to keep up with readers, they reconcile everything at the end of the week, scanning the first two or three before marking the last 50 read. Even Google wants the Web fresh, enough so that it is willing to alter search algorithms to favor freshness over depth.

Gray's point is right on the money. Real time could very well be a temporary trend, fueled by an illusion. Every day, we receive nuggets of real time news a mile wide and an inch deep, when what we usually want is in-depth information on whatever topic might happen to be top of mind.

Good luck finding it. Even something as simple as an album review can be difficult to find under the wash of "fresh" track listings for more popular artists releasing an LP. Don't bother looking for song lyrics for any band with fewer than two million fans. Ringtone companies have that search sewed up. And many companies operating on networks, assuming they respond at all, are more interested in creating the illusion of real time service. Your issue will be resolved just as quickly by picking up the phone, with the only caveat to make it public.

Real time doesn't hold a candle to what people want, and marketers might take notice.

But it's more than that where Gray strikes at the heart of the matter. We don't want freshness. We want on demand content when we want it, much like more and more people expect their entertainment served up.

"Advents in information and content sharing over the last few years have instead made 'on demand' a reality, getting me what I want when I want it, not when someone else decides for me," writes Gray.

This gave me some pause about marketing too. Since the 1950s, advertisers have been attempting to create a false sense of urgency with ever increasing last chance "opportunities." Never mind that your last chance to save 40 percent really means until next Monday when we restart the email.

When you really think about what advertisers are doing (beyond telling you that they mark their products up so high that their profit margin can absorb a 40 percent reduction), they are marketing urgency with the expressed objective to convince you to make a purchase on their time.

Sometimes it works. But just because it works today, doesn't mean it will work tomorrow.

Consumers might be ripe to experience "on demand" marketing much like they enjoy on demand entertainment today and maybe, as Gray suggests, on demand news tomorrow. The best time to offer someone a discount is when they want to buy the product — their time, on demand.

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.

Friday, September 16

Influencing Editors: Public Relations

Years ago, as publisher of a hospitality trade publication (and earlier as a staff writer for several others), we were mildly amused by the volume of errant pitches and press releases. Public relations professionals would send anything.

Well, almost anything. News and relevant content were obviously in short supply. We didn't see much.

Nowadays, seven years later, we have a different kind of publication. I still consider it a side project as an online venture, even if the subscription base eclipsed the one we sold years ago. (Mostly, I only call it a side project because it's too much fun.) And public relations professionals still send almost anything. 

Well, not all of them. Some public relations professionals are different from others. Let's see how. 

A tale of two public relations professionals and their pitches. 

Once upon a time, there were two public relations firms: Jack Sprat and Joan. And as you might have guessed, Jack Sprat, much like his namesake, could eat no fat. But Joan, like his wife, could eat no lean. 

That made for a curiously different public relations practice, particularly in the area of pitches. For every one release Jack Sprat sent out, Joan would send 10. And while her clients thought that was impressive effort, something very different was happening under the table. 

All the Sprat pitches received coverage. But all the Joan pitches received none, except one. And that one, if everybody is being honest, was a fluke. Joan couldn't understand it. And finally she could not stand it. 

"How is it, Jack, that I do ten times the work and come up quite dry," she scolded. "But you, oh so lazy, come out quite well."

"My dear Joan, you might see it if you read," laughed Sprat with a shrug. "I never send fat, just the meat and some bones."

The meat and some bones will always do better than everything. 

To be clear, the first public relations firm sent three pitches. Of the three bands they pitched, one didn't fit. But the public relations firm knew it and included some information about the band's nonprofit affiliation. We do feature causes, and it was a good one that tied in with their music. We'll cover it soon.

On the other hand, the second public relations firm sends us pitches on everyone they represent, not only new album information but remixes and coverage by other pubs. But most fall so far away from our musical leanings that we have to laugh. Don't get me wrong. I don't really mind. Sometimes the pitches are entertaining, even if it's all too clear they don't know who we write about.

Over time, you have to wonder how an editor or publisher might develop an impression of the firm. While I don't mind the 10-1 pitch difference, it doesn't earn much respect. Neither did asking us to exchange a few facts for fluff the one time we did cover one of their clients. 

Conversely, the first public relations firm even gave us a head's up when they knew one of their bands  would avoid one topic. We asked anyway and the band didn't bite, but no one was worse for the wear.

But the main point is much simpler. Lean makes a publisher look forward to more. But even funny fat and gristle begin to convince them that emails from that sender can wait. Think about it.

Wednesday, March 16

How To Win With Social Media: Do Something Else

Gertrude McFuzzThere once was a girl blogger named Gertude McFuzz. And if the name sounds familiar, it should.

She is inspired by Theodor Seuss Geisel, the American writer and cartoonist better known by the name Dr. Seuss. And in his story, of course, Gertude McFuzz was but a sad little bird with the smallest tail feather ever.

But I know plenty of bloggers and social media enthusiasts who feel equally blue. They spend most of their days and nights gazing upward, ever upward at fancier bloggers and tweeters and face-bookers too. They're just like the bird McFuzz followed; her name is Lolla-Lee-Lou.

"If only I had more followers and friends and traffic and clicks," McFuzz would lament. "Then people would notice me."

So they scoured the net, looking for tips and gimmicks and tricks and top ten lists. There are plenty of remedies for them to find too, you see. Of course, most of them are tied to promoting other bloggers or investing cash money. In fact, all of those social media experts, with their heads in the clouds, are mysteriously supported by those searching on the ground.

But no matter. Most of the bloggers with a name like McFuzz are equally content to give each other some lift. They'll promise to give you a leg up, if you give me a click. And that might even work for awhile, those bubble building networks, exchanges and schemes. People promising something reciprocal, even if no one reads anything their fellow followers put up, as it seems.

Sooner or later, deflated and nearly beaten, some bloggers like McFuzz will eventually try cheating. And much like the bird who ate from the pill-berry bush, their numbers will soar.

"It's easy to buy followers when you go to the store," said McFuzz, feeling better much like a bird with a plume full of feathers.

McFuzzEventually, however, it all crashes down. McFuzz will run out of hours in the day or run out of bought buzz. That is what happens when you promise a reciprocal ratio of 1:1 (or 1:10 if they're famous) or spend all your savings on potions, elixirs.

So wait, what's the answer? In the story by Dr. Seuss, it was simple enough. Just be yourself and be happy about stuff. Other people have said it, so enough about that is enough. I'll go a step further than Dr. Seuss for anyone who sometimes feels like McFuzz.

Do something else.

It really is that simple. Do something. The truth about blogging specifically, and social media more broadly, is that only two kinds of people ever really soar more than a few feet off the ground. Either you become one of those who climb higher on the promise you'll teach those below what you learned or you do something.

It doesn't really matter what it is, as long as it's something. Take a long hard look at some of the "most successful" bloggers and social networkers (besides those who operate Ponzi schemes). What you are likely to find is a whole bunch of people who do something. They are speakers, authors, musicians, publishers, business owners, marketing professionals, programmers, photographers, artists, travelers, creators, etc.

So maybe it's time you remembered to flip the scale. If you invest all your time sharing, following, reading, commenting, and promoting everyone else to get ahead, you will eventually run out of time to do anything worthwhile enough to be noticed.

Right. There are only a few micro-famous people who ever got ahead on social media alone. Most of the people who succeed are too busy doing something else entirely. And then, after that (or in between non-social projects at least), they use social media to talk about it. Or, if you need a more direct example — visit an author blog or two.

And then ask yourself — did social networks make them an author or did becoming an author make them successful at social media? The split is probably somewhere around 99-1, with the great majority being people who took the time to do something.

Monday, March 7

Closing The Count: Popularity Vs. Quality

Fresh ContentThis is an imperfect accounting of the Fresh Content Project, but the case is made. There is no correlation between popularity and content quality. None at all. Not a stitch.

When comparing fresh pick authors against Alexa traffic measures*, the scale is neither right side up nor upside down. The better call is semi-random. It seems to be semi-random because marketing makes up the difference. The more people market their content, the more popular their blogs. Nothing more or less.

Ergo, the people in the top spots make it their business to be there. The people who do not have a different business.

The following is a list of 84 of 250 Fresh Content providers. There might have beeen an oversight. If there is, it isn't intentional. Visit the link for each quarterly list.

Likewise, some positions may change in the final report or ebook. And, there are many ways to consider the count. For example, combining multi-author blog picks would elevate several. For the purposes of this round up, we concentrated on authors.

There is also no distinction drawn for frequency. Looking at the percentage of posts published vs. the percentage of those picked could suggest some very different conclusions. So can looking at this list in such a raw form. Because it is not a rank.

beansThis list is nothing more than a count — determined by picking a single post per weekday. We then compared this count to Alexa global traffic (*hardly a perfect measure) but against those that are listed. In some cases, we identified non-principal authors as contributors, showing the rank of the blog they contributed to as opposed to their personal blogs.

Please keep in mind that the list is not an endorsement per se and we may have a different outlook on some blogs today. But specific to the experiment, there were many days when five fresh pick posts might be published (and we only picked one) as well as days when a post that would have never been picked suddenly soared to the top.

But all that aside, taking a look at the list shows how 'semi-random' popularity can be. The complete list of fresh pick authors is below.

84 Fresh Content Authors From A Field Of 250.

1. Valeria Maltoni. Communication, Traffic Rank 23.

2. Geoff Livingston. Communication, Traffic Rank 35.

3. Ike Piggot. Communication, Traffic Rank 55.

4. Ian Lurie. Internet Marketing, Traffic Rank 12.

5. Jason Falls. Social Media, Traffic Rank 13.

6. Roger Dooley. Neuromarketing, Traffic Rank 24.

7. Adam Singer. Digital Marketing, Traffic Rank 18.

8. Brian Solis. Social Media, Traffic Rank 8.

9. Bob Conrad. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 66.

10. Louis Gray. Technology, Traffic Rank 31.

11. Bill Sledzik. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 69.

12. Jay Ehret. Marketing, Traffic Rank 33.

13. Chris Brogan. Social Media, Traffic Rank 3.

14. Danny Brown. Social Media, Traffic Rank 14.

15. Lee Odden. SEO, Traffic Rank 5.

16. Beth Harte. Marketing, Traffic Rank 45.

17. John Bell. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 41.

18. Dave Fleet. Digital Media, Traffic Rank 34.

19. Shel Holtz. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 42.

20. Mitch Joel. Digital Marketing, Traffic Rank 20.

21. Andrew Weaver. Traffic Rank 70.*

22. Jay Baer. Social Media, Traffic Rank 15.

23. Jeff Bullas. Social Media, Traffic Rank 16.

24. Jeremiah Owyang. Web Strategy, Trafic Rank 11.

25. Arik Hason. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 39.

26. Jed Hallam. Social Media, Traffic Rank 61.

27. Kami Watson Huyse. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 49.

28. Jennifer Riggle. Marketing, Traffic Rank 36.

29. Maria Reyes-McDavis. SEO, Traffic Rank 33.

30. Dan Zarrella. Social Media, Traffic Rank 21.

31. Gini Dietrich. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 22.

32. Heather Rast. Branding, Contributor Rank 13.

33. Jeremy Myers. Internet Marketing, Traffic Rank 59.

34. Ben Decker. Communication, Traffic Rank 48.

35. Jon Jantsch. Marketing, Traffic Rank 6.

36. Mike Schaffer. Social Media, Traffic Rank 62.

37. David Armano. Digital Marketing, Traffic Rank 26.

38. Marketing Profs. Marketing, Traffic Rank 4.

39. Amber Nusland Social Media, Traffic Rank 27.

40. Olivier Blanchard. Social Media, Traffic Rank 28.

41. Priya Ramesh. Marketing, Traffic Rank 36.

42. Doug Davidoff. Public Relations, Contributor Rank 22.

43. Didi Lutz Public Relations, Contributor Rank 22.

44. Len Kendell. Marketing, Contributor Rank 22.

45. Patrick Collins. Branding, Traffic Rank 55.

46. Francois Gossieaux. Marketing, Traffic Rank 52

47. Shane Kinkennon. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 63.

48. Anna Barcelos. Marketing, Contributor Rank 22.

49. Pamela Wilson Writing, Contributor Rank 2.

50. Adam Vincenzini Social Media, Traffic Rank 44.

51. Carl Haggerty. Communication, Traffic Rank 66.

52. Kyle Flaherty. Communication, Traffic Rank 68.

53. Mike Cassidy Social Media, Contributor Rank 15.

54. Rachel Kay. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 64.

55. Sean Williams. Social Media, Traffic Rank 67.

56. Sree Sreenivasan. Journalism, Contributor Rank 1.

57. Lauren Fernandez. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 54.

58. Lisa Barone. Branding, Traffic Rank: 7.

59. Sean D'Souza. Writing, Contributor Rank 2.

60. Jordan Cooper. Branding, Contributor Rank 13.

61. Taylor Lindstrom. Writing, Contributor Rank 2.

62. Rob Reed. Mobile, Traffic Rank 46.

63. Peter Himler Public Relations, Traffic Rank 57.

64. Christina Kerley. B2B Marketing, Traffic Rank 47.

65. Michelle Bowles. SEO, Contributor Rank 5.

66. Audrey Watters. SEO, Contributor Rank 5.

67. Larry Kim. Social Media, Contributor Rank 2.

68. Jonathan Fields. Social Media, Traffic Rank 17.

69. Kristi Hines. Blog Marketing, Traffic Rank 10

70. Barbara Nixon. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 56.

71. Aaron Brazell. Social Media, Traffic Rank 31.

72. Mark Smiciklas. Social Media, Contributor Rank: 13.

73. Joel Postman. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 51.

74. Callan Paola. Advertising, Contributor Rank 40

75. Jason Keith. Social Media, Traffic Rank: Social Media, Traffic Rank 38

76. Erin Greenfield. Public Relations, Contributor Rank 43.

77. David Meerman Scott. Public Relations, Traffic Rank 25.

78. Ted Page. Advertising, Traffic Rank 58.

79. Christian Arno Social Media, Contributor Rank 16.

80. Julien Smith. Internet Marketing, Traffic Rank 19.

81. Kelly Day. Advertising, Traffic Rank 40

82. Chris Koch. Marketing, Traffic Rank 50.

83. Ari Herzog. Social Media, Traffic Rank 29.

84. Marta Majewska. Social Media, Traffic Rank 60.

85-250. It Doesn't Matter. Traffic Rank: 1-250.

There is nothing to be gained from listing the 160+ blogs that never saw a post picked. While it is true that several land at the top of some lists, this experiment always aimed to celebrate authors rather than disparage them. Being picked even once ought to be an achievement given the caliber of the people writing content on a daily basis.

If quality doesn't equal popular than why do some blogs become popular?

Fresh ContentIf popularity is your objective, it all comes down to common sense. Market your product heavily. Investing time in social networks and money (design, search engine optimization, and traditional marketing) will accelerate readership until hitting a proverbial tipping point where popularity can propel the project forward alongside marketing.

It's much more difficult to publish quality. In fact, quality seems to make little difference at all, with grocery vanilla, not flavored content drawing more interest. No, processed content is not better for your readers. It's only better for you.

You can see it traffic numbers across the board — 2007 was a defining year for communication bloggers. Social networks provided an opportunity for blast marketing. Never mind what some people advise. Those who poured on between 50,000 to 100,000 tweets saw traffic spikes (50-60 per day).

And that was only Twitter. There were dozens of others too (some now long forgotten). And, there was a surge in opportunities for grassroots marketing, everything from business card books to speaker droughts. Some even called for businesses to be more human while stripping away any human element from their home pages and replacing it with hard cold sales messages.

There is nothing wrong with any of it. But there most certainly is a difference. Anyone who worked hard to position themselves at the top deserves some admiration in that anyone could have but did not. However, don't think for a minute that heavy marketing (time or money) is any indication of someone being better than someone else. On any given day, number 32, 84, 156, or 245 could have been number one.

"Is a single leaf any more or any less part of a tree because of the length of the branch it grows or the proximity of other leaves around it or its current condition without regard to the potential it will achieve? Well then, there is your answer." — Rich Becker

Monday, February 28

Farming For Quality: The Best Content Is Not At The Top

Fresh ContentWhen applied to social media, organic doesn't resonate with everyone. There is a reason it doesn't. It has become one of several analogies that have been distorted to fit any number of new meanings (much like sustainable did). And most of those distortions were all aimed at making fake look better.

The original meaning as it was applied to content is much more holistic. Let's stick with its content origin today; the analogy came from food. Applied to blogs, it draws a distinction between processed and organic much like Hollywood draws a distinction between a celebrity and an actor/actress. One is popular; the other has talent. Sometimes, but rarely, one can be both.

The Three Types Of Content Farmers.

Processed Content. Convenience food is commercially prepared designed for ease of consumption. While often popular, most convenience foods contains saturated fat, sodium, and sugar. They provide little to no nutritional value but tend to have enough flavor to appeal to a mass audience. To keep up with demand, some farmers might use pesticides and chemical fertilizers to speed things along.

It applies to social media in that some of the most popular blogs on the Web become automated over time. Their owners have formulas for almost everything they do, including how to pick topics, write posts, and distribute to more consumers. Many of them have a following of distributors; people will promote anything they do regardless of quality. A few of them cut corners.

Organic Content. Organic foods are produced using environmentally sound methods that do not involve modern synthetic inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers. They do not contain genetically modified organisms, and are not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives. Not only is it better for you, but is tastes better too. The only downside is that it takes much longer to prepare.

It applies to social media in that some of the less popular blogs carry superior quality content, with every post being well thought out and original. Sometimes these authors pick up on other people's ideas and expand upon them, but always with their own research and added value. In general, they tend to be equal parts: inspired by offline events and trending topics. The advice they share is almost always grounded in communication strategy.

Private Label Content. This is where most farmers started hundreds and thousands of years ago. The results are often mixed. Some gardeners have green thumbs and some do not. There are any number of reasons for the variations. It could be the climate, soil conditions, seeds, talent, or perhaps just never finding whatever it is that they may become passionate about.

It applies to social media, with the exception that we can capture a snapshot of where they start as opposed to real farms that are in operation today. Most bloggers start with a few posts, testing various crops to see what what works best for them. If one sticks, they start sowing a field. Not all of these private farmers do, nor will all of them stick with it. The bulk will give up for whatever reason.

The Fresh Content Project.

In tracking about 250 blogs, daily, for almost a year, we found something interesting but not surprising. The analogy of processed vs. organic vs. private label fits. It even fits as a mix of the blogs we covered — originally about 100 and eventually about 250.

Fresh Content MixSpecifically, about 10 percent of the blogs covered were processed (A List), 20 percent organic (B List) and the bulk, 70 percent, were made up of private gardeners (C-Z Lists). This was not by design. It just happened to break out this way.

The original list was compiled from several dozen social media lists that had been previously published by people we knew. From these lists, we built a Twitter list with two purposes.

First, all their blogs were reviewed for consideration. Second, blogs that they tended to recommend with some frequency were also considered. We also added some additional blogs after we were introduced to new authors who wrote guest posts for one of the blogs we were already covering. There was a vetting process.

We also did not make any distinction between multi-author blogs and single-author blogs. Instead, we considered these authors a variation of sharecroppers. Or, in other words, they might have been private gardeners but planted a fresh idea on real estate owned by someone else. More people are exposed to their stock, but everybody remembers the blog they write for as opposed to who wrote the content.

Content Farmer Consumption.

While this is an extremely rough snapshot (something we'll revisit before any final report), we estimate that more than 50 percent of the content consumers rely on A-List content farmers for information. Specifically, they are popular authors.

fresh content consumptionIt's not surprising. Consumers tend to bookmark, friend, follow, and subscribe to people who seem popular. You can only read so many blogs no matter how you stack them. So people gravitate to reading what their friends or associates read, quality content or not.

Popular content providers usually have another leg up too. If they speak regularly or have a book published, they attract more followers much in the same way samplers do at supermarkets. Familiarity attracts readers, even if that familiarity is thin.

In contrast, private gardeners are very different. Many are happy with sharing content between a handful of colleagues. Most, but not all, believe that once they have found the right content mix that more and more people will eventually place orders, subscribe, and follow them too. They capture approximately 30 percent of traffic.

Ironically, many private gardeners are also responsible for sending more traffic to the processed content farmers. It might seem odd, but private gardeners are continually telling consumers who enjoyed their cherry tomatoes to follow the A-lister who inspired them. Conversely, few A-List content farmers credit private gardeners in the same way.

Quality Content Comes From Everywhere.

While I won't say that every private gardener can produce quality content, I can say that any private gardener with experience and talent is capable, whether they own their own space or want to be a sharecropper. In fact, during the experiment, even authors with no prior experience were frequently picked as having written the best post of the day.

quality contentIt's much like any garden with a talented gardener. You might not find their brand at the supermarket, but you will enjoy the salad they serve. Collectively, although many are hit and miss, private gardeners served up 35 percent of all fresh picks.

Sometimes A-List providers can too. Much like every vineyard has select wines, some A-listers maintain the private garden that preceded their massive operations. And occasionally, though only a sliver in comparison to the quantity they produce, you can usually find some quality from time to time. They served up 20 percent of all fresh post picks.

The bulk of fresh content picks came from organic farmers. They generated more than 45 percent of the highest quality posts. And, even when their posts were not "fresh picks," we frequently shared their work as an "also read" pick across various social networks.

Why Popularity Does Not Produce Comparable Quality.

Once upon a time, almost everyone who wrote a blog could be considered a private gardener. But as social media became mainstream, many were faced with a choice much like farmers — automate or retain the quality that made them popular.

Some remained private gardeners or dropped out. Some shifted the priorities of their business with more time to expand while retaining quality. And others became automated, propelled mostly by popularity. The tells are relatively apparent.

Processed content inevitably includes a post or two or 20 about how awesome the author is or how some lesser blogger picked on them or how they captured 5,000 followers in a weekend or how you have to have as many followers as them to be taken seriously. If posts like that still manage to be shared by 250 people or more, their blog can rightly be likened to processed yellow American cheese singlesconveniently packaged in individual wrappers.

While I am not suggesting abandoning the popular communication bloggers outright, the fresh content experiment did find that organic authors invest more time to produce quality content for a significantly smaller audience share. Proportionately, in terms of quality, most people are following the right people.

The best place to find quality content is to start stacking the deck with more organic content providers and frequently sampling private gardeners who have the potential (if not the passion) to become organic farmers. The only downside is that it takes a little more time to find them. However, it seems a small price to pay considering we all know what too much processed content can do over time — it could make your entire communication strategy flabby and reactive.

This is the fifth lesson from the Fresh Content experiment, which tracked 250 blogs for almost a year. The experiment focused on the quality of the content and not the perceived popularity of the authors. Next week, we'll conclude with a list of picked authors and any plans to produce a short e-book.

Friday, February 25

Writing Tight: Simple Never Meant Short

post lengthYou can find the same advice all over the Web. Many people suggest the best posts are about 200-300 words. Some even set the max amount at 600 words. But no worries on the final count; they say keep it short. Short and sweet, even.


Ghazal Alvi says it will save time. Bob Anderson says you can turn one post into three. Chris Brogan says brevity rules. Kevin Kane says nobody reads anything else. Scott Williams says he learned it from Seth Godin. Jim Estill says shorter is better. Steinar Knustsen says short. Rob Birgfeld says keep it short, stupid. James Chartrand says it works.


That's 100 words and I'm already tired. But if I write 100 more, perhaps I'll hit some magic number and make my point. Blog posts should be short. The shorter the better (but more than 100 words). Never mind that other thing. You know the one.

All of them are wrong.

Writing short is lazy writing. Writing tight, on the other hand, takes discipline. It also assumes you have something to say, at least something worth more than ten minutes of writing before spamming everyone in your social networks.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not advocating for long posts either. The right length of any blog post is precisely the length it needs to be. Not a sentence more or less. For example, this post now includes 250 words. And it's still not right.

How did short writing come into fashion anyway?

The same way all "short" rules come into existence. Boorish writing.

Boorish writing is why corporate videos are limited to three to five minutes (make that two minutes), news releases are confined to one page (skip it, just pitch it). And ad copy turned into some cheeky image of a skinny chick holding up a product. When writing starts to fail, we just want it to be over.

Case in point. Go back for a minute and reread any of those posts that claim short is better. Could you stand any of them if they were even one sentence longer? Probably not. I could even make the case that some of those take too damn long to make the wrong point.

boredThe trick is to toss the entire question of length out the window. A good book makes you lament when it's over and long for another. A good movie can make you wonder where three hours went even without an intermission. A solid post or article might make you think of so many new ideas that you can't fathom what to add with merely a comment.

And even this post, at around 600 words, might stick a bit more than those who stuck you with their short post arguments. But even if it did not, that's all right. I'm unconvinced that this paragraph is the right ending. It might be more worthwhile to leave you something new to think about.

Don't think about short. Think about tight.

Writing tight is the art of readability. It changes little annoyances like "he stated" to "he said" or "it is our company's practice to" to "we try to" or it "must be returned to this office" to "please return." For posts, especially, it's about chopping unnecessaries down to how people speak: "at the present time" (now), "due to the fact that" (because), and "are of the opinion" (believe).

Words are tools, you know. Their job is to convey thoughts, not obscure meanings. Collections of words work the same way.

The real secret to solid writing is never to confuse simplicity with condescension. Your goals ought never be to save yourself time, improve your back links, or double down on the frequency of your posts. All those tips do is make the post about you.

hmmmIt's not about you. All words are a direct conversation with your reader. If you care about them, then it is in their best interest that you invest as much time as it takes to make a point, make it clearly, make it concisely, and make it in such a way that they might stick with them longer than those popular and equally forgettable quick-serve social snacks.

And then what? Well, once you accomplish that ... you stop, without any worry that you broke 800 words several sentences ago.

Monday, February 21

Writing Content: Lessons From Fresh Pick Authors

fresh ideas
Every writer has a punch list of sorts. Elements that help them transform good writing into great writing.

My punch list consists of five — accurate, clear, concise, human, and conspicuous. I don't always hit the mark, but that is what I shoot for on good and great days. Many of these characteristics seemed to fit in while running the Fresh Content experiment. However, there were some other qualities — originality, insight, and an expansive view — that added quality to the content we read.

If you want to become a better writer, someone who offers up quality content on a regular basis, these seem to be among the top five characteristics of quality posts. Almost every fresh pick post during the course of the experiment included them. While there were exceptions (especially the fifth point or on particularly slow days), the majority included these five characteristics.

The Five Characteristics Of Quality Posts.

1. Accuracy. The content has to be accurate in terms of what it is trying to teach. And the most common failings in communication lessons tend to happen on two extremes — overt generalizations and elevating exceptions.

For example, we had little patience for top ten lists that included rules such as limiting every post to 250 words. It's not true. Economy of language has nothing to do length. It has to do with telling a story in the right amount of words.

Conversely, we're hardly convinced that every viral video needs to look amateurish because one or three or fifty examples did. There are hundreds of videos that prove the opposite. This is one of the failings of best practices in general. While they can be useful, circumstances and outcomes vary.

2. Originality. The content had to be original, with originality taking two forms. It had to be original in that it couldn't steal the best content from several solid posts without attribution. And it had to be better than a "pile on" topic post.

new ideasAlthough I've known it to exist, plagiarism is surprisingly common among communication blogs, even popular ones. It becomes more obvious when you're scanning several hundred. We had no patience for it and dumped any blogger from the list when it became obvious their spun content was something more than collective unconscious.

Pile on posts are different. There comes a point when you have to ask yourself if the world needs another Kenneth Cole Twitter post. Unless you have some exceptionally unique insight to offer on the topic or want to refute a colleague's conclusion, let the media follow the media.

3. Insight. More often than not, posts that tended to rise to the top offered exactly what I mentioned in the second tip. They frequently went against the grain because better communicators gave considerable thought to the communication challenge.

There are dozens of examples that pulled from the greater collection of fresh picked posts last year. A few that come to mind include The Flow of the First Mover by Ike Pigott, which fused analogy and truth; Digital Case Studies: Punch Pizza by Arik Hason, which adds analysis to a promotional success story; and The Five Ways Companies Organize for Social Business by Jeremiah Owyang, which detailed communication structure not unlike we did for fan groups a few years ago.

The primary point is that playing follow the leader like the media often does isn't very valuable unless you can add something else to the story. For example, while everyone was writing about the Gulf Coast oil spill last year, I always tried to focus on less covered topics related to the crisis. On the front end, I didn't write about the topic du jour but rather how all stakeholders were handling the communication differently.

4. Humanity. Throwaway posts and bullet lists usually don't include any semblance of humanity. They're not memorable. There is much more power in sharing a singular story, especially when the story telling is as unique as the content.

humanityLast year, Erin Greenfield shared her first-hand experience at creating a promotional video; Rachel Kay shared her thoughts on how people react to earthquakes; and Geoff Livingston saw the damage caused by the oil spill first hand. You can't fake the passion exhibited by each author. There is no formula.

While it's unlikely to happen every day someone sits down to write, there is something to be said about finding the passion and purpose in the topic you want to cover (and by that I mean beyond any organizational objectives). Don't just write about what you know — write about what makes you passionate. And, when your personal interests don't fit the organizational goals, look for links that help tie them together.

5. Expansive. Too many myopic posts become boorish. It's one of the reasons why links generally lend a little more to any story. It shows evidence that the author isn't considering their point of view to be absolute and helps create content with more depth in fewer words.

While there were some exceptions, the greater majority of fresh content picks were inclined to share supporting and conflicting points of view. It might be worthwhile to point out that this wasn't a condition for inclusion, but rather a post-experiment observation.

One thought of caution: Simply dropping in links to draw the attention doesn't work in the same way. The links included have to be as thoughtful as the content. All too often, we had to brush aside posts that recapped the same private bubble lists that raved about the same three people day after day after day. Sometimes I was tempted to leave a comment — you're friends through thick and thin, we get it.

There are no rules to social media.

light bulbI might like to stress that these five all provide a solid guide, but there are no rules to great writing (blog posts included). And while there is something to be said about design, positioning labels, post times, and share times, focusing on quality content will pay higher dividends over the long term than over analyzing all those details some people prescribe.

I also hope this helps guide some of the people who have asked me to share "all" the blogs that were included so they might learn what not to do as much as they can learn what to do. While I will be including a master list of all those picked some time after the fifth lesson next week, I'm hesitant to include those who were never picked because the intent was never to disparage, popular or not.

This is the fourth lesson from the Fresh Content experiment, which tracked 250 blogs for almost a year. The experiment focused on the quality of the content and not the perceived popularity of the authors.

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