Thursday, December 31, 2015

January, Janus Words, and other Two-fers

In our social media-obsessed world, it seems somehow fitting this year ends on a #TBT.

Translation for luddites: TBT is Twitter/Facebook speak for "Throwback Thursday."

Now, throwing it waaaaaayyyy back, I'm sharing an oldie-but-goodie from CJR about two-faced Janus words. Who knows how our language will evolve and change in 2016?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Customer Service Is Important to Writing Because - ?


There. That's the executive summary, in case you don't have time to read the rest. Here's the rest:

I've been a copywriter for -- well, a long, long time. Whether it's a service agreement, ad copy, a white paper or company return policy, there's a secret to writing it well: Remember who you're writing for.

The Secret to Good Copywriting

I started lodging service complaints when I was in first grade, so you might say my writing career started on a sour note. I prefer to say that my writing is always, always informed by my customer service bent.

In my pollyanna world then, a good copywriter must be at least part customer advocate. When approaching an assignment, I ask about a gilion questions - often digging in to customer service and operations issues. This can make new clients nervous.  (I've heard more than once, "We're not writing about that. We just want to tell them about our new product." )  What I often hear about the final copy from my clients is, "Oh, I think our customer will like that."

Ya think?

Sarcasm aside, it's business 101. Generally, my assignments are not designed to serve my clients. They're intended to serve my client's CUSTOMERS.

(Un) Common Sense & Courtesy

There's some evidence that common sense and common courtesy are not quite as prevalent as they once were. In order to keep it positive, I'll point out that some companies (like Zappos, for one) use good customer service as a differentiating factor in their marketing strategies.

It should be obvious, but it's worth stating: If "good customer service" is a key piece of your marketing message, you really need to have the service and operational chops to back it up.

Also worth noting: Providing good customer service doesn't mean you have to be a doormat. I like the way HelpScout (nice product, even better philosophy) puts it:
Help Scout is fond of the Ritz-Carlton principle, to be “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” We hold doors, offer a strong handshake, and will pass on the last piece of pie—unless it’s pumpkin.
As HelpScout tips often point out, there are courteous ways to resolve problems with customers that don't involve bending over, or even handing over the last piece of pie/last slice of your margin.

A little bit of respect, and a lot of questions, can go a long way in creating good business communications and delighted, repeat customers.

 -  -  -  -  -  -  -
If you need a copywriter who's a little nutty about customer service, I might be the right choice for you. If you can overlook how long it's been since I updated my website...

Thursday, November 12, 2015

6 Essay Contests for High School Students

As I remember it, the rub with essay contests for high school students was that first, there are a lot of crappy ones so the good ones are hard to find, and second, it takes a lot of time and discipline to write a solid, thoughtful essay for those worth entering. Here are five I think are worth the time. Good luck, all! 

1. SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) is accepting entries into its essay contest for high school students until February 16, 2016. The topic, Why is it important that we have news media that are independent of the government?' is both timely and near and dear to my heart. Write on, young citizens.

2. With a hefty $2,000 prize at stake, the Ayn Rand Anthem Essay Contest is open to 8th - 10th grade students. The deadline is March 25, 2016. Other essay contests related to Rand's books are also offered.

3. The 11th Annual DNA Day Essay Contest, sponsored by the American Society for Human Genetics, has set its deadline for March 11, 2016. This year, students are asked to either defend or refute the Society's position on genetic testing for adult-onset diseases and conditions. 

The organization's website offers a rubric as well as pitfalls to avoid when participating in the contest.

4. Hiram College has announced its second essay writing contest. The theme is "Borders," and the contest (with cash prizes) is open to 10th and 11th graders. Entry deadline is January 7, 2016.  

5. We The Students essay contest is accepting entries until February 7, 2016. Hosted by the Bill of Rights Institute, the contest is open to students ages 14-19 in grades 8 - 12. 

This year, students are asked to discuss in writing to what extent, in in what ways, our government has compromised individual liberties for the sake of general security or welfare. 

6. Profiles in Courage Essay Contest - read winning essays from recent years and get writing tips directly from students (and contest winners) on the organization's Facebook page.

Speaking of writing tips, the organization posted one from JFK, circa 1955.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Don't Be THAT Guy on LinkedIn

Shortly after publishing my first post on LinkedIn, I received a message from a Hubspot rep who had been pursuing my employer as a client.

First came the connection request, which I approved because we had a connection or two in common, so I thought there could be a legitimate reason we should connect. On the heels of that approval came a long and silly introductory note that began with the following.
"I have been reading your Linkedin posts for a while now and I think we might share a psychic 6th sense because literally ALL of your posts are verbatim my thoughts regularly. Especially the one about these sensationalist headlines the world has been completely swept by."

I do not make this stuff up.

In case you haven't had your morning cuppa, I'll repeat: it was my first, and only, post on LinkedIn, at least to this date.

Obviously, I'm pretty sure we don't share that 6th sense, because if we did, she'd know I wondered if she was accusing me of plagiarism. You know, because ALL of my posts "are verbatim" her thoughts.

Scary stuff. And snarky, on my part, I'll admit.

The takeaway:
Don't be that guy on LinkedIn. And if you know that guy on LinkedIn, remember, severing a connection is easy.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

What Do Your Images Say? What Do You Want Them to Convey?

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, you really need to choose your pictures carefully. Below, two examples I came across this week.

This one is good, because it's believable. 

And borderline great, because it's funny. 

This one is not so good. Because, we were never that close. 

Whether words or pictures (or both) are your tools of choice, communicate what you want to communicate, people.

If your business communication need an infusion of straight talk (or a little snark, even), get in touch. I'm a writer who gets business...and I can help you get your message across.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Stunners: People Like to Share Pictures and LinkedIn Will Publish Just About Anyone's Post

Fridays! I like to use them as a social media catch-up day. Because a metric ton of MUST READ articles appear every minute, I try to be selective. And I hate clickbait.

So when I was drawn in with the great headline WHAT DO PEOPLE LOVE TO SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA? I was miffed that the answer was....
...wait for it...!

I took my rant to a new (to me) venue and created my first LinkedIn post.
~ - ~ - ~ - ~ -

What did you write today? And where?

If you're a freelance copywriter and would like to use this space for a guest post, I'd love to hear from you. Let me know in a comment on the LinkedIn post, or find me on Twitter.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Picture This: in PDFs, All Over Your Site, Images Matter

Ah, pity the poor alt tag. I have championed the little bit of code for years. And the hard-working descriptors still matter.

But not as much as the images themselves.

Google's been busy (< anyone want to nominate that for shocking headline of the year?) updating its image search protocols this summer. Among other things, the search superhero is now pulling images out of .pdfs and indexing them too!

Anyway, the good news for me and my oft-overlooked alt tags is they're still mighty important.

Writing for the Web 2015

The same can be said about meta descriptions and title tags. And of course, one could argue that using the right image is the most important thing about images and your website.

But, hey, I'm talking about alt tags here. They really never got the respect they deserved, and still don't.

Speaking of respect, if you're looking for a writer who thinks talking about alt tags is might have found her.

Full disclosure: she's extremely selective about freelance projects these days. But if you think your alt tags need a little TLC, I know how you can reach her.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Where Do You Find Writing Jobs?

"Our focus is building tomorrows business leaders," said the ad. Apparently, they're not focused on using apostrophes. 

As a writer, I have mixed feelings about a job posting like this. The organization has a real need! But who proofs its ads? Third graders? 

Where do you find writing jobs? 

Craigslist has had its share of bad press, but is still a good place to look for jobs (or "gigs," which, at least to Craigslist folks, are not the same thing). 

Linkedin certainly seems to have lost its focus re: jobs lately. 

I'd like to see more boutique placement firms like 10-til-2 leading us to great opportunities, but I'm not seeing it happen as fast as I'd like. 

I am seeing a general increase in content-, marketing- and PR job opportunities here as summer wanes. What about you? Where do you find writing jobs? 

I'd love to hear from you! Contact me here or on Twitter. Yep, I tweet, when I'm not writing. Or looking for a job... 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hemingway, We Hardly Knew Ye (But, Nice App!)

Full disclosure: he isn't/wasn't my favorite author. But, he's one of those icons, right?

Hemingway House and Cats. There are always cats.And, gotta say - nice app!

The Hemingway App is designed to make us all better writers.
Banish adjectives!
Write declarative sentences!
Make a point!
Keep it short!
(And, presumably, don't overuse exclamation points.)

Well. Fiddlesticks. A post with two Wikipedia links. I've done all the damage I can for one day.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Arbor Day & Other Things Journalists Do

Yes indeed I do have a chip on my shoulder and feel at least a tad resentful that journalists don't get the respect they deserve. Just in case you were wondering. 

So, here: a few examples off the top of my head (or Wikipedia) of things Journalists do or have done that make them quite worth your respect, and appreciation, even.

So, there.

Journalists Rock Holidays, Space Exploration

In 1872, Julius Sterling Morton, a journalist, politician, and tree-hugger, started setting aside one day a year to celebrate trees. The first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska in 1872 and became a national thing (as much as it is today, I guess) by 1885. Arbor Day - in case you want to make a cake or climb a tree or something, and aren't quite sure when to plan your party - is celebrated the last Friday in April. 

Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor, is hailed as the "Godmother of Thanksgiving." Her letter to then-president Abraham Lincoln spurred him to proclaim the third Thursday of November a National holiday. 

A handful of journalists (actually, folks in the even-more-maligned PR industry) had more than a bit of influence on getting the US to the moon

Public Opinion & History

Lest you think I revere only the "old school" journalists, I'll toss this in the mix: journalists have always, and will always, shape opinions. Like you, I think some opinions are more worth shaping than others - so I revere some and revile others. (Hey, journalists are nothing if not human.)
One I revere: Anderson Cooper for coming out publicly AND matter-of-factly, simultaneously saying, "maybe you should know" and "not that it matters."  
Who I revile: Sadly, a growing list, heavily populated by those who report on the rich and famous with an apparent belief that what Kim Kardashian wears is relevant to anyone other than Kim Kardashian. 

On the list of folks I admire: anyone who provides solid reporting (I like those three-sources types). Journalism - good or bad, I'll admit - provides the first draft of our history. One good example I'll point to this year: MtV's study on the racial undercurrents of 2014. While it will never enjoy the level of respect conferred on The Wall Street Journal or Rolling Stone, Viacom's aging bad-boy brand deserves major kudos for that.

Hats off to those who write it right. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

High School Communications Contest - March 2015 deadline

The National Federation of Press Women hold several contests each year, one of which is for high school students. Time is nigh to register - and past nigh to start writing! - so consider yourself prodded.

More contests offers a nice list of Creative Writing Contests (for adults and young writers) with NO entry fees. Gotta like that! Check the website for one that may inspire you. Happy typing!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Another Way to Say it

When Racism Slips into Everyday Speech, an excellent 2014 article in The Root, really challenged my ways of thinking, speaking, and writing.

Of course, it also challenged my opinion of myself as a non-racist, and as an "educated" user of language. (Here's another great thing about the internet - I can't hear you laughing.) Anyway, since reading the article, I've tried to rephrase some of those offensive sayings by using less idiomatic language. It required more brainpower than I expected, but I was OK with that - communication is a worthwhile endeavor and thinking has yet to be proven bad for your health.

Dog wearing glasses
Old Dog, still learning. 
I hate to admit that many of the phrases the article cited were ones I used often, although I didn't know their origins. Yeah - me, lover of word origins. Yes, I'm embarrassed. Properly educated/chagrined, I'm changing my ways.

Rather than refer to people I don't know as "the peanut gallery," "hoi polloi," or "unwashed masses," I'm opting for the quite useful phrase "anyone else" or "everyone else." Or instead of "Grandfather clause," I see the better turn of phrase is "longstanding exception" or "accepted exception."

Good Communication Not Always "Creative"

As I said, I used these phrases and others on The Root's list pretty frequently in the past. I considered them lively, interesting descriptions - and I assumed I understood their meanings without taking the next step to find out how they'd developed. Definitely my bad.

Also bad on my part: I mistakenly thought using these "creative phrases" was a means of demonstrating my love of language. But I know better. The #1 job of words is to communicate, so it's critical to choose your words to communicate what you intend - not a meaning that could offend.
So, the bottom line is - even an old dog can learn a new trick or two. (Lord help me, I didn't research the origin of that phrase...)

As I've told many a business owner about corporate communications, your words should work for you, not against you.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

More Reasons, More Ways for Writers to use Buffer

If you write - for business or for pleasure - chances are very good you're a serious social media user. Possibly addicted. Well, you won't find a 12-step program here. I'm not exactly an addict (am I?) but I'm definitely a user, and an enabler.

Why Writers Love Buffer

Most of us use Buffer (or Hootsuite; really, both tools are great) because of the "obvious" features:

  • Scheduling social media posts is a breeze.
  • The link shortener works as advertised, and is trusted. (Translation: gets clicked.)
  • The "change to a quote" feature makes it easy to modify a tweet and get more milage and attention from it. 

But look past the obvious reasons to use a Buffer or Hootsuite tool and you'll see... more reasons! Below are some I really appreciate. (These refer to Buffer, but Hootsuite has similar useful features.)

Using Buffer Analytics to Work Smarter

Buffer's posts analytics feature makes it easy for you to not only see which posts have worked well for you, it also serves as a nice repository of ready-made posts to re-purpose. You can:

  • Run through the list as you plan your next few months' editorial content.
  • Identify and follow up on campaigns that could use a fresh jolt of social jabber
  • Identify steady re-tweeters who deserve a "random" shout-out for their support of your brand/campaign.

Why Writers Should Use Buffer 

Sure, it saves time, theoretically eliminating one more reason to procrastinate. On the other hand, I find reviewing the recent history of tweets and other posts is a source of inspiration (also known as a positive form of procrastination).

But it's not "just" inspirational. I also find a whirl through my analytics page reminds me of those great, pithy turns of phrase (crafted by others) that I loved enough to share, and by reviewing them, I can learn from those writers all over again.

So, there you have it. My reasons for using Buffer and Hootsuite. Feel free to add your own. And if you're not using a social media scheduling tool that you love, do yourself a favor and install one today. I think you'll be glad you did.

Below, snips of last year that I've recently reviewed. A review of your own analytics would be much more useful, but hey - this is my blog. And I hate to post without an image or two.

Cheers ~

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Press Releases: So 1995 or still important in 2015?

I love it when something I wrote a year or more ago sounds fresh. (OK, sometimes I hate it.)

I last wrote about press releases in October 2013. I'm tempted to simply re-share the whole piece; it still works.

But that wouldn't do my blog any favors, now would it? (Wink, wink)

Press Releases Still Matter. 

Press releases are sort of like phones. They still matter, we still need them, but the way we work with them has changed a little bit. Here's how to think about them, and how to use them effectively, in 2015.

Press releases were built to do a job: that is, to let the press know about something that maybe it (the press) should tell the world about. Closely related: press releases were the original spin machines.

They can be read at a press conference when something bad has happened, for example. They can announce that something good has happened. Or they can ballyhoo a new product.

Press releases once worked pretty well at getting the press's attention. Has that changed? No, not really. What's changed is the press, which is a rather archaic word, so let's say "media." Roughly eight billion channels and the internet have appeared since the dawn of the press release.  Each news outlet has its own agenda.* So, how well do they work? Ah, that's a good question. The answer is, they work great, when you have a great plan. (See Marketing 101, specifically as it relates to goals, audiences, targets, testing, and - well, you get the point.)

At some point, press releases got a little too big for their britches. Or maybe that was a mixup at the office party when PR and Marketing got confused and tried on each other's job descriptions and everyone went home in the wrong hat.

Ah-um, yes; that belongs in another post too. Back to press releases.

They can't do everything. But, when you design them to do a specific job, they do it well.

Who needs press releases in 2015? Large organizations

One way to characterize a large organization - whether it's a public university, foundation, hospital, or everyone's favorite corporation - is as an information center. Most large organizations produce enough internal news to publish a daily newspaper. And the people who work there might, at some point, be expected to know what's going on in any given department. Which is silly, because people who work in a university's biology department really can't know everything that's going on over in the agriculture department (although it would be nice) or public health (that would be nice too) or history departments.

One thing press releases do really well is serve as a news archive of sorts for accomplishments. And other things that happen. And not just in public institutions, but also in corporations. Particularly since employees often are also shareholders, I hope that many of them read their company's press releases regularly. Hint: If I were in charge of a large organization, I would require employees to read every press release the company issued, the PR department would be stellar, and very well paid.  ;)

Who needs press releases in 2015? Small organizations

Remember that party I mentioned, where marketing and PR got a little too cozy? Yeh, well, it's not exactly an incestuous relationship. The fact is there's a huge gray area where Marketing and PR both need to work closely together. We could say they're cousins. It might be a good idea for me to kill this analogy now.

To clarify, when I said "press releases got a little too big for their britches," what I meant was we all got confused about how much a press release can do. Press releases by themselves simply cannot replace sales, marketing, and paid advertising.**

Small organizations rarely have healthy marketing/pr/ad budgets. And while press releases can't make up all the difference, when used well, they can garner a lot of attention. Not "a lot of attention" in a headline news kind of way, maybe, but that's not necessarily what a small business or organization needs.

As PR and marketing both know, the right kind of attention, from the right audience is priceless for a small organization. (And some large organizations.)

A well-targeted press release can function as a productive cold call, generating awareness, interest and when you're lucky, leads.

Why bother with press releases in 2015? 

If you have a message to share, press releases are one way to share it. Whether or not a press release is the best, most effective way to share questionable. But sometimes, under some circumstances, press releases are a perfect fit, britches and all.

*Sadly, none that I know of are out to purely inform us minions with "all the news that's fit to print;" but that rant belongs in a different post.
**Gasp! Can we still say "advertising" in 2015? I may never run out of blog topics...

Friday, January 9, 2015

OM-Yeah, Yoga is Better than Typing

The Blood-Red Pencil bloggers are responsible for one of my favorite posts ever - it's useful and healthful in addition to being clean and well-written. And, it's about yoga. Ahhh. I feel better just saying/typing that word: yo-ga.

Sitting and typing are not very good for our bodies. Take a break, stand up, adjust your monitor, take a deep breath, and find out why you need to move, and how to do it - especially if you're feeling chained to your desk.

You might also enjoy following the blog for "sharp and pointed observations about writing." (Get it?)

Hey, humor, puns and wordplay are what gets me through the day. And a little yoga, of course.

Great Lesson in Content

Because I really do love great content - and yoga - I want to share a sweet video, also good for writers, people who sit too long, and pretty much anyone with a neck:

It's got plenty of value simply as a how-to health piece. But you know I can't stop there. I have to point out that it's also a super example of content done right.

  • It's captivating (note pleasing visuals, music that enhances but doesn't overwhelm the message)
  • It's short (remember "leave 'em wanting more!")
  • It's educational.
  • It's sharable.

Well, if I stop now, I'll have time for a few poses before I getting back to, Namaste.

Don't Love Lotus Pose?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Social Media Management: What's it Cost? What's it Worth?

Social media, the "free" advertising vehicle, isn't free, of course. Even if you're a small business owner dedicated to doing it yourself, there's a significant time investment. Not only do you need to learn the tools and keep up with the constant changes, a little advertising/marketing/communications savvy is necessary.

Like most everything else, you can learn to do it, and do it well. And like everything else, the time you invest in learning social media will take time away from something else - probably something you're already good at, where your time is more wisely spent.

Social Media Management: How Much Does it Cost?

Social media managers, whether managing Facebook only or handling the broad scope of all social media tools (Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, etc., etc.) and - if you're lucky - blog content and email messaging - are more than "just" writers, more than "just" marketing professionals. Technical skills count and again, there's a tremendous time investment to stay on top of the game.

So what should you expect to pay? The low-end packages right now hover in the $800-$2000/month range. More complete packages go for in the neighborhood of $8000/month. (Sound high? a ballpark figure from a 2011 article puts costs higher, at $75-$200/hr.) And the bad news is, packaged social media/content management rarely gets the job done well. The "softer side" of marketing is getting to know your customers, your product(s), your niche, your industry... and speaking the language in a way that will turn prospects on without turning search engines off.

Those softer skills, including the all-important voice and customer connection, don't come cheap. However, many marketing consultants offer consulting services on an ad-hoc basis. What's that cost? Average figures from 2014 for Facebook Page or Twitter account creation come in at around $400-$800 for the initial creation. (Figures from a couple of years earlier say $500-$2500. Go figure.) Ongoing account management varies depending on activity level

DIY Cheaper, But Results Are at Stake

This isn't intended to scare you out of doing it yourself. You don't have to be a genius to learn social media tools, you probably understand your audience and your products better than anyone, and marketing is much more forgiving than rocket science - if you make a mistake, you can recover.

The question you need to ask yourself is:

Will I really put the necessary time in to get the results I need, and at what cost to my business?

Great Free Tools Available

If the answer is yes, you've committed to doing it yourself, great. For heaven's sake, don't reinvent the wheel. GREAT tools are available free, many from Hootsuite - like an article on changes to Facebook in 2015.

And if the answer is no, great. Like I said, marketing is a lot more forgiving than rocket science. If you choose a consultant, or designate someone already on staff to handle your messaging and it doesn't work out, try something else. If that doesn't work, try, try again.

Because when it comes to marketing (but not necessarily rocket science) doing something is better than doing nothing.

Here's to time well spent, in 2015 and beyond.