Archives for posts with tag: blogging

Mrs. Halverson taught my fourth grade class. I fell in love with writing that year. And I am pretty sure it was because of the way she made writing and story telling come alive.

When I think back to the lessons I learned that year, three stand out that remain just as relevant now for me and my work. And because so many of us must write, blog, communicate and create content, these three things are great reminders for almost all of us grown-ups (who know a lot but sometimes forget the basics we learned in the first place.)

So, next time you need to create content or write something, take some tips from Mrs. Halverson and do these three things:

Start with a topic sentence

When you use a topic sentence to start each paragraph, it helps you write the rest of the paragraph. Here’s how you do it: Pick the one idea you want to get across in that paragraph. And then summarize it. That becomes the topic sentence. It is most convenient as the first sentence. Like the CEO of the paragraph, the topic sentence sets the tone, the direction and tasks of the other sentences in the paragraph.

A topic sentence helps readers, too. A good topic sentence directs the focus of a paragraph and signals what’s coming. It prepares the people reading your work for the information the rest of the paragraph gives. That means readers don’t have to work as hard to grasp the meaning. Why? Because all of the thoughts in a paragraph relate to each other and flow coherently from the main thought that started it.

(By the way, both of the paragraphs above start with a clear topic sentence that makes one point. And the rest of the sentences support that point with additional detail. Easier to write. Easier to read!)

Spot barks

Nothing is simpler in writing English than using this construction: subject/verb. Grass grows. Children play. Sun rises.

Even with an object that says what the subject did to (or with or about) something, it’s still joyfully simple. I cut the grass. The children played outside. The sun rose today.

When you get tangled up in a sentence and don’t know how to make it better, break it into more than one sentence. Then start each one with a subject followed by a verb. I promise you that doing this will let you make your point. It will also let your readers understand your point.

Here’s an example (with a topic sentence)

Fear hides sometimes. We dread change. We avoid new things. We form habits. And we like routines. We prefer what we know. Fear lurks in the unknown. We don’t always admit our fears. But our fears govern us, nonetheless. Sometimes we know it. Other times we don’t. Things that stay in the shadows stay scary.

Make it fun

Kids write stories for fun. They use their imaginations. They dream up amazing characters. And they love to tell people about their ideas. Remember that? Part of what made me love writing in Mrs. Halverson’s class was that it was just so darn fun.

We can all choose to reclaim some of that joy. Shake off some of the weight about writing that’s piled on top of many of us. Create like you can’t wait to show somebody. And have some fun.

Here’s another post about what to do when you get stuck for ideas.

Let me know if these three lessons help. I blog and Tweet about creating good content, among other things. So if you liked this post, please follow me for more ideas. I’m on Twitter here.

Today was one of the busiest days for my blog since I started it more than a year ago. Part of that is because PRDaily picked up a post of mine that initially ran on this blog last month. (I am going to start contributing to that awesome site regularly with original posts. Thanks, Michael Sebastian!)

But part of the reason for traffic and clicks, I’m sure, is because I got ripped off by a PR agency that knows better — or damn well should.

When I saw that this agency posted my work, literally word for word, as its own, I sent a comment to the blog. The “moderator” didn’t approve it. Shocking, I know.

I decided not to blow off this one. We creative types who dream up and send out our content have every right not to have it stolen. Yet so often, that’s exactly what happens. Many bloggers and others have weighed in on this, including my friend Peggy Fitzpatrick in this wonderful post last month on her blog. Still, it seems as if the stealing is only growing. It sure is easier now than ever to do it.

When my feisty #takeitdown Tweet went out, many members of the Twitter community rallied to my defense and also fussed and Tweeted about and to the offender (neither of whose Twitter handle nor pilfered link I am going to include here because, while I want the burglars outed, I don’t want to give them exposure of any kind that would likely just boost their analytics.)

That support heartened me. It definitely drove extra traffic to my site. And, in a perverse way, it probably also increased my standing as a blogger and content creator because I was deemed good enough to rip off. After all, those counterfeiters fake only the high-end goods, right?

Set aside the extra attention and support that came from this incident, which totally reaffirmed my belief in the social web’s ability to self police and to form and support their community.

This is what I keep contemplating as a result of today: as content becomes easier to share, how can we find better ways to ensure creators and owners get the credit for their intellectual property and effort? After all, these are the folks who help keep the social web spinning.

I know nothing about programming or coding. But I do create a ton of content for clients, for my own blog, for other blogs like the best list blog on the web 12 Most. Can’t the whip-smart brains in our community make tighter seals of authenticity around the art and content being created and shared?

I see infographics, for instance, without Twitter handles or even names of the brainpower behind them. I try to track down the designer, where possible, and include them when I Tweet the art. I will often send great infographics through a Power Tweet on Twylah because of the turbocharged exposure it gives to Tweets, like this one. I figure if the Tweet I use to share an infographic is going to get a longer half-life, the creator of that content deserves at least as much of that as I do.

It sometimes comes down to leverage.

When I freelanced for major publications in the late 1990s, and electronic platforms were still pretty young, it made me laugh that I had to sign away my rights to the articles I pitched and wrote whether they ran on a long list of existing media channels “or any that hadn’t yet been created.” Those lawyers think of everything. What choice did I have?

If you work for an agency or creative, digital firm, it owns your work. That’s the trade-off for getting the protection and security of full-time employment with benefits. Because of its resources, the firm can also help guard against illegal use of the work.

However, if you run your own shop, as I do, then you get to keep control over the rights. But you also run greater risk of getting scavenged by the scum who swoop in and think that with a simple ‘cut and paste’ your work can be theirs, for free.

I have given up on the idea that stealers will be reformed. Have you seen the statistics on the percentage of college students who cheat on exams (including the gem about cheaters having higher grade point averages? Yuck!) Or the number of folks who cheat on their taxes, including those nominated to Cabinet positions?

So, I get that it’s going to keep happening. And I’m not stuck on this because it’s a morality issue, which it is.

This matters to me and to many tens of thousands of other creative people communicating, marketing, leading, influencing and coaching on the social web. Why? Because of the commercial threat that stolen intellectual property presents to all of us.

Like other content creators, I get business because of the quality of my content and the wheels that turn inside my brain that think up the ideas, strategies and concepts I offer clients. It angers me that vultures take what they want with no regard for their prey — us.

We can put tracking devices on cars. We can put microchips inside pets to help them be safely found, if lost. The beleaguered U.S. Postal Service, struggling to turn a profit, manages still to return letters gone astray, for goodness sakes! Why can’t we do a better job of making content harder to steal? I imagine that kind of technology would have many customers and make its inventor good money.

Yes, I know some tools exist, such as trackbacks and pingbacks. I use Google alerts and Topsy.com as well. But I am picturing something like an alarm that prevents the content from being lifted in the first place. Like one of those ink-filled security tags stores use. When a shoplifter gets a dress home and tries to snip off the device, ink explodes, rendering the garment unwearable.

Getting ripped off, and seeing my friends get ripped off, clearly still has me steamed.

So, thanks for visiting my blog on one of my busiest days and bearing with me as I think of, and strive to create, better solutions. It’s what I do for a living. Oh, and I’m happy for you to share this post. But don’t steal it…otherwise, I’ll shame you with Tweets, and so will some of my Twitter chums. (I picked up about 30 new followers today, too!)

Blogging is hard work. And getting the tone of voice just right is part of that struggle. Without the right voice, readers won’t stick with you to take in your great content.

Here’s the challenge: You want to be authoritative, but not a know-it-all. You want to be upbeat, but not saccharine. You want to be specific, but not clinical. You want to be informative, but not scientific. You want to be clear, but not patronizing. And you want to show a sense of humor without sliding into a standup routine.

Here’s my trick: try writing as if you’re talking to a specific audience. Picture who you are delivering the information to. Make it visual. And make it personal.

Then craft your content. And do it with the tone you’d use in one of these seven situations…

1. to cheer on a friend,

2. to bargain for a deal,

3. to guide your kids,

4. to pick yourself up after a bad day,

5. to laugh a little at yourself,

6. to mentor a student, or

7. to help a stranger.

See if that doesn’t make it easier next time you need to post. I’d be interested to hear how this worked for you. Here’s more about writing for a specific audience with some examples.

We all want customers or clients who are so thrilled with us (and our work, service or results) that they voluntarily and enthusiastically spread the word among their contacts and networks. But how does this work if you’re not a superstar brand with a ton of money to spend?

You need to do four things:

  1. Know your customers and what they want
  2. Give them something they perceive to have real value
  3. Don’t attach any strings or hide any gotchas
  4. Make it really fun

Here’s a quick case study based on an experience I had today that shows all four elements at work, really effectively.

We have an annual pass to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. When it opened about two months ago, the aquarium seemed like it would be a super cool place to visit, especially during the months in Cleveland when it’s important to have    indoor options to keep kids busy and entertained. (We have two boys, ages 3 and 7.)  My husband went once with our 7-year old son. At the time, we decided to get an annual pass.

Here’s why: if our family of four went to the aquarium together, and bought tickets for just that day, it would cost us $75.80. (Tickets for adults are $21.95 and for the kids [aged 2-12] are $15.95. The annual pass is $130 for a family. So, if we go even two times a year, together, the pass becomes the better deal. I had planned to take the kids, too, but hadn’t fit it in, yet.

Last week, an email arrived announcing a special Toddler Time party for annual pass holders with children aged two to four. It would give the 40 or so respondents who RSVP’d access to the entire facility from 8 am to 10 am, before it opened to the public. But the little ones wouldn’t just get to roam, unfettered, around “40 tanks of all sizes, which are home to thousands of living creatures. From the Ohio-native brook trout, to the ferocious piranhas, as well as the sand tiger sharks that reach more than seven feet long,” as the aquarium’s website touts.

As well, the inaugural Toddler Time party featured music, dancing, touch exhibits staffed with plenty of friendly aquarists, snacks, juice, storytelling, Captain Neil (with a booming brogue) and friendly, furry costumed sea creatures to cuddle and wave at. Oh, and the lovely folks at the aquarium set out hot coffee for the parents, too.

We were truly treated to a special, private and fun time. It cost an additional $7. But I would’ve paid five times that and still felt like it was a deal. My three-year old, Max, had fun, too. (And he ate three packages of Teddy Grahams!)

The experience converted me into a brand ambassador, for sure. Here’s how the aquarium delivered on the four elements:

1.  Know your customers and what they want

The set up is exactly what works with this age group: space, movement, food, things to touch, music, animals and water. And, it was what the parents wanted, too. About a 1/3 or so of the caregivers at the Toddler Time party were guys/dads — a much bigger chunk than I expected. The morning timing and location (the aquarium is downtown) made it a great way to fit in some fun time and wrap it, smoothly, into the rest of the day. I did the same thing.

2.  Give them something they perceive to have real value

It wasn’t just the thoughtful additions of snacks, drinks and coffee or music, dancing, stories and characters that made this so great. The private access made us feel like we were truly special guests. The staff welcomed us warmly and showed us around with pride. It wasn’t at all crowded. We got to feel like we were being honored as annual pass holders. Smart! I’m not going to be the only one who talks this up, and that’s bound to entice more folks to become annual pass holders.

3.  Don’t attach any strings or hide any gotchas

No one made me sign anything or promise to send anything in. I wasn’t hounded to buy one thing. In fact, the gift shop was closed — which was a sigh of relief to this mom, who dreads the parade past the goodies in the grocery checkout line because of the pestering. The experience was all treat and no tricks, just the way it should be when a business is trying to show customers extra value. Problem is, it doesn’t always happen like this. Customers notice.

4.  Make it really fun

This is almost the easy part, if you nail the other three elements. The aquarium took care of everything, including making it fun for the grownups. I had such a good time that when I dropped off my son at day care, afterwards, still chatting about it, our caregiver said she’d look into joining so she could take the kids. (She looks after five toddlers and takes them to the zoo and concerts and plays for children, so this facility would be right in line with those fun excursions.) And I am blogging about it. And I’m posting pics on Facebook. And I’ll Tweet. How much in advertising would that publicity cost?

The upshot is this: if you want to turn customers into brand ambassadors, it takes forethought and planning. But it doesn’t take a ton of money or a huge marketing staff. The effort is mainly in giving your customers what they want as well as value and fun, like this Toddler Time party. I want to share about it through social media because I now consider myself an ambassador of the Greater Cleveland Aquarium and its brand.

When advising clients or others about seizing opportunities on social media or through other marketing channels, keep in mind the experiences you have when you are the customer. That’s a great way to test out the ideas to see if they are authentic and would work. This experience with the aquarium is just one example of how to do that.

The company Visual.ly has come up with many incredible tools. But its latest development (I have no stake — monetarily or otherwise) fascinates me as someone who devours all forms of media and data to stay on top of trends and advise clients who want to do the same.

Using the option to create infographics, anyone can see how a topic spread across Twitter in the past 30 days, as indicated by a #hashtag. This feature also shows the most influential Twitter accounts that used and spread the topic’s hashtag.

The implications for research into cultural and media trends are profound. We can see — admittedly though just one imperfect vehicle: a Twitter #hashtag — how information about a specific topic or news item ripples through a social media site with more than 300 million accounts and that handles 1.6 billion search queries each day.

I decided to look at the spread of news about Trayvon Martin by analyzing the use the hashtag #Trayvon. As media reports indicate, Trayvon, a 17-year old African-American teenager from Miami Gardens, Fla., was unarmed when fatally shot last month. George Zimmerman, the man who says he fired in self-defense, has not been arrested as of today. He has been described in different news reports as White and as Hispanic. And the case has sparked widespread outrage and protest. Trayvon’s school has been criticized for not announcing his death to the students until almost a month had passed. The police and prosecutor connected to the case have also been criticized their conduct. And the police chief has temporarily stepped down.

In this case, I input the hashtag #Trayvon in the Visual.ly tool and created an infographic. What appeared surprised me. I expected to see use of the hashtag swell after the shooting of Trayvon. Instead, there was just one reference. That appeared on Feb. 26 — the day of the shooting. And then, weeks went by before the hashtag #Trayvon was used again on Twitter. After that, it rose dramatically.

Many observers of this tragic death charge that the mainstream press delayed and downplayed coverage because of race. This infographic shows that a weeks-long lag in spreading awareness of Trayvon’s death is apparent also through a common social media marker: the Twitter hashtag. By examining this and blogging about it, I hope to illustrate a new way that those of us who care deeply about issues in society and the media can add dimension as we explore and analyze important current events that affect our communities and our relationships with each other. I also wish peace for the young man’s family, friends and community — and for calm as justice unfolds.

#Trayvon Twitter hashtag absent for weeks after his death Feb. 26

If you want to increase the influence you have through social media and attract more followers on Twitter, the best way is to be human: approachable, humble, informative, engaging and a little funny. In other words, don’t try to get more Twitter followers. Instead, try to find people whose work interests you, whose posts inform you and whose viewpoints make you reflect.

Through conversation, connections and the social sharing that happens in creating and posting solid content, ReTweeting and giving credit to others, followers will come.

My experience proves this. I signed up for an account on Twitter three years ago — almost to the day. But until about three months ago, I didn’t update very regularly. I didn’t hang out and learn or actively follow people who posted interesting things.

I really didn’t understand the community that Twitter involves.

I made a concerted effort to jump in and learn more near the end of last year. And I started blogging more regularly. I became more engaged through Twitter and other social media sites. I wanted to be able to apply the knowledge to better help my clients and increase the profile and credibility of my business.

But in the process, I also found empathetic guides who shared selflessly and helped me make other connections. They led me to other social media tools, sites and data. And they still help me. Through them, I have found bloggers I love, as well great Twitter chats, resources, books and other mentors.

The social media community is very welcoming — as long as you’re not a spammer, a plagiarizer, buying followers or ceaselessly selling your wares. It turns out that, by engaging, I also found followers. In three months, my followers grew from 200 to more than 800. For proof, have a look at this chart.

The yellow bars show my Tweets. The red line reflects my followers.

If you’re famous, you’ll get followers anyway. But, if you’re not, and you do want more followers, here’s some things I’ve learned. It’s best to:

  • create and share relevant, fresh content
  • say thanks and give credit
  • follow back most of the time (though I always check out a new follower’s Tweets first, and I never automatically follow because of the ‘bots)
  • be present and be yourself
  • know you’ll make some mistakes and feel like a newbie as you go
  • have fun

Others might have another route, but for me, this is the path I found to be the most productive.

So, that’s the secret: you get Twitter followers by jumping into social media with both feet and an open mind. And it turns out the people already doing this knew it all along.

If you liked this post, feel free to follow me. Chances are good that I’ll follow back and share interesting posts and content from some other great folks I’ve met through Twitter.

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See my entire social presence here: http://XeeMe.com/beckygaylord

I do much of my grocery shopping at Giant Eagle. In the warmer months, we get a weekly goody bag of fruit and veggies from a local farmer as part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) But most of the year, we’re lured to Giant Eagle because of the discounts it offers regular shoppers and the wide selection of gluten-free and organic food.

I have a rewards-related credit card associated with the company, which bestows discounts at all branded stores. When consumers with reward cards patronize the company’s gas stations with car washes, and grocery and convenience stores — taking advantage of many of the weekly specials — it really adds up. Our family has saved almost $2,000 in the past year. My local Giant Eagle grocery store has a Starbucks inside, too, so I sip coffee as I shop. (And all spending, even on my beloved java, is counted toward a discount on gas when I fill up.) Lovely.

But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about targeted marketing and customized perks based on buying habits. Of course Giant Eagle is tracking everything I buy. Otherwise, it couldn’t offer me every fifth cup of coffee free (which is tracked electronically on my rewards card). And it also wouldn’t know to give me $2.21 off the last tank of gas I filled up with, based on the amount I had spent — and saved on — in-store grocery specials. Nor, would the company be able to tell me that I’d saved $1,996.75 through the various perks and savings and other tied-discounts it offers customers who take the time to look for those deals.

Of course, the company is keeping very close dibs on me, mainly, to serve itself. And I feel more than a little conflicted about this.

In an era filled with consumer scoring, from Klout to frequent flyer perks to special grocery store offers, it makes me a wee wistful for the days when we were all more anonymous. I love the treats that come from being a “regular.” There’s nothing new in that. It’s a concept even older than tabs the barkeep ran for local cowboys whetting their whistles in the saloons. Their chums knew them. The bar keep knew them. But no one else did (except the Sheriff, who likely also knew the shady ones…)

Nowadays, though, we need to realize that to snag perks that come from being “score-able” we trade-off the ability to be unknown. The benefits that come with being a good customer in this era means we have given up enough privacy that our service providers are able to know, accurately, what kind of customers we are. They know when we shop. What we buy. And where we live, among other things. That brings me to the hummus and the organic apples.

Today in the mail (snail mail, interestingly), Giant Eagle sent me coupons truly customized for me. They fit my buying habits. And they give $1 or more on things I already buy frequently, such as “loose organic apples” and “Market District hummus” and other specific items I buy. (They know this, of course, because it’s monitored, recorded and parsed.)

I was pleased and a little freaked out all at the same time. I didn’t ask for these or even know they were coming.

There’s no going back to a time when this kind of thing won’t happen. Now, no matter what the venue, customers who are deemed more valuable, loyal or otherwise influential are wooed. They have more Klout. And technology makes this possible to track and act upon.

Still, it makes me aware that with great advances technology brings, we need to be careful how the data are collected, used and analyzed. It’s innocent enough to give me $5 off my apples and hummus and other items. It’s more complicated and perhaps more concerning, though, as the special deals offered to consumers become increasingly targeted and connected to their behavior and choices — and to their personal information and social scores, online or offline. I wonder if related technology will make more polarized and striated our society, which, to my mind, is already experiencing a too-wide gulf in income and with access to medical care and quality, public education and job prospects.

I just finished Mark W. Schaefer’s excellent book on influence and social scoring called Return on Influence. Undoubtedly, this is why the issue was top of mind. So many aspects of this trend are wonderful and open up opportunities for sellers that make their jobs more efficient and cost-effective and for buyers that make their experiences more fun and rewarding. (Could this technology give rise to marketing that’s so targeted it ends junk mail someday? Well, we can hope!)

Technology and social media enable amazing access and reach. And social media is a great equalizer in many respects — you don’t need an Ivy League degree or the “right” pedigree to influence on social media. You do need to reach and interact with an influential audience that finds you and your content that way, too, and that shares your content and comments on your blog posts. This is among the points that Return on Influence makes so well.

Yet even though the power hierarchy of decades past doesn’t apply in the same way today, segregation between the haves and have-nots or between the influencers and those without influence continues. It just looks different.

I am going to go buy my apples, hummus and other items and happily claim my discount at Giant Eagle. (I’m seeing if I can get my 12 month savings to $2,500. And I’m thinking of approaching the company to tell them about my quest, blog about it and see what else that yields…) But I remain mindful of the power that modern-day consumers can amass as influencers. It’s great for marketers. And great for some consumers. But maybe not so much for others.

As this power gets shaped and grows I believe we should be aware of, if not concerned about, the gulf. I love the concept of using social media for social good, where access increases so the benefits from technological innovations spread. Anyway, that’s part of my goal in working with and through social media.

The question is: Can this be done? And, if so, how?

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You can see my full social presence at http://XeeMe.com/beckygaylord

When the always wonderful site Mashable reposted this infographic about the social media site Pinterest, it completely captured my attention. I’ve seen a dozen or so infographics on Pinterest. You might have, as well. It seems that everyone is talking about Pinterest, joining it, using it or marketing through it.

Yet, this work, by MGDadvertising, was unique. The data presented are substantial and impressive. At the same time, the way the elements are designed and portrayed, this piece is also extremely easy to follow and digest. Taken together, the aspects of this work are very powerful.

Busy senior executives want data, evidence and support before adopting new marketing or communications tools or shifting the focus of an existing strategy. They want to see substantial return for new investments in marketing channels. Budgets are always tight, and a new approach seems risky.

But if you’re in the position of having to make the case for change, keep in mind the proof can be (and maybe even should be) in pictures. Visuals can be amazing — and far more effective than a written report that makes, essentially, the same case.

This Pinterest graphic is a perfect case in point.

Next time you need to persuade or inform prospects, customers, clients — or even shareholders — consider making your case with an infographic. They can be powerful and compelling.

If you haven’t taken a fresh look at these visual tools recently, dive into a site like visual.ly. Here, a wide range of incredible infographics appears in a gallery that’s updated regularly. Often, there is great content to borrow for a blog (like the one below) or a presentation.

Increasingly, there are graphic artists who make infographics, if you don’t have the capacity on staff or already contract with creative talent who do these well. One marketing and digital media consultant whose site and work I really like is Mark Smiciklas.

Infographics can really punch up a presentation or pitch. Even, as one company just demonstrated, an entire annual report: Now, this is an annual report that will get read!

Here’s where you can find me across social media sites: XeeMe.com/BeckyGaylord

by Wix.

The most important aspect to get straight when you’re faced with the challenge of creating content is this: who needs to know?

Giving your audience the information they need is the most crucial element of effective messaging. Once you’ve got a vision of the audience, keep that etched in your mind as you write or develop content in another form. This doesn’t have to be fancy — a sticky note would do. Pin it in front of you, if that helps. But picture who is going to receive the message. Who will get it  influences what and how it gets delivered.

To show an example of how the characteristics of an audience drive the framing of a message, consider this broad idea: Do the Right Thing.

What follows are five short, Tweet-length messages. Each adapts that broad idea for a different, specific audience.

The message “Do the Right Thing” aimed at five distinct audiences

1. To a congregation: “So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

2. To a first grade class: “If you choose to bring in Valentines cards, class, please make sure you have one addressed to each pupil.”

3. To the family and friends of newly minted doctors being sworn in: “I will follow that method of treatment which I consider for the benefit of my patient and abstain from whatever is harmful or mischievous.”

4. To employees, reading a sign that hangs near the office kitchen sink: “Wash your own dirty dishes. Your mother doesn’t work here.”

5. To a bride on her wedding day in response to the question: Will you love her, comfort, honor and keep her, in sickness and health; forsake all others and be faithful ’til death do you part? “I will.”

The message in each example was, essentially, “Do the Right Thing.” But the characteristics of the audience required the content to change in each case, to enable the message to suit the tone, maturity, circumstances and expectations of the situation.

So, as you create content, first picture your audience and then lock your focus on that as you go. For me, this makes the process of shaping what I want to say much smoother and more organized.

If you try it, let me know how it works for you!