It’s Hard To Be Yourself Online

As the web matures, are we all facing an identity crisis?

Who am I?

Marketers and writers understand the importance of wearing a facade. To truly become the brand in your communications strategy, you must become the audience. It’s hard to be yourself in the world of communications. In fact, it’s absolutely imperative that you don’t.

Individually, we’re all facing the same conundrum online. Shit, I’ve had to deal with it on this blog. I have two Twitter accounts because I’m worried about alienating my professional audience by sharing content meant for my interest-based peers. Forget sharing literary websites and good reads on Facebook; three quarters of my real-life social network hasn’t picked up a book since college.

Want to please everyone? Only share universal content like funny YouTube clips and national news stories.

The Suffocating Nature of Social Media

Of course, universal content doesn’t go very far in shedding light on your unique personality — what makes you stand out from the crowd to employers and friends. Then again, there are certain personal traits you want a real-world relationship to reveal gradually.

And some traits are best unrevealed.

That’s why countless articles tell you to be careful what information you share online. You’re leaving information out in the open that could help people form a tough first impression. Some employers might not espouse the use of the f-word in every sentence you type. Others may not appreciate your lack of subtlety. Still others may be impressed by your openness.

In essence, social media has turned the entire world into marketers. What we share online is only as relevant as the audience to which we tailor it.

Of course, this role is extremely convoluted. Most of the time, we don’t make friends based entirely on shared interests. Facebook becomes a platform with limited sharing value beyond important life updates, inside jokes and the occasional universally valued piece of content. Twitter users find more value in appealing to a specific interest-, demographic- or industry-based audience.

Any attempt to be your true self over the web, without alienating some of the people in your network, is limited by where you share.

This Is Exactly Like Real Life

Duh. Did you think I’d argue that the web is some alternate universe?

Pictured here: Real life.

Unfortunately, the web is different in one very powerful way: it keeps an unflinching, unforgiving memory of everything you say and do, in a much more public format than most of what you’ve said or done in real life.

A unique voice doesn’t require you to lay it all on the table. Honesty is key, but subtlety is essential.

Trying hard to find yourself online? Follow three simple rules:

  • Know Your Audience: Take a good, hard look at who follows you over various channels. Limit what you share to content your audience finds valuable.
  • Stay Organized: Make sure you have a good, organized understanding of where you have influence.
  • Protect Your Reputation: Work hard to ensure you don’t undermine your reputation on each of your channels.

What Do You Think?

How do you define yourself online? Share some tips with us in the replies.

Is Your Content Missing These Proof Indicators?

It’s so easy to speak your mind online.

In fact, it’s so easy that amateur writers are constantly sharing thoughts that have no basis in anyone else’s reality. You can visit the Huffington Post and flip through a dozen well-written and compelling articles until you find one that accurately cites real proof.

But wait…isn’t proof just for silly old bastards?

The internet is one big op-ed machine. Want to create content that really stands out from the rest? Find ways to prove your concepts.

Prove it.

Anyone can rationalize a theory. It takes proof to build it into a tangible one.

As far back as college (for those of us who remember it), we’ve been trained to present an evidence-based argument. Why have we abandoned this approach? Well…we can say whatever we want, whenever we want on the internet. It’s a whole lot easier to just speak your mind without putting time and energy into research.

A scientific approach to writing gives you credibility. It shows you’ve taken the time to do your research. The scientific method is in place for a reason; observation, measurement and experimentation explain behavior. For writers, truth seeking in journalism offers a great comparison for why evidence-based writing makes for a compelling argument. The Poynter Institute is among the many voices pleading for a science-based approach to journalism, particularly in relation to the web.

Sometimes, experts can get away with conjecturing on experiential theories. Of course, this requires you to prove your credibility on the subject matter. You do that by providing evidence of your experience and success.

Some things are just common sense. Anything outside of common sense — which is what your writing should cover if you want it to stand out — requires proof if you want to offer value to your readers.

Which indicators of proof work best?

On the granular level, numbers are perhaps the most important way to prove assertions. From a higher level, what shapes do these numbers take?

  • Academic experiments: Whatever topic you write about, science can help. Sociological and scientific experiments that apply to your topic can make your argument more compelling.
  • Surveys: A mainstay in the world of marketing, surveys help your credibility by presenting a popular belief or practice. The more the world agrees with you, the more credibility your writing has.
  • Case studies: More granular and specific versions of experiments, case studies offer proof that a strategy works the way you say it does.
  • Interviews & expert testimony: This is a narrower version of surveys. Interviews & expert testimony proves you know what you’re talking about by aligning your point with an established authority on what you’re talking about.

Sharing your perspective can be a powerful thing, but strong evidence builds an even stronger case. Rely on the right proof indicators and your readers will find a greater level of trust in your content.

Above All, Pump Out Great Content Frequently

There’s a debate raging in the world of SEO. Some marketers believe Google’s Penguin update takes things too far. Others are just trying to stay afloat in a world of constantly evolving search best practices.

As far as I’m concerned, none of these arguments matters in the grand scheme of things — especially for blogs. Because there’s only one golden rule when it comes to creating a search-friendly web presence.

Create great content and do it often.

…said the blogger as he posted the laziest picture of all time.

For bloggers, I hold this to be a self-evident truth. Leave the really complicated white-hat SEO stuff to marketers.

You shouldn’t need to focus content around keywords. That negates the intrinsic principles of blogging: to cater to your audience above all. Wanna be found? Create high-quality content that people can share socially. Build links with other major publishers in your area of expertise. Guest post on other blogs. While not as simple as it sounds, it sure makes a lot more sense than starting with a list of keywords and trying to build content around them.

And creating that high-quality content often means constant reindexing in search engines.

The veil of competition

Of course, keyword optimization still plays a role for businesses. But businesses assume a level of competition that’s well above what you’re trying to do as a blogger.

Bloggers are only competing for mindshare. They’re competing for a few precious moments out of their audiences’ busy schedules. They aren’t directly competing with other bloggers.

Other bloggers are your friends.

They’re partners in the world of disseminating high-quality content to readers. If you have the time and energy, you can build relationships with other bloggers to help grow your own audience.

The best thing you can do for your own blog is make sure you’re posting often. With this in mind, you can grow organically. Sure, you’ll get a huge traffic spike when your post goes viral — but the readers that stick around for the next post are the ones that are most valuable to you.

In the long run, that’s all Google is looking to do anyway: reward high-quality, high-consistency content creators with high-quality, high-consistency readers. The system isn’t perfect. It’ll keep evolving. The only thing that must remain consistent is the search engine’s focus on delivering high-quality content to those who want or need it most.

Why you’ll be found anyway

What I’ve learned over my years of blogging is that it takes time to build an audience. The only way to speed that up is to post tons of content.

That’s exactly what’s happening here at Copywriting Is Dead. The more I post, the more people find me organically. I’ve never spent time on keyword research. Why spend time on keywords when you can’t guarantee they’ll return the traffic you want? Instead, you can spend that same time creating more content that your audience may find useful.

If you’re worried about slow traffic on your blog, have patience and post new content often. To keep their attention, your audience expects consistency almost as much as it expects quality.

Is the D-Word Killing Web Culture?

A single word embodies the trend that’s eating away at news reporting like a slow cancer. That word is ‘douchebag.’

You see it in headlines, articles, videos and (perhaps most often) comments sections.

Spoiler Alert: Douchebag is a word that means absolutely nothing at all. It’s something you say when you’re too lazy or too dumb to offer constructive criticism.

Pictured: A total douchebag.

Don’t take that as a personal attack. I’m the first to admit that I’ll drop the phrase when my blood’s boiling…or, as previously mentioned, when I’m too lazy to come up with something useful. Strangely enough, I hear it used most often when the ‘douchebag’ in question is not present to dispute whether or not he/she is a big old bag of douche.

I’ll tell you when it’s least okay to use it, though. It’s least okay to use it when you’re in a position of power. And you’re a ‘respected’ web writer and/or reporter of news. And you’re too lazy to do your goddamn job.

Origins: Why I came to hate the word (and why you should, too)

In his new book Trust Me, I’m Lying, Ryan Holiday details the poisonous, counter-productive effects of snark, the internet’s addictive, sarcastic and bitter version of spin. You can guess where this is going: ‘douchebag’ is clearly the queen bitch of snark, offering a hollow, narrowly defined slander to the crux of any criticism on the web.

According to Holiday,

To be called a douche is to be branded with all the characteristics of what society deigns to hate but can’t define. It’s a way to dismiss someone entirely without doing any of the work or providing any of the reasons. It says, You are a fool, and everyone thinks it. It is the ultimate insult, because it deprives the recipient of the credentials of being taken seriously.

It’s the most dangerous result of groupthink: a blogger with an inherited audience stirs the pot by calling someone a douchebag. And people not only believe it; they spread it to their friends. They click the headlines because: “Holy shit, this guy/gal must’ve done something seriously horrific to earn the title of douchebag!” Then, they share the article on Facebook or Twitter because it’s bound to get likes and retweets.

And the circle of slander and counter-productivity keeps on a-spinnin’.

An experiment in douchebaggery

It all came to a head for me a few weeks ago when Jezebel posted the following headline: 10 Reasons Why Ryan Lochte Is America’s Sexiest Douchebag.

That made me wonder: how often are blogs with high traffic using the term?

  • Jezebel, the original offender, has 171 listings for ‘douchebag.’ And ‘douche’ has 186 of its own.
  • Flip through Gawker’s douchebag and douche archives and get 350 and 293 matches, respectively.
  • A search of the term ‘douchebag’ returns 409 results on TechCrunch. ‘Douche’ registers nearly 700 links.
  • Dare we try Google? Douchebag gets a whopping 13,200,000 hits. Douche? A cool 109 million.

This is an epidemic of startling proportions. And if you agree that it’s hateful and pointless, you can do something about it. You can stop clicking on headlines that use the term. You can stop going to websites that abuse the word.

For the record, I don’t find the term douchebag offensive. I do think it says something about the mental capacity of the person using it for profit. If we all just put a little bit of thought into what we say before we say it, we can return the internet to its double-rainbowed glory.

Pictured: the big happy family that is the Internet.

To sum up: if you profit off of careless use of the word ‘douchebag,’ we won’t call you a douchebag. We’ll call you a conniving, ignorant, lazy, opportunistic, bitter, jealous sycophant with nary a shred of human decency. Or some combination thereof.

The Hopeless Irony Behind This Tragedy

Just by virtue of it being newsworthy, Gawker will make money off of this:

I can assure you the publication gives little, if any, extra details on situation. It’s a hopeless irony behind an even sadder story. I encourage you to read the original post by comedian Matt Fisher in full.

I’m not saying that Gawker posted this maliciously (other than to possibly help determine the fate of Progressive). I’m just saying that maybe any revenue generated by a post like this should go to Matt Fisher’s family.

My thoughts go out to the entire Fisher family.

Today’s Top 5 Misleading Articles

To be a strong writer, you have to be a savvy reader. In many cases, the blogosphere (and mass media) have lost any semblance of journalistic integrity. For the first time in history, the burden of journalistic proof falls on the reader.

We’ve amassed five of today’s most misleading articles. You can check out screenshots but I refuse to link to the original articles. These guys don’t need any more pageviews to validate their shoddy reporting. If you’re interested in the original articles, you know where to find them.

1. Fox News waxes ironic over campaign ad.

We can always count on Fox News for slanted information masquerading as “news”. Let’s start with the nutgraph here:

Mitt Romney asked Thursday where all the “hope and change” has gone, as President Obama’s supporters pressed ahead with plans to air a misleading TV ad and a top campaign aide was accused of “lying” about her knowledge of its contents.

You should immediately recognize this as the form of sensational garbage journalism it actually is. The article goes on to call into question the organization behind this ad, calling it a “purportedly independent super PAC Priorities USA.”

Why is this so wrong? Not once does the article present evidence that the super PAC is linked the Obama campaign. Furthermore, it uses subversive language to plant ideas in the head of the reader that have no factual basis.

2. TechCrunch thinks views automatically translate to popular opinion.

Listen, I think SOPA and related legislation are disgraces to lawmakers everywhere. But TechCrunch seems to think that “10 million views” means 10 million people agree with the video in question.

It also makes the assertion that the video accurately “shows” readers what’s up. Look no further than the concluding statement for “proof” that TechCrunch advocates shitty journalism.

Perhaps the most interesting lesson in all of this is that the popularity of the video is in large part due to hitting the front page of the Pirate Bay, a prominent website for downloading illegal copies of music and movies. It goes to show how popular websites can have the force of major media companies when they turn their front pages into billboards for political causes.

The fact that the video garnered 10 million views doesn’t prove anything about public opinion or what “popular websites” are capable of, beyond the fact that it’s been seen 10 million times.

3. Gawker assumes we should care about new trashy show.

I really couldn’t read more than a couple of paragraphs in this one. How in the name of Christ almighty is this worthy of the front page?

First of all, don’t tell me what I should care about, Gawker. In regards to you, the only thing I care about is the fact that people actually read your horrifying publication.

Do the writers at Gawker understand the pop culture implications of what they do? Did you really just spend hours culling together a “story” on a “reality” television show that only serves to reinforce stereotypes? And if you don’t believe me, watch the absolutely terrifying trailer for the show. Then, never, ever watch or read anything about this destroyer of art and intellectualism again.

4. HuffPo spoke to everyone in the entire world for a story.

When you’re done laughing, please remember to stop visiting this website, a beacon for the worst of the worst in journalism.

5. HotAir blows smoke up everyone’s asses. 

So what you’re telling me is that a traditionally conservative publication put together a video to discredit liberals? And you’re also telling me that every single contraception supporter that they interviewed couldn’t explain themselves?

Or are you just showing one side of the argument? Great journalism. Fantastic morals and ethics from a group of people who run on a platform of morals and ethics.

Find any gems lately? Share them with us in the replies.

 

7 Unmissable Blogs for Writers and Marketers

The key to strong writing is plenty of reading. Plan to waste some time on the internets today? Make that time productive by checking out some blogs that’ll help you improve your craft.

Copyblogger

Copyblogger is THE go-to blog for copywriting tips, tricks and best practices. Rooted in WordPress, the company features a slew of different tools for content marketing. But the content on the blog features some of the best stuff for writers. It goes beyond copywriting to cover content marketing, blogging, SEO and general communications.

Content Marketing Institute

The brainchild of content marketing expert Joe Pulizzi, the Content Marketing Institute is one of the web’s premiere resources for up-to-date how-to content. Beyond knowing their craft, it’s important for writers to understand the vehicle they’re driving with their writing. CMI does exactly that. BONUS: You may see some of my own writing popping up here in the near future. Stay tuned.

Problogger

Everything you need to know about blogging, organized in one place. Copyblogger is an extremely popular resource for bloggers of all shapes and sizes. It’s all about visibility and making money at Copyblogger, where you’ll find tons of resources on how to do both effectively.

Cracked

Where to start with Cracked. If you need an intellectual, fact-based and hilarious break from work, Cracked never fails to deliver. It doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the resources on this list simply because it doesn’t offer tips for writers. I think it’s a strong study for writers looking for applicable examples of strong publishing on the web. It’s a great place to find some inspiration and get a good laugh.

Make a Living Writing

Carol Tice is a successful freelance writer who shares tons of great insights on freelancing through Make a Living Writing. Another great feature of this blog is her guest-blogging policy; submissions that get published earn $50 for their work. That’s a breath of fresh air in a world where your guest posts will get you squat.

Men with Pens

Men with Pens is a great resource for freelancers and copywriters alike. It contains similar material to blogs already mentioned on this list, but you’ll find a unique flair here.

The Rant

The Rant is entertaining writing laced with informative content. Not your typical writing blog, John Carlton’s personal vehicle for sharing insights is still a great place to learn from the best.

Why the Hell Are You Blogging?

Have you ever asked yourself this question? Seems like it should answer itself.

The unfortunate reality is that it doesn’t. So I ask again, why the hell are you blogging?

One of the toughest things to do in business (as in life) is to turn an introspective eye. You either understand your own goals and motivations or you don’t. And if you say, “Because everyone else is,” then maybe you should reconsider.

Who am I?

Not one single person in the history of business made a real name for herself by following the crowd. Justifying your actions based on groupthink is inexcusable. How often do we question our own motives?

Primarily, I’m writing this blog to establish my brand as a freelance copywriter, simplifying how I attract new clients. There are tons of secondary motives, including some that are slightly less narcissistic (emphasis on slightly). The main point is that I understand exactly why I’m doing this.

So why are you doing it? Maybe you’re using it to improve your organization’s credibility and visibility. In some cases, you may be trying to make money directly through advertisements.

Identifying your motives is the first step. Don’t forget: it’s also important to understand how your motives align with the goals of your audience.

Some Writers Take Advantage

The internet is rife with misinformation. It’s the era of pageview journalism. Publishers across the web are more concerned with making a quick buck than providing useful, timely and accurate information.

Which side are you on?

If you write for an organization, you’re competing for pageviews too. But you’re writing for a narrow audience. Some people need or want your product or service more than others, and that’s who you’re after. Because you’re looking to (perhaps) form a longer lasting business relationship, you and your audience both benefit from high-quality content.

Unfortunately, pageview journalism doesn’t work quite the same way. I’ve written about why it’s important to be wary of what you read online. Dissected, the reasons for this danger are pretty clear. Writers who make money through advertisements want to draw in any and every eyeball they can get. As a result, you get sensational headlines, coverage that doesn’t fit their format and poorly written or researched articles that no one should be reading.

I ask you again: what are your motives? Which side are you on?

Someone somewhere will read your blog. In my opinion, you have a responsibility to even that one reader to create accurate, helpful content.

It’s time to turn the mirror on ourselves. Figuring out your motives gives you a real opportunity to align them with your audience’s goals and desires.

6 Reasons Why You Should Be Very, Very Careful What You Read Online

By now, you should know you can’t trust everything you read online. Newspapers are on the brink of extinction. Tuning into CNN or Fox News…well, just don’t tune into CNN or Fox News. Media has gone haywire, and it’s all thanks to this little thing called the internet.

Ironic masks aren’t helping, either.

Of course, the internet is also a repository of useful information. I won’t deny that I find most of the information I’m looking for online. Still, if an article looks biased or opinion-driven, it’s best to at least follow up on the facts encountered. Media outlets are businesses trying to drive revenue. Some have insightful content. Some don’t. Here’s why you should be wary of what you read.

1. Websites will say anything to draw you in. Remember how important your headline is? Plenty of people use headlines to sensationalize stories. A lot of these headlines might take advantage of trending stories. Cracked has an excellent article on how tons of journalistic outlets used the zombie bath salts phenomenon to generate traffic.

Many of these types of stories may be based in fact. But plenty of stuff you read may throw facts straight out the window because…

2. The web is a gigantic opinion-machine. TechCrunch is an excellent source of tech-related information. Working near Silicon Valley, I hear the name of the popular website many times a day. TechCrunch is popular because it brings a flair for opinion-based reporting that livens up stories and gives the outlet spunk.

And that’s why things like this happen. TechCrunch contributor Mike Butcher takes a step away from the news to ramble about an ‘entitled’ PR rep, riling up the website’s community. Fortunately, many readers pointed out the irony of Butcher describing the poor dude as ‘entitled’.

An article like this is doubly scary because…

3. Journalistic integrity has gone out the window. The golden days of journalism brought with it certain codes and ethics that writers should always follow. Now that anyone with a friggin computer can share their version of the news, tons of untrained amateur journalists are taking the web by storm.

As a result, fact-checking has been debased to Wikipedia entries. Writers across the web have bastardized the old norms of fact-checking in lieu of making a quick buck. But that isn’t even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to journalistic integrity because…

4. People are paid to embellish. There are plenty of different iterations of this one on the web. For instance, software providers often pay writers to become affiliate marketers. They’ll set up a software review site, for instance, that covers a specific market but favors the company they’re working for.

Independent bloggers get free stuff from companies all of the time. If a business sent you a free product, would you be inclined to write poorly about it?

The really scary part is that people get away with everything above, much of the time because…

5. Anonymity is easier to achieve. Sharing an inflammatory opinion or scamming your audience is simpler when you can do it without a face. Writers who produce poor writing don’t necessarily have to take credit for that writing. It’s a problem that web has dealt with since its beginning. And, as a result…

6. Search engines don’t always take credibility into account. SEO searches for strong content. A strong writer produces strong content. But strong writing does not an accurate piece make. Articles that show up in the first page of web results are just as susceptible to providing inaccurate (if not downright dangerous) information. Right, Fox News? Right?

Is Outlining Really Necessary?

As a young writer, I struggled with the concept of outlining. If you already have a strength and passion for writing, you may struggle with this, too. You feel that you need the purity of the creative process undisturbed. You tell yourself that truly creative thinking follows no form.

Of course, if you get anywhere in your writing career, you’ll soon realize that this is hogwash. Yeah, that’s right. I said hogwash.

Hogwash.

Professional writing requires structure. And the longer the piece, the more structure you’ll require. The more detailed your structure, the less you have to fill in during the writing process. Outlining eliminates frustration and writer’s block while easing drafting and revision.

If you decide to write without outlining your concept first, you may be in for a huge headache. Outlining forces you to:

  • Organize your thoughts in a fluid but visible way
  • Make a simple-to-follow reference sheet
  • Order thoughts in the sequence that makes the most sense
  • Ensure you have enough content to deliver a complete message
  • Get a high-level view of your piece and make sure you don’t forget anything
  • Understand how to weave any themes into the narrative.

Before you sit down to write a piece, take five minutes to jot your thoughts down on a blank page. Put them in a logical order for your reader and craft stronger, more coherent pieces.