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.

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.

5 Poetic and Outrageously Funny Twitter Accounts

Not on Twitter yet? You’re missing out on a goldmine of inspiration.

Some folks who don’t use Twitter imagine it as a channel into the menial tasks of their friends’ boring lives. And yes, plenty of people use it that way. You don’t have to follow them, though.

Courtesy Mashable.

No, what Twitter offers the writer is a smorgasbord of hilarious, provocative, contrarian and literary art. It’s a shame that so few people have realized the artistic and entertainment value of the medium. Today, I’m doing my part to let people know.

Check out 5 of the most genius and inspirational Twitter accounts for writers below.

1. Rob Delaney (@robdelaney): Rob Delaney is THE stand-up comedian leading a whole new generation of Twitter comedy. At times, it feels like his brain is firing off random neurons. But just about everything he tweets turns to gold.

 

 

Part of his charm is his delivery. This guy knows how to pack a punch every time he spits out 140 characters. From harassing corporations to detailing his strange turn-ons, Rob Delaney keeps me in stitches all day long.

2. Cranky Kaplan/Wise Kaplan (@CrankyKaplan/@wise_kaplan): Bonus!! Here’s a two-fer any self-deprecating writer will love. Based on former New York Observer editor-in-chief Peter Kaplan, the two accounts are bipolar parodies of a man I’d love to make friends with.

True to his name, Cranky Kaplan spends his time berating followers, bad-mouthing Manhattan and detailing his strange, gin-fueled exploits with capitalized fury. Half random tweets, half inspired narrative, following Cranky Kaplan is a roller coaster ride of angry laughs.

Wise Kaplan is an insightful parody that focuses more on a narrative cadence. Wise Kaplan is out of touch with a fast-paced social media world and pontificates on modern life in Manhattan.

3. Horse ebooks (@Horse_ebooks): There’s no real method to Horse ebooks madness. According to Wikipedia, the account “is a widely followed spam Twitter account and internet phenomenon” that “is intended to promote low-quality e-books about horses.” To keep Twitter from shutting the account down, the owner posts random snippets of text that arrange in a strangely avante-garde entropy.

4. Horton Atonto (@crushingbort): While Mr. Atonto’s bio reads “Freelance photographer for plus-sized cats clothing catalogue”, there seems to be little other information on the web about this tweeter. In fact, Horton Atonto has yet to attract a large following. But it won’t be long before people recognize the genius of his timely and hilarious societal commentary.

5. Sarah Beattie (@nachosarah): Sarah is a lovely cosplay enthusiast. That’s about all I know. Her tweets lack punctuation, delivering an urgent laugh every time she lets loose.

Honorable Mention: bog tity (@BogTity)

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?

Low-Impact Statements Won’t Make You Any Friends

Everyone has that friend that makes a mountain out of a molehill.

“Ugh. It’s Monday and the train is running slow this morning. This is going to be a terrible week.” According to ‘that’ friend, a relatively small thing will impact the course of his or her entire week.

‘That’ friend may have positive things to say as well. “Just saw [insert D-list actor] walking down the street. My life is complete!!!”

These are low-impact statements dressed up as things people should care about. In marketing (as in life), there are ways to do this effectively. Hyperbolizing low-impact statements is not the correct route.

People may write low-impact statements because:

  • They don’t understand their audience (or don’t care)
  • The ideas they share are self-centered
  • The main theme or idea is unclear
  • They are drama queens

Not every sentence you write will land with the kind of impact you desire. But that’s okay. In business writing, everything should lead to the big picture. But, if you’re summing up a theme or message, the sentence must ring with impact. Hyperbole is transparent. How do you increase the impact of the statement without blowing it out of proportion?

  • Empathize with the reader by framing the pain-point, problem or situation. This requires a clear understanding of your audience.
  • Clearly demonstrate how your product, service or organization solves the problem. Do this simply but descriptively. Statements that resonate require clarity and relevance — not exclamation points, italics, editorializations or aggrandized concepts.
  • As I’ve mentioned before, shorter sentences often have a greater impact.

Keep these tips in mind and you’ll avoid becoming ‘that’ writer.

How to Make Your Shitty Headlines Pretty

I think most savvy web users are becoming familiar with effective headlines, even if that familiarity is occurring in your subconscious.

For bloggers, headlines are critical. They’re first impressions. They’re a means for search optimization. They summarize, intrigue and captivate.

Forget the papes, I’m startin’ my own blog.

If you have a sneaking suspicion that your headlines are shitty, there’s plenty you can do to ground yourself. Take a look at some of the tips below.

1. “How to” headlines are a-okay. Kind of an introspective reference there, yes? People love “how to” posts because they’re straightforward. They lead with the purpose (practical advice) and follow with the subject matter. There’s no question about what the content should present.

2. Ask a question. Questions leave an air of mystery to your post. If presented well, they evoke the desired response from the reader: they read on to learn more. Make sure that questions are provocative, accurate to the content and are answered by your post.

3. Tie in trends. You can draw in fresh hits when you keep content timely. Reflect posts that cover trending topics in your headlines. That’ll help your search presence, drawing in readers researching those news topics.

4. Kill the buzzword. Every time you write a buzzword, a copywriter has a seizure. Don’t be that guy. Stay away from buzzwords like “industry-leading,” “innovative,” etc. They can be big turn-offs.

5. Stay positive. When you’ve developed an audience, you can tie in a negative post headline every so often. Until then, try to stay positive. Believe it or not, people aren’t searching for more negativity to add to their lives. They can visit their Facebook news feeds for that.

For a crash-course in writing headlines, check out this post over at Copyblogger. And add that shit to your blog roll! They’re pretty neat.

Why PR Is Broken

Everyone’s a critic. No, seriously.

By now, it’s clear that the editorial landscape has changed, for better or worse. Small newspapers are dying, magazines are going under and a swath of online publications have replaced the old guard.

In the midst of the content revolution, PR firms slowly came to a conclusion: adapt or die. Some have successfully adapted. Others have adapted in ways that mislead their clients.

If you’re considering working with a PR firm, consider this: twenty years experience in public relations doesn’t translate to jack-squat in social media management. It means something for content development and SEO — but chances are firms are working with on-staff or freelance writers to develop the bulk of that content.

Today, PR prowess really comes down to contacts. Like any line of business, it’s all about who you know. That’s part of why PR is a dying industry.

Then he asked me if our PR firm was “full-service.” Bahahahaha!

You have hundreds of channels in your space where you can grab a little exposure. Are you really planning to pay $10k per month for a mention in the New York Times? How do you expect that to affect your bottom line? Even if it does, how can you measure it effectively?

I recently had the accidental pleasure of attending a PR roundtable with some heavy-hitters in the space. It was mainly an opportunity for the sponsor firm to schmooze some potential new clients. I attended with one of my clients and was completely ignored by our hosts. The roundtable eventually spiralled into an orgiastic discussion of self-preservation. The takeaway? “Our communications experience makes us well suited for social media management.”

The truth is that it doesn’t. One of the greatest moments of the discussion was when the firm’s president admitted, “We’re recruiting strong, young talent to help us move deeper into this space.” Because they aren’t native social media users, and they’re simply following the blanket trends. The company was in the process of enacting systemic change across their giant international organization. Without cleaning house, you’re basically positioning your company as experts in something related to but distinct from your actual expertise.

I’m not arguing that all PR firms are doing a poor job. What I am saying is that the value of true PR is lower than you think, especially for start-ups. And if you need a person or company to manage your social media or content marketing strategy, why not work with a more specialized firm?

So, again, if you’re evaluating your need for a public relations firm, think it out carefully. What exactly are you hoping to gain from the experience? Take a hard look at the value of public relations, and evaluate other options like SEO experts, writers and content strategists against it.

5 Reasons to Create “5 Reasons” Posts

The biggest blogs on the web are stacked with “list” posts, or articles that include tips, tricks, favorites and the like. You may recognize list posts parading in such classic forms as “5 Reasons,” “3 Tips,” “15 Blogs,” “4 Ways,” etc.

You see these posts ad nauseam everywhere you go. There’s a reason people use them, like most marketing techniques that are done to death. Except for just about everything in GoDaddy’s playbook. That shit is beyond me.

Short digressions aside, people create list posts because they’re successful. For whatever reason, if you throw a number in your headline, you’ll grab the attention of your audience. Here’s some insight into why.

Courtesy The Official Blog of Gathering Books

1. Easy to read: My personal opinion is that the author projects the facade of a concise, organized post that serves as an easy, useful read. When you’re trying to appeal to an audience of professionals with ever-shrinking attention spans, that’s an important distinction to make right off the bat.

2. Organize your thoughts: Hey, even professional writers skip the “outline” process sometimes. With list posts, you can simplify organization by “skipping” the outline process and merging it with your post. And let me tell you; it’s a huge f-ing time saver.

3. Readers relate: Whether it’s laundry, grocery or to-do, people everywhere create lists to organize their daily lives. Your audience may have the capacity to read long, in-depth feature articles, but they’ll relate better to lists.

4. Attract content curators: Because list posts get so much traction, bloggers and content curators looking for high-quality posts may request to reprint your post. Or they’ll say screw it and steal your content anyway. As long as you get proper credit and a link, this is a good way to bolster dissemination of your content.

5. Why not? You got a better idea?

Content Dethroned: Communication is King

If these kings were content, would they be stabbing themselves in the head?

To those not in the know, this headline could be misleading. Let me clarify: content is still king, but content is also the byproduct of communication.

If you had a simple ability to connect members of your audience, would you actively block it? Would you close the comments section of your blog? If you had an active audience crying out for forums, would you deny them?

Executives with years of one-way marketing experience sometimes impose this hurdle. Before the internet, brand control was job number one. Now, entrepreneurs and executives must accept that people are discussing their brands in public forums.

They obsess over negative brand perception in a company-managed space. “This is my website, dagnabbit, and I’ll be dagnabbed if I’ll let dagnabbers speak ill of my company here.” (That’s how I imagine executives in my head.)

There’s a simple and absolutely critical policy that businesses should adopt immediately or risk failure. Stop trying to control the brand and start controlling the conversation.

If someone has something negative to say, they’re going to say it. Don’t you want the opportunity to respond? While I think this is the key selling point, there’s a ton more to it than just that.

Opening public communication channels like ‘comments’ sections or forums offers you benefits like:

  • FREE content: Yep, you heard it here, folks. Let people chat in a public forum and you gain a raging stream of free content. That means better search visibility, more new and return visitors and less time spent building content on your end.
  • Reduced support workload: How much time do you spend answering questions about your business and/or product? How often do you have to answer the same questions over email? Think of how much time you can save if the answers lived in one spot. Not to mention, other members of the community jump at the chance to answer questions. Don’t buy it? Ask Autodesk.
  • A searchable knowledge base: Beyond support, your content (in a blog or other social media channel) might open up to a wider discussion relevant to everyone in your market. That’s the point of your content marketing in the first place: to draw in leads with valuable content. Let your audience interact and they’ll support the cause.
  • Greater brand loyalty: Empower your followers with a voice and they’ll thank you. If they’re deriving value from your content and making useful connections, they stand a much better chance of becoming brand advocates.

A marketer could spend his or her entire day policing your brand across various venues online. Make your website a place to share and discuss, and you can get a better handle on brand perception.

Copywriting Is Dead

Have you ever assembled a piece of furniture? Reading the directions is like taking a blow to the head from a drunken frat boy.

Reminds me of the old days of marketing. No one talked like a human. Companies loved the sound of their own voices. Business is catching up with the world of social media, and it turns out people would rather hear from real human beings.

Copywriting is dead — at least in the traditional sense of the practice. What I hope this blog will impart on its readership is that you can all finally drop the act. Throw formality out the window and start speaking to your target audience in a voice they can relate to. And don’t be afraid to end a sentence or two with a preposition.

You’re asking, “Who the hell is this guy?” I’m just a man, like any other. I’m also a freelance writer. I’ve ghostwritten a business book, created web copy for entire websites and dabbled in writing mediums you’ve never even heard of.

I write good, and I’m here to help you write gooder. So let’s get this thing started.