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Auto-play videos are (still) ruining websites

August 13, 2017

Photo: C.J. Sorg (CC)

You know how many gas pumps have auto-play video screens because you’re trapped filling up?

That’s how I feel about auto-play videos on your site.

The user experience is terrible, as though the user never enters the equation. What gets the brand clicks and views outweighs how the user interacts with the site.

I’m slightly more forgiving of sites that auto-play videos muted, including Facebook and Twitter. It’s almost an art form creating compelling videos that work well with the sound off and the captions on. But it still causes data usage problems for users. Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg.

Consider how you set up your site for users — desktop and mobile — and whether it’s meant to attract or repulse them. Are you making decisions to help the user or the brand?

I feel trapped when I need to read an article, and one (or more!) auto-play videos attack, whether at the top of the page, somewhere in the sidebar or even in an embedded ad. I can either click away or try to shut down those infernal nuisances.

What video in the universe is so damn important that it must be playing the moment the page hits your screen?


500 posts!

August 6, 2017

Wade Kwon

I tend to forget celebrating victories, big or small. I couldn’t even remember if I had done any milestone posts on this site (I had, for No. 400).

So, a brief pause to mark 500 posts in 8 years. Hooray!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future, and my place in it. What do I want to create? What’s the best way to get there? Is blogging more a habit, a chore or something else?

I’m fortunate to have some room to choose. I’m lucky that I like to plan ahead. And I love to dream big.

I don’t know what’s around the bend, for my work, for my life, for my soul.

I won’t stay too long on this little hilltop. The journey continues, and I can’t wait.

Is ‘17776’ the future of storytelling?

July 30, 2017


Summer can be a slow time for football fans, but perhaps the perfect opportunity to wow them with a nice story.

Meet “17776.”

SB Nation writer Jon Bois put together this terrific piece of writing and digital media for a 25-part serial. That’s right, a serial, a practice not seen since the ancient ages of newspapering and Charles Dickens (unless we count comic strips).

Netflix releases entire seasons of shows at once. Many news sites publish their longform stories and multi-part series at one time. It seems almost audacious in 2017 to release such a story over an 11-day period in July.

Certainly, we’re all familiar with the magazine-style format of long stories on the Web: images that span the width of the screen; dynamic auto-play videos and images; breakout charts and quotes; clutter-free design with a single center wide column of text. The chapters of “17776” invent their own format: easy to take in, yet not quite the usual scroll-and-read wall of words.

The surprise novella has been a hit, scoring 700,000 unique visitors and 4 million page views in under 2 weeks. Who would’ve thought a work of fiction would garner such a huge following on a site devoted to sports news and commentary?

Without giving too much away, “17776” is a sci-fi take on our world almost 16,000 years in the future. Blend sentient machines, a love of spectacle and equal parts humor and pathos, and present in a combination of text dialogue, videos and gifs.

I encourage everyone to check it out, even those who don’t care for football. It shows that with a little imagination, a great story can be told in great ways. We have barely begun to tap the multimedia capability of our sites.

Reading “17776” not only gives us an insight into humanity’s possible future, but also our gift for sharing ideas creatively in the present.

• • •

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Let’s go to Y’all Connect 2017!

July 23, 2017

Wade Kwon, Y'all Connect 2015

Forgive me if I’m a little distracted these days, but my conference is coming up in less than 3 weeks.

Y’all Connect 2017 will be here in Birmingham soon, and I’m working overtime to get ready. I hope you’ll join us.

We have seven speakers — five of whom are returning favorites — to talk about digital marketing and more. I’ve got lots of fun stuff on the agenda, and not a lot of time left to put it in place.

It’s Aug. 11 at Rosewood Hall in Homewood, just $149 for the day ($249 for VIP tickets). Feel free to ask me anything in the comments below or through the contact form.

(And I’ll be on ABC 33/40’s “Talk of Alabama” to talk about Y’all Connect. Catch me between 9 and 10 a.m. Wednesday.)

 Ticket sales end Friday, so order today …

Register Today

No excuses

July 17, 2017

Harry Leslie Smith

Meet Harry. World War II vet. Author. Speaker. Traveler. Podcaster.

At 94, Harry Leslie Smith (shown above) has taken his activism to the Web with a podcast started in April called “Harry’s Last Stand” (after his 2014 book of the same name). He uses his platform to share his political and social beliefs, to rally young voters in Britain to his cause.

Audio: “Harry’s Last Stand: Ep. 7, Austerity has
the blood of Grenfell Tower on its hands”

If a survivor of the Great Depression and the Second World War can take up podcasting, what’s our excuse?

I mean, I hear a lot of excuses from people regularly about why they can’t blog, why they can’t invest in social ads, why they can’t update their website, why they can’t make videos.

I’m tired of their excuses. Heck, I’m tired of my excuses.

Excuses don’t cut it, so let’s stop making them. Let’s instead search for ways to move from ideas to action.

It won’t be easy. It might not always work as planned. It might even … fail.

But we can’t use excuses to sabotage our own communications efforts. Not when the technology is available to all. Not when the costs keep going down. Not when the answers to most of our questions are so easily within reach.

Harry uses technology to reach new audiences, and he already has built-in audiences through his books and his talks. What are we waiting for?

The Globe and Mail: “Why a 94-year-old war veteran
started a podcast to save democracy”

• • •

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Contact me today …

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Hard questions about Facebook, from Facebook

July 10, 2017
Facebook app

Photo: Eduardo Woo (CC)

If you ran Facebook, what would you change? And would that make the social network better on the whole?

Let’s find out.

Facebook has launched its Hard Questions outreach program, looking for answers on complex issues, such as fighting terrorism and hate speech. The company has also posted articles on how it currently handles these areas, including techniques and drawbacks.

Anyone can email their responses to the questions to I’ve offered my solutions below — feel free to weigh in on the comments.

1. How should platforms approach keeping terrorists from spreading propaganda online? Reddit faced this challenge for years. After a laissez-faire approach, the company decided to crack down on troublesome groups — for example, /r/The_Donald.

I would advocate a two-stage approach. First, label all propaganda as such, but allow it to remain visible on Facebook. If that approach appears to fail, move on to the second stage: Removing it consistently.

2. After a person dies, what should happen to their online identity? The profile is amended with a note that the user is deceased (after verification by staff member) and locked till ownership is determined by probate or local applicable law (which probably doesn’t exist yet in most places).

3. How aggressively should social media companies monitor and remove controversial posts and images from their platforms? Who gets to decide what’s controversial, especially in a global community with a multitude of cultural norms? Companies should respond to flagged posts/images in a timely fashion, using local teams to make the call. They should also offer users the option to toggle between access to safe, moderate or all posts, giving us the power to pre-filter content (with all users younger than 18 set to “safe”).

4. Who gets to define what’s false news — and what’s simply controversial political speech? Facebook once had in-house editors to make these decision, as news organizations do. Bring them back. And as a backup, conduct regular polls among volunteer users who identify their political affiliations.

5. Is social media good for democracy? It’s neither good nor bad — it’s a communications channel. Political movements use phones for polling, push polling, propaganda, voter drives and more.

6. How can we use data for everyone’s benefit, without undermining people’s trust? Be transparent and be skeptical. Show everyone how the data is collected, analyzed and used. Trust people to evaluate those methods and the data. Always ask questions about the integrity of the data and the methodology — blind faith leads to poor decisions and outcomes.

7. How should young Internet users be introduced to new ways to express themselves in a safe environment? I’m not a parent, but isn’t this something that parents, teachers, pastors and coaches already do? Don’t we teach children how to express themselves positively and effectively, whether it’s online or in real life?

Facebook has been lax in reigning in damaging content. While it’s important for the network to listen carefully to users, it’s more important for it to take action and share the results.

I’d rather see the fringe users flee than everyday users like you and me.

What do you think? Share a comment below.

The minimalist blog

July 3, 2017

Let’s declutter. Simplify. Clear out. Focus.

Minimalism isn’t just for the real world. Blogging has embraced simpler aesthetics, too.

What does minimalism mean when it comes to blogging? Do Facebook Instant Articles, Accelerated Mobile Pages and Apple News format count as minimalist? What about responsive themes that handle desktop, tablet and phone screens with a flexible design?

I think about design a lot. We all do, usually when it fails us, oh say, for example, looking at an article on a mobile screen. Because, it’s just … terrible.

sample mobile page

What good is “content marketing” if the content is so hard to see?

Even desktop versions can taunt us with pop-ups, gigantic headers, ads that foul things up behind the scenes with JavaScript, persistent navigation/sharing bars and antagonistic design (to favor advertisers over users).

No wonder so many bloggers are considering and implementing minimalist templates.

Zen Habits post

Zen Habits has been doing minimalism long before it became trendy. Look at the post above: no ads, no color, one font, no comments, no images(!), short paragraphs, simple headline. Even the URL is clutter-free:

That site tells us a lot about blog minimalism beyond the design. Focus on a single idea. Write a clear, succinct headline. Use simple, easy-to-grasp sentences.

Putting a minimalist blog together requires two goals in every aspect: Removing everything that doesn’t belong; and keeping focus on the mission, not on what could also be added. They seem like easy tasks, but they require a ruthlessness against bloat and ego.

iPodIt’s like one of the early versions of the iPod: five buttons, one click wheel, one hold switch. That’s all the controls needed to pick an album, a song or a place in the song. Getting to that version required discipline at Apple to keep the interface as simple as possible.

Can we keep that up every day on our blog? We start with an uncluttered design. We have no plugins except for the extremely necessary (Akismet anti-spam, SEO).

We add posts that have a straightforward layout, good readability and clear point of view. If we use an image, it’s sized as small as needed. We stick to a simple publishing schedule: Mondays and Thursdays. We spend much more time editing and paring down than we do writing.

We make it easy for new visitors to find out more information about the site and how to contact us.

That about do it? Anything we’re missing?

Minimalism is a trend and also a state of mind. It’s a love for the reader so deep that we’re willing to take extra steps to make it appear clean and approachable. That means diligence against adding one more thing, and a merciless attitude to taking things out.

Expert Marie Kondo has guided many people in making life easier through this decluttering process. We could be happier bloggers if we took a similar approach to our beloved sites.

• • •

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The virtue of brevity in writing

June 26, 2017
church sign

Photo: Au_tiger01 (CC)

Write tight.

It’s a skill that pays off repeatedly. And it wins audiences over for respecting their time and their attention span.

Journalists learn that skill through trial and error. Those on the print side write captions, headlines, briefs, teasers and other teeny morsels where a few words must convey as much as possible. Those on the broadcast side write scripts that must hit short time limits, plus chyrons (the onscreen labels) that appear for a few seconds.

Bloggers face no such restrictions. Armed with unlimited real estate, they ramble to their hearts’ content. Pity the poor reader who stumbles into a thicket of asides and unformed thoughts.

Brevity isn’t the happy accident of a taut first draft. It’s the rigorous application of a writer’s least favorite tasks: editing and revising. Editing asks what can go and what doesn’t belong in the first place. It also interrogates each sentence for meaning and clarity. Revising forces us to take what we think is a perfectly fine turn of phrase and try again (and harder, dammit).

It’s OK to be wordy in that first draft. Better to embrace flow than to stumble over starts and stops.

We see our writing, faults and all, more clearly through the process of editing and revising. We learn how to get to the point quicker. And that helps us in media new (memes, tweets, hashtags) and old (bumper stickers, billboards, commercials).

The old 5 B’s rule for speeches applies to writing: Be brief, brother, be brief.

Poynter: “How I stopped worrying and learned to murder my darlings”

• • •

Get help with your writing.
Contact me today for training and assessment …

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An ongoing dilemma: Facebook as a news source

June 18, 2017
reading the phone

Photo: Seniju (CC)

I get a lot of news from Facebook. Some of it directly from peers (a dog is loose in the neighborhood; a wreck is blocking the interstate). Some of it from media outlets and brands, and most of it via links to outside sites.

I don’t recall when I signed up 12 years ago if I expected it to become a primary source of news for me. But here we are.

Having worked in the news biz, I’ve paid close attention to how people stay informed, and how a certain percentage simply isn’t interested in the news (current events, financial markets, international incidents, celebrity gossip and the like). We’ve had newspapers, newsletters, magazines, television, radio, websites and email bulletins. Now, we have apps, text alerts, social media, comedians, bots, foreign agents, forums and groups, podcasts, content farms and fake news purveyors.

These are confusing times.

Singling out Facebook is easy: It’s the biggest platform and still one of the busiest, even if the average age of users continues to climb. Depending on who you ask, it shaped the 2016 U.S. elections (many people) or had no influence whatsoever (says founder Mark Zuckerberg).

Certainly, bloggers and news outlets have tried time and again to leverage the channel to build traffic and to make money. It’s made Facebook very rich and left most of us struggling for everyone’s attention.

We can’t rely on Facebook to police the news feed. It goes against the company’s economic interests, and its record is spotty at best, whether relying on algorithms or humans or both. We can’t rely on each other: We all have connections who lack common sense and critical thinking skills.

And we can’t rely on ourselves. We lack perspective. We live in filter bubbles. We have confirmation bias. We misjudge our intelligence and gullibility.

Here’s what we can do:

  1. Stop using Facebook, or at least, stop relying on it for news.
  2. Stop watching 24-hour cable news.
  3. Read a book. Preferably one that expands our horizons or challenges our most deeply held beliefs.

Facebook is simply a new twist on an old problem: Consumers staying informed while weeding out the junk. The platform makes it easier to share, but we’re still stuck with sorting out what matters, what rings true and what harms everyone.

More on Facebook’s efforts to reform.

• • •

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Talents and blogging

June 12, 2017
drawing lessons

Photo: Lakshman (CC)

To be a successful blogger, these are the talents most helpful to the job:

1. Organization: Many corporate bloggers are solo acts. As chief writer, editor, marketer, photographer, tech support professional and janitor, a blogger must keep many plates spinning. And that’s in addition to other regular duties.

2. Creativity: Anyone can crank out blog posts. Most are dull and uninspired. It takes imagination to discover interesting angles and new approaches to excite readers, fans and customers.

3. Courage: Waiting for the perfect idea encourages apathy. Securing all the approvals can kill momentum. Yes, it’s often mandatory, but we hold ourselves back even when no one else is.

4. Flexibility: Interviews fall through. Drafts go missing. A blogger deals with setbacks that journalists face, but not necessarily with all the resources of a news organization. Being improvisational can go a long way in turning that lemon into lemonade.

5. Competitiveness: The right motivation can push us to climb mountains or master ice sculpting. Sometimes, a competitive spirit can fuel a blogger’s drive to write more, edit more, rewrite more, promote more and network more.

A successful blogger gains these talents:

1. Writing: The more I write, the better I get. Before I came to blogging, I was a reporter, columnist and editor. Blogging gave me an outlet for more topics, more formats and more experiments. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without 7,000 posts under my belt.

2. Speed: Working online gives a blogger a sense of urgency, turning around ideas into posts more quickly. Jumping on trends, shooting out social media promotions, teaming up with partners — they all require speedy reflexes.

3. Connectedness: Reaching out to bloggers on similar topics can aid a blogger is so many ways: new ideas, different perspective, piggyback audience and more. Calling upon them as peers is a true mark of success.

4. Expertise: What better way to learn more about a subject than to blog about it every week? It requires curiosity as well as an attentiveness to customer questions and needs. Blogging makes us smarter.

5. Authority: People can recognize when someone knows their subject matter — and sniff out phonies when they don’t. A blogger can become a leading authority in their industry, and a highly visible one at that.

With blogging, we can succeed with a modest set of skills. And we can reap a whole new set of talents.

The 2-minute panelist

June 4, 2017

Panels suffer from a number of problems. We don’t hear enough from stronger panelists. They’re not very diverse. They’re poorly moderated. They can be a snooze if all panelists share similar answers and ideas.

The last few times I’ve served as a panelist, I gave myself a time limit of 2 minutes. I wanted to be fair to fellow panelists (not every moderator keeps long-winded participants or even questioners in line). I also wanted to get to the damn point.

I’m as guilty as anyone of long-windedness, my golden voice ringing gloriously in my ears. This would be a fix.

I set a 2-minute timer on my phone and kept an eye on it while weighing in. It forced me to be succinct and punchy. After all, if I wanted to make an impression, I needed to make those 120 seconds memorable.

(I didn’t bother timing the other panelists — but they went way over 2 minutes, not that any such restriction was in place.)

Trust me, 2 minutes is more than sufficient time to answer a reasonable question thrown at a panel.

I found audience members would come up to me afterward and quote my best responses. That’s great feedback.

Try it sometime, even if you’re not bound for a panel. Putting care into our answers makes us more engaging and more ready to listen to someone else’s followup.

• • •

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Contact me today …

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Get a second opinion

May 30, 2017

billboard PSA stubbornness

We often trust people we hire implicitly: mechanics, contractors, babysitters, lawyers, bookkeepers, tutors and so on. That trust means when they recommend something, we act on it.

It’s interesting that when it comes to critical decisions about our medical care, our doctors will sometimes punt:

“Get a second opinion.”

That is important advice, especially when it comes to communication efforts. Get a second opinion, and a third one and a fourth one. Make an educated decision about plans, professionals, costs and timelines.

I don’t care if it’s me handing out the suggestions — get a second opinion.

Is your ad agency doing right by you? Get a second opinion.

(Would you dare question your CMO? Your social media manager? Your web developer?)

What’s the best way forward for public relations on a limited budget? Get a second opinion.

Hiring an influencer? Get a second opinion.

Creating an app? Get a second opinion.

A healthy dose of skepticism shouldn’t paralyze efforts but allow for the possibilities of failure, indifference, cost overruns and unnecessary detours. But just because someone recommends a course of action doesn’t mean it’s a good option or that it’s coming from a learned expert.

Even if a second opinion doesn’t yield all the answers, it teaches us how to ask the right questions. That can be the difference between expensive boondoggle and successful effort.

• • •

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Embracing the Twitter thread

May 22, 2017

Photo: Dave Gingrich (CC)

I love the creativity that people bring to social media. Give people the ability to post photos, and they post ones that are all text, or charts, or comic strips. Let them connect channels and we see cross-posting of all stripes.

One of the places to see these imaginative tactics is Twitter. I adore Twitter for the simplicity of seeing all kinds of updates at once: short, pithy, informative. It’s a perfect laboratory for seeing how limits enhance creativity.

Which brings us to the Twitter thread.

This feature, introduced in 2014, connects tweets and replies visually with a vertical line. The intention was to allow users to see how others interacted on a topic, rather than seeing single @replies scattered along the timeline.

What we’re seeing in 2017 is a new form of storytelling. Or, at least, expressing thoughts longer than 140 characters.

Users can chain tweets together by replying to themselves while removing their @username. Not only can a Twitterer make a longer point but also give multiple opportunities for followers to jump into the story.

Often, the user will indicate threads by announcing “[Thread]” in the opening tweet and numbering them 1/15, 2/15 and so on.

One drawback is that we have no simple way to embed Twitter threads on sites. Like this example …

Twitter thread from author Olivia A. Cole, @RantingOwl

The embedded tweet is just the introduction to a funny story about house hunting from Olivia A. Cole. It goes on for an additional 28 tweets, which are revealed after a reader clicks on that first tweet above. (I could’ve also embedded some or all of the other tweets, or archived them in a Storify post or Twitter Moment.)

Sometimes, we have to click at the bottom of a thread to see more tweets, like a vertical slideshow. It’s certainly not as straightforward as a single-page blog post, but we use the tools we’re given. Not every Twitter user has the time or the inclination to write it all out on another site.

Even writers with access to big platforms share stories on Twitter threads.

Twitter thread from author Jeff Guo, @_jeffguo

Jeff Guo, a reporter for Vox, links to a book review he wrote for the Washington Post in the tweet above. But he shares some bonus observations in the thread — click the tweet to see it.

He understands that while his book review will be seen by online and print readers, he can also attract more readers by putting out an interesting thread on Twitter. Guo writes for Vox and was a reporter for the Post, and yet he chooses the immediacy and intimacy of Twitter.

Our companies should consider other ways to tell our stories besides a blog post or an email blast. We wouldn’t create a series of 5-second videos chained together, but we could win fans and customers with a clever Twitter thread. Each tweet should make the reader want more.

It takes care and practice to break a longer tale into compelling bite-size chunks. We must evoke emotions with each part of the story: disbelief, laughter, shock or nervous anticipation.

I’ll share some opening lines that could make for great Twitter threads from brands …

“We just had the craziest exchange with a customer this week …”

“It took 5 months for our site redesign launched today, but did we tell you how it almost fell apart halfway through?”

“Here are a few of the oddest complaints we’ve gotten in customer service …”

“This is Katie, one of our top engineers here. She has always gone above and beyond what’s expected, but we wanted to know why …”

Let the creativity of Twitter infect brands everywhere. Break away from the pack with a great thread. Show off why a company matters.

Go beyond a single tweet to a story that moves readers.

• • •

Need help with your social media marketing?
Reach out to me today for a free consultation …

Contact me

A rule of thirds for writing

May 15, 2017
Bender with pencil

Photo: Tony Delgrosso (CC)

Bad writing meanders. It waffles, when it should get to the point.

And it’s especially bothersome when readers are pressed for time.

Cut the flab by following the rule of thirds for writing: We can safely trim most first drafts by one-third.

A 900-word snoozer transforms into a tight 600-word post.

It requires a firm hand when editing, dropping asides and wandering intros. When I edit copy from reporters and bloggers, I can tell where they use filler words and purple prose by habit. Out it goes.

Remember: Words are like shares in a story — the more we use, the less each one is worth.

More writing tips.

Beyond how to make money at blogging

May 8, 2017
Miranda Sings

Miranda Sings, right, poses for a photo with a fan.
Photo: Gage Skidmore (CC)

The other day, an audience member asked me a familiar question: How do people make money by blogging?

The better question these days is: How do people make money being YouTube/Instagram stars?

Both queries are essentially the same. We examine a popular but strange hobby and try to understand how it becomes profitable (or often, how weirdos are making tons of money at it). Ask random kids what they want to be when they grow up, and at least a few will pick a popular YouTuber or an Instagrammer (none of them will name a blogger).

In answering the question, I pointed out that a handful of YouTube stars have played in Birmingham during the last 12 months to thousands of young, adoring fans.

Video: Miranda Sings performs “Where My Baes At?”
in January at the Alabama Theatre.

Miranda Sings, the YouTube persona created by Colleen Ballinger, represents the top 1 percent of online celebrities. She played a packed show earlier this year in Birmingham as part of an international tour. In addition, she has a book, a concert DVD, a Netflix series and assorted merchandise.

It’s safe to assume Ballinger is making at least six figures off her nearly 8 million YouTube subscribers.

She did it through working hard and developing a unique voice. Add luck and timing, plus a winning combination of talent and savvy, and she’s a genuine star.

Over on Instagram, a few breakout personalities are known as influencers. They make money through sponsorships and endorsements to their millions of followers.

Chasing money and stardom is as old as mass media. The overwhelming majority do it for fun as a hobby. The top 10 to 20 percent make some money, maybe even a living at it. And that 1 percent is the tier of breakout stars.

While most of us won’t hit that jackpot, we can achieve great things on the medium of our choosing. It takes planning, dedication and a stand-apart identity to make it happen.

Yesterday, it was blogging. Today, it’s Instagram and YouTube. And tomorrow, who knows …

• • •

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Who’s killing it and where?

May 1, 2017
masked champion

Photo: Jrsnchzhrs (CC)

I’ve asked about your favorite podcasts. Now tell me about everything else you consume media-wise.

Who’s killing it and where?

  • Who = person, animal, inanimate object, brand, hashtag or fictional character.
  • Killing it = you’re following, subscribing, stalking, liking, nodding your head or loving in general.
  • Where = Tumblr, YouTube, blog, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Disqus, news site, Instagram, Pinterest, email blast, LinkedIn, etc.

(Bonus points if it’s related to communications or marketing.)

For example, I recently started following behavioral scientist Caroline O. on Twitter. I had seen quite a few people retweeting @RVAwonk and decided to check out her tweets regularly.

If you’re in need of a cute animal fix, I found a pair of ferrets named Naruto and Boruto on Instagram at @h.n.b2809.

Let me know your picks in the comments. Thanks!

The post I’ll promote till the sun collapses

April 24, 2017

Photo: Kevin Simpson (CC)

Narcissism has never been trendier. The Internet appears to run on nothing but selfies, look-at-me updates and vlog entries.

Should our company’s social media channels focus more on our corporate selves?

Let’s admit one thing: We do like commercials and self-promotion to some degree. For example, we love to rate and razz the commercials during the Super Bowl. And we do allow ads to get to free content on news sites, search engines, social sites and streaming video.

For those of us social marketers, we often feel like we’re balancing promotions with other useful content. (At least, I hope so. Some of us may be on self-promotion full blast.) Even our promotions can be wanting.

My pet peeve in this area is food trucks. It’s easy to verify: Pick a favorite vendor and look at its Facebook/Twitter/Instagram page. Can we tell where this truck within the last few hours, or where it will be next? If I can’t find the truck, I can’t hand over money for delicious tacos and cupcakes.

Self-promotion must correspond with the type of business.

It also must fall within one of the three compelling types: interesting, useful or funny. This rule always applies, even when we’re marketing ourselves and our organizations.

We tend to forget the real way to answer this self-promotion question: through numbers. Are we seeing more followers, more traffic and more sales based on our increased self-promotion? Checking our gut isn’t going to cut it. We should pay close attention to our social media metrics, our site analytics and our sales reports.

Which means we must also be bold in tweaking the script. More self-promotion and better updates could mean stronger marketing, fan pushback or raging indifference. Until we try, we can’t know.

• • •

Want to strengthen your social media marketing?
Contact me today …

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The habit of writing

April 17, 2017
writing in light

Photo: Erich Stüssi (CC)

Writing is very handy, whether you work in communications or a completely unrelated field. It allows us to express ourselves in so many ways: seeking and giving information; sharing thoughts, emotions and ideas; reaching out with empathy; conveying stories about ourselves and others.

I’m lucky to have practiced almost daily since high school, with quite a bit of work even in grade school.

Even if you consider yourself a novice, it’s never too late to start. What I’ve told students and reporters for years is that every writer has room for improvement. Even National Book Award winners. Even writing coaches.

One important habit to improve our writing skills is to do it every single day. This is both the easiest piece of advice to follow and the most difficult.

It’s easy because we have unlimited opportunities in our daily life to practice. Social media is a prime example: Compose your updates with care. Think about your intended audience and the core message. Whittle it down to as few words as possible.

This applies to tweets and Snapchat captions, as well as blog posts and text messages. Obviously it applies to emails and memos.

Take away any excuses: I keep pads of paper and pens together in my house, my office and my car. I can jot down an idea at a stop light — and often do. Dictate thoughts into your always-in-reach smartphone’s recorder or your voicemail (I do that, too). Keep a private blog with one simple rule: one entry per day, even if it’s a single sentence, a single word.

It’s difficult because writing can be intimidating. A blank page can give grown men and women the sweats, let alone the horrifying notion that someone could read it.

Every writer started somewhere. And many of the top writers struggle with their work — it doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

You must overcome your timidity of scratching out a sentence a day, one that no one but you will ever read. Otherwise, you’ve failed before you’ve even tried.

Another challenge for writers trying to improve their skills is the perceived lack of progress. I hack away at different writing assignments every day, but it’s hard for me to tell if I’m getting any better. I’m stuck in the middle of my own work.

Remember that daily writing will yield gradual progress, but it does take time. And we may not be the best judge of our own work — it always helps to have another set of eyes on it.

Getting started is a must. Keeping at it is essential. Write every day, even a lousy nonsensical phrase that sticks in the throat like so much phlegm.

The world needs more thoughtful writers. They come from those who practice the craft.

• • •

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A smarter way to respond to tweets

April 9, 2017

I’m not a fan of group texts or group Facebook messages or group DMs. Sadly, I can’t opt out of group texts.

Recently, Twitter added a new feature: Usernames don’t count against the 140 characters in replies. So if you’re replying to one or six people, you still get the full 140.

The implementation was … not great. Since the usernames didn’t matter, Twitter took them out of the reply window. Which meant that every user from the original tweet (or added along the way) was stuck with cc: replies.

Fortunately, Twitter just added an escape hatch. When replying to a tweet, you can click on the recipients and check/uncheck who should be included.


Reply 1

Tweet reply window, showing three potential recipients.


Reply 2

Click on them to select intended recipients.


Reply 3

Use the check boxes at right to add/subtract users.

These screenshots are from the desktop browser, but this reply-to-some feature is available on the mobile app and Tweetdeck.

(The Tweetbot app hasn’t changed, still allowing manual editing of usernames in any @reply.)

Easy, right?

Be a responsible Twitterer, and reply to all your fans and followers, but leave out anyone who doesn’t need to be looped in on each and every tweet.

• • •

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Blogging: New angles for old topics

April 2, 2017

Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, Tom Holland

Originality is a challenge in the blogosphere. Do we really have something new to say?

Of course. Follow my lead.

Having worked in newspapers and magazines, I fought that battle every year with the help of creative colleagues. Coming up with a new spin on Easter fashion or spring cleaning or local music festivals would sometimes induce eye rolling and heavy sighing.

We’ve seen news sites and blogs dredge up shallow takes on perennial topics with the dreaded list and slideshow. Pick the 10 most popular items, stick them in a countdown list or a click-generating slideshow and bam, done.

We can do better.

The best approach is brainstorming. Start with colleagues: They might be colleagues, they might be co-workers in other departments, they might be bloggers in the same niche. Ask what’s been done to death, and what avenues have yet to be explored. In the news industry, we held each other accountable continuously for jotting down ideas and talking with people from all walks of life for different insights.

Brainstorming with readers can also yield fresh angles. Social media offers an opportunity to ask for questions, topics and ideas.

Another approach is paying close attention to trends. How people put together their Easter ensembles is different from 10 years ago. We have more and better tools and products available for spring cleaning. Many factors influence a music festival, from how fans discover new bands to competing events to the predicted cost of gasoline.

Being attuned to what’s happening right now can make our posts smarter and more helpful to our audience. It can reassure them that we haven’t fallen out of touch with them or the world.

One last approach is to take risks in shaking things up. I came from an industry that ran screaming from anything resembling a risk, but I took them anyway.

I’m not suggesting change for the sake of change. I am suggesting that we should not shy away from different approaches to evergreen topics simply because we’re moving from our comfort zone. It might upset customers. It might garner ridicule.

So what?

Even a complete and utter failure can guide us on what to do next time. Likely, our audience will meet a new take with indifference. That’s how it goes.

I can appreciate when a blogger tries something completely different, even if it flops. Sticking to a formula can grow stale, not only for the audience but also for the creator.

These three approaches can bring new life to our blogs, even when covering well-worn topics. It’s up to us to think through how our posts can pique our interest as well as our readers’ interest.

• • •

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