In Blogging, the More Things Change……

old newspaper ads

 

On a recent tour of interesting Indiana places, I picked up the most fascinating souvenir – The Daily Review newspaper published February 19, 1908 in Crawfordsville.

Since my work at Say It For You centers around business marketing, I was particularly fascinated with Page 3 of the paper, which sported a crazy patchwork  of advertisements. Needless to say, the prices of goods more than 110 years ago provided a source of entertainment: Men’s tailored suits were available for a cost ranging from $18 to $40, while two light brooms were advertised at 25 cents for the pair. Interested in real estate? 58 acres of good land, including a six-room house, a barn, a large orchard were going for $2,450.

Since a favorite topic of mine as a professional ghost blogger and business blogging trainer is commanding readers’ attention, even more interesting to me as I scanned the Daily Review were the different appeals advertisers used to grab readers’ attention:

Problem solving
“Is your heating apparatus working satisfactorily?  If there is anything wrong, just telephone me and I’ll fix it in a jiffy,” claimed Dan Pickett.  “If you have forgotten your laundry till Friday or Saturday, call on us.  We make a specialty of time work,” James P. Grimes & Sons assured prospects. “Kill the cough and cure the lungs!” is the way Dr. King promoted his cough medicine.

Price reductions
“Our entire stock of furniture and stoves to be closed out in the next 30 days at prices unheard of before,” said Joel Block, while jeweler and optician Otto announced he would be selling 101 Masonic Temple souvenir spoons, normally priced at $1.75 and $2.25, for only $1.00 each.

Special expertise
“I make a specialty of high grade enlargements consisting of all sizes and finish.  Remember this work is done by hand, which I make in my own studio,” claimed Bert Vancleave. “You get the benefit of our technical knowledge and of our persistently clear cut methods,” said corner jeweler J.A. Oswald.

Fear marketing
“How is your home?” asked O.W. Stafford & Co. “Is it fully insured? When the fire is started, it is too late to get it insured.  Better let us write that policy today.”

Appeal to customers’ desire to be part of a trend
“Smoke a clay pipe. They are the thing in pipes just now.”

 

Back in 1908, to be sure, no one was blogging. Still, today, although blogs should be more like advertorials than advertisements, every one of these advertising approaches might be used in business blog writing to appeal to consumers.

You know what they say:  The more things change, the more they remain the same!

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Put Words in Blog Readers’ Mouths

Word Toolbox Teaching Tools Resources Spelling Reading Lesson Ai“Learn the lingo to beat the scammers,” advises Sid Kirchheimer in this month’s AARP magazine. “Knowledge is power” the author explains, proceeding to “put words.in readers’ mouths” so that they can feel confident about protecting themselves from fraudsters.

A “catfish”, Kirscheimer explains, is someone who creates a fake online profile to intentionally deceive you, while “hash busters” are random words contained in spam emails that allow them to bypass your spam filters. “Pharming” refers to malicious programs that route you to their own websites, while “scareware” displays on-screen warnings of nonexistent infections.

“Powerful Phrases for Effective Customer Service”, a customer service training manual by Renee Evenson, is based on the same knowledge-is-power idea. “Using powerful phrases – the right words – when you communicate gives you the confidence that you’re communicating your best…What you say can make all the difference in how your customers view you and your company,” says Evenson.

We know. And, as blog content writers, we need to be conscious of the difference the right words can make in marketing our clients’ businesses or professional practices. But what the AARP article made clear to me was the importance of what they say (meaning the customers and prospects).

One very important use of the blog becomes arming readers with a sense of control. It’s that feeling of confidence in knowing the lingo which allows readers to feel ease in making buying decisions.

Sid Kirschheimer spends an entire page teaching readers “scam-speak”.  An essential part of business blog marketing, I’m convinced, is “putting words in blog readers’ mouths!”

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Case Study Business Blogging

Case study
“To explore uncertainty reduction theory, I ask students to analyze a case study in groups of four to six people for about 15 to 20 minutes,” says Elizabeth Natalle in Teaching Interpersonal Communication. The case study, she adds, is a good teaching technique because students can participate actively and demonstrates choice making.

Stories of all kinds – customer testimonials, famous incidents from the news, Hollywood doings, folklore – you name it - help personalize a business blog. Even if a professional  writer is composing the content, true-story material increases engagement by readers with the business or practice. Case studies are particularly effective in creating interest, because they are relatable and “real”.

I think that’s why, back in Journalism 101 class, we were taught to “put a face on the issue” by beginning the article with a human example  A story about rising food prices, for example, might begin with “Susie Hellenbecker’s putting things back on the shelf. With the price of cereal and fruit so high, she’s decided there’s no longer room in the budget for those, or for her favorite salad dressing.”

A case study takes that personalization even further, chronicling a customer or client who had a problem or need, and taking readers through the various stages of using the product or service to solve that problem. What were some of the issues that arose along the way? What new insights were gained through that experience, on the part of both the business and the customer?

“Case studies are a great way to tell the world how valuable your products or services are. They go beyond simple testimonials by showing real-life examples of how you were able to satisfy your customer’s needs and help them accomplish their goals,” kissmetrics.com teaches. “With great case studies, you will be able to highlight your successes in a way that will make your ideal potential customer become your customer.”

 

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Blog the Second Side of the Story

pinkeye

An anecdote submitted by a grandma to Reader’s Digest reminded me of something my own maternal grandmother taught us grandkids: there are at least two sides to every story.

The opthalmologist’s very cute assistant was examining my 20-year-old
grandson, when out of the blue she said, ‘You must really work out.’ ‘Well,
yes, I do,’ said my grandson, beaming.  ‘I run and lift weights. Thank you for
noticing.’ ‘Oh, you misunderstood,’ she said. ‘You have popped blood vessel
in your eyes.  We see that with people who work out.’

As a corporate blogging trainer, I’m always considering different ways of communicating with online readers.  Basically, I think of myself and my writers at Say It For You as offering a sort of matchmaking service that helps our clients “meet strangers” and hopefully convert at least some of them into friends and customers. At the same time, we need to keep in mind that readers’ will process the information we offer in the context of their own past experience.

Part of the secret to avoiding misunderstandings lies in our getting to know our target market. “There’s no hard and fast rule that governs what fields are mandatory for all landing page forms,” cautions Meghan Lockwood of HubSpot.  “Instead, marketers need to review their sales and lead generation goals and balance how much information they absolutely need from their leads vs. how much information those prospects will actually provide on a first form,”

Even with the best of research, different consumers are going to process our content in different ways. That’s not necessarily bad news. In blogging for business, why not present several aspects and opinions on an issue, allowing for the merits of each? In other words, make clear that this business or professional practice has chosen to carry on in a certain way, but that there were other options. Let readers come to their own conclusions about which approach is more in tune with their needs and opinions.

Understand your target market, but don’t be afraid to express a strong opinion. There’s something to be said for blogging the second side of the story!

 

 

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The First Blog Post is Like the First Day of Class

Young teacher near chalkboard in school classroom

“What impression would you like to make on the first day?” asks Elizabeth Natalle, author of Teaching Interpersonal Communication. In fact, the first day of class gets a lot of attention from pedagogues, Natalle explains to teachers, because “what happens that first day demonstrates to students what to expect from your instruction.” Some teachers even forget to introduce themselves before launching into the lecture, she notes.

Like Natalle, Harsh Agrawal of Shout ME Loud stresses the importance of demonstrating to your audience what to expect, except that Agrawal’s referring to bloggers, not classroom teachers. “Get it wrong,” he warns, “and you’re doomed to fail.  But, if you get it right, you’ll lay the proper foundation for success,” he tells those just beginning to post blogs. “People want to connect with you on a deep level, Agrawal says, advising new bloggers to tell readers what their experiences have been in life, revealing who they are as a person, as a professional, and as a blogger. Include pictures of yourself to show authenticity and to help readers connect with you, he advises, cautioning them to “make it clear why you’ve decided to offer a blog”.I couldn’t agree more with Agrawal’s advice.  In fact, the first post for every new Say It For You client is a why-blog-about———– (pet care/ bankruptcy/ tutoring, etc., etc.).

The art of writing a good blog post has dramatically evolved in recent years, as teamtwago.com points out in “How to Write Your First Company Blog Post”. “Readers expect far more in return for their time than an ill-conceived or badly-written blog post, Twago warns. “If you aren’t able to talk authoritatively and in-depth on a subject in your chosen field then you can wave conversions goodbye.”

Just as instructors make clear to students what the syllabus is for the semester and what tasks they are expected to complete before the next session, it’s crucial for us blog content writers to tell the readers what actions we would like them to take when they have reached the end of the blog post.  “Readers actively seek this out; they want to know what comes next,” explains Twago.

Remember – the first blog post is like the first day of class!

 

 

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Every Blog Post Should Have Two Winners

Dilbert

“My philosophy is that every phone conversation has a loser,” says Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams (the implication seems to be that one of the parties on the phone is being talked into buying something or doing something that benefits only the other. A second Adams quote reveals a similarly negative viewpoint: “There’s a gigantic gray area between good moral behavior and outright felonious activities.  I call that the Weasel Zone and it’s where most of life happens.”

Cynics, I imagine, would see blogging for business in the same light – a thinly disguised attempt to attract online readers who must be persuaded to buy “stuff”. At Say It For You, though, we try to come at blogging from a totally different direction and with a win-win attitude.

In the early stages of creating a new blog, the blog content writer and the client (the business owner) are trying to strike precisely the right “tone” for the blog.  I’ve discovered one very interesting thing in the course of dealing with different content writers in Indianapolis and with the client businesses they serve.  Whenever there’s a “disconnect” between the two parties, it’s almost always about how “sales-ey” the blog should or should not be.

Generally speaking, as I often stress when I offer corporate blogging training, blog posts are not ads, and there should never be a hard-sell or boastful tone to the content.  When asked to provide business blogging help, I explain that blogs are closer in nature to informative “advertorials”, positioning the company or practitioner as helpful, well-experienced, and knowledgeable.

Primarily, the blog post has to add value. Not just a promise of value if the reader converts to a buyer, but value right then and there in terms of information, skill enhancement, or a new way of looking at the topic. The best blog posts are never about yourself, your company, your services, or your products, but about why you see things the way you do.

Does every phone conversation have a loser? I don’t know, but what I do know is this: Every blog post should have two winners – the business owner (or professional practitioner) and the online reader!

 

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Effective Blog Titles Emphasize Effects

 

Pointed List Five blank business diagram illustration

 

Mental Floss Magazine chose a good title, I believe, for its financial planning article:

“How These 7 Money Moves Can Affect You Down the Road”

What’s good about that title, and what can we blog content writers learn about creating effective titles for our clients’ posts?

It contains a numbered list.
Lists spatially organize information, helping to create an easy reading experience. The point of using numbered lists, I explain to blog content writers, is to demonstrate ways in which your product or service is different, and to help them organize the valuable information you’re giving them to help solve their problem or fill their need. “If your service or product is highly complex,” says Whale Hunters’ sales trainer Barbara Weaver-Smith, “it may turn off buyers, who might seek simpler solutions elsewhere to avoid having to deal with a many-step, high-commitment process.” Numbered lists are a good way to keep things simple for blog readers.

The advice is offered in terms of how decisions today will affect you “down the road”.
Discussing “down the road” is less threatening to readers than being told that what they are doing right now is wrong. While debunking misunderstandings is a good function for blogs, people generally don’t like to have their assertions and assumptions challenged. Putting things in terms of “down the road” softens the effect of the implied critique.

It’s not promoting a product or service, merely promising to offer helpful tips.
One point I’ve consistently stressed in these Say It For You blog content writing tutorials is how important it is to provide valuable information to readers, while avoiding any hint of “hard sell”.  Providing tips and hints may very well be the perfect tactic for accomplishing that goal. “While blogs can be used as a tool for selling, they are at their best when they are relational, conversational, and offer readers something useful that will enhance their lives in some way,” Damon Rouse of problogger.net advises.

The title mentions how the information can affect YOU.
The implication is that readers are in control of their own outcomes; there’s no “listen-to-me-and- my- wisdom” approach.  There’s no hint of “scare marketing” in the title, either.

Effective blog titles emphasize effects!

 

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Go Ahead – Blog About Your Misplaced Oscars

????????????

 

Winning an Oscar is a big deal, but still old news; losing your Oscar – now that makes for more attention-catching copy. I think that’s the appeal of the Mental Floss Magazine story about ten award-winning movie stars who actually misplaced the statuettes they’d been so excited to win in the first place.

“Owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you’d think their owners would be a little more careful with them.” Apparently, that’s not the case:

  • Olympia Dukakis’s Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home.
  • “I don’t know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. “Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared.”
  • Colin Firth nearly left his new trophy for “The King’s Speech” on a toilet tank the very night he received it.
  • Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, but in the confusion of a flood in his apartment while he was out of town, Damon isn’t sure where his award went.
  • Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty.

So how does all this apply to blog marketing for a business or professional practice?  It brings out a point every business owner, professional, and freelance business blogger ought to keep in mind: Writing about past failures is important.

True stories about mistakes and struggles are very humanizing, adding to the trust readers place in the people behind the business or practice. What tends to happen is the stories of failure create feelings of empathy and admiration for the entrepreneurs or professional practitioners who overcame the effects of their own errors.

Blogging about mistakes has another potential positive effect: it can turn out to help with customer relations and damage control.  When  complaints and concerns are recognized and dealt with “in front of other people” (in blog posts), it gives the “apology” or the “remediation measure” more weight. In fact, in corporate blogging training sessions, I remind Indianapolis blog writers to “hunt” for stories of struggle and mistakes made in the early years of a business or practice!

Go ahead – blog about your misplaced Oscars!

 

 

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We’ve All Heard the Naysayers

Outdated technology concept.
“We’ve all heard the naysayers – they argue that speechwriting is losing relevance in a world of unscripted comments and 140-character attention spans”, reads the invitation to the 2017 Speechwriters Conference. The reality, Ragan explains is that organizations need thoughtful communicators more than ever.

Importantly, all three skill areas on which the speechwriter’s conference promises to focus are highly relevant for us as blog content writers.  (We’ve all heard the naysayers, haven’t we, arguing that blogging is losing relevance?)

1. Ensure strategic messages get through
There are two kinds of goodwill that can be conveyed through messaging, as business valuator Lindon Kotzin puts it: ”Personal or professional goodwill attaches to a particular individual, while enterprise goodwill is derived from the characteristics of the business itself, regardless of who owns or operates it.” Both those types of strategic messages can be conveyed through our blog content, which is frequently updated and thus relevant to the current climate in our industry.

2.  Use humor appropriately to capture your audience’s attention
Hope Hatfield of LocalDirective.com points out that humor is a hook, having the same impact as a strong headline to grab the audience’s attention. Humor’s an icebreaker, she adds, but only so long as you carefully consider your target market, focusing the humor around a problem your company can solve. No matter how funny your marketing messages are, don’t forget that the goal is to educate your prospects about your products and services. “You want to make sure that you don’t lose the message in the humor, Hatfield cautions.

3. Develop an authentic and trustworthy voice
Successful content creation consists of capturing the unique style of the business owners, practitioners, and employees who will be delivering the service and products. Business coach Donna Gunter calls it the WYSIWYG approach (what you see is what you get), referring to authenticity in advertising and promotional materials.

Yes, we’ve all heard the blogging naysayers, arguing that blogs are losing relevance.  The reality, though, is that professional practitioners and business owners need thoughtful communications more than ever!

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Basically, We Bought Their Car For Them

Buying a new car

 

At a recent study session for financial planners, Waypoint Residential’s Todd Patterson made it really easy for us in the audience to understand exactly how excellent a return Waypoint had managed to generate for its investors over the last two years. After comparing dollars invested and dollars realized, Patterson summed up the situation in these simple terms:  “Basically, we bought their car for them.”

Let’s face it – most business blog posts make claims, either outright or implied.  The claims may be understated, exaggerated, or exactly on the money, but still – a claim is a claim is a claim. And when you make a claim, the problem is, blog visitors probably don’t know how to “digest” those claims you’ve “served up”.  They simply don’t have any basis for comparison, not being as expert as you are in your field. What I’m getting at is that every claim needs to be put into context, so that it not only is true, but so that it feels true to your online visitors. That’s precisely what Todd Patterson did so well in talking to us financial planners.

One core function of blogs for business is explaining yourself, your business philosophy, your products, and your processes.  An effective blog clarifies what sales trainers like to call your “unique value proposition” in terms readers can understand. And one excellent way to do just that is by making comparisons with things with which readers are already comfortable and familiar! Even those financial planner “numbers people” assiduously taking notes on their laptops, intending to share those stats with investors, needed something more.  That “more” was the “sound bite” about investors making enough money in two years to fund a car.

There are tens of millions of blog posts out there making claims of one sort or another, even as you’re reading this Say It For You post. Based on my own experience as an online reader, I’d venture to say fewer than 10% of them attempt to put their claims in context; and only the very top few manage to convey to their blog visitors what those claims can mean for them!

Basically, blog content writers, ask yourself what benefit your product or service “buys” for your customers and clients!

 

 

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Did-You-Know Blogging for Business

Book of the Bizarre
The Egyptians wore eye shadow to prevent blindness, and lipstick to keep the soul from leaving the body through the breath, Varla Ventura informs readers in The Book of the Bizarre.

What a great lead-in that sentence might make for a blog on the website of a beauty salon, cosmetologist, cosmetic surgeon, or even an ophthalmologist, I couldn’t help thinking. And Ventura’s book offers 300 pages’ worth of just such fascinating tidbit fodder!

I think the reason I’ve always liked “tidbit blogs”, just one of the dozens of blog “genres” we writers can use to lend variety to our posts, is that they put the blogger and the reader on the same side of the presentation. In other words, in a typical marketing blog the business owner or practitioner is presenting something to the reader, trying to forge a connection and engage interest (and, over time, convert lookers to buyers, of course).

In contrast, when I’m sharing that tidbit about Egyptians believing lipstick kept the soul from leaving the body, it’s as if I’m “on the same side of the table” with the reader, with both of us experiencing wonder at how religions have evolved over thousands of years and how customs change. (Well, it feels that way to me, anyhow…)

The function of tidbits in business blogs is to serve as “triggers” or jumping-off-points for blog posts about any subject.  In corporate marketing blogs, tidbits help:

  • educate blog readers
  • debunk myths
  • showcase the business owners’ expertise
  • demonstrate business owners’ perspective

    We blog writers, I’m convinced, need never run out of ideas if we just keep a file (or, as I do, collect books the likes of The Book of the Bizarre) of “did-you-know” tidbits!

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Cover the Blog Genre Gamut

VARIETY -Realistic Neon Sign on Brick Wall background

“Don’t be afraid to write in tried-and-true blog genres,” Gary DeAsi and Evan Stone advised their fellow financial planners as part of the FPA Practice Management Solutions Magazine almost three years ago, listing eight kinds of blogs they called “proven attention getters’”:

  1. Advice
  2. Collections and top lists
  3. Reviews
  4. Predictions
  5. Motivation
  6. Trouble-shooting
  7. Interviews
  8. Editorial/ Personal reflection
  9. Now, five years later, I’m inviting each of you Say It For You blog readers to come up with titles you’ve written or found that fit into each of these categories. If you submit your favorite titles, I’ll publish them here, along with some tips on flesh out those ideas to suit your own business. More important, ask yourself whether you’re lending variety to your blog by including all these genres.

    Meanwhile, over those same five years I’ve come up with at least four blog genres I believe ought to be added to the list to round out the “blogger’s dozen”…:

    9.  The tidbit blog uses a piece of trivia to spark interest and help readers understand a concept or product.
    10.  The comparison blog uses a metaphor to explain a complex idea in terms of a tangible object.
    11.  The “confession” blog tears away the “stage curtain” between the business owner and the reader, humanizing business or practitioner and hopefully generating feelings of empathy and admiration.
    12.   The “brag blog” shares accomplishments of which the business owner or practitioner had every right to be proud – a product breakthrough, an award, a milestone reached, an unexpected success.

DeAsi and Stone were telling financial planners not to be afraid to write in tried-and-true genres. As a business blogging trainer, I’d go a few steps further, advising content writers to keep it fresh, saying “Don’t be afraid to keep creating new blog genres!”

 

 

 

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Finding Before Solving in Blogging for Business

 

Find the Answer - Magnifying Glass
“Unfortunately,” reflects my friend and admired sales training expert Tim Roberts, “traditional salespeople are tethered to ‘what we know’”.  Roberts is well aware that it takes many years of trials and tribulations for a salesperson to develop good problem-solving skills, yet he’s here, he says, to challenge and encourage finding before solving. In fact, finding a problem that your customer hasn’t considered, is what makes a salesperson valuable, he stresses.

There are two required skills needed for an effective inquiry conversation with a prospect, Roberts explains:

  • vulnerability
  • transparency

Are there lessons here for business owners and professional practitioners “conversing” via their blog with readers? As a Say It For You blog writer and blogging coach, I think so. Last summer I made mention of what Stav Ziv of the Moth storytelling organization had to say about the two elements of successful storytelling:

  1. there’s no “wall of artistry” or stage curtain between storyteller and audience (transparency)
  2. storytellers share their own human failures and frailty (vulnerability).

The lesson I drew from Ziv’s description is that true stories about mistakes and struggles are very humanizing, adding to the trust readers place in the people behind the business or practice.

What I think is important for blog writers about Tim Roberts’ “finding-before-solving” concept is that it opens up a whole new content direction both for us as writers and as a conversation starter with readers.

Wait a minute – isn’t answering readers’ questions what blog posts are designed to do?  Searchers turn to the Internet because they’re looking for something – a product, a service, or information.  When the query relates to what you sell, what you do, and what you know about, those readers find your blog. But, what if your blog post was raising questions and inviting input from readers, rather than offering answers?

Blogs, as I so often stress to business blog writers, are not advertisements or sales pieces (even if increasing sales is the ultimate goal of the business owner).  Whatever “selling” goes on in effective blogs is indirect and comes out of business owners sharing their passion, their special expertise and their insights in their field.  When blog posts “work”, readers are moved to think, “I want to do business with him!” or “She’s the kind of person I’ve been looking for!”

Finding may well belong before solving, not only in selling, but in blogging for business!

 

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Use Allusions, But Don’t Blog Squirrels in a Tire

tires“Why can’t we innovate as quickly as our competition?’ asks the pointy-haired boss in the comic strip “Dilbert®”.  “Maybe it’s because our management is like a family of squirrels that lives inside an old tire,” suggests Dilbert.  Asked to be more specific, Dilbert says “It’s a Goodyear tire with five grey squirrels.”

Talk about a failed allusion! What do I mean? An allusion is a figure of speech that blog content writers can use with several results in mind:

  • getting readers to think about your subject in a new way
  • cementing a bond between the writer and the readers based on shared experience and knowledge
  • getting a point across without going into a lengthy explanation

Dilbert obviously failed on all three of those counts, because the connection of the metaphor (squirrels in a tire) and the issue of innovation to stay ahead of the competition was not made clear and then not explained.

When you want to liven up your blog content using allusions, be reasonably certain that the reference is obvious and that your target readers are likely to be familiar with the concept you’re trying to convey. Among other things, that means we, as content writers, need to gauge our readers’ level of education.  If we mis-calculate their ability to recognize the allusion, the danger is that readers will find our content frustrating rather than illuminating.

Widely known allusions include:

  • Achilles’ heel _ weakness a person or a company may have  (the Greek god Achilles was invulnerable except for his heel).  A blog on nutrition might refer to chocolate being one’s Achilles’ heel.
  • Stonewalling – hindering or obstructing with delaying tactics (the reference is to Civil War military leader Stonewall Jackson, noted for being strong and stubborn in the face of the enemy). A blog on teamwork might refer to how non-productive it is when a team member “stonewalls”, rather than confronting the problem and communicating.
  • Scrooge – a stingy character who hates to spend money (refers to a character from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol). A blog on financial planning might suggest that rather than acting like a Scrooge, you can plan your charitable giving as part of your monthly budget.

As a blogger, you’re not right there with the ability to make eye contact and judge your audience’s reactions, and you can’t know for sure whether your allusion has puzzled them or hit the mark. It might be best to do just enough explaining to make the point clear. Dilbert left the pointy-haired boss wondering why on God’s earth innovation is like squirrels in a Goodyear tire.

Don’t leave your readers wondering just what it was you were trying to convey! 

 

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The Logic and Logistics of Blogging for Business

Logic on Multicolor Puzzle.
“Writing is very much about the order of ideas presented and the emphasis given to them,” Brandon Royal explains in The Little Red Writing Book. There are two general things readers expect:

  1. to see ideas unfold logically
  2. to have writers give the most important ideas the most coverage

There are different “floor plans” for pieces of writing, including a chronological structure, where you discuss the earliest events first, then move forward in time, and an evaluative structure, in which you discuss the pros and cons of a concept. Different blog posts might use different “floor plans.” But no matter which approach, readers will expect to see those two things – logical presentation, and emphasis on the most important ideas.

“If your presentation is clear and structured, it will be useful and entertaining; if it is disorganized, your work will be confusing and of little value,” is the caution Lanterna Education offers its International Baccalaureate students. Laterna recommends the following sequence for students giving oral presentations:

  • Introduce the overall theme
  • Explain how each key idea will relate back to that overall theme
  • Explain what your audience should know by the end of the class
  • Review each idea, explaining how it taught something new to the class

In answer to the question “How long do users stay on Web pages?” Jakob Nielson of the Nielsen Norman Group says the following:  Users often leave Web pages in 10-20 seconds, but pages with a clear value proposition can hold people’s attention for much longer.

“As users rush through Web pages, they have time to read only a quarter of the text on the pages they actually visit (let alone all those they don’t). So, unless your writing is extraordinarily clear and focused, little of what you say on your website will get through to customers,” Nielson warns, offering sobering stats that bear out the importance of the two items on Brandon Royal’s reader expectation list.

Is it all about logic and logistics! What about emotional appeal? Isn’t that what makes readers take action? Certainly, but first fulfill reader expectations of order and emphasis, then give heart to the writing with anecdotes, metaphors, stories, and humor!

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Blogging From End to Beginning

the little red writing book

 

“Strategically, the summary or conclusion should come at the beginning of an expository piece, not at the end,” explains Brandon Royal in The Little Red Writing Book. Royal is referring to a top-down approach, where readers understand from the beginning what the main idea of the piece is, then are given the supporting facts or details.

The author compares two kinds of writing:

  • Expository writing (the primary purpose is to explain and inform)
  • Creative writing (the primary purpose is to persuade or entertain)

Blog content writing, I suppose, is a blend of both expository and creative. Certainly one motive for business owners or professional practitioners in maintaining their blog is to persuade readers to use their products or engage their services. Yet informing readers and answering questions is a primary goal as well.

A well-conceived blog post will proactively interpret information in ways that are not only understandable, but usable by readers, “unwrapping” and drilling down to the core of the message. But, how are searchers to know they’ve come to the right place? Once readers have actually landed on your blog, it takes a “grabber” to hold interest and keep them moving through the information (That’s where the concept of putting the summary at the beginning instead of at the end comes in.)

Unlike novelists, we blog content writer simply cannot afford to focus on arousing curiosity by being enigmatic in our titles and in our opening lines. If we fail to assure readers that they’ve come to the right place to find the information that satisfies the needs that brought them online to find answers, they’ll bounce away from our site before we get to share our thoughts!

The way Brandon Royal sees it, “We should think about giving the reader a destination first before giving him or her the directions on how to get there!”  Blog post opening lines set the tone and arouse curiosity, but in business blogs, it’s best not to sustain a sense of mystery for very long!

 

 

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Spend Time Adding Blog Value, Not Subtracting Typos

book Get Noticed in a Noisy World

 

“Don’t hire a proofreader for your blog,” is Michael Hyatt’s advice in the book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World. Why not?

1. It will delay “shipping” – Perfection is the mother of procrastination.
2. Blogs are not books – you can make corrections later and then immediately republish.
3. Even proofreaders don’t catch every typo.

Wait a minute! Not two weeks ago in the very Say It For You blog, didn’t I repeat my rant about “spinach-in-the-teeth” bloopers in blog content, warning content writers how important it is for us to pay attention to grammar and spelling in our blog posts?

As part of that very post, I bolstered my argument in favor of being finicky about grammar and spelling by quoting Christina Wang of Shutterstock.com, who writes “No matter where you work or what you do, everyone needs to know how to write effectively for business these days.”

Like Tevya (of Fiddler on the Roof), who was fond of saying, “On the other hand,” I concede  there are valid points on both sides of most arguments, including the grammar-Nazi/ frequency of posting content dilemma.

On the one hand, “Stay focused on your writing and your output,” Hyatt advises. “Churn out the posts. The more your write, the better you will get.” Does correct spelling and proper grammar really matter?  After all, your blog is supposed to reveal the real you!

On the other hand, as Copyblogger’s Brian Clark explains, there are certain mistakes that detract from your credibility. And truth be told, the “real me” has a very real opinion in favor of fastidiousness about proper writing.

I do approve of Michael Hyatt’s three-step precautionary advice to blog content writers:

  • Read through each post twice.
  • Read it out loud.
  • Publish it as a draft and read it fully formatted on the blog site itself.

I even, at least generally speaking, approve of Hyatt’s summation: “Spend time writing content that adds value rather than obsessing over every typo, misspelling, and grammatical error.”

True, but….We blog content writers do want to get noticed in this “noisy” online world, but not for all the wrong reasons!

 

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Blog About How You See Wildlife or Whatever, Not About What You Sell

Two penguins Gentoo.

A Canon commercial on the back cover of an old issue of National Geographic reminded me of a piece of blogging advice that will never grow old: The best blog posts are never about yourself, your company, your services, or your products, but about why you see things the way that you do.

There are many newer examples of this Canon campaign, but the one I came across was from the December 2012 issue. The photo featured a penguin couple, and the opening line of text consisted of two words: “Teamwork works”.  By dividing responsibilities, male and female royal penguins give their young the best start in life, I learned.

  1. The parents alternate two week shifts in incubating the egg.
  2. Once the egg hatches, the mail does guard duty while the female forages for food.
  3. After about 20 days, the chick joins a crèche, free both parents to bring meals home.

The problem: The food sources on which the penguins depend are becoming uncertain due to the effects of climate change.

Anticipating readers’ question “Why is a camera company telling me all this?” the authors go on to explain: “Raising awareness of endangered species is just one of the ways we at Canon are taking action for the good of the planet we call home.”

The “advertorial” ends with a Call to Action: Visit canon.com/environment to learn more.

This Canon campaign is a wonderful example for blog content writers. When I offer corporate blogging training sessions, I try to make sure, especially when it comes to corporate blog writing  “newbies”, that they understand the importance of conveying business owners’ core beliefs through their blogs.

Why is that such an important element in creating effective content? In general, blogging can help achieve quite a number of goals:

  • Building good will
  • Staying in touch with existing customers and clients
  • Defining
  • Announcing changes in products and services
  • Controlling damage when it comes to negative PR or complaints
  • Recruiting employeesOf all these goals served by writing for business, though, the most important might be ”humanizing”.  Existing customers need their trust reinforced. Online searchers need to come away with the impression they will be dealing with real, likeable people, not just with ”a company”.

    Blog about how you see wildlife – or whatever – not about what you sell!

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In Blogging for Business, Get Rid of Worthless Words

 

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“Let’s be honest: Nobody likes flab, especially when it comes to content,” says Julia McCoy of the Content Marketing Institute.”Icky, flabby, worthless words” are distracting and alienating to readers, McCoy adds.

Since, as business blog content writers, the last thing we want to do is alienate readers, I thought McCoy’s  worthless word list was worth a careful look.

In order to. Simply deleting this phrase makes any statement clearer.

Really.  If something is “really” big, just how big is it? Readers respond better to text that gets more granular in its measurements.

Believe (or think). People are more interested in the facts and hard information than in vague thoughts, McCoy opines. Actually, I don’t fully agree.. A point I often stress in corporate blogging training sessions – whether you’re blogging for a business, for a professional practice, or for a nonprofit organization, you’ve need to express an opinion, a slant, on the information you’re serving up for readers. (You may not need to use the words “believe” or “think”.)

A lot.  Too vague. Use percentages, pounds, solid units of measurement.

Always (or never). Neither extreme is likely to be true, McCoy points out. Opt for “few” or “rare” on the low end, “most” or “many” on the high end.

Stuff. Not descriptive or specific, McCoy points out.

Just. Unless you mean “fair”, remove the word “just”, which adds nothing to the meaning of your sentence.

Literally. Whether used correctly (to mean “exactly) or incorrectly, the word is superfluous.

So. This little word doesn’t do much. Delete it without affecting the sentence’s meaning.

Often. Replace this flabby word with a descriptive term such as “five times a week”, McCoy advises.

Get rid of the blog flab by getting rid of useless words!

 

 

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The 8 Worst Mistakes in Blogging for Business

Multiethnic businesspeople sleeping during a seminar in conference room

Reading Paul Sloane’s list of “The Eight Worst Mistakes Made By Keynote Speakers”, I couldn’t help thinking these are probably the same mistakes made all too often by business blog content writers. Just as Sloane warns speakers “Be sure not to make these mistakes”, I’d like to use this Say It For You blog post to issue the same caution to blog writers.

A weak start.
“The first impression that you make on the stage is very important.  It should be positive and animated.”
Once the online visitor has actually landed on your blog, it takes a “pow opening line” to fan that flicker of interest into a flame. That line might consist of a bold assertion or an anomaly (a statement that, at first glance, doesn’t appear to fit).

Over-use of PowerPoint.
“Many speakers load up their presentation with too many slides containing too many words.”
Web surfers have a painfully short attention span, so it’s important to exercise portion control in the length of paragraphs, titles, and entire blog posts. Single visuals can add interest and evoke emotion.

No clear message.
Often speakers try to cover too much ground…There are many different messages but there is no clear theme.”
Business blogging is ideal for using the Power of One. Focus readers’ attention on one theme in each blog post, with one clear Call to Action.

No human interest.
“Many talks are crammed full of facts, data, charts, and statistics…People relate to stories about people.”
The stories content writers in Indianapolis tell in their SEO marketing blog have the power to forge that emotional connection between company and potential customer.

Lack of enthusiasm.
“Your job is to inform and entertain….Try to include some humour or something interesting and unusual, but keep it relevant to the topic.”
Two of the four P’s of business blogging are Passion and Personality.  Blog posts are ideal for communicating the unique personality and core beliefs of the business owner. No doubt about it – enthusiasm sells. And, when it comes to blogging for business, enthusiasm spreads – to searchers, search engines, and right back home to YOU!

Too much Me and not enough You.
“A big mistake is to make the talk about you, your company, your issues, and your achievements….You have to make the talk about them.”
That same concept applies to blogging for business, I’m convinced.  Each claim a content writer puts into a corporate blog needs to be put into context for the reader, so that the claim not only is true, but feels true to online visitors.

No rehearsal.
“Check all the equipment on stage and be familiar with all the logistics.”
Above all, I teach bloggers – don’t confuse the online readers. Don’t overwhelm them with technical jargon. Then, don’t make navigating your blog site a mystery.  Have clear Calls to Action and links that lead directly to where they should.

Overrunning on time.
“Event organizers and audiences do not appreciate a speaker who overruns his allotted time.”
Longer content, if focused and well-organized and engaging, is still appropriate.  Instead of shortening, tighten your writing and make each sentence and phrase count.

Blog content writers – Be sure to steer clear of the 8 mistakes!

 

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