03/02/13: Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are five notable communications stories from the week ending March 2, 2013.

My Secrets: How I Became a Prolific Writer and Learned to Get Beyond School Essays by Vivek Wadhwa, on the LinkedIn blog, February 25.

Wadhwa, a book author and writer for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications, shows that you don’t have to be a journalist or love English grammar to be a successful writer. He taught himself to write, taking 40 hours to complete his first BusinessWeek article. He now turns out a piece in two to four hours.

He considers these to be keys to writing: “to speak fearlessly from the heart, get to the point immediately, keep the message simple and focused, and use the fewest words you can.”

19 Things Successful People Do on Social Mediaby TJ McCue, on Forbes website, February 26.

McCue offers some helpful tips here. Among them: “They publish more quality, not just quantity” and “They are genuine.”

A Revolutionary Marketing Strategy: Answer Customers’ Questions by Mark Cohen, in The New York Times, February 27.

Cohen writes about the new, highly successful marketing campaign undertaken by River Pools and Spas, a firm that installs fiberglass pools. The campaign, now at about one-tenth the cost of the company’s previous advertising budget of $250,000, consists mostly of blog posts that answer customer questions. One post has led directly to sales of at least $1.7 million.

This article provides lessons that other small companies might want to consider.

The Anti-Blog Post to Writing Better Blog Posts, a post by Mars Dorian on the {Grow} blog, February 27.

Dorian’s post takes a contrarian look at blog posts and questions the value of just echoing what others write. He suggests that before you start writing, you ask yourself these questions: “Are you creating an original piece of work, or are you merely soaking up the sound waves from the echo chamber?”

Too many bloggers, he suggests, are reading each other’s posts, mashing the information together, and slamming “out another samey samey blog post.” To avoid this routine, he offers five “anti-guidelines” for crafting original, compelling content. One guideline: “Allow your personal truth to shine through.”

Five Secrets Behind Effective Long-Form Content by Jennifer Kane, on the SteamFeed website, March 2.

In this post, Kane, a marketing/communications strategist, points to a fact often overlooked: Long-form content on the Web is not dead or dying, although it may seem that way because so much of it is “ weak and boring” and, therefore, not read. She adds that “in-depth content must adhere to a different set of rules to be seen and consumed.”

Kane’s “secrets” make up some of these rules and provide a good starting point for anyone wanting to develop better long-form content for the Web. These tips do not focus on how to write a better document or its component parts (headlines, sentences, paragraphs, etc.) but rather on how to make the content more presentable on the screen and, therefore, more easily and enjoyably read.

If you are interested in writing long-form content, you will want to read this post. I found her “secrets”—including the unannounced sixth one that you can find in the last paragraph—to be accurate and helpful.

02/16/13: Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are four notable communications stories from the week ending February 16, 2013.

“A Failure of Imagination: Why Bookish and Other Recommendation Engines Fall Short” by Hillary Kelly, on The New Republic magazine’s website, February 11.

In this entertaining and informative piece, Kelly takes a look at Bookish (the newly launched book-centric website) and other sites that use algorithms to attempt to correctly recommend books that readers might enjoy.

She believes these sites, including Amazon and Goodreads, have some value, saying, for example, “Online recommendation engines are not inherently useless. They are indeed fast and convenient, and some more than others provide a certain community.” But she often finds their recommendations to be of little value because they are based on information that is too limited (such as the books she bought only from one particular site or an inadequate understanding of her tastes and desires—even when given plenty of chances to get them right), and are based only on what she bought, not why she bought it.

“The Key to Writing Great Blog Posts,” a post by Shelly Kramer on the V3 Integrated Marketing website, February 12.

Great blogs and other Web content depend, of course, on good writing but also on “making your post readable, shareable and discoverable,” says Kramer. She then discusses the importance of having great headlines, delivering on the promise made in your headline, and using subheads, pictures and meta descriptions to make your post effective.

“The Government is Watching Social Media Policies” by Bob Feldman, on PR Week website, February 15.

In this column, Feldman, a cofounder and principal of the digital and management consulting firm PulsePoint Group, says that although companies are adopting social media policies “to limit the potential of damage and help save employees from the consequences of their own poor judgment,” the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) thinks some companies may be going “too far in restricting employee speech.”

The NLRB’s ruling could affect almost all private employers.

“Why the Word ‘Panties’ Is so Awful (and What to Do about It)” by Sarah Fentem, on the Atlantic magazine’s website,

Fentem, who says the word “panties” creeps her out, is, apparently, not the only person who hates this nickname for women’s underwear. She says many blog posts and message boards denounce the word, which is “simultaneously too-sexualized and too-babyish.”

The word is too babyish, she says, because its “ies” ending “puts it in the same category as ‘booties’ and ‘blankies’—words often associated with small children.” Why it’s a sexy word is not easily understood, she says. But she suggests a few reasons, one being because “it refers to something so exclusively feminine.”

02/09/13: Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are five noteworthy communications stories from the week ending February 9, 2013.

“Age, Gender Determine ‘Go-To’ Devices” on eMarketer website, February 4.

As this article explains, TV in 2013 is still the go-to source of news and entertainment for most Americans, according to a new study by Harris Interactive. But young adults—those between 18 and 34—are quickly turning away from TV and relying instead on their laptops and smartphones.

Charts in this article show the percentages of different age groups moving to new devices and those considering replacing their computers with tablets.

“Nine Writing Mistakes You’re Probably Making” by Ben Yogada on The Huffington Post, February 5.

Yogada, the author of How to Not Write Bad, says that for writing, it’s the best of times because so much writing is being done and it’s the worst of times because much of this writing is bad.

He lists nine writing mistakes and explains how to correct them.  The first mistake, for example, is being wordy. By “wordy,” though, he does not mean writing long sentences. He means using words that should be omitted.

“Pentagon gearing up to fight the PR war” by Walter Pincus, in The Washington Post, February 6.

In this informative article, Pincus says that although public relations (referred to as Inform and Influence Activities) is not new to the military, the U.S. Army is now embracing PR as a key element of its 21st-century military operations. He quotes the new Army field manual as stating PR is critical in “. . . leading operations toward attaining the desired end state,” and that “Victory depends on a commander’s ability to shape, sway, and alter foreign audience perceptions, and ultimately behavior, especially in the area of operations.”

These objectives would fit into almost any good PR campaign.

 “The Peculiar Twitter Tactics of Social Media Influencers” by Haydn Shaughnessy, on the Forbes website, February 7.

Shaughnessy, suggests in this post that Twitter has “become the channel for the new motivational micro-speech,” leading the trend in social media to provide readers with inspiration and motivation. He says there are “social media influencers whose tweets and interactions are regularly interspersed with homilies,” and he gives interesting examples.

“10 Tips From Boing Boing On Making Online Content Sing” by Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield in Fast Company, February 8.

Sweeney and Gosfield are the authors of The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well. In this article, they excerpt from their book ten tips for building an addictive, compelling website. Their tips come from Mark Frauenfelder, founder of the online magazine Boing Boing, which has been published since 1995 and has 2.5 unique visitors a month.

The tips provide good advice. For example, the second one—be original—says, “Make the blog that doesn’t exist yet, but that you’d want to read.”

02/02/13: Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are five noteworthy communications stories published during the week ending February 2, 2013.

The New Republic Reimagines Its Future” by Christine Haughney, in The New York Times, Monday, January 28.

Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, bought The New Republic last March and has set out to reimagine this 98-year-old magazine for the future. He’s already hired a new editor, doubled the publication’s staff, and opened a new office.  On Monday, the publication introduced its redesigned print magazine, website, and app.

The magazine has new features and articles but also keeps much that has made it editorially strong over the decades. “We’re holding onto the heritage of the magazine while trying to make it more responsive to what people are interested in and how they read in 2013,” Mr. Hughes said.

Three Steps to Create a Compelling Business Story by Gini Dietrich, on her blog Spin Sucks, Tuesday, January 29.

Dietrich, whose blog is filled with useful information about PR and marketing, quotes Larry Brooks, a writer of fiction, on the difference between a story’s idea, theme, and concept— with concept being the most important aspect of good storytelling. She then gives her own example of how she uses this approach in determining the concept for her Spin Sucks Pro website.

Most of What You Think You Know About Grammar is Wrong by Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, in the February issue of Smithsonian Magazine.

Is there anything wrong with starting a sentence with a conjunction, ending a sentence with a preposition, or splitting an infinitive? O’Conner and Kellerman, bloggers at Grammarphobia.com, believe not. In this article, they discuss the myths about the “rules” governing these grammatical choices.

Why You Need to Treat Your Social Media Strategy Like Your Content Strategy,” a blog post by Jordan Kasteler on Search Engine Land, January 29.

In this informative post, Kasteler, the author of A to Z: Social Media Marketing,  writes, “Making your content more social and making your social posts more like content are a win for your entire business—both your content and your social strategies.” He lays out a number of suggestions for achieving these goals.

5 types of blog comments you should never write,” a blog post by Mickie Kennedy on Ragan’s PR Daily, January 29.

In this important post, Kennedy lays out a good guide for the kinds of comments readers should avoid. His second suggestion—not to make comments that are controversial for the sake of being controversial—is timely and should be noted by everyone who considers posting thoughts on a blog, especially in light of the negative news coverage some types of comments are generating.

01/26/13: Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are five noteworthy communications stories published during the week ending January 26, 2013.

“Saying What Matters in 701 Words,” by Ronald C. White, Jr., in The New York Times, Sunday, January 20.

White, author of Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural, writes in this article about what many consider to be the best inaugural address ever written.

In his short speech of only 701 words—taking him perhaps about five minutes to deliver—Lincoln chose not to give his audience what they expected but instead to surprise them in a number of ways.

Read the story here: http://ow.ly/h2B7v .

“Don’t Write off Print Ads Just Yet,” by Michael Wolff, in USA Today, Monday, January 21.

Wolff makes the argument that print ads still work (look at those by Apple Google, IKEA, Lego, Ray-Ban, Old Spice, Harley-Davidson, for example) and they should not be overlooked by ad agencies and their clients, who often do so because agencies can make more money from TV and digital ads, and the clients find these media more exciting than print.

He also points out that many of the young agency people hired today create ads for TV and digital because, in part, they have trouble mastering language skills. “They live in an unwritten world and cannot, practically speaking, produce a written ad,” he says.

Read the story here: http://ow.ly/h2AYt .

“10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a PR Firm” by Jane Porter, in Entrepreneur, Tuesday, January 22.

These are ten very good questions that every business should ask before deciding which PR agency to hire. Large businesses have most likely been through this exercise a number of times and so know what questions to ask, but small companies need to be especially diligent in making sure they ask these questions and get the answers that will be best for them.

All the questions are asked of the PR agencies being considered. And I would add that the initial question—How are you going to measure your success?—should first be asked of the company itself (and answered carefully) because the way the agency measures success must align with the way the company wants the agency’s success measured. Counting media mentions might be nice but may not be useful to the company that really wants to know how PR will increase sales.

Read the story here: http://ow.ly/h2zQA.

“Pope Benedict on Social Networking: The Virtual is Real” by Nicole Winfield, on The Huffington Post, Thursday, January 24.

Winfield writes in this story that the Pope, who, at 85, tweets in nine languages and has 2.5 million followers, said this week that the Catholic Church must use social media to better engage young people and to attract new members.

Read the story here: http://ow.ly/h8lxq.

“Inside Forbes: A New Wave of Digital Journalist Is Showing a Profession the Way Forward” by Lewis DVorkin on Forbes.com, Friday, January 25.

In this interesting piece, DVorkin, a Forbes staff member, writes about the way the publication’s digital journalists go about doing their jobs and how their approach differs from that of traditional journalists. The article, which includes a video with interviews of some Forbes digital writers, lays out a model for the future of journalism.

Read the story here: http://ow.ly/h8jWo.