Our Top Takeaways of Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes
With vocabulary, grammar, and organization in mind, the thought of writing can be, well, daunting. From a simple tweet to an email, writing is a task we face on an everyday basis. So instead of finding ways to escape this skill, why don’t we strengthen our writing muscle? How do you get started? Easy, pick up the pen and write, suggests Chief Content Marketing Officer Ann Handley. As she quotes American Writer E.B. White in her epilogue, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to write will die without putting a word on paper.” Handley’s book, Everybody Writes, shares 74 tips to writing effective content, we’re happy to share 7 of our favorites with you.
1. “Think Before You Ink.”
Handley quotes New York Cartoon Editor Robert Mankoff, “It’s not the ink, it’s the think.” Mankoff indicates that the thinking process is just as important, if not more important, than the writing process.
2. Develop a Writing GPS.
You may have received one of those handy devices for the holidays but Ann Handley’s referring to a different GPS. This GPS is a 12 step process used to organize your thoughts for clear and efficient content. To review this 12 step process, check out this link on the MarketingProfs blog.
3. Don’t fear TUFD.
TUFD, what the heck is TUFD? TUFD stands for “The Ugly First Draft”. Remember, you have to start somewhere and it’s not always pretty. Sometimes the ideas start to flow once the pen meets the paper.
4. “You have to swing if you want a lot of hits,” says writer and content marketer, Barry Feldman.
In blog writing especially, the secret to cultivating an active blog is by writing effective content and writing often. This quote applies to writing as well, the more you write, the better you become.
5. Quality Content= Utility X Inspiration X Empathy
Ann Handley shares the importance of this formula in her book as well as this article via Openview Marketing Lab. To check out this formula, click here.
6. Don’t be boring.
Rule 29 says to write for real people, write with real words. Everybody Writes had personality: an engaging, humorous, and intelligent personality. This book made a point that good content has a voice and is relatable to all people. Rule 18 says to show, not tell. Again, this book did just that by showing examples of just about every writing rule. Although, rules 61-64 were on Social Media writing, the premise of those rules said to take risks; boring content won’t stand a chance with all of the existing content companies produce today.
7. Write for your audience.
Keep your audience in mind with every content piece you write. This includes a headline, social media postings, an e-blast, an annual report, etc. Handley suggests putting your audience into the piece by saying “you” instead of “us” or “we”.
Everybody Writes is a fun guidebook to delivering efficient content. With seven comprehensive sections on overcoming writing fears, eliminating grammar errors, mastering storytelling, publishing efficiently, practicing strong marketing writing, and using effective content tools, this book will inspire marketers to not only pick up the pen but challenge themselves to take their marketing efforts to the next level. To purchase your own copy of Everybody Writes, click here.
*The image above was taken from ErikHatch.org.
There are many buzzwords that marketing professionals are faced with during their day-to-day activities. In the world of digital marketing there is a seemingly endless supply of them. However, amidst all the noise there are important terms that require our attention and deeper understanding. One of those terms is content marketing. Not only is it essential to understand what content marketing is (and not in a general way), but to know how it drives results. To help readers understand how to implement an effective content marketing program, here is a list of the top three areas to focus your content marketing efforts on.
- Know Your Customer – It’s almost impossible to develop a content marketing plan if you don’t have a deep understanding of the services your company offers and why customers buy them. In product sales it’s much easier to understand the customer than in a professional services firm. For this reason, it’s important to spend time with the people who know your target client and their industry to gain a deeper understanding of the customer’s psychology and needs. Only then can content be developed that speaks to them. Creating a niche brings this expertise over time.
- Create Customer Based Content – Once you have an understanding of the customer then you can develop content that speaks to them. For example, if your company is an accounting firm that provides international tax services, you need to provide content that deals with issues that prospects are facing. An article topic might be the 10 Things to Consider When Doing Business in the United States, or Key Tax Concerns for International Professionals. In this content, you are not just describing a service rather you are taking the prospects viewpoints and developing content around the issues and challenges they are facing. Our experience says that the more the content focuses on customer needs the better it will perform.
- Know the Sales Cycle – This is probably the most important part of content marketing. Timing is everything so if you don’t know when what parcels of content should run at what time of year then you are diminishing the opportunity to drive results. As such, it’s important to spend time speaking with understanding your target market’s business cycle and others to assess when is the right time to run and feature specific types of content. Over and over again we have seen that when sales cycle appropriate content is featured it out performs and increases the number of conversions the website receives.
Content marketing is a comprehensive process that requires a deep understanding of the company, industry and services offered. Without these foundational items in place the other work and effort expended will have only a limited value.
There are many issues to consider when building an effective digital marketing strategy for your company. Using an approach that will help your organization “get found” on the internet is often a high priority for many organizations. However, the more one reads up on the topic of how to do this effectively, the more overwhelming it can seem.
To help marketing professionals and management get started in the right direction, we have developed a short list of foundational items that every digital marketing strategy that is focused on “getting found” should include.
- Keyword Targeting – Identifying the search terms that your customers and prospects will use to find your company is critical. Actually, this is the first step in targeting your website even before content. The reason why is that you need to understand what search terms will be used before you can craft content that caters to it. The best place to find good keyword terms is in your analytics program. There you will be able to see a list of the top performing keywords that are already attracting traffic. In addition, be careful to consider what services, events or programs offered by the company that you want to draw attention to. Then use a keyword research tool like the one offered in Google AdWords to develop new combinations. The more options the better as it will give you a chance to see what variations are most effective. Remember keyword targeting is about having a variety of terms at your disposal. Over time consider experimenting with terms to see what is most effective at accomplishing your goals
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Good keyword targeting can only take you so far. You need to ensure your website adheres to best practices to ensure that it can be found. Now most think of keywords as SEO, but there is a lot more to it than that. There are other elements to consider including pdf optimization, cross linking of content, meta tag optimization and structural concerns like if a sitemap is used and how your robots.txt file is structured. While most companies make an initial investment in SEO to get the site up to speed, it’s important to remember that as a site grows and new content is added that detailed SEO attention needs to follow. If there are issues with the site optimization then it can diminish the impact of the other elements in your strategy. Confused by this? Talk to your web developer or SEO specialist and get professional assistance.
- Social Promotion & Integration – By now most companies have social media accounts whether it’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Google Plus. Quite often though companies don’t seem to have a strategy for how they are leveraging specific platforms to promote their company. This is evident by the fact that many share the same type of information across all platforms. Consider how to use each platform to engage your target audience in a meaningful way. For example, the way to use LinkedIn to reach customers is completely different from Facebook or even Twitter. Pick the right platform for the right audience and your social promotion efforts will be a success. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment here. The results come over time, so remember to be patient.
How your strategy evolves is dependent on a number of factors. You will always be adjusting based on results and the ever-changing rules of search. However, if you keep focused on these foundational items you are sure to experience positive results and strong ROI from your efforts. If your company has already started on these areas then taking a second look may help to mix things up and produce positive changes.
As a meeting facilitator, I often use a technique called Q-Storming to lead a discussion. This technique, from the Inquiry Institute is designed to get people to ask questions to solve a problem, rather than make statements. By asking questions, participants are able to open their thoughts wider and consider new ideas and angles. With traditional brainstorming, people make statements. Often, they are stuck inside of their own heads and have a pre-determined idea of how an issue should be dealt with. Q-Storming turns those definitive ideas into more creative solutions and makes people consider other factors.
Q-Storming can be used in a variety of situations. It can be used for a company to work through a strategic plan or home in on a specific corporate initiative. Associations might use it to work with committees to develop a new program or to get everyone on the same page. Internal teams can use it to see other people’s perspectives in a non-threatening way.
I’ve been using this technique for a few years and have developed my own take on it. In some cases, everyone in the group is given a pad of posts-it notes and writes down all of the questions that they have about a particular issue. Once they exhaust the questions from their mind, they group them on walls in the appropriate topic category. Depending on the complexity of the issue, there may or may not be a second round of questions. If there is only one round, the group or facilitator may choose to address the questions head on or look at the trends and talk to those. I generally make the decision on how to proceed based on a number of factors including time, desired outcome, organizational politics and complexity. In any case, it is important to know what type of result is needed before proceeding any type of brainstorming session.
Here are some observations that I have come across after using this technique for the last few years.
- Everyone has good ideas, they just express them differently.
- People can look at the exact same issue and see it so differently you wouldn’t recognize it as the same problem.
- A level-playing field motivates people to speak up. When the emphasis is off of the leader, people’s true opinions and ideas can be revealed.
- Asking questions can surprise people and help them uncover thoughts in themselves they never knew they had.
- Having a facilitator allows leaders to participate without overshadowing staff.
- It’s hard to say “no” when you are asking questions which leads to more “yeses”
- People enjoy a physical activity that involves movement. They get excited about the process which leads to creativity.
If you are looking for a new way to work through complex business issues, Q-storming is an approach you may want to consider.
Yesterday I had the honor of attending the Mashable Social Good Summit. The conference is described as “a two-day conference examining the impact of technology and new media on social good initiatives around the world. Held during UN Week from September 21-22, the Social Good Summit unites a dynamic community of global leaders and grassroots activists to discuss solutions for the greatest challenges of our time.”
The lineup of speakers is impressive. From Pharrell to Michael Dell to Alicia Keys to Melinda Gates the speaker list gets your attention. But there are a lot more names that you may not have heard of including Jampa from Tibet. She was the first woman in her community to go to college. Or Jensine Larsen, CEO and Founder of World Pulse, the leading network using the power of digital media to connect women worldwide and bring them a global voice. These women are making a difference in the world. During her panel discussion Jensine really opened my eyes to the fact that many women on this planet that we share want, dream, long to be connected. Even in developing nations, there are women who know that technology exists and that it can empower them to change the world. They don’t fear technology; they fear their lives if they cannot access technology. They have a deep understanding that technology can help them change the world. One of the most profound things I heard yesterday was when Jensine said “A woman with a laptop can be more powerful than a man with a gun.” Access truly is power.
This got me thinking to my own experiences and the women (and men) I encounter in the classes that I teach. All too often I meet professionals who resist learning and embracing technology. They make excuses as to why they can’t learn it. They joke that they just let their kids do it for them. They view technology as an obstacle and not the valuable tool that it can be.
My teaching style is to never make anyone feel stupid and to encourage them to take advantage of the resources that are available to them. I teach, but more so, I encourage. I want them to do better with technology, to make a difference.
To these people, I share this message in hopes that their perspective might shift. If you live in a country and have a job where you are fortunate enough to access to laptops, smartphones, tablets and reliable internet access, I ask you to consider the alternative. We are so blessed to have these tools in our lives. Tools that help us connect to clients, prospects, colleagues and friends. We are blessed to be able to learn about the latest and greatest technologies and to be able to use them. We are blessed to be able to attend events where people like myself and my peers are so very willing to teach you. To you, I ask that you let go of the fear and begin learning today.