Tuesday, February 3, 2015

High School Communications Contest - March 2015 deadline

The National Federation of Press Women hold several contests each year, one of which is for high school students. Time is nigh to register - and past nigh to start writing! - so consider yourself prodded.

More contests 

FreelanceWriting.com offers a nice list of Creative Writing Contests (for adults and young writers) with NO entry fees. Gotta like that! Check the website for one that may inspire you. Happy typing!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Another Way to Say it

When Racism Slips into Everyday Speech, an excellent 2014 article in The Root, really challenged my ways of thinking, speaking, and writing.

Of course, it also challenged my opinion of myself as a non-racist, and as an "educated" user of language. (Here's another great thing about the internet - I can't hear you laughing.) Anyway, since reading the article, I've tried to rephrase some of those offensive sayings by using less idiomatic language. It required more brainpower than I expected, but I was OK with that - communication is a worthwhile endeavor and thinking has yet to be proven bad for your health.

Dog wearing glasses
Old Dog, still learning. 
I hate to admit that many of the phrases the article cited were ones I used often, although I didn't know their origins. Yeah - me, lover of word origins. Yes, I'm embarrassed. Properly educated/chagrined, I'm changing my ways.

Rather than refer to people I don't know as "the peanut gallery," "hoi polloi," or "unwashed masses," I'm opting for the quite useful phrase "anyone else" or "everyone else." Or instead of "Grandfather clause," I see the better turn of phrase is "longstanding exception" or "accepted exception."

Good Communication Not Always "Creative"

As I said, I used these phrases and others on The Root's list pretty frequently in the past. I considered them lively, interesting descriptions - and I assumed I understood their meanings without taking the next step to find out how they'd developed. Definitely my bad.

Also bad on my part: I mistakenly thought using these "creative phrases" was a means of demonstrating my love of language. But I know better. The #1 job of words is to communicate, so it's critical to choose your words to communicate what you intend - not a meaning that could offend.
So, the bottom line is - even an old dog can learn a new trick or two. (Lord help me, I didn't research the origin of that phrase...)

As I've told many a business owner about corporate communications, your words should work for you, not against you.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

More Reasons, More Ways for Writers to use Buffer

If you write - for business or for pleasure - chances are very good you're a serious social media user. Possibly addicted. Well, you won't find a 12-step program here. I'm not exactly an addict (am I?) but I'm definitely a user, and an enabler.

Why Writers Love Buffer

Most of us use Buffer (or Hootsuite; really, both tools are great) because of the "obvious" features:

  • Scheduling social media posts is a breeze.
  • The link shortener works as advertised, and is trusted. (Translation: gets clicked.)
  • The "change to a quote" feature makes it easy to modify a tweet and get more milage and attention from it. 

But look past the obvious reasons to use a Buffer or Hootsuite tool and you'll see... more reasons! Below are some I really appreciate. (These refer to Buffer, but Hootsuite has similar useful features.)

Using Buffer Analytics to Work Smarter

Buffer's posts analytics feature makes it easy for you to not only see which posts have worked well for you, it also serves as a nice repository of ready-made posts to re-purpose. You can:

  • Run through the list as you plan your next few months' editorial content.
  • Identify and follow up on campaigns that could use a fresh jolt of social jabber
  • Identify steady re-tweeters who deserve a "random" shout-out for their support of your brand/campaign.

Why Writers Should Use Buffer 

Sure, it saves time, theoretically eliminating one more reason to procrastinate. On the other hand, I find reviewing the recent history of tweets and other posts is a source of inspiration (also known as a positive form of procrastination).

But it's not "just" inspirational. I also find a whirl through my analytics page reminds me of those great, pithy turns of phrase (crafted by others) that I loved enough to share, and by reviewing them, I can learn from those writers all over again.

So, there you have it. My reasons for using Buffer and Hootsuite. Feel free to add your own. And if you're not using a social media scheduling tool that you love, do yourself a favor and install one today. I think you'll be glad you did.

Below, snips of last year that I've recently reviewed. A review of your own analytics would be much more useful, but hey - this is my blog. And I hate to post without an image or two.

Cheers ~

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Press Releases: So 1995 or still important in 2015?

I love it when something I wrote a year or more ago sounds fresh. (OK, sometimes I hate it.)

I last wrote about press releases in October 2013. I'm tempted to simply re-share the whole piece; it still works.

But that wouldn't do my blog any favors, now would it? (Wink, wink)

Press Releases Still Matter. 

Press releases are sort of like phones. They still matter, we still need them, but the way we work with them has changed a little bit. Here's how to think about them, and how to use them effectively, in 2015.

Press releases were built to do a job: that is, to let the press know about something that maybe it (the press) should tell the world about. Closely related: press releases were the original spin machines.

They can be read at a press conference when something bad has happened, for example. They can announce that something good has happened. Or they can ballyhoo a new product.

Press releases once worked pretty well at getting the press's attention. Has that changed? No, not really. What's changed is the press, which is a rather archaic word, so let's say "media." Roughly eight billion channels and the internet have appeared since the dawn of the press release.  Each news outlet has its own agenda.* So, how well do they work? Ah, that's a good question. The answer is, they work great, when you have a great plan. (See Marketing 101, specifically as it relates to goals, audiences, targets, testing, and - well, you get the point.)

At some point, press releases got a little too big for their britches. Or maybe that was a mixup at the office party when PR and Marketing got confused and tried on each other's job descriptions and everyone went home in the wrong hat.

Ah-um, yes; that belongs in another post too. Back to press releases.

They can't do everything. But, when you design them to do a specific job, they do it well.

Who needs press releases in 2015? Large organizations

One way to characterize a large organization - whether it's a public university, foundation, hospital, or everyone's favorite corporation - is as an information center. Most large organizations produce enough internal news to publish a daily newspaper. And the people who work there might, at some point, be expected to know what's going on in any given department. Which is silly, because people who work in a university's biology department really can't know everything that's going on over in the agriculture department (although it would be nice) or public health (that would be nice too) or history departments.

One thing press releases do really well is serve as a news archive of sorts for accomplishments. And other things that happen. And not just in public institutions, but also in corporations. Particularly since employees often are also shareholders, I hope that many of them read their company's press releases regularly. Hint: If I were in charge of a large organization, I would require employees to read every press release the company issued, the PR department would be stellar, and very well paid.  ;)

Who needs press releases in 2015? Small organizations

Remember that party I mentioned, where marketing and PR got a little too cozy? Yeh, well, it's not exactly an incestuous relationship. The fact is there's a huge gray area where Marketing and PR both need to work closely together. We could say they're cousins. It might be a good idea for me to kill this analogy now.

To clarify, when I said "press releases got a little too big for their britches," what I meant was we all got confused about how much a press release can do. Press releases by themselves simply cannot replace sales, marketing, and paid advertising.**

Small organizations rarely have healthy marketing/pr/ad budgets. And while press releases can't make up all the difference, when used well, they can garner a lot of attention. Not "a lot of attention" in a headline news kind of way, maybe, but that's not necessarily what a small business or organization needs.

As PR and marketing both know, the right kind of attention, from the right audience is priceless for a small organization. (And some large organizations.)

A well-targeted press release can function as a productive cold call, generating awareness, interest and when you're lucky, leads.

Why bother with press releases in 2015? 

If you have a message to share, press releases are one way to share it. Whether or not a press release is the best, most effective way to share it...is questionable. But sometimes, under some circumstances, press releases are a perfect fit, britches and all.

*Sadly, none that I know of are out to purely inform us minions with "all the news that's fit to print;" but that rant belongs in a different post.
**Gasp! Can we still say "advertising" in 2015? I may never run out of blog topics...

Friday, January 9, 2015

OM-Yeah, Yoga is Better than Typing

The Blood-Red Pencil bloggers are responsible for one of my favorite posts ever - it's useful and healthful in addition to being clean and well-written. And, it's about yoga. Ahhh. I feel better just saying/typing that word: yo-ga.

Sitting and typing are not very good for our bodies. Take a break, stand up, adjust your monitor, take a deep breath, and find out why you need to move, and how to do it - especially if you're feeling chained to your desk.

You might also enjoy following the blog for "sharp and pointed observations about writing." (Get it?)

Hey, humor, puns and wordplay are what gets me through the day. And a little yoga, of course.

Great Lesson in Content

Because I really do love great content - and yoga - I want to share a sweet video, also good for writers, people who sit too long, and pretty much anyone with a neck:

It's got plenty of value simply as a how-to health piece. But you know I can't stop there. I have to point out that it's also a super example of content done right.

  • It's captivating (note pleasing visuals, music that enhances but doesn't overwhelm the message)
  • It's short (remember "leave 'em wanting more!")
  • It's educational.
  • It's sharable.

Well, if I stop now, I'll have time for a few poses before I getting back to work...so, Namaste.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Social Media Management: What's it Cost? What's it Worth?

Social media, the "free" advertising vehicle, isn't free, of course. Even if you're a small business owner dedicated to doing it yourself, there's a significant time investment. Not only do you need to learn the tools and keep up with the constant changes, a little advertising/marketing/communications savvy is necessary.

Like most everything else, you can learn to do it, and do it well. And like everything else, the time you invest in learning social media will take time away from something else - probably something you're already good at, where your time is more wisely spent.

Social Media Management: How Much Does it Cost?

Social media managers, whether managing Facebook only or handling the broad scope of all social media tools (Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, etc., etc.) and - if you're lucky - blog content and email messaging - are more than "just" writers, more than "just" marketing professionals. Technical skills count and again, there's a tremendous time investment to stay on top of the game.

So what should you expect to pay? The low-end packages right now hover in the $800-$2000/month range. More complete packages go for in the neighborhood of $8000/month. (Sound high? a ballpark figure from a 2011 article puts costs higher, at $75-$200/hr.) And the bad news is, packaged social media/content management rarely gets the job done well. The "softer side" of marketing is getting to know your customers, your product(s), your niche, your industry... and speaking the language in a way that will turn prospects on without turning search engines off.

Those softer skills, including the all-important voice and customer connection, don't come cheap. However, many marketing consultants offer consulting services on an ad-hoc basis. What's that cost? Average figures from 2014 for Facebook Page or Twitter account creation come in at around $400-$800 for the initial creation. (Figures from a couple of years earlier say $500-$2500. Go figure.) Ongoing account management varies depending on activity level

DIY Cheaper, But Results Are at Stake

This isn't intended to scare you out of doing it yourself. You don't have to be a genius to learn social media tools, you probably understand your audience and your products better than anyone, and marketing is much more forgiving than rocket science - if you make a mistake, you can recover.

The question you need to ask yourself is:

Will I really put the necessary time in to get the results I need, and at what cost to my business?

Great Free Tools Available

If the answer is yes, you've committed to doing it yourself, great. For heaven's sake, don't reinvent the wheel. GREAT tools are available free, many from Hootsuite - like an article on changes to Facebook in 2015.

And if the answer is no, great. Like I said, marketing is a lot more forgiving than rocket science. If you choose a consultant, or designate someone already on staff to handle your messaging and it doesn't work out, try something else. If that doesn't work, try, try again.

Because when it comes to marketing (but not necessarily rocket science) doing something is better than doing nothing.

Here's to time well spent, in 2015 and beyond.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Throw-back Thoughts and Resolutions

In the past I've been pretty serious about making New Year's resolutions. Some might say I'm superstitious; others may have called me paranoid. I prefer to say I've followed my (rather long) list of rules about making New Year's resolutions just to be "careful." Then one night, I saw the light.

Actually, I almost didn't.
At a friend's New Year's party I ducked into the bathroom just before midnight, to freshen up - and to further consider the resolution I'd make for the new year.
It's a process I don't take lightly. I start thinking about New Year's resolutions early, sometimes before Labor Day. No, I'm not kidding.

How to Make Outstanding New Year's Resolutions

Of course I have rules about this ritual! Among my (many) rules for making New Year's resolutions:
1. Just make one resolution - too many can be daunting.
2. Make it a good one. Hence, these many rules...
3. Keep it positive. Resolve to do something, not to not do something. In other words "eat more fresh vegetables" is better than "don't eat sweets."
4. Don't tell anyone your resolution until after midnight. Remember, it's your resolution. Share it too early and someone might try to talk you out of it.
5. Aim for a realistic change. "Run a marathon" might be realistic for some people, but "walk around the block once a week" is probably a good resolution for others. (You know who you are.)
6. Be specific. "Learn to crochet" is nice, but "crochet scarves for the homeless" is nice and specific.
7. Be vague enough to allow the resolution to expand in scope, if you want it to. If you resolve to "buy local," for example, you may start with a single item and by the end of the year, you'll probably have discovered many things you can get from within your own zip code.
8. Resolve to improve the world. Sure, it's your New Year's resolution, but why be selfish? If we all considered the impact of our New Year's resolutions, imagine what kind of world this might be....
I was testing a few possible resolutions against these rules while I fluffed my hair and reapplied lipstick and....jammed the door lock.

Seriously Stuck on Resolutions

While I'd been stuck figuratively for days, ruminating about my oh-so-serious resolutions - compost to save the planet and local water table or teach my kids a foreign language, thus raising globally aware citizens? - now I was stuck, literally.
I searched frantically (having never resolved to not snoop in a friend's bathroom; see rule number 3) for a nail file, bobby pin, handgun, anything to free myself. Nada. I pounded on the door. More. Louder.
"Hey guys," I called. "Can you open this door?"
The countdown began.

New Year's Disaster Averted

I panicked, shouted again, and kicked the door, finally overwhelming the lock with my seriousness. Nothing would stand between me and my resolution, which I was not about to make in the bathroom. (I should have a rule about that.)
Unfortunately, the incident robbed me of the necessary time to reflect and decide, finally, which life-changing resolution to adopt.
Cheers. Champagne kisses. Auld Lang Syne.
My husband, who has never agreed with my philosophy on the importance of resolutions, braced for the worst when a poor unsuspecting acquaintance asked, "did you make any resolutions?"
"Not to lock myself in the bathroom!" was what I blurted out.
We all laughed. Only I knew what a life-changer that was.
# #
Originally published in December 2010 on the now-defunct Yahoo! voices channel, I'm still working through my feelings about New Year's Resolutions, and Auld Lang Syne, for that matter. This essay was originally titled, "Resolve to Lock in More Fun This Year." Which, no matter what year it is, sounds like a pretty good resolution. Cheers!