In the last few weeks, at least 20 posts have popped up in my LinkedIn news feed from people griping about what other people choose to post. It’s bad enough that Facebook is full of posts dictating what does and does not belong, now this plague is spreading faster than a stomach virus at a daycare.
There is a lot of information circulating about content marketing, and most of it is incredibly useful. You can develop an entire content strategy for your business if you take at least a few of these lessons to heart.
But my goodness, do some of these articles writers ever take themselves seriously! Are you wondering if anyone likes to have fun with their writing any more? I'm so glad you asked! I penned a LinkedIn article, "5 Terrific Lessons from Children's Television" that shares some important messages about... messaging.
Want to know more? Fantastic! Please go read the full article on LinkedIn: 5 Terrific Lessons from Children's Television
It’s that time of year again! Let’s look at the most cringe-worthy moments of 2015 as we point and laugh, because opportunities to mock spectacular failures are simply too good to pass up! Without further ado, here are my picks for the most spectacular PR failures of 2015.
Disabilities Aren’t Camera Fodder
When your older sisters are internationally famous for their vapidity and their um, assets, it’s hard to imagine setting the bar for tastelessness any lower.
And yet, somehow, Kylie Jenner managed to do just that in an incredibly offensive, exploitative and poorly-conceived cover photo for Interview magazine. Though Gemma Flanagan's response to the cover was nothing short of amazing, it's simply staggering that this got all the way to print without somebody noticing that it was a terrible, terrible idea.
The Polluting People’s Car
Volkswagen has built a reputation for being trustworthy and dependable. A reputation that took a pretty serious hit when it was discovered that they were finding not-so-scrupulous ways to skirt emissions standards tests in North America, and then the rest of the world caught wind of the scandal, and it was bad news all over again.
You know it’s bad when your scandal gets a name, and Dieselgate was no exception. Winning back consumer and shareholder trust is going to be a bumpy ride. To be fair, the company’s response was swift and thorough, but even a great apology is no substitute for, you know, not breaking the rules in the first place.
Animal Rights Activists are a Prickly Bunch
The internet is a pretty unforgiving place, and animal rights activists are known for having a pretty long memory. When your organization’s treatment of a particular mammal is the subject of a widely-viewed documentary that is described as "a gripping example of documentary film-making at its finest,” you should probably not open yourself up to attack on social media any time soon.
You should most definitely not set yourself up for disaster by starting the conversation with a hashtag that invites people to ask questions (#ASkSeaWorld), and then leave those questions unanswered for all the world to see. Anyone with even a hint of PR savvy should have seen that coming from a mile away, but apparently nobody who fits that description works with Sea World.
Watch Those Acronyms!
When your company name is two words, and they both start with the letter K, you should be pretty sensitive to the notion that you’re 2/3 of the way to an infamous and awful acronym. You should certainly NEVER come up with short-form for a promotion that takes you the rest of the way there. Krispy Kreme did just that with their Krispy Kreme Klub promotion. Oh yes they did!
The next time you’re faced with a customer complaint on one of your social media channels, choose your words carefully. But rest easy, no matter how bad it gets, it’s probably not going to be as bad as any of these.
Having a hard time putting your brand’s best foot forward? Terrified that one of these will happen to you someday? Let me help! This contact form is the place to get started!
So you have decided to make the great leap into the glamorous world of content writing, have you? Great idea! Whether it’s for your own business or writing on another company’s behalf, well-written content is the most important part of any online presence.
Even professional writers need a little help to check their work and sharpen their skills from time to time. With that in mind, here are three things every content writer needs for success.
Remember the Thesaurus?
Have you found yourself writing the same words over and over and over again? If you have noticed this quirk yourself, your readers probably picked it out a long time ago. You, my friend, need to start making good use of a thesaurus.
Bonus: It’s even better for enhancing your vocabulary than a “Word of the Day” calendar.
Another thing to consider is the choice of language used, in particular for the more academically inclined among us. I’m guilty of this one too – using unnecessarily complicated language to illustrate a point. What can I say? I read a lot. Be sure to check the readability scores of your piece in Word or online, and use simpler language whenever possible.
Good Writing Conditions
When I first started working at home, I used a tiny 11” laptop at the coffee table in the living room. That’s fine for a hobby blogger and Facebook enthusiast, but when you’re producing content for professional purposes, you need a real workspace with a proper desk chair and good lighting conditions. And, if you’re working with kids in the home as I do, a good pair of headphones is a must to minimize, um, environmental distractions.
You don’t need to go out and buy a complete home office set-up at once, but if writing content for your business becomes a miserable, uncomfortable experience, you’ll put it off way too often. That’s not a terribly productive idea, now is it?
Learn to Love Grammarly
Ideally, every single piece would be professionally edited by a second pair of well-trained eyes. That’s great advice, in theory, but it’s not possible for budgets of all sizes. When you can’t have another pair of eyes review your work, Grammarly is a Word plug-in that can serve the next best thing.
No, it’s not flawless. You can’t just accept every single change because sometimes the suggestions won’t be contextually appropriate. However, it does an excellent job on punctuation and recommended vocabulary changes. Even if you don’t sign up for a subscription, following Grammarly on social media can give you great tips to improve your writing skills every day.
Have you decided that writing content for your small business just isn’t for you? Would you rather spend your time on sales than coming up with something clever to say on Facebook every day? Have trouble mastering the art of Twitter? I can help! Fill out this contact form to get started!
A recent article from a site that specializes in search marketing suggested that any and all blog posts must be at least 1,500 words in length, and that poorly written content doesn't affect the end result. No link is forthcoming, because that would only be validating flawed logic.
The crux of the article is that longer articles are taken more seriously, and that people will share badly written content anyway. Which is probably true, even if it’s only being shared by snooty English majors (waves hello!) to mock content writing fail and to lament the death of language as we know it.
What is your content marketing strategy?
If your only goal is increase your search rankings, then it likely doesn’t matter if your web content is poorly written. You’re just writing for machines, so you could probably get results with a million monkeys and a million typewriters. Great! However, at last check, search engines don’t have a whole lot of purchasing power. Ultimately you’re going to want those high search rankings to lead to actual eyeballs on your site.
What will those eyes, connected to actual humans looking for competent professionals providing a product or service they’re hoping to purchase, find when they get there?
In short, when actual people arrive at your site, will they see content that positions your business as a legitimate, professional company they can feel confident doing business with? If your content marketing strategy is built on writing for search engines rather than people, there’s a good chance they will not.
Keywords are nothing without captivating content
Of course it’s important to have content that is search engine friendly. After all, even great content is wasted if nobody reads it. It’s also important to make sure there are appropriate keywords in your content writing to make sure people find what they’re looking for when they arrive at your website, or visit your Facebook page, or browse your Twitter timeline.
But don’t stop there! Make sure a visit to your website is useful, whether or not a visitor ultimately ends up working with your company. Instead of laboriously struggling to have longer and longer posts on your company blog, challenge yourself to make a convincing case in as few words as possible. Don’t just talk about your business, talk about related services and the latest news affecting your industry.
One person visiting a website that clearly demonstrates that you know really know your stuff can turn into an actual customer. One customer is better than a million bots from a faraway land that may never contribute a nickel to your business.
The next 1,000 words or so will be spent stuffing this post with keywords to make sure it's taken seriously. Oh no wait, that’s just silly.
Writer’s Workshop: How Many?
Welcome back to the writer’s workshop, a series of tips to help everyday writers sharpen their messaging. When doing your own content writing for your company website, blog or newsletter, grammar matters! You don’t have to strictly adhere to the AP Stylebook, but by sidestepping some of the more common errors your writing will be more polished and professional.
The Difference Between Number and Amount
Number and amount are commonly misused words that are often considered interchangeable. They are not. “A large amount of people” is frequently used like it's something that makes perfect sense, even in professional journals and newspapers. But it is not a large “amount” of people, it is a large number.
When in doubt, use a simple pneumonic like “amount can’t count” to help you keep it straight. We all have our Achilles’ Heels in writing. Secret: Mine is the dreaded comma splice. I know it’s wrong, I know why it’s wrong, and yet I do it anyway. All the time! If confusing number and amount is a mistake you make often, run a quick search for both words when you are finished writing your piece. Make sure they are used correctly and correct as necessary. Eventually it will become second nature.
Perfection is not the goal, and it shouldn't be it be. You can’t turn every blog post or web page into your magnum opus – you have a business to run! However, you can make sure your content writing consistently improves as you learn and grow as a writer. Check back soon for another tip to tighten up your writing.
Evaluating Your Social Media Efforts
There are a lot of great reasons to use social media for small business. The one that immediately springs to mind is marketing to a new audience. That leads to an approach that is very focused on numbers. How many people Like your Facebook page?
How many Twitter followers do you have? Are you engaging your colleagues on LinkedIn? Those are all things to consider when evaluating your social media presence, but what else should you keep in mind?
Don't Evaluate Social Media Success on Audience Numbers Alone
Perhaps the greatest function of a social media presence for your brand is the ability to connect with your customers, your peers, and members of your industry at large.
Having 1,000 Facebook likes seems great, but if you’re not able to “talk” to someone who has a real question about your products or services, it’s not a terribly effective measure of your social media efforts.
If you focus solely on the numbers, then you might miss the great sense of community that can come from a small but loyal following, and that would be a shame.
Grow Social Media Following Organically
Remember that point, lo 10 seconds ago, that said don’t focus on the numbers too much? That doesn't mean don’t focus on them at all. Talking to yourself and the Twitter account you set up for your cat probably isn't the greatest use of your time, so you’re going to have to spend some time growing your following.
Virtually every social platform offers some sort of premium service that promises to do just that for you. But those are often expensive and the effectiveness of the resulting fan base is suspect.
Go ahead, use fertilizer in your garden. But when it comes to growing your following on social media, you might find organic is the way to go. Do the time, talk to the people who engage with you. Thank new followers and those who re-tweet your content on Twitter. Acknowledge every post on your Facebook wall, with a thank you if you can or just a click of the Like button if you can’t. Keep in touch with your peers and former colleagues on LinkedIn to do more than ask them for favours after you strike out on your own.
Growing your social media presence organically takes longer than running a campaign on Facebook or promoting a tweet, but it keeps you closer to the very people you’re trying to reach. If you find it hard to grow a social medial presence AND your business, consider engaging the services of a company to help connect with your following – NOT a click farm - a business that specializes in creating meaningful relationships on your behalf.
Where to start?
There are dozens of social media properties and hundreds of services to monitor your reach on those sites. But when you’re just starting out, your time is limited and sometimes so is your budget. Start one social media account for your business, preferably on one you already use a lot in your personal life. You’re familiar with the site’s layout and can capitalize on your connections to get a head start on building your following. Then, when you’re ready, add another one.
Make a note of your web traffic the day before you share a link on one site, and then wait a day or two before sharing it on another. See which has the greater impact on your web traffic and then focus your efforts on that site. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Getting attention and building a community for your business using social media doesn't have to be exhausting. You really can do it one day and one post at a time. If you need further guidance to get started, you know who to call!
Have you ever wondered if your current job is the best you can do? Career Meets Life is a new online community dedicated to exchanging ideas about job sharing, managing the separation between work and home, job fit, career mobility and more.
I am thrilled to take part in this exciting initiative. Check out my first article on career mobility at Career Meets Life: Redefining Your Career Path
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#PRfail Demonstrates Rules to Live By
I'll admit it, I love watching a PR train wreck unfold. Oh, sure, I feel bad for the people who have to manage the fallout because I've been in those shoes and they're dreadfully uncomfortable. But sometimes laughing at the jaw-dropping stupidity behind some of the biggest PR fails of the year is just too much to fun.
When you're done laughing, it's time to start thinking about what you would do differently. After all, what good are lessons in disaster if nobody learns anything from them? Here are some great lessons from a few of this year's biggest PR disasters:
1. Once is a mistake, twice is just dumb
You'd think Kenneth Cole would have figured out not to blithely pile on to hashtags after the Cairo fiasco. But no! They did it again! If something goes terribly wrong the first time you try, don't do it again to make sure it doesn't work.
2. Listen to Your Advisers
Full disclosure: I live in Toronto, so I've been watching the Rob Ford disaster with a weird mix of giddiness and shame. I think most important lesson to come out of this debacle (other than the obvious one, "don't smoke crack") is listen to your advisers. When the scandal was breaking last spring, there was an opportunity for the mayor to control the conversation and restore public faith by admitting his mistakes and going to rehab. But he said no, no, no and the rest is history. Don't hire people for their expertise and then ignore them!
3. It's not really a fine line between irreverent and disgusting
The c-bomb and nine-year-old girls do not belong in the same thought. Period. You know it's bad when The Onion faces an internet backlash so ferocious, they're forced to delete a tweet and issue an apology.
A wise man once said, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." When you're managing your small business' reputation, remember you don't know what you don't know, and learn from the mistakes of others. And seriously, don't smoke crack.
Keeping up when the lights are down #darkto
It's Canadian cliche time! Let's talk about THE WEATHER! Seven days ago, in the wee morning hours, Toronto awoke to the bzzzzzt sound of every appliance in the city shutting off simultaneously. We're Canadian, we're tough, we can handle a little power outage.
Except it wasn't a "little" power outage.
For the first day it was quaint. Candles are a nice touch. There was enough power in the laptops to charge tablets and phones, it was kind of like camping but with running water and a gas stove. And then night fell on the second day. An extra layer was added to the people and the beds, so it was like camping in the cold... The sun rose again and the lights did not come on. The devices were dying, the teeth were dangerously close to chattering and it seemed less like camping and more like an ordeal.
PROD Communications runs out of a home office, and the home is shared with some very little people, the littlest of whom lacks the ability to speak up when he's too cold. At the 36 hour mark the decision was made to relocate to an offsite location, aka, a local hotel.
A few lessons were learned along the way, specifically:
If you're one of my fellow Canadians still in the dark, I hope you get the lights back on back soon, and you were also able to find a new kind of joy this holiday season.
Julia Warrender is a member of the Canadian Association of Marketing Professionals (CAMP) and a Hubspot Inbound Marketing certified professional.