Category Archives: Writing

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Ensnare your readers: The art of content creation

We’ve already heard that in the digital space, ‘content is king’. But this king can’t rule the online kingdom without loyal subjects: the readers.

Whether you’re crafting content for an in-depth blog post, or thinking of a short tweet to send out, it’s essential that first and foremost, you keep the target audience in mind.

Below are some writing guidelines that can be used whether you’re aiming the text at other businesses, consumers, or the general web population.

TONE, STRUCTURE, & LAYOUT

1. Keep it simple & conversational. Blogs, social media posts, marketing emails – it’s all about being social and to the point. This means: 

  • Include words like ‘we’, ‘you, and ‘I’
  • Use informal (not stupid) language
  • Be as concise as possible, while getting the message across

2. Make it easy on the eyes. Let’s face it – people have less and less time these days, and with so much content available, it’s easy to lose focus, get bored, and move onto the next post. So:

  • Use sub-headings, bullet points, and short paragraphs. This is especially useful for those who skim-read.
  • Optimize your formatting. Bold, italicize, and underline are great for emphasis and grabbing attention. But limit their frequency as this can distract the reader. (This point doesn’t really apply to social network posts except for Google+.)
  • Images are everything. Yes, I know that we’re discussing ‘word’ content in this post, but many people are visually-oriented and relevant pictures will make the post more interesting. Infographics, video, and audio clips are also welcome. 

3. Write a story (this of course mostly applies to blog posts). From start to finish, it’s your goal to keep the reader reading:

  • As always, it begins with the headline/title. Anything witty, funny, or even odd will work here. Basically – if you came across your title, would you click on it? However, avoid being misleading or anything sensationalized; this is irritating and you’ll be ignored instead.
  • Many think that if you have a fantastic title, it’s enough. It’s not. The intro is equally – if not more – important. It should accurately and succinctly tell the audience what to expect.
  • The body of the content is crucial to getting your message across. Keep your targets hooked, entertained, interested – whatever you need to keep them on the page. (More on how to do this in the next section.)
  • End on a high. Did your readers take away what you wanted them to take away? Was there a key point to the content? 

THE ESSENCE OF THE MESSAGE 

We know that what you say and how you say it is what attracts & retains attention to your content. Here are a few tips on getting your message across: 

- Infuse a bit of you into the text. The great thing about online content is that you can make it personal, emotional – basically you’re allowed to be human! I appreciate dark and dry humor; others may prefer creative and sentimental text. So there’s no general wrong or right – it all depends on your personality and, of course, who you’re aiming for. 

- The subject matters. Themes that are universally interesting, topics that are relevant or trending in your field, issues that never get old… these will always get your readers’ notice. 

- Reinforce the message. Anything that can validate/support your content will make it more credible. This includes: reliable stats (in moderation – don’t bore people), briefly citing your expertise, quotes from leaders in the field, and images that really drive the point home.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE AUDIENCE

Last, but never least, the readers are your top priority. Unless your only target audience is yourself, everything has to be focused on the potential customer/individual/group/business – whoever you’re aiming for.

a) After reading your blog, email, or social media post, people should either gain something of value or have a next step. If your content is a tutorial, for example, the reader should be able to immediately go out and do what you’ve taught them to do. If you want them to download or buy something, there should be a clear link or call to action button available.

b) Make it interactive. Things like polls, questions, comment boxes, and social sharing buttons. These encourage participation and engagement with your content.

c) Leave them wanting more… and then give it to them. Do you have a free ebook available? Follow-up posts that could help them? Let your reader know! Hyperlinks are your friend here. 

– – –

Remember, as a business, the main goals of content creation are:

  • To build your brand
  • To generate traffic and consequently sales
  • To establish your expertise or authority in a certain area
  • To provide something useful and/or interesting to your customer (value)

If you want all or any of the above goals to happen, you’ve got to make it more about the reader, and less about the writer.

And – of course – if you have any tips on capturing an audience, please us know in the comments!

Jonathan Fields’ Great Title Idea

This is so cool. I’m really jealous. As he finishes up his next book, Jonathan Fields turns to the web and his so-called tribe for help with the book title. In Help Me Choose The Title Of My Next Book, he put a poll onto his blog and promoted in there and in Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Why am I jealous? Because I didn’t think of something like this for any of my books. What a great idea.

Choosing a book title is hell. It’s really hard to do, critical to the content, and critical to sales and success. Could there possibly be a better way? Much as I complain about dumb polls and over-researched decisions, this is a great use of so-called crowd sourcing.

In my defense, it’s easier now than in 2008 when my most recent two were published. But Twitter had already started, and this blog was already here, and so was my other blog Up and Running, on entrepreneur.com. I could have done it. And I don’t want to sound ungrateful for how much help I got from Jere Calmes and the team at Entrepreneur Press, but still … damn!

Whatever the eventual title, I expect Jonathan’s upcoming book to be really good. When he interviewed me for it maybe a year ago, he was talking to a lot of people and asking some very important questions. He went into deep core issues about entrepreneurship and creativity, like dealing with fear, finding time for silence, and balancing needs and wants. That interview left me thinking about related issues long after.  I’m really looking forward to reading the book that comes out of that.

Twitter Didn’t Invent Hilarious One-Liners

I just read The Rise of Comedy on Twitter on Mashable. The tweets they reproduce there make me jealous. I love Twitter, but I’m not funny on Twitter, or at least not on purpose. But then I’m not particularly funny off Twitter either. And then there’s also Top 7 Hilarious Fake Tweets on Huffington Post a week or so back.

Mashable asks:

But is Twitter humor different from “traditional” humor? And what happens when the television, publishing, and performance industries are set aside in favor of direct “social” comedy? We spoke with some hilarious tweeters to get their take on these trends, and on what it means to get a laugh in the digital age.

The post generates some interesting opinions from several comedians. My favorite is where they don’t like that Twitter has no gatekeepers. Winners who’ve passed gates like gatekeepers.

Is there a different style of humor for Twitter? Hey, I think the so-called one liner has been there forever. 140 characters ought to be plenty for funny. Does it take another style? Consider the following:

I’d kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Bills travel through the mail at twice the speed of checks.
Borrow money from pessimists-they don’t expect it back.
Half the people you know are below average.
99 percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name.
42.7 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.

None of those are from Twitter, but all would be great as tweets. They are all from comedian Steven Wright, from long before Twitter started. They’re on a website collection called Steven Wright quotes.

And how about these, that come (without attribution, I’m afraid) from a site called Famous One Liners:

Some drink at the fountain of knowledge. Others just gargle.
Some people are only alive because it is illegal to shoot them.
Success always occurs in private and failure in full view.
Suicidal twin kills sister by mistake!
Support bacteria, they’re the only culture some people have.
The Bermuda Triangle got tired of warm weather. It moved to Finland. Now Santa Claus is missing.
The colder the x-ray table, the more of your body is required on it.

Twitter’s a great place for funny one liners. But come on, they were there long before Twitter.

Does Twitter Matter? Can It Possibly Last?

Yes, I think it does matter. And no, although it won’t last, not like it is now, it is the beginning of something that will last, but will be changing a lot. I could say the same about personal computing, the Web, and blogging.

Twitter is all the rage because it hit fertile ground. People like it, people use it, and because what it does catches us. The key to it is something related to publishing and broadcasting. It’s why I like writing this blog, why you like writing your blog, and why both of us read each other’s.

It’s related to instincts deeply embedded in our human nature.

Image by Carla16 on Flickr
Image by Carla16 on Flickr

The first of these is expression. When nothing else was possible, people drew on cave walls. That was about expression. So is telling stories, reciting  poems, and singing songs. It’s in our nature. We crave expression.

The second is curiosity. We want to see the pictures, hear the stories, know what’s up, and what’s going on.

And then, beyond these two basic instincts, there’s how much we like gathering, and shows, entertainment, and keeping up with each other.

All of which happens on Twitter. It’s not email, it’s not blogging, it’s publishing in 140-character pieces. Do it well and you have more people reading what you publish. Do it poorly and you have nobody reading what you publish. Make it interesting, informative, or funny and it’s good to do and people will follow. Use it to sell stuff or whine or share trivial life details and people will stop following. Use it to push sales talk at people and they will stop following.

Which–the click to follow or not–is the clincher, in my opinion, that makes Twitter more significant. I’ve seen some very interesting musings on Twitter’s future, such as Jeff Sexton’s piece asking is Twitter is digging its own ditch?  He says some of the Web’s bright and shiny new things (he mentions Digg and Technorati) burst on the scene, become popular, and then got manipulated, declined. The classic pattern is email with spam now killing it. He asks whether that might happen to Twitter.

And I think not. Because of both sides of the coin: the instinctive allure of posting like this, and reading the good posts, which is one side; and the ability to click and unfollow people, which is the other.

So please, follow me on Twitter: click here.