Friday, August 17, 2012

Moving this blog

I've tinkered with Tumblr and fallen in love. Thank you, Blogger, for all the years. It's not you - it's me.

Check out the new location for my thoughts on writing. This new blog will be more of a mix: I'll share what I've learned over the years, but I'll also be researching and gathering information for moving my own writing forward. It will be more of a journal, I hope.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Finding Ideas for Your Business Blogs

I write a daily blog on integration for IT Business Edge, a blog site aimed at business and technology leaders. As part of my job, I interview an expert or leader from the technology integration space; usually, it's someone who works with a vendor or an analyst.

Recently, I interviewed a VP who also occasionally wrote a blog. "How do you come up with so many topics on integration," he asked.

It's actually a funny question coming from this guy, whose company offers solutions in almost all the areas I cover. Here he is, literally making a living doing integration every day, and he's questioning how I manage to come up with so many blog posts? I should be asking him for ideas!

When you're a professional writer, you've got only two choices: Learn to generate writing ideas very quickly or find another line of work. Looking for new angles on old ideas quickly becomes part of how you view the world.

I think that's one reason non-writers struggle with blogs and social media. It's easy enough to start a blog or Twitter feed, whether for personal expression or business. But if you want to keep people interested, you have to keep posting fresh content, and that's the real challenge online.

How can you find new fodder for your feeds? Here are a few tricks that help keep me blogging when I can't think of anything to say:

Use customer questions. When a customer or client asks you a question - even a weird one - you can bet someone else somewhere is wondering the same thing. Turn your response into content. The best candidates for posts will be the questions you answer most frequently, but the oddball questions and comments will give you fodder for those slow days.

Topics Delivered to Your Inbox. One of Google's most useful, but least used, functions is Google Alerts, which is a customized search Google delivers to your inbox as it happens, once a day or once a week. It's listed as a beta tool, but it's actually been around for years. You can set up as many as you like. I have Google Alerts set up for things like "data integration," "cloud integration," and even my name. Google Alerts can be set up based on news, blogs, video or everything. It's also a great way to find out if other blogs are mentioning your content. The only thing about Google Alerts is they can overwhelm your inbox, so if you set up a lot of them, set up your your inbox to automatically divert Alerts to a separate folder.

Scan Social Networks. Social networking sites aren't just a place for you to push your opinion - they're also a great resource for learning about new topics, issues and gaining new insights - which, in turn, can be fodder for your own posts. Facebook is an excellent place to find something to respond to, particularly if you're running a political or family blog, but it can also be useful for businesses. People are always posting links, videos or problems that may spark an idea - and the more you vary who's in your friend group, the better your chance of finding a muse or two. Try searching Twitter or following hashtags to see what others are saying in real time about hot topics of the day. Just reading tweets by people who share your interests - whether personal or professional - can be a great way to jump start your brain for writing. You can also find business-related content topics by joining relevant groups on LinkedIn.

A Picture is Worth a 1000 Posts. One way to keep content fresh without writing every single day is to use one day to post a picture or a favorite quote or a quick tip. Many bloggers have "Wordless Wednesdays" where they simply post a picture. Of course, it should be a photo you take - perhaps of a really cool new product or an employee doing something fun. If all else fails, post a picture of a cat. People online love cats.

Show Some Link Love. Even if you don't have anything to say, someone else usually does. Now, it is NOT okay to copy that post as your own. But you can turn it into a post by paraphrasing a key point - or two, if it's a long piece -- add your own comments and then send readers to the original piece. You can also use this as an opportunity to reference your older posts. Just say something along the lines of, "Back in April, I talked about ..." and insert a link to your past post. Linking to outside sites provides you with fresh content, boosts your blog's search engine results and can help build your audience, particularly if the other blog returns the favor.

Introduce The Members of the Band. My dad has always played in a band, and at some point during every show, the lead singer or guitarist introduces all the members of the band. Why not do the same on your blog? It's always nice to put a face with the stories, and online this can be a great way to personalize your business for potential customers. Don't just stop with introductions, though. Remember to share encounters where employees provided excellent customer service or handle challenges in creative ways.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bad Blog Writing

After spending a week with Twitter, I'm thinking about setting up a blog about better Web 2.0 writing. It's not just because of Twitter, though: I've noticed for some time now that Web 2.0 technology really invites bad writing.

I don't mean grammar or spelling errors - although, yes, certainly those exists. I mean writing problems that actually make it impossible for people to understand what you mean. Self-indulgent writing on a blog is to be expected; by all means, indulge yourself by telling all those boring stories an editor would cut to bits.

If I were to write such a blog, this would be where I'd start:
Good Blog Writing Tip #1: Get to the point. Even if you have a cute little antidote, don't spend more than two short paragraphs on it before you get to the point.

An example: Recently a professional blogger, who writes about a topic-specific blog on technology, started off a post with an explanation of journalism's inverted pyramid. His point was that sometimes journalist pick things to put at the top that he would never pick, and he had a particular example in mind. What he felt was the real nugget of the story was buried underneath all this crap. Pointing out this nugget was the point of the post.

Fine. He could've explained the pyramid, criticized the other piece and gotten to the nugget within two paragraphs. But instead, he goes on and links to other articles he's written about the lead topic - the very topic he felt should not have been the lead in the first place. It actually takes him six paragraphs to get to the nugget of the story - the information she supposedly believes should have been the lead in the first place.

In other words, his story duplicated the error of the article he was criticizing. He's dogging someone for burying the real information - and then he does the exact same thing in his post. He's not only committing the same error, he's committing it with the exact same material.

I recognize this error because I've done it myself. It's easy to do, particularly in the fast-paced world of blog writing, where first drafts tend to be the only draft.

Good Blog Writing Tip #1: Get to the point. Even if you have a cute little antidote, don't spend more than two short paragraphs on it before you get to the point.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

For PR People: How to Royally Piss Off Journalist in Five Easy Steps.

For PR People: How to Royally Piss Off Journalist in Five Easy Steps.

Here are some especially useful tactics for when a journalist does you a favor and actually agrees to cover your lame company announcement. (Free advice from a long-time journalist and a former PR person.)

1. Be condescending when they call to ask you questions about the press release. Say things like, "Uh! Didn't you read the press release?" This will annoy them because, yes, they did read your press release, and being talented people who can communicate, they immediately recognized it for the load of indecipherable B.S. it was and so they're asking questions to try to figure out what you actually meant to say.

You won't recognize this, however, since you wrote the damnable thing to begin with and are so immersed in the topic, you don't realize you're not making any sense in your mother tongue, or you are so dimwitted you don't understand it either and fear someone will call you out.

A twist on this is to ask them if they "even know what" the meaning of certain widely known industry terms and phrases that they use everyday. Extra points if you manage to do both at once.

2. Chastise the press for not visiting your website. You're the PR person, not the actual source. They are trying to figure out when they can get the interview and, very probably whether it's even worth their time in the first place. They only receive about 50 press releases a day from presumptuous jackasses such as yourself, so definitely get on their case for not visiting your website. That's a great way to move yourself right up the pile and straight into the trash can.

3. When they say they can't do an interview at a certain time, say things like, "Well, you really do need to accept this time and let me tell you why: This is a very important man - he's the VP of our insert-obscure-company-division-here." Journalist know this means, "You should kiss his ass as much as I do." Journalists love to be told to kiss someone's self-important ass. Really, they do.

4. Now the good stuff. Let's say you've found an unusually nice journalist, like me. At this point - trust me - the journalist hates you and has told all the other journalists she knows never to talk to you and to label your email as spam. BUT, she doesn't want to punish the company just because you're a twit and so she schedules an interview. What else can you do to really alienate this person? The absolute next best step is to cancel the interview two minutes before it starts. But don't call to cancel - that allots the journalist too much dignity. Instead, send her an email appointment changing the interview time. Do not acknowledge at all what you have done.

5. If the journalist agrees to reschedule, then you have really got a sucker on your hands. Beat at will. First, make sure the interview is conducted via speaker phone. This will allow you to interrupt the flow of the interview and also ensure that the journalist can't actually hear the answers because the speaker phone keeps cutting out. Be sure to ask lots of snide questions, such as, when the journalist asks the person to repeat what the source says, interrupt "Aren't you recording this?"

Offer further suggestions as to how the journalist can better do her job to your satisfaction. And by all means, make sure to further insinuate that the information they need is 'already in the press release,' since we all know how journalists love to quote from those.

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