Friday, September 24, 2010

What I do? Problem-solve, mostly.

Q: Tell me more about your work - do you contribute? ghost write or mostly edit/proof? (From a Twitter follower)

A: I mostly help people *develop* compelling content. So the emphasis is on pre-writing, critical thinking, audience analysis, and identifying storytelling elements and news value.

I teach people to restructure their drafts altogether, so that it doesn't resemble what they learned in school. (Essays have their place, but not in a world of information overload.)

Instead, I encourage business professionals and other writers to "tell the story out of order," to give away the punchline, juxtapose unlike items for contrast and subtle tension, and reduce word count by editing content, not words.

Pre-write, restructure, edit differently

If you do a better job of pre-thinking, restructuring and counter-intuitive editing, you'll arrest the attention of skimmers, get heard by an executive who has the attention span of a flea, and get people to respond to your e-mails more quickly.

People will forward your analysis up the chain of command rather than put it in a well-intentioned "read later" pile. People will follow your instructions rather than skip your memo altogether.

I am happiest when creating new classes to solve problems that people weren't sure could be fixed.
Examples of past requests:

  1. We're changing our brand from heavy engineering to consumer-friendly. Can you help our PR, marketing and analyst relations writers make that switch? (Technology used to be for geeks but became more mainstream starting around 2005.)
  2. We want our writers to demonstrate more business acumen when writing for executives and journalists -- do you see a way to do that?
  3. We want people to be self-aware enough to raise their own standards when editing their own work, especially for complex assignments.
  4. How can we meet tight deadlines for press releases when the people who are supposed to provide the content don't get back to us until the last minute?
  5. We want our startup's voice to be a cross between (1) inspiring like Obama, (2) smart and irreverent like Jon Stewart, and (3) approachable like Kari Byron (of Discovery Channel's MythBusters). How would we do that?
  6. Does our writing voice fit our audience? Why are we good at reaching one kind of audience but not another?
  7. Our staff are seasoned professional writers but even they can do better. What would you recommend?
  8. Our staff now have to write for audio and visual formats, but their experience is limited to the written word.
  9. We find ourselves having to re-purpose corporate content for social media and Web use, but it comes out in the wrong tone, lacks zest and is mostly being overlooked. How can we fix that?

Eagle Eye training isn't what you think

I created a two-month training program that teaches copy editors to find what other professionals miss. It's successful in large part because it's unconventional. I teach techniques that I call "brain off," "hot zone" and "professional restraint."

I'm one of the fastest and most accurate editors you'll find anywhere, though I don't always proofread my own work, which brings untold embarrassment. But I am also *not* an advocate of perfect proofreading in high-trust relationships or situations where too much fussing is a waste of time for the purpose at hand.

I'm not a snob. Personally, I don't care if people make mistakes. But I can uphold standards when paid to do so. I'm not one of those people who sneers at a wrong application of whom, lay or less, or who bewails the end of literacy as we know it. I care about content and connection, and most of all about people making progress.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Social media for B2B: Avoid this common marketing mistake

This Slideshare prezo below (by outlines the process very well, but watch out for allocating too little time for content production.

Analyze the audience the way a journalist would

It doesn't matter that you met your content quota (in this example, one e-book per month) if you don't gain traction with your target audience.

Analyze the audience the way a veteran journalist does by looking for:

(1) the unexpected

(2) info needed for decision-making

-- both from the audience's perspective, not the company's. (There's more to that ... much more.)

Give direct access to sources; a fact sheet won't work

Give the content producer direct access to people with direct experience using and developing the product or service.

They need to see demos and do interviews. It's not enough to hand them a fact sheet filled out by marketing staff (HUGE mistake there).

Process the info, don't just fling it

Allow time for an editing process that isn't just "freewriting," which means the putting of words on the page. Or in the case of video, simply uploading what you caught on the flipcam. Instead, leave time for processing the info in a way that permits storytelling, which will hold your audience's attention long enough to get your gist, giving them the time and a reason to identify with the info and -- ideally -- share it with friends.

Enjoy this presentation (below). I particularly like the metrics, which make it easy to quantify success.

Final advice:

(1) Be sure to tie the metrics to business goals, not just outreach goals.

(2) Consider hiring content producers with enough experience to read the direction of ongoing industry debate, so you can better position your company as a thought leader.