Tag Archives: content

13 Easy Tips for Better Storytelling, Content Marketing

Ann Handley, Content Rising, content marketing, Skyword, Tom Gerace, Robert McKee, storytelling, brand journalism, everything the light touches is content, The Lion King

As I like to say, “Stories are everything, and everything is content.” Thanks to Ann Handley for this clever way of putting it, which she shared at Content Rising in Boston.

What’s the difference between a story and a narrative?

Between a story and information?

And what does it mean to run #LikeAGirl?

Such were the questions about 300 content marketers, storytellers and other media pros discussed last week at a conference I attended in Boston. Content Rising, put on by the Boston-based Skyword agency, focused on how to engage audiences with useful, compelling content — articles, video, photos, social media and more. It was one of those energizing experiences you hope for from a professional gathering, with lots of smart people, goodwill and creative energy bouncing around.

I love how events like this get covered now via Twitter. It’s like having a roomful of reporters sharing best quotes and reactions. Here are 13 tweets from the experience that give a pretty good overview of what’s being discussed about content marketing and storytelling these days.

Marketing Stats amid the Media Evolution

Tom Gerace, founder and CEO of Skyword, opened with stats that show brands need to stop interrupting what consumers want and instead become what they want. Take a look at these photos. Marketers believe their work has changed more in the last two years than since the dawn of television. On Facebook, 15 billion pieces of content are posted each month.

Storytelling Tips from a Master

Robert McKee, a screenwriting coach and author on storytelling, shared some thoughts on what  a story is and is not — and pointed out that young adults and teen-agers are too smart for traditional, B.S. marketing that’s little more than bragging.

I love a wise curmudgeon who calls people on their B.S.

Finding Your Voice

Author Ann Handley is always thoughtful, engaging and entertaining. Handley says finding the right tone and voice is the “secret sauce” of effective content marketing.

Look for little opportunities to enliven such traditionally dull, perfunctory spots as the “About Us” page with copy that can be fun and deliver your brand voice.

Finally, A Few Words on Innovation

Dan Pallotta, inventor of multi-day AIDS and breast cancer walks, closed with some inspiring thoughts on innovation.


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6 Content Marketing Conferences to Learn from the Best

I went to Cleveland for a few days last September, and let me tell you, it was one of the best things I did all year.

(Go ahead. Insert Cleveland joke here.)

I decided to attend a conference, Content Marketing World, in a flash of inspiration. I had mulled going earlier, and when a new online friend and industry leader suggested I go, I snagged a cheap flight and a room at the venue hotel, and, before I could say “Get off of my blue suede shoes,” I was in the land of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

As a former journalist working in traditional corporate communications, I was jazzed to see so many examples of how to creatively, purposefully blend the two disciplines and others. With top authors, brands and social media represented, the conference has grown in attendance annually.

Business communicators of all kinds have been turning more and more to storytelling techniques, brand journalism and content marketing, and conferences like this are a great chance to learn from the best and mingle with peers. I stole ideas and made connections in Cleveland — with good, smart people in a supportive environment.

Similar events cover some of the same ground, and maybe this year I’ll plan ahead with one or more of these:

  1. Social Media Marketing World. March 25-27, San Diego. “Discover the best social media marketing techniques from the world’s top experts. Join 2,500 fellow marketers at the mega-conference designed to inspire and empower you with social media marketing ideas—brought to you by Social Media Examiner.”
  2. Create an award-winning newsroom: Boost influence, SEO and media coverage. This PR Daily Webinar is set for April 2. From the link: “The press, public and search engines will give your news massive reach — if your online newsroom features frequent updates and multimedia. Is yours up to speed?”

    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Supremes, Diana Ross

    No trip to Cleveland is complete without a tour of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and seeing what the original Dreamgirls (Diana, Mary and Flo of the Supremes) wore back in the day.

  3. Marketing United. April 29-May 1, Nashville. “The must-attend conference for modern marketers” features authors Ann Handley and Jay Baer, along with many more in Music City, home to the Country Music Hall of Fame. (Take that, Cleveland!)
  4. Creativity, Technology and the Future of Storytelling. “How do you tell amazing stories that are not just good, but inspire your audience, make life more interesting, and turn passive consumers into brand advocates?” May 14 in New York.
  5. Digital Summit Atlanta. May 19-20. “Join Digital Summit Atlanta for two days of leading-edge digital media and marketing content, mixed alongside top-flight networking with Internet execs, online marketers, entrepreneurs and digital strategists.”
  6. Content Marketing World 2015. Sept. 8-11. Cleveland. Yes, I might go back to see Joe Pulizzi, Robert Rose and the rest from the Content Marketing Institute. And not just because I had to race through the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to make my flight back home…

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15 Sure-Fire Ways to Always Have Plenty to Write About

ideas to write about, blog, writing, inspiration, muse, writing techniques, content creation

Elmo, Katy Perry and Charles Dickens can help keep your ideas flowing.

How do you come up with ideas to write about?

It’s a question all writers hear – and sometimes struggle with. And it creates anxiety that keeps would-be writers from getting started.

But there’s no mystery to generating ideas – whether writing at your job, for personal reasons or even in artistic pursuits. And the same applies to creating content of all kinds. Anyone who’s done it for a while knows there’s  no mystery, no magic, no reliance on a muse.

So here are 15 sure-fire ways to keep the ideas coming, inspiration or not. Mix and match with your own to come up with reliable, proven techniques, and apply them as part of your ongoing process. (Even when you don’t want to. That’s why it’s called work, after all.)

  1. Jot them down. Good ideas can come at any time – while you’re driving, trying to sleep, watching TV. And, if you’re like me, you probably won’t remember them later unless you scribble them down on a notebook or make a recording on your smartphone. I compile them later on a Word doc and refer to it regularly.
  2. Tickle yourself. Keep a “tickler file” – either a literal file or something on your computer or phone – of articles, photos or links about things that are coming up that might yield good content. For instance, if your neighborhood organization is hosting a City Councilman, put that in your tickler file – and link it to your calendar for a reminder. This is especially helpful with events that repeat regularly, on a monthly or yearly basis.
  3. Follow the news. That includes niche sources about your topic, profession or industry. You should stay informed, of course, for other reasons. But events and headlines also are great sources of ideas.
  4. What's Tom got to do with it?

    What’s Tom got to do with it?

    That means pop culture and sports. We just had the Super Bowl – one of the biggest sports/cultural/media events ever. Even if you don’t care about football, you should know who played (and won), who performed at halftime, and which commercials blew up Twitter.

  5. Revisit your own content. You should periodically go through your existing content of all kinds, not just articles, and see what you can dust off. Chances are, readers won’t remember that you already covered a topic. And you can easily find a fresh way to top, update or present the information.
  6. Repurpose new stuff, too. Maybe you wrote a long article for your company website that can also be turned into a list for the e-newsletter. Did you have extra material from the Q&A with your CEO that you could put on your company’s internal social media channel?
  7. Read, read, read. Books, magazines, websites. All kinds of things — literature, trade publications, Stephen King, People magazine.
  8. Steal from the best. When you see something you like or find useful, see how you might apply it to your own situation. By the time you tailor it for your needs, you will have made it your own.
  9. timer-15-minutes-18884254Write for 15 minutes. And don’t stop or edit or second-guess. This is favored by a noted songwriting coach in Nashville. He tells students to sit down, with pen and paper (no electronics), and … just. Start. Writing. Let your mind and pen flow freely and, after 15 minutes, you go back and see if you haven’t inadvertently come up with a few good expressions or ideas. Even if you haven’t, it’s a great way to just Shut Up and DO IT. (Write, that is.)
  10. Curate content. We don’t have to write or create everything all the time. Sometimes, it’s best to share what others have written or produced and make a list to share. I did this over the weekend for the Super Bowl and got good traffic. So much content had already been created, and this was an easy way to join the conversation.
  11. Ask your friends and colleagues. You don’t have to say, “I have no idea – help me!” (Although you can do that sometimes.) But talk to people you like and respect, listen to what they’re saying, ask how they might write about a topic or present it in a video or a webinar or whatever.
  12. Get out of the office. Go to community events, conferences, speeches, ballgames – and pay attention. I get great ideas from the monthly luncheons of the Georgia chapter of the  Public Relations Society of America. The panels are interesting, the speakers diverse, and the audience smart and curious. Your topic, business and audience will present similar sources.
  13. Remember the basics. Always ask yourself: What am I trying to say? To whom? And why? That will help you focus, which will help you think of ideas.
  14. Find freedom in boundaries. Your boss or client wants the content delivered on time and on budget, and it has to include some key elements? Awesome. Within parameters, even those we set for ourselves, we can find great freedom to create. It forces us to focus on what is possible, not what might be ideal.
  15. Do one thing different. Try a different grocery store. Watch a different news program. Toss the football instead of a Frisbee with your kid. It doesn’t really matter what. But you’ll be amazed how even the smallest new experience can help you look at things in a new way.

27 Writing, Editing Tips for Better Content

Never Say Never, Sean Connery, things to never write or say, jay croft, storycroft, atlanta, communications,

Never, Mr. Bond?

We talk a lot about storytelling and content in business communications, marketing, websites and social media. The conversation is often about the Big Picture, and that’s important, of course. But strategies and UX studies won’t help us if our content isn’t as good as it can be.

Even the little things can turn people off.

If you want your content consumed, understood and shared, here are 27 things you must never do.

 

 

1. Never start a communications project without knowing what you’re trying to say, to whom and why. Talk it out.

2. Never oversell. In headlines and links, don’t promise too much excitement or information. (Nobody likes click bait.) In text, avoid overused adjectives like “amazing,” exclamation points and all-caps.

3. Never assume people already know what you’re sharing about. Or where your photo was shot. Or why they should keep watching your video.

4. Never be needlessly negative. It’s easy to be snarky. But it’s better to be useful and helpful.

5. Never forget to do basic research or to confirm what you’ve heard or read. In the Internet age, we’re all instant experts on everything. Except that we’re not. And you don’t want to be caught reacting to something that turns out to be a hoax.

Grammar meme6. Never let a reader doubt you know “it’s” from “its” or “your” from “you’re.”

7. Never dump your notebook. You have to make choices. You have to focus.

8. Never try to turn perfectly fine verbs into nouns. “Ask” is something you do, not something you add to an agenda. And it’s the same thing in reverse. When discussing a challenge, do not say, “The way we’re going to solution that problem…”

9. Never start a sentence with “I think” or “I feel” or “I believe.” If you write those phrases, see how the sentence reads or sounds without them. Better, almost always.

10. Never say “uh,” “like” or “you know” too much. Or this new entry into the genre, “again,” when you are not actually repeating anything. I’m not sure when that one became common. Listen for it. Let me know if you notice it.

11. Never waste space by metaphorically clearing your throat. Sometimes we want to warm up for a while, back into a story or a point before stating our business. It’s natural sometimes, so go ahead and write all that you need to. And then delete it.

12. Never write headlines full of words that can be verbs and nouns. Readers don’t want to struggle to make sense of a headline.

kill-your-darlings-150x15013. Never fall in love with a phrase, design or image for its own sake. You’ve heard the expression “Kill your darlings.” Yep. You gotta.

14. Never forget to follow a style guide. AP, Chicago, whatever. Consistency is key. It also helps you write faster.

15. Never publish without having proofread, paying special attention to figures and proper nouns.

16. Never confuse proofreading with editing. Do both or find someone who can. (Here are some tips from a master.)

17. Never write or say anything like, “As anyone who knows me can tell you…”

18. Never get political unless that’s your point. Why turn off a substantial portion of your audience?

26715619. Never use too many figures in a sentence or paragraph. Break them up or put them into a graphic, chart or link.

20. Never be crass or vulgar. Avoid using profanity and showing skin. Even in a tweet or status update.

21. Never use a new digital tool just to show that you can. Or publish images or quotes or outrageous things just because you can.

22. Never undermine your presentation with heavy-handed marketing. Ease up and let the content do its thing.

23. Never tell me something is ironic. Especially if you graduated from the Alanis Morissette School for Wayward Pop Stars.

24. Never pile on the acronyms. It’s like saying, “Call that guy about the place where they have the thing and tell him what I’m thinking.”

25. Never call a car crash tragic. Never call the natural death of an old person tragic. Never call something tragic unless it actually is. And then make sure you have a good reason for pointing it out.

26. Never use upspeak. If it’s not a question, don’t say it like it is.

27.  Never say never? Never.


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Dazzling Diversity: 6 Exciting Examples of Visual Storytelling

One of the great things about visual storytelling online is the diversity of sources, styles and lengths you find every day. Some are meant to inform, some to drive business and some to amuse.

Here are six that caught my eye recently. They illustrate just a bit of the inspiring range available to us, no matter what story we’re telling or why.

Plus, they’re fun.

Enjoy these, and share some examples you’ve seen or produced.

New-York-Times-Temperature-Rising1. Temperature Rising – Flipboard, The New York Times. Just one example of a publication putting Flipboard to great use. The Times presents stunning photography and great reporting in the magazine-like display, so the sweep of its coverage is relevant, manageable and engaging.

2. Four Seasons Magazine.com – by Pace. I love everything that comes out of Pace, the award-winning digital marketing agency based in Greensboro, N.C. And this digital magazine is not only beautiful, smart and useful — but Pace is finding measurable success with its multi-channel content programs.

vatican, sistene chapel, virtual tour3. Virtual Tour of the Sistene Chapel – by The Vatican. Yes, The Vatican presents this dazzling interactive look at one of the world’s most dazzling buildings, with zoomable and 360-degree views. Nice intro here at venturebeat.com.

4. “Not a Bad Thing” music video – by Justin Timberlake. The singer asked fans to tweet him about their own love stories using hashtag #notabadlovestory — and he incorporated dozens into his latest release.

5. A ‘Field of Dreams’ for Anchorage’s Rugby Players – video on Alaska Dispatch. Beautiful scenery, odd house, harebrained idea. Alaska will never be a rugby base. But so what? It’s Alaska — beautiful, odd and home to a few harebrained ideas.

Brad-Paisley-Westboro6. Brad Paisley’s selfie. The Westboro Baptist Church infamously protests funerals of U.S. soldiers and gay or gay-friendly people. When Paisley, one of country’s biggest stars for many years,  found his own concert to be targeted, he decided to take a pre-concert photo and share it on Instagram.

 

 

 

 


 

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And Now a Word about Words: 6 Useful Points on Storytelling, Content, Brand Journalism…

Jay Croft, Atlanta, writer, newspaper, Journal-Constitution, Cox Enterprises, storytelling, corporate communications, content, gay, pop culture, movies, music, TV, Poncey-Highland, Virginia-Highland, Inman Park, Old Fourth Ward, who is a good writer in Atlanta, public relations, marketing, social media expert

Jay Croft

I used to be a journalist. Hard-news reporter, then a website and features editor. At daily newspapers, for a long time. Later, in corporate communications, I learned how to create and share information in a corporate setting.

Today, communicators in businesses, social media, public relations and marketing like to talk about content, storytelling and brand journalism. Which is great — because I love it all and it makes complete sense within broader technological and economic changes in our line of work — and it makes my dual background ideally useful in today’s communications world.

But terms get tossed around so loosely that I’m not always sure everyone’s using the same definitions. Here are a few examples I’ve found recently that state things well. I’ve edited for brevity, redundancies and clarity.

1. From ‘Just What the Hell is Content?’ on Loyalty360.org

Content includes words, images, video, and physical stuff. Content is everywhere. In law firms, it’s in boxes. In architectural firms, it’s made from balsa wood or CAD drawings. At my firm, it’s often in people’s heads.

There’s no difference between a website and content. Why do you have a web site? What’s it for? Or that mobile site? Or that app?

Content is singular in its purpose: to achieve a desired result for as many relevant people as possible.

2. From ‘Content Marketing – What Kind of Content are we Talking about?’ on exploreB2B

The list of possibilities for content you can use in content marketing is literally endless. As the success of content marketing strongly depends on the content you provide, use your imagination. Your content should stand out from the masses, provide something new and unique.

(A list of 10 suggestions follows. Being an old reporter, I like No. 9.)

Interview someone who can give your readers, and possible customers, some insight – use the questions to direct the content into your chosen direction and show with intelligent questions your knowledge on the topic.

3. From ‘The narrative is the thing: the art of corporate storytelling,’ on ZDNet

All the stakeholders of an organization—customers, employees, investors, partners, vendors, and yes, even competitors—are telling some aspect of the story of the brand.

The issue? They’re not always talking about the same thing.

How do you get everyone on the same page? The corporate narrative provides the framework. It is a story that embodies the essence of your business in action, comprised of more than just products and services, and more even than your mission statement. It’s what your company stands for, and how it’s making the world a better place. It’s a story that comprises your strengths AND your weaknesses.

4. From ‘Publishing Is The New Marketing: Epic Content Marketing,’ on  Loyalty360.org

Some businesses think storytelling is about explaining what you sell or telling people what you do. But effective storytelling explains what you do for your customers. The power of stories lies in making the reader and the consumer part of the story.

I wrote the foreword for Joe Pulizzi’s book “Epic Content Marketing.” In it, Joe states that “Publishing is the new marketing.” As it is the only way to “cut through the noise, commotion and bad information that is right now cluttering up your customer’s digital space.”

If we think and act like a publisher, we will create more of the content our customers are looking for. And LESS of the content they ignore. One of the biggest challenges in content marketing is to put the needs of our customers ahead of our own and to tell stories that connect with people.

Identify your potential customers’ top questions. At a minimum, your content should be helpful. Ideally, try to even entertain them.

5. From ‘A Meeting of the Minds: Content Strategy for Great Storytelling,’ from Pace

(This is the best writing I’ve seen on the subject, from the North Carolina-based agency Pace, winner of the 2013 Content Marketing Agency of the Year from the Content Marketing Awards. Do yourself a favor and click through to the white paper. It’s clear, compelling, useful and entertaining.)

What role does content strategy play in content marketing and brand storytelling? How much content strategy does a brand need? And, oh, by the way, what is content strategy?

The Pace approach to content strategy:
At Pace, content strategy is the carefully conceived and developed plan by which the substance of a brand message is communicated—in various formats via selected platforms—for the purpose of informing and inspiring a target audience to act, thereby achieving a stated business goal or objective.

The role of content strategy in Pace’s content marketing business:
Our methodology puts content strategy (processes, structures and technology) in the service of content marketing (great storytelling), rather than the other way around.

6. From ‘How is brand journalism different from marketing?’ on shiftcomm.com

You could also make the very valid argument that brands have always used journalism-like tactics to promote their own stuff. Marketers invented the advertorial and infotainment, after all. In those cases, that’s not really journalism so much as paid media. That’s not what brand journalism appears to be, however. We’re seeing brands trying to become the media, and attempt to be true, actual media sources. This is partly what differentiates brand journalism from standard content marketing and inbound marketing – brands are seeking in some cases to become media sources that consumers would choose to consume independently, even if it’s not directly related to the brand’s product offerings. That makes brand journalism a true force to be reckoned with.

(For a world-class example of this, look no further than Atlanta’s own Coca-Cola. Its website is as fun and compelling as those of many general-interest publications, with original content on restaurants gearing up for Valentine’s Day, the Olympics, recipes, sustainability and lots more.)

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Tell ‘Em a Story, Give ‘Em Good Content

“Storytelling” and “content” are buzzwords in business communications, with a lot of articles and studies flooding the blogosphere. Some of it seems obvious (people are more engaged by stories, information with emotional content and resonance, rather than by mere facts or reasoning). Some of it seems a bit mushy – “content” might mean one thing to a marketer, another to someone in employee comms and several other things to people who produce or manage it.

Just today, my Twitter feed brought up two articles making a connection between storytelling and brain function.

As presenters we want people to pay attention, be engaged and remember the message. The key to doing that? Science now says it involves storytelling: Stories stimulate emotions, which may be the key to better learning, attention, memory and decision making.

That’s from an article headlined The Science Behind Storytelling — and Why It Matters on slideshare.  A Forbes article touts the cognitive benefits of reading long-form narrative, like novels.

And this headline/subhead combination from the WSJ brought it home: To Persuade People, Tell Them a Story; Narrative Is a Powerful Way to Get a Message Across.

Finally, Search Engine Journal offers this intriguing post: Leading Experts Predict The Content Marketing Trends for 2014.

We all want to persuade audiences, and storytelling and content will continue to be more important in business in 2014.  Effective storytelling needs good storytellers, who know what a good story is (and isn’t), who can gather information, break it down and present it again in ways that  matter to selected audiences. To have a good story, you need good content, yes — but you also have to know how to present it, to whom and why.

Fun stuff to think about and to tackle in our work, whatever kind of stories we tell.

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