Category Archives: Writing

Content Crash Course: 25 Ways to Create Content Your Customers Want

I’m happy to announce that our latest ebook is now available! Content Crash Course: 25 Ways to Create Content Your Customers Want is available for your Kindle or Kindle app.

Why buy it? Well, if you are in a position where you need to create, maintain, review, or otherwise work with content, you’ll find some great tips you can use right away. The book gives you 25 in-depth tips to help you create strategic, successful content that meets the goals of your company while making your customers happy. Topics include:

-The Five Steps to Creating Great Content
-Lean Content
-Writing for the Customer
-Creating Great Content with Limited Resources
-Using Content Templates
-Selling Your Boss on the Importance of Content
-Social Media Best Practices
-Content Strategy Resources

…and much more! Check it out here.

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More Ways To Lose Customers: The Latest Social Media Blunders

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/schuminweb/

Photo Courtesy of SchuminWeb

We wrote The Little Book of Social Media to give business owners and marketers real, easy-to-follow tips that will help them provide a great social media experience for their customers. When we were putting together the data for the book, it was disturbing to see in aggregate how many times social media is seriously misused by companies large and small. It seems like every day another company is in the news for a social media-related PR nightmare.

Last week, it was Home Depot and Kellogg’s, two big brands who certainly have the resources to support plenty of great social media content. (It just goes to show you that money does not equal quality.)

In Home Depot’s case, someone (they cited an “agency and Home Depot individual”) tweeted a racist tweet. It was subsequently removed and the agency and employee were both fired, but not before earning Home Depot a lot of unwanted publicity.

In the case of Kellogg’s, the UK branch of the breakfast food company tweeted “1 RT=1 breakfast for a vulnerable child”—an offensive retweet request that seemed to use hungry children as a marketing promotion. The company later clarified that they fund school breakfast programs. 

There are so many easy ways to prevent this type of mistake and avoid the possibility of alienating the people who follow you. Don’t let it happen to your company! Check out my previous post, 10 Ways to Protect Your Reputation on Social Media. Read The Little Book of Social Media (available on Kindle too) for 60+ social media tips, including many pointers on how to manage your company’s reputation and what to do–and not do–when interacting with customers on social media.

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Social Media Tip #1: Do Your Homework

social-media-54536_640The following is an excerpt from our ebook The Little Book of Social Media: 60 Ways to Create a Great Customer Experience. Get the Kindle version now or download the pdf.

1. Do your homework.
Before you jump into social media, there are a few questions you should consider to make sure it’s appropriate for your organization:

  • Is social media a good fit for your company?
    Companies in some industries, like financial services, often shy away from the
    regulatory challenges that arise when you have a direct, public dialogue with
    customers.
  • Are your company politics out of control?
    If every tweet must pass through a committee, you’re better off staying away.
    Customers can sense corporate bureaucracy and condescension.
  • Do you have calm, professional staff members who can manage your
    social media efforts
    ?
    You’ll need great communicators who can write clear, engaging content. And
    they’ll have to be professional enough to interact with thousands of customers.
  • Do you have the resources to keep up a sustained presence?
    Social media is an ongoing commitment that requires content strategy and curation as well as communication and monitoring. Depending on how many sites and platforms you use, you might need one or two full-time employees, or you may need to share the responsibilities among members of your team. You may want to invest in some vendor or consulting services to help you set up your accounts and/or buy software that helps you manage and analyze those accounts.
  • Can your current workflow support social media?
    Does your existing content and communications workflow have the flexibility to absorb social media content creation and review? For example, if you already have a writer, an editor, and a legal reviewer for your customer-related communications, can those resources be used to review social media as well?
  • Think about possible legal concerns. Talk with your legal team or, if you run a small company, consult a lawyer about your social media goals and what ways you might have to protect your business. For example, you might post community rules for your social fans and followers regarding the types of content they can post to your pages, or you might create guidelines for how your employees should create and promote social media content (see the rest of our tips for ideas!).

If you don’t have the time and resources to do social media right, don’t do it! It’s better to stay away than to risk damaging your company’s reputation. But if you think social media might be right for you, the next thing to consider is strategy.

We’ll talk more about social media strategy in our next post.

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Disaster Planning for Editors Part II

Web Editors

In last month’s post, I reviewed some of the ways editors can prepare for natural (or national) disasters. This month, let’s take a look at disasters of a very different kind.

Public relations disasters
Public relations disasters are, of course, on a far smaller scale than acts of war or mother nature. PR disasters don’t cause loss of life, but they do cause loss of business, reputation, and possibly revenue. A PR disaster might be a precipitous drop in your company’s stock price, the resignation of a CEO, or a scathing customer review that goes viral. Here are some ways you can prepare ahead of time so when disaster strikes, you’ll be able to react quickly:

  • Think through scenarios. List some scenarios that are likely to happen to your company. Some examples might be: Your company stock sinks; your CEO, owner, or president resigns; stockholders complain about…

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Announcing The Little Book of Social Media!

I’m so excited to announce that The Little Book of Social Media is now available!
tlbsm-book-cover

Every day, more small businesses and non-profits are realizing the benefits of social media. Social media provides an amazing opportunity to build brand and product awareness, attract new customers, and increase sales — and it does all of these things at a substantially lower cost than traditional marketing.

But before you dive in, you need to know the ground rules so you can protect your brand and your customer relationships. This ebook outlines those ground rules in an easy-to-understand, accessible way, with 60 quick tips that you can use immediately.

You’ll find tips on how to:

  • Create a social media strategy
  • Leverage sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram
  • Identify the sites and platforms you’ll want to use
  • Create a content pipeline
  • Protect your reputation
  • Measure success, and more!

To help you start using these tips right away, we’ve also included two downloadable templates that you can customize — a social media strategy and a social media calendar.

Get The Little Book of Social Media now (downloadable pdf).

You can also buy it on Amazon.

Coming soon to the iBookstore!

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10 Ways to Protect Your Reputation on Social Media

Here’s another excerpt from our upcoming eBook, The Little Book of Social Media, coming out at the end of the month.

Misusing social media can severely damage your brand. You must be vigilant. Here are 10 ways you can protect your brand and safeguard your reputation.

1. Respond quickly.
Be on constant watch for questions directed at your Twitter user handle or posted to your Facebook wall. Respond to each one. It’s not just about the people you are interacting with; it’s also about all the other people who are watching how you interact. Use tools like HootSuite or HubSpot’s Social Inbox to help you monitor your social media feeds and make sure you are not missing any mentions or comments. You can also create Twitter lists of your customers and search them for words like “help” and “support.”

Image courtesy of Chris Waits

2. Don’t ignore negative feedback or complaints about bad service.
You are always better off responding quickly to a bad review or a complaint. If you don’t, others will fill the gap – and their messaging won’t be positive. You should respond even before you have an answer, just to let your customers (and the people who are watching your exchange) know that you’re listening and will work to address the problem. As soon as you’ve acknowledged the concern, take the issue out of the public eye by contacting the customer directly. If the customer is a lost cause, at least you will show that you tried to right a wrong, regardless of what the consumer decides to do.

3. Admit mistakes immediately, but don’t delete them.
This seems obvious, but many companies take far too long to apologize for their mistakes when they post something inappropriate. Every minute that goes by increases the possibility of bad PR. If your company made a mistake or showed poor judgment, do not delete the mistake (people will circulate screenshots of the deleted content, so your deletion will seem sneaky or even cowardly). Instead, immediately acknowledge that you messed up, and promise to do better. Take responsibility for your content and what you put out there.

4. Hire and train professional, quick-thinking people.
This may seem like another obvious tip, but you’d be surprised how often a company hires someone to manage their social media based solely on the criteria that the person knows how to use social media. While it’s helpful to already know all the tools and to be immersed in online culture, it is even more important to have the right skills to effectively engage with customers. Not every intern is cut out for social media management! Your social media manager is one of your company’s most public voices, so he or she needs to be professional and cool under fire. They also should have a sense of humor and the ability to deal with customers without acting defensive or passive aggressive.

5. Don’t talk to trolls.
Trolls are people who purposefully post inflammatory and often extreme comments in an effort to get others riled up. Attention is what they want, so don’t provide it. Don’t defend yourself from them and don’t engage in snarky comments about them. Simply enforce your community guidelines and delete any comments that don’t meet those guidelines.

6. Think twice before you sponsor or leverage a hashtag.

Twitter monetizes its service in part by offering companies the opportunity to sponsor hashtags or tweets. Make sure the hashtag you are sponsoring is not too vague or does not have a double meaning; in either case, trolls will jump on the opportunity to turn it into a bashtag (remember the #McDStories debacle?). Similarly, make sure you know why a hashtag is trending before you jump on it as an opportunity to promote your company or product — I bet CelebBoutique wishes they had done that.

7. Tweet from the right account.
This mistake is easy to make, but its effects can be hard to undo. Several companies, including KitchenAid and StubHub, have learned the hard way that it is critical that their social media managers be vigilant about keeping work and personal social media accounts separate. Each company had to issue a public apology when their social media teams posted personal (and offensive) tweets from their corporate Twitter accounts. A mistake like this really exposes your brand to not only negative attention but also a sense of mistrust – who is really behind your tweets and are they the nice people they seem to be?

8. Don’t talk politics or religion.
It’s the same golden rule we abide by in the workplace and with people we don’t know well: don’t talk about politics or religion. Unless you are an organization with a known political or religious affiliation, stay away from these touchy subjects. Regardless of your views, you will alienate many of your customers.

9. Have a plan for reacting to national events and negative PR scenarios.
Think through possible scenarios and document a plan for handling each one. Review the plans with your team. Examples might be a national emergency or disaster, a market downturn, a product recall, a scathing customer review, etc. When it comes to national or international events, your best bet is either to say nothing or to offer a simple message of condolence to those affected. Having a plan in place certainly would have helped Epicurious, the company that unwisely responded to the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013 by suggesting that people try their cranberry scone recipe.

10. Make it easy for customers to get in touch, and be available around the clock.
Provide a connection to customer service right through your social media team. Don’t make your customers go looking for customer service, and don’t send them to a 1-800 number. It will mean more work for your team, but that is better than having a customer post a complaint about not being able to reach you. You’ll also need to keep an eye on your accounts and your account management tools (such as the aforementioned HootSuite) around the clock. Divide the off-hours responsibility among team members so nobody is “on call” to check your social media management accounts and management tools every weekend. You don’t want a customer to post a question at 4:59 p.m. on Friday and not get an answer until Monday morning.

For more tips on how to create a great social media experience for your customers, look for The Little Book of Social Media, to be released on July 31st.

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Writing Content that Customers Want

Image courtesy of Kheel Center for Labor Management, Cornell University

The following is an excerpt from our upcoming book, The Little Book of Social Media: 60 Ways to Create an Amazing Customer Experience. I’m excited to say that we will be launching the book next month! In the meantime, here is a sneak peek of one of our tips:

Tip #26. Give them what they want!

Certain content types tend to be more popular with users. Here are some tried-and-true options:

Solve a problem. Is there a common issue your customers face? For example, if you are a pest control company and it’s mosquito season, can you post some tips to help your customers combat mosquitoes or film a video showing customers how to pest-proof their yard?

Teach or educate. Help people learn about something they’re interested in. For example, if you’re a history-related organization, talk about a historical event that happened on this day 100 years ago. Or if you sell foreign language software, post a new vocabulary word or translation each day.

Provide a list. Everyone loves a list (articles that  are made up of lists have become so popular that they have a nickname – “listicles”). Sites like Buzzfeed deal almost exclusively in lists. For example, you might post an article called “5 Ways to Save Money on Your Car” or “The 10 Best TV Comedies.”

Interview someone. Whether your subject is one of your employees or a famous person in your industry, interviews tend to be popular because people are naturally curious about other people.

Use statistics and quotes. Readers often respond to quick, easily digestible facts like statistics about your industry (or about something fun and trivial). Inspirational quotes are also popular.


More stories to share with your fans and followers:

  • Causes or charities your organization supports, and why those causes are important to you.
  • Stories that customers have given you permission to share with others (for example, inspirational stories about overcoming personal adversity or ingenious new uses they have found for your product).
  • Experiences that have inspired your team to be creative or have taught you valuable lessons.
  • Profiles of pioneers in your industry.
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Freelancer’s Tip: Don’t Assume the Door is Closed

Photo credit: UGArdener / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Like many freelancers, I am not a huge fan of the sales process. My least favorite part of the job is finding new work. I’m very good at what I do, but I’m less effective when it comes to telling people that I’m good. But I love my job, and I want to keep it, and that occasionally means reaching out to new people and finding out how I can help them.

A few months ago I had talked to a potential client about a  writing gig, but someone had already  reached out to him and he had just hired this other freelancer. Nevertheless, I  enjoyed the conversation we had, and was glad to have “met” him (via phone, anyway). Lo and behold, three months later, this contact reached out to me for a new project, and now I get to work with him.

The lesson is that you never know what conversation, what email, or what tweet is going to lead to a connection that will later turn into an opportunity. Weeks or months after you’ve put in these efforts, you may still see unexpected results.

And an extra little tip for my fellow introverts out there: focus your conversation on how you can help your client rather than just what your experience is. Making the other person the focus of the conversation is not only good business, it’s also more comfortable for the introvert.

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The Little Book of Social Media – Coming Soon!

For the past several weeks, I’ve been working  (with my husband Brian) on our latest eBook: The Little Book of Social Media. This book is the culmination of many ‘tricks of the trade’ we’ve practiced, learned, or witnessed in our many years of managing interactive projects for various companies and clients.

In the course of my work and my recent experience teaching a college seminar on content strategy, I realized that there was not a short-and-sweet, user-friendly book on the topic. There are some great longer, more marketing theory-focused books on social media and content marketing, and many informative blog posts. But we wanted to create a quick and accessible guide that people could start using right away. The book will also include some templates that readers can download (via our website) to help them get started on their own social media strategies.

Our audience is the small business owner or non-profit worker who might not have a lot of resources, but wants to do this right, and the corporate soldier who is looking for some guidelines to help his or her company get up to speed on this important outlet for marketing and communication. Our book will help these folks understand why social media’s important, what sites they should evaluate first,  what they need to do before they ever tweet their first tweet or pin their first pin, and how they can measure success.

We’re working hard to launch by July 8 – everything is in the editing phase right now. I hope you’ll watch this space for a launch announcement soon!

Happy weekend!

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Five Things I Learned from Publishing My First eBook

It’s been a few months now since I released my first eBook, The Wished-For Country: Stories of American Courage. The book tells the story of heroes like Fannie Lou Hamer and Jacob Riis, people who did risked their lives to help others but who aren’t remembered by many Americans today. This book was a personal obsession that started with a Tumblr account a few years ago and ended up in book form because I wanted to expand on it and create something more permanent. Currently I’m working on a second eBook (about content strategy and management — due to arrive in September) and there are five things I learned from my first eBook publishing experience that will influence my second book:

  • Plan and execute a bigger launch campaign. I promoted The Wished-For Country on my various social media accounts, but I did not plan a proper campaign. Why? Probably because it was a little bit scary to put such a big chunk of my writing out there, but also because I approached my first eBook as a labor of love (which it was), rather than something I was trying to sell. But even a labor of love that comes with no expectations of income deserves a full-on campaign. In this case, I really, really want readers to discover the people I wrote about, because they deserve to be remembered by more people.
  • Give free copies away sooner. I joined the KDP Select program for my first book. As part of this special Amazon program, you can give your book away for free for a few days, which helps spread the word. Now, my book is only $3.99, so I wasn’t sure how much of a difference it would make to make it free for a few days. But when I did it (three months after I published it), more than 1,300 copies were downloaded in three days. That was far more than had been purchased in the months since it had been released. If I had done this when I first launched it (in partnership with a more strategic marketing campaign), I am sure the book would have gained a wider audience.
  • Publish on more platforms. With my first book, I targeted only one platform — Amazon. This was partially so I could try out the KDP Select program (which requires you to publish only on Amazon for the first three months), but also because Amazon is such a monster in the space that I figured it was the one platform I should focus on. Formatting was a bit of a hassle, although I followed video instructions posted on Amazon. Take it from me — don’t follow Amazon’s instructions. Instead, use a guide like Guy Kawasaki’s APE book, and format your manuscript via InDesign so you can easily export it into multiple formats. For my upcoming book, I am going to release it to Amazon, Apple’s iBookstore, and Barnes and Noble, as well as in PDF form on the book’s soon-to-be-published website.
  • Go the extra mile with editing. As a professional writer and editor, I know as well as anyone how important editing is. And while I’m a pretty great editor, I’m not so great at editing my own work. I should know this, since I’m often telling my clients that it’s hard to see mistakes in your own writing. I did review my manuscript several times, and each review was weeks or months apart from the previous review, so I was able to catch most of my errors. But I am sure that I missed some. So this time I am going to have one of my eagle-eyed friends review it and help me make it as great as it can be.
  • Be more confident. There are a lot of eBooks that have been slapped together in a couple of hours, are very poorly written, and adorned with very amateur-looking covers. In contrast, my book, like many others, was put together with care and reflects months of work. But like most of us, I’m uncomfortable blowing my own horn. It feels wrong to try to promote something I’ve created. But it’s okay to be proud of something you’ve put time and care into — and if you don’t talk about it, nobody will discover it!
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