The Most Important Thing You’ll Write

In a recent article Chris Brogan Mentions the most important part of Twitter is to reply as often as you can. I’d like to expand o this, a bit.

If you have a blog I’m sure you’ve spent a sizable percentage of time (that you should be using to develop content) looking at you analytics page – how many views did the site get, where did they come from. But consider an interesting social behavior. Most people, as they bump past each other and make first and subsequent impressions, are thinking one thing. They are focussed on what others are thinking of them. Imagine an entire room filled with people caught in the ironic conundrum that as each one worries about what others are think of him/her – those others are just concerned with how they’re coming off to someone else. No one actually focusing on that scuff on your shoe, or whether that tie makes you look serious or or out of fashion, they are only focused on their own shoes and their own ties. In these situations the individuals that see the irony and stop focusing on themselves are able to focus on more important goals.

The Same goes for online communities. Staring at your statistics page will get you nowhere. The only way to really get your page out there in front of people is to give them a reason to notice you. start looking at other blogs, reply to what others have posted on their page. Make other people your focus, and have something interesting to say in reply to their posts, eventually they’ll start reciprocating, and more so, many of their readers may start to take notice of you as well.

By avoiding the neurotic self counting and just getting out there, you’ll be in a better place to have people wondering what you think about them.

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Structured Writing

When I was going through School – Jr. High / High School – Those years were you begin to learn about life, love, why it’s important to wash your face and wear deodorant in public, part of my education that I remember very well is the art of the Five Paragraph Essay. The idea is a structured method of writing that guides you’re composition, It’s actually not a bad idea if writing doesn’t come naturally to you or if you’re just at a loss on how to approach your topic. But if your going to use a structured composition method I have a few idea’s to help you step away from the formality of structured writing, and to give your content a little more of you.

Someone Said It Better.
I remember being told that you should start your writing with an “attention getter” an often recommended example was quoting another author. This is touchy – I often use quotes in my writing, but there are better and worse ways to use a quote. Here’s a general suggestion that I feel comfortable giving to other writers. Attention getters supposedly pull the reader in, but using a block of text from someone else, can take the focus away from your thoughts and advice. If you have to spend the rest of your composition living up to that first text block, we won’t get to all that you have to say.

Try something small – a song lyric, a common turn of phrase, a line from the Simpsons – and reinterpret it in a way that helps make your point.

Take a Stance; Are You for, or Against.
This goes to the argumentative structure of composition writing, and it’s ingrained in our culture. We value the knowledge of experts, and experts know the answer.
But few of us are experts, most people are muddled and curious about the best answer. don’t try to play the expert all of the time – if the basis for your content is that it “seems to be” to you, or that it has worked in your experience – then go with that – you don’t need to tell people how it is, it’s okay to let them know how you feel. In a conversation people don’t want a lecturer, and when becoming part of a community, conversation is what you want to foster (exception to this is in cases like Wikipedia; you should know your material if you contribute to that venue). When you are speaking to people, you will want to develop trust. Trust comes from developing what your audience is looking for, whether it’s your story, your advice, or your expertise – in short your readers are not always looking for the expert advice – you can be open, honest, even unsure, and you can ask for advice or a better idea while you’re giving advice to others.

There is a write way to write and a wrong way.
There is no way to respond to that. Saying that it is wrong, is to clearly state that there is a right way to write. But in light of what I was taught in school I will say that I was never taught to believe in my own voice as a writer – and voice is one of the most important things I’ve found. Even research papers have voice – though generally the pressure is to use the academic voice – But what about your voice – the voice the yells when Lebron dunks (do we still call it dunking?), the voice that talks back at the radio announcer in the car? doesn’t that voice have anything important to say?

Yes.

There is a reason why the fiction sections are in the center of barns and noble, the how to books “for dummies” do well, and why the new york times best seller is rarely that no nonsense masters thesis on the mating habits of mice… it’s because most people don’t want a text book. people take more interest when someone speaks on their level. present your information, but don’t talk down to your readers – talk to them and talk with them.

A Single Second

I went online today with the express intention of checking things out the local business administration’s web site – They’ve made a lot of improvements since I last looked. While exploring, I came across a link to Plow Creek Farm, at first glance I didn’t think much, but then a single big, blue sentence caught my attention…

“It’s Blueberry Season!”

And I thought, “Hey, someone is updating this!”

I then decided to have a look around the rest of the site.

Every second, that someone is looking at your site, that person’s brain (whether they are conscious of it or not) is taking every piece of information you’ve put up and they’re interpreting it (sometimes positively – sometimes not). Ambient Awarenes . No matter what you meant with your content, it can always be read differently and it can prompt action.

In the case of Plow Creek, I knew (in a single second) that blueberries were in season, I assumed (therefore, I KNEW) that Plow Creek sells blueberries, and I also knew that if I didn’t check back to the site, now and then, I may miss something. That Knowledge was enough for me to look at more of the site, and to write about it; I won’t say if I’ll be shopping Plow Creek, but I do love blueberries.

But the situation is not always so positive; i.e. Someone may look at your friend list and decide that you have too many, that and you’ll friend anyone and there won’t be a serious connection. Someone else may decide you have too few, thus you are in in trend enough, and thus not worth their time.

What are people reading when they read your content, and what does it tell them about you?
What does you friend count on your facebook page say about you? What does the Friend count on your LinkedIn page say about you?? What decisions are people making about you, in that one second?

Are you writing to your audience, or are you trying to please everyone?

Traditional Marketing Method : Pre – Mass Marketing

I ran across an older article by Jennifer Laycock. She’s suggesting that Social Media is technologically new, but its not a new concept – its a fantastic point – Much like her grandfather, whom she discusses in her article, I look back on my own family.

The Polish community on the south side of Chicago is very tightly knit. My father, a real estate agent, was very active in that community. He was a member of the local social club (kind of like an Elks Club but all about being Polish). Because he was a fluent English reader/writer/speaker, he translated for the club and handled a lot of the administrative paper work for people – helping people with licenses, visas, permits that kind of thing – He didn’t ask for a return on this, he was happy to help his community. He did get a return, though.

My father was a real estate agent, and his largest client base were the Polish community members whom he had helped in other ways. They trusted him because he gave to the community. He didn’t broker deals without a commission, that was business, but he brought his knowledge and commitment to the community in his off time, and people trusted him. That’s why they chose to do business with him, that’s why they recommended him to friends and family.

This is something to remember about trying to use social media to market yourself. Walking into a community and trying to solicit business is obvious. Showing up with an agenda and posting off topic info about yourself, or your business, is a perfect way called out for trolling. It’s all about fostering trust and respect. It’s about bringing something to the community whether or not people buy from you. The first question you should ask yourself when trying to tackle social media for your business is whether or not there is a community out there that could benefit from doing business with you. Next ask yourself if you have the commitment to want to be involved in the community or do you just want show them your billboard.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor…

I may be dating myself with the title reference, but I grew up on the classics – Sesame Street, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, pretty much anything channel 11 “WTTW Chicago” had to offer. So much so that I think the “WTTW Chicago” litany has become reflexive when I say channel 11 …

WTTW Chicago :-/

I’m sure those of you who remember our cardigan and sweater vest donning show host will remember his trademark line of, “won’t you be my neighbor.” I don’t think I ever thought much of the line’s meaning and when I did I assumed he just wanted me to watch his show, or move into the flat next to his. But this morning as I’m rereading my copy of groundswell I began to reconsider the meaning of “Please, Won’t you be my neighbor.”

In the Groundswell, Li and Bernoff Discuss the AFOL community online and how Lego has encouraged and nurtured the community’s presence. This Makes sense doesn’t it find the people who like what you do and develop a relationship with them. But what about those people who are over in left field; They like writing, and rock climbing, and video games and they aren’t toting what your company is all about?

Here’s where the tag line comes in. You’re already in the community, your company has a web presence, articles about you are being posted at dig, you come up on the Google News feeds (hopefully), and sometimes people you don’t know are talking about you (for better or worse). Your house is just down the street, and it may be time to start being a neighbor, a good neighbor; the kind that waves to others while walking the dog – the one that shows interest in the left fielders. But how do we do this?

Well is there someone in your organization who handles you social presence? Are there people in your organization who like video games, and rock climbing, and writing who you are willing to let get involved in those conversations while still representing you company? You don’t need to offer these left fielders anything, you don’t need to finance their next rock climbing trip, or sponsor them, you don’t need them to talk about you either. Being a good neighbor means showing interest in people other than yourself. Be involved. Please, won’t you be their neighbor.

Take It Seriously… if you won’t, we wont.

I recently came upon the facebook presence of a local organization. I realize that dust doesn’t really collect on a web page, but in some ways it does. This page lacked any significant posts over the course of the past few months, leaving old posts (dated and time stamped) lying around with little activity (dust). in addition to this some of the hyperlinks linked to places that, it could be guessed, were supposed to go somewhere relevant, but someone hadn’t bothered to check. It was as if something useless was left lying around (clutter).

The whole page gave me a sense that someone, whoever was running it, wasn’t really doing their job. Items of little relevance were scattered about, and the dust was settling.

This brings up a good point, and I know I have at times been guilty of this. The presence of an entity, or brand online, is like being a crowded room. Everybody is moving about, interacting. When your page is left to settle in the dust, it’s like you haven’t changed clothes or showered in weeks. You have nothing new to say, and there is probably a stale smell around you.

Sit there long enough and not only will a lot of people stop paying attention to you, but you may attract the wrong crowd; Metaphoric kids with markets are likely to stop by and draw on you, and you won’t be able to stop them, because you’re not paying attention; you haven’t paid attention in months. Even your friends will ignore the random comments and jokes that prankster are free to write on you, because your friends have stopped checking up on you.

Ok, so I get a little metaphor happy. What I am saying though, is that a facebook of twitter page, a blog, or a website – or even a store front is part of what makes up your identity. When you stop paying attention and keeping things in order, your audience stops listening; and here is what you have to remember… We’re not going to come to you and say, “hey, shape up,” if we do, you’re very lucky, because it’s rare that your directly told even when your doing it right.

Non of that should discourage you. As a person, commercial entity, or public figure, whatever you are, you need to work your identity because it’s important to you. When you don’t care… why should we.