Write-able Resolutions for the New Year

NotepadImageGetting more exercise, keeping track of finances better—January is a great time to start a new leaf.

For the past several years, I have suggested to colleagues and clients that they also use the new year to institute a few, small changes to their writing routines. Small changes, big results. Nothing too onerous, some even fun. Consider one or more of the following this year:

  1. Revise one more time. No matter how many times you usually revise something, go through one additional revision. You will catch all sorts of things that otherwise would slip by.
  1. Ask one more person than you usually do for feedback (which means, of course, if you don’t normally ask anyone at all, ask one person). Another set of eyes will give you a fresh perspective.
  1. Attend one literary reading. Bookstores, the Library of Congress, and universities all schedule regular readings by poets and prose writers. I’m not suggesting weekly or even monthly attendance, unless that is what you enjoy doing. Just try one. It is very inspiring.
  1. Read one book about the craft of writing. Two of my favorites are by William Zinsser (On Writing Well and Inventing the Truth).
  1. Write one piece in a genre you have never tried. A poem, an op-ed, a travel article–something you don’t normally try. Make it short. Don’t spend a lot of time on it unless you get inspired. But stretch yourself a bit.
  1. Read one literary classic. Go back to an author of your choice–Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Melville, or any other author that you have been “meaning to get to.”
  1. Bookmark one new reference website that you will actually use. A few possibilities: The Columbia Gazetteer of the World Online, Chicago Manual of Style Online, or the Mayo Clinic, depending on your needs and interests.
  1. Schedule an artist’s date that does not involve words. Those familiar with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way know she suggests a weekly “artist’s date”–a walk in nature, a museum, an interesting shop–to get the creative juices flowing. In this case, help your writing through something visual, musical, or tactile. If weekly sounds too overwhelming, try monthly or quarterly.
  1. Write a letter (not an e-mail) to a friend or family member. You might even consider doing something really daring, like handwriting it.

Do you have another write-able resolution to try? Let me know how it goes!

Content Curation: Make It Work for You

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One of the challenging things in maintaining a blog, distributing a newsletter, or even sending a “how are you doing?” email to a customer is figuring out what to write about. But surprise! You don’t have to create everything from scratch. Instead, rely on content curation. Have you heard the term?
Content curation is “the art of finding and repurposing the best and most relevant content on a specific issue to engage your audience,” according to Alan Rosenblatt, a partner with turner4D in Washington, DC, and expert content curator. He says curation makes sense to “feed the beast” that now includes social media, blogs, websites, email, and other channels. “These channels represent the primary way to interact with audiences,” he said, “and with some of them, you interact with far more people than through any other means.”
He suggests five mission-driven steps when you decide to curate content: Find, Frame, Share, Analyze, Get Results
  • Find an article, website, piece of data, quote, or whatever that would appeal to your target audience
  • Frame it, for example, by writing a little intro or explaining why you are sending the link
  • Share it (see below for some ideas)
  • Analyze by looking at your website traffic, foot traffic into your place of business, or other means
  • Get Results by figuring what worked, what didn’t, what you will do next time, etc.
What should we curate?
Look for content that:
  • Supports your mission
  • Comes from a credible source
  • Is well written, designed, or spoken (for test, graphics, and audio/visual)
  • Is information that your audiences might not otherwise come across.

Example: Your company makes gift baskets. You find an article about what celebrities give to each other over the holidays. Or you are an accountant. You find a nifty checklist with the top deductions tax-payers forget about.

REMINDER: You are curating, not confiscating or plagiarizing! Remember proper attributions!

How do we share it?
Ideally, you use the content in more than one of these channels, depending on your target audiences:
  • Blogs (your own, or as comments on others)
  • Social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
  • Youtube
  • Newsletters
  • Emails
  • Your website
  • Other places your target audiences go to for information.
What do we do with it?
Rosenblatt refers to the importance of the “framing message.” In other words, rather than just post a link, you might:
  • Write a headline and short introductory sentence so people know why you chose to share it
  • Extract the main points for a blog post or newsletter article
  • Compose a tweet, with a link to the article

Depending on the audience and channel, you might come up with a catchy or a more serious phrase. Also, consider a call to action, or what you want the audience to do as a result–share it further, give you a call, etc.

How do we sustain our curation strategy?
  • Set do-able goals. You can’t share everything, nor would your audience welcome it. Maybe 3 curated pieces per week as an initial goal? (or less or more, depending on what you can do on a sustainable basis).
  • Use technology for the tasks that can be automated, such as gathering external content from which to select, scheduling Tweets, and other aids.
If this hasn’t convinced you…

“Content curation is one of the most important strategic questions a campaign must deal with,” Rosenblatt told me. “If interaction is valuable to your organization, then it is your mission to make sure you are doing it well. Content curation is an essential part of that.”

What has worked for you–or not worked? Leave a comment, and let me know.

 

Editorial Calendars for All

You launched a blog, a newsletter, or Twitter account. You had some great topic ideas, and you wrote with great gusto for a week. Then…nothing.

Calendar Work got busy. Sitting down to come up with an idea and writing about it was too daunting. You abandoned it, even though you know it would be a great way to market your business.

But here’s a great way to sustain your effort: An editorial calendar. A what? An editorial calendar is a tool to plan for periodic, relevant, and channel-appropriate communications with your target audiences. You can use one of the many calendar templates available online (including through WordPress, the site of this blog), but you can also create a simple spreadsheet or list. The key is not what it looks like, but how you use it over time.

I use a very simple editorial calendar for my e-newsletter—and have managed to put together an issue every month for more than five years.

Recently, I talked with Dori Kelner, managing partner of Sleight-of-Hand Studios, about how she works with organizations to set up and adhere to an editorial calendar.

Audience and Goals

According to Kelner, basic questions come first:

  • Your target audience(s)
  • Your business objectives
  • Issues that are of interest to them (and not just what you want them to know about you!)
  • Channel(s) to best reach them (blog, Twitter, newsletter, etc.), ideally based on research.

Content can be static (for example, About Us or Contact Us on your website) or dynamic (blogs with new postings, tweets, Facebook posts, and the like). Most content these days should be dynamic. That’s where the calendar comes in.

Creating the Calendar

Using the format that works best for you, develop a calendar of how you will review and update/change the static content (maybe quarterly) and create dynamic content (way more often). Consider:

  • Which channels to regularly use, based on your audiences
  • How often to create (or curate) content
  • Topics
  • Who will do it

Kelner recommends a 4-month planning horizon. Be specific in your dates and assignments. Don’t propose, for example, twice-weekly blog postings. Instead, write out which dates each week, the general topics, and who will write them.

Be realistic, based on available resources. For instance, if you can’t keep up a weekly newsletter, make it biweekly or monthly. Use tools such as Twuffer to schedule tweets that you write in the morning over the course of the day.  

Keeping the Calendar

This is tricky, but it’s why the specificity of a calendar is your friend.

Honor the dates on your calendar as you do other project deadlines. Depending on the size of your business, you may be doing all the content yourself or coordinating the work of others. Either way requires time and attention.

And here’s another important part, Kelner said. Don’t run through the 4 months, then come to a full stop. At the end of the first month, plan for month 5, and so on, so you always have a flow ahead of you, and the task is more manageable.

Tracking

Use analytics to see any changes in traffic to your website. Chances are, if you are true to your calendar, you’ll see spikes in traffic when you post new content and dips when you are AWOL.

p.s. I will be blogging monthly on writing topics that are relevant to small businesses. Yes, I have set up an editorial calendar, but leave a comment here if you have a question or topic you would like me to cover that would benefit you.