How I overcame my Twitter guilt

I love to blog, argue about serial commas on LinkedIn and find out what my friends are up to on Facebook. But I don’t get Twitter.

I tweet mostly about new posts, which don’t happen frequently enough to stake my territory. I tried to feel more part of the gang by tweeting more about my upcoming book, Write like you talk–only better.

The trouble with Tweetdeck
I even got around to moving to Tweetdeck. Mind you, I have to keep turning it off, as the sounds and flashes interfere with my concentration.

Sadly, I couldn’t stick to my plan to tweet about the book several times a day, excited though I am.

After all, I don’t yet have a place to send people to buy the book, my tweets weren’t all that profound and they didn’t attract many new followers who weren’t looking to hawk nude photos, singles events or other stuff I’m not interested in.

The angst of selling
Besides, I always feel people should come to me and beg me to work, which may be part of the reason my billings were down last year. It’s a miracle I have run my own business for more than 15 years, bought a house and raised two kids, mostly on my own.

I detest hard sales, which is why I love the content marketing philosophy and blogging so much.

So I stopped the buy-my-book tweets.

Still, I felt guilty, like I didn’t measure up to my colleagues who are up there all the time: Donna Papacosta, Sue Horner, Cyrus Mavalwala, Bernard Hellen and more.

The lack of time
I don’t know where they find the time to tweet, let alone do all that reading. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big reader. But by the time I get through my emailed posts and my RSS feeds, the good stuff has already been hyper-tweeted.

Then there’s all the time consumed by clients, book revising, worrying about my son’s dodgy school attendance and the rest of my life.

I’ve told Donna I could spend most of my day exploring her links. Yet she manages to accomplish a lot of billable work and have adventures in the rioting streets of Athens. Must be a super woman.

Breathing easy
I was so relieved when I heard Rob Campbell, aka Smojoe, speak this week. Don’t worry about Twitter, he told our group, the Professional Independent Communicators, a bunch of Toronto writers, designers and other indies who belong to the International Association of Business Communicators. Long exhale.

Blogging is where the action is, Rob insisted. Let me confess I’d heard Rob before and hired him to help me, as he puts it, pimp my blog. The plan is to finally turn this time-sucking labor of love into the money-making machine I require to send my daughter on that school trip to Paris and replace my aqua bathroom fixtures.

The funniest part of his presentation was when he parodied the countless social media seminars you’ve probably attended that start with a call to raise your hand if you’re on Twitter, Facebook etcetera, then a bunch of Power Point-disenhanced stats about how they’ve grown.

What have you sold on Twitter today?
Raised hands and stats are always impressive, but they’d be a lot more meaningful if they were in response to questions about what people have accomplished, aside from another way to work for no money and have fun.

Sure, there are lots of excellent examples of social media spurring sales for beer and other products intended for that consumer demographic. But I agree with Rob that the benefits for many of us have been over-hyped. It’s the tulip-mania of 2010.

Social media I love
I’m sticking with blogging because it’s an amazing showcase for writers like me. It should also help me sell my book and give me a forum to discuss the feedback I receive.

I’m staying with Facebook too. Many of my friends are strictly social and don’t really care what I do for a living. I will continue to resist their pleas about Farmville and Mafia Wars, which don’t interest me at all. But the updates, photos and groups are a great way to stay in touch.

I may even spend more time on LinkedIn. I’ve yet to attract any business that way, but I enjoy connecting with people who have the same interests as me. Maybe I’ll find a group to help me live with the aqua bathroom fixtures a little longer.

I’ll continue to tweet my new posts, after 3.00 p.m. on Friday, as a study Cyrus tweeted advised, when people are goofing off and more likely to read and retweet you.

But that’s it, for now anyways. Twitter, you are the acquaintance I talk to briefly and occasionally, not a friend I’m fired up about hanging out with all the time.

Don’t take that personally, Twitter. It’s all about me, not you.

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Let me entertain you

This post has been updated and moved to http://www.stickycommunication.ca/2010/09/direct-from-hollywood-3-ways-to-write-to-entertain/

Learn about your customer’s subconscious: think of a close friend

This post has been rewritten and moved to. http://www.stickycommunication.ca/2010/11/imagine-what-makes-your-customers-tick/

What do you think about all this writing for work and fun?

Almost everyone is a writer. That’s one of the dramatic changes that computers have created in our work lives.

More recently, the growth of social media has many people writing for pleasure, which had been out of fashion since the telephone was invented.

People are handling the writing themselves for two reasons: (1) With writing volumes so high, most companies save only the most important work for the professionals. Many small businesses try to do it all themselves. (2) Blogging and other social media expect everyone to be their own author.

Recently Darren Rowse at Problogger asked his readers whether they outsource any of their blogging activities.

Only 29 per cent of his nearly 2,200 respondents outsource at all. Writing trailed technical work and design on his list of outsourced activities. He didn’t attach any numbers, though I’ve asked, but I’m assuming that means the vast majority of people write their own blogs.

This suggests that most blogging is done by people whose core competence is not writing. And of course almost everyone on Facebook, Linkedin or other social media does something else for a living.

What are the implications?

Are people getting results and enjoying this writing or is this one of the reasons so many blogs are abandoned? As the people commenting pointed out, the more successful the blog, the more likely are people to outsource.

Are these amateur writers willing to sharpen their skills, much as they would if they started coding their blog? My experience is that the better writers love to learn, but the bad ones are often convinced they’re doing just fine.

Does the ease and brevity mean that micro-blogging will outlive longer blogs?

What writing styles are emerging?

Just as we’re seeing fewer people tweet about what they had for lunch and more about helpful insights and links, will Facebook become less about dull scores and whining and more sparkling updates? Some of my Facebook friends, who aren’t trained writers, create the most intriguing updates. I’m watching you so I can learn.

Will these vast social media archives be mined for posterity, much as personal letters and diaries became part of the literature and history of pre-telephone times?

Lots of questions. Any answers?

How to proofread: advice from a looser

This post has moved to http://www.stickycommunication.ca/2010/06/how-to-proofread-advice-from-a-looser/

May the force be with you

I was talking to a marketing friend Steve Semple about the benefits for people who buy the book I’m working on: All the writing they do at work will become easier and more effective. Simple and straightforward.

But what about the unexpected benefits? he asked.

Huh?

Steve talked about Star Wars, where Luke Skywalker gains the obvious benefits of rescuing the princess and defeating the villain.

The unexpected benefit, Steve pointed out, was learning about the “force,” the energy that binds the galaxy and bestows supernatural powers on those who harness it.

That got me thinking. What is the force for people who write? I don’t mean just the stars who create masterpieces, but writers like me who are good enough to earn a living or the people who write well enough to travel our cyber galaxy, the world wide web.

What are the supernatural powers we gain from harnessing the force?

The force lets me meet new people and build relationships outside of my neighbourhood, family, friends and other groups who dwell in my nook of the earth. It lets me express and spread thoughts and expertise for other people too.

Sometimes the force gives me supernatural powers to help people understand and respect each other. Occasionally I master the force so well I can reveal truths and touch hearts.

I guess the unexpected benefit I’d like to give people through this blog or my book is to introduce them to the force of writing. Very few of us will climb to artistic heights. But better writing can help us all understand each other a little better. That is a Jedi force.

However, we must be aware that, just like in Stars Wars, the force can be used for both good, as in bringing people together or raising awareness and funds for good causes, or bad, as in child pornography, jihadism, fraud and the other evils of the world wide web.

Fortunately, most of us harness the force of writing for good.

So tell me, fellow writers and world wide web travelers, how you do harness the force and what good does that do?

Put your posts on a diet

You’ve written a hot post and your mouse is poised over the Publish button.

Stop right there. Before you can flaunt, you need to cut the fat so those writing muscles can be admired.

You need to shorten the length so readers have fewer words to march through and reorganize ideas so they’re easier for readers to follow.

Some people allow their egos to get in the way here. Sure, much of what you have just written is buff. But you need to get rid of the flab that is covering it.

When I first started working at a daily newspaper, my feelings were hurt when my editor told me to chop my article in half. But the result was much better. In fact, over the years I’ve found cutting my length in half is usually wise advice.

This applies not only to longer writing, but also to quick emails and tweets.

Assume that your readers have too much to read. They will appreciate the brevity. And they’re more likely to understand and remember you if your writing is lean and focused.

Start with individual words that are redundant. For example, why write “free complimentary webinar” when “free” and “complimentary” mean the same thing?

Whack “complimentary” because everyone understands “free” and you won’t misspell it.

You may also find that some weasel words have snuck in from your corporate or technical jargon. Cut them.

Next take a look at your adjectives and adverbs. Are they necessary? Do they help readers understand what you’re saying? Reduce or remove.

And what about fuzzy words? Often several unclear words or phrases can be replaced by one precise term.

In the heating of writing, it’s only natural for some thoughts to slip in where they don’t best belong. Move or exterminate. You might try try pasting all your related ideas under one subheading, then seeing how many can be shed.

In addition to these serious recommendation, I have two easy tricks.

1. Pretend you are being charged for each word you write. That motivates me.

2. Search your document for the word “that.” We need these words more when we’re talking than we write. You may be surprised how much you can reduce your word count this way.

Never, ever try to write to a certain length. Busy readers are turned off by linguistic obesity.

Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about writing better. And showing off that hot post.