Copyblogger http://www.copyblogger.com Content marketing tools and training. Thu, 11 Feb 2016 22:24:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.6 How to Add Suspense to Your Stories and Dramatically Improve Your Content http://www.copyblogger.com/add-suspense/ http://www.copyblogger.com/add-suspense/#comments Thu, 11 Feb 2016 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.copyblogger.com/?p=57164 At a TED conference in 2008, music conductor Benjamin Zander talks about the story of Shakespeare’s well-known play, Hamlet. In Act One, scene three, Hamlet finds out that his uncle killed his father. Now Hamlet must have his revenge. As the play progresses, Hamlet almost kills his uncle, but pulls himself back. He has many
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build anticipation to add interest to your content

At a TED conference in 2008, music conductor Benjamin Zander talks about the story of Shakespeare’s well-known play, Hamlet.

In Act One, scene three, Hamlet finds out that his uncle killed his father. Now Hamlet must have his revenge.

As the play progresses, Hamlet almost kills his uncle, but pulls himself back. He has many opportunities to get rid of his uncle, but somehow doesn’t finish the job.

So, is Hamlet a procrastinator?

“No, otherwise the play would be over, stupid,” Zander says. “That’s why Shakespeare puts all that stuff in Hamlet — Ophelia going mad, the play within the play, Yorick’s skull, and the gravediggers. That’s in order to delay — until Act Five. Then, he can kill him.”

This is the power of suspense in storytelling: the end seems almost inevitable, but then there’s more — to keep the story going.

Let’s explore how this concept can dramatically improve your own storytelling and keep your audience completely focused on your content.

Suspense 101

In the video below, Zander explains how composers structure their music. They know the end point — and the notes they have to put in between the beginning and the end. Yet, they don’t quickly get to the end. Instead, they create suspense.

Zander demonstrates with Chopin’s Prelude, Op. 28, No. 4. in E Minor.

As Zander describes it:

“This is a piece which goes from away to home. I’m going to play it all the way through and you’re going to follow. B, C, B, C, B, C, B — down to A, down to G, down to F. Almost goes to E — but otherwise the play would be over. He goes back up to B; he gets very excited. Goes to F-sharp. Goes to E. It’s the wrong chord. It’s the wrong chord … And finally goes to E, and it’s home.”

In that rapid-fire paragraph, Zander describes how Chopin has created suspense in music.

Chopin knows that the final note has to be an E. He almost gets to the E note — and then pulls away. He does this repeatedly and deliberately, knowing fully well that we know the final note, but we have to wait.

Waiting creates the suspense.

But how do we add suspense to our writing?

Let’s say we want to talk about the power of preparation, and we have a great story about Michael Phelps competing in the men’s 100 metre butterfly event at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Watch how the story unfolds with little bits of suspense. We’re not going to “hit the E note.” We’re putting in tiny elements that force the reader or listener to savor the moment.

Getting from one point to the other may seem to be the goal of the story. After all, the story’s not supposed to hog the spotlight; it’s just an introduction that leads to the main content. And yet, we can’t be frantic while getting to the finish line.

Look for the text in bold to see where the suspense shows up:

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps had a routine.

A few minutes before each race, just as his name was announced, he’d step on the starting block, then step down. He’d swing his arms thrice as he’d always done since he was 12 years old. Then, he’d step on the block, get into position, and when the gun sounded, he’d leap into the pool.

But this was no ordinary pool — this was the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. And it was no ordinary quest for gold. Michael Phelps was aiming for eight gold medals — something no athlete had accomplished at any Olympic games.

However, the moment Phelps hit the water, he knew something was terribly wrong. Water surged through his leaky goggles, blinding him.

As the other swimmers raced alongside him, Phelps was unable to see the bottom of the pool. At the halfway mark, Phelps was trailing behind his arch rival, Milorad Čavić. It looked like Čavić’s threat of beating Phelps in this event was about to come true.

But Phelps isn’t in Beijing anymore.

He’s in a darkened pool — in Michigan — running through his training routine. His coach, Bob Bowman, believed that Phelps needed to be ready for any surprise. He’d trained Phelps how to react to a goggle failure, both physically and mentally.

And now Phelps is back in Beijing, counting the strokes.

Would he need 19 or 20? Or perhaps 21? At 18 strokes, he knew he was near the wall because he could hear the roar of the crowd.

But were they cheering for him or for someone else? He couldn’t tell because he was swimming blind.

Nonetheless, he made a huge surge with his arms outstretched, hitting the Omega touchpad.

Had he won? Or was he in second place?

When Phelps finally looked up at the scoreboard, his face broke into a grin. He beat Čavić by one hundredth of a second.

Phelps had the gold — and a new world record.

Sharpen your story with suspense

Here’s an outline of the story with suspense markers:

  • Suspense
  • Leaky goggles moment
  • Trailing behind Milorad Čavić
  • Back in Michigan
  • Crowd roaring
  • Suspense
  • 19, 20, 21 strokes
  • Hits the touchpad
  • Suspense
  • Gets the gold and world record

It’s an action-packed race to the finish, and yet, at one point there was a severe pullback. Phelps was no longer pounding the water. There was not a spectator in sight. He was back in Michigan, in the darkened pool, away from all the chaos.

That bit — that tiny bit — sharpens the story, doesn’t it?

The reason that part is so magical is because it changes the direction of the story and creates a counterflow.

  • If your story is upbeat and positive, the counterflow is a touch of misery.
  • If your story is all gloom and despair, the contrast surges from hope and happiness.
  • If your story is all speed, the contrast would slow it down to a crawl.

Storytelling is more than just conflict

The moment you create a factor of contrast, you’ve got your audience’s attention. But the moment you add suspense, you take your story to a whole new level.

You do what Shakespeare, Chopin, and many smart creative people have done:

  • You hold back.
  • You hold back.
  • You hold back.
  • And then, finally, you’re home.

How do you use storytelling — analogies, personal stories, and case studies — in your content? Read this excerpt from The Brain Audit to discover how storytelling plays out in everyday content marketing: http://www.psychotactics.com/xbrain

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Why Lazy People Make the Best Content Marketers http://www.copyblogger.com/lazy-content-marketing/ http://www.copyblogger.com/lazy-content-marketing/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2016 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.copyblogger.com/?p=56742 Traditional marketing and content marketing have something important in common. In order to get the business results you want — more leads, sales, and profits — you have to do them consistently over time. In traditional marketing, you don’t place one ad or send out one brochure and think your work is done. And in
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how to be a lazy content marketer

Traditional marketing and content marketing have something important in common.

In order to get the business results you want — more leads, sales, and profits — you have to do them consistently over time.

In traditional marketing, you don’t place one ad or send out one brochure and think your work is done.

And in content marketing, you can’t write five blog posts or record three podcast episodes and expect them to transform your profits.

If you want content to grow your business, you have to produce it regularly. I compared it to a hamster wheel here.

It’s a lot of work, and you have to keep it up. That’s why I recommend adopting the lazy person’s approach to content marketing.

Surprised? There’s a lot we can learn from lazy people.

Lazy people embrace systems that make their lives easier

I’m not one of those people who hops out of bed in the morning, ready to take on the day.

I’m more like one of those people who needs to avoid conversation or writing emails until I have at least one cup of coffee in me.

I wake up groggy and not completely with it. And I’ve learned to work around this with a little system.

In my kitchen, right where I can see it when I walk in, I have all my coffee gear set up in one place. The coffee, the fresh coffee filters, the mugs, and the sweetener options are all within a three-foot radius. When I wake up, I only need to press one button to start the process of making my first cup of coffee.

We can do the same thing with our content marketing.

Once we’ve determined what we need, we can set ourselves up with a content marketing system that minimizes friction and helps us fight any resistance we may feel toward creating content.

Mine looks like this (yours will be different):

  • Capture blog post ideas in an Evernote notebook (called “Blog Post Ideas,” of course)
  • Use mind-mapping software to work out the basic outline of my post
  • Once the outline is set, copy and paste post content into text editing software (I use Byword)
  • Turn off all distractions: email, notifications, anything that will pull me away from writing
  • Fill in the outline and polish until I have a first draft

I’ve used this system for years without change. More on that later.

Lazy people love shortcuts … that work

Sonia Simone has established that most business shortcuts are beneficial for the person who’s trying to sell them to you, but not for you.

“Just add water and serve” shortcuts are all over the web. You’ve seen them. They sound like:

  • “I’m going to hand over (for a price) my exact system for creating five-figure webinars.”
  • “We’ll give you all our templates: just plug in your information and get ready to cash in!”
  • “Discover how to build a six-figure business with my foolproof affiliate marketing system.”

When you see shortcuts like these, we recommend you turn around and begin running in the other direction.

But there’s a different type of shortcut that’s worth talking about. It’s the type of shortcut lazy people create to make their work easier. It includes actions like:

When you find content creation shortcuts that work for you, embrace them and make them part of your process.

Lazy people don’t reinvent the wheel each time they perform a task

I can only imagine how disastrous my mornings would be if I had to deal with a different coffeemaker every time I walked into my kitchen.

Instead of going from groggy to caffeinated within about five minutes, I’d spend 15–20 minutes wandering around my kitchen looking for the user’s manual and trying to figure out where to add the water and coffee grounds.

It’s the same with content creation.

Once you’ve found tools that work for you, resist the urge to try the latest shiny content creation tool.

Tools aren’t magical.

The magic comes from using them consistently over time.

Lazy people put effort where it counts and nowhere else

Let’s put lazy people on a psychoanalyst’s couch just for a moment, shall we?

What’s the true motivation behind their lazy approach to life?

My guess is that they want to expend the minimum amount of effort to get the maximum positive effect.

Lazy people want less work and more results.

A lazy person looks at what’s working and does more of it. And a smart lazy person looks dispassionately at what has not worked, and they stop doing it.

Their attitude is, “If I did my best but this tactic didn’t work, I’m not going to work harder to make it work. I’m ditching it and trying something else!”

Lazy people are starting to sound pretty smart, aren’t they?

Lazy people aren’t really lazy; they’re efficient

Here’s my theory if you haven’t already guessed it:

A lazy approach to content marketing is really smart.

That’s the theme of the book I’m writing right now — the lazy approach to content marketing.

I want to help you discover your own lazy approach to creating effective content so you can get maximum results from minimum effort.

Join me and Jeff Goins for Zero to Book

zerotobook-podcast

If you’ve thought about writing a book, you might be interested in my new podcast.

Jeff Goins is coaching me through the process of writing my first book.

Since I’ve never written a book before, I asked Jeff if he knew someone who I could work with as a coach.

Jeff volunteered himself (lucky me!) and had the brilliant idea to make the book coaching process available to the public for free in the form of a podcast.

If you want to hear a newbie (that would be me) ask an experienced author (that would be Jeff) all the questions a budding book author might have, tune in to Zero to Book.

I’d love to hear your ideas about this lazy approach to content marketing, too. Visit the comments and let’s talk.

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Is Social Media Making Us Dumb? http://www.copyblogger.com/social-media-debate/ http://www.copyblogger.com/social-media-debate/#comments Tue, 09 Feb 2016 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.copyblogger.com/?p=57674 It’s 2016, and Skynet doesn’t need to send Terminators to wipe us out. A new gaming app ought to do the trick. I’ve seen the best minds of my generation destroyed, made starving and hysterical by Kim and Amber posting a selfie. The over-the-top tomfoolery of the current election in the U.S. The crumbling of
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how to stay focused in a world of distraction

It’s 2016, and Skynet doesn’t need to send Terminators to wipe us out. A new gaming app ought to do the trick.

I’ve seen the best minds of my generation destroyed, made starving and hysterical by Kim and Amber posting a selfie.

The over-the-top tomfoolery of the current election in the U.S. The crumbling of even minimal scientific literacy. The Kardashians.

We’re living in a culture that can’t stop asking if it can haz cheezburger, and it is rendering us … stupid.

Right? Wrong? Maybe.

Yes, we are distracted

And yes, that’s a problem.

I asked the most “plugged-in” person I know, Howard Rheingold — he’s Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future, as well as a Studied Lecturer on Virtual Community/Social Media at Stanford — what he thinks about social media distraction.

Here’s what he had to say about it:

It’s legitimate to claim that our use of social media may be making us shallow, and it’s hard to dispute the finding of [the] Pew Internet and American Life survey that one in six Americans admit to bumping into someone or something while texting and walking …

If you’re looking for reason to despair at the future of our civilization, all you need to do is get into a car. The roads are blocked with drivers pulling ever-more random moves while updating Periscope and playing game after game of Dumb Ways to Die, Cruel Irony Edition.

Everyone in my circle has been talking about Cal Newport’s latest book, Deep Work. His core point — that you can excel in many pursuits and professions simply by cultivating an ability to focus — is an intriguing one.

I don’t agree with everything in Newport’s book. His chapter on social media is a little embarrassing. But I think he’s onto something with his focus on … focus.

He’s not alone, of course. As always in times of profound social change, there’s a long list of backlash books, including Nicholas Carr’s lauded The Shallows (which, maybe intentionally, takes its time in getting to the point) as well as more strident polemics like Andrew Keen’s The Internet Is Not the Answer.

Many of the critics worry about permanent brain changes (or damage, depending on your viewpoint) caused by chronic distraction.

We know now that our environment does physically change the brain in significant ways — and, in fact, that technology has always deeply changed us.

Whether or not the worst of these changes are irreversible is hard to say. The science is very new, and it’s a bad internet habit to get overly attached to the latest breathless “reporting” on neuroscience.

But we are getting rewired, and it’s probably a good idea to keep an eye on that.

Yes, social media is a big part of the problem

We have games, and apps, and on-demand information, and hyperlinked text, and all of these are shaping us.

But probably no technology is as guilty of the dark side of distraction as the internet social platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Blab … wherever it is that you like to hang out instead of thinking about something thorny.

Even when they’re valuable, social platforms can gobble a depressing amount of time. Worse is losing time and energy getting into internet squabbles with people who have no commitment to any form of critical thinking.

Note that even Neil DeGrasse Tyson got sucked into a fight about whether or not the earth is round. (Spoiler: Yes.)

We have more access to shocking stupidity than we ever have before. We get to see the outpourings of everyone’s sad, ignorant uncle on Facebook. Entire political candidacies have been based on this.

(And because of confirmation bias, I have my own candidate in mind when I write that … and you have yours when you read it.)

I’m not young enough to be a digital native, but I’ve been online longer than many of them have. (That’s why I sometimes call myself a Social Media Ent.)

I’ve been in online communities since 1989 — and they’ve looked surprisingly similar in all that time. They’ve always taken a lot of time and mental energy, and bickering has always played a bigger role than we might hope.

So should we quit virtual community?

So is the answer to just stay away from online communities altogether? Are they a complete waste of time?

Well … I met Brian Clark online. I met Chris Garrett online. I met Pamela Wilson online.

In fact, I made a digital connection first to every person who works in my company.

Social media platforms (I happen to like Twitter) are the water cooler that lets my distributed company goof off together. I can talk quilting with Andrea, watch for Florida Man sightings with Jess, and promise Jerod $100 if he’ll wear a granny-square sweater vest to our live event in October.

I’ve been a deep participant in a fair number of virtual communities, including granddaddies like The WELL and GEnie.

And from that experience, I can tell you with certainty that digital community is real community.

It allows for shallowness (and so does any church picnic), but it does not require shallowness.

For those who seek deep connections, online communities can be places to share joys and sorrows, argue, make up, form close friendships, find romantic relationships, and help one another grieve.

The internet is not going away

We don’t really get to opt out of a world shaped by distraction, any more than people who lived through the Industrial Revolution could opt out of a world shaped by mass production.

We can control what we do, how we connect, what we choose to adopt or not. But the world is the world. The economy is the economy.

The internet provides opportunities to do things we couldn’t do before. From my Ent-like perspective, the key is to keep paying attention, to take advantage of the benefits, and to cultivate habits that mitigate the damaging aspects.

People have been arguing against the changes brought by revolutionary technologies at least since Socrates decried the newfangled, memory-destroying technology of writing.

Walter Ong wrote that, despite the beauty and artistry of oral culture, written language is:

… absolutely necessary for the development not only of science but also of history, philosophy, explicative understanding of literature and of any art, and indeed for the explanation of language (including oral speech) itself … Writing heightens consciousness.

There’s every reason to think that internet-enabled culture will do the same, but we will surely lose something along the way — just as we did when we moved from an oral to a written culture.

The power (and tyranny) of options

There’s one point about social media that I’ll agree with the critics on: if you don’t find it valuable, you don’t have to be there.

There are plenty of experts who insist that we “have to be” on social media to promote a business or expand our professional networks.

But you don’t. If you don’t find value on the social web, don’t participate. If you have other rich and meaningful communities in your life, spend your time there. The powerful value of choice is … choice. We get to decide if it adds or subtracts.

You can follow Neal Stephenson’s example, which Cal Newport makes a great deal of, and stay off Twitter so you can focus on your work.

Or you can follow Neil Gaiman’s (or Salman Rushdie’s, or Margaret Atwood’s, or Gary Shteyngart’s, or Susan Orleans’s, or Augusten Burroughs’s, or … you get the picture) example and participate in a way that respects your creative output.

Even better, you get to cherry pick the technologies that serve you.

Ned Ludd, the 18th-century weaver whose name survives in the word Luddite, didn’t have the option of opting out. The industrial revolution was coming for his industry and his fellow artisans no matter what he did. He had no way to take control of the ultra costly means of production.

Today, as Brian Clark has said, the means of production are between our ears.

Here’s the rest of what Howard Rheingold had to say:

The technology itself may afford distraction, offer an opportunity for shallow thinking, but does not in itself force anything. The key is know-how: Look at your child, not your phone, when he or she is talking to you! And teach your children to pay attention to where they are directing their attention.

You have a luxury that few people on this planet have ever enjoyed before you. You don’t have to be born with a lot of money or means. You just have to choose — how (and whether) you’ll work with the new technology.

How not to haz the dumb

Man, it really feels like we’re getting a lot stupider as a culture.

Oddly, the evidence doesn’t support that conclusion. IQ appears to be steadily rising, a phenomenon sometimes called the Flynn Effect.

People living in the past just weren’t as smart as we think they were.

The San Francisco Chronicle had this to say about Nicolas Carr’s book:

This is a lovely story well told — an ode to a quieter, less frenetic time when reading was more than skimming and thought was more than mere recitation.

But our views of a rosy past are nearly always nostalgic fiction. The leisurely deep reader was always an anomaly.

Trust me, I was this person. Even at university, I was the oddball who read too much and earnestly flung myself into texts asking myself what it meant. I was lucky enough to find my tribe of fellow geeks and readers — and I found them online.

Facebook and the other social sites expose us to more outright dumb statements and expressions, but those folks were presumably always that dumb. We just didn’t get wind of it before.

Which was, I’ll admit, kind of nice.

I’d like to propose ten “rules” (really just suggestions) I follow to get the best from the social web, while protecting my ability to focus and work. I hope you’ll find some or all of them useful.

#1: Schedule your distraction time

This smart suggestion comes from Newport’s Deep Work, and I’m getting a lot out of it.

You’re probably doing at least some time-blocking now, to schedule periods when you work on more focused projects. (If you aren’t, you should start.)

Newport suggests you also schedule the time when you’re going to take your “shallow” breaks — whether it’s to surf YouTube, log onto social media, build the Empire State Building in Minecraft or Lego, or whatever floats your relaxation boat.

Putting time boundaries around social media is a fantastic way to keep your connections without losing every minute of your productive time.

(By the way, I’ve been looking at apps to manage this for me — there’s no sense burning self-control when I can let the machine enforce the boundaries. So far I haven’t found one that’s just right, but if you have one you love, let us know in the comments!)

#2: Keep your phone in your pocket

This one is also from Newport, and it’s advanced — but it’s worth it.

When you’re waiting in line, waiting to get your meal at a restaurant, or (please) waiting at a red light … resist the urge to reach for your phone.

Let yourself be a tiny bit bored for a minute or two. Pay attention to what’s going on around you.

If you get truly desperate you might even have a conversation with the human being next to you.

Filling every second up with distraction will eventually turn you into an overgrown toddler who can’t tolerate even a moment of boredom or mental discomfort. And that is not a powerful person.

If you’re going out of your mind trying to figure out how to spend those three minutes, you can always do some mindfulness breathing.

The more panicked you’re getting thinking about doing this, the more you probably need to.

#3: Adopt the FFS rule

I have a social media rule that I use to keep out of flat-earth conversations. I call it the FFS Rule.

(That stands for For Freya’s Sake, of course.)

The first time I see something online (Facebook is the worst offender for me) that makes me say, “Oh FFS,” it’s time to log off.

If something genuinely egregious is happening, instead of getting into social media flame wars over it, write a letter to a legislator. Or find an organization that’s working to fix the Bad Thing and volunteer some time. Or even write a blog post or record a podcast.

Flame wars don’t change people’s minds; they just entrench everyone involved in their own smug funk of righteousness.

#4: Develop a critical thinking habit

“Do your research” is the “I know you are but what am I” of the 21st century. – My husband

The web offers an endless supply of nonsense — and we need our sharpest critical thinking skills to protect ourselves from foolishness.

When you see something compelling online, ask yourself, always, “What is the source of that statement and why should I find it credible?”

By the way, you’ll want to double down on any expressions that agree with your own biases. If it’s a statement that seems profoundly true to you, it’s worth a second and third look to make sure you’re evaluating the source fairly.

(Even then, you’ll be subject to confirmation bias. Recognize it.)

There are no reliable gatekeepers checking the facts for you. You’re responsible now for what you choose to find credible.

The ability to reserve judgment, to weigh the evidence, and to change your mind based on new evidence is a superpower. Grab it.

#5: Take advantage of opportunities to educate yourself

No, Google University doesn’t count.

But there are a lot of credible, deep resources that will allow us to study serious topics without enrolling in a university.

Maybe you’re like my real estate agent, who watches MOOCs on brain science in her spare time.

Or maybe you’d benefit from working on a “Personal MBA” under the guidance of Josh Kaufman, and sparing yourself the six-figure college debt.

There’s a juicy world of learning available to you. Go get it.

#6: Seek out meatspace

The online world can be rich and robust, but it is not the physical world. (Or “meatspace,” as my dorky virtual community friends have called it.)

When you can combine the two, the real power starts to kick in. If you can make a face-to-face connection with the people you know online, you’ll deepen the relationships and open up new possibilities.

If you’re energetic and ambitious, you can do without it. Jon Morrow and I became friends online and have never met face to face, because he has issues that prevent him from doing a lot of traveling.

But meatspace brings a nice depth if it’s an option.

#7: Explore analog options

It’s fun living inside the Matrix and all, but it’s also useful to venture into the world of physical objects.

Learn to change a tire. Cook. Use a pen and paper. Grow a little garden.

Virtual tools can be wonderful, but keep a few analog tools as well.

You don’t have to give up your Kindle, but consider keeping a commonplace book and rewriting your Kindle highlights out by hand, to hit some more synapses.

Read physical books sometimes.

In fact,

#8: Read books

Nicholas Carr’s book opens with a somewhat shocking account of the many university professors he knows who don’t read books any more.

Read books. Not because it’s “good for you” or somehow virtuous — but because it’s a rare and cheap pleasure that makes you smarter and makes you happy.

Most people who don’t read books think there’s something they’re “supposed” to be reading. If you don’t like business books or 800-page biographies or “serious literature” — don’t read them.

If Harry Potter or Percy Jackson turn your crank, go for it. (Let’s face it, they’re terrific.)

But a book can pull you in and immerse you in a world of ideas like nothing else can.

If your attention span is too fragmented for books, don’t just switch to podcasts and magazine articles. Read books in short bursts. Sit down for a few minutes at a time (set a timer). Keep nudging the time up.

Podcasts are great, videos are great, Wikipedia is great. But as a wonderfully pleasurable way to train yourself to think more deeply, nothing replaces books.

#9: Practice mindfulness

It’s probably not a coincidence that mindfulness is having a major moment at the same time that our attention spans are atomizing.

Meditation or mindfulness practice are excellent training to improve your ability to focus. They also build a habit of setting aside distraction for the reality in front of you.

You don’t need to meditate for hours a day to get benefits, but I do recommend a simple daily breathing practice, rather than the pre-recorded “guided meditations” that are popular on some of the meditation apps. There’s nothing wrong with those, but regular doses of simple, straight-up breathing meditation will help counter the effects of the distraction revolution. (And if you’re too antsy to sit, walking meditation can be a great alternative.)

For an introduction to the idea of mindfulness practice, I found Dan Harris’s 10% Happier to be both readable and useful.

#10: Crack open your gurus

The word guru just means teacher.

But in the West, we have a history of getting into trouble when we try to create infallible beings out of the people who teach us.

Around the Copyblogger virtual office, a lot of us are reading that latest Cal Newport book … but there are a few places where I think he gets it all wrong. And that’s totally fine.

In fact, you and I may differ in where we see his advice as being on — or off — the mark.

Good teachers help you see things differently, and give you the background to think though a problem for yourself. It’s up to you to crack the advice open and pull out the important stuff.

Structures that used to keep us moving in a reasonable direction are falling apart. The norms are splintering — which creates tremendous freedom, but greater responsibility. You have to create your own structure.

Now, maybe this is a terrible thing. Maybe it signals the inevitable decline of civilization.

But it’s here.

So we all have to grow up, to think as critically as we can, to maximize the benefits of the advice we follow and the technologies we use, and make the best use we have of the decades we have to work with.

I’d like to know what you think …

What role is distraction playing for you these days? Do you feel like you have a handle on how to manage it?

Has the internet been a savior or a devil in your life — or perhaps some of both?

I’d love it to hear your thoughts in the comments …

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This Simple Illustration Explains the Difference Between a Cornerstone Content Page and a Blog Post http://www.copyblogger.com/cornerstone-content-illustration/ http://www.copyblogger.com/cornerstone-content-illustration/#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.copyblogger.com/?p=55370 In January, we launched a Copyblogger Content Challenge mini course. It was designed to help you understand, build, and improve cornerstone content pages. The response was immense: Almost 4,000 people signed up and in just a couple days the forum was bristling with people posting questions, comments, and replies. We were throwing back the jitter
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structure your content with this simple technique

In January, we launched a Copyblogger Content Challenge mini course. It was designed to help you understand, build, and improve cornerstone content pages.

The response was immense: Almost 4,000 people signed up and in just a couple days the forum was bristling with people posting questions, comments, and replies. We were throwing back the jitter juice morning, noon, and night to stay on top of all the activity.

Now, one of the original reasons for launching this program was to teach the importance of cornerstone content pages.

And one of the most common questions that popped up on day two of this mini course was: what’s the difference between a cornerstone content page and a blog post?

Great question, and fortunately, it’s pretty easy to answer with a simple illustration. But we need to deal with another issue first.

Cornerstone content death match: page versus post

And that issue is: “Should cornerstone content be created as pages or posts? And does it matter?”

Yes, it matters, Mr. and Ms. Content Marketer! Let me explain.

Content management platforms, like WordPress or our handy more-power-less-hassle Rainmaker Platform, make publishing content on the web pretty darn easy. And they give you a lot of options.

One of those options is the opportunity to create either pages or posts. This is what it looks like inside the Rainmaker Platform:

RM-Post-v-Page

As you can see, publishing a page or post is pretty straightforward. Just choose “New” in either case, and start writing.

Conventional advice says that your About, Contact, and Portfolio content should be created as pages. And conventional advice also says that blog posts should be created as posts.

So far so good? Okay, good.

2 reasons why your cornerstone content should be a page instead of a post

But which one should you choose when creating cornerstone content — a page or post?

The answer is: you should choose a page.

RM-Post-v-page-2

But why can’t you publish cornerstone content as posts?

As Mary Jaksch, Editor-in-Chief of Write to Done, pointed out in one of our Content Challenge discussions: there is no SEO advantage of one option over the other.

Which is true.

However, there are two important reasons why your cornerstone content should be a page instead of a post:

  1. Pages are not part of the blog stream. They are static and will never get pushed down a stream when you publish new blog posts — making them difficult to find. Instead, you can put pages on display in your sidebar, navigation menu, or both.
  2. Pages do not have dates. Because cornerstone content is typically evergreen (always essential), it should appear timeless. Blog posts typically display the date they were published and the content may become outdated over time.

Jerome-VapourloveIn other words, cornerstone pages are a convenient, simple way to organize your content. Pages are static, essential content, while posts are fluid and fugacious.

By the way, here’s a headshot of Jerome Vaporlove, my black pound cat, for anyone who knows what fugacious means.

So now that we have that squared away, let’s visit a quick definition of cornerstone content before moving on:

Cornerstone content is basic, essential, indispensable, and the chief foundation upon which your content marketing is constructed or developed. It’s what people need to know to make use of your website and do business with you.

A cornerstone content page directs visitors to other articles on your website via links. Those other articles are typically blog posts. They support a general topic you write about (the category) and dive into specifics (based on keyword phrases) about the topic.

A cornerstone content page, illustrated

Think of the category term as the hub, and the keyword phrases as the spokes that radiate around the hub. The cornerstone content page would be the category in the hub, and the blog posts would be built around the keyword phrases.

For example, if “Copywriting” is a category, then keywords phrases might be:

  • What is copywriting?
  • Difference between copywriting and content marketing
  • Copywriting training
  • And so on.

Here’s the illustration I promised:

cornerstone-content-wheel

The middle part is the cornerstone content page, and blog posts radiate around it. Like a wheel. In the illustration above, there are 14 spokes. The number of spokes you will have depends upon the content you have on your website.

Of course, to make our Legal department happy, I have to point out that this wheel is not meant to be ridden in any way whatsoever. Or, as Legal might say, “This plan (i) evidence the purpose(s) agreed upon the Warrant certificates evidencing an election made against us, that such restrictions …”

Er, never mind.

In addition, some people create the cornerstone content page first and then write the supporting blog posts second. Others write all of the articles first, and then reference them in a cornerstone content page afterward.

Neither approach is better than the other — it’s your choice, depending on what works best for you. What’s important is that the cornerstone content page is a page, not a post.

Spot-on example of a cornerstone content page

One way to use cornerstone pages is to make them a “resource page” that contains links to other content on your website.

Pamela Wilson’s site, Big Brand System, has a simple cornerstone content page about branding with color.

Big-Brand-Cornerstone-Content

Pamela shares a little bit of content, a resource, and then links to blog posts she’s written on the topic.

Here’s the thing: if you use your cornerstone content page as a “holding place” for other content, you can still write about the topic frequently in your blog posts — just always approach the topic from a slightly different angle.

At the bottom of the page, Pamela has a call to action (which is important!) to a product she offers that helps people pick their colors.

Note that the call to action could have been a prompt to sign up for an email list instead. You just need to direct visitors to the action you want them to take.

Your chance to chime in

So, what do you think?

Are we clear about the difference between a cornerstone content page and a blog post? Does that wheel illustration simplify things? Do you understand why cornerstone content should be a page and not a post?

And does all this talk of cornerstone content pages make you zealous to get out there and start publishing those pages?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

For more information about cornerstone content, be sure to check out these other resources:

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Rainmaker Rewind: How Oscar Nominee Emma Donoghue, Screenwriter of ‘Room,’ Writes http://www.copyblogger.com/rainmaker-rewind-1/ http://www.copyblogger.com/rainmaker-rewind-1/#comments Sat, 06 Feb 2016 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.copyblogger.com/?p=57905 Editor’s Note: For all you audiophiles out there, we are pleased to begin syndicating Rainmaker Rewind, a quick, curated look at top picks of the week from Rainmaker.FM! This week’s edition of Rewind features our recent interview with Emma Donoghue, Oscar nominee and author/screenwriter of Room. In this episode of “The Writer Files,” international bestselling
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Rainmaker.FM rewind

Editor’s Note: For all you audiophiles out there, we are pleased to begin syndicating Rainmaker Rewind, a quick, curated look at top picks of the week from Rainmaker.FM!

This week’s edition of Rewind features our recent interview with Emma Donoghue, Oscar nominee and author/screenwriter of Room.

In this episode of “The Writer Files,” international bestselling author and critically acclaimed screenwriter Emma Donoghue chats with host Kelton Reid about her writing process and adapting her best-known work into an award-winning movie.

writer-035

In addition to writing for the screen, stage, and radio over her prolific career, this multi-genre author has had her popular fiction translated into more than 40 languages.

Her 2010 novel Room was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won a New York Times Book of the Year award, among others.

The film adaptation of the book has been nominated for four Oscars — including Best Adapted Screenplay — for Ms. Donoghue’s stunning first full-length script.

Listen in to Parts One and Two at the links below:

The Writer Files: Emma Donoghue, Part One

The Writer Files: Emma Donoghue, Part Two

But wait, there’s (a lot) more!

From the beginning (almost one year ago!) of Rainmaker.FM, we’ve been producing up to six incredible podcast episodes a day, four days a week.

That’s a lot of content to select just one favorite per week from, so here are two more picks from the last few days to keep you going through the week:

publish-047

Amy Harrison studies a framework for creating content that helps your customer convert from a prospect into a sale (particularly on your website). And she introduces a new show segment.

Hit Publish: The 10/20/10 Rule for Creating Web Content That Converts

missinglink-034

Josh Turner takes Sean and Mica to school, teaching them (and you) a proven process for creating the most successful connections on LinkedIn, from beginning to end.

The Missing Link: How to Create Meaningful Connections on LinkedIn

And one more thing …

If you want to get my Rainmaker Rewind pick of the week sent straight to your favorite podcast player, subscribe right here on Rainmaker.FM.

See you next week.

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3 Resources to Help Beginners Become Professional Content Marketers http://www.copyblogger.com/beginner-content-marketing/ http://www.copyblogger.com/beginner-content-marketing/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.copyblogger.com/?p=57327 “Da” was the first pronoun I used to refer to myself as a small child. I think I was trying to say “I,” but I overcomplicated the word. At any rate, whenever I encountered a new or challenging task — like growing human beings do — I would say out loud: “Now how Da do
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copyblogger collection - become a content pro

“Da” was the first pronoun I used to refer to myself as a small child. I think I was trying to say “I,” but I overcomplicated the word.

At any rate, whenever I encountered a new or challenging task — like growing human beings do — I would say out loud:

“Now how Da do dis?” (Translation: How do I do this?)

It became a running joke in my family, and it’s a phrase I still use today. When I sat down to write this article, I said to myself, “Now how Da do dis?” I say it to myself every time I write.

Ideally, content marketers of all levels are impassioned and driven, but beginners tend to be an especially enthusiastic bunch. There are so many possibilities and you want to explore them all. You know you can master content marketing; you just need to figure out how.

This week’s Copyblogger Collection is a series of three handpicked articles that will show you:

  • How to take advantage of exactly where you are right now
  • How to transform your business with a well-built brand statement
  • How to use specificity to build a profitable audience

As you work your way through the material below, think of the following lessons as a mini content marketing course for beginners.


5 Things to Take Advantage of When You’re Starting Something New

Benefits of starting out small

Your vision of success may look like having a large audience that helps sustain your business. That’s a smart goal, and there’s nothing wrong with it.

However, if you’re too focused on a future scenario that doesn’t exist yet, you may overlook important opportunities currently at your disposal.

In 5 Things to Take Advantage of When You’re Starting Something New, Sonia Simone demonstrates how to not just make the most of where you are right now, but also how to thrive because of it.


The Transformative Effect of a Well-Built Brand Statement

define-brand-grow-business

If you’re not quite sure how to succinctly communicate the benefits that you provide for your customers or clients, check out The Transformative Effect of a Well-Built Brand Statement.

Pamela Wilson shares a short exercise that leads to clarity and powerful results.

Once you’ve completed the three straightforward steps, Pamela says:

This simple exercise will help set the direction for everything you do. You can use it on your About page, in your social media profiles, and even when you’re doing in-person networking.


10 Ways Specificity Helps You Build a Profitable Audience

copywriting-specificity

Kelton Reid wants to help you win the battle for your audience’s attention with classic writing tips that are still highly effective today.

10 Ways Specificity Helps You Build a Profitable Audience contains guidance for all types of content marketers.

Before you make an offer to your prospects, you must familiarize yourself with their problems, fears, desires, and dreams. Ready to get specific?

Become a content pro

Review this post (and save it for future reference) when you’re ready to build upon your current reality and use your natural abilities to master content marketing.

To celebrate beginners everywhere, as well as honor how I first referred to myself when I was learning to speak, let’s dance:

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The 79-Year Master Plan for Becoming Unforgettable http://www.copyblogger.com/picasso-social-media/ http://www.copyblogger.com/picasso-social-media/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 13:30:00 +0000 http://www.copyblogger.com/?p=20503 During his career he was loved, hated, admired, dissed, fought over … but never ignored. His name? Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y … Picasso. Anybody with a name like that was bound to lead a big, bold, messy life, and Picasso
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masterful moves that get attention and keep it

During his career he was loved, hated, admired, dissed, fought over … but never ignored.

His name? Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y …

Picasso.

Anybody with a name like that was bound to lead a big, bold, messy life, and Picasso did exactly that.

I have to confess that I’ve had a creative crush on him ever since I first encountered his work in my college art history class.

But it wasn’t until I stood in front of piece after piece of his art that I learned the most important lesson Picasso ever taught me — and how it applies to content marketing.

I’ll get to that.

First, let’s talk about a few other digital marketing and sales lessons I’ve gleaned from the life of this amazing, torrential painter.

Change your game, because the game is always changing

If you know anything about Picasso, you might have heard of his “periods.”

There’s the Blue Period. The Rose Period. The Cubist and Surrealist periods.

He was always searching, never satisfied.

He’d start out creating works in one style. Those paintings would find a market and they’d sell. Then he’d drop that style and start experimenting with a new one.

The way we do business online is perpetually changing, and we’re all in the process of mastering new ways of working.

Experimenting with unfamiliar mediums like on-demand audio content might send you straight into unknown territory.

Jumping into that new social media platform may seem pointless and difficult.

That feeling of mastery you had about what you were doing?

Gone.

You’ll have to go through a learner’s phase all over again, and it won’t be fun.

But hang on, because the underlying standards don’t ever change, and on the other side of that phase might be the best work you’ve ever done.

How will you know unless you try? Do you even have a choice whether or not to change anymore?

Get a posse

Picasso and the painter Georges Braque had a famous friendship.

The two of them developed the Cubist style together, through a series of paintings and collages that built off of the other’s ideas.

Braque would paint a scene. Picasso would paint the same scene, but it would be his own take on it.

Back and forth they’d go, with each painting pushing the envelope just a little more.

One of the best things you can do for yourself professionally — especially if you work by yourself or run a small business — is join a mastermind group. 

Mastermind groups are business brainstorming groups that meet on a regular basis. They help you take your business ideas and push them further, to the point of viability, working with models you can use to grow your business.

If you can’t find a local or virtual mastermind group, try creating one yourself.

The important thing is that each member is committed to seeing both themselves and everyone else in the group prosper.

Picasso knew this. His artistic friendships with Braque, Matisse, and Miró helped their collective art careers flourish.

Was it their talent or their friendship and support that made the difference?

Draw inspiration from the world around you

Picasso’s works were influenced by suicide, war, poverty, love, sex, nature, and cinema.

I think it’s safe to say he had a lust for life, and his work reflects it.

You get the impression he woke up every day and said, “Bring it on!”

He absorbed everything happening around him, and his messy, complicated life made its way through his hands, into his brushes, and onto his canvasses.

When you’re running your business, it’s easy to get caught up in the dreary details. 

Don’t forget to take time to be inspired by the world around you.

Sometimes the best business ideas come from places and situations that are far removed from your desk.

Let them inspire you and help you come up with creative solutions.

Bring life to your work.

Work. work. work. work. work. And work some more

Now for the most important lesson Pablo taught me. 

Over the years, I’ve stood in front of a lot of Picassos: paintings, drawings, etchings, sculptures, ceramics, and prints.

The man was prolific. He was a one-man art factory.

And you know what? Not all of it is great.

Most of it is amazing, but some pieces look like experiments that didn’t quite pan out.

That’s what’s fascinating: when you see enough of his work, you can see that sometimes he had bad days. 

But he kept going, year after year, until he’d produced 50,000 pieces of art over his lifetime

Let that sink in for a minute: 50,000 pieces means he created approximately 632 pieces every year of his 79-year career. 

And among the 50,000 or so pieces he produced, there are some timeless gems that will still resonate 500 years from now.

What Pablo taught me is that not every piece has to be a masterpiece.

The process is just as important as the end result: I need to keep my eyes open to everything around me, absorb it, and let it flow right into my content and business.

What do you get from his story? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on October 20, 2011.

Image courtesy Xauxa, via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0 license.

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Why a Comprehensive Content Strategy Includes Podcasting http://www.copyblogger.com/podcasting-content-strategy/ http://www.copyblogger.com/podcasting-content-strategy/#comments Wed, 03 Feb 2016 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.copyblogger.com/?p=56739 What if there was a way to cut through the noise, get noticed, and make a real connection with your audience? For many businesses, on-demand audio content is the way to do just that. Podcasting is gaining in popularity, as you may have noticed, but the medium is not oversaturated. There’s still plenty of room
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how a podcast amplifies your message

What if there was a way to cut through the noise, get noticed, and make a real connection with your audience?

For many businesses, on-demand audio content is the way to do just that.

Podcasting is gaining in popularity, as you may have noticed, but the medium is not oversaturated.

There’s still plenty of room in the market for you, so don’t worry that you’re too late to get started.

It could be argued that podcasting is not right for every business. It could also be argued that blogging is not right for all businesses.

Yet, if your business takes content marketing seriously, then podcasting can be a strong component of your content strategy.

Here are four reasons to embrace podcasting as an integral part of your strategy.

1. Expand your reach

2015 was the year podcasting made its way toward the mainstream.

Edison Research has reported that one-third of all Americans 12 years of age and older have listened to at least one podcast. If there are still two-thirds of the population remaining who haven’t explored podcasts yet, then there are lots of new ears to reach.

The best time to start a podcast was four years ago. The second best time is now.

The sheer number of people listening to podcasts — and the even greater number of people still to discover the medium — makes podcasting an essential part of any content strategy.

With new cars starting to roll off the assembly line with podcast players installed in them, and both Google Play and Spotify getting into the podcast distribution game, podcasting is just getting started.

As of today, the potential reach of a podcast makes it enticing, but the part that should really excite you is the wave of new listeners still to catch the podcasting bug. That’s when podcasting will officially live in the mainstream.

2. Ease of creation

Podcasting is a great way to test new ideas. Simply hit record and talk.

When you find a topic or angle that resonates with your listeners, you can easily turn it into an article, report, or ebook.

Podcasting can even make you a better writer.

The technology that we have at our disposal enables anyone with a laptop and a $100 microphone to start their own radio show.

Don’t overthink it, and don’t worry about hating the sound of your own voice when it’s recorded — we all have that problem.

3. Build your content library

Even if you understand the importance and value of creating a content library, you may be wondering how you will produce all the content to fill your library.

It’s quite simple when you have a podcast strategy that attracts attention and builds your content arsenal.

Here are a few ideas to get you rolling:

  1. Call an expert in your field and interview him or her via Skype.
  2. Get your audio transcribed and turn the transcriptions into an ebook or ebook series.
  3. Record audio versions of your most popular blog posts.

Podcasts help you create unique and valuable content. Each of these three ideas above could easily be created and added to your content library. Your audience would love it.

4. Cast your net far and wide

Podcasting can be used to cast a wider net for your business and bring more people to the top of your marketing funnel. This is essential for all content marketing strategies.

Audio content, unlike written content, can be consumed during commutes, showers, walks, and while at the gym.

You have multiple opportunities to reach out to new customers where and when they want to be reached.

Even your biggest fans won’t be able to read or listen to everything you create. This is why it’s essential to create content that can be distributed across multiple mediums.

Those who listen to your podcast may not read your blog, and those who read your blog may not listen to your podcast. So, create within both mediums and go where your audience already is.

Podcasting is an excellent opportunity for you to repurpose your work and find your audience where they are.

Getting started with podcasting

You may fear it’s too difficult or too much work to add a podcast to your content strategy.

Although creating a podcast is not easy, it can be simple. A lot of work, yes. But the potential rewards far outweigh any drawbacks that might concern you.

There are many compelling reasons why companies like Rainmaker Digital have decided to go all-in on podcasting, and you should too.

Including a podcast in your content strategy could even make your life easier, not cause the burden of more content to create.

If you want to expand your reach, the ease of creation, ability to test ideas quickly, and added value of audio content in your content library make podcasting a no-brainer addition to a robust content strategy.


Get Your Free, No-Frills, 9-Step Showrunner’s Guide … Today!

If you want to take the next step to develop, launch, or run your remarkable podcast, start with The Beginner’s Guide to Launching a Remarkable Podcast.

The free ebook is a guide to getting your podcast off the ground.

It follows the framework mapped out inside The Showrunner Podcasting Course. Yet, at the same time, it is a standalone guide to getting started today.

Get your free copy:
The Beginner’s Guide to Launching a Remarkable Podcast

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How to Write Conversationally: 7 Tips to Engage and Delight Your Audience http://www.copyblogger.com/how-to-write-conversationally/ http://www.copyblogger.com/how-to-write-conversationally/#comments Tue, 02 Feb 2016 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.copyblogger.com/?p=56224 How often do you shrug your shoulders and press delete after reading a marketing email? Many marketing messages make us cringe. They don’t sound like a human being wrote them. They don’t engage. They lack personality and feel cold-hearted. It’s not surprising. At school, we learned grammar rules. We learned how to write and spell,
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engage readers with a conversational writing style

How often do you shrug your shoulders and press delete after reading a marketing email?

Many marketing messages make us cringe. They don’t sound like a human being wrote them. They don’t engage. They lack personality and feel cold-hearted.

It’s not surprising.

At school, we learned grammar rules. We learned how to write and spell, but we didn’t learn how to use language to connect with our readers. We didn’t learn how to engage, persuade, and inspire.

But readers crave a human touch.

When we read conversational content, we instantly feel a connection with the writer. We feel like we’re getting to know him. We start to like him.

As content marketers, we know this is our aim. When readers get to know, like, and trust us, we create opportunities to market our services and sell our products. We know we need to write conversationally, but how?

You might think writing in a conversational style requires recording yourself talking and typing out what you said. But have you ever seen a word-for-word transcript of an interview?

It’s full of wishy-washy words, grammar mistakes, and unfinished sentences. People rarely speak proper English when they talk. That’s normal.

Conversational text is a lot tighter than spoken language. So, writing conversationally doesn’t mean you write as you talk. Instead, edit your text so it doesn’t sound like writing.

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” – Elmore Leonard

Specific editing techniques help make your content sound more conversational.

Shall I show you how to use them?

1. Quit writing to everyone

Imagine writing an email to a list of 10,000 people.

When you think about those 10,000 faceless subscribers, you probably sound like this:

Thank you to those of you who have donated to our charity appeal. You can still donate here.

It sounds like you’re addressing a crowd, right? The phrase “those of you” feels impersonal.

Now, let’s choose your favorite subscriber. Imagine your biggest fan — she often replies to your emails with praise, and sometimes with questions. Even though you’ve never met, she’s a friend:

Have you already donated to our charity appeal? Thank you so much. If you haven’t donated yet, you can still donate here.

A conversational tone makes readers feel like you’re addressing them personally. As if you two are having a drink at your local Starbucks.

“I’m going to have a green tea. What would you like to drink?”

2. Don’t write to impress

When you talk with your best friend, what kind of words do you use?

Do you try to impress with MBA jargon? Do you use complicated words?

To write conversationally, skip the gobbledygook and make your content more specific. For instance, look at this copy:

Pioneering software from the market leader. Schedule your social media updates with our award-winning all-in-one app.

Now, here’s the conversational version:

Save time with our new app. Schedule all your social media updates in one go.

Empathy is the foundation of a good conversation. Understand the problems your readers are struggling with, and address those problems using their words.

Write to engage and help.

“Would you like a ginger cookie with your coffee? Or a blueberry muffin?”

3. Make it a two-way conversation

When writing, we can’t see the person on the other end of the conversation. So, we forget to engage our readers and merely write from our own perspective.

Here’s an example of how self-importance sneaks into our content:

Sign up to get on our list, and we’ll send you our weekly email with marketing tips.

Note how “we” and “our” are both self-referring pronouns. Here’s how to focus on your reader instead:

Grow your business with smarter marketing. Sign up now to get weekly emails with marketing tips.

To spot your self-important sentences, look for the sentences with “I” and “we.” Edit them to highlight benefits for your reader.

But don’t feel you need to replace all instances of “I” and “we.” You don’t need to hide yourself.

If you’re a one-person business, use “I,” “me,” and “my.” And if you write on behalf of a team, feel free to use “we,” “us,” and “our,” when appropriate.

A good conversation goes two ways: A little bit about “me” or “us.” A little more about “you.”

“How was your weekend?”

4. Add a dollop of personality

Think about your friends or favorite colleagues. Why do you enjoy chatting with them?

It’s the small stories you share. You might discuss a bad referee decision in Sunday’s match, the movie you went to yesterday, or where you can get the best steak.

Your friends talk about more than their specialty subject.

It’s the same with your content. If you only discuss your topic of expertise, you show yourself as a one-dimensional expert. It’s kind of boring.

Think about how you can inject your personality into your blog posts, emails, or sales copy:

  • Share the mistakes you’ve made so your readers can learn from them.
  • Use a personal anecdote to illustrate a point.
  • Create your own style of metaphors.
  • Tell readers why you’re on your mission to change the world.
  • Add a personal P.S. to your emails — even if it’s an unrelated comment about the weather or your latest cycling trip.

When you sprinkle a little bit of yourself over your content, readers get to know you.

That’s when content marketing becomes magic.

“Yeah, my weekend was good. My sister came over from the Netherlands. Luckily the weather was good.”

5. Engage with questions

Do you pose questions in your writing?

Research has shown that questions in tweets can get more than double the amount of clicks. And what’s more, they can even boost your persuasiveness.

In his book To Sell Is Human, Daniel Pink explains that a question makes readers think — they process your message more intensely. And when readers agree with you, your question is more persuasive than a statement.

Note the difference between:

You ought to include questions marks, so your writing becomes more conversational.

and:

Want to make your writing more engaging? Add a few questions.

Questions are a powerful technique for engaging and persuading your readers. They keep readers invested in your content.

“The weather is nice today, too. Shall we sit outside?”

6. Shorten your sentences

A standard tone of voice in marketing often sounds boring and robotic, and an academic tone creates a certain distance, too, as if you look down on your readers.

Both styles tend to use unwieldy sentences — and those long sentences are tiring to read. To make your content more readable, chop up long sentences.

Here’s a long academic sentence:

Presenting yourself only as an expert makes you one-dimensional, but when you tell short stories about yourself in addition to sharing your knowledge, you become a multi-dimensional human being, and you become a more fascinating person in your reader’s eyes.

Phew. Did you run out of breath? That’s forty words in one sentence.

Here’s the conversational version with only nine words per sentence on average:

Presenting yourself only as an expert makes you one-dimensional. Perhaps even a bit boring. But when you tell itty-bitty stories about yourself, your hobbies, and your life, you become a real human being. You become more fascinating.

In grade school, we received praise for using difficult words to write complicated sentences. In college, we read verbose sentences stuffed with words derived from Latin and Greek.

That’s how we learned to write to impress.

We didn’t learn how to communicate our message, write with clarity, and be persuasive. To engage our readers, we must unlearn what we learned in school.

Put your readers first. Make your message simple. Chop your sentences down.

“Nice shirt you’re wearing. I like the color. Suits you well.”

7. Don’t drink coffee with your high school teacher

Just thinking about my high school teachers puts me on edge. I get nervous about making mistakes. I worry about sounding crazy. I fear not living up to their expectations.

And that’s how writing becomes stilted.

Following grammar rules usually makes content easier to read. However, certain rules may actually hamper readability. So, give yourself permission to break them:

  • Use broken sentences. Broken sentences don’t necessarily befuddle readers; they often add clarity. By stressing words. (Like that.)
  • Start a sentence with “and,” “but,” or “or.” Because it makes your content easier to read and less monotonous. More dynamic. Enthusiastic.
  • Create one-sentence paragraphs to stress specific statements and give readers room to breathe. A short silence in a conversation is okay, right?
  • Feel free to occasionally use … uhm … interjections like “Ouch,” “Phew,” and “Duh.” They add emotion and a touch of casualness to your writing voice.

Writing is not about sticking to grammar rules. It’s about communicating ideas with clarity and personality.

So, please come along for a cup of tea and a chat, but don’t bring your grammar teacher with you. She’ll strangle our conversation with her pedantic remarks.

“Your hair is getting long. You should get a haircut.”

Embrace the power of your voice

Do you ever think back to a conversation you had with a friend? Do you hear her voice in your head?

That’s how readers should experience your content. Let your words linger in their minds. Inspire them long after they’ve read your words.

In a world of endless pixels and meaningless likes, we crave human connections and voices that resonate with us.

So, be yourself. Brew a cup of green tea. Offer your readers a slice of homemade cake.

And have a cozy chat.

“Sugar?”

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What Is a Content Marketer? http://www.copyblogger.com/what-is-a-content-marketer/ http://www.copyblogger.com/what-is-a-content-marketer/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2016 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.copyblogger.com/?p=54497 Long ago, copywriting legend John Carlton told me that the best copywriters didn’t just master their own discipline; they also mastered related disciplines — like marketing, SEO, and negotiations. This is true for content marketers, as well. A content marketer is a master of many disciplines. But what exactly does that mean? What sort of
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become a content craftsman

Long ago, copywriting legend John Carlton told me that the best copywriters didn’t just master their own discipline; they also mastered related disciplines — like marketing, SEO, and negotiations.

This is true for content marketers, as well.

A content marketer is a master of many disciplines. But what exactly does that mean? What sort of disciplines and skills are we talking about? And what types of knowledge and experience are necessary to be a content marketer?

I’ll answer those questions and more, but before I do, I’ll first loosely define the term “content marketer.”

Then, I’ll tell you how I uncovered a successful content marketer’s five essential skills.

A working definition of “content marketer”

A content marketer is responsible for the planning, creating, and sharing of valuable content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers. The type of content the content marketer shares depends upon what he sells. In other words, he educates people so that they know, like, and trust him enough to do business with him.

If a content marketer is responsible for marketing content, then let’s look at the classic definition of marketing, which involves the four P’s:

  • Identify, select, and develop a product
  • Set the price
  • Select the distribution channel to reach the customer where she is (place)
  • Plan and execute a promotion strategy

Using this model, content would be the product. The price could range from an email address (to receive blog updates, join an email newsletter) to payment for access to a content library, ebook, or online training course.

The place would be your blog/website, email list, and social media channels. And promotion would be how you share the product.

A content marketer is someone who understands how to position and promote content so that it reaches the widest audience and converts those people from prospects to subscribers to customers — and keeps them coming back.

Now, the art of content marketing has been with us for a while, but an actual person who is a content marketer is a rather new phenomenon.

To put this list together, I had to draw from my own experience, the wisdom of content marketing authorities, and I even reviewed about a dozen job descriptions for content marketing positions.

Let’s explore five of the common core skills of content marketers.

1. Storytelling

First and foremost, a content marketer has a nose for a good story. She knows that a great marketing story involves a hero, mentor, goal, obstacle, and moral. And she can uncover her own business’s story — and even help other organizations do the same.

This is important because, as C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley write in their book Content Rules, “[Good content] creates value by positioning you as a reliable and valuable source of vendor-agnostic information.”

In other words, stories help an audience get to know you, like you, and, ultimately, trust you — before you sell them anything.

The content marketer studies the storytelling techniques of movie screenwriters, novelists, and short story writers, so that when she writes content (see skill number three below to learn more), she knows how to lift prospects out of their ordinary worlds and invite them to consider a journey that ultimately leads to a transaction.

One storytelling method we are quite fond of around here is the Hero’s Journey. It’s content marketing that educates your audience through the storytelling arc.

2. Strategy

A great content marketer is also deliberate: she understands and communicates the overarching objective of an organization’s content marketing strategy.

In addition, a professional content marketer will set editorial goals. She might:

The content marketer will understand the need for buyer personas and create them, if necessary.

She will know how to audit a website in order to fix any broken, old, and neglected content.

And let’s not forget that all content marketers have exceptional research skills.

Want to take a closer look at that last point?

As Ann Handley advises in her book, Everybody Writes:

Think before you ink means finding your key point by asking three questions about every bit of content you’re creating.

  • Why am I creating this?
  • What is my key take on this subject?
  • Why does it matter to the people I am trying to reach?”

I’ll add a fourth: Who are you writing to? Know your audience. That is research at its essence.

While it won’t be her chief skill set, an adept content marketer can also manage a content project through planning to execution to promotion.

People skills, like empathy, listening, storytelling, and negotiating, help her navigate those tasks.

3. Writing content

Often, content marketers will not only direct strategy and storytelling, but they’ll also be responsible for writing content for blogs/websites, ebooks, and infographics.

It pays to be a remarkable web writer — someone with essential traits like an:

  • Average understanding of SEO
  • Average understanding of usability
  • Above average understanding of social media (see skill number four below to learn more)
  • Outstanding understanding of copywriting (yes, copywriting is different from content marketing)

This is important because she will more than likely also be the one writing articles for other websites as a guest posting strategy.

A content marketer will master writing magnetic headlines, selecting old articles to update and republish, and reimagining old content in new formats (like flipping an infographic or blog post into a SlideShare).

She will naturally set and maintain the editorial tone and voice.

Since she’s an excellent storyteller, you might find her reading a selection of unorthodox books to help hone her craft and inform her creativity.

4. Social media

Content marketers understand social media.

Some content marketers might even make this their speciality, meeting the rising demand in the number and variety of different platforms. But most content marketers master one or two platforms and have a basic understanding of others.

See, a content marketer likes to tinker with the new shiny social media objects that come out. This allows her to evaluate a new platform’s potential and then translate this potential to the proper client.

She’ll understand which type of content works best on each platform. For example, Twitter is good for promoting new content. Facebook is good for engaging your audience in discussions and surveys. Pinterest is excellent for sharing images.

Of course, a smart content marketer is also aware of the dangers of digital sharecropping — and not afraid to warn clients.

In addition, “don’t waste time delivering content where your audiences don’t actually want you to be,” writes Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach, authors of Content Strategy for the Web.

Know where your audience hangs out. And get their permission to interact.

5. Subscription assets

Content marketers understand the need for building subscription assets, including email subscriber lists and private community memberships.

Not only will they be responsible for writing the content for these subscription models, but they may also need to have a firm understanding of how each one works — or even have the ability to manage, measure, and monitor each model.

For example, a small business might assign the responsibility of writing, editing, uploading, monitoring, and measuring the emails for their email marketing campaigns to just one content marketer.

So, dear content marketer, prioritize wisely. Otherwise, you’ll spread yourself too thin.

Stay one step ahead of your customers’ desires

Let me end with a quote from Catherine the Great, who took sole control of Russia in 1762 after deposing her husband, Emperor Peter III:

“One must govern in such a way that one’s people think they themselves want to do what one commands them to do.”

According to Robert Greene in his book The 48 Laws of Power, “to do this she had to be always a step ahead of their desires and to adapt to their resistance.”

Now, while Catherine the Great is talking about governing citizens, the core concept here is leadership. Thus, I think this advice applies equally well to the content marketer, who is, in a sense, a leader — a leader of content.

As a leader, she must champion the cause of content and then rally resources to create that content — and ultimately, create content that her audience wants.

Are you up to the task?

So, content marketer, keep this in mind: we must be one step ahead of our customers’ desires, and we achieve this by building an audience before creating a product.

And we must adapt to their resistance by becoming masters of empathy, which means understanding their hopes and fears. Stepping into their shoes.

Are you up to the task?

By the way, any characteristics of a content marketer you would put on this list?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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