Most writing sucks – 5 ways to stop it

I’ve just read Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. It didn’t take long. It’s certainly more a novelty gift than a book, so don’t get your hopes up for anything revolutionary and read the reviews before parting with your money.

Why am I telling you this? Well, whether it’s a novel, a magazine article, or a company website, a lot of writing I read today sucks. It’s often carelessly written with a lack of understanding of audience engagement. So, I want to share a few basic things I’ve learnt over the years of writing press releases, case studies, websites and tweets, in the hope that it prevents silly mistakes and sloppy writing slipping into small business:

1. Spell check everything (just make sure what country your spell check is set to if you’re not sure when it should be a z or an s).

2. Grammar and punctuation still matter even in tweets, blogs and websites. Don’t fall into the trap of text speak – it’s not becoming of a professional business.

3. As much as possible, use active rather than passive language. For example: ‘I write’ rather than ‘I am writing’. An easy way to look for this is to check words ending in _ing and replace them with the more active form of the word. It may mean adjusting the sentence structure, however this is almost always beneficial to the flow of the copy.

4. Read your copy out loud. Always. See where you stumble and rewrite as necessary.

5. Avoid jargon and buzzwords. Read it to your gran or your ten year old. If they don’t get it, it may be poorly written. Complex concepts can be explained in plain English for anyone to understand with the right wording.

That’s it for now. I’m sure I’ll think up some more and let you know in due course.

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To tweet or not to tweet?

I’ve spoken to quite a few people recently, both here and in Germany, about why Twitter is such a useful tool. Now, don’t get me wrong, some individuals may never want to get involved in the tweeting world, but if you’re in business, then there are undeniable benefits.

As of February 2012, Twitter has 200 million* members. Not quite as many as Facebook’s 845 million*, but it’s a different media and should be treated in a different manner. It’s less about friends and more about engaging with strangers with common interests – and listening out for business opportunities.

I say ‘listening’ because for small businesses this is how you start on Twitter and how you effectively engage with Twitter users. Before you begin to tweet yourself (writing updates in 140 characters or less), use the search function, put in your keywords, competitor names, your name, follow trends (#) etc, and get a feel for what’s being said in your industry or locality. Just like when we first started using the internet for search, you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find on Twitter. I’ve learnt a huge amount about my local area by following businesses and local folk and found activities for the kids which I probably never would’ve seen before. It’s all there in my Twitter feed, easy to read and instant. Fantastic.

The below video is from Yell and features BusinessZone.co.uk‘s editor Dan Martin explaining how to use Twitter to promote your business. It’s concise and useful, so have a look. If you’d like to have a look at my top tips too, that’d be great!

*data from comScore

Where am I with Google+?

Good question. I have an account. I have some circles. I have some friends in them I think. I have done some +1s. I’m still none the wiser with it to be honest.

Then I read this http://thinkdifferently.ca/differently/google-has-the-holy-grail-of-social-apps-and-is-waiting-for-users-to-realize/#comment-5. And it made me feel better.

So, I will be spending some time with my Google+ account and I plan to put into practice what I learnt back in February on the BTEC for Social Media. Now…where are my notes?

Top Tips for Tentative Tweeters

I’ve been on Twitter since 2008. I’m not the greatest Twitterer and, as with all things evolving and social, I’m always learning. But in my time on the tweet scene and rubbing shoulders with those in the know, here are my top tips which should help you engage the blue birdy world effectively:

1. At first, just listen. Follow others in your industry, including competitors and suppliers. Search and follow keywords and trends relevant to your business and locality.

2. When you’re ready, join in the conversation. Be engaging; ask and answer questions; create a dialogue that provides added value to your followers. People buy from people – personality is good.

3. Your followers should eventually become your target customers. Find them by following steps 1 and 2.

4. Twitter is public and searchable. Be nice. Don’t swear, stalk or argue.

5. Keep it up! As with all things social and shampoo, it will only be effective with regular use. (Let’s see how many read that bit!)

One of my favourite websites, Marketing Donut has this helpful guide to Get started on Twitter. Also have a look at the Marketing Professor for more on tweet strategy.

Say it on camera

People buy from people. It’s a well known fact. If you’re selling online, whether it’s a product or service, testimonials can have a significant impact on turning a prospect into a customer. Words are great, but moving pictures are better. Here’s one I made earlier for Status Social following our intensive three day kick-start to the BTEC Level 3 Award in Social Media for Business. Enjoy 😉

Doug Richard’s School for Startups

Yesterday I met ex-Dragon Doug Richard and he gave me some straight forward, extremely useful feedback on a branding question I had. I jumped at the chance to ask him during a break at the Web Fuelled Business bootcamp at Sheffield’s Megacentre. He basically told me what I already knew, but to have it confirmed was music to my ears and ego.

The bootcamp was a superb event – and free! Doug and ex-Amazon executive James Dening conveyed an astonishing amount of information on all things web from SEO, SEM, SMM, E-commerce, Exporting, Adwords, Adsense, Remarketing and more!

Some of the bootcamp info reinforced my recent BTEC in Social Media for Business and some elements were completely new – how exciting: new stuff! Remarketing was especially relevant as I’ve just started an Adwords campaign. Remarketing basically drops cookies onto the computer of people who’ve previously visited your website and so when they next fire up a browser and visit a relevant site, your remarketing-targeted ad will, as if by magic, appear to them. This will keep happening until such times as you decide to switch it off. Well worth knowing about, don’t you think?

Donuts help with social media

Day three on our Social Media for Business BTEC and the donuts have appeared to help us digest the dodgy machine-generated coffee. Then this picture appears! Very relevant to us and the raspberry jam dripping onto our laptops. I’m all for simple explanations and do like this, however I think the last point is a little wide of the mark. Having just learnt more about Google+, I can really see how this is going to become much more mainstream and as accepted as Facebook and Twitter as a contact mechanism. I think it will become much more useful for businesses going forward. There are some things that annoy me about the layout as a newbie, but I’m sure beta testing will iron these out.

Social Media Donuts

Social Media Donuts