In this short video, Josh Bernoff, author of Writing Without Bullshit, offers three top tips for taking the BS out of business writing.
“My definition of bullshit,” he says, “is any communication that is not clear and effective.”
Writing Without Bullshit
Boy, oh boy, is there ever a lot of muddled prose on the Internet. Why, I asked, is there so much bullshit in corporate writing? Simply put, Bernoff responded, “it’s the fear of saying what you really mean.” And the bad habits we learned in school.
Watch the video and learn how to become a No BS business writer.
For companies with something to say that may be of interest beyond the CEO’s office or the marketing department, here are nine great reasons for corporate blogging. (I originally published this post in 2008, and I think the reasons still apply. I’ve updated some of the links and references.)
1. Chief among them: the research, reading and writing for a blog help you keep learning. Sadly, many people really haven’t learned anything new in the past 10 years. But you need to keep learning to keep attracting readers.
2. Because knowledge means nothing until it is shared. Being a respected member of the community requires contribution as well as consumption.
Add to these, the following blogging objectives:
3. Blogging can help you to be a thought leader: E.g. Charlene Li.
4. You can generate awareness in the market of your products/services/your personal brand: E.g. Dustin Stout
5. You’ll get to know other thought leaders in the space: E.g. Francine Hardaway
6. You can obtain feedback from your audience (readers, customers etc.) on new products/services: E.g. Toby Bloomberg
7. Make sure your blog appears for specific terms on organic search (Search Engine Optimization): E.g. David Erickson
8. I also like the reason Robert Moskowitz gave in iMedia Connection back in 2005
“Blog to gain on the Big Dogs”
9. And, as Hugh Macleod at gapingvoid pointed out “why I have a blog, I suppose. I like the control. I write something, I post it, it gets read, hopefully good things happen as a result, somewhere on this small blue planet of ours”
Oreo Cookies is renown for clever marketing. Their latest #MyOreoCreation contest is fun and it has a delicious $500K prize. It also shows how much money it takes to induce consumer created content these days. Not all that long ago, a $10K prize was a big deal. Just saying…
From their warp speed blackout ad in the 2013 Superbowl, to their social media interactions with other brands, Oreo marketing is sheer genius.
Oreo is asking us to create our own Oreo cookie. The contest, which is open until July 15, could earn you $500K! Come up with a new Oreo flavor, use the hashtags #MyOreoCreation and #Contest and share your ideas on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter for your chance to win.
The video featuring Ellie Kemper and friends introducing the contest is heading toward 5.5 million views on YouTube and 925K on Facebook.
I have just launched a new product called Funwalkers. They are humorous license plates for walkers, rollators and scooters. It’s my 5th entrepreneurial venture and the one I am most excited about. It’s a side hustle right now, but I plan to scale it.
Funwalkers has two intentions:
making people smile
encouraging seniors to make more use of their walkers by removing the stigma and embarrassment often associated with them.
I was inspired to create Funwalkers.com when my 94 year-old friend fell, broke her hip and had to use a walker. Like my 89 year-old dad, who needs a walker, she was frustrated and embarrassed by her lack of independent mobility.
The walker was a visible sign of her fragility. She didn’t want to be seen in public with it, and insisted she “would never take her walker to the ballet or the opera.”
Now she’s running around town with a license plate that says “Act My Age? Why?” and handing out my business cards to all the people who ask her about it. Matter of fact, her photo is on my Funwalkers business cards. She asked me for “I Brake for Animals” too.
Funwalkers are available with 30+ fun sayings and they can be customized. So far, our most popular ones are “Yes it was a skydiving accident,” and “I brake for animals.” They attach in seconds to handlebars of walkers, rollators and scooters.
Seniors are precisely who experts say are most in need of walkers to prevent falls that are the leading cause of injury, hospitalization and death for people over 65 according to the CDC. As an aging boomer, that scares the crap out of me :)
What also is exciting to me, besides seeing an idea take physical form, and seeing people enjoy Funwalkers, is that for the first time I am not the product. Now I have to do all the things I’ve done for my clients for the last many years. Challenging indeed. But also exciting and fun.
Once Funwalkers is established online, and gets some press, I plan to scale it up. Please stay tuned :)
Previous entrepreneurial ventures include B.L. Ochman Public Relations, which I grew into one of the 10 largest independent PR firms in the U.S.; whatsnextonline.com, my current digital consultancy which has been serving major brands since 1995; Pawfun.com which was not a commercial success, but was a lot of fun; and Maximum-Plus.com which placed a bad bet on Google+.
B.L. Ochman is a uniquely experienced digital pioneer who has been helping blue chip brands incorporate social media into their marketing strategy since 1996. She publishes What’s Next Blog, co-hosts and produces the award-winning Beyond Social Media Show podcast and contributes to AdAge DigitalNext. On Twitter, she’s @whatsnext and @Funwalkers_BL. Her newest venture is Funwalkers.com – humorous license plates for walkers, rollators and scooters.
Facebook Group admins now have the option to ask potential members screening questions in order to combat trolls and spammers.
Group admins can establish up to three questions to ask of people requesting to join their Group. The questionnaires let admins screen potential members to ensure they’re the right fit for the group and will add constructively to the discussion, not just spam or troll the Group.
Creating Stronger Communities
Giving Group admins the ability to formulate the questions and decide whom to admit should help to create stronger communities. Users who request to join a Group will immediately get questionnaires. Those who are invited will be sent a link to the questions.
Admins can find the “Ask Pending Members Questions” option in the Group settings menu.They can ask three questions, each of which potential members can answer in up to 250 characters. Answers are not visible to group members. Only moderators and admins see them.
Giving Facebook Group Admins More Control
Previously, admins had to contact potential members one by one, either in email or messenger or by evaluating the often sparse information in their profile. Then they had to keep track of all requests and replies – which was often too time-consuming.
Josh Constine, writing in TechCrunch, notes that Facebook also should add analytics that allow admins to evaluate the success of various types of content in the Group.
Facebook has long been short on metrics, so this would be an excellent addition.
In a unique exercise, Swedish sportswear brand Houdini turned their clothes into food to demonstrate how environmentally friendly they are. So they created what might be called gourmet clothing and fed the result to customers.
For this campaign, the brand’s agency McCann Stockholm composted customer’s used clothes and turned them into soil and fertilizer for growing vegetables.
Cooking With Clothing
They enlisted one of Scandinavia’s top composting pros to break down the clothes properly. In about six months, they’d turned into CO2, H20 and other materials that could be used for fertilization for edible clothing.
The fertilized soil was used to grow vegetables. The crop was turned into a gourmet meal for Houdini customers by Swedish celebrity Chef Sebastian Thureson.
Like many millions of people worldwide, I was horrified to see the video of Dr David Dao being knocked out and bloodied, dragged from his paid seat on United Airlines. The incident became one of the most epic PR fails ever, and fallout continues.
Keep your copy lively, factual, tight, clear, short and linked to sources. Here are my blog writing guidelines: lessons I’ve learned blogging since 2002.
While basic writing talent is innate, many of the skills for writing compelling blog posts can be learned. Here are some guidelines I have gleaned from blogging since 2002.
These are my basic blog writing guidelines for creating posts that are readable and sharable:
Keep your copy lively, factual, tight, clear, short and linked to sources
Content creation tips
1. Be Interesting. Sounds simplistic, but most posts aren’t. And most posts don’t get read or shared because of that.
2. Inform, don’t sell. Blog posts are not sales sheets or ad platforms.
3. Share what you know. People like posts they can learn from. Don’t worry about giving away ideas. Those are a dime a dozen. People who can make ideas work are rare as hen’s teeth.
4. Learn from David Letterman: Make Top 10 lists. e.g., 8 Surefire Data Strategies for Fundraising Success; 7 Unbelievable Fundraising Letters
5. Use current sources. Don’t link to studies from 2009 in a post you write in 2015.
6. Include a call to action: Ask readers to do something, e.g., follow on Twitter, find out more about X, click to get the whitepaper.
7. How-to and how not-to posts are highly shareable
8. Select an interesting visual: A picture is worth a thousand words.
Make it compelling and be sure it will work well on a mobile device
9. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Blogging isn’t brain surgery..Don’t get pompous or dictatorial.
Blog writing & style tips
1. Write in a human voice and use first-person. If the post isn’t informing, inspiring, entertaining or making someone’s life better, you’re not done writing.
Stiff, formal writing is only for lawyers. And you know what Shakespeare said about them.
2. Select a compelling, catchy title: something that compels the reader to want to learn more.
3. Write short posts, short paragraphs, and lots of subheads. People who read blogs skim. Only someone with too much time on his/her hands will read a big, 2,000 word-long blob of copy. Write short, tight sentences and paragraphs. Too Long, Didn’t Read (TLDR) is your enemy.
4. Link, link, link. Don’t steal other people’s stuff. One thing that distinguishes blog posts from dead-tree journalism is that bloggers link prodigiously.
Link to any other blog or website you mention. Link to articles, books, products, bios, explanatory materials on other sites that you mention in your blog.
Always link to information that clarifies or gives background on information and opinions in your post.
5. Don’t use acronyms. Use the words the first time you mention a name or industry term. i.e. NonProfit Organization (NPO) and then use the abbreviation in the subsequent mentions. Don’t assume that everyone who reads what you write knows what you mean by acronyms.
6. Write less. Aim at keeping your posts to about 400 words. Keep sentences and paragraphs short. Use the simplest possible word and sentence structure. Omit all unnecessary content and words.
7. Use numbered or bulleted points whenever you can. Use subheads every few paragraphs, even in a 300-word post.
8. White space is your friend. It makes reading from the screen easier. Nothing is harder to read than a solid block of copy on a computer screen. Only 16% of people read every word online. Format your posts so that your main points stand out.
9. Forget what you learned about business writing in school if you graduated before 1990. Go ahead! Start sentences with “and” or “but.” Don’t be afraid to break archaic rules. But, jeez, follow all grammatical rules that provide clarity to your content.
10. Read your post out loud and make sure you don’t get stuck on complex construction. If you trip on a word the midst of reading a sentence aloud, re-write the sentence. Try the Hemingway app to help clarify your writing.
11. Do not over-use bold text emphasis on words and phrases. Bold text is appropriate as a topic point in lists, but not within a paragraph or list.
12. Writing takes time. Writing is about re-writing. Edit yourself. Use spellcheck.
Questions to ask yourself before you hit “Publish”:
__ Is the topic clear to someone who only reads the headline?
__Does the lead paragraph tell who and what the story is about and why the reader should care about it?
__ Is the angle you’ve used likely to seem newsworthy?
__Would someone who knows absolutely nothing about this topic understand this post?
B.L. Ochman is a uniquely experienced digital pioneer who has been helping blue chip brands incorporate social media into their marketing strategy since 1996. She publishes What’s Next Blog, co-hosts and produces the award-winning Beyond Social Media Show podcast and contributes to AdAge DigitalNext. On Twitter, she’s @whatsnext.