Category Archives: Leadership

What Should You Do When Your Content is Copied?

Life in the Security Experiment Room

My twelve year-old loves smoke alarms.  Some guys are crazy about football.  He knows the stats of almost every smoke detector- whether it’s a BG-12, Simplex, Wheelock, or Gentex.

After he started writing letters to companies, conversing with CMOs, creating reviews, editing videos, and playing around with You Tube, it became clear that his interest would be a gateway to acquiring valuable skills and practical lessons.

He Copied Me!

But then it happened.  A couple kids plagiarized his ideas and material.  One YouTube youngster “borrowed” most of his intro.  Grant invests hours editing these videos, so he was pretty ticked after he discovered the infringement.

“Mom, what should I do?”

I understood how he felt.  This happens to writers all the time.  It’s frustrating- especially when you’re the one who spent time or dollars on the original idea or work.

Plagiarism vs. Fair Use

Just to be clear, if you borrow an idea, quote, picture, or video you should credit your sources. If you want to be official with formatting that credit, read how to cite sources from MLA or APA. However, don’t cry “copyright infringement” if your idea was one that anyone could pick off just by living.  All people are allowed fair use of ideas for educating, discussing, and conjecture. If the idea is already swimming in public, it can be taken and altered.

What If Someone Steals Your Content or Ideas?

#1. Inform the accused what was done.  Define plagiarism for him or her because some people- especially kids, just don’t know.  Plagiarism.com says, “

ALL OF THE FOLLOWING ARE CONSIDERED PLAGIARISM:

  • turning in someone else’s work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules)”

#2.  Add a © (copyright symbol) with the current year and the owner’s name to the bottoms of your websites, pictures, articles, or videos.  This symbol notifies would-be borrowers that you own the material. Most will ask for permission or provide credit to your page with links.

#3. Ask for credit if you feel that your idea or content was borrowed and be prepared to back up your claim.  But then, simmer down.  If you’re the original and most people know you’re the original, this is your moment to shine.

Look at the MKC commercials from 2014.  Lincoln’s sales soared up by 25%.  Ellen’s and SNL’s spoofs helped to catapult the original. Going viral is good for business.

“Borrowing” is flattery.  Properly documented spoofs or borrows can turn into more views for your channel.  Create brand ambassadors that will grow your channel. When someone copies your content, look at the action as flattery and opportunity. Embrace the marketing boost!

#4. If a serious offender ignores your request to receive a link and hat tip to your page, hire an attorney.  Sometimes, “borrowing” is not so innocent.  If it’s costly and the stakes are high, let your attorney do the talking.

In general, most people want to get copyright right. If you keep a positive attitude and work through the situation, you’ll probably end up with decent backlinks and some new partnerships.  Sharing and take-offs can help your SEO to soar.

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Filed under Capturing Audience, Citing Sources, Editors, Favorite Websites, Research Tips, Revising & Proofreading, SEO (Search Engine Optimization), Website Linking, YouTube

Do You Trust the Internet?

We enjoy so many benefits from the advancements in search and mobile technology, but with the good, comes the corrupt.  If you haven’t checked in on the digital industry lately, fasten your seat belt.  Here’s a glimpse into a world that is collecting your data and your children’s data and making intelligent connections to predict your feelings, stances, tendencies, and more. The question is, what are you going to do about it?

Why Privacy Is a Big Deal251_5117

Based on a survey of 2012 consumers, Accenture, a digital marketing company, reports that “The vast majority (80 percent) of consumers aged 20-40 in the United States and the United Kingdom believe total privacy in the digital world is a thing of the past, and nearly half (49 percent) said they would not object to having their buying behavior tracked if it would result in relevant offers from brands and suppliers.”  You might not see it or understand it, but collection of your family’s Internet history, face profiles, store behaviors, and even school test results are regularly recorded through Internet, video, and audio monitoring.  You don’t know who sees this information, how they react when they see it, and what conclusions they draw.

It’s true that many good people use data to keep society safe, bring better search results, find medical cures, or improve shopping experiences. It’s equally true that evil can corrupt good intent.

We can look back in history and find many examples of governments, leaders, and companies that became powerful and rich and were willing to step over and hurt many people to achieve their goals. In fact, we can see these behaviors today.

On the other hand, sharing data is a way to move our society forward a little faster.  After all, any tool or device has potential for good or evil. What comes of your data depends on the persons using it.  But, do you know those people? Not so much.

How is your information collected?  Here are a few of the most common places and what you can do to minimize how much is shared.

Through Search Engines

Search engines like Google, Bing, and even Facebook and Twitter track what you visit on the Internet, how long you stay on each website, and how often you go back to certain websites.  This information helps search engines determine how to sell what you’re interested in seeing or anticipate what you’ll want next.

Many leaders in digital technology believe that access to your actions, patterns, and thoughts is necessary to better deliver accurate search results. People, communities, and even the computers themselves can learn from data to better society.

Website owners know how many people visit their websites, what links they click, the time of day they visit, the city they visit from, their default language, and what keywords people typed into search engines to get there. While the website owners don’t see exact names and addresses from Bing, Google, or Duck Duck Go, search companies do know who you are by your computer’s IP address or cookies.  An IP address, or Internet Protocol address, is your computer’s personal address and is a series of unique numbers separated by periods. Cookies are pieces of data left behind in your computer that track what you do online.

Search engines also charge your favorite stores fees to advertise to you.  Google knows a lot about what you like and dislike, the type of person you are (based on what you do or don’t search), your age, and how you might react to certain ads based on all of the data it has collected through the years from your Google searches, You Tube views, cloud storage, map and location data, use of Google Chrome, and sent or received email content.  Yes, that’s right.  Email content. If you own a Gmail account, Google scans the content of your emails and shows ads related to what you wrote or opened, so that you’ll click on those ads and buy products or services.

Data for the Government

Police and investigators used information from mobile phones, license plate recognition technology, cell phone towers, and surveillance cameras to track down the Boston bombers in 2013.  Government authorities monitor citizen Internet activity- even the activity of those who aren’t known criminals.

Frontline produced The United States of Secrets, in which it explains how the government changed its privacy policy after September 11, 2001 to get around Google’s filters, in order to learn a lot about each and every citizen. The government argues that it has a right to see everyone’s data in order to keep the United States a safer place to live.  Edward Snowden, a former intelligence analyst for the government, didn’t think it was right that the government monitored citizens without their knowledge, so he gave secret documents to a couple newspapers.  Some consider Snowden a hero, while others think he’s a traitor.

Through Retailers

When you submit personal or financial information to a company, the company will connect a lot of the data about what you do to your account. They might even give or sell that information to other companies.

When you scan a “loyalty card” or download coupons online, you might receive savings, but grocery stores are really interested in what you buy, how often you buy, and how to sell more items to you. Retailers often have security systems in stores that recognize faces to make sure you don’t steal.  These same security systems can also analyze how customers shop through the store and compile traffic patterns into heat maps. Stores and malls are now using beacons and geo-fencing. Both forms of technology know when your phone is nearby down to the inch. Retailers want to know this information in order to offer you incentives to buy products on the spot.

At a leading, 2014 Internet retailing conference, a sales person for a data collection company shared some insights about her company’s work with a top children’s book publisher.  You might even have an account set up online with this company.  The sales person said that this publisher “wanted to create a master profile across all of their different business units.  They have e-books. They have printables and they send flyers home to schools.”  The publisher uses software with a special algorithm that can tell when parents are shopping for all of their children verses when each child is shopping for himself or herself- even when multiple children are sharing one account with their parents.  The software gathers information about specific behaviors and shows books based on what it knows about who is probably using the account.

The algorithm knows who you are based on your mouse movements and quickness. For example, an adult’s eyes usually first look at the top left of a new web page, while children first tend to look at the bottom right. Where you hover your mouse and where you first enter the publisher’s website are also monitored. Kids tend to use wish lists and ask for every book in a series more than adults do.  Kids click on icons like hearts more than they click on words like, “I like this.”  The publisher has worked with this data collection company for five years to learn customers’ behaviors on its site and create special algorithms that increase sales from this data.

The sales person said, “We track everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re an adult or a child. The thing is exposure. How do you expose our data and what, from a privacy standpoint, is okay to expose about a child and what is okay to expose about an adult?”

So what is okay?

“For this particular publisher, they will not do marketing for people under the age of 13.” So if children visit different websites after visiting the publisher, remarketing isn’t used.  Remarketing, is tracking your behavior as you visit other websites and then serving up ads about, say, about certain books you like from the publisher’s website. If you’re over 13, this top publisher will try to get you to buy books, even when you’re not thinking about buying books, by serving you ads when you’re browsing other websites.  Keep in mind that this is one publisher’s guidelines.  Another company might track and retarget with ads at much younger ages and be okay about it.  Any company that stores all of this information about you and your patterns, might use it or release it to others- anyone they choose- when you or your kids are older.

This technology exists across all the websites you visit.

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other Social Media Websites

What do the thumbs up signs mean?  It’s not only a way of connecting with your friends, it’s a way to see who your good friends and family members really are and the areas, hobbies, or activities you like.  This information, along with sharing your image or commenting on a friend’s photo can again be collected to create profiles about you and to create great products you like or shape the nature of search information provided to you.

Earlier this year, Facebook allowed researchers to make it hard for some users to log in by accusing them of being hackers.  The researchers wanted to test how people would react to negative events.  Many people feel that allowing researchers to frustrate Facebook customers went too far and was wrong.  Who were the researchers and why were they given access to these accounts?

Facebook has since clarified its privacy policy and is even working on a way of helping you to police yourself before you post damaging photos.

Privacy Boundaries

There are many different opinions about privacy and data protection.

In Julia Angwin’s article for the WSJ, she says that, “My children, whom I will call Woody and Harriet, are 6 and 9. They use fake names online—always. They use software to block online tracking, and instead of Googling homework assignments, they use a search engine that doesn’t store any data about their queries. They have stickers that cover their computer cameras. Harriet, my older child, uses an encryption program to scramble her calls and texts to my cellphone, using passwords that are 20 characters long. Why go to such extremes at such a young age? Because if I don’t do anything to help my children learn to protect themselves, all their data will be swept up into giant databases, and their identity will be forever shaped by that information… Even worse, if my children leave their data lying around, they will face all the risks of what I call our ‘dragnet nation,’ in which increased computing power and cheap data storage have fueled a new type of surveillance: suspicionless, computerized, impersonal and vast in scope. Criminals could use my kids’ data to impersonate them for financial fraud. Extortionists could seize control of their computers’ Web cameras and blackmail them with nude photos. And most terrifyingly, their innocent online inquiries would be forever stored in databases that could later place them under suspicion or be used to manipulate them financially.”

On the other hand, twelve-year-old Grant, started making You Tube videos about fire safety when he was eight years old.  He is serious about wanting a career in this area.  He candidly reviews fire safety products for his audience and is steadily building a following within the fire safety industry. The Internet has been instrumental in advancing his skills and interest at an early age. It has been a wonderful teacher and avenue for networking!

Different adults will look at this issue differently, so it’s important to talk about it with your own children. Review the below checklist of actions you can take to keep your data safer.

Privacy Checklist

  • Regularly clear your search history and cookies on phones, tablets, and desktop computers.
  • Pause before letting someone interview you, take your picture, or record your voice. Newspaper articles and television interviews are especially hard to remove from the Internet. Do you really want this event on your record?
  • Search your name on the Internet and ask sites to remove PDFs, articles, images, or quotes that make you feel uncomfortable. Some sites will honor your requests.
  • Use fake names and accounts when shopping. Don’t answer surveys.
  • Stop publishing selfies. Don’t share all of the details of your life in a blog or social media post.
  • Go back through all of your social media accounts and delete old posts, pictures, and videos.
  • Ask school leaders how your district is preventing data from being shared with online testing companies and their partners.
  • Search with alternative engines like Duck Duck Go or use Google’s Incognito mode, which reduces the amount of tracking of your data.
  • Avoid giving personal information about yourself to a stranger online- even if they appear to be a kid.
  • Kids, don’t download files, pictures, or songs or click on links without a parent’s approval.
  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
  • Consider encrypting all of your emails, calls, and texts. There are many apps and software programs out there.
  • Cover the cameras on your phones, iPads, and computers.
  • Watch what you say, what you do, and what you wear in public.  Most places- schools, stores, neighborhoods, and city streets videotape and monitor you.

Just remember, though, unless you’ve stayed off of the Internet over the last couple decades, much of your information is already known.  You also have to ask yourself, is extreme self-consciousness worth your peace?  With over 7.1 billion people on the planet, all of your data mixed with everyone else’s data is frankly, a lot of data for others – or even computers to dedicate time to dissecting.  Of course, if you’re Sony execs today, you’re sweating thinking about every single email that was ever sent and what was said in those emails. Trusting the Internet with your information is a very individual choice worth serious thought and reflection as you move forward into 2015.

~Jean

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Filed under Business Strategy, Customer Profile, Education Strategy, Leadership, Reputation Management, School Websites, Social Media

Google Wants High Quality Content, But What Does That Mean?

Okay writers and webmasters, you’re good, but you continually challenge yourself to better.  This post is ready to be a resource to you.  We’d like to explain the following:

  1. The crux about quality from the recently leaked, March 2014 Google rater’s guideline manual.
  2. What high quality means.
  3. The attributes of low quality content.
  4. What you can do to improve your website’s content.

The Rubric- Google’s 2014 Search Quality Manual

Behind the scenes, an army of quality raters double check the accuracy of Google’s algorithms before and after updates. These raters are issued guidelines, which steer their evaluations and reflect what the juices are in the current or upcoming algorithm changes. The latest handbook, version 5.0, was recently leaked. We wrote about the 2011 version, and gave an overview of the new version at Relevance. What’s important for you to know is that E-A-T, or Expertise, Authority, and Trust are now key factors when determining Google search engine rankings.  Most insiders have known that the reputation of one’s brand is an important ranking factor, but this manual gives a detailed look at the factors that determine site popularity- well, popularity isn’t even the right word.  It’s more about the culminating signals behind your site’s reputation.

If you’re the Director of Marketing, you’ll want to download your own copy of this handbook at scribd.com because it talks about design and functionality elements, too.  Since My Web Writers focuses on content creation, we’re going to drill down into that aspect of the handbook.

Definitions of Highest and High Quality Pages

I really like how Google defines quality and provides so many specific examples.  It says,

“Highest pages are very satisfying pages which achieve their purpose very well. The distinction between High and Highest is based on the quality of MC <each site’s main content> as well as the level of E-A-T and reputation of the website. What makes a page highest quality? We require at least one of the following: <1> Very high or highest quality MC, with demonstrated expertise, talent, and/or skill.  <2> Very high level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (page and website) on the topic of the page. <3> Very good reputation (website or author) on the topic of the page… We will consider the MC of the page to be very high or highest quality when it is created with a high degree of time and effort, and in particular, expertise, talent, and skill. Very high quality MC may be created by experts, hobbyists, or even people with everyday expertise. Our standards depend on the purpose of the page and the type of content. The Highest rating may be justified for pages with a satisfying or comprehensive amount of very high quality MC.”

This means that as a writer, if you are writing outside of your area expertise and don’t do your homework, your average content could sink a website. Conversely, if you’ve specialized in a certain area, interest, or hobby, you could see a surge in demand for your knowledge after people get familiar with this document.  Writers, don’t be deterred from tackling new subjects, but when you do, do your homework.  Talk to experts and include their testimonies in your articles and quotes. You also can’t slop through the writing process.  Check your spelling.  Get the subject and verb agreements right.  Go deeper than what the culmination of five articles say about the topic.  Nobody wants to read repurposed articles when they’re looking for new angles. Pick up the phone and dig up unique quotes or tidbits of information that no one knows.  Google tells raters that,

“Highest quality pages and websites have a very high level of expertise or are highly authoritative or highly trustworthy. Formal expertise is important for topics such as medical, financial, or legal advice. Expertise may be less formal for topics such as recipes or humor. An expert page on cooking may be a page on a professional chef’s website, or it may be a page on the blog of a home cooking enthusiast. Please value life experience and “everyday expertise.” For some topics, the most expert sources of information are ordinary people sharing their life experiences on personal blogs, forums, reviews, discussions, etc. Think about what expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness mean for the topic of the page. Who are the experts? What makes a source trustworthy for the topic? What makes a website highly authoritative for the topic?”

Google would also like to see secondary content on high ranking websites, if possible.  From videos to games to reviews, find ways to help users delve a little deeper and engage a little longer. Not every high ranking site has to have secondary content, but if it has good secondary content, that’s a plus.

The Attributes of Low and Lowest Quality Content

Compare what content needs to achieve top scores to what deserves low scores. First, it’s important to note, Google recognizes intent.

“We have very different standards for pages on large, professionally-produced business websites than we have for small amateur, hobbyist, or personal websites. The type of page design and level of professionalism we expect for a large online store is very different than what we might expect for a small local business website. All PQ rating should be done in the context of the purpose of the page and the type of website. The following sections discuss page characteristics which may be evidence of Low quality. Occasionally, these same characteristics may be present on smaller amateur or personal websites and are not a concern. Please use your judgment when deciding whether these characteristics are evidence of low quality on the page you are evaluating, or merely a sign of non-professional but acceptable small, amateur, or personal website design, for example, “Uncle Alex’s Family Photos” website (a hypothetical High quality example).”

Google lowers scores if main or secondary content is distracting or unhelpful.  For example, too many ads are distracting and appear to have the purpose of monetizing the site rather than helping users. If the site lacks supplementary content, this too can lower the site’s score. Poor page design or a lack of website maintenance (meaning broken links or slow load images) can hurt your site’s score.  As much contact information as possible should be added. Google tells raters that,

“We have different standards for small websites which exist to serve their communities versus large websites with a large volume of webpages and content. For some types of ‘webpages,’ such as PDFs and JPEG files, we expect no SC <secondary content> at all. Please use your judgment… Here is a checklist of types of pages or websites which should always receive the lowest rating:

• Harmful or malicious pages or websites.

• True lack of purpose pages or websites.

• Deceptive pages or websites.

• Pages or websites which are created to make money with little to no attempt to help users.

• Pages with extremely low or lowest quality MC <main content>.

• Pages on YMYL <Your Money or Your Life> websites with completely inadequate or no website information.

• Pages on abandoned, hacked, or defaced websites.

• Pages or websites created with no expertise or pages which are highly untrustworthy, unreliable, unauthoritative, inaccurate, or misleading.

• Websites which have extremely negative or malicious reputations.”

Image courtesy of Flat earth Society

Image courtesy of Flat earth Society

This list seems fairly straight-forward and yet, one could see where rater subjectivity could get the better of a site. Pages or websites that are “untrustworthy, unreliable, unauthoritative, inaccurate, or misleading” could tank a business or individual with rogue opinions or controversial views.  The overall checklist appears reasonable, however, if Christopher Columbus had a website back in his time, I wonder how he’d score? Taken in whole, the document is fairly clear that raters should look at how well you, as the content’s creator, did your homework and presented information or opinions; but, the “unreliable, unauthoritative, inaccurate, or misleading” phrase on its own should be considered a warning shot fired about appearing half-baked in the public arena.

Definitions of Lowest Quality Content

The writer who has the depth of a baby pool probably shouldn’t be assigned very heady topics.  As a manager, find each writer’s strengths and let each write about those topics. Google says that,

“The quality of the MC <main content> is one of the most important considerations in PQ <page quality> rating. In this guideline, we’ll judge the quality of the MC by thinking about the how much time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill was involved in content creation. If very little or no time, effort, expertise, or talent/skill has gone into creating the MC, use the lowest quality rating. All of the following should be considered either lowest quality MC or no MC:

• No helpful MC at all or so little MC that the page effectively has no MC.

• MC which consists almost entirely of “keyword stuffing.”

• Gibberish or meaningless MC.

• “Auto-generated” MC, created with little time, effort, expertise, manual curation, or added value for users.

• MC which consists almost entirely of content copied from another source with little time, effort, expertise, manual curation, or added value for users.

Finally, the distinction between low and lowest quality MC is often human effort and manual curation. If you are struggling between ‘low quality MC’ and ‘lowest quality MC,’ please consider how much human effort and attention the page has received.”

When writing this article, I struggled with how much content out of Google’s manual I should quote.  My reasoning to go ahead and use as much as I have is because to date, not much has been written about the manual and not everyone, who is in a position to change their website, will read the 160 page document (though they should) or if they do, they might want further insight about it.  Thus, I think the amount of quoted handbook content is justified, given the extra value added with insight around the quoted content.

However, this is different than copying and pasting half an article without attribution or even with attribution and not adding further value to what already exists on the web. Nothing is worse than paying a writer to create original content and discovering that it is backwash.

Google says,

“Important: We do not consider legitimately licensed or syndicated content to be ‘copied’ (see here for more on web syndication). Examples of syndicated content in the U.S. include news articles by AP or Reuters. The word ‘copied’ refers to the practice of ‘scraping’ content, or copying content from other non-affiliated websites without adding any original content or value to users (see here for more information on copied or scraped content). If all or most of the MC on the page is copied, think about the purpose of the page. Why does the page exist? What value does the page have for users? Why should users look at the page with copied content instead of the original source?”

What You Can Do to Improve Content

Deliver what you promise for each keyword query you target. If you want to rank for the term “Arabian Horses for Sale” your page ought to have pictures and descriptions of several Arabian horses. You’ll want other websites to have great reviews from customers about your previous transactions. You should be registered and a thriving member of Arabian horse registries. Don’t let your content get off topic, but do make it be so rich that users will want to return and will recommend it to others. Make sure you spell check your work and don’t stuff the content with too many keywords.

We recommend reading the raters’ guidelines to learn more about how to improve the content of your website. You’ll find additional insight about what it means to have high quality content. ~Jean

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Filed under Algorithms, Branding, Business Strategy, Editors, Keywords, Reputation Management, SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

How to Apply for Media Entry at Conferences and Events

Writers, did you know that you can scoop great industry stories at conferences just by asking conference coordinators for media passes?photo (20)

Visit Your Favorite Conference for the Price of a Story

In most cases, you’ll need to be a staff writer, videographer, or photographer for a credible news organization, blog, or online journal.  Even freelance writers selling stories to publications, magazines, or newspapers can qualify.

About IRCE Media Badges

Maura Bruton, Internet Retailer Press Assistant, says that you need to be a writer

“for a publication, as far as whether that’s a blog or whatever, we are looking for people who are coming to cover the show or the exhibitors.  Sometimes people are looking for a press badge in more of a sales capacity and those people do not get press badges.”

IRCE is a great show to cover topics in e-commerce, selling b-to-b, or technology. Bruton adds,

“There are a lot of stories here.  There are a lot of spokespeople, whether for companies, keynotes, speakers, or presenters.”

If the journalist asks for assistance, IRCE will provide images and arrange interviews with speakers.  Quite often speakers and companies hunt down the press at the show for free coverage.

photo (19)Credit, of course, must be given to the show and speakers for images, videos, and quotes.  IRCE offers a full-service press room during the show, coordination with speakers prior to the show, press releases, and a complimentary conference badge. The press can take pictures and videos, if speakers approve, but press tags must accompany cameras.  Online credit should be linked back to the IRCE website.

To apply for a press badge for an IRCE event, go to IRCE.com and contact the press coordinators.  They’ll review your application and get in contact with you. Bruton suggests looking at IR Events Group to find shows that fit your upcoming conference calendar.

The Perks of Writing

Even if technology isn’t your beat, many other conferences and events provide free entry to members of the press in exchange for your content creation and distribution.

Hey, you could even go to Disney World for two days on a Hopper Pass if you can prove that you write for a travel blog or are affiliated with an established news organization.  Live in New York?  Start planning your Macy’s Day parade coverage by applying for a New York press pass.

If you write for a living (or just for the fun of it), go find budding stories in your interest areas by attending conferences and special events.

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Filed under Audience, Conferences, Editors, Marketing, Reviews, Writing Careers, Writing Resources

Fifteen Dos and Don’ts when Writing for Children- Recap of Jesse Florea’s Session at Write-to-Publish 2014

Some have a heart for children- others a heart for writing.  Marry the two and the world will change.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Clubhouse Magazine’s editor, Jesse Florea, at Write-to-Publish in Wheaton, IL.  He was at the conference looking for great stories for Focus on the Family and he presented a session on how to write for children. He’s also the author of several books for kids and their parents.

Who Is Generation Z, The Homeland Generation?

Copyright My Web Writers

Copyright My Web Writers

Generation Z was born between 1995 and 2005.  They’re known as the “Silent Generation”, “Homeland Generation,” or the “Net Generation” because they’ve grown up with the Internet. They were born after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks when many felt safer staying at home. William Strauss and Neil Howe describe this group as “highly connected” and media technology savvy because they are “digital natives.”  During a naming contest sponsored by Neil Howe’s company website, Homeland Generation was the name chosen by the site’s voters to represent this generation.

Florea says,

“They’re self-directed. Parents no longer over-schedule their children like they did five years ago.  There’s a little more free time for this generation, which is good because they have time to be creative, but the bad part is that they have this technology and when you have technology and time, they can get into trouble with the technology rather easily.”

According to NC State University:

“Such connectedness has a dark side, however, contributing to a sedentary lifestyle and skyrocketing rates of obesity. This generation may live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents despite the medical advances of the last twenty years. Of 100 Generation Z kids, 47 will be obese by the time they reach adulthood.”

Florea says,

“Basically, that’s because they don’t have to go outside to be entertained. All the entertainment they need is at their fingertips with a gaming console or they can talk to their friends through any different type of social media. They don’t need to get outside to get together.”

In 2011, Grail Research provided a fascinating look into this next generation by comparing the relationship of Boomer parents to their children verses Generation X parents to their Generation Z children.  Fundamentally the differences lie in the comfort with technology that Generation X shares with its children. There is an increasing overlap between Generations X, Y, and Z and their channels of entertainment, technology, brand experiences, and family values.

“Generation X is raising Generation Z with a high involvement parenting style. Generation X saw a social trend of divorces and is expected to instill stronger family values, along with ‘old’ notions such as work ethic, etiquette, and resilience. This, along with better education, will make Generation Z more tolerant, respectful, and responsible.”

The Homeland Generation might be more financially conservative, too. Florea says,

“Generation Z is saving their money.” Also, “This generation identifies itself more as individuals, than as a team…Sort of like Generation X…They believe in their own character and they believe they have their own persona.  Generation Z doesn’t believe in getting agreement or living by social norms.  Their society exists on the Internet where they speak out their minds and express their opinions.”

 

15 Dos and Don’ts When Writing for Kids

To kick off his session, Florea asked, “How would you describe children?”  Words like “rambunctious”, “messy”, “innocent”, and “smart” quickly filled the room from the audience.

Florea mentioned, “We want all of that in your writing. I’ve been at Focus on the Family for twenty-one years.  You know of Dr. Dobson.  He wrote a lot of books.  A lot of dos and don’ts.  Having boundaries, having parameters can really help, so that’s how this workshop started. I’m going to share about 15 or 16 dos and don’ts” when writing for kids.

  1. Don’t underestimate your audience. 

    “Kids are thinking, feeling and smart human beings.  They just lack life experience and the wisdom we can share with them as writers. Don’t doubt a child’s ability to understand concepts and accomplish great things. Generation Z is a smart generation because they have at their fingertips, all the information in the world.”

    Clubhouse Magazine particularly likes to feature ordinary kids performing extraordinary feats. Challenge kids with your writing. Kids know that things aren’t always perfect. You can’t shelter these kids, there’s just too much readily accessible information. Don’t shy away from writing stories about kids in single parent homes, with special needs, or whose families are in financial duress.

  1. Challenge kids spiritually. Years ago, Clubhouse Magazine received a letter saying that it was “boring.” Florea took the letter, published it, and asked, “Okay, readers are we boring?” He received close to 500 responses.  One of the common threads through all of them was that kids want to be spiritually challenged. They don’t just want to hear a Bible story.  They want to see its application.
  1. Do get into a child’s mind. Know their interests.  What makes them tick?  What do their parents want them to learn? This is important because parents are the ones buying the magazines.  Spend time with kids and know what they’re studying in school.
  1. Do work on a gripping opening. Capture their attention within the first three sentences.  You have to have a good hook.
  1. Do use vibrant, active verbs.  Kids need action.  The story needs to move. Show the action, don’t tell it. A Wheaton professor of Florea’s used to say, “There’s always a better way to start a story than with ‘it’ or ‘there’.” As soon as you start with it or there, you’re using passive voice. When editing copy, Florea seeks out and circles it, there, was, is, and were and reconsiders what these words add to each sentence.
  1.  Don’t go adjective crazy. “One well-chosen adjective is better than three adjectives strung together. Adjectives slow down your writing, while verbs keep up the pacing and make everything go faster.” Also, when using dialogue, just use said. “Said” is an invisible word that people read through.  If you go for fancier words like “chortle” or “mused”, you’ll stop the narrative. The person reading will stop and think, “Oh, why are they using that word?”
  1. Do use interesting and realistic dialogue.  Don’t try to use the cute catch phrases that the kids are using today because those words may be out of style by the time the article or book is published.  Florea looks for stories with active verbs, compelling dialogue, and believable characters.
  1. Show the action. 
  1. Do use humor. People retain 80% more when they’re laughing. To achieve humor you can use repetition, switches, exaggeration, extremes, and word plays.
  1. Don’t wrap up your story in a nice, little bow. Kids know that’s not how the world works. Be honest.  Former IU professor, Peter Jacobi, once said “The ending should leave the reader with satisfaction tinged with dissatisfaction.” Do leave readers with a nugget of truth. From age five on, children are able to relate to stories in characters just like adults. A value development specialist, who once visited Focus on the Family, said that “by age ten, right and wrong are locked in for a child.”
  1. Edit your copy.  Some professional writers work through up to thirty revisions before sending in a story. Cut the fat. Stay away from clichés.
  1. Do be creative. Don’t copy the world.
  1. Know industry trends. Go for “edu-tainment” (educate and entertain), which is like writing a chocolate bar packed with a vitamin. Watch movie trailers to see what will be big when each movie comes out the next year.
  1. Do write compelling characters. Write characters that are going through a lot of things. Also, don’t have the adults solve the problems.  Let the kids solve the issues without preaching from the adult characters.
  1. Do be yourself.  Kids can spot a phony a mile away.

 

Next June, make a point of visiting the Write-to-Publish conference in Wheaton.  The people are welcoming and you may soon find that you’ve developed relationships with mentors and fellow writers who will guide you throughout your career.  Meet one-on-one with acquisition editors and publishers, while also absorbing valuable insights and industry trends.  We especially thank Jesse Florea for sharing his expertise in children’s publishing with My Web Writers’ readers!

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Filed under Audience, Conferences, Editors, Education Strategy, School Websites, Women Writers, Writing Careers, Writing for Children

Two Unforgettable Keynote Speeches and Why They Were So Good

It is that time of year when the successful, the esteemed, and the sages are orating all over the country. We’d all benefit from turning an ear to their decrees of wisdom.

2014 Graduation SpeechesThese days, we are all privy to the pearls wisdom from the elite through social media. As a result, we have on record some of the most profound and universal principles that have guided the successful for decades.

Graduation and commencements are still taking place. Bill and Melinda Gates will be speaking at Stanford in a few weeks. The first of its kind joint commencement speech will surely have some noteworthy truths shared. But for now, we have chosen these two very different speeches to glean from.

Colin Powell at High Point University

Colin Powell gave the May 3rd commencement address for High Point University. The General’s calm authority is powerful. His recent talk echoed much of his core beliefs regarding the importance of a life dedicated to service, compassion, and making the choice to be a problem solver for others.

Here are some of his words of advice for the class of 2014:

  • “Make sure you share the talent and the time and the treasure you have with others who are in greater need than you.”
  • “Go forth and raise strong families remembering that all you can ever leave behind is your reputation, your good works and your children for the next generation.”
  • “As you go through life, listen to the other side. Have your eyes and your ears and your heart open to counterviews…”
  • “If you want to save the world, start by saving just one kid. That’s what it’s all about.”

You can see General Powell’s speech here in its entirety.

Jennifer Lee at the University of New Hampshire

Jennifer Lee was the honored speaker at her alma mater, the University of New Hampshire. Who is Jennifer Lee? Lee is simply the first female director of a Walt Disney Animation Studios feature film and the first writer at any major animation studio to become a director. That is a big deal. Then she takes it up a notch and writes a little screenplay, Frozen, which goes on to win the Academy Award for the Best Animated feature film.

Looking like she may be a former model, Lee was humble and honest in her appeal to the graduating class of 2014. Like many creative people, it seems that this groundbreaking director has wrestled self-doubt and won. She shares, almost in the tone of a “12 Step meeting,” what happens when self-doubt takes root. She describes how it clouds everything you do and see. It is the opposite of wearing rose-colored glasses. Lee shares, “The lenses of self-doubt are nasty and thick, big and filthy and covered in swamp scum. They are the lenses of, ‘I’m not good enough.’”

Ms. Lee shares from her heart for nearly fifteen minutes. She takes us on her journey through adolescent and young adulthood. Her story is one that everyone can identify with on some level. All, except that blockbuster hit she has on her resume, of course!

Ultimately, Ms. Lee’s speech was worth sharing as another example of how women are respectfully breaking through ceilings. Even having the vulnerability to share authentically, in the vein of Brene Brown, is a bit revolutionary. She implores the graduates to join the revolution.

“When you are free from self-doubt, you fail better. You accept criticism and listen,” Lee told grads. “If I learned one thing, it is that self-doubt is one of the most destructive forces. It makes you defensive instead of open, reactive instead of active. Self-doubt is consuming and cruel and my hope today is that we can all collectively agree to ban it.”

Ban self-doubt? We couldn’t agree more.

There is also no doubt that there will be other great speeches given over the next few weeks that deserve to be shared. Let us know if you spot one so we can all learn from the lives of the successful.

~ Jennifer

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Filed under Colleges, Keynote Ideas, Leadership, Speeches

One Cannot Not Communicate- Is Silence Golden?

Maybe Mom Wasn’t Always Right

The first of Paul Watzlawick’s five axioms is simple- “One Cannot Not Communicate.” Wanterfall says,

Even when you think you are not sending any messages, that absence of messages is quite evident to any observer, and can itself constitute quite a significant message. Not only that, but we usually transmit quite a few non-verbal messages unconsciously, even when we think we are not sending any messages at all.

What do you, as a professional, communicate when you choose not to communicate?

Photo courtesy of Bonoz

Photo courtesy of Bonoz

Perhaps your mother used to say, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” When your new friend with long, braided hair entered your home, she bit her tongue.

Did her silence mean, “I wouldn’t let my son wear his hair that long, but since I have no association beyond his association with you, I’ll make you feel comfortable enough without offering approval?” Her tongue biting left wiggle room- both for your friend’s eventual haircut and her possible opinion change.

While the intent behind silence might be noble, its very form is deceiving – a mask for a mix of thoughts and emotions forming in the sender or else a sign of ignorance. Silence is golden because it buys the sender time and it offers the receiver little information- or so is the hope.

What are the Effects of Non-Responses in Digital Communications? 

One cannot not communicate with social media. Not following a customer or fan on Twitter or G+, for example, could be construed as a slight. You’re too busy, too important, to ignorant to use the tools to follow and interact. Not having your social media in order says a lot about the organization behind your organization. Your brand communicates that it does’t embrace or understand the mediums or struggles to find funds. The receiver never really knows why you’re silent- just that you are and the resulting message is up for interpretation.

Internet marketer, Jay Baer, suggests:

Further, 42% expect a response within 60 minutes. Is your company prepared to handle social media inquiries within the hour? A few are. Most are not, in my experience, which potentially creates a disillusionment gap between customers’ anticipated response time, and your actual ability to provide a response.

Having a workforce to handle your social media interactions could be just what you need to reduce the stress in your customer service department.

One cannot not communicate with blogs. You haven’t written a blog post in weeks. Maybe there isn’t a lot happening in your company or industry – yeah right. You’re too busy, too underfunded, too unorganized. You were in the hospital. Whatever the reason, a lack of action or words communicates a message. Is it the message you want your fans to receive?

Darren Rouse looks at blogging this way:

The more posts you publish over time, the more doorways you present readers with to enter your blog.

1 post a week means you’ve got 52 doorways at the end of the year – daily posts means 365 doorways at the end of the year. This means people are more likely to see your content in RSS readers, in search engines, on social media etc. Over time this adds up.

Contracting out some of your brand’s writing work to writers can keep opening doors verses closing them in silence.

One cannot not communicate with correspondences. Two candidates fly out to your company for second interviews. You extend an offer to one. The chosen candidate receives your full attention. The other doesn’t. The one who didn’t get the job sends an email to you. No reply. This happens once. Twice. Three times. Surely, not communicating is a soft let down, right?  According to Career Builder,

56 percent of employers admitted that they don’t respond to all candidates or acknowledge receipt of their applications; 33 percent said they don’t follow up with candidates they interviewed with to let them know they didn’t get the job.

What does a lack of response communicate? That from the top down, your company’s communication process isn’t clear or even rude when not in need of a person, service, or product. It communicates disorganization and incompetency in the HR department. Don’t think for a moment that the candidate won’t remember the lack of communication when they’re in a better position.  According to the HT Group:

If you’re guilty of this and other bad hiring habits, beware your actions could complicate your recruiting efforts and even damage your company’s overall reputation. Here’s how (according to the same study):

  • Job seekers who don’t hear back after applying for a job are less likely to continue buying products or services from that company.
  • Did a job seeker have a bad experience with you? Half will tell their friends about it.
  • An overwhelming 75 percent of job seekers use traditional networking such as word-of-mouth to gather more information about a company.
  • More than 60 percent will check out your company on social media to find out if what you’re telling them about your culture is true.
  • More than two-thirds of job seekers would accept a lower salary if the company had exceptionally positive reviews online.

One cannot not communicate. What are the unintended messages you send just by choosing inaction or silence with your digital marketing strategies or relationships? From creating blog posts and social media posts to staying up with emails and correspondences silence is not usually golden.  Rethink if you’re clearly, consistently, and honestly, as well as tactfully communicating.

 

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Filed under Audience, Blog Writing Tips, Capturing Audience, Content Job Boards, Customer Profile, Leadership, Marketing, Project Management, Reputation Management, Resumes, Social Media