Category Archives: Content

How “Tour the States” Was Made and Went Viral

In June 2014, Angie Seaman, E-Commerce Manager for Marbles: The Brain Store, shared with an IRCE video workshop audience how Marbles: The Brain Store’s Tour the States video was made and successfully went viral with over 2,760,519 hits and counting.

“That was basically a very low-tech solution to making a video.  We had the cartoonist actually come into the office, get a big white piece of paper, and he’s only holding a marker. It took him about a week to get the thing done and the video.  We were crossing our fingers the whole time that he wouldn’t make a mistake. We did have a couple things that we had to fix, but it wasn’t too bad and it took our video director about two weeks to edit all of the footage together and get it synced up with music.  It turned out great and was well worth it for us.”

As a parent who had to help a fifth grader memorize the states and capitals in the fall of 2013, I can tell you that there was nothing like it on You Tube at the time.  The song is catchy and it not only highlighted the states, but also the capitals in their locations, which was surprisingly unique for You Tube videos about states and capitals.  Marbles: The Brain Store found a need and fulfilled it for kids (and parents).

“It <the video> introduced The Brain Store as an authority on the product, which is important because these are people who don’t know our brand.  It makes customers more comfortable to transact with us and we’ve seen our conversion rate increase over time. Part of it has to do with video.”

To make a low-budget video, Seaman suggests budgeting time to experiment, picking a room with good acoustics, and finding talent who can do it all.  She says that you can get going with video for less than $1000.

“It took us a year and a half or so to really get everything.  We saw results right away, but our conversion rate has increased and actually doubled every year. Part of it has to do with other things we’re doing, but I think a lot of it has to do with video.”

From lighting and sound to editing and effects, how is your company using video this year?

~Jean at My Web Writers

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Filed under Capturing Audience, Conferences, Television Script Writing, Video Production, YouTube

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

Reader Comments: How to Get to Real Insights (An Interview with Miami University’s, David Wells)

Image courtesy of Lane Memorial Library in Hampton, NH

In 1690, Benjamin Harris edited a paper that only lasted for one issue before it was shut down by the colonial authorities. Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick filled only three of its four pages so that readers could write their comments and share the paper with another reader, creating a written discussion of the paper’s stories. Miami University journalism instructor, David Wells, uses this anecdote to explain how social networking is not a new phenomenon. He asserts that each technological advance in journalism from moving type to the iPhone serves to “get the news out faster and it’s made it possible to reach a wider audience. The wider the audience and the faster you get it out there the more interaction occurs with it.”

If you write in or manage an online space these days, chances are reader comments are either the bane of your existences or a boost to your traffic. Or maybe a bit of both. While readers discussing your writing can help the story grow or the piece go viral, managing online traffic and comments can prove difficult.

Managing Online Comments

Wells was the Editorial Page editor at the Cincinnati Enquirer from 1999-2009, a period when many newspapers started to make the transition to the online platforms. In the transition, the paper focused on creating a “community conversation” and decided that historically the Editorial pages were where that had happened via letters to the editor. The team decided to publish letters to the editor online. As with the traditional print-based letters to the editor, the online letter to the editor page required people to include their real names and which neighborhood of the city they were from. Some people at the paper thought the requirement would deter submissions, but the paper received up to 100 letters a day, showing that people were as willing to include their names in the online forum as they were in the printed paper. Wells argues, “If people were going to put their names on it they’re going to be more responsible about it than they would be otherwise. And people do want to have their voice and speak up and they’re glad to have the forum.”

Monitoring the online comments to other stories proved more complicated. Not only were there far more comments to comb through, but with the ability to post anonymously, people would write such hateful things that some local public figures started to decline being interviewed by the paper. To Wells, the anonymity of online comments is linked to the likelihood that people will post inflammatory or untrue statements. “I think the anonymity of the comment is a bad thing,” he says. “The excuse is always that people will get in trouble because the boss will find out they differ in political views. You know what, people need to be responsible for what they say. There is such a thing as free speech and the boss isn’t supposed to be able to fire you.”

Many publications share Wells’s views and many, such as the HuffingtonPost, are starting to require the use of Facebook accounts to post online comments. Further, a recent study published in Journalism Practice found that there was a direct correlation between anonymity and “uncivil” comments. Specifically, when online newspapers allowed readers to make anonymous comments, 53% of the comments made were uncivil or inflammatory. That rate dropped to 29% when the user interface required the reader’s real name or a link to their Facebook account.

Crowd-Sourcing and Engaging Reader Response

Wells notes, however, that when flagging and removing offensive comments, it is still important to listen to the questions and the input of the readers. He recounts going into meetings and asking, “This story that the police reporter wrote got 150 comments. Did you read any of those comments? There are a couple of comments in here that are pretty interesting that suggest this is similar to some other crime. Have we checked that out? That’s a tip.” Reporters would tell him they didn’t have time to read all the comments and Wells would reply, “You don’t have time not to.” He asserts that reader comments provide a space for crowd sourcing to help a story develop: “You will find out new information which you should turn around and use to enrich your own reporting, just like if you heard it as a tip over at the police station.”

Drawing In Readers

Wells points out another way that reader interaction and digital readership is affecting writing: the pay wall. In an effort to counter financial losses after content moved from print to online, many publications have instituted a pay wall, allowing the reader to only read a portion of the story, or a limited number of stories before requiring a paid subscription. According to Wells, the pay wall can put the writer in a tricky situation. “What’s your role as a journalist?” he asks. “Is it just to provide teasers to get someone to buy a subscription so they can read your whole story?” Wells, like many instructors, teaches his students to get the news up top so that “if you just read the lead you should get the gist of what the story’s about.”

Tips for Web Writers

What does this dynamic mean for web writers? Careful management of online comments, flagging inappropriate or libelous comments is important, but listening to readers’ points also matters. Further, as more online publications move to draw readers into stories through sensationalist headlines or building a pay-walls, there are important decisions to be made about the integrity of your writing and how you are addressing your audience.

Know what your approach to reader interaction and user comments will be and communicate this vision to stakeholders. How will you set the tone without censoring your audience? How will you draw readers in without sacrificing the quality of your writing?

~Kasey

 

 

 

 

 

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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?

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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

Advanced Press Release Pitching

How to Write a Media Pitch that Attracts Viral Attention

Press release pitching is one of the most difficult parts of a public relations profession. Combine your tight deadlines with the stress of unrealistic clients who want front page Wall Street Journal coverage for every new product launch or charity event, and you are destined for a stressful day.

Advanced Press Release PitchingBusinesswire.com has a great article on writing press releases that will gain you media attention. However, while the tips for writing a press release that draws media attention are not much different than those needed to write a strong pitch, there are additional considerations needed to ensure you capture the attention of the one or two media journalist you want to see coverage from. That said; it’s helpful to keep these tips in your back pocket when developing a pitch.

Sell a pitch that includes several of the top eight importance factors in the body.

The Public Relations Journal recently released a study on the correlation between what journalists view as important news compared to what public relations professionals view as important news. While the study highlights that more times than not, media and public relations professionals weight the importance factors equally, pitches do not always include the details to draw media into those attention-grabbing facts.

Make sure that your pitch highlights at least three of the Journal’s eight importance factors, which include:

  1. Localness/proximity – relevant to your market / area
  2. Timeliness – recent or in the near future
  3. Immediacy – breaking news
  4. Prominence – includes people / places of interest
  5. Cultural proximity – how the topic relates to your local audience
  6. Unexpectedness – unique statistics or facts readers wouldn’t expect
  7. Human interest – entertaining/interesting
  8. Significance / consequence / importance – why people should care

Journalists are people too.

Just like you, journalists are people with real lives and crazy workloads. They are balancing their 200+ daily work emails with trips to the dry cleaners, late night soccer practices, and overnight deadlines. They do not have time to read a 500 word pitch. Keep your pitch short and to the point. Offer just enough detail to help them envision the start of their story before they even pick up the phone to talk to you.

Additionally, it is important to make your pitch personal. Begin a pitch addressed to the specific journalist’s name. If possible, bring up a personal detail about your relationship with him.

“Hi Jim – it was great meeting you at the trade show last week. I’d love to schedule some time for us to chat more about the new product launch I referenced during our conversation.”

A personal touch goes a long way. You might not always get the response you wanted, but you should at least get a response that will leave the door open for future pitch conversations.

Keep your pitches original.

Every journalist wants to have a breaking story. Pitching the same content to three leading newspaper publications will not receive a favorable response if more than one accepts the interview and they end up writing the same story. Include items in your pitch such as, “These details are exclusive and only will be shared with your publication,” or, “We wanted to share this news with you first.” If the publication is a strong one, it might be worth giving an exclusive interview to secure leading coverage and a great working relationship with the publication for the future.

Not sure you agree with the original approach? Check out this article from Forbes on the top tips for press release pitching, written by Mikal E. Belicove, a top Forbes columnist.

~ Katie

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Filed under Content, Marketing, Press Release Writing, The Writing Process

Writing for Your Audience: How to Keep Them Engaged While Still Selling

How Social Media Holds the Keys to Successful Business Writing

NewspaperAccording to The State of the News Media: 2013 Report by The Pew Research Center, “Newspaper website audiences grew 3 percent as measured by unique visitors from November 2011 to November 2012. However, total visits decreased almost 5 percent in the same time period.” These numbers point out an interesting phenomena occurring in media as consumers are transitioning their readership to online channels, while spending less time reading the news than they did in the past.

So as a writer, how do you keep your audience engaged, especially when your end goal is to sell your product? What are the emerging trends in business writing sales and how can you help stay abreast of the latest writing techniques needed to make a sale? Believe it or not, social media may hold the insider’s tips into keeping your audience engaged.

Keep it Short and Simple

The shear metrics behind the Twitter website should demonstrate consumer’s demand for short and to-the-point information consumption. According to the company’s website, average monthly users soared from 100 million in 2011 to 255 million currently. This represents a 155 percent increase in just three years. Compared to the 3 percent growth for newspaper website audiences, it’s clear to see Twitter has the emerging market cornered.

That said; how can you capture audiences using the same characteristics of Twitter? Well for starters, consider keeping messages short, simple, and to the point. Twitter has a 140-character limit for a reason; people don’t have the time or attention span to read anything longer. Imagine how successful your next media ad text would be if you sold every key benefit within the first 140 characters. Or, what if you wrote a sales blog that got to the point in three paragraphs instead of seven? While short and sweet definitely has its place, the theory of “less is more” cannot be lost when it comes to writing to sell.

Visual Interest Is Crucial

Dog Watching ButterflyImagery is a necessary part of any successful business writing piece. In fact, imagery, be it a company logo, creative photo to accompany your advertisement, or even a fun video to go along side your blog, can be the difference between capturing an attentive audience or receiving a high website click through rate before your readers actually absorb any of your content. For example, organizations such as the Business Marketing Organization are recognizing the value of using up-to-date, intriguing visuals, and are updating their brand imagery accordingly.

Social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest provide leading examples of the use of effective imagery which brands should be striving for. True-to-life, action shots of average people in real life settings are the business imagery that will resonate in the future. Gone are the days of staged portraits with professional actors who know nothing about your product. Looking for great imagery to accompany your business writing piece? Try photographing some of your actual clients using your product in a real-life setting. Or, use customer submitted photos. If you think it would get a “Like” on Instagram or a Pin on Pinterest, it’s probably a solid image.

Relationship Building Is a Necessary Step

NotebookYour business writing piece should speak to your audience in a way they can relate to. Just like your Facebook followers, users who regularly visit your business blog or look for your advertisements will expect a certain caliber and stream of content from you. For example, the content created on a Facebook page for a local rock band would be much different than the Facebook content created for the corner garden and nursery supply store. Keep in mind the audience you are speaking to about your business just like you would your Facebook page:

  • What will my friends/family/followers want to know about this product or service?
  • Will this information actually interest them?
  • Have I already talked about this idea in the recent past?

Likewise, make your business writing a two-way conversation. While this specifically applies to blogs, it is crucial that your audience feels like you are talking with them, not at them. Solicit commentary from your audience. Welcome guest bloggers. Make your writing a conversational piece verses simply just a straight sales pitch. The more social engagement you can bring into your piece, the stronger your final sales results will be.

~ Katie

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Filed under Audience, Capturing Audience, Content, Content Marketing, Sales, Social Media, Technical Writing, The Writing Process

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