Just a Book, Part 4 – Everybody Writes

If you’ve been reading along, congrats to reaching the fourth and final installment in our Just a Book 2017 blog series featuring Ann Handley’s, “Everybody Writes.

Now that we’ve covered everything from the philosophy of writing to grammar rules and publishing tips, it’s time to dig a little deeper on writing for social, web and email. Because while you may be a marketer by title, Ann helps us to figure out what it really means to write like one.

Here are some of our favorite strategies from Ann:

Writing for Social

“Remember: think dialogue, not monologue. Social sites are often condemned for encouraging banal and useless noise, such as ‘Eating a burrito for lunch.’ But they provide rich opportunity to share updates that offer context or reveal character.” (Page 190)

Though only about a decade old, social media platforms have transformed the way businesses interact with their customers. Instead of picking up the phone or sending an email, customers are now just a few clicks (or swipes) away from connecting with their favorite brands. Curious how you can make the most of social? Check out the following tips:

  • Twitter. While you may be interacting with strangers, at the end of the day, they’re still people. Write as if you’re chatting with a friend or family member to establish rapport. Twitter also offers the opportunity to tell people what you’re all about. Share what your company stands for and how it’s improving the world to give followers insight into your bigger story.
  • Facebook. When it comes to Facebook, focus on quality over quantity. The more targeted your approach is, the better chance you’ll have of increasing sales. And remember, brevity is your friend. Short posts – 100-140 characters – and appropriately-sized images – 800×600 pixels – will drive the most engagement.
  • LinkedIn. With company pages, individual profiles and even showcase pages that highlight specific products and services, there’s a lot happening on LinkedIn. To stand out from the competition, optimize your profile with keyword-rich descriptions in addition to a steady stream of relevant news. It’s also a good idea to encourage employee advocacy since sharing important updates can boost both reach and engagement.


Writing for Web

“It’s tempting to go overboard – and arcade-ify your landing page by adding all manner of bells and whistles. Instead, go for simple and clean, with stupid-obvious navigation. As I’ve said elsewhere in this book: less is so often more.” (Page 227)

There’s a lot to consider when writing for web. To churn out top notch copy for Walker Sands’ own websites (like our digital site), our content team has turned toward these tips on more than one occasion. For home pages, keep your audience top of mind. Speaking directly to your audience’s motivations will help you demonstrate how you can solve their problems. Even something as small as adding in words your audience uses can help earn their trust – and ultimately their business.

As far as landing pages go, pay special attention to three key elements – the where, what and why. Carefully explaining where visitors have landed, what you’re providing and why they need to take next steps will make for a simple yet effective landing page. Curious how to tackle an about us page? Ann suggests focusing less on your company and more on who your employees are in relation to the visitor. Showing the human side of your employees while also including customer testimonials can help ensure you connect things back to the reader.

Writing for Email

“Rethink your email content, to reconsider what you’re sending, and why, and how you’re communicating . . . swap places with your recipient and write an email you would open.” (Page 219)

According to a study from Radicati Group, more than 265 billion emails are expected to be sent each day in 2017. By 2021, that number could reach 319 billion. To break through the noise, try keeping things concise. For example, short subject lines can boost open rate. The same goes for email copy. Rather than writing a drawn-out paragraph, get straight to the point to avoid wasting your reader’s time.

When appropriate, you can even go casual and use a recipient’s first name. Last but not least, finish things off with a specific call to action.

To take your writing to the next level, check out pages 181-261 of “Everybody Writes.” You can also watch our video on the final section of Ann’s book.

Better yet, reserve your spot to meet Ann in person! On Oct. 23, she’ll be joining us in Chicago for a meet and greet and Q&A session at the American Writers Museum. Spots are filling up fast so reserve now!

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Just a Book, Part 3 – Everybody Writes

Welcome back to Part 3 of the 2017 Just a Book blog series!

As we head into week three, it’s time to take the philosophies and skills we’ve learned so far and put them to action – getting content published.

Every piece of great content deserves the right platform to host it, and an audience eager to read it. However, as content creators, we have to remember that every opportunity to publish is a privilege. And with that privilege comes an accountability to our audiences to produce content that is both accurate and honest. To help us navigate this responsibility, Ann offers a number of great strategies on publishing content that you can feel confident in.

Check out these tips from our third week of reading “Everybody Writes”:

Champion Data

“Data before declaration. If you are going to tell me what you think, give me a solid reason why you think it.” (Page 178)

Readers want to know that your opinions are founded in truth. The best way to convey this is through data. Whether creating a whitepaper or drafting a byline, data gives your content important context and earns both you and your business credibility. You can turn to trusted sources like government agencies, research reports and major media outlets, but it’s ultimately up to you to be a good judge of what sources are reliable.

Be a Thoughtful Curator

“If you are merely regurgitating content from elsewhere without adding your own take, that’s not curation – that’s aggregation. A robot can aggregate content, but only a human can tell me why it matters.” (Page 166)

At some point as a writer, you’ll need to find inspiration and content elsewhere. As you search, it’s imperative to curate your content ethically. This means giving credit where credit is due, using a diverse set of sources and, most importantly, adding your own point of view to the story. Like a museum curator, it’s your job to highlight an artist’s individual work while also putting together a cohesive gallery that says something new about you. Take a closer look at how our design team approaches finding inspiration.

Dot Your i’s and Cross Your t’s

“Copyright information is like smoking marijuana: people tend to think that because it’s common it must be legal. It’s not.” (Page 170)

When it comes to using a found idea, quote, image, etc., always ask first. While living in a digital age can make it feel like the information we find online is everyone’s, the rules of copyright infringement are very black and white. Ask for permission, record the conversation and stick to this agreed-upon arrangement. Respecting this process ensures the validity of your content and can actually be a hidden opportunity to build relationships with others. Asking someone to use his or her content is not only flattering short term, but grows your network long term.
Interested in more tips on publishing great content? Take a closer look at Pages 139-179 of “Everybody Writes,” which we also cover in this week’s video. And with just one week of blogging left, catch up on anything you missed from Part 1 and Part 2.

Don’t miss Ann on Oct. 23, which is when she’ll be joining us and some of Chicago’s best marketing minds for a meet and greet and Q&A session. Reserve a spot for this year’s event here, which we’re hosting at the newly opened American Writers Museum!

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Just a Book, Part 2 – Everybody Writes

Welcome back to Part 2 of the 2017 Just a Book blog series!

Understanding grammar and word usage can be tricky for all writers, but it can be even more difficult for marketers, who often have a lot on their plates. With so much content to produce for complex and changing audiences, good writing can fall by the wayside. Fortunately, in “Everybody Writes,” Ann Handley gives us a much-needed refresher on the rules of writing — and when to break them.

Additionally, Ann gives us a few reminders about telling the brand story in an honest and compelling way.

Here are a few lessons that stood out from Part 2:


Don’t Speak Like a Marketer

“Would you tell your love that you ‘don’t have the bandwidth’ for something, or would you say you ‘don’t have the time’?” (Page 95)

We’ve all been guilty of using marketing lingo: buzzwords and jargon that we think sound professional, but don’t add value to our writing. Think “cutting-edge,” “utilize,” or a common favorite, “leverage.”

These words and phrases are vague and cliche, and they aren’t typically words people use in real life. You don’t need to throw around extraneous, fuzzy words just to fit in.When writing, prioritize conciseness and clarity. Say “remains” instead of “continues to be” or “use” instead of “leverage.” Avoid “weblish” and, above all, remember you’re writing for real people.

Be a Rule Breaker

“I encourage you to safely and fearlessly break those rules to make those mistakes in writing–but only when doing so lends greater clarity and readability.” (Page 107)

In school, we learned to follow rules. Good writing meant an introduction, three robust body paragraphs and a conclusion. We always hit our word counts (sometimes by stretching out our sentences) and avoided sentence fragments.According to Ann, it’s time to break those rules. Or at least some of them:

  • Never start a sentence with and, but or because. A conjunction at the beginning of the sentence was frowned upon in school, but marketers can ditch this rule. Why? Because these words can add momentum and flow to your sentences.
  • Never write a one sentence paragraph. This rule makes no sense for marketers, since a point that can be made in one sentence should never require a lengthy paragraph to relate — and white space is a must for online readability.
  • Avoid sentence fragments. Sentence fragments can add emphasis and variety to your writing, so feel free to use them. If you can do it well, of course.


Find Your Voice

“Your unique voice comes from knowing who you are, and who you are not.” (Page 131)

Every brand has a voice. And, along with your brand’s unique products and services, your voice should serve as a differentiator across all customer-focused communications. Your voice lets people know how you do things differently, and it informs the overall experience you deliver to people.

Remember: your voice doesn’t change, but your tone should. A laidback, fun tone for a more casual brand is fine in some situations, but an annoyed customer might be turned off by a sassy comment if she just wants a solution to her problem.

Tell the Story Only You Can Tell

“What sets you apart? What’s unique about your story? Don’t tell me who you are — tell me why you matter to me.” (Page 129)

Have you ever read copy on a homepage or a press release and walked away without any understanding of the brand? Maybe the business promises “impactful results” or provides “cutting-edge professional services.” At the end of the day, you have no idea what sets this company apart.

When writing for your brand, focus on sharing your own unique story. It’s not about cramming the same buzzwords your competitors are using into a blog post. There will always only be one you.

To learn more about grammar and storytelling, read Pages 89-137 of “Everybody Writes.” Or, check out our video on the second and third sections of Ann’s book. Remember to follow along for next week’s tips on your responsibilities as a publisher, and check out last week’s post on top writing philosophies.

Into Ann’s writing tips? Join Just a Book 2017! Reserve your spot here for Oct. 23, when Ann will be joining us in office for a meet and greet and Q&A session. Space is limited, so register soon!

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Just a Book, Part 1 – Everybody Writes

Welcome to the 2017 Just a Book blog series!

Over the next month, we’ll take a closer look at Ann Handley’s bestseller, “Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide for Creating Ridiculously Good Content.” Check in on Mondays to learn new writing tips and get a taste for what our Just a Book Club for marketers is all about.

For our first week, it’s only appropriate that we cover a few of the guiding principles Ann outlines in her book. Whether you want to call them rules, philosophies or something else entirely, here are some of our favorite strategies that help lay the foundation for better content.

  • Writing Is a Habit, Not an Art

    “The key to becoming a better writer is, essentially, to be more a more productive one. Or more simply, the key to being a better writer is to write.” (Page 17)

    Writing isn’t a pursuit reserved for English majors, and we can all establish habits to improve the quality and impact of our content. That process starts with simply showing up and making writing routine. Set aside time to write – whenever works best for you. Then stick to that schedule. Worry less about how much you’re writing, and instead focus on how often.
  • Embrace the Ugly First Draft (TUFD)

    “As painful and depressing as it might be to write badly – at least you’re writing, you’re getting the mess out of your head and onto the screen or paper.” (Page 41)

    TUFD isn’t an invitation for bad writing, but rather a step we should allow ourselves along the path to that perfect final draft. Getting your thoughts on the page – no matter their quality – is a simple way to overcome writer’s block and build early momentum. Then you can walk away and come back reinvigorated to turn your TUFD into something brilliant.
  • Show, Don’t Tell

    “In a business-to-business scenario, specific details can help put flesh and blood on the dry bones of a so-called solution, making it real and palpable to the people you are trying to reach.” (Page 66)

    Remember that B2B decision makers are people, too. At the end of the day, they just want to know how a product or service relates back to them. Conveying this starts with details – content that explains, in human terms, how buying your product adds value and makes life easier. A good barometer for if your content is hitting the mark? Ask yourself – it my content personable?
  • End on an I-Can’t-Wait-to-Get-Back Note

    “It can be useful to leave something undone – to give you a reason, and the courage, to start again the next day.” (Page 84)

    We don’t always have control over deadlines. But when time allows, leave your writing in a positive place. Simply stopping writing when things are going well gives you with the springboard to dive in head first the next day – setting up your future writing self for success. Conversely, stopping writing at a point of frustration decreases your energy-and-enthusiasm tank for tomorrow.

To read the full list of strategies, check out Pages 11-87 of “Everybody Writes.” Or watch our video on the first section of Ann’s book. Next week we’ll build upon these principles and explore Ann’s thoughts on grammar and storytelling.

For more tips like these, join Just a Book 2017! And mark your calendars for Oct. 23, which is when Ann will be joining us in office for a meet and greet and Q&A session. Reserve a spot here – space limited!

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Walker Sands Hosts Scott Brinker for Second Annual ‘Just a Book’

Where do hackers and marketers intersect? At Just a Book.

FullSizeRenderFor all of August we read and shared the salient takeaways from “Hacking Marketing” by Scott Brinker. On August 23rd, Walker Sands welcomed Scott into our Chicago office as the guest speaker to share more on how we can hack marketing to inspire teams and produce the best possible products. Additionally, we opened up our doors to 45 marketing professionals from technology companies across the Chicagoland area to continue the conversation we started online with Just a Book. Check out the action from the evening and see what others were saying on the twittersphere at the ‘Just a Book’ wrap up event!

Twitter visualization via WayIn:

Missed us this year and want to be included next? Just fill out the form on this page and we’ll make sure to get you on the list!

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