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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Walker Sands at Inbound 2017: Two Memorable Keynotes from this Year’s Show

Marketing and sales professionals from around the world headed to Boston last week to attend Inbound 2017 hosted by HubSpot. This year’s show attracted more than 20,000 attendees who came out for a myriad of inspiring keynote and breakout sessions, networking events along the seaport and other educational seminars.240090

Walker Sands was among those attending. With boots on the ground to explore the emerging tactics and technologies helping to shape our industry, we went to every session we could, talked to every exhibitor we could and absorbed as much as we could in the four days we were on-site.

There were countless takeaways for business leaders and decision-makers in the B2B tech sector. To help our clients keep pace with these new, emerging trends, we’ve assembled a list of key points from the two most memorable sessions we attended.

  1. Former First Lady Michelle Obama – The highlight of this year’s event, former First Lady Michelle Obama was invited to join an early morning session hosted by professor and best-selling author Roxane Gay. The interview centered on Michelle’s experiences as first lady, her thoughts about the election and her goals and aspirations as she looks ahead to the future.

    She stressed the importance of reintroducing herself at public events as a former “First Spouse” as there will come a day soon when we’re ready to appoint a woman as our commander-and-chief. To reach this milestone, we need to understand how to find our own authentic voice. According to Michelle, any woman who voted against Hillary Clinton during our most recent election voted against their own voice.

    There is a message here for marketers. We need to help our customers find their voice. We can do this by reaching them where they’re at with messaging that resonates with who they are, what they need and how we can help. This is why listening is such an essential first step in coming up with messages that will resonate with a target audience. At Walker Sands, we’re always listening, whether it’s on a discovery call with a customer contact or through information gleaned off a customer’s website, blog or social media profiles.

  2. Co-Founder of Refinery29 Piera Gelardi – Piera Gelardi is Executive Creative Director and Co-Founder of the award-winning digital media company, Refinery29. She has been widely recognized as one of the most creative people in the world of media.

    Her session focused on why we need to establish the conditions for creativity before we can achieve creative breakthroughs. These conditions are different for everyone. For Gelardi, she is in position to be her most creative self when she is in her warm, fuzzy office cocoon which she has adoringly dubbed “The Peach Pit.” It’s here that she drinks rose, laughs and comes up with off-the-wall ideas alongside those she knows and trusts.

    This isn’t far-off how we brainstorm creative campaigns here at Walker Sands. From CompTIA #MakeTechHerStory to the Owler CEO Likeability study, we are always chasing our next big idea. Like Gelardi, we require the right conditions to come up with the creative concept that’s going to resonate with the media and different stakeholder groups who we’re trying to reach.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what we saw and heard during this year’s event. If you want to learn more about our experiences at Inbound ‘17 in Boston, let’s connect!

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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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The American Writers Museum opens to the Public in 2017

At Walker Sands we’re built on three pillars, learn, support and do, which is why we’re big fans of the newest museum to open its doors in Chicago, The American Writers Museum. The new museum speaks to our mission in three ways. By encouraging learning in their state of the art immersive exhibits. By supporting the literary community in Chicago and beyond. And by motivating visitors of every walk of life to enrich their lives through all forms of reading and writing.

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Before their doors opened in May 2017, the museum and its stakeholders persevered for many years to see the vision through. In fact it took nearly seven years of planning, funding and writing for the exhibits to come to life. Since opening, USA TODAY ranked the museum #1 in Readers’ Choice awards for Best Illinois Attraction. Songs of praise don’t stop there, Bustle, The Boston Globe and Simcha Travel among others have cited the American Writers Museum as a must visit Chicago attraction.

We had to see what all the excitement was about and on a recent visit to the museum I was wowed by the beautiful exhibits that were not only informative but eye opening as well. The museum honors and celebrates the whole gamut of writers, from reporters and politicians to musicians and novelists, everyone is a writer and on display. Their vision, “to engage the public in celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on our history, our identity, our culture, and our daily lives” is reflected in each and every exhibit.

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Of the twelve permanent exhibits, my favorite was the word waterfall, an audio visual immersive experience. Picture words cascading to forming well known and not so well known snippets of literature and writing while being bathed in narrative sounds that make it hard to look away!

Experience the word waterfall and other interactive exhibits yourself by planning your next trip to The American Writers Museum here.

Additionally, Walker Sands is excited to be partnering with the American Writers Museum to host our annual Just a Book club. If you’re a marketer based in Chicago and want to learn more about the book we’ll be reading and the event we’ll be hosting in the museum, check out the Just a Book landing page here.

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