Saturday, March 24, 2012

7 tips for engaging readers with email and other digital writing

Few things are as annoying as a SPAM emails. So don’t give your readers something that tastes like SPAM, give them prime steak they can really sink their teeth into.

Easier said than done, right? In the few seconds a reader opens an email, they can decide whether or not they should keep reading or throw out your message.

I remember that back in day when I was in middle school, my English teach Mrs. Peebles used to extol the virtues of power writing. We were supposed to start with a main topic and in separate topics elaborate on our introduction with more and more convincing arguments before we were to conclude with a flourish that would have the Pullitzer Prize committee sitting up and taking notice.

News flash: power writing or whatever you want to call it can be useful, but is really boring if that is all you are going to do. Reading such writing can easily sound stilted and dull, especially in emails. Email writing is supposed to be more casual, and it can rely upon different formatting rules than traditional letters.

Here are a few tips that will give readers reason for pause. And I mean that in a good way. 

1. Hey you!

Letters should not be generic, they should be addressed directly to who they are intended for. Personalized emails are far more likely to be read than generic ones. Names are important to people.

2. What next?

Ask questions. Have you ever noticed that a question keeps you reading? Most people find questions stimulating. A good question can keep readers involved and wanting to move to the next topic.

3. Once upon a time

After mentioning your topic, tell a story that helps visualize your point. Stories are great for involving readers, and they make articles more memorable. Still with me? Good.

4. Use pictures, pull quotes and/or video

A picture is worth 1,000 words and a good quote is worth at least 500. Remember that visualization is tied directly to memory. It also can act as a surprise, which encourages continuation.

5. Don’t spell out numbers

Numbers that are spelled out tend to get lost in writing, whereas numbers that are written as numerals get more attention. What jumps out more, that up to the preceding sentence this article had two hundred and forty six words, or that there were 246? Although the rule with most style sheets is generally to spell out numbers lower than 11, I think with emails the rule should slide.

6. Use lists

Lists encourage retention and opens up opportunities to highlight sections with bold or italic type, or with different fonts than body copy. Electronic writing especially needs breaks to rest the eye and act as placeholders for readers scrolling up or down.


Keep it short and simple. Readers are very busy and don’t have all day. Make your point quickly and keep giving them something that is useful, entertaining or empowering. If you do all that, you should have no problem attracting and keeping readers’ attention.

How many rules can you find in this article? What are your favorite tricks for getting people to keep reading emails?

Monday, March 19, 2012

When outrage isn't enough to get your cause heard

A powerful article on Global Grind, titled White People, You Will Never Look Suspicious Like Trayvon Martin, is getting a lot of attention on Facebook and the Blogosphere. 

There are many points made in this article about discrimination that I've seen first hand. If the mistreated is identified as black, or an immigrant, or a Muslim, the story usually doesn't get much traction with the public. A lot of subtle stereotyping goes along with being part of these ethnic communities. However, there is one thing I will mildly disagree with, and that is regarding the comparison between the Stop Kony 2012 movie and the recent killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, innocent black youth, gunned down by a security guard: 
Race. America's elephant that never seems to leave the room. But, the part that doesn't sit well with me is that all of the messengers of this message are all black too.  I mean, it was only two weeks ago when almost every white person I knew was tweeting about stopping a brutal African warlord from killing more innocent children.  And they even took thirty minutes out of their busy schedules to watch a movie about dude [sic].  They bought t-shirts.  Some bracelets. Even tweeted at Rihanna to take a stance.  But, a 17 year old American kid is followed and then ultimately killed by a neighborhood vigilante who happens to be carrying a semi-automatic weapon and my white friends are quiet.  Eerily quiet. Not even a trending topic for the young man.
Read more: 
If you haven't seen the Stop Kony 2012 film or know about Trayvon Martin's killing, see the following clips:

Stop Kony 2012

Young Turks clip related to the killing
of Trayvon Martin

Both clips make use of moral outrage to get their point across. Both movies also can be viewed in high def. But the kind of reaction they are getting is very different. Real racial issues aside, there are strategic issues why the Stop Kony 2012 movie took off and media related to the killing of Trayvon Martin is taking longer to get the same attention. 

If we look at this situation from a social media strategy perspective, the Stop Kony film is tactically designed to outrage viewers with the goal of getting them to fork over money. It is actually designed from beginning to end to affirm how good viewers are, not so much about actually making a change in Africa, not moral outrage. This is not to focus on the pros and cons of the Stop Kony movem
ent, but it does help in identifying the social media strategy involved. Also, the movie was produced in such a technically awesome way that a person really could easily get caught up in it. A person who knows a bit more about Uganda knows that the Ugandan government also uses child soldiers and that Joseph Kony is out of the country and possibly even dead.

With Trayvon's killing, there is plenty of outrage, but there has not yet emerged a very focused effort to explain what viewers should do about it, except "fight", in the words of the author. Also, there is a lot of loose talk by minorities about "us" and "them", that can alienate white would-be allies. True, there is plenty of reason for outrage over Trayvon's murder and I understand first hand the frustrations of discrimination. Yet, efforts to mobilize should be done in a way that exercises our rights as citizens and at the same time organize around a few viable tasks in a way that brings us together, not force us apart.

Trayvon's life should be documented and marketed as a film, and it needs to be done in such a way that viewers feel empowered to do something about it, not just be angry. Otherwise this whole story will get lost in the next news cycle like any other story. I hope I'm wrong, but that is what usually happens.

[Edit on March 30, 2012: Trayvon Martin's girlfriend has testified she was speaking to him on the phone before he was gunned down. This could be the evidence that proves Trayvon was killed in cold blood. More information on The Guardian here.]

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Is Fiverr worth it?

You may have heard of Fiverr, a site that facilitates social services. People posting gigs are willing to work for you for a price ... $5. Yes, really. All you need is a PayPal account.

Unfortunately, Fiverr is filled with money-wasting gimmicks. However, the site can be worth your time if you are trying to gain publicity for your business, provided that you know how to pick the deals from the steals. 

Here are five quick guidelines for the Fiverr initiate interested in publicity services. 

1. Don't use Fiverr services that will add Facebook friends or Twitter followers for you

The idea of paying $5 to add a thousand FB likes for your cause or add 700 Twitter followers might seem tempting, but you get what you pay for. The majority of these FB and Twitter followers are zombie accounts -- they have been created for the sole purpose of following others. They add nothing to your FB or Twitter profile except numbers and it is easy for anyone to tell that they are fake if you look at them a little closely. 

Granted, it may look good to have 10,000 FB likes, but what really counts is that people are talking about your brand, not just likes or follows. I'm of the opinion that having more followers and fewer conversations is actually worse than having a handful of followers taking part in a good dialogue. 

2. Don't use Fiverr services that promise to add backlinks

Backlinks are the backbone of good SEO. A major factor in how well your site ranks on Google is the number of links directing to it. It would thus seem that a Fiverr gig promising to add many high value links is worth it.

Think again. Adding too many backlinks too quickly can actually penalize your site. A good backlinking strategy takes time and patience. It is much better idea to find and employ an expert through oDesk or Elance. It will cost more, but it will give better results in the long run.

3. Do use movie making services

Having a movie clip produced can be well worth $5 Video testimonials get more attention than articles. If you don't know how to edit video and want a professional sounding clip, Fiverr can provide some very interesting solutions, provided you keep the following in mind. 

The first thing that needs to be clear in your mind is whether the video is going to be clearly an advertisement or a testimonial. If it is supposed to be a testimonial, you are better off not going down this route. You will be found out and it is not very ethical. 

Secondly, you need to be sure about your Fiverr employee's stage presence. Sure, it's just $5, but you don't want to throw your money away. More importantly, you want to work with someone who understands what your product is and how to pitch it, not make your product look bad.

Third, you want someone who has a good work ethic and high reviews. The most simple way of doing this is to organize gigs by video, or whatever other service you want to use, and then select the "top-rated" tab. Make sure that your Fiverr employee really does have positive feedback and not spam comments by happy customers.

4. Do use language services

If you are trying to reach a market that speaks a different language, it can be difficult, especially if you are working with a smaller or cash-strapped organization. One way around this is to employ a Fiverr service that will film a statement in a different language. You can then post and publicize the video.

Statements range from one minute to 30 seconds. Some Fiverr gigs will translate your statement into another language, others will simply state the service on film. Make sure that you are getting what you want. 

5. Do use multiple services in tandem for added value

Fiverr is most valuable when multiple services are chained together. Take the example in the last tip. You might end up paying $10 or $15 bucks, but compare that to how much you might pay otherwise. 

Most Fiverr gigs are set up to be completed in 30 minutes are less, otherwise they are a waste of time for the service provider. Keep this in mind and don't expect too much out of any one gig and you will be more likely to find that your expectations and expenses will be reasonable.