News You Can Use To Improve Your Communications

Learned-the-Hard-Way Best Twitter Tips

Do you love Twitter as much as I do?

The following is a list of ten best practices developed from small-business Twitter accounts that I manage or contribute to.  They’re based on several years of trial and error as well as advice from Twitter gurus like Mark Schaefer (@markschaefer), Jeff Bullas (@jeffbullas), and others.

These are simple ways to maximize Twitter’s potential for a small business or just getting your message into the world.

1.  The heart of the matter is:  be generous.  Give away good content.  Ideally, much of it will come from your website or blog.  But maybe you don’t have a website or a blog.  Other sources are other people’s blogs, industry publications, news sources, retweets.  Think variety.  Think fun, interesting, useful.

2.  Write your profile carefully.  Tell readers the benefits of following you.  Rather than simply say what you do or what your business is, say why your tweets are important/useful or what your subject matter will be.

3.  To have a follower, be a follower.  Follow a lot of people and a certain number will come back to you.

4.  Where to find followers?  First, follow everyone who follows you (unless they’re spammers or otherwise offensive).  Check out the follower lists of your competitors (sshh).  Look at the Twitter accounts of relevant magazines.  Do a search on a relevant keyword.  Get creative.

5.  Purge non-followers every week or two.  There are many programs for doing this.  I use http//www.justunfollow.com.  Try to keep the list of people you follow slightly smaller than those who follow you.  This strategy makes your account look like a happening party.  Kind of high-school-ish, I know, but this is social media.

6.  Don’t spam–in other words, don’t make constant sales pitches.  A common rule of thumb is one pitch for every 8-12 tweets of good, solid content.  This builds trust and credibility, whereas spamming can lose you followers fast.

7.  Don’t clutter the tweet.  Make it nice to look at.  If you’re retweeting, put the “RT @user” text at the end of the tweet, not the front.  Don’t overdo it with hashtags, and put them at the end rather than in the middle of the tweet.

8.  Ask questions.  It’s amazing how many more people respond to a question tweet than a statement tweet.

9.  Show that you’re a person.  Say “thank you.”  Respond to questions.  Probably not everyone needs to know what you ate for lunch, but it’s nice to mention an insight you had or something that made you happy.

10.  Tweet enough, but not too much.  This is not Facebook.  Twitter moves fast, so if you only post once a day or week, you might get lost in the shuffle.  There are various schools of thought about how much is too much on Twitter, but I feel 5-10 tweets a day is a good balance.

11.  Remember the concept behind Twitter.  While it’s is a fantastic marketing tool, Twitter is social media…not broadcast media.  The point is the conversation.  Engage with people.  It makes a difference.

Okay, that was eleven best practices, not ten (refer to #1).

What about you?  Do you have some Twitter best practices?

Before and After: Blog Content Makeover

Why is it important to edit what we write online?  Let’s do a content makeover to illustrate.

Look at the following excerpt taken from a popular blog on blogging.  Then look at the edited version.

Take-away tips from this makeover:

  • Don’t be sexist (or racist, or ageist, etc.) in your language.
  • Proofread carefully.
  • A conversational tone is great, but be careful about literal train-of-thought writing.

BEFORE

Good Content is necessary mainly to build up a regular audience that comes back to your blog repeatedly and also get your posts linked, leading to AUTO SEO for your blog. An yeah don’t forget that Google also likes good content except once in a while when their evil pandas and penguins do stuff that they are not supposed to do. People also bookmark good content which make them comeback at some part of time to your blog.

SEO is needed like every good product that needs advertising to get it noticed. Unless you seo optimize you blog, it’s unlikely that you will be found on the vast internet where millions of blogs are vying every day for every person’s attention. This is made easy by word press SEO plugins that make the job easy for you.

Design is a concept that pretty much needs no explanation. If you seen any makeover show on TV , you can get what I am trying to say , you make something look good ( like a blog – not a ugly chick) and people will come back and it will also register on their mind. Design includes the colours of your blog, structure of your blog and also the overall look of your blog. If you notice most successful blogs have a light colour (or white colour) theme.

AFTER

Good content is necessary mainly to build up a regular audience that comes back to your blog.  It also gets your posts linked, leading to “auto-SEO” for your blog.  Google likes good content, too. 

Like every good product that needs advertising to get noticed, your blog needs SEO.  Unless you SEO-optimize your blog, it’s unlikely that you will be found on the Internet where millions of blogs are vying every day for people’s attention.  WordPress SEO plugins make the job easy for you.

Design is a concept that needs no explanation. If you’ve seen any makeover show on TV, you know what I mean.  Make something look good and people will come back–it will register in their minds. Design includes the colours, structure, and overall look of your blog.  Most successful blogs have a light colour or white theme.

What do you think?  Which version works better?  

The Good Sentence: 25 Writing Tips from Famous Authors

George Orwell

Personally I think that grammar is a way to attain beauty.  Muriel Barbery.

To write well, express yourself like the common people, but think like a wise man.  Aristotle

 Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.   C. S. Lewis

 Never use a long word where a short one will do.  George Orwell

 Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”  Elmore Leonard

 Writing simply means no dependent clauses, no dangling things, no flashbacks, and keeping the subject near the predicate. We throw in as many fresh words as we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don’t always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it vital and alive….Virtually every page is a cliffhanger–you’ve got to force them to turn it.  Dr. Seuss

 Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.  Mark Twain

 Vigorous writing is concise.  William Strunk, Jr.

 Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.  C. S. Lewis

 If any man wish to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts.   Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.  George Orwell

 Don’t overuse exclamation points!! William Safire

Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was terrible, describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was delightful; make us say delightful when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “please do my job for me.”  C. S. Lewis

 The road to hell is paved with adverbs.  Stephen King

 … I still remember the exact moment when I first understood, with a sudden clarity, the purpose of a paragraph. I didn’t have the vocabulary to say ‘paragraph,’ but I realized that a paragraph was a fence that held words. The words inside a paragraph worked together for a common purpose. They had some specific reason for being inside the same fence. This knowledge delighted me.  Sherman Alexie

 I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one.  Blaise Pascal

 About adjectives:  all fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentences.  They make sentences move.  Probably the finest technical poem in English is Keats’ Eve of Saint Agnes.  A line like “The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass,” is so alive that you race through it, scarcely noticing it, yet it has colored the whole poem with its movement—the limping, the trembling, the freezing is going on before your own eyes.   F. Scott Fitzgerald

A young writer is easily tempted by the allusive and ethereal and ironic and reflective, but the declarative is at the bottom of most good writing.  Garrison Keillor

I might say that I don’t think anyone can write succinct prose unless they have at least tried and failed to write a good iambic pentameter sonnet, and read Browning’s short dramatic poems, etc.—but that was my personal approach to prose.  Yours may be different, as Ernest Hemingway’s was.  F. Scott Fitzgerald

Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died,” don’t say “Mortality rose.”  C. S. Lewis

 Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.  George Orwell

 Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.  C. S. Lewis

 The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.  Thomas Jefferson

 I try to leave out the parts that people skip.  Elmore Leonard

Writing is a mysterious activity.  Susan Sontag

Wednesday’s Weird Word: Euplocomi

Wednesday’s Weird Words is a series of posts about obsolete, fun, or just plain weird words found in my great-grandfather’s 75-year-old dictionary.  More about the story of Weird Word Wednesdays here.

Today’s weird word is:

euplocomi

And it’s an obsolete word for people having curly hair.

If you’re a member of this elite bunch, as I am, should we add it to our resumes?

How to Ruin a Good Blog Post #2: Use Acronyms No One Gets

It’s ironic.

Acronyms exist to speed things up.  The whole point of abbreviating a long title is so we don’t have to slog through reading the entire long title.

But unexplained acronyms can stop the reading flow altogether.   We stumble on them, wondering, “Should I know this?” Meanwhile, we’re missing the real content of the writing.

It used to be standard practice to spell out an acronym the first time you used it in a piece of writing.  For instance:

The Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things (SFPTOTOT) was a Monty Python sketch. 

Mary laughed until she snorted when the SFPTOTOT came on the air.

I hardly ever see this practice anymore, and pretty much never in blogs.

Seriously, sometimes it’s like being in high school, the way acronyms are thrown around online with no explanation.  It’s as if there are 500,000 e-cliques with their own secret handshakes, and the dorks who don’t get it stand around feeling like…well, dorks.

Here are some examples I’ve found in the last 24 hours.

  • A blog post about a fantastic meeting of professionals, in which the blogger used only an acronym to name the conference.  It was impossible to tell what the conference was about, or who it was for. 
  • The trend among “mommy bloggers” to refer to their husbands as “DH.”  I don’t get it. 
  • POTUS” and “FLOTUS,” routinely seen in journalistic writing.   Does the general public know these mean President of the United States and First Lady of the United States?  It would be clearer, and almost as short, to say “Prez” and “1st Lady,” or something.

I don’t think it’s realistic to say “stop using acronyms” in online writing.  But as writers we should be careful to tell our readers what they mean.

Do you have an acronym pet peeve?

Quick Editing Tip #1: Watch Your Jargon

Jargon WineNever use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.  George Orwell

Jargon is specialized language that functions as shorthand in a given field or industry.

Jargon is fine in the right context.  It plays an important role in helping us communicate with our small, local tribes.

But writers, especially those of us writing for general audiences, need to be careful with jargon.  Assuming that others understand our “lingo” is like traveling to another country and assuming the people there speak English.

Sometimes writers pepper their text with specialized language (or overly complex words) in an effort to sound smart.  Although tempting, this isn’t a good idea.  Readers end up feeling confused, stupid, or left out of the party.  Not fun.

It’s satisfying to read something that’s intelligently written, and connect with it.  We want to give our readers that experience.  We want them to enjoy our writing, and come back for more.

So, who’s your audience?  Do you write for computer programmers?  Children?  Garbage collectors?

We’d do well to match our use of jargon with what we think our audience knows about our subject.  If we don’t know who our readers are, or we’re trying to broaden our reach, it’s even more important to err on the side of simplicity.

It’s entirely possible to communicate complex ideas without a lot of specialized words.

Wednesday’s Weird Word: Doggess

One of my favorite family heirlooms is a 75-year-old leather-bound dictionary.  It belonged to my great-grandfather and has thousands and thousands of those ultra-thin pages like the dictionaries in libraries have.  In fact, I’m pretty sure this could be the dictionary in the Library of Congress.  It’s that marvelous.

Opening this book anywhere is like riding a magic carpet to Old Language Land.  I found some great old words recently, and will be sharing some on Wednesdays here on The Word Bath.

Today’s word is:

doggess

Now, doggess means just what it sounds like:  female dog.

I’m sure none of you fine people ever let fly with the other word for female dog, but if you ever wanted to and felt it wasn’t appropriate, now you have an alternative.

But beyond that, I just kind of like it.  It sounds a little like princess or duchess.

What do you think?  Will you be adding doggess to your vocabulary? 

Winners of Bad Sentence Contest Revealed

Every year the English Department at San Jose State University sponsors the Bulwer-Lytton* Fiction Contest for bad sentences. The event challenges writers to write the worst possible opening sentences for the worst possible novels.

Highlights from this year’s winning drivel:

*****

“The ‘clunk’ of the guillotine blade’s release reminded Marie Antoinette, quite briefly, of the sound of the wooden leg of her favorite manservant as he not-quite-silently crossed the polished floors of Versailles to bring her another tray of petit fours.” — Leslie Craven, Hataitai, New Zealand

****

Primum non nocere, from the Latin for “first, do no harm,” one of the principal tenets of the Hippocratic oath taken by physicians, was far from David’s mind (as he strode, sling in hand, to face Goliath) in part because Hippocrates was born about 100 years after David, in part because David wasn’t even a physician, but mainly because David wanted to kill the sucker.”  — David Larsen, San Francisco, CA

*****

“She slinked through my door wearing a dress that looked like it had been painted on … not with good paint, like Behr or Sherwin-Williams, but with that watered-down stuff that bubbles up right away if you don’t prime the surface before you slap it on, and – just like that cheap paint – the dress needed two more coats to cover her.” — Sue Fondrie, Appleton, WI

*****

*named to honor Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel Paul Clifford opens with the cliched “It was a dark and stormy night.”  

What to Read to Improve Your Writing

What to Read to Improve Your Writing

Seen at a local thrift store. This will be on the test.

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”  Stephen King

One of the first things aspiring writers learn is that to write well, they also need to read.  A lot.

In her classic book on creativity, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron said that artists and writers need to fill their minds regularly with new images–sensory experiences that give us raw material to draw from when we create.

Reading is a powerful way to do this.  Consider the richness of images in, say, The Grapes of Wrath.  I read the book when I was a teenager.   Decades later, I remember a bounty of images when I think of the book.  Green.  Brown.  Dry.  Cold.  Wet.  Suffering.  Reading the story, we see the heat and desolation of the Dust Bowl.  We feel the cold and wet of the Joads’ boxcar.

Writers are also admonished, constantly, to write what they know.   Even though we weren’t actually in California with the Joads, Steinbeck’s writing is so good that we feel as if we were.  The book’s images go into the file folder in our brains marked “What I Know.”   We can draw on these images as certainly as we draw on what we “know” about last night’s dinner.   In this way, reading adds profoundly to our data bank of writing material.

Reading also, obviously, exposes us to language.  Children learn language by exposure.  They pick up their parents’ accents, vocabulary, and bad grammar.  In similar way, if we read bad writing for a long time (no matter how old we are), eventually our brains are going to “learn” it.

There’s an acronym used in computer programming —  GIGO — that stands for “garbage in, garbage out.” It means that if you put messy code into a computer, you’ll get correspondingly bad programming results.

It’s the same with our brains.  If we feed them good language and rich, relevant images, our writing will be better than if, say, they consume National Enquirer.

So, when you’re looking for reading that supports your writing, consider these ideas:

  • Language is more important than subject matter.  A well-written cookbook is better than a badly written biography of Plato.
  • Older is better than newer.  In the last ten or fifteen years, publishers have basically stopped editing books — have you noticed?
  • Prize-winners are better than best-sellers.  As a one-year reading program, a person could do worse than to read fifty Pulitzer prize-winning novels.  Prize winners are chosen for literary quality.  Best-sellers?  Not necessarily.
  • Think about reading through a list of most-recommended literature for college students.  I’ve been working on one of these for over twenty years, and I’m amazed at how it’s enriched my life.
  • Online content doesn’t count.  It’s too fast, too short, and too prone to mistakes.

What do you think?  What would you add to this list?

Merriam-Webster’s New Words for 2012: How Many Do You Know?

The news about Merriam-Webster’s new words for 2012 was all over the Twitterverse yesterday.  I wanted to see the complete list, but the Huffington Post tells us the company — which leads the dictionary market — won’t reveal them all.

“Let [our competitors] find their own words,” company president John Morse, perhaps only partly joking.  ” It’s not a cutthroat business, but we like to say it’s a bare knuckles business.”

So, word lovers of the world:  if you don’t have anything to do for the next six weeks, buy the new dictionary and get looking.  Let us know when you find them all.

In the meantime, here’s a short list.

  • Sexting
  • Tipping point
  • Aha moment
  • Earworm
  • Craft beer
  • E-reader
  • Game-changer
  • Gassed (a new slang definition)
  • Geocaching
  • Gastropub
  • Shovel-ready
  • Obesogenic
  • Flexitarian
  • Systemic risk
  • Underwater (a new slang definition)
  • Copernicium

How many are new to you?

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