My business blog about digital communications showcases my guiding principles for how to improve communications in daily practice, whether in your own blogs or newsletters, on the About Us page of your business website, and in other venues for the written word and speech.
My blogs provide free tips and insights as well as further samples of my writing style. Here you will find #DigitalDo advice as well as #DigitalDon’ts.
The consistent theme is that your should integrate all of your digital marketing so there is a cohesive brand throughout newsletters, blogs, websites and social media. Moreover, these must connect to each other to maximize your opportunities and exposure with customers/clients and prospects.
Not finding what you want? Reach out directly through the Contact Us page to schedule a consultation. Adroit Narratives offers content creation for a variety of formats, such as speech writing, presentations, white papers, blogs, advertorials and news-style stories.
You’re a mid-sized or larger company and you need a raft of blogs and white papers to launch a new product or to reframe your existing core competency. When it comes to writing talent, you have a lot of options. Perhaps too many.
For starters, eliminate the urge to get writing on the cheap. It will suck. Excuse the crass language, but it will suck up your time because you will end up revising it or rewriting it. It will suck time and energy. To call this a fool’s errand would be too kind.
If your business is complex, such as finance, commodities, etc., you need to find someone sophisticated, well-educated and extensively experienced with writing for B2B audiences.
How much is your time worth? If you’re making six figures in a corporate role with full benefits, just plug your salary into a typical salary>contractor rate conversation formula and you can get a sense of how much you are worth in hourly terms. Granted, how you spend your time each day varies (think fruitless meeting). Now, imagine wasting your time vetting and correcting bad writing. Actually, there is a job description for that: editor. Is that really your job? It is essential, but do you have time for it?
Roles and Responsibilities
The job qualifications of a top-notch professional writer go beyond spinning out beautiful prose. A B2B writer is also an analyst, who can glean trends from complex data points. The highly-compensated writer is also a strategist, who gathers your objectives and pinpoints carefully chosen wording to drive home a message.
A business writer is also a collaborator, who can efficiently canvass other principals, including senior executives, to ensure all key viewpoints and decision-making are incorporated in the final product and then conveyed across the entire digital spectrum to reinforce that message (social media, paid, organic, earned).
The professional business writer is also an editor. Be prepared for this person to gather up all your past efforts and shred what was unnecessary, fluffy, tedious or just plain terrible. Don’t take it personally. It’s a professional assessment. Also, be prepared for the editor to capture the best of what the company has done and reinforce that messaging.
When you find the right writer, you can engage them on an ongoing basis with a contract that can button down the hourly rate and other considerations, such as NDAs and non-compete clauses. Such an arrangement provides you with the assurance your writer is available as a reliable extension of your team. The collaboration fosters an even more refined understanding of your business and, by extension, more effective marketing by the contractor. This way, you gain all the benefits of an inside marketing professional with all the nimbleness and responsiveness you need. The question is are you willing to pay for it? You could end up paying $75 to $150/hr or $1-2/word. The value gained is worth it.
In the news business, there is a sensibility that there is no need to repeat a story. We’ve covered that already! After all, the job is to deliver new information. By contrast, in marketing, the message needs to be reinforced.
Repeating your business story is essential to getting the
message to sink in. That’s why taglines and jingles are so successful. It’s crucial
to ensure you get the message right. You don’t want to repeat something boring
What messages can hit home? For a range of products and
services from home repairs to weight loss, you may want to tout rapid and
effective results. For professional, white-collar services, reinforce your
experience, trustworthiness and subject-matter expertise.
How do you reinforce the story? Put it in your tagline. In
your elevator pitch. In your social media posts. In your blogs. In your videos.
Time and time again, remind people of your core competency and what value it
brings to them. Think of effective TV ads that always end with the same motto
for a business.
By repeating the message, you are also standing by it. This
reinforces that the message represents an eternal truth.
Repetition is critical to learning. Think flashcards and
memorization. How does that learning work? By repeating the information.
Must you use the same exact words every time? Not
necessarily. But the tagline or motto can certainly be tacked on the end for
that final reinforcement you want ingrained in the minds of the consumer or
Should you consult with a thesaurus for alternative words?
Absolutely not! Use words you would in a normal, verbal discussion. Thus, the
wording is true to you and your business culture.
Should you use some off-the-shelf AI or outsource to a cheap blog mill? Only if you are comfortable with insincere messaging, word salads, and grammatical, syntax and spelling errors.
Distilling the Message
Sit down with your colleagues to review your existing
marketing message with a critical eye. Is it consistent? Is it specific? Is it
memorable (in a good way)? Is it effective? How can it be improved?
Or, how would you start from scratch? Go around the table and
talk about strengths and weaknesses in the business itself, not just the
marketing message. What is the greatest value you offer? Take those one, two or
three things and build the messaging to buttress (yes, reinforce or underpin)
Next, if you are confident you nailed it, then get to work with a multi-media campaign plan. Which social media should you use? How should you produce video and blogs? Who should coordinate the content for those as well as email marketing and your website? If you do not feel comfortable doing that work in-house, then retain an agency or individual to contract with for the marketing content and coordination. Take a look at how they market themselves and their client base. And, lastly, do not go with the lowest bid. Just like anything else, with writing, you get what you pay for. For Commanding Digital Storytelling, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t open a post to a group with “Admins, I
hope this is OK” and then post something is clearly in violation of the group’s
content rules. Read the rules and follow them. Don’t use a group to promote
your business, ask for medical or veterinary advice, share info unrelated to
the group topic, etc. “Admins, if this is not OK” is a form of clickbait and
you should just be banned for life for it.
Don’t use all caps. Don’t use all caps in run-on
sentences either. If you cannot form a thought and then write it out without
all caps and with proper grammar, please get help.
Don’t call everyone you disagree with in
comments on news stories a troll. It gets old. Unless, it’s definitely a Russian
troll. By all means, call that out.
Don’t post a nastygram review about a business
unless you truly had a horrible experience, e.g. you were food poisoned. In any
event, take it up directly with the business first. You can use the direct
message option for that.
Don’t share an article with an alarming headline
before you have even read the article.
Do post a supportive comment to a friend
expressing concern in a post.
Do recommend businesses you really like and
relate a good experience.
Do share pictures of cute babies, doggies and
cats. You will make people smile.
Do join groups on Facebook and elsewhere that
engage in hobbies you love or want to learn about, e.g., gardening, sewing,
cooking, kayaking, hiking, etc. That is to say, use social media to actually be
social, even if just in the digital space. These groups could actually get you
out to engage in healthy hobbies in the real world too.
send a direct message to a business on its Facebook or Twitter account. Ask
them something specific about a type of product or service you want or need.
You will get great, actionable information back!
It’s crucial for a business to quickly tell its story –
think elevator pitch. Ideally, your company’s name conveys what you do and is memorable.
But what about your logo?
For some companies, the logo is a crystalizing
representation of what it does. For example, the bird emitting song in the Twitter
logo. The bird is, well, tweeting. Unlike some of its users’ tweets, the logo
appears cheerful just as the eponymous tweeting sound effect of tweet
notifications. It is inviting and fun. And, it’s ingrained in the brain of its
audience and beyond. Everyone knows that logo.
For other companies, especially in small business, the logo
is an afterthought. While everything else was well-considered and properly
conceived, the logo is decided late in the game. Some business owners go to
inexpensive, online resources to find a logo provided by a freelancer they
never meet. The pitfalls are logos that are cookie-cutter images. You also get
what you pay for; did that cheap logo design come with a logo standards guide?
A logo standards guide provides how the logo may or may not be modified. It
includes acceptable variations, such as a graphic mark, and specifies the
colors, fonts and complementary fonts to be used.
A logo design from a professional graphic artist will
include multiple high-quality files with the logo in color, black and white, in
transparency and with different sizes for different media. These files are what
a print shop, web designer, social media manager and promotional merchandise
company expect to see when working with logos.
When I started my content marketing and social media management
business, I wanted a name that denoted the company provides skillful
storytelling, hence the name Adroit Narratives. The narrative should be
consistent across media, which is why the name is not Adroit websites or Adroit
social media or Adroit blogging. Now, how to represent that in a logo?
I knew from the outset that I did not want a logo with the
image of a laptop computer or a pen. Yes, that would connote outsourced writing
services. But, either would be rather boring and utterly unmemorable.
What would distinguish this business as my own? Some
businesses use the owners’ names, such as law firms, as the brand. I opted to
devise a brand about the work, so a good place for my name would be the logo. I
contemplated my family crest, which includes a stag, strawberries and the motto,
Je Suis Prest (I am ready). How could I incorporate the deer’s head and
strawberries? I also liked this idea because I am a hunter and the buck head
and antlers signify the harvest of the great outdoors to many. I wanted the
logo to express things unique to me and serve as a conversation starter.
To properly execute my logo objectives, I turned to Chris Sizemore
of Diliberto Studios, a
talented and experienced professional graphic designer. She managed my
expectations by providing a price and explaining the process of logo design.
First, we had a planning session in which I explained the above
family, personal and business story. I showed her the family crest for
inspiration, making it clear I was not asking for a replication, but a unique
derivation. She delivered.
In the next step of the process, Christina showed me her sketches of design concepts, all of which were stunningly beautiful. She had focused on using a strawberry shape as the body of the logo and incorporated antlers. I really liked these, yet I clung to the idea of the stag’s head being more prominent. She flipped the concept around and drew a series of stag heads in silhouetted profile with a brilliant motif: a strawberry in place of the ear. Bingo! Amazing! Wow! It knocked my socks off.
Moreover, years later, I still absolutely love the logo
design and what it conveys. When I hand people my card, they pause over the
logo. They don’t shove the card in their purse or pocket. They look at the artistry
in the design.
Besides providing a memorable logo, the design also shows that the business takes creativity very seriously, which too is a key principle of Adroit Narratives.
We live in trying times. I admit cursing while driving on
the Houston highways. But would I say those things if those drivers could hear
Do many people say those things in social media? Yep. Have
you? Well, never mind. If you get on social media even once per day, you are
subjected to something that will make your eyes bug out, whether it’s related
to international news or domestic problems.
At this moment, people are balking over Tom Brokaw saying
Hispanics need to assimilate. Ut-oh. This is a tired assertion. After all, many
of us whose great-grandparents came from Europe found themselves assimilating.
Yep, and many of them already spoke English (like my forebears from Scotland
and Ireland) and others learned this second-language over time.
That notion is so thread-bare is didn’t make me flinch, but
when he said some people aren’t sure they want brown grandbabies, my jaw
dropped. Outrage ensued! And, understandably as that is a genuine WTH comment.
So, using a completely unscientific examination, I scrolled
through reaction comments on a news story about this posted to Facebook. Surprisingly,
people with opposite opinions on this hot-button issue were not abjectly
caustic or abusive. Some people defended the comments, mostly with I-think-I-know-what-he-meant-to-say
reactions that acknowledged the comments sounded terrible. Others agreed
wholeheartedly with the assimilate part. I didn’t spend all day on this, but it
seemed like his specific remarks on intermarriage and “brown grandbabies” were
To be fair to Mr. Brokaw, he took to Twitter to apologize.
Within minutes, we will be on to the next outrage. Frankly, some things going
on in our society are outrageous. The question before us now is, so, what are
we going to constructively do about these matters?
We can each one of us do, myself included, to foster a
better environment on social media?
There is similar to asking before one speaks: is it kind, is
it necessary, and is it true? Yes, I believe it is necessary sometimes (but not
always!) to engage in political debates. Go ahead. Just be kind and stay in the
realm of facts.
Do not allow oneself to be triggered. I just saw a meme
about how Roger Stone is being unfairly and that [expletive] Hillary isn’t in
jail. I stopped. I got outraged at the false equivalency. I almost commented. I
liked a comment debunking it. Then I unliked that comment and scrolled the hell
out of there. Why? Because that post is just not worth engagement.
My congressman is active on social media and I do comment,
sometimes positively and sometimes skeptically, on his posts. Who knows? He
might actually care about what his constituents say. If I comment again, I will
try to be mindful to be as reasoned as possible. The other key is fully
listening to or reading someone’s comments before getting ready to tear down
one thing they said. Listen to the entire content. Consider the whole point.
Another test for you: are you making the best use of your
time on social media? If you are scrolling out of boredom, stop. If you are
getting consumed in a debate that is not constructive, stop. If you are clapping
back at memes, stop.
Make a conscious effort to share in something positive.
Spend less time each day on social media and consciously
decide to make it fun, educational and useful. If it is not one of those three,
ask yourself if it is worth your time.
If you live with dogs, you undoubtedly are frequently jarred by doorbells in television commercials. I’m going to name names: thank you, Walmart and Stouffer’s, who insist on multiple doorbell sound effects in their ads. No doubt the creators of these ads know that dogs will go bonkers each time they hear them and, ergo, dog owners will remember the ads.
But that certainly backfires when your target audience finds your ads incredibly annoying. I have other choices and do not need to go to Walmart, and I certainly wouldn’t serve guests frozen lasagna.
Analogously, are there certain retailers who send you multiple emails each week? If it is for the same offer, this practice is called a drip campaign. If the campaign is promoting a sale from a store I like, such as Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft, then yes, I rather like the email reminders. But, if the email is from an entity I find mildly interesting, then I really do not need two to three emails per day.
Who wants to be touched by digital marketing that often? Some email marketers seem more aligned with robocallers in practice than storytellers. What are you trying to tell your prospects and customers? Too many drips can feel like Chinese water torture for the email recipient.
Also, too much frequency can suggest desperation. Better to go with one to three emails a week, not several per day (you know you have seen that in your inbox).
And only talking about products and offers can get boring. What value are you bringing to people?
For example, if you are selling clothes, your newsletter could include an article about how to dress up or down with key pieces. And, sure, include sidebars with special offers as well as high-end items.
If you’re selling a professional service, include articles that are useful to your target audience. These are articles should be written by your company and posted to your website. The articles should describe how you solve a particular problem. You can illustrate your expertise without giving away the farm.
With storytelling you are inviting prospects to learn something of value from you. Think of it this way: if you ring someone’s doorbell in real life, they would appreciate if you are bringing something of value. (I’m waiting on the UPS truck as I type).
This is why guests bring hostess gifts to parties. You wouldn’t show up, ring the doorbell repeatedly and then try to sell your wares. So, why would you do that with email marketing? The Pavlovian response you are likely triggering is getting people to click delete, or worse, unsubscribe.
Instead, relate something positive and inviting. Did you hire someone new who is a standout in the field? Share that. Do you have an insight about some current event or controversy? Share that. Can you open with an anecdote about yourself in your business? Share that too. Let your customers and prospects get to know you and appreciate you.
Katharine Fraser is a communications consultant, social media marketer and freelance writer and editor.
Sunday at Grandma’s house featured dinners with tomato “gravy,” meatballs and ravioli and reading from the dictionary. My grandparents kept their dictionary on a large wooden stand in their dining room and I would pull up a tall stool to go learn from it.
The habit of perusing the dictionary started with my introduction to newspaper reading. Whenever I came across a word I didn’t understand, I would ask my parents for its meaning and they would tell me to bring the dictionary to the kitchen table. It was an unabridged Oxford dictionary. Once I lugged out this anvil, I would continue flipping through it to better acquaint myself with the English language.
When I was a news desk editor, Merriam-Webster’s website was bookmarked on my browser and still is. Why? Perhaps I second-guess myself with spelling. Moreover, I’d rather avoid the embarrassment of not appearing to know my own mother tongue.
After all, Merriam-Webster is now known for highlighting the malapropisms of a certain leader of the Free World, including referring to “Scott Free” instead of scot-free. Graciously, Merriam-Webster referred to this gaffe as an “uncommon spelling.” Nice.
Ever received a business email with a misspelling or two? Yes, we have all been victimized by autocorrect and our constant use of cell phones increases the likelihood of such errors. So much so that it became briefly fashionable for people to disclaim in their signature line that any typos should be ignored because the email was sent from a phone. Such a glib explanation brought to mind the image of a carefree jet-setter heading to Aspen or some other glamorous locale. “I don’t care about you peons enough to check my spelling. Ta-ta!”
This is the writing equivalent of arriving at a business meeting with dirty hair and rumpled clothes. Try to at least make an effort of looking like you have self-respect and respect for those with whom you are communicating.
All that said, I have missed typos. The sting of that embarrassment never lessens.
I know what you’re thinking. You use spell-check (that is Merriam-Webster’s preferred spelling, although spellcheck and spell check are acceptable). Plus, there is that ever helpful red, squiggly line to point out the errors of your ways. True. Yet, these tools are not infallible. Befriend the dictionary. It won’t let you down.
How many times have I checked the dictionary while writing this? Multiple times. How often do you?
Katharine Fraser is a communications consultant, social media marketer and freelance writer and editor.
LinkedIn just notified me a colleague received a promotion and offered me a one-click option to congratulate her. Unfortunately, that resulted in the following post being created and attributed to me: “Congrats [Name].”
Do you see the problems? For starters, that should read: “Congrats, [Name].” Also, I don’t like “congrats” because it connotes the person bestowing this good will cannot be bothered to write out the word congratulations. I deleted the post and wrote it my normal way.
Maybe “congrats Susie” doesn’t bother you. But it grates on my nerves. Just like poor grammar in holiday cards drives other people insane. Do not place an apostrophe after your surname to make it plural, e.g. “the Smith’s.” For further information on that topic, watch this fabulous PSA on how to make surnames plural (make that the Smiths).
“Congrats [Name]” is not something I would ever write. Thus, it is insincere. I keep hearing about how AI is making life oh-so-much easier for the busy professional.
Now, to be fair, I use Grammarly.com and the utilize the spelling and grammar check in Word. I just have no use for auto-generated digital communications.
It’s been a couple of years since Twitter users taught a chatbot developed by Microsoft to become an overnight racist. Social media has revealed another disturbing problem: many flesh-and-blood people do not know grammar and eschew spelling.
If you are one of those people with horrible grammar and spelling, banged out in all capital letters, I recommend you slow down and try to focus on one thought at a time. This way, your writing will be more cohesive. Another pro tip: forget about voice-to-text. It doesn’t work.
If you do either – crazy all caps rants or voice-to-text – in business email, texts or social media, then stop to ask yourself this: do I just not care about making a good impression? Do I want my customers to think I am a few sandwiches short of a picnic? C’mon, take a few minutes to check your own writing. And, check yourself, if you know what I mean.
Now, let’s review the positives of writing your own business correspondence. The recipient will recognize you took a moment to convey your thoughts, appreciate, advice or questions because the wording sounds like you. We all have our own signature manner of speaking and writing.
When I was a cub reporter at a business newspaper, a man in circulation sat at an adjoining table in the breakroom listening to reporters chatting over lunch. He picked out each person based on word choices and sentence structure that he recognized from reading our articles. He had never met anyone at that table before. But, of course, he did know the voices of the writers.
We also all have our own writing ticks. I will write you in lieu of your and also write your when I mean to type you. This is a nightmare I don’t care to share! Again, grammar checking is your friend. Better yet, read your wording out loud. By doing so, you will catch mistakes in grammar and spelling. Best of all, you will ensure the presentation comes across in your voice.
It would be so lovely if social media platforms provided for italics for people to emphasize words. Why not? After all, websites can use italics.
Instead, we gentle readers of comments on news stories or comments on friends’ political posts on Facebook are thrown back by a barrage of all caps. I will refrain from blasting you with all caps, even for demonstration purposes.
The beauty of italics is the letters lean over, as if they are whispering to a confident or in a conspiratorial fashion. The italics are letting the reader in on something. Pssst, I want you to know I am applying emphasis to this word to stress a particular point. That is so much more pleasant and effective than all caps.
Also, the excessive use of all caps makes the writer of such a comment look deranged, as if the person is screaming, I refuse to follow your rules of grammar, syntax and civility, you M.F.-ers! Excuse us? The point is lost. Who cares what they were trying to say? Do you really want to work through a wall of angry all caps?
Granted, all caps were used in telegrams. So was the word stop. There is no need to write out stop and there is no longer a need for all caps. The U.S. National Hurricane Center persists in using all caps in portions of its bulletins, especially the opening line of an advisory, which is warranted because it is warning people about potentially deadly storms. The U.S. Navy, in 2013, dropped the all caps in its messaging system, a tradition stemming from the teletype machine.
Reviving 18th Century Rules of Capitalization
As an aside, you may have noticed that the above subhead is in all caps. That is because it is a sub-headline and such breaks in copy (text) are easy to see when set off in caps. It’s not a form of emphasis. Now, as for the rules of capitalization, please read on.
Many professional writers in the United States, especially news writers, use AP Style. This style guide will remind users that proper nouns are capitalized, such as a name or city, but not all nouns. Oddly, I keep seeing people capitalizing some nouns but not all nouns, as if possessed by a spirit that wishes to confound and confuse the living with randomly capitalized words sprinkled throughout a Facebook or Twitter rant.
Remember, you are seeking to persuade people to see your point of view. You are not writing the Declaration of Independence. So, drop the caps on all the nouns you wish to emphasize.
Yes, Spelling Still Matters
Are you being mocked by elitists on Facebook who retort that your flagrant spelling errors in news story comments make you look uneducated? Perhaps you are using voice-to-text to comment and that is why your text is as intelligible as an elephant trying to send Morse code on a glockenspiel.
Please, use your fingers and opposable thumbs to type out your comments. You may even take a moment to read it before sending. In a moment of self-reflection, you might even edit it for clarity. Just leave out the all caps.
Today, I received an email pitch on the wonders of artificial intelligence writing. AI robots can write faster and more prolifically than a human, the pitch noted.
Bots, such as Watson, have written ad copy variants, the proponent of AI copywriting informed me. (I have no idea if a bot wrote the email, but I am guessing it’s possible given how dull the wording is.)
AI is already used to spit out news blurbs generated by sports scores and financial statements, the pitch added. Uh-huh, but can the robot tell you about how a pitcher reacted to a certain call or provide context for financial results that might be counterintuitive for some reason that is not in the data? Sure, speed is of the essence, but for those who want to immediately see numbers, they can already get them in that format.
Now, as someone who has written a fair share of earnings reports, I do think it’s silly for a human to get bogged down in writing a long, comprehensive overview of a report that already is an easy-to-read long, comprehensive overview of financial data. By the time a human writes one sentence, computers are already trading off the statement’s data. But a human with institutional knowledge and historical perspective can place the data points in context.
Granted, a bot could do that too, if programmed with all the permutations and historical data. Well, maybe. It would lack emotion and sincerity. It would also be bereft of an authority that only a human can possess: experience.
A human can tell you what it’s like to walk a mile in his or her shoes, based on experience. My bot emailer cited an example of AI writing merchandise descriptions for e-commerce of shoes. Sure, it can describe color, size and mode of dress. That’s nice, but what is it like to wear them? For that, a consumer will likely read the reviews written by real customers. This is where experience can provide specifics, such as whether a pair of boots was truly waterproof, as advertised.
Making your reader feel as if they are there in the space you are describing is essential to good writing. This is what made writers such as Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, known for their New Journalism style of lively, descriptive writing. Such a writer would not tell you the specs on a pair of loafers; he would tell you about the type of person wearing it, which is much more descriptive and useful.
Same goes with blogs about businesses. The blog is an opportunity to persuade a prospect that you product or service is precisely what they need to reach a goal or resolve a problem. You don’t want to waste time dwelling on the nuts and bolts of how you do your job. Instead, explain why you do it a certain way. In other words, don’t just tell them (like a robot would). Show them.