All posts by msuzuno

Review of Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder

writer crush

Let me just come clean and put it out there: I have developed a serious writer crush on Christian Rudder after reading Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking).

Christian Rudder is the cofounder of OkCupid (and on-again off-again author of the popular OkTrends blog) so it’s not too surprising that his writing has the power to evoke some pretty serious swooning.

Here are the reasons why I loved Dataclysm:

  • Powerful storytelling and hooks. Every chapter opens with some sort of story or anecdote that draws you in, whether it’s about the power of nostalgia or the internet’s ability to build up heroes and tear them down instantly. Pretty impressive for a book that’s centered around data, numbers, and charts.
  • Strategic usage of witty one-liners. One of my favorite parts of the book is the rubric that Rudder creates to categorize the most commonly used phrases in people’s OkCupid profiles. These are broken down by race and gender, so you can see what the most common phrases are among white males, Asian males, Latino males, etc. Rudder’s overall assessment of the white male demographic? A lumberjack music festival. (Of course this makes much more sense when you can see all the phrases, but some of the highlights in the white male section include “Phish,” “redneck,” and “Flogging Molly.”)
  • The subject matter/cocktail conversation fodder. I find dating and relationships fascinating, and it’s super interesting to learn about common misconceptions, like the idea that you and your partner have to have matching political views. Rudder argues that it’s actually the strength of your convictions (in other words, whether you care about politics or not) that’s more predictive of a relationship’s success than whether both people are Democrats or Republicans. Also, the two questions that tend to predict compatibility the most accurately are: “Have you ever traveled alone?” and “Do you like horror movies?” (If both people answer yes to each of those questions, they have a higher rate of compatibility than other couples.)
  • Rudder’s sensitivity to limitations and privacy concerns. In a brief interview on Amazon.com, when asked about whether he’s worried about any of his research and its implications, Rudder says, “I have mixed feelings about the implications. I myself almost never tweet, post, or share anything about my personal life. At the same time, I’ve just spent three years writing about how interesting all this data is, and I cofounded OkCupid. My hope is that this ambivalence makes me a trustworthy guide through the thicket of technology and data. I admire the knowledge that social data can bring us; I also fear the consequences.” I also appreciated how in several instances, he explains why he’s only looking at a certain segment of the population and what impact that can have on his overall assessments.

Dataclysm is definitely one of the most well-written and thought-provoking books I’ve read in a while, and I hope that taking the time to make these observations will help me to become a more sensitive and skillful writer myself.

Have you developed any writer crushes lately? What attracted you to a certain writer’s voice, content, or style? Let me know in the comments!

Editorial Calendar Basics for Lazy People, Part 2

EDITORIAL

In my last post, I talked about the first step of starting your Editorial Calendar/Plan of Awesomeness/Anti-Procrastination Toolkit. Did you miss that post? No prob. You can find it here.

Quick recap in case you don’t feel like clicking on that link: start by thinking of general templates or themes that can be used over and over again with different topics or subject matter.

Let me just add a word or two about that initial step. When you’re first going through your ideas, it’s helpful if you can be as unfiltered as possible. Don’t get too caught up in the idea of what may or may not actually be feasible with your time and resources. Think of all the possibilities and try to withhold judgment.

Then, once you have your list of ideas, you can begin to give them weight. Which ones are the easiest for you to write or create most easily? Which ones will have the most immediate benefit to your audience? Put those at the top of your list.

When I first started the AfterCollege Blog, I was lucky that I had a little bit of time to come up with a backlog of content before I actually started publishing. If you have the opportunity to do this, I’d highly recommend it. There are a few reasons for this approach:

1. You’ll feel less pressure once you start publishing if you already know what your next few posts are going to be (and already have that content ready).

2. It takes a while to find your stride with writing/editing/planning. How much time does it take you to bang out a first draft? Do you like to edit right away or leave some time between writing and editing? Will you ask someone else to look over your post before it’s published? You can use this initial content-creation period as the time to figure out how this all works for you.

3. Once you start writing, you’ll discover that certain posts are easier for you than others. In my case, I was doing a lot of interviews and posts that required another person to contribute in some way.

This was important because it lent my blog authority, but it was also really frustrating, because it meant that I couldn’t complete certain posts until I heard back from the other contributor.

Once I realized this was the case, I figured out that there were two basic types of posts: those I could write myself, and those that relied on someone else.

This helped me to create another list of “independent” content so that I could always create this type of post when I was waiting on someone else. It took some of the pressure off of the waiting period and helped me plan my strategy for the following months.

Keep in mind that your month or so (or whichever length of buffer feels comfortable to you) of content is not set in stone. You can always make last-minute additions and switcheroos if a timely topic comes up that you’d like to write about.

One final thought about editorial calendar planning. When I was first coming up with the ideas for the AfterCollege Blog, I assumed that people would be reading the content in a linear fashion, since that’s how I was writing it. But unless you already have a sizable mailing list (which is unlikely if you are just getting started), people are going to be coming to your posts in all sorts of random ways.

Sometimes people will find your blog through a Google search, sometimes it’ll be through a social media link, and sometimes it’ll be from a link in someone else’s blog or website. In the majority of those cases, they won’t end up on your top page—they’ll be arriving at a specific post.

This means two things—one is that you don’t need to agonize over publishing your posts in a certain order and the other is that each blog post really should stand alone.  Sure, you can link to previous posts, but don’t assume that your readers will have read them. Think about what would happen if someone ended up on a specific post through a Google search or social media link, and throw them a frickin’ bone when it comes to making your content clear and easy to follow.

Do you feel better equipped to go through the initial content planning stages of your blog now? Have any remaining questions? Let me know in the comments!

Editorial Calendar Basics for Lazy People, Part 1

What time is it

We’ve all been there: Staring in front of an empty screen, trying to figure out what we want to say. Some may call it “writer’s block,” some may call it “Writer’s Evasion,” like Ann Handley who explains in this hilarious interview on Copyblogger, “I believe in Writer’s Difficulty and Writer’s Procrastination and Writer’s I Wonder If There’s Any Donuts Left I Should Go Check.”

I currently oversee two blogs at work, where we publish seven posts a week. If left to my own devices, I would probably spend at least 70% of my time freaking out about not having enough content.

But there’s a funny thing about that. If you spend approximately 42 minutes out of every hour fretting about how much content you have, that leaves you with very little time to actually create the content.

I’ve found that one of the best ways to get over this conundrum is to have a plan. In my case, I refer to it as the “Editorial Calendar,” though I suppose you could refer to it as “The Plan of Awesomeness” or the “Anti-Procrastination Toolkit” or whatever else gets you fired up.

This is how it works: I started by coming up with a list of all the possible ways I could write about my topic. (This was not an exhaustive list, since I would still be in the list-making stage if that were the case!) Rather than come up with specific topics, I thought more about broader categories.

It can be tempting to get caught up thinking about very specific posts you’d like to write, and there’s nothing wrong with making a list of those as well. But in the early stages, it helps to think in these broad categories.

To give you some concrete examples, when I was starting the AfterCollege Blog, I thought of all the types of posts that would be helpful to student and recent grad job-seekers, and came up with things like the “Résumé Teardown,” which is where a hiring manager critiques a real job-seeker’s résumé, or the “A Day on the Job,” where we interview someone about what they do on a daily basis at work.

These types of posts serve as templates that we can use again and and again but with different topics. So for example, we have résumé teardowns for sales, front-end development, PR positions, etc.  And we do the same with “A Day on the Job,” “The Hiring Manager’s Perspective,” and many of our other categories.

In my next post, I’ll talk about organizing and maintaining your Editorial Calendar/Plan of Awesomeness/Anti-Procrastination Toolkit.

Until then, happy writing!

Review of Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

Should you get your hands on a copy of Everybody Writes by Ann Handley?

Short answer? Yes.

For the slightly longer answer, read on.

Confession time: I’m not sure if I’m exactly the type of reader that Ann had in mind when she wrote this book. As best as I can tell, she wrote the book mainly for people who:

  • have a strong aversion to writing, but need to write in their professional lives
  • are what she affectionately terms “adult-onset” writers (in other words, people who were scarred by negative experiences and swore off writing for a decade or so)
  • lack confidence in their writing abilities and need a friendly guide to coach them through some of the basics

I, on the other hand:

  • have been obsessed with writing for as long as I can remember (My earliest masterpiece was some text I dictated to a preschool teacher to accompany one of my drawings. “This is a monster. He scared a ghost. The ghost scared the monster. Last night I saw a Dracula and three debils [sic].” Chilling commentary on the post-modern condition or a factual narrative of Halloween? You decide.)
  • have loved every English teacher I’ve ever had (perhaps with the exception of Mr. Page, a cranky old Englishman who wanted us to write down everything he said verbatim. “It took me years to compile all this information and you’re not writing it down! TAKE NOTES!” But even he had a certain charm…)
  • have devoted the majority of my career to writing and pretty much spend a good chunk of every workday writing and editing

And yet, I’m not too proud to say that I still have a lot to learn. Especially since I’m relatively new to this whole content marketing gig and at work I often get asked to write or edit things like marketing emails or landing pages (which were decidedly not on Mr. Page’s AP English syllabus).

Everybody Writes appeals to me because Ann strikes a perfect balance between informative, entertaining, and straight up hilarious.

In one of my favorite passages, she alters a quote from Mean Girls to make a point about high school-mandated writing styles:

“What you learned in high school might’ve once been a helpful guidepost. But it’s time to let go. As Janis says in the movie Mean Girls: ‘That’s the thing with five-paragraph essays. You think everybody is in love with them when actually everybody HATES them!’

Actually, Janis was talking about the school’s mean girls—The Plastics. Not essays. But same dif.”

Whether she’s offering tips on the difference between “bring” and “take,” a cool app that’ll prevent you from opening Facebook while you’re trying to draft your latest blog post, or just making a Tina Fey reference (because… why not?), Ann’s writing is clear and helpful. And friggin’ hilarious.

In Everybody Writes, Ann talks about having “pathological empathy” for your readers. Basically, you always want to think about what benefits they’ll get from reading whatever you’re writing. What’s in it for them? I love this concept. Because even though writing can feel like a very egotistical pursuit, if you leave it at that, most people won’t bother to read it.

So, in the interest of anyone who happens to be reading this, I’ll stop telling you why you should read Everybody Writes and just let you get on with it!

P.S. Do you have a long, boring commute? Do you get amped up about listening to audio books while going for a run? Or maybe you feel nostalgic for your childhood days when your parents would read to you? Whatever the case, there’s good news! Everybody Writes is now also available as an audio book on audible.com. Check out a little snippet of it here.

What I Learned at Content Marketing World

Awesome (4)

Things I knew about Cleveland before Content Marketing World:

  1. Liz Lemon loves it.
  2. Cleveland’s main export is crippling depression. (And every other “fact” that’s shared in this “hastily made tourism video” and this one.)

Things I know about Cleveland after attending Content Marketing World:

  1. It’s very warm in September (when you’re not in a heavily air-conditioned conference center all day.)
  2. The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame is awesome.
  3. Umm… see above?

So, yeah, the time I spent in Cleveland didn’t taught me too much about this city. But, on the plus side, my time at Content Marketing World has helped me learn a few things about content marketing and conference-going in general.

Here are my observations:

  • Personal connections matter

I observed this through my own experiences and the point was hammered home in Mark Schaefer‘s presentation on making Twitter your content marketing’s best friend. (In case you missed it, Mark talked at length about how Twitter is best used as a method for being authentically helpful and building real relationships.)

I’m new to the world of conferences (this is only the third that I’ve ever attended), and naturally shy, so I’m still trying to figure out the best way of making connections.

I’m slowly discovering that it’s helpful to have at least a few people you’d like to meet at a conference ahead of time. It makes it a little less intimidating if you set some specific goals.

Because I’m new to this, I set the bar pretty low—I had two San Francisco-based content marketers I wanted to meet (Is it silly that we had to wait until we were across the country to meet in person? Maybe a little, but hey, it worked…) and a few presenters I wanted to speak to at least briefly.

This helped take some of the scariness out of those empty blocks of networking times.

… but social media can help you be more social

I had contact information for one San Francisco content marketer, but only a Twitter handle for the other. So when we made plans to meet up, Twitter helped me get in touch and make sure everyone knew where to be and when.

It was also fun to see how everyone tweeted about our little meet up before and afterwards. So social media helped us connect, then meet in person, and then affirm that connection afterwards. I can also see us staying in touch via Twitter until the next content marketing event draws us to a new, exotic destination.

One of the speakers I was hoping to connect with was Ann Handley. I saw her present at the Copyblogger Authority Intensive back in May and started reading her latest book, Everybody Writes, so I was hoping to meet her briefly and get her autograph. (Yes, I’m a big nerd that way. Deal with it.)

Because I follow Ann on Twitter,  I saw that she was handing out goodies at Content Marketing World, so I tweeted to let her know that I was hoping to get her autograph.  She replied and we exchanged a few tweets, so when I actually met her in person, she kind of knew who I was! Social media helped me feel more comfortable being social in person.

If you’re shy like me, social media can be a great way of overcoming that initial hurdle and establishing some common ground with strangers so they don’t seem so… strange.

  • Don’t rely on the internet (always have a back-up)

Oh, boy, I’m going to do my best not to turn this into a rant. Let’s just say that the internet connection both at my hotel and in the conference center was… less than ideal.

There were numerous occasions where I just couldn’t get my phone or my laptop to connect to the internet, which meant that I couldn’t access email, Twitter, or Google docs.

I’m still trying to figure out my optimal note-taking and simultaneous social-sharing strategy, but I find that it’s easier to be more thorough with everything when I’m on my computer. And while I love Google docs when the internet is flowing smoothly, they make me want to pull my hair out any time I get that “Reconnecting” box (you know, the one that’s the color of a wan banana). I also kept getting a “Twitter has failed” message on my phone, which was painfully accurate.

Thank goodness for my local version of Evernote on my desktop, which pretty much saved the day. Every. Single. Time.

What am I trying to say here? Always have a back-up.

  • It’s a big, bad world out there, and I only understand a sliver of it

I’ve been working as a content marketer for a year and a half, so this is a field that is still relatively new to me.

Some of the sessions felt a little too large for me—either the speakers had bigger budgets, more buzzwords, or heftier teams to handle all the tasks and initiatives they discussed.

Copyblogger‘s Brian Clark and Jerod Morris used the analogy of TV/film and expounded on the importance of having a producer, a director, and talent to lead your content marketing team. This was both inspiring and intimidating.

Other presenters talked about their comprehensive, all-encompassing content and social strategies or the projects they’ve accomplished with tens of thousands of dollars (or more).

And others just baffled me with terminology and concepts I’d never heard of before.

But I’ll take a cue here from Jerod and his concept of “Primility” (pride + humility). At this stage in my career, the whole point of attending these conferences is to learn, so I absolutely should find myself experiencing moments where I feel out of my depth. That’s why I’m there—to expand my mind (or melt my face, as Jason Miller so colorfully put it).

I’m happy I had the opportunity to see so many talented presenters (and watch adorable kitten videos—thank you, Shafqat Islam for introducing me to BuzzFeed and Friskies’ Dear Kitten). And I feel both humbled and inspired by all the sessions I attended and people I spoke with.

Were you at Content Marketing World? What were some of the lessons that stood out to you?

Or, do you have any tips on how to make the most of your time at a conference? Drop me a line in the comments!

Why Start a Company Blog?

If you associate the term “blog” with some ’90s era hacker, like Keanu Reeves’s character Neo in The Matrix, it might be time to reboot and reconsider. Blogging is no longer just for authority-questioning individuals—it’s become a legitimate form of communication for all types of people, and now for companies as well.

I’ve been blogging for about a year and a half on behalf of my current employer, AfterCollege (I manage the student-facing AfterCollege Blog and the university recruiting focused Employer Blog), and I’d like to share a few of the benefits I’ve observed so far.

Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is blogging?

To put it very simply, blogging is writing articles that are published online (rather than in a print publication). Blog posts are usually arranged in reverse chronological order, so the most recent content is at the top of the page and you scroll down or back to see posts that were written earlier.

Blogs cover everything you can imagine (and probably more). Nail art? Yep. Expat life in Paris, Paraguay, and everywhere in between? Absolutely. Hula hooping? You bet.

Some blogs are purely passion projects and don’t lead to any sort of money-making, while some are used by small business owners and “solopreneurs” to help get their message out to a wider audience.

And nowadays, most companies have realized that blogging is an excellent way to build brand recognition and a key component of their content marketing strategy. (For more on content marketing, check out my previous post.)

Do your eyes glaze over any time you hear someone use the phrase SEO (search engine optimization)? I won’t go into too many of the gory details here, but let’s suffice it to say that you want to be the answer to the questions people are asking when they use a search engine, and one of the best ways to make that happen is to create a regular stream of fresh, useful content.

HubSpot published the results of a ContentPlus report claiming that company sites with blogs have 434% more indexed pages than sites without them. Indexed pages lead to higher search engine rankings—and to more traffic to your site.

Google recently did away with the cute little photos they were publishing next to an author’s name when they showed up in search results, but Google still gives preference to people who have established Google authorship. If you regularly update your blog with high-quality, useful content by writers with Google authorship, you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes to coming out on top of search results.

But if all that sounds like a lot of mumbo jumbo, here are a few anecdotes to illustrate the power of starting a blog for your business.

  • Blogging helps you find quality applicants for open positions

AfterCollege helps students and recent grads discover entry-level jobs and internships through the Explore feature on our website (students tell us their school, major, and graduation date, and we generate a list of positions, companies, and industries that we think would be a good fit). We’re a pretty small company, but we do occasionally hire people to join our own team. When we were looking to hire interns this summer, we naturally posted openings on our own site.

Something interesting happened when I interviewed one candidate who had applied for the Editorial & Social Media Internship position. It turned out that this candidate, a recent graduate who had received a few offers but hesitated to accept any of them, had not found the position on our site initially. The candidate had done a quick Google search for “alternative things to do after college” and found the AfterCollege Blog (and the post advertising our open positions). The time the candidate had spent reading the AfterCollege Blog meant that this applicant was already familiar with our company, our mission, and our values, so it was easy to tell from our conversation that this person would be a good fit at our organization.

  • Blogging helps you establish yourself as a thought leader

Having a company blog also gives us the opportunity to share our knowledge and establish ourselves as thought leaders. This might seem like something that’s a little hard to prove (and it is), but occasionally it pays off in a major way. When our CEO was at a conference a few months ago, he met another thought leader in our industry, who knew all about us because of our blog and the content that we’ve been creating and sharing. I’ve also reached out to people to request interviews and been pleasantly surprised when they are already familiar with AfterCollege because they have read our blog.

  • Blogging puts you in direct contact with your customers/clients

One of my favorite features on the AfterCollege Blog is the “I Got a Job!” series. Any time a student gets a job through our service, we get in touch to ask them if they’d like to be interviewed about their experience. It’s so much fun to hear the success stories and see how our service really does help students and recent grads with the job search.

Some students and recent grads have stumbled upon our blog, left a comment that sparked a conversation, and ended up writing guest posts for us. It’s rewarding to see your content resonate with your audience and to open up a dialogue in that way.

It’s not all sunshine and roses—sometimes people leave us negative comments, explaining their frustrations with certain features or functions of our site. But those are helpful, too. We use criticism as an opportunity to evaluate if there are changes we can make to improve our users’ experience.

We can even take those questions and frustrations and turn them into content for the blog. So for example when one student complained about the functionality of our Explore feature, we realized that we could write a blog post that explained how to get the best possible results. Or on the employer side, many organizations struggle to write job listings, so we wrote a post that offered some tips and best practices.

These are just a handful of the benefits I’ve observed since launching the two AfterCollege blogs, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. How has blogging helped your organization? Let me know in the comments!

I originally published this post on LinkedIn. Find the original post here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140830150100-29684472-why-start-a-company-blog

 

How I Landed a Content Marketing Job (Without Knowing What it Meant)

Back when I was getting ready to go to college, finding a job was admittedly not a huge thought weighing on my mind.

But at some point I did sit down with my dad and ask for his opinion about whether it made sense to go to the small liberal arts college I had my mind set on, or whether I should attempt to do something more “marketable” (though I’m sure at that stage I had no idea what that word even meant).

In his infinite wisdom, my dad said, “Melissa, most of the jobs that will exist when you graduate haven’t even been invented yet. So forget about training for a specific job.”

Now, my first real job after college was teaching English in Japan, which was not exactly a new profession, but flash forward a few more years, and, like always, my father was right.

My current job title is “Content Marketing Manager,” which I get a big kick out of, since when I started I had never even heard of content marketing before.

So what exactly is content marketing? And how did I get a job doing something I didn’t know anything about?

Let’s start with the definition: The basic idea of content marketing is that you create blog posts, infographics, videos, and other types of “content” to help educate potential customers. You share information with them freely to establish yourself (or the organization you represent) as an authority figure, educate them about the problem they’re experiencing, and present your goods or services as a possible solution.

And how did I manage to get a job in this field I’d never even heard of?

Well, it just so happens that I actually already knew a lot about creating content from my years working as a writer and editor.

It turns out that all those blog posts, articles, podcasts, and other things I’d been doing in my previous jobs were examples of “content.” And the journalistic training I’d received in interviewing, fact-checking, and proofreading helped to ensure that the content I created lived up to a certain standard.

I was also really lucky that the person who created my position and hired me (Teresa Torres) already understood that, so even though the job title was “Content Marketing Specialist,” she spelled out very clearly that it was a full-time writing position and used writing samples as the main way she evaluated candidates.

This is not to say that I already knew everything about content marketing—far from it! There’s always more to learn about analytics, headline writing, SEO, social media, and tons of other related topics. And I’m grateful to companies like Copyblogger for leading the way—not only do they write about content marketing in an educational and entertaining manner, but their entire business is built on content marketing, so they provide an excellent example to aspire to.

There are a few takeaways from this post:

  • Don’t assume that you’re not suitable for a job just because you’ve never heard of it!
  • If you’re the one hiring someone, be open-minded about the hiring process. Think about which skills the person will already need to possess, and which ones they can learn on the job.
  • Father (or at least my father) really does know best.

Thanks for reading! Have you been hired for a job you’d never heard of? Want to talk to me about content marketing? Feel free to reach out!

I originally published this post on LinkedIn. You can find it here: “How I landed a content marketing job (without knowing what it meant).”