Tag Archives: Copywriting

Copy Crush: Cards Against Humanity

CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY

Let’s get something out of the way: when something bills itself as “a party game for horrible people,” you know it’s going to appeal to the wicked part of you. There will also be some NSFW language contained within this post, FYI.

If you’re not familiar with Cards Against Humanity, here’s a quick summary: You have a pile of black cards that work as prompts (e.g. “War. What is it good for?” or “What did Vin Diesel eat for dinner?”) and a pile of white cards that are responses to those prompts (e.g. “Passive-aggressive Post-it notes” or “Vigorous jazz hands”).

One player draws a prompt card and reads it out loud, while the rest of the players choose response cards and submit them anonymously. The player who drew the prompt reads off all the responses and chooses a favorite. Hilarity ensues.

If you’ve ever played the game, you know that the prompts and responses on the cards themselves range from benign to awkward to downright despicable. But I recently purchased the game for myself and the entire experience was so enjoyable (and the copy so consistently irreverent and hilarious) that I wanted to take a moment to celebrate Cards Against Humanity as my latest copy crush.

When you first click on the “Buy now for $25” button, you get taken to the store, where a little pop-up window at the top says “Our drones tell us that you live in the United States. Are we wrong?” Suddenly geographic targeting seems slightly more entertaining than ever before!

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The bullet points for each of the items on offer combine factual, useful information with random humorous tidbits, like “0% of proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation” (a great way to ensure people keep scrolling to find out what silly thing they’ll find next).

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But for a company that seems to appeal to the deepest, darkest parts of us, Cards Against Humanity also appears to have a conscience (or at least believe the people buying it will), because the proceeds from holiday expansion packs really do go to a good cause (The Wikimedia Foundation and DonorsChoose.org). A few days after I made my purchase, I received a nice email from a teacher at a nearby elementary school (see, those drones who identified my exact geographic location are good for something!).

When I finished my purchase, a button appeared at the bottom of the screen that read “Go outside.” Of course I had to click on it to see what happened. It brought up Google Maps and showed me all the parks in the area. (Again with those drones!)

The fun and games don’t end as soon as you pay, either. My confirmation email began: “Dearest customer, Thank you for spending your money all over our website.” It hits all the high notes—poking fun at the bland, automated emails we’re inundated with; describing the nature of our transaction with deadpan delivery; conveying sincerity AND somehow mocking it at the same time.

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But my favorite line of all: “You can reply to this email if you have any questions.” Say what??? I can actually respond to this email and a human will answer it.  Somehow this just seems pretty darn humane, doesn’t it?

And keeping in line with that same irreverent yet genuine voice, the letter that came in my package read: “Dear consumer, Thank you for buying Cards Against Humanity bullshit from our store. We’ve worked hard to keep Cards Against Humanity independent so that no publishers, distributors, or viceroys of the British empire can tell us what we can or can’t do with our game. We really like having a one-on-one relationship with our customers, and we hope we didn’t fuck it up. If we did fuck it up, please let us know.” And a bit further down the page: “The Cards Against Humanity store is new, and we’re still working out the bugs. Some customers report having received a burlap sack of broken Soviet appliances instead of their order. If this happens to you, please let us know.”

What a perfect way to complete the transaction and make me feel good about my purchase. Not only do I feel relieved that my money is in no way supporting viceroys of the British empire, but I know that if there had been a problem with my order, someone would be around to help me sort it out (and they would probably have a pretty good sense of humor about it as well).

So to my latest copy crush, Cards Against Humanity, I say: Well played, my friends. Well played.

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!

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.

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).”