Advertising vs info on social media – the trolls rage on

If you have a local business group on one of the main social media platforms, you know you’re going to get people advertising their businesses no matter how you try to stop them.

Advertising or content on social media on HTWB

I would have told this troll precisely where to shove his business video.

It doesn’t matter how explicit you are in your “rules” section; the only way to stop the ads is to kick the advertisers out, or at least delete their blatant advertising posts until they get the message.

But not always…

Explaining the difference between advertising and social media content

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Business and marketing messages: think first, write later

There’s no doubt about it, clear
Business and marketing messages: think first, write laterthinking is the most important part of getting a business or marketing message right, before you even attempt to write anything down. Sure, you’ve got all your background information together. But without the benefit of your creative little grey cells, as Hercule Poirot called them, that information isn’t worth much.

To make that information morph into a powerful message, it needs to be brought alive by a clear, unobstructed thought process on your part.

Trouble is, that isn’t always easy with the pressures of modern business to contend with.  Here are some of the obstacles that can get in your way, and some ideas on how to overcome them.

We’ve got to respond NOW or lose the opportunity

Not really. There aren’t many opportunities that can’t wait five minutes, even if it means saying you’ll call right back or email them immediately with a fast message to help close a sale. You’ll benefit enormously from those five minutes even if all you do is walk over to the water cooler and back before responding.

Business and marketing messages: think first, write laterPeople prone to temper tantrums are told to count to ten before they say anything, and the theory behind that works here too.

To react with a knee-jerk can make you look like one, so don’t take a chance on it unless a snap decision really is unavoidable.

The deadline isn’t for another week

This is the other side of the same coin. Because you’ve got other things you have to finish before that week’s up, your deadline keeps getting shuffled to the bottom of the deck.  Before you know it, it IS another week.

Of course, long lead times can be demotivating, and often if you start working on a message too early you then spend the rest of the time tinkering with it. The result is the message loses all its momentum and has about as much energy and spontaneity as a mouldy tomato.

Don’t let deadlines drive you. Take the wheel and drive them, without rushing, but with just enough time pressure to focus your mind sharply on getting your message right.

I know this subject matter backwards

Yes, and that’s the trouble. Familiarity breeds contempt. It also breeds tired, worn-out marketing messages. Don’t reach up to the top shelf in your brain and pull down last month’s solution, no matter how well it worked that time.

By all means add your past experience into the message. But remember to keep experience in its proper place – the past. No matter how many similarities there are in surrounding circumstances, never assume you can get away with producing a clone.

It’s fresh, original thinking that makes business/marketing messages work, and most things in life are only fresh and original once.

I know what the audience wants to read/see/hear

Not necessarily. Just because a message got them clicking or calling or buying in their droves last time it doesn’t mean they’ll respond the same way now. A couple of weeks or even a couple of hours can make an enormous difference to the way an audience will perceive you and receive your message.

A workforce before and after the announcement of a plant closure? Consumers before and after a media exposé about the dangers of a chemical sweetener in your chocolate bars?  Shareholders before and after a market crash?

Always, always take a fresh look at the circumstances of your audience, and ensure your message takes those into account.

I’d love to do something new, but it’ll never get approval

Oh, those corporate politics again. Yes, approval can be hard to obtain, especially when it involves getting through a committee of umpteen experts all with their own agendas and axes to grind. Well, no-one said being creative and original is easy. I’ll bet even the person who invented the wheel got a hard time from his or her committee to start with.

Provided you can justify your marketing message with solid evidence and common sense, most superior beings (even committees) will see the logic and give you the go-ahead. It never hurts to try, anyway, and once your message gets out there and proves itself successfully, the next time should be easier.

I can’t think straight with all this racket in here

Clear thinking is relatively easy if you happen to work in a cozy log cabin set in a verdant pasture or forest or whatever with not a single soul, cell, or cellphone for that matter, to mar the magnificence.

Business and marketing messages: think first, write laterGiven that large offices are to log cabins what express trains are to bicycles, clear thinking in this environment can be more of a challenge.

Here’s a trick. Go and sit quietly somewhere other than at your desk. At the risk of offending some of you, the toilet is a good choice. Yes, in a cubicle, sitting down. I’ve done some of my best thinking and got some of my most useful ideas in precisely these surroundings. (And I’ve heard all the jokes about it, too.) I think it’s because you’re cocooned in a small, plain space with absolutely no external mental stimulation. That frees your mind to focus on what you want it to focus on.

If the restroom doesn’t appeal to you, then go sit quietly somewhere else – like your car, or the staff restaurant outside of meal times, and close your eyes. Discard irrelevant thoughts one by one as they occur, and keep nudging yourself back to the project. Don’t “rack” your brain; just let it work by itself. Soon you’ll find things settling into place and you’ll be able to prioritize and organize your thoughts.

Happy thinking!

An earlier version of this article first appeared on the USA marketing site, MarketingProfs.com

More good thinking for your business and marketing messages:

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

photo credit: Humphrey King via photopin cc

Your FAQ page: how to make it help sell your business

Your FAQ page: how to make it help sell your business

Your FAQ page can help sell your business,
but you need to answer real questions.

I really get angry sometimes when I read Frequently Asked Questions pages that don’t answer potential readers’ questions … only questions the site owner would like to answer. Get over it, kids – if you want to come over as honest and open regarding whatever it is you offer, you need to answer the questions potential customers, stakeholders et al really are likely to ask. Warts and all. Not what you’d like them to hear.

BUT: do you need an FAQ page in the first place?

Well no, maybe not. I don’t have one here on HTWB, but in my case of course there isn’t a complex or detailed story to tell.

Where I think an FAQ page is very useful is in the case of products and services that do have a complex or detailed background. That can be for one of the following, and no doubt several other, reasons:

The product/service has many very similar competitors – FAQs can help you differentiate it in a factual and probably more believable way.

The product/service is complex and you don’t want to clutter your main sales/descriptive text with too much technical detail – FAQs allow you to explain the technical issues in a tidy, easy-to-refer-to way.

Particularly with a new business and/or product service, an FAQ page is a useful place to reaffirm your “pedigree” by using questions and answers that highlight key credibility issues.

FAQs can provide you with a helpful “catchall” that covers a relatively random range of topics in one place, and can supply a suitable repository for topics that you can’t quite place anywhere else.

Correctly structured, an FAQ page can deal with numerous queries that might otherwise tie up you and your staff in responding to emails that are not necessarily useful leads.

FAQ and Help pages – are they different?    

On some websites and in some print publications you’ll see that these two functions often are combined. In some ways I can see the point of doing that, but unless you have very few issues to address, overall I think it’s better to keep the two separate.

That way you can split off anything negative from the positive points. Negative or potentially negative “FAQs” – e.g. “what if my order doesn’t arrive” or “what do I do if the goods arrive damaged” – are better contained in a “Help” section. That leaves the FAQ page free to deal only with positive, benefits-led factual information.

Your FAQ page: how to make it help sell your businessHere are my top 10 tips for creating good FAQ pages:

1. Forget what you think your readers/customers/prospects want to know – go out and ask them. Encourage them to be truthful even if it means posing you questions you can’t answer immediately (go and find out the answers quickly though!)

2. Develop your questions and answers based on that reality. Use the questions as asked by your readers/customers/prospects if you can, otherwise make them up based on your honest
interpretation of what readers want to know.

3. This may seem obvious, but make sure your answers really do answer the questions. The questions are not there to provide a jumping off point for a sales pitch or technical essay – you have a duty to provide a sensible answer right away.

4. Even if your product/service is aimed only at consumer markets, in general it’s better to keep your FAQ answers positive without being overtly “sales” orientated. The place for sales copy is elsewhere on the website or printed material.

5. To ensure that your answers do support a sales message, however, focus them – in a factual way – on how readers benefit, not on what features your product/service offers.

6. Keep your writing style conversational, even if the question/answer is very technical. Use believable words and phrasing, based on the way people in your target markets talk. Almost more than anywhere else, the FAQ page is NOT the place to use pompous language and “corporate speak.”

7. Keep answers reasonably short. If you need to go into a lengthier explanation, link to somewhere else where readers can get the full story. Long blocks of “answer” are off-putting.

8. If your product or service is highly technical/complex consider offering two FAQ pages – one for general business purposes and one for the “tekkies.”

9. Make it easy for readers to contact you direct if your FAQ page doesn’t answer their questions – there’s nothing more frustrating than not finding the answer you need and then having trouble getting that answer by email or telephone.

10. Before you publish your FAQ page, run it past a selection of your readers / customers / prospects and ask them to perform a “reality check.” You may find they come up with some very helpful ideas for improvements and edits.

More help with that FAQ page … and beyond:

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

photo credit: photosteve101 via photopin cc

Write a book or write a blog – or both

Sometimes an idea for a book might work better as a blog – which eventually can become a book (or more) as well. The two can work symbiotically for a classic win-win exercise … here’s how.

I was working with a group of writers the other day and one of them was discussing his ideas for a nonfiction memoir (book.) After a short time it became obvious that his concept was not just one book, but potentially three or four. To try to shoehorn that many angles into one book would have created a rather messy mishmash, and both my fellow author-tutor and I agreed that it wouldn’t work.

The poor guy looked a bit disappointed until I told him that his material would be perfect for a blog. Being an older man he wasn’t familiar with how that could work, but once we had explained it he went away with the URL for WordPress and a gleam in his eyes.

This is nothing new, of course. I’m sure you’ve heard of a number of books that started out as blogs. In fact in the USA they now have an annual awards process for blogs that became books called “The Blooker Prize,” with “blooks” being the ensuing hybrid.

One such “blook” even went on to become a “flook” starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams – a movie of the journal called “Julie and Julia” by Julie Powell, the true story of how and why she made every single recipe in the late Julia Childs’ cook book.

However it’s not always a matter of lifting a selection of blog posts straight into book format. Editing obviously is needed, and you may want to adjust content, too, once you have seen how it works in your blog.

Although Julie Powell’s “blook”was mainly singular and linear in nature, where I think the blog-rather-than-book-to-begin-with approach is especially useful, is for anyone who – like the man at the writing workshop – has more than one stream to the message they want to share. Here are some examples:

Memoir/autobiography

**Your poverty-stricken childhood in India

**Your career as an engineer in daunting circumstances

**Your success at overcoming depression

How-to book

**Organic vegetables and green growing

**The best way to plan and run an organic vegetable plot

**Recipes for delicious organic vegetarian cuisine

Modern history

**The allied armed forces’ activities in northern Europe during WW2

**The effect of the Nazi occupation on the local population in northern Europe

**The “warbrides” who went to North America after WW2

**How the influence of WW2 affected the “baby boomer” generation

As you know, a blog offers you the option not only to publish chunks of information in short, easily digestible posts, but also it lets you choose between making those posts linear or non-linear in content. You can even post consecutively about utterly different aspects of your theme, if you want to, then file them into categories which a blog supports easily.

Print books certainly can’t offer that kind of versatility and even eBooks, Kindle and the others aren’t anything like as flexible.

The other useful aspect of a blog is that it’s interactive – readers can comment on your posts and your ultimate book text grows and evolves organically. You will learn much more about your target audience this way than with pretty well any other type of research.

Your blog and book, properly configured and promoted, not only complement each other, but also help sell each other.

Much as you may think people won’t want to buy your material in book form if they can read it (or similar) for free online, it doesn’t work that way. Once you develop your book it will reach a slightly different or at least adjacent audience, for starters, and in any case people who may only dip in and out of a blog now and again will appreciate having everything together in one print or electronic volume.

Then, of course, the fact that you have gone into more than one stream of your material on your blog, you effectively will have laid the foundations of more than one book. Whether you actually go on to create more than one book will depend on how each stream of information is received by readers; a blog is a superb market testing tool.

What are your views? What experience do you have of blogs versus books? Please comment!

Blog or book, get writing brilliantly:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published

English Language Business Expressions: Jan 3rd 2017

Am delighted to say this popular series is back – another 10 common English business expressions explained not only for those of you who speak English as a second language, but for anyone who wants to know – whether a native English speaker or not.

English language business expressions on How To Write Better

English language expressions you’ll hear in business and elsewhere, Jan 3rd 2017

Here are the next 10 such expressions that I find most interesting, and I hope you do too…

Bald men fighting over a comb: this expression has had various interpretations but essentially it means some kind of conflict or argument about something that really doesn’t matter very much. If you think about it, bald men fighting over a comb (when they haven’t even got any hair to use a comb on) is a silly and pointless exercise… [Read more…]

Email WHOOPS – so easy, yet so awful

We’ve all had that “oh, ****” moment having just hit SEND for an email, then realised we have made a mammoth mistake…(see below for update on this one)

Email whoops and how to avoid them

But there are other email dangers lurking in the shadows than cost you more than a typo or mistaken date.

Here are the main ones and how to avoid them… [Read more…]

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