Social media is a strangely compelling hunt for novelty. But why are we so addicted to find and and sharing surprising content? It turns out, we share or we die.
Want your articles to spread like Gangnam online? You’d better master the art of capturing the micro-attention of your readers. Here are 10 guiding principles to help you on the path of writeousness (yes, that word just happened).
1. Craft a compelling headline.
A catchy headline can make all the difference to the success of an article. Content startup UpWorthy has gained millions of readers based on their ability to rewrite headlines about serious and important issues in a catchy, web-friendly way. If you want your content to spread online it is worthwhile to dedicate extra time to crafting an enticing headline.
2. Start with the most important content.
Summarize the point of your article in the first paragraph. Be specific in this summary, and try to add immediate value. Even if some of your readers won't get further than this, their first impression of an article of often determines whether or not they'll share the post with their networks.
3. A post should only be as long as necessary.
Beware the ever-shrinking attention span of your reader! Even in super-short form web-publishing formats like the Facebook status it has been proven that posts with less characters get shared more. In longer formats like articles and blog posts your article should be compelling from beginning to end. Usually the easiest way to achieve this is to simply write shorter articles. There are a few masters who can hold reader attention for long-pieces on the internet. Those writers and those pieces become the stuff of web legend.
4. Where a picture will say more than words can, use it.
It’s worth spending the time to select the picture that will bring your writing to life. Also, a good caption to a picture is as important as a good picture for the story. I’ve learned this from using Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook that a fairly ordinary photograph can become a conversation point by accompanying it with a caption. You could, for example use the caption to draw the viewer’s attention to a particular aspect of the picture, or to help them see the picture differently.
5. Format for the Skim-Reader
The skim-reader is not a lesser being. The skim-reader is half your audience! Use formatting such as sub-headings, bold, italic, underlined, and bullet points to help content stand out for skim-readers and search engines.
7. Be specific.
If you are vague online, you will lose your reader. Also, using specific language is a great way to get search traffic on different search terms. For example, instead of just saying “the horse” every time you mention it in your article, you might try “the Arabian thoroughbred”.
8. Cite your Sources.
Use hyperlinks to reference points that may require back-reading or validation. This is part of enhancing the user experience of your article. It helps build trust and interest in the issue you’re writing about.
9. Tight prose wins.
Editing for clarity and simplicity, down to the sentence-structure level will make a difference. On the web, full-stops tend to beat commas and semi-colons. Rather break a long, complex sentence filled with commas and semi-colons into a few shorter sentences. Also, take care to craft a few take-out sentences that social media readers can use to summarize highlights when they are sharing your article. While you’re at it, eliminate cliches.
10. Check before you publish.
It’s very difficult, and embarrassing to try to retract misinformation or grammatical mistakes once your post is live on the web - particularly on Twitter and Facebook where your post can be quoted and shared on profiles and pages that you don't control. Even if you might lose the scoop by taking a little bit longer to confirm your facts, it is better in the long run to gain the trust of your readers.
11. Encourage Social Commentary.
Your work as a writer online doesn’t end when your article is published. You should share your writing on your own social channels, and also participate in the commentary around it. People are encouraged to comment when the writer responds and acknowledges their contribution.
The commenters may not be experts in the subject you’re writing about (although they could be). They may even be completely clueless about the issue. However, their opinions on a subject can be indicative of public perception about an issue, and therefore very interesting and relevant. The comments are often as interesting as the main piece.
So there you have it. I went up to Mount Table, and came back with these Commandments. Fortunately they're not written on stone tablets (so old school since the iPad, really) so we can remix them if we want. If you like, then please hit the little heart below, or leave comment below to enhance it.
Is formal education the surest path to health, wealth, happiness and societal progress? I think it's important that we start looking directly at what is working for people who we consider successful today.
With the unprecedented rate of technologically driven change in industries and jobs, along with a super-abundance of information, perhaps being educated is no longer a matter of having completed a degree once upon a time. From what I've seen from the most successful people that I know, learning is a lifestyle and the most learned people are not bookworms, but "pracademics" - part doer (practitioner) and part researcher (academic).
As I see it then, being educated in in the age of Google and the web is now a matter of:
1) Being Curious and Humble
The greatest threat to the sustainability individuals and companies are that their current processes and technologies become obsolete. Instead of falling back on what you know, you should nurture a curiosity about what is possible. Once you know what problems are worthwhile solving, the answers are easier to find than ever before.
"Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge." Kahlil Gibran
2) Learning fitness
There should be an expiry date on most degrees. Knowledge is dating at a faster rate than ever before - from web marketing to medicine - industries change as science and technology progresses. The ability to discern fads (quickly dated tastes) from trends (slow-building, sustainable and significant changes) will help us align our learning to what is likely to be most valuable to society.
"The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed yet" - William Gibson
3) knowing how to access and store information (web user skills + knowledge management)
The answers to your questions are out there, but to find them, store them, and access them when you need them takes some skill. Do you know how to determine the credibility of a web resource? Are you savvy in Boolean operators for search? Can you use Google Fusion Tables to analyse data on the fly? Do you use metadata to help you save and sort relevant articles in an online app? There are a host of tools that can radically enhance our intelligence, capacity, and research abilities.
"Access is better than ownership" - Kevin Kelly
4) Connecting with the people who are involved in doing what you're learning about (networking)
Knowing the right people leads to opportunities for continued success and learning - this happens through conversations, introductions and collaborations. I've personally found that the best way to meet and connect with these people is a combination of participating in online networks, and attending conferences and courses that are topically related.
Support, mentoring, and coaching is also a key element of this value factor.
"Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu" (A person is a person through other people) - Zulu Maxim
5) Keeping focussed (goals and analytics)
The most useful part of a university degree is the paper you get at the end of it, but not for the reasons you might think. The paper (the degree) is an end-goal that motivates you to finish what you started. The best preventative measure to this distraction is to have goals, milestones, metrics, and an accountability system (once again, mentoring and coaching can play a key role here) that will ensure that you get to a significant depth of understanding and praxis.
"There are literally millions of potentially interesting things in the world to see, to do, to learn about. But they don’t become actually interesting until we devote attention to them." - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
6) Maintaining energy, health and wellbeing (exercise & nutrition)
The modern corporate lifestyle is almost by defined by traffic, desk-bound work, technological dependence, high stress, regular air-travel, junk-food, and stimulants. If education's role is to improve the lives of the educated, then it's incumbent on educators to embed healthy practices that enable clear thinking, creativity, and well-being.
Take care of your body with steadfast fidelity. The soul must see through these eyes alone, and if they are dim, the whole world is clouded." - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
7) Philosophical Engagement (Mental Models and Ethics)
Perhaps the two surest ways to sustain success and build momentum in the long run are: a) having philosophies, mental models, and paradigms that that allow you to zoom out of the day-to-day activity of your work and see whether what you're doing is truly worthwhile to yourself and others, and b) A good reputation, gained through years of ethical practice.
"The sacred is all about unconditionals; the profane is all about conditionals." - Nassim Taleb
What do you think? Would you add or subtract anything here? How can we move closer to making this vision a reality? I'd love to hear your views.
In this post I'm going to share what I consider five fundamentally important tips for presenting more effectively. They're all simple, not necessarily easy, but can vastly improve the quality and impact of a presentation if they're applied.
What we want is stuff that offers order in the midst of chaos, stuff that makes our lives simpler. Not more irrelevant features, just a few that help us do what we do better.
I'm inspired by what the guys at 37signals are doing with their software. They have reduced the number of options we have in their programmes, but they've made sure that what is there works well. Apple computers are the same.
I've had this experience with giving lectures and talks: It seems that the less ideas that I try to cram into one presentation, the more enthusiastic the response I get. The corollary to that was proved to me by the negative response I had last-week when I did a presentation jam-packed with ideas. I thought I was adding more value by fitting 5 big ideas into my 3hour presentation, but in-fact it reduced the effectiveness of the talk. The class were resentful that I made them confused. Not good. Far better to present just one idea, and make them feel smart for learning it.
One of the reasons that Google has done so well as a search engine is because of their bare-basic home-page. Its predecessors like Yahoo used to assault the senses with too many options on their search page, and some people felt confused. Google left no option other than to type in the search box, and so people felt smarter.
When it comes to your business, can you help customers make sense of your offer in the most simple possible terms? They won't buy what they don't understand. To quote Seth Godin:
If you canâ€™t state your position in eight words or less, you donâ€™t have a position.â€�
My parting thought on this subject: If you can make people's lives simpler, and if you can make people feel smarter by reducing complexity, then you've completed one of marketing's most important tasks.
What I find interesting from the Marketing perspective is that all this debate has served to dramatically increase the number of Muslims in America!
One of the reasons is that many people have gone to do investigations to find out for themselves what Islam is all about. Then with the information they discover, some find that they agree with the principles of Islam and they convert.
The Marketing Principle at play here is that no publicity is bad publicity. It's far worse to be ignored.