Beware Mark Schaefer’s Blueberry Shock

Mark Schaefer alarmed content marketers two years ago when he warned of the impending content shock. The idea that the amount of information on the Internet was going to grow 600 percent between 2014 and 2020.

In other words, if we designate the amount of information online in 2014 as “one Internet,” we will have six more Internets of information by 2020. We doubled in “Internets” from 2014 to 2015, and again in 2017.

Except, we as humans only watch, read, or hear 10 hours worth of content each day. That’s reading articles for work, listening to the radio during our commute, and watching TV or reading at home.

But the amount of information available will continue to grow, most of it bad to mediocre, and all the good stuff will be buried.

Hence the shock.

What does this have to do with blueberries?

Mark Schaefer's blueberry harvest. This is when the blueberry shock began!

Photo by Mark Schaefer

Everything!

Mark Schaefer posted the following on Facebook today:

This is the entire 2016 harvest from my three blueberry bushes. This might seem sad until you learn this is a 100% productivity gain over last year.‪ #‎Winning‬

Winning, indeed.

While Mark laments that he only has two blueberries, he also realizes that he has, in fact, doubled his harvest from last year. If he can continue this trend, he’ll double it again next year, and have four blueberries. And eight the following year.

He’ll be able to celebrate 2020 — the year the Internet will have grown by 600% — with 32 blueberries. That’s nearly 2/3 of a pound of blueberries.

That’s when things will start to go terribly wrong.

There’s an old saying that if you double a dollar 20 times, you’ll have $1 million.

If Mark’s blueberry trend continues, in 20 years, he’ll have 1 million blueberries — 1,048,576, to be exact.

Satirical chart of blueberry growth representing blueberry shock; I adapted it from Mark's original content shock chart.

If we assume an average of 50 blueberries in a cup, and 4 cups of blueberries equals 1.5 pounds, Mark will have 31,457 pounds of blueberries by the year 2035. That’s 15.72 tons of blueberries.

And while that number is only .0055% of the total US production of blueberries in 2015 (563.2 million pounds), it’s still a staggering number.

Will this have a significant impact on overall blueberry prices? What sorts of steps must we as a blueberry-consuming public take? Will his friends and neighbors be flooded with buckets and shopping bags filled with blueberries mysteriously left on their porches in the night?

We need to be prepared for the coming blueberry shock. While this won’t reach Mark’s staggering growth of information, this is an issue we must face nevertheless.

As a leading consumer of blueberry muffins and pancakes, I urge food professionals everywhere to begin to examine how you can deal with the pending blueberry shock, and take steps to incorporate their use in everyday cooking — from bread to soup to desserts.

Additional markets should be explored as well: blueberry-based skincare products. Alternative fuels. Even blueberry milk. (If almond milk is a thing, then blueberry milk can be!)

Thankfully, we have time. We won’t have any major problems for another 15 years, in 2031, when Mark’s blueberry bushes produce 65,536 blueberries, or .983 tons. Hopefully by then, our blueberry infrastructure will be in place, ready to receive the increased blueberry shock.

(Note: This is all satire. I’m also a humor writer. Please don’t think I actually took this seriously. Although I probably put more time into it than I should have.)

“Write Good Content” is Bad Advice

If you tell people to write good content, you’re part of the problem

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen “write good content” in yet another Five “Secrets” of Content Marketing article. I saw it again recently from someone who ought to know better — someone who claimed to be a content marketer specializing in a particular industry.

First, these aren’t secrets. Stop calling them secrets. Natives in the Amazon rainforest who have never met outsiders know them. Call them tips. Call them ideas. Call them blindingly-obvious-insights-that-even-a-five-year-old-understands. But don’t call them secrets.

Second, this so-called secret isn’t even making it to the top of the list. This is The Most Fundamental principle of content marketing, and you put it third on a five item list? When you’re building a house, you don’t put up the doors and windows first. You lay the foundation. You create a strong base that will support the rest of the house. Writing well needs to be the foundation of all your content marketing.

At the Start/Finish line of the Indy 500 2016; telling people to write good content is like telling race car drivers to drive fast

Remember, if you ain’t first, you’re last.

Third, stop telling people to do things they should be doing anyway. These are the fundamental principles people build their entire profession on. Telling them to do it, and then calling it a secret, is an insult to the professionals who actually do that work.

If you’re a writer, you should write well anyway.

If you’re a race car driver, you should drive fast anyway.

If you’re an accountant, you should balance your accounts well anyway.

No one tells an accountant, “Secret #3: Be sure to balance the books.” No one tells a plumber “Super Duper Plumbing Secret #19: Make sure your pipes don’t leak.”

So why would you tell someone to write well?

Writing well is not an option. It’s not an item on a checklist. It’s not something that, had you not mentioned it, they would have purposely half-assed it.

Basically, if you’re telling people to “write good content,” you’re part of the problem. You’re part of the ruination and downfall of the content marketing industry

If You Get Angry About People Who Are Late, Maybe You’re the Problem

If you’re regularly late to meetings, you’re a terrible person who has no regard for human life, and you deserve everything bad that happens to you.

I don’t know what has crawled up people’s backsides lately, but I’m seeing variations on this theme from people who are tired of being kept waiting during meetings, while some insensitive clod blithely shows up whenever it suits them.

Greg Savage got the ball rolling five years ago with his blog post, No, You Are Not Running Late, You Are Rude and Selfish, and I’ve seen it reposted ad nauseum on Facebook and Twitter.

Angry Screaming Guy

If this is how you approach your business relationships, is it any wonder people don’t like you?

Recently, I saw someone tweet that people who are habitually late are either stupid, arrogant, or both. Then he included the hashtag #respect.

I responded, “I would think #respect also means not calling people arrogant or stupid.”

“Not if they’re habitually late,” he responded.

Talk about selfish. My time is important. My time is valuable. I don’t like to be kept waiting.

You’re not inventing a cure for cancer, you’re having a meeting. If your time is so valuable, you shouldn’t have scheduled it in the first place.

Maybe It’s You

I know it’s a symptom of the current political discourse, but I’m still surprised at people’s all-or-nothing view of humanity, elevating the smallest of transgressions into overly dramatic statements about their value as people.

Either you show up on time, or you’re selfish.

Either you show up on time, or you’re stupid.

Either you show up on time, or you’re irresponsible and you make poor life choices.

If you have this kind of attitude about your tardy colleagues, maybe you’re the problem. If you’re this uptight and easily prone to anger, look at the priorities in your life. Do you value timeliness over everything else? Would you rather have a person who shows up five minutes early to a meeting or someone who’s pleasant and a joy to be around?

Because it seems like you sacrificed the latter in favor of the former.

Yes, timeliness is something we should all strive for, and I agree that it’s frustrating to be kept waiting. But I also don’t foam at the mouth and call the other person an irresponsible turd when they’re 10 minutes late. I pull out my phone or laptop and get work done.

When you say the other person is chronically late because they don’t value or respect you, you’re probably right. They don’t respect you. They don’t even like you. You’re not a nice person.

Because you call them rude, selfish, stupid, and arrogant.

Why would anyone want to be around you at all, let alone get there on time to spend every possible minute with you? If people are regularly late to meetings with you, they’re not the problem, you are.

Try Extending Grace to the Other Person

I’ve been stood up for meetings by friends who forgot. I’ve had people go to the wrong location. I’ve had people who were involved in a car accident. And I’ve done all those things myself.

And when either of us were in the wrong, we apologized, the other person forgave, and we rescheduled. We didn’t passive-aggressively rant on social media about how “some people” were rude idiots. We didn’t trash the other person to our friends. We went about our lives and tried again later.

In short, we didn’t tear someone else down in order to make ourselves look good. We extended grace, we forgave, and we treated the other person with decency.

If you don’t like it when people are late, ask them about it. Don’t berate them, don’t call them names, and don’t rant about it online. Ask them if they’re aware it’s a problem. Explain to them how it frustrates you. Ask them to be on time in the future.

If they still can’t do it, cut them off. Stop meeting with them, stop inviting them to things, or start lying about the time, and tell them the meeting is 15 – 30 minutes earlier.

But try to be a grown-up about it. There are worse things in life to be, and worse problems in the world to stew about, like homelessness, starvation, and poverty. When you solve a couple of those, then you can be pissy about other people’s time management.

Until then, just get over yourself. Your missing 10 minutes aren’t that important.

Photo credit: B_Heyer (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Networking 101: How to Make a Solid Email Introduction

The key to good networking is not only meeting new people, but to serve as a referral source for others. But it doesn’t work to just tell someone, “you should call Bob. Tell him I sent you.” That’s a cheap cop-out, and those calls are bound to fail.

Branding Yourself cover image

Just a little tip from our book. I find myself still using this, even six years later.

For one thing, Bob is immediately going to be suspicious of anyone who calls him and starts name dropping. So he’s wary as you explain what you’re looking for.

Plus, he’s not emotionally invested. Sure, I told you to call Bob, but Bob doesn’t know why. And Bob isn’t going to trust you enough to say,”Oh, well if Erik sent you, you must be wonderful!” Bob needs me to tell him that you’re wonderful.

This is where the email introduction comes in. And if you’re a good networker, this is how you’ll introduce people. It’s quick, it’s effective, and it’s certainly a lot cheaper than inviting them both to lunch.

A good email introduction to people involves three things:

  1. An explanation of how you know each person.
  2. An explanation of how and why they can help each other.
  3. Some enthusiasm. You shouldn’t just connect people for the sake of making a connection. Connect them because you think they can actually do some good for each other.

Here’s how that email introduction should look.

Bob, meet Rachel Wentzel. Rachel is a direct mail marketer, and has helped a lot of companies with their own direct mail campaign. I’ve known her for several years, after she helped me with my own business.

Rachel, meet Bob Heintzel. Bob owns a marketing agency that specializes in digital strategies for B2B companies. I’ve worked with Bob for five years and watched him create some effective strategies that helped his clients excel.

Bob and I were talking over coffee today, and he mentioned that he had a client who wanted to launch a catalog campaign, and I immediately thought of Rachel.

I think that together, the two of you can help each other out, and make great things happen for each other and for Bob’s client. I’ll leave it to you to go forward from here. Good luck!

Let’s break it down

In this example, I’ve given a background of each person, and what I think the other person needs to know. I’ve also explained how I know them, so as to add some credibility to my recommendation.

I also explained the inspiration for making the introduction — Bob has a client who needs a catalog campaign. I do this because I can’t wait for them to figure it out themselves. Bob may find a direct mail provider before he ever sits down with Rachel, but I don’t want that. So I make it obvious.

Then, I step back and let them take the reins; they don’t need me for this. They can figure out a time to meet for coffee or lunch, have a nice conversation, learn more about each other, and then hopefully Bob will ask for assistance with his new client. If not, hopefully Rachel will remember to.

Finally, when it comes to an introduction like this, Rachel should take the initiative and reach out to Bob first. Why? Because she needs something Bob has, a paying client. Bob may not be in as much of a rush, so Rachel needs to take the first step, rather than waiting for Bob to clear his calendar.

Successful networkers aren’t known by the number of people in their Contacts list. Successful networkers are known by the number of referrals they make. Don’t just collect people in your email list or LinkedIn network. Do some actual good in the world and make email introductions between people you know. Explain how you know them, why they should know each other, and be enthusiastic about it.

Three Security Tips for Freelancers

This is a guest post written by Cassie Phillips, a blogger with Secure Thoughts, an Internet security company.

Maintaining a successful freelance career can be difficult. Oftentimes, the biggest difficulty is finding clients who are in need of your services and willing to pay a reasonable price. There’s another difficulty that is sometimes overlooked: staying secure on the Internet.

With money being moved between multiple accounts and contact with numerous clients, continual daily access to the Internet can be dangerous if certain security procedures are not put in place. To protect yourself against hackers, identity thieves, and other online threats, here are a few security tips for freelancers that can help protect you and your money.

1. Protecting Private Data (and Money) with a VPN

Woman working on LaptopUnlike traditional jobs, freelancers cannot expect to earn a steady income. There is no single employer who is going to regularly deposit money into your bank account. On the contrary, freelancers are likely to earn money from a myriad number of sources, processed through a variety of accounts. From private bank accounts to PayPal to Google Wallet, a freelancer’s money is always flowing from one account into another. Protecting the flow of your money and any associated data is of utmost importance.

Remember that securing your finances on the Internet is not as easy as making a few clicks. If this is all you do, then you remain in an unsafe position where a hacker could see your financial information, hack into your computer or accounts, and steal your identity or just simply empty whatever accounts he can get his hands on. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the key to preventing this from happening.

A VPN creates a tunnel between your computer and a third-party server elsewhere. When you access the Internet using a VPN, your data is encrypted and your IP address is hidden. When it comes out of the third-party server, it will appear as if your computer is accessing the Internet from that origin point.

In other words, your server and your connection point remain invisible so you can remain anonymous. However, not all VPNs are created equally. Some have different price tags; others offer different speeds, and others still host various numbers of third-party servers. Do your research to ensure you’re selected the best of the best.

2. Using Trusted and Secure Freelance Contracting Services

In addition to securing your Internet connection, you need to ensure that you are working with trustworthy individuals and companies and secure websites. There are many freelance contracting services available on the Internet serving different types of freelancers. No matter which one you choose, however, you should always make sure that is a reputable service that has not been hacked. There are several ways to do this:

Use Trustworthy Services: If you’ve been freelancing for even a short while, you may be familiar with some of the larger and more trustworthy freelancing services on the Internet, such as Upwork, Elance, Guru and Freelancer. If you stick with the large and trusted services, you will be safer than looking for fringe sites that are unknown and possibly dangerous.

Check for HTTPS: Because freelancing services are responsible for collecting personal data for freelancer’s profiles, facilitating private communications, and shipping money, you need to make sure that the site is secure. One simple way to do this is to look at the URL and make sure that it begins with “HTTPS” rather than “HTTP.” The “S” stands for secure and means that there are layers of encryption being used to protect users on the site compared to the unsecure alternative. Take a look at the address bar in the screenshot for UpWork’s home page and notice the “https” in green:

UpWork's Home Page https

Note the https in the address bar. That means this site is secure. (credit: UpWork’s front page screenshot)

Use Google: If a freelance site is using “HTTP” rather than “HTTPS,” double check its trustworthiness and reputability. You can do this with a simple Google search. Simply type in the name of the service followed by words like “review,” “spam,” “scam” or “hack” to see if anything alarming pops up. For example, if there are numerous reviewers claiming that the site has been hacked or is vulnerable to a hack, avoid that service.

3. Maintaining a Secure Virtual Workspace

There are a few more things you can do to maintain security as a freelancer such as adding a few more layers of protection to your virtual workspace. A firewall will alert you when intruders are trying to access your computer or when your computer is trying to do things without being asked. Anti-spyware or anti-virus software will scan your computer regularly to watch for malware. And a password vault, like 1Password can let you create complex passwords, but store them so you don’t have to remember them all.

These are only a few of things that you need to do to ensure you remain safe and secure as a freelancer. There are certainly other ways to protect yourself. What do you do to keep yourself safe as a freelancer?

As a freelancer, Cassie learned quickly that internet security is a must. She enjoys sharing her knowledge with others because, let’s face it, freelancers don’t make much money and they need to protect their equipment as much as possible!

Photo credit: Moleshko (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Why I’m Decimating My Twitter Account

Last year, my friend and co-author, Kyle Lacy, pissed off thousands of people when he blew up his entire Twitter account, unfollowed nearly everyone he was following, and then slowly started following back the essential people.

I never noticed.

My Twitter was so full of junk and noise that I never noticed that he re-followed me. (He did! I checked. Shut up.)

Kyle’s problem, he told me, was that he was following so many people — close to 60,000 — who weren’t saying anything useful, it was clogging up his Twitter feed. He also admitted — reluctantly — that he hadn’t properly used Twitter lists to keep track of different groups of people.

So his only option was the nuclear one.

Thousands of people unfollowed him, upset that he unfollowed them, and he’s only following 1,500+ people right now. But he’s got a better handle on his Twitter feed than he’s had since he joined in 2008. He had over 50,000 followers, and he’s now down to 36,000+.

I’ve been thinking about Kyle’s nuclear option lately, especially as I’ve been looking at my general Twitter feed each morning, and it’s filled with noise, chatter, and completely useless garbage.

It’s motivational quotes, reminders to download a new ebook, more motivational quotes, invitations to webinars, articles about how high achievers who are not me achieve greatness, a #hashtag #filled #tweet, the latest Mashable article, and more motivational quotes.

The signal-to-noise ratio on Twitter is terrible. It’s like trying to find a radio station in the middle of the desert. There’s a lot of static, but no music.

It’s gotten worse as Twitter changed its algorithm, expanding on their “While You Were Away” feature. They want you to see the tweets they think you will appreciate.

I don’t. These new tweets are all terrible. All of them. (Except for @VeryLonelyLuke. That guy’s hilarious.)

So how can I reduce the noise? How can I restore some semblance of usefulness to my general Twitter stream?

Checking under the hood: I think I see your problem

I plugged my Twitter account into ManageFlitter to see if I could figure out the problem.

The problem was a whole bunch of people with between 50,0000 – 1 million followers, evenly split between people who were following me and not following me. There were about 3,000 people out of the 14,000 people I was following.

I even hid verified accounts from the mix, so I wasn’t including celebrities or news organizations.

What I was left with were the self-published authors and social media “experts” who yo-yo follow others to artificially inflate their accounts.

Filthy rotten spammers” (FRS), as I like to call them.

FRSes will follow thousands of people, get a few thousand follow-backs, then unfollow everyone, and start all over. They do this to get past Twitter’s follower limit and grow their accounts by leaps and bounds.

You can easily spot an FRS: they have 50,000+ followers and have written a surprisingly small number of tweets.

This is how you can spot a Filthy Rotten Spammer on Twitter.

This is how you can spot a Filthy Rotten Spammer on Twitter.

The worst are the ones with more than 100,000 followers, and 150,000 tweets. These are the people who spend a few hours every day retweeting all the crap they find in their own Twitter feeds.

Seriously, some of these people send nearly 100 tweets in a day! When I checked their stream, it was retweet after retweet, with the occasional “You’re welcome!” sent to someone who thanked them for the RT. As if the FRS had done them a huge favor.

Pruning and trimming: Seeing some progress

With ManageFlitter’s help, I started unfollowing the people in the 50K-1M range who weren’t following me back.

I realized I had followed those people because they followed me first. I could tell, because as I moused over each name on ManageFlitter, their bio popped up, and I could see they weren’t someone I would normally reach out to first.

(Trust me, I don’t eagerly follow people offering yoga and vegetarian-eating tips unless we’re already friends.)

I unfollowed nearly 1200 people in an hour. I could have gone faster, but I did want to make sure I wasn’t unfollowing people I actually found interesting.

However, this wasn’t all the FRSes. I checked my Twitter feed again, and there was still a lot of crap in my stream. It was better, but not great.

I showed all the people who were following me, sorted by number of followers in descending order, and excluded all the verified accounts. This hid accounts for CNN, the New York Times, and Alyssa Milano er, I mean, Colts punter Pat McAfee. (Alyssa Milano loves baseball. Shut up.)

You can use these filters on ManageFlitter to hide people you may actually want to keep.

You can use these filters on ManageFlitter to hide people you may actually want to keep.

With this new list, I found another 500 or so people I could eliminate. Problem is, I hit ManageFlitter’s 1700-unfollowers-in-a-day limit, and have to wait for 24 hours to finish the job.

For $12/month, I get unlimited following, plus all kinds of other features, including creating white lists of high-value accounts, integrate and manage my Twitter lists, and various analytics capabilities. But I’m going finish this experiment first before I commit to it.

Initial results: Prognosis good

After my initial pruning, which took about 90 minutes, I could already see a difference in my Twitter stream. I rediscovered some old Twitter accounts that I hadn’t seen in months, including Doug Bursch, Cathy Day, and a few others.

While I’m not exploding my Twitter feed like Kyle did last year, I am going after large chunks of it and pruning off a lot of deadwood in the hopes that my network will yield a whole lot more signal than noise.

While Twitter will no longer be the conversational tool that it once was — thanks a lot, marketers and filthy rotten spammers! — it will at least be a whole lot more useful to me than it was just a few days ago.

A Guaranteed Secret to Becoming a Better Writer

There’s really only one way to become a better writer, and that’s to write every day.

Okay, that’s not really a secret, but if you’re not doing it right, you could write every day for years, and never get any better. Meanwhile, other newbie writers are leaving you in the dust, improving by leaps and bounds in a matter of months, because they know a shortcut.

And that’s the secret.

It starts with understanding how elite musicians, athletes, and artists all achieve great results in a relatively short amount of time

Start with Deep Practice

The toolkit of the writer: pen, notebook, and laptop computer

Every good writer tries to write every day, practicing their techniques deliberately.

In his book, The Talent Code, author Daniel Coyne breaks the pursuit of talent and skill into three “easy” steps: 1) Chunk it up. 2) Repeat it. 3) Learn to feel it.

Coyne is a believer in highly-targeted error-focused practice.

In the book, Coyne uses an example of a young clarinet player who’s learning a particular piece of music. She struggles on one passage, and works over and over to get it right.

A poor musician would just play the entire piece, start to finish, over and over, mistakes and all, until she’s put in her required practice time. But a good musician, like this girl, follows Coyne’s three steps.

She stops when she makes a mistake, backs up a few measures, and works on the part that gave her trouble. She runs through the fingering a few times, making sure her fingers understand what they’re supposed to do, then plays again. But she plays it slower, and does it a couple of times before moving on.

Once she makes it through the difficult part, she continues on until she reaches the next trouble spot in her song, and repeats the process.

The researcher Coyne interviewed for this example said that just 10 minutes of this deep practice was more effective than playing the song straight through, over and over, for an hour. In other words, our musician is getting better in one-sixth the time of a poor musician.

Athletes do this as well. They focus deliberately on different problems and facets of their technique. They don’t just mindlessly do the work or go through the motions.

A professional basketball player doesn’t just shoot free throws to say he practiced his free throws. He visualizes what he’s about to do, focuses on technique, and analyzes what he did right and wrong each time. It’s not just a matter of shooting the ball 100 times in a row, it’s a matter of purposely, intentionally, deliberately practicing proper techniques.

My youngest daughter, an aspiring illustrator says when professional illustrators are learning a new figure or character, will create character studies and draw the same face over and over. Or they’ll “rotate” the head, drawing it from every angle; it’s called a “turnaround.” They’ll repeat the studies and turnarounds until they feel comfortable enough to do it on their own.

How this Applies to Writers

While every writer is told to “write every day,” they usually think it means to schedule a special private writing time, say, one hour in the morning or over lunch, and just churn out words. They focus on quantity of words created, not technique. Once the hour is up, they’re done.

They’re missing all kinds of golden opportunities throughout the rest of the day, and if you capitalize on them, you’re not limited to that one hour a day to get better.

(And if we’re following the 10,000 hour rule, you’ll become a literary phenom much faster if you can practice five hours a day, not five hours a week.)

Writing is writing. Regardless of the reason you’re tapping out words on your keyboard, you’re writing. Every time you write something, you have an opportunity to practice.

When you write an email, that’s practice. When you post a lengthy response to your cousin’s stupid political rant on Facebook, that’s practice. When you write a report for a client, that’s practice.

Whatever you’re doing, pick a technique you’d like to improve, and work on it in everything you write.

Not just during Special Private Writing Time. Not just on your preferred genre and style. If you’re a fiction writer, but send a lot of emails during your day job, use that time to practice background narrative. If you’re an aspiring TV writer, use texts and chats as a way to practice dialogue. If you have to create a lot of reports for work, practice journalism-style writing by writing short, easy-to-read sentences.

And that’s the big secret: If you can harness deep practice, and use it consistently everywhere, you can greatly improve your writing. Just like our clarinet player, if you can do deep practice for 10 minutes, you’re racing past anyone who’s just doing poor practice for an hour.

And best of all, you’re writing every day. You’re following the writer’s maxim, and you’re doing it better than those who save it only for Special Private Writing Time.

Five Ways to Make Your Written Content Suck

I’ve had an epiphany. Content marketers don’t really care if they create excellent material. That’s the only explanation I can think of. Despite the mountains of classes, webinars, books, and “FIVE TIPPY-TOP MOSTEST IMPORTANT CONTENT MARKETING SECRETS IN ALL THE WORLD!!” blog posts, content marketers aren’t listening.

They seem to think, “Oh, that doesn’t apply to me. Not old Stevie*. I can keep pumping out dreck, because my stuff is different/better/important, and my readers are big fans/generously forgiving/mindless drones.” And they double down on their bad content like a politician after a racist campaign gaffe.

Maybe they actually want to be bad. Maybe that’s their goal: to produce something so execrably bad that you can’t help but read or watch it — the Sharknado of content marketing.

If that’s your goal, here are the five best ways you can make your content marketing suck out loud.

1. Use lots of jargon.

Gill's Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon

Gill’s Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon

Use words that sort of sound like English, but not entirely. Use words that end in -ize whenever possible. And turn verbs into nouns and nouns into verbs.

“We’re going to incentivize learners to dialogue with their classroom practitioners as a way to optimize learning methodologies.”

If you use words your readers can easily recognize and understand, you’re not trying hard enough.

2. Use adverbs and adjectives.

Because no one believes what you have to say, unless it’s really super amazing and awesome.

“Our bleeding-edge new Mapplethorpe app isn’t like the other 900 photo filter apps. It lets you take some of the bestest, most breathtaking, wondrous, aneurysm-inducing photos you’ve ever taken. Until we release version 1.5.”

This is especially useful if you’re writing a press release, because it tells the journalists your product isn’t like all those other products in all those other press releases. You mean it! You have real news!

Combine these previous two tips to crank your content’s Suck knob up to 11.

3. Publish your first draft.

Writers — real writers, that is — are never quite happy with their work. They’re always wasting time, rewriting and improving their work, trying to squeeze blood and tears out of every word.

Which means you shouldn’t waste your time doing that.

Just splooge out whatever pops into that fancy brain of yours, hit Publish, and bada-bing, bada-boom! Blog post!

This is especially useful for those content who try to publish something every day. Your practice of writing all five blog posts in 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon has been working perfectly for you. Keep up the good work.

4. Why use one word when five will do?

Journalists, especially newspaper reporters spend many long years honing their craft, learning to cut a lot of needless words from their written work trim the fat. So wWhy should you let all those extra words go to waste? They’re just lying around on the ground, waiting for someone just like you to pick them up and use them in their own work. Why can’t that someone it be you?

See all the mistakes I made there, all those fat juicy words I struck out? My sentences are usually spartan and simple, but this one was a ready-to-burst tick, until I ruined it.

One of the best ways to make your content suck is to create a lot of it. Fill your articles with extra words. This way, you can write less, but their bloatedness adds to your weekly word count, and that’s all that really matters.

People are going to quit reading your stuff anyway, so why not make your message harder to find? Maybe they’ll stick around and search for it. It’ll be like a treasure hunt.

5. Why use one syllable when three will do?

Not only is it incumbent upon you, esteemed content marketer, to utilize an increased number of words, it’s imperative you leverage the greatest number of multi-syllabic words as possible.

Because if there’s one thing people love to do, it’s slog through a Master’s thesis answer to a simple question. If they ask you what time it is, explain how to build a watch. In German.

So retrieve your thesaurus and make extensive preparations to dazzle your readership with your encyclopedic knowledge concerning your lucrative speciality. I’m positive they will express their warmest gratitude to you.

* I’m not actually picking on content marketers named Stevie. I just needed a name to put in there. So if you’re named Stevie (or Steve), don’t worry, I’m not calling you out.

Photo credit: Joe Mabel (Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License)

Shiny New Marketing Automation Tools Can’t Fix Sucky Content

In the content marketing world, you can’t swing a big stick without whacking some marketing automation tool that promised to not only drive prospects through your sales funnel, it will lovingly nurture your leads, walk your dog, and make handfuls and handfuls of fries.

People look at these new tools like a teenager gaping open-mouthed at a motorcycle, thinking, “Man, if I owned this, my life would be awesome!”

Ducati Supersport 620

I’m going to ride this to my 30th high school reunion.

That’s what it’s like with marketing automation. Marketers look at the shiny new tools, and dream of all the customers they’ll get, wind blowing in their hair, and Sarah staring after me, wishing she never dumped me.

Unlike the teenagers, marketers have the budget to bring their shiny tool home, where they promptly leave it in the driveway. They don’t have any fuel to put in it, and they don’t have anywhere to go.

Every morning, the marketer goes outside, sits on their new purchase, and says, “Okay, now GO!” And never moves an inch.

It sits, unmoving, from lack of content. No blog posts, no white papers, no videos, no podcasts.

Oh sure, they had the best of intentions. They got their entire mailing list uploaded into the CRM, and they even sent out content fairly regularly. For two weeks.

But then life got in the way, meetings popped up, and they stopped writing and producing content. They never had a chance to open the throttle and see how fast they could go.

You Need to Feed the Beast

The problem with marketing automation is that it always needs fuel. It always has to be fed. On top of that, it needs premium fuel. Your prospects expect great content. Not good content. Not even pretty good content.

It has to be stellar. Otherwise, they’re going to get bored and go away.

Which means you’re only as good as your content, not your tools. It doesn’t matter which tool you have, or that you paid for the platinum package, with all the bells and whistles and handlebar tassels that wave in the wind. If your content sucks, it will suck expensively.

But at least you’ll be able to track all the unsubscribes and put them all in a colorful report your boss can easily understand.

As content marketing grows and matures as an industry, and people rave about big data, customer journeys, and buyer personas, it’s still about the quality of your content.

If you can’t tell a story, still confuse features and benefits, and use enough marketing jargon to make the Harvard Business Review editors smile in their sleep, no tool will save you.

Focus first on the quality of your content before you start kicking the tires of a new marketing automation tool. Because once you make that big expensive purchase, you’re the one responsible for making it go. And if your shiny new tool can’t bring in the leads and convert them to customers, the fault isn’t with the tool.

It’s an operator error.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons

5 Secrets Writers Can Learn from Actors

One thing I love about being a creative professional is the kinship with my fellow creatives. We understand the life — the instability, the random free time, and the unreliable flow of money — and we share a knowing-yet-slightly-sad smile when we meet. We get each other.

I had a chance this past April to talk with actor David Schmittou when he was in Indianapolis, playing “The Man in the Chair” in Beef & Board Theatre’s The Drowsy Chaperone (you can read my review of it here).

I wasn’t sure what I wanted when we sat down. I just wanted to see what I could learn from someone who got to be “someone else” professionally. Actors get to lie about who they are; writers lie about everything else.

So David and I sat outside at Paradise Café for nearly two hours, talking about the creative life. He told me about acting, what it’s like to be a working actor, and many of the different roles he’s played. He told me lessons he’s learned from working with people or taking classes from some of the biggest names in the industry.

That got me to thinking about how the keys to good acting are similar to the keys to good writing. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, short stories or content marketing, good writers can learn from good actors.

I didn’t write anything down. I didn’t want to disrupt his flow. As if I moved, it would startle him, and he would realize what he was doing and stop. So I made sure to remember the important points, and wrote them down in the car.

These are a few of the ideas I got from two brilliant hours with David Schmittou.

1. Create and absorb as many tiny details as possible.

David Schmittou in Beef & Boards' production of "The Drowsy Chaperone"

David Schmittou in Beef & Boards’ production of “The Drowsy Chaperone”

When you’re acting, these details will inform the way the character reacts in certain situations. It might even be a very tiny thing, like setting the needle on a record on stage in just the right place, even though no one is going to hear it, because that’s what we do in real life. Or making sure you put on side 1 in Act 1, and side 2 in Act 2. No one will see this, no one will know, but you will absorb it into your role, and it can have a powerful effect on your performance.

For Hemingway, details were crucial, even if you omitted most of them. That’s what he called The Iceberg Theory (the 1/8 of an iceberg that we see is supported by the 7/8 we don’t). If a writer knows a lot about a subject, he or she can leave certain things out, and the reader would still feel their presence. But if a writer doesn’t know a lot about a topic, and leaves certain things out, there’s a hollowness to the work.

An actor who only recites lines and offers up the barest of tiny details in their actions is wooden and not very memorable. A writer who does it is plain and uninteresting.

2. Live in the world of the play.

Don’t think of yourself as an actor on a stage, David said, be in that world. Absorb the character and imagine you’re him or her. Don’t think about after the show, don’t think about the argument you had with the director. Be present in that world, not this one. For David in The Drowsy Chaperone, he was in New York City, in his apartment, listening to his favorite record of his favorite musical, chasing away the blues.

For writers, especially fiction writers, this means being more than a story teller looking at their story as if they’re watching television. It means being in the world, notebook in hand, chronicling what you see, dodging bullets, storming the castle, and shooting at spaceships.

If you can immerse yourself in the world, you see more details, the experience becomes fuller, and you’re able to deliver a better performance/product to your audience.

3. Create a back story for your character.

Write scenes and short stories about characters. In his mind, David created a whole back story for the Man in the Chair, what he did for work, why he was single (“Since this was the 1970s, he had been married, but was unhappy, because he didn’t know what it meant to be gay,” David told me.)

Oftentimes, characters don’t come with back stories. They don’t have relationships spelled out. Did the Man in the Chair have friends? Why isn’t he with them? Does he get along with his mother? What kind of job does he have? Actors have to answer those questions themselves.

Writers, especially TV writers, will write create a “show bible,” which spells out character back stories, small details, likes and dislikes, and anything that might become important later on. They’ll write out scenes between characters that will never see the light of day, just to know how they would act and react.

If you can know why your characters are made the way they are, who influenced them, and why they like or don’t like other people, this becomes one of those very important iceberg details that shape your writing.

4. Base characters on yourself and other people.

David’s portrayal of the Man in the Chair was based on people he knew, and not past performances. He never even saw the play until he had already done the role once or twice. But he based the mannerisms and the back story on people in his life.

When Hemingway created characters for his stories, he modeled them after people he actually knew. He just changed their names. By using real people, he already had the back story written, he knew the tiny details, and he could more easily inhabit their world.

In a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway said:

Goddamn it you took liberties with peoples’ pasts and futures that produced not people but damned marvellously faked case histories. . . You could write a fine book about Gerald and Sara for instance if you knew enough about them and they would not have any feeling, except passing, if it were true.

In essence, don’t make up people, because the characters will be fake. Instead, write about real people and make minor changes.

By using real people, you can create real characters who are emotionally rich and deep, not shallow caricatures or archetypes.

5. Listen carefully and react to the other actors.

Actors need to listen to their fellow actors on stage. Whether it’s traditional theatre or improv, listening is a crucial skill. You never know when an actor is going to make a mistake, say the wrong thing, or even change their mood or inflection of their next line. Actors have to be able to react to what was just said, not automatically say what they were going to say.

Sometimes fiction writers will “let the characters take over.” They let their characters act and react to what’s happening on the page. I’ve written stories where I have a basic idea of what should happen, only to have the two characters take the story in a completely different direction.

What’s really happening is the writers imagine how their characters would react in certain situations, and write that down instead. Rather than forcing actions and conversations to reach a certain end, the writer just holds on and goes along for the ride. This can only happen when writers live in the world of their story, create a back story for their characters, and base them on real people they know.

In the nonfiction world, sometimes “you” are the person you should listen to. Imagine yourself delivering your article as a speech, and write what you would say. Build on knowledge, feeding one idea into the next. If you can’t do step 2 without doing step 1 first, put the steps in the right order. This isn’t a mystery to be solved or a secret to be revealed. Listen to the way you would teach this knowledge, and write that.

When you get a chance to meet someone whose work inspires you, take it. When you get a chance to talk about the creative process with other creative people, take it. With a little lateral thinking, you never know what you might learn.