Rather than just reference this work, I read it from cover to cover. And it turned out to be an easy read, considerably more comprehensive and better than I had remembered.
Simple rules emerge in clear and concise prose which never talks down to the reader. It contains all of the rules that so many people should known, and should have learned years ago. Yet these days it seems that so many people just plain don’t know.
Case in point: forming possessives. Therefore, on Page 1 the guide just says, “Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s.”
That’s it, no more.
Information about punctuation remains equally succinct. Hence on Page 15, the guide says,
“A colon tells the reader that what follows is closely related to the preceding clause. The colon has more effect than the comma, less power to separate than the semicolon, and more formality than the dash.”
Easy to follow and remember, the above two sentences tell more about colons, semicolons, and dashes than I think I learned in most of my formal education.
Furthermore, language comes across as something knowable, with rules and formal logic, instead of what English can sometimes seem like, e. g. a messy stew of words from all over the world.
As a part of our required readings for the social media writing class at Quinnipiac, we were required to purchase and read On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. This was a terrific book.
On Writing Well covers a multitude of issues that writers can face. Zinsser gives writers the freedom to occasionally break some rules, or at least to bend them. Moreover, he gives reasons why one type of construction might work better than another.
For Zinsser, the start and the end pack heavy punches. On Page 54, he writes,
“The most important sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead. And if the second sentence doesn’t induce him to continue to the third sentence, it’s equally dead. Of such a progression of sentences, each tugging the reader forward until he’s hooked, a writer constructs that fateful unit, the ‘lead’.”
Not only is this good advice for fiction writing, it’s excellent for report writing and for writing for the web. How many times have we had to slog through a ton of prose before getting to the good stuff? How many times have we tried to hang in there when we’d rather be doing anything but tackling an opaque garbage can full of prose?
Active Versus Passive Tense
Many writers are told to prefer active to passive tense when writing. Zinsser explains why, on Page 67,
“Use active verbs unless there is no comfortable way to get around using a passive verb. The difference between an active-verb style and a passive-verb style – in clarity and vigor – is the difference between life and death for a writer.”
A little over the top, maybe, but it does get the point across.
Don’t dance around your subject. Be bold. Be clear. Be terse.
However, instead of just referencing the guide as needed, I read it from cover to cover. And it is a fantastic guide.
So for most people, the act of writing online seems to mainly consist of ejecting words and hoping that they will somehow collide in a manner that is coherent or at least semi-understandable. The Yahoo! Style Guide, instead, serves to provide some well-needed guidance.
Rather than displaying seemingly antiquated grammar rules, the guide provides logical explanations. Hence as the guide says on Page 50,
“Scan an article reading only the headlines. If you can understand the flow and substance of the story, your content passed the test. If something seems confusing, you may need to rewrite the headings or even reorder some paragraphs.”
So to my mind, this makes infinite sense. Consider how quickly we all skim articles and newspapers these days, whether online or in dead tree format. Headlines and graphics grab our attention. Perhaps they are more fraught with meaning than they should be, but those are the current rules of the game. Therefore, writers on the Internet need to understand that headings, image captions and the like are important to the human reader.
In addition, and unsurprisingly, these elements are also important to machine readers, e. g. search engine bots.
Worth the Price of Admission
And then on Page 4, the guide talks about eye tracking. Yahoo! has surveyed users, and they have come up with an understanding of a general pattern as to how people browse websites. Here’s what they said:
“People scan the main sections of a page to determine what it’s about and whether they want to stay longer
They make decisions about the page in as little as three seconds
If they decide to stay, they pay the most attention to the content in the upper top part of the screen”
So you’d better get your pages and posts in gear, and pay particularly close attention to headings and the content that sits above the fold. Because the guide shows you the way.
First of all, written in a straightforward and engaging style, Mr. Fleischner makes his point: in order to dominate search engine listings, you need to make yourself known. Furthermore, you need to get your keywords into your website (but not stuffed there!) in a logical and natural manner.
Yahoo and MSN
Mr. Fleischner’s sole focus is Google but he does talk a bit about Yahoo and MSN. Furthermore, the reason to zero in on Google is made immediately apparent by the fifteenth page: Google is dominant. Here’s how the percentages of search stack up (he got his numbers from comScore for SearchEngineWatch.com)
Hence Google matters – but so do Yahoo and MSN, particularly when you consider that, combined, their share is nearly identical to Google’s. Yet don’t worry: many of the techniques Mr. Fleischner advocates will help with your placement on those search engines, too.
White hat techniques abound, everything from adding unique keywords on each page to making sure that your page’s overall design doesn’t keep the spiders and crawlers from doing their thing. And that’s just on-site optimization. In addition, he also covers off-site optimization, e. g. writing and distributing articles, or generating press releases.
Furthermore, interestingly enough, there is little to no information on working the social media angle, e. g. Tweeting the existence of new blog posts or announcing page updates, adding similar information to one’s LinkedIn or Facebook statuses, or creating a fan page for your work (or, better yet, getting someone else to do that). However, that is, in part, a function of this being a book and not an e-book – there’s a time lag between going to press and the actual production of a paper book. Hence information is sometimes not as fresh as desired.
However, there’s still plenty in here, for the serious web entrepreneur and the hobbyist. In addition, for someone like me, one great piece of it was some validation that I’ve got pretty good instincts when it comes to my own social media website. Oh, and if you’re paying attention – you’ll see that I just practiced two of his techniques in this very paragraph.
Dominate Google and get noticed. It’s that simple.
At least, that’s what Mark Zuckerberg would want us all to think, wish and feel. I can understand that, a desire to make a website about as universal as possible. Once the site stopped being exclusive to collegians, the inevitable business model was to universalize it. And Facebook, today (although that will probably change), has about the best chance to become a truly universal web experience as any site.
So, are you on Facebook? About 1.6 billion users are, as of this writing. But, wait, not so fast. Is that number truly accurate? Absolutely not. After all (and for different reasons), my husband and I each have more than one account. Do you? Even if you don’t, I bet you’ve got at least one friend who does, and probably lots more.
And that is perfectly all right, and is absolutely permitted by Facebook (although they’d like to change that).
Facebook’s main purpose (in case you’re just coming into the light after a few years on a desert island), is to sell advertising. Its offshoot purpose is to connect people, of all stripes, for free. But it’s those connections that sell the advertising.
There’s a lot else to it, at least on a general basis. But it’s still a valuable business tool for any Social Media Marketing Campaign.
The Best Parts of Facebook for Social Media Marketing
Facebook’s main virtues, when it comes to your business, can currently be divided into three basic areas:
Personal pages and peripheral connections to same
Company pages and groups and peripheral connections thereto, and,
Offsite connections back to Facebook
By “peripherals”, I mean all the extra stuff that goes along with Facebook, and not computer hardware peripherals.
LinkedIn is almost a corporate version of Facebook, a serious social networking site amidst all the chatter. If you are looking for a job, you need to be on LinkedIn. In case you might be looking for work again some time in your lifetime, you need to be on LinkedIn. If you might ever be called upon to professionally recommend someone, or professionally network together people from disparate times of your life (such as a college classmate and a person you know from your last job), you need to be on LinkedIn. And if you ever need to showcase your credentials to a mass audience, for any reason whatsoever, you need to be on LinkedIn. And the cornerstone of it all is your resume.
Who Should Be on LinkedIn?
And if there’s anyone else over the age of eighteen left in the United States, or potentially on the planet, chances are pretty good that they need to be on LinkedIn as well.
All of the aforementioned are perfectly good reasons to be on LinkedIn, but there’s one more. It puts together all of your professional data into one safe, trusted and uniform online package. Hence LinkedIn, like your resume itself, gives Hiring Managers a well-presented collection of information about you as a worker.
But that is if you take the time to make a complete, compelling and well thought out profile. If not, well, then LinkedIn can become a fast ticket to oblivion.
Hence, you need to put together a cogent profile, and the first place to start is with your resume. It will be similar, but not identical, to the resume you provide directly to Hiring Managers.
Improving Your LinkedIn Resume
So here are some tips for making your LinkedIn resume as good as it can be:
List all of your major jobs, no matter how long ago you did them, so long as the company (or a successor) is still in business. This is counter to what is normally put into a regular resume. On LinkedIn, you don’t really have a length issue. Plus, you want to list as many companies as possible in order to make linking easier with a greater number of people
Place key words and phrases in your job descriptions. People hunting through LinkedIn are most likely to be using the search feature, so you need to have words and phrases listed that people will be using to search for someone like you. E. g. if you’re looking for work as a Business Analyst, don’t just include the title – also include the fact that you did (assuming this is accurate) requirements gathering, which is a main Business Analyst task across multiple disciplines
List the different types of software you’ve used, with versions. This is, again, to make your profile come up in searches. E. g. if you used Excel 2003 and Excel 2007, make sure they are listed that way.
Just like with a standard resume, use action words and well-defined metrics to show what you did in your career. “Worked on the Smith project” is nowhere near as impressive as “Performed quantitative analysis; these recommendations saved the company 20% of the estimated costs on the Smith project”. Numbers are impressive. Use them.
Make sure your company listings jibe with what’s already on LinkedIn. That is, let the software give you choices (if any) for the company name. If you worked for a very large company (say, Fidelity Investments), the company name is already on LinkedIn. Don’t type it in yourself. This will automatically make it easier for you to link to everyone else who has listed Fidelity Investments as a current or past employer, and
Feel free to add more than one current employer, including any volunteer work you may be doing. Again, this will add to the ease with which you can link to others.
Tips to Quickly Boost Results. Rebekah Radice of Canva offers some great ideas for how to improve your engagement on Google+, a social platform that even a lot of experienced social media managers can find rather confusing and daunting, and hard to break into.
It should come as no great shock that images are key. But that is true for pretty much all social media platforms these days. Posts without images are just contributing to the enormous tidal wave of text that we are all dealing with, all the time.
The 800 x 1200 size is optimal for Google+.
Share Fun, Inspirational and Educational Content
Well, sure, that makes sense. For most social media platforms, the mix should be of fun and smart content, with a smattering of inspirational. If your business is angel flights for children, you’ve got no shortage of inspirational content. If it’s The Daily Show, you’ll never have to hunt around for fun content. And if you’ve got Harvard to promote, you can get educational content.
Then there’s the rest of us.
But Radice has some great ideas for engagement, printed here in their entirety –
“Share your thoughts, expertise, mission, vision and values.
Give a nice shout out to your favorite blogs and websites.
Share inspirational thoughts, funny quotes and timely news stories.
Share other peoples content with context around it.
Don’t post and run away. Interact, connect and engage!
Be grateful. Thank people that share your content.
Be personable and share details about your business in a fun and interactive way.
Follow people within your industry and niche and create a conversation. Get to know them, share their content and spread the good word about their business. This creates reciprocity and more meaningful interactions.
Repurpose your content. Just because it’s old to you, doesn’t mean it’s not new to someone else.”
Optimize Your Profile
This includes adding details about what you do, links to your other online content, and sprucing up your profile/logo image and cover image. The 2120 x 1192 size is optimal for Google+ cover images.
Return to Your Buyer Personae
Why are people on Google+? And how can you align your strategy, and what you provide, to what they want, need, and crave?
The book wastes no time and, by the tenth page, you’re already writing a little code. Mr. Harris’s style is to learn by doing. You read, you type, you copy what he’s written, you try it out. I found myself almost immediately altering his work to see what would happen. When the code didn’t break, or if it could be fairly readily fixed, it was a victory.
All concepts are explained, even those which may at the time seem like overkill, such as the practical differences among the .jpg, .gif and .bmp image formats. One of the earlier concepts explained is why CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are the way to go. By the time you get to Chapter Two of the first book (the book is divided into eight mini-books), Mr. Harris is already talking about online validation. And that’s a good thing, as that by itself can help a novice web developer to fix recalcitrant code.
I was inspired by this post in Angela Connor‘s blog. If you don’t know Angela Connor, I urge you to check her out; her blog is extremely insightful and is one of my favorites.
Her ideas make a great deal of sense, and I think some of this is why the Blizzard forum experiment in real names for users was such an immediate and egregious flop.
The ‘net, like it or not, is for many people a place of masks. You pretend to be younger and thinner than you are. Or you pretend to be unmarried. You pretend to be a Klingon. Or you’re a teenager and pretend to be an adult. Or you pretend to be another gender or richer or lovelier or more conservative or whatever.
And the masks can be freeing to many. Perhaps they were freeing when the ancient Greeks donned them while performing “Oedipus Rex” for the first time. I think there is more of a place for them than perhaps we’d all care to admit. Because there seems to be a value to being able to spread war paint (or lamp black) on one’s face, or wear a Halloween costume.
And this is not the same as our reality. It is related but not identical. Maybe the librarian who goes out for Halloween dressed as a dance hall girl wants to be known as someone who takes risks (and maybe foolish ones, at that). But when the morning after rolls around, she’s back in the library helping others do research.
This kind of anonymous commenting allows for something like this. Because the sympathetic guy who’s really seething inside gets to call people out. He gets to be a bully and be an all-around racist jerk (I have worse names, but don’t wish to besmirch my blog). But then he surfs to a different site where he can chat up the ladies with his sensitive New Age guy demeanor. And then when the time to log off comes, he goes home and kisses his wife and plays with his children. And this is all one guy.
To comment openly through a full, correct name (usually) medium like Facebook would be to cut off the dance hall girl. And it would stifle the racist jerk, the ladies’ man, and any number of other secret selves in favor of a drab and ordinary world. Even on a news site, which is pretty much the definition of drab unless there’s some sort of a hot story, the jerk, the dancer and the Romeo all want to be free.
But we shouldn’t take their opinions as seriously as the real people. Because, even though those personae live in real people’s skins, it’s the real people who vote, marry, pay taxes, work, make the news and are members of our real society.
The trouble is telling them apart and knowing which one is real.
(someone just like you, perhaps), what sorts of judgments would you make? What seems off? What’s being suppressed, which should be promoted, and vice versa? Is the picture clear or fuzzy?
The gist of that article is, take control of your information, keep it as a uniform brand and check it every month or so. The corollary to this is one from Shama Hyder Khabani, which is, essentially, don’t spread yourself too thin. Concentrate in only a few places.
My Own Information
Absolutely agreed. When I google my own last name, 502,000 hits come up. And, fortunately, my own website is at the top (Yay, SEO!). My two Facebook profiles (I have one for work) come up as fourth and fifth. Then comes my LinkedIn profile, and then Twitter. Then there’s my Examiner profile and then the last entry on the first page of results is a link to my profile at Go Articles.
Putting my last name into quotation marks yields only 2,800 hits. Most of the same usual suspects come up on Page One of the results although one place called Jobs In Social Media comes up. Classmates is at the bottom of the page. But nothing is too weird or scandalous.
How Accurate is the Information?
To my mind, checking and rechecking every single month might just be a bit excessive. Is there a need to keep your profile accurate? Sure. Flattering, or at least not damaging? Yes, particularly if you are looking for work. But to keep it sterile and perfect, as you scramble to make it perfect every moment of every day? Eh, probably not so much.
I would like to think (am I naive? Perhaps I am) that potential clients and employers will see the occasional typo and will, for the most part, let it slide unless the person is in copyediting. I am not saying that resumes, for example, should not be as get-out perfect as possible. What I am saying, though, is that this kind of obsessive and constant vigilance seems a bit, I dunno, much.
Will the world end if I accidentally type there instead of their on this blog? And, does it matter oh so much if I don’t catch the accident immediately?
I mean, with all of this brushing behind ourselves to cover up and/or perfect our tracks, and all of the things we are leaving behind, where’s the time and energy to make fresh, new content and look in front of ourselves?
Clean Up Your Presence
To me, there is little joy in reading a blog post or website that looks like it was put together by someone who’s barely literate. But there is also little joy in reading sterile, obsessively perfect websites and blog posts. A little imperfection, I feel, is a bit of letting the ole personality creep in there. Genuineness – isn’t that what the whole Social Media experience is supposed to be about, anyway?
I refuse to believe — I hope and I pray — that a bit of individuality isn’t costing me potential jobs or the company potential clients. And if it is, then that saddens me, to feel that, perhaps, there is a lot of lip service being paid to the genuineness of Social Media but, when the chips are down, it’s just the same ole, same ole.
Genuineness is great. One you can fake that, you’ve got it made? Gawd, please, say it ain’t so.