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.
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.
And what is this grand and glorious message? It is this: Markets are Conversations.
Um, okay. That’s it?
Yeah, that’s it. Oh and by the way, markets are conversations.
You just told me that.
More of it
Yeah, well, they are. Did I mention that markets are conversations? Oh and by the way, marketers and PR people are mean and nasty and awful and they and other typical business people are a vaguely (and not so vaguely) sinister stereotype whereas all of the people (who these typical business people and PR personnel are is somehow not included therein) are righteous, pure, just and true. They are individuals and deserve to be communicated with, and listened to, like all individuals.
Like, uh, I’m unique, just like everyone else?
No, no, no! You’re a unique and wonderful and special personal with marvelous gifts and enormous accuracy in understanding good and positive and possible markets, all the while making fun of typical business people who obviously not only do not have a clue but are also, let’s face it, heartless, cold, inaccurate, not listening, not worthy of the time of day or a significant study and otherwise should be ignored and forgotten, left to die on the vine.
But me, I’m a marketing type. The kind you said was evil.
So you are. Well, you’re evil, then.
Cut it out already!
You don’t even realize that I get it, this thing you are talking about, this point you keep dancing around as you keep beating the same old tired drum. Markets are conversations! Okay, great. I get that. And I have read it before although, in fairness, it was likely copying you. But after that — and after repeating this mantra at least a good 16 or so times in your book — what else have you got to say, other than that the creature known as Business as Usual needs to die? Fine, I get that, too. I’ve worked in traditional corporations, and I know that the work there can feel soul-killing. But at the same time, there are people who thrive in such environments, people who are pleasant, intelligent, respected and even, at times, hip.
Out of touch?
But, but, but, those people are supposed to be like Richard Nixon in wingtips on the beach, so cluelessly out of tune with everything that they cannot possibly be reeled in.
Reeled in, to the Cluetrain way of thinking?
And at some point, and of course I am exaggerating, but the bottom line is, the book decries business as usual and stereotypical thinking, yet it turns right around and stereotypes the very people who it claims need to change the most. That is, of course, a lovely and time-honored way to get people to listen to you and change their methodologies to your way of thinking: make fun of them and make them feel small.
Where is it going?
So somewhere along the line, Cluetrain feels like it lost its way, like it cannot figure out how to be brief. Like it cannot comprehend that talking down to people — while it criticizes business as usual for talking down to people — is more than a little ironic, and that they are not on the happy end of that irony. Like it has almost become the very thing it says not to be: a business method and rule and playbook.
There are interesting observations in here, to be sure. But they are bogged down by overlong tales of this, that and the other diverting digression. The Internet is full of people who are spouting and selling hokum! Yes, well The Refreshments said that before, and better: the world is full of stupid people. This is not, sadly, news. Oh and big business is not nimble and providing individual attention is lovely and wonderful, but hard to do if you’re very large and/or if the number of individuals you’re addressing is huge. This isn’t front-page material, either.
There is one nugget of interest: when you’re dealing with said enormous number of individuals, you generally don’t need to address them all as individuals – you just need to work with a few and the others will see that you care about individuals. And you’re pretty much set there. This makes sense in a Groundswell (a far better book, in my opinion) sort of a way, in that there are more people online who are reading and lurking versus writing or critiquing, so a message to one can be like a message to a thousand.
All of that panning for gold, and only one nugget? Perhaps I am cynical, and I’ve clearly read far too many Internet marketing books lately for my own good, but The Cluetrain Manifesto just left me cold. Although it did, happily, remind me of this video:
Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith seems to be one of those books that everyone tells you to read when you want to go into social media marketing. And it’s that sort of a wholesale recommendation that sometimes, frankly, makes me nervous. After all, how many people have read it? Are they happy with what they’ve learned? Or is the work somehow coasting on its reputation?
But it doesn’t seem to be. Instead, I think there’s useful information in there — and it’s information that doesn’t seem to be found in the other social media books I’ve been reading lately, in particularly Cluetrain Manifesto and Groundswell. There’s more practical nuggets in here, more like in The Zen of Social Media Marketing. No great shock there – Chris Brogan is the coauthor there as well.
Too Many Delays
One of the issues with books (you know, pulp and paper books, not electronic ones) is that they take so long to be produced, and then they can become obsolete or at least out of date rather quickly. It can almost seem like buying a new car — once you get it out of the dealership, it’s depreciated a good thousand dollars. And, once many books are published, they’re suddenly obsolete.
But Trust Agents doesn’t care. Instead, it forges ahead with practical, specific tips. If they go out of fashion or become obsolete, head to the website for an update. Or, if you prefer pulp and paper, there’s always a later edition.
The gist of the book consists of six basic principles:
Make Your Own Game – e. g., break the mold and experiment with new methods. This means you’re going to occasionally — gasp! — fail. So you do. Get over it. Pick yourself up and try something else. Safety and sameness aren’t really going to get you anywhere. At least, nowhere good.
One of Us – be one of the people. Be humble and be accessible. This means blogging. It means letting your hair down every now and then when you tweet. Of course it doesn’t mean foolish oversharing or putting out things that are going to really harm you (“Had fun at the Crack House last night!” — uh, no)
The Archimedes Effect – use leverage. That is, got something that’s working? Then use it to push and promote the next thing. Think of it like the spinoff to a sitcom. Laverne and Shirley was originally a spinoff of Happy Days. The first succcess was, absolutely, used to generate the second.
Agent Zero – be the person in the center of the connections. This does not necessarily mean that you have to be the center of every conversation. It’s just — everyone seems to know someone (or know of someone) who is like this. Oh, talk to Gwen. She knows everyone.
Human Artist – be polite and gracious to people. This may seem to be like a no-brainer to most, but, sadly, it’s not. Thank people. Tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them. Follow up. If this means creating a tickler file to remind you to contact people, then do that. True story — the first time I heard the term “tickler file” was in 1984 when I was working on Joe Biden‘s Senate Campaign. And it made sense – you followed up with voters (in those days, it was via phone call or postcard or letter, and sometimes via an in-person visit) because you knew that, even if their support was unwavering, that they had busy lives pulling them in a million different directions. This continues to be true if not far truer these days.
Build an Army – e. g., as you become the person in the middle of all of the connections, and the one who does the followups, your time will start to fill up. You’re going to need help, so link up with other people who can be social hubs and follow-uppers. This does not relieve you from thanking people, but it does help you to continue to keep in touch.
There are, of course, a thousand little details that go along with these. The specifics include things like using Google Alerts to check on how often your name shows up online, and looking at AllTop and Technorati for blogs to follow. Grab an RSS feed so that you can get through more blogs with more speed.
But be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were trust agents. You cannot take a shortcut and metaphorically substitute canned vegetables for fresh ones here. Cultivate this and pay attention to it. Much like a garden, your hard groundwork will pay off beyond your wildest expectations.
And you can even leave your extra lettuce on my front porch.
The Numerati by Stephen Baker remains a fascinating work about sensors, technology, data mining and where it’s all going when it comes to our privacy.
And it ends up all about data, about collecting, refining and interpreting it. People are, well, a bunch of fish in a bowl. Or, if you prefer, hamsters on a wheel. We are lab rats, we are subjects, we are collections of bit streams. We are … information.
And the kicker is that, put together enough things about us, and conclusions can suddenly be drawn.
Let’s say I go to the same grocery store every week (not a stretch – I really do). And I buy fish every single week. What if I buy, say, tuna steaks 70% of the time, and swordfish the other 30%? Am I automatically a tuna lover? Or am I simply scared to try something new? Or am I getting to the fishmonger when everything else is sold out?
And what happens if a coupon is introduced into the mix? Does my tuna consumption go up to 80% if you give me $1 off per pound? However, that’s not too much of a victory, seeing as I normally buy it anyway. Will a $1 off coupon entice me to buy more pricey salmon instead?
Ideas But Not Gospel
The data gives its interpreters (Baker refers to them as the Numerati, which sounds a tad like Illuminati and perhaps he means that) ideas. However, it’s not really a slam-dunk. Or, at least, not yet. Hence essentially the Numerati bucket you. So I am a tuna buyer. And I am a sometime swordfish buyer. And I am also a Caucasian woman, in her (ahem) fifties, married, no children, living in Boston.
So far, so good. And when the data are all herded together, when the bits and bytes of our lives are aggregated, this may very well have a lot to say about us. Because it might be a predictor of how I’ll vote in the next election. Or perhaps it will show how I’d use a dating site if I should ever need one in the future. Or it may even tell whether I’m likely to become a terrorist.
Border Collies and Data Goats
The data matters, but, to my mind (and to Baker’s as well, it seems), there are not only herds of data but there are also nagging outliers. And these constitute the Border Collies amidst all the data goats. Perhaps I am buying tuna to feed to a cat. Or maybe I buy it with the intention of eating it to improve my health but, alas, never get to it and it goes to waste every single week.
So consider this case: a sensor is placed into a senior citizen’s bed, to determine whether that person is getting up in the morning. And, let’s say we also collect weight data. Because a sudden dramatic rise in weight would indicate the possible onset of congestive heart failure. And let’s say the senior in question is a woman who weighs 150 pounds. Your own mother, maybe. Day one: 150 pounds. Day two: 158 pounds. And then day three: 346 pounds. Day four: 410 pounds. Golly, is Mom really that sick?
Maybe Mom’s dog is 8 pounds. Okay, that explains day two. But what about days three and four? Maybe Mom’s got a boyfriend.
Or maybe she’s got two.
When I had the occasion to meet Stephen Baker, we had the opportunity to talk a bit about these squishy, messy feelings. Sure, our hearts are in the right place. And we want Mom to be safe and healthy, and we can’t be there. She might live in a warmer climate, and we cannot (or won’t) leave our cooler climes. Or the job opportunities may be no good there for us. For whatever reason, we are here and she is there. So we want to be aware, and caring and all, but in our desire to gather information and protect her, what else are we learning?
If Mom is competent, and single, and protecting herself from STDs, we truly have no business knowing who she spends her evening hours with. Yet this technology makes this possible.
And if we have any sense of the future at all, we have to think to ourselves: what happens when I become Mom’s age? Will my bedroom and toileting habits potentially become a part of this huge bit/byte hamster wheel lab rat canary in a coal mine data stream? You betcha.
It is often said that only people who have something to worry about in their private lives are the ones who are worried. Everyone else should be fine, blithely giving up their warts and preferences, their virtues and secrets, to all who ask.
I say bull. I like my secrets. And I like my hidden life. And I’ll be damned if I give it up, even in the name of health, diet, voting, national security or even love.
Social Media Marketing by Liana Evans was a book that I might have read a little too late in the semester. In all fairness, I read this book toward the end of my first social media class at Quinnipiac (ICM 522).
Hence it felt like I already knew a lot of what was being written, but that was likely more a function of timing than anything else.
Been There, Done That
The book is interesting. However, I had just read a ton of other works about very similar work, strategies, and ideas. Therefore, it ended up being maybe one book too many. And it ended up an optional read, anyway. Furthermore, other works seemed to have said it better. And these days, books just do not get published fast enough to take proper advantage of trends and new insights. Blogs, in general (although not always!) end up more current and relevant.
Possibly the best takeaway I got from the book was when Evans talked about online communities, particularly in Chapter 33 – You Get What You Give. And on page 255, she writes –
You need to invest your resources
Time to research where the conversation is
Time and resources to develop a strategy
and Time and staff resources to engage community members
Time to listen to what they are saying, in the communities
Time and resources to measure successes and failures
Giving valuable content
It is similar to a bank account
Don’t bribe the community
Rewards come in all fashions
Research who your audience is
Give your audience something valuable and/or exclusive
Don’t expect you’ll know everything
Listen to what your audience says
Admit when you are wrong
Thank your community
Finally, much like we’ve been telling people for years on Able2know – listen before you speak!
The most important piece is the Social Technographics profile. Online people can be divvied up as follows:
Creators – these people make original content. Bloggers, article writers, website creators and maintainers and people who upload audio and video all belong to this group. It’s a good 18% of the United States, as of the writing of the book (2008). I do everything on that list, so that puts the Creator stamp right in my wheelhouse.
Critics – these people react to what’s been created by the Creators. They comment on blogs and forums. And they produce ratings and reviews. They edit wikis. They encompass a good 25% of the US. But I do all of those things, too. So am I a Critic, instead?
Collectors – these people save URLs and tags on Social Bookmarking sites (things like delicious). They vote on Digg. And they use RSS. They comprise about 12% of America. Hey, I do all of those things, too! Am I now a Collector?
Joiners – these people participate in and maintain profiles on social networking sites such as Facebook. They make up a good 25% of the US and, you guessed it, I do these things, too.
Spectators – these people are also called Lurkers. They read but don’t comment, categorize or classify. I am occasionally like this, but usually not. This tribe comprises 48% of the United States. And,
Inactives – these people just plain don’t participate. It does beg the question, though, since they are online — what do they do? They might just pay bills and read email, or do sudoku puzzles, I suppose. They make up 41% of America.
Wait, That’s Over 100%
If you look at the percentages and add them up, you get over 100%. Hence, it’s obvious (and as I have proven by using myself as a test case), most people don’t fit quite so neatly into one slot or another. Many of us wear many different hats. And some of that may be a function of being a Creator. If you want to promote your website and/or blog, you often need to be a part of a forum or a social networking site, and you generally want to help promote your own work by social bookmarking it, or at least seeing if others have. Hence you’re also doing a bit of lurking (er, spectating). About the only thing you aren’t is Inactive.
And what of people who aren’t online at all? They are the ultimate in Inactivity.
Now, what does this all mean? You can understand these profiles in terms of demographics. Hence if you are an American woman in your fifties, your social technographics profile is such that you’re more likely to be a Spectator than anything else (73%).
Essentially what this is saying is, typical hardware purchasing companies are going to relate best to reading (although not commenting upon) blogs and participating in forum communities. The next biggest group is Creators, 31%, although I suspect consumers of robotics products might skew more heavily into the Creator realm – many people who are interested in robotics actually build them.
The book then provides case studies of how various companies tapped into the groundswell, either by creating a wiki, or opening up a community, or starting to blog. If companies matched their customers’ (or employees’) social technographics profiles well, and the companies began these ventures clear-eyed and without an intent to deceive and double talk, they prospered. If not, well….
One major element that was not stressed very much, and probably should have been, is that any number of these ventures takes money. They take time, too, of course, but it certainly helps if a company has the wherewithal to dedicate an employee to evangelizing a wiki, or hire a Community Manager or allow its employees to devote less of their time to selling or meetings (or analysis or scheduling or auditing or whatever said employees generally do) and set aside a portion of their day, week or month to blogging.
In the world of startups, of course, there are people dedicated to blogging. However, they’re also dedicated to any number of things, such as marketing, tweeting, PR and even assisting with business decisions. Such is the nature of a startup, of course. You wear almost as many hats as a Creator does.
Is this book worth it? Absolutely. Great job, Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li!