Exploring Social Citizenship

12 Feb
February 12, 2015

I’ve been toying around this week with the idea of what it means to be a social “citizen”.

Your pereception as a “good” or “bad” citizen in everyday society is determined by others based on the way you conduct yourself, interact with others and add value to that society. When it comes to social platforms, it is exactly the same – others determine the value in associating with you based on the way you behave.

The difference with platforms though is that our interaction style is dictated to a large degree by the format.

The key to being a good “citizen” on a platform is to know when and how to use the function within the format to exhibit the same behaviour as you would offline.

I put together a quick SlideShare around what I am calling social citizenship (at the risk of sounding like I am trying to coin a new buzzword), with a focus on Twitter as a platform.


There were 6 areas I looked at, first around getting your house in order – your profile, feed and tone, and then the more executional – giving more than you get, giving context and credit, thanks and giving thanks.

To be honest, there are probably more than just these six, and I think there is scope to evolve the thinking.

The other important thing of note here is that I wrote this from a personal perspective, but the principles themselves I believe sit just as well within the framework of a brand.

Would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Agree, disagree? Any you would add, or remove?

PHOTO – Thomas Hawk via Flickr

3 Things Seinfeld Taught Me About Storytelling

02 Feb
February 2, 2015

Most nights when there is nothing else on TV, I will flick on some repeats of Seinfeld, still one of my favourite shows ever. When I first started watching the show more than 20 years ago, it was hilarious. I still find it just as funny, but it’s only now I can appreciate the storytelling genius that goes into creating memorable stories that are still quotable, 17 years after the last episode aired.

When we think about content, and content marketing, storytelling is such an important part of making it engaging.

As I watched, there were several things that jumped out at me as key elements to telling a memorable story.

Characters Matter

Anyone can tell a story, it’s something many of us do every day. They tend to follow familiar structures of beginning, middle and end. The structure of a sitcom in particular is very formulaic. However, it’s the way they are told within that structure that makes the difference.

Seinfeld is famously “the show about nothing” and if you were to hear someone talk you through the premise of some episodes (as George does below), you’d have to agree it would sound pretty uninspiring and you’d likely not watch.

But put that premise into the hands of a character like Kramer, George, or even a minor player in the Seinfeld universe, and all of a sudden it becomes engaging. Because each of them brings a unique voice, their characters voice to the storyline.

When you’re thinking about your content, think about who it is that’s telling the story. Find that voice, and bring it to the narrative.

Create Stories Within The Story – Then Bring It All Together

There’s a lot going on in each episode, and at times, all seem like disparate threads. Take the Season 6 episode of The Mom and Pop Store. The episode starts with the loose central premise of a Thanksgiving Party at dentist Tim Whately’s house that Jerry’s not sure he’s invited to. From here, it takes off in different directions as it breaks into sub-stories:

Story 1

  • Jerry gives his sneakers to a mom and pop store to repair
  • Kramer get a blood nose that causes him to lie down in the store and notice the wiring in the roof.
  • Mom and pop shut up shop as they can’t afford repairs and skip town with the all the shoes, leaving Jerry with only cowboy boots

Story 2

  • George buys a car he believes to be Jon Voight, that actor
  • Jerry goes through the glovebox and finds a chewed pencil and papers belonging to a different John Voight
  • George kicks Jerry out of the car in his cowboy boots and he falls and chips a tooth running from a gang
  • Kramer sees Jon Voight in the street and tries to ask him if it’s his car and gets bitten in the process

Story 3

  • Mr Pitt wants to hold the Woody Woodpecker balloon in the Thanksgiving Day Parade, so Elaine guesses the big band song for him
  • Elaine loses her hearing sitting in front of a big band at the cafe where she is picking up the tickets

Now all of these are stories with comedic value in their own right. As with any story though, It’s important though that all of these come together into a resolution.

George and Kramer ask a dentist to compare the chewed pencil to the bite mark on Kramer’s arm. Tim grabs the pencil to take a note and puts it in his mouth, ruining the teeth mark and explains that he knows John Voight the dentist, who owned the car. Elaine, who wants Tim to ask her out ultimately rejects him at the party as she can’t hear him because she picked up Mr Pitt’s tickets. Jerry asks a dentist to look at his tooth, ultimately knocking a statue from the apartment and piercing Mr Pitt’s balloon.

All of the stories converge at once to round out the episode.

The lesson here for your content is that there are always going to many aspects to a story. To do them justice and tell them effectively, you need to break them down into sub stories. But the important part is making sure that they all fit together in the end. If they don’t, then you need to question if they fit the narrative at all.

Make It Relatable

While a lot of the storylines were out-and-out absurd (particularly towards the end), many of the memorable ones were things that happened to all of us. So much of Seinfeld’s success was built on making the situations relatable.

Ripped off at a car dealership? Waited forever for a table? Problem with a rental car? Angry food vendor? Close talker? Quiet talker?

There’s an episode for all of them.

This familiarity breeds longevity and memory of the story that’s been told. We remember the situation they relate to in the show, because we find ourselves in similar situations.

How can you ground the stories in your content in something the audience can relate to? This is the key to them remembering it after you’re done telling them.

PHOTOPranav Bhatt via Flickr

Message Before Content, Content Before Platform

20 Jan
January 20, 2015

I had a conversation with someone earlier this week and they asked my view on a social platform (not one of the majors) they wanted to implement in their business.

They spent a few minutes explaining some of the features, the big one seemingly the ability to add video. I asked what kind of video content they’ll be producing.

“We don’t know yet”.

I asked if they planned on using video at all.


With so much written about the importance of video to a strategy, this kind of cart before the horse approach is understandable. We know we need to be using this, so we must find a platform that uses it.

But two things come before the platform – the message and the content. What is it that you want to tell people? Without understanding your message, your content doesn’t serve a purpose. Which makes the platform irrelevant.

The content itself is shaped by this message. How can you best communicate it to your audience? Is it in a video? It might be. It might not be.

cycleOnce these two things are clearly articulated that you should think about the platform to distribute it. If that’s video, great. Most platforms support it. If it’s not video, that’s OK too. Do what works for you and your business.

But don’t pick a platform for a killer feature that you may not use.

To be clear, I’m not saying the process of creating content should be completed before determining the platform – just understanding the types of content you plan to use.

There is an important fourth step – learn and adapt. How did the content perform? Was your message clear? Did it have the desired outcome?

Take those learnings, and revisit the message if need be. And start the process again.

PHOTO: Ian Harris

Why Everybody Writes is a Book That Everybody Needs

14 Jan
January 14, 2015

I feel all sorts of pressure writing this post. How can I possibly review a book about how to be a better writer without second guessing every word I type?

Like many people, I have set myself some goals for 2015, one of which is to write more. At the moment, I write when I find the time, rather than finding the time to write. Typically it’s around something topical, something I’ve experienced or something I have witnessed others experience.

This, however, is a narrow view of the extent of my writing. As the title suggests, everybody does write, in many forms, for many different reasons. If I consider everything I write, it covers emails, social updates, blog posts, business cases, web copy and the list goes on. But underpinning all of this are principles that don’t change.

Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer for MarketingProfs, and her second book (the first being the fantastic Content Rules, written with CC Chapman), is a masterclass in the written word – part framework, part high school English refresher, and all motivation to make you want to write better.

This truly is a book that every marketer, social media manager, media type and student needs to have. While I was reading it, I could feel myself deconstructing everything I remembered or had learned over the years, and rebuilding around the frameworks laid out.

No matter what it is you want to improve, it’s covered. Ann breaks the book up into a number of parts, although a smart reader will go cover to cover. Part one broadly sets out the writing rules, a set of guidelines to reframe your thinking on how to write well. The most important part of this is giving you permission to not get it perfect right away, and to understand that there is a process that every writer goes through.

Part Two is where everything you (hopefully) learned in English class at school comes flooding back, understanding sentence structure and proper grammar. And some rules you can break (see what I did there?).

Perhaps the section I found most interesting covers the ins and outs of publishing. Given the tools of creation are so freely available now, everyone is a publisher. With that comes risk – in ethics, sources, fact checking etc. Being able to navigate this part of the process is valuable, in a time where trust and reputation are everything.

From here, it gets into specifics around the different forms a marketer may need to write for, and an invaluable list of content tools, which I think is worth the cover price alone.

I was lucky enough to have Ann answer a few questions about the book and content creation and marketing:

130503AH_9844With the growth of content marketing over the last few years, do you think the pressure to “always be creating” plays a part in the quality of the output?

Publishing is a privilege. Many brands jumped into content marketing without fully grokking as much — so much of the content they created lacked a critical respect for the audience. With freedom comes responsibility — to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt. And it seems to me that many companies and organizations are embracing that responsibility to their audience along with the freedom to publish. Or maybe I’m just optimistic. 🙂

I see a generational gap in creating quality written content, in that younger marketers talk about it but struggle with the written word at times because of their media use and consumption. Do you think some of the rules of writing, as you outline them in the book, have been lost in a world of fast, short communication?

I’m not sure I agree with that characterization of younger marketers. I think the ability to write well has less to do with age than it does an understanding of the opportunity that technology has afforded content marketers and businesses more generally. Very often, younger people get that more directly than others — but not exclusively.

The “writing rules” in the book are really more of a call to arms for us all to communicate more simply, directly, and with empathy for the people we are trying to reach. I don’t think that’s specific to any age group, or any number of years of experience.

I see this book very much as a companion to Content Rules, which to me provided the why and what of content creation, whereas this is very much the how. Was that the intent?

I like that. It wasn’t exactly the intent — but you’re right in that they both build on each other. The world didn’t need another content marketing book — many excellent ones already exist. With Everybody Writes, I set you to give business a useful writing guide framed for a content marketing age — whether that content is a blog post or a white paper or the story around an Instagram photo. So yes, I wanted to offer how-to instruction in a fun, accessible way — because I think our writing can be fun… and it should be a differentiator for any company.

As I said at the beginning of this post, this really is one of the best books any content creator can have. I highly recommend getting a copy – and carrying it with you wherever you find the time to write.

Big thanks to Ann for taking the time to answer my questions for the review.

4 Tips To Get More From Buffer

11 Dec
December 11, 2014

About 90% of what I share on social channels is done using Buffer.

Buffer is one of the tools I called out as invaluable for managing social throughput, and in that post I offered up a few tips for using it. I wanted to dive into the tool a little deeper here.

I’m not what you would call a power user (I run on their basic tier), but I do try and squeeze a whole lot out of it in terms of function.

My primary use is as a curation tool to bring together other people’s content into my feed. Given the amount of content I read each day, I generally end up queuing about two days worth of social posts each time . As far as my own content goes, I use CoSchedule to develop and schedule my messaging, but the great part is that it integrates with Buffer as well. I’ll be publishing a post on CoSchedule soon.

Here are my 4 tips for doing more with Buffer.

Add more timesTwitter posting times

When you sign up, there will be a number of times already picked to share content.

I highly recommend changing these up, and creating a sharing schedule for each platform.

Firstly make sure that your timezone is right (under the Schedule tab) – nothing worse than setting times only to find yourself hours ahead or behind.

Understand the consumption habits of each platform – Twitter should be higher frequency of content as an example, given how fast a feed can move, whereas LinkedIn may be a 2 or 3 updates a day platform for you.

Add new times to each platform. My Twitter schedule (right) is based on 6 scheduled times a day, every 2 an a half hours, whereas LinkedIn is timed for 3 times a day, at the start and end of the workday, and lunchtime.

Change up your messages and add context

Depending on what device I am using, I use the Chrome and Safari extensions and the iOS app to add to my queue when I like a story. I will often add the item to the queue looking the same across all the platforms I want to share to.

After you’ve added your item to the queue, don’t forget about it. Every platform has its optimum posting format, so you need to make sure you go into the Buffer and edit what you have saved there to suit.

I will typically add a source’s Twitter handle at the point of adding to the queue and Buffer will automatically parse that to a full name for LinkedIn. It’s important to check this as you want to make sure the source is credited correctly.

Also important is adding hashtags for Twitter, G+ and even Facebook if you want (although they’ve never really taken off on Facebook). This will help visibility when they are published.

Understanding platforms like Google+ allow for a longer message (it only supports pages, not individual profiles), use this opportunity to write your thoughts ahead of the link

Add a picture

Image uploadImages increase engagement with social posts exponentially, so where available (which is everywhere), you should be using them.

Buffer offers the opportunity to add an specific image to the posts you share. This is particularly handy for Twitter posts where there is no preview of the content, unless the site you are sharing supports Twitter cards, but you can’t see this from queue dialogue, unlike Facebook, LinkedIn and G+ shares where the tool will parse a preview that you can see in the queuing dialogue.

Don’t just share something once

There is research to suggest that the multiple sharing of the same piece of content can do wonders for engagement. CoSchedule has a great schedule framework that demonstrates this.

Scheduling toolUse the New Scheduler tool (second tab) to pick the frequency by which you share your content and again, make sure you vary your message by platform.

Add additional schedule times to it if you want as well, per my first point.

If you want to keep a track of all the links you share using the tool, I also recommend checking out this post on using IFTTT to achieve that.

This kind of tool shouldn’t be the only thing you use to share content. As I said, I schedule about 90% of my output using this, with the remaining being direct shares from social platforms as I find information, and others being my own content that I post on the blog.

So how about you? Any ways you are using it that you’d like to share?