Social media success in 6 hours a week

Social media success in six hours week

6 hours a week; an hour a day (with two on Wednesday); three working days a month.

For businesses on the up and busy managers, it probably sounds like quite a lot of time, especially since you probably feel like you could do with three more days a month, not three less.

But when you look at what you can achieve in those six little hours, they might not seem so daunting.

The power of six hours

According to the Social Media Examiner’s 2014 industry report, nearly two thirds (64 percent) of marketers are using social media for six hours or more a week, and of those marketers:

  • More than half find it improves sales
  • 95+ percent indicated their social media efforts increased exposure for their business
  • More than half were able to build new business partnerships
  • Two thirds (66 percent) saw lead generation benefits
  • 60 percent saw improvements in search engine rankings
  • 84 percent saw site traffic increase
  • Almost three quarters were more likely to gain marketplace insight

Even those without a big old marketing department are catching up. A recent survey by Vertical Response found 43 percent of small businesses are now spending six hours a week or more on social media. And they’re getting strategic about it: over a third (36 percent) pay for publishing and analytics tools and 57.5 percent spend $26 or more per month.

Six secrets of social media success

Of course, to get such great results in so little time, you have to know what you’re doing and execute it with lightening speed. Gamers often refer to their APM (actions per minute) to gauge their skill and dexterity in real-time gameplay. In order to achieve social media success in just six hours a week, you need a high APM, knowing what actions to deploy, when and where.

  1. Target your time. Success doesn’t mean spreading yourself across every social media site you can find. Much better to figure out where your ideal customers are likely to hang out and focus your time there. 10,000 followers on Facebook is useless if none of them are likely to buy your product.
  2. Have an end game in mind for every action. Don’t just bleat out noise and hashtag the hell out of your updates. Think about why you’re posting a message: who’s it aimed at and what do you hope they’ll gain from it? What action are you ultimately hoping to prompt? What’s the business benefit?
  3. Have a checklist. Once you know what you’re doing and where, create a list that you can follow by rote. There are plenty online you can use as a starting point, from the basic HubSpot daily game plan to The Marketing Tech Blog’s sensible social media checklist.
  4. dog reaching outBuild relationships. Social media is about raising your profile and having a conversation. Make sure you do both and interact with influencers, potential customers and anyone who asks you a reasonable question. Look for people asking for help on topics your business is an expert in – go looking for relationships.
  5. Follow up. Don’t keep social media locked away in its own bubble. As you start to make connections, move them into the sales cycle: nurture them with emails and calls. Connect what you’re doing in social media to your wider campaigns and don’t forget to follow and delight existing customers.
  6. Create your own content. You have to be adding to the conversation, otherwise, as Matthew likes to say, ‘you’re just breaking eggs without making an omelette.’ Some people include writing blogs in their social media six hours, others place it in content creation. Either have way have some original content, and be sure to share it well.

Six essential tasks

Exactly how you spend your six hours will vary depending on your audience, what you sell and how you sell it, but there are a few things everyone should be squeezing into their six hours:

  • Review what’s working. What’s getting shared and liked? What’s not? And more importantly, what are your leads liking most? Are the number of qualified leads from social media increasing?
  • Schedule content. Just because you might spread your six hours over five days doesn’t mean you have to spend time posting every day. Line up posts in bulk and do one whole job at a time.
  • Respond. This is daily. Respond as quickly as possible when people reach out to you. Prove you’re paying attention.
  • old shop frontWatch what’s trending. Listen for mentions relevant to your industry, competitors and your own brand.
  • Reach out. Don’t just respond to what people say. Target people and start a conversation. Send an InMail or tweet a question. Be specific.
  • Keep your profiles up to date. Keep your logos, photos, links and descriptions up to scratch. No one’s impressed by a rundown shop front.

Marketing tools like HubSpot (yes, we use HubSpot) can help you with these tasks by pulling in data and making it easier to manage.

Stick to those six hours

Even if you start your optimised six hours a week today, you won’t see social media success straight away. These magic six hours a week have to happen every week, without fail, for the long term. Schedule them in your calendar and set to repeat indefinitely.

The other key finding in the Social Media Examiner’s report was that the longer you keep it up, the better the results are:

  • More than half of marketers who’ve been using social media for at least three years report it has helped them improve sales
  • More than half of marketers who’ve invested at least one year in social media report that new partnerships were gained
  • More than half of marketers with at least one year of social media experience were generating leads with social platforms

Finally, stay focused

Social media success with hands holding cardsSocial media might feel like a flighty task. In your personal life you’re probably used to Instagraming during dinner or Facebooking in front of the TV. But in business, you have to dedicate those six hours a week just to social media – it’s work, like any other part of your job.

No tweeting while you email or interacting on LinkedIn groups while you’re on the phone. You have to concentrate, focus and do it well to get results.

As Daniel Levitin, professor of psychology and behavioural neuroscience at McGill University says,

What it turns out is that we think we’re multitasking, but we’re not. The brain is sequential tasking, we flit from one thought to the next very, very rapidly, giving us the illusion that what we’re doing is doing all these things at once. But I’m here to tell you, as a neuroscientist, just because we think we’re doing something doesn’t mean we are. Our brains are very, very good at self-delusion.

Follow these tips in your six hours a week, and your social media success won’t need any self-delusion at all.

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Essential business grammar lesson ten: differentiating good and well

good and well: well done written

How was your day at work?

A common question heard in houses around the country after 5pm. But what’s the right answer?

  1. It was good.
  2. It was well.

Perhaps that’s an easy example. ‘It was well’ sounds odd, doesn’t it? Let’s consider an even simpler question.

How are you?

  1. I’m good.
  2. I’m well.

Not so clear this time right? In this case, the difference is in the verb. You need to ask yourself: are you using a linking verb or an action verb? Only then can you understand the difference between good and well.

Linking verbs

Linking verbs are those that connect two items. The most common linking verb is ‘to be’ and its conjugate  forms, such as I am, you are, he/she is.

  • He is late.

In this sentence, is connects him with his lateness.

For linking verbs, use ‘good’ to describe a quality.

  • She is good at her job.

Action verbs

Action verbs are those that indicate action. Run. Swim. Jump. Climb. Edit. Attend. Sell. Buy.

When describing an action verb, use well.

Consider this exchange.

  • How was your day at work? It went well.

Since went is the past tense of go, we have an action verb. Go clearly indicates action.

If all else fails…

Some grammarians argue that the difference between good and well is that good is an adjective and well is an adverb. Adjectives modify things and adverbs modify verbs.

Tip: if you’re describing an action, use well. If you are describing an object or thing, use good.

Well done…or is it?

We’re not done yet. You’ve probably seen hyphens used in conjunction with ‘well’. This adverb follows general rules for hyphenation.

  • Is it a well-done report? (Or ‘Is the report well done?’)

Good is rarely, if ever, used in hyphenated words.

In some cases, a hyphenated version of well can replace good. This happens when the word ‘well’ is hyphenated with is the action verb. A good report can also be a well-done report, where ‘done’ is the action verb.

The exception

Sensory verbs – smell, see, feel, hear, and taste – can be both action and linking verbs.

If you are actively using the sense, treat it like an action verb and use ‘well’.

If you are not actively using the sense, treat it like a linking verb and use ‘good’.

  • Can you hear me at the back? We can hear you well.

The people at the back of the room are actively listening to the speaker.

  • How do you feel about this project? I feel it is good.

You are not actively feeling anything in this sentence. (You aren’t touching the project or emotionally experiencing the project, are you?)

Examples of correct usage

  • Sarah is good at researching statistics, but Keith is the best at analysing data.
  • Applicant A seems to have a good education. Applicant B also has a well-rounded education, but no work experience.
  • Our new perfume smells so good it will fly off the shelves.
  • The new police dog smells drugs so well that we put him straight on active duty.

Understand? Good, you did well.

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Marketing telepathy: what content do my leads want to see?

what content do my leads want to see?

Fifty percent of generated leads are not ready to make a final purchase decision when they enter the sales funnel. To hold their attention until they are ready to buy, you have to understand the process they’re going through and what content is appropriate each step of the way.

The journey

HubSpot splits the buyer process into three stages: awareness, evaluation and purchase. They define the purpose and format that content should fulfil in each:

  • Awareness. Content and offers in the form of whitepapers, ebooks and checklists should educate the buyer.
  • Evaluation. Content will inform the buyer about what will fulfil their need and offers like webinars or case studies should follow.
  • Purchase. Content gives the buyer specific information and access to your brand through a free trial or consultation, even product literature.

When a buyer starts out, they aren’t ready to commit to a consultation with your company or even to sit through a webinar, but as they become more invested in your brand, the likelihood that they’ll accept these types of offers increases.

Giving a lead the right choices of content and offers at each stage determines whether or not they choose to take the next step. This is why it’s essential to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes and account for their needs at every stage with the content you produce.

Telling your buyer’s story

If you’re wondering ‘what content do my leads want to see?,’ the process of matching content to the buyer’s journey is called content mapping. To find the answer to your question, you have to understand the buyer’s story.

Using your buyer personas, the fictional representation of your ideal buyers, as a foundation, a buyer scenario will tell each buyer’s story from the initial problem they encounter through to the final purchase decision.

You then determine what content they would look for at each stage and fill your editorial calendar based on those topics and the appropriate content format for where they are in your sales funnel.

If you already use a tool like Hubspot (we do!), this is even easier. You can view the profiles of customers you’ve gained and look at the series of content they chose to read before making their final decision.

You can also map it out in story form. Let’s give it a try by putting ourselves in the buyer’s shoes.

Insert your name here

You are a small business owner with a staff of 18-24 employees. Your company sells and installs audio-visual equipment and systems for home and business. You are always interested in finding better ways to do business so you read online sources and talk to your network of small business owners.

You might come across articles or whitepapers on:

  • 20 real uses for tablets in small business
  • 10 top CRM applications
  • 9 ways to achieve better customer service in the cloud

What’s the problem and how could I solve it?

You’ve noticed a disconnect between your sales people and technicians. Customers are supposed to direct questions and problems to their account managers, but technicians are getting requests or encountering questions on site. These things don’t always get communicated back to the office.

Because of the articles you’ve read, you consider equipping the technicians with tablets and access to a CRM application so customer account information is put in the same place in real time by every employee.

Like most buyers, you start your research online. To find the best options, you look at:

  • Reviews on different sites and blogs
  • A case study on how three companies used tablets to make their business mobile
  • A webinar on using CRM software in a mobile small business

Which products am I actually interested in?

This is where business and personal values come into play. You might have personal preferences toward certain vendors, but you also feel:

  • Price matters, but not at the risk of sacrificing quality
  • With technicians on the move, warranty and customer support matter
  • You need compatibility with the equipment you already have in your business

When you looked at the reviews, you found a few tablets which met your basic criteria, but now it’s time to get serious. You look at product literature like a:

  • Vendor comparison guide for tablets
  • Feature comparison between a single company’s tablets

You’re also influenced by the customer experience at this point-how easy it is to make a purchase and the quality of service if and when you make contact with a representative.

What do I think of my decision?

You decide to purchase tablets for your lead technicians with a CRM software by the same company. Now you’re making your post-purchase evaluation of the equipment itself and any support you receive while integrating it into your business. You refer to articles like:

  • Tips and tricks to using CRM software better
  • Staying connected to a growing, mobile staff

This chapter of the story, or this purchase, is over, but you have one more decision to make as a buyer.

To be continued …

Did you just buy a product or did you buy into the brand? A growing business always has different needs and pain points. Will you return to the same brand for future purchases? These are the questions your customers ask themselves.

It costs six to seven times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an old one, so as a marketer, these questions are worth answering. Does your content marketing simply lead them to your products or does it engage them with your brand even after the sale is made?

It’s all about the buyer

Every buyer making a purchase decision has their own set of values guiding the process which are important to consider as you create your buyer scenarios and content to suit.

In B2B transactions, the company sets standards based on desired benefits, price, quality and internal policies. However, even in business, personal factors like job role, reputation and even brand preferences can influence the outcome of a purchase.

Your content should appeal to these internal values, but the way you present your content should be influenced by how people make choices. Sheena Iyengar, in her TED talk on the science of choice, asserts easier choices stem from:

  • Cutting. One company experienced a 10 percent sales increase when they cut their product offerings by approximately 50 percent.
  • Concretising. Buyers are more likely to move forward if they understand the concrete benefits of their choice.
  • Categorising. Buyers don’t want more options, but are more likely to purchase a product or service when they can easily locate the type of product they are seeking.
  • Complexity. In a series of decisions, buyers want the simpler choices first if you expect to keep them engaged.

When you are executing an inbound strategy, a buyer makes a choice whether or not to read a piece of your content or sign up for an offer.

Your goal is to create a logical series of choices for each buyer based on their needs to lead them to the final decision-to convert and become your customer.

You are here: content mapping

(Photo: Stefan Shambora)

Content cartography

Content mapping means seeing an inbound marketing strategy to attract, convert, close and delight from the customer’s perspective. Your buyers want it to be first about their problem, then what would solve the problem, and finally, your products or services.

By seeing a purchase through a buyer’s eyes, you can better curate content, master offers, close sales on quality leads and continue to reel in those buyer’s until you’ve made brand advocates out of every single one.

(Hat tip to Matt Jiggins for the photo)

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Essential business grammar lesson nine: hyphenation

hyphenation: two hands putting together jigsaw pieces

Hyphens are short dashes that join two words in a variety of circumstances. These words might be adjectives describing a noun,

  • Everett is a forty-seven-year-old analyst.

Or prefixes to words, which modify them without confusion.

  • Oliver is semi-involved in that project, but he’s more focused on manufacturing practices.

Compound adjectives

A compound adjective is a descriptor made of two or more separate adjectives that act as one.

When a compound adjective comes before the noun, a hyphen is required. When a compound adjective comes after the noun, there is no hyphen.

  • The well-written ad copy helped boost awareness of our campaign.
  • The ad copy was well written.

Many websites have lists of commonly hyphenated phrases and words like ‘well’, which is often part of a compound adjective.

Prefixes

Prefixes like pre-, re- or mis- are added to words to change their meaning. You can understand or misunderstand directions, without any hyphen.

However, you can sign the report or re-sign the report; you cannot resign report because resign is a word in itself that means to quit. A hyphen clarifies meaning.

When the prefix ends with the same letter the word it modifies begins with, a hyphen is also necessary.

Numbers

Numbers above twenty aren’t commonly spelled out, except when discussing age,

  • I am forty-seven

or starting a sentence,

  • Twenty-three employees attended the seminar

In these cases, use the written version of the number, where numbers above twenty use hyphens.

Examples of correct usage of hyphenation

  • Josh’s plan was well implemented.
  • The well-documented report included a thorough analysis of outdated practices.
  • It’s her two-year anniversary here at our company!
  • The out-of-date software needs bringing up to date.

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Flying high with Business Superbrands 2015

business superbrands 2015: superhero

Monday 2nd March marked the annual announcement of the Business Superbrands rankings, with British Airways (BA) not only topping the list for the first time, but also topping the 2015 Consumer Superbrands, firmly establishing them as the UK’s favourite brand.

‘It’s an incredible achievement for British Airways,’ says Stephen Cheliotis, Chief Executive of The Centre for Brands Analysis (TCBA) and Chairman of the Superbrands Council. ‘Indeed, the theme of this year’s results is very much about leading brands consolidating their brand equity and extending the gap over rivals.’

Business Superbrands 2015: the highlights reel

So we know about BA: what else was noteworthy about the 2015 list?

  • For a start, 17 of the top 20 were the same as last year. Some switched and shuffled positions, but as Stephen Cheliotis pointed out, this year was all about consistency.
  • The strongest sectors were payment (MasterCard, Visa, etc), delivery (FedEx, Royal Mail) and technology (Apple, Microsoft, Google etc). Obviously classy travel was up there too with BA and Virgin Atlantic taking first and third places respectively.
  • Google dropped five places while Microsoft climbed two and Apple climbed one. Perhaps this is about trust and the ‘right to delist’ controversy with Google. Or maybe Microsoft’s push on cloud has succeeded in resonating with businesses.

What’s in a Business Superbrand?

Being voted a Superbrand is a pretty big deal for many companies. It demonstrates a brand has ‘established the finest reputation in its field. It offers customers significant emotional and/or tangible advantages over other brands, which (consciously or sub-consciously) customers want and recognise.’

More than that, to be deemed a Superbrand, a company has to score highly on three factors:

  • Quality. Does the brand provide quality products and services?
  • Reliability. Can the brand be trusted to deliver consistently?
  • Distinction. Is it well known in its sector and suitably different from its rivals?

And it’s no arbitrary decision who qualifies for such an accolade. Once the TCBA has established a shortlist of leading brands (this year the list was a little over 1,200 long) it is sent to two groups of people:

  • An independent and voluntary Expert Council. Full disclosure here – Articulate’s CEO is a member of the Business Superbrands Council.
  • 2,000 business professionals ‘working within the UK private sector and with purchasing or managerial responsibility.’

In other words, real, working business professionals decide which brands stands out and are worthy of such praise.

The full top 20

1. British Airways
2. Apple
3. Virgin Atlantic
4. Microsoft
5. Visa
6. MasterCard
7. Google
8. FedEx
9. IBM
10. Samsung
11. Johnson & Johnson
12. BT
13. Rolls-Royce Group
14. American Express
15. Royal Mail
16. PayPal
17. BP
18. Shell
19. Bosch
20. Boeing

What have we learned?

It’s clear that for business buyers, reputation and longevity matter: there are no disruptive startups here. Instead, there are major brands who work hard to remain relevant. So for those B2B businesses out there aiming for Superbrand status, establishing trust and credibility are key: and what better way than through remarkable content and some effective inbound marketing?

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Essential business grammar lesson eight: can you end a sentence with a preposition?

quote-Winston-Churchill-ending-a-sentence-with-a-preposition-is-88535

You have no doubt heard the preposition myth: never end a sentence with a preposition.

Well it’s just that: a myth

There are plenty of circumstances where it is correct, acceptable or just plain necessary to end a sentence with a preposition.

For example, which of these would you say aloud?

  1. There were no chairs in the conference room. What did you sit?
  2. There were no chairs in the conference room. On what did you sit?

The answer? Neither. In the first example, we’re missing the preposition ‘on': the sentence is incomplete and illogical. In the second example, the phrasing is archaic. Realistically, you’d say,

3. There were no chairs in the conference room. What did you sit on?

So let’s sort out the facts from the the fiction.

What is a preposition?

Prepositions show relationships between other words.

  • He is in the office.

‘In’ is a preposition; it shows a relationship between ‘him’ and ‘the office’. Sometimes, however, showing a relationship takes more than one word.

Prepositional phrases

A prepositional phrase is a group of words that includes a preposition, a noun or pronoun (object of the preposition) and any modifiers of that object. Prepositional phrases describe relationships.

  • over the tall trees
  • in the big box
  • after the beautiful sunset

Phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs are groups of two or more words that include a preposition and a verb.

  • hold up
  • carry on
  • make up

Even though they end in prepositions (of, it), you can end a sentence with them because they form part of a verb unit. You are ending the sentence with a phrasal verb, not a preposition on its own.

  • Sorry I’m late, I was held up.

If you remove ‘up’ from this sentence is changes the meaning; it forms part of the phrasal verb, so it’s fine being at the end of the sentence.

When to end a sentence with a preposition

End a sentence with a preposition when it is necessary for meaning, as in the conference room example.

That said, if you are writing or speaking in a formal situation, like in a cover letter, do your best to avoid it. Not everyone realises that the preposition rule is a myth, so play it safe in important situations and simply rephrase.

When not to end a sentence with a preposition

  • Where are you at?

A quick glance at this sentence shows it could easily be rewritten without the ‘at’.

  • Where are you?

Don’t use a preposition when it doesn’t add meaning to the sentence. In fact, let’s take that one step further.

When not to use a preposition at all

Don’t use a preposition if it’s not necessary. You aren’t outside of the building, you are just outside the building.

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How we work: what does a copywriter do?

Man at party says: 'I write astronaut banter for NASA'

To those of us in the game, the following exchange will be all too familiar:

- So, what do you do?
– Oh, I’m a marketing copywriter. I write for tech companies.
– Oh wow great.
Twenty minutes after the conversation has moved on…
– Sorry, can I just ask – I mean, what is it that you actually do? I mean what does your job actually involve?

A little catharsis

facepalm Hiddleston

This post is for all sorts of people. It’s for those totally out of the know; it’s for those looking to get into the know; and it’s for those in the marketing profession who think they know, but probably make quite a few false assumptions.

This post is also for Team Articulate because we all shed a little internal tear every time that exchange takes place.

Misconceptions and misnomers

First thing’s first, let’s address a few misconceptions:

  • Not all copywriters are advertising copywriters. This in itself causes some confusion as the latter is the more famous (especially after the phenomenon that was Mad Men).
  • Medical copywriters have their own special niche, which I don’t pretend to know about or comment on here.
  • Copywriting has nothing to do with copyright law.

Ironically, one of the big problems in communicating what copywriters do is a lack of clarity around the definition of the word itself. Turns out, like a doctor that smokes, copywriters aren’t very good at communicating the nuances of their role.

Jesse Forrest, for example, distinguishes between copywriters, who write to get people to take an action, and content writers, who write to inform. But who ever heard of a content writer? Here at Articulate we do both of those things, so are we just plain writers?

No. Because the minute you say ‘I’m a writer’ people think novels, poems and maybe journalism. It’s a linguistic minefield.

Personally, I rather like Iain Broome’s answer:

To be a copywriter is beyond definition, but it’s fair to say that one thing binds us together: we all work with words on a daily basis.

So what DOES a copywriter do?

what does a copywriter do: woman at desk with books

Warning: reality may differ from advertised image

Well, to name a few things, we:

What’s important to understand is that while words are the main output of a copywriter, writing isn’t necessarily what we spend most of our time doing. We have to do a lot of research and thinking, tweaking and formatting, and a bunch of other seemingly peripheral tasks.

In fact, we often say here at Articulate that for a writing project you should spend half your time researching, a third editing and only a sixth actually writing the thing. Despite what some people think, copywriting is a lot more than just ‘wordsmithing’.

Who do we ‘copywrite’ for?

Unlike fiction writers or journalists, copywriters usually write with an agenda: the client’s agenda. It might be to promote a product, but it might also be to educate an audience or demonstrate expertise.

Written content is used in all sorts of ways by companies, especially with the advent of inbound marketing, which is all about talking to and about customers rather than pushing a product or service.

This means copywriters have to be versatile, quick learners and have very little ego. You’ll rarely recognise the name of a copywriter – our work usually goes out under the client’s name. We also have to make edits that not only keep the client’s marketing department happy, but their legal, sales and brand police happy too.

We copywriters care about the quality of our work, but we certainly can’t be precious about it.

A copywriter’s voice

Jessica Rabbit

A copywriter will be whoever you want them to be. (We’re a little bit slutty that way.)

What I really mean is that while every copywriter certainly has their own voice, it is secondary to that of the client. We must adapt our writing style and tone depending on who we are speaking as and who we are speaking to.

There are certain golden writing rules that particular copywriters or agencies will try to adhere to – we have an Articulate writer’s guide, for example – but if the client has their own, that comes first.

And while not every client has a tone-of-voice document, they all have a tone of voice. Write something that doesn’t sound like it, and they’ll soon pull you up and call for edits. Copywriters have to ask questions and delve into existing collateral to immerse themselves in the voice of the client to write the project right.

What do copywriters write?

If you want to talk nitty-gritty, the type of things we write include:

  • Blog posts. These can range from 200 to 1500 words. They’re usually a bit more informal or opinionated, but it varies from client to client.
  • White papers. Not like the government ones though. White papers tend to be 1,500-2,500 words and are informative, educational documents that explain the origins of a problem and how it might be solved. Often that solution will be linked to what the client sells, but the majority of the white paper will be objective and useful.
  • Emails. Email campaigns are there to pique interest, raise awareness and prompt an action. They have to be short, enticing and informative.
  • Social media posts. Those little 140 character tweets and witty Facebook updates don’t write themselves you know. Social media requires copywriting too.
  • Case studies. Short articles that explain how a company helped its customers. Case studies often have a formulaic structure but a good copywriter can find the story inside it.
  • Industry reports. Sometimes we have to get a bit heavy and write some hardcore reports based on real research that illuminates or expands upon a certain issue, industry or trend.
  • Website copy. Writing for the web comes with its own set of rules and guiding principles: it’s a whole other skill set, but one many copywriters have up their sleeve.

A job’s a job

Of course, aside from all that copywriting magic and mystery we also do a bunch of job stuff that everyone else does: admin, management, emails, training, client wrangling and looking at Facebook when you’re, ahem, between deadlines.

(Hat tip to GiphyNathan Rupert)

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Essential business grammar lesson seven: misplaced modifiers

misplaced modifiers: man covered in post-it notes

He gave the file to the boss with all the Post-its on.

Have you misplaced your modifier?

Modifiers are words or phrases that modify nouns and verbs. This sounds simple enough, but the truth is modifiers often get lost in a sentence, sometimes with odd or funny results.

Knowing what word you are modifying and where to place your modifier will help you communicate more clearly and make sure you avoid embarrassing mistakes.

Placing a modifier

To modify your nouns and verbs properly, place the modifier as close as possible to the noun or verb in question.

  • After an hour of searching, I finally found the file in the wrong folder.

This sentence indicates that it took an hour to find the saved file because it was in the wrong folder. The phrase ‘in the wrong folder’ modifies ‘file’. You could have been searching in the right place; it was the file that was lost. However, what if it was written as:

  • After an hour of searching in the wrong folder, I finally found the file.

In this case, ‘in the wrong folder’ modifies ‘searching’. This indicates the file may have been in the right place; it was you who was lost.

Identifying misplaced modifiers

As shown above, misplaced modifiers can dramatically change the meaning of a sentence. Unfortunately, because of common speech patterns, we don’t always recognise this change in meaning, but someone else reading it will.

Always be sure, therefore, to check where your modifiers are. Are they next to the verb or noun they are modifying? Or have you muddled your meaning?

Only

This is a particularly sneaky example. People often forget it is a modifier and so commonly place it in the wrong part of the sentence.

  • Brad only edited five articles today.
  • Only Brad edited five articles today.

In the first example, ‘only’ modifies the verb ‘edited’. It seems like Brad had a rather slow day editing.

In the second example, ‘only’ modifies ‘Brad’. It seems Brad was the single employee who edited five articles. Perhaps at the newspaper Brad works for this is a stunning achievement, which is a good reason to single him out.

Only, almost, never, and other limiting words are often misplaced in a sentence. Be careful what you limit.

Examples of correct usage

  • He completed the analysis without difficulty and handed it in on time.
  • I asked only Brad to stay after hours.
  • Almost all of our products passed the quality control stage.

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Only the viral survive: does viral content mean marketing success?

Viral content - only the viral survive

Every marketer carries a deep, dark secret: the desire to go viral. That one moment when your brand manages to cut through all the noise on the internet.

Ok, maybe it’s not deep and dark, but creating content which spreads around the globe certainly feels like it would be a marketing triumph.

Why is viral the end game?

Companies that succeed in making viral content, namely videos, have not only increased awareness for their brand, but a few have seen a dramatic boost in sales numbers like in the case of:

  • The Dollar Shave Club gaining 12,000 subscribers after a viral ad
  • Blendtec boosting sales by 700 percent
  • Or WREN, a fashion brand, increasing their sales by over 13,000 percent

Any marketer would be happy to report that kind of return from a single video, ad or blog post. However, there’s no rhyme or reason to what goes viral and those who share viral content are sharing the idea, not the brand.

People don’t turn into brand advocates overnight. So, what will keep them invested in your brand even after the internet has moved on to the next idea?

What comes after happily ever after?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to create a piece of content or marketing campaign that goes viral, but there’s also nothing inherently wrong with your marketing if it hasn’t had its viral moment.

A content marketing strategy relies on a long term plan to continually publish and post content that:

Content can sustain your brand whether or not you’ve gone viral. If you consistently put out great content, people will buy into your brand and not just your moment in the spotlight.

(Hat tip to Pascal for the photo)

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Essential business grammar lesson six: how to choose the correct verb tenses

'The past the present and the future walked into a bar. It was tense'

Sell is a verb. It describes an action most companies would like to complete. We sell for a living, one way or another, whether the customer is purchasing an item or a service. This word can be very dynamic. And, depending on its tense, can communicate different things.

You might think you know present, past and future, but it’s a little more complicated than that. There are four different verb tenses within each of those categories, and each means something slightly different.

Present tense: now

  • Simple present: I sell iPods. This indicates the action is happening now but may not be complete. Is selling iPods your job? Do you intend to have that job tomorrow? Then the action is not complete.
  • Present progressive: I am selling iPods. This indicates the action is happening now and is part of an ongoing activity.
  • Present perfect: I have sold iPods. This indicates the action began before now and is either still going (I have sold iPods for three years now) or complete (I have sold iPods before), depending on the context.
  • Present perfect progressive: I have been selling iPods.  This indicates the action began before now and is still ongoing (I have been selling iPods for three years now.)

The simple present and simple progressive tenses can often be switched without changing a sentence’s meaning; the same can be said of the perfect and perfect progressive tenses.

Past tense: before

  • Simple past: I sold iPods. This indicates the action happened in the past but may not be complete.
  • Past progressive: I was selling iPods. This indicates the action began in the past and was part of an ongoing activity.
  • Past perfect: I had sold iPods. This indicates the action began before now and is complete. (I had sold iPods for three years before moving on to laptop computers.)
  • Past perfect progressive: I had been selling iPods.  This indicates the ongoing action began before now and ended, probably by interruption. (I had been selling iPods when Microsoft offered me a job.)

Future tense: next

  • Simple future: I will sell iPods. This indicates the action will happen in the future, possibly with an indefinite end point.
  • Future progressive: I will be selling iPods. This indicates an ongoing action will be happening in the future.
  • Future perfect: I will have sold iPods. This indicates an action that will be completed in the future. (I will have sold 100 iPods by then.)
  • Future perfect progressive: I will have been selling iPods.  This indicates an ongoing action that will end in the future. (I will have been selling iPods for three years next week.)

Getting it right

Using the wrong verb tense means you’re communicating the wrong idea. For example, your boss asks,

What did you do this morning?

  • ‘I was selling iPods’ suggests the action is not complete, so whilst you might have been doing your best, your boss could easily assume you didn’t complete any actual transactions.
  • ‘I sold iPods’ clearly states that you have already made the shop some profits and it’s only lunch time.

Examples of correct usage

  • Michael processed the invoices yesterday.
  • Michael is processing the invoices as we speak.
  • Michael will be processing the invoices tomorrow.

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