Plain Thoughts Blog

on marketing, media and communication

Handling negative blog comments

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By peterurban - February 13th, 2009

Ok, last week I spoke about the power of comments on online blogging communities. But what about the dark side of blogging, every bloggers worst fear… (Please cue the ominous music.)

The negative comment!

You know what I’m talking about. What a nightmare. You post something you really care about, and that you put spent some time thinking about, and someone shuts you down. It hurts! Well, it hurts me. But the fact is that no blogger can survive without them.

Don't Worry! The negative comment isn't out to get you.

More often than not, negative comments spur more interesting conversation. If you’ve written something provocative, something that you think will not only appeal to your audience but that will get them thinking in a new way, negative comments are testament that you’ve done it right! An interesting blog post will usually get an array of reactions.

The trick is, though, dealing with the negative comment properly.

For this I turn to Charlie Four Whisky’s blog on business communication (which, by the way, is great). He wrote about this very topic in his post A Corporate Blogger’s Worst Nightmare: Negative Comments and How to Handle Them.

I completely agree that negative comments provide a worthy invitation for conversation on your blog. A mature response, perhaps clarifying your position and taking the opportunity to get into the finer points of your opinion, can be helpful not only in response to your negative commenter, but also your general reading community.

He also reminds us that we can’t control what others think of us. Why would we want to? You couldn’t be you anymore if you let other’s opinions dictate your beliefs and actions. Negative comments are sometimes inevitable: not everyone will agree with you.

What do you think about the almighty negative comment? Friend, or foe?

PS. I invite you to check out Whisky’s post linked above. Its swing on this topic is geared towards corporate identity, and is definitely an interesting/useful read.

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Christy’s product pick: iCal Events

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By Christy - February 11th, 2009

iCal Events
This product is a widget you can put on your dashboard, it draws calendar events out of your Apple calendar and gives you a summary of up to two weeks in advance. The events are color coded to define which calendar events are out of. It is a great reminder, it has saved me on a few occasions already!

Website: http://www.benkazez.com/icalevents.php
Cost: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4 or later

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Christy’s product pick: MacJournal

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By Christy - February 6th, 2009


MacJournal

I came across MacJournal as a means to keep my notes organized. I often find myself at events, talks, seminars etc and need an organized place to keep track of my notes and ideas. MacJournal is almost like a personal log from StarTrek (I’m out of the closet :) ), you can keep a daily journal, written or video, as well as notes.

What I like is that your notes are dated so it is easy to go back and find specific entries. The MacJournal also has cool features like export to blog, Picasa integration, password protection and encryption options. It is a great tool for the creative professional as it allows you to collect your thoughts and ideas in one place, it also doesn’t limit you to just using words to express yourself. It is also priced well at $34.95US

Website: http://www.marinersoftware.com/
Cost: Free trial and then can purchase for $34.95
Requires: Mac OS X Leopard.

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Comments: the bread and butter of blogging

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By peterurban - February 6th, 2009

Although I have a lot more thinking to do on corporate marketing copy, today I will be brief and point you to an incredible article about one of the most important yet under-theorized aspects of web 2.0 interaction and networking: COMMENTS.

I got the idea from Chris Brogan’s blog post A Crash Course in Comments. Chris draws attention to the ways in which comments act like currency online: they are the central component of blogging conversation and community building. He provides tips both for commenters themselves, as well as for bloggers who are interested in generating discussion out of their daily content. This was especially interesting for me, as I am always trying to make the connection between what is interesting to me and what I think might be interesting to our readers.

I think one of the most important tips he provides is that bloggers need to consider how their content might relate to their target readership’s daily lives. At Plainpeak, the emphasis is always on Growing Smart, so I push myself to constantly expand my understanding of what business is and can be I am interested in sharing these experiences with you, but moreso in hearing what you have to say so that my own business practices can improve. That’s the beauty of blogging, I get as much as I give.

What do you think about comments? What makes you want to comment on someone’s blog post? Is there a commenting etiquette that you think Chris Brogan missed out on?

In the meantime, speaking of good blogging practices, I recommend Brogan’s blog to anyone. Its straight up smart.

http://www.chrisbrogan.com/

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Corporate vs non-profit marketing copy

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By peterurban - January 30th, 2009

Last summer, I was reflecting on non-profit marketing copy and wrote the following:

Writing non-profit copy is hardly straight-forward. It must carefully walk the line between polish and formality while setting itself apart from the doldrums of repetitive, tiresome catchphrases like “invaluable contribution” and “excellence in leadership” that seem endlessly interchangeable from organization to organization. It must celebrate the values of its organization without alienating the greater cause to which it is part. Good non-profit copy is the difference between an organization with goals and one who demonstrates unique ambition and drive towards achieving such goals.

All non-profit sectors come with a corresponding vernacular. If we consider environmentally conscious non-profits, words like “sustainability”,”preservation” and “quality” immediately come to mind. But are these words really different from say, a youth-focused group, with phrases like “happier, healthy futures”? All non-profits are united in the celebration of community and an improved global landscape for generations to come. Good non-profit copy highlights the key concerns of its organization whilst emphasizing the greater initiative shared among those who care about improving our world.

Indeed, marketing one’s organization whilst embracing the values of philanthropy requires a particular subtlety and balance. Be certain of your organization’s belief and value systems. If the Mission of your organization seems unclear, ask. Understand the assumptions that your organization makes in its understanding of the world, what the important factors are when your organization forms opinions, and what is at stake when they take action.

It goes without saying that the passion a writer has for their cause comes out in the felicity of their prose. Be clear, succinct, while graceful. Be persuasive, certain, while humble. This subtlety and balance comes with much trial and error, but it also comes with intuition, what do you expect from the writing that surrounds your life? Would you expect any less of your own writing? Hold it to a higher standard. Though deceivingly undervalued, your writing says much about what you, or your organization, are all about.

I think a lot of what I said applies directly to corporate copy. This notion of “knowing your business” is fundamental to marketing strategy, and building a vocabulary that fits your business model can be key to communicating the refined points of your mission to clients.

This equation works the other way around. Non-profits also have a lot to learn from marketing experts in the corporate sector. Check out these two websites, the first (obviously) corporate, the second non-profit.

http://www.apple.com/

http://www.housingworks.org/

(Thanks to Justin, a commenter on our blog, for pointing me in the direction of Housing Works!)

Aside from the obvious scheme differences, both of these sites are attractive, polished, and display information in a concise and orderly manner. Their design beckons further exploration. This type of design strategy has origins in the corporate sector, where the impetus is on selling commodities or services, and where the capability to attract the consumer’s eye and to fulfill their needs is the first necessary step in doing business with them. The non-profit site in this example, “Housing Works”, has clearly taken a cue from how the corporate sector effectively appeals to its target audience, it maximizes on visual appeal.

The non-profit site has also taken a corporate-cue in terms of copy. The tabs on the front page come with short and sweet descriptions of what the user can find through each link. Unlike many non-profit or government related sites where the copy is dense and hard to get through, “Housing Works” maximizes their user interface for friendly navigation. They optimize on fitting graphics and minimize on frustrating, jargon-filled language. In this way, the site appeals to users that might not yet be familiar with their mission and values, encouraging them to click around and become accustomed to the activist sentiments of the organization.

It would seem that the two sectors have a lot in common. Although they are selling different products to perhaps different target audiences, they are both selling in a fundamental way, and each can learn a lot from the other’s approach.

Image source: http://www.housingworks.org/services/

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Marketing copy search continues…knowing your company’s values

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By peterurban - January 23rd, 2009
Teamwork

Great Web Copy is a Product of Teamwork

In the comment thread from my last post, Justin mentioned 37 Signals as a model for great web copy. I couldn’t agree more. For those of us looking to write smart, sharp marketing copy for the online software market, I think 37 Signals sets a high standard.

Consider this quote from their homepage:

Execution is everything.

We believe most software is too complex. Too many features, too many buttons, too much confusion. We build easy to use web-based products with elegant interfaces and thoughtful features. We’re focused on executing on the basics beautifully.

Source: http://www.37signals.com

Without getting too technical, I’d like to point out the consistent structural features of this snippet. The use of short sentences helps the copy pack a punch: each statement comes and says only what it needs to. Conventional grammar is abandoned in favour of information-stuffed fragments. The tone of the copy matches the mission of the company. Just like they want to simplify online software, 37 Signals accordingly communicates in a simple, no-nonsense fashion. Their software is friendly, so their copy is friendly.

Which brings me to what I believe to be the most important maxim of writing web copy: match your voice with your company. Short and sweet is nothing if your copy doesn’t have something more, its own unique voice. There is nothing that can improve your marketing better than a thorough understanding of your business’s mission and value system that goes for marketing in person, of course, as much as it does on the web.

My suggestion to web writers is to take the time to accustom yourself with the look and feel of your company, and this ranges from its webpage, to its physical office space, to the people who make the magic happen on a daily basis. Have a conversation with your coworkers about what your company means, what its ambitions are and what its core values boil down to. Write that stuff down, and highlight key words that come to mind. Here at Plainpeak, our philosophy always links back to “Grow Smart”. I find those two words surprisingly helpful when I’m struggling with marketing copy.

Justin also drew my attention to an incredible non-profit site called Housing Works. Next week I want to consider the differences and resonances between non-profit and corporate marketing copy: what can each of them learn from the other?

In the meantime, I am interested in more examples of great web copy. What are your favourites?

Image Source: http://www.avision2market.com/index.html

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Presidential advice: carve out time to think

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By peterurban - January 22nd, 2009

Now that the festivities of the inauguration are over it’s time for President Obama to get to business with the mountain of issues his administration is confronted with. I find it very timely that I came across a Time Magazine interview (‘Person Of The Year’ issue from Jan 5th 2009) where Mr. Obama was asked about “the best piece of advice that you’ve gotten from someone about being President, about how to go about it, about how that feels?”

Barack Obama speaking at a rally with Oprah

Barack Obama photographed by Joe Crimmings (via Flickr)

Obama’s answer hits not just one but several of the oldest entrepreneurial problems at their core. To start off he makes clear who’s advice he is listening to and how he goes about handling that advice …

“…the only people that really know are the collection of ex-Presidents that we have. And I want to protect the confidentiality of those conversations since I expect to go back to them for advice, and I want to feel that they can give me unvarnished advice.”

This short introduction to his full answer (see below) already covers two huge lessons for politicians, entrepreneurs and managers alike:

Lesson #1. He focuses on listening to people that have done what he aspires to do, that have been in the role that he is getting into an have succeeded in overcoming the challenges (at least in part) that he is going to face in the near future. In the business world there is so much advice available that comes from people who have never started a small business in their lives, that were never responsible to close a sale, to get new work in for next month, to get a couple of projects done for next week, send invoices out and make payroll at the end of the month and – of course – have supper ready for the kids every night.

Simple but effective Obama lesson #1: Listen to people that have done it and are willing to share honestly. Everything else is wasting your precious time.

Lesson #2. He makes very clear that he wants to protect and deepen the relationships with the ones who know by protecting their privacy and the confidentiality of those conversations.This seems trivial but when you think of it he could have just talked about the things that aren’t confidential and not mention anything that is. Instead he sends a clear message to his network and his supporters, strongly underlining how he appreciates their support and how he’d never compromise relationships i.e. for a quick headline. This one sentence sends a powerful message: “You can trust me.”

What can we learn from this? Trust is a prerequisite for any successful business relationship. The formula is simple: No trust, no transaction. And yet too many businesses, small and large, choose to compromise their relationships – and by doing so their own lifeline – by jeopardizing the trust of their clients, employees and partners, sometimes for very short term benefits.

Obama’s lesson #2: Never, ever compromise the trust that people have in you, in fact; take every opportunity you have to deepen their level of trust and strengthen your relationships.

So, what has Obama learned form his presidential predecessors?

From the short but insightful introduction above he moves on to let us know what stuck out as a very valuable lesson for him …

“I can tell you that all of them have said that it is important to carve out time to think and not spend your entire day reactive. Because there’s always a crisis coming at you, there’s always a meeting you could be doing, there’s always a press conference or a group of supporters that you could be responding to. And so I think maintaining that kind of discipline is important.”

Wow. This is one of the best lessons any entrepreneur and manager can learn. Every business owner, every manager (including myself) gets sucked into dealing with the daily struggles any business has in store (pun intended) in such abundance. It is so easy to get caught up in doing another task, meeting another deadline, finishing this project and ultimately working IN the business 100% of the time instead of working ON the business on a regular basis. By working ON your business I mean focusing on creating clockwork instead of continuing to tell the time over and over. It means looking at your business form a strategic and tactical perspective and putting measures and activities in place that get you where you want to go. The problem is that too often a business’s development (or lack thereof) heads in the wrong direction because nobody looked at it from and ‘outside’ perspective. By outside, I don’t necessarily mean ‘external consultant’ but outside, as in, not being overwhelmed by a stack of tasks, an endless list of E-mails or a brewing crisis with a customer.

For myself, I will take the advice that Obama received from a list of ex-presidents to heart. My goal is to carve out half a day per week to think and to work on my business. I plan to keep you posted on this blog on how that works out for me and what that ‘protected’ time to think gets me. Stay tuned and watch for posts titled ‘Time to think: …”

By the way, the E-Myth Revisited and all the other versions of this book by Michael E. Gerber explain the concept of working on your business instead of in your business from every angle. I consider it a must read for every active or aspiring entrepreneur, manager, physician or contractor.

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The hunt for great web marketing copy

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By peterurban - January 16th, 2009

Writing website and marketing copy for an online audience can be tricky. I am always on the lookout for website copy and design that “works.” The problem is, when I read something I like, I often struggle to articulate exactly what qualities and formula cause me to like it in the first place. This is likely because different strategies work for different messages, and each company in order to stand out must come up with its own unique “flavour” of web copy that helps their website stand out amidst the competition.

I figure, though, that there must be some basic know-how for web marketing copy that don’t come simply from practice and meticulous revision. Over the next few weeks I’d like to explore the web in search of online marketing copy dos and don’ts to share with you.

To begin, simply Google-ing “how to write web marketing copy” (yeah, I’m original) comes up with tons of great hits, both from blogs and from actual web-writing sites. One that caught my attention was the article “The Disgustingly Simple Rule for Web Writing That’s Awfully Hard to Swallow” that I found at www.copyblogger.com.

The point of the article is that web content needs to be “simple, succinct, and scannable,” because web browsers have high standards for use-ability and interface, and very little patience for clunky web design. The author encourages simplicity, arguing that web copywriters should economize on every word and phrase. No space or time can be wasted!

I completely agree, but part of the article’s reasoning for this emphasis on minimalism I take issue with: that online copy is somehow anti-intellectual. When it comes to web 2.0 marketing, I think “anti-intellectual” is an incredibly out-dated and unfitting sentiment. Many web 2.0 browsers are clever professionals with fast-paced jobs and, accordingly, fast-paced demands. I maintain that the “keep it simple” maxim stands for web copy, but this new body of online professionals demand something more from web copy. Its the something more I find difficult to describe, whether its a particularly well-tailored message, or perhaps even the voice of the copy (by which I mean, its personalized sound and feel).

So, I don’t think “clear and concise” is the whole story, nor would I agree that web copy is in any way “anti-intellectual.” Next week, I want to look at some successful web copy and try to pin down some more precise “dos.”

In the meantime, do you have any ideas about what the “magic formula” entails?

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Need a brain upgrade? Check out Evernote

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By Christy - December 6th, 2008


I recently discovered an amazing web-based application called Evernote. The application is compatible for both Mac and PCs, in addition there is a great mobile app. Basically, this tool helps you to keep track of ideas, lists, notes, thoughts, phone numbers – any detail in your life that just suddenly comes up that you want to remember.

Currently, I have Evernote on my computer and my iPhone as an app. When I’m connected to the web both applications automatically sync to my online account so I never have to worry about plugging in my iPhone to sync my apps. I find this feature extremely useful.Â

I used the photo functionality to take pictures and store them as notes. Afterwards, I can tag these pictures so that they are searchable. Evernote can also read the text in your picture (such as a sign or handwritten note) which it then uses as a searching reference. To date, I have used Evernote for Christmas shopping, maps to the dog park, stealing a recipe from a overpriced book (evil grin) and for storing business cards.

Evernote is an example of a great web-based application with loads of real world practicality. For start-ups especially, it is essential to find an underserved market, find a solution to their problem and properly execute the solution. Evernote has definitely capitalized on this notion and has produced one of my favorite web-based applications available.

For more information check out www.evernote.com or their tutorial at http://www.evernote.com/about/what_is_en/tour/

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Take the weekend off, that’s an order

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By peterurban - August 25th, 2008

My bosses here at Plainpeak Inc. are passionate, committed workaholics, whom I’ve caught at the office on late Saturday evenings more than once, so this article is for them: How to Shut Off Your Job for the Weekend.

The tips they provide for a commitment and guilt-free weekend away from the office are very helpful it often surprises people that simply organizing your daily tasks and upcoming projects, and (very important) keeping them where you can see and manage them, returns a great deal of peace of mind. When it comes to running your small business there is no such thing as out of sight, out of mind. Keeping a strict system for managing your contacts, follow-ups and to-dos is the next best thing to actually “shutting down” your brain from the stresses of the office.

Another tactic of equal importance is finding the little ways to manage stress. Oftentimes we enable ourselves to work up a fuss over things that can’t be helped, thereby putting undue strain on what is manageable on that day’s agenda. Things that we make out to be a big deal rarely end up costing as much time and effort as we anticipate, so why put your mind and body through trouble in advance when experience and instinct should remind you that it won’t be that bad? Taking short breaks when you need them and setting aside time in the evenings to get outside and enjoy doing nothing can help everyone to feel more rested and energetic about the upcoming work day/week. Managing your stress levels all week long is a much better formula for a fun, guilt-free weekend than the inevitable crash of sleep and pigging out that we are often tempted to do when given an opportunity to forget the office.

Dumblittleman.com, where I found the above article, has lots of great lifestyle articles that are very applicable to this topic. A great stop for a quick browse.

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