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.

Time To Unplug

23 Dec
December 23, 2014

I’ve been staring at my draft posts here for the last few days trying to muster the energy to finish them and publish before Christmas.

But let’s be honest, there is nothing in there that is going to change the course of human history if I don’t finish it this week. Or the next.

The reason I haven’t had the energy to finish them is because it’s the end of the year. It’s been hectic, rewarding and challenging, on both a personal and professional level – and it’s time for a break.

The things that are important and can’t wait aren’t in my drafts folder. They’re running around the house right now making as much noise as they possibly can, and having a blast doing it. They’re excited that it will be Christmas in a couple of days, and excited that they get to spend it with extended family. And that excites me too.

So with the exception of a few more articles I have Buffered for today, and the occasional Instagram or tweet, I am done for the year.

Thank you to those who have read my thoughts and views, and for sharing and commenting on them, I appreciate it.

Wishing you all a safe and enjoyable holiday break, however and whoever you celebrate with.

See you in 2015.

PHOTOBill Selak

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?

Book Review – The Art of Social Media

25 Nov
November 25, 2014

There are a lot of books written about social media. I have an entire section of my bookshelf dedicated to it. The problem is once you’ve read them and understand the basics, they all tend to be a bit same same. And so that’s where they stay. On the shelf.

But what Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick have created with The Art of Social Media is different. This is the kind of book that will never sit on the shelf, because it will be a constant reference piece.

The Art of Social by Guy Kawasaki & Peg FitzpartickI’ve had the opportunity to review the book before it is released this week, and consider it one of the “must reads” for any practitioner of social media.

While the tag line bills it as power tips for power users, anyone who wants to move their brand forward, be it personal or business, will find more than one thing in this book to implement right away.

It doesn’t get bogged down in strategy, rather focusing on actionable tips for each of the major social platforms, designed to help you make an immediate impact.

Focusing on the core platforms that everyone uses (including the oft maligned G+), it presents the “how” of social media in a way that anyone can understand – how to create the the optimal profile, how to curate and produce good content and how to grow your base of connections across all platforms, before jumping into some of the more intermediate concepts – hangouts, events and chats, and how to bring everything together.

I was lucky enough to ask Peg Fitzpatrick some questions about the book:

peg-fitzpatrick-round-960x960Q: For me this book falls into the “necessary for success” category for anyone in any size organisation who is serious about social. What was it that prompted you to write it?

PF: One of the questions that I’m frequently asked is “how I do all the social media that I do.” And that response was longer than an email response or blog post.

Q: You’ve called it The Art of Social – do you think it is more art than science?

PF: One of the working titles was The Art and Science of Social Media but it was changed along the way. I think we covered “the art” in this book with the how-to’s and how we do things. The science of social media would be the measurement and metrics which we didn’t cover in this book. It all works together to be the art and science in my opinion.

Q: There are a lot of heavy reads out there on the topic, and more content being generated on “best practice” every day, yet this book is remarkably lightweight and comprehensive at the same time. Do you think there is a tendency to over think social strategy and lose focus on what actually works?

PF: Yes. We also wanted to diffuse some of the “best practices” with people being told HOW they have to do social media. It’s really a personal thing – not one size-fits-all.

Q: Visual social is the big thing right now, and gets a lot of coverage and how to in the book, which is great – any thoughts on what comes next, and will the same principles we’ve always worked to continue to apply?

PF: I think that visual social media is going to continue to grow and expand into 2015 with SlideShare taking a big step forward as an even more relevant content marketing platform. Although we’ve heard a lot about visual marketing, a lot of people have not changed their practices. It’s imperative for blogs to have great graphics and to have all the Open Graph settings working. It needs to be easy for people to share your content and creating a visual brand for your content is a must.

For me, the important message of the book is that you shouldn’t get paralysed by strategic thinking. While it’s important to have a plan, it’s also important to not let that plan inhibit you from trying something.

While the medium itself can be unforgiving of mistakes at times, sound tips like the ones in this book give you a solid, safe base to begin from based on the collective knowledge of two amazing practitioners.

Want to read more? Visit

Click here to buy it now from Amazon.