Archive for category: Book Reviews

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.

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 artof.social

Click here to buy it now from Amazon.

What a Great Customer Experience Can Look Like

10 Aug
August 10, 2014

A quick post to highlight a fantastic customer experience I had last week.

I tweeted Ann Handley from Marketing Profs to ask if her new book Everybody Writes will be available in Australia at the same time as the US. Sure, I could just buy on Kindle, or order from Amazon, but I sometimes prefer a hard copy and like to support local where I can.

I really enjoyed Content Rules, Ann’s last book, so am naturally keen to read this one.

I could explain the rest of the exchange, but I’ll let Twitter do that:

This to me is a perfect customer experience – a referral from a trusted source, the surprise and delight of a price offer, quick resolution of a small issue and ultimately a sale.

All handled via Twitter. I pay about what I would pay from Amazon, and a local business has a new customer.

Couldn’t have been more straightforward.

What are the lessons here?

  • Always be listening for opportunities
  • Where possible, do something unexpected that the customer will love
  • Always be willing to follow up

UPDATE – Ann’s book is now released, here’s a post from her blog with some links to great excerpts and interviews she has done in support of the release.

PHOTO – Mark JP via Flickr

UnMarketing – A Book Every Business Needs

31 Mar
March 31, 2011

Much like Content Rules which I have reviewed previously, what I loved about Scott Stratten’s UnMarketing is that this is not a book entirely about Social Media.

So many books today that talk about this new world of how business is done focus very heavily on social media tools, but here, Stratten focuses on breaking down conventions of doing business, and plugs in the social tools where needed.

He looks at how businesses should think about customers and the interactions with them. One of my favourite examples in the book is in the chapter on Stirring Coffee (Ch. 28).

Much like Scott, I drink a lot of coffee, and tend to get it from the same couple of places, depending on where I am. A cup of coffee may not cost much, but a loyal customer can end up spending tens of thousands of dollars over a period of years if it’s good. Which is why you need to make sure that you continue to deliver to existing customers.

He talks about the barriers that we put up between us and the customer that we don’t even think about. How focused is your website on your users? Have you considered the impact that things like Captcha and comment moderation are having on their experience? These are the kind of gems you find in here.

There are many more in the book, including examples of companies that have done it well and not so well.

Scott is a well known speaker, and when you read the book, he has imbued the book with the same tone and passion that he speaks with.

Another recommended read for anyone wanting to do better business with their customers.

For those of you in Sydney, it’s stocked at Dymocks on George Street and Pitt Street, and also available online at Amazon. And don’t forget to connect with Scott on Twitter @unmarketing and check out his site www.unmarketing.com

PHOTO – photodreamz

Why Content Rules, Well, Rules

01 Feb
February 1, 2011

I’ve just finished Content Rules by CC Chapman and Ann Handley. If I could sum up this review right now in 5 words, it would be this – go and buy this book. Whatever business you are in, you need this book. And here is why.

It’s no secret that we are in a new world of communications and how we reach consumers has changed. It’s easy to use phrases here like “joining the conversation” and “fundamental shift” in talking about it, but where this book is different is that it goes beyond the talk.

The important thing to note is that this is not a book about social media (entirely). It’s about content – the thing that drives social media. And for authors, it would be hard to find a couple of people more qualified to talk about it. Ann is the Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, which I have always found a goldmine of information for not only social media, but marketing as a whole, and CC Chapman founded DigitalDads.com, which as a dad, I think is just an awesome site (they recently published an article called “Liking Stupid Music” that I thought was brilliant).

WHY CONTENT?

We read a lot about the importance of content. In fact, “Content is King” has become somewhat cliche nowadays, but what escapes a great number of businesses is exactly WHY content is king, and more importantly, HOW it transforms business and WHAT needs to be done.

I’ve collected an awful lot of white papers and presentations on content over the last few years that talk about it from a theoretical standpoint, but never I think has there been a guide as succinct as Content Rules. As the cover promises, it really is a How To on creating Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, eBooks, Webinars and more.

For starters, Ann and CC have made it easy to take the info in. The book is divided up into three parts – the Content Rules, The How To Section and the Success Stories. As a reader and a strategist, for me it’s a pattern that makes sense – the theory, the practical and then the proof points. For a business owner, this should be the path to conversion on the value of content.

Don’t skip any of it. One thing that I hear a lot of is that businesses don’t feel they need to produce it, or can’t see how it can possibly work. The book is a gold mine of ideas that can be applied to virtually any business, and it’s not just left to the success stories to demonstrate how it can work.

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE DIFFICULT

It seems for many, the notion of producing content scares them for a few reasons – the time it takes to do it, the thought of writing, and the thought of just giving away knowledge. What I loved about Content Rules is that it blows the thought that content is just writing out of the water from the get go, and subsequently the time issue by talking about its ability to be re-imagined in a number of ways and formats to appeal to different audiences.

And it sums up the reason for content in probably the simplest way possible – moving a prospect over a hurdle and closer to becoming a customer. Which when you think about it, is exactly what the content of this book does. It moves you past the hurdle of the why and how it can work for you by showing what to do, and what I loved, how to do it.

You can pick it up in bookshops (I got my copy at Dymocks main city store in Sydney), or buy it online from the usual suspects (a great list here). Ann and CC have also set up a great companion site for the book at www.contentrulesbook.com.

I say it again – if you’re serious about putting your business ahead of your competition and making it stand out – go and buy this book. In reading it, I have a list of action points and ideas longer than I’ve ever had, and am excited about implementing them. As I think you will be.

 

PHOTO – CC Chapman