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Write Better with The Magnificent 7

Want to write better faster? Here's an easy-to-adopt process I share with writers who have lost their writing mojo or need to improve fast:

  1. Breathe. Seriously. Taking a deep breath before we start writing reduces anxiety and sends a little boost of blood and oxygen to our brains. We think faster and more clearly, and make better decisions, when our brains have a little fresh fuel.
  2. Pre-write. Take a couple of minutes to work out the piece on paper -- yes, actual paper. I like the Idea-Details Strategy® for this because it's fast. The goal is to work out your main idea -- the most important thing the reader needs to know -- and a few crucial pieces of support -- the evidence, explanation or examples -- that provide necessary context and rationale. Jotting these thoughts down sets the course for the writing that follows. Worst case: it's a fast way to figure out we aren't sure what we want to say or that we don't have enough details so we can do a little more research. Though it might not seem like it, this is a time-saver because you don't waste time writing the wrong thing or staring at a flashing cursor.

The Idea-Details® Strategy from Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc.

  1. Draft. Take your notes and write as fast as you can. I like setting a timer. The goal for drafting is not to produce our best writing, but to get all the thoughts out of our heads so we can make them great. Don't get caught up in organization or word choice or even spelling. Just write.
  2. Rest. Whether it's 2 minutes or 2 hours, step away from what you have and let it marinate. This gives your brain a little time to process what you just wrote and do some background work on it while you're having a walk or doing something else.
  3. Prune. We all overwrite -- even the best writers. Do a quick word count on your piece and determine 25% of that total. Then go through the draft with an aim to slash at least that many words. Easy targets for deletion are qualifying statements, conditional phrases and helping verbs. This ensures our writing is tighter and our meaning clearer. Learn more tricks for reducing wordiness.
  4. Revisit. Look back at your pre-writing and add back or strengthen anything you left out. You may even identify stuff that you don't need in there -- so you can take that out, too.
  5. Read. It's going to feel a little awkward, but reading aloud is a fantastic way to identify errors and to "hear" mistakes in logic and sentence construction that we frequently miss when reading to ourselves. Make the necessary revisions, then  do a to-yourself read to correct final spelling, punctuation, usage and grammar issues.

If you're in a hurry, you're can publish/distribute, whatever. If you've got time or need approvals, your piece is now ready to send off for review or put it on ice for a while before coming back and making more revisions.

Give this process a try. You'll find it helps you produce faster, clearer content.

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How many times has this happened to you: You carefully plan your content calendar down to the day and hour only to see it blown apart when a SME isn't available on your schedule.

We see it a lot. Most recently, the content team scheduled white paper backgrounding and writing during a week in which all the top internal and external SMEs were at a national conference. None was going to be able to meet the deadlines required to make the go-live date without Herculean efforts only one was willing to make on short notice.

This put the project manager in a difficult position -- miss the date, publish without the industry experts or go to his boss to ask her to nudge the SMEs or to request extra time. (He ended up asking for the outreach, which was declined in favor of pushing the deadline back a week.)

You may feel like the impact of this is pretty minimal, and in any given case, it may be.

But if this is a recurring circumstance in your shop (and in our experience, it is for many of you) the impact is tangible: missed deadlines, fire drills for content team and SMEs which lower morale and raise frustration, and a lot of extra stress and strain. And in my experience, the delays that come from unexpected unavailability usually exceed the delay you'd experience had you just waited on the SME.

How to Improve SME Involvement in Content Marketing

It doesn't have to be this way, though. If you haven't added likely sources for each piece in your content plan, do it now. Then, 30 days out from project kick-off, check in with your internal and external experts about their availability. This is your early warning system. You've got so many more -- and better -- options when you know ahead of time that your first choices aren't going to be available, such as:

  1. Interview them in advance so their insights are available when your producers need it.
  2. Go to someone else in your network.
  3. Ask them to suggest another expert you could go to and request an introduction if necessary. Bonus: This expands your source pool.
  4. Get a big gun to ask them to be available for a short time anyway. I only deploy this option when the person is unavailable because of a business trip or obligation. I don't invoke it for people out on medical leave or vacation.
  5. Devise another Plan B with your boss or team.

This plan may feel like overkill for most of the items on your content calendar. In that case, at least institute it for the big rock projects that are resource-intensive and of extremely high value.

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a megaphone illustrating a post on content amplification

We all want to amplify our content marketing and boost audience acquisition. One easy way to do that is to engage SMEs -- internal and external -- when the content is live.

It seems so simple, yet many of us aren't taking advantage of this opportunity.

How to engage SMEs in social promotion

When content goes live, we email links to every SME interviewed and invite them to share with their social networks and, if comfortable, tag the client company.

Most folks are happy to show off their expertise and the third-party endorsement a quote or appearance affords. And the tiny bit of extra effort to close the loop makes them feel appreciated, which makes them likely to help us again.

The ROI of SME engagement

In return, our clients get a boost from an opinion leader and influencer sharing our content with their own network -- and already "qualified" audience for the message. Our clients also get increased relevance, trust and credibility from the association with experts.

As content producers, we reap additional ROI by monitoring engagement with SME posts for other reliable sources on the topic. It's a low-drag way to identify other SMEs to include in future projects. (Related: During the interview process, we also ask SMEs who else we should talk, helping us build our source list through referrals.)

These tactics are easy to integrate into your workflow and takes only a few minutes to execute. Try it this week.

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MLKJr Day Pledge

It's no secret I'm an activist CEO. From my work against North Carolina's Amendment One and HR 2 to my advocacy for affordable healthcare and people living with HIV and AIDS — my causes are my company's.

That's why I sat down on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and pledged to combat racism and be a better ally to people of color. I invite you to create a pledge of your own to be a stronger and more active supporter of the cause/s you care about most.

A photo of Margot Lester's pledge for Martin Luther King Jr. Day


Is your social media team doing you wrong?

There are tons of examples of poor social media posting every day, but this one really caught my attention.

By pulling one quote from the article, the social media team created an illusion that this was the major take-away from the reporting. And yet, if you read the story, you see it was not -- as Sarah Kendzior points out (and amplifies the original post).

It's critical that your social team supports the good work you're doing and not going for clicks or over-valuing being provocative. Review the outcomes you're all working toward and show how vanity metrics like clicks, and disappointing followers with misleading content, won't get you there.

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