Blogging impressions: a short post about long posts

A nice tip from a fellow blogger and it’s all in the title: “I try to leave out the parts that people skip“. Boy if there ever were a tip written just for me this would be it. Then again, if I change too much I’ll end up having to change my blog name too.

Do you really need to keep only the content you think your readers will like?

Skip or keep? Goat in spring

Skip or keep? (spring picture by ewewlo on Flickr)

Should you skip all the bits you assume people don’t pay attention to? Or will adding structure and headings keep casual readers on board, scanning your blog post for the stuff they’re interested in?

Long posts and short posts in blogging

I’ve pretty much managed to weed out two-topic posts. The question now is how long or short a post should be.

  • For posts on a corporate blog I’m sure I read somewhere that 400 words is enough. The idea is that business people don’t have time for long reads.
  • Another number I found was 500-600 words per post. I don’t recall where I read that, and that’s probably because the blog containing the information wasn’t worth remembering. Which says it all I guess.
  • Blogs containing chapters of a fictional work tend to have, well, chapter-length posts. I don’t think anybody minds the long read 😉
  • For my own blog I stay well away from the 1000-word mark. Under 900 is fine. If I manage to say what I wanted to say without sounding too dry-factual (is that a word? I just made it one) using less than 800 words it’s worth a cheer and a “Well done you” stamp in my content rambling archive.

Deliver the message – the essence of any piece of writing

So far I’ve adhered to just one rule while blogging: the right number of words for a blog post is the number of words I need to deliver a complete thought or set of thoughts about a topic, preferably with a bit of fun added into the cake mixture.

When it comes to really compact writing I wonder if anyone ever managed to beat Tacitus. Come to think of it, I remember we actually asked our teacher for a text by that specific author, because we were getting bored with translating Vergilius (Virgil) in preparation for our exam and we needed the change – and a challenge. After just a week or two, getting back to Virgil was the ultimate relaxing holiday-on-the-beach!

What’s a good post-length for you as a blogger – or as a reader? How short is a short post, and what is too long in a long post? Does any kind of ‘rule’ work in blogging?

Why the nature of knowledge frustrates knowledge ‘management’ (part 1)

What do we know about knowledge? This is the kind of question that bites its own tail. Even so, thinking about the nature of knowledge may give you some idea of how managing it might work. Since there’s a lot to the topic of knowledge management this is going to take more than one post. Not because it wouldn’t fit into one post, but because I’m still thinking…

The central question in this post is:

What is the nature of knowledge?

Let’s skip definitions and get down to a few basic rules that seem to apply – unless you prefer a holistic, universal view of knowledge.

Knowledge is personal

Ladder Of Knowledge

Ladder Of Knowledge, Barcelona [Click to view Flickr image]

  1. Limited to a person. If you bend over sideways, knowledge tends not to run out of your ear as the by-product of an intellectual ear infection.
  2. Limited in subject matter. Some people seem to know everything about everything, but omniscience is usually attributed to a single divine being. Humans spend their whole lives accumulating knowledge. We tend to know a lot about a little, and a little about a lot of things.
  3. Based on your own experience. It’s rare to run into someone who’s actually reviewed every bit of new information on its merits. You live life, bumping into random facts, and construct an image of what the world is like.

(Talking about the ‘personal experience’ aspect: you can see the need to get the world sorted out in kids of 3 – I have a handy specimen upstairs in bed. It’s quite a challenge to pry bits of fresh knowledge out once they’ve found a way into such a little head. Offering a bit of context, or examples where newly found truths don’t hold up, is often the only way to influence loudly-stated facts.)

What other characteristics does knowledge have?

Knowledge is subject to change

Knowledge evolves. You’re always learning. Which means you find and assess new information. You end up acquiring knowledge. Sometimes that means you need to review things you knew (things you thought were true).

In the book Dune by Frank Herbert, Paul Atreides got some unexpected advice upon reciting what he’d been taught. He was told that he had some ‘un-learning’ to do. Somewhere around the age of 20 young adults go through a phase when they assume they know how the world works. I know I did, and I’ve witnessed the same thing in others. In many cases that opinion is revoked or at least toned down a bit some 5 to 10 years later. A mature brain is one of nature’s wonders, and running into a few of life’s metaphorical but painfully unyielding walls sure helps too.

Knowing ‘everything’ is something you will only achieve if you live in a stable and uncomplicated environment which only changes in nearly unnoticeable detail (until the volcano erupts, anyway). If you’re reading this blog, that place is probably somewhere else.

Knowledge can be taken beyond its original context

You learn certain skills or ‘facts’, and at the same time you learn the methods you need in order to learn, or in order to solve a problem. Whether or not you take those methods and learn to apply them in different contexts depends on the environment in which you live and work. In a more or less static environment you may never need to apply your knowledge to any other field than the original one.

Examples of when you need to take your knowledge one level up:

  • When changing jobs, especially if it involves moving into a different branch, if you switch to a different career or start your own company, you may find yourself scraping the bottom of your knowledge barrel for anything you can use in your new situation. This is the moment when even the most unlikely bits of knowledge can prove useful. You’re forced to get creative.
  • At university you’re supposed to acquire an academic attitude towards information, methods, knowledge – but it’s still up to you to actually make the connection between one specific situation and others. If you do, you find yourself zooming out to see similar situations in which your knowledge applies, and then, if you’re very lucky (intelligent?), zooming out still further to notice how scientific methodology is relevant outside the academic realm. As a final step in this recipe, don’t forget to add a dash of social skills to avoid looking like a total wise-ass off campus. But that’s a different story 😉

Read more:

If you feel I missed anything major about the nature of knowledge, or if you have any other thoughts on the topic, just let me know. In my next post I will briefly (if possible) discuss a few ways in which knowledge management teams have tried to herd the curious cats of knowledge, and go into a central issue that has to do with the nature of knowledge management – and probably with a couple of other recurring business issues as well.

Blogging impressions: time for reflection

My previous post has given me food for thought… Lately I’ve taken to writing down my blog posts in less time than before. This has some advantages like not being able to overdo the editing part. One drawback is that it doesn’t leave much time to do any editing at all.

Blogging: time for reflection

In this post I’ll share my recent experiences with you and hand out some tips based on them.

I hope you’ll find my tips useful – feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments!

Tip #1: Try to write your post in one session

My previous post was written on one day, but in several sessions. Family life and working hours take up time that I can’t spend on blogging.

I’ve noticed that whenever I pick up where I left off, my perspective has changed slightly. Even though I interrupt my writing process, I can’t just shut down my thoughts to wait until I have time to write on. This is a major issue if you want to write coherent posts!

Distractions are BAD news

Anyway, what with working from home, tending to a sick child, cooking dinner and so on, I was editing until well past 10 PM… after a broken night with our kid crying in bed several times. If you have kids and a blog, it’s bound to happen to you at some point.

In my case the result was: a post that might have been better, with a title that I wasn’t happy about but every time I changed it seemed worse than before. In the end I just hit ‘publish’ because I had planned to publish and after I did I could stop.

I came back to change the title the next morning after thinking of several alternatives after around 4.30 AM. Yes, that was our son crying again – you guessed it 😉

My conclusion is that quiet sessions to get your thoughts written down are essential.

Tip #2: Take time for reflection (if that’s your style anyway)

Depending on whether you’re writing a personal blog or more businessy stuff in the latter case you may need an editing session as well…

Mind you, not being able to put off editing, or deciding you don’t need a separate editing session means you do it while you write. Telling yourself you’ll reread and edit after you get your post written down should help you get things done before you start criticizing your work.

My inner editor seems to have returned – or maybe I’m just more aware now that I try to write my posts in less time from draft to publish. Or being tired means the inner editor becomes more of a nuisance than usual – what do you think?

Your inner editor messes with your writing process!

Worse than the editor telling me I’ve done something wrong is the inner quickly-excited person (also my inner editor?) who keeps telling me “hmm, this is interesting too… can you put it in?” or “hey, I’ve a great idea for an image to go with this post, how about checking for suitable pictures on OCAL (the Open Clip Art Library) now?”

Seriously, it’s like having a kid standing at your table trying to give you ‘food’ or wanting to sit on your lap and then asking “What’s happening now” every 30 seconds while watching Bob the Builder. Which is happening today because I’ve decided to sit down for once and write this thought down before it flies off.

Tip #3: Watch your inner editor or it will make you rewrite everything

You reread your post, and upon reflection, think of something you want in there… and this, and that… STOP! This is the same thing that happens to me if I interrupt my writing. You’re really writing your next post into the one you already had!

If this has ever happened to you – and it’s more likely to happen if you don’t blog (almost) daily – you’re blogging a lot more than you think. Except all your thinking and writing energy goes into far fewer published posts!

All in all I guess the bottom line is:

  • More editing means less publishing.
  • More publishing also means less (time for) editing.
  • You get a lot of published posts, or a few heavily-edited posts, but rarely both.

There’s probably a precious balance hiding somewhere out there for every one of us. Have you found your ideal mix yet?

Please add your thoughts in a comment – I promise to reply to anything that’s not spam 😉 How do you make blogging, editing and reflection work for you?

Life as we know it: the big deal about change

Every new generation in the past 50 years has been called, or has claimed, to be fundamentally different from the oldies. This tends to cause a bit of friction with parents (unless they’ve given up ‘parenting’ at an earlier stage) but notably not so much with grandparents because, and I’m guessing here, they’ve seen it all before in their own children.

The big deal about change

Change is the only permanent force in our lives. So what? Change is a constant, and yet we will draw people’s attention to it again and again saying: “look, this is different!” or “I’m unique!” The millenial generation is no different in its uniqueness 😉

One example of what is different for today’s students is, by the time they graduate, they’re all over Facebook already. If you’ve spent years on Facebook it seems a bit of a waste to start from scratch on LinkedIn.

Some months ago, Brian Solis interviewed the Co-founder/CEO of a platform called Identified.com. Viewing the information on the Identified blog I recognized a lot of stuff from my own career path (involving change). Perhaps you recognize any of the following?

Learn to change: learning curve ahead

Warning: Learning Curve Ahead

  1. Study, no job.
  2. Another study.
  3. Job doesn’t match expectations or strong points.
  4. Switch to different kind of job.
  5. Part-time study and job.
  6. New job, research or internship required by study.
  7. Keep job, build resume and ‘rest’ after graduating.
  8. New job, tasks shift.

It was about time someone figured out that people might like to re-use parts of their ‘personal’ network in their new career, and that they might find the contacts in their mailbox less useful than their contacts on social media 😉

What happens if I do this?

Young people living their lives ‘inside’ social media is just an example of what has changed – but the underlying issue of ending up in a place that doesn’t match your talents or ambitions (interests) is not exactly new. In fact, part of ‘growing up’ has been finding out more about yourself by trying stuff out.

Marketing trend or change?

Marketers’ strong point is spotting trends and giving them ‘big’ names. The actual change taking place may be less exciting (too slow or insignificant). One marketing action is giving generations different names and trying to find out what matters most to each generation in order to sell them more stuff.

Sometimes marketing seems a bit like calling your two-month-old kid “Godzilla” because he/she’s got a big voice. It doesn’t make your kid bigger but it sure sounds awesome. I checked Twitter recently, which never fails if you’re looking for Godzilla marketing trends. Here’s a couple of ‘trends’ I found (Godzilla doesn’t hide):

  • “going real time to right time” Rachel Happe Tweets #defragcon
  • “moving from transactions to engagement” @alanlepo
  • “After B2B and B2C the future is P2P” (can this get any worse?? I hope I made this one up…)*

My main conclusion is that there’s only one underlying change: companies are getting more interested in customers and trying the personal “customer-centric” approach.

Why?

  1. Because they can. They have the tools: social media.
  2. Because they’re afraid to miss out. Their competitors are doing it too.
  3. Because we, their customers are changing – we’re getting used to relevant content, and to replies within a day or so (preferably faster).

Change is the only permanent force in our lives. Treating every day as being identical to the last just because it looks identical on the surface is downright dangerous. One day there will be a stalled car just behind that bend in the road.

The big deal about change is that it is life as we know it.

* B2B Business to Business, B2C Business to Consumer, P2P Person to Person… they didn’t manage to squeeze F2F in – maybe I ought to thank Twitter for their 140-character limit 🙂

That’s it for this post. If you want to add your insights please add them in a comment. I’ll respond to any non-spammy comment about ‘the big deal about change’ or my writing skills 😉

Social business: why you should add strategy to your content

One aspect of social media in a business is something I’m just about starting to ‘get’. It’s not just social media. It’s how to get your message across to potential customers at all, now that social media are becoming part of the business habitat. Everyone is suddenly in marketing. And my discovery (tah-daah!) is that many of us suck at it.

Social media: knowing how it works is not the issue

I don’t mean we can’t do marketing no matter what you do for training. I mean that right now, even if we know our way around social media, we have not been trained yet in (the basics of):

  • Risk management
  • Content marketing
  • Social media for business purposes.

Add strategy to your content. Image: Thinker - ContentRambler avatar

Thinking up a content strategy [OCAL image with alterations]

This may result in (m)any of the following:

  1. Your colleague has been told that social media is all about personal. She does a meet-the-whole-family blog and discusses details of her private life you don’t want to know about – depending on your interests 😉
  2. Another colleague (I’m assuming you have many of them) uploads an 86-page presentation to SlideShare, assuming she’s done her sharing duty this way. Description: “this is a presentation I did two weeks ago, enjoy”.
  3. A third colleague likes to rant about telecom services, airlines and so on which he had bad experiences with. Unfortunately one of these companies is a customer of yours.

Since I’m confident that you can spot the issues in the first and last example at once no matter what your professional background is, I’ll move on with the second example. Why? Because this is at first sight the least damaging thing anyone can do. And for that reason, it probably happens more often than the other two.

How to handle professional content

From a risk perspective, I’d really like to know if there are things like customers’ names in that presentation. If there are, you’re in trouble.

Let’s assume that it’s ‘safe’ content though, meaning it’s not about private stuff, nor does any customer of yours look bad or have their information shared on the internet. What are the downsides?

  • Your colleague’s description doesn’t really tell anyone what those 86 pages are about… that’s a missed opportunity. Possibly half a dozen opportunities, depending on what is in that presentation. I’ll get back to this topic later.
  • Here’s the good part: if the title of the presentation is as nondescript as the description, no-one is going to read it. Unless your colleague is, say, Seth Godin.
  • The bad part is that no-one will read it. But at least you’ll have a chance to improve the way your content is presented before it’s been downloaded and possibly put to good use without you ever seeing a dime in return. Or getting a “thank you”, or a new contact with an invitation you might have used for a spot of networking.

Optimizing your content for different learning styles

Depending on the content of a single presentation you could get up to half a dozen blog posts out of it; make a couple of video interviews; do a web chat or two about the subject. And I don’t mean either-or: you could do all of them. Why?

Learning styles

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a colleague repeat the basics to me just yesterday. By typing pages full of words, I’m basically catering for a specific type of person. I’m probably writing for people who learn in a way that is similar to my own.

I used to have books for breakfast. When I got to read my first ‘grown-up’ book in English – Dune, by Frank Herbert – I didn’t do any homework for three weeks (goodbye Math results). If I woke up in the middle of the night I’d read in bed.

Adding examples, especially about people and situations you can relate to, makes a (long) text more digestible for people with a different learning style. The same goes for adding a picture – preferably one with a personal touch, or with warm colors. Pictures that reach out to the viewer.

Time pressure and content guzzling

Another colleague told me that, because he spends so much time in the car, he prefers to listen to podcasts of blogs – especially by those bloggers who are real storytellers. The fact that some professions have people on their feet and in their car at all times of the day gives you yet another reason for trying different media.

Your social business needs a content strategy

For your (future) business, being on social media without knowing how to market your content doesn’t make much sense.

Note that I’m hardly saying this as a die-hard, veteran, marketing blogger. Needless to say I know I’m missing a big portion of my ‘potential audience’ by not using every available medium but just writing what’s on my mind. If you’re blogging like me and you’re not getting the most from your writing right now, that’s fine – if you’re fine with it. If not, you have work to do.

I hope you enjoyed this post. I wrote it today, in two or three sittings (I have a job and a family!), which is about the fastest I’ve done so far for anything that isn’t actually a “Blogging impressions” post 🙂

If you’ll add your thoughts on the subject of social business, content strategy or anything related, I would appreciate it and I’ll reply to any (non-spammy) comment.

Blogging impressions: the road to a content strategy

Congratulations! You have been blogging for a whole… 2 weeks? 3 months? A year and a day? So… what have you written about, and why?

Blogging impressions: the road to a content strategy

Congratulations on your blog!
[OCAL image]

In this post I’d like to talk about blogging and your content strategy.

It’s not about my personal experience in content marketing or business content strategy, because I haven’t tried to use this blog to get you to buy my stuff. I haven’t asked you to register so you get access to my most brilliant contributions to the improvement of human kind.

For now, I’ll be quite happy if you buy my ideas in stead of chucking them in the bin 🙂

Blogging without a content strategy

If you started out like me, you’ll have tried the whole blogging idea on for size. Questions you may have asked yourself when you started up your blog:

  • Do you still enjoy writing when you ‘have to’, in other words if there are readers out there and you feel you should publish new content on a regular basis?
  • Does anyone even care what you write?
  • Can you come up with enough ideas to get beyond, say, 10 posts? Or will the creative juices dry up in no time at all for whatever reason?

They’re all legitimate questions when you start out. If you start blogging to find the answers to these questions, you don’t need much of a plan beyond:

I’ll write about subjects X and Y because they’re interrelated and I run into issues a lot and maybe other people will like to read about how I view or solve those issues.

The subject and issues you decide to write about can be either your toddler’s tantrums or trends in social media. I’d advise against putting them in the same blog: I’m told Google doesn’t like it.

Why you may need a content strategy – or something like it

Once you’re blogging for a while you may find that sometimes ideas for new posts just roll in faster than you can find the time to write about them. At other times you’re stumped for ideas because they all whizzed past your head in the previous days and now they’re gone. This happened to me a few days ago. I had a great idea – I think, at some point the text was taking shape right inside my head. By the time I had a moment to sit down and take notes it had escaped me completely.

Sometimes daily life is a regular pain in the backside. That includes grocery shopping, hairdressers and pans boiling over (and your adorable kids, too).

It pays to just face it: letting content creation (blogging) depend on creative flashes like that won’t work if you want to produce new stuff every day or week. Unless you blog about your own life – even if you forget everything you meant to write about you could still blog about your ‘senior moment’ 😉

What happens if you chuck a stone (a plan) at your blog?

Here’s the good news: it won’t break. I’ve spent the past few posts writing about aspects of social business with the titles and subjects more or less ready. And it’s been all right in the sense that I knew exactly what I would write about, and was able to read up where necessary.

On the other hand, writing about a single main subject has made me extremely critical of my own writing. Publishing several posts in a series has exposed the limits of my knowledge about the subject. I spend a lot of time reading because I’m still looking for ideas that are not basically hot air balloons: amazing to look at (which I can do for hours) but basically nothing inside with a sleek outfit and lot of noisily burning gas underneath.

Blogging to a plan: feeding a newly-fledged content strategy chick

If you start planning subjects you may find the idea of treating a subject in a series of posts attractive. If so, you may run into the following:

  • You get the strong impression you’ve written something already in your previous post. This can happen even if you’ve planned the main subject for each post in advance. I find this effect is stronger if you write a series on a single subject because you planned it that way.
  • You start over-editing as a result. You may want to improve single posts in a series because you feel you’re repeating yourself. Do you find yourself chucking bits out, re-ordering and rewriting?

These are my tips to counter these effects of topic-related series:

  1. if you commit to writing a number of posts about a single subject, it really helps if you’ve read or experienced so much that you can easily write from memory.
  2. Being boundlessly opinionated on the subject is also a great way to churn out one post after the other 😉
  3. Less frequent publishing. This way you can concentrate on the core of your subject and spend lots of time on research. Or do the exact opposite:
  4. Publish more often – if you don’t post every day already. Frequent posting:
    • Prevents rereading endlessly.
    • Means you’re not forcing yourself to hang on to your drafts until ‘publishing day’.
    • Your posts are fresh rather than stale.
    • You’re not tempted to write new articles that relate to your topic into an otherwise finished post (don’t ask).

So there, I’ve solved the beginners’ content strategy puzzle – for now 🙂

Have you got bits and pieces of content strategy from your own blogging experience – what works for you and what doesn’t, then let me know by leaving a (non-spammy) comment – I will reply!

Social business: what we need is a plan

If you’re interested in ‘going social’ you need to know why your company should do so. Do you have an answer ready?

Good 🙂

In this post I will ask a few (impertinent) questions and hope they help you decide what to do about ‘social’. In other words, my aim is to make you think. All right, now I’m in trouble 😉

Social business: what we need is a plan

Chocolate inside and out
Social business mixes social media in – inside and out.

While reading some recent articles I noticed that several of them mention the ‘checklist approach’ to social media (I’m borrowing the word from Steven van Belleghem).

It’s a tactical approach: are you on Twitter? Check. Facebook? Check. So you’re ready. Right?

When you ask businesses ‘why’ they are on social media, chances are they’ll tell you something like “the whole world is there, so our customers are somewhere in there with the rest of the world”.

I’m not arguing. But that’s just one step on a long journey.

How does your content strategy connect with your social media strategy?

Yup, this non-strategist is talking strategy for once – but only to ask you more questions.

How will you connect with (not just ‘reach’) people on social media – or even on your own blog or web site?

Does every piece of content you create help your customers in some (small) way? When you read an article it really helps if it’s well-written and either amusing, or interesting, or both. Add a comment below if you disagree with me 🙂

You need people within your company to want to achieve this connection with customers. What value you aim to offer to customers should be clear to all. It shouldn’t be up to each individual employee (or team) to imagine where the link between the ‘top blah’ (vision, mission statement) and your company’s customers might be found.

How will becoming a social business help you help your customers?

An article by Adi Gaskell refers to a recent report by IBM stating that three main approaches have proved successful as starting points for the journey to social business heights:*

  • Creating valued customer experiences
  • Driving workforce productivity and effectiveness
  • Accelerating innovation.

Whichever starting point you choose, you need to integrate ‘social’ into the entire process. It’s not something a few isolated employees can do for you. It takes a plan that involves everyone at some stage, in order to achieve anything above the bare minimum.

In other words, if you want to become a ‘social business’, social media is not the cherry on your chocolate cake. It’s not just the chocolate that glistens on the outside and makes you want to eat until you burst. It’s firstly the cocoa you mixed into the dough. And it’s the chocolate icing. And, possibly, it’s also the cherry – although that’s optional. You get my drift 🙂

Social media creates valued customer experiences

Funnily enough, I wrote most of the above before reading a post which to me seems the perfect inspirational example when it comes to customer experiences (even if you feel there’s no way you’ll ever measure up to this stuff).** Read it, enjoy it, ask yourself what is in there that you could use in some way. How will your use of social media make a difference to your customers?

A few thoughts about social business – and why you need a plan for it

  1. You can’t add social media to an existing business as an afterthought and expect to become a social business.
  2. You need a plan so you don’t get distracted by the latest hype all the time.
  3. Without a plan, you could end up out of breath by going nowhere at all.

Social media has been called ‘disruptive’. I take that to mean it creates a healthy imbalance in places where everything used to stay more or less the same. You need to think about business basics, and see how social media fit into your business.

You need a plan to let social media influence your entire mix of activities in a structured way.

Social business is not a thing – it’s an emergent property of the way you handle the potential of social media.

References

* Adi Gaskell, IBM reveals the secrets to social business success, Business2Community, November 10. Adi refers to this report by IBM, The business of social business: what works and how it’s done.

** Matt Wilson, 3 essentials that power Disney Parks’ social media strategy. PR Daily, November 12.

Hoping I’ve managed to make you think, even for a moment, about the essence of social business – if so, please let me know by using the comment box below!