Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What SPAM Means Today: From Email to RoboTweets

It’s interesting how the word “spam” has evolved in its usage over the last four or five years. It started out as a very literal definition and now is almost synonymous with the word “bugging”. Technologically speaking, it started referring to unwanted commercial email. Spam includes everything from Viagra emails, to robo-Tweets, to Facebook “Like” requests.

Today the word is being associated with any unsolicited message anywhere, although it’s mostly referring to digital communications. (You could say the people handing out postcards on the sidewalk in Las Vegas are “spamming” pedestrians.)

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s website: “In 2003, Congress enacted the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act to curb spam.” And from then on, all marketers wanting to comply had to include a street or mailing address and an unsubscribe link in their emails. By now, most email distributions are complying. 

Unfortunately, this same tactic of forcing unsolicited messaging onto users has found its way into almost every other digital space: text messages, Tweets, Facebook posts, and message boards. Thankfully, Twitter and Facebook have already provided mechanisms for blocking future assaults from the same sender, much the way most email providers have.

However, there’s a clear difference between unwanted messages coming from scams or autobots and an off-target message coming from a communications professional. 

Scott Wendling wrote: “I’ve heard people referred to as spammers in social media when they send out an endless stream of status updates on autopilot.” 

If it’s unsolicited or if the recipient thinks it’s off-topic, it’s spam – a four-letter word to any marketer. Tech writer, Hillel Fuld uses this example in a “rant” posting about a company asking him to “Like” their brand on his Facebook page: “You want me to take this network, which I spent years building and spam them by promoting a cause, which is in no way connected to the reason they so loyally follow or read my content?”

Despite the difference in where the message originated, the recipient is going to have the same emotion about the unwanted message either way. And that is why the word spam is growing in its inclusiveness (as fast as social media is growing in the number of its participants).

Anyone wishing to avoid “bugging” potential friends or customers can easily find best practices articles online before hitting Send (if you can recommend one, post a link below). Those who don’t communicate with caution risk the punishment of ending up on one of these writers’ blogs.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

3 Lead Sentence Rules from Journalism for your PR or marketing blog

I’ve had enough. I just read another company blog posting that violated a very common rule among journalism professionals. It inspired me to share these 3 tips for writing a lead sentence. Hopefully these will help you:

1. Never begin an article with a yes or no question – preferably, never begin with a question at all. Professors of journalism stand in front of classrooms across America and espouse this to their students. One day, Dr. Dean Nelson casually strolled into our classroom at Point Loma, picked up a newspaper that was lying on a desk and proceeded to read the first sentence out loud: “Would you like to know what’s causing your tax rates to go up?”

He looked at us and replied flippantly: “Um, no.” And tossed the paper into the wastebasket.

I’ve read several company blog articles recently (which I will refrain from naming) that violated this rule. Each time you start writing an article this way, you risk losing your reader. It’s such a universal rule that I emailed my co-worker who used to write for the Washington Post.

My subject line was “what’s the first rule of lead sentence writing in journalism?”

His reply: “Don’t start story with a question or a quote unless the quote is this: “I’m back,” Jesus said yesterday in Jerusalem.”

2. If your mother says she loves you, check it out (with at least two sources)

First coined at the City News Bureau of Chicago, this phrase became associated with a story that one cub reporter called into the wire service about the slaying of a infant. Doubting that the story was true, the seasoned editor replied back before running the story asking, “what color were the dead baby’s eyes?” (Sorry for the gruesome illustration, but such is the stuff of legacy news print.) He couldn’t answer the question because the story had been made up.

If you’re asked to write a story for a company blog, please make sure what you’re writing actually happened. After all, it’s your byline attached to that link. This is also a good rule when accusing clients and co-workers of failing to fact check. Are you sure what they wrote is false? Might want to check it out before you send an email to them about it.

3. Nobody cares what happened to you (unless you’re the President or Justin Bieber). What does it mean?

If I had a penny for every company blog post that started out “Today at our company, this thing happened.” I promise you, unless the President or Jesus showed up, we don’t care. Paper into wastebasket. Project the event that happened onto your readership. Rephrase it so that the first sentence explains why it’s important to them that “this thing at your company happened today.” If you don’t, it’s just going to read like a press release…and who reads those? 

If you want me to expand on any of these points, please ask. I’d be happy to! I’m also throwing in a link to this grammar article, just for kicks. http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/11085.aspx