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creating meaning with content

It’s Not What You Know, But Who

Maybe you’d rather be attacked by a mob of angry squirrels than go to a networking event. Unlike the mob of squirrels, networking can be relatively painless if you go in with some goals in mind and a few questions prepared in your head in case there’s a lull. And, yes, I used to ditch cocktail parties and work-related social events because I feared the inevitable “standing in the corner, looking at my watch, while surveying the room” syndrome.

It’s only within the past couple of years that I realized the value of networking. For example, networking got me my last three jobs. Networking helped me find an amazingly bright and awesome mentor Nilofer Merchant. And, Nilofer introduced me Padmasree Warrior (Cisco’s brilliant CTO) at a networking reception. Once I had met Padmasree once, that gave me an easy way to ask her for an interview with her.

So the next time you find yourself thinking up excuses not to attend networking function or feigning illness to avoid a work-related gathering, just think that the professional connections you make now, you can later leverage, and that may lead to success down the line. Sometimes the old business adage is true: it’s not what you know, but who.

Filed under: stories, strategy, , , , ,

Viral Videos and You

Nothing can replace a good book, but text has its limitations — especially on the Internet where content is rapidly evolving. A video paints a picture that text never can, no matter how gifted the author or expansive the reader’s imagination. That’s why I’ve been training myself in the fine art of video, both the editing and the shooting part. You should, too.

I admit I’m no Orson Welles, but that’s kinda the point. The barrier to entry is lowering dramatically: a $200 Flip video camera, a Mac with some video editing software, a bit of patience, and You Tube is all you need to be a “professional” video person. Even if you’re a professional in quotes, video these days is simple and has that homemade feel. Case in point:

A Sunday afternoon playing basketball with my husband can turn into something (arguably) entertaining and tell a story. Watching a mini movie sure beats telling someone, “We shot some hoops on Sunday in San Francisco at a park.”

(If you want to see more of my videos, the professional ones, many can be found on the Cisco Channels blog I manage.)

Filed under: stories, web 2.0, , , ,

A Note to My Dad About Twitter

When I talk to my dad about using Twitter and social media for work, I always get the inevitable: “Why do people use Twitter, anyway? What a waste of time. I mean, honestly, who really cares if you went to the gym or what you had for dinner?” That is true, no one cares if you went to the gym or had KFC for dinner.

But there are some things I do care about. For example, a couple of months ago when I was driving down Mission St. in San Francisco, I saw a bank with a huge hole in the window. Was it a robbery? A bomb? At home, I checked news sites and Googled…nothing. Then I turned to Twitter, typed in a few key search terms, and within moments saw reports from people who witnessed a Mercedes drive into the bank. (Luckily, no one was hurt.) Folks even posted pictures via Twitpic — a third-party Twitter app that lets you share photos. See, that’s useful.

Another example is a neighborhood restaurant that tweets its daily menu. C’mon, that’s pretty handy as well. And, if I want to know who’s tweeting on a particular topic, I can use third-party TweetDeck to search for tweets and monitor a given term for mentions in the Twitterverse.

In an increasingly ADD, online, information-overloaded world, Twitter helps us cut to the chase quickly. (And probably perpetuates my own ADD.) Not to mention that, as a writer, Twitter helps me be clear and concise, not wasting a single extra word or character.

So you see, dad, there are some useful Twitter applications. Follow me @alexkrasne to find out what I ate.

Filed under: web 2.0,

Getting over blog stall, blog lag, or writer’s block

Every writer invariably suffers from the dreaded writer’s block. (These days, it would more likely be called blog lag or blog stall, which is what happens when a blogger gets writer’s block.)

Back when I was writing daily news, writer’s block wasn’t a viable option. Either turn in that article on time or find a new job. But rather than sit around and complain about the way things were, I’d like to offer up my patented tips to help you get through even the worst case of writer’s block. These strategies have always come to my rescue during my times of need and I hope they can do the same for you.

1) No excuses. Whatever the reason, the first rule of writer’s block is to not make excuses. So shut up!

2) Just write. Be it nursery rhymes, a shopping list, your favorite songs, the names of your yet-to-be-born children — just start typing or scribbling. The act of writing anything can lead to inspiration and may even lead you in a direction you hadn’t even anticipated.

3) Notes, quotes, and info. To me, a story isn’t just composed of flowing words, but also facts, figures, and quotes. So gather up your supporting information and put that in order. From there, you can easily insert additional text and before you know it, your article is complete.

4) Edit. The best writers are usually the best editors (though there are definitely exceptions to that rule). So just write anything. It doesn’t have to be perfect or remotely decipherable. You can always edit it later.

Sure, there are other tips, like Faulkner’s patented “drinking oneself into a stupor,” but I purposefully didn’t include those. What about you? How do you get through writer’s block?

Filed under: content, journalism101

Be a better writer, in 50 words or less

Maybe I’ve been hiding under a rock or behind a very large shrubbery, but I hadn’t seen the Daily Lit web site until best-selling author Dan Pink pointed it out on his blog. The site brings literary tidbits to your inbox, PDA, or phone in five-minute chunks — a very useful service in this increasingly online and mobile world.

Daily Lit is currently featuring a 50-word writing challenge, inspired by Pink’s book A Whole New Mind. The little stories submitted need to have a beginning, middle, and end. That’s easy. The hard part is limiting your saga to only 50 words. Of course, being forced to chose your words wisely and edit yourself can help you become a better writer. Because being a great writer is all about being a great editor.

Here’s my entry:

Heavy gray rain fell that February Sunday. There she sat quietly sipping chamomile, reading, cheeks flushed, wearing a petit dejeuner t-shirt. He ducked in out of the damp, spotted her — could not turn away, yet could not walk over. Love. The next day, a Missed Connections posting. She replied.

Now, go write your own.

Filed under: content, editing, writing

Be a better media consumer

I recently spent some time with a friend who was outraged by Jim Cramer, host of the CNBC show “Mad Money” which has been described as, “[Occupying] some sort of netherworld between sheer entertainment and useful financial advice,” by Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz who profiled Cramer in his book The Fortune Tellers.

Appearing on a very heated episode of the Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” (clip here), the discussion with Cramer focused on whether he put entertainment before journalism and whether that was irresponsible, given the financial mess we’re in now. Of course, Cramer is no schlub when it comes to investing — his net worth lies somewhere between $50 and $100 million — but some say his advice unsound and that he knew the financial meltdown was on the horizon. But, in my mind, that’s not the real issue.

Don’t slap me when I say that one good thing to come of this financial mess is that we’re starting to question the media, whether we can trust the millionaires to tell us what to buy, and whether we can trust these age-old financial institutions to keep our best interests in mind. We are now reading the fine print.

To my friend I said, “Well, do you think everything you see on TV and read online is true?” She pursed her lips and furrowed her brow and I could tell she was wondering if it was a trick question. “No, of course not,” she said. And, I pose the same question to you.

Let me ask it in another way: do you buy everything that someone tries to sell you? If you want to buy a digital camera, do you purchase the first one a salesperson shows you without asking some questions or inspecting it thoroughly? Just as you wouldn’t blindly buy a digital camera, you must be a judicious consumer of information and news. Ask: What are the biases? Is there a political agenda? Who are the advertisers? Even objective journalists cannot be completely objective. (One of the first lessons learned in journalism school is that there is no such thing as objectivity in journalism.)

So as a consumer of the media, don’t be afraid to do a little fact checking. And, get a second opinion while you’re at it. It might just save you money and heartache down the road.

Filed under: journalism101, stories, , ,

Ask a grammar snob: using to and too

I admit it. I’m a grammar snob. I scoff when I hear people misuse who and whom. I snicker when I see a misplaced their (when instead it should be there). And, I am saddened by the gratuitous use of apostrophes. But what good is laughing behind someone’s back if I can’t turn back around and help that person get it right? Call it altruistic grammar snobbery.to-bad

Even outside of the editorial microcosm, good grammar is the mark of education, intelligence, and attention to detail. Having a firm grasp of grammar doesn’t necessarily mean you went to an Ivy League school; however, I’ve seen plenty of highly intelligent, well-educated people completely butcher the English language and offend my grammatical sensibilities.

To do my part to make the world a better place — and, selfishly, so I don’t have to see any more grammar mistakes — I present you with the first installation of Ask a Grammar Snob.

Dear Grammar Snob,

I often see the words to and too, but don’t know the right times to use them?

Signed,
To confused

Dear To,

Even your signature is a grammatical error. For shame! Don’t worry, I’ll show you the proper usage of the words to and too so you won’t embarrass yourself in the future.

Use “to” as a preposition or as part of an infinitive.

  • I went to the store to buy some eggs.
  • I want to see a movie.
  • When you send a letter to your mom, make sure to use a stamp.
  • Where to, Romeo?

Incorrect:
I want some, to.
You to can be like me.

Use “too” as you would use the words also or very.

  • I want some eggs and soyrizo, too.*
  • You are too cute.
  • I, too, think bacon is nasty.

And, finally, some required reading. No editor’s desk drawer is without a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

Signed,
The Grammar Snob

* Notice the comma prior to the word “too.” We’re not going to get into comma usage, but know that you should always use a comma before too when it’s at the end of a sentence.
photo credit: ifindkarma


Filed under: content, grammar, , ,

Three tips to writing a press release (that will get noticed)

arghListen up, PR people: Having been on the receiving end of more than my share of horrific press releases, let me tell you what works and what journalists want to hear.

The job of a press release is to alert the media to some new information worth publishing, be it a new product, an IPO (back in the good, old days), a company going under (more likely these days), a new web site, and the list goes on.

Here are my three top tips for creating a press release that will get noticed:

1) Get to the point!
I can’t say this more clearly and I forbid myself from using more than one exclamation mark to drive the point home. Journalists receive countless press releases every day, not to mention numerous calls from PR peeps. The sooner you get to the point, the more likely it is for us to actually read your release. When crafting a release, use the journalist’s trusty sidekick, the “inverted pyramid,” to tell us who, what, when, where, why, and how right away in the first sentence. Save your poetry for someone who cares.

2) Just the facts.
No matter how excited you are about the product, please do not write, “Organization X is excited to announce a revolutionary new product.” And then proceed to use all manner of fluffy marketing speak to avoid providing any useful information until paragraph 17 of your release. Honestly, we don’t care if you’re excited. In fact, the more excited you are, the less likely we are to read your press release. Keep it to a “just the facts, ma’am” kind of approach and no one will get hurt.

3) Give us your deets.
Please include contact information, phone numbers, emails, even Twitter usernames — basically any and every way to get a hold of you. Everyone prefers different contact mediums so it’s best to include all of them.

Using these strategies won’t guarantee coverage, but it will make a journalist’s life easier and may mean a better chance at getting some press.

photo credit: seq

Filed under: journalism101, , ,

Creating successful messaging

You can use Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Digg, Yammer, build a fancy web site, create a blog — all in the hopes of getting attention. And you may very well get some attention through those vehicles. The sad truth is that you will quickly lose those hard-earned eyeballs if your message isn’t clear. And if your message isn’t clear, it will fail.

faeryboots *away for the weekend!*

That’s why keeping content fresh, to the point, and easy to understand is the key to successful messaging. Remember, your readers don’t have hours to peruse your copy so don’t waste their valuable time with marketing hype and frilly language. Put the meat in the first sentence, delivering the “five W’s and an H” journalism punch right away — the who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Let’s look at two examples, shall we:

The wrong way: Company X is pleased to announce its latest mind-blowing invention that will change millions of lives. This revolutionary new product is one business users have always been searching for and will truly revolutionize business travel as we know it. We are thrilled to offer Product X to you at a low cost. Just click this link to find a list of fine retailers offering the product.

The right way: Geared toward business travelers who aren’t often near a wall outlet, Product X by Company X is a $59.95 solar-powered device that plugs into your USB port and extends the life of your computer’s battery by 60 percent. (Product X is now available online at Amazon.com.)

In the right way, readers get information upfront, stripped of all the nonsense. They can get in, get out, and buy the product. (If they want to read more, provide a link so they can.) In the wrong way, the wording is vague, sentences filled with useless adjectives, and it takes a long time to get to the point — if there is a point. Create content for someone in a rush and your readers will thank you by becoming customers. A novel approach!

So what are your big content questions? What sorts of head-scratchers do you come across when crafting content? Please ask your questions in the comments.

photo credit: faeryboots *away for the weekend!*

Filed under: content, journalism101, , , , , , , ,

At long last…

keyhole-post11I have a confession to make: I’ve been a writer and journalist for 15 years, but never blogged for myself or by myself. Sure, I’ve blogged for others — PC World, TechSoup, the Anita Borg Institute, Cisco — but this time, I’m in the driver’s seat. I’ve often cursed myself for lacking the wherewithal to start a blog sooner, promising, “This is the day when I will launch my blog.” But that day never came. Such is my blogging sob story. Finally, the clouds have cleared, launch day has arrived, fingers are poised over the keyboard, and that’s what counts.

To me, blogging is online voyeurism at its finest. That’s exactly why I’ve been a lover of blogs for ages, stalked friends’ blogs, and even read the blogs of those I don’t know. Blogs tend to be more intimate, casual, raw, and reek of much more truth than a polished piece of magazine prose.

So why start a blog now, at a time when there’s actually a decline in blogging in favor of shiny new-fangled tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, Friendfeed, and ├╝ber popular micro-blogging site Twitter? All I can say is that the time is right and I have my reasons.

Being a word nerd, editor, social media geek, writer, journalist, marketer, business developer, I’ve got a unique perspective to share. This is the first of many blog posts and I hope you’ll return to read my editing tips, grammar tips, content diatribes, interviews with experts, reporting, opinions, best practices, and tips for crafting content that will best serve your readers and deliver your message. Because, after all, you can’t save the world without great content!

Filed under: stories, , , ,

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