Canright writers wax poetic on the world of communications. We share insights on memorable website content, blogs, marketing concepts, writing styles and trends, and more.
October 25th, 2013 by Collin Canright
May 12th, 2013 by Collin Canright
Engineering-oriented Google gets more attention for the way it uses personal data to generate ad revenue—the face-on-the-ad story I read the other day kind of creeped me out—but I was pleasantly surprised at today’s Google Doodle.
Wow, that’s great! How did I get Google to do this on my birthday? I wondered.
I hovered over it. “Happy Birthday, Collin!” says the message.
It even clicks through to my Google+ page (reminding me that I hate the photo and had a difficult time changing it last time I tried, many months ago).
Of course Google would know it’s my birthday. They have my data.
With all the discussions about privacy these days, best to remember that most of what’s discussed is from an outdated framework, like it or not. Personal birthday greetings from impersonal machines , even if from impersonal machines, still make me smile.
Thanks for the birthday wish, Google!
March 28th, 2013 by James Richter
Today’s cool new social technologies are once again discovering that nothing gets attention like plain-old email. As social and media aggregation technologies evolve into powerful tools of personal news delivery, email remains one of the most effective means of personal delivery.
PandoDaily did an article on retiring RSS feeds as Google retires Reader, the RSS reader that Google will discontinue on July 1. The author, Mike Tatum, quit using RSS readers and decided to look at alternatives. His article lists several, one of which is Pulse, which currently is my favorite way of reading news. Tatum complains, rightly in my view, that Pulse does not feel comprehensive, with its push methodology. You can add almost anything to Pulse; I find it awkward—but not so awkward that I’m currently looking for an alternative.
Tatum realized that the best alternative he’s found to RSS is plain old email: he’s reading more more email newsletters.
Tatum is not the only one. This week, Wired writer Ryan Tate published, “Why Email Newsletter Won’t Die,” which features the social media aggregation tool RebelMouse. RebelMouse provides a service that aggregates all of your social media activity, especially the links you share, into a single page.
I’ve been experimenting with the service on and off since it launched nearly a year ago, and it’s sweet. My tweets are automatically posted, including a picture. The idea behind the service is to provide “a social media front page,” a term they use that I like. Here’s my page:
I use RebelMouse’s Embed function to feature my RebelMouse feed at the top part of my personal blog. This screenshot from my blog shows how it looks on the post, in contrast to the native RebelMouse page above. Contrast the posts from RebelMouse on the left to my complete native Twitter feed on the left to see its appeal.
Now the company has launched “RebelAlerts,” which works over plain-old email. The service allows people to sign up for a daily newsletter feed. As of this week, you can integrate with MailChimp. And I’ll bet that future email-list integration options are in the works.
I am very likely to use this version, though I don’t use MailChimp, because, as Tate quoted Jake Levine, general manager at Digg, the news aggregation service that recently launched a daily email service: “If something is important to you, e-mail products are the one reliable way to make sure you’ll see it.”
Finally, Matthew Ingram, media writer at GigaOm, reported last week about LinkedIn’s evolution as a media entity. In the last few months, LinkedIn launched LinkedIn Today, which posts news updates on profiles. Last week, LinkedIn refreshed LinkedIn Today by launching “content channels” that individuals can subscribe to, sending an aggregated feed from multiple publications.
Along with LinkedIn’s purchase of Pulse, it’s part of the company’s strategy to become a media company. LinkedIn’s new magazine-style custom news channels, as Ingram writes, “has the potential to become a real competitor to other news aggregators and providers.”
And, yes, LinkedIn sends LinkedIn Today updates using plain-old email.
Every now and then, a piece will appear on the death of email, a more than 40-year-old technology. It hasn’t happened yet and is not likely to disappear anytime soon. Email remains the best way to put content in front of a potential reader, whether that content originates from an individual, a brand, or a media outlet—and whether it’s distributed through a website, social media channel, or individual.
Read our past posts on email delivery and marketing:
Email Powers Wires the Social Media Buzz (ebook)
Email: Content Marketing’s Workhorse
December 3rd, 2012 by James Richter
Released in 1989 and starring Kevin Costner as an Iowa corn farmer, Field of Dreams was nominated for Best Picture and is now regarded as a classic American film.
The baseball field that Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, builds could stand for a number of ambitious, seemingly irrational undertakings. Perhaps that’s why the movie struck a chord with audiences: Everyone has dreams that break the mold of convention. Pursuing those dreams is inspirational.
After watching the film again, we couldn’t help but see Ray as a business owner, and his baseball field as a blog. When observed from that perspective, the skyward voice that communicates with Ray seems to offer some terrific advice for not only building, but also nurturing a blog and growing its audience.
“If you build it, they will come.”
A lot of business owners think that if they create a blog, readers will magically appear like the ghosts of the 1919 Chicago White Sox. Sadly, this is not the case.
What Ray actually heard from above was, “If you build it, he will come.” This scenario is more likely, with the he being a spam-bot promoting a miracle-drug website. The hard truth is that nobody cares that you started a blog. But as long as you care that you started a blog, you might be able to get past the lack of a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
We suggest that you embrace the initial anonymity. Before you begin writing, remember that nobody is reading your stuff. No one will receive an email alert that you just posted. Nobody is going to comment, and nobody is going to tweet it or share it with friends. It’s a position that many popular writers probably envy, because it means that you can write with freedom. You can experiment. You can edit after it’s posted, and nobody will notice. This is the time to try out the feeling of typing your thoughts onto the Internet. It feels awkward at first, like throwing a baseball with the other hand. But if you stay diligent and have some fun, it will eventually feel natural.
“Ease his pain.”
Once you’re getting the hang of posting at least once a week, it’s time to get the word out. The trick to promoting your blog is to not seem like you’re promoting your blog—at least not at first.
Consider the other 7 billion people in the world. Some of them probably have an interest in what you have to say. Now find them. Search keywords on Twitter. Search tags on WordPress. Search news on Google. Chances are people are talking about the same things you are. Now participate. If someone has a question, answer it if you can. If someone tweeted something you find interesting, reply, retweet, and follow.
If you addressed an issue on your blog that is relevant to someone’s question, then by all means link to the specific post, but don’t worry about linking to your blog in every interaction. Put the domain on all of your social media profiles, and let people find it themselves.
It’s about easing his (or her) pain. Trust that the favor will be returned.
“Go the distance.”
Progress will be slow. Your brother-in-law will be telling you to plow the field and replant the crops. If you decide he’s right, then he is. If you decide he’s wrong, he still might be right. If you go the distance anyway, it means you’re enjoying yourself and seeing some positive results in the form of higher search results, more buzz on social media, and deeper engagement with customers and leads.
Keep at it one post at a time, and you might one day find a lot of traffic leading to your site.
For more posts about blogging:
“My, How Blogs Have Grown!
Five Ideas for Writing Blog Posts
October 25th, 2012 by James Richter
By now, you’ve probably heard about infographics. The secret has been out for a while, and they now seem to be everywhere.
We at Canright like the way infographics can combine data and design to tell a story in a creative, engaging way. The graphical format is not only easy to understand—it’s easy to share, too. If your infographic compels people to share it online, it can really help spread awareness of your brand while also telling your business’s story.
If you’re looking for some inspiration for your business’s next infographic, then we encourage you to have a look at these:
- Visual.ly, a website for creating and sharing infographics, can give you a sense of the broad range of topics that infographics can cover.
- GOOD.is magazine keeps an updated list of infographics that tend to have an altruistic or educational angle.
- Econsultancy publishes a weekly list of the latest and greatest infographics.
- Upworthy’s mission statement is explained with an infographic.
- There’s even an infographic about infographics.
- Infographics can have a sense of humor, too, as The Oatmeal has discovered.
As you can see, the rules for infographics are flexible. Businesses can use them to spread awareness, define their brands, present a value proposition, and much more.
However, you must beware of the bad infographic! Keep in mind that it’s only worth creating and sharing if it engages your audience while delivering the right message.
October 18th, 2012 by James Richter
In their early days, blogs got a bad rap.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, the public imagined a typical blogger as a slovenly guy with an untamed beard, probably ornamented with a Cheerio or two, typing out his opinions of the latest Star Wars prequel rumors.
Blogs and bloggers were called immature, profane, and larcenous. A lot of people didn’t even like the word blog. As a portmanteau of “web” and “log,” it sounds more like a combination of “blah” and “ugh.”
Today, our perception of blogging is much different. Once the nemesis of Old Media, blogs now offer a vital voice within the digital domains of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. In fact, there is a total of 128 blogs among those three sites (50, 52, and 26 blogs, respectively).
And businesses have taken to blogs in a big way. A blog gives a brand another way to hone its voice. It can be a medium for employees to connect with customers while giving the company a human face. Blogs can also yield higher search rankings and grow brand awareness.
Oh yes, what a difference a decade can make. Last week, Anthony De Rosa, social media editor of Reuters, summed up how the tables have turned in less than 140 characters:
Making a difference, one blog at a time
And now blogs are contributing to public policy, too. The most recent example is the Federal Reserve Bank’s adoption of nominal GDP (NGDP) targeting. Once something of a fringe-theory, NGDP targeting has entered the mainstream (of economists, anyway), and much of the credit is being given to the blogging efforts of Scott Sumner.
While Sumner holds a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago and is now an economics professor at Bentley University, his influence was not always substantial. But in 2009, he launched a blog, TheMoneyIllusion, in which he has persistently espoused the idea of NGDP targeting.
Here’s a post from the Economist‘s blog, which links to George Mason University economics professor Tyler Cowen’s blog post at Marginal Revolution, which gives credit to Sumner and his blog for this new direction in Fed policy. (That sentence is meant to illustrate the popularity of blogs among very smart people.)
It’s safe to say that blogs have really grown up. They went through their awkward phase in which they were sneered at, distrusted, and often reviled by whole industries. But today the blog is the medium of game-changing ideas and constructive conversations. From the private to the public sector and everywhere in between (journalism), the blog is now an indispensable facilitator of communication that many people can no longer imagine living without.
September 28th, 2012 by Canright Communications
In writing blog posts for clients and ourselves, Canright focuses on five major categories. Using these blogging ideas will not only help you keep the content flowing, it will ensure that the content is diverse as well. Rich content keeps things interesting for your audience and allows your company to generate web traffic while presenting itself as a multidimensional brand.
1. Identify a Trend.
A staple of media reporting is the trends story. A trends post can start with a report on industry surveys in order to show a trend. “Mobile Ecommerce Requires a Strategy, Not a Reaction,” by lyonscg, an ecommerce developer, takes the trend post a step further by telling readers how they can take advantage of the trend.
2. Present a Case Study.
Case studies are the bread-and-butter of marketing communications and blog posts. They are also great ways to gain position in search results. “In Winnetka, Marvin Windows fit right in” shows work done by McCann Window & Exteriors so that readers see the difference new windows make in a home like theirs, as opposed to viewing the photos taken by the window manufacturers, as beautiful as those photos are. Notice, too, that this post gains search position by mentioning the town, Winnetka, the manufacturer, Marvin Windows, and the business, replacement windows.
3. Develop an Idea.
Leaders in their fields develop new ideas and knowledge. In “Principled Capitalism: A Pragmatic Approach to Corporate Governance,” Don Delves, president of The Delves Group, an executive compensation consulting firm, writes about capitalism under attack. Based on his experience at a recent conference, he proposes five principles for capitalism. And since his post touches on five ideas, he sets himself up for five more posts that dive deeper into each point.
4. Round Up the News.
There are times when a story gets a lot of media attention. TechNexus, a collaborative technology space in Chicago, received quite a bit of coverage when Alexis Madrigal, tech writer for The Atlantic, visited Chicago and surveyed its startup scene. I took the opportunity to write a post for TechNexus that wrapped it all up and provided some context. It was one more way for TechNexus to get the news in front of its network. Bursts of coverage don’t come often, so juice them for all they’re worth.
5. Make an Announcement.
Did your company win an award? Hire new talent? Launch a new product? Get a new client? Open a new office? Don’t keep your company’s successes a secret—share them with the world!
Of course, there are many other types of blog posts, too. You can comment on a news story, interview an expert, explain a technique, take a stance on an issue, and more. What other ideas and tips do you have for writing blog posts?
photo: VICTOR HABBICK VISIONS/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
July 31st, 2012 by James Richter
I believe Facebook at its best is a narrative medium. I read stories about people’s lives, about their children, grandchildren, health, aging parents. In following various media, I look forward to the next installment in the unfolding developments in entrepreneurial and technological changes in our culture.
The idea of social media as narrative came from PJ Loughran, CEO, The Distillery, a marketing agency focusing on movies and entertainment, using social media as its primary source of fuel. PJ spoke Wednesday as part of a Social Media Week panel Christina and I attended, called “What’s the Revenue Impact of Social Media,” sponsored by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce at Bull & Bear.
All four panelists had insightful comments on using social media to create business value, and we liked the food and atmosphere at Bull & Bear as well (we’re pictured with owner Luke Stoioff).
As journalism school alumni, Christina and I found PJ’s comments about narrative resonating with our old lessons. And because content marketing continues to grow in use and importance, we are always searching for new ways to help businesses tell engaging stories. “We’re writing a lot more than we were,” he said, constantly thinking about how to keep people engaged in a narrative over time with a series of posts.
“You know, that’s how novels were initially published, serialized in magazines. People couldn’t wait for the next installment,” Christina said to him after the panel. “He brightened right up,” she told me later, listing Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle as examples.
How do you tell a story through social media while keeping people engaged?
The answers are not easy, but they go to the heart of the panel’s primary question, “What’s the Revenue Impact of Social Media?” It lies in the level of audience engagement with the brand, person, organization, idea. It’s how much people participate meaningfully that makes a difference, not how many people are connected.
And for those who are engaged in the narrative, it’s critically important that the message is on target.
Does the narrative connect with who you or your business is? It may seem basic, but the number-one mistake marketers make in social media is delivering a message that doesn’t align with the brand identity or business objectives. This kind of mistake is often the result of a company not thinking through its social media strategy, noted panelist J. Christine Feeley, CEO, Amptopia.com.
So keep an eye on the nuances of the message, and tailor them to the format of each social media channel, advised Zach West, social media manager at Walgreens.
“Create value,” Loughran said. “There’s plenty of noise in the space. Do something good. Make it worth people’s time.”
July 7th, 2012 by James Richter
For a company to succeed in the marketplace, it helps to have a quality product or service. But that is not usually enough to get the maximum number of people to buy it. That’s where marketing, advertising, and public relations agencies step in. They might differ in their methods, but they all share a common goal: To get people to buy what a company is selling. Their jobs are primarily to spread awareness, develop a relationship with the public, and ultimately convert people into customers.
In tackling that seemingly straightforward task, marketers and corporations are accused of turning American culture and public space into a manipulative morass of corporate messages. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way. Marketers can still reach an audience of potential customers without disrespecting them.
Herd is the Word
Few people realize that the founder of public relations was Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays opened his office of “public relations counsel” in New York in 1919. Drawing upon the psychoanalytic research of his uncle as well as other intellectual pioneers in the field of crowd psychology, Bernays was able to manipulate public opinion for the benefit of his clients, which ranged from Lucky Strike to Woodrow Wilson. The award-winning documentary Century of the Self tells the tale of Bernays with fascinating footage of his time and often through the mouth of Bernays himself, who died in 1995 at the age of 103.
While the title of Father of Public Relations sounds honorable and groundbreaking, not everyone would agree that Bernays’s work has benefited the public. Many people would argue just the opposite. The commercializing of American culture clearly traces back to Bernays. There is little difference between his methods and those of today’s so-called marketing gurus: that is, tapping into the human subconscious to influence behavior.
What Have We Done?
Two PBS Frontline documentaries paint a picture of the modern marketinglandscape. “The Merchants of Cool” reveals how far marketers go to get inside the heads of teenagers and explores the implications of the resulting feedback loop between marketers and their target audience. “The Persuaders” describes how new data technology is enhancing the ability of marketers to deliver customized messages to specific segments of their market. While these documentaries were produced in 2001 and 2004, respectively, they demonstrate how Bernays has grown more relevant as demographics swell, disposable incomes inflate, and technologies advance. Pushing emotional buttons remains the priority of marketers, as opposed to delivering rational arguments.
In the decades since Bernays, the public has witnessed a fight for our attentions and affections that continues to grow louder. But what are marketers, advertisers, PR firms, and their clients to do when volume no longer has impact, because their audiences are either covering their ears or only hearing a monolithic roar of white noise?
Find Out What It Means to Me
First, you must respect your audience. They are intellectually curious humans who are well aware of the fight for their hard-earned dollars.
So give them something they want. And if you can’t realistically give them something (because you don’t know who or where they are), produce something that they will seek out and find. This is inbound marketing, and it’s growing in importance even as it flies in the face of Bernays’s unflattering opinion of the human race as an animalistic herd.
For some content ideas of your own, look to Scott Aughtmon, a business strategist who recently shared his list of “21 Types of Content We Crave” on the Content Marketing Institute blog. (The list format is also an effective, easy-to-digest method of presenting content.) The themes he presents can apply to a range of media, from blogs to infographics to e-newsletters to tweets. Yes, all of them are designed to trigger an emotional response, but there is nothing wrong with that as long as it’s done with integrity and respect.
To see how it works today, take a look at this simple update of a quote from David Ogilvy, via the Copyblogger. There is more information than ever out there, but the majority of it is of poor quality, if not misinformation altogether. Quality information is cherished and shared.
The demand for useful, informative, engaging content is growing not in spite of, but because of the ubiquity of advertising. Taking the time to produce valuable content for your target audience will help spread awareness, develop relationships, and ultimately convert people into customers. It’s the new way to achieve the same old goals.
June 25th, 2012 by James Richter
Canright Guide to Pitchfork 2012 – PDF download
Canright Guide to Pitchfork 2012 – PDF download
We at Canright Communications love discovering new music and sharing it with our friends, family, and business partners. Music can open our minds to unfamiliar emotions, different cultures, and new possibilities. We’re often listening to music while writing and designing new communications solutions for our clients. It can help us get in the zone.
Pitchfork has served as a wellspring of emerging artists for over a decade. Founded and headquartered in Chicago (just like us), the former start-up is now the leading voice in independent music. From their incisive, well-crafted reviews to their newly launched YouTube channel to the upcoming annual music festival July 13-15, Pitchfork is simultaneously criticizing, curating, and collaborating with musicians in a range of genres (and even helping to coin new ones).
While looking at the music schedule of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, we couldn’t help but notice that the set times and stages were presented in a format that is less than ideal. It’s easiest to plan out your personal schedule–and improvise while at the fest–if you have the acts lined up side-by-side. Most major fests do this, but Pitchfork does not.
Well, we just couldn’t resist, so we created a very basic schedule that you are free to download, print, mark up, and take with you to this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. It has times, stages, and even some aftershows clearly laid out to help you make the best of the fest.
If you haven’t gotten a ticket, day passes are still for sale.
Enjoy the music, stay hydrated, and have fun!
Canright Guide to Pitchfork 2012 – PDF download
There’s been a lot of excitement surrounding the use of mobile marketing in the upcoming 2012 presidential election. Apparently Obama did it really well in 2008, when he, like, totally sent a bunch text messages to people.
The new frontiers in political mobile marketing are geo-targeted mobile ads, mobile video, and mobile ecommerce. (If you think I’m missing any, please tell me in the comments.) Each of these tools has specific benefits: Geo-targeting allows for the delivery of highly relevant messaging, mobile video is great for engagement, and mobile ecommerce can facilitate extra fundraising through merchandise and donations. All of these functions have the potential to go a long way in supporting the efforts of the 2012 presidential candidates.
But as a copywriter, I’m interested in the big idea that these new technologies can leverage. So far, I haven’t seen any from the Obama or Romney camps.
It could be that, rather than stepping back to look at the larger picture, many marketers are investing time and money into the newest platforms, simply for the sake of being on the cutting-edge.
Remember how awesome it used to be to reveal a new ringtone every once in a while, just to get a reaction out of your friends, or complete strangers? Maybe you don’t have to, because you still do it. Ringtones might be annoying in a lot of contexts—the Senate floor, concerts, places of worship—but they do say something about who we are.
For example, the other day I was at the grocery store when I heard a Super Mario Bros. power-up sound emit from somewhere down the cereal aisle. It was an employee’s phone. Right then I knew that he was into classic video games in a big way.
If that scene had taken place ten years ago, Grocery Store Guy would have received a phone call, and his ringtone might have been the Super Mario Bros. underground theme. But he received a text, which is why a short burst of sound is all he needs.
There is no doubt that texting is getting more important. Its rise in popularity has beaten out phone calls for many people, especially younger ones. For them, the difference between a ringtone five to ten years ago and one today is its purpose. It used to be for phone calls; now it’s for texts.
There must be a way to leverage these text message ringtones, or text tones.
Right now, Obama’s pretty darn good Al Green impression is the only ringtone that’s available on the Obama 2012 campaign site. They give it away for free, and for good reason: The delirious cheers from the audience are louder than his voice. This clip makes for a terrible ringtone, whether for a text or call.
Romney has no ringtones on his site. Actually, from a search perspective, he has worse than nothing—negative search results. For the query “Romney ringtone,” the only links that pop up are news stories about a ringtone that Rick Perry made to criticize Romney during the Republican primary. The ringtone is a recording of Mitt Romney saying, “I like being able to fire people.” I’m only taking the Washington Post’s word for it, however, because the Perry page that once hosted the download has been disabled.
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Imagine this: You’re standing in the check-out line at the grocery store. While gazing at the tabloids and wondering if you should toss something sweet in your cart (Dark chocolate’s good for you, right?), you hear a familiar message that sounds strangely out of place: I’m Barack Obama, and I approve this message.
“What the heck was that?” you wonder. You see a woman behind you in line pull out her phone. Slowly, it all comes together. Barack Obama just approved that lady’s text message.
This campaign could do two things: spread awareness and drive revenue.
- Anyone within ten feet of one of these ringtones is going to hear it. People who hear it will likely talk about it and possibly get one for themselves—maybe for the opposing campaign (if available), but who cares? The one that does it first will have the advantage.
- Mobile ecommerce platforms could make purchasing and downloading the ringtone seamless. For most Obama or Romney supporters who own a smart phone, 99 cents would be a small price to pay to show their support and give a small donation.
The other new tools of SMS marketing could be used, too. To help the campaign attract early momentum, geo-targeted texts could give away the ringtone for free. A mobile video could be distributed featuring Obama or Romney explaining that they approve the messages of all Americans. They believe in free speech, want every voice to be heard, yada yada yada, now download this ringtone.
Obama text tones and Romney text tones could be this election’s new political yard signs or bumper stickers. It’d be all-out partisanship in the streets, shopping malls, our workplaces, and dinner tables.
Maybe this isn’t such a great idea after all…