How to write a holiday letter (2008 Remix)

It’s that time of year again. If the sales and the Christmas tree lots weren’t already giving me hints, I’d know because StatCounter indicates a surge of hits to my 2006 post, Tips for Writing a Holiday Letter.

Here’s a quick tip from it:

#4. Talk briefly about why you’re writing the letter. “It’s wonderful to take a few minutes to reflect about the year and share some highlights with friends,” is the type of opening you’re looking for. Don’t apologize. If you feel compelled to open with something like “We hate to bore you all with another long, stilted holiday missive,” you shouldn’t be writing one.

Want more inspiration? Go for it!

Using a blog to promote and organize a conference

This excellent article on the Commoncraft blog does a good job of answering the questions I’m often asked by clients and prospective clients about using a blog to promote and organize a conference.

One-way blogging of conference announcements is low effort — and low return. Lee Lefever recommends creating a conference blog that enlists the talents of key presenters and invites discussion via comments. It’s a sure-fire way to attract attention, and to energize the audience in advance of the actual event.

But, as his post points out, conference organizers need to be willing to deal with the controversies that can emerge.

Quick reads

Just as many social networkers enjoy the challenge of compressing their observations into a 140-word tweet, many writers have become intrigued with the power of a story told in just a few words. While flash fiction can be as short as a sentence, as a rule it tops out at 1,000 words.

This blog post, “A Flash of Inspiration,” provides a good guide to the flash fiction genre.

I preferred the topless meeting

The Oxford University Press’s choice for 2008 word of the year, hypermiling, left me cold, but I sure liked some of the finalists and shortlisted words:

frugalista – person who leads a frugal lifestyle, but stays fashionable and healthy by swapping clothes, buying second-hand, growing own produce, etc.

topless meeting – a meeting in which the participants are barred from using their laptops, Blackberries, cellphones, etc.

and the more familiar

link bait – content on a website that encourages [baits] a user to place links to it from other websites

tweet – a short message sent via the Twitter service, using a cellphone or other mobile device.

Twitter: Beware the long tail and what it’s attached to

There’s no question but that journalism has in recent decades shifted its focus from news (chosen for news value) to “infotainment” (chosen for entertainment value). And the journalism world made this questionable move awkwardly, trying to handle fast-paced, sexy content via a creaky, stiff medium.

Then along came websites, blogs, and other social media communications platforms to show them how it should be done. One of the beauties of social media is that the “infotainment” is being provided by extremely clever and articulate infotainers. (You know who you are, folks.)

Everyone wants to get in the game now, and the web abounds with articles and posts about “how to” do great social media writing. Not surprisingly, some of this online literature is aimed at journalists trying to catch up with and get onto the bandwagon. An excellent addition to this genre is “Twitter to journalists: Here’s how it’s done” posted on the site eat sleep publish. The post collects “tips for journalists using social media” that blogger Monica Guzman solicited from her online colleagues. The tips (Twittered, of course) were short and to the point.

I’m honored to have been one of the people whose advice appears in the collection. And now I want to “out” myself as the contributer who offered up the most hard-line, old-time, journalistic advice. I wrote:

“NEVER relax the traditional standards you used for verifying facts and getting both sides’ points of view!”

It was a bit embarrassing to see all the other Twitterers’ tips about savvy use of the latest social media sites when there I stood, effectively pounding my oh-so-sensible shoe on the digital desktop. (Yes, I know what era that reference comes from.)

But I want to stand by my stodgy comment, and expand on it a bit here. Particularly because I just spent some time arguing the other side this morning, urging a client with a business blog to cast off the stilted, detailed, boring language of press releases and adopt a reader-focused tone.

Blogging and Twittering are infotainment. As infotainment, they only need to present one side of the picture. Many great posts (and Tweets) are unabashed pieces of advocacy. These pieces are great because they’re full of new information (or bring together information in a new and provocative way).

However…you’ll notice that the bloggers and Twitterers who consistently write great stuff have a reputation for accuracy (because they’re verifying facts). And, if you get into a discussion with them via comments or email, you soon discover that they research not only the side of the issue they choose to present, but the other side as well. They know what they’re up against before they hit “Publish.”

By knowing both sides of the issue before you write, you not only occupy the moral high ground — you also prevent yourself from sounding like a horse’s ass. (And I don’t mean the political blog, which is rather wonderful.) In the world of Twitter, horses’ asses tend to lose followers; it can get very messy if you follow too closely behind a horse.

So, I stand by my advice for journalists aspiring to Twitterificness, and hope that the social media darlings who haven’t already figured it out will consider giving it a try as well — if just to keep their Manolo Blahniks and Skechers pristine.

Take control of your Mac, your WiFi — and your turkey

Take Control ebooks is giving away a copy of Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner with every technology title sold.

The sale is on from now through Thanksgiving Day — since it’s an ebook, you can download it at the last minute if you need to figure out how to make great gravy (or consult Appendix C: Last-Minute Thanksgiving). But it’s worth getting it a week or two in advance to take advantage of all of Joe Kissell’s great advice on planning Thanksgiving, from brining a turkey to making creamy mashed potatoes.