Theft by headline — and the $6 mouse that roared

Illustrations have become increasingly important as people find blog content through image-friendly links on Facebook or online periodicals like Seattle Women Daily.

It’s ironic that today’s issue of Kathy Gill’s Seattle Women Daily leads off with a story about importance of great headline writing. That story (a blog post by Nick O’Neill) explains how a New York Times’ article with a run-of-the-mill headline was ignored while the Forbes summary of the same story garnered 680,000 page views. The difference, notes O’Neill, was that the Forbes headline writer “cut out the crap and got to the real shocker of the story.” (You’ll have to read O’Neill’s post to see how that was done.)

The irony was that the same issue of Seattle Women Daily also has a story I wrote, reporting on another site’s reporting of a subscribers-only Nature article about a breakthrough discovery of the mechanism by which exercise may increase longevity. What distinguished my summary from the pack, and won it a place leading the Health section, was not the headline I wrote, but the photo I used —  of a lab mouse who appears to be doing yoga.

The $6 iStock yoga mouse

I’m a firm believer in the value of photos for enhancing the readability and linkability of a blog post. Illustrations have become increasingly important as people find blog content less through search engines or news readers and more through image-friendly links on Facebook or online periodicals like Seattle Women Daily.

This low-res mouse photo, from iStock, was more expensive than the usual photos I buy to illustrate my blog posts — $6 instead of $2. But, oh, so totally worth it!

The truth about book contracts

Kat Richardson’s insider’s view of book contracts is a must read.

For those of you who plan to publish a book, Kat Richardson’s insider’s view of book contracts is a must read.

It includes step-by-step advice for how to read a contract, and who to hire to read (or renegotiate) a contract for you.

While Kat is specifically talking to writers of genre fiction, I recognized quite a few elements that pertain to nonfiction contracts as well, including writing-for-hire.

It’s a long, substantive post. Grab a cup of coffee, and start reading.

Tweets that make me want to scream

On Twitter there’s just no excuse for mind-numbing teasers, drive-by rants, and self-congratulatory re-runs.

Subject + Verb (+ Object) + Hyperlink

Is it really that hard to write a decent tweet?

The way I look at it, tweets follow the same basic communications rules that journalism does:

1. Since they’re public, tweets are written in language most people can understand. If they aren’t, they read like a private Twitter message that the author, for some reason, decided to foist on a head-scratching public. When those people stop scratching their heads, they’ll tap the Unfollow button.

2. Effective tweets are usually either a news story, a reaction story, or a provocative question.

News story: “Man bites LOLcat” or “Gingrich supporters keep fundraising.”

Reaction story: “Seattle LOLcat owner bites back with $2 million lawsuit” or “Gingrich loss paves the way for a secret right-wing candidate.”

Question: “So, how many people will be lining up to buy the heavily hyped new [name of gadget]?” or “Am I the only one stuck waiting at a Metro bus stop this morning in .025 inches of snow?”

A big “thank you” to folks like Chris Pirillo, Joe Hage, Steve Sorbo, Green Ronin, and others who follow these rules and whose tweets frequently get me to click through.

A loud hiss to people whose tweets make me want to scream, cry, kick, and give up on Twitter. For example:

  • The clueless teaser: “I thought my updated and interesting blog post was worth sharing with you guys.” (Blog post about what? A tweet that sounds exactly like a spam blog comment.)
  • The spam teaser: “Whoa! Sneak peek at the specs for the iPhone 5.” (This one has a link to a site that sells off-brand iPhone cases.)
  • The stoned hipster chime-in retweet: “Really? Just sayin’, dudes.”
  • The self-congratulatory resume tweet: “So excited about getting the Dingbat Award just a month after my Zapf Award and a year after my Helvetica Prize. Thanks, guys!” (No link. Note that the news portion, sans re-runs, could have been perfectly tasteful as a retweet from the Dingbat Society’s original Twitter announcement.)
  • The drive-by rant, without link: “Stupid idiots! They. Have. No. Effing. Idea.” (And, boy, neither do we.)

For the UW PR class

This evening I had the pleasure of doing a presentation on social media for public relations at Lee Schoentrup’s class at the University of Washington. This is the fourth year I’ve presented, and each year I’m astounded at

• how rapidly the field of social media is changing

• how much more sophisticated social media tools have become

• and how the need for a social media strategy remains key to any social media efforts

I’m attaching the PDF Anderson_UW_preso for students in the class who’d like access to the notes. Others are welcome to read the PDF, but keep in mind it’s not for re-publication or use by others.

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