Is traditional advertising (TV, radio, billboard, print) dead in the age of social media? The answer, according to author and entrepreneur, Gary Vayne...moreIs traditional advertising (TV, radio, billboard, print) dead in the age of social media? The answer, according to author and entrepreneur, Gary Vaynerchuk, is no. However, in his book “The Thank You Economy” (TYE) he makes a very compelling argument that companies who don't adapt to flourishing social media sources such as Facebook and Twitter will have “fossilized” because “they didn't think it was worth the effort...” So what is missing in today's market? Vaynerchuk argues that what is primarily missing is caring. Genuine care for the customer. He argues that genuine caring goes a long way to satisfying your customers and to getting repeat business – loyal followers, promoters, enthusiasts and customers.
I had the opportunity to see Vaynerchuk speak at Social Mix 2012 in Toronto and one thing that really stuck out in my mind was when he discussed billboard ads. He asked how many people were actually reading billboard ads? The answer was a resounding “Next to no one.” “You know why?” he asked the audience. The answer: It's because we're all looking down glued to our cell phones. He said that not only were we not paying attention to billboard ads but we weren't even looking at the road. I couldn't help but think how true that statement is. In an age when we can PVR our favourite TV shows and fast forward through all the commercials how does a smart marketer reach his customers? To start with the answer is to stop ignoring social media, to embrace it and stop thinking of it as a “fad.” Vaynerchuk argues that many companies don't create Facebook pages and Twitter pages out of fear that someone might say something negative about their brand. But rather than fear negative criticism Vaynerchuk tells the reader that brands can respond to the criticism: ie. let the customer know that their complaint has been heard and if there's anything the brand can do to correct the situation they will. In other words, be on top of the criticism. Because guess what happens if you don't engage? If consumers aren't lodging that complaint on a brand's Twitter feed or Facebook wall chances are they're telling their friends about it. And a single consumer has a far greater reach today than ever before due to social media. They can reach thousands of people. So why not do damage control before any actual serious damage is done to your brand's reputation? It just makes sense. As he writes, “...the complaining customer who uses social media is a better customer to have than a silent one. You can talk to a customer who bothers to complain.”
Vaynerchuk isn't telling brands to ditch traditional media but rather to devote some serious time, effort, and budget to incorporating social media into an advertising campaign. But it's not as simple as slapping a Twitter and Facebook logo on the bottom of the company website. It is about actual true engagement with consumers and actual true caring. Vaynerchuk explains that the TYE principle of caring takes significant time. He writes: “Embarking on one-to-one customer engagement offers significant long-term rewards, but the company will also experience immediate benefits—greater brand awareness, stronger brand loyalty, increased word of mouth, improved understanding of customer needs and better, faster consumer feedback—and suffer very few drawbacks, if any.” But it is not an easy or lazy approach to business. According to Vaynerchuk, “Real, lasting friendships take emotional investment...” He writes that “social media relationships and personal relationships work exactly the same way – you get out of them what you put into them.”
But, he warns, people can detect fakers when it comes to caring. Vaynerchuk highlights this point when he writes, “The difference between the performance of a company populated by people who really care and one populated by people who care because they're paid to is the difference between Bruce Springsteen and Milli Vanilli.” In other words, the difference is day and night.
Vaynerchuk analyzes in detail success and failure in the TYE. For example, Vaynerchuk looks at the success of the “Old Spice” campaign. It saw an initial spike in sales. But the campaign failed when it did not follow up with the many consumers that the campaign engaged in 2010; the Old Spice account only tweeted twenty three times two months after “Old Spice ambushed Twitter.” And “not one of the tweets talks or interacts with the actual person or user of the brand. Ad Age published an article that begins “Old Spice Fades Into History....” Vaynerchuk maintains that to him it appears that “Old Spice is a sprinter stuck in a traditional marketing mind-set, not a marathon runner living in the Thank You Economy.” The TYE “rewards marathon runners, not sprinters.” The Old Spice campaign is just one of many interesting examples of how a “brand can sabotage a great social media campaign.”
I would really recommend this book to anyone interested in improving their business or just as a general interest book. Again, it isn't about ditching traditional media for social media it's really about intermingling the two for ultimate consumer engagement and brand loyalty. Vaynerchuk writes that he “faced constant skepticism and condescension” and that he got used to it “a long time ago.” But he maintains that he's “not scared to defend and debate the value of this emerging shift in the Web, because “I told you so” may be one of the most delicious flavors in the world.” However, he maintains genuine humility when he writes, “Now if I'm wrong, I'll deserve the 'told you so,' but I won't be sorry that I said my piece.” He maintains that “[h]aving a strong vision is important for your personal brand.” He writes, “Too many people are scared to share their visions and thoughts in public or even in boardrooms” and that “[h]aving a strong vision is important for your personal brand.” He advises the reader not to afraid to “say what you think. Ever. That said, don't forget to listen, either.” I think it's good advice for us all. (less)
This review refers to the 2011 copy of “Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little” by Christopher Johnson, PhD. It was printed by W.W. Norton & Compan...moreThis review refers to the 2011 copy of “Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little” by Christopher Johnson, PhD. It was printed by W.W. Norton & Company Inc.
Here's an excerpt from the book jacket: “Once the province of professional wordsmiths, the art of the short message now is not only available to everyone but also increasingly important to our personal and professional lives.” I picked up the book because I wanted to learn how to tweet better.
I found the book incredibly interesting. It was a bit more technical than I thought it would be, though I should have expected it to be since it was written by a linguist expert. Johnson is a a verbal branding consultant. He works at a top naming firm that developed the names Pentium, PowerBook, BlackBerry among others.
The book starts out by explaining what “Big Style” is. Essentially our culture “conflates grammar and style with correctness because, until recently, most people wrote only when they were being formally evaluated: in school, in cover letters for job applications, and perhaps at work.” (p. 13) We really only think of language when we are worrying about getting it wrong. According to Johnson, style guides are essentially negative because they play on our insecurities. Language then is a source of potential humiliation rather than a source of pleasure.
Microstyle is quite different from “Big Style” in that it is really about “language at play” -- even when it's employed at work. We use it all the time – whether it's for the purpose of coming up with a business name, or a baby name, or just anything that has a “nice ring to it.”
Johnson maintains that Graphic design and copywriting are perhaps the most highly advanced form of microstyle. They “grew up together in the print ad, as developed by the creative team – an artist and a wordsmith working together to come up with a creative ad concept.”
The “story” of microstyle really got started with the development of mass media in the 19th century. As an example Johnson tells us that author Oscar Wilde was a prominent figure in microstyle. The author was known as much for his witty epigrams as for his more “standard literary output.” For another literary example of microstyle at work look no further than William Carlos William's sparse poem “The Red Wheelbarrow.”
One might assume that the short messages are a result of an ADD culture but the author writes that microstyle is rather about simple economics. He calls it “metaphorical economics” (He makes reference to the book “The Attention Economy. Soundbite Culture: The death of discourse in a Wired World.”)
Because the web removes “economic, editorial, and temporal barrier[s] to mass publication and distribution...it is creating a landscape of verbal messages that's competitive in the extreme.” We read differently on the web than we do when we sit down with a book in hand. Johnson explains that on the web we “scan, skim, and click around” in an effort to make sure we aren't wasting our attention on things that don't deserve it. Microstyle is about grabbing the reader's attention.
Micromessages often feature the formal traits of poetry: rhyme, alliteration, assonance, structural parallelism. Micromessages also employ metonymy which evokes “complex situations via simple details” such as meaning, sounds, structure and social context.
Microstyle's medium is “informal language, and its success is determined by passing attention and memory in an environment where countless micromessages compete.” So what makes a micromessage successful? Often it is the very same thing that makes a comment stand out in a conversation: unusual perspicacity or wit (p.209)
Johnson explains that a microstyle message isn't a “treasure chest full of meaning” but rather that it is a message that “starts a mental journey and meaning is the destination.” It isn't a story but it hints at a story.
Microstyle employs metaphor. Metaphor brings big concepts down to a manageable scale. It makes the abstract real and the complex simple. Metaphor “enables us to use ideas that are easy to think about as a way to understand more difficult ideas.” Metaphor is a staple of microstyle because it packs a lot of idea into a little message. Metaphor usually involves a kind of “implicit comparison”. Sometimes micromessages make their comparisons more explicit.
Johnson discusses good metaphors as opposed to “bad” metaphors. He writes that a bad metaphor is one that either leads to undesirable inferences or fails to illuminate the target. A good metaphor leads people to make the inferences you want them to make. Often we're told not to mix metaphors but Johnson maintains that metaphors are in fact mixed all the time to great affect (p.100).
A great example of microstyle is a quote by Ernest Hemingway: “Baby Shoes. For Sale. Never Worn.” This short little phrase raises so many questions for the reader. Why were the shoes never worn? Is the seller desperate for money and so on. Hemingway's “baby shoes” story inspired what are now called 6 word memoirs. The book “Microstyle” is replete with great examples of thoughtful 6 word memoirs.
The book focuses a lot on branding as well. Whether you want to create your own personal brand or you're just interested in finding out why some slogans and brand names “stick” and others don't this book is an excellent resource. There is even a section on coining new words -- whether you're doing it just for fun, or because you're trying to find a name for your business or URL this book will teach you how to coin words that stick.
The book is filled with humour as well. It's not all serious linguistics. For example, here's a quote about the “most ridiculous euphemism” Johnson has encountered as of late that being the term “pre-reclined” used by Spirit Airlines. He writes that the term is used “to describe the non-adjustable seats in its new Airbus A320s. Just imagine a flight attendant dealing with a confused customer asking how to make his seat go down: 'Sir, our seats are pre-reclined, which means you're already comfortable!'” Ridiculous, right? There are plenty of examples of brand failures in the book and success stories too --from little brands to big brands like Saatchi & Saatchi to Apple computers.
One section I found interesting was when Johnson explains why Internet flamewars almost always degenerate into nitpicking about spelling and punctuation. I'm sure you're familiar with the term “flame war” but if not it is essentially an argument on the internet that usually begins with a negative or controversial comment and spurns many negative follow up comments.
Johnson explains that the flamewar “online obsession” with grammar and style might be a sign of “the deep anxiety about communication that the web creates.” When “conversing” with people on the web we often know little about them beyond what they convey through their text so therefore the text is an easy target, an easy means to knock down someone's argument. For example, “how do you know anything about microstyle anyway? You misspelled the author's name!” It's an interesting absurd and childish phenomenon but maybe Johnson is correct that there's more to it – that we really do have deep anxiety about communication on the web.
I totally recommend this book for everyone interested in language, personal branding, corporate branding, semiotics or just looking to make their tweets more attention-grabbing. It's also a fun read. Check out the website at Microstyle.Org and Christopher Johnson's blog TheNameInspector.com Enjoy! (less)
Review--The Elements of Story: Field Notes on Nonfiction Writing
This book is a must-read for anyone interested in writing nonfiction or looking to imp...moreReview--The Elements of Story: Field Notes on Nonfiction Writing
This book is a must-read for anyone interested in writing nonfiction or looking to improve their nonfiction skills. It was written by Francis Flaherty, an editor at the New York Times for seventeen years. The book is heralded by the Library Journal as “an essential read for both freelance writers and students of journalism.” This book covers it all--from adding a human face to your story to add impact to nailing down just the right title. This is a book I am sure I will keep around for reference.
To start, my only real criticism of the book is that there isn’t more advice and examples. Flaherty is a wealth of knowledge and someone I’d love to sit down with and chat about writing. He makes tips about nonfiction writing accessible to the average reader and it goes without saying that the New York Times is something more than just a newspaper; it stands for superb writing and a rich history. It is the standard in writing. Flaherty truly is an expert authority on nonfiction writing.
Flaherty breaks his book down into 50 chapters. Each one highlights weak writing and provides tips to strengthen your writing whether you’re struggling with a weak introduction, title, quote, or more. There’s advice for everyone in here even those who think they don’t need advice. Ok particularly those who know they don’t need advice.
If you’re struggling with the interview process his advice is to “Remember that people don’t talk in straight lines, especially about emotions. Ask your questions in different ways, and let your subjects meander in their answers, and you may be surprised where you both end up.” This is a great tip and dead on if you spend any time thinking about it. People (interview subjects and otherwise) don’t think in straight lines either. They stop and start and go back to the beginning again and jump forward. But it’s the writer’s job to nail down quotes and references. And take it seriously, he advises.
He tells the reader to treat the interview – what he calls “the writer’s formal act of listening” with the “deference” it deserves. He advises against parachuting into an interview “with a predetermined set of questions from which you will not be moved.” In other words, he advises, do not be Bill O’Reilly. For those not familiar with American television, Bill O’Reilly is an American figure on the Fox TV network and he is known for not shutting up. The result is we hear very little from the interviewee. Flaherty is not a fan. He advises us not only to not be rigid in our questioning but to “let your source have the floor; Let him wander around…” Moreover, he explains that readers are often more attuned “to the words of real people, the people the writer is writing about, than they are to the writer’s [words].” This is yet another reason to listen carefully to your source.
Why are quotes so important? Well one reason Flaherty gives us is that the reader perks up upon seeing quotation marks. The “marks signify that a new person has arrived at the party, that, to try a different image, the story has switched drivers.”
Paying attention to an interviewee’s actions is also important. Flaherty writes that “watching a person in action aids accuracy; the account is not filtered through the speaker’s possibly faulty memory or language skills or colored by his self-interest. He advises the writer to look “until you see something new, for the writer is the watcher of the world.” But as watchers of the world some writers have fallen asleep at the wheel so to speak. They have “abandoned” the role. Flaherty writes: “They bound about just as fast as their readers and consequently offer only wafer-thin forgettable descriptions.”
On the topic of subjects, Flaherty explains that a subject is not a story but rather it is many possible stories. “To write is to choose, which is to exclude,” he explains. He makes reference to this point several times in the book so I took note. Another way of putting it is a story isn’t so much about what you put in but rather what you leave out. He loathes heavy, wordy sentences. He writes: “The further a topic is from the heart of the story, the fewer words it merits.” If a main idea is set out in three paragraphs Flaherty advises the qualifications should consist of roughly one paragraph.
Flaherty provides the reader with tips on how to spice up one’s writing. He advises to alternate between general statements and specific ones in order to “bestow a sense of motion” to the piece. Of the two jobs a writer must do – make a story move, and describe and explain—“movement is the more important.” John Gardner called this “profluence” -- the “sense that things are moving, getting somewhere and moving forward.” Of the many things the writer can do to give the story a sense of motion one that sticks out is “made-up action” (yes non-fiction writers can make up action). Another is the “mix” (which means to vary the rhythm and structure of your sentences so that your writing will “grow perky.”) One way to vary the rhythm is the back and forth – the “alternation of opposite elements.” According to William E. Blundell, it is the swinging from the “abstract to the concrete, from the general to the particular, from the mural to the miniature.”
Let’s go back to the beginning for a moment and take a look at lead sentences. Flaherty explains that the first few paragraphs of a book may not be make or break because book readers know “the power of a book is cumulative; they are in it for the long haul.” Unlike book writing, in nonfiction the lead is absolutely crucial in feature articles and essays. Its job, “never a minor one, is to draw the reader over the threshold.” Leads must make every word count and leads must “charm, even rivet.” “Fact” leads, for instance are often “spurned in feature writing but if it is a fact that prompts the reader curiosity, the feature writer should try it.”
Have you ever read an article and wondered where it was going? You’re not alone. Flaherty explains that “setting paragraphs” are important because a reader soon feels skittish in an unplaced tale. He likens this experience to a horse “with blinders.” When a writer changes direction abruptly “the reader gets…discombobulated.”
So how does the writer smoothen the ride? According to the book one standard solution is to use a transition, “a bridge” that connects one section of an article to the next. Other methods consist of using typographical devices: subheads; bullets; skipped lines; chapter breaks. But the best way to avoid “swervy trips” is to lay out the story—to plan a route so that the curves are “gentle, not sharp.” Flaherty advises the reader that “smart story planning minimizes the need for transitions…” The reader is advised to make the transitions (also called “stitches”) short and that the more seamless a story is the better. Another method to make a neat stitch is word repetition but Flaherty advises not to be too wordy with transitions.
What about the summary of an article? Flaherty weighs against using a “summary kicker” (the “kicker” being the end of the piece.) According to William Zinsser, author of “On Writing Well” a summary kicker “signals to the reader that you are about to repeat in compressed form what you have already said in detail.” Thus it ends up sounds like a lecture which is appropriate in academic writing but not nonfiction writing.
According to “Field notes on Writing” the kicker should be a surprise, a twist flourish. It should hint at “high ambitions.” Why are kickers so important? You guessed it-- it’s because they are the end of a story and the end can linger in the reader’s memory. Flaherty suggests some good “kicker” ideas: a compelling quote; a spellbinding image; revisiting the person or the scene that started the pieces. The kicker “like the lead is short and shorn of all the essentials.” Kickers “love commas, periods and other braking devices….[they] coax the reader to dwell on the dramatic, meaningful words, and [guide] the story to a graceful, not screeching halt.”
At the end of the book Flaherty takes the reader on a journey to find the perfect title. He shows us how to narrow down possible titles and how to avoid corny wordplay.
I have only touched the surface of the book in this short review. There’s much to be learned from this book whether you’re a beginner nonfiction writer or a seasoned veteran. There’s an excellent “sources” section where you’re sure to find more useful writing advice.
I was encouraged by something Flaherty wrote in the afterword: “Go find the stuff you love to death. When you find it, many wondrous things will happen. Time will fly. Work will become play. You will feel stoked. If you are prey to self-consciousness and general writerly heebie-jeebies, they will fade or vanish. Of course, the room you walk into may be the wrong one. But you can just walk out, nothing lost, and try a different door. If you are in love with writing (and not just with the idea of writing), there is almost certainly such a door, and it is waiting for you.” (less)
This review of “Little Bird of Heaven” by Joyce Carol Oates refers to the 2009 Paperback Copyright version by HarperCollins Publishers.
This is the sto...moreThis review of “Little Bird of Heaven” by Joyce Carol Oates refers to the 2009 Paperback Copyright version by HarperCollins Publishers.
This is the story of a young wife and mother, Zoe Kruller, who is found brutally murdered. The police target two suspects: Zoe's estranged husband – Delray and Zoe's long time lover, Eddy Diehl. It is a story of longing, attraction and revulsion between Krista (Diehl's daughter) and Aaron (Zoe's son.)
Both Aaron and Krista's fascination with each other begin early on in the novel. Aaron believes that Krista's father murdered his mother. Oates links sexual lust with violence in a dark, vivid, disturbing yet realistic way.
In one scene, Krista has nearly overdosed on illicit drugs when Aaron finds her. Krista believes that he saved her and that he loves her. He brings her to his aunt Viola's house. Krista -- in a very drugged state is trying to wash up in the bathroom. Aunt Viola berates Aaron for bringing “that Diehl girl” to their home. When Aaron is alone in the bathroom with Krista he begins to choke her and he is sexually aroused. He imagines all the sexual things he would do to her if Viola weren't downstairs. He grinds his erect penis against Krista's backside as she leans over the sink and he comes in his pants. Throughout the novel sexual desire is constantly linked with pain and violence.
At the end of the novel, when Aaron and Krista re-unite for one evening of drunken “love-making” Aaron is described as roughly shoving Krista against the side of the car. “Suddenly our hands fell on each other. I had hold of the man I'd been wanting to pummel just now, I was clutching and desperate... he'd taken hold of my head in both his hands and he kissed me open-mouthed. We were gnawing at each other's mouths, a sexual frenzy seemed to sweep over us.” (p. 432) Krista feels that the sex is very impersonal for Aaron. She concludes: “There can never be equality, in sexual love.”
Aside from sexual lust and pain Oates explores the enduring effects of murder on a family. Krista Diehl is certain her father did not murder Zoe. Her brother, Ben, is certain that he did and it tears at their relationship to the point where at the end of the novel they only see each other once a year.
Zoe's brutal murder nearly breaks her son, Aaron. He is the one who finds her dead – strangled in her bed.
This book is in part about lost innocence. The children are forced to deal with alcoholism, drug abuse and Zoe's murder. They are all forced to grow up quickly. Krista's innocence is quickly lost. She is just a child in the scene where she's holed up in a hotel room with her father. Krista sees her father's gun. Her internal thoughts are: “But daddy would not hurt me, Daddy loves me.” “Daddy would not hurt himself, if I am here.” (p.228)
Later on in the novel, as an adult Krista says: “Pain was a legacy I knew, and accepted.” She dreams of her dead father. This passage is typical Oates – lyrical, painful and poignant. “Often I dream of him – Edward Diehl. Maybe always every night. As you dream of something knotted and gnarled in the region of your heart. As you dream of a musical chord repeated to the point of madness. As you dream of the unknowable fact of your own death. As the city of Sparta had become, in my memory, a mute, physical sensation that made my heart contract with emotion. Back there.” (p. 395) The characters are haunted by the adults in the novel and by each other. Krista makes a choice not to let the pain swallow her whole. She moves to a city several hours away. The only one who remains behind in Sparta is Aaron.
Krista says: “In Sparta I learned as a girl: you play the cards you've been dealt. In this case, Krista Diehl is the cards I've been dealt, and the cards I will have to play” (p. 393)
Sparta itself is a sort of character in the novel. Oates brings to life “Sparta, New York, in that hilly region at the western edge of the Adirondacks.” Sparta is at once home but also the site of tragedy, mystery and pain. Sparta is described as the “doomed city on the Black River.” Sparta is referred to often. Krista cannot imagine “the remainder of [her] life, in Sparta on the Black River, Herkimer County, New York.”
When Aaron and Krista are briefly re-united at the end of the novel, in reference to Aaron she thinks, And it was an insult to him...I'd left Sparta and I'd left him... Drunk, Aaron says that he wants her to come back to Sparta to live with him. This thought is unfathomable to Krista. She can never go back. She fears Aaron would grow tired of her and she would end up just like her mother “waiting” for her father's headlights at night on the ceiling of the bedroom. She flees the hotel room she shared with Aaron while he is still asleep. She does not look back.
This is a novel that will linger in your memory long after you've read the last page. Whether you are an avid Oates reader or have never read any of her writing I recommend this book. (less)
This was the second Danielle Steel book I've ever read -- the first one was the tragic story of her son's suicide. This was the first romance book I'v...moreThis was the second Danielle Steel book I've ever read -- the first one was the tragic story of her son's suicide. This was the first romance book I've ever read. I am interested in pursuing romance writing and was pretty shocked at the quality of the writing. It seems like it's geared towards a grade 7 reading level as opposed to adults. I kept wondering when it would improve but quickly realized it wouldn't. I sort of freaked a little thinking this was the quality of all romance writing but thankfully it is not. I've done a little reading online and wonder if DS uses ghostwriters as a lot of Amazon reviewers were discussing the inconsistencies in her writing style and almost all bemoaned that this was not up to DS standards.
The book is repetitive, contrived and dull. The characters are flat and the "big girl" isn't even that big as she swings from a size 14 to 16. Her goal is to get down to a size ten but even that is "big" to her. I am a size ten when I am at a normal healthy weight and do not consider it big.
Anyway, the writing was really lacking. There was no one to cheer for in this book and it was 200 pages to long. What happened to good editing? Did DS really write this or did someone else just slap her name on it (and if that is the case why didn't she oversee the quality of the writing?). I am not inspired to read another DS book at the moment however I'm told the older ones are much better.
**The review says I read it from March 1 until yesterday but that is not the case. I am new to Goodreads and don't know how to change that function. Really it just took patience to read not a whole lot of time -- not a full day for sure.(less)