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Writing for your Digital Audience
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Writing for your Digital Audience

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Engage hearts to change minds. Learn a few strategies to write with more impact. Gather a few tips to sharpen your writing into effective communications.

Engage hearts to change minds. Learn a few strategies to write with more impact. Gather a few tips to sharpen your writing into effective communications.


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  • For better or for worse, the way we communicate is rapidly changing. It may be less sophisticated, but nobody could argue that it is not more personal.
  • On the left is a traditional news article for print media. On the right is gossip blog post. Side by side, these demonstrate the shift that happens when we move our writing offline to online. We Communicate information more informally and conversationally... Because we Consume information with less patience and attention, demanding a quick conclusion. Is this a bad thing? When Michael Jackson passed away over the summer, people were not huddled around newspapers. By the millions they crashed websites looking for information and sharing their opinions.
  • Just because other people are writing differently, does this mean you should? Take a look at the stats for successful websites and emails. You will find that the majority of visitors are there for 30 seconds or less. Successful visits are still rarely more than 2 minutes. If you don't capture your audience's attention, you will lose them. You succeed as a writer when you grab the fleeting visitor and keep them around for a minute longer.
  • Digital media blesses us with the ability to speak with almost everyone at once. It curses us because when we do this, we more likely fail to engage anyone. Knowing this, we need to: Be more personal & conversational to engage the breadth of our audience. Be more strategic to better reach our most important listeners.
  • Story: An organization came to me with 2 very clear goals for their website redesign. The first was to have more of their visitors submit nominations for an award. The second was to support the award winners by broadcasting information about their work. However, this organization wanted to use their homepage to describe their mission & history. They believed they needed to give their visitors a context for understanding the whole website. They assumed they had the attention of very linear readers. The writing was beautiful, and could maybe win awards for its poetry. But that's irrelevant. Quality writing achieves a strategic goal.
  • Effective communication begins before writing. Figure out whose help you need to achieve your goal. Write for those people.
  • Segment your audience & set strategic goals Then, you can begin to think about how to best package your message.
  • Take your message and adapt it for the channel that can best reach your audience. Adjust the voice and tone of your message accordingly. Facebook and twitter are better than a report for spreading an idea. But if you need to change the mind of a single person in power, you'll do better meeting them on their turf in their language.
  • If you remember nothing else from this presentation... Your audience will be gone if you don't grab them quickly. How do you do this?...
  • Enage Hearts. Avoid failure. Research has taught us that: 1) People with strong awareness about your issue are not motivated by more info. In fact, more info can overwhelm them, and perpetuate their inaction. 2) Give hope. People need to believe that things can be better if you want them to take action. Show them it can be better with their help, and they will. 3) People are selfish. Not because they are bad people, but because we are overwhelmed with information and requests for our help. You must make your issue relevant to your audiences lives. So... How do we do all of this in a matter of seconds?...
  • Stories enable us 1) to motivate people with emotion. 2) to give hope and demonstrate a person's impact. 3) to make an issue relevant.
  • No matter how true or weighty on their own, facts are easier to digest in story form. We all glimpse hundreds of stories in emails and on blogs. Collect the stories that capture your attention. Gather a few dozen and then analyze how these stories succeed. (Note: Looking for these stories might mislead you. Keep the ones that grab you when you aren't looking for them.)
  • Here's one model that can give structure to email action alerts. 1) The Moment - there's a crisis that's created an opportunity - here's how your action can create change 2) The Movement - the issue - the plan for creating lasting change - the context that brought us to this moment
  • As this slide demonstrates, reading from a screen is a chore. Do your audience a few favors.
  • In summary, think strategically and write for impact. Send questions and feedback to Matthew on Twitter @mw. www.thecoup.org
  • In summary, think strategically and write for impact. Send questions and feedback to Matthew on Twitter @mw. www.thecoup.org
  • Transcript

    • 1. Writing for a digital audience. theCoup.org @mw
    • 2. @lindsayLohan NO OMG ... sending my love and prayers out to Michael and his family ... i feel sick.. (Slideshare users - view notes below)
    • 3. Print Journalism LOS ANGELES - Michael Jackson, defined in equal parts as the world’s greatest entertainer and perhaps its most enigmatic figure, was about to attempt one of the greatest comebacks of all time. Then his life was cut shockingly — and so far, mysteriously — short. The 50-year-old musical superstar died Thursday, just as he was preparing for what would be a series of 50 concerts starting July 13 at London’s famed 02 arena. Jackson had been spending hours and hours toiling with a team of dancers for a performance he and his fans hoped would restore his tarnished legacy to its proper place in pop. An autopsy was planned for Friday, though results were not likely to be final until toxicology tests could be completed ... TMZ We’ve just learned Michael Jackson has died. He was 50. Michael suffered a cardiac arrest earlier this afternoon at his Holmby Hills home and paramedics were unable to revive him. We’re told when paramedics arrived Jackson had no pulse and they never got a pulse back. A source tells us Jackson was dead when paramedics arrived. A cardiologist at UCLA tells TMZ Jackson died of cardiac arrest. Once at the hospital, the staff tried to resuscitate him but he was completely unresponsive. A source inside the hospital told us there was “absolute chaos” after Jackson arrived. People who were with the singer ...
    • 4. Why write differently? 30 seconds before your audience is gone.
    • 5. An Audience of Everyone. 1. Be personal & conversational. 2. Be more strategic.
    • 6. Write with a goal. Plan for your readers to take action. Otherwise, what’s the point? A B
    • 7. From Discovering the Activation Point . Number of soldiers’ moms needed to galvanize the public to start questioning Bush about the war: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Number of parents who successfully petitioned a school board in Vista, California, for abstinence-only education: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Number of families that pressed for the 9/11 Commission: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Number of chefs who came together with SeaWeb to turn sustainable seafood into a hot commodity: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200 Number of members of Congress needed to move stem-cell legislation: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 218 Number of engaged citizens posing the Number One question in Kansas and affecting legislative outcomes: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 450 Number of immigrants throughout the United States calling out for immigration reform: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . hundreds of thousands
    • 8. Audience & Goal Medium & Voice
    • 9. Your Knowledge & Opinion Email Rally the point & click activists Blog Post Stimulate conversation among fans and opposition PDF Report Influence decision makers and their advisors
    • 10. Start Quick. Assume that you’ll lose more than half your readers by the end of your first paragraph. What do you want them to leave with?
    • 11. Engage hearts to change minds.
    • 12. Tell Stories. Give your message a protagonist, a conflict, and all the timeless elements that make up great stories.
    • 13. Fact The top NY State personal income tax rate of 6.85% starts on adjusted gross income over $20,000 per year. Story An NYC teacher making $35k is in the same tax bracket as former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain, who made $83 million. NY hits them with the same tax rate.
    • 14. The Moment Crisitunity Theory of Change (audience driven) The Movment Issue Trajectory Context Model via Ben Brandzel
    • 15. Make it Easy. • meaningful & frequent subheadings • bulleted lists • short paragraphs with one idea • highlighted keywords (bold text and links) • concise and informal writing • start with your conclusion • use meaningful phrases for links (everyone knows where to click)
    • 16. Think Strategically Segment your audience Write with a goal Choose your medium wisely Write Effectively Be conversational Tell Stories that target hearts Be quick Make it easy Experiment & have fun. More info: theCoup.org/resources Question & Answers: Twitter @mw
    • 17. Sources & More Information ReImagining Change by SmartMeme A toolkit of strategies for effective storytelling. (pdf) Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes by Andy Goodman Guide to more effective communications. (pdf) Discovering the Activation Point by the Communications Leadership Council Targeting audiences to create change. (pdf) Revising Prose by Richard Lanham A brief guide toward concise and powerful writing. (book) Blogging Best Practices by EchoDitto Also see their guide to email and twitter. (post) Writing for the Web by theCoup.org Simple reminders for more digestible text. (post) Question & Answers: Twitter @mw