Jan 02

My Three Words for 2016

Three Words 2016
Start. Practice. Create.

These are my three words to live by in 2016. The Three Words practice is an alternative to New Year’s resolutions. Instead of listing goals, I’m choosing three words to guide me, to act as themes for projects throughout the coming year. There’s nothing wrong with goals, but choosing themes creates a framework for setting goals in both work and personal life. It also allows adjustments that need to be made when “life happens” and personal needs change.

In selecting and announcing my three words, I’m following a trail blazed by author, marketer and business servant Chris Brogan, who started his three words practice a decade ago. Since then some of my favorite digital thinkers have adopted the process, and I have, too. I didn’t accomplish what I had hoped with my three words for 2015 — read, write, share — but by writing those three words, I planted some seeds that may yet grow and mature.

I chose “start” a few weeks ago. The word is already written on my small office whiteboard. It’s there to encourage me to stop thinking about doing something and just start. Overthinking might be one of my worst habits, and it often gets in the way of beginning a new project, whether it’s the next item on my daily to-do list or the Great American Novel (yep, it’s still on my list). When I remind myself to just “start,” I get more done. I considered “begin,” but “start” seems more immediate, more urgent. I need that.

“Practice” joins my 2016 list thanks to the YMCA yoga class I began last spring. Our teacher is careful to remind us weekly that the class is practice, so there’s no need to worry if we don’t execute downward dog or tree pose exactly right. The idea is that if you do the best you can one day, there’s a good chance you’ll do better the next.

So this year, I intend to approach life and work as daily practice. The roots of the word practice come from the ancient Greek “praktikos,” which meant”fit for action, fit for business; business-like, practical; active, effective, vigorous,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary (http://www.etymonline.com). The root goes even deeper to “praktos,” which means “done; to be done,” and to “prassein, prattein” — to do, act, effect, accomplish.

Every accomplishment is the result of practice, and every accomplishment then becomes part of the practice toward the next one. To compare it to baseball, players practice throwing, catching and hitting to prepare for games, and although the games “count,” no matter the outcome a game once completed becomes practice for the next and the next.

My third word is create, which comes from the Latin “creare,” which means “to make, bring forth, produce, beget,” and is also related to “crescere” which means “arise, grow.” My creativity is usually centered around writing. During 2015, however, I found myself occasionally drawing pictures and making videos. I still intend cowrite more for myself, but I also want to let myself be creative in other ways, whether it’s writing poetry rather than prose, working on video or even coming up with some music using software like GarageBand.

It may have been subconscious, but after I chose my three words, I realized how well they fit together. “Starting” is something I can practice, as is creativity. Each word easily fits with the others. “Practice” and “Create” will join “Start” on my whiteboard to guide me through the next year.

What are your three words for 2016?

Feb 02

Three Fallacies of Facebook Marketing

If you run a business, you’ve heard a marketing or sales pitch about why you must have a Facebook page.

It’s hard to ignore the numbers. Facebook has nearly 1.4 billion active users worldwide. Of all adults who have regular access to the Internet, 72 percent visit Facebook once a month. In the United States and Canada, there are 157 million daily active Facebook users (44% of the combined population of 355 million).

Each day business pages on Facebook generate 5.3 billion likes. 5.3 billion. Every day. The average user has 130 friends, creates 90 pieces of content a month (posts, comments, photos) and spends 700 minutes a month on Facebook. The statistics go on and on, all pointing to the same inevitable conclusion: the world is on Facebook, and your business should be there, too.

FB-f-Logo__blue_1024And you know what? It’s free. Those schmucks at Budweiser paid an average of $4.5 million for each 30 seconds to advertise during the Super Bowl, and the giant brewing company only reached a lousy 114 million people (less if you assume bathroom breaks during commercials). On Facebook, you can reach a billion. For free.

The Free Fallacy

As many economists like to remind, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Facebook is no exception. It’s easy to debunk the “free fallacy.” Even a one-man shop who wants to build a Facebook page on his own has to devote time, which, economists also remind us, equals money. If you run a small business, you might need to hire somebody to build and manage your presence on Facebook. Larger businesses are likely to either divert other marketing resources to Facebook or hire somebody new to handle it. The dollars add up.

The Audience Fallacy

Then there’s the “audience fallacy.” Facebook is not a Field of Dreams. If all you do is build it, people most definitely will not come. Even if you write Nobel-winning prose with museum-quality photographs, no one will see your content until people start liking the page. Even after hundreds of Facebook users like your page, your posts and photos won’t get much traction until your fans start to like, share and comment.

Is it difficult to encourage people to like your page and then produce content that people want to read and share with their friends? Not really. There is plenty of material online, including on Facebook, to teach you. And it takes time, focus and often, a little cash.

The Sell More Stuff Fallacy

Finally — at least for this article — there is the “sell more stuff fallacy.” It’s a simple extension of the first two. It’s free, so it’s easy to justify the “expense.” There’s an audience of more than a billion people, so if you convince just one in a million to buy something, you’ll have 1,000 new customers. Your sales destiny awaits.

Eh, maybe not. Because there are so many people and businesses posting content, and because Facebook wants to show only the content most relevant to each user, no one sees everything. That also means that your business page posts are not seen by all your fans. In fact, on average they’re only seen by 6.5 percent of your fans. If you’re a small business with up to 25,000 fans, the average is higher, 10.6 percent. That means if your Facebook page has 1,000 fans, only 106 will likely see any given post. That’s your real audience size, not 1.4 billion.

If you’re a small business, can Facebook help you sell more stuff? Maybe. If your business is set up for e-commerce you can create an online store on your Facebook page. You can post coupons or information about sales and deals (but remember, the audience is limited). I will tell you in no uncertain terms that if all you do is launch a Facebook page and post a few times a week, you will not sell more stuff.

Success on the Other Side of the Pitch

Small and medium-sized businesses can succeed on Facebook. They can grow audience. They can reach new potential customers. They can increase sales and even track them to Facebook. They can also use Facebook to talk with customers, learn about them and share with them. That kind of interaction helps make better customers and clients.

Given the present online and social media marketing environment, Facebook is a necessary and effective marketing tool for just about every business. Don’t let the fallacies of “free,” “audience” and “sell more stuff” inflate your expectations. Effective Facebook marketing is not free. You need to build your Facebook audience, and it’s not limitless. Facebook can help you sell more stuff if you inform, entertain and inspire your audience.

Have I missed any Facebook marketing fallacies? Add your thoughts in the comments, and let’s kick it around some more.

Jan 25

Is the Internet Disrupting Our Language, too?

My daughter and son hated to show me their English homework. Despite my intention to be gentle, their writing never completely satisfied their old man, who spent his days prodding journalists to write better.

I remember being perturbed that papers graded by their teachers would come home with spelling and grammar errors uncorrected or with no points deducted for those mistakes. At a school open house once, a teacher stood in front of parents and pronounced that she was more concerned with storytelling and creativity than grammar and spelling. The horror.

strunk&whiteThe problem, however, is that writing a good story depends on sound grammar and correctly spelled words. Without those basic elements, the story you’re trying to tell won’t make sense to many people. It’s not a surprise the education system drifted away from focusing on grammar and spelling. For people of my generation, those lessons about past participles, prepositions, articles, subjects and predicates were excruciating. Very few 12-year-olds enjoyed diagramming sentences, and we all thought that what we had to say was more important than how we said it. So, when my generation became teachers and principals and school board members, English language education shifted away from teaching all those hard-to-understand rules.

Let’s examine how the rules of written expression were preserved and perpetuated in the 20th century. Through most of the 1900s, almost all of what people read was published in books, magazines and newspapers. Most of the writers for those publications needed to meet generally accepted standards for spelling and grammar. One of my college courses in the 1970s was almost entirely about the Associated Press Stylebook, which described how certain words must be spelled, when to use capital letters, where to use certain kinds of punctuation and how certain words should be used.

One of my favorite examples of AP style were the prescribed usages of “more than” and “over.” The word “over” was NOT to be used when comparing something numerical — dollar amounts or distances, for example. According to AP style, it was incorrect to write “He made over 1,000 cookies for Christmas.” The sentence should be written “He made more than 1,000 cookies for Christmas.” The word “over” was reserved for “crossing over a bridge,” or “he went over there,” or “he climbed over the fence.” I still follow this rule. The Associated Press last year removed it from the style book, relenting to the overwhelmingly common usage of “over $9 million” or “the flood killed over 60 people.” (I blame television reporters and anchors for spreading misuse of “over.”)

Without rules about grammar and spelling, written communication degrades into something that is understood less and less. My children’s English teachers would have you believe that good writing is about expression, but that’s only half-true. Good writing is about communication and understanding. If I express myself in way you can’t understand — outside the bounds of the rules of grammar and spelling, for example — what I’ve written has no value.

Before the Internet Age, editors reviewed most published articles at least once, usually more often. They rightfully saw themselves as gatekeepers of language. Good editors — although they are a pain in the butt — are more than just enforcers of grammar, spelling and style rules. Good editors spot flaws in logic, recognize gaps in information and spot inaccuracies (Is it Whittaker Street or Whitaker Street?). They can also help turn a mundane phrase into something sparkling and memorable.

Today, in the Internet Age, anyone can publish what they write — no editor required. Poor, unedited writing appears next to good writing in Facebook posts, in blogs, on Twitter, in comments on articles, in self-published books and in white papers, just about everywhere on the Internet. Poor writing is spreading offline, too. I see it in printed newspapers, magazines and books. Here’s an incorrect construction I see a lot: “Children that write to Santa Claus don’t always get what they want.” What’s wrong with that sentence? Children are people, and that makes them “whos.” It should be written, “Children who write to Santa Claus …”

Another common grammatical irritant is a similar problem with pronouns such as “them,” “they” and “their” being used instead of “it” or “its.” For example, “The Mom & Pop Co. uses their website to sell merchandise” should be written as “The Mom & Pop Co. uses its website …” A business is a thing, an “it,” and as such it gets an impersonal pronoun, not a personal one like “them,” “his” or “hers.”

Is this a big deal? After all, even when the usage is incorrect, “you know what I mean.” That’s true, for now. But I worry that over time, widespread ignorance of good grammar will diminish our ability to communicate, to express ourselves and to have our stories be understood. The inability to understand each other through a common, precise language will have broader and damaging consequences.

If you care about whether readers understand your writing, take a little time to brush up on the rules. Every chance I get, I recommend “The Elements of Style,” a beautifully short book that covers grammar and usage. If you’re not sure how to spell a word, pull out a dictionary, search an online dictionary or just type “define:” followed by the word you want to spell or define into the Google search bar.

I understand that languages change and evolve. We create new words, and others fall out of favor. Sometimes we change the meanings of words (Remember when “gay” meant happy and festive?). For me, the bottom line is how well our use of language conveys our intended meaning. It’s a worthy cause, don’t you think?