I Criticize Because I Care: The Power of Grammar Shaming

Wow, it’s been a busy few weeks out there in the real world. Since my earlier post there has been a slew of major headlines I could discuss: the privacy of naked celebs in the cloud-o-sphere; ice-water-bucket controversy (even I know that you shouldn’t drop ice on your baby’s head to avoid donating money); the Jolie-Pitt union (finally, but that dress!?); the death of Google Authorship (déjà vu?); the death of Joan Rivers (the only woman more judgmental than I am on fashion trends); the death of the color white (bad Labor Day joke); and a lot of people saying some really interesting things but sounding really dumb in the process.

All of these are more or less important, especially since I am currently wearing a white T-shirt (go ahead, judge me), but I’m going to focus tonight on that last one. It really gets my goat. It grinds my gears. It grates my Gouda.

Important figures in politics, fashion, entertainment, marketing and what have you have deemed it acceptable to ignore the rules of grammar in social media, news articles, and blog posts. But when you’re a role model to the young and impressionable, it’s extremely important to lead by example. My little English-major heart is broken and disturbed by the age of “say it in 140 characters or less.” People speak in tweets not sentences, i.e., illiterate gibberish. Kids can’t focus for longer than it takes to read this blog post. If I can’t stop the world from proliferating these bad habits then the least I can do is shame my fellow marketers into avoiding them.

Caveat: Nobody is perfect. I make mistakes. You make mistakes. We all make mistakes. First step in moving on is admitting it. It’s taken me years, but I’m finally beyond step one. Unfortunately, the Internet is rife with basement-dwelling trolls that I imagine look something like this who live for the sole purpose of calling you out. There are entire blogs dedicated to embarrassing mistakes. A tiny error can turn into a PR nightmare. Does it make the little troll feel less pathetic? Maybe. Does it make you feel really embarrassed? Yeah. Do you remember the incident so it doesn’t happen again? Definitely. Ah, I knew there was a silver lining in there somewhere.

Here are some of the biggest grammar errors I see multiple times a day. There is nothing worse than finding a great article or social post you want to retweet/share and it has one of these grammar atrocities, right? That’s an instant “never mind” in my book. You may lose some free promotion because of an apostrophe catastrophe. Your brand will also suffer from a lack of quality and attention to detail in your marketing content. But remember that no one is perfect. I probably have errors in this post that a professional copy editor might point out. It’s inevitable. But as a marketer, these mistakes below are completely avoidable and borderline unforgivable. Don’t be troll fodder! That’s an icky mess no one, especially not your PR department, wants to mop up. (And if you ARE the PR department, I am so sorry. Good luck.) I’m not spending this post explaining the why behind these rules. There are plenty of websites out there that do a better job explaining than I ever could. These are just examples of the errors I see most often and an example  of the correct usage. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to visit Grammar Girl and Merriam-Webster for grammar rules and spelling, respectively.

1. Their vs. They’re vs. There

Their I love their product!
They’re They’re my favorite brand.
There You can buy the product there.

2. It’s vs. Its

It’s It’s my favorite brand.
Its Its store is my favorite.

3. Your vs. You’re (There is also “yore,” but if you get that confused, there might be no hope.)

Your Your product is the best!
You’re You’re my favorite brand.

4. Affect vs. Effect (I have to often check myself on this one; it’s a tough one.)

Affect (verb) The marketing copy they write affects me in a good way.
Effect (noun) The effects of their marketing copy are amazing.

5. ’90s vs. 1990’s (My biggest pet peeve.)

’90s (not possessive) Their product looks like it’s from the ’90s.
1990’s (possessive) The 1990’s products were awesome.

6. Lose vs. Loose (Embarrassed I even have to explain this one.)

Lose Don’t lose your favorite shoes!
Loose The laces on these shoes are too loose.

7. A lot vs. Alot (There is also allot, as in, an allotment of something.)

A lot I love their product a lot.
Alot Alot isn’t a word.

8. Well vs. Good (@EAMillar shared this gem as a reminder.)

Well My company is doing well.
Good This is a good product.

A couple more common grammar mistakes that you should study up on: i.e. vs e.g, than vs. then, “quote marks” usage, hyphens, who/whom, verb/subject agreement, and comma usage.  If you’re not sure, don’t assume. It’ll make an ass out of you (and not me, because I’ll be over here using proper grammar and laughing at you).

This post is paired with a big fat helping of spaghetti squash, chicken apple sausage, and mushroom marinara sauce. But I started writing this a week ago. I think I remember it being delicious? #slacker

Grammar Rules

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5-Step Twitter Recipe for Success

Social Media RecipesThis post is for those folks out there who recently signed up for Twitter and are feeling a little lost. Maybe you started your account because you read that you should be “out there” for brand awareness or to promote your products and services. You might be building your personal brand or posting on behalf of your company. Either way, you don’t get it. You’re frequently asking yourself “what’s the point?” No one is following you. No one is retweeting. Mythbuster: you don’t just sign up for Twitter and magically get a large following. As with everything in life, you need to work hard at it.

In the spirit of Dinnertime Marketing, I’ve developed a short recipe to help lost Tweeters get their sea legs. Give it a try for a month and you should see progress. It’s a simple recipe. Go on, try it. You’ve got nothing to lose!

5-Step Twitter Recipe for Success

Ingredients:

  • Active (and optimized) Twitter account
  • Basic competency of people skills
  • Positive attitude!

Directions:

  • Follow 5 people with similar interests
  • Favorite 3 posts that you actually find interesting
  • Retweet 2 tweets that you think your followers would like to see
  • Reply to a tweet with a sincere comment — it can be about the post, a compliment, a question, etc.
  • Tweet something meaningful to your brand/topic and use some dang hashtags

Repeat this once a week for a month. Benchmark your stats by taking note of your followers, retweets, favorites, etc. prior to starting this recipe. Something exciting I just learned: Twitter has analytics! You just need to activate Twitter ads (but you don’t have to actually purchase them).

After going through these motions for a short while, tweeting will feel more natural. You may even start having fun with it as people engage with you! Your Twitter account will continue to evolve, and at this point the training wheels come off. You become one with Twitter. Go with the flow. Participate. Engage. Rejoice.

Also, don’t forget to check out my Twitter Tips article for even more tweety-goodness. This post comes paired with leftover Chicken Ranch from my daughter’s birthday party. #noms

Email Marketing Resources

It’s the email, the email, what what, the email. This never gets old.

My blogging companion and I are a bit pressed for time this week. She’s got a big 2-year birthday party coming up (decorations! cupcakes!), and I am attempting to study for a work exam (by watching Homestarrunner, obviously). But products must be marketed and posts must be written, so, I took the advice of a recent article I read on quick-and-easy blog topics and thought, “resource list! I can make that happen in 30…errr…60 minutes flat!”

I chose to concentrate on email marketing today because A) Strong Bad gave me the idea and B) there is no B.

People who don’t do email marketing think email marketing is easy, especially when they aren’t the ones hitting SEND to 20,000 people who could ruin your life (or at least your subscriber list) with a click of a “spam” button. It’s not magic; there is data behind why email marketers do what they do to get those open rates and click-thrus up.

Here are a couple great resources for information on best practices and tips about email marketing (in no particular order).

MailChimp – http://blog.mailchimp.com/

Why: Besides their frequent Star Wars references and the adorably accessorized monkey, MailChimp is the first email marketing platform I ever used (so I might be a bit biased) and wish I still used. They don’t overpost, so it’s not overwhelming to follow them. The writing style is simple to understand. The topics are comprised of a good mixture of MailChimp news, customer success, current events and their impact on email marketing, and tips and tricks. Here is an example of an important one on the Canada Anti-Spam legislation. And then there is a more fun one on the MailChimp QA team in which they use the tag “teamwork” – I love them for that! Hash-tag personality!

Litmus – https://litmus.com/blog/

Why? I love Litmus. I’m kinda obsessed with them. From their color selection and website design, to their event emails and their metrics dashboards, I love me some Litmus. I don’t even need to elaborate further. Just follow them and you’ll love them too. Trust me. I cannot tell a lie.

Some specific articles you should bookmark:

33 New Email Marketing Resources You Shouldn’t Miss
http://unbounce.com/email-marketing/33-new-email-marketing-resources/
(I know, I linked to another resource list. They are all just so good and I didn’t want to be a copycat! Thanks, Unbounce for the informative post.)

37 Tips for Writing Emails that Get Opened, Read, and Clicked
http://www.copyblogger.com/37-email-marketing-tips/

10 Email Best-Practices [Infographic]
http://www.marketingprofs.com/chirp/2014/24729/10-email-best-practices-infographic

9 Email Marketing Best Practices to Generate More Leads
http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/23965/9-Email-Marketing-Best-Practices-to-Generate-More-Leads.aspx

Perform a simple Google search and you’ll find email marketing sites aplenty, so I’ll continue to post more as I find myself returning to them over and over.

In memory of the late, great Robin Williams, “Thank you for choosing Magic Carpet for all your travel needs. Don’t stand until the rug has come to a complete stop. Thank you. Goodbye, now. Goodbye. Goodbye. Thank you. Goodbye.”

This post was paired with Grilled Scallops and Quinoa, from Giada’s “Feel Good Food” book. Yum!

 

3 Simple Ingredients for a Successful Homepage

I’m not a huge fan of baking. Two years later and my husband still gives me guff for registering for a rolling pin and never using it. But I have my reasons. Confuse a teaspoon of this with a tablespoon of that and poof! Your could-have-been-delicious Thanksgiving pumpkin pie turns into yucky pumpkin-flavored water soup. Give me a box of pre-made cookie dough that requires only three ingredients (as long as one of those is water) any day. So, after grocery shopping today, I’m “baking” some cookies.

And as they probably overcook in typical apartment-oven fashion, a topic for a blog post popped into my head: simple and easy. And, I have been doing a lot of website research lately. High-speed blend these things together and tada, a blog post on simple and easy homepages is born. Get ready to chow down on some delicious homepage design advice.

Here are my three key ingredients to a great website homepage design. They may sound simple at first, but they each take a lot of trial and error to get just right.

1. Straightforward Content

I can’t even count how many times I have landed on a website only to have no idea what the company does. If I can’t answer the question in 5 seconds or less, I’ll leave. I don’t care if you have the top Google result. Make it clear what product you make, what service you offer, and/or who your audience is right from the start; and I can’t stress enough the importance of putting this vital information above the fold. I know snazzy design is “in” but your visitors will abandon your site if design trumps all, especially clear intention.

2. Simple Navigation

People are kinda lazy. They want information quick and fast; so don’t make your visitors go on an endless treasure hunt for the information they need. A top-level navigation with three or four items that click through to subpages with more information (or drop downs with a few more options) is ideal. These items are often “features,” “products,” etc. Don’t make it too complex and always keep in mind how your navigation will translate to mobile devices. A good practice is to go through all the top subpages you think people will be looking for and ask, “does it intuitively fit under this navigation item or that one?” If it doesn’t, reorganize. If you can’t find it, a prospective customer certainly can’t and won’t spend too much time looking. Same goes for the footer. Keep it simple and useful, and not an exact copy of your navigation. I’ll dedicate a post to the footer sometime in the near future.

3. Visual appeal

Striking a fine balance between ingredients is key to any successful recipe. Because I learn best by example, here are a few websites who have either almost mastered the homepage recipe by mixing great design with great content, or whose designs have fallen flat. Design isn’t everything, but it’s extremely important.

The search I chose tonight is “music streaming websites,” since the only thing keeping me awake right now is JT serenading me with “I can’t wait ’til I get you on the floor, good-looking. Going hot, so hot, just like an oven.” Are my cookies done yet?

Spotify

Spotify Homepage

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pros: The logo is front and center, the login area is easy to find, and the CTA to download Spotify is really clear (and in multiple locations). The design is visually appealing and not a hot mess, and you know that the site is a music streaming service within the first few seconds of reading. Also, being a music service, it’s not text heavy. You don’t need a lot of words to say what you do.

Cons: It’s a site designed using Parallax, which means a lot of scrolling. The language selector is hidden at the bottom for those non-native English speakers (no bueno). The special offers are at the very bottom of the page (and if I’m a a poor college student, I’d want to know there is a discount!). Also, the first picture I see is a butt in a bikini. Be careful not to offend your audience. Be thoughtful in your design.

Grade: A-

Pandora

Pandora Homepage

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pros: The logo is obvious and the top navigation has the items I’d need to register, log in or get help.

Cons: Everything else. It’s a simple homepage, no bells and whistles. But there is almost no design, and it doesn’t scream “music site” by the visuals. The footer takes up ⅓ of the page. On my computer, I can keep scrolling for awhile but there is nothing down there. I’m focusing on the homepage, but I can’t mention Pandora without mentioning the horrible ad placement on the interior pages. Once you create a station you see ads, ads, ads unless you pay. Blech. Pandora is a very recognizable name, but don’t assume everyone knows who you are.

Grade: B

Songza

Songza Homepage

 

 

 

 

 

 

AHHH! This is the third result in my Google search, and I’ve honestly never heard of it. It’s not all bad, but it’s pretty damn close. The ad at the top makes me want to hit the back button instantly. I’ll give it a shot though and keep reading. The header is totally clear, so there’s that. I also like the use of icons, but they are kind of meaningless because without reading the text, which is tiny even on my abnormally large laptop screen, it’s not intuitive what they mean. And the colors, MY GOD THE COLORS. It’s like bubblegum ice cream threw up all over a Geocities page. I need to get out of here.

Grade: C-

Grooveshark

Grooveshark Homepage

 

 

 

 

 

 

This site looks pretty amateur. The orange CTA is nice and obvious and the search is dominant, but the background image is distracting, and the advertisement for the live performances is repetitive. I went back and gave it a second chance and the homepage did change.

Grooveshark Homepage

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little better. I know it’s mobile music by the first chunk of header copy. Still not in love with the full background image though, and it loads a bit slow. Overall, I think it’s just too busy. I checked it a third time and again got a completely different homepage. The experience is really inconsistent.

Grade: C

Beats

Beats Music

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was going to stop there because I’m pretty antsy to get in my PJs with my cookies and some 2% and watch some bad TV, but I saw Beats next on the list and thought, one more, why not. Can’t skip da Beats.

First off, I don’t think there’s nearly enough white space, do you?

The headline is clear and big, the CTA for a free trial is front and center, and the site controls have the must-haves, but the menu is hidden on the left and looks like a mobile menu, so that’s weird (and I know it’s not their demographic, but it’s not as intuitive for the older generation). There are at least 25 iPhones and tablet images on this homepage. Just kidding, there’s only … OMG there actually are 25! Mom, am I Rain Man?

The footer is nicely organized and the social icons are easy to find. I think the homepage is unnecessarily long, but as long as the important stuff is accessible from the top, the intention isn’t that I’d scroll all the way down every time once I paid for the product. So, they know what they’re doing. They are Apple, after all. Similar to Spotify, it uses the scrolling horizontal format, which translates well to mobile design. But this works best for more visual, less text-heavy websites.

Grade: A for Apple.

I hope with the three ingredients and some examples, you can start on the right path to a homepage redesign.

What are some of your favorite homepage designs? Tell me in the comments!

This post was paired with, you guess it! Gather round you friends of mine… It’s cookie time!

Social Media Education: Free Webinars and Canva

Social Media 101The more time I spend working on social media, the more obvious it becomes that I’m never going to declare, “I’ve done it. I’ve mastered social media.” The fact is, it’s constantly changing. You think you have a handle on Twitter; then they start allowing images to tweets and you need to respond. Maybe you think you’ve got a strong Facebook following only to learn you have a larger demographic on LinkedIn and need to adopt another platform. Do you ever feel like you can’t keep up? I think the secret of all social media marketers (or is it marketeers?) is that we all feel that way. But don’t worry, there’s hope!

Yes, there’s hope, and it’s in the form of free webinars. I frequently sign up for webinars and forget to join them (you can only do so much in the day!), but every so often I get around to watching one. Even though many of them shamelessly promote their products, there are usually nuggets of info that you can take away and apply to your work. Oh, and if you find there isn’t, close out that window and find something more productive to do! So where am I going with this?

Today I saw a tweet promoting “On Demand Webinar: The Art of the Perfect Social Media Post” from Hubspot featuring Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick. I had some time and thought, “Okay, I’m listening.” The webinar includes many good tips on increasing your reach and getting your posts noticed, but the product promotion is about a tool called Canva. It’s like an easy-peasy way to create images, but what caught my eye is that they have templates for blogs, Facebook, Google+, and lots of other things. I made the image in this very article with Canva, which does go to show that no tool replaces the eye of a good designer! Haha, but you get the idea. There are a ton of free images and layouts you can use — I can see this being useful in creating quick Twitter images, sprucing up social media profile pages, and that sort of thing. They also have images you can pay for at a buck apiece. Not bad! Anyway, if you don’t have a designer at your fingertips, I’d say this is probably worth looking into.

Long story short, it seems like every day I’m hearing about a new tool to measure this, improve that, etc., but it doesn’t hurt to give the stuff a try! You might be in for a pleasant surprise.

This post comes paired with Pizza Spaghetti Pie from PaleOMG. Yeah, it sounds like a carb-load, but it’s actually paleo, and super easy. A good one to make in advance and heat up during the week for those hectic evenings!

108 Ideas in 30 Minutes with 6-3-5 Brainwriting

635 Brainwriting

Last week at MozCon, I heard so many great tips that I can’t wait to try out at work; I’ll be sharing a lot of lessons learned on the blog in the coming months as my brain slowly reforms to its original shape from the mushy pile of whatever it became. Today, I want to share the 6-3-5 method of brainstorming (or “6-3-5 Brainwriting”). This concept was slightly familiar to me already, but never by it’s official name. It’s not a complicated idea by any means, but most of my brainstorming experiences have been vocal group sessions (some successful, some not-so) so I absolutely fell in love with the idea of this 6-3-5 method. If you’re quiet or nervous in groups like I am, sharing ideas out loud can sometimes cause a rapid heart beat and profuse sweating in the hands and armpits followed by complete mortification. So thanks to @staceycav for introducing this activity to me.

History

In 1968, German professor Bernd Rohrbach came up with the brainstorming technique that ends with 108 ideas in 30 minutes. The purpose here is the amount of ideas, not the quality of ideas. (Out of curiosity, I tried to find more information on Rohrbach in a short amount of time, but the Internet failed me on this one.)

What you’ll need

  • 30 minutes
  • 6 participants (a moderator is optional – someone just needs to keep an eye on the clock)
  • 6 pieces of paper (a printed template works well here and there are a number of these available online)

How it works

  • Identify your problem statement (Example: How can we improve our social media program?)
  • In 5 minutes, each person writes 3 ideas on the worksheet
  • After the 5 minutes, pass your sheet to your neighbor
  • Expand on the three initial ideas from your colleague or add new ones
  • The sheets are passed 5 times
  • In the end you will have 6 sheets with 18 ideas for a total of 108 unique ideas or variations of ideas

Now what?

After the 108 ideas are complete and everyone has his or her original form back, the ideas can be written on sticky notes and the team can work together to sort them into like categories (referred to as the cluster analysis technique). You might see a pattern develop and there will most likely be overlapping ideas. You should end up with only a few big ideas and those can be your jumping off point for your project.

Isn’t that the simplest thing you’ve ever heard!? You could also figure out a way to do this via Google Docs if you have remote employees. But it’s a bit trickier to keep straight and the in person component is important, especially once you start clustering the ideas. But, give it a shot with video conferencing.

There are many different brainstorming techniques out there; but what I like about this one is that it forces everyone to take part where vocal brainstorming can leave the loudest person in the room dominating the discussion. It also forces you to stay on topic.

A couple of downsides to this activity are: 1) you have to be concise, which may be difficult for some, and 2) the time limit might be too short for some to develop thoughts thoroughly. If it helps, share your topic with the team ahead of time so they can develop their original three ideas in advance and the time may be better spent. I suggest trying it both ways and see which works best for your group.

I know I can’t wait to try it. Happy brainwriting! I’d love to hear about your experiences with brainstorming and other techniques that have worked well for you. Leave a comment and let me know!

This post is with pork loin in a crock pot, with Lima beans and applesauce. You’ll notice a correlation between crock pots and blog posts. 

7 Easy Ways to Optimize Your New Blog Article

Blog Article ChecklistSo you started a blog. You just wrote your first article, and it’s sitting there in that scary preview state. Do you publish it? Yes, of course you do, but not before you make sure you’re getting the most out of the work you put into that article by following this simple checklist.

☐ Title it. I tend to lean towards a funnier title, often to learn that I’m the only one who finds it clever. It also might not do much for SEO or help the reader who is looking for information. The content of your post should be clear in your title, and the title should contain some keywords for that SEO boost. Being clever/funny doesn’t hurt, as long as it doesn’t hurt the chances of your blog article being seen. Try out Nathalie Nahai’s tip (@TheWebPsych) for a killer headline: Number + trigger word + adjective + keyword + promise. Example: 10 Crazy Ways to Cook Meat Well Done on a Sidewalk. You’ll probably click that, right? Doesn’t work for everyone and don’t overuse it, but try it out and see if you get more clicks.

☐ Categorize. Does this article fit into a relevant category? First off, for the blog itself, pick a small handful of categories to start with. Remember, the reader needs to be able to digest this and know what they are getting into when they visit your blog. From there, pick the few that this particular article fits into. You can always add more or reorganize as your blog gets bigger and stronger. Learn more about categories and tags.

☐ Add links. Both internal and external links can be helpful to your readers if they are applicable to your content. Don’t go linking to tons of stuff “just cuz” as it may have a negative effect on you. Read more about why Rand Fishkin of Moz (@randfish) thinks it’s important to incorporate links in your website or blog for such reasons as sending trackable traffic, incentivizing links in, and more!

☐ Insert image. An image not only breaks up the text on the page and makes it look pretty, but it also helps the article to stand out when you share it via social media…big time. If you own the photo, make sure the image is optimized for the web in size and dimensions and super important advice – watermark it. See Sprout Social’s “Always Up-to-Date Guide to Social Media Image Sizes” for specs.

☐ Read it. Read, read, and re-read. Ask a friend/co-worker to give it a looksie as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read something and thought, “Super, it’s perfect!” only to realize I used “there” instead of “their” — ugh, knot-in-stomach bad. Also, read it out loud — sometimes you’ll notice oddly worded sentences or confusing statements when reading aloud versus silently reading.

☐ Publish it. Once you’ve completed the blog posting checklist, hit that PUBLISH button. Of course you can always make changes to the post once it’s live. I know I often seem to catch typos or want to rephrase something the second after I set it free, but try to let it go and live on its own in the wide world of webs.

☐ Share it. Share it out on your social accounts of choice, and if you have a good support group around you, ask them to re-share! Friends love sharing stuff, so all you need to do is ask. If you’re still working on your social plan, check out my article from a few weeks ago on choosing social platforms to help get your started on the right foot.

Once you’ve completed these steps, be sure to keep your work alive! Later down the road you will have more posts and more followers, so don’t let your old articles get covered with dust. Link to them, re-share them, keep them going, update if facts have evolved. It will help to promote your blog as a whole and remind your readers of all you have to offer! Speaking of which, have you read my article on Newbie Twitter Tips? Just sayin’…

This post comes paired with Cook’s Illustrated’s Chicken Tikka Masala. It felt a LOT like a checklist following all those steps, but it sure was worth it!