Content Marketing Tips from “Everybody Writes” by Ann Handley (Part 1)

I love Everybody Writes. And according to Ann Handley (@MarketingProfs), the most important piece of information should be written first. So there you have it. I’m becoming a better writer already.

Everybody Writes Part 1On the day Everybody Writes arrived in the mail I started reading it and was immediately intrigued by the introduction; so, I opened it up and plowed through 12 (albeit short) chapters. I couldn’t wait to share what I learned and went straight to the computer. And not knowing when I’d finish the rest of the book, I decided to spread the learnings across a few posts. I don’t want to give everything away because I could seriously quote this entire book — it’s that jam-packed with goodness. I recommend everyone who deals with content read this book and soon (and I say that without having finished it!). Don’t be scared away by the fear of writing; Handley does a great job relating to us ordinary marketing folks in the first few pages. (I mean, bowling and Mean Girls references? It’s like she wrote this book for me.)

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

What is content?

Everything! Webpage text, emails, newsletters, blogs, content on social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, SlideShare, etc. Basically, anything your audience interacts with is considered content. This is why content creators, social media managers, and designers should work so closely together. Everything is intertwined, and working in a vacuum results in sucky content.

Quality Content = Utility x Inspiration x Empathy

Quality content is not just about a grandiose vocabulary, beautiful allegories or poetic descriptions, which goes against everything you learned in high school English. You could go on for 20 pages about the origins of the television, but I can guarantee your reader doesn’t give a hoot if it doesn’t explain how to make the picture not blue and squiggly. On the other hand, the person who is doing research on the history of the television for his college course might care about that detailed information. Know what you are writing and who you are writing it for.

What matters isn’t storytelling. It’s telling a true story well.

Storytelling implies embellishments and a bending of the truth. If you have a great story to tell, it’s more important to tell that story well (using the formula above).

Writing daily for 30 minutes is better than writing once a week for 5 hours.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard this tip, but it was good to be reminded of its importance. Everyone finds inspiration to write in different ways: in the early morning hours, on a sandy beach, in a bustling coffee shop, at home in front of a laptop. I am a night owl so I find it easiest to gather my thoughts in the evening with a glass of wine and some background music to get me in the groove (hence, how Dinnertime Marketing was born). The point isn’t where or how you find inspiration; the point is to write every day, for even a few minutes. It’s one of the few good habits to have, and doing it once a week if you find the time isn’t going to make it a habit. . . Chances are you’ll stop doing it altogether. Even if it is crap (or what Handley calls barf), write. Write. WRITE.

Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Not your boss’s.

After you write your first draft (or, according to Handley, “The Ugly First Draft”) switch places with your reader and consider things from their perspective. Don’t think about who is signing your paycheck. Think about if what you just wrote down helps your reader. Does it answer “so what?” Is it easy for them to understand what you’re trying to say?

A lot of the above are more aspiration thoughts to remember when writing. Here are a couple actionable tips I gleaned from the first 12 chapters:

  • Put the most important information first. Avoid words like:
    • According to . . .
    • There is a . . .
    • It is [important, critical, advised, suggested, and so on] . . .
    • In my opinion . . .
    • The purpose of this [email, post, article] . . .
    • In 2014 [or any year] . . .
    • I think [believe] that . . .
  • 12 Steps of Writing
    • Goal. What is your business goal of writing this blog, article, etc.?
    • Reframe. What do you want your reader to get from the piece? Ask “So what?”
    • Seek out data and examples. If necessary to prove your point, use credible, real-world examples to support your piece.
    • Organize. Is your piece a bulleted list, a step-by-step guide, a longer narrative? What structure will best represent your thoughts?
    • Write to one person. Use “You” (not “they” or “people”) to make your piece more relatable.
    • Produce The Ugly First Draft. Personally, I call this a brain dump. Just write. It can be crap. You can take all grammatical rules you have ever learned and throw them in the garbage disposal (gasp!). Just take your thoughts and regurgitate them on the page. You can clean it up later.
    • Walk away. I do this often. Take a break from your first draft. It’s a rough draft because it’s rough. Go get a drink, take a walk, sleep on it. Whatever you need to do to distance yourself from it before you get back to it (just don’t wait too long or it’ll soak into the carpet and you’ll have to ditch it and start all over again).
    • Rewrite. Self explanatory.
    • Give it a great headline or title. This is the hardest part for me, but the most important if you want the readers to click on and read your article.
    • Have someone edit. I’m lucky that I have Elizabeth, my partner in crime on this blog, to edit my posts for me. It’s always important to have someone read your work before you post it.
    • One final look for readability. Is your piece inviting, easy to scan, alluring? Bulky paragraphs aren’t fun to read. This is why I love Handley’s short chapters. The book could be one run together chunk of text and I’d probably donate it to the local library without reading it. But I’d miss out on all the delicious insight!
    • Publish with a call-to-action. Don’t leave your readers left with “now what?” at the end of your piece. Do you want them to buy a product, subscribe to something, read more? Make sure let them know what to do next.

I warned you there were a ton of good tips and I was only 45 pages in. Stay tuned for more awesomeness as I get my act together and finish the book!


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.


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.