Six tips to conquer writer’s block

Ah, writers block. Many writers out there will attest to the perils of this dreaded state of affairs. Writer’s block ramps up anxiety and stress, especially when working in a professional environment with tight deadlines. It can also dampen creativity, making writer’s resort to plagiarism and other shenanigans.

Writing for the Content Marketing Institute blog, Alex Jasin offers six quick tips to beat writer’s block:

1. Look for inspiration in keywords

Use keyword research tools like Google Trends and Google AdWords to discover the most popular keywords in your niche market. But don’t overdo it, as this can easily distract you from your core task at hand  writing.

2. Tap into the power of headline generators

Get out of your head and look for suggested headlines via headline generators like Tweak Your Biz Title Generator and Portent.

3. Research what your audience is talking about

As Jasin notes: “If you know your audience well, then you know where they like to hang out online. You know their influencers, the communities they visit, and the forums they frequent.” These platform can be great sources of inspiration for articles and blog posts. Sift through or participate in discussions to find out what your target audiences are talking about. A platform like Quora is great for this.

4. Talk to your audience

If you really want to know what’s on your audience’s mind, it doesn’t hurt to just ask them directly. Post questions to them on your website, newsletter or social media channels, or send out a survey. Analyze the responses and incorporate them into your content strategy and editorial calendar. Jasin adds: “By talking to your audience, you not only get topics to talk about but also improve your relationship with them, boost your credibility, and ultimately, build a loyal customer base.”

5. Repackage content

Repackage your content so that it fits into another format and is adapted for different channels. For example, you can turn a piece of long-form content into a video, expand on a short piece, transform a podcast or video into a blog post, and extract content from your white papers, case studies and annual reports. However, before going this route, ensure that any repacking exercise makes sense in the grander scheme of things i.e. it aligns with your content strategy.

6. Consume great content

“You can’t expect to create ideas and write great content if you don’t read great content,” notes Jasin. Find inspiration and keep up with trends and emerging themes in your industry by reading books and blogs, listening to podcasts, following relevant organizations on social media and subscribing to newsletters. Consuming great and relevant content will enhance your creativity and help you provide real value to your audience.

Featured photo: Nate, Flickr Creative Commons

8 ways to create a brilliant newsletter people want to read

Live video, interactive content and social media are great, but when it comes to building a loyal following, look no further than the humble newsletter. Writing for the Content Marketing Institute, Mark Walker sums up the strengths of the newsletter nicely:

“For senders, newsletters are a powerful way to stay top of mind with readers, providing a direct route to getting their attention. The best newsletters — the ones readers value the most — get an almost automatic open because readers want to see what goodness is inside that day.”

With that said, how can you create a newsletter that gets opened every time you send it? Walker offers these eight strategies:

1. Go super curated

There’s an overabundance of information out there, which means that the truly high-quality content might get lost in the crowd if it is not marketed well enough. Curate unique content from around the web to really stand out.

2. Let your personality shine

As Walker notes, “newsletters feel inherently more personal”. Stay true to that personal feel by letting your personality shine through with a unique tone, anecdotes, personal stories and observations, and humour.

3. Offer value 

What benefit do people get from your newsletter that they can’t find elsewhere? How does your newsletter positively impact on people’s lives? Offer value.

4. Make it personalized 

Personalize your content based on your readers’ behaviours and preferences. This will likely require research and comprehensive audience analysis, but it’s worth it.

5. Keep it fresh but focused

Ensure that your newsletter consistently provides quality content on a specific field, so that your newsletter is considered a reliable source and authority on that field. But this doesn’t mean you can’t include new, fresh and unique examples and perspectives in each edition, while still staying true to your focus.

6. Go niche

“Newsletters, perhaps more than any other format, allow you to go really niche,” says Walker. “[You] don’t need huge audiences for your newsletter to be valuable, you just need the right people — those who care and who are engaged.” Enough said.

7. Be exclusive

Getting people to pay for your newsletter — even if you’re a nonprofit — could be an effective approach. As Walker notes, “most people tend to be more committed to things they’ve made an investment in, particularly a financial one”.

Nonprofits can ask readers to pay a small subscription fee that will go towards a social change programme that the organization supports. Reports, testimonials and human interest stories can be shared periodically in the newsletter itself, to update subscribers on what their funds have helped achieve.

However, any organization taking this route — nonprofit or otherwise — must ensure that their newsletter offers strong value for money.

8. Keep it pure

Newsletters offer a “chance to have a pure, honest conversation with your readers, and if they appreciate it, they’ll reward you by opening up your newsletter each time it’s sent,” says Walker. He adds: “You don’t have to write with SEO in mind or in a click-bait way to rise above the noise on social media.”

Truer words were never spoken. Newsletters can be a great platform for passionate writers to flex their writing and creative muscles, while promoting their organization as truly authentic.

Featured image: Dennis Skley, Flickr Creative Commons

 

#WritingTips: The first question to ask before you write

Here’s a quick scenario: a nonprofit communications department realizes that its organization’s website lacks engaging stories, a key element to any effective communications strategy. “We need more stories!” declares the communications manager.

Following this declaration, the senior communications officer quickly tasks Bob the intern with writing an engaging piece. Bob, new to the nonprofit writing game, is somewhat perplexed: “Where do I start?”, he asks himself.

Bob should start by asking one important question: “What do I want this story to achieve?”

Before writing any nonprofit story, or any story for that matter, it’s essential to clarify the objective of the story. Is it to mobilize funds? To raise awareness about your organization’s mission or strategy? To get people engaged on social media? To get people to volunteer, vote or attend your event?

Whatever the reason, the story will be made all the more effective if the purpose is clarified from the start, including how it ties in to your overall communications and content strategies.

If the purpose of the story isn’t clear, and if it does not fit into the grander scheme of things (i.e. your strategies), you shouldn’t be writing it. Writing aimlessly prevents you from writing well and undermines what the story can achieve.

Writing for his Empower Nonprofits blog, Jeremy Koch explains how this can negatively impact on your audience:

“Put simply, if you don’t know what you want your audience to do after listening to your story then they’re not going to know what to do either.”

Read Koch’s article to explore three ways in which the intention of your story impacts how you tell your story, and why this matters.

#CommsforGood: 10 ways to improve your communications strategy

Are you currently developing, reviewing or delivering a nonprofit communications strategy? If you’re thinking about the type of strategy you need, check out these tips. If you’re looking to take your communications strategy to the next level of effectiveness, consider the 10 tips below. They’re all sourced from a Gaurdian article on the importance of communication in aid work and how to get it right.

1. People engage best with people, not abstract issues

Use case studies, testimonials and human interest stories to illustrate your issue in a real, accessible and relevant way.

2. Communicate the difference people can make

Rather than only focusing on the negative aspects of the problem, show that it is possible to address the problem and communicate what each audience member can do to help address it.

3. Find a private sector partner

Find an influential company that can act as your champion, so it can push your cause among peers.

4. Strategic communications can change policy

Aim for policy change by advocating for your cause in the media and amongst politicians. Policy change is one of the most tangible ways to achieve your social development goals. For example, the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report team engaged with Pakistani press and politicians to advocate for education in the country. This contributed to the Government finding more funds for education and passing the free education bill.

5. Monitor everything

Speaking of monitoring, continually monitoring your progress and impact can help you generate a clear picture of what’s working and what’s not. You will then be able to make informed and effective adjustments to your strategy and use the positive monitoring data for stakeholder engagement and advocacy.

6. Know your audience

By clearly identifying your audience and understanding their behaviours, you can tailor your strategy and messages to best suit their needs.

7. Shift from compassion to solidarity campaigning

Move from convincing your audience to feel sorry for those you are helping, to working together with those in need to improve our shared world. Move your audience from focusing on pity to championing empowerment; from “it’s sad, but I have my own problems” to “we’re all in this together.”

8. Select the relevant data

Data is essential for transparency and evidence-based advocacy. With that said, ensure that you use the right data that is consistent with your strategy and messages, to ensure maximum impact.

9. Do more with less by being inventive

If you’re a small NGO lacking in resources, you’ll want to remember this tip. Work with freelancers and pro bono communications specialists, and organize competitions among students to generate content. Leverage free social media platforms and strategic partnerships that are cost-effective.

10. Listen to people on the ground

Talk with the people you are working with and serving in your project sites. Listen to them to understand what the real problems/needs are. Then together with them, incorporate this feedback into your communications strategy. This will ensure that your strategy can be as effective and relevant as possible for your these top-priority stakeholders.

12 types of visual content to use in your articles, reports and webpages

It’s great if you have amazing copy, but if you don’t accompany it with appropriate and engaging visuals, your doing an injustice to your content.

Visuals are crucial to the success of your content. In an article for the Content Marketing Institute blog, Robert Katai writes: “frequently cited research shows that images attract more people to the content and help people retain the content they consume longer.”

In his article, Katai presents 12 types of visual content you can use in your blog posts, but these ideas can be applied to other types of digital articles, reports and webpages. Read the summary below or the full article here.

1. Data-driven visuals

Katai writes: “To be a well-known leader in your industry, start creating data-driven content. Designed as charts or graphs, it can make it easier for your audience to comprehend your message than with text only.”

2. Quotes

If you quote or reference an influencer in your content, Katai suggests creating an image with the influencer and his or her quote, for additional impact. This approach can also be used and adapted for other types of individuals quoted in your content.

3. Infographics

A well-designed and user-friendly infographic with relevant data can help enhance and increase awareness of your brand and messages.

4. Gifographics

A gifographic is a cross between an animated GIF and an infographic. Katai emphasizes the power of gifographics:

“If you know how to explain ideas and data through infographics, take them to the next level and add movement. It can increase the interest of your audience, better entice them to share the content, and, ultimately, the increased traffic can boost your [search engine optimization].”

Check out the example gifographic below (click to enlarge).

gifographic-example

5. GIFs

Like gifographics, animated GIFs should be used only when they are consistent with the tone of the content and appropriate for the target audience.

6. Memes

“If you want to add a light touch to your article, memes can set you apart from your competition,” says Katai. I’ve included an example below, and you can find out more about meme marketing here.

Dicaprio-meme

7. Videos

Videos can be extremely effective, and they can engage audiences in ways other visual cannot. Read my previous post highlighting six dos and don’ts for effective videos.

8. Screenshots

Screenshots are easy to create and are a cost-effective way of getting your message across.

9. SlideShare presentation

Katai says: “SlideShare presentations are a great way to concisely share the thoughts in an article in a visual, downloadable way. You also can use single slides from SlideShare presentations as visuals within your content – similar to screenshots.”

10. Photos

Photos are a tried-and-tested tool for visual communication. Use quality images that are the most appropriate for your content.

11. Illustrations

Katai advises: “Your illustrations need to look professional in a way that reflects the tone and messaging of your brand. You should work with a professional designer to execute.”

12. Flip books

When you design a digital publication, you can create a flip book version, giving your readers an alternative way in which they can engage with the content. The flip book can also be embedded into articles as an interactive visual.

Use tools like Flipsnack to help you create your flip book.

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