Marketing

Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Company's Social Media

Social media is expanding faster than most of us can keep up with it. And just when we feel comfortable with a platform, it seems like we’re presented with a change of some kind. For example, Instagram introduces a new element to their Stories feature every month. And Twitter recently changed its policy and guidelines. Plus, Facebook has already made three, big algorithm changes this year.

Around every corner is a new evolution in social media. As nonprofits and social enterprises, it’s crucial that we maintain an online presence. So, how do we keep up?

Social media allows us to connect with wider audiences, and help us ultimately establish brand awareness and brand loyalty. According the New York Times Business section, “an estimated 81% of Americans have a social media account.” In fact, Facebook is quickly closing in on the two billion (with a B!) user mark. Instagram has 800 million monthly active users, and Twitter has 330 million monthly active users.

These are impressive numbers, but their implications, for our social enterprises and nonprofits especially, should spring us into action! Everyone is looking to connect with something, which is essential to being human. And everyone is also looking for a cause!

 Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Company's Social Media

You’re cause might just be their life’s calling, but if they’re knocking and you’re not there to answer, how will they connect with you?

It’s intimidating, yet inevitable—to communicate the mission and heartbeat of your organization, you must utilize social media.

Sree Sreenivasan of the New York Times says, “LinkedIn works best when you use it as a career management tool and not just for job hunting.” We have to treat our social media accounts in the same way. They are a year-round tool that builds a community of followers, not just a launching pad for campaign and fundraising season. They are a field that requires cultivation. If we are committed (AHHH! We said the word!) and faithful over time, our use of social media platforms will yield fruit and growth.

So without further ado, let’s dive into some tips that will help your company improve at engaging with social media.

Technical and Practical Advice for Your Social Media

Before we look to specific examples of organizations that utilize social media effectively, let’s think of some practical steps to improve our social media image:

Practice brevity. Keep it simple.

Too much content can overwhelm users. To connect with your audience, be sweet, simple, and to the point with your words. Because posts like this are shorter, it requires more consistency in the amount of times you post weekly, monthly, etc. By having less written content in each individual posts, but posting more frequently over time, you will slowly and steadily build a following and connect your audience to the heart of your mission.

A nice rule of thumb is to keep each post at a one to two sentences max for Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn. However, each audience is different, and you can test different lengths to see what your fans like and interact with most.

There are definitely times when longer posts are needed. Or if, for example, your brand revolves around a person, your tribe may be interested in reading longer thoughts.  Instagram allows a lot more text, and people have found success with both short and long posts, so again, experiment! Or at least feel free to vary it as needed, depending on the content.

Hashtags are okay, but don’t use too many! We recommend two for Twitter, but no more than three on occasion. Use hashtags that highlight your brand, attract your tribe, or direct users specifically to the content they are looking for. For example, if your Tweet is about #fundraising, use that, but feel the freedom for your hashtags to vary with content. You can also identify more hashtags using websites like Hashtagify.me. You may even want to create a list of hashtags that work best, and swap them out regularly. (You'll see that we do that on our Twitter account.)

For Instagram, they’ll let you use up to 30 hashtags! Because there is more “room” on Instagram, you can certainly use more here, which will allow you to attract more people at once. You can now also use and search hashtags in Instagram Stories.

And though you can use hashtags for Facebook and LinkedIn, it’s not necessary.

 

Consistency and Frequency

Day to day and week to week, try to find a consistent time that you can post—and stick to that! It can be useful to post during peak times in social media use. Usually there’s a peak from noon to 1:00 p.m. during lunch hours, and another peak posting time at from 6:00 - 9:00 p.m. at dinner time. You might look to tools like Hootsuite or SmarterQue to help you schedule postings.

It’s good to find such general rules of time, but they aren’t be-all-end-all guidelines! Have flexibility in your schedule, periodically review it, and be willing to change your patterns to fit your audience. Using business analytics through Google analytics, Facebook analytics and insights, and tools like Hootsuite to track the viewing patterns of your audience. Look at when user activity is the highest, and then cater to those needs.

It can be additionally challenging to discover what frequency should look like for your company—whether that’s twice a week or twice a day find the perfect balance. A quick Google search will give you a lot of answers, but there really is no substitute for experimenting and trial and error. If you’re interacting with Millennials constantly, it might be that more frequent posting is necessary, however, if you targets primarily an older crowd, less postings may be best.

First and foremost, we recommend finding a consistency that you can actually execute, and then building on that along the way. It’s more important to first create the habit rather than getting behind and ditching your plan. For example, a newsletter should go out at least quarterly, a blog post should go up at least monthly, and social media should post at least once per week.

This isn’t ideal, it’s a bare minimum. But if this is all you can do to start—just start. Then form the habit, and create a plan to post more frequently. But if you’re fans, followers, and supporters never hear from you...they will hear from someone else.

Developing an Aesthetic for Your Brand

It may sound cliche, but to ensure that we’re developing a brand image for our social enterprise or nonprofit, it’s necessary that we develop an unchanging and balanced aesthetic. This means that your posts should always look like they came from your organization. It's often helpful to create templates through programs like Canva or Adobe Spark that you can use again and again. (<-- They’re free and easy to use!)

Through the use of similar colors, fonts, and symbols in your graphics, people will start to develop a sense of what is familiar, and yes, even comfortable with your organization.

 

Try Bit.ly

Bit.ly is a website that allows users to create short, trackable links that connect to specific content on your website. (Hint: we use Bit.ly links on social media to track when our blog posts are clicked from other platforms.)

Rather than using super long links that use up half of the real estate on your social media post, use a Bit.ly link—they’re concise and even customizable. Plus, they’re much easier on the eyes! Who wants to look at a social media post that’s mostly a link? Answer: no one.

And not only can you shorten the links to content on your website like blogs, contact pages, social media, you’re also able to track the audience engagement through these links. Tools like Google Analytics are always more reliable, but for quick stats at a glance, this is a simple option.

An Expert Social Media Example

No matter who you are, it’s important to look to examples of companies that are at least one step ahead of you. If you want to get to the place where you're one step ahead as well, surround yourselves with examples of companies more successful than you.

Pastor Andy Stanley, who is widely known for his communication and leadership skills, says, “You are not the smartest person in your organization. You’re just the leader. If you are the smartest person in your organization, you are not a very good leader.” Always look for examples of organizations that seemingly “have it all together” or whom you admire.

And while you may be at a small organization looking to a large or popular organization for inspiration, don’t feel like you have to imitate them exactly. Did TOMS, Habitat for Humanity, The Salvation Army, Project 7, Warby Parker, or the American Cancer Society come to mind?

They may seem to have oodles of manpower, limitless resources, and countless hours of experience, but remember that those organizations started with SMALL means and HUGE dreams. It’s probably a better use of your time to look at a successful company that projects a great online and offline reputation, but is just a little bigger than you. What are they doing on social media that you can do?

Charity: Water is constantly growing and recognized in its uncanny ability to utilize social media platforms and effectively connect with its users. Scott Harrison started Charity: Water in 2006, astounded by the fact that 1 in 10 people lack access to clean water.

They may seem like a huge organization, but they don’t actually have an enormous staff. However, they are known for being brilliant online storytellers.

Through creative engagement on social media, Charity: Water has provided 8 million people around the world access to clean water since their launch! According to CNBC, Charity: Water has funded, “30,000 water projects in 26 countries across the world. Over one million people have donated more than $300 million to its cause.”

So then, how did Harrison do it? There’s many moving parts, but arguably Charity: Water has some of the most effective marketing that a company has to offer—and its strategy is simple: present the problem and provide a simple solution.

1. At Charity: Water, all they ask for is a penny.

Let’s be honest—the world has commitment issues. It’s not easy to get people to commit to relationships, and it’s even harder to contribute our hard-earned money toward campaigns we barely know about. However, here’s the beauty in this example: It’s okay to start small!

The Charity: Water website states, “Every single penny will help bring clean water to communities in need.” In a recent #WorldWaterDay campaign, Charity: water asked children to donate their allowance, or savings, of $8.15. Not only was this a small, manageable, and simple amount, but it also allowed for deep interaction and audience participation. It’s communicating the fact that yes even kids can change the world and the world’s water crisis!

 

2. Their audience is involved.

In line with keeping its mission simple, Charity: Water makes sure that its audience is always engaged. However, it goes one step further. They also make sure that the audience is involved.

Involvement is how we generate deep bonds and ties with our tribe, and ultimately how we develop brand loyalty. Charity: Water’s campaigns are designed for the everyman—and that’s incredible. Often it’s hard to feel invested in an organization when it’s goals feel too lofty.

Under it’s fundraising page you’ll find, “Start Your Campaign.” Every campaign at Charity: Water is for and by the people—that’s powerful. Sometimes the best step in our next campaign is to simply ask, “How we can involve our audience?”

By engaging our audiences and providing them with tangible opportunities to participate in our mission and campaigns, we will build a brand that people not only feel like they can connect with, but rather be a part of.

 

3. Charity: Water uses local partners.

They have developed an extensive portfolio of partners. We might overlook the importance of our partners, clients, or business partners (you name it), however, there is power in association.

By associating ourselves with other companies, we can display a history of our work, our credibility, and our accolades. Never undermine the importance of friendships, partnerships, sponsors, and connections. We are all always just one step away from making a connection with a new client, bridging gaps in communication, or introducing someone to our products or services. Rely on close friendships, clients, key stakeholders, and other partners to bridge those gaps. You just never know who knows who!

 

4. They have consistency in social media and brand image.

We mentioned this under a previous section, however, we’ll drill it again here. Charity: Water has developed powerful imagery that beautifully and effectively communicates its mission.

A yellow water jug, common to poor areas for carrying water, symbolizes the mission of the company: clean water. This bright jug and the use of vibrant colors in general are paired with hand-written text and undersaturated hues with an abundance of blues.

People now automatically associate them with that yellow jerrycan (water jug). Sitting at 331,000 likes on Facebook and 1.5 million followers on Twitter, we’d say Charity: Water is doing something right!

 

So then, let’s start small with these simple, practical steps. As you work on it, you’ll develop your brand image, frequency, and consistency. It doesn’t have to be perfect to start, but you do need to start somewhere.

Look at where you have capability and resources, and jump in. Evaluate brands that inspire you to improve.

And just remember that the first word is social media is still "social." You need to be interacting and engaging with those who love your organization and your cause. Listen to your fans and see what they like. Ask them questions. Show them the perfect and the imperfection of your brand. But you have to talk to them to understand them. And when you start to do that, things get a whole lot easier.

Have any wins on how you improved your own social media strategy? Tell us in the comments!

 

Read the other posts in this series:



 Around every corner is a new evolution in social media. As nonprofits and social enterprises, it’s crucial that we  maintain an online presence . So, how do we keep up?

Michael Banks

Michael Griffith Banks is a fourth-year Public Relations Major at the University of Georgia with a minor in Spanish. He’s throughly involved with UGA’s Office of Admissions, most recently serving as an Orientation Leader for the University.


7 Tips You Need to Know to Write a Better Website

These days, the internet is king. If you need to know or find something, you Google it. If you’re looking for a specific product or organization, you visit their website. And there’s nothing worse than landing on a page that’s cluttered, unorganized, and/or hard to navigate. We all know how fast we’ve hit that little red “x” on sites like that.

Designing and writing content for your website can seem challenging, but we’re going to walk you through the most important, and sometimes overlooked, aspects that will make your website effective, navigable, and memorable.

As a nonprofit leader, this is especially vital. Not only do you want to spread your message and goal, you want to raise money, and fundraising online is essential. It’s convenient, fast, and easy, and if done correctly can generate more money, more visitors, and more supporters.

This is important for everyone, though, not just nonprofits! Cause-focused organizations of all kinds also need web content that clearly informs readers of the issue and what they can do to help. You need to make an immediate and strong impression in order to gain supporters and grow your business. Everything must be clear, concise, and always lead back to the cause. So, let’s get to it!

7 Tips You Need to Know to Write a Better Website

You need to keep all of your web content clear, easy to understand, and catered to your specific audience.

Who are you trying to reach? Who is your ideal donor or supporter? What do they do, what do they like? Figure out these questions and then tailor all your content to reach your audience. In return, answer questions for them. What do you do? Why should they care? How can they help?

Make all of your writing clear and concise, don’t add any extra information that doesn’t need to be there and that may confuse or mislead them. Avoid jargon. You might know the language of your specific industry but others probably do not. Get an outside, third party to read everything over and ensure that it is easy to understand. Your purpose should always be clear.

Additionally, keep all of your paragraphs short and sweet. Break up chunks of writing into easily-digestible content that one can easily scan through should they want to. Highlight the most important information so they can’t miss it. This also makes it easier for people to read and look at if they are on their phone or tablet, which let’s be honest, most of us are.

 

Keep your home page and all of your pages simple, not cluttered with text.

Your home page is the first thing viewers see, so you don’t want to overwhelm them with a ton of written information. They won’t know where to look or what to look for, and probably won’t read much of it at all.

Instead, use images to draw viewers in and interest them. We live in a visual world, so use that to your advantage and choose strong, eye-catching pictures that support your narrative. These will intrigue viewers and guide them to the written information.

This goes for your other pages as well. Save yourself and the reader time and cut the clutter. Only write what is most important, clearly and succinctly. Keep it simple.

Also worth noting: watch the number of pages you have on your website as well. If you have lots of different pages and categories this can also make your site look cluttered, and confuse or overwhelm the viewer. Most people won’t read an entire site as it is. And this means less writing for you too! Sounds like a win-win.

Use storytelling to attract and intrigue readers, inviting them to be a part of your cause.

No one will want to read a bland, boring, or strictly technical website. People respond well to stories, something that draws them in, appeals to their emotions, and makes them think. If you want to make your website more effective, creating a story around your mission and goal is a surefire way to garner more support. Storytelling is powerful.

You’re passionate about your work, so put that to paper (or rather, keyboard) and make it show. Make others passionate too. Tell readers about your organization, introduce a character and a conflict, present the solution, and show them how they can be part of that resolution.

However, choose your words wisely. This isn’t a novel; you only have a few seconds to pique visitors’ interests and keep them on your website. Keep it concise, to the point, and powerful. Every word counts, and you don’t get many. Make sure each one is impactful and furthers your cause.

You may also consider using statistics or numerical data to further your story and prove that readers can make a difference. How will their contribution really help? Show the success and make it real for them. Just be careful not to overwhelm them with stats.

You can find more resources for effective storytelling here.

 

Make your website customer or donor friendly--donation buttons or calls to action should be on every page and easily accessible.

You want viewers to take action, so communicate clearly what you want that action to be and what they need to do. Don’t forget: always keep in mind who you’re writing to! Use action and power verbs and convince them to take the necessary action.

A call to action can be anything from donating, to buying a product, to getting on your email list. Whatever you want your audience to do, this is what you need to call attention to. These are powerful marketing tools, and should get an immediate response from the person viewing it. They should directly let your audience know what to do next if they’re interested in what you have to offer.

These calls to action are what drives donations if you’re a nonprofit, or sales if you’re not. Keep your statements direct and concise. Use “you” to make the reader place themselves directly into the situation. Appeal to emotions, just like storytelling, and create a sense of urgency. This will make your content more compelling and effective.

Your goal should be to keep supporters one click away from donating or making whatever action you need them to make at all times. Design-wise, you need to be placing clear, easy to locate buttons on every page. Make them stand out by highlighting them in a color that is different from your written content so visitors will be sure to see it.

Your “About” page also needs to contain client/customer/donor language.

Did you know that the About page is often the second most visited page on a website? If that’s also the case for you, it should probably be working a little harder on your behalf.

Yes, it’s about you or your organization, but it also needs to appeal to the reader. You’re writing it for them, so they can determine who you are and if they want to support you. So convince them!

Talk about what you do and how it can help them, or how they can help you and why they should. Tell them why they should spend their time reading your website or supporting your cause. Remember what I said before, everything should be about your audience, even your About page.

This is also the perfect place to include your social media. Your website should have clear social media icons sprinkled throughout, but you should also include them here. Don’t be afraid to add a call to action button here as well. (See our About page as an example.)

 

You also need to make sure you establish trust with your audience, whether it be a donor, sponsor, or customer.

Prospective donors and customers are going to want to know where their money will really be going and if their financial information is safe and secure. You need to consider this when writing content and build that trust. Address these issues and put their minds at ease.

Demonstrate your organization’s use of funding, maybe with an eye-catching graph or some other graphic. Make sure your audience knows you value their support as well as their financial information, and take all necessary measures and precautions to ensure that it is secure.

Speaking of graphics...

 

Your content needs to be visually pleasing, so use pictures, graphics, and make it all look clean and appealing.

While your content is obviously important and will ultimately drive visitors to take action and support your cause, things need to be aesthetically pleasing as well, like I mentioned earlier. Choose your fonts wisely. Pick fonts that are easy to read and large enough for all screens and eyes.

Choose pictures and graphics that are also strong and only relevant to your organization. You need these visuals around your website to support your written content, catch the audience’s attention, and generally just look good! Make sure all images are clear and not too distracting. Create a color palette for your website and match your pictures to that palette. Be careful to only use royalty free images as well!

Remember that this is especially important for your homepage and your donation/product page. These need to be clear and visually stunning, but still not cluttered or hard to navigate. On your homepage, make sure your page categories are easy to spot and organized. On your donation or product page, include bold amounts, payment methods, frequencies, and how their donation or purchase will help your cause.

Clear, concise, beautiful!

Your website is the face of your organization and communicates with the world what you do, why they need to know, and how they can help. Make sure your content is powerful and your visuals are stunning, and you’re more likely to reach your intended audience—and your goals!

 

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7 Tips You Need to Know to Write a Better Website

Megan Westbrook

Megan Westbrook holds a B.A. in journalism with a focus in public relations and a minor in Spanish from Georgia State University. An aspiring writer, her interests reside in blogging, social media, content creation, design, and photography. She is also a passionate social justice advocate and interested in nonprofit or cause-focused work. Megan is currently a receptionist at Servcorp in Atlanta, Georgia. 

5+ Reasons Why No One is Reading Your Blog

If you're like many nonprofit or social enterprise leaders I meet, you have a beautifully designed blog, but it's a little barren. In fact, you really struggle to get your blog updated. And when you finally do, you check the box, pat yourself on the back, and call it a day. But it's not enough to just write the post—it needs to get read. 

Before we even address any potential issues with your marketing and promotion of the blog post, let's first address the readability. (And, yes, that's a thing.) Does this sound familiar? Someone lands on your little labor of love, maybe skims a little, and then promptly leaves. All without taking action, or worse, even taking in your content.

Here you find yourself with a post that took precious time and energy, but didn't actually get the job done. It's finished, sure, but it's not effective. It's not working hard enough for you. Houston, we have a problem.

You can sit around all day long, cross your arms, and shout, "It's not me, it's you!" ... but is it? Here are a few blog writing tips that will help ensure your post gets read, and better yet, acted on. 

 5+ Reasons Why No One is Reading Your Blog

Formatting Your Blog Post

Not sure if you've noticed, but the the look of blog posts has changed quite a bit over the last, few years. They are no longer just little (or big) essays waiting to be consumed. Everyone's vying for your attention, and here's how the winners are getting noticed.

Sub-heads or headers: Like it or not, people often skim content, so after your introduction, use sub-heads in the body text to preview what's coming up. This also helps with SEO, so it’s good to use keywords (the main topic of your post) in sub-heads as well, or at least use a few words to describe what you’ll be talking about next.

Short paragraphs: Because it’s common for people to view websites on smaller screens, like cell phones and tablets, use smaller paragraphs of just a few sentences. If you write a long paragraph, how you can break it up so that it’s more readable on any sized screen? People don't want to look at a wall of text on a small screen.

Images: We may be living in a material world, but we're also living in a visual one. You need at least one image/video/graph/etc. to accompany your post. Not only does this illustrate your topic and help grab someone's attention, but for anyone who wants to save your post to a site like Pinterest, it makes things easier.

Keywords: You also want to make sure and mention your topic several times in the body copy for SEO. And you can use it in different phrasing, too. For example, if your post is about “content creation,” you can use that phrase, as well as “creating content” and “content marketing” and similar things. Once again, we're trying to appease and appeal to the almighty Google in hopes that it will recognize us and call us worthy. Agree or disagree, it's the world we live in if we want people to find our little corner of the internet.

CTA or Call to Action: At the end of every post should be a CTA. (You can also sprinkle them throughout.) What do you want people to do as a result of reading your blog post? You can lead them to additional content, make a donation or purchase, give you their email, sign up for your newsletter, download something, etc. There are a lot of options, so be sure to include one. Get them to interact with your content to make it, your cause, and your organization more memorable. This helps you build a relationship with someone.

Don't Forget Consistency

If you've read even a couple of posts on this blog, you've likely seen some form of the word "consistency." It is a huge soap box for us—because it's that important! So, along with formatting your blog post to make it more read-worthy, let's take a look at a few things that should always remain the same, even when the topic changes.

Remember your audience: For this blog, we consider our audience to be leaders or key employees of nonprofits and for-profits with a social mission. They're typically at a small organization where people wear multiple hats. And they have a desire to improve their marketing and communications. Everything we write keeps these folks in mind in order to serve them better.

Tone and voice: If you haven't done this yet, determine how your organization "sounds" so that tone and voice remains the same. Here at Signify, we want to sound friendly and professional, with a side of humor. (Because humor just makes the world better.)

Refrain from jargon: Unless you have a very narrow niche that understands your jargon, like rocket scientists or brain surgeons, stop using words and phrases specific to that group. Don't make your audience strain to understand what you're saying or you'll lose them. For example, here on this blog, we try to make marketing and communications easy for anyone in our target audience to understand and act on.

Grammar, punctuation, and similar do-dads: We touched on this last week, but for repeat readers, you need to make sure your style is always the same from post to post. Go read that post with advice from editors. It has some great advice!

Pro Tips for Your Blog Posts

We know, we know. You already have a long list to work on where your blog posts are concerned. But for those of you who may be a little further ahead, or think overachieving is a way of life, here are a few other things to make your words stretch further.

Work on your headlines: You already know this, but your blog headline is super important. We use this headline analyzer to help determine if our headlines will entice readers. Aim for a score of above 70, just like in school!

Add internal links: Link to other posts or pages within your site. Like when you talk about promoting a launch, you can link to another place where you talk about that same subject. ( <-- See what we did there?) This keeps people on your site longer because they're looking around at all the pretty content you've created. This is obviously great for your website, but when people stick around, it also tells Google that your site is a good one, and they should recommend you more.

Add external links: On a similar note, link to other websites when you can as well. It helps build the credibility of your own site in Google's eyes. So, when you mention that you're attending the Plywood Presents conference in a few months, make it easy for people to get there. ( <-- Did it again!)

Briefly consider length: There are MANY opinions about what the "right" length of a blog post should be, but here we ascribe to a single philosophy: cover the topic well. We write a minimum of 500 words, because again, you want to have enough content for Google to search, but past that, there aren't a lot of length requirements. Just deliver on the promise of your headline to keep your readers happy.

Maybe add a bio: Unfortunately, the sales cycle isn't like IKEA. Potential customers and donors don't all show up on the same page of your website, walk through it in one direction, and then end up on your sales or donations page. (Sigh.) For that reason, every blog post contains a short bio and photo of the writer. So, if I (Kristi) only get someone to read one post on this blog, they can at least also catch a little bit about me and what my company does. 

SEO and Keywords: To be completely honest, we don't focus heavily on SEO around here right now. As the team grows and capacity expands, we'll work on it, but for now, we've just dipped our toes in. If you feel more fancy than we do, take a look at Google’s Keyword Planner and Buzz Sumo.

 

Promoting Your Blog Post

We'll just cover this briefly here, but you can have the best-written, most beautiful post in the world, but if no one reads it, it won’t do you much good. Here are some of the ways we promote our posts, and you may think of others that work for you as well.

 

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 Blog writing tips that will help ensure your post gets read, and better yet, acted on.

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


Advice From The Editors: Avoid These Writing Mistakes

If you've been wondering what makes for great business writing, you're in luck! Based on feedback from the Signifiers Facebook Group, we're focusing on writing tips all month long. But before we talk about how to write an enticing and effective blog post, website, or social media, let's first chat about common writing mistakes. 

I don't know about you, but I see errors on professional websites, blogs, social media, and even national commercials almost daily. And, as someone who can spot them, it makes the brand seem more amateur to me, especially when it's a large company. That's definitely not what I want for your organization. 

So, to kick things off, I asked a few of my favorite #girlboss editors to explain some common writing mistakes, which will allow you to spot any weaknesses you may have, and improve them. (Basically, here's how you can up your writing game in just a few minutes!) Any corrections you can catch now may cause you to retain customers and donors in the future.

 Advice From the Editors: Avoid These Common Business Writing Mistakes

Audience

Sara Shelton:

My biggest tip for any and all writers would be to remember your audience. If you don’t know who you’re writing to, don’t start writing until you figure that out! Identify your primary audience and then write with them in mind. Read everything back through the lens of that audience and ask yourself if it makes sense just for them. Did it communicate specifically to that audience?

As an editor, one the biggest content mistakes I find myself having to correct is a lack of focus on an audience. It’s much easier to make a clear point and deliver a direct message to one, specific audience. When a writer or brand doesn’t know who they’re trying to communicate to, clarity and messaging gets lost and mixed up pretty quickly!

 

Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling, and Related Nonsense

Afton Phillips:

The Oxford Comma Debate

To add the third comma, or not to add the third comma. That is the question. A REAL BIG pet peeve of mine when editing is inconsistent commas. The Oxford comma is the last comma in a list of three or more items just before the "and" or "or." For example, “Johnny, April, and Samantha drove to the store to get Tombstone frozen pizza, which as we all know, is the best kind of pizza.” The comma after "April" is the Oxford comma.

The reason this matters is that sometimes the meaning of the sentence can be misconstrued without the comma. In the above example, it might otherwise seem like we’re telling Johnny that April and Samantha went to get delicious pizza without him, which is very rude. Without the Oxford comma, the last two subjects can sometimes be grouped together separately, leaving the first guy all alone, hungry, and wishing he had pizza. So, my humble opinion is to be kind and add the Oxford comma.

There are a lot of opinions on this topic, but no matter where you fall, my one piece of advice is be consistent. Whether you want to use it or not, whenever you have a list of three or more, make sure you either always or never use your Oxford comma. This will make your editor's life much easier, and it will clear up any misunderstandings in your text by your willy-nilly use of punctuation.

 

Jill Turner:

The number one mistake I have corrected lately (and so many times) is no comma before "and" (or any other conjunction) when marrying two sentences that could stand on their own. For example: Kristi Porter is a friend of mine. She is a talented writer. If I put those two sentences together, I have to say, "Kristi Porter is a friend of mine, and she is a talented writer."

A second thing that bothers me is the very popular use of "based off." A base is something you put something else ON. A base is a launching pad, a setting place. You can only base something ON something else.

A resource Jill recommends:

 

I will also add two of my own here:

First, an ampersand, or the famous "&" character, should not be placed in the middle of a sentence. I think this probably became more popular when people started writing like they text (note: me shaking my head and sighing). Use it for titles, names, and things like that, but if you're using it in a sentence because typing two more characters for "and" is a bit much for you, rethink it. It just leaves me feeling that whatever is written is unprofessional or sloppy. And it drives me insane to see large businesses who can afford proofreaders make this mistake.

Second, and somewhat related, is the use of single and double quotes. I still hold true to what I was taught in school: use double quotes every dang time, unless you are quoting someone within a set of quotes. For example: "I turned to look at a bewildered Samantha who said, 'Oh, no, she didn't!' and then we both burst out laughing."

That latter mention is the only time I believe a single quote should be used. And I really enjoyed this funny, tirade on the subject. Again, I think this leads back to texting being the death of proper writing. (Call me old, I don't care!) Then again, sometime these mistakes keep me in business, so there's that...

Resources I recommend:

  • I admit to Googling these questions now and again, but I only get my answers from reputable sources like AP Stylebook, Grammarly, and Grammar Girl, which you'll also see noted below.

  • Make friends with editors, ha! I'll also admit to texting some of these ladies questions from time-to-time.

  • If you have the budget, hire a proofreader. It may not seem like it should be at the top of your list, but remember, everything you say (including how you say it) conveys something about your organization. If you're asking people to buy something from you, or donate to your organization, you'd better make sure that you look and sound professional. Personally, if I see a lot of errors in a website, email, blog, or social media, that's not where I'm going to send my money.

 

Style

Crystal Chiang:

When writing, nothing is more often overlooked or more impactful than tension. Tension helps the reader answer the question, “why do I care?”. It moves them to feel something, to engage.

The problem is that no one really likes tension, not even the author. We want it to be relieved. We want the reader to know that we know the answer to the questions we’re asking. We want to stop feeling the tension, so we resolve it to quickly. And in doing so, we unknowingly sabotage ourselves.

The truth is, there’s a lot of content out there and our time is limited. So helping a reader know why this topic matters to them is key if we want them to stick around.

A resource Crystal recommends:

 

Leigh Harper:

Don't fall into the trap of foregoing correctness for the sake of being catchy or memorable. Trust me, you'll be remembered—but not for the reasons you'd like! Creativity is great, but keep it professional by using proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Playing off of words is welcomed (i.e. naming a boutique "Sew In Style"), but there's no need to get sloppy ("Sew 'N Style" or worse, "Sew-N-Style"). You'll be hurting yourself by appearing amateur. Plus, deviating from traditional spelling, punctuation, or grammar opens the door wide open for vendors, donors, and customers to misspell or confuse your brand. Naming an event, product, or campaign? You guessed it. Same rules apply in order to put your best foot forward.

Resources Leigh recommends:

 

A Little of This, A Little of That

Jennifer Bradley Franklin:

Effective writing is the foundation of successful messaging—in public relations and beyond. It can communicate the strengths of a brand to virtually any targeted audience, convert skeptics into evangelists, and it can make the journalist receiving it say, “Yes! I want to write a story about that!” Bad, boring, or unclear writing will make many people ignore the potentially terrific information you have to share.

What Makes Bad Writing?

  • Too much "puffery" such as: "It will be a fun-filled evening for the entire family, with each hilarious performance starting promptly at 8 p.m.”

  • Empty/meaningless language: there is, amazing, actually, basically, really, charming, fantastic, wonderful, etc. Use concrete adjectives that convey what you want to say.

  • Cramming in too many big words, just for the sake of, well, using big words.

  • Being unclear. Don’t make assumptions about your reader’s knowledge of a subject.

What Makes Good Writing?

  • Master the basics (grammar, structure, format) and then build in personality and “punch” from that strong foundation.

  • Write for clarity. Read your work with a critical eye, asking the question, “If I weren’t close to this project, would this paragraph make sense?”

  • Be concise, but include interesting details that entice the recipient to read on. Think like a journalist.

Resources Jennifer recommends:

  • Grammarly

  • "In general, I think the best way to become a better writer is to be a voracious reader. Reading good writing hones those skills!"

 

Jennifer Wilder:

I have two pieces of advice. First, no matter how well you write, you can still make spelling errors on words like here and hear, or they're and their, or your and you're. Often, these spelling errors elude us even after reading it twice. That's why it's important to have a second set of eyes read your article. This person could be your spouse, your business partner, a professional editor, or a virtual assistant. The second person will often catch things that you didn't.

If you're unable to locate someone to read things twice, then read it yourself, out loud, a third time. Pretend that you are reading it to someone who is looking over your shoulder at the document. You'll likely find that spelling errors jump out at you when taking this perspective.

Second, write as if your article or communication was going to be read by a group of fifth-grade students. Are your ideas clearly thought out and linked together? Are your sentences less than 20 words? Check to make sure you limit the use of pronouns or referring words. Mix in the proper names of things among those referring pronouns to ensure that readers follow your thought process through complex ideas about multiple subject matters.

Resources Jen recommends:

 

Patti Townley-Covert:

  • If a nonprofit does not have an experienced communications department, I highly recommend they hire someone to come in and do a seminar about writing tips. (Or if you have someone experienced, it's worth making the time for that person to share writing info with whatever staff personnel might write for the organization. It's amazing how few editors/marketing people/human resources personnel and others have any kind of training in effective communications. The authors I worked with at a nonprofit hated the writing/editorial process until I did a two-hour seminar correcting some misperceptions that even those designated as editors had. Articles/books/brochures and donor letters became far more engaging as a result. It's well-worth the cost.

  • Ledes (leads) should hook the reader into the material. Using a story, an outrageous or little known fact, or other compelling approaches will help readers take time to read the rest.

  • Writing is a team sport. It takes good communication and working together to get high-quality documents. Too many times authors and editors do not explain problems, they just try to fix them in isolation. That does not work well.

  • The worst problem I see, even with experienced writers, is passive or boring verbs—were, was, are, have, is. Verbs should be powerful, action words. That's fine for a first draft, but then substitute action words.

  • Another problem is over-using the word "I" in your writing. The article/missive/web piece is not about "you." Keep it focused on the audience, even when describing how you feel about it.

  • That said, when you're writing—just write. Let the words flow. Then go back and edit. The two processes use opposite sides of the brain, and trying to edit as you go makes a writer miserable. That was the number one reason the authors I worked with hated the process. They were trying to be creative and analytical at the same time.

 

Great information, right? These are smart, successful women who know their stuff. Take my advice: take their advice! These writing mistakes may be common, but they're easy to fix. Make these changes, and pretty soon, you'll be a more powerful writer who can help others rally around your cause.

And let us know in the comments which tips were most helpful for you!

 

Read the other posts in this series:



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 These common writing mistakes could be costing your nonprofit or social enterprise customers and donors! Listen to what our favorite editors had to say.

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


How to Write Press Releases and Gain Exposure

As we’ve been learning lately, public relations is pretty essential for your business, especially if it’s a small business. People need to know what you’re doing and why they should care. And they can’t know until you tell them! So, how can you get your message out simply, effectively, and widely? Press releases.

Press releases are powerful marketing tools. If done correctly and distributed well, they can make a huge difference and boost your business tremendously. They are a way to get your name out to potential donors, partners, sponsors, and customers. They add to the credibility of your social enterprise or nonprofit and raise awareness for what you are doing.

Of course, writing press releases may be something you never thought to do, let alone how to do it. Don’t be intimidated! Follow these step-by-step guidelines and tips and you’ll be ready to showcase whatever you have to offer to the public—which is a lot!

First off, let’s talk about how to structure these babies. This is important, so take note!

caffeine-coffee-cup-891674.jpg

Your headline should be short, sweet, to the point, and grab your audience’s attention immediately.

This is pretty much true for any headline out there, as you probably know. No one is going to choose to read something that has a weak, boring, or vague headline. This is arguably the most important part of your press release, because not only does this have to grab the public, it has to grab the journalist or the publication you want to help you distribute the release. If it doesn’t, it’s going straight into their trash. So make it good!

Think about who you’re trying to appeal to and cater it to them. You want to make it stand out and be captivating, but also capture the point of your release. Choose your words wisely and sparingly. Use strong words. Emotional words are beneficial to draw someone in and make them want to read more. Here’s a list of different emotional words you can use in your headline to evoke whatever action or feeling you need to. 

Kristi also showed me an amazing tool that analyzes and grades your headline. It shows you exactly what you need to adjust to make it better and more effective. It’s fantastic. I find it’s much easier to write the entire thing first and then develop the headline, but it’s all preference! You can also add a sub-header with a bit more details if you think it’s absolutely necessary.

Now let’s move onto the juicy stuff…

 

Your first paragraph should contain your most important information and every detail your audience needs to know.

Don’t make people search for the point because they won’t. You need to make the point very clear and right off the bat. This is the time to give the who, what, when, where, why, and how. All details need to be clear and concise. What are you doing? Why is it important? Why should we care?

Set the scene for whatever it is you’re announcing. Don’t add any extra fluff. People can tell if you’re going around in circles or explaining something in five sentences when it could’ve been explained in one.

It’s also a good idea to have someone read this for you before you release it (really, they should read the entire thing, but especially this and the headline). If they can’t answer those questions when they’re done, you have more work to do.  

In your next few paragraphs, you can include relevant and important quotes from relevant and important people only.

The body of your press release after your first paragraph should all just be support, but don’t get fluffy. Still keep it all short, sweet, and relevant to your main point. You don’t need quotes necessarily, but a one or two good ones can strengthen your narrative and make it interesting and credible. So use reliable sources!

I’m talking experts here—actual knowledgeable people. Don’t use a quote from your friend who’s only social media knowledge comes from her own personal Instagram use. Get a quote from a social media manager or specialist at a major company. They need to be powerful.

Focus these quotes around whatever message you’re trying to convey, too. It all needs to lead and connect to the same place. Don’t lead your audience on a wild goose chase for the point.

Remember these are still optional. Only use quotes if they strengthen your release and message. If you do use quotes, I would advise to only use one to three max in your press release. We’re going for quality over quantity here, so don’t get caught up in worrying about the length. Two pages maximum for this entire thing, preferably one.

If you don't use quotes or following your quotes, continue to expand on your first paragraph with supporting material. Start with what's most important or interesting, and work your way down. You only need a couple of paragraphs here.

 

In your last paragraph, you can provide some background information on your company and whatever it is you’re trying to spread the word about.

The least important information goes here, obviously. These are just some additional details that could be useful to people, but that won’t kill them to miss. You still want to only add what will strengthen your release.

You can include how the product/website/fundraiser/etc. was developed and how it will impact the future, if relevant. You can highlight additional resources you may have used or a website for purchases or more information. Just make sure you’re (say it with me now!) not adding fluff just to fill up the page.

 

Last but not least, your boilerplate is the very last component of your press release.

What is a boilerplate? In press releases, it’s a small, short paragraph that summarizes and tells the readers about your business. Think of it as a bio for your company. This should be the same for every press release. You will write this once and just tack it on the end of every one. Sounds easy, but don’t take it too lightly. It’s still important.

Keep this clear and straightforward, just a few sentences. Tell your readers who you are and what you do. It supports your credibility and can also boost your visibility on the web if you use key phrases, so make it count.

You also want to link to your website or other important platform in your boilerplate. For example, your last sentence could be, “For more information, visit: (insert your link here).” You should also include your contact information.

That’s the meat of your press release. Here are the other details you should include in formatting:

  • Your company letterhead and logo at the very top of the page

  • Underneath that, you should write “NEWS RELEASE” in bold on the left side of the page, the date under that, and “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” underneath that

  • On the right side of the page you should include your information. Name, title, phone number, and email

  • The headline should come next on it’s own line, then the sub-header if you have one, then a space before the body of your release

  • In the first line before you start your first paragraph you should include a dateline in AP format. You can find how to correctly write a dateline here

  • If your release extends past one page, write “- more -” at the end of the first page

  • Use pound signs # # # # (yes, I said pound signs not hashtags! Am I really a Millennial?) to indicate the end of your press release.

Here’s a good, simple visual on all of that information:

So, now that you know how to format and write your press release, how do you distribute it and when? There’s no real rule here, but...

 

You should only try to distribute a press release when you have something actually important and newsworthy to share!

Some examples of things that are legitimately newsworthy are events, fundraisers, new product launches, product updates, website launches, or awards. It has to be meaningful, and not just to you but to the public.

In terms of how you should release it, you should start by posting it on your website, blog, and all social media platforms. You should also email it to local news publications and specific journalists. Do some research to find these. You want to send it to people and publications who cover your specific industry. Relevance is key!

Here are a few online press release distribution sites to help you get started. These are free to start, some have more features or boosts available with a paid subscription:

See, not too scary, right? You got this! I promise you, once you get it down, you’ll have it down forever, and you’ll gain so much more exposure for your business. Come back next week to learn more about how to build and form relationships with the media—more super important tips to grow your business and spread your mission!

 

Read all the posts in this PR series:


Megan Westbrook

Megan Westbrook holds a B.A. in journalism with a focus in public relations and a minor in Spanish from Georgia State University. An aspiring writer, her interests reside in blogging, social media, content creation, design, and photography. She is also a passionate social justice advocate and interested in nonprofit or cause-focused work. Megan is currently a receptionist at Servcorp in Atlanta, Georgia. 



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How to Write Press Releases and Gain Exposure

Kristi Porter, Founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.