influencers

Writing to Match Skimmer Reading Habits

More people skim rather than read, so it makes sense to write for skim-readers, especially purposeful skim readers who are looking for the maximum information in the least amount of time.

More people skim rather than read, so it makes sense to write for skim-readers, especially purposeful skim readers who are looking for the maximum information in the least amount of time.

In a world of smash-and-grab reading, you cannot afford to dilly-dally in writing to the point. Assume your target audience are skimmers who hop from article to article, video to video and outlet to outlet looking for something that makes them stop – or at least pause.

This isn’t PR jingo. It’s reality. Consider Swarthmore College’s advice to its students about skimming:

“The first rule, in some ways the only rule, is skim, skim, skim. But skimming is not just reading in a hurry, or reading sloppily, or reading the last line and the first line. It's actually a disciplined activity in its own right. A good skimmer has a systematic technique for finding the most information in the least amount of time.”

If colleges are teaching people to skim, we should prepare to write for skimmers, especially disciplined skimmers.

William Comcowich, writing for ragan.com, suggests tactics to satisfy skimmers. Most are obvious ways to package your message in digestible bites – informative headlines, subheads, lists, short paragraphs, key details and visuals.

However, these tactics are mostly crutches for undisciplined or impatient skimmers, who are turned off by long sentences and words they don’t understand. There is another, higher-performing level of skimmers who should drive our writing styles. These are the skimmers that schools like Swarthmore are training.

The Tracks of Skim-Readers

• 55% of page views last less than 15 seconds
• Readers on average read 20% of text
• People don’t read left to right, but skim in an “F” pattern
• Only 10% to 20% of readers make it through an entire article
• A newsletter opened in email has 51 seconds to make an impression

High-performing skimmers seek “the most information in the least amount of time.” They are skimming to find information of interest, utility and value. You might call them purposeful skimmers.

Purposeful skimmers include that group of people we refer to as influential, which is a group PR professionals should court by writing in sync with how they skim-read.

With that lens, one of the most important elements of writing for skim-readers is to provide a concise description of your core point. This requires mastery of a subject by the writer. It means doing more than simply moving information on a conveyor belt of sentences. Writers must have a command of their topics so they can squeeze out what’s important or unique and summarize it in a few words.

The bottom-line message can be contained in a headline, opening paragraph or cutline to a compelling visual. The key is making it visually accessible for the skimmer.

Once you grab a skimmer’s attention, your secondary or supportive points need to be easily accessible, too. Bullet points, pull-outs and cleverly worded lists can be useful to sustain skimmer attention. Readable charts work as well.

When skimmers turn into readers or deep-dive researchers, you need additional layers of information to satisfy them, such as short paragraphs with links or expandable content that’s revealed at a reader’s click.

Word choices, brevity and show-me content convey mastery while offering valuable cues to skimmers. Fluff, wordiness and foggy explanations are turn-offs, probably for more than just skimmers.

The best advice: write for your audience. Increasingly, your audience is full of skimmers. They want premium content, but don’t want to go on a treasure hunt to find it. Make your written content fit the reading habits of skimmers, especially purposeful skimmers. Make your content discoverable.

You won’t be indulging your skim-readers; you will be meeting them at the edge of your content and inviting them in.

 

Personal Branding by Employees Benefits Business Bottom Lines

LinkedIn has become much more than a place to look for a new job. It has emerged as a hub for personal branding that can benefit business bottom lines as well as employee satisfaction.

LinkedIn has become much more than a place to look for a new job. It has emerged as a hub for personal branding that can benefit business bottom lines as well as employee satisfaction.

LinkedIn has evolved to more than an online job hunting site and emerged as a hub for personal branding.

“When LinkedIn launched, it was primarily an online resume and e-networking site and its functionality was geared toward job search,” says William Arruda in an article for Forbes. “Today, with features like Groups, Influencers and Blogging – and dozens of other career-boosting enhancements – LinkedIn is the place to manage and advance your career.”

The evolution of LinkedIn is not in perfect parallel with corporate thinking about employees engaging on social media at work. Some still view social media activity as a waste of time. But, according to Arruda, other companies are taking a more forward-looking view and encouraging employees to build reputations on platforms such as LinkedIn.

Impressive statistics developed by MSL Group back up Arruda’s point:

  • Brand messages reach more than 500 percent further when shared by employees in their networks versus the same messages shared via official brand social channels; and
  • Employee-distributed brand messages are shared 24 times more frequently than official brand messages.

Because of its professional orientation, LinkedIn is an effective vehicle to demonstrate thought leadership and expertise and share your community and civic activities. You also can show your ability to write coherent sentences. It is a content marketer’s dream come true.

While email and one-on-one chats over coffee can keep you in touch with your existing close-by community, LinkedIn allows you to expand your community to different business sectors and geographical locations. There is an argument that diversifying your community leads to new gateways to personal and business growth. It is an intentional strategy to get lucky in finding contacts that open doors you never dreamed possible.

Participation in LinkedIn groups or reading comments from influencers can be learning opportunities that you can repurpose with your reflections in your blog.

When employees develop and enhance their personal brands, there is a risk others will come calling to steal them away. The job search aspect of LinkedIn remains. But employees leave for lots of reasons. Encouraging your employees to build their personal brands may provide satisfaction and a great reason to stay put and take on greater responsibility.

Ten Essential Skills for Digital Marketing

The rise of digital media reinforces marketing skills such as clear writing and visual communications and requires new skills ranging from using digital analytics to working productively in virtual teams.

The rise of digital media reinforces marketing skills such as clear writing and visual communications and requires new skills ranging from using digital analytics to working productively in virtual teams.

As we plunge deeper into the digital age, some old skills take on greater value and new skills are required to remain top of mind, convey brand value and get work out the door.

Arik Hanson, in his blog Communications Conversations, offers what he calls 10 essential skills for the future of public relations. The skills could just as easily apply to the future of successful communications for brands, nonprofits and public agencies.

Video and audio production and advertising copywriting skills top Hanson’s list. He might have added animation skills. The tools to produce compelling video and audio content have become vastly more accessible to everyday users, who face growing demands to generate visual content. Advertising is expanding to social media, which demands knowledge of how to write snappy copy, even if you aren’t an “advertising creative.”

Another emerging skill set, Hanson says, is the ability to create social media content and manage social content systems. Some still cling to the view that social media is all about dog pictures and people describing what they ate for dinner, original content that is useful, relevant and entertaining has become a staple of marketing programs, especially for nonprofits and public agencies. Curating and stockpiling content, as well as making it searchable, has become a fundamental marketing ground-game skill.

Writing clearly for external and internal audiences isn’t a new skill, but Hanson insists its role is growing. With information overload and a casual attitude about writing, those who can communicate clearly in words will be highly regarded – and perhaps in short supply. Writing for internal audiences involves “understanding what motivates employees,” Hanson says, “as well as having solid writing skills.”

Visual communications dominate on digital media, which means organizations and their PR counselors must “develop a visual style” for their online presence. It’s not enough to be online. You need to stand out online.

Another reality of digital media is the power of influencers. Hanson says collaborating with influencers is a whole new ballgame. "Four to six years ago, everyone was talking about blogger outreach, and with good reason: Blogs were the dominant cog in the social media machinery. Fast-forward to 2016, and there are now platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat – with people on those networks who command significant attention.”

Satisfying clients remains a priority, but Hanson says it now requires a “deep understanding of traditional, digital and business analytics.” It also requires, he adds, an “understanding of how to produce reports that make sense to clients.” “Provide relevant context, provide ideas as outcomes of the data and always cull the data and present them in terms the client can understand.”

The final skill Hanson points to is the ability to work in virtual teams. “I see virtual work environments as a huge trend over the next five to seven years,” he says. That involves understanding virtual team workflows and investing in tools that work in virtual team environments.

Hanson, who is the principal for a Minneapolis-based marketing firm, wrote a similar list of 10 essential skills in 2012. The list changed significantly in just four years. It is highly likely to keep changing rapidly into the future, which means organizations need to adopt an attitude of continuous improvement and a willingness to learn and embrace new ideas.