21
29
Gini Dietrich

Writing for You…Or the People?

By: Gini Dietrich | May 15, 2012 | 
114

A few weeks ago, I came across an OpEd by Ann Patchett. It was in the New York Times and she was lamenting the fact there was no Pulitzer Prize winner in fiction this year.

Before I go on, let me be clear I also think it’s a shame there were three finalists, but no Pulitzer Prize winner, too.

But the OpEd read like sour grapes to me.

When this blog gained a little bit of popularity, we began to have internal conversations about the type of content we should be writing. You see, what I consider the “smart” posts are never the ones that get shared a lot. Sure, people read them, but not as many comment nor share on their social networks.

The ones that do get a lot of comments and shares? The top 10 this or the such and such is dead.

It kind of makes me nuts. I won’t pretend it doesn’t. I’m an English major. I choose to read over watching TV. Heck, I just wrote a book. So the idea that something that takes 20 minutes to write and 90 seconds to read gets shared more consistently hurts my feelings.

Ann Patchett says:

With book coverage in the media split evenly between “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “The Hunger Games,” wouldn’t it have been something to have people talking about “The Pale King,” David Foster Wallace’s posthumous masterwork about a toiling tax collector? Unfortunately, the world of literature lacks the scandal, hype, and pretty dresses that draw people to the Academy Awards, which, by the way, is not an institution devoted to choosing the best movie every year as much as it is an institution designed to get people excited about going to the movies.

Pulitzer Prize-winning books don’t get made into movies. Well thought-out blog posts don’t get shared.

Both make money…just not as much as kids killing kids or top 10 ways to approach journalists on Twitter.

I remember reading somewhere that Julianne Moore makes two types of movies: The kind she wants to make and the kind she knows are going to be hits.

Perhaps it’s not high-brow enough to say authors should do the same. Perhaps I’m suggesting something insulting. I mean, I was there. When we had this conversation a year ago, I was saying, “Let the guest bloggers write the top 10 lists. I’m going to keep writing what I want to write.”

But after reading Patchett’s sour grapes OpEd, I’ve decided it’s OK to mix the two.

Give the people what they want!

P.S. This probably won’t get shared as much so I’ll have to write a top 10 post tomorrow.

P.P.S. The book launch went great! It still feels very surreal to me, but Geoff Livingston made it a very fun day. More to come.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

109 comments
ArleenH
ArleenH

Be proud of launching a book. It is more than most of us can do. I am not an English Major so you have something going for you that most of us only wish we have so we could write better. There are people out there who do like to read things that aren't fluff. Give me the facts, just the facts. If I see a blog with lists, I will skim over the list and then leave the blog.

<a href="http://www.garrettspecialties.com" rel="nofollow">RudeeG</a>

DavidRM
DavidRM

I guess the answer is two-fold.  If you are being commissioned to write, then you write with the intent of meeting the clients needs, and if their needs are to pique the interest of cat ladies across the nation, then you may be compelled to write about frumpy sweaters, balls of yarn and hoarding (please note:  I have no idea what cat ladies like, I am spit-balling here).

 

The other fold, is those of us who write for the love of writing, and getting our souls onto paper for the world to embrace.  The Thoreaus of the world, those of us who like to march to the beat of a different drummer (me included), and blaze new trails that are yet to be discovered.  We want to be the first.    It was this culture, that drove independent film makers to pull box office share (and oscars) from the cookie-cutter neilsin rated focus group generated garbage that was out there.   No offense to the Michael Bay's of the world, I do need to get my Surround Sound, 3D fix in, but when I'm in the mood to really commit to being entertained, I gravitate toweards the unknown, I want to experience something I never have before.  

 

I digress, in literature/writing, it's all about genre.   If you are talking how-to, then you have to write about what the people want to know.  Everyone learns differently, and they gravitate to the authors and styles that they can comprehend and mimic.   To  succeed in this space, is to write about what the people want you to tell them.  We all like to hear that we are right.   Technology and Business Practices are so trendy, I feel to be successful you write about the trend.  As a reader, you think "If I'm doing what these successful people are doing, then I am doing it right."  

 

But alas, everything hits its saturation point, everything pops, the money gets made, the businesses "get gained", and the ride is over.  Waiting, waiting for those Thoreaus out there, to write about that different drummer, who dare write about what they want.  They spawn that new idea.  The cycle repeats.  The bandwagons begin to roll, the book shelves replenish, and somewhere in the world, an author, smiles.  Because he/she gained the real reward.  The reward of their soul becoming accepted, and the fruits of their labor have been repaid.

 

On that note, I am going to eat my sushi now.   

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

Didn't Queen Ann say let them have cake, and eat it, too! #100thcomment

Andrea T.H.W.
Andrea T.H.W.

Well, it might also be that Pulitzer Prize-winning books are a bit boring. The interesting question is why people want this kind of things, or articles, or books. Is it because the most important thing is knowing what kind of surgery has done a celebrity or because in the effort of writing sound things they get boring? Or heavy to read?

 

As for me these days I'm not much into reading epic posts, or longer than 1000 words at maximum. Might be I don't have enough free time but as a comparison reading a bulleted summary delivering the same information is much more appealing. Well I've always liked reading concise stuff even when I had more free time. At the end that's what you search and hopefully get when reading a book, just the meat of it. Unless it's recreational reading. :)

 

Also let's not forget that we're talking about TV generation and now FB generation. I still belong to that when you watched TV from 7:30 pm to 8:00 pm and then go to bed. And there weren't commercials all day long. Probably ten years from now real books will be found just in museums but you will be able to connect to FB even deep inside a mine. And I'm not sure we'll earn something positive with the exchange. Imho. ;)

Latest blog post: What is Motivation?

jennalanger
jennalanger moderator

You could relate this to people watching and obsessing over shows like Jersey Shore instead of spending time watching documentaries about real issues. It all really depends on who you are trying to impress, or if that's even the goal. 

 

I want to read your book!!!

jackinessity
jackinessity

Congrats on the book launch, lady! I was an English major, too :) Thoughtful stuff may not be as visibly popular, but good work is somehow more satisfying... you have interesting thoughts. 

 

Can we go back to making monkey jokes at each other, now? ;)

 

Jaks

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong

So true Gini and can relate.  It kills me up when I labor over a well-thought out post, publish with excitement and then crickets...but then I write something top-10-ish and get a ton of traffic.  It's the 2012 version of Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death."   

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

You talkin' to me?

 

Forget the fluff.  No one really makes money off of blogging alone - and those who make it sound like they do are either lying or (more likely) never exact about how much they make.  Visitors and retweets and all that by people who can't think outside of a list of "Top XX Whatevers" aren't going to get anyone a nickel.  It's all hype and BS.

 

Build your reputation as a smart person - if you are, that is.  You'll get some work from it.  My humble blog does decently in donations, too.  The web is far too cluttered with fluff as it is, IMHO.

jennimacdonald
jennimacdonald

I thought I was the only one. I swear sometimes I write posts that are full of valuable information for marketing professionals centered around hop topics and I get NOTHING. At least I feel a little better.

NateStPierre
NateStPierre

Of course it's okay to mix the two! "What you want to write" probably includes pieces that mean a lot to you, as well as pieces that give your blog more traffic, publicity and influence, yeah? So write 'em both. As long as you're not compromising values to go after the bigger hits, it's all good in the hood.

 

On my site I have two sections (as do many others) - the "Most Popular" list, based on comments/traffic/shares/whatever, but also the "Best Of" section, which is where I list my own personal favorite pieces . . . the pieces that I feel truly encapsulate me, and how I look at the world.

 

 @ginidietrich , I always see your "Popular Posts" on the right, but honestly I've never read any of them. But if you had a list of your own personal "Best Of" or whatever, I'd probably read them all. I'm here because I dig you (and your community), not because of what other people like.

 

Oh, and as for the article? Yeah, she had a horse in the race, and nobody won. Sucks to be her, for sure.  I did feel a little bad for her, until I realized they've declined to give out a Pulitzer 10 OTHER TIMES!

 

An unfortunate year to be in the running, indeed, but hey - if your piece wasn't good enough to win it outright, they would have given you the award in the first place. Getting the consolation prize doesn't change that.

 

 

 

 

WaltGoshert
WaltGoshert

 @KenMueller hit upon it. You gotta do both fluff stuff, and go deep.

 

The fluff stuff gets the clicks, shares, likes that builds seo juice.

 

But going deep "qualifies" your visitors to take the steps to become clients.

 

Pay attention to your analytics. I find my subscribers do read my deep pieces. They don't comment, share, or like 'em. They take action.

 

That's a good thing if you're looking to work with smart clients.

 

I'm a simple fisherman with lots of pride.

 

"You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?"

Byron Fernandez
Byron Fernandez

 @ginidietrich @Lisa Gerber Enjoyed this. There's a difference between pandering to the public and reflecting deeper sentiment or critical analysis. 

It's almost like saying 'not all bloggers are writers, and not all writers are bloggers.' Or, as Gini's referred to in the past, bloggers are NOT journalists.  I'm wary of the distinction between all as well.

 

Agree with @lauraclick and @TheJackB though, too -- great writing is great writing. Crowd pleasing, granted, is part of performing, but the quality of the performance itself is not incumbent upon the approval of the masses. That's what it means to be an artist, producer, director, thinker, creator, what have you -- our work is subject to opinion and evaluation.

True artists, I'd dare say, even seem to welcome it -- but validation should never be the driving motive. That only breeds chronic disillusionment ;)

Erin F.
Erin F.

I think I'm trying to mix the two. I actually have a post scheduled that asks for people's input. I know I have to lead the charge with the content I publish, but I also want to know how to best meet my readers' needs. I'm at the point where I need somebody else's perspective. I've gone around my head one too many times and am feeling the weight and weariness of it. :/

 

I know I avoid writing (and often reading) the list posts because they irritate the dickens out of me. Yes, the dickens. 

Latest blog post: Write Right: Split Infinitives

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @Andrea T. H. W. You're absolutely right about the TV generation. People will spend hours watching TV, but won't read a good book. That makes me laugh. I disagree, though, that Pulitzer Prize winning books are boring. Some may be...just like some TV or short blog posts are boring. But not all. Not all at all. How many alls can I type? All.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @Shonali Comments here are never a problem. You see lots of people having conversations without me (which is awesome!). But the shares are what's interesting. Last week I wrote about Pinterest (which we all know I love) and it's up to 350 tweets. This hasn't broken the 100 mark. I find that fascinating. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @wabbitoid We know I'd much rather write the in-depth stuff, but the goal of the blog is bigger than just me. So I think it's about your vision and your audience. Unless you blog just for yourself (and there are bloggers who do that), you have to have a balance.

ClayMorgan
ClayMorgan

 @jennimacdonald One thing I am curious about, and your post kind of raises. How do we KNOW the information is valuable to the reader?

 

I know at our paper we'll have a great story sometimes, and we'll think "our readers will eat this up," then .... silence. I think it is hard to tell sometimes that there may be a difference between what we think is valuable to the reader and what the reader actually finds valuable.

Latest blog post: Livefyre Conversation

Erin F.
Erin F.

 @Byron Fernandez  @ginidietrich  @Lisa Gerber  @lauraclick  @TheJackB Ha! I guess I'm wavering between the two. The writer in me says I shouldn't worry about the number of comments and shares and whatever else. The entrepreneur in me? Totally different story. I'm struggling to find a way to blend the two parts so that I don't compromise who I am and what I think but can still meet my audience's needs. I agree, though, that validation should never be the driving motive. That only results in a lack of clarity and purpose.

Latest blog post: Write Right: Split Infinitives

KenMueller
KenMueller

 @Erin F. See, they shouldn't irritate you. It's just a different type of writing. For me, my audience is primarily made up of small business owners. They want content that is actionable. You can mix the two. I try to add some good contextual and sociological content to set up my lists.

 

Think of it this way, in the literary world, there are very different kinds of writing. This is why we have writers like Douglas Coupland and Chuck Klosterman. Their style is very different from what we might be used to. 

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

 @ginidietrich Barataria is nothing more than my own thoughts.  I'd like to be in a group with other people, but I've never been invited - so I can't speak for that.  Certainly, when I write any kind of copy for pay I do my best to put it into that person's voice or a voice that suits their organization.

But when you're talking about fluffy stuff, there's really no place for it anywhere.  The non-internet-addicts in the world usually go to a site for something much more like news than what is usually produced.  I have gained quite a bit of business from people who were advised to put up all kinds of giggly nonsense and realized that no, that's not what readers really want.

I realize that the internet mavens will tell me I'm wrong.  They more or less have, at least to the extent they'll say anything to a heretic like me.  But it's very true - ordinary people who aren't "into" this stuff are much more no-nonsense.  

There is always the question of fashion.  I never did understand fashion, and I don't understand how people cue into the latest trends.  I don't really know what even causes them to want to be that way, frankly.  It seems very time consuming and not very much fun.  The downside of fashion is that if you catch a trend at the end, you look pretty stupid.  So why bother with it at all?

So I don't get any of this, I never will, and I know most real people don't.  So to Hell with it.  I don't see any reason to play these games.  I really don't.

TheJackB
TheJackB

 @Erin F.  @Byron Fernandez  @ginidietrich  @Lisa Gerber  @lauraclick I understand exactly what you are saying.

If I changed how I do things I could build the readership/comments much more quickly than I have, but I won't.

I am still an advocate of building our communities around us. If we set a certain standard we will find like minded individuals. It would cripple me if I had to do things that eliminated passion and personality from my writing.

 

The quest for the blend is worth it.

Latest blog post: Eight Years Later

Erin F.
Erin F.

 @ginidietrich I do, too. I'm trying to be better about asking questions that encourage conversation. It's hard when I'm used to having that conclusion that slams the lid shut on the topic. :)

Latest blog post: Write Right: Split Infinitives

Byron Fernandez
Byron Fernandez

 @KenMueller  @Erin F. Precisely. Remaining true to ourselves as writers and meeting business expectations definitely a challenge. The cool part is entrepreneurial spirit blends well with the passion we tend to have for diverse subjects, which is what makes our story unique and can also be important differentiators for personal and organizational brands. 

The Lord Byron in me just wants to brood, but the LadyGaGa reminds me there's sh*t to Do, and an insatiable public awaits... 

Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog

 @Shonali  @ginidietrich  @jennalanger There are two issues here. I agree with you that commenting is engaging in that the action establishes a meaningful relationship, but I am unsure whether the author's replies to comments are comments in themselves.

jennalanger
jennalanger moderator

 @Shonali  @Ari Herzog  I would say that it still should be counted as a comment. The article itself is a whole piece, and anything posted below in this conversation is an extension of that, even if it is posted by @ginidietrich (maybe her comments should count as 2 anyway ;)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @jennimacdonald Keep doing that. It's what provides the long tail on SEO and it gives clients and prospects something to read as they're deciding whether or not they're going to work with you. Don't change that strategy. Pay less attention to comments and more to repeat visitors, new visitors, and bounce rate.

jennimacdonald
jennimacdonald

 @ginidietrich  @ClayMorgan Ha it was about Pinterest, when I write blog posts I answer questions that I have been asked. Usually these questions are asked when I'm at tradeshows or events by CEOs, VP Marketing, etc. So I extend my answer into a blog post. 

ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg

 @TheJackB I've been blogging for almost 2.5 years now, everyday, and I've stopped caring about traffic.  I've just given up. I don't get much more than 50 -100 per day, or I would assume, since I stopped checking sometime last year.

 

I post my novels, one chapter at a time, and some random thoughts on the blog, but if I write something I'm really proud of I send it to Gini or Shonali.  They already have lots of readers.

 

This past week I've written two short stories I'm very proud of (7.4K and 1K) and I've decided to try to sell them to magazines.  The point is, my blog has giving up its dreams of a great readership, but it still serves a purpose. It makes me write. I love writing and that is enough.

NateStPierre
NateStPierre

 @KenMueller  @JayBaer  @jasonkonopinski  @Byron Fernandez  @Erin F. My thoughts exactly, Ken. Without traffic, almost nothing we do here (specifically concerning writing on the web) matters. Of course it shouldn't be your total focus - more of a starting point, but let's not be so highbrow as to say that it doesn't (or shouldn't) matter to us.

 

Bottom line is, you need people looking at your stuff in order to do whatever it is you want to do with your stuff. All producers want the world to love and share and talk about their best work, but not everyone in the world is like us. They enjoy different aspects of what we do. The more people you can bring into the fold to see your stuff, through whatever means they decide to come in, is a good thing. Because the more people you have listening to you, the better chance you have of your best work being multiplied out the way you want it to.

 

I do this with my work, too. I run philanthropy projects that change the world for the better, but most people don't find me through that avenue. They find me through the writing I do and the stunts I pull, and then in turn I funnel them through the gift shop of the philanthropy stuff, and a good chunk of them realize it's something amazing that they've never thought of doing before, and they start participating - helping others in real life, and changing their own. This is my heart. This is what I want people to do.

 

And they would never be out there changing the world that way if they didn't read one of my silly list posts or get sucked in by one of my internet pranks.

TheJackB
TheJackB

 @JayBaer  @jasonkonopinski  @Byron Fernandez  @KenMueller  @Erin F. We still come back to a question of goals and objectives.

I am not a huge fan of list posts but there is an argument to be made that says there are advantages to bringing in large amounts of traffic because it gives you more opportunities to capture and convert prospects.

Sometimes if you are trying to build traction...

Latest blog post: Eight Years Later

KenMueller
KenMueller

 @JayBaer  @jasonkonopinski  @Byron Fernandez  @Erin F. My second to latest client came to me cold from list post. They liked it. Used it. Found it useful. Called me. I'm working with them now on things that go far beyond the scope of that list.

 

 I think we need to remember that the desired behavior is different for all of us, and factor in what industry you're working in. Another client is a veterinarian, and their lists on ways of taking care of your pets are absolutely behavior drivers. We think in terms of our little bubble which is very crowded, when we need to (for me at least) be thinking more locally and less globally). 

 

And while the traffic perspective may be the least important, it is also the most important because without it, the rest doesn't happen. It's not that it's the least important. It's that many begin and end their measurement with traffic, when they need to go further.

Erin F.
Erin F.

 @jasonkonopinski  @JayBaer  @Byron Fernandez  @KenMueller I'm not against list posts if they're done well. Can I write them? Yes. Do I write them? Yes. I wrote one yesterday, but I typically write them for other people. My business may offer action steps, but I'm more concerned with helping people to think about writing and communications in a different way than they have previously or to offer a glimpse into one person's writing life. It's hard to condense either of those things into a list.

Latest blog post: Write Right: Split Infinitives

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

 @JayBaer  @Byron Fernandez  @KenMueller  @Erin F. Cheers, Jay. I always value your perspective which is why that Pinterest traffic post sticks so soundly in my brain. 

 

I've written a handful of list posts and I'll continue to write them periodically in the future (typically for clients - phew). They definitely drive traffic and there's value in that and I can't argue that.  You've especially done a really good job in balancing the list with good, meaty analysis and, for that, I thank you. :) 

Latest blog post: Review: Marketing In The Round

JayBaer
JayBaer

 @jasonkonopinski @Byron Fernandez @KenMueller @Erin F. Thanks Jason. I appreciate the plug. I'm not anti-lists. I write them quite a bit, actually. As Ken says, I write them because they work. But, they work from a traffic perspective (which is the least important perspective). I have seen no evidence that list posts convert to desired behavior (subscriptions, et al) than other posts, and in fact as a % of total readers, probably worse (because lists get clicks you wouldn't usually get). 

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

 @Byron Fernandez  @KenMueller  @Erin F.  @jaybaer 

 

I'm not arguing that link posts are patently bad, mind you. They're still around because they're still generating results. Same as banner ads, pop-up subscription pages on blogs and sponsored links.  

 

I'll repeat another of Jay's lines from that post (which if you've haven't read, you should) in framing the Pinterest traffic boondoggle: "You are in the behavior business, not the eyeballs business."  If a list post generates lots of hits but little associated valuable behavior (lead form, going deep into your site, return traffic), there's a lesson there. 

 

 

Latest blog post: Review: Marketing In The Round

KenMueller
KenMueller

 @jasonkonopinski  @Byron Fernandez  @Erin F.  @jaybaer And that's why I say they work for me. My clients love them and use them more than any other posts. It's the number one way I get traffic AND new clients, outside of referrals. When a small business owner sees "16 Ways to Use Pinterest for PR" they know what they are going to get. It tells them exactly what type of content to expect. 

 

I would also argue that while eyeballs is overrated, it is not the least important. The amount of traffic you get is a key component to Google's algorithm. And to flip it around, that's why we have the whole idea of SEO. To get more eyeballs. Which hopefully translates to leads, customers, etc, depending on which business you're in. That's why we promote social sharing. To get those eyeballs. They aren't the be all and end all, but they might be the most important FIRST metric which you need to use to get to the more important numbers.

Byron Fernandez
Byron Fernandez

 @jasonkonopinski  @KenMueller  @Erin F.  @jaybaer A bit lost on all the hullabaloo surrounding lists. There's a time and place for bullet points and numbering. Lists not the problem to me, it's their abuse and overuse as you guys mention.

No, they should not comprise the focal point of content. Period.

 

Lists should only supplement valuable insight, opinions and evidence supporting claims and assertions within the body of any work, whether a blog post, whitepaper, dissertation or book.

If I had the time, it'd be fun to experiment with this. For example, start a "guest listing trend?" Could I include my dry cleaning and grocerys, too?

Would certainly eliminate the concept of guest posting for lots of Dodos out there!

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

 @Byron Fernandez  @KenMueller  @Erin F. List posts absolutely irritate me, mostly because they've been used to the point where they're really little more than noise. Well-executed, they are absolutely effective (mostly from a traffic standpoint, I think) but, as @jaybaer  astutely pointed out in a recent post, we're not in the eyeballs game. Traffic is probably the least important social metric yet we continue to closely watch the analytics. 

 

Are list posts valuable? Yes, if they're done well and infrequently. And, as marketers, we have to see the value in a tool or tactic from the best interest of the client. 

Latest blog post: Review: Marketing In The Round

Trackbacks

  1. […] Dietrich] Spin Sucks When I first heard that Bill Dorman was on Gini Dietrich’s must meet list, I gotta admit, I […]

  2. […] Several weeks ago Gini Dietrich wrote about “smart” posts vs. those other posts. […]

  3. […] Obviously, you read it, and know that. Any maybe it is, or maybe we just knew you’d be more likely to engage with this post if the passing of mobile websites was made known to you.  Either way, you’re here, and we […]

  4. […] Several weeks ago Gini Dietrich wrote about “smart” posts vs. those other posts. […]