Tag Archives: story telling

Enjoy a fine new SF story for Christmas: Fast-forward to December 2036, when a former huntress may get another chance and relations between us and the bjoite are much improved

Earlier today, I published the second story in the bjoiteria series after a few people read it, provided feedback, and I made some adjustments to it. Return from the Hunt is thematically related to The Ambassador’s Last Recital, which you might have heard about or even read, but these stories are really designed to stand on their own. I’m still confident that it’s a good time for literary, high-quality science fiction. Some of what’s been published this year by SF as well as mainstream literary authors is excellent.

Return takes us to December 2036, which—doesn’t time fly—comes very quickly. That’s when Ruth Polyansky stands in a long soup line in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, graced by an automated Christmas tree. Ruth is a former nurse, a one-time resident of Olympia, Washington. She’s hungry, it’s cold, and homelessness doesn’t get any easier after two decades. Finally, when she’s almost about to get her meal, Ruth sees that the volunteer serving the homeless is one of the hated, disgusting bjoite aliens. She can’t stomach that. She’d rather starve.

Ruth’s shadows are catching up with her, and she must relive memories from a time when she bow-hunted and killed, passionately and skillfully. Ducks, rabbits, bjoite. Her recollections focus on a dinner she cooked and served one long-ago evening. That fateful meal also meant the end of the line for her husband, a bus driver.

Other aliens approach. They seem intent on confronting Ruth. She’s not looking forward to this, but she’s unable to tear herself away. Ruth is in a by now permanent fog and cannot even recall what started it. Can she make a new beginning in a time when humans and bjoite get along so much better than today? Where will the next meal come from?

Find out in Return from the Hunt, the second story in the bjoiteria adventures. It’s available as an e-book from these sources, at the sensationally low cost of $1.99:

As ever, your correspondent needs cash. Especially at this time of the year. Remember, you don’t need a Kindle or Nook reader to enjoy fine fiction. You can simply download the free apps from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and away you go!Return from the Hunt cover 4

You can find the first bjoite episode, The Ambassador’s Last Recital, in the same channels. It’s on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O86T0PI and in the Nook store at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-ambassadors-last-recital-chris-lemoine/1120548880.

In future reporting, we will also investigate past events involving the bjoite, who have been on Earth for many centuries. They revealed themselves to us for the most time in the late 19th century, when they approached a well-known celebrity of those days. More about that later.

Enjoy the story and your holidays.

 

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Filed under alien mind, aliens, bjoite, fiction, literary science fiction, science fiction

First page in my current fiction project: Foreword by the narrator’s daughter

This is the first page in my current fiction project. I’ll finish drafting, rewrites, and corrections sometime close to the end of the year. Some details will change, but this Foreword (graciously provided by my protagonist’s daughter) will probably be the same.

Foreword

My father, Martin Lindeman, vanished a few weeks after the Great Disruption. He more than once mentioned that he had played a role in bringing the Disruption about and that his life was in danger. I found this manuscript on his laptop when, with the help of a friend, I was finally able to access the files on it. My mother, Simona Butacu, his former wife, never agreed to let these writings become public; that’s why I had to wait until after her death to bring them to light. The text I’m handing to publication is exactly as my father left it. I only corrected obvious errors in spelling and punctuation, of which there were very few. I believe that his words can help shed a small, personal light on the time of the Disruption and an unusual, oddly composed personality. I understand that my father is a revered figure in the Emerald Religion, and some of the Speaker’s followers may be very interested in his own words. Against all probability, I pray that, wherever and whatever he is, he may see and bless my effort in bringing the manuscript to print. Dad, I love you and have not given up hope for your return in whichever form you choose to take.

As I read through these occasionally disjointed pages, I realized I didn’t know much about my father. I had never heard about his youth or the murder he supposedly committed when he was thirteen. He never spoke about his life before he and my mother met. I experienced him as a quiet, but restless man who never revealed anything of his inner life. Sometimes I and mother belittled him for that, I’m sorry to say. Given the odd jumps among disparate realities he writes about, it is possible that my father suffered from an undiagnosed mental or other illness, but he certainly never gave any signs of anything worse than boredom. People who met him often had the impression he was shallow and superficial, and I always said he was just really uncomplicated. I understand there was much more to him, but what exactly, I leave to you to judge.

I am painfully aware that my own role in my father’s life was not that of a loving daughter. For many years, I did not respect him, had no interest in his experiences and views, and avoided contact. As you will see, I was instrumental in the ruin of my parents’ marriage. I’m surprised and saddened when I grasp, even in his guarded descriptions, a tenderness and caring regarding myself that I do not deserve. I am thankful to my father as a stranger; maybe in another life, I will have a chance to begin again and have a different relationship.

In particular, I wish to express my unceasing gratitude to Martin Lindeman for having introduced me to the love of my life.

May Eternal Light shine on his path forever and ever.

Roxana Morley Lindeman, Executor

Olympia, Washington, April 2029

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Filed under fiction, personal, story telling

The executive profile: Get past the clean shirt to what’s really interesting

A while ago, I posted a few entries to help you write badly—many people try very hard to accomplish this, but good instruction is not easy to come by. At the time, I completely forgot about an area where bad-writing skills come in very handy: The leadership profiles on many companies’ about-us pages. Many businesses miss a fine story-telling opportunity here.

What do we usually learn in visiting these pages? Executives always wear clean clothes and many of them know how to knot a tie. In some companies, the same shirt and jacket actually seem to follow everybody around to their photo sessions. shirt and tieExecutives understand how to let a smile appear but not let it go too far. They generally have some sort of education. With rare exceptions, they worked in a variety of jobs and accomplished things—founded, led, bought, and sold companies; developed new ideas, products, and services; served customers and headed teams. For the most part, these people sound very much alike, and maybe that’s what writers and website managers hope: They try to follow a covert standard for respectability and cautious neutrality, as if most of the execs were planning to run for pope soon. Much of the language in executive profiles is dry and pale, and makes executives sound unapproachable and not very interesting. They add value, make a difference, pursue innovation, listen to customers, thrive on teamwork, articulate and pursue strategies, sit on boards—that sort of thing. Companies want to give the impression their leadership is competent and effective, and avoid ruffling anybody’s feathers or making any negative impression.

Unfortunately, interest and credibility fall by the wayside. Too often, we have no idea what these business leaders really care about, what motivates them, and what their goals are. We don’t know which experiences they learned from the most, what inspires them, or what they enjoy about their jobs.

I don’t want to disparage what companies are doing with their leadership portraits. I understand where they are coming from. But what we are left with is an anesthetizing uniformity. If business leaders don’t write and publish books and blogs, give speeches, or are otherwise public figures, they generally remain anonymous.

When I had the opportunity to meet business executives, I found that they are usually much more interesting and engaging than what the company says about them in the online profile. They have convictions, ideas, values, insights. Some of them are funny, others downright charismatic and fascinating. Even from a simple marketing perspective, companies should want their execs to be interesting and at the very least have a profile that syncs with the company value story, if nothing else.

Much of the responsibility lies with the writer or website manager who needs to create and publish the executive portraits. Often, the execs provide you with their own content. I know you may not be in a position to argue with them. But maybe you can tell them that you want to make their profiles as interesting and compelling to read as possible, and for that it would be best if you could interview them for a few minutes. If you get that interview, you need to be really on and establish a good rapport in the first few seconds.

Here are a few recommendations that can help develop lively, interesting executive profiles:

  • Have the brief interview face-to-face if at all possible. If you can’t do that, try for Skype or some other visual communication.
  • In the interview, ask questions that likely stimulate interesting comments. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Some sample questions: What recent insight from a customer surprised you and helped you rethink the way you see the business? Where do you see your industry headed, and where do you wish it would go? When you mentor people in the company, what is the one thing you always try to contribute? When you come to the end of a weekend or vacation, what do you most look forward to about returning to work? Can you talk about your strategies in working through challenging moments in business relationships with colleagues, trading partners, or customers?
  • As you follow up, get at least one nugget of insight or innovative, creative thinking that is unique to this person. You can’t usually get at this directly, and you probably should not try to glean it at the beginning of the conversation. Some ways you can try asking: If there is a piece of advice you wish you would have had at the beginning of your career, what would it be? What do you think most observers and analysts of your industry are missing? Are there any valuable technologies, business strategies, or organizational practices you consider completely and unreasonably underrated? When you talk or work with customers, what is the one thing you hope they take away from a conversation with you?
  • If you can feature your executive in a short video where she shares her vision, by all means do so. If you can’t, an audio segment of the interview may be good to use. If you have no other way to introduce the execs than through written words, be sure to include at least one interesting, well-shaped quote.
  • Executive profiles should align with what one finds elsewhere on the company website about products, services, and the organization. But they should not replicate that content in the same words. It will make them sound shallow and irrelevant.
  • Education and past accomplishments may not have much to do with who the person is today. If you can connect prior achievements to somebody’s current role, that’s great. If not, mention it very briefly or leave it aside.
  • Include some content about the person’s personal life and interests, but be careful not to be overly cute, repetitive, or message-driven. In some companies, everybody apparently loves to cook, travel, and volunteer. Elsewhere, they all spend their free time thinking about customers. Keep it believable, individual, and very brief.
  • Portrait photos should reflect the personality of the people depicted and the culture of the company. Don’t use formal portrait shots unless your industry absolutely appears to demand it. Much better are professional images taken in less disconnected situations such as customer and industry events. But also avoid having the pictures look like they were taken at a party, unless that’s what the company is about.

Get the best source material you can, write the strongest content you can draft, and good luck in getting it reviewed and approved. Your website visitors will appreciate it!

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Filed under business, communications, content, content marketing, marketing

Where are you from?

Technically, I'm from here. But how true is that?

Technically, I’m from here. But how true is that?

After a lifetime ‘abroad’ and unable to speak any language with a proper native accent, I’m still learning how to be a foreigner gracefully. Maybe I’m simply more immature and rootless than many other people. It still bothers me when I’m in a certain country where English is not the main currency, and people assume I’m no good at speaking their language and insist on talking to me in English no matter how many times I respond in their own.

It also still bugs me when people ask me, “Where are you from?” This is often expressed as, “I hear some kind of an accent, but can’t quite place it… where are you from?” Usually, when I’m at home in Seattle and dealing with clients or professional associates, I respond as politely as I can, but don’t really know what to say.

I’ve noticed similar reactions in other long-term foreigners. It seems natural that everybody is from somewhere. But, really, where are you from? Why is it so hard to just answer the question? To start with, the assumption is that you are not from here, and an unwelcome exclusion may be implied. People put you in a box, take you out of another one, and so forth. It can be confrontational and create distance where no distance is wanted.

Also, the facts are not all that easy. I was born in Germany, never felt at home there, and left as soon as I was able to. I resided in a certain country, then lived and traveled in a couple of other ones, and eventually found my way to Seattle, where I mostly liked it and also realized I was tired of roaming. I’m still here. There really isn’t an easy answer for me to “Where are you from?” Yes, at some point I came from somewhere, Cologne, which I recall as a lovely city that didn’t really belong in that strange and cruel country, but the Cologne I remember doesn’t really exist anymore. I yearn for it sometimes, but that doesn’t bring it back. To respond with “Seattle” doesn’t seem quite truthful, especially when I’m having one of those days where I’d rather be anywhere than here. It gets complicated very quickly. I must have responded hundreds of times to the follow-up question, “But your name doesn’t sound German…?” Even though listeners’ eyes usually glaze over when I do.

Other foreigners tell similar stories. You live and travel a bit, and a few decades later you realize you’re not coming from or going to anyplace in particular, you don’t feel a lot of loyalty to any place or country, you’re from Earth and hope to be a decent person. Try giving that as an answer to “Where are you from?” and prepare for some severe irritation.

But there’s another way to listen and reply to the question “Where are you from?” My advice is to minimize any chat about the facts, because, shockingly, nobody actually cares. The questioner has noticed a difference, or something you nonetheless seem to share with her. What she is likely asking is, “What do you and I really have in common?” Now, that is something you can explore with her in a much more interesting conversation than anything to do with distant, mythical places. You can get the trivial details out of the way and move on to a more meaningful exchange. Once or twice I succeeded with something like, “I’m originally from Germany… and I really love baking bread and making pasta at home.” This approach tends to be more satisfying and truthful—bread and pasta are much closer to me than Germany ever was or will be. Most people like eating one or the other, so the risk of starting a completely inappropriate conversation is low. But you should adjust for context. In a professional environment you might want to direct the talk more towards the skills or issues you want to focus on. “I grew up in France, where people celebrate the twentieth year of SMS communications this month.”

So, fellow foreigners: Please experiment, and be patient with your conversation partners and yourselves.

And you, dear natives: I’m curious—where are you from, really?

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Filed under communications, mind, personal, travel, Uncategorized

Urban Hiking: A Way to Grow with the Power of Attention

In most of our cities, you find areas you don’t know much about, even if you live there. When you travel through them in your car or on public transport, you don’t pay much attention to them. They just don’t look all that interesting or attractive. Maybe they’re not entirely safe. Walking there may be unpleasant and difficult because of intense traffic, missing sidewalks, freeways and rail lines cutting off access, or a lack of intersections where pedestrians can cross safely.

At home and when we travel, we should pay more attention to these places. We surround ourselves with exquisite, complex environments and infrastructures, but we don’t always know what’s there. The people working or living in these overlooked areas don’t always like it there, either. They may be too poor or uninterested to take pride in their neighborhoods, and let properties fall down and streets be strewn with refuse. If their work takes them there, they probably know exactly how to get in and out while paying minimal attention to what they don’t want to see. As a consequence, many cities include neglected and forgotten districts with large populations.

I think the best way to learn about these areas is to walk through them. It gives you a chance to see the faces, breathe the air, see the sights, without escaping the moment. You never know what you might find. In many years of exploring cities in different countries, I have always found the forgotten districts to be worth the time, risk, and effort it takes to get to know them. Sure, by all means, visit the historic centers, parks, waterfronts, and lovely neighborhoods. But take time out to walk through the no-man’s lands.

If you have a good map of the city you’re in, take a look—how much of it do you actually know or come through with any frequency? How much of it is undiscovered country? Does that make you a little curious? Are you wondering how people live in certain parts, where they go shopping, what their houses, markets, and community bulletin boards look like?

Start with a good map of the city you want to explore. Digital and printed maps are both fine.

I find what often works well is taking public transport to the last station and walking back from there toward the center of town or a neighborhood I know. I recommend this especially for cities that have a roughly circular layout, such as Paris or Cologne. Elsewhere, maybe you need to ask somebody to drop you off with a car. Or, if there’s enough unknown territory to get to know, pick a district and traverse it in a number of directions.

What did I find by doing this kind of hiking? Lots of things tourists don’t see. Niche neighborhoods where people never expect to see an outsider and therefore don’t treat you like a tourist, but like a real person. I will never forget the friendly faces and small interactions in a horribly poor and unhealthy neighborhood at the fringe of Mexico City. There are cemeteries that give you insight into histories and mind sets. Green areas where nature reclaims the territory and settles it with a surprising variety of plants and animals. Fantastic views of city landmarks from new angles. In some older, industrial cities, an amazing wealth of lovely bridges. Post-industrial landscapes, some rotten, some lovely. Commercial buildings, factories, port facilities, train yards, and pocket parks with powerful esthetic appeal.

What do you need for this? Good shoes and comfortable clothing. A sense of adventure and curiosity. An open mind that lets you set your expectations and limitations aside for a few hours. A good map, honestly—not one of those hotel-issued travesties that just show you the downtown core. ID. Some cash to pay for a snack or transportation, but not too much. Your camera, but use it respectfully if you take pictures of people or their private property—get permission when you can. Some paper and a pen, or a recording device, to take notes. This kind of adventure doesn’t cost much except time and attention. Of course, it is also very sustainable as long as your body holds up: Your environmental impact will be minimal.

And, what can you get out of it? That depends on who you are. You might make a new friend. You might fall in love with a forgotten waterfront, a building, or an old bridge. You can tell stories. You might want to take action on a social or environmental situation you become aware of.

However, what I think is best about urban hiking is that it gives us a chance to re-soul districts that are part of our world, but we have numbed ourselves to their existence. Expanding consciousness is always preferable to shrinking it or keeping it the same. Attention is a marvelous, powerful force. If enough people give attention to something, it can change and grow. And so can we, the walkers.

In another posting, I might make some suggestions for walks in cities here and there. Please tell me if you have any you would like to share.

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Filed under mind, personal, sustainability, travel, writing

How to hire a good writer

When content is important to you in making the world aware of your products, services, and company, you need to figure out where it comes from. You can syndicate, crib, copy, and cross-link only so much. Sooner or later you will need your own content. That means you have to find a writer. I’m sorry to hear that.

Writers are easy to find, but it can be so hard to gain any certainty that they are a good fit for what you need. Throw a metaphorical blank page in the air and dozens of them will rush to fill it with verbiage. Independent, hungry contract writers beat the pavement, looking for clients like you, claiming to deliver great quality for minimal cost. Talent agencies promise to hook you up with the best in the industry, carefully vetted and background-checked.

And yet. With all this abundance of talent, much published writing is an embarrassment. It’s far too easy to find poorly written web pages, white papers, case studies, blog posts, and more. Most anybody I talk to can share bad experiences with writers who didn’t understand what the client wanted, became upset at feedback, lacked any flexibility in voice, tone, and style, and had the social graces of a hung-over porcupine.

This is probably not what you want in a writer.

I once worked in an agency where writing was the mainstay of everybody’s paycheck. We hired writers from time to time and tried very hard to figure out who the best candidates were. To that end, we developed a writing test. Most candidates went through this step onsite in the office. Some of the tests were simply bad. If that was the case, one thanked the people, wished them well, and hoped they wouldn’t be upset. Other tests were great. With minimal source material and in a short time, some hopeful writers produced a nice page of technical marketing content. Unfortunately, even the best tests were no reliable predictors for performance on the job. Some writers who tested well went to become fabled contributors. In other cases, the test was the last good piece of work one ever saw. At least once, a writer delivered a very fine test piece, got the job, and quickly realized that writing was no longer of interest to him. Another time, a well-testing writer showed up for the first day, and we never saw him again after that. We spent many hours evaluating candidates and their tests, but we were never able to rely on a meaningful outcome.

At another company, portfolios were important. Writers dutifully brought them in or provided the links to them. When these people applied themselves to what we did, the results could be all over the map. Eventually, I understood that a portfolio simply shows a person has done certain work in the past (unless they faked their show pieces, which is pathetic and happens more often than you think). A portfolio, however stuffed with neat samples, has nothing to do with what a writer will do next. In fact, there are lots of people looking for work who simply don’t yet see that it’s time to move on and that for one reason or another, writing is no longer what they can or should do. It’s too bad, but don’t feel obliged to hire them because you feel sorry.

A good writer personality is more like this – engaging, resourceful, committed, and with a sense of humor.

You gather I don’t recommend testing or judging from portfolios. But how can you be reasonably assured that somebody you interview can come through in a writer role? Here are some suggestions.

  • Creativity and innovation. Take a look at what your potential writer does on her blog and website, and on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and in other social media. Does she come up with interesting ideas to make white papers, presentations, case studies, and other workhorses more interesting and valuable? Does she sound like somebody you would like to hear more from? Somebody you might like to collaborate with?
  • Ability to connect audiences and writing technique. Everybody will tell you that they keep audiences in mind when they write. They know it’s expected. But many writers will draft in the same style, using the same voice and tone, almost all the time. Ask your writer candidate to discuss a couple of portfolio pieces and show you how exactly she reflected the interests of different audiences.
  • Engagement. What happens when you disagree with your writer candidate? Does she engage in a civil, professional manner, or does she get upset or withdrawn? You need your writer to be an articulate, pleasant conversationalist even when challenged (or edited), or she will not be able to work with people and accommodate different perspectives. How much does she share in the conversation, and to what extent does she react to your statements and questions?
  • Fun and caring. What does it feel like when your writer candidate talks about her work? What does she like about it? Do you find that believable? Do you get a sense that she enjoys her work, or is it just a passion-free way to pay the bills? Do you get the impression she has the enthusiasm to work with you and your people and write, day in and day out? Does she do any writing of her own, just because she loves it?
  • Subject-matter expertise. This should be easy to ascertain. Presumably, the writer has some level of experience with your industry or the type of products and services you offer. Get her to talk about that. How does she see the industry changing? What are the most challenging problems, the most interesting new developments? Does she pay attention to how other writers and their companies in your industry communicate? Does she volunteer any of this, or do you have to elicit it?
  • Questions. Never, ever pursue work (or anything else) with somebody who does not have questions. Such people are just not there for you. You should avoid them, no matter what else they say or how smart they seem to be.

If you get a good response on all or most of these points, good luck to you and your new writer! I’m sure you can accomplish some valuable, enjoyable work together.

(By the way, if you need a writer, might you require editorial assistance as well? We discussed that a while ago.)

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Filed under communications, content, content marketing, marketing, writing

Grinning Idiot at the edge of disaster

Have you seen him? He stands by and watches, often with an eyebrow raised and the hint of a smile, when horrible things happen to other people. I’ve come across him way too many times.

When I went to school in Germany, violence and bullying were pervasive. Until I grew out of it, I was an obese child and mercilessly bullied for it. Grinning Idiot always stood around when people were beaten or otherwise abused. He never said anything, never participated, and never lifted a finger to stop what was going on.

When we students demonstrated against the Vietnam War or marched for other political causes, Grinning Idiot could be right there with us, as if we had dragged him along. Or, he stood on the sidewalk, watching. He didn’t start smiling until the police started arresting people. But then he hung around until it was all over and the vans hauled folks off to the precinct.

Later in life, I was sometimes in workplaces where groups of people were laid off at the same time. Grinning Idiot sat around doing work or screwing off, trying to figure out who would remain. He never showed any empathy for people who were let go and didn’t have any critical or other comments to share. When it was time for lunch, he ate.

Grinning Idiot can hide in a large crowd, finding comfortable anonymity…

I’ve seen Grinning Idiot many times in pictures and news footage. He stands around when the Nazis beat up on Jews, communists, gays, and other trouble-makers, for example. Never takes part unless forced, never helps anybody. Just watches and smiles a little. He seems to love watching people being loaded into railway cars—that’s when he shows up in a crowd, feeling safe because it wasn’t his turn. Of course, for him a crowd to disappear in can be as small as three or four people.

Which reminds me, have you seen photographs of lynchings in the United States? There are the perpetrators, who often stand and laugh proudly next to a dead black man, hanged or beaten to death on the ground. Grinning Idiot is right there, just a little off-center, often looking slightly away from the camera’s eye, with his little smirk.

In groups of friends at dinner, a party, or some other event, Grinning Idiot never provokes a conflict or disagreement, but doesn’t mind when somebody else does. He keeps quiet and watches what other people do. As soon as he has figured out who is on the winning side in an argument, he nudges over there to share that person’s shadow.

Do you know who I’m talking about?

…or in a smaller gathering, like at a lynching. Take a look at people’s faces, if you would.

If you know Grinning Idiot, how do you relate to him? Are you his friend, neighbor, trusted interlocutor? Have you ever been this person?

Sometimes it seems as if much of the world’s trouble would be impossible without Grinning Idiot standing by and letting it happen. He provides the silent chorus of approval for misery. He’s done this for many centuries. Isn’t it time we got rid of him, one by one? Even if he is you or me?

Grinning Idiot is not brave or smart, and often he knows that. He never leads and never starts a song. Sometimes you can shame him, send him packing, or provoke him into taking a stand. Whatever you do, you need to account for him, because in his idiotic way, through sheer inertia and ineptness, he is extremely powerful. Don’t ignore him, or he’ll stand and smirk when calamity comes for you, not the least bit inclined to help. You don’t want to wait that long.

Do you know of any good ways to deal with Grinning Idiot?

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Tell good stories that don’t end too soon, and manage non-narrative content separately

Since “content marketing” became popular during the last two years or so, it may seem as if content makers—copywriters, videographers, photographers, and, to a degree, designers—are simply conspiring to influence marketers to allocate their entire budgets to their services. Companies have hopped on the content train, hiring content strategists and giving high visibility to content-marketing efforts. Thousands of consultants offer their insight regarding what content marketing is, how it relates to social media, and what one can accomplish with it. Some organizations have an actual content strategy or at least carefully plan what kinds of content they want to produce in different channels and media. Others don’t.

As a writer who stands to benefit from my clients’ and employers’ content marketing, I should be all over it. I do appreciate the work! I like that marketers seem to appreciate content more than ever.

But I also think companies are producing far too much content and too often appear to react to a perceived urgency to publish more and keep it updated and lively in social media. Slow down and hang on to your budgets for a moment.

Take an inventory of the types of content materials you have recently published and the ones you are planning for the next few months. More than likely, some of your content includes a story about a customer experience, a business partnership, an innovation discovery, or an initiative of your organization. Other content doesn’t feature a narrative—documentation, fact sheets, some white papers, even some online content may just be noting facts that you want your customers and collaborators to know.

To a degree, you should decouple story content from everything else and manage the two areas on almost-separate tracks. Link all non-story content planning to product releases and other events when facts change. Support the publication of this type of content through the social media where the people you want to reach spend time.

Story-telling guides usually recommend that you need to have a hero, a problem that gets resolved, an emotional connection, and a happy conclusion. This is not always good advice—if you follow it, you may end up telling similar stories over and over again. Maybe that is the case, given your industry or business model, and you need to broadcast the best of these stories as effectively as possible.

How to captivate your audience? Tell a great story that doesn’t end too soon.

As much as you can, focus your narrative content development on those stories that carry on, as opposed to the ones that end soon, even happily. Tell stories that don’t have an ending, or at least not soon. Maybe you have customers who use your products or services to achieve efficiencies or other results over several years. Check in with them from time to time and publish updates on their successes. To support an innovative product or service offering, or an important company initiative, develop an ongoing story that keeps getting more interesting. You build social-media continuity for that story in the channels that best align with your brand and where you have the strongest presence with potential customers and markets you want to get close to.

Your story and non-story content management tracks need to align, of course. You will want to keep the branding consistent, for one thing. Especially when you plan new product releases or major events, stories and facts should reflect the same good news. But if you remove non-story content from the breeziness of rapid publishing cycles driven by social media and focus on never-ending stories in your story content marketing, you can achieve more satisfying results from your spending and reduce the wear and tear on your marketers.

What do you think?

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Filed under communications, content, content marketing, marketing, story telling

Spontaneity and sharing vs. control and dominance: Project Glass, augmented reality, and where we’re headed

In his recent Disruptions column about Google’s Project Glass, Nick Bilton from the New York Times points out the potential of this technology in getting out of the way of real, shared experience. Sergey Brin, Google co-founder, and the verbiage used on a Google page about Project Glass also use the same expression. Project Glass involves a display unit that is mounted on a frame that resembles conventional glasses. By means of this apparatus, wearers can record images and events, then transmit and share them through the cloud, or view data related to the people, artifacts, buildings, or natural phenomena they see.

Bilton enthuses about the potential role of the technology in story-telling. Without a person having to hold a camera, the capture of events or scenes can be more immediate. In some cases it will be possible when it would not have been without the technology. The video of sky divers on the Google site illustrates nicely what this might look like. So does the video of the mother and her baby, which also points in a very different direction. If Project Glass succeeds in making the devices very small, they may not necessarily be affordable, but they can be pervasive. Almost anybody will be able to record almost anything, in almost any situation, and transmit it anywhere. Intimate statements and moments might or might not be so. In addition to happy families and people capturing special experiences, benevolent and malevolent researchers and spies will enjoy a new level of visibility. Or invisibility, if you like. The smaller the devices become, the more regulation and legal action we will see in relation to them. Some people, authorities, and countries will find ways to control the technology, punishing the users and usages they object to.

Consider the augmented-reality aspect of Project Glass,

Sharing of an experience with Google’s Project Glass… (photo copyright 2012 Google)

the ability to overlay the ordinary visual reality with contextual information that tells you what you might not be able to see—the layout of a building, the dimensions of a tumor, the capability of a weapon, the components of a material, the manufacturers and costs of a certain item in your warehouse. How will this play out when people receive training?  Will some of them receive less training than they would today, because the device they wear can to a degree make up for a lack of education? What would it mean for the military and first responders working in dramatic, threatening situations where the right kind of information might make it possible to make the right decision in a life-and-death situation? Less dramatically, how will this technology help travelers find their way, speak the right word in a foreign language, and understand their surroundings? Or will it add yet another barrier to their experience, much like the DK Eyewitness Travel guides many people hold in front of their faces as they ostensibly find themselves in an interesting locale far from home? Where are they really, and where will they be then?

The U.S. military is already exploring what AR can help it accomplish. Private enterprises will find many applications for it, especially if an entity like Google popularizes the concepts and technologies behind it. There are two movements at play here: the spontaneity and immediacy in the recording and sharing with Project Glass. And the data-driven task and decision support, control, and ability to overcome the merely natural that AR makes possible. In the coming years, we will watch the potential of both tendencies unfold.

…vs. AR and an increased ability to control, decide, and take action.

As a writer and content person, I can see that story tellers might be able to tell more direct, involving, emotionally powerful stories with something like Project Glass. I can also see that some story-telling might disappear and that sharing of actual experience might take its place instead.

With Project Glass, as the enthusiasts say, technology might get out of the way. At the same time, it becomes the way. It is both the vehicle and the journey we go through as our sense of self changes. For today, I choose to hope that the immediacy of the shared experience will help us to be more empathetic, compassionate, and involved with the people and animals with whom we share the world.

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Filed under augmented reality, communications, content, story telling, technology