Two Cool Apps for Instagram

September 1, 2017Software Applications

I recently discovered two cool apps for Instagram. Of all the social media platforms my favorite one is Instagram. However, I have a couple of issues with the platform. The first one is that for clients I can’t schedule posts in advance as you can on Facebook or Twitter. Yes, there are a number of apps that will allow you to create a schedule, but I find them all clunky (and pricey). Second, you only can post from your phone or iPad. That’s not optimal because you tend to make more spelling errors, have to deal with autocorrect, the back and forth of opening apps and so on.

Simplifying your work flow

However, the digital gods heard my kvetching. I recently discovered Grids, which addresses the posting on your desktop issue. It’s a time saver, easy to use, and the best part is that if you acquire a license for $8.99 you can add multiple accounts. Unfortunately, you can’t schedule posts in advance, but if you create an editorial calendar in Airtable that includes image, caption and hashtags, it only takes a couple of minutes to have your post live on Instagram.

The second discovery is WordSwag. This app is ideal for those of us who are not graphic designers. WordSwag allows you to add text to your images in seconds. The app is free and it features custom layouts, captions, and an image search engine powered by Pixabay. I’ve created several Instagram posts using WordSwag for my client Sharing Housing and they look phenomenal.

Lastly, I’d like to recommend, and I’ll get more into this in my next blog post, The Daily Carnage, a newsletter published by Carney, an advertising and marketing company based in Pittsburgh, PA. It’s one of many newsletters I get daily, and since subscribing it’s been my go-to read every morning.

What are your must-have apps? Have they simplified your work flow?

 

Picture Worthy

May 9, 2017Graphics
                       Cake by Ann Reardon. Photo: Incredible Things.

When I first began to blog I liked a minimalist look, but over time I learned that readers like to see the text broken up with a picture or other graphics. I still like that clean look in which the design elements depend on layout and font, but now I’ve added an image or two to my posts.

Why is visual content an important element to blogs posts? Because it makes you stand out from the millions of other companies that blog. It’s part of your brand; it shows your company’s personality and it increases the chances of having your post shared on social media.

As a small company, I acquire images from several sources. I get offers from photo stock sites like GraphicStock to down load 20 images for seven days with the bonus of having the first year heavily discounted if I subscribe for unlimited downloading. Or you can subscribe to Pixabay and download all the free available stock (disclaimer: these company’s have not asked me to blog about them). Another tool I use is Notegraphy, which allows me to pretty up text with a colorful background. I use this often when I just want the text to stand out. Other tools I use is the Procreate app and Adobe Draw (for the iPad). I use these for my personal blog, which focuses on my creative pursuits.

Once I’ve selected the images I want for Instagram, Facebook and these blog posts, I rework them. The tools I use the most include Preview, which was part of my software bundle for the MacBook Pro, and Photoshop. Typically, I resize the photos and add text. I don’t get fancy because, as you’ve noticed throughout the site, I still want to keep the look simple.

If you’re not familiar with Photoshop or can’t afford it, don’t despair. There are alternate applications available such as Affinity Photo for OSX and Windows or open source apps like GIMP that are free and available for Linux, Windows, and OSX.

If you want templates, different fonts, layouts, and imagery, Canva, an online graphic design app, provides everything you need to create graphics. Take note that their free options are limited. You’ll have to pay for certain layouts, photos, and type faces and backgrounds.

As mentioned above, the goal of good graphics is to make you stand out from the rest of the pack of bloggers, but also for your social media marketing. You’re likely to be more memorable as the blogger/company whose images support your brand and messaging.

Have no time to fiddle with Instagram or Facebook? Have you considered outsourcing your social media marketing? If interested, drop me a line to discuss potential projects and rates. 

Writing SEO Friendly Headlines and Content For Websites and Blogs

March 16, 2017SEO
Image: Shutterstock

If you’re a fan of the Plain Speaking Communications Facebook page, you might have noticed I’ve been posting numerous articles about search engine optimization (SEO). Although the term has been around for as far as I can remember, I’m surprised that not many people I’ve spoken to really understand its purpose. With that in mind, I’ve provided a quick primer on how to write SEO-friendly headlines and content for websites and blogs.

First, here’s a definition of SEO from webopedia.com:

Search engine optimization is a methodology of strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine (SERP) — including Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines.”

When we write content whether it’s for a website or a blog, the goal is to generate traffic to that site. To reach potential customers, we should be using keywords that will be picked by search engines to rank high on pages. Ideally, we want to appear on the first page of the search results so it’s important that our content includes terms and phrases that address a certain topic and industry.

The challenge to writing good SEO content, though, is to not overwhelm the reader with repetitive keywords or phrases. If you’re providing the text for a blog, remember to write copy that’s readable and informative to human beings.

So…using this post as an example, you’ll note the following:

  • The headline is specific.
  • My introductory paragraph includes SEO, my primary keyword, and I repeat the headline within the text.
  • I define search engine optimization.
  • And then go into the specifics of why you should include keywords and phrases.

Not sure whether your content is well-populated with SEO keywords and phrases? Yoast.com has a plug-in you can install into your WordPress theme that ranks readability and SEO.

If you want to learn more about about creating content that will drive traffic to your site, I recommend Copyblogger’s How to Create Compelling Content, which you can download by clicking on the title.

Need help creating content that will drive more traffic to your website and blog? For a free consultation, give me a shout.

Proofreading versus Spellcheck

February 21, 2017Software Applications

Several years ago, I received an email from my late partner’s son that was littered with misspellings. When I commented he should be carefully proofreading his text and use a dictionary, he shrugged and said, “I’ll just use spell-check.”

Never say that to a writer.

Here’s the reason why: spell-check doesn’t pick up every misspelled word, and it also doesn’t know the context. Did you mean four, for, or fore? Are you using British or American spelling? Does the word even exist in the spell-checker’s dictionary such as khamak (it’s a form of embroidery from India).

When it comes to proofreading your draft, don’t rely on your software’s grammar and spell-check tools. When in doubt, use the dictionary. Need to replace a word you’ve used too often? Use a thesaurus. Don’t have actual hard copies of either one? Use the internet, which has plenty of sources

If you are the writer for your company’s social media posts, avoid text-speak and use the edit function often until you get your post letter-perfect.

What if you have a grammar or punctuation question? Sometimes, I tend to waver back and forth on punctuation, and that’s when I copy my text into an editing tool. Is it the ideal solution? Not really, but it does motivate you to proofread the entire copy.

The lesson here is to not rely 100 percent on software. When in doubt, ask one of your colleagues to read through your copy. A second pair of eyes always helps. My rule of thumb is to read through the copy at least three times. For round three, put it away for a couple of hours and then come back to it. You’ll be amazed to see errors you didn’t catch during your first or second rounds of proofreading.

Need help with editing and proofreading? Feel free to contact me for availability and rates.

The Scary Semi-Colon

January 17, 2017Punctuation
Image: projectsemicolon.com

Many people seem to fear the semi-colon. They’re not sure when or how to use it and wonder whether if it’s like a comma or maybe a period. Today, I  clarify how to use the semi-colon with the following references and examples. According to Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage:

“Semi-colons (;) are sometimes used instead of full stops, in cases where sentences are grammatically independent but the meaning is closely connected. Semi-colons are nearly as common as full stops or commas.

Some people work best in the mornings; others do better in the evenings.

It is a fine idea; let us hope that it is going to work.” 

Commas in these examples wouldn’t work (and we know why, right?)

We can also use semi-colons to separate items in list, particularly when they’re complex:

You may use the sports facilities on condition that your subscription is regular; that you arrange for all necessary cleaning to be carried out; that you undertake to make good any damage; …

In A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker, she offers these guidelines of when to avoid a semi-colon:

  • Between a subordinate clause and the rest of the sentence: “Unless you brush your teeth within ten or fifteen minutes after eating, brushing does almost no good.”
  • Between an appositive and the word it refers to: “The scientists were fascinated by the species Argyroneta acquatica, a spider that lives underwater.”
  • To introduce a list: “Some of my favorite film stars have home pages on the Web: Uma Thurman, Billy Bob Thornton, and Halle Berry.”
  • Between independent clauses joined by and, but, or, nor, for, so, or yet: “Five of the applicants had worked with spreadsheets, but only one was familiar with database management.”

There are exceptions according to Hacker, and those are:

If at least one of the independent clauses contains internal punctuation, you may use a semi-colon even though a clauses are joined with a coordinating conjunction. For example:

As a vehicle [the model T] was hard-working, commonplace, and heroic; it often seemed to transmit those qualities to the person who rode it. —E.B. White.

Another example of when to use a semi-colon is to emphasize a sharp contrast or a firm distinction between clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction:

We hate some persons because we do not them well; and we will not know them because we hate them. —Charles Caleb Colton.

See, nothing scary about the semi-colon at all. It’s the comma that’s frightening.

Need copyediting or proofreading help with your copy? Stop by my contact page and give me a shout!

Scrivener Organizes Your Writing

January 3, 2017Software Applications

As a writer, I need to rely on great software for all my writing projects to keep me organized, and that software is none other but Scrivener.

A writer friend from Facebook first told me about Scrivener  back in late 2009. Unfortunately, it was only available for the Mac, but in 2010 Literature and Latte, the company that developed and designed Scrivener announced they were developing a Windows version. I was elated. I became a beta tester and then my Windows laptop died, which offered me the excuse to purchase a MacBook Pro.

Without question Scrivener keeps all my writing projects organized and easy to find. I have everything I want within one project. The best way to think of the application is similar to a three-ring binder with dividers, or as a file cabinet that is specific to that project. In other words, I have notes, images, revisions and edits in an easy to find place. That means no more hunting around for a folder that was misfiled within my computer’s directory. It also means not having to fiddle with bloated software.

Below are three Scrivener features I use often:

  • Snapshots: this ingenious feature takes an image of my copy and stores it within the project. That means I never need to have dozens of documents or a folder with deleted copy to compare and contrast.
  • Project Search: Scrivener’s search feature is on of the most powerful search tools I’ve used. It’s fast and I never have to spend more than a minute hunting around for old articles or copy.
  • Split Screen: This is ideal when you’re working on any type of copy and need to refer often to other documents. My Editor can be split vertically or horizontally and I can lock it in place.

If your company employs in-house copy-writers, I highly urge that you provide them with this powerful and robust software. There is a learning curve, but the beauty of Scrivener is that writers can work with the application to suit their process.

To learn more about the application, visit Literature and Latte. Want to give a whirl?  The company provides a 30 day trial. Sound intriguing? If you’d like to an introductory tutorial on how you or your employees can use Scrivener or a month long tutorial, drop me a line. 

Avoiding the Comma Splice

November 22, 2016Punctuation

Have you ever scratched your head and wondered what is a comma splice?  It’s simple to remember:  a comma splice is the use of a comma to join two independent clauses. For example, Stevenson’s romances are entertaining, they are full of exciting adventures. That is a comma splice.

According to Strunk and White in The Elements of Style:

Do not join independent clauses with a comma.

If a two or more clauses, grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction, are to form a single compound sentence, the proper mark of punctuation is a semi-colon.

The sentence above should be: Stevenson’s romances are entertaining; they are full of exciting adventures. Or simply add a period and turn the sentence into two independent clauses. Remember, though, if you omit any punctuation you have a fused sentence (otherwise known as a run-on sentence).

To correct a comma splice, you can do the following (example from Wikipedia):

  • Change the comma to a semicolon, colon, or dash:
    • It is nearly half past five; we cannot reach town before dark.
    • We cannot reach town before dark: it is nearly half past five.
    • It is nearly half past five—we cannot reach town before dark.
  • Write the two clauses as two separate sentences:
    • It is nearly half past five. We cannot reach town before dark.
  • Insert a coordinating conjunction following the comma:
    • It is nearly half past five, and we cannot reach town before dark.
    • It is nearly half past five, so we cannot reach town before dark.
  • Make one clause dependent on the other:
    • Because it is nearly half past five, we cannot reach town before dark.
    • It is nearly half past five, which means we cannot reach town before dark.
  • Use a semicolon plus a conjunctive adverb:
    • It is nearly half past five; hence, we cannot reach town before dark.

In the colon (:) example above, the two clauses must be transposed. A colon often introduces a reason or explanation: the colon becomes a substitute for “because.” The clause giving the reason (“it is nearly half past five”) must follow the clause that needs explaining (“We cannot reach town before dark”).

When in doubt about using a semicolon, dash, or colon, your best bet is to turn the incorrect sentence into two independent clauses.

Need editing or proofreading help with your copy? Stop by my contact page and give me a shout!

Tools of the Trade: Airtable

November 15, 2016Software Applications

In an earlier post, Editorial Calendar Development, I referred to a few software applications you can use to organize your workflow. One of those is Airtable that is a combination database and a worksheet within a spread sheet. You can create several bases to suit your needs from email lists of potential customers to creating an editorial calendar for your blog posts and social media.

I started using Airtable to compile a social media calendar for a client. My needs are fairly simple at the moment and many of the fields, which I mentioned in the editorial calendar post, seemed extraneous for my purposes.

What I like about Airtable is that I can drag in attachments and not have it get clunky and awkward to manipulate as I discovered when I was creating a calendar in Excel. Another feature I like is that I can send either a link to clients so they can view the calendar or download it as CSV file in Excel (the link is better).  Overall, Airtable is an user-friendly app that packs quite a bit of punch.

Airtable offers three price options: free per user/month to $24 per user/month. With the free option, you get unlimited bases, but each one can only hold for 1,200 records. If you’re using Airtable as a database for emails and your list is extensive you can use several bases. Be aware, however, that you are limited to  2 GBs of space. If you need more space and more records, your best bet is to go to the next level up.

What applications does your business use? Do you have any recommendations? If your company is considering to use Airtable in its workflow and your staff needs a tutorial, give me a shout to schedule an appointment.

Homonym Watch

October 25, 2016Grammar

 

512px-homograph_homophone_venn_diagram

I often see the misuse of  homonyms, homophones, heterographs, heteronyms, polysemes, and capitonyms in content, which dangerously raises my blood pressure.

Are you scratching your head and thinking what the heck am I talking about?

The word Homonym comes from the Greek ὁμώνυμος (homonumos). In linguistics, homonyms are words that share the same spelling and are pronounced the same, but have a different meaning. For example, bark (the sound a dog makes) and bark (part of a tree).

Homographs are words that are spelled the same, no matter the pronunciation but have a different meaning as in hound (a dog breed) or hound (to pester).  Homophones are words that share the same pronunciation, no matter how they’re spelled, but also have a different meaning, for example: fair (a public gathering) and  fare (a fee for public transportation).  If they’re spelled the same they’re both homographs and homonyms. For example, rose (the flower) and rose (past tense of to rise). Now let’s add another word to the mix: Heterographs, which are words that are spelled differently, but sound the same. We know them as to, too, two, and there, their, and they’re.

But, wait, there’s more. Heteronyms are a subset of homographs (and let’s not forget homonyms) that have different pronunciations and meanings. In other words, they are homographs, but not homophones. These include row (as in an argument) and row (as in to row a boat or a row of seats).

Next we get into Polysemes that have the same spelling, but related and distinct meanings. In other words, mouth (the orifice on your face) and mouth (the opening for a body of water or a cave) are polysemous.

Finally, we have Capitonyms, which are words that share the same spelling, but have different meanings when they’re upper case. As in Polish (from Poland) polish (to make shiny) march (rhythmic walking) and March (the third month of the year).

Below is a chart for clarification*:

Term Meaning Spelling Pronunciation
Homonym    Different Same Same
Homograph   Different Same Same or different
Homophone  Different Same or different Same
Heteronym  Different Same Different
Heterograph     Different Different Same
Polyseme  Different  but  related Same Same or different
Capitonym  Different when  capitalized Same except forcapitalization Same or different

*Source: Wikipedia.

If  you often confuse “wear” with “where” or “here” with “hear”, perhaps you need an extra pair of eyes to polish your content and help you with your editing. To learn more about rates, go to PSC’s contact page  or email plainspeakingcomms@gmail.com.

 

Editorial Calendar Development

October 20, 2016Editorial Calendar

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If you plan to blog on a consistent basis, I recommend you create an editorial calendar of the topics you want to cover each month.

Creating an editorial calendar doesn’t need to be an elaborate process. You can develop one by using one of many tools such as your basic calendar—either a digital one or a conventional calendar; an Excel spreadsheet or other apps that keep you productive.

I’m a big Scrivener fan and use this application to plan, outline and write all my content. I also like to set up reminder in my calendar and note the topic I’ll be writing about.

There are several online applications that can be accessed on several platforms like your phone or tablet. The easiest one to work with is Google Spreadsheets where you can invite team members to add content to the calendar. If you want applications that act as a project management database, calendar and messaging app, you can use Asana, Nozbe, and Trello. The caveat is the free versions of have limited functionality.

After you determine which application suits your needs, you should include the following in your editorial calendar:

1. Topic.

2.Status

3.Date due.

4. Date scheduled for publication

5. Tags/categories/SEO.

6. Author (if you’re working with a team of writers).

7. Editor (if you’re working with a team).

8. Attachments (photos).

9. Links to other sources mentioned in the post.

10. Editorial notes.

Is developing an editorial calendar necessary and can you just wing it? You can, but an editorial calendar will keep you better organized when creating content. Remember, to get more people to your site, and increase your site’s page rank in search results, you want to share new information. That’s why planning ahead pays off.

Still unsure of how to create an editorial calendar and what tools best suit your needs? To schedule a free consultation, please visit my contact page and fill out the contact form.