The Byrne Blog

John Byrne Communicating About Communications

Is this another sign of the coming apocalypse?  Hands, please.  How many people knew that the New York Times was publishing a haiku blog on Tumblr, and that the snippets of Japanese-style poetry are generated by a robot?

Yep, that’s what I thought.  Me neither.  But more terrifying is that it’s been doing this for more than a year!  How could I have missed this??!!  I’m a card-carrying subscriber to the New York Times for years.  Print and digital.  I’ve told my wife that the not inconsiderable annual subscription should be characterized as a charitable deduction, as part of my own personal obligation to try to save the U.S. newspaper industry from collapsing into oblivion.

Now, um, I’m not so sure.  Because the true sign of the end of the world as we know it is this: the New York Times is still publishing this ridiculous blog daily and seemingly has no plans to discontinue its inanity.

Here’s just one example of a Times haiku:

It was the kind of
hair that you don’t have to do
anything to it.

Or, how about this gem:

Was he wishing he’d
ordered the hotcakes instead
of the burrito.

This is from a newspaper that has won 112 Pultizer Prizes in nearly 100 years.  That’s more than any other newspaper, anywhere.  So, I ask seriously:  This is the best we get from the Times?  Shouldn’t they know better over there?  When people talk (sometimes incessantly) about there being too much content in the world, this is the top example.  Buzzfeed now ain’t got nothing on the New York Times.

I think the worst part about this whole thing, speaking from the perspective of a journalist/writer/editor/content marketer/creative/etc., etc. is that these haiku are being created automatically by an algorithm.  Sure, a human wrote the original words in a sentence that has already been published in the Times in a narrative format, and another human reviews the little math equation’s work to make sure it might make some semblance of sense.  But there is no originality here or any creative spark that has come from the firing of any human synapse.  That lack of human authenticity in creating what is an old and often mystically beautiful art form is deeply depressing.

What’s next for the New York Times?  The proverbial typewriters and monkeys?  Maybe one day they’ll be writing front page stories just by punching random keys, right?

Here’s the one from yesterday, September 11:

Talking to people
you’ve just met can feel awkward
enough already.

Hmmm.  Enough already.  Couldn’t have said it better myself.

What do you think?  Is this cool?  Or really strange?  Perhaps just a colossal waste of perfectly good code?  Let me know in the comments.


Information Superhighway

The “It” in the headline, of course, is the Internet, or the World Wide Web, or just Web or Net nowadays.*  But way back when, in the Clintonian Era (if memory serves), Al Gore, a lot of marketers and a bunch of other folks called It the “Information Superhighway.”  Thank whatever deity you choose that the name never really stuck.  Seriously, when was the last time you heard anyone under 50 use the term?

That’s because, as far as names go, Information Superhighway was beyond awful.  But as far as metaphors go, it was pretty darn good.  Probably one of the better ones to describe the coming onslaught of information and content on the web.  Plus, it gave clever writers lots of great material for punny copy and headlines, like “A breakdown on the Information Superhighway” or “In the fast lane of the Information Superhighway,” etc.  I’m not sure, but the name could be partly responsible why people still talk about “traffic” on the Web.  Sounds good, at least.

Why this sudden, random trip down memory lane?  Well, like I did today, when you drive back to Chicago from Cleveland, where I was attending Content Marketing World this week, you’ve got a few hours to think and some really straight, flat Interstate highway to navigate.  And you get to thinking about things.

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Writer's block solved for blogs

If you’re a blogger, or thinking about starting a blog, one of the biggest hurdles is to just keep it going.  Sure, you’ve got subject matter for the first couple of weeks, but then what?  Coming up with additional interesting and relevant ideas to write about can really be a challenge.

Now that I’ve hit about 50 posts on this blog, I thought that I would share some of the best places that I use to get my ideas, along with a few other suggested places that I think could be great.

Here’s where to look to get that idea for your next blog post:

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Writing hacks that will blow your mind

I feel like a deep sea diver.  After my first full day at Content Marketing World, I am now officially underwater with all the great information I’ve heard.  And, more importantly, I discovered some precious pearls of wisdom on writing, courtesy of Ann Handley, an author and content marketing expert.  (And didn’t you like that clever metaphor? Or was that a simile?)

I’ve always considered myself a pretty good writer, but never one who didn’t always think he had nothing else to learn.  So, although there were several other talks that were tempting, I chose to attend Ann’s SRO session.  When you’re a writer at heart, you can’t bear to miss hearing someone good talk about writing.  It was awesome!

If you don’t know much about Ann, check out the site where she is the Chief Content Officer here.  I have long been familiar with Marketing Profs and have a lot of respect for what they have been doing for several years now.  (Unfortunately, I was never able to hire them.)  Ann has also just published a book called Everybody Writes, which I bought at the conference’s bookstore and look forward to reading.

In her session, Ann shared several pearls when talking about how important writing is, not just to content marketing, but to marketing as a whole.  I thought I would share her best advice here, with some requisite editorializing on my part:

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Content Marketing Is Simple

Here I am at Content Marketing World 2014, and already my head feels stuffed with too many ideas to think clearly — or write for very long.  I spent the afternoon in a workshop led by Andrew Davis, where this content marketing rock star talked about how content marketing agencies can differentiate their services in a crowded marketplace.  He introduced a variety of very interesting strategies, many of which I will blog about during the next couple of weeks.

Benefits of Content MarketingDuring the session, Davis — author of a book called Brandscaping — reviewed the power behind content marketing.  He also gave us this nifty slide (which looked much better in Prezi than in this shot from PowerPoint) to help illustrate the Content Path to Revenue.

Put simply:

Content marketing builds trust.

Trust builds relationships.  

Relationships drive revenue.  

That’s it — pretty basic, right?  Use the transitive property (I think that’s the right one — I was told there would be no math), and really all you need to say is:

“Content marketing drives revenue.”

Is there another, better reason to finally stop being so half-hearted or random in your content marketing efforts?  But beware, like all marketing efforts, content marketing still needs a smart strategy and creative force behind it to be effective.  How to do that?  Well, that’s what I’m here to learn (and share, of course).

More tomorrow from CMW on the blog, and feel free to read my Twitter feed.  Follow me at @johnmbyrne.


Time to Write an Awesome About Page

Although it’s often an afterthought, the “About” page on any blog or website is often the second- or third-most visited page, after the home page.  That makes it pretty important to the overall success of your online investment in writing and selling yourself, given how many eyeballs are going to be looking at it.

But admit it:  have you felt any enthusiasm for updating it lately?  Or how about just making it better?  Have you focused instead on content everywhere else but the About page?  Yep, that’s me, too.  I mean, sure I always look at someone’s About page after I’ve gotten hooked on the front page or a really interesting post.  I’ve read some really great stuff on those About pages, things that make me want to know more about the blogger or the company I’m viewing.  For myself, though, I have tended to live in denial or I just keep procrastinating about improving my own About page.

No more, though.  It’s time to “be” a lot different in creating what needs to be an amazing About page.  Try these 10 ways:

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What to pack for a marketing conference

I will be on my way to Content Marketing World in Cleveland early on Monday morning, and I’m just now thinking about what I need to pack.  Yes, I am not one of those people whose suitcase is stuffed with my clothes and toiletries days before I head out the door. After several years as a road warrior, packing the night before is just fine, even efficient.

But if you’re looking for advice as to what kind of clothes to bring beyond “comfortable,” this isn’t your kind of post.  Sorry.  Still, there are several things that you still need to pack in preparation for attending a conference full of marketers.

You see, although I haven’t been to many non-marketing conferences, I’m sure that marketing conferences are probably a little different than, say, your standard conference filled by lawyers or doctors or bankers (oh, my!).  The biggest difference:  Marketers like to network.  And talk.  And network some more…  See, we’re the people who bring you all those programs on “How to Network” in the first place, right?  It stands to reason that we’re going to practice what we preach.

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Lonely Legal Marketer in a Crowd

Next week, I will be in Cleveland (yes, Cleveland!) at a conference called “Content Marketing World.”  More than 2,500 people will be gathering to impart knowledge and share wisdom on just about every aspect of content marketing there is.  And I just might be the only legal marketer in the whole convention center.

Why is that?  Well, probably because of the vast amount of educational offerings focused on marketing consumer products.  In fact, I’m proud to say that one of the keynote speakers, Julie Fleischer, is a good friend and neighbor of mine (Hi, Julie!).  She runs content marketing for Kraft, and in addition to winning Content Marketer of the Year last year, as awarded by the Content Marketing Institute, she has offered here and here what I think are some very compelling ideas for folks who are trying to promote and sell legal services using content marketing.

There is plenty of programming at Content Marketing World for B2B folks, of course, and I’m even attending a post-conference session targeted specifically at content marketing in the professional services industry.  Still, I find myself looking most forward to hearing from the consumer marketers.  But, sadly, I might be the loneliest legal marketer in Cleveland for a few days…

Again, why?  Because I can hear it now from some in the legal marketing world:  It’s just not the same, you’re wasting your time.  Lawyers and law firms are different.  We don’t have anything to learn from B2C folks.  Sure, there are some key differences between B2C and B2B marketing.  And even within the professional services marketing area, the legal profession has its quirks and singular peccadilloes (advertising ethics rules, anyone?).  For the sake of all of our futures in the legal marketing biz, though, it’s long overdue for us to focus much less on those differences and much more on our vast similarities to B2C marketing so that we can do a better job than we’re currently doing.

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Social media can drive you crazy sometimes

I really do love a lot of what there is to love about social media.  It’s just so, well, social.  It strokes our ego and makes us feel loved.  And we get to share how smart we are, or how great our vacations were, or who we know that is (semi-)famous.  But enough about me

Even with all that love and warm-fuzziness abounding, there are some downsides to social media.  Here are seven things that drive me a little crazy about it:

  1. Linkbait headlines.  I used to write newspaper headlines for a living, so I don’t begrudge a wee bit of clever deception in them.  A few of the techniques used to draw even the most busy and cynical readers are probably fine.  But some headline writers should be arrested and charged with fraud, tried by a jury of irritated Buzzfeed readers and sent away to prison with a lifelong ban on Internet access.
  2. LinkedIn’s new publishing platform.  I really like that I can now cross-post whatever content I like, or even draft some original content for my LinkedIn followers.  Except it completely plays to my competitive nature (and accompanying jealousy).  Why?  Some people’s posts get tens, even hundreds, of thousands of views, and my peerless prose gets a couple of dozen views and a like from my wife.  What’s a guy gotta do to get some love from LinkedIn?
  3. Endless fluffy quotes on pretty flowery backgrounds. Oh, and those irritating some-e-cards, too (and their poor imitations).  Sharing those sappy quotes or illustrated bon mots has got to be the most telltale sign of people who just don’t have enough to do at work.  Or who are retired.
  4. Politics.  If I really wanted to know how you felt about the President or the Tea Party, I wouldn’t be on Facebook.  I want the cute kitties and ice buckets (although the latter has jumped the shark, just saying).  Keep political discussions where they belong: on Fox News, MSNBC or in the letters to the editor section of your local newspaper where the three people who really care about the Constitutional implications of water pistol limits are steadfastly asserting their First Amendment rights.  God bless ’em.
  5. Twitter’s endless stream.  Well, more like a river.  In flood stage.  Don’t get me wrong; I love Twitter.  But the tweets just keep on coming, and they just won’t stop!  When I click over to check my Twitter feed — because it’s only been two minutes since I last looked — and before I can scroll down a couple of tweets, that damn status pops up:  “View 317 new tweets (sucker)”  OK, I added the “sucker” part, but I guess I just follow some pretty social folks — they certainly have a lot to tweet about!  And yeah, I know there are all sorts of nifty filters or apps or lists and blah, blah, blah to cut down on the clutter.  But really, who has the time to set all that up?  If you want to use Twitter and have more followers than just your kids, I kind of feel like you should read it the way God intended:  One tweet at a time.
  6. Listicles.  Yeah, this blog post is one of them, I know.  It’s what the public wants, and what they’ll click on.  Who am I to question?  But they still drive me a little crazy because they just seem so superficial, you know?
  7. Too much stuff — everywhere.  There’s never enough time to read everything I’m interested in online.  Just like with newspapers and magazines, I’ve found different ways to hoard and stash things, just digitally.  I have RSS feeds and newsreaders and email subscriptions.  I just added the extension for Pocket on my Safari browser, and I already have been overloading my bookmarks files.  I tend to have about two dozen tabs open at the same time because I just can’t bring myself to closing anything before I’ve read it (“WAIT! I might need that someday!”).  I even have copied URLs of articles, pasted them into the body of an email, and sent myself the email with a subject line of “Read This!!!”  Yep, completely pathetic.  I just can’t keep up, but goshdarnit, I’m going to keep trying.

There’s so much more.  PEOPLE WHOSE CAPS LOCK MUST BE STUCK.  The modest braggarts (“So humbled to receive this award…”).  Writing just for SEO and not quality.  The list could go on and on…

So, what drives you a little crazy about social media?  Take a minute and do the social thing: share your thoughts with others in the comments!


Hello my name is John Byrne

Starting your own business can really wrack those nerves.  There’s more to do than one person can humanly accomplish, never enough time to do it and, usually, everyone keeps asking you how it’s going (GREAT! is the obvious, standard response).  One of the first things you do with your business is think up a name.  Oftentimes borrowed from your own.

Except for me, my name is John Byrne.  Do you like superheroes?  Then you’ve definitely heard of this guy.  Are you a business news junkie or LinkedIn aficionado and know this influential guy?  Or maybe you have a thing for Tilda Swinton (and really, who doesn’t, right?) and might be familiar with this guy.  Maybe you live in the Chicago area like me and follow politics in the Chicago Tribune and read articles by this guy.  Yeah, none of them is me.

That’s why I decided to use Glencoe Media Group as the name of my new company.  Just using my name, or even a part of it, would get me lost in a sea of (what I presume) is a bunch of pasty white Irish guys (redundancy?).  No offense intended, of course.  Some of my best friends I’m one, too.

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