Matthew Sekol

"The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words."

Month: June 2015

How Does Your Article’s Title Impact Response?

I have a lot of strong opinions. Sometimes my opinions get me into trouble, but most times I use my opinions to get others to think or at least persuade them to see my point of view. Writing on LinkedIn has proven to be an interesting experiment for me over the past year. One thing though has proven the most difficult to master – writing the title, especially for editorial content.

The title is the way you hook people into clicking on your article to see what your thoughts are. While there are many articles out there on writing a great title and getting it noticed on Pulse, I’m going to take a step back to examine two examples of titles for the same news story in an attempt to help you make sense of how each engages the reader.

My Opinion is My Title and By the Way, Here’s the News

Recently, there was an executive shakeup at Microsoft. Since this news is so potentially massive and multi-faceted, I went to Bing to check it out and get people’s opinions. I’m exceptionally curious about Stephen Elop’s departure because, while Lumia sales are struggling in the US, there is momentum overseas, but no flagship phone in sight, yet Microsoft seems to have a game plan to move forward with Windows Phone 10.

This is when this Wired article from Issie Lapowsky caught my eye

Wired article about Microsoft's dire future, apparently

Wired article about Microsoft’s dire future, apparently

BOOM! I am hooked! I clicked this link because, while I doubt there was an official concession from Microsoft, I wanted to read the author’s opinion on the subject. For example, maybe they know something about Satya and Stephen’s internal relationship that I hadn’t heard or they had unique insight into the situation. I clicked the link and read the article. The article itself states the facts, but turns the news itself into the opinion without much thought.

“…his exit from the company seems to be as strong a sign as any that Microsoft is—at least in spirit—seceding from a crowded smartphone market that has become increasingly difficult to penetrate.”

The question I’m asking is why does x (the departure) mean y (Microsoft is leaving mobile behind)?

The article does mention one other fact, which is the departure of 18,000 Nokia employees. Still though, this fact fails to tie that back into the main opinion and title through any analysis.

Wired, which usually has great content, is exploiting our short attention spans (ironic link to a study from Microsoft) in an effort to get us to think a certain way. To an extent, this isn’t just click-bait because the article’s title isn’t even hyperbole for the article’s content.

A better approach for this article might have been to juxtapose the recent Ignite and Build conference announcements around Continuum and Windows Universal Apps against Stephen Elop’s exit and the Nokia layoffs, questioning what might be coming and hinting at the inconsistent message between all of these announcements. What about the fact that Satya doesn’t mention the word “phone” in his letter to employees once and only mentioned “mobile” twice, but not in direct relation to this news?

Still, these ideas don’t impact the real issue, which is the poor title.

Suggestions for re-titling this article include:
With Recent Executive Changes, Is Microsoft Leaving Mobile Behind?
Stephen Elop’s Departure Brings Up New Questions about Mobile at Microsoft

Editorial pieces that have questions in their titles or frame questions are great because you are engaging the reader to ask that same question. The author is then free to provide the answer with your their unique perspective.

Since the title is provocative, but the article skimps on insight, you’ll notice that the comments have already devolved into a flame war for Microsoft vs. Google vs. Apple. This is not productive engagement, but might gain Wired more ad revenue through clicks to the article itself.

Same News, with Insight and Engagement

It didn’t take me too long to find another article about the same subject written with genuine insight. Roger Cheng over at CNet nailed it with his insight on the same news story.

cnet

If you’re connected with me, you know I’m a Microsoft fan. Regardless of this fact, I love Roger’s article because he lays out as it is – the good and the bad, the shakeup and what Microsoft needs to do to address it’s current mobile issue and outlining what they’ve done in the recent past around the Surface. Granted, this article’s title is pretty long and it includes a sub-title, but the framework laid out follows through nicely in the article.

1. It gives us the news (facts).
2. It tells us how this news relates to the company, industry, and market (context).
3. Reminds us where we’ve been (challenges).
4. Hints at where we might go (potential).

Roger and the editors over at CNet got me to read the article through the question in the title and gave me useful insight, helping me build my own thoughts around this topic. Quick side note – not every article needs to follow this format, the one you’re reading now doesn’t for example, but this format is a great one to follow when posting your own thoughts on industry news.

If you check the comments section on this article, you’ll find more useful comments on the topic at hand. It is almost as if just by writing the question in the title, Roger has invited people to participate in a real conversation. This is what you want to emulate when you write, especially on LinkedIn. The more people you engage meaningfully, the more connections you can make.

Picking a Title that Engages

There is now little difference from writing on LinkedIn and writing for professional publications. The lines are blurring. On LinkedIn though, there’s a lot riding on someone reading your article. It could lead to new sales, a new job, or even a new way of thinking. Here are three helpful tips:

  • Don’t turn your title into something that should’ve been a Tweet. People will simply read it and move on.
  • Be sure your title captures what you’re writing about and you back it up with your article’s content.
  • If the article is your opinion on a news story, try to engage the reader by asking them a question, it can be a great hook for their participation.

Think about these tips when you are writing new content for LinkedIn Groups, too! You might just see your engagement go way up!

For Those at Broadcom
(We Salute You)

I remember that cold December day in 2013. It was right before Christmas vacation and I had just walked into the office. I was geared up for the holiday, but then someone walked up to me as I walked towards my office – Did you hear we’re being bought? They use Oracle and not SAP! Google Apps instead of Office 365! Panic, panic, etc. What ensued was several months of panic, appeasement from management, and again more panic.

Here is a dramatic reading of my reaction as performed by Michael Scott:

After months of hard work and a lot of ups and downs, I got through it and I learned some things. What follows are some tips for Broadcom employees and anyone else going through an acquisition. I’ve been where you are (quite literally). You will get through this, just breathe and read on.

Keep Your Ears and Eyes Open
Being on the acquiree end of an acquisition (I’m an English major, we can make up words), it is easy to become over paranoid. Listen to what management is saying, but keeps your ears and eyes open for what’s really going on. Information will likely fly around, some wrong, but some right. Make sure you are making any career impacting decisions based on what you think is best for you. Knee jerk reactions can lead to the wrong decision (see One Last Thing here).

Don’t Overreact in Public
Look, this is a hard time that you’ll be going through. Lots of money is going to be exchanged way above your pay grade. Don’t take any of it personally. This deal is insanely huge and you are just a cog until the dust settles. Don’t fight it – a company is not a democracy. The sooner you come to terms with this realization, the more relaxed you’ll be about the whole thing and can just focus on providing value and not worrying about your little corner of the world.

Remember, you know you’ve put in years of effort and, worst case, your next employer will see that contribution. Best case, the acquiring company will see your value. Regardless, you shouldn’t take out your anger on any walls if things don’t go your way.

Update Your LinkedIn!
Just in case they don’t see your value, update your LinkedIn profile and resume. When I was faced with the inevitable, I updated my LinkedIn and even started writing LinkedIn articles. One article might be particularly helpful if you’re just starting out.

There’s no reason to wait, get going! If you do it now, you’ll quickly get 2 benefits. First, you’ll be prepared if you are terminated under the new Broadcom (glad to see they are keeping the name). Second, it will help you prepare any internal self-reviews that you might need to complete to justify your job.

Remember the 2 Bob’s? Best to be prepared.

Keep Your Friends Close
Updating your LinkedIn and resume are great first steps, but keep your friends close and try to help them out if they decide to jump ship. You never know when they might be able to help you in return. I did a lot of resumes and gave out a lot of career advice to folks that were leaving. Those folks are now at companies in the area and I’m in IT sales. I’d say it has worked out pretty well so far.

It definitely isn’t time to burn bridges. No one at any significant decision making level is going to care what happens to you ultimately. Remember, money is flying around way above you in the ether, but those you’ve struggled and worked along side with will look out for you if you look out for them.

Someone once wisely told me that you should be nice to everyone because you never know who will be your next manager. This is a volatile time – look out!

Make the Best of the Situation
It is never fun to watch the work you’ve done go down the drain and be replaced by other systems. Obviously, you know best and everyone else is wrong, especially this new company. Who do they think they are anyway? Well, they must be doing something right because they’re buying your company.

Regardless, even if you’re transitioning off of your systems and processes to other people, make the best of it – help them succeed. There are real, but non-tangible skills you can learn through transition period, no matter how painful. Empathy and organizational skills can be gained here. That sounds useful in the future, right?

Even if you don’t think these soft skills are valuable, you have an opportunity to learn how another company operates. Learn as much as you can and see what happens. Remember this guy? You might find yourself having to drink some to stay sane, but keep your head up and pay attention.

Don’t Stop Believing!
Just like a feel good group hug, let’s end on the most optimistic hope we can. You’re only on this earth for a short time. It hurts when you work so hard for 50% of your life to wake up one day and find out that it all didn’t matter, but take solace. You (hopefully) helped your company get to a point where they were valuable enough to be purchased by someone else. There is a value there and, if you follow my advice, you’ll come away with some experiences gained through a fast and furious few months that you can use again in the course of your career.

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