Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Instant Expert

"Easy as pie."

As a graduate of a writing-intensive English program, I've certainly learned to quickly evaluate internet sources, and to do swift research using article databases. I've also learned to write in different voices. Even voices that are not my own. This "skill set" has enabled me to make a living of writing articles about some things I should know nothing about, and some other things I might like but on which I am no expert. I just become one, for a day.

I just finished an article on car insurance claims. I also wrote on African Christmas traditions this week, and today I begin building a website's copy (from scratch) all about how to buy the right nursing scrubs and medical diagnostic supplies. All of these things are easy to research, as the information is somewhat static and can be found by visiting manufacturer's sites, government sites, and searching free article databases. Of course the clients know much more than I do about the topics I write on, but they don't have the time to write articles and blogs, and many of them don't have the writing skill. This is why so many companies will outsource articles, site copy, press releases, and even blog writing. Many of them, unfortunately for their businesses and for internet users, will outsource to India. Those copywriters get paid about $10 per article. Per crappy article, that is. A better idea? Send the work to an internet marketing company in the US whose employees not only write damn good English but know all about SEO. Tell them a few points about your company, and turn them loose. That's what most of our clients trust us to do. And we deliver pretty consistently.

My personal favorite (I've written on this before) is writing "History of..." and "How to..." articles, for databases and Squidoo. From an SEO perspective this creates a huge pile of meaningful content filled with many alternate search terms, and Google will like it because it is informative and doesn't speak of any product. That's why I like writing these too. I'm no salesperson. I get to write about history and ideas, not products and services. Plus I get to look up funny pictures of nurse hats and space dogs.

Yesterday, a new social media client turned down the blogging part of our social package -- this was the first time this has happened. They thought a blog written by an outsider could be nothing more than generic commentary on their industry, totally boring and irrelevant. We don't have our fingers on the pulse, and how could we? I didn't take it personally, but I did want to argue with them a little. For God's sake, don't they know I'm the Instant Expert?! Of course, if a company has the resources and time to write its own blog, that is probably best. It will be a uniquely sincere blog. But social media has added another element to the internet research arena, and these days it seems quite possible to keep a finger quite close to the pulse of an unfamiliar industry, even one that is constantly changing, simply by following your Facebook and Twitter communities. Many of your Facers and Tweeters may be idiots, but they post links left and right, and some of the smarter ones post links to informative blogs, which in turn gives you access to the entire niche blogosphere of the industry! I do the whole social package for one of our child companies, and I have learned everything I need to know to keep people excited and "liking" and clicking all day long just by watching what they talk about and what they care about. So even in a very targeted industry, I think the wonders of the internet, including the new constant stream of social information, make it very possible for an intelligent person who is a good writer (and who can write like she gives a damn about chef pants or wrought-iron curtain rods whatever the fuck) to write like an expert on just about anything. Just give me a few hours. You'll see. Instant expert.

I didn't really need the extra work with grad school starting, but the rejection of my proposal for creating some excellent industry-focused bloggery just got me to thinking about this weird thing I do for part of my job. Being an instant expert can be fun, but it can also be exhausting, and somewhat dishonest. All marketing is somewhat dishonest though, I suppose, so the least I can do is continue to deliver the marketing message along with some useful information, some wit, and some proper grammar.

I have to run now. The "blood pressure devices" need work.

Related posts, in case you want to know more about online marketing with words (recent English grads...looking for work?):

The SEO-cret is Out: a very old post, but pretty funny

Can't Buy Me Words: an angry post on the value of good copywriting, after getting dumped by a cheap client

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I publish all the comments, the good, the bad and the ugly. Unless I have no idea what you're saying. If you want to email me (with only good I hope), I'm at rbyrd [at] niu [dot] edu.