I regularly see notes about upcoming events, calls for papers, book launches and the like. I see many of these as do many other people. If you want to maximise my time and attention I have a few tips. Most of the time the more extra and unnecessary work I need to do, the less likely I’ll bother so you won’t get my participation nor will I pass on your announcement to others in my networks. Putting a bit more effort into what you write takes more of your time but saves everyone else more and makes your message more likely to be passed on.
Things you should do
Here are some basic things I want to see in any announcement, particularly if you want me to pass it on:
- A meaningful and short title.
- A short summary in plain text so I can quickly scan what it is and can pass it on in a newsletter, an email or on twitter or on the many social networking sites that I might participate in.
- A piece of plain text with all of the relevant details in summary so I can again read it and pass it on. Remember to include what the thing is, where, when etc. and if I costs money or needs registration by a particular date.
- A link to a webpage where people can find out more. Make sure the link goes directly to the relevant content. I shouldn’t have to type anything, scroll, select or search. I shouldn’t have to sign in. Make sure your webpage adheres to web standards, doesn’t require particular software configuration or scripting to work and degrades gracefully.
- Contact details to find out more. Ideally email and telephone and not just a web form.
- Possibly include a link or attachment to a formatted version for printing or putting up where richer text is welcome and supported. You could also link to video, audio etc.
- Use the simplest and clearest possible language for your audience.
- Remember your readership will be international, even if your intended audience is local, so be clear who this is for and where. Remember to be clear on country as well as city and what time zone times are in. Times are essential for international webinars say. Also remember some places use daylight savings time so don’t use GMT say when you mean BST.
- Include accessibility information so people can make informed choices.
Things you should avoid
- Don’t just use formatted text such as HTML or PDF or Word. It can’t be read on all devices, isn’t accessible to everyone and can be awkward to convert if you want people to forward or cut-and-paste your information. Security software can block some content. I might not have the program you expect. Content is king. You can link to a prettier version or one for printing. If I need to fire up a reader program I might not bother, particularly on a mobile device, and more importantly I can’t scan the text with my eyes.
- Don’t assume your audience is all local or shares the same knowledge. Even if your thing is very specialised, be clear who it is for. Lots of other people might see the announcement and don’t waste their time or yours. At very least say where something is if it is physically based or give some context so I can guess which delimiters you use for currency or what country you are in. If you don’t expect everyone to know your abbreviations, spell them out once or link to where people can find out more.
- Don’t miss out vital information. You know this but others may not. Use a checklist or a proofreader: What, when, where, how much, what currency, what language(s), any taxes or extras we need to know about?
- Don’t put up barriers on the web. If you put your main announcement on a social networking site will they charge you for equal or better prominence? Will they arbitrarily edit or delete? Do you need an account or login? Will it be blocked by common workplace filtering? Are you using some cool feature that doesn’t work for everyone?
- Beware of weird language. If someone is searching they probably won’t even see your clever play on words and it may not make much sense in a third language or on the other side of the world.
- Beware of complex sentence structure.
- Don’t mislead. Don’t lie.
- Don’t discriminate. If you unsure, ask. There are plenty of diversity minded people around (some of them should be asked as professionals and properly paid). Why throw away a bunch of your audience?
- Don’t rely on images (including images of text)
- Avoid hype. Avoid marketese. You can’t credibly review your own stuff so avoid superlatives. Say what it is and why it might be of interest. Don’t bother saying something if all of your competitors would say exactly the same thing – what distinguishes you?
- Don’t be uncontactable. If I send you an email please acknowledge it and answer it in reasonable time. If you use just a web form then be clear that it actually got through and send me a copy if I ask. Otherwise I end up with no record of our communication.
Information scent is key. Be clear in your information, in inverted pyramid form where each piece of information I pick up summaraises and links to more detail.