Why PitchEngine is Great For Teaching the Social Media News Release

pitchenginelogo

In my Writing Across Platforms class, students write a news release for the social web. We have used PitchEngine to help students learn the web features that can bolster a news release.

So let’s talk about PitchEngine, why it is awesome, and why I love it for this assignment.

What is PitchEngine?

PitchEngine is a service for creating, hosting, and getting the word out about your organization’s news. It is an effective, visually appealing, and easy to use storytelling tool for reaching media – traditional and new – as well as brand fans. I say storytelling because, while a news release is one way PitchEngine can be used, it certainly isn’t the only way. Think of it as a platform for sharing your brand’s story.

In other words, news releases aren’t simply pushed out like the old days – but they are hosted on branded space. This was an innovation that PitchEngine helped introduce. PitchEngine helped bring about the social media news release and so it is fitting that students learn the social media release using their service. PitchEngine CEO/Founder Jason Kintzler has been a leading voice for technology and change in the PR industry.

PitchEngine includes custom layouts, multimedia utilities, and analytics features.

Brands have their own page where all of their pitches are aggregated, such as the A&M Entertainment brand page. Media can follow these pages to get updates when a new pitch is posted.

You can see a host of creative PitchEngine pitches on Pinterest.

How have I used it in this assignment?

When I give out the assignment, I discuss several important features about web writing – whether it be a news release format or a blog post.

  • We talk about SEO, inbound links, and the role of search and sharing in helping people find your content.
  • As part of that, we spend a good amount of time searching keywords on Google Keyword Estimator and Google Trends – things I’ve written before about here, and here.
  • And we talk a little about readability and writing for the web – something I come back to later in the semester with more detail.

After students write their initial news release draft with an emphasis on web writing, students put their pitches into PitchEngine. This is a great experience for getting to get a sense of how writing functions in the web world.

Here are two of the several elements of web pitches I emphasize.

Visuals

PitchEngine emphasizes the visual element of the pitch. A look over their website shows that they take style seriously. This is no accident. They have easy-to-use, one-click templates for pitch layout. Here’s a great pitch from Keen that harnessing photos to show off their cool new shoes.

In corresponding with Kintzler, he emphasized the value of shooting and composing great photos and visuals for pitch effectiveness. You can see the emphasis on visuals in a PitchEngine pitch, such as this.

I try to impress this upon my students – requiring them to identify key visuals to bolster their pitches. After creating their pitches, they choose a template style that they find most appropriate to their pitch. Note: None of my student’s posts are public because that would mean they were… public, and since we write about real brands with mock situations that would cause a problem. So I won’t share them. But, take my word for it, they look great!

Tweetables

As I note below, PitchEngine has changed over the last few years. They used to have a feature where you typed in ‘quick facts’ that readers can click and Tweet. That appears to have been replaced with a new, also awesome feature – Tweetables.

Tweetables are parts of written text that make for good Tweets. That is, it is a section of a sentence that a reader can click on and Tweet. So, you want it to emphasize a key fact, stat, or point in your pitch that users would find interesting. It should align with your message strategies. I wrote about this concept a while back when I noticed Pew using this same feature to facilitate easy sharing of content from web articles to Twitter.

I noticed that several students struggled with the Tweetable concept this semester. I think I didn’t explain it very well this semester, or show effective examples.

Here’s an example of a Tweetable from a student release (company name redacted). Simply click the link, and Tweet!

PitchEngine-Tweetable

More On PitchEngine

The folks at PitchEngine, including Jason, have been so generous and kind in all of my communications with them. They have generously allowed our students to use their tool for the 3 semesters over the past few years that I have taught this class. In that time period, PitchEngine has changed their features and pricing model. But they’ve always been happy to let our students used advanced, paid features – such as templates – for learning purposes; that includes now, that PitchEngine no longer offers free accounts. A big thanks to PitchEngine!

I would love for PitchEngine to build a university program that can help students learn a bit more about the features, suggested strategies for maximizing pitch effectiveness on the platform, analytics, and ‘under the hood’ how it works, of PitchEngine. I think this would make for a great opportunity for more universities and for our students to get the very most out of the tool.

More Details About the Assignment

As I’ve mentioned previously, here is my original social news release assignment (I’ve since modified it to reflect recent changes to PitchEngine).

Dr. Gallicano and Dr. Sweetser have a great guideline for teaching the social media release (Note: PitchEngine is mentioned). I’ve adapted parts of their recommendations to improve my assignment.

Has your class used PitchEngine? If so, how? What recommendations do you have for integrating it into assignments?

Have you check out their, fairly new TinyPitch website? I need to find more time to explore this cool, new tool.

Hope you are enjoying spring break! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Matt

top graphic: PitchEngine Logo is property of PitchEngine

Teaching College Writing Using the Hemingway App

If he were alive today, would Ernest Hemingway be great at writing Tweets?

I like to think that he would. After all, he is attributed with writing the famous 6-word novel: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” (though his authorship of the story is speculation).

ErnestHemingway

We’ve all been assigned one or more Ernest Hemingway novels in school. It is there we were introduced to his minimalistic style of writing, known as the ‘iceberg theory’ of writing. The iceberg theory, or theory of omission, can be summed up with the following quote (which I share with my students) from Death in the Afternoon:

“If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.  The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

Hemingway, there’s an app for that:

My Writing Across Platforms class (syllabus) teaches students to write news releases, for social media, content marketing blogging, and white papers. As stated in my Spring 2015 overview of the course, it is my goal to help my students focus on writing concise, specific, clear, powerful text across their assignments.

Enter, the HemingwayApp. This free online tool helps “make your writing bold and clear” (There is a paid desktop version, too). The app is easy to use.

Type or paste your text into the website and click “edit.”

The app highlights the following:

  • Wordy or convoluted writing.
  • Unnecessary adverbs
  • Unnecessarily complex terms
  • Passive voice

HemingwayApp

A readability score is assigned based on the above.  The app assigns a readability score (thanks Hemingway app!)

The app is great. You can see the improvements to your score based on changes you’ve made, allowing for quick feedback and improvement throughout the writing and editing process.

How I’m using The App and emphasizing concise communication:

In my writing class, I talk on the first day about the power and importance of each word. I use a blind date or another situation where first impressions count. I have students write the first 2 sentences they’d say in the situation, providing a specific goal they want to achieve – e.g., make a positive first impression to set the tone for the date. This fun exercise gets them thinking about goal-driven writing and what all they need to communicate – overt and subtle – with only a handful of words.

We then discuss how this applies to other forms of writing – from news releases to Tweets – where first impressions mean everything and failure to grab attention means failure, every word counts.

I have students write 3-4 sentences about where they’d go if they had a car full of gas, but no money.

Then, I provide a quote that we discuss including writing tips to achieve this:

The quote (from the Elements of Style – a great read) is: “If your every sentence admits a doubt, your writing will lack authority.”

Tips, derived largely from Elements of Style, include:

  • Active Voice – subject performs action.
  • Rewrite/reorganize whenever possible to convey the message with fewer words.
    • “ought to” = “should”; “It would be good if you” or “I was wondering” = “Will you”
  • Clarify the vague .
  • Replace adjectives with precise verbs.
  • Specific examples should replace vague or unspecific nouns.
  • Replace vague pronouns.
  • Remove NEGATIVE writing – when they say ‘not’ put it into the positive.
    • Example: “Not good.” replace with “bad”; “not present” replace with “absent”

Students switch their writing with a partner. Their goal is to use the writing tips I provide to remove any unnecessary word and strengthen sentences. We talk about how much they were able to cut from their partner’s writing. (Note: Sometimes they cut too much – which ties to the Hemingway quote below, and can be discussed with the quote).

In a follow-up class, I introduce the Iceberg theory and we chat a little about Hemingway’s style, as most students have read his work. I provide the quote above, and point out the below part of the quote I omitted when I first introduced the quote above, and we discuss this critical point and the trouble of knowing what to omit, from the exercise above:

“The writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”

After this, I have students implement the Hemingway App in their writing exercises in class. I provide strict word limits, such as for a news release exercise we did in class last Tuesday.

So far, we’ve just started using the app. And already I see students tinkering to strengthen their writing. It is my sense that the app will be a great help as they move along, so long as they commit to using it.

I plan to continue to remind them of the goal for concise, clear, powerful writing with new angles or tips during writing exercises throughout the semester.

I plan to continue to use the app for my own writing, too. I tell my students that becoming a great writer is a lifelong journey we all must be on.

Have you used the Hemingway app to teach writing? How have you found it? What tips do you have?

Fiction Aside:

So what’s my favorite Hemingway novel? If you’ve read my bio, you know I prefer Fitzgerald (a great book on their friendship turned sour is Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald). But I loved the autobiographical A Moveable Feast – perhaps because there is a section on his adventures with Fitzgerald! 😛

What’s your favorite Hemingway story?

photo of Hemingway in public domain; screen grab of Hemingway app

You Can Tweet a Quote Directly From a Pew Report

I teach Comm 335 Writing Across Platforms (see syllabus), a class that in part looks at writing news releases and other content for the web. One tactic we talk about is creating Tweetable content for our social media releases assignment. PitchEngine – the social news release website we use for this assignment – enables users to write ‘quick facts’ that readers can Tweet.

So when I saw today a similar, more streamlined approach used by the Pew Internet project in their reports, I had to make a quick blog post about it. I was reading the Cell Phones, Social media, and Campaign 2014 report when I stumbled across this.

See screen grab below:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

I love this tactic – and wish I had thought of it to teach to my students. 🙂 I may just integrate this into my lecture next semester. I wish I had access to stats from Pew to know how effective these are.

Have you seen this before elsewhere? What do you think?  Is this effective – do people want to share pre-written Tweetable quotes, or do they want to be able to put it into their own words?

Teaching Keyword Competition with Google Adwords (Activity)

This post is long overdue!

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of teaching content marketing in the college Communication or Business writing class today. I followed up with a post about Search Engine Optimization and an activity for introducing students to the importance of keyword research using Google Trends. I promised a follow up brief activity with Google Keywords Adwords Tool. Then the end of the semester and life ganged up on me! I realized I needed a full post just to talk about Keyword Competition, using my own website title as an example.

The Competition!

Back to the Writing Across Platforms (syllabus) classroom activity I promised!

After teaching Google Trends and doing the activity, I plan to teach Keyword Competition and give my students a brief activity to get them practicing keyword competition research for their writing.

This activity is completed in small chunks across 3 class periods but could easily be done in 2 days! (if you’re really efficient: maybe 1!)

Day 1: Assign Homework (3-4 minutes to explain)

  • On the day I first introduce SEO, I assign students to bring to the next class: Brainstorm a list of 5-7 keywords (terms they think people might use when searching for this topic). The topic is: soup.

Day 2: Set Up: (10 minutes)

Note: I have also explained on this day what Keyword competition is (for a primer, see my activity on Google Trends and the below slides).

  • I first have students go to the Google Adwords Keywords Tool and we walk through an example on cars (we used cars in talking about Google Trends, so there is consistency).
  • I have students search for “fuel efficiency” and “car safety.” And then have them look at alternative keyword options, competition for each term, and search volume. We discuss.
  • Then I have students take out the 5-7 soup keyword terms I assigned the class before. We write some on the board so students can see the variation of ideas related to soup. This gives students a chance to see how others may search for soup, particularly in ways they didn’t think about.

Day 2: In Class Activity (~20 minutes):

I then present an in-class exercise. Here are the instructions:

Scenario:

  • You are going to write a post for your cooking blog.
  • When searching for keywords, think about things that would make for a good blog post subject.
  • Work with a Partner:
    • Go to Google AdWords (google: “google adwords keyword tool”) Select “Exact Match” (on left)
    • Search: soup
    • See what terms people search for a lot by looking at the column labeled “Local Monthly Searches.”
    • Identify and WRITE DOWN 5 terms related to soup with medium to low competition, and high search volume.
    • You’ll need these terms for next class.
  • After students spend 10 minutes or so researching with a partner on an in-class computer, I ask the class “based on your research, what would make for a good blog post subject about soup?” We discuss differences and similarities between what they initially thought up and what their research showed them.
  • I then tell them to bring today’s keyword back next class.

Day 3: Writing Keyword Research Headlines (Lecture: 30 minutes; Activity: 15 minutes, + class discussion).

On day 3, I teach the importance of writing headlines for online articles. I teach headlines first because they are relatively less complicated than thinking about placing keywords or using keyword research to write the article itself. The headline is but a handful of characters! But it encapsulates the blog topic and some say it is the most important part of your article. Headlines itself could be (and may become some day) another blog post! But here’s some great info on headlines:

Why headlines are so important

9 Proven Headline Formulas that Sell Like Crazy

To see the lecture on headlines, see the slides below.

  • After, I have students take out their 5 soup keywords that they discovered through research the class before.
  • I give them 10 minutes to write 5 headlines.
  • Each headline must use a different headline formula of those we discussed.
  • Under each headline they are to list: the keyword(s) used, name of formula.
  • Headlines must be less than 60 characters.
  • Pair and Share: Students exchange their headlines with a partner. The partner evaluates the headlines against what we’ve discussed over the past several classes. Partners then exchange notes and discuss.
  • To wrap up, we discuss as a class and address any questions / concerns students may have.

And that’s that! I’m excited to see how it goes this fall! Thanks for your patience on this. I hope you are having a great summer! If you enjoy this blog post, please subscribe and share! Please post any comments below!

Related lecture slides are below!

Day 1: The Set Up: What’s SEO and Keyword Research?

Day 2: Google Trends and Keyword Competition

Day 3: Headlines

photo CC Team Traveller