The future of the book, it has been claimed, is the blurb

In my volunteer work I’m currently involved in a minor role in the implementation of a strategic plan for a national volunteer organization.

A key part of the strategic plan involves social media applications.

In that regard I’ve shared a few reflections which for the purposes of this blog post I can paraphrase as follows.

Fact checking is useful

The field that I’m involved with as a volunteer at the national level is a small one and the public generally doesn’t know much about what the field entails, so anyone with an institutional affiliation can generally say anything they want about the topic and be accepted as an authority. This applies to many countries. The media generally hasn’t been inclined to do much fact checking in the past, although that may be different now.

Some professionals in whatever profession they are in have traditionally made a practice of keeping up with the research literature and contributing to it. Some don’t bother or at least in the past have not bothered; maybe things have changed.

The ones who don’t keep up with research may be among the ones who are adept at public relations. Conversely, sometimes the people who are adept at research let the public relations aspect of things slide. There’s only so many things a person can focus upon.

The ideal arrangement is that you have professionals who got excited about research and a diversity of ways of looking at things beginning in graduate school and keep up that momentum all through their careers.

A short name for an organization works better than a long one – especially these days

Public relations addresses all manner of details including names of organizations. A long name for an organization can a hindrance from a branding point of view.

When any organization is dealing with the media, they need a “hook” that reporters and editors can relate to each time a news release is sent out. People love to get new information and to look at things in a new way. That’s often the basis of a good hook that attracts media attention.

Marshall McLuhan, a keen student of rhetoric, commented years ago that the future of the book is the blurb. Blurbs are important – as are taglines, 30-second or 60-second elevator speeches, and the like. To put together a blurb or a slogan requires tremendous effort, time, and focused thinking. It’s akin to developing advertising copy for an ad campaign or figuring out the wording for a direct-mail sales promotion.

500 to 800 words

This applies to websites also. Many community-oriented sites prefer a blog post format of 500 to 800 words in length. That’s fairly short. It requires work to condense a text so that it works in such a format.

On my own website, the average visitor spends 2 to 4 minutes at the site. That means that over time, the blog posts at my site have occasionally getting shorter. Sometimes I also use lots of photos because people respond to photos. At other times a brief text is all that’s needed. At other times, my posts are long as I also like to write longread items, and I’ve noticed that some of them also get read.

User friendliness

I’ve recently been sharing information on my website based on information at a Government of Ontario website. The work I’ve been doing in that area convinces me that it’s a tremendous challenge for any organization, agency, or level of government to communicate in a focused, succinct way on the web. I’ve been taking important information from the government website and condensing it in a way that the people visiting my site can quickly comprehend.

That’s what has to be done. In future I think government websites and the like will start to clue into this even more than they’ve done to date – and they’ve done a lot to date. By way of example, many PDF documents are now in a two-column format, which makes reading much easier than otherwise. It takes work to set up a two-column document but you’re thinking of the reader. People want information but they want it quickly and in chunks that are easily to comprehend.

User friendliness, focusing on the end user, usability – these things matter, along with the solid content. Both are essential. Without usability, much is missing. Without data and content, much is missing as well.

It’s a great idea to establish a clear message track for any organization, including a clear sense of the content and format of responses to questions from reporters or inquirers.

A space exists for a distinct and unique website for any community-focused organization.

The opinions I’ve expressed on these matters are my own. Other people will see things based on their own experiences and outlooks.

Updates

An April 15, 2013 New Yorker article argues there’s only so much that can be done through the media if one seeks to promote change of any kind.

A Sept. 27, 2015 NPR article is entitled: “Forget The Book, Have You Read This Irresistible Story On Blurbs?”

A subsequent post about blurbs can be found here.

2 replies
  1. Andrew Harding
    Andrew Harding says:

    Hi Jaan, just wondering what you meant by establishing a message track, presumably in a broader sense (rather than tracking emails). Sounds interesting.Thanks, Andrew

    Reply
  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Hi Andrew, by the message track I mean the main message that an organization has formulated. The reference to track refers to a railway metaphor. People who deal regularly with the media, on behalf of whichever government body, agency, or organization they represent, are often advised to stay on message, to stay on track.

    It’s the message and the track and the intended destination or impact all wrapped up together, I would say.

    I guess in a broader sense perhaps one can say the concept deals with working memory. An April 5, 2013 New Yorker article about research related to brain-training games sums up the concept well: “Working memory is also closely related to ‘executive function,’ the brain’s ability to make a plan and stick with it, an active and fruitful area of psychology with broad social implications.”

    Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/04/brain-games-are-bogus.html#ixzz2PhPfS2wf

    This reminds me in turn that in public speaking, it’s useful to have a well-rehearsed message track and also to allocate some time for ad lib or off-the-cuff remarks. I usually aim to have about 25 percent of a presentation, if I’m preparing a talk, to be devoted to spontaneous comments.

    At any rate that’s been my experience, based especially on watching videos of my presentations, and getting feedback from people who’ve watched the same videos. Including spontaneous comments is in my experience a good way to help to connect with an audience.

    Trying to speak entirely without a script or message track makes for great spontaneity but it may not be effective in the long run. Especially during political campaigns, politicians are generally advised to stick to a message track. If they say whatever comes into mind, what they say can cause trouble for them. I’d say that applies for the spokesperson for any organization.

    This also applies, in my experience, to putting together a voice track for a video. My preference is for the speaker to have a prepared script followed by many rehearsals and endless takes to get the message just right. Trying to get it right the first time by just recording a person’s observations about a given topic, and trying to work with that, often leads to a less effective voice over, from what I’ve been able to gather.

    These are things that work for me. Others will have different experiences. Just by way of example, some people in broadcasting are convinced that “The first take is the best.” That is, some people believe that whatever is recorded on the first recording has the greatest energy and vitality, and is the one to go with.

    Reply

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