Blogger Commitment Extraordinaire: An Interview with Larry Cuban

 

X9PSO6cF_400x400I’ll come right out with it. My Dad, Larry Cuban — Stanford emeritus professor, former high school teacher, district superintendent, and prolific author on education — is the epitome of writing discipline: he’s been cranking out blog posts two times a week for nine years…yes, almost a decade.

I wanted to find out how he does it, to inspire others to start on their blogging journey, and to motivate bloggers already in the trenches (including his own daughter👩‍💻).

Tell me a bit about your blog.

It’s called Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice. I aim for 800 words for each post, two times a week. I have at least one point I want to make. I use lots of examples to back up the point, and then I take a position on it.

What specific topics do you cover?

Because it’s education and includes both policy and practice, it gives me a lot of latitude to write about what I want — from state and federal policy to school reform to classroom lessons. Education is so connected to other institutions in our society so it’s easy to also analyze business, the practice of medicine and teaching, and other similar topics. I try to make connections between things, it makes writing more challenging and interesting.

How do you find blog post ideas? Do you have an editorial calendar?

I am always reading a lot of books, newspapers, magazines, other peoples’ blogs, and a lot about corporate, medical, and governmental practices. Ideas just kind of get married to one another, and that to me is exciting. I don’t have an editorial calendar but I do have some regular sections on the blog. There is a monthly feature on education cartoons with different topics, for instance, how teachers and kids use digital tools, and an intermittent post I call “Whatever happened to..” about past innovations and popular school reforms over the ages, like teaching machines and phonics. I also do an anniversary blog post every year thanking readers and featuring annual blog stats.

Do you ever run out of topics?

Ideas don’t always come to me. Sometimes I’ll ask others to do a guest post. Other times I’ll recycle posts and update them with a new opening and closing. Then there was that “Poems about Education”… not such a big hit. Readership dropped. Not doing that again.

I still marvel at the fact that you write twice a week. How the heck do you do it?

That’s a complicated answer: One, I like to write. Sometimes you hear blogging is passé but I find it very invigorating intellectually. I like to take ideas that I have and convert them into prose that gives me a chance to express myself. Secondly, the blog is a vehicle to teach others. I’m highly motivated to share because I think my ideas matter and give me a form of teaching. Teaching has been a major part of my life.

What advice would you give to would-be bloggers, or those in need of a writing adrenaline shot?

Ask: Who is your audience? Once you have an audience, read other blogs you admire and try to figure out an angle that gets at what you want to communicate. It’s important to always have a hook. Also, have the self-confidence that what you’re saying matters to the audience. Last but not least, make a commitment to try to do it for at least year. Writing, revising, and editing is hard work but very satisfying when you push that button “publish” and hear from readers.

 

 

 

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2012 Marketing Wishes and Caviar Dreams

It’s that special time when self-anointed marketing experts look at the biggest trends of the year and give their unadulterated snarky opinions, and marketing sages look into their logo’ed crystal balls and predict what will happen for 2012. But alas, enough about other marketers. From my slightly jaded journalism-cum-marketing POV, here is what I want and don’t want for 2012. And the soothsayer in me knows that none of these will actually  happen…or  will they?

QR Codes Should Be Banned Until They are Easy (and Worth It):  Everyone and their marketing mother was talking about QR (Quick Response) codes in 2011 as if they were going to reach Facebook proportions, but it’s clear now that their stickiness factor is weak (by the way if you don’t know what a QR code is my point is made). Several reasons they haven’t taken off: (1) Many people still do not know what they are (2) When they do, motivation is not high enough to scan the code since it takes some effort. Even though QR codes are plastered everywhere from posters to mailers to web sites, T-shirts and more, reading QR codes is still not an automatic function on mobile phones and users have to download an app typically. QR code readers need to be built in. Humans are essentially a lazy bunch and won’t bother otherwise, including moi. The second part of the equation is that whatever is at the end of the QR code scanning process is worthy of receiving, but that’s a whole other marketing wish (more here on my earlier QR Code blog post).

Social Media Tipping Point: Even Klout Lost its Clout: Let’s face it, most marketers are pretty fascinated with social media. It’s enabled a whole new sandbox to play in, but we also need  to show some restraint: Just because there are the tools out there doesn’t mean every company has to engage on Twitter 24/7, Facebook feed overload, and YouTube mania. Marketers should pick and choose carefully those social outlets that resonate with their audience (and test, test, test). Also stock those outlets with the freshest, greatest content possible on a regular basis. Which reminds me…

Learn How To Write For the Web: It pains me both as a former journalist and a freelance writer to see all the growing, embarrassingly poor prose on web site copy, online coupons, email campaigns, blogs and just about every other orifice of the web. I’m not sure how the most global opportunity for the written word could be hijacked by so many atrocious, mangled sentences. I think it’s wonderful that the web provides a platform to reach so many but it should be used with care, and most importantly some training.  For those without formal training, enroll in a writing class. If you have an employee that is a horrible writer and can’t change, fire him or her (ok that’s harsh, maybe they’d make a better editor? or html coder?) And lastly if you are not happy in a writing job yourself, make it your new years resolution to do something you enjoy. If you care about your readers, you won’t let us suffer your pain as well.

Big Corporations Acting Like PR Idiots:  Think Netflix. I mean Quikster. I mean Netflix. Or Lowes removal of an ad on a Muslim family reality show.  Or Bank of America’s $5 transaction fee.  PR (and plummeting stock) disasters are usually the fault of the company itself. It typically a involves a predictable four-step recipe: 1) Make a big mistake 2) Don’t admit the mistake 3) Make yet another mistake to try to recover from the first blunder such as blaming consumers, investors, the media, or anyone other than your own company 4) Admit guilt with your PR tail between your legs and apologize after you have been flailed about by aforementioned-blamed. And with social media helping to spread consumer unhappiness like wildfire, companies must learn to do this and quikster. I mean quickly.

Make Marketing Proud in the New www (Wild West Web): This was a banner year for web marketing:  not only social media but mobile marketing, gamification, online deals, you name it. As someone from the traditional marketing times, I am personally overwhelmed learning all the technologies, trends, and “new rules” but enjoy that we have such great room to grow in this new frontier. It’s exciting and also offers the chance to produce better, more layered and sophisticated marketing programs using a hybrid of online and offline strategies. Marketers have more opportunities than ever to be creative, explore ideas, measure successes, and yes, also produce complete flops. So let’s take the time and energy to do things right.

Don’t Forget Who the Boss is:  No, not the woman or man with the windowed corner office — the person who buys your products or services. They are also the king and queen of your world. This is why you are racking your brain to come up with campaigns to engage with them, keep them happy, and treat them like gold.  And lest we forget, our customers and prospects have never had such a panoramic platform to display their happiness or unhappiness, be it on your company’s web site, review sites, chat rooms, or blogs, which means we are more accountable than ever.

Let’s make everyone–most of all ourselves–proud in 2012 and have a happy marketing new year!