Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Selling by the Numbers

(This is an edited version from Rob Eagar's blog. Used by permission.)

When I took a class on statistics in college, the first words my professor said were, "Never forget that anyone can manipulate numbers to make them mean whatever they want."

Today, with the mass adoption of Twitter and Facebook, never before have numbers meant so much and yet also meant so little. Social media has created the mass desire to be followed, liked, and shared. The larger a following you can amass, the more you can impress your friends, attract new opportunities, and terrify your competitors.

We live in an age where online popularity has the ridiculous ability to control major business decisions or determine someone's career. Yet, there's never been a time when big numbers can be inflated so easily and deceptively.

For example:

1. According the New York Times, you can buy fake followers on Twitter for around $18 per 1,000. I've seen shady businesses on Ebay offer fake Facebook followers for a similar price.

2. My own experience with the popular ShareThis WordPress plug-in for bloggers revealed that anyone can easily run up the share counter that's displayed without actually sharing the information from a blog post with anyone.

3. Facebook claims to offer an effective advertising medium, yet their average click-through rate is .0005 (5 in 10,000) In addition, a Reuters/Ipsos poll revealed that 4 out of 5 Facebook users have never bought a product or service as a result of advertising or comments on the social network site. In addition, researchers at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute found that less than 1% of fans of the 200 biggest brands on Facebook actually engaged.

4. According to ConstantContact, the average open rate for email newsletters is around 19%. So, someone who claims to have 5,000 newsletter subscribers is probably reaching around 1,000 people.

5. I've seen bloggers promote an artificial number on their blog that combines all their different social media followers and subscribers into one big number, which is designed to make us think their platform is larger than it really is.

Be careful how much stock you put into building your own numbers and assessing someone else's numbers online. We'd all be better off if we focused on the only numbers that really matter, which is how many units sold, how many customers added, and how many dollars were deposited into the bank. 

 — Rob Eagar, WildFire Marketing, http://www.StartaWildFire.com 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Similes and Metaphors (Confusing Words Part 12 of 12)

I read and hear metaphor used with a variety of meanings. A metaphor is a figure of speech applied to something to which it's not literally applicable. Worse, the two words get tossed around as if they mean exactly the same thing.

A simile is a metaphor, but not all metaphors are similes. That is, metaphor is a broader term, and a literary device that transfers the qualities or aspects from one object to another. Example: I tried to write but my mind was an empty screen.

A simile is a comparison but uses like or as. In the above sentence, the metaphor becomes a simile this way: I tried to write but my mind was like an empty screen. My favorite simile is from Robert Burns who penned these words, "My love is like a red, red rose."

I recently read this metaphor by playwright Lillian Hellman: "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions." (Notice her correct usage of will in the first person showing determination.)

In short, both words compare two things of different classes. Some grammarians insist that a simile makes the comparison explicit or concrete. Perhaps they're correct, but I find it difficult to see the distinction.

One more thing is what we call the mixed metaphor. I'm surprised that writers aren't aware of using them. This happens when we combine two or more incomparable figures.

Example: We try to sweep thorny problems under the rug but they continue to bob up.

Here's a better way of saying it: We try to weed out thorny problems that thrive no matter what we do. Thorny problems, weed, and thrive keep the metaphor clear.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Should or Would (Confusing Words Part 11 of 12)

In general, the rule for the use of shall and will apply—if you're making the distinction I pointed out in the previous blog. But I don't know anyone who still does that for this pair of words. That battle seems long lost for grammarians.

However, there is a broad difference in the two words. Should implies obligation or duty and would refers to habitual action.

* I should leave immediately to catch my scheduled flight.

* Harvey would take a walk every day.

* You should learn to relax and enjoy your life.

* Lincoln once quipped, "If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?"

Here's another point that many writers don't notice. When we're writing about habitual action, use would only the first time. After that, write in the past tense and you won't need the word again.

Example: At Mariah's house, we would eat our lunch at 11:30 and then we went into the garden to pick vegetables. After that, we lay in the sun for twenty minutes and then raced to the mail box.

Otherwise, you'd have to write: At Mariah's house, we would eat our lunch at 11:30 and then we would go into the garden to pick vegetables. After that we would lie in the sun for twenty minutes and then we would race to the mail box.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Shall or Will (Confusing Words Part 10 of 12)

I struggled in eighth grade to grasp the difference between shall and will. However, the definition I learned no longer holds true. I think it's probably because most people (including writers) don't know the difference. I'm going to give it because I still like the subtle differences in meaning—even if not everyone else does.

Use shall in the first person to express the future. (I shall visit you in the spring). Use will in the second or third person. (They will visit me in the spring.) That's easy enough but the subtly comes when we want to express a command or strong determination. Then we reverse the rule.

I will not go back to that place. You shall make a dreadful mistake if you marry Bart.

Please note that even Churchill said it wrong: "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds . . . we shall never surrender."

Most people won't know the difference, 
but I will use shall correctly.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Near or Close (Confusing Words Part 9 of 12)

Close or near? Now and then I see them used incorrectly. Both words refer to something at or within a short distance or interval or time or space. As one expert said, "Close is closer than near." 

We use close when we want to express immediate proximity (a close call, a close shave, a close encounter with death). Near refers to a narrow margin or approximation (a near escape, a near neighbor).

We use close to refer to human relationships: 
They’re a close family
Edith was closer to her sister than she was her mother.
Peter and I are close friends.
Near is used to refer to the future or to distance.
Experts say California can expect another earthquake in the near future.
He lives near me, less than two blocks away.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Negligent or Negligible (Confusing Words Part 8 of 12)

Both words suggest ignoring, disregarding, or overlooking, but they carry serious differences.

Negligent means indifference or careless about responsibilities or duties, and implies habitual behavior.
Essie is negligent about her studies.

After three years of hearing complaints about Fabian's negligence, I fired him.
Negligible says that something is too insignificant or trifling to be concerned about.
Three dollars is too negligible an amount to concern me.

His paying attention to negligible details made it impossible for our team to complete our project.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Naked or Nude (Confusing Words Part 7 of 12)

Only recently have I considered the difference between naked and nude and realized I ignorantly used the two words incorrectly. Naked, aside from the obvious meaning of wearing no clothes, can also be a metaphor that a person is vulnerable or unprotected. Or it can refer to something plain and unadorned, such as the clich├ęd term naked truth.

Nude means simply unclothed. When artists paint a human figure, we refer to them as nudes.