Looking closely at the long and short forms

Two weeks into the semester, and I have my students blogging and tweeting.  For week two, I am specifically asking them to compare the long and the short form, the blog or webpage and the tweet or status update.  I’ve also been encouraging them to follow nonprofit organizations to see what they are doing with the long and short form writing.  I’m sharing my observations to give them a model.

I’ve been following nonprofits that do work in various African countries to see how they get their message out–trying to steal some ideas I can use with African Soul, American Heart.  “My ARms Wide Open” is a Vancouver-based organization that, according to its tagline, is “Empowering South African Communities.”

I was particularly drawn to their tweeting this week.  They made three data-point posts in a row:

  1. #GirlEffect: Approximately 1/4 of girls in developing countries are not in school #MyArmsWideOpen #GirlStuff.Period http://ow.ly/eVz61 

  2. #GirlEffect: extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages 10-20% 1-yr more of secondary school:by 15-25% http://ow.ly/eVz61 

  3. #GirlEffect: When a girl gets >7 yrs of education =>marries 4 yrs later=>2.2 less children #MyArmsWideOpen #GirlPower http://ow.ly/eVz61 

    These posts are effective for me, as a reader, because the organization I support is always looking to connect our work of protecting, educating, and empowering orphan girls to the larger “girl power” or “girl effect” movement.  I like that the posts actually contain the data, they link to the source (although all the same) and they include relevant hash tags.  I need to remember to start using #girleffect and #girlpower when I post for ASAH, and I need to think about data points I could be posting. Their approach would probably get a thumbs up from 140 Characters because of their variety and tags. If I had time and space to analyze more posts, I could also show that they engage with others well.

    My Arms Wide Open also uses more ambiguous tweets like “One of youngest supporters http://bit.ly/tLax19” and “The courage to embrace change http://bit.ly/twdeQU“.  The first link goes to an image–the same image they use with their Twitter account. The second tweet goes to a blog post with the same title. These ambiguous posts are less interesting to me, and I would not have followed the link in most situations.  But, in studying their craft, I had to see what was covered by the link.

    When I saw that the second link went to a web page, I assumed that the blog generated the tweet because that’s a strategy we use at ASAH, but the post was first written in 2010 and updated in 2011.  The person handling their twitter account shared an old post, which is actually really clever.  Organizations cannot be creating new content all the time, so sharing good, older content with new readers is a time saving way to keep your message circulating.

    Unfortunately, IMHO, the post isn’t very strong.  Going top to bottom, I first noticed that it was written by “administrator.”  Content Management systems do these things to us (WordPress does this to ASAH as well), but if the Administrator actually makes the post, I would recommend putting an name with the post.  The item seems to have been written by the organization’s President, but readers are never given his name.  The visual design is not very strong.  Two logos are centered instead of left justified (a stronger position), and then a picture of the writer is on a separate line.  The pictures should all have been on the same line and the picture of the writer is a full body shot–very distant.  A good close up of his face, like the photo of Jim Moriarty in my last post, would have been better.  There are also three images in the middle of the post; they are fine, but they are not good close ups and they are centered (again–weak design).

    The message is not as strong as it could and should be.  The opening is pretty good; the writer talks about watching the turmoil in South Africa, and wanting to do something about it. He transitions to his organization, but the sentence is vague: “In the work we have been fortunate enough to be able to do in South Africa in My Arms Wide Open®, we have seen amazing courage and the willingness to overcome what seems like a mountain of problems to create change by simply thinking, acting and doing things differently to create the results people want to see in their families and communities.”  Of course elaborating on this would make it a strong topic sentence, but instead the post talks about world problems, compares US problems to South African problems (not a very good comparison), and delivers a wall of text: not good design or font selection for the web.  The post wraps up with a call to support the organization, but only readers who know the organization will know and specifics about  what the organization does: “Every action, every donation counts to help us to help the people in the poorest parts of South Africa create change.”

    The page, however, has been “read” 4355 times, so the organization is doing something right.  Casual readers might not notice the problems I am pointing out, and for some readers, these might not even be problems.  I am very results oriented, and this page, this organization, seems to be getting results.  But I always wonder: what kinds of results would they have gotten with stronger writing, better images, better design?

    In sum: their short form strategy seems good: frequent posts, a mix of data points and teasers that lead to images and posts. Good use of hashtags.  Long form seems weak, not strong on story telling or writing for the web.  I think SMSG author Heather Mansfield would recommend stronger writing and better design, but again, the organization does seem to be doing well and their ability to network seems to overcome weaknesses on the web 1.0 front.




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