About Jonathan Rick

I’m one of those lucky people whose job is an extension of his hobby: I’m a social media strategist. Follow me on Twitter and circle me on Google+.

Use This Simple Trick to Make People Actually Read What You Write


Visual aids make writing easier and reading more enjoyable.

Smart writers know a secret. They know that what you write — your choice of words — is only half of any project. The other half is how those words look — everything from your font size to your margin widths. Packaging and presentation matter more than most people appreciate.

This is one reason stores like Gucci and Whole Foods can charge a premium: the layout of their bricks and mortar gives rise to a certain appearance and ambiance. By contrast, while I have nothing against Marshalls or Giant Food, when it comes to aesthetics, their displays just can’t compete.

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You’ve Been Apologizing the Wrong Way Your Whole Life


I'm Sorry You Feel That Way

Have you ever told someone, by way of apology, “I’m sorry if you feel that way”?

If so, please know that this is not an apology. In fact, this all-too-common phrase is one of the most specious in the English language. It’s a head nod toward contrition, but it’s utterly devoid of sincerity.

There are at least three major problems with these seven little words.

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Everything You Wanted to Know About LinkedIn, but Were Too Embarrassed to Ask


If you’re reading this, you no doubt have a LinkedIn profile. What you may not have is a full understanding of LinkedIn’s hidden powers — how it can transform your online presence from an afterthought into a model of thought leadership.

Here’s a quick example. LinkedIn offers two fields for your title: one is your career title (how you describe yourself at parties); the other is your job title (what your business card says).

To illustrate: have you ever heard of the guy known as the “Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs”? Here’s a hint: you know him by his job (rather than career) title: the “National Security Advisor.”

Sadly, when it comes to social media, most people conflate these two appellations. As a result, they miss an invaluable opportunity to optimize their brand in search results — not only on LinkedIn, but also in Google.

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Why Adjunct Professors Shouldn’t Need Graduate Degrees


Because looking good on paper is not the same thing as being good.

When hiring a professor, nearly every college uses commonly agreed-upon criteria. Among these, perhaps the most important is whether the applicant has a graduate degree.

On one hand, credentials are a critical part of a school’s brand. Given that students are coughing up an arm and a leg for today’s tuition, it’s helpful when a school can boast that “every single one of our faculty holds an advanced degree.” Indeed, this percentage contributes to a school’s ranking.

This argument makes sense, especially from a marketing perspective. Yet it’s less compelling when applied to adjunct, rather than tenure-track, professors — i.e., those who teach as a sideline. We adjuncts typically have another job that pays the bills; we don’t teach for the money, but because we love doing it.

Here, then, is the question: should part-timers be held to the same standards as full-timers? (For the sake of essentialization, let’s put aside the gross pay disparity.) For most colleges, the answer is clear: every professor, regardless of rank, must have a Masters degree or more. But this blanket rule seems myopic. Isn’t it preferable to judge each person on his own merits, rather than deploying a one-diploma-fits-all catchall? Isn’t a scalpel a better judge of ability than a sledgehammer?

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You’re Doing It Wrong: Elevator Pitches and Cover Letters


As you may know, I teach business writing at the University of Maryland at College Park. And, as you may have guessed from JonathanRickPresentations.com, most of my classes are driven by PowerPoint.

Why, then, are most of my slide decks not online, I wondered recently? After all, there’s a website called SlideShare. The honest answer: laziness.

Here, then, are a few of my class workshops (they’re short :):

1. How to Articulate a Winning Elevator Pitch





The 13 Worst Mistakes Everyone Makes When Writing a News Release


What PR agencies can learn from news organizations.

The hard drive of every PR pro is crammed full of them. The inbox of every reporter is groaning from them. Even as pundits predict their passing, the market for them in Google AdWords is competitive and costly.

What are they? News releases. Unloved but ubiquitous, the release dates back to the founding of our industry. Of course, that was in 1906, when you needed a full-length novel to capture the public’s attention. A few things have changed since then, yet the staple of our industry resists modernization. No wonder every year brings forth those declarations of death.

But the rumors are exaggerated. The news release may be dying, but like Charles Foster Kane’s Inquirer, it still has a lot of life left—especially if the SEC has any say in the matter.

In fact, we can resuscitate our old friend with a variety of tactical tweaks. The trick: we need to stop thinking like a flack and start thinking like a hack—specifically, like editors at today’s buzziest news outlets.

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The 18 Most Impactful Opportunities Your E-Newsletter Is Overlooking


When it comes to e-newsletters, everyone knows that your subject line is the silver bullet. What’s more, to point out that you should test this line is, by now, so self-evident as to be a cliché. Yet there’s so much more to the rich tapestry that is email marketing—starting with what we call it.

For example, think about the message you’re sending when you refer to your emails as a “blast.” Do you really want to conjure up an image of spam (or bacn) clogging an inbox?

Or consider your sign-up form. Do you thoughtlessly ask people to “subscribe” or to “submit” their email address? C’mon, you can do better than that! Take a cue from the presidential aspirants, who carefully label their CTA buttons “I’m in” (Ted Cruz) and “Join us” (Hillary).

In other words: seize every opportunity for a semantic nudge (a subject I’ve plumbed at length in another deck, Sweat the Small Stuff).

A few more questions to spur your mental gears:

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To Write Well, Forget Everything Your High-School English Teacher Taught You: 11 Myths, 11 Maxims



In today’s the-world-is-flat era, few things can differentiate you better than polished communication skills. Indeed, even at the world’s top PR agencies—among people who make their living off the written word—those who can write well are shockingly few (and increasingly well-compensated).

Happily, the mechanics of good writing are eminently learnable. For most of us, the problem is readily diagnosable: our last English class was in college, and from our corporate perch today, we look down on continuing education—“Do I really need a two-hour seminar on something I do every day?”

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What Your Twitter Bio Says About You


Twitter Bios

News outlets should be mortified by the way they describe themselves on Twitter.

Every high schooler knows that you can’t choose your nickname. Happily, social media offers a remedy for people of all ages: the chance to write your own bio.

This ability to self-brand is priceless. Yet many fumble it. In fact, major media outlets approach their Twitter bios as if they were students cramming to finish their homework on the bus, rather than world-class wordsmiths. At a time when publishers are increasingly interested in driving social traffic to their sites, such box-checking results in a lost opportunity.

Does this description hit close to home? Does your Twitter bio read like a homework assignment dashed off en route to class? Fear not: here are 11 ways to burnish your brand.

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The Right Way to Measure Social Media


With stories, not spreadsheets.

For today’s communications pro, it’s the $64,000 question. When you describe it, your clients roll their eyes. When you report it, you’re lampooned. If you’re honest with yourself, you know that every now and then you fake it.

And yet, the requests for it never stop.

What is “it”? It’s the return on investment (ROI) of social media. After all, if you can’t measure it, you can’t market it.

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How Semantic Nudges Can Humanize Your Website


This is what happens when you let an engineer write your website copy:

“Sorry, this page isn’t available. The link you followed may be broken, or the page may have been removed.”

Gee, thanks, Facebook. Couldn’t you at least have displayed a list of similar pages? Maybe linked to some frequently asked questions? At the least, you could have conveyed a witty apology or summoned a brand-appropriate quote. And, if all else fails, bring forth a kitten pic!

Sadly, Google is no better than its neighbor to the north. Here’s what the minds of Mountain View deign to tell the poor soul who gets lost on google.com:

“404. That’s an error. The requested URL was not found on this server. That’s all we know.”

Really—that’s all? That’s the best message a company known for its NSA-like amount of data, along with its whimsical and beloved doodles, can conjure up?

Surely, you jest.

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How to Lose a Client Before You’ve Even Met Them


Who would you want to have a beer with

You can tell a lot about a person from the way he emails.

Who would you want to have a beer with?

That question kept racing through my mind as I read the replies to a solicitation I recently sent out. The emails, which within an hour numbered more than a dozen, ranged from the pedestrian to the eloquent.

I’m publishing a representative handful to correct a widespread misperception among consultants in every industry: from publicists to painters to pet-sitters, what ultimately separates the winning vendor from the runners up isn’t the quality of your work. It’s whether people want to work with you. In other words, your likability.

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This Tiny Twitter Trick Will Make Your Content Snackable and Thus More Sharable


Snacks

Whether you love it or love to hate it, the New York Times is the king of digital journalism for a simple reason: it’s always innovating. Beyond making “snowfall” a verb, the so-called Gray Lady has in recent months overhauled its website, introduced new revenue streams, produced a viral video based verbatim on a deposition, bought its own native ads, launched an explainer microsite, and built a suite of apps.

These bells and whistles aren’t just pretty ornaments for a press release, but enlightening enhancements for the everyday user. Indeed, there’s something for every audience: the designer, the stockholder, the videographer, the advertiser, the reporter, and the reader on the go.

For the social media strategist, the paper’s most significant innovation is a tiny tactic that makes stories easier to tweet. Often overlooked, this trick ought to be standard practice on every major website today. Let’s take a look.

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How to Make Even the Most Boring Subject Go Viral


boy-meets-world_boring-class

Why PR pros should never say something is too boring/dry/abstract/long/complex to generate buzz

Piers Morgan says he’s a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s writing. So big, in fact, that Sorkin’s latest show—which begins with the brilliant, impassioned monologue of a news anchor—inspired him to infuse his own reporting with the zealotry of a convert.

And yet, Morgan’s passion runs only so deep. During an interview last year with the cast of the show, Morgan extolled CNN’s coverage of the Carnival “poop cruise”—how the network steered something “I had absolutely zero interest in” into something “I got completely engrossed in.” The payoff for this programming: the ratings doubled.

Seizing the moment, Sorkin zinged Morgan with the $64,000 question: why can’t the media dedicate the same energy and resources to serious, important news? “Do you think there’s a way that Jeff [Zucker, CNN’s chief] … can apply that same talent to, for instance, the sequester?’”

“Honestly, no,” Morgan shot back. “I think the sequester is one of the most supremely boring stories ever told on television … There are many political stories which are just incredibly dry, and trying to make them come to life … it doesn’t rate.”

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