Four online tools this digital marketer swears by - that won't cost you a god damn penny

We digital marketers have to wear a lot of hats.

We research, ideate and plan content. We need to be able to draw up content calendars, to write and edit, to promote, measure and report on our content plans, and do it easily, share flexibly, and stay within budget.

Luckily, there are many tools out there that have been specially built to support all the different tasks we have to perform.

The only difficult thing is deciding which to use!

1. Research

Evernote
Free to use (Basic model — up to 60mb storage)

Everyone has their favourite way to research topics for content, but I like Evernote for clipping and keep interesting statistics and quotes, jotting down ideas, and keeping things handy for future reference.

There’s every kind of formatting and taxonomy, so it’s up to you how you sort your notes, and what you use it for. Plus, their browser plugin means that you can clip website content while browsing, which you can then easily find when it’s time to pull up that choice quote.

2. Planning

Trello
Free to use (One user only)

Using Trello makes your content ‘To Do’ list accessible at a glance: you assign ‘cards’ to each of your tasks, and sort them into ‘decks’, according to whether they’re In Progress, Done, or if you’re waiting for sign-off.

Moving something to the ‘Done’ pile is as easy as dragging and dropping — and that’s only one way of setting up a Trello board. You can literally use it in any way you can think of!

3. Writing and editing

GatherContent
Subscription-based, priced depending on number users

For many, Word feels like the most natural environment to write and edit in.

The trouble is Word docs lack many of the features and flexibility required for website content production.

Word has not been built for the flexibility and responsiveness that writing for the web now entails.

GatherContent has been built with this in mind — and it also incorporates neat content aggregation workflows that can make sharing work and getting input and signoff a breeze.

4. Coming up with a catchy hook

CoSchedule Headline Analyzer
Free

CoSchedule is a marketing calendar that promises to “get everything organised in ONE place, so you (and your team) can focus on the important stuff” — and as part of their own content marketing, they produced this nifty tool, which is free — and you can use it as many times as you like.

It’s quite addictive!

Their free Headline Analyzer scores your blog headline out of 100 for emotional and ‘power’ words, length, character count, and balance.

This blogpost’s title, for example, scores a 63 — not bad.

My job improved my writing more than all the MFAs in the world

After I left university, I worked for several years in broadcast transcription.

I was in charge of a small team of people, located remotely and all over the country, which produced broadcast transcriptions to spec. Some clients were more exacting than others, but the main gist was they had to be fast and they had to be accurate.

In four years of typing the words that people said aloud and probably didn’t think would be copied out so meticulously, what I learned was this: people don’t speak in full sentences with perfect grammar. They don’t even think in full sentences while they’re saying them.

The skill of a good transcriber is to take these sentence fragments — the repetitions, hesitations, lost and resumed trains of thought — and to make them scan.

I know journalists, researchers and captioners alike who dread transcribing audio. It’s time-consuming, and often tedious — for every few seconds of gossipy juiciness, there are sure to be hours of small talk, going over ground that’s already been covered, boring voices, and drone.

However, transcribing audio has taught me several valuable lessons about making my writing scan well, making it flow naturally.

Vary sentence lengths: Speakers use long run-on sentences, then short ones. Some are just a few words. They rarely overcomplicate. The sentence structure takes on a rhythm, like music.

Don’t over-punctuate: In speech, the only punctuation you need are commas, full stops, and the occasional colon or semicolon. No exclamation points, and no dashes, unless to signify an interruption. By not overthinking punctuation, and because every mark had its meaning, I was never tempted to over-use them.

Use your tools correctly: Spelling, syntax, and grammar are all essential to the work of a transcriber. If you can’t tell when the speaker is making an error, you can’t correct it for them. Knowing the rules of grammar and some linguistics helped me figure it out when someone particularly difficult (or with an unfamiliar regional accent) started speaking.

Read: I’m a bookworm. This is how I came to understand these grammar rules, know how to spell thousands of words, and have heard of foreign organisations, obscure historical events, and even roads and areas in towns I’ve never been to.

Check your facts: However, even if I’m pretty sure a speaker is talking about Crumlin Road in Belfast, I’d still fact-check them on the first read-through of my transcript. If a day’s events were in the news, as they usually were, it was quite simple to search for the same story in other news outlets and find the context for a street name. If I could see that something was taking place in a certain area of Belfast on Google Maps, and there was a Crumlin Road nearby, I’d know I’d found my mark.

Understand who, what and where you’re writing for: Having a good ear is essential, but hard to define. It’s part intuition, part familiarity. I still maintain that you can’t transcribe ‘blind’ — if you don’t understand what the speaker is talking about, you’re more likely to make a mistake. Knowing your audience means you know what they will want to get out of the story, and what markers you must hit. It also means you know what they’ll notice if you leave it out.

Have someone read your work: After every file transcribed for a particular client, I had my colleague read through it and give feedback or make changes as he saw fit. Getting someone else’s eyes (or ears, in this case) on your writing is important. Other people will bring a different frame of reference, a fresh point of view, and will pick up on things you don’t.

Practice: Practicing every day at writing, as you know, is essential. I worked evenings, weekends and every day at this audio transcription job until I was leading my team. I checked all their work, I had them check mine. We shared knowledge and resources until everyone on the team was working at the same level. It’s all very well to get feedback on your work (as above), but once you have it, you need to act on it and improve.

Transfer your skills: I was seconded to a team in India to train them in our style of audio transcription. The things I’d learned made me a good trainer. They also later led me to transfer my skills into broadcast subtitling and, even later, technical authorship. See what else your new writing skills can bring you. If you can enjoy the benefit of your practice in your everyday life, you’ll value it as a skill and feel, like me, like you earned the fruit of all your hard work.

Five newsletters that will make you less boring - guaranteed

1. Atlas Obscura

The site describes itself as the “definitive guidebook and friendly tour-guide to the world’s most wondrous places” and promises travel tips, but the newsletter skews more towards “articles, strange facts and unique events.”
The last edition I received from them (they’re daily) included posts such as ‘The Old Man Who Claimed To Be Billy The Kid’, ‘The Victorian Teenage Girl Who Entertained Crowds By Overpowering Men’ and ‘Why Japan’s Rail Workers Can’t Stop Pointing At Things’, which still has me thinking.

The newsletter is the perfect length — not too many links — and packed full of curios and trivia, as well as serious history along with the weirdness. Perfect for the inquisitive.

2. The Conversation

The Conversation is written and curated by professionals and academics from institutions in the UK (although its scope is very broad). The purpose of the site is to offer balanced op-eds on everything from climate change to politics and arts and culture. They even have a special ‘Brexit’ section (well, they are mainly Brits).

In an article entitled ‘10 Ways We Are Different’, The Conversation is resolute in its aim to “source…[all content] from university scholars and researchers who have deep expertise in their subject.” These scholars write engagingly and absorbingly on their areas of expertise, making for bite-sized in-depth reads on a variety of topical issues in the daily mailout.

3. The Last Word on Nothing

“Science says the first word on everything, and the last word on nothing”

Victor Hugo

The Last Word on Nothing (or LWON, as it’s known to devotees), delivers blogposts on science and discovery to your inbox. “Curiosity and humility: the human condition,” they announce in the bio, by way of a manifesto. These guys delight in not knowing. Contributors write on everything from biology to social sciences, and always in an empathetic way that makes the subject real. “One of LWON’s preoccupations is with the prevention, detection, and abolition of bullshit,” raged a recent article. I couldn’t agree more!

Especially notable for a series called TGIPF, or Thank God It’s Penis Friday — stories about the medical marvel that is the penis. But with, ahem, a science focus.

More about its history here.

4. Headstuff

Irish website Headstuff is “all about the quality”. It describes itself as a “collaborative hub for the creative and the curious” — framing its commissioning, curating and editing of content as a cure-all for the always-on, content-saturated web. Their idea is, they sift through it all to bring you only the choicest, most interesting nuggests.

A success story in the local media landscape, Headstuff has its fingers in many pies — from podcasting to frequent events, Dublin and nationwide— and features a regular cast of lovable contributors. The tone is matey without being wearing, and ultimately extremely endearing. Shareable.

5. Harper’s Weekly Review

While this one might not exactly make you smarter, it certainly will give you something to make small talk about. Even the ones that sound too outrageous to be true are fully referenced (this doesn’t show up on the email, but links can be followed on the web version to sources). That fact about a 17-year-old student in the UK alerting NASA to false data being recorded on the radiation sensors on the International Space Station could be a godsend on your next lacklustre Tinder date.

The Senate held confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, during which Senator Jeff Flake asked him whether he would prefer to fight a hundred duck-size horses or a single horse-size duck, Senator Ben Sasse praised the strength of Gorsuch’s bladder, Senator Ted Cruz quoted from Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Senator Chuck Grassley announced he would leave early so he could be in bed by 9pm.

That, or it might just make you laugh out loud at the irony and horror of it all.

How this freelancer gets shit done

My name is Natalie. I’m 28, a freelance copy writer, copy editor and journalist, and I live in Dublin, Ireland. This is how I get things done.

Blagging

Most of my work is done on an iMac blagged from an old workplace when they upgraded all their staff machines. I think it’s from 2009. I’ve kept it updated – for example, it runs El Capitan, but slowly, and needs a bit of time to warm up in the mornings. I usually turn it on, then go and make myself a coffee. By the time I’ve pushed the Aeropress down and I’m back at my desk, we’re both just about ready to do our thing.

Hitting the road

Other gear that I use every day includes an Apple Wireless keyboard. I like the flexibility of using a Bluetooth keyboard because I can use it at home with my iMac and a Magic Mouse, but also when I hit the road — often I pair it with my iPad for a workplace on the move. One of my proudest moments saw me finishing an assignment in the car* using Google Docs on the iPad with the wireless keyboard, while giving myself a hotspot from my iPhone, which was in its holder on the windscreen. This cheap plastic tablet stand from IKEA, wedged into the steering wheel, completed the setup and made quite a nifty monitor holder.

*needless to say, the car was parked.

Reverse-engineering

I do my best work early in the morning. The iOS update before last, the one that introduced the ‘Bedtime’ feature for the clock, was a gamechanger for me. Because I like to wake up early, but I’m also concerned with getting my 8 hours of sleep nightly, it helps me easily reverse-engineer myself a wake-up time according to what hour I hit the hay, so I can be up but still refreshed.

Flexibility

My favourite thing about being freelance is the flexibility. I love being able to move things around in my schedule to fit in what’s important to me – and I hate having to miss things I want to do because of work I haven’t caught up on. As such, Google Calendar is an invaluable tool for me, both in terms of making progress on projects and for fitting in time for the things that are important to me, but which I might push aside for more ‘busy’ work. I use the Goals recurring scheduling feature to find time in my day for an hour’s workout everyday, for 15 minutes’ French practice on Duolingo, for 15 minutes’ coding practice, for 30 minutes of content writing… you get the idea.

Even travel time, usually 20 or 30 minutes either side of an appointment, gets blocked out – a trick I learned when my bread-and-butter job was managing leads & setting appointments.

The reality

I love being able to move things around in my schedule to fit in what’s important to me — and I hate having to miss things I want to do because of work I haven’t caught up on.

Scraps

I do my work in a room which also houses the pull-out bed, the wardrobe, and all of the other junk I can’t fit in the boiler cupboard.

My desk is in front of a triptych of cork boards, on which I’ve pinned various scraps of information, inspiration, pictures of loved ones, and motivational quotes I’ve written for myself (and some I’ve found from other places). This is a trick I got from The Artist’s Way, in a brief flirtation I had last year with its method (the only remnant of the good habits I was meant to be creating for myself being an addiction to 750words.com)

One mantra, that I have written on a bright blue Post-It note right at eye level, reads: IT IS AS EASY AS THAT.

You might not agree with the sentiment, but for me, it works!

IT IS AS EASY AS THAT

All watched over by machines

There are tons of apps, tools and sites I use to keep my life running like a well-oiled machine, but here’s a run-down of just a few of the ones I couldn’t live without.

Apart from using Google Calendar to manage my appointments, calls and meetings, I use Clear for the iPhone* to manage my to-do list, as well as my grocery list, book and film recommendations people give me, and-embarrassingly-my life bucket list. I’ll write another post about this sometime.

Papier is the equivalent of bringing up a blank Notepad page every time you open a new Chrome tab, and is invaluable for a multi-tab addict like me. On that topic, The Great Suspender Chrome plugin stops my iMac melting into a big pile of grey plastic and metal on a daily basis, and Instapaper does the dame thing for my brain, taking all those things I want to read in all those millions of tabs and putting them on my phone for me to look at on the tram instead.

*don’t @ me


Fifty words you could use in your social media bio that aren’t ‘aficionado’

Why? Because it’s so overused!

From Geocities to Medium, via Tripod, Xanga, Livejournal, Blogspot and Tumblr; taking in Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Squarespace, many, many discussion forums and countless corporate ‘talent hubs’; and not forgetting Last.fm, Bolt, Formspring, MySpace, Friendster, 43 Things, Yahoo! Answers… and… Habbo Hotel… I have written a lot of bios for myself. And they have said a lot of things. And I am sure that, at some point, I have referred to myself as a something ‘aficionado’.

I don’t know why I now object to the word so much. Is it the unnecessary gendering (see above), or connotations of fussiness and fustiness (also: see above)?

Everyone knows a writer should

Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

and

Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

I can’t imagine my grandfather reeling off 100-200 words about himself before applying for a job or signing up for banking services. But if he could, if he had to, I’m positive he wouldn’t have called himself an ‘aficionado’.

‘Tommy, 85, car aficionado, if I’m not cycling to work at the print factory I’m in the garden, love my kids, #WealdstoneFC’

I’m not one of those awful people who thinks everything was better in the 1950s.

I’m not saying I have a better idea.

But if we have to do this, let’s make it cringe-free; tasteful, graceful, pleasing.

  1. fan

  2. fanatic

  3. lover

  4. adherent

  5. enthusiast

  6. defender

  7. appreciater

  8. inamorato/inamorata

  9. champion

  10. devotee

  11. admirer

  12. disciple

  13. lover

  14. respecter

  15. esteemer

  16. friend

  17. addict

  18. supporter

  19. zealot

  20. follower

  21. connossieur

  22. pundit

  23. worshipper

  24. maniac

  25. maven

  26. believer

  27. geek

  28. groupie

  29. nerd

  30. beloved of

  31. preferrer

  32. jock

  33. buff

  34. boffin

  35. freak

  36. evangelist

  37. preacher

  38. authority

  39. savant

  40. collector

  41. wizard

  42. ninja

  43. fiend

  44. nut

  45. -hound

  46. junkie

  47. head

  48. master

  49. ace

  50. esteemer

Give it a try - update your social media bios today.

The big problem with defending Kim Kardashian West by calling her someone's mother, someone's daughter, someone's wife

The Kim Kardashian story is terrifying. Remember, she's somebody's mom, sister and wife. She didn't deserve that. Even if you dislike her.

What is a woman’s worth in 2016?

Kim Kardashian West is a businesswoman, a model, a philanthropist, a TV personality, someone who eats a lot of salad, and when it emerged that in the early hours of the morning she had been robbed at gunpoint in her rentend apartment in Paris, comment flooded in from all corners of the internet.

Twitter users — among them, many celebrities — have taken to the platform to air their support. However, there is a certain way of writing and talking about calamitous events in the lives of high-profile women that dehumanises and devalues them.

It’s important to acknowledge that Kim Kardashian West, and stories on topics and events connected with her name, often comes in for a high level of criticism from many in the media and online. People see the Kardashians — Kim at the head of them — as living proof that we are all going to hell in a handbasket, even though the notion of ‘famous for being famous’ has been around for decades.

This is what gave rise to the concern that, after news broke of the robbery broke, people on the internet might be less than kind. Because they always are.

Chat show host and comedian James Corden led the charge, in a message of support that was retweeted nearly 30,000 times:

People making jokes about @KimKardashian tonight would do well to remember that she’s a mother, a daughter, a wife, a friend. Be nice or shut up

Others followed suit.

Even if you're not a fan of Kim Kardashian, there isn't anything funny about a woman of two children being held at gunpoint.

Like her or not, Kim Kardashian is a wife, a mother, a daughter, a person. Being held at gunpoint is not something to be mocked.

Kim Kardashian or not, she's human, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a mother and a friend, stop making this out to be nothing!

Reading these Tweets, it’s hard to miss that many of them seem to be tied to a certain central theme — that Kim Kardashian West is a family woman and, as such, is deserving of more respect than the internet commentariat usually affords her.

While I’m sure that those repeating the line about Kim’s family and relationships mean nothing but respect, SO MANY of them have focused solely on Kardashian West’s role in her family’s lives, and so I’m just here to say:

Reducing someone to a ‘mother, daughter and wife’ is old-fashioned, patronising, and, you guessed it, sexist.

There’s nothing funny about the Kim Kardashian robbery. This is a wife and mother and who was held at gunpoint.

Kim Kardashian is a mother, a wife, daughter and sister. Despite the fact that you don't like her, being held up at gun point is not funny.

This weekend, the three-times-married Donald Trump sought to place seasoned politician Hillary Clinton’s famous marriage at the heart of the next stage of his campaign, the next debate, and (probably) next 3am Twitter rant. It’s something most of us have been grimly expecting for a long time.

Of course, it might be too much to ask of 2016’s most notorious misogynist to engage with Clinton’s achievements, failures and merits on their own terms. But it makes you wonder: what does a woman have to do in order to be treated as an individual?

Over 84 million people use Instagram to see Kim’s updates. Do you think they follow her because she’s Kanye West’s wife? She also has nearly 50 million followers on Twitter. Do they want to know what she’s up to because she’s Rob Kardashian’s sister?

It concerns me that the way in which we appeal to the higher nature of internet trolls is to place a woman within the context of her family, and, implicitly, as contiguous to the men in her life. Kim is Kanye’s wife, North and Saint’s mother, we’re told: give her some respect. Are we to understand that without this guard of honour, she would be fair game?

Are women who are not mothers, sisters or wives less deserving of respect and courtesy? This smacks of a paternalistic system of belief that attributes value to women only inasmuch as they fulfil certain roles in our lives, as well as locating them specifically within a domestic sphere.

To be clear: I am certain that anyone who has posted a message of love and support online for someone who is, in the main, a well-liked personality (again: 84 million followers), did so with nothing but the best intentions. But in this day and age, as women in Ireland and Poland fight for their bodily autonomy, I think we need to remember that a woman is a human, and deserving of our respect no matter what her relationships, occupation, history or status.