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7 Ways to Write More Effectively for Ministry on the Web

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Please welcome Deanna Kustas, our guest blogger today.

How many times have heard the saying, “It’s not just what you say, but how you say it”? 

Words matter. Writing a great story  matters. But how you share a story will change depending on where you are telling it and who you are telling it to. 

If 80 percent of communication is nonverbal, how can you communicate to an audience that is reading what you write on their laptop or phone? How much more intentional should you be when sharing a message that could change someone’s life eternally?

Here are seven ways to write more effectively to minister to a digital audience:

  1. Write for Your Audience and Not for Yourself

It’s not about you. 

The average reading level for someone online is 12 years old. That means you are writing for a seventh grader. If a middle schooler can’t understand what you’re saying, neither can the average internet user.

Yikes! This doesn’t mean you can’t talk in depth, but it does mean you need to avoid “insider talk” and breakdown difficult ideas and concepts. 

  1. Research

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 To write for your audience, you have to know them. You need to determine who you are trying to reach, and you need to get to know them. What are they talking about? What are their needs? Their fears? What do you have to offer them that can help? 

Research can take many forms from websites to conducting interviews to doing surveys with people from your target demographic. 

Here are some sites that can be helpful:

  1. What’s the Point?

If you don’t know the reason you are writing, nine times out of 10, neither will your audience. Why are you choosing to tackle what you are writing about? What is your goal for the audience after they read your article, take your quiz or download your resource? 

  1. Creating Good Online Content

 Whenever you sit down to write a blog or a video script, you want to give value to your audience. Is what you are making benefiting those who read it? If so, how?

Remember, you aren’t writing for you, you are writing for them. 

For more on writing this kind of content watch Cru’s Creating Content webinar.

  1. Break It Up

Mobile views account for 80 percent of the content consumed online. Read that again. What you write is going to be read, or more accurately skimmed, on a tiny screen. Your content needs to be organized in an easily digestible way. 

Some of the best ways to do this are by writing one to two sentence paragraphs and breaking up your topics with subheadings. That way if your reader doesn’t want to read your whole blog, they can easily find what they are looking for. 

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  1. Caption This

We all want what we write to be read. One way to encourage this is by writing good headlines, email subjects and social media captions that point readers to your content.

Here are some resources to help you write better:

  1. What’s Next?

Once your reader has read your article, what is a good next step for them to take? 

On Cru.org, we want to eliminate dead ends on our site. That means adding hyperlinks throughout articles as well as next steps. 

We’ve also started making online content journeys that not only eliminate dead ends but also offer multiple steps the audience can take. Check out two of our journeys from the past year:

For more tips on how to create good online content or how to do ministry online check out our digital ministry page at Cru.org.

 

Deanna Kustas is an Upstate New Yorker who currently resides in Orlando, Florida. She has been on staff with Cru for 12 years and helps run content strategy for Cru.org. She enjoys laughing, cooking, music, puppies, drinking cold brew, and making jewelry  and occasionally blogging. 

 

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Catching Teen Readers & Writers Through Instagram

Today we welcome guest blogger Maddy Wilson, Write2Ignite’s new social media adviser specializing in Instagram.

Instagram, in my humble opinion, is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to access a teenage audience. But upon first glance, if you haven’t grown up around the social media giant, it can seem daunting.

I got my first Instagram account when I was twelve, in 2011. It wasn’t a personal account, but a “fan account” for a band that my friends and I liked. Over the course of the three years that the account was active, our little One Direction fan-page surpassed all of our expectations. At its height of popularity, it boasted over 20,000 followers, which was an extreme number for its time.

Nowadays this social media “influencer” is a culture that has branded its own version of celebrities with the likes of Tana Mongeau, Huda Kattan, Zach King, and Kylie Jenner. These people aren’t necessarily celebrities by past generations’ standards, but collectively, they have 163.2 million Instagram followers.

These are the people that teens are looking to. These social media influencers are aptly named, because that’s what they do. Sure, Tana and Zach create YouTube content, and Huda and Kylie both have makeup brands, but their main wheelhouse is Instagram. They get paid millions upon millions of dollars by brands to advertise their products. They are the people that the media watches to see what’s new.

Knowing that teens look up to people who have millions of followers, small groups may think Instagram success impossible to reach. But the truth is, you don’t have to have millions of followers to make Instagram effective, especially not in a smaller portion of the app like Bookstagram, which is what book bloggers and readers have dubbed the “book side of Instagram.” Here readers come together under hashtags like #reading and #writer and #amreading to share their love of books.

Here are five key tips ​every​ person who is trying to conquer Instagram needs to know.

Interaction

It’s so important that your account is active. Follow other brands and like posts by bloggers and authors. Comment and share posts. I’ve found that Instagram “stories” are useful for interacting with other accounts. You can share a post that you like to your Instagram story by clicking the arrow in the bottom right corner of the post and clicking “add post to your story.” Customize that story with GIFs and stickers and words as well. Being active on your account is insanely important for growing your following and connecting with people. Some of my teen author friends post once a day, but I personally don’t think that’s needed. A post every two days would suffice, as long as you’re keeping your account active by liking, following, and commenting.

Aesthetic

The aesthetic of your account is also important. People, teens especially, love to look at aesthetically pleasing pictures and accounts. I love @miss.ravenclaw.reads and her aesthetic, and especially @olivia.j.the.wordshaker. Both of their accounts are beautiful. If you’d like to start a theme with your account, clean out the pictures and videos that you’ve posted and start fresh. Instagram themes are all pictures that have the same filter or lighting. Some accounts have a “checkerboard theme” where they post, say, a picture of a book, then a quote, another picture, and another quote, and alternate like that. Overall, it just makes the account more pleasing to look at and makes the person looking at the account more apt to follow.

Consider getting a Linktree account. It’s a single place where you can put in links to your website, your Facebook, and anything else you may have, rather than putting it in your bio where people can’t simply click on it. Part of the aesthetic of your account is in how your bio looks. Here’s an example of a bio that would make the Write2Ignite account more accessible to teens:

“We’re Write2Ignite, a Christian non-profit focused on connecting YA and kidlit authors to the writing tools they need to hone their craft. Come join the fun!”

Hashtags

Hashtags are how your pictures get seen, but you want to be careful which ones you use. Some hashtags get more attention than others. Use only tags that are relevant to the picture rather than a set of tags over and over again. Instagram catches accounts that repeatedly use the same hashtags, like too many pictures, or comment too much. Instagram will “shadowban” those accounts, meaning that they can’t like or comment or post anything. Another thing most accounts do is separate the caption from the hashtags with spaced-out ellipses so readers don’t have to see the tags–most teens consider them an eyesore and think that they make the caption look cluttered.

For example, if you posted a picture of a quote from Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas with a picture of a candle behind it, you could use hashtags like #reading #candle #readers #writers #throneofglass #sarahjmaas and just be done with it. But if you really want the picture to be seen, use things relevant to the book. Here’s what I’d caption the picture as:

“This week, we’re loving Throne Of Glass by Sarah J. Maas–the perfect book to get lost in for rainy days like this. What are some of your favorite quotes from @sarahjmaas?”

Here ere are the tags I’d use:

#reading #amreading #sarahjmaas #throneofglass #acourtofthornesandroses #bookstagram #feysand #rhysand #nightcourt #vscobooks #bibliophile #becauseofreading #igreads #writer #amwriting #teenauthor #youngauthor #youngadultauthor.

You can insert 30 tags before Instagram blocks your post or shadowbans you. In my caption above, the third, fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth, and ninth hashtags were all copied from other accounts who used the #throneofglass tag. All I did was go under the #throneofglass tag on Instagram and copy the hashtags that a fan account used. Hashtags that pertain directly to the book will get your post seen more than it would have been had you just used more basic hashtags.

Promotion

Under every post, Instagram gives you the option to promote. Promotions basically put ads in Instagram stories and on people’s feeds, starting at $5 for a one-day campaign or in the thousands for campaigns stretching over multiple months. It’s a great way to advertise and connect with people who may be interested in your nonprofit organization.

Relatability

Above all, teens want something they can relate to. That’s why my fan account with my friends prospered as much as it did: we were just three eleven-year-olds with this giant Instagram account, goofing around and posting pictures of band members we liked. People could relate to that. By promoting your account, using emojis and “text lingo” and making your account seem more open, you’ll be sure to catch the eye of teen readers and writers.

Are you just getting started with Instagram? Here’s a wikihow page that can help.

Maddyson Wilson is a young adult fiction author from the Piedmont of North Carolina. Her debut novel, Doubt The Stars, came out in November of 2017. Her second novel, Don’t Blame The Reckless , is set to release on July 12th, 2019 with Zenith Publishing. When not writing, she can usually be found with a coffee in hand and “Fall Out Boy” blaring through her headphones. You can find her on Instagram @maddywritesbooks.

Maddy is Write2Ignite’s new social media adviser specializing in Instagram.

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Benefits of Growing Your Email Distribution List

Email ListsPlatform.

We hear it so often we want to scream, “Enough, already!” Yes, we know we need a growing platform. It’s why we spend hours on social media, trying to grow our lists of friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter and Instagram. And it’s why we wrack our brain attempting to come up with clever posts and memes that will generate lots of likes and hopefully go viral.

After all that work, oh look! I gained 5 friends and 3 followers! Or perhaps I have 3,000 followers, but the Facebook algorithm displayed my post on a mere 25 feeds.

So what should you do? Give up?

Don’t give up on social media. But do rearrange your platform priorities.

Here are five benefits of growing your email distribution list:

  1. You own your list.

Social media platforms such as Facebook own their site. They can—and do!—change their algorithms to suit their needs. So although you may have 3,000 “Likes” on your author page, Facebook might release your post to the newsfeeds of 50-100 of your followers, if you’re fortunate. To ensure all your followers see your post, you’d need to “boost” it (aka pay) for your post to be seen.

  1. Email is more popular than social media.

More people have email than are on social media. Which means you can reach more people by email than by all the social media accounts combined.

  1. Email behavior is trackable.

You have a wealth of information available through your email newsletter provider. Open rates, click-through rates – it’s all available. This information will help you craft future emails that are more targeted.

  1. Segmented lists mean more personalized communication.

Based on how you segment your list, you can personalize your email communication. This will encourage increased open rates. Or you can personally target subscribers who have not opened your recent emails to encourage renewed interest.

  1. Email newsletters will help grow your social media accounts.

Include links in your emails to your social media accounts to help grow your followers!

So as you work to grow your platform, don’t stop your efforts on social media. But do make building your email newsletter distribution list your new priority!

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An Inside Look at Great Greenvillage

Please welcome Guest Blogger Courtney Madeira as she shares her journey into creating The Great Greenvillage.

Before The Great Greenvillage

Everything in my life has been about devising a thorough plan and then systematically following that plan to achieve specific goals. I majored in Secondary English Education at North Greenville University and got a job in a Greenville County Title 1 School before the end of summer. But my education did not prepare me for the number of difficult students, lack of support, and impossible expectations.

I resigned by Christmas. I was physically unhealthy, mentally spent, emotionally defeated, and knew I would never return to teaching. That meant on top of coping with my perceived career failure and the guilt of feeling I’d abandoned 90 middle schoolers who needed me, I also had to find another job outside of education.I took inventory of my personal strengths and decided I would excel in a journalism or marketing position. Thus,  The Great Greenvillage was born!

Winging It

 

Having lived in Greenville, SC my entire life, I knew enough about the city’s hidden gems to start a blog highlighting little-known hangout spots and small businesses. I bought a web domain using the Wix platform, designed a website, and got to work drafting a list of places I’d like to cover.

I started sending inquiry emails under the“fake it till you make it” mantra. I offered business owners articles covering their businesses with photos for free if they would take the time to give me an interview and let me photograph their facilities.

Who turns down free services and publicity?  I was thrilled to get my first interview with Climb @ Blue Ridge. I felt even more shocked whenBreakout Games of Greenville offered a free escape room experience to myself and a group of friends, so I had a better perspective to write about the company.

I created consistent content, set up Facebook and Instagram profiles to complement my original website, and I began to feel confident about the portfolio I built in a short time.

Milestones

Eventually, my plan worked, and a local retailer hired me to manage its social media, weekly blog posts, print advertisements, and newsletters. They’d been impressed with my body of work, and I was lucky enough to learn new skills from my eight months on staff. I picked up Photoshop editing, important social media principles, some SEO basics, and the ability to navigate platforms like Shopify and Hootsuite.

Once I felt I’d gained everything possible from that position, I transitioned to a part-time schedule to focus more energy on growing The Great Greenvillage as a potential business. I printed business cards and stickers, upped the number of monthly posts, and committed to regularly attending networking events in Greenville.

One of my blogs on Revival Butchery even got picked up by GVL TODAY, a major media account that I’d been following religiously for a long time! I had only made money on one of my posts to date, but things seemed to be picking up!

Collaboration and Monetization

 

Once my following on social media grew to a noteworthy count and I began to gain recognition with professionals frequenting Greenville’s networking functions, something shifted. People began reaching out to me for interviews! In fact, local small business owners started suggesting ways for me to collaborate with them on copywriting projects and client promotions.

Now I work consistently as a copywriter and blogger for Tekli, and I partner with IncuBank to highlight to the company’s clients. I’ve also had the privilege of working with Rocket Dog Multimedia to create a branding video for The Great Greenvillage and hope to continue growing all of my projects to a point where their revenue streams match that of my former teaching job.

With a lot of tenacity, hard work, and innovation, I think I will achieve this goal within a few short years. I’m also able to work from home, which is a great blessing—particularly because my husband and I found out we’re expecting our first baby!

Faith, Creativity, and Advice

I was angry and bitter during the season following my teaching resignation. Truthfully, I felt cheated by God. I had put so much work into what I thought the best plan for my life, and it blew up in my face, but I had no idea how many more fulfilling and enriching experiences were coming my way.

Now I’m doing the thing I love most and using my talents to showcase the amazing artists and business owners in my community. I’ve met people I never would have interacted with had I not had the guts to launch the Great Greenvillage.

I learned about search engine ranking, image optimization, hosting platforms, web development, photo editing, and other subjects that I never would have committed to learning if they hadn’t been vital to my blog’s development and success.

There’s still much more room to grow in terms of developing my website and social media presence, but I’m taking it one step at a time. If I had to encourage someone on the verge of starting his own online enterprise, my biggest piece of advice would be, “Just do it.”

Start with what you have, add more as your skills and tools improve naturally. All you need is determination! The rest will follow with hard work and resilience. Some days, you’ll be sure it isn’t working and want to quit, but don’t. Look for uncomfortable opportunities to learn. Never be afraid to ask for help, and remember that everybody gets rejected. In the end, you’ll be glad you kept going.

 

Courtney Madeira is a Greenville, SC resident and content creator with a passion for promoting her city. After graduating from North Greenville University in 2017 and deciding that teaching just wasn’t for her, Courtney launched her blog, The Great Greenvillage, which highlights local hangouts, talented artists, and small businesses in her area. 

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Meet New W2I Team Member- Tony Snipes!

 

Although he’s an illustrator at heart, Tony has always found himself helping creative people reach audiences and engage the public.

For more than 20 years Tony has carried out this calling professionally for newspapers, TV and now Christian radio, helping each traditional industry tell their stories using digital and social media platforms.

Tony’s path is starting to come full circle, as his experience in Marketing and Media are now being applied to ministry, coaching and the creative arts.

One of Tony’s cherished moments as an artist that happens to write, was publishing his book “God’s 7 Keys for Creative People”, an illustrated guide for individual and group study.

When it comes to Write2Ignite, Tony hopes to bring a new look at the proven business practices he’s seen corporate content creators use everyday. He believes Christian creatives can use the same practices to support and sustain their projects. He also foresees Write2Ignite being used as a springboard for young Christian storytellers, pointing them toward possible careers in Journalism and New Media.

Catch a glimpse of Tony in action at YourCreativeMission.com, and his latest visual storytelling project “The Portsmouth Aeroshipbuilding Co.”

 

 

 

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BOUND by Vijaya Bodach

Disclaimer: Although we support this book because it is strongly pro-life and addresses several serious issues, the main character in Bound occasionally uses language that some Christians might find offensive. 

Within the first pages of Bound by Vijaya Bodach, the reader realizes that this is going to be a book that deals with serious issues. The main character, seventeen-year-old Rebecca Joshi, who was adopted from India at birth, was burned six years earlier over 50% of her body; her older sister, Joy, is intellectually impaired; their mother died a year ago and their father has emotionally withdrawn from his daughters. To be honest, I thought, is all that drama necessary in one novel? 

Guess what?

It is.

Rebecca struggles for freedom. She wants to get rid of her burned skin–a constant reminder of how freakish she looks. She remembers her first “so-called cosmetic surgery… At age eleven-and-half. Yes, sir. Cosmetic. Because nobody ever died from looking hideous.” (p. 13)

And she wants to get rid of her time-consuming and emotionally-draining responsibility for Joy. Rebecca, not their father, is the one who makes sure Joy gets to work. Rebecca is the younger sister who sticks up for her big sister when Joy is called a “retard.” Their father, Rebecca concludes, is his own god. 

One evening Joy urges Rebecca to come folk-dancing with her. 

“I’ll hold your hand,” Joy says. “I’ll never leave you.”

That’s what I’m afraid of sometimes. I don’t want us to be like a binary star system–circling each other forever. (p. 6)

Rebecca wants desperately to go to medical school so she can return to India and help impoverished children. Hand in hand with this desire is her yearning to fling off the burden of always watching over Joy.

Rebecca helps Joy become more independent which relieves her of some of the responsibility she inherited after their mother’s death. But as a result, Joy spends more and more time with a man from work and gets pregnant. Although Joy feels letdown by her boyfriend who wants no part of being a father, she quickly becomes attached to her unborn child. Rebecca sees the baby as one more obstacle to her leaving home for medical school and takes Joy to an abortion clinic. 

At the abortion clinic Rebecca removes the ultrasound gel from Joy’s belly and remembers her burn treatment.

They soaked me in a warm tub and my dead skin would peel off. What didn’t come off had to be scrubbed off. They’d hold me down and rub away the stinking flesh. The nurses always said they knew I didn’t have inhalation injuries because of my strong lungs. I wonder how I survived as I scrape the paper towel over Joy’s beautiful belly one last time. She doesn’t realize how lucky she is the pregnancy is not permanent. She can return to her normal life after this crisis is over. I have not been so fortunate. The massive burns have changed me and my life forever. I’m not even the same person I used to be. (p. 94)

Joy rejects abortion–much to Rebecca’s and their father’s disapproval. But gradually, Rebecca changes her mind as the unborn child becomes more real to the family. The three return to India to visit a beloved grandmother. In the familiar country of her birth, Rebecca thinks about why her mother put her up for adoption. After she considers the possible scenarios, she concludes, “Whatever the cause she didn’t want me. But at least she didn’t deny me my life.” (p. 165) 

The dichotomy between Rebecca’s high intelligence but deformed body, and Joy’s simplistic thinking yet voluptuous body runs throughout the book.  An additional thread is the mystery of the events surrounding Rebecca’s accident. The reader discovers bits and pieces of what happened when Rebecca was 11–but the true story is not revealed until close to the end.

This beautifully written story shows a realistic portrayal of a young adult facing many personal, family, cultural, and moral dilemmas. The satisfactory ending–including the father’s change of heart and accepting responsibility for Joy’s future–will leave the reader feeling hopeful for Rebecca, Joy and her baby, and their family. 

In our present socio-political climate, I applaud Vijaya Bodach for her brave pro-life position. I hope Bound will be a meaningful tool that counselors will use with young women experiencing an unwanted pregnancy.  

***********

By the way– Vijaya will be leading three workshops at our fall conference!

For a look into what inspired Vijaya to write this book, see Author Interview – Part I. For her decision to self-publish please see Author Interview- Part II. The review was first published on my blog.

When Carol is not working on her YA novel Half-Truths or blogging, you’ll find her traveling, trying to improve her golf game, or playing and reading books to one of her six grandchildren. A new member of the Write2Ignite Team, Carol seeks to serve the Lord with the writing gifts He has given her. She has published two non-fiction books and dozens of newspaper and magazine articles and enjoys teaching writing to teens and adults. For more information, please visit her blog where she reviews and gives away gobs of books!

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6 Social Media Tips That Make a Difference

social media

Authors are constantly striving to grow their platform. If you’re on social media, you’re working to increase followers. But if you have hundreds or even thousands of followers, what’s the point if they don’t stop to read your posts?

The real goal is active interaction. Are your followers interested in what you have to say?

Lately I’ve noticed a number of social media posts that include a link to blogs. But many of the posts say something like: “check out my blog!” or “author interview…”. One author even posted, “I’m trying to increase my followers and I don’t know if this will work, but here’s my latest post.”

Many of us are not creating posts and tweets that motivate readers to engage with us. Here are several suggestions to cultivate interaction:

  1. Know where your audience hangs out
    Who are you trying to reach? On average, millennials aren’t flocking to Facebook—you’ll find them moving to Instagram. Facebook has become the preference of those 50+ years old. Google+ is about to shut down—their target date is April 2.
  2. Cater to your audience
    Be intentional about providing content your audience will find relevant. If your blog is geared to writers, skip the occasional post on parenting or bargain-hunting unless you can clearly apply it to the writing life. So if you want to write about bargain-hunting, include tips on purchasing writing supplies or reference a writer’s need to budget because most writers can’t live on what they earn from writing!
  3. End your blog with a question
    It’s not enough to provide information. What do you want your readers to do with it? Ask a question to inspire application. Or encourage sharing of a similar experience. If your post includes a list, ask readers if they can add to your list. The point is, encourage interaction!
  4. Respond to comments and shares
    Respond to readers who comment. The goal of social media is social interaction. So when you comment, you’re encouraging a conversation instead of a monologue.
  5. Post a tweet that says more than just “check out my blog”
    For example, one tweet I read actually did say, “check out my blog.” The link was to a post about their experience with a specific type of hearing loss. But how much more interest could have been generated with a tweet that asked, “Do you know how to respond to someone struggling with hearing loss?”
    Another person tweeted, “Check out this author interview!” But how much more interest could have been generated by asking, “What questions would you ask your favorite author if you could? Check out this blog for one author’s answers!”
  6. Incorporate visual content
    One upon a time, words were enough to draw readers’ attention to social media posts. Then photos became a requirement for your posts to stand out from the crowd. Now even static photos aren’t enough. Incorporate short (one minute to a minute and a half) videos to draw and keep your audience engaged. For a tutorial in using Lumen5 to create free videos, see last month’s post, “Easy Video Tool for Social Media.”

If we’re going to spend time developing our social media presence, let’s do it in a way that makes our efforts as effective as possible.

Practice:
Create a tweet or Facebook post for this article that incorporates one of more of the above suggestions. Then share your link in the comments!

What suggestions can you add to this list?