Can Craigslist be a Teaching Tool? YES.

It’s always a good feeling when students are able to easily critique bad writing, especially online. Folks say that these young whipper snappers can’t write or read a darn thing because of all these computer gadgets they’re playin’ with. To some degree I agree, but I know they can cut through the digital mess with guidance.

As a society we are completely over-stimmed with information. Research has proven that our mind trims off excess information as a means of preservation. Hence, we miss typos. Plus, there’s no doubt, we read less now than 50 years ago. As a teacher, I’ve noticed that students who read non-fiction or informational texts, are almost always better writers. Those that don’t read, make oodles of mistakes.

Really, we all make mistakes. I’m no grammar elitist, that’s for sure. Still, there has to be value in a carefully crafted sales message, even if it is just for Craigslist.

I asked my students to critique a few Craigslists ads against the AIDA format. Boy, did that open their eyes! It’s such a simple format, but very few ads on Craigslists follow a model.

Here are a few samples they thought provided poor examples of the AIDA format.

Paying Attention to the Media

Almost every week I share some tid-bit of how businesses, government agencies, or social groups are handling digital communication. I often reference how those entities are communicating using social media, specifically. Once in awhile a student will ask, “Where do you find this stuff?!”

It’s a good question. Part of my job requires me to be current on all these trends, right? I thought I’d share the list of tools I use nearly every day to help me stay connected to current happenings.

  • Twitter. It only takes one friend to retweet just the right article. I’ve also searched for certain terms to see what folks are saying about a particular business or topic.
  • Flipboard. Flipboard allows me to create magazines based on my interests. I can create a magazine called “social media news” and Flipboard scours the internet for me looking for relevant items. Those selections can be shared to a multitude of social media outlets.
  • Facebook Groups. Typically I only use Facebook for personal use, but I’ve found a few Facebook groups that share great resources for my classroom. Particularly, I like Mashable lately, although they also have posts that are of no value to me. Like with all resources, the usefulness fluctuates.

These three resources can prove to be useful for any teacher if used frequently. I have everything synced on my laptop, iPad, and phone. Yes, I’m wired, but someone in Communications should be. The days of only paying attention to the printed word is long gone.


Why do Some Ideas Stick?

I don’t typically include Craigslist to my list of tools to discuss in Written Communications, but I think it is worth discussing here. This week I found an interesting Craigslist ad that’s got me thinking about writing.

I once thought of business writing in terms of just paragraph construction and grammar. Sure, there is a creative writing part, but that’s more in word selection and placement. I’ve often termed business writing as cut n’ dry, even boring. As I’ve grown as a writer, I know that I was wrong. Actually, I think business writing is fun! I like analyzing the effect depending on where I put words or sentences in a piece of writing.

Lately, I have been thinking even more about how I can weave marketing and business communication. I’m not a marketing teacher, so I’m thinking more about how unique product placement and design might be used to achieve a goal. I just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point.” It is a fantastic read about why certain products and messages can reach the masses with a fury.

How do some communications become viral and others sit stale?

Sure, the actual writing matters, but I think writers need to be thinking about how to craft their overall piece in a way that will not cause the message to sink to the bottom.

Here’s a great example of what I mean. Take a look at this Craigslist ad. The writing is adequate. Sure, there’s a fragment and I’d rather see the date written out, but if you’ve seen Craigslist ads, you know that this writing is fine. What I find interesting is note the images.

Look closely. What do you see?

The writer used the social media fad known as “photobombing” to rent his apartment. The subject of the photobomb happens to be a cute dog named Otis.  The apartment  was rented in 24 hours and Otis is now a rock star. The ad has since then gone viral. I emailed the owners and did get a response. They have been bombarded with questions. Within just days news spread of this adorable dog.

What sold the apartment? The nice cabinets and hardwood floors? Nope.


Here’s a nice article about Otis. His efforts even made the New York Daily News and now he’s a bit of an internet phenom. I bet he becomes a meme like Grumpy Cat by the end of the month. These two examples represent a strange happening in culture today. The plainest of individuals can rise to fame or even monetary success by a stroke of what seems to be luck. I really want to understand how that luck works. What is that formula? Gladwell’s book explains the tipping point very well. This all relates to business communication. After all, in our over-stimmed digitally wired society, what brings some communications to the top and others to be deleted or marked as spam?

All business writers should study how writing and design can attract customers and bring a message to the top of the digital tornado that crosses our computer screens. What people can transmit ideas in such a way that makes them tip?