Tuesday, June 04, 2013
It's interesting to see the latest evolution of social media in film, and particularly how our love/not love relationship with it is manifested in a multitude of ways. Take two of this summer's big relationship films, "Before Midnight," and "Frances Ha."
In one of the opening scenes in the recently released "Before Midnight," third in the latest sequel featuring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke love story, Facebook is specifically mentioned early on. Celine informs Jesses that his son has had a crush on a girl all summer, and that they will most likely stay connected "on Facebook." (smirk smirk.)
At one point, Celine takes out an interesting cassette machine shaped camera, and films Jesse stealing a leftover apple from his daughter. They both narrate their circumstance for the camera for their future video-watching kids:
Celine: "If you become anorexic or bulemic later in life because your father took your food, don't blame me..."
Jesse: "I'm just teaching you the value of paying attention..."
In fact, the theme of social media is referenced throughout--the film keeping up with the times, and reminding us how much social has changed our lives since "Before Sunrise" in 1995, whether we like it or not. In a long lunch scene at the Greek vacation home where Jesse and Celine are vacationing, the topic of social media and how automated our lives are, takes center stage. One of the characters even jokes how one day even physical intimacy will be controlled and automated -- this against the backdrop if Celine and Jesse's long affair, whose physicality has been a focal point in all 3 films.
The phone also becomes a plot device as well, creating a divide between Celine and Jesse. During the film, Jesse's son by his first marriage, Hank, is flying back home to Chicago to live with his mother. Oddly, he calls Celine twice on her cellphone, and she never passes the phone on to Jesse, nor does Hank ask to speak to him.
"Why do you keep doing that?" Jesse says. "That's twice now you haven't handed me the phone."
Later on, we see Jesse get a phone call that he doesn't share even to Celine, until hours later -- news that his grandmother has died. This beomes a launching point for another in the many rounds of conversation between the two about love, mortality, life, death, and in this case, the name of their children's pediatrician, and the suggestion that both of them have been unfaithful to each other in the recent enough past.
In another what I would call "more fun" film that examines love and relationships in our twenties, "Frances Ha," art imitates life, as social media and smart phones prove to be not so great friends. Halfway through the film, Frances, played by Greta Gerwig, (who some are calling the new "it girl" in film), travels to Paris for a weekend. She repeatedly calls the friend she wanted to see, but they only connect after Frances is on her way home back in New York. Communication Fail.
One of the key plot points is that Frances' best friend Sophie (Micey Sumner), abandons Frances to move in with, and eventually move away to Tokyo, with her boyfriend Patch. While Sophie posts glamorous photos of her new life abroad online, the real truth as she admits later, is that she's unhappy and wants to move back to New York.
The central theme of the film is the friendship between Sophie and Frances, and the extent to which relationships in our twenties can work and not work, for all the right and wrong reasons. In almost every scene between the two women, smart phones abound, and serve as something of a protective shield around them, as they ruminate over who will and won't be allowed to enter their lives and their inner circle.
-Is it possible that in 20 years, Frances will become Celine?
-How will upcoming films treat social media...as both a character and a plot device, for example?
-Will our relationships, both in art and life, grow increasingly automated and fleeting, defined in and by status updates, tweets, texts, and the dreaded eternally decreasing attention span?
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
I am now officially obsessed with the 1969 film, "Downhill Racer." I had always heard of it, but never was curious enough to get hold of it until I read the recent New Yorker profile of author James Salter, who, I learned, wrote the delicate and understated screenplay. The profile of Salter was so intriguing that I not only placed an order at our local library for "Light Years," one of his most famous novels, but for "Downhill Racer," which I thought would be particularly cooling during a 95 degree heat wave.
Fast forward to 2 days after the home viewing of "Downhill," and I'm still thinking about why this film is perfect for a writer to watch and learn from. Part of this no doubt has to do with what the film isn't. Roger Ebert, in his review, called Downhill Racer "the best movie ever made about sports -- without really being about sports at all."
"Some of the best moments in Downhill Racer, he writes, "are moments during which nothing special seems to be happening." Therein lies the secret to the suspense building, and the genius of the film -- it catches the viewer's attention subtly, through the smallest of details.
David Chappellet, (Robert Redford), plays an obscure Colorado skier who gets a chance to join the U.S. Olympic ski team when one of its key players is injured. The film is basically a roller coaster ride of emotional ups and downs, in which Redford's character flies down mountains so steep, it's a leap of faith just to see him on the ski lifts. At the same time, in his personal life he experiences one empty relationship after another, including a depressing visit home to his remote father, and women who are merely placeholders.
Here are some of the details that make the film so suspenseful and rich:
*Close Up On The Boots: I must have counted over a dozen sequences in which the fastening and adjusting of the ski boots just before a race becomes a signature plot device to build tension. There is the pop of the straps as they close, and the suspension of the skier's legs just before the race launch.
*The Clock: The camera frequently zooms in on the circa 1969 timer used to mark the start of the race. Each time Redford has a run, there's a close up of the clock, showing and clicking off each second.
*The Scenery/Camera Work: The scenery has plenty of powdery slopes, steep angles, and ice capped mountains that serve as a persona in the film in their own right, practically giving the viewer vertigo and nail-biting drama. And of course, it plays with the viewer's faith in Chappellet. Will he fall? Will he realize his Olympic dream? In a Vogue article, "The Slippery Slope: Robert Redford and Downhill Racer," author John Powers comments:
"When I first saw Downhill Racer, I was wowed by the handheld-camera work that gives you a skier’s-eye view of whooshing down a mountainside. The footage is still exciting, not least because you can tell it wasn’t manufactured by some schlub sitting at a computer. Still, what struck me when I watched is the film’s brisk tautness (Salter was clearly channeling Hemingway) and its documentary feel."
*Ritz Crackers: Yes, crackers. In the scene where Redford visits his father and they have a tense scene where they are visibly not connecting, Redford snacks on the crackers, and his character appears more nervous then navigating the Olympic course Alpine slopes. It's a perfect juxtaposition of the mundane world, vs. the fame and fortune of making the Olympic team, and perhaps even winning. "I’ll be a champion," Redford says. To which his father crushingly replies, “The world’s full of ’em."
*The Women: Redford's character Chappellett has 2 flings in the film, one with his hometown sweetheart, with whom he is completely disinterested aside from a brief tryst; and another with the worldly and wealthy Swedish actress Camilla Sparv, whose passion disintegrates to passive interest rather quickly, on both their parts. In the case of the hometown fling, Redford asks: "do you have any gum?" when she asks for career advice. In the case of Sparv, he throws up his hands at the leather gloves she gives him as a gift, and turns on the car horn when she offers excuses or not visiting him over the holidays. In the end, the women are just a foil to show that David does what he wants, whenever he wants.
These are just some of the details used to great effect in this winner of a film that, ironically, did not fare well. Although it got good reviews, Paramount dumped it. Ironically, in a film that explored all the trappings, myths, and enticements of celebrity, it wasn't until "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid" that Redford rose to superstardom, only to see his own career rise and fall in the slippery slope of fame.
What say you? Do you have a favorite film whose screenplay resonates with you in terms of the writing? Are you now inspired to see "Downhill Racer" and
watch for that ticking clock at the starting gate?
writer, editor, downhill skier in spirit
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Sometimes we get so carried away with marketing plans, search engine optimization, making offers, and keeping our writing short to match even shorter attention spans, that we forget one of the most important aspects of communication: good writing. This isn't something we necessarily learned in school, though we could have. And it isn't necessarily self-taught, although it could be. Much of the best writing comes with practice, and an understanding if what, why, and to whom you're communicating to begin with.
If you're feeling like you need to get back to the basics with your writing skills, or even that you want to reconnect with words on the page whether for business or pleasure (and it should be pleasurable), read on for my list of tips, and see if they resonate for you. They apply to all types of writing, including blog posts, books, business writing, letters, etc.
1.Start At the Beginning
2. Be Specific
3. Express Your Unique Voice
4. Be Relevant
5. Be Organized
6. Find Your Fluidity
7. Vary Your Sentence Length
8. Use Words Your Readers Will Understand
9. Avoid Cliches
10. Read and Writing are Connected.
Read A Great Article, Blog Post, or Book, Often
11. Edit and Proofread
12. Appeal to the Senses
13. End at the Ending
14. Create A Sense of Urgency
15. Be Clear
16. Read Your Writing Out Loud
17. Unplug and Find Quiet
18. Have A Great Story
19. Create Suspense and/or Mystery
20. Enjoy Yourself and Don't Think of It As Work
21. Observe Everything
22. Discover What Inspires You
23. Be Surprising
24. Take A Risk, or Several
25. Take A Break, and Come Back
These are just some tips that have helped me over the years.
What about you? What writing tips can you share, and what are your greatest writing challenges?
Monday, April 22, 2013
Every day, both the benefits, limitations, and challenges of social media are tossed around like a virtual ping pong ball. Just last week, USA Today reported that social media was a "bust" for small businesses, while a report from Direct Marketing News states that social media spending is expected to double in 5 years. No doubt the debate over the role of Twitter and other social channels, and citizen journalism in the midst of catastrophic events such as last Monday's Boston Marathon's explosions, will continue for years. A quick search for the terms "social media" and "Boston" yields over 20 headlines on the first result page alone, with titles such as: "Boston Explosions-Information and Misinformation," Social Media Plays Critical Role in Boston Marathon Response," "Boston Bombings- Social Media Spirals Out of Control," and others.
Social Media may be too new to arrive at any easy solutions for now, whether it be breaking news or business branding. In the meantime, here are some contradictions I have found, with some suggested ways of approaching them.
1. Be authentic, but then again...it's not about you.
We are repeatedly told that it's important to be authentic, and yet our posts should not be about us. They should be about YOU. You, the follower, subscriber, member. This is true to an extent -- our audiences don't necessarily want to hear about us all the time, including what we ate for breakfast or a chronicle of our every waking moment. However, they do need to know something of who we are, particularly if an "ask" or an offer is coming down the road. If I'm making a purchase, I want to know a bit about who I'm buying from, and then once I've bought something, I might want to know where they just travelled, or who else they are connected to that I might know, or what they are publishing on their blog...that kind of thing. A good ABOUT page that describes their interests, credentials, education, and accomplishments, is a great way to start the dialogue. A good consultant will know how and when to turn the conversation around with a potential client, and it's perfectly alright to say: "Enough about me, how about you?"
2. You need to market, but you're not a fan of selling.
The new marketing is storytelling. If you like to write and tell and photograph and record and video stories that are relevant to your audience, you and your brand will be relevant to them.
3. You know you should have a distinct strategy for each of your social media profiles, but you've got lots of other stuff to do, and automation is tempting.
It's better to start slowly and cross promote from one platform to another, as you establish them. That way, your brand grows organically, and you have some nice choices in what channel works best for what offering you have. Great tools out there such as Hootsuite and Buffer allow users to organize master dashboards and schedule social updates in advance, as well as view metrics and other tracking information. You can also set up alerts to monitor trends, people, and keywords, making your job as community manager easier. While a lot of automation is not recommended and can create the image that you aren't paying attention to your community, you can automate some of your updates, particularly those that aren't time sensitive. Twitter lends itself to automation, provided you add to the mix some direct responses, or replies, retweets, and hashtags when attending or reporting a live event. Facebook generally works best when you are posting live.
4. Infographics and visuals are the latest trend, but how does that reconcile with SEO and copyrighting?
Infographics are actually a great SEO boost. An infographic is basically "link bait," which is web content created to attract attention, shares, and buzz. A big part of SEO is building the number of inbound links that point to your website or webpage. Since infographics display information in a pretty package accessible to most audiences, the result in lots of inbound links back to your website as more and more people share.
5. You're reading that blog posts should be about 500 words...and yet long form copywriting is also on the upswing. So, how long should your blog posts be?
There are no hard and fast rules as to blog length, and most of the advice I've read is to say what you need to say in the best way possible. Generally, between 400-600 words is recommended, but the occasional post that runs longer is fine if you can keep the reader's attention. Some bloggers only publish monthly, but they write nearly 2,000 words, which their audience has come to expect. Others, like Seth Godin, are famously short when it comes to blog posts. I am a great Seth Godin fan, but I have to say that when he writes posts longer then 3 paragraphs, I don't find them as powerful or succinct. I just finish The Icarus Deception, which held my attention and was a refreshing break from the short form style he publishes daily.
So, what say you? Are there any glaring social media contradictions that you'd like to see resolved sooner rather then later? What kinds of social media challenges come up for you own a daily basis? Share in the comments!
Monday, April 15, 2013
- Be a Polymath: that is, know about a lot of things and wear many hats - this will make you indispensable in the workplace. HR, legal, customer service -- these are all interconnected areas linked to marketing.
- Teach and Motivate Others, and Be Change Agents: As marketers, it's our role to take the lead not only in teaching others, but in motivating your team and making sure everyone "gets" social marketing. It is not a solo endeavor.
- Numbers and Metrics Mean Nothing Without Action: How many organizations spend enormous amounts of time and money on metrics, without changing their action plan and strategy? It's crucial to look at your numbers and use them as the basis for making decisions going forward.
- Endquote: "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." -Antoine de Saint Exupery
Monday, April 08, 2013
I've recently met several small business owners who were enthusiastic about wanting to stay in touch with me. All well and good. But instead of passing along their business cards, or jotting down their email or website info, they gave me their Facebook URL, as if this was all they needed.
Here are a few reasons why people do this, and why that's not the best way to go.
Reason #1: I'm In A Hurry.
Not a good reason. If you have time to organize a pretty good Facebook Business Page, along with an effective Timeline Cover photo, some interesting custom tabs, and good status updates that keep the community engaged, you have time to set up a decent website and enews, which is what you should focus on first when establishing your business. Why? Because Facebook is not your own, and as we've seen over the past few years, it is highly likely to change in ways we may not even like. Your website, assuming you create something like a custom Wordpress site with your own vanity URL, is your own online real estate, and you should take it seriously.
Reason #2: Everyone's On Facebook, So..."
Just because it seems like everyone may be on Facebook, that doesn't mean you should before you're ready. It's best to roll out your social profiles gradually, so you have time to establish your strategy, and how that intersects with your marketing or business plan, as well as how you will evaluate the metrics. Otherwise your efforts will most likely prove a waste of time.
Reason #3: My Business Isn't Really Ready Yet...
If your business is too new, meaning that you're not sure of your mission, or your products are simply not ready yet, you shouldn't be launching a Facebook Business Page yet, as you'll only confuse your audience. Effective Facebook pages are specific, about everything from prices and graphics, to promotions and branding. Your Facebook presence should grow organically out of all of that yummy goodness.
Now, back to that newsletter...
Here are 6 reasons why you should focus on your enews first.
- There's nothing more valuable for your business then your list. The folks who opt-in to your enews are getting your communications directly in their in boxes, so you know they'll see them. On Facebook, your updates can easily get lost in the busy newsfeed, even for Fans who will more then likely miss most of your posts just by the nature of the platform.
- There's probably no one following your blog. It's not unheard of to publish a beautiful website or blog, only to find that no one is subscribing or visiting. It's not a great feeling--kind of like spending hours organizing a party only to have no guests. You should be using your enews to promote and highlight your blog, encouraging your readers to convert to blog subscribers. Blogs typically publish more frequently, giving you that much more opportunity to establish your voice and brand, make offers, and grow your community through comments, links, and guest posts, as well as social shares.
- Survey and feedback. An enews is a great tool for surveying your audience and testing out new ideas, particularly if you are planning on launching info products, a book, a Webinar, or even a speech or live workshop. Programs like Constant Contact offer automated survey features that are seemless and effective.
- Not everybody wants the same information. One of the most popular features of enewsletters is the ability to segment your audience, so that only the most relevant content is sent to that subscriber. Facebook and most social media, while probably keyword centric, is not as highly channeled as enewsletters can be. Therefore, you are holding onto to your audience and gaining a loyal following.
- Autoresponders rock! One if the cool features of most email programs is the ability to set up a series of automated messages that can be used as part of your Welcome for new readers, or for a dedicated course or tutorial. Thus, you can get more bang for your marketing dollars then on Facebook, where any automated postings or updates that appear scheduled or staged, can backfire on your online authenticity.
- You Need to Eliminate Noise and Distractions. Facebook is a noisy place. Between advertising and the competition of a constant newsfeed, you need to grab your readers' attention and reduce distractions. You can do that with your enews. Facebook? Not so much.
So...there you have it, common reasons why businesses jump into Facebook pages too soon, and why enewsletters are a great foundation to start. What say you? Have you launched one or both, with what result?