Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review: The Art of Social Media

Happy 2015 and welcome to my first book review of the year. The Art of Social Media by Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick consisted mostly of social media tips and was an easy read, with a lot of scannable content for those so busy doing social media that they probably barely have time to sit and read a book about it. I had of course heard of and heard Guy Kawasaki speak in person, but had never heard of his co-author, Peg Fitzpatrick, which did give me pause...if she was such a social media influencer, why had I never heard of her? (I'd be curious if others had heard of her before reading the book.) I do think name recognition important in this context.

While there were some valuable tips overall, I was a bit surprised that the book completely ignored important trends in online visibility, such as: brand ambassadors, Snapchat, Vine, Instagram video, podcasting, and other video platforms outside YouTube, such as Vimeo. The discussion of blogging could have been more substantive through at least a brief description of the various blogging platforms out there, and the suggestion to guest blog for places like Huffington Post and Hubspot probably not realistic for most of us, who are not as connected as the authors.

I was also surprised that the discussion of YouTube was rather cursory, with no mention of hugely important tools such as annotations, geotagging, etc., and the suggestion to create a channel trailer, which is pretty common knowledge. I was also disappointed that the LinkedIn section was rather superficial. Most of us know to customize a request to connect and not use the default language LinkedIn provides, as well as the importance of connecting with Groups.

I agree with some of the other reviewers on Goodreads that the book could have used more case studies, and there were too many references to the companies Guy is involved with, particularly Canva. (I just started using Canva for Facebook posts, and while it's a cool platform, the fact that users have to pay for nearly all the images offered if they don't use their own photos, is pretty annoying.)

Visually, I found it odd that the book was full of underscores representing hyperlinks, but obviously if we are reading the hard copy this isn't going to happen, so why not do readers a favor and include the URLs in parentheses for us to look up on their own? It was also difficult to read the small screenshots meant to illustrate specific points.

On the positive side, I ended up with about 10 action items as takeaways, most related to Pinterest, with fresh tips on the arrangement of boards, use of public vs private boards, etc. But overall, the book could have been a more dynamic and compelling read.


Monday, December 01, 2014

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour Both Astonishes and Frustrates

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars on Goodreads, please join me there!

I started this book with trepidation given the widely varying reviews here and elsewhere --everything from groundbreaking, to boring, to "why bother," with more then a few readers commenting on the specific audience required to appreciate this novel. I found the latter to be not of major concern. So, here goes:

The set up (courtesy LA Times)
"Paul O'Rourke is a quintessentially contemporary protagonist — of a certain sort. He's a dentist, and a good one, with a practice on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and a condo overlooking the Brooklyn Promenade. He's a Red Sox fan, wrestling with the unexpected letdown of his team having won the 2004 World Series, a victory that, in some essential way, has left him bereft.
"I didn't want my team to lose," he notes; "I just didn't want my team to be the de facto winner.... The days of trembling uncertainty, chronic disappointment, and tested loyalty — true fandom — felt vitally lacking." As to why this is important, it's an expression of identity, framing Paul as part of "a cursed and collapsing people," scorned, neglected, their very purpose one of degradation and of loss.
Paul is, like so many of us, lost in modernity, surrounded by choices but unable to connect. His relationships are fleeting, overly idealized; they end as soon as they get real.
This posture of rootlessness, of drift, occupies the center of Joshua Ferris' third novel, "To Rise Again at a Decent Hour," which Paul narrates with an offhand grace. He is, like so many of us, lost in modernity, surrounded by choices but unable to connect.

What I Loved
Ferris is clearly a talented writer, so I had enough motivation from the crispy dialogue and "dance" of sad-funny-satirical moments at the dentist office Paul presides over to keep reading.

The originality of the characters, story, and plot, deserve merit here. When everyone else is writing about disappearing spouses and relatives, the idea of Paul being taken over by an online identity that suddenly provides him with a website, as well as Twitter and Facebook profiles, and posts all kinds of commentary and religious dogma, is pure techno genius, and so right-on in the era of digital reliance. I also felt the dialogue rang true for the most part, and Ferris does a great job interweaving New York City and the Brooklyn promenade, not to mention dentistry and imaginatively fabricated religious secs, as key vehicles for his story.

On the Challenging Side:
The long religious passages were tough to stick with, and may lose readers who weren't prepared for them. I see why Ferris felt he needed to do this, as his religious identity is one of the key plot points, but they were just too long and I found myself skimming them so as to get to the relationships and faster moving sections.

I wanted to be rooting more for Paul, but in the end I don't think I was as excited about his self-discovery as the author wanted me to be, nor did I end up feeling that religion was necessarily what Paul needed in the end, although his Rothian breakdown and frustration with modern times is convincingly rendered. I tend to read more women writers with women protagonists then men, so perhaps I just didn't identify enough with Paul's "guyness," baseball obsession and all.

Summary: if you are a patient reader and like a lot of philosophy and religious curiosity mixed into your fiction, this book is for you. It's also worth the read for probably one of the best extended descriptions of a woman putting her hair into a ponytail that I've ever read. The inclusion of life's little touches like this one help counterbalance the frequent not-for-the-squeamish dental "extractions."

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Virgin America In-Flight Marketing Fail

In June, I flew Virgin America to New York. What was apparently billed as a "special" flight, ended up being a marketing ploy to get passengers to buy into Virgin's new credit card. Except for the cute and admittedly tasty Virgin logo cupcakes we were treated to at the gate, the whole thing was a big letdown and, in my view, a marketing fail for Virgin. Passengers were given a $10 off promotional card upon boarding, but on reading the fine print, you of course had to open an account to benefit from it. The so-called inflight goodies included a dumb trivia game, where guessing right to questions about--guess what--Virgin's new credit card--got you a bag of potato chips, and I think a discounted flight, but the winnings weren't clear. Really? Passengers were systematically photographed while reviewing the credit card promotional video on their individual screens (a bit Big Brother if you ask me), and in other poses, with frantic looking marketing staff running up and down the aisles, as if their jobs were on the line if nobody signed up. And by the way, no photo permissions obtained. Did boarding the flight mean consenting to promotional photos...where did it say that?

Virgin, here's a few things you could have done differently:

  • Cool swag like caps and t-shirts would have made the difference here. I happily would have posed for a photo with said cap and t-shirt, worn them out in the real world, tweeted and facebooked as well, both during the flight since I was online, and afterward. This would have doubled and even tripled their marketing efforts -- even if only a handful of passengers had been encouraged to do this. (Note: when I asked one of the Virgin reps about swag, he merely shrugged and said,"we don't have this." Really?
  • Free snack plates for everyone. The Virgin protein meal is a pretty tasty offering, that I frequently order in flight. It's only $8. If Virgin had treated all the passengers to this or similar, along with a little promo on the credit card tucked into the plate, it would have gotten my attention more. And if I could have gotten a discounted meal by tweating about the credit card, I'd have done that too.
  • How about an inflight photo booth concept? Take photos of all the passengers (who consented) having a good time on the flight, then email it to them later with a link to the credit card offer, with a Virgin logo snd backdrop framing the image. Great branding, right?
  • In-flight Bingo, with winners getting a preloaded Virgin gift card, with no strings attached.

Generally speaking, I prefer Virgin America to the other airlines and fly it when I can, and even complemented them on their marketing here 2 years ago. What I like is the variety of online entertainment, safety record, and OK, the purple interior lighting that's a welcome break from harsh fluorescents and makes me feel for at least a moment or two, like I'm not inside a plane. But let's face it--an airline that can put together a rockin' safety video like this one, should get its marketing act together on the credit card.

On my next flight, I'm ordering the protein meal and maybe a premium movie, but sorry, Virgin, I won't be paying with your credit card.


Friday, October 31, 2014

The Amazingly Simple Anatomy of a Meaningful Marketing Story

Couldn't resist reposting this gem, via Copyblogger. Hope it helps with your marketing stories! The Amazingly Simple Anatomy of a Meaningful Marketing Story [Infographic]Like this infographic? Get content marketing training from Copyblogger Media that will give you an unfair business advantage.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Trying to Write? 21 Tips for Inspiration

For a while, whenever I got stuck in my writing I'd stare at the empty page or screen, thinking it would help. After about 20 minutes, I inevitably realized that this was a complete waste of time, and that almost anything else was better--if we're talking practical--and not even divine--writing inspiration. With the crisp fall chill in the air, and NANoWriMo month quickly approaching, you may be itching to write, but still feeling stuck or that you don't know where to begin. Here are 20 tips that have worked for me over the years... give them a try and share in the Comments if any of them worked for you!

1. Read your inbox. Inevitably, reading blogposts, ebook ideas, and enewsletters from others always gives me ideas of my own.

2. Take a walk and observe, then write down your observations. Observing cloud formations may sound nerdy, but it works.

3. Look through your or someone else's old photos and create scenarios for those pictured.

4. Explore Pinterest and Instagram, including new boards by those in your circles. Pinning and favoriting them will not only give you an online boost, but will give you an organic archive of inspirational ideas.

5. Speaking of Pinterest, start your own board of inspirational ideas for writing, add to it whenever you see a new idea, and invite others to Pin. Refer to it when you're stuck.

6. Write about your last plane flight, taxi ride, phone call, wedding, funeral, argument, or reconciliation.

7. Allow yourself to be a bad writer for 5 minutes. Write what you consider a lousy sentence or paragraph, and then go about revising and fixing it. This might put you in the mood for more.

8. Reread or re-watch your favorite book, film, or tv show, and jot down why it's your favorite. If you're a blogger, this could be a blog post.

9. Take advantage of the season, holiday, or special occasion for ideas, such as birthdays, anniversaries, National Ice Cream Day, whatever. Use this as a jumping off point for reflections, humor, anecdotes, etc.

10. Cook a meal and describe everything you did.

11. Keep an ideas notebook handy, so whenever inspiration hits, you're ready. I also like to use my iPad notebook feature, so everything is searchable via email and an index.

12. Go to a museum. Everytime I visit a museum, I get ideas, whether it's from the names of paintings or sculptures, or funky items from the museum shop. Sometimes I think about the artists, and when and where they were when they were creating.

13. If you're procrastinating, write about everything you're doing that is not writing. Presto! Then you'll be writing.

14. Get physical. Try a hike, bike ride, or run to get your creative juices flowing. Many famous entrepreneurs have coined the phrase "walk and talk." Try it on your own, or with a friend.

15. Write about someone you love or hate.

16. Write about someone you just met yesterday, and someone you haven't seen in 10 years.

17. High school, college, summer camp, "firsts" of any kind, can be fertile ground for ideas.

18. Eavesdrop on a conversation and reconstruct that person's life based on what you heard.

19. Bloggers ( and their readers) tend to like lists like this one, but lists can work in any kind of writing, and fiction as well. What kind of lists do your characters keep? Passwords? Groceries? Party or dinner guests? Daily activities or rituals?

20. Get in touch with your inner "meme" or vernacular. Most of us have catch-phrases and thought snippets we say to ourselves, sometimes without even realizing it. Some of mine are: "Back Atcha!" "Shows to go ya," etc. These are a great way to access your writing voice, and find what's unique about it. I just read Tom Hanks' New Yorker story, "Alan Bean Plus Four," and it's a great example of this specific language and its relation to character.

21. Think Windows. Real ones. Airplane windows, car windows, train windows, kitchen windows. It's impossible to stare out the window and not see something worth writing about.

Now, over to you...what are your best tips for writing inspiration?


Thursday, October 23, 2014

10 Truths About Listening


1. You can't listen to someone when they're yelling at you.

2. You can't listen to someone when they're interrupting you.

3. Listening goes both ways--to want to listen you need to feel listened to.

4. Looking away from someone probably means you're not listening, but closing your eyes probable means you are.

5. I'm probably not going to want to listen to you if it looks like you're just waiting for me to stop talking.

6. Talk quickly and I listen less.

7. Talk slowly and I listen more.

8. If we walk while we talk, I'll probably listen more.

9. Criticism can be listened to if done in a kind tone.

10. Loving words can be listened to if they are genuine.