Monday, March 23, 2015

Shaking It Off, the Art of the Critique, and Crying

photo: Jenny Cortez

Years ago, I was in a writing workshop where everyone pretended to be interested in constructive criticism, but in reality they--we--were so competitive, that the art of the critique was for the most part lost or dying. Everyone got into the habit of writing down the name of the commenter when it came time for their piece to be discussed, so they could attribute any negative impressions to that person's hangups or predispositions, thereby invalidating anything they didn't want to hear. Brian always talks about cliches....Amy always says the story begins at the end...John says the dialogue is stilted....that kind of thing.

One night when it was my work under discussion, I took notes on what everyone said, calmly nodding my head in understanding at the fairly harsh statements being exchanged, when deep down I was cringing. "They're wrong," I thought to myself. "They just don't get it." I came home and actually cried, drowning my sorrows in the cliche tub of chocolate ice cream, only to find out a week or so later that my story had been accepted in a national magazine. I told the teacher, but asked her not to say anything to the class. I wanted to enjoy my moment of literary glory.

At one point in my communications career, I had to write a performance review of my secretary. Her work was good, but she had a strange habit of disappearing every few days. She never called in, but would appear out of nowhere like nothing had happened. During the review, I had to point this out, and she started to cry. It turns out, there was a situation involving a family member. Once she told me, I calmed her down, and we set up a plan where she would communicate more regularly the next time the problem came up. Eventually, it was resolved.

When I was little, I went on a hike at camp in a poor fitting pair of shoes, and ended up with painful sores on my feet that took weeks to heel. I cried, not only out of pain, but for being critiqued afterwards for doing a stupid thing. Of course, I didn't realize at the time the shoes were bad, or I wouldn't have worn them. Actually, looking back on it, I'm rather proud of myself for sticking it out--who knows what would have happened if I'd walked in bare feet for hours?

On the receiving end:
-listen to everything being said, and take it all in before speaking or reacting
-don't feel pressured to agree, but do what's needed to fix the situation if it's dire
-keep everything in perspective--things really do seem better the next day
-it's alright to cry...even if you have to find a place to do it
-take it seriously, but shake it off so you can move on

On the giving end:
-be balanced in your critique
-offer specific examples of what works and what doesn't
-no one is perfect, so keep perfection out of it
-model the behavior or outcome you're wanting others to achieve
-don't major in minor things--focus in the most important issues

There's a great scene in the recent film Wild, where Reese Witherspoon picks up a new pair of hiking boots she'd ordered to replace her ill-fitting old ones, which have left her feet swollen and bleeding. You could say she was flawed for making the mistake in the first place. Or you could say she was a hero for getting right back on track in her new boots, almost like it was nothing at all.

Friday, March 13, 2015

22 Ways to Create Compelling Content Via Copyblogger

I came across this gem from Copyblogger this morning, and thought it was so worthwhile I couldn't resist posting it here. When I Googled the original publication, I saw this it was from 2012, further proof that if you have strong evergreen content on your blog, people will come back to it time and time again. While many may have heard of the "go for a walk" strategy to clear your mind, or the idea of a guest interview, cross promoting with smaller blogs with a variety of audiences and expanding your cultural horizons to get ideas are some inspiring ideas I like. Many of my favorite bloggers get great engagement by telling their personal stories, or coming up with great best-case worse-case studies. And there's always the tried and true list strategy, based on the assumptions that readers love lists, as long as they are relevant and timely. Another tip is that if you're an early adapter to new technology, you can try productivity programs and gadgets out ahead of time, and position yourself to be an influencer. On that note, I loved this morning's blog post by Janet Fouts, praising Evernote for notetaking and other productivity applications. I'm inspired by her post to give Evernote another try!

What are your favorite strategies for finding compelling content for audiences? Share in the Comments.

22 Ways to Create Compelling Content - Infographic
Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

20 Reasons Why Blogging Isn't Just Writing

Photo credit: Mike Licht

Bloggers who write and approach their blog posts the way they write anything else, are sure to be disappointed. Why? Because they aren't using their blog the way it's meant to be used-- as a platform for something greater. For thought leadership, great offererings, the delicate art of persuasion, or an exercise in innovative graphics. Gingerly approaching blogging as simply "writing online" may be fine if you just want to get your feet wet, or get a feel for writing and publishing regularly, or learn the toolkit for common blogging platforms like Wordpress. But the real bloggers out there who have a following and online authority--bloggers like Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, James Altucher, and Copyblogger, for example, all have distinct qualities in their blogging that set them apart:

1. They know the value of a strong headline

2. They innovate interesting graphics

3. They tell a good story

4. They break up their copy with formatting and subheads so it's easily scannable online

5. They address a problem

6. They offer transparency about their lives

7. They make persuasive and interesting offers

8. They ask enough of the right questions to get us thinking and commenting

9. They are early responders in their fields

10. They have emotional intelligence

11. They understand and optimize their blog's connection to their business and their social marketing

12. They have additional publishing platforms, such as enewsletters, and realize their blog is one of the main ways to get subscribers to their all important e-list

13. They're not afraid to look forward in time, or back--with purpose

14. They tell their story well, and more than once

15. They embrace multimedia, either to express their own ideas or share those of others

16. They edit and/or rewrite often, without it being about ego

17. They appreciate the value of details and strategy

18. They understand deadlines are rather urgent about things. They aren't going to take 2 weeks to write a post that needs to be done today

19. They understand and care about their audience

20. They acknowledge their peers, colleagues, heroes, and the world around them

As someone who has blogged for years and plans to continue, I have challenged myself to embrace these blogging "truisms" going forward, and not fall into writing, but take full advantage of what this medium has to offer. I challenge you to do the same.

What say you? How do you think blogging differs from writing? Have you optimized your blog all you can for your strategy and purpose?

And One More Thing...Spock Remembered

I write this on a weekend when the world mourns the loss of Mr. Spock--Leonard Nimoy. Among all the thousands of tributes published between Friday and Sunday, The New Yorker "Postscript" by Joshua Rothman speaks to me the most, combining all the nuances of Nimoy's life acutely observed, with a personal touch that made it that much more resonant. Rothman cleverly captures the "silly seriousness" that Spock's character personified, as part of what made him so memorable. Rothman writes:

"Actors are sometimes imagined as shapeshifters, but, with a few exceptions, Nimoy didn’t really shift. He was given one way of seeming—measured, cerebral, serious, dignified, wry, and slightly naughty—and he showed, over a long career, how rewarding that combination could be. He proved the value of accepting, cultivating, and enjoying one’s own nature. May we all do the same with the selves that we have."

So that brings me to one more tip for my list--something I'm going to think about myself quite a bit going forward: blogging is about being yourself, but being larger then that, and taking the risk of "silly seriousness" almost every day.

Thank goodness for LLAP (Live Long and Prosper.) Let's also embrace BLAP-Blog Long and Prosper.



Tuesday, February 17, 2015

6 Top Social Media Trends in Higher Ed

In December, I was invited on behalf of Santa Clara University to participate in the Higher Education Social Media Conference 2014 (#HESM14), which featured dynamic mini presentations by nearly 15 college campus social media directors and decision-makers across the country. It was a great learning experience to view real-life case studies illustrating both successes and challenges in social outreach to students. Following are 6 of my top my takeaways and tips in the aggregate:

1. Instagram Mini-Campaigns

While Instagram is a hugely popular platform to reach college students, on its own it's tough to get traction, and will probably not grow your Followers without some oomph. A mini-campaign using a designated hashtag relevant to your desired goal can be effective in boosting your online visibility. The case study we viewed highlighted a special recognition day on campus, encouraging students to post their photos of the event using that hashtag and related ones. The results showed over double the amount of engagement and followers.

Tip: limit your campaign to 1-2 weeks, so you can concentrate the buzz and excitement. Campaigns longer than that can lose momentum before they're over, and typically require a more developed and sophisticated content marketing strategy.

2. Snapchat for Storytelling and Relationship Building

Miami University in Ohio is an interesting case study in the effective use of Snapchat. Karine Jolly posted an informative interview with @KellyABennett, social media manager at MU, who experimented with event promotion and behind the scenes strategies in particular to raise student awareness. She not only posted, but studied what events were screenshot the most to determine what students were most interested in.

Tip: Aim for authenticity, and don't worry about being polished or edited--this platform aims for a realWorld glimpse into campus life. With 77% of college students using Snapchat daily, it's definitely a platform worth considering.

The social media team at SCU during a conference break.

3. Photo Friday (Social Media and Website)

A great way to boost student participation and visibility for your university website and social profiles is to designate Fridays to focus on graphics and visuals. Announce a new theme each week, with a deadline of Thursday afternoon, allowing your social team to organize, select, and edit the best photos if needed. Feature the winning photo on your website, and as your Facebook Cover photo, to help create buzz and encourage participation.

Tip: Make sure the theme and criteria for selection are clear and consistently communicated out, so you have the largest choice of graphics to select from.

4. Tumblr for Creative Expression

Try Tumblr as a microblogging platform that optimizes creativity and graphics, focusing on creative expression for the publisher without the traditional blog format that is more text heavy and reliant on Comments.

Tip: Go for the visuals. Tumblr audiences expect dynamic and strong graphics then those on other blogging platforms.

5. Recruit and Reward Dynamic Social Media Ambassadors

You know you're excited about your brand, but it's even better when others tell your story--the impact of third-party testimonials can be enormous. So, implementing a team of social media ambassadors is a great way to extend your brand and build buzz on your social channels. Decide the criteria you want for your team of ambassadors, (ideally students who are involved in and enthusiastic about campus activities.) Students who enjoy taking photos and clever with captions and a quick story are a big plus, as they can help supply you with a constant flow of great digital content.

Tip: Treat your ambassadors well! Reward them with cool swag to show your appreciation, and let them know you take their roles seriously.

6. Optimize Events With Hashtags

Branding your events with hashtags is an important way to organize online conversations before, during, and after events, and to grow your potential audiences. While the use of hashtags is becoming more common and more sophisticated, many organizations make the mistake of underpromoting them, or using them inconsistently or incorrectly. Conversely, there are instances when events become so popular or dynamic, that audiences start creating their own hashtags to suit their own preferences, and they take on a life of their own.

Tips: Choose hashtags no longer then 6-8 characters, so that they don't take up the entire tweet on twitter. Make sure your hashtag is unique and hasn't been used previously, so there is no brand confusion. Also, try to brand the hashtag so it clearly represents the event it's connected to, and is therefore easier for audiences to remember. Be sure to include your hashtag in all pre and post event promotions, as well as, of course, during any live tweeting at the event.

What social media trends are at the top of the list in your niche or industry, and what do you think future trends will be? Share in the comments.



Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Twitter Tips for Nonprofits and Beginners

Over the last few years, I've trained dozens of individuals on Twitter best practices and tips. Some of them were tweeting for themselves, others on behalf of organizations or small businesses. They all held in common many basic areas of confusion concerning Twitter best practices, no matter what their area of expertise. So in order to better streamline this process, (and be prepared for the next round of students), I have taken the liberty of organizing my best tips here for those just starting out. I hope beginning tweeters will find these useful, and I plan on a Part 2 blog post coming soon on frequently asked questions about Twitter. In the meantime, please enjoy these tips, and feel free to follow me @carriewriter.

  • Create cohesive profile (good photo, tagline, link, etc. Do not use the default egg!)
  • Review relevant content for your area
  • Review influencers in your area
  • Ask yourself: what are my goals, short-term and long-term
  • Start Following influencers, contacts, and people you meet at live events 
  • While a tweet is140 characters, use 100 to give others room for retweets and comments
  • Understand Twitter lingo, such as RT, @mentions, @replies, DM, private vs public, Favorite
  • Platform and posting tools: Try to avoid tweeting using Twitter plain, but opt for 3rd party platform such as Hootsuite, Tweetdeck. Buffer is my favorite app for scheduling tweets when I'm busy.
  • Pay attention to your Stream/Feed and get a feel for the discussions going on in your niche area
  • Don't know who to Follow? Take Twitter up on its suggested Followers to start with, you can always be more discriminating later. Also, merge with your Contacts in your Gmail and address books to connect with those you are already communicating with.
  • Decide your tweeting schedule, voice, and style
  • Know keywords for your area, this should drive your content
  • Include your Twitter handle everywhere ( e-signature, article publications, business card, etc.)
  • Be nice and Share Share Share
  • Tweet images, both graphics and photos
  • Create and be strategic with Lists
  • Understand and use hashtags
  • Take advantage of Twitter's Advanced Search tools
  • Learn common hashtags for your niche and begin using them, particularly for events if you are organizing them, or taking part as a live tweeter
  • Mix it up-- multimedia approach adds interest (ie articles, podcasts, vids, images, etc.)
  • Use Metrics and assess regularly to rate your progress
  • Set up Google alerts for keywords and terms
  • Live tweet an event using apps like Tweetchat


  • Making tweets too long--over 140 characters makes it impossible for anyone to comment or RT
  • Not using link shortener (owly, bitly)
  • Being too self-promoting
  • Not tweeting often enough
  • Not following back followers who are a good fit
  • Not taking advantage of national/global trends
  • Being boring or showing off
  • Being myopic 


  • Be newsy - Twitter is after all a newsfeed
  • Keep Following Follower ratio balanced
  • My favorite: find your favorite Influencer and see who they follow and who is following them. Chances are you'll discover cool people
  • Pay attention to best times of day, frequency, and days of week for your audience
  • Have a strategy for who to Follow
  • Don't be afraid to have a Voice and Style, this is what sets you apart in a crowded platform
  • You're only as good as what you link to - if you link to flat website pages or bad or outdated links, it will reflect poorly on you
  • Be immediate - people react quickly to their Twitter feeds
  • Keep your goals in mind -- if you're growing your restaurant business and start tweeting about baseball, you're going to confuse your audience
  • Save time by using the best tools out there for your purposes. Many of those proficient on Twitter only tweet a few minutes a day.


Do you have more Twitter tips and resources? Share in the Comments, and happy tweeting!

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.