Writers are nice people–really!

IMG_0646At least once a week someone will either message me or call me and I usually hear the same phrase–“I want to do what you do.” I guess I make this freelance writer’s life sound too exciting but let me dispel the myth right now–this life can be isolating, financially challenging and very frustrating some days. Don’t get me wrong. I am living my “dream.”  I do get out since I write about travel and sometimes I like to do magazine interviews in person. But I also live in reality. I am honest and helpful and others have been to me as well.

Here’s some quick advice for this week. I plan on doing a series of posts with more information. I am not charging money or signing you up for a list. You can subscribe to this blog and you will get updated when I post them.  Please remember my clients and their deadlines come first so be patient.

So here’s my advice:

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others.
  2. Don’t measure your success by the number of social media followers you have. You may have 15 social media followers but if they are engaged and helping you reach your goals, it’s a win.
  3. Do set goals. I fall short here, not on purpose, but because I am helping my clients and my own pages come last. But I don’t stop trying.
  4. Ask for advice but be mindful of the other person’s time. I have fallen behind on my own work giving out free advice. I want to help but I have work to do as well.
  5. Be supportive of others.

What topics would you like to know more about? Send me a message or comment here.

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Instagram and those annoying hashtags

I was very late to the Instagram party. But after years of planning, I finally started my travel blog over the summer and I learned quickly that Instagram is the best place to share photos of my adventures. I was lucky that I had an expert who could help me. He just happens to be my teenage son and he has grown his Instagram followers by just sharing pictures and experiences. I asked him to write about Instagram and hashtags before the big announcement that the social media site is considering hiding hashtags. You can read more about that here. But until those changes are made, here’s some advice from my expert. 

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Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

Hashtags are annoying. There, I said it. They clutter up your captions and make you look like you are craving attention (which we sort of are). Unfortunately, they’re sometimes necessary to grow your account and expand your business options. Smaller influencers that rely on hashtags as a way of getting their posts to the people that are potentially interested in them have figured out some clever ways to use hashtags that will make them less obvious. Be warned, however, that Instagram’s regulations involving hashtags can be fickle, and your account can be shadowbanned if the algorithm thinks you’re abusing them. But let’s put that aside for a moment and start with the basics.

The Rules

You can use up to thirty hashtags on an Instagram post, but using that many hashtags too many times will get you in trouble. Aim for ten to twenty at most.

Target Your Hashtags

Find hashtags that not only fit your niche but also fit your engagement rates. If you have a couple thousand followers, your posts will be buried alive in a hashtag with millions of post. Comparing the average number of like you receive to the average number of like on posts in a hashtag is a good way to find ones to use. This will also make it more likely for your post to be placed in the coveted “Top Posts” section.

Hide Them Away

Post your hashtags in the comments of your photo instead of the caption.

Bullet Points

Use stacked bullet points to hide the hashtags even further.

Hashtags in Your Bio? Maybe Not.

Instagram now lets you include hashtags in your bio, but honestly, they look desperate sitting there, and very few people actually search for accounts based on hashtags. My advice is to exclude them.

Change Your Hashtags as Your Account Grows

Keep track of your average like and change your hashtags as they grow. The further up the line you get, the more competitive hashtags you can get away with using.

How to connect your church using social media–a review

How many times have you looked at your social media today? If you are like most of us, you are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or another site several times a day. You use social media to connect with friends and even with businesses and brands you like. And I have learned that social media is what you make it and it is not just a tool for political rantings and cat pictures. I have groups where prayer requests are made and I often use my personal site as a place where people can ask for prayer. But what about our churches? I don’t do a lot of reviews but my colleague Chris Craft has spurred my interest in social media and how churches use it with his eBook, The Connected Church.

In the past decade, more churches have begun to use this tool to reach their members. According to statistics from Buzzplant, about 51% of churches are using social media. Most of the churches use Facebook with a few using Twitter and Instagram.

Like me, Chris has dedicated his career to helping businesses with their marketing using his writing talents. And he has a heart for helping churches use social media to connect with their members. In his eBook, Chris points out that social media is not a tool for increasing attendance but rather a way for the members to keep up with church activities and events. Many of the people who run church social media sites are just volunteers and have no formal training in marketing.  Chris’s easy-to-read book is full of ideas that include:

  • How to create visual content for your social media sites.
  • How to break down your weekly sermon into social media posts.
  • How to create a blog.
  • How to manage your content in a timely way.

The Connected Church is packed full of information that can help churches use social media in a more impactful way.  I recommend it to any church that is looking to use social media to connect with its members. You can learn more here.

 

 

Tired of spam?

Red Badge Security Logo

Apparently, Hormel Foods, the company that makes Spam, is not having a good week. Thousands of cans were recalled because of reports of metal objects in the meat. Spam is one of those foods you either love or hate. I know someone who loves it so much they cooked it on an ironing board in a hotel room. To each his own, I say.

I am old enough to remember when “spam” only referred to the meat product and a  type hilarious sketch from Monty Python. It’s because of that comedy sketch that the term “spam” was coined to refer to unwanted messages. And it’s not been a good week for spammers either.

Why companies are concerned

Spam is not just annoying. The data collected can be used for unscrupulous or even illegal activities. And governments are beginning to take notice.  I wrote a couple of pieces about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) passed by the European Union over at Rabid Office Monkey and if you are still confused, there is some excellent information there. I just want to talk about how the regulation affects our emails—the ones we receive and send. You may have received a lot of notices asking if you want to consider receiving emails from certain companies. That’s because to be GDPR compliant, the companies had to make sure you were okay with not only the emails but with the fact the company has a lot of your information. And you probably saw a lot of popups on sites warning you that the site owners use cookies to gather data. Those were for the same reason—GDPR.

GDPR is not the only reason companies are suddenly worried about protecting privacy. Facebook revealed that an outside company, Cambridge Analytica, collected personal data of millions of users. That data was allegedly used to influence elections and could have been used to send out unwanted messages. The investigation is ongoing as to how this information was used and we will likely learn a lot more about this during the next few months.

Spam is not always, well, spam

Before we talk about spam and data collection, let’s first remember that we live in a data-driven age. Marketers use data to determine a plethora of things. The good guys won’t spam you, but you can join a mailing list and be removed from that list whenever you request it. Here’s an example of how data can be used for good: A food manufacturer uses data to determine what is the most popular candy. Because company officials know from the data that the candy is popular, it’s always available at your local store when you need it.

If a company is spamming you with unwanted emails, make sure you didn’t subscribe to their site while surfing the net. Giving your email on a site will usually put you on their mailing list. You should see an unsubscribe button at the bottom of these emails. Still receiving unwanted email? You can contact the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov.

Some spam, like the ones from foreign countries offering millions in exchange for a prepaid card, are a nuisance most of us endure. These will usually go in our spam folders and can be deleted with one click. You can report these, too but it’s unlikely they will stop.

Protecting your information

The other issue is the use of your private information by marketers. You can protect yourself by:

  • Being careful about sharing your email. Read the fine print which will give you a brief explanation as to how the information will be used.
  • Do you really need to know what you will look like in 2100? Some of those Facebook apps gathered information. Facebook suspended some, but many are still out there. You can’t get upset because you are told when using the app that you are giving permission and exposing your Facebook profile and information on that profile.
  • Be careful who you follow and who follows you on social media. There are a lot of fake accounts and those behind them just want to steal your information.
  • Keep an eye on your credit score. A company’s database where your information is stored may be breached, exposing your data to cybercriminals.

You can report suspicious activity in your social media or in your email to the company or to the FTC. But don’t get your hopes up that GDPR or other actions will change things soon. Officials still have a lot of details to work out on enforcement. When that first company is caught and punished for misuse of data, that’s when things will change.

The “gig” economy (and why it’s a good thing)

Note: I asked my 16-year-old son to write about the “gig economy.” This is his view of it with just a few edits from me. Let me know what you think.

Stable salary, health-care benefits, steady hours — these are the things that might come to mind when you think of jobs that are largely considered desirable. But all these things come with a price some aren’t willing to pay: repetitiveness, little opportunity for advancement, and short, scarce vacations, among other things. However, there is another option outside of a traditional workspace.

Many people work outside of the organized system, and they’re all the better off for it. A wedding planner, for example, chooses what events they organize, how much they will be paid, and when their hours of client service will be. These same freedoms are afforded by freelance writers, photographers, and anyone who chooses to take “gigs” as they see fit, for prices they see as fitting.

This idea may seem scary. It may seem to threaten the very foundation of the American workplace. But it has enormous benefits for all of us. Freelance workers have much more freedom than those who work for an employer, and that tends to magnify their skills. Because they have no one to look up to — no one to rescue them if they get into a bind — they tend to work harder, and with more passion for the life they’re pursuing.

Ambition is the driving force behind so much of the progress we see in this modern day. People with original ideas, who choose to work on their own accord and not under another’s thumb, have brought us many of the products we use every day. If it weren’t for these brave people, you’d be hard-pressed to find top-notch creative minds. Organized corporate jobs can be stifling.  Freelancers are not only defying tradition, but they are paving the way for those who feel too constricted by workplace structure to pursue the ideas that may very well be the next big thing.

However, there are many challenges in working for oneself, and health-care comes in high on the list. It’s expensive. Outrageously expensive. You pay your own taxes and Social Security and file quarterly.

There’s also the aspect of loneliness associated with this workspace. The self-employed often have no co-workers. Their only regular human interaction would be with clients, and those they spend their free time with if they have any to spare. However, organizations such as collectives and networks can help these people communicate with and work alongside others like them.

Yes, the “gig” economy may seem like a threat to traditional jobs. But, traditional jobs are not for everyone. Freelance workers are facing the challenges of expensive health-care and questionable stability to bring upon us a more innovative and passionate America. They are bringing us the America of tomorrow.

Do you want to eat carrots ALL of your life? Diversify your marketing plan.

Marketing is challenging and sometimes what works for one client won’t work for others. But there are some truths. I know that unless you plan and set goals, you are like an exercise bike—you are pedaling hard but getting nowhere. And I know that a marketing or publicity campaign is not ‘one size fits all.’ It’s especially true for social media. The public may grow tired of one social media platform and all of the dollars a company has invested in that platform may be useless after a while. Facebook’s announcement that it was changing what we see in our news feeds is one example. Companies who placed an emphasis on Facebook are now worried their ads will not be seen.

Full disclosure—I have run campaigns that were only on Facebook or a couple of social media platforms that were pretty successful at the time. But those decisions were largely based on the client’s preference and not my recommendations. My recommendation is to always have a healthy menu that has a variety of “dishes.” Carrots are great and very healthy, but is that the only thing you want to eat for a long period of time? Don’t you want a little steak?

How do you start? First, make sure you know your customers and know where they are consuming their information. For some of them, social media is the “meat and potatoes” of their existence. Depending on your demographics, you may have some “old school” customers who still get their information mainly from newspapers. Determining where your customers get their information may take trial and error but it is an important part of your plan.

Once you know where you want to spend your dollars, determine your budget. It’s okay to spend 2/3 of your marketing budget in one place if you can reach most of your customers there. But never spend 100% on any one platform. I plan a marketing budget similar to the plate method dieticians use when helping you develop a healthy diet. One half should be your protein—the marketing tool that works best for you. It can be social media ads or a billboard. The other half of your plate should be split between two other nutritional items or platforms that have some return. These platforms may only give you a few responses but those responses turn into customers. Or it could be platforms with a high response rate but a low ROI. Again, you determine what works for you.

If you want, you can leave room for dessert. This could be a platform you like but doesn’t give you any results. A good example is an advertisement you take out in your local newspaper only because your cousin is the salesperson. You may not get any response but you like your cousin.

I also make sure I have enough set aside for “snacks.” From a marketing standpoint, these are platforms I may want to sample every once in a while. Even though many people think print media is dead, I am seeing several new glossy publications in the area where I live. I would not recommend purchasing a long-term contract, but at least give it three months. You need to give people an opportunity to see the ad several times. “Snacks” are also opportunities for you to try some new ‘foods.” Maybe you have seen ad on your local cable station and you have been considering it. Go ahead! Give it a try.

So why should you try different marketing methods? First, as I mentioned, you need to find out what works best to maximize your ROI. And in some cases, you want to keep goodwill with your resources, like a local magazine or TV station.

I have only mentioned a few marketing opportunities here but you have hundreds you can try. So sit down at the table and create your marketing plan.

 

 

 

 

 

How mindfulness can sharpen creativity

mindfullnewssThis post was written by Lee Webb.  

According to The Merriam-Webster dictionary, mindfulness is “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis…” The way I view it, mindfulness can be as simple as paying more attention. It’s this idea that taking time to better sense the world leads to a better appreciation for it and a more positive outlook on life. The concept of mindfulness also proves extremely useful for creatives. Whether you write words, mix sounds, capture photos, or do anything that involves making something new, allowing yourself to be more mindful has the same benefits. Taking the extra moments to process affords you a deeper understanding of the object of your art.

Say a small town journalist named Pam has been assigned an article on local luxury home. Pam can interview top designers and high-class residents. She can photograph and examine the diverse angular features and stylistic preferences of many. But, Pam has a deeper technique in mind for producing this article. She takes time to stop and pay attention to what she feels when she steps into a room. She notices the way the light seeps in and how the smells seem to transport her to another time. She takes the time to search her emotions and notice how the various environments affect her thoughts. This is mindfulness at its finest.

All this uniquely personal information transforms Pam’s somewhat basic assignment into something much more connected and real. It makes her work something special that stands apart from the cold, only-technical work of her peers. She has created something that her readers will not only be informed by but feel connected to on a deeper level. Years down the road, Pam may be an award-winning writer for the New York Times with an enormous, loyal following.

Mindfulness can seem like some sort of hipster joo-joo at first, but it’s actually so simple and easy that it seems foolish to ignore the benefits. Being sharply aware of the world around you has a way of deepening the already infinite creative well inside, allowing us to transform simple things into art that is layered, unique, and unforgettable.

The post I didn’t think I would write

I am not a New Year’s resolution kind of person. I start every day, every week and every month fresh. Sometimes I even start over in the middle of a day. I always hated writing those year-end and looking ahead stories when I was in print media.

And I can’t believe I am writing this now.

But 2017 was another year of change and to some degree loss. After losing my parents, mother-in-law and some dear friends in 2016, I was hopeful for a better year. I was sputtering along the first three months knowing I was not happy and questioning  my career goals. I was talking to my husband one day and I told him I was willing to go wherever God led me. I just wanted an answer.

The very next day I was laid off from my job.  I began planning my future on the drive home. In the weeks that followed, I looked for full-time jobs but I knew that wasn’t what I was supposed to do. I wanted to freelance, do exciting projects and work with clients from all over the world. The past nine months have been some of the happiest for me. I have had my ups and downs. But it’s been a blessing and so rewarding.

I love unlimited in my work.  To Al Gore or whoever created this Internet thing, thank you.  I have worked with clients from all over the United States and in several countries. I have written about everything from state lemon laws, self-driving cars, the telecom industry, SaaS, balsamic vinegar, apple growing and a lot of things I am sure I am forgetting. I thought I wanted to do some event planning but after about 42 of them, I hung that up. I learned what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is, what the Dodd-Frank Act is, and what a fintech is. Every day is fun and exciting and I don’t have to shower, do my hair or even change out of my pajamas. (I do shower daily but sometimes I just put on another pair of pjs if I am busy.) I have met so many great people virtually and a few of them in person. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this crazy ride this year.

I am so excited for next year as I already have some fun new projects for January as I continue some current ones. I believe it’s all because of the prayer I said in March. I don’t mean to get mushy but it helps to have support in life and I have the best in my husband, Steve, and son, Lee who are there for me daily. And thanks to anyone reading this, especially if you got this far and for supporting me.

Here’s to a great 2018 for all of us!

 

 

 

 

The media today: How did we get here?

Fake news is a term that is tossed around a lot in this culture. A few weeks ago I spent 30 minutes explaining to a client with a much higher pay grade than me the difference between a New York Times editorial and a story. Social media should be easy but I have to explain to clients why I won’t use content that appears to be copied or not verified. And since anyone can buy a domain name these days and call themselves a news organization, I have to advise my clients to also scrutinize the media source. Yeah, you don’t have to have any kind of license or experience to call yourself media. I stick to accredited sources when curating content. I really don’t use the word “fake” but it is implied. I thought my strong stances would hurt my reputation but I have found the opposite is true.

I think media is in this place for four key reasons (remember, this is my opinion):

  1. A news organization should never label itself conservative or liberal. I was taught news is objective. I had to interview plenty of people whose views who made me sick while I was a reporter but it was important to tell all sides of the story. I was taught to keep my personal feelings out of it. But now that we have created Fox News and MSNBC, how do we go back? And does anyone want a truly objective media anymore?
  2. The media has not done a good enough job of protecting its turf. I cringe when I see legitimate news sources linking to wannabe sites. I understand it though because newsrooms have been cut dramatically and it’s hard to cover the news without working 18 hours a day. I don’t know the answer but we shouldn’t have gotten to this place. The wannabe sites that are in almost every city in the country now have done more damage to news credibility than some of the sites that spread celebrity death hoaxes and other clickbait content. Come on! How many times can we kill Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman?
  3. The public cannot distinguish fake and real news sites and it seems they don’t care at times. The general public often does not understand that some “news sources” have no professional training, no experience and in some cases, no ethics.
  4. The public is sometimes confused between editorial and news. It’s easy to mock them for not knowing but the media need to do a better job of explaining it sometimes.

Finally, how do we educate a public that sometimes doesn’t care about the truth and quality journalism? For me, I just do it one person at a time.

 

Afternoon productivity hacks for morning people

I am one of those people that wake up every day with my to-do list already written the day before or I have it in my brain. I am great until about 1 p.m, usually after lunch, then the bed in my “office” starts to look very inviting. The problem is I can only do so much from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. I need to work a few hours in the evening or afternoon.

I am not a doctor, psychologist or life coach even though I played a talk show host once at a dinner theater. I learned some productivity hacks by trial and error how to not crash after lunch and actually get things done—like my blog posts for my sites!

  • Watch your diet. It’s just science that a heavy lunch will cause you to be sluggish, especially if you suffer from a chronic disease like diabetes. Try a lower carb option like a salad instead of that all-you-can Chinese buffet. Some people eat a large breakfast and skip lunch, something that has actually worked for me.
  • Watch your caffeine. I get up at 5:30 every day. Most days, I only drink a caffeinated drink at this point of my day. Then…
  • Drink more water. It’s easier than you think to get dehydrated, trust me. And I always just feel better when I drink more water.
  • Do “administrative” or non-creative task in the early afternoon. I find it easier to muddle through tasks such as answering emails or planning social media campaigns when I am sluggish than trying to write an article or blog.
  • Take a break.  I am lucky to be self-employed and be able to make my own schedule. A couple of days a week my schedule may look like 6 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. than 3 p.m. until I am finished.

Are you a morning person or a night owl? How do you remain productive no matter what time of day it is?