Earnest inspired today's post with the project of sharing some thoughts about university life, and writing a 'letter to my college self.' (As a student loan refinancing company, they have some great advice about the financial side of your University experience as well.)
It's weird to think that it's been six years since I started university. So much has changed, and things have worked out in unexpected and amazing ways. I remember being so anxious, so scared, as a student, because I worried about where my life would lead me.
Which is why I decided to pen this letter. It's to myself, at 23, as I was about to start my first year at the University of Winnipeg. Below are some things that I wish I could go back and say to myself:
I'm writing to you to address some of the fears that I know you're having right now. Leaving your "safe" government job to pursue your education has been a difficult and emotional process, and there have been a lot of moments of anxiety and uncertainty leading up to this point.
But you're here now, and here are some things that I wish you could take forward with you. Maybe they'll make those moments of doubt a little less overwhelming:
University is Not Like in the Movies
You know how most movies and TV shows portray university as being this coming-of-age, self-discovery and self-actualization process? It's not really like that at all.
The tight-knit groups of friends are the ones who are in specific programs, or already knew each other from high school. At 22, you'll be older than most of your classmates. Every time you walk into a new classroom, you'll be walking into a room of strangers.
This is going to terrify you.
But eventually you'll get used to choosing to sit wherever you want; you'll start to feel more comfortable asking to join tables of students; you'll speak up in class because you don't worry about "sounding stupid" in front of your friends, which will soothe your anxiety.
There are times that it will be lonely, but soon you'll come to relish your spares in-between classes, writing in one of the library hallways with the floor-to-ceiling windows, watching the snow fall. The times where you were forced to be self-directed and independent will help shape how you feel about yourself in the future.
It won't be what you expected, but that will be okay.
Your Career Will Work Itself Out
There was a quiet dread which hung over my university years.
After a few exams I established that I was, in fact, smart enough to be in university (something which has been expressed to me several times by other people) but a lingering fear held onto me for my remainder of my time as a student:
What was I going to do after I graduated?
For most university students, this isn't a huge problem; most people live with their parents while attending post-secondary, but I wasn't afforded that luxury. I was pretty lucky as a student: I managed to find some decent paying jobs with flexible hours during the school year, and always managed to find some full-time summer work, as well. But after university... that big, looming space full of uncertainty sometimes felt like too much to bear. I struggled to determine what I wanted to do, exactly, and where.
It will work itself out in the end. You'll have a few ups and downs, and learn a few heard lessons along the way... but eventually you will develop the confidence and self-awareness to shape your own career and not depend on employers for your self-worth.
You will wind up running your own company, and you'll fall in love with the hustle and excitement and ever-changing nature or business. It will work itself out.
Enjoy Your Time as a Student
University was the first time I enjoyed being in an academic setting. Growing up I was told repeatedly that I was lazy and unmotivated, and that I should give up on any thoughts of attending university because I wasn't smart enough to do well.
You're going to feel anxious and stressed at first, but eventually you're going to fall into the natural ebb and flow of classes, homework, exams, and studying each term. You'll come to appreciate the excitement of a brand new class with a new professor, the feeling of finishing a term paper, and handing in an exam at the end of the year.
Most importantly, make sure to take time to yourself during the day. Find a quiet spot in the library, or on some remote nook or cranny in Wesley Hall. Spread out your snacks, your water, your homework, and enjoy the feeling of happy solitude that will often wash over you during these moments.
Being a university student is like being in a little world of your own. It's not quite high school, and it's certainly not the professional working world, and though you won't fully grasp it at the time, the experiences and time that you have will help build your confidence and independence in a way that nothing else in your life will have allowed to date.
It's Going to be Worth It
The single most defining thing that came from my time as a university student was that I learned to believe in myself.
I know that you don't believe in yourself right now; you feel like it was a fluke that you got accepted in the first place, and I know that impostor syndrome will plague for years after you earn your diploma.
Completing university didn't magically transform me into the person that I am today, but, looking back, it was a stepping stone along the path to believing in myself.
Alyson (Your Future Self)
Do you have anything you wish you could tell your younger self? Tweet at me or let me know in the comments!
For myself, and many people that I know, the world feels like an unfamiliar place right now.
The recent election of Donald Trump in the United States, and the apparent rise of white nationalism, anti-feminism, Islamophobia, homophobia, antisemitism, etc. (also known as the "alt right") has many people feeling scared and confused, and a lot of articles, from WIRED to Mashable, have emerged recently about the "echo chamber" that social media, particularly Facebook, has created which has led us to where we are today.
With that in mind, I wanted to discuss some of the ways in which I believe Twitter is actually getting things right in terms of providing a non-insular opportunity for people to express themselves, easily find dissenting viewpoints, and engage with them in conversation.
Before we begin
I know that there are a lot of dissenting views out there about Twitter, and it's usefulness as a social platform. Before I go too much further, let me get these things out of the way:
- Yes, I know that their CEO is wildly unpopular
- Yes, I know they have had issues addressing harassment and hate speech in the past
- Yes, I know that their value has tanked
- Yes, I know they have issues acquiring new users
This post isn't about any of those things.
What I'd like to do is discuss some of the things that make Twitter an important and necessary platform for our society right now, and how it (or something with the features I'm going to highlight) must continue to offer in order to allow for citizen journalism, the sharing of thoughts and ideas, and discussion online.
Hashtags (that people really use)
This morning I got up and read (on Twitter) that the cast of the Broadway musical Hamilton delivered a speech to United States vice-president elect Mike Pence at the end of their show last night. Within a few hours, right-leaning Twitter users took to the social network to start pushing a hashtag called #BoycottHamilton, urging (rather obviously) Trump supporters to boycott the play.
The fact that a hashtag emerged isn't what's important, but what you see when you click on the hashtag is:
Even in this single snapshot we see a series of diverse opinions. Some don't take it seriously, some are worked up, etc. Not only does a timeline around a hashtag display diverse opinions, but Twitter also offers you this added level of engagement with a hashtag's tweets:
These settings are on by default. This means that in order to find yourself inside a Twitter echo chamber, you literally have to take the necessary steps to insulate yourself against opposing viewpoints.
Compare this to Facebook, which deliberately shows you news items and articles that appeal to you and goes out of their way to make changing those settings a challenge. Yes, hashtags are available to use on Facebook, but according to a 2016 BuzzSumo report, posts without hashtags received more interaction than posts with hashtags. This means that not only are hashtags not popular in Facebook, but that including a hashtag in your post actually lowers the likelihood that someone will engage with it.
So not only is Facebook pushing appealing news at you, but the primary tool at your disposal to find dissenting voices (a hashtag) are rarely used. This means that in order to find different opinions you either need to already be Facebook Friends with someone who disagrees with you, or you have to already subscribe to a Facebook Page or Group where you're likely to hear dissenting views.
But even in that scenario, you still have to actively seek it out, Like, and in some cases apply to join, a Group or Page which espouses views that you disagree with. Then, once you start expressing your opposing viewpoints you encounter the next hurdle: the wall of text. Which brings me to my next point:
Character and post length
Algorithms aside, one of the biggest differences when it comes to hearing opposing viewpoints online, and actually paying attention to them, is that Twitter forces you to be brief, at least in the context of a single tweet.
On Facebook there's no character limit, which means people can (and do) go on ad nauseam to explain their point of view. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but it highlights the difference that Twitter acts like a conversation, while Facebook acts like a soapbox.
Being on the receiving end of a "Twitter storm" sucks; I can tell you from experience. But it's much easier to process and digest someone else's point of view in 140 characters than digesting (and responding to) several massive paragraphs (or, if you're unlucky, a single monolithic wall of text.)
Tweets, for all their faults, force people to break up their thought process, which provides opportunities for others to interject, respond, and get involved without having to unpack multiple paragraphs of text. I've engaged in debates with people on Twitter over a specific hashtag and more often than not both sides receive support from people who happened to see the conversation, and wanted to participate.
On the flip side, Facebook allows comments to be up to 63,206 characters in length, according to a 2016 HubSpot article. To put that into context: the average book is approximately 500,000 characters, meaning you can fit an entire novel in 9 Facebook status updates.
Just because tweets are shorter doesn't mean that they won't get ignored, or fluffed off, but when a Facebook user replies with a wall of text, a common sign of trolling, it's much easier to dismiss or simply ignore it.
One of the points that I made earlier was about hashtags, and how searching for a hashtag meant that you could easily find differing opinions. It's also important to note that including a hashtag in your tweets also means that other people can easily find you.
Tweeting about a topic like #BlackLivesMatter, #Election2016 or #MAGA (to name just a few) will not only bring like-minded users out of the woodwork, but it's almost guaranteed that someone from the other side of the political spectrum will tweet back at you.
Tweets which include hashtags are 33% more likely to get retweeted than those that don't use them, and this (somewhat older) article from Sysomos which examined over 1.2 billion tweets in two months, which states that "29% of all tweets produced a reaction - a reply or a retweet. Of this group of tweets, 19.3% were retweets and the rest replies."
This 2016 report found that Twitter accounts for 30% of all global social sharing. At 500 million tweets sent each day (or 6,000 tweets every second), that's a lot of replies and retweets, even if Sysomos' 2010 numbers haven't grown since the article was published.
Not only does voicing your opinion on Twitter increase your chances of interacting with someone who disagrees with you, but when a discussion is retweeted, its visibility becomes amplified too. As more users participate, it increases the likelihood that you will run into someone who disagrees with you even more.
Default "public" profiles
Transparency is, in my opinion, the defining feature which makes Twitter such a powerful tool for discussion: when you tweet at someone your reply is completely public.
Unless you go out of your way to change your Twitter profile to "private," your entire tweet history including replies, retweets, quotes, and media will be available for any one whether they are logged in to Twitter or not. And if a tweet is retweeted, even deleting it later won't delete the retweet copy.
Facebook, conversely, was designed to be a more exclusive experience. From day one Facebook's defining feature has been a user's ability to selectively choose who can see what they share, and, for the most part anyway, the conversations you are able to have are limited to the amount of Facebook Friends you've approved, or the number of Groups or Pages you Like or participate in.
While the average Facebook user's Timeline isn't completely private (posts which tag other users, for example, will show up unless otherwise specified) and their comments may be seen if another user's privacy settings are more lax, overall what you say on Facebook isn't immediately available to the public in the same way that Twitter's Timelines are.
Yes, people are can be "outed" if they say something that another user disagrees with, but unless the person is a celebrity, political figure, or person of interest, the average user isn't going to re-share a hateful comment their coworker made and say "I never realized that so-and-so in Accounting was such an antisemite!"
We just don't call each other out in that way on Facebook at a personal level, and on Twitter, we don't really need to, because whatever a user posts is readily available to the world at large.
Easy access to a variety of opinions
Until recently, when we examined a specific historical event or time we had a limited number of sources to draw from. Nowadays, social media allows us to look into the life of the average person and experience, sometimes in real time, what they are experiencing.
Probably the most memorable of these incidents was the Twitter coverage of the protests over the 2009 Iranian election. Foreign media had been banned from reporting, and the stream of live coverage from everyday citizens on the ground led to a request from the U.S. State Department to put off scheduled maintenance which would have caused an outage in Iran during the protests.
Twitter provided the world with access to real-time information about a national crisis, and ever since has become the go-to source for breaking news including weather, political uprisings, and more. But it does more than just give us "on the ground" access to important events; it allows for public scrutiny of the facts, so that while false information will still get around, corrections have the chance of spreading in realtime too.
By using hashtags to discuss a common theme or event, Twitter users are able to contribute to a global and multi-faceted real-time narrative about what's happening in the world that they live in. Clicking on the hashtag they're using will show them a diverse array of opinions on the topic.
Here's another screenshot of some of the 'Live' #BoycottHamilton tweets:
To be clear: I don't think that Twitter is the perfect platform. It has its share of flaws and issues, and eventually something will come along to replace it (hence the title of this post).
However, I do think that it's important to discuss the elements of the social network which I think make it good, and relevant. Twitter is an important tool for discussion and news, and provides more opportunities for users to engage with people outside of their "echo chamber."
Now, more than ever it seems, we need to be able to hear what other people have to say.
I'm not going to lie to you: I had some reservations about seeing this play (for those of you that don't know, I've been no-contact (NC) with my parents since February of 2015.)
As a result, the idea of seeing a play about motherhood - something that I have yet to experience, and have thus far only really had negative experiences with - gave me some anxiety. I wasn't sure if I wanted to see the play because I worried that listening to stories of motherhood - of love, of unconditional caring and support - would hurt too much.
However, I also realized that it would be a good opportunity to face a fear (and support the Prairie Theatre Exchange*, which I'm always happy to do), so off we went to check out Mom's the Word.
Image via PTE
A play by moms, for moms
Mom's the Word was conceived by a group of actresses and moms living in Victoria, BC in 1995, who all came together to share their stories of the trials and tribulations of motherhood. Together, they pooled their experiences and stories to form a cabaret-style, musical-ish play of sorts which touches on a variety of issues, including: postpartum depression, diapers (and diaper bags), panic, discipline, sex, changing bodies, and much more.
The play opened with a monologue from Jill (played by Yumi Ogawa) about childbirth which was... terrifying, to say the least. I've never had children, but I hope to someday, and seeing such a raw performance of the anxiety, stress, and sheer animalistic power of birthing was a bit unnerving. But, at the same time, it felt oddly inclusive; like this was a trial that every mother goes through, and an experience that is uniquely female.
One of the other mothers, Robin (played by Lisa C. Ravensbergen), gave a hilarious monologue in which she described how she and her equally foul-mouthed partner accidentally taught their child to swear at an early age.
"I tell people he's just saying 'truck' and can't pronounce it properly" she laughs, looking exasperated and embarrassed. This hit home: both John and I include "colourful words" in our everyday vocabulary, and have no shame about it, but the outside perception that we may teach our kids "bad words" too soon in their lives, and be judged for it, is something I've thought about. It felt like such a relief to hear someone addressing it!
Women supporting women
The thing that I loved the most about Mom's the Word, though, was the focus on empowerment through storytelling. Motherhood (from what I can tell) seems like it can be a tremendously isolating experience at times, and it was encouraging to see the moms in the story reaching out and supporting one another.
These struggles were covered really well in the monologues delivered by Jill's character. Over the course of the play she narrates 'letters' to her husband, trying to explain and make sense of the different experiences they're both having (staying at home with the kids vs. maintaining a demanding career) which were, at times, utterly heartbreaking.
"How can I explain what my day was like to you?" she asks "most of my day is spent in silence; how can I put the look our baby and I shared into words?" As John, who came with me, gripped my hand I realized that these were going to be very real issues that I would one day have to face and make sense of, myself.
Image via CBC Manitoba
Laughter as medicine
The play wasn't all sad monologues and stressing out about dirty diapers; in fact, Mom's the Word presented the topic of motherhood in unabashed, shameless, hilarity.
In one scene, Alison (played by Trish Cooper) walks onstage jiggling a carrier as she tries to lull her infant (who was born prematurely) to sleep. Her baby falls asleep, but her muscle memory causes her to keep jiggling for several minutes as she addresses the audience. In another, Deborah (played by Jenny Wasko-Paterson) struggles through oral sex (taking bites of a banana onstage) as she says things like:
"I still want you to feel good"
"Oh no, I don't mind. I feel sexy when you feel sexy..." *eye roll*
This monologue is clearly demonstrating the struggles that many moms have with reconciling how tired, worn-out, and unsexy they feel, and the struggle to maintain a sexual relationship with their male counterparts who aren't feeling the same strain. Again, this is an area that worries me as a potential future-mom, and I appreciated that it was addressed and normalized within the context of the play.
The stand out scene for me, however, was one in which Deborah's character took her young son to the local pool. Her interactions with the toddler-age child, the fumbling, the mess, and the hilarious antics which ensued reminded me so much of being a young person, and spending my summers in the daycare my mom ran out of our house, which was always filled with toddlers exhibiting the exact behaviours described in the play.
As someone who doesn't yet have children and has a lot of mom-related baggage, Mom's the Word struck a series of chords that I didn't realize where inside of me. Yes, it was hard to watch some points, but the actors put words to many of the fears and anxieties that I have about motherhood, and presented difficult and stressful scenarios as ones which felt relatable, even to a non-mom like me.
Mom's the Word reassured me that, even if the world of parenting is going to be 'trucking' hard sometimes, at least I'll be able to laugh about it.
Mom's the Word is currently playing at PTE until November 27, 2016.
* Disclaimer: I get free tickets to see plays at the PTE in exchange for writing these reviews (it's wonderful)
When it comes to social media, there's a wealth of information out there. A quick Google search for "social media tips" comes up with over 166,000,000 results. That's a lot of information!
Especially when you're first starting out, it may seem like there are so many "dos" and "don'ts" in terms of building an effective social media strategy, but while there are lots of great tips out there... I'm sorry to say that there are also a few myths which need to be debunked and removed from our collective memory.
What kinds of myths am I talking about? Let's take a look:
Myth 1: There's only one "right" time to post
This myth continues to exist because it's a well-intentioned one. Of course you want to post your content at times when your audience will be most likely to see it, right?
This is absolutely true, but what you need to keep in mind before you start pre-scheduling your content to go out every Tuesday at 4:45pm is this: do you know that that's when the majority of your target audience will be online?
This might be easy to figure out if your target audience happen to live in the same city as your business (if you're a local restaurant, for example) but if you're trying to reach a wider audience, and one which may even be in a different time zone than you are (say, if you're an international chain of restaurants) then you need to spend a little more time thinking about when they'll be online.
Myth 2: Your business needs to be on every social network
Often, one of the first things that a new client will ask me is: do I need to be on every social network?
The short answer, and the one I always give them is: no.
While it may seem like a good idea to get your name on as many social networks as possible, what you need to consider is the quality of the conversations and content that you can have on each network, not the quantity of them available for you to use.
it's also important to think about the kinds of people you want to reach, and where they spend most of their time online*. According to SmartInsights, 57% of Snapchat users are 16-24, whereas only 25% of the same demographic are regular Facebook users, and a paltry 29% are on G+.
So if your business is trying to target young people, Facebook and G+ may not be the best place to focus the majority of your marketing efforts.
Take the time to think about where your target audience are spending their time, and how your business can establish a presence on those social platforms. Otherwise, you'll just be wasting your time trying to connect with customers and clients who aren't interested in what you have to say or offer them.
Myth 3: You need to blog every day
Blogging is one of the most valuable tools at your businesses' disposal: it allows you to explain, in as much detail as you'd like, what your brand values are, what you offer your customers or clients, and your thoughts and insights in your industry, which can be helpful to your readers.
However, posting multiple times a day, or even multiple times a week, can actually damage your readership and reduce the flow of traffic to your blog.
Why does this happen? In a way, it's twofold: firstly, scarcity creates value. If your followers see that you're posting multiple blog posts every single day, then it's pretty likely that they will stop clicking through to read them because you're inundating them with information.
Secondly, people know that good content takes time to write, and if you're churning out blog posts faster than your readers can hit 'refresh', then it's pretty likely that the quality of the things you're saying isn't as high as it could be.
Instead of trying to post every day, aim for 2-3 posts a month of well-researched, well-documented content that will really help meet your readers' needs.
Did I miss any myths that need to be debunked? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments!
How many times did you cry this week?
I cried 4 times.
- On Tuesday: I felt overwhelmed with my workload for the week (short weeks are hard.)
- On Wednesday: I was thinking about my Grandma, and was excited about seeing her this Christmas.
- On Thursday: In therapy (obviously.)
- Today: Watching this interview with Gord Downie and realizing how short my time with the person I love might be.
This used to be something that I was embarrassed about, but over the past few years I've come to accept that crying is just part of my existence. I used to fight it, and try to hold the tears back whenever they came, but these days I just let it out.
It's the best thing I've done for my mental health, if I'm being honest.
A Cryin' Shame(ing)
When I was growing up, my family members made fun of me for crying so much. I've always been moved to tears easily; the second something tugs at my heartstrings - good or bad - my eyes well up. My aunt once told me that she "worried that I was depressed" as a teenager because I cried at the drop of a hat.
In our household, crying was seen as a sign of weakness and something to be ashamed of. Allowing other people to see real manifestations of your feelings wasn't appropriate, and we were regularly warned against the dangers of sharing our thoughts and feelings with other people.
I remember, once, after a breakup in high school, I was crying in my room and my mother popped her head in to see what was wrong. I said "I'm so sad" and she replied by saying "I hope you don't act this way in front of your friends, or they'll start to get tired of hearing about it and stop being friends with you."
My family, which is of British descent, subscribes to the "suck it up" mentality: publicly displaying emotions of heartbreak, sorrow, or anything other than the status quo was always strongly discouraged, and my brothers and I were shamed and often belittled whenever we allowed our emotions to "get the better of us."
But in the last few months and years I've allowed myself to start getting over those fears. When I feel overwhelmed (which is often, running a business is a scary and often stressful undertaking) I just allow the few tears to come, and then wipe them on and move on with my day.
Anxiety and Crying
I have anxiety.
Anyone who has ever felt anxious knows that the plethora of negative emotions that come with it can often feel completely overwhelming, and for a long time I felt guilty because I used crying (secretly) as a coping mechanism. I cried in bathroom stalls and in my apartment when nobody else was home. When I was a kid I would go for long, extended walks through my neighbourhood because I didn't want my family to see or hear me crying.
For years, whenever I cried, or felt like I was going to cry, I would shame myself and feel guilty for not being able to prevent it.
I can't control my emotions.
I'm immature because I need to cry.
I'm not a good person because I cry easily.
However, in therapy (and with some supports from my friends and partner) I've come to realize that crying is just a part of life, and is a normal part of being in touch with my emotions. I used to feel guilty and get upset whenever I cried because I was trying to hide from my own thoughts and feelings, and I am so done with feeling guilty over crying.
Crying and Coming Together
The thing that's changed the most for me, and what led me to write this post, is that crying in front of other people has had the opposite effect from what my family told me it would: it's brought me closer to them.
John and I cry in front of each other regularly. Often, when we talk about our lives, our families, or our feelings for each other, one or both of us will start tearing up. Sometimes, when I talk to my friends about my anxiety, or things that are challenging me, I shed a few tears. And you know what? They don't hate me for it, and it doesn't make them want to be my friend any less.
In fact, knowing that I can be open with the people in my life in such a deeply personal way has been illuminating and life-changing. I can be myself; my sometimes-sad, anxious, messed-up self, and I can cry about it and be honest about it and it's the healthiest change that I've made in a long time.
Benefits of Crying
In fact, crying is actually good for you. Here are a few reasons why:
- Tears remove toxins. Tears actually remove toxins from our bodies. Tears help humans remove chemicals that build up during emotional stress.
- Crying relieves stress. Ongoing levels of stress can increase your risk of a heart attack and can damage your brain, and crying can help alleviate those stressful feelings.
- Crying lowers your blood pressure. Crying has been found to lower blood pressure and pulse rate immediately after a "big cry."
- It reduces manganese in the body. Crying reduces the body's manganese level. Manganese is a mineral which affects our moods, and is found in up to 30 times greater concentration in tears than in blood serum.
- Crying means you're human. All mammals' eyes are moistened and soothed by tears, but humans are the only mammals who express tears as a response to emotional stress or stimuli. Tears (and showing emotions) motivate us to empathize with each other, which encourages us to work together and survive.
So you know what? The next time you're feeling overwhelmed, or really happy... just cry it out. Hell, ugly cry if you must. There's no shame in it (as I'm slowly learning), and it's actually really good for you to cry it out sometimes.
Here's to a good cry!
Before the internet was as embedded in our everyday lives as it is now, marketing took a very "one size fits all" approach compared to today's standards. Billboards, print ads, and commercials were certainly still created with specific audiences in mind and placed accordingly (eg: ads for lipstick in Cosmopolitan magazines), but they didn't provide a lot of information to the consumer.
In today's digital age, marketers have to do a whole lot more in order to stand out from the crowd, and these days consumers take their time to research, cross-reference, and familiarize themselves with a brand and its products or services. Putting white space on a page to stand out from the crowd just won't cut it anymore.
What's risen up to replace traditional marketing is content marketing. Content marketing differentiates itself from the traditional variety by supplementing promotional content (ads) with useful, informational, and entertaining content (blog posts, memes, lists, etc).
Content marketing helps businesses build familiarity with their target audiences, and by sharing information that doesn't directly relate to themselves over time (and with some luck) a trusting relationship will turn that audience member into a customer.
Content marketing strategies are essential for any sort of meaningful long-term success online. They help determine how, why, and who you can reach using your content, and act as a "game plan" to direct those efforts and measure results.
Without a content marketing strategy you (or your employees) are simply throwing information against the wall and hoping that it sticks. While there is certainly a level of experimentation which can (and should!) happen within the contexts of a long-term content strategy, your day-to-day actions should be determined by a set of values and goals set by your content strategy.
What should you include in your content marketing strategy?
It's all well and good for me to say "you need this" but I'm not doing my job very well if I can't break down exactly what you need, right? Below are some of the essentials that I include in every content marketing strategy (and you should, too):
Goals & objectives
The first thing you need to determine is what is your content marketing strategy meant to achieve. Some common examples include:
- Increasing website traffic
- Growing social media profiles (Likes, Followers, etc)
- Increasing newsletter signups
- Downloads of a specific product, PDF, etc
Who your target audience is
The first thing to do here is create a buyer profile which will help you understand what motivates your customers, and what their "pain points" are that your product or service can help them solve. You can read more about creating effective buyer profiles here.
Modern customers often encounter a business in a variety of places: searching, paid digital advertising, customer reviews, and social media, just to name a few.
Pay attention to customers are finding you (your website analytics and keyword analysis are very helpful here) and define which channels and social networks you will use to help guide your customers, and what your goals for each channel are going to be.
Content marketing should tell your brand's story; that is, what makes your business, service and/or products different, and why your customers should care.
Gone are the days when you can be a faceless monolith and still create real, meaningful connections with your audience.
Some things to keep in mind are:
- What sets you apart from the competition?
- What makes your business unique?
- How can your product/service help your customers?
- What kind of tone will you use (formal or casual)?
The kind of content you want to share
Before you start sharing memes left and right, take a moment to think about how your audience will react to what you're sharing, and how they will work to help you achieve your objectives.
Your buyer profile should really come into play in this area, because while there are lots of blog posts, infographics, videos, and much more available online, if you're sharing it with audience members who don't engage with that kind of content, then you may be doing more than just boring them: you may start alienating them.
Don't worry about limiting yourself (you can share blog posts, news articles, and infographics, for example); it's more about identifying which kinds of content work best together, not focusing on one specific type.
Pick your content topics
Once you've figured out the kinds of content you want to share, use your buyer profiles to figure out how the information contained within those forms of content can help solve your customer's pain points.
For example, if your business sells personal protective equipment for construction workers and labourers (helmets, vests, steel-toe boots, etc), then sharing articles relating to worker safety, staying safe on the job, and updates about your industry are all good content topics to start with.
How to measure success
No content marketing strategy would be complete without determining how you will measure success, and your Goals & Objectives section of your plan should help direct these efforts.
Whether you classify success as a monthly increase in social followers, 500 newsletter subscribers, or 100 downloads of your latest white paper, make sure to track these stats over time to see how well you're doing.
Do you have any questions about content marketing strategies? Did I miss anything in this post? Let me know in the comments or drop me a line.
Without a doubt, the social network that people ask me about the most is Twitter.
Let me preface by saying this: the only reason I'm especially "good" at Twitter is because I've been an active user for a really long time. I first joined in December 2008 (thank you, Twitter) but didn't use it a lot at first. Part of that was that I didn't have a smartphone at the time, but the main reason I avoided it was because I didn't know what the heck to say.
Figuring out what is and isn't appropriate to share on Twitter and then trying to condense it down into 140 characters felt like a daunting and overly-complex experience, and for a long time I just "nope'd" out of it.
Eventually, though, I realized that I was over-thinking things way too much because (like all social networks) the main purpose of Twitter is to share your thoughts and talk to other people. That's it.
The issue that most people have with Twitter is that they over-think it. Too many people I know have asked me "is this okay to tweet?" before, and my response is almost always "yes, don't worry about it so much."
So how can you stop wringing your hands and gnashing your teeth every time you have to send out a tweet? Let's go over three quick things you can do right now:
Use strong visual branding
The first thing other Twitter users will see (besides your clever, savvy tweets) is your profile picture. If you can, try to use a hi-quality photo of you that ideally isn't a selfie. As much as I love selfies, they're easy to spot and don't exactly scream "professional internet person."
If you have social media profiles on other networks, try to ensure that your Twitter profile looks similar and fits with the same theme in terms of colours, photos, and descriptive words, as well as including links to your website or blog, if you have one.
If we take a look at my profile, you can see that I briefly describe what I do for a living, and some stuff I'm into.
This combination of personal and professional works well because other users know what to expect from me in terms of Twitter content, and it's not aggressively sales-y so it doesn't turn off prospective new followers.
Have some variety in your tweets
I have no doubt that you're an interesting, complex, multi-faceted person who loves more than your favourite sports team or binge-watching the X-Files, so why would you limit the stuff you share online to only reflect that one side of your personality?
Because Twitter forces you to be concise it's actually a really great tool for showcasing different interests, thoughts, and opinions. However, it's important to be diverse enough that people don't get bored of your content, and that you're actually engaging with other people.
For example, posting life updates with no context is fine once in a while, but don't crutch on it because most users can't relate to your life, specifically. On the flip side, only sharing memes and gifs doesn't help people get to know you as a person, which is what Twitter is actually for.
Instead, try to post a variety of things from the following topics:
- Random thoughts/life updates
- Links to cool articles and interesting stuff
- Funny gifs and memes
- Stuff relating to your profession (if you're the kind of person who is comfortable talking about their work online)
- Blog posts and other content you've created (if you're a content producer)
- RT's and quoted content
- Tweeting at and replying to other users
Don't abuse hashtags
Hashtags are how users on Twitter (and now other social networks, too) connect their Tweets to a larger shared topic or idea. For example, people tweeting about their long weekend plans will use the hashtag #LongWeekend. That way when people search for hashtags relating to the long weekend, theirs will pop up.
While hashtags are a great way to connect your thoughts to a larger public discussion, they don't look very visually appealing and jamming your tweet with hashtags makes your 140 character message basically impossible to read. If possible, keep hashtags to a minimum and try to use 2-3 at most.
Are you still feeling baffled by Twitter? Then make sure to check out the Twitter for Beginners series, where I break everything down in a handful of easy-to-digest posts for your reading (and future Tweeting!) pleasure.
Do you still have more questions about Twitter and tweeting etiquette? Tell me in the comments!
One of the scariest and most challenging things about going from having an office job to running your own business is that you essentially go from having one boss, to having lots of mini-bosses. This means more deadlines, more phone calls and emails, more meetings... you name it, there's more of it. This also means that instead of one boss to keep happy, you now have three, or six, or sixteen, or sixty-six bosses to manage.
I'll be honest with you: if you run a client-facing business then there is a 100% guarantee that you will eventually have to deal with a tricky client situation (if you haven't already.) I can say this confidently because people are fickle and miscommunications happen.
So how can you manage your client's expectations? I'm glad you asked:
1. Keep your contracts clear
I cannot stress this enough. Don't just blindly sign, or skim over, an agreement between yourself and a new client. Contracts help keep you safe and can be instrumental to resolving disputes, clarifying issues, and other really important stuff.
In my experience I find that it's easiest to provide my clients with a contract for them to review, since I know the deliverable specifics that I need to include. It also means that I get to set the tone moving forward, and it's up to the client to make any revisions to my proposed contract, which is easier for me.
Thoroughly read through each and every client agreement and make sure that it clearly identifies the following:
- Your deliverables (monthly, per-project, or otherwise)
- Client deliverables (eg: are you waiting on information each month to create a newsletter?)
- Deliverable specifics
- Deliverable timelines, if necessary
- Payment schedules (eg: will you be paid monthly, as specific milestones are met, etc)
it's okay to go back and forth on a contract with a client. Remember: this is a negotiation, and it's better to hammer out specifics up-front so that there's no confusion about what your role is, and what you need to do for them so that you're all on the same page.
2. Under-promise and over-deliver
I'm not saying that you shouldn't go above and beyond for your clients, but giving yourself buffer room and quoting longer deadlines than you actually need can be an absolute lifesaver during busy times, or when complications arise with a project you're working on and revisions need to be done.
Not only does buffer room help you stay within a proposed timeline, but if you finish the project earlier than you quoted your clients will be over the moon for you.
3. On-board like a boss
On-boarding is critical to bringing on new clients seamlessly and make them aware of what to expect from you.
One of the things that I do to help manage client expectations is to provide a document that outlines my on-boarding process from start to finish. This document outlines the following:
- What they can expect to discuss at our each meeting/phone call
- What I need from them (eg: fill out the Brand Audit Worksheet)
- What I'll do post-meeting (eg: prepare a quote, send a contract, etc)
- Tasks, broken down by:
- Daily tasks
- Weekly tasks
- Monthly tasks
This is an approximation, as each client I work with is slightly different, but it's general enough that they know what to expect from me.
4. Set boundaries and keep them
Even if you work for yourself, keeping regular office hours is an easy way to manage client expectations. Let them know that you're at your desk from 8am - 4pm Monday - Friday (or whatever works for you) so they don't get upset that you didn't reply at 11pm on a Sunday.
I can't stress this enough: if you don't set boundaries your clients will dictate your life. Having regular office hours works for me, and I've been working towards only checking my email twice a day (it's harder than it sounds!) so that I can focus on doing work for my clients instead of spending all day replying to emails.
If you have a client that loves to get in touch after-hours (and some do) then let them know that you'll do your best to address their concern the next chance you have. This obviously doesn't apply to emergency situations, but day-to-day your clients should understand that you have a life outside of your work and should be understanding if you aren't available right that second.
Taking the time to set up a system that your clients can understand, and managing their expectations from the start is the easiest and best way to take care them and ensure that you have a positive, productive professional relationship for years to come.
Do you have any systems in place to keep your clients happy? Tell me in the comments!
Facebook is the world's largest social network with more than 1 billion worldwide users, and it's an important social network for businesses to be able to connect with their audiences and share their content.
However, recent changes to Facebook's "timeline" feature presents a challenging problem: many businesses depend on Facebook to connect with their audiences and Facebook's organic reach has been steadily declining. In fact, the company recently announced that it would be curating users' timelines to show even less content from Pages (the business equivalent of a Profile) than ever before.
Shock! Panic! Is this the end of Facebook for businesses?!
Well... no, not really. All it means is that we have to start changing our tactics to meet the shifting demands of the social network, which means spending more time to reach the same number of people that we once (easily) reached for free.
Is Facebook still worth it?
For businesses with Facebook Pages this news may leave you feeling frustrated; after all, now you'll reach fewer people when you publish new content than you did previously. However, it's important to note that users who regularly engage with your posts by liking, commenting, and sharing (aka your "hardcore fans") will still see your content on their timeline on a regular basis.
While this shift in timeline content may feel discouraging, it's important to note that Facebook's users continue to increase every year, which means that it's still a growing and powerful network that deserves your time and attention.
With this in mind, there are basically two things you can do to increase visibility:
Encourage users to share your content
I recommend this to everyone I work with; getting users to share your content is an easy (and free!) way to reach a wider audience and encourage people to like and engage with your page. Contests, promotions, and timely, informational content are all ripe for sharing, but creating this content takes time and isn't all that reliable, because it's difficult to predict exactly what will resonate and get shared, and what won't.
So while I work this kind of content into every content calendar I manage, I strongly encourage my clients to consider...
Paid Facebook Advertising
Facebook's page advertising platform is incredibly powerful, and one of the reasons that I love it is that you can reach a large targeted audience on a daily basis very easily.
Let's say for example you want to promote your restaurant's newest dinner feature. You can use Facebook's Ad Manager to target people in your city with upcoming birthdays and anniversaries who like steak, wine, locally-sourced food, and earn an average annual household income of between $75,000 - $100,00.
Facebook Ads allow you to target exactly the kinds of users you want to see your ad, meaning you get you a direct connection with the kinds of people you want to be coming into your restaurant.
This is the biggest benefit from Facebook advertising: instead of creating a one-size-fits-all ad and hoping that it works, you can target users who live in a specific area, or who have already expressed interest in similar products or services to the ones you're selling.
While many people may still feel frustrated with online advertising, they'll still stop and click on a link if it interests them enough.
Every business is unique, and their audiences are unique and will respond differently to different messaging and images, and part of effectively using Facebook Ads is simply making the investment and experimenting with different ads to see which ones will resonate best with your target audience.
With that in mind, here are a few things to remember as you start wading into the big, wide (or small and targeted) world of Facebook Advertising:
- Do your research. If you don't know how to create a buyer persona for your business then check out this post on the subject, then get to making those ads. Otherwise, you won't have any idea who you should be targeting, and you'll waste valuable dollars figuring it out.
- Be patient. As I said, generating the kind of long-term sales and click-through rates that most businesses are looking for takes time. Some campaigns will perform wonderfully; some may flop completely, but it's staying committed to it and learning as you go that will generate real results.
- Test extensively. There are lots of ways to reach the same groups of people: where they work, where they went to school, what their interests are, which Pages they like, etc. Experiment with targeting different interests and see what happens!
- Change up your images. I rarely run a Facebook Ad campaign with fewer than three photos because I like being able to compare and see which kinds of images did better. Not only does this help me understand which images resonated better with people, but it also helps me know which images not to use the next time around.
One last thing...
It's important to remember that a single Facebook Ad won't produce brilliant results overnight. Like social media, blogging, or any other form of advertising (online or otherwise) these things take time. It's a much better long-term business strategy to allocate a monthly "ad spend" budget, and cycle through and try different kinds of ads to see what works.
However, if you can tap into your audience's needs and interests then Facebook Advertising is one of the most powerful weapons in your marketing arsenal, so why not give it a try? (and if you need a hand, drop me a line - I'm happy to help!)
Do you have any tips for Facebook Advertising? Tell me in the comments!
A few weeks ago I passed a significant personal and professional milestone:
June 30th, 2016 was my one-year anniversary as a full-time business owner.
The past 365+ days have been an incredible journey; I've learned a lot, made mistakes, discovered a lot about myself and my life has changed in so many ways that it felt appropriate to share some of the things I've learned this past year with all of you:
It's okay to not be a "good employee"
I'll be honest with you: I used to get depressed when I thought about my career. Even after going to university and working roles that were actually in my field (instead of being an accountant, oh my god) I'd still hadn't found a job that did it for me. I'd think of all those years ahead of me, likely spent in dull offices, trying to find a position or organization that hopefully wouldn't bore me to tears after six months and it was so depressing.
I also had a lot of anxiety around being a "good employee." I didn't like sitting at a desk for a pre-determined amount of hours, asking for permission to take an extended lunch or book an appointment, taking a vacation, or playing office politics (ugh). I'm also not afraid to stand up for myself and point out when I think something unfair or just plain wrong, which doesn't bode well in the world of 9-5's.
So what feels different? The biggest thing is that while I'm beholden to my clients, and I technically have more "bosses" now than I did before, we have a mutually respectful relationship which can be hard to find in the office world.
I'm honest with my clients, and they rely on me to create the right content and steer them in the right direction, which results in a level of respect and collaboration that I was never able to enjoy when I worked for someone else.
Your value isn't just tied up in your qualifications
Before I went to university the advice everyone gave me was "you have to go to university! You'll never be able to get a decent job if you don't go to university!" So that's what I did. I spent three years at the University of Winnipeg earning my Bachelor of Arts, and you know what? Not one of my clients has ever asked me about my formal education.
To be clear: I am in no way saying that getting an education isn't worth it. University was an amazing experience, and I learned a lot, but when it comes to running a service-based business my experience has been that it's more important to be able to demonstrate your value and your skills than it is to have a piece of paper that declares it for you.
Instead, people look at my website, blog, social feeds, and where I've been published or asked to speak to see examples of my knowledge.
You can say no to things that you don't want
One of the most empowering things that I've learned in this past year is to say "no" when something doesn't make me feel good. I don't take on projects that I don't want, and I don't work with clients that I don't like.
This is incredibly hard to do; we're conditioned to believe that every opportunity that comes our way may be the last, and especially when you're new to being a solo business owner it's hard not to think "if I don't take this, will I regret it? Why am I turning down money? Who in their right mind turns down money?!"
Except money isn't the key to happiness. Instead of chasing money, I chase value. I've turned down opportunities that could have resulted in a nice boost to my bank account, but which would have made me miserable, and I don't regret them at all. Instead, I focus my energy on finding opportunities and work that are more suited to my tastes and personality, and it feels amazing.
Irregular income takes some getting used to
Before I started working for myself I would say things like "I could never go from biweekly payments, it's so scary!" and you know what? It is, and it takes some getting used to.
Being paid on a monthly or irregular basis means that I have to pay more attention to my bank balance than I did before, but since I was planning to leave my 9-5 I spent a few months building up a nest egg which rolls over from month to month. That way I know that I have enough to cover my living expenses for a few months if a bunch of work dried up at once.
However, I think that this is worth mentioning: even though I get paid irregularly, diversifying my income feels more secure than a single job ever did. When I worked for someone else if I lost my job 100% of my income was gone, but now if I lose a client I just hustle a bit harder and find another one to replace that dip in my income.
Also, as I said above since all of my earning potential is wrapped up in how hard I work it often means that I make double or triple one month what I made the previous one.
The freedom of managing your life is the most worthwhile thing
This is the single biggest takeaway that I can share with you.
I grew up believing that my work was just a means to an end; that I shouldn't expect to like my job or my work and that sitting at a desk doing uninspiring things for 40 hours a week was all I could ever hope for out of my life. This is such utter bullshit, you guys.
I've enjoyed a year of having the freedom to choose the work I want; to take an afternoon off to go shopping with a friend; to work on a Sunday or during the evening; to take a 3-week vacation to Central America and to work on the road.
I do what I want and am building my ideal life on my terms, and I get to grow something amazing and completely my own all from scratch. The work I do is fun and rewarding, and most importantly it makes my clients feel good, too.
Personal takeaways from 365+ days
I used to feel trapped by my life.
I didn't know what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go professionally, and I felt shackled to a corporate work and life that I resented and which, frankly, wasn't a good fit for me. It wasn't until I started building my client list and hanging out with other creatives and entrepreneurs that I realized that doing the thing that you love for a living is the key to being truly happy all the time.
The past 365+ days have been an exercise in un-learning a lot of things that I thought I knew about my value as a person and a creative professional. I've also learned so much about myself and have developed such a deep appreciation for my life that I can barely put it into words. It's been an exciting, challenging, and rewarding experience that I wouldn't trade for anything.
Thank you to my fantastic partner John, my incredible and supportive friends, and to my clients who do me the honour of working with me.