Personal Brand Maintenance

…and all of a sudden, it’s been two months since my last post. 

A little reflection has led to these thoughts on personal branding. Or, more accurately, keeping up with your personal brand. All of us writers/marketers/millennials have heard it: “If you don’t have a personal brand, you don’t have a way to stand out.” So we choose color schemes and logos, stamping them on the corners of our resumes. We create blogs and spend hours finding the perfect topics. We respond to comments, go retweet-crazy on our favorite writers, and make This American Life’s broadcasts a regular part of our daily commute.

We settle into a personal brand routine. It reps who we are to those who don’t even know us.

But what happens when it no longer gels? When there’s a gap between who we want to be and who we present ourselves as?

Like PBR before the Chinese market launch, we rebrand.

The biggest challenge that comes with this is the line between progression and moral track-switching. I’ve thought it all too often since leaving high school four years ago. How do we learn and adapt without changing ‘who we really are?’

We can’t. With any rebrand, whether business-minded or personal, there will be changes in what you believe is truthful. You might pick apart spreads you designed just weeks ago or an essay you drafted your first week out of grad school. I might hate this post in less than a year. You might turn cold on a TV show you once loved, or sport clothes you’ve always trash-talked on others. The only way to stay true to the person underneath the ‘brand’ is to accept that the person is constantly changing. Subtle, yes. We incrementally prefer different foods, music, books, and habits than we did just the day before. But we can focus on our passions, our talents, and our goals instead of the way we choose to label ourselves (or let others label us). We can accept that change happens, no matter how often, and we can get comfortable with the person behind the logo. It’s what my friends did when I got new “hipster” glasses, as they lovingly call them, and it’s what we did when WalMart got rid of the smiley face logo. It’s still the same old WalMart, and I still have the same shotty eyesight.

Now, ‘branding’ is just an evolution of how we project ourselves in our industry. It’s a word that could be swapped with a Facebook profile picture. They’re both chosen by you, seen by the public, and never show the day-to-day change.

So this blog is a part of my personal brand. And as I move to full-time marketer, part-time student, and freelancer on the side, it will get pushed to the back burner more often than not. But it is only one part of what I consider to be my life. My brand. My Facebook profile picture. And sometimes just ‘keeping up’ with one part of your life is alright. We’ll call it brand maintenance.

 

Overcoming Writing Burnout

Thousands of words make their way from my brain to my hard drive each week. In an industry like journalism, everyone needs a burnout buffer strategy. 

Freelance gigs, a full-time student schedule, and a job I’m dedicated to are taking their tolls on my resistance to writer’s block. Plus side? I’m closing in on my last month of college courses. Other plus side? Most of the freelance work ends as my full-time job picks up. Down side…I’ve found my breaking point. But I’ve been here before, so it’s time to whip out some old (and some new) strategies to overcoming word burnout.

  • Carve a stress-melter into your routine: Mine is hitting the treadmill. Three times a week. Not only do I work off the handful of mini candy bars I had for lunch (thank you two deadlines in one day), but I really get to zone out for 30 or 40 minutes of ‘me time.’ And bonus: the next few hours are definitely some of the most productive of my week. I do something that requires no words to reset my ability to find them.
  • Read: It might seem counterproductive to throw more words in your head, but I find that absorbing words that aren’t my own has this clarifying effect. It taps into sleepy parts of my vocabulary, waking up a new rhythm or sentence structure to take with me. Knowing I get caught up in my own words means is absolute motivation to read others’—as we write too much, we form little habits and lose creativity along the way. A few chapters of another author’s pen jolts the pattern.
  • Write something totally shitty: Last Sunday, it took me 4 hours to write 400 words. I was the driver, passenger, and loyal mechanic of the struggle bus. So I just wrote three shitty paragraphs, and then I deleted them. I wrote everything I knew I didn’t want to keep. I put the pitfalls I was watching for on the page, and then killed them right away. That’s when I realized this tactic could totally work. Write an awful poem about that weird spot in your carpet you can’t identify. Sing the ballad of your cat’s dinner time routine. Get the creativity and the fun back into your words, and you get both comic relief and let go of some frustration with your current writing mindset.
  • Look for words in a new medium: Read long form, pickup a copy of a Walt Whitman compilation, or find the lyrics to your singing-in-the-shower music. Whatever shows you dynamic words that extend beyond the 2-D impact of those on your computer screen. Have a running list of metaphors and words that make you remember why you’re in this, and use them, damnit.
  • Talk it out: Taking home the award for ‘best listener’ last year, my boyfriend bought me a Dragon voice-to-text program. It was initially for taking editing notes and transcribing the interviews I always whined about, but it’s proven useful for giving me a new way to write: conversation. I wrote an essay last year for a non-fiction course that was completely personal, very much a flashback, and needed an innovative edge. I knew my typing fingers would filter how I described the events, trying to make them sound prettier instead of more confrontationally honest, so I took them out of the equation. I talked it out, and it opened doors that let me see more of a connection between my personality and my writing voice.

I’ll be using at least one of these every day for the next month or so. Join me?

Reviewing Hubspot Inbound Certification

To learn or not to learn? That really shouldn’t be a question. 

Anyone in marketing (or any branch of media, for that matter), should always be looking for a way to keep up with the tides of the industry. Follow frequently updated blogs, engage in chats on Twitter, and search for certifications in tools or programs that will make you a better resource for your customers. I just wrapped up Hubspot’s Inbound Certification—and you should start now. To preface this, I work at an agency that is a Hubspot partner. But I’m the fresh face and completely new to inbound as a whole. Here are some highs and lows of the 12(ish)-hour training program:

+ For Variety: 

The program was broken up into five easily digested sessions: inbound fundamentals, attract, convert, close, delight. The four latter being the four base tenants of inbound marketing. Each session got a new Hubspot “professor”—engaging speakers who are obviously comfortable and confident with their topics. I felt like I got a bit of speed-dating with this. It spiced up the sometimes lengthier sessions and left me feeling assured that I was learning from a wealth of marketing professionals, not just one employee tasked with making the syllabus. From website optimization specifics to how to bridge the gap between marketing and sales teams to increase lead follow-ups and revenue, the program built on itself steadily and effectively.

+ For Video Quality:

What’s worse than sitting through an entry-level training that sounds outdated? When it looks outdated, too. That wasn’t the case here. The camera angles and overall lighting were professional and simple.

+ For Formatting:

When there were the “seven pillars of…,” the slide showed me a bulleted list. I knew when to pause to take note of the main points or the order in which I would walk through something with a customer. Visual cues like this are essential for 5-minute pitches and multiple day-training, alike.

+ For Brand Transparency: 

Hubspot produced this series, and it’s obvious. It should be. Examining the way a company deals with its real-world clients, from landing page-analysis to customer service goals, shouldn’t always be a hypothetical situation. I got to see Hubspot employees walk through Hubspot methodologies with true Hubspot customers—and not all examples were perfect on purpose. It gave the training a voice of authority it would have lacked with pretend clients or what-if scenarios.

– For Images Used:

This is the slide that pushed me from skeptical to frustrated:

Hubspot Inbound Certification

Slideshows benefit from visual aides and flashing from the speaker to a voiceover on a slide. But I felt distracted by this image—enough to miss what the speaker was saying. There’s just no context, and it was a big drawback for me once I noticed them consistently. Creative? Yes. Appropriate? Not really. I learned later that “staying weird” is a Hubspot culture mission. Photo choice explained! But I had felt only the professional, innovative aspect of the company by the time I reached this slide, so weird was just jarring.

There’s just that one drawback for me, and it doesn’t take enough away from the training for me to call it a big loss. Overall, I experienced in-depth, well-paced overviews and analyses of some of the leading strategies in inbound today. I’m definitely ready to move to Hubspot Certification soon.

Which other training programs are worth the time to explore? 

How to Be a Writer (After You’ve Been an Editor)

You climbed the masthead ladder to earn the right to don “editor” in your title. But then, because *insert your job shift cause here*, you’re back to the primary writing gig. Whether it’s freelance or a staff position, the idea-pitching and outline-writing are back on your to-do list every day.

Want to hear some perks? 

All of the things you wondered about the inner-workings of your editor’s brain before you sat in the office chair are now more transparent. For every time you were given a tighter deadline than you thought you could work with, you had to give a tight deadline because the scheduled story fell through. And while you once grimaced at a skimpy word count, you later went into crisis mode over a piece of page real estate that suddenly needed an extra ad to keep the budget afloat. It’s this knowledge that makes your current job easier. While you may still may be working under a stricter editor than you had been, at least you can sympathize. Justifiable disagreements are always better than those you lose sleep trying to understand.

You’re now fluent in editorial. Your perfect source doesn’t get back to you, so your query letter now looks like a package you can’t deliver. Instead of “I haven’t heard back from *blah blah* yet, I’m sorry. What should I do?,” you’re going to say “*the perfect source* won’t respond to any of my calls, emails, or office visits. Here are a few options that could work—I can pursue whichever of them you think keeps the story on track best.” The first option is an excuse, and you didn’t show what you did to get that damn interview. You also didn’t offer any solution or other source options. That second prompt gave the editor the final say in the story’s change of direction, but displayed your continued motivation and your willingness to keep pushing toward the original plan.

But you’ll still need these transition tips: 

  • IT’S NOT A STEP DOWN. Yes, that needed to be wholly capitalized. Writer=creative juice-provider. Even if you were asked to take this move by management, it doesn’t mean you failed. You just need to be in the place where you are the most successful. Your word and interview chops were missed and are still appreciated. If they weren’t, you’d be scoping out the white pages for a new money-maker altogether. This is a point everyone needs to understand. A company doesn’t keep shitty editors or writers around on purpose. And the two positions may work closely, but they have major differences in the necessary skill sets. Don’t you know any fantastic editors who are just better managers than compelling vocabulary users? Or writers who can piece together the perfect narrative but can’t keep a timely schedule? I do.
  • Know your place. That sounds harsh, but I want you to get out some scrap paper and bear with me. Make a two-column list—pros and cons style. Put your editor’s responsibilities and strengths on one side, and your own on the other. Whenever you start to feel the tug of old job vs. new job giving you writer’s block, dig this out of whatever drawer you stashed it in. Sometimes we need a good old-fashioned reminder like this to make a blurring line clear again.
  • Learn from your shift. Notice how I didn’t say “learn from your mistakes.” That’s because this was a purposeful change. What things did you think you did well as an editor? What things could you have used a little more elbow grease in? Not being truly honest here only hurts yourself—you’re the only one who’s going to know what comes out of this. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t identify your own “should haves” and “did thats.” Did your management give you any examples of this that you need to remember and utilize in your creative process? Make your time in the editorial slot a positive, useful experience. And then get back to writing.

You Can’t Get a College Degree In SEO

I’m going to give you a hypothetical: All people now speak the same language. 

It’s a mixture of the symbols, tones, and word emphases we currently use. Each day, it morphs into a reflection on the most popular topics of the day. As one side of the world goes to sleep, the other side starts to talk. Again, it adjusts to use more pieces of the languages used by those who are now awake. Let’s call the language Google. No two days are the same, but you have to try to keep up with it. To learn it.

If you were to take a college course on how to make your opinion heard through this web of words, we’d call it SEO 101. Google algorithms change in a major way at least once per month. Some research suggests even daily for minor updates. While the industry is growing and becoming a vital part of digital marketing, you still can’t get a degree in SEO. And for good reason. To make a stable curriculum out of a whirlpool is impossible.

Higher education shouldn’t try to encapsulate something that it can’t manage effectively in a classroom. So how do you teach a new generation of search engine marketers how to bust into the field?

  1. Define and teach SEO as a learning skill, not a learned skill: Don’t tell a student “This is how you use SEO. Memorize, regurgitate on the final, and you’ve got the hang of it.” An unspoken falsity in the education system is that every class is a history class—the book is fact, and it’s not going to change ever again. If we incorporate SEO into the curriculum as a tool that will definitely constantly change, we’re at least attempting to battle that mindset. If a student knows it’s only the beginning, he or she is more willing to see the course as opening the search door, not learning all there is to know. This course could be an introduction to the SEO scene, but they’ll need to stay tuned to keep their resumes honest. As Jon Weber suggests, learning search marketing can benefit from heavy self-teaching, too.
  2. Allow students to see SEO impact in action…over time: Those of us in the industry know page ranks don’t change overnight. (Well, unless you suffered in Panda, am I right?) You have about 15 weeks to show a student how to track a page WOW, or even MOM. Revamp it using the current best practices—letting them get both hands-on experience in doing keyword research, user interface changes, and learning some code shorthand—and let them develop a spreadsheet to track, and eventually analyze, the data. It’s what they’ll do as they enter the digital marketing field anyway, so it’s a good of a time as any to show them the grunt work that comes with manual tracking or even Omniture or Google Analytics. So find the worst page you have access to editing, and start teaching.
  3. Don’t stop at the basics: Yes, you need to use Adwords or Google Webmaster Tools or even MOZ, but SEO is so much more than the nuts and bolts. As the algorithms change from link-building to quality content-favoring, clear, authoritative writing is essential. Especially if you aren’t already going in-depth on search marketing in class, this is where tying these principles in with a pre-existing class will work well. Teach students about tags and the importance of the page layout in a web design class, or talk about keywords and H1 titles in a multimedia writing class. Integrate, integrate, integrate. It will ease both the shift in course content and any student’s ability to grasp SEO basics on a real-world, I-can-actually-put-this-to-use basis.

This is just a starting point. I would have used that as a disclaimer, but then I would have spoiled the ending. I’m saying this as a both a student and a natural search writer. But I’m ready to hear the point of view from the teachers who get to tackle it or the haters on the need to teach it to college students in the first place.

Some Dos and Don’ts of Media Internships

Whether you’re a future intern, current intern, or even managing an intern, I promise you can learn something here. 

I was the right hand woman for a one-woman business. I followed that as one of a large team of summer interns at a corporation. Of course each position faced challenges, both expected and unexpected—I expected that. But my final semester as a non-full-timer has me a little nostalgic for even the dullest of work weeks. I want to put a few things out there for the interns past, present, and future. Maybe you relate to them. Maybe you learn from them. Or maybe you just get a glimpse into what your own interns are thinking on a daily basis. Any way, tap into a few of my inner intern monologues.

Any day with an Outlook appointment is a good day: This one’s for those of you captains of the intern ship. We crave experience. It’s why we’re here. So the only thing bleaker than a blank schedule is when a meeting is cancelled just before it starts. Once is understandable. Twice is still forgivable. But consistently is unacceptable. Never getting to actually learn more is the quickest way to impede my motivation to learn more. It also makes me that much more likely to feel disposable, especially when a cancellation comes with no explanation or makeup meeting. It means my time is not valuable to you. I feel the most respect for full-time employees who disregard my intern label and understand that I am here to learn, to work, and to be an asset to the company.

  • Take this action: That being said, take advantage of as many opportunities as you can to sit (or listen) in on meetings. I made lists of words I didn’t understand yet, taking these back to my desks in a Google frenzy to learn more. And the next time you hear that long acronym or code shorthand, you’ll beam a bit.

Not all the work you do will be glorified: “Thank you” should be enough for tasks that are your job. If you’re accustomed to teachers praising work with a paragraph’s response or a one-on-one meeting, you need to break that habit before you catch yourself feeling glum about a casual gratuity. There will be projects that require more time than you expect, and some that take even hours of planning. But this is your job (which is a wonderful thing!). The staff around you works on these things daily, not just 10 or 20 hours per week. They pour time and energy into it, and they receive a good paycheck for it.

  • Take this action: Picture this as the practice run for two years from now. It’s routine to use a simple, grateful phrase in recognition of fellow employees. If you are (hopefully) being treated as one, you’ll adjust to accepting it and moving on to the next part of your day. No fireworks necessary.

Don’t walk the extra mile, run it: Springing off my last point, I’m a fierce advocate for doing your own job and more without expecting a grand amount of feedback. But don’t mistake an understated “thank you” for ignorance. The spreadsheet you reformatted does look cleaner. The auto sums are helpful. And yes, your boss may even make some tweaks after you show him or her. But the initiative to take on a bonus project each week will leave an impression—trust that. It’s that initiative that will be remembered after your summer or semester stint.

  • Take this action: Wherever you see an obstacle in your day, look for the solution. Could you make it happen? Then do it.

Shadow, shadow, shadow: Here’s to hoping you won’t stay in the same position forever. And as an intern, you have a pass to ask as many questions and scope out as many areas of your field as you can. You’ll probably never be in this situation again, because it’s not exactly best practice to be outwardly job shopping after you take an offer after graduation. I set up times with any other department that sounded interesting while I had the chance at Meredith—social media, IT, editorial, audience development—just to be able to rule it out or in for future consideration. Some were awkward, but all were helpful in their own ways.

  • Take this action: Come with some honest questions that you know will help narrow your job search. I always asked if this person could see themselves in this field permanently, or if they would want to explore another part of the business. I asked how much they needed to work overtime or outside the 9-5. While some of your peers will get full-time offers from their internships, yours could just be a stepping stone to a better fit. And that’s okay.

Dabbling in Feature Writing…Or, How I Learned to Cover Controversy

I threw out the idea to cover the story, but I assumed someone else would volunteer to do the very reporting-intensive deed. 

But 9 months, three major drafts, and a few too many editing Sharpies later, I earned a byline on an LGBTQ, politically-minded feature piece. I was juggling managing a young editing staff for that same pub and a heavy class load, but I wanted to tackle that portfolio piece in my free time before I decided if editorial was my gig. (I still haven’t made up my mind.) I wanted to consider every angle—mostly to ensure the story was accurate and indiscriminate, but partially because this whole research process was absolutely a learning journey for me in a topic I wanted to educated myself in.

It’s fascinating how wrapped up I found myself in thinking about someone I’d interviewed or how I could blend two sections in rhythm. Looking back now, I think this was the editorial piece that broke the timidity in my writing. It doesn’t have the snippy voice I let flow into my posts here or the rigidity I work within in other contexts—this writing was all about controlling that. I was putting the issue ahead of my own desire to sound funny or authoritative. I was letting the facts surface and reporting on the people and their stories. My job was to find a way to weave it.

So this isn’t so much an opinion post today, but more of a “I worked on this piece as long as a pregnant woman grows a human” piece that I want an audience off my college’s campus to see. If you like the preview, head on over to the web version of the article, which was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of Drake Magazine.

___________________________________________________________

 

“Mirrors never made sense to Ryan Sallans, as he watched himself grow up as a female. Wishes on stars were wasted as puberty ran its inevitable course. Childhood ended. College began. And still, he was stuck with a physical identity he could never reconcile. After six years of therapy in college, his earlier wishes—repressed by over a decade of faking what never felt right—were finally granted. Months of research gave him the courage; a complete gender transition gave him the answer. At 25, Sallans began the female-to-male transition.

Sallans, now 34, is one member of the transgender community in the United States. Despite the increase in cultural acceptance for the community,neither the support nor medical care has caught up to serve it. Sallans fought for years to overcome miscommunication, hesitance, and denied healthcare coverage. A cloud of stigmas over counseling—judgment, misunderstanding, the incorrect label of “illness”—still prevent many trans people from trusting existing support systems. And those who do use what’s available may not have access to experienced professionals or other community support. Seeking help and finding certainty before a transition should be easily accessible. But while the awareness of the community continues to grow, the outdated and fraying medical system only continues to tear, leaving behind unsupported patients. Pre-transition counseling as it is today just isn’t up to par.”

Read more on DrakeMagazine.com

Journalism and Screwing Up: A Story of Moving On

Any well-seasoned journalist has a story of that time they really messed up an assignment in his or her back pocket.

Whether they choose to speak about it openly or shove it deep into the pits of cringe-worthy despair only to never let it see the light of conversational day is up to them. But I believe in learning as much (if not more) from what went wrong than what went right.

So here’s my story of that time I really fucked up as an editor.

(Keep it off a portfolio website, you say? Don’t show potential employers or followers that you’re human, you say? Ridiculous.) Any company or person unwilling to say they’ve learned from a mistake is no one I want to do the career tango with. Come join us here in the club of somewhat-botched business confessions.

It was the end of my first year on an edit staff as an associate editor for my college’s web publication. We had one meeting left, no patience left, and half a mind to call it a day on the writer we’d been working with. I saw a preliminary draft of the health story, a piece on fake coloring and ingredients in diet drinks, and left for a summer at home trusting it would turn out fine—I had said my piece, or so I thought. Fast forward two weeks, and I was blushing from an email sent by our advisor saying the final published article was unacceptable. Highlighted passages of vague statements, non-fact-checked facts that slipped past us, you name it.

We had spent weeks processing a piece whose substance skeleton just wasn’t up to par. At the heart of the matter, we had wasted time trying to salvage it because “the writer was trying hard,” “we needed more health content,” “it’s almost there,” etc. But if we would have taken one step back to think about it from the motivational viewpoint we had started the semester with, we would have killed it in an instant.

We fucked up.

Scrambling to bring it back to life, we rewrote the piece in a day with our tails between our legs, donning it “by the editors with contributions from…”

We acted quickly enough to clean it up before contest submissions for the site, before any readers poked holes through the facts. So in the end, the lesson learned was much more powerful than the wake of destruction of a bad piece of journalism.

So that’s my story of the time I was wrong—the time I messed up. I think about it every time I check myself in my editing or writing. It’s even floating above me in research phase, haunting me like the ghost of deadlines past. But saying it solidifies that it happened, it was corrected, and it mattered.

Are you willing to share yours?

Posting GIFs to Twitter—The Visual Vision

Now our #foodporn and #blessed posts are vibrant and active—great.

Twitter recently announced our new ability to post GIFs to Twitter. 

In all seriousness, the tweak is user-friendly. If we could see how engaging videos were before, the virality of a GIF is even more enticing. It’s shorter, sweeter, and (typically) more humorous. I’m making the same comparison here as I make between Reddit and its colorful counterpart, Imgur: Visual sells. I’d rather share an eye-catching image with a sassy caption than a lengthy, worded version of the same.

But as for the future of Twitter, I worry about how Facebook-like it’s starting to look. The thick cover photo, the overall layout of the feed, and the running tabs below the c.p. all remind me of a certain other social media outlet that leans toward words, ads, and overbearing aunts. I like the snippets of Twitter. The ability (and limitation) of getting my point across in 140 characters keeps me brief in marketing lingo and forces me to capture my audience’s attention fast. It feeds into the fast-paced-ness of anyone who uses the outlet. But haven’t you noticed the tweets getting broader? The inclusion of Twitter cards and Vine retweets making our feed longer without the simplicity the users came there for? And now they’re about to overload your eyeballs with big GIF modules that take up a whole thumb swipe’s worth of screen space. 

So I’ll say it: I’m somewhat okay with adding GIFs. But Twitter, please keep it simple. I want the pictures a bit smaller. Don’t ruin the place where I can streamline my social media into a few tweet decks with a lot of fast, brief content. Don’t bleed into more Facebook-esque layout updates. Don’t keep adding so many tweet capabilities that I lose the desire to check you out. It’s the easy looking that drew me in to begin with, pulling me from spam of MySpace and FB, so let’s not screw this up.

What do you think I’ll see next as a rant-worthy Twitter update?

 

 

 

Photo courtesy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/joshsemans/