introducing our newest contributor…

19 Jul
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Maya Angelou, 1928 – 2014

28 May

“I don’t trust people who don’t laugh.” –

Maya Angelou, 2007

(c) JCS 2007

A Half-dozen PodCamps and No Signs of Stopping

24 Apr

It always takes me too long to write a post about PodCamp Western Mass.

We just put our sixth camp in the books this past Saturday, and I’ve spent the last few days mulling over the new things I learned, poring over posts, photos, and emails from other campers — some I’ve just met, some old friends — and generally glowing over the awesomeness of this event.

It’s truly one of my favorite days of the year, like Old Home Days with an extra-healthy educational and social component. I’m not one to overstate how great something is unless it’s warranted, and also not one to stay involved with something once it’s run its course for me. So, six years after signing on to launch PCWM along with Morriss Partee and seeing it evolve (this year under the lead organization of six-time camper Kelly Galanis, in her flame-haired glory), to be this jazzed about something and already looking forward to PCWM7 proves we’ve hit on something special.

Each year, PodCamp has offered some comfortable consistency along with welcome changes each time we’ve convened. It’s steadily gotten larger, for one, attracting seasoned campers along with first-timers who have no idea what they’re getting into, but jump in anyway. The t-shirts we give away look similar to those of previous years, but this Saturday session, listed more sponsors than we’ve ever had before on the back. The ‘Twitter Fountain –‘ the real-time flow of Tweets projected on the wall of the main room — was replaced this year by Eventstagram, projecting photos and videos of the day as it happened.

After check-in, opening remarks, and cups of coffee and muffins, everyone was sent to the evolving agenda board to see what sessions might be offered and also post what they wanted to learn about. Damn if those giant Post-its aren’t a thing of beauty every year, stuck to a random wall pointing people to various classrooms.

Another difference for me at PCWM6, compared to previous years, was that I decided not to present. Instead, I decided to use all of my time to attend other people’s classes, and I’m glad I did — I didn’t miss nearly as much that I wanted to see and was able to focus on the lessons at hand instead of thinking ahead about my own Powerpoint slides and bullet points.

That said, here are some of my thoughts from each session I was able to catch:

Creating Meaningful Content with Jon Reed

This was a session after my own heart — discussing various journalistic and editorial skills that can, and should, Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.04.45 PMbe applied to content creation and curation on the web. It’s not about having the most followers, the most Tweets, or the most photos posted on Instagram — it’s about the quality Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.05.06 PMof what you’re posting and how well it resonates with your core audience, whether that audience is ten people deep or ten thousand. Jon is the co-founder of another excellent nonprofit group in our area, Hidden Tech, marking one of many crossovers with other groups I noticed throughout the day.  Here are some of my favorite soundbites from the class… I plan on looking more deeply into the idea of ‘Design Thinking.’

Jon’s ‘Google this’ suggestion: Hubspot Pool Guy

Branding to Change the World with Chris Landry

This session looked at how all brands need to clarify their true message — what their mission is, what they’re really selling, and to whom — to succeed in today’s business climate. Chris works extensively with nonprofit organizations, but the lessons apply to any business: no matter how many marketing dollars you spend, they’ll Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.21.04 PMbe worthless if you’re not listening to and communicating effectively with your customers. It’s also key to define your niche and who it benefits, revisit what you’re putting out into the world frequently, and make edits as needed. The two big takeaways for me during this class were how nonprofits especially might talk to their audience in better ways (ever given $10 to a cause only to be thanked with an invitation to a $500 gala?) and how marketers can ‘brand for good’ without going to one of two extremes: depicting a utopia where everyone is happy and prosperous, or conversely, a distopia of starving children and wasteland. For the majority of us, the reality lies somewhere between the two.

Chris’ ‘Google this’ suggestion: United Breaks Guitars

E-mail Marketing Update Session with Liz Provo

This was a session I was particularly jazzed to attend because I use email marketing with a couple of clients regularly, and not only was I in search of some best practices tips, I also felt like I might gain some ammunition on some of the points I’ve been trying to convince them of (i.e newsletters need not be novellas).Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 2.40.11 PM

Thankfully, that’s just what Liz provided: Advice and stats to back up the notion that e-newsletters should be brief, to the point, and offer something to the reader, whether it’s a discount or a tidbit of information. She also offered some great reminders: 51% of us are reading newsletters we receive in our email on our mobile devices, for instance, so the amount of scrolling a reader needs to do amounts to how many times they have to touch the screen with their finger; brand consistency with use of colors, logos, fonts, etc. is important and easily achieved (try colorcop.net to match web colors with print colors), and a good baseline for a subject line’s length is five to eight words or 40 characters.

View Liz’s slides here!

 The Psychology of Social Media with Jennifer Williams

I was glad to see Jennifer revisit this popular session from last year, because it was one of the few that I missed and everyone was buzzing about it. The crux of the class was to get a grasp on the different ‘mindsets’ of each popular social network first in order to best use them as tools. For instance, Facebook asks us to answer the question ‘Who am I?’ with our posts. Twitter asks ‘Who am I right now?’ and Pinterest asks ‘Who do I want to be?’ in an aspirational way. Knowing what questions the networks are asking, figuratively, helps us know what to post and how… answering the question ‘Who am I right now’ might work some of the time on LinkedIn, where the question being posed is ‘Who am I professionally,’ but it’s not a slam dunk and can sometimes even backfire.

Jennifer’s session also offered a lot of tips about specific networks to build on this psychological base… posts with a list or strong visual component do particularly well on StumbleUpon, for example. Google+ is one of the few social networks more dominated by men than women. The average sale on Facebook, based on mentions of a product, amounts to $54. All helpful tips for individuals and business users.

Read more about Better Marketing Through Science here!

Social Gone Mobile with Alfonso Santaniello

The final session of the day for me was a roundtable (or, in this case, round-floor) on social apps, particularly those that are lesser known or more popular among teenagers and tweens. These kinds of apps are those that often come out of nowhere to lead a new trend, or for that matter, be purchased by Google or Facebook for billions of dollars, so they’re important to keep tabs on. We spent a good amount of time on some of the new ‘anonymous’ apps, for instance, like Whispr and Appsecret, which let people say things without being identified — be it about a person, and establishment, or just a thought. Clearly, these apps have strong pros and cons… we’ve already seen the damage anonymity can do when it comes to bullying and ‘trolling’ online, but conversely a lack of privacy has a lot of internet users feeling weary — and wary — of Big Brother. The good news is social apps are being used for good in all sorts of ways. High school students are making their own PSAs about topics that concern them using Vine, and Snapchat (a photo-based app wherein the photo disappears after a certain amount of time) is being used to offer ‘secret discounts’ to followers of businesses, especially restaurants.

Read more about anonymous apps in advertising here!

 

Some other perks of the day, thanks again to Kelly:

Awesome Podcamp computer bag schwag.

Hot Barbeque lunch for the WIN.

Flavored water pitchers throughout the day.

Live after-party entertainment.

…I mean really; why would you miss this? See you next year!

 

It’s Time for the Sixth Installment… PodCamp Western Mass.

18 Apr

Be part of the push: share the press release here!

A full day of lively discussion, info-sharing, and plenty of documentation via smartphone, tablet, or laptop awaits at PodCamp Western Mass. 6 (#PCWM6), this year slated to convene on Saturday, April 19 at Holyoke Community College’s Kittredge Business Center.

The event welcomes anyone interested in learning more about social media and networking, from beginners to advanced practitioners. It’s one example of an ‘unconference,’ at which participants choose the topics they’d like to discuss on the day of the event. It’s the longest continually running PodCamp in New England, organized by local volunteers.

As a co-founder, this is my take on the day: it’s a democratic approach in line with the key tenets of social media and networking, which aim to involve everyone in a global conversation.

Our world has always been a social one, and while technology is moving the medium forward, it’s still a very human phenomenon. ‘Real-life’ events like PCWM highlight that fact, and offer all types of people – extroverts and introverts alike, opportunities to both learn and teach.

PodCamps also aim to promote education, innovation, and collaboration between new media enthusiasts and professionals of all types, including bloggers, social networkers, marketers, and the people who read, watch, and listen to them. Anyone can also suggest or lead a session, and topics often include overviews of current and emerging trends.

PCWM will be held on Saturday, April 19 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at HCC, with an after-party at Slainte in Holyoke to follow, with a special after party performance by country singer AJ Jansen. Attendees are encouraged to bring laptops, power strips, smartphones, and cameras, and can come and go as their schedules allow. The cost of the program is $30 and $10 for students, which includes a box lunch and morning refreshments, as well as a PCWM t-shirt as supplies last. Tickets are limited, and participants are encouraged to pre-register via EventBrite.
About PodCamp WesternMass
PodCamp WesternMass (PCWM)launched in 2009 to allow anyone interested in the online world to share ideas, hear from industry experts, and participate in discussions at their own pace. PCWM is part of a large network of similar events; the first PodCamp was held in September 2006 in Boston, and today camps are staged around the globe in response to this rapidly growing phenomenon. To learn more or to register, visit the PodCamp WesternMass website (http://podcamp.westernma.biz/).

Solid Gold Sponsor: HCC Kittredge Center

Timeless Classic Sponsor: Constant Contact

Front Row Sponsors: Winstanley Partners, RedHeaded Diva

Backstage Sponsors: Valley Gives , Epic Filmmakers

Get on the Bus: Next Stop Virtual Blog Tour!

14 Apr

Thunderbird Typewriter, JCS 2007

A couple of weeks ago, author, artist and mom Suzi Banks Baum (look, it rhymes) invited me to join the “My Writing Process” blog tour. This tour rolls out across three new bloggers each time the bus leaves the station; I’m one of three posting today, and in a couple of weeks down the road, three more bloggers will continue the trip.

So, essentially, I’m charged with answering the four questions below and choosing the three new writers who will follow me. Enjoy, and stay tuned until the end to find out who’s next!

1)     What am I working on?

In addition to the writing I do at my full-time gig (directing PR and Social Media), which currently includes releases about retail options for building professionals and an abominable snowman, I’m participating in the WordxWord Festival’s 30/30 Poetry Challenge. For every day in April, participants are assigned a prompt and given 24 hours to submit a poem. The short time frame takes away the editing, the tinkering, the perfecting… but what’s left is a body of work that appears along with that of hundreds of other writers with completely different interpretations of the word or phrase of the day.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?  

I’ve written in a lot of different genres, both professionally and for fun, but these days a lot of my writing comes in the form of informational releases and strategy proposals, not to mention sentences that are 140 characters or less. There’s just as much discipline and creativity involved in these pursuits as there is writing a magazine article or a short story, but they’re definitely different animals. What I like about the more ‘businessy’ writing I do is it requires a lot of restraint, and I think that’s one of the skills that makes for a better writer.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

In one way or another, I’ve been a writer professionally for my entire career. I chose that path on purpose and if the writing process wasn’t part of my job in some way, I don’t think I’d be very happy. Poetry is my first love, and I’ve been trying to be more diligent about crafting a body of work. Shameless plug: some of my past writing is in the right sidebar, there. —>

The Joyce, JCS 2007

4)     How does my writing process work?

Hmmm… I think I’m part of the ‘write drunk, edit sober’ contingent of writers – though not necessarily literally. That’s to say I just start and write what’s in my head, whether it’s dirty and ugly and messy or not. Then some hard editing starts after the bulk is down on paper. I try not to poke and prod too much – a natural stopping point has to come eventually. I work at finding that point.
Now for the next victims! On April 21st, these three intrepid bloggers will take you on their on existential journey:

Christine Parizo

Rob Cushing

Karo Kilfeather

 

…good looking bunch, no?

Tastes like Learning*

30 Mar

You know what I can’t stand? Social media seminars that charge an arm, leg, and first-born for an hour-long talk, a slew of white table cloths, and some rubbery chicken facsimile that gets stuck in my lower intestine sometime around 2 pm.

I also loathe the idea that all social seminars worth attending are held in major cities or only once a year. I’m down for a trip to Boston or NYC from time-to-time, sure — I’m not a hermit. But if I can stay in my Berkshires backyard, the limited driving equals a lower likelihood that I’ll be late and frazzled, or on a train when that banquet hall chicken effect starts to kick in.

A seminar I attended this week had the right idea, held as part of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau’s ongoing Brown Bag Series. Ranging in topic from Virtual Business to Bridging Generational Differences, these once-a-month events are a gold mine for business owners and others in the area. Participants simply need to register, pack their own bag lunch (I used an actual brown sack, because I’m literal like that), show up, and take a seat to add some knowledge to their continuing education base.

photo

…note my punctuality in the top left corner there.

I’ve actually led two of these sessions before — Managing Social with HootSuite and a #Hashtag How-to — but this week’s topic was Blogging for Business with my friend and fellow social maven Kaitlyn Pierce of Pierce Social.

It can be tough to lead a workshop when you’re not sure what your audience’s level of understanding will be, and when it comes to social media, it’s almost sure to be all over the map nearly every time. But Kaitlyn really hit it out of the park — I was Tweeting tips feverishly throughout the entire hour and learned a lot of tactics I hope to put into play at my job and here at WriterJax. Here are a few of my favorites, for example:

• The most often asked question from anyone hoping to blog, for business or otherwise, is ‘what do I blog about?’ It can be daunting getting started, looking at a blank canvas with hundreds of bells and whistles tucked into the left sidebar next to it. But a few prompts can help get the creative juices flowing; start with posts that answer FAQs. Who are you? What do you do? Why do you do it? Build on that by explaining your process — if you’re a baker, for instance, what are your specialties? Do you try to use specific types of ingredients? Do you have a kitchen work-flow? ‘Link round-ups’ are great posts too — your five favorite sites, places to click over to for news on a specific topic, or a top ten list of online resources for your industry, to name a few. At a business with more than one employee, staff profiles are a great post idea that can repeat for weeks or months, giving you a great cache of content at the end.

• Speaking of having a lot of ideas in the hopper, try creating an editorial calendar for your blog that puts future posts on a schedule. As a writer and a publicist, I use editorial calendars all the time, but until Kaitlyn pointed it out the idea was lost on me as a blogging tool. Duh – it makes so much sense! You can keep things low-tech by using a day-planner and multi-colored Post-it notes, or go high-tech and use an online tool. Pinterest has a whole section of calendar ideas, and WordPress.org has its own plug-in, created by CoSchedule. SproutContent has a list of seven other tools to try (oh look, a link round-up post!)

• K-Pierce also had some smaller but no less important blogging tips taken right from the most recent of best practices. Photos, for example, have long been modeled after print lay-outs when it comes to placement on blogs. But now, the trend is to place photos to the right of the text, not the left or the center. You know, like I always do. Until now, that is.

Have any blogging tips of your own, or questions for that matter? Leave ‘em in the comments.

* Today’s blog title was inspired by The Simpsons’ Ralph Wiggum.

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Words of Wisdom from Martha

7 Mar

Martha Stewart you have to actually do things

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