Blogging for the Team

Yellow Bloom by Julia Austine for Meat of the Message
Yellow Bloom by Julia Austine for Meat of the Message

I’ve blogged for school, I’ve blogged for myself, I’ve blogged for friends and family, but for the past few months I’ve been blogging for a team. I was trying to find a way to keep a group of part-time Service Associates with ever-changing schedules on the same page, in the loop and every other team cliché that exists. Meetings weren’t going to happen on a regular basis and email seemed clunky, so I set up a WordPress blog and started a dialogue.

Palmetto Halo by Julia Austine for Meat of the Message
Palmetto Halo by Julia Austine for Meat of the Message

The very first blog post was an introduction to how it would work and what the expectations were for the team’s participation. Every post would include a question at the end that each person was expected to answer in the comments. This was to make sure that they had read and understood the post and I committed to replying to each and every comment. For some of the team, this was their first time reading and/or commenting on a blog. The topics included changes in procedure, the cultural shift that our team was making and re-blogs of posts that I found relevant.

Baby Snapdragons by Julia Austine for Meat of the Message
Baby Snapdragons by Julia Austine for Meat of the Message

Once they had embraced the format and I was starting to run short on weekly topics, I turned the blog over to the team. Each person had to write a blog post (just over 400 words) about the project that they had been leading for the team. They also had to include one relevant image and a question for everyone to answer. The “guest” blogger was then responsible for replying to the comments. I was truly impressed with the quality of their blog posts and they really enjoyed the interaction through the posts and comments as, due to scheduling, some people rarely worked together.

City Exchange Bell by Julia Austine for Meat of the Message
City Exchange Bell by Julia Austine for Meat of the Message

I would definitely recommend a blog format for keeping in touch and updated a team that is separated by time or space. It created a sense of camaraderie and connection that email just doesn’t have.

What do you think the greatest advantage or disadvantage of a team blog would be?

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Balcony View

Path Less Taken
Path Less Taken

Roger Ebert, film lover, passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer. This news was shared all over the internet with people remembering his impact on their lives. I started watching Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert’s first show, Sneak Previews, on PBS and over the years I loved their dialogue and interaction even more than hearing the final thumbs up or thumbs down verdicts. A while ago I watched a TED video of Roger Ebert about losing the use of his voice and how he had a computerized voice created from the years of footage of his TV shows. His humour and positive attitude touched me deeply.

He had, as most of us do, taken for granted the ability to speak and easily communicate verbally with others. He remained active and prolific up to the very end and talked about all the projects that he was working on and looking forward to on his blog. It truly makes me appreciate the platforms that social networks provide us to speak our minds, share those thoughts and have people around the world respond to them.

Treeflection
Treeflection

Appreciate your voice and all the forms it takes.

Draft Daydream

Spring Budding
Spring Budding

I was inspired to sign up for one of Hootsuite’s webinars when I spoke with one of the webinar wizards at the Hoot Hire open house at Hootsuite’s new headquarters in Vancouver. These free online web seminars are only 45 minutes long and a great way to make sure you are getting your money’s worth out your Hootsuite Pro account (or to see if it’s time to upgrade from the free version).

For my first webinar I chose the Hootsuite Pro Overview. Since I’ve been using Hootsuite for quite a while, I’ve got most of the basics down, but I picked up a few tips on how I can make it work for me even more effectively!

Pussywillows at Granville Island Public Market
Pussywillows at Granville Island Public Market

I regularly tweet and retweet links to my blog posts, which can be time-consuming to copy and paste and shrink the individual post’s web address each time. By creating a draft in Hootsuite, with the shortened link and info about the blog post, I can easily re-tweak and re-send the tweet multiple times. This only works in the desktop version of Hootsuite, as you can only save one draft in the mobile app.

Water Blossoms
Water Blossoms

Tutorial for creating a draft in Hootsuite: 

Compose a message in the upper left hand corner of your Hootsuite dashboard. Add in any links or photos. Click the little disc icon (“SAVE MESSAGE AS DRAFT” will pop up). You have just created your first draft!

To access your drafts, click on the little downward triangle next to the disc icon and all your drafts will appear. Click on the draft you want to use and make any additions or adjustments. You can then share it right away or schedule it for a later time.

If you click the SAVE icon after you make changes, it will save the new version as well as the old. If you click SEND NOW, it will keep the original draft.

ScienceWorld Outdoor Science Park
ScienceWorld Outdoor Science Park

This is a great way to easily reshare links, photos or event information. Say, for example, if you have a blog post about Follow Fridays on Twitter  that you’ve been tweeting on Fridays for over a year, you’re life just got easier! Now, as the days get warmer and longer there is more time for daydreaming.

What do you frequently re-share that would be a dream to have in draft form?

 

Stay Social

Spanish Banks
Spanish Banks

In order to get the most out of your online social networks and social media, just remember that the word social always comes first.Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are communities built on the principles of give and take, and if you expect people to take the time to view your content you need to do them the courtesy of giving them your attention as well. This is not necessarily a one to one ratio or an exactly even exchange, more of a way of operating. If you just blast your info and message out without considering or connecting with your audience, they will quickly tune out. The great thing about social media compared to traditional media is the ability to have immediate interaction with your audience, don’t let that go to waste!

Point Grey
Point Grey

If you want comments, likes and retweets, you need to be dishing them out as well. Plus, if you ARE getting all these wonderful things make sure you are showing your appreciation.  Sometimes I wait until Friday to thank a week’s worth of re-tweeters or new followers on Twitter with a Follow Friday tweet or two. Sending a thank you in a direct message may seem more personal, but getting a public shout out is usually considered more valuable.

Steps Away
Steps Away

Commenting on blogs that share a similar subject is a great way to bring traffic to your own blog and broaden your readership. Encourage more people to comment on your posts by replying to comments, even a quick “Thanks for the comment” will usually do. You may also have noticed the links to other related articles at the bottom of my posts, It’s simple to add these in WordPress, as recommendations are provided in a handy little box in the Edit Post screen. I’ve been introduced to some fantastic articles and incredible bloggers through this one little thing and I always appreciate (and comment) when other bloggers link back to one of my posts.

Sky framed by branches
Sky framed by branches

To increase viewership, when I post a new image on Instagram, I add several relevant hashtags so people who don’t follow me can find my pictures and maybe click the “follow” button. Then I will click on one of two of the hashtags in my comment, which goes to a search for other photos with that hashtag, and “like” or comment on the ones I admire. This generates many more likes and comments for my pics, it also causes more spammy comments, but those are easy to clean up.

It’s all about engagement and the best way to make people care about your message is to show that you’re listening to what they have to say as well.

How do you show appreciation to your followers and likers?

Social Picture Progression

IMG_2172My last post was about Four Fab Photo Apps that I’ve been using on my iPhone 4S as well as my iPad. I find that I’m regularly using more than one app when editing and sharing photos, so I thought it would be interesting to share the journey of a photo from the lens to the internet.

I have a food blog at www.kitchenettefinds.com and food oriented Twitter account @kitchenettefind where I share recipes, reviews and food photos. I was about to sit down to enjoy  my lunch one day and I was taken by the mix of colours in my cilantro slaw with guacamole dressing. There was nobody around to share the beauty of the healthy rainbow I had created in my bowl, so I thought I’d share it with the world.

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1. iPhone 4S

Having my phone handy, as always, I snapped a pic of the bowl near the edge of the table with the fork adding a dash of asymmetry to add interest. But, it’s still just an image of a bowl of stuff, not share worthy… yet.

20121218-220411.jpg2. PicFX

The colours needed some punch, so I cropped and filtered the image in PicFX. The app now allows the option of keeping the original aspect ratio (rectangle instead of square).

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3.Bokehful

To add some flair to the photo, I used Bokehful to emphasize the gorgeous colours in the salad with a cascade of stars. Now it’s starting to look like an image fit for the internet!

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4. Instagram

Instagram is my mobile location-based image sharing network of choice, so I gave the image a final filter adjustment to add drama and a frame to finish it off. Then I shared it to my social networks on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

 

 

So that’s the story of how I shared my lunch with the world. I didn’t just do it to make people hungry, I hope that it encouraged at least one person to make a healthier food choice or try a new app.

Now, the sequel would be about how I used the PicFrame app to make the photo at the beginning of the post and how I’m sharing this tale with you through WordPress.

Would you rather that people share unedited photos, fancified or photos or just kept their lunches to themselves?

 

Four Fab Photo Apps

Science World in Vancouver edited with Picfx
Spacey Science World edited with Picfx

Photography has been a passion of mine for a long time. I’ve played around in a dark room, manipulated Polaroid emulsion transfers and I bought a digital camera when 4 mega pixels was a big deal. One thing I was not quick to embrace was cell phones with cameras. I saw it as a useful tool to capture data, but I was not open to the artistic merit angle. I usually carried a camera with me, so I never relied on capturing essential images with a phone. Well, that all changed when I switched from a Blackberry to the iPhone4S last year. It finally dawned on me that it was not the technical specs that was the key feature of using the camera on smartphones (though finally it was on par with point-and-shoots) it was the share-ability of the images captured. Rather than waiting to download scores of images to my laptop (usually late at night) and then finally getting around to putting them up on Facebook, I could instantly share what I was seeing with friends, family and all my social networks. Over the last year I’ve gotten more creative with the images I share and here are the top four iPhone apps that I have used the most:

Instagram

Victoria Cityscape edited with Instagram
Victoria Cityscape edited with Instagram

I started using Instagram mostly as a way to share images with Facebook, Flickr and Twitter and I played around with the filters, frames and blurs. Lately, I’ve been more interested in Instagram as a social network as there are some amazingly talented and creative people who share their creations through Instagram. I’ve started using more hashtags on my photos under @juliaaustine and I’ve seen the number of likes and comments go up as well (also the amount of spam, but I figured out how to delete those comments).

Picfx

20121113-092701.jpg
Powerful Sky edited with Picfx

After using Instagram for a while, I noticed that people’s images were going beyond the manipulations offered there and so I started looking for ways to add more effects to create more dramatic images. I downloaded Picfx (paying a whopping $1.99) and haven’t looked back. With over 100 effects and the ability to layer effects and control the intensity, there are a mind-boggling amount of combinations that can be created.

Bokehful

20121113-093135.jpg
Sun Forest edited with Picfx, Bokehful & Instagram

One of my favourite effects from Picfx was the different bokeh light layers. The only problem was that it was static, you could adjust the intensity but not the placement. Enter Bokehful. For 99 cents, I could not only control the intensity and placement, there were colour palettes and shapes literally at my fingertips! I keep reminding myself that less is more so that I don’t go overboard.

PicFrame

20121113-094053.jpg
Diner Desires edited with PicFrame & Instagram

A photo may say a thousand words, but sometimes that’s not enough! From the same designers as Bokehful, ActiveDevelopment, I turned to PicFrame to solve this dilemma. By dropping another 99 cents, I’m able to put multiple images together with a variety of frames and labels that I haven’t tired of yet.

Though I mostly use Instagram to share the final images, I’m finding that to create the effect that I want I sometimes use ALL of the above apps to tweak the original shot before sharing it. So get creative and take a boring pic that anyone could capture and make it your own!

Please let me know what your favourite photo app is as I’m always looking to add to my image arsenal.

Soda Social

Some people jump into Social Media and make up the rules as they go along, some people fall in and flub the rules as they go, others are lucky enough to have someone to guide (read: drag) them in and teach them the ropes. At different times I have filled all these roles: Jumper, Flailer, Dragee and Guide. That’s the thing about social networks, we all have to start somewhere and the more the merrier. I’d been pushing my friend to be more active on Twitter and a weekend trip to Seattle seemed  the perfect time to give her a gentle shove.

She’d recently discovered Instagram and with her visual arts and design background it was a more comfortable fit than just simple text-based Twitter. One night, while enjoying a delicious dinner at Lark in Capitol Hill neighbourhood, we were really impressed by the flavour of the cucumber soda from a local company called Dry Soda:

We were so taken with the one Dry Soda we’d tried that we tracked down a sampling of their other flavours and hauled them back to our hotel room. After polishing off the Wild Lime, I arranged the bottles on the window ledge, my friend shot and shared through Instagram and the image above went out on Twitter:

A couple of days later it was retweeted by @drysoda:

After getting her permission, they then shared the image on their website. This is something they do regularly and is a great way to encourage and connect with fans of their product.

I retweeted the image with my food blog Twitter account, which was then re-re-tweeted by Sharelle Klaus the CEO of Dry Soda on her Twitter account, @CEOdry:

I just think this is a really fun example of how brands can interact and build relationships with fans and customers on Social Media.

Have you had any interesting online run-ins with businesses or brands on Twitter or Instagram?

The Business of Blogging

Last month I drove to Seattle to take part in the BlogHer Food 2012 two-day conference. It was a weekend packed with information, opportunities and, of course, lots of delicious food. While I met lots of amazing food bloggers (celebrity and just plain folk), I found the brands (and the people who represented the companies) that participated and supported the conference equally fascinating. During the keynote breakfast we were encouraged to get to know our table mates, so I had the pleasure of chatting with Cindy from Land O’Lakes butter, she is their test kitchen manager and a contributor to their test kitchen blog. We had a lovely chat and it was interesting to hear about her viewpoint as a brand blogger.

All throughout the conference there was a lot of discussion about independent food bloggers working with brands, for brands and sometimes working against them. What this really reinforced for me was the need for brands and companies to have their own blog to make sure their perspective and voice is shared truly with the blog world and not only through the lenses of individual bloggers.

Here’s what a blog can do for your business:

Educate: A blog provides an interactive and informative platform to tell potential customers about the benefits of your products and/or services.

Examples: A series of tutorials on how something works or a behind the scenes piece on how your product is made.

Engage: The episodic nature of blogs is a great way to keep people coming back and keeping them up to date.

Examples: Seasonal posts or weekly features 

Entertain: Blogs are informal, they can break down the barrier between a faceless business and people who want a piece of it.

Examples: Share the stories about your company and the people who make it special. Are you pranksters, volunteers or triathletes?

Create a blog that is the source and the resource for your business.

If you have a business blog, how has it helped your business? If your business doesn’t have a blog, what is holding you back?

Video: Hootsuite: Owl You Really Need?

I’ve used HootSuite to manage my social media profiles for a while and I recently upgraded to the Pro Plan, going from free to $5.99 USD per month. The limit of 5 social profiles was feeling constricting and I was becoming more interested in the custom analytics available. I love that HootSuite is a local tech company in downtown Vancouver and that they seem to be committed  to staying here. Not to mention that the owl mascot is adorable! Go ahead and “like” the Meat of the Message Facebook page and you’ll be in the loop with my latest scoop (I promise they won’t all rhyme).

Do you use HootSuite? If so, what do you like about it? If not, what’s holding you back?

Seeing Through Transparency

By making the facts transparent and easy to find we do each other and ourselves a service and good service is the foundation of good sales. I was reading a post on the blog Reality Burst about a search for transparency in restaurant’s pricing and menu options. As Eugene wandered around looking for menus posted in windows of restaurants I had the sense that he was looking for his expectations to be met. He expected to find a restaurant that served food he found appetizing and that fit within his budget. If he randomly walked in, sat down and opened a menu to find nothing he wanted to order, or higher prices than he wanted to pay (or worse, both) he would be disappointed and then have to choose to get up and leave or spend more than he wanted on food he wasn’t interested in eating. He was trying not to waste his time, money and caloric intake. I think most of us can relate to at least one of those desires.

The purpose of transparency in business is to avoid disappointment. When we feel that people, advertising, menus and websites are not being straight with us, we are forced to read between the lines. When fast food franchises advertise their newest product, we know it will never look as good on the tray as it does on the TV. Maybe we believed it as kids, but experience has brought our expectations down to a reasonable level. But, we trust the transparency in their pricing. The dollar figure is always prominently featured next to the burger or drink and we know that the price will be the same at all their locations. Look how well we have been trained!

So, how do you want to train the people you interact with through social media? Do you want to set their expectations at a reasonable level and then be able to exceed them? Do you want them to trust you and believe in what you say and do? Well, my friend, transparency can do all these things for you and more! What does it cost, you ask? Why it’s free! No shipping and handling fees or hidden charges ever! (This is any example of how not to create a sense of transparency, this sounds like there is a catch)

The path to transparency begins with you, be yourself. Build on that. If you are honest about who you are people will begin to trust you. If you have a dorky sense of humour, own it (I do!). People appreciate somebody who accepts themselves and respects others. Transparency can’t be something you turn off and on. The first thing I think when a person asks me, “Can I be honest with you?” is haven’t they been doing that all along?

In all my years of working with people at banks and credit unions I have tried offer everyone the same level of respect and honesty, regardless of their circumstances. I always tell people what I can do for them, rather than focussing on what I can’t. By taking the time to explain how the banking world works behind the scenes, they can see what the options and consequences are. Some people have been trying to fix a problem for long time and have run into so many dead ends and brick walls (neither of which are transparent) that they are frustrated beyond belief and then I somehow end up in front of them and by listening, hatching a plan and arming them with knowledge we work together to create a solution. That is the kind of service I strive for every day.

The level of trust that you can develop with people by being honest and consistent always amazes me. You don’t have to be a superhero and perform spectacular feats, you just have to let people see who you are and tell it like it is.