Serial Season 3: Giving Your Community Content Magic Not Just Another Greatest Hit

I love the podcast Serial.

I remember when I first heard it. From the first moment, and the dulcet tones of Sarah Koenig, I was hooked.

From This American Life and WBEZ Chicago, it’s Serial. One story. Told week by week.

To start with, the good thing was that I was behind. I listened to episode after episode, headphones in at all times, ignoring my family, drinking in this story.

And then I caught up. That was it. I was in with everyone else. One story. Told week by week.

(One week I got my days mixed up and practically wailed out loud when I realised my mistake and had to wait another 24 hours for the next episode.)

Fresh content brings you a fresh community

When Season 1 launched in 2014 it felt fresh and new. It was before we made real life crime drama popular via Netflix. It was a time of peak binge watch. Seasons dropped with all their episodes available at once. It was a race to watch as much as you could.

And here was a podcast that went against all of that. A real life case. An episode each week. Giving us something that we thought we’d moved away from, the week-long wait,  and suddenly making it feel like the very thing we all needed.

By the time that Season 1 finished everyone was talking about the case of Adnan Syed, which the podcast centred around. Sarah and her team had taken apart the case and gone over each part of it. Week by week they looked at a different part of the case, some evidence, something that had happened, took it apart and analysed it.

It was such amazing storytelling. A story spun together from an intriguing case. I remember one of the reasons that I was so hooked so early on was that Syed maintained that he didn’t know what he had done the afternoon he was accused of the murder of Hae Min Lee. I just remember turning that over in my head. How could that be?

A community building around your content

As the podcast grew in popularity so did the discussion around it. People were talking about the case online, finding the people mentioned on the podcast, coming up with their own theories.

Other media outlets were covering the podcast, it was being discussed in detail amongst some of my friends and we would open all conversations starting with an update on what had happened in the last episode.

Taking something we thought we’d had enough of, real life, told in episode form, it spun the whole thing on its head and had us all hooked.

So how do you top that?

With a growing community around Season 1, it was hard to see where it would go next. People had directly taken up Syed’s case, talking to people involved and making their own YouTube videos about what they thought happened. YouTube channels investigating other similar stories appeared.

Jay Wilds, a key witness in the case, gave an exclusive interview with The Intercept. It was clear that the podcast had hit a nerve and the community around it grew up in different ways.

Don’t do the same all over again just because people want it

For me, I find this is where the ‘follow up’ syndrome comes from. I’m a firm believer in the fact that nothing is as good second time round. Whatever you think that sequel is going to deliver, whatever you want to know about the characters or people you’ve spent time getting to know, trust me, it’s never as good.

So I approached the news of Season 2 of Serial with trepidation. How could they do better than Season 1? Would they try? How could they continue to deliver something of such high quality second time round?

Take what is great, and make it better

Season 2 focused on the story of Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl and the night he walked away from his post in Afghanistan and what happened next. There was no murder in this story, it was the story of Bowe. Why had he done what he did? What happened to him? How had it affected those around him? What could we learn from this?

For me, this took the idea at the core of Season 1 and took it to the next level. Sure, everyone was waiting for another case, another murder, another trial taken apart week by week.

But that’s not what the team delivered. For me, they took what was at the core of Season 1, insanely good storytelling, and doubled down on that. They took what made Season 1 a success, the dissection of a story with so many different things going on within it, and brought that to a new story.

By the end of Season 2, I felt that they had asked questions about army enrolment, US involvement in Afghanistan, relationships within army units, ranking officers and keeping a team together no matter what. It really got to the core of everything that made up the story they had tackled.

For me, this is what it takes to go on a journey with your audience. Yes, you could continue to give them what they want, exactly what they want. They could have chosen to cover another murder case. Instead, they looked at the core of what they had created, the threads of the story that they had told, and went out to find another that could be teased apart in the same way.

Unravelling what looked like a straightforward story, week by week, they took their community on a journey with them to ask tough questions and see where that took them.

Here comes Season 3

And so here we are. This week, September 20th, sees the launch of Season 3.

I’ve already listened to Sarah’s dulcet tones on the trailer. I’m already hooked.

This year, in some ways, they are going back to Season 1. In the trailer Sarah talks about spending a year in the court system in Cleveland, Ohio. (If you are asking why there, she also answers this in the trailer – they let them record anywhere and everywhere in the court and court buildings.)

She says that people always ask her what the first season said about the court system in American. And she would always say the same thing – not much. The case they looked at in 2014 was so extraordinary that it didn’t shine a light on much that goes on in the court system every day. It just told its own story.

So this time, Serial is telling the story of a whole year in court. A year in court. Told week by week. What will the every day cases tell us about the justice system as a whole? What will we see? How will it shine a light onto a system that many feel is broken? I can’t wait to find out.

And it brings us another story that we can connect with, not just a rehash of what was popular the first time around. The first Season sparked a real interest in the court system in the US, so why not move on to tell that story? People felt that the case featured in Season 1 said something about many wider issues in the US, so why not look at smaller, everyday cases and see how those show these issues in even more of a myriad of ways?

Again, it is keeping what makes Serial so great at its core, and taking the power of that to shine a light somewhere that its audience might not have looked by themselves.

Your community deserves the best, not just the same

Whilst I love a good podcast, and from this blog we’ve learnt that I love Serial in particular, what I also love is being able to extrapolate a great lesson from something that inspires me. So what is the lesson here?

Your content is your storytelling. It tells the world what you want the world to know. About you, your business, or a story that you think is worth telling, no matter what. And your community are the people who will talk about your stories.

The temptation is to have a hit with your audience, and then keep replicating that hit over and over thinking that you are giving them what they want.

But take a step back. Everything changes. Your stories change. Nothing is set in stone the way it was when you first started. So why would you keep telling the same stories, trying to replicate the same greatest hits? It’s a comfortable and tempting option but the alternative is so much better.

Take what it is that is at the heart of your content, and take it to the next level. Take the thing that connects with your community, and use it to engage them with your next big idea. Don’t just keep making the same thing over and over. That’s where the true magic happens, and your community will love magic above all else.

Why being CEO when you’re a business of one is so important

As a business of one, it often feels like my main role is just to get the work done. Client work is what is keeping my business running, what makes me a freelancer and gives me the business in the first place. So, for the first four years of my business journey, it has been my main focus.

Recently, a lot has changed. Which is strange, because really nothing has changed. I’m still here, doing my client work, building networks, meeting interesting people and fitting all of that in alongside the other areas of my life. And yet, in a way, everything has changed.

Realising that you’ve built a business while you weren’t even looking

After four years, I’m ready to move my business forward. I’ve decided to see my client work as a business, as a thing that stands alone in its own right, set apart from the fact that I’m a freelancer or a remote worker.

Over four years I’ve taken on a lot of different clients. And other clients I’ve worked with throughout that time. I always describe myself as ‘lucky.’ I’m lucky to have so many clients, I’m lucky to work with them long term, I’m lucky that they get the way I work and enjoy working with me.

Then I realised, maybe I’m not lucky. Maybe there is something about me that is good at this, that has learnt things over the past four years and has knowledge to share. Maybe I have regular clients *because* of the way I work, maybe I have so many referrals *because* of how I do things. Suddenly luck didn’t seem like the right word any more, it turned out that I’d been building a business all this time and telling myself it was all just the normal run of things.

2018: Doing it differently

I started the year with a plan. I broke the year into 3 month chunks and set about setting myself goals in each area that I thought was important for me personally and professionally. Then after 3 months I looked at it again and realised, I had no idea where to go next.

I know that I love the work that I do, the clients I get to work with, the space that I take up in my client’s businesses as part of their team. I know that I understand where they are in their business and what they need to more forward. That I can break down their pain points and build solutions for them. I know that I’ve been freelancing long enough for others at the start of their freelance or business journey to be asking me for advice.

And over the top of this I knew that I’ve come as far as I can on my own. I’ve travelled this path exactly as I needed to. Slow to start, I’m glad that I’ve not invested much money or time in the overarching concept of ‘my business’ up until now. It would have been money wasted, I didn’t have clarity about my business the way I do now.

I knew that I felt like I was staring out into the rest of my career, my working life, stretching before me as an untrodden path. Not in a bad way, just in the way that makes me see the reality that this business I’ve built could be the thing that provides my working life in the future and I could continue to grow it. And I want to walk down that path, I want to make it the best damn path I can because I’ve really come to love what I’ve built so far, and I want it to keep growing. But after the first three months of this year I had no idea where to find growth next.

Business Coaching as a mirror for my business

So I started working with a business coach. We’ve broken down what is important to me, what I want, what my values and goals are, where I want to go and then we’ve started to break apart how I can get there.

Out of that I’ve realised that the next chapter of my work goes down two paths. One path is me, as a freelancer, as a person representing the journey I’ve made and the learning that I can pass on to others who want to freelance, work remotely, build their own business and take on the world.

The other path alongside that is my business. Without knowing it, I’ve built something that stands on its own. When I look at the threads in my business I see exactly where I add the most value and how I want to bring that all together under a business brand that is my own. I work with my clients, who run established and flourishing small businesses, to solve their digital problems. Small businesses are looking at a massive digital skills gap in the next decade and I want my business to be one of the ones that builds a bridge to show businesses all that digital has to offer.

Taking the role of CEO in my own business

Every business needs a CEO. So if I now have a business, it therefore follows that I need a CEO. And if I’m all things in my business, then I’ve now been handed the job of CEO alongside my roles in Finance, Admin and making the coffee.

So what does a CEO do? For me they are at the helm, they are trying to live the values of the business as best they can through their actions at work. They help to steer the business to make the decisions that need to be made. They look at the bigger picture, the future, the next move.

My new favourite podcast is ‘Letters to a Hopeful Creative’ with Sara Tasker and Jen Carrington. In one of their episodes they talk about business development and taking a CEO day. As soon as I heard the idea, I wrote it down in my notebook with a big star next to it. CEO day, yup, need one of those.

So here I am. CEO time. This is my first attempt at taking a step back from where I am in the middle of my client work and making time to get a ‘big picture’ view. I’ve also squeezed in some time here and there for little bursts of CEO inspiration throughout my work. When ideas come into my head I take 10 mins, if I can, to write them down and flesh them out a bit. What do I want to do? Where does that fit in with my current offering? How could I take that forward?

Building my business as a CEO

Alongside my work with my business coach it’s all coming together. Working with her has given me a clearer view of the values I hold at the centre of my work and every time I have an idea I now have somewhere to hang it, or something to hold it up against. Does this idea fit in with my values? With my goals? Does it speak to the types of clients that I work with? How could I make it a reality?

And like all creative time, it takes practice. I’m not setting aside a whole day for this. Right now that wouldn’t work, I’m not sure how long I can think high level business development thoughts for! The odd moment to scribble like crazy works well. I revisit the notes I’ve made and use those to choose ideas to work on. I’ve decided what content to build and how to build it, the lists are refining, the writing is starting.

It’s a work in progress, but then in my new role as CEO I’m finding out that most things are.

Being a Buffer Ambassador – the next step on my Buffer journey

**Full disclosure – I have received payment for writing this blog. I will be wearing a pair of Buffer socks with pride, in exchange for a few words about how and why I use Buffer! A fair swap I feel. And part of my growing SaaS sock collection alongside my MailChimp socks.**

Beginning my Buffer journey

I remember when I first heard about Buffer. I was at an event listening to a talk about social media from someone who worked at Hootsuite. He spoke about social in general, trends and ways to grow your audience. Someone asked him about using Hootsuite and this was what he said:

If you only have one account on each social channel then I would use Buffer instead.

I was quite shocked. Did I just hear someone recommend another solution that felt a lot like it might be their rival?

I was also intrigued. At the time I’d been learning everything I could about Hootsuite and playing around with all their functionality, I hadn’t heard of Buffer. What was Buffer? And what did it offer that made people recommend it so highly?

TL:DR – that was the day I became part of the Buffer community. I signed up straight away when I got back from the event and started using Buffer for my own social to start with. It was easy to set up and use, and with their Chrome extension it became part of my social toolkit in no time.

As my business has grown I’ve used Buffer myself, for clients, set up accounts for clients, spent time in their slack community and even been privileged to be part of their Twitter squad and tweet from their own account.

Buffer Values – at the heart of everything they do

So what makes Buffer different? For me it is the fact that everything they do is grounded in their core values. Once you understand this, it is totally natural that companies who others might think were their rivals would be recommending them. And they start with ‘Choose Positivity’ – nothing bad in the world ever started with ‘Choose Positivity.’

Buffer Values - Being a Buffer Ambassador

It sounds strange to speak about a company and go straight to their values. And I’m not sure there is any other business I would speak about in these terms.

So why do these values matter? Setting up my business back then, I decided to freelance and to work remotely. It is great and also greatly challenging. In the early days of my business I often struggled with not being sure where to find ‘trusted’ sources for work and advice, nice people for online watercooler chat, all those things you take for granted when you have the pre-made company environment around you.

The Buffer values helped me cut through all of that. Here was a company that was delivering a great product and growing an awesome community. Knowing the values were there meant I just felt at ease in their community, product and spaces from day one.

Joining the Buffer Community

After I’d set up my account and started to play around with Buffer, I joined in their weekly #bufferchat on Twitter. Following their accounts and joining in the chat I heard about their slack community.

Again, in the early days of my freelancing I was desperate to try out slack and join a community on the platform. Again, being an office of one has its downsides, there was no group to give it a try with. It was the new cool thing and I was keen to try it out.

Enter the Buffer slack community. Or that’s when I entered the Buffer slack community! An online slack community (hooray, my wish fulfilled) full of others looking for a community around social media. During my time in the slack community I set up and ran the Buffer Slack Community Bookclub. We came together to discuss a different book each month and one month I even managed to arrange for us to be joined by the author of our chosen book!

So, wait a minute, how do you actually use Buffer?!

Ah yes, the crucial question. I realise this blog has been much more about my relationship with Buffer. So, what does Buffer actually do?!

It is a tool to help you schedule posts to your social media channels. You can have all the social channels you manage in one account and schedule content and posts in advance to help you save time, see your social posting as a whole, plan campaigns and more. With Buffer Reply (formerly Respond) as part of the toolkit now too, you can also manage Customer Service and Community Engagement across all your accounts.

If you’re starting out with Buffer then you might like to look at it like this.

For my clients I suggest they start by looking at their social a week in advance. How often do you currently post, how often would you like to post, what is coming up that you want to talk about?

First, set your schedule in Buffer. You can customise posting days and times to make sure you are reaching our audience when they are around to hear from you.

Next, think about content. With the Buffer Chrome extension, I encourage clients to just click on it whenever they are reading an industry article or something in their niche that catches their eye. Straight away it comes up, you can choose what channels to share it to, write a quick update about why you like it and boom! Added to your queue in your schedule.

You can share retweets from Twitter, which are then scheduled for you. So, if you have 10 mins to scroll through your timeline on Twitter, you can retweet a bunch of great content you know your audience will love and have it sent out over a longer period of time, rather than a flurry of retweets all at once.

You can even schedule straight to Instagram these days. Straight. To. Instagram. We all love Insta’s mobile first vibe but sometimes you can improve on perfection, and scheduling directly to Instagram is the cherry on the top of that very delicious-looking Sundae in my book.

And this is just the beginning! As part of my role as Buffer Ambassador I’ll be looking at Buffer in more detail and sharing some of my top tips and tricks to get the best from your social using Buffer. Stay tuned!

Being a Buffer Ambassador

I’ll admit that recently my Buffer community credentials have been looking a little cobwebbed. I like tweets from the Buffer crew, but I missed the last ever #bufferchat and I’ve not checked in with the Slack community for a long time.

So it was wonderful to be contacted out of the blue by Arielle and invited to be a Buffer Ambassador as part of their beta for this new programme.

via GIPHY

To me, the ambassador programme is another great step for Buffer, giving something to their wonderful community that they have grown with care and attention throughout their journey.

I’m so pleased to be on board. Thank you for the invite y’all! Check back here soon for more fab Buffer content.

Have You Got What it Takes to Work Remotely?

Being a digital nomad, working from a co-working space, taking your laptop with you onto the beach. The remote working life promises so much.

But does it deliver? And how can you be sure you are up to it?

Here are a few key areas that you might want to consider before taking the plunge.

Work Remotely from any Timezone

So, where in the world are you working from this week? Or more importantly, what timezone are you in? GMT? UTC? ET? PT?

Want to organise a video call for your remote team? Which timezone are you going to base that on? Which one of you is going to stay up late/get up early/set their alarm for 3am to make it? See, the glamorous lifestyle is there for the taking, late nights waiting for a team meeting with other people who are sitting in sunny daylight waiting to speak to you.

Or are they? If you are like me then maybe you also have a habit of reading calendar invites/messages and seeing what you want to see rather than what is written there. This can result in you waiting online for a call at the wrong time, or even (as I have done more than once) the wrong day.

So it’s not just about clock watching, like it may have been when you worked in an office. Can you watch the clock, the calendar and then translate that into 4 different timezones and still make your meeting on time?

Co-Working Space

I’m pretty sure this is the most glamorous that it gets for me when it comes to remote working. Yes, you too could be sipping cocktails and working from the beach in digital nomad epicentre, Chiang Mai.

But let’s face it, you’re not. I’m sure, like me, the reality of working remotely is a little less glam.

My main co-working space is our dining room table. I can usually carve out about enough space for my laptop and notebook. My surroundings are not a minimalist dream. They are leftovers from this morning’s breakfast and whatever Lego creation the kids are currently working on. And if I’m really lucky, there’s probably a cat, either sat perched on top of a Lego creation, or trying to wedge itself onto my lap, tail in the air, waving around in the foreground of my video call.

There are other options. Coffee shops make a good ‘office away from home.’ Well, they can be, but if the few choices in the town where I live are anything to go by, they might not fit the bill. One has Wifi that kicks you off after an hour and a half, the one with unlimited Wifi is usually busy and the rest have no idea that offering Wifi might be a good business choice.

I’m a Brit so there is another option — the local pub that has free Wifi and an app that brings your food and drink order to your table! What could possibly go wrong there?!

And finally, the best Wifi in town is at the local library. A space where I’ve discovered the truth about the generation gap. It seems to be perfectly acceptable for older people to come into the library and chat to each other. I get that it’s a place for community after all. However, if anyone under the age of retirement speaks or has an electronic device that they haven’t put on silent then it’s glares all round from the older generation — how dare they?!

Dress Code

Be a digital nomad they said. Dress in your PJs all day they said.

This one quickly goes from win/win to win/no win. Yes, you could dress in your PJs all day. Score. But see the above note about video calls. Are they PJs that will look acceptable on your next Zoom call?

And it isn’t just your PJ top that needs to be up to scratch. You will definitely get someone – parcel delivery, concerned neighbour, random stranger – turn up on your doorstep after midday and, when you open the door, look at you like you grew a second head because you are still in your PJs.

And if you do get dressed? Well, the advice blogs would have you believe that’s a great thing. Dress for the job you want they say, and don’t let anything like remote working get in the way of that. Get up and get dressed just like you would for the office.

Except most of the things that you do during the day as a remote worker don’t really need the same level of smart casual/smasual (I can’t believe I actually just typed that word into a blog, I don’t know who I am any more) that is required in an office. Full office outfitting for a quick pop to the shops for some biscuits, which along with any other snack are the remote worker’s nemesis, just isn’t required.

And finally, dressing to be outdoors just leads to a far greater temptation to leave your desk and the house. Which can only lead to bad things and brings us on to…

Work/Life Balance

Living the remote working dream. Schedule work around your life. Take that morning yoga class, go to the cinema of an afternoon.

But what about the flipside of this? Yes, we’d all love to go to the cinema in the afternoon but then you’re stuck working of an evening when everyone else is out doing something fun. Without you. Outside of ‘normal’ working hours you find that everyone else is not working and is out enjoying themselves and posting it all gleefully on social media. That’s not the time anyone really wants to work. Is that afternoon cinema trip seeming like such a good idea now?

The real pitfall here is that we’ve constructed a situation where we want to do less work during working hours and not make it up at any other time. That’s just a part-time job. Or, taken to extremes, retirement.

Plus, if it’s not your inner voice talking you out of doing work and into daytime leisure activities, it’s everyone else you know who knows that you ‘work remotely.’ To them that just means ‘is around during the day.’ The invites to lunch, and other day time activities start to stack up. I’ve been asked to babysit because ‘you’re around during the day.’ I’m not sure that turning up to someone’s place of work to hand over a baby for a couple of hours during the day because ‘well, you’re nearby’ is quite acceptable, but with this remote working, you’ve got all these extra hours that have magically appeared when you decided to stop going in to an office every day.

So, what do you think? Have you got what it takes to be a remote worker?

 

Don’t do as I do, do as I say: Learn from my top social media mistakes

I think it goes without saying that when something is your area of expertise, that doesn’t mean you have it all sorted. So, with some trepidation, I will admit I’ve made my share of social media mistakes.

Although I work on strategy for startups and SMEs across content, social media, SEO and marketing, I’m sure that my own set up lacks a few of the ingredients I talk to clients about. I might be working with people to make and execute their strategies but I’m not always working on mine as much as I should be.

Before I get started I’d also like to point out here that I’m not detailing my mistakes in that slightly jokey way that people sometimes do. You know the self-talk – ‘oh yeah, I’m so bad at XYZ’ – that kind of thing. These are areas that my business lacks and I’m working to do something about them.

I loved this article from Convince and Convert about how they made themselves their own best client. This is what I want to work towards and achieve, running my business the way I would for a client. It’s just that while this is a work in progress it also makes a catchy blog title and a good way to show you where you might want to focus when thinking about your own business.

My Social Media Mistakes

My advice here is clear – don’t do what I am doing right now, do what I’m telling my clients to do as they are seeing real results from working with a defined strategy to reach their goals. Here are my top mistakes and what to do instead.

Mistake 1: I don’t have a clear strategy or goals

One of my main problems is this: I don’t have my own strategy or goals for what I’m trying to achieve with my content and social. Not knowing what I want to achieve from being on social, or how I want my content to connect with people, things are a bit disjointed.

I enjoy using all my channels and post to them regularly. However, with no real overview of why I’m doing this, it’s hard to get them to join up with my work or the development of my business.

Goals and strategy go hand in hand. Goals are what you want to achieve and strategy is going to get you there. Both sound big, and can sound a bit scary, but they don’t need to be. What you are really asking is; what do you want to achieve from your content or social media and how will you know when you’ve achieved it?

This might be tied into other areas of your business. Your content might be connecting with more people in your industry to raise your profile with a goal of being a influencer in your chosen field. Or you might see your social as one part of an overall marketing strategy.

Goals can change. I often work with clients who want to start by getting everything in order. Their goal is simply to get to a stage where their content, website and social reflects the successful business they already have. After that they set goals again to take them to the next milestone, and then the next.

Mistake 2: I’m not sure who my audience is and whether I’m posting in the right place to find them

Since I started working as a freelancer it has become pretty clear that my market is startups and small businesses. However, that’s a pretty broad category.

Within the section of ‘every startup and small business’ there are many ways that I could define my audience better in order to make sure my content connects with them online.

Why is this important? If you are a food and lifestyle blog, taking wonderful flat lay pictures of your latest bake, there’s little point in posting that to LinkedIn. Your professional audience on LinkedIn are going to want to know how you grow and maintain your engaged community and the skills you’ve learnt from it but your well-staged photo is going to play out much better on Instagram.

By defining your audience, you know who you are looking for, and by extension where to find them. In the example I just used you’ve got two different audiences, followers on Instagram and connections on LinkedIn, who are looking for different things. You might have both of these things, which is great, it’s still a good idea to make sure you are posting each strand of your business to the right place rather than just scattering it over all your channels and hoping for the best.

Mistake 3: I don’t engage with any communities or grow ones of my own

I think one of the big areas that people don’t consider on social media is their community. We all check in on our social accounts and like comments that other people make on our posts but do we spend time really engaging?

Do you reply to every comment that someone makes on your social channels? It’s a powerful way to engage with people who’ve taken the time to comment on your posts, and just one great way to grow your own community.

Seeking out communities that fit with your audience, brand and niche is also a great way to grow your engagement online. This could mean taking part in a twitter chat for local businesses or relevant industries. It could be searching relevant hashtags on twitter or Instagram and replying to comments that resonate with you. You might want to congratulate every one of your connections on LinkedIn that has a milestone which appears on your notifications.

All these small interactions add up. They come together and bring momentum to what you are doing. When you spend time finding and growing your community you start to know them better. You know what they like and what resonates with them, which in turn starts to inform your business. It’s a win win.

So there you go. Three social media mistakes that I know I’m making and I’m working to improve. Let me know what you think your social media mistakes might be. And, as always, do get in touch to chat about your strategy. As you can see from this, I’m all about making sure my clients don’t follow my own mistakes!

Why do we need someone to do social media? Isn’t it just all common sense?

When I first started out freelancing I organised coffees with some of my friends who I knew worked in the kind of industries and sectors I was interested in. I felt a bit nervous and thought that just having a chat with some people I already knew about something work-related would be a good place to start.

And it was. I met up with a friend of mine who is a CTO. He was really encouraging, stating ‘I’m really glad you are doing this, you’re good at it and we need more people like you.’ I was, understandably, grateful and very pleased to be starting out like this.

My friend got back in touch within a few weeks of our coffee. Would I like to do a proposal for him for a local community initiative that he was working on. There might be some work in it, nothing big, but the chance to write the proposal would be a good opportunity.

I was happy to do it. I saw it as a chance to show him what I could do, as well as the chance to pitch for potential work so I put something together.

When we had a follow up chat, I asked how things were going. Yes, the proposal was great, everyone liked it and agreed with the content. And one person had made the comment that makes up the title of this blog – ‘Why do we need someone to do social media? Isn’t it just all common sense?’

It’s a good point. In fact it’s such a good point that still, 2 and a bit years on from receiving this feedback, I think about it every time I write a proposal, or content, pitch for work or post for clients.

I welcomed this feedback at the time and I welcome it every time I think about it. It focuses me to think about what my skills are and what value I add to my clients.

When this feedback was given my friend qualified it straight away. ‘You and I know the value of this work but you know what people can be like.’

Yes, I do. But I’m more than happy for people to question what I do, to be curious and ask. OK, it’s not always said in a nice way but I’m a pretty positive person. I’m good at answering questions for people and deflecting their bluntness to chat about what they really want to know.

And I’m happy to chat about what I do. The power of social media is an awesome thing and I could geek out on it for hours on end. (Sidebar: if you want to get in touch and discuss your social media, please do! Always happy to chat, virtually or in person. 🙂 )

Yes, a lot of social media is common sense. It is a skill that can be learnt. In the same way that doing your accounts is just maths. It is just maths. That doesn’t take anything away from accountants, who understand this ‘maths’ on a grand scale for small and large businesses. In the same way, as a social media professional, I have the skills to show you how you can reach your goals with social media.

Some of my clients want to learn how to do social media themselves, they are looking for tips and tricks. Others have heard that they ‘should’ be doing social and want to know more about what that means. Resourcing for small business, which I specialise in, is an issue and having someone who can take care of another thing that’s looming on your to do list is valuable.

I was reminded of this last week when I was doing a tiny victory dance as one of my clients ranked onto page 1 of Google for their chosen keywords. Last year, before I started working for them, they were sold multiple keyword URLs. They were told this is what would get them ranking on Google and they did nothing.

There is a lot of noise in the digital content, SEO, social media arena for small businesses. Some companies do make their money from small businesses by using words that don’t mean much and selling ‘must haves’ for things they could do easily and cheaply themselves online. I’m often working with clients on just untangling all the ‘advice’ (sales!) they’ve been offered to show them what it all really is so they can make a decision about whether it adds value for them.

If you are looking to do social media for your business then I think there are many things to take away from this. Yes, it is a skill you can learn. It might be a skill you want to outsource. Don’t be blinded by someone telling you what you ‘need’, if you really do need it they should be able to explain exactly why to you in a way you understand.

And question. Ask where the value is. Everyone I know, who is doing great work, is more than happy to tell you. I would be more worried if I couldn’t answer this question, not whether you’ve asked it.

Activities for Kids - Free Printable

What to get the kids to do when they don’t know what to do – including free printable!

A while ago I started leaving out things for my kids to do when they got home from school. To get from our back door – our main entry point to the house – to the TV they have to go past the dining room table. If I leave out something that looks inviting then I can often tempt them to stop on the way.

After a few times I’d done this, I was setting up the table before I left for the school run and I saw my eldest’s favourite toy on one of the dining room chairs. I set it up so that it looked like his toy had left him something for them to do together. This was an instant hit.

Soon I was getting requests from my eldest that his toy leave him something to do after school. And my youngest had adopted a new favourite soft toy and wanted in on the action.

Not knowing what days these would be most popular I thought I’d put together a box of slips with loads of suggestions on it as to what the kids could do. That way the box was there whenever we needed it, not just after school, and we could pick out something and give it a try.

I put slips in the box for activities and reading. I included ones for reading as I felt like we’d got to a stage where we have a lot of books but tend to stick to the old favourites. By getting them to look for a book with a character or colour in it, I thought this would encourage them to browse a bit more.

I posted a couple of pics of the box and an activity on Instagram this weekend and friend suggested that I make her one. I thought, that’s a good idea. And then thought, actually, why don’t I make a download of it?

Activities for Kids - Free Printable Activities for Kids - Free Printable

So here you have it. My first free printable, download and kids activity right here on the blog! I’ve typed out all the slips that I wrote, which is just over 2 pages, and then left the rest of the 3rd page blank for you to add more slips of your own. Enjoy!

Download the pdf here: Free Printable – Activities and Reading Ideas for Kids

What Did You Buy on Instagram Today?

What Did You Buy From Instagram Today?

Social Media Explained with DonutsI’ve always loved this picture explaining social media through the medium of doughnuts. As you can see it is a little out of date – FourSquare has since pivoted its business model – but I’ve often thought that adding ‘doughnut eating’ as a skill on LinkedIn is a sure fire winner!

For a long time Instagram was, to me, just a load of vintage/filtered pictures. It has always had a cult following and when Facebook paid $1bn for it back in 2012, we all knew it was here to stay.

Fast forward to today and I couldn’t imagine my personal social media consumption without it. I definitely check and post most days and using Instagram is something I do personally, as well as to build my own personal brand.

As I mentioned in my last post, I love a good virtual coffee. I think this definitely informed my choice of format for my podcast – Follow Me: Social Media Perspectives. I’ve not dedicated enough time to it as I would like in the first quarter of this year, so expect more on it soon. In the meantime my thoughts about Instagram were sparked by something Jacqueline Jensen, my guest in Episode 2, and I were chatting about when we recorded together.

Are There Ads on Instagram?

One of the things that we chatted about was our shared love of Instagram. Jacqueline uses it to document her wonderful travels as she lives and works remotely. I have gravitated towards the platform after gradually reducing my personal Facebook use. Something she said really struck a chord with me ‘I don’t mind being sold to in my Insta feed.’

This has had me thinking ever since. With Instagram’s mobile-first platform the newsfeed is one long scroll. In order to place ads into the feed they have chosen to go with a format that looks a lot like any other post on your feed.

Couple that with the fact that advertising on Instagram seems to be very targeted. I often see ads in my feed from accounts that are so close in look and feel to ones that I already follow. The tiny ‘sponsored’ text under the account name – usually where the location on any other post would be – is often the only way I can tell whether it is native to my feed or not.

There are more direct, formulaic ads coming through in my feed recently. These do stick out more and are clearly more along the lines of the more spammy ads people dislike on the Facebook feed. This is a real shame and I think could become a problem in the future.

But for now the ads seem pretty targeted. Back to Jacqueline again ‘it’s usually something I would definitely buy anyway.’ Instagram has always seemed to be set apart from other social channels and they’ve continued this trend by treading lightly when it comes to ads.

The rise of the influencer

Alongside this kind of subtle advertising there is something else going on in the Instagram feed. One of the key trends on recent years: the rise of the influencer. And I would add to that: the rise of the micro-influencer.

If you think about the things you buy, what influences those decisions? Word of mouth sells. You want to see what you are getting and hear a real person that you identify with and trust try it out.

That person often used to be a friend. You would complement something they were wearing ‘Oh, this old thing? It’s X brand.’ You might comment on a book they are reading or a service they use. ‘I’ll send you the link.’

This kind of influence takes place in dark social, a term to describe social sharing and recommendations that you can’t measure because you can’t see them happening. It is the idea that if a friend sends you a link on WhatsApp, you trust them so you click the link. If the link were somewhere on a social feed, or in an ad, you might scroll by thinking it wasn’t worth your time.

So far, advertising on Instagram seems to model this word of mouth feel. It looks like something you invited onto your feed, so you have an added level of trust before you’ve even read the caption.

To take this one step further, influencers are looking to make the gap between scrolling on past a brand link and clicking straight on it that bit smaller. If you think about who you follow on Instagram I’m sure bloggers/lifestyle blogs and small niche brands make up a proportion of your follows alongside friends and family.

You start to see these people as friends too. The platform encourages us to all mirror the same chatty way of captioning. Photos have an instant intimacy as a window into someone else’s life. So if someone is in your community, is on your feed, I think you are more likely to take their recommendations.

Your community on Instagram, the people that make up your feed, have been invited into your world by you and their influence really does have weight.

When is an ad not an #ad?

I’m sure we’ve all seen a post on Instagram with the little #ad at the bottom. The first time I saw it I had to go back and read the caption again – what about it was an ad?

There’s a great piece on #ad by Mother Pukka, an Instagram favourite. As she rightly points out, as long as these posts are signposted, getting your style advice from someone you follow anyway, alongside posts about their bin collections, makes sense.

As we’ve just discussed, these are the people you’ve invited into your feed. So more often these days brands are reaching out to bloggers with a large or niche following and paying for #ad posts. I have to say I don’t find them too worrying. Provided that paid-for content is properly signposted, I’m happy to see ad spend going to bloggers like Mother Pukka.

Another side to this advertising trend is something that we all respond well to: insight and honesty. Having someone not just model a new bag, shoes or the latest gadget but chat engagingly on Stories, show us the unboxing, give top tips and how tos, gives us a sense of just how these products will fit into our lives. That’s always a sure fire winner when we’re considering whether to make a purchase.

I’d have to say that one of the only places where ads really are not working for me on Instagram is in Stories. Having my Stories feed interrupted by a (usually) loud and not at all subtle ad doesn’t encourage me to keep checking my Stories. I’ve taken to clicking on Stories individually and not going on to the next in order to make sure I don’t come across too many.

I’m also not sold on the ‘Swipe Up’ feature currently being trialled on verified accounts. Gary Vee is using it to sell merch as well as to link to content in other channels. I find it a bit too jarring, with Instagram having been such a contained world (with its ties to only uploading from mobile, making it difficult to provide links except in your bio etc.) to suddenly have frequent links to other places.

Monetisation vs Brand Awareness

The other key thing to note here is where the money paid for this advertising is going.

Where ads appear in our feed, or between Stories, Instagram is the winner. Monetisation of platforms is the way they are kept free to access. People pay Instagram to get to our feed.

In turn Instagram will make more money the more targeted the advertising they can offer. The more they know about you, the better targeted the ads will be. Their growing data on their users is also what gave the company its $1bn price tag – the value of their data is what Facebook paid for.

Data driven advertising like this is a win/win. As we mentioned earlier, well targeted ads don’t feel like ads and companies are paying to get directly into the feed of someone more likely to click and buy.

On the flipside brands pay influencers directly for ads on their feed. This puts influencers in control and the increasingly inventive ways that I’ve seen people bring #ads and brand awareness to their feeds can be great fun.

So, what did you buy today on Instagram?

So what have we learnt from this quick round up? Advertising is certainly more subtle on Instagram than other channels. People don’t feel so marketed to, which means they are still engaged with Instagram in a way that contrasts to Facebook feeling increasingly quite ad heavy.

And does it work? Well, I’m the first person to shun a direct ad but I follow and have bought from countless small and ethical businesses I’ve found through my Instagram feed. Whilst I still scroll past ads in general, I have to admit I do take recommendations regularly from those that I follow as well as buy from them. It feels nice to be in the know, part of a community that supports small business and each other, that marketing works on me and I have the pile of cute stationery to prove it!

What are your thoughts on advertising on Instagram? Where do you think it’s going and do you like/dislike its place on your feed? It would be great to hear your thoughts.

Why Freelancing is like Running and Other Marathon Analogies

Freelancing is Like Running and Other Marathon Analogies

Why Freelancing is like Running and Other Marathon AnalogiesOne of the things that I’ve consciously done since I started freelancing is to build my own virtual watercooler.

As you can see from my previous posts, I was never the natural networker. In fact, I now often describe my networking at previous office-based jobs as ‘whatever events were offering free cake and time out of the office.’ As you can probably tell, I didn’t see much ROI from it as an activity.

Fast forward to my new working life as a remote worker and freelancer and – guess what? – networking is something that plays a big part in everything I do. And my favourite part of it? Organising a virtual coffee with really cool people around the world.

So there I was, having a virtual coffee with the very cool and lovely Kat Loughrey. We were talking about freelancing generally, what we see in our working futures and where we get our blog ideas from. Talk turned to other freelancers and how it is often the case that you compare yourself to others.

My comment was ‘freelancing is like running, you don’t know where anyone else has started or how they’ve trained, so how can you compare yourself to them?’ Kat’s response? ‘Now that’s a blog idea!’

So, without further ado, here is the aforementioned blog. How is freelancing like running? And if you are going to run a freelance marathon what do you need to do to get training?

Freelancing Is A Marathon. Start Training For the Long Haul.

Despite the fact that the London Marathon was founded as an event for amateur runners, no one turns up on the day without having trained. Well, I hope that’s the case!

If you want to go the distance as a freelancer then you need to be playing a long game. Training is essential. By that I mean a few different things:

  • Physical and mental well-being – being physically and mentally fit is the basis of your business as a freelancer. If you aren’t in good health, then your business won’t be either.
  • Train for effectiveness – think about how you work best. When do you have the most energy? Do you work best alone or at a co-working space? Get your environment set up to help you be successful.
  • Plan to succeed – use your time effectively. Think about your time management and how you can make the best use of your time. As a freelancer this is your key resource, so plan to use it well.
  • Invest in the long term from day one – train to be the freelancer that you want to be in the future. Think about how best to network and build a community around you. It might not seem like a priority when you are first looking for work but over time these are the things that will bring you long-term benefits, so start investing time in them now.

Try different ways to train and seeing what works for you. Try out the Pomodoro technique for your time management, or a new workout at your gym. These are the things that will get you fit to take on the challenge that is freelancing.

You Don’t Know Where The Person Running Past You Started From

When I’m out running I often see other runners. Most of the time they are running past me. Sometimes they are coming towards me, and we greet each other with a sweaty out-of-breath nod as we pass. And sometimes I’m lucky enough to be the one overtaking.

Whenever I go past someone, especially when I overtake, I always think the same thing. Don’t get smug because you passed them, you don’t know where they started. We all have off days when we run slower. We have days when we fly around our chosen course.

You might be out for a quick 5km, running past someone who is on mile 9 of a 10 mile long run. You didn’t start at the same place when you set out on your run.

It is the same when you are freelancing. There is no point in comparing yourself to anyone. They might have started freelancing last week, when you’ve been established for years. Or the other way round. They might have a strong background in blog writing, but be publishing their first YouTube video.

 

Train For The Distance You Want to Run

Some people love to sprint. They want to run flat out over a short distance and collapse into a heaving pile at the end. Others want to run further and longer, pushing their limits with ultra-marathons. You need to know what distance you are looking to run in order to train properly for it.

It is the same in content and social. There are so many ways to produce content and get a social buzz going, the best way to establish yourself as a freelancer is to specialise in the area/niche/channel that is your passion.

You might have a niche that you love working in or a specialist interest that drives your community work. You might be an expert in all things Snapchat. Focusing on the work that you want to produce gives your offering clarity and shows people what you are passionate about.

 

So there it is, the running/freelancing blog I needed to write, thank you Kat! Let me know your thoughts, and where you see crossovers with your hobbies and freelance life.

 

 

Single Tasking or Multi Tasking? Just Don't Forget to Task!

Single-Tasking or Multi-Tasking? Just Don’t Forget to Task!

I love a good productivity read. Whether it’s a book or a blog, I’m there.

5 tips for a better morning routine. Yep.

5 tips to stop you checking your phone every 10 seconds. Click.

10 things all those people you want to be do before 5am. Check.

I know that it is click bait, but I can’t help it, I’ll click every time.

I don’t know what it is. I think I know myself pretty well, I think I’m self aware. I know that I can’t spring out of bed every morning at 5am and write for an hour before the rest of my house wakes up. I can squeeze in some frantic typing if my partner does bedtime stories, so that’s extra time picked up every few days for writing.

But when I see those few words, the optimistic idea that I could read one article and become this amazing version of myself that gets everything done and more, I can’t help but click.

Recently though, I’ve had a productivity break through and it goes something like this: do stuff.

That’s it. Do stuff.

It doesn’t matter if you are single tasking or multi-tasking. It doesn’t matter what you focus on. It doesn’t matter if you have every single one of the notifications on your laptop or your phone switched on or off. It doesn’t matter if you are listening to Bach, heavy metal or the sound of the kettle boiling.

What matters is that you are doing something.

This is the focus that I’ve lost. I’ve become so worried about what I need to be doing that I’ve lost the ability to do as much of it as I used to. Which further feeds into the worry that I’ll never get it all done. Which further gives me the ridiculous idea that reading all these productivity articles is a way to achieve what I was actually doing before my mindset starting to trip me up: doing stuff.

Yes, of course, once you are fantastically busy doing actual stuff there are many ways to become more productive. Deep work is a great idea. I remain convinced that no novels are written in the 10 minutes between tweets and Instagram stories.

No amount of Pomodoro Timers can distract from the fact that you aren’t actually doing anything. They can only keep you focused if you are actually doing a task.

So, in order to get over this, and hopefully do it as quickly as possible before my to do list gets way out of hand, I’m back to tasking. Just simple, good old, doing stuff. By any means possible. The productivity advice can wait until I’ve ticked some things off the list.

What’s that? 10 tips for focusing while you’re cat is sitting next to you on the table making eyes that say ‘why haven’t you fed me today?’ Well, go on then… maybe just for 5 minutes… click…