Branding

I know a couple of people right now who’re moving into either online presence for existing entities or starting a business from scratch. So this is mostly advice geared towards small, creative businesses.

Spelling Matters

Typos are a thing that can happen to anyone, and I know my spelling consistently trips up on double consonants and basically goes completely to uncapitalized shit in private chats. But spelling is part of communicating clearly to an audience, and I think at this point all browsers have a built-in spellcheck.

Tone Matters

Look, the people who say you can’t tell tone over text are lying. Like, maybe they can’t? But all of us do a lot of communicating in text these days, so interpreting tone from text is a skill we’ve picked up. So choosing a tone for communicating on social media and website content is important – do you want to be silly? dry and informative? You’ll obviously want to adapt based on what it is you’re communicating, but deciding on a style and being deliberate about it can make you a more coherent and engaging brand.

Engage on social media

tumblr_inline_n1fcqdixa51s3zet1It’s where the people are!

Seriously, you want to control a Facebook page, your Google page if you’re going to be publicly listed as a business, and probably also a Twitter. If you don’t feel like social media is really your thing, you can stop there, and only post updates that you think people will definitely want to know. But if you’re producing any kind of audiovisual content, you probably also want a Youtube, Instagram, and Snapchat. If being on social media is going to be a fun part of branding for you, maybe also a Tumblr. There are services, like Buffer and Hootsuite, that let you push to multiple platforms from one place, but that can get kind of complicated. Hashtags on Twitter are part of the body of text and a huge part of joining ongoing conversations; tags on Tumblr are a separate field and commonly a platform for metacommentary. Pushing from a central platform is a great way to streamline getting news out, but not a good way to engage more deeply with a community and join in on things.

Don’t be everything to everyone

People are interested in what you have to offer because it’s unique: diluting that for more ‘mainstream’ appeal just makes you less interesting. The essence of branding is just an extension of being who you already are as either an individual or a group, only more so and in public.

Things I grew up thinking about the media

Sometimes overwhelmingly it strikes me that other people did not grow up with journalists. As usual, there are people angry on Tumblr about a ‘media conspiracy,’ utterly outraged that something didn’t spin the way it would in their ideal world. I usually abjectly fail to comprehend.

My mom, dad, and step-mom all have journalism degrees. All have worked extensively in print journalism, though none do anymore. They’ve collectively worked variously in PR (both before and after social media), political campaigns, television, online news coverage, editing (ranging from copy-editing daily newspapers to helping writers organize the content of their history books), and magazines. They imparted three important things:

  1. Journalists lie.
  2. Factcheck everything.
  3. Don’t watch Fox News.
Journalists lie.
Every journalist is a person, and people are subject to cognitive biases as well as personal bias. Journalists have a professional code of ethics, but it doesn’t cover every circumstance, and journalists are still fallible. Some of them can’t find sources who have accurate information, or can’t do so by a pressing deadline. Some of them can’t or don’t find the sources for balanced coverage. Some of them have to work within editorial bounds that include political leaning. Some of them are Joel Stein.

Factcheck everything.
People get things wrong. People misapprehend. People read summaries and then try to summarize them and end up somewhere else completely. No matter how much you adore someone, unless your chief reason for adoring them is rigid and obsessive factchecking, be prepared to check their story before repeating it. Some things, a sanity check is most of what’s needed: if a three-headed cow was really born in Nebraska, wouldn’t it be more likely to be in an article in Agri-Chemical News than in The National Enquirer? Check as many sources as possible! I ran into an issue last week where I’d only read one news source for a thing, and it wasn’t recent enough or comprehensive enough to actually give me the answer I was looking for, but I ended up repeating it anyway, and then retracting my statement and apologizing and feeling very silly.

Usually, I try to check two independent sources before I repeat or reblog (I’m on tumblr a lot these days) any kind of newsy thing. Like the persistent urban legend that Mister Rogers served in the military: no, he didn’t. Try to get independent confirmation of things, try to get multiple sources, try to get firsthand accounts, try to get physical proof. The truth is important, and the story you tell with the truth is important.

Don’t watch Fox News.
You know that first point about journalists? An important thing to keep in mind is that most of the people who talk on Fox are commentators and analysts and not actually journalists.

Fox lies. Fox fear-mongers. Fox wasn’t allowed to broadcast in Canada until 2004, and even now broadcasters are required to monitor it and “abridge or curtail” any hate speech, because it is an active concern. Canada has standards about lying on air, and so Fox isn’t allowed out without a leash on.

Fox is sometimes put on the same playing field as news agencies because they present themselves as the more right-leaning news option that is still totes reliable, yo. That’s incorrect. There are tons and tons of articles out there enumerating the ways Fox has straight-up lied on air: find them. Check up on me. Factcheck. Just don’t do it with The O’Reilly Factor on in the background.

These are the reasons I am dumbfounded when people point out that the story in the Saturday paper is different than the one in the Sunday paper and cry conspiracy or coverup: if it’s a normal morning paper and the incident happened late late late Friday night, the journalist who wrote the story probably had an hour or less to find out what happened, get a statement from a witness, write the article, submit it to their copyeditor, and have it sent to Layout to make the deadline. Then they had all of Saturday! That means they got to talk to more people, maybe get a photographer by, and do their own factchecking.

This is mostly a ramble, but if there’s anything I’d really like anyone to walk away with, it’s that ‘The Media’ isn’t a massive unified faceless machine: it’s a few (disturbingly few, but that’s a separate issues) corporations and a lot of Editors in Chief and even more journalists, all with slightly different agendas and all with varyingly applicable codes of ethics. The best, and ultimately only, thing you can do to further pursue truth is to think critically about everything.

Pseudonymously Yours

I despise pseudonyms for the sake of pseudonyms. I snort derisively whenever I see beginning writers asking what their pen name should be. I roll my eyes when people talk about not letting their family know that they write.

I’m beginning to re-think my position.

A friend of mine recently submitted poetry to the New Yorker (as of writing, we are both waiting to hear back). She wasn’t sure whether she wanted to submit under her name or a pen name. I told her to use the pen name. She works with children, in the mental health field. Having her name on poetry can’t help her professionalism, particularly as my favourite collection of her poetry revolves around (unnamed, unspecified) children and the medications that they’re on and how the medications change things dramatically. I think they are fantastic, and show compassion and depth of feeling. Parents of children sending them to her in a professional capacity might not feel the same.

Anonymity is never absolute, but a pseudonym seemed the smartest way to go in my friend’s case.

Another friend writes both futuristic thrillers and erotica. She publishes the erotica under a pen name. It makes some sense to me to publish such different genres under different imprints, and the easiest way for an indie writer to differentiate is with pseudonyms. I don’t necessarily agree with the reasons she chose to publish the erotica under a pen name: she did so partly out of embarrassment at writing the genre at all and fear of family finding out and being embarrassed. I, obviously, have no such compunction.

But it occurred to me that, since I want to write both YA and romance, a pseudonym might at some point become useful. Even though I know that as a teenager, I myself was alternating YA-designated things with Laurell K Hamilton and filthy smut on the Internet, as were most of my friends, school librarians might not agree with my assessment that teenagers probably won’t mind searching for another title by their favourite author and picking up something significantly less family-friendly.

It is not anonymity. It will never be anonymity. But it would be a way for readers to know what they were in for before opening the book.

Networking

A friend of mine just expressed confusion on the usefulness of networking. It can be a foreign concept if one doesn’t live in the world of social media, which was surprising to me, since I’ve lived in social media for the last few years. Social media is networking applied on a wider scale; you’re making contacts, but with more people. It is one of the most important aspects of business, but it doesn’t have to be scary and insurmountable to get into. Even a Twitter account can let you follow companies relevant to your industry without much time commitment or technical know-how.

Online Security

Reading articles about Google, particularly Buzz and the problems blogger Harriet Jacobs faced, brings home a lot of the attitude shift that has come with a lot of new internet technology. At the beginning of the noughties, the internet was seen as a foggy area full of malicious predators, and one was supposed to never, ever share information about one’s real life – address, phone number, and real name were all taboo. Then came social networking; we found our friends on sites like Facebook and Myspace, and now we search for new business contacts that way. And on our profiles, like the Google profile, there are blanks just begging to be filled with all of our email accounts and IM accounts and address. And if you have the Android operating system on your phone, you can have it tag your updates with your exact GPS.

If one has a network of only close friends, family, and business contacts, that might not be such a bad idea, but when one is using the internet for prospecting business contacts, or has a wider social network, it becomes an issue of balance. You want new prospective clients to be able to contact you, but not to know where you live. I think I’ve found what works for me; my city and my email are everywhere, my age on some things, and my real name, while my offline contact information is kept private. But my business is conducted largely online or in an office, where it’s the office and not my personal information being used as contact. Business-people in different fields, especially writing and editing, where marketing of yourself matters so much, need to find their own balance, and one that takes into account every tool they put out there. If you want to be anonymous, putting your full name and address into your gmail (and in turn your Google profile), might not be the route for you, whereas if you want to be highly public, you don’t want different nicknames and out-of-date information on every account.

So check your settings, and google yourself so you find what other people can find about you. Make sure it’s what you want them to be able to find. I’m off to check my Facebook privacy settings.

The Many Wonders of Social Media

Today I got to give a mini-tutorial on Twitter at my workplace, and talk about the benefits of it for a business. It’s exciting to have it branching out in different ways; this started as a simple question of publicity for an upcoming event.

Twitter really is a necessity for any business or business-person; there are a growing number of businesses advertising positions on Twitter, sometimes exclusively. And with news sites, retweets, and the ability to sort into timelines, it is a growing Internet hub.

Social Media Packaging

It’s quite a paradigm shift, reading about social media in articles like this one. I’ve been on networking sites of various kinds since early in high school; at that point, we were the young end of the target audience, and it was a good way to find and make friends with and procrastinate on homework by talking to people all around the world with similar interests. Now, as I’m becoming a young professional, and looking for ways to reach my target audience, I’m encountering all of this information and excitement about the uses of social media for professional networking. And I realized; I can do this. I had to be kicked off Facebook late at night in high school, and I had a Twitter to follow some of my favorite comic artists. But the approach was new, the view of it as a real professional tool and not just a way to keep in touch with friends half way around the globe. It really is an exciting thing, altering my views and approaches to keep up with this wave.