Why I Participate in Photo Challenges

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I’ve fancied myself a pretty good amateur photographer for a couple of years. I have the gear I need and I love taking photos. Sometimes I have plenty of reasons to do so, but then other times I go for long stretches without an excuse to feed my inner shutterbug.

Photo challenges are a great way to force myself to get out and take new photos. I look at other photographers’ work to be inspired to make better photos. The bonus is by participating in a couple of Facebook groups, I also  see a glimpse of people’s lives from around the world.

Heron at Delta Ponds
365 (+1) Days in Nature Weekly Theme: Greenery

365 (+1) Days in Nature (Facebook) is exactly what you might expect. Nature photos. In fact, the group rules say that your photos should have few (if any) man made elements. There’s a weekly theme, photos are generally very high quality and the participants are from all over the world.

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Photo 365 Prompt: Never a Dull Moment

365 Photo (Facebook) is probably my favorite group. Like many photo challenges, there’s a new list published each month with a prompt a day. The quality of photos varies from very amateur or professional. The moderators choose a set of “top shots” for each prompt, which is a nice recognition for a good photo.

FMS Photo a Day (Facebook & Instagram) is the first photo challenge I participated in on Instagram. I found Instagram to feel less like a community than the Facebook group, but both lists use the same list. Photos vary widely with the top picks for each day’s theme typically very high quality. But  scroll through the feed and you’ll find plenty of snapshots in the mix, too.

ClickinMoms (Instagram) is pretty kid-focused, but even if you’re not a mom, you may have young siblings or spend time with kids in your life. I love the photos the feed features; I get so many great ideas for photo composition and editing with my own kids. There’s a monthly prompt/theme list.

It’s My Week (Instagram) is a new one to me, but I love the way the moderators showcase the theme and the photos. Each week has a new theme and the featured photos are lifestyle/editorial in style (not obviously staged or posed).

FMS Photo a Day Prompt: Blue
FMS Photo a Day Prompt: Blue

Or, if you don’t want to be bound by someone else’s theme, you can try a photo challenge that gives you a little more flexibility. Two that I’ve seen on Instagram are:  #100HappyDays and the #365Project.

What do you think? How do you keep your creative muscles active?

 

No Social Media Plan Puts Your Company at Risk

Under the waves circle two great white sharks.

“Build it and they will come” is Hollywood fantasy, not social media reality. To grow and engage an audience, build relationships and create conversations takes sustained focus, constant attention and a strategic plan.

Social media are not free. This mindset is a barrier to creating an effective social media strategy and leaves an organization vulnerable to all sorts of problems. Managing, maintaining and evaluating social media channels takes time – a lot of it.

One of the biggest risks of not having a plan is that an organization isn’t able to allocate the right resources.

I totally get it. In small business and nonprofits, particularly, resources are tight. It’s common for an employee (and often a junior-level employee) to be given the responsibility of managing an organization’s social media channels on top of other responsibilities.

So what happens if that person doesn’t have enough time – or the support, or the skills – to manage the organization’s platforms?

Questions may go unanswered, negative feedback or reviews may go unnoticed, content is low quality or inconsistent and the results are (at best) mediocre.

Languishing social media channels – abandoned Facebook Pages, dried up Twitter streams and deserted blogs – are almost always the result of lack of time and budget for social media management.

All of the great things that social media can bring to the table quickly become lost opportunities that can actually hurt your business. If social media is a priority, it’s crucial to identify and allocate resources to effectively manage, maintain and grow the channels.

Concept of fake threat when businessman float in paper ship and sharks in water appear to be goldfish

A solid plan won’t magically add time to the day (I wish!) But it can help budget resources that align with the internal capacity of staff or find the budget to outsource help.

Ready to create a plan? I found a few resources that will get you pointed in the right direction:

 

Getting Smart with Your Smart Phone

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Creating great content takes a tremendous amount of time, energy and effort. Every post, update, status or other online missive requires a good visual. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need expensive equipment or lots of training. Most of us are carrying a pretty good camera with us around in our pocket.

For my social media management workshop that I teach to incoming freshmen student athletes, we spent a day talking about smart phone photography. Here are my best tips:

Note: all photos in this slide deck are mine. Don’t use without permission.

Reigniting the Fire When You’re Burned Out

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By July 16, I was a puddle. After a very busy spring term, a move to a new home after five years in our previous abode, travel to Chicago for a week with five PR students, teaching summer classes and lots of client projects, July 16 was the final day of my first summer workshop. Even though it was just a blimp, a (very) small milestone, it felt like a much needed end. After I left campus, I barely got off the couch for two days.

I realized as I shook off some of the fog of that crazy busy season was I was totally and completely burned out. I didn’t want to teach, I couldn’t get excited about client work and everything I was supposed to do felt like a giant drag. I wasn’t sleeping well at night, but wanted to sleep all day. My normal productivity is pretty high, but man, it was hard to get anything done. I spun my wheels. A lot. It’s taken me most of the summer to feel like I’m even remotely back on track.

It’s helped to set some boundaries (“I’m not going to be on campus this week, we’ll have to meet next week.”) and enjoy my time with my family. I’ve been reading a lot of advice from others on dealing with this state of mind and here are some of my favorite tips:

Do Only Three Things. I love this idea from an Entrepreneur article with a handful of “lesser known” tips. A big to do list can be totally overwhelming and when productivity is nil, it is impossible for me to get going. But committing to doing just three things a day for the next two weeks feels good. And a little momentum can go a long way. (I also like the “watch cartoons” advice in this article… I love cartoons.)

Create Outlets. Zen Habits suggests finding an outlet – maybe a side project or a hobby that can clear your mind. For me, it’s horses. I’ve also recently gotten involved with Stella & Dot as something completely different than everything else for me to focus on when I need a break. Sometimes “totally different” is a good thing.

Be Assertive. A PsychCentral post says to say “no” and don’t feel obligated to offer an excuse. Oh man, I’m bad at this one. But I’m working on it. I am saying “no” more often, but I totally try to explain myself. I was talked to our director of student advising just today and she was giving me a total out on speaking at an event and I still offered an explanation.

So I’m headed into the new academic year not feeling very motivated and inspired, but at the end of the day, I love my job and that matters a lot.

How about you? Ever felt burned out? How did you cope?

Getting Busy People to Answer Your Emails

Set of Flat Design Icons. Mobile Phones, Tablet PC, Marketing Technologies, Mobile Apps, Email, Video Services and Money Management. Concept Icons for Web Site Design. Digital Art and Gadgets.

Did you know that 247 billion emails are sent every day. This equates to one email every 0.00000035 seconds. Somedays it feels like half of those are delivered straight to my inbox. (Source)

An invaluable communication tool, email is probably the method I use most to interact with colleagues, clients, students and friends. However, I get around 300 or so emails a day. That, combined with a very full schedule means sometimes those emails go unanswered (or even unseen). There’s no way I have a corner on the lots-of-email-busy-schedule market, so I’m often on the other end — sending an email, trying to get a busy person to reply to my requests.

So how do you get busy people to respond to your emails? Some tips:

State your subject in the subject line: Your email subject line can make or break you in a couple of ways. If your subject isn’t clear, the recipient may not open it at all. If it has any kind of spammy words, it may trigger a spam or junk filter. Don’t be clever, be clear.

My friend Sherry says she puts the action needed right in the subject line. Something like, “Info to Share: Sherry’s Awesome” or “Approval Needed: Quote for Press Release.” Another friend, Amanda Ip (UO ’09) says if you’re networking and have a referral, put the name right in the subject. That helps get her attention and makes your message a priority.

Clear subject lines also make it easier for my email program to appropriately sort or thread your message and makes it easier to go back and find it later if needed.

Start on the right foot. Your salutation is your first chance to make a good impression.

“Hey, so-and-so” is universally panned as inappropriate and annoying, especially on first contact. It’s not friendly or casual, it’s immature and disrespectful. It’s not hard to do a bit of research and figure out how formal or informal someone is in their communications. Do some LinkedIn research or look for tone in Twitter content.

It’s safer to err on the side of being more formal at first. Ms. So-and-So or Mr. Blah-biddy Blah is usually appropriate and you’re not going to put anyone off. I will say, be careful about which honorific you choose, though. I hate (hate!) when people call me Mrs. Matthews. Matthews is the name I was born with and I’m not married.

In an academic setting Professor This-and-That is usually safe (the specifics of professor vs. instructor aren’t really interesting to anyone outside academia), but be careful about Dr. What’s-Her-Name. Dr. is a title bestowed upon those who complete specific requirements for their profession. In my case, I don’t have a PhD. Again, a little research will help you know what to use.

via GIPHY

Note: Mx. as a gender-neutral honorific was added to the Oxford English Dictionary this week. I’m not sure I’d use it with just anyone, it may look like a typo, but it’s definitely worth knowing.

Don’t bury the lede. You’ve been clear in your subject line, but make sure the body of your email is equally clear. Keep the introductory remarks to a bare minimum. You don’t want to be rude (and you want to be culturally appropriate), but keep it short.

Avoid the scroll. In a world where we often check our emails via mobile devices, consider a smart phone screen the ideal length of an email.

That’s about 115 words (the first two paragraphs of this blog post). If you can’t get your point in that space, you very well may have lost the battle. Busy people have a lot of things competing for their attention.

Another mobile tip: when you can, include the text of an attachment in the body of the email along with the attachments. Not all attachments open on all devices and you don’t want that to get in the way of getting a reply.

Make it skim-able. A big block of text is hard to read on a screen of any size. Breaking up the text into no more than two or three lines per paragraph makes it easier for the reader to see the point and take in what you’re asking. Making it hard to read your email is only going to slow the reply.

Try another line. If you have tried email and not received a response, you can try reaching out on Twitter or LinkedIn. Don’t be shy about resending the email. I call my email the Pit of Despair. Once an email slides off the first screen, it can be out of sight out of mind.

Sending a follow-up is not annoying to most busy people, as long as you’re professional, polite and gracious about how you do it.

Take it off-line. As several colleagues said when I asked this question via Facebook, sometimes an in-person meeting or a quick phone call is much more productive than a back-and-forth email conversation. Ask for a few minutes of their time and set a time that you can call them. You can work through multiple screens of emails in a short time and get more done.

But don’t just take my word for it. A handful of great blog posts and resources on this very topic:

How to get a busy person to respond to your email (Medium)

How To Write Emails To Busy People (Business Insider)

7 Tips for Emailing Extraordinarily Busy People (Inc.)

What tips do you have for getting replies from busy people?

PR & Riding Goals: Ready for More than Walk, Trot, Canter

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My Facebook “On this Day” feature this week reminded me recently that it’s been exactly one year since I decided it was finally time to make time to start riding horses again.

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It’s been a fantastic year, moving from relearning the basics of the walk, trot and canter to learning to jump for the first time.

Recently my trainer asked me, “What are your goals for riding?” It’s an important question. I could do what I’m doing for an hour a week for the rest of my life and be happy. There are an infinite number of tweaks and adjustments you can make to get better at the basics.

Organizations have to think about this same question related to their public relations efforts. Doing the same thing that’s always worked and getting decent results is easy. Send regular press releases, post on social media several times a week, host that event that everyone loves… walk, trot, canter.

As soon as my trainer asked me that question, though, I knew that wasn’t my answer. I also knew that saying, “I want to compete,” meant more work.

It means more lessons, harder workouts and more time and money investment. It means trying new things (and probably failing a bit). It means being uncomfortable. It doesn’t mean leaving the basics behind, but building on them to accomplish your goal.

What else does it mean? I’m not sure! But we’ve set a goal and my trainer will help me work toward it.

This is very much like the role a PR pro serves — identifying a goal and creating a plan to reach it. That plan can include new audiences, new strategies and untested tactics that feel uncomfortable at first.

But when approached strategically, you can find yourself (and your organization) in the ribbons.

 

Extraordinarily Tone Deaf Twitter “Promo” from Vanderbilt Football

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As a social media strategist or manager, it doesn’t take deep institutional memory of controversy or even a particularly sensitive ear to be a decent human being with some common sense.

Yet, here we are with another case study of common sense in short supply:

Vanderbilt University’s football twitter account has been hyping the 2015 season and today tweeted the above “promo.” Even if the team had a squeaky clean record, the language is cringe-inducing. The volume of the conversation on ending sexual violence on college campuses has increased nationwide and schools, departments, administrators and communication teams have to be listening.

However, Vanderbilt Football doesn’t have a squeaky clean record. Two of its football players were convicted of rape in January of this year.

So when the promo tweet went out, the reaction from social media was swift.

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Three minutes later it was deleted. Then the standard apology.

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Well, I think we all assumed you didn’t mean it to be about sexual assault…

Why do organizations of all shapes and sizes seem to not be able to see past the end of their noses and make mistakes like this?

My theory? No one is empowered to speak up and say, “that’s a bad idea.” Groupthink is a powerful force and if an individual feels like they’re in the minority, it can be hard to go against the flow and disrupt the perceived cohesiveness of the group.

Organizations have to foster a culture where the discussion about content includes asking and answering to, “what’s the worst that could happen?”

What does that take?

  • Creating a team that’s diverse and brings a variety of perspectives to the table. You can imagine a locker room talk scenario in the Vanderbilt social media team where this idea came up. As football “insiders,” they knew what they meant and didn’t have to explain it to each other. (Honestly, I’m not sure what they meant in a football context.)
  • Building time into the content approval process to think it through and consider the worst case scenario. I’ve been part of many teams where you’re moving so fast that it’s hard to find time to stop and think and it’s easy to make mistakes. That’s dangerous.
  • Leadership that’s committed to all of the above.

And, of course, a society that doesn’t condone and tolerate rape culture would be great, too.

Morning Mantras & the Importance of Consistency and Authenticity

quote collage

More than two years ago, in June, 2013, I started getting up early to work on a writing project. To be accountable, I would post a little quote or tidbit on Facebook to let my friend and writing coach know I was up when I said I would be (at my laptop by 6 am). The writing project is no more, but the daily posts continue.

do all things with kindness quoteI’m not what I would call “self-disciplined,” but this habit has stuck, not just for me but lots of you.

Anytime I think I’m going to stop — and there have been times — someone will send me an email or leave a comment on the post with something like, “are you in my head today? I totally needed this!” or just a “thank you for posting these. I look forward to them every morning.”

I choose the mantra every morning based on what resonates with me each day. I don’t save them or schedule in advance. Some mornings it’s easy to find a little saying that speaks to me and helps me start my day with a better perspective — other mornings it’s hard and it can take 20 or 30 minutes to find the right one.

What I’ve learned from 2+ years of sharing:

  • Give a damn. Give more damns than anyone. Consistency is important. I don’t post on weekends and I don’t post when I’m legitimately on vacation unless I feel like it. Otherwise, I try to post before 7 a.m. I never forget. It’s habit.
  • People are people are people. My insecurities, stresses, anxieties and issues are the same as everyone else’s. A little solidarity and “you’re not in this alone” goes a long way.
  • My personal values have crystalized. I see a few themes when I look at the 400+ quips, quotes and illustrations I’ve shared: gratitude, kindness, generosity, empathy, self-care (breathing, taking time for yourself) and encouragement. Turns out, those are all pretty important to me and I keep coming back to them over and over.
  • Authenticity is important. This isn’t like-bait or some sort of self-promotion thing, and choosing the mantra each morning is about me and where I am in that moment. It’s not always very deep or philosophical, but it’s authentic.

Continue reading “Morning Mantras & the Importance of Consistency and Authenticity”

Wow Moments & Social Media

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Why did this image (above) by Brian Davies “go viral”? Chris Pietsch, a multimedia journalist at the Register Guard, our local paper in Eugene, Ore. asked me just that question. I have to admit, I hadn’t given it much thought. I had watched the game and seen the photo, of course. I think I saw it when Brian posted it on Twitter. It seemed it was everywhere.

Chris was creating a multimedia piece for the RG and needed the “expert” view. Apparently, I’m the expert. As you know, I love doing interviews and I enjoy Duck Football, so of course I said yes.

My thoughts:

  • This is a great photo. Really the bottom line is that this wouldn’t have been shared so widely if Brian hadn’t captured a great photo. That’s not by chance or a “lucky shot.” Brian is a veteran photojournalist with tons of experience capturing great photos. If you don’t already, follow him on Instagram.
  • WOW! Chris asked me “What was your reaction when you saw the play on TV?” That first clip of me in the video (below) is it. WHOA! It captured on “film” what we all thought we saw watching on TV. Having access of a press photographer and being able to stand on the field and take photos is pretty rarified air. I’m not sure there’s a Duck fan that doesn’t wish to have that experience. Brian took full advantage of that access and provided an image that froze a moment, a feeling, an energy that was exciting to fans.
  • Social media. Social media lets us take a “wow” moment and make it our own. By sharing, retweeting, liking, commenting, we become part of the experience of that image and vice-versa. Without any barriers — we don’t have to be coders or designers — we can edit, modify, customize, filter the image to really put our own stamp on it.
  • The timing was perfect. Brian has taken thousands of amazing photos, but this one was the right one at the right time. Obviously the Heisman conversation volume was very loud by the time we got to the Civil War game. The photo of Mariota seemingly striking the Heisman pose added to the fervor and excitement. Fans were already talking about the Heisman, so this photo became part of that conversation with a big fat exclamation point.

So why did it “go viral”? It was a bit of a perfect storm of variables, I think. Congrats to Brian on recognition of his work and to Chris for helping to tell this story.

A Year-Long Plan for Senior PR Undergrads

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[Updated September 2014]

 “When should I start applying for that internship?”

“Where do I start with my job search?”

“Do I need to be sending my resumes out now?”

There’s a point of recognition where the senior public relations major realizes that yes, barring any major gaffes, chances are good that they’re going to graduate and need to find a job. And then the panic sets in.

Senior year both flies by in a blink and seems to drag on forever at the same time.  Benchmarking a few key activities may help you create your own plan for prepping for graduation.

A quick note: University of Oregon is on the quarter system – we start the last Monday of September and finish mid-June, so this calendar may vary based on your University.

Continue reading “A Year-Long Plan for Senior PR Undergrads”

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