Corporate communications + Public Relations Adelaide


August 2012

What will you be when you grow up? (On writing and tweeting and losing track)

When you’re a parent, it’s inevitable that your children will ask you a lot of questions.

“How far away is the moon?” and “Are we there yet?” and “Why does that lady look funny?” are among a few.

One of the questions every child will inevitably ask their mother or father is “What did you want to be when you were little?”

My youngest son has been prodding me about this recently because his current passion is pondering his own career choices.

For me, the answer is easy, as I had very definite ideas and passions. But I’m wondering what happened.

Prakky, wannbe writer and cyclist of the 70s
Prakky, wannbe writer and cyclist of the 70s

You see, I wanted to be a writer.

A novelist to be precise.

As you would be aware, dear reader, I am not a writer. Not of fiction or creative writing, anyway.

I kid myself that I do write because I blog frequently. And aren’t tweets carefully crafted sentences? I make a living from writing social media plans and social media content, do I not?

But what a long way I have come from my primary school years when I bashed away at a little red typewriter that my father bought me. I was convinced I was going to be an author, but in the meantime I used to churn out all types of content.

In year 7 I wrote a novel serialisation that our teacher used to read aloud to the class for 20 minutes every day; it was somewhat of a soap opera which revolved around the men and women of Tullarmarine  Airport. Students used to plead to him not to stop reading it and I felt the pressure of any LA scriptwriter as they congregated around me asking what would happen next.

I wrote the year 7 school play and the school community was invited to come along one evening to watch. The school was required to contribute a news column to the local paper, so I wrote that too.

One of my particularly gauche products was a novel about children fleeing Nazis to the live in a non-descript European forest during World War II. My year 7 teacher encouraged me to send a bound draft to the esteemed South Australian novelist, the late Colin Thiele. Dear Mr Thiele – also a teacher – sent me some very kind feedback (the only kind you can supply to a young writer who has churned out several thousand words) and gently encouraged me to focus on subjects closer to home that I might have more familiarity with. Ahem.

In high school I began to stray toward non-fiction writing.

I distinctly remember being in a group of ‘advanced English’ students sitting around a library table with our enthused teacher. She told us to envisage a man walking a path through some woods, until he came to a fork in the road. She asked us what the tale imparted to us. I said “It’s a man walking in the woods and he comes to a fork in the road”. She told me I should be a journalist.

Prakky, wannabe writer, 90s soft rock era
Prakky, wannabe writer, 90s soft rock era

I had a taste of earning money through writing when my piece about being a bookworm was published in Dolly magazine for which I received a $100 cheque – the most money I had ever held in my hands. I began to help write a football column for the local paper. And yes, I began pondering journalism. My two high school work experience stints were in the local newspaper (where I’d later work) and in the local TV station (where I had the chance to tail a spunky young blond cameraman for a week).

I ended up gaining a BA in Journalism but didn’t really take to the craft. During my university studies I used to intersperse my reading of media textbooks with readings of Ibsen and Miller plays and dense Dostoyevsky novels. Shorty after graduating, I had a sorrowful short story published in the literary journal Meanjin. It was crafted with feedback from novelist Gerald Murnane, which I was hugely excited about. Today I cringe about the story because it’s an obvious amalgam of myself and my best friend who committed suicide when we were 16. But that’s the kind of things writers do, hey?

Now I’m looking back on what’s essentially a 20 year career in corporate communications. Writing has been a central part of every role and while it has been creative in one way or another (I did work in politics and public relations, after all) I do wonder when I lost the urge to tap out fiction. Was it when the teacher pointed out that I couldn’t see the metaphor of the man at the fork in the road?

Recently I attended a writing function and bumped into an acquaintance who I had known through the SA Writers’ Centre (I’ve recently re-joined the centre as a board member after a decade’s absence).

She asked me: “Are you still writing?” and I was stunned. It didn’t occur to me that anyone saw me as a writer anymore, in fact it didn’t occur to me that anyone had ever thought of me as someone who writes.  Today I’m known for being a prolific tweeter and this blog itself has had a single-minded focus on sharing social media tips; after all that’s become my career. But having joined the Writers’ Centre again and having the chance to redress the old question of “what did you want to be when you were little?” I am feeling a tingle of motivation in my typing fingers again.

It’s not too late. As my friend @bludgingwriter reminds us, Elizabeth Jolley was 53 when her first book was published.

What did you want to be when you were young?

First 3 things to do when you join Twitter

If you tied me down and threatened to throw a jar of earwigs over me if I didn’t name the first three things a new Twitter user should do … I’d name the following:

1. Don’t be an egghead

Upload a profile image and background design to your new Twitter account. Please! Take advantage of the profile fields and share a biography and URL. This reassures other tweeters when they can find out more about you, and can help boost your Twitter following.

Don't be an egghead on Twitter
Don’t be an egghead on Twitter

If you’re an individual user, don’t be shy: share a head and shoulders photo. This helps especially when you use Twitter for networking and building your personal profile. If you’re a business, you might use your logo or a photo that captures your most popular product, or a location you’re known for and so on. But ideally, pictures of people work well. Twitter is a people-focused space.

 2. Follow at least 50 others

Why 50? Why not? It’s as good a benchmark as any. If you follow just 12 people on Twitter, your feed is likely to be coloured by whoever has the most to say. If your 12 connections aren’t prolific tweeters, it can be quite dull. Sure, follow 30 or 40, but why not work a little more, seek and find 50 Twitter accounts  that appear interesting to you, then sit back and enjoy the flavours.

3. Have a conversation

Many of us begin using Twitter quietly: we sit back and read. That’s fine for a while. It can be difficult thinking of something to tweet, and you may even feel stage fright. But you haven’t unlocked the power of Twitter until you’ve started having conversations. Don’t be afraid to tweet other people, to initiate a chat, to interrupt others and offer your point of view (all very politely of course).

 What would your top 3 tips be?

Everything is moderation

For a long time now, I’ve counselled clients to be responsible for what occurs in their online communities – their Facebook pages, LinkedIn Groups, Twitter accounts, YouTube channels and so on.

When you use a social media platform to talk to your stakeholders, it’s part of your role to ensure it’s a respectful and pleasant experience. You’re the host of the party / the ambassador at the embassy / the school teacher in a rowdy class / the MC at a community meeting / the chairman at the AGM.

And for my clients, that’s made sense and it’s a guideline they’ve happily followed. They remove offensive material, respond to queries and comments promptly, and generally try to have an engaging experience with fans.

For professional community managers, comment moderation is like walking a tightrope. With the mantra of Do Not Delete  firmly in their minds, they err on the side of open two-way engagement, grinning and bearing complaints and jibes. You can be quickly criticised if you remove fan posts (and indeed experience a backlash that’s in another league compared to the first individual posting).

Now, more legislative requirements have been layered over this and the fear factor has been raised. The Advertising Standards Bureau has ruled that the Advertiser Code of Ethics applies to Facebook pages. It considers “the Facebook site of an advertiser is a marketing communication tool over which the advertiser has a reasonable degree of control”. Read more detail in the ASB decision published here [links to a PDF]. Where this gets tricky for page managers, is that your fans’ posts may be deemed to be advertising material too. So if they make outlandish or misleading claims about your product, you may need to remove or correct those.

In addition, following this, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) warned that it expects Facebook Page owners to remove misleading content promptly. In a piece in SmartCompany,  an ACCC spokesperson says this can be onerous for smaller businesses who are not continually checking their social media sites. There’s an attempt to draw a distinction between a large brand like Coles for example, a mum and pop operation, for which there may be more leniency. Nevertheless, any page owners may be fined for breaches.

This week, the Communications Council released some social media guidelines.  These are guidelines not just for commercial use, but for personal use also, and may be a useful reference if you’re developing a staff social media policy.

What do you do? @tipereth has some sound steps listed at the end of her recent blog post.  These are items I advise clients about regularly. Take advantage of these tools and approaches soon if you haven’t already.

New social media guidelines: keep calm and carry on
New social media guidelines: keep calm and carry on

Apart from that – forge on. For many of you, your Facebook and online community experience will be a rewarding one. You may be communicating with customers better than you ever have before. Bear these recent rulings in mind, but don’t let them make you timid.

Social media is there for you to participate in, so provided you’re aware of this legislative environment, you can jump in and make the most of your online community.

More reading

Facebook crackdown just the beginning

ACCC gives SMEs more time to remove false and misleading comments

ASB and ACCC rule Facebook not just a social media tool

The problem that Instagram solves

Instagram is one of my favourite smartphone apps and, like a lot of social media tools, it can do much more than enable us to share content and connect with others.

Instagram is a tool which can solve a problem for you. That problem is: gaining images.

One of the more onerous (and potentially expensive) aspects of social media content gathering, is finding an image to go with your text.

We’re told time and time again that the most engaging type of Facebook post is an image, right? And for every blog you write, surely you want to break up text with a relevant picture. But if you don’t have a cache of great pics on your hard drive, what do you do? Or you might have a stack of corporate images that just aren’t right for the social space you’re using.

It’s likely that you’ll be tempted to head to Google Images and use somebody else’s work. Rather than risk a copyright infringement (and also use images that have been used a gazillion times before), consider using a photo tool like Instagram to solve your image problems and provide you with your own creative content.

With a smartphone, and Instagram, you have a super camera in your pocket. And it’s much more than the camera app that your phone came with.

Check out my Instagram profile.

Instagram allows you to get creative with photographs and turn the mundane into something more eye-catching. It has filters that you can put across photographs, as well as a few frames. You can zoom in and out of photographs and thus crop that you eventually publish.

It even enables you to make part of your image ‘fuzzy’ via its tilt shift option – this can be handy when you want a part of your image to be anonymous, like an address, car licence plate, or a person in the crowd who didn’t want to be identified.

Instagram beach photo example 1
Instagram beach photo example 1
Instagram beach photo example 2
Instagram beach photo example 2
Instagram beach photo example 3
Instagram beach photo example 3 – using fuzzy options

Once you’ve taken images with Instagram, you can share it a number of ways. Like any great new platform, it lets you send content to Facebook and Twitter. But what I want to focus on here, is that it enables you to email the image to yourself. So you have it available for later use in a blog or a Facebook status update or enewsletter.

Instagram is a community in itself, which some brands are thriving on. In particular the fashion industry and travel industry are building big communities on Instagram, where fans want to see inspiring images rather than necessarily reading a lot of text.

That’s a nice side effect of Instagram and it may become another social network for you. But don’t underestimate its value in your content-gathering arsenal.

And another thing – Instagram is primarily used and enjoyed on smartphones. The PC experience is not so good. And that’s why Pinstagram exists. I like it.


Further reading:

Here’s a good beginner’s guide to Instagram (a few months old, but it still stands)

Here’s  what I wrote about Instagram and other favourite apps previously

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