Contract Social Media – Becoming an Authoritative Voice in an Unknown Land

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Writing It’s a brave new world, my friends.

Since Nov. 8, 2014, I have been providing social media services (mostly Twitter and blog content) for Hogg Mechanical, a company  based in Kitchener, Ont. When I began this contract I wrote a post on this blog about my fear and how it kept me motivated. After two weeks of hard work and a lot of research I finally feel like I have a better idea of what I need to do to create effective content. I have received positive feedback from the company and am having a meeting to discuss a more aggressive approach to their social media campaign. I would say these are all very good signs that I am doing what is expected of me or more.

There is one hitch, though: I still know very little about HVAC as a trade.

This was the basis of my fear when I took over the social media contract; I was worried that my writing would show lack of knowledge. I was tweeting and blogging for a company with over 130 years of experience – I had to sound like I knew my stuff. Knowing this, I started researching. Over the past two weeks I have learned more about this trade than I ever expected in a lifetime. I read, I searched infographics, I went to the library, I Googled every little thing. I checked and double checked my information. It was stressful as sin but it worked. I was able to produce meaningful content with an air of familiarity that I didn’t quite yet feel.

The next thing I did was relied on my social media know-how. I know people react more to funny tweets than serious. I know a picture of a puppy in a parka will get more retweets than plain text. I know that people like bright infographics and links to interesting videos. Sifting through the junk can be a trial but it is so rewarding once you find that perfect piece of media.

I started interacting, asking questions on the twitter feed and on Facebook. I inquired what people wanted to know more about. Crowdsourcing gave me at least a month worth of blog topics.

Relying on your skills is wildly important. Research can’t be topped when it comes to the hard facts and as always, remember that social media is exactly that – social. Question your audience so you can give them what they want.

It has been a crazy couple weeks but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I am writing with passion and confidence while learning about something I never would otherwise.

I would love to hear your stories about new contract jitters! Leave a comment or reach out to me on Twitter (@idlehands85) and share your experiences!

AI

Eww

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Certain words carry a lot of context.

I have said before and will again that the English language, like all  languages, is able to convey so many different thoughts and feelings through a careful selection of words. To say that one is disappointed is very different from frustrated, angry or aggravated. While each word carries a tone of displeasure, the nuances make their meanings wildly different. Similarly, take an emotion like being happy. Saying that someone is happy is different from saying they are joyous, ecstatic or enthralled. Each word is a happy descriptor denoting different ranges within the emotion. Careful word choice has the power to evoke strong and very specific reactions from an audience.

On the same note, one word can mean so much. One word can break down into so many different meanings that are all encompassed in that one utterance. One such word is “Eww.” It’s just a three-letter word, an interjection, but it can carry such force that it is not a word to be taken lightly.

I recently heard a person of my acquaintance mutter this monosyllable under her breath regarding another human being. Initially I was surprised and a little angry at the sentiment, but as I thought about it, I became downright furious.

First off, she was talking about another human being; not garbage, a gross-looking spill or some excrement on the bottom of her shoe – a flesh-and-blood human being – moreover, one that she doesn’t really know. Judged on face value, this person chose to voice her distaste in one of the rudest ways I can imagine.

I am glad the other person did not hear this statement because I DO know the person and he is one of the sweetest, kindest, hardest-working men, not to mention a phenomenal husband and father. She made a knee-jerk reaction based on one instance using a very small but very strongl word.

Let me tell you what the term “Eww” brings to mind for me:

  1. Distaste at something assaulting one of your five senses.
  2. Dismissal of all other traits or –
  3. An encapsulating statement taking into account all aspects of the person, place or thing.
  4. A feeling of disgust and a want to remove the person, place or thing from your immediate area.

Eww, in this context, is all-encompassing and short-sighted. It does not take into account all of the things this man is but dismisses him on one or two traits that this woman found unappealing.

Words have the power to scar. To hear that said about yourself would be emotionally devastating; take it from the veteran of enough schoolyard abuse to be any psychologist’s dream cash-cow. Honestly, if I hadn’t had such support outside those situations, I would be a seriously broken person. I have been called ugly, fat, gross and any other plethora of nasty things. All of those things are summed up in “Eww.”

Awful.

Disliked.

Unwanted.

No one should have to deal with that kind of abusive language anywhere. The word may sound innocuous enough, but it carries some true weight.

Enough weight to make someone question themselves; to hate themselves.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that while a word may seem fairly banal, its impact can leave a lasting impression. Also, that some are two quick to judge with sweeping comments and strong statements that could seriously hurt others.

I look back and wish I had said something to this woman. Maybe next time she would think before passing judgement.

Words can be dangerous.

Carefully chosen words can have a huge impact.

Careless words can carry unexpected consequences.

So in writing, as in speech, choose your words carefully.

Back to writing – creepy is in the context

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So, those that follows this blog have no doubt noticed a few months of inactivity. Simply put, some personal issues paired with some of the worst writer’s block I have ever suffered manage to make posting rather challenging. I am trying to write again. I won’t lie, I am toying with some ideas that I think, if executed properly, could be great…

… but that means writing again.

This is just something I splatted out onto the page earlier this evening. It is first draft; given a cursory glance for glaring typographical errors and nothing more. I would really, REALLY appreciate comments.

 


Creepy is in the context

                Today I went to the local bookstore to browse and maybe pick up some new reading material. One thing to know about me: I am an obsessive hoarder of books. Honestly, it is a disease. The look, feel and smell of a book are simply unparalleled in my eyes. Any bibliophile will tell you there is no substitute. I do own an E-reader, but a little electronic gadget will never stop me from adding to my ever-expanding book collection.

                That said, bookstores are my holy land and every trip is a pilgrimage. I step through the doors and show my reverence – not through anything as overt as crossing myself or anointing myself at the fount– but by breathing in. The scent coming from the rows on rows of books is enough for me.

                I immediately took to traversing the store, visiting my favourite sections and pulling random texts off the shelves when suddenly, nature called. I made my way to the rest room to do what needed to be done. While taking my pit stop, I started to indulge in the available scriptures; the writing on the wall, if you will.

                For those that have not frequented women’s restrooms in the past, the graffiti can range anywhere from a scribbled “Kaylee +Josh 4ever” that has obviously been scratched out with a Sharpie after forever just seemed a bit too long to platitudes about life, the universe and womanhood. As I said before, bookstores are my Mecca and it is interesting to get some insight into my fellow biblio-worshippers through their own writing.

                The wall in this bookstore lavatory is scribbled with a lot of female empowerment, concepts of love and relationships à la Jane Austen, rebuttals scratched down in feminist outrage and similar anonymous musings. Essentially, what you would expect in any women’s bathroom stall. I was having fun reading through my street-lit session when my eyes glanced across one little statement etched into the grout between two tiles. It was very innocuous in its intent but inside a toilet stall, it was downright creepy.

                 “You are never alone.”

                I said before, the bookstore is my sanctuary, my holy place. I am a book devotee and this is my place of worship…

                 … but I seriously hope that the god of books isn’t interested in what I do in the loo.

iPod inspiration #2 – Greed

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“And there’s a crooked line I don’t want to take the time to straighten,
Cause when you do you realize it’s the whole damn world that’s bent.” – Patrick Stump, Greed

Time for iPod inspiration number two!

But first, a confession; I love Fall out Boy. I always have and when I found out they were (had) released a new album (Save Rock and Roll), I was rearing to own it. On the same note, when I found out that Patrick Stump had released a solo album (Soul Punk) I checked it out. Once I got used to the fact that it did NOT sound like Fall out Boy in the least (minus the obvious correlation between the lead singer’s voice) I started really getting into the sound. It’s currently one of my favourite walking albums.

But to the point, why have I chosen this quotation? Well, I work in service when I’m not writing and some of the fodder you get from the presented situations… well, you just can’t make them up. Call me jaded, but the world is a brilliantly twisted place and I like to watch it burn … it’s great for writing. In all seriousness, some of my best short stories have come from my experiences with the public; from snotty customers to the sad man who sat at his slot machine for three days straight, the world is full of things to write about if you open your eyes.

Even if you’re not in the trade of writing fiction, taking these situations and using them as an exercise in descriptive writing can do wonders for any potential paid work that could come your way. It’s easy enough to say “That man hasn’t moved from his chair in a while,” but think of how much more effective it would be to say:

My third shift in as many days and he’s still here; tiny in the over-sized chair, the clothes haven’t changed but the smell has. People will start complaining soon, but he seems oblivious. As long as his right hand can reach out and wrap around that lever, he still has hope – hope that the next pull will be the lucky one – hope that he will prove the deniers wrong – hope that he can be validated again. Lights and buzzers for the man beside him while he is greeted by mocking silence. Again.

I worked in an OLG slots and racetrack for many summers while I was at school and saw some wonderful and horrible things – and I learned a lot about the human condition. I learned how real psychological addiction can be. I learned about lying (“No honey, I’m just leaving the doctor’s office now” – said while walking off the gaming floor). and I learned how to both be compassionate and harden myself against the constant onslaught of humanity that you saw on the gaming floor. I was verbally abused and sexually harassed, but I also met some truly wonderful people. I saw the mundane and the strange…

… but let me tell you, Mr. Stump is right. The world is bent.

So write little vignettes about the oddities. Writing a description never harmed a writer’s style whereas not writing is always a detriment.

AI

How to create something great – one idea

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“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” Steve Jobs, 1996

So what do I mean?

Obviously you cannot truly steal someone’s creative work; beyond being unethical it is also highly illegal. People are getting sued for millions of dollars for creative infringement (and as a young freelancer/ writer, you can ill afford that kind of bill). But there are aspects of another person’s writing that you can borrow for your own – the trick is finding the parts that are worth utilizing.

My suggestion: Read. I know it sounds so simple and even a little cliched, but it’s true. To become a great writer, you must read great writers… and I do not use the term must in a light sense. if you don’t explore what makes other writing great, you will never be able to figure out a way to make your copy shine.

What kind of writing should you read? Everything. Any book someone hands you. Every well-written article. Every effective manual.

I know this is a big order to fill, but trust me, your writing will not suffer; it will only get better.

Case and point – when I started freelancing, I was hired by a company to write copy for a variety of different how-to videos to go along with a new cell phone launch. It was not an easy task, especially since my background was in print – not video – and in either scholarly or journalistic writing – not purely instructional. It really felt like a tall order to fill. I was new, inexperienced and in a position that could make or break my freelancing opportunities with this company. In short, I was terrified.

So what did I do?

I went home with the style guide for the company. I watched all of the previous how-to videos for this company. I watched the how-to videos for other companies that had received high ratings on Youtube to figure out what made them effective. I watched a few crappy ones to see where they fell short… and then I wrote. There is no question that these pieces were not high literature, but it was writing. By stealing the best from the best I was able to write effective copy and garner repeat business.

So back to the point – steal style, concepts and rhetorical devices. Read great literature. Read bad literature. Read fiction, non-fiction, magazines, fantasy, science, pre-teen novels… anything you can get your hands on. It will make a difference.

One thing I also suggest is to read writing that you dislike as well. Having completed a degree in English Literature I had multiple opportunities to read authors and books that I truly despised (don’t shoot me, but much of that disliked literature was Charles Dickens). I learned what I didn’t like about that literature (again, my biggest teacher was Dickens… and it’s a long, long list) but also that even these writings that I loathed so much still had many positive aspects. For example, my biggest issue with Dickens was how he brought about change in his books – he usually relied on some form of “miracle,” be that a mysterious benefactor or a ghost (or three); I hated his narrative on the working class and his general hopelessness for that group of people barring some spectacular change of circumstance… BUT I did admire his attention to detail and his truly bizarre sense of humour in the naming of his characters.

There is always something to be learned from writers – good or bad, enjoyed or despised; it’s utilizing the information presented and using it in your own work… without getting sued, of course.

AI

iPod inspiration #1 – Counting Stars

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“Everything that Drowns me makes me want to fly” – OneRepublic, Counting Stars

First and foremost, Happy New Year! I am back from my mini vacation from writing and ready to start my musings again! I have set out some resolutions for this and my other blog (www.ashleyidle.com/feelingoodlookingood) to push me to post more regularly. Through some brainstorming, I came up with the idea of posting a series that can be interspersed through the year. This, obviously, is one of those series.

I like to walk, and when I’m walking, I usually have an mp3 player blasting something in my ears. I enjoy a lot of different music and being a word junkie, I am always listening to the lyrics. A lot of songs have some great one-off thoughts that work brilliantly as a jumping-off point for a blog post, so here I am, analysing random song lyrics in hopes of inspiring anyone willing to take the time to read my musings.

So, here we go!

This song came on my iPod while I was having doubts/ stresses about my writing career (or lack thereof). I was thinking of the setbacks I have had over the past year and dwelling on the negative. I was pushing myself down deep into anger and frustration, but I guess I must have found something that I could push off of, figuratively speaking, and I managed to resurface from my negativity.

Has the past year gone as planned?

No.

Have I gained new clients?

Yes.

Is this a sustainable way for me to make a living yet?

No.

Could it be?

Yes.

Is it frustrating?

Maddeningly.

Do I love what I’m doing (writing)?

Absolutely.

Not all of these answers are positive, but they give me a goal to strive for and a reason to make an action plan. For example – I mention that this is not yet lucrative enough for me to quit my “day job,” Well, that means the goal is more paying clients. I can advertise, make cold calls, get in touch with old contacts… all things that are easy enough to accomplish.

Seeing hope in the future makes me want to pull myself up by my bootstraps and start reaching farther. It may not be flying yet, but it’s definitely not drowning, either.

I have seen some serious disappointment in the past couple years of my life, but through those disappointments I have pulled myself up and bettered my situation. For example, I came out of school a big fish in a small pond and was greeted with a very harsh reality that I was not just going to walk into a media career. That realization made me decide to start freelancing, and thanks to dedication and the support of my friends and family I have a devoted (though small) client base that is continually recommending my services to other contractors. It has not been easy, but it’s been worthwhile.

So don’t let things get you down. If you’ve chosen to freelance (or write commercially/ publicly in any way) you are bound to meet with rejection, hardship and frustration. Don’t dwell on the negative; use it to reach for the stars.

AI

Counting Stars – OneRepublic