tips


So we’ve talked about how brands can better work with bloggers. And while I strongly believe it’s the brand’s responsibility to know what they want and be transparent about it (set expectations, offer benefits, send traffic), it’s not realistic to think brands are going to do it perfectly. Remember: many are just starting out with this whole “blogger outreach” thing. Plus, it’s a two way street. And if you want to be a blogger that lands extra writing gigs and fancy perks, you can’t just sit on your ass. During pitching and after posting, there’s still work to be done.

Rule #1: Have your own ideas

If you’re going to approach a big company and ask for sponsorship or simply responding to someone who wants your influence, GET CREATIVE AND PITCH SOMETHING AWESOME. Don’t just say, “Give me x and I will write about you on my blog because I iz Important.”

Example: I went to a blogger’s conference in Toronto last May and found that most travel bloggers treat companies like piggy banks. If I had a dollar for every blogger who pitched some version of  ”Pay me to go around the world, use your service and then I’ll write about my experiences,” I would be off traveling the world and writing about my experiences.

Very few of our appointments at the event had done any research. One blogger pitched us his blog management services for a blog that not only had we run successfully for months, but that I managed. Full time. [Insert slap in the face here.]

In hindsight, this is nobody’s fault. Brands don’t know how to work with bloggers and bloggers don’t know how to work with brands. So I’ll use this space to tell you exactly what companies want from bloggers:

  • Awesome content that appears on YOUR BLOG (with YOUR AUDIENCE) about your stories and experiences using MY BRAND’S service/website/hotel/gadget. I want you to tell your readers why your experience couldn’t have happened any other way then through us.
  • OR: Awesome content way pay you to write for our blog. For example…
  • Great story ideas. Pitch like a real journalist. Do your research. Find a quirky way to use Company X. Find one of our users in your hometown who brews his own beer and interview/write about him. That’s how journalists pitch. They write up a query letter, having done the research beforehand. They don’t rest on their blogging laurels. That’s douchey.
  • Your contacts. If you’re a big blogger you usually know others in relevant media. Pitch your story/experiences to said media on our behalf. Most decent companies will pay for this. If not, remember that many media outlets still pay their writers.

Rule #2: Be honest

Did you get a free meal at a fancy restaurant and the service was horrible? You are absolutely not obligated to write about it or do anything in exchange. In order to stay authentic, respected and “influential”, be honest.

Example: A well-known health company sent me a rockin’ box of pre-workout drinks. I loved the idea, especially since I was teaching yoga at the time and can fade fast. But after 10 minutes of drinking the stuff I felt nauseous and didn’t notice a difference during my workout. When the PR lady sent me a follow-up I replied,

“Thank you so much for sending me a sample! However, I’ve used it twice and both times it made me pretty sick. While I’m sure it’s great for many people, it definitely didn’t do it for me. I usually love your products but was disappointed by this one. I really appreciate you sending so many but, unfortunately, will not be mentioning it on my blog.”

Rule #3: Go the extra mile

Working with a brand doesn’t need to be a one-off situation. If you really loved your experience, you can easily form a partnership. You just need to ask. The sky’s the limit on this one. If you got a free stay at a hotel and loved it, suggest doing it again at another location. Or offer to be a “brand advocate” on your site. Give them ad space in your sidebar. Offer to write guests post for their blog. Keep the momentum going.

One thing I see bloggers do again and again is writing a post and being done with it. “I got my free shit so that’s that.” Don’t let it end there. Email your contact a week or so after your post goes live. Tell them how your blog post performed (traffic, social media shares, comments, etc), the general sentiment of the responses received and any other extras you threw in.

Example: When I stayed at the Point Reyes hostel in September, I wrote my blog post about my experiences, Instagramed my photos, tagged their company accounts, left a glowing Yelp review, wrote about them in an article I wrote for a different website and emailed a week after with stats on the post. A month later, I was able to stay in their Seattle and Vancouver locations and meet the marketing manager to learn more about their program. *drops mic*

Bonus Rule: Trust your gut

If you’ve been a blogger for years and have established a following, it’s tricky business to transfer into a business relationship with companies. If you get a free phone and then write about that phone on your blog, it’s probably going to be boring. Your readers aren’t going to share or comment and if you do it enough, people are going to think you’re a sellout. (This assumes you don’t have a blog that just posts phone reviews, then you’re okay.)

So my biggest rule is to trust your gut. Don’t partner with companies you don’t believe in. Be transparent with your audience. And don’t be afraid to get creative. Brands don’t know what they’re doing either and we should all be in this together.

Have you ever worked with a brand before? How’d it go? 

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Find the Right Words: What Yoga Taught Me About Writing

by Marian Schembari on August 21, 2012


One of the biggest challenges as a yoga teacher is finding the right words. It’s challenging a lot of responsibility to be a conversational, fun teacher while saying every posture correctly so your students actually understand what you mean.

During our first long weekend we did an exercise where we closed our eyes while our teacher told us, ‘Lift your arms up.’ When we opened our eyes, some people had their palms turned out, some turned in. Some people had their arms parallel to the floor, others had their arms straight over their head.

This taught showed us how varied our interpretations are of the things people tell say.

Then, we found a partner, kept held our hands a few inches apart, and had to follow followed the other person’s movements using sight only. We found there was a delay between the other person’s movements and our own imitation of their movements. But it was easier to follow than simply hearing words instructions.

Then we touched hands. And suddenly imitating mirroring our partner’s actions was completely intuitive.

Words are always up to interpretation. And as much as I love everything about words, it’s sight and touch, that clarifies what we should do with those words. Through my blog, I can’t touch you. (Lucky for you.) So how do you understand? How do I know what I see as yellow is what you see as yellow? Does that metaphor even make any sense to you?

Fast forward a few weeks later and we all got reamed called out for giving the instruction cue ‘bring the right foot toward the right thumb’. What we should have said was, ‘bring the right foot TO the right thumb.’ Toward implies anywhere between where the right foot currently is and the right thumb. This could be two inches or it could be two feet. In none of those options though do we say the right foot should be directly next (to) the right thumb. We shouldn’t expect people to understand what we mean when our words aren’t exact.

I’ve never thought so hard about the precision in the words I use. I worry about grammar and spelling and flow. But never the difference between precision and exactness and attention-to-detail. With blogging, we tend to flap around, assuming the words we think up on the spot will be perfectly understood by our readers.

But every. single. word. matters. is of importance. means something. counts.

I’m a huge proponent for cutting copy. My writing process involves a complete brain dump that takes 10 minutes and ends up being 1000 words. I usually like to cut down my posts to around 500-600. Every word is scrutinised.

There’s nothing I love more than cutting other people’s copy though, because I have no attachments to them. And I think that’s part of the problem. We have such an attachment to the words we originally choose, that first draw us in, that we don’t scrutinise how other people might interpret them.

Have a look at the last thing you wrote. Hell, look at the last thing I wrote. When I said, ‘My writing process involves a complete brain dump’, did you understand the visual? Or should I have said, ‘My first draft is usually a 1000 word brain dump.’ Which is clearer? Does the word ‘brain dump’ even mean anything to you? Should I have used ‘free write’?

In the words of Mark Twain, ‘The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.’

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5 (More) Examples of Absurdly Well-Written Twitter Bios

by Marian Schembari on January 16, 2012


It’s shocking how rarely I come across a Twitter bio that inspires me. Most are blank, bland, irrelevant or say almost verbatim what I’ve seen a million other times on the interwebs. But sometimes I come across bios that are snappy, witty, laugh out loud funny and make me immediately want to follow said tweeter (and be their Bestie 4 Life).

Like these five…

I clearly have a thing for writers, but they obviously know how to clearly and cleverly talk about themselves. The bio of @akharlamova just so perfectly describes the life of an author in so few words. And it also does a great job showing that she’s dedicated, consumed and in love with what she does. Nicely done, Arina.

It would have been so easy for @showmethesun to have written, “Book lover. Works in Publishing. From Melbourne.” Instead, she eats books for breakfast! She’s a curator instead of just a blogger. She doesn’t just work in publishing, she loves it. She doesn’t just live in Melbourne, she’s happy there. I feel like I know her already.

I love it when a major corporation isn’t afraid to add a little humor in their bio. What @Staples does is genius in that they quickly sum up what they do, then tap into the joys of every office worker on the planet. Like starch.

@KatjaPresnal clearly has a lot going for her. She tells us why she’s great, what she’s up to, what she does for living, then throws her personality at us in full force. This is a girl I could be friends with. And “carpe the shit out of diem” obviously needs to be my life motto. (Thanks to @aodt for sending this bio my way!)

I’m in love with @IsaChandra and think her loud and clear voice on this bio coupled with such simplicity is pretty unique. Sometimes (aka “all the time”) you just don’t need to over-explain. For Isa, four words is all she needs. I like her style and for those of you who eat more than just meat and potatoes can also appreciate her location quip.

Takeaways

1. A few choice words can make all the difference. Take a page out of Steph’s half-eaten book (see what I did there? I crack myself up) and stay away from over-used descriptions when talking about yourself.

2. What’s a really obvious stereotype about your industry/job/passion? Are you an accountant? Poke fun at the fact that you’re not absurdly boring. Social media strategist? Mention you’re sure as hell not a guru/ninja. Make like Staples and stand out from the crowd by being good-natured about the judgments surrounding what you do.

3. Do you have a specific writing style? Do you swear a lot? Have a rad vocabulary skills? Write poetry? Translate that strong style à la Isa Chandra so that voice shines in your bio!

Want more Twitter love? Read parts 1 and 2 here. And if you’ve seen any great bios lately, please share them in the comments!

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An Open Letter to “Writers” on the Internet

by Marian Schembari on December 7, 2011


Dear So-Called “Writers” on the Internet,

I’m gonna to give it to you straight: You’re driving me crazypants. You’re making my life difficult. I am so. fucking. over Googling Very Important Things like “painting wood laminate” or “how to make the cat stop pooping in the tub” (true story) and having to slog through completely irrelevant and useless articles from eHow and Yahoo! Answers. Your link baiting tricks aren’t making our lives any easier. You’re preventing people from finding websites that actually provide quality content. You’re preventing us from solving life’s Big Problems and learning things about things in the Real World. I shouldn’t have to dig through massive piles of shit also known as Search Engine Optimized Content because you want to increase your page rank.

Exhibit A: One of you recently wrote an article on Social Media Today, Why Community Managers are Like Bacon. You start off with:

In this article, I am going to compare community managers to bacon. I am going to explain the similarities in characteristics between them. Before we begin. Lets identify what bacon and a community manager is in definition.

Then you end with this little gem of a conclusion:

These are my reasons why bacon and community managers are the same. I hope you enjoyed the article. 

What the WHAT?

First of all, that’s how I wrote when I was seven before getting told off by my teacher who sternly lectured “show, don’t tell.” Secondly, I know everyone can’t write. Sometimes I’m barely coherent. But the fact that a relatively well-respected site – with the tagline “The world’s best thinkers on social media” – is publishing your garbage makes my blood boil. But because every blogger and their gran loves a metaphor and the word “bacon” features prominently in the headline, this is apparently content GOLD.

And while I’m on the subject of normal people not giving a crap about how they sound online, stop acting illiterate when posting on Facebook. Most of us aren’t Hemingway on this particular social network, but it’s like you actually truly 100% don’t understand how words are formed. Maybe you were drunk? All the time? Is there a disease called getting-plastered-the-second-my-hands-touch-a-keyboard-itis? Perhaps you should see a doctor.

To help refresh your memory…

When Gen X whines that the internet is making us all bad writers, they’re talking about you. When old-school publishers laugh at bloggers who call themselves “journalists” they’re talking about you.

Please. For the love of all that is holy. Shape up.

Hugs and butterfly kisses,
Marian Schembari

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Improve Your Design Appeal in 7 Steps

by Marian Schembari on November 22, 2011


We don’t cover design here much. Not because it isn’t important (it is), but I’m nowhere near qualified to speak on the subject. So when this post landed in my inbox yesterday I needed to get it out asap. Not only are designer Prescott Perez-Fox‘s tips genius, but they’re actionable, simple and have inspired me to start taking my own design more seriously. If you read ANY post today, make this one it.

Managing your messaging, tone, audience and communication strategy is delicate work. Doing it right pays off, but too often we overlook the design elements of our brand — the parts visually connecting us to our audience.

In this already overstimulated online world of our, here are a few simple steps you should take to improve your brand consistency and bring value to your audience.

1. Do less

DIY designers love to use as many colors, typefaces, photographs, illustrations and visual styles as possible, which is almost always overwhelming. Simplicity, however, is the ultimate sophistication and stepping back your design means people can focus on what’s really important. No one will get “bored” of simple designs. Ideally, they’re the wrapper for your expertise and offering.

2. Choose a font (or two)

Use one typeface for almost everything and a second one to fall back on for special cases like headlines or passages of text. Most fonts come in families, with various weights and italic variants, allowing you to create variety in your communications. Limiting your type choices (and sticking with them) will create a strong sense of recognition and your audience will begin to acknowledge your communications without reading a word.

Many fonts are created in pairs, intended to complement each other within a single piece. Examples of this are Droid Sans with Droid Serif; Mrs. Eaves with Mr. Eaves. Using two well-paired typefaces will make you look like a design ace with hardly any effort — see what combinations you can find online.

Finally, to stand out, it’s worth investing a few dollars in a typeface. There are many places to buy fonts online: premium shops like Veer and Hoefler & Frere-Jones who are masters at the craft. Sites like MyFonts and FontSquirrel also have tons of offerings at various prices (including free).

3. Set a color scheme

We live in a colorful world, but there’s no need to decorate your work with them all. Choose two main and two supporting colours. The main ones will provide 90% of what you need, but the supporting ones can be called on for diagrams, charts and more complicated materials like eBooks or presentations.

Need a starting point for inspiration? Think of what magazines your audiences reads or the kind of home they live in. Heck, might as well pick up those actual magazines or check out some interior design blogs for ideas. For more online color inspiration check out Colour Lovers or Design Work Life’s “Colour Happy” series.

4. Get a professional headshot

A good headshot becomes part of your brand identity the minute you use it. Take it one step further by asking your photographer or designer to slightly map the photo’s color tone to your brand style. Say you write a blog about camping equipment – a pale brown overlay could reinforce your values. If you’re in the high-energy world of teenage fashion, bump up the reds and yellows. A luxury brand could warrant a black-and-white photo.

Use this photo consistently. Make it your avatar on LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, your blog and your site’s About page. This creates awareness and familiarity across all outlets.

5. Decide on a style for icons, illustrations, and other key art

Have a plan for selecting brand-appropriate images. For example, if you decide on a clean, glossy, futuristic look for your buttons and icons, don’t suddenly change tactic and go with a gritty, punk rock motif on your next newsletter.

An easy way to think of this is to create “sliders” like the one below. Make three of four sliders to describe your visual sensibilities and use these to govern subsequent design decisions.

6. Have a logo

Companies usually need a logo, but do people? Yes, but not in the same way. Your name, arranged in your chosen typeface and colour, can be a de facto logo. Add a simple graphic element to your name to create something distinct.

But use this wisely. Stay away from abstract symbols that may be hard to associate with your brand and don’t create a “spin-off” of any well-known corporate identities. You don’t have to over-think though. The simplest logos are usually the most memorable.

7. Hire a [real] designer

An experienced designer can give insight you don’t have yourself. Most will offer hourly consultations, allowing you to get opinions without commissioning an expensive re-design. If you’re willing to buy an expensive suit to look good in front of clients, shouldn’t you also be willing to spend $200 to chat with a design pro?

Do make sure you’re hiring a real design professional though, not a “fast-food service”. Don’t buy a logo for $99. Don’t hire someone to do a complete re-brand in 24 hours. And don’t assume your neighbor’s second cousin can lay out your entire brand campaign. These shortcuts usually lead right back to where you started.

For recommendations, browse design blogs to see who has good taste. For work samples, check out Dribbble, a site for in-progress design work, or Behance, where designers post personal projects or rejected client work.

Not everyone is a design ace, and that’s okay. When in doubt, go with something tried and true — simplicity — your audience will respect and remember it. In the long run, that translates to a stronger personal brand. Simple as that.

Prescott Perez-Fox is the founder of Starship Design, a small firm in metro New York City focusing on brand identity. He writes about design and branding on his own site, Perez-Fox.com.

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