This Whole ‘Personal Branding’ Thing is Driving Me Crazy

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This whole personal branding movement is driving me bonkers, which is weird, because I help other businesses brand themselves.

When it comes to me, though? I just want to scream a bad word that starts with “f” and ends in “uck.”

So here’s the deal. I left my full-time job in August of 2014 to launch my business, Shari’s Ink: Copywriting & Creative Services. As you may have guessed, I do freelance writing for everything from websites, blogs, social media, to press releases and newsletters (not to mention, I also manage social media accounts or act as a communications consultant). Which is cool, because now I work my own hours and take on a variety of projects.

BUT, I’ve been reading all this crap about the importance of attracting the type of work you really want, and to do that, you need to make sure your personal brand aligns with your target audience.

Well … shit.

What happens, then, for writers like me, who are just … WRITERS? When our ideal client includes big-name magazines like Time or Vanity Fair, or online pubs like Slate or Vice, that pay $1 per word? When our ideal clients might be major publishing houses that can offer us a $750,000, three-year contract to write another three books?

Can anyone tell me how to brand that?

What happens when you are not well-connected, don’t have the cash flow, but you’re crazy good at what you do? When you don’t have $25,000 (or $5,000) to toss at building a serious following and are spending your days landing enough clients to make your mortgage next month, because–you know–you’ve only been in business for less than six months?

Of course I’d love to dedicate all day, every day, to targeting my ideal client. But in reality, work is work, and I pride myself on always producing the highest quality product for any client who pays, whether they’re a health insurance company, a dance studio, or a fashion designer.

I understand that personal branding is important.

And I advocate that everyone try to label themselves somehow. But really, enough with this insane “personal branding” movement. I feel like I’m suffocating. Whatever happened to just working, doing it well, and building your reputation off that?

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Shari Lopatin is a professional writer, editor, and social media manager living in Phoenix, Ariz. Did you like this post? Then get more like it! Sign up for the Shari’s Ink eNewsletter and get FREE resources on social media news, publishing trends, and effective writing tips, every month.  

Why Quality Still Matters on Social Media

Happy kitten

Ever since Facebook’s latest algorithmic checkmate, the Internet has been buzzin’ about ways for brands to continue reaching their followers.

(In case you haven’t been tracking the trends, Facebook dropped its organic reach to low, single-digit percentages. In other words, if you don’t pay to promote your posts to your current followers, most won’t see you.)

Here are some of the conclusions I’ve read these past few months, from other social media experts:

  • It won’t stop at Facebook. Paying to reach your followers will become the new norm across all social media. Soon, other platforms—like Twitter and LinkedIn—may follow suit.
  • Creating quality content will no longer be enough. You’ll have to reinforce your message through as many places as possible (Facebook, LinkedIn, email, Twitter, etc.).
  • For the first time since social media swept the world off its feet, frequency of posts may supersede quality.

So whether you’re a writer, a business owner, or a content marketing nut, here’s what I want to talk about: this sudden notion that quantity will begin trumping quality. Ahem. Yeah, I don’t think so.

First, let me state this:

I do agree that you should reinforce your message through as many channels as possible, as long as it makes sense. Social media should never be your only marketing tool. When possible, include email, SEO/SEM, print, banner ads, T.V., radio, and even billboards.

But just because Mark Zuckerberg shook the rug under our feet, we should not start questioning the validity and importance of producing quality content. Why? It’s simple, really:

Even if you post five times per day, NO ONE will pay attention to your posts if they aren’t moved to action.

And my friends, only quality posts that are engaging, strategic, and visually compelling will prompt action—whether through likes, shares, link clicks, or comments. As a writer, you need to understand your audience, you need to know your voice, and you have to recognize what this medium was developed to do.

Social media was designed to be social, and I think many companies or brands have forgotten that. If your content isn’t quality, relevant, and engaging, it will be ignored.

Did you like this post? Then get more like it! Sign up for the Shari’s Ink eNewsletter and get FREE resources on social media news, publishing trends, and effective writing tips, every month. Shari Lopatin is a professional writer, editor, and social media manager living in Phoenix, Ariz. 

The 3 Questions EVERY Blogger Must Ask Themselves

I’ve somehow evolved into the very thing I promised myself I’d never become: a media strategist.

You see, once upon a time, I was a newspaper reporter, a.k.a. a Jedi Knight. Then, the evil economy forced me into the Dark Side (a.k.a. public relations). And somewhere along the way, I decided if I wanted to become my own writer, I’d better take advantage of all these media and marketing strategies I was learning.

Behold, I can now say with authority, I know how to market myself as a writer (and I’d do more if I had additional time). I can pinpoint the good blogs from the bad. I can tell which ones will thrive, and which will falter.

And I can tell you the three key questions EVERY blogger must ask themselves, if they want to see their readership grow:

1) What is this blog all about (a theme)?

The most successful blogs have a theme. Some may be literary agents offering tips to up-and-coming writers. Others are humor blogs. My blog, for example, is a writing blog. The theme or brand is “Rogue Writer.”

If you really want to see your blog grow, ask yourself: What is this blog ABOUT? Is it a travel blog? A photography blog? A news blog, or a parenting and health blog?

Decide, and stick to it (even if you stray occasionally–like me). That will build your niche, slowly but surely.

2) What is my main goal with this blog (get subscribers? sell a book?)?

If you have a goal in mind, everything  on your blog works toward that goal. If you’re everywhere at once, you won’t actually build or sell anything.

For example, the main goal with my blog right now, is to build readership. A following. Therefore, the very first “widget” on my blog’s righthand column, invites visitors to subscribe via RSS feed or email. A few inches down, I invite visitors to follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

I’ve expanded my network by partnering with other bloggers and writing guest posts. I write one new post a week, consistently, so my followers know to expect something. All of these tactics work toward building my online following.

And, it’s working (slowly but surely). Know what you want, and build toward it.

3. When, and how often, will I post?

Decide this up front. Will you post once a week, every Wednesday? Or twice a week—every Tuesday and Thursday? The key is to REMAIN CONSISTENT.

This consistency gives your readers a sense of professionalism. Just like magazine subscribers can expect their publication the first of every month, blog subscribers can expect a new post every Tuesday.

Just remember, whatever you decide, you need to keep up with it. So even if you can post three times a week right now, ask yourself: “Can I come up with three new ideas every week—and write them—five months from now?” My suggestion is to start slow, then add on if you have the time.

SO TELL ME: Do you have any key questions to add onto this list? What do YOU think are the most important aspects for bloggers to consider, for success?

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How Can Hootsuite Help Busy Writers (or anyone else)?

The first time I heard of Hootsuite, I laughed. Hard.

I mean seriously, who uses an owl for a mascot? Regardless of my first impression, Hootsuite has turned into a lifesaver for me–and it could for you, too.

What is Hootsuite?

Hootsuite is a nifty little tool where you can SCHEDULE your Facebook and Twitter posts in advance. This means, you can schedule everything on Sunday evening, and Hootsuite will post for you throughout the week.

Oh yeah, and it’s free.

Hootsuite has lots of other fun features, too. But for me–a busy writer who works full-time in the corporate world by day, and freelances for magazines by night–the ability to schedule social media posts in advance is key.

After all, I don’t have tons of free time to throw away on social media.

Why maintain a social media presence as a writer?

If you want to go by the experts, Poets and Writers Magazine just featured an article in its May/June edition entitled, “Social Media for Authors.” In it, public relations professional Lauren Cerand emphasizes the importance of social media for up-and-coming writers. Here’s an excerpt:

The task of finding readers and finding an audience is made much easier by joining the conversation that you feel you belong to, whether it’s via media that you maintain, community sites you check daily, or blogs that you read and comment on when you have something important to add.

What does this mean? It means as a writer, you have a better chance of selling your work if you can find your niche, and build a loyal following. One of the best ways to build that following is by using social media, especially for unknown writers.

As a former newspaper reporter, I now pay the bills by working in media strategy and marketing. And I can tell you from personal experience: social media is the future of exposure. I’m not talking about Facebook or Twitter, but rather the idea of social media and its platform of sharing information. Social media is word-of-mouth on steroids, to borrow a phrase from Gary Vaynerchuk, author of “Crush It.”

If you want to have a shot at being a successful writer, you need to maintain a social media presence. And Hootsuite is just one more tool to help you do it. Imagine drawing people again and again to your blog posts (old and new) throughout the week, without  spending all day on Twitter or Facebook?

MY QUESTION TO YOU: What social media platforms do you use, to maintain your online presence as a writer? And if you don’t use social media, which services do you want to learn more about?

5 Killer Twitter Tips: Expand Your Network Power!

I used to hate Twitter. No, seriously–I did.

Until I discovered its networking power. Less than six months ago, I opened my account. I initially had six followers, most of whom were personal friends. I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how some people had 1,000 followers, yet only followed 300.

Now, I’ve not only helped build my company’s Twitter account to that status, but I’ve reached nearly 300 followers myself. Recently, I hit a personal landmark: more people are following me, than I follow others.

How have I managed to build this growing social media presence? Here are 5 killer Twitter tips that will help you develop your presence into a powerhouse:

1. Don’t make your tweets about you; make them about everyone else. People are selfish creatures. So, what makes you think they’ll care about YOUR blog post? They won’t. But they WILL care about improving their own presence on Twitter (hey, you’re on my blog, reading my stuff, aren’t you?).

2. Ask questions. If you wrote a cool blog post on how gardening inspired your creativity, your tweet could look like this: “How can gardening help YOU become more creative?” Then link to your post. Questions tease people’s curiosity.

3. Always, always thank or acknowledge your new followers. If you choose not to follow certain people or entities back, fine. Be prepared, they may not stick around. However, they’ll be more likely to keep following you if they see you’ve acknowledged their presence.

4. Be an information forum. Choose who you follow wisely–the experts in your field of practice. C’mon, you know who they are.  THEN, let them feed you information, and you can  tweet it to your followers. Your news will be coming from legit sources, and people will turn to you as an expert in the field.

5. Tweet often, but remember: it’s better to tweet fewer solid tweets, than many useless tweets.

Social media is a time investment. The tools may be free, but becoming an online sensation doesn’t happen overnight. Your community will build slowly, but, it will build. Just keep at it, and you’ll reap the rewards.

Like the advice I offer? Sign up to receive my blog posts by email (upper righthand corner). As a professional writer, journalist, and media strategist, I offer funny life stories, writing tips, and social media strategies to consider.

Barnes & Noble Welcomes Self-Published Writers? Yup!

For the first time ever, self-published authors may have a shot at placing their books on the shelves of Barnes and Noble–so to speak.

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This news, reported in a Feb. 24 article published by GalleyCat on Mediobistro.com, comes right as Borders announced it’s filing for bankruptcy. According to the article, Barnes and Noble opened its doors to writers using the PubIt! self-publishing program.

Just to make sure this was a legit report, I hopped onto Barnes and Noble’s corporate website. Sure enough, there sat the official press release, “More than 11,000 Independent Publishers and Self-Publishing Authors Bring Their Digital Works to Barnes & Noble’s PubIt!™ Publishing Platform.”

How does PubIt! work?

Personally, I’d never heard of PubIt! Therefore, I followed the link to this program from the Barnes and Noble press release. Here’s what I found:

  • PubIt! appears to be Barnes and Noble’s self-publishing platform for eBooks.
  • It launched four months ago, according to the press release.
  • The website for PubIt! states there is no cost to use the service.
  • According to the PubIt! service policies, “the publisher will set a List Price for each eBook between $0.99 and $199.99.”
  • It also appears, from the service policies, the publisher will be paid royalties off the List Price.
  • I personally found the site and platform easy to use, from my brief time poking around.

What does this mean for writers?

This is a huge paradigm shift for publishers and writers. Can lesser known, self-published authors now compete with major names such as Nora Roberts, Dan Brown and Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants)? Do publishing houses and literary agents hold the same weight as they used to? Or can any marketing-savvy writer now make his or her way into the world of publishing and take the literary audience by storm?

Here’s another scenario to consider: perhaps this is a way for giant, Barnes and Noble, to tap into the huge market of self-published writers. Is this just a ploy to make money, while the real edge still remains in the hands of major publishing houses?

Take a moment and contemplate. Then tell me: what do you think?

No Experts in Social Media (but . . .)

In the midst of researching strategies to better your blog and its following, you run across a self-proclaimed “social media expert.” RUN! Run far, far away!

There are no experts in social media.

That’s because, no experts can exist in a field which the world is still trying to define. I’ve had several people ask me lately, “How can I better my blog and get people to follow me?” What you need are some lessons in social media strategy.

And while we don’t have experts in social media, we do have leaders—gurus. I’m talking about the people who’ve paved the way in a constantly evolving field.

So, I’m going to do two things here: First, I’ll list three “gurus” I urge you to follow, and why. Second, I’ll give you a few of my secrets to building a following on your blog.

3 Social Media Gurus to Know

  1. Gary Vaynerchuk. I cannot, cannot emphasize this man enough. Gary is one of the pioneers in social media marketing. Before most of the world even heard of “blogs,” he was creating “VLOGS.” Gary wrote a short, but deeply insightful book called “Crush It.” Reading this book helped me lay the foundation to my blog, as well as the strategy I used when helping develop my company’s social media marketing plan.
  2. Beverly Macy. Beverly teaches at UCLA and is the CEO of Gravity Summit Events and Consulting. I’ve met with Beverly in the past and she taught me some great strategies for social media measuring (a.k.a. knowing how to determine if you’re successful). Follow her on Twitter.
  3. Carol Tice. I discovered this great writer on Twitter. And boy, does she know her stuff! On her blog, Carol offers many amazing—and helpful—tips about building your credibility as a writer. She also talks about strategies to monetize off your blog, as well as your writing.

And now . . . my top 5 social media tips

Before I delve any further, know this. If you want to grow your blog, you MUST dedicate time and research to it. My blog’s readership is growing for one reason only: I took the time to read and educate myself on social media and writing strategies. I then pulled the pieces together for my own plan.

Remember, no experts in social media. But anyone can develop into a guru:

  1. Give your blog a theme. If your goal is to write and share photos only with family, then fine. However, if you want to build a following, your blog has to be ABOUT something. Notice the theme on mine, “Shari Lopatin: Rogue Writer.” And . . . I stick to it.
  2. Engage. The whole essence of social media is engaging with others. If someone comments on your blog, comment back. If they ask for advice, visit their site and leave a comment there. People want to know they’re being heard—by you.  
  3. Invite visitors to subscribe. People need a call to action. Therefore, prompt people to subscribe to your blog. Invite them at the end of your posts. Make the subscription box easily viewable at the top of your page. Following you should be an easy endeavor.  
  4. Simplicity. Your blog has to be easy to read and navigate. Don’t overload the eyes with too many widgets and columns.
  5. Accessibility. Be transparent. Do you have a tab on your blog inviting visitors to contact you? You should. And even if you don’t want to list an e-mail address, link visitors to Twitter or Linkedin.

 Like the advice I offer? Subscribe to my free blog (upper righthand corner) for email notifications on new writing tips, short stories, and media lessons. As a professional writer/editor, journalist, media strategist and communications consultant, I enjoy sharing some expertise to help others grow.