Off the Grid

Spending nearly every summer of my life in a cabin less than 10 meters from a lake in the middle of British Columbia has a profound effect. Toilets and sinks fed by pumped lake water, electricity derived from solar panels, propane-powered refrigerators, and an hour’s drive to the nearest approximation of civilization (and at least two to the nearest hospital) all become a reminder that city life is pretty easy.

Sound and noise are different when you’re close to the middle of nowhere. I live close to a highway, so absolute silence is rare. Wind blowing through trees; calls of kingfishers, eagles, loons and ospreys; and occasional boat and ATV motors are as noisy as it gets at the cabin.

There are so many stars at night that I cannot pick out the constellations I could easily point out from any city sidewalk. I am truly sorry that I do not own a time-lapse-capable camera – I cannot show you that night sky.

However I can show you some of the vistas around my family’s cabin by the lake. The following are (very large) panoramic photos that impart a slice of my summers past.

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Sunday (Monday?) Round Up – May 19, 2014

Words, or just a single word, will make the difference between shared knowledge and confusion. From spelling and choosing words correctly, to answering the right questions and explaining a gargantuan undertaking, it’s all about precision.

30 Incorrectly Used Words That Can Make You Look Horrible

Nothing stands out like a mistake. Knowing how to say what one wants to say is vital to precise communication.

Three Questions Every Brand’s Story Must Answer

What would your world be like? What will make it happen? How are you trying to get there right now? That’s a basic plot of any mission, so can your organization answer those questions? Communicating you or your organization’s mission requires precise, exact communication.

Here’s What You Missed at Social Media Camp

A precise message can be derived from a complicated event. Social Media Camp 2014 was a gigantic venture – three speakers presenting at the same time and over 750 attendees. Nonetheless, Laurel Lindsay distilled it into short, exact sentences that loses no important details despite having a low word count.

Over to You…

How do you practice precision? Do you agree that routine and creativity can mix? How important to you is a precise story?

Before We Begin a Witch Hunt…

Hello everyone! My apologies for a late blog: some ducks had to be put in a row for this one to be published. Now, on to defending internships…

In the past 4 months alone, there has been a deluge of news stories exemplifying bad internships. However, unpaid internships are not inherently evil. The circumstances and result of internships, on the other hand, could pass inspection as evil.

For those same 4 months, two days of every week have been booked for what is essentially an internship. It is not called that, but it functions the same way: I do work for a company and am not paid. This arrangement came about because I met with an experienced member of the marketing industry who invited me to learn more about said industry by doing volunteer work at the company where she works.

What Works

This internship works for a few reasons. It takes up only six hours every week, and I can work additional hours if I feel like it or need to so that work is completed. My direct supervisor is acting as a mentor: answering questions, inviting me to participate in tasks, allowing me to make my own mistakes, and providing honest feedback.

The most important part is how much control I had over the arrangement. I was asked to set my hourly commitment. I am expected to be honest if I think that I will be unable to complete a task.

Obviously those tasks benefit the company, but they are also relevant to my career goals. That is enhanced further by the aforementioned face-to-face feedback that flows both ways. The intentional results are refinement of my skills (helping me) that benefits the company (skilled workers are generally do better work) and refinement of current employees’ skills in the organization (see previous parentheses).

Examples of What Does Not Work

I am not stuck in an internship of 12-hour days doing phone surveys on the premise that is “relevant work” for a management position (don’t teach me about quality control charts or how to manage the differences between individual employees – why would I need those as a manager?). I am not bussing tables for free at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver (I am still reeling at the fact Fairmont is serious).

The Issues

Based on what I have read in the articles above and my own experience, it seems like there are two main problems that make unpaid internships unbearable for interns.

Over-Commitment

Human beings have fundamental needs. Eating, sleeping, drinking water, and having access to shelter and clothes are important for everyday life; so is having time to mentally unwind. No pay, no time to earn money on the side and limited leisure time because of a high number of working hours (and not listening to complaints) has unfortunate results.

Some will argue that the interns have made a choice to work the hours they do. That is true in some cases, and I am sure any intern takes their positions with faith that they will be treated well. Unrealistic time commitment expectations and no chance to have complaints heard does not constitute “well treatment”.

Actual Learning

Six 40-hour weeks performing phone surveys do not qualify as broadening a skill set. One week of phone surveys? That will teach someone a lot about the ground-level work and how to be patient in the face of anger and resentment, so it is not useless. However, an additional five weeks of phone surveys is like using a sledgehammer to drive home a finishing nail.

How about bussing tables at the Fairmont Vancouver for free? What can one learn from that internship? How to stack and carry more plates than looks reasonable and fake a smile.

The Bottom Line

Internships are not inherently evil. Everyone involved in an internship can benefit: interns gain skills, organizations gain trained employees and current employees (if they’re smart/willing to accept criticism) can refine their own skills. Keep internships alive, but make sure they deliver what is promised without pushing a human being past their bodily limits.

Staring into Still Water

Hello all! I started classes this week! New knowledge ahoy!

I love learning and applying what I have learned. For that reason, college has been one of the most exciting times of my relatively short life.

One of the most important things I have learned from college is that new information takes time to permeate the folds and crevasses of the human brain. The value of reflection cannot be understated.

Right now I am reflecting on the classes I attended this week, as well as this blog. Unfortunately that means there will be nothing more than this post today.

Uh. Russell. What are you talking about?

Life has become much more busy than it ever has been. Some things need to change. This blog will not disappear. Keep your eyes locked.

Control

While driving on the two-lane Fraser Highway, hundreds of feet above a frothy river of the same name, I was given sagely advice from the car’s back seat.

The only thing you can control is yourself.

Do Unto Others…

…what you would have them do to you. That’s an old cliche, but it makes a good point.

I got into an argument with my father two weeks ago, right before I left for vacation that would take me well outside cell phone range. I pushed too hard to make my point, and after we stopped talking, I knew I had been the aggressor. I hesitated to say anything, and missed the chance to be leaving the city.

My mother and I discussed it (she was on vacation with me). I thought about it myself. In the end, I wasn’t happy with how the situation had ended, but for a while I was unwilling to admit that I should be the first to take action.

On the way back from that vacation, I was given the piece of advice that at the beginning of this post. I realised that if I expect an apology, I would have to take control of myself and apologise.

Aftermath

I decided to take control of myself. When I got home, I apologised. It was the first thing I did after depositing my bags.

The words of the earlier argument melted away and became immaterial. All the tension that had built up over my week-long vacation disappeared.

Do you expect people to apologise to you when they do something wrong? Apologise when you do something wrong. Do you expect people to solicit your feedback? Ask them for theirs.

I took control and did what I had to. I chose to act, and the needle moved.

Beer, Tweens, Cereal, and Space

Happy (late) Canada day!

Here’s my quick run-down of must-see articles in marketing last week:

How appropriate that this Molson Canadian campaign came up last week.  It’s adorable in a nostalgic-with-beer kinda way.  Not my favourite commercial of the year, but it’s fun reboot of a classic traditional media campaign, so I like it.

Next, here’s some interesting data about Tweens, as compiled and made pretty by these guys.  Or thing.  I’m not 100% certain which monriker is more appropriate.

Great information to have if you are thinking about marketing to Generation Y.  The pie chart about instant gratification made me laugh; it seems that most tweens don’t like delayed satisfaction.

Next up, I present some social media lessons!

General Mills Gets a Firm that Gets Social Media 

Spredfast being the firm in question.  Read the quote below (found here):

“…Aaron Miller, social media and marketing specialist for the CPG firm [states] “One is to set in place brand foundations that enable success in social media. We’ve established that each brand needs a purpose—reasons for being that go beyond selling Cheerios.

-Heine, C, for AdWeek

“…needs a purpose…”

Baseline social media strategy, ladies and gentlemen.  Lay down why your brand/company/not-for-profit/self/dog is on social media.

Think of it this way: “why would a customer want to meet with and engage me on social media?”  Once you have a “why” (and a “where your clients are”), then the “what” becomes easier.

The Take Away

Have a “why” in your social strategy.  Tie it into your overall brand.  Know your audience, and give them what they like.

Social NASA

Oh NASA.  You guys are so good at what you do.  And some of what you do happens to be social media.

I hope everyone remembers @cmdr_hadfield‘s 5-month journey into space.  He posted a bunch of pictures.  Go find ’em if you haven’t already had a look.  Earth is beautiful.

Back to the main point: Real live astronauts and scientists on the social web!  I can remember wishing I had a direct line into NASA and CSA in elementary school, and now you’re telling me it’s possible AND I can see it on my cellphone?!

Excellent.

The Take Away

Most (not all) accounts on social networks are connected to a real person in some way, so those real people want to see things written and posted by real people.  I guarantee that if a scientist at NASA is excited about completing an experiment (and they’re allowed to share it), who better than the real, excited scientist?  I can’t imagine trying to be the PR person trying to fake a “EUREKA!” on Twitter.

Sexuality is Not a Game

I deliberately stay away from publishing things that are negative, because I believe that this blog is a positive space and should stay that way.  However, today I am not sure if I can stay positive.

There is some things in this world that need to be stopped.  Sexual assault, rape, and the objectification of women is one of them.

Recently, it has been alleged that a book project on Kickstarter advocates all three (Thanks to @normandiewilson for Tweeting about it; I probably would have missed it if she hadn’t).  Oh yeah; the project met and exceeded its funding goal.  Links to the project’s Kickstarter page lead nowhere, so I cannot link you to it, however, there are excerpts on Reddit (link below).

The author has released a statement about the allegations brought against him.  After reading some excerpts from the book on Reddit, I am not 100% convinced that it is as bad as some people say, though there is one part that I do not agree with.

Before you read on, please read the excerpts on Reddit yourself.  I have made up my mind about the book, but you are entitled to your own opinion, free of influence.  I do not want to influence your opinion any more than I may have already.  

Feel free to stop reading my post at this point and add your thoughts to the comment section below.  I promise that I will not cut you down for whatever opinion you have; however, I will ask questions about you opinion.  I’m curious like that.

The project is a book designed to help men pick up women for the purpose of having sex.  I understand why these books exist; there are many lonely people out there.  I am aware the sexuality can exist outside relationships.  There are those who have lovers, and this arrangement works for all parties involved.

I am also aware that pushing a person into a purely sexual relationship when they want a more mentally and emotionally intimate relationship is the definition of “slimy douchebag”.  The one part of the posts on Reddit that I already mentioned bothers me because it suggests a level of dominance that would make it difficult for a woman (or any person) to make her own decisions.  It also suggests sexual contact that would overwhelm a woman’s brain with hormones that trigger sexual arousal, eventually leading to a state where rational thought is impossible (this can happen in men’s brains too).

In the author’s statement linked above, he does note that what he meant is that making the first move is the right idea, but to back off entirely if the woman is not interested.  I appreciate that he said that, but at the end of the day, the book excerpt still seemed more about controlling the situation than allowing a mutual decision to lead to sex.

It is almost impossible to parallel the level of physical intimacy that comes with sex and sexuality.  Surgery is the only thing I can think of that comes close, and the results are not as pleasurable, nor is there a mutual exchange of tension and release.  Because of that physical intimacy, the decision to make sexual must be mutual.  What the author suggests in the “sex” section of his book is not mutual.

Perhaps the final copy of the book will account for that mutual decision making process.  I cannot know that, nor can anyone except the author himself.

Until the book hits shelves, all I can do is hope.  Oh, and use crowdfunding platforms other than Kickstarter.

Self Leadership and Me Incorporated

Hello everyone!  This post is going to be a conceptual one.  I tried to wrap it up in a metaphor and to provide analogies, but my mind was not cooperating.  I know you’re all smart people, so if you have any metaphors or analogies, share them in the comment section!

Onwards!

Last fall, a professor introduced me to the concept of self-leadership.  He said that that a person cannot lead and organization or group if that person cannot lead their own life.

The same professor also introduced me to the concept of Me Incorporated.  As a person, you are the owner, operator, marketer, R&D department, front-line staff, and product of a company called “me”.

Those two concepts are permanently entwined until the end of life.  Without leadership, Me Inc. will operate inefficiently, market itself poorly, develop unsellable products, and hire the wrong staff.

Today, I am going to focus on the concept of marketing Me Inc.

The Lifelong Marketing Campaign

People already do this every day.  We prepare ourselves for the showcase of the world; we perform rituals for that showroom shine (shower, brushing teeth, etc), and present ourselves in the package we want others to see (wearing clothes, shoes, etc).

We bring our values, personality, and attitudes wherever we go.  There are things we can do better than the next person in line.  We interact with others, and they interact with us.

Leading Self and Branding

This is where self leadership begins; think of it as a marketing decision.  What are your values?  What is the image/brand that you want to project?  What do you do better than the other guy?  How will your personality traits affect how people see you?  How do you interact with people?

Punk rockers do this very well.  Black denim, metal studs, mohawks, piercings, and attitude combine into an image that stands out amid the everyday and average.

The most important point to consider is “If I market myself this way, will it help me reach my goals?”

For me, it boils down to two overlapping things; my personal image and my professional image (or brand; whichever you prefer).  I say overlapping because when (not if) an employer spots me on the street, I do not want my image to say something stupid before I even get an interview.  Conversely, when I am in professional attire, I do not want to hurt my chances of personal interaction.

So what is your image or brand?

Moving Forward

At the end of the day, you must lead yourself where you want to go.  It’s your life, after all.

Did this basic overview help you?  Did I completely miss the ball?  Tell me in the comment section; I’m always eager to hear your thoughts.

Being Mindful

Hello everyone!  Today isn’t going to be about marketing; there is a self-help technique that I would like to share instead.

There is a lot of talk on the internet about being mindful as a path to having better days and a better life.  I have been practicing it for the past nine-or-so months, and the results have been profound; I am happier, more energetic, and get more work done.  As such, I wanted to share one of the simple ways that I practice mindfulness that is also a great way to improve your writing skills.

Mindfulness and being mindful is the result of paying attention to your senses to the point of “not thinking”.  It relies on sensory input to be effective.

A Beautiful Space

My house is on a hill that overlooks the East coast of Vancouver Island.  Unfortunately, it is not high enough on the hill to be above the treeline.  However, there is a nearby trail that ends up at a bench that is well above the treeline.

It is at this spot where I am able to be mindful most easily.  I usually trek up to it in the evening, and there is so much sensory information that it is nearly impossible to think.   This is the view at about 7pm:

I can see rectangles of green and yellow farm fields in the valley between where I sit and Douglas Mountain.  I hear the surges of traffic on the highway, and the occasional siren of an emergency vehicle.  On these summer evenings, the breeze feels warm against my face and thick with the moisture given off by the swathes of trees between houses and roads (temperate rainforests are my favourite).

There are the blinking red and green lights of planes landing at YVR airport.  Red warning beacons pulse in the Strait of Georgia and a lighthouse on one of the islands swings its beam of light past at regular intervals.  I can see the orange glow of Seattle and Vancouver (especially when there is a layer of clouds), and I often catch glimpses of bats as they glides by my head, close enough that I can feel the air disturbed where they pass.  The lights illuminating Vancouver’s ski hills glimmer amid the haze of the city’s own lights.

Describe!

You can read what I did there.  I described what I could see, feel, and hear.

Description is one of the most important parts of good writing, and observation is one way to be mindful.  Marrying the two is the easy way to get better at both.

Make It Your Own (& a couple more suggestions)

I like to rely on an abundance of sensory input, but you don’t have to.   I know of some individuals who focus on a single sense, like the authoress of this article on Tiny Buddha, who explains how she practices mindfulness when kneading dough.  

I also practice mindfulness while walking.  It has become habit to pay attention to the sensation of each footfall; my joints flexing, my muscles contracting and relaxing, and even what the ground feels like.

However you do it, practice mindfulness.  Hopefully what I have written here can help you do just that.  

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!  You can use the comment section of this post, or email me (russell@rggraham.me).  

4 Twitter management tips

I like Twitter. I’ve already said this once. Nonetheless, it can turn into a gargantuan stream of Tweets that you will ignore like a bad book.

That’s why I decided to create this guide on a few simple tools to organize your Twitter feed.

Hashtags

Yup.  The hashtag.  Twitter’s ubiquitous symbol.

So what the hell is a hashtag, anyway?  Twitter itself defines the operator as this:

Definition: The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.

I use them to refine who and what I want to follow, read, and talk about.  Some of my personal examples include #guitars, #marketing, and #music.  However, my actual use of hashtags is more refined than that.

The best part about hashtags is that they work like search terms, so it is easy to refine what you want by using multiple tags.  A more refined hashtag search (such as using #rock and #music instead of just using #music) will usually get more relevant results.

Saved Searches

Once you know what you want to watch and follow, you can use saved searches to find specific new content.  For example, you could save a search for #bacon or #driving or #shoes, or #drivingshoes or any combination of search terms (including those without hashtags).

Search terms can include users; however, I think that the following method is better for organizing Twitter users you follow.

Lists

Twitter lists are one of my favourite ways to find what I like and share what I like.  It’s easy to set them up while browsing Twitter and following users, but I find it’s easier to use Hootsuite or TweetDeck to display my lists (the next section will cover these platforms).

By using lists, I organize the users I follow into something like a text-based television channel.  For example, I created a list of the Twitter accounts associated to the CBC Radio shows that I listen to.  Other users can also create lists, and those lists can be followed.  I follow Alan Cross’ Music News-Biz list and Brian Thompson’s Music News list.

Publishing Platforms

If you find content online like I do over the course of the day and want to share it without posting 20 linked articles in the space of half an hour (or if you are using social media for your business), then platforms other than Twitter itself may be what you need.  Hootsuite and TweetDeck are well known and widely used for a reason.

Social publishing platforms like Hootsuite and TweetDeck allow for feeds of searched terms, lists, individual users, sent tweets, and every other action associated with the Twitter account.  They can also schedule posts for a later point in the day, week, month, or year.

I have used Hootsuite to manage all my social media accounts.  If all you need is a more organized Twitter feed, this is one place to start, though it does include functions that you may not find useful, such as link shortening and analytics.

I am still testing TweetDeck.  The interface is more straightforward than Hootsuite as it only covers one social network (Twitter).  It has more advanced functions like link tracking using bit.ly.  I will be testing TweetDeck over the next couple weeks and will report back with my findings. 

Does that cover everything you need to organize your Twitter feed?  Send me a tweet or use the comment box below if you would like help organizing your twitter account.  Happy Tweeting!