COM0014 – Blog 2: Storytelling matters, now and always

Although the medium for storytelling has evolved over time, specifically with emerging technology and the changing landscape of communication, the important components remain the same: humans find success in preserving and sharing information by expressing emotion through the telling of stories. While the way individuals take in stories has changed, especially in the online era, storytelling is remains something that’s been used for millenniums to build relationships, teach lessons, share culture and create meaningful connections between people. 

In other words, and at risk of sounding cliche, storytelling has been around since the beginning of time and will remain important for humans through the ages. 

When it comes to storytelling in the modern world, specifically online, it’s key to engage readers right from the start of your story in order to maintain their desire to continue reading. In Brian Clark’s “How to Read”, Clark explains the varying types of readers and how they consume written content. He explains that people don’t read well online, in fact they spend more of their time scanning for bits of information they might find interesting, rather than taking in an entire piece of writing from start to finish.

While Clark dives deep into elaborating on four key reading levels (Elementary, Inspectional, Analytical and Syntopical) the key takeaway from this piece is the importance of creating content that not only draws the reader in, but brings them beyond the Inspectional level where they simply skim the article but never quite reach a point where they can properly analyze, absorb and create an understanding of the topic at hand. 

Because we know that consumers of online content tend to be scanners rather than analytical readers, it’s important that information be shared in a particular order where the important information comes first and then as the article goes on, additional but less crucial information is shared.

This technique, known as the Inverted Pyramid approach, ensures that even if the reader is simply scanning the first few lines of an article, they will see the most critical information and are more likely to stick around and read the rest of the content.

In the world of journalism, writers are provided the resounding advice to avoid burying the lead. With the most important information at the top, the writer can ensure they reach the greatest number of people with their messages. Even the most time-strapped reader is likely to read the first few lines of an article when the key information is easy to find. 

While it’s fair to say that storytelling will always play an important role in our lives, it’s also fair to assume that we all continue to see a change in how we tell our stories. Whether it’s on social media, through blogs, or perhaps some new technology that doesn’t even exist yet – humans will continue to share information and build connections through the power of a well-told story. 

COM0014 Blog 1: A Mother-Daughter Vacation Story

COM0014 Blog 1: A Mother-Daughter Vacation Story

We didn’t take many vacations when I was a kid. My single mom spent most of her time working or taking care of me and my brother. So when I grew up, moved out and started working full-time, my mom and I decided it was time to start a tradition. Every September, usually the week of Labor Day, we would go on a trip together. We don’t go too far and we try not to spend too much money, but these trips have been incredible. 

When planning our most recent trip we decided to head east, picking Halifax as our holiday destination. Beautiful scenery, lots of history, live music and culture – it couldn’t get any better. While planning I also came across some awesome looking pubs and breweries (🎵these are a few of my favourite things🎵). Plus, I’ve always kind of felt like I belonged out by the ocean. 

A skyline picture taken from the top of a large rock at Peggy's Covee

We flew from Ottawa to Halifax, rented a car at the airport and started our drive towards the city. When we realized we had some time to spare before we could check into our AirBnB, we decided to take a detour to Peggy’s Cove. Obviously we knew this was a very attractive tourist destination with things to see and souvenirs to buy but most importantly, after a morning of travel we were both hankering for a lobster roll. 

Fun fact – or maybe just something I had never really thought about – people actually live in Peggy’s Cove. It shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did. I just kind of figured that there would be a restaurant, some vendors and of course a lighthouse. What I didn’t realize was the population of Peggy’s Cove is 30 residents. People actually live there year-round.

Jess and her mother pose for a picture in front of the lighthouse at Peggy's Cove

The houses are cute and cottage-y and it’s fair to assume the residents are accustomed to their tiny town being overrun by tourists. There must have been thousands of people there while we were checking it out.

We stopped for lunch, bought a painting from a local artist, and snapped a pic in front of the lighthouse. 

After a lovely visit and a pint of Nine Lock’s Dirty Blonde at the Sou’Wester, we headed to Hali. I noticed along the way how beautiful Nova Scotia is. Hillside and colourful houses, trees, and a beautiful ocean view sounded us as we drove along the coast to our final destination. 

Over the next few days, we took advantage of staying close the harbour and walked to all of the must-see spots we set out to visit. We checked out the Halifax Citadel and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to take in some history. We walked along the boardwalk, and even took the ferry to Dartmouth and back. 

A beer sample at the Alexander Keith's Brewery

Because of my love for craft beer, tied with a desire to learn as much as I possibly can about anything and everything, we checked out the Alexander Keith’s Brewery to take a tour of their brewing operation and learn not only about how they make beer but also about how it was founded way back in 1820. 

We sat in bars, clapped and stomped along to the music of local bands, tried new food (you have to try deep fried pepperoni – just trust me), and most importantly we spent some amazing mother-daughter time together. 

A photo a Jess's mom sitting in a parlour at the Alexander Keith's Brewery

Next September we planned to go to New York City but with the current situation we’re experiencing globally, we may need to take a rain-check until 2021. But you can guarantee that any trip we take, no matter where it is or when it happens, will be one to remember.

Photo of Jess (right) and her mother (left)

I never felt like I missed out on anything growing up. My mom made sure my bother and I had great experiences, even if they had to be in our backyard.

Quality time with my mom is always going to be important to me. She is my inspiration, my favourite travel partner and the person who made me who I am today. 

I love to travel with my mom.
Who’s your travel buddy? 

Searching for a recipe online? Here’s why what you’re looking for is buried below a blogger’s wordy intro

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about searching for cooking inspiration online, since cookbooks certainly aren’t the first place we look for recipes anymore. In this conversation we uncovered a common irritant:

Why on earth do online recipes always have a long-winded, essay-like memoir prefacing the actual meat and potatoes (pun intended) of the recipe? 

We talked about all the reasons why we hated this: the story doesn’t feel relevant to the recipe, it’s usually way too long and honestly if I’m searching for a recipe chances are I’m not interested in the chef’s personal anecdote. We asked others in the office their thoughts and it seemed unanimous – we don’t want a long intro, we want to learn how to cook a nice dinner or bake the best birthday cake ever. I was adamant that these recipe blogs were unimportant and purposeless – it felt like a lot of needless scrolling.

Woman pretending to scroll vigorously through a cellphone.
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But this got me thinking… Why is it so hard to find recipes online without a long introduction if so many people are annoyed by it? 

So of course I turned to Google for the answer to my question. To my surprise, I found some pretty valid reasons why these pre-recipe stories exist. I won’t say that I’ve completely changed sides in the debate… I still feel that when I need a recipe I won’t always want to scroll through a story first, but I also understand the value and rationale behind this phenomenon. 

Do you find these long-winded recipe intros annoying? Here’s why they actually make sense. 

  1. It’s important to remember that when all is said and done, these are blogs – not your grandma’s recipe box. The intention behind a blog is to tell a story and to share thoughts and feelings so naturally a food blogger will tell a story about their recipe; whether it’s why it’s meaningful to them, the story of how they came up with the recipe or even how it’s part of the chef’s cooking or dietary journey. So, next time you see a long introduction to that apple crisp recipe that looked so delicious in the previewed picture, remember you’re about to click on a link to a blog and chances are that blogger has a story to tell.
  2. Food blogs are a dime a dozen, therefore personalized introductions are a way for bloggers to stand out in the heavily saturated world of food blogs. When a blogger is building their personal brand online, they want to make sure they’re unique enough that readers will choose their blog over the hundreds of others that exist. So yes, they are sharing an awesome recipe, but they’re also creating a name for themselves in the blogosphere.
  3. If you feel the first two arguments didn’t have legs to stand on, perhaps because you’re a bit more data-driven or analytical, you might see more validity in this one. Search engine optimization is a key reason why food bloggers write long introductions. Google picks up on keywords and more comprehensive text that simple ingredient lists and instructions don’t include. If a blogger wants to get their content onto that incredibly important first page of a Google search, they need to really work this system. In this article, the blogger behind the popular Cadry’s Kitchen explains that she uses insights from Google to better understand what her audience wants to see and how they find content online. 

Okay, okay… Maybe this analysis won’t totally convince you to go easier on food bloggers… But hopefully it provides a little insight into the why behind the long intros standing between you and your new favourite recipe.

And hey, if you’re really that unhappy with the extra effort required to scroll through a food blog, buy a cookbook. 

So tell me, do you find long introductions to online recipes compelling or repelling? 

Twitter: Ugh, just get to the point! Here’s why #foodblogs have long introductions before they get to the recipe

Facebook: Ever wondered why recipes you find online are always accompanied by a lengthy intro? Here’s why! #foodblogs

What’s the appropriate response when a kid says, “I want to be a YouTuber when I grow up”?

My job allows me the opportunity to work with youth, specifically through workshops and presentations to help them prepare for the future of work – i.e. resume building, soft skills they’re not taught in school, personal branding, etc. In a workshop recently I asked the group what they wanted to do as a career and a handful of the kids in the room said they wanted to be YouTubers.

Despite having facilitated this workshop dozens of times, this was the first time I got this response to my fairly scripted question. I was anticipating responses like doctor, lawyer, firefighter, veterinarian… So I wasn’t exactly prepared to react to this answer. 

I took this as an opportunity to learn a little more about this younger generation. Clearly their aspirations are quite different than mine would have been at their age. I asked, “Can you tell me more about what YouTubers do and why you want to be one?” The explanations surprised me. I was thinking it would be about making money or becoming famous. Turns out it’s bigger than fame and fortune. 

Here’s what they said (in so many words)

  • YouTube is a place they can express themselves and be heard 
  • This platform allows them to speak about causes or issues that are important to them 
  • It brings communities together 

After hearing this, I believe more than ever that our world is in good hands with this generation. 

It did get me thinking though… What are the downsides to being a YouTuber? Does this career path have any impact a person’s well-being? 

The answer: Yes. Big time yes. 

CBC featured an article about a YouTuber named Elle Mills, a 21-year-old from Ottawa who dedicated herself to YouTube success. According to the article, Mills graduated high school and then spent all of her time building her YouTube channel’s success.  

Elle Mills, YouTuber, smiles for a photoshoot.
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Mills was shooting, editing and posting new videos every week and it led to being “Burnt Out at 19” as she explained in one of her videos. If you’re planning on watching this video, I want to warn you that it covers some heavy stuff. Mills opens up about her mental health and how content creation has made her depression and anxiety take over. There’s some very real and intense footage but very impactful. 

What really strikes me about the concept of a career like this causing so much damage to a person’s well being is how it can go unnoticed for so long. A content creator can hide the bad and share only the good things in their life. Viewers could go years without ever knowing how the YouTuber truly feels. Fortunately, online personalities like Elle Mills are speaking out about this. It’s becoming more and more acceptable to openly discuss your mental health. 

I guess it’s not uncommon for a person’s job to cause them to burn out. I’m sure it’s something that everyone feels at some point or another… But it is interesting that a career that looks so fun and interesting could have this impact. 

The world of work is changing. Kids see YouTube as a career option and that’s totally okay. I simply hope they stay connected to how they’re feeling and check in every once in a while to make sure they aren’t burning out. 

So, what would your advice be to a future YouTube star as they embark on their journey and navigate possible impacts to their well-being? 

Facebook: You want to be a YouTuber when you grow up? Have you thought about your mental health? Here’s something to consider:

Twitter: Kids want to be YouTubers but is burning out in your early career worth it? #burnout #youtubestars

Social Media Philanthropy Unpacked: The Good & the Bad of Online Fundraising

Social media has changed philanthropy – both for non-profits looking for support and individual fundraisers seeking donations to their cause du jour. It’s now easier than ever to reach large audiences with minimal effort. Although this sounds good, in theory, is the ease of using social media for fundraising affecting charitable giving in a negative way? 

The Good

In the past, charities and nonprofit organizations could only solicit for donations by direct mail, telephone or those very eager and relentless volunteers who stand on a street corner to ask for donor commitment. Now, these organizations can easily get ahold of donors, or potential donors, by email, text message, Facebook post or tweet, to name a few channels. 

Social media allows non-profit organizations to have a larger reach, to tell a more fulsome story to potential donors and to build relationships and partnerships with other organizations. Using online channels to connect with the community allows organizations to establish their brand as trustworthy by telling their story in a more frequent and affective way. 

Individual fundraisers have also taken to social media to raise awareness and dollars for charities of their choosing. Gone are the days of knocking on your neighbour’s door to ask for a cash donation. Now you can send them a personalized email soliciting funds. One step further, if you don’t have the time to personalize an email, you can post your fundraiser on your Facebook page for your entire personal network to see. 

It’s clear that social media has helped make philanthropy easier. Organizations cast a larger net to reach more possible donors, while individual fundraisers can reach more of their personal networks easily and quickly.

A hand graphic holding a heart. The hand graphic is the same as the Facebook "like" button.
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The Bad

Social media is known for overstimulation. We are constantly bombarded with information, stories, pictures, status updates, blog posts, listicles, I could go on… So there’s no doubt this applies to philanthropy too. 

Picture this… You wake up in the morning and check your phone. You see an email from a charity you donated to many moons ago but haven’t yet unsubscribed from their mailing list. Then you head to work and check your inbox to see an email from a colleague collecting donations for their kid’s school to build a new playground. Then it’s lunchtime and you head out to grab a bite with some friends. On your walk, you see a geo-targeted ad on your Instagram soliciting donations for a local charity. Your day isn’t even half over and you’ve been asked to donate to three unique charities. 

In an article called The Over-Solicitation Blues: How Canadian Charities can Prevent Donor Fatigue, published on the website Charity Village, the writer quotes research that explains over-stimulation is the number one reason why people stop donating. The article also explains that a lot of email solicitation for donations goes straight to the receivers junk or spam folder. If this is the only method that charities choose to connect with their donors, there’s a strong chance their message isn’t being received. 

A cellphone showing an emoji graphic of an annoyed face.
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When it comes to individual fund-raising through social media, the act of philanthropy is easily lost when fundraising becomes a popularity contest. In 2017, Facebook introduced a birthday fundraiser functionality where users can create a fundraiser for their favourite charity, establish a goal amount and solicit donations directly from their network. The donations are then tracked against the fundraising goal and shown publicly on the individual’s profile. Although this sounds like a great way to give back to the community, what it really shows is how many friends you have that are willing to make a donation to your fundraiser as a birthday gift to you. It turns into an act of personal validation rather than a focus on the benefitting charity.

So… what’s the verdict? 

Well, just like most things in life, everything is okay in moderation. With social media making it easier for organizations and individuals to fundraise, there will always be pros and cons. Ultimately, donors will approach charitable giving in however they feel comfortable. For many, online may be the easiest way to give back. For others, over-stimulation may impact the decision to give. In the end, humans are caring and compassionate beings, meaning philanthropy will continue regardless of the method. 

Woman holding heart shaped piece of paper.
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Do you find social media philanthropy to be too much stimulation or just the right approach? 

Facebook: Is social media changing the way donors approach charitable giving? It sure is! Check out how:

Twitter: Thinking of starting a birthday fundraiser on #Facebook? Check out how social media has changed the act of #philanthropy

Instagram feed giving you FOMO? Learn to embrace JOMO instead.

Let me paint you a word picture. 

It’s 9:45pm and you’re getting into bed to go to sleep. But you’re not super tired yet so you pull out your phone and start scrolling through Instagram. You see a post from your favourite travel blogger. They’ve just landed in some warm, tropical place with their best friend and the two are headed to the beach for some casual snorkelling and overall good times. You then look outside and see nothing but glaringly white and intensely cold snow. You say, “UGH – I wish I was them!” Sound familiar? It’s not surprising that you have at some point or another wished you were living the same lifestyle as your favourite blogger or influencer rather than your boring old life. But why? It’s a little thing called FOMO otherwise known as the Fear Of Missing Out. 

What is this feeling and why do we feel it? 

The Fear Of Missing Out is the feeling we get when we believe others, whether we know them or not, are doing things that are more fun, more exciting or more impactful than what we’re doing. Human beings are hardwired to compare ourselves to others. While this isn’t a physiological need or impulse, it certainly is natural. It can be found in a concept I’m sure we’ve all heard before:  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

A pyramid identifying five key needs that human beings experience including physiological needs, safety needs, love/belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs.
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No, this isn’t a psychology lesson but I want to point out the top two levels of this pyramid. Ego and Self-Actualization are key to an individual’s needs in life. So it’s no surprise that we get this FOMO feeling – we want to discover and develop who we are as a person while at the same time we’re constantly seeking improved self esteem and respect by others. 

FOMO is amplified by the use of social media because the technology gives users the ability to share what they’re doing instantaneously. It also provides users on the receiving end with the ability to have hundreds of thousands of posts at their fingertips to reflect on. 

Here’s the thing: social media content can be incredibly well curated and as a result sometimes misleading. Users tend to post only the good things that happen to them while omitting the bad. So when you’re scrolling through your feed, you’ll see all these great things your friends are doing but you won’t see the less positive and glamourous stuff that all people go through. This can lead you to believe their lives are, for lack of a better word, perfect, while yours is not. 

I’m sure this concept isn’t new to you. It’s widely understood that what we see on the internet isn’t always true. But when you’re constantly surrounded by stories of amazing vacations or shopping sprees or big fancy dinners, you’ll start to believe that your life is worse than the Instagram stars and bloggers you follow. 

Replacing FOMO with JOMO 

The Joy Of Missing Out is a new trend to replace that FOMO you’re feeling. Christina Crook is the author of a book called The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World where she reflects on the concept of embracing the joy of being present in life, rather than experiencing that fear of missing out on bigger and better things. 

In an article posted by CBC this concept is explored from the perspective of a mom/entrepreneur who routinely uses social media for both business and pleasure. She shares that she often experiences FOMO as a visceral feeling, meaning it’s something she feels without a rational explanation. This means despite knowing that social media can be deceiving, we still get FOMO. 

So now the question is, how do you start to feel JOMO instead? Well according to the mom/entrepreneur in this article, it’s as simple as taking a weekend break from social media and focusing on real life, in the moment things like spending time with your family or even doing chores. Taking a break from social media for even just a couple days can help reduce your FOMO. Christina Crook identifies more ways to embrace JOMO in a series of blogs on her website.  

Two women hugging with caption: Let us be the ones who are generous; who give our loved ones our whole hearts and attention.
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Seems easy! Give it a try. 

Put down that phone! It’s time to embrace the here and now… Well, old habits die hard and it’s not always easy to separate yourself from social media for an entire weekend. So here’s some easy ideas to start avoiding FOMO by embracing a little JOMO: 

  • Instead of scrolling through Instagram before bed, try downloading a meditation app and giving it a go. 
  • Thinking about checking your Facebook timeline for an update on your cousin’s new baby? Give them a call. This way you’re more likely to get the real story anyway!
  • Start with a phoneless afternoon or evening. You might just like it!

What ways do you embrace JOMO to avoid that inevitable social media induced fear of missing out? 

Is your Instagram feed giving you #FOMO? Here’s why you feel this way and what you can do to avoid it by embracing the power of #JOMO.

Feeling serious #FOMO after spending time on #Instagram? Here’s why and what to do about it. #JOMO