Blog #6: Fake photos make me cringe

The unwritten rule that online content must have photos has blurred the line between fact and fiction. Every blogger, every news editor, every website designer needs a visual to complete the story. If there isn’t an original photo to go with the piece, a stock photo with a generic cutline will do.

As a journalist it makes me cringe. I think this reliance on stock photos is the media industry’s biggest flaw. It is going to lead to a crisis of credibility.

Recently, I was watching the Garth Brooks biography, Garth Brooks: The Road I’m On. There are frequent references to the house in Hendersonville, Tenn., which he and his first wife shared with a large number of people (5? 7? I can’t recall) in the late ’80s. On screen, as Garth is talking about it, there is an image of an average brick bungalow. At no time does it say whether this is the actual house, or just a similar house in a similar neighborhood. The filmmakers let the viewer assume this is the actual house Garth lived in with all those other people.

Is this the house where I grew up, or just a generic shot that fits my narrative? You’ll never know in today’s media world. Photo: Pexels by Pixabay

As a viewer, I’m trying to imagine how so many people fit into such a small place. That’s why it matters to me whether this is the actual house or not. But it is now standard practice for filmmakers, journalists, bloggers, and social media influencers to choose any image that illustrates their point without specifying whether the photo is fact or fiction.

When I was taught journalism, this would not have been acceptable. But today, many of the people producing media content are not journalists, and the line between real and fake has crumbled to dust.

About me: After more than 25 years as an editor of trade publications, I’m now learning social media techniques. I’ll be writing about news, communication, social media and travel as I go through this career transition. Please join me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or my blog, and we’ll chat.

Blog #5: No mistakes, just support

By Cindy Macdonald

If you are a small business owner, social media marketing can be time-consuming, confusing and risky. But it’s not an easy function to outsource because effective marketing requires an intimate knowledge of the client’s business and the target audience. It is easy to make a mis-step and damage your business’ reputation.

As an experienced business writer and social media strategist, I can achieve that balance of learning your business and growing its presence on social media. I know that you don’t retweet Greenpeace when you work in the logging and forestry sector, not matter how cute the video is. You don’t complain about being stuck in the office when your audience is construction workers labouring outside on a hot and humid July day.

Having reported on manufacturing, automotive, forestry, retail, security, agriculture and cleantech for 25+ years, I can relate to almost any Canadian industry.

Also, when you’re paying someone for their specialized expertise, you need them to walk a fine line between suggesting improvements and completely taking over your process.

Gif by Tenor

This is where I fit in. As a freelance writer and editor, I am accustomed to joining a company for a defined term to complete a specific project. I make things happen once the company’s leaders have decided what should happen. I’m a tactician, not a strategist. Part of the crew, not the captain.

Gif by Tenor

One of my strengths is #collaboration. One of the key functions of an editor is to work with writers, to make their articles better without obscuring their voice. This is what I feel a social media manager should do: collaborate, boost the marketing message and be a team player.

About me: After more than 25 years as an editor of trade publications, I’m now learning social media techniques. I’ll be writing about news, communication, social media and travel as I go through this career transition. Please join me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or my blog, and we’ll chat.

COM0014 Blog #4: Modern wisdom: Shop’s Facebook page reflects owner’s style

By Cindy Macdonald

A friend of mine is co-owner of holistic health business in Lindsay, Ancient Wisdom Holistics. She paired  her retail experience with her deep belief in alternative healing to launch a small shop which also offers some professional services and learning events.

As with most start-ups, there’s little money for marketing, so she and her partner are employing social media as best they can. They’ve chosen to have a presence on both Facebook and Instagram, which seems to be the appropriate choice for their target market and type of business.

This photo of the shop was used on both Facebook and Instagram.

On Facebook, @Ancient.Wisdom.444 has more than 500 followers. The owners post a few times a week and generally earn a few comments and 10 to 20 likes. The posts tend to be product photos or announcements of events. They are not optimally worded to encourage engagement from other users; this is an area which needs improvement. Spelling and grammar could also be improved. The owners also share inspirational and wellness-themed posts, very relevant to their market.

The Facebook posts have a very gentle, respectful tone. They invoke a sense of peace and wellbeing, and are very true to the personality of the owners. Consider this example, from this winter:

Good snowy morning everyone. Ancient Wisdom Holistics will be closed for the day do to the weather. Let’s stay off the roads and let the plow drivers get there job done easier 🎉😇 P.j’s hot tea and movies day! After we shovel out😜 Have a safe and great day. See you Friday

The owners have taken advantage of some other Facebook features that are beneficial for business marketing. The “About” section contains appropriate keywords for this market: “A large selection of Crystals, Minerals & Sage as well as Meditation classes. Psychic / Mediums. Reiki classes and privet Reiki session. Oracle & Tarot decks, Psychic lessons. Incense and a whole lot more!”

Also, the Messenger chat window opens when you visit the page and offers a list of standard queries as well as the opportunity to post your own question. This encourages visitor interaction.

Ancient Wisdom is also using Facebook events to promote classes, services and special events.

For their Facebook page, I would suggest a little more personalization and storytelling, with an emphasis on the owners. They should also network more with other similar businesses to boost each other’s marketing efforts.

The business’ Instagram presence (@ancientwisdom.444) is less developed than the Facebook page. Posts are generally a repeat of the visual/photo posts Facebook, with little text. It would benefit greatly from more verbiage and the use of hashtags such as those found in the Facebook “About” section: #crystals, #healing, #meditation, #psychic, #reiki.

It is evident that the two owners have made a start toward social media marketing. They are using the appropriate tools but need some training or guidance on how to better use these tools.

About me: After more than 25 years as an editor of trade publications, I’m now learning social media techniques. I’ll be writing about news, communication, social media and travel as I go through this career transition. Please join me on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn or my blog, and we’ll chat.

COM0014 Blog #3: Sell the “happy cows” idea

For several years while my two boys were teenagers, we subscribed to a local farm’s CSA program. They delivered a box of in-season produce to our door every week. We also opted for local meats in our order.

This #buylocal option was definitely more expensive, but we justified the expense, as I think most people do, with the belief we were doing good for local businesses, the environment and the animals. When we were eating the local meats, I used to tell the boys it was meat from “happy” cows, or pigs, or chickens. We believed that by buying local meat, using less of the “factory farmed” products, we were making life better for the cow/pig/chicken.

It turns out, I fall right into the target demographic for #localfood businesses, such as farmer’s markets, small local food retailers, specialty food retailers and other farm-to-table businesses.

Research (here and here) shows that these enterprises should aim their marketing at married women in higher income brackets. The women using their services are likely to have a family and an interest in gardening. In terms of their attitudes and values, these consumers are often food advocates and people of strong opinions. They are generally eco-conscious, have strong diet concerns and believe in giving back to the community.

From a social media marketing perspective, local food retailers should incorporate popular hashtags that appeal to foodies and to married, female consumers. Examples would be: #buylocal, #localfood, #farmtotable, #homemade. A Google search shows that the terms “local food” and “buy local” reached their peak popularity in the last 12 months during the week of April 12-18, 2020. The target market likely uses Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest more than other social media platforms.

Retailers could also check out and join local Facebook groups as well as food-oriented groups. In the Toronto area, there are many: Ontario Food Entrepreneurs, Local Food, Muslim Foodies of Ontario, Farm to Table, and Friends and Fans of Belleville Farmers Market.

Gourmet food shops, farmer’s markets and on-farm retail outlets are designed to serve a specific niche. They serve a defined group of consumers with a specific interest in local food, which makes it fairly easy to design and direct marketing toward this target group.

COM0014 Blog #2: The same message, three different ways

By Cindy Macdonald

Image by Pixabay.com, OpenClipart-Vectors

The emphasis in my social media class this week was on storytelling and communication styles, so I would like to provide a short demonstration of how you, as  writer, can communicate the same information in multiple ways, depending on the nature of your audience.

Why the image of a cucumber you ask? Well, it’s going to become the star of our story.

I pulled this quote from a corporate blog for Resolute Forest Products. It is written in typical promotional corporate tone.

“Today, the company has grown into a global leader in the forest products industry with over 40 pulp, paper, tissue, wood products and energy facilities across North America…. From the filter used to make their morning coffee to the lumber they buy to renovate their home – even the cucumbers in their lunchtime salad – all may contain a fair amount of Resolute.”

– Resolute Forest Products

Presented in a more casual, instructional tone, it could read:

Many mills in Quebec and Ontario belong to one of the world’s top forest products companies: Resolute Forest Products. The company has more than 40 plants in North America, producing items you would use every day: the filter used for your coffee, the lumber for your home renovations, even the cucumbers in your lunchtime salad.

Here it is in a light, first-person style:

I just found out that a Canadian company which makes paper and lumber also grows cucumbers! I think it’s so fabulous that Resolute Forest Products uses the waste heat from some of its mills to provide energy for a greenhouse to grow cucumbers. It just goes to show that even big companies – Resolute has 40 mills in North America – can still be innovative, and cool as a cucumber! 😊

Now you try re-writing the original corporate bland copy using a different tone, and share it in the comments section.

About me: After more than 25 years as an editor of trade publications, I’m now learning social media techniques. I’ll be writing about news, communication, social media and travel as I go through this career transition. Please join me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or my blog, and we’ll chat.

COM0014 Blog #1: Visiting Cuba made me uncomfortable

By Cindy Macdonald

Just prior to the coronavirus shutdown of global travel, my husband and I took our first vacation to a Caribbean all-inclusive resort. We have taken Caribbean cruises a few times, but decided this was the year to try a beach vacay.

I was worried about being bored, with seven days at the beach and by the pool, so we chose Varadero, Cuba because if offered the possibility of some cultural learning in addition to beach time. We took a day trip into Havana and another venture off-resort to hear a local band. Boredom averted.

The architecture and ambiance of Old Havana was a little less colorful than I had hoped, but still enjoyable. The spectacular stonework, wrought-iron balconies and awe-inspiring churches definitely had a tropical, colonial feel.

Check out the video (here) and photos of Old Havana.

Old Havana, February 2020
Old Havana, February 2020

The quality of service, food and accommodations at our resort in Varadero was well below what we are accustomed to on cruises, but then, so was the price.

When choosing our vacation destination, one of my concerns was how we would deal with the dramatic lifestyle gap between us as middle-class North Americans and the poor local Cuban population. There’s a brief history of Cuba here, which states:

“Life in contemporary Cuba is thus challenging, given the limited access to food, transportation, electrical power, and other necessities.

brittanica.com

The problem is, life is not challenging for the tourists who flock to the island’s resorts. They get the best the island has to offer, and that has to create resentment, doesn’t it?

Pool at a Sandals resort. By Ashley Burton, Wikimedia Commons

I have been part of the working class in a town dependent on rich summer residents. During that time, I did not have favorable feelings toward my upper-class employers. In my imagination, the feelings of working-class Cubans toward vacationers must be similar, or even stronger, given Cuba’s socialist/communist roots. Therefore, it struck me as false when the servers and cleaners were overly friendly toward their clients. Servers would give some vacationers hugs each morning at breakfast. My husband took it as genuine friendliness. I perceived it as currying favor for tips. It made me uncomfortable.

One of our servers even gave us cheap little souvenirs, and that made me uncomfortable, because I felt an implied expectation to give her something in return.

When I caved to popular protocol and left “gifts” of cosmetics and toiletries for our cleaner, she was not overly thankful, and seemed to want to avoid conversation about it. It made both of us uncomfortable.

I’m curious. Has anybody else experienced that discomfort when visiting a poorer nation? Let me know in the comments.

Obviously, not everyone shares my reservations about Cuba. More than one million Canadians visited Cuba in 2018. For good reason: It is cheap, accessible, beautiful and safe. The cultural differences just made me uneasy and put a damper on a sunny, tropical get-away.

About me: After more than 25 years as an editor of trade publications, I’m now learning social media techniques. I’ll be writing about news, communication, social media and travel as I go through this career transition. Please join me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or my blog, and we’ll chat.

Twitter reveals Trump’s true character

Donald Trump was the reason I began using Twitter. When I found out he was using Twitter to communicate directly with people, it intrigued me. I am a journalist. I’ve covered enough events and speeches to know how the media acts as a filter. To hear the words of the President of the United States without the filter of journalists’ interpretations was irresistible.

Following @realDonaldTrump led to me following other U.S. political pundits, and then to Canadian politics. It has even provided a window into some other groups in which I have an interest but no personal connections.

Donald Trump has shaken up the world of politics in many ways, especially by the way he uses social media. He was one of the first to employ “Twitter diplomacy.”

One of the most disturbing aspects of Trump’s use of Twitter, to my mind, is how he uses it to bully people. He engages in name-calling and threats – despicable behavior for a person in a position of authority.

Courtesy of giphy.com

But he goes further than simple online bullying, according to The New York Times. Trump reportedly uses his social media clout to overrule staff and advisors.

An article in the Times on Nov. 2 stated:

“In the Oval Office, an annoyed President Trump ended an argument he was having with his aides. He reached into a drawer, took out his iPhone and threw it on top of the historic Resolute Desk:

“Do you want me to settle this right now?”

There was no missing Mr. Trump’s threat that day in early 2017, the aides recalled. With a tweet, he could fling a directive to the world, and there was nothing they could do about it.

New York Times, Nov. 2

The article goes on to say that Trump uses the threat of Twitter “to break through logjams, overrule or humiliate recalcitrant advisers and pre-empt his staff.”

Perhaps speaking directly to the public via Twitter has backfired for Trump. Instead of the media downplaying his eccentricities out of respect for his office, his own words have revealed his character (and his poor communication skills, but that’s a discussion for another time).

While social media can provide a very sanitized image of celebrities, in some cases it shows a person’s true colors. Can you think of any other celebrity personas who have shown negative personality traits? Seems to me most of them have more sense.