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Swingin' on a Star

Standing Out on Social Media

When you’re an unemployed communications student trying to get noticed on the Internet, you tend to get creative about it by default. I learned long ago that getting someone’s attention is not all about you–it should be about the message your recipient wants to hear. This of course takes getting to know your audience through either prior dialogue or background research. But you also have to be strategic–for example, what, if any, type of humor would your audience enjoy? Sometimes this is a more spur-of-the-moment, organic process than your social media strategy typically calls for–but the results can be worth it. Here are a few times that I got the attention of people on Twitter.

Dule Hill

I’m a huge fan of The West Wing and Psych, and I think that Dule Hill is fantastic in both. Two years ago, the season premiere of Psych occurred on my birthday, so I decided to tweet Dule and tell him about it in order to get a retweet. Now, Psych is a show that has a  rabid fan base and a thriving social media presence–many of the cast members are avid tweeters and they participate in many Twitter Q&As about episode production. They used GetGlue for promos before I had heard of anyone else using it.  They ran a “Spot the Pineapple” contest in which fans could tweet when they saw the hidden pineapple in every episode and win prizes. They even used Shazaam, the music discovery app, for access to extra content during episodes. Clearly, I had to write something that would get noticed above all the noise! Because I knew that my intended audience would appreciate humor, I decided to use a few inside jokes from Psych. Here is what I tweeted:

Dule Tweet

And Dule responded!

I should explain: #ThatsWhatImTalkinAbout is a phrase that Dule’s character, Gus, says a lot. #LavenderGooms is a fake name that Gus’s partner, Shawn, gives him in one episode (Shawn introducing Gus as goofy fake names is a running gag in Psych). And #pineapple refers to the hidden pineapple in every show. With this tweet, I wanted to show Dule that I was a fan of the show, and appreciated his work–hence the specific references to the show in my hashtags. More importantly, I wanted to say something that might put a smile on Dule’s face–as opposed to a run-of-the-mill happy birthday request that a lot of fans ask over Twitter.

BU COM

When I was applying to Boston University’s College of Communication for my Masters degree, the office of Graduate Student Services put out a Twitter contest for accepted students. Participants had to answer the question of, what program did you apply to and why? After a bit of reflection, I decided that, in order to stand out, my answer could not be your standard response. So, to set myself apart from everyone else, I again decided to use a little humor. Here is my response:

COM Tweet

Now, clearly that’s not the reason why I chose to study public relations. But that’s not really the point of the contest, I think. So, again, as long as the setting is appropriate, a little humor can go a long way in your messaging. This tweet won me a bunch of sweet BU COM swag (pictured in the following selfie I tweeted to @BUCOMGrad upon receiving my goodies).

COM Swag

Why yes, I do wear that hat around town.

BuzzFeed Food

BuzzFeed’s handle for all its food-related content, @BuzzfeedFood, ran a hashtag game on Twitter around the time of the Oscars last year. The hashtag was #OscarNoms, a play on the shortening of “nomination” as well as the popular onomatopoeia for eating, “Om nom nom!” (Think Cookie Monster). You had to take a movie title and turn it into a type of food. I’m typically not good at these kinds of word games, but for some reason, “Esc-Argo” popped into my head, and I immediately tweeted it–which promptly got a retweet from @BuzzfeedFood. Moral of this story: if you’re a brand sometimes it can be worthwhile to join in on some of these trending hashtags for added exposure. BUT, YOU MUST BE CAREFUL. Make sure you absolutely know what the hashtag really means, and that if you jump on the bandwagon, you are not offending anyone by doing so. Tragedies, or potentially tragic situations–such as hurricanes, political uprisings, and national days of remembrance–inappropriate to make light of. If there’s any questioning, it’s best to play it safe and not participate.

Allen & Gerritsen

This was one of my favorites. In December 2012, Boston-based advertising agency Allen & Gerristen put out an Instagram contest for local students. Participants had to construct an image that visually showed two qualities about themselves, using an ampersand in the description to tie together the two qualities (the ampersand is Allen & Gerritsen’s brand symbol). Again, I knew that I had to choose qualities that set me apart from other people. I chose the fact that I had been a geography bee winner for my class in middle school and the fact that I collect coins:

Ampstagram

I was selected as a finalist in the contest, which meant that I got to visit A&G’s Boston office for a networking reception, which was a lot of fun. It’s not everyday that you get to see firsthand a company culture that intimately–especially as a student. On a different note, I’m glad that I have this unique portfolio piece, as well as the story that goes with it. I would highly encourage Allen & Gerritsen to continue running these contests for students.

If you want to be memorable, you have to start being memorable. Find your voice. Use (appropriate) humor. Don’t be just like every other similar brand and blend in–that’s boring. Above all, be authentic. This word is tossed around all the time but it’s true. People want to talk to other people, and when that other person shines through in a brand’s online presence, people are more likely to accept that brand’s messages.

New Year, New Accomplishments

swarm of stars

I get so excited at the start of a new year! For the past three years, I have taken New Years Eve seriously as a time to regroup and plan ahead for positive changes. First, I make a list of resolutions on the yellow pad on my iPhone. Some of them are specific goals that I want to accomplish, and some are more vague–such as learning to be more forgiving to myself. I also make a list of everything I’ve accomplished over the past year, both big and small. I do this because I believe that we all have the power to create our own happiness and good luck. Also, until we actually tally up all the things we did over the past 12 months, we don’t realize how much we have accomplished.

So, in the spirit of the typical blog style (since blogging is one of my resolutions…let’s see how long it lasts…) here are four ways to celebrate the new year and new beginnings:

  • Create a playlist of positive music. I started this one two years ago as a way to look forward to driving to work everyday, but it’s always a great idea to have a handful of go-to songs that make you happy. The key to this is to have POSITIVE music–music with encouraging lyrics, upbeat rhythms or just songs with which you have a positive association (for example, I like jazz because it relaxes me).
  • Create a pinboard to drive your 2014 goals. This can be filled with inspirational quotes, activities you want to try (such as yoga or knitting), recipes, book lists, whatever. Even if you don’t accomplish everything on the board, it’s good to go back at look at from time to time for inspiration.
  • Create a list of new things you want to try. A classic staple of New Years resolutions, I refine my list to things that I know I can and will want to accomplish (not things I tell myself I should try because they’re trendy or healthy). I also limit this list to only a handful of activities so that I don’t get overwhelmed and abandon them altogether.
  • Update your social media presence. Okay, I borrowed this idea from this article, and maybe this only applies to me because I just graduated and have begun the job search, but it is always a good idea to keep these profiles fresh and current (same goes for your resume!). This is an especially convenient time to update everything now that the whirlwind of the holidays are over. Make sure you start the new year as your best possible self.

And for your viewing pleasure, here is a song from one of my favorite Christmas specials, Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. I have been watching this all my life, but never took the advice to heart until a few years ago. Now, I always try to bring the happiness I feel at Christmastime into the new year.

Will FourSquare Become More User-Friendly?

chopsticks2

It was by a sheer stroke of luck that I happened upon this article on Twitter two nights ago when preparing for a class presentation on FourSquare.  My partner and I had been assigned a project on location-based services and decided to go with the most popular of the platforms, but neither of us had used FourSquare all that much.  That’s why, when compiling my part of the presentation, I felt like a bit of an outsider looking in.

I have trouble using FourSquare because I’m a spaz and always forget to check-in when entering a restaurant or store.  Take tonight, for example.  After fiddling around with the settings in my FourSquare account, I decided to get udon noodles from Noodle St, the Thai place across the road that I love so much.  I entered my credit card number in the settings so that, once I checked in and paid for my meal, I could get savings.  Well, of course I forget to pull up the FourSquare app when I enter the restaurant.  And also, upon further reading, it appears that the place needs to have a specific credit card deal in place in order for it to work.  I don’t know.  It was just a lot of steps.

But this scenario, and the Wired article, got me thinking.  If FourSquare were truly passive, and sent notifications of deals when I’m near them (especially if the platform knows my frequent hangouts from my GPS data), I would definitely be a FourSquare enthusiast.  I’ll admit it, I’m a creature of habit—when I dig a certain meal at at a certain restaurant, I’ll come back for more.  There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be looking for unique discounts for my favorite treats.  I think Dennis Crowley meant this when he originally envisioned FourSquare as “a fellow traveler, dispensing relevant information unbidden.”  Checking in is just way too much work.

Anyway, here’s a video that I played during my presentation.  It’s a time-lapse of Manhattan during Hurricane Sandy last year, with the lower half—the part that lost much electricity—going dark halfway through the run.  I find this video interesting because it shows how a service like FourSquare can provide us with much more information about the human experience than simply check-ins, discounts and recommendations.

True Blue Miracle

Happy holiday season!  Now that it’s officially Christmastime, I’ve plunged headfirst into my bottomless pit of Christmas music.  I love it!  Here’s one of my particular favorites.  I always think of this when riding the T, and wonder what would happen if everyone broke out in song.  Wouldn’t that be so much fun?  Instead, in Boston, we get delays and overflowing crowds at T stops.  Oh well.

Here’s “True Blue Miracle” from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.

Defining Decade

I am currently re-reading a book that I think is one of the most helpful books for twenty-somethings to read, in order to improve their professional and personal lives.  It’s called The Defining Decade and it was written by Meg Jay, Ph.D.  I liked it because it was a book that addressed the problems many people my age face, while offering simple, practical solutions and an uplifiting message.

Here are a few of Dr. Jay’s best career-related pieces of advice from the book:

  • Pieces of identity capital.  Dr. Jay explains that the best way to start when it comes to your career is to obtain pieces of identity capital.  Identity capital are the things that you present to a future employer that shows them you are worthy of employment–they can be internships and education on a resume, or they can be the more intangible things, such as how you dress for the interview or good grammar you use.
  • The power of loose ties.  Dr. Jay explains that you’re more likely to get a job through your loose ties–your acquaintances that you hardly know and rarely talk to–than through your close friends and family.  Why is this?  Because we share common assumptions about the world with those we are close to.  When we speak with our loose ties, we are out of our comfort zones so we need to challenge ourselves.  Loose ties also open us up to many other people with whom we might not have ever made contact.  I can attest to the veracity of this–I obtained my current position from networking with a loose tie.
  • You need to advance your career by jumping right in.  I have done this too.  You can’t think of your career as something planned out and you can’t look too far ahead into the future, because you’ll just become overwhelmed.  I remember the president of my undergraduate institution once said that you need to think about what you want to do over the next year, not over the next five years.  When I got my internship, it was something that I would have never thought I’d be at a year before, but I just jumped right in and figured I’d see what happens next.  You have to start by doing, and then figure it out after, and try to shape your career and decide where you’ll go next.

The most succinct message Dr. Jay offers throughout the book, however, is “thirty is not the new twenty,” and that you shouldn’t be sitting around, wasting your twenties, waiting for something to happen and thinking that you can get it all started at thirty.  She gives so many other great advice about your personal life, all of which is rooted in psychological and sociological theories.  You must read the book to fully get the information–it tells so much that I can’t begin to explain in this blog post.  I felt uplifted and more confident after finishing it.

With Endorsements, It’s Quality, Not Quantity

I remember attending a talk at the beginning of last school year by Peter Stringer, the sr. director for interactive media for the boston Celtics, in which he advised all us students to be careful with whom we recommended to other people.  When you recommend someone, for any position, your reputation is on the line.  Having been exposed to the working world for a little over two years now, I certainly understand this.  Finding, and eventually excelling at, a job is difficult and once you’ve worked hard and landed a coveted position, you realize the value in all of that hard work and hustling.

Shortly after I graduated from college, one of my former employers kindly posted to my LinkedIn profile a snippet of a recommendation letter she had written for me.  I am proud to display it on my page, since I know that was sincere in her praises, and that I had earned it.  However, over the past year, LinkedIn has added a feature in which connections can “endorse” you for certain skills with the click of a button.  Because endorsements seem to be tossed around as of late, questioning and criticism has been mounting about this feature.  As ___ of PerkettPR points out in her firm’s blog, there is nothing wrong with praising colleagues, the problem lies in the ambiguity of the endorsement.  Who exactly is doing the endorsing? Is this person actually credible? Has he or she witnessed your skills in action?  These are questions all of us should be asking ourselves when we receive any message, whether it be through the mainstream media, posts on our Facebook pages, or LinkedIn endorsements. 

I might also add to the post that, as in all other forms of content marketing, quality matters over quantity.  Like the written recommendation I mentioned previously, it is better to have a few endorsements—by people with whom you have worked or know well—than a bunch of endorsements by random connections.  The endorsements will then speak for themselves.

What to Wear to an Interview

In one of my classes, during a career workshop, my professor spent about five minutes discussing appropriate interview attire for males, with few subsequent questions.  Then, she spent about ten minutes talking about appropriate interview attire for females, followed by about a half hour of questions.  Us ladies just don’t have it as easy as men do, since we don’t have the standard go-to of a shirt, tie, and suit jacket.  However, there are a few common threads (yes, pun intended) on how to dress for an interview if you’re a woman.  There are also many gray areas that I will discuss.  Let’s just jump into it.

  • A suit is your best bet.  You could wear a full-length dress, but there are so many possible faux pas involved that I would just play it safe and stick to the most common, and professional, choice.  For women, I have heard that some consider pants to be too “casual.”  Yes, this is unfair, but you never know how traditionalist the person interviewing you is so it’s always best to err on the conservative side.  Make sure it’s in a solid color and that the jacket matches the skirt.  The skirt should hit right at the knee, or slightly above; anything too high is inappropriate and anything too low looks frumpy.  Wear a plain blouse in a solid, conservative color (preferably white) underneath and make sure it’s not see-through!  If the blouse is sleeveless, make sure the straps go right to the edge of the shoulders (you shouldn’t take your jacket off during the interview anyway).
  • Always wear nylons.  Yes, even in the middle of summer.  Again, you don’t know how traditionalist your interviewer is.
  • You should wear solid shoes in the color matching the suit.  So, if your suit is black, don’t wear brown shoes.  Flats are too casual and high heels are inappropriate.  So, choose a pair of small heels or wedges.  No sandals or open-toed shoes!
  • Keep your nails unpainted (but clean and neat!) or painted in a muted or nude color.  Do not paint your nails red—some see this as a “harlot” color (yeah, I know, very old school).  But again…we’re playing it safe.
  • This might seem like a given, but make sure you’re clean and you’ve put on deodorant.  Make sure that you’ve brushed your teeth and flossed and that your breath is fresh (I would recommend putting in a Listerine strip before the interview so that you’re fresh without accidentally forgetting to spit out gum).  Make sure your hair is neat and combed.  If you wear your hair down often and it doesn’t get in your eyes, do that.  If you wear your hair up often, do that.  Don’t wear your hair in a way that you’re not comfortable with.

Did I miss any big ones?  Let me know in the comments!

Pedestrians: Let’s All Become More Vigilant

I woke up one morning a year ago to read the tragic news that the second Boston University student in a month had been killed while riding his bike to class.  Within the following week, I witnessed a young woman attempt to jaywalk in Kenmore Square while the “Don’t Walk” symbol was flashing.  She only got a third of the way across before realizing a car was coming and darting back to where she had come from.  The next day, I watched a dazed student, sporting earphones that completely covered his ears (yes, the noise-canceling type), slowly cross St. Mary’s Street off of Commonwealth Ave.  The car that was turning onto the street thankfully stopped.  I’m sure everyone reading this has seen similar incidents.

I am in no way equating what happened to both cyclists last year with the carelessness exhibited by the two people from my anecdotes.  I can’t do that, since I wasn’t there and can’t even say if either accident was caused by carelessness at all.  I only include them to highlight that car accidents happen frequently and remind us that anything can happen in one second.  I think we all agree that Boston’s roads are busy and many people—including drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians—are often in a hurry.  When I began driving (which, admittedly, was long after most of my peers began, since I was a wimp about it), my mother told me to always pause before crossing an intersection, after the light has changed green, just to double-check that a car isn’t blowing through a red light.

None of us are always 100% vigilant.  I certainly have been careless on occasion.  I sometimes cross the street when I shouldn’t, even if I’m sure that no car is coming.  The problem is getting in the habit of crossing while the “Don’t Walk” sign flashes.  For example, you might often cross a quiet side street.  Even if you are generally careful everywhere else, there might be one time when you’re distracted by a personal problem, or talking on your cell phone, and forget that you’re not on that comfortable, familiar side street.  You begin walking, not realizing that a car is right behind you.  Chances are the driver will see you and put on the brakes, but what if she doesn’t?  What if she is also distracted by a personal problem, or if she is also on her cellphone?  Maybe she just turned too quickly and didn’t have time to stop.  Boston is a busy city with narrow roads and cars often have difficulty maneuvering.

This is why I propose that all pedestrians wait a few seconds for the Walk signal to change, double-check to make sure a car isn’t coming, and continue to observe their surroundings as they cross.  I also recommend that no one cross the road while wearing earphones.  Trust me, your life is not worth the extra few minutes you may save by being reckless!

My First Step Towards a Career

This is the reason why I decided to study public relations.

When I was still an undergraduate English major at Stonehill College, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I did know that I needed work experience.  So I applied for an internship in development (fundraising) at the May Institute, a nonprofit organization that serves individuals with autism and developmental disabilities.  I liked it because I ended up doing much of the work that I’m doing now–writing, editing, market research, etc.  But it was one special project that made me decide that I wanted a communications career.  The organization sponsored a golf tournament fundraiser and shot a bunch of raw footage of the event.  Over the following weeks I edited the footage to make a nice little, if not entirely perfect, video to thank donors and attract participants for the following year.

What really sparked my interest about making the video was the challenge of it.  I had never edited a video before, so it was a learn-as-you-go kind of experience.  I brought in my MacBook and figured out how to use iMovie, a program that I didn’t even know existed before using it.  I also figured out how to put music to the background of the video.  This project also taught me how to be flexible, since I had to re-edit several versions when different supervisors viewed it and gave feedback for changes to it.

To recents grad or current interns, I would advise you to say yes to any project and try as many things as you can, even if you don’t think that you can do them.  A lot of learning happens on the job and you’ll be happy with the finished product that you can show to future employers.  Also, pay attention to the specific skills that you enjoy and that you are best at, because they will set you in the direction you need to take for your career.  It is much easier to look at individual pursuits that you enjoy (such as writing and video editing) and use them to decide what your next step should be, than it is to look at the big picture and think, there are far too many choices in front of me.  And you’ll learn about your personality and interests in the process.

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