The Tipping Point of Brand Awareness: A Q&A with Cara Chace

Welcome to the latest blog post from CC: PDX, your Portland copywriting experts.  Terri Wangle, CC:PDX member and owner of Spotlight Ink, recently discussed social media, brand awareness, and practical business strategies with Cara Chace, a go-to professional in the digital marketing and social media strategy realm.

Terri Wangle: How do businesses pick the right social media platform?

Cara Chace: “First, business owners need to have a very clear picture of their audience and to research where their audience is online. Start by searching for ‘social media demographics.’ Besides Google, just ask people.”

TW: List must-do first steps when launching your social media account?

CC: “Decide how you and your employees will share online as a brand, and make a decision tree for who and how you answer clients’ questions. Consistently engage on platforms where you find your clients and interact with them, answer questions, and share valuable information. Remember timeliness is the rule of social media.”

TW: Explain the 80-20 rule.

CC: “Nobody wants to see your sales. If all you’re posting is a 20-percent-off promo, they won’t care. Make sure you’re sharing valuable, interesting, or entertaining information 80 percent of the time. You’re earning the right to share that 20 percent of sales pitches. Remember, the same people are engaging on different platforms for different reasons, like Facebook is a brain break and LinkedIn is for networking and expanding professional expertise. It also helps to expand your definition of ‘valuable.’ It could be that you make someone laugh—but the content always needs to align with your brand voice and your company’s two or three predetermined subject areas.”

TW: The fear of encountering an upset customer sometimes keeps business owners from using social media. How do you recommend businesses plan and proceed?

CC: “It goes back to the foundation and knowing how you talk and engage online, like the type of words we use or don’t use. You want to make sure your team is on the same page and that you’ve empowered your people to answer clients. Another way of looking at this scenario: Instead of freaking out, like deciding someone is just a jerk, remember that people who are upset will often become your biggest advocates when you (the business owner) make it right.

My biggest recommendation: take it off-line as soon as possible. For example, a restaurant responds quickly and publicly to an unhappy customer, showing others that they care and are paying attention. The restaurant provides directions and immediate connection the decision-maker who can make it right. Make sure everyone on your team knows the key person and how the plan works. Don’t just list ‘customer_care@restaurant.com’ or an 800 number. Also, never call attention to the ‘negative’ review by asking that person to change it. Hopefully, you’ll have gone above and beyond, and they will probably change the review themselves. Final thought, the absolute worst thing you can do is to ignore somebody. So, check your social media at least once a day.”

TW: How would you recommend dealing with an abusive commenter?

CC: “Depending on what platforms you’re using, you have different tools and approaches. Like if you’re on a Facebook group, you should have very specific rules for what is allowed and not allowed. I’ve adopted an idea that I heard from another expert: ‘I’m not here to give you a warning.’ There’s different ways to polish that message to match your brand voice, but if they are a jerk, they’re gone. At this point, customer service is protecting your ‘tribe,’ the people who are there because they want to consume your content. Some specifics: if someone is just being ridiculous and cursing, just delete the comment. There’s nothing wrong with that … there’s no obligation if someone is coming at you and your tribe with that kind of attitude. They are responsible for being a decent human being. And, if they continue to come back, block them.”

TW: What is the most helpful rule of thumb for using social media as a business or nonprofit?

CC: “Consistency! It’s the only thing that will ever get your business to the tipping point of brand awareness that social media is designed for. Your business needs to build that know-like-and-trust factor with people. It has opened up our world, and it lets people have a relationship with your brand. They are giving you their time and attention. Don’t take it for granted. It is invaluable. Also, don’t think of social media in terms of likes: ‘I only got two likes on my post.’ It’s more quality instead of quantity. So, challenge yourself and give the best—Remember? Valuable, interesting, or entertaining—and people will see that value and follow your brand. Another practical note about the importance of consistency: algorithms! Most platforms are based on algorithms. Facebook. Instagram. And they won’t show your stuff when you’re not consistently present. Start small and get your flow and system … don’t go crazy and burn out and drop off. The same goes for your website. If someone goes to your website and you’ve not updated it (especially your blog), it shows that you’re not serious. If you’re not consistent, people automatically wonder if you’re still in business. Be consistent!”

Need more help with your social media? Check out Cara’s “Top 5 Ways to Make Your Social Media Kick Ass in 2017.”  Need help crafting content? Contact a member of the CC:PDX.

Earning Your First Freelance Writing Job

Earning your first freelance writing job can be a frustrating experience. When I first moved to Portland, writing was the only thing I knew how to do well. The jobs or gigs listed on Craig’s List or the classifieds required 2-5 years of experience. I couldn’t get experience without, y’know, any experience.

I did earn a few freelance writing gigs in a short period of time, but it took me a year and a half to find a writing job, which is what I wanted at the time.

That’s all well and good for back in the Internet Stone Age.  What would I do now?

I’ll create three different scenarios for three different types of writing career paths:  a gig freelancer; a salaried professional writer; and a business owner.

The Gig Freelancer

Here’s some good news:  if you don’t have much experience as a freelance writer, you still have options.  Here’s a couple of ideas:

  1. Networking. This is a great way to meet people in the creative community. Networking can be as simple as going to happy hours or meetups, or it can mean attending conferences, seminars, and events. I’ve gained plenty of gigs this way. LinkedIn, your local chamber of commerce, and Google are the best ways to find the creative social gatherings to meet the right people.
  1. Join a creative staffing firm. Different firms have different criteria, but Creative Circle is a great first step. Amber James has written an overview on why you should or shouldn’t work for a creative staffing agency, and Cathy Chang has written a post on what it’s like to have a regular creative staffing gig.

 The Professional

If you want the security of regular income, the current economic climate is favorable for salaried writing jobs. Content developers, copywriters, and editors are in high demand at companies of all sizes.  Here’s some thoughts:

  1. Make a list of industries and companies you admire. Check the Career pages of those companies to see if they have openings for entry-level copywriters.
  1. Scheduling informational interviews can be helpful. My friend Balki Kodarapu also has an excellent strategy for job seekers with his frequent “I want to work for ____” meet-ups.

The Business Owner

This is my current path.  Gigs let you build a portfolio, and a salaried job can provide benefits, but schedule flexibility is important to me.  This is what I do:

  1. Develop prospecting strategies. Referrals are honestly the best way to earn repeat business. I am always grateful for referrals, and I recently wrapped up a project that came as a referral from my dynamite web designer, Leslie Bourke.
  1. Follow-up. I actively prospect in the industries I want to work within. It can take a long time to get an assignment, but a regular client in the industry I want to work within is worth the effort.

***

All of these paths take a lot of work on your end. You must research, listen, and keep your skills updated. It also takes a lot of work to maintain the relationships you develop. When you have work to do, stay communicative with your point(s) of contact so they know when to expect your copy. Pace yourself so you never over-promise and potentially miss a deadline.

There are far more resources available to you now than I had when I was starting out. If you are willing to do the research, then you will earn the copywriting work you desire.

This article is part of our ongoing series helping new copywriters. Please see the new copywriters page on our website for more information.

What We’re Writing

The Copywriter Conclave of Portland membership consists solely of working copywriters and content strategists, so I thought it would be a great idea to let you know what we’re writing. Here’s an update from some of our busy members:

Ginny Figlar of Figmeant says that she took some much-needed time off during the summer, but she wrote eye-catching content for the global IKEA catalog.

Great work, Ginny!

Mike Russell of Pivotal Writing has developed the Convert with Case Studies site with a strong argument: “your customers’ success stories shorten your sales cycle and improve your closing rate.”

Looking forward to this exciting new project, Mike!

Mahesh Raj Mohan (yours truly) of Enlighten Writing recently wrote a blog post on “navigating the stormy seas of security compliance” for Sungard Availability Services, my first commissioned work for the information security industry.

That’s just a quick update from a few of us. Check back again soon for more advice-related content and other exciting projects from our members.

Thanks for reading, as always.

Feel free to leave us a comment and tell us what you’ve been up to!

Freelancers and the Ransomware Threat

by Mahesh Raj Mohan and Mike Russell

This article is a collaboration between CC:PDX members Mahesh Raj Mohan (Enlighten Writing) and Mike Russell (Pivotal Writing). They created this article to keep clients and freelancers informed about the ransomware threat.

You may have heard the term “ransomware” lately.  Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts your computer or device so you cannot access your data or apps. There will often be a message on your screen demanding money (e.g. Bitcoins) to unlock your system.

Ransomware has become the “attack du jour” of hackers across the world. It is lucrative, catches many victims off-guard, and there are multiple methods of attack. Ransomware can be a virus or Trojan horse in an e-mail link. More worrisome, ransomware can be hidden in an online ad, as this excellent article from Malwarebytes Labs illustrates.

If you don’t have a robust firewall, ransomware can hide in a file that your system doesn’t recognize as a threat until it is downloaded onto your machine. It can cost you hours or lost productivity and income, and it can damage your relationship with your clients if their project data is on your system.

Okay, yes, ransomware is scary, but we don’t want to overdo the “fear” element here. There are steps you can take to defend your system and your clients.  Best practice  for freelancers and businesses dictates  a “layered defense” strategy where you have multiple defenses running on your machine.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss some preventive actions you can take, their level of difficulty to implement, and the cost involved.

Anti-Virus and Anti-Spyware

Anti-virus and anti-spyware programs should be as common on your system as an Internet browser. We won’t advocate for particular programs, and we hope that you already have anti-virus of some kind on all of your devices (even Apple products).

Difficulty Level:  Varies by the brand. Generally easy.

Cost: Varies; there are free versions, but we recommend the “fully loaded” types.  Here is a full list for PCs.

External Hard Drive

The one sure-fire method of ransomware prevention.  You buy an external hard drive that houses a copy of your data, as well as your client project data.  You could keep all your client data on this separate hard drive

Difficulty Level: Moderate.  External hard drives are simple to connect to your primary machine so you can copy files quickly and easily.  However, it may be inconvenient if, for extra security, you turned off your Internet connection while working on your client’s project (e.g. you may need to use the Internet for research).

Cost:  Varies.  A 1-terabyte drive usually runs $40-$100 depending on the brand and whether you are buying a hard disk drive or a solid state drive.

Cloud Backups

Dropbox is the most well-known data backup solution that is not housed on your hard drive.  Dropbox has 256-bit AES encryption. Dropbox claims that you can restore data to before the malware took effect, but you’d still lose the most current version of your file(s).

Difficulty Level:  Easy.

Cost:  Dropbox Pro costs $99/year or $9.99/month.

Password Managers

Ah yes, the dreaded discussion of passwords.  Using the same passwords on multiple sites is not recommended, but coming up with dozens (if not hundreds) of passwords can be impossible to track.  Password managers like 1Password and Roboform can help to make this easier.

Difficulty Level:  Easy.  Install them on your machine, and start collecting passwords.  Every time you sign up for a new website, the passwords will be automatically saved.  You can also choose “everywhere” options that reside in the cloud and can be used on more than one machine.

Cost:  $20 and up.

For Advanced Users

If you are really worried about ransomware and want to be on the cutting edge of defense, you can try a couple of solutions.

Turn Off Adobe Flash

Flash is a vulnerable deployment vehicle for ransomware, and turning it off gives more power to consumers. Once disabled, you have the power to activate Flash for in-browser applications that use it.

Firefox

Locate the three vertical bars at the top of your browser, choose “Add-Ons,” the Plugins.  Scroll down to Shockwave Flash and choose, “Ask to Activate.”  If there is any malware hiding as a “malvertisement,” then this should help neutralize the threat.

Chrome

Go to the URL bar and type “about:plugins.” Locate “Adobe Flash Player” and choose “Disable.”

Safari

Choose “Safari” in the menu bar, then “Preferences,” and then “Security.”  Click on the Website Settings” button next to “Allow Plugins,” then select “Adobe Flash Player,” and “Block” for the option, “when visiting other websites” in the menu that appears.

Beta Testing

BleepingComputer offers some recent anti-ransomware downloads that are in the “beta testing” stage that either stop ransomware scripts from running or export encrypted files.  These options are currently free.

Script Blocking Add-Ons

You can download a free Javascript blocker (such as NoScript on Firefox) that blocks scripts (Javascript and Silverlight) that can be exploited by hackers. The installation of the add-on is seamless, but you’ll find that a lot of sites use Javascript, so you will spend time “white-listing” sites that you trust.  It can also make some websites non-responsive, so only choose this option if you are willing to deal with the hassle of a layered defense.

We hope we allowed you to harden your defenses and think about cybersecurity and your clients’ data in a strategic way. How do you protect yourself against ransomware and other cyber maladies? Please add your suggestions in the comments below.

Freelancing and the Cult of Consistency

(This article on freelancing and the cult of consistency is part of our commitment to promote the works of the Copywriter Conclave of Portland’s writers and editors. It’s a timely topic by founding member Sheila Ashdown.)

I have a confession. I, Sheila Ashdown, have committed a grave sin.

What, you might ask. Did I steal a Snickers bar? Mug a Girl Scout? Murder someone?*

No.

I’ve been—gasp—an inconsistent blogger.

**Law & Order music starts playing**

Cuff me. I’ve been bad.

Everything you read about writing—especially when it comes to blogging—shouts to the heavens about consistency. All the cool kids are publishing new content daily, or at least weekly, so they say.

And for years, I bought into it. I set myself ambitious blogging goals, which I literally never achieved one single time. I followed up these “failures” by feeling bad about myself and vowing to be and do better next time. Rinse and repeat a thousand times over.

Does this experience resonate with anyone else out there? I’m not crazy, am I?

The Trouble with Consistency

Now, I’m not calling for a blanket disavowal of consistency. I’m still going to floss my teeth every day and I hope you do too. What I’m calling for is a disavowal of the way that consistency is used to artificially force creative processes and create a false sense of urgency that results in sloppy work and psychic pain.

Problem #1: Consistency is usually defined in a painfully narrow way.

When business gurus tell us to be consistent, what they mean is to publish consistently. I’m all for showing up every day and working to achieve your writing goals, but there’s a heck of a lot more to the writing process than just hitting that publish button. And as far as I can tell, most people hit “publish” way too soon.

A while ago, I signed up to receive the daily blog feed of a Famous Business Guru (who I shall not name). He’s a bestselling author several times over, and he has a huge following. But when his blogs started rolling into my inbox, I was shocked by how dreadful they were.

Each blog was very short (a couple hundred words, max), and they were basically half-baked ideas and platitudes, delivered in cliched, uninspired language. They left me feeling like the author didn’t genuinely care about delivering a valuable piece of content; rather, he was just ticking the checkbox next to “Send out blog today” on the his to-do list.

Famous Business Guru may very well have some incredible ideas and insights. But maybe he’s a mere mortal, like the rest of us, who needs time to develop them. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather receive a well-developed, thoughtfully crafted post whenever he’s able to put one out, rather than a daily dose of “meh.”

Problem #2: Creativity is an inconsistent process.

Writing is not a linear process. We loop around between aha! moments, incubation, and active engagement with the writing.

We create in short bursts, and then we walk away for a few hours, days, or weeks to get some distance on it. Sometimes we’re not writing at all—we’re researching and taking notes instead. Or we’re out rolling in a field of clover or whatever, since, as much as we malign “laziness,” down time is an indispensable component of the creative process.

If we try to force an unruly process into a rigid timeline, we end up publishing something because it’s Wednesday, not because the piece is genuinely finished.

Problem #3: Consistency can be a mental trap. Just like “having it all” or achieving six-pack abs or flawless work-life balance, relentless consistency is a never-achievable ideal. What else in life is consistent? Everything in nature has cycles and fluctuations, and we as humans are part of nature. We’re not machines.

And so, even if you want to try for consistency—by all means, give it a whirl! Set up a reasonable publication schedule (emphasis on “reasonable”) and go for it. But I beg you to give yourself ample credit for the times you achieve it, and to please go easy on yourself when you fall short.

Otherwise, if consistency is held up as the most important metric for success, you’re going to feel like a failure next time you’re down with the flu for a week or you take a well-deserved vacation.

Let’s Redefine What It Means to Be Consistent  

Now, let me be clear—you’re not off the hook with your writing. 🙂 Giving up membership in the Cult of Consistency doesn’t mean we give ourselves a free pass for procrastination or perfectionism.

But here’s what I see: Writers who feel they “should” post daily or weekly are the ones who give up on their work. They’re demoralized by their inability to stick to a rigid and rigorous publishing schedule; this takes the joy out of writing, and they don’t want to do it anymore. That’s what happens when we set goals that are not realistic, and that are driven by outside values instead of inner values.

The solution? Ask yourself what a sustainable publication schedule looks like for you

Does it allow you ample time to research, incubate your ideas, draft, edit, roll in the clover, proofread, and then hit “publish”? Does it honor the priorities in your life and the natural rhythms and cycles of your personal creative process? Do you have a plan for how you’ll get back on track when you need to take a break?

Get clear on this, and you’ll create a writing schedule that supports your agenda, not the agenda of the leaders of the Cult of Consistency. After all, as Oscar Wilde said, “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” Let go of those outside constructs and instead self-direct a sustainable and flexible way to create and share the work you’re so passionate about.

 

*For the record, I would absolutely not do any of those things.