California dreamin’

“Best way to live in California is to be from somewhere else.”
Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

If one image defines the thrill of driving into Los Angeles on a breezy summer afternoon it was this: a rainbow-coloured beach ball rolling east down the 210.

That’s California. Even the freeways throw up something fun and hint at good times to come. Though that image was a missed photo opportunity, the scene will remain burnt in my memory as an affirmation that if anything can happen in California, it usually does.

Beaches stretch 1000 miles along California's Pacific Coast.

Beaches stretch 1000 miles along California’s Pacific Coast.

It was a wonderful welcome and got me California dreamin’ about all the beaches I’ve visited on the West Coast since arriving stateside in April. Among my favourite is strolling along Balboa Peninsular. It’s starting to cool down but in late-August the sun still settles warmly on your face and the waves roll gently along Newport Beach. It is so interesting to walk around the peninsula to gape in awe at so many beautiful homes and witness how the other half lives.

If only. For every dream realised in the LA land of opportunity, there’s plenty that aren’t. Walking around the streets of Anaheim, home to Disneyland, there’s hundreds of well-heeled tourists who save up all year to spend up big during their one-week vacation in the kid’s entertainment capital.

But when you stay here longer than a day or week, the darker side of the city emerges: homelessness on a huge scale. Outside the window in my long-stay hotel a utility truck never moves. In the afternoon its occupant listens to music in the driver’s seat. At night, the car’s back window, blown out and covered only by gauze, blows in the cooling Californian breeze.

All roads lead to Disneyland.

All roads lead to Disneyland.

Along the streets of Anaheim, long-term homeless gather in small groups begging passers-by for spare change. The scene made more stark against the back-drop beauty of wide tree-lined boulevards that lead to the fun house that is Disney, or expertly manoeuver you towards spectacular beaches that stretch 1000 miles along California’s Pacific Coast.

LA depicts the land of promise, the gateway to all things great, and though  it’s not the only city in the US, or the world for that matter, to suffer from the emerging 20th-century phenomenon of mass homelessness which unfortunately remains unresolved in the 21st century, few people stop to even lend the homeless a kind smile.

As one local US resident explained to me, there are still thousands of Americans just one pay cheque away from poverty. That said, the mood here has lifted. There’s a sense of good times to come. Jobs stats are positive. Real estate values are on the rise. Those that could hold it together are now experiencing the worth of their homes climbing back to pre-crisis values … and that in itself is bringing a great sense of relief, and promise.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance writer travelling throughout the United States, Central and hopefully soon South America bringing stories on the ground that count.

Create content that connects

No matter whether you have an established presence online or not, finding your place is a personal journey only you can take in your quest to create compelling content that connects.

It’s easy to be persuaded to join the league of marketers promising something for what seems like little effort or perhaps signing over your rights to collective social media sites that want to harness your content and contacts.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just depends where you’re at in your journey. And sure it is a harder road to navigate alone, but the payoff should things take off could prove to be the start of even greater things to come.

Too many brands treat social media as a one-way broadcast channel rather than a two-way dialogue through which emotional storytelling can be transferred. – Simon Mainwaring

My journey began with the idea of blogging my way through the United States and Central America to bring stories that count, unfettered by payment, not compromised by anyone’s opinion but my own. I also didn’t want to blur the line between my unpaid blog and my unpaid day job developing a website, app and e-book.

But it’s inevitable they’d collide. Two separate journeys unfolding simultaneously all with the end game of creating compelling content, one across multiple platforms. I would never have believed 12 months ago that within a couple of months I’d be researching the ins and outs of SEO, building a website while working on an app, writing an e-book while teaching English as a second language. Nor would I have entertained the idea of creating marketing content for Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest and Instagram and becoming addicted to the press express buttons they represent!

As a paid journalist I’ve edited content and designed pages in print and online but I’d never built a website from scratch or worked with an overseas company to develop an app. Opting out of the workforce to do something creative sounds so romantic. Friends believe what you’re doing is pure fun, and at times it is though working on a project which began in one country and led to another has been equally gruelling as juggling the ins and outs of my previous job.

FUMBLE OR FOLD

Nevertheless this project has been more rewarding simply because it involved so much sweat, funds and frustration, which is almost forgotten given the website is up, the e-book is written and ready to be released and the app is before iTunes for review.

Then just at the time the app was being submitted for approval, Apple’s developer site fell under “hacker” siege, delaying the project by weeks. The plan was to have the app out by August 1 to allow my co-founder and I to hit the ground running to get word out through all the mediums we’d painstakingly researched. We wanted a three-month lead time to really establish marketing for our product ahead of the annual event it targeted.

So what happened next? Nothing and everything. This forced break allowed us to regroup and rethink our strategy. It made us sit down and question what we wanted to happen. Instead of jumping head-first into our simultaneous assault on social media we were given a much-needed breather to tackle new ways to get our message out.

And that’s where the fun has begun: word of mouth. Being able to tell others what you’ve been working on. Building on the excitement to launch whether out at the bank, grocery store or when relatives drop by or kids come knocking at the door to elicit odd jobs around the house, one is ready to relay that “elevator conversation” with ease.

There’s merit in the one-man marketing band and so far the best response has been “who does that [create an app]?” … well, ordinary folk like you and me.

It started with an idea that didn’t get filed into the too hard basket. It took perseverance and a willingness never to give up. It required sheer hard work to overcome lack of technical expertise, build knowledge and skills and trust in one’s creativity to create compelling content for a website that others will want to read, follow, friend and share.

It's the treats in life that count!

It’s the treats in life that count!

Finally, it has taken unshakeable belief that your creation will be compelling enough for people to want to pay for it. Of course that will only be confirmed when it is out in the world-wide marketplace, stripped bare of the angst it has gone through to shape, its arrival celebrated by the consumption of the masses.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance writer who is excited to be part of a simple idea that evolved to include an integrated social media approach aimed at keeping families connected at Halloween.

Go viral, it’s so infectious

I’m hooked on the new addiction of the information age, a craving to go viral. It started with share buttons and has moved on to #hashtags and hyperlinks. The lure of the “express press” button and where it might take me is just too great to resist.

I know I’m not the only tragic out there. Whether we know it or not, we’re all being seduced by those tactile-looking icons with come-hither designs that beckon the action to pin, press, share, select or click.

I’m now a collector of badges on my own website. During its build the excitement one felt at every discovery of yet another free button must have surely created this craving to cross-link.

Next came hyperlinks. If there was no official download badge available, the only way to satiate one’s enslavement to express press was to link text. Of course, I had to make sure the hyperlink opened in a new window so that I could return to the original source that fed my fixation.

There’s nothing more gratifying than hovering your cursor over a cute #hashtag, pausing momentarily to question what might be discovered if only you cave and select … will it open a Pandora’s box that takes you off on a useless tangent, or will it provide some quick rich source of information, something you never expected and were delighted to learn.

Obsession to press

Yes, it surely is an obsession and I liken this need to that of cracking the key word code that unlocks SEO. Once you go down that path, you can’t stop!

I believe this urge to express press is driven by a primal need to confirm that what you’re doing is validated by the masses. If one can only uncover the secrets of going viral the pay-off [attention] further feeds one’s longing for feedback. It’s a Catch-22 but one we all need to become addicted to in the new media age.

But is going viral easier than we all think?

My experience building a website and investigating marketing trends reveals that at the very base level it’s all about those key words and links. Of course once those words have been mastered next is to ensure there’s substance within a message for others to share it around. And their in lies the rub. Not all messages resonate. So when you’re just starting out how can you buck that trend and get a piece of the click-through action?

Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!  Audrey Hepburn

There’s only one way. We need to help it along. That takes time and effort so strap yourself in and get ready to tick off the following 10 steps to potential viral success.

  1. When you set up a blog, consider whether you need to pay for that blog profile, especially if you have a product to sell. If you want to attract advertising, you’ll need an online account that “allows” it.
  2. Just like unlocking the key to search engine optimization, SEO, your approach needs to be integrated across as many social media channels as you can physically manage. After setting up a blog profile, immediately set up profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram.
  3. Next, hit up family and friends to follow, befriend and like your posts across all mediums, just to get some “runs on the board” as you get started.
  4. After that order business cards under your blog/website moniker and take advantage of free access to their “reseller” profiles that will get you seen by up to a quarter million people. This works well for those selling a product/idea.
  5. On your website, be it Go Daddy or WiX, once you publish you’ll receive freebies through Google and Bing and Facebook ads, etc… set a modest budget and take advantage of them all. Once you’ve used up their freebie coupon, for example, $50, $75 or $100, close down your coupon account. Even if you only picked up one person, it’s one more than you had and it probably got others talking.
  6. Hand out those business cards to anyone who’ll take it and then start your integrated campaign in earnest. Twitter twice a day, depending on your message, update Facebook daily, pin, Instagram as many times as you please… and if you’re a techno-guru hyperlink those videos.
  7. If you read my previous post SEO tricks that stick, it highlighted the need to repurpose your message across all social media channels. This is key. As long as the message is consistent, it will optimize your chances as SEO bots see quantity as popularity.
  8. It’s also important to share those message across all mediums SIMULTANEOUSLY. That’s easy given most blog sites and websites allow express press social media share buttons. Caution, this is addictive!
  9. Next value-ad to your blog via hyperlinks to sites. There are so many others writing great stuff so share their words of wisdom, too. And follow those that choose to follow you. Take the time to check out their blogs and sign up.
  10. Finally, if you can allow guest bloggers on your site because it adds variety, and let’s cut to the chase … it attracts followers.

Want more on this topic…

The Etsy Blog’s discussion on 4 Ways to Improve Your SEO and Increase Your Traffic provides some great words of wisdom that not only apply to understanding SEO but also about upping your chances of going viral.

Thanks go to @JonP9 for luring me to select #Authors and @freelancejoe‘s bio. People are doing great stuff and creating ways for others to express press themselves.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist who for the past 10 months has been buried in the build of her own website while developing an app. Next blog: just when you think you’re about to realise a dream, Apple hackers stymie one’s efforts! Not to be defeated, it allows more time to look at what others are doing 🙂