Thursday, May 26, 2011

Optimize This!

With the arrival of summer (my last summer as a student, mind you) I’ve had a lot more free time to work on my portfolio (jstrufant.com ... check it out!) and on my brother’s company’s website (acadialending.com ... check that out, too!).

I’ve already learned so much more about Wordpress and site building, and I have to say that it’s really satisfying. Web design is time consuming, and it requires a ton of patience, but figuring it out - often through trial and error - is a rewarding feeling.

For my brother’s website in particular, I’ve been focusing on marketing/branding and search engine optimization. He hired an IT guy to do the actual site building, and now I’m just beefing it up, maintaining it, and working on it's Google ranking with a blog and good, well-written content.

This isn’t quite as satisfying, seeing that it can take weeks or months to see any change in rank, regardless of how much work you put in. But with my handy “Search Engine Optimization For Dummies” book, I think I’ve made some progress. I’m learning a lot, too, which is cool.

Before now, I’ve never really considered myself to be a tech-savvy person. I grew up with the Web – so I have an advantage in that sense – but I’ve always been a consumer, rather than a producer of online content. In a way, I’ve sold myself short. Maybe it’s because I lack extensive formal training – or I’m just a debbie downer about technology in general – but I figured the Web wasn’t my forte.

The work I’m doing, and this article, have proven that I was wrong. In “Why I will Never, Ever Hire A ‘Social Media Expert,’” Peter Shankman makes a good (somewhat harsh, but good) argument for why anyone can make a successful online business campaign if they have the right skills. And those skills aren’t the ability to tweet or facebook. As Shankman points out, it’s about solid marketing and stellar customer service.

And although I’ve never taken one marketing class (public relations is close enough though, right?) I think I’ve learned an awful lot about it in the professional writing grad program at UMD. As a writer, you’re constantly marketing your ideas. At the heart of writing is rhetoric; Writers use persuasive elements that appeal to their audience in order to get that audience to do something, even if it’s simply to think in a certain way.

When discussing the importance of marketing, Shankman mentions relevance and brevity. I definitely have the relevance thing down; I’ve done enough audience analysis as a writer to understand how relevance plays into marketing. Luckily, I have the brevity thing down too. Shankman says,
You know what the majority of people calling themselves social media experts can’t do, among other things? THEY CAN’T WRITE. The number of “experts” out there who can’t string a simple sentence together astounds me. Guess what -- if we have about three seconds to get our message across to a new customer, you know what’s going to do it? Not Twitter followers. Not Facebook fans. Not Foursquare check-ins – NO. What’s going to do it is GOOD WRITING, END OF STORY. Good writing is brevity, and brevity is marketing. Want to lose me as a customer, forever, guaranteed? Have a grammar error on any form of outward communication.
He couldn't be more correct. I said before that I'm more of a consumer of online content, so I often look to my own preferences/reactions to decide what works and what doesn't. If it isn't relevant, if it isn't well-written, and if it isn't USEFUL, it isn't going to be attractive to me. You can tweet and facebook about your site all you want, but if the content on the site doesn't meet this criteria, I'm not going to visit the site - regardless of how many times you tell me too. And if it really gets bad enough, I'm going to de-friend/unfollow you. SO THERE.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

And there goes another semester of grad school. With summer ahead, you'd think I'd be pumped. I mean, I am, in a way. But it's also kind of depressing. It means that many of my pals are graduating, and I'm next. Transitional phases always depress me, which probably says something about my character.

For some people, "change" has a positive connotation. Heck, Obama built his entire campaign around it. But, I'm not one of those people. I'm typically an optimistic person, but I'm opposed to change. Change means things are different, and I guess I've never had it bad enough to want things to be different. Different is uncomfortable, even scary at times.

But it wasn't always like that, now that I think about it. I actually lived most of my life looking forward to change. As an 8th grader, I could hardly wait for high school. On my 15th birthday, I couldn't believe I had to live through another 365 days until I could get my permit, and then another 6 months on top of that before my license. I wanted to be 18; I wanted even more badly to be 21.

I do not want to be 25. Luckily, I have a solid 11 months to go, yet it shows the sharp shift in thinking that happens at a certain age. We live most of our adolescence wishing to grow up, and once we do, we struggle with it. At this point, any change that occurs (and lately it occurs quite often) simply means I'm that much closer to being a full-blown adult. I just ain't ready!

Will I ever truly be ready? Probably not. But there's no point in fighting it. Someone philosophical once said that the only constant in life is change, and it's so true. Change is inevitable.

That doesn't mean I can't complain about it, though.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

a little philosophy...kinda of...

“Later that day I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you you love, well, that's just fabulous” – Sex and The City.

I, too, got to thinking about relationships today. A close girlfriend of mine has been going through a tough, on again/off again relationship/break up mess for quite some time, and she turned to me for advice. Through our conversation, I think I made some sense of loyalty and relationships, both for her and myself.

Last week I purchased (for my mother, but kind of for myself, as well) “Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue,” by Wall Street Journal columnist Eric Felten. I haven’t started reading yet, but I heard an interview with Felten on the Diane Rehm Show last week where he discussed his book and the role of loyalties in our lives. He pointed out that loyalty is necessary to a life of meaning, yet our loyalties inevitably collide, and we are force to chose what is most important.

I tend to be loyal to a fault, partly due to my stubbornness. I hate giving up on someone or something I believe can be salvaged or fixed. I’ve always been the type to keep only a few people close to me, but if you’re one of those few, I almost certainly will never give up on you.

As I got to thinking about my loyalties, I almost forgot to consider loyalty to myself. But what exactly is being loyal to ones self? Selfishness? It’s so complicated. We often form our perceptions of ourselves based on our relationships and our loyalties to others, like family, friends, work, and religion. So how, then, can we act loyally to ourselves in a way that’s separate from these other loyalties? And should we even strive to? If so much of life’s meaning is based on our relationships with others, then what are the perks of self-loyalty?

There are few loyalties in life that we can count indefinitely without any possible fear of betrayal. For me, those are my parents. I trust my parents in a way that makes being loyal to them the same as being loyal to myself. Still, as an adult, I think I need to determine the difference.

The definition of self-loyalty I settled on is doing what’s best for yourself, and following your own instincts. Maybe this is part of being 24-years-old, but I often find that my instincts change on a daily basis, and my head and heart say two very different things. So then what are you supposed to be loyal to? Your emotions or your reason?

Who really knows, but I think that’s what determines how loyal we are to our relationships. Whether or not the people in our lives enable us to be loyal to ourselves ultimately decides if we can be loyal to them.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense. But, I tried.