What happens when content creators stop creating?

As a content writer, creator, maker, whatever you want to call yourself, your biggest challenge is often consistency. Life gets busy. Clients demand all of your creative energy. You have to make a tough decision about next steps and somehow posting content as an “expert” when you’re feeling lost is inauthentic.

These are real challenges. I would never even imply that the past month hasn’t been anything but an extraordinary test of my values, self-worth, and yes, creative motivation. The decision to leave RedBrick Rooster has left me with a lump in my throat so large sometimes I have to check to make sure I’m still breathing. While vlogging and writing have often acted as therapeutic tools, I denied myself their usefulness. Why? Because I actually stopped creating many months ago and while somewhere in the depths of my soul I knew it was therapeutic, I couldn’t access that part of me that sits down and does it.

I know I am good at my job. I know that I can on a semi-consistent basis create interesting content that connects me to my clients, my friends, and other kindred souls. So why it is so easy to stop writing, vlogging, engaging on your social networks and hide from it all?

Shame is a part of it. A feeling of failure which is easier to hide from with busy work, excuses, and blaming your work for sucking your creativity dry, instead of admitting that it’s the only place where you do not feel dry and so you spend more time than is necessary there. There is no problem with expending so much creative energy on your work. It’s amazing. Addictive. Rewarding. The problem is that even with that there is shame lurking in the shadows. It hides there, constantly reminding you that you could be striving higher, writing more, writing for more people, becoming more recognized. So the longer you stop writing the craftier you get at blaming your work for not reaching that next level of success. Your brain takes this as a cue to start becoming stressed every time your plate is full with client work even though that is exactly what you’ve worked your little buns of trying to achieve.

Now the work stopped. Yes I am doing speaking gigs and workshops more frequently than I ever imagined possible but that work that forces you to stretch out and knead, to poke and prod, and shape a soft gooey dough into something unique is slowing down. Temporarily yes. But still slowing down almost at a full stop now. I am left only with that lump in my throat and shame that cannot be hidden with work anymore.

Here is the useful part of this inhibited period of my “recreational” creative life: it forces me to ask myself why I create.

I create because of my love of the process. Sharing it. Being in it. Reflecting on it at the end of a transformation. I think I genuinely forgot this. I was breaking my neck bringing in new business and that took priority over creating for myself. It also made the process of breaking neck a lot more painful because I had no tool for acknowledging and processing my transformation along the way.

I want to start making things again. I want to stop feeling like being “in process” or “under construction” is not a good enough reason to write. It is the only reason to write. So I ask that you join me in taking a step towards that lack of inhibition we all know and some even love about me. I need you now. Starting today I’m burning the bra. I’m breaking down these damn walls I’ve put around creating for myself. Starting with this admittance of letting that shadowy shame prevent me from doing something that makes me smarter and happier.

Anyone want to join me at the bonfire bra-less?

 

 

 

#RealTalk

Last week I attended the C2 Conference in Montreal. This blog is part of a series I am writing to document some of my findings after being submerged in a jungle one part performance art, one part academic, one part food truck meet-up, one part business conference, and one part adult playground.

Toni-at-C2

My previous blog post focused on body language in a big way. When our bodies are forced into atypical “business” environments the way we connect with each other changes as we negotiate with our sense of personal space. Now I want to talk about – talking.

C2 obviously nailed it when they decided to break down the physical barriers between people and offer a more organic method of connecting. But let’s focus on the speakers. The rush after a particularly vulnerable and rewarding brain date is difficult to describe and the only thing that crushes that rush as fast as it sprouts is a bad speaker. One who has not translated their “industry speak” into the love language that participants were organically crafting.

Okay, to be fair, I was fortunate in enjoying all the speakers I saw but I thought this is would be a great opportunity to point out a problematic trend I’ve seen in public speakers. I will, of course, also continue my flattery of C2 and acknowledge speakers who subverted this horrible trend that I am calling “winners speak”.

As a speaker you have two jobs. 1) Know your shit. And 2) educate yourself in what words have become meaningless as they are overused and melded in with “industry speak”. Having a powerful message is one thing, but delivering it in a powerful way is what creates momentum and ensures your message will penetrate the behavior and thinking of your listeners. So how do you do this? You create a love language for the thing you are passionate about. You ingest it in all the forms its available in so that when you are asked to speak on it your words are as varied and rich as your perspective on the subject.

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Jargoned speech is like a Coca-Cola. In the moment you could not imagine being more refreshed and satisfied as its carbonated sparks electrify your throat. Of course, this doesn’t last. The short term effects are fatigue, irritation, and yes, thirst. The very thing we were hoping to rid ourselves of. Real momentum is staying hydrated with clean substances throughout the day. Every once in a while we surprise our bodies with a fresh watermelon, which carries with its appeal a messiness, and inconvenience.

Before I get completely carried away with my analogy here let’s reel it back in. “Winners speak” is problematic. It relies on our fears of failure, it feeds our weakness for fast results, and it misses out on the “why”. Why this is important. Why this is truth. Why this is devastating. Why this is beautiful. Why this is sad. Why it’s allowed to be all of those things at once.

A speech is not there to flatter your senses and then just as promptly leave you craving the very thing you went to satisfy. Perhaps if you were about to play a football game and needed a bit of pep, or about to enter into a situation where nerves had to be met with a fierce sense of invincibility. These, however, are intended to be in short bursts. They are there to represent the larger more complex mechanics of something you’ve worked hard at. Key being – you’ve already engaged in.

Okay, so how do we fix this? I obviously don’t have all the answers. But I’ve been paying close attention to the speakers I have had the pleasure and displeasure of seeing. Partly because I myself am moving into public speaking and needed to see what worked and what didn’t. Here are my thoughts:

  • Find and nurture your love language. It could be your ability to turn a call to action into poetry that speaks to deeper human truths like Massimo Bottura. He nourished our minds and sense as he lovingly and poetically described how “cooking is a call to act”. Just like poetry we were feeling it before we understood it. So when he walked out onto the stage and began telling us of his project Food for Soul our mouths were already hungry for the realness and truth of the devastation of food waste.
  • Tasha McCauley spent the majority of her talk on VR and its potential for redeveloping our intuitive thinking. She started by telling us the story of “the first page”. As in, the first documented piece of history that humankind recorded symbols and language onto. What made it so special? What prompted us to shift from oral-only to a written language? Her love language is history, discovery, and adventure. She made me look at my own writing as a vehicle for exploration in a way I hadn’t before. It was through this unique and creative lens that I began to understand how we are moving to a more intuitive and symbolic thinking space and our language for it is not ‘text speak’, as some naysayers want to believe, but technology; things that allow us intuitive modes of interacting with our environment.
  • Struggle and failure cannot just be acknowledged. It must be treated with the same respect we inherently give a win. My biggest complaint against “winners speak” is its terrible habit of indulging in the win and acknowledging the suffering only as a means of enhancing the win. With mental illness being so prevalent, you’d think we would work harder to develop a love language for it that didn’t rely on a win. At C2 the vast majority of speakers chose learning over winning. Learning relies on failure. There is just as much, if not more, joy in seeing a child trying to walk for the first time than seeing a child walk perfectly for the first time.

The language we are given to explore a topic is in a large way going to dictate its course. When ideas start to shift in society, one of the first things that crops up is a call to action for a change in the language we use. So why in a business setting do we often forget this? Well, its fear. So first we need to acknowledge that for fear to grip us that badly, it must mean there is something deeply personal intertwined in the way we do business. Ah okay! We know this. So let’s make a commitment then to prioritize personal expression even in a business setting. Let’s not let our ideas only flow from our heads out our mouths. Let’s take it on the scenic route, straight through our heart, winding through our toes, up and down our shoulders, giving it a clean jump off our tongue and out into the world.

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Brain Dates Expose More Heart than Brains

Last week I attended the C2 Conference in Montreal. This blog is part of a series I am writing to document some of my findings after being submerged in a jungle one part performance art, one part academic, one part food truck meet-up, one part business conference, and one part adult playground.

Toni-at-C2

Imagine a space where you are challenged to intimately and freely exchange expertise and vulnerabilities with strangers. Not just that, but the space itself is comprised of non-traditional seating arrangements. Two swings where knee bumping is inevitable. Rocking chairs. Salon chairs equipped with hooded hair dryer bonnets. Red and white pods. A swinging picnic table. Hammocks. At one point, even the staircase as the other space filled up. This was the crown jewel of the conference and they called these: Brain Dates.

What is a brain date? Every attendee has access to the “HUB” where you have the opportunity to write a little bio and set-up offers and requests. Offers are things you are open to talk about for 30min with people who are interested. Requests are simply you putting out a request to get some advice on a specific subject. My offer was this: “How do you turn a personal brand into a business?” I received 16 requests to speak on that topic and ended up “brain dating” with 14 of those people (I didn’t want to miss out on Martha Stewart talking about pot brownies and her homeboy Snoop).

From my previous posts and watching my weekly Vlog, you already know that online dating is a constant source of inspiration for me when it comes to personal branding. So the idea of brains from all over the world going on “dates” tickled me.

14 dates in 3 days and this is what I learned:

  1. Value does not have an age attached to it. We know this. At C2 you feel it. I spoke with people ranging in ages from 30-65 and often the biggest age gaps meant the best conversations.
  2. Seating had a huge effect on how the conversation went:
    • Swings: Our knees bumped immediately which meant we had to acknowledge a breach of personal space before anything else. Our conversation was playful, bubbly, and nostalgic. We are now collaborating on a project to integrate play into the way people network and learn.
    • Leather footstools (no backing): We both automatically leaned in to talk. Our conversation was brisk and to the point. We spoke in bullet points stopping only to check the time. She walked away with a to-do list.
    • Rocking chairs: Both of us took a minute to breathe and rock before jumping into the conversation. Most of the time was spent exchanging personal histories. We ended up having dinner together and talking about motherhood. We are going to be working together to bring some branding workshops to Toronto for both entrepreneurs and workplace teams to work together better.
    • Salon chairs: The conversation started with a joke about getting perms. Our conversation was driven by humour but relaxed and neither of us felt the pressure of time. We were getting perms after all. This meant I felt comfortable enough to tell him I wanted to meet with him because the language in his profile annoyed me. It was full of “this many start-ups make this many mistakes” and “you should do this”. I wanted to talk with someone who would challenge my more fluid approach to business. This conversation was honest and incredibly helpful. We’ve already connected again!
    • gliderPicnic table glider: You will certainly detect this in my tone – but this was by far my favourite brain date. I actually told this story to Tara Hunt who was part of the social squad for C2 and we totally bonded over it! Just goes to show how the momentum of one great event can lead to another. I added a picture below of a rocking picnic table to eliminate any confusion around how it works. Bill and I sat down and very quickly realized two things. One, we were actually sitting quite far apart. Two, we had to work together to keep the rocking movement of the bench smooth so it wasn’t distracting. This meant we had to not only listen carefully with our ears but with our bodies too. The best way I can describe our conversation is that we took out all our insides and showed it to each other. When one of us became vulnerable or passionate the other immediately felt how it disrupted the flow of our rocking. It meant that I really felt the excitement or nervousness, shared in it, and adjusted to its rhythm. Our brain date ended with big bear hug and a commitment to finding a space to work together in the near future.
  3. Console the broken hearts. E-180 Labs, the wonderful humans responsible for running the brain dates came up with a clever and thoughtful gesture of offering a chocolate with a small “sorry” note to those who had been stood up by dates. It acknowledged the personal aspect of the dates by appealing to the heart via its heart medicine: sweets. It helped set the tone even if you didn’t get to fully participate. Maybe next year we can convince them to hand out mini containers of Ben & Jerry’s instead.
  4. People want to share their expertise with you. Sometimes I met with someone and either because of social exhaustion, heat exhaustion, or in my case, a strong desire to take my 2pm nap, the conversation wouldn’t start out strong, You’d forget what you were there for or dance around a subject hoping the other person will pick up a thread and go with it. This was never a bad thing. Everyone was committed to actually adding value and expertise. The space itself had a lot to do with that. There were just enough rules and guidelines in place to make everyone feel safe, but the playfulness of the environment meant we were energized and motivated to be ourselves and show off our uniqueness. We understood what was required of us when we stepped into either of the roles in the brain date. Maybe I was just very fortunate but everyone I spoke to was committed to either finding value in you or giving something of value to you.
  5. Lastly, I learned that business cards are much more valuable as a token of thanks than an actual means of contacting someone. Give your business card at the end, not the beginning of a meeting. The “HUB” meant we had a way of following up with everyone we met without exchanging business cards. When someone gave me their card right away they set the tone for a specific kind of chat. One which I wasn’t particularly interested in. The kind where they were going to sell to me. When we exchanged cards at the end of the date, it was because we wanted to give the other person a token of acknowledgment for the value they added to our day.

 

Stay tuned for more posts on C2 as I untangle my thoughts and feelings.

Is Branding Just BS?

For a number of reasons we are all resistant to the idea of assessing or even creating a brand. As a small business or start-up we think, “Well this isn’t a priority. I haven’t even made money yet. A fancy logo and sales language can wait.”

I posted an article on Facebook a few weeks ago dissecting the notion of brand as a luxury expense but I want to tackle this from a different angle.

I consider myself very lucky so far that in my career as a branding coach I have come across almost no one who didn’t have some idea of why branding is good. Then, just as my comfy couch of perfect clients was starting to form its perfect butt indentation, something or someone jabs me in my left ass cheek. Perhaps its because I’m forced to use words like branding and marketing when even I find them cringe-worthy. I hate having to rely on industry jargon to simplify my ideas around marketing. It makes them feel empty and manipulative.

Coming from an arts background means my education opened up my world vastly. So vastly that it let in a lot of ugly lofty thoughts and judgments about the value of creating. Art school teaches you many valuable things but when it forces you into a competitive environment with yourself and your peers, creates a highly structured grading system, and tells you that you should be “industry ready” by the time your program ends, it does something to your creativity. It eats it up and spits out cookie-cutter thoughts disguised as discerning taste, analytical thinking, and success. It took me a long time to shake the feeling of being inadequate or not living up to that lofty idea of what a true artist is. I still fall into this trap. Most days though, I am reminded of something inherent in all creators – resourcefulness. I am reminded of this because each and every day I work with clients who introduce new levels of scrappiness into my world.

Innovation, creativity, and art are all forms of resourcefulness. It is about using our imagination to stretch beyond the immediate meaning or use of the thing in front of us. When else do we see this? Well, when we play – or more accurately, played. So is our job as creators then not to create the most bad-ass sandbox to play in? Is it not to immerse ourselves in an environment where boundaries are bendy and following rules is failure. This doesn’t sound much like any education system, does it?

Before I digress into one of my most adored ranting topics –education – let’s keep this train on its tracks.

This is how I define branding – being able to express who you are, what you do, and how you do it in both a literal, symbolic, and visual way. Good branding should be so embedded in who you are at your core so that whether people are looking at your website, hearing you speak, chatting with you over a glass of rouge, or working with you, they know what type of experience they can expect from you. Before you can get to that though – you’re going to need your sandbox. You’re going to have to forcefully inject creative problem solving into your world. Now you try explaining this to someone who has no concept of branding. It’s seriously fucking hard. So you turn to your marketing jargon encyclopedia and begin spouting out buzz words like “social media engagement”, “conversion”, “web traffic”, and “sales”. No doubt these things are all extremely important. But they are not at the core of a brand. YOU are at the core of the brand. YOU are the common factor. Your thinking, your method, and your obstacles. Those other things are – mind you quite amazing – tools to help sell, get people to read your authentic content, and spread your good-hearted message to the world.

Think of your business as that beautiful sand castle you want to build. The things you find in the sandbox are the tools or add-ons for your biz that can help you build it, and make it better. The other kids in there are people who will believe in and work for your vision. So what’s missing in all this? Well kids, the sandbox. Part of what I teach in brand coaching is play. Get back to that core version of yourself. That version of yourself that could build worlds, delegate roles, invent new rules, and solve problems creatively with only sand and discarded, often broken, tools or throwaway toys. That version of yourself that could intuitively spin a tale and have people begging to be a part of the crew, even it is only to scoop and pile dirt.

Branding is not just developing your credibility, reputation, and visual language, it is knowing on an intuitive level who you are, how you do things, and how you solve problems. This is what you want to communicate consistently to your clients or customers. That is how you become a many-pronged market superstar. In a nutshell, be the shit out of yourself and share it with everyone. If you can’t do this – cool. Hire me. I will be that nurse you love/hate who injects play back into your world.

Ps. Warning. This blog is sweary.

 

The Mindful Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs are often a labeled as aggressive, stubborn types who let nothing and no one stand in the way of their vision. I have no qualms with this type of entrepreneur. They have given us Facebook, intuitive tech and software, and agency to customize our daily experiences from apps that track our monthly cycle (down to our eating and pooping habits) to adjusting to our music tastes to give us only what we desire. But I am finding another type. They have existed for a long time but their space is opening up in a more integrated and interdisciplinary way. These people I am going to call “Mindful Entrepreneurs” and as it happens, my clients so far all fall into this category and it’s exhilarating.

These are some traits I have found these people to possess in various combinations:

  • Holistic in their approach
  • Their mission involves contributing to a social good
  • They desire a “tribe” and often feel lonely or disconnected in traditional friendships
  • Their inspiration can reach the heights of Everest but just as quickly they can get caught up in a web of existential worry about their own worth.
  • They’ve undergone at least one major transformation if not more
  • They have not always known exactly what they wanted to do but they had a pretty good sense of they wanted to feel about what they do
Photo by Kaj Peterson. Licensed under CC at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
Photo by Kaj Peterson. Licensed under CC at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

So why do we need to pay attention to these people? They are going to be the ones who connect the two seemingly disparate paths of our desire for the simplicity of the past and the drunken lust with which we stumble to our complex futures. When I talk about the past I mean our dreamy vision of “simpler” times where language was less important than spirituality and storytellers played the roles of healers and magicians. I also mean our own simpler pasts as children. The time where we felt an inherent connection to the dirt beneath our feet and freedom felt like outside.

So now that we understand these types a little better let’s talk about their typical business challenges and is often what brings them to me:

  • How to monetize (this being the biggest and most difficult challenge)
  • How to balance maintaining professional relationships without comprising their natural desire to connect deeply with people on a truly personal level
  • What to call themselves (job title, position etc.)
  • How to make a sustainable business out of doing but also teaching others how to do
  • How to make a living doing what they love without losing the love by making it about money
  • When to protect their ideas and when to share them with anyone who will listen

An unexpected calling that has revealed itself to me this year has been to understand these challenges and find solutions for them that resonate with the mindful. Second to that, I feel a strong need to curate these ideas and solutions into a larger vision for the world to start seeing how valuable these people will continue to become.

I’m not one for New Year resolutions since my feeling of renewal and the need for freshness only came Jan. 8th after an impromptu night out with my tribe. That aside, I am on a clear path to deep dive into these topics and challenges. Because I believe that we do not need to be afraid of business. We do not need to feel like a cop out. We just have to pay attention to what we are offering in the exchange between us and a client or a customer. Because while money is a necessity of modern life, we are all capable of more meaningful exchanges and one does not erase the need for the other.

 

 

ARTPRENEUR 2015

Chicklets and chuckles – this past weekend I attended a seriously rad event. It is a trade show held at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans for artists of all kinds looking to turn their craft into a business. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend any of the seminars as I was the only one at my table and had to guard my free chocolates with my life (and my mouth…sluurp). It was my first trade show and I as such I wanted to share my findings and observations. Keep in mind I wrote these as the day went on so they don’t necessarily reflect my overall view. This is more of a play-by-play of the day.

  • Some delegates only come to give YOU advice. Not the nice encouraging kind either. The mean kind that leaves you eating mini chocolates for breakfast.
  • The size of your display is meaningless. It is the size of the personality behind the display.
  • Make friends with all the vendors. Not only are they totally awesome people but they will send people your way.
  • Everyone likes chocolate.
  • Artists are apparently a step ahead of the game. Their outfits were so rad and so reflective of their personal brand that I was inspired!
  • DO NOT make a sales pitch. Engage in real conversations and give out real advice! It was like a free focus group and I’m so pumped to work on content aimed at artpreneurs over the next couple of months.
  • Anyone can inspire you if you just ask the right questions.
  • Art organizers are such a wonderful and entertaining combo of jaded and passionate.
  • Mini Crunch bars and by far the favourite.
  • If you see people you know tweet at them to come to your table. They will bring friends!
  • I need a cool hat.

Wrecking Ball: Miley Coyote

My first experiences with social media were limited to adding university pals much in the same way I collected passport stamps. Then, like an intelligence agent, sifting through the photos my camera-happy friend tagged me in. Other than that, my timeline was a bit of a ghost town.

In fact, I resisted social media at every turn. I thought it was vain, superficial, and most egregiously, gave us a false sense of connectivity with other humans (and the occasional cat).

Now, I spend my days blogging about the importance of an online presence and even worse, I help people find their inner twitter bug. Gross!

So I am of two minds. On the one hand, I am a huge judgmental naysayer. On the other hand, I am incredibly motivated by our interactions via social media. It has become a huge source of information for my consulting and I think, made me a little braver. With that inherent rebelliousness and a now an actual business need to use social media  – I’ve decided to give my social media persona a name. Her name is: Miley Coyote. The meaning of social media is not love or hate – its those rare moments where the two come together to share a new meaning altogether.

The 9 Golden Rules of Being Wile E. Coyote: Committed for Life

The creator of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, Chuck Jones, had 9 golden rules when producing each episode. Stay with me. To understand Miley Coyote we must first look at the coyote (moon howling is obligatory).

  1. The Road Runner cannot hurt the coyote.
  2. No outside force can harm the coyote except the backfiring ACME products.
  3. Coyote was driven only by his fanaticism – otherwise he could stop at anytime.
  4. The only dialogue is “beep beep”.
  5. The Road Runner can only be on the road.
  6. All the action can only take place in the setting of a generic southwest American desert.
  7. All materials, weapons, tools, or products used must be purchased from ACME Corp.
  8. Whenever possible, make gravity coyote’s biggest challenge.
  9. The coyote is always humiliated by his failures rather than injured.

These rules not only dictate how the world of this cartoon works, but also how the characters can be expected to behave inside it. So why is this cartoon so engaging? Is it because each episode is predictable and therefore we don’t have to use our noggin or is it for some other reason? Before we explore that further let’s look at a creature far less appealing with a seeming disregard for anything shaped like a rule.

An Unlikely Advocate

Miley Ray Cyrus has been dubbed a social media dominatrix. Her behaviour on and offline is not dictated by the social rules set forth for any of the “normative” roles she is partakes in: female, pop star, fashionista, celebrity. Like a horror movie, we enjoy the gore, fear, and suddenness of it all.

But wait! A dominatrix follows rules as well, she just creates them herself and enforces them on willing participants. A horror movie still scares us even though the genre is as predictable as an episode of The Road Runner. Why? Because both require two things:

  1. Willing submission for the pleasure of involuntary reactions
  2. Suspended disbelief

In horror movies (you can make the kink comparison yourself I’m sure), despite us knowing whats waiting for us, we allow ourselves to fall into a space of submission. We want to be startled, scream, see gore beyond what we could handle in real life, and feel the suspense and fear of the characters themselves. In order to have these reactions (in fact, which we pay money to have) we have to suspend our disbelief. We have to believe the coyote will continue to hunt the Road Runner despite numerous injuries and a track record of irrefutable failure. We have to make room for the irrational decision of the lead character to go into the creepy basement where the noise is coming from.

So how does this apply to social media?

Credibility Isn’t Cheap

Coyote is the masochist to Miley’s sadist. Is social media not just the same thing? A balance between pain and pleasure, love and hate, appropriate and inappropriate? But how did these two characters become credible sources of this behaviour? Consistency. Sure, Miley flaps around like she makes her decisions via magic eight ball but the truth is, her social media persona is as formed, as branded, as committed as Wile E. is to the rules of Chuck Jones. The credibility of a persona relies on key indicators that amount to an authentic being. The most important one being consistency.

This is no easy thing. Yes, sometimes being on social media can feel superficial and disconnected. The way I see it – it’s a costume in a play. I ask people to give me willingness to submit and I ask people to suspend their disbelief. But I do it in exchange for a story. I use my persona or character as a vehicle to communicate complex relationships. Even if it is to demonstrate the complex relationships we have with ourselves. In the space where Miley and Coyote come together we learn about the similar truths existing in seemingly contradictory characters.  Some of the most abstract art produces the most authentic feelings.

Sometimes I rant, sometimes I share content I feel strongly about, sometimes I laugh at the very things that inspire me, sometimes I choose to leave out a very specific element of myself to make the story stronger. My in between truth – I am an explorer. I do not sit comfortably in the middle. I need to engage every part of myself on every platform available to me. I just don’t like to do it all at the same time.

My brand is Miley Coyote. Whats yours?

(Un)Social? – by Clio Em

We’re discussing social media personas here on this blog. Each of us has one, like a sort of digital patronus. We control them and give them life, but they can take on a life of their own, too.

Clio Em, online, is me. This reflected self is creative, fun, and occasionally irreverent. She sings as well as I do but never hits any wrong notes, wears pretty dresses all the time and doesn’t lounge around the house composing at the piano in dance pants like I do. She is not a mobile photography enthusiast; she is a photographer.

There are many ways of being social, just as there are many ways of sharing one’s work. I very much like using Facebook daily, updating my friends and acquaintances on what it is that I’m up to, especially from the artistic angle. Same with twitter and Instagram. I use VSCO Grid to share my best photos, and showcase my audio creations on SoundCloud. I have separate accounts for various music projects I work on, and these are tremendously useful as documentation of my work, little windows into the world in which I create. I love sharing my photos, not only because I enjoy taking them but also because I feel that if I can spread a little more beauty in the world, then it’s a post that was well worth it.

Yet artists sometimes make the mistake of directly equating followers to fans and likes to true emotional connection. Of course this can be the case. But online, a like or follow can also indicate friendship, professional reciprocity, or it can be an efficient form of bookmarking. It’s helpful to understand who’s reading your posts, but also to realize that offline interaction is important, too.

The real value of social media, for me at least, is its use as a communications catalyst. Without Facebook or twitter, I could never have looked up and written to many musicians I very much admire and forged meaningful collaborations, which led to such opportunities as study, research, performances, and compositions. In all these cases, social media was the medium for communication. I used it as an initial contact point, and then jumped off from there to meaningful discussion, meeting in real life, and making music and art together. But there comes a point in my day when it becomes crucial to actually get offline and create, purely in the analogue world. To play an instrument or to sing, without distractions.

We digital natives no longer have the luxury, or the curse, of existing alone most of the time, and so when we do get this rare time alone offline, we tend to either value or reject it. At one point or another throughout our day, even during quiet moments, we are often in heavy and constant contact with others through our smartphones and computers. Others’ thoughts and feelings influence ours, and vice versa. For me as an artist, this means that I can work more easily with others. Sometimes it helps me get inspired. I can find performers to play my compositions at a moment’s notice, and I can seek out an ensemble to sing with just as easily. I can apply to festivals, grants, and other opportunities online. I can communicate with the people behind these opportunities faster and more easily. Yet it also means that at times, it is difficult to take the time to unplug and think things out without that online influence.

In certain situations, social media belongs in a concert setting, for example in digital and net art, or during live electronics performances and so on. But in the vast majority of cases, it’s probably a good idea to separate our online personas from our offline selves.
Photography by Georg Aufreiter

Clio Em is an award-winning musician, writer, and creative on a mission to discover new sound worlds. Drawing from her extensive classical piano, composition and voice training at institutions such as McGill University and the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Clio’s distinct crossover style fuses elements of pop, folk, classical, and electronic genres that blend together into an arresting whole. Her work with text complements her music. Clio Em’s instruments of choice include piano, various guitars and ukuleles, her own voice, electronics, found objects, and the occasional touch of cello, accordion, and small percussion instruments. Born and raised in Alberta, Clio Em now calls many places in the galaxy home, Canada and Europe among them. She writes at clio-em.com.

Protecting Anonymity in a Social Media Age – by Jean Sa’Mick

When I was younger I pictured this over romanticized version of being a writer. In my head I would live a quiet type of fame, where people knew who I was from my iconic writing (I had fashioned myself as a more upbeat Sylvia Plath; Deep, soul searching concepts without the downer of actually hating my life) but largely left me alone to enjoy my life privately. People knew who Stephen King was, but the paparazzi weren’t camped outside his Hollywood mansion. Writers got to be known without being famous, and that appealed to me.

As I grew older, I realized that fame wasn’t what I sought so much as respect and recognition for work. The star studded lifestyle of J. K. Rowling and its corresponding troubles appealed to me none whatsoever. I felt, and still feel, that as a writer it is your job to present the facts of what you’re talking about as opposed to opinion or reflection of persona. “You” shouldn’t really weigh in unless you’re specifically writing a biased article, and your persona shouldn’t be a factor when people are reading your work.

So, this is where I have troubles with Social Media. In 2015 one of the best ways to build a professional reputation for yourself is to broadcast your work over social media channels, drawing the attention of people who may be interested in paying you money. In a world now devoid of stuffy conference ‘networking’ sessions we must maximize every chance to make an impression, even before a physical opportunity presents itself.

The downside to having those platforms for promotion is that you sacrifice the ability to tailor what an audience views, and with it a portion of your privacy. I’m not picky with the content I write about, and frequently welcome a challenge. That open mindedness has landed me some cool jobs, from a staff writer of a sex blog to covering music conferences day to day, from writing copy for renovation companies to touring with musicians. 70% of the content I write is safe for audiences of all ages, and the remainder sure isn’t.

Does NSFW content scandalize me? Hah, No. I’ve written about things that were so shocking my own hair got curlier (dammit). But is it a big deal to other people? Yes. The best way to avoid pigeon holing yourself is to follow a few simple steps. Feel free to adapt and decline as you please.

  1. Limit your online personal life. If you have multiple social media accounts, pick which ones to use professionally and which to use personally. Yes, the lines can blur sometimes with certain people and organizations, but this provides the best blueprints for keeping work-life and personal life separate. If you find Twitter reaches more potential professional contacts, maximize your reach that way and keep friend fights and break up quotes to Facebook. (Then, go back and delete the friend fights and break up quotes because you aren’t 17 anymore). By keeping both sides of your life separate, you minimize the chances of looking unprofessional in any manner when those pictures of you doing the keg stand in a tutu finally surface.
  2. Try to remain as neutral as possible. Unless your job is specifically one sided (think party specific political reporting) don’t share your opinion. You may be limiting yourself professionally when the other side looks to hire someone with your qualifications. It’s also a great way to avoid getting in pointless arguments with people over the internet. I know we all love a good back and forth over an online forum; riding in on our high horses, ready to tell the opposing side it has a stupid face and their mothers dress them funny. But resist the urge to feed the trolls by avoiding the situation altogether. You never know where your next contract might come from, and it could be a lot of money from someone you’ve just told off.
  3. Do your research. Nothing lowers your credibility than being wrong about something publicly. Find out the corresponding hashtags, look into legitimate sources for background info and if you don’t know something, look into it. This applies for everything, whether it be writing an article on a protest or giving instruction on stripping down furniture. Don’t act like you know something if you don’t actually because it is guaranteed to be pointed out by someone who does. On the flip side, people may look to you for information. By being accurate, you’re working your online presence like retail: giving the customers a reason to return.
  4. Consider a pseudonym. Don’t try and deny it, you’ve always wanted to use that Ida Fukder alias. Chet Manly. Ben D. R. Rodriquez. Hell, you could be Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock if your heart desires. By being someone else, you can write about whatever you want without having to worry about it being immediately associated with you. I’m not recommending you act ashamed of your work, because it can be shown to like-minded parties for professional purpose just the same as your regular stuff. Writing for a sex blog has landed me work with other delightfully pervacious individuals, but it’s not widely accessible content. The open minded hipster couple who hire you to rewrite their website content don’t care, but for the privately religious clothing designer it could be the deciding factor between you and another candidate.

A good rule of thumb is to consider your parent or grandparents reaction to lascivious content. My mother is as unshakable as a cement column driven into the ground by Thor himself, so I don’t worry too much about her reacting negatively. Other people’s families are not as easy going, and if what you put on social media could embarrass you in their eyes, you may want to consider going the alias route.

Consider the above guidelines the next time you put something on social media, work related or otherwise. Is it going to embarrass you later? Limit or increase your options with work? Are you typing with a cool head and a full stomach? These things matter when making decisions about personal web content.

Jean is an Ottawa based freelancer and Toronto native, the latter of which she keeps under wraps during the hockey season. Her work has been featured on cultural blogs like Apt613, Ottawa Showbox and Herd Magazine, in addition to providing content for local small businesses like Jet Black Salon and UpRise Fit. When she isn’t writing, she occasionally moonlights as a masked superhero. Follow her as she fights crime and writes stories; Twitter as @reddhairing or on her website writingbyjean.ca.

When Personal is Professional – by Catherine Brunelle

Way(yyyyy) back in the early days of high school, I was 25% keener, 25% nerd, and 50% wall flower. But you know what else I was? A hundred percent hoping to be noticed. Between my highs and lows, all I really wanted was to be seen. So here’s what went through my brain most days: “Put up your hand! Say what you’re thinking!” Quickly followed by: “But what if you offend someone? What if other people know better? Be safe, say nothing!” A gag of nerves stifled my voice.

Then and Now

All this was before social media entered my life. It was also before I did a lot of other things like realize everyone is insecure and to some degree we’re all afraid of screwing up. However, for the sake of this post’s theme around online personas, let’s just stick with the whole ‘social media changed my life’ thesis, because it did. It really did. And I’ll prove it to you with three quick stories: Voice, Social and Career.

 Voice

“I didn’t realize you’re funny,” said my friend after reading my blog. This was itself hilarious since I’d known her literally my entire life and my blog was about having breast cancer. But I took it as a sign of a good thing.

At first Bumpyboobs was a secret from everyone, even my parents who I hadn’t then told about my suspected disease. Because it was secret, the blog was easy to name. If it had been created for the eyes of others, I probably would have called it ‘my super noble journey in conquering breast cancer’ or something like that. But this was for my eyes only, so I named it exactly what made me laugh most. The name was my unfiltered voice, aka, the endearing smart ass. That way of starting things, of doing it for myself and not others, has stayed with me over the years of writing.

Number one personal rule for blogging: If it’s my blog, it’s my story. As someone writing about breast cancer, after the blog went public I was quickly labelled a cancer blogger – people would email me asking to review their health products or just expect me to write about cancer all the time. But it’s my blog and I associate it with my identity both offline and online. Adhering to an imposed label, even one that gets attention, was just another form of self-censoring and I didn’t need that. I’m a whole lot of things and that is reflected in the posts. Those readers who dig it, dig me. It’s that simple.

My website has since changed to CatherineBrunelle.com to shake off expectations. But I have to say, it was always a secret thrill at executive networking events to direct politicians, CEOs and government officials to my website: “Bumpyboobs.com.”

Social

Once upon a time, someone I know complained about a person on their Facebook. He didn’t understand why they kept posting so many updates about their day. Who cared? Not him, that’s for sure.

These words stuck with me for a while and I had to chew them over. Why bother saying anything online? Who was I to share a stupid reflection, or picture, or anything? But then I realized, these thoughts felt like high school all over again. I don’t want to put that gag back on. And so I thought about it, and came to realize something important: different platforms, different expressions.

It’s absolutely okay to tweet a stream of observations while riding the bus in Ottawa. But if I did that on Facebook non-stop, it would flood timelines. It’s important to know your platform, regardless of whether you’re talking personal or professional. A while back I did a photo shoot of two dolls in love, which were definitely best shared on Tumblr. Any and all food pics go on Instagram. Business and life articles on Linkedin. Articles and vacation pictures go on Facebook. But best of all is Twitter, because it’s my catchall.

Be respectful, have fun, and know your platforms. If social media is a voice box for things you find interesting, weird creative experiments, and brave introductions to awesome people – then I say just go for it. Who cares about “Who cares?”

 Career

Here’s the thing. I say all this about voice and expression, but I also realize that the first thing many employers or clients do before working with you is check your social media. What we do socially reflects upon us professionally. This is a GOOD thing.

I wanted to write, so I started a blog. Suddenly I was a writer. I wanted to talk about writing, so I co-founded a podcast, suddenly I was a presenter. I wanted to become an author so I crowd funded online, and suddenly I had a novel. I was sick of being a cancer blogger, so I redesigned my website to cast off the pink ribbon vibe and suddenly I felt better. When it comes to the internet, you create the impression. There are no grades or degrees to be won – we gain our cred by taking action, and there’s no limitation on the actions we can take.

This might sound naïve, but it actually does work. I landed my first writing gig by attending a networking event and simply telling everyone there that I was a writer. All I had was my blogging and guest posts to back up that claim, but it was enough to secure steady work. It was an incredible feeling, and no one at any point said, ‘you can’t do that’; instead they said, ‘can you do that for me?’ Since then, I’ve literally created opportunities and expertise through experiments online. Today I get to work an incredible marketing job in a position that resonates deeply with my interests and values. It’s awesome.

(And even if I’m making it up as I go, at least I’m going!)

So there you have it. Three very quick stories about creating an online persona helped me find my voice. Thanks to Red Brick Rooster for this opportunity to share a piece of my story!


Catherine Brunelle is a content creator, marketer and author of the perfect book club novel, Claire Never Ending. Visit her website at CatherineBrunelle.com and do be sure to say hello over on Twitter.