No Excuses For Bad Images

No ExcusesDisclaimer: I am not a graphic designer and will never claim to be. That said I have a lot of fun seeing what I can come up with when it comes to photo editing. I have taken some photoshop classes and I like to dabble with some of the many entry level tools that are out there. 

So when it comes to sourcing images for blogs and social media I have a strong opinion that there is no excuse for bad images. If I am being truthful I would say that these are tools I think everyone could and should use. Just about everyone could use a some better imagery if not for their business related profiles, for some of the personal ones.

One of my current go-to tools is Canva, where you can create many things either for free or for a minimal charge (about $1) . Canva also has a ton of stock imagery priced at $1

In the example below I had a quote from Winston Churchill and my idea was to overlay it on an image of the man himself. I first sourced the image using Google Images, further narrowing the search to usage rights that allowed reuse.

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One of the first things I like about Canva is all the presets for different types of images. Need a Twitter header, a YouTube thumbnail, a Facebook Event Cover Photo? Canva has you covered. Of course you always have the option to enter your own custom dimensions, but the presets offer an easy approach to getting started on some of the most common formats. Especially because the specifications for image sizes change often, these presets make it easy for newbies and the experienced.

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Just a sample of some of the presets you can choose to start creating with Canva.

Taking my Winston Churchill photo into Canva I started with a present for a Facebook post as that was my intended use for the finished product. I then selected one of their template layouts as it had a clean layout and fonts that I liked.

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The Canva Layout (template) I started with

Next I dropped in my photo and made necessary adjustments to the text and then filters.

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I ended up with something respectable but I was still not completely satisfied. I didn’t like the text over his face and I didn’t want to shrink the text down too much so I ended up switching things up to another layout. This was the final result.

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And after that I did another. All in less than a half hour.

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Canva actually has a really cool design school where you can learn more about everything from typography to design layout. I’ll admit I might need to be stranded on a desert island before I have the time for design school. I’d highly recommend just diving right in and learning along the way as its just so simple and satisfying to use. Some other similar tools I haven’t played with as much but that work similarly are:

Steve Jobs Biography

I just finished reading Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. It’s taken me many months to complete this book. Summer has been busy with work, travel, and home renovation projects; moments with a book have been infrequent. Don’t get me wrong this book is a great read, it’s just not a page turner because you know how this one is going to end. I always enjoy a good biography and learning more about the twists and turns of the lives of people. The story of Steve Jobs is an incredibly interesting one. It’s a classic story of a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer; when told something could not or should not be done, Jobs would do it. His work was game changing and has had an impact on most all of us today.

I am not sure Steve Jobs is someone I would have wanted to meet in person. Known for his prickly personality and his drive to innovate at any cost, he was never afraid to loose a friend in the pursuit of progress. I think the thing I was most struck with, with his story was his total adherence to aesthetic and design to the exception of people. He was able to do the incredible things that he did because of his conviction, his powerful ideas and his and unwillingness to settle. What would easily be perceived as egotism was his greatest asset when it came to setting his products apart and changing the world. He would have never done some of the amazing things he did if he had been any other way.

The most interesting things I learned about Jobs in the book: He was a major force behind the movies of Pixar Studios, of which there are many I love. He was adopted. He credited taking LSD as being one of his life’s most profound experiences. Jobs got married at the Ahwahnee Hotel, in Yosemite National Park, where I worked for a number of years and met my own husband. Prior to getting married, but after becoming very rich he lived in a house that was hardly furnished, because he was so particular about furnishings and design. His commitment to simplicity and tendency toward exceptional design total was reflected everywhere in his life and work, from his signature black turtle necks, to what he decided not to do with his products, to his interest in and practice of zen meditation.

Ultimately this was a really interesting read about an major icon of our time. This book gives me a whole new appreciation for my iphone and how it came to be.

Five Things I Love about Hootsuite

Hootsuite is the best in social media managment tools. I am a huge advocate and am always recommending it to friends and professionals alike. Whether you are just looking for a way to simplify and enhance your personal social media experience or you need a more robust tool for professional use, this is it. This video was my first foray into video blogging. I hope you enjoy it. I was a bit nervous, but it was fun and I think there will be more in the future.

Youtility: A Book Review

Last year I ordered myself a stack of books related business, social media, and content marketing. I am still working my way through the stack but one of the best books so far has been Jay Baer’s Youtility.  Youtility is defined as creating and attracting business with content that is inherently useful, valuable and empowers content consumers to help themselves. The book is chock-full of examples of Youtility across industries. Businesses from toilet paper manufactures to computer repair services have found success when they have sought first to help with winning content and only later to promote.

“The difference between helping and selling is just two letters.”


“Youtility is marketing so valuable people would gladly pay for it.”

I have spoken about content on this blog before. Content is king and all that. It’s an area of interest and I like to look at what separates the great from the rest. Developing great content requires a fundamental shift to thinking like a content consumer rather than a content creator. This is what Youtility is all about.

“ You’re not competing for attention only against similar products.You’re competing against your customers friends, family and viral videos of cute puppies. To win attention these days you must ask a different question. How can I help?”

Youtility as Baer, explains it is the highest and most sophisticated form of content marketing. It’s not just about having a blog or creating pretty infographics but doing those things with with the intention that the content always be helpful and most useful to the intended content consumer. The principle is simple: consumers of all types are turning to the internet for answers when researching solutions and or products. The question is, is your business providing the resources and solutions they seek.

The book’s forward by Marcus Sheridan, the owner of pool company, says “success flows to organizations that inform, not organizations that promote”. Faced with the economic downturn and plummeting sales in 2008, Sheridan brainstormed a list of all the questions he had ever been asked by customers and then turned those questions into blog posts for his shiny new blog. The results: greater website traffic, reduced time on consults with clients, and web analytics that accurately defined likelihood to purchase.  Sheridan’s analytics told him that if a person had read 30 pages on his site they bought a pool 80% of the time and that customers who bought pools had read 105 pages of his website. Today Sheridan claims to have the most trafficked swimming pool site in the world. Further Sheridan says if you asked them previously what they did they would have said they built fibreglass swimming pools and today they would say they “are the best teachers in the world on the subject of fibre glass swimming pools, and we happen to build them as well”.

The book profiles numerous other examples of youtility. Geeksquad famously produced videos showing people how to fix their problems themselves. When questioned about putting themselves out of work showing people how to fix their problems, their founder explained that when someone did find themselves out of their depth with the problem Geeksquad would be the first party they would call for help. Companies should not just focus on being amazing, but on being useful.

I read this book a few months ago and had to scan it again to write this blog post. Scanning it I felt sure I need to read it again, soon! The concept and the way of thinking and approaching your marketing are just so dead on. Baer obviously explains this all in more detail and much more convincingly than me. I highly recommend this book for all marketers. If you are not thinking about Youtility yet, you should be. 

Baer rounds out his suggestions with wisdom about content for Youtility being a team effort rather than a product of the marketing department and making it part of the process rather than a side project. “If you don’t supply the information your prospects need to choose your company over the competition, they’ll get that data somewhere else, and the outcome may not be as favorable to you.”

If you are ready to start on Youtility right away here are some questions to ask yourself about your customers:

How is it that they discover information?

What are their preferences for consumption? (devices, channels, content types)

What motivates them to take action?

Questions via Lee Odden Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing

Throwback Thursday: A moment with Debbie Travis

It’s been a while since I posted a Throwback Thursday moment. Rather than a long post, today’s is a photo.  This photo comes from a conference I attended in 2009 where Debbi Travis the Canadian Queen of home decorating was one of the speakers. It was the annual conference of Alberta Women Entrepreneurs, which was an incredible experience for me. Three days of inspiration, learning and meeting other women in business.

Me with Debbie Travis

Me with Debbie Travis

8 Places On The Web for Inspiration Du Jour

I haven’t done a numbered list post here, so it is about time, no? Thinking about a topic got me thinking about the places I go for inspiration these days. From that idea a list was born. Here are eight places I am going for new ideas and inspiration.

1. Instagram

I love Instagram. I don’t have to read,  I can just relax and take in visual information. I learn a lot from the pictures people and brands are posting. I took this quote from the New York Times, as  it nicely sums up why I enjoy the platform.

These Instagram images from Mammoth Mountain all tell a story. Makes me want to be out there in that powder too.

Mammoth Mountain on Instagram

Mammoth Mountain on Instagram

2. Mashable

Mashable is known for its bite size bits of entertainment and tech news. A quick scan under the social media tab can give me a lot of insight on news and trends.  Mashable is also a very visual destination. They host some intriguing challenges like the Mashable Vine Challenge. A recent challenge involved making Vines with Lego. Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 4.30.34 PM

3. Storify

I really love the way that Storify lets users tell a story using content from users across the web. You can collect tweets or Instagram photos or a combo of the two on a specific subject or event and turn them into a story. The potential is really as limitless as your imagination. You could use the platform to create a narrative around a recent conference, news event or trend. Many many possibilities here.

4. Songza

Some afternoons you just need to turn up the music to get you going. Songza is great for pairing a playlist which what you are doing right now. The claim is that these are “playlists by music experts.” They have lists for:

  • boosting your energy
  • working in an office
  • exploring cool sounds
  • getting fired up
  • entertaining friends
  • a sweaty dance party
  • looking at pictures of you ex…and many many more

Songza Playlist

Whatever mood you are in Songza has you covered.

5. Search Engine Journal

In my line of work, things change daily. Search Engine Journal provides me with lots of short articles on content marketing, social media, search engine optimization, trends, online advertising and more. I am always discovering new tools and resources via their concise articles. Some of my recent favorites were:

That last link helped me to find some great new photo content for my blog, like this shot:

6. Social Media Examiner

Get details on all things social.  This is a go to for learning and new ideas. If you have ever wondered what to post next or how to get greater engagement with your social activities you will find lots of great ideas here.

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Just a sample of how Social Media Examiner educates and informs with great examples

7. Tumblr

I have come to Tumblr more recently. This microblogging platform that is owned by Yahoo, is another very visual platform. The animated GIFs do make me feel a little motion sick, perhaps a sign of my age. I found this list a good start the getting engaged with the platform: 30 Tumblrs to Follow in 2013 TIME’s writers and editors pick their favorite sites of the year

8. Pinterest

Pinterest is another place I go when I need to stop reading and just enjoy some good visuals. It’s a nice way to unwind for 5 or 10 minutes. I have heard people complain Pinterest has a way of making them feel woefully inadequate, as the gourmet food, DIY projects, crafts, are more than most of us mere more mortals have the time and resources for.  I say you don’t have to do it all, just get inspired to want to do more. Grab a glass of wine, a handful of potato chips and start search for words and subjects that will get you inspired. I tend to pin things on social media, exercise, hairdos, appetizer ideas, gardening projects and dream homes. It’s also my solution for figuring out what to make for dinner five minutes before leaving the office.

Pinning pictures of salad for lunch inspiration

Pinning pictures of salad for lunch inspiration

The Content Conundrum


For the last seven months I have been working as a social media strategist and I have been deep diving into the experience. Whenever starting something new, I go all in.  I am following influencers, reading blogs, and attending courses and webinars, all in the attempt to be better. Working with social media isn’t completely new to me. When I started my eCommerce business six years ago I was quick to realize I should be using tools like Facebook and Twitter. I remember when I asked my graphic designer to add the icons for Facebook and Twitter to my website, it was an out of the ordinary request, something he wasn’t really doing for clients. Fast-forward to today and I don’t know if anyone designs a website without including or suggesting links to social sites.

But even with a strong background in social media for business, it can be challenging to garner attention and make an impact with ones activities in the social spaces. Everyone is on Twitter now, it’s a busy place, and people are not there hanging on your every tweet, unless you have something exceptional to say, or your Lady Gaga. With so many businesses on the social channels today, there is an inherent challenge to figure out what to do with these channels.  How do we capture peoples attention, imaginations, hearts? What should we be posting? Where do we find materials to post and share? Is this content we are sharing with the world interesting and engaging? Does it reflect well on, and reinforce our brand?

My immersion into the world of social media for business has resulted in me challenging myself to not be only a consumer, and spreader of content, but to be a content creator. What does that even mean? It means not just liking and sharing videos, memes and links from all over the web, but generating and developing items that have value to people, and are worthy of sharing. Content could be writing, photos, video, blog posts, tutorials, anything you create that someone else might want to consume.

Not only are individuals developing content, but most savvy marketers are developing content. Quality content is what brings visitors to your website or blog or leads them to follow you on Twitter. Developing content and dispersing it all falls under the umbrella of what is called a business’s content strategy; content is king. Content marketing is key to the whole concept of inbound marketing which involves pulling people toward your product or service with resources that are valuable to them. If you are still wondering about content marketing, you could read this recent post from HootSuite: What is content marketing anyway?

Producing content today is easier than ever. We have apps, easy to use platforms like WordPress, and most of us carry a video camera in our pocket. Because it is so easy, content creation has become pervasive, and not all of it is good.  Anyone can search a topic and then share links and articles to their their social channels. We can all broadcast original video on YouTube within minutes.  The whole process of creating and sharing content has become a little watered down. Jay Baer, a well recognized content strategist says:

“Some content being produced today is smart, inspirational, effective and downright fantastic. More of it is the exact opposite, the worst kind of ready, fire, aim flotsam and jetsam that the digital realm produces in spades”.

Because of the sheer volume of new content being developed now, it is inevitable that the game is going to change. Companies like Google that make it their business to order the web, and organize information have made content and context more important. These days there is a lot of talk about the current Google algorithm, Hummingbird, and the growing importance of content and context in search engine optimization.

So what is the future of content going to look like? I like this quote that I came across this month:

There are small ways that I have been challenging myself to be more of a content creator. I never showed much talent when it came to art in school but I like to think I have become more creative in the digital world.  I have started using Vine, Instagram and Snapchat, not because I have so much free time to spend with more apps, but because I want to understand them better.  I have created two Storify stories, A Story About Clouds and another about hashtags, Love or Hate the Hashtag?. I have dabbled in some video editing in the last year and I am playing with photo apps that transform my shots into little works of art like the photo below. While these may not all be masterpieces, they are exercises in content development.

my photo of Chichen Itza with a treatment by the app WordFoto

my photo of Chichen Itza with a treatment by the app WordFoto

Blogging is one more means to becoming a better content creator, forcing me to focus, synthesize my ideas and  become a better writer.  One of my biggest fears in all of this is that someone will see I have a comma out of place, or will think I am out to lunch with one idea or another. I think in order to be better content creators, writers, artists, whatever we have to flex our creative muscles.  If you want to become a content creator, fear needs to get tossed out the window…NOW! If your concern is that you might make mistakes on your professional blog or  Instagram account, my recommendation is that you maintain a separate one, a incognito one where you can experiment, test your theories and refine your technique.  I recently read this piece from Search Engine Journal, Got Writer’s Block? Content Marketing Fatigue? 5 Ways to Break Through .

“The pure effort of writing is hard enough, but coupled with the pain of putting your work out into the world and letting others judge it, this can be enough to stop you from getting started at all. The trick to overcoming this isn’t easy, but it’s surprisingly effective: give yourself permission to write badly, and just start.”

I am going to say this idea can be extended to a lot of things. If your new to Twitter, give yourself permission to tweet badly;  the only way to ‘get it’ is to do it.

What kind of things are you doing to be a content creator? Are you driving new business with your content? I would love you hear about your successes.