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Adventures in Blogging: Out of the Woods or Just Getting Started?

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Image provided by Small Business Trends

Image provided by Small Business Trends

It’s a little weird to look back now and think that I have been blogging for almost a month. I guess time flies when you are learning about everything from dashboards to widgets to RSS feeds… And I had never heard of any of those things before I began my Social Media Tools class! I honestly didn’t even have a complete understanding of what blogging is and why it is so important. It’s safe to say that during my journey to becoming a blogger, I never *even for a second* stopped learning new, exciting, and useful things. This experience was definitely not what I expected it would be at the onset of my adventure. It was both a lot more challenging and fulfilling than I could have imagined. I have never considered myself to be a whiz at anything involving a computer, but I came into this with an email and Facebook account, so I was in good shape, right? Not really. Blogging introduced a totally different side of social media and communication that was obviously lying dormant in my brain until now. I know my limitations and can own up when I’m not an expert at something, and I am not an imaginative writer. I found myself being constantly surprised by the amount of attention and intention that writing a blog requires. Blogging requires serious creativity, and there were days I was surprised by how hard that is to come by. There is so much more thought and skill that goes into the blogging process. It’s more than writing; it’s creating. I feel as though a new world has been opened up and I’ve only just begun to get my feet wet.

I have learned a TON about blogging and myself as a writer and communicator through this experience. While I could totally ramble on about everything I know now that I didn’t know four weeks ago, I think the key learnings I will walk away with can be summed up pretty easily in only a few discussion points. Ok, you guys probably saw this coming. Especially when I have a lot to summarize, my love of list-making never fails. Here are my top three things I learned through this blogging experience:

1. You have to be more than a good writer to be a good blogger. Before trying out blogging, I honestly didn’t know the difference. I consider myself a pretty good writer, but being in grad school and up to my ears in research papers, I never have to think about whether my writing is particularly appealing to readers, if it encourages dialogue, or if I leave the person wanting more. I usually just buckle down and hope to make it out alive. Blogging is a totally different ball game. It requires a unique skill set and open frame of mind, things that you must constantly grow and refine. While I can put together a thoughtful, elegantly crafted sentence any day of the week, blogging demands more of me… More of my time, more creativity, and more intention.

NetvibesOne of the ways I was able to organize my thoughts and found resources to use in my blogs was through the use of Netvibes. This site helped me immensely to learn the value in “listening” to inform what I write about. I’ve learned that listening before you type can not only give more details on which you base assertions, but it can often change the context of your work completely. By creating a new dashboard and entering a topic into the search bar, I am presented with news, videos, and conversations related to what I searched. One example of when I used this tool was for my post on my new gaming hobby. I knew I wanted to write about playing Temple Run, but I was unsure of what to include. What’s already out there? Who is talking about it? What can I curate, and how do I add my own flair to it? All of these questions were answered by simply listening. I learned so much more about my topic than if I were to have only typed it into a Google search bar; I read recent statistics on sales and downloads from news sources, gaming reviews from other bloggers, and even background information about the creators from various websites. This example can be generalized to a number of topics. Using Netvibes to write blog posts helped me move from being a writer to being a blogger. Overall, I have learned that listening beforehand will change both what I communicate and how I go about doing it.

2. Engagement is a top priority every step of the way. No, no, not the “if you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it” type of engagement – AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT! As a blogger, you have to write for the readers. It isn’t good enough to write something they will read; you have to write something that will capture them, speak to them personally, and feed their minds. You have to be a storyteller. I have never had to write like that before. Blogging challenged me in a way that I could have never predicted to connect with people on a new level. Before all of this, I had little self-awareness of how I communicate with others through written channels. Building a blog, engaging readers, and sending thoughtful messages without being able to see with whom I am communicating pushed me to a new mindfulness that I think will not only be helpful for this type of work in the future, but also overall as a professional in the social work field.

3. People should walk away from your blog with more than what you wrote. Does that sound confusing, or what? Here’s what I mean: Aside from your content, readers should have a lot to gain out of reading your blog; they should be constantly engaged in a learning process. As a blogger, your goal should be to send people away better and with more knowledge than before visiting your blog, as well as a sense of curiosity and yearning to come back. Readers should not only have a comprehensive understanding of what you were trying to teach them, but they should also be aware of several sources of future reference because of links and media you provided. In other words, they should now be a part of a growing network of knowledge that you help to supply. By reading your blog, the audience should develop a greater understanding of your topic or cause and should be introduced to it in a manner that pulls them in and leaves them thinking about it long after they’ve left the screen. I didn’t totally understand this at the beginning of my journey… Can’t I just write about whatever I want and leave it up to the audience to decide whether they come back? Well, in some respects, yes. But if you write without an engaged audience that is thirsty for more, what’s the point?

SM BubbleOne of the coolest things about learning to blog so far is being able to envision its immediate applicability in the nonprofit organizational context. A lot of times it’s really easy to learn a skill but still not know how to apply it in the real world… This is definitely not the case here. Over the course of becoming a blogger, it has become increasingly evident to me how useful blogging can be for nonprofits. According to social media guru Heather Mansfield in her book Social Media for Social Good, a blog is an area for nonprofits to put out fresh content, while also allowing space for interaction and sharing among supporters. This type of connection brings nonprofits to the next level of communicating with key stakeholders, community members, and potential new constituents. That’s useful because it allows a change to take place where the organization is more mindful of their strategic development process through tracking the number of followers they have, dialoguing to obtain feedback, and making connections to new resources (similar organizations, new funders, etc.). Blogs can be considered the hub of social media efforts for nonprofits. They are not only great places to share your story and publish content about your cause, but there are also tons of tools available to really improve a campaign’s effectiveness, like options for newsletter sign-up, connecting on social networking sites, and sharing links to resources that are important to you. Once a nonprofit is introduced to the world of blogging, and makes an effort to keep at it with the right tools and resources, their online presence will never be the same.

My experience of blogging has definitely changed the way I think about social media and its uses, and honestly, I think this journey is far from over for me. It has been fun, challenging, a little intimidating, and really, really rewarding. Overall, I feel that I am able to take away a lot that I’ll be able to use in the future. Enough about me… What about you? What have you learned about blogging that you think will be helpful in the future? How have your perceptions changed as a result of the experience?

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Confessions of an Addict: How I Became One in 50 Million

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Temple Run 2 Collage

It started about a month ago, maybe longer. It’s hard to tell, really. First my brothers told me about it, then my friend Melissa. They said it was fun and exciting, that I’d really get into it. Hell, my mother was even doing it, and that’s saying something. I thought I’d try it once just to see what all the fuss was about, but once simply wasn’t enough. Ever since that day I’ve been tied to something that I am not strong enough to resist, pulled by a force I just can’t break away from. I didn’t even really want to start doing it. I could have never anticipated how much I’d like it. Now I do it anywhere from five to ten times a day. The sad part is, I’m getting really good at it, and that only makes me want to do it more.

Imagine sprinting through a maze of obstacles with a giant beast on your tail. You’re inches ahead of him and are running for your life. Just when you hear his ferocious growl behind you, you must slide under a fallen tree or jump over fire to avoid sudden death. You make several quick turns to avoid running off the course and diving to your death, and then you glide down a zip line to reach the next part of the path. You even encounter several caves where you must navigate broken rails and giant rocks in a speeding mine cart. Along the way you can pick up coins and powerups (like a boost or shield) to enhance your abilities. In all of that excitement, you still must not forget you’re being chased by a scary creature eight times your size. Sounds pretty intense, right?! Have you figured it out yet? Do you know what I’ve signed my soul away to?

Hello, my name is Paula, and I’m addicted to playing Temple Run 2.

Ok, ok, maybe I’m not really an addict; that’s a pretty serious term. But I am really into it. I’ve never been much of a gamer… We had a Nintendo 64 as kids and played The Legend of Zelda every once in a while, but I haven’t engaged much in the gaming world since growing out of my slap bracelets and gel pens phase. Thus, I have no earthly idea why, as an adult, I feel the need to play Temple Run 2 as much as I do. It’s ridiculous. I can’t really even explain why it’s so much fun. Here’s a little self-disclosure, though: I am really, really competitive. Not the in-your-face, bragging and boasting type, but the type that must secretly win at everything. It made me a really good athlete in high school, and it pushed me to be an outstanding student in college. But why, in the midst of grad school insanity, is my competitiveness manifesting itself through an app on my iPhone?! Fine, maybe I know why… I love beating my old score. There is something so gratifying about being able to start a new game and challenge myself to do better, even if it means looking like a fool holding my phone and my whole body leaning and jumping along with the game because I am so entranced in it. In a lot of ways, this guilty pleasure has become an outlet to release stress, forget about my obligations, and have small successes, just by pressing an app and leaving the world for five minutes… or thirty. Whatever.

It seems that I’m not the only one whose interests lie in endless running excursions through the temple… According to VentureBeat, Temple Run 2 hit 50 million downloads after having been on the market for just two weeks, surpassing Angry Birds Space for the fastest record of reaching that many downloads. The husband and wife team at Imangi Studios who created the game attribute its success to the fact that it is free and can be played in full without purchasing anything. Thus, there are no barriers or second-guessing; all you have to do is tap the download button and start playing. Give it a try. You know you’re at least a little curious at this point. If you want to check out some more information on the game before downloading, Uoobe has a great “Temple Run 2 Game Overview” you may be interested in, complete with an explanation of the objectives and various components of the game, as well as a comparison of the sequel to its original.

Now, I’d like to hear from you! Have you tried Temple Run? If so, what has your experience been like so far? If not, do you have a gaming guilty pleasure? Please, dear God, tell me I’m not the only one.

Is Privacy Possible and How Brave Are You? Choosing Where You Stand in a World that Chose for You

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Image provided by Amber Hopes

Image provided by Amber Hopes

Over the past few weeks I have realized that I am guilty of having very little awareness of my internet presence and how much I use social media in day-to-day life. Because it’s so worked into my daily routine, I never think twice about initiating a video chat, posting a status update, or commenting on a picture. It’s almost as if I am on social media autopilot. Does this sound at all familiar to you? Most of us are engaged in so many realms of social media that it’s hard to keep up with everything. One of the first things that comes to mind for me when I consider the level of complexity that exists as social media advances continue is whether it is still possible to preserve a sense of privacy. Just think about how you leave your mark on the internet world each day… Then imagine how much you’ve put out there in the past several years. Everything we do is connected; it’s all saved in the archives of cyber world that I won’t even pretend to understand. I have an entire folder on my bookmarks bar dedicated to social media sites – I have chosen to join all of these sites, I decided what personal information to share, and I allowed people to connect with me. It’s been my choice up until this point… Shouldn’t I also be able to make the decision to maintain a certain level of privacy, or did I give that up when I logged in?!

So, here’s the big question of the day (and perhaps of our time): Is privacy possible?

In an effort to guide this conversation, I’d like to present two opinions on this topic from leaders in the social media world. According to Pete Cashmore, Founder and CEO of Mashable, “Privacy is dead, and social media hold the smoking gun.” In his article for CNN, he discusses the shift of social media sites to becoming less and less focused on privacy measures with the general mindset of: why would you put it online if not to share it? Cashmore also presents the idea that there is perhaps a greater cost of not sharing than the struggle one encounters to preserve privacy or remain absent from the online public world. A concurring opinion worth mentioning is that of Reid Hoffman, Executive Chairman and co-Founder of LinkedIn, who expressed in a meeting where “Social media giants survey their growing kingdom” that “The value of being connected and transparent is so high that the roadbumps of privacy issues are much lower in actual experience than people’s fears.” Thus, both opinions point to privacy as a moot point in a world where the goal is to share. Is the sentiment of these gentlemen true for you? Is it worth it to expose personal information on the internet for the potential gain of new connections and relationships? How about we look at this issue through the lens of the organizational sphere… It’s all of a sudden much more understandable that your nonprofit organization could lose out by not being visible on social media sites. After all, how else would you raise awareness about your cause or spread your ideas to new constituents?! Can we stay connected and still pick and choose what we want to share? The struggle for privacy is far from being over.

Google definition of "privacy"

Google definition of “privacy”

Now that I’ve eased you into this, it’s time to break the news… Privacy just doesn’t exist on the internet. It can’t. It breaks the rules of connecting. It defies the point of sharing. Every time Facebook has rolled out with new privacy settings or some new layout, you may have done some serious social network housecleaning and made sure all your privacy preferences are up-to-date. With new technological advances, however, that’s not going to matter too much anymore. According to an article titled “Facebook Graph Search Didn’t Break Your Privacy Settings, It Only Feels Like That,” with the new Facebook Graph Search, more of your information could be exposed than you’re necessarily willing to share, regardless of your privacy settings. After all the removing things from your Timeline and making sure to block your boss and your grandmother, the embarrassing/inappropriate/unattractive/whatever-it-is content will be quite easily accessible with the ease of a search tool. But let’s revisit Cashmore and Hoffman’s thoughts… Isn’t the point to share? Isn’t it all worth it just to be able to participate? Sure, you may want to choose who you share things with. I get that. But you just can’t risk putting something on the internet anymore unless you are willing to allow the world to read it. If you represent an organization and need some guidance on this new playing field, here are some questions you can ask yourself before you share content on social media sites.

Image provided by PEI Social Media

Image provided by PEI Social Media

OK, are you wondering at this point how this all connects to bravery? Here goes… The idea that we are expected to still be present and engage in social media in spite of the non-existence of privacy is where bravery comes in. Perhaps now we should pose a new question: Are we brave enough to abandon privacy measures (or let them abandon us) and continue our internet presence? Will we still open up and expose our thoughts, ideas, and dreams with the world watching? Truthfully, we should consider social media sites as open spaces where people go to share information, connect through commonalities, and communicate transparently. It’s our choice to participate openly or be nonexistent, to uncover ourselves or become irrelevant. This, my friends, requires an immense amount of bravery. In the absolutely beautiful and brilliant words of Chris Brogan, “Bravery is a muscle, like love. You have to exercise it constantly or it will turn flabby.” Every time you sign on to a social media site, you should have a growing awareness of your presence and know that you will leave a trail of virtual footprints in your path. You will never be able to control exactly who engages your content, but you can choose what they see. Before you post, tweet, pin, or like, you have to make the choice to be brave. If you want to make a change, inspire someone, or spread the word, it all starts with how much you’re willing to share. Take down your guard of privacy settings; they don’t exist. Now, how brave are you?

Raging against the Corporate Machine

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Stop Walmart

I am a Target lover. I often go in for one thing and come out having spent $100. And the days I tell myself I don’t need a cart… I am in utter denial. It’s my go-to place for just about everything, similar to how a lot of people think of Walmart. For a lot of reasons, though, I won’t step foot in a Walmart. I just can’t support a company notorious for poor practices, like their anti-union stance, exploitation of workers, and discriminatory attitudes. My money won’t go into perpetuating that cycle. (To learn more about Walmart’s practices, visit the websites of The Walmart 1% and Workplace Fairness.)

You should know, I’m not a complete cynic; I get the appeal of it. My parents used to go to Walmart for everything when we were growing up. When you have a big family, it’s more convenient to just take a Saturday trip to the giant store that carries everything and pick up all the groceries for the week, last-minute poster boards for school projects, and lots and lots of laundry detergent. It’s nice to be able to get that all in one place. I even understand the people who only go there a few times a year – Black Friday, maybe. I get the desire to have a nice TV or the latest Wii games at a good price. Maybe it’s worth it for you to drive a few miles down the road, sit in traffic to turn into the shopping center, fight for a parking spot, and get in there to buy whatever you need and go on with your week.

Now, imagine all of that, except the Walmart is now across the street as soon as you pull out of your neighborhood. That changes the game a little bit, doesn’t it? It’s not quite as appealing when that traffic is in front of your house and people are spending their money there, causing your favorite small businesses to struggle. Maybe you think it will bring jobs to your area… but then you might wonder if your neighbors will be part of the millions of Walmart workers making an annual wage less than the federal poverty line. I can’t imagine that would contribute to making communities more sustainable, can you? That’s a big deal, and it’s what my neighborhood is currently being threatened with.

Selig Enterprises Inc., owner of Suburban Plaza on North Decatur Road wants to redevelop the shopping center and has plans to include a Walmart. (Take a look at this article for more information.) Almost two years into planning, they are talking as if it is a done deal. Last summer was when I first noticed the neighborhood banding together to put a stop to this. Good Growth DeKalb (GGD) was formed as an organization of residents concerned about the issue, and it seemed the Medlock Area Neighborhood Association was all over it. You can take a look at the Tell Selig: NO WM in Decatur Facebook page to learn more. I live in the Medlock Park Neighborhood, my house just over a mile from the proposed Walmart site. Driving through the neighborhood, “Stop Walmart” signs are in a lot of yards. Though a lot of the public outcry has seemed to die down since the beginning of this whole thing, a lot of really hardworking people have kept at it, namely GGD. I honestly thought it was pretty close to being over until a recent public notice sign appeared at Suburban Plaza notifying everyone of a Board of Appeals hearing to appeal the decision to issue a building permit. All of a sudden, it seems there has been a spark in community determination and everyone is ready to fight again. The picture at the top illustrates just that – a rally at the intersection outside our neighborhood on February 1st to raise awareness about the issue.

I’ve seen my community being built up and coming together in a lot of ways around this issue, and perhaps it’s far from over. It’s really nice to see the neighborhood alive again and wanting to challenge the possibility of a corporation moving into our neighborhood. Will it be enough or will we become another alarming Walmart statistic? I hope we can stop the corporate takeover, but all I know for now is I’ve never been prouder of where I come from than when I see my neighbors united to confront norms and challenge the status quo for the well-being of our community.

What issues are going on in your community? Is there anything you’re involved with that you’d like to share with others? This week I encourage you to do a little research, find out what’s happening in your neighborhood and what you can do to help. Community action is a really powerful thing. You never know what kind of difference that could make.

What is Good Storytelling? Taking Readers to a Different Place

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Image provided by Diamond Lake Improvement Association

Image provided by Diamond Lake Improvement Association

As a kid, I spent some time growing up in northeastern Minnesota. Being surrounded by the wilderness, beautiful lakes, and mountains, as well as travelling with my parents through the North Shore All-American Scenic Drive to catch the grand sights of Lake Superior changed my life. Living there is probably why I have such a great interest in being outdoors and connecting with nature as an adult. It’s also why I had the most unimaginable, terrifying childhood experience that will never escape me. I had one of those commutes to school people usually associate with their aged parents… you know, uphill both ways in a foot of snow… no really, I did. In about the fifth grade my parents started letting me walk to school by myself. It wasn’t too far, after all. One day I was walking to school – it was a cold, wintery morning – and I heard a faint sound of something moving slowly through the nearby woods up ahead. Thinking nothing of it, I trudged on, not wanting to be late to school. I had taken only a few more steps and what walked out of the woods stopped me in my tracks. I looked up to see a giant moose staring down at me. Now, I was pretty small for a fifth grader, but to this day I remember thinking its antlers were the length of our station wagon. I was shaking with fear. For a moment I couldn’t move. However, nothing was going to get between me and making it to school (I was a bit of a nerd, then, too). I began to devise a plan for action and slowly inched around the moose to be on my way. When I was about half-way around him, he leaned his head down and dipped one of his antlers through a strap on my brand new Lisa Frank backpack. All of a sudden I was dangling in the air, and the scream that came out of me at that point could have put any horror movie to shame. I couldn’t fight him, so I decided to run for it. I straightened out my arms, which was a difficult task because of my puffy red coat, and I wiggled myself free. As soon as I hit the snowy ground, I ran as fast as I could to school and never looked back. That frightening experience is always what comes to mind when I think about my childhood. My parents still don’t believe me when I tell them that’s how I lost my backpack. Sometimes I think about that moose and wonder if he was ever able to get it untangled from his antlers.

SM WordleCrazy, right?! Well, I have a confession. I never lived in Minnesota, and I never came face-to-face with backpack-stealing moose. (But if you want to learn more about the amazing northeastern Minnesota area I described, click here.) Still, it was a pretty good story, right? Something my professor said in class this week really resonated with me: blogging is storytelling. I had never thought of it like that before. I think of myself as a pretty good writer, but am I a storyteller? I decided to begin my post today by trying it out. Maybe you’re wondering why I chose that story to be the first thing you read, different tools or tips I used to write it, or even how in the world I made that up. I’ll spend the rest of our time today answering those questions. As a blogger, the key to keeping people invested in your content is being more than a writer – you have to be a storyteller, too. If you need more of a visual, think of your favorite book… Mine is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Now imagine if the author took out everything that made the book engaging. All of the suspense, the use of description that made you feel like you were there walking through the pages, the parts that gave you chills – gone. That’s the difference between writing and storytelling. Santiago’s journey just wouldn’t have been the same without the magic Coelho infused through powerful storytelling. According to an article titled “Be a Storyteller: How to Write Great Blogs,” “writing is a very tricky business… It involves walking the fine line between fact and storytelling.” Well said. Now, let’s talk about how that translates in the world of blogging.

Your goal as a blogger should be to take readers to a different place. When you write, it should be engaging and powerful; it should keep readers on the edge of their seats and wanting to know more. Rewind to the moose story… Do you notice how the story builds, how there is detail that allows you to imagine it like you are there, and how you couldn’t wait to read what was next? That’s what storytelling in your blogs should be like. Please don’t mistake this for me saying you should always write about a dangerous experience or a wild childhood adventure; you don’t have to do that to be engaging. Here are some tips you can follow to take your blog to the next storytelling level.

1. There should be a beginning, middle, and end. We learn that pretty early on, right? I remember it from elementary school (my real one, not the scary-snowy-moose one), but sometimes we grow out of rudimentary concepts and become comfortable with not using them. To blog successfully, it’s back to the basics on this one. If you want to tell an engaging story, it has to be complete. Give your readers the whole picture.

2. Use your personal voice. Tiny pieces of your personality should slip out in your storytelling efforts. It’s natural, and it gives readers the ability to get to know you through your writing. You may be thinking you can’t do that because you blog in a professional setting or on behalf of your organization – WRONG! If your personal voice is missing, readers will know it. You can exert professionalism and still be genuine. Your goal should be to find that balance. Don’t know what your voice is? Jeff Goins may be able to help.

3. Make your readers care. Engage your readers. Set the stage so they want to know what’s next and keep coming back for more. While this tip really encompasses all of the others in this list, it’s really important, so it gets its own section. If people don’t care about your blog, they won’t come back. It’s that simple. As a storyteller, you need to know your readers. Remember that diversity is growing and social media delivers your message to all types of people. Because your words will reach so far, they have to be able to relate to a lot of people. Find out who your current readers are and define your target audience. Then cater your storytelling to reach them. Check out BlogKori’s post on “10 Tips on how to engage your readers” for some more information.

4. Try to pull in various sources of media. What makes you click on a link or navigate to a new page better than an awesome picture or a video that looks interesting to you? The use of media is becoming increasingly important in blogging and can completely change how your content is perceived. Jeff Bullas does a really nice job explaining how our culture is shifting to become more visual. Think of all the things that media does to your blog: makes it look more attractive, breaks up pieces of content so it’s easier to read, gives the reader a picture to go along with your story… It’s a pretty big deal. Try it out.

5. Encourage interaction and dialogue with your readers. Ask questions! More than wanting people to read your blog, you should want to build a relationship with your readers so they keep coming back. Fostering a connection and dialogue between your readers and with yourself can greatly enhance your efforts. Tell them you want their opinion. Allow a space so they can comment and share. Incorporate their thoughts in your posts. Make them invested in what you write. Having an active audience will make you want to be a better storyteller.

It may take some practice to become a good storyteller. It is a learning process. Hopefully the tips I’ve provided will allow you to begin your own journey of transforming your blog into a space for creativity, engagement, and sharing. If you are interested in learning more about blogging and storytelling, look into BlogWorld’s series called “18 Brilliant Bloggers Talk About Storytelling” to read some very cool stuff. And, of course, don’t let your kids walk to school alone in northeastern Minnesota.

Welcome Home

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This week I wanted to write about something to help you readers get to know me a little better. I searched my brain pretty hard for the perfect topic, not realizing that it was literally in front of me the whole time. What a better way to tell you about myself than through telling you about my home, Decatur, GA. It’s where I live and where I play. It’s in me, and it surrounds me. I love Decatur. Most of you who know me probably know I can’t shut up about it. It’s a really good feeling to truly love where you live, to be constantly discovering something new, and to not be able to imagine yourself anyplace else. If you’re coming to visit Decatur anytime soon, take a look at my top 5 things I love about this city for some inspiration.

1. Eddie’s Attic
Stage at Eddie's Attic
This cool, cozy live music venue attracts people from all over to hear singer/songwriters do their thing. It’s where I saw a lot of my favorite artists play for the first time, like the Indigo Girls, Shawn Mullins, Meg Hutchinson, and Tyler Hilton. When I entered the “listening room” the first time to hear Dar Williams play, I honestly wasn’t immediately struck by the magic. Perhaps it wasn’t until the lights were dimmed and she was in the middle of a song and I looked around to see perfect strangers squeezed in shoulder-to-shoulder with all eyes on her that I realized how special this place is. Now, every time I visit Eddie’s, I can expect something spectacular, and, let’s just say I’ve never been let down. Mention should also be made of their super-cool Songwriter’s Open Mic on Monday nights, which is such a great way to witness genuine talent and find out about new music. If you aren’t into music much, maybe you’ll stop by to grab some Attic Beignets… they are insanely good!

2. The Art Scene
Mural on the Square
I love that I can drive down the street or walk across Decatur Square and I am surprised by a new piece of art along the road or on the side of a building. (Pictured here is a mural on the Square, on the right side of Squash Blossom.) It’s so cool to live somewhere that exhibits such a great appreciation for art. I can’t even tell you how many pieces hanging on the walls of my home are from artists from the Decatur Arts Festival. Of course, if you can’t wait until the once-a-year event held in May, there is always the option to swing into Homegrown or Wild Oats and Billy Goats to find something awesome made by a local artist. It’s an awesome feeling looking around my city and seeing the creativity and hard work of local artists being cherished.

3. Raging Burrito
Raging Sign
OK, I have to admit something. There isn’t really anything magical about this place, BUT I really, really love Mexican food. And, I think, this is where it’s at. Raging Burrito has a ton of delicious, unique menu options, from the Veggie Chili Con Queso to the Baja Fish Tacos to the Frisco Taco Salad. Seriously, it’s so good. If you’ve never been here, you’re missing out big time!

4. Kudzu Antique Market
Kudzu
This is the coolest place ever. Deemed “Atlanta’s best vintage home store,” it is filled with unique items. Whether you are shopping for a birthday gift or a new furnishing for your home, or if you just have a couple hours to waste on a Saturday afternoon looking at cool stuff, this is the place to go. I truly believe there is nothing you can’t find here if you look hard enough. It’s like a maze of treasures just waiting for a home. Go on in and check it out…. Just make sure there is room in your car for your finds!

5. Decatur Farmers Market
FM Veggies
There’s nothing like having the ability to buy fresh, local food and meet the people who grew it. Twice a week in Decatur, on Saturdays from 9:00am to 1:00pm and Wednesdays from 3:00pm to 6:00pm, you have the opportunity to do just that. The Decatur Farmers Market provides an easy way to get local, organic food on your table. Whether you’re looking for fresh fruits and veggies, melt-in-your-mouth cheese, homemade pesto, or gluten-free goodies… or maybe just a treat from King of Pops… the Market is sure to make your week just a little better, twice.

This list is only a small taste of what Decatur has to offer. Hopefully, it has sparked some interest and you’ll come to get to know this great city, make your own memories, and maybe even write out your own “top 5” list.

Personal vs. Professional Use of Social Media: Do You REALLY Want to Post That?!

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Image provided by Intersection Consulting

Image provided by Intersection Consulting

I don’t know about you, but when I usually think of social media, I immediately imagine jumping on Facebook to connect with a friend from high school or college, reading through the Twitter feed on my iPhone app for the latest news, and searching for recipes on Pinterest to find the perfect thing to cook for dinner. Rarely, until entering grad school, had I thought about the numerous uses for social media that don’t involve my personal connections or interests. But alas, there is a use for Facebook beyond posting an obnoxious amount of pictures of my dog… Organizations can use social media as a vehicle for online communication and fundraising! Plenty of organizations have active Facebook pages, Twitters, blogs, etc. to share with their followers the latest happenings (for example, the very active Facebook page of the Southern Center for Human Rights where I intern). In just a few clicks, they spread news to thousands of followers… Seems pretty powerful for a small non-profit, right?! If you are a professional who fits into this picture somehow, let’s talk a little about how the culture of social media may influence your next post.

Let’s start by thinking about who you are connected to when you get online. Most of us probably have a mix of connections on various sites. For instance, you may have some Facebook friends that include your buddies from college, various family members, some colleagues, oh, and those girls you met at the club last Friday night. Do you think about who might see what you post when you are typing it? What about your privacy settings? Even if you aren’t friends with someone, could you guarantee that they couldn’t take a gander at your latest status update? I mean, you probably don’t want those risqué bachelor party pictures being seen by the people who share your office space… or your mom. The moral of the story is that you have a lot to consider before you go wild on a social networking site. For a little more food for thought on this subject, check out “Who really owns your social media persona?” by Drew McLellan.

Now, imagine that you are employed by a non-profit and are responsible for keeping up with their social media sites. This requires deeper consideration on a whole new level. Your constituents probably don’t want to read about the Braves’ decision to trade Prado or Kim and Kanye’s baby plans… Remember your goals and objectives at the screen should be very different when you are professionally engaging in social media from when you do so personally. For more information on this, DR4WARD has a great illustration on how your frame of mind should shift based on these two totally different situations. So what SHOULD you post?! How do you respond to an irate client on your Facebook page or an inappropriate comment on your blog? Are there specific people you should aim to connect with? Are there rules you should be aware of? While I can’t tell you how to behave in every situation, here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to help you set the right boundaries of personal vs. professional uses of social media:

1. What is your organization’s goal for bringing people to your site? It’s not to connect with only your closest friends… You want as much traffic as possible to be able to raise awareness about your cause. Thus, you want anyone and everyone reading your latest blog and liking your last post.

2. Now that you’ve made the connections, you can think about what to post. Using social media as a professional means you need to filter what you say – and how you say it – according to your audience. Is it honest? Is it necessary? Does it help your organization? If not, you probably shouldn’t showcase it on the internet for the world to read.

3. The last, and perhaps the most important, thing you should consider is whether your organization has written guidelines or policies about how you conduct yourself on their social media site. If they do, defer to them if you find yourself needing guidance.

That brings us to our final discussion. If you have an organization where your employees are active in social media realms using your brand, you should develop a social media policy to provide employees with guidelines about appropriate internet behavior. According to Heather Mansfield, author of Social Media for Social Good, these guidelines should be simple and short, focusing on the bigger picture using language that can apply in numerous social media contexts. A great resource for how you can begin to think in terms of potentially developing a social media policy is through Beth Kanter’s blog post titled “Social Media in the Nonprofit Workplace: Does Your Organization Need A Social Media Policy?” She presents thoughtful, interesting components you should take into consideration for how to guide your employees, such as confidentiality, appropriate behavior, and how to act as a representative on the organization’s behalf, to name a few.

In sum, there are a ton of things you should consider before putting pen to paper… fingers to keys (?)… It may seem confusing at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. I honestly believe it comes down to one thing: mindfulness. Take a few seconds and think about your intentions. Are you representing yourself personally or professionally? Who is going to read what you write, and does this require some sort of filtering? If applicable, are you complying with the guidelines that have been set in place for your behavior? By following this simple roadmap to social media behavior, you’re good to go.

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