Thursday tips

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Shonda Rhimes & Cindi Stivers: The future of storytelling

“We all feel a compelling need to watch stories, to tell stories … to discuss the things that tell each one of us that we are not alone in the world,” says TV titan Shonda Rhimes. A dominant force in television since “Grey’s Anatomy” hit the airwaves, Rhimes discusses the future of media networks, how she’s using her narrative-building skills as a force for good, an intriguing concept known as “Amish summers” and much more, in conversation with Cyndi Stivers, director of the TED Residency.

Continue reading “Shonda Rhimes & Cindi Stivers: The future of storytelling”

Bran Castle: how to create a tourist gem with great marketing

Last week we went on vacation to Bran and stayed at our usual spot, Club Vila Bran. One of the things I love about the place is that you can sit on the terrace and have a glimpse at Bran Castle. As I was sipping my latte and planned the next blog post, it dawned on me that my subject is right in front of me. What better lesson in marketing than Bran?

Bran offers a valuable insight into how a fictional character can turn into a branding landmark for a country and it can revive an entire area. With so many tourists visiting, you wouldn’t expect the roads to be in such poor conditions. Yet they are, so you have to drive carefully if you want your car to still be in one piece at the end of the trip.

The village is equally divided between homes & tourist accommodations, and the nearer you get to the castle, the more languages mingle. I feel like laughing every time I hear someone speaking enthusiastically about Dracula and wish I could also see their face after they visit the castle. The truth is that the entire region lives through tourism, and it has adapted accordingly. The authorities haven’t moved one finger, but smart people are taking advantage of what is known as Dracula tourism.

There are 2 connections between Bran Castle and the story of Dracula. One is through Bram Stoker’s novel where he depicted the fortress without actually having seen it. The other happened thanks to a group of American tourists who begged their guide to show them Dracula’s castle. Since there was no such thing, the first idea that crossed his mind was bring them to Bran. Everyone was happy and the “pilgrimage” was born. Coincidentally or not, Bran Castle holds the 1st place in American tourists’ positive associations with Romania, and 4th place for international tourists.

Let’s talk about fiction and truth first. The place gained its fame after being identified as Count Dracula’s abode described in Bram Stoker’s novel. Count Dracula is often overlapped, intentionally or not, with Vlad the Impaler, ruler of Wallachia. What enthusiastic tourists conveniently don’t know is that Stoker avoided to tie his characters to real people. The count is entirely a product of his imagination. On the other hand, Vlad, the real person, spent at most a couple of months at Bran Castle, according to the most recent historical evidence.

The gothic castle is on top of a small hill, near a pass in the mountains. The dense woods surrounding the valley create a picturesque landscape, and there is absolutely nothing spooky about it. Well, except for the street market full of tasteless knick knacks near the entry. The castle looks much better from the outside than on the inside. The visitors are mostly people from Western Europe and the US who come to learn about Dracula. Instead, they are offered a tour with long explanations and historical truths which bore them.

In spite of the most recent renovations and improvement efforts, the place is still overcrowded, full of replica furniture and poorly costumed people. What attracts tourists is the legend, and the cobbled stone, the narrow passages and staircases contribute to it. There are no howling wolves however, unless someone plays an audio, nor are there any bats. The area is actually very quiet and peaceful, and many are disappointed because they can’t distinguish between fiction and reality.

Last year Airbnb organized a competition where a couple won a sleepover in the castle. The event included a carriage ride, it was hosted by one of the descendants of Bram Stoker, a self-proclaimed vampire expert, and it culminated with going to sleep in velvet trimmed coffins. That’s a little extreme, but the lengths someone would go for promoting their business depend. For a few years now, Halloween tours and parties have been organized here, all in partnership with important sponsors. Apart from mass tourism, private events held here increase the fame and probably pave the way for the idea of an exclusive accommodation.

At present, it makes a tidy profit, but in the right hands it has the potential to generate far more revenue than we could ever imagine.” Mark Meyer

When you leave the castle, you simply can’t escape the vampire paraphernalia at the gates. It has everything you can’t imagine, from plastic vampire teeth dripping blood to witch masks to purple, blue or green puppies whose eyes lit. Those are more scary than the whole vampire myth. There are also a lot of so-called traditional products, all imported from China. A few hundred meters away, there are a couple of small shops where you can find authentic Romanian products, handmade by the locals.

Like I said earlier, the valley thrives with the help of tourism. There is an abundance of B&Bs, but the best place for accommodation is by far Club Vila Bran, which offers plenty of entertainment. The restaurant is open for visitors if you want to try traditional food, for all the rest you have to be a guest. The locals are very friendly and helpful, and they are famous for the smoked cheese they make.

Image from here 

Why influencer marketing is a big fat lie

I’ve had it. I’ve seen so many posts tagged #nsale since last Friday that I can’t take it anymore. And I’ve seen so many posts of Romanian bloggers having nose jobs at the same doctor, wearing the same dress, copying hairstyles and using tags wrong that I feel compelled to write about it. Fast backward to a couple of years ago, there was the aggressive advertising of the green box. It was actually an online shopping platform, and you couldn’t escape it. It was obvious the pics and captions were fakes, you could see from miles away that the respective person hadn’t written them. They all had the same style, and no ounce of individuality. It went as far as taking pics with the box at the door of the plane, using the juice extractor wearing their Sunday best and so much more that proved how much the PR agency lacked creativity. Influencers have no boundaries. They will pose in furniture showrooms and pretend they’re cooking in their kitchen, groomed to perfection, of course. Sometimes they won’t even add a caption, throwing in just a bunch of emojis. Maybe because they aren’t capable of writing something worthy of attention and they know it all too well.

What exactly is an influencer? A person looking for money. Or, to put it elegantly, someone who rents their social media accounts to a brand for a fee. There are 2 categories of influencers. The very few who can sell and earn millions of dollars because they are smart & subtle, and those who try too much, are too obvious about it and don’t really “influence” anyone. This post refers mainly to the latter. We’re long past the time we saw our idols wearing or using something and we’d be in a frenzy to have it. Influencers don’t really have a say in our buying decisions. What they can achieve at most is bring products to our attention.

When we think of influencers, we think of people with a great number of followers. What we seem to lose sight of is the fact that reach doesn’t equal engagement. Here I can give a straightforward example, a fashion blogger with over 1 million followers on Instagram only. Her pics have at most 15k likes. That’s 1,5 % engagement. She gathers a maximum of 200 comments per picture, including her own replies. That means 0,02%. And sorry but I’m not sorry to burst your bubble. That doesn’t offer any guarantee someone who sees the pic will automatically buy that bag. (insert Prada Midollino link net a porter) Reach doesn’t equal sales. Artificial follower growth is available to anyone these days, and it allows virtually anyone to become an influencer. You need a blog with 25k views to be able to get deals with brands, that’s all it takes.

In terms of budget, influencer marketing is mostly a loss, because brands pay great chunks of money and often there is no ROI. An influencer’s “worth” is not quantifiable, unfortunately. There are no guidelines to establish how far their “influence” goes. Some brands use criteria such as the type of content they share, the number of followers and engagement rates. However, that does not necessarily convert into sales, and marketers should know better. They determine ROI in 3 key areas: reach and impressions, engagement and conversions. Brands also encourage newcomers, because talent on the rise is cheaper. For the first time in history, PR budgets focus more on influencers than on TV or print.

There have been cases in the beauty industry when a Snapchat video had amazing sales results, the digital influencer was paid up to a seven figure amount for exclusivity and became brand ambassador. But that’s one in a million. Not everyone has that finesse, and not every influencer has that kind of power over their audience.

Let’s be honest here. How we spend our money is solely our decision and no influencer in this world has a say in it, like I said above. I come from a country where it would take 2 minimum wages to buy the cheapest pair of Louboutins, provided you don’t spend money on trivialities like food and bills. The fact that people like a picture doesn’t mean they will buy whatever the influencer is wearing.

Also, there is a problem of credibility. Not everything we see on social media is real or true, and we are aware of it. Without realizing it, brands have created a class of experts without any real authority, which recommend products. They pay for trips around the world, for drive tests, for accommodation in exclusive resorts and so on. The same blogger will advertise clothes, make-up and skincare, home appliances, food, furniture and say they were given products for tests or they’ve partnered with brands for a giveaway. Doesn’t that make you wish you were chosen for a free remake of your living room as well? How can they earn trust if they’re being so transparently dishonest?

An Australian blogger took things as far as claiming she had won the battle with terminal cancer using natural remedies and a special diet. Not only did she make it to the limelight, but she took advantage of the popularity she had gained and launched an app and a cookbook. Later, she admitted her diagnosis was a hoax, but the earnings she had promised to donate to various charities never reached their destination.

There’s a less known angle that influencers conveniently forget to mention. Followers don’t actually react very well to sponsored content or ads, so the solution is to find ways to evade admitting they’re endorsing products and making money while at it. And if they don’t earn, they don’t need to pay taxes either, right? Remember the recent scandal about celebrities who posted product ads on Instagram and never paid a dime for taxes? Fortunately, regulations took care of the matter and dishonesty is now sanctioned not only by followers, but also by law.

Many influencers claim to be naive and innocent, and to have acted according to the instructions they received from the legal departments of brands. At the end of the day, they take no responsibility if something goes wrong. They are generally paid to express opinions on what is hot, but they sometimes get carried away and express opinions which might be detrimental to brands in the long run. And the worst is that they cannot be held accountable for it.

To conclude with two more examples of influencer marketing negative results, brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci have suffered a massive decay within the luxury segment. Luxury brands are supposed to show off wealth and status, and the fact that the masses are increasingly wearing them means the rich minority will ignore them and reorient towards more exclusive items.

Wether we like it or not, whether it has positive or negative results, influencer marketing is a phenomenon causing a hype right now. Its efficiency rates are questionable, however it is on the rise and it appears it will keep growing in the future. So it’s something worth keeping an eye on.

Why you should offer meaningful content

People don’t really care about your products or services. And let’s be honest, words like sale or discount strategically placed in ads aren’t as effective as you’d like them to be. Try to sell something to anybody and they’ll run as fast as their legs can carry them. As buyer, you want to have control over the buying process, right? You don’t want to be sold something, the choice has to belong to you. There are very few marketers who have understood this and have come up with something new: value for the reader. There are products we don’t need or we’ll never buy, but we visit the websites or blogs for the meaningful content they offer. Useful and valuable info is something we can’t afford to neglect, or worse, miss.

What businesses should do is identify the pain points of their audience and figure out ways they could solve them. When we go online, we are looking for something specific, for an answer to a question or a solution to a problem. Think of Quora and how we rely on it. Or of Google, whose use is so widespread it has become a verb.

Used correctly, content can be the perfect strategy to reach your goals. You can compare content creation with laying the foundation of a house. Keep in mind that people are not primarily looking for products, but rather for information. Relevant, quality content can help them make good decisions. For a brand, that translates into trust and reliability in the eyes of the audience.

You strive so much to find new customers that you often forget about existing ones and you make little effort to retain them, which is a big mistake. You can use their common questions about your business, products or services and industry to create an ongoing dialogue with them. It would certainly help improve your relationship, and it can be a win-win situation.

Everything these days starts with a search, from choosing a pair of shoes to downloading an app. Here I can give you an example from my own shopping habits. I always check the websites of stores before I visit so I know what to expect when I get there. If I see something I would wear, I go there to try it on. If I don’t, it’s on to the next online store. We always do research before buying something. Most often we’ll look online, compare prices and features, look for reviews, check out forums.

A mistake most marketers make is to limit the content to stories or descriptions of the company, its results and its products or services. As I already said, customers couldn’t care less about the exceptional quality you claim you offer or the last industry fair you attended. 70% of consumers would rather hear about a company through articles instead of ads. Think about their needs, not yours. They care about how you can help them solve a pressing problem. If you figure out a way to do that, you’re already one step ahead of the others.

We are living in an age of self education where everyone is trying to be better than they were yesterday. Schooling can only offer limited knowledge, hence the whole debate about the outdated education systems worldwide. The simplest way to improve is to learn by yourself. People will take that $400 class on Coursera or somewhere else, but they won’t neglect free quality content and they’ll come back for more. Case in point, Pinterest and the many blog posts which can educate or show you how to do things. Or countless inspiring TED Talks.

When people lack inspiration, they will start looking for it in the places most likely to find it. When they feel insecure about something they have to do, they will try to find out how others did it. Content can create you a reputation and a level of expertise. The readers can learn from you when they are looking for a recommendation from a trusted authority. Don’t forget that good content is shared. People exchange information all the time, so they will talk about that great idea, blog post or article they just found. What better way of promotion than word-of-mouth coming from a reliable source?

Quality content also means more traffic for your website or blog, thus more exposure, from searches or social media. SEO brings forth relevant content and ranks it among the first results, which everyone checks. Even if that will not bring an immediate sale this time, it ensures people remember your business and trust you. You can also take advantage of content to emphasize your competitive advantages, those distinctive features of your business that make it unique.

Whatever tactic you decide to use, don’t neglect the importance of content. They don’t say “Content is king” for nothing. Whether it’s written, visual or video format, make sure it’s informative, persuasive and high quality. Use it to your best advantage. And remember, if you work smart & you’re kind, amazing things will happen 😉

Image from here

Why the Danube Delta needs better promotion & how I’d do it

We’ve recently visited the Danube Delta and I have to say it’s exactly how I had imagined. A raw, amazing corner of nature where man has interfered to a minimum. It definitely sits on my top 3 places to visit for their natural beauty. While Greece will forever be in my heart, the Danube Delta is closer to home and I’m helping the tourism in my country by visiting. The only thing I’d change about it is the way it is promoted. Read further to find out why.

From the very start, we were given a catalogue to choose destinations. It was very plain, with minimum details about the services included and the price range. It had not nearly enough info, so we had to do a lot of online research on our own. The catalogues could surely be improved and given a more professional look, with as many details as possible and HQ pictures. There could be a collaborative effort from the part of traveling agencies and the hotels or resorts. Visual content is a differentiating factor when you don’t have to worry about the prices.

It was a true adventure looking for the website of each resort. Considering you are surrounded by water and you can only leave on a boat, tourists are kind of obliged to spend all their holiday time in a single location. So that location better have many amenities included. I was surprised to see that some B&Bs did not have websites in this day and age. Naturally, we excluded them from the very beginning because we didn’t want any surprises, considering we were traveling with a 5-year-old. The ones that did have websites were not happier cases either. Perhaps for a regular person they may seem ok, but for someone like me who works in the field they looked homemade and had amateur written all over it. And that just won’t do it for a four star resort.

The way I see it, owners should massively invest in websites, since they are the only way of communicating with their audience. Of course, there’s word-of-mouth and holiday pictures posted on social media, but that is only a tiny fraction of their target market. Professional pictures and videos of the rooms, the location, the facilities and the surroundings are a must. Also, the content needs to be friendly and attractive, apart from informative. There is a general crisis in the area of content writing, but that is no excuse. If I were the owner of a resort, I’d hire a PR professional or agency to create and implement an efficient strategy. And I know I’d stand out from the crowd, because only a handful of other resorts are doing it.

We ended up choosing a high end resort, based on someone’s recommendation. We were thrilled it had both and outdoor and indoor playground. It’s something few places offer, and I never understood why. As a parent, you want to take your child on a holiday, and you might want to drop them off at a supervised playground or activity center while you’re lounging by the pool. Unfortunately, they did not have accommodation available during the period we wanted, so we moved to the next best thing. It was almost fully to our taste. The downside was that it didn’t have any sort of playground or children’s pool. On the plus side, we got to stay in a picturesque bungalow with thatched roof, X. found a spot where she could play safely in the pool and as a bonus it was heated, so we barely dragged her out of there at nightfall. The boat transfer from Tulcea was included, the staff were lovely, the whole place made me dream with eyes wide open and they had enough cats and dogs to keep our daughter busy. The problem of entertainment could be solved easily by installing a couple of swings and hammocks which can be used by adults and children alike.

They also offered trips to key locations in the heart of the Danube Delta, which were the highlight of the holiday. Too bad they partnered with locals who were not trained for the tourist industry at all. The cart ride to Letea forest was a nightmare, with a man who was probably drunk, stopped home to shout at his wife and show her who’s boss, then made the horses gallop and gathered all the dust around us so we could barely breathe. He casually showed us the 500-year-old oaks then hurried to get out of there. No word about the wild horses, except they’ve probably gone to drink water from a lake that was miles away. Had he been sober, groomed and well trained, it would have been a different story. Our group would have loved to be able to stop and take a closer look at the traditional houses in the village, to breathe the fresh air instead of sand and to take shots of the beautiful sun that was starting to set.

Luckily, on the boat ride back we went exploring around the canals, and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve experienced. I saw the pelicans, egrets, cormorants and a gazillion other birds right at home, the yellow water lilies popping up here and there, a bunch of water snakes and a myriad of fish and frogs playing in the vegetation. Everything was quiet and so close you felt part of nature and you didn’t dare make a sound for fear you’d ruin the harmony. I was and still am amazed at how the boat drivers know the canals so well, the Danube Delta is one giant maze where you can’t find the way out on your own.

One thing I noticed during the boat trips along canals and the Danube was that most of the resorts and B&Bs did not have any name indicator. We recognized some from the images we’d seen online, but it was a true hide and seek game to find the destination. The boat would slow down every time it passed by a B&B, so we were confused. Name plates would easily solve this problem, I cannot understand for the life of me why they don’t have them. It’s a remote destination where you go and just relax away from civilization, but that doesn’t mean you have to literally feel lost.

The visit to Sulina was by far the most full of impact. You can feel the dirt and poverty all around, from the rusty town indicator to the sinking wrecks, to the dirty waters of the Danube and the sea. The sea was full of petrol and crawling larvae. There’s a reason why we decided to stop going to the seaside in Romania 3 years ago, and that’s the combination of filthy water and poor services. I would skip the trip to Sulina altogether, there’s nothing to see there except decay and locals trying to take advantage of tourists.

A few recommendations instead of conclusion:

1. Choose your destination wisely. It’s more expensive than the seaside or other holiday spots, but the experience has no comparison. Go all out on the location, facilities and food. Don’t miss traditional food. If you don’t like fish, don’t go there 😉

2. Apply sunscreen, lots of it. It’s hotter in the morning and the sun burns mercilessly. In the evening it’s chilly, but not the kind that can’t be solved with a sweater.

3. When you think of the Danube Delta, mosquitos inevitably come to mind. While we had to be extremely cautious not to let them through the door in the evening, they didn’t bother us too much. Letea forest though, that’s a different story. There were all kinds of insects and they stung every little piece of skin they could. I had to apply 3 coats of Autan before they let me be, but not before a huge mosquito bit my lip.

4. Choose motorboats, not the traditional larger ships. They are more pricey, but you spend less time between destinations. Be prepared for the wind to blow your hair (and everything else) away.

5. Pack comfy clothes. I practically lived in shorts and t-shirts during our stay, I packed a dress and 2 skirts for nothing. Keep in mind you will have to get on and off a boat several times a day maybe. Don’t pack your good shoes, they’ll get ruined in the sand. Flip flops are great for the pool, but don’t choose them when you go exploring. Go for sports shoes instead. Also, a pair of long jeans and a sweater or light jacket are a must. Don’t forget your polarized sunglasses and hat. Even if you don’t regularly wear a hat, you will once you feel that scorching sun over your head. And since we’re on this topic, you can pack light, most resorts think of your comfort and supply you with everything you might need.

6. Leave your car in a supervised parking lot, don’t choose free parking because you might not find your car when you return. Search for parking near the port, you don’t want to drag your carry-ons a long way. The seafront in Tulcea is full of bumps and cracks.

7. Make sure you go on organized trips. While it might seem thrilling and cheaper to go with the locals or simple boat transfers, resorts have better options. It’s safer, you will go with a group, you will have a guide, and they will wait for you if you’re late. Don’t miss the birdwatching trip. It sounds a little bit boring, but it’s the essence of the Danube Delta.

8. Take your camera with you. I chose to forego that step, and I kind of regret it. While my phone takes pretty good shots, I would have loved to zoom the landscape now and then.

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A few genuine words on fake PR these days

A recent article about ethical marketing made me realize once again the importance of my work. I am an advocate of ethics in business, and I stay away from declarations that might make it sound presumptuous. Yes, we may be doing something that has never been done before. But stating it doesn’t mean people will believe it. As PR people, one aspect of our job is to tell beautifully crafted stories to increase visibility and engage with the audience. But when every business claims it is the best, we have a conflict of credibility. And credibility leads to trust, which is what ultimately defines business relationships.

I remember the beginning of telesales and an old man with a thick Italian accent repeating obsessively “cado” (gift). He was selling jewelry, and his bald head shone almost as brilliantly as the gems in the rings and pendants. Fast forward to these days, it irks my nerves when I see women taking out bottles or bags of detergent from their purses or even from their pockets during a party or whenever else. My intelligence feels insulted. Do these people in advertising agencies really think we are so gullible to buy that story? I have never ever carried a bottle of detergent in my handbag. I don’t know anyone who has.

These are just two examples of what marketing and PR have become nowadays. As PR people, our main job if to prettify things. But I guess it’s the same as applying make-up. Too much turns into hideous. The tendency to exaggerate is too deeply established. There is a multitude of the best, the most something, the only. Millions of calls to actions ask us to click, subscribe and ultimately buy. There is really no differentiation between products, and people who are able to judge for themselves see beyond the commercial facade.

On a personal note, I hate it when something is advertised in big bold letters as free, but you have to either subscribe or create an account to be able to have the download link sent to your inbox. That’s a few steps too many. Not to mention you will become part of a mailing list from which you have to unsubscribe if you don’t want your e-mail to pop notifications a dozen times per hour. Most of the times, we are interested only in a specific material, not everything the website has to offer. Also, it often happens that the title and package are interesting, but the content has nothing to do with them or is low quality or irrelevant.

People buy based on trust, and you might be able to trick them once or twice, but by the third time, they’ll surely catch on to it. Lies won’t last too long, and at the end of the day the thousands of followers and subscribers will give up. In the 3.0 world, content is the absolute ruler. It’s not about being pushy and aggressive in selling your products anymore, but about offering meaningful content to the audience and helping them make the best decisions, even when that doesn’t mean they will turn into clients. Content sharing can help you position yourself as an expert, of course as long as you have a good strategy in place. Studies show people don’t like being sold things, instead they prefer to feel they have the power to decide. The buyers’ behavior has shifted. Furthermore, their purchases have shifted from simple things to experiences. How do you sell an experience? Well, that’s for us to find out.

Image from Pixabay

7 easy steps for a successful Instagram post

Instagram is one of the hypes of social media. Everyone wants a piece of it, however small, because everyone wants followers, right? Gone are the days where you would see a cute puppy in the street, take a pic, throw in some hashtags and share. People want quality content these days. Content they find relevant and useful. If you manage to woo them, they’ll be coming back for more. Here’s how to rock posting on Instagram.

1. Think about what you want to share. You’re feeling happy, or sad, or excited, or you’ve just been on a shopping spree. Think about what you want to transmit and find the proper image. Or take a pic yourself if you’re feeling creative.

2. Choose your image. It’s best to have at least 5 images at hand. Use different angles, rearrange the objects, compare the full pic and the close-up. In this particular case, more is better.

3. Edit the image. This is a vital step in the process. Make sure it fits with your overall style. Check your grid of pictures. If you use a preset, that’s great. If you don’t have a coherent style, it’s high time you change that.

4. Think of the best caption that goes with the pic. They say longer captions are better, and sometimes it might be true. However, Instagram is primarily a photo sharing app, not a story sharing app, and not everyone will have the patience to read your post till the end. Aim for a caption which stirs a reaction or a feeling. Write down the caption in Evernote or Keep or whatever other app you’re using, then proofread it. Make sure it’s just a tap away so that you can copy it anytime.

5. Choose your hashtags. They’re the thing that will spice up your pic and help it get found. Be creative, but don’t forget to check out which popular tags might fit. Now, there’s a whole charade around tags. Some people add widely used tags to gain views, without the pictures actually having anything to do with them. That’s cheating, and the viewers will sanction it sooner or later. It’s up to you what you use. Write the tags down the same way you did with the caption.

6. Copy the caption and upload your pic. If you use an Instagram filter, apply it, if not, go forward. Paste the caption and publish. In the past I would add the tags to the caption, but I’ve learned it’s better not to make it too stuffed.

7. Go to the hashtags and copy them, then paste them in a comment to the pic ASAP. Don’t let too much time pass between publishing and adding the hashtags.

That’s it.

How to make your profile pic work for you

We all browse social media much more than we should. And let’s face it, we fawn or feel envy over some people’s profile pics, while others make us cringe. When we are specifically looking for a person or a business across social media, their profile pic is the first thing we see. Keep in mind that first impressions are almost always visual. If that image is not catchy enough, our first perception will certainly not be positive.

Before smartphones and digital cameras and all these gadgets nowadays were invented, taking a picture used to be a special occasion. People dressed up and prepared for the event accordingly. Go back to that. Think that your picture will be spread across several social networks and a quality image can build trust. That trust will at some point materialize into revenue. So invest time and effort into this.

I have seen lots of accounts with a logo in the place of a profile picture, I have used that tactic myself. The truth is, though, that people want to see the person or people behind the business, not a lifeless logo which doesn’t say anything. So don’t be afraid to show your face. Just make sure you show your own face, not that of someone else. I remember a PR workshop where a client proudly informed the audience they had their dog’s image as profile pic. And another client asked whom he should expect to meet if he set an appointment, the dog or him. That was a good lesson for everyone in the room, and it’s well worth sharing.

People do not treat profile pics with the attention they should, they use pictures of their family, of their children, their pets and whatever else you can think of. Or they use pictures which are 20 years old. They have a very poor sense of identity, and extremely limited knowledge of social media etiquette in general, which is surprising given this day and age. Don’t fall into that category.

Going back to the subject, you should start by choosing an outfit and a background. Make sure they match, the coast is clear (no pile of dirty clothes or dog photobombing) , the background is simple enough so the focus is on you, and there is plenty of natural light. You can ask a friend to help you out or you can take the shots yourself, just make sure you are armed with plenty of patience and with a selfie stick or tripod. I would recommend using one of those tools because the camera shouldn’t be too close to your face to reveal all your imperfections, and, most importantly, you don’t want your hand sticking out in an obvious selfie attempt. Always aim to be subtle. Try to make it seem like you didn’t take the picture yourself.

Exercise various poses and mimic in the mirror until you find what you want to transmit. Taking 20 shots in different angles might seem exaggerated at first, but if you judge critically, you will be lucky to have 3 good shots to choose from. Smile even when you don’t feel like it, a full smile does wonders. I had a photoshoot on a very dreary day of my life, and the fact that I smiled completely transformed my mood. I was on the brink of a meltdown, but in those pics I look happy and incredibly at ease and enthusiastic.

Once you have managed to decide on a pic you will use across all social networks (because you want people to remember you), it’s time to edit. Try to crop your image into a close-up showing the upper part of your body, from the chest up or from the elbows up. That should be visible enough even for small sizes. As a tip, bright images fare way better than dark ones. Make sure you have a high resolution and the image is not blurry. Think that even though you are editing on a large scale version, it will be shrunk online, so make sure all the details are still visible and they look fine. Lately, I have noticed that Facebook tends to lower the quality of images, especially low-resolution ones. Check the size of images for each social network and adapt your image to each of them, it’s much better than allowing networks to shrink and crop your picture. I know how frustrating it is to have your image cropped in a weird manner, so try to avoid that.

When you’re done editing, it’s time for SEO. Image SEO is as important as text SEO. Don’t leave the name at IMG1234.jpg, instead use yourname.jpg or yourbiz.jpg. That way, when people are looking for you, they will come across your picture. And don’t forget that Google has image search included.

What other recommendations can you make? I’d love to hear them.

How to create a mood board & how to put it to its best use

Just throw some pics together and there you have it. Just kidding. Or not quite? The main point is to collect images you like. Whether you use Pinterest for digital images or a wall for magazine cuts and prints it’s your decision. I feel way more comfortable with anything digital, and I’d rather take a pic of a printed magazine and add it to my collection rather than start putting stuff on the walls. But that’s just me. After you’ve collected your fair share of photos, patterns, fonts, textures and color samples, you will eventually have to stop. I know that’s difficult, but enough is enough. Sometimes too much inspiration can do more damage than good.

Once you’ve gathered everything onto a huge board there comes the difficult part. You have to be tough, watch with a critical eye and eliminate. You probably have a lot of duplicates or similar picks, so it’s time to choose between them. Repeat the process a few times if it’s necessary, until you get a coherent board. Or close enough to coherent. Try not to be subjective. If you like something but it doesn’t fit with the overall style or aesthetics, you should throw it away without second guesses.

When you’ve finished the curating process and you’ve made up your mind about the final images, start moving them around until they are a perfect fit. There is no definite order, put your creativity and your gut at work. You can use Photoshop or any image editing app you’re comfortable with. What I recommend is to pick samples of up to 5 matching colors. You don’t know it yet, but this will be a lifesaver later. When I started out, I kind of forgot this little detail and I would always have to go back and color sample text. Rookie mistakes, I’m telling you.

You can find a lot of templates out there which you can use if you want. Or you can create your own layout if you feel inspired. And try to come up with 2 or even 3 alternatives which are completely different. That way your choice will be more decisive. Whatever you choose, I’m sure it will be great.

How to use a mood board

As I was saying in the previous post in this series, mood boards are means of communication. They can help a designer share their creative vision with the client or a business share its creative vision with clients. The initial reaction is everything. As designers, we’ve all lived that moment when we finally get to showcase our hard work and we’re biting our nails waiting for the client to offer their feedback.

Mood boards are also points of reference which help illustrate the general aesthetics of a brand. And remember that unless you actually speak about your vision the others might not get it and might reject your ideas because they don’t know the motivation behind them. These cues will help create the visual identity of the brand. You will always go back to them when you create other elements.

Always be ready to start again from scratch. It took me a while to get used to the idea, but the first attempt is always just a draft, no matter how fabulous you think it is at that moment. A month later you will agree with your client that there was place for a lot of improvement. The 10th version, well, that’s infinitely better. Just remember if you work hard & you’re kind, amazing things will happen.