Category Archives: Blogging

From maternity leave to professional Instagrammer

saraAs well as having a whopping 146,000 followers on Instagram (@me_and_orla), Sara Tasker is a blogger, photographer, iPhoneographer, writer and Instagram coach. So she’s pretty busy. Sara’s story has seen her go from maternity to leave to running a successful business helped, of course, by a generous dose of creativity and talent. And now she’s helping other Instagrammers to find success…

How did you first get into Instagram?

I was on maternity leave and feeling pretty bored and uncreative. I read about people doing 365 projects using their iPhones and it appealed as a record of my daughter’s first year, so I reactivated my dormant account and started sharing daily.

Did you ever imagine, when you started, that being a successful Instagrammer would create so many opportunities?

I had no idea! Back then there were only a handful of people making a living from Instagram, and they were all in the US with millions of followers.
My intention was only ever to share and be creative – and, to some extent, to find an audience to help me do that. Everything else came as a big surprise.

You’re now an Instagram coach and channel expert. What do you love about working with Instagram and what types of people/organisations do you help?

My favourite thing is how it represents creativity in everyday life. Sometimes we can be afraid to give ourselves or anything we do the label of ‘creating’, because it feels pretentious, or like it belongs to other people. Instagram is a way around that, and it means you have this really diverse group of people sharing their take on the world.
I love getting to help people find their visual voice, and connect with their audience through that. I tend to work mostly with small business owners and creatives. That’s never really been by design, but probably represents the audience that most feel they can relate to me and how I work. I’ve mentored actors, coaches, singers, illustrators, authors, photographers, bloggers, makers – and people who just want to develop their Instagram as a tool to express themselves for no specific purpose.

What benefits do you think Instagram has over other social media channels? Are there any downsides, or features you’d like to see added?

It’s a visual medium, which is great as that’s how your brain works. If you’re wordy and have no eye for a photo, it’s not going to be the place for you. Compared to the early days, it’s a highly saturated market now, and it can be difficult to stand out – but if you’re doing something original that resonates, there’s still plenty of potential to make a splash. There are plenty of limitations within the app – they don’t like you to share links, for example, and are notoriously incompatible with Twitter – but it’s a free service, so I’m reluctant to complain too much.

What can people expect to learn on one of your courses, who are they aimed at and why will they find it beneficial?

My courses are for the people who I’ve been mentoring – or the people who I would mentor if I had the time! I found myself going over the same key principles again and again with my clients, and my time was becoming increasingly scarce, so a course seemed the logical step to share the knowledge further. I’ve tried to make it pretty exhaustive, so it covers everything from choosing the best username all the way to playing the algorithm and maximising your exposure opportunities. The focus is on creating great, genuine, meaningful content all the way through – I’m really opposed to the ‘get rich quick’ schemes that chase huge followings without the quality of the posts improving. It only works if you put the effort in.

What are your top 3 tips for Instagram users, whether it’s for business or pleasure?

  1. Take better pictures! I start there with everyone – including myself, every day. It’s a visual platform, so you need to be always striving to take and share your best work.
  2. Be intentional about your message. If you know what you’re trying to say, and who you want to say it to, it’s much easier to connect with the right audience and find which hashtags to use, etc.
  3. Engage more! The biggest reason that people’s accounts lie dormant or flounder is because they sit back and wait for their audience to come to them. Instagram is hardwired to reward engagement, so you really get what you put in.

 

You have  very specific look and feel on your account – is that something you’d recommend? Do you think ‘branded’ accounts get a better response from their audiences?

It’s something that develops organically if you work at it long enough – you refine and improve your style and taste so precisely that things tend to start to flow by themselves. That said, the more you consider the overall look of your gallery, the more coherent and deliberate your message to potential audience will be.
There are a ton of benefits to having a really solid visual identity – it’s a bit like having a recognisable writing style or singing voice.
It’s not just about the individual pictures/books/songs that you create, but the talent and vision you have behind them. That’s what people are signing up for when they hit follow – your voice, not the pictures that have gone before.

You inspire a lot of people on Instagram – who is your Instagram inspiration?

I soak up inspiration from all over the place – from music and photography and nature and life. I love browsing new hashtags and getting a sense of what’s up and coming and fresh.
It’s impossible to name one person or account that inspires me, because it’s such a creative soup.
My ideal catch up on Instagram would have some film photography, some female self portrait work, an amazing styled food shoot, and a quick snap of someone’s kids. I love the diversity and the scope of it, and that keeps me creating and thinking in pictures.

Find out more

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‘Enterprising blogs’ I like… #MAEnt

So, the latest MA homework is to flag up three blogs that I think tick the enterprise box. I lost myself in content for a good while during this task, but here’s my chosen trio…

Screen grab of whosthemummy.co.ukMum’s the word

Well, I didn’t have to think too hard about the first one, or even do any research, although I did lose myself in her blog posts for a good hour while refreshing my memory about Sally Whittle’s story.

Her blog started as a way to capture a single parenting journey and has become a no-holds-barred account of bringing up a child while making a living while juggling everything else life throws at you.

I love it because it’s real. It’s gritty, honest and Sally shares some very personal things with her readers. She lets you into her life, she has a friendly tone, like she trusts you, and it makes you feel privileged to be able to read her story; people can identify with her.

There’s also an aspirational element to Sally’s blog, she’s a successful blogger and makes a living from it, having founded several blogging communities that unite bloggers in a subject of interest while fostering an ethos of support. She does good work. People want to achieve similar success.

I’d also say she’s a bit intimidating. She really knows her shit (sorry for swearing but I’m plenty old enough to swear and I couldn’t think of a better word) and pulls no punches when she’s affronted by the ill-informed. She’s not snotty or snidey or snooty, she’s authoritative. She knows what she’s talking about and people respect that.

When I visit Sally’s blog I get plenty out of it, I can empathise with her as a parent, I respect her as a journalist and blogger (informative). I value what she says and I also learn things; Sally shares her knowledge in posts to help others achieve what she has (instructional). Above all else, Sally is funny and people like to laugh (interesting).

Screen grab of athriftymrs.comWhen saving money looks expensive…

I had no idea of the concept of being thrifty when I first stumbled upon A Thrify Mrs at a conference some years back. Or even that people made a living blogging about it. As a guest speaker, her personality hooked me and there I was following a blog about how to cut corners and save money.

I like her blog because it’s real, she’s talking to people like me with her informal and witty tone and her site looks nice, it’s branded in a feminine and classy way which is a nice contrast against the subject of (what is essentially) being cheap. She uses pictures in a clever way, making less look like more with a classy backdrop and angle, and her how-to videos show she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty.

Her back story is nice too, someone with a love for charity shop hauls, a battle with debt (we’ve all been there) and an enhanced skill for saving money without having to be miserable. Again, there’s that element of wanting to help people and she is the face of her brand so her personality is important.

Screen grab of kernow_shots Instagram pageWhen a picture paints a thousand words

My third blog is a bit of a curveball… and therefore probably won’t count. If you can call Instagram microblogging then kernow_shots is doing a great job of a) selling his photography skills and b) highlighting Cornwall as a destination. He (Lee) liked one of my Cornwall shots from a holiday last year and I checked him out, or rather his photography. Wow. His images are so good they almost don’t look real and if you don’t want to go to Cornwall after you’ve seen them then there’s something wrong with you.

He uses the power of imagery to communicate with his audience, supported by short descriptions of what he’s posted and using hashtags for wider reach. Sometimes he posts longer descriptions about why he’s visited a certain spot, or some of the history etc, showcasing his local knowledge and passion for the place he calls home. And he gets a lot of likes and comments (he has close to 20,000 followers!) which gives his images even more authority. He’s conversational and replies to comments, a great way to promote his work. So simple but really memorable.

I like the idea that if your product is design-led, using a platform like Instagram and letting the images do the talking is a great way to promote what you do. And there’s no link to a website on his profile, just an email address.

 

In summary, the blogs that appeal to me, as a user, on the whole are both informative and entertaining and if they’re instructional too then I’ll probably take notice. I like an informal, accessible tone, non-corporate, and a layout that’s easy for me to scan. And plenty of personality to boot.

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Neglected blog but for a good reason

Headphones on an RSS feed: ThinkstockEek, this blog has been neglected of late but I have the best excuse – it’s because I’m focusing on my latest MA project: multimedia journalism.

I’m creating a series of podcasts under the title of Ladies Wot Blog – celebrating female bloggers who will be attending Cybher 2012, the UK’s all inclusive female-only conference for bloggers.

Each blogger attending has their own story, big or small, and I’ll be honing in on some of them for my project. You can follow my progress on my Ladies Wot Blog Tumblr page.

Picture credit: Thinkstock

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Tips for Tuesday: Useful links if you want to dabble in multimedia goodness

  1. Vimeo Video School – a fun place for anyone to learn to make a video.
  2. Adam Westbrook, online video and entrepreneurial journalist. Some great tips and suggestions from Adam about what to do and what to avoid when it comes to telling a story through online video.
  3. Story Guide – how to make great video
  4. Media Bistro – 10,000 words by Mark S. Luckie, author of The Digital Journalist’s Handbook
  5. Digital Adventures – top tips for making audio slideshows for the web
  6. Journalists’ Toolkit – useful audio resources
  7. Spokesmanreview.com Video Journal
  8. Poynter: Photos, audio and the struggle to combine them
  9. MC Fontaine, audio engineer
  10. YouTube editor
  11. How to shoot and edit video on an iPhone

 

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Communities of practice: critical evaluation

When I began to explore the world of video and audio it was easy to hark back to my print journalism days and strike a comparison between the two. At first, I was keen to avoid doing that; to embrace the new. But in fact, the principles of journalism apply whatever the medium, it’s just the approach and production that’s different. I actually found having print experience to compare and contrast to the production of online audio and video helped embed my newfound knowledge and gave me more to offer the communities of practice.

Throughout my exploration of online video and audio, I’ve learned a lot, not least that good quality sound is essential. Adam Westbrook and Christian Payne lead by example in their fields, but what’s also clear is this: there are no hard and fast rules. There’s great scope for flexibility and creativity and no such thing as a ‘paint by numbers’ approach to multimedia journalism.

The community is in agreement on several principles: good quality sound is vital, be prepared, have a Plan B, and to be clear about the story you’re trying to tell and who you’re trying to tell it to. Most everything else is flexible and practitioners won’t agree; each will have their own preferences when approaching online video and audio.

I’ve also found that just as citizen journalism was, at first, shunned and later embraced as a valued source of news, video and audio reporting using ‘everyman’ technology such as smartphones is just as capable of reporting a news story (Sky news reportage of London riots, for example) despite efforts to retain professional production standards. There are vast numbers of tools to be used but the advice is to focus on sound quality as most ‘everyday’ video cameras can record at high quality.

Blogging

What’s been of most use for me is to follow those who blog about their work; to follow their learnings, take note of the things they’ve tried and tested, and ask questions.

As I embarked on this project to delve into communities of practice around video and audio journalism, I have endeavored to ‘blog as I go’ and record my learnings. This has helped my blog stats considerably and since starting the assignment I’ve increased hits, followers, subscriptions and comments, as well as gained new follows to my associated @journonest Twitter account.

For the first time I used the relatively new reblog feature on WordPress to embed blog posts by others onto my own, as well as recording my own learnings via blog posts. At first it seemed lazy but the reblog feature proved a useful way to pool relevant content together in one place, while giving the original author credit.

As well as reflecting on my own learnings I created a ‘Tips for Tuesday’ weekly post in which I share a new list of useful resources and this is something I’d like to continue; to be a regular feature of my site.

Social media

I focused on experts in the field on Twitter to follow and learn from. I used the online aggregator Paper.li to create a Twitter newspaper called Multimedia Mag to pull together tweets around multimedia, specifically focusing on journalism, audio and video. This attracted a lot of retweets and highlighted some interesting and relevant content although I had to play with the settings to avoid pulling in content in foreign languages, and some content is slightly off topic or too advertising-led, which reduces the appeal.

I created Twitter lists, one for audio, one for video, to aggregate tweets by the people I identified as experts and also subscribed to other relevant Twitter lists, one created by a former MA Online Journalism student.

And I used Twitter to ask questions of the community, including recommendations for tools and editing programmes to use.

While I did tweet links to my blog posts (set to auto tweet as I post) and other useful links, and got retweets, I should have been more proactive in asking for feedback on my own work and could have done more to encourage distribution and interactivity around the communities of practice. With that said, I am a beginner and my support network in this field will grow as I develop my skills and have more to offer. For example, a retweet by @Documentally helped me get more hits to my content on this particular day but comments/discussion around the topic would be something to aim for in the future.

I neglected to use other social media channels, such as LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook, finding Twitter to be the easiest/best for my needs, but these are channels I’d like to explore in the future.

Subscriptions and links

I also subscribed to sites such as Finding the Frame, MediaStorm, Media Bistro, Adam Westbrook’s blog and others (see Tips for Tuesday) to catch up on latest multimedia news and advice via Google Reader or newsletters direct to my inbox.

And I kept a record of interesting and relevant posts by bookmarking them in Delicious under video and audio tags. I also found online tutorials and tookits really useful, including this Audacity tutorial by Mindy McAdams.

Events

Due to a number of factors, one being a lack of relevant events in my area, I wasn’t able to mingle with other members of the multimedia community as easily as my full time equivalent BCU students in Birmingham. However, I have signed up to a locally established MK WordPress group, MK tweetup group and at the end of the month I’ll be attending The Guardian’s Open Weekend including their session on ‘How to make a video’ as well as MK Hacks’ Day in May.

Interviewing the professionals

Without the ability to attend events I did want to catch up, face to face, with experts in the field. I interviewed Tracy Buchanan, a multimedia editor with The Open University’s Open Media Unit about her roll at work and how she’s used video to help promote the other part of her professional life as a recently published author. Character is an important part of journalism and promotion and Tracy felt it was easier to give readers a slice of her personality via online video.

I exchanged emails with Christian Payne, AKA Documentally, who shared some useful links via Delicious and I researched his more open approach to mobile and multimedia journalism which was in sharp contrast to the views of others, for example radio journalist Caroline Beaven who believes good audio needs planning. I’ve also commissioned Christian to do some video with me for my day job, in which I’ll spend the best part of three days with him creating and editing footage.

I spent an afternoon with Roger Stotesbury from Jump Off The Screen video production company in Milton Keynes who gave me a great insight into his work, and offered some useful tips, especially focusing on giving the interviewee control to make them feel more comfortable in front of the camera. Roger showed me his new studio and equipment and has invited me to sit in on some editing projects in the future. I also learned a lesson about drinking coffee while recording an interview.

Fellow MA student and video journalist Franzi Baehrle wrote a guest blog post for me on how she began her career in Germany and the valuable lessons she’s learned along the way and I’ve been an active contributor to her own blog, debating over best practice and mistakes we’ve made and learned from.

I found that listening to other people – and about the mistakes they made when they started out – helped my learning; it’s refreshing to know everyone, even seasoned professionals, make mistakes and move on. They all offered advice on putting interviwees at ease, what equipment to use and different styles: Documentally on the power of unplanned audio, Roger on where to position your interviwee for effect and Tracy on using the right style of video for the right audience.

Forums

Apart from what I refer to as technical forums offered by the creators/owners of editing tools such as Audacity I found it a) difficult to find relevant forums to contribute to and b) struggled to contribute because of my limited knowledge. As a beginner, I felt it best to learn by trial and error and research, rather than posing questions ‘for the sake of it’ on forums. These forums were also highly technical and not a place beginners can easily contribute. I found it easier to learn by looking at other people’s content and commenting, rather than through forums. For example, listening to this podcast I learned how to include links within your audio, a feature I previously wasn’t aware of.

Reading

As well as reading books on the practicalities of audio and video journalism, and ‘how to’ guides both in print and online, supported by blog posts from experts such as Adam Westbrook, I managed to find a hard copy of a video guide produced by The Guardian in 2008 as I cleared out my office drawers. This offered a wealth of informative articles around creating newsy videos and is something I’ll hang onto for future reference. And I posted an image – for variety – on my blog to suggest useful reading resources for other newbie multimedia journalists.

Comments

I endeavored to share my own experiences and opinions on other sites by commenting where I had something to add; either a differing opinion or experience, praise or feedback to help others improve and this often led to discussion. This is something I’d like to do more of – more opinions make for a rounded picture, and every new comment on a blog is a new contact in the field.

Experimentation

If I have any chance of becoming a successful multimedia journalist I have to try things. I started by recording an AudioBoo talking about why I’ve chosen to do this MA, to get used to being recorded (and found it strange to be the one talking rather than asking the questions).

I produced other podcasts, an audio slideshow and a video using a variety of equipment and software to compare the differences and find what I’m most comfortable with (I’m not sure yet!). My experimentations included use of the following: iPhone, Kodak Zi8, AudioBoo, Audacity, Final Cut Express, iMovie, YouTube, Soundcloud and the iPhone Recorder Pro app. What I need to do more of is focus on audio (by investing in a microphone) and try using a tripod to avoid shaky hand syndrome and to have one less thing to concentrate on (it’s easier to focus on the interviewee when you don’t have a camera in your hand).

Immersing myself into the world of online video and audio is just the start of this learning curve for me and I’ve realised that good multimedia journalism often takes research, preparation, strong narrative and pacing. For the most part my appraoch, to date, has been the ‘quick and dirty’ one, to capture unscripted, unedited footage to save time. With this in mind I’m looking forward to trying a more methodical approach, which brings me to…

Assignment 2: Specialist portfolio

For the second assignment this semester I intend to create a series of podcasts off the back of the Cybher conference which celebrates women bloggers. I plan to research and interview both those who are speaking at the event and those who are attending as delegates in order to find some human interest stories and promote what connects them: the blogosphere, and how it’s impacted their lives. I plan to record my research on a Tumblr blog as I go and embed the podcasts on a web page to invite comment and the sharing of stories by the blogging community.

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