Tag Archives: business

‘Using Instagram to build my blog’

Chloe Burroughs, OU graduate and study skills trainer

Chloe Burroughs is an Open University (OU) graduate who’s since launched a new study skills training business to help other students achieve what they’re capable of. While working towards her degree (a first class business degree with honours, no less) Chloe developed a secondary set of skills – essay writing, assignment planning, motivational styles etc – which she has compiled into a series of strategies and tactics for not only helping others pass their assignments, but also to achieve higher grades. And remember, many OU students, just like Chloe, work full-time while studying so finding time, let alone the time to get great grades, is no mean feat.

I bumped into Chloe on the ‘Instagram circuit’ while running The Open University’s two-month pilot – we are both using and following the hashtag #openuniversity and commenting and liking the same content. One of the nice consequences of immersing yourself in an online community, is that you make friends. So I touched base with Chloe and asked her if she’d mind sharing some of her content on our page. I also asked Chloe a little about her business, her use of Instagram and what, as an OU graduate and potential postgraduate student (yes, she’s planning on coming back for more), she thinks of the OU account and how we could improve it.

Screen grab from Chloe Burroughs' Instagram pageWhen did you start using Instagram and what do you like about it?

I set up my account in February 2016 but started using it regularly in May 2016. I love the versatility of Instagram. I can share simple quote images which are great for motivation and add some colour to my profile. I can just share images or I can give value to my followers with longer captions. I try to give advice and tips in all my captions. I can also share behind-the-scenes images of my study space and of my personal life.

The portfolio style of Instagram allows me to build up a story of me. As I’m a personal brand rather than a company I think it’s important for me to share all sides of me, not just the study skills training aim of my business. So I try to add in personal images a few times a week not just those related to the business.

You’re working on building your own business – how is Instagram helping to develop that  and what other channels do you use? How do you find Instagram compares to them?

Instagram is the most successful tool I’m using to build my blog. The hashtag system allows me to find new followers a lot easier than on Facebook. Around 75% of my email subscribers have found me through Instagram, either by following me after I’ve commented on one of their posts, or by finding my posts by searching through related study hashtags such as #openuniversity.

I’ve started using Pinterest which, at first, seems similar to Instagram but is in fact quite different. I’m using Pinterest as more of a search engine, posting blog post images and images overlaid with advice to get traffic for my blog. I think visuals are a great way to build my brand and Pinterest gives my business a more professional side whereas Instagram allows me to build relationships.

I want to start using Twitter too once I have Pinterest figured out and running smoothly. I think that could be great to share snippets of advice and also build relationships with students and influencers. I haven’t tackled Facebook yet but that’s also on the plan as I want to create a free Facebook group to offer support to OU students who feel a bit lonely studying by themselves.

As an OU student and follower of us on Instagram, a) what have been your favourite posts so far, and b) what sorts of posts would you be interested in seeing going forwards?

I’ve enjoyed the posts about different OU graduates. I think that’s a great way to showcase the incredible mix of people studying with the OU. I also enjoyed the recent video (18th December) with a study tip from a recent graduate. Posts that involve other students are a great idea – like your ‘feeling festive’ quick video last week. It can feel lonely at times studying with the OU so future posts could include those that build community.

What do think the OU’s Instagram account is missing?

To build community, perhaps you could start themes for the account? Lots of Facebook groups I’m a member of have a theme for each day. Followers begin to learn the themes for each day and look forward to the posts. Possible categories could be:

  • Motivational quote
  • Quick feature of a current student
  • Study tips – from the OU or other students
  • Feature an OU employee or tutor – include a photo and a few sentences on what they do
  • Share an OU resource – such as the magazine or a study skills page. (You can create shortlinks with bit.ly that you could include)
  • Share your study space – using the #ouselfie tag or similar
  • Engagement day – where you ask questions or ask for a tag e.g. tag your study buddy, or tag someone you know is studying hard. This could grow the audience.

How important do you think branding is on Instagram?

I think branding is very important, I’m still working on mine. I don’t think branding is just about images and colour schemes – even though I’ve decided on these. I think it also relates to the voice of your brand. I don’t want my voice to be that of the expert telling students what to do. I want to share my experiences and give advice but explain ‘this is what worked for me’, you could try it too.

I think corporate accounts need the visual elements of branding as Instagram accounts with a clear style and theme are more appealing. But they also need a clear aim and voice. I can’t remember who said it but there’s a quote like, ‘branding is what other people say about your business when you’re not in the room’. I try and follow this advice and keep my style clear but my voice consistent.

What’s more important to you – showcasing great pictures and videos or great stories with less polished photographs and videos? Or striking a balance?

I think this depends on the audience. I don’t want to come across as too polished. I want to come across as relatable to my audience and as a friend of theirs. So my photographs show me as a normal person, trying to work on her laptop while eating some chocolate. Again, this depends on the brand. Casual may not work for brands that want to only convey professionalism and formality.

Social media can come across as too perfect and I think audiences are starting to wise up to this and crave something a bit more real. This doesn’t mean images or language has to be very informal, but behind-the-scenes photographs, personal stories and funny images could be interwoven with more formal content.

As an OU graduate what do you want most from your university’s Instagram account?

I would love to become more involved with the OU as a graduate but am not entirely sure of the opportunities. Perhaps these could be highlighted. It would also be great to hear more about people who’ve completed postgraduate study with the OU. I definitely want to further my studies next year sometime so would enjoy reading others’ stories.

What are your Instagram top tips?

  • I try and make best use of the hashtag limits by including between 20 and 30 with each post
  • I try to follow the formula give, give, give, take. I try to stick to the ratio of around three posts giving value or telling my story to every one post that asks my audience to do something e.g. click on a link, tag a friend, answer a question… etc
  • I use the one link IG allows us in our bios – I update this with each new blog post and try to send my followers there
  • I reply to every comment on my posts
  • I always engage with my followers by liking and commenting on their posts
  • I try to stick to my blog’s colour scheme for my tip/advice posts.

plannerFree resources and find out more

You can find out more about Chloe by checking out her blog.

Oh, and if you’re studying, take a look at Chloe’s free downloadable/printable study planner – its sure to set you off on the right foot as we enter 2017.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Instagram as a platform for my business #MAent

I really like Instagram. So simple, visually pleasing and a great mix of images and video. And I quite like it as a platform for my online training business. It’s a really cool tool for business, offering an easy way to promote services and products, linking back to full articles/blog posts or training materials. And it offers a way to cultivate followers so your content flashes up as people scroll through their feeds. Like a more finely tuned and elegant Facebook, I guess.

I’ve set up the ContentEdMK Instagram page now (although links through to courses etc won’t be live, I’m just using it as a prototype) and have had more than 20 likes in the 30 minutes I’ve just spent loading photos and videos. This gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.

The aim is to combine free content (simple tips, how tos and local events and information) with paid-for training courses (more detailed, comprehensive, hour-by-hour training modules). All of which will be accessed via a link underneath the title photo or video, paid-for courses will sit behind a paywall or some other formal log in, once a user has registered and paid (I’ll thrash the details of this out later, there are numerous options).

I’m pleased with the look and feel, and the simplicity this platform offers. And I have more ideas in my head than time in the day. Here’s what it looks like so far…

The ContentEd MK Instagram page

Tagged , , , , ,

It’s all about the planning #MAent

One of the things that’s always worried me about starting a business is the planning. The business plans, the budgeting, the documentation, the forward planning, the paperwork. I wouldn’t have had a clue where to start, and indeed, many startups don’t plan, they just launch straight in with their idea, get cracking and off they go.

ganttBut I have to say, despite thinking I’d find the planning side a bit of a bore, I now feel prepared, confident and organised in my approach to launching a startup. That’s not to say my idea doesn’t have holes in it and I’m still, in part, wandering blindly through the process hoping I come out the other end unscathed. But if I was to ever launch a business I’d feel confident that I know how to tackle the planning elements, and look at things from different angles. What I’m learning from other people is also contributing to this planning process.

What I’m trying to say, and possibly not very succinctly, is that I find the creative ideas stuff fun and relatively easy (I think creativity is in my blood) but the business genes I thought my dad (MD of a stainless steel company) had failed to pass on, may be there after all. The business element doesn’t come naturally to me, I don’t think, but this MA module has been incredibly useful in teaching me the process that helps turn an idea into a business. And it hasn’t been boring either. I’d usually recoil in horror at the thought of spreadsheets, charts and tables, but in a slightly sad way I’ve been embracing them.

I also think fundamental journalism skills help when trying to be entrepreneurial: I’ve been doing interviews since I rolled out of college (and that was a good long while ago), I’ve always been organised and planned work (in order to meet deadlines and make room for breaking news, should it arise) and research has always been a key element in creating content, producing a rounded, well-developed story, and in finding and learning new skills and tools which help with the digital and technical side of what I do for a living.

So, without further ado, I’ll link to some of my planning documents so a) my tutor can spy on me read them b) generally interested folk can have a peruse and may find them useful and c) it’ll keep my mum busy for 30 minutes or so. She spies on me takes an interest too. Hi mum!

 

SWOT analysis

(great way of looking at the business and finding that sometimes strengths can be weaknesses too)

PEST analysis

(ironic name given I’m the proud owner of two toddlers/pests – and this one I found quite tricky)

Research grid

(what I need to get done in terms of research – I have spent DAYS reading stuff on t’internet you know)

Business Canvas Model

(groovy little planning tool which felt a bit business-ish to start with but really help sets up the foundations of any startup)

Marketing mix

(a more developed marketing plan will follow soon. Ish)

Gantt chart

(always goes down best with a Corona, I find – see image)

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Elevator pitch. Well, not really #MAEnt

Robyn Bateman waving shadowSo, the current module of my MA requires me to be the business. Literally. I’m full of creative ideas at home and at work (and with the kids… well, you have to get them to eat their greens somehow). But business? Well, that’s not my thing. Or maybe it is and I just haven’t tried it. We’ll soon find out.

The key part is coming up with an idea that is a) online, b) relates to the award for which I’m studying (damn, that food-related project I have burning a hole in my notepad will have to wait) and meet some political/social need. I.e I need to try and do some good in the world while trying to make money while trying to be a journalist.

My idea in its very barest form (the one I think I’ll stick with, at least) is linked with what I love and what I do. One of my work buddies describes me as abstractly creative and I’d never have put myself under that umbrella until he said it. It’s not that I come up with weird and wonderful ideas but I do try and challenge myself to think beyond what’s the easiest option. I don’t always succeed but I do enjoy a spot of creativity.

I also love content, as a creator, consumer and lurker. And I’m fussy, time-starved and suffer a short attention span so it needs to be good. I also love learning, both as a learner – in the direct sense, hence why I’m doing this MA; as a mentor, I love sharing my skills with others, it makes me feel good; and also indirectly too. I work for a university and know first-hand how education changes lives, develops careers, boosts self confidence, contributes to the economy and makes the world go round. And I know that being creative and learning new skills is beyond tricky when you’re spinning many plates: job or jobs, parenthood, carer, friend, sportsman, volunteers etc.

So, my idea is to offer a kind of mentoring service for small business who want to develop their brands without having to employ a large agency or cough up a small fortune to attend a workshop in London. I want to offer an online portal of bitesize content training in all things digital content, from creating videos, writing social media posts, re-sizing images, learning WordPress, web content, enewsletters etc. And that that ‘learning hub’ for want of a better phrase will allow people to put their learning into practice, try by failing in a comfortable, supportive space, and therefore contribute to other people’s learning. Or something like that.

My husband works with a lot of small businesses in his role as web designer/developer and knows first-hand how people struggle with the basics which, in this day and age are pretty essential if you want customers to engage in spaces they’re comfortable in. And they don’t have the time or budget to skill up in a more formal way, and neither do they have to. Although a traditionally qualified journalist, I was trained in print and much of my own digital skillset has come from being mentored by others, learning by doing and experimenting, and failing plenty times over. I’m still learning.

So, that’s the crux of it. It needs a lot of research, polishing and working up but I’m further on than I was last week: clueless.

Enterprise #MAEnt from Robyn Bateman on Vimeo.

All roads leads back to the workplace
It’s interesting to see how prominently my place of work features in my MA in Online Journalism. I’m not sure why, but I read a 2009  post from Paul Bradshaw last week when he was started to write the MA course. In it, he referenced Peter Horrocks, then of the BBC, who’d offered some though on the content of the course. Today, as I sit and type this, Peter is the Vice-Chancellor of The Open University (OU), where I work.

Then, while reading about social innovation, I stumbled on a paragraph that mentioned the OU and the Young Foundation, named after Michael Young, the man who helped to found the ‘university of the air’.

Now, I’m staying late after work to catch up on MA reading and access to the Taylor & Francis Online ‘portal’ has been granted because I’m logged on with the OU and the uni logo has popped onto the top of my screen. Being a distance learning student (live Milton Keynes, uni in Birmingham) can have disadvantages, but working for another university (particularly the ‘king’ of the distance learning tribe) seems to make up for the shortfall.

De Bono six thinking hats graphicHats off to de Bono
And already my work-life is benefitting from the MA. I’ve been reading up about Edward de Bono and his six thinking hats and would really like to try them out in a creative brainstorm session sometime soon. Brainstorms can often be messy, lots of people cramming in ideas, shouting them down and forgetting objectives for what seems like an age. The thinking hats sounds less messy but just as creative and I won’t know until I’ve tried it. I like the idea of sitting in a meeting wearing a hat too. Watch this space.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,