A Five-Step Gamification Formula That Will Boost Your Online Course Performance

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Did you know that less than 10% of the students who enrolled in Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) actually completed the courses?

Online courses are notorious for low completion and low engagement rates. I remember what one of my undergraduate students once shared with me, “for online courses, you simply need to remember that you are actually taking a class.” To me, that statement indicated the likelihood in not completing online courses. Even as an educator myself, I am guilty of completing maybe only 20% of the several online courses sitting in my computer, some of which I’ve already paid for.

Given how hard it is to get students to engage in online courses, I was excited to have my friend, Zsuzsanna Kisvardai, join me on my weekly Facebook live show to share benefits and best practices of using gamification as a teaching method. Zsuzsanna is an online course creation expert.

Whether you are an entrepreneur selling online courses or an academic teaching online courses, this article is for you. You can click on the image/video below to watch the replay of our live interview. You can also read my recap here, where I share with you a successful five-step gamification formula that can help you boost your online course performance: including student engagement, course completion rates, and even sales.

What are the best ways to create and deliver online courses? How to best boost course completion rates? How to best engage your students? How to effectively monetize your expertise? How to boost your online course sales if you are selling them?

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Come join us on Wednesday, Jan 31, at 5 PM, EST, with an online course creation expert, Zsuzsanna Kisvárdai, to have all the aforementioned questions answered.

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Zsuzsanna is an edupreneur, which is a combination of "educator" + "entrepreneur". Zsuzsanna's teaching journey started as early as when she was four years old. Then, she became an English teacher. Now, she is a business owner, an Online Academy Strategist, and an online course creation expert.

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Zsuzsanna's specialty is in using gamification to boost online course performance such as course completion rates, student engagement, sales, etc.

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Come join us on Wed. Jan 31st, at 5 PM, EST, to learn Zsuzsanna's journey as an educator and entrepreneur, and the benefits and best practices of using gamification as a teaching method.

Who is Zsuzsanna Kisvardai?

Zsuzsanna is an online course creation expert. She has her own business, My Online Academy, where she teaches people how to create online courses and how to use gamification as a method to boost course performance. Zsuzsanna is an experienced educator and entrepreneur — an edupreneur, as she calls herself.. To learn more about Zsuzsanna, please visit her Website, and connect with her on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter.

Defining Gamification In The Context Of Online Courses

As the word suggests, gamification has its root in video games. In the context of online courses, Zsuzsanna shared that gamification means “applying video game elements in teaching or education.”

There are definitely underlying connections between gamification and content creation. Games are based on stories. Likewise, content creators are storytellers. What is it about video games that can make people become so addicted to their stories? Can we apply the same philosophy to creating content for online courses?

Zsuzsanna has been using gamification as a teaching method for many years, with tons of positive feedback. Based on her personal experience, she created a five-step gamification formula to help people create content for their digital courses and help students be engaged in learning.

Read the five steps below to understand what each step means and how you can apply it to your own teaching.

Step One: Create A Superhero Avatar

What is the first thing that you do before you start playing a video game? You craft or select an avatar. An avatar is a gaming persona where the person playing the game can choose his or her own name, facial expressions, hair, eye color, vehicles, tools or whatever weapons you will need to play the game.

The same step can be applied to creating online courses. Ask students to create a superhero avatar that they wish to become upon completing the course. Doing so gives students an opportunity to “identify themselves with the superhero they wish to grow by doing your online course,” as Zsuzsanna explained.

You simply need to identify a few Superheros in the specific niche that you are teaching. For example, if you are teaching a health and fitness class, your students can have the top fitness celebrities as their avatars. Having this preconceived image helps students relate to your course content better and understand exactly where they want to be upon completing the course. As Zsuzsanna shared,

Use avatars to represent the learning outcomes and objectives of your course, students can relate to it a lot better.

In addition, Zsuzsanna clarified that these superhero avatars do not have to be visual representations. Course creators don’t have to go crazy about creating graphically complex and stunning visuals. Instead, simply listing out superhero names is sufficient. I think creating such avatars is more so the purpose of activating certain emotions that course takers don’t typically get, than creating stunning images. Zsuzsanna shared some superhero avatars that her students have created such as Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey, etc.

What a brilliant idea! I cannot wait to ask my students to create their own course avatars.

Step Two: Project A Road Map or Journey

During the second step, you project a learning journey for the students, outlining the steps or points that you student need to complete to transition from where they are to where they want to be. As Zsuzsanna explained,

You create a road map for your students, so that they can see exactly how they go from zero to hero.

Seeing this transformation evokes excitement in the students and motivates them to reach the finish line.

In addition, just like an avatar doesn’t have to be a visual representation, Zsuzsanna reiterated that a road map doesn’t have to be a map. Instead, it is more like a metaphor that symbolizes the stages that the students have to overcome to become heroes.

Step Three: Offer Super Power

Super power describes the extra points or reward points that you offer your students. For every step along the way, you reward your students with bonuses.

For example, we shared a health and fitness class earlier. For this class, if the student completed the required 50 sit-ups, the student can unlock the superpower to have a cheat meal or have an one-on-one consultation with the course instructor or any coach in the course instructor’s network. That’s a simple example of using a reward point to supercharge a student for completing a challenging task or homework. In other words, offering super powers, “open up territories outside the course realm to reward your students,” as Zsuzsanna shared.

Step Four: Provide An Existing Strategy

Depending on what subject you are learning, taking and completing a course can be an intimidating task. You want to help minimize your students’ chances of failing or quitting before they finish the course.

For example, if a student is showing signs of quitting or not being able to complete the assigned tasks, the instructor has to offer the student a quitting strategy. What this means, as Zsuzsanna explained, is that the instructor has to “channel the student into a less challenging part of the learning process.” In this way, the student can still move forward and not quit.

Step Five: Presenting A Way to Move Forward

I think the English word “commencement” illustrates the meaning of step five well. Commencement means graduation ceremony on the one hand; and the beginning of a new chapter on the other. In the context of creating and delivering online courses, once a student completes the course, the instructor has to suggest a way to move forward, a bridge to the next level. In this respect, the instructor can offer a series of courses to keep students on the learning curve and help students become lifelong learners.

Conclusion

The five-step gamification formula opened my mind to think of more creative and fun ways to engage students in online classes and to boost course performance. Give this formula a try and see if it can improve your student engagement, course completion rate, or enrollment numbers. As “building a school in the cloud” is becoming popular, maybe gamification will be more widely adopted as an effective teaching method.

What do you think? Have you ever tried gamification as a teaching method? Please share your experience with me.

Integrating Social Media With Public Relations: Tips, Challenges, & Best Practices

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If you are a public relations or communication professional , your job probably has been drastically affected by the rapid developments in social media and technology. From owning a school email to creating a Facebook account to today’s sponsored content, paid ads, bots, ever-changing algorithms, and increasingly sophisticated analytical tools, social media and technology have changed how we practice public relations and communication.

A few weeks ago, I had the honor to engage in a dynamic and insightful Facebook live interview with a communication, public relations, and social media expert, Shonali Burke. Shonali shared tips and best practices to integrate social media with public relations, definition and examples of Social PR, and how educators can better prepare the next generation of communication professionals.

Click on the image/video below to watch the replay of our interview. Or, read my major takeaways below to get the most out of my in-depth interview with Shonali.

How to best integrate Social Media with contemporary Public Relations?

Come join my guest of honor, Shonali Burke, and I on Wednesday, Jan 24, 5 PM, EST, for a dynamic discussion on public relations and social media.

Shonali is the founder and CEO of her own consulting company, Shonali Burke Consulting. Shonali is also the founder and host of her own monthly Twitter chat, #MeasurePR.

Outside of the professional world, Shonali is a seasoned educator at Johns Hopkins and Rutgers Universities, where she teaches communication and public relations courses. In 2016, Shonali won the "Instructor of the Year" award at Johns Hopkins University.


Come join us on Wed, Jan 24, to hear Shonali share how to best integrate PR with social media, how PR practice has changed within the last decade, what Social PR means, and how educators can best prepare the next generation of communication professionals.

Who is Shonali Burke?

Shonali is the founder and CEO of her own consulting company, Shonali Burke Consulting. Shonali is also the founder and host of the popular monthly #MeasurePR Twitter chat. She is a blogger, a storyteller, and a high-demand speaker. Shonali conducts workshops and trainings on Social PR. In addition, Shonali manages a Facebook group that focuses on Social PR, called The Social PR Posse. I highly recommend you request to join the group to network and learn with a group of passionate PR and communication professionals and educators.

Outside of the professional world, Shonali is an instructor at Johns Hopkins and Rutgers Universities, where she teaches communication and public relations courses. In 2016, Shonali won the “Instructor of the Year” award at Johns Hopkins University.

You can learn more about Shonali from her websiteTwitterLinkedInFacebook, and Instagram.

How Has Public Relations Changed Within The Last Decade?

Shonali has been practicing public relations for almost a decade. I asked her to reflect on her professional experience and identify the top three compelling patterns and trends that she has witnessed or experienced within the last decade. Below is a highlight of what Shonali shared with me.

🔷 Technology. The biggest change that Shonali noticed is how much and how fast technology has evolved within the last decade. For instance, do you know that YouTube launched as a dating site on February 14 in 2005? Look at YouTube today. It has become the second largest search engine on the web. And My Space, do you still remember it? It was the social media platform to be on during the years of 2005 and 2006. And Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, they have all become mainstream and mandatory social networking and marketing platforms. As Shonali noted,

When social technology starts to come to our work space, it changes how we do businesses. I used to fax media advisories to the news assignment desk. Now, we do everything electronically and virtually.

🔷 From traditional media relations to a focus on community. Shonali made it clear that public relations is more than media relations, although a good media relations professional is still valuable to effective public relations practice. There is much more to public relations than media relations. Especially in today’s digital work space, there are many more avenues for PR professionals to utilize to get to know their audiences. These are not merely media professionals but multiple stakeholders, and cultivate relationships with them. As Shonali said,

What we need to do is focusing our attention on multiple audiences; not just that one media audience. … Think about how your product or service is a value to your end user and your community, and look at it from their point of view, which is what good PR should always be about. Use social technology to reach them, that’s where the magic starts to happen.

I couldn’t agree more with what Shonali shared. Social media should be used as a two-way communication channel to cultivate relationships and to nurture communities, instead of a self-broadcasting platform.

🔷 Measurement. As the founder and host of her monthly #MeasurePR chat, Shonali reiterated the importance of investing in smart metrics to measure PR outcomes in reference to organizations’ overall business goals. Professionals have to rely on and understand data and analytics to inform strategic decision-making.

For more information on measurement, I highly recommend you follow the Association of Measurement & Evaluation of Communication. They have myriad useful information and resources on their website including an Integrated Evaluation Framework. Also, make sure that you bookmark this guide, The PR Professional’s Definitive Guide to Measurement. In a nutshell, it is time to stop relying on vanity metrics such as followers, likes, or shares to measure your public relations outcomes.

Social Public Relations: What It Means & How It Works

One of Shonali’s specialties is in using Social Public Relations to grow and scale one’s business. Social PR is not simply adding a social media dimension to traditional public relations practices. For example, you create an electronic copy of a flyer and blast it off to all social channels. This is far away from the essence of Social PR. Instead, as Shonali explains,

Social PR looks at the social aspect. … How are we using technology to bring people closer? How are we socializing the conversation around our brands, products, services, organizations or clients so that we can start to build, educate, and motivate multiple communities of influence to start telling our stories with and for us?

How powerful is that statement? I couldn’t have defined it better myself. My favorite part of the above definition is building “multiple communities of influence to tell our stories with and for us.” In other words, technology is not the end, but a means to achieve bigger goals, i.e., bringing people together to co-create content and to tell stories with and for you.

Are you adopting this community-oriented approach yourself? If not, maybe it is time to revisit your overall social media strategy, and flip your approach from “what is in it for ‘me’ to what is in it for ‘them,’” as Shonali suggested.

When you have enough people telling your stories for you, you are not only building your social proof, but becoming more relatable and trustworthy to your audiences. To this end, you want to make an effort to serve your community first so that they start to trust you and feel motivated and excited about your products or services, as well as the stories behind them.

The Dual Role of Being A Practitioner and Educator

As an educator myself, I love people who are practitioners and educators at the same time, and are willing to give back to the academic community. When I just started teaching, one area where I struggled was my lack of professional experience. I felt there was something missing in my teaching. I didn’t have these juicy and interesting personal stories to back up what I taught in the classroom. My teaching was dry, unrelatable, and ineffective until I started to embark on a practitioner journey.

I believe that practice and theory have to go hand in hand. That’s why I have adopted experiential learning as my primary teaching method. Theories without solid practical experience are like soldiers in the battlefield who don’t know how to use weapons.

Within this context, I got excited when Shonali shared with me a trend that she has observed. That is,

More and more academic institutions want their students to have real-world experience. They want practitioners who have real-world experiences to come in and to teach their students. This is a big trend. It is not going to go away any time soon.

this approach is beneficial for students, since they are learning the practical aspects of theories and concepts; but it’s also rewarding for practitioners. As Shonali shared,

Because if we are teaching someone how to do something, then we are extending the life of our learnings because we are passing it on. We are helping to give back to the industry and the profession.

Amen to Shonali for being lifelong learners and her dedication to serving students and the profession. I hope future classrooms in the higher education space will be populated by not just pure academics but a combination of academics and practitioners.

Conclusion/Call To Action

In a nutshell, I see practitioners like Shonali as a bridge, interlinking practice and education. Educators need constant feedback on updates and changes from the industry to refine what they teach in the classroom.

As Shonali shared in our interview, the PR professional is experiencing monumental changes on a daily basis. Students need to understand not just traditional media or a few narrow functions of social media, but have the skillsets and strategic mindset to use social media and digital communication tools to achieve overall business goals and objectives.

I sincerely hope that our education space can develop more practitioners and educators who serve as bridges. That’s how we can shrink the gap between education and practice. Otherwise, we are doing a disservice to our students. So, become a bridge. Your students and the profession will thank you.

If you love everything Shonali shared here, please check out her FREE master class on Social PR and connect with her on all the social media sites mentioned at the beginning of the article.

Digital Disruption & The Millennial Mindset: How Educators & Professionals Should Be Prepared

                Weekly Facebook Live Show, #ClassroomWithoutWalls, hosted by  Ai Addyson-Zhang

                Weekly Facebook Live Show, #ClassroomWithoutWalls, hosted by Ai Addyson-Zhang

It is no surprise that today’s digital revolution has brought significant changes to many sectors in our lives. As an educator, the one single area that I am forever passionate about is education.

How is digitization disrupting the traditional education system? How is today’s hyper-connected world affecting people’s learning and information-seeking habits? How do millennials learn and prefer to learn?

With all these questions lingering in my mind, I had the great honor to interview Brian Fanzo @iSocialFanz for a thought-provoking discussion on Digital Disruption and the Millennial Mindset. And of course, how can educators best prepare the next generation?

If you are an educator or a professional who has a passion for technology and education, this article is for you! Brian offered tons of valuable advice on digital disruption, education, and innovation.

Our original video interview so far gained 1.4K+ views13 shares, and 210+ comments. If this high audience engagement doesn’t convince you, click on the video below to watch the replay of our interview or read my recap here to draw your own conclusions. I promise you won’t regret it!

Let’s get ready for a power learning session with the one and only Brian Fanzo!

Kick off 2018 with my first live interview in 2018 with the one & only Brian Fanzo.

Brian is an international speaker, top social media influencer, podcaster, and founder and CEO of his own company.

Brian will join us and discuss "Digital Disruption & the Millennial mindset", and "How educators & professionals should be prepared" to educate the next generation.

Come join us on Jan 1, at 5 PM, EST, for a dynamic discussion with Brian. It will be an amazing chat.

Please share the information with friends who might benefit from the content. Thank you.

Who is Brian Fanzo?

Brian is the Founder and CEO of his own consulting company, iSocialFanz. As a top social media influencer, Brian specializes in teaching brands the power of digital storytelling by tapping into various emerging technologies. As a Millennial, Brian has established himself as a well-known keynote speaker who talks about building digital strategies to connect with Millennial and Generation Z audiences. Brian is also the host of his own podcast, FOMO, and the co-host of SMACtalk Podcast. You can learn more about Brian from his Website, and connect with Brian on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Everyone Can Be A Digital Storyteller

Brian made it clear that in today’s hyper-connected world, everyone has the power and ability to become a digital storyteller, as long as one has access to Wi-Fi, cellphone signal, and any digital media device. As Brian said,

It doesn’t matter what your background is, it doesn’t matter who you know, what you know, where you’re from. You have the ability to connect with people that are like you, but you also have the ability to tell your story with very little limitation.

In fact, when the interview was conducted, Brian was in the US and I was in South Korea. The fact that we could connect so easily and share our stories with the outside world is both exciting and empowering. It illustrates how technology can bring people together to co-create content, to transform that content into knowledge and wisdom, and to share our learning with the outside world.

As Brian shared, his passion in life is to

Connect great people with great people to do great things.

To me, that perfectly summarizes the gist of social media and what social connections mean.

We Are All Teachers & Students At The Same Time

I have been teaching college students for more than a decade. One thing that I don’t like about the traditional education model is that we typically default to the teacher as the point of authority; we don’t prioritize the knowledge that students or others in our communities can offer.

However, our society’s technological innovation and advancements have fundamentally democratized information ownership and distribution. There are so many online learning platforms that allow people from all over the globe to learn, to freely exchange information and ideas, and to establish themselves as thought leaders within specific fields.

I love how Brian shared that he is constantly learning from his daughter. For example, if Brian were to design an app, he would think about how his daughter uses and holds her phone. This simple example taught me that no one is always an expert; instead we are all students in today’s digital age where things are being constantly disrupted and reinvented. As Brian said,

You can learn from everyone and from people of all shapes, sizes, races, and sexual orientations.

Amen! Don’t you just love that!

Have a learner’s mindset and be willing to share what you have learned.

Focus On Your Own Message & Support It With Ample Evidence

Brian offered a powerful perspective on this. He shared and encouraged people to question the fundamental “why,” why people are doing what they do? For example, in education, why are we teaching students the way we teach them? Why are we evaluating them the way we do? If the answer is because we have always done it that way, “we know that’s a problem,” as Brian sharply observed.

But opinions can easily escalate into ugly debates or even remarks of hatred, especially in today’s online and digital space. If you haven’t experienced it personally, you probably have heard of it happening to someone else. To this point, Brian also cautioned,

It’s okay to question why. But, it’s NOT okay to berate or bring someone down because they’re doing something different…. it’s a mistake we make because we disagree rather than telling people why we disagree. We often try to break people down and … that’s the easiest way to create conflict. It’s the easiest way to fail with teamwork.

Let’s all follow Brian’s sage advice here. Next time, when you disagree with someone, instead of questioning the person, make an effort to focus on your own message and provide ample evidence to back up your arguments or claims. As Brian said,

If you truly want to move the needle forward, you have to teach other people what to do, not just tell them what to do. If you believe your way is better, educate them. And that’s how true changes happen.

For educators, this is such an important and critical skill that we need to help our students to develop.

Digital Disruption & The Traditional Learning Environment

How many of you still look at the education space as online VS offline? I know I am guilty of this. As an educator for almost a decade, I have been conditioned by our current teaching models to perceive online and offline learning as as dichotomous as opposed to integrated. As Brian shared,

It is weird that we still look at education as online versus offline. When I look at digital, especially education, we have to look at it as online AND offline. It should be AND, not VERSUS.

This statement reminds me of how the Khan Academy has used video to flip the traditional learning model. Instead of having a teacher lecture on what the students are supposed to learn, the teacher asks the students to watch Khan Academy videos at home and then come to classes to engage in in-person discussions and coaching with teachers and students. I absolutely love this model and think about applying it to my own classes. If you are a student reading this, I’d love to hear your perspective on this approach. Please share your opinions in the comment section.

In addition, Brian shared another compelling point that being digital is NOT an either-or situation, either you are digital or traditional. Being digital doesn’t have to replace what we used to do. Instead, as Brian proposed, “how can being digital scale what you used to do traditionally? Can I reach more people? Can I do things at a faster pace?”

I cannot agree more with that. As someone who is an advocate of using social media & technology as a pedagogical tool, my argument is that technology cannot replace teachers in the classroom, but can substantially amplify what teachers can doI have witnessed and experienced how incorporating a digital dimension to my classes has enhanced student engagement and expanded their learning networks.

Being Omnipresent or Selecting a Niche

Do you suffer from Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)? When there are new apps or tools come out, do you feel the urge to play with them immediately? I do! I suffer from FOMO, big time. As a social media professor and practitioner, one question that I frequently ask myself is,

Do I have to be everywhere to build my brand, voice, or authority?

According to Brian, the answer is NO.

The old way of thinking is that I need to be on all the platforms to understand them. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. If you have a niche, own that niche. Even if you don’t have one, you don’t have to feel that you have to be everywhere. Being everywhere gets overwhelming. You get burnout. As much as I believe, at one point, that I would never get burnout from social media, there are multiple times in the last 18 months that I put my phone into airplane mode.

Amen! Brian’s response spoke to my heart. I used to chase every shiny object that came out. I used to feel the pressure to be everywhere to build my personal brand. It was not only exhausting and overwhelming, but left me little time and energy to create original content. If you are a content creator, you know how important it’s to create original content. Ironically, my fear of missing out actually made me miss out on many opportunities to create high quality and original content.

So, what should you do instead? Here’s more sage advice from Brian.

Focus on where your business is today while listening to where your business and customers are going tomorrow. If you focus where your business is today, then you won’t get distracted by the shiny objects. But, you want to listen, and you want to learn about the Snapchat or the live videos or how people are using different ad platforms. Focus on business today. Listen to where good things are going tomorrow. You’ll never be behind. You’ll never fear missing out.

Invest in Your Community

My final piece of advice from Brian is “invest in your community.”

If you are starting out and if you are in education trying to grow your digital footprint, invest in your community. Give a lot more to them. Celebrate them before you start talking about ‘I’. If you are doing a lot more ‘we’ and celebrating others, when it is your turn to be celebrated, it comes right back to you.

I wholeheartedly believe that the same philosophy can be applied to classroom teachers. As teachers, we should make an effort to build our classes as communities by placing both teachers and students in the center of learning.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed my interview with Brian Fanzo. I also hope that the content I shared here has deepened your understanding of social media, digital disruption, and education.

We have entered an era where the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. Regardless you are an educator or practitioner or both, we all need to engage in lifelong learning, not just about content in our field but broader disciplines and fields as well.

Brian believed that

collaboration is the future of innovation.

I believe the same. Let’s all focus on “becoming a great ‘me’ first” so that we can then “be a part of a great ‘we’.” That’s how we move our society forward by becoming the best versions of ourselves.

Twitter Chats in the Live Streaming Age: Reflections on #TwitterSmarter’s Second Monthly Talk Show

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                                                  #TwitterSmarter’s second monthly talk show.

Do you love Twitter chats? I am addicted to them. I have been participating in various social media marketing, public relations, and education & technology related Twitter chats on a regular basis for quite some time now.

As we are approaching the end of 2017, numerous changes have happened in the social media world. One of the biggest changes is how live streaming and video messages have revolutionized how people engage in digital storytelling.

How can Twitter chat, a largely textual Q&A format, benefit from the rising popularity of live streaming?

Twitter Chats in the Live Streaming Age: #TwitterSmarter’s Monthly Talk Show:

Madalyn Sklar is the founder of a popular weekly Twitter chat, #TwitterSmarter, which is on every Thursday at 1 PM, EST. I love how Madalyn incorporated live streaming into her weekly Twitter chat. Madalyn has a team of greeters behind her #TwitterSmarter team. I am fortunate to be one such team members to work closely with Madalyn and my best teammates, Zala BriceljSabrina Cadini, and Alberto Gómez.

In order to bridge the weekly text-based chat with the new wave of live streaming, we have begun a monthly Facebook talk show called the #TwitterSmarter Monthly Talk Show. It started in October, 2017.

The overall goal of the show is to bring in #TwitterSmarter chat guests from the last two months to a live streaming platform (i.e., Facebook) to engage in deeper conversations with the #TwitterSmarter community. The monthly talk show is hosted on the last Thursday of the month at 5PM, EST.

During our November talk show, we featured two special guests, Craig Carpenter and Dr. Joyce_Knudsen. They offered great insights on social media marketing & community building.

       #TwitterSmarter’s second monthly talk show. Click on the image above to watch the replay

Below, I highlight two takeaways from our guests.

Using Visual Content to Build Relationships

I have always believed that images are great ways to tell stories digitally. However, I never thought about using visual images to start conversations and build relationships and communities. This is my biggest takeaway from chatting with Craig Carpenter.

Craig is the founder of RelayThat, whose goal is to help you create images better and faster. Click on the caption below to connect with Craig on LinkedIn.

How can you use images to create communities?

This is how Craig did it and it absolutely melted my heart. During the#TwitterSmarter chat on Nov. 9, Craig created the following image during the chat.

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Seeing that image blew my mind away. As you can see, I am still talking about it almost a month later after the chat. Not only did the image help me feel closer to the #TwitterSmarter family but also changed me to Craig’s forever fan!

In Craig’s own words,

Using visual content is a great way to lift others up and to start conversations.

How powerful is that?

Craig also shared that during live events, people can create quote images to grab people’s attention. He did this himself and got great engagement. I am totally going to “steal” this idea and create quote images for speakers when I attend my next conference. I recommend you do the same. Remember,

Visual content is a relationship builder. — Craig Carpenter — Tweet this.

A key point I also want to point out is, making your own sleek graphic designs does NOT have to be expensive or difficult. You certainly don’t need to be a trained graphic designer to do it!

Be Unique in Your Storytelling

My biggest takeaway from Dr. Joyce_Knudsen during the monthly show is how to be unique in your own storytelling — showcasing what is unique in you that others aren’t doing. Dr. Joyce also discussed the importance of being real, authentic, and positive in creating and sharing content online.

What I love the most about Dr. Joyce and her message is that she walks the talk. She is the most engaging and authentic influencer that I have ever interacted with.

Dr. Joyce stood out to me as a true giver. — Tweet This

Even with her 1.12 million followers on Twitter, Dr. Joyce engages, listens, and shares content of value to her community. In fact, Dr. Joyce shared that her “secret” to build such a large community on Twitter is that she’s authentic, real, positive, and being genuine and unique in her storytelling.

In the social media and digital world, there is so much automation and self promotion. But, you should never automate human interactions.

At the same time, Dr. Joyce reminded me of the importance of being yourself and embracing who you are. Social media has no shortage of influencers, micro-influencers, thought leaders, celebrities, etc.

But, there is only ONE you. Don’t try to be someone else. Discover what makes you, You. Engage in introspection to understand your “why.” Then, create content that cannot be created by someone else and showcase what you are doing that others aren’t doing. A community will emerge as a beautiful byproduct of your message and consistent content creation.

Conclusion

Kudos to Madalyn Sklar for elevating her #TwitterSmater chat to a new level. If you haven’t tried this yet, maybe it is time that you think about it.

How do you like my takeaways from Craig Carpenter and Dr. Joyce_Knudsen? How do you use visual images? What are your strategies for building communities online?

Share your thoughts with me, please.

If you like this article, let’s connect on TwitterInstagramLinkedIn.

Even better, join me every Wednesday at 5 PM, EST for a live Facebook interview with leading professionals and educators regarding topics related to social media, technology, education, and change.

SEO & Content Tactics that are Worth Your Time & Build Your Online Presence

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It probably comes no surprise that SEO and content tactics are major buzz words nowadays. I learned from this year’s Social Media Marketing World conference in San Diego that Facebook is running out of room of news feed and ad space. Community building has become even more important; likewise, producing quality and valuable content for your audience has become a must to serve your fans and build relationships with them, and to rise above the noise.

I had the honor to engage in an hour-long conversation with Julia McCoy, CEO of Express Writers, regarding SEO and content tactics that can help organizations and individuals build a strong online presence and rise above the noise.

If you are an social media marketer or communication professional, you are for sure going to benefit from the strategies and tactics Julia shared to elevate your brand to the next level. If you are an educator, you will also love Julia’s advice on taking advantage of social media to create a strong online presence for you so that you can maximize your potential reach and impact.

Without any further ado, here is my conversation with Julia. Enjoy!

Who’s Julia McCoy?

Julia is the CEO of Express Writers. She is an author, speaker, and content marketer. Julia has been the CEO of Express Writers for more than six years. She transformed her agency from bootstrapped to a six-figure business. Julia is a top-ranking content marketer (ranked #33rd last year). She is also a best-selling author about online writing skills, So You Think You Write?Additionally, Julia is the creator of a podcast, online course (contentstrategycourse.com), and her own Twitter chat (#ContentWritingChat).

Clearly, Julia has no shortage of accomplishment. I am so honored that she joined me for a value-packed interview.

Top strategies to build a strong online brand

✅ Determine your place of authority online. First, you need to identify your niche. The more niche you go, the better results you get. Understanding your niche helps you create a persona of your ideal client.

Who is your ideal client? Whom are you going to serve?

Understanding your ideal client helps you create content and use the right keywords to reach out to that client. For example, if you are a digital marketer, that’s extremely broad. You need to identify the specific industry you are serving, such as B2B, B2C, gender, income, interest, etc. You want to narrow down your niche as much as possible.

Once you discover your niche, you can create content by thinking about the person you are serving.

Julia recommends conducting surveys to identify your ideal audience. If you have a brand new audience, you can use Facebook Audience Insights, which allow you to get tons of data on your ideal target person. To be honest, I have never explored Facebook Audience Insights until my interview with Julia. I went ahead and did a search on my Facebook page’s audience insights. See the two screenshots below.

                                             Facebook Audience Insights (image 1)

                                             Facebook Audience Insights (image 1)

                                            Facebook Audience Insights (image 2)

                                            Facebook Audience Insights (image 2)

My understanding of Facebook Audience Insights is really rudimentary. But, I can see from the second image that my audience tend to be married and more educated. This makes perfect sense to me because my target audience is college professor.

✅ Listen to your audience. Your clients have issues and face challenges. Listen to them and create content to solve their problems. For example, if your client doesn’t know how to write a list-style post, it can be a topic on your editorial calendar. At Express Writers, Julia shared that her team has done a great job at listening to their audience and creating content that matters to them. For example, the content that works for their audience is long-form, intensive, and thorough content.

How to create stellar content that can rise above the noise?

Julia shared a pattern that she observed based on her personal and Express Writers’ top-performing content. The key takeaway is,

How much usefulness are you giving away in your piece of content?

Once you answer that question, there are optimization tricks that writers can employ to further enhance the reach of their content. For example, if you are creating a long piece of content, you want to study your headlines. The tool that Julia uses and recommends is called, Advanced Marketing Institute Headline Analyzer , which is a free tool. I did a quick headline analysis using the current title I have for this article. See the screenshot below. You can see from the screenshot that the ideal Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) score is 50% to 75%.

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Julia shared a great example of a long-form piece of content that she created for this year’s International Women’s Day. She identified the top 50 women in marketing to follow. The article took her two months to complete. However, it achieved incredible results. The article got shared 5K plus times and read 7K times on Search Engine Journal, and has become the top performing content there.

The key takeaway is,

The more time you take to craft a piece of content, the better the content is. Putting lots of time into that piece of content and perfecting it, it will pay off. It will help your content stand out above the crowd.

At Express Writers, Julia has a team of five people to help her create and perfect a piece of content. For example, Julia will spend a week to just research the topic and identify the best keywords for that topic. The second week will be production week when they create the content and write about it. Hearing this from Julia really helps me see how much time and effort it involves to create outstanding content that ranks high on Google.

On the other hand, Julia does mention that you don’t always have to create long-form content. The rule of thumb is understanding your audience and what they expect. In other words,

Knowing what your audience expects is the first and foremost key to create really great content.

Our interview also help me understand the importance of using the right keywords in your content creation. Julia recommended using specific tools instead of Google because Google doesn’t give you competition numbers, which are crucial to keyword selection. The tools Julia suggested include SEMrush and Mangools. Whereas SEMrush is on the more expensive end, Mangools is a lot cheaper to use. In general, you want to use keywords that are low on the competition rank.

Conclusion

I hope you learned as much as I did from my interview with Julia. Julia has recently launched a Practical Content Strategy Certification course, which goes much deeper and broader on the topics we discussed here. For a limited time, you can have access to a free version of her course. Please make sure to sign up here to receive the free course content.

Julia can be found at @JuliaEMcCoy on Twitter and Medium, and @ceomommy1 on Instagram.

How I Earned A Top Writer Status in Social Media on Medium in Less than Two Months: My Top 5 Secrets to Succeed in Blogging

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In March 2017, I had a chance to attend the mega Social Media Marketing World conference hosted by Social Media Examiner in San Diego.

It’s the best social media conference I have ever attended.

My mind was blown away by ideas, tools and apps, actionable steps, analytics, and more.

One of the major takeaways was the power of video.

Everyone seemed to be talking about video and live-streaming, and why businesses and individuals should embrace it.

As a live-streaming enthusiast, I completely see its value.

However, does this mean the written word, specifically blogging, is losing its attraction?

Quite the contrary.

Blogging still has value.

A blog can still elevate one’s personal or professional brand to the next level. I earned a top writer status in social media on Medium within two months.

In this post, I share my journey as a blogger and my top five secretes to succeed in blogging.

My Journey as a Blogger

I started blogging in May 2017.

Yes, I’m late to the blogging game!

Before that, I had blogged four times in my entire life, and two of those posts were guest invitations.

The conclusion seemed somewhat obvious: Blogging was not my area of interest.

As of today, I have regularly been blogging for several months.

Medium recently nominated me as a top writer in social media on the platform, with other experts, such as Gary VaynerchukLarry Kim, and Jeff Higgins.

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I earned this status on June 18, 2017. So, technically, that’s less than two months since I started blogging regularly. I also grew my followers on Medium from 600 to 1,000.

How did this happen? What led to my transformation?

Read below to find my top five blogging tips.

I. Understand Your Why

Simon Sinek is the person who truly pushed me to think about my “why.”

Blogging is no different from any other social media platform.

Many people jump into social media because it is cool or fun without understanding why they are on it in the first place.

It is fine if you are just seeking a channel to entertain yourself.

However, if you are running a personal or professional brand, you have to be wise about your choices and actions.

Therefore, here are my questions for you:

  • Why do you want to blog?
  • What do you believe?
  • What are your business or personal goals?
  • How can blogging move you closer to your goals?
  • What’s the role of blogging in your overall strategic plan?

Here are my answers:

  • I am a college professor.
  • I believe today’s students have changed and educators, as a result, have to change how we interact with our students.
  • Social media and technology play a huge role in how students have changed.
  • Thus, I embraced social media as a pedagogical tool. I use social media sites heavily in my teaching to facilitate learning.
  • I blog on social media, teaching, and higher education to help educators learn ways that they can apply social media to their own teaching and career.

How about you?

Answer these questions first and then develop a calendar to strategize your blog content.

For example, a social media influencer I know has a content calendar.

It means he crafts his material in alignment with the courses, webinars, workshops, training, or speaking engagements he’s selling.

For instance, if he’s doing a course on personal branding, his blog posts will be a series of tips on building personal brands.

Writing your blog content with the bigger business goals in your mind, so you do not just see the trees, but the trees and the forest.

II. Clarity in Your Focus and What Your Audience Wants

Once you understand your why, your next step is to identify a focus for your message or storytelling, which then helps you understand who your audience is and what they want.

Without a clear understanding of your why, focus, and audience, your content is going to struggle, and your blogs posts will look confusing to your audience.

You need a clear focus on storytelling to attract an audience to your blog and to become loyal to your content.

Two specific practices I undertook, that helped me understand my focus and my audience.

First, ironically, it is writing, which helps me develop and refine my ideas.

Often, the process of writing reveals my topic.

Second, reading books from authors who teach you how to find your voice.

I am fortunate enough to have discovered Mark Schaefer’s book, Known, which helped me tremendously to identify my voice and space.

III. Consistency & Rich Content

Among the 20 plus blogs I wrote, each article takes an average of five to 10 minutes to read.

For a ten-minute article, it’s around 2,000 words; for a five-minute article, it’s about 700 words.

Those that generate the greatest traction for me are those that are long and thorough.

Although people’s attention spans are getting shorter, quality content still reigns supreme by both humans and Google.

I resonate strongly with the nine tactics Nat Eliason discussed in his article, 9 Blogging Tactics for 2 Million Views in 2 Years.

Long-form and rich content of value to my audience is what helps me rise above today’s digital noise and builds a community of readers who enjoy and benefit from my content.

Producing such content is what brings long-term wins.

For example, I recently got a podcast interview invitation from a person whom I have never interacted with, but he loves reading my blog posts.

My blog posts have helped me build credibility in my field of interest.

The same thing can happen to you.

Focus on producing quality content on a regular basis, and you will see results.

IV. Be Vulnerable and Authentic

Once you identify your why and focus and develop a level of consistency, the next question is, “How should I approach the subject?”

As humans, we tend to share the good parts of our lives.

A precursory view of your Facebook news feed proves this.

No one wants to be a Debbie Downer.

We all tend to share the highlights in our lives.

My experience revealed a different scenario.

Among the blog posts I wrote, the ones that generated the highest engagement rates were reflections on my failures and mistakes as a college professor.

What this tells me is that stories that aren’t positive — the ones of struggle and failure — are still appealing to readers.

The key is being authentic with who you are and where you are in your journey; your audience will appreciate your transparency and vulnerability.

In fact, every time I publish something about my mistakes and weaknesses, I am always showered with love and support.

It’s reassuring to know we are all on a journey to make ourselves better.

V. Combine Blogging with Visual and Audio

Written Content needs to be combined with visual and audio formats to maximize its value.

One fundamental difference between blogging today versus five years ago is there is much more diversity in competition.

Before, blogging might have been your primary content creation and distribution channel.

Today, blogging by itself is not sufficient to reach your audience and to share your message.

Written content has to be used in conjunction with visual and audio formats to optimize its influence and impact.

Below I listed ways blogging can work with other mediums to improve reach:

  • Blog post recap of Facebook live shows or interviews
  • Facebook live shows announcing the release of new blog posts
  • Create quote images of blog posts and post them on Instagram and Twitter
  • Write blog post responses regarding trendy YouTube videos I watch or articles I read
  • Customizing the highlights of my blogs on Facebook and Instagram as microblogs
  • Sharing blogs on LinkedIn and Medium
  • Adapt your blogs into video or infographic formats and share them across channels

There are many possibilities. But, you get the idea.

Written content must be used in conjunction with other content formats to attract an audience and to build a tribe for you.

Take advantage of the numerous social media sites available to maximize the potential reach of your written content.

Textual, visual, and audio formats have to be used hand-in-hand to optimize the range of each.

Conclusion

Your blog posts can still elevate your business or personal brand to a new level, even in 2017.

Find your “why” first, and use that to identify a central focus for your message and storytelling.

Your focus will help you understand your audience and their needs and pain points.

You can then craft content of value to your audience.

Use rich and thorough content to attract your audience and to build your community, and do so consistently.

Be authentic in your storytelling.

And don’t be afraid to reveal your vulnerabilities.

Finally, use the synergy of textual, visual, and audio formats to maximize the reach and effectiveness of each.

Blogging is a marathon, not a race. Enjoy the journey.

P.S. This blog was originally published on Spin Sucks as a guest blog.