Help Stamp Out Photo Clichés!

June 18, 2013

Photo clichés. You know you’re looking at one if you see a picture you’ve never seen before, yet somehow you feel like you’ve already seen it a thousand times.

Shooting a cliché requires little creativity. All you have to do is copy something you saw someone else do.

Examples of photo clichés include:

  • Your bare feet at the end of a lounge chair pointed towards a sunny beach. I’ll forgive this cliché if the feet have a nice pedicure and they’re connected to great looking legs.
  • Food or drinks you’re about to consume in a restaurant. Haven’t we all done this?

    Is a selfie still a cliche if the reflection is a rain-spotted windshield instead of a bathroom mirror?

    Is a selfie still a cliché if the reflection is on a rain-spotted windshield instead of a bathroom mirror?

  • Selfies taken in a bathroom mirror. I guess taking your own picture is better than having a portrait photographer follow you into the bathroom to capture that tender “duck face” moment.
  • Snow accumulations on your back deck or front porch. Okay, I myself posted such pictures on Facebook and Instagram just four months ago, so I’m not claiming to be sinless.
  • Bridal parties outdoors jumping into the air. Knees are usually bent showing their extra loft in that brief, defiant push against gravity. (My daughter proofreads my blog posts and she reminded me how much she likes that photo in her wedding album.)
  • Donor check presentations. These are always published for donor recognition and seldom for reader interest. The good news is that nonprofit newsletters are becoming obsolete so we won’t see these clichés nearly as often.

So what’s the solution? How can we shoot more creatively and avoid taking boring, cliché pictures? Here are a few suggestions for us amateur photographers who want to be more interesting: Read the rest of this entry »

Life Lessons Learned from Editing Instagram Pictures

May 27, 2013

Shooting good pictures represents only half of what it takes to be a good photographer.

Equally important is what happens after the shutter has snapped. A picture usually requires some editing. As an amateur photographer, I love Instagram because it simplifies the editing process. The built-in filters allow me to change the colors, the contrast and the focus. Cropping, though limited to square dimensions, allows me to select which portions of a photo I want to focus on.

This week while editing a picture on Instagram, my subconscious mind wrestled with a work-related problem. Suddenly I realized that my photo editing skills could be applied to my real-life situation. I could “Instagram” my problem by adjusting the variables. In other words, I could edit my circumstances in the same way I was editing my picture. Here are the three tools I used:

  1. Crop. Reframing a situation allows me to choose what I focus on. I can blow something up to a larger size, thereby cropping out the context. I must remind myself, however, that what I focus on also determines what I ignore. I sometimes like to zoom out and put things into a broader perspective. My work problem, just like my photos, looked differently depending on whether I cropped tightly or widely.
  2. Filter. I typically do not look at the world through rose-colored glasses. Sometimes, though, it’s helpful to play around with the hue, color balance and saturation. Pictures—and life situations—look differently depending upon how I choose to adjust the warmth, the contrast and even the drama.
  3. Script. For me, a well-written caption tees up a picture for proper viewing. I can nudge the viewer to look at the picture in different ways depending upon the narrative I write. Similarly, in real life I can control the situation by writing and rewriting the script. I can even direct the ongoing conversations by how I engage in the flow of comments.
A bureau-trunk that once belonged to General William H. Sears, field secretary and agent to Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross. Now displayed in the archives room of the Kansas City chapter.

One of my Instagram photos—before and after editing—shows a trunk that belonged to the field secretary of Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross.

Once I’m finished editing, I also have the option in Instagram to share my pictures on Facebook, Twitter or other social platforms. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t. Likewise, in life I always have the choice of how much to share and how much to keep private. I will usually share when others will benefit or when I might gain something from the collective wisdom of my community.

I love Instagram. For me it’s a creative expression of how I choose to see the everyday things that surround me. It’s also a reminder that I can reframe, filter, script and share my real-life situations, thereby creating a more colorful, brighter and meaningful world.


Three Premises for Effective Social Engagement

May 7, 2013

Within the American Red Cross, we prefer to use the term “social engagement” rather than “social media.” The word media focuses on tools and technology. Engagement, on the other hand, defines the desired outcome of interacting with our community through the use of social networks.

Last week I spoke at a statewide conference attended by public information officers (PIOs) from various government agencies. There I outlined the following three premises for effective social engagement:

Premise #1. Social engagement requires human interaction between two or more people.

Too often, corporations, government agencies and nonprofit organizations speak in an authoritative, inanimate voice. Interacting with them on various social networks feels like you’re dealing with a robot, not a real person.

Granted, the name or face of the person speaking from within the organization is seldom identified. Yet the corporate entity should at least act and sound as if it is a real person.

The more human an organization becomes, the more likely people will engage with it.

Premise #2. If you’re not having conversations, you’re not using social media right.

Some organizations push information outward, mistakenly believing that one-way communication is sufficient to connect with people.

The best organizational communicators are good conversationalists. They listen. They join existing conversations. They offer additional information and, when needed, correct misinformation. They welcome comments and thrive on the ensuing interactions.

I am most impressed with organizations that engage me in conversations where I feel as if I’m talking over a cup of coffee with a friend.

Premise #3. Success in social engagement requires the deliberate blending of personal and professional.

People like doing business with people they trust. Trust is built as we get to know each other as real humans. A formal, sanitized professional persona does little to connect or to engage us with others.

Professionally, I am known mostly as a marketing strategist and a communicator. That’s a narrow definition of who I am, though. On a personal level, I’d also like people to know that I’m a husband, father, friend, mentor, teacher, blogger, volunteer and community citizen. I’m much more effective professionally when people know something about me personally, something more than what’s printed on my business card.

In summary, I have some simple advice to anyone responsible for creating content on a corporate Facebook page, Twitter feed or other social platform.

Be real.

Be conversational.

Be personal.


The Best Editorial Advice I Received as an Editor

February 24, 2013

I became editor of my college newspaper when student journalists notoriously clashed with university administrators.

The setting was a private, liberal arts college in Tennessee that leaned conservative, so I viewed my role as balancing things out by leaning more liberal.

Ironically, however, some of the best editorial advice I received came from the university’s president. Before I began as editor, the president asked me to meet with him in his corner office. I anticipated an awkward dance as we negotiated our working relationship. I was prepared to ask him not to control my editorial content, and furthermore, I needed him to refrain from tampering with my constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms of the press.

To my surprise, he began by acknowledging the challenges faced by student journalists. He described how, many years prior, he had served as editor of his own college’s newspaper. I never knew that about the man who, I assumed, had at birth been given the first name “Doctor.”

As we talked, my attention piqued when he leaned forward and said, “I have only one request of you. Please, get your facts straight.”

He paused as that advice sank deep into my mind, and then he continued. “I will not censor what you publish. In fact, you are free to cover any topic, as long as you get your facts straight.”

Fair enough! I left his office with a profound respect for this leader. During my tenure as editor, he and I did not agree on everything, but we always had a great working relationship. Once, as I struggled with how to cover a particularly sensitive topic, I went back to his office without an appointment. I went seeking his advice—not as a university president, but as a mentor, a friend and a former student journalist.

The years have passed, but I often think of the wise advice I once received as a brash, bold editor.

Journalism has changed dramatically since I was a college student. We now receive much of our news from blogs, tweets and updates in social media. Yet, to anyone who attempts to share information with me—no matter the medium—I have only one request:

Please, get your facts straight.


Are You Too Boring To Be on Facebook?

September 11, 2011

I‘m Facebook friends with a former radio journalist turned PR pro. She shares almost nothing on Facebook, saying, “I’d rather report the news than be the news.”

I don’t get it.

A relative of mine does not have a Facebook profile because, as she says, “My life is not interesting enough to share it with the rest of the world.”

You’ve got to be kidding!

I am privileged to know lots of people. They represent rich diversity of age, race, religion, politics, economic status, education and even personality. Yet, they all have one thing in common: Each has an incredibly interesting life and each has a unique story to tell.

In college I remember a guest lecturer looked across the room where a hundred or so of us had gathered. Decades later I’ve forgotten his name, but his words remain etched in my mind. He said, “The biography of every person in this room would be a best seller if written by a good writer who knows you well enough to tell your story.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Reflections after Three Years of Being on Twitter

August 30, 2011

Three years ago today my Twitter handle @duanehallock was born.

First hearing of Twitter only four months earlier, I was proud to consider myself an early adopter of a new social media tool. Although I did not see the real value of microblogging, I welcomed the new opportunity and embraced the new media platform before any of my friends or immediate co-workers followed suit.

Three years hence, I have nearly 1,000 followers. While that’s not particularly impressive by Twitter standards, I am surprised that so many people have chosen to follow my erratic stream of tweets.

I’ll admit that, like many, I am still trying to figure out where Twitter is going. In an attempt to assess Twitter’s relevance in my ever-changing world, I came up with these two lists:

Five things I like about Twitter

  1. Brevity is paramount.  I once heard a great 15-minute sermon delivered in 45 minutes. I hope that speaker has since discovered Twitter and learned the sacred art of being succinct. I hate verbosity and think it’s a great discipline for someone to say something of value in 140 characters or less.
  2. Information flows in real time.  In recent days I’ve tracked others’ tweets to get real-time information on the devastation of Hurricane Irene. I’m writing this blog post while on disaster assignment for the American Red Cross. Ironically, I created my Twitter profile on this date three years ago on the same day I participated in a planning session for Hurricane Gustav.
  3. Hashtags and searches add value. At first, the Twitter stream can appear chaotic, random and cluttered. All that information can be filtered and organized, though, to make Twitter meaningful and relevant.
  4. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Years, 124 Posts and 10 Observations

August 18, 2011

Two years ago today I launched this blog. I began much like I did when I was a kid learning to ride a bike—having no particular destination in mind but somehow trusting that the ride itself would be the ultimate reward.

Now, two years into this journey, it’s time to take a moment and 1) celebrate the distance I’ve traveled, 2) recall the scenery I’ve enjoyed along the way and 3) reflect on life’s lessons learned.

Here are a few random thoughts and observations about my blogging journey:

  1. This is actually fun. I enjoy writing and I like being a blogger. I give myself enough editorial freedom to have fun, and I’ve never seriously considered monetizing this effort, though some bloggers make good money from their writing.
  2. This is also hard work. Like riding a bike, the fun comes only with the exertion of energy. I’ve mentored several wanna-be bloggers who started and then, for a variety of reasons, never continued. Maintaining a blog for two years is a worthy accomplishment.
  3. I blog best when I follow my own rules. I’ve read countless blogs and books about blogging. They all contain rules I’ve mostly chosen to ignore. For example, they say that success comes with frequency of postings. Well, I decided long ago to publish only when I had something to say and I refuse to be bound by an arbitrary, self-imposed quota. Last year, for example, I let several guilt-free weeks slide by without posting. Read the rest of this entry »

Things I’ll Look for When Selecting the Next Member of My Marketing Team

March 1, 2011

Hypothetically, let’s assume I’m looking to hire a new member of my marketing team. In reality, my public relations manager will be leaving in a couple of weeks, so I actually am making plans on how I’ll fill the void created by her departure.

Wait, though, before faxing me your resume. (Do people still do that? I hope not.) I have been asked to delay recruiting until the expense budget comes into better focus. The hiring process is frozen, but while we await the spring thaw, let’s return to my hypothetical situation.

As I think about the importance of building a strong marketing team, I have already updated the job description. The social media revolution mandates new expectations that are reflected in several bullet points on the revised list of job duties. Of course, I’ll also be looking for someone who meets a minimum threshold of necessary skills, talents and experience.

Above and beyond that, though, I will almost certainly select someone who:

  1. Has an impressive digital footprint. Before calling someone in for an interview, you can bet I will Google his or her name. There are so many people looking for jobs that I cannot imagine interviewing someone who does not have an impressive amount of information readily available on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, a personal blog, an online portfolio, or some other searchable platform.
  2. Is well branded. I want to know what a person stands for, both personally and professionally. A good brand makes promises and I need to have some idea of what I can expect from anyone who expresses an interest in being part of my team.
  3. Is differentiated. Does this person stand out from the rest of the pack? Quite frankly, I won’t even notice someone who blends into the vast, beige-colored landscape populated by thousands of job seekers whose clichè-ridden resumes were shaped by the same cookie cutter. (See my previous blog post about using Facebook as a tool to differentiate yourself in a job search.)
  4. Is savvy with traditional media. The ideal person will have a good understanding of traditional media—TV, radio and newspapers. He or she will also have experience in proactively pitching good story ideas and in building strong relationships with people inside the news media.
  5. Is savvy with social media. The right person will have moved far beyond the initial process of setting up profiles on various social media platforms. He or she will have demonstrated an ability to a) listen using social media tools, b) have sustained conversations in social media and c) create content valued by others who are swimming in the deeper end of the social media pool.

Three years ago when I most recently hired someone, the criteria were somewhat different. At that time I relied heavily upon two lists. One described my expectations for individual responsibility and the other focused on team performance. Though I’ve added criteria, both lists are still relevant today. So, here’s my question:

If, hypothetically, you are looking for a marketing job, how would you measure up?

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