Incognito Press

truth. knowledge. freedom. passion. courage. Promoting free-thinking, activism & rogue writing.

Archive for the ‘social media’ Category

Introducing my new Social Media Marketing book!

Posted by E on June 10, 2016

Art of Social Media COVER mockupSMM Cover small

I’m excited to pull back the veil from a project that has been in the works for the last few months. It’s been so hard to keep this baby a secret, but no more! The idea for this book spun off from my series on Social Media for Writers and took off like a rocket. After lots of positive feedback, questions from new clients and the need to elaborate on several points, it seemed logical to encapsulate all valuable information into a single book – The ART of Social Media: An Essential Guide for Writers and Artists.

There are probably thousands of marketing books out on the market about building your platform, launching your brand into the world and getting noticed. What makes mine special is that I write from experience – for over ten years I have developed both my own and other artist and business brands. I’ve met with publishers, was offered book deals, hired and fired literary agents, published poetry traditionally and self-published a number of books that sold very well.

In essence, I will be taking over a decade of experience as a writer and combining it with the knowledge I’ve gained in my Social Media Marketing studies at George Brown College in Toronto. Yes, after years of offering social media consulting to clients, I’m finally getting certified! I don’t believe it’s necessary to have a framed piece of paper on a wall in order to lead an effective marketing campaign, but it doesn’t hurt to have it.

So before you pay for marketing lessons or books written by well-meaning indie writers who don’t actually have a marketing or advertising background, consider getting a copy of my new book. As both a writer and working social media strategist, I can give you a hard-earned perspective that combines artistic creativity with marketing knowhow.

I will write about mistakes I’ve made and lessons I’ve gained, and share a recommended campaign plan and marketing strategy across most popular social media platforms. I will also cover what you absolutely have to do today to ensure tomorrow’s success, and what you’ll need in order to build a solid platform that reaches your target audience.

There will be lots more nitty-gritty stuff and specifics tools covered, but the basic gist and intent is to help you uncover the best (and secret) strategies for developing your artist brand. Trust me, it’ll be more than worth it, especially since I’ll be pricing it under $10.

Ok, I’ll let the book speak for itself. It should be available for pre-order in the next week or so, with the official release date set for December 1st. I can’t wait to share it with you guys 🙂

PS as always, any Patreon supporters at the $5 or more level will receive a free copy!

 

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Posted in books, marketing, social media, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How Someone Called the Police because I “Stole” her Twitter Username

Posted by E on February 22, 2016

pink typewriter

Imagine that you have an internet username that you’ve been using for a long time – say, BettyBoop1977. You have a Twitter account, maybe a Facebook profile or page in that name. You might even have started a blog or site under that handle with one of the popular free sites like Blogger, WordPress, Weebly or Tumblr. Everyone in your circle (let’s say, a few dozen people) knows you by that handle. You have your own personal brand, right?

design-branding chalkboardWrong. You couldn’t be more wrong about that. Brand ownership does not start and end with getting BettyBoop77 as your Twitter username. Sadly, too many amateurs in the social media arena don’t give a lot of thought into building a brand that they themselves own, as opposed to having a free, hosted domain with another company’s extension.

Putting aside the fact that Facebook pages and WordPress accounts are owned by another provider – who often places ads under your intellectual property, your page can disappear at any moment. Your account can be suspended or hacked. The design or template you’re using could be scrapped on a dime, and you could lose hundreds of followers at the snap of a finger.

But the issue of who hosts your blog should be your secondary concern. Your primary objective – if you are entirely confident in your brand and intend to build it to the point where it can be monetized or even resold – is to secure BettyBoop1977 as more than a twitter handle. You’ll want to buy the domain name, but even then it might not be enough.

What if, one day, you get a phone call from the police after someone feels you criminally harassed them because you “stole her highly unique brand name”?

I know it seems like an insane situation, but this is exactly what happened to me last month.

BRANDING Lesson 101: Branding, Copyright and Social Media

I’m writing this piece because I am not the only person on the internet using the handle “TheLizBuzz”. I was recently informed – by a Metro Toronto police officer, no less – that a certain individual had complained to them that I had stolen her “highly unique” brand after I registered the domain www.thelizbuzz.com.

After giving this insanity a lot of thought, I’ve decided to write about my experience as part of my Artists’ Guide to Social Media Series, and as a warning to anybody who might encounter individuals who may be delusional enough to believe that someone who has “stolen” their Twitter or Instagram username and turned it into a new website – should be arrested and prosecuted for having committed a criminal offense. It’s tantamount to a chat-room spat – say, being called a “bitch,” “asshole” or “whore” on social media and contacting police because your feelings were hurt. Can you imagine how the courts would be inundated with frivolous, idiotic prosecutions because of name-calling, or because buying someone’s online username as your domain has “hurt their brand”?

FearlessOf course her criminal complaint went nowhere because I had done nothing wrong, but that’s not the point. The experience taught me an important lesson, and one that I’d like to impart with you guys. As someone who has had the unfortunate experience to explain to a (very understanding, I should add) police officer that branding (or even domain squatting or copyright violations) are not of themselves indictable offences under the Criminal Code of Canada – I thought I should set the record straight, once and for all.

At the time I registered the www.thelizbuzz.com domain (back in late August/September 2015), a Google search revealed this Ontario-based individual (who has an almost identical first name to mine) was using the nickname “thelizbuzz” on only three sites – Twitter, WordPress and Instagram. Perhaps she might have had other accounts, but I only found those three. She was a consultant with a two-year degree in social media from George Brown College, but had never – even after getting her certificate – thought to fork over the $11 that it cost me to register the domain thelizbuzz.com. How serious could she have been about branding if she – a certified and newly-minted social media grad – couldn’t even think to buy her own domain name?

To my knowledge and limited online sleuthing, the url www.thelizbuzz.com in of itself, or its .ca extension, had never been registered. And since buying a url that might have been used as someone’s Twitter handle isn’t illegal in Canada yet (lol), I didn’t think twice about it.

My Romanian name is Eliza, and I quite liked the catchiness of TheLizBuzz as a new consulting business for myself, an offshoot of my small publishing venture, Incognito Press. Unfortunately I also happened to know Liz, the person who was using that nickname, and at one point we had been friends – but our friendship broke up last year over another serious matter.

In the seven months that followed our “breakup”, I realized that she hadn’t taken any active steps toward actually buying, incorporating or monetizing the brand. It was just a matter of time before someone else would snatch up that domain, so why couldn’t that somebody be me?

Ok, perhaps it was in poor taste for me to “borrow” Liz’s Twitter username (which didn’t even have very many followers) and start branding it under my own name, but I didn’t feel too bad about it either since she hadn’t done anything to monetize it – so I spent $11 and bought the url thelizbuzz.com with the express intent of marketing it as my new brand. There is absolutely nothing illegal about that.

In September 2015 I registered www.thelizbuzz.com as my new arts and social media consulting site. I thought about registering for an Ontario Business License at the time, but I didn’t have the $60 for the registration. I then started a new blog with a social media theme, thelizbuzz.blogspot.com.

Although Liz had my telephone number and email address, not once in the following five months did she ever contact me to express that she wanted the domain for herself – or that she had any problem whatsoever with me developing that brand, even after I emailed her to inform her about it. I would gladly have sold the domain back to her for the same $11 I paid for it, but she never said a thing and so I proceeded to develop the brand and a new website.

In fact, I had absolutely no clue that she was pissed off until I heard that she had gone to the police.

It was only after the insanity of hearing from the police officer (in January 2016) that I had stolen this other Liz’s “highly unique” social media brand (i.e. Twitter username) that I decided to – once and for all – do a proper search for her alleged business proprietorship and clear up my name.

I don’t deny that we are two women who are in the same field – we are both social media strategists and content creators – and we both live in the Toronto area. I don’t deny that we share a similar and very controversial history, and that we are also competitors in our social media businesses.

However, deciding to develop “TheLizBuzz” as my new brand is not illegal either – it’s called capitalism. Perhaps Liz hadn’t heard of the concept – or didn’t care enough to develop it herself. God knows she’d had enough years to do it.

I would soon discover that the domain and handle “thelizbuzz” had NEVER been registered either as a domain OR as a business in Ontario. I went ahead and spent approx. $10 to do a business search on the government business site, and lo and behold – NOBODY had ever registered thelizbuzz as a business.

Here’s the official form from the government website which attests that as of January 15, 2016 there was “NO MATCH FOUND” in the business directory database. Virtual proof that I had NOT stolen anybody’s branding or consulting business.

thelizbuzz no match found

So for all the stress I went through and the negative things said about me behind my back, it turns out that the police complainant, Liz, had only used a Twitter username and a WordPress blog with approx. nine entries written over the span of two years – hardly enough to establish that I had stolen her “intellectual property” and copyright.

As a freelance writer and artist, I don’t have the money to sue this woman for emotional distress or what I see as an overt attempt at malicious prosecution. I can’t sue someone just for having stalked my website, blog and social media networks with a frightening consistency and sense of entitlement for the past year.

After several death threats from psycho racists in the past (my memoir Race Traitor was an exposé of the Canadian white supremacist movement), I had IP trackers installed on all my blogs and websites. This enabled me to now track Liz’s IP (and VPNs) and see it show up continuously, sometimes as much as several times a day for weeks and months on end. The obsessive nature of the continual visits started to trigger major anxiety and affect my work – until I decided that I wouldn’t allow anybody to take away my power.

Not anymore.

But what I CAN do – both for myself and my readers – is to advise that when you establish a brand, you must take great care to prove your ownership. You don’t have to fork over big bucks to establish trademarks and register copyrights over a domain name – the costs can run into the thousands and you’d have to establish copyright and trademarks in each country you plan to operate your business.

And what you CAN do is what I ended up doing – a perfectly legitimate and solid proof of business ownership:

Officially registering “TheLizBuzz” as MY business in the province of Ontario.

thelizbuzz business license

I have now taken the step of establishing a business bank account and clients can write cheques directly to my brand, the same way they already do for “Incognito Press.” I have registered thelizbuzz on every social media platform I can find – Facebook, Reddit, Pintrest, Tumblr, Flickr, Skype, and many others. But I’ve also ensured that both the .com and .ca domains and business account are linked to MY name.

That is how you do branding.

Moral of the story: save yourself the trouble and heartache of building a brand and potentially losing it – make sure you always buy a domain first (before you even establish your Twitter and Facebook handles), and register yourself as a business in the province or state where your business will operate.

So in the unlikely event that someone comes around accusing you of stealing “their” brand, you are completely covered and have established your ownership of what is now YOUR brand.

Remember, kids, that branding is more than just a name – it’s an identity. So claim it, own it, and live it to its fullest potential.

End of story.

branding police comic

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On Stalkers, Trolls and Awesomeness

Posted by E on January 29, 2016

Fearless

I’ve given a lot of thought to this subject, especially in light of a recent landmark court case which determined that freedom of expression on social media networks trumps moral outrage and the perception of being harassed simply because one’s feelings have been hurt due to insensitive online comments. As the judge put it, “One man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric.” (Judge B. Knazan, R v Elliott). This precedent-setting court case involved two prominent Toronto feminists, Stephanie Guthrie and Heather Reilly, and a man named Gregory Alan Elliott who had directed crude and disparaging comments at the women via Twitter.

As a writer and freelance journalist who prizes freedom of expression, but also as someone who identifies as a feminist and who has been harassed online, I understand both sides of this argument – the importance of standing up for your right to express dissent, even comments that others might consider politically-incorrect and offensive, versus a human being’s basic need to feel safe and not personally-attacked. It was an ugly case that probably shouldn’t have ended up in criminal court at all – a case where people on both sides of the equation were not entirely without blame for adding fuel to what became a nasty online battle made up of hurled insults and unproven accusations (such as pedophilia) between feminists and MRAs (men’s rights activists).

auschwitz meme forgivenessFor most of us who write political commentary and engage in social media conversations, this battle hits close to home. For me personally, what comes to mind is a comment left on my Facebook Author Page last year where an Oshawa man threatened to blow my head off with his shotgun. It was just after I’d published my memoir Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence’s Greatest Cover-up and the threats were coming in.

Even though I screen-captured the comment and my friends urged me to contact police, I held back – knowing that it wouldn’t do much difference. Some of my supporters contacted the man directly and threatened to report him to the authorities, and he promptly removed the comment and sent his profound apologies, terrified that I would get him arrested. In truth, I didn’t want to go through a court case and deal with police. Instead, I just blocked him on social media and chalked it up to drugs and/or alcohol having played a factor in the threat. Fortunately, after the dust settled I never heard from him again.

A couple of months later I received an email from Aryan Nations in Idaho (I have site trackers installed on my websites and I was able to authenticate the IP of the email as having come from the Hayden Lake, Idaho area) also insulting and threatening me. Once again, it disturbed me for a little while but I decided to shake it off – after a few years as a prolific blogger, you get your share of disturbed individuals and pretty much the only thing you can do is not let them get to you.

The courts are not going to be of much help. As everyone has seen after the Elliott case was decided, the comments being hurled at Steph Guthrie on Twitter these days are a lot more mean-spirited and threatening than what Elliott had ever previously tweeted. Moral of the story? Nobody can help you if you can’t help yourself first by disengaging in conversations with trolls and blocking them. It also means that you resist the temptation to answer back, to check what they might have said after you blocked them, to call them on their bullshit, etc. Ignoring someone is a two-way street, and most people learn this the hard way.

fearlesnessIndeed, I have blogged and published content on various social media platforms for close to a decade. In that time I’ve encountered my fair share of online stalkers, creepy harassers and trolls, and I also spent far too much time stressed and concerned over my safety – but such stress has impacted on my own well-being and productivity. As anyone who’s had an online presence for that long will tell you, the more nasty comments, tweets or emails you get, the more your ability to express yourself becomes limited, at the very least on a subconscious level.

You begin to censor yourself, to be unduly careful not to express opinions that might be divisive, lest they provoke and set off someone whose only pleasure seems to be targeting individuals online with anonymous hate and abuse.

Although my exposure to such abuse has prepared me for the possibility of being a target, I can’t say that it’s made the experience any easier when it is actually happening. I have come to realize that it’s an ugly world out there and not much I can do about mentally-ill, unbalanced individuals or substance abusers who have nothing better to do than stalk my blogs and websites obsessively.

awesome kittyWhile I cannot do much about others’ behaviours, I can choose to exert control over my reaction. I know it’s a cliché but it’s one that makes sense for a reason – your reactions can make or break your confidence and impact your view of the world. Despite the distress I’ve felt over the years, I realize today that I must grow a thick skin if I am going to last in this profession – I already wrote about this last spring in a piece titled The Brutal Truth About Being a Writer.

I have no choice but to reframe my reality and embolden myself by accepting that no matter what I do, crazy people will always be there. But they cannot hurt me if I don’t allow them the power to get to me, to poison my mind with fear. Like with voodoo, threats and intimidation only work when you allow yourself to believe them. By rejecting fear, you detach from needing external validation from virtual strangers, reject their interpretation of who you are, and take back your power.

This is how I become INVINCIBLE.

This brings me to my 2016 Resolution –to REFRAME how I deal with daily #socialmedia psychos. From now on, instead of allowing them to affect me or stress me out, I will simply view them as my jealous, adoring Bieber-like fanbase. People without any creativity or talent to make something of themselves; sad and pathetic losers who don’t have a life of their own and are obsessed with mine.

Besides, everybody knows that growth in popularity is commensurate with increase in psycho fandom – any celebrity can tell you this. Whether a movie star or bestselling author, the more popular you get, the more nutbars you are bound to attract. Call it the hidden cost of success.

So, from this day onward, instead of feeling stressed & harassed by IP-specific trolls (who’ve also used proxies and VPNs to stalk me), I will view them as adoring fans addicted to my awesomeness 😉

So if you’re reading this, I know you can’t help yourself – indeed, I am THAT awesome 😀

little girl green grass

right awesome

Posted in activism, blogging, politics, press, social media, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

2015 In Review

Posted by E on January 28, 2016

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 24,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The Secret of Compounding Blog Posts

Posted by E on September 9, 2015

inkwell feathers

Everyone who’s ever had a blog knows that you’ll get your winning entries – the pieces that bring you loads of traffic – and your destined-to-gather-dust duds. And the frustrating thing is, at first it all seems like a crapshoot where you can’t tell which post will take off from the starting gates and which will linger unread, despite all the effort and research you put into it.

Sometimes it’s sheer luck. At least it seems like that on the surface. But if you scrutinize the patterns of your own writing, certain facts are bound to emerge. It might take quite a bit of time, but eventually you can come to predict which articles are destined to be “winners” – the pieces that bring you a constant stream of traffic, and lead people toward your other writing.

However, until this month I didn’t have a word for this. Not until I stumbled upon an excellent HubSpot research report titled Compounding Blog Posts – What They Are and Why They Matter.

compounding and decaying So what are compounding posts? Why is it crucial that you understand how they function?

A compounding post is one that grows in traffic over time, surpasssing its initial, just-published traffic. “Compounding posts may not necessarily be blockbusters when they’re first published, but their structure and substance are so relevant that they continue to deliver value and grow traffic organically — no additional marketing needed.”

The opposite of a compounding post is a decaying post. A decaying post declines in traffic over time.

The report revealed an important statistic about compounding vs. decaying posts. According to HubSpot’s research, 38% of total blog traffic is generated by compounding posts. However, compounding posts only make up 10% of all posts.

compounding posts

This seems very frustrating – out of the approximately 200 posts I’ve published in the last few years, only about 20 will be compounding. That’s a lot of time spent planning and writing pieces that will probably not go anywhere or generate much of a return. So what can you do about that?

I think the goal of most individuals and businesses is to write posts that perform. But along with trying to learn how to write compounding posts right out of the gate, I think it also boils down to what you are trying to accomplish.

In classic marketing, there are two basic schools of thought when it comes to branding – you can brand yourself, or you can brand a business (with its own particular subject matter).

who-are-youI don’t beat around the bush about being partial to the former. With me as the brand, it gives me the freedom to write eclectic pieces about anything that I feel passionate about. One day it might be an intimate, journaling piece that chronicles a particular situation I feel strongly about; the next day I might use my psychology degree to put together a profile of Psychopathy, or perhaps offer my experiences as an expat living and teaching abroad.

For huge corporations, a business brand is crucial. I read an article recently which stated that when considering toilet paper, the vast majority of buyers are not interested in the company’s CEO. But for smaller businesses, the owner’s personal brand is absolutely critical.

If I chose to brand only one angle – say, a consultancy business as an editor – then all my posts would be very narrow in scope. Obviously I would write about editing, publishing and the art of writing as a whole. But I know myself – after say, 50 posts or maybe a year of plugging at the same subject, I’d get pretty bored.

Maybe if I wrote to a niche audience I might acquire a large following faster (though there are no guarantees) and of course there is the possibility of selling the business down the road – after you’ve accumulated enough of a following. But the internet is chock-full of niche writers, so if you choose a topic that has been flogged to death (say, social media marketing or indie publishing), you’d better have something truly original or it will be very difficult to monetize it. Not impossible – because nothing’s really impossible – but very, very difficult to resell.

So don’t choose your branding strategy based on some vague notion of future riches – choose what fits YOU and your personality the best.

After reading the HubSpot editorial, I decided to decipher what sets my top articles apart from everything else I’ve written on this blog. I decided to compile all the pieces that received the highest-amount of traffic and try to break down the components that contributed to their success. Once I started to understand what they had in common, I created this list:

Variety IS the Spice of Life

Don’t just clone your pieces. I can tell you that my top-performing articles are all divergent in their topic – one thing they all have in common is my unique perception. Don’t be afraid to roam free, rather than be corralled into a singular perspective. You are a well-rounded human being with (I would assume) more than one interest and one viewpoint – use your blog as a vehicle to explore the things that make your heart beat faster: books, music, politics, shoes, cooking – whatever makes you, well, you.

Emotional Authenticity – Be Genuine

Something that all my top pieces have in common is that most of them are written from the heart. They’re full of emotion: some were written when I was feeling heartbroken or frustrated at those who took advantage of me as a teenager (my blogs about the CBC, CSIS and the Heritage Front). Others capture a particular life experience that resonates with others (such as the story of my conversion to Judaism, or my memories of growing up in a communist dictatorship).

long word counts

 Length is an issue also – these are also pieces that are particularly in-depth and on average have a higher word count than my shorter entries.

Of course I have other, equally emotion-driven pieces that are seldom read. But just like a writer who publishes and fails and tries again, I cannot guess beforehand what will be a hit. The important thing is to plug away at the craft – it might take one book to break out, it might take ten until you hit the bestseller lists. What’s crucial is to keep going, and to be authentic at all times.

In this age of superficiality, there is an underlying aspect to the human condition: the drive for meaning. For emotional truth. Don’t try to write something compelling – FEEL IT. Feel the power of the words as they flow from your heart out through your fingers.

Knowledge – write about what you really know about

The other factor all my top-viewed posts have in common is knowledge and expertise. I wrote about subjects that I knew intimately. When you try to bluff being an expert and write pieces that are not rich in content, people tend to notice. Think of how many blog posts you’ve skimmed over, nodding to yourself, Yup, I already know all this. You don’t have to be a subject matter expert to realize that valuable, smartly-written content is still hard to come by.

Take a Broad, Sweeping Approach

Broad topics that appeal to a large audience perform better over time than those with a narrower focus. Become a guerilla marketer for your own blog. Turn things inside out. See things from fresh perspectives. If 90% of what you write is serious, try adding some light-hearted, fun material. The reverse is true – if all you focus on are subjects involving fashion styles or cooking, consider a deeper, emotional piece about what a particular recipe means to you – does it make you connect with a grandmother who passed on, or a part of your heritage?

Be Unique

What draws you to one writer over another? I’m willing to bet that uniqueness is a factor. Superficial, short pieces might be fun reads and easy time-wasters, but they are also forgettable. They’re the fast-food of the masses – you read them, enjoy them, and two hours later you’re already hungry for something new.

Write about the things nobody else is talking about. Don’t just regurgitate the fluff everybody’s blogging about, or keep things lite and trite – there are thousands of very successful blogs that already do that. Fashion blogs, mommy blogs, even political pundits – it’s all been done. So just write what makes you content or fulfilled.

Be Passionate

Write the kind of material that will be savoured, bookmarked and reread. Look through your own bookmarks and see what you tend to revisit – and then find something that you are really, truly passionate about. Be fearless!

As you can see, these factors are applicable not just to creating a popular blog or website, but also can be translated to your approach to writing in general. Whether you’re working on a short, 600-word editorial or a full-length novel, the same rules apply.

Be Yourself.

Quill and Ink feather-pen-and-ink-on-old-paper

In case you’re curious, here are my top articles (in no particular order). Over time, they have generated thousands of hits to my blog and website.

White Lies: A Pack of Lies, or How the CBC Ripped Off My Story – in 1998 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) made a movie that exploited and capitalized on my life experiences as a teenager. Problem is, they didn’t bother to tell me about it.

Journey to Judaism: The Day I Became a Jew – the most personal, spiritual journey I’ve made in my life. Genetic memory, discovery that my anti-Semitic father was a Jew who had hidden his roots, and uncovering my painful legacy lead my decision to embrace my heritage and convert to Judaism

An Open Letter to Canadian Media – in light of Bill C-51, I consider this article to be among the most important pieces I’ve ever written. This piece led to several alternative and mainstream media interviews, as well as speaking engagements.

Race Traitor MEDIA LIBRARY – a comprehensive but not complete media library to detail the situations described in my memoir Race Traitor

The Dubious Adventures of Grant Bristow, or How CSIS Taught Me Everything I Know About Phone Hacking The truth about what really happened in the 1990s and CSIS’ role in creating a white supremacist pseudo-terrorist organization in Toronto. This article depicts what agent provocateur Grant Bristow did to stir up criminal activity, and what I did as a teenager to shut them down.

Memories of my Communist Childhood – Growing Up Under the Red Banner is one of my most emotional pieces. It has been quoted in various online journals and is about growing up as a pioneer in the Romanian communist utopia of Nicolae Ceausescu, during the Golden Epoch of our Fatherland.

Doing a Midnight Run without Getting Caught – the title says it all. A practical how-to guide on escaping from Korea while bound to an E2 work visa.

The Brutal Truth about Being a Writer – the most important ingredient you’ll need to make it as a writer, and it ISN’T talent

Psycopath vs Sociopath Psychological profile traits to help you discern if anyone you know could be categorized as such – there is much confusion on what is the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath. This article is going to clear it up.

The Artist’s Basic Guide to Establishing a Social Media Presence – Part 1: Build your Brand If you’ve ever wondered where to start to build a platform as an artist, read this first.

The freedom to dream, the courage to belong  If you’ve ever had a dream worth fighting for and you searched within yourself for the courage and resilience to move forward, you’ll want to read this.

Why I Defaulted on my Student Loans – and why, if you’re suffering financial hardship, you should too

If you enjoyed the read, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂

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The Artist’s Guide to Establishing a Social Media Presence – Part 2: Crowdfunding Your Project

Posted by E on August 27, 2015

Marc-Chagall_I-And-The-Village

About ten years ago I stumbled upon a revolutionary website that introduced me to the concept of microloans: Kiva.org. With as little as $25, I could contribute funds to individuals all over the world, and especially in impoverished third world countries, in order to help them achieve their business goals. People who wouldn’t normally have access to traditional banking systems were now able to obtain loans and expand their income, providing better lives for their families. Within a year, my partner and I had contributed to more than a dozen businesses and were rewarded as our funds were paid back both monetarily and through the sense of joy we experienced each time we were sent an update or photo from the person we’d funded.

community treeAfter my introduction to Kiva, I started wondering if there wasn’t a way to contribute financial resources to individuals in need without the need of a payback. Sure enough, within a few short years, the concept of crowdfunding exploded. Crowdfunding is, in essence, the potential to leverage the power of social media in order to build widespread support for a project. Crowdfunding builds upon the idea of crowdsourcing: “the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a “crowd”), through an open call.” (Wikipedia)

The basic concept of generally goes like this: you pitch an idea, set a fundraising goal and choose a deadline for raising funds – typically 30 to 45 days from start. (The last point has been rendered obsolete with the introduction of new, never-expiring platforms like GoFundMe).

A 2014 Forbes article quotes a Crowdfunding Industry Report by Massolution which states that an estimated $5.1 Billion was raised through online crowdfunding in 2013. 2014 brought new crowdfunding sites that further accelerated the rapid industry growth.

crowdfunding umbrellaKickstarter was the major crowdfunding website that started it all – whether needing the cash to fund an innovative consumer product, a CD release or to get an indie film made, people who might never have had the ability to see their dream in action began to connect with others who understood their vision and, more importantly, were willing to bankroll it with as little as a single dollar.

Kickstarter’s unique concept still rests in its all-or-nothing approach – if your financial goal isn’t met by the end of the campaign, everyone who contributed gets their money refunded and the project creator walks away with nothing. This was meant to encourage 1) realistic fundraising goals, and 2) the public’s trust that their money would actually be used for a project that got enough funding to actually get made.

Because of their history and the public’s familiarity with its concept and reliability, Kickstarter still remains the most popular platform for crowdfunding. However, the competition for funds is fierce, and now there is such demand for campaign creation that Kickstarter’s team has implemented a system of pre-approval – which means you compete with other idea pitchers before you even have a chance to be featured on the site. Due to the fierce competition, having a high-quality video that explains your pitch is pretty much a necessity.

However, there are a couple of other newer crowdfunding sites that are rapidly gaining in brand name recognition and giving people a chance to raise funds without forcing them to take an all-or-nothing risk. The most reliable competitors to Kickstarter are Indiegogo and GoFundMe.

Crowdfunding_Future

This spring I launched a campaign on Indiegogo for a new memoir project, and two months later I continued it using GoFundMe as a platform. Both sites have a lot of similarities, and while I chose Indiegogo initially and would still recommend it to start with (I’ll explain why in a minute), I found that GoFundMe offers the most flexibility via their open-ended campaign platform. This means there is no expiry date to the pitch, and you can keep the link live and continue receiving donations over time, as long as people are still willing to support your project.

It’s no secret why I chose not to go the Kickstarter route – the all-or-nothing approach was a deal-breaker for me. I’m not a gambling person, and I don’t have thousands of fans and family members to solicit from. I also dreaded the figures – as of today’s Kickstarter stats, only 37.12% of projects are successful. I feared having to beg everyone for donations for a month and raise only a portion of my needed amount – only to lose it all. It wasn’t a gamble I was willing to make.

So I went with Indiegogo because they have a beautiful and intuitive website interface and lots of the artists I know were using them at the time to fund their project. I think I set a deadline of 45 days for my campaign, and then it was live and searchable within minutes. No glitches, no staff preapproval process – just smooth sailing all the way. They also have a much larger international presence than Kickstarter, and aren’t as North American-centric. An important factor for me, given that my book research involved travel to eastern Europe.

The thing that makes GoFundMe third in my view (behind Kickstarter and Indiegogo) is the fact that you need to raise a threshold of $500 before your campaign can be featured and searchable on their public site. The link still works, but it’s not searchable via their website. However, GoFundMe makes up for this major flaw by allowing you to withdraw the donations as soon as they come rolling in, instead of waiting for an expiration date.

There are, of course, other websites where you can raise funds for humanitarian cause or a charitable purpose – the most popular among non-profit organizations is FirstGiving. But since this is a Basic Guide for Artists (and since my word-count for this article is reaching epic proportions) I’m going to limit myself to these top three sites.

Infographics-CrowdFundingIf you take a moment to visit my crowdfunding project pages at Indiegogo and GoFundMe, you’ll see how I set them up and the kinds of thank-you Rewards (or Perks, as Indiegogo calls it) you can provide to your donors. It’s extremely important to offer something back – because people need to see proof of their donation in action. Even if your project might be delayed in completion – and one of the biggest complaints about Kickstarter and other platforms is that the projects often run late in delivery – you still need to keep your backers informed as to how things are going.

All in all, I raised close to $2000 for my book using a combination of Indiegogo, GoFundMe and private donations via Paypal – I’d set up a donation button on my website and sent the link to anyone who expressed discomfort over registering on a crowdfunding website. I was actually surprised at how many people opted to donate directly to me. Although I still came short of my goal of $8000, the money I did raise was invaluable and helped cover my flight ticket to Romania, as well as part of the cost of accommodations.

crowdfunding hands    crowdfunding steps

A 12-Step Battleplan on how you can get your project funded:

1. Do Your Homework

Look up the most successful campaigns on Kickstarter – after you watch a few pitches, a pattern starts to emerge. The best campaigns will use humour or emotion to elicit a response from their potential backer audience.

2. Develop a Social Media Strategy

Identify any particular target audience and figure out how to reach them. It might involve joining new groups and discussions on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Reddit, Yahoo Groups, Google Plus and anyplace in between. If you have any media contacts, try to line up interviews as soon as the campaign goes live. Remember that it takes time for a story to be developed, approved by an editor and then broadcast on television or in print, and a campaign can go by really fast. So make sure your media exposure will take place while the campaign is still live.

crowdfunding tree3. Appeal to your Friends and Fanbase

If you already have a fanbase or following built around your artistic or professional profile, you need to leverage it. You may need to contact each person individually, so start early. Customize your promotion to suit your platform. Don’t just ask your friends and fans for money – ask them to spread the word among their own friends and contacts. Asking them to donate a moment of their time to share your link (especially if they don’t have a job and money to contribute financially) is equally important.

4. Create a Winning Pitch

Be passionate about what you’re trying to create. Show your emotion and let people feel how important this is to you. Don’t hold back, and don’t just assume others will understand how critical it is. This isn’t a time to be subtle, so go forth with all guns blazing. Try to make an impression from the first paragraph. Don’t assume people will scroll down and read your entire pitch, so try to grab them from the first sentence.

If you have the ability to film your pitch – do it. The added human factor of your audience seeing and hearing you speak from your heart about what you want to accomplish will make a huge difference. I’ve seen fantastic videos and poorly-made ones, and in my opinion if you don’t have the skills or equipment to produce a good video, it’s probably better to skip it and focus on other visual imagery such as photos. At the bare minimum, you absolutely must have a photo of yourself so that people can see who they are backing.

5. Project Confidence

whether-you-think-you-can-henry-fordIt’s crucial that you maintain confidence in your vision. You have to believe that you can accomplish this – because if you show any doubt, how are you going to inspire confidence in others?

Above all – can you deliver on your pitch? Do you have the experience or credentials to get this done? If you’re pitching for a movie, do you have any knowledge of media production or camerawork? If you’re pitching for a book – have you ever written and/or published anything before? In essence – are you qualified or equipped to get the work done?

“People don’t want to back a campaign that’s not going to work,” says writer and entrepreneur Seth Godin about his crowdfunding experiences. You have to convince your potential backers that you are a winner, that cool kid who’s going to re-enact a David vs Goliath epic battle and triumph in the end. Most people want to support others succeed and vicariously join in that feeling of triumph and success.

6. Show How the Money will be Spent

Don’t just talk about how important this is to you. people need to see a detailed explanation of how exactly you’ll be using their money. The more detailed the plan, the more credibility you’ll gain for your project. Make a ballpark figure on what it will cost to supply materials, or what the travel and research costs might be, within reason.

7. Get your Hands Dirty – Promote Every Day

It still surprises me how many people think they can just launch a crowdfunding project and it will magically get funded. For every idiot who wins the Kickstarter lottery by pitching a harebrained concept like making potato salad and gets $50,000, there are thousands of worthwhile, well-thought-out projects that go unnoticed and unfunded. So don’t assume that yours will be the one that gets lucky, because the odds are against you.

This mentality of “If you build it, they will come” is just plain wrong, because it enables you to get lazy about soliciting donations from everywhere around you. Remember: close to 50 percent of donations will come from people you know. Yes, you read that right. For campaigns to go viral, your friends have to share with their friends, who in turn tell all their friends and relatives about it.

Email everyone in your contacts list. Tweet about it every other day. Contact people who aren’t normally on social media – email them at their regular email addresses. Ask them to check out your campaign link and tell you what they think. I’ve received cheques in the snail mail and Paypal donations directly. Don’t just rely on Kickstarter or Indiegogo – money can come from unexpected sources!

8. Don’t use Social Media exclusively as a Promotional Tool

crowdfunding offlineDon’t start friending new people and joining new groups to just post a link to your crowdfunding campaign. Some group moderators might consider such an approach as spamming. Worse yet, new friends and potential new acquaintances will see your approach as not entirely genuine. So take the time to build new contacts and relationships with people before telling them about your campaign. Build meaningful engagements that will last well beyond your campaign’s expiry date.

It might take a lot of time, but you have to make the time to contact people individually. Personalize your emails and Facebook direct messages to each person – don’t just mass-email a “Hey guys, I need your help” message, because it will be ignored. It’s much harder to ignore a personalized request than a spam-type message. Yes, this involves tailoring your messages to each person in your Facebook or LinkedIn account, but you’ll likely get people’s attention that way.

9. You might need to use Social Media Advertising

The average crowdfunding campaign earns less than $10,000. If you have a significant goal, you will need to buy ads. From my experience, Facebook ads (and to a smaller degree, Twitter ads) are likely the best option to target consumers, but getting the right key words to target a particular audience is crucial. Don’t make your reach too broad or too narrow, but also remember that you can’t spend too much money – the whole point of this is to earn donations for your project, not spend for advertising. Create a budget for the ads – say, $50 – and stick to it.

10. Set a Reasonable Intention

If the project costs will be very high (say, over $10,000) consider breaking up the crowdfunding campaign into several chunks. This is especially important on an all-or-nothing platform like Kickstarter, where if your goal is too high you risk losing everything you’ve already raised. It’s something I’ve seen over and over, and it’s really sad considering how much energy and hope people put into their fundraising.

Even if your funding model is flexible, such as on Indiegogo, don’t consider it an invitation to set an unrealistic goal. I’ve recently seen an Indiegogo campaign for a book by a first-time author set its goal at $40,000. This is excessive and will be perceived as unreasonable by almost anyone who reads that pitch – the author didn’t mention any travel plans or particular reason why he would ask for such a high figure and, given his lack of a writing background, it appeared like a delusional request. When it comes to crowdfunding books – where there isn’t a high cost for manufacturing materials and the most expensive item on your list might be a laptop or word processor, you have to be especially careful to be realistic. Even if the project involves travel for research, try to keep your budget as tight as possible.

Remember that people naturally and subconsciously want to side with a winner. Don’t let them smell the possibility of a failure by making an unreasonable demand.

11. Your Success or Failure at Crowdfunding does Not Reflect Your Project’s Intrinsic Value

light brightlyThis is the most important thing I can tell you – don’t take it personally if people you thought you could count on don’t come through for you. In my mind, this is the most important thing to remember – it hurts far more to be ignored by people you’ve been friends for years than by casual online acquaintances.

There were girls I went to school with, women I had histories with, old classmates who were employed in good government jobs. People who frequently posted photos of fancy restaurant dinners and weekends away at exotic retreats. People who always seemed to be online on Facebook….except for the month I started posting about my fundraising campaign. It’s a phenomenon I’ve read about on other people’s blogs — your so-called friends mysteriously vanish, make up some excuse about not having seen your post, or promise to take a look later and then never respond to your messages….until your campaign is finished. Then suddenly everybody is talking to you again. There’s no more awkwardness about not wanting to cough up $5 or $10 to support your vision.

I don’t consider people like these friends anymore. It’s a harsh statement to make, but in this age of social media we often fool ourselves into thinking we are more popular than we really are. You can boast of a thousand Facebook “friends” but in reality have less than ten people in your close circle who really “get” who you are.

tree dont give upCrowdfunding has a funny way of revealing who is really in your court. I can understand the reluctance of people who don’t know me personally to get involved in supporting my campaign (although donating a single dollar wouldn’t kill them). But I have to admit that yes, I did experience disappointment and feelings of betrayal when individuals I considered friends for decades (and who were gainfully employed) wouldn’t even acknowledge my messages or offer a single dollar as a donation. Even as a gesture of faith.

In fact, I noticed an interesting juxtaposition between friends in lower-income brackets and those making higher figures – in general, the ones with less money actually donated more to my campaign. With a couple of exceptions I’m very grateful for, many of those who considered themselves upper-middle class or in the highest income bracket were actually the stingiest.

It’s next to impossible not to take this personally, not to see the lack of donations as a correlation to someone’s lack of faith in you. Because it is. I’m going to be frank here, but if someone who’s known you for most of your life, is privy to your hopes, ambitions and passions and recognizes what this project means to you and still makes an excuse or refuses to help, it’s not about not having $5 to give.

Support comes in many ways – people can still share the link to your campaign on their Facebook wall, with their friends or Twitter network. They can send you a message of encouragement, if nothing else. Someone who doesn’t offer a single dollar and doesn’t share the link with anyone cannot claim to have any support for your dreams. This is a hard fact to accept, but in the end you must understand that it’s not to do with you. Their unwillingness to help is more due to stinginess, jealousy or perhaps one’s lack of faith in their own ability to crowdfund successfully. No matter what the reason, it’s not your fault.

Forget the nay-sayers and the unsupportive. Show them how they missed out on being part of something truly wonderful and possibly even revolutionary. Above all, remember this: Someone’s rejection of your dream isn’t a judgement on the strength or worthwhileness of what you are trying to accomplish.

The famous Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, ‘In prosperity it is very easy to find a friend; in adversity, nothing is so difficult.’ When you’re popular and on top of the world, everybody is your friend. But when you’re down and need support, be it emotional or financial, the herd thins out and you begin to see who your real friends actually are.

12. You’re Not Doing This Alone

Whether you get all the funding you need, or a small portion of it – it’s important to be grateful. Even if you asked for $10,000 and received only $100, it’s a hundred dollars you didn’t have before and it brings with it the knowledge that others have faith in you. Don’t think about those who didn’t support you – think of the people who did. Persevere and get the work done. Over-deliver on everything you promised.

Even when things get rough, remember that you have a crowd of supporters behind you – these people implicitly understand and support your vision. Some will be close friends, others new acquaintances and even complete strangers who donate anonymously. This is the beauty of crowdfunding –you are embraced by a strong circle of supporters who are your motivation and a battalion for your self-esteem. Your campaign backers are walking with you at every step of the way. You’re doing this for them as much as you’re doing it for you – so use their willingness to take a chance on your dream as fuel for your fire.

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