Do bloggers need a union?

I am a union person.

I have belonged to the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) for as long as I’ve been a freelance journalist.

The NUJ has got me out of a few scrapes over the past 20 years. Helped me claw back fee due from a national newspaper. Supported me when a publication dissed my rep.

I do not begrudge my union dues because they insure me for future grievances and in the meantime help some other poor bugger.

I know my history – without unions, workers would still be working a 12-hour day. (As many still do).

On the 22 and 23 October 2010, my local branch, the Bristol NUJ, asked: What’s the blogging story?

Research conducted for the union shows there are 20,000 workers in digital new media in the Bristol area.

Note: the term blogger here includes those creating online content.

As a union gal already paying union fees for my printed work, I would LOVE my online work to be covered too.

Several made the point that bloggers certainly help journalists: with their original and brave research, said Iqbal Tamimi; and with technical expertise, said Tomas Rawlings.

From a union’s point-of-view, thousands of unregulated online workers must be a dream. Both the NUJ’s fortune and its collective bargaining power would swell magnificently.

Mind you, some journalists are nervous of bloggers  – many of whom work for nothing. So bloggers could be seen as undermining the profession.

Leaving that underlying tension aside, I wondered as a blogger whether union membership – being accredited by a professional body – might give visitors more confidence in a site.

Visitors could clearly see I subscribe to the NUJ Code of Conduct (although there is nothing stopping any writer adhering to it, I found out).

However – said the devil’s advocate in my mind – is not the point of today’s web that a blog is authenticated by its comments and the transparency of the blogger?

And HOW would the NUJ assess who is a digital worker, especially if he/she is an unpaid blogger?

(There is a precedent for a blogger becoming an NUJ member.)

Bloggers are a notoriously independent breed. Does belonging to a union undermine that spirit?

In response, Sarah Ditum pointed out the days of “happy anarchy on the web” may be numbered – digital workers would be wise to have union support, including access to legal training.

As you can see, this fascinating topic raises a host of questions.

Here are a few more.

Bloggers, can you think of situations where you might have welcomed union support? Even to combat the isolation of being freelance?

Or is a union anathema to bloggers?

Do bloggers need a union?

What do you think?

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A gap in Gap’s thinking

News that Gap has withdrawn its new logo following an outcry on its Facebook page is a fascinating case study on a) the power of Facebook to create an online community 2) the idiocy of ignoring it.

Hello? What is the point of having a Facebook page if you don’t engage with your fans?

The funny thing is that – as this astute blogger points out – Gap exchanged its TV budget (in 2009) for web and social media.

The whole point of having a social media presence is to invite interaction.

And to…er… interact.

As, rather belatedly, Marka Hansen, president of Gap Brand North America, has realised:

“We’ve been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week,” she said in a statement. According to the Independent, Gap “did not go about this in the right way” and missed the “opportunity to engage with the online community.”

I had my own Gap moment on Monday.

The Gap store in London trumpeted a “60% sale.”

But my feet just kept on walking to my favourite charity shop a few streets down.

Therein – as a reward for eschewing sale signs, I fancy – I found this darling cardigan from which I am deriving, in a time of stress,  inordinate pleasure thanks to its colour, cosiness and sheer bargain-huntedness.

What is social media?

Social media is a powerful way to spread a message through word-of-mouth via people you trust – friends, family, colleagues. (That’s the ‘social’ bit).

Social media uses web technology making publishing words, photos, videos and podcasts increasingly easy for non-tecchies. (That’s the ‘media’ bit).

Social media is cheap because there are no costs apart from your time.

Social media is exciting because it is interactive: you can have online conversations with your community/co-campaigners/customers.

This provides an immediate way to gage responses. Or do market research.

Changing the way we communicate

Print and (static) web talks AT people.

Now – with new technology – we can ALL join in the conversation, creating and responding to online messages through our online relationships.

We increasingly turn to the web for views we can trust.

Let’s face it. Word-of-mouth is the best recommendation anyone can get.

Web technology, now accessible to non-tecchies – amplifies word-of-mouth.

Messages can go viral, spreading far-and-wide faster.

We can create human connections through a variety of media including words, photos, podcasts and videos.

Getting to know you
To get the most out of the web, you need to ask what is it you want from it.

  • Who is your audience? Who are you trying to reach?
  • What are you want to say? What is your message?
  • Who is the best person to say it?
  • How will you know when you have achieved your objectives?

Please carry on refining your answers – they are vital to your online strategy.

And will help answer another crucial question:
What are the best online social media sites to use?

The power of Facebook
The web has a zillion sites but Facebook helps gather people in one place.

Facebook has over 450 millions users – equal to the population of Europe.

Facebook is useful, free and growing at a phenomenal rate.

Facebook also has exceptional technology to help spread a word-of-mouth message.

For instance, when you Post a message on a Wall, it can be seen by all your Friends in their News Feed.

(Please note I am using a Capital Letter for Facebook terms.)

Your first time? Sign-up with Facebook with an email address. Once you have received a confirmation email from Facebook, you can start creating your own Profile. A Profile is like a free mini-website to populate with words and pictures of your choosing.

Start now!  You have to start small, building from one friend to two to more. It can be a slow process. However, if you begin this process now, in two years time you will be ahead of the game.

Privacy: Use Facebook in a way that is comfortable for you. You could use a made-up name or any photo to illustrate your Profile page.

If you want to protect your personal Profile, there are ways to restrict searches or views of your Profile. For more on Privacy on Facebook: go to Account (top right) on your Profile and set your Privacy Settings.

Also see bottom right of your Profile page or click on this link
http://www.facebook.com/privacy/explanation.php
Security tip: By all means give your birthday – but not the year.

Remember: you are free to Ignore any Request from someone who wants to be your Facebook Friend. You can delete a Friend at any time.

Conversely, feel free to ask to be Friends with other people’s Friends.

Create a Page for your campaign or product. Unlike a  Profile (which requires a Friend Request to be Confirmed) a visitor can join a Page immediately.

You do need a Profile to build a business Fan page and here’s why. But remember you do not need to reveal all on your Profile page.

Your Wall on your Page (or Profile) is your most important tool because when you post on the Wall, this Status can be seen by all your Fans (or Friends) in the News Feed.

You don’t have to get a newspaper editor’s attention – you can make your own news – what is important to you.

For instance, a charity might post on its Wall for all its Fans to see: “We are so excited to be finalist in the Best of the West awards.”

Have a look at your goals that might have emerged from the first part of the workshop for ideas for Wall posts.

A Page also allows you to post an Event, start a discussion on your Page and/or upload pictures or a video. Look on the menu options next to Wall.

Set up a Page by going to your Profile, choosing Applications, then Ads and Pages.

You and/or others can be a Page Admin. Ideally the Admin will post regularly on the Page, keeping it fresh.

Admins popping in regularly to the Page can delete any comments that are not relevant, or Spam. Check out how to stop cyber-bullying (not common in my experience).

Think of starting a Facebook Group as well as a Page. A Group can also be absolutely private.

How do you find your audiences on Facebook?
1) Friends

2) Search for Groups or Pages with similar interests and join in.

3) Twitter, LinkedIn and blogging

Which brings us to the two other main networking sites.

As well as Facebook, I strongly encourage you to join Twitter and LinkedIn

Like Facebook, these sites are popular and free

All they need is your engagement.

Twitter

Update your status in 140 characters, attract Followers and Follow others.

I started using Twitter as a public filing system – I was sharing the links that struck me as interesting. In time I have built up over 700 Followers, people I can send a Direct Message to anytime.

Shorten your long links with Bit.ly which also helps you analyse the responses. Click for 50 more Twitter ideas.

Great article from the Guardian‘s Alan Rusbridger about why Twitter matters to media organisations.

I also recommend this article from another journalist – tips and advice from what he has learnt in 2010.

LinkedIn

Business networking. Update your CV and keep in contact with colleagues (past, present and…future?). Click for 10 LinkedIn tips. Look out for tools that save you time – for instance my Twitter updates are automatically posted on LinkedIn.

Get yourself a free blog at WordPress.com

Why WordPress? It is one of the most popular and technically well-supported blogging tools on the Web. It is also non-corporate open source technology. It is also Google-friendly and automatically optimises your key words.

Blogging

Why blog? Because it helps you think and organise your ideas, and to communicate your passions and expertise.

For more information, do have a look at my blog tips at my Real Food Lover blog.

How do you build up a following for your blog?

  • Search for blogs of similar interests via Google or Technorati – then show your interest by leaving a comment. Hopefully other bloggers will return the compliment by visiting your blog
  • Advertise any new posts on your blog via your Facebook or Twitter account
  • Look for free techno-devices that do so, such as automatically linking WordPress with Facebook.

Dos and Dont’s of Social media

1. Do care about your reputation – comments could be on the Web for ever.

2. Do check your spelling. Use a spell-checker and/or put words you are unsure of into Google. The more you write, the better you will get. Aim to publish a sentence (and check spelling) online every day.

3. Do get experience by going online – each time you get online you are working on your technical online skills.

4. Don’t tell everyone everything. You might tell a friend one thing and your mother another. Choose what you want to show. Use private messages on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn – you don’t always have to be on show.

5. Do know when to stop: when to switch off the computer and when to be quiet.

6. Don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake. We all make them. Try to delete the comment if you can. If not, apologise.

7. Don’t network when you are feeling anti-social.

8. Do network to have fun.

9. Do remember we all need encouragement so be kind and respectful to others online. Your reputation is at stake.

10. Do create a good impression.

11. Do leave me a comment below to stay in touch (your email address will NOT be published).  Do visit my food blog to say hello (and tell me what you had for breakfast!) or connect with me on Facebook.

Your Social media trainer, signing off.

Why the web needs writers

Ooooh I absolutely love  the web.

(As Eloise might say)

I love it for lots of reasons (ease of communication and research) but especially as a writer.

Good quality writing is essential for an effective website.

This was brought to my attention by Dan Raine and his email on how Google ranks sites.

Google analyses a search by using synonyms – different words that mean the same thing.

For instance, my search for “organic clothes” also brings up results including: “eco” and “clothing”.

Clever Google!

It makes me think about the value of writers.

We try not to repeat the same word.

(Unless we are D.H. Lawrence – oooh I absolutely love D.H.Lawrence).

Back to synonyms.

The writer’s practice of avoiding repetition must make a website even easier to catch Google’s computerised attention.

What do you think?

Image of Eloise from Amazon books;  image of D.H. Lawrence from ebooks-library.com

It’s not personal

I have noticed how paranoid thinking gets in the way of performing tasks on the web.

By paranoia I mean any thought with “They” in it.

  • Why are They making it so hard for me to download/upload/cancel?
  • Don’t They know I have more important things to do with my time?
  • The bastards – They are doing this on purpose.

In other words, a malicious entity is stopping me achieve success.

The other day I decided to cancel my subscription with the business nework, Ecademy.

Ecademy has been fruitful over the years but now I mostly use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

The time had come to move on.

I did a bit of a Google search to help me delete my subscription… and found some disgruntled ex-ecademists.

Reading other people’s disatisfied thoughts was very satisfying.

I felt purged.

Thus, freed of negativity, I approached the Ecademy site with positivity.

“Surely there must be a process to delete a subscription?” I thought in my new-found adult, sane way.

And there was.

I scrolled to the bottom of the page where the menu looked more official.

The lettering was tiny and the choices not obvious.

After one click to a false trail, I plumped for “support”.

The contact form requested my “Issue Type”.

Issue Type.

Recovering paranoid, delusional, hysterical? Where do I start?

I breathed.

I thought: “It is not personal”.

Liberated by this useful mantra, I chose “Account Closure” as my Issue Type.

And lo-and-behold it gave me all the info I needed to cancel my subscription.

Arrival at website – which country?

Elle Decor magazine cover

What country am I in?

I am looking at the Elle Decor website for a client trying to work out if the printed magazine meets her needs.

Even mega-brands neglect to make basic information visible.

Such as: which country does Elle Decor publish in?

I find a New York address on the Contact Us page.

Should I be satisfied with that?

Never satisfied, I click on About Us

– to be greeted with these words:

“Elledecor.com is where style lives.”

Hum.

OK. Style lives in Elle Decor.

But where is Elle Decor?

Every writer needs a blog

Writers, consider a blog.

My technical guru friend, Mike Farrow, said: “Go to WordPress.com”.

That’s all he said. He did not help me set one up or show me how to do it.

So I went to the WordPress.com site and I registered with my email address.

WordPress is designed for non-tecchies so it’s beautifully simple.

The next step – clearly shown – is an invitation to write something, give it a title and and…publish.

What writer can resist?

Suddenly for the first time in my journalistic career, I was in control of what I published and when.

I chose my theme: food. I care passionately about wholesome nutrition and there’s no shortage of material as I eat every day.

I chose its name – Real Food Lover – spontaneously. Of course, if I’d known how my blog would grow in stature, I might have agonised more. However it turned out to be a good name.

I started with the basics, learning as I go. How to add pictures, chose a design, use all the bits on the dashboard (the backend of the blog) such as widgets for the sidebars, and tracking stats.

How to make connection with other bloggers and make reciprocal comments and links.

The above was goobledook when I started but look at me now, reeling off the techno-jargon.

In the second year of my blog, it was shortlisted for the Guild of Food Writers New Media 2009 awards.

In my third year I got my first job as a freelance web editor. In other words, I have successfully transferred my skills from print to the web.

My blog has been a  mega-learning experience in communicating in the digital age.

Don’t take my word for it.

Get yourself a blog.

Don’t expect too much – you are just playing.

And see where it takes you.