Converting Passionate Writing/Blogging…

As I took part in #BlogChat Sunday night…I was so pleased to see the conversation move away from technology, which blog platform to choose, and other topics sometimes I browse through. Finding passion in your blogging and writing has always been my position. Regardless of you blog for advocacy, business development, or even to generate income…you have to have some passion behind your message.

Above is what I think…”Passion is food for the soul…if you can blend that passion into your writing…it can become infectous!” So tell me, what blogs do you connect with…that touch you daily. Is a photo blog, video blog, a business blog, one of advocacy, what is it?

As I was thinking through this topic, the one thing that always finds a way to make it’s way from my subconscience to the forefront of my thinking, how can we convert passionate writing into revenue and a business development tool. I even wrote a blog post about this very topic: Does Passionate Writing (Blogs) Generate Revenue? These is a method to the passion, writing content that passionately connects…thus the SEO argument.

Regardless…this has made me look back at my work and do an assessment, an assessment of my writing and my direction. So the best way I know how to do a simple assessment, create a word cloud from all my writing in my blog.

Here is a word cloud from this blog, my business blog:

Here is a word cloud from my personal blog (http://bobbyrettew.com/personal-blog):

I chose not to do a word cloud from my tags, because that is just measuring frequency of the words that I deem searchable for each blog post. This is a subjective viewpoint of my writing, looking through a lens completely focused on SEO. Instead, I used Wordle.net to pull all the words from all my posts to assess frequency of the actual content I am actually writing. I am focusing solely on the content in this simple assessment.

So begs the question…are the largest words in the word cloud (which shows the largest frequency of usage my my blogs) match the purpose and mission behind my passion for both my business and personal blogs. My business is based on video, media, blogs, people and those are the largest words in the business blog word cloud. But…based on this simple assessment, I can see words that are apparent that I might want to focus more in my writing. I also see areas in my personal blog that I might want to re-focus a bit…I am wondering if I am talking too much about business in my personal blog?

Passion can be focused!

(Lessons Learned) Blogging inside a large hospital & organizations…it is all about stories!

For the last year and a half, I have been working with Greenville Hospital System (GHS) integrating the idea of blogging inside this major medical system. First off, let me just say there is not a perfect strategy (IMHO) for something that is such a subjective initiative to integrate.

Before I began presenting the idea of finding people inside the organization to blog at GHS, I spent a good bit of time talking and consulting with GHS and their Marketing/PR Department and also a long-time friend who runs all of the New Media Initiatives at Clemson University, Jacob Barker. We found many similarities between a large hospital system and a major, state supported university. First, their are many different departments/colleges at a University that match the many departments and service lines of a major health system.

The first thing Jacob and I agreed upon is that it is more than just a formulaic strategy to implement across an organization, it is all about engagement and learning from each other. We knew it was best engage a Social Media Advisory Committee or a Social Media Team. GHS had already established this team.

About the same time, President and CEO Mike Riordan began inquiring about starting a blog as means to engage with the employees and to clearly define his message as a leader of a major medical system. With healthcare reform all around us, it made sense for him to write about this topic and many others in a public, transparent manner. This is very similar to President Barker’s blog at Clemson. The only difference, Mike Riordan wanted to allow people to comment, he wanted to respond to people’s thoughts.

So this is where we started. I worked closely with the leadership in the Marketing Department along with Mike and his Chief of Staff to create a frame work for which he would write. Before we started, we had to really think about the mission behind the blog, what he was interested in writing about, and how often he was willing to commit to this social outlet. It was great…he began writing immediately. Over the last year, he has written close to two blog posts a week, sometimes more!

We set-up a streamlined approach to the technology utilizing WordPress which allowed him to write from his iPad with the WordPress App. I work with him consistently to clean-up the formatting and also integrate presentations and video into the blog posts. I wanted him to focus on his writing and I take care of the technology issues. He writes everything! Since we started the blog, over half of his traffic comes from the employees of GHS. His ability to write passionately as a leader translates to the employees and the local community of GHS.

This was the beginning, since then we have started other blogs across the system from physician practices to patients/community advocates who have special voice in healthcare. From a patient writing about her family dealing with Diabetes (http://ourhamandeggs.com), the head of PR writing about Women’s Health (http://ungirdledtruths.com), and even an Internal Medicine Physician Group writing about running a small practice of all female doctors (http://cypressinternalmedicine.com/blog). We have been proud of our growth and what we have learned.

These experiences guided us and we learned a few things as we began engaging other blog opportunities.

1. You have to find the internal ambassadors who naturally fit the blogging paradigm. These people naturally write in a social voice and genuinely want to connect with others.

2. Not all blogs have to carry the corporate look of the organization. Mike Riordan’s blog represesents GHS and the best interests of his leaderships position, so we gave it more of a corporate look. It matches the style of GHS’s color schemes and branding. BUT…there has been research presented that consumers find blogs that present a corporate look seem less credible and are not willing to engage in the conversation…that is why the “Our Ham and Eggs” Blog is a little more personalized.

3. You have to have a mission from the beginning that focuses the writing. As time moves along (and you have installed analytics to track the traffic), you can evolve the writing based on audience response, evolution of the organization’s mission, and topical public issues that bridge the audience to the organizations message.

4. You need to track success. We have found installing great analytics packages like Google Analytics and GetClicky Analytics allows you to compare traffic results with blog posts and campaigns…plus, GetClick is real time.

5. You have to share your blog using social outlets and other marketing pieces. We like to use our Twitter and Facebook presence to share blog posts with the consumer, but we also share blog posts using internal communication tools for employees. This was done using internal newsletters and intranets…which was vital during the passage of healthcare reform related issues. Also…put the blog URL on brochures and other physical media for people to see. And last, be sure to advertise the blog on the home page of your website.

6. If you decide to allow people to comment on your blog, you have to be willing to respond. These are people who are reaching out and want to engage in a conversation. Take advantage of this opportunity.

7. Write passionately and straight from the heart. People want to read stories and know your honest thoughts and opinions. This is an opportunity to take a stand on issues, ideas, and topical items relevant to your audiences and your mission. They can go to your website for corporate marketing generated content, but in the blogs…you have to write passionately. As Robbin Phillips of Brains On Fire says…”It’s people stupid.”

8. Do not be afraid to get personal. Some of the biggest traffic came when blog posts were written that allowed the audience to learn more about people’s personal side. Yes, you have to decide what your boundaries may be…but allowing people to see you as a person and not a position gives them a chance to relate to you.

9. Use pictures, video, and any other visuals to reinforce what you are writing about. People like pictures and it allows them to see how you smile or relate to a topic. Also…video gives a third dimension to the topic.

10. Transparent writing…what do I mean? Well Mike Riordan writes his own blog content and so do each of the bloggers. These posts come straight from the horses mouth, not from a series of over-site committees. It is all genuine content.

I am extremely fortunate to work with a smart staff at GHS, their smart direction and innovative thinking has allowed me to try new things with them. They are fun!

Final thought…Blogging is all about Telling Stories! Nuff Said.

I like thank you phone calls…

There is nothing better than a thank you phone call. We creatives live for the day when our clients call us and say thank you. But not only those thank you calls that just say thanks for our hard work, but when the client shares with you something where you can tell they can see the final product through the same lens as you so passionately created it.

Today was one of those days. I had worked hard on a 25 minute documentary, telling the stories of thriving rural churches in Western North Carolina. These stories were shown at an annual conference for close to 2000 people to enjoy. The purpose, to reinforce that the United Methodist Church is thriving in rural communities across the western part of the North Carolina.

From stories of communities teaming up to provide free dinners to communities, to churches in the middle of farm land creating communities around pre-school child care. In the middle of all these stories, there was one very special moment. A special interaction between a pastor and child.

They call it the Welcome Table in Andrews, NC. All are welcome to come and enjoy a free dinner. Many come because they enjoy the fellowship, many come for a good, home cooked meal. Many faces, many people, joining together to provide a sense of community at the table of good food. The pastor of Andrews United Methodist Church agreed to chat right in the middle of the big gym where close to 100 people were enjoying dinner. During a very passionate part of the interview, a young boy came up and gave the pastor a hug and said thank you! It gives me chill bumps as I write this post.

Today, I received a call from my friend who hired me to take on this project. The first thing he wanted to share was the heart felt reaction from the room of 2000 people when the boy hugged the pastor. The Bishop leaned over and told him, “you can’t stage a moment like that!” No you can’t…you just have to be in the right place at the right time.

I am thankful for phone calls like these…just thankful!

This just made my day! Just made my day!

One size does not fit all…planning for video messaging!

There are so many times I get a call about working on a video related project and the belief is that video production is a one size fits all. Many of the organizations that reach out with these types of requests are small businesses or even non-profit organizations. They ask me, “We want to do a video, can you help?”  Many times they have no idea what they want to produce this or how it will be used. It usually comes up in a marketing strategy meeting or even a board member makes a recommendation.

Mind you…I am not being critical of these organizations. I am happy to help and more than willing to help create a plan to execute a project. But here is the dilema that I am finding, there is a misconception that one video project is going to be the solution. There are too many variables. Especially if this small business or non-profit is investing money that might be a good portion of their marketing budget, a one shot deal could really make or break a company/organization.

This morning, I sat with a wonderful non-profit organization who wanted to work on a project. I think I spent close to 2 hours just listening to them and brainstorming. They have so many wonderful stories to tell, so many wonderful opportunities to leverage…a one size fits all project just is not what the doctor ordered. Many times, it could be more costly to the organization in the long term if all their eggs were thrown into one basket.

So…here is how I think we as practitioners and storytellers can help these organizations move past this common thread. Here is the exercise we worked through this morning:

Step One – Answer these questions:
1) Who is the audience(s)? List all the people/organizations/constituency bases that you feel would benefit from your message. Get extremely specific, as specific as possible. You want to be able to paint the picture of the audience(s) you want to reach. You want to try to see the world through their eyes and ears.

2) What is the purpose(s)? Why do you really want to use video as a medium to reach these audiences? Look at the audience(s) listed above, and try to identify each audiences’ specific purpose and how it is different from others.

3) How are you currently delivering your message(s)? List all the current mediums you are distributing your message(s). Are you emailing these audiences? Are you blogging? Are you using direct mail? Are you creating events for speakers to deliver your message? List them all. Even if it is a fax machine or in-person meetings, they are all relevant.

Step Two: Discover Context:
Take all the information above and lay it out so you can see everything. Create columns of information where the you can pair each audience with a specific purpose and a specific delivery method. Get your staff involved and have them go through this exercise with you. Once you are done organizing the information from Step One, then it is time to start finding themes and a mission statement(s) for this project.

Step Three: Identify Context:
From the information in Step One and Step Two, try to write a mission statement for this project. Begin identifying if there are multiple video projects, messages or just one big project. If you are finding that your organization has numerous initiatives and the potential to tell multiple stories, begin listing each video message. Then write a mission statement for each, a micro mission statement for each little video project and the audience you want it to reach. Then pair each video message with a distribution method in the third question of Step One. Yes…this might be the way you can use each video. You might have a video to show at a meeting and it might be different from the video(s) that are sent out via email or Social Outlets.

Now…take a break! Step away from this for a while. Maybe go to lunch or go home for the day. When you come back, it is time to move on to the final step…Step Four.

Step Four: Reality Check:
Ask yourself, why are we doing this? Really, why do you want to invest time, money, and energy to produce video projects to tell stories. Do you have the budget to meet these goals? Do you know of a vendor who would be willing to work with you…maybe as a non-profit? Will these vendors be the right match for your needs?

Now…this is my opinion and my practice. It does not mean that my method is the correct method to use. But, this is only the beginning of the planning, but what this does is it prepares you for the conversation of identifying your message(s) and if video as a medium will work for you.

Also…Step One is based one my research of the Rhetorical Triangle as it applies to Llyod Bitzer’s “Rhetorical Situation.

my life as a visual storyteller…translating to new media

My wife and I have been cleaning out our attic and working on the baby room. I found an old picture from 1998 when I attended the NPPA Oklahoma Workshop for News & Video. NPPA stands for National Press Photographers Association, which is a group of people who believe in one common goal, telling a good story visually. So why do I bring this up in my blog…well, it goes the very foundation of my business.

As a young journalist, the NPPA along with many workshops like Poynter Institute in Florida, I learned how to listen, capture, and craft a compelling story. From technical proficiency, which included using camera, sound gear, and our linear edit bays to visual storytelling that believed in capturing the moment. These skills have stayed with me over the years and influence how I approach every project I work on today.

Being a good storyteller is a subjective trait…many different people have different approaches. Some use writing, some use photography, some use technology. I use my cameras and my digital knowledge. I have learned how to transform that storytelling, journalistic approach into a marketable business in today’s economy. Now what does that mean?

Every project I work on whether it uses video production, new media, teaching, or coaching…I work to find the story in each context. I use a stoytelling approach to each and every project that crosses my desk. I was trained as a journalist to listen for the stories. Yes….listen for the stories. When I would go into a breaking news scene, we were trained as photojournalists to listen visually. Carry our cameras on our shoulders and our microphones in front of us and listen for the stories.

We would capture images from the field during hurricanes, conventions, fires, events, etc. and listen for the story. Listen for people talking and those colorful metaphors that painted the picture. We were trained to look at every situation and then turn 180 degrees to find those who were describing the story. Why…what better way to capture a story than through the eyes and ears of the people who are experiencing the situation. We resist writing voice-over in our scripts…it signifies we did not do our job collecting quality interviews and moments. We aim to allow people to tell the story, not some third party voice-over.

So how does photojournalism and storytelling translate into new media including blogs and social outlets? Storytelling is an amazing tool. It gives us the opportunity to tell stories, third person accounts through outlets like video, blogs, journals, and other new media tools. It allows us to capture other peoples’ thoughts in a way that we can share them others to enjoy. It provides and opportunity to bring the audience into the context and see thing through someone else’s lens. It also provides and ethical approach to content creation. We learn to honor those whom we are using to tell stories, to represent their interests along with ours as well.

We have an opportunity to take a project, a blog, a video, a message and bring the audience into a theater, our digital theater. We have a chance to see something through another lens by using words, video, pictures, sounds, etc. We have a chance to stop writing corporate copy, generating brand messages…instead craft a story that can translate to the people around us.

One of my favorite things to do on a project is a little ethnography project. When I first start working with a group, I like to emerse myself inside the story. I like to find myself inside the context, then start capturing the sights and sounds of the message. Their are many ways to tell a story, but I chose to tell it through another’s viewpoint…to capture reality for others to enjoy. Content can be king!

Spend one week not looking at metrics. Hell…two weeks!

Can you do it? Can you spend one week not looking at hits, clicks, followers, “Likes”, etc? Can you do it? Can you stop tracking for one week how many people from some geographic location clicked your blog post. Try it…it is liberating.

We have succumb to content creation based on metrics. Yes, all those tracking mechanism we pay for, install, monitor…any thing with numbers. Those numbers influence the content we create. Yes, if we see a post, an update, a spike…then we re-focus what we are creating to try to generate the same if not bigger spike.

How about this, spend a month not looking at these metrics and write, tweet, connect, “Like”, record content that is inspired from within and a community around you. Now some may argue that the community influences the content creation based on the metrics and numbers recorded. JUST SAY NO!!!! HELL NO!!! Lock that idea up for a few weeks.

Have you ever watched the show “Undercover Boss” where a companies’ leadership wears a disguise and immerses themselves inside their company. The purpose is to really see and hear what is truly happening inside the company. Many major company bosses do this to listen inside the community they lead. I like this idea.

What if we as content creators took this approach and immersed ourselves in the places where our inspiration drives our content. Not in the numbers, almost like and ethnographical study. Get away from the blogging, writing, video creation that is driven by metrics and immerse our creativity with the community were are seeking to connect. Listen and engage. Create content with them not for them. Hell, let them create the content for you.

We must challenge ourselves as marketers to step away from the metics and numbers and allow community inspiration drive our content creation and innovation.

Greg Hartle – TenDollarsAndALaptop.com Interview

Last week, I posted the first part of my Skype interview with Greg Hartle and his Ten Dollars and a Laptop Project. So I thought I would post the whole interview in a playlist for you to enjoy. It is broken into six parts. I had originally said that it would be seven parts, but I decided to combine two sections. The playlist will allow you to watch the video in sections, since the whole interview is close to 45 minutes long.

Part One – Who is Greg Hartle and what is TenDollarsAndALaptop.com.
Part Two – Tthe pivotal point behind his decision to do this project.
Part Three – Greg Hartle discussing the Entrepreneurial Spirit
Part Four – Greg’s journey across America and the life of the project.
Part Five – Greg’s drive behind this mission and project.
Part Six – Greg talking about “Living in the Present”.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable interview, one that I am glad I took the time to learn more about Greg and his passion to share the entrepreneurial spirit.

A little girl in Andrews, NC….

Last Thursday was one of those days that once again, I was touched.

If you look at this face above, this little girl. I am not sure her name…we never met formally. Thursday, I was working on a project…telling the story of “The Welcome Table”. This is a program put together by the Andrews United Methodist Church in Andrews, NC. Each Thursday, Andrews UMC partners with other churches to provide a meal to the community. From 5 to 6pm every Thursday, anyone from the community can come to have a meal, free of charge.

As leaders from Andrews UMC told me, unemployment in this rural area of Western North Carolina is high. Many of the manufacturing companies and other large businesses either closed or moved out of town. Many families left to figure out what next. The project was to document the day, find the story, and tell the mission of the Rural Church Initiative for the Duke Divinity School. I literally had one hour to capture the story, find the right people, interview them, and capture the essence of this day for others to see.

I was working the room, trying to capture the moments from a far with my video camera and digital camera…I began to gain the trust of those who were there for diner or maybe some fellowship. The pastor says that between 50 and 100 people from the community come to the Welcome Table on Thursdays. They come for many reasons, whether they do not want to eat supper alone, they have friends who attend, or they need a hot meal. Whatever the reason, Andrews UMC wants to provide the opportunity for the community to share with one another.

Some of the people thought I was a journalist with my big cameras. They have experience with “these types.” You see, I used to be one of “those” people. I have been to Andrews twice before. Once in 1998 when they thought that Eric Robert Rudolf had appeared in Andrews. I was there working, with my big cameras, trying to find a story. Then again in 2006 when they actually caught Eric Robert Rudolf. I was there covering that story…once again coming to this town in search of the big story.

On Thursday, As I made small talk with many of the volunteers, they asked me where I was from…I shared with them that I was from South Carolina. I also shared with them that I had been here before…twice. They knew it was for the reasons I just described…and they were glad I was here capturing a great story.

But I was struck…by the face of this little girl. As I sat across the room, capturing her face as she was eating her watermelon…I was struck, humbled, embarrassed, and scared. I am not sure why this little girl and her family were here today. I could only speculate that her little tummy was hungry. Here I am, I have had my share of meals. I almost felt a sense of sadness and doubt coming across her face.

She has no stake in this game. She has no fight in this political madness. She is just eating a meal. I thought about all the many children across our America…hungry, mothers and fathers unemployed, no insurance, no healthcare…who are we? Who are we to squabble about numbers, political discourse that leads to nothing but chest pounding resolve…this little girl. She is our future…

Andrews UMC has a big heart. They are reaching out to this community with one mission, to give. This Thursday…they are providing a good meal to close to 75 people; young, old, black, white, males, females, believers, and non-believers. They believe in their community.

This little face struck me and made me think all the way home. Think about my little girl, Rose Frances who will be here in September.

Passion is not easily expressed…

It is hard to be passionate. It is hard to express passion. It is hard to let loose in front of tons of unfamiliar people and express our deepest passion. Failure is a scary thing. We are afraid to share our passion to unleash the inner being that makes us breath freely.

Think about the biggest idea you have ever thought of, written about, meditated over. The one thing that you believe could define your very being. What makes us keep from sharing that idea? Failure? Why is failure so bad?

I have a mentor that has hit it out of the park a few times. He does not look at as failure just bumps along the way, stories to laugh over one day. We are taught that an “F” is a failure. That loosing money or not living up to the status-quo is failure. This idea of failure keeps us from expression of our inner most passions…the things that make us tick.

We have to move past looking at failure as a bad thing. I met an unbelievable person at SOBCON2011. His hame is Mark Horvath. He was once a successful television man who ended up a homeless person. He took his situation and turned into gold. He began telling stories of the homelessness in America, interview people on the streets. He found his passion. People listened. Was he a failure? Or did something special happen that helped him find his passion.

What is your passion. How can we help lead those to find their passion?

i feel like i am branding my little girl…

It is the new age…the new digital age. I spend so much time teaching my college students and entrepreneurial clients about personal brands. Identifying their brand, securing digital URL’s on all the social outlets, and creating an awareness online that supports and reinforces a consistent brand message.

Here I am…a new daddy. Well, 20 weeks away from the birth of my little girl. It was just last week that we found out we are having a little girl. The big hoopla was surrounded by the idea that we were going to forego finding out if it is a boy or a girl during the 20 week ultrasound. Instead, ask the doctor’s office to put the sex of the baby in an envelope to be opened that evening with the rest of the family. Oh well, too bad the ultrasound technician forgot to hold back the image that said “female” during the ultrasound. This was just the beginning of what was not going to be easy…deciding a name for the little one!

Deciding a name is like a branding exercise. This one name represents so many things. So much legacy. So many stories of what is to come. This name is more than a name, it is the beginning of her own special family tree. Did you know that little infant girls, by the time they are born, have one million eggs in their little womb. Yes…one million little pieces of DNA that are a lifetime of legacy. How do we find a name to encapsulate a lifetime of stories and what is to come.

How do major brands come to the conclusion that one name represents so much. How do parents come to that one conclusion that one little name represents the family tree of the past, present, and future. Most major brands have wonderful, creative copy writers and researchers. They try to understand audiences, vision, mission statements, products, services, and legacy. But the little name of a little girl is so much more.

Well…we figure it out, I think, I hope. We researched all the past female names on both sides of the family….dating back hundreds of years. We looked at the meanings of names. We looked at whether to step away from family names and branch out to something new. We were waiting on that feeling, that “ah-ha” moment when it feels right. Because we know…that all the research, analysis, copy writing, and discussion is void to that one moment in time when that perfect name just makes sense.

Deciding a little girls name is, was, and will continue to be bigger than any messaging/branding project I have ever tackled. It is my little girl’s legacy. Yes…she is Rose Frances Rettew.