Making the Most of Sudden Unemployment

unemploymentSomeone close to me was recently fired from her job. In today’s volatile global economy it can happen to anyone. I know people being laid off, fired, or counseled out of their positions. It’s a horrible reality and definitely grounds me when I become frustrated with the daily grind of my job. While I’ve never had to deal with sudden unemployment, I came up with some ideas to help my friend overcome this tough period. In case anyone else is facing this situation, here are the tips:

1. Volunteer: With this new found free time, get out of the house and do something that gives back to others or the community. It’s good karma, gives you something to put on your resume, and can be a great place to network and meet people who may have job leads.

studying_at_library2. Hit the books: Most of us don’t have the time while working to go back to school and learn something either for our own personal benefit or something that can help us in our career. So take advantage of this time—whether it’s gardening 101 or computer skills, there are either affordable or free options available to you. Local community centers and libraries are one place to look for these classes/courses, the Internet is another. Online, your choices are endless and usually free. There’s www.coursera.orgwww.udacity.com, and www.edX.org, as well as www.class-central.com and www.coursebuffet.com, which both compile and review the majority of free online courses available. There is also www.lynda.com, a site that can help you learn anything from how to blog to how to update your resume. Unlike the other sites, this one is not free, (although on www.youtube.com there are plenty of free clips from this company) but it is well worth the fee.

3. Be appreciative and have a positive attitude. There’s something called the law of attraction which basically says that your attitude and mindset are what attract positivity or negativity. So take some time to be grateful for what you do have in your life and try to have the best attitude going forward so that you can attract greatness and abundance.

4. Do odd jobs and freelance work. You can earn a few bucks and develop your talent through website forums seeking people to take care of quick jobs, such as www.craigslist.orgwww.elance.comwww.behance.netwww.fiverr.com, and www.99designs.com.

unemployment exercise5. Exercise. I know so many people who turn to comfort food during tough times (I’m one of them). Getting active, however, can improve your mood significantly, while helping you keep in shape. For those who have been too busy with work to reach their athletic aspirations, now could be a perfect time to get active. While you may not have a job at the moment, you do have the chance (and free time) to have robust health, which is just as important.

6. Relax and enjoy. As worker bees we often lack the time to enjoy the things we love to do. Whether it’s writing to loved ones, catching up on your favorite TV program, visiting friends, traveling, reading, or volunteering, take advantage of this opportunity and enjoy your free time.

With that said, I wish everyone success in their careers and for those job hunting, I hope you land your dream job soon!

Tips on Becoming a Writer or Editor

editor_writerA friend of mine asked me, “How did you become an editor, and how can someone else get into that type of career?” That’s a tough question to answer because I never grew up thinking I’d be a writer or editor. I didn’t make up my mind on a career until high school, when I decided to explore a profession in TV journalism—either as a reporter or news anchor. At the University of Florida I studied TV and radio journalism, and even had the chance to report the news and anchor a newscast for several semesters. Nonetheless, I didn’t stick to TV journalism. I did give it a try, however. I interned at FOX News and worked at ABC News. Yet, nearly eight years since I graduated with my TV news degree, I am continents away and in a pretty different profession than I expected—Staff Editor of Middle East Content for a leading global consultancy firm. Thankfully, I enjoy my job even if I didn’t anticipate it, and can share some tips for people who are looking to enter the editing and writing field:

blog-Start a blog. With a blog you’ll have a presence online and be able to have proof of your writing ability when applying for jobs/internships (it will also hopefully allow you to improve your writing over time). I would suggest wordpress.com, the platform I’m using for this blog!

-Intern or try to contribute articles to publications. Most publications are in need of content (especially free) so one way to bulk up your portfolio is to send your content for consideration/publishing to media outlets that you’re interested in. So come up with a list of publications you like and then email their editors to see if they’ll accept your content. This can also help you network with people within the industry you want to enter.

-Gain the relevant skills and knowledge. Most people don’t have the time or financial ability to go back to school. Luckily there are many platforms for learning that don’t require much money or full-time attention. One of my favorites is Lynda.com, which offers thousands of intense tutorials on everything from blog writing to fashion photography. To sign up, you have two options—basic membership or premium. Both are relatively inexpensive and worth their fee. On the other hand, Coursera.org provides free classes (including writing and English courses such as English Composition offered by Duke University) from the most prestigious universities around the world. Students who successfully pass a course receive certificates from the university that offered the course (this can help freshen up one’s resume/CV and show perspective employers that they’re not complacent).

What Does George Clooney Have to Do with Coffee? Nothing and Everything.

george clooney coffeeA visitor at my office bumped into me in the break room. She wanted to make coffee but didn’t know how to work the espresso machine. To be honest, it looks like a machine from space—so many nozzles, buttons, and levers that it can get pretty confusing even for an espresso machine connoisseur. So I lead our office visitor to the cabinet of espresso capsules. She looks at the boxes upon boxes of colorful capsules and then at the machine, putting the two together, and then exclaims, “George Clooney coffee!” She shouted that out to me with so much enthusiasm and pleasure that I was sure that George Clooney himself had magically appeared in the break room. I looked behind my shoulder for good measure.

George-NespressoIf you have kept up with advertisements for espresso, you’d know that George Clooney is one of the many celebrity faces of Nespresso. My office visitor’s excitement and delight over “George Clooney coffee” is a testament to how important marketing and branding is to successfully selling products and services today. Sure you need to have a good value proposition, but without having the right marketing and branding initiatives you probably won’t get the attention of consumers who are already inundated with information and marketing from their phones, tablets, and computers, as well as print and digital media elsewhere. So the takeaway here? Nespresso is getting what they paid for. George Clooney is certainly making a positive impact on their products (at least for female consumers), and hey, he’s not so bad to look at either.

Higher Education Websites: A Few of the Best

Colleges and universities are in the business of attracting new students, maintaining their current student population and faculty, recruiting talented faculty and support staff,  and perhaps most importantly, fundraising to ensure their institution has the resources to provide their constituents with a first-rate education and experience. A key outlet to address all these parties is through a website. Unfortunately,  many colleges and universities lack powerful websites (which is absurd considering their own faculty teach web design and online communication). Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of what I believe are the leading higher education websites today, and have highlighted their strengths in the caption boxes.

W&M

The College of William & Mary. What I like: simple layout, vivid imagery, straightforward navigation bars, uncluttered, and easy on the eyes

Bates

Bates College. What I like: beautiful imagery, large image, white space, many quick links, and clear navigation bar

Hampshire

Hampshire College. What I like: ample white space, easy on the eye, straight to the point, non-busy, and simple

McGill

McGill University. What I like: unusually placed navigation bar, list of popular pages and tools, succinct list of news and events, and background imagery on the footer

Alberta

University of Alberta. What I like: prominent “apply now”, “careers”, and “give back” buttons, and interesting button navigation bar

NYU

New York University. What I like: minimalist design, lots of white space, extensive list of links, and color balance

WPC

Warner Pacific College. What I like: tailored to student users, tabs for faculty and parents, non-busy design, even balance between the header and the main content (news, links, and events)

OSU

Oregon State University. What I like: extensive footer with relevant links and easy-to-absorb events list

Depauw

DePauw University. What I like: header and footers are balanced, simple design, lots of white space, listing of key stats, and beautiful imagery

Loyola_accepted students page

Loyola University Maryland’s page for accepted students. What I like about this: innovative way to engage with students before they even step on campus, fresh colors, inviting, clear layout, big buttons, and lots of white space

Tufts_virtual tour

Tufts University’s virtual tour page. What I like about this: innovative idea (let’s face it, few prospective students can afford the road trips/flights required to visit schools), and eye-catching landing page

A New Year, A New Resolve

happy-new-yearThe year is going by unbelievably fast. We are almost through February. Seriously. Where did all the time go? This year I went a little overboard with my resolutions list. I sat down in December and listed everything I wanted to accomplish—huge endeavors like “become fluent in Arabic and French” and “finalize my website and online portfolio” as well as smaller, more manageable goals such as “drink more water each day” and “write more blog entries” (clearly I’m losing on that front). One of my top priorities (out of a two-page list) is to finish my master’s degree. During the course of the last 14 months of the program I have contemplated giving up numerous times. Horrible scheduling, live classes at 4:00 a.m., inexperienced instructors, and extremely difficult curriculum have nearly broken my resolve to get a second master’s in something I really need to become an expert in: mass communications with a specialization in web design and online communications.

University-of-Florida-College-of-Journalism-and-CommunicationsYet, I’ve somehow managed to get through the last 3.5 semesters in one piece and learn a few things along the way, so I’m going to stick through it until the end. At this point in this online master’s program, which is offered by University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, I am studying advanced web topics such as web semantics, APIs, JavaScript, and JQuery as well as WordPress and PHP. Let me tell you, it is not easy to keep pace with these classes, given the level of difficulty and time it takes for any of the material to sink in (I often watch live classes and then rewatch the recordings just to be sure it sunk in). Not only that, but I’m juggling a demanding job as an editor for a global consulting firm that sets the standard very high. Ultimately, I’m just trying to keep my head above water these days. Nonetheless, while I don’t know how I’m going to do it, I am determined to make it to December 2013 and finish off the year with most of my resolutions checked off and another master’s degree under my belt that will unlock many doors of opportunities within the wondrous world wide web and ever-evolving field of communications.

WordPress is going to be my BFF

wordpress-logoFor the last year I’ve been somewhat of a regular blogger on WordPress. I was tossed into the blogosphere back in January 2012 when I was required to post on specific topics each week per course requirements.

naseemspeaks-blog

 

A year later, I’ve had a few thousand hits to my blog and some semi-interesting content for readers to explore. While I’m not a WordPress expert, I’m becoming more comfortable with the tool and its ability to become a pretty powerful Content Management System. However, this semester I will become a master at WordPress and learn how to customize the tools and system. As much as I’m excited about this new journey, I’m terrified about the PHP, HTML, and CSS involved. Thankfully, I have Lynda.com and great instructors this semester who will help me through this process and within a few months I should be a WordPress master! A girl can dream…

Facebook Profiles: Public or Private?

Data security, privacy, and ethical issues of collecting data online are the themes of this week’s class session. I think this is a pretty salient topic for our class whose participants all have several social media profiles. I think it’s even safe to say that we probably have more than the average person given our affinity for online communication (the focus of our master’s program) and the fact that classmates regularly share new social networking platforms (glossi.com and flavors.me ring a bell?).

While we are all eager to post the latest photo of party shenanigans or a status update on what we thought about a political debate, we don’t often think about the repercussions. That’s because, for the most part, our social media profiles are limited to the people we share information with. However, according to this week’s readings, found here and here, employers are actually asking applicants for their Facebook account passwords or requesting that they open their profiles there on the spot. I’ve never been in this type of situation but would not even know how to respond if I was asked to share my social networking profiles to strangers who might actually employ me. Not to say that my profiles’ content is alarming, but it’s certainly not something I’d like to share with an HR recruiter.

On the other hand, what about mobile applications that mine data of users surreptitiously? Some of the apps I’ve downloaded actually have asked me to “agree to” certain conditions. They can be apps that can determine my location, mine data from my social networks, and track my online behavior—all while I’m using the application’s function. Our reading on mobile privacy sensing took a closer look at this emerging technology and its implications. The authors of the study pointed out that developing a lay public understanding of mobile sensing privacy, security and risk is critical to a vision of participatory privacy regulation. But casual technology users often underestimate or misunderstand data sharing and security risks, which I believe affects many of us users.

Questions to readers:

-Have you ever had to share your social networking profiles to an employer or potential employer?

-What measures have you taken if any to protect your reputation online?

The Evolution of Marketing Data

Marketers are in an ideal position to benefit from today’s data-rich environment. Not only do they have an opportunity to capitalize on the availability of more consumer buying channels but they have easy access to growing data about consumers.  Thanks to the Internet and mobile technology, marketers have a pathway to consumer behavior like never before. They now have a clearer glimpse of consumer behavior and their habits and preferences. With this knowledge, marketers can tailor advertising campaigns and ensure maximum impact.

Yet while marketers seem to have it easy, they actually have a plethora of information to analyze when determining the direction of their marketing and advertising efforts. In fact, according to this week’s reading, From Information to Audiences: The Emerging Marketing Data Use Cases, in 2009 the world produced 5 exabytes, or the equivalent of 25 quadrillion Tweets, every two days. Without even seeing more current research, I think it’s safe to assume that today that number is much higher.

Indeed, marketers have endless data at their fingertips but in order to make the most of this fortuitous situation they will have to develop the right capabilities. In particular, according to the organizations that produced the aforementioned reading, Winterberry Group LLC and the Interactive Advertising Bureau, marketing organizations need to focus on five areas to succeed in this rapidly changing environment: rules-driven integration of disparate data sets; improve their operating infrastructures; build a strong network of data-centric technology and service partners; and establish marketing data governance.

The most interesting part of the reading was within the audience optimization section, where an organization called Catalina Marketing is highlighted as claiming to collect and analyze in-store purchase data covering 80 percent of the U.S. population. This is an incredible feat—hundreds of millions of peoples’ purchased are being studied, including perhaps, yours and mine! Also, this organization is now combining offline and online sales data to help its consumer goods make better choices on their promotional offers—ultimately to improve optimization of their audience.

 Questions to readers:

 -What marketing practices look like they will become standard in the near future (based on technology and growing data about consumers)?

 -How do you use marketing data (whether in your work or for research)?   

Message Testing: Are You Getting Your Message Across?

Have you ever visited a horrible website and wondered about its purpose? Have you ever been turned off by a website’s color, music, or design? Chances are the company didn’t employ message testing. Message testing for online media allows companies to understand who is reading their content and how people are reacting to it. Indeed, this tool is critical to creating a successful media campaign and strong identity online. Further, how a company markets itself online is extremely important, especially for attracting new customers, and keeping current ones, so message testing is something that all companies should consider.

Survey research can help companies understand precisely how its message is being received by users. It involves deciding on a range of different ideas for how to market a company and helps them to dwindle it down to one that best gets the message across.

Message testing can be conducted several ways, however, there are a few key goals. The first aim of message testing is to ensure that the message is sticking with users. Is it memorable? Next, message testing should help companies understand if it stands out among competitors. If the company doesn’t stand out, it then knows where it needs to improve. The third goal of message testing is to help companies decide on a message that is an accurate reflection of its vision. The message should be all encompassing and broad enough target all potential audiences. Lastly, message testing should help companies develop a message that makes customers react positively—whether it’s a call to action or a conversion of some sort (buying a product or service).

While I haven’t had the opportunity to carry out message testing research on a grand scale, I can agree that it has the potential to help companies create campaigns or an online identity that will help them accomplish their goals. I think that one company that consistently has the same strong message each time I visit its website is Apple. The message is consistent, clear, and attractive and I always leave the website wishing I could upgrade to the latest iPhone or iPad (I’d say the message is a success!).

Questions to readers:

-What website has a strong message? 

-Have you carried out message testing? If so, how did it help improve your message?

-When is message testing most appropriate?

Understanding Eye Tracking

Eye tracking is the process of measuring a person’s point of gaze or where they are looking. This is made possible through an eye tracking tool that monitors and measures eye positioning and movement. It’s not a phenomenon; in fact it’s been around since the 1800s but it’s just as important today as it was centuries ago. Today, researchers and marketing executives should be employing eye tracking mechanisms to better understand whether their websites, marketing campaigns, and layouts are working and engaging users as they were intended.

Our class readings included findings of an eye tracking study of newspapers conducted by Poynter that I think are still relevant to marketers today. Some of the findings were that photos attracted attention, eyes followed common patterns of navigation, color appealed to readers, and images more viewed more often than text. Sure, these are not ground breaking findings but they still hold true today, and for media beyond newspapers.

Indeed, there is more to track today than just newspaper layouts. For instance, within an average webpage there are a number of elements that can attract a viewers’ attention. Marketers would be wise to find out where viewers’ eyes land first: Is it the flashing text, buttons, navigation bar, or Google Ads?

This is just a primer on eye tracking and I will share more interesting thoughts on this topic during my presentation later this week.

For now, my questions to readers are:

-Have you used eye tracking for your websites or media?

-Would you think about employing eye tracking for your portfolio websites?