I met Erin H. Lyman last week for a portrait in the garden at SkinHappy in Monterey. I had been following her on Instagram as she is one of the most active movers and shakers in the Monterey Arts Scene. Even at a glance you could tell that she has the right stuff for a podcast. She knows what’s up.
Portraits and Podcasting
Every portrait session is like an interview in some way, but with Erin our conversation was interesting enough for me to want to start a podcast with her. I mentioned that I was interested in podcasting and she suggested that I visit a place in Monterey called The Shop. She knew they had a recording studio all set up, so I met her there and checked it out.
Erin spends her days and some of her evenings promoting artist and arts organizations around the Monterey County. In order to do this effectively, she has a network of people she interacts with. This is known as an engagement pod and it is an effective way to create traction for social media accounts trying to get a message out to the public. It also sounds like a party you would throw for dolphins. Through her network of people, she introduced me to Chris Powers at The Shop and now we have a podcast in the works.
Marketing and Art in the Digital Age
Our podcast is going to be about strategies for making and marketing art in today’s cultural and economic climate. We are going to be recording at The Shop in Monterey and episodes should be available on your favorite podcast platform, soon. I look forward to bringing you some entertaining and useful information through conversations with Erin H. Lyman!
Cannabis: I believe cannabis can do the greatest good for humankind immediately and in the long run. Worldwide legalization of cannabis will set the scales back towards justice and will restore some faith in the sincerity of the systems of governance. It is hard to trust anyone who is against cannabis. It’s like being against naps or being anti-mellow. You people are getting along too well! You must be stoned. What’s next? Cooking up some dank munchies? Crimes against culinary standards? Too much caramel sauce on the cereal? Not only do I believe that the side effects of cannabis are harmless, we all know they are beneficial to many people. Anyone struggling with loss of appetite or insomnia can regain control over vital parts of their health with the help of some quality cannabis. I think that more than the obvious advantages legal cannabis creates (tax revenue instead of criminal activity, for one) the main shift that legal cannabis will bring is a shift in tone. It will open up that beautiful space that only stoners know where there is a sense of innocence, a mellowing out of the harshest vibes, a sense that daily life is ok and that it really matters. Cannabis leads people on an introspective journey that leads to gardening and preserving tomatoes and that is a-ok. As a content pillar, I intend to write about cannabis to advocate for its use, to highlight brands that are doing good things, to interact with cannabis influencers, and to share stoner experiences.
Writing: Writing is thought given shape and refinement through the logic of composition and editing. We use the tools of composition to establish our thoughts on a topic and to express our opinions, ask questions and to share stories. Through editing, we revise both what we think and how we compose our ideas. Writing is the mysterious revelation of self. Instead of merely looking into a mirror, we have to slowly develop a sense of how what we think looks in the external world. Our thoughts are native to our experience, but the moment we externalize them and give them form through a composition, in the shape of an essay, we begin to see who we are. This gives us the ability to change what we think, and in the process to direct the development of our character. Writing gives us intellectual intentionality. Through writing, we are able to determine how to use the best of what we think to the advantage of those we wish to help. Writing about writing is important because thinking about thinking is important. It’s fundamental to improving your form. Strategizing about writing, coming up with prompts, working on exercises and having a dialogue about strategies and techniques keeps the ball in play. By paying attention to writing, we can improve our quality of thought, we can make better decisions, and we can help other people to find their direction and purpose. Language is uniquely human, and writing is the focused and deliberate use of language to express ideas. By writing, you become more human. You can both learn about who you are, discover how you want to be, and work on growing into the kind of human you respect and admire. Writing is our most powerful tool of self-analysis. When combined with the introspective tendency of cannabis consumption, writing can lead to breakthrough after breakthrough.
Photography: Photography is my main visual mode of work, these days. I love video and painting, but I have been thinking about and practicing photography for the past fifteen years with a passion and dedication. Photography has helped me to grow, to give people valuable memories, to help promote businesses and to have amazing relationships. Studying photography was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The history of photography is so brief, but it has accelerated to such an impossibly enormous volume. Being thoughtful about photography both leads to making better photographs and to understanding the world of photography, but it is also a tool of introspection. You go out into the world to find subjects. You explore compositions with your camera. When you return to the studio to edit your photos, however, you are faced with some idea about yourself and your job is to present that to the world in a way they will find the most interesting. This can also lead you to understand things about yourself and about how the world feels about you. Like all meaningful growth that can be painful at times and pleasurable at others.
Marketing: The future is going to have more marketers than ever. That is the logical conclusion of a workforce left with nothing but creativity and communication. With the advance of automation, people will increasingly need to become more adept at messaging and branding. While some people feel an aversion to sales, they don’t like being sold to, marketing can be much more than a pitch. It can be beautiful design, thoughtful writing and interesting research. Marketing can be useful to you and when it is, then it really works well. There is no escaping marketing. One common form of marketing you see is the marketing of no marketing which is essentially a business or person bragging that they are so good and so in demand that they don’t have to spend much on advertising or branding. It shows an ignorance about branding, though. That is marketing and branding: it is the branding of no marketing. We don’t need no stinking marketing marketing. Yes you do. We all need good marketing.
Art: The category of art as a separate sphere of concern from other forms of media will always be interesting to me and so I will always think and write about it for those who are interested in what I have to say about it. If art can be any media, then why not consider all media art? There are deep philosophical reasons for wanting a category of cultural production that defines itself differently than the rest of culture. There is something deeply generative about the category existing in the first place. It is an invitation to experiment, an ethos of innovation, a reputation for making things new. Art matters the same way freedom of speech matters. It is so fundamental to the way we think, even if not consciously, that it is almost impossible for us to see why it matters. Writing about art is an attempt to give us that perspective even if just for a moment to look behind the curtain at what the category of art is doing socially and culturally and why it matters.
Landscape: Being out in a natural setting, watching how the sun travels, moving through the landscape in a way where I understand the various textures on the trail, all of these things matter to me deeply. As a human animal, I crave a connection to the landscape. I want to know what is happening in the woods. I want to explore every creek and know every tree. Writing about the landscape is important because it can help us to remember our priorities in times that we are easily distracted by other things.
Ocean: The ocean connects us all. As the universal symbol of the unconscious, the ocean is the most dynamic and deep subject for humans to ponder. It is so dramatic and expressive, it demands a million artist pay attention at all times. I am one of them.
Education is one of the strange social contracts we are born into. We don’t get a choice. We have to go to school. It starts before we can possibly understand what it would even mean. School is where we learn about the social conditions that lead to school. Education is such an intrinsic part of the U.S. citizen’s experience of childhood that we don’t even question it. It is too close to us. It has become normalized. We have been culturally conditioned to believe in school.
Have we been lied to?
Education offers no guarantee of social inclusion or financial success. Anyone who does the work to really study and understand a subject will likely benefit from that education, but that is probably a very rare experience among the vastly wasteful and traumatic institution of public education, generally. For most people, school is the closest they will come to being in jail.
If education was what it said it was, if schools and teachers were adequately funded, then people would be attracted to attend. The fact that we compensate teachers so minimally reveals something closer to the truth about the value of education. As it exists now, it is not worth as much as it should be, and it shows in the way teachers are rewarded. The secret truth is that education is a system that needs to be radically reconsidered and reformed to fit the world we are building. We need a technological revolution in education. We need to rethink how it is done.
When I was in graduate school and teaching at UCSC, there was this trend that was disturbing to a lot of people at the time. Students would evaluate the performance of their teacher at the end of the course and there was a general sense of entitlement and an attitude that is more typical of a customer than a student. The fact that the university is using graduate student labor to teach undergrads, however, is another example undervaluing education. It is a commodity, and it is sometimes a low budget production that is also incredibly expensive.
Would it be better if we treated education like a business? It would be more honest. We would try harder. There is something about how our educational system is designed that takes the best from us and does not prepare us to succeed in any way, except through compliance. It teaches us the consequence of non-compliance. If school was a good system, it wouldn’t need to rely so heavily on the threat of punishment.
And yet, school can be a great system. It can work really well for some people. When it is adequately resourced, education can be a thriving and vital culture. When I went to Lewis and Clark College, there was a lot of feeling of freedom. The educational resources were there for you. There was a 14:1 student to professor ratio. You went to dinner at your professor’s homes. It was an intimate experience.
I remember one of the best teachers I ever had, John Haugse, was a visiting painting instructor and he was giving us advice about applying to MFA programs. He said show up to the school on a Friday afternoon and see how busy it is. If the place is humming with activity and people have their hands dirty, then that’s a good sign. If it is quiet, the program is lackluster and won’t get you where you need to go.
Higher education is a gnarly careerist culture. The politics of academia are mind numbing. People are competing for positions of power. It is some strange cross between celebrity-based reality television like programming and pencil pushing accounting. A lot of it is just paperwork. But it is all highly political and therefore everything becomes politicized. You would think that there would be a meritocracy in education, but nepotism and relationships matter as much or more there than in other industries.
The fallacious foundation of K-12 public education is that it is necessary, which prevents most educators from seeing it as a business. They see it as a utility and therefore do not take it as seriously. In higher education, at least, there is some sense that you have to compete to achieve status. The high school teacher has what power they have because the state gave it to them.
Here’s another way to look at it. In any college curriculum there will be some courses that are mandatory and some courses that are elective. Teaching a course that is a requirement is so much harder and less rewarding than teaching a course that is elective. When people choose to be there instead of having to be there they perform and behave so much better it is hard to describe. It is like the difference between being a prison guard or being the coach of a basketball team. An army of volunteers performs better than an army of conscripts.
What is the original sin of U.S. children that they need to endure 13 years of mandatory institutionalization? What crime did they commit? Why are we asking them to pay with so much of their valuable time? Why don’t people want to go to school? Why don’t they want to study the topics? We haven’t made the experience good enough for them to want to attend. We haven’t earned their attention.
If we want education to become a better system, we would do well to look at why it relies on a system of punishments. What alternatives could we come up with that would engage with students on a level that would help them to thrive? How can we save our educational system?
We have a culture of distrust at the present moment. Our attitude about marketing is symptomatic of this failure to create honest messaging. The good thing is that this can be fixed through education. If people understand how marketing works better, then we can move into a healthier relationship with media.
Take, for example, this article in Men’s Health on a new trend in beer that is designed for after workout consumption. This is going to be about as confusing as anything in our culture can be, as it is a complete mashup of so many opposing things. It points to how bizarre our relationship with marketing and advertising is. The article’s title merits a close reading, just to illuminate how weird things are right now.
The title is: “A Dietician Is Here to Burst Your ‘Performance Beer’ Bubble.” When judging copy or anything that is produced in media it is important to think about more than just the short-term efficacy of the tactics. The title is strategic. It is click bait. It’s pretty clear who it is trying to reach: skeptics, experts, intellectual elitists, people immune to marketing. It is going to give us a reason to laugh at ourselves for wanting the impossible and in doing so it will elevate us above the people who are foolishly believing the advertising.
Men’s Health, like most publications, doesn’t seem to have much faith in its readerships’ interest, its writers’ ability to captivate attention or people’s ability to be interpret marketing, generally. Hence, the clickbait title, but even more telling is how they summarize the entire interview right beneath the title with the takeaway quote. “The marketing is fantastic. But at the end of the day, is it really some magical product? Certainly not.”
That’s all you really need to know. The article then goes into details about various breweries’ efforts to present the public with performance beers or health beers and the science that goes against it. The dietician, Chris Mohr, seems very educated about the interaction between diet and exercise and speaks competently about the lack of merit presented by performance beers. I have no problem with the content of what he said other than his suggesting that the beers are good marketing.
If they are misrepresenting the benefits of drinking their beer, then that is not good marketing; it is dishonest promotion. It is extremely mistaken to think that this is a smart strategy. Politicians are notorious for overpromising and underdelivering and it is because of that tendency that we don’t believe them. If you are trying to create trust with an audience, then you want to do the opposite. If anything, you want to err on the side of underreporting, under-promising and over-delivering.
If people look into the facts of your business and find out that what you are offering is actually better than how you are presenting it, then there is a much greater chance of creating trust. Brands should leave a margin of error in their claims, and we shouldn’t reward dishonest messaging with the title of good marketing. Giving people what they want is a smart business move. Telling people what they want to hear when the reality doesn’t measure up is a great way to ruin your reputation. As marketers, we need to value reputation and not give into the temptation of exaggeration.
We get it, the economy is in trouble, people are scared and fed up at the same time, and nobody seems to have a clear answer to how to solve the problems we are facing. There are plenty of ideas, but the problem is twofold: we need enough political will to execute an idea and we need the organization to keep it going.
While everyone is stuck in this quagmire, many have increased their consumption of social media. This is very understandable as we seek connection, want answers and have nowhere else to look. Social media was already consuming an enormous portion of our collective attention and it now has an even tighter grip on us.
As someone who does social media marketing, I feel a huge responsibility to make great content. Of course, this is a subjective measurement, but I will explain my criteria for creation and selection.
Social Side Effects
First of all, you have to think about the effect your content has on people. You want to put the audience first, and as obvious as this may seem to some it is so common to see marketing that fails at this basic requirement. If you have a brand, an organization or if you are an influencer, then you have to give the audience something they want, something that gives them value.
While businesses have the goal of growing their revenue, social media is not a place to make sales. While it is possible, that is not the ideal use of social: it is more for marketing than for sales. This is possibly the biggest problem that content creators face: how do you satisfy business goals without falling into spammy sales-based content. The answer is: if you do social media well, then people will develop an affinity for the brand and that relationship will lead to an economic exchange. If someone loves your brand, they will support it. If you spam them with obnoxious sales proposals, you not only look desperate, but you repel those relationships that you seek to build.
Professional or Personal?
If you want to reach your professional goals with social media, you have to understand that what you put out there on the internet is not for you. This means separating your personal from your professional work. These spheres are blended often in social media as one of the things that people want to see is what is behind the curtain. People crave and respond to authenticity. So how do your share who you are without it becoming too much information or too self-gratifying?
This dynamic creates a tricky balance. Even if you are showing aspects of your personal life, it is not for your own joy of sharing, but because the public has some interest in connecting with a person behind the public image. Strategy is always important in social media, but now more than ever as people are in heightened psychological states it helps to pay careful attention to why you are posting and what effects it is having.
Social Good or Bad?
Social media is a relatively new phenomena in the world, and its massive influence greatly magnified with the advance of mobile technology. With the coming of 5G it only seems inevitable that phones and social media are likely to be a big part of our lives for the foreseeable future. This means that businesses and organizations really need to participate in this primary form of human communication. Like it or not, the phone is where people’s attention is going.
Because of its recency, the data that we have about social media is difficult to put into a proper context. We are in the infancy of this global development, and we haven’t grown enough with the media to use it in the best possible ways. Of course, there are dangers that we should be aware of and we should strive to create content that is safe and beneficial to human life.
Because of the vastness of social media and the billions of photographs with messages being posted every day there is no way to say if it is good or bad. It is clearly both. People organize social movements for positive change on the same channels that scammers try to steal your information by tempting you to click on a link that is supposed to lead to some kind of sexual fantasy. There are genuinely philanthropic actors making change on social media and there are parasitic mercenaries taking advantage of weakness to make a buck.
Either way, social media is not going to go away, so we can either figure out how to do it well and tip the scales in the balance of good, or we surrender our agency and just accept that the lord of the flies will reign.
What makes social media good?
When you scroll through Instagram, look at your Facebook, peruse Twitter or study LinkedIn what has a positive effect on your mental state and your well being? How does it affect you?
I think that this is a very personal question and the answers must necessarily be personal too, but it has universal importance. For me, it has become a very interesting tool of research. I have created some amazing professional relationships by reaching out to someone with whom I resonated. I like it when people are showing me something that makes me want to do something. Photographs of waves make me want to get in the ocean. Photographs of trails make me want to go for a hike. Great portraits make me want to photograph people. Seeing awesome art gets my creativity fired up. I like the food influencers who are creating delicious looking things that are also good for your body and the planet. Social media helps me to find likeminded people and brands. It can be a source of inspiration and networking
What makes social media bad?
When we see content that doesn’t inspire us or give us something to look forward to it can be a horrible time suck and a distraction from productivity. It is your responsibility to curate your timeline so that what you are looking at is beneficial to your mental state. The things that make social media bad are numerous, but they all come down to causing you to feel unworthy.
At its worst, social media is a huge distraction and a mental health hazard. If we are reckless in our consumption and production of content, then we risk it all. The Internet is a kind of pseudo-public, but we often act as though we are safely at home with the content. The failure to understand the division between real life and social media has cost a lot of people a lot of their lives.
Putting bad content out there is like littering. It is just plain bad for everyone. How do you know if your content is trash? What standards do you use when you decide whether or not to post something? Having some way of measuring what you are putting out there is a good idea. You have to develop some sort of quality control.
How is social media like books and art?
Many if not most people have some degree of discord with the culture they grew up in, whether that is their family, their hometown, or their era in history. Almost nobody is a perfect fit to their place and their time. Many people throughout history have used books and art to connect with likeminded people who are physically unavailable. I remember when I first started taking art and writing seriously, I was obsessed with William Blake. His drawings and poetry gave me a kind of buzz and excitement that I couldn’t find among the people I knew. It was across this vast distance of space and time that I found one of my artistic brothers.
Social media can do this for us, too. But even more amazingly, we have the possibility of connecting with people who never would have been accessible to us in the past. Now, I can direct message an artist in South Africa who is doing something with photography that I find compelling. In this way, social media can be an amazing enhancement to life, and not a negative thing at all.
The Social Future
As we navigate this unprecedented time, and we look at our phones hoping to find some news or inspiration, we have to take responsibility for our part in creating culture and building the world over for the future generations. This means rewarding accounts that post things that you find to be beneficial to your life and ignoring the streams of self-aggrandizing or complaining or otherwise energy sucking media holes.
Your social media is yours to do what you can to make our collective experience better. You can incite hate or promote love. The choice is up to you. What are you going to contribute to our social future?
As many businesses shift to online marketing during a stressful time, there are bound to be lots of mistakes made by those unfamiliar with best practices and marketing strategies. Understandably, people are worried about their businesses and their ability to adapt to this new business landscape. In this blog, I will discuss one approach that has a number of advantages during this time: content marketing.
What is content? Content is the stuff that matters, the substance of your business. Who are the people behind the scenes, what are your values? What is the story that has led your business to its current junction? Content is what your business is about, the stuff it is made of and the people who make it all happen.
The most important thing about creating a content marketing strategy is the same principle in all marketing: put the consumer first. What benefit does your content offer? How can what you are creating help people with their problems?
Two useful resources for getting started with content marketing are the Copyblogger and Storybrandwebsites. For many people, writing can be intimidating, and these websites can help you to approach the task with some guidance. Writing good copy is difficult, however, so it might be something that you need to outsource.
Content marketing uses storytelling techniques to share your offer with the public and if you are able to tell your story in a way that resonates with people looking for services that you provide then you are giving yourself every advantage in that decision-making process.
Some questions that you should answer for your public:
What benefits does your service or good provide to the user?
What problems does your business help to solve?
Why does choosing your brand give your client an advantage?
As many brands make the transition to digital marketing, it is going to be of utmost importance to be strategic and find ways to provide value. Even though this is a stressful time for businesses, we need to remember the basics of marketing: put your audience first, help them to see how your business provides solutions, and listen to feedback.
Right now, if you want to gain more guidance in your content marketing efforts Coursera is offering a free course created by Copyblogger in partnership with UC Davis Extension. You can sign up for that course, HERE: The Strategy of Content Marketing.
One of the great potentials of social media is still painfully underrealized: greater cultural connection for the people of the world. The question is: what barriers are keeping us from getting to know our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, in other cities in the country? Access to technology is the first part of the equation, and Apple has been smart about getting people familiar with their tech by donating computers and phones for entry level experiences. Back in the 90s, it was placing Apple computers in classrooms that helped to raise their profile.
The question is: is this more than great marketing?
It is only within the context of a business climate where the race for market share, the push for profits is out of balance that the best interest of the end consumer falls second to the interest of the brand. Brands are providers, not parasites. In order to serve a public, a brand needs a vital public in a position to use their service. This is why it is in the best interest of big tech companies to humanize their products. In the long run, a social media company that cares about not making addictive products will win. People crave candy but can’t survive on it. Tech companies that provide people with the tools to live fulfilling lives will survive the transition.