Why you should care about stickers on your fruit

Stickers on fruits and vegetables are officially known as PLU codes or price look-up codes.

Initially, in the 1990s, they contained bar codes only to facilitate inventory control. Soon, logos and website URLs were added. Now they are rather ingenious, tiny billboards.

In fact, a PLU sticker turns a banana into a brand. It doesn’t stop there. For example, put a few lettuce heads into a plastic bag, and, surprise, they turn into a “value-added vegetable product.” The “value-added” piece translates into more profit for food distributors, presumably because putting lettuce heads into a plastic bag with a PLU code on it makes our lives more convenient.

The 1400 PLU codes in circulation around the world today symbolize the globalization and the commercialization of basic food commodities.

I’ve been exploring this theme in the PLU Codes Project. This multi-year project includes a series of multi-media visual art pieces — all of them intended to make you smile, and, maybe, make you pause for a moment. I welcome your comments.

Photo credit: Detail of la Orana Maria, 1891, modified with PLU code, trademark TM Chiquita. Original image: Paul Gauguin (1848–1903). At the MET in NY, NY. Oil on canvas 113.7 cm x 87.6 cm. Bequest of Sam A. Lewisohn, 1951.  Concept copyright 2017 © by Nandy Heule

Pros and cons of hiring content writers online

Perhaps I need to start this blog post with an apology.

I posted a (fake) writing assignment on Freelancer.com and held my breath, about three minutes or so. That’s how long it took the first freelancer to respond to my request “to do some blog posting.”

Since I am a content writer I felt I should check out the competition on a site such as Freelancer.com. The website claims over 18 million registered users.

About six additional freelancers followed in quick succession to let me know they would like to complete my assignment. Another dozen or so took a few days to send me an email. That’s an impressive and quick response rate. The website calculated the average cost quoted by the candidates. Each freelancer gets rated (up to five stars) and reviewed by clients. So far, so good!

Next, I completed a quick review of the candidates’ profiles. Allow me to summarize my findings: If a person can’t submit a basic bio, maybe said person shouldn’t moonlight as a freelance writer.

Here are two typical bios of writers with five stars:

“Being a platinum level expert ezine author and having 4 years of writing expertise (articles, rewriting, blogs, ghostwriting etc), I am fully confident that I can deliver you high quality, plagiarism free, seo friendly and error free articles within the earliest possible time and also at an affordable price. Please check my portfolio for samples.” (A 52-words sentence with multiple errors!)

“i am H. G., a first class degree holder of Geography/Environmental management and also a full-time professional writer. I write articles, SEO, Press releases, Academic assignments and Technical writings. With my services, your project shall be delivered as at when requested and also of the highest standards. Your satisfaction is my primary objective.”

freelancer2Next, the website sent me an avalanche of email with interesting subject lines. See illustration.

Next, I closed down the fake job and my account. My apologies to the candidates!

Does it make sense to hire through a website such as Freelancer.com? Based on my initial experience, I would proceed with caution.

Surprisingly, the average rate quoted by the Freelancer.com candidates came in at $80/hour. My assignment didn’t specify the amount of writing or research required. Nevertheless, that isn’t exactly cheap and in line with rates charged by many professional freelance writers in Toronto.

Looking for a qualified content writer who is registered with a professional association and accountable to a peer group? A person who knows your local market and Canadian context? Who is aware of differences in American, Canadian or British spelling, punctuation, vocab, measurements, currencies and preferences?

In the GTA, I suggest you visit PWAC or PIC, a group of Indies who are also members of IABC. And, of course, I’d love to hear from you at any time.

 

 

 

Use Facebook to target Boomers, seniors

thought

Surprisingly, maintaining a Facebook Page may now be even more important for organizations targeting Boomers compared to those reaching youth.

Social media trends strongly suggest that big platforms like Facebook and Twitter are being abandoned by folks under age 35.

I recommend an excellent study by Assistant Professor of Digital Communication and Social Media at Cabrini College in Pennsylvania. (And thanks to a colleague for passing the info on to me.) In her short essay, she mentions that Time magazine recently reported over 11 million kids have left Facebook since 2011.

Duncan says, “Many younger people are logging into Facebook simply to see what others are posting, rather than creating content of their own. Their photos, updates, likes and dislikes are increasingly shared only in closed gardens like group chat and Snapchat.”

One reason young folks are leaving big platforms? Such social media sites have  gone mainstream. (For example, kids don’t necessarily wish to share their Friday night activities with mom, aunts and grandma!) Almost half of those over 65 who use the Internet now have a Facebook account according to a recent Pew study. In other words: Facebook stopped being cool a long while ago.

When a business wants to target Boomers and older consumers, the online strategy and content need to be driven by a content writer who understands this cohort and hangs out on social media like they do.

New Bathroom etiquette?

toilet

Have you noticed the “flushing signs” popping up in public bathrooms? With the gradual switch to electronic toilets, we seem to be a bit confused these days about bathroom etiquette.

The slow introduction of new technology can have unintended consequences. Just in case you conclude this piece is about Monday Motivation only, read my post on the gradual introduction of a new brand identity  and how this may have unintended consequences.

To flush or not to flush?

My most recent example (left) comes from the wonderfully renovated Robertson building on Spadina Street in Toronto.

No-touch taps, no-flush toilets, no-touch hand dryers, automatic soap dispensers — it seems to be a trend. What’s the end goal, I ask? Will it cut the spread of germs? Suggestions?

Please send me your photos of similar signs! I’ll eventually share my growing collection of these types of signs that help us navigate the brave new world of hi-tech bathrooms.

toilet 2

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Do junior staff outperform on social media?

old computerIf you wish, call this post Confessions of an Older Communications Consultant.

Often, organizations hire young staffers to fill social media jobs.

Is this an example of ageism in the workforce?

I used to think so.

After reviewing media consumption logs maintained by a Canadian university class recently, I gained a different perspective.

The average student self-reported six and a half hours of media consumption in a typical 24-hour period. This included three hours on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube  and Instagram.

Apparently, for many young people, social media is in their DNA; it’s a lifestyle.

Employees with family responsibilities, jobs, commutes, community commitments, and after-hour Inbox overload can’t spend hours a day, every day, on social media.  Moreover, would they have any desire to do so? (And, here is my confession: I certainly do not have the desire to do so.)

Does it take 180 minutes daily to become truly social media savvy? Probably not. Can older individuals successfully invest significant professional time into social media? Understand how it interacts with other tools in the communication toolbox and can help to build customer loyalty, brand and bottom lines? Absolutely.

But, to be fair, a young employee who routinely invests 180 minutes each day into social media will likely be highly qualified to accept social media responsibilities, and, more importantly, love the job.

One footnote: When a business wants to target Boomers and older consumers, the online strategy and content should likely to be driven by a content writer who understands this cohort. A person who engages in new media consumption and “hangs out” on Facebook like other middle-aged consumers.  After all, almost half of those over 65 who use the Internet now have a Facebook account according to a recent Pew study.

 

Why Pope Francis should stop Tweeting this Christmas

Pope frances

Christmas is around the corner so this is as good a time as any to urge Pope Francis to close down his Twitter account.

Pope Francis has been praised for engaging his followers on social media. His Twitter account has gained 8.15M English language followers since early 2012. The Holy See “follows” nobody (makes sense, I suppose); his eight ‘followers’ are duplicate Twitter feeds in different languages such as Arabic, Polish, Spanish and German with a combined following of an additional 12M.

It sounds revolutionary. The most ordinary individuals can now get access to personal, inspirational messages from the most prominent Christian in the world at any time, at any place.

For example, during the Paris attacks last month, the Holy See tweeted, “I’m deeply saddened by the terrorist attacks in Paris. Please join me in prayer for the victims and their families #PrayersforParis.” The Tweet was liked 65K times and re-tweeted 40K times.

This is what celebrity Katy Perry told the world: “Guys, it’s time to #PrayforParis right now.” She outperformed the Holy Father. Her 79M followers re-tweeted the message 49K times and 63K liked it.

And that’s the rub. Although @pontifex may make the Pope seem  accessible, he is more likely diluting his personal brand.

Just imagine scrolling through an average Twitter feed:

  • Justin Bieber: @whoisvers Why is this Justin Bieber album so fucking amazing
  • Eminem: I’m ready for war, got machetes and swords… #ShadyWars
  • CNN: Dashing through the snow In a one horse open sleigh O’er the Capitol Hill fields we go http://cnn.it/1maAE1o
  • Pope Francis: One goal for each day: to convey the tenderness of Christ to those who are most in need.

Really?

Accessibility is good, but not at the expense of erasing important differences in status, authority and influence. No matter what one may think about the Catholic Church or the Pope, he is not on equal footing with celebrities and 24-hour TV channels. At least I don’t hope so. This Christmas, let’s stop pretending.

Cash and content are king in our digital world

cartoonby Nandy Heule

An SEO marketing company recently plastered simple flyers on telephone poles to advertise their services in mid-town Toronto.

One of their offers included “content bundles.” For example, three articles and 40 social media posts each month will cost you $99 for 1,500 words.

Maybe it sounds self-serving, but I’m concerned about this service offering.

The general consensus now suggests “content is king.” Your online info will be read if it is of serious interest to the readers you are targeting as well as SEO-friendly. Moreover, such content needs to be free of grammatical errors, typos and plagiarism.

A steady trickle of new, quality content will improve search engine performance. Such blog posts and news updates showcase an organization’s experience, creativity, and commitment to excellence. Quality content helps build influence and reputation, not just web traffic. It builds brand and bottom lines.

It makes sense to hire an experienced freelance writer who can work with rough notes, industry research, client success stories and other materials. She can turn such information into compelling copy — content that tells a brand story, demonstrates positive impact, and builds influence. Please plan to pay more than $99 for 1,500 words for this process. But, be confident that what you look like online matches the quality work you provide.

If the content marketing budget can’t exceed $99 a month, talk to a good writer who can produce 1 or 2 pieces of quality material. Less may very well be more!  A client testimonial, an industry event, an inspirational quote, a staff bio, an image with a caption, or a factoid can all provide strong content on a limited budget.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you need a Toronto-based freelance writer to have a look at your content and evaluate its effectiveness.