Posts in Opinion
You choose - inspired or insipid?

You've seen the inspirational words in your timeline, shared with you by others. But do they? Inspire you?

Do the words fill you with the urge to do more or to do better?

Or are they insipid? Bland, weak, flavourless?

The truly inspirational energises, galvanises and motivates.  It transforms your thinking, elevating "yes, I can do this" to become the theme for your day.

Find ways to fill the timeline of your life with genuine daily inspiration. Keep up the momentum and you'll convert "yes I can" to "yes I did", over and over.

Inspired by the Seth Godin blog.

How to get a great headshot photo

First impressions count for a lot. However much we might say that we want to judge by merit, not appearance, our initial opinion is heavily influenced by how someone or something looks.Whether we’re researching a restaurant or shop, a new business contact or potential employee, a website or social media profile, our reaction will be affected by those first impressions.

This is why the quality and presentation of the headshot photos you use on social media are so important. I recently picked up some useful tips from photographer David Morphew which I’m sharing here.

We humans are a social lot and we’re naturally drawn towards pictures of people. Hence the recommendation to use a headshot or portrait photo on your social media profile. We find it easier to connect with people than with a logo or some other, more impersonal image.

A headshot photo brings the added benefit that people recognise you when you meet in person.

As portrait photographer David Morphew was updating the images I’ll be using on my social media accounts, we chatted through the elements that make up a great headshot.

Use a professional photographer

This is my tip, not David’s. A good quality portrait says a lot about your attention to detail and the best way to get one is by using a professional. Or at least a good amateur.

During my training courses, when I talk about using portrait or headshot photos, quite a few people tell me they don’t like photos of themselves. In most cases, I suspect that’s because they’ve not been photographed professionally.

And even if you really don’t like to see a picture of yourself, you’re not putting an image on your social media profile for your pleasure. You’re doing it as part of your online marketing.

People do business with people, not logos, so I recommend you start that person-to-person relationship as early as possible. Photos of yourself that you’re not embarrassed to use are a great asset.

Relax and enjoy the shoot

I find it hard to smile for the camera. That’s because I don’t usually pay much attention to how I smile - it just happens. When David asked me to smile, I became aware of all those facial muscles that normally work unconsciously.

Part of the photographer’s skill is to get the subject to relax and to forget those facial muscles. David’s jokey, slightly irreverent style made that easy. He coaxed me into a variety of facial expressions without me needing to try too hard.

I have a newfound respect for professional models who know how to manipulate their look!

Changing the the environment can help you relax. Below are two photos that I like - one is posed and the other David snapped when we went for coffee after the shoot. I thought we were done when we got to the cafe, but clearly not.

Think about the look you want to achieve

David recommends that you wear your normal business attire for a photoshoot, and ideally have some variations on it.

You’ll look most comfortable when you’re wearing clothes that you’re used to. It also helps people connect with you more easily, both through a photo and if you meet in person.

Variations in appearance can help you transition between the serious professional look and the more relaxed, approachable style. Both may deserve a place in your portfolio, depending on the context in which the photos are to be used.

You may want to use a more relaxed, smiling image on Twitter, but adopt a more formal look for LinkedIn. If you’re using the photos to go out with press releases, you want an image that matches the tone of the story.

Lighting makes a huge difference

David talked about sculpting with light. From the way he speaks, you know that he’s continually thinking about how to use lighting, both natural and artificial, to get a better result.

The easiest way to discover what approach to lighting works best is to try several alternatives. David shot me in his studio using natural light, then with a seriously large but not overwhelmingly bright flash. After that, we went outdoors into a chilly, bright February morning.

While we liked the idea of the outdoors photos, they didn’t make it to the final portfolio.

Andrew Knowles
Andrew Knowles

Don’t face the camera directly

Why do passport photos look so grim? Because you’re staring directly into the camera lens, with no smile, and the lighting is purely functional.

David’s advice for getting a decent headshot is to position your shoulders at an angle to the camera. Take a look at the photos below - one is square on, the other at an angle.

The camera itself doesn’t need to be at the same height as your face. It could be looking down on you, or looking up. Looking down is popular because when you look up to the camera, the skin beneath your chin is stretched, helping to mask sags and bags.

It’s not obvious from these photos, but when David took them, I was sitting down and he was standing up.

Andrew Knowles
Andrew Knowles

Perfecting the results with image editing

Many of my photos looked great straight out of the camera. David’s skill with lighting, angles and depth of field was evident. But there was still room for improvement using Photoshop.

David hasn’t performed virtual plastic surgery on me, trimming off pounds or reshaping my nose and chin. All that was possible, I’m sure, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

Now it’s time to play ‘spot the difference’. Before reading on, take a look at the two photos below to see what’s changed.

Andrew Knowles
Andrew Knowles

How many differences did you count? I’ve not asked David what he altered, but there are at least three changes.

First, it’s brighter, bringing out more of the colour in my face and clothes, and brightening the background.

Secondly, I’ve been flattered by having the lines around my eyes softened. They’re not hidden - just not quite so obvious.

Thirdly, my hair is a little more under control. I confess this is a change I made having received the photos. My hair does have a tendency to stick out at odd angles, despite my best efforts to take control of it. In this case, that control came through Photoshop.

When I put the two images side by side on my computer screen, I also thought that David had airbrushed out a mark on my face, but then I realised it was a mark on my screen!

How often should you update your headshot photos?

The photos I’ve been using until recently were taken in 2008. That’s eight years ago. I leave it for you to judge whether I needed to update them.

Andrew Knowles
Andrew Knowles

I recommend that you consider updating your headshots every two to three years. Your appearance may not have changed much, but perhaps the image you want to portray has.

Putting fresh photos of yourself on your website and social profiles gives them something of a refresh.

Don’t be shy when it comes to using headshots as part of your marketing. Be confident that your face is an asset. Using good quality headshots means you’re taking control of how your face appears, in order to help make that all-important positive first impression.

Click here to learn more about photographer David Morphew, who's now based in Dorset.

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If you liked this post, take a look at:

How to use a hashtag

How to get more people reading your Facebook posts

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What is Periscope and why is it so important to my Dorset business?

BlogFeatured-BroadcastingApps If you want your business to grow and stay successful for more than just the next few years, you need to know about Periscope.

More accurately, you need to know about Periscope and similar apps. Why? Because in my view, they’re game-changers in the world of social media communication. If you thought Facebook and Twitter were at the sharp end of social media, think again.

What is Periscope?

Periscope is an app that allows you to broadcast live, to the world, from wherever you are. It’s not the only one - there’s a similar app called Blab and more apps like these are on their way. The technology is referred to as ‘streaming’.

At the moment, Periscope, which is part of Twitter, is relatively simple. You download the app onto your smartphone or tablet (it doesn’t work on laptops or desktops) and create an account. Like Twitter, it lets you follow people and others can follow you.

To broadcast, just tap the red ‘Broadcast’ button, add a title and press start. Then you’re live online and any other Periscope user can choose to join in.

People watching your Periscope can type in comments, visible to everyone, which float up from the bottom of the screen and disappear after a few seconds. To show their appreciation for your Periscope, people can tap the screen and a heart appears and floats upwards. These hearts are ‘likes’ and the number you receive is displayed on your Periscope profile.

When your Periscope is over, it’s available for replay for 24 hours. You can delete the replay version if you’d rather no one watched it!


How Periscope can benefit your business

I think streaming video is a game-changer for social media marketing because it removes barriers between you and your customers. It’s now even easier to let customers inside your business and, as any retailer knows, a customer inside the door is worth much more than one who just looks in through the window, or walks on by.

That’s not to say that Periscope is only great for retail, because it can help any business.

Let’s say your business is accountancy. Using Periscope you could broadcast a short, timely snippet of tax advice on a regular basis - like weekly or even daily. Think of it as an extension to blogging. In time, it may even replace blogging.

Holiday accommodation providers could broadcast from local attractions or events, or give tours of their facilities.

The only limit to using Periscope is your imagination. Do it well and you’ll build an audience who are willing to tune in, and all the time you’ve got their attention, you’re building a relationship with them. Many sales, particularly higher value sales, begin with relationships.

I’m looking forward to seeing Dorset businesses begin to take advantage of streaming apps such as Periscope.

Find and follow me on Periscope - download the app and look up Dorset_Social.

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Stop selling and start telling

You put people off by shouting about your wares Old fashioned advertising (that is, pre-social media) was easy. You created an ad that said ‘Buy this from me’ and put it into a newspaper, a magazine or online.

Whether you were selling scuba gear, holiday accommodation or bookkeeping services, the process was more or less the same.

So what happened when social media came along? You opened an account for your business and started doing the same thing as you’d always done: ‘Buy this from me, buy this from me.’

Except it doesn’t work. Why?

Because when people use social media, it’s not like reading a magazine or brochure. They don’t just want information coming at them, they want to exchange information. And they want to talk about things that interest them.

So stop selling

Here are some of the selling actions that annoy people on social media:

  • Promoting your product and service in every post you put out.
  • Hijacking hashtags and Twitter chats simply to promote yourself.
  • Sending people Direct Messages on Twitter, saying ‘Thank for following us, now come and buy our stuff’ (or words to that effect).

Take a look at the Dorset firms that use a lot of social media, like Goldhill Organics or Dorset Cereals. Are all their posts pushing their products? No, they're not. They often share posts from others and while they often mention their own products, there are no pleas for you to buy from them.

And start telling

What’s the difference between selling and telling?

Selling is: ‘Buy from me.’ Telling is: ‘This is what we do and why we do it.’ Telling is often about stories.

A great example of telling not selling
A great example of telling not selling

Ways that you can ‘tell’ on social media include:

  • Sharing about the background to your products, such as where you source from and why.
  • Talking about the people in your business: staff, suppliers, customers.
  • Post pictures of the wonderful area we live and work in. Dorset is so photogenic!
  • Encouraging discussion about subjects that could interest your followers and have nothing to do with your business.

People are increasingly making choices about who they buy from based on how much a business cares about the environment, its staff and its customers.

By ‘telling’ you can encourage people to feel positive about your business, increasing the chances of them buying from you.

The bad news is that ‘telling’ takes time.


The good news is that social media makes it really easy to follow businesses that are interesting and ignore those that just sell.

So be sure to be interesting!

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Don’t fall for the fool’s gold of viral content

Do you love it when your social media content goes viral? Within hours of being posted, it’s been shared thousands of times and, briefly, you feel a little bit special because all those eyeballs have been looking at something you created. Businesses love the idea of viral because it exposes their brand or their product to a huge crowd of potential new customers. Sales will surely soar!

Or do they? My experience is that a single viral post doesn’t make a huge difference, and it’s very hard to achieve in the first place. If you’re striving for viral, I suggest you forget it and concentrate on consistency and quality. Read on to discover why.


What does ‘going viral’ mean?

Every now and again, a picture, a video, a song or a message will go viral. In the most extreme cases, it’s suddenly everywhere. Think back to the blue/gold dress image that went viral in early 2015 – what started as a question posted on Tumblr finished up making national headlines.

Something goes viral when the message is picked up and passed on by large numbers of people in a short space of time. The message spreads fast because it has common appeal.

Viral marketing attempts to copy this idea by creating easy to share messages that entice people into sharing them widely, meaning the marketing campaign achieves huge impact for a small budget. It’s a great idea that, in practice, is very hard to achieve.

The myths of viral content

The first myth of viral content is that you can make it happen. Truth is, you can’t predict what will have mass appeal beyond your usual audience.

Every year corporations spend millions on marketing campaigns without knowing which will sink without trace and which might become hugely popular, living on in popular culture for years, if not generations.

My mother, now in her 70s, still sings a marketing jingle ‘a little bit of bread and magic’, which she heard years ago. ‘Magic’ was, I think, an alternative to butter. Their marketing message certainly left a lasting impression, at least on her.

But most of marketing campaigns, the memorable and the forgettable, involve spending a lot of money on getting the message out. They only become viral when we, the audience, begin enthusiastically sharing the message with one another. How often does that happen?

The second myth of viral marketing is that it’s cheap. This is because we see the massive impact of a single photo, like the blue/gold dress. That was a marketing success for the makers, Roman Designs, but they didn’t initiate it. They just happened to be quick to respond to the interest.

Brands that have some success with viral marketing spend a lot of money on researching and developing their marketing strategies. Occasionally an inexpensive marketing message will become popular and go viral, but again, it’s impossible to predict when this will happen.

Don’t give up on viral

Catch this - it's going viral!

Having said that getting your marketing message to go viral is both impossible to predict and can be very expensive to achieve, you probably think I’m suggesting that you give up on the idea.

You’re partly right. I don’t recommend that you put the burden of “make it go viral” on your social media marketer. Instead, aim to publish good quality content on a regular basis. Focus on engaging and growing your audience.

If you do that, you may just find that suddenly, unexpectedly, something goes viral.

I’ll share an example from one of the accounts I manage – Weymouth, Dorset on Facebook. I use this account to share images from around Weymouth and over the last few years it’s built an audience of around 3,000 people. The statistics tell me that most of my posts only reach a few hundred.

In early July, I shared a photo of the view from Abbotsbury along Chesil Beach towards Portland. Within two days it had been seen by almost 150,000 people, received 7,500 likes and over 300 shares.

My picture, with its simple question: “Does this qualify as one of the best views in Dorset?” had gone viral. Why? I can’t be sure and I’ve not been able to repeat its success on the same scale.

The ingredients you probably need for a viral message

Nothing can guarantee that your message will go viral – although getting a selfie with the Queen, the Pope or Obama is probably a good bet.

Failing that, I suggest these as the ingredients you need to create an environment where ‘going viral’ could happen.

A biggish audience – going viral is relative. If you have ten followers and your message suddenly reaches 250, you might claim it’s gone viral. But to achieve really big numbers, well into the thousands, means starting with a sizable audience.

An engaged audience – you can get thousands of followers overnight if you buy them, but what you want is people who’ll look at your posts because they’re interested. My Chesil beach photo went viral because it’s what the audience wanted to see.

Consistency – growing that biggish and engaged audience means sharing good quality content on a regular basis. Try to share something every day and stick to a theme.

Do all this and one day you may be taken by surprise when a photo or video you upload suddenly has mass appeal, way beyond what you expect.

It's all relative: is 5,000 retweets viral when you have 7.45m followers?

Two final thoughts about going viral

Firstly, don’t bank on making a fortune, even a small one, from a viral post. It will probably draw in more followers and some additional clicks through to your website, but it won’t make a massive difference unless you can find a way to capitalise on it. Even then, the moment will pass very quickly.

Secondly, I don’t recommend trying to borrow someone else’s ideas or posts in a bid to go viral. I see a lot of people sharing what they consider to be humorous images or videos they haven’t created, in an attempt to go viral and get lots of followers.

This doesn’t work and it won’t help you to build an audience of people genuinely interested in what your business has to share.

There’s no denying that it’s fun when one of your posts unexpectedly goes viral. When it happens, enjoy the moment and by all means, try to learn why it happened and attempt to repeat it.

Chasing after viral success is likely to be a frustrating pursuit of what turns out to be fool’s gold. As in the real world, finding true gold means consistently working on your social media for month after month.

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OpinionAndrew KnowlesComment