Bell Canada fired their president earlier this month because he tried to influence how their subsidiary, CTV, covered the CRTC’s recent “pick and pay” decision. According to George Cope, head of Bell Canada and BCE Inc., the firing was necessary to protect the “independence of Bell Media’s news operations” and to “uphold the journalistic standards that have made CTV the most trusted brand in Canadian news.” This is an example of “brand management,” a sophisticated discipline for which gurus are paid big bucks. A few years ago, writer Naomi Klein released a 10th Anniversary edition of her best-selling book, No Logo, describing how major corporations protect their brands. She analyzes the impact of branding on the contemporary world economy, and the lack of public space free from brands.
The Mike Duffy trial raises questions about the Senate brand, the brand of the Harper government, and the brands of political parties generally. Do the same standards that apply to the corporate world apply to politicians? What is the brand of Canada? How do Canadians view themselves, and how does the world view Canada? How has our national brand evolved? Which political party best protects the Canadian brand? These are big questions worth pondering in the federal election campaign already underway.
A recent phone call from a friend tweaked me to think about branding. It hadn’t occurred to me that the name of my blog is itself a brand. If so, naming a blog becomes a key decision.
It took months to come up with the name “Effervescent Bubble.” Friends said it reflected my personality and would be a great name. I disagreed. When I was a don at the University of British Columbia in the 1960s, one of the residents called me “an effervescent bubble.” I never forgot her. She was a tall, lanky biology student who regularly picked up the carcasses of dead birds she found outside after they’d hit the windows. She would rescue the avian corpses and store them in the freezer of the first-floor kitchen refrigerator until she could dissect them later. Naturally, I received complaints from other residents, and had to sit down with her and suggest she find a morgue for her birds elsewhere. She was not amused. Even though she was not an English major, her branding me as an “effervescent bubble” was clearly intended as an epithet of derision.
And so I remembered it all this time. I knew that I was prone to talking too much and to gushes of enthusiasm which others sometimes find hard to take. When I thought about it, the connotations were of an “airhead,” transitory, and fleeting, of no great consequence. Not the image I really wanted to present.
Others convinced me differently. Bubbles are beautiful, they said, and luminescent and whimsical; all good things which we don’t get enough of and which we find attractive. Perrier and other sparkling waters are popular. And gushes of bubbles in a stream alert us to underlying rocks and eddies and currents which we may not have noticed. And, of course, the bubbles which rise up in a geyser are powerful, and forceful, and cause us to pay close attention. What more could one aspire to, in a brand for a blog?
Maybe. The brand for this blog is hard to spell, but it is quirky and always draws a smile. When I first announced my new blog, I did not know that computers would automatically separate the “effervescent” and the “bubble.” No wonder most got lost in the Google listing of companies producing bubbles which apparently are effervescent. I now make a point of telling potential readers that, when they search the internet for my blog, they will need to override their computers to force the parts of the name together. It is amazing what glitches arise in contemporary technology. But that’s why the gurus recommend test runs, right?
What I did not expect is how the brand has made my life easier. On a psychological level, the brand has redefined into positive terms a latent hurt from my youth. What other inconsequential slights can be cast aside in the face of advancing age and certain mortality? As I now readily identify with bubbles, it also makes shopping a snap. This past winter, our house sitters who are also professional painters noticed that the lighting in the rooms they planned to paint needed upgrading. We went off to one of those big lighting emporia in the North Toronto “design district” to choose the new fixtures. The choices available seemed overwhelming, until we realized that one set of fixtures had a bubbles motif. Voilà! The choice was made for us. And then last week my friend phoned to tell me that her friend had been in a Yorkville dress shop which was showing a long jacket with bubbles on it. Since I had a blog called “Effervescent Bubble,” they both thought I should rush over right away and get a jacket that matched my blog. Who was to know that my brand would lead to having not one, but two personal shoppers? And they were quite right. I visited the shop the next day and, sure enough, there were several garments suitable for a blogger of a certain age with bubbles in her brand. From the powerful to the personal, branding has its advantages.
This blog has become my constant companion and one of my favourite activities. Wherever I go, whatever I do, whomever I meet, whatever I hear of, I ask myself if readers might be interested. If so, I make notes or take photos, and file them where I can find them for potential future use. Thanks to everyone who has made suggestions and shared their stories with me over the year. It is these personal stories and suggestions which have been most popular. Keep them coming and the blog can continue forever. Well, maybe awhile, anyway….
When we (and I say “we” because the idea was not mine) launched this blog, I had no idea what benefits I would gain from it. On so many levels. Curiosity is a blessing; being able to indulge it a gift beyond measure. That’s precisely what the blog has done. It has opened my eyes and given me license to engage with everything and everyone around me to the extent my energy allows. Attending City Council meetings, scanning daily newspapers, reading books, seeing films, walking around the city, enjoying cultural and community life, working out at the Y, on vacation; preparing posts for the blog provides a purpose to help make life more meaningful for myself and, perhaps incidentally, for others.
The blog has also been a vehicle for my personal re-education. I wanted to learn to write. That is happening. The more I write the blog, the easier it becomes, the more I want to write, and the more I actually can write. I have complained that writing the blog detracts from other “more important” writing. I’ve changed my mind about that. The response from readers indicates that my blog fills a niche. That others find it useful, occasionally funny or touching or provocative, has been very valuable feedback and an incentive to continue. Adding pictures that might attract my grandchildren has lightened the task of actual writing, a bit, and given the posts more “pop” for everyone. Pictures also enable me to use many of those photographs until now languishing in my iPhoto Library.
On a technical level, the blog has taught me much about modern technology. Lori Myers, who set up the blog, remains my editor, and has been a mentor par excellence, teaching me about WordPress and much else, as issues arise. I stay totally indebted to her for the rich collaboration we have enjoyed, and for animating the West End Walking Group which has been the source of so many ideas for my posts. “Learning by doing” sounds trite, but is true. If not for the blog, I would never have learned the lingo, mastered the art of inserting media, or developed the confidence to know that even I can telephone the Apple Help Line and get answers to computer problems that arise. I now understand the incredible utility of multiple computer devices and how one interacts with the others to make life easier and more productive. Ditto re: the social media. Although my own efforts to master Facebook and Twitter are sputtering, I now know why they are so useful to the world at large, and the media, and that’s a first step. There is much more to learn… but no rush. As the blog requires more skills, they will come.
I had intended to use this occasion to do an update on posts featured over the past year. I will save that for next week… after the Toronto Municipal Election, including the election for mayor, which occurs on Monday, October 27th. We are down to the wire, and every eligible voter in the 416/647 area will need to cast their vote. It’s time for a change and, hopefully, we can continue our celebration next week.
Surprisingly, people ask me for tips on how to write a blog. My post Having Fun with Hyperlinks, has generated more feedback than anything else I have written this year, including multiple pleas for advice. More importantly, many friends who have special expertise or interests play with the idea of doing a blog, but haven’t yet taken the plunge. That’s too bad; this modern means of communication (probably considered outmoded by young people on Twitter and other rapidly changing social media) is easy, efficient, and remarkably democratic. Anyone who is so inclined can share whatever they want with whomever is interested, at their leisure. Blogging is one of the gifts of modern technology.
With my eleven months of accumulated experience (hardly a long track record!!!), what can I say?
1. Writer Alison Wearing relates that blogging is considered “jogging for writers.” It provides exercise in writing regularly, sometimes to deadline, depending on how often one commits to putting up posts. More important, it is a prod to curiosity and, like a camera, opens one’s eyes and ears to the world around us. I like to think of my blog as a newspaper column, and always ask if what I want to write about will be of interest to my readers, and worth their time (and mine).
2. There are many internet blog sites which offer templates for personalizing a blog and putting up posts. I use WordPress because I have friends who taught me how it works. The template is exactly that, a tool for typing and editing text, creating hyperlinks, adding media such as photographs and video, classifying and tagging the material, and keeping statistics. The blogging service also connects you with followers who can choose to receive notice of posts. The blogging service makes the blog work.
3. I have benefitted enormously from having a friend who is an experienced WordPress editor and who has helped me with technical details as they have arisen. She set up the template and, as she still shares administering my site, can make corrections herself if I have not yet learned how to do so. Like any computer program, the learning process is incremental, and requires practice.
4. I generally draft ideas for my post in my computer word-processing program. Prospective posts sit in that program while I add information or perfect the writing. Once I have a penultimate draft, I copy and paste the text into my blog template. From there, I add pictures and hyperlinks within the blog site itself.
5. WordPress provides statistics every day on the number of views, the number of visitors, what country they come from, and which posts are most popular. To date, I have had over 10,000 views on my site, and the numbers are growing each month. In the global scheme of things, these numbers may be a drop in the bucket, but they do provide an incentive to continue.
6. Blogging regularly helps create an audience, but can detract from other writing projects. The frequency of posts depends on the goals (and time commitment) of each blogger.
7. Adding photos and other media to posts provides welcome relief from print and is generally appreciated by readers. Photos may need captions or explanations to be most meaningful.
8. I like to make sure that each post provides some added value to the reader by providing hyperlinks to relevant third-party internet sites. In the long-term, however, the utility of these links may disappear with the demise of the original link site. The meat of your blog message must be in the blog itself.
9. “Less is more” is an old adage which is hard to achieve, but always worth remembering. Reading extensive blocks of text, particularly on mobile devices, is difficult.
10. Blogs are as different as the bloggers who create them and the goals they have in mind. Is it to practice writing? advocate a cause? promote a business? share recipes? describe a vacation? network with a special interest group? The objective will shape the form of the blog. The trick is to get started, and see what happens.
In my post, “Why a Blog?” I described the delight of my Vancouver cousins who follow the “rabbit hole” of “links” in blogs they read. According to the statistics WordPress provides me on the use of my blog (more on that momentarily), very few of the many readers who have looked at my blog so far have clicked on any of the hyperlinks that have appeared in my posts. Why the anomaly?
I wondered if the hyperlinks in my posts weren’t showing up on the computers or devices used by my readers. Or, if they were, perhaps my readers do not know what they are, or how to use them. Hyperlinks are one of the greatest features of modern internet use, the super-powerful tool which, in one click, jumps to the webpage of the link, opens it for you to access, and then allows you to return to the original page seamlessly. I first learned about them as a judge, when a colleague who was the author of a regular review of Court of Appeal decisions (essentially a form of blog) used to put all the case names of his citations in hyperlinks, so we could access the original decision immediately. This was an invaluable timesaver which we much appreciated.
These hyperlinks appear as blue text in my posts. When you click on one and open it to a new page, you’ll be led to the web source I am referring to in my post, so you can see further details. You can check out the link there and then, or you can open the link and bookmark it on your own computer for future reference. When you close that linked web page, you’ll automatically see the post in my blog which you’d been reading.
When I started this blog, I had assumed that all links would be placed in the Links section. That’s not how it is working out. The hyperlink ability within the posts is much more immediate and useful, when discussing individual subjects. The hyperlinks act as extended footnotes, allowing you, as reader, access to the sources I have used, or to more information, as you go along. That being the case, I plan to use the Links section only for links of general interest, or for links unrelated to the subject of individual posts as they arise.
As for the statistics made available to me by WordPress, you would be as amazed as I am. On a daily basis, I get the numbers on how many people have looked at my blog and how many views are made. I am told what countries my viewers are from, what topics they found most interesting, how many times the hyperlinks were clicked, how many referrals were made elsewhere, and how many came as a result of referrals from other sources. It is a wonderfully interactive tool which helps shape what I do. Hence this post. But don’t let the “rabbit holes” distract you from lunch. Have fun.
According to Wikipedia, in 2011, there were 156 million public blogs in existence. The term “blog” comes from “web-log” (1997), and referred initially to a log or journal on the web. In 1999, a gifted wit came up with “we blog,” meaning to post to one’s blog and “blog” became both noun and verb. Now, thousands of bloggers post to their blogs in “the blogosphere.” Books have originated in blogs, as did the delightful movie, Julie and Julia (2009), directed by Nora Ephron and starring Meryl Streep, about New York writer Julie Power’s year blogging as she cooked all 524 recipes in the famous Julia Child’s cookbook.
Eighteen months ago, I really didn’t know what a blog was, or how it worked. I thought blogging was the preserve of entrepreneurial business types, celebrities, the media, high flyers, and the very young. I have since learned that my retired west coast brother-in-law has a blog, and his kids blog about their travels. My niece-in-law blogs about school activities and exercises used in her elementary school French immersion class. Her blog is a school board-sanctioned channel of communication between what goes on in her classroom and the parents of her students. Cousins in Vancouver told me that they follow (“follow”?) several blogs on design, recipes, and investing. As they say, “Blogs are like falling down a rabbit hole: you can get lost following all the interesting links and forget to eat lunch.” I have learned that younger people I see frequently in Toronto have great skills on WordPress, and that they maintain several blogs. Even the venerable Statistics Canada has been posting a StatCan Blog since January 2013 at www.statcan.gc.ca. I cannot speak to the quality of its content, but If taxpayers are funding such a blog, and the Harper government hasn’t cut it, blogging must be ok. Where have I been all these years?
Given so many blogs, why create another? Who will read it? Why bother? It has taken me all this time to appreciate that blogging can be a tool for learning the craft of writing. On retirement, I had fantasies of writing two books: one in my area of professional expertise, the other for fun. But writing takes time and discipline. The professional writers I have known write every day. My attempts at writing have been a sorry story of false starts and procrastination. Now that I have become comfortable with modern technology, and understand how communications have changed, I have finally accepted that a blog may be what I need to learn to write. And if I can write about things that may be of interest to others, why not share what I have learned? That is what blogging is all about.
I am beginning on a journey and would welcome your company. Enjoy.