A perfect moment of joy between friends

Brandon has a friend at school whom he adores. This other little boy, who I'll call Dennis, kinda reminds me of Dennis the Menace, but in the best possible way - we really like him. He also seems to get Brandon like no one else. They've been in the same class for three years, and they've been mostly inseparable for the past two years.

Dennis has been out from time to time this school year - I think his family must be having one of those cursed years of one sickness after another after another. (I really feel for them on this!) On one occasion, he returned to school the same day Brandon asked me to pick him up early. I was able to get him early, but I found out later that Brandon had a really hard time leaving Dennis behind. He wanted to be with me, but he didn't want to miss a single minute of his friend being back. He actually got teary-eyed when he hugged Dennis goodbye. They have a really sweet and special relationship.

Brandon often comes home telling me plans that he and Dennis have made. We take them with a grain of salt. If moms or dads haven't been in touch, there aren't any actual plans. But a couple weeks ago the boys decided they were going to meet at the school playground to play after dinner. Matt picked Brandon up, heard the plan, and was able to take him at the time they said. Dennis wasn't there. 

A week later, I was doing pickup. Once again, a plan had been made. But I had a work commitment and I told Brandon I wasn't sure we'd make it back in time. He went with me, helped me, and I rushed to finish so we could get back to the school as soon as possible. We were 15 minutes late and Dennis was once again not there. 

While Brandon and I rushed to get to the school, I called Matt and begged him to meet me at the school so I could go home and change out of the shirt I spilled chipotle sauce all over (I was a literal hot mess). He met us, as promised, as we were walking back to the car and offered to stay with Brandon so he could play even though Dennis wasn't there. I got about 20 feet away, heading back to my car, when Matt called out to me.

I turned around and saw Brandon running for all his might toward Dennis, who was running just as eagerly to hug his friend. 

Their faces radiated happiness and their little bodies practically vibrated with joy. 

Even though I didn't have a camera ready, that image is etched in my brain as one of the sweetest things I've ever seen. 

Later, I found out that Dennis had to work pretty hard to convince his parents to let him go and I'm so thankful they humoured him.

The stories that come out of schools about mean kids and bullying (even some of what Brandon has experienced) can make us sad, depressed, and angry.

But those aren't the only stories, thank goodness. There are stories of kids who meet and form a bond that has the potential to last if life circumstances work in their favour. Whatever happens, I hope these boys will always remember the years of their friendship as happy times growing up knowing they have a friend to lean on no matter what.

39 years

When I was in middle school, I shared most classes with a girl who thought anyone older than her - even by a single day - was old. I tried to wrap my mind around that, but I couldn't. I tried to convince her that our parents weren't actually old, but that didn't work either. She was kinda funny in her views back then and I wonder how they've evolved as we're all well into adulthood now. She was also older than me, so I let her know that by her own standard she was old. (Gifted kids can be total know-it-all brats to each other.)

Age has always been just a number to me. It doesn't say anything about me other than how long I've existed. It's not a reflection of who I am or what I'm capable of doing. 

Today I turn 39 and begin my fortieth year of living. I've been thinking about this particular birthday for months because my hopes and dreams and goals for the next couple of years are pretty big.

I'm rekindling my interest in and love for various types of artistic expression.  (Not paint nites, though. Those don't interest me at all.) 

I'm overflowing with ideas and though I can't do them all (not at once, anyway), picking through them is gratifying and fun. 

When I look back on this year in 365 days, I want to be able to say I lived.

  • That I pursued the interests that fulfill me - regularly and passionately. 
  • That I loved my family vigorously.
  • That I worked hard for those who depend on me. 
  • That I made changes to be a better person than I am today.
  • That I sing and make music, even if it's only in my head.
  • That I have done my part to make the world/my community a better place.

None of us knows how much time we get to spend on this rock. We just have to make the most of each day we're given. Carpe diem.

Find good quality, legal images for your website

I love creating lovely images for my website. I have developed my own brand style guide so that fonts and colours I use on images are consistent throughout. I've personally invested a lot of money in tools like Adobe Creative Cloud and a subscription to Adobe Stock because I take on occasional graphic design projects for clients, in addition to doing all of my own design work. 

That said, I don't know many business owners that want to buy and use Adobe design tools, because there's a fairly heavy learning curve and it's expensive when design isn't your genius work. 

So, I've compiled a list of just a few of the places you can look for good quality images that you can use with or without attribution. This list is pretty comprehensive and contains image sites that you may find don't work as well for your particular business.  

One quick note before we get into the photo resources - It's always important to check the license available on any image that's free or paid. The least restrictive license for commercial use is Creative Commons Zero, which allows for personal/commercial use without attribution - other licenses are more restrictive so read carefully or choose selectively to ensure your use is permitted. CC0 doesn't waive all rights, but it is the least restrictive.

Free photo pack subscriptions 

I've started to subscribe to sites that send me free pictures and I've developed a pretty extensive library of beautiful stock photos that I have rights to use. There are many photos that I may never need for my own site, but that doesn't mean my clients won't ever need them!

Search free image sites

If you're used to going on to stock image sites and doing searches instead of sifting through your own library of photos, you may prefer these sites for finding images. They are all free, so once again, check the licensing. Note that all of the photo pack subscription sites have various degrees of search function as well. 

The free image sites I use most

Morguefile - Truthfully, I use this one a lot less lately because I can find better quality images elsewhere, but don't discount it entirely. There have been many times it's the only place I can find the right image. 

FreeImages.com - This was my go-to replacement for Morguefile when I realized I wasn't finding good images as often. 

Stock Up - I start on Stock Up these days. The site aggregates search results from a number of different sources and when you hover over pictures, you can see the license. It's just really handy and the quality is excellent.

Pixabay - Even though Pixabay results often show up in Stock Up, I still do a search there separately because I get lucky from time to time. I've been really happy with the quality of the results there too.

Gratisography - This is a searchable photo collection that is ever-growing and has quite a mix of content. Some is very artsy. Some is weird. All of it is high quality. I don't think I've used more than one or two images so far, but I made sure to donate so they don't go away. :)

Other free sites I occasionally use

These are but a few sites that are out there. In fact, a fellow WBN member posted this list of the best free stock photo sites recently and I haven't had a chance to check out the ones that I'm not already using just yet. 

A little side note to promote that friend a wee bit more, because it's apropos of this post! Rachela, the owner of Butter and Honey Design is a talented graphic designer who is teaching so much about DIY graphic design. You can join her group on Facebook to get a taste and then be sure to check out her courses which I hear great things about!

Paid stock options

Of course free is easier to fit in the budget, but sometimes it's harder to find what you want or need for free. That's why I suggest you start with Canva if you have to go paid. Canva stock images are $1 each. If you want an image without any other design elements, just pick a layout size, then find an image you want in their library and download the image without adding text/design elements. Just be mindful of the license.

A new comparable Canva alternative is Desygner. For now, it's free and the images available are also free to use. But that never lasts, because they'll need money to keep going eventually. The image library is linked to Wikimedia, which can be limiting in terms of useful images, particularly if you need larger sizes.

I mentioned Adobe Stock above, but I also like Shutterstock for paid stock because of the way they structure payment compared to other paid stock sites. 1 credit = 1 image, regardless of size/file type. They also have pay as you go plans. They tend to cost more per image than a subscription, but if you don't need lots of images regularly, it's cheaper to pay as you go.

I need more images more regularly now, which is why I now have a 10 credits/month subscription at Adobe Stock. Shutterstock became my paid stock site of choice after using iStockBig StockDreamstime, and a few others. They have transparent pricing so I know exactly what to expect. And since I often buy large image sizes and vector graphics, the others cost me more.

Design bundle sites

Last, but not least (IMHO), is membership sites and package deal sites. If you aren't a designer, these will have limited value for you, so skip this section if you're not interested! 

Design Cuts - I stumbled upon Design Cuts sometime last year and I'm addicted. I've bought quite a few of the monthly bundles and now they've launched a marketplace where you can build your own bundles and save a ton of money. The quality has been amazing. The amount of design elements I have is overwhelming, but I have also invested in a couple of bundles that included photo packs. And they're gorgeous. I've used quite a few in blog posts. 

Mighty Deals - Like Design Cuts, this is a site that offers design bundles. They seem to have more photo packs than DC does, though, and I've grabbed a few from them as well. Just be careful if you buy multiple photo pack bundles. I've found some overlap, so vet them carefully, even if you buy from different bundle sites.

As you can see, there are many, many resources to find affordable images to use on your website to maintain a high-quality look. You don't need to use google image search and worry about copyright infringement or the hit and miss caliber of the graphics. 

If you have a favourite photo site that I haven't listed, add it in the comments! 

What should a brand post during bad news cycles?

Tragedies happen. Deaths are inevitable and high profile people get a lot of attention - and there have been a lot of high profile deaths this year. If you listen to people like me telling you how to manage social media for your business, you're posting regularly - yes, even using tools for automation - and you might end up posting during a time when people are upset about one event or another. There are two common questions: The first is whether you should pause your business feed. The second is whether or not you should comment on said event. 

I tend to have a more open viewpoint on these questions than some, and I don't agree with the view that there's a best practice in this area. I think there's a safe practice. If you err on the side of not posting, you're not opening yourself up to criticism. Therefore your brand is safe from the inevitable ugly scrutiny, such as the outrage that spread quickly after Prince's recent passing. 

Is it truly inappropriate to post during a tragedy? This is a hard question to answer, because the answer is "it depends". Here are just a few questions to think about:

  • What is your business' relationship to the tragic event?
  • How much impact is there in your community?
  • Are you geographically close?
  • Do you have connections to those affected? Are they business or personal?
  • Is your business in a closely relevant industry? 
  • What is the scale of the event? Are we talking one or two local news cycles or will this be talked about for weeks or months nationally?

When you start to weigh all these things, it's easy to see why so many default to the "don't post" rule. The problem is that rule doesn't take into account the absolute fact that there are humans behind brands with feelings and good intentions that don't always include the desire to make a sale. Yes, sometimes the inclusion of branding is blatant and comes across insensitive and salesy. Perhaps in those cases there's good justification for criticism, like these blatant sales messages during Hurricane Sandy. To me, this tweet from Getty is in the realm of salesy, not tribute:

Should you pause posting as a brand?

I don't remember the first time I saw outrage about brand posts after a tragic event, but the one I remember best was about 3 years ago after the Boston Marathon. I was attending a conference in Toronto at the time and about an hour or so after I heard about the bombing, I got news of a cancer diagnosis of a close family member. Needless to say, I really don't remember anything about the conference that afternoon. Tragedy struck a city on a major scale. Cancer struck my world on a major scale. 

I stopped tweeting about the conference. I used the conference hashtag to let others who were tweeting know about Boston in case they were unaware. The tweet stream went on through the day. People didn't stop talking about what was going on at the conference. Life was going on, as it does. But it didn't take long for the criticism to start. People were killed and maimed, probably by a terrorist bomb, and people were online talking about their lunch or their business, or the conference they were attending. And if anyone appeared to let scheduled content continue to run, they were pretty much the devil incarnate.

The reality is that life does go on even in the midst of devastating news and events. When such incidents come to light, it's important to weigh the impact of these events on the audience you serve. The last thing a city, state, country, etc., experiencing tragedy wants to see is an invitation to order a pizza or buy clothes or other frivolous calls to action. 

Once again, it depends on the situation whether it's appropriate to pause. It's a decision that can and should be made on a case-by-case basis unless you opt for the blanket "don't post" approach. While I can respect that view, it does feel somewhat like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. 

Should your brand/business entity comment on tragic events?

This question is even harder to answer than the question of pausing your feed. And here's my possibly unpopular opinion:

"Brands" are entities. They are not human, but the creators and operators are. Brands do not exist without humans in the background. I guess that's why I don't really have a problem with many of the tributes that came out from various brands after Prince died, with exception to the Getty one I mentioned above and a few others that were seriously misguided. It's too bad that Cheerios deleted their tweet - I just don't see that one as offensive. No one is going to be persuaded to go out and buy Cheerios because they dotted thei with a Cheerio. 

Brand tribute. Not on social media. No complaints.

Brand tribute. Not on social media. No complaints.

The Daily Dot piece suggests that many of these sentiments could be shared on personal accounts, and I agree. But it smacks of a double standard toward brands to tell them they shouldn't react in a human way to events that impact us as humans. It's fine to want them to donate to causes that help make the world better, but showing sentiment takes it too far? 

Content marketers talk all the time about how content shouldn't be about selling all the time, but the minute a death or tragic event happens and a brand responds they're exploiting said event for profits. (That's a bold judgement for anyone who isn't in the room with the people deciding what to post to make unless the messaging is a blatant call for sales, like Getty. Can you tell theirs rubbed me the wrong way?)

We can't have it both ways. Either brands must be human and be allowed to show human sentiment, or we have to relegate them to corporate drone status, with only the ability to sell. 

I'm not a fan of the latter option personally. I connect better with brands that show a human side and appropriate reactions to any event - good or bad. 

Criticism distracts from the real issues

One last thought I had as I was considering all of the angles of how brands can deal with these situations is that the immediate rush to judgement is actually a major distraction from news of an incident. Yes, the first one to post a negative article wins, but then the whole debate starts and that becomes the news rather than the news being the news. I think this is less of an issue with a celebrity death, because let's face it, we connect with celebs on a different level than we do family or friends. However, I'd find this (old and tired) debate inappropriate if it occurred after news of the Paris or Beirut attacks or another similar event, such as the Boston Marathon. 

The bottom line is brands that go too far will not be rewarded. Like any piece of content, if their audience doesn't like it, they will suffer for it. Brands that have appropriate reactions may get some criticism, but they're probably getting criticized to a similar extent no matter what they post. Reactions to news events are, understandably, going to get greater attention and higher amounts of criticism. Unless the criticism is disproportionate compared to other content, I don't see why damage control measures should be required, but that's also not an easy call when you're in the thick of a negative situation.

As followers and influencers, we have the ability to help brands learn what is and is not appropriate. While not everyone will agree onappropriateness of different items, it doesn't help to instill fear into brands (big or small) about posting when bad news strikes. If we want to have better, more human content, we also have to give brands permission to react when individuals are reacting to events. After all, the people behind the brand don't turn into robots when they walk into work every day.

Content creation for highly regulated industries

The most common industries that come to mind with challenges to creating content are those that have strict rules handed down by regulatory bodies, usually because they handle highly confidential, sensitive information: lawyers, accountants and other financial services, government contractors, etc.

I think we can all agree that there are few more regulated entities than the United States White House, right? Look at what President Obama has had to go through to sort of be able to use a Blackberry

It's impressive (if you have an interest in such things like I do) to see how much Obama has embraced and used technology and the internet to connect with the world.  

If the man who is considered the leader of the free world (and keeper of the ominous buttons we hope never get pressed) can have a successful, useful, engaging social media presence, why can't lawyers, accountants, bankers, investment advisors, government contractors, and others do the same?

Think differently

Some might think it's a trite and overused phrase, but it's what's required! Too often organizations focus entirely on what they're selling, pushing out all kinds of sales-y posts that offer little to no real value for readers. 

Here's a quick truth bomb for you (and I may have to do these more often): No one cares about your product and service offerings enough to connect with you and only ever hear about your product and service offerings. Remember the saying "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"? The bottom line of this truth bomb is that all sales and no value (or entertainment) makes you boring, irrelevant, and less likely to be followed. 

Instead of focusing on selling what you do as content (the act of telling), share stories about your industry, give followers a glimpse of your human side and the culture of your workplace, educate them about related industry topics that your target audience would be interested in.

Bust myths

Highly regulated industries, particularly government and professional services, give the world a lot of fodder for erroneous beliefs. We've all heard so many jokes about doctors and lawyers - often around the fees associated with going to one or the taxes we pay. (Well, maybe not so much doctors in Canada.) While the beliefs may be based in factual experiences of some, it's not a given that they apply to all.

How can you combat myths? Within reason, within the bounds of confidentiality and regulation, share the truth of what you do and what goes into your work.

  • Re-certification and ongoing licensing requirements
  • Insurance
  • Professional associations
  • Pro bono activities
  • Continuing education

No doubt every highly regulated industry has a laundry list of mythical stories floating around about how they operate. Where you can, share the truth in a way that educates - defensiveness not required.

Be helpful

Seriously, above all else, be helpful.

There are probably hundreds of topics that elected representatives can create content that educates followers. Besides education pieces, public service announcements, and useful information that apply to your audience are all valuable content that helps. 

People who work in regulated industries get all kinds of questions ALL. THE. TIME. You have to answer them when they come in, so take the ones that you can use to help the masses and use them...to help the masses.