If you happen to travel to Berlin, I might have something for you. During the winter, I watched a ridiculous number of architecture and history documentaries about the city and given I really like to create things, I’ve turned my obsession into a pocket-sized guide to Berlin’s architecture. It might be a handy gift or something you might give to yourself for your next trip. The print run was limited, so please get it before it’s all gone.
Recently I’ve moved the Instagram app to a folder on the second screen of my iPhone. Just like many of you, I feel growing social media fatigue. Then again, I’ve never felt envious, sad or any of the other emotions so many news sites report to be the everyday reality for many. Personally, I do believe social media has been a great enabler for all of us creatives. My TEDx talk on how to use social media in a non-toxic way is finally live. If you have 15 minutes to spare, I’d love to invite you to listen to my thoughts.
March was my third month in a row of having almost no paid projects. The beginning of the year is usually quiet. Yet, I wasn’t expecting things to be quiet for that long.
For the sake of transparency, I should probably explain what’s been going on in that time.
On one hand, and right at the beginning of the year, I started talking to a Berlin-based startup about taking on a full-time job. After seven weeks, four rounds of interviews, and me handing over a strategy deck I’d usually charge almost €3,000 for, they declined and decided to look for someone who fits the profile of a social media manager. It was disappointing because I said in our first conversation (and after I was recommended to them) that I don’t believe social media is how one should attempt to build a business-related community anymore. In my opinion, social has turned into a one-way street and people are getting tired of it.
The second reason why I didn’t have much paid work was my TEDx talk at the end of February. I know that on the video, it always looks so easy. However, the reality is that it takes a lot of practice to get to that point. One (me) completely freaks out about the importance of TEDx, as it’s probably going to remain on the first page of Google forever and ever. I was stressing out about my talk for half of January and most of February with no mental space to try to do anything else but talk to that one company.
At this point, I’d really like to share something about practicing for speaking at TEDx.
A couple of weeks before the talk, I stumbled upon the famous TED talk by Amy Cuddy who explains the importance of body language. It does come with logistical challenges because how is someone supposed to go about trying to do the power pose while sitting in the audience and doing literally what they’re not supposed to be doing - reading the speaker notes.
As I was sitting there, I realized a musician was on stage and he started performing. I immediately got up and went to the back to join the team. Everyone was slowly moving to the melody of the songs, so I joined in.
The music got wilder. We started dancing faster.
The music stopped and it was my big moment to go on stage.
At that time, there was no more fear. Just joy. And relief. That soon this will be over.
But back to what was happening in March.
People always ask me, what one does as a freelancer when there are no paid projects.
In the past whenever I didn’t have any paid projects, I used the time to write the books that I published.
Now I know it was the right thing to focus on projects that filled my soul more than my pocket, as it’s thanks to these three books that I got a number of my clients, press coverage, and the reason why I was asked to speak at TEDx in the first place.
For years, I’ve mostly been following my curiosity and trying to make sense of things I wanted to know more about. Since last year, I’ve been working on a book about social food gatherings, which seems to be much more challenging for me than the three books I’ve published so far. It seems like the more experience one has, the more effort it takes to work on projects without having a preoccupied mind. It’s still in progress and I’m still not sure where this journey will lead me and who’ll help me collaborate on this, but I know writing these stories is filling my soul and helping me practice a different style of writing.
Not having much paid work also gives me the necessary mental space to re-think my habits, analyze what I consume, and implement changes.
Last year I decided to go vegan, which is easy to live by at home, but not so easy once you leave your door. If you’re wondering how someone goes from meat eater to vegan, it was mostly thanks to Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals that made me decide to quit animal products. But of course, implementing changes isn’t easy, so it took until the end of the year for me to buy a container to make my own lunches in the morning. I got one from Berlin Eco Brotbox and I’m so in love with this decision. It’s really been life changing and money saving at the same time.
I’ve also finally bought a can for organic trash and have been feeling incredibly happy every time I’d go downstairs to empty it. I realized most of what I consume can be recycled and I don’t actually make that much trash, given I buy most of my groceries at the farmer’s market (a change I implemented in 2016) and try to avoid regular supermarkets as much as I can.
I’ve also experimented with solid bar shampoos and found the most amazing one from Rosenrot Manufaktur, which was first gifted to me by Sarah Reindl from Das Gramm in Graz, who I met during the TEDx event. I also no longer use shower gel. Instead I’ve bought a soap bag made out of sisal, which helps soaps foam.
I’m sharing this here because reducing one’s trash and opting in for the more sustainable options is hard, takes effort, and often needs role models to even understand what’s possible. And of course, because it’s not that one doesn’t do anything when there are no paid projects. One can take the time to pursue personal passions and try to work out how one can live up to one’s values.
It’s been good.
But it’s not like I had nothing to do in March. It was the month I started teaching social media again at the New Design University. I’ve recently published a case study on how I’ve designed the curricula, so before going into much detail, I’d love to invite you to read it if you’d like to learn more about my approach.
Additionally, I’ve also helped the team at Vollpension submit a funding proposal for an exciting project they’re currently working on.
And of course, I was looking for projects, which is why I’m currently fully booked for April, but happy to take on new clients from May and June on. Last but not least, I’m currently looking for remote projects for the summer as I’m planning a bigger trip around Europe. But on that another time! Thank you for reading to this bittersweet end.
In a recent conversation, I was accused of being very critical for saying social media’s broken. While I might have never phrased it so bluntly, it would be a lie if I denied my somewhat differentiated view on the possibilities of social media.
A couple of weeks ago, I gave a TEDx talk in which I publicly said I love social media. I love social media because it allows everyone to be and become the person they want to be. If someone wants to be a photographer, they don’t need a magazine to share their photographs with the world. If someone wants to be a TV moderator, they don’t necessarily need a TV channel to declare them good enough to be one. And if someone wants to be a writer, they don’t need a publishing house to select them as one of a few and proclaim them good enough to be writers. It’s, of course, nice to collaborate with such organizations and professionalize one’s efforts, yet one is free to start off with zero followers and often only need limited funds to get a venture off the ground. As someone who’s published three books that still sell via Amazon and also created several travel guides one can buy on Etsy, I’d say I have a general understanding of what’s possible when you use the internet as a tool. For my projects, I acquired the needed seed funding via Kickstarter and never needed to convince a professional gatekeeper before I began working on any of these projects.
Since last year, I’ve been teaching social media for designers at the New Design University in St. Pölten. In 2016, the university where I studied approached me about teaching one of their elective courses. There was no specific curricula, so I was free to decide what I thought was essential to convey within the 22.5 hours I have with the students.
In my lectures, I don’t talk much about the algorithms of the different platforms. I know these will be changing in a way I myself can’t comprehend and certainly not predict. I want the students to understand the bigger picture. I don’t really talk about Instagram and Facebook all that much. Just like MySpace, StudiVZ, uboot, MSN, ICQ, and who knows what other platforms, also the ones that have been around for a while, they will all eventually be replaced or how we use them will change.
My approach to social media might be different. Often, I find myself explaining the difference between community management and social media management, and thus I’d like to explain what I do with my students in my lectures on social media.
I’ll either I ask my students to come up with a project proposal and either share their progress for 100 consecutive days (which is an exercise based on my observations of the Great Discontent’s collaboration with Elle Luna). Or, I ask them to create a collection of creative products and sell those through one of the platforms available (my approach to how I use social), which is an exercise that invites students to think about marketing and sales. I don’t judge the quality of my students’ output, and they’re also free to start a new account or even use a fake name if they don’t feel comfortable attaching their name to the quality of what they create when they first start. With my lectures and how the assignment is designed, I encourage creativity, curiosity, and the willingness to practice.
We live in times where people strive for perfection. We only show perfect work. We only show our perfect vacations. We only show the best sides. Such one-sided perspective has effects on how we feel about ourselves after using social media, which is what’s often discussed in the news.
Anyone who’s worked with teens and students, or even has honest conversations with adults, will realize what affect such an approach to social media has on the mental health of people. Thus, in the first lecture, I talk about how social media has changed what’s possible to achieve for creatives and how everyone can use it as a tool to find and be found by their community online. I talk about gatekeepers. I explain my journey and how I got to be where I am today, and most importantly, I talk about the creative process. I show this video:
A question I get asked a lot is: “How do I gain followers and likes?” My answer to that is: “Come up with something that’s close to your heart that you already do or would like to learn more about and improve.” I ask my students to make, and I ask my students to create. I believe that the people who connected with you because of something you’re passionate about will be the most valuable people for your projects and your passion. I don’t care if that’s five people or 50,000 – that’s why I teach how to frame creative projects and genuinely talk about them.
There’s no cheap and easy way to build up a reputation overnight. Success on social media is a multiplication of courage (to share what you’re curious about), creativity (the willingness to improve your skills), and continuity (it takes a while for people to recognize the value in your work).
If someone opts in to create a collection and sell it, the real ask is for them to think hard about how they create value and communicate it to their potential customers. The task is to adopt a service and human-centered mindset instead of just following their personal curiosity and practicing dedication to personal development.
To my surprise – and with much acknowledgment for their dedication – most of my students opt in for the #100day challenge.
Do you remember Nir Eyal’s book Hooked? When I first read it in 2014, I was trying to figure out how we needed to adapt various product features of Somewhere.com to make people come back. To me, social media had a huge potential to revolutionize the way we converse. I saw it as a tool to encourage bottom-up movements. I believed the internet would be a place to find “the others,” which was also the guiding sentence of what we were doing at Somewhere. We wanted people to find their like-minds to collaborate.
To me, social media was social, and it’s also how I’ve used it since my early teens.
When I first moved to Austria in 2000, I used to go on ICQ and find people in the area. I chatted to them for some time and eventually met for a coffee. Social Media was an incredible way to find mentors and learn from inspiring people. Instagram, for example, has made it easy to create meaningful connections and I met many people on these platforms.
However, and due to the continuous professionalization of different platforms, social media has become less about connecting people. In my personal view, it’s become less “social.” Instead, brands now use social media to advertise their products. I’d even say, social has become much more about e-commerce.
Research indicates using social media has increased – not decreased – loneliness and depression. Facebook’s own former president, Sean Parker, said their platform was “exploiting the vulnerability in human psychology.” To me, and as a lecturer, I feel I’m responsible for helping my students understand how to use social in ways that won’t cause any of that, while also teaching them how to not have such an effect on others.
In a way, social media has always been about e-commerce. Thanks to social, creators can find customers. Once brands have become aware of the potential of these alternative platforms to their somewhat traditional sales channels, they too began using social to help boost their revenue. What happened is that the big fish started fishing in the ponds of the small fish, and while it’s still possible to generate revenue as a small fish, it must be acknowledged it’s become harder.
That’s why I use this lecture to raise awareness of how different social platforms generate revenue and help them understand how they can utilize these platforms to make a living. In this second lecture, we discuss the different business model of different platforms. We discuss what their role is on the different platforms; we talk about them as consumers and as creators, and we also talk about how to use the different platforms to build their own livelihood by becoming creators.
I believe that if someone understands the business model of a platform and a company, that they can also understand what role such company wants for them to play. I believe that gaining awareness of a company’s motivation enables everyone to make conscious decisions and choices, and to think about what role they want to play in the bigger construct of social channels.
In this lecture, I also show the first part of Adam Curtis’ Century of the Self to teach my students more about propaganda. I also discuss with them the main concepts described in Martin Lindstrom’s book Brandwashed.
It’s hard for me to even imagine how it was when access to knowledge was limited to what someone pre-selected to make available at “my” local library. We have a vast amount of information, inspiration, and the possibility to get direct advice at our fingertips at any moment. Most of us carry the necessary devices in our pockets. When you think about it, it’s kind of amazing what’s possible.
In the third lecture, my students and I talk about collaboration and networking. In a way, it’s something I focus on in all of my lectures, given I ask my students to only give feedback using “yes, and..” instead of using “but.” I want for my students to proactively think about how they could contribute to someone else’s success, and help others get ahead with their projects. I don’t tolerate negativity. I want for my students to listen to others and build on top of one another’s ideas.
In each and every lesson, we discuss what’s happened since we last saw each other and what reactions everyone’s been getting about their projects. I team up my students in small groups and have them give feedback for each other’s projects and genuinely offer support.
In this third lecture, we also talk about how they can turn their projects into products and make those available for sale. We talk about how to present oneself online to potential employers or how to build up ground to generate a portfolio of possible income streams.
At this point, I’d like to highlight that I don’t think students should go freelance or become entrepreneurs straight out of uni. I think it’s essential to join companies and learn from more senior people. However, I want for my students to gain a general understanding of what it means to generate revenue with their creativity and how they could do that.
In the final lecture, everyone gets to present and reflect on their creative project, share their learnings, insights, and also talk about their future plans. Again, everyone is encouraged to become more aware of how they communicate with one another and give supportive feedback. I don’t want my students to become self-proclaimed experts and entrepreneurs. I want them to become more self-aware creatives who understand their roles and their potential within the creative community.
Often, one question might be how do I reach my followers if a platform becomes less interesting to the people who follow me there? I’d say the question is only partly relevant, given that if people find value in what you create, they’ll also find a way to continue following you. If there’s value in what you share and you’ve created a sustainable platform for yourself, it’s likely that following will transfer. You might find this article Status as Service by Eugene Wei interesting.
One of the most significant things I do in all my classes is I make my students talk to one another a lot. With around 36 students, it’s not an easy task to plan enough time for everyone to be heard, so I experiment with how I structure my classes. For example, at the start of each session, I ask my students to get up and sit next to someone they’ve never talked to in the past. It’s pretty awkward during the first session because it tempts to alienate everyone. My aim, however, is to break apart existing social circles and equalize everyone. I randomly team up people for feedback sessions and teach them how to give such. I generally make them more aware of how they communicate with one another. And I also work with conversation menus to inspire them to have a different kind of conversations. The way I approach teaching has been greatly influenced by what I’ve learned from following Sherry Turkle’s research on how technology has impacted how we communicate with one another as a society.
In the ideal case, my students become more aware of the opportunities the social web is providing them with. I want them to understand how to use social media as a tool.
If they’ve managed to follow through with their project, they’ve also gained a reference for their portfolio or even have worked on something they can monetize in the future.
Most of all, I hope my classes inspire my students to understand how to use social without it overtaking their lives.
I hope my classes help them become better communicators, and ask better questions. I hope they understand how to use social media to learn from self-chosen mentors while also understanding how to make others aware of what they are really passionate about.
What I teach is probably not what anyone who’s signed up for my classes expected them to be, yet I find these insights and gaining such understanding to be much more powerful than understanding how Instagram is changing their algorithm to manipulate us into doing something that helps Instagram generate profit from our data.
First and foremost, I’m still looking for projects. In the past, I’ve worked with online services, financial services, agencies, hospitality-focused businesses, design studios, and social businesses, and I’d love to find projects in those fields to help build their communities. If you know of someone who wants to create interesting formats to engage their customers and community members, please get in touch.
I’ve mostly spent February hiding in my home office. Given I’m teaching at the New Design University again in March, I’ve launched another small Kickstarter project to get an idea of how easy (or hard) it is to have people click on links shared on social media channels. I want to set up my students for success, so I like to test what’s realistic to ask them to accomplish within the short period of time I spend with them in the classroom. While last year I still thought having them launch a project on Kickstarter was a realistic option, I’ve decided not to do so this year. There were only about 240 views on my latest Kickstarter campaign within the two weeks it was live, which, compared to my first campaign that had over 4K views and was live for three weeks, is really close to nothing. The campaign was successful nevertheless, but it’s no longer something I’d say is as easy as I thought it once was.
However, I do need to recognize that it’s my continuous effort of creating and making that eventually got me on the TEDx stage this past month. Giving a TEDx talk was a great honor and gave me the opportunity to share my story and encourage others to create, regardless of whether one produces a best-seller, but just to give someone the necessary motivation to learn something new. With this latest side project of mine, I can at least say I know a lot about Berlin’s architecture having watched countless documentaries and written 50 short summaries to pass on some of the knowledge to my Kickstarter backers. Writing those descriptions was most certainly a really good exercise, making me think really hard how to tell a story with just a few sentences.
I’d also like to mention at this point that giving a TEDx talk is an incredible team effort; I got help editing my speech from the wonderful Rebecca Burton. As the TEDx organization provides everyone with a speaker trainer, I was fortunate to have worked with Tim Cox who trained me on intonation and the delivery of the speech. Most of all, I was very grateful for the teleprompter the team at TEDxLend provided me with, given there were some brief moments when I stood on stage and my mind felt quite blank. Luckily, my best friend said it was really good and no one noticed. We’ll see that in three months when the talk will be live on the TED website.
One of the highlights of the month was my trip to Helsinki. I went there to see where Restaurant Day started. I’ve been obsessing about community building and what role food plays in that, and have also slowly edited five stories for the book I’m currently working on. I should have them ready soon to publish on this blog too. All I can say is that there is a lot one can do to program interesting gatherings at about any sort of space or even within a company. Maybe also something that we could do together. What do you think?
Whenever I’ve launched a project on Kickstarter, it’s always been a turmoil of feelings. Every time, starting about three days after I’ve publicly announced what I’m interested in and hope to discuss by launching a project, my doubts arise. Has it really been necessary to ask people for money to work on something I care about? Has it been necessary to look for people the way I do?
If a project succeeds, then, of course, it’s all great! It will be celebrated as a success, and I’ll get what I wanted and what motivated me to launch a project in the first place; people will talk to me about what I’ve declared as a subject of my personal interest.
But then, of course, what if a project doesn’t succeed?
I’ve finally stopped procrastinating on learning my TEDx talk. (Writing it was hard. I had someone I consider an exceptionally thoughtful writer edit it and help me shape my thoughts into words.) Now, every single day, I get to listen to my voice repeating out loud what’s become a mantra.
In short, and in the words of Dan Harmon, “If you find your voice, shout with it from the rooftops – and keep doing so – the people who are looking for you will eventually find you.”
That’s what always remains on my mind whenever a project is public; are people interested in what I’m interested in? Do I know such people? Where will I find them? How will they see me and will they find me in time?
Many doubts arise doing what I do and have repeatedly been doing for years. However, I also know I’ve met many incredible people because I’ve been “creating out loud” for years. Having projects live has always given people a reason to talk to me (about something I’m interested in). It’s also given me a reason to approach strangers without it seeming all too awkward. Over the years, I’ve met people who I now call friends because I did something I shared online. I’ve been referred to clients because of something I’ve created and people thought it was interesting. It’s been great and rewarding. Yet, I also question, will it work again? Or not?
It takes a lot of courage to share unfinished work publicly and even though I know the benefits of doing so, I also know I’ve always felt the way I feel right now every time I’ve gathered the courage and shared work in progress. To me, however, it’s not just about working on something I care about and trying to find my people through the work I put into the world. It’s also got to do with my personal philosophy;
“If I had told people I aspired to become a writer before I published my very first book, it would have made publishing that book much harder for me. I would’ve probably needed someone else also to declare me a writer and give me the self-confidence to do something more than practicing writing online and on social media. I might have waited until an agent picked me up and a publishing house approved of me, rather than to go down the path of self-publishing.
If I called myself a writer, it would’ve made me vulnerable. It would’ve allowed the world to criticize me, and possibly hurt me if it did. Yet with social media, I felt it’s all work in progress. And having others watch and notice my progress without claiming perfection has always felt encouraging.
When I started working on my first book, I knew that if someone were to say the book wasn’t any good, it would’ve been relatively easy for me to swallow that criticism. Given I had no official training or any sort of references, I didn’t have to justify mistakes or failure. It was easier for me to start because I had nothing, not even my image—or as it’s now called, ‘my personal brand’—to lose.
I wanted to write a book, and I knew I needed help to make it good, yet I didn’t aspire to become a writer. I just wanted to write, so I did. On social media, I shared my progress, and I was open about the journey of improvement.”
And I can now see where it all led.
You might question why not finish something, find a way to monetize it through a bigger company, and then present things as a success after?
It’s because I believe in transparency. I believe in sharing the process of unfinished work and have others see how something is being done. I believe in it because I believe it gives others the necessary courage also to try and start from scratch and create something. I want others to see the struggle. I wish for people to see the slow curve to “success.” I wish for people to understand they too can try. Because that to me is the power of the internet.
I keep reading about mental health. I keep reading about how people struggle with social media, however, I also believe it’s an incredible tool to create and find “your” people.
In a way I still want to prove that; I merely believe that if someone connects with me because of something I’ve created or at least tried to develop, it will be the most meaningful connection for both of us. And that’s the advantage. The power. The tool we all have at our fingertips. I’ll talk about it more in Graz, yet just really wanted to share this with you. To keep things transparent.
When I published This Year Will Be Different four years ago, I never would have thought it would become the mantra for every year’s beginning.
I kicked off the year with a trip to Israel, Palestine, and Spain trying to soak up some sun. I’ve been trying to write about my experience crossing the border between Palestine and Israel and my feelings, especially because I get to cross where the wall in Berlin once stood each and every day, yet haven’t managed to depict my feelings. I’m still pondering about the essay and what it should be...travel writing is hard.
I’m excited about having launched another Kickstarter campaign to capture the history of Berlin’s architecture. I chose 50 buildings, trying to get to the essence of what Berlin as a city is about. The campaign will be live until the 14th of February, 2019.
Meanwhile, I’m also still working on Beyond Small Talk, the book about meaningful gatherings and how to host them. Transcribing is a lot of work, yet it’s a good feeling to be able to say that I only have one interview left until I’ve transcribed them all and can finally start editing.
This month, I was invited to join the Recharge Serviced Apartment Summit where I finally met Marc Jongerius, one of Zoku’s founders, in person. If you haven’t heard of Zoku, do check it out. It’s one of the most incredible hospitality projects I’ve personally come across.
I’ve also been invited to join the Community Summit hosted by Co-Matter, where I facilitated two sessions to explore what makes communities sustainable and what will make them sustainable in the future. It’s truly fascinating to see how the nature of communities is changing, which is also something I’m talking about with the different companies and potential clients I’m currently talking to about future work. (I’m still available for projects, so please reach out should you need help with something. Here is the list of my services.)
I was also really pleased to see another feature of my work. Inc.com recommended My Creative (Side) Business as a great book for people thinking about changing their career. I’ll be speaking more about that subject in February at TEDx in Graz. For now, I’m still practicing my speech.
Just wanted to quickly drop in and let you know I’m introducing two new rewards to help the Kickstarter campaign reach its funding.
You can get the architecture guide and also last year's guide to Berlin's café scene.
... and if you’d like to join me for a photowalk to take pictures together and for me to show you how I edit pictures with my phone, then let’s do that. I’ll take you to some interesting spots in Berlin (or Vienna as I'll be there a lot in March) and teach you what you can do with different apps to get the most out of your pictures. You’ll get a set of #kathmoscards on top as well!
Hope to be photowalking with you soon!