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?
When life gives you lemons...
Life gave me three weeks without in-person meetings and a project I’m currently truly excited about (Hello, Hanzo! I like you!). Seizing the opportunity, I immediately booked a flight to Australia and New Zealand to see my wonderful friend Greta.
Ever since I met Greta in Bali last year, I knew I wanted to visit her, so once I had an opportunity to do so, I didn’t hesitate. The 25th of April was my last day of teaching my students, on the 26th of April I was on a plane down under.
All of this booked and decided on the 21st of April. I do love the internet.
Being remote and somewhere new, it makes it much easier to focus. I didn’t really tell anyone I was down under, so I made an extra effort for no one to notice and for no one to mind.
Having done this trip inspired me to conduct a Skillshare class on remote working, so that’s what I’m currently working on. Diana is also reviewing a script about using Kickstarter as a freelancer, so that I can start recording the Skillshare class on that subject very soon.
However, life hasn’t just given us lemons this past month. Life has also given us a great portion of GDPR. As a community strategist and someone who connects people for a living, I probably had more to do than most freelancers. I’ve written an extensive blog post about all I’ve done, which you can read here. (I’m still not 100% done but I hope I’ll get there eventually.)
One thing I'm extremely excited about is the Google Digital Garage that I found out about just a couple of days ago. If you'd like to get up to speed with online marketing, they've created the most valuable webinar to teach you all the necessary basics. You'll also get a certificate once you successfully do the final exam.
On the project front, I’m currently preparing content for a student outreach initiative for which I’m looking for people who’d like to contribute a fun story from their student lives that’s related to some of their odd jobs. I’m also looking for HR managers who’d like to share what they look for when hiring junior staff. If you think that’s you, please don’t hesitate and get in touch or pass on this post to someone you think should definitely contribute a story.
Not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’m updating my website with my planned trips, so if I ever happen to be somewhere close to you, please don’t hesitate and get in touch. I’m pretty much playing it by the ear at the moment.
A few months ago, an email request trickled in asking me if I’d be interested in teaching a class on social media with the aim of showing young creative students how to best utilize the platforms to get a job. They all share the same problem in that no one wants to give them work unless they have experience (I’ll never get over this). My ambition to this class is to help students simulate they have the experience. Technically, having a company attached to a work experience is nothing more than proof that you have done a certain something. Publishing your work on social media is like getting social proof for having actually really done something. (Is this something I should write more about?)
Many of the projects I’ve been trusted with have come my way because of some other something I shared online. Now, it would have felt weird to me to come into a classroom and talk about publishing a book. I needed a much smaller project that would be technically and logistically easy to pull off. Even for students. That’s how the Vienna guide came to live.
Then I realized, if I actually wanted to do something like this, the paper had to be absolutely exceptionally beautiful. I needed to increase the print run, so I decided to publish a second guide; one to highlight Berlin’s best cafés. That one is now live on Kickstarter:
I’d really appreciate if you’d take a look. Possibly even share the news with others.
Thanks a million!
At the end of last year, it became clear that I’d return to Berlin once again. It’s not even that I was actively looking for opportunities to be in the city. It really feels like every time I open myself to being in Berlin, the city draws me back immediately.
On the 15th of January, I began working with Veganz. At first it was planned I’d oversee the social media strategy for 2018, however - and given I care about integrated communication throughout all departments - I’m now leading the marketing team. It’s a team of twelve responsible for communication, brand management, graphic design, online store, and of course, customer care. We’ll soon be hiring native English, French, and Italian speakers to help us with translation and copywriting, given we’re planning to expand to new markets.
I've also started working with Student Life Start, which is an initiative to help students start a career they love. It's something I’m very vocal about and even more excited to be involved in a project like that.
Given in the past three years I always ran a Kickstarter project, I couldn’t help myself but published one this year too. Last year, Kickstarter began an initiative called #Make100 inviting you to create something, anything, 100 times. I decided to create a small guide about the Viennese coffee culture and print it on MOO business cards. It’s a fun, small project, which I’m mostly doing as a case study to use in the classes I’m teaching at the New Design University. I’ll start teaching there at the end of February.
And because I always aim to share the wisdom that has served me well, I’ve recorded a class on editing and monetizing smartphone photos. The class is now available on Skillshare.
I’m fully booked until mid April. If you already know about a project for any time after you’d like me to get involved in, please get in touch!
When I thought about what I’d like to achieve in 2017, I had two things on my mind: I wanted to share my learnings at Creative Mornings and I wanted to teach. Now that December is over, I’ve come to realize I’ve reached both of these goals. Through a weird series of coincidences, I was asked to speak at Creative Mornings Vienna last February. (My plan was to launch my Kickstarter campaign at the end of the talk, which, given there was a technical bug, wasn’t meant to work out. How apt given the title of the talk which was "Plan B is always better.")
My second goal – to teach – came about unexpectedly as well. My original plan was to discontinue my freelance practice to join the Teach4Austria initiative. Given I went to a secondary school with a high quota of immigrants, I’ve had the desire to give back for a long time. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it through the assessment center. However, my goal to teach happened in a different way. After giving a lecture at the New Design University in November, the students seemed to have enjoyed it so much that I was asked to come back and teach a whole seminar. I lead a seminar on how to use social media to position yourself as a designer online. That brings me to the article I wrote that was published on the Kontist blog where I explain how designers can monetize their talents.
This past month, I’ve joined the Berlin-based strategic consultancy Beluga to participate in an innovation workshop for a global beauty brand. I might also work with them on a project in the vegan foods industry, which would be incredibly exciting.
One of the things that happened this past month that I’m most excited about is that SOS Kinderdorf finally tried a different approach to fundraising. During the Edelstoff market, we teamed up with letterers to create beautiful Christmas cards in exchange for donations. On one hand, we had boxes there for people to donate immediately, and on another hand, people were invited to use We’R’SOS to raise money online. I’ve been working with SOS Kinderdorf on different approaches to fundraising for some time, so I'm glad we’re slowly moving forward.
A small side project also went live a few weeks ago: I made a new website for my yoga teacher. Feel free to book a retreat or come to one of her classes in Vienna. She’s amazing!
Last but not least, I’m currently learning SQL. If you have any tips, feel free to share! Also, if you need someone to help you with positioning, retention, and/or marketing, don’t hesitate to drop me a line! (helloATmkanokovaDOTcom)