I grew up beneath towering oak trees.
Trees that looked like they crawled out of fairytales and rooted into the thick damp earth and then grew a forest, a village, a city. This is New Orleans: old, ancient primordial terrain that is dripping with history.
I began to write when I was young.
Stories. Fiction. Not true but always true in the way that stories dig deep, deep into who we are, hit bottom and unravel. In seventh grade, when we had a month to work on a fifteen page novella, I came back with 100 pages. This is the type of person I was when I was thirteen years old.
I am still that way today.
I went to college when print was flourishing, when magazines and newspapers and books filled stores and street stands that also sold candy and flowers and cat food. I bought a newspaper every day and read it front to back and discovered things like the the moment before a Tsunami in India, the ocean revealed ruins of an undiscovered city. Things that made me want to travel and see what we were not reporting in newspapers.
I finished college when print was withering in the drought of the internet, but everyone was hopeful. My college was 253 years old; my education was based on words written down on paper with quills beneath flickering candles. Old ideas passed down in print for centuries, and the belief that print would flourish for centuries more.
Quick, fast, the internet blew up.
Everyone started writing and posting their words online. My anthropology professor got tenure and stopped publishing, blogging instead. In 2009, Ann Arbor cut back local newspaper publishing to two days a week. I knew that if I wanted to have a career in writing, it would have to exist online.
In my first year after college I patched together work - writing travel articles and teaching the SAT and working in PR and teaching surfing. Then something amazing happened: I won a trip to Thailand.
It was from Conde Nast Traveler. I telephoned back and forth with the Conde Nast travel agent, a surly New Yorker who who grew up on Rockaway Beach where I was living at the time. I convinced him to book my plane tickets eight months apart so I could do something that I had wanted to do forever: travel the world.
The prize included five nights at a $3,000 a night hotel - the Banyan Tree’s Double Pool Villas, the splendor of which I may never experience again. I drank Don Perrier and waded around in the two pools on my villa’s property. Five nights later, I took a taxi to a $15 a night windowless guesthouse in Phuket.
I cried. Then drank beer. Then creaked open my laptop and began blogging.
I traveled with fifty pounds of photography gear so I could capture the world and bring it to the world, my dream that I had when reading those newspapers in college. My travel budget was $25 a day. I learned a lot of things in those eight months:
- You don't need much to live. I shed clothes, books, and gear as a I traveled until I was left with one pair of underwear. It felt so good to get rid of stuff, to be an all-in-one survival machine.
- You don’t need a publishing house to be a writer. You can be your own publisher. This is the beauty of blogging and building a community around your words.
- Facebook (social media) has transformed the way we interact. I visited a Himalayan village in India and stayed with a family of tea planters. The woman in the house was the breadwinner, and she made a dollar a day. When I left, everyone cried. And to this day, I still Facebook chat with them.
You can see all my travels at Asia.MermaidChronicles.com.
When I arrived home to New Orleans, I was skinny and iron-deficient and ate cheese and hamburgers for three months straight. And at the end of those three months, I found a job. Writing about jobs.
It was for a Silicon Valley startup with offices in New Orleans. I hand’t ever planned on staying in New Orleans, a city of corruption and cronyism. I knew if I was building a career in innovation, I needed to be in the center of the action - California or New York.
But New Orleans had changed. People were streaming in from all over the world to volunteer in the wake of Katrina, and they were falling in love with the city. This startup was a part of that, and I had access to Silicon Valley action from slow, steamy New Orleans.
I was the marketing and communications specialist, which in today's landscape would be a social media community manager. But the amazing thing about working for a start-up is that you do everything, and I had free reign over the entire brand’s voice and online marketing strategy.
- Firsthand, I saw the power of SEO and making sure your website is optimized to grab people as they float through the internet. This, as we see now, is often driven by online content.
- I saw the power of having a clear, defined brand and voice, and I got to create that voice from scratch. I wrote everything for that start-up, I managed all their social networks and their blogs.
Then our start-up shut its doors for sudden and unexpected reasons, and by then, the landscape of the internet had changed. I had thought social media was mainstream 2008, but now it was huge. I suddenly realized that I had been an early adopter without even knowing it, and that everyone was struggling to catch up.
So I become the herald of social media. I worked for another social media start-up, building their client base and helping them for their social media best practices. I started freelancing (Mermedia) and working with small businesses that were struggling to find guidance with their online strategy. I ventured into the ad-agency world, building out a social media department and offerings for the largest agency in the Gulf Coast. I dove into brand strategy work, and made my way to lululemon where I helped infuse their brand soul into the local communities that they had stores in.
This is my story of my career so far. Do you see how it ebbs and flows and winds and rambles? I used to think I was a pioneer, an anomaly, a mermaid-girl on a very, very strange journey.
But now I know that most of us will have many, many jobs in our lives. And that employers want to scoop us up because we have insight that those who’ve been at the same company for 20 years do not. And that we will all probably work until we’re in our seventies, which gives us the ability to become jedi-masters in about three completely different careers in our lives. I could be a CMO, a botanist, and a symphony harpist, all in one lifetime.
The point is that we’re on a journey, you and I, in our lives and our careers. The only thing for certain is that change will happen over and over again, and so in many ways we are like mermaids, combing the seas of life.
So what is Mermedia?
Content Marketing. The result, so far, of years of writing and surfing the internet.
I focus on the online customer journey, helping businesses figure out how to grab people as they float through the internet and reel them to their website to buy stuff. Sign up for an email blast. Follow the business on Twitter. There are limitless actions that people can take on a website, and I help businesses define those actions.
Content - written words, beautiful images, compelling videos - is how people are going to find you. Specifically, I focus on content strategy on blogs, emails, and social networks, all things that drive the customer journey through the web.
My Content Marketing Tenets:
- If you’re not updating your website frequently, no one will go to it. Why would they if they see the same thing visit after visit? The easiest way to update your website is on a blog, and the most surefire way to get people to read your blog is to write interesting, relevant content. Think about this carefully: is your press release really adding value to people’s lives? Blog content needs to be valuable or else it's another dead end page on your website.
- A Blog helps new customers find your website on Google. Envision your website now, all the pages with your products, services, and offerings. Now envision your website if you post to its blog once a week. After a year, your website will have 52 more pages, all new pathways from Google onto your website and new ways for people to discover your business.
- Social media is one of the most important investments you will make. Traditional advertising reaches consumers once, whether that's in a newspaper ad or radio spot. On Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks, once someone likes your business, you can broadcast to them for the rest of their lives. It's the only advertising platform where you can invest once and see a return forever. Your investment in social media compounds day after day, year after year. Invest now.
- Relationships drive business. The best way to form relationships with people is to talk to them, and the best way to do this online is on social media. All of your customers’ friends can see your interactions with them, and since the average Facebook user has 100+ friends, this offers you amazing exposure. Have a content strategy and a relationship strategy for your business. Figure out how you can give opportunities to your customers to advocate for you.
If you have any questions about online content, shoot me (Lauren McCabe) an email: MerChronicles@gmail.com.