How to Write Better Instagram Captions

Instagram is a social media platform that I really struggle with. I don't like themes (expect a post on this soon) and I don't really get the need to make my house, or life, or child, or self, seem perfect. Sometimes, I feel really jealous over curated Instagram profiles because it just seems to take so much work

One of the most challenging parts of Instagram is writing captions. Seriously, captions. I can have a good photo and a good idea. But then I'm stuck, staring at that caption box. Like, what do I put here? What works? 

I gathered up a few resources to come up with a few ideas. Here they are. 

1. Write to engage. 

This is something I struggle with. When I post photos, I try to post something I think is funny or related to the photo. But on Instagram, when it comes to getting people's attention, there is a benefit to writing something that engages other people. This is a great post on doing just that

2. Be brief. 

Does this feel like it is at odds with that first point? A little bit. But here's the truth: it's possible to write engaging captions, without going on for sentences. I definitely try to keep my captions two sentences or less. Although I follow some great accounts (like my friend @poesyross) who use longer captions to great effect. For more about writing with brevity, click here

3. Make sure to edit. 

This goes without saying: before you hit post, make sure to proofread. I've definitely hit post before write as I notice a glaring, huge typo on my post. Oops. Not the most professional looking, for sure. For more on editing for length & more, click here

4. Use a quote. 

Here's the thing: sometimes, there just aren't words. You have a great photo. You know what time you need to post for maximum engagement. You have everything ready. Except words. Grab your favorite (related) quote, add a question, and post it with your favorite hashtags. Easy peasy. Pinterest is a great source for great quotes. Click here to view some

6 Tips for Surviving Internships

As you all remember, internships were my bread and butter for several months of my life after graduating college. At one point in time, I was working part-time at a grocery store deli and doing three (yes, three!) internships at once. It was exhausting. 

I learned a lot from doing internships and more than anything, I gained experience that made me seem invaluable to employers. With new graduates every year, there are a new league of unemployed and terrified graduates who have no idea what they are doing and no idea where to start. Hopefully, these tips can be a help to them. 

I'm certainly not an internship expert, but I do know a few things. These tips are for current students, new graduates, and anyone who is wanting to start a new career. 

1. Yes, you do need to do an internship or two. 

Or seven, in my case. In college, I did two substantial internships, but I was a rarity. A majority of the people I knew did one internship, or independent study, as they were considered the same thing. This, unfortunately, means there is a substantial portion of college students graduating with one three-month period of professional experience. That's... not great, guys. Do an internship; if you can, do two. If you really can, do more than two. Do as many as you can when you are in school and can afford it. An internship can be anything, really: writing articles on the side for a local publication, volunteering your services as a local animal shelter, or working the counter at a women's shelter. There are tons of internships out there that are not in offices. 

I realize this is hard for people who are paying for school, and housing, and everything else, entirely by themselves. You might feel you have to decide between part-time (or full-time) work or an internship: one benefits the now, one benefits the future. Which leads me to...

2. Do know that you'll have to make sacrifices. 

Something like 99% of internships are unpaid. And paid internships are basically like fighting a gladiator: the very, very lucky receive paid internships. That's not to say "don't apply for paid internships"; it's more of a "don't put all your eggs in one basket" life tip. 

If you need to work part-time, but you want to do internships to make sure you get a job after college (which, really, I hope that's why you're in college), know that you'll need to make sacrifices. This applies if you're a new graduate working a weird part-time job, as well. You'll basically be working over full-time, but only be paid for part of it. You'll be exhausted, but the experience is ultimately worth it.

One last note on this: I know this is an unfair and messed up system. But, here's the thing: it's easier to tear down a broken system from the inside. Once we're all the CEOs and leaders of the world, we can change this--and I'm 99% sure we will. For now, however, these are just the facts, as crappy as they are.  

3. Do know that you can use part-time job experience to impress employers. 

Do you worked through college, or the months after college, at a retail job, while doing internships? Don't tell potential employers you were just doing internships. Say the reality! "I was going to school full-time, working part-time at McDonald's, and then I did 3 internships in 6 months." Excuse me, but that's impressive. What did you learn working that hard? What did it make you realize? What skills did you gain (prioritizing, budgeting, time management)? These experiences can be used to your advantage. Don't be humble. Brag. 

4. Do know that you can consider blogging an internship or even a job.

I always include my blog on my resume. I always talked about what blogging and social media has taught me and how I could apply those skills to the job I was interviewing for. For this reason, keep your blog up: keep it professional and make it awesome. In short, make your hobby count for something and know how to talk about it, professionally, in interviews. 

5. Do know you can e-mail any business asking if they need interns. 

So, you can't find any local internship opportunities. What's stopping you from emailing local businesses to see what you can offer them? You're not asking for money. Ask if you can job shadow, or intern, for a week or two. Ask if you can at least meet them to talk. Mention why you're interested in interning for the company and what you hope to gain from it, and why only they can offer it. People love to feel special; make HR feel special when they receive that email. 

When I first graduated, I spent hours applying to jobs and emailing local businesses -- mostly PR and marketing firms, some publishing companies -- I wanted to work for. I heard back from some; I never heard back from others. But it was a way to introduce myself and set myself apart. If they do have job openings in the future, I can always slyly mention that I emailed them as a new graduate and how I'm still so excited to have the opportunity to work for them. Sneaky, huh? 

6. Don't think internships are magic job machines.

They're really not. I did seven internships after college and it still took me eight months to a get a job that didn't include orthopedic shoes. It took me another nearly two years until I got a job in my field. An internship is never going to magically get you a job; you'll still have to work for it, remain interesting, and interview well. And sometimes, the timing has to be just right.  

In short, when it comes down to it, internships are an important stepping stone for entering the real world; you can't ignore their importance, but they certainly aren't magic. Work hard, do your best, and no matter what, do things that will set you apart from the crowd, whether it's starting your own freelance business or managing an amazing blog.

How to Get Experience in Content Marketing

I sort of accidentally fell into content marketing. When I graduated from college, I had the dream of being a copywriter or copyeditor. I was a bit crushed to find out that copywriting and copyediting jobs are extremely rare where I am--I had to accept that and readjust. I ended up focusing on social media writing for a while and my first jobs were very focused on writing social media. 

As I got more into my current job, I fell more and more into the content marketing world--not that I knew it was content marketing or even what that term meant. It was all an accident. When I finally decided to become an expert at email marketing (a request from my boss that I took to with gusto), I had no idea that what I was doing was learning as much as I could about content marketing. 

But that's what I was doing. 

For those out there wanting to have careers in blogging, marketing, or writing, content marketing is something you should know about, understand, and have experience in. But when it comes down to it--how do you actually get experience in content marketing? 

I was hired at my current job because of my blog. Do I have the most popular blog out there? No. Do I have a curated Twitter or Instagram? Absolutely not. But I produce content, consistently, every single week and I interact with my followers. These two things, when it comes to real content marketing for real businesses, are what matters. 

Here are a few tips for getting into content marketing. 

1. Subscribe to a few newsletters. 

I really love Contently newsletters. I learn so much about content marketing from them every single week. However, I actually get about 20 content marketing newsletters every week--Contently just happens to be my favorite! You'll find your favorite eventually. Google, subscribe, and read them every day to learn as much as possible. 

2. Put time and energy into personal content. 

If you're a blogger, looking to get into a marketing job, dedicating time to good personal content will make a huge difference. Showing that you know how to publish consistent, high-quality content will go a long way. 

3. Write your own content marketing plan. 

A content marketing plan, for me, includes a few things: your blog schedule and plan, your social media plan, and your email marketing plan. I'd venture to say that most bloggers don't have an email marketing plan, but you can certainly write a plan for your blog and social media. These plans will cover the types of content you like to write about (lifestyle, fashion) and the style you use to write (what kind of images, graphics, tone, etc). I love writing content marketing plans, so if you'd like help, send me a tweet

I Suck at Writing Subject Lines (But It's Ok & Here's Why)

Writing emails for content marketing purposes is, hands down, one of the most difficult things I've ever learned how to do. This is coming from someone who cried in their sophomore geometry class because proofs were so difficult and complicated. Well, sophomore-year-in-high-school me, you're in for a shocker: a writing task (writing! your favorite!) is even more difficult. 

Thanks to all the content marketing resources out there, I've gotten better (perhaps even "good") at writing email marketing. I wouldn't call myself an expert, necessarily, but I get the job done.

Most writers will tell you that subject lines (or titles or headlines) are the most difficult part of writing: how can you sum up everything in an article, a book, or an email with one succinct phrase--and still inspire people to open the email, click the article, or buy the book? 

The short answer: you shouldn't. 

Subject lines are my writer Achilles's heel: they are my ultimate weakness. They are my greatest challenge when it comes to writing. 

I've read every article in existence on writing better subject lines, how to write subject lines to get clicks, to get opens, to change the game. Trust me, I've done the legwork. I've attended webinars and signed up for email newsletters on the subject. I've done A/B testing; I've completed worksheets; I'm written and rewritten and rewritten again. 

No matter what, I come to the same conclusion: I suck at writing subject lines. And that's ok. 

I can hem and haw over a subject line, or title, for hours potentially. I debate over how to perfectly sum up what I've written. Then, I have to take into account everything else: what will interest people? What will get the most clicks? Or opens? I can debate for hours. I can download all the ebooks and read all the articles. I can do as much as I can to avoid actually hitting send or publish. 

But the truth is: a subject line is just a subject line. You can do everything right and still not get as many opens as you wanted. There is no perfect formula to the perfect subject line or title.  Sometimes, something works and you have no idea why. Sometimes, something just clearly does not jive and you won't know why. 

That's ok. 

We want to believe that marketing can be brought down to pure math, that you can determine everything by numbers. But when you combine the power of words with the rigidity of math, it's never going to be perfect; add in the subjectivity of the average human and it's never going to make 100% sense. We can only know the basics of what works and even that is iffy sometimes. 

I'm always going to suck a little bit at writing subject lines and titles, mostly because I get overwhelmed at how important they are. And that's ok. It's ok to not be perfect at everything (as tough as it is to admit). It's also ok that sometimes subject lines flop, despite killer content; it's ok that sometimes you need to A/B test, tweak a title once it's published, or experiment. 

It doesn't have to be perfect from the get-go. Take the pressure off and allow yourself to experiment and find what works for you and your audience. But don't get too set on any one method or style: it will probably change tomorrow. 

5 Must-Have Blogging Resources

I've been blogging since 2007, at the latest. You could say I was blogging before that, if we count Livejournal and Xanga. That's almost 10 years of solid blogging experience. Does that make me an expert? 

Who knows!

Over the years, I've tested and tried, loved and hated tons of blogging tools, from photo editing software to social media networks. Some tools (Lookbook and WIWT, anyone?) I've moved away from. But some, I just keep going back for more. 

Here are 5 things I think you'll love for blogging. 

1. Canva

Honestly, I could sing the praises of Canva all day, but I won't. (I wonder if they'll get annoyed with me on Twitter though!) What is Canva? It's an online resource you can use to make gorgeous graphic design content, from social media posts to hero images for blogs. I know, I know. A free online resource for that? It has to suck. But it doesn't! The fonts and free elements are amazing, and you can upload any image to use. It's the greatest tool available to marketers and bloggers on a budget. 

2. Free stock photos

I've written about free stock photos before. Stock photos are notoriously awful (seriously), but more and more excellent free resources are popping up. I know some bloggers had stock photos, and that's fine, but I think they can be a valuable resource for when you don't have time to do your own photography. (I know I never do anymore!) My favorite sites are Unsplash, Life of Pix, PicJumbo, and Gratisography. 

3. Hootsuite

This is one of the first things my blogger friends mention when they talk about must-have blogging tools: Hootsuite, that fancy-schmancy social media post scheduler. I've tried to use Hootsuite in my personal life--really! I have--and I have to confess: I just hate it. I just hate it, guys! It's so ugly! I hate the way it shortens links! But that being said: scheduling posts is an incredibly valuable tool that works for approximately 65% of bloggers. For the rest of us, we'd rather just set reminders and do it ourselves. There are other tools like Hootsuite out there, but Hootsuite is the most integrated with "big name" social media platforms. It's totally worth a try. 

4. Pinterest

I remember when Pinterest first started (back in December 2010, I believe--at least, that's when I signed up as a beta user!) and how strange it seemed. It took a while to figure out how to use it, but when I figured it out--it was magic. Pinterest is one of those platforms that emerges and fills a niche that we never even knew existed. The best part is that Pinterest is primarily a young, female platform: women between 16 and 40 make up most of the users. That's really cool because it makes marketing really easily. Are you a young woman running a lifestyle blog of any kind? Then you need Pinterest; you need to have options to pin your content to Pinterest; and you need to be optimizing Pinterest, like, yesterday. The returns on Pinterest are insane. Even with the limited amount of time I spend on Pinterest, approximately 40% of my traffic comes from Pinterest. 

5. iPhone

Ooh--I know when people see this one they're gonna wonder what in the world I'm talking about. Hear me out: the iPhone has completely changed the way we live our lives... which means it has completed changed blogging. I had a Blackberry Storm before I got my iPhone 4s in 2011. I never took pictures with it and I barely used it for Facebook. Texts and emails. That was it! But after I got my iPhone, everything changed. Suddenly, social media was more accessible than ever. Without iPhones, I don't think modern blogging would be what it is--and I would argue that a modern smartphone, like an iPhone or Android, is crucial for keeping up with social media, photography, and networking. 

What's your number one must-have when it comes to blogging? Share with me on Twitter

Should You Use an Editorial Calendar?

"Use an editorial calendar!" How many times have I read that phrase in an article about better blogging? 

Too many times, to be perfectly honest. 

An editorial calendar is, essentially, a schedule for your blog. It can be complicated (a detailed spreadsheet or calendar of posts, needed pictures, and other steps) or it can be simple (a list of blog topics, potentially arranged on a calendar). 

If you're running a big business or a marketing company, editorial calendars make sense: with two-tiered editing processes, you need to have materials written far in advance to ensure they are posted on time. The practice of editorial calendars has traveled down to blogs: it has long been suggested that all bloggers use an editorial calendar of some kind to help plan their posts and keep content posted regularly. 

However, for a vast majority of personal bloggers, editorial calendars just aren't realistic. 

The reason for this is really two-fold. Firstly, editorial calendars remove the spontaneity from blogging, so if you're blogging purely for hobby or enjoyment, you're going to remove a part of the fun from the process. Second, editorial calendars can often start to feel oppressive, even for the most seasoned of entrepreneurs and those who use their blogs as a source of income. I don't know for certain that those who use editorial calendars are more likely to experience burn out, but whenever I've tried to strictly plan a month of blogging, I've found myself resenting it.

That being said, having a plan for your blog--either week-to-week or month-to-month--can be helpful in staying organized and always have something to post. If you're like me (and super busy with a job, a newborn, or an active social life), if I don't have content planned, my blog can be silent for days. 

There are lots of ways to keep content on your blog. An editorial calendar is just one method. Here's what I'm doing to keep content posted--but avoiding an editorial calendar: 

1. I write posts a week in advance at most.

I try to schedule all my posts for the week on Sunday, which means I spend the week before writing and editing them. I don't like to write posts more than a week in advance because 1) I end up really confused about what time period I need to write about and 2) I think it removes my voice from my blog too much. 

2. I keep a constant list of topics. 

I keep this list in my Happy Planner, where I write my daily journal and plan blogs for the week. This is just the easiest way for me to store ideas for future posts. Instead of trying to plan for a month or two months at a time, I plan for the week ahead (and potentially for major holidays). 

3. I don't do weekly features. 

Weekly features are great--I used to love Things I Love Thursday and the like. However, after a few weeks, I find it's easy to use them as a crutch: I don't plan content because I know I'll have a pre-set post for Thursday or Friday. Also, weekly features tend to get a little boring after a while. A few times a year is fine, but who wants to read a list of things you love every single week? 

4. If I decide I don't like a topic, I don't write about it. 

Last week, I intended to have this post written and posted on Friday. But I couldn't figure out an angle: what did I want to write about when it came to editorial calendars? I don't use one and I generally don't think they work for individual blogs. Because I couldn't decide what I wanted to post about, I waited--I didn't just churn out a post to have one. If you can't think of anything to write, writing fluff isn't the way to go. It doesn't benefit anyone. 

Some bloggers thrive on using editorial calendars. It entirely depends on how you write and how you run your blog. Do you use an editorial calendar? How do you keep content organized? 

Improving Your Blog in 4 Steps

How can I make my blog better?

It's the question I've asked myself hundreds of times. From the minute I started my first blog back in 2005 (those heady LiveJournal days), I wanted whatever I created to be the absolute best it could be. I learned HTML to write LiveJournal and Myspace layouts; I taught myself rudimentary graphic design skills to create my own icons. My tastes (as well as my platform of choice) evolved with time: I moved on to Wordpress, then Blogger, then Squarespace. I kept finding new ways to make my blog better. 

I am, by no means, an expert in the blog world. I write as a hobby, as well as professionally, but there are still many things I don't know about when it comes to blogging. I wouldn't call myself a standout success story; I've never gone viral and I don't count myself in the group having thousands upon thousands of followers. I do, however, consider myself to have vastly improved my blog since 2005 and even 2008, when I started Locked Out (my first semi-successful blog).

Here are just a few things I've done to make it happen: 

1. Pick a Platform. 

Pick one that works for you. I hated Wordpress the entire time I used it (granted, I was using the free website and not hosting my own site); I hated it even more when a blog post of mine (that I'd written in about 5 minutes) was picked for their Freshly Picked feature, leading over 50,000 people to my blog in one morning. It was a nightmare and I was mad they hadn't asked me to be featured because I would have undoubtedly said no. I moved to Blogger and I stayed there for five years. 

I loved Blogger: it's integrated with Gmail and it's incredibly easy to use and customize. I loved being able to easily change my background or header without having to use complicated HTML. I also loved that I could create simple CSS customizations. I really enjoyed Blogger, but after a while, I outgrew the platform: something about it felt too simple after a while and too childish. I was also ready to move on from my blog at that point and my heavy fashion and lifestyle focus. 

Squarespace has been a really enjoyable site to use: I find the variety of templates easy to use and customize, but they also always look professional. Over the past year, I've tweaked my website into one that I find incredibly visually appealing, while still retaining aspects that are professional and still individual to me. 

Your platform of choice doesn't matter to anyone but you: if you find it easier to use than any other platform, then stick with it. 

2. Keep It Simple

It's really easy to go overboard with the wild designs. A frilly, girly, and highly colored layout was popular during the Myspace days, but currently, the easier it is to read a blog, the better. That means limited, easy-to-read colors and fonts, white backgrounds, and limited graphics. It can be tempting, especially on platforms like Blogger and Squarespace where you have hundreds of fonts to choose from, to go crazy or pick the cutest font you can find--but please resist that urge. Future readers thank you. 

3. Limit Pictures

Sometimes, I get really embarrassed about the number of outfit photos I used to post: each post included at least 10 photos. 10 photos! Of the same stupid outfit! I drive myself crazy. Not only are so many pictures absolutely unnecessary, it makes your entire blog load slower than it needs to. If you need to post photos, limit yourself to five or less. Really. I promise, this will change your blog for the better. 

4. Use Free Stock Photos

It can be tempting (very tempting!) to use websites like We Heart It or Tumblr to find beautiful photos for your blog. The problem with these two websites is that it's nearly impossible to find the original owner after a while--so you can't actually credit the person responsible for that piece of art. Instead, you contribute an Internet culture of posting and reposting the same images over and over so that the original owner is forgotten in a mass of links. Instead, try out some free stock photo sites or mailing lists (like Death to Stock Photo). I've written about my favorites before here

What are some steps you've taken to improve your blog in the past? Share with me in the comments or on Twitter

Can You Create Monetized Content Without Feeling Like a Sellout?

As most bloggers know, it's difficult to write sponsored posts without being accused of selling out or resorting to inauthentic content. If you read Get Off My Internets at all, you know this is one of the most common complaints about bloggers: they start great, they get popular, they start doing sponsored posts, and it's downhill from there. It feels like attempting to monetize--in whatever ways bloggers can--feels authentic, no matter what, to readers... especially if your audience consists of those who maybe don't understand what monetization means. 

Is it possible to monetize without feeling like a sell out? 

Including ads on your blog is one thing--but turning posts into ads themselves can feel, well, less than amazing. It's important to note here that some bloggers still struggle with identifying sponsored posts. I've seen a lot lately featuring c/o products or product placement that is not identified as such, as well as affiliate links that aren't properly identified. It's important to remember that everyone has to identify both sponsored posts and affiliate links. Not properly identifying is, actually, being kind of a sell out and is a marker of shadiness, so let's avoid it in the blogging world. 

How can you accept sponsored posts, which are lucrative and flattering opportunities, without feeling like your compromising your blog's content? 

Accept Sponsored Posts That Mean Something

Writing about a business you support, a product you love, or a charity you already support is easy. When it comes to sponsored posts, you should use the same criteria: is this a product, business, or cause that I already support? Does it fit into my blog's currently content? Would I have to do some really creative writing to make it fit? 

Ask yourself: If I bought this product on a whim or visited this business, would I write a post about it anyway? When it comes to sponsored posts, there's your answer. 

Remember those really weird few weeks last year where it felt like every fashion and lifestyle blogger was sponsored by Kotex? Man, did that bring out some weird posts! No offense to anyone who took the sponsorship, but it felt like Kotex was handing out free samples, in exchange for posts, like candy... and nearly everyone took it. I remember even a new age positivity guru blog that I follow had a sponsored Kotex post, as well as a hippie grunge fashion blogger. And you know what? It turned me off both all the bloggers who posted Kotex-sponsored content and Kotex itself. That's not a win for a company or a blog--so what's the point? 

Don't Take Offers Just for Free Stuff

We've all interacted with One Of Those Bloggers on Twitter: they just want free stuff. They just want products. They tweet major companies every chance they get, spend Twitter chats sending out their link (instead of actually interacting with other bloggers), and post product review after product review in the hopes that Benefit, Ulta, or any other brand will send them free merch. No one really likes this blogger and no one should aspire to be like this. 

Blogging isn't about "free stuff." It's great to get a free mascara to review, or a box of Cheerios, or something fun... but blogging should, first and foremost, be about providing great content to readers. It's a special subset of the population that reads and supports blogs (and Pinterest has definitely helped with this!) but they are very easily turned off. No one wants to read the same boring review over and over. No one wants to be sold too 100% of the time! 

If you started your blog to get free stuff, think again. It's never going to be authentic. 

If It Doesn't Feel Right, Don't Do It

It feels like a hundred years ago, but back when I wrote Locked Out, I accepted a sponsorship from Vedette Shapewear. At the time, I was excited: they sponsored tons of bloggers (in retrospect, this should have been a warning sign) and had tons of followers on social media. I picked out the products I wanted to try, got the rules for my posts, and excitedly started creating content. However, when I sent photo and post drafts to them, they responded that they weren't happy: they felt like my outfits weren't showing off the shapewear appropriately. A big part of their campaign was wearing shapewear as daywear, which is fine in theory... but I'm not a high fashion model. I can't exactly pull of wearing a sheer bra in the day time. Instead, I'd worn a sheer top over it, as well as an A-line skirt. They wanted the photos and outfit to be sexier. Had they not looked at my blog? 

In retrospect, I should have known it wasn't a good fit and, even at the time, I'd had my reservations. I should have said "No thanks!" at the start, but I was too excited at being offered a chance. 

Moral of the story: if a sponsored post opportunity doesn't feel right, don't do it. 

Stay True to You

Only you fully understand what you want from your blog and only you see what your audience loves most. When it comes to monetized content--from ebooks to sponsored posts--stay true to what you want to include... and remember what your audience wants. Taking the time to include monetized content is beneficial to you, but spending extra care to ensure that it remains authentic (and your blog stays amazing) is just as beneficial. 

Do you have tips for monetizing your blog without selling out? Share with me on Twitter!