TxSC 2015: Creating a Meaningful Presence at Texas Style Council

Texas Style Council TxSC 2015

photos by Chelsea Laine Francis

What do you say about something that is the last of its kind? Something that left an indelible impression on you? Something that created lasting memories, friendships, and sparked inspiration? I’ve been struggling to find the words to sum up the final TxSC, but I’m sure gonna try…

When Ashley and Carlie and I went to TxSC together in 2013, I came away from the experience with a lot of ideas and inspiration. But that event was so much bigger (at least twice as many attendees as this most recent experience), and the traditional conference structure made it easy to stick to our comfort zones. While I made a few new friends at TxSC ’13, nothing can quite compare to the way fast friends are made when you’re stuck in an airport for hours waiting for a shuttle or sharing a Girl Scout camp cabin together.

After I arrived at the Austin airport, we had about 3 hours to kill, waiting until there were enough of us to take the shuttle trip one hour outside of Austin to CAMP. I got to hang out in person with rad girls I’d connected with pre-event on Instagram, like Hilary and Vana, and got to meet lots of new ones, including Bobbie, Toni, Susie, Brittany, Lisa, Emma and Maddie, who was also one of my cabin mates.

Once at CAMP, I met the rest of my cabin mates, henceforth known as Troop 1092. (We got really into the whole Girl Scout theme for the Saturday night party – I found a vintage Girl Scout dress on Etsy with patches reading “1092,” which we adopted as our official troop #.) I bonded fast and furious with lovely, intelligent ladies like Maddie, Michelle, Melissa, Lauren and Lauren, Rachael and Rachel, Jordan, Courtney and Natasha. I also got to hang out with Becky, whom I met at TxSC ’13. I became fast friends with Mia. (Seriously – so many mutual interests… in Mia’s words, “How are we not already best friends?”) I met wonderful women like Whitney and Tara. And God bless Cyndie for being so amazing and generous with her time and wisdom. (And for not being weirded out when I totally fan-girled out on her.) And a huge THANK you to Valerie for that early ride back to the airport!

Texas Style Council TxSC 2015

photo by Logan Pearce Photography

On the brand activation and sponsorship side of things… TOMS was amazing, but more on that in a minute. The girls from Outlaw Creative were so kickass – I left a comment on an Instagram photo they posted before the event, mentioning one of their keychains they were bringing with them to the event, and they tracked me down in person to hand-deliver the one I’d mentioned. Talk about surprise and delight! Brands, take note: THAT is how you keep the online conversation and brand awareness going offline.

My cabin mates from Honest Tea served up yummy floats at the Saturday night party, and I must say, the food we dined on all weekend long from The Real McCoy Catering was excellent. SquareSpace was one of the big sponsors of the event, and I loved that they hosted a design lab all weekend long where people could sign up and get one-on-one feedback on their websites and blogs. I was also a big fan of the VERB hair products and Milk & Honey hand soaps that were in all of the bathrooms. (They both smelled SOOO good.) Basically, if you want to create a memorable experience as a brand, do it in a way that closely aligns with who you are as a company. Make it seamless and so natural it doesn’t even feel like marketing.

A HUGE HUGE thank you and all sorts of high five emojis to Indiana for sending off her baby in the grandest of styles. I know putting together an event of this scale is not easy, but you did a fabulous job! And a huge thanks to all of the volunteers, and double extra Brownie points to Chelsea Laine Francis for taking gorgeous photos (like the ones seen here!) all weekend long.

Texas Style Council: TxSC 2015 sponsors

photos by Chelsea Laine Francis

TxSC 2015 Takeaways…

I had a lot of intangible takeaways that cannot be adequately described here with words. But the theme of TxSC 2015, “Create a Meaningful Presence,” did not fall short. My two big takeaways were these: the concept of friendtors and the importance of storytelling.

The buzzword of the weekend became “friendtor,” i.e., a friend who is also a mentor. It seems obvious but sometimes it can be easy to forget the importance of relying on the wisdom of your friends. Just because someone is a friend, doesn’t mean they don’t also have wisdom to convey to you. Likewise, it’s important to remember that newfound mentors with more experience don’t have to simply be sage old gurus – they can become your friends too. Instead of viewing people in your niche or industry with more experience or a bigger following as competition, seek to make them your friendtors instead. For women, I think this is a particularly important concept – we need to learn from each other, support each other and grow together.

One of the most memorable keynotes, and definitely the most Oprah-like moment of the weekend, came from Bethany Joy Clark. She is Director of Global Customer Engagement for TOMS. While I knew that TOMS had begun branching out from their original product line of shoes, I didn’t realize exactly how large the impact of their One for One® philosophy had become. For example, they supplied us with coffee from TOMS Roasting Co. all weekend long. Each bag of coffee provides a week’s worth of clean drinking water to a person in need.

During Bethany’s keynote, she shared a short video that told the story of how TOMS gives back, but more importantly, WHY they give back and do what they do. Their story is a great one – it’s hard not to love a company with such a compelling story of doing good. Bethany told us about TOMS’ newest products, a line of backpacks and tote bags. For each bag purchased, TOMS will help provide a safe birth for a mother and baby in need, plus with each purchase, $5 will go to support Every Mother Counts’ global advocacy efforts to improve maternal health.

As Bethany told these stories and shared their WHY, the room was already hooked. We were IN. You could feel it in the room. Then she outdid herself – at the end of the keynote came the Oprah inspired moment as she announced that each attendee would get one of these new backpacks. Not because it was something they had to do. Not because it was a cheap marketing ploy. But because Bethany really wanted that moment of giving, and wanted to share it with us. Don’t get me wrong – the bag is RAD. It is a seriously well made and oh-so-nice backpack, and if you’re in the market for a new travel bag, you should totally consider one of these. (Damn straight I’m taking mine with me on the two trips I have coming up in the next few weeks…) But the thing that will stick with me is not just that I got some free swag. The thing that will stick with me is WHY that bag exists in the first place.

And so my biggest takeaway of the weekend, a marriage of my B-School studies and TxSC, was this… Always lead with your WHY. As a brand, as a blogger, as a human being, look in your heart, seek out your WHY, and put that at the forefront of all you do. In the words of Simon Sinek, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

What’s my WHY?

I’ve been thinking about mine, more and more.

I want to see equality in the world. Gender equality, racial equality, equality for everyone to love who they love and be who they are, regardless of if it lines up with another person’s vision of the world.

Equality of opportunity. We may all be born under different circumstances, and some of us may have an easier road, but for those of us who do… let’s try to even the playing field for those who don’t.

I want to share, inspire others, and spread love and joy. Life is short, a precious gift. Do not squander it, and do not allow those around you to squander it either. Seek to lift others up rather than bring them down.

The placebo effect is a real thing, you know. “Attitude is everything” is not simply a platitude. It is an actuality. I choose to live in lightness, and seek to help guide others from the dark.

I wanna know… What’s your why?

Share YOUR why in the comments below.

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Monthly Online Income Report: February 2015

Online Income Report: Miss Malaprop February 2015 earnings

I received some really great feedback a couple months ago from my first ever monthly online income report. I’ve had both online and IRL friends tell me how much it meant to them for me to share the specifics of what I made online in December 2014.

That post took me awhile to put together (and so did this one), so I don’t plan to do them every month, but I would like to start doing them more often since so many people have found the information valuable. So without further adieu… Here’s my monthly online income report for February 2015!

Monthly Online Income – February 2015

Amazon – $83.92
Zazzle – $49.99
RewardStyle – $24.25
Shareasale – $51.00
Etsy – digital downloads – $108.00
Etsy – jewelry sales – $71.25
Storenvy – jewelry sales – $0.00

Total Gross Online Income – February 2015: $388.41

Year-Over-Year Comparison – February 2014

Amazon – $34.67
Zazzle – $9.32
RewardStyle – $45.68
Shareasale – $22.45
Etsy – digital downloads – $9.00
Etsy – jewelry sales – $27.00
Storenvy – jewelry sales – $42.00
Squidoo – $18.57

Total Gross Online Income – February 2014: $208.69

Traffic Overview – MissMalaprop.com – February 2015

Miss Malaprop February 2015 Google Analytics stats

Traffic Overview – CoolStuffWeLike.com – February 2015

CoolStuffWeLike - February 2015 Google Analytics overview

Next Steps:

Not as impressive as December 2014, but year-over-year, I’m pretty darn proud of myself! I almost doubled my overall online income.

At the beginning of this year, I made myself some written goals on the calendar I keep pinned to the bulletin board next to my desk. I went back through and made note of what I made online through Amazon Associates and through my Etsy shop each month in 2014 and doubled it as a goal for myself for each month in 2015. For both January and February of this year, I hit both of those goals! (March 2015 is looking like it will be pretty close to March 2014 without a whole lot of growth. You win some, you lose some…)

Speaking of goals… at the beginning of January 2015, I decided I wanted to see how fast I could get to 1,000 followers on Instagram. At the time, I had 750 followers. I made a plan, got serious with an editorial calendar of sorts and started taking way more photos than I could ever post. In two short months… I tipped 1,000 Instagram followers on February 28! (I’m planning to do a mini e-course soon covering how I did it. Stay tuned, and sign up for my email list to be the first to know when it’s available!)

February also brought about some bigger plans and changes for the rest of this year and the state of my business. I enrolled in Marie Forleo’s B-School, and after watching a super rad Whiteboard Friday video from Moz, I also decided to kill CoolStuffWeLike.com and merge the good stuff with MissMalaprop.com. (I’m still in the transition process; pardon my dust.) Long term, it just makes more sense for me to focus my efforts on one brand and one website. Cool Stuff started out as a sandbox because at the time I felt like I couldn’t post about the kind of stuff I do over there here on Miss Malaprop. But times, they change, and 2015 is a year for changes.

February 2015 also marked the announcement that Pinterest would ban all affiliate links, which has me planning to switch up my strategy just a bit.

In retrospect, I would have planned a little better and put some money behind Promoted Pins to push traffic to my Funny Valentine’s Day Cards post, and I would have done more marketing for that post overall. In 2014 that post had crazy traffic, but as you can see from the Google Analytics stats above, my overall traffic for CoolStuffWeLike.com decreased significantly year-over-year in February, and the traffic to that post in particular was a big part of that.

Was this post helpful to you? Tweet about it!

What other information would be helpful to you?

Doing these reports periodically helps me check in and see my own progress, but is what I’ve shared here helpful to you? Are there things I’ve mentioned here that you have questions about or would like to learn more about? Let me know in the comments below!

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Let’s Kick Parkinsons! Support Me in the Crescent City Classic 10K on April 4, 2015

501st Legion's Bast Alpha Garrison raising money for Team Fox, the Michael J Fox Foundation, to find a cure to Parkinson's disease

A few years ago, my boyfriend David’s dad passed away from a form of Parkinson’s. If you’ve never experienced the effects of this disease first-hand, it is a long and painful thing to watch someone’s health slowly deteriorate. Parkinson’s is the world’s second most common degenerative brain disease, impacting nearly 5 million people worldwide. (David shot a video of his dad a year or two after the original prognosis. You can watch it here.)

Also a few years ago, we got involved with the 501st Legion. David is a life-long Star Wars fan, and his childhood dream was to be a Stormtrooper. And now he is one:

Mallory and David with the 501st Legion at the Tucks Parade in 2015

I’ve since joined the 501st Legion myself, and one of the most amazing things about this international organization of Star Wars fans is all of the charity work they do. A couple of years ago at the Star Wars dance party, we did a fundraiser for the Michael J Fox Foundation, which raises money to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. To date, the MJFF has awarded over $400 million in grants and is the largest nonprofit funder of Parkinson’s research in the world.

So… with all of that in mind… David and I have signed up to walk in this year’s Crescent City Classic 10K, as part of Team Fox Louisiana (aka Kickin’ Parkinsons) to raise money for Parkinson’s research. David is even going all out, and wearing his Stormtrooper armor for the entire walk.

Here’s the deal, we’re each responsible for raising a minimum of $200. Either we raise it or we pay it ourselves. Either way, Team Fox wins… but we’re committed. But $200 doesn’t really seem like enough to us. So we want to go bigger and since we’re doing this as 501st Legion members, we thought we’d set a goal to raise $501 each.

To sweeten the deal for you, we’re both doing some incentives, Kickstarter-style:

  • Donate $10 or more and I’ll give you a shout-out here on this post on Miss Malaprop (including a link to your website or blog).
  • Donate $25 or more and I’ll feature you in a #ShoutoutSunday post on my Instagram.
  • Donate $100 or more and I’ll create a one-of-a-kind doodle (you choose the color and theme). I’ll scan it and send you a digital copy, plus I’ll mail you the original. Think this, this, or this. You’ll also get a link on this post and an Instagram shout-out!
  • Donate $250 or more and I’ll give you a 1-hour creative business / marketing consultation via phone, Skype or in-person (New Orleans area only). Possible topics include a critique and feedback on your website, blog or Etsy shop; brainstorming marketing ideas; technical help with WordPress, SEO or social media (blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram). You’ll also get a link on this post and an Instagram shout-out!

(Thanks to my bestie Ashley for the incentive idea. She and her husband are also walking in the CCC10K for charity, and raising money for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. You should totally check out her campaign page as well!)

To donate, click here.

I’m collecting donations until April 3, 2015, as the race day is April 4th.

I won’t be offended if you can’t support this cause with a financial contribution. I totally understand. Of course, if you can, I would love for you to contribute. Or if there is another cause that has more personal meaning to you, please contribute to that, and let me know that you did in the comments below.

Whether you can or can’t financially contribute, I’d love it if you’d help me spread the word. Please share this with your friends, and if you’re on Twitter, just click the message below to share a tweet:

A big thanks to those who have donated so far…

Andrea Dupree
Ashley Robison
Juliet Meeks
Missy Wilkinson
Wendy Dolan
Whitney Bryan

Have you or someone you know been affected by Parkinson’s disease?

Let me know in the comments below.

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Upcoming Blog Conferences: TxSC and iRetreat

I’m super stoked to be attending a few amazing blog conferences over the next few months. First up is one I’ve attended once before: Texas Style Council, followed by iRetreat here in New Orleans in June, where I’ll be a speaker!

Texas Style Council 2015

Texas Style Council 2015

I attended the most recent Texas Style Council in August 2013. The upcoming event, which takes place March 20-22, 2015, will be the last one EVER. (This seriously makes my heart a little sad, but I know how much work it takes to organize events, so I can’t blame the organizers for wanting to go out with a bang and call it quits after this one.)

The theme for this year’s event is CAMP, aka “Create A Meaningful Presence.” And how are we gonna do that, exactly? Well, for one thing what makes this event extra special is that it will be held outside of Austin, TX at a Girl Scout CAMP! That’s right – see what they did there with the play on words??

Next, the lineup of speakers and “camp counselors” is pretty freakin’ epic. The keynote speakers include Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess), Erin Loechner (Design for Mankind), and Sophia Rivka Rossi (Hello Giggles founder). There are so many amazing people involved this year, I couldn’t possibly begin to name them all (you could just visit the speakers and staff pages of their website if you want to check them all out…), but I will say I am SO excited to see everyone!

I have great memories of jamming out on the dance floor last time with Liz (Delightfully Tacky) and Julie (Orchid Grey). Hilary (Our Style Stories) and Tieka (Selective Potential) both gave great presentations last time. I’m super pumped that Cyndie Spiegel will be there this year too. Oh, not to mention getting to see Becky (The Pink Samurai) in person again! Plus the staff are all such sweethearts. Indiana has done a great job assembling an amazing team, including Linda, Nicole, Toyosi and so many more!

I’m looking forward to the non-traditional format, and smaller sessions that will hopefully encourage meaningful discussions about what it means to be a part of this increasingly digital world that can sometimes seem so fake. (But we’ll keep it real.)

I’ve been trying to reach out and connect with people ahead of time that are planning to go, via Instagram and elsewhere. If you’re going, please let me know, and please say “hi” at CAMP! (I’m actually pretty shy / introverted in person, especially when I first meet people, but I have a chatty / excited / loud side too. Ask me nerdy questions about WordPress or SEO or being a creative entrepreneur. It will get me started talking, I promise!)

Registration for CAMP TxSC March 20-22, 2015 closes this Monday, March 2 at midnight! Register now and join me there! I’d love to see your pretty face in person!

Blogger Conference

iRetreat Blogger Conference 2015

Next up, I will be SPEAKING at iRetreat Conference here in New Orleans this June, along with two of my amazing co-workers from FSC Interactive. We’ll be talking about what it takes to grow your brand or business on Instagram

(Timely too… I’ve been experimenting with this on my own Instagram over the last two months. I started January 2015 with 750 followers and a goal to see how fast I could hit 1,000. I’m proud to say I tipped that goal today!! A big THANK YOU to everyone who follows me there!)

Now, it’s not all about numbers. (Seriously, never pay for Instagram followers or anything like that. Yuck.) I seriously do want to find MY PEOPLE. I’ll be joined at iRetreat by Elizabeth Piper and Margaux Maizlish from FSC Interactive. Elizabeth currently manages the day-to-day operations of the @VisitNewOrleans Instagram account, which is one of the largest tourism Instagrams in the WORLD! Margaux is FSC’s Social Media Accounts Manager, which means she oversees a LOT of different brands who are on Instagram, including @Zatarain’s.

All of this is to say… You should probably join us at iRetreat. They’ve been slowly releasing the names of all of the 2015 speakers, and it’s already looking like a killer lineup.

Save $50 by registering for iRetreat now, ’cause the discounted early-bird price of $249 ends on March 25, when the price goes up to $299.

Are you planning to attend a blog conference this year?

Which one(s)? Let me know in the comments. And DEFINITELY let me know if you’re coming to one of the blogger conferences I’ll be at! I’d love to connect!

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Pinterest Bans Affiliate Links… Now What?

Pinterest Bans Affiliate Links... Now What?

As you may have heard, the big Pinterest news this week is that they’ve decided to ban all affiliate links and are simultaneously planning a Buy button, which will allow users to shop and purchase products without ever leaving Pinterest. While there are plenty of fashion bloggers up in arms about this latest development, I can’t say I’m actually surprised it’s happened. It was only a matter of time.

Pinterest claims this move was meant to improve user experience, although it’s likely it has more to do with the fact that they are preparing their own new monetization efforts with the upcoming Buy button. That said, there are plenty of spammy online marketers out there who just don’t get it, and they make it hard for those of us who really do just want to share awesome stuff and create a great user experience for readers. I only use affiliate links for products that I actually like, think are well-designed and fun, and would actually buy. Affiliate marketing does not, SHOULD not, equal spam. It should be about helping a user find products and services they are looking for more effectively.

In my last monthly online income report, I mentioned how Pinterest has been a huge factor in driving traffic to my sites. Pinterest is, and will continue to be, a big part of my online marketing strategy, although based on this recent news, I will be making some adjustments.

Pinterest has disallowed certain kinds of affiliate links and most link shorteners (bit.ly and the like) for a long time. The main programs that are affected by this recent development are Reward Style (which I participate in) and Hello Society. Another affiliate program I use, Zazzle, will also certainly be included in this list of programs that were allowed until recently but will not be allowed moving forward.

One thing to remember in light of this news is that this is why it’s so important not to rely too heavily on any single source of traffic or income. This is why it’s also SUPER important for any brand or business to have their own self-hosted website and build their own list of customers, separate from any social media platform that can change their policies or go out of business at the blink of an eye.

For example, a few years ago I got really into Squidoo, which allowed users to build “Lenses” or web pages dedicated to a single topic. Squidoo had lots of traffic and high page rank. It offered an integrated Amazon affiliate program, and gave marketers the opportunity to add their own affiliate links to articles as well. I learned a lot from building pages there and from the community that used Squidoo. But I didn’t stop what I was doing on my own websites, so last year when Squidoo announced that they’d be shutting down and transferring their content over to HubPages, instead of moving with them, I just saved all of my content so that I could update and add the best info back onto my own websites, rather than letting it move over to yet another 3rd party website.

As for the recent Pinterest news… right now I have some pins that do include affiliate links, and they will be affected by this update. But another big part of my current Pinterest marketing strategy is pin-optimized images that live on my own websites, that are meant to (hopefully) go viral on Pinterest and then drive traffic back to my blog posts which include affiliate links.

Cool Gifts for Guys on Pinterest

For example, one of my most profitable posts during the holiday season was Cool Gifts for Guys. This post includes multiple pin-optimized images meant to drive traffic back to that post, and from there, drive clicks and affiliate sales. This pin from that post (pictured above) has been re-pinned 879 and liked 197 times, as of today. That single pin accounted for 4,964 visits to my website during December 2014. This pin should NOT be affected by the newest update to Pinterest’s Acceptable Use Policy.

Moving forward, I’ll keep an eye out for my older pins that DID include Reward Style or Zazzle affiliate links, and look for opportunities to turn that content into new blog posts. I’ll create a new blog post around that product(s), and add those images to the post. I’ll probably also create a new pin-optimized image to go along with that post. (I use Pixelmator, a cheaper Photoshop alternative for Mac, and Canva, a web-based photo editor, to create these images.)

After the new blog post is live, I can edit the pin and change the source URL to point to my new blog post, so that instead of clicks going directly to the product, without the affiliate link, users will be directed to a blog post that includes even more useful content (like other similar products that a visitor might enjoy or tips on how to use that product), plus a direct affiliate link to the product.

What do you think about this latest news concerning Pinterest affiliate links?

Let me know in the comments what you think about this change, and how you will be adjusting your own Pinterest affiliate marketing strategy!

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