DigiGirlz Day 2014

What does 3D printing, light up greeting card making, video game designing and a digital tour to the Sphynx all have in common?

They’re all activities a group of Massachusetts high school girls participated in at the Microsoft event, DigiGirlz Day.  Held last Friday at the company’s Cambridge, MA offices, DigiGirlz Day is a one day program Microsoft hosts in conjunction with Women’s History Month with the aim to show young women what a career in technology could look like.

I had the privilege of shadowing all the sessions and sat in on a lessons including how to make video games, a 3D printing workshop, a circuit making class as well a ton of other cool* tech demos.

(*I learned from some of the girls that you don’t say “cool” anymore – it’s “clutch.”)

The day began with a keynote address from Cathy Wissink, Director of Technical Community Outreach. Wissink covered topics from binary coding to career lessons and shared personal takeaways, like saying yes to everything – especially when it pushes you out of your comfort zone.  With a vision focused on the future but a concentrated attention on the young women before her, Wissink addressed her audience as the next technology directors, Chief Marketing Officers and innovation leader.

Imagining the future of technology in everyday experience was a resonating theme throughout the day.  For example, at the 3D printing workshop, Allison Knight from Microsoft Retail asked the girls to consider ways 3D printing can impact the world and business.  Insightful answers included printing human bones, building a restaurant and one girl suggested even making hair.  The young girl elaborated that between the high cost of weaves and constantly changing celebrity style, there is an opportunity in the marketplace for a salon specializing in printing affordable 3D ’dos. Hashtag genius!

In addition to learning about 3D printing, participants also saw live demos from Technical Solutions specialist, Hitakshi Nanavaty, in the company’s Envisioning Center, a room showcasing the seamless integration of devices to our lives.  Nanavaty showed ways that technology can help in the classroom, at home, work, play and even its use during your morning commute (the Envisioning Center boasts a mock MBTA stop – if only all subway stations had such awesome, excuse me, clutch toys).

The day also included a lesson in developing computer games from Microsoft’s tech evangelist Michael Cummings and a panel discussion with interns from The Foundry, Microsoft’s boot camp for college students.

What was evident from my day with the DigiGirlz is how focused on the future Microsoft is. I saw first hand how the company constantly thinks forward.  And with these smart and savvy young women firmly in the picture – the future of technology looks very bright indeed.

The simulated Kendall Square T stop inside Microsoft's Envisioning Center
The simulated Kendall Square T stop inside Microsoft’s Envisioning Center

Email Marketing Tips: 7 Ways to Create a Meaningful Subject Line

Are you getting ready to send an email marketing campaign? Here are some tips to get you started.

This is the most important component of your email. Why? Because this is how you get people to open your message! Think about how many messages you receive that go unopened because they sound like a hard sell, spam, boring or irrelevant. The subject lines that grab your attention are ones that sound compelling, relevant and relatable.

 So how do you create an effective subject line?

Here are some basics (and a lot of these rules can relate to your message content as well):

1) Make it short.

The fewer words you use, the better. Stick to 50 characters or less (30 – 40 is ideal).

2) DON’T USE CAP LETTERS! OR EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! OR BOTH!!!!!

It comes across like yelling. Capital letters and exclamation points makes your subject read like spam plus they are hard to read. Don’t use them. Ever.

3) Avoid certain words or phrases.

Some words have been overused and abused by spammers and marketers.  As a result, we ignore them. The folks over at Hubspot have put together the ultimate list of words to avoid. These include words like free, help, limetime, teen, wife, hello, greetings, sign up free today, free sample, free offer, act now, bonus.  See the complete roundup here.

4) Stop selling and start telling!

Use your subject line to tell, not sell, what your message is. Emphasize how we will benefit from opening your email.

5) Ask a question

Ask a question that will make me say yes and want to learn more about what you are offering.

6) Create a sense of urgency.

This is a tricky one because anything too urgent makes you sound desperate.

7) Make sure your subject line reflects the content of your message.

Do you have any email marketing tips to share or add? Do you have a trick that works for you? I’d love to know!

4 Takeaways from Bill Warner’s talk, “Build Your Start Up from the Heart,” at Harvard University’s innovation lab

Warnerimage via Abby Fichter, @HackerChick

Turn off your head engine! That’s what Bill Warner advised to b-school students and aspiring local entrepreneurs at an event at the Harvard University’s innovation lab on Tuesday night.  His talk was about how to follow your heart rather than your head when growing your business.  As founder of Avid and Wildfire, Warner learned what it’s like to run business from both sides but he found that when you create from the heart, anything is possible (he went so far to say that we all have superhero potency when we are in that place).

Mr Warner shared 4 golden rules to redirect the head (that left-brain noise) to the heart (the right-brain chatter) for business success.

1) When you want to say no, say “that doesn’t feel right to me.”

We’ve all been in meetings or heard ideas and suggestions that we instinctually want to shut down.  By saying no to something, you immediately turn off dialogue.  The statement “it doesn’t feel right to me” opens the conversation to the heart instead of the head.   Warner contended that this is a great way to open conversation – responses to that question are almost always “why?” You can get to the negative in a positive and productive way.

2) Instead of making declarative statements, change it to “I believe that”

Warner contends declarative statements are commanding, controlling and are a projection of power.

Warned compared these two statements:

“don’t make declarative statements.”

versus

“I believe that declarative statements are controlling [or insert whatever reason here why].”

See the difference? Stating your beliefs puts you the heart into your conversation and mindset.

3) When framing your business, think of it in terms of how you intend to help people.

Talk and think about how you intend to help your people.  Understanding your intention is understanding your heart.

4) You can’t use big words

Warner advises to stick to words a first grader uses. Language needs to be timeless and kept simple. By thinking about your business in a universal way, you can get to the heart of the business idea rather than get lost in left-brain logic.  Warner says you need to get rid of left-brain words and tap the timeless ones that go straight to the heart.

Do you tend to over think things instead of following your heart in business? Do you have any tip to re-direct conversation?  I’d love to hear!

For more advice from Bill Warner, follow him on Twitter at @billwarner

To find out about the Harvard Innovation Lab and other public events they host,  visit their website.

Questions? Comments?  Please email me at melissa.dewitte@gmail.com.   Do you have a success story you’d like to share?  I am always looking for interesting people to feature here and elsewhere (like the Social Media Club and Young Women In Digital – two blogs I contribute to)

Instagram, me & the rest of the world

A little reflection on Instagram…

So I am in the middle of editing this blog post & I take a little break for a media hit – a quick perusal of my Twitter stream in search for a little content buzz.  And what catches my eye but this story of how one man landed the job he wanted all down to Instagram. That’s right.  No cover letter or CV sent.  Just a matter of “have hashtag & filters – “will work” kinda attitude.

Success stories like that really puts Instagram into perspective, demonstrating how traditional communication is drastically shifting thanks to social media.

Over 3 years, Instagram has transformed itself from a quirky & cozy photo-sharing platform to a full-fledged (& I’d argue, still cozy!) social community of plebs & celebs, ‘gramming everything from food to fashion, malls to movie sets, and yes – worktime as much as playtime.

My first Instagram

myfirstinstagram

Flashback: It’s October 27, 2010 & I just took my first Instagram, 21 days after the platform launched (media artifact #1).  I took it with a new (now old) handle I was messing around with, the quesclamation mark – a username I briefly toyed with in honor of the hybrid question and exclamation point. I was wavering between offering the web the full transparency of @melissadewitte or have a semi secret alias. Hashtag 2010 problems?! See media artifact #2, this New York Times article about how to live in a world where the web forgets nothing).

(& in case you wondered, I since switched to @melissadewitte)

At the time Instagram felt like a better way to share pictures over social media than with apps like TwitPic.  And somehow manipulating images felt easier & more natural than any of its digital photo predecessors available (like Hipstamatic). Plus I fell in love with how the Nashville frame & the Early Bird filter transformed my cell phone photos from drab to fab.

After playing with it for a few months, I focused my efforts into growing the company I was working for, Accessorize’s US account, over building my personal profile.  I launched it at one of the many in-store blogger events I would organize (and side note, it breaks my heart that no one at the company has kept up with the account I created since I stepped away from handling the social media for company. 4000 lovely fans are waiting for you!).

accessorizesfirstinstagram

Media Artifact 3, Accessorize USA’s first Instagram… Having fun with Wit & Whimsy, Sugar Laws and 1977 (guess which one is the filter name).

Insta-appeal

Fast-forward a year later.  It’s October 2011 & it’s our Press Preview, an event for media & bloggers to catch a sneak peek on the upcoming collection.  Two of the most awesome girls stop by – the duo behind Honestly WTF – and fell hard for one of our key pieces of the spring season: a double ringed snake.  There & then, they ‘grammed it.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 8.46.12 AM

In an hour the shot jumped to almost 500 likes.  For our relatively young brand in the US market, this was one of first times I saw such engagement from just one organic post on social media (remember folks, this is 2 years ago when 500 likes was considered a lot!)

You could literally & figuratively feel the buzz as my phone vibrated with requests, comments, questions as the web fluttered for this one piece.  Hashtag Totally Awesome.

Creativity Unraveled

One of the things I loved was the release Instagram offered me.  I no longer was under the clutches of the more formal & traditional creative process.  Gone was the wait of images needing to be processed, edited, touched up & approved.  I no longer needed art directors, location scouts, professional photographers or fashion stylists to create marketing collateral.

Instead it was down to me, who had to assume these different positions.

I honed skills in composing, lighting & framing shots (& yes, looking at some of my earlier ‘grams makes me cringe just a little. Did I really use the Kelvin filter?).

And this post from blogger designlovefest seems spot on – it can take (more than) a couple of tries to find the right pose to post, and yes hardly insta when you think of the staging efforts behind the scenes:

designlovefestinstagram

The Hawthorne Effect

Interestingly, I gradually found that Instagram started to add more texture to my marketing duties offline.   When organizing events I found myself choosing foods, decorations & props based on whether they offered an “Instagram appeal.”

In sociology, researchers call my shift in behavior the Hawthorne Effect – when subjects modify how they act because they know they are being studied.

And so in true Hawthorne fashion, I searched for likability factors.  My eye for details turned sharper, noticing minutiae I might have normally overlooked (maybe this blog post should be named “How Instagram Made Me Anal”)

Even in person meetings transformed into an Instagram photo shoot.  A quick arrangement of coffees or cocktails, the careful positioning of a hand, the placement of bauble or two, a snap decision between Amarro or Valencia, & boom: upload.

(Mini side note: maybe there should also be a blog post about a shift from Hawthorne Effect to Hyperreality?  Is life mimicking art & vice versa?)

Connections Established

Whether you are a foodie, traveler, blogger, fashionista, hobbyist, tech geek, runner and enthusiast – there’s a hashtag out there for everyone.  And with each hashtag comes it’s own community of fans & friends (hey, did you read about how one couple met through Instagram?)

What are some of your memorable Instagram experiences? How has Instagram impacted your own life, personally or professionally?  Comment below, let’s chat!