A history of transcription

When I first began working, I was employed as an audio typist in surveyors offices.  My working days were spent listening to audio recordings the surveyors made about the properties they visited and typing up their reports. Alongside my typewriter was a cassette machine, which played mini cassettes, headphones and underneath my desk was a foot pedal that enabled me to play tapes, rewind and fast forward these. Recently I have been reminded of this time as I have been listening to audio recordings and correcting the digital transcripts for a client and it got me thinking about the history of transcription.

Hieroglyphs on stela in Louvre, circa 1321 BC.
Hieroglyphs on stela in Louvre, circa 1321 BC.

The Oxford English dictionary defines transcription as ‘a written or printed version of something’, the word transcribe as ‘putting thoughts, speech or data into written or printed form’ and the word  transcript as ‘a written or printed version of material originally presented in another medium.’ The history of transcription as documentation is believed to have begun in ancient Egypt where scribes were taught how to read and write hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts. There were many signs to learn and students would practice writing these by copying them onto sheets of papyrus, old pieces of pottery or flakes of limestone. The word ‘transcribe’ dates back to the 1550s and comes from the Latin word ‘transcribere’ meaning ‘to copy, write again in another place, write over, transfer’ and much to my delight, while researching this post, I have discovered that to transcribe poorly is to ‘transcribble.’

Jean Miélot, a European author and scribe at work.
Jean Miélot, a European author and scribe at work.

As religions developed around the world, scribes were in high demand. Medieval scribes were often monks who wrote the text, while an illuminator, painted the pictures and in the late 12th century the word scribe meant ‘professional interpreter of the Jewish Law’ with Jewish scribes being known as Sofers. The Bible Odyssey explains ‘as the Israelites identity and beliefs started to come into sharper relief in the centuries leading up to the Babylonian Exile, Jewish scribes began to invest more and more time in defining themselves and their religious tradition over and against neighboring cultures.’

Jewish scribes at the Tomb of Ezekiel in Iraq circa 1914.
Jewish scribes at the Tomb of Ezekiel in Iraq circa 1914.

In late 14th century English the word came to mean ‘one who writes, official or public writer’ and in the 1530s meant ‘copyist, transcriber of manuscripts.’  From the 1530s onwards the word was also used to mean ‘an author, one fond of writing.’ Scribes were also known as scriveners. From the fourteenth to the early nineteenth centuries, scriveners, were confidential writers of legal documents. The Worshipful Company Of Scriveners was founded in London in 1373 to establish control over the practice of all those writing legal documents in the city and from 12 January 1498 every apprentice was tested to ensure satisfactory knowledge of grammar. Scriveners were also called on to write documents for those who were unable to write themselves, as shown in the painting below titled ‘The Public Letter Writer.

The Public Letter Writer.
The Public Letter Writer by Z. Carabin – York Museums Trust.

Types of transcription

There are a number of different types of transcription. 

Verbatim transcription

When audio needs to be transcribed verbatim, this means that both verbal and nonverbal elements are recorded. This could be changes in breathing, emotion or tone, when someone coughs, sneezes, speaks loudly or softly, interruptions in speech and background noise, such as a phone ringing or a knock on the door. Punctuation is also used, inserting ellipses in the transcription for example to represent pauses or hesitations or inserting two short dashes for interruptions.

Intelligent transcription

This type of transcription is similar to verbatim transcription but is likely to have tags and markers such as [cough] or [sneeze] removed making it easier to read.

Edited transcription

This type of transcription is more streamlined again. Hesitations, stuttering and filler words such as ‘um’, ‘ah’ and ‘yeah’ are removed and spelling and grammar errors are corrected. This type of transcription is intended to be read widely say as an article or website post.

Summarised transcription

Summarised transcriptions provide the gist of a recording, they are not word for word.

Paraphrased transcription

Paraphrased transcriptions are similar to summarised transcription but written in the third person.

Monastic scribes copying manuscripts.
Monastic scribes copying manuscripts.

What transcription is not

What do you think of when you think of transcription? Here are some things transcription is not.

Court reporting

Court reporting is undertaken by a court reporter (often referred to as a stenographer.) Court reporters are trained to create written verbatim records of proceedings, using a type of shorthand called ‘stenography’. Using a stenotype machine stenographers type out syllables rather than each letter of a word, which cuts down the time required to type and enables them to record what is  being said in real time. 

Live captioning

Live captioning is used at remote conferences and online events to transcribe audio in real time, or at events with live interviews and discussions, where the transcription is projected onto a large screen. Live captioning that is shown in a language other than the one being spoken live is known as Communication Access Real-Time Translation’ (CART.)

Subtitling

Subtitling is text added to a recorded video file – it requires special file formatting and there are technical aspects involved relating to character limitations, to ensure subtitles fit on  a screen. An audience’s reading speed must also be considered so they can have an enjoyable reading experience.

Audio to text translation

Audio to text translation requires material in one language to be translated into a different language. Rather than providing a written record of exactly what has been said, it requires fluency in both languages in order to translate one language to the other  accurately, so is something very different to transcription.

Modern scribes with typewriters outside post office, Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, India, 2010.
Modern scribes with typewriters outside post office, Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, India, 2010

Transcription today

As recently as the 1980s, a transcriptionist had to be in the same room as the dictator with many dictators having a secretary situated close by to ‘take a note’ for them. Alternatively they would record on to tape or hand write letters, memos and reports for their secretaries to transcribe. Word processors and computers made it easier to correct mistakes, print multiple copies of documents and store documents for later use. Then technology changed everything again.  

There are many examples of the usefulness of transcription today.  

  • Audio transcription can be used for recordings and podcasts that may need to be transcribed into readable, written text. Legal proceedings may need transcribing for reading by lawyers, juries, and judges. Medical and healthcare workers may need their notes transcribing for medical records. Researchers may need to transcribe interviews. Audio files can be uploaded online, downloaded anywhere and transferred back online or through email. Smartphones also support recording.
  • Video or film audio may need converting into text say for blogs, news articles and ebooks.
  • Written PDFs and handwritten materials such as notes and letters may need transcribing for example historians and archivists working to preserve history and written content that appears in brochures or flyers may need to be re-created in a text only format. The blind or visually impaired also rely on transcription to be able to read.  
  • Visual scribing where artists attend events and transcribe what has been said with illustrations that capture ideas and key messages.
Visual scribe at Wikimania Stockholm 2019.
Visual scribe at Wikimania Stockholm 2019 by Simply Draw It Big Visuals.

A report by Future Market Insights (FMI) states the global marketing transcription market is projected to witness a growth in revenue from US$ 1.68 Bn in 2021 to US$ 3.71 Bn by 2031. The report cites modern artificial intelligence (AI) which provides a huge opportunity to quickly transcribe high quality audio and video recordings and speech recognition software which enables the conversion of speech into text by recognising spoken words for this boom. So while technology will never replace transcribers who will always have to oversee and edit transcriptions for errors, it can do much of the work, meaning transcription is very much here to stay. 

Hate typing? Record your letters, reports, emails, minutes, agendas, contracts, interviews, send the recordings to me and I will type these for you.

Sources

Further information

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Lifelong learning

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a webinar – ‘Learning At Work – How Being A Lifelong Learner Can Make You Happy.’ The event was hosted by Laughology an ethical, training and consulting organisation built around the psychology of humour, laughter and happiness and was one of many events held to mark Learning at Work Week, an annual event which aims to put a spotlight on the importance and benefits of continual learning and development.

Books
Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay.

The aim of the webinar was to:

  • recognise different learning styles
  • notice when you slip into a fixed mindset – that is listening to the voice that tells you can’t do something and learning to talk back to it
  • show how to choose a growth mindset – that is a belief that an individual can grow and develop through dedication, hard work and purposeful practice and not just rely on natural talent  
  • understand why lifelong learning can impact positively on wellbeing.

As a Virtual Assistant I do not attend a workplace every day and so do not have access to training and development through an employer but I have been trying to make time to continue learning, by undertaking training courses and attending webinars.

In 2020/2021, at the same time as I set up as a VA, I began studying towards the Honours year of my degree after a twelve year break. Long story short, after six years of part time study I had well and truly had enough of studying and although I promised myself I would return, the years slipped by. However, it felt like unfinished business and when Covid struck, picking up where I had left off seemed like a good distraction technique.  It was difficult getting back into studying after such a long time but I gave it my all and when I passed with first class honours, it was such a buzz and I was on cloud nine for days.

In 2021/2022 I undertook a twelve week digital marketing course to improve my digital skills and earlier this year, I began learning Spanish, downloading an app onto my phone and studying 15 minutes a day. … ‘Hola, yo soy Toni, yo soy una mujer, yo bebe leche’ … okay, so it’s early days but it is a fun low level commitment that enables me to learn each day and keeps me out of mischief. 

Books and light bulbs.
Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

There have been times when I have questioned why I am doing this learning. Surely I should be building my business and working on that at all times but I have found it a really valuable way to connect with others while working alone. Together, me and my fellow students have a shared purpose and studying gives me an individual sense of purpose too, making sure I don’t stagnate, become isolated and get left behind.  Studying  boosts my confidence, keeps me connected with others, keeps my brain in shape and interested in the world around me.

And although there are times when I am not in the mood to study, I believe that if you are open to learning new things, you can learn anywhere – from books of course but television, radio, podcasts, video tutorials, blog posts and even from an app on your phone.

Think you might like to learn something new too? Take a look at the information below for some ideas where to start.   

Further information and sources

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Hashtagging

Think you know everything there is to know about hashtags? From the Romans to social media today, the hash sign has an interesting history. The little symbol that looks like a noughts and crosses board has a multitude of names including hash, pound, number, octothorpe, crosshatch and hex and throughout history has been used as the Latin for pound, on the telephone for connecting to computer systems and most recently on social media.


History

Today the word hashtag refers to a word or phrase preceded by the symbol # which in turn categorises social media posts. The origin of the word ‘hash’ lies in Latin and French. In Latin it is a variant of ‘hatch’ meaning ‘to inscribe with parallel lines’ as in ‘hatchure’ and ‘cross-hatch’, while the old French word ‘hacher means ‘to chop’, with the meal called ‘hash’ so named because it contains chopped meat. Since the 1300s the symbol has also meant pound which was abbreviated as lb but over time, as it was jotted down more and more quickly, transformed into #.

Later as telephones evolved from dials to buttons, hash keys began to appear on telephone keypads too, enabling access to telephone based computer systems, for example when you telephone your bank and are asked to use the hash key to carry out a transaction. Then, in 1988, the hash symbol was used on an instant messaging system called Internet Relay Chat (IRC) to group similar topics, so making it easier for users to find the information they were looking for.

However it was the use of the hash symbol on Twitter which really saw hashtags take off. On 23 August 2007, Chris Messina is credited with posting the first Twitter hashtag #BarCamp and on 20 October 2007, sudden bushfires in the San Diego region of California used the hashtag #SandiegoFire which continues to be used during anniversaries of the 2007 events and any time fires happen again in San Diego. In 2009 Twitter then introduced a search tool, so users could see who else was using a particular hashtag and the following year introduced ‘Trending Topics’ which display the most popular hashtags at a given time.

How do hashtags work

On social media adding a hashtag to the beginning of an unbroken word or phrase creates a post which becomes linked to all other posts that include the same hashtag, allowing people to easily follow topics they are interested in. Hashtags may come about organically as a result of say events reported by the media, for example #MeToo, #PartyGate and #WagathaChristie or companies may create their own hashtags for example Marks and Spencer use #MagicAndSparkle and #PercyPigmas. Television shows also create their own hashtags to encourage people to tweet about their programmes while watching, for example Strictly Come Dancing uses #Strictly.

How to use a hashtag

Hashtags are a great way to get your business in front of people and gain social media followers. Below are some ideas for getting the most out of hashtags.

Set goals

Consider what hashtags you want to be known for and who you want to attract, then make a list of potential hashtags, choosing words or phrases that are relevant to your business and the message you want to convey.

Custom hashtags

Custom hashtags are hashtags that are unique to your business. This could be your business name for example #IzzyWizzy, tagline, product name or the services you provide. Keep them simple, short and catchy.

Check out your competition

Look for the people in your area of work who are popular on social media. What hashtags are they using and what are they using them for?

Trending hashtags

Take time to regularly check what hashtags are trending. There may be a hashtag you can jump on to promote your business. There may also be global or national days that relate to your area of work. Research what they are and create social media posts about them to promote what you do.

Daily hashtags

Daily hashtags are popular hashtags, designed to share a common thread with anyone on social media. These include things such as #MotivationMonday, #ThrowbackThursday and #FeelGoodFriday.

Narrow down your selection

Once you have gone through the above steps you will most probably need to narrow down your selection. Which of the hashtags are relevant to your business and your overall goals. Hashtag popularity is one thing to consider but by using a lesser used hashtag which is still relevant to your business, you will have more chance of being found.

How many hashtags

Social media platforms have different optimum hashtag numbers but don’t use hashtags for the sake of it. It is better to use a few well thought out ones than a load that will reach an audience you really don’t want. Consider using a combination of the different types of hashtags described above and if you have a large list of hashtags you want to use, consider segmenting them into groups and rotating their use.

Research, test, tweak

Well thought out hashtags are a great way to get your business in front of people. Research, test and tweak hashtag combinations to see what hashtags work best for you. Time and effort spent doing this will pay you back in the long term. Check also to make sure your desired hashtag isn’t being used in a negative context and be aware that social media platforms may ban hashtags temporarily or permanently, so always carry out research before using a new hashtag.

Research will help you find trending topics and hashtags that fit well with your business and make your posts more discoverable. Keep in mind, hashtags are not case sensitive, but adding capital letters does make them easier to read for example #TheBigSunflowerProject versus #thebigsunflowerproject. See the blog post below for more information on this.

Hashtags can be an incredibly powerful way of communicating a message, reaching and engaging large numbers of people, gauging the mood on a particular topic, bringing people together and making things happen, so give them a go and see what they can do for you.

Sources

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Authenticity at work

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a workshop about being authentic at work.  The workshop was run by Inclusive Recruiting, an organisation who aim to eradicate bias and inequities from the workplace and was presented by Andreena Leeanne, a lived experience speaker, self-care workshop facilitator, poet and author. This blog post was inspired by that workshop.

What does it mean to be authentic

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word authentic as ‘of undisputed origin and not a copy: genuine.’ The word has traditionally been applied to documents, works of art or antiques, however more recently the word has been applied to people, who are seen as authentic or fake, particularly in a work setting or online. Think Chandler Bing’s work laugh in Friends and you get the idea.


In this recent context, being an authentic person means knowing who you are and what you stand for and creating a space for yourself in the world where you feel happy and confident to be yourself at all times – a space where you can be unapologetically you, showing your personality and being the same at work as you are away from it.

Sounds easy huh? However many people have experienced situations where they feel unable to be themselves. You may, like Chandler, have felt you need to act a certain way around your boss and colleagues, telling people what you think they want to hear, so that you will be liked, accepted or promoted. You may have hidden aspects of yourself and developed survival mechanisms to get through the day, so instead of being yourself, you have played a role. It can be exhausting and in doing so you are living inauthentically.


In order to be authentic you need to identify and live according to your values and be willing to live your life proudly, displaying your true colours, regardless of pressure you may be under to act otherwise. Being authentic isn’t easy. People may fear rejection, getting hurt or being ridiculed, so the fear of being judged and the need to fit in often prevents this. However, authenticity has many benefits for both employers and employees. 

Benefits of being authentic

  • Relationships
    People who are able to be their authentic self, tend to attract people to them. Honest, open, character traits generally make it easier for people to trust and build long term relationships with you and in return they will be more likely to be the same with you.
  • Love what you do
    A passion for work is more likely to lead to success than doing work you don’t enjoy. Following your passions will enable you to do what you love, leaving you motivated and eager to achieve.
  • Confidence
    If you are being authentic at work, it will enable you to be more productive, confident in your opinions, happy to share your ideas and unafraid to speak up.
  • Happiness
    If you are happy in your work because you have good working relationships, you are confident in your role and you love what you do, you will feel safe and secure in your working environment. 

Overall being authentic is much more fulfilling than trying to be the person you think other people will approve of or trying to please everyone. As the saying goes ‘You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.’


The other side of the story

Despite its potential benefits, oversharing or being overly honest can have a downside, obviously there are socially acceptable norms to consider and there are people who will take advantage of a kind and open nature. Also, while much of authenticity is about individuals knowing themselves and being comfortable with who they are, in order to be their authentic self, employees need to feel safe, therefore it is the responsibility of employers to create safe environments which bring out the best in their employees too. 

Employer honesty is integral to developing an authentic work culture. Shouting from the roof tops about diversity and discrimination, is all worthless, if when faced with the people they claim to support, the employer does nothing to support them. In order to create inclusive environments where employees can be their authentic self, employers need to be able to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk, so as to uphold their own values.

From the Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan.

Some of the ways employers can create safe spaces include: 

  • leading with empathy at all times 
  • not making assumptions about people
  • listening and responding to feedback 
  • creating safe spaces for difficult conversations 
  • using educational material and events to encourage authenticity and inclusivity at all times 
  • creating opportunities for people to be their authentic self
  • establishing buddying and mentoring initiatives
  • supporting personal and professional development 
  • offering learning opportunities, coaching and mentoring 
  • investing in leaders. 

Tips for being authentic 

Think you would like to be more authentic at work? Below are some things to try out.

  • Identify your values and aim to live by them at all times.
  • Identify who you are and don’t try to be someone that you are not. If you feel there is a difference between who you are at work and who you are outside of it, consider what you can do to bridge the gap.
  • Communicate honestly, respect the feelings of others but don’t play games or use passive aggressive behaviour to get what you want and don’t make promises you cannot keep.
  • Develop self confidence – being authentic is not for the faint hearted. Developing a strong sense of yourself and being assertive, will give you the necessary tools to get you through challenging situations.

What are your thoughts on authenticity at work? Do you consider yourself to be an authentic person or do you have different versions of yourself for different people and situations? Want to learn more about the subject, take a look at the websites below.

Sources

Further information

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

The trouble with junk mail

Of recent much has been written about the impact of plastic on the environment but it is not only plastic that is a cause for concern, there is a growing waste paper mountain too, which junk mail massively contributes to. Some days I receive more junk mail than actual mail, so recently I have been on a mission to do my little bit of good in the world, learn what I can do to receive less of this and encourage others to do the same.

Photo by Kyle Bushnell on Unsplash.


What is junk mail

Junk mail is marketing material, say letters, catalogues, leaflets, coupons and menus that are posted to individuals, who are usually selected because they are in a certain demographic. Businesses may also be the recipients of junk mail.

Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash.

The word junk is recorded by Etymology Online as ‘mid-14c., junke “old cable or rope,” cut in bits and used for caulking, etc., a nautical word of uncertain origin, also used figuratively as a type of something of little value. Junk food is from 1971; junk art is from 1961; junk mail first attested 1954; junk bond from 1979.’

In the UK 17.5 billion pieces of junk mail are produced every year with 650 pieces of junk mail posted through the average British letterbox and on average 80 pieces of addressed junk mail are sent out to the 583,000 people who die every year following their death. To produce all this junk mail  550,000 tonnes of paper and 16.5 billion litres of water are used.

Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash.


The history of paper

Paper was invented in AD105 in ancient China and involved mixing cloth, bark and nets with water to form a paste, then flattening it out to dry in the sun. Initially it was only used for wrapping precious objects but within 650 years, printing had arrived and the first books, playing cards and toilet paper soon followed. It took more than a thousand years to arrive in Europe, so people had to use the skins of calves, goats and sheep as parchment.

In the computer age, you might think there is no longer a need for paper but while there has been a small decline in the demand for newspapers and books, the paper industry is booming.  The world currently uses around 400 million tonnes of paper per year – think money, cardboard boxes, receipts, coffee cups, post it notes, baking paper, egg cartons, birthday cards, straws and wrapping paper. As we turn our backs on single use plastic, paper is one of the main contenders to take its place.

Photo by jplenio on Pixabay.


What’s the problem?

You may be reading this and thinking what’s all the fuss about, how much effort is it to put junk mail in the recycling bin, so here’s the science bit.

Recycling is all well and good but recycling lorries and recycling plants require fuel to run. There is an environmental impact when creating, packing and transporting junk mail and the impact of consuming the energy to print the materials too. One study found the global paper industry eats up around 6.4 exajoules (EJ) of energy each year, that’s enough to make some 87 trillion cups of tea.

Today the process of making paper starts with raw wood. This comes from softwood trees such as spruce, pine and fir and some hardwoods such as eucalyptus. Each piece of junk mail is a tree that has been felled and each year, the global paper industry is fed by more than 100 million hectares of forests, which is an area around the same size as Egypt. While much paper is sourced from sustainably managed forests, some is made from trees in ecologically important forests, contributing to loss of biodiversity. In countries where forests are not sustainably managed, important habitats can be destroyed.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.

Almost every phase of paper manufacturing involves water. To make a single sheet of A4 paper, you need between two and 13 litres of water. And the pulping process, involves cooking the wood used in a bath of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulphide, before chlorine dioxide is added to bleach the pulp and achieve a white colour. After the pulping and bleaching is over, paper mills end up with a cocktail which must be treated so that it can be disposed of safely but some paper mills discharge this directly into the water supply, where it is toxic to fish and other wildlife. 

In addition, there are paper shortages globally due to the demand for paper, disruptions caused by lockdowns and border closures have created a break in shipping cycles and there are soaring energy prices too. So whether sending our junk mail to landfill or recycling it, there is a cost to all of us and it is essential we all do what we can to learn how to deal with our own waste.

Photo by Llngchor on Unsplash.


Tired of junk mail? Here’s what can you do

Mailing preference service

Individuals can register with the Mailing Preference Service (MPS) to have their details removed from direct marketing mailing lists. The MPS covers around 90 per cent of mailing lists but it should be noted, it is not designed to stop unaddressed items of mail, direct mail delivered to the door, mail addressed to the ‘occupant’, ‘resident’ or ‘homeowner’ or the delivery of free newspapers.

In addition, the MPS Suppression File is intended for consumers (not businesses) at their residential address in the United Kingdom (including the Channel Islands and Isle of Man). Direct Mailers are not obliged to screen business lists against the MPS. If you are a business wanting to stop junk mail from another business, you should contact the business directly.

Royal Mail

Royal Mail are legally obliged to deliver all addressed mail, which includes mail that is addressed ‘To the Occupier’ (or with any other generic recipient information), as well as mail that is personally addressed to you by name.

Opting out from Royal Mail Door to Door stops all unaddressed items from being delivered (although they work with government to get a message to every UK address in exceptional circumstances where delivery of the message is deemed to be in the national interest.) An opt out lasts for a maximum of two years at which time you will need to complete a new form. It isn’t possible to put an opt out in place against a particular address indefinitely, because occupiers of properties may change from time to time.

Note that you need to download the opt out form and sign and return it to the address shown on the form. Many websites detail an email address where the form can be sent but having tried this myself and not seeing a reduction in junk mail, I learned from Royal Mail, that the email address is unmanned.

Postal Review Panel

Should you continue to receive junk mail after opting out with Royal Mail, you can contact the Postal Review Panel. Sitting outside of the Royal Mail Customer Services team,  the Postal Review Panel is for customers who are unhappy with either the way their complaint has been handled or with the responses they have received.

Opting out of other unaddressed mail deliveries

To opt out of other unaddressed mail deliveries you can register with the ‘Your Choice’ preference service run by the Data and Marketing Association.

Photo by Stokpic on Pixabay.

Opting out of charity appeal communications

The Fundraising Preference Service can help members of the public control the communications they receive from charities. By registering your details with the Fundraising Preference Service you can choose to stop email, telephone calls, addressed post and/or text messages addressed to you personally from charities.

Contact your electoral registration office

Search for your local electoral registration office on Gov.UK and ask them to take your details off the ‘open register’ which is a list of people and addresses that can be bought and used for sending junk mail. You can also choose for your details not to be added to the edited electoral register when you fill out an electoral registration form. Tick the box that says ‘opt out’ of the open register.

Put a sign on your door or letterbox

Try putting a ‘no junk mail’ sign on your door. Some organisations may not consider their mail to be junk so be specific and write ‘No commercial leaflets, no free newspapers, no junk mail, no charity bags.’

Contact the sender directly

If an organisation is never told you don’t want to receive their mail, they will continue to send it to you. Write to them directly, including your full name and address and the sentence ‘Please stop processing my personal data for direct marketing purposes in accordance with Article 21 of the General Data Protection Regulations.’

Return the junk mail directly to the sender

Cross out your address and write ‘unsolicited mail, please return to sender’ on the envelope. You won’t have to pay postage for the return but the sender will receive a return charge.

Photo by Picography on Pixabay.

Sources


Further information and sources

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Tools of the trade

As a virtual assistant I am called on to use many organisational tools in my work, so for this blog post I thought I would write about some of the tools of my trade that make my work a little easier. Got some favourite ways of being organised and staying on top of things? I would love to hear from you about the tools of your trade too.

Image by Pixabay.

Asana

Asana helps to coordinate work across teams by bringing tasks together to ensure  nothing falls through the cracks. If you are familiar with yoga you may also know that Asanas are yoga poses or yoga postures, with The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali defining ‘asana’ as ‘[a position that] is steady and comfortable’ but for more of that you need to read someone else’s blog post. Asana enables teams to stay organised and connected by bringing them together in a shared online workspace. Within this space, tasks can be detailed and assigned to staff members, collaborators can update one another on their progress, timelines show how work maps out over time, while boards make it easy for your a team to focus on tasks currently at hand.

Slack

Slack is a messaging app that connects people to information and other people in an online unified workspace. Slack allows you to message your colleagues and collaborate, as you would in person, in workspaces known as channels. The system supports asynchronous work, that is work that is not simultaneous or concurrent in time, meaning you can access the information you need in your own time, regardless of your location, time zone or function; ask questions; catch up with new developments and share updates without having to coordinate schedules. 

Dropbox

Dropbox provides a centralised place to securely store documents, manage data access and work together on projects. The system allows colleagues to work from anywhere, knowing their work is backed up in the cloud and large files such as videos, graphics and audio can be shared easily too.

Calendly

Calendly is a hub for scheduling meetings, eliminating the hassle of back-and-forth emails and giving you control over team scheduling with a standardized, scalable process. It’s secure, easy to manage, and integrates with your team’s favourite tools, so you can get everyone working as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Doodle

Doodle is an online scheduling tool which is used for organising meets. If you have ever had to schedule a date or time for a meeting between just a few people, you know that can be hard enough and scheduling meetings with large groups of people – even worse. Doodle offers several different ways to set up polls and surveys that will help you quickly and efficiently set up your next meeting or event. With Doodle you can create group meetings, 1:1 meetings and set up personal bookable calendars.

Canva

Canva is an online design and publishing tool with a mission to make complex things simple, empowering anyone, to design anything and publish anywhere. Canva houses thousands of free templates that include flyers, cards, business cards, resumes, invitations, letterheads, newsletters and much more, for easy graphic design and the drag and drop interface allows users to customise these by uploading their own images, dropping them into the template and saving the file to your computer. 

Loom

Loom is a video messaging tool that helps you communicate through instantly shareable videos. With Loom, you can record your camera, microphone and desktop simultaneously and share your video through Loom’s patented technology, which again enables asynchronous work.

Descript

Descript enables users to record, transcribe, edit, mix, collaborate and master audio and video in the same way as a document. It is the world’s first audio word processor, allowing users to view and edit any audio file as text and converting text to audio too. 

GroupGreeting

GroupGreeting allows users to create a digital card and have multiple people sign it.  Not only is this great for teams who work remotely but anyone who have ever tried to get a paper greeting card signed and passed around an office without recipient seeing it, will understand the benefit of this one. GroupGreeting is easy to use, with unlimited space to sign and a video messaging tool is available too.

Sources and further information

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Online abuse and its impacts

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a workshop about online abuse and it impacts, which formed part of the 17th University of Chester Diversity Festival. Established in 2006, the Diversity Festival gives attendees an opportunity to investigate, question and debate issues around diversity and equality in Britain and in the world at large. Each year the festival provides a focus through which the university actively promotes, challenges and develops an understanding of equality, diversity and multiculturalism. This year the theme was ‘Rebuilding and Rethinking Equality’.

Illustration of different colour people forming a wheel shape.
Image by Geralt on Pixabay.

The session was funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire and run by Glitch, an award winning UK charity aiming to end online abuse. Glitch provide training, research and workshops, with the aim of building  an online world that is safer for all and to encourage people to use the internet in appropriate and responsible ways. Their work has a particular focus on women and marginalised people and in three key areas namely:

  • Awareness 
    Using campaigns and collaborations with partners, including universities, corporates and other charities.
  • Advocacy
    Working closely with the major social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and TikTok, to  influence their policies and hold them to account when needed, as well as helping public institutions create better legislation to prevent and address online abuse.
  • Action
    Believing everyone needs to feel confident when navigating online and offline spaces,  especially women and girls, who are disproportionately affected by discrimination and taking action through educational work to break down complex topics including online hate speech and online gender-based violence.

What is online abuse

Online abuse is any type of behaviour that is intimidating or violent online, whether that be hate speech, targeting marginalised communities, racism or sexism. It includes a range of tactics and malicious behaviours ranging from sharing embarrassing or cruel content about a person, to impersonation and stalking, child pornography, copyright infringements, data theft, defamation, emotional harm, libel and privacy infringements. The purpose of online abuse differs with every incidence but usually is done embarrass, humiliate, scare, threaten, silence or extort. 

During the workshop I learned how to:

  • define online abuse and online gender-based violence
  • recognise types and tactics of online abuse
  • describe the impact of online gender based violence for different groups.
abuse-wheel
Image by the Women’s Media Center showing types of online abuse, tactics and impacts of abuse.

Online harms  bill

The workshop was timely as the UK Government is currently proposing new legislation to keep people safe online with the Online Harms Bill, which will seek to tackle access to harmful material online. Proposed measures include criminalising the sending of unsolicited sexual images to people using social media, known as cyber-flashing, giving people the right to appeal if they feel their social media posts were removed unfairly, preventing online scams, such as paid-for fraudulent adverts, investment fraud and romance scammers and requiring pornography websites to verify their users’ ages. It would also give Ofcom the power to fine firms or block access to sites that fail to comply with the new rules. However, the bill doesn’t even mention women and girls, who experience abuse disproportionately online. You can learn more about the bill and add your voice to the call to change by visiting the Change.Org website and signing the petition.

petition

Reporting online abuse

Seen something online that makes you uncomfortable? Online abuse can be reported to social media and webhosting providers. It can also be reported to the organisations below.

Further information and sources

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day (IWD) takes place on 8 March each year and is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

What is International Women’s Day?

The earliest known celebration of women was on 28 February 1909 in New York City and was called ‘National Women’s Day.’  Two years later, in 1911, the first IWD gathering was supported by over a million people. The same year Emmeline Pankhurst called on women to boycott the census, urging passive protest against the government‘s reluctance to give women the vote.

The first form of protest was that women who were at home on census night should refuse to complete the return (and risk a £5 fine or a month’s imprisonment), spoiling the census form by either refusing to provide any information or by scribbling comments on it along the lines of ‘I don’t count so I won’t be counted’ or ‘No vote – No census’. The second method was to avoid being at home that night. Women hid or kept moving from place to place throughout the night to avoid being recorded. Emily Davison, who famously lost her life at the Derby two years later, hid in a broom cupboard in the Houses of Parliament for 46 hours. She was arrested and released without charge but was recorded in the census as ‘found hiding in the Crypt of Westminster Hall’.

Image: International Women’s Day

Historians write that while women have always been 50% of the population, they only occupy around 0.5% of recorded history but if you look at figurines made between about 40,000 BC, until around 5,000 BC, around 90% of these are of women. At the birth of civilised society, women had status, property rights and owned land but the new civilisations wanted to expand and when that happened, society became more militarised and the balance of power shifted.

More recently, the UK census should be a good source of information, however it was not until 1851 that household heads were ‘instructed’ to record married women’s occupations and only then, ‘if they were deemed to be regularly employed’. Actually, most working class women at the time had no choice but to work, in addition to the unpaid work they did at home but this was often not recorded, so the census returns show a blank space in the occupation column against women’s names.

A letter by Joyce Stevens, written for Women's Liberation Broadsheet, International Women's Day, 1975.
A letter by Joyce Stevens, written for Women’s Liberation Broadsheet, International Women’s Day, 1975.
Image: International Women’s Day

Ordinary women, extraordinary lives

Women have achieved some wonderful things throughout history, below are some of my favourite stories.

Hazel Hill

During the 1930’s, Hazel Hill, a 13 year old girl, figured out the precise mathematical calculations to enable improvements to be made to Spitfires, increasing the number of guns to eight from four and helping to win the war.  A 30 minute documentary about Hazel can be viewed below.

Mary Ellis

Mary Ellis joined the Air Transport Auxiliary after hearing an advertisement for women pilots on BBC radio and was responsible for delivering Spitfires and bombers to the front line.

NASA scientists

In the 1940s, a group of female scientists were the human computers behind the biggest advances in aeronautics, breaking down gender and racial barriers at the same time.

The Mercury 13

On 9 April 1959, NASA announced that seven men, who would become known as the Mercury 7, would go into space. At the same time,  thirteen women, enrolled on a privately funded programme and successfully underwent the same physiological screening tests. The women never went to space.

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin took the X-ray crystallography photograph known as ‘Photograph 51’, which led to the creation of a model that would change all scientists’ understanding of DNA. One year later, when scientists James Watson and Francis Crick made history by publishing a new model of the DNA code, including the crystallography photograph and Franklin’s research, Rosalind Franklin was not credited for her contribution. It wasn’t until 1968, when Watson published his memoir, that it was revealed Rosalind Franklin was the scientist who contributed the crucial X-ray crystallography photograph. However, while the other men were awarded the Nobel Prize, Rosalind Franklin never received this.

Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr was an  actress famous for films such as Samson and Delilah and White Cargo. She was also an inventor who pioneered the technology that would one day form the basis for today’s WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth communication systems.

Billie Jean king

In 1973 Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in straight sets during a tennis match dubbed ‘The Battle of The Sexes’. The match was broadcast on primetime TV, drawing 90 million viewers.

Striking female machinists at the Ford Motor company

On 29 May 1970, two years after going on strike, 187 women working at a factory in East London witnessed their hard work pay off when the Equal Pay Act received royal assent. Coming into force five years later, the Act sought to ‘prevent discrimination, as regards terms and conditions of employment, between men and women’. This meant that it was required for men and women ‘in the same employment to be treated equally, in terms of their pay and conditions of work.

The 9 to 5 National Association of Working Women

In 1973 a group of female office workers started talking about how they were treated at work. They talked about how men made more money than they did for the same job. They talked about how their male co-workers could get away with making passes at them and worse. They talked about how when their children got sick they couldn’t get time off without endangering their jobs. Then they decided enough was enough. Feisty, empowered and fed up, they decided to fight for fair pay and equal treatment and started the 9 to 5 National Association of Working Women. Forty years on from the release of the film 9 to 5, the themes of the film, inspired by the association, are still relevant today.

Image: International Women’s Day

Break the bias

This year the International Women’s Day campaign theme is ‘Break The Bias’ with IWD asking everyone to imagine a gender equal world; a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination; a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive and a world where difference is valued and celebrated.

You may be wondering why we need to celebrate International Women’s Day. Well, that’s because although a lot has changed for women, there is still more work to be done. We need the day to celebrate women’s achievements, ensure we continue moving forwards not backwards and to remember the rights of women around the globe are not all the same. What can you do to break the bias?

Sources and further information

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Digital marketing student

In November I once again became a student, enrolling on a twelve week Digital Marketing boot camp with We Are Digital. I attended school before the internet revolution, learning to type on a manual computer and while I think I have kept up quite well with technological developments, I was increasingly finding there was much I did not know too. And I am not the only one, millions of people are digitally excluded. 11.9 million people do not have the essential digital skills needed for day to day life in the UK, 1.9 million households in the UK lack any kind of internet access and 9 million people struggle to use the internet independently.

What is digital marketing

Digital Marketing is any type of marketing activity that uses electronic devices or the internet and is different to traditional marketing which uses magazine adverts, billboards and direct mail such as flyers and catalogues. You can learn more about digital marketing in the short animation below.


What does the boot camp involve

The boot camp takes place online via Zoom, three hours a day, four days a week, for twelve weeks, with students benefiting from industry respected trainers and professionals from the world of digital marketing. It has been designed to be focused on commercial aims, so real world practical skills are taught and regular assessments are built into the timetable, with a final assessment – a group project to write and present a marketing strategy. Topics covered include:

  • Market research: understanding customers needs and problems to then develop solutions
  • Social media: Learning to plan, test, implement and measure social media campaigns
  • Search engine optimisation (SEO): How to plan, design, and implement an SEO strategy
  • Paid search: Learning to design and implement a paid search strategy
  • Analytics: understanding how to implement, test and measure results using analytics packages.
  • Tools: Learning about the tools that can be used to support digital marketing
  • Conversion optimisation: how to plan test and improve conversion rates on a website.
  • Competitor analysis: learning how to conduct competitor Analysis
  • Content marketing: learning how to plan and develop a content marketing strategy
  • Display and media: display advertising
  • Trends: understand trends in digital marketing, how it’s evolved and what is on the horizon.
  • Strategy: to take all the learnings from the course and develop into an overall digital marketing strategy

You can learn about these topics in more depth on the We Are Digital website below.

Lifelong learning

The boot camp is one of many free flexible training opportunities provided by the UK government Plan for Jobs programme, which aims to protect, support and create jobs across the country, whether you are a business owner, self-employed or a job seeker. To be eligible to study on the boot camp, students need to be aged 19+, recently made unemployed, self-employed, or working part-time and seeking a new career. Other training is available in construction, engineering and manufacturing, green skills and HGV driving.

If like me you would enjoy the opportunity to learn some new skills you can find out more about initiatives and the help available below.

Sources

Further information

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

How to write a marketing strategy

A marketing strategy is a business’s overall game plan for reaching prospective leads and turning them into customers. Much like a game of chess, marketing strategy is concerned with evaluation, positioning, control of key areas and setting goals. The word strategy comes from the Greek language (στρατηγία stratēgia) meaning ‘art of troop leader; office of general, command, generalship’ and the ultimate goal of a marketing strategy is to achieve and communicate a sustainable competitive advantage over rival companies but where do you begin with writing one? Read on to find out.

Photo by Adlan.

Goals

Defining your goals is the first step in preparing your marketing strategy. Goal setting can encourage new behaviours, motivate, guide and focus us on things we want to achieve. When writing a marketing strategy, listing your goals will give you a clear direction of travel for everything that is to follow, so before you begin:

  • evaluate your current position in the market and consider this from both your perspective and your customers perspective
  • consider how this knowledge can help you find a niche or unique selling point
  • review your growth to date and set your goals accordingly
  • match your goals to the overall vision you have for your company
  • pick a small number of goals that you believe are obtainable and manageable but not easy – Rome wasn’t built in a day
  • remember that sometimes you will fail and not reach all of your goals – don’t think in terms of success and failure but rather hits and misses, which will enable you to learn from any mistakes you make
Photo by Rafael Rex Felisilda.

SMART goals

SMART goals are one way to set goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. So what does this mean?

  • Specific: detail the problem or opportunity you want to address and consider what needs to be accomplished, where do you want to be in three to five years time, what steps need to be taken and what is the budget to achieve it
  • Measurable: make your goals measurable – doing so will make it easier to track your progress and know when you have completed what you set out to do
  • Achievable: goals need to be attainable, not impossible to achieve – ask also, what things could block you from achieving your goals
  • Relevant: why are you setting a particular goal – while it is good to break things down to make them more manageable, keep referring back to what you want to achieve overall so you understand how your goals fit in with this
  • Timebound: what is the timeline for the project, when will it begin and when does it need to be completed by – asking these questions will ensure you remain focused on what needs to be done

Having clear goals from the get go means you can change your tactics as work progresses and also if you find certain ideas are working better than others.

SOSTAC framework

Another method is to use the SOSTAC framework. SOSTAC stands for situation, objectives, strategy, tactics/actions and control.

  • Situation: where are we now
  • Objectives: where do we want to be
  • Strategy: how do we get there
  • Tactics and actions: what do we need to get there
  • Control: how will we measure performance
Photo by Hassan Pasha.

Research

There are various techniques for undertaking research.

Market research

Market research is the action of gathering information about consumers’ needs for the purpose of guiding decision making. If a business doesn’t know who they are, what they are selling or who they are selling to, how will it convince people to buy their products and services.

There are different types of market research.

  • Primary research: this is information you have collected on your own from say surveys, interviews, feedback forms, polls, surveys, focus groups and customer observation – its strength lies in that it comes directly from customers themselves
  • Secondary research: this is second or third party data or information – it might be news articles and reports researched by people outside of your organisation and also includes information about say the market size of your industry and your competitors
  • Qualitative research: this can be primary or secondary and gives an insight into how customers think and feel – by asking qualitative research questions, you can gauge whether your product or service is meeting your customers expectations and if not, why not
  • Quantitative research: this can also be primary or secondary but focuses on collecting numbers for statistical analysis – think followers, subscribers, page clicks and bounce rates
  • Keyword market research: this is the process of finding the search terms that people enter into search engines – once you know what people search for, you can incorporate these keywords into your online work, so that when people search for these words, they find you
  • Trends and opportunities: trends and opportunities are exactly what they say on the tin – to identify these you need to research what is ‘on trend’ right now, what has fallen out of favour and what isn’t being done by your competitors that would enable you to create a niche market for yourself

Competitive analysis

Take a look at what your competitors are doing and how this could affect your marketing strategy.
By checking out your competition you can determine your likelihood of success and also assess how what they are doing might impact your plans. Competitive analysis could include:

  • subscribing to receive your competitors’ emails
  • following your competitors on social media
  • examining what your competitors write and create – who it is aimed at, how often it is produced, what it is about and who is writing it
  • reading industry magazines and websites
  • attending trade shows

Photo by Felix Mittermeier.

SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis will help you define your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It will help you understand what differentiates you from your competition and how you should position yourself in the market. A SWOT analysis will also help you develop your communications strategy and understand your unique selling point.

Create customer personas

A customer persona is a profile that represents your ideal customer, enabling you to tailor and personalise your marketing. Consider the ideal age of your customer, their gender, location, occupation, hobbies and lifestyle. Also, how, when and where do they shop, what is their online behaviour, who are they influenced by and what brands do they already buy or aspire to buy. Gathering this information will help you to personalise your marketing material so it can be targeted to your chosen audience.

Empathy mapping

Empathy mapping is another technique that can be used to understand your target audience. This focuses on four key areas.

  • Says: what do customers say out loud for example in an interview or telephone call
  • Thinks: what do customers think during their experience with you
  • Does: what does the user do and how do they go about doing it
  • Feels: how does the customer feel about the experience – do they feel fearful, overwhelmed or excited

Your should also consider:

  • Hear: what do customers hear from friends, family, bosses and influencers
  • Pain: what frustrates customers and what obstacles do they face in dealing with you
  • Gains: what are their wants/needs and how do they measure success
Photo by Dipesh Shrestha,

Marketing funnel

After you have identified your desired customer personas, the next step is to work out how these personas think and make their decisions to buy, so that you can convert these fictional personas to living breathing customers. The marketing funnel focuses on four key areas and by using the example of clothing, we can see how it works.

  • What do customers see: this could be clothing they see on websites and magazines, on social media and television, in blog posts and videos
  • What do they think: this is the consideration stage when people are thinking they might want to buy some clothes and are looking at various websites and company reviews before deciding where and what to buy
  • What do they do: at this stage people have undertaken research, decided they definitely want to buy clothes and want to buy them immediately
  • Care: this is existing customers who have now bought clothes from you – what can a company do to show they care about these customers and how do the customers demonstrate their appreciation

Each stage provides opportunities to connect with potential customers by providing information or solving a problem.

What else needs to be incorporated into a marketing strategy

Unique selling point

Knowing what makes your company different to others is known as your unique selling point (USP). Your USP needs to be clearly shown on your website, in emails, on social media, advertising and packaging. It needs to be incorporated in your brand strategy and your content strategy also, as these are the methods you use to communicate.

Brand

A brand is one of the strongest assets a company has. Ask yourself, is your brand consistently represented across all channels, namely your logo, website design, print marketing materials, business cards, advertisements, packaging and social media. You can learn more about branding in the blog post below.

Photo from Pixabay.

Content and communication

Content is any written words you use to convey your brand. Content also needs to be consistent and to provide useful information to your customers as well as purely for selling. So consider writing a regular blog that solves a problem, answers a question or entertains. Providing added value in this way, will help keep you uppermost in customer’s minds and when your audience needs your product or service they will hopefully think of you.

Once you have great content, you need to ensure it is getting read. What communication strategies do you need to put in place to connect with customers?

  • Owned media: that is anything online that you own or produce, say a website, blog, your social media channels, podcasts, videos and webinars
  • Earned media: that is material written about you or your business that you haven’t paid for or created yourself
  • Paid media: that is sponsored social media posts, display ads, paid search results, video ads, pop-ups, and other promoted multimedia

Use a mix of communication channels and choose the ones that work best for you.

Search engine optimisation

Now you have fabulous content and you are working hard to ensure it gets read but search engines need to be able to find you too. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is what search engines use to index web pages, enabling content to be found and will improve the quality and quantity of website traffic to a website or a web page from search engines. So, make sure that your website is easily navigable and clearly presents the information you want to convey and that your customers are looking for. You can learn more about SEO in the blog post below.

Tactics and actions

And there you have it – once you have your strategy in place, all that is left is to decide what tactics are most important to the success of that strategy, for example, you may decide to re-vamp or review your website, start writing a regular blog, begin sending newsletters or to start creating podcasts.

Measuring results

Finally, tracking, measuring and reporting your success should be something that is put in place immediately to establish your baseline, for without it, how will you know if you have achieved your goals and how will you know what is and isn’t working. Measuring results will show if you are achieving your goals and enable you to change your strategy if not, so continuously test, learn, refine and reflect.

Photo by Felix Mittermeier.

Acknowledgements

In late 2021 I became a digital marketing student, learning a wide range of skills on a digital marketing boot camp. After 12 weeks I was required, with my fellow students, to write and present a marketing strategy and this post demonstrates some of what I learned during this time. It couldn’t have been written without We Are Digital Training who gave me the opportunity to learn and develop new skills with them. More information about my training can be found in the blog post below.

Sources and further information

Goals

Market research and market research tools

Search engine optimisation

Measuring results

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

A short history of virtual assistants and remote working

A virtual assistant (VA) is a person who works remotely online. With technological developments virtual assistants are now able to perform all the tasks a secretary or administrator would traditionally handle while working from home.

Illustration of virtual assistant.


History

There is some dispute over who exactly invented the phrase virtual assistant but sometime in the 1990’s appears to be the agreed date. Author of the 2-Second Commute Chris Durst is credited with having founded the virtual assistant industry in rural Connecticut in 1995 and in 1999, she went on to co-found the International Virtual Assistants Association, serving as its first president. However in 1992 Stacey Brice was already working as a virtual assistant when her life coaching client, Thomas Leonard, coined the phrase ‘virtual assistant’ for her.  She then went on to create AssistU, a virtual assistant training programme.

In 1999 the International Association of Virtual Assistants was set up to provide advice and training for virtual assistants based in the UK and around the world. The Alliance of UK Virtual Assistants, a free directory of VAs in the UK followed in 2000. In 2003 The Virtual Assistant Coaching and Training Company set up its first UK specific VA training and also in 2003 Tawnya Sutherland founded VA Networking, the largest organisation of virtual assistants worldwide. In 2005 The Society of Virtual Assistants, originally known as The UK Association of Virtual Assistants, was founded by seven Scottish virtual assistants. You can learn about what a VA does today, in the short film below.

In the 1800’s Sir Isaac Pitman, invented Pitman shorthand and founded the first school for secretarial services. The school only admitted men, as women were not allowed in workplaces, however, with the invention of the typewriter, early technology paved the way for women’s entry into the profession and women went on to occupy office jobs and perform secretarial work. Historian Anna Davin records that when the British civil service took over operating telegraph and postal offices in the 1870s, female clerks were sought for their typing speed and dexterity, with the official in charge saying the wages ‘which will draw male operators from but an inferior class of the community, will draw female operators from a superior class.’ Women were favoured too because they could spell and type better, would raise the tone of the office, then marry and leave without requiring pensions. By the 1930s, men had disappeared from the industry and the role of secretary became a female one from then on.

A female typist operates a Sholes and Glidden typewriter, as depicted in an 1872 Scientific American article.

The word secretary originally meant ‘one entrusted with the secrets or confidences of a superior’ and is derived from the Medieval Latin ‘secretarius’. The Online Etymology Dictionary records the word was first recorded circa 1400 meaning a ‘person who keeps records, write letters, etc.,’ originally for a king. In the 1590’s the word referred to the title of ministers presiding over executive departments of state. The word is also used in both French and English to mean ‘a private desk’ or ‘secretaire’ in French, while the term ‘secretary bird’ refers to the bird found in sub-Saharan Africa, with a crest, which when smooth, resembles a pen stuck over the ear.

Vintage advertisement for an Underwood typewriter.

By the 1960’s ‘training respectable girls’ to be secretaries, focused on honing the relationship between the secretary and her boss but would-be secretaries at the Lucie Clayton school were also taught the importance of deportment and makeup, along with diary management. In her article ‘A Short History of the Secretary’ Claire Phipps writing in the Guardian quotes a letter published in The Times in 1969, advising that secretaries wear deodorant; learn how to make good tea and coffee; and always look beautiful, but not provocative … changing stockings was an activity best confined to the ‘powder room’. Typing pools saw large numbers of women find employment in a strict and disciplined environment, where a room of secretaries produced endless documents from shorthand notes.

Embed from Getty Images

Later the telephone and fax machine helped bring people and workplaces together around the world and in the 1980’s the typewriter evolved into the word processor making document production quicker and easier. In the 1990’s the internet made the world smaller again and changed the way all people lived and worked, with the demise of the typing pool, a computer on everyone’s desk and at home, laptop computers, tablets and mobile phones for working anytime anywhere and an increase in remote working. Remote working may however have began earlier than you think, with IBM allowing five of its employees to work from home as an experiment in 1979, an experiment that by 1983 saw roughly 2,000 of its employees working from home; in the mid 1980’s the US department store J. C. Penney allowed its call centre staff to work from home; and by 2018, 70% of the worlds population was believed to work remotely at least once a week, with 55% working from home at least half the week.

Man working from home holding baby.

In the 2015 Financial Times article ‘The case of the vanishing secretary’, Emma Jacobs wrote of the dying secretarial services industry, reporting administrative jobs were in decline, however in 2020, it was not technology but a global pandemic causing a global reset, forcing people to work at home and to find new ways of working. Up until then it was estimated office workers spent 90,000 hours of their lives at the office. Collaborative software that enables the sharing, processing and management of files, documents and more among several remote users and/or systems, allowing them to work jointly on a task or project, was suddenly in huge demand.

Since the 1800’s office work, the people who do it and how they do it has come a long way and today, yet again, the role of the office is undergoing more disruption. How this works out long term is currently much debated, however, post pandemic, as things hopefully begin to return to normal, many people, myself included, have re-assessed their lives and the things that are important to them, liking their work life balance more and are open to the opportunity for change.

Further information

Sources

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Understanding the difference between marketing and branding

It is difficult to escape the words marketing and branding in the world today and it is easy to confuse them but marketing and branding are two different concepts and if you want your business to succeed, you need to understand the difference between the two. In this blog post, I will explain what marketing and branding are, how they are different and how they work alongside one another.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is bus.jpg
The Bayswater Omnibus by George William Joy.

Marketing

‘Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.’ ~ Walt Disney

Marketing is tools, processes and strategies used to promote a product, service or company, which enable businesses to find customers. Traditionally, marketing has been done in magazines and newspapers, in catalogues, magazines and flyers, on walls and lamp posts, on billboards, on public transport, in sports grounds and on the jerseys of the men and women playing sport, in window displays, signs and posters, on tv and radio and with telemarketing by phone and text message. Today such advertising still takes place but digital marketing uses websites, social media, adverts, videos and email marketing too.

Etymology online records the word marketing firstly in the 1560s as meaning the ‘buying and selling, act of transacting business in a market’ and in 1701 as meaning ‘produce bought or sold at a market’. Finally it records the business sense of the word as the ‘process of moving goods from producer to consumer with emphasis on advertising and sales’ in 1897.

Marketing is as old as time itself. The first printed advertising was recorded between 960 – 1279 and the first trade shows took place around 11th century A.D. The invention of the Gutenberg Press in 1450 saw the beginning of the mass production of printed advertising, while early trademarks and branding began in 1498, with the German painter Albrecht Duerer who created a distribution network of his works throughout Europe and undertook legal actions against those who illegally produced copies of his paintings.

In the 17th century, the first newspaper advertising appeared and the first advertising agency was founded in 1786. Sandwich men appeared in 1789 – these were people hired to wear advertising space on their body, in the form of printed cardboard on their front and back, while handing out flyers. Billboards, cinema advertising, radio and television advertising followed and as these mediums grew in popularity, companies began sponsoring shows and creating commercials, that allowed the companies to come into people’s homes with words, music and moving pictures.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is coca-cola.jpg


Branding

Branding demands commitment; commitment to continual re-invention; striking chords with people to stir their emotions; and commitment to imagination. It is easy to be cynical about such things, much harder to be successful.’ ~ Sir Richard Branson

Branding is different to marketing, in that it defines a company by creating a unique name or image for a product. It includes a company mission statement and values, the company logo and the unique selling point (USP), which distinguishes a company from its competitors, making it memorable to existing and potential customers.

Branding has always been about making your mark and depicting ownership. In the Ancient Scandinavian language Norse, the word ‘brandr’ meant ‘to burn’, while the word ‘brand’ originally meant a burning piece of wood. Branding has been recorded in ancient Babylon and at the time of the Magna Carta, guilds made it mandatory to brand goods with proprietary marks. In the 1500s, it became common to brand cattle in order to show ownership – branding marks were unique to the owner, simple, distinctive and instantly identifiable, just like the product logos of today. Other examples include slave owners who would brand their slaves and the Nazis who branded prisoners of war. So too, publishers use branding in the form of a colophon, the emblem, logo, or imprint that appears on the spine of a book and or on its title page.


Advertising agencies first appeared in England in the 1800s and companies began to promote their ‘brand names’ using packaging and slogans. Then at the beginning of the twentieth century, products such as Coca-Cola (1886), Colgate (1873), Ford Motor Company (1903), Chanel (1909) and LEGO (1932) were born. These brands were innovative and ahead of their time – the Ford Motor Company for example offered American made, gasoline-powered vehicles before anyone else and Chanel made suits for women at a time when they had only been thought of as menswear.

Before television, companies ran commercials during radio programmes, propagating the idea that their products could buy happiness and as radio become more popular, station owners looked to advertising as a way of making their businesses more sustainable. Branding developed with radio jingles, catchphrases and with companies sponsoring both advertisements and entire programmes.

Today the internet is involved in all aspects of advertising and marketing and it now seems there is little that cannot be given the branding treatment, from politics, to charities and even personal brands for celebrities, who have built careers from simply being themselves. To ensure they do not fall behind, companies must ensure they engage with the online world. Marketing and advertising agencies need to be able to create adverts and logos with a consistent look and feel to represent products, with both a nod to the past and an understanding of the present, that will appeal to audiences who are saturated with messages fighting for their attention twenty four hours a day. However, it is important to remember traditional marketing too, for as long as people can read, there will be a place for this also and there may be many who prefer this quieter and subtler form of communication.

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Working hand in hand

So, marketing and branding can be seen to work hand in hand, with marketing getting a customers’ attention and driving sales, while branding is a way to keep their attention and gain customer recognition and loyalty. Marketing will push a brand in front of people but to keep it there and have longevity, you need to build a strong brand. Branding is what will set your company apart from competitors and a well defined brand will help ensure consistency in your products and communications, which in turn, over time will build trust with your target audience – think Coca-Cola, Marks and Spencer, Virgin and the BBC.

Before putting a marketing strategy in place, focus on branding. Ask yourself, who are you as a brand, what do you do, what are your values and how will you communicate all of that to your customers? Marketing strategies and campaigns are temporary, with each having a beginning, middle and end. Branding on the other hand is the continuous work of defining your company, shaping the perception of your brand and ensuring you create long term relationships with your customers.


Sources

Further information

Information about the images

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved

How to keep your website looking good

In a previous life, I worked as a web editor on a local government website, so for this blog post, I thought I would write about some of the ways you can keep your website looking good. My role involved writing, editing, proof reading and approving web pages prior to publication and educating people on web design good practice, brand maintenance and search engine optimisation. At one stage I think the website had around 900 pages, so it could be a daunting task and the team I worked with continuously reviewed the website to ensure web pages and web documents were kept up to date and monitored it in terms of usability, accessibility and compliance with government legislation.

Photo by Hal Gatewood.

First impressions

First impressions really do count with websites. If someone doesn’t like what they see, they won’t stick around for long, so it is important to ensure you keep yours in working order and up to date at all times. Think of your website as your shop window – it needs to encourage people through the front door to browse your wares. Website reviews or content audits are crucial to giving your shop kerb appeal and for good search engine optimisation (SEO), that is a set of practices designed to improve the appearance and positioning of web pages in organic search results (the unpaid listings on a search engine results page.)

Contact information

Contact information of some sort should always appear on your website, namely an address, telephone number, email address or contact form. As a member of The Society of Virtual Assistants, I am required to display a UK mailing address and to be contactable by email too. On a website, it goes without saying that people will expect to be able to reach you online, so displaying an email address or having a contact form is a must have. It also appears more professional if your email address is linked to a domain name, for example toni@vaservices.org rather than toni@gmail.com. I do not display a contact telephone number or an email address but can be contacted via the contact form on this website, which is good for reducing spam email. If you choose to use a contact form too, make sure it is connected to your email address and messages are getting through. You can do this by emailing yourself or asking someone to test the form for you.

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Photo by Viktor Hanacek

Always proofread and check your spelling, punctuation and grammar. It can be difficult to proof read your own work, as after a while you become blind to what you have written, seeing what you think is there, rather than what is actually there, so again ask someone to proofread and sense check what you have written before you publish it. Alternatively, you can use a website spellchecker. Type ‘website spellchecker’ into a search engine and type the address of your website into the search box to get your website scanned for spelling errors.

Broken links are another thing that should be tested for regularly. These can occur on your website, say if you have been re-structuring your website or as the result of changes on a website that you link to and both look bad if not fixed. Broken or dead link checkers can be found online and work in the same way as the website spellcheckers described above. 

Using the copyright symbol on your web pages will emphasise that you take your rights as the copyright owner seriously. The symbol is often found alongside a statement saying ‘all rights reserved’, which means you withhold all rights to the maximum extent allowable under law. You can read more about copyright in the blog post below.

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Photo by picjumbo.com from Pexels.

I agonised over this wording for a long time but as a sole trader, I have chosen to use  ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ on this website. My hope is that it is warm and welcoming and gives the impression that I am talking directly to you and that you get a sense of who I am. By using ‘we’ I feel I would have been giving the impression there is a team involved here which simply is not the case.

Data protection

It is important to ensure your website is GDPR compliant which basically means you have to inform users about the data that you collect from them. On this website I have a privacy statement which advises how I use and protect personal information. There is also a terms of use statement which governs the relationship between me and anyone who visits the website. Currently I do not use email marketing but if I did, I would ensure that an unsubscribe button appeared on any marketing emails, so people could unsubscribe from these any time they wish. You can read more about GDPR in the blog post below.

This was a difficult one for me, as I rarely like photographs of myself but I have to acknowledge that as a freelancer, having a photo of me on my website brings a personal touch, allowing visitors to put a face to the name of the business. My image is a snapshot but if you can afford to get a professional headshot, do that. Some freelancers use a logo instead – it isn’t a hard and fast rule but whatever you decide to use, make sure it is the same on your website, as in any networking groups or social media platforms you use, so people can recognise you.

Carrying out a content review

The ideas above are all quick ideas for good practice but you may want to consider undertaking more in depth reviews too. You could do these once or twice a year as a project or alternatively, setting review dates on your pages and reviewing these at intervals throughout the year, will help make the load a little easier, particularly if you have a lot of content on your website.

If you know you are adding information to your website that is time sensitive, add a review date to the page at the same time you publish it, as a reminder to update or delete the page, when the date has passed. Don’t forget any documents or images that you use on these pages need to be reviewed and deleted at the same time. It is crucial that behind the scenes you keep your documents and images organised and establish a filing naming convention immediately, to make it easy for you to identify your files and quickly find what you need, particularly if you work in a team.

Remember that your website needs to look good on many different electronic devices also, so regularly test how it looks on computers, tablets and mobile phones – take a look at Test My Site by ThinkGoogle for ideas to improve your mobile site.

Photo by Hal Gatewood.

It is important to note that just because you wrote content for a web page once, it doesn’t mean it has to stay on your website forever. You want your visitors to be able to find their way around, not feel as if they are in a rabbit warren. Consider your customer and put yourself in their shoes. Will they be able to navigate their way around your website without all of the inside knowledge of the person who designed it? Ask yourself, do you have duplicate information that could be consolidated on one page? Does your website signpost visitors to stop them getting lost and is it easy for them to return to the homepage? Link titles should take visitors to pages with a matching page title – do your link titles do what they say on the tin? Is the website divided up into clearly defined areas such as departments, events, services or tasks that a visitor may want to complete? Is it accessible to people with disabilities and to older people who may not have all of the digital skills necessary for day to day life? You can read more about website accessibility in the blog post below.

To keep your website fresh, delete out of date content or archive content you think you might be able to re-use or recycle. No one needs to read about Christmas events in July, so replace them with something new. Recognise the difference between what is evergreen content, that is content that needs to be on the website at all times and seasonal content that can come and go.

Photo by Hal Gatewood.

Websites are never finished

Websites are never finished, so don’t fall into the trap of spending time and money getting online and then do nothing more with your website. Maybe allocate some time for yourself each month to look around your website and ask ‘does this still reflect my company’ and if it doesn’t, rewrite the content so it does or delete it – think of it like a fresh coat of paint, new curtains or new cushions. Following the above guidelines will help keep your website looking good and keep it in good working order too, encouraging potential clients to trust you and re-assuring existing clients that they are in safe hands. Still not convinced? Take a look at the websites below for further information.

Sources and further information

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Digitally present

It is hard to believe the world wide web is only 30 years old, as today it seems there is little we can do without it. On 6 August 1991, the first website was introduced to the world. Launched at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), it was created by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee. On it, people could find out how to create web pages and learn about hypertext (coded words or phrases that link to content). By 1992 there were ten websites, by 1994 there were 3,000 websites (after the world wide web became public domain) and by the time Google made its debut in 1996, there were two million. However on 27 February 1995, Clifford Stoll writing in the American magazine Newsweek wrote ‘The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.’ Seventeen years later Newsweek ceased print publication and became exclusively available online. 

Illustration of a tree bearing website and social media icons.
Image by Gerd Altmann.

I built my first website in 2001 and from 2005 – 2018 worked in local government as a web editorial assistant. In 2006 the Cheshire County Council web team appeared in the internal newsletter.  It was reported we had scored a national ‘hit’ parade high, with more than 648,000 internet users having clicked on to the Council services online, helping to scoop the coveted ranking as the eighth most visited local government website in the UK. It all seems incredibly wide eyed and innocent now but at the time the world was pretty much changing in real time in front of our eyes, as we encouraged our customers to ‘do it online.’ Websites were cluttered, dis-organised, used outlandish fonts and colours, had background music, guest books and counters to show the number of people who had visited the website and it wasn’t unusual to have text scrolling or flying across the screen.

Why is a digital presence important

In 2020, Forbes reported that in 2019 alone, there were approximately 3.8 million Google searches conducted each minute, many of which were carried out to find information on local businesses.  Today many people will visit a company website and social media pages before they do anything, so a strong online presence acts like a shop window, where customers can browse, get a feel for a business, interact with a business and read customer reviews, with many people watching from a distance before they make contact or part with their money. In turn, websites, social media and other digital platforms allow businesses the opportunity to educate customers about what they do and showcase their work 24/7 to a global audience, who increasingly expect to see all businesses online, no matter their size.

Credibility

One of the main reasons to have an online presence is to increase your credibility. Without this, many people today will question your legitimacy whereas a strong online presence will help build trust, find potential customers and affect their purchasing decisions. Having an online presence is an opportunity to get the word out about what you do but if people can’t find information about your business easily, they are likely go elsewhere.

Saving you time

An online presence can also help increase internal productivity within your company, reducing telephone calls meaning staff are not constantly being distracted. At the same time, it helps customers find useful information such as your location or opening hours at any time of day or night, which ultimately provides better customer service for them. 

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Image by Gerd Altmann.

Top tips for building your online presence

First impressions count

Websites and other online services need to have a clean, modern and professional looking design, so no scrolling text, flashing images, crazy fonts, flying text, background music or emoticons – those days are gone. However, it is also important that your website is not style over substance, so beyond aesthetics, you should ensure you are providing valuable information to your customers, rather than posting for the sake of it. Sharing news updates about your company or maintaining a regular blog, where you provide original content related to what you do or the industry you work in, is important in bringing customers to you and ensuring they see you as current and relevant. Plan what you want to share ahead of when you want to share it, rather than thinking it and doing it in a rush the same day.

Branding

Use branding to clearly establish who you are, what you represent and what you stand for. Think BBC, Coca Cola, Virgin, Marks and Spencer – branding is your identity and should be instantly recognisable to your customers wherever you promote yourself, whether that be online or in printed material.

Ensure you can be contacted

If people are searching for you online they will expect to be able to contact you online too. Ensure your website has a contact email address and/or contact form and make sure these work by sending yourself a test email or asking someone to send one for you. If you are happy to be contacted by telephone or post, make sure these details appear on your website too. Alternatively, you can ask customers to book a call by using a Call To Action (CTA) button on your website or by using an online calendar such as Calendly and if you work from home but don’t want to share your home address online, look to obtain a virtual office address.  Where contact information can be added to social media, you should ensure it is added and kept up to date there too.

Identify top tasks

People visits websites with a specific task in mind and if your website doesn’t help them complete those tasks, they will leave quickly and go somewhere that does. Considering the top tasks of your customer will help you identify the pages you need to include, content to feature on your website, page headers and sub headers to help them find their way around and a logical structure to each page’s content. Your website navigation menu needs to be easy to find and all key tasks need to appear in this – having links hidden away where they can’t be found doesn’t benefit you or your customer. 

Writing for the web

Writing for the web is different to writing for print, as we read differently on screen than on paper, so before posting anything online, you need to tailor how you write for an online audience.

  • Use everyday language and plain English.
  • Proof read, sense check and spell check what you write by reading your writing aloud to yourself. It can be difficult to proofread your own writing, so if possible, ask someone to proofread for you too.
  • When you’ve finished writing, leave it for a while, return to it and read it through again – you will be surprised how much of your work you can still improve.
  • Do not use words and phrases that people won’t recognise or provide an explanation if this cannot be avoided.
  • Explain all abbreviations and acronyms, unless they are well known and in common use, for example VAT.

You can learn more about writing in plain English in the blog post ‘Plainly Speaking’ on this website.

Reading a flyer, brochure or book is a very different experience to viewing something on a screen. Printed materials need to be eye catching to entice people to pick them up but people read differently online, scanning what has been written to find information of interest, so anything posted online needs to recognise this. And remember, there may be times when a customer may need to print something from a website and they are not going to thank you if a document is beautifully designed but uses all their printer ink.

Accessibility

Remember, people with disabilities and older people are your audience too. You can learn more about this issue in the blog post ‘Making digital technologies accessible to all’ on this website. And although the number of older people who are digitally connected continues to rise, there are still around 5 million people over the age of 55 who are not online. Don’t forget to design your online services so they can accessed by people of varying ages, abilities and requirements and consider alternative ways to communicate with those who may not be online, to be sure you are not excluding them.

Undertake regular link checks – broken links, regardless of whether they appear on your website or an external website you may link to give a poor impression. Free broken link checkers can be found online.

Learn from experience

What do you find most frustrating about the websites you visit? Don’t fall into the trap of designing the same for your customers.

Keep your website fresh

Remember, websites are never finished, they are not a static thing that you create once and then forget about, they always need updating. The same applies to social media. It isn’t enough to set up pages and leave them – both need to be nurtured and maintained and have life breathed into them regularly. Neither is there is a one size fits all solution, so remember to always consider your target audience, always consider what you want to achieve by having an online presence and if this changes, be prepared to change what you do.

Sources

Further information

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Getting started with social media

Social media enables people and organisations to share information, ideas, personal messages and more via the internet. It is also for any business that wants to gain exposure online, connect with existing or potential customers, build brand awareness, find new leads, generate website traffic, gain an insight into the shopping habits of customers and improve their customer service. However, there are too many social networking sites to ever have a presence on them all, so the aim of this blog post is to help you  learn about the most widely used platforms.

Social media logos montage in shades of blue.
Image by Geralt on Pixabay.

The main social media networks

Facebook

Facebook is the largest of all the social media platforms, with over two billion monthly active users, meaning you are sure to find some of your audience there. Usage is spread pretty evenly between males and females, with users getting more active as their age increases but with younger users increasingly more interested in other platforms. Facebook accommodates text (63,206 characters in regular posts), images and videos and is good for building relationships. Facebook groups enable an audience to be gathered together in one place online and can be helpful in creating conversations, while Facebook business pages can be used for advertising which can be customised to target specific audiences.

Twitter

Twitter has around 300 million monthly active users who post messages known as tweets. It is useful for communicating breaking news in bite sized chunks of 280 characters or less but links can be added to tweets to signpost readers to further information.

Famous for its use of hashtags (although today these are used on other social media platforms too), Twitter formally adopted these in 2009 and went on to introduce trending topics, by placing the most popular hashtags on its homepage. Anything with a hashtag symbol in front of it becomes a hyperlink, meaning that clicking on a hashtag generates a list of tweets using the same hashtag, making it easier to find information with a theme or specific content.

Research conducted for Twitter by IPSOS MediaCT (IpsosConnectUK), found that 60% of Twitter UK users have a strong interest in TV shows, regularly using the platform to talk about tv, something encouraged by programmers who now display their own hashtags as their programmes are aired, allowing viewers to join in with Twitter conversations.

Instagram

Instagram is a photo and video sharing social networking service owned by Facebook. It has well over one billion monthly users meaning the chances are, much of your audience spends time on the platform. It is the home of influencers (someone who has the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience), brands, bloggers, small business owners and also your friends and family. Popular with teens and young adults, use of the app slowly drops off with age but is consistently popular with men and women. Beautiful photography, illustrations and selfie-style videos are the currency here.

Pinterest

Pinterest is another photo and video sharing social media platform. It has over 320 million monthly users, predominantly adult women who use the platform as a social bookmarking tool for saving ideas and finding creative inspiration, from art, fashion, food, interior design and more. Increasingly Pinterest also offers businesses a unique way to market themselves as a visual search engine.

SnapChat

Popular with the under 25’s SnapChat has over 300 million monthly users, who use it to share updates and communicate with friends and family through disappearing images and short video messages. Video driven storytelling that entertains and educates a young audience is the name of the game here.

TikTok

Tiktok is one of the newest social media platforms but is also one of the top in terms of user figures. Users are mostly aged between 16 to 24 and use the platform for entertaining, interesting and comedic short videos. Businesses should use TikTok if they want to reach a young audience but they should avoid self-promotion on this platform. People you might not expect to see on TikTok include The Washington Post and Judi Dench.

YouTube

YouTube is an online video sharing and social media platform owned by Google. Music, films, gaming, sports and fashion can be found on the platform and it can also be used for producing video tutorials, instructional content, product reviews or interviews.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is primarily used for professional networking and career development, allowing job seekers to post their CVs and employers to post jobs. Editorial content can also be published enabling businesses to build their brand and engage leads through conversations.

Clubhouse

Clubhouse describes itself as the ‘social audio app’ and ‘a new type of social product based on voice [that] allows people everywhere to talk, tell stories, develop ideas, deepen friendships, and meet interesting new people around the world.’ Millions of rooms or hallways enable users to pop in an out of different chats and you can host your own chats too. Networking and promoting your products is the name of the game here.

Photo by Austin Distel.

Getting started

Now that you know about the most popular and widely used social media platforms, you are ready to jump into the world of social media.

Set goals

Firstly set goals for what you hope to achieve through your use of social media marketing. Things you might want to focus on include:

  • improving your customer service by providing a platform where customers can reach you with complaints, questions, and concerns
  • identifying new leads
  • finding new customers who might be interested in your products or services
  • learning more about your audience
  • increasing traffic to your website and boosting sales.

Choose a platform that matches with the work you do

Secondly, choose a platform that matches the type of content you aim to create. If you are say a solicitor or an accountant it may be that you don’t have much in the way of visual information so Instagram and Pinterest are not going to work for you, whereas LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook will allow you to share useful information, blog posts and link to articles you’ve written. Creative businesses on the other hand, say artists, food businesses, hairdressers, jewellery makers or interior designers could easily make Instagram and Pinterest their social media home. Where are your followers most likely to be and where do organisations similar to yours hang out? Do your research and make sure you are in the same places.

What to post

When posting keeps these points in mind.

  • Be professional: don’t fall into the trap of thinking it is only social media – have fun with it but don’t let your standards fall
  • Be on brand: branding needs to be consistent everywhere it is used
  • Be authentic: communicate with your customers in a natural and genuine style
  • Be relevant and consistent: you don’t need to post every day but regular posts will keep you in customers minds
  • Be engaged: if your customers like, share or comment on your posts, take the time to acknowledge this and if they ask you a question, make sure you reply

Slow and steady wins the race

If you want to make use of more than one social media platform, consider first using ones you are already familiar with and enjoy using, leaving the others until you are up and running with these. Also, don’t be afraid to focus on one or two platforms and doing these well. Doing them half heartedly will drive your customers away. And if a social media platform isn’t working for you, don’t be scared to stop using it. Remember social media should enhance your business but it isn’t compulsory and you don’t have to do it all at once, so build your social media presence slowly and have fun with it.

Sources

Further information

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Making digital technologies accessible to all

The Oxford English dictionary defines accessibility firstly, as how easy something is to reach, enter, use or see and secondly, as how easy something is to reach, enter or use for somebody with a disability. In the second instance, accessibility means people with disabilities are not excluded from using something as a result of their disability and that they can do what they need to do, in a similar amount of time, in a similar way and with a similar amount of effort as someone who does not have a disability.

Why is digital accessibility important?

Digital accessibility means that all people can use the exact same technology, regardless of whether they can use a mouse, have a vision or hearing impairment or how they process information but for many people with disabilities, this simply isn’t the case. The short film below provides a brief introduction to digital accessibility.

To fully understand what is meant by digital accessibility, you need to experience how technological barriers feel. You can do this by turning off your computer monitor and trying to type; using your phone from under a table; unplugging your mouse and trying to navigate a website; increasing the zoom level on a document or web page to 500% or unplugging your speakers and watching a webinar without sound. Digital technology has the ability to provide access and independence but when technology is not made accessible it creates barriers, therefore accessible technology is important so that as many people as possible can use computers, websites and social media, allowing them to participate independently in society.

Research undertaken by Reason Digital via Populus and Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index in 2020 shows that:

  • people with disabilities are over 50% more likely to face barriers to accessing digital and online services than people without disabilities
  • if you have an impairment you are three times more likely not to have the skills to access devices and get online.

And the covid-19 pandemic which forced everyone online more, has now widened the digital divide further, showing accessibility is no longer a ‘nice to have’, as starkly illustrated in the video below, which shows Labour MP Vicky Foxcroft asking a question at Prime Minister’s Questions on 14 April 2021, over one year into the coronavirus pandemic

Accessible technology versus assistive technology

Accessible technology is technology that can be used easily by people with a wide range of functional abilities, allowing each user to use it in the ways that work best for him or her. When using a computer for example, there are many ways to input information, say with a mouse, the keyboard, or through a speech recognition system. Accessible technology can be directly accessible, meaning it is usable without the need for additional devices, or accessible through and compatible with assistive technology.

Assistive technology is the term used to describe devices, equipment and software that help people with disabilities live more independently, so for example a smartphone with a built in screen reader is directly accessible and an online job application is compatible with assistive technology when someone with a visual impairment can navigate it using a screen reader.

You can learn more about the range of assistive technology available and the impact and benefits of accessible and assistive technology below.

People with disabilities are your audience

The charity Scope reports that at least one in five people in the UK have a long term illness, impairment or disability. Many more have a temporary disability and others will become disabled in old age. People with disabilities are everywhere and everyone.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is audience.jpg
Photo by Gerd Altmann

However, as a society, we treat people with disabilities differently and in doing so exclude them, forcing them to find adjustments simply so they can access information or services other people take for granted. In turn companies:

  • alienate people with disabilities
  • limit the size of their audience
  • potentially put others in danger of missing out on essential information.

Accessibility issues may affect those with vision and hearing impairments; neurodiversity such as dyslexia, seizures, autism, or other cognitive differences; learning difficulties; mobility issues including arthritis, quadriplegia or spinal cord injuries and mental health such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, PTSD, depression, or ADHD, so when designing anything it is important to consider the range of people who need to use the product or service. You can learn more about this on the GOV.UK website below.

What accessibility isn’t

Accessibility isn’t about changing existing content or making alternative content specifically for people with disabilities but designing content that can be used for everyone, aiming to be inclusive at all times and being inclusive regardless of who you are writing for. There is no doubt it is a difficult task to get right every time for everyone but ultimately, it is the right thing to do and will also enable you to reach the largest possible audience for your business. You can learn more about inclusive design on the Microsoft website below.

Getting started

Want to create accessible websites and social media but don’t know where to start? Here are some tips.

Alternative (alt) text

Alt text describes an image to someone who cannot see by reading the text aloud to users of screen reader software. If adding a photo of say a plate of food, a bad description would be ‘a plate of food’. A good description would describe the food, say ‘A plate of fish and chips’.

You can learn more about screen readers and alt text below.

Not sure how to add alt text to your social media posts? Instructions can be found below.

Colour contrast

How easy is it for you to read the number in the image below?

The number 74 formed by shades of green bubbles on a circular background of orange and brown bubbles.

When designing images, it is important to consider the colours you use. Pastel coloured backgrounds with pale text are almost impossible to read if you have low vision or visual impairment. Black text on a white background is also difficult for people with dyslexia to read. Where possible, use an off white or pale background with dark text. You can learn more about colour contrast below.

Photo by Chaitanya Pillala.

Emojis

Screen reading technology reads emoji descriptions out loud, so try to use no more than three at a time and avoid adding lines of emojis. You should also check the name of the emoji you are using, to make sure it means what you think it does.

Interested in hearing how a screen reader handles mass emojis? Take a look at Twitter page of Alexa Henrich.

Fonts and special characters

People with dyslexia, learning and visual impairments can struggle to read some fonts, so choose easy to read fonts like Arial, Helvetica, Calibri or Verdana and avoid italics and special characters.

Interested in hearing how a screen reader handles fonts and symbols? Take a look at the Twitter page of Kent C Dodds.

GIFs

Colour contrast is also an issue with GIFs. Flashing images can trigger symptoms in people who have epilepsy or get migraines and can cause seizures. To ensure GIFs are accessible, make sure they do not flash more than three times per second, check the colour contrast ratios if the GIF includes text, add alt text if possible and describe the GIF in accompanying text.

A hashtag drawn in sand.
Image by Tanja-Denise Schantz.

Hashtags

To make hashtags more accessible, use capital letters at the start of each word. This is known as camel case and it enables screen readers to recognise the words, making your content more readable to people with dyslexia or cognitive disabilities. Also, use hashtags at the end of a post so as not to disrupt the flow.

Headings

Headings are an important part of web accessibility. They aid readability of a web page for all readers by splitting it into sections so helping readers scan the page and find information quickly. However, headings are essential for assistive technologies such as screen readers which use them as signposts to navigate a web page. To make your headings as useful as possible:

  • Use headings in hierarchical order. This means a <h2> heading should always follow a <h1> heading and so on.
  • Only use one <h1> heading per web page.
  • Don’t skip headings, for example, using a <h2> heading followed by a <h4> heading.
  • Headings should describe the content that follows it
Woman wearing a mustard coloured hat covering one eye with her hand.
Photo by Javad Esmaeili.

Images

It is difficult for people with visual impairments to read text that has been embedded in an image, so make sure any such images are accompanied by a text description that can be read by a screen reader. 

Plain English

Writing in plain English is important if your message is to be understood by as many people as possible. You can learn more about Plain English in the Plainly Speaking blog post on this website.

Videos without captions or audio description

People who are deaf or have a hearing impairment are unable to access the information without captions or a transcript, so when creating video content, always add captions to your videos, make transcripts available for longer videos, add audio description to your videos and provide a summary of the video in accompanying text.

Designing for accessibility

For more information about designing for accessibility, visit the websites below.

Sources

GOV.UK

Other sources

Disability facts and figures

Further information

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

All about blogging

Blogs are online journals written for both personal and business use. A blog may focus on a single topic or a whole range of topics and may have multiple authors or only one. The articles that appear on a blog are known as blog posts and these can be on any manner of subjects from cookery to gardening to politics. I have written a personal blog for a number of years now – if you are interested to learn more about me, pop on over to A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That and for a short explanation of what a blog is take a look at the video below.

History

The word blog is derived from the words ‘weblog’, as in ‘world wide web’ and ‘log’ as in a ‘record of events’. The Online Etymology Dictionary states the word was first used in this sense in 1998, however prior to this, the word was recorded in 1993 as referring to a ‘file containing a detailed record of each request received by a web server’. In 1969 the word was British slang for any hypothetical person, as in ‘Joe Bloggs’ and in 1860 was recorded as meaning ‘a servant boy’ in one of the college houses and also as a verb meaning ‘to defeat’ in schoolboy slang.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is shopping.jpg
Photo by Victoria Heath.

Why should my business have a blog?

Blogs can help drive traffic to your website, increase your sales and establish you as an authority in your area of work. A regularly updated blog will help you reach new customers, as search engines love fresh content, so the more frequently you update your blog, the more likely your website will climb the search engine rankings, gaining you visibility from potential customers.

Know your audience

Before you begin writing consider who your audience is, as this will help refine the purpose of your writing, for example, is the aim of your blog to inform, persuade or entertain? Considering your audience will help you decide on a suitable writing style, say technical or humorous; provide inspiration for your posts and increase the likelihood of people returning to read future blog posts. You should aim to write blog posts that answer the questions most frequently asked by your customers or that provide fresh insights into your area of work.

Writing style

Blogs are an informal style of writing, so don’t be afraid to write in a natural and chatty style. Use a headline to grab readers attention and add images, embed videos, use headings and bullet points to break up text and make your blog more readable.

Image by Werner Moser.

Consider how people consume information online

It is reported that most people normally only spend two to three minutes reading a blog, so blog writing needs to be designed for busy people quickly scanning content, using an ‘F’ shaped pattern of reading, that is horizontally across the top, then moving down the page, scanning horizontally for a shorter period and finally scanning vertically down the left side to see if anything catches their eye. You may have noticed of recent, for this reason, much online content now advises how long it takes to read, so readers can decide if they have time to read an article before they begin reading.

As such, it is recommended blogs are written using an inverted pyramid writing structure. This means rather than beginning with an introduction and ending with a conclusion (known as a pyramid format), blogs should begin with the most important piece of information first, so readers get the gist of the post, regardless of how much they read. This way of writing has its origins in print journalism and is now widely used by blog authors since, like traditional newspaper articles, people may not have time to read something fully. The opening paragraph should be followed by a brief explanation that justifies the opening conclusion, which is then followed by supporting details that led to the opening statement. In other words, a blog article should move from the most important point to the least important point.

Make your words count

Blog posts should be as concise as possible. Particular attention should be paid to the following.

  • Think carefully about how you start paragraphs – the first few words need to make your reader want to continue reading.
  • Paragraphs and sentences should be short.
  • Look out for repeated words, especially if in close proximity.
  • Remove words that do not significantly change the meaning of sentences and remove multiple words where a single one will do.
  • Avoid using jargon (visit The Plain English Campaign website for an online dictionary of plain English alternatives for jargon.)

Ready to start a blog? Take a look at the websites below.

Sources

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

Plainly speaking

The English language is spoken around the world from the United States to Tristan da Cunha, a remote group of volcanic islands in the south Atlantic Ocean. English is part of the Indo-European family of languages which are spoken in most of Europe and areas of European settlement and in much of south west and south Asia. The English language uses words from 350 languages and its evolution is fascinating, as shown in the short film below.

Currently it is thought there are around 1.5 billion English speakers, about one quarter of these are native speakers, with a quarter speaking English as their second language. Today the Oxford English Dictionary contains over 600,000 words, so it is hardly surprising that humans struggle to understand one another sometimes and as amazing as the English language is, writing in plain English is important if your message is to be understood by as many people as possible. In some instances, the law even gives people a right to expect plain English. For example, European law states that terms in a consumer contract can only be enforced if they have been written in ‘plain and intelligible language’ and in the USA the Plain Writing Act was signed by President Obama in 2010.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne.

What is Plain English?

Plain English encourages clear and concise use of the English language. It is best described as concise, easy to read and allows the reader to understand the message the first time they read it, whether that be web content, documents, emails or social media posts and being able to read quickly, means everyone can benefit from this style of writing.

Writing in plain English helps people:

  • who have poor memory
  • are easily distracted
  • are slow at reading or processing information (one in six adults have difficulty reading)
  • have difficulty identifying the main points from a long passage of text
  • have a very literal understanding of language
  • are reading in a hurry
  • who have learning difficulties such as dyslexia (10% of the population who are believed to be dyslexic)
  • speak English as a second language

The Plain English Campaign

Since 1979 The Plain English Campaign have fought for ‘crystal clear communications’, campaigning against what they call gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information, particularly in legal and government documents, believing that everyone should have access to clear and concise information and working with thousands of organisations including many UK government departments, public authorities and international banks, helping them make sure their public information is as clear as possible and promoting a writing style that enables readers to understand a message the first time they read it. The campaign encourages the use of short, clear sentences and everyday functional words, so for example, instead of ‘demonstrate’ say ‘show’, instead of ‘objective’ say ‘aim’ and instead of ‘in relation to’ say ‘about.’

The campaign officially began after its founder, Chrissie Maher OBE, publicly shredded hundreds of official documents in Parliament Square, London and delivered the first issue of the ‘Plain English’ magazine to 10 Downing Street dressed as the Gobbledygook Monster. Born in 1938, Chrissie could not read until she was in her mid teens, however, heavily involved in community work during the 1960s, she founded Britain’s first community newspaper, ‘The Tuebrook Bugle’. In the 1970s she set up ‘The Liverpool News’, the country’s first newspaper for semi-literate adults and Impact Foundation, a community printshop. Chrissie was invited to be a councillor on the National Consumer Council (NCC) when it was created in 1975 until 1979 and during this time she also started the Salford Form Market, a project to help people fill in forms, which led to the birth of the Plain English Campaign. In 1994 Chrissie received an OBE and has an honorary MA from Manchester University and a honorary doctorate from the Open University.

Two people signing a document.
Photo by Romain Dancre.

Organisations can now apply for The Plain English Campaign Crystal Mark, a seal of approval for the clarity of a document which appears on over 23,000 different documents in the UK and in other countries including the USA, Australia, Denmark and New Zealand, while the Internet Crystal Mark enables organisations to show they are committed to plain English on their websites. The campaign also holds an annual awards ceremony which includes the Foot in Mouth award (for baffling quotes by public figures); Golden Bull awards (for the worst examples of written tripe) and the Kick in the Pants award (draws attention to companies or organisations who need to communicate in plainer English).

Photo by Aaron Burden.

In a 2012 study by Christopher Trudeau, 80% of the people who responded said they preferred sentences written in plain English. The more complicated the issue, the more they preferred to read simpler language. It also found people with specialist knowledge had an even greater preference for plain English because they had more to read and did not have the time to wade through pages of content.

It is also important now so much reading is done online, as people read differently on the web than they do on paper. The IONAS website explains ‘Firstly, online content is read up to 25% slower, yet at the same time, the internet provides users with an unbelievable mass of information. The combination of these two factors means that the average internet user has become impatient. Whether the text is a news article or a product description, these days it’s rare for users to consume each word like a good book. Instead, online texts are scanned and skimmed over, while search results are scoured and combed through. This must now be taken into account when designing web projects and content campaigns.’

So, to quote Winston Churchill ‘Short words are best, and old words, when short, are best of all.’

The Plain English Campaign have a wealth of useful information on their website to help with writing clearly. Take a look below to learn more.

Sources

Further information

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

The importance of copyright

Copyright is the exclusive legal right, given to the creator of a piece of work, to print, publish, perform, film or record literary, artistic or musical material. I have chosen to write a blog post about this subject following experiences in workplaces – in particular a telephone call I received from Getty Images who had found one of their images on my organisations website and wanted paying for it and a conversation with a colleague who wanted to search Google images for an image to accompany something he would be putting online.

Image by Pete Linforth.

Just because something appears on the internet, doesn’t mean it is free to use. Any image that you right click and save or any piece of work that you download belongs to the person who made it or a third party who owns the copyright but while most copyright owners want their work to be seen, unless they have expressly given permission for their work to be used, you infringe someone’s copyright by using it without their permission.

The purpose of copyright is to stop others from using your work or copying it without permission and it is the responsibility of creators to defend their work against copyright infringement. Copyright protection starts as soon as a work is created and in most countries lasts a minimum of life plus fifty years for most types of work but it varies depending on the type of work. The protection applies to literature, drama, music or artistic work, including illustration and photography, non-literary written work, such as software, web content and databases, sound and music recordings, film and television, recordings, broadcasts, the layout of published editions of written, dramatic and musical works.

Copyrighted works are often marked with the copyright symbol (©), the creators name and the year of creation. The symbol is often found alongside a statement saying ‘all rights reserved’, which means you withhold all rights to the maximum extent allowable under law. Legally the phrase is the same as having no statement but the statement is commonly used to emphasise the copyright owner takes take their rights seriously.

Female photographer sitting in a field of flowers.
Photo by Jessica F.

History

The right to be identified as the creator of a piece of work can be traced back to ancient Greece as far as the 6th century before the common era (B.C.E) but it was with the invention of the printing press that the need for statutory regulation was realised. Richard III encouraged printing, while at the same time seeking to limit and censor texts deemed to be harmful to the church and crown.

Image by Janet Gooch.

In 1534 The Printers and Binders Act, banned the import of foreign works, enabling the Lord Chancellor to limit the price of books and in 1557 the Stationers’ Company received its Royal Charter from Mary I, giving the company the power to decree who could print books and the right to seize illicit or pirated works. The Licensing of the Press Act 1662 built on this work with an act for ‘preventing the frequent abuses in printing seditious treasonable and unlicensed books and pamphlets and for regulating of printing and printing presses’ which gave the Stationers’ Company the responsibility to censor literary works. However censorship led to public protest and in 1694, Parliament refused to renew the Act. The Stationers’ Company campaigned for new legislation to restore their role but this failed, leading to them changing their tactics and arguing authors should have a right of ownership in what they wrote.

The Pirate Publisher—An International Burlesque that has the Longest Run on Record, from Puck, 1886, satirising the then existing situation where a publisher could profit by simply stealing newly published works from one country, and publishing them in another and vice versa.

Parliament was persuaded and in 1710, this led to the enactment of the first Copyright Act, the Statute of Anne and for the first time copyright belonged to authors rather than the printers and publishers. The Statute of Anne begins ‘Whereas printers, booksellers, and other persons, have of late frequently taken the liberty of printing, reprinting, and publishing, or causing to be printed, reprinted, and published books, and other writings, without the consent of the authors or proprietors of such books and writings, to their very great detriment, and too often to the ruin of them and their families.’ The Statute remained in force until it was replaced by the 1842 Copyright Act and was greatly influential in the formation of other copyright laws across the world.

Statute of Anne.
The Statute of Anne.

Creativity is the way that writers, artists and musicians make their living and if you use their work, it is important to acknowledge this and pay them, unless requested otherwise. Not all creators require payment, some may only ask that you thank them or credit them at the place where the image is used. However, copyright infringements happen every day, so it is important to stay on top of protecting your copyright but also to ensure you are not breaching others copyright.

If you have an original idea or piece of creative work, it is a potential asset and could end up having considerable value in the future, both to yourself and to future generations as part of your legacy, when passed down as part of an estate. If someone infringes your copyright, you have legal grounds to pursue the guilty party to either pay for a license, or compensate you for any financial loss you may have incurred. Copyrighted works that attract the interests of other parties may also be licenced to make sure the originators benefit financially benefit from their use.


There are many famous copyright cases – Apple versus Microsoft, Dyson versus Hoover and numerous music copyright cases. In the 1970’s Star Wars vs Battlestar Galactica saw 20th Century Fox sue Universal Studios for copyright infringement, claiming it had stolen thirty four ideas from Star Wars, including a character named Skyler and wanting to use ‘Star Worlds’ as the name for the show. More recently, Meghan Markle won her copyright claim against the owners of the Mail on Sunday after they published a personal letter she wrote to her father. A High Court Judge ruled in her favour after deciding the publication of large parts of the handwritten letter was ‘manifestly excessive and unlawful.’

Then there is the tale of British photographer David Slater, who in 2011, travelled to Indonesia, to take photos of local wildlife. Unable to get the shot he wanted of some monkeys, he placed his camera on a tripod as the monkeys were curious about the equipment. One monkey in particular was drawn to the reflection of the lens and went on to take a few ‘selfies.’ Mr Slater sent the images to his agent, who circulated them to a number of news sources and the photos were subsequently published by the Daily Mail. However, in 2014, a dispute between Mr Slater and Wikipedia began when Wikipedia uploaded the pictures and tagged them as being in the public domain, reasoning monkeys cannot own copyright.

In September 2015, the campaign group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued Mr Slater in a California court on behalf of the monkey (named Naruto in the suit) to assert copyright over the picture, claiming the selfie ‘resulted from a series of purposeful and voluntary actions by Naruto, unaided by Mr Slater, resulting in original works of authorship not by Mr Slater, but by Naruto.’ In January 2016, the trial judge dismissed the action on the basis that even if Naruto had taken the pictures by ‘independent, autonomous action’ the suit could not continue as animals do not have standing in a court of law and therefore cannot sue for copyright infringement. However, this did not stop PETA appealing the dismissal. The parties later reached a settlement out of court. 

Photo by Sorin Gheorghita.

Exceptions

There are exceptions to copyright law, including use for noncommercial research and private study; text and data mining (the use of automated analytical techniques to analyse text and data for patterns, trends and other useful information for non-commercial research); criticism, review and reporting current events; teaching; helping people with disabilities and parody, caricature and pastiche (permits people to use limited amounts of copyrighted material without the owner’s permission for the purpose of parody, caricature or pastiche). As such, you should always check whether someone’s use of your work is permitted before trying to stop them. However, certain exceptions only apply if the use of the work is ‘fair dealing’, a legal term used to establish whether a use of copyright material is lawful or whether it infringes copyright. There is no statutory definition of fair dealing, rather, the question to be asked is how would a fair-minded and honest person have dealt with the work?

It is also important to be aware that media, such as DVDs and e-books, are often protected by Technological Protection Measures (TPMs) (also known as copy protection measures or DRM) which prevent unauthorised access or copying. EU and UK law protects the right of copyright owners to use TPMs to protect their works, and circumvention of such technology is illegal.

Another exception are Creative Commons licenses which enable creators the freedom to decide exactly how people may use their work and for what purpose, providing a way for them to grant copyright permissions to their creative work, so providing a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.

In addition, some photo providers such as Getty images and Historic England now allow their images to be embedded on non-commercial external websites. Code can be copied and pasted into a web page and the image will appear together with a title, the author name and clearly states from where the image was obtained, so allowing images to be shared on social media, blogs and websites for free, protecting content creators’ ability to earn through commercial licensing but providing opportunities for rich visual storytelling too.

Empty room with drums, keyboard and microphone.
Photo by John Matychuk.

Need help finding images you can legally use? Here is some useful information to guide you through the process.

  • Royalty-free images: in return for an initial licence fee, these are available for nearly unlimited commercial use, meaning you can use the images virtually anywhere, as long as you comply with the terms of the licence agreement
  • Stock images: these are images made available for licence by paying a fee to both the originator and the stock agency managing them, while the originator retains the copyright of their work
  • Editorial images: these are licensable images but with restrictions on use, such as limitations on size, placement, duration of use and geographic distribution – all images must be used in an ‘editorial’ manner, meaning the usage must relate to events that are newsworthy or of public interest
Photos hanging on a line.
Photo by Raj Rana.

Not sure where to start your image search

There are a number of websites that offer free images also but always remember to check the terms as these vary between websites and creators.

Wikipedia is also a good source for images that are in the public domain and therefore not subject to copyright.

Sources

Further information

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

UK GDPR and the right to privacy

On 25 May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) came into force, along with the Data Protection Act 2018, modernising the laws that protect the personal information of individuals and replacing European data protection law that was almost twenty years old.

The new regulations were designed to provide greater protection and rights to individuals and to change how businesses and other organisations handle the information of those that interact with them, at a time when private lives had become increasingly public, with individuals freely sharing their personal information online. There is the potential for large fines and reputational damage for those found in breach of the rules.

Post Brexit, as of 1 January 2021, the UK regained full autonomy over its data protection rules. However, The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was retained in UK law and is now referred to as the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR). It will continue to be read alongside the Data Protection Act 2018, with technical amendments to ensure it can function in UK law.

Keyboard and padlock.


A little bit of history

1890


GDPR brought big changes but also built on previous data protection principles. In fact data protection laws can be traced back as far as 1890 when two United States lawyers, Samuel D. Warren and Louis Brandeis, published ‘The Right to Privacy’ in the Harvard Law Review, an article that uses the phrase the ‘right to be let alone’, as a definition of privacy. Over a century before the implementation of GDPR, it was argued ‘Recent inventions and business methods call attention to the next step which must be taken for the protection of the person, and for securing to the individual … the right ‘to be let alone’ … Numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that ‘what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.’  The invention referred to was the portable camera, while the business methods referred to celebrity journalism.

1940’s


In 1948, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, this included the twelfth fundamental right, namely the Right to Privacy; in 1980 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued guidelines on data protection, reflecting the increased use of computers to process business transactions; and in 1981 The Council of Europe adopted the Data Protection Convention (Treaty 108), rendering the right to privacy a legal imperative.

1990’s


In 1993 PC Brown was charged under the UK Data Protection Act 1984 offence of using personal data for a purpose other than that described in the Data Protection Register. PC Brown was entitled to use the police national computer database for his duty, however on two occasions he used the database to assist a friend who ran a debt collection agency, making checks on vehicles owned by debtors. On the first occasion, the vehicle was owned by a company and did not reveal any ‘personal’ data. On the second occasion the search revealed personal data, however there was no evidence that any subsequent ‘use’ was made of the information obtained and the case was dismissed, with it being stated the word ‘use’ must be given its ‘natural and ordinary’ meaning. As there was no evidence that PC Brown had not employed the information ‘for a purpose’, he was not guilty of an offence.  However, had the case been brought in 1998, PC Brown would have been found guilty, as the act had been changed to have a much wider definition of ‘data’.

Photo by Omkar Patyane.

In 1995 The European Data Protection Directive was created to reflect technological advances. It also introduced new terms including ‘processing’, ‘sensitive personal data’ and consent and in 2002 the EU adopted the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications. On 1 January 2005, the UK Freedom of Information Act 2000 was fully implemented. The Act was intended to improve the public’s understanding of how public authorities carry out their duties, why they make the decisions they do and how they spend their money. Placing more information in the public domain would ensure greater transparency and trust and widen participation in policy debate. In 2009 the EU Electronic Communications Regulations were amended in response to email addresses and mobile numbers becoming prime currency in conducting marketing and sales campaigns.

2000+

In 2010 the international non-profit organisation Wikileaks began publishing secret information, news leaks, and classified media provided by anonymous sources. Leaks have been political and diplomatic in nature, but have also included documents from Amazon, the Catholic church, the military and the CIA. In 2011 following the UK News International phone hacking scandal which saw journalists hacking the phones of people from all walks of life to get stories, The Leveson inquiry, a judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press saw a series of public hearings held throughout 2011 and 2012. The reforms for independent regulation were endorsed by all parties and at the time ‘Hacked Off’ a campaigning group pushing for meaningful reform of UK press was formed to ensure victims of press abuse have their voices heard and are given protection from continuing intrusions. However the reforms have not been upheld, people, particularly those in the public eye, still suffer abuse and the Hacked Off campaign continues its work. In 2014 a ruling by the Court of Justice of the EU gives people the right to ask internet search engines to remove results for queries that include their name. The concept became known as ‘the right to be forgotten’.

Today, post GDPR and in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, technology and privacy are at another crossroads, with more people than ever working from home, surveillance of the home in terms of employer concerns about cyber security and conduct at home will become inevitable.

Photo by Gian Cescon.

Understanding UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) today

The Online Etymology Dictionary records the word data as first being recorded in the 1640s as ‘a fact given or granted,’ the classical plural of the Latin word datum “(thing) given” and neuter past participle of the word dare, meaning ‘to give’. From 1897 data came to mean ‘numerical facts collected for future reference’ and in 1946 it meant ‘transmittable and storable information by which computer operations are performed’. The term data-processing was recorded in 1954, data-base or database meaning a ‘structured collection of data in a computer’ in 1962 and the word data-entry in 1970. Today, personal data, is defined as information that enables a person to be identified.

The body responsible for protecting personal data and enforcing GDPR in the UK is the Information Commissioner’s Office. The law impacts how people can access information and places limits on what organisations can do with the personal data they obtain, that is information that allows a living person to be directly, or indirectly, identified from data that’s available, as per the short animation above. This may be something obvious, say a person’s name, location data, or a clear online username, however, IP addresses and cookie identifiers can be considered as personal data too. Furthermore, there are special categories of sensitive personal data that have greater protection, for example personal data about racial or ethic origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, membership of trade unions, genetic and biometric data, health information and data around a person’s sex life or orientation.

For individuals, ultimately GDPR aims to give them control of how their personal data is used, say the ability to opt in and out of marketing material easily and being removed from databases. For organisations GDPR affects any organisation that offers goods and services, irrespective of whether money has been transacted, they have a duty to report data breaches and there are significant fines and legal implications for non-compliance.  As such organisations need to recognise the data they hold is personal information about individuals who have a right to know how and why their personal information is being used and stored forcing companies to act transparently and accountability.

Further information

Information Commissioner’s Office

Sources

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.

The lost art of typewriting

Recently while reviewing a document I had written, Microsoft Word admonished me with the warning ‘only one space between words is better’. Oh no, I thought, not you too. The issue had come up in an office I worked in a few years earlier, with younger members of the team happy to inform me what I was doing wrong. The world it would seem had changed as the typewriter gave way to the computer. Type ‘one space or two after a full stop’ into a search engine and you will see the debate that is raging.

I learned to type in high school, in the 1980’s on a manual typewriter. I can still remember the click clack hammering sound of the keys being struck, the sound of the carriage return lever being hit when I needed to start a new line, the bell as the roller returned to the left hand margin and the sound of the roller as it turned moving the paper up out of the machine. Electric typewriters came along not long afterwards (although my first exams were taken on manual typewriters) and computers came fast on their heels.

History

In the 1860s, Christopher Latham Sholes, an amateur inventor in Milwaukee invented the first typewriter, which he developed with Samuel Soulé, James Densmore and Carlos Glidden and first patented in 1868. Resembling a piano, it was originally built with an alphabetical arrangement of 28 keys, so everyone would know where to find them. In 1878 US Patent Number 207,559 marked the first documented appearance of the QWERTY layout and a deal with gun maker Remington, proved to be a huge success.

Remington typewriter advertisement pre 1900.

By 1890, there were more than 100,000 QWERTY based Remington produced typewriters in use across the country and in 1893 when the five largest typewriter manufacturers – Remington, Caligraph, Yost, Densmore and Smith-Premier merged to form the Union Typewriter Company, they  agreed to adopt QWERTY as the design we know today.  However, the monospace type of a manual typewriter did not create a sufficient visual space between the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next, so users needed to use two spaces in order that sentences did not run into one another. Today with proportional fonts, only one space is necessary to create the necessary separation but for those of us who had it drilled into us that two spaces should always be used after a full stop, it a hard habit to break. 

A learned skill

If you wanted to work in an office, typewriting was a skill that had to be learned and for which exams were sat and qualifications achieved. Typewriters were complex pieces of machinery as can be seen in the illustration below. The strange unfamiliar arrangement of the keys was the first of many things I had to learn before I could begin typing, such as how to insert a sheet of paper, how to wind the roller to bring the paper in and out of the machine, how to adjust the paper if it wasn’t straight and how to hold the paper in place with a ruled metal bar which was also used for setting margins and tabs. 

Diagram showing Remington typewriter parts. 

As my training progressed, I learned to touch type by typing the same letters over and over, for example asdsd, fadsf, dfsaf, so I would learn where the keys were without looking, before progressing to ‘the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’. I was taught how to layout letters correctly, sometimes with full punctuation (that is using commas within dates and addresses); how to type envelopes and labels and I learned that the word ‘stet’ next to words that had been crossed through or changed, meant the writer wanted me to ignore the alteration – the word means ‘let it stand’. If my letter was to have an enclosure, the letters Enc needed to be added to the bottom of the letter.

Example of a letter using full punctuation.

Then there was carbon paper, thin paper coated with ink which was used for making duplicate copies of a  document. So for example you may be asked to produce a letter with two carbon copies, say an office copy and a copy for another recipient and would have to construct a sandwich made of paper and carbon paper which then needed to be fed into the typewriter. Copy letters needed to have the letters  CC and the name of the recipient inserted at the end of the letter, so that everyone could see who received a copy of that letter. However, if you wanted copies of a letter to be sent without everyone knowing who had received it, you had to instead handwrite the letters BCC, which stood for blind carbon copy, along with the name of the recipient on the copy letter only (and also remember to put the right letter in the right envelope). Speed tests were undertaken too, as typing exams were timed, so you needed to be able to produce your work in the allocated time when you came to sit your exam. I remember feeling terrifically proud of mine, which were signed by my typing teacher and my headmaster.

Speed test certificate.

There was one font size and font style but no way to emphasise text in bold or italics. The typewriter ribbon, black on the top half, red on the bottom half, allowed the typist to type in one of the two colours, depending on how the machine was set. The ribbon also needed to be changed regularly by reaching into the top of the machine, removing the ribbon spool and replacing it with a new one.  Underlining if required was done by repeatedly hitting the underline key the length and distance of the text that needed underlining. Tables were created in a similar manner and rows and columns of figures had to be lined up correctly and evenly spaced. It was slow, methodical, detailed work and any mistakes had to be corrected manually, using a typewriter pencil, tippex liquid or tippex paper. However, presentation was of the utmost importance, so if errors could not be corrected neatly, you would need to start over with your document. 

Example of an instruction to type a letter.

Examinations

I remember undertaking many practice papers in preparation for my exams and anxiously waiting my results. RSA and Pitman were the typewriting qualification boards and they had strict rules that needed to be adhered to if you wanted to pass your exams, meaning that attention to detail was a must. Two spaces after a full stop or a colon and one after a comma or semi colon were essential and you lost marks if you failed to do this.

RSA exams were timed and assessed in three areas – production (completing the work in the given time), accuracy and presentation. Failing in one area meant you failed the whole exam. Candidates could achieve RSA qualifications at three levels – elementary level (RSA one), intermediate level (RSA two) and advanced level (RSA three).

Instruction to type a letter.

Today I am the proud holder of RSA qualifications at levels one, two and three, an RSA elementary qualification in audio typing, Pitman advanced and elementary qualifications, along with Computer Literacy and Information Technology (CLAIT) and European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) qualifications. Then I learned how to create and update websites too, which I have now done for over 15 years. And I feel proud, not only for me but for those who went before me, doing it the hard way, learning their craft before computers ruled the world and then, as we entered the digital age, learning new skills and ways of doing things. 

So, if you feel annoyed when seeing two spaces after a full stop, just for a moment consider how important it actually is. And remember, there was a time when two spaces were the standard and the only way to do things. Typing wasn’t always as easy as it is today. And finally, you never know what changes may happen in your own lifetime, so maybe take a moment to think before you dismiss someone’s way of doing things out of hand. Be kind to those who may do things differently to you, as one day, you may find yourself in their shoes.

Note

Microsoft Word now enables users to change document spacing. If like me you find two spaces a hard habit to break but need to work to a house style, select editor on your toolbar, then ‘punctuation conventions’ and ‘one space’. Further information can also be found in help by typing ‘change the spacing between text.’

Sources

Further information

© Toni Louise Abram at Izzy Wizzy. All Rights Reserved.