A bougie candle will not fix your problems

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Self-care. The Instagram influencer’s favourite phrase. It’s everywhere. Marketing campaigns, product packaging, Instagram feeds. But, what does it actually mean? The image of self-care presented to us by the media is a set of fairy lights, a nice candle, and a face mask. The ‘looking out for yourself’ vibe, however, is dominated by these images curated for Instagram. The cosy den that was clearly only set up for the photo, the really bougie face mask that actually isn’t much better than the £2.99 garnier one (trust me), and the Neom candle, of course. And yeah I’m a completeeeeeeee sucker for all of these things. I LOVE a facemask, a bubble bath and a set of fairy lights – and I’m an even bigger fan of fluffy socks and candles. 

Yet, something that’s been on my mind recently, having been through a pretty tough time (like us all but), is that the Instagram version of self-care barely made a dent in cheering me up or making me feel good about myself again. I was trying to think of a good way to describe this – I feel as though it’s like trying to put out a big fire with a miniature fire extinguisher – it might put out a few flames but it’s never going to put out the fire.

In order to put out the fire you need something a bit more robust. You need things like therapy, routine, and tried and tested coping mechanisms that you’ve established for yourself. You need to tackle your problems head on, you need to book that doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off, you need to actually talk about your feelings. The candles, bubble baths and hot chocolates are only the tip of the iceberg, the icing on the cake. They are almost like the superficial bits of self-care – very much the Instagram highlight reel of it all. 

It makes sense, the pretty bits of self care takes a good photo – and the other side of self-care is pretty personal. But, what annoys me is that throughout the whole pandemic and the rest of the 2020 shitstorm is that there’s been such a superficial agenda of self-care. I’ve seen a few people promoting the more serious topic of actually looking after yourself (in ways that don’t involve putting a photo on Instagram) but there’s been a lot of bullshit about #selfcare.  

So, my (poor and unsolicited) advice is to start focusing your energy on the real shit that improves your life. 

Start talking about your feelings. Talk to your friends. Talk to your family. TALK TO A PROFESSIONAL. Your feelings are valid and they deserved to be given the time to be explored and dealt with. 

Do the life admin. Putting off your smear test? Need to cancel that direct debit? Need to renew your insurance? Do it now. I once heard on a podcast that if something is going to take you less than a few minutes to do, you should do it when you first think about it. Otherwise it’ll sit on that ever-growing to do list and you will literally never get round to it. It will stress you out more and more every time you go back to that to-do list and then no amount of expensive candles will de-stress you. 

Start saying no. Don’t want to go to Becky’s fancy dress Zoom party? Say no. That is all. It is as simple as that. YOU come first, you must start saying no. I literallllllllly hate saying no to people. It makes me feel so bad! But I can tell you that my life has significantly improved since I started saying no to stuff I didn’t want to do – politely of course and only when necessary but it really does help. 

Write down your positive affirmations, spend less time on your phone, go for a run, prioritise your to do list, stop putting pressure on yourself, form healthier habits for your body and your mind. Stop thinking that a bougie candle is going to fix all your problems.

I wish I’d paid attention to how I needed to actually care for myself years ago. Now that I understand what stops me from feeling stressed and anxious, my ‘self-care’ routine still includes the odd face mask and chill but it also means that I prioritize my to-do list, am proactive about my life admin, and have taken a much healthier approach to dealing with how I feel #selfcare. 

Thanks for coming to my Ted talk, goodnight x

Repeat after me: it is impossible to ‘waste’ your 20s

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I’m sooooooo fed up with the pressure we all have in our 20s. Like why is our generation so obsessed with doing things before we’re 30? Like what’s so different about being 30 instead of being in your 20s? Especially as women we no longer need to think so hard about things like our fertility (thanks medicine love u) so why do we still feel like our 20s are so weirdly precious and can be so easily wasted? 

This whole post has come from the fact that I keep feeling like I’ve wasted the last six months of my life (and the height of my 20s – I am the ripe old age of 25) due to lovely miss rona. I had a absolute meltdown the other day because I felt like my 20s were running away without me being to enjoy them – which firstly is so melodramatic I need to get a grip but secondly it is based of the pure b*llshit spread to us all day everyday about how important our 20s are and it’s about time we stopped that rhetoric. 

Yeah, our 20s are important, of course they are. They’re when you make your biggest and best mistakes. When you discover who you really are and establish what you want in life. They’re when you become a real full blown adult that makes their own decisions (instead of calling your mum to ask what toothpaste to buy, you know). They’re so important for our own personal growth without the added pressure of ‘making the most’ of them. 

What does that even mean anyway? Because I’m sure that every single one of my friends would give you a different answer, and yet none of them are wasting or have wasted their 20s, because that’s the whole point – you cannot waste them because there is simply no wrong or right way to live your 20s (or ever but let’s stay focused). I truly and firmly believe that your 20s are for making mistakes and figuring out who you are, so if the ‘wasting’ bits are when you make mistakes – then isn’t that the whole bloody point?

I think that everybody, of all ages, feels rubbish about the timing of coronavirus. If you’re young, you feel like you’re missing out, if you’re old you feel like you haven’t got much time yet, if you’re middle aged you probably have way too many responsibilities anyway without a global pandemic to think about. There’s been no ‘good time’ for this pandemic for anybody. And actually, for a while, I considered myself pretty lucky that I was in my 20s during this time. Because I don’t have exams and university to worry about, I don’t have the added concern of being ‘old’ and more at risk and I equally don’t have kids to worry about (because wow homeschooling like that, no thanks). 

And actually, I have learnt more about myself in the last six months than I have done for the last 25 years. OK, I had an added change in my life that others may not have, but I think most of us 20-something’s can agree – the pandemic has only helped us grow into the people we want to be, no?

I have learnt how to be a better friend and a better sister. I have learnt how to enjoy my own company and stop being such a dick to myself all the time. I’ve learnt how to work smarter and harder (because I am, quite frankly, a work-a-holic let’s be honest). I have learnt how to process and deal with my emotions better than I ever have before. I’ve started focusing on my body and treating it better with consistent (note, not necessarily frequent lol) exercise and yoga, and also wine (wine police don’t @ me). I have learnt how to forgive myself and how to grow – without sounding like a dick – I genuinely feel like this year has been a year of growth and change for me like no other period in my whole life. 

So, in short, there’s no such thing as ‘wasting your 20s’ and coronavirus is not an excuse to have that pity party. Of course, coronavirus is a good enough excuse for pretty much any other pity party because it well and truly sucks – but it is not going to ruin your 20s and it will not last forever. I wish I could go back to my insecure and emotional 16-year-old-self and tell her that I’d be a strong, independent, successful 25-year-old in 10 years time. Once I’m out living my best life again, there’ll be no stopping me. Watch this space x

The 6 books that helped me survive the pandemic

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Since I talk about books all the time (my friends love me ok), I thought I might as well write about them too… In an effort to write more and an attempt to fill my bank holiday Monday with something productive, I bring to you the top books I read during lockdown that kept me (slightly) sane.

The One by John Marrs

This book is basically the perfect mix. It’s got a bit of everything – a dystopian theme, a serial killer and some romance. The premise of the novel is that everybody has their DNA match – their soulmate based on the make up of their DNA – and it follows different people and their journey after finding out their ‘match’. The chapters are really short and snappy and always leave you hanging so it’s virtually impossible to put the book down. It’s very Black Mirror-esque and I literally finished it in 24 hours so I can’t recommend it enough.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

After reading The Flatshare earlier this year I pre-ordered Beth O’Leary’s second novel ready to devour it after its release and it did not disappoint. Leena switches ‘lives’ with her grandmother Eileen, she goes to live in a Yorkshire village and her grandmother adopts her life in East London. As someone who frequently burns the candle at both ends I felt all the feels with this book and identified a bit with Leena. Again, I essentially read the whole book in one evening (with a bottle of wine), but just wanted to start reading it again and again once I’d finished. 

The Truants by Kate Weinberg

The Truants is a bit Sally Rooney vibes meets murder mystery and I absolutley loved it. OK it’s not the best book I’ve ever read but it did satisfy a Sunday-afternoon-without-plans kinda vibe. It’s all about academia, love and triangles (ooooooooh). I think if you like a book with intense and detailed characters you’ll like this one. 

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce 

Another thriller, because what could possibly be better as helping to distract from the global pandemic than a gripping page-turner? I really loved this book, it has so many twists and turns and a classic unreliable narrative so things don’t quite tie up until the end. I believe some of the twists might be easy enough to guess but I’m so rubbish at guessing endings so I was genuinely shook at the end of this book. Loads of people have also said they hate all the characters but I honestly think that’s kind of the point? Anyway, I devoured this and would thoroughly recommend it. Trigger warning though, it has abusive relationships as a recurring theme.

Missing Presumed by Susie Steiner

Andddddd I couldn’t write this list without a detective novel. I am such a sucker for a good detective series. I read all the Cara Hunter books this year and although the Susie Steiner series don’t quite do the same as Hunter’s novels, they’re pretty good. The first one takes a little while to get into but once you’re gripped, you’re gripped. You learn to love the detectives and the crime comes second to the plot of your most-loved detectives. 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Not a thriller or a detective novel this one, but equally fantastic. The book really took me into the world of Hollywood in the 1950s. This book is just one to really help you escape from the day to day and the sh*tstorm that is the world right now. Evelyn is so enticing and her story is fascinating and (shock) I DID NOT guess the ending (told you I was terrible at guessing the endings and twists). Also, read Daisy Jones and the Six by Jenkins Reid because that is one of my all time favourites.

Reading has literally always been a sanctuary for me. Getting myself lost in a book for hours on end makes me feel more grounded than any yoga/meditation/exercise so I really found solace in my books over the last few months.

Be friends with me on Goodreads and happy Sunday (Monday) pals x

Slowing the F down

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Did you know you can only focus on 40 things at a time and yet your brain has to focus thousands every second? This fact has come up twice over the last couple of weeks, once in the unconscious bias training I did at work and once at a ‘finding joy’ seminar with Sophie Cliff. Both times this fact was presented to me it blew my mind. Like, if we’re really processing that many things at once and we can only consciously process 40, how many things do we miss? 

I think the fact particularly struck me because I consider myself an excellent multi tasker and I guess ‘busy body.’ My mum has been trying to get me to learn about mindfulness and learn how to practise mindfulness for literally years and years, but alas my go-to for getting through things is to keep myself super super busy. Pack my day full of tasks and places to be and I am one happy gal. But then along comes the global pandemic and I’m forced to spend hours and hours alone with my brain and my thoughts and slow the f*ck down. 

Now, I am under no illusion – I know that miss Rona has destroyed the lives of so so many people and continues to do so at an alarming rate. I also know and am aware that every person has processed and dealt with the pandemic in their own personal way, some by being productive others by watching netflix – both and all ways are completely valid, obviously. Personally, I’ve done a bit of both. Some days have felt an overwhelming desire to do absolutely nothing and others I’ve been desperate to be as productive as possible. What I would say though, is that the pandemic has forced everyone to reevaluate their lives, who they surround themselves with and why – including myself. People (mostly basing this off the people I know) have cut toxic relationships and friendships and there has been a general sense of change. It really feels like it’s been an overwhelming year of change for so many, a lot of it bad but some nuggets of joy and positivity too. 

For me personally, as I said, my life pre-covid was SO BUSY. I’ve honestly got no idea how I managed it lol. It can’t have been good for my health. If I had a Friday night without plans I felt restless and unsatisfied. But now, I haven’t had Friday night plans for six months which, ok, I am not exactly thrilled by but you get the point. And on the one hand I am absolutely desperate to get myself back out into my lovely social life with all my beautiful friends, I’m no longer irritated or stressed by the fact that this weekend is an open emptiness. I have no plans whatsoever, I might sort out some of my things, might do some yoga, possibly go for a walk, but equally might drink a bottle of wine and watch some trash on Netflix. The point is though, I don’t have plans and I’m not making any and I am OK with that… If you’d told me at the start of 2020 that I would be that kind of person I would have laughed at you. I don’t necessarily intend to keep my life this way – for a start have made plans to move back into the city in a month’s time to get back into the office and seeing my pals (please corona stay AWAY from those plans I beg you), but I do intend to continue living my life at a slower pace.

I’m going to stop filling every second of my time and allow myself time to just do nothing, or read my book during the day (i.e. not just on my commute) or you know just do an hour of yoga without just fitting it in when I have 20 minutes and finding some rubbish youtube video and telling myself that’s enough. If my brain can only consciously process 40 precious things, imagine how much I missed before by filling my day so ridiculously full?

Some thoughts…

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Part of my glow-up plan (because obviously it’s normal to have one of these) is to write more, but when you’re at home all day everyday inspiration is somewhat scarce. So, I decided to write down some of the thoughts I’ve had this week, some more profound than others, just you know, to get SOME words on ‘paper’ (or Google docs).

PUT DOWN THE (SH*T) BOOK

I have a big reading challenge this year to read a book a week and so far I’m a solid 5 books ahead of schedule so we’re all good. As part of this challenge though, I tried to promise myself to finish all books I start – girl got no time to waste. However, I have started but failed to finish three and possibly soon to be four books this year already. I know many bookish people would see this as the ultimate crime (wait until they find out I fold the corners of pages too…) but I really truly believe that life is too short to finish the damn book. Even if you read a book a week for your whole life, that averages around maybe 4,000 books in your whole lifetime. Think about just HOW MANY good books there are out there – and how many good books are yet to arrive on the shelves… still want to finish the book you hate? 

I also read a really good passage in a book I read recently, The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell:

“They weren’t bad books,” Phin countered potentially. “They were books you didn’t enjoy. It’s not the same thing at all. The only bad books are books that are so badly written that no one will publish them. Any book that has been published is going to be a ‘good book’ for someone.”

This really stuck with me. Really, just because you’re not enjoying the book doesn’t make it bad and someone else might enjoy it – so there’s no GUILT, just pick up another book! 

YOU CAN DO IT

This is a bit of a personal one for me and has a bit of a background to it… For years and years and years I’ve just told myself that I’m rubbish at cooking. I’ve built up a narrative around it so strong that everybody in my life makes jokes about my food and my cooking and granted it’s got me out of some responsibility in my time but also started to make me feel a bit naff. Not everybody can be good at everything and I know I will never be a Michelin star chef (lol) but I can ACTUALLY cook. I’d told myself, and everyone else, that I couldn’t cook for so long I truly believed it. But, actually, it’s just not true. Since I temporarily moved back in with my parents I have cooked three, nice and fairly complicated, meals for six people. Everybody enjoyed them, well they finished them at least and it really made me think that maybe I should stop telling myself I can’t cook – because I quite literally can. 

This can probably actually be applied to other areas of my life too because fairly recently I actually became pretty adequate at parking my car – I’ve had my licence for just shy of 8 years and I still thought I couldn’t park? Who drives for 8 years and can’t park? Nobody. Again, never going to be able to confidently spin into a tight parallel park but I CAN PARK THE BLOODY CAR. If you feel that you can’t do something – start believing in yourself and stop telling yourself you can’t!!!!! I am definitely going to do this more often now that I’ve had this slightly ridiculous epiphany – wonder what else I can actually do!!! Feel like I’m at primary school and the teacher’s saying ‘it’s not I can’t but I CAN’… 

GO WATCH SELLING SUNSET ON NETFLIX 

A light hearted one to end this week’s ramblings but wow I am obsessed… It’s like Made in Chelsea S1 (because let’s be honest it went downhill quickly) meets Location, Location, Location meets LA. Just so good. So much drama, so many house goals – just it’s brilliant. I watched the whole thing in three days after fully following the hype and if you’ve got no plans this weekend, I implore you to invest your time in it. Then come and discuss Davina with me…

Happy Friday friends x

Emojis and changing communication

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It’s #WorldEmojiDay today and which is obviously just an excuse for brands to tweet about their favourite emojis or for people to use those rare and forgotten emojis that only come out when talking about emojis (a bit meta huh?). Aside from the massive tooth emoji, yes it’s real and unnecessarily creepy, and vast selection of clocks that are never used – some emojis are very popular and have infiltrated our daily communications. Love something? Heart eyes emoji 😻 obviously. Think somebody’s Instagram picture is banging? Fire emoji 🔥 is a definite choice. 😍😜🌈🍷☕️🎉

Millennials and Gen Zers (like yours truly) are so comfortable with emojis that many responses and sentences can be created and understood just with emojis of sorts. And even older generations are starting to get to grips with the use of a smiley face or two. Although, we’ve all seen that viral tweet about the guy’s Mum who used the crying with laughter face 😂 when she was expressing sadness in a few awkward encounters on Facebook. Now, too, there’s bitmojis and avatars that make emojis personal to each and every user should they choose to customise them. You can express your hysterical laughter looking like you too (or at least a cartoon version of yourself with limited options). 

And, emojis aren’t just used in Tweets and Whatsapp messages anymore. I am guilty myself of sending smiley faces in work emails – even important ones. This might be frowned upon in some work environments but it’s perfectly normal and acceptable where I work and often it is the best way to soften an annoying request in my opinion (sweet talker me…). 

So, the expansion of emojis is clear – we use them in all our digital comms meaning I always find it a bit strange when I get texts from my Dad without any hearts or smiley faces. Although he insists on having a ski boot next to his name on my phone so I guess he’s expanded my emoji use extensively in some ways… How, then, are they changing the way we communicate?

Well, take my example of softening the blow of an annoying request with a smiley face on a work email – that is literally my default. Instead of using actual words I just add a smiley face and hope for the best. When I don’t know what to reply to an Instagram DM I’ll just send a heart emoji 😻 (or better just like the message which then provides me with an in-built ‘heart’ next to the message). Texts with my best friend nearly always consist of one of us sending a ‘sticker’ in iMessage (aka a personalise emoji). I express my emotions, facial expressions and opinions through the use of a few extra characters.

If you look at the academic research surrounding emojis, they are often described as ‘non-verbal cues’ suggesting that they add to digital communication what facial expressions and body gestures do to real life conversations. This makes sense, right? You are laughing – you send a laughing emoji. But as they become more and more normalise, it feels weird to have digital communication without them and they feel so integral to the way we communicate. Imagine a Twitter completely without emojis… I retweeted something yesterday with a clapping emoji to show my approval, no words needed. This kind of interaction adds such a level of complexity to language on social media and on messaging apps that likens it to the complexity of verbal comms. 

Also, our communication with people outside of our individual households has been solely digital for 3-4 months now. We haven’t socialised in a ‘normal’ way for weeks and weeks on end. Sending our pals hearts to let them know we’re still thinking of them has become more important than ever. The use of social media has sky-rocketed as people pass the time scrolling and scrolling. Sending emojis now can be seen as even more of a virtual hug. Without a doubt, the impact of the pandemic will spread through the whole of society, language included. Will we rely on digital communication for the foreseeable? How can we show we care with a few characters?

A last point to note is how emojis reflect society. True, they have changed the way we show affection and communicate somewhat but analysing the introduction of new emojis can be an insight into changes in society from popular culture to the sharp (and necessary) increase in diversity and inclusion. Disabilities, race and sexuality are all now represented by the vast array of emojis available, giving people real ways to express themselves in their choice of emoji. Whilst these additions may have arrived too little and too late, it does reflect conversations that are being had in society.

If we can express ourselves with a diverse range of emojis and we can even personalise our avatars, does this make our communication through the use of emojis more genuine and personal? Will they ever feel as nice as a IRL smile and a hug? Probably not. But, who knows how emojis will content to impact our daily communications in the years to come. 🤷‍♀️

Understanding the language of social media

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All languages naturally evolve over time. Depending on the social, economic and political situation languages change and adapt to the situation. Each generation has its own nuances and phrases that contribute to the identity of that time as do different social groups. Today’s Gen Z use terms such as ‘sick’ with a completely different meaning and acronyms are used more than ever. Its nothing new that people complain about change in language. Linguistic purism has existed for centuries, and describes the notion of believing one form of language is superior to others.

I recently read an article about why it’s time to stop worrying about the ‘decline’ of the English language because it’s just part of the natural cycle of language and it got me thinking. Social media is often seen as such a huge negative part of today’s society, notably because of its ‘impact’ on language, but as far as language goes is it not just one of the ‘social’ factors involved in the natural language change?

Understanding this change, however, is important for the modern day marketer. The way that language is used and the way that people communicate with each other on such a prominent marketing channel is something that a marketer can’t ignore. By studying the trends and social interactions involved in language on social media can help to understand our audiences and the best way to join in the conversation.

The use of emojis

A prominent and interesting part of language on social media is the use of emojis. Emojis can be used to represent emotions but also objects, places, and various other situations and were created in Japan in the 1990s (they have pretty much replaced the emoticon which was created in the 80s and are less ‘complex’). Emojis are now used more than ever, with more than 700 million(https://worldemojiday.com/statistics) used each day on Facebook alone! Thus, their importance can’t be denied or ignored.

What can we learn from the use of emojis? Some say that, in fact, emojis constitute a language of their own. This is a bit of a stretch as more often than not they are used with other text. But they do act as a visual form of communication in their own right. Adding a ‘laughing crying face’ emoji to your response than completely change the meaning, for example. And some emojis have a whole multitude of connotations attached to them just like different words and phrases.

As a marketer, understanding when and how we can use emojis to resonate with our audience can be make or break for the success of content. Is it appropriate to use emojis? Could it make your message more attractive? Does it change the meaning of your text or add some sparkle? When writing social media content, it can be beneficial to think about what (if any) emojis you are going to use.

Hashtags

Another prominent element of social media is the use of hashtags. Understanding when to use hashtags, how to use then, and how many of them to use is a science in its own right! Each platform has unspoken rules about the etiquette of using hashtags that we are all expected to know. Too many hashtags on Facebook or Twitter can be seen as unprofessional and spammy, yet on Instagram (and more and more so on LinkedIn) we see the use of multiple hashtags on every post. Why is it so important for the marketer to understand the use of hashtags? Aside from the fact that using hashtags appropriately can drastically increase your organic reach on social media, they can also change the tone and message of your copy.

Using hashtags in the middle of a sentence, for example, can be seen negatively. Or, using too generic hashtags such as #likeforalike. Before social media, hashtags didn’t exist. Now, the world of social media almost revolves around them! As a marketer, understanding the use of hashtags in your industry and how you can use them to your advantage without making your post seem too spammy is a delicate but important balance to strike.

Abbreviations and text speak

In the world we live in, everything moves at such a fast pace and this is reflected in the language we use. Abbreviations are used everywhere, and some have even evolved to have new connotations past their original meaning. Take ‘lol’ for example, originally it described the notion of ‘laugh out loud’ but now it is sometimes used at the end of a statement to soften it slightly, rarely with the intention of actually showing laughter. Other abbreviations used are things like ‘imo’ which means in my opinion but is universally recognised as such. The use of abbreviations has increased largely due to Twitter and the character limit on Tweets. Interestingly, though, the character limit increased a couple of years ago and the introduction of threads means that people can express longer thoughts than ever before. Will this has impact on the use of abbreviations in social media? Only time will tell.

For the time being, marketers need to understand the use of abbreviations when contributing to the conversation. Perhaps it would be deemed inappropriate to use an abbreviation for some companies and their brand image, but for others it can help ease interaction and resonate with the target audience much more so than formal sentences. The tone and voice used on social media needs to be consistent with the brand and suddenly adding ‘lol’ to the end of a Tweet is not going to sit well with consumers if it doesn’t fit with brand image.

Slang and neologisms

A similar rule goes for slang. The use of slang on social media is paramount. This is arguably largely due to the main demographic on social media but it is important for brands to understand that social media is a place where new words are used, formed, and experimented with. The voices on social media are informal, relaxed and part of a conversation. Whilst it is essential for businesses to remain professional, social media is also a place for expression and communication and the use of slang is part of that.

Whilst we are not suggesting that you start writing like a 16 year old with their mates, using high-brow vocabulary to communicate with an audience of 16 year olds is also not a good idea. Understanding how your audience communicates on social media and the vocabulary they use can help you to understand what language you should be using yourself.

Something important to understand about social media is that it is a space for two way communication. You are not broadcasting an article through a newspaper or traditional media but rather communicating with your audience and inviting them to engage with your content. The use of new media has transformed the way that we speak to each other and some words are only used in this space. It also overlaps the idea of spoken and written communication. Linguists find it hard to determine whether social media should be studied as a spoken or written text and therefore it is often studied as a separate entity.

Adapting your tone to the platform

Social media is obviously an umbrella term for different platforms such as FacebookInstagram, TwitterLinkedIn, etc. and whilst it is often discussed as one entity, the different platforms have their own social rules and consequently their own set of language nuances. Twitter is known for its short and snappy content whilst long, story-telling captions are currently very popular on Instagram. Knowing the type of content that best suits each channel is important for a marketer and understanding the differences in language use is also important.

The language of social media is always evolving, as are the features of each social media platform. Until recently, Instagram captions worked much better if they were kept as short as possible, now long captions are very, very popular. There are new fads, trends, and words each week and social media is forever adapting and changing. It is one of the reasons that using new media is so exciting and fun because it doesn’t stay static, but that obviously poses challenges too. Keeping up to date with social media trends on different platforms can be a constant uphill battle. Language changes with the digital space, and the social situations of different audiences. Understanding how important it is to make sense of language trends on social media can be very beneficial to a marketer.

In order to keep yourselves in the know, we would recommend using social media daily and analysing the way that language is used. It is also advisable to keep up to date with industry news. If a feature is about to change, might this affect the language on the platform? Are there any pop culture fads that might also have an impact? What is happening within the social groups of your target audience? Like with any other element of your marketing, understanding your consumer is at the heart of success.

What does linguistics have to do with SEO

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In the digital age, ‘keyword’ is a buzzword that has been floating around for a while. Digital marketers spend a long time researching, adjusting, and analysing their keywords either for SEO or paid search engine marketing purposes. This means, of course, that people spend a lot of time thinking about the words they use in their content in order to rank higher in search engine results and ultimately improve their business. Sounds straight forward doesn’t it? Actually, keyword research can be very complex and many realms of linguistic study have a huge part to play. If you’re struggling to reach the right people, or your content is performing way, you might want to have a little look at some linguistic theory in relation to your keyword research and try improve your understanding of the language you are using.

Recently there have been a lot of discussions about whether voice search is changing the way that marketers need to think about their keywords or not. From a linguistic point of view, keyword research and choice of keywords are becoming ever more complex, and voice search is just one of those reasons. Spoken language has always, and will always, vary from written language. This is even more true for languages such as French, which have completely different registers for the spoken and written form. Digital communication has started to blur the line between written and spoken language. Think about chat rooms for a start – instant messaging mimics a phone call but takes a written form, so it lies somewhere in between. Some linguistics believe that online language can not be distinguished and categories in spoken or written but rather is its own form. So, does voice search really have that much of an impact?

Regardless of whether it does or not, there are other reasons behind why search engine marketing is becoming more and more complex. Google’s AI is always developing and with this development comes more of an understanding of context and other elements that help Google to understand what the user is looking for. Something to remember here is that, voice recognition does not equate to voice understanding. With all search queries, Google does not UNDERSTAND what is being asked as such but rather uses keywords (and other elements) to find what could be relevant to the terms queried. With every update, Google tries to get closer to an understanding like that of a human brain. Linguists and translators will tell you that Google translate will never, and has never, replace a human translator due to the absolute complexity of languages.

What does this all mean for search? Obviously, we’re not focusing on translation here, but a similar implication implies. Language does not stand alone. It is inextricably linked to its context, interactions, and emotion. A human brain would struggle to understand what somebody was saying without the context. For example, if you were given a passage from a novel, without knowing the premise of the novel, the characters and their relationships or any other context, you would only be able to make sense of a small amount of the information you were given. It’s a little like this for Google. They have the search query (and your search history normally), but that’s it. They have to make sense of what you want from a short sentence, or a few words. Without breaching basic human privacy rights, will Google ever be able to identify the context, emotional and factual, behind a search query in order to improve its search results? Maybe not but gone are the days when a marketer can get away with stuffing keywords into their content in order to rank higher in Google. Now you need high quality, relevant, content to rank anywhere near useful, because Google has worked out how to distinguish between a keyword stuffer and authentic content. So, what else will Google be able to do in the future? The future is uncertain but as digital marketers, we need to make sure we are identifying the potential needs of the consumer.

HOW DO WE DO THIS?

A focus on long tail keywords can always help, this is beneficial to combatting potential issues in the rise of voice search and Google’s attempt to identify context and emotion in language. Long tail keywords can also be problematic for a marketer of course due to the need to make detailed predictions about what people are searching for. This issue can be resolved using broad matches (although this could create a long of unwanted clicks!), or by forcing yourself to experiment and analyse. When you begin a campaign on Google Ads, don’t presume your keywords will work. Make sure you’re checking which search queries triggered your ad and adapt your keywords accordingly. There’s no formula to choosing the best keywords. Due to the complexity of Google, so many other factors may contribute to your ad appearing from the ‘wrong’ search term, and you never quite know what vocabulary or combination of words somebody might use for their search query. Even a team of linguists with a huge corpus would struggle to predict the vocabulary and syntax of search queries.

Always, always, focus on your customers, plural. Unless you have an extremely niche product, you will have a variety of customers and identifying them can really benefit you. What one customer might search could vary greatly to another. Imagine a 60-year-old Dad is using Google to find a the best sandwich places around, and simultaneously his 21 year-old-daughter is searching for the exact same thing. Not only will their use of colloquialisms (an informal word or slang) vary on a generational level, but both people will also have their individual idolects (individual speech habits – watch Manhunt on Netflix if you’re interested idolects!). Also imagine that the Father is from Nottingham, but the daughter lives in London. Now you’ve got regional dialects (a form of language spoken in different areas) to think about, and these things don’t just apply to voice search but also change the way people write and communicate online. So, you have to think about the potential variations in what the father and the daughter might search for. This may vary very little depending but it may vary a lot depending on the product and the synonyms available for the topic. For example, the Father might search for ‘the best cobs in Nottingham’ and the daughter might search for ‘the best subs in London’. Getting both of these variations in your keywords will help Google find you for both of these customers. Sure, Google is complex enough to identify synonyms! Don’t get me wrong. But the whole point of keywords is that you’re making it as easy as possible for Google to put you in front of the right person at the right time, so it might be best not to rely on Google’s synonym database.

As for Google’s attempt to start understanding people more, the marketer can only do what they should already be doing, and write content for the consumer rather than for the search engine. This will only get more important as Google and similar platforms develop their ability to ‘understand’ content and ‘understand’ search queries in order to match the two together.

Linguistic study can be applied to SEO in many, many ways, linguistic variations, pragmatics, and computational linguistics, and more. We will be looking at how you can apply linguistics to your content in our future blogs, so make sure to keep up to date.

Why you should learn a second language

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With Brexit upon us there’s been a lot of rhetoric in the media about language learning and the lack thereof in the UK. As a nation, we aren’t the best at learning second languages, often with the attitude that ‘English is everywhere’ so why do we need to learn another language? And whilst you might just about get by with English in most of your holiday destinations there are so many benefits of second language learning that might just make you change your mind.

First of all, studies have shown that the majority of monolinguals are completely unaware of the health benefits on learning another language. It not only improves your cognitive abilities such as your memory and decision making ability but it also decreases the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia later in life!

Something a bit more obvious is that learning another language in todays job market also makes you much more employable. Whilst there are the obvious job routes such as teaching and translating that many people automatically associate with bilinguals, there are also so many companies that state ‘a second language’ as a preferred skill on their job adverts. It puts you in a great position against other candidates in today’s competitive market, in any field.

Another reason that is not often considered is that learning a second language can massively improve your confidence. It does require persistence so seeing yourself improve can really help you in other areas of your life and really improve your self-esteem! Also, you have the opportunity to meet people from other cultures and see the world through their eyes, in their language. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to travel to the country of your target language, we are lucky enough in the UK to be home to many different cultures and access to second language speaking practice with native speakers is likely to be much more accessible than you might think!

Finally, the best reason, it’s FUN! People often associate language learning with their GSCE German classes in which they spent the entire time being confused by the grammar and just thinking of ways to pass their exams with as little effort as possible. But, language learning doesn’t have to be like your GCSE German classes. There are loads of great ways to learn with today’s technology. There are apps like ‘duolinguo’ that are completely free. You can literally learn a language on your phone, on the bus, on the way to uni. Also, with the power of social media, finding language meet ups has never been easier. There are so many adverts on Facebook and other platforms so that learning a language can be fun, easy, and free!

Learning a second language is so beneficial to so many aspects of your life and is so accessible that you really have no excuse. Download an app, meet someone new, and get learning another language.

Published in The Spark Newspaper March 2018

The best coffee spots in Reading

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At a first glance, Reading is full of Starbucks, Costas and Caffè Nero’s. There’s a chain coffee shop on every corner, so it’s not hard to get that caffeine fix. However, if you’re anything like me and appreciate a really good independent coffee shop, you need to know where to go in Reading. I have been on a mission in the last year to find the best cup of coffee in Reading during my Masters and these are the top 5 places I have discovered. If you’re a fresher or simply looking for a new place to hibernate with your laptop for a few hours during the semester then check out some of these places.

My absolute top pick would be C.U.P (Coffee Under Pressure) in St Mary’s Butts. This is an absolute gem. The coffee is delicious, it’s a lovely atmosphere, and they do some yummy food too. I don’t think I’ve ever had a nicer iced coffee than one from C.U.P. Also, it’s your lucky day because they now have a second shop on Blagrave Street right by the station so commuters you’re in for a treat. Forget the circle of Starbucks, Nero and Pret that surrounds the station, you can now get your morning coffee from C.U.P instead.

Not far from C.U.P is the lovely Tasting House, which is now home to the Anonymous Coffee. It might seem weird to be heading to a wine bar for some coffee but the baristas at Anonymous Coffee know how to make a good coffee. If you’re looking for a more relaxed vibe with some friends or perhaps a coffee before you move on to the vino, this is the place to go. It’s relatively new so perhaps still somewhat of a hidden treasure so go and check it out.

Just by both C.U.P. and Anonymous Coffee there’s Tamp Culture Coffee. This is a cute little takeaway coffee place just by the entrance of the oracle. They have a few seats so if the weathers nice you can have a little sit down but it’s just the perfect place for that coffee to go. Great price, great coffee, very convenient.

Towards the high street you can head to Workhouse Coffee. This is an adorable coffee house in a very old building. It’s a really cool place with a really different vibe and atmosphere. Although, as the building is so old there’s no plugs or Wi-Fi so go for a catch up with your friends rather than for a big study session!

My final top pick is a little further out of town towards Uni and is Café Yolk. Café Yolk is primarily the best brunch spot in Reading but its coffee is absolutely delicious and absolutely deserves a mention. You might find it difficult to get a spot at peak times as it really is popular with students and the locals but it is 100% worth the wait and one not to be missed.

Next time you’re on the hunt for a new caffeine supplier, think about some of the independents in Reading and I promise they will not disappoint.

Written for and published in the University of Reading’s Spark Newspaper.