About Vickie Bates

I credit Mark Twain. Reading his books when I was a child gave me a lifelong love of great writing. My career as a writer has taken me all over the globe and from east coast to west. I’ve been a journalist, handled media relations and reputation management, done brand marketing, and nowadays oversee employee communications and strategize how to incorporate social media into all of the above. I help clients in a variety of industries (health care, apparel, consumer products, higher education) by developing messaging and content that resonates with their target audiences. When not reading or writing, you'll find me on a hiking trail somewhere in the world, at a concert, or laughing out loud at the latest imported Britcom.

Audience Engagement, School Spirit Style

Purple versus Gold. Image by Vickie Bates.It’s such a small thing. Yet, when it comes to engaging your audience, it’s huge.

Did your alma mater have school colors? Did it divide the student body into Blues and Yellows or Reds and Greens? Were there points awarded all year for various activities – academic, athletic, volunteer work? Was there cause for celebration among fellow Greenies when your team won the end-of-year tally?

This type of thing was a big deal at my high school, culminating in Field Day – a full day of sporting competitions with the largest pool of points on the line.

So it baffles me why I should receive a request to donate to the annual fund accompanied by a photo of present-day students, grinning from ear to ear, like they’ve just emerged victorious from the traditional Field Day tug-of-war, adorned in Gold.

I was a Purple, you see.

It’s not like this should still matter some unmentionable number of decades later. And it doesn’t really. I’m long past reliving any high school athletic glory or Purple-Gold rivalry.

But engagement is all about speaking to your audience about what matters most to the audience. Not what matters to you or what’s convenient for you. How hard would it have been to line up four Purple kids and snap the exact same photo, then sort alums by school color, and send a customized appeal – Gold kids to Gold alums, Purple ones to Purples? With spreadsheets and mass email systems?

Easier than beating Golds at tug-of-war…

The Essential Guide to South by Southwest

SXSW 2013 sparks up March 8 – 17 with sessions on everything from indie film and music to emerging technologies. The full conference schedule is available here.

Here’s a basic guide to the emotional arc of SXSW attendees and how that’s reflected in their commentary on social media. (In April, simply substitute Coachella for SXSW and Tupac hologram for Twitter. Rinse. Repeat.)

SXSW Cycle of Hipness. Image copyright Vickie Bates.

The Harlem Shake and Social Relevancy

Harlem ShakeThe Harlem Shake – oh-so-current or so over?

An intriguing debate takes place every time the Internet shakes loose a new meme. With so many social platforms available to share every newfound video, graphic or in-joke, we can quickly grow tired of ubiquity.

Right now, a Facebook group I’m a member of is debating whether to participate in a flash mob-style Harlem Shake event. The commenters are in three distinct camps:

  1. It’s so relevant
  2. It’s so over
  3. It’s so catchy, it’s re-trending

Considering this meme began Feb. 2, 2013, when, according to Wikipedia, five Australian teenagers uploaded a video of themselves dancing to the song by Baauer, it’s hard to imagine how it could be over so soon.

As I write this, a puppy version of the Harlem Shake has reached 1.8 million views on YouTube. There are penguin Shakes, baby Shakes, academia Shakes galore – all waiting to amuse you.

Hippy, Hippy Shake

The problem, it seems, among social media mavens is that they’ve spent almost a month watching their Twitter streams and Facebook newsfeeds overflowing with every Harlem Shake video uploaded to YouTube. The social maven has left Harlem Shaking far behind in search of The Next Hot Meme.

However, not every person on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Google+ is a social butterfly. The average user’s reputation doesn’t rise and fall on meme discovery. (And what is a meme? It’s a fancy word for “fad,” but since fad hasn’t trended since the hippie era – and connotes something a bit old hat besides – the social world had to come up with a new word. Wired offers this fascinating origin story for memes via the social network 4chan.)

And, frankly, what the Vasco da Gamas of social trends are overlooking is the wholehearted engagement that something like the Harlem Shake has IRL. That’s “In Real Life,” where social mavens sometimes forget to tread (and trend).

One of the reasons for the plethora of Harlem Shake vids is the sheer fun of being part of something – trend or not. It’s no accident that schools are uploading classroom videos or that companies and nonprofits are doing the same.

It’s goofy, it’s good exercise, it exudes good will – all extremely important factors for improved morale and sustained collaboration among groups during tough times. And that’s what real engagement is all about.

So, don’t worry if something is so hot it’ll singe your eyebrows. Yes, there’s a point when every meme gets overdone, but as long as folks are still sharing videos and feeling positive about themselves in the process, don’t let a few naysayers, who only want to stand on the cutting edge, dull your enthusiasm.

Go on, Shake!

Where do you stand on the Harlem Shake? Have you tried it? Or do you find it as passé as the Macarena? 

Sex, Data and the Single Woman: Review of “Data, A Love Story”

Valentines image by Vickie Bates.“Where were the soul mates we were promised on all the websites and in the commercials now playing on TV?,” wondered Amy Webb after too many dates with men who high-fived her and lied about their jobs and marital status.

Returning home after the worst date of her life, Webb opened a bottle of wine, grabbed her computer and pulled an all-nighter, analyzing the algorithms of online dating sites and her own heart.

She wrote a list of traits she wanted in her ideal man that was 72 items long and vowed to “exhaustively” vet potential suitors before going on a date.

Her sister warned her against such a detailed approach: “Trying to find a husband who fits the exact list of what you want is going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

Webb responded: “It’s dead easy to find the needle. You hack the haystack.”

But, her list was just the start. After designing Mr. Right, Webb realized she needed to understand her competition before she could win the guy. And that’s when lightning struck.

“It was a simple, obvious solution…I needed to outperform all of the possible profiles in JDate’s database. I had to know what kind of women were my competition, what they looked like, what they wrote, and how they interacted with [men]. In short, it was time to join JDate as a man.”

Webb’s just-published memoir, Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match, explains how her love of numbers and sticking to a system landed her the man of her dreams. The book also takes a humorous look at how men and women communicate and the best way to create a personal brand to “market” yourself to potential mates. As you can imagine, I was in communications-marketing-data geek heaven reading this.

A Method to Her Madness

Webb carefully charted everything the most popular women on dating sites were doing – from how often they used flattery to the length of their profiles, the amount of time they’d spend instant-messaging with potential dates, and the types of photos they used.

She even noted how the women described themselves and their lives. Here, for example, are the 10 words popular women used most often:

  • Fun
  • Love
  • Laid-back
  • Laugh
  • Optimistic
  • Adventure
  • Easy-going
  • Outgoing
  • Down-to-Earth
  • Pleasure

It turned out, the vaguer women were, the better. “I learned that leaving off potential unknowns at the beginning would eventually help me get further into the dating process,” Webb writes. Turns out, guys like a woman of mystery.

With data in hand, she created the ultimate profile and pictures for herself and got back in the dating game as a woman. She faithfully rated every potential match and – here’s the kicker – never went out on another bad date.

Data, A Love Story is a breezy, fascinating, non-math-intensive read for singletons who’ve found themselves at the whim of online dating algorithms. Math geeks may love it, too, but Webb kindly keeps the story of her love life moving through the main part of the memoir and saves the statistics for the appendices.

“What first lured me to online dating was the promise of using math to identify my perfect match,” Webb notes. “To me it made perfect sense that data and math could do a much better job of bringing together compatible people than hope, fate, and a few Friday night cocktails.”

It adds up, but Data, A Love Story primarily stands as a testimony to a woman who dared to declare what she really wanted and was fearless in calculating the answer that made her happy. High five, Amy Webb, high five.


If you’re in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Feb. 26, Social Media Club – LA presents a panel discussion with the heavy-hitters of online dating and social networking. They’ll be talking about going beyond creating websites and apps to generate long-term community engagement using social media and more. Copies of Data, A Love Story will be raffled to lucky winners at this event. Details here.

Read an excerpt of Data, A Love Story on Slate.

You’ll find more on Webb’s Tumblr: http://www.datalovestory.com/

February Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Welcome to February, the shortest yet most misunderstood month of the year.

How often have you heard someone not simply stress both Rs, but tumble over them? How often?

Sometimes it seems the only word more mispronounced than February is often.

Here’s the scoop: The English language loves to make things complicated. For starters, there’s English-English (the Mother Tongue) and there’s American English. We don’t always pronounce things the way they do across the pond. Remember “vitamin,” “laboratory,” “aluminum”? Then, there are consonants and vowels that are supposed to remain silent (when you live five hours or so west of the Greenwich Mean), yet stubbornly those letters take up the most awkward positions in words.

For February, the first R is silent, the second is not. “Feb-u-ary,” never “Feb-RU-ary.” It’s just that simple.

Those of us who grew up with a silent T in “often” often cringe when actors, newscasters and public speakers hit that T. It adds an unexpectedly Sloane-y tone to American ears. I fear we may have crossed the rubicon on this one, though. Too many popular figures choose “off – ten” while the original, “offen,” has been cast off into the Land of Disuse.

Where do you stand on “February” and “often”? Which other mispronunciations sound like fingernails on a blackboard to you?

Protecting Your Blogging Rights, Respecting Those of Others

As laws around blogging change – and as new bloggers explore working with brands or practicing investigative journalism – the need is ever greater to understand the legal implications of everything from copyright to fair use to FTC guidelines.

This excellent panel of attorneys was a session at BlogHer; it was moderated by award-winning writer and BlogHer.com contributing editor Lisen Stromberg, “PrismWork.” The attorneys – all bloggers – included Divya Jayachandran, “Heavy Browsing,” Lindsay LaVine, “Ehilarity,” and Liza Barry-Kessler, “Liza Barry-Kessler.” The speakers also put together a guide to resources on blogging legal issues, which you’ll find at the end of this post.

Panelists noted up front that they weren’t providing legal advice; instead the session was designed to help bloggers learn about issues they might encounter.

Buy Your Domain

Purchasing the rights to your blog’s domain name is a small investment per year, the attorneys noted, whereas trying to recover your domain name if someone else snaps it up or you let your rights expire can be “time-consuming, expensive and frustrating,” said LaVine.

If someone has purchased the URL for your blog, LaVine recommended using one of the Who Is registries, available from most domain providers (GoDaddy, Register, Network Solutions, etc.), to find out whom you’ll need to contact. Trying to recover your domain name can be as simple as sending a letter requesting the URL be surrendered to you. If they refuse, you can request an ICANN dispute resolution or file a lawsuit (the expensive, time-consuming options).

It’s easier to pay your money – even several years before you build your site or start blogging – and put renewal reminders on your calendar, than lose your rights to the name you want to build your brand around.

Right of Publicity and Copyright

Right of publicity has to do with using someone else’s name or likeness for business purposes. There have been some famous cases, involving Johnny Carson (over “Here’s Johnny” port-a-potties) and Bette Midler (a sound-alike case over a car commercial), but individuals have right of publicity just as celebrities do. The laws vary by state. The best way to protect yourself, said LaVine, is to ask permission, or post signage at crowded events noting that photos will be taken, before using someone’s likeness in a blog, photo site or publication.

Copyright involves created work, whether text-based, drawings or photographs. “Trademark and copyrights are easy to confuse,” Jayachandran commented. “The trademark is a logo, something that tells you the source of goods or services, while copyright helps you protect something you’ve created.”

Trademarks can be registered (the “circle-Rs” you see after brand names), but you don’t need to. “You have common law rights when you start using a logo or tagline,” said Jayachandran. “The important thing is to use it and use it consistently. It always should be the same logo and the same wordmark (tagline).”

If you find someone using your logo, tagline or other creative work, “you don’t need to be a lawyer or hire one,” said Barry-Kessler. You can contact them yourself. Sometimes the usage is fairly innocent – a fan of the work – and you can agree to leave your work on their site, as long as they provide accurate attribution. Others are using your creative work to make money, “and those are the ones you need to send take-down requests to,” she said. However, if an overseas entity steals your trademarks, U.S. law does not apply, and there’s little you can do outside of hiring an attorney.

Sharing Creative Work

The smartest way to secure your creative content is to post a policy that communicates to your readers how or whether they can use your work. Some readers may not bother with a separate page that provides these details, said Jayachandran, so include your usage rule on individual posts.

If you’re eager to share, noted Barry-Kessler, “Creative Commons is a privately developed way of licensing content that other people can reuse. You can specify different conditions for each item, which gives you a level of control.”

Likewise, if you need an image, you can search a site like Flickr for Creative Commons, explained LaVine. “There are people who want their work out there; just pay attention to and follow the restrictions on usage.”


Recipes, said Barry-Kessler, “are specifically excluded under copyright law. What’s excluded is the list of ingredients and the instructions.”

To prevent your hard work in the test kitchen from being stolen, Barry-Kessler advised, you need to “infuse your content with ‘substantial literary expression’ in order for it to become copyright protectable.”

That’s why, she explained, you’ll find recipes that tell you to “plunk potatoes into bowl” rather than “put” them in the bowl.


Pinning content on Pinterest is another place where copyright comes up. LaVine said she’s reviewed the terms of use, and “Pinterest basically puts the responsibility on the user for uploading content that they have legal rights to. So, my take is use other people’s content at your own risk.” Even businesses that explicitly say you can pin their content may not own the rights to those images, so be careful.

The bottom line for Pinterest and any other content that isn’t yours, said Jayachandran, “is always, always give credit to the originator and share a link that takes people back to the original source of the material. You don’t want to dam anyone’s revenue stream.”

Fair Use

The law doesn’t guarantee originators complete control over their work, said Barry-Kessler. Under the concept of fair use, copyrighted material can be used, provided it meets one of these four standards:

1) What is the purpose and character of secondary usage? 

This standard allows some portion of copyrighted material to be used in an educational context or in parody.

2) What is the nature of the copied work?

In other words, you can’t attach your name to someone else’s original work and claim it as your own. In order to defend your right to use another’s work, you have to transform it from the original intention.

3) What portion of the copyrighted work is used?

Portions of songs, books, TV shows and movies can legally be used in reviews. A few lines from a book amounts to a small portion of the whole; contrarily, a few lines from a short poem could be considered too substantial. Also, sometimes a case may turn on which section of the material is used (see #4).

4) What affect does usage have on the market for the original work?

If you reprint the final chapter of a book and spoil the ending, it could harm the market for the original work and therefore usage would not be defensible.


How can bloggers protect themselves from accusations of libel (written defamation) or slander (spoken defamation)?

Understand the laws that govern this area, especially how it applies in your state, said the panelists.

LaVine noted that defamation is “a public communication that injures the reputation of a person. The definition can vary from state to state, but general embarrassment and hurt feelings aren’t enough to claim defamation. It must be a known falsity or reckless disregard for the truth.”

She said the following are defenses against claims of defamation:

  • The truth – the statement, written or verbal, was factual;
  • Opinion – such as a review or editorial;
  • Unpublicized or private statements – something shared between friends and not broadcast for public consumption;
  • Parody – satire is protected under the First Amendment.

Public figures, such as celebrities and politicians, must prove actual malice in order to obtain a judgment.

The panelists also observed that each state has a different definition of who is considered a journalist. It’s important for bloggers who cover current affairs and want to do exposé journalism to know how the law views their content by visiting the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press website or the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

FTC Guidelines

“It’s important for bloggers to develop trust equity with our readers,” noted Jayachandran, “but we also have a legal obligation to be honest.”

In 2009, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission published guidelines for endorsements and testimonials that govern how bloggers disclose the work they do with brands. The goal is to protect consumers and enable them to make informed decisions concerning the products they read about.

“It’s illegal to disseminate false information,” said Jayachandran. “If you haven’t used a product you’re reviewing, you can’t say you have.”

Bloggers also can’t withhold information, such as the fact that they’re being paid by the company that markets a product they’re reviewing or that they’ve received goods in return for reviews.

All of the panelists recommended prominent disclosure statements on blogs. “You can’t put a link to a disclosure page way down at the bottom of your blog,” said Barry-Kessler. “That’s not enough for the FTC.”

Stromberg advocated including disclosures in the post itself, while Jayachandran suggested a static bar for the disclosure statement. (“I’m not a fan of putting disclosure statements on a separate page, because how often do people go there to read them?” said Jayachandran. “It needs to be clear and conspicuous on your site.”)

The following site can help bloggers draft a disclosure statement: www.disclosurepolicy.org.

Jayachandran also noted that disclosures need to be written for affiliate links and included as hashtags (#paidad) on Twitter. “Better safe than sorry,” she said. “Your readers rely on you.”

“On the positive side, it further legitimizes your brand,” said Jayachandran. “It shows you are honest with your readers. Make it positive.”

Barry-Kessler agreed: “It doesn’t have to be legalese. Make it witty and funny and in your own voice.”

You can follow the panelists on Twitter:

Lisen Stromberg @LisenStromberg

Liza Barry-Kessler @LizaWasHere

Lindsay LaVine @ehilarity

(Divya Jayachandran has a private account.)

The panelists offered the following guide to resources on blogging legal issues.

Resources List by Topic

Domain Names:

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO): http://www.wipo.int/portal/index.html.en

ICANN Dispute Resolution: http://www.icann.org/en/help/dispute-resolution


Trademark (info and registration): http://www.uspto.gov

Copyright/Fair Use:

Copyright (info and registration): http://www.copyright.gov

Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/

Stanford Libraries Copyright/Fair Use: http://fairuse.stanford.edu/

FTC Guidelines:

Disclosures: www.disclosurepolicy.org

Federal Government Guidelines: http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus71-ftcs-revised-endorsement-guideswhat-people-are-asking/

Where To Find Help Online:

Cornell Legal Information Institute:  http://www.law.cornell.edu/

EFF Legal Guide for Bloggers: https://www.eff.org/issues/bloggers/legal

Citizen Media Law Project: http://www.citmedialaw.org/legal-guide

First Amendment Project: http://www.thefirstamendment.org/

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: http://www.rcfp.org

Free/low cost legal assistance (many offer workshops as well):

Berkeley Center for New Media: http://bcnm.berkeley.edu/

Lawyers for the Creative Arts (Chicago): http://www.law-arts.org

Boston Lawyers for the Arts: http://www.artsandbusinesscouncil.org/programs/volunteer-lawyers-for-the-arts.html

New York Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts: http://www.vlany.org

National List of Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts: http://www.law-arts.org/documents/MicrosoftWord-NATIONALVOLUNTEERLAWYERSFORTHEARTSupdated1.25.12_000.pdf

How Became Became Because

I know. Ouch, right? Especially since this was posted by a major news site, where you expect editors to catch these things. And because, when repeated, mistakes like these can erode credibility.

Photo Blog_2_2

It could happen to anyone, really.

It’s definitely happened to me – whether because of some autocorrect feature on my phone or via some weird mechanism in my brain that’s started transposing words. Just the other day, I was typing an email. I needed to give someone a name from an event that took place the previous night. Instead of typing, “Here’s his last name,” I typed “Here’s his last night…”

The problem here really isn’t our brains or our super-helpful autocorrecting phones, it’s the speed with which we’re delivering our communications – enabled, of course, by the simplicity of technology.

The solution is slowing down, briefly, to re-read carefully and edit, where necessary. After all, what’s a few seconds when credibility is on the line?

Everyone’s a Winner!

Congratulations to all of the winners in No Bad Language’s first book giveaway:

  • Please Look After Mom (1 and 3) to Debra L. (1 F) and Clearly Kristal (4 F)
  • How It All Began (2 and 4) to Liz P. (2 F) and Cheryl F. (3 F)
  • Power Questions (1, 3 and 5) to Heather S. (1 NF), Eric S. (3 NF) and Jim W. (4 NF)
  • The Lost City of Z (2) to Rita W. (2 NF)
  • The Art of Immersion (4) to Mary T. (5 NF)

I got a very nice note from one of the winners, who commented, “I NEVER win!” And this is the reason I added two additional copies of the novels to the prize pool.

In December, I attended a couple of professional organization holiday parties. Despite buying a series of raffle tickets literally as long as my arm, I went home prize-less after the first party, while the tables to my right and left took home two and four prizes each. At the second party, the emcee assured us that the number of prizes pretty much corresponded to the number of raffle tickets in the drawing. With four tickets left to draw, neither I nor my guest won.

So, with a palpable feeling of “I NEVER win” still hanging over me, I felt the entry pool was small enough that I couldn’t bear to tell anyone they’d lost. Please don’t sue me!

I would like to give special recognition to Power Questions co-author Jerold Panas, who donated three copies of his terrific guide to improving the quality of any conversation in business or in life. Jerry also took the time to autograph all three and his generosity is greatly appreciated.

A Computer Selected the Winners

I used the List Randomizer at random.org to ensure fairness. Here’s how that worked if you’re curious:

  • Every valid entry was assigned a number based on the order in which people entered. These are the numbers that appear after the names in the winner’s list above.
  • One list comprised only those folks who were interested in winning nonfiction prizes; the second list was for people interested in winning a novel. These are the letters that appear after the winner’s names above.
  • There were two lists of books, as well: nonfiction and fiction. Each book was assigned a number, shown above.
  • Then, I let the computer do the randomizing.

Here’s the computer’s verdict (winner’s entry numbers are in the first column with the book number in the second column):

Winners of nonfiction prizes in No Bad Language book giveaway.

Winners of nonfiction prizes in No Bad Language book giveaway.

Winners of fiction prizes in No Bad Language book giveaway.

Winners of fiction prizes in No Bad Language book giveaway.

A big “thank you” to everyone who entered. Look for another giveaway next year!

2013 Youth Media Award Winners Announced Today

The American Library Association’s 2013 Youth Media Awards were announced this morning from Seattle, including recipients of the distinguished Newbery, Caldecott and Coretta Scott King book awards, among other honors.

This year’s winners include The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (Newbery Medal), This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (Caldecott Medal), and Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea David Pinkney (King Author Award). Here’s the complete list.

Each year, the ALA honors books, videos and other materials intended for children and teen readers and viewers. The awards “guide parents, educators, librarians, and others in selecting the best materials for youth,” according to the ALA website.

“The awards encourage original and creative work in the field of children’s and young adult literature and media.”

If you’d like to see the hour-long event, check out the ALA Youth Media Awards archived webcast.

For background details on each award, click here.