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Is Google Looking in Your Window?

I've heard rumors that Google is stepping up their game again. They've been trying to drill it home that they are looking for quality content, while writers have been trying to learn how Google defines quality content. How does Google know if you're an expert in your field? As far as I can tell, they know the same way your friends do.

Imagine if Google could look in your window. Would your life show them that you're an expert in your field? For instance, if you run a daycare, it's obvious that you're an expert in your field if you maintain an educational atmosphere and are on a constant search to step up your game. People come to you with questions about child rearing and preschool education. You fairly breathe daycare language. You are an expert in your field.

Well, Google IS looking in your window (figuratively at least). It seems that what they're looking for now is social media optimization (SMO). What you do in Facebook and Twitter have an impact on how Google views you. So, those who write daycare articles but only post in Twitter and FB about their late night drinking crusades, well let's just say that if they ever saw the first page rankings before, they won't be there for long.

I'm not a math person. I'm not one of those search engine marketing experts who can sit down and tell you exactly how many of which keywords you need to use to get consistent page views. I write for several companies and they all have their own formula. I'm a writer. That's what I do. I try to keep my name on things that are relevant to me in real life. I will naturally have some leverage with Google using SMO because of the way I live. But, I'm going to have to step up my game when it comes to getting the numbers right.

For that reason, I'm considering hiring a search engine marketing firm. Writing is my speciality and search engine marketing is their specialty. If I hire a firm like this, I can focus on the things I'm good at and they can help me let the rest of the world know that I am the expert in my field. When it comes to being an online success, you have to create an online presence. Word of mouth is still the best advertisement. But, times have changed. You don't call your neighbor for advice anymore. You ask your Facebook friends. Social media marketing is the window that Google looks through to judge your level of expertise.

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Jerry Foust Speaks Out about Education

Jerry's Kid Side
Today we're talking with Jerry Foust about education and the arts. Recent cutbacks to funding in education have resulted in the decrease of the involvement of arts in education. For some, this could mean a complete lack of interest in academics as the arts help us to develop some core skills like critical thinking, decoding and the ability to generally relate unknown material to previous knowledge, experience or interests. Let's see what Jerry has to say about this.

KF(Kathy Foust): You've used your degrees in a somewhat nontraditional manner. What degrees do you hold?
JF(Jerry Foust): "Bachelor's in Music Education (all grades) from Butler University; Master's in Postsecondary Educational Leadership from San Diego State University. Currently finishing a second Master's in Music Education at Stephen F. Austin State University."

KF: You do quite a bit of work with children. Recent changes within the educational system have limited the involvement of the arts in public schools. How do you think this is going to impact future generations of students and educators?
JF: "California's education system was always the model for the world, but now very few schools have formal arts programs. As a music educator, I feel very strongly that music is its own individual, unique intelligence. And that kids (and adults, for that matter) get something out of music - performing, listening, understanding - that they can't get anywhere else. It makes me sad that, even though the Arts are considered a core subject in No Child Left Behind, music and the Arts continue to get short-changed.

In my current position, we serve about 1,500 kids a year with outreach programs. They get to come - some of them for the very first time - to our theater and see our professional shows. We see them fall in love with music and theatre and dance and technical theatre arts for the first time. It's pretty powerful."

KF: Since you do often work closely with children, you're able to see how music might influence them. What are the benefits that children might take away from their experience in your programs or from music in education in general?
JF: "The obvious ones are teamwork, focus, self-discipline, creativity, logical thinking, problem-solving, appreciation for culture and diversity. SELF-ESTEEM."
KF: What advice do you have for children and teens that have the desire to make music a part of their future career path?
JF: "Study hard, but never stop enjoying the creative part. And never lose sight of WHY you're making music. It's to give something unique to the world or to yourself." 
KF: What advice would you share with those considering going into music education as a career choice?
JF: "I realized - at the age of 40 - that our goal as music educators should be to give people the tools they need to continue a personal relationship with music for a lifetime. Not to win competitions, or get first chair, or even to necessarily make a living at it. But to enjoy it, understand it, learn from it, participate in it for the rest of their lives. How many people do you know who took piano lessons or played an instrument in high school STILL do? That means we're not doing something right. Right?

One of the things I've learned in my old age is that there has to be joy in making music. That's why I love my men's vocal ensemble. Every Sunday night, we come together to rehearse, and we have so much fun and work so collaboratively that the concerts we do seem secondary. I as the conductor have created an atmosphere where the process of music-making is as important as the product. And I have people who come BACK to music after years or decades away from it.

So I guess I would hope people choosing this path would do it for the right reasons. Those who do it for the right reasons create lifelong musicians, and are able to advocate for music in a way that trophies and competitions and forced private lessons can't."

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Interview with Starke County Native Jerry Foust

As part of my series on creative people from Starke County, Indiana, I interviewed my cousin, Jerry Foust. I wanted to first give some background for my readers. Jerry was born and raised in Starke County, IN. This county is a rural community whose major industry is, you guessed it, corn. It's not really what you would consider the most conducive area for those with the arts in mind as they pursue their career goals. Jerry happens to be one of the people who went against the grain and turned his interest in music into something more than a hobby. As a personal side note, I'd like to add that I may be a bit overly impressed by this due to the fact that I have no musical talent at all and have great admiration for those that do. But, I can type. That counts for something, right? And...on with the first part of the interview.

KF (Kathy Foust): Jerry, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. Let's start off by giving the readers some basics. What is your current position?
JF (Jerry Foust): "I am the Executive Director and Director of Education at Berkeley Playhouse, the resident company of the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts. I've also served as lead producer, and have directed shows and taught adult workshops in music, theatre, and audition skills at the same organization."

KF: What degrees do you hold?
JF: "Bachelor's in Music Education (all grades) from Butler University; Master's in Postsecondary Educational Leadership from San Diego State University. Currently finishing a second Master's in Music Education at Stephen F. Austin State University."

KF: I've heard that you'll be moving soon. What will your position be then and what do you hope to accomplish in this position?
JF: "I don't know yet!!! Unlike me, I decided I wanted to move, regardless of having a job in place. I'm moving back to Chicago to be closer to my family, and enjoy those frigid temps and piles of snow (ha). I'm a finalist in two fantastic jobs where I get to keep being creative and working to grow programs, but I don't want to jinx it, so I'll keep you in suspense for another week or two until I know for sure."

KF: Many families follow along a traditional career path and tend to keep in a similar trade. How hard was it for you to make the decision to break away and follow a completely different career path than those before you?
JF: "For me, there was never any doubt about 1 - going to college, and 2 - leaving the small town I grew up in. I knew from the days you and I were playing school together in elementary school that I wanted to be a teacher. In high school, I fell in love with band, and so I decided to pursue music teaching. That's after I had decided to be a funeral director and a corporate communications specialist. I was accepted at Butler as a communications major, then in July 1989, decided to audition for music school. 

I could never have followed in my dad's footsteps - to be honest, I don't have the nerve, strength, or stamina to do what he does. I respect it more and more all the time. Building houses - literally from the ground up - is his profession. I am grateful to both my parents for working hard to provide for us, and allowing me to do what I dreamed."
KF: Along those same lines, who was your inspiration as you were growing up and making the decision to follow along this career path?
JF: "I was inspired by great teachers, I suppose. I was inspired by my high school band director, whose philosophy and style I could not be more different than now - I am much more of a musical purist, and not at all about competition (which is what a lot of Indiana band directors use to motivate students). But he was a great model in terms of showing how to bring pride back to our organization, and how to build it. I've continued to be attracted to building programs and organizations."
Tomorrow we'll learn more about Jerry as he speaks out about the role of music in education.

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Marketing Psychology

One of the lowest paying writing jobs I've had was also one of the most educational for one very important reason. It taught me about positive marketing. If you happen to read my Student of Motherhood blog, you'll see that I am on a perpetual journey to increase the positive elements in my life. As such, and since I have such a fascination with psychology and how the brain works, I did some reading on positive thinking.

One of the things I learned is that the brain processes negative expressions in kind of a backward way. For instance, if I tell myself that I don't want a cigarette, my brain first understand that as I do want a cigarette, then kind of has to loop around to understand that I was trying to talk myself out of it. By the time that happens, I've probably already lit up.

Marketing is all about psychology and this is where the low paying site I worked for comes in. One of their main rules was to avoid negative expressions in any way. That's actually pretty hard to do sometimes. For instance, notice that I said "avoid negative expressions" instead of "not write negative things". One statement guides you toward what to do which your brain can process easily. The other makes your brain backtrack. Get it?

When you're doing your marketing, think as if you are the one being marketed to. That means thinking about everything, from color, to text, to how the brain processes information. For instance, the color red is commonly known for danger. Yes, it gets attention, but is that the signal you want to send? Positive experiences lead to repeat experiences. Hence the site that wanted me to only use positive wording. Their logic was that the brain would interpret positive messages and the idea of coming back to the site would stimulate positive memories, even if they are subconscious ones.

This post was actually brought about by a Facebook question asking how people felt when they read an author's statement of "Buy my book". As a reader, when you read that, it tells you to buy your own book. You interpret it the way it was meant, but the original impression on your brain is that you should buy your own book, which completely takes away from the idea of buying anyone else's book. Now, if you read "Buy <title>", then you just put a message into your brain that gives you clear directions. If you extend this by relating the phrase to a positive experience, like "<title> is the best <genre> work this year!", you're reading (or writing) a very powerful statement that makes a correlation between a specific title and a interest you have. Below is a kind of formula you might use to create such a positive flow.

"<positive action message><title><positive experience>"

Used in a message to sell a book, this formula might translate into something like this:

Read "How Men Can Survive PMS" for relationship survival tips and good laughs!

Note how there are actually 2 positive experience phrases. It's also a tight sentence, with no fluff; exactly what Internet readers are looking for. (That particular article also happens to be one that I had a blast writing.)

Remember that you can create a positive experience for the reader from beginning to end. That's a key point to remember when you're trying to create a fan base and at the same time, avoid annoying your Facebook friends.

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