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I’m in Beirut at the moment, providing communications for the Syrian Refugee Crisis response. A pretty intimidating task, and one I feel a huge responsibility for.

Feeling the pressure resulted in two key activities in the lead up to my deployment. 1) Taking a new profile pic, with my glasses on AND a map in the background (extra smart, right) and 2) Reading everything I could possibly get my hands on about the crisis.

Below are the most helpful and interesting reads that I’ve found online. The crisis isn’t going to disappear any time soon, and I’m learning that the impact will be more far-reaching than I’d understood. So, you might as well read up.

1. Is it the end of Sykes-Picot? Patrick Cockburn on the war in Syria and the threat to the Middle East This is the longest piece, but fascinating. It’s where I learned what makes the Syrian conflict so complex, as Cockburn identifies five distinct that have become tangled together. “A popular uprising against a dictatorship which is also a sectarian battle between Sunnis and the Allanite sect; a regional struggle between Shia and Sunni which is also a decades-old conflict between an Iranian-led grouping and Iran’s traditional enemies, notably the US and Saudi Arabia. Finally, at another level, there is a reborn Cold War confrontation: Russia and China v. the West.” It’s also where I got the first hint that Assad may not be as close to falling as my news sources so far had suggested.

2. Syria and the Middle East: our greatest miscalculation since the rise of fascism, by Simon Jenkins I must say, I thought he skimmed over the “faults in abundance” of secular dictators like Saddam and Gadaffi. But again, I was interested to read another side to what I’d seen presented as a fairly one-sided conflict.

3. NPR interview with Steve Inskeep: In Syrian City Of Homs, ‘Utter Destruction’ Listening to the description of Homs as it is now, filled in some gaps for me. Many of the refugees I’ve met fled from there, and the description of utter destruction fits with their horror stories. I was also interested to hear this journo’s thoughts on the biggest obstacle to peace negotiations.

4. How the Syria conflict affects its neighbours, BBC A glance at a map of Syria and you can see one obvious reason why it will have a huge impact on the region – compared to most of them Syria is enormous. Adding to that, the divisions in the Syrian conflict  are mirrored in some surrounding countries. You’ll also recognise some troubled names, a few of these neighbours face significant challenges of their own.

5. Carnegie Middle East Centre The most helpful place for all things related to the Syrian conflict has been the Carnegie Middle East Centre, which has (among many other resources)

If anyone has found other good sources, I’d love to read them. Thanks :)

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Have you heard of Niche Influencers before? You probably know one, you might even be one! As a marketer, I heart niche influencers. A lot.

My first contact with some real-life niche influencers was through my husband. At first, when he told me he was heading out one night to a warehouse to meet “some guys from Twitter,” it felt like the start of an episode of SVU. But it was nothing like that and since then I’ve been welcomed, by proxy, into the world of Melbourne craft beer enthusiasts on Twitter. It’s bigger than I thought it would be, highly networked, and very active. It’s a perfect example of Seth Godin’s tribes and as a social media professional and a wanna be anthropologist, it’s fascinating.

This community has some pretty powerful niche influencers, or for the craft beer industry, RELEVANT influencers. I was surprised to find beer drinkers so active and organized online! What makes them tribe like is that they WANT to hear about beer and talk about beer. You don’t have to push your message on them. Interact with them effectively and you have your evangelists. This community is the first to snap up newly released beer, and they don’t just drink it – they Tweet it, ‘tap it’, blog it, Facebook it. Their recommendations are respected by their friends and followers. Sharing a house with one of these beervangelists, I can confirm that this influence extends offline – requests for beer tips are emailed, texted and phoned in. Lach is asked about the best beers for weddings, beer for people who don’t like beer, and for gift ideas from loving but beer-challenged spouses.

One of the strengths of this community is that it extends beyond the internet. Social networks like Facebook are usually all about existing relationships, doing little to grow your network of friends. Tribes like these and there chosen social networks, show the exception to this rule. They demonstrate how social media can forge new friendships strengthened and sustained by offline meet-ups.

Niche influencers and tribes are not a phenomenon restricted to beer. I see the crafty ones pinning away on Pinterest and selling and buying on Etsy, the photographers on Google +, parents with family food allergies sharing recipes on blogs and forums, and pigeon fanciers setting up groups on Facebook. <You know you want to click!

So how do brewers, pubs and bottle shops connect with this ‘tribe’ and how can other (non-beer) brands tap into their own niche influencers? Two tips from me:

1) Keep it personal. These influencers are a community, and the best chance to influence them is to be part of that community. If you’re a brand this means revealing the credible voice behind your brand. Brewers tweeting get gold stars, but someone else Tweeting is ok, as long as they can matchknowledge and the passion of the community. Some super savvy beer brands have followed the lead of ABCs unearthed and hired from within the community, getting advice and smarts from the likes of @beergirlbites. You will get the most from a community if you are a trusted member of it!

2) Focus on experiences and help them build their name. No one’s paying these influencers to tweet about beer (at least not in money). They are passionate about it! Give them the news and tasting opportunities first. Give them access to exclusive events. Give them opportunities to meet you and ask you questions. You will be rewarded with a storm of social media, seen by the people who care about your product. Within the beer community I’ve seen long-term relationships established between breweries, pubs and the beer twitterati.

You can find your niche influencers pretty easily, by looking at who’s tweeting/blogging about your industry, checking followers and Klout scores or getting in touch with an outfit like @getlittlebird. Once you find them, you can focus on your niche influencers – reaching your audience through trusted intermediaries. I love it!

Just in case you came to this blog looking for beer, you can find pretty nifty list of Aussie beer folk here.

Cheers!

When I was this big, I watched The Little Mermaid and I dreamed of beauty, swimming and a best friend like Flounder.

I wore out The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and added excitement and strange lands to my list.

Then came the Hobbit, and my dreams grew to include bravery, adventure, cleverness.

Over the years there have been thousands of stories. I’ve devoured books, movies, TV, documentaries. They opened new worlds, they shaped me and changed me.

In highschool I followed the stories into History, Art and English. I learned about the tricks, George Orwell and Nazis exposed stories as a tool of repression, and the post-modernists showed me their disdain for literature that claimed truth and beauty. I was disappointed.

I started to question my dreams – my shape – formed by so many underhanded, sneaky, manipulative stories. When I started at university, it was to pick a fight with stories. To find out all their secrets.

Instead I fell in love with them – and I fell deep. I read the defiant stories of feminists from as far back as the Yellow Wallpaper. I was dumbfounded by the solidarity, the comfort, the hope and the challenge they provided. I read post-colonial literature that showed the hidden history, searched persistently for lost identity, and refused to be silent. I learned how the stories of our history interlinked, argued and explained. And I explored language in new ways. I loved the feeling of words as they spilled out, with harsh jagged edges, or with soft persuasive sounds. I met incredible poets and  writers who did things with words I’d never heard before. And I grew.

Somewhere in there my dreams became about the stories. The powerful ones, the ones that built my understanding of the world, the ones that made me angry and excited. I knew I wanted to write them, tell them or share them.

That’s still my dream, and I feel lucky to be living it through my social media work for a non-profit I deeply believe in. In this dream job, I get to tell and share stories that matter to me –  the good ones, the ones connect you to people, give you hope. And I get to see the connections. Sharing stories on Facebook means that I get stories back, and sometimes people’s comments have me in tears. I love to hear that these stories have inspired someone, affirmed a decision to give, or even changed a heart. It’s incredible to me that Facebook – disparaged for it’s shallowness – can facilitate such a powerful connection.

But that’s only part of my dream, stories aren’t just my day job. Stories are my passion, I’ll keep reading and writing for myself, but I also want to share. And that’s where this blog comes in: It’s the starting point. A place. A commitment. It’s been inspired by the amazing bloggers I’ve read and met who started at the same point, and worked it out. I’m going to write what  I know, and what I love – social media, books, making stuff, Melbourne, everything – while I find my story.

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