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  • Writer's pictureWinona Rajamohan
I recently discovered something new about myself. A thought that I've danced around consciously, unaware of its significance and ignorant of its consequences. And it started with a book.

A few weeks ago, I finished reading Cultish by Amanda Montell. I picked it up at a Powerhouse Bookstore in the local creative maze that was Industry City, Brooklyn. It was an eclectic gem, tucked in the corner of an industrial space sprinkled with life-sized sculptures of cows in painted patterns and words.


I might have been spurred on by one particular cow at the store entrance, deep forest green blotched all over with blush pink flowers. Upon the umpteenth time looking up from a shelf to see its lifeless face staring in, I decided I was going to walk out with a book that would set itself apart from my usual collection. Like a flower-coated cow standing between an indie bookstore and a pizza parlor.


Cultish ended up being that book. An intersection of language, psychology, and the cultural headscratcher we call 'cults' — a combination I vaguely understood but never expected to find so much familiarity in.


My knowledge of cults at the time was conceptual and sporadic. I recognized occasional incidents and crazed descriptions of deranged cult leaders, but not enough to call them out by name. But I wasn't interested in going down a rabbit hole of cult horror stories. I was interested in the argument Montell wanted to pick apart, explicitly stated right in the synopsis.


The key to manufacturing intense ideology, community, and an "us/them" attitude all comes down to language. In both positive and shadowy ways, cultish language is something we hear - and are influenced by - every single day.

Here's what I discovered: I've been a little cultish myself


The book kicks off with a former member at a Los Angeles Kundalini yoga studio, the Happy, Healthy, Holy Association (3HO) who shares how they were once sucked into the studio's over-the-top rules, regulations, and expectations.


Montell then pans over to a former member at a CrossFit gym who found themself trapped in a loop of obsessive control from fellow workout classmates and gym instructors.

Across the book's 200 pages, we journey through the rise and spread of five different kinds of social groups.


The first is the cults we're most familiar with, often associated with a community of people who devote themselves to a cause in ways most may find unusual. The second was new religious movements, followed by multilevel marketing organizations, health and fitness trends, and finally, the followers of social media influencers.


What do all of these groups have in common with each other?


They've each influenced people to believe in a cause, enough to make some extremely devoted believers change their lives drastically.


The trick lies in the language.


Cultish is an invitation to look at cults, not as a binge-worthy concept on a Netflix docuseries, but as a realistic outcome of human behavior when the right buttons are pushed by the right words. Like a winning combo in a competitive fighting video game, language can be deployed as a series of successive hits to a person's emotional vulnerability, intellectual curiosity, and psychological biases.


By tipping the scales or adding more weight across any of these three cylinders, a group customizes the formula and finds the message they need to recruit a new member, invoke their loyalty, and rally support for decisions.


Montell introduces me to the "curious (and curiously familiar) language of Cultish," calling me to pay attention to the depth of words used to attract and retain my membership to any group. Unsurprisingly, a light bulb flickered immediately, pointing toward multiple instances where I've acted unlike myself upon the persuasion and influence of cultish language.


Defining a cult


If I had to point out the most jarring realization to strike while reading Cultish, it's would be how little I understood about cults and how people end up being in one. I've perceived the reality of them as something ominous and distant, with an unfounded sense of confidence that I would never end up being a part of one.


But the more Montell probed into the linguistic patterns that form most cults, the more I noticed how easy it can be for anyone to say yes to it, knowingly or unknowingly.


The common denominator between cults and other social group are people who want a sense of belonging. In that sense, most of us have had an inkling at one point to find our version of a 'cult' — being around people who have similar interests, problems, processes, or belief systems.


As the book calls out, it's not surprising that cultish groups have historically "sprung up during cultural limbos when those needs [for identity, purpose, and belonging] have gone sorely unmet."


And there's no better way for belonging to plant its seed than with language. In the world we live in, that includes how we chat online, tweet, caption our pictures or even reshare stories on Instagram.


I've found a sense of belonging in being a K-pop stan, emulating health and wellness influencers, and modeling a career after Silicon Valley tech startup culture. And true enough, the simplest way for me to fall into these three identities is the language I use to relate myself to others in the group.


Obviously, sharing the same interests and exclusive language doesn't make a group — for the lack of a better word — 'crazy.' However, scary things do happen when language is weaponized to condition how a person thinks and acts.


This brings us back to the primary takeaway Montell wants to leave her readers with.


Being aware of cultish language is a great way to weed out good group memberships from potentially harmful ones. And these red flags pop up everywhere if you really take the time to stop and listen.


Here are a few I know I've heard and experienced myself:


🚩 Exclusive terminology and jargon. Something that's used to perpetuate an 'us vs them' mentality with the latter being less than the former


🚩 Thought-terminating cliches. A repetition of the same templatized answer used to shut down anything that questions why things are the way they are.


🚩 Excessive self-deprecation. When language is used to pry on your vulnerabilities and belittle the person you are before you were a part of the group.


A reminder to be kind


It's never been easier for people today to come together and find solidarity regardless of where in the world they are. I'd go as far as to argue that the 2020s are already shaping up to be a giant cultural, economical and political limbo with many feeling more lost and lonely than ever before — the perfect breeding ground for cultish groups to prey on those looking for something bigger than themselves.


There's a lot out there for us to find a sense of belonging in. We may find them in person or online. At workplaces, gyms, video games, or social media. We could establish great companionships, and if we're not careful, build dangerous bridges that are even harder to burn in a more connected world.


While we're all sitting in the noise of a million voices fighting for our attention, Cultish is a reminder to sit down, listen, and feel the weight of each and every word being thrown at us. It's a snarky response to combat a world that's becoming increasingly careless on how words are used to evoke human sentiment.


Most importantly, it debunks the argument that only the 'brainwashed' find themselves giving more than they're allowed to take. Look around you and you'll notice that we're all looking for something to believe in, something or someone to get us out of bed in the morning and steer us through long days and nights. It's easy for something or someone to get the better of us, to rearrange the building blocks of who we are completely in the process. Many of us know what that feels like, don't we?


So let's look out for each other. Let's care about things that happen to people we don't know and communities we may not fully understand. Let's agree intentionally and disagree respectfully. Let's make it safe to want to belong in our world — because it's a world that looks scarier with each passing day.


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for Cultish





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  • Writer's pictureWinona Rajamohan

My favorite days as a journalism student at San Jose State University were chaotic and unplanned.


I had no car, a budget too tight for Ubers, and a hard-headed habit of never asking for help. I resorted to walking around school or downtown San Jose to look for stories. I'd find them in stickers pasted furiously on the door of SJSU's favorite neighbor, Philz Coffee. Or I'd crane my neck to take a peek through open doors or catch event flyers tossed around South First Street.


I've stumbled across local creators, activists, community-builders, and entrepreneurs by complete accident. My best conversations happened while frantically running up to strangers at the final hour of a submission deadline after a string of failed interviews and doors slammed in my face.


So when I leaped into the Silicon Valley startup world as a content writer, I was both enthusiastic and slightly naive. I waltzed into this jungle of a world the same way I did into a newsroom — the phrase "There's a story in everything!" ringing through my head like a cult mantra.


But finding a story in everything didn't work out quite as planned. At times, I was actually starting to doubt it.


I wasn't in a school newsroom fighting to cover topics nobody else had done before. I was writing to help a business, a place where everything I did was scrutinized for measurable value to mark it a success or a complete waste of time. I needed results, fast.


It couldn't be helped. I inched my way back into a rabbit hole of doing what's been proven most likely to succeed. I succumbed to the trap of buzzword-crazy, jargon-intoxication, buy-my-product-now content marketing.


Surprise, surprise. That didn't work either.


Good content is content with the purpose of serve who consumes it.


Here's one thing I learned from all the trial and error:


✏️ The way people consume B2B content marketing isn't very different from the way they consume good journalism, Twitter threads, or TikTok exposés.


In a world where content has never been more accessible, it's also never been more exhausting. Nobody has the time to read something that isn't speaking directly to what they need. It doesn't matter if it's software for their company's tool stack or 5 hot new sustainable storage containers to Marie Kondo their life — both fish from the same pool of limited attention.


Journalism has always defined the way I produce and perceive content: There's a story in everything, for everyone, if I take the time to observe, ask and listen.


It's a personal philosophy I've embraced completely in my career as a content marketer, helping me advocate for content marketing to be more than a means to an end, a channel to a metric, or a path to a lead.


I believe the future of content marketing will make every interaction with a brand feel like a binge-worthy series. It'll educate communities, amplify voices, and answer important questions, the way great journalism does.


Here are three tips from my days in the newsroom that keep me centered as a content marketer strapped in for that journey.


👋 Write for your reader


Every writer has a few stories they're really proud of. But there's nothing quite as humbling as reading them again a few months or years later and realizing how little that story actually scraped below the surface. Although dripping in beautiful prose and big intelligent words, you never really get to the point.


When that happens, I've taken on the role of the everyday reader (although much too late) — someone with little context on the work I've put in, and with a clear idea of what they want to get out of the time they spend reading it.


The single most important question my editors would ask me still holds true as a content marketer. "Why should anyone care about what you just wrote?"


In both scenarios, my writing process kicks off by understanding who I'm writing for. So before kicking off any topic research, I first drill down on these questions.



These answers already outline the shape of a content brief I can work with. Now I can map out my writing process to fire on both cylinders — meeting business outcomes and giving my readers authentic value.


🗣 Talk to sources directly


Writing for an audience is tough. But writing something genuinely useful for an audience is even tougher. Even if you've done all your research and answered all the big questions.


We live in a world where it can look relatively easy to research content topics. A quick search beyond Google on platforms like Twitter, TikTok, or YouTube can give you enough to build content pieces thousands of words long.


But is it enough to be considered useful? Not really.


More often than not, I find myself a draft saturated with what's.

What keywords are being searched

What stats make this look data-driven

What trends are trade-pub approved and influencer-endorsed

Ah, a recipe content readers love to hate.


But it can be easily avoided if I stop trying to be the expert.


What does a journalist look for to build a great story? Sources. Interviews. Lots of it.


The more questions you ask, the fewer holes in your story, and the stronger your credibility. I've learned that the best content marketing is built this same way.


Whether it's writing for a publication or a B2B blog, my golden rule is to cut to the chase and talk to a source. This helps me turn those whats into whys.





Sources don't just give you answers. They give you memorable anecdotes and dispute naive generalizations. They're the "it" factor every story needs.


🙅🏽‍♀️ Don't make assumptions


I believe the best content creation is selfless. My favorite journalists and content marketers produce work with clear and strong intentions to help someone do something. To uncover truths, educate, build arguments, or protest norms.


Anything that holds even a sliver of doubt is worth analyzing. That's how journalists broke stories about Watergate and Harvey Weinstein. How impactful and groundbreaking would those revelations be if missing pieces of the puzzle were filled in with assumptions?


Would there even be a story at all if it was simply assumed that everything behind the scenes was trudging along the way it should be?


Content marketing shouldn't be too different. Great content leaves a memorable impact on readers, prompting them to utilize it in their daily work, share it with their peers, or interact with your brand. I came across an article on The Juice by Olivia Adkinson summarizing this impact perfectly — we don't know good content when we see it; we know it when we feel it.


I want to be a content marketer who leaves my readers with a feeling they can't easily shake off. I think it takes a creative kind of curiosity and a willingness to question what others don't. It should leave no room to assume who my readers are and what they would like to see, encouraging me to take risks and pursue ideas they won't expect or ignore.


Think of a brand with great storytelling and you'll likely notice a similar trope of unique and compelling content — a personal favorite of mine is how Gong uses content to amplify a brand identity that sales teams want to learn from and be a part of.


Instead of a regular listicle on ways to improve cold calls, Gong sets themselves apart by breaking down cold call scripts from the brokerage house, Stratton Oakmont. They don't assume their readers would find it irrelevant or outdated. In fact, they've done their research, they know exactly why it's important, and they've used their own product data and brand voice to fill in the gaps and build their argument 💯


Getting comfortable with an assumption of what my audience knows and doesn't know does a few things.


👉 First, it limits my ideas to what's already been done.


Gong has published lots of blogs about how to improve cold calls, but this one reads like something completely different.


👉 Second, it doesn't get readers excited about what's next.


Unique content builds on an argument and introduces something new and actionable so readers can try something they've never tried before.


👉 Third, it makes relationships with readers feel transactional.


I write. You read till the end. I get a page view. And hopefully, I've told you enough about my product or service for you to want to buy it. Readers don't want that.


A good piece of content feels like a journey. It connects the dots between a few common arguments and leads readers to a place completely different from where they started. Now that's what potential customers want to experience.


The sweet spot between strengths and weaknesses


I've learned a lot about myself as a writer over the past two years. But the most important lesson of all is embracing how much I don't know. Somewhere in the midst of everything, I'm great at and everything I'm yet to master is a sweet spot where the possibilities seem limitless.


It's a place where my strengths as a writer, journalist, and marketer become more clearly defined. It's also a place where my weaknesses surface as opportunities to draw from those strengths in ways I didn't think were possible.


Somewhere between my strengths and my weaknesses, I'm finding my own identity as a content marketer.

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  • Writer's pictureWinona Rajamohan

Hey there! 👋


Since starting my career in Content Marketing, I've written a lot of words and led multimedia content projects such as webinars, larger virtual events, and video production. Here I've highlighted some of my favorite pieces of work published between August 2019 to December 2021.


Here's a little bit more about my day on the job:


✏️ As a Content Marketing Specialist, I wrote for blogs, ebooks, website pages, social media posts, email marketing, event marketing, and digital ad campaigns.


🔭 After taking on the role of a Content Marketing Manager, my area of focus has expanded to building content strategy and driving performance through SEO, email journeys, partnerships with influencers, and close collaboration with customers.


______________________


🚘 Smartcar (Content Marketing Manager)

Highlights

  • Win more #1 and first-page rankings for target keywords by creating new content and optimizing existing content.

  • Drive more newsletter subscribers and higher email open rates on a month-by-month basis.

  • Increase the volume of traffic and social media conversions surrounding new customer stories.

  • Introduce new operational and strategic processes for creating, distributing, and repurposing content as a one-person content team.

Blogs


Customer stories

______________________


🧑🏽‍💻 Scribe (Freelance Writer)


 

🏢 HireEZ (Content Marketing Specialist/Manager)


Highlights

  • Led community and webinar programs as part of our content strategy + organized and hosted a two-day virtual summit with 8 speakers and over 500 attendees.

  • Initiated and executed HireEZ's first-ever industry trends report (which is still being continued annually).

  • Increase traffic to the company blog by 3x and built our newsletter subscriber list up from zero.

  • Doubled the number of content downloads and leads generated from ebooks.

  • Increase the volume of traffic and social media conversions surrounding new customer stories.

  • Introduce multimedia content into Hiretual's marketing strategy by creating, hosting, and producing three seasons of the YouTube series 'Coffee with Hiretual.'

Reports and guides


Press Releases/Company Announcements


Blogs


Case studies



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