Category Archives: @free


A personal year in review: Success, failure & help from my friends.

Inspired by Gareth M. Skarka, I am doing a quick year in review of my own personal social media and web projects. I hope you can indulge my self focus. Many of the projects never went anywhere, but I learned so much from small tests, little steps, and the generosity of others who shared their knowledge.


Started a social media podcast series. I had one interview that went well, but a lack of people to interview and audience development caused me to shift the format to news updates. After two months of doing that, I let the podcast series end in March. One of the great things about this project was that I got to work with Philsquare who I hope to do business with again in 2012.  They do great work.

Started blogging on LLSocial more frequently. And by frequently I mean at best once a month.

Started a GroupMe SMS account as a backup communication system for Lawrence if Twitter and/or the Internet went down. Seven invited people signed up, but thankfully it hasn’t been needed yet. I admit this is another project I started with enthusiasm, but have not worked on since.


Blogged about my frustration with a lack of investment opportunities in social media and advised investing in one’s self whether with personal accounts or business projects.


Started attending a weekly Sunday morning breakfast organized by Ray Munoz. A number of people joined over the year, and it keeps going strong. You can join us 9:30 AM at Genovese in Lawrence almost every Sunday.

Started researching Twitter names I thought would be good to base a large account around. In the process I secured @free on Twitter.


On April 1st, I first posted to @free with a Google April Fool’s offer of “finger warmers” for typing. Google actually delivered them in the mail.

In mid April, I decided to shift @free follower development from a follow-back model and try promoting it with MyLikes.

On April 22nd started the Twitter account @Lblogs to automatically tweet most of the blog posts in Lawrence.

In late April I decided that an SMS text system for @free might make sense.

My one year anniversary working with ITFO Communications. Working on a variety of thought leadership, marketing and social media projects has helped improve my skill sets in a number of meaningful ways.


Launched a completely custom SMS text service for @free. While I learned so much from the developement, if I had to do it over again, I would have started smaller and used existing technology.  As it is, this was an expensive project that might be more than I need in terms of local targeting.


The one year anniversary of the formation of Social Media Club of Lawrence. I attended most meetings over the previous year and learn so much from everyone who attended and participated.  If I had to point to just one thing that helped me over the past year, it would be the knowledge this group shares every week.

In mid June I started more aggressive development of the @free audience including the use of sponsorships. For more details on this, I am doing a talk about it on Janurary 18th. You can find more details on the Facebook events page.

Predicted that Twitter would need to start doing @ message ads based on keywords users used. While Twitter has yet to attempt to put ads in users @ message sections, they are placing ads in timelines based on keyword usage.


Wrote about my early attempts at using Google+ for audience segmentation. While I am no longer particuarlly excited about Google+ due to a lack of users, I used those same principles to launch new Twitter accounts focusing on students as well as iPhone and Android owners.

In late July I considered creating stickers or key fobs for @free users that could help with branding and/or be the basis for contest entries. I abandoned the idea due to cost and more importantly, the realization that the time it would take to do fullfillment wasn’t reasonable or the best use of my time given the early nature of my startup.

In late July we launch the @free website.


Begin to explore monetization ideas for @free. At the end of August I ask @free readers what they thought.

Create a Facebook app page with Shortstack apps to promote the @free Facebook page.


Suggested a book author topic meeting for Social Media Club of Lawrence. On October 12th we had the meeting.

Put the call out for contributer for new @free accounts. In the process I found my sales lead, Matt, and student lead, Haley.


Launched @universifree, @atFreeiPhone and @atFreeAndroid.

Attended a KU Small Business Development Center introductory class on starting a business. I had created several businesses before, but still found the class very helpful. I followed it up with a meeting to brainstorm ideas for @free as well as doing a monetization plan.

Attended a Social IRL conference where I got some good advice from Ben A. Smith.

Decided to list Documentary Films .Net for sale, and wrote up copy for it.


Attended, and @free sponsored, a SocialIRL event in St. Louis.

Put a blog post on Documentary Films. Net saying it was for sale.

@free got its first five business sponsors.

Created my first YouTube video to go along with a blog post about Follower Wonk. The video has less than 30 views, but I learn a considerable amount in the process. I am thankful for all the advice I got from Patrick Conroy about video over this past year.


Sold Documentary Films .Net to a Danish entertainment content company focusing on films.

Update my LinkedIn profile to reflect some of the changes over the last year.

Tried out a new service, Clarify.FM and as a result got to have a phone call with Dan Martell, one of the Internet marketers I respect most.

Changed my personal Twitter username to @JoshD from @lawrencekslive.

Joined Pinterest and found my collecting impulse reignited.

I know many people limit themselves to one resolution or focus for 2012, but if 2011 has taught me anything, is that I will keep taking next step on current projects, try lots of little experiments and then put the focus on what works and keep building on little wins. 2011 had so many failures (I use that in a good way), but out of those, I am really happy with many small wins that built on themselves.

I used Evernote and PostPost to help with my memory of when and what happen this past year.  I highly recommend both free services.



Klout score goes from 0 to 72 in a month, but system is broken.

The new Klout score is really broken.  The numbers are no longer clear or useful, just like the image to right.

I say this as someone who saw Klout scores go up for most of the accounts I manage or consult for. A couple client accounts had small  to medium drops and my own personal account dropped 5 points. So my opinion is far from sour grapes.

The Problem With “True Reach”

And as best I can tell, one big problem (there are many) is True Reach numbers. If an account you run gets mentioned even once by a high follower Twitter account, your score will go up like crazy (and I don’t use the word “crazy” lightly). I don’t consider a one-off mention by a popular account to be particularly meaningful. Yes it can lead to new followers (or in many cases not), but a mention is not influencing other people’s followers in most cases.

If you thought Klout had a problem when Kenneth Cole’s Klout score went up after a poor choice in taste and hashtag usage, that “controversy bump” would be compounded under the new system.

I manage one account, @universifree, that is less than one month old. It has Klout score of 72. Jay Baer (@jaybaer) is a leading social media practitioner and thought leader. He has been working in marketing for 20 years, he is a leading user of social media tools, he seems to speak four times a week and has contacts and connections in almost every industry. His score is now 68 (down from mid 80s). Look at his @mentions. He regularly gets a mention a minute. There are actually many examples of this. Leading venture capitalists, who are active in social media and hold the purse strings to millions of dollars, saw there scores drop 20 or more points. And yet my one new account, less than a month old, has a score of 72.

Here is why:

  • The account was seeded with followers from a my mildly popular @free account that has similar demographic.
  • The account ran a sweepstakes that required a retweet and follow to enter. (It got a lot of retweets.)
  • The account has gotten mentioned by a couple popular accounts due to good editorial but also long standing relationships.

I would love to say our Klout score is because we offers amazing engagement, which we do (@haleygate has done a good job running it). For the 60 tweets we have made, yes 60, I think we did a good job. Even if I believe that a year from now, we have an opportunity to be mentioned among some of the best student/education accounts in social media, we aren’t there yet (and it may takes years to get there), but our Klout score would make it appear like we have arrived.

The nuances of the new system are I am sure many, but with this new account, we haven’t even got to explore them. We are just a Twitter account (granted with a good start on followers) getting going and figuring out what we can best share and accomplish. So Facebook, Tumbler, et al, doesn’t figure in.

“Quit worrying about Klout.” — The Internet

Many are going to say, “Quit worrying about Klout scores; they were never meaningful anyway.” To that point I have to disagree. While I wouldn’t say Klout scores were a true measure of influence, I did use them as a valuable metric, particularly for Twitter engagement as well as general Twitter influence. I could look at almost any Twitter account, and using bio, follower/following numbers, Klout score and their last 10 or twenty tweets, get a good feel for how this account fit into its own ecosphere as well as the Twitter world at large. I can’t do that anymore.

I have looked at multiple Twitter accounts in various verticals I follow, in my own community of Lawrence, Kansas, as well as at national brands, and pretty much the only scores that reflect true influence are those in the 90+ range. Before the Klout switch, I could get a general impression of activity and influence by a score in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Now many of those accounts have all been squeezed into a range between 40 and 60, and I don’t find the Klout numbers meaningful even when amplifying the value of each point difference.

I acknowledge that this part of my critique may come from my heavy focus on Twitter. Perhaps the 60-80 range needed to be cleared out to allow for YouTube video creators and Facebook subscriptions. I  hope that this is the case. And as I finish this mini rant (but hopefully informative), I can only say that unlike many, I thought Klout numbers actually had some value. That is why it is more difficult for me to see them become almost useless. If this is Klout’s Netflix moment, I say end Qwikster or give us something new and meaningful fast.

Since you read a whole blog post about Klout (thanks by the way), I would be interested to hear your impressions of the new score or any other thoughts.



Use your social network accounts to help make editorial decisions.

I spend a considerable amount of time work on the @free Twitter account and related sites. @free is an inclusive but increasing a youth oriented brand. Certainly we have readers from all age rangers, but the majority of our audience in under 25. And while I have learned a considerable amount about our readers tastes, I am the first to admit that as someone who spends my days dealing with communications and marketing issues, I have to rely on the members of our team, who are actually living the high school, college and young adult lifestyle, for insights.

But I also have another technique that helps the @free team create a relevant editorial calender for content. I ask questions of our audience. Questions have the obvious benefits of creating engagement especially if social media account managers follow up with personal responses, but they also can give you valuable insight.

On one our secondary accounts that focuses on deals I asked:

Resulting answers with key words in red boxes:

Halloween was such an obvious choice that I even mentioned it in the question, but homecoming wasn’t something I even considered. I also learned about an upcoming video game release, and was surprised that no one mentioned football, but the baseball playoff were mentioned.

Actionable insights.  Based on answers I . . .

  • Asked our iPhone and Android contributors to write up a blog post on Halloween apps.
  • Suggested to our @universifree contributor that she ask readers about their homecoming memories.
  • Put out the call to our volunteer contributors for someone interested in researching and writing up a blog post about the best places to find pumpkin carving templates.
  • Made note of the haunted house trend, and am considering a way to use that information to have readers send photos of that experience.
  • Am now more aware that our audience may have an interest in the baseball playoffs as well as future video game releases.

Your audience will likely have totally different interests, and that is why asking questions can help you make decisions about what types of content will be most meaningful and popular with your audience.



Google Plus Circles brings online audience segmentation to small businesses.

Google Plus is new enough that I am only beginning to understand all the nuisances.  Aside from looking at how Breaking News, Mashable and my local paper The Lawrence Journal-World are using it, my use cases are fairly limited.  The experience I am going to share is isolated, but it is first hand.

How @free is using Circles on Google Plus.

In compliance with Google rules, @free doesn’t have a Google Plus account per se, but as an individual I do have an account that is an extension of the brand.

Our company mission is to provide best of what is free to our readers. Right now we are using Twitter and Facebook. Part of the key differentiation from other free sites and Twitter accounts is a level of curation.  We don’t post every single offer, but try to find ones that will appeal to a large percentage of our audiences.  It is my belief that Google Plus Circles will allow us to share more relevant offers, without annoying uninterested users.

From idea to implementation

With Google Plus I wanted to see if we could take advantage of customer segmentation that is possible with Circles in their present form.  In this specific case I wanted to segment based on what phone an individual is using.

The plan was to create Circles based on our user’s phone choices, and only share free Android and iPhone apps based on those preferences.  Users would opt-in to these Circles by telling us their phone choice, and then only get offers that were relevant to them.

The only way to test this segmentation was to find out what phones people were using. So I asked.

In response to the above question I got over 50 responses and continue to get more each day.

I created iOS and Android Circles and then added people. Two days later I had a great iPhone offer that I share with the iOS group.


I got two comments that individuals took advantage of the offer and would estimate based on experience, at least a couple other people were able to take advantage.

The great thing about sharing only to the iOS Circle, was Android users didn’t have to be bothered with this offer.  They didn’t even know it existed.

Power of Circles

This very basic use study has led me to the conclusion that Google Plus is particularly powerful because it allows for the broadcast and engagement that social media makes possible, while at the same time, allowing you to customize the message.

Other segmentation groups I have considered:

  • Location: Country, region, city or even neighborhood.
  • Advocates
  • Engagement Level
  • A/B test similar messages by having different groups.
  • Any classic demographic or interests you can think of.

Segmentation does come with some business, and I would say ethical issues.

If I want to only send a free offer for makeup, I would tend to just send it to a circle composed of women.  But there is certainly some percentage of men who are into makeup.  This poses a quandary.  Do I send the message just to women and possibly exclude interested men, or do I send the message to everyone and 45% of my audience doesn’t find it relevant at all?

The short term answer would likely be the former.  Hopefully in eventual Google+ business versions, users will be able to control or at least provide input for what groups they want in.  The user will opt-in to providing profile or interest information in order to get the messages they want.

In our example case, users could opt-in to wanting makeup offers. Whether I would then include that group only in the offer or also add a broad women circle is another issue that will have to be addressed.

I have no doubt that the direct mail and other industries that are highly invested in segmentation already have dealt with some of these issues, but I am hopeful that those using segmentation in the online, social space will better think through these ethical issues.  The power of segmentation for both the individual and business is important enough that these issues will have to be addressed.