Category Archives: Personal

2012 Personal Year in Review: Blogging, News, Videos, Local and Social Media

2012 Social Media Blog Year in Review.jpgLast year I wrote my first end of year blog post. I view these type of posts as a good chance to look back over the year and see what I accomplish, but also what I had difficulty with.

Some people reflect too much and that prevents action. I am on the other extreme. Thus, I try to fight against my natural impulse to just barrel ahead with posts like this.

To keep this from being totally self indulgent experience, I will be publishing additional blog posts in the coming weeks that talk about what I learned this year, including tips and tricks, in four different areas.

Here is my year in review…

Blog Post Types and Frequency

One of my focuses this year was to blog more consistently. While I didn’t achieve my goal of blogging once a week, I did do 80 blog posts over the last year. While most of my posts were text focused, I feel like I better incorporated video and images this year into my blogging. I am not a professional graphic artist or videographer, but I do feel that like writing, the ability to use these mediums is an increasingly important part of being able to express ideas and reach people.

Blogging as News

This year LLsocial became a venue to publish actual news. I am grateful to have worked with many friends who are reporters. They were instrumental in helping me navigate this field.

My final point on last year’s year in review post proved to forshadow the year to come.

Joined Pinterest and found my collecting impulse reignited.

My February story on Pinterest using Skimlinks to monetize links was picked up by the New York Times and then pretty much the rest of Internet. This blog got 30,000 unique visitors in one day, and it was great to see the site actually stayed up. My other reporting on Pinterest continues to get picked up by leading online publications across the web.

The most extensively research piece I ever published, Search Secrets, may have led to Google taking action to temporarily remove an entire SEO agency’s website from Google. The story was featured as a “Must Read” by AllThingsD as well as getting extensive coverage and debate in the SEO community.

It resulted in me being the target of threats and ad hominem attacks, but also led me to better research the SEO space. The research for the Search Secrets piece and subsequent observation of the SEO industry has made me better consider how my social and content work figures into the SEO space, and for that I am grateful. A variety of SEO tools have been added to my daily use, and I plan to blog about some of them in the coming year.

I also produced news stories that where picked up by other publications around Kickstarter, Twitter, Facebook and many around Pinterest.

Video

My friend Patrick Conroy helped me learn some of the basics of creating videos. It is always helpful to be able to learn from someone who already is using a medium, so I am very grateful.

I did some screen-casting to supplement blog posts, interviewed the Clipboard CEO as well as a doing Pinterest video series with Lauren Orsini. Lauren and I created 30 videos over five episodes, but we stopped doing our show due to other commitments. Video takes some getting used to, but I am glad to have the experience and knowledge in my “tool box”.

Infographics

Pinterest infographicI created three infographics in 2012. All of them revolved around Pinterest. In all cases I used Piktochart to create them. This is a very intuitive tool that can help you create high quality infographics with your data. It is template based, but if you have design skills you can supplement their existing image options.

My Pinterest image size infographic has over 2000 Pins/Repins and generated half a dozen high quality links back to the site. Beyond that, I think it was plain useful. Ironically, this first infographic was likely my best one. The two subsequent ones where a bit of a stretch in terms of how useful they were, but they still got a good reception and took much less time to create than the first one.

@free

While @free was a top focus in 2011, it suffered a bit in 2012. Last year I regretted creating a custom text marketing service, and this year I continued to let the text service flounder. @free is still doing sponsorships, but the number of sponsorships didn’t keep pace with last year.

I have learned that reach alone is not a business model. Ad based revenue is not enough unless you reach a scale that is fairly substantial or is very specific to a niche. I have learned a considerable amount running @free, but most important was trying various business models. When you start with the premise that everything is free, it can be difficult to monetize.

I am still committed to sharing free offers, but it doesn’t appear that @free will be my sole focus and or my primary income. It is hard to say, but I believe it to be a realistic side project/hobby that generates respectable income.

That said, there were a number of small successes. @free took off on Pinterest with close to 10,000 followers in less than a year. We maintained our reach on Twitter and expanded our highlighting of free iOS apps.

Perhaps our biggest success came with our new site BdayFreeDay which shares free birthday offers. The site was developed by Philsquare, and achieved a half million unique visitors in its first year. Keep an eye out for a blog post in the couple weeks that covers the details of this site’s success, and how you can leverage what I learned.

Social Media Club of Lawrence

June was the second anniversary of the Social Media Club of Lawrence. I was the Program Chair this year. I organized and came up with unique topics for over 40+ weekly, in-person meetings. I had some ambitious ideas for the club, and I think we did make some improvements, but I found that most of our members were happy with weekly Wednesday meetings. I plan to continue to part of the group, and will be interested to see where the club is at in June and a year from now.

Client Work

Most of my client work is done in the Enterprise B2B space. As much I would like to talk about our successes (and yes, provide clients with some high quality links from my blog for SEO purposes 😉 ), the nature of these industries is that agencies don’t really talk about clients’ work publicly.

I will say that I have got to work with some great companies, and I am excited about not only working with companies who are looking to get started on thought leadership and social media , but also companies who already have of history of success in this area. Working with companies that already produce high-quality, consistent content, has allowed me to do more specialized and detailed work.

The amount of client work in the second half of 2012 has resulted in fewer blog posts, but I am hopeful that some of this experience can transfer to meaningful blog posts in 2013.

Thanks so much for reading the blog this year. If you have any topics you want covered in 2013 or have any questions related to your own projects, please feel free to post a comment here or contact me.

 

HuffPost "Highlights" a new way to view articles.

A new quote highlight page has got me to actually read The Huffington Post.

Sensational titles and  a chaotic website design have kept me from ever making the Huffington Post part of my digital routine. But a new site from the Huffington Post has changed that and may provide a view into the future of online publishing.

HuffLabs, a “innovation division” of the Huffington Post, has launched a new page called HuffPost Highlights. The page has a masonry look (think Pinterest) that spotlights quotes or portions of text that Huffington Post readers have either copied in their brower or have selected using Huffington Post’s highlight tool.

HuffPost "Highlights" a new way to read The Huffington Post

A number of online services have tried to popularize collecting or highlighting of interesting articles or quotes by subject (Snip.it is the one I use most frequently), but this experiment by the Huffington Post is the best put together I have seen with the caveat that is it from one publisher.

Jeopardy style news reading.

In a way similar to Jeopardy, where you are given you the question before the answer, Highlight gives you the most popular part of the article (essentially a quote) before you ever see the title. I an not sure this style of discovery is for everyone, but I enjoy it.

It also surfaces what readers think is compelling, versus what one editor decides should be the title to catch the reader’s eye.

I find myself reading the quote, which often has enough context on its own to understand it, and then if I find it compelling enough, I will look at the article title and then sometimes click through and read the article.

Why is Huffington Post doing this

The advantage to the publisher is pointed out by Conor White-Sullivan, director of HuffPost Labs. He told Poynter that:

We wanted to find and expose the buried ledes, the interesting quotes, paragraphs, or snippets of data in articles, and create a new way for users to browse the content on a news site, and discover articles that may have not been featured, but that they may find interesting…

Breaking the personalized news bubble

Like many of us, I live in a personal news vacuum. I get the majority of my industry specific news from Zite, my Twitter follows are highly curated based on my interests and my Facebook feed also is based on my existing relationship and what I like.

The Huffington Post has a certain political and news perspective, but it is broader than the one I have created with personalized social networks and news services. So while I am still getting a selective perspective when using Highlight, it is broader than what I am used to, and does provide a more well rounded view of news.

A new way to view and display content

I can certainly see developers use this technology on other sites, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this type of news feed become a common alternative both for aggregated news across multiple sites as well as a different user interface for many online publications.

I would be interested to hear what you think of Highlights. Feel free to post a comment.

 

Small business owners where many hats.

Wearing many hats; a small business owner’s roll.

I am not sure many will find this post particularly interesting. It is a little on the narcissistic side of things. I tried to highlight some universal advice when possible, but fair warning, it really is just an examination of some of my strengths and weaknesses, and how they apply to business, and I guess a little bit to life in general.

I have increasingly been spending much of my time working on @free. As I continue to shape it into what I hope is a successful business, I find myself having to address a common small business owner’s problem . . . doing everything.

When you have to do everything, you quickly start to pick up on what you excell at, what you can do, and what will be a struggle. As with anything, it is never absolute with only strengths and weakness, but I have broken it down largely in that way as I could write forever about every nuiance if left unchecked.

It is hard to talk about one’s greatest strengths without feeling self conscious or boastful, but if you read to the end, you will see my weaknesses are many.

Strengths:

Curation

I have been involved in curation one way or the other since I first got on the Internet in 1998. While I don’t agree with most of his political views, Matt Drudge was one of my early inspirations on the Internet. The idea that he would spend his whole day finding the most interesting articles on the Internet and then sharing them in one place was fasinating to me.

I have been inspried by and have practiced curation since I first got on the Internet. My first effort was the web site Documentary Films .Net. I sold the site late last year (2011). But from 1998 to 2005, I routinely used this site to curate information I could find on documentary films. I also was paid to do curation as a community manager from 2003-2009. I enjoyed it, and I did it over and over. This has all led to an understanding of curation at a high level.

Twitter lends itself to curation, and I think that is why I enjoy it so much in addition to…

Conversation

I like people. I find them interesting. Even if someone is talking about something I am not particuarlly interested in, I know that they have a story or life experience that I would enjoy hearing about. I say this not to make anyone who has a conversation with me self conscious. I do this all intuitively, but I do enjoy conversations, and so people who are also good at it, I naturely gravitate toward.

Evaluation

This comes with multiple exposures. The more people you interact with both in person and online the more you begin to pick up on patterns and cues. Thankfully, we all are unique in our own ways, but I do feel I am a decent judge of character. This has allowed me to work in industries were trust and hand shake deals are frequently the only commitment. Being able to work with someone you never met and actually do business, is an increasing advantage in the online world.

In the middle:

Hobbiest Mentality

I don’t consider doing something fun, work. This is likely true for you as well. Most of the best job advice tends to focus on doing something you like as one of three pillars of having a rewarding job (the other two are working with people you like & getting fair compensation for it). What is less discussed is that almost anything worth doing requires at least moments of working on things that you don’t like. Even if you have a team to outsource a task to, you still have to manage them, and very few people feel like management is fun.

Inquisitiveness

I like to learn. I find most topics interesting. For a long time I took most of this information as an input, and did little to output it aside from conversations with friends and the curation I mentioned previously. Learning for learning sake certainly has value, but greater understanding generally comes from doing. I straddle this line frequently.

Weaknesses:

Not proud of it, but in full disclosure, here is a picture of me at my desk last Fall.

Organization

My office is chaotic: notes everywhere. As I duscussed in my blog post on Evernote, I have been trying to give up on physical notes. I have a pile of notes a foot high that are so overwhelming and unorganized, that it is highly unlikely I will ever look through them. I now type all notes I take, however small, in Evernote. At a base level I can always search to find what I need. And every couple months I will take a whole day to organize all my notes including consolidation multiple pages into one. A lack of organization can make achieving complex goals difficult. In the past two years, I have started to use a variety of techniques to learn better organization. Trello is a helpful organization tool, and Google calender has helped me better organize my time.

Sales

I am all about the soft sale. I certainly will go for what I want, but I have a high threshold when it comes to imposing something I am working on, on someone else. I will say that over time, I have gotten better at this, but I don’t forsee myself every surviving in a sales job.

Web Development

While I love the Internet and have for years, that love has not transfered into deep understanding of what powers it. I can create a basic Word Press site or signup for a DIY style blog, but I don’t write code, I just fiddle with it.

Focus

I live in my mind at times. I believe that many people do this, but I have to check against neglecting all aspects of my life to focus on the one thing that I find interesting in the moment. Even this blog suffered last year as I spent more of my time on @free. As I have gotten older, I have learned that with a little discipline and some outsourcing, I can now manage more than one part of my life at once. Want to know how you can successfully achieve a huge goal that seems unattainable? Neglect all other parts of your life. It isn’t healthy, but I have certainly done it at times. This double edge sword is something I work with on a daily basis.

So ends this highly personal blog post. If you made it to the end, perhaps you consider some of your own strenghts and weaknesses, and how you can continue to build and improve on them respectively.

Steps

Two tips for working on difficult projects.

A couple weeks ago I had one of those Saturdays were I really felt like working on some projects, but I kept running up against road blocks.

I wanted to create an email list for this website, but I was finding Mail Chimp difficult to use. I was attempting to create a template for future emails, but despite my efforts I kept running into barriers. I need a header image, but I didn’t even have a header image for this website. And there were a dozen fields I need to customize for Mail Chimp before I even had a usable template.

Two years ago, I would have just given up. An email newsletter is not essential to this site. I could keep blogging without ever having one. I have an RSS feed and most of my traffic comes from social media anyway.

But that Saturday, I used two tricks to keep me going.

Breaking up work

I didn’t sit in front of the computer for more than an hour at a time. I would take at least a 15 minute break to do something else. The activities weren’t particularly exciting, but at different times I took the dogs for a walk, helped my wife with laundry and called my Dad to visit.

You likely already know this, but I have found that after 60-90 minutes of intense work, a person’s level of focus and productivity goes way down. So instead of just pushing through I took breaks.

Each time I came back to the computer I felt more energy and at times I had a different perspective on how to best accomplish a task.

It not just about today.

Another obvious statement, but I have come to realize that if I put all the benefit of work on just getting the project completed, it can be overwhelming. Instead I kept reminding myself, “the work you are putting in now on Mail Chimp will likely help you get a newsletter setup for this site, BUT you are also learning so much from the process.”

The process placed road blocks like needing a theme or logo for this site, so in the process I created one. The process of learning how Mail Chimp worked proved to be more difficult then I expected, but I realized what I was leanring could be valuable in the future. I could use this knowledge for other projects, helping with a Social Media Club of Lawrence list, helping a client, or even just helping a friend. I wasn’t working just for the end goal of getting the newsletter setup, but rather I was appreciating that I was learning along the way.

The next time you feel the desire to just give up on a difficult task, consider these two ideas. No guarantees of project completion, but I hope you end up getting something out of the process.

By the way, the email newsletter did get completed. If you want to get updated about new blog posts or when I share exclusive newslettter content, you can sign-up here.

 

Evernote for blog organization and composition

Why I like Evernote

I have been using Evernote for close to two years and regret that I haven’t written a blog post about it sooner. At its most basic, Evernote lets you type notes into their application and access and edit them on any Internet connected device. This simple premise can be expanded to the level of complexity you desire using their organization system of Notebooks (essentially folders) and tags. You can also add images, audio and attach documents.

Reasons to like Evernote

Simple:

  • No save button. Everything is saved automatically, and if you make a mistake, then you can restore a previous version.
  • Add a new note, compose and edit on any Internet connected device.
  • Small foot print. I have never had a device crash using Evernote. It is simple and doesn’t take many resources.

Powerful:

  • Transfers your thoughts to text
  • No pressure
  • Build thoughts up over time
  • Access information anywhere
  • It is heavy on creation vs consumption
  • Ability to search
  • Flexible
  • Integrates with other relevant online services

Add a new note, compose and edit on any device.

I use three primary devices to access the Internet: my desktop, notebook and Android phone. I can start writing in Evernote in the living room, continue working on the same note in the office, and then even add a couple thoughts on my phone while waiting to get my hair cut. Not having to thinking about synching my notes at any time, is a huge benefit. The best tools tend to be reliable, not take too much thought and provide value; Evernote fits all of those.

It is heavy on creation vs consumption.

While you can certainly save other people’s writing to Evernote, I find the majority of my use falls under creation. Whether it is documenting my own thoughts or composing for a web site or blog, I generally find myself creating without distraction in Evernote.

Capture your thoughts and then review them.

One great thing about journaling is being able to look back and see what you were thinking in the past. I did a personal journal from 1999-2003, and I still enjoy reading what I was thinking at that time. I don’t have an official journal anymore, but I do consistently write my thoughts in Evernote. Being able to accurately see what you were thinking about a topic at any given time is a big advantage. My mind often tends to think that however I am thinking now was always the case. A review of my notes, quickly shows that isn’t always the case.

No pressure

When I write in Evernote I am generally writing just for me. At times I am specifically writing with an audience in mind, but the ideas that I put in Evernote are mainly for me, and this takes away a number of writing barriers. Have you ever set down at a blank screen wanting to write up a blog post or organize your thoughts on some idea, and were then overwhelmed with all the steps it would take to get the point of actually publishing? Hopefully for you, you can just start writing and everything flows really well. That isn’t the case for me. The pressure of a blank page can be difficult, but with Evernote I don’t feel any pressure. My history has taught me that I should write down whatever I am thinking at the time, and even if I don’t use this piece of writing right away, I have something to use in the future.

Organization for the disorganized

I am pretty messy. I don’t have a place for everything. My use of Evernote is often the same. I take random notes and don’t always add tags or put them in a certain notebook. Evernote helps me still get value from this disorganized style by having a good search function. When I am ready to put my thoughts together or act on a key piece of information, I can search for keywords on the topic and find my thoughts.

My other routine is taking an hour every month to go through my existing notes and organize them. I start with the most recent notes in my general folder and then drag and drop them in appropriate notebooks or add tags. I currently am adding about 80 notes a month to Evernote, and I can easily organize those in under an hour.

Another way Evernote has helped with my composition process is doing a small amount of editing each time I look at a note. I will read through what I wrote before and look for things to add to already written ideas, but also edit for readability on anything I have already written. This makes the process of article or idea creation systematized and routine.

You have to start somewhere.

Most complex ideas don’t get implemented in one day. I don’t generally wake up one morning and decide today is the day and knock out a whole project. If nothing else, Evernote is a great way to slowly transfer some of your ideas from your mind into text. It can start as a one line idea, that then becomes a paragraph and then maybe an executable plan or blog post; Evernote really makes it easy to get your thoughts down, organize them and then build on them.

Easy to start

Evernote doesn’t ask much of you. You can download their software for almost any device or just access it in a browser.

I know a number of people are now using Evernote. If you use it, I would love to hear your process and/or any tips you would like to share. In the next couple weeks I am going to write about some use cases, and it would be great to include yours.