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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Great Recycling Myth and Your Marketing Data

With all of the attention on global warming and what each of us could do, there is an interesting paradox that you may not realize which is happening right under your nose at work.  I was reminded of it again as I came across a Dilbert comic that sums up the issue in three short panels as only Scott Adams can do:

Imb_dilbertrecyclingmyth_4 The short story is that what you think is recycling at work is very often a myth.  You may be diligently separating your garbage from your paper recyling, but at the end of the night when the cleaners come through your office, they just have one big trash can and it all goes into the same place.  A cousin of mine who lives in Austin had the same situation and it bothered her so much, she agreed to take the paper recycling out herself every week and now people pile it outside of her office.  Am I bringing this up to tell you to launch your own internal paper recycling army like she did?  Not really (unless that's what you want to do, of course).

If you think about it, the relationship between recycling and trash is exactly how you need to treat your marketing data online, by separating the useful from the not useful, instead of throwing it into the same database all together.  The irony is, in many cases your customers are separating this data for you (like the hapless cubicle workers) ... it's just up to you to keep it separate when you record it.  Less useful demographics in this model would be all the things you are used to capturing (gender, age, location, HHI, etc.).  Instead, you would focus on three different things:

  1. Behaviour - What are they doing on your site and how are they searching or browsing?  What is the progression of pages or areas they viewed?  Where did they go before and after visiting your site?  How often did they return?  How long did they spend on your site?  What type of marketing do they respond to?
  2. Conversation - What have they asked you about online or through email?  Did they call in and what did they ask about?  Have they written about you on a forum or a blog and what did they say?
  3. History - What have they purchased from you before?  How often do they come back to purchase or browse your site?  What sort of items do they buy and who do they buy them for (if not for themselves)?

On a very basic level, these are the three elements of your marketing data worth recycling.  You probably noticed that most have nothing to do with what gender someone is or where they live.  What would happen if you just focused on these and tossed the rest of the data you are used to focusing on?

Related Post: Thinking Outside the Demographic

Monday, November 05, 2007

Spamments and Spamversations: How Do You Stay Out of Unwanted Conversations?

There has been a firestorm of discussion lately after Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine and author of the long tail recently "outed" all the PR professionals that had been contacted him with anonymous spam style "Dear Editor" communications.  On a day where he had more than 300 of these, he finally decided he had enough and fired off a post banning those PR folks from contacting him and adding him to his blocked sender list.  The conversation has now been discussed to death on all kinds of blogs with most people essentially taking one of three viewpoints:

  1. PR people are spammers and they deserve it.
  2. Chris makes a fair point, but its unfair to publish people's email addresses or offer them no way to get off the list.
  3. Chris is a self-important blowhard who should get used to the email because he's an Editor of a major pub.

At this point, I really don't think there's anything I can add to the conversation ... especially because I don't consider myself a PR pro in this sense and have never actually pitched a media person for anything.  I am a marketer, and the concept we deal with all the time is spam - or more broadly speaking, unwanted conversations.  It got me thinking about the different types of unwanted conversations we all must deal with today in a world where conversations are happening all around us and often directed to us whether we want them or not.  In my estimation, there are 5 methods of dealing with these unwanted conversations:

  1. Filters, blockers and blacklists.  These can be a combination of automated features and manually set up lists.  Chris Anderson noted in a follow up post that he manually blacklisted all the emails of the PR folks that had sent him unwanted emails.  Personal blacklists in your email can be a great way to do this.  My blog also has a list of blocked words for comments like "viagra" and "casino."  Spam filters are increasingly standard to catch the usual spam phrases about body part enlargement and the like.
  2. Barriers, verification and validation. The next stage of automated checking are CAPTCHAs, requiring a login in order to comment, or using some other method to verify that there is a real person trying to connect with you.  It is commonly used on blog comments to make sure there is a real person behind the conversation.
  3. Ignoring or screening them. This is the time honored way, and usually works.  The only downside is that if the volume of these conversations is very high, it can get tougher and tougher to do this.  The other negative is that it is not very satisfying, as you don't get a chance to let someone know that their message was irrelevant and ignored.
  4. Selective friending. With the growing number of social network profiles we all have, the real problem with unwanted conversations is that they can often come from "friends."  Once you have granted someone access into your circle, you have unwittingly given them permission to start an unwanted conversation with you.  The only real way around this is either to be more selective with your friending, or to take the rude route and either ignore the conversation or (gasp!) "de-friend" a frequent offender.
  5. Closed Responses. This is often the last resort for unwanted conversations, and one that most of us probably find ourselves using more and more.  Closed responses are the ones that answer a question, but leave little room for follow up.  They are the best way to deal with conversations that you may be baited to join (by people trying to pull you into controversy) or conversations that for whatever reason you are not completely involved or interested in.

What do you think about these methods?  Are you using them all equally or is there one that you rely on more than any other?  Or perhaps there is a sixth method that I missed ...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Recap of Ideas from Nielsen's CGM Summit 2007

Imb_nielsencgmsummit I spent the day today at the Nielsen CGM Summit in NY listening to some panels and presentations from Nielsen and many of their clients about the future of measuring CGM.  One thing I was looking forward to about this event in particular is that the percentage of brands vs. agencies in attendance would be much more favored toward brands.  It is sadly ironic when you think about all the events that agency folks attend to basically talk to themselves, while their clients are all interested in (and spending time attending) events on measurement (which few creative folks from agencies would be able to stay awake through).  I must admit, I had a bit of a hard time staying awake myself today ... but to be fair, that was probably due to my redeye from the west coast to NY last night. 

In any case, I managed to stay awake throughout the day long enough to take some notes on some key takeaways from the summit which you will find below.  I also had the chance to meet several folks in person that I have been reading or known from afar, including Peter Kim, Henry Copeland, and Emanuel Rosen (author of The Anatomy of Buzz).  Though some of the "wonder of Nielsen" presentations that I expected throughout the day ran a bit long (not yours, Pete!) - overall the day was a great deep dive into all the ways we can and should be measuring.  As one speaker shared earlier in the day, "media is not an island" and is interconnected as consumers watch and interact with messages across mediums. Marketers may be specialists in one particular channel (TV, Online, Mobile, WOM, etc.) ... but consumers are most definitely becoming experts in all of them and use them concurrently. 

Anyway, here are some key notes and insights I took away from the event:

  1. Influencers are emailers.  There was an interesting data point in one of the presentations that said that 55% of people who were considered "speakers" (those who share opinions vocally) have emailed directly to a company about a product that they liked.  This was a big insight throughout the day, as it indicated that brands seeking their influencers may simply need to listen more closely to the feedback they are already getting.
  2. CGM generates powerful insights, not just influential voices to "target" - In response to a question from Max, I shared this point of view during the recap of the day and it was something that came up repeatedly throughout the morning.  Listening to CGM can drive strategy if you find the gaps which you can use CGM and social media to solve.  One example I shared was using CGM to find the conversation about Julian Beever (a sidewalk chalk artist) before we started our Fountain of Youth program for Aveeno.  We learned that there was lots of discussion online where people wanted to see more of his images and know how he does it.  So we created a Flickr gallery of all his images and a video of him drawing to rave reviews online.
  3. Buzzphrase #1: Consumer Fortified Media - This was a new concept that Pete introduced in his presentation about how brands are putting their commercial messages online (like Dove Evolution), and consumers are talking about them and adding credibility to these messages, thus making them fortified.  Of course, there is a handy acronym for this as well: CFM.  (I suppose it could be CFM2 when those commercial messages are for products already "fortified" ... um, like Fruit Loops).
  4. A new reason 2008 Superbowl ads will be better than the game - The guy from Fox Interactive shared that next year Fox has a deal with the NFL to create an official site where the 30 second spots will be accompanied by "long form video."  The smart marketers will take the chance to create "making of" secondary ads around their $3 million Superbowl spots.  Not sure how CGM plays a part here (unless lots of brands do the "you can create our Superbowl ad" thing again), but I still thought this idea of extending the most watching ads in the world with long form content behind them is a great concept.  Maybe worth an idea bar post at some point ...
  5. "Getting out of the way" is a strategy - During the panel where media brands shared what they believe will happen in 2010, the guy from CBS talked about the things that they are doing and noted a significant moment where a random user placed a clip from Letterman where he interviewed Paris Hilton on YouTube and the clip got millions of views.  His point ... we didn't go after him, which signifies a great case study.  I loved the irony that getting out of the way is now considered a strategy.  Actually, sometimes it's the best one. 
  6. Buzzphrase #2: Consumer Emulation - In this second concept from Pete's presentation early in the day, he talked about how we are in the midst of a wave of "consumer emulation."  Citing examples like the JetBlue and Mattel CEOs addressing the public as if they were doing consumer produced Youtube videos, or politicians and celebs who have Facebook or MySpace pages  - the point he made is that the pros are sometimes emulating the amateurs.  And of course, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't ...
  7. It's not about volume anymore - The great conflict with how brands used to purchase media to buy influence online versus how they do now is that tricky measure of CPMs.  When you are buying in blocks of thousands of impressions, it is impossible to say you are not buying volume.  Yet as many marketers noted today, less is really becoming more.  One thought I shared is that sponsorships of blogs and social media sites that are persistent can offer a much higher value, but not measured in terms of page views, but rather in terms of brand perception.
  8. The silo-fication of marketing remains a barrier - Many of the brands that participated in the day were large ones, and all seemed to struggle with similar issues when it comes to ownership.  This was not about the typical debate on whether blogs belong in corporate comm, or product development, or marketing, etc.  The silos on a macro level are those between marketing/communications, customer service, product testing, and other large divisions.  In many large organizations, these groups are in geographically disparate locations.  CGM may be a brilliant place to gather insight, but if the marketing team who gets the blog monitoring reports isn't sharing them with product development, or the customer service team who is speaking with a blogger doesn't share that information with marketing ... the power of CGM is never realized.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

7 Lessons On How To Be a Great Client

I've spent a lot of years working in marketing agencies and the one thing you learn with that kind of background is how to build relationships quickly.  Of course, the thing that's a bit tougher to admit is that some relationships are much better than others.  It is simple human nature to say that people work the hardest for someone that they like and respect.  This means having an agency and motivating their team to produce their best work for you are not necessarily the same thing. 

I have written before about some rules for smart agencies to win presentations and provide excellent client service.  I take those rules to heart in every one of my client interactions, but recently I also participated in some interesting discussions about what makes an ideal client.  As it turns out, there are some very distinct qualities that most folks who work in marketing agencies consider common among their favourite clients.  Here are just a few of them with some suggestions about how you might be able to use them to be a better client ... and get better work from your agency as a result.

  1. Provide clear direction - This was a clear #1 priority for many agency creative workers in particular who have struggled to interpret vague instructions.  Making something "more corporate" in look or language is not clear direction, though you may know what you mean by this.  The best clients are the ones who are able to articulate what they are looking for.
  2. Invite us to the table early - The earlier we learn about a campaign or new marketing initiative, the smarter recommendations we can bring to you.  This may seem in contrast to the first point, as inviting your agency early might also mean you don't yet have clear direction to offer ... but at the early stage it matters less because as long as we have enough information, we can produce the best work.  That comes from clear direction, or from early participation.
  3. Be honest about success factors - The easy thing to say is that a campaign needs to get X number of views.  Many times, the motivation for a campaign are more subtle.  The smart agency guys (or gals) understand that part of your motivation is also to look smart in front of your colleagues.  That's nothing to be ashamed of - our job is to help you look smart.  If we work together, we can all win.
  4. Take the advice you are paying for - One of the toughest things to do as your advisors is to tell you when an idea doesn't work.  Too many agency people roll over and obey commands, but my experience with clients is that they respect you far more when you have a distinct point of view.  The challenge is that once we share it, if you choose not to take the advice, we need to understand why.  You don't need to always follow what we say, but the thing we hate most of all is telling you something won't work, being forced to do it anyway, and then getting blamed when it doesn't work.
  5. Know what you don't know -  We all have limitations in what we know and what we do.  The clearest example of this comes when looking at design.  If you don't have a design background, you need to tread carefully with design feedback.  Take the time to understand why a designer chose to do something a particular way rather than just sharing your personal dislike.  A lot of thinking often goes into designs like this, and the most disheartening thing for a creative person is to just be told to arbitrarily change a color or font or image that spent hours to select based on someone else's personal choice.
  6. Understand that changes affect timelines - This again is one of the common gripes from people in agencies, that clients change requirements or requests and still expect things to be done within the same amount of time.  This isn't reasonable, and the best clients know it.  If you need to make a change, its ok - we get it.  But work with us to get a real timeline for when we can make the change and get something back to you.  We'll respect you for realizing that.
  7. Ask our advice - There is a book called The Trusted Advisor which has become the bible for many people who are in service businesses.  As the title indicates, the book is about building a relationship of trust that gets to a level where you are considered an advisor even on things outside of your expertise.  This remains the ultimate relationship between clients and agencies, and the one we all strive for.

For other agency folks who read this blog ... any other points you want to add for what you appreciate about your best clients?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day: 7 Tips on Eating Differently To Impact Climate Change

One thing I can't resist is an ambitious project.  As a marketer, if there is a groundswell for something that I believe in or find interesting, I am highly likely to try and be a part of it.  That's why I join all sorts of groups, and why I try to lend my voice to causes that I believe are worthwhile.  The latest effort that I have been looking forward to being part of is also the reason why I'm posting twice in a single day ... something I don't usually do.  Today is Blog Action Day - something I have been promoting on the sidebar of my blog for several weeks now.

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The aim of the project is to collect together all kinds of bloggers to talk about the environment.  The site featured a very smart way of letting bloggers sign up early and attaches a currency to being first in how all the blog participants are listed (in order of joining rather than by size of blog - so I'm in the 4001 to 5000 list).  The built in measurement of the site is also done through aggregating the readers via RSS, which they planned for by requesting the RSS link for every blog that wanted to participate when you signed up.  So far, it's a brilliant model for how to run a blog centric social marketing campaign - and the results are stellar so far.  The site boasts more than 15,000 blogs participating with an aggregated RSS reach of more than 12 million readers, and is publishing real time updates on buzz on the Blog Action Day blog.

Let's consider this reach for a moment.  One of the big measurement challenges in blogging is to equate an RSS reader with a regular old impression.  Impressions are typically measured on a monthly basis and multiplied out.  RSS readers are individual readers and therefore far more accurate.  I happen to believe an RSS reader is more involved than a regular impression as well - but how much more?  Even if you conservatively say it is worth 2x as much, this gives the reach of Blog Action day nearly 25 million readers.  On a single day.  That's pretty impressive.

But the point of this post is to talk about the reach but to talk about the environment.  My original thought was to come up with something new to say about it ... but while I was live blogging at the Corporate Climate Response event a few months ago, I published a post about tips for eating differently to impact climate change.  That's my contribution for Blog Action Day, republished below:

7 Tips on Eating Differently To Impact Climate Change

During a session run by Tara Garnett from the Food Climate Research Network at the Corporate Climate Response Conference, she shared a wide range of interesting research that was likely difficult for most participants to absorb quickly enough (and extremely difficult to keep up with for blogging purposes!). Luckily, FCRN has a fantastic research archive published online at their website and also provide links to an assortment of research from other groups collected into a single archive. One of the more interesting points Garnett raised was what steps regular consumers could take in order to change their own eating habits to make an impact on CO2 emissions. This is often a little talked about topic, and as Garnett noted, it is notoriously difficult to ask consumers to do - mostly because of the huge cultural significance of food and the difficulty of sacrifice. For many consumers, however, it may simply be a lack of information. For all of them, here are 7 tips Garnett shared about ways you can change your eating habits to have an impact:

  1. Change the balance of what you eat (less meat and dairy, “lower down” on the food chain)
  2. Choose seasonal field grown foods (require less storage, heating & transport)
  3. Do not eat or purchase certain foods (including foods that are hothoused or those that are air freighted)
  4. Reduce your dependence on the “cold chain” (get rid of the second freezer, choose less processed robust foods and do more frequent non car-based shopping)
  5. Waste less food (improve your “food turnover” to eat what you buy sooner and reduce wastage)
  6. Cook more efficiently (cook for more people and for several days at a time, use the oven less frequently)
  7. Redefine your ideal for quality (be willing to accept variability in quality and supply

In addition to this post, here are a few other posts from this blog over the past year which may hopefully inspire your thinking and perhaps even inspire some action:

"Greenest Hits" From Influential Marketing Blog:

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8 Marketing Ideas from Facebook Groups

Imb_facebookgroups_3 I admit I'm part of the Facebook bubble.  The group of people who joined in the months after Facebook has been opened up to the masses outside of the college students ... now I am doing my part to overtake the college and high school students and corrupt Facebook as a tool for business and post-school networking.  But I'm ok with that and ok with Facebook growing up, and even if that means some high school or college students will shy away from it in the short term because "mom might be watching" ... they'll likely be back if Facebook does ultimately become the social network it is trying to be.  What is has the potential to become is the umbrella network that we have all wished for.  Through the open approach and increasingly popular applications, Facebook has the ability to sit above other social networks aggregating their information together.  I can access my Slideshare, Gmail, Twitter, Flickr, and Upcoming accounts all through Facebook.  Probably there are other accounts I could do that with as well, but haven't found the applications or added them to my profile yet.

About 10 days ago I started my own group for readers of this blog called Influential Marketing Friends and it already has more than 425 members ... and so far I love the additional place of discussion and content that it gives me.  Several months ago I was considering starting a network on Ning, but considering the numbers - I'm much happier I waited to start it on Facebook.  Aside from my own group, I have also started paying attention to the many ways that other Facebook groups are being used for marketing.  Here are a few of the more interesting marketing uses I have come across in the past few weeks:

  1. MyHome2.0 - A group to recruit tech challenged families for a new reality TV show
  2. Support Monk's Protest in Burma - An online petition, of sorts, which more than 400,000 have added their names to
  3. Yahoo! Pilot - A new group from Yahoo for those interested in hearing about and testing some new pilot technology in the works from Yahoo
  4. Target - An award winning Facebook campaign targeted at college students decorating their dorm rooms with prizes and contests.
  5. I read Business 2.0 - and I want to keep reading! - A grassroots and ultimately unsuccessful effort from the editorial team and readers of Business2.0 to keep Time Inc. from closing the magazine
  6. Bhargava Clan - A group for people with my last name originated to connect Bhargavas together worldwide and perhaps even facilitate some arranged marriages along the way (has more than 125 members)
  7. Dancing with the Stars Vote for Mark and Kym - Mark Cuban has been working his Facebook friends for the past few weeks to keep the votes coming and to combat some of the celebs that he is up against.  Reading his status updates about being nervous 55 minutes before showtime puts you in the midst of the action and makes you care.  I've been voting for him even though I don't watch the show.
  8. Event Related Groups - Just about every marketing or tech event now has an associated Facebook group.  The nice thing about these groups is that it makes it somewhat easier to connect with folks that you meet at the event as many are listed in the same place.  Ad-Tech, SxSW and Intel's IDF all have facebook pages.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

10 Truths of Marketing in a Web2.0 World

Imb_innotechlogo I am in Austin today participating in the eMarketing Summit as part of the Innotech Conference.  I had the chance to do a lunch keynote presentation following Allen Olivo of Yahoo - focused on marketing in a Web2.0 world.  The presentation had a great crowd of engaged people and most (surprisingly) managed to stay awake despite my excellent spot right after lunch.  Below is the presentation I gave at the event, and I am told there will be a podcast of the presentation with audio synched with slides online in the next day or two so I will share the link for that as soon as I have it.

Update (10/15/07) - Read a Dutch Translation of this presentation from Enthousiasmeren

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Influential Marketing Blog Featured in Wall Street Journal

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Many of you may have already caught this yesterday, but this blog was cited in the Recommended Reading  section of the Wall Street Journal yesterday in an article by Keith Huang.  As Jay Berkowitz from Ten Golden Rules shares on his team blog, my blog was one of 60 resources that they recommended to the journalist as part of their reading list and was selected from that list as a recommended resource for companies looking to "optimize their online presence."  Here's the writeup:

Influential Marketing Blog, rohitbhargava.typepad.com
Rohit Bhargava's blog is intellectual and educational. In a recent post, he discusses the art of stamp collection and how, even today, many smaller countries use stamps as a key marketing tool. He writes, 'Next time you pass a post office in any country, pay attention to how they are using their philately to promote the country, cater to tourists, or commemorate moments of significance.'

It is a great media hit and to be selected from a list of what I am guessing were 60 stellar resources is flattering.  I'm in awe at being included among the other bloggers and authors mentioned in the article - including Seth Godin, Steve Rubel, Matt Cutts, John Battelle, Chris Anderson, Joseph Jaffe, and Danny Sullivan. Thanks to Jay for including me in this great list, and to Keith for selecting to include my blog!

Monday, September 24, 2007

8 Unique Reasons People Like Twitter (And Why Microblogging Matters)

On the surface, capturing what you are doing on daily, hourly or even minutely (double meaning intended) basis seems like a useless activity.  Who has the time to send these incessant "tweets" all day long?  As it turns out, lots of smart folks with respectable jobs, but that's besides the point.  Driven by Mark Simon's dismissal of Twitter and my hectic travel schedule of 5 cities in 5 days last week, I decided to give Twitter a real test run and become an active user of my dormant account I created several months ago but never really used.  This post is a compilation of the lessons I learned about Twitter and an inside look at the appeal of microblogging and why smart marketers should pay attention to this trend and some ideas for the possibilities it offers. 

  1. Broadcast Yourself For Real. This may be YouTube's tagline, but it really applies more to Twitter.  As you start sending these messages to update what you are doing right now and gain "followers" - you start to feel like you are broadcasting yourself.  When you're Twittering, you're on the grid and sharing your thoughts and actions real time.
  2. Replace Invasive Instant Messaging. I don't use instant messaging at work, because it is interruptive.  Even when you set your status, you'll often get instant messages that are hard to ignore.  Twitter has the same qualities of instant messaging, without the interruptive qualities.  As a result, it lets you send quick short instant messages to people that they can view and answer when they have a moment.  I found myself quickly using direct tweets the way I might use instant messaging to ask a quick question to one of my contacts.
  3. Build An Entourage Quickly.  With the easy import feature from Gmail and the relatively low barrier for following someone, I was up to more than 70 contacts in my Twitter account within 5 minutes of starting to use the site.  Not bad for a quick payoff, considering how long it would take to build a friends list of that many people for a new user of any other social network like Facebook or Linkedin.  Even better, the vast majority of people who you follow will start following you right away.
  4. Get Satisfaction by Venting. Throughout the week last week I found myself occasionally annoyed at a stupid ad or a flight delay.  I would never "waste" a blog post on these topics most of the time, but found myself twittering them with great satisfaction.  Somehow, just sharing the negative experience of having to walk all the way to the last gate in the B terminal at O'hare made me feel better about it.
  5. Always Find Out What's New.  With Twitter, I knew right away when Matt posted a photo of the guys from our panel at Promo Live, and when Gordon Moore finished his chat at IDF.  The running commentary of the latest news from my contacts was actually really useful and somewhat addictive.  Longer term, at the very least I'll be sending a Twitter update every time I publish a new blog post.
  6. Fills A Gap Left By Blogging. Now that I have gained a few thousand consistent readers, I find myself considering more carefully what I write about.  The people who subscribe to this blog invest their time and expect to find something of use ... and there are often times when I abandon a topic because I don't have a strong point of view about it.  My blog has never been about pointing out things out there without some commentary.  Yet sometimes there is something that is interesting which I would just like to share a link on, but not necessarily write about.  Twitter is the perfect way to share those links and a quick thought without spending a whole blog post on it.
  7. Highly Useful for Live Blogging. There are several events in the past few months that I have had the chance to attend and live blog.  For most, my live blogging consisted of taking notes during sessions, coming up with a point of view and posting a blog post on it.  This is what I did at the CCR event, and the Ogilvy Verge event.  At Intel's IDF and Promo Live, I tried using Twitter for live blogging instead and found it to be really useful because you can get your thoughts out much more quickly, you can really do it real time, and it forces you to focus on capturing the really key points.  I'll be Twittering many of my other upcoming events now as well.
  8. Facilitate Meetups.  When I was heading to a media event after the first day of IDF, I was looking for bloggers to invite to the event.  Luckily Karl from ExperienceCurve spotted me on Twitter and suggested we meet up.  This is one of the earliest benefits that I realized some time ago about Twitter, but it was really nice to see it in action.  Imagine this blown out beyond cities to destinations and you can really visualize the potential power of Twitter.

So what does this all add up to?  For me, Twitter is a compelling platform that can easily become addictive once you start to use it ... a quality that many great sites share.  The marketing opportunity here is super simple:

  1. Start following people that care about what you do
  2. Respond to their messages where appropriate to start dialogue
  3. Send consistent and substantial updates of your own
  4. Use Twitter as a platform to inform your followers of news they might care about

Today the end of my week long experiment, I'll be continuing to use Twitter and I'd suggest you give it a go as well.  Now I need to go and send an update to my group letting them know this post is live ...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How To Find Time To Blog (When It's Not Your Day Job)

The one question I am asked most often by people who are considering starting their own blog or struggling to keep momentum up on a blog they have already created is how to find the time to do it.  If asked for a fast response, I usually mention my two top assets - collectng ideas all the time so I have an archive of things to write about, and writing fast.  Of course, there're more to it than that.  So for all of you who may be struggling to keep a blog going while doing your day jobs - here are a few tips that I have learned which may help.  Blogging can be a time consuming thing

  1. Set a realistic target.  This is the first and most important rule.  Expecting yourself to post every day is not only going to burn you out quickly ... it's probably also going to quickly make you feel like you are failing.  My target is 3 high quality posts per week, and most weeks I can hit that.  The quality is debatable ... but at least I don't have to finish each week feeling blog guilt ...
  2. Let go of your blog guilt. I had a great conversation with John Bell many months ago which I still remember, about the idea of blog guilt.  We both have it, as most other bloggers do.  It's that moment when you realize that you haven't posted for some extended amount of time, and you feel guilty for it.  Even more dangerous is after blog guilt often comes writing paralysis when you are not sure what to write or feel that you should apologize for being absent.  Get over it. 
  3. Figure out where you can be consistent.  Consistency will always be a struggle and there are several ways to deal with it.  One of the most reliable is to create a "feature" or some kind of running style that you use on the same day each week.  For example, post links from your del.icio.us account each friday.  Or highlight an interesting story in the news every monday.  Whatever you choose, thinking in terms of features can help you to keep momentum going and offer your readers something to look forward to.  Kevin does this with his Friday Flickr photos, and Mack also posts his new Top 25 feature every Wednesday on his blog; both are great examples of consistency. 
  4. Collect ideas to eliminate time staring at a blank page. One of my not-so-secret weapons is a simple text file that I keep on the desktop of my computer.  It is always open during the day and anytime I find a new idea for a blog post through something I am working on or reading, I record it down.  I tend to think in terms of headlines, so many of these ideas have headlines written already and a few quick notes about the idea.  When I go to write a blog post, this archive usually has 15-20 ideas for posts that I can refer to in order to start researching or writing.  For me, this list means I never have to sit staring at an empty screen before writing a blog post.
  5. Master the art of half-writing.  When I am travelling, or commuting to work, or using some usual "down time" to write a post, I may not have time to finish it.  About a year ago, I started realizing that writing the first paragraph of a post an then stopping was ok if I just didn't have the time to finish.  This simple change meant that I could free up my time to write when I was inspired and stop when I wasn't.  And it's much easier to write when the idea is fresh.  Finishing it later always takes less time than not starting because you only have a few minutes.  Half writing actually saves you time.
  6. Add the extra stuff later.  Sometimes, the things that take a long time about blogging are not related to the writing itself.  Adding images, putting in links, or adding in metadata can be time consuming and a barrier to starting your posting.  Don't let the extras keep you from writing by forgetting about them and posting your writing "naked" and without those links.  You can always add them later.
  7. Start the dialogue, don't always finish it.  One of the elements that I struggled with on my blog early on was the desire to write a "complete" post.  This meant finding every example, linking to all the relevant sites, and not leaving anything out.  The better way is to start the list, or dialogue and let readers finish it.  Demonstrating that openness is not only a great way to save yourself time and work, it can also foster an interesting dialogue with readers and invite them in to contribute ideas and thoughts to your blog.
  8. Compose the post in your head. This probably sounds much harder than it actually is.  Before I ever start writing, I try to think about the main point of the post and how I am going to get it across.  For this post, it was in a list format.  For others, I might tell a story of a company or organization.  Either way, I usually have the formatting and flow ideas done before I start writing.
  9. Write fast. This is the one thing on my list that is very tough to explain, but the best thing you can do is figure out how to write fast.  Whether this means adopting a less formal language for your blog (as I do), or simply taking a typing course to learn how to type faster.  I wish I had the secret formula for doing this, but the best advice I can offer is to go with trial and error until you find the best way to help yourself write most efficiently.
  10. Use the 25 styles of blogging.  One resource that I always point our clients (or anyone who contacts me for tips on blogging) towards is a presentation I put together several months ago for a contest on Slideshare.  The presentation outlines 25 different styles of blogging, when and how often to use each one, and how difficult each was.  The presentation is a great resource that I refer to myself when I need to think outside my normal styles of blogging or think more broadly about how to post and what to post about.

Taking my own advice, these ten tips are just the beginning.  What are some other tips you would offer to other bloggers about finding the time to blog when they are not getting paid for it?