7 Things That Blogging Does

Seven years ago (2003), I posted my first Blog post here. The day would have slipped by had someone not sent me a note about it.

After tweeting about my Blogaversary, Jay Fleischman, replied: "@mitchjoel 6.18 posts/wk for 7 yrs. Take out 1 for the podcast and you’re at 5.18; 400 words ea = 2,072 words/wk. 754,208 words total. Nice." my newspaper column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun (which will be cross-posted here tomorrow) is all about the future of Blogging. That being said, after 7 years and 2251 Blog posts, I have learned some very important lessons about the value of Blogging when I think back.

7 Important Lessons About Blogging:

  1. Blogging = Critical Thinking. If everything else went away (the readers, the comments, the community, the feedback), Blogging was (and still is) an amazing place to think about an issue or news item and work through it. I liken myself as a Media Hacker. A Blog is a great place for anyone to be a Hacker of whatever it is that they love. If you don’t believe me, then just watch this: Blogging Still Matters… Now More Than Ever.
  2. Blogging = Ideation. In using your Blog as a platform for your critical thinking, you will quickly start uncovering new and interesting business models and ideas for how you can push your industry forward or how it can/should be thinking differently. Writing a Blog, reading the comments and feedbacking into them is the ultimate Petri dish for ideation and innovation.
  3. Blogging = Tinkering. The ideas and critical thinking are not always one hundred percent final. Blogging allows you to tinker with ideas. To work at them (like a complex mathematical formula). Slowly, over time, you start realizing how wrong you were, how visionary you were and how much further you still have to go.
  4. Blogging = Relationships. It’s not about sitting in the dark recesses of your basement as you tinker away with words and thoughts. It’s about using this platform to connect. It’s about real interactions with real human beings. Some of my best friends are people that I would not have otherwise met were it not for Six Pixels of Separation (the Blog, not the concept). If you Blog, step out into the physical world. Meet other Bloggers. Share, learn and collaborate with them.
  5. Blogging = Business. Make no mistake about it. This Blog started out as a means for Twist Image to tell the world how we think differently about Media, Marketing, Advertising and Communications. Over the years, this has attracted many world-class clients, speaking engagements, a book offer and many other amazing and interesting business opportunities. So, while this is not a place where Twist Image shills its wares, it is a place that is directly tied to our overall business objectives/strategy. It consistently delivers a very solid ROI to our bottom line (take that, you Social Media measurement naysayers!).
  6. Blogging = Sharing. As each day passes, I like Charlene Li‘s latest book, Open Leadership, more and more (her first book, Groundswell rocks as well). Many people think that Social Media is all about the conversation and engaging in the conversation. I believe what makes any media "social" is the ability to share it. To help you to open up. Not only can you share the concepts by telling your peers and friend about a Blog, but everybody shares in the insights as well (whether you work for my company or not). It has changed/evolved our corporate culture. A Blog makes you think more about how you can share your content, your thoughts and why others may want to work/connect to you.
  7. Blogging = Exhaust Valve. A great Blog is great because the Blogger actually cares and loves to create content. If it’s forced, if it’s your "job," then the passion rarely comes through. The biggest lesson I have learned in my seven years of Blogging is that this Blog is my exhaust valve. After working a full day with clients and their many challenges, this Blog is my playground. It’s the place where I can let off some textual steam. Make your Blog your exhaust valve. Caution: be careful that you’re not Blogging simply to blow off angry steam. The steam and exhaust I am talking about is the pent up energy of passion that I have from doing what I love to do.

What does Blogging equal for you?

When The Web Is Considered An Inferior Media

Going back a few years, the Internet was not considered a credible media source. That changed, but it’s changing again.

In the early days of online publishing (even pre-Blogging) the simple fact that any one individual could publish their text, images, audio and video online created a major stir within the major mass media outlets. In fact, their only defense in trying to maintain control over what the public consumed was to scare the world with stories of online publishers not living up to the journalistic integrity that we have come to expect from our news and media outlets. To this day, there are still traces of this (look no further than the articles covering the accuracy of Wikipedia entries).

Can the Bloggers be trusted?

It’s a powerful thing to say, but we’ve come to learn that the vast majority of Blogs (and the Bloggers who publish them) are overly transparent about who they are, what they’re Blogging about and where their intention is (those who are transparent gain credibility, conversation and audience). On top of that, the Bloggers that do not disclose things like conflicts or when they are being compensated are becoming easier and easier to spot.

…But things are starting to get ugly again.

Yesterday, Paid Content, ran a news item titled, Condé Nast Enlists Web Edit Staff For Samsung Advertorial. Here’s the gist of it: Condé Nast is attempting to protect the traditional wall separating advertising from print editorial by having online-only staffers create an ad insert for Samsung… the use of web staffers was seen as a compromise and a way to avoid clashing with print editors who were considered averse to allowing their own staff work on an ad product.”

Either you’re believing in this digital content stuff or you’re not. You can’t be half-pregnant.

There are a couple of factors at play here:

  1. Making a differentiation between print and online journalism (in terms of quality and value) is downright silly.
  2. By allowing the online-only staff to do the advertorial content, this activity diminishes their ability to be considered credible (today and tomorrow).
  3. The overall action creates a bad moral compass for the company’s ethics of journalism at a macro level (it’s sounds like they’re looking for some kind of ethical loophole).

The Web is not an inferior media.

The sooner that brands, advertisers and publishers stop treating the Internet like the red-headed step child of the media and marketing mix, the sooner they’re going to be able to better understand how they can connect and build their brand in this new world where consumers are connected, looking for real interactions between real human beings and are, ultimately, not just a passive audience, but active participants, voices and community members. Publishers aren’t the only publishers anymore. People are now also publishers and brands (and Marketers) are publishers too. So, we need to change our code of ethics around editorial content and advertising, and not just look for loopholes and ways to capitulate.

What do you think?

The White Canvas

We all have the same opportunities. We all have the same channels. We all have access to the same people. It’s what we do with them that matters most.

Like an artist, all of our collective canvases start off as a white, blank space. It can be the blank screen of your Blog writing platform, it can be a empty Twitter box waiting for you to answer the question, "What’s happening?", it can be a hot microphone just waiting for you to rant and publish a Podcast with, or it can be the moment before you flip on your Flip video cam. How you fill your space is going to determine your level of success (and whatever "success" means to you).

It’s not easy.

Yes, anyone can publish their thoughts in text, images, audio and/or video almost instantly (and for free) to the world, but it doesn’t mean that everybody is going to be great (or memorable) at it. Some take their time and labour over every single thought, while others seem to be able to constantly (and consistently) publish something of quality with very little preparation as it rolls off their tongues. The talented ones really do have something special going on. The talented ones have the ability to be interesting.

Be interesting.

A lot of the online conversation is about how much one should talk about themselves versus providing valuable content to the community they are trying to build. Some people think there is some kind of mathematical formula to how many times you can talk about yourself versus simply publishing something that adds value to someone else’s life. None of that matters. All you have to do is be interesting.

It’s not easy to do.

Saying, "it’s not easy to be interesting" is actually a very complex thought. Afterall, if the real power of Social Media – and all of these publishing platforms – is to share who you really are and then no one connects with what you’re doing, does that mean you’re not interesting? Alternatively, if you have to really think about it and be calculated in what you’re publishing to try to be interesting, what’s the point?

People who are interesting often don’t think too much about it. They just are.

That’s the real secret: not everyone is interesting (sorry). Some people are more interesting than others (it’s true). Some people are super-successful, while other people will struggle their whole lives (sadly). It’s what makes us individuals, and it’s what makes us the society we are (for better or for worse), but in the end, we all do have this amazing new, white, blank canvas to explore and discover. It’s something we’ve never had before, and it’s something we should celebrate.

Don’t worry about monetization. Don’t worry about community. Don’t worry about your traffic. Focus on being interesting. Focus on bringing that white canvas to life.

Tags: artist be interesting blog community flip video interesting monetization online conversation personal brand podcast publishing publishing platform social media success traffic twitter white canvas

10 Reasons Small Businesses Need a WordPress Website

Having spent over five hours writing Web content changes into a Word doc in order to send to the client’s Web designer, I realized that WordPress is one of those “best kept secrets” that businesses need to know.

Many people know of WordPress as being a blogging platform, but few realize you can use it for your company Website as well. I’ve come up with 10 reasons why small business owners and marketers should consider a WordPress Website.

1. It’s easy to make changes — Typos, SEO tweaks, copy changes, all are easy to do. Just open a page, make a change, and you’re done. No more sending Word docs to designers or trying to do it yourself using complex programs such as Dreamweaver.

2. You can find a plugin for just about anything — Want breadcrumb navigation? There’s a plugin for that. Want to allow people to view your most popular blog posts or retweet them? You can find plugins for those functions as well.

3. You can incorporate your blog — Instead of maintaining two sites, you can add your blog to your Website and in the process, send all that really lovely traffic to one site. Woot!

4. You can incorporate your newsletter — One thing I struggled with for a long time is newsletter html redundancy. Not only did I have to produce code for the Constant Contact interface (xhmtl, to be exact) but I had to produce html code for the Website in order to archive each issue. It was a total pain in the butt and cost money, too.

Thanks to WordPress, I can now easily add each issue to my site and in the process, my newsletter archive page is updated automatically. Even better, people can now leave comments on each issue versus having to email me.

5. You can make SEO tweaks on the fly — Using the All in One SEO Pack plugin, it’s really easy to develop Title and meta tags, plus the plugin tells you the character count of each. Previous to WordPress, I had to write my Title and meta tags in Word and then use the “word count” feature to determine the character count.

When you want to make minor changes to a tag, you open the page and make them. Presto, you’re done.

6. It’s easy to add new pages — Once you have your Website template in place, it’s super easy to make new pages and post them to to your site — an important consideration now that we’re all content creators / publishers.

7. It’s easy to add video — As Matt Cutts of Google stated, the search engine is looking to see if sites now incorporate video. WordPress makes is very easy to add video clips.

8. Your site is smart-phone friendly — WordPress sites render really well on iPhones, Android and other smart phone devices.

9. You save time — Instead of back and forth, back and forth between multiple people over email, you can create a page in WordPress and have people view it and/or edit it in “Draft” mode.

10. You save money — You can make lots of simple changes on your own in a quarter of the time. (For more advance changes, I do call on my WordPress designer. I also use him for help with plugins as some of them can get a little tricky.)

Can you think of other reasons why small business owners and marketers need a WordPress-enabled Website?

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How Social Is Too Social?

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Imagine walking up to an ATM — you insert your card and begin to check your balance before you put in the amount of cash you want to withdraw from the machine. As you do this, a small crowd of people begins to form around you peering over your shoulder. Some are friends, some family, some are casual acquaintances and some you don’t even know. Uncomfortable situation? Absolutely. While ATMs are in public settings, they are meant to be private interactions. If someone — even someone you know began to involve themselves with your financial activity you would get annoyed.

While this scenario is extreme, it seems to suggest that maybe not everything is better with friends, despite the fact this seems to be the approach, so far, of social networking services. Over the past few weeks the technology world made big steps forward in making your world even more "social." Google Buzz was introduced and caused a firestorm of mixed reactions as it automatically connected people to their e-mail contacts publicly, without asking permission. Buzz also socializes other services, such as Reader, so others can follow what what you read. In short, it takes your experience with Google products and turns it into another social ecosystem to manage. Shortly after, Microsoft (disclaimer: an Edelman client) introduced Outlook Social Connector which will connect Outlook with existing platforms such as Linked In.

While both efforts are different in their approach (Google Buzz could be viewed as a competitor to Facebook and Twitter while Outlook Social Connector looks to extend Outlook’s capabilities), they signify a larger trend that points toward the "socialization" of our activities. And this is an important trend. Some things are indeed made better when social. For example, one of my favorite networks is Slideshare, which "socializes" presentations and documents. I believe that this service and others like it are chipping away at "information hoarding" and breaking down some of the taboos about intellectual property. It’s disruption, but disruption that can be beneficial to both businesses and individuals.

But not everything should be social, as some Google users have found out. Liza Sperling who works for Scout Labs, a social media monitoring company recently tweeted: "Help, suddenly tons of strangers following my GReader! I used to love GReader, until Buzz killed it." She’s not alone. Scores of people have expressed frustration with finding and disabling some of the social features, which resulted in an apology from Google over privacy issues.

Let’s be clear. This isn’t a technological issue. It’s an anthropological one. Businesses that are looking to benefit from social technologies are going to need better and more intimate understandings of the people and cultures of those they hope will leverage their services.

The good news is that that while a counter-trend may be brewing that points toward "social overload" — companies that are agile like Google (and Facebook and others) can help us figure our threshold for how much we want to share and who benefits from it. The current hypothesis that everything is better with "friends" is being tested before our eyes. Each market in different parts of the globe may respond to this hypothesis differently. But the truth that’s becoming easier to see is that some things aren’t meant to be social (think e-mail and one to one messaging). Understanding this thinking will probably make the social web even better. As social technologies progress, valuable and meaningful engagementswill become more important than just connecting with friends.

The Hardest Part Of Social Media

Some people can’t handle how much content there is out there. Others are scared to open up because of what people might say about their products and services. Then there are those who simply think all of this Social Media stuff is just a fad.

There are a million excuses as to why companies don’t engage in these online channels, and the line starts behind the ROI (Return On Investment). In the end, every argument in the world is not going to change the fact that consumers have never been more connected to information and to one another, and that’s not going to change. The platforms may evolve. We may all become more mobile with our digital usage, but the technology is going to keep getting faster and easier to use. Regardless of us not being able to keep pace with the changes from a business perspective, even those who are highly engaged rarely talk about what is, ultimately, the hardest part of Social Media…

The commitment.

Many businesses get attracted by the latest shiny object (from Blogging and Podcasting to iPhone apps and Twitter), but fail to realize the commitment – in time, effort and output – that makes for successful programs and initiatives. To this day, many clients are looking for ways to use Social Media to "add 50,000 people to our database in the next four month" or "lead the conversation about our brand in the next year." There is no pixie dust and there is no magic formula.

Hard work alone is not even enough.

You can work hard, you can post often, you follow everyone who is following you, you can use all of the Social Media monitoring tools out there, you can upload the coolest videos and you can keep on rattling off activities to add to this list, but all will fail unless you (and the team backing you up) are truly committed to creating, engaging and being a part of these very real interactions for a very long time to come.

The truth is there may not be a finish line.

The question should not be: "when do you find the time for all of us this stuff?"because if you truly are committed to being successful, you will always find the time for the things that are important to you (and your success). The commitment is not easy. There are days when you will question why you ever ventured down this road in the first place, and then there will be days when you’ll be smiling at the amazing opportunities that have come your way, while your competitors are still asking the same question that opened up this last paragraph.

If you’re going to do any of this stuff, please take the time to really focus on what your commitment is going to be, and how dedicated you will be to staying the course for the long haul.

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