4 Things I Learned in 2014 to Improve My 2015

I want to talk a little bit about inspiration. Like most people, I find inspiration in the normal places — art, acting, or story telling. You know, the normal stuff.

Where I diverge greatly from the rest is sometimes, in the right setting, when everything is set just right, the littlest things can spark a deluge of creativity.

For me, tiny moments played out in the purest spaces of life create a firestorm of creativity.

I remember years ago I was doing some reading when my eyes fell upon four words that arrested my gaze. The name of the book escapes me. Something in college I think – it doesn’t really matter. What’s clear is how I felt when I saw the worMalcolm X By Any Means Necessaryds in the light of my old cellphone. I recall mouthing the words to myself but I can’t remember for how long.

“…by any means necessary…”

Today I still can’t find a more intensely prodigious phrase.   I can’t for the life of me remember the rest of the sentence or even the context but, again, it’s secondary to the matter.

I found a whole world living in those few words, written originally by Jean Paul Sarte. To the right is a poster with the words appearing on the bottom. This clearly illustrates the gravity of the phrase.

The important thing is that powerful, weighty, simple phrase. By tacking the phrase on a sentence, someone is saying with four simple words they will use any tactics to achieve their goal.  Let me illustrate. Let’s imagine two guys decide they are traveling to Chipotle for dinner. Here’s how they might discuss the situation:

Guy 1: I’m going to Chipotle to get a burrito.

Guy 2: I’m going to Chipotle get a burrito, by any means necessary.

Now here’s the clear difference. The first guy is going to pull into the Chipotle parking lot, find a suitable spot, get out, and thumb through his phone while standing in line 45 minutes for his burrito. While this is happening, Guy No. 2 is going to throw open the doors to the Chipotle, loudly and violently announce his dinner intentions to the entire establishment, and clear a path towards the counter.

Guy No. 1 later upload to YouTube video of Guy No. 2 jumping over the counter and using his bare hands to make a burrito.

I think this illustrates how three simple words can turn one trip to dinner into a completely violent affair.

In 2014, I had a couple moments of great inspiration sparked from simple thoughts that I wanted to share with you. I hope you can find inspiration in these too. Maybe something to inspire your work in 2015.

Just as a note, the following phrases weren’t necessarily written in 2014. It’s just that I found them this year. Sometimes inspirational moments are timeless.

1. Work Your Face Off

Let’s start with two truths right off the bat.

One: The above phrase could inspire a snowman to be a glacier.

Two: No one works harder than Gary Vaynerchuk. But if we were half as passionate about our subject, might be able to.

I first read this phrase and learned about the sommelier and social media behemoth Gary Vaynerchuk in 2011 when I picked Trust Agents for the first time.  I remember being taken aback by the phrase “Work Your Face Off” back then but when I re-read the book this year, it hit me pretty hard. First about Gary Varnerchuk.

Gary is an explosive, high-energy wine expert, who built a social media empire from his self-produced wine video podcast taped in his father’s liquor store in Springfield, NJ. The 1000 episode of his video podcast, entitled Wine Library TV, has over 10,000 views on YouTube. He has written multiple books that have appeared on New York Times Best and is a renowned public speaker on social media, branding building, and e-commerce.

The secret to his success? An unwavering, diligent work ethic and passion for the subject he is addressing. Here’s a quote from Gary:

“Work 9-5, spend a couple hours with your family, 7 to 2 in the morning is plenty of time to do damage.”

There’s a ton of brilliance here. First, kill the distractions – the TV, Facebook, etc. Next, plan your time wisely. Segment your day to dedicate time to the important things like family, the job that keeps you going, and the job that will define you. It’s a simple idea. Those of us that are most successful are those that put the work in. It’s the folks that are working while the rest of us are sleeping.  

But what you begin to realize when you watch Gary’s videos is there’s no secret to his work ethic. He’s just talking about something he’s obviously passionate about so it’s easy. You can imagine Gary literally running to a microphone if it involved an audience and the chance to talk about wine. He loves the subject so it makes sense.

Take Away: Your happiness staying in line with your level of success is directly related to the work you put into your subject and the passion you have for it. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it’s easy to work your face off.

2. Be a Cyborg

In an earlier post, I talked a little about how I took a self-imposed break from social media. Ok, the break was more like seven years but hey, who’s counting?

The first thing I did was search out the people that could help me get up to speed. The great thing about the Internet is for every troll, there’s a well-meaning, just-plain-awesome person out there looking to help. The first one I landed on was Justin Wise.

Aside from being all-around awesome and remarkably inspirational, Justin Wise is a social media strategist from Des Moines, Iowa. Justin started a social media strategy and coaching company called Think Digital. His client list is pretty impressive.

Justin also hosts a regular podcast and one of the first episodes I stumbled upon was Episode 212: Be a Cyborg to Grow Your Audience, co-hosted by Erik Fisher, community manager at Social Media Examiner and all-around awesome guy in his own right.

The really inspiring thing — as relayed by the title — is you can be successful at automating processes as it relates to working smarter and not harder as long as you don’t come off as some kind of robot. The whole idea of using marketing automation tools, whether it be to social media marketing, email blasts, etc., is to make more time for other more important stuff like the big picture ideas or friends and family.

The danger you get into, though, when your automation becomes the conversation and you sound like you are using people to achieve a goal or being fake for the sake of conversation. If you automate too much without thinking it, you come off either sounding like a fake spam twitter account or a sales guy (which is arguably worse).

Take Away: You can make time for important things like friends, family, or big picture ideas by finding the middle ground between automating processes. The danger lies in automating so much you lose the human touch. 

3. Time is Running Out.

If there’s one thing I know is in great abundance, it’s people’s ability to make ridiculous excuses when it comes to doing things they were meant to do. I’m talking about your real path, just in case someone mistakes the previous statement as meaning something about chores or homework.

If there’s one thing I’m sure we’re good at as human beings, it’s that we can make up stupid reasons to get away from what we’re meant to do.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time letting my goals and passions play the part of a ghost in the story of my life. My passion for writing sat with me when I was a reporter in Southern Maryland. I’m pretty sure he was proud of me then.

Then he followed me when I went to work in Washington DC. I could almost feel that ghost trapped outside the couple of office buildings I frequented, waiting to follow me back to the Metro. I wasn’t even really writing in DC — sometimes I was — but it was mostly technical stuff. Still, when that train care pulled away from town all packed with people, I could almost feel that ghost in the crowded car with me, haunting me with poetry, plot lines, and people’s stories.

To be clear, regret is a stone you carry with you that gets heavier as you get older. Especially with passions or the things you truly enjoy, if you’re not doing them, you’ll come to regret it. And for all the times I said there wasn’t time to accomplish what I feel I was really meant to do, there’s one and only one opinion held by some experts on the subject of regret to make you believe otherwise.

Bronnie Ware, Australian author, spent many years working in palliative care, which medical term for end-of-life care. In writing her book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing,” Ware found the thing people regretted most was this:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Nobody ever says to go quit your job – that’s insane. Nobody expects you to drop everything and start sword fighting because you saw it in a movie once and it looked cool.

The point is to take an honest stab at what you do. Or, more importantly, the point is to chip away at the stone of regret you’re carrying around before it’s dragged you down.

Takeaway: There’s no such thing as not having time. It’s not that there’s no time – it’s that time is running out.

4. Actively Pursue Your Goals

I think a lot of things in terms of how they relate to what I want to do and sure – it’s important to realize what you want out of life. I honestly think that admitting to yourself what you really want in life can be somewhat of a milestone in itself.

So let’s say you’ve figured out what you want to do that really matters. Now the fun begins.

You probably know a good number of people that have set goals and failed. I know I do. I have – so many times I can’t count.

That’s because putting the work in is absolutely difficult – especially when it’s not tied to something that directly impacts your life like a job or relationship. That’s why it’s important to remember the first word of that phrase up there. Don’t miss the word “Actively”.

Everyone knows the phrase “Hope is not a strategy,” but if you don’t, you’re welcome. It’s one of the most important things I ever learned and now it’s yours. Tell your friends you discovered it on your own. It’s cool.

The mere hope of achieving something isn’t going to have that goal happen. You need to plan that out. You need to have a strategy. This applies to everything, even things you don’t think about.

I must have heard this phrase a million times from hockey coaches, parents, teachers, everyone. And it didn’t hit me until I read it in a Jeff Haden post on Inc. this year. Sometimes, the simple act of restating a solid truth is enough to get you moving in the right direction.

Do what I’m going to do in 2015. Take a note from Jeff’s book.

Takeaway: Make a plan, get after your goals, enjoy every little victory, and never stop.



Here’s a Thought: Twitter Favorites are Kind of Worthless

The other day I started noticing that one of my blog posts was getting favorited on Twitter a lot. Like everyday a lot. By the same couple of people over and over.

I’ll be honest, this was the first time a post got favorited.

Not going to lie: How I felt getting favorited four days in a row for the same post.

Me, doing Twitter. Courtesy: http://helentrue.com/

I thought to myself, “Huh, Awesome. Someone liked what I did. I’m doing Twitter!”

In hindsight I was 100% right with my unintended Facebook reference of being “liked” and didn’t know it.

The next day the same post got favorited again by the same people. And it happened again the next day. And again. And again. Same people, same post.

It was really their favorite thing and every time I posted it to Twitter, they would remind me how super it was. I began to imagine I — actually my post — was their whole world.

In all seriousness I started to ask – what’s a Twitter favorite really worth? Those favorites I get throughout the day, where’s the value? Is there value?

A ton of way smarter people than me have written about this but I’ve got a blog and time to kill so here we go.

Is There SEO Value in Twitter Favorites?

It’s worth getting out of the way first and foremost that no one can say with 100% certainty what does and does not impact a page’s position in Google.

(Except for Google’s Matt Cutts, who says Twitter Favorites don’t matter in a video at the end of this section. I’m funny.)

Google’s search algorithms are not public knowledge. You can’t just download Google’s code base. You can’t force Google to give up it’s secrets – folks have tried. Man, even Germany tried. And failed.

Even when Google makes updates to its algorithm — Panda, Penguin, most importantly Hummingbird — we only see the effects and make inferences based on how things change. By the way, to read an excellent article about the previous Google updates, head over to this article at Moz.

All that said, it’s hard to imagine favorites having any impact on SEO. Favorites are just like “Likes” on Facebook – it’s someone saying they saw value in what you posted.

They click favorite, you get the notification, and that’s pretty much the end of it. It’s a one-on-one interaction on a network built on interaction with a wide audience. In other words, its kind of weird to begin with.

When someone retweets you, on the other hand, that’s like sharing it with their entire audience. A retweet from a respected authority on Twitter is a big deal. It’s an endorsement. They are sharing your content with all of their followers. That’s the new SEO strategy for sure.

The quote you’ll hear most SEOs use when talking about retweets comes from a 2010 article from Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land called “What Social Signals Do Google & Bing Really Count?” It goes like this:

“Retweets serve as a new form of link building. Get your page mentioned in tweets by authoritative people, and that can help your ranking in regular search results, to a degree.” – Sullivan.

Dr. Peter J. Meyers, a Marketing Scientist at Moz, talked about this too on Moz’s blog.

Meyers on retweets vs. favorites:

“[Retweets] are generally more advantageous indirectly. They expose more people to your tweet, and those people will click through, drive up engagement, and potentially link to you. Eventually, this can have an indirect but very real impact on SEO. It’s unlikely that favoriting has much impact even indirectly, IMO.”

(Find the conversation here).

Here’s Google’s Matt Cutts:

Is There Any Other Value in Twitter Favorites?

In researching this I happened upon an article written by Rebecca Greenfield over at The Atlantic’s Wire (thewire.com) entitled A Complete Guide to the Art of Twitter Favorites. Greenfield’s article delves into such various kinds of favorites like:

  • The Practical Favorite: Some people use the favorite for its most practical purpose — to bookmark tweets for later.
  • The “Fist Bump” or Thank You Favorite: Earlier this year, Twitter noted a rise in favorites on tweets only meant for one other person (i.e., a conversation).
  • The Hate-Fave: On the other, meaner end of the spectrum, we have the “hate-fave,” which The Awl’s Choire Sicha calls “the most perverse thing you can do” to someone totally awful, as he told The Journal‘s Rosman.
  • The Practical Hate-Fave: “I fave to remember to make fun of something later,” explains The Atlantic Wire’s Elspeth Reeve, who uses this hybrid of both the practical and hate-fave methods.

The list goes on. Important note, the above stuff is her words, not mine. I, nor even the Onion, could come up with this kind of stuff.

definition of favoriteI’m just going to go out on a limb and say this is reading way, way too much into something that means just about nothing at all. A Twitter favorite makes sense to two people: The person who favorited the tweet and the person who received the favorite. You’d literally have to let a third person know the incident happened and at that point, you should probably just go ahead and retweet it.

I like the idea of keeping Twitter Favorites special – like a high-five. When Twitter redesigned it’s profile, Kevan Lee over at BufferSocial wrote a 5 Tips to Optimize Your New Twitter Profile. It’s a pretty great read. Check out No.5 on the post for more on making Twitter favorites special.

Still, on a social network where the point is to engage your audience, build a network, learn, teach, and connect it seems kind of silly to favorite something.imgres

Plus, and now I’m just being cranky, the word favorite by it’s very definition lends itself to either describing something (adjective) or identify a person, place or thing (noun) that is singular. It’s one thing. Your favorite car, sports team, bubble gum. Not a wide array of things.

You just can’t have more than one favorite thing in a class of things – constant bickering with childhood friends over who was the favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle taught me that. You could have one favorite and one favorite alone.

If you can have favorites, well that’s confusing. I don’t see much social value past the value you put into it but even then, it’s just marking tweets to help you keep organized.

Spammers Use Favorites to Gain Followers

To make matters worse, Twitter spammers favorite tweets just to gain followers with no intention of following you back. Read more about that here. Careful who you follow.

, owner of Bossa Nova Interactive, a digital marketing, web design and local seo company in Hampton Roads, VA., wrote a really great blog post about “auto-favoriting” as a strategy and how it’s… not great.

The story goes like this: Malcom posted the following tweet:

Tweet example from Bossanovainteractive

Exhibit A

And minutes later, the tweet was favorited by four people Malcom didn’t know.

Huh? Wait, in what world does that happen? Anywhere?

Let’s imagine you’re at a bar and randomly say to absolutely no one, “Man, sure is hot in here.”

Immediately after, four or five people you’ve never met in your life walk up to you, pat you on the back, and compliment you on your impromptu climate assessment. You’d think you were the subject of a hidden camera show, right?

Let’s also point out here as he did in his original blog post that this is all going down around 9PM. I know a ton of folks that work late into the night but four people favoriting a post right in a row?

So this is obviously some automatic favoriting mechanism built to target certain tweets. The process gets kicked off anytime someone uses a hashtag or string of words. It’s dishonest stuff.

Now, I’m all for marketing automation. We need to get more done in a short amount of time so we can do the important stuff like figure out how a Raspberry Pi works or play with your kids. I use Buffer, for example, to automate tweets on a schedule. It’s awesome.

But there’s a clear difference between marketing automation and building an inflated Twitter following through sleazy, fake tactics like spam-favoriting. And it’s quite another thing all together to pay someone to favorite-spam people.

For a one-hour conversation on this that is totally worthwhile, check out Justin Wise’s podcast and listen to show #212 BE A CYBORG TO GROW YOUR AUDIENCE.

Like Malcom points out, spam-favoriting is a play on people’s ego. It’s meant to make you feel good about your work, and convince you to follow them. The follow is rarely reciprocated and it’s probably for the better. These accounts often try to do a good job looking human by posting inspirational quotes and such but end up just trying to sell you something.

Social media is a tough business – it takes a good long while to build a worthwhile following. If you gain a ton of followers in a short term, it’s unlikely you did it the right way and extremely unlikely it will result in success. This kind of black-hat tactic is right up there with buying lists for email marketing.

By the way, there’s an awesome book called Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust that spends a bunch of time talking about why this kind of stuff is bad news. Check it out. I found it on Half.com a while ago for 65 cents.

In short, favorites aren’t all that useful. If someone favorites your post, you almost have to ask why they didn’t just really show how much they liked it by sharing it with their followers. If it was a favorite tweet, doesn’t it deserve a follow or at least a retweet? Kind of devalues the word favorite, right?

Twitter favorites are just a social courtesy nod – no more, no less. Instead of focusing on favorites — or even retweets — just do your best to create compelling, creative, relevant content.

As always, if you’re trying to game the system, you’re doing it wrong.

Just as a P.S., for an exhaustive read on how Twitter, Facebook, and other social interactions impact SEO, check out Your Guide to Social Signals for SEO

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