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What My Kid Taught Me About Being a Better Adult 

This summer I got the chance to take my kid to Kennywood Park, an iconic, All-American amusement park just outside of Pittsburgh.

A lot has changed about the park over the years. Some of the older rides are gone, making way for newer, faster, more thrilling experiences. The park is a little bigger these days. And sure, everything is way more expensive than I remember from previous visits growing up in the area.

Still, the place has retained enough of its character to create a strong impression on someone, especially a young kid. There’s a constant buzz of excitement in the air that hits you the moment you enter the park. The place has a unique, unmistakable smell — a mixture of cotton candy, Potato Patch fries, flowers from the park’s gardens and axle grease on the roller coaster’s rails.

I was standing with my son in line for Noah’s Ark, a great old funhouse-style walkthrough attraction for perhaps the ninth time that day when I witnessed something really amazing.

As little boys tend to do in a slow-moving line, mine writhed, shimmied, bobbed and swung on the end of my arm. Just ahead of us in line, another little boy roughly my son’s age was similarly attached to a father of his own and squirming just as much. And all at once, the boys saw each other and stopped.

“I like your face paint,” my son says, complimenting the little boy’s Hulk makeup with great and genuine excitement.

“Thanks, I like yours too,” the boy ahead replied, praising my kid’s Spiderman makeup.

The conversation rolls on for a good 10 minutes, these two learning about each other, until they’ve got a bunch of the important stuff figured out like names and hometowns and more stuff about Super Heroes that goes over my head.

And then we’re crowding into the beginning of the funhouse and the lights go down. The boys are standing next to each other, when my son’s new buddy says, “Here we go.” My kid responds in a curt affirmative, the experienced response of someone who’s been on the thing half a dozen times.

Throughout the experience, the boy and his dad are ahead of us, but the little boy is urging his dad to “wait, let them catch up.” When we walk out into the light after it’s all over, my kid is waving goodbye to his new friend, someone there’s no chance he’ll ever see again, and I find myself strangely sad the whole experience is over.

For whatever reason, I think a lot about this brief summer moment.

I think about a total stranger opening a conversation with another equally total stranger in a positive manner. I think about how such a moment started between two strangers and the words “I like your…”

I think about how the boys had nothing to gain from each other and still remained so friendly. I think about how it played out and find it pretty odd that both the adults involved — us two dads — treated the kind and friendly exchange as strange.

I think there’s a lot everyone can learn from the way kids talk to each other and how it can apply to how we can treat people we don’t know. We can have a real, genuine interest in people. We can make friends and have those friendships benefit us as adults. We can rethink strangers and recognize them for what they are — people, just like us.

If we apply some of these childlike principles to our daily lives, it could make us all better adults.

We Can Take Genuine Interest in Other People

When I think about the first thing came out of my kid’s mouth when he addressed a total stranger, I get hung up on the fact that it was complimentary. He could’ve said nothing at all or complained of how long the wait was for the ride. Instead, he saw someone like him and saw something he felt compelled to tell him.

My son’s genuine interest in the other boy’s face paint was so strong that he needed to tell him — even if he was a total stranger.

There are some adults that have this genuine interest thing down, too. My cousin Keith, a teacher in Grand Rapids, MI, is one of them.

Aside from being an amazing teacher, he’s an expert conversationalist, and in addition to listening intently to each and every word he hears from someone, he expresses real interest in the words they use.

Keith is the kind of person that should deliver every piece of bad news ever. If he was to tell you that the Apocalypse was imminent, you’d probably think, “Huh, you know, that actually doesn’t sound all that bad.”

Having a conversation with Keith is like being interviewed by a reporter who believes he is writing a feature story about the best person in the entire world.

It’s only after the conversation has ended that you realize just how little you know about Keith, which means you spent 90% of the conversation revealing details about yourself. To be clear, he could’ve been the best salesperson in Michigan — perhaps the country — but his calling was teaching so there he went.

Talking to people is an art form for Keith, but it’s not because he’s trying to sell you something. Keith cares about people. He takes an intense interest in people and genuinely enjoys getting to know them, which has translated into a huge group of loyal friends and close, reliable professional contacts.

In his 1929 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie spent a good bit of time talking about the important of taking a genuine interest in people and how it relates to being successful.

Whether you’re meeting people for the first time or catching up with your best friend, these are tips you can use to make sure you’re being a better human being.

Make Sure Your Greeting is Memorable

Plastering a smile on your face, however impossible it might seem sometimes, is the first step in making sure your meeting is enjoyable with someone. In Carnegie’s book, he says you “must have a good time meeting people if you expect them to have a good time meeting you.”

Use (and Remember) the Person’s Name

A name is vital to someone and remembering that name is critical in business, social settings, wherever. Forgetting someone’s name is akin to saying they aren’t worth remembering in the first place. If you need help, check out this really useful article.

Listen with Genuine Interest

Imagine this: You’re at a party and you meet someone for the first time who is a friend of a friend. You get to talking and eventually stumble upon that fact that you both share an interest in some obscure movie. Or maybe you both like some rare album or cutting-edge TV show.

What happens? You point at each other and start freaking out. You smile so wide it hurts and say, “Oh my God, I thought I was the only one!” When we take genuine interest in people — in the things they enjoy — it puts a lot of points on the plus side of our “likeability” chart.

Ask Questions


A really great way to let the person you’re talking to know you’re interested (and to keep the air out of the conversation) is to ask questions. It gives you a foothold in the exchange — something to build from — and keeps the other person talking.

Offer Genuine Compliments

Everyone likes to be praised for what they do, so do it often. Let people know the things you like about them, whether it’s something they do or something they’ve accomplished.

We Can Make Real Friends and Have Real Friendships

I have 1,347 connections on LinkedIn — a low number relative to the company I keep. When it comes to true friends, however, I only need to count on one hand and I can come up with the number.

Every year around Memorial Day, we all get together and hang out in Somerset County, just outside of Pittsburgh. In the summer, we get all head down to Deep Creek, MD, and spend a week together. Most of us have kids now so they play together. My few pals that are single enjoy it all as well. I feel pretty lucky to have those friends and wouldn’t trade them for all of my LinkedIn connections, with the exceptions of buddies who are also linked up with me.

But what is it about having friends that is so important?

Huffington Post columnist, noted psychologist, and published author Susan Krauss Whitbourne writes a lot about friendship and why it’s important. She says as kids, having friends helps us start our learning process and as teens, it helps us shape our romantic bonds later in life. But Krauss Whitbourne points out some pretty significant upsides to having friends as adults.

  • Friends can give you a reality check.
  • You’re less lonely when you have friends.
  • Friends can help you define your priorities.

In his book Transform, Jeff Haden talks a lot about happiness. He points out pretty well the things that make us unhappy as well, in vivid, arresting detail. One of the things he says that leads to unhappiness is that “we have no one to call at 3 a.m.”

Thinking about that kind of statement and finding it to be true can be a pretty depressing thought. Conversely, it can be really satisfying to have piece of mind that someone will pick up the phone in the middle of the night if things get really bad.

Haden points to insecurity as the armor that shields us from having real friends and, consequently, makes us lonely. Insecurities are learned as we get older, so as kids it’s pretty easy to make friends — just like my kid did with his buddy in line for the funhouse.

Just think about the friendships we could make if we cut the insecurities out of our lives.

We Can Learn to Not Be So Afraid of Strangers

Doing conferences is pretty brutal and the one I was doing about three months ago in Cleveland was no different.

I was standing outside the city’s main conference center after a pretty long day on the show floor. My throat was the kind of dry and scratchy you get from talking to people non-stop for eight hours. I was parked three blocks away and had my booth in its case by my side. I was not looking forward to the walk to the parking garage, let alone the three-hour drive home.

I was tired and I don’t mind saying a bit cranky. Standing next to me was Mark Meisel, a colleague of mine and, at that moment, the polar opposite of my bad mood.

Mark makes his living in sales, but the thing you need to know about him is he makes friends everywhere he goes. Mark is easily the most popular guy anywhere he goes — industry conference, restaurant, dentist’s office. Mark has a way of pulling you into a conversation and capturing your imagination. At conferences, he’s the guy who everyone can’t wait to see. He fills the booth with smiling customers and keeps everyone laughing.

In fact, Mark creates this kind of company wherever he goes. It’s a thing of beauty and not everyone can do it, but Mark certainly can.

So we’re standing outside the conference center and guy in a business suit crosses our path. He’s obviously heading home from a long day at work.

“Hey, how’s it going?” Mark pipes up.

“Not to bad, how about yourself?” the stranger said flatly, slowing his walk and gazing back.

“Looking forward to relaxing after a long day,” Mark says after him.

“You and me both,” the stranger says. At this point, the guy has stopped and is turned to us, smiling wide. “Going to enjoy a cold beverage.”

“Ah man, that sounds amazing,” Mark says. “You have yourself a lovely afternoon.”

“You too,” the stranger says.

Now, this entire exchange between two strangers was wholly unnecessary. It could’ve been avoided altogether if both Mark and the stranger had, as we nearly always do, stared hard into the concrete in front of us and minded our own business. Mark never had to say anything to the man and, in nearly any situation, the guy probably wouldn’t waste a breath on a stranger.

Still, the eight-sentence exchange made the three of us smile and everyone felt better from experience. I don’t remember what the stranger looked like exactly, but the experience was memorable enough that I talk about it today.

The strange thing about the experience is normally we’re convinced that talking to strangers is something we should avoid. From a very early age, we’re taught not to talk to strangers and that makes total sense because children are vulnerable.

But when that blanket idea pervades someone’s adulthood, it can be damaging. We distrust strangers — nearly all of them — to the point where we avoid meeting new people. For whatever reason, we avoid eye contact with strangers and in no way will we engage someone we don’t know in conversation.

The common-sense security that keeps the car doors locked, windows latched, and doors dead-bolted pervades our adults lives, workplaces and social settings, forcing us to bottle up our interactions with others.

Kids will connect with kids for nearly any reason, including something as simple as a vague shared interest. They’ll start a conversation and moments later are friends.

We don’t necessarily have to greet every person we see on the street — that could lead to disaster. But we could certainly be a little less cold to each other, perhaps if only to create a memory that will last. Or, at the very least, we can brighten someone’s day.

I think back a lot on the moment in line with my kid. I’m happy to have witnessed a moment like that in being a dad.

I think what sticks with me the most, though, is how the adults in that situation — myself and the other dad — just shook our heads at the whole affair. It seems disappointing now that we just couldn’t understand what was happening and treated it like something out of the ordinary. And I think about how as they gets older, our sons will grow to distrust one another and avoid trying to connect with each other so easily.

I think about how lucky my kid would be to retain some of those traits that made it so easy to make a quick friend on a warm summer day. I think about how much better we could be if we all tried to be a little like that.

Ian Blyth writes at ianblyth.com/blog, which is appropriate.

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The Biggest Secret for a Webinar That Wins

Webinar key on the computer keyboard, three-dimensional rendering

So you’ve decided to do a webinar. First of all, congratulations. Nice choice. It’s a great way to get a message across to your audience.

When it comes to webinars, you can pick virtually any topic and pull off a great show with a powerful slide deck, a great presenter, and a decent platform.

Webinars are a very attractive alternative to live events. There’s no room to book or food to order. Your participants can catch the presentation online so there’s no travel involved.

Your audience can watch your presentation live from wherever they are without leaving their desk. You’re bringing the show to them.

If you plan well enough and record the experience, you’ll have a piece of collateral you can use over and over for lead generation. If your audience can’t make the live version, they can watch it on-demand from your website.

That’s why it’s important to remember the most important aspect of a webinar:

Make Sure Your Webinar Is Valuable and Relevant to Your Audience

The secret to having a well-attended webinar is made of two parts — a valuable, worthwhile presentation directed at the right audience. One without the other will produce lackluster results and an utter lack of both is a recipe for disaster.

To be clear, if the webinar is valuable and directed to the right people, they’ll probably attend.

Content marketing is all about delivering valuable content that is relevant to your audience on a consistent basis. Delivering a webinar is a form of content marketing, so providing a presentation that is valuable and relevant is critical.

Simple Strategies for Winning Webinars

Teach Your Audience Something New

One of the best examples of this comes from Mark LaCour, owner of modalpoint, a company that specializes in helping organizations sell their products to the oil and gas industry. LaCour is a heavy hitter in terms of thought leadership and an expert in his field.

But it’s the first thing he says at the beginning of each and every video that makes a ton of sense.

“Hey everybody, let’s learn something new about the oil and gas industry.”

This guy has it figured out. There’s a lot digital marketers can learn about holding a webinar from LaCour.

Regardless of the subject, LaCour makes sure to get the video off on the right foot.

First, he positions himself as the teacher so immediately you’re in the position of the student. Class is in session — you’ve got my attention. Second, we’re learning something so I’m not in a position to buy something — this guy is going to help me by teaching me something new. Coming from a position of helping and not selling makes for a pretty comfortable experience. And then I’m watching seven or eight videos before I know what happened.

The point is, a really good webinar teaches the audience something they didn’t know.

If your subject is blogging, considering doing a how-to webinar on all the ways to pull off a blog for free. If automobile repair is your thing, do a step-by-step webinar about changing the oil. Do a webinar on balancing a checkbook. You’d be surprised what people don’t know.

Share Valuable Experience with Your Colleagues

Apart from the networking aspect of LinkedIn, one of the most sought-after aspects of the social media platform is subject matter expertise. In other words, people in your industry want to learn how to do things (and do things better).

Even for the most specialized professions, no job is without its repetition. People amass dozen of tips and tricks in their work that would benefit people just like them in other positions. Share your knowledge!

Leverage Your Customer’s Story

One of the most powerful webinars can be a thorough case study presented by your customer. A company’s story sounds so much better when told by someone outside of the organization.

A customer who is willing to grab the microphone and talk about the great work you did is a powerful ally. Adding a customer as a presenter and placing their company’s logo on the invite is a great way of getting people to register for the webinar.

For some, just saying that the success of a content marketing venture is dependent on its relevance or value is strange. Telling a digital marketer they need to provide value in a webinar might leave them scratching their head.

Who would send a no-value webinar invite to a group of people that couldn’t care less? Where in the world does this happen?

It happens all the time — with alarming regularity — and for good and bad reasons.

There’s a Good Reason Bad Webinars Happen

To be clear, it’s easy to hold a bad webinar. It’s simple to put together a bland pitch for what will eventually be an equally boring webinar. Digital marketers do it every day in all industries. Junk mail folders are filled with invites to poorly planned webinars.

It’s tough to place blame for these webinars occurring because, more often than not, the culprit is complex content.

Conveying even the simplest ideas is sometimes a frustrating, perhaps maddening, in extreme cases throw-a-chair-across-the-room angry affair. Now imagine you’re cooking up an invite for something you have no background in.

Sometimes, and especially in small businesses, it’s just a lack of resources or expertise on the side of the marketer that leads to webinars with no teeth.

In industries where the most mundane aspects of the business can be incredibly complex, it’s not difficult see how compelling, razor-sharp ideas get filed down by someone’s lack of understanding until they become bland presentations.

Even if the people marketing the webinar have a strong grasp on the source material it’s easy to see how webinars come off as boring or simple. After all, it’s tough to be witty, dangerous, or cool with your marketing lingo when you’re trying write around a tough subjects like health care, residential construction, or banking.

There’s an easy fix for this situation and it comes from teamwork.

In 90% of these cases, there’s a two-person team tackling the webinar — the subject matter expert serving as the presenter and the marketing person working to get folks in the door.

To avoid a bad webinar, the marketing side of the team doesn’t need to be on the same level of intelligence as the presenter or even understand the content.

The role of the marketer in a webinar team is to be a strong advocate for what is best for the webinar. The markets needs to make sure the webinar presents real value to the attendees and the selected audience needs to be appropriate for the subject matter.

A good strategy for putting together a great invite on a complex subject is to have an expert explain it in such a way that a child would understand it. The clearer the message the better — and the more your audience will appreciate the simple message.

There’s a Bad Reason Bad Webinars Happen

The scourge of all webinars — perhaps all content marketing — is the straight-up sales pitch. The reasoning all comes back to the idea that, by definition, content marketing needs to be valuable and relevant to the audience.

A sales pitch is hardly ever valuable to anyone, unless there’s a compelling reason to buy. A sales pitch as a webinar title and content is a recipe for disaster.

Now, it’s worth backing up a bit and making one thing abundantly clear, which is that we’re all here in the pursuit of the sale. The lead generation, advertising, public relations, marketing — all of it is in an effort to sell something.

Selling a product or services — that’s the end game. It’s the bottom line.

And that’s fine, even digital marketing purists will agree to that.

Still, the Internet has changed the world in such a large way. It’s certainly shifted the scales in the favor of the consumer and changed how they form opinions on “brand.”

While the term gets tossed around an awful lot, brand, as it pertains marketing, deals mostly with the emotional and psychological relationship between a company and its consumers. If you feel strongly toward one product over another, it’s your brand. You have a tight emotional relationship with it. You trust the company.

However, someone’s trust in your organization in the digital age is no longer just about the post-sale things like a warranty or the promise of “will you be there for me tomorrow.” A customer’s trust is being formed so much sooner, or at least, far before the sale is finalized.

Ideas about your organization are being formed well before people become customers. In the past, a brand impression was built mainly from the experiences of owning the product or experience a service, whereas a person’s impressions about a brand now are being formed far before they even become customers — in downloads, white papers, YouTube videos, and of course, webinars.

It’s no longer just about the sketchy tire job you got from the dealership that left the bad taste in your mouth and caused you to never visit that auto shop again. It’s not only about the great service you received from the awesome server at the bar and grill down the street.

Today’s consumer is judging their relationship with companies on the time they spend with the prospect before they ever begin to think about buying. The real experts in this field create such a trust in their marketing that the prospect ends up coming on their own and asking to be sold to, which is a good situation to be in.

All that said, it makes no sense to waste a webinar on a sales pitch when the organization could do far more good building trust with the audience by providing value.

Instead of investing time selling your product, give your audience helpful tips on how the industry is moving toward the use of your product and how it can solve problems. Plant seeds in their mind as to how the product can be used to solve problems and watch them approach you with questions.

Ian Blyth writes at ianblyth.com, which is appropriate.

Three Things Twin Peaks Taught Me About Work

On Oct. 3, 2014, surrealist, artist, and film and television director David Lynch published an inside reference via various social media channels that set a tiny fire in a select few, interested still more, and confused many others.

The announcement was a seemingly vague but not unexpected message from the 69-year-old director of surrealist, strange movies.

For those who haven’t seen the show, either during its two-season run in the 90’s or on Netflix, DVD, or other source, it is pretty meaningless.

But for those who know, it was something pretty significant. It was something a long time in coming.

To be clear, Lynch was making an inside reference to announce that after 25 years, Twin Peaks, one of television’s most fearless, groundbreaking, shows, was returning for more.

Twin Peaks was a murder-mystery that involved the killing of a high school homecoming queen in a small town in Washington state. The show created a die-hard fan base not dissimilar to the throngs of fans who follow Star Trek or Dr. Who. The difference is that, despite producing no new content in the Twin Peaks universe in over two decades, fans still discuss and debate the show in online forums and live events.

Even now, it’s hard to imagine how Twin Peaks and other shows that pushed the limits before it like All in the Family and MASH ever got on the air. TV is seemingly so filled with shows that follow procedural storylines and predictable patterns, it seems that’s the norm and what’s expected.

But all of these shows that have had such a huge impact on us culturally have done so in large part because the people behind them choose to take risks. They choose to be fearless in the pursuit of their art and not to dismiss ideas simply because they sounded out of bounds.

There’s a lot we can learn from this in how we approach creativity in our daily lives and especially in our work lives. We can learn to give ideas an honest attempt at living and then pushing the bounds of creativity past our comfort zones.

Lynch, and perhaps the network that hired him, got something so right with the show. Twin Peaks was a huge success in the early 90’s and one of the things that made it such a hit was Lynch’s unwavering dedication to his art.

Lynch’s style of storytelling is often described as surreal, which only scratches the surface of the director’s approach. He’s often seen as an artist first and filmmaker second, creating moving paintings made of actors, dialogue, and scenery. The scenes often make enough or as little sense realistically as needed – whatever will better serve the director’s vision better.

These active paintings can be tied together into something that resembles a plot that can be tied quite loosely together but still evoke some pretty powerful emotions nonetheless.

When ABC signed Lynch to an initial eight-episode deal in 1991, they did so with a clear understanding of all of this. They knew who Lynch was.

After all, he was the art-house filmmaker turned Hollywood icon that broke onto the scene in 1976 with the dystopian classic Eraserhead. Lynch’s first full-length feature gained an incredible cult following and counted Mel Brooks, director of Blazing Saddles, of all people as huge fan. Lynch was also the guy who tackled the tough material like The Elephant Man and walked away with eight Academy Award nominations for this efforts.

To be clear, Lynch was the guy who turned down George Lucas when offered the director’s seat for The Return of the Jedi, the final in the original Star Wars trilogy.

That’s right, Lynch turned down Return of the Jedi. Imagine for a second what the world would’ve been like if the guy who brought us Lost Highway had directed Episode Six.

Regardless, Lynch was also the man who wrote and directed Blue Velvet, a visceral, violent film that pulled back the drapes on small town America, with its beautiful houses with the white picket fences, to reveal a shocking, incredibly abusive world. Lynch found a twisted beauty in the things that happen behind closed doors, which ended up serving him well in the world of Twin Peaks.

But it wasn’t like the director had a grand plan for his television show. In fact, it started and was pitched mainly as an idea – one that won over a network.

Don’t Kill Ideas – That’s Where Great Things Come From

You might think that TV shows or movies get rolling after months of planning or from weeks spent hashing out a script in a dark room and for the most part, that’s pretty true. People work awful hard to get their dreams realized on the screen, whether big or small.

But it’s also true that on rare occasions, it comes from a single image so powerful and compelling, it literally conveys a million words.

That’s pretty much how Twin Peaks started.

Armed with an image – the now iconic body washing ashore wrapped in plastic — and a back-of-the-napkin, murder-in-a-small-town concept, Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost held a 10-minute meeting with ABC and convinced the network to fund a script.

David Lynch, left, at the 1990’s Emmys. Attribution below.

Ten days later Lynch and Frost delivered the script and ABC ordered a two-hour pilot, industry speak for a test-episode, be filmed. And the rest is history.

Stop and think about that for a second, and not just that these two guys won over a network with a 10-minute meeting, which in itself is salesmanship on an expert level.

Think about how powerful the simple image and idea must have been to get Lynch and Frost to walk into a network executive’s office and pitch the idea.

Conversely, think about what a loss it would’ve been had either let the idea die without following through with it.

We so often generate ideas for projects, stories, campaigns and pieces of art that we either forget about because we’re so busy or dismiss outright because we feel they aren’t worth the time.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Ideas are powerful – they’re the place where amazing things come from. Every journey starts with a single step and every project is borne of a single idea.

As artists, marketers, writers, and anyone who is creative in their jobs, which should be all of us, it’s important to learn how to embrace ideas fully and allow ourselves to realize them, no matter how absurd they may seem.

Sometimes ideas hit you like a tidal wave all at once and other times they are fleeting and need to be fostered, but more often than not, they start small, like a slow leak escaping from a tiny sliver in a dam. It’s our duty to chip away at the crack and see what pours out. When you see it before you, you’ll be amazed at the thing you’ve created.

Imagine the ideas you’ve killed because you’ve said the worst thing imaginable:

“That idea is stupid.” 

This is the worst kind of negativity – it kills the idea before it’s explored. Even if the idea gets worked out and is sketched, white boarded or brainstormed, you’re bound to at least come up with three or four more ideas from the original.

And sure, not every idea is going to result in a classic project. But following through with ideas and fleshing them out will give you practice in your craft and let you learn a few things about your process.

That flash across your mind – whether it’s a combination of words, trick of light and color, or a form wrapped in plastic floating down the river – could flourish into a pop culture phenomenon.

Be Fearless in Your Pursuit of Your Art

On Thursday, April 19, 1990, over 19 million households across the country tuned in to ABC to watch the third episode of Twin Peaks entitled “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer”.

While the previous two episodes of the show offered up some of Lynch’s signature style, the ensuing 47-minute story included the brunt of it. The show culminated in a jarring, disturbing, surrealist dream sequence unlike anything that ever aired on television until then.

The dream sequence involved the show’s protagonist, FBI Agent Dale Cooper, a three-foot tall-man dressed in cardinal red suit known as the Man from Another Place, and Laura Palmer, the young girl whose murder was at the center of the show’s plot.

Both the Man from Another Place and Laura Palmer spoke in a halted, unnatural, unnerving manner. The “dream speak” effect was achieved by having the actors learn and then perform their lines in backwards, then recording the scenes, and playing them in reverse as well. The “backwards” scenes were then chained together with Cooper’s normal parts, creating an eerie, otherworldly that was not unlike the dream it was attempting to emulate.

This unorthodox recording technique, coupled with the absurd, seemingly ludicrous dialogue, and random imagery, created the strangest six minutes of television ever aired.

The move was an obvious risk. Turning a television drama into an art form in such a jarring manner was a bold move to say the least. But the boldness paid off handsomely.

Critics praised the episode as groundbreaking. Still today, it’s regarded as an inspiration for the way it gave shows like Lost and The Sopranos the permission to take risks with their audiences. And the show only got more popular with fans for the move. Members of its loyal fan base started huddling around water coolers following every episode in an attempt to piece together the fragments and dissect the show’s symbolism.

Even the Simpsons parodied the scene, which is a clear sign that it had made a significant impact on American culture.

There’s a lot we can take away from the move. Lynch was utterly fearless in the pursuit of his art and let nothing interfere with his vision. It obvious from the end product that he held nothing back from the experience and worked to realize it as fully as possible.

What if we approached every project the same way? What if we worked to be as creative as possible and approach each endeavor without fear of ridicule or failure?

How far could we go?

Having a Lynchian level of fearlessness in the pursuit of expression certainly doesn’t come easy. And of course we don’t all have the same level of leeway he had when he was behind the camera. Our projects on a day-to-day level and our audience are certainly not in the millions.

But we can all step outside our comfort zone when it comes to creativity and add some much needed color to our normally bland routine.

It’s much more simple to work to create something and hold back when you feel like your going out of bounds. It’s the easiest thing in the world to color within the lines with respect to work and forgo creativity in an effort to get the job done and move on.

The thing that holds us back more than anything is fear of the ways others will judge us. Lynch could’ve thought the same thing and ditched the idea.

But he didn’t. He worked to realize his dream – regardless of how irregular or outside the norm it was. And the result was a piece of television history that is still referenced for its beauty today.

Find Ways to Reward Yourself on a Daily Basis

There’s two sides to the show’s protagonist, FBI Agent Dale Cooper. On one hand, there’s by-the-book, strict lawman that handles tense situations and criminals with calculated measures and a stoic tone.

Then there’s the jubilant and animated Agent Cooper who finds delight in the simple charm of a small town like Twin Peaks. Though it’s a story and he’s playing it big for the camera, there’s something great about seeing someone who enjoys being alive as much as Cooper does.

He so intensely wrings every moment of joy out of the day’s minor pleasures like a warm cup of coffee or a piece of cherry pie that you can’t help but smile along with him. I think we can learn a lot from how someone works incredibly hard and still finds in life the ability to enjoy simple pleasures with immense satisfaction.

Every day, once a day, give yourself a present – Cooper

We all have unique skills. Even if we’re part of a team in a role-position, we probably have things we do that put our personal stamp on our daily tasks. It’s important to take a moment and appreciate the work you do.

Far too often we’re so dialed-in and goal-driven that we’re constantly moving at such a lightning pace. Deadlines come and go and we forget to celebrate our success as the next project’s kickoff meeting abuts the previous endeavor’s wrap-up.

We so often focus not on what we have but what we want and what we need to achieve. (Thanks Jeff Haden).

It’s true that being driven to succeed is an admirable trait but it’s equally true that having such a laser focus on success can make you lose sight of the important things – like your own self worth or the importance of friends and family.

Take a moment each day and reward yourself in someway. Reflect on the great things you’ve done and congratulate yourself. Get away from your desk for a few minutes and take a walk during lunch. Have a good conversation with a friend or call your mom and rehash a good story.

Whatever the activity, reward yourself by stopping and enjoying life.

Tweed’s Diner: https://flic.kr/p/ayjCWF
L
ynch in Tux: https://flic.kr/p/4b1os9
Red Room Decor: https://flic.kr/p/c4uf33
Damn Fine Coffee: http://katukoira.deviantart.com/art/A-damn-fine-cup-of-coffee-444509321

3 Amazing Ways to Write Killer Headlines

First, let me get something out of the the way as quickly as possible: if you’re reading this, it’s because the headline I crafted worked exactly as it was intended.

And even now, after all the research and writing, I’m still not 100% comfortable with crafting that kind of headline. I am, however, fully convinced in the science behind writing engaging headlines to convince readers to click.

Let me back up a bit and explain what got me interested in headlines.

I’ve had many memorable teachers in my time, but one that always sticks out was my first journalism teacher.

This teacher spent a better part of his life as a beat reporter and editor before landing at Slippery Rock University as an instructor. He was a veteran news man to say the least. All the years he’d spent as a reporter, all the police calls, house fires, board meetings and cats rescued from trees, had made him a quietly imposing character.

His face seemed to be etched rather roughly out of some kind of ancient stone. He spoke confidently but sternly like a father does to a child through a thick, grizzled beard. When he asked you a question, it was an unnerving situation because he’d stare at you in such a way that made you feel like he was not only judging your answer but the way you were delivering it.

He looked like he’d seen it all and if he hadn’t witnessed it firsthand, he’d had it explained to him for a story.

He was tough and stern. He didn’t have time for nonsense. He’d fail you outright if you misspelled a name or did not follow the AP style guide to the letter.

Needless to say, I loved the guy.

The one time I ever saw anything even remotely close to a grin on the old man’s face was when we discussed headlines. My teacher wanted to share his favorite. He pulled a faded New York Post from 1983 from his weathered leather satchel and displayed the front page it proudly to the class.

In huge block letters standing tall across the page was perhaps the most clever and disturbing thing I’d ever seen in my life. And while it’s morbid for sure and deals with someone’s very unfortunate end, it’s still the best headline I’ve ever seen in my life.

That’s an extremely gruesome, graphic set of words in stunning block letters.

Despite its borderline tasteless nature, it correctly paints a picture of New York City in the 80’s, which was spiraling into an abyss of crime and chaos.  And while it sure does deal with human suffering with striking and stunning simplicity, it also goes down in history as one of the most popular headlines ever written.

The headline of an article or blog post is the first impression your reader will get, so you have to make it count. The headline is the thing that grabs your reader’s attention and makes them want to read your work. A boring — or worse yet, irrelevant — headline will have your readers skipping your entire article.

Just think of what that means for all the hard work you put into your writing. You find the perfect pictures to tell your story and spend hours typing away. You use the best pull quotes — the ones that really drive the point home — and in the end, readers skipped your article in its entirety because your headline doesn’t grab their attention.

Here are some pretty insightful statistics around headlines:

  • On average, 8 in 10 people will read your headlines, while only 2 in 10 will ever actually click through to the article. (copyblogger)
  • Traffic can vary as much as 500% because of a headline. (SEOMoz)
  • Readers tend to read the first three and last three words of a headline more than anything, meaning length counts considerably (Buffer)

Still need convincing that headlines are important? Try this.

Go search “How to Write the Perfect Headline” in Google. You’ll get over 14 million results on the subject. Even the top two results are written by the same guy — social media expert Neil Patel.

Patel makes a pretty bold suggestion in that “half the entire time it takes to write a piece of persuasive copy should be spent on the headline.” Even if you do end up blazing through 2,000 words in 2 hours — as Patel suggests you can do — that means you should spend at least an hour pondering the headline.

Let’s just agree that headlines are pretty important, even for first impressions.  So what should we be doing with headlines?

Here’s What You Should Do With Headlines

1. Pick a Format and Refine It

There are so many opinions on the types of headlines out there. People way smarter than me have written exhaustively on the different types of headlines and how they work. I don’t go as far as most. I just stick to some pretty standard (and tested) formats.

And trust me, if you’re new to this, don’t get discouraged. If you’re trying to hone your headline-writing skills and looking to improve, you’re headed in the right direction.

Question Headlines
Example: “What Impact Do Negative in Headlines Have on Click-Through?”

These headlines work so well because they entice the reader to know the answer, thus forcing the click.

Research from TrackMavens found that in an analysis of over a million blog posts, nearly 95% of the headlines did not contain a question mark. The other 5% of headlines that did, however,  accounted for over 46% of social shares for that particular data set.

That’s a huge number — and one worth considering.  So it’s obvious that posing a question to your audience is worth considering — especially if it will benefit your click-through potential.

How-To Headlines
Example: “How to Craft the Blog Post for Free”

This type of headline is a personal favorite of mine. In its makeup, the headline promises to teach the reader how to do something. It’s an educational promise that the writer is making with the audience.

Numbered List Headlines
Example: 5 Absurd (But Mind-Blowing) Pop Culture Conspiracy Theories

This is the big one — the headline that started it all.

There’s an inherent need for us click on headlines with numbers in them. In “The Science Behind High-Performing Headlines” on crazyegg.com, Sherice Jacob points out how Buzzfeed has made a killing on these types of headlines in the past, citing research that shows how numbered headlines outperform all others.

In fact, there’s science behind why as humans, we’re attracted to headlines with large numbers — that’s why Buzzfeed avoids using numbers below 10 in its headlines.

But the best early example of success with these headlines (and outstanding content) came from cracked.com. Cracked.com had delivered some of most interesting, intense, and engaging content in the past 10 years. Some of its writers have gone on to fame in one form other another. But it’s lasting contribution has been a volume of quality content and awesome numbered headlines.

And they work.

See that example up there? That’s an article written by Jacopo della Quercia in 2010 that currently has over 5 million page views. In fact, the only thing harder than finding an article on cracked.com that doesn’t have a number headline is finding one that has less than 100,000 page views.

Negative Headlines
Example: Email Is Dead and Social Media Killed It

It’s a simple fact negative words spark emotions in people and can contribute to the click.

It’s an idea as old as the newspaper adage, “if it bleeds, it leads,” meaning if there is a story with human suffering involved, it’ll find its way onto the homepage. As morbid as it sounds, adding negative words can really grasp the reader’s attention.

2. Learn to Love a Thesaurus — and All of Its Emotional, Powerful Words

Using common words in a headline can lead to some pretty boring copy. The main goal of the headline is to get someone to act, so use uncommon words.

 When creating a headline, it’s important to catch someone’s attention and you can’t do that with the average copy. Powerful words can evoke emotion, challenge your opinion, and force you to act. With the right collection of emotional words and the correct angle, you can force someone to stop and say, “Well that can’t be right, I need to read more.”

So the next time you’re about to write “annoying” try obnoxious.

Instead of “pain”, try agony. Don’t use “problem” — use catastrophe.

Jon Morrow over at boostblogtraffic.com wrote a staggering post laying out 317 power words that can improve your headlines. Go read it.

3. When All Else Fails, Use the Formula
Lenka Istvanova contributed a world of knowledge with her 2014 article outline of how to write the perfect blog post. Content is king, for sure, but Istanova completed the thought adding the much needed ending: “but presentation is queen.”

The meaning here applies so well to headlines. Your content could be 2,400 words of pure genius that will be all for nothing if the headline doesn’t do its job. To that end, Istanova suggests a formula, first penned by Jeff Goines.

(https://blog.bufferapp.com/headline-formulas)

If categories fail you and you can’t figure them out, try this simple format. It’ll produce some pretty engaging headlines.

4. Test Your Headline — It’s Powerful and Free!

There are a bunch of ways to test your headline for effectiveness. You can ask a friend, perform some scientific live experiments using A/B testing, or you can even pay for feedback through services like TestMyMarketing.com.

Or, since this is the Internet we’re talking about and you’re a smart digital marketer, you can choose one of the free alternatives that are every bit as good as their pay-as-you-go options.

The best, in my opinion, is CoSchedule’s Blog Post Headline Analyzer.

After you submit your headline to CoSchedule’s analyzer, the tool will deliver a detailed report on your work with overall letter grade, score out of 100, and in-depth information on how your sentence is (and is not) working.

The analyzer takes your headline apart word by word, identifies each as either common, uncommon, emotional, and powerful, and distributes them into separate categories. Having a good mix of common, uncommon, emotional and powerful words is essential to a good headline. Striking a balance between the four means you’re on the right path to a winning headline.

The tool gives you a good idea of where you’re lacking and also offers suggestions, so it’s helpful when you’re trying to improve. It even identifies what type of headline you are using and vary the score based on that.

The best thing about the tool is it keeps track of your submitted headlines regardless of whether you completely start over or adjust slightly and resubmit. You can look back through your history and see what scored best or worst, depending on your adjustment.

But Above All, Remember These Things

5 Forgotten Punctuation Marks We Need to Bring Back

This past Thursday, September 24, was National Punctuation Day – a day set aside solely to celebrate the dots, dashes, and points that hold our sentences together.

If you’re anything like me, you celebrated by not noticing at all because it’s not a holiday you get off work for and you only find out about it once it appears on Reddit, Mentalfloss, Mashable, or any of the dozens of content sites that were desperately trying to fill the content void that day.

Still, it’s worth noting the punctuation that has passed its prime and how some of them are still pretty cool. Here are some examples.

The Interrobang

Also known as the “bang” to printers and programmers, the interrobang is a combination of the question mark and exclamation point created by American Martin K. Speckter in 1936.

As can be inferred, the interrobang is meant to mix the quizzical nature of a question mark with the emphasis produced by the exclamation point. It’s custom-made for sentences that attempt to convey the mouth agape, eyes-wide-open feeling you have when you see something both alarming and strange. The interrobang is used to appropriately communicate a situation that is all at once so unbelievably alarming and unnervingly inconceivable that it is, in and of itself, a quandary.

In short, it’s the WTF of punctuation marks.

The now-old punctuation mark was once quite popular, appearing on typewriters in the 60’s and also landing in Merriam-Webster’s version of the dictionary. Fun note: If you check the dictionary, you’ll find the only word that rhymes with interrobang is “orangutan.” Fun.

Usage example: “Land Ho‽” — My approximation of David Barry’s take on the captain of the Titanic’s first words after striking an iceberg.

Better example: “Say What‽”

The Irony Mark

The Wikipedia definition of this punctuation mark refers to it being the diacritical  score that indicates the  sentence should be understood at a “second level.”

One of the greatest episodes of the Twilight Zone — Time Enough At Last —  involves Burgess Meredith playing Henry Bemis, a bookish old man with huge, thick glasses who only wants to spend his time reading but is hounded constantly by his wife, his boss, and everyone else to put the books down.

He finally gets his wish in a terrible way as the he becomes sole survivor of worldwide meltdown by napping on his lunch break in a vault at the bank where he worked. Despite being the last person on the earth, he’s elated because there’s no one around. He stands on the steps of a library surrounded by stacks of books, enough to keep him busy for the rest of his life. Irony is painted on thick though when Bemis bends over too quickly and his glasses slip from his face and crack on the pavement below, leaving him virtually blind.

He finally had everything he wanted, nothing was in his way, the source of his greatest enjoyment was literally within reach, and he’d gone through catastrophe to get there. Still, his own simple actions led to him not being able to experience the joy he sought to much ever. That’s irony.

Usage example: “Wait — someone actually pulled over the highway patrolman for speeding⸮”

Better example: “Time flies like an arrow — Fruit flies like a banana⸮”

The Exclamation Comma

Created in 1992 by three Americans and patented in Canada — this is a real thing — the exclamation comma is an obvious mash-up of the exclamation mark and a comma.

The punctuation is meant to appear not at the end of the sentence as the exclamation mark usually does, but close to the emphatic phrase, as to provide a punch to one portion of the sentence.

The exclamation comma works a lot like a a comma or even em-dash, both of which improve readability by separating ideas but more importantly alert the reader to a pause. The exclamation comma is a similar reading cue to emphasize one part of the sentence way more than the rest. Plus it looks cool.

Here’s the actual patent for the exclamation comma, by the way. An important note: the exclamation comma never really caught on at all — it actually faded from view in 1995 — so it’s tough to actually find in a font set. Below, I’ve substituted the normal exclamation point for the place I think the exclamation comma would go.

Usage example: “My surprise turned into a blood curdling scream! as the Rabbit of Caerbannog lunged for Sir Galahad.”

Better example: “The editors eyes widened in horror! as she discovered the customer-facing email was sent using Comic Sans.”

The Snark

Created in 2007 by American typographer Choz Cunningham, the Snark doesn’t necessarily have to come back as much as it needs to pick up some steam and get off the ground.

Very similar to the Irony Mark, the Snark is intended to end a thought and provide a little extra emphasis on the sentence’s meaning. Only this time, the meaning is supposed to poke fun at the situation or event, not just put out the irony in it. The evidence of a Snark can usually point out the author’s complete opposite meaning of a sentence without actually having any indication. Here’s an example:

The wooden bat connected fully with the baseball and sent it sailing out into the outfield. The centerfielder backpedaled wildly but confidently as he focused on keeping the ball in sight. As he crossed the warning track he leapt and stretched his arm as far as he could, positive the next sound he would hear would be the satisfying sound of the baseball smacking into his leather glove.

Instead, the outfielder misjudged the situation so badly that he slammed into the wall with a terrible, violent thud and the ball cleared the wall easily for a game-winning home run.

“Real nice attempt there buddy.~” One fan called down to the mortified baseball player.

The Asterism

The asterism is a grouping of three asterisks organized in a triangle pattern that is used to break up portions of text within a chapter.

The special character calls attention to specific passages or breaks up sub-sections of chapters.

It’s a cool way to break up large chunks of text in a chapter and an effective way to switch between characters or split between the action as it ramps up.  This really cool symbol was replaced by three asterisks in a row, a punctuation mark with the unfortunate name “dinkus,”which proves its predecessor was far better if only in name.

How to Win the Game (and Customers) with Content on Linkedin

With over 107 million registered, engaged users in the United States alone, many of which are your customers, colleagues or more importantly prospective customers, Linkedin is the choice for B2B marketers.

And it’s growing. Every second, two more people join Linkedin. By the time you reach the period at the end of this sentence, Linkedin’s audience will have grown by 12.

From 2013 to 2014, Linkedin grew its membership by 20% – more than Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube combined. It’s the fourth fastest growing network behind Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr.

It’s a unique social media platform that lets you network with like-minded individuals and connect directly with potential customers. So the question is, why aren’t you using it?

If Linkedin gives you the capability to share targeted updates directly with connections or write posts to engage in thought leadership (and set yourself apart from the competition), why aren’t devoting at least 20 minutes a day with it?

Let’s put aside the incredibly powerful (and free) search capabilities of Linkedin for a moment. And lets save the potential of engaging groups for another time.

This is all about how you can collect, share, and create compelling content for your audience to start conversations and get connections motivated. Below are some tips for sharing stories and writing blog posts to engage your audience, and by the way, everything below is free. The only thing you need is the time.

First, Create “Listening Stations” with Google Alerts for Awesome Ideas

The most common excuse people come up with for not engaging their audience on Linkedin with an update to share or an article to write is the lack of ideas or time to generate them or a combination of both, which is downright scary.

Now, I’m sure we’ve all seen The Wolf of Wall Street so I’ll spare you the quotes about the things that are holding you back and do you one better by offering your a solution. It’s called Google Alerts and it’ll collect news stories for you, on a daily basis, based on keywords of your choosing, and send them to your inbox.

There’s no scouring search engines for information or researching niche blogs. The best thing is, it was developed by Google (it’s right in the name) so it’s incredibly useful, as powerful as it simple, and free, which is the best.

Here’s how it works. First, you enter a keyword you care about. Try something simple like “Digital Marketing”, “Fainting Goats”, or “David Lynch”.  Then toggle a few settings, enter your email address, and boom, done, that’s it. The alert automatically monitors the web for content related to that keyword and updates you by placing an email right in your inbox.

You can have alerts emailed to you daily, weekly, or if you’re into this sort of thing, as it happens. You can also narrow the alert regionally, or have it monitor only blogs, videos or discussions. There’s a number of settings to help you set the granularity of the alert.

In a data-driven world where things happen all the time, it’s an incredibly powerful tool for keeping you up to speed on what’s happening.

It’s great to set up a few of these alerts as “listening stations” that will funnel ideas to you automatically. Make a habit out of reading it daily. It’ll keep you updated on what’s happening in your customer’s world. It will also give you great content to share as an update or even ideas for a post.

When you’re ready to learn more about this go read Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and ‎Julien Smith. Five years later, it’s still the de facto standard for influencing people in social media. Great read.

Share Smart on Linkedin and Engage Your Audience

Now that you’ve got your listening stations supplying a steady stream of content to your inbox, it’s time to put it to good use.

Whether you’re sharing stories to your feed or using several articles for sources in a post, there’s some best practices you should follow to maximize your return on investment.

First, let’s talking about sharing an update. Sharing an update is easy enough – you simply copy and paste a URL into the “Share an Update” field on your homepage. For the most part, if the site you’re sharing has it’s act together, you’ll see a thumbnail and abstract appear after you copy and paste the article. After that, you can enter a message summarizing why you’re posting the content.

After that click “Share” and boom, done – you’re sharing content on Linkedin. Look at your spreading the word.

And while this is a pretty cool thing to do – sharing links and news you feel are relevant – it’s only scratching the surface.

One of the coolest things you can do is “tag” a person or company in your share, which engages your audience (the whole point).

As you’re writing your message to explain your post, you can type an “@” symbol and start typing either the name of any company or person on Linkedin to “tag” them in the post, which means they will receive a notification after you share. This is a great way to build your audience, stay connected with customers, or push prospects toward the sale.

Here’s me sharing a Windows 10 article from TechRepublic with Bill Gates (the real one) and mentioning Microsoft (the company, for reals) with my old college buddy William Johnson (who couldn’t care less about this). All the shares appear in gray, that’s Linkedin’s style.

So how does this work in the real world? Check this out.

Let’s say you’ve just had a great first meeting with a prospect and you want to keep the relationship moving forward. You know this person is incredibly interested in cyber security. In fact, that’s the problem you’re trying to solve with the prospect. Also, since you’re smart, you’ve connected with the person here on Linkedin.

An appropriate way to keep the prospect engaged is to find a news article or blog post the prospect would enjoy, share it on Linkedin, and mention them as you do it.  As an aside, if you really want to find the best cyber security news, do yourself a favor and follow Debbie Windell, the Director of Community Engagement at ICS-ISAC. She will fill your feed with so much great content with respect to cyber security you won’t need a Google Alert.

And by the way, you can automate content posting with Buffer – an application which lets you create a stockpile of content that will automatically post to Linkedin (or Twitter or Facebook) based on a schedule you create.  Plus it’s totally free for up to 10 automatic posts a day. The only draw back here is you can’t yet tag people on Linkedin posts in Buffer. It’s worth a look anyway.

Write Awesome Posts on Linkedin to Engage in Some Serious Thought Leadership

Here’s a question: What’s the most popular type of content on Linkedin?

Think real hard. Ok, give up?

I’ll give you a hint: It’s in your head. You’ve built it up over the years you’ve been working. The answer is this: Industry insights.

According to recent research, six out of 10 Linkedin users are interested in reading about colleagues experiences and expertise over all other content combined.

And lucky for you, Linkedin offers a free way of talking directly to your audience through posts. This is how it works:

On your homepage, you find that button all the way on the right that says “Publish a Post” and click on it. Then get to work Hemingway, write an engaging post filled with the insights and experience.

(Pictured: You Being Awesome)

Coming up with ideas is easy – you already have listening stations set up to stream ideas directly to your inbox. Plus you’ve got all this industry experience. Additionally, you’ve probably got an opinion, insight, or success story that will help someone in someway and that’s what it’s all about.

Disagree? Take this into consideration.

I talk to people all the time who feel like they work in a vacuum. They can’t imagine that anyone, anywhere, even within a 100 mile radius of their workplace, could be experiencing the same problems they face on a daily basis.

Worse yet, they can’t imagine someone in their position working in the next town over that would benefit from the novel way they solved their problems or how they arrived at awesome conclusions with innovative thinking.

They can’t even fathom that person like them exists – let alone imagine them having the same issues and the capacity for appreciation of the solution.

And that’s just wrong.

Everyday people work in environments that are admittedly not 100 percent similar to others, that’s true. Of course no office, graphic design den, factory, plant, or pizza shop is just like the next. But in ways, one municipality is similar to the next to the point where the ideas for solving problems could be just as applicable — or helpful — to others.

In short, don’t spare pixels because you think your idea isn’t awesome. Because it is. It’s awesome. Go burn some pixels telling people about it.

Now, you’ll want to structure your post for sure – add a couple of subheads, organize your thoughts, fashion a snazzy headline. Need some helping writing? There’s a outstanding blogger named Neil Patel who wrote a great article about Writing 2000 Words in 2 Hours.

Regardless of how its structured or how it gets done, just remember three simple rules of posting on Linkedin:

  1. If you’re trying to sell people something outright, game the system with keyword stuffing tricks, or not handling yourself professionally, you’re doing it wrong.
  2. If you’re trying to impart knowledge, educate, and helping others, you’re probably doing it right.
  3. Writing is about solving a problem – always. If you’re not solving a problem with your writing, back up until you see the “3” and start reading again but more carefully this time.

The coolest thing about writing a post on Linkedin is when you’re done and you hit “Publish”, every one of your contacts will get an alert. Everyone you are connected with will get “pinged” about your article. Powerful stuff.

There’s a lot of research into the best times to actually pull the trigger on your post. Many say early morning is the best, other go with the email-marketing standby and suggest right around noon.

The truth of the matter is if you write engaging content, folks will read it and if it’s valuable, they’ll tell others.

And sure, there’s research into how long the post should be. Accepted best practices say the posts should be between 1900-2000 words. (Check No. 6 here on this awesome post).  But don’t sweat that either or try to reach some word count by shoving unnecessary graphs onto the screen.

If you need some inspiration on who’s winning the game with this already, check out Jeff Haden for example. He has nearly 700K followers and posts to Linkedin quite often. Laszlo Bock, SVP at Google, does a really nice job too. Check out Liz Ryan as well, she’s got a great voice and loads of style.

But if you do nothing else, listen, you’ve got to make your post look awesome because it’s free. Here’s how.

Dress Up Your Linkedin Post with Free Pictures

Adding great photos that are applicable to your post is an awesome way to help your story. So the good news is there are literally dozens of great stock photography stuff on the Internet that offer amazing art that is absolutely free.

Trust me, this fact — the existence of such quality stock photography — coupled with your great idea for a post, makes for the potential for some amazing content.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to forgo the big giant list of sites (Dustin Senos over at Medium already has a great one going) and instead give you a magic link to Google. Ready? Here:

Magic Link

But I want to call out some of my favorites.

IMCreator.com

After you get past the truly unfortunate user experience (the site is just a bear to use) you’re find some of the most amazing photography hanging around the web.

The unique thing about this stock photography site is that there is a great deal of people and close-ups of faces, which is an incredibly powerful thing given the fact that people read websites and are more likely to respond to designs that incorporate human elements.

See above, a shot by Jonathan Kos-Read, just an amazing picture.

Freeimages.com

I’ve personally used this site countless times for tons of projects.

The site offers high-res, user-contributed photos that can be used for personal blogs or corporate campaigns. Polished isn’t exactly the word I’d use for this images – this is all about utility. It’s the polar opposite of IMCreator.com.

It just gets the job done consistently and that’s why I recommend it a lot.

If you’re a small business and you’re looking to start content marketing, the stunning amount of vertical-specific art on Freeimages.com makes it a must-have resource.  The account is free (that’s 100%, no future payment) so get after it. That above shot of the forest is by Andrew Cooper.

Startup Stock Photos

When I think of Startup Stock Photos, it reminds me of the good people on the Internet and how fortunate we are to have them.

The site’s creators obviously know how difficult it can be to work for a startup. Making this kind of high quality stock photography seems to be their way of giving back.

It’s all there in the site’s tag line:

“Take ‘em, these things are free. Go. Make something.”

Startup Stock Photos is packed with professional, ultra-clean, modern, art.  And the best part is they are high-res, highly versatile, and above all, free.

Takeaway: There’s a bunch of free stock photography out there but a small percentage of it is awesome.  When you find something you like that inspires you — and it’s free — be polite and attribute the author.

In all cases, use stock photography that is applicable to your subject and always, always, always, do the right thing and attribute your work. Linkedin’s clunky editor makes it a challenge to add captions to articles, so why not list the credits at the end of the article, like I do.

However you decide to do it, take five seconds to give the author some credit. It’s the least you can do.

Images I used:

A Dead-Simple, 5 Step-Guide to Creating a Blog (That’s Free)

I was hanging out with some old college friends over the holidays.

In talking with my old buddy, he told me he had taken the time to read a few of my blog posts.

Startup Stock PhotoFunny, I thought, I have a reader. There’s one!

Anyway, he told me he and his wife were thinking about starting their own blog and enjoyed my post about free stuff you can use to make your blog post awesome. So through the course of this brief conversation I had gained a reader and proved myself to be an inspiration. What’s next?

They have a great idea too but had a bunch of questions about the process of bringing that idea to life. Where do you begin? How do you tell the story? How do you start your SEO work?

As it turns out, bringing a blog about is way, way easy. But the ease of bringing your story to life isn’t the best part. The best part is it’s all totally free. The only thing you have to spend on this project is time, which of course is very valuable.

So let’s not waste time.

Step One: Go Get a Free Blog Platform

First of all finding a free blogging platform is easy – just check Google. There’s plenty of free blogging platforms out there, the most popular being Blogger and WordPress.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Blogger and WordPress as platforms. PostSecret – a viciously addictive blog composed of deep dark secrets sent anonymously via post cards – is a Blogger blog. WordPress itself is synonymous with blogging – the two just go hand in hand.

The number one problem I have with those two popular options is they are not beautiful by design. They allow for all kinds of customization from common users which leads to some pretty awful looking pages.

Also, they are fairly limited in way you can make the clunky formats look clean and professional. It becomes maddening the ways Blogger and WordPress are limited just when you become comfortable with the platforms and attempt to take them to the next level.

Startup Stock PhotosI realize the irony of this as I type this post into a WordPress window but still – even the steps you need to take with customizing the full version can be frustrating.

WordPress and Blogger are what happen when you try to take a customizable situation and open it up to the world. Nice try, good attempt but it’s a horror show sometimes in what people will produce given an empty slate and open microphone.

On the polar opposite of those guys is Medium.

Now, I‘ve written before about Medium and my thoughts haven’t changed in the slightest.

Medium is a drop-dead simple, minimal and beautiful blogging platform that is right on the edge of being amazing.

It’s straight structure, lack of sidebars or distractions, and ample styling within the framework of it’s form is a thing of beauty. Two quotes come to mind when looking at Medium:

Form follows function,” and “Beautiful things work better.” Medium is the combination of the simple meaning of the former and the minimalist nature of the later.

Additionally, Medium lets you submit and share articles within communities so it’s got a built-in social aspect which makes finding like-minded people easy. The communities I have right off the bat — Medium calls them channels — deal with technology, humor and design, so I think that’s a reflection of the types of writing going on here.

But a deeper search into Medium will reveal all sorts of interesting blogs brought together by writers on various subjects. Take Gardening Kicks Ass for example.

Garderning Kicks Ass is a pretty interesting collection of stories maintained by one of the writers at Medium. When writers pull together articles from other writers in collections like this it’s called a Publication. This kind of collaboration and user-centric content maintenance and organization is really cool.

So if you’re looking for a blogging platform – especially to try it out first – go with Medium. You won’t be disappointed.

Step Two: Figure Out What to Blog About

After you’ve got your platform figured out, now you have to figure out what you Startup Stock Photoswant to write about. Most of the time people think about stuff like music, politics, or film to pick as a topic and that’s perfectly fine.

If you’re thinking about blogging, you probably already have an idea of what you want to write about. But that’s not always the case.

Sometimes you just want to write and that’s a great thing. I want to take a second to talk about this with you.

If you want to write about several things you like or perhaps nothing at all, that’s ok.

Sometimes, people just want to write and they’re not sure what they want to write about. They just get the itch. There is something they want to shake loose. And that’s no problem – just start writing on a subject that you feel comfortable with at the time. When tomorrow roles around, write about something completely different.

Over the course of a month, bang out some quality draft posts that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. It’s your world. Go crazy.

Here’s something you’ll learn about writing that’s important:

Writing is a process – not a project.

The benefit of this kind of activity is eventually, as you keep your fingers skipping across the keys and pumping out content, you will find yourself naturally sliding onto a rail and moving in a direction. You’ll unconsciously find your voice and discover your passion without knowing it.

Without knowing, it you will tell yourself what you like. It’s awesome. Trust me.

In other cases, people know what their passions are and that’s a great thing. If you’re one of those people I salute you. It’s tough to find that.

Regardless, you’ll eventually find what you want to write about and settle on it. Then you’ll get to the fun part –  writing the damn thing.

genMegaPhoneStep Three – Blog with SEO in Mind

This is the part where you sit down and write. Just write it out. Come up with an outline and work from there or just bang out the words. Whatever you do write.

By this part, it should happen on its own as long as you stay focused and keep working at it. If you’re struggling at this point, get back to planning out your writing.

As you’re writing, though, there’s some simple things you can keep in mind that can help you make sure you’re optimizing your post for search engines. There’s an excellent plugin for WordPress called SEO by Yoast that scores your post automatically. That’s free too.

Here’s some simple tips for writing a strong, clear, search engine optimized post.

Organize Your Writing

Regardless of what you are writing about, you need to do you and your readers a favor and organize your work. A pretty simple way of doing this is here:

  1. Title
  2. Opening paragraphs to warm up the post
  3. Meat of the Post
    1. Section 1
    2. Section 2
    3. Section 3
  4. Closing paragraph

You don’t have to always write in a numbered format or be instructional to have a structured post. You could just as easily talk about what you learned doing something and organize the couple of key points into sections. It’s just easier on the reader.

To be clear, if you don’t have any subheadings in your post, it’s going to be difficult for humans to read your writing. And humans are your favorite people.

Use Your Keywords

Your blog posts are going to be about a specific things or keywords relating to your topic. These keywords are important because they’ll help keep you focused on what’s important and help you get found in search engines.

Use these keywords in all the right places like the title of your post, the section headings, and especially in your post itself. To be technical, use keywords in your H1, H2, H3, page title, meta description, and in the copy.

Now, you’ve probably heard somewhere along the line of terms like keyword density with respect to SEO. While it’s true keyword density plays a role in SEO, it shouldn’t be abused.

If you were doing an album review, you’d probably use the artist’s name and title of the record in the headline. Then you would list a bunch of reasons broken out into sections as to why you think it’s a great album or not. Those sections are probably going to include the artist’s name and album title again.

After a while, just by being human, you’re going to use keywords in the right way.

Here’s a major takeaway: If you find yourself trying to work the system, you’re doing it wrong. If you are doing things like a human being, you’re doing it right.

Think about this whenever you’re trying to optimize anything for search engines and you’ll never go wrong.

Make it Pretty and Keep it Simple

There’s a thing out there called the Flesch Reading Test which to be brief scores how easy copy if to read. A lot has been written about readability and it’s relationship to SEO and to be honest, I don’t know if it directly contributes one way.

I can tell you this though, easy copy is easy to read. Good for SEO or not, do t for your readers and let’s all be happy.

Startup Stock PhotoIf you have to check how your copy scores, you can quite easily copy and paste your draft into some online Flesch Reading Test engine like this one. I’ve got another suggestion.

Keep your copy simple. The measure of a good writer is one that can distill a complicated subject into some simple terms. Don’t go overboard – make your sentences simple. Jack Kerouac once famously said “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

And while you’re at it, dress up your copy. It’s great to see pictures in your blog posts, they are free, and good for SEO.

HubSpot wrote a really great checklist for blog SEO. Read it here. 

Step Four – Reread, Edit, and Rewrite

Simple stuff here. Use spell check and edit your copy with intensity. Get it right before you hit send.

Ask a buddy to edit your stuff. Better your friend find the mistakes before your 50,000 readers.

Step Five – Never Forget the Most Important Thing

As you’re going through the process, it’s worth worth remembering the single most important aspect of writing. It’s the whole reason you’re doing this.

Here it is:

Writing is all about solving problems. If you think writing is about anything else, you need to rethink your understanding of writing.

Put it on a T-shirt, write it in a letter, or whisper it to a friend – it’s a single solid truth. That statement  — or at least a flavor or variation on it  — comes from many different sources and it’s completely true.

Stick to solving problems with your writing and you’ll always be on the right track.  Now go be awesome.

Stuff I linked to:

How to Grow Your Small Business with Email Marketing in 2015

I’m a huge advocate for small businesses. I still firmly believe in Beaver County and its small business community and I know those that adopt digital marketing strategies can outpace their competitors.

But what’s the best channel for delivering your message?

Let’s back up. I was talking to a work buddy the other day and he posed this question:

If you had one and only one way to communicate a message with your audience – given the audience was already baked out — what would you choose?

Social media, direct mail, cold calling, SEO, all of these were on the table.

I used my “go-to” response in this situation: Never ignore a channel of communication and always focus on the most beneficial. It’s a pretty good sentence. You can steal it and tell folks you made it up. It’s cool.

“But, fine,” I said at last, “if I had to choose one and only one channel with what I know about the audience, I’d stick with an email blast.”

Me, When I Suggest Email Marketing as a Only Option

Me, When I Suggest Email Marketing as a Only Option

With that, my friend looked at me as if I had just burst into flames. It was as if I suggested to my friend we spread the word by stapling fliers to rattlesnakes and tossing them at people while we screamed the product name in a crowded mall.

The look in my friend’s eyes told me that in some course of the polite marketing discussion, I’d gone completely insane.

My friend looked me hard in the eye and asked, “Come on, does anybody really read email anymore? Isn’t email dead?”

Wow. I was indignant. I wanted to defend email marketing immediately, intelligently, and loudly.  But, I figured it’s a new year. It’s 2015. So it’s worth asking:

Can small businesses like the ones  all around the place I live still win the game with email marketing? Is email marketing still relevant for Beaver County small businesses?

Sure it is, here’s the proof.

Small Business Can Get Simple, Professional Email Marketing for Free

So let’s get this right out of the way, and it’s something I stress all the time when it comes to email marketing.

Email marketing can be totally free. Seriously. You can kick off your email marketing for 2015 without spending one dime. I promise. For small businesses with small budgets, free is a big plus.

And when it comes to email marketing options for small businesses, MailChimp is simply the best choice available, no question.

First of, MailChimp provides a free option for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails a month. There’s no credit card to enter or contract to sign. If you have an email address and the will to accomplish this task, you can email up to 2,000 of your friends six times a month at maximum. Is that enough?

MailChimp is the Best Free Option to Kick off Email Marketing

 

Well, try this. Go to Google and try and get a consensus about how often you should email your audience and you probably won’t find one because it doesn’t exist.

The frequency with which you hit your audience should be determined by your audience’s opinion of how often they want to hear from you. It changes from audience to audience.

So, all that said, six emails a month is plenty of sending to drum up some business. You can do some serious damage with six emails a month.

The service also has tons of free templates and a dead simple, drag-and-drop editor to help you make your email blast, so there’s no designing involved or coding. You can also upload first and last names, numbers, addresses, all the good stuff you need to make sure you personalize your messages like a good email marketer.

Plus the templates produce responsive emails, which is way important considering people are reading emails on mobile devices more than desktops these days. Finally, and this is coming from a place of experience, MailChimp’s deliverability is every bit as good as its highly priced competitors. Paying a bunch of money to some email service provider will get you no closer to your subscriber’s inbox. In some cases, MailChimp’s deliverability is better than pay services.

So it’s free and only cost the time you put into it. It seems to me that if you have a story to tell and want to build a unique audience, email marketing is a no-brainer.

Small Businesses Can Get Personal with Email Marketing

When you head over to Google and do a search on the top trends for 2015, you’ll find one term popping probably get a bunch of insights. Still, one answer remains on every list:

Content marketing.

Everybody loves a story and every brand has a story. The companies that have the ability to synthesize their message and pull together great content are going to outpace the competition.

The days of selling on the Internet nearly over. Digital marketing is evolving into a practice of engaging and educating consumers. It’s a trust game, just as it always was. The difference is, now it’s all out in the open and transparency is real.

Telling that story is quickly becoming paramount for businesses across the country.

And this is where email marketing comes in. No other medium allows you to engage your audience directly in a one-on-one conversation like an email.

Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter are communities with personal aspects in terms of follows, friends, and connections, but email is different. Email is a chance for you to tell your story in brief and invite the user to take the next step and continue the conversation.

With an opt-in subscriber, you have an active listener. With a story to tell, you have a chance to start a relationship with your subscriber.

Content marketing can be made personal with emails in ways social media channels simply can’t.

Now, I’m not one to bash a marketing channel. I like Facebook and Twitter, I use both. I’m not even making the case that Facebook or Twitter are worthless in selling products, though some certainly have.

I’m only saying Beaver County Small Businesses have a story to tell and that story can be told personally through email.

Small Businesses: Email Marketing is Better Than Facebook or Twitter for New Customers

Lucky for me, I stumbled upon a website that provided me with tons of content relevant to my conversation. It’s worthwhile fodder for having a conversation as to why email is not dead.

According to emailisnotdead.com, people prefer email for commercial communications. Here’s a few quick facts from the site:

  • Email marketing isn't dead to small business. Courtesy freeimages.com

    Email marketing isn’t dead to small business. Courtesy freeimages.com

    81% of US online shoppers are more likely to make additional purchases, either online or in a store, as a result of emails based on previous shopping behaviors and preferences. – Harris Interactive

  • 68% of consumers find email to be their #1 preferred channel for recieving commercial messages – CG Selections “Nationaal Email Onderzoek” (2013)
  • 66% of consumers have made a purchase online as a direct result of an email marketing message – Direct Marketing Association (2013)
  • One in five (19%) of consumers said they read every email newsletter they receive just to see if something’s on offer. – Forrester Research “North american technographics survey” (2014)
  • In 2014 consumers delete less promo emails without looking, down 25,4% relative to 2010. – Forrester Research “North american technographics survey” (2014)
emailisnotdead.com

Much of the above research points to fact that email is still a great vehicle for companies to tell consumers about products and services. It’s a way we expect to hear from companies. Even McKinsey & Company, a multinational management consulting company with nearly 100 years experience in driving success in business, says email marketing is far and away better at getting new customers than other forms of social media.

Email is almost 40x better at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter – McKinsey & Company (2014)

So do you ignore other channels? Never. You need to tell your story in all ways possible. But email marketing is – and probably always will be – a viable option. Use it!

Stuff I Linked To:

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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