Thursday, July 8, 2010

Why don’t I blog more?

I ask myself this question a lot. I know I should be blogging so I have a track record of engagement with social media. I should also be writing just for the sake of writing – wherever it might be. And I definitely have opinions. So what’s the problem?

I think – in fact I know – it’s that opinion thing that’s giving me pause.

I used to blog pretty regularly about politics on a now-defunct MySpace blog. It’s not just inactive. It’s gone. Deleted. Erased. I’m sure if someone wanted to find evidence of my liberal leanings they could use the Way Back machine and find something incriminating, but thanks to my uber-common name and my thorough deletion job, they probably won’t find it in blog form.

Why was I so intent on erasing my point of view from the web? Because I’ve read too many horror stories about people being fired/never hired due to someone stumbling upon an errant blog post or tweet. Just today Salon posted a story about CNN’s Octavia Nasr whose tweet about the death of a Hezbollah leader got someone’s panties in a wad, and just like that – her 20-year career is over.

Now I know I’m no Octavia Nasr. But her firing should give pause to anyone who writes for a living and also engages in social media. It should also make us ask “why.” It’s not as if journalists never had opinions before social media came along; England’s press, for example, has always been pretty open about which publications lean which way. And here in America, where our media claims to be impartial, it’s common knowledge which papers are likely to endorse Republican points of view and which will back Democrats. So why does it come as some big surprise when someone in the media speaks their mind?

I think the answer to that question is a lot more insidious that it looks on the surface. Because while social media has given people more freedom than ever to express themselves, it’s also given those in power more opportunities to punish dissenting viewpoints. Just imagine if Winston Smith had had a Twitter account … Big Brother would have nailed him that much sooner.

Of course we don’t live in an openly totalitarian society. But when people are getting fired for off-hand remarks about people they admire … when web site after web site cautions against posting anything on your Twitter or Facebook feed that might be construed as controversial … when opinionated people like me can’t even blog because they can’t think of anything bland enough to guarantee that it offends no one … the warnings to watch what we say and think are loud and clear.

I hope I can come up with another post soon, because as a marketing professional/writer I know it’s imperative to keep up with social media. On the other hand, I like being gainfully employed, and as a worker bee/cog in the wheel I just don’t know if posting every thought I have online is such a great idea.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Social Media-Fueled Activism

There was no Internet (Al Gore’s dial-up connection doesn’t count) back in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez oil spill took place. No Facebook page, no Twitter or YouTube … no email even. But somehow irate consumers spread the word about boycotting Exxon, and the message stuck, at least with me. There are no Exxon stations in eastern Kansas, but when I travel out of state I still go out of my way to avoid them. Sadly, Exxon doesn’t seem to have suffered much because of the boycott, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Now it’s a new millennium, and there’s a whole new oil spill to contend with—plus a new arsenal of tools for activists who want to teach big oil a lesson. I’d like to think the nearly 100,000 fans on the Boycott BP Facebook page will have more success in boycotting BP than we did with Exxon back in the 80s, but who knows whether fans will actually hold up their end of the bargain when it comes to putting gas in their tanks.

Even if Facebook fans let me down, I have my fingers crossed that social media users will do a more effective job of disseminating images of the spill, which should arouse a collective outcry from the public once it sees the oil-coated wildlife and decimated coast line. In the past few days I’ve seen a few pictures of pelicans pathetically trying to fly with their oil-covered wings that have made me want to cry. If it’s visual evidence people need to be pushed into joining the boycott, writing a letter or getting just plain fed up, I hope everybody along the coast with a camera is out there snapping pictures to share with the world.

Whether it’s the ubiquity of the messaging that strikes our collective consciences or the poignant pictures pouring onto the web, today’s activists have it made when it comes to organizing and getting their message out. I hope that 21 years from now we can look back on their efforts and say “yes, we truly made a difference.”

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Feel Good Story for a Funky Friday

With the Gulf oil spill dominating the news this week and my own personal animal tragedy weighing heavily on my mind (I had to put my cat to sleep), I was feeling pretty sad about the animal kingdom. Then someone turned me onto this amazing video of a man reuniting with a gorilla he raised then released into the wild. I had to share. Enjoy :-)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Changing the World One Check In at a Time

A book that renames Earth “Eaarth.”

Group buying as the next big trend on the web.

Delivering happiness via social media.

What do they all have in common? Nothing, except that the ideas have been swirling around in my head, and now I found a place to park them all: CauseWorld.

Let me explain. A few days ago I read a review of a new book called "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet." Author Bill McKibben claims that we’ve already done so much damage to the planet that it’s really not the same place as it was even a few decades ago, and we’re all going to have to adjust to living on this new, weather-challenged planet. It’s a sobering thought. And maybe because Earth Day is this week too or maybe because I don’t want to live on a planet that bares no resemblance to the one I was born on, I’ve been thinking about things I can do — things we all can do — to make the planet a better, more habitable place.

A few days after reading the book review I read Pete Cashmore’s latest blog on CNN, where he talks about group buying and all the companies that are investing millions in it. I couldn’t help but wonder why investors are so quick to jump on the opportunity to make more money off people buying stuff, but nobody seems particularly interested in spreading a little cash to help save Earth from its downward spiral. OK it’s a big jump I know. But it’s Groupon, not McKibben’s book, that’s getting front-page coverage on CNN.

So I’m thinking about Eaarth and mass purchasing power when I stumble on another blog about spreading happiness via social media. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh claims that’s what he tries to do with all his Twitter posts — a noble goal to be sure. And that’s when it hits me. What could spread more happiness than doing good things for a social cause? And why isn’t there a group purchasing site for people who want to make a difference in the world?

Turns out, there is. It’s called CauseWorld, and it works kind of like Foursquare: you check in at participating merchants, and you earn karma points that you can donate to the organization of your choice. Then you can tell your friends on Facebook about the good deed you’ve done. Pretty cool, huh? I’ve already downloaded the app, and I can’t wait to find a participating place to go where I can try it out. When I find out how it works, I’ll be back to write another post.

In the meantime, I’m still going to angst about the changing planet and why mass consumerism gets more hype than our home, but at least now I know of one small way I can use social media to make myself — and maybe Eaarth — a little happier.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Questioning the Trends of the Twitterfirst Century

It's official. Nobody I know gets Twitter. And if nobody I know is using it, do I really need to worry about it?

My tech-savvy kids are certainly not fans. "Twitter is dumb," my 18-year-old says as she multitasks on 3 electronic devices at once. "Just post your status updates on Facebook." My youngest did sign up for an account so she could follow Apolo Ohno during the Olympics, but her interest faded as soon as the games came to a close.

My friends don't get it either. I have friends who post YouTube videos frequently, and friends with 100s of friends on Facebook. I know quite a few people on LinkedIn too. So it's not as though all my friends and coworkers are social media rubes. They just don't see the point of Twitter.

And my work -- they definitely don't get it. We have a Facebook and a Twitter account, but I'm not really allowed to post much on either one. I couldn't even get an article about social media in our internal newsletter. Management doesn't want staff actually interacting with anyone, thus putting a lid on any momentum we might gain in gathering fans and followers.

I've read lately that Twitter's growth has tapered off, and that only a fraction of its 75 million users have active accounts. So does it matter that I'm living in a Twitter void? It certainly dashes my hopes of ever becoming a social media maven, but as far as communicating with everyone I need to in my little world, Twitter's not worth a tweet.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Time Out for A Teeny Tiny Pat on the Back

This isn’t my usual blogging style, but today I’m going to give myself props for doing something I didn’t think I could do: I laid out an entire web page using CSS styles. No tables. Just CSS.

To people who program on the web everyday, this feat means jack squat. For people who use content management systems, ditto. Who cares if you can control where everything sits on your page if you can dominate the universe with javascript or you only need to type in a little box to update your web page? It’s only those of us who walk the middle ground between knowing HTML but not using it enough to be a programming guru – we are the only ones who can appreciate making the jump from a table-controlled layout to a CSS one.

If I knew anyone who fell into this category with me, I’d drop them a line. But I don’t. And since I haven’t blogged for awhile, I figured what the heck – kill two birds with one stone, right? Not that this post has anything to do with social media or marketing or any of the other things I usually discuss. Or does it? I started this blog because I wanted to try something new, and even though I was afraid of failure I gave it a try. I haven’t had a single comment since I started blogging, so I guess some people do count that as a failure. But I’m going to keep posting because someday, somebody somewhere is going to be inspired enough or pissed off enough to shoot me a comment. And I’ll probably blog about that accomplishment too – just like I blogged about today’s.

I guess what really prompted this post as much as anything is that I’m incredibly hard on myself when it comes to keeping my skills up to date. I think I should be an ace at copywriting as well as social media and throw in some html programming just for good measure. In other words, I think I should be able to do everything, even though that’s not humanly possible. The rate at which even one of these disciplines changes is so rapid that people who practice it every day are struggling to keep up. And here I am, trying to juggle no less than three, partially out of necessity, partially out of broad interest, and partially out of self torture. Is it any wonder when that I’m so excited about making one tiny step forward?

A friend of mine texted me to tell me that after a grueling set of interviews over multiple days with multiple people, she finally finished today. There was only one problem: she thinks she did the whole interview with a bugger in her nose. All that work and angst and preparation, and she’s afraid she blew it with one little bugger. We’re all too hard on ourselves sometimes, and we’ll all expect too much of our attempts at new stuff.

So the next time you make a small boo-boo, cut yourself some slack. Likewise, the next time you accomplish something – even something small – take time to congratulate yourself. And if you do either, come back and let me know about it on my blog. I’d love to hear about other people celebrating their small victories – or at least not letting the little things in life get them down.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Blogging lessons learned from Percy Jackson

In my last blog post, I started a review of the new Seth Godin book. And although a couple of weeks have passed, I'm no further along in the book. But I have been to the movies a lot, and one in particular got my blogging juices flowing.

I didn't even plan to see Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, but my daughter insisted on going since she read the book. It was pretty entertaining for a kid's movie, and it offered me some subliminal advice on blogging strategies. Here are a few of my takeaways:

Take poetic license
Who says everything has to be all accurate and verifiable in a blog? The Greek and Roman myths have been around for centuries, but the stories were conveniently modified to suit the movie plot line. Take the gods' cool weapons ... flying shoes, lightning bolts, swords that fold down into pens ... I don't remember reading about any of these in Mythology 201. But without them, there wouldn't have been much of a story, so bring on more of the ancient powers with a high-tech toy spin!

There were myriad examples of twisting traditional myths in the movie: the doorway to Mount Olympus on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building ... Medusa separated from her head with help from the reflection in an iPod ... the bottom line is that the movie will probably get a whole new generation interested in mythology, and that's a good thing. Once the kids read the stories and find out they're slightly different from the movie version, they'll probably be too engrossed to care.

Keep readers on their toes
This strategy may be a little harder to pull off in writing that in multimedia, but not impossible. One of the things I liked best about the movie was that nobody was who or what they seemed on the surface. Percy, he's the son of Posideon. His friend with the arm braces? No cripple at all -- he's actually a satyr who can kick some serious butt when Percy needs help. The beloved teacher in a wheelchair? None other than a noble centaur charged with educating Percy on the ways of the gods. It might mean blogging a little more on the fiction side, rather than the non-fiction, but convincing readers something is one thing when it's actually something else could make for some interesting blogs.

Exaggerate for effect
Percy Jackson was able to hide his identity until he reached his teen years because his stepfather smelled so bad he covered Percy's natural demigod aura. Really? That is some powerful b.o.! Now that I think of it, a lot of the glowing reviews of Linchpin were pretty exaggerated imho, so if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

End things ambiguously
This should come as no surprise to children raised on Harry Potter, but the movie ended with a lot of questions in the air: Will the heroes hook up? Are there more demigods waiting in the wings? If demigods have a baby are they semi-demis? These questions and more are sure to be answered in the next Percy Jackson movie.

As for my own try at endings that could go either way, if you're waiting with bated breath to see whether I find any zen-like clarity in the second half of Godin's book, guess you'll have to check back too.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Slogging Through the Seth Speak

If you're trying to stay up to speed on marketing trends in 2010, it's impossible to skip over Seth Godin. The guy is a publishing powerhouse with a handful of bestsellers to his name and a new book, Linchpins, that after just one week is already on the NY Times bestseller list.

The guy obviously knows his stuff.

So why, then, as I try to read Linchpins does my mind keep wandering back to that story I read when I was a kid called The Emperor's New Clothes?

(If you never read the fairy tale, it's about a clothes hound of an emperor who lets two con men scam him into thinking they're making him a suit from fabric so fine that only the savviest of people can see it. He can't see the suit himself, but to admit that would mean that he's unfit for his position, so the emperor parades through town buck naked pretending to be decked out in his finest. It takes a child in the crowd to point out the obvious -- but once the cat's out of the bag the rest of the town follows suit. As for the emperor, he just keeps on walking ... hopefully to the nearest tailor who can fit him with some real clothes worthy of his regalness.)

OK, back to the new Seth Godin book. It's earned stellar praise from everybody who's everybody in marketing. The blogosphere touts it. Traditional publications too. It's utterly the finest marketing book available today. So I've got to have it right? I pick up Linchpins the day it comes out, ready to be wowed. This is where the slogging begins.

The basic premise of the book -- at least the first quarter or so I've managed to get through -- is that the world is changing, it's no longer enough just to do your job, and you better be exceptional if you want to make it in today's scary world of downsizing, outsourcing and job eradication. Be an artist at whatever it is you do. Ignore the part of your brain that's afraid to do anything fantastic. Stop trying to fit in and start finding ways to stand out.

That's it. That's the words of wisdom that everyone's going gaga over. Really? Quick! Somebody put their hand over my mouth before I blurt out something stupid, like "No kidding? You have to do go above and beyond to set yourself apart from the crowd? Why didn't anyone think of this before!"

Surely there's more to the book than this. Any page now I'm going to be barraged with insights and elucidation that'll make my head spin. And once it's done spinning I'll hang it in shame for ever doubting the master of 21st century marketing is anything but that.

Meanwhile, I gotta stop thinking about that naked emperor. The guy's really starting to creep me out.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Reach out and touch someone -- from Twitter

I've never met anyone I follow on Twitter in person.

But I'm about to take that next important step and segue from interacting online to socializing off line.

Tweetups are nothing new to the Lawrence crew that's celebrating its first anniversary of getting together tonight. They've been meeting, eating and drinking for a year now -- even raising money for some great local charities. I look forward to meeting all these people who started out with nothing in common but a love for social media and and now, a year later, have so many shared memories of good times together.

Don't get me wrong. It's nice to know people are listening to you in the ever-expanding twitosphere. Just yesterday a comedian named Marc Wootton started following me after I tweeted about his new show called LaLaLand. I know he only found me because he's set up searches to scour the 'net for mentions of his name, but we're connected all the same.

I look forward to following my new Twitter friend, but there's still no online equivalent for a good old face-to-face meeting. We can follow all the celebrities and politicians and media mavens in the world, but it's unlikely we'll ever break bread with them or work together on a common cause.

Maybe someday technology will completely replace the need for personal interaction. But for now I'm looking forward to the 3-dimensional satisfaction of making some new friends in the flesh.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Attention politicians: social media is a two-way street

If you’ve ever written a heartfelt letter to your congressperson only to receive an auto-response form letter in return, you know how it feels to be talked at – not to – by a politician. Letters to the editor don’t earn you much feedback either: you can write all you want but your elected representative never has to reply.

Social media has changed that. And woe be to the politician who hasn’t learned this lesson yet.

Take Martha Coakley’s botched campaign. Mid-term elections tend to go in the minority party’s favor, so I could forgive her for losing the social media numbers game to Brown. But she also committed the cardinal sin of disabling comments on her YouTube videos. Tsk tsk. If you’re going to put yourself out there on the Internets, you have to be prepared to take the good with the bad. And that includes friendly feedback from the other side of the political fence.

While Coakley’s social media missteps are more glaring given the role they played in helping a Republican take Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, she’s not the only one in Washington who’s tuning out constituents. Missouri’s Claire Mccaskill is the Senate’s most prolific tweeter, but when I checked out her Twitter page I was disappointed to see that she’s following one person. One. What’s the point of social media if you’re talking but not listening? You might as well be cranking out form letters.

Twitter is just one piece of the social media pie, one that blogger Mark Senak says nobody in Congress is using to its fullest potential. Even Candidate Brown, who earned praise for his social media campaign savvy, has to prove he can use FaceBook, YouTube and all the other online tools to their fullest potential now that he’s in office.

The Massachusetts race is just the kick-off to a year full of electoral contests. In every one, politicians will be frantically looking for ways to exploit the Web to their advantage. It’s up to us, the people, to hold them accountable for listening as much as they talk.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The High Cost of Blowing Social Media

It’s hard to check out the news this week without seeing some reference to the roll social media is playing in getting aid to Haiti. In the meantime, social media is playing an important roll in a story that will affect everyone here in the US: the special election between Coakley and Brown for Ted Kennedy’s senate seat.

The stakes are huge for this race. And unfortunately, the Democratic candidate hasn’t used the web to her advantage. Out-Twittered and out-friended, she’s managed to run a decidedly old-school campaign in a tech-savvy state. It’s doubtful the race will be decided by social media alone, but the opportunities it offered to mobilize supporters were missed. And if the Democrats lose their super majority in the Senate -- as well as the slim chance they had to pass health care reform -- we’ll all be feeling the effects for some time to come.

Health care reform doesn’t carry with it the graphic images of the devastation in Haiti, so it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. But considering 45,000 people die in this country every year due to lack of insurance coverage, it’s a very real problem right here at home – one that might have been improved upon with a more politically savvy social media presence.

Staying on track with marketing trends

When I was reading a blog post today on a site I visit regularly, one sentence really stood out:

“I believe that the hardest part of SEO is simply keeping up with the trends. “

Boy, you can say that again!

Marketing has changed by leaps and bounds since my first little job marketing paperback books to rural libraries. Email marketing, SEO, SEM, social media -- the tools are definitely bigger and better today. The challenge is using them effectively.

Earning my Master Certificate in Internet Marketing from the University of San Francisco has kept me up to speed on SEO changes. The newest information I can find about title tags, URLs and external links reflects changes I’m trying to bring to the site I work on at my job.

Now I just need to stay on top of all the other marketing pieces floating around in the online universe, such as mastering Twitter, building a personal brand, networking and keeping my technical skills up to speed – just to name a few. My blog is one element of those efforts. By posting here more regularly and sharing what I’m doing to keep up with online marketing, I hope I’ll start to hear from others who are tackling these challenges too. Maybe we can give each other a tip or two!

Networking is next on my list. I’ve joined the Social Media Club KC, where I hope to not only meet some local social media geeks but also learn how they’re using social media in their personal and professional lives. I work alone on my in-house web site and online marketing efforts, so it will be great to hear what’s working (or not) for others in my field.

Keeping up with the trends is hard. But not impossible. Here’s to keeping those career development balls in the air in 2010 and maybe even adding a few more to the mix.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Magnet poetry for the masses

Really? Did someone use their brain power to turn refrigerator magnets into a Twitter app?

Oh yes, they did.

Twitter magnets is a silly little site where you turn random words into a poem. Here's mine:

the feline perfume dance pierces
a squirming dog belly
his cold eyes soft porcelain

Brilliant, I know.

I guess if you did really write something ingenious, the site's functionality, which lets you post your masterpiece to your Twitter site, would come in very handy. OTOH, if you just put together some random babbling, it could lead visitors to your Twitter site to question your sanity.

Personally, I think I'll stick to the good old-fashioned refrigerator magnets that leave no evidence of my madness. ;)