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400 posts and counting

September 27, 2015

Wade Kwon

The clumsily named Birmingham Blogging Academy blog has reached its 400th post! What a day, what a milestone.

I haven’t marked many other milestones here, except for occasional anniversaries. This site’s first post was on March 14, 2009, and I created it to talk about blogging and my company.

Since then, it has grown to include topics on social media, my speaking engagements, marketing, best practices in communication and this and that. It’s really the first site I’ve focused on one specific area.

Readers can keep up with new posts not only through the site itself and the newsletter, but also through RSS, the mobile version, a Kindle subscription, a WordPress subscription (below) or the new Apple News app.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

I’ve had only one guest blogger all this time, Rachel Callahan, who has been kind enough to write two posts, one on graphics and another on Pinterest statistics. I should really recruit more bloggers, huh …

I’m marking another milestone on my first ever blog, Wade on Birmingham. We’re in the middle of a 26-part series on the Future of Birmingham, which includes an ebook launch, at This special project marks 10 years on that site.

In tossing around statistics, sometimes the most mundane make the biggest impression. A couple of weeks ago, I told my cocktail companion that I had eaten six Pop-Tarts for breakfast that morning (a cheat day). She looked on in disbelief. For the record, they were frosted brown sugar cinnamon (toasted twice and a little burnt) with me adding peanut butter.

I didn’t get there overnight, and clearly 6.5 years for 400 posts isn’t any kind of speed record. It saddens me that most bloggers won’t reach the 400-post mark, in 6 or 60 years. But if blogging is the right vehicle for sales, marketing or customer service, I encourage beginners to go for it.

Thank you to the more than 25,000 visitors to this site! I’m grateful for their time and their comments and their support.

I can’t wait to see what the next 400 chapters bring …

What your future employees need to know about blogging

September 21, 2015
Photo: velkr0 (CC)

Photo: velkr0 (CC)

I’m speaking to a class on social media marketing at a local college this week. They want to know about blogging in 2015, and I’ve got 40-ish minutes to talk.

What should today’s kids know about blogging that will help them in the working world? You’d be surprised how few engage in it: Most, I have found, do social, but content creation and Tumblr are unpopular.

College can be an excellent opportunity for students to learn and practice skills for that first job following graduation. Here’s a suggested path …

1. Blogging is a tool. Like other tools, it can be used for many objectives, with imagination as the only limitation. It’s a simple tool to master, but requires some diligence and experimentation to use it well.

It may stick around for 10 years or disappear by graduation. Becoming a better blogger can help in other areas, such as SEO, content marketing, audience engagement, sales and customer service. Blogging isn’t always the right tool for the job, but it helps to at least have it in the toolbox.

As a corollary to this, writing is also a tool. I’m biased as a lifelong writer, but I feel writing is one of the most important tools to learn. It is endlessly useful, no matter what career a student picks.

2. Storytelling is a trend. It’s the In thing in marketing circles, though I feel we’re moving on to the next In thing. Engaging strangers through a blog requires good storytelling skills: featuring relatable characters, identifying problems, showing how the protagonist overcomes them, incorporating emotions.

This goes deeper than mere calls to action, or identifying target audiences. This is about sharing a message through a technique as old as humanity.

Students who can tell stories — through blogs, Snapchat, Powerpoint presentations, listicles and 10-second preroll spots — will help their companies connect with audiences more effectively. Writing for the college newspaper (or public relations office) can be a terrific way to practice how to tell stories on deadline.

Who’s qualified to teach social media?

3. Connecting with people is forever. One important reason people use social media is to connect with others. That might also be the reason someone posts on a blog, or reads a blog.

Great marketing is about building those relationships with strangers quickly and authentically. We’ll always have new digital tools at our disposal, and audience habits will continue to evolve faster and faster.

A graduate in her first job may not be there long enough to see blogging pay off. Does she aim for quick results and returns, or establish the groundwork in blogging so that the next person can continue the deployment and reap the rewards?

Blogging is neither fast nor cheap, as it requires lots of time and a consistency that many find challenging. But the results can be remarkable: lifelong customers, top search traffic and enhanced brand reputation.

Let these social media-savvy students go forth and help their companies prosper online and offline.

• • •

Need a speaker for your classroom or conference?
Book me today …

Contact me

7 hard-won lessons from creating my latest blog series and ebook

September 14, 2015

The Future of Birmingham

I launched a new blog series and ebook on Friday! The Future of Birmingham is a look at the transformation of a city and what happens next. Both are free, so I hope you’ll read and share at

The project is a collaboration between me and 20 contributors. It marks the 10th anniversary of my first blog, Wade on Birmingham.

I’ve created several blog series and one ebook before. In putting it together, I picked up a few ideas on what to do differently next time …

1. Avoid making launch day on Friday afternoon. A better time would’ve been either Monday or Tuesday, but I wanted it to line up with my Oct. 6 anniversary date. C’est la blog.

2. The last 24 hours isn’t an ideal time to explore new publishing platforms. I was trying out Amazon’s CreateSpace, hoping the time I put in on designing the print book with that free site would save time in putting together the ebook for the giveaway. Nope.

I ended up going back to Plan A, which was to slap it together in InDesign. Fortunately, I can update the ebook whenever I like, and I do have quite a few photos to add.

3. Persistence pays off in securing contributors and a sponsor. I didn’t land a sponsor, because I wasn’t nearly persistent enough. Having a company pay to be a part of the project would’ve added some clout and promotional power, and also added some easy options for marketing and production. That doesn’t mean someone still can’t step forward as sponsor (contact me for details).

But I did land 20 co-authors, which is awesome! I had 21 contributors on “The Social Media Stars of Birmingham” (their submissions were simply answering a couple of questions, and they had no idea it was going into an ebook) and 13 contributors on my last blog series, Birmingham’s Best Eats.

4. Ask and be straightforward. You were going to ask me how I landed all those great writers and photographers, right?

In early August, I came up with a dream list of nearly 50 collaborators, almost all of whom I know. I emailed them about the project, the licensing, the word count, the deadline, the benefits (I fibbed when I told them no compensation — I’ll have a small token for each of them within the next few weeks) and the planned presentation. Some jumped right in, some had questions, a few graciously declined … and many simply never saw the email.

Having great collaborators sparks word of mouth and social sharing. They can be proud of their well-crafted essays and show them off to their readers, their fans and their loved ones.

Next time, to land 30 contributors, I’ll start a little earlier with a larger list. I’d really rather have more voices than me writing multiple pieces (and mostly at the last minute). Birmingham’s Best Eats was done completely by the team and not me.

5. Have several cover ideas, just in case. In thinking about the cover, only the most important image of the whole project, I landed late on “Complex Vision,” the recently restored sculpture on the exterior of UAB’s Callahan Eye Hospital on Southside. It’s a beautiful piece by Yaacov Agam, but it’s challenging for me as a designer in incorporating text … you know, like the title and author.

I wanted to avoid Vulcan on the cover (plus, that gets into licensing issues). “Complex Vision” felt right as a metaphor for the series and book. But I’ll probably tweak the cover quite a bit, time permitting.

6. Edit for readers, not writers. One of the conditions to writers was that the blog version would be 500 words or less, while the ebook version could be up to 2,000 words. I didn’t make the writers submit two versions, though.

I went in knowing that I’d be editing through pages and pages of first drafts. This has been one of the joys of my career, though I did not leave time for much collaboration on edits. I cut, I trimmed, I slashed.

The writers who have worked with me before know my process and my skill with tightening copy. Those who haven’t worked with an editor (or with me as an editor) may have been surprised at first, but hopefully understood that a finely honed essay elevates them in the readers’ esteem. We shall see.

7. The book has many functions. First of all, it’s an effective email-building tool. Second, it’s a companion to the blog series, offering more content and portability for those who want to read it offline. Third, it’s something special for the readers and the fans, a freebie to reward their kindness. Fourth, it’s a promotional tool as a digital item, since it will also be available (soon) in Kindle format on Amazon. Fifth, it will also be a print book (soon), allowing for all kinds of giveaways and campaigns.

It’s up to me to be creative in its distribution. I can’t wait!

This has been a fun project to mark 10 years in blogging. I hope you’ll stick around for more online adventures, and grab a copy of my book, too.

Get the free ebook


Virtual delegation and the speaking tour

September 7, 2015

Y'all Connect onstage

Each spring for the past 3 years, I’ve gone on a promotional speaking tour for Y’all Connect. I speak at a number of groups across the Southeast for free, giving 30- to 60-minute talks on communication issues.

I’m extending that to this fall. The gospel of Y’all Connect depends in a large part on my time on the road.

It works out great: I like to give presentations, and groups need a great speaker.

I’m getting a little help putting together my itinerary this time.

Reading through “The 4-Hour Workweek” [aff. link] again, I’m ready to put a virtual assistant to work. (I’m going to re-read this book once a year, because it’s that helpful in advice and strategies.)

My assistant will compile a list professional groups related to marketing, public relations, business development, social media, blogging, technology and advertising across Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle. She will reach out to the groups and book as many dates as we can cram onto the calendar.

I’m also going to have her help with blog research and other tasks, but this is the first step in getting a longer tour under way while leaving me time to prepare presentations and work on other projects.

If you need a speaker for a group meeting or a company function, let me know. I’d love to help your organization solve its most pressing communication conundrum.

Want to book me as a speaker?
Contact me today!

Contact me

A job opening at Y’all Connect

September 7, 2015

Looking for a gig that takes you inside Alabama’s biggest blogging and social media conference? Have I got a job for you …

I’m looking for a Volunteer Coordinator. All the details are in the post on Y’all Connect, including the application.

(Hint: It helps if you follow instructions.)

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to serve guests and make this Birmingham event a smashing success.

Blogging fear: Looking stupid / writer’s block

August 30, 2015

road stripes

I asked for your biggest fears in blogging, and y’all came through.

This week’s fear: “Looking stupid and writer’s block.”

— Nicole

1. Looking stupid is part of the human condition. We are all stupid at some point, and others will see it and point and laugh.

It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but I’ve survived a surprising amount of derision, snickering and trolling. It hasn’t killed me yet.

If you blog, someone will think it’s stupid and you’re stupid and might even tell you so. I think many businesses are stupid not to blog, if that helps any.

I can tell you that your fear of looking stupid is mostly in your head. It’s the same fear that dissipates the moment someone goes onstage or jumps out of a plane or tells a stranger “I love you.” We take the leap because the fear of not taking that risk has bigger potential consequences.

Take the leap, and blog for all your worth. You will find that either you were stupid not to have started sooner, or that you look stupid and you really don’t care.

2. Fear of writer’s block can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Think more and more about having less and less to say, and you might just make it a reality.

Writer’s block happens to just about every writer and blogger I know, including me. It’s rarely permanent, and it can be overcome with a few strategies:

  • Keep a list handy (on paper or your smartphone) of topic ideas, phrases and inspirations.
  • Write posts in batches. When you build momentum in writing, crank out several posts, and edit them all later.
  • Brainstorm with colleagues, friends and fans.
  • Read. A lot. Good writers and bloggers stay abreast of their favorite topics and subjects outside their comfort zone.
  • Take a walk. Anything that gets the blood circulating is a welcome distraction and can knock you out of a creative funk.

I come from a journalism background, so I’ve always found that the best cure for writer’s block is a looming deadline. Publish or perish.

Tell me about your biggest fear in blogging,
and I might answer it in a future post.

More in our Blogging Fears series.

Blogging fear: Getting started

August 24, 2015
on your mark

Photo: Kashif Mardani (CC)

I asked for your biggest fears in blogging, and y’all came through.

This week’s fear: “Getting started.”

— A.C.

I often admire risk takers and spontaneous action. They leap before they look, and most of the time, they’re fine.

I’m deliberate about most things, which might make me a great hedge fund manager but a terrible date. (For the record, I’m an exceptional date.)

At conferences, I’ll meet people who about to launch a blog. I’ll see them again a year later, and they’re still about to launch that blog.


As my friend Jen Barnett occasionally reminds me, “Finished is better than perfect.” She wrote it on a note I keep tucked in one of my planning folders.

We may fuss over the design or the first post. Or the editorial calendar or the mechanics (email collectors, social media channels). Or the blog name and URL.

Those often end up as excuses rather than steps to publishing the first post. I love planning, but coming from a background in print journalism, I also love making deadline. The next day offers a fresh start, but not publishing was never an option.

For most people and most blogs, not publishing is the worst outcome possible. No post means no audience, no momentum, no feedback, no starting point, no accomplishment. Publishing a first post to no audience means no risk. It’s hard to screw up in front of an empty auditorium.

Blogging comes easier with practice. It seems more difficult with hesitation. Make the choice to make the leap.

Tell me about your biggest fear in blogging,
and I might answer it in a future post.

More in our Blogging Fears series.

How I’m listening to improve my communication: An update

August 17, 2015
row of ears

Photo: woodleywonderworks (CC)

Listening is a wonderful skill that I hone every day. I think I’ve been improving since making a pledge 29 months ago to work on this tool.

It calms me. It helps me focus. It shows the other person that I care.

A bonus is that careful listening allows me to be a better observer of communication skills in the real world. Sadly, many folks could use some major improvement there. It can be frustrating for me to not be heard. And it happens a lot, through incomplete email replies, distracted parties texting on their phone, outright shunning.

I took on three areas where I wanted to improve my listening skills. I’ve made progress, but I have a ways to go.

1. Zero interruptions. So far, this has been fairly easy. When face to face with another, that person has the floor as long as she wants. Really, the only part where I’ve had difficulty is on the phone. It’s always been a guessing game for me, either interrupting someone mid-thought or pausing so long that the she ends up asking if I’m still on the line.

2. Repeating back what the other said. I don’t do this very much, so I need to work harder on this tactic. It’s simple, it’s quick, and it reassures the other person that I have heard her message correctly.

3. Asking good followup questions. I’ve never had a problem in this area. Years of training as a reporter coupled with natural curiosity means I always have more questions. I’ll have great conversations that go for hours.

One area that sometimes challenges me is focus. When someone is talking, I find it difficult to keep my mind from wandering. The longer someone talks, the more likely I’ll drift.

A technique to combat this tendency is to repeat in my head what the other person is saying. I don’t remember where I picked up this tip from a few years ago, but I’ve tried it sporadically. It could help me focus better on listening to someone rather than merely pretending to listen.

With listening, I’ll always start with me. It saves time, it eliminates most misunderstandings, and it helps me communicate more effectively.

• • •

More communication tips and tricks
in my free weekly newsletter …


Addictive content

August 10, 2015

Photo: Mike Mozart (CC)

I’m addicted to many things, some harmful, some harmless. But I can’t live without them.

“Big Brother.” Diet Coke. Baking. Self-improvement. A healthy diet (except for the Diet Coke). Speed reading. Jazz. Playing on my phone.

Many of us are the sum of our addictions, whether we admit or not. But addiction can help us serve others.

Businesses struggle with reaching out to fans, customers and strangers. They worry excessively about the number of emails and blog posts and Facebook updates they put online. Is it too much? Will we scare away people?

That demonstrates they don’t know their audience — really any audience — very well.

If a customer craves something, she’ll want more and more. And she can decide when she’s had enough, while still coming back later to nurture that addiction.

Great content is addictive content. Creating blog posts that make readers shout “Amen!” and click Like and share it with friends is addictive content. Writing an email (monthly, weekly, daily) that quickens the pulse of the recipient and compels them to read it first is addictive content.

(An example of addictive email is theSkimm, which a client was kind enough to share with me.)

A business can’t create enough addictive content. Never.

The question shouldn’t be: Are we putting too much stuff out there?

The question should be: Is our content addictive? If not, how can we fix it?

If they keep making Oreos, I’ll eat them for the next 50 years. I’ll eat a pile of them till I’m sick. And then, I’ll swear off them. And I’ll come crawling back for more soon enough.

They fuel my creativity, my need to reach people with new and different ideas. I want them hooked on my content.

Because I’m also hooked on helping others.

• • •

If you need help creating addictive content,
let me help …

Contact me

The lines of communication

August 3, 2015
telephone lines

Photo: Cameron Russell (CC)

We are imperfect beings. We know how to listen, how to talk, how to communicate.

But we fail in those basic tasks all the time. It’s a wonder we haven’t gone extinct.

A company working toward better customer service, or more leads, or a competitive advantage has only so many avenues to try. All it takes is one employee to screw it all up, or to win the day.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how companies communicate with me, as their consultant, as their customer, as their friend. They’re doing a pretty terrible job, but all of you knew that.

You’ve all had to deal with the same issues. Heck, you may be causing those issues with your own folks.

We must have open lines of communication. And we must use them, even if only occasionally.

Some companies are old school in communication: They advertise when they need to get the word out, and they use traditional channels to broadcast the message. If you want something, you must call or email or drop by during business hours.

They might not update their website. They might not return your call or email. And they might carry that indifference to newer channels: social media, blogs, texting.

My biggest frustration often comes from lack of response. At its root, that’s more than a communications problem. No reply may mean indecision, or a corporate structure in which only a select few are empowered to decide, or a lack of incentive for service.

These are not easy issues to fix, as you know.

I can help build the channels appropriate for a company’s needs. I can unclog the lines of communication so they’re used efficiently and effectively.

But first, we must acknowledge the real problem: We are imperfect beings. We know how to communicate, but often fail at it nonetheless.

• • •

I have more ideas on better lines of communication
in this week’s newsletter. Subscribe now …


How to make an awesome slide deck, and why you don’t need it

July 26, 2015


In speaking to audiences around the country, I’ve used slide decks in most of my presentations.

But I overdo it.

I make pretty decks, and then sometimes I put up the wrong deck. Or go without when the projector fails.

I practice with them, but I also rehearse without them.

Presentations aren’t about the speaker or about the slides — they’re about the information. I’ve been working more lately on my storytelling and delivery, how I can improve my stage presence, not with better visuals, but with better technique.

So let me explain how to make an awesome deck, and how to live without it.

How to make an awesome slide deck

1. Write an outline. I’ll usually have three main points, and back those up with at least two sub-points each. And an introduction and a conclusion.

2. Boil each line of the outline down to one or two words.

3. Look for one image to fill the entire slide. (In 2009, I found Mack Collier’s decks to be inspiring, so I emulated his style.) I typically use photos with Creative Commons licensing for commercial use, easily found on Flickr. Here’s a search for “turkey” for CC images.

4. Build the deck in PowerPoint with plain transitions. I don’t rely on the gimmicks of Prezi or fancy transitions.

I don’t use video clips: I find they wreck momentum. I do onscreen demos as needed, but I realize that any number of things can go wrong with them (no wifi, projector flicker, unexpected results).

5. I rehearse with the slides and a remote. And I rehearse without slides, just in case.

Why you don’t need your awesome slide deck that you worked very hard on

1. Communicate as though each word carries meaning, each sentence builds an idea. Be deliberate in choosing words and sentences to create a dynamic and meaningful talk.

2. Speak directly to each person in the room. We do this through eye contact, planted feet and careful attention to audience response (interested, sleepy, bored, confused, excited, distracted).

3. Very few concepts require slides or a screen: hands-on demos, diagrams or charts that require a lengthy explanation. Painting pictures with words fires up an audience’s imagination, rather than passively viewing a slide.

4. Some speakers use slides as a crutch, to remember where they are in the presentation (guilty) or to have the audience focus on the screen rather than themselves. But the speaker should be the star, able to carry the spotlight and the fickle attention span of five to 500 people.

5. The very best speakers work hard to deliver a captivating presentation through words, tone, gestures, expressions, pauses and pacing. The rest is window dressing.

Great presentations and speeches can have slide decks, may even be enhanced by them.

But great presenters and speakers know that success depends on audiences understanding new ideas and information, no matter how they’re packaged.

• • •

Need a speaker for your next event?
Contact me today …

Contact me

Getting the brand back together

July 20, 2015

Wade Kwon, Jen Barnett

I talk about branding often for three reasons.

First, I’ve learned so much about effective branding in the last few years. Watch my talk on branding and blogs to pick up a few ideas.

Second, great branding has boosted my visibility and my profits.

Third, I can help you in a very specific way with your brand.

Meet Jen Barnett, a longtime associate of mine and a true expert when it comes to brand focus. She has worked with clients big and small, and she’s available to help your company with branding.

Contacting us won’t cost you anything. Asking her questions about the 4-hour branding session won’t cost you anything. Figuring out if you need branding help won’t cost you anything.

Fixing your brand will eliminate ineffective marketing, headaches, worry and the wrong customers. It is so worth it.

End your summer on a high note. Learn how your brand can stand out among competitors and guide your colleagues and fans to what your company does best.

• • •

We’re standing by for your click …

Contact me

Blogging’s hidden cost: tradeoffs

July 13, 2015
paint chips

Photo: Jocelyn (CC)

In talking with an Instagram entrepreneur (Instapreneur™?) over the weekend, I discussed forming a business plan. It doesn’t cost anything, but it compels her to consider two important questions before actually building a business.

1. Is the risk low enough and the reward high enough?

2. What tradeoffs would it require?

That second question is the one we don’t ask enough, about entrepreneurism, about social media or about blogging. We sometimes refer to it by its fancy name, opportunity cost.

She mentioned a handful of Instagram rock stars who have turned their accounts into opportunities: cash sponsorships, travel, fame and so on. Some may have stumbled into it; others may have set out deliberately to build their brands.

What we don’t ask is: What did each successful Instagrammer give up to make it to the top? It could be time spent with family and loved ones. It could be sleep and taking care of their health. It could be regular opportunities in their day jobs and career.

They may have paid a steep price, one that we may not readily pay ourselves in seeing the overall outcome.

We can do one thing at a time. The more we do it, the better (hopefully) we get at it. We can do many things at a time, if we don’t mind doing them in mediocre fashion (this is how I mow the lawn, clean my house and do my laundry).

Blogging is a terrific longterm marketing tactic. It builds site equity. It defines a brand methodically. It engages any number of readers, fans and searchers for relationships.

But it comes at a high cost, even if we don’t spend a dime. We spend enormous amounts of time planning and creating and editing content. After publishing, we spend even more time promoting content. Both before and after may require coordination among colleagues, freelancers, lawyers, salespeople and subjects.

The opportunity costs can be numerous: We cannot engage in other marketing tactics that may yield quicker results and sales. We may waste time on a content management system that is outdated or ill-equipped to meet our needs. We may plunge forward without clear direction on how each blog post fits into the marketing plan or annual business goals.

These are the hidden costs of blogging for standard marketing. Just imagine how steep those hidden costs are to blog successfully in achieving goals and becoming a top marketer.

It’s OK to pay a steep price, but it’s even better to anticipate the price and factor it into the master plan from the beginning.

• • •

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On the air for “Biz Talk with Roy Williams”

July 6, 2015

Tina Tidmore, Wade Kwon

Tina Tidmore and Wade Kwon on “Biz Talk with Roy Williams”

Talk show host and reporter Roy Williams was kind enough to have me on his weekly radio show last week. He and writer Tina Tidmore occasionally talk journalism issues, and we all discussed freedom of the press for his special Independence Day episode (taped in advance).

If you missed “Biz Talk with Roy Williams” on Saturday, you can listen to it here.

Or stream it as an audio file.

We talk about issues affecting journalists and bloggers, and what differences remain between the two groups.

One of the last questions was on threats to freedom of the press. I managed to squeak in half of my answer, the first part being the ongoing need for a national shield law. The second part didn’t fit into the remaining time, so I’m including it here.

The biggest threat to freedom of the press is corporate consolidation of media. It has been a constricting factor throughout my years of working in corporate media. Simply put, you can’t cut your way to better coverage, or even long-term profitability.

It has affected journalism at every level throughout the United States, but Birmingham will be a case study for years to come. In the coming days, Alabama Media Group, the company formed from three state newspapers and, will merge with NOLA Media Group to become Southeast Regional Media Group. Expect more layoffs and shoddier reporting.

Thanks to Roy for having me on the show!

• • •

Need a savvy and entertaining guest for your podcast or show?
Put me on the hot seat for your audience …

Contact me

In lieu of another blog post, 2015 edition

June 29, 2015

Wade Kwon, Y'all Connect 2015

I had a great time working on the 2015 edition of Y’all Connect Presented by Alabama Power. In fact, I’m still having a great time working on it.

No blog post this week. Except for this blog post telling you what I’m doing instead:

  • Doing research for a prospective client.
  • Writing a guest blog post for Gender Avenger(!).
  • Preparing a story for a potential gig featuring The Moth in Birmingham.
  • Donating blood.
  • Getting ready for an awesome Independence Day weekend.

How’s your summer going?

• • •

If you need help with marketing, blogging, social media
or other areas of communication, let’s meet …

Contact me

Promote an event with a real Web presence

June 22, 2015

Wade Kwon, Rebecca Dobrinski

We are surrounded by happenings. Networking events, workshops, seminars, grand openings, lunch and learns, conferences, open houses, product launches and more.

I have events on the brain after having wrapped up our third annual Y’all Connect Presented by Alabama Power. And I’ve been hitting a lot of business get-togethers over the last few months to promote the conference.

Great events with great marketing face tons of competition for people’s attention and time. Great events with poor marketing have the same fight. And great events with zero marketing … same refrain.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Why cede potential attendees to other lesser events, or worse, to their default activity (wasting time at the office, or sitting at home)?

Companies and organizations with perfectly nice websites often post their events online. Just not on their websites. It’s like renting a billboard a thousand miles away, or airing commercials in Latin.

Yes, an organizer might want to cross-post a meeting to a Facebook event page, or sell tickets through Eventbrite. But to serve attendees effectively, the event must be easy to find.

Not every attendee uses Facebook, nor will Google her way to an Eventbrite listing. The expectation is that the host will have the event posted prominently on the company website.

It’s OK if the organizer has to send customers to a third-party site for ticket purchases (though Eventbrite allows embedding of its ticket window). But it should begin with the company’s site. And it should include the basic information.

Having events on the website makes for easier, better marketing. An organizer can send out a link in social media and email newsletters. She can even have a short URL to include on flyers and Instagram pics.

Even those conscientious enough to advertise events on their sites do so for a short time.

For some unknown reason, companies often wipe out the previous event for the next upcoming event, usually on a static page reserved for events and meetings. Do customers want to buy from organizations that appear to have held only one meeting ever?

The simple solution is to create a unique event page for each new meeting, and use the main events page to link to one or more upcoming or past events. Context shows the undecided attendee the rich history of topics and speakers from previous sessions.

That’s a huge missed opportunity. It takes the same amount of effort to keep all those archived events as it does to delete them forever.

But the biggest missed opportunity in having an event on a host site is bringing people back for future events. Many people who see the event can’t attend because of a scheduling conflict. They will never revisit the site again, unless the organizer takes one last step.

Asking visitors to sign up for the mailing list. “Receive free email alerts for our upcoming meetings!”

Selling tickets to past customers saves time and money on marketing. It builds a fan base and a customer database. It makes perfect sense.

Most event organizers aren’t doing it. And it’s sending their would-be audience to other events in droves.

Having a successful event starts with how it’s presented from the beginning. A great organizer should show off all her events on her site for maximum marketing power and the best customer service.


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Outrage Theater

June 14, 2015

Photo: Brian (CC)

A long time ago in a place known as the Internet, people would occasionally TYPE IN ALL CAPS TO EXPRESS ANGER AND LOUDNESS.

(Or they would just have the Caps Lock on by accident.)

Other people would come along and politely ask (or rudely demand) that the OP (original poster) would stop “shouting.” It might have the desired effect, or it might incite everyone to BEGIN FURIOUSLY POUNDING THEIR KEYBOARDS AT FULL VOLUME.

I’ve seen a lot of Facebook discussion filled with rampant typos, casual racism and sexism, ugly homophobia, bigotry, idiocy and trolling … but way fewer all-caps posts. Progress.

To fill the vacuum, we have a legit successor to flame wars, cyberbullying, going viral, slacktivism, clickbait, subtweeting and doxing.

I call it Outrage Theater.

(I deliberately used something similar to the fiction of Security Theater.)

The online world seems to run primarily on outrage these days. No transgression is too small to bring the full weight of the commentariat raining down on an offender.

I find it alarming. I find it uncivilized and unkind.

Plenty of sites and personalities and bloggers make a fine living trafficking in outrage. The world will never run out of those who speak their puny minds, making others miserable. Their deliberate harm and willful ignorance deserves a response. A proportional response.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin brings up this discussion in the White House in his 1995 film, “The American President.” (And revisits — really, recycles — it in third episode of “The West Wing” titled … “A Proportional Response.”)

Through President Shepherd (played by Michael Douglas), Sorkin is asking us to weigh the options of lashing out in anger versus meting out a suitable retaliation. We have to overcome the automatic fight-or-flight response to every threat, real or imagined, that our lizard brains perceive. Otherwise, we always come out swinging.

The Internet has no place for nuance, for proportional responses. Either we’re outraged or we’re not. Every transgressor must be smote or set free.

The problem with the trend of all outrage all the time is that it will eventually fizzle out. And things that truly deserve outrage (dictators, murderers, rapists, unhinged corporations, warlords) will have been reduced to the same level as the jerk who broke into my house 7 years ago and stole about $200 worth of electronics.

Certainly, I’d like to find the burglar and thank him with the business end of my car. But I know rationally that the particular punishment I’ve chosen doesn’t quite fit the crime.

We’ve lost all perspective when someone speaking their mind, no matter how offensively and stupidly, merits global online outrage calling for death, abuse of the immediate family and unceasing ridicule till the next poor sap stumbles along. Even lesser offenses and petty crimes warrant full-bore public shaming.

Could we not better spend our time building things up rather than tearing things down?

I’m no innocent. I’ve called people out (online and in real life), and I’ve been called out. I’ve trolled, and subtweeted, and done my fair share of gossiping and bullying. I doubt I have the maturity to apologize for most of it, though I will definitely own up to all of it.

In thinking about all of this, I had a great speaker under consideration to give the opening keynote at my conference last week. She has been through her share of Outrage Theater, and I thought her story would be enlightening and informative.

She wasn’t available this time, but I still hope she’ll consider a future trip here. We need the education.

Each of us might feel a tiny bit superior in performing our role in this theater of the damned, casting a pebble upon the villain of the moment. But it doesn’t really change anything, does it?



• • •

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Be kind to your Twitter followers

June 7, 2015

I had a discussion on Twitter the other day about increasing the number of followers. I’ve written about that many times on this blog and other sites.

One idea I haven’t talked about is being nice to your followers. It’s a simple gesture that shows you really value them, not just as a statistic but as human beings. I’d rather see better interactions online than huge numbers. I know I have room to improve when it comes to responding to people on the Internet.

I find it easier sometimes in real life. I like to bake, so bringing cookies to friends and strangers is my favorite way to spread happiness.

ginger cookies

I find it easier with others than with myself. My ongoing challenge is to be kinder to me.

I have a regular opportunity to exercise this kindness on the Y’all Connect Twitter account, @YallConnect. One of my favorite ways to recognize fans is to give shout outs to every attendee. I’ll spend a couple of days listing hundreds of Twitter followers in tweets with funny compliments. I tend to be reserved in my compliments, so I had some help from the Emergency Compliment site.

(At the end of the movie “Clerks II,” director Kevin Smith used 12 minutes of credits to list 10,000 MySpace friends as part of a promotional stunt.)

I’ve also recognized great tweeps on my account with “Recommend you follow” tweets. I had planned to make it a regular scheduled feature, but it has slipped through my fingers time and again.

Our Y’all Connect speaker Ramon De Leon recognized Twitter fans in a very popular way. As a Domino’s Pizza franchise owner in Chicago, he’d compile a list of Twitter followers with whom he’d interacted recently. He’d print the list on the coupon sheet taped to the top of every pizza box. Customers were ordering pies just to see their Twitter names on this flyer!

The most basic way to be kind is to respond to and retweet others. I’ve got the responding down easily, but the retweeting needs work. For me, I can set a goal of retweeting three people a day (after this year’s conference) to get started. I’m already following them and reading their tweets in Tweetdeck and the Twitter app, so hitting the Retweet button shouldn’t be that much of a strain.

I find being of service to be a great help to Twitter followers. I share useful and interesting things, and leave out the poorly written, poorly informed and poorly intentioned items. But basic kindness matters. Reaching out matters. Recognition matters.

I’ll still make jokes and stand up for what I believe. But I’ll also make a stronger effort to be kind on Twitter. I hope you’ll try as well.

• • •

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Blogging fear: Opportunity costs

June 1, 2015
notebook keyboard

Photo: Pete O’Shea (CC)

I asked for your biggest fears in blogging, and y’all came through.

This week’s fear: “I’ve reached a fairly comfortable level with my traffic and comments, though I’d always like to see more. I long for that hugely viral post where I can’t even respond to all the comments I receive.

“One of my biggest fears? Blogging can become a bit like a drug or an obsession. I’m concerned that I’m spending too much time in blogging activity with no real end benefit pertaining to my actual writing goals.”

— Arlee Bird, A-to-Z Challenge co-host, Tossing It Out

It’s a tricky balance, but live the life you want to blog about.

That’s a tweet I send out annually as part of my #dailyblogtip series. It speaks to opportunity costs and living beyond the space in front of screens.

I’ve spent many a long night and day in front of screens as a writer and a journalist, and now as a consultant and a conference director. The value of having a flexible work life is that as long as my screen has Internet access, I can place it wherever I want.

That also makes it difficult to escape.

Many bloggers happen to enjoy blogging, whether it’s coming up with posts or watching the numbers rise. They also enjoy the routine, always ready to do a few more laps on the hamster wheel.

I use goals to break the routine. If you have clearly defined goals, you can skip some of the time wasted on routine blogging for more productive pursuits.

What are your writing goals? How are you measuring your progress? How does blogging help you achieve those writing goals?

For example, your writing goal might be to sell a novel to a publishing house. Blogging may help or hinder that goal. You may find simpler ways to achieve that goal.

Examine your writing goal critically, and make sure blogging is a useful tactic in accomplishing it. If not, make the hard choice to cut back on blogging to do the essential steps to achieving what you really want.

Don’t let the highs of blogging distract you from becoming the writer you can be.

Tell me about your biggest fear in blogging,
and I might answer it in a future post.

More in our Blogging Fears series.

Video: The art of the brand [Rocket City Bloggers]

May 25, 2015

Video: The art of the brand

I gave my presentation “The art of the brand: What your blog needs and deserves” a second time this spring. It’s quickly become one of my favorites.

In this version to the Rocket City Bloggers, I skipped the slides.

Tip: The video is 60 minutes long, but you can click on the gear icon and increase the playback speed to 1.25x, 1.5x or 2x.

The slides and worksheet are available on this earlier post.

Share your questions and feedback in the comments.

More videos? Visit my YouTube channel.

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