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A communications gap

March 22, 2015
abandoned mailbox

Photo: Creative Ignition (CC)

I spent the better part of an otherwise relaxing weekend cleaning up a mess.

A digital mess. One 10 years in the making.

I become frustrated when I don’t receive replies to my emails. Not frustrated after 60 seconds, but sometimes after a few days, or weeks or even months. I’m sure a few of my emails end up in the Spam folders of the world, but then again, I check my Spam folder daily.

Or so I thought.

I had my hosting service move one of my sites from one shared server to another this weekend. I put it off for weeks, because I dreaded the possibility of site outages or other unforeseen problems. It actually went smoothly, until I checked my email. No go.

I fixed the problem, but then discovered a slip-up on my part. A huge slip-up.

A couple of my sites with a handful of email accounts had been accumulating emails on the server for close to 10 years. I had no idea.

Fortunately, most (like 99.9999 percent) were actual spam. But wow, to miss more than 200,000 emails was shocking to me.

I set up the new server so these emails wouldn’t disappear on me again. I deleted the old emails in a painfully slow process, 1,000 at a time.

And I finally solved the Mystery of the Grossly Inflated Site Backups™.

The good news is that I won’t miss any more emails (knock on wood). The better news is that my site backups are much smaller now, since I finally chunked all the junk mail just taking up gigabytes of server space. That will make everything run a little faster from here on out.

And if you tried to reach me at one of those addresses and never heard back from me, I apologize. Even if you were just trying to save me money on auto insurance, mortgages or Canadian sex pills.

• • •

No better way to clog your Inbox
than with my free weekly email newsletter …


Speaking gigs: Birmingham Bloggers, March 2015

March 15, 2015

Birmingham Bloggers

I’m looking forward to speaking to Birmingham Bloggers for my first time.

The group will have me for a new 1-hour seminar on “The Art of the Brand: What Your Blog Needs and Deserves.”

The official description:

Your blog stands for something. It represents your values and your personality, even if unintentionally. Branding might be more buzz word than tactic, but you must make it meaningful.

Join Y’all Connect conference director Wade Kwon as he explains how he turned a campaign launch with a so-so logo into a juggernaut. And how his online dating profile made him invisible. And how his adventures in branding helped his clients create and maintain standout brands.

The event is free for group members and $15 for nonmembers, with tickets available online

I hope you’ll be there for an in-depth exploration of branding for your site.

generic brands

Photos: Michael Coté, left; Rob Stinnett (CC)

• • •

Need a speaker for your upcoming event?
Let’s work together …

Contact me

Blogging fear: Reaching the end

March 9, 2015
bridge road closed

Photo: Justin Russell (CC)

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

This week’s fear: “That it’s run it course and I should take up knitting.”

Nothing wrong with knitting. My pal Mercedes blogs about it on her site.

Let me put your mind at ease. It’s OK to stop blogging. It’s OK to pause blogging. It’s OK to end a blog.

I started a personal blog in 2012 called Project Bulk about getting in shape. I always intended it to be a project that would eventually run its course. I scaled back from daily posts to weekly to monthly posts. And then I was done. I left it online so others could learn from it or find something inspirational or amusing.

Some companies use limited-run blogs to launch campaigns or chart their own projects. They have no obligation to continue them for ever and ever.

I rarely have time to post on Media of Birmingham, though our fair city has plenty of ongoing industry fodder. I have ideas and drafts, but the news is a little too depressing for me to pursue.

Blogs sometimes hit their end. Or sometimes the bloggers evolve as their interests change. They burn out, they move on. Nothing wrong with any of that.

I’d rather see you walk away, head held high, than push and push until you grow sick of the whole enterprise. Blogging isn’t for everyone, though I truly believe everyone should at least try it once.

Thanks for blogging — hope to see you online again real soon.

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

More in our Blogging Fears series.

Workshop in Huntsville on April 25 — you pick the topic

March 2, 2015
Huntsville kites

Photo: E.C. Johnson (CC)

I’m giving an hourlong presentation for Rocket City Bloggers on April 25 in Huntsville. You can pick the topic.

Take the survey by 5 p.m. March 9. It takes only a couple of minutes, and you could win a Y’all Connect training video and a $10 gift card to Angel’s Island Coffee.

The seminar choices:

  • The Absolutely Essential Twitter Workshop
  • The Art of the Brand: What Your Blog Needs and Deserves
  • Content Curation for Smarties: Know Everything All the Time
  • How to Attend Your First Blogging / Social Media Conference
  • How to Get Ahead on Google: Basics of SEO and Metadata
  • How to Run Promotional Campaigns and Build Your List using WordPress
  • How to Win Awards and Influence Readers in 439 Days and 668 Posts
  • The Power of Digital Storytelling
  • The Super Easy Guide to Video for Content Marketing
  • Your Blog Is Your Business: Next Steps to Success

(You can RSVP for the free April 25 workshop online.)

Don’t wait — fill out the survey now.

take survey

Y’all Connect 2015: The date, the place, the tickets

February 22, 2015

Y'all Connect 2015

Our annual blogging/social media conference returns June 12!

Don’t miss Y’all Connect 2015 at the BJCC East Meeting Rooms in Birmingham. It’ll be bigger and badder than ever, with 10 speakers from across the country sharing insights and practical takeaways in digital marketing.

Tickets go on sale Tuesday.

But don’t pay full price: Save $30 as a subscriber to the Y’all Connect newsletter.

We’ll see you this summer in Birmingham!

Workshop on March 25, but what to discuss?

February 22, 2015
polling station

Photo: Adrian Scottow (CC)

Birmingham Bloggers will have a workshop on March 25. I’m giving the talk, but I don’t know what blogging topic to do.

You can help.

Take the survey by March 2. It takes 2 minutes, and you could win two great prizes.

The seminar choices:

  • The Absolutely Essential Twitter Workshop
  • The Art of the Brand: What Your Blog Needs and Deserves
  • Content Curation for Smarties: Know Everything All the Time
  • How to Attend Your First Blogging / Social Media Conference
  • How to Get Ahead on Google: Basics of SEO and Metadata
  • How to Run Promotional Campaigns and Build Your List using WordPress
  • How to Win Awards and Influence Readers in 439 Days and 668 Posts
  • The Power of Digital Storytelling
  • The Super Easy Guide to Video for Content Marketing
  • Your Blog Is Your Business: Next Steps to Success

Everyone who submits an email address is entered into a drawing for a $25 gift card from Babalu Tacos and Tapas and a special training video from Y’all Connect! (I visited Babalu for my first time Thursday, and it was delicious!)

We’ll announce the workshop title, time and location soon.

Don’t wait — fill out the survey now.

take survey

Blogging fear: Not enough eyeballs

February 15, 2015
night traffic

Photo: Bossi (CC)

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

This week’s fear: “I am worried that I will never attract traffic.” — J.A.

This blog has never been a high-traffic blog. That’s OK. I want the right traffic for this blog, and I’ve been building it for 6 years.

High traffic is nice if your company depends on page views and ad clicks. Most business blogs don’t fall into this category of news and entertainment. What is your business goal? How does blogging fit into that goal? And is traffic a vital component?

First, you must build traffic by blogging consistently. If you can’t be bothered to provide updates, news and information to attract an audience, readers won’t bother to show up.

Second, you must see if you’re pulling in the right audience. The simplest way to do this is through a call to action on every post. You can ask readers to leave a comment, download a white paper, contact you for more information, use a promo code, sign up for a mailing list or buy a product. If you have great traffic but no takers, you are attracting the wrong audience.

Post items that are informative, interesting or funny. Repeat. Keep going. Stand out by being helpful and consistent.

If you’re worth following, they will indeed come.

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: Publishing false info

February 9, 2015
Experience the harm

Photo: Stefan Powell (CC)

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

On Twitter, Albert Pride shared that he’s concerned about “conveying false and potentially harmful information.”

That’s a good one to start off this series. As a journalist, I always have that editor’s voice — in my head or bellowing in my ear — that reminds me that I must get it right.

Let me share a few quick ways to avoid publishing bad info.

1. Don’t rush. One reason we publish false information is that we are hasty. You may be putting pressure on yourself to go faster, especially if you trade in industry news and rumors. Even bloggers want to be the first with a scoop, and that can lead to some horrifying and embarrassing mistakes.

Journalism is a process that takes time. It takes time to have information sourced from more than one person. It takes time to have an editor review our work. It takes time to consider the fundamental questions: Do I have everything right? Do I have all the facts? Is this newsworthy, or merely click-worthy?

2. Don’t run rumors. I haven’t been in a newsroom in a decade, but I still hear rumors all the time. Gossip can be a good starting point for reporters, but it should not be the end point, too.

Reporters spend (sometimes waste) a lot of hours running down rumors, attempting to find documentation or witnesses that can verify or dispel them. Bloggers have earned a bad reputation for skipping this crucial step and publishing rumors as fact.

I am often tempted to publish hearsay, especially when I hear a rumor again and again. But I don’t. It ain’t worth it.

3. Consider carefully the ethical implications. Accurate, truthful information can still be potentially harmful. We often think our options as bloggers are limited to two choices: Publish or don’t publish.

This is a false dilemma, and even major news organizations fall prey to this lazy thinking.

Alabama Media Group recently published partial information from a sealed 2010 divorce case which implicated a public official in an extramarital affair with the wife. In a separate story explaining the reason to run the exposé, the reporter wrote:

“This is a difficult news decision as there are arguments on both sides. But there is no half-measure available to us — we either publish, or we don’t. We can be undecided, but we must decide.”

Nonsense. Just a few options include requesting to have the case unsealed … publishing online only … publishing in print only … publishing in the context of a series of cheating pols … having the pol write a first-hand account … sitting on the story till it becomes more relevant (if ever) … reducing it to a paragraph in a longer investigative piece … omitting the official’s name … leaking it to a competing news organization …

Ethics is a process, not a oversimplified question of right vs. wrong. Journalists, bloggers and citizens can learn this process quickly and practice it over and over. Take the ethics walk and discover a new world of options.

4. Correct your mistakes. I have made my share of mistakes as a journalist and a blogger. And I have corrected the ones I know about quickly and transparently.

When someone alerts me, I double-check the new info, then publish it. Having and using a corrections policy is a critical step in defending yourself in defamation suits.

5. Consult your attorney. You can ask me for legal advice, but since I’ve never been to law school, my advice will be terrible. Use an attorney for your questions about errors, libel and more.

6. Consider errors and omissions insurance. A policy can help limit the costs and the damage to your company.

Don’t let this fear of putting false or potentially harmful info stop you from blogging. Verify your info, and write with fairness and honesty. And be prepared to make corrections if needed and to stand up for your work always.

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

What’s your biggest fear in blogging?

February 2, 2015

Illustration: jnyemb (CC)

Tell me your worst blogging fear. Whisper it in my ear.

I’ll give answers for every fear you send me. Your name is optional.

Are you worried about commenters, SEO or writer’s block? Looking stupid or not having enough time? Catching up with other bloggers and brands? How to get started? How to quit?

Tell me. We’ve all had fears, and this is your chance to get help from an expert.

(Or you can use my contact form.)

See our Blogging Fears series.

The great Twitter cleanup

January 26, 2015
broom sweep

Photo: Kate Ter Haar (CC)

I hit the Twitter limit for following others … again. (On my @YallConnect account.)

I unfollowed 800 tweeps. Last time, I unfollowed just 250.

Such is life on Twitter.

Don’t agonize over it as I have, even if it violates a sacred tenet: Brands shouldn’t unfollow anyone.

Most of those tweeps won’t notice a missing follower. Those that do have only to ask and I’ll refollow.

This one-time cleanup will help the account avoid the 2,000-follow limit for about 18 months, longer if the followers increase quickly.

And it gave me a chance to try out another free tool. Previously, I used

This time, I tried UnfollowerStats and was pleased with the interface, the efficiency. They share similar features in examining your Twitter followers and those being followed.

UnfollowerStats made it easy to drop 800 people I had been following in one session, without running into the Twitter limit of only 100 drops per 24 hours. I don’t think I would’ve had the patience to drop 100 tweeps a day for a week.

While I don’t want your brand account to unfollow anyone, I do want you to get the most out of Twitter. To me, that means following people who add something to the community: information, laughs, interaction or perspective.

Take a half-hour to clean up each account. And be judicious about managing who you follow and who you add to Twitter lists.

• • •

Need help with your social media channels?
Contact me for a free consultation …

Contact me

Better event marketing: the basics

January 19, 2015
party lasers

Photo: Kevin Cortopassi (CC) 

Your company may be putting on events in 2015 as part of its marketing strategy. It’s an opportunity to meet customers, share your products and services, offer hospitality and collect data about your audience.

Or your company may be sponsoring workshops, conferences, parties and open houses to reach well-established groups without the fuss of event planning.

What ensures a great event? What do you need to look for in your own events or ones you sponsor?

I’ve put on professional events for more than 10 years. It is a lot of work with no guarantees of success.

Follow these suggestions to ensure the biggest and best audience for your efforts …

Focus on the attendees at all times. Seems simple enough, right? Have I given them enough information? Will this event make their lives better? Am I doing this for me or for them?

I have seen many events flounder because ego gets in the way. Even fancy catering sometimes gives the impression of “Look at how great we are” instead of “We want to take care of you.”

• A checklist of required information.

At the very least:

  • Date,
  • Time,
  • Organizer (I hate trying to guess who is putting on an event, but sometimes it’s omitted.),
  • Cost (never a fan of when organizers try to “hide” the cost on another page),
  • Location, including street address, map and parking.

Including more information on this second list helps shoppers decide on buying tickets, even free ones:

  • Agenda/schedule,
  • Speaker bio: Who is this person and why is he qualified to take an hour out of my busy day?
  • Topic (Please, please make sure you have a tightly focused topic and that the speaker sticks to it.),
  • Topic summary: What am I getting for my time and money?
  • Activities,
  • Prizes,
  • Sponsors,
  • Food and drink (and if it’s free or not).

Make it easy to register. Put the ticket form on the event page to collect the name, quantity, contact info and payment info.

I like to think I’m a bright guy, but I have been utterly defeated occasionally when trying to register for an event. Instead of getting a ticket, I walk away with frustration at the organizer.

• Show off your attendees. One of my favorite features in using the Eventbrite ticketing system is showing who has already bought tickets. Many organizers don’t know about this free option, but it gives additional encouragement for fence-sitters to go for it.

Charge more for your tickets. You should provide true value to your attendees. And the ticket price should reflect that value. Don’t worry: Someone will complain about the cost no matter what you charge. I’ve put on events where tickets for similar events would cost 10 times more in other cities, and yet, it’s too expensive!!!

I make sure to show the value of attending and give limited opportunities for discounts and sales.

Undervaluing your event in ticket pricing shows a lack of commitment to your cause, and that can be fatal.

• Send a reminder email to your guests. First, you must nudge your busy audience to go. Not everyone keeps a calendar. Some people overbook their days. You absolutely must call attention to your event, especially if your guests bought their ticket weeks ago.

Second, you are building anticipation for your event. You want people excited about going. Just because they bought a ticket doesn’t mean they’ll use it — even Super Bowl tickets sit at home unused. Tell them what to expect and announce door prizes and last-minute additions.

Many details go into putting on great events. Proper marketing gives you a sizable advantage in a crowded marketplace.

Give your event every reason to succeed with these tips. They’ll bring the right audience and the maximum ROI for your efforts.

• • •

Learn all you can in 2015 by subscribing to
my free weekly newsletter …


My LinkedIn pet peeves

January 12, 2015
crumpled paper

Photo: Aaron Jacobs (CC)

I can’t believe I’ve been on LinkedIn for 10 years. It’s a great tool, but one that could be so much better.

We’ve all seen a lot of changes on Facebook and Twitter, some good, some terrible. Many of those new features and formats came about because of competition from other social networks.

But no real competitor has challenged LinkedIn. Which is a shame, because competition makes for better products and services.

As someone who uses LinkedIn on a daily basis, let me share my Top Two pet peeves about the service. They’re both excuses I hear often from other users.

The first excuse is one I hear from friends. I’ll reach out to them through LinkedIn messaging to ask a question or wish them a “Happy Birthday.” Weeks or months later, they’ll respond with an apologetic “I hardly ever log in to LinkedIn.”

This is an easy problem to fix: Make sure notifications are going to your current email address. Often, users will have them sent to their work email, but then forget to update it when they change companies.

1. In LinkedIn, go to your tiny avatar in the upper right and click “Privacy & Settings – Manage” in the drop-down menu.

LinkedIn profile 1

2. Click “Change/Add” next to “Primary Email.”

LinkedIn profile 2

3. If you’re getting too many notifications (a common refrain), click the “Communications” tab and then “Select the types of messages you’re willing to receive.”

The second excuse is one I hear from strangers. I receive invitations to connect all the time. I don’t often recognize the senders — sorry, guy who sat in my talk in the last row 4 years ago — so I always send a challenge: “Where do I know you from?” or “Have we had the chance to meet in person?”

Very often, the reply is “Sorry, I accidentally invited everyone.”

I ain’t buying it. I’ve never used a social network, email program or online service that wormed its way into my address book and spammed hundreds of my friends and associates without my permission.

Maybe LinkedIn is at fault for designing a cunning interface. But it’s a losing strategy in the end, making new users look bad and chasing away veteran users receiving too many false invites.

Make your time on LinkedIn count. Use it with purpose, and contact me with questions.

Even if we don’t know each other,
you can still follow me on LinkedIn …

Follow Me on LinkedIn

P.S. Share your LinkedIn pet peeves in the comments.

Two timely notes on LinkedIn

January 5, 2015

Let’s peek in on recent changes at LinkedIn …

LinkedIn follow button

1. Hidden features and/or bugs. Good news: You can now “Follow” LinkedIn users. The traditional “Connect” to other members required permission from the recipient, but Follow does not.

Bad news: This feature is hidden, so no one will ever actually follow you. Worse news: The feature also reveals the user’s total number of connections (supposedly a private figure).

Let’s say you want to encourage strangers to Follow you on LinkedIn instead of Connecting. (This works out great for me, since I require actually knowing you to Connect.) You must direct them to your profile’s Recent Activity page … here’s mine.

LinkedIn - view recent activityTo find yours:

  1. Go to and log in.
  2. Click Profile in the main menu.
  3. Float your pointer over the triangle next to “View your profile” and click “View recent activity.”

You can do this with anyone’s profile.

The screenshot above shows my LinkedIn profile’s Recent Activity page. Note two important elements: The yellow Follow button in the upper right, and the statistic just to the left. (Click the screenshot if you want to see it full size, or just go straight to the live page.)

Usually, LinkedIn keeps a user’s number of connections hidden after reaching the 500 mark, shown as “500+ Connections.” But this page reveals the exact number. Intentional? Bug? Doesn’t matter, it’s out there for now.

Go Follow your favorite big shots on LinkedIn (though they might connect with you anyway). See how many connections they really have (501? 5 million?). And Follow me, too.

LinkedIn InMail change

2. A complete 180 on the InMail policy. Starting this month, LinkedIn is changing how it reinstates used InMails, and you’re not gonna like it.

Pro users such as myself get a set number of InMails, special LinkedIn emails, that they can use to make initial contact with other users.

The old policy was that if you contacted strangers on LinkedIn using InMail, you’d get those InMails reinstated if no one responded within 7 days. The new policy is that you get those InMails reinstated only if the user responds.


LinkedIn states:

“We want to reward people who are writing the most effective messages and getting responses by crediting InMail messages back to their accounts.”

That makes perfect sense … except for one huge flaw. It punishes LinkedIn users for reaching out unknowingly to inactive customers. I send Joe Smith, CEO at Acme Corp., an InMail asking for advice. Joe never logs into LinkedIn, and his notification email address goes to a dead account.

Peachy. I just lost an InMail, not because I didn’t use the system properly, but because Joe doesn’t use LinkedIn the way I do. In the old system, I would’ve gotten that InMail back, but under the new system, I lose because I’m not psychic and had no idea Joe wasn’t that into LinkedIn.

I can write the most eloquent note to Joe, but if he never logs in to read it, what good will it do?

LinkedIn, you’re punishing your power users for no apparent reason (except maybe to upsell additional InMail credits).

In the 10 years I’ve been on LinkedIn, I’ve sent dozens of InMails with mixed results, and maybe received only a few (probably because it’s just as easy to contact me on or off LinkedIn without burning an InMail).

Maybe the powers at LinkedIn will reverse course when they see usage plummet in 2015. I’ll keep sending InMails till I run out …

Want to make your LinkedIn profile stand out?
Try my 1-hour webinar …

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Five more urgently needed blog topics for Birmingham

December 29, 2014

Birmingham Barons

The Birmingham Barons have never been more popular since moving back downtown.
Could a blog about them and other sports franchises be just as successful?

Five years ago, I suggested five topics for new blogs in Birmingham: history, classical music and opera, transportation, barbecue and hip hop.

I’ve seen a few food blogs come and go, but none focused on barbecue. My friends literally penned the book on “Alabama Barbecue” [aff. link] (though I wish they had done it independently of Alabama Media Group). And the Birmingham History Center blog ekes out eight or nine posts a year. I don’t know why it’s called 310 Pythian Place, but I’m sure a clever history joke is hiding in there somewhere.

Michael Huebner, most recently of the Alabama Media Group, started artsBham in November. Its coverage includes, but is not limited to, classical music and opera.

I believe these five topics would still make for great robust blogs, with weekly posts at a minimum. Monetization could come from sponsorship, events and other media (books, videos, television).

If you start blogging in 2015 and need a focus, allow me to suggest five more urgently needed blog topics for Birmingham …

  1. sports;
  2. causes;
  3. beer;
  4. videos;
  5. UAB.

• Let’s start with sports. A true fan and expert would have endless opportunities to write about the Barons, the Blitz (semi-pro basketball), Alabama Outlawz (minor league spring football), the Freedom (our 14th pro football team) and the Vulcans (rugby). Plus, UAB, Samford, Birmingham-Southern, Miles and Montevallo.

And the Magic City Classic, SEC Baseball Tournament, Regions Tradition at Shoal Creek, Mercedes Marathon, Labor Day Golden Classic, Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Triumph Superbike Classic, Magic City Half Marathon, Vulcan Run, high school football and basketball, college track and field championships (SWAC, Southland, Sun Belt, Conference USA, Southern), men’s and women’s college basketball championships (Conference USA, SIAC) …

No Alabama. No Auburn. Just Birmingham sports.

• I personally love causes. In featuring them in a weekly spotlight on a previous site, I had nonprofit organizations fill out questionnaires to run as blog posts. I never ran out of charities and volunteer organizations to present to readers. (I could’ve put together 6 months’ worth of posts in advance without much effort.)

• Beer is still reaching its peak popularity in Birmingham, specifically craft beer. More events and fund-raisers take place at breweries, and the multiple tastings and festivals regularly sell out. Tell me about the best beers, the newest varieties, the elements of a good brew, the brewers, the retailers, how to pair it with different foods and what to make at home. Niche market with lots of passion and disposable income.

• I have revived my love of sharing Birmingham videos on my original blog. You could post a video a day featuring those shot in or about this city. You could even simply copy videos from my site. Sources for new videos include YouTube, Instagram, Vimeo, Facebook, Vine, TV and other news sites and suggestions from fans. Pair good video curation with pre-rolls and banner ads for instant monetization.

• A blog about UAB once actively existed in Students created and ran it, and it was a thing of beauty. After the founder graduated, the blog ground to a halt.

An independent news site about the University of Alabama at Birmingham could really grab the attention of those inside and outside the campus community. Topics could include research, jobs, events (concerts, games, talks, movies), medicine, construction, gossip, alumni, academics, students and Greek life. Plus, I hear football is a hot topic among Blazers these days …

I love these topics. I don’t love them enough to blog about them all year, but I do love them. I hope you’ll steal one of these 10 ideas and blog your way to success in 2015.

What blog ideas for Birmingham did I miss? Share in the comments!

• • •

If you need blogging help beyond the topic, let’s chat …

Contact me

The 2014 index to posts

December 22, 2014
Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham

Photo: Kelsang Nyema (CC)

The year is almost over. So what did we learn in 2014? Take a look at all 55 of my posts, organized by category.


Social Media

Digital Marketing

Leadership and Management

Last but not Least


• • •

Get a head start on 2015 by subscribing to
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The power of Facebook groups

December 14, 2014
Photos: Clockwise from upper left, Uwe Martins,  Aiaraldea Komunikazio Leihoa, Henry Tseng, Editor CrazyYatra (CC)

Photos (clockwise from upper left): Uwe Martins, Aiaraldea Komunikazio Leihoa, Henry Tseng, Editor CrazyYatra (CC)

Facebook communities can become powerful entities. Most of the time, they exist to keep people in touch or help with a short-term goal (event planning, fund-raising).

Two Birmingham Facebook groups have received media attention for their size and their accomplishments. One group started as a trading hub, the other as a cause.

Mountain Brook Trading Facebook group

1. Mountain Brook Trading has grown to nearly 55,000 members in a little over 2 years. It’s one of those trading groups where you can buy or sell items with neighbors, or have discussions about where to get your clothes dryer repaired.

Founder Laura Greene Silsbee has taken her closed (as in privacy, not defunct) Facebook group to two new places. The first one is a new online home at VarageSale, a platform better suited for large group interactions and commerce than Facebook. It has 21,000-plus members since opening in July.

The second one is a brick-and-mortar location in partnership with Cyd Quick Ruffino, providing a storefront for consignment sales. It opened earlier this month and received coverage on

It’s amazing to see a Facebook group turn into a full-fledged business for two entrepreneurs.

Save UAB Football Facebook group

2. Save UAB Football sprang into action this month as the University of Alabama at Birmingham eliminated three athletic programs: bowling, rifle and football. With nearly 11,000 members, the closed (again, as in privacy) Facebook group has been a rallying point for students, employees, alumni and residents to fight back.

The UAB football movement has been an online juggernaut, with #FreeUAB becoming a trending hashtag worldwide in the first couple of days. The campus will be quiet for the 3-week semester break, especially after the raucous protests that greeted university president Dr. Ray Watts when he announced his decision 2 weeks ago.

The members of Save UAB Football have brainstormed tactics to win attention, recruit more followers and convince decision makers to restore the cut sports and fire Watts. The New York Times mentioned the group in one of its print/online stories.

It’s impressive to see thousands of strangers band together for a common cause.

I’ve managed my fair share of online communities over 20 years, some more successfully than others. What do you need to do to manage one successfully?

  • Define the rules early on, and post them prominently. New members are always showing up, and this helps put everyone on equal footing.
  • Do your job as administrator. That means weeding out spam, settling squabbles, encouraging participation and a million little tasks.
  • Listen more than talk.
  • Accept a group’s natural evolution. Members will leave, and some groups will wither.

Companies that create and grow powerful online communities accomplish goals they can’t do on their own. They stay connected with fans and critics. They collaborate rather than overrun. They empower others.

Join a Facebook group today to see these dynamics in action. The next community to change the world could be yours.

• • •

Need help with online communities?
Put me on your team today …

Contact me

I’m sorry for breaking the Internet

December 7, 2014
Sorry No Internet Today sign

Photo: Marcelo Graciolli (CC)

I stayed up till 4 a.m. Wednesday writing a post for my Birmingham blog. A fairly ordinary one at that.

It was timely, and it was longer than usual, almost 1,900 words. Really, the only big difference was structure: Would it be a report or an opinion piece?

I went with opinion. I felt I had the right information and the gumption to pick a side. Usually, I report, and readers decide.

Sometimes, we send our stories into the world and hope someone will notice. Or that readers will comment, whether they agree or disagree. Sometimes, we hit Publish and hope no one will read it ever.

After a long night of research, writing and editing while fighting a cold, I was ready. I did want people to read my rant about the end of a local university’s football program. Media outlets had jumped on the story the previous 72 hours, as well as a blogger or two, so my 2 cents would quickly become lost in the cacophony of anger and sadness and surprise.

I promoted the post on Twitter and Facebook, as I do with many of my posts. Traffic increased, but not by much. I hadn’t reached out to anyone to promote it, figuring it would live or die quickly on merit alone.

I was headed out for a few appointments that afternoon, when I received an email from my hosting service. It had turned off my site temporarily from traffic overload.


I tried to get to the post. No luck. I tried to log in. No luck. I emailed the technician asking him nicely to turn the site back on, knowing that traffic would settle back down soon. The email had also offered an advanced hosting plan, but why upgrade for something that has happened exactly once in 9 years?

That’s right: I’ve never written a post for any site that went viral. Until now.

I’ve written popular posts. I’ve written posts that were shared furiously on social media. But this was new for me.

I went to my meetings, hoping that the site would come back online soon and feeling a little helpless.

And a couple of hours later (while I was still AFK), the site and my post were up again. A blip in the life of the Internet.

In 5 days, my UAB football post has received almost 1,000 Likes and is my fourth most viewed post ever. (Those Top Three posts have been on my site for years and years.)


I’m not worried about breaking my site again, or trying to recapture that once-in-a-lifetime virality. You shouldn’t either.

Blog with purpose. Blog with passion. Be extra nice to your hosting service.

And be ready to do it all over again.

• • •

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You’re not special. Blog anyway.

December 1, 2014
Elephant, sticky notes

Photo: Jason Carter (CC)

Often, I am asked about blogging. Specifically, “Why should I blog? I’m no one special.”

You’re not special, but you should blog. I’m no one special, and I blog a lot.

In November, I published 75 posts on five blogs. Four were auto-generated, and two were book chapter excerpts from authors in Birmingham (and I spent time on those long posts with light copyediting).

You don’t have to be special to blog. You just have to make the time to create something and muster up the courage to hit “Publish.” Virtually no one will see your post, and you will have put a little bit of yourself out into the world.

The challenge you face isn’t that you’re an amazing person or a boring person. The challenge is that you’re trying to convert a big nebulous thing like LIFE or VIEWPOINT (or COMPANY or BRAND) into a discrete unit called a blog post.

I don’t have that problem because I’ve been writing a long time for publications. So I’ve had lots of practice converting an EVENT or an INTERVIEW or a CONCEPT into units called articles. If I wrote them quickly and accurately, I might get paid more and have better opportunities to create more interesting articles.

You will not magically write a perfect blog post for your first shot. If it takes you an hour to write one post, it make take 10,000 posts to become an expert blogger.

I’ve got maybe 6,500 posts published in 9 years. So eventually, I’ll be an expert blogger.

I blogged about weightlifting and dieting for a couple of years on Project Bulk. On Day 1, I had zero knowledge about either subject. Zero. But after the first 6 months, fans would come up to me to talk about that one site. They were interested because I was open and passionate about learning more in these two areas.

A stranger at a tailgate party this past weekend knew me from my posts on Media of Birmingham; my last post there was a year ago. But he remembered because he’s interested in local journalism and was kind enough to read my stuff. That is high praise in my book.

You can create those memorable engaging stories for your company. (And yes, your company isn’t special either.) Don’t plan it to death: Create something, hit “Publish,” repeat.

You absolutely do not have to be special to blog. But blogging again and again can actually make you special.

Marilyn Monroe, sticky notes

Photo: Peter Hellberg (CC)

• • •

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Thankful for …

November 24, 2014
turkey cards

Photo: Vanessa (CC)

I hope you’re getting ready for a day of fun and relaxation and maybe even a little reflection. And eating, of course, mustn’t forget the eating.

I’m thankful every day for good health and many opportunities. Allow me to share a few specifics from my long list of blessings.

  • I’m thankful for my clients, sponsors, supporters and cheerleaders. You bring me new challenges and new ways to serve.
  • I’m thankful to run my own business. It has taught me so many lessons from top to bottom and put my energy and my strategic thinking to the test.
  • I’m thankful to have ideas all the time. I give most away, and make some money on the rest.
  • I’m thankful for the honest and wise counsel of friends. And doubly thankful that I listen carefully when they speak.
  • I’m thankful for the gift of self-doubt. It has kept me honest with myself and humble (mostly).
  • I’m thankful for having traveled far and wide this year to give talks and meet people.
  • I’m thankful for being able to curb my sharp tongue, but also being able to speak up when few others will.
  • I’m thankful for my daily blogging, a never-ending opportunity to be creative and to improve as a writer and a communicator.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Take a moment to reflect on what you’re grateful for, and share it in the comments, please.

Everything I would fix about your terrible restaurant website right now if I could reach through the screen

November 17, 2014
birds dining

Photo: Alexander Boden (CC)

I go through this every time I browse through restaurants online.

Terrible, outdated, incomplete websites.

I could back-date this post to 2001. And I won’t even get started on the number of places that use Facebook or Yelp as their “website.”

This is what I would have you fix about your website today. Even a simple business card page that includes all the info would be preferable to some of the lackluster sites out there. (I’ve included links to sites with examples done right.)

  1. Hours, phone number, email, address. On every. single. page.
  2. Seriously, list your email. I saw sites that list their fax number but not their email.
  3. And respond to your email (a long-standing pet peeve).
  4. Twitter icon should link to your Twitter account. Or get rid of it.
  5. Mobile version or responsive version.
  6. Menus. And not just PDFs either. Actual text on page, with prices.
  7. Want to link out? Go nuts. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Yelp, Urbanspoon, Foursquare/Swarm, reviews, profiles, blog posts …
  8. Photos. Fewer ones of your empty restaurant, more of ingredients and entrees and people enjoying your food. Points deducted if you use stock images.
  9. And photos sized properly for the Web. No 6MB pics, please.
  10. Or just have an Instagram feed.
  11. A couple of sentences about your restaurant couldn’t hurt. What do you serve? How formal are you? How long have you been in business? What’s the house specialty? Do you suggest reservations?
  12. If you cater, post a menu and an order form.
  13. Or just, at least, say you offer catering.
  14. Page titles still matter. I’ve seen sites with ” ” as the page title.
  15. Do you take credit cards? Checks? Cash only? Paypal, bitcoin, Apple Pay, traveler’s checks hugs?
  16. Kids welcome? Tell me about your high chairs, children’s menu and discounts.
  17. If you deliver, tell me the minimum order and show me a map of your delivery area.
  18. I have a sweet tooth. I would like to know if you serve dessert. I don’t care if you’re open only for breakfast. No, you shut up!
  19. Special event coming up? New page or blog post.
  20. New chef? New page or blog post.
  21. Seasonal menu? New page or blog post.
  22. Toy drive? New page or blog post.
  23. Do you offer gift cards? It’s when people hand you free money, and they may or may not ever use the card itself. Or they use the card and spend even more money …
  24. Daily specials. Happy hour specials. Late night specials.
  25. Will you be open on Thanksgiving? Closing early the day before? Closing Wednesday through Sunday? Leave a note on your site.
  26. Proofread it. And have someone else proofread it.
  27. Owner bio and chef bio.
  28. Parking: where and how much? Valet?

Make it easy for hungry diners to pick your restaurant. Give them a smorgasbord of relevant information on your website.

What bugs you about restaurant sites? Let me know in the comments.

• • •

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