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The worst headlines in history will destroy your faith in humanity

December 9, 2013
tabloid headlines

Photo: Stephen Dann (CC)

Read any good headlines lately? It’s more likely you’ve clicked on a few provocative — if ultimately, unfulfilling — ones out of curiosity.

I posted today’s headlines from a few of the high-traffic sites.

BuzzFeed

  • How A Small-Time Marijuana Arrest Has Devastated A Great Teacher’s Life
  • Lady Gaga Is A Human Christmas Tree
  • 21 Signs You Had A Skater Phase
  • Tech Giants Launch Group Aimed At Government Surveillance Reform
  • The First Real Trailer For “Sherlock” Season 3 Dropped

Huffington Post

  • SPOOKS SPIED ON ONLINE GAMERS
  • Congress Ready To Extend Ban On Plastic Firearms
  • Economy on the Mend: Good News or Bad News?
  • Leaked Docs: White House Seeking Radical New Political Powers For Corporations
  • Sarah Silverman: ‘I Think Vaginas Really, Really Scare People’

Upworthy

  • A 15-Year-Old Ad About Racism Is A Great Reminder Of The Power We All Have To Promote Justice
  • ‘How Old Are You’ Is The Simplest Question Ever. So Why’d It Ruin An 11-Year-Old’s Life?
  • Think You Know What ‘Fat’ Means? You Should Listen To This Dude’s Definition.
  • Did That Really Just Happen? Yep. This Guy Pulled Down His Pants, On Stage, During His TED Talk.
  • One Singer’s Response To A Huge Promise Being Broken

Several traits help these headlines stand out: shock, celebrity, surprise. Many of the headlines are paired with thumbnails to help drive home the message.

The headline arms race has escalated dramatically during the digital age for several reasons. For starters, competition for attention has increased exponentially. We started battling in RSS feed readers, and now we demand clicks next to millions of tweets and Facebook updates.

Another reason headlines have become punchier is better metrics. We know instantly what works and tailor our style accordingly. It’s why you can out-bait the baiters with the Clickbait Headline Generator and the Upworthy Generator.

And we’re seeing intense focus on areas of coverage that continue to drive traffic: human interest, politics, gossip. These topics can lend themselves to strong headlines.

You don’t have to go overboard in writing your headlines and tweets. While a little sex appeal can spice up drab teases, I usually recommend a crash course in CNN headline writing.

Visit the CNN home page regularly to see stories with headlines and rewritten headlines every hour. Today’s sampling:

  • NEW 5 things for your ‘New Day’
  • Ugly scene at Brazilian soccer match
  • Fan fighting turns bloody
  • Paul Walker honored with car show
  • Terror threat spreads like ‘wildfire’
  • Campus cop shoots, kills student
  • Cops: Teens let friend drive drunk
  • 91 world leaders to honor Mandela
  • Bride’s pushed-off-cliff trial begins
  • Sources: Fraud ring also spied
  • Tech giants demand spying reforms
  • Iconic statue hacked to pieces

Every headline is a five- or six-word promise. Note how succinctly each story captures the one critical element in its wording.

You might click something out of curiosity. They’re seemingly irresistible.

Writing strong headlines does more than generate traffic. It makes for easier promotion. It helps you narrow the scope of your post. It develops your writing skills, as you write for brevity and impact. And it develops your editing skills, as you dump your first draft to craft the perfect hed.

Study those headlines. Then work toward making yours as fantastically, frightfully, shockingly stupendous.

• • •

Need help with your headlines?
Contact an award-winning headline writer for help …

Contact me

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2014 goal: Improve my storytelling

December 2, 2013

Video: Vine compilation 2013

I could tell much better stories. I need to work on that skill as much as possible.

I worked on my focus this year, and will continue to do so in the years to come. In 2014, I want to also work on my storytelling. That might mean in writing and in my daily haiku. That might mean in video. That might mean onstage.

I believe in stories. I love watching them and reading them and hearing them. It’s why Malcolm Gladwell sells so many books, by hooking readers with compelling narratives. It’s why even a 6-second Vine video can have a beginning, middle and end before you can blink. (See a slew of examples in the video above.)

It’s why even a creative nonfiction tweet (#cnftweet) can pack more story into 140 characters than in some novels.

Improving my storytelling skills will help me teach others more effectively. I weave stories into my presentations and training sessions, but usually in addition to my outline. I need to think more narratively from the start.

Being better at storytelling will also help me assist clients in developing campaigns and messaging for their goals. I already help plan editorial calendars, but having the story defined from the start will guide us in our work.

I shall dig deep into story construction and presentation. I know where I need to work hardest, and I look forward to practicing these skills.

Come see me in 2014, and let me tell you a story …

• • •

I share stories and links to stories in the free
weekly Birmingham Blogging Academy newsletter …

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Pinterest adds maps to its pins and boards

November 25, 2013

Pinterest Birmingham map screenshot

Screenshot of the Birmingham Pinterest place board

I wasn’t terribly good at geography in school. Maybe Pinterest’s newest feature will help me.

Last week, the social network added place pins to its “rich pins” set. Pinners can add location data to each pin, creating a “place board” or map of tourist attractions, hotels, restaurants, retailers and more.

If a locale has a Foursquare marker, it can have its location data on Pinterest.

When I found out Thursday, I started building a Birmingham place board with 74 pins. I learned my friend and colleague Jen was building her own map, ShopSmallBHAM. Funny how we both jumped right in on the first day. We’re just a couple of Pinterest nerds.

I can embed the pins on this site, but for now, they look exactly the same as regular pins … no location info included. Clicking on the embedded image leads to the pin, complete with a mini-map.

Gip’s Juke Joint pin with no geolocation data

I can also embed place boards, but as shown below, the embedded boards have no overall map (like the screenshot up top).

Birmingham place board, but no map

ShopSmallBHAM place board, but no map

Despite these display limitations, I can build a data-rich map similar to ones in Google Maps, with the added benefit of a great social network. (Google Maps, however, allows full map embedding, custom locations, routes and more.) Other pinners can follow the place board, repin their faves (to either regular pinboards or place boards), and Like or comment on pins.

(One huge and frankly odd limitation is the omission of follower counts on place boards. A Pinterest customer service representative said via email, “We don’t display followers on place boards — we’re working on a few designs to improve this in the near future.”)

The Pinterest blog rolled out the new feature with a list of 20 select place boards. My two favorites are …

1. A campus tour of the University of Michigan.

University of Michigan campus tour

2. Chef Andrew Zimmern’s favorite barbecue joints across America.

Andrew Zimmern barbecue map

Geolocation data can be a critical component, both for customers and companies.

A smart business will already have its Foursquare locations registered. A smart business will use Pinterest maps and geolocation-rich pins to feature branches, vendors, fans and any locale that relates to its mission.

And a smart business will understand that mapping provides another opportunity to reach and connect with people by giving geographic context to any message.

Follow me on Pinterest.

Learn more about Pinterest.

Let’s brainstorm

November 18, 2013

coffee

I must confess: I don’t do coffee.

I mean, I do coffees, as in coffee meetups. But I’ll likely have a Diet Coke.

Despite this shortcoming, I’d still like to do coffee with you. Meeting face to face gives me a better sense as to where you may need help with communication.

It will also give you a better sense as to what I do for a living. Because this is what I do, assessing corporate communications and making suggestions on how to improve, based on your goals.

Brainstorming is one of my strengths. I’ll pitch idea after idea after idea. And it won’t cost you a penny — I’ll even spring for the coffee.

(For those of you outside the Birmingham area, we can chat by phone, Skype or other video service. BYOC.)

Let’s do coffee soon. You’ll walk away with some killer ideas.

Photo: Martin Fisch (CC)

• • •

Let me know when you’d like
to brainstorm strategies and tactics …

Contact me

Focused communication: Working with subordinates, peers and bosses

November 11, 2013

Slides: “Focused communication: Working with subordinates, peers and bosses”

I’m giving this presentation on “Focused communication: Working with subordinates, peers and bosses” today to a class at Samford University. I’ve spent years honing my skills for effective interaction up, down and sideways.

What can you do to understand your colleagues better and help others work in harmony? I have nine strategies for improving communications with an emphasis on service.

1. You can download these slides or embed them on your site. To download a PDF, click the button marked “slideshare,” then “Save.”

2. If you want to stay in touch …

Thanks for checking out “Focused communication: Working with subordinates, peers and bosses.”

• • •

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to help improve your communication …

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Which video strategy is right for your company?

November 4, 2013

Video shoot

Photo: CalypsoCrystal (CC)

The right equipment will give you the best audio and video quality, even in the field.

Video can be compelling. It can show off your personality and engage an audience in ways text and photos can’t. It can convey complex information in minutes through great visuals and narration.

And it can be a pain in the ass.

Before you roll cameras on incorporating videos into your digital storytelling, let me give you some direction on what role it should play in your business.

Strategy No. 1: On the cheap

What’s involved: A smartphone, a YouTube account, a tripod (optional).

Pros: A great way to get started quickly, shooting short selfie videos on the fly. Shoot, upload to YouTube, share on social media, done. Costs next to nothing if you already have a phone.

Cons: You have to be willing to show your informal side to the world. The quality of the audio and the video will likely be poor to passable.

Strategy No. 2: Better look and sound

What’s involved: A smartphone or a low-end pocket video camera (preferably with audio input), a YouTube account, a tripod, homemade lighting (“101 DIY Lighting Tutorials”, “DIY Lighting”), microphones, editing software or app.

Pros: Your videos will look and sound more professional than 99 percent of other videos. Ability to set up location shoots (even just down the hall or on another floor) as needed. Less than $500 cost.

Cons: A big time cost in building the lighting gear and learning the software. Storage space required for gear. Editing time increases in piecing together video and audio clips.

Video shoot

Photo: Melonie Galagos (CC)

Dedicated studio space gives you complete control over professional video production.

Strategy No. 3: Going pro

What’s involved: A video camera or two, a YouTube account (or paid video hosting) and a website, tripods, empty office set aside as studio, lighting, microphones, editing software, a set (chairs, demonstration table), backdrop, green screen, stock music, dedicated editing computer and monitors, experienced videographer and on-camera talent.

Pros: More videos can be shot and edited in batches. Faster turnaround time. Full control over lighting and audio. Easy to start shooting quickly on an interview or product demonstration. What previously cost tens of thousands of dollars can be done for thousands of dollars.

Cons: Cost goes up in hiring experienced pros. Much more complexity in the process.

While the cost of video production has decreased dramatically, it still requires significant time and a good eye for telling stories in a compelling fashion.

The right approach can brand your company effectively.

• • •

Need help with video content?
Get in touch for a free consultation …

Contact me

LinkedIn for Nonprofits, a free program you’ll love

October 28, 2013

Video: Promo for LinkedIn for Nonprofits

LinkedIn created a program about a year ago to help causes and their leaders called LinkedIn for Nonprofits. I signed up and have been using these features for the past 12 months.

If you serve on the board for a nonprofit, or volunteer in some capacity, I encourage you to check out this feature. LinkedIn asks that you register online for a 60-minute introductory webinar; the next one is 1 p.m. Wednesday. Once you complete it, you’re in.

The most important benefit is an upgrade to your account from free to Talent Finder, which usually costs $99.95 a month. This pro account allows you to contact up to 25 members a month using InMail Messages and conduct targeted searches within the network.

That search capability has allowed me to find volunteers, sponsors and vendors for my group, the Alabama Social Media Association. It has also helped with securing sponsors and vendors for my annual conference, Y’all Connect.

Best of all, this program is free.

Check out LinkedIn for Nonrprofits. Not only can it help you find the right talent for your cause, but also help you understand the power of building your network in this social media channel.

• • •

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communication in my free weekly newsletter …

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Better communication through Facebook groups for business

October 21, 2013

The Office

Companies often struggle with internal communications. Email can be cumbersome, and paper memos can pile up.

What about a free private solution that your staff already uses?

Facebook groups can help teams, departments, managers and branches share information, photos, videos and documents in real time. Administrators can set them up in minutes, and invite others by Facebook or email. Members can stay informed by visiting the group through desktop and mobile versions, as well as email and app notifications.

(LinkedIn has a similar groups function.)

How to set up a group on Facebook

  1. Go to Groups on Facebook.
  2. Click Create Group button at top.
  3. Fill out the form.

Uses for Facebook groups in your company 

  1. Share info usually sent by memo or email.
  2. Recognize colleagues for outstanding work.
  3. Brainstorm.
  4. Poll colleagues for feedback and suggestions.
  5. Collaborate on simple text documents.
  6. Post training videos.
  7. Quick updates on projects.
  8. Weekly Q&A with the CEO.
  9. Back channel for teleconferences and video chats.
  10. Show galleries of new floor plans, product designs, brochure layouts …
  11. Coordinate social media channel management.
  12. Boost morale (since everyone’s sharing funny videos and pics anyway).
  13. Ask and answer questions on department changes.
  14. Introduce new employees and interns.
  15. Share links to industry news.
  16. Gauge daily performance of a sales team.
  17. Create a searchable archive of information.
  18. Tag specific people for questions and assignments.
  19. Employees’ bulletin board.
  20. Coordinate team members for events.

Is your organization using Facebook groups for internal communication? Share your experiences in the comments.

• • •

Get your company’s communications on track.
Contact me for a free consultation …

Contact me

When compliments go wrong, part 2

October 14, 2013

Video: “When everyone’s super …”

Thinking about praise this week, I remembered how compliments can go wrong with insincere attempts.

I hit upon another pet peeve: too many compliments.

It may seem impossible in our cold, cruel world to have too many compliments. Certainly, we hear many complaints about people and companies and meals and TV shows and songs and on and on.

But I find myself often wearying at an endless stream of praise. They might be compliments to ensure everyone in a group or a team is included. They might be the unsophisticated musings of the masses.

I find myself pickier about who I ask for recommendations. I cast a jaundiced eye at heaps of praise on anything and everything.

And I struggle. I try to make sure my compliments come forth regularly, but that they come from a place of true admiration, rather than a superficial reflex. I want my words to count.

Perhaps, my cynicism gets in the way. Or I need to be less stingy with kind words. But I still wonder what would happen if others were more selective about their compliments. Would they have more impact, more credibility?

Or would the world be a sadder place?

• • •

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Why hashtags still matter

October 7, 2013

You are ridiculous - hashtags
They’ve been mocked. They’ve been abused. They’ve been misunderstood.

Why are we still talking about hashtags in 2013?

I’ve been bombarded with hashtags in the silliest of contexts. I’ve seen brands fail at establishing them. I’ve seen peers dump them into Twitter bios and Instagram captions. I’ve seen hashtag jacking and campaigns gone awry.

They’ve spread to Facebook and have been the fabric of Instagram. They sorta work on Pinterest and label posts on Google+.

Can we ignore them? Should we ignore them?

Hashtags used consistently over time help people to find relevant information and to connect with others. This becomes even more important during breaking news events.

Twitter has extended its chronological search, allowing users to dig deeper for data. For example, the Alabama Bloggers monthly meetup uses #alablogmeet: I found tweets for events going back 4 years.

Facebook added hashtags earlier this year. Edgerank Checker found that posts with hashtags from Facebook Pages performed worse than posts without hashtags. Worse.

But even Facebook’s limited implementation of hashtag search can be useful. In checking out #sundayread, I found other Facebook users engaged in sharing their links.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of hashtags is ignoring them entirely. Tweetdeck allows users to mute them in a single column (change the setting at the top to exclude) or in all columns (change the main settings). If a hashtag such as #shutdown is trending, muting it can clean up the main timeline easily.

I enjoy a good hashtag, even though they likely cause more clutter than clarity. (Don’t get me started on Instagram hashtags which work in the app but not via Web.) I enjoy the skill involved in deploying tags correctly and the wit behind many of them. I even enjoy the unintended laughs when others do them awkwardly. #schadenfreude

Hashtags will be around a little while longer. Use them smartly to learn faster and connect better.

hashtags, hashtags everywhere

#savethehashtag or #dumpthehashtag?

Share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter.

Have your blogging question answered by top peers

September 30, 2013

post-it note wall

Good bloggers strive to be better.

Great bloggers share their knowledge freely.

Meet both at the October Alabama Bloggers lunch.

The free event will run from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at Avondale Park [map] in Birmingham. Bring your own lunch.

Attendees usually range from beginners (and those thinking about starting a blog) to experts. This will be a great opportunity for everyone to ask questions in a new format.

Each person can bring her question written anonymously on a slip of paper to drop into the submission box. During the lunch discussion, guests will take a turn drawing out a slip to read aloud and answer.

So bring yourself, bring a guest, bring a good lunch. And most important, bring your most challenging blogging problem. Your peers will have plenty of solutions.

Photo: Jason Paris (CC)

Please let us know you’re coming …

RSVP

Video: Tips for iOS 7 for iPhone and iPad

September 23, 2013

Video: iOS 7 tips for hard-to-find features

Users of iPhone and iPads may be in for a big surprise after upgrading to iOS 7. While Apple’s system software is loaded with new features and shortcuts, not all are easy to find or even guess.

After considerable frustration on my part, I found out how to do get to older features. And I also discovered a few new tricks in the process.

My video shows how to …

  1. Search your iPhone
  2. Swipe up for Control Center
  3. Turn on Limit Ad Tracking
  4. Night mode in Apple Maps
  5. Close pages quickly in Safari
  6. Quitting apps

Take a look, and share your iOS 7 tips and questions in the comments.

• • •

Don’t let technology slow you down.
Get in touch today to team up …

Contact me

Building a community on the cheap with Google+

September 16, 2013

Google+ Communities

Google+, the social network in waiting, has rolled out features regularly since it debuted in 2011. Its Communities featured came out Dec. 6, and I had the Birmingham G+ Community up and running by Dec. 7.

Some Communities have tens of thousands of members. This Community has more than 300.

I set it up with a simple rule: Play nice or be banned. As the sole admin, I can make rules like that.

The other rule: no spam. A few groups I’ve joined on Facebook and LinkedIn tend to be link dumps and spammy.

(I’ve bent over backwards to follow that second rule. I may put a lot of my links on the Birmingham Pinterest board, but I have not shared any of my posts in the G+ Community in its 9-month existence.)

I had no goal other than to see how the Community feature worked. I haven’t been using G+ much for myself, because it’s challenging to schedule posts, which is my default method for sharing to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Like other social networks, G+ Communities can be public or private. They can share links, videos and photos (a nice feature about Facebook Groups is shared documents).

For whatever reason, I never created a Birmingham Facebook Group, just a couple of Interest Lists. And the Pinterest board has done well, but is solely powered by me (co-pinners dropped out over time, and no new volunteers stepped forward).

This Birmingham G+ Community has reached an important milestone: I no longer have to sustain it on my own. Each person has an equal voice in this group, and several have made great contributions.

I like to share current news about my hometown. And I appreciate seeing what others enjoy reading and sharing. It’s interesting to read members’ comments, whether in reaction to a story link or hearing about how they receive (or don’t receive) their news.

Sadly, Google does not provide metrics for its Communities (beyond Ripples for viral posts), nor can users or admins schedule posts. But posts are public for this Community, so even nonmembers can see them (and hopefully embed them someday).

In starting a G+ Community, I have a few quick tips to do it right:

  • Don’t make it about a company or brand. It’s my pet peeve, but I’ve seen over and over how trying to elevate the brand over people fails as a tactic.
  • Invite people on a regular basis. I invite friends and followers on other networks to check it out and join.
  • Post a description and a set of guidelines. This helps participation from the start, as new members know what’s allowed.
  • Post new items regularly to start the conversation flowing. No one will post to a seemingly deserted or inactive group. Admins can pull back once others start jumping in.
  • Hit the “+1″ button a lot, for every good question, post, photo, comment and more.
  • Create categories so users can label their posts correctly.
  • Police the Community regularly, to weed out trolls and spam. If a user breaks a rule, an admin should message them privately to explain why a post or comment was removed (often, it’s an unintended oversight by a newbie).
  • Add a moderator if needed, but define their duties and role clearly.
  • And have fun!

Build a Google+ Community to meet people, to learn from them, to debate ideas and to make the world better.

Visit our Birmingham + Community and learn more about Birmingham
and the people who make it special.

Start with your audience

September 9, 2013

nesting dolls

Photo: Liz West (CC)

In all your communications, know your audience.

It’s the best starting point in connecting with them. You might be considering one person for an email or a thousand fans for a social media campaign.

Your audience could be friends, customers, partners, strangers or subscribers. They may be experts or beginners, locals or outsiders, peers or unconnected others. Some may be indifferent, or even hostile to your talking points.

nesting dollsYou must understand how they receive news and information: online or through the media or through other people. And what formats they prefer: text, photos, video, graphics, audio and so on.

Not knowing your audience leads to misfires: wrong tone, wrong medium, wrong message, poor results.

Get to know them by asking them questions and studying their behavior. Yes, it sounds like a mad scientist research project, but it ensures you’ll have a message that resonates.

You might assume your audience is just like you, so your preferences should be their preferences. This is a trap. You must get outside your pattern of thinking to see how others react and behave.

But a few of your habits do apply to others: clicking quickly from one thing to the next, skimming for info, making snap judgments on the value of a post or email, being drawn to certain types of headlines or photos.

The only magic bullet in effective communication is to know your audience. Turns out that bullet isn’t a bullet at all, but a process of discovering how groups listen, read and respond.

Photo: James Lee (CC)

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LinkedIn, how I have missed you (and misused you)

September 3, 2013

LinkedIn

I preach a lot of LinkedIn. In my talks, in my webinars, in my coffees.

And yet, I have strayed far away from LinkedIn, and from my own advice.

Sad.

As I grew busier with my conference over the summer, my routine went out the window. And part of that routine is checking in on my LinkedIn friends. Growing a network is pretty easy, but maintaining it takes regular attention.

That ends today. I’m hopping back on the LinkedIn bandwagon.

I want to take care of three things.

First, I want to update my profile. I advise people to update their profiles twice a year, adding new accomplishments and awards, updating summaries and listing volunteer activities. I’d like to update the welcome video as well, but that will take extra time since I have new clips to incorporate.

Second, I will resume reaching out to my network every day. I have done this off and on for 3 years, and it’s time to pick up where I left off. This is one of the most rewarding social media activities for me.

Third, I need to branch out into LinkedIn Groups. I haven’t paid much attention to the ones I’m in, and I haven’t explored others that might be a better fit. In addition, I may have post-conference discussions using a LinkedIn Group. This is the right time to listen and participate.

Nothing too drastic, just resuming my time spent in an important social network.

After all, I enjoy networking, and LinkedIn helps me stay plugged in to that resource. I can help and connect others there, but not if I’m shunning it.

I hope they’ll accept me back, the prodigal connection.

Photo: greyweed (CC)

How to manage the Twitter fire hose of information and noise

August 26, 2013

tweet map

Question from a friend on Facebook …

Q: Do you try to keep up with all of the tweets of those you follow? How? Is there a Web app or some way to filter and categorize them? I follow a bunch for development, others for gaming, etc. I cannot keep up, and yet I keep adding more.

A: You might try using Twitter lists, which allows you to group others by category (either publicly or privately). Makes it easier to jump from one interest to the next without a lot of “noise.”

• • •

Have a question about social media?
Just ask.

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The digital revolutions

August 19, 2013

The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg

Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg
in “The Social Network”

In my DVD binge of late, I watched two movies that have been on my list for some time: “The Social Network” and “Moneyball.” (I plan to read the books behind both flicks, too.)

We live in historic times, witnesses to two kinds of revolutions that affect how we work and live. These movies show the origins of these world-changing concepts, and coincidentally, feature Aaron Sorkin as screenwriter.

“The Social Network” gives the background on the founding of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to world’s youngest billionaire. We see how the gifted Harvard student figured out the psychology behind social connections (online and offline) through flashbacks from two deposition hearings.

Facebook isn’t the star of the movie but more like the virtual love interest among many jealous and bitter rivals. We don’t examine too closely how it affects the world, just the players fighting for control.

Perhaps a movie with three Oscars doesn’t need to dive too deep into the Facebook’s impact on our daily lives. After all, you may be reading this right now because of a link from Facebook. Or you may feel compelled to discuss the movie and its ideas … on Facebook.

It changed how we connect with people, how we market to people and how we measure our lives. All it may take is a virtual snub — no party invite, no change in relationship status — to turn a dear friend into a fearsome enemy. At the very least, it has brought high school social politics from the dark recesses of our egos onto the Internet for all to witness.

Some of you stake success on your Facebook reach, whether raising money for a cause or selling widgets at your company. Some of you get most, if not all, of your news from your connections. You may use Facebook to score dates, kill time and vent to any who will listen.

It was neither the first nor the last social network, but Zuckerberg figured out early on that exclusivity would help his new site become cool quickly. He wanted to replicate the college experience of trying to hook up with others (socially and sexually) through Facebook profiles.

He tapped directly into FOMO, fear of missing out, so that everyone from 15-year-old wallflowers to 55-year-old grandparents would check in several times a day.

I use it, and I teach people how to use Facebook effectively, whether on a budget of $0 or $100,000.

Moneyball, Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane in “Moneyball”

“Moneyball” shows another contemporary digital revolution, this one within the hallowed institution of baseball. For decades, scouts had recruited ballplayers based on a combination of skills and “intangibles.” Those scouts knew in their gut who could sell tickets, shore up a team and bring pizazz.

BIlly Beane decides to buck the system. As general manager of the Oakland A’s, he sees his team make the playoffs but fall to the wealthier Yankess in 2001. He hires Paul DePodesta (called Peter Brand in the film) to do the seemingly impossible: Assemble a World Series team on a seemingly Little League budget.

The method to their madness is simple: DePodesta knows numbers, the statistics behind everyone in Major League Baseball. Using an economist’s perspective, he assigns a value to each player based on his on-base percentage and tells Beane to grab the best “bargains,” those players undervalued because they’re seen or ignored based on other less relevant qualities.

It works. And in the process, it upends the conventional wisdom of baseball and temporarily gives the economic underdog the advantage.

Data-driven processes and results have become more prevalent with computers and the people who understand how to capture and analyze the numbers. We see it skillful search engine optimization, and in the reliable election predictions of Nate Silver. And yet, people continue to be surprised when their gut steers them wrong.

“Moneyball” represents the rise of sabermetrics, quantifying a player’s past performance and attempting to predict future performance by relying on relevant statistics, such as runs produced.

Every MLB team uses sabermetrics, and pro teams in every sport have since added their own form of statistical analysis for player evaluation.

We’ve seen advertising over the years as a mysterious voodoo ritual, that something in the casting process works, though we may not know which spell or how effectively. I show people how to quantify past performance of their marketing and public relations efforts and single out the ones to continue (or try) for maximum return on investment.

Both “The Social Network” and “Moneyball” capture the genesis of digital revolutions surrounding our lives. Go beyond watching and take part in these innovative systems to change your own world.

• • •

Let’s work together on your digital revolution.

Contact me

Why consistency matters most in successful communication

August 12, 2013

Ford Mustang

Consistency is boring. Consistency is easy. Consistency is overlooked.

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

For companies big and small, a consistent message can be one of their greatest challenges. Small companies often lack the resources to keep the message going. Big ones trip over themselves as departments and vendors wrestle over control.

Consistency in communication requires teamwork, focus and discipline. It advances the idea that one message can have many facets and many voices, but still sounds unified. It also advances the concept of simpler by design, one message that can cut through the clutter and reach a target audience.

I have been lucky to develop this consistency in my projects and with my clients over the years. While it can be difficult to master at first, the rewards pay out early and often.

Your audience, for the most part, is indifferent. They don’t know who you are or what you do. They’ve probably never heard of you.

As you put your message out there through traditional advertising, social media marketing and other channels, consistency is your best ally. Having a consistent look, color scheme and tone helps people identify you.

yall-alabama-power-logo-transparent-300x300

With our conference, Y’all Connect Presented by Alabama Power, I designed a logo with a simple color scheme, a couple of fonts and a less-than-formal feel. I made sure that carried over to the website, the Facebook page, the Twitter account, my business cards and other products,

Do all of your corporate materials, virtual and physical, match up on branding?

But a logo is just a logo. With only a few seconds to snag people’s attention, you must convey a simple, direct message over and over.

Some companies have become gun-shy in the digital age, afraid of alienating customers through too many emails and social media updates. Yet, the giants such as Apple, Coca-Cola, Honda and so on don’t balk at saturating the airwaves with commercials.

Trust your audience to decide one by one what is “too much,” by opting out. Whittle your masses down to a core group of loyal fans, and then add more of them regularly through consistent messaging.

That means more work: scheduling campaigns, developing editorial calendars, seeing what messages stick, figuring out where your audience is most receptive, fine-tuning and revising the message, tracking metrics and more. It might mean more spending, and dropping marketing tactics that aren’t working.

(Many marketers and business owners struggle with determining what is a success in marketing. For example, dipping a toe into Facebook advertising, or PPC ads, or direct mail. That’s an area where I can help evaluate so your limited marketing dollars work harder.)

When your company nails consistency, it stands out through its message. It builds trust with its audience by showing reliability, while shedding those who don’t identify with the brand (this is a good outcome, folks).

Can companies be consistent with a lousy message as well? Yes, and I’ve seen many examples of it, and likely you have, too. Getting a poor message out consistently is as bad as getting a great message out haphazardly.

Fortunately, the bar is low. Those who put out messages consistently will surpass bigger competitors in the long run. I’m a one-man operation, and I can run rings around others through tenacity.

Pick your look, pick your message, pick your channel, and pound away. Measure, adjust, and keep going.

Be the company that looks like it has the million-dollar marketing budget, and help your audience connect with you through old fashioned consistency.

Photo: Alden Jewell (CC)

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Blogging for the blogger who doesn’t want to blog

August 5, 2013

light bulbs

Either you’re committed to blogging or you aren’t.

I like to think of multiple options to problems, but when it comes to blogging, I find most either do it, or give up early on.

However, not everyone has to blog the same way.

Allow me to suggest a few alternatives for those who find themselves stuck when trying to write posts on a regular basis …

  1. A photo a day to Instagram.
  2. Autopost from Instagram to your blog.
  3. Vine videos (in 6-second bursts).
  4. Weekly curation of favorite links around a topic.
  5. Video of the day.
  6. Pin to Pinterest daily.
  7. Most interesting SlideShare presentation of the day.
  8. Favorite tweets of the day (you can cheat and use Favstar).
  9. Favorite Facebook post of the day (you can now embed Facebook posts).
  10. Lists.
  11. Interview people by email and post as a Q&A.
  12. Photo essay.
  13. Photo with a long description.
  14. Amazon book of the day (with affiliate link).
  15. Amazon product of the day (with affiliate link).
  16. Themed playlist from Spotify, Soundcloud, Last.fm, iTunes or another music service.
  17. A how-to with step-by-step guide.
  18. A poem (I prefer haiku).
  19. Progress reports (room renovation, product launch, pregnancy).
  20. Charts and graphs.
  21. Infographics.
  22. Site of the day.
  23. Twitterer of the day.
  24. Pinner of the day.
  25. Etsy shop of the day.
  26. Instagrammer of the day.
  27. Ebook of the day.
  28. Blogger of the day.
  29. Hashtag transcripts.
  30. Product review.
  31. Movie review.
  32. Game review.
  33. App review.
  34. CD review.
  35. TV show review.
  36. Book review.
  37. Blog review.
  38. Restaurant review.
  39. Product unboxing video or photos.
  40. Maps.
  41. RSS snippets.
  42. Sneak peeks (product development, first drafts, models, sketches).
  43. Polls.
  44. Giveaways.
  45. Latest books read.
  46. Latest movies watched.
  47. Latest cities visited.
  48. Latest restaurants visited.
  49. Best (and worst) reviews of your products or services.
  50. Screencasts.
  51. Testimonials.
  52. Events and other calendar listings.
  53. Job listings.
  54. Memes and ecards.
  55. Anything that doesn’t include the phrase “I was wondering about what to blog today …”

Photo: Faith Goble (CC)

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I can help the reluctant bloggers on your team
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Notes from a new conference organizer

July 29, 2013

Y'all Connect keynote

The kickoff of the first Y’all Connect conference in Birmingham

I haven’t had much time to reflect on my first Y’all Connect conference, which debuted last week. Post-conference work, while at a more relaxed pace, still takes up many hours.

But having attended, volunteered at and spoken at many conferences over the years, I’ll throw in my initial impressions as a fully initiated organizer.

• You can’t please everyone, but you can at least try a little harder. Our guests seemed to be pleased with the various aspects of the conference, from the lineup to the food to the wi-fi. But one guest wanted a little something extra.

A book.

I had offered 100 free copies of Mack Collier’s “Think Like a Rock Star” to the first 100 ticket buyers online. They went fast.

This particular guest was not in that first 100, but when she saw everyone else with a copy, she had to have one that morning. (And no, she wasn’t interested in purchasing one from the book table.)

I offered to give her a copy at day’s end if someone didn’t pick up their copy. She was still unhappy.

At lunchtime, I checked on the remaining copies and gave her one personally, with a free drink coupon to boot. She seemed satisfied.

But I had broken my own rule. I had told the volunteers that if they could make a guest happy for under $25, do it. Just spend the money, get a receipt, and give it to me later for reimbursement.

I could’ve just given her the book on the spot and wowed her with responsive customer service. But I let myself get distracted by worries over having enough copies to last the day. Oops.

It’s something I will keep in mind as I work towards delivering better customer service personally.

Speakers do whatever they want. And I mean that in a good way.

I like to think of myself as a good speaker, and someone who’ll be invited back again and again. The reality is that I’m a pain in the ass sometimes because I want it to go smoothly. (See the legend of Van Halen’s “demand” for no brown M&Ms.) For example, I’ve shown up to gigs where a promised screen and projector were nowhere to be found.

I think it’s fitting that I have speakers who do whatever, whenever, despite the pleas of a harried conference organizer. In a perfect world, I have all contracts and slide decks in hand months before the big day, and that all my very important emails are read thoroughly (twice!) so they’d have no surprises.

Alas, no.

They will still ask about small details already covered, but then again, they travel a lot and the dates start to blur together. Many operate on their own, so no personal assistant is on hand to keep info organized. Some will go over time limits, or balk at a stationary microphone (or wearing a microphone, or standing behind a podium).

I conveniently forgot that I did all of those things in my speaking career. What a joy it must’ve been for organizers and volunteers to manage little ol’ me.

I love my speakers, and I hope they found the event on par or better than the ones at which they routinely perform. (crosses fingers)

You will never see your own conference. I managed to visit almost every talk on the lineup. For about 5 minutes.

I wasn’t running around frantically. But I like to see how the rooms are going, and if the volunteers need any help. I also like to see how guests are reacting to the speaker (rapt attention, raucous laughter, insightful questions).

All credit to my staff and volunteers — they planned it out and executed near flawlessly. That left me to wander casually and jump in where needed.

I couldn’t have asked for a better experience from my end.

Eventually, I will see every minute of the show, having had videos recorded of each session. I’m prepping them to sell online in a few weeks.

While I did cover a  lot of ground, I am wholly reliant on guests, speakers, volunteers and staff members to tell me what’s working and what isn’t. I am a stickler for improvement, so that feedback is always welcome, no matter how critical.

I thought about my opening remarks for the last few weeks, and one rejected version goes something like this: “Are you looking to lose weight? I have the perfect diet plan for you. Organize a conference.

“No more time to eat, or even sleep. You’ll sweat away those extra pounds hunting for event insurance brokers and filling out paperwork over and over.”

It’s not the speech I went with, but it’s the learning experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Except maybe a well-deserved martini.

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