4 mistakes I've made as a blogger

When I started my blog, I didn't personally know anyone else who had one. I had no mentor and most everything I know today, I taught myself.

Now, I'm not talking about writing. That comes easy. I'm talking about the mechanics behind a blog.

So, today I share four mistakes I made as a beginning blogger (I'm sure there are lots more, but I'll cop to these for now). I hope you learn from my errors because if my boo boos can benefit anyone else in the blogosphere, that's a good thing!
  1. I didn't install Disqus on day one. Although I've always replied to readers' comments, it just isn't as clean and coherent if you don't use a program that threads commenting (for those not familiar with Disqus, it's a blog commenting system which you can learn more about HERE). When I did finally install Disqus, it didn't thread my old comments (there's no way it really could), so the comments on my older posts look different than my newer posts. As a stickler for uniformity, I hate that. However, I love Disqus and am so glad I finally started using it. 
  2. I didn't know the magic piece of code that makes links open in a new window. Fortunately, Anita Nelson (aka @anitanelson) shared the line of HTML that I now use regularly. Here's what you do, look for your link in the HTML, then put target="_blank" after the URL but before the item that you're hyperlinking. 
  3. I was too modest. When I added the tweet button, I had the option of adding "via @wordsdonewrite" in the text of the tweet. I thought it sounded too full of myself to add that, so I didn't. But what I quickly learned was that I didn't know who was tweeting my posts because I didn't see the mention in my Twitter stream. That's important to me because I like to tweet those people to say thanks. I've now added it and it allows me to better interact with those who visit my blog. (And, if you utilize the "reactions" option when you use Disqus, it will also let you know who is tweeting your post and what they're saying!)
  4. I moderated my comments. Comment moderation is a highly debated issue nowadays and I understand the rationale behind moderation. However, I also understand the benefits of throwing caution to the wind. I recently lifted the moderation on my comments and, although it was scary, I think it allows my blog to have life even in my absence. And, with Disqus, commenters can reply to one another and further the conversation even if I'm not online.
Is there anything about blogging you learned the hard way? Or anything you're curious about if you're a newbie? Don't be bashful. This is a safe place; I promise.

Do you subject your global online audience to your small town thinking?

Earlier this week I sent a tweet asking if it was worth writing a blog post the week of Thanksgiving. People are traveling, eating, shopping, and spending time with family. Who's reading a blog? Well, Sandra Christen responded to my tweet saying she'd read it. She's from Switzerland and there's no holiday there. Interesting.

As I reviewed the stats from my blog, it was no surprise that the vast majority of my traffic comes from the United States. However, I also get quite a bit from the United Kingdom, Canada, Russia, India, the Netherlands, Germany, and Australia. All places that don't share American holidays such as Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Independence Day, etc. That got me thinking. Are those of us in the online space missing opportunities? I, for one, write for a worldwide audience. But, embarrassingly, I was thinking on a national level. Stuuuupid.

If you blog, tweet, manage a Facebook business page, or maintain any other social media presence, I offer up my ignorance as a lesson to the rest of you. Is the subject you discuss through your social media channels relevant to a global audience? And, if so, are you restricting your thinking to that of a citizen of your own country?

The internet makes the world a heck of a lot smaller and I'd venture to say that almost all of us have online connections in far away countries. Different holidays affecting people in different lands. Could a slow day in Canada be a good traffic day in China? When businesses are all closed in France are lots of people online in America?

I don't claim to know everything, so when I have an a-ha moment I try to put my ego aside and call myself out. Perhaps this is something the rest of you have already thought about, but if not, please feel free to learn from my oversight.

To those of you in my very small corner of the world, Happy Thanksgiving. To the rest of you on this very big planet, have a fantastic Thursday.

Has this blog gone too far?

Just a minute ago, I saw a tweet in my Twitter stream that got my attention. Lindsay Fultz sent a link* to a site called BirthOrNot.com and voiced her disgust. Of course, I had to see what she was so upset about.

Well, to cut to the chase, Pete and Alisha find themselves with child and are debating whether or not to keep the baby. Instead of making this very personal decision by themselves, or with the guidance of close friends and family, they've decided to start an online poll. Keep the baby? Or abort it?

Now, I don't care what your personal feelings are about abortion (and please don't share them with me), but regardless of how one feels about the issue, I think most of us would agree that launching a website with the sole purpose of deciding your child's fate is downright demented.

It appears Pete and Alisha have put some time into the site and they list several facts about themselves to help people decide how to cast their vote. Again, I'm not getting into the details. This is not a post about the pro-choice/pro-life debate, so please don't make it one. This is about taking the new world of blogging and "engagement" too far.

Obviously, abortion is a hot button issue and the couple says they've received hate mail. But they also go on to thank people for their support. Pete and Alisha liken their collection of votes in their poll to the process on American Idol, saying "voting is such an integral part of the American identity."

I know the online world provides us with great new freedoms and worldwide connections. I've always thought that's great. However, I think asking total strangers to vote on a life or death situation is just too much. It's taking the whole social media thing too far.

Deep in my heart, I hope this is some kind of psychology experiment conducted by a student at some college. I hope it's not really real. I hope Pete and Alisha will not really decide whether or not to have an abortion based on how the votes go. I hope I'm nothing more than a sucker who's bought into their prank. But, regardless, I think BirthOrNot.com sets a dangerous new precedent for the web. It makes me a little sick to my stomach, quite frankly.

Is it just me or aren't there still some discussions that should be private? Asking a sea of strangers to make one of the most personal decisions of your life? I think that's just too much. Too darn much.

*For the record, Lindsay's tweet was a retweet from Susan Cope (aka @susanlynncope).

Does fear trump customer service when it comes to the U.S. government?

Today I had some business to conduct with a government agency (insert groan here). Now, without boring you with the details, I had some questions I needed answered. I tried to handle my business in person, but was told that I had to call instead. I won't even go into how many days I tried to get through (four) or how long I was on hold once the system let me into the cue. What I'd like to concentrate on is the conversation I had with the person on the other end of the line.

So, after waiting for what seemed like days, I finally get connected to the government rep. Let's call her Patty Cake. I asked Patty my question and she gave me an answer. The answer, unfortunately, didn't provide the information I needed. Therefore, I rephrased my query and asked again. For the second time, Patty gave me an answer, but it still wasn't an answer that helped me. Ms. Cake then told me I wasn't paying attention.

I listened to her talking at me for another minute and then I repeated back to her what she said and I ended with, "Do I understand that correctly?" Her response, "No, you're not listening to me." Ah, gee, I suspect the issue is more important to me than it is to Patty, so I find it hard to believe I wasn't listening. Patty Cake continues talking, but I'm no wiser for it.

Now, I'm not stupid. I'm a good listener and I've handled communications for some large companies, so trust me when I say I know how to decipher information. Therefore, I try again. I take the latest details she's given me and repeat them back to her to verify that we're both on the same page. She snaps at me.

At this point, I want to call her a bad word (you know the one). Instead, however, I say, "Why are you being so mean to me?" She says she's not. Liar.

In any other circumstance I'd ask for her supervisor to express my dissatisfaction. However, the fact of the matter is, this rep has my social security number, my birth date, and my computer file open. She can delete something or add a note that would make my life a living nightmare. This woman has my entire existence in front of her and can turn my world upside down with the swipe of a key. I know that; she knows it, too.

As is the case with most government agencies, the customer service reps have the power to make things easy or tough for you. And, I'm sure I'm not alone in my fear that a rep might do something nasty just to spite an annoying caller. Yeah, yeah, don't tell me there are safeguards in place. I'm sure there are. But, despite health laws, an annoyed waiter still finds a way to spit in your food, right?   

So, that leads me to the question: Can customer service ever be superior in a government agency if people are afraid to complain about bad service? Or, am I the only paranoid Scaredy Cat?

Let's hear it! Be honest, but be kind. I'm still a little fragile from my Patty Cake experience.

Scott Stratten: Mayor of Awesome Town

There are lots of big names out there in the social media space, but very few who measure up to the hype. Scott Stratten, however, is all that and more. He's like a supersized, double fudge brownie with extra frosting and mini marshmallows on top. He's awesome on steriods.

This week, I had the pleasure of seeing Scott in person as he visited Orange County, California; stop 21 on a 30 city book tour. The event, sponsored by LinkedOC, brought together 300 people who understand (or want to understand) how to UNmarket. What's UNmarketing? Aside from being Scott's Twitter handle and the title of his new book, UnMarketing is the way we should all be engaging with customers in the marketplace. UnMarketing is the future.

I've followed Scott on Twitter for more than a year, I've watched his videos, and I've read his blog. It didn't take me long to realize Scott is a goofball who loves to play dress up (as evidenced by the hats, boas, and other get-ups he wears during his videos). But, Scott gets it. Big time. If your company is blowing it on the marketing or customer service fronts, they need to join the Church of UnMarketing. If there was ever a cult that you wouldn't mind being abducted by, this is it.   

Now, I have a pad full of great notes from the event and as much as I'd like to regurgitate everything he said, I don't want to ruin it for you if you ever get the chance to hear him in person. If you've ever seen your most favorite comedian perform, I can say with complete confidence that he or she is not funnier than Scott. With great lines like, "Every time you ask for ROI on social media, a kitten dies," you know that Scott isn't just your run of the mill guy.

As new media changes the landscape, traditional marketers must come to the realization that engagement is powerful. You must stop marketing to your customers and, instead, speak with them. Listen to them, learn from them, and build a relationship with them. That's what UnMarketing is all about.

Want to join the cult, er club, and be an UNmarketer? Buy the book, follow him, and change it up. Then oust the Chief Marketing Officer at your company with your awesomeness. Trust me, it's Amber-approved.

9 reasons you're a social media dirtbag

We all know the proper way to behave, whether we want to admit it or not.  Regardless of that fact, it seems like way too many people choose to be a lesser version of themselves. Especially in this age of social media. Why? Maybe because they can and there is no one who will tell them to shape up and cut the BS.

Today, however, I'm appointing myself as hall monitor for the social media corridor. My top 9 offenses are below (tickets with unreasonably high fines will be issued later):
  1. You post unflattering photos of people to Facebook, Flickr, or other social media sites.
  2. You've stopped tweeting with your friends so you can talk to more "important" people who will help increase your Klout score.
  3. You won't recommend a deserving colleague on LinkedIn because you're insecure enough to think it diminishes your own accomplishments.
  4. You've bought your Twitter followers.
  5. You offer webinars that promise to deliver free information, but instead you pitch an overpriced "system" which is nothing but common sense.
  6. You don't ever respond to people when they send you a tweet (or you DM your response to them because they're not important enough to be mentioned in your stream). 
  7. You use information from social media sites to get friends or colleagues into trouble.
  8. You refer to yourself as an expert or a guru.
  9. You only talk about yourself and never promote the good work of others.
We all know a list isn't complete unless it has at least ten points, so what would you add? Feel free to chime in below to let us know what the social media dirtbags are doing in your part of the interweb.

The power of social media networking

I am very excited to be speaking today at the University of Chicago's Career Networking Event in Long Beach, California. As part of the featured panel, I will be discussing the wonderful world of social media networking and will also lead a roundtable discussion later in the day. I'm not gonna lie. I'm as excited as a kid in a candy shop!

Anyone who talks to me for more than two minutes, knows how much I love social media and revel in the opportunities that it provides. Today, I'm hoping to share that passion and convey to the audience the amazing adventures that await them if they immerse themselves in social media.

While I was putting together my slides for the presentation, it was kind of like a trip down memory lane. It was an excellent reminder of how much social media has given me: an incredible group of professional dynamos who I learn from every day, amazing new friends, wonderful networking opportunities, business leads, lots of smiles, and more satisfaction than could ever be measured.

That said, I need your help to illustrate the power of the social web to the folks who are attending the conference (virtual hugs and cyber brownies to the folks who help me out on this one). Many of today's attendees will be new to the world of social media; they may not realize the full value of all these great platforms, or may just think there's no value to any of it.

Luckily, I know many of you reading this already live and breathe social media and I'm hoping that you'll chime in on the comments to share your thoughts with the newbies (I'll be directing the event attendees to this post). How has social media has helped you? Why would you recommend social media networking to those looking for employment, job leads, business opportunities, or career growth?

For those of you who will hear my speech today, why not use this opportunity to dive right in and see what the fuss is all about? Leave a comment here, send a tweet to someone who adds to our discussion, click on people's names so you can learn more about them (you might discover a cool website or blog, an interesting person to connect with on Twitter, a contact worth reaching out to on LinkedIn, your new best friend, or your next career opportunity!). I'm serious when I tell you these tools are a real game changer.
    It's a wonderful new world out there. Thanks to social media, opportunity is right at your fingertips. No one and nothing is further away than a keystroke. I think that's pretty spectacular, don't you?

    * Thank you to Derek Okada for inviting me to speak at the event and to the University of Chicago and its alumni chapter in Los Angeles for hosting such a valuable program for those who want to learn and grow.

    Am I nice guy or a chump?

    I'm a sucker for a good cause. I like to help people with their passions. I'm a giver. And, I do way too much pro bono work.

    Not too long ago I wrote a post about using your professional skills to benefit others. It was a well-received piece and I do believe in helping those who need it.

    In my case, I'm pretty confident in my writing abilities. What it might take others hours or days to do, I can write up fairly quickly. Given my background, I have written a variety of materials for friends, acquaintances, and small nonprofits. From press releases and bios to brochures and website content, I've pounded on the keyboard countless times for free just to help others. I have also provided way too many people with free social media training because I knew they could really use the help. Should I have charged? Well, a smart business person would have. Sometimes I think I'm not that smart.

    This week, someone who operates a great nonprofit group asked me to write something for her. I obliged. Per usual, when I send someone a draft, I tell them to let me know if they have any edits. I'm happy to tweak what I write if my facts are wrong or if I'm way off base. In this case, the person responded to my draft with the following comment, "I think you can do better". 

    Now, keep in mind, this person asked for my help. I said yes. I provided a well-written piece. My thanks? I can do better. I can do better?

    The person went on to give me additional direction that should have been provided before I even started to write. And, although it's annoying to have wasted my time and effort on the first draft, I could have lived with it. If, and I said if, the woman in question had been kinder in her request for a revision. How about "Could we concentrate more on XYZ than ABC?" Or maybe, "Would you mind playing up the blankety blank feature a little more?" Absolutely! Can do! Happy to give you what you need! But "I think you can do better"? Really? That just made me angry.

    I've been burned quite a few times while doing pro bono work. My mom says I'm a sap for continuing to offer people the benefit of my professional skills. What is that saying about people not valuing things that they get for free? Well, I have to admit--reluctantly--that there may be some truth to that.

    Will I continue to help people who desperately need some guidance? Yeah, sure. Will I still offer a hand to those who are trying to support a worthwhile cause? Of course. It's who I am. Am I schmuck for that? Maybe.

    I offer this story as a reminder to be considerate if you are ever the beneficiary of someone's good will. It takes so little to be kind. And, for the record, "you can do better" is anything but appreciative.
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