publishing

Shutting Down Blog Comments

I think that I provoked the blog comment Gods today.

Sorry about this, but the ability to comment on blog posts here at Six Pixels of Separation has been disabled. It’s not you. It’s not me. It’s the spammers. I was recording a podcast today with Gini Dietrich of Spin Sucks (it will be published in the coming weeks) and we were talking about the many bloggers and news sites that have shut down their blog comments (Copyblogger being the one that has most recently decided to do so: Why We’re Removing Comments on Copyblogger). I was marveling at how awesome and consistent Gini is at both engaging and connecting with the myriad of comments and feedback she gets all over the Web (and, you can read her side on the blog comments debacle right here: Why We Won’t Shut Off Blog Comments)… and then this happened.

It’s been going on for a few years.

As you may (or may not) know, I have been blogging for over a decade. Every day (or almost). That’s close to 4000 pieces of long form content. The blogging platform used here is not WordPress (we’re on MovableType because WordPress didn’t even exist back then). We have a strong IT team here at Twist Image, but never had the need/desire to switch over to WordPress. With that, we have been using the blog comment capabilities of MovableType since the beginning. Don’t get me wrong, it still catches way more pieces of spammy blog comments than the ones that go live and, every day or so, I would hop on to the backend and simply delete the ones that made it through. Lately, things are getting out of control and, in full disclosure, I started falling behind in cleaning them out. So, now it’s a bit of a massive mess. That’s not the real issue. Once Gini and I finished recording today, there was this massive and sudden influx of spam blog comments that made it through the filter. We had to shut it down. Like I said, I think I was tempting the blog comment deities after my chat with Gini.

I’m sorry… and what this means.

First off, I apologize. I love your comments, feedback and even those that disagree with me. I may not always respond or be quick to respond, but I care about your thoughts… I really, really do. I read every comment, tweet, status update and more surrounding these posts. So, I hate the fact that you can’t comment here (for the next little bit). I also believe that one of the core components that still makes blogging one of the most fascinating publishing platforms in the world is the ability for anyone to add to the discourse. Our team is going to check out Livefyre and Disqus to see which solution might best remedy our current situation (and, if you have any thoughts, please do shoot me an email). I’m hopeful that it will happen soon/fast, but I can’t be sure.

Until then…

Please don’t stop commenting. I typically post to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn when I publish a blog post, and I would love to hear from you there (or even on your own blog, if something inspires you to write). Blog comments will come back at some point soon on Six Pixels of Separation, and it pains me to let the spammers win, but it is what it is at this point in time.

Once again, thank you for following, reading, engaging, commenting and sharing. Please don’t let the lack of blog comments below stop that. 

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Where Great Content Comes From

This could get gross. You have been warned.

Last week, I was lucky enough to have attended the TED conference. I’ve been going to this event since 2009. While most people can’t stop talking about how incredible the TED talks are (and yes, they are incredible), I wholly subscribe to the notion that they are but a small part of a much bigger (and more profound) experience. This year, one of the highlights was the return of Sarah Kay (you can watch her first TED talk below). Sarah was a part of the all-star stage, where famed TED speakers from events past got the chance to riff on what they have been up to since cranking million of views on YouTube and beyond. Kay was about to launch her latest book of poetry, No Matter The Wreckage. I know what you’re thinking at this point. You’re thinking that this is going to be some high brow blog post that you need to read with one pinky sticking out. Not the case. What makes Kay so awesome is her pragmatism. She’s all about getting everyone to try poetry. She’s about the democratization of poetry and spoken word, and encouraging young people to try it.

I’m a poet and I didn’t know it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anything about poetry. In fact, the only thing that I may know less about than poetry is ballet. So, I’m not that cultured. I choose Metallica over Monet on any given Sunday. Still, I love the work of Sarah Kay. After talking about her new book, recent travels and the fame of being famous because of TED, the host asked her about the construct of poetry, her levels of concentration and the effort it takes to create a poem. As someone who creates content, this line of questioning is fascinating. How does a poet toil over their prose and decide which words should go where? Do you know what Sarah told the audience?…

“Poetry is like pooping. If there’s a poem inside of you, it needs to come out.” 

There’s brilliance in this thinking (and yes, it’s pretty hilarious). It’s not just about poetry either. That statement is as true for brands who are posting to Facebook or can’t figure out what to blog about, as it is to the art of crafting a poem. I did a real life LOL when she said this, because it jettisoned me back to the moment when I knew I had to write my second book, CTRL ALT Delete. I don’t work in isolation. Everything that I do, create and publish has a direct relationship with Twist Image. The whole purpose of my work is to help people become better in marketing and business, with the hopes that should they require a digital marketing agency that Twist Image would be top of mind. I don’t just decide to write a book. I sit down with my three other business partners and have a conversation about it. I remember telling them how excited I was about the concept and more. We then discussed if the timing was right, considering the growth trajectory of the agency or if the market conditions made sense for a second book. All fair questions, but the book needed to come out. I remember telling them that my water broke, and the baby was coming. Timing and perfect market conditions could not be factors at this point. I was in labor!

Where do babies come from?

I get where Sarah Kay is coming from. Sure, innocuous content like a tweet or Facebook status update doesn’t require that type of urge, but even a blog post (or article) should give the content creator that type of feeling. You need to have something to say! All too often, brands (and certain individuals) are just looking to fill up space, to be present, to not waste an impression, to not fall off of their consumer’s radar. That’s silly. That’s content for content’s sake, instead of content because there is something important that needs to be shared. As brands struggle to figure out the secret to creating compelling content in a world where everyone is a content producer, and the levels of saturation continue to rise and rise, it would be wise to pay attention to the words of Sarah Kay. We all need to make sure that whatever it is that we’re producing needs to come out. That’s good poop. Let’s try to stay away from the content that’s being created just for the sake of creating it.

That’s bad poop.

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The End Of Customer Service

Now that everyone complains… nobody cares when there is a complaint.

There was a time (not that long ago), when someone’s complaint online would be rocketed to the executive office, changes were made and brands were being held accountable for their foibles and mishaps. It was the early days of social media (nearly a decade ago). We had the Slashdot effect and more. It was a time when Jeff Jarvis complained about his experience with Dell (now, a story that lives on in infamy as Dell Hell) and it (along with other similar stories) demonstrated that the power to publish a story online had ramifications well beyond the usual “write a letter to the company” and hope that they respond. Back then, you would do an online search and see massive corporate websites vying for search engine optimization over someone with a blog and a bad customer experience. Online social networking took hold and these stories were further exasperated. Brands went from private responses to very publicly trying to resolve customer service issues.

David meets Goliath.

It’s hard not to face the reality that the vast majority of brands came into social media and digital connectedness kicking and screaming. They made very public concessions and apologies. Several organizations have since restructured how their marketing, communications, customer service and more interact with each other and with consumers. Transparency, speed-to-response, bringing a sense of humanity to the brand have all become corporate cultural pillars that every brand now lives to embody. It’s not easy. Remember back when the sentiment was that a brand needs to respond to everything – positive, negative and neutral – everywhere?

But, there’s something else.

Do brands really care anymore? Are there now so many people online, in so many places that it has become both impossible to keep up and, to be raw, not all that important for brands to respond because of the sheer volume? Did the whole United breaks guitars actually do any material damage to the brand? There are some many customer reviews online, that it is often difficult to make heads or tails of something. I’ll often find myself wondering about how brands respond to customer service online, because the same/annoying passive-aggressive type of customer service calls are now being embodied in the digital channels. In fact, when I have a customer service issue, I am prone to not post it online, as I don’t feel the need to leverage my community to get a response or a desire to publicly call any one brand out. I simply want a response and resolve to be done privately. The desire for brands to force this outing on social media is bewildering to me. This past week, Chris Brogan was ranting about his own customer service issues with Dell (you can read about it right here: Update to my Dell Hell Story).

Social Media Cowboys.

Brogan’s raw frustrations or issue with Dell and their products isn’t the crux. The real point of focus lies in the corporate integration. Forgetting that this is Dell, that this is Chris Brogan and that all of this is very public, what we’re seeing is a failure of integration. I loved his use of the term “social media cowboys”, because it speaks volumes to the real challenges that a brand faces in a world where consumers are both the center and the true omni-channel of a brand experience. Sadly, most companies have some kind of social media cowboy. It’s an analytics package, it’s a social media monitoring tool, it’s a real-time marketing command center, it’s a handful of work-from-home helpers, it’s a four person team working within the communications or customer service center to be listening and responding to trending issues. In short, it all means nothing, if it’s not integrated into the core product/service. Having a handful of emails (or people) run through the organization with their hair on fire because someone with any semblance of an audience (like Chris Brogan or anyone else) is demanding answers doesn’t change how a brand operates. It creates a dissonance with how everything else runs.

Sadly.

What have we learned? This is what really made me sad and frustrated after reading Chris’ post: we have not learned much after all of this time. And, for all of the talking that has been done, not much has changed. You would think that Dell (which is often held up as a case study is excellence for social media and monitoring) would be able to nail something so basic. So, left to our devices, I’m wondering how many true strides brands have really made in an effort to be better, to be more transparent, to be more human and to connect more with their consumers? Ultimately, how many brands have built a better organization, in a world where every voice now has a stage and an audience?

I’m hoping this isn’t the end of customer service.

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It’s All Just Dumb Luck

Selling a lot of books is very hard. Making a video go viral is very hard. Creating a billion dollar company is very hard.

It’s a story that I will never forget. Back in 2008, I was prepping the release of my first business book (Six Pixels of Separation). I was very excited because the book was going to be the lead business title for Grand Central Publishing – which is a part of the largest book publishing company in the world (Hachette Book Group) – and the senior-most executive at the publishing house wanted to meet with me. I was excited. I was nervous. If you could close your eyes and imagine what the head editor of the largest book publisher in the world might look like, you would have the right visual of this powerful, smart and compelling individual. A beautiful corner office with a view, that is decorated with awards, celebrity author paraphernalia, photos of this individual with Presidents, royalty and more. As we sat down on the couch for a coffee, they leaned in and quietly said, “Mitch… I love your book. We all love your book. It’s a fascinating space and you have captured it perfectly. We are thrilled that we’re publishing it and look forward to its success…” and then there was a long pause. They finished the sentence with: “now, all we need is lightning in a bottle.”

Wait. What?  

Write a book that one of the world’s most esteemed editors loves, get signed to a global deal by one of the largest book publishers in the world, get to be the lead title for their back to school season, and it’s all going to be dependant on how lucky we get? It’s a situation that I have known and dealt with for decades. Back in my music industry days, I would face this story on a weekly basis. A band would release an amazing album on one of the major record labels, that was supported with a ton of marketing, featured a great producer, with an amazing tour to come, and it would be crickets and tumbleweeds in terms of record sales, seats sold and general media interest. I could rattle off hundreds of bands who should have been huge from the eighties and nineties while others (some might even argue less-qualified) got the accolades, attention, fame, sex, drugs and well, you know.

In the end, is it all about luck?

I am thinking about luck a lot lately. I’m not the only one. Just yesterday, I saw two really interesting articles on Mashable about Facebook (titled: ‘It Was Just the Dumbest Luck’ — Facebook’s First Employees Look Back) and the meteoric rise of the most frustrating game, Flappy Bird (titled: How ‘Flappy Bird’ Went From Obscurity to No. 1 App).

Check out these quotes…

  1. Ezra Callahan was Facebook’s sixth employee. Here’s what he says about it: “It’s humbling to know I was part of something that became such a phenomenon around the world. Every day, I recognize how it was just the dumbest luck in the world to have been in the right place at the right time.” 
  2. Doug Nguyen is the indie developer who created Flappy Bird. He never did any type of marketing or advertising for the game and simply said, “The Popularity could be my luck.”

Is it just all dumb luck?

You can imagine how many articles, blog posts and book have been written on the subject of luck. I’ve often referred to this “secret sauce” that seems to have no known recipe in the success of things of other stuff. We would like to think that true success happens when someone can match passion, intellect, dedication and effort against a cause. We would like to think that if you just put your nose against the grindstone, something is going to give. We don’t want to believe in something “other” (and no, I’m not talking about any religious figures here). Still, when you speak to those we would consider the best of the best, they often default to some type of comment about just how lucky they got. Sure, go ahead and dump all of the catchy quotes below about how a lot of hard work makes people lucky, I still find it fascinating how there are always these random forces at play. The things that make one video go viral and another, equally compelling piece, be a dud. It feels like luck usually does have something to do with it, regardless of what the data jocks tell us and the puritan hard workers. 

So, do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?

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The Blog Turns 20 This Year

Can you believe it? I had to re-read the headline a couple of times as well.

Yesterday, The Guardian posted an article titled, The blog turns 20: a conversation with three internet pioneers. It made me do a double-take. This blog, has been around for eleven years. With over 3600 posts and over 40,000 comments, it is much more than a publishing platform. It is much more than a place where I share what I am thinking about or tinkering with. It is an ongoing space where people come together to think differently about how brands can better connect with consumers. I can’t thank you enough for being here, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am that blogging was invented.

Twenty years is a long time.

Brands struggle to understand digital marketing. To say that this is nothing new, is to acknowledge just how slow companies can be to adapt, and how adverse to change many people can be. You can head over to your local bookstore (if you still have one) and look at the most recent business books being published, and there will – without question – be several titles about how to get started with blogs and how important they can be to a businesses success. When I was writing the first draft of my second book, CTRL ALT Delete (which came out in the latter part of last year), I was genuinely anxious to use the word “blog” in the book. I felt like people reading it may misinterpret my use of the word and think that I was dismissing some of the newer channels, or that I had become an old man, clinging on to this thing that had lost its shiny luster and media darling position in the world. When I look at new media platforms like Huffington Post, Business Insider, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or whatever, I just see some kind of variance on the blog. A blog – for my dollar – has simply become the catchall phrase for the ability that human beings now have to create content (in text, images, audio and video) and instantly share that with the world for free. Blogs were better defined as an online journal that enabled writers to instantly publish their content to the world for free (it could also be easily distributed through the power of RSS – a term that is also all-but-forgotten). Now, it’s not just words. It’s not just on a computer. Still, Instagram just feels like photo blogging to someone like me.

Twenty years… and it’s just getting started.

In a world of disposable technology (both the hardware and the software), I still believe in the power of words. In a world where books are moving from bookshelves to iPhones, I still believe in words. In a world where pictures can be sent via mobile and then destroyed so that no trail ever exists, I still believe in words. This hesitancy of brands to embrace these channels are both a personal frustration to me, but have also afforded me an incredibly rich life of work that continues to keep me inspired. Still, I have a hard time believing that the concept of blogging is two decades old.

If you love to write.  

Often, people will ask why I love to blog so much and so frequently. The answer is simple: I love to write. If you love to write. If you love to share… you should be blogging. To me, the notion of blogging is still as exciting and powerful as it was over a decade ago, when I published my first post. Back then, I could not believe that this piece of software existed. I could not believe that I didn’t need anyone’s permission (be it an editor or a publication) to reach an audience. I could not believe that if my words resonated, I would be able to find my own audience and build my own community. Twenty years later, I get that same tingle – each and every day – when I lift the lid of my MacBook Air and stare at the blank screen. I don’t often know where the journey will take me, or how easily the words will flow, but I am deeply grateful and forever thankful for the pioneers who built this platform.

It’s not about me.

As I read the article in The Guardian, I started to realize that while I am thankful that I was able to find a corner of the world to share my words, that I much more grateful that I am able to read, consume and engage with the thinking of others. I have met some of my closest friends because they are bloggers. Because they share. Because they write. Because they care. These people are real. More real than the digital pixels that transform and distribute their words instantly around the world. If you look to the left of this blog post, you will see something that says, “Check Out These Blogs.” Those people are just some of the big brains that I think about, read and follow with each and every passing day. In a world without blogs, I would be waiting years or months (at best) to hopefully grab a new book from them or an extended article in a magazine or newspaper. No more. Blogs destroyed the chasm that existed between writers and their audiences, by giving them the ability to share on an ongoing basis. I marvel at that more than anything else. I hope you do as well.

Happy 20th Birthday, blog! I’m looking forward to decades more of your goodness.

Feel free to share below what blogs mean to you…

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The Next Great Marketing Disruption

Last week was a weird week.

I was in New York speaking at the National Retail Federation‘s Big Show in New York City. My closing keynote was to take place after former President of the United States, George W. Bush, was going to speak and then Costco co-founder, Jim Sinegal, would be awarded a lifetime achievement award during the NRF Retail Industry Awards Luncheon. If that isn’t strange enough, in the following days one of the great technology startup icons, Jack Dorsey (Twitter and Square – at the same time) was also going to give a keynote session titled, The Receipt – A Communication Channel. That’s weird, right? Here’s the full description from the conference guide: “Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and Chairman of Twitter, will discuss the power of human connection and the ability to see big potential in the smallest of moments. With this philosophy in mind, Jack will focus his keynote on the untapped power of an often-overlooked artifact of commerce: the receipt.” 

Is the next big disruption in marketing, retail and technology the sales receipt?

Do you remember the now-infamous Seinfeld episode where George Costanza’s wallet was so overstuffed with receipts (and yes, there was even some hard candy in there!) that he was sitting at a tilt with it in his back pocket? Does Dorsey believe that the future is in alleviating the woes of these annoying little pieces of paper that are typically scattered between our wallets, purses, desk drawers and nightstands? Does Dorsey believe that the future of better marketing is in leveraging this societal annoyance into a wanted piece of marketing content? Here’s what he said about it: “What if we see the receipt more as a publishing medium — a product unto itself that people actually want to take home, that they want to engage with, be fully interactive with?… What can we do with this everyday tool… What can we build into this canvas that’s actually valuable, that’s independent of the product you just sold? What can you give in this communication channel, this publishing medium, that people want to engage with?” The only solutions to the questions that Dorsey provides were for retailers to add their Twitter handles to these receipts or to take a look at the many exciting ways that Square (his mobile POS system) is leveraging the mobile wallet component of the system to give electronic receipts that ask for feedback and/or provides tips or whatever. Re/code described the presentation as, “crazy talk,” while Valleywag went on to editorialize that, “Dorsey didn’t actually explain how any of this makes any sense at all, or is not a poor caricature of startup fever dreaming, so I’ll offer an idea: receipts are dumb and annoying, and we should just have them archived in our email somewhere in case we need them for taxes. No one should be trying to make receipts interesting. They’re receipts.” In the end of that Seinfeld episode, George’s wallet exploded. Dorsey’s thoughts may have had the same comical climax.

Or did it?

While Dorsey may have radically changed the way we communicate in 140 characters, or how we can use our mobile devices to pay for our everyday things (without even having to remove it from our pockets), he may not know how many brands have been leveraging their sales receipts over the past few years. Supermarkets often use this channel to offer coupons and discounts, Chipotle asks patrons of their restaurants to enter the code at the bottom of their receipt for access to the customer-only bathrooms, Staples uses the space to encourage customers to take a survey, and there’s more. Perhaps the spirit of Dorsey’s comments are more profound and important than the examples he provided or the snarky tech pundits’ discourse. At a macro level, Dorsey is right about brands needing to get better at taking every opportunity to optimize and maximize a moment of engagement. Perhaps the sales receipt should be perceived of as an archetype for a very commonly used form of communication that is in dire need of an upgrade? What about thinking about those smaller moments (instead of the big campaign), the ability to have a more human connection (instead of pimping more coupons) or the ability to always add value (along with information)? Sales receipts may not be the next great marketing disruption, but thinking about better ways to blend a traditional form of communication that consumers are already accustomed to with technology is a surefire way to make marketing better, more interesting and, when done well, perfectly disruptive.  

What do you think?

The above posting is my new monthly column on marketing innovation for Strategy Magazine. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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Reboot: Marketing With Inc. Magazine

WARNING: Self-promotional blog post ahead…

I am excited to announce that starting tomorrow, I will be a regular contributor to Inc. Magazine with the launch of my twice-monthly column, Reboot: Marketing. The column will focus on how technology and marketing is working harder than ever to make businesses better (and what entrepreneurs need to know to capitalize on it!). As usual, I will be posting the unfiltered, unedited version here on Six Pixels of Separation once Inc. Magazine’s final version gets published. The version on this blog will also include all of my regular slew of links, tags, etc…

Why would I write for Inc. Magazine?

In simple terms: content distribution strategy (more on that here: The Failing State Of Content Marketing). Every week, I blog six times plus the Six Pixels Podcast on Sunday. My current thoughts are that this content should not just be shackled to my own platforms, but to extend the thinking into as many interesting and unique corners of the publishing world as possible. I will continue to be a regular contributor to The Huffington Post (look for my newest column next week) and I will be shifting my contributions to Harvard Business Review to a monthly format. All of those pieces will be posted here as well (in their original format).

But wait… there’s more!

With that, I am equally excited to be announcing that I will have an upcoming monthly column in Strategy Magazine (it will be published in the third week of every month). The focus of that column will be innovation in marketing. With all of that, my weekly Monday morning radio hit on CHOM 977 FM’s Mornings Rock With Terry And Heather B will continue on. Will there be other business books? Yes! More speaking engagements? Yes! Other new and interesting ways of sharing this content in new and interesting venues? Just wait until you see what will be happening in the coming months.

Too much content?

People complain that there is too much content. I am guilty of this from time to time. Still, I believe deeply in these digital channels and the ability for an individual to share their thinking with the world. I’m also a firm believer that so long as the content adds value to people’s lives, then it is a worthy pursuit. This is an exciting time for brands, publishers and marketers. But, I have another thought: I don’t believe that everything that I create should be consumed, shared and loved by everyone (I wish more brands would think like this as well). You don’t have to listen to all of my podcasts to derive value. Individuals can pop in and out. That’s great too (in fact, it’s my expectation that this will happen). Too many brands (and individuals) are on the drug of “more.” Thinking, hoping and praying that every new tweet gets a few more retweets or moments of engagement than their last. That is not the true spirit of creating a legacy of content. This blog post may not be of value to you. I’m hoping that the next one (or the one after that) will.

Until then… let’s Reboot: Marketing.

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The Internet Will Break Your Creative Block

Writer’s block? Creative block? Can’t come up with something to create?

Steven Pressfield hates the words “writer’s block.” He believes that we’re all just fighting the “resistance” to create something (writing, that new startup, a project, whatever). His books, The War of Art, Do The Work and others are all about “putting you ass where your heart is,” as he calls it. Seth Godin feels that there is no such thing as writer’s block, because we don’t have thinker’s block or talker’s block, so if you write the way that you talk, there is no way to ever be unable to create. I believe that some days the creativity simply flows better than it does on other days. I can’t tell you how many times I have done a similar presentation, and on one day everything seems to be flowing wonderfully, then the next day it feels like I have to dig a ditch to string together the most simplest of sentences. I also believe that it’s hard not to create so long as you are inspired. The more you see, feel and hear, the more things there are to be inspired be. Be the infovore.

Inspiration is now everywhere.

Of course, that’s nothing new (thank you, Internet), but it is something that is often forgotten or dismissed. We used to have to go to the museum to be inspired. Some might go to a concert, a movie, the library, have a deep conversation with a friend at the coffee shop or even hit the local stand-up comedy club. At best, we might be inspired by something we read in a newspaper at home, saw on TV, read in a book, or heard on the radio. If you are tinkering in the right spaces online, it’s impossible to not be inspired. Always. Constantly.

Pushing beyond memes, Buzzfeed and Upworthy.

It’s easy to get lost in listicles and the bulk of snackable content that the Web provides. Look no further than your Twitter or Facebook feeds for hours and hours of animated GIFs, useless YouTube videos and Reddit randomness. There’s nothing wrong with it, but to then turn around and say that you have writer’s block or that you’re struggling to come up with an original idea, would lead me to believe that you’re simply skimming along the Internet instead of digging deep into the treasure trove of amazing, free and powerful content that is everywhere. There have been days that I have looked up at the clock – in the later part of the evening – only to realize that no topic, piece of news or anything has brimmed to the top and had me begging for a keyboard to blog. It’s at that point that I turn back to the Internet and start digging in random corners looking for inspiration.

It has never failed to inspire me.

Criticize the amount of content on the Internet. Balk at the true value and merits of it. Do as you will. I can’t imagine going back in time to a day and age when I found myself waiting at the local newsstand/magazine store for a new issue of Fast Company magazine to show up in the pre-Internet days. Plus, you would be surprised at just how much of the most juvenile or uninformed content that you come across online can be completely inspiring to get you creating. How often have you read something and wanted to immediately Javex your eyeballs, because you could not believe how stupid a perspective was? Well, guess what? That’s inspiration knocking on your noggin and begging for you to set the record straight by creating something with your own twist and perspective on it.

The Internet is the great liberator of creativity. 

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Don’t believe me? Go pull up any piece of content (or, feel free to use this one) and write your own little article, post or journal entry about it. If you choose this one, ask yourself what you think about creative blocks, finding new ideas or how to be inspired? Now, share it! If it’s not this piece of content, but something, just start with this question: what do you agree/disagree with what you just consumed?

See, it works! Let the ideas flow!

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(Almost) No One Is Seeing Your Content

Certainly, this is not the most optimistic headline you are going to read on January 1st, 2014.

We used to tell ourselves a very powerful narrative about how the cream always rises to the top, and the struggle that most brands face when it comes to content marketing and social media is that they struggle to find a true sense of human-ness in the content that they are creating. How many brands can produce stories that people would want to (no, have to!) share? We seem to believe that the brands that are finding any type of success with this stuff are going big (skydiving from outer space, delivering gifts via baggage claim to unsuspecting airline passengers, etc…) and delivering on the production of great stories (one after the other). That bubble was (somewhat) popped by the issue of content distribution strategies. No matter how great the content is, it needs a meaningful distribution strategy behind it to convert into something truly valuable (more on that here: The Failing State Of Content Marketing). So many brands actually have great content, but have a sub-par content distribution strategy where the vast majority of the work resides behind their own walled garden.

Now, even if you have a great story to tell, it could be that no one even knows that you exist. 

Do you find that hard to believe? Before moving forward, please read these two (short) articles:

  1. (Almost) No One Is Reading Your Tweets.
  2. While Everyone Else Whines, This Guy Makes His Whole Living Off Facebook Traffic.

We need Twitter and we need Facebook.

Twitter and Facebook (and there are many others) are no-longer “like to haves” for brands. If a brand is not present on these social media channels, there is a commonly held sentiment that they are simply uncaring or non-present in their consumers’ lives. While that is an arguable statement, it is undeniable that consumers now take to social media for resolution, information and more from brands. Some brands can harness these communications channels with ease and others grapple with it on a constant basis. Regardless, anybody in the marketing world would agree that these two channels alone reach a vast audience of customers and potential customers. So yes, they are important. Still, Twitter and Facebook are both faced with a similar business predicament that has yet to be resolved. On the one hand, they must protect the sanctity of their consumers by ensuring that their respective feeds don’t become overly polluted with marketing and advertising messages. On the other hand, they are a business and must generate significant revenue to please investors and the public.

This is where we wind up.

No, Twitter and Facebook don’t have the same business or consumer challenges, but these two instances point to one massive problem for brands: if these (and other) media channels continually tweak and throttle the content or misrepresent what gets seen by who, this instability will not play well with brands, media companies and advertising agencies. On the Facebook front, if brands have invested significant dollars to acquire and build relationships, but Facebook decides to pick and choose what gets shown to these individuals, marketers will have an issue. On the Twitter front, if almost all of the tweets are all but ignored, what is the exact business proposition to the brand?

Next steps.

If we wind up trying to “trick the system” by using off-channel techniques (like paying people to like and retweet or having some kind of agreement with a handful of other groups to always like or retweet their content in exchange for the same action), we’re missing the bigger point to everything. Social media enables brands to have real interactions with real human beings. I struggle to understand why the media, the advertisers and the media companies try to over-complicate this. Facebook would not have to throttle content if consumers weren’t complaining about the vast majority of it being sucky. It’s not Twitter’s fault that it became a massive (and noisy) place to post 140 characters. The issue here is not what Facebook or Twitter have become. The issue is that Facebook and Twitter (and others) have not bended to the way in which advertisers would prefer. If people using social media were getting tremendous value from all of this content marketing, we would not be faced with either of these issues. What we’re actually seeing is something that we’ve known about media for a very long time (but always want to forget): consumers aren’t consuming media for brands. They want moments of connectivity, delight and communication. Sure, that may include a brand at some point along the way, but it’s not their raison d’être.

Fair is fair.

If I were Facebook, I would open up the pipe. I would let users see and feel all of the content that everyone is posting and let them make their own choices about who they want to friend and like. If I were Twitter, I would do the same thing, but I would also allow consumers to time-shift the content. One of the biggest issues with Twitter is the real-time component of it. I may love following someone in the UK, but I’m usually asleep when they’re tweeting away. If I got their tweets adjusted to my own time zone, I may have a chance of getting more of these message through. Some of the brands having the most success on Twitter will schedule one tweet to repeat itself multiple times throughout the day to adjust, but that just seems like too much work and annoying for those who are actively paying attention. Consumers are smart. They will stay connected to those brands that are adding value. It’s pretty simple. The reason we have so much disconnect, trust issues and this ongoing throttling is that the companies like Twitter and Facebook don’t want to have people abandoning the channel because the content isn’t working for the users. We can wax poetic about this forever, but the facts remain the facts: brands are spending a ton of money, time and energy with social media and someone else is deciding what stuff gets seen by those who have already agreed to be connected.

If that doesn’t tell you something about the state of content marketing and social media, I don’t know what does.

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My Love Affair With Pocket

Where do you save and read your online content?

You would think that with all of this technology and content that we’re constantly creating, publishing and reading, that it would be a whole lot simpler to save, share and consume it. It’s not. It’s a mess. And, I’m guess that if it’s a mess for me, it’s an even bigger disaster for those who are less inclined to spend the time figuring out which services are the best and which ones can be trusted. If we go back to the early days of online content, I quickly became enamored with Delicious (which, at the time, was a bookmarking service coupled with an online social network). You could not only save and retrieve content on Delicious, but you could follow friends and see what they were saving. Most of that technology was driven by the nascent days of tagging content. Over the years, other services came online, Delicious got acquired by Yahoo, RSS readers (like Google Reader) came into play and, well, things just started getting messy again.

A system to save and find content.

For years, I would bounce back and forth. From taking physical notes of things to check out, to using Google Reader to having specific folders in my email program for areas of interest. In short, it just felt like everything was all over the place. It was less about trying to capture and consumer everything, and much more about having an efficient and unified place to get it and keep it. When Instapaper came out, it provided the most ideal place for me to save articles that I wanted to read, but proved less efficient for other pieces of content that I wanted to store (little pieces of data, ideas for clients, videos from YouTube to watch, concepts for a future book, column ideas for the Huffington Post or Harvard Business Review). Still, it felt like I was adding in another place to save my content. Then, Pocket came along. Pocket changed everything. I love Pocket.

Why I love Pocket.

Pocket seems to do everything that a lot of other tools did well, but it just works on many levels. Pocket allows you to save anything that you see on the Internet to an asynchronous experience (meaning, it is cloud-based and once an item is saved, you can view it from a computer, tablet or smartphone, so long as you have the apps and are signed in). If you see something in your email, you can forward it to a specific email address and it shows up in Pocket. If you add the Web browser bookmarklet, a little button appears in your Web browser, so you can add that piece of content. And, best of all, you can add tags to everything. It’s simple, fast and easy (I know, this sounds like a commercial, but it’s true). Because the tagging system is so well designed, Pocket makes it extremely simple to not only save content, but keep it organized from day one.

It gets better.

Perhaps one of the best features of Pocket is (much like Instapaper), is that once you save something in the app, it automatically downloads the content. This is huge. It means that while you’re not online, you can still read, review and work with the content. Sure, the vast majority of us are connected all of the time, but this is also magical because the speed of which you can access content (without Pocket having to run off into the Internet, find the link and pull the content down) makes it that much more magical. From flying to public spaces, having all of that saved content on the app (without needing connectivity) is a massive plus.

Everything in your Pocket.  

Of course, as you start using Pocket more, you start seeing the tremendous amount of work that these people are doing to make it better. They have integrated their tool into several apps like Twitter, Flipboard, Zite and more (close to 300 applications). And that is part of the magic too. Pocket made me realize how transient I can be with content. My context for content consumption is so different from when I’m on my MacBook Air to my iPhone to my iPad. Being able to save, consume, share and annotate the content that I’m devouring as an Infovore – no matter what type of hardware I’m staring at – seems to keep the tsunami of publishing from washing me away. Pocket is a true one screen world system.

Organization as part of your New Year’s resolutions.

If you want to get a handle on the content that you’re seeing, and put it to better use, I can’t recommend Pocket enough. As an example: the content that I cover on my Monday morning CHOM FM radio segment is, typically, more of the general news-y things in technology and social media that I don’t bother delving deep into on the blog, in my columns or in books. With Pocket, I can just tag all of that content from Mashable and BuzzFeed as “CHOM” when it comes in, so when it’s time to build the topics of conversation for the radio show on Sunday night, it’s all there… in one click. Once the segment is done, I delete everything with that tag in a very simple way. As human beings, we have never been faced with this much content from so many disparate places, finally you have the right tool on your computer, tablet and smartphone to keep you perfectly informed and totally organized.

If you have some down time during this holiday season, go and check out Pocket. You won’t be sorry.

(full disclosure: Pocket is not a client of Twist Image, I am not invested in this company and I don’t think I know anyone who works there. I just love it :)

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This Blog Is Dead

Let’s admit it. Blogging (as we knew it) is dead.

Is your blood boiling? Are you priming your fingers to lambast this thought in the comment section of this post? Go back in time. Not even all that ago and think about the early days of blogging. What we had was place for online journaling. Posts were seen in chronological order and could be commented on and shared. It was a technological and publishing breakthrough. Suddenly, the cost of publishing plummeted to zero and publishing to the world was almost as easy as it was to print up a document from your word processor. Suddenly, anyone with connectivity could have a thought and publish it in text for the world to see. It’s obvious why the popularity of blogs took hold. It’s equally obvious why the traditional mass media also took a liking to the platform. Newspapers could use blogging as a farm team for their printed publications. They could allow journalists not getting enough ink on paper to explore their ideas on a blog. They could test different types of stories and writers to see if there was a market for their writing, and more. For a person like me, publishing a regular blog enabled me to build an audience, to have a direct relationship with people who liked the same sorts of things that were turning my crank. If an editor didn’t like a story pitch, I could just copy and paste that same text into WordPress, hit “publish” and see if the story had legs. Blogging provided me with a powerful platform that has created awareness for Twist Image, got me on the radar of speaking bureaus, major publishers, a literary agent, book publisher and so much more.

What happened?

Yesterday, Nieman Journalism Lab published an article titled, The blog is dead, long live the blog, by Jason Kottke (who publishes one of the longest continuously running blogs on the Web). Let’s forgo the irony that this piece was published on a blog and read this: “Instead of blogging, people are posting to Tumblr, tweeting, pinning things to their board, posting to Reddit, Snapchatting, updating Facebook statuses, Instagramming, and publishing on Medium. In 1997, wired teens created online diaries, and in 2004 the blog was king. Today, teens are about as likely to start a blog (over Instagramming or Snapchatting) as they are to buy a music CD. Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids. Instead of launching blogs, companies are building mobile apps, Newsstand magazines on iOS, and things like The Verge. The Verge or Gawker or Talking Points Memo or BuzzFeed or The Huffington Post are no more blogs than The New York Times or Fox News, and they are increasingly not referring to themselves as such.”

The comfort of publishing and sharing.

Blogs aren’t dead, there are just many more ways to take an idea, to publish it and to share it. Blogs were as popular as they were over the past fifteen years not because everybody wanted to write and publish, but because that’s primarily the only way they could share things. Once better, faster and more technologically advance ways came about, consumers navigated to whatever areas were easiest or more congruous to their styles and preferences. The death of blogging is – as they say – greatly exaggerated. With more choices (shall I publish text? Images? Audio? Video?), places to publish (Pinterest? Tumblr? Snapchat? Facebook? YouTube?) and styles (short-like Twitter? Middle of the road for Medium? Long-like a piece for HuffPo? ), we simply have people who are finally able to match their publishing capabilities with their actual areas of interest. This doesn’t mean that blogs are dying, it simply means that people who like more personal/in-depth pieces would trend to a blog while others might like the rapid and real-time fire of Twitter.

It’s less about blogging.

What we’re seeing is an evolution of something I called, Instant Personal Publishing (almost a decade ago). Blogging is a legacy system within that framework. Instagram is as much of a blog post as this is. Consumers interest in sharing and creating content continues to evolve and grow. Blogging is starting to leave the “everyone” stream and finding it’s place in the “blogging” stream. It’s for those interested in more depth, more insight, with a personal slant/opinion, and a regular text-based publishing pace from those who have something to write. Writing isn’t easy. Blogging is a lot harder. Less people are starting blogs because not everyone is going to have the desire or aptitude to write. People are going to read less blogs, simply because they have more options. Bloggers have to do more within other social media and traditional media channels to get their voices heard. No, blogging isn’t dead. Blogging is just starting to find its more relevant audience with people who have a true passion for writing. That’s a good thing, but we can’t be fooled into thinking that blog-type writing will somehow become more popular than creating and sharing pictures and videos and tweets. When given the choice, humans tend to like the speed of looking and snacking.

That’s nothing new.

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Katie Couric Will Give Us The Internet That We Deserve

What kind of Internet do we want?

Some might consider this a vague, daunting and even ambiguous question, but it begs for an answer. Anyone who has been online for a long time knows how interesting, diverse and different the Internet – as a medium – was (and can still be). It was very different from anything that we had seen before. In my second book, CTRL ALT Delete, I frame it in a more simplistic way: traditional media was very passive (it was created, edited and distributed for us and we consumed it in a very passive manner). Sure, there were “letters to the editor” and more, but most of this interaction was still strictly regulated by the media owners and highly edited to fit a specific format. While there is nothing wrong with passive media (I like to sit back and soak in an episode of Charlie Rose as much as the next dweeb), the Internet brought with it a dramatic change: active media. From sitting back to leaning in. From looking to touching. From consuming to creating and curating. In fact, it hasn’t been all that long since the Internet has been commercialized, and yet here we are at a fascinating moment in time when all of it can come crashing down in a massive heap of mediocrity.

Traditional media wants to becomes active. The Internet wants to be like television (and become passive?).

What used to be the most charming thing about the Internet is quickly becoming somewhat homogenous and frighteningly similar to prime time television. It used to be that blogging opened up our minds to individual perspective. We would share these online diaries, comment on them, dissect them and more. It used to be that the trendy topics on Twitter was a driver of new ideas. Things, events and ideas to explore. The stuff you would never find mentioned on CNN. Now, the trending topics on Twitter tend to look an awful lot like the breaking news tickertape graphics that scroll across the CNN screen. Podcasting used to be the home of independent and niche thinking, but the most popular podcasts today are mass media re-iterations of their content. Where has the diversity of these ideas gone?

What makes Arianna Huffington any different from Katie Couric in this day and age? 

That’s not a slight against either media personality. I’m a huge fan of all things Huffington Post (I contribute there regularly and Arianna was kind enough to endorse CTRL ALT Delete), but we are no longer seeing much diversity as consolidation and global behemoths battle for Internet supremacy. Look no further than Business Insider‘s The Future Of Digital 2013 slide titled, Value (and power) are still very concentrated. What you will see is that the market value online is divided up like this:

Compared to “old media”:

It’s not a true apples to apples comparison, but you get the idea.

Sure, Amazon is one of the world’s largest retailers, but they’ve also just announced more original programming like Betas and Alpha House (kind of like their own, little cable network). At the same time, Apple is still pushing iTunes Radio and Yahoo is making all kinds of waves this week by announcing that Katie Couric will be joining the company as their “Global Anchor” (does anybody know what that title even means?).

It’s a strange world.

Newspapers, magazines, radio and television companies are all scrambling to figure out how to be more like the Internet, digital and active media to make themselves more relevant, while these online companies are developing television shows, buying newspapers and poaching television celebrities. What’s going on here? We had too many people laughing at Google for things like Google Glass and driverless cars while we’re handing out belly rubs and lollipops in the boardroom any time new media does something so very traditional.

My kind of Internet.

I don’t know about you, but my kind of Internet is all about innovation, new platforms and the ability to do things with this technology that you can’t do on a television or in a magazine. I love television, radio, newspapers and magazines, but I want the Internet to do a whole more. In fact, I expect more of it. My hopes are that Pinterest can grow to the point where they can build whatever the next Instagram could be. That they push the frontiers of how we define media and what the media channels of the future might look like. If all they do, is scale and bring on Martha Stewart to run a bunch of boards, it’s going make me bored. We need the folks at Reddit to re-imagine the quirky corners of publishing, news and tidbits that will never have the mass appeal and scale to reach The New York Times. We don’t need another Lady Gaga AMA. We need these new media companies to focus on the “new” and to keep pushing whatever their agendas are to be unique, different and not the same old, same old.

I am hoping that we get the Internet that we need… and not the one that we deserve.

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It’s Never Too Late To Start A Blog

Well, of course someone who loves to blog is going to say that it’s never too late to start a blog.

I was asked to give a presentation this past week in London for the London Bloggers Meet-up (many thanks to Bernie, Andy and David for pulling this together). The event took place at the spectacular offices of Google in London (don’t believe me, do a search on this office space, it has been featured in many articles and posts). There were over fifty bloggers in attendance and, instead of just presenting, we decided to do more of a Q&A-type of session. A deep-dive into the merits of blogging. Yes, we all recognize that it’s 2013.

Blogging as a euphemism. 

I use blogging as a euphemism for putting your thinking out there. For me, blogging has been that media. I do love the weekly podcast, writing business books, as well as being a contributor to Huffington Post, Harvard Business Review and others, but blogging is where my heart lies. That’s not entirely true. Writing is where my heart lies, and I publish that writing (primarily) on a blog. What I love most about blogging is the immediacy of sharing. The other publishing platforms typically have intermediaries, editors, time to publish and more. So, whether it’s a blog for you, Instagram, posting to Facebook, Pinterest or whatever, let’s (for argument’s sake) just accept blogging as the euphemism for putting yourself out there.

Start now.

It may seem simple enough, but I labored over those two, simple words. I hesitate to tell you to start because I often find myself wondering if the world needs another blog, another tweet, another post about some wonderful place you’re visiting or how hard of a workout you just had at the gym. The world probably doesn’t need that, but it does need your thinking. Blogging has matured, evolved and changed. It’s no longer the place for random brain droppings (we have a multitude of online social networks that allow that). Blogging has, chiefly, become the publishing channel for those who love to write and to connect more directly with those who are interested in the words. Without a doubt, comments and other social media channels have allowed these pieces to have a sense of distribution and additive insights, but a blog still gives a more personal space to explore with words the critical thinking that is taking place between your two ears.

You have other options.

If you look at platforms like Medium, Quora, Huffington Post and more, they are not only providing a place to blog (if you’re not inclined to own your own space), but a platform of distribution. These spaces are like blogs with built-in audiences. The challenge with them is that – to a certain degree – for your piece to resonate within that channel it has to adopt the likeness of it. The best writers write for the channel. A book is not a blog post and an article on the Huffington Post is not the same as contributing to the Harvard Business Review. Finding the right match between your words, the publication and their platform can be challenging.

A blog is your land.

You can graze, decide what type of voice you want to cultivate, how often you would like to publish, how long (or short) you would like to publish. From there, you create the brand of the space. What the look, feel and vibe of the words will be. If anything, blogging has never been easier to do (check out WordPress), but on the other hand, it has never been harder to be successful at it because of how it has matured and because of the vast quantity of bloggers looking to grow their voice and audience. Still, I’m going to encourage you to either start a blog today or revive the one you may have abandoned.

If that doesn’t spark you to make the move, please watch this (it’s an oldie but a goodie from Seth Godin and Tom Peters):

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5 Simple Ways To Get More Creative, Inspired And Smarter Every Day

Stop complaining about email.

We all get too much email. Most of the time it’s about things that should probably be discussed in person (or over the phone) or it’s spam. The truth is that the inbox continues to be a great way to get more creative, inspired and smarter every day. I’ve written about this before: I still love subscribing to a slew of great e-newsletters, but there is only a handful that I simply can’t wait to read, or I leave theme in my inbox until I get through them. It’s a high bar, but these five deliver with each and every email.

5 e-newsletter that will help you be more creative, inspired and smarter:

  1. James Altucher Insider’s List. For my dollar, I think James Altucher is one of the best bloggers out there. He writes about inspiration, motivation, spirituality, finance, and entrepreneurship. He’s honest. So honest, that you will often find yourself wondering where he finds the courage to be so honest. The amazing thing about Altucher is that his email offers up much more content than he publishes on his blog, and every one is worth the read for a myriad of reasons.
  2. First Look Access. I have been on a Steven Pressfield kick for a long while. Recently, I signed up for his e-newsletter called, First Look Access, and it has been incredible. It is chock full of deep thinking about the habit of writing and the projects that he is working on. As the author of The War Of Art, Do The Work and more, I can promise you that even if you’re not a writer, the content is transferable to everything that you do in your daily work routine. 
  3. Seth Godin. Unless this is your first time here, you know that I am a massive fan of all things Seth Godin (did you think that I am bald because of Mother Nature’s cruelty alone?). Godin blogs daily, and having his posts pop up in my inbox every morning, provides a quick jolt of business, leadership, marketing and human motivation. Subscribe to his feed, so that you never miss a moment.
  4. Media REDEF. I have no idea how Jason Hirschhorn does it – each and every day. You could spend hours scouring blogs, Twitter and Facebook for amazing links about media, technology and pop culture only to discover that Hirschhorn has already done all of the heavy lifting (and more) for you. In short, you could be offline forever and simply subscribe to Media REDEF, and you would have missed absolutely nothing. Bonus: because he has a background in the music industry, he also combines links from that fascinating industry as well. It’s gold… or multiple times platinum (if you’re into music industry jargon).
  5. Quartz. They call themselves “a digitally native news outlet for the new global economy.” I love the news. When I’m in a hotel room (which is often), CNN is on all of the time. When I’m on a plane, I’ll tear through 2-4 newspapers. Yes, I’m an infovore. Still, I think that what Quartz pulls together in their Daily Brief will keep you totally informed about what’s in the news coupled with some interesting curated links from around the globe. So, if you don’t have time to watch, listen or read the news, this one keeps you in the zone where you will know enough about the world to be dangerous in a cocktail conversation at the local chamber of commerce.

Yes. it’s a diverse group. What are your must-reads from the Web?

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10 Years Of Blogging. One Tiny Favor. Please Help Me.

The truth is that I hate anniversaries.

That’s kind of a lie. I just don’t like the whole, “hey everyone, did you know that I have been blogging for ten years?” I don’t blog, write or publish with a numerical metric or amount of time in mind. I don’t blog, write or publish with the notion that the longer that I publish, the more entitled I am to your attention or interest. All of that has to be earned – each and every day. I do believe that this is why the vast majority of brands still struggle with content marketing. They’re in it for the quick hit. Not to create value and endure. Still, when I mentioned to some close peers that today is my tenth anniversary of blogging, every one of them thought that it is a moment of time worthy of mentioning and writing about. I thought about it, and decided to something a little bit different.

If you care about this blog, I want you to think about helping me put an end to leukemia.

It has been another crazy year of people that I know and love getting some form of cancer, but here’s a deeply, personal story: It was beautiful and perfect sunny day on August 25th, 2010. I was flying from Montreal to Toronto for a business pitch. I was happy with life – family, business and community were all going along great. I remember looking out of the plane window into the clear blue horizon and thinking, “life is good. I am very lucky.” I was looking forward to landing because I was about to call my best friend to let him know that my family was expecting a new baby. I’ve known this person for my whole life. I can’t remember them not being a part of my life or a friend. He was the first call outside of my immediate family with the good news. He always is. When the flight landed, I received a phone call from him. I was smiling to myself thinking, “this is perfect! He’s calling me!”

That’s when my world collapsed.

He told me that his beautiful, young daughter, Leah (who was five years old), had cancer… leukemia. How could that be? A few weeks prior she was at my kid’s birthday party, laughing, playing… perfect. Now… leukemia? It was – without a question – the hardest moment of my life… trying to understand and take in what my best friend was telling me about his daughter… who I would treat as my own daughter in terms of love and care.

It makes no sense.

Leah’s courage throughout this nightmare is what pulled everyone through – family and friends. If there were ever a definition for “survivor” it is Leah. After a lengthy and hard battle, she is – thankfully – in remission and back home where she belongs: with her family and friends. Three years ago, she was diagnosed and a year after that, she was in remission (and remains there).

She’s lucky, but many, many people are not this lucky.

Now, it’s our turn to make a difference. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada’s Light The Night Walk is a night to pay tribute and bring hope to all those affected by blood cancer. On October 19th, I will be joining thousands of people walking in twilight carrying illuminated balloons to fight this dreaded disease for the third year in a row. I’m doing this as a part of Leah’s team. I’ll be walking with Leah and her family. Leah didn’t deserve cancer of the blood… nobody does.

I’m asking you to do one thing for me.

Today is my tenth anniversary of blogging. I do my best to put out six blog posts and one audio podcast every week. This makes it close to four thousand entries over the years. In a perfect world, I’d prefer to not ask for help (those who know me, personally, can attest that I struggle with asking for help). In all instances, I try to make the ask something that has more value to the person actually taking action. Meaning, I prefer when the value of the ask is balanced not towards the person asking, but to those who participate. I’m confident that over the past decade, I have offered up countless pieces that added value to your work (at least, I hope I have!). This isn’t about me raising money. It’s about our kids and the randomness and cruelty that is leukemia and because none of us are safe. Leah got leukemia with no family history of the problem. Nothing. Now, Leah (who is in remission) will have to deal with this for the rest of her life.

Please help.

I set a goal of $5000 to raise from friends and family. The truth is that I would love to crack the $10,000 mark. I do realize that times are tough and many of us are watching our wallets just a little bit closer than we usually have, but please consider giving something. You know the saying, “every dollar counts.” If over the years, any of my content (on the blog, in Huffington Post, Harvard Business Review or in either of my two books: Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete) has struck a chord with you, made you smile, made you see your business world in a different way, I hope that you will consider this ask as the “tip jar” for my thoughts. Please help me. Please sponsor my walk. Please give generously. Please.

If you can find it in your heart to give, please do so right here: Light The Night Walk.

How about a little giver’s gain?…

As a “thank you,” here’s what I am offering:

  • Whoever gives the most money gets me for a one-hour get-together. It can be via video Skype, phone or in-person (meaning, if you’re in Montreal or if I happen to be travelling to wherever it is that you live). It will be a social meeting, but you can feel free to ask me anything. Lunch is on me. I’ll also include a signed copy of Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete.
  • Whoever comes in next gets two signed copies of my books, Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete.
  • Whoever comes in third gets one signed copy of both Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete.

Please help out. Please help me spread the good word. Thank you. I’m hoping that by the 20th anniversary, we don’t have to deal with cancer.

My friend – who is Leah’s father – wrote the following song and performed it. This should add some more context to my ask…

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The Failing State Of Content Marketing

Simply put: there is too much content in too many places.

While some may contend that the “cream always rises to the top,” when it comes to great content, there is another worthy argument that goes like this: there is too much cream and there are too many tops. Everyone is publishing – in text, images, audio and video. All of the time… and to the world. Of course, this is nothing new, and you will find instances when brands (think American Express and their Open Forum platform or what LinkedIn has done in recent months to become a top content provider with LinkedIn Today) are breaking the mold and busting through the immense amount of clutter, but the lessons about what works (and what’s just adding to the clutter) seem to be somewhat formulaic.

How do you make your content resonate? Here’s what the experts will tell you:

  1. Tell a great story.
  2. Tell that story in a new, fresh and interesting way.
  3. Tell that story in a quirky, weird, strange or random way.
  4. Tell that story in a way that will make them cry or feel deeply emotional.
  5. Tell that story in a timely way… be the first to uncover something new.
  6. Tell that story in a honest way.
  7. Tell that story in a shocking way.

That’s it. Easy. Right?

It’s true, that when you can nail the components of what makes a story come to life (and, if you’re struggling with this, make sure to read Joseph Campbell‘s The Hero With A Thousand Faces), you have a higher propensity for success. It’s also true that you don’t have to nail all seven components to have a hit on your hands (people have created stellar pieces of content using just one of the rules). Still, in a world of tweets, Snapchats and Facebook status updates that move faster than the ticker at the bottom of the screen while you’re watching CNN, getting any content to resonate is becoming increasingly more challenging. The half-life of content is a brutal beast in this day and age.

Why the content fails.

Some may point to the fact that the content is nothing more than marketing blather thinly veiled as genuine content, or that the vast majority of stuff we’re calling “content” is merely the publishing of a press release that has had its jargon surgically extracted by a former journalist. The truth has become bigger than what is being published. What the biggest publishers in the world tend to shy away from, when it comes to explaining how content becomes successful, is the distribution of it all.

If it’s good content, the content will be found. Not really.

This past week, MediaPost ran a great little news item titled, Failing Distribution Strategies Smother Great Content. The article is based on a recent Forrester report titled, Put Distribution At The Heart Of Content Marketing, that touches on this exact point: content needs proper distribution. More often than not, brands and their content marketing (or branded content, or blogging or whatever) leave that content within their own walled garden. The assumption is that people will come to them. The best publishers in the world make sure that the consumer can get their content on their own terms… on their preferred environments. Content without a deep and meaningful distribution strategy is never going to properly convert into anything for any brand. It’s painful for brands to hear this, but it’s true.

Plant your content seeds.

A personal story: I am often asked about why I chose to write two business books (Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete)? Why do I blog so frequently? Why do I contribute to Huffington Post? What about Harvard Business Review? And now, a spot on the radio every Monday morning? What’s the point? In a word: distribution. In order for my content to be effective (and the net result I am looking for is that our digital marketing agency, Twist Image, is easily recognized as a potential agency when brands think about their digital marketing needs), I need to ensure that our thinking is distributed far and wide and to different types of audiences in different states of circumstance. Does this mean that I will put this content everywhere? Absolutely not. I have spent a significant amount of time (over a decade) looking for new and interesting venues to put our thinking out, in order to increase the distribution. Traditional magazine publishers look at more than how much money they’re making from individual magazines and subscriptions by closely gauging increased circulation numbers and where those copies of the magazine are being sold. They are tinkering with growing distribution opportunities to maximize revenue potential.

The true success of content marketing.

If your brand is trying to identify why the content isn’t working, please take a much closer look at what the distribution strategy is of your content. You do have a distribution strategy for your content marketing platform, right? The sad reality is that many brands still struggle with a consistent editorial calendar and haven’t really thought all that much about what the distribution model looks like (and what it can become) beyond posting it on their own sites. I recently spent some time with an individual who has quickly risen the ranks to become one of the most beloved bloggers in the world. The strategy for success is more distribution that creation. They test things on Facebook, and then blow it out into a newsletter article if it gets traction on Facebook. Once they get the analytics from their email newsletter, they decide which pieces have done well enough to be blogged about. From their, this individual has a handful of very diverse third-party publishers interested in their content. What does this equate to? For every hour of writing a piece of content, they spend two to three hours working on the distribution of it – within their own channels and beyond. The frequency of publishing is reduced in order to spend more time on the distribution of it.

Great content means great distribution.

This isn’t just about tweeting about a new blog post or copying and pasting an article into a Facebook update (I am guilty as charged on this one). It’s about thinking of new ways to distribute your content and getting it to connect to a much broader audience. From the MediaPost article mentioned above: “Skinner, the author of ‘Put Distribution At The Heart Of Content Marketing,’ explains that placing too high a priority on content may help to close sales, but marketers miss the opportunity to reach a larger audience. The proof comes from a SAP Web content audit where the company discovered the content was only relevant to a minority of its target audience. After focusing more on distribution, SAP’s site grew to more than 200,000 unique visitors per month in 18 months.”

So, do you have a lot of great content and are you distributing it properly?

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Why Popular Science Killed Their Comments And The Huffington Post Should Too

If the comments following this post or any others were gone, how much of a difference would that make?

Last week, Popular Science shut off the comments on their website. In an article titled, Why We’re Shutting Off Our Comments, online content director, Suzanna LaBarre stated: “Comments can be bad for science. That’s why, here at PopularScience.com, we’re shutting them off. It wasn’t a decision we made lightly. As the news arm of a 141-year-old science and technology magazine, we are as committed to fostering lively, intellectual debate as we are to spreading the word of science far and wide. The problem is when trolls and spambots overwhelm the former, diminishing our ability to do the latter.”

You would think that there must be technology to moderate these bad comments and fix it. You would be wrong.

This past week was also the ten year anniversary of my blog, Six Pixels of Separation. With close to four thousand blog posts over the past decade, the daily publishing schedule – along with my commitments at Twist Image – sometimes makes it very time-challenging to sift through, filter and moderate the immense amount of spam, linkbait and more nefarious types of comments that the blogging platform doesn’t trap and winds up being published to the world. Combined, it’s a overwhelming amount of work to sanitize. I can’t imagine what the volume must be like at Popular Science or at the Huffington Post.

A few bad apples can spoil the barrel.

Prior to the mass popularization of social media, there was an interesting functionality for blogs called the trackback. You have to frame the world back then: there was no Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc… If someone wanted to really expand on something that was written in a blog post, you could write your own blog post about it, and the blogging platform would almost-magically leave a comment-like link on the original post that inspired your writing. This would inform the original blog post that you have added to the discourse in another location. The spirit of the trackback was to allow those who wanted to expand upon a concept – in longer form – to not annoy the flow of the blog post and comments. The power of the trackback was that it created a link on the more popular blog sites back to someone else’s blog. Back in a world when search engine optimization ruled the world (some might argue that it still does), this reciprocated link was coveted because of how Google‘s page ranking system highly valued these links (especially when it came from what the search algorithm deemed a credible source). Within no time, those trying to game the system created bots and engines of automation to create a myriad of automated trackbacks. The vast majority of this became so spammy, that it rendered the value of trackbacks useless. In fact, it’s hard to find any online publishers who even know or care about trackbacks today.

The blog comments of today are becoming the trackbacks of yesteryear.

Whether we like it or not, the great discourse and online conversations are being clouded and polluted with spammy comments. If you have ever blogged, you will note how difficult it can sometimes be to sort the wheat from the chaff. These nefarious groups seeking free links have become quite sophisticated. There are instances when human beings are actually generating real comments, but applying a spammy or paid link within their personal profile. All of this takes a tremendous amount of time to parse and rectify.

Are there any solutions?

In fact, there are solutions, but no technology to truly deliver on it (yet). It requires online publishers to allow the conversation to be anywhere and everywhere. Instead of having people comment directly on the blog, why not enable them to leave their own thoughts wherever their social graph is most active? Loved something that you read here? Why not tweet your comment? Post it to Facebook? Expand upon it in Medium? Write a follow-up on LinkedIn? Or whatever? Once this is done, you simply add the source link (or the blog post that got you all excited to comment on and share) and what appears after a blog post is a hybrid of curated comments and discourse from across the Web. Readers can then see not only these comments, but the platforms they were created on and the profiles of those who created it. If someone wants to add to the discourse, they simply do so on their own social networks and link it back to the source as well. Of course, this is still a problematic solution. There is nothing stopping the spammers from creating fake profiles. Still, it is a way to increase the distribution of content, while inviting people to add in the arenas that make them most comfortable and increasing the likelihood that others might see this content in new and interesting ways.

Publishers can, ultimately, wash their hands clean.   

In world where anyone can have a thought and publish it in text, images, audio and video… instantly and for free to the world in a plethora of different channels and platforms, doesn’t it feel somewhat archaic that our best option is to give individuals the platform to speak? Instead, shouldn’t we be letting them choose their own platforms to share their opinions and what they’re reading to those that matter most? If you like something that someone writes, why not create your feedback within your own ecosystem, share it with your social graph and let the two disparate publishing platforms enable the free-flowing power of ideas to spread?

Popular Science and the Huffington Post can turn off the comments…

…because that will never stop the power of comments. Comments are – and should – be everywhere. That is the true social nature of digital media in 2013. We all, as individuals, can comment, share and curate anything. Now, they don’t need to be on someone’s else’s channel. They can be on our own. Perhaps, this way, we’ll begin a new phase of discovering different types of bright minds as we traipse down newer rabbit holes of content with depth.

Just imagine the possibilities of a world where the comments become a new gateway to new thinking in different channels.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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For The Love Of Words

There are people who are true magicians.

Not parlor tricks. Not those who try to fool others. Individuals who have ideas and can create stories out of thin air. Very compelling stories. While they walk among us, they work alone, for the most part. They are not collaborative in the work that they do. They toil, grapple, struggle and massage ideas into words in what is a solitary environment, with the hopes that others will feel the same way, share these words and build a community around these stories.

There is something very magical about words, writing and the writer.

Years ago, I considered a life of professional writing. A life where all of my financial outcomes would come from those who would be willing to pay for my words. Looking back, I resigned myself to the fact that it would be a hard life. This was long before the commercialization of the Internet and even longer before the advent of blogging and online publishing. By the time blogging platforms became popular, I had moved on from freelance journalism as my full-time profession. Today, there is no doubt that writing (and actually being paid to write) is a large component of my day, but it acts as an engine of business development and awareness for Twist Image. A way to demonstrate how digital channels offer new and fascinating business solutions to the brands of the world.

Still, the romance.

It’s hard not to dream of a point in my life when my day would begin by opening the patio doors that overlook a quiet lake. I could sit in a solarium, sipping a cafe au lait, listening to the quiet of the earth while reading a book. From there, a brisk walk in the morning air, a quick shower and then off into a study – filled with inspiring artifacts from our culture – to toil away at some words. It’s probably the same type of daydream that most who have the writing bug think about… Or a variation on a theme. It’s probably that kind of thinking that made me fall so madly and deeply in love with The Paris Review. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of reading fiction, but I have this fantasy of living a novelist’s life of toiling with the muse, while writing about life, business, technology and the marketing of things. It is in better understanding how these masters of words write and come up with their concoctions that made me fall in love with Writers At Work – a regular and popular feature of The Paris Review that is an in-depth exposé of the writer’s world. It focuses on their environment and thought process and, regardless of the affinity that you may (or may not) have for the feature’s wordsmith, it is always an education in the craft of writing words and an exploration into the creative life.

Watching the talking of writing.

Recently, Charlie Rose featured a segment on The Paris Review and their 60th anniversary. Whether you dream of renting an apartment in Paris to concoct the next great novel, or whether you are toiling away in a cubicle trying to write some B2B copy for an industrial valves company, you will get something out of this video. Whether or not you care as deeply for words or the writers that this group discusses, is somewhat irrelevant. Watch and listen. What you will see, are people who are trying to change how we think about writing. They’re trying to encourage us to read more. To discover something great that we may have not heard about. If that’s not profoundly linked to the work that you do, I’m not sure what is.

If you love words (or even if you don’t), you should watch this…

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