Inc. Magazine Charges YOU To Help Write Their Stories. Is That Ethical? (Update: Yes, It Is)

Everything in this post — as I originally wrote it — was wrong.

A few days after I wrote this, I received a call from Ken Lehman of Winning Workplace, who very kindly and patiently explained to me what an idiot I was. (Okay, he didn’t really say that, but after talking with him, I realized I had been an idiot.)

I wrote a follow-up post to give you an idea of how Winning Workplace creates the Top Small Company Workplaces project for Inc. Magazine (i.e. this is Winning Workplace’s award, and Inc. is their media partner, and publishes the story. I think WW would do the award project even if they didn’t have a media partner. They’re just that awesome about their support for small businesses.)

So, I debated whether to remove this post or leave it up. I’m only leaving a very small part of it up, and deleting the rest.

Not because I’m embarrassed by it. I mean, I am. I’m totally embarrassed. But I’m typically okay with leaving evidence of my embarrassment in place for others to see.

No, I’m deleting it because I know the power of Google, and I don’t want Google to use this post as part of their search algorithm. After listening to Ken, I’m convinced that Winning Workplace is doing some excellent work, that Inc. Magazine is doing a good thing by publishing the story, and I don’t want my post to taint their work by associating it any search results Google may come up with.

So, read the smoking remains of this post, and then go over to the Inc. Magazine is NOT Charging You to Write Their Story to see the real story. And if you’re so moved, apply for the Top Small Company Workplaces award.


Want to apply to be one of Inc. Magazine’s Top Places to Work in 2011?

Great! It’s only $149 ($249 if your company has 101 – 500 employees).

And that’s just to see the application. Once you fill out the application, you may be selected as one of the Top Places to Work in 2011.

 

KA-BOOM!

I’ll Read Your Ad for $250. My New Pay-For-View Pricing

Kim Kardashian annoyed more than a few Twitter users when it was leaked that Kardashian commands $10,000 to send a promotional tweet out to her then-2.7 million followers (now 5+ million).

(Kardashian denies that she receives that much money. Rather, she says she just tweets about products she likes.)

While I don’t follow her, I’m sure that her 5 million followers (minus the ones who aren’t spam bots and people who abandoned Twitter after a month) are looking forward to reading something interesting and not very vapid or shallow. (Yeah, good luck with that.)

How disappointing is it for her fans to learn that their favorite non-celebrity celebrity is only telling you she likes her shoes because someone forked over 10 grand to say so? While marketers think a so-called celebrity’s time and endorsement are valuable, they are also showing they think my time or interest isn’t.

So I have a new offer to marketers who want me to read celebrity endorsements and social media marketing messages: I will read anyone’s tweet, watch their commercial, or read their marketing copy for a fee.

That’s right. You can pay me to absolutely look at, read, watch, and consider your product. Think of it as a personal endorsement. After all, my time is valuable. Time I could spend working or being with my family is instead interrupted by you and your spokespeople trying to get me to buy something. And I do my best to ignore it, hide from it, or block it completely. So you come up with something new and creative, which means I have to do something new and creative to avoid it.

So how about you pay me instead? If you pay me, I will read whatever you put in front of me (except for that damn Kay Jewelers ad where the brain-addled woman is afraid of a thunderstorm). Rather than spending $10K on someone who is famous without actually doing anything useful, spend the money on me, and I will read or watch to your heart’s content.

According to my new Pay-For-View pricing schedule, I will:

  • Read any celebrity advertising tweet for $75. Any non-celebrity advertising tweet is only $25. (Hey, if you’re forking out $10,000 because someone is famous, chances are I find them annoying. So the extra $50 is for the wear and tear on my soul.)
  • Visit any company website for $150, and spend 10 minutes on the site, plus additional charges for any of the following:
  • Watch any video less than 5 minutes in length for $200. For videos longer than 5 minutes, it’s an additional $75 per minute.
  • Read any marketing copy, up to 750 words in length, for $150. Since I can read 750 words faster than you can say it in a video, I’ll cut you guys a break on the cost.
  • Also, any marketing surveys, registration forms, or instances where I have to give you my personal information is $100 plus a $25 per minute processing charge (minimum 5 minutes). I had originally considered charging a flat fee per information field (i.e. mailing address, phone number, etc.), but the rate sheet ended up being three pages long and still required a lengthy explanation.

Now, these prices are actually fairly reasonable, and I feel completely justified in charging them. After all, my time and consideration are valuable. I have a job, a family, and disposable income. I’m not easily swayed by celebrity endorsements, and will go out of my way to avoid most commercials and marketing messages. In short, you’re spending all that money to get celebrities to reach me, and I’m going to support you (and them) by spending my money. The least you can do is support me for spending my time thinking about you.

Kim Kardashian may be on to something, and I have to give her credit for helping me stumble upon the idea. As a thank you, I will read her next three promotional tweets for free.

No guarantees I’m buying anything though.

Five Online Monetization Ideas for Newspapers

BIg-city newspapers that are still relying on ad sales and subscriptions to pay for their giant printing presses and related salaries are only delaying the inevitable closure of said newspaper. (Dailies in smaller cities and the small-town weeklies still seem to be doing well, since they cover local news, which the big city papers are ignoring.)

Newspapers need to realize ink on paper is not the only way to deliver news.

But if the big city newspapers were to start rethinking their content delivery methods, they might be able to start generating some additional income. Here are five ideas newspapers could use to increase readership and grow revenue.

1. Hop On The Mobile Bandwagon

Earlier this month, Mashable reported on a survey that said:

U.S. smartphone owners are increasingly turning to mobile to access breaking news over other media, including newspapers, TV and desktop web browsers.

In a survey of 300,000 mobile consumers, 88% of whom owned a device running one the five most popular smartphone operating systems, more than 30% said that mobile is the “most important medium” to access breaking news, narrowly followed by desktop web browsers (29%), television (21%) and newspapers (3%).

That’s because online news is beating traditional media to breaking the news.

If a story breaks at 10:17 in the morning, I could watch it on the noon news (except I’m at the office), the 5:00 news (except I’m in the car), the 6:00 news (but I’m eating dinner), or the 11:00 news (13 hours later). I could also read about it in the newspaper at 6:30 am, 20 hours later.

Or I could read about it on my mobile phone by 10:18.

A lot of newspapers are still struggling with website-based delivery, and people have already moved on to the next channel. The newspapers that adopt a breaking news strategy with their online content can get additional readers via their mobile sites, and sell ad space on those sites.

2. Create Tablet-Only Content

iPad-owning newshounds all clapped their hands and went “squeeeeeee!” when they heard News Corp. was launching an iPad-only newspaper. The version costs $.99 per edition, and will come out on a daily basis. Murdoch hopes to win just 5% of the 40 million iPad owners (2 million people), which at $.99 per edition is $2 million per day.

While a local paper is going to have trouble drawing in 2 million readers on tablets, they should start exploring the possibility of a tablet-based news delivery system. Whether it’s audio and video content (see below) that’s playable on a tablet, tablet-only stories, or even an entire publication dedicated to tablets, the explosive growth of tablets mean that newspapers need to pay attention to a possible new delivery method.

3. Use Video and Audio Podcasts

I’ve been trying out Stitcher lately, a podcast delivery app for my Android. I plug it into the AUX jack on my car, and listen to whatever I’ve selected — a couple of short podcasts from Indiana University, and the Paul & Tom Show (Paul Poteet and Tom Davis).

This got me to thinking: I would love to hear a daily 15- or even 30-minute regional news broadcast. The closest I can get is the 9 minutes my local NPR station devotes to city news, including the 5 minutes they devote to the Indiana business news program.

So who says newspapers have to report news on paper? Why can’t they create video and audio content?

What if a newspaper started producing audio content where they did 15 or 30 minute daily news programs available via Stitcher or iTunes or another mobile delivery system? Drop in three commercial slots, and treat it like a real news program. Devote as much or as little time to a story as you want, so if a program runs 5 minutes long, that’s fine. There are no restraints on a podcast length the same way there are with a radio show, so running long or running short by a couple minutes is no big deal.

The Indianapolis Star will occasionally do online news videos to supplement their stories. I would love to see more papers doing this as well, especially if the videos are optimized for mobile use. With a good digital camera and a green screen backdrop, newspapers could start generating news videos for less than a one-time cost of $10,000, and give their news interns and new writers something to do. Sell ad space before and after each video, with a corresponding ad on the web page’s sidebar.

4. Locally-Produced Content

My friend, Bob, was the digital editor for the Indy Star a few years ago. They hired local bloggers to write stories about their communities and neighborhoods for online consumption. They paid $5 per post at 3 posts per week, and sold ad space for the locally-produced blogs. The digital version made $1 million per year.

This had several benefits for the paper:

  • Hyperlocal content that appealed to people in those areas of town. The regular print paper didn’t have room these posts, but they were still able to reach readers
  • Readers who wanted to read the local content were directed to the online paper, which helped them sell more ads.
  • The paper didn’t have to pay full-time writers to write the articles. Even at $25,000 for a fresh-out-of-college writer, that’s still $12.50 per hour. And it would take 1 – 3 hours to write a 300 word article. By paying a local blogger $5 per post, they’re saving anywhere from $7.50 – $32.50 per article.

5. Targeted Ads a la Facebook and Google AdWords

This falls under the Technology I’d Like To See heading: If I read an online newspaper, I would be willing to provide them with basic information about my name, age, where I live, etc., so they can deliver targeted ads to me based on my demographics, like Facebook does. However, I would also like to see ads based on the stories I’m reading, like Google’s AdWords and Pay Per Click, which they currently do.

But what would be really cool is to deliver ads to me that are a combination of both my demographics and the stories I’m reading.

For example, if I’m reading a story about a fire in another part of town, there are any number of ads that could be served up: fire insurance, fire protection, alarm systems, document storage, etc. But the paper would also know that I’m a father of three and have my own home, so they may serve up ads about alarm systems, knowing that I’m most likely to be concerned about my family’s safety (and that I already have insurance as a home owner). But someone who is single and living in an apartment may receive an ad about fire insurance or document storage, and not see the same “protect your family” ad. Reading a story about the car industry may show me an ad for a new family-friendly car, while the single 20-something is going to get an ad for the sports car.

While some newspapers are using one or two of these ideas, not every newspaper is doing so, and not every idea is in use at this time. But if newspapers want to survive this continued downward spiral, they’ll start looking to the Internet as their new delivery system now, rather than 10 years from now, when a new young upstart has taken their place, and begun delivering the online content that people have been looking for.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk (Flickr)

I Just Received My Copies of the Branding Yourself Book

Branding Yourself books

Two hours ago, I opened up something I thought I would never see: a carton of books with my name on it.

And not just because I bought them.

Copies of the book Branding Yourself by Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy

In all my years, this is the 5th most beautiful sight I have ever seen.

Because I wrote it.

My good friend, Kyle Lacy, and I just co-authored Branding Yourself: Using Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself, and Que BizTech (Pearson Education) published it. The book will officially be released on Thursday, December 30, 2010, and will be in the major bookstores, as well as on Amazon.com.

As much of a wimp as this will make me sound, I got more than a little choked up looking at something I never imagined as possible until last year (it also didn’t help that Mumford and Sons’ “Little Lion Man” was playing on the radio at that moment either).

Last year, Kyle and I wrote Twitter Marketing for Dummies. We had such a good time that we decided to do it again.

That’s where Branding Yourself came from.

This project has lead to several other projects and other opportunities. And now that it’s been released, I can only hope it leads to bigger and better things (it already has: 2011 is already filling up with some awesome new projects that I’ll be sharing in Q1 and Q2 2011).

If you would like to come to the launch party, we’ll be holding it on Tuesday, January 25 at Scotty’s Brewhouse Downtown (1 Virginia Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46204). You can register for the book launch party at the Eventbrite page.

There are so many people to thank for this — some people whose influence stretches back as far as five years ago — that I don’t even know where to begin. The most notable ones who deserve special recognition are:

  • Paul Lorinczi: My business partner in Professional Blog Service. He makes sure I get my work done here so I can focus on outside projects like this.
  • Lorraine Ball: She was my networking mentor and Kyle’s first employer. She taught me how to network and showed me how to claim my niche and grow it better than anyone else. Her lessons on building a niche lead to this book. (She even gets a couple mentions.)
  • Katherine Bull: Our editor at Pearson/Que BizTech. She’s just awesome, and has become a real friend. Plus, she can spot some real talent and nurture them along. Anyone who has the chance to work with her needs to leap at it.
  • Brandon Prebynski and Leslie O’Neill: Our Tech Editor and Development Editor. I don’t know how many times I got irritated with them at 2:00 in the morning as I was going over their edits, and wrote snarky, smart-ass comments in response to their questions, only to realize the next morning that they were right and I was an idiot. They made this book so much better.
  • Kyle Lacy: To be honest, I learned more from him in the last three years than I realize, and I owe him more for this success than I could ever say.

This has been such a great event in my life, I still can’t believe it’s real. I have to keep looking over at the box of books to make sure they’re really there. I’m looking forward to 2011, and what that’s going to bring. If it’s even half as great as 2010, it’s going to be freaking awesome!

Four Things [Insert Your Favorite Movie] Can Teach Us About [Insert Your Favorite Social Network]

Let me say it now: I hate blog posts that want to tell me what some movie can teach me about a particular social network.

I hate them, and I’ve even written them. (Hey, I’m not proud of everything I’ve done in life. This is just my most recent transgression in a long litany of embarrassing incidents in my past, which includes a mullet and handlebar mustache).

But I’m going to write my last movie = social network post ever. So here are the four lessons [Your Favorite Movie] can teach us about [Your Favorite Social Network].

1) Never give up.

Just like [HERO] in [MOVIE] strives to overcome the conflict at the loss/death/imprisonment/break up of his/her spouse/significant other/dog/favorite barista, you need to fight to break through the “wall” of social networking. Just when things start getting hard, you need to work harder. You need to try every technique and tip to get past this hurdle.

Did [HERO] give up in that scene? You know, the one where [VILLAIN] seemed to win, and it seemed like [HERO] had lost all hope? Of course not! Did they lay down and quit when things got too hard? Hell no! They were knocked down 7 times, but they got up 8. THAT’S HOW WINNING IS DONE!

So when things are getting hard, get a pep talk from your spouse/friend/social media mentor/ghost of the person who was killed, and get back into the game.

2) There will always be villains.

In every movie, there’s always a villain who killed/kidnapped/stole the hero’s spouse/S.O./dog/barista. Or someone who wants to foreclose on your business/favorite coffee shop/grandmother’s nursing home. It’s [HERO’S] job to defeat them, humiliate them, kill them, or beat them in a charity golf tournament.

There will always be trolls and haters — jackasses, really — on any [SOCIAL NETWORK] you join. However, unlike [HERO] kicking the crap out of [VILLAIN] by facing them directly, we don’t recommend you face your trolls and haters directly. Rather, take the high road. Rise above the venom and poison and be successful without facing the villain of [YOUR SOCIAL NETWORK]. Just do your thing, and your fans and friends will know the truth and support you.

Remember, “crush your enemy, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of the women” only worked for Conan. It doesn’t work for jackasses online, because they’re thinking the same thing about you.

3) It’s always about the relationships.

We don’t need to get our worth, our value, from how many friends or followers we have. It’s about the depth of relationships we have with those we are closest to. It’s how much time we spend with our family, with our loved ones., and the spouse/significant other/dog/favorite barista we just saved/revived/freed/reunited with. Or, if the other person in question turned out to be a real jerk, then it’s about the other woman/man/pet/frumpy barista who was under our nose the entire time.

So, rather than be caught up in the trappings of the beautiful people/scary cult/mountains of money/false power, focus on what’s really important: the people in your life who really matter more than getting everything you ever wanted.

Because all you ever truly wanted was to be loved. Which is why. . .

4) The answer was within yourself all along.

Just like [HERO] in [MOVIE], we have to learn that it was never about how much we got. It wasn’t about the money, the house, the business, it’s about whether [HERO] was truly happy with themselves.

Sure, [HERO] will be happy with their spouse/S.O./dog/mocha latte with whipped cream, but — and this is important — they can’t be truly happy unless they’re happy with themselves. (Oooooooh, deep.)

True success doesn’t come from how much money you make, how many friends you have online, or whether your Klout score is one or two points higher than your friend’s. True success comes from how happy and satisfied you are with yourself.

Then, and only then, will we live happily ever after.

At least until Monday, when someone writes the damn sequel.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy, who I also helped write Twitter Marketing For Dummies (another affiliate link).

Is Blogging Killing Newspapers, or are Newspapers Helping Blogs?

Blogging isn’t hurting newspapers. Newspapers are helping blogs grow.

Many months ago, someone named Stephen* presented me with an interest question to my statement about whether blogging was killing newspapers. He said that maybe it wasn’t that blogging was killing newspapers, but rather it was the decline of the quality of newspapers that have lead to an increase in blogging.

The front page of the Indianapolis Star announcing Barack Obama's election

The Indianapolis Star from November 5, 2008

Over the past several years, I’ve seen how Gannett (owners of USA Today) have decimated the local reporting staff at the Indianapolis Star. They get rid of people who know how to report and write (and yes, there’s a difference). They get rid of well-known writers that bring regular readers to the paper in favor of a couple of recent college grads who — together — make up 75% of the salary of the original writer. They have bombed out the newsroom, eliminated business writers, booted popular columnists, and slashed the different culture and dining critics. To add insult to injury, the design work for the Indianapolis Star will soon be moved to Louisville. All we’re left with is a sterilized husk of what was once an awesome newspaper.

The Indianapolis Star, when it was run by the Pulliam family, actually won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, for its outstanding reporting in exposing police corruption in 1974. (The Indianapolis Star, when it has been run by Gannett has, well, not.) I’ve been reading the book by Dick Cady, one of the reporters who helped break the police corruption story wide open, and I sometimes wonder if I’m reading about the same newspaper.

I’m reading a newspaper that wasn’t afraid to go up against local law enforcement for the sake of truth, justice, and the American way. Meanwhile, I’m left with a newspaper whose median years of newsroom experience is slowly drifting toward the single digits.

And yet Gannett can’t figure out why newspaper ad revenue is dropping like a rock. I’ll tell you why: no one wants to read the Indianapolis edition of USA Today. But that’s what we’ll be left with in less than five years (some former Indy Star readers and employees think five years is overly optimistic).

Blogging is not to blame for this. Blogging has not harmed the Indianapolis Star. Blogging did not make Gannett fire people like columnists Ruth Holladay or Lori Borgman, or business writers like John Ketzenberger. Blogging did not kill what was actually a profit-making online venture by replacing the editor with someone much younger.

Instead, blogging is picking up the pieces that Gannett and other big-city newspapers are dropping whenever they gut their newsrooms yet again.

There’s a great blog on the southeast side of Indianapolis called (what else?) Southeast Indianapolis Communities. It’s a simple little blog that has nothing but news for the southeast side of town. They’re covering the news and events that the Indy Star won’t and can’t cover. They’re doing the kind of reporting that the Star doesn’t have the staff, time, or even city knowledge to adequately write about.

Basically, Southeast Indianapolis Communities is filling the gap left by Gannett’s mishandling of the Indianapolis Star, and they’re doing a great job. In this case, SIC hasn’t hurt the Star. Rather, the growing crappiness of the Star is helping the SIC.

What about your newspaper in your city? Is your newspaper holding on, or are you seeing the same decimation and ruin that we’re seeing in Indianapolis? Tell us about your city’s newspaper and if you’re seeing any local blogs picking up the slack. (And tell us about those too.)

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy, who I also helped write Twitter Marketing For Dummies (another affiliate link).

Stephen, I can’t find the post where you commented with this great insight. If you’re out there, let me know who you are, so I can at least link to a Twitter page or your blog, or something.

Photo credit: afagen (Flickr)

Five Ways to Get Me to Follow You on Twitter

My Twitter follower count has been on the rise the last few weeks, which has been a great boost for my ego.

But I’m finding that I’m returning the favor for fewer and fewer people. That’s because people are either putting less effort into Twitter, they see it as a lazy way to market to a bunch of people, or they’re spammers who are trying to trick people into follow them. Here are five do’s and don’ts to get people to follow you on Twitter.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

1. Do not mention money in your bio.

I don’t want financial freedom. I don’t want help in reaching my business goals. I don’t want to know how I can make more deals online. Actually, I do, but I want to get those things with someone I trust. Not someone who just joined Twitter five minutes ago. I block people like you.

2. Put something in your bio.

The only thing worse is to put nothing in your bio. At the very least, let me know what you do. I turned off the “New Follower” email notification, and only check that column in my TweetDeck. And all that shows me is your bio, which is where I make most of my follow decisions. If you don’t have anything in there, I don’t know anything about you, and I just won’t follow you.

3. Put a real picture for your avatar.

Not your logo, not a photo of your kid, or you as a kid. Put your photo in there so I know what you look like. If you put in a company logo, then I assume you want to sell me something. I want a relationship with a real person. Not your company, not your kid, not you 20 years ago (or 30 or 40). And I definitely won’t follow anyone who still has the damn Twitter egg as their avatar. You’re either lazy or don’t understand what “Upload Photo” means. In either case, I don’t think you’re going to be much help to me.

4. Use your real name.

Okay, okay, I may follow you if you’ve created a business account on Twitter. I like organizations like @ComcastCares and @BilericoProject, and will follow them. But if you’re using the name of your money making system in your Twitter handle, I’ll block you. I have never had good luck with people named @Money247 or @NuBizOnline. Maybe it’s a bias on my part, maybe the person was unluckily named by odd parents, but so far, I haven’t been proved wrong. If you want people to take you seriously, use your real name in your Twitter username, or at the very least, a variation of it.

5. You need to have real conversations in your Twitter stream, not news headlines or motivational quotes.

If you pass the first four steps, I’ll either follow you, or I’ll click over to your Twitter page. If I do that, and find that your Twitter stream is filled with motivational quotes or news headlines, I won’t follow you. I need to see that you’re having actual conversations with people, not just tweeting out garbage. Also, conversations does not mean retweet after retweet. Talk to people. I want to see back and forth, not just blah blah blah. Remember, people joined Twitter to have conversations with real people, not have commercials blasted at them. When you send nothing but headlines, you’re not doing anything useful. You may think you have a lot of followers, but trust me, no one is paying attention to you. Want to be sure? Go check your Klout score.

Unfortunately, Twitter has become another spam channel, which threatens to reduce its usefulness. And while I would love to build up my network to some staggering numbers, I’m not willing to do that at the sacrifice of effectiveness and real reach. So I’ll take a few seconds to look at each new follower and decide whether I want to follow them. For the most part, I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt, unless they’re blatantly trying to sell some money-making system (which, if it really worked, you wouldn’t be online pimping it out to me; you’d be on your own island somewhere in the Caribbean).

So if you want people to at least pay attention to you, put a little thought and effort into actually communicating with people, rather than trying to trick them.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy, who I also helped write Twitter Marketing For Dummies (another affiliate link).

Photo credit: ®DS (Flickr)