Archives for April 2010

3 Common Social Media Mistakes Companies Make

We are sponsors of At The Top Networking, an Indianapolis-based networking group for people who are, or want to be, at the top of their career ladder, the top of their game.

Every month we have a strategy session before the general networking session, and this month was “Common Marketing Mistakes Companies Make.” Each of us had 10 minutes to speak on our topic, and each of us was supposed to talk about 3 mistakes. Mine was “Common Social Media Mistakes Companies Make.”

I have to thank — because I totally stole these points from them — the following people:

  1. Ignoring Social Media: Gary Vaynerchuk, author of Crush It
  2. Broadcasting, Not Conversing: Tara Hunt, author of The Whuffie Factor
  3. Abandoning Your Campaign: Kyle Lacy, author of Twitter Marketing for Dummies (I helped write this one).

Also on the panel:

We have one more At The Top event on May 20, at the Skyline Club in Indianapolis. We hope to have more events in the future, and we’ll have more information on that in the coming weeks.

5 Tips to Become a Professional Blogger

Someone once asked me, “How do I become a blogger?”

“Simple,” I wrote back, “Raise your hands over your head, and shout to the heavens, ‘I. Am. A BLOGGER!!‘ And then you are one.”

It really is that easy to become a blogger. Truly anyone can do it. You just need some basic software, and know how to type. After that, you’re good to go.

But becoming a professional blogger is a whole different matter. Here are 5 tips to becoming an actual professional word slinger.

    1. Make sure you define what you mean by “professional.” There are two types of professional blogger: the person who makes a lot of money selling something via their blog, usually either Google Ads or ebooks, and the professional ghost blogger. While finding success as the former is possible, finding it as the latter is more likely. I have one friend who has a very popular blog, and sells Google AdWords on it. It only brings in a few thousand dollars a year, certainly not enough to make a living. Ghost bloggers, on the other hand, can earn a decent living writing blog posts for other clients. Part copywriter, part social media geek, part blog manager, the ghost blogger is your basic freelance writer, but working in this specific electronic format.


    1. Make sure your writing skills are strong. Writing is easy, writing well is hard. I realize that we can all write in complete sentences and organize our thoughts into semi-coherent patterns. So can your average eighth grader. Unfortunately, some people never progressed beyond that level of skill. If you want to be a professional blogger, your writing needs to be of a higher quality than most.

      If you’re not sure, find some other writers you trust and whose skills you admire, and ask them to honestly evaluate your writing. Tell them you don’t want the typical pat on the head and “it’s pretty good” assessment. Ask them to be honest, and to give you a real evaluation of your skills. If they truly like it, then you’re on your way. If they don’t, start a blog, and work hard to improve. I’ve been a writer for 20 years, and am still learning and improving.


    1. Try to specialize in an area you have experience in. It’s not a requirement, but it will make your life easier. The one interesting thing about newspaper reporters is that they are an expert for a day, absorbing enough information to write their articles. The next day, they move on to a new subject. Ghost bloggers do this. They learn as much about the client as they can, and will write whatever the client wants them to. The client will usually dictate what they want said, the writer writes it, and then gives it to the client for approval. This way, the writer learns about the client, much like a reporter learns about his or her beat.

      When we take on a new client, we spend a lot of time learning about their industry and their company. As we work for them over the months, we do become knowledgeable about their field. But the clients we truly excel at are those we have experience and knowledge in. With them, we can hit the ground running, and our learning curve is significantly flattened.


    1. Associate with other professional writers. It’s often said we’re only as good as the 5 people we hang out with the most. If that’s the case, make sure you’re spending it with other professional writers (or at least really good amateurs). In fact, some of your best mentors and referral sources will be your competitors. Read their blogs, meet them at conferences, hang out with them at coffee shops. You’ll learn a lot from them. Then — and this is the important part — be willing to do the same for other, younger writers who come to you for advice and education.


  1. Read a lot. Every writer has a writing style they learned from reading someone else’s stuff. I learned mine from reading Dave Barry, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Waits, Hunter S. Thompson, and Ernest Hemingway. To keep my own style from becoming stale, I revisit my favorite works and re-immerse myself in their words and style. I also seek out new writers with similar styles, and draw inspiration from them.

    It’s important to remember, however, not to copy your favorite styles, but take the best from each of them, and synthesize them into your own. By creating your own distinctive writing style, you’ll stand out as a quality writer and blogger, worthy of the fees you demand.

What about you? Do you have any writing tips or suggestions for aspiring professional bloggers? Leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Photo: Brad J. Ward (Flickr), noted social media marketer

5 Technology Tips For Presentation SUCCESS

I use my computer all the time for my presentations. Even today, I’m one-fourth of a panel discussion at an At The Top strategy session, and I have 4 slides. But I’m never worried that I’m going to run into any serious problems, mostly because I have a Mac and use Keynote (Apple’s presentation software), and never have to suffer the ignominy of a PowerPoint crash.Erik Deckers speaking about promoting your blog with social media

But that doesn’t make me completely immune, just lucky so far. And Stever Robbins’ (Get-It-Done Guy) latest podcast, How to Use Your Computer in Presentations, reminded me that things can still go wrong, even if you are using the best computer in the world (not Apple. Just my computer. Possession is nine-tenths of awesomeness.)

Stever’s five tips are useful, and God knows I’ve used them many times (except for #4. I don’t do handouts).

Tip #1: Prepare Your Computer for the Presentation
Tip #2: Have Websites Ready to Go
Tip #3: Use Screen Shots Instead of Live Sites
Tip #4: Give People Handouts with Critical Elements
Tip #5: Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

But I have my own tips, even a couple I’m swiping from Stever.

    1. Get a Mac. If you make a living giving presentations, or you’re trying to be a professional presenter, get a computer that’s not prone to virus attacks, crashes, and glitches. And I know, I know, there’s Windows 7, and Macs aren’t immune, and blah blah blah. But that’s not my point. A Mac is less likely to suffer these things, and less likely to crash then a Windows machine. You can decrease that possibility if you combine this with tip #2


    1. Only use your computer for presentations. You hear a lot of stories about someone’s PowerPoint crashing and revealing several embarrassing photos or websites they were visiting right before the presentation. While you can clear your web history and disk cache, and keep those “special” photos hidden in a secret folder, your better bet is just to never visit those kinds of sites or collect those kinds of photos. Or at least don’t put them on your presentation computer.

      I’ve said before, if you don’t want skeletons in your closet, don’t stick the bodies in there in the first place. But if you must, just stick them in a different closet. Remember, if you’re trying to make a living through public speaking, you need to keep your computer in excellent working order. If you do a lot of work on your laptop, and you have the occasional problem, get a second presentation computer, keep it clean and pristine, and you’ll avoid those crashes and oops moments.


    1. Upload your slide deck to before you give your presentation. I’ve been in rooms before where they had everything hard wired in, including the computer, and I was forced to use their system instead of my own. While I could export my deck to a PowerPoint version, this really screws up the formatting and fonts. Instead, I can upload my deck to SlideShare, log on to the system (since their computer is already safely connected to their network), and pull up the deck in full presentation mode. It means I have to stand next to the keyboard to change the slides, instead of using a remote, but I don’t have to futz around with creating a PowerPoint ready version of each talk I give.

      Later, you can give people the URL to your deck, rather than wasting the paper on creating 50 copies of handouts, and giving them out to the 20 people who showed up. Upon which time, they will be stuffed into their conference bag, thrown on the floor next to their desk when they get back to the office, and promptly forgotten about until 6 months later when they’re doing spring cleaning.


    1. Always carry a monitor cord with you. I always ask the organizers if there is going to be a projector available when I’m speaking. Every time except one has there been one. However, they don’t always have a monitor cord. I carry a monitor cord and a Mac adapter with me, so if I’m ever caught out, I’m safe. I’ve never needed the cord, but I always use the monitor.


    1. Insist on using your own technology. This is the only way you can be absolutely sure everything is going to work. It’s your stuff, you’re familiar with it, and you know how it works. If you use someone else’s system, you’re at their mercy, especially if you haven’t used that particular operating system or setup. I’ve been in this situation before, and knew more than the technical support guy who was supposedly there to “help” me.

      I’ve avoided future problems by just asking for the projector and bringing my own stuff. Organizers are usually happy about this because it’s one less thing they have to worry about. (The tech guys might not be, and may throw a fit if you happen to unplug their presentation monitor to plug in your laptop, but if you wait until they’re not around, what they won’t know won’t hurt them.

This is what has worked for me for the past few years. How about you? What tips do you have to make sure your presentation come to a screeching halt, or your computer doesn’t crash? Leave a comment, and let me hear from you.

Photo credit: my friend Noah Wesley, co-organizer of Blog Indiana (via Flickr)

What Brown Eggs Can Teach Us About Niche Marketing

This post was originally published on (now defunct) on March 22, 2009.

What color are your eggs?

You're paying too much for special brown eggs

If you’re like most people, they’re white. But if you’re like those people who buy organic, all-natural anything, you probably buy brown eggs.

I’ll tell you a dirty little secret about those eggs: There’s no difference between brown eggs and white eggs. Eggs is eggs. There’s just one way to figure out what color of egg you’re going to get.

You get white eggs from white chickens, brown eggs from brown chickens. In fact, Ithaca College has a great chart that shows the world’s different poultry breeds and the color eggs they lay. You’ll see that the color of the chicken results in the same color egg.

There’s nothing special about brown eggs. They’re not healthier, they don’t have lower cholesterol, they aren’t organic. I worked in the international poultry industry for 10 years, and I can tell you that there is absolutely no difference in eggs or egg color. They come from brown friggin’ chickens, and if you’re paying more them than white eggs, you’re paying too much.

So what do brown eggs teach us about niche marketing? One very important lesson.

It’s how your customers perceive your value that makes you valuable. You may be just like all the other businesses out there, but if that’s how you distinguish yourself, then you’re going to become just another price-based commodity in the market. But if you create a niche and increase your perceived value, you can specialize in an industry, gain valuable experience, and thus, charge more.

In other words, be the brown egg. People buy brown eggs, because they think there’s something special about them, as if they’re somehow better than the white eggs, even though they’re not. They still make omelettes, they still make fried egg sandwiches, and neither is bad for your cholesterol (that myth was busted a couple years after it started).

But the specialty grocery stores and brown chicken farmers have created a special niche especially for people who are willing to spend more. They don’t sell them to the general public. Instead, brown chickens are rarer than white chickens (at least around here), so they sell brown eggs in specialty stores and to value-driven consumers. Hence the higher prices.

If I were a general copywriter – a white egg, as it were – I could charge between $50 – $75 per hour in my local market. And that’s what a generalist usually gets. But as a specialist — the brown egg — I could charge anywhere from $100 – $125 per hour.

Now there is a difference between the generalist and the specialist. While the specialist has a couple of industries they know better than anyone else, they can still do general assignments. But while the generalist can do general assignments, they can’t do the special ones as well as someone who lives and breathes that industry.

I have created my niche to be in the blogging and social media industries (and yeah, I can write about poultry products), because that’s where my passion lies. As a result, I’m more passionate about the products and technologies, more knowledgeable about the industries, and can create better results than someone barely acquainted with it. It means I charge higher rates than the general copywriter who says, “yeah, I can write about any area.” (Frankly, I can write about any area too, but by focusing on those specialty areas, I have created my special niche.)

In other words, I’m the brown egg. And as any organically-inclined specialty food shopper can tell you, I cost twice as much as the regular old eggs everyone else gets.

What color egg are you?

The Growing Need for Bloggers as Citizen Journalists

Two bits of interesting news this past month for bloggers who consider themselves journalists:

I’ve been preaching for a while that bloggers are citizen journalists. And now we get confirmation that 52% of us believe it to be true, and that 61% of Americans are possible readers. Plus — and this is a big one — the last-reported numbers from Technorati are that 77% of all Internet users read a blog of some kind.

The time is ripe for bloggers to begin thinking of themselves as citizen journalists. Social media is making it so much easier for us to not only see the news, but report it as well.

Social media is breaking the news before the news.

We’ve seen several instances where social media broke news stories before mainstream media picked it up. The three most notable examples have been:

  1. The first images coming out of Haiti were on Twitter, because mainstream media couldn’t get on the ground. People with cell phones and spotty wifi were sending photos to Twitter and Facebook, and we were spreading them around like wildfire. My family was particularly interested in one set of missionaries in Port-au-Print, and @TroyLiveSay was providing information that we weren’t getting anywhere else.
  2. Moments after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, news was spreading on Twitter before the shots had even stopped.
  3. When the US Airways flight landed in the Hudson last year, news had broken on Twitter 15 minutes before the first news reports hit the airwaves.

While none of these examples show a failing of the mainstream media, they show that in many cases, people reporting on incidents that happened nearby ended up being first just because of the widespread nature of the tools.

I’ve been playing with Posterous as a possible blogging platform for rapid response and crisis communication professionals. You email your blogs to your email address (it’s actually just, your subject line is your headline, you attach any photos, type and format your content in your text box, and voila! You’ve got a blog post sent from your smart phone.

And I totally geeked out a few days ago, when Chris Brogan showed how you can take photos on your digital camera, and immediately have them uploaded to your favorite file sharing service, with something the size of a quarter and something else the size of a pocket calculator.

My advice? If you have even the slightest inclination of being a citizen journalist, start taking your blogging seriously. You don’t have to change the scope of your blog, your writing style, or even the quality of your writing.

Just do it with intentionality. As hard as it may be to explain (this is the 6th time I’ve written this paragraph), report your news for posterity. Do it with a sense of responsibility and gravitas. When you see something happening, take photos and upload them to Flickr or Picasa. Send tweets. Email news to your blog. Be a source of information to your community. Don’t just repeat what you’ve seen, report on it.

Even something as simple as reporting a small incident you just witnessed can sometimes lead to national or even international stories, or you may be the lone voice that speaks for someone who can’t do it themselves.

While I’m not suggesting we all change our focus and become word slingers, I am suggesting we adopt the mindset that we’re just as good as the professionals who, I’m sorry to say, just aren’t as quick as the “ordinary citizens” armed with nothing more than cell phones and a serious case of Twitter-thumbs.

Related posts:
Rules for Being a Media Blogger
Defining Two Types of Crisis Communication
Five Things Newspapers Can Teach Us About Blogging
What Stylebook Should Bloggers Use?

Time to Stop Misapplying the 10,000 Hour Rule

I’ve been thinking about the whole “it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert” thing, and I’ve come to one conclusion:

Most people are getting it wrong.

If you’re quoting it at me, especially in terms of business or technology, you’re taking it out of context.

The 10,000 hour rule comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers (affiliate link). The rule applies to people who have reached extraordinary success in their chosen field, whether it’s football, golf, chess, violin, hockey, computers, etc.

It’s about people who stand out as the best of the best, because they spent 10,000 hours practicing their skills, while the “still pretty damn good” crowd only spent 8,000 hours.

Here’s where people get it wrong: Gladwell did not say that if you want to be good, if you want to be an expert, at something, you have to spend 10,000 hours doing it (which is about 4 hours a day, every day, for almost 7 years).

But people continually misquote the rule (mostly because they haven’t read the book), and then misapply it to the use of tools.

“If you haven’t used these tools for 10,000 hours, then you can’t call yourself an expert,” they say.

That’s what is commonly known in the business world as “a load of crap.”

Tying expertise into time spent using a tool is just plain stupid. If I want an expert carpenter to build a deck for my house, I’m not looking for a guy who has spent 10,000 hours swinging a hammer. I want a guy who has spent 10,000 hours building things.

If a contractor has spent 10,000 hours swinging a hammer, but can’t measure and cut to save his life, then I don’t want him. If he doesn’t know to use treated lumber, or that we need concrete pilings below the frost line, which is 42″ 36″ in Central Indiana, then I don’t want him. If he’s an expert at using a tool, but can’t see the bigger picture, he’s the wrong guy to build my deck. (Update: The frost line is 36″ in Indiana. Thanks to Chris for pointing out the error.)

I’d rather have the guy who has spent a lot of time building things, whether it’s decks, houses, barns, or pergolas. That’s someone who knows how to use the tools he’s got. He’s not an expert at pounding nails, he’s an expert at creating. He knows the material, he knows joinery technique, he knows which fasteners work best. The tools don’t matter — he could use a hammer and a hand saw, or a nail gun and a chop saw — it’s what he builds with them that matters.

The same is true in the business setting. The expert is not someone who has spent 10,000 hours using a particular tool or a piece of software. The expert is someone who knows their subject matter, knows how to use it to their customers’ advantage, and and can properly use the tools to create something great with them.

The expert is the person who can use their skills and knowledge to make a profitable and successful business. They write books. They give talks. They are paid to apply their skills and knowledge. They are not experts because they spent 5 – 10 years using a particular piece of software. They’re experts because they know how to do great things with it, even if they’ve only used it for a year.

It’s time to stop labeling people as experts or non-experts through the misapplication of some misquoted rule meant only to apply to the astonishingly-skilled in a specialized field. It’s time to look at a person’s results and successes, not a time card.

Photo credit: Simpologist (Flickr)

Why You Should Blog About Work AND Personal Issues

A friend told me he was getting frustrated with blogging, because he was trying to publish some serious posts about serious issues, while his colleagues were writing posts about their favorite TV shows or weekends with their kids.

“Chin up, little buckaroo,” I told him. (Okay, I didn’t. But I wanted to.) Here’s what I did tell him.

Corporate bloggers should not be afraid to write about issues, but should also include personal posts about your favorite shows, restaurants, crazy things your kids did, etc. And while it is a pain to have your profound thoughts overshadowed by personal reflections on how The Biggest Loser has changed someone else’s life, this is what blogging is.

In fact, it’s what life is: whoever speaks last and/or loudest is heard the best.

Blogging does two things for the average business person, whether you’re a consultant, small business owner, or corporate executive.

  1. It adds to your credibility and expertise on your chosen field. Now, anyone who knows you personally already knows you have it. But what about those people who don’t have the chance to meet you or only get to talk to you for a couple minutes at a networking event. Blogging helps you show off your knowledge about a subject.And by publishing your knowledge over and over, you’re going to show people that you know a lot about your chosen subject. Your potential customers are going to realize you know a lot about their issues and their problems (especially if you answer their questions on your blog). As a result, when they have a problem they need to pay to have fixed, they’ll call the person who knows enough to talk about it on a regular basis.
  2. 2) Personal blogging — as dreadful as you may think it is — is going to make you more accessible and, well, personal. People will get to know you, and feel a closer connection to you, by reading what you think about personal topics like your favorite TV show, or your adventures in finding a babysitter to watch the kids on a Friday night. While this may not seem as important — because it frankly doesn’t do squat for your credibility and expertise — it lets people know you. When they get to know you, they will trust you. And when they trust you, they’ll want to be a part of what you’re doing.

If you’re not sure about whether you should write about personal issues, read Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s Trust Agents (affiliate link). In one of the chapters, they talk about people being One Of Us.

If you are One Of Us, we will listen to what you have to say. If you are One Of Us, you understand our struggles and problems. Too many old-school business people I have known were not One Of Us, and held themselves in a higher position than their employees and their customers. They weren’t approachable, and were often not trusted. We still see this now, only executives and politicians are held in lower esteem than they were 30 – 40 years ago. They think they’re too good for the unwashed masses, and then don’t understand it when people don’t like them.

On the other hand, if I know you like 30 Rock and collect beer cans and have issues with raising a kid, that means you’re One Of Us. That means I’m more willing to listen and learn from you.

So, you should be doing both types of blogging, even if the second kind seems stupid. Because it’s those personal connections that are going to bring people in and keep them coming back.

Photo credit: CrystalJingSR (Flickr)