Why I Left Social Media Marketing

I used to be somebody. I was kind of a big deal. Well, almost a big deal. I would sometimes go to social media conferences and hear my name whispered as I walked by.

“Hey, that’s Erik Deckers.”

And unlike high school, it was never followed by “LET’S KICK HIS ASS!”

I did book signings. I spoke around the country. I even got paid for it. It was pretty cool.

I was one of the early digital and social media marketing pioneers. I started blogging in 1997. I started doing digital marketing in 1998. I joined Twitter in 2007. And I wrote some of the first books on personal branding and social media marketing.

I’ve been blessed that a lot of people have used my books to make big changes to their companies and to their lives. I’ve heard from people who followed just a few of the steps in Branding Yourself and landed an internship or even a new job. A woman who has since become a very good friend first got in touch with Kyle Lacy and me to say she had followed our LinkedIn chapter and gotten three job interviews in three weeks.

I’ve heard from others who used No Bullshit Social Media to convince their bosses to let them start doing social media marketing for their company, and now they’re heading up the company’s entire social media efforts.

But social media got crowded. It got filled up with newbies, fakes, and charlatans who thought they were social media marketers because they used Facebook, or bought thousands of Twitter followers.

The industry was overrun by rampaging hordes of ex-bartenders and college interns who didn’t have years of marketing experience. And I spent so much time trying to convince people of the importance of it that my client work was slipping.

So I stopped doing social media marketing, and focused on content marketing. It was a hard decision, but I could see social media was about to be completely ruined by marketers, who were taking it over like the killer ant scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

[Seriously. Launch any new social media tool, and the marketers swarm all over it like that Russian dude at the end. Don’t believe me? Google “Snapchat for marketers.”]

At the time, content marketing was still fairly new, because most of the practitioners were still professional writers, videographers, photographers, and podcasters. We hadn’t yet been taken over by scribblers who thought “literally” meant the opposite of literally.

I miss the good old days.
Google Results of Snapchat for Marketers
I worked to hone my skills as a writer. My partner, Paul, handled the social media marketing for our clients, and I read, studied, trained, and practiced to produce the best work we were capable of.

During this time, I co-authored a new book on content marketing, ghostwrote a book with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and even started ghostwriting the autobiography of a former U.S. Congressman.

For the last three years, I’ve kept my head down, and focused on my craft. I’ve studied several favorite authors. I’m revisiting my speechwriting roots, and learning how slam poetry can influence my work. I even spent three months as the Writer-In-Residence at the Jack Kerouac House here in Orlando, beating out nearly 300 people from around the world for the coveted spot.

It’s paying off. I’ve written several short stories, made it halfway through my novel, participated in several literary readings around Central Florida, spoken at a number of writing conferences, and contributed to different literary publications and events.

My efforts have also helped my clients. The content marketing work we do is bringing them more traffic and leads, and we do it by offering some of the best business writing available. We’re writing stuff people like to read, and getting people to share it online. Rather than churn out as much mediocre content as we can, we focus on high-quality writing.

I won’t lie though. I’ve missed being in front of an audience. I’ve missed meeting new people in new cities. So I’ve decided to shake the dust off my shoulders, rub the sand from my eyes, and re-enter the world of personal branding and public promotion.

Starting in August, I’ll write more frequently on this blog again, and booking more conference speaking slots, especially around my new home state, Florida. I hope to see you around.

The Code of the Ghostwriter

Being a ghostwriter means following an unwritten code of ethics and practices.

(Or at least, we wrote it down, but like most ghost articles, no one knows who did it, so we can’t find it.)

Ghostwriters need a code of ethics and practices they live by. A short list of things we’ll do and not do in service of our clients. Based on my own work as a ghostwriter, as well as talking to other ghosts, these are the four main tenets of our profession.

1. Ghosts are heard, but never seen.

GhostwriterYou may read our work, but you’ll never know it was us. The ghost writer is there to attach the words to someone else’s stories. The sports star who spins a good yarn, but can’t write a grammatical sentence to save his life. The politician who’s too busy to spend six or eight hours a day writing down her life. The CEO who spends 14 hours a day running a global company, but doesn’t have time to send emails, let alone write a 200 page book.

So the ghostwriters do it. We don’t talk about it, we don’t get credit, we don’t get mentioned at awards time. Sure, we might get a small mention in the foreword, but it’s pretty rare for people to know who the ghost is. Some won’t even admit it, like whoever wrote Snooki Polizzi’s books.

2. Ghost writers should charge a fair price.

The price you charge needs to be fair to other writers as well as your clients. If you undercut your prices, and do the work for 20% less than your competition charges, you’re not only hurting yourself by leaving money on the table, you’re hurting the entire industry.

And what if the tables are turned. Some hack charges 20% less than the going rate, and your new client now expects the same price? Not only do you have to match it, but you may even have to beat it. Imagine going from $75 for an article to $60 to $50, all because you were too timid and your self-esteem wouldn’t let you charge enough to actually make it worth your while.

3. We’ll never reveal our clients without their permission.

Clients hire us because we agree to be heard, but never seen. They are paying, not only for our writing talent, but for the expectation of silence. That means we have a standing order to never tell anyone who we work for, because it means exposing a secret the client didn’t want to share.

If you want to be able to tell people who you work for, you need permission from your client to share that information. Otherwise, just don’t tell anyone.

4. There are some professions that should never use ghostwriters.

Academics, journalists, researchers, and students.

These people should never hire ghostwriters, and ghostwriters should turn down the work, because it could damage your own reputation. Using a ghostwriter in these situations is unethical, because these are the professions who are expected to do the work themselves. Using ghostwriters constitutes plagiarism, and these are the professions where plagiarism is a huge deal.

Ghostwriting is a profession for people who don’t have big egos that need to be stroked or warmed in the spotlight of recognition. But while a good ghostwriter may be quiet and unnoticed, they have the skills and experience to get the job done when no one else can do it.

Photo credit: Matthew Hurst (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Can You Make Money Blogging? Maybe.

Can you make money blogging? Will you get rich? Does it lead to the same illustrious career as, say, a biz-tech nonfiction book writer?

No. No. And mostly.

Unfortunately, blogging is not the way to untold riches, despite what the people who offer courses on “how to get rich blogging” tell you.Big bag of money. Sure wish it was real.

The best way to get rich blogging? Write a regular blog about how to get rich blogging, offer webinars about it, charge people $799 to attend. Tell people how to write a blog and host webinars.

Otherwise, the odds of you getting rich from this are about as good as you getting rich as a singer or actor.

Because the amount of time and effort you’ll put into everything else but blogging — marketing, promotions, PR, programming, design — is about the same amount of time and effort you’ll put into anything else you want to do, like starting your own company, selling a product, or launching your singing or acting career.

No, Seriously. Can You Make Money Blogging?

Okay, yes. You can make money at blogging. It’s not a lot, but there are ways to make more money than others, but some are easier.

Let’s say you have a fairly popular blog, netting around 10,000 visitors a month. It’s taken you a couple years to get to this point (which, if you thought you could get there after a couple weeks, forget it). There are a few options open to you:

  • Banner advertising. This is the easiest option, and the first one most people think of. It’s also the lowest paying, because you’re trying to get visitors to click through the ads. Even if you had a 1% clickthrough rate (which would be awesome), 10,000 visitors would equal 100 clicks. And at $.05 per click, that’s $5 — “cheeseburger money,” as Jason Falls calls it. What’s worse, you’re constantly trying to fill space, and end up spending a lot of writing time selling instead. There are advertising services I’ve seen that will place ads for you, but they’re still struggling to get advertisers to buy in. Think of it this way: In the late 90s and early 2000s, banner advertising was all the rage, and was how a lot of Internet news sites were trying to make money. The fact that they’re not around anymore should tell you something.
  • Google AdWords You make a few cents on an impression, and several cents on a click-through. You’ve got the same issues as banner advertising, although you’re not chasing down advertisers. It’s more passive. The more traffic you get, the more impressions you get. I have one friend who paid for his son’s college with the banner advertising on his site, but he wrote on it every day and promoted the bejeezus out of it.
  • Affiliate sales. A definite possibility. Of course, this takes a lot of social media networking (more than the actual writing), because you need for people to trust you enough to click through your ads. But I know a few people who do it, and they make pretty decent money this way. Not quit-your-day-job money, but they can eat cheeseburgers every day.
  • Product reviewer. This is the least likely way to make actual money, even worse than banner advertising. BUT! it’s a great way to get cool stuff, because companies are always looking for product reviewers. They’ll send you a product, or passes to their business, and ask you to write up a review (this is called blogger outreach, and is becoming a staple of marketing/PR people). If you’re a mother of young children, you may be able to sample a week’s worth of new diapers in exchange for a writeup. Or you get to try a family-friendly restaurant for dinner. It won’t put cash in your pocket, but it will pay for the occasional night out or get you something useful. As a travel writer, I occasionally get to take little mini-vacations around the state. You can’t accept money for reviews though, since that would be unethical, but you usually get to keep the product.
  • Ghost blogging. This is the biggie, the one and only way you can definitely make money blogging. On the downside, it’s not your blog. You’re writing for someone else, and your name will never be seen in public. On the upside, you’re a professional copywriter, and you can demand professional copywriting wages. In fact, of all the blogging jobs I know, this is the easiest way to make a full-time living. (My company, Professional Blog Service, is a ghost blogging agency.) However, it also means you have to be a very good writer. Good writers get good money. Okay writers get okay money. And beginning writers get beginning money. Still, if you know what you’re doing, have a decent grasp of the English language, and can spell all your words correctly, you’ve got a good chance at becoming a ghost blogger.

Ghost Blogging = Ghostwriting

Photo of an empty desk with a laptop, computer speakers, and a coffee mug.

The ghost blogger hard at work.

Ghost bloggers are basically ghost writers. A ghost writer is a writer who works for someone else and publishes their work under that person’s name. They’re never seen, never heard from, and they moan about the injustice of it all. They’re ghosts.

A ghost blogger makes their money by being marketing copywriters, only they’re specifically trained to write for the web. They know the SEO requirements and tactics, but more importantly, they can write SEO copy so well that the reader still enjoys reading it.

While there are still only a few people doing it, it’s a growing field. That’s because blogging is important to search engine optimization (SEO), but now content marketing — using content to educate your customers and sell them on your product’s benefits — has become the watchword of 2013.

In fact, given all of Google’s algorithm changes over the past couple of years, and the importance their placing on written content, 2013 is going to be the year of the writer. If you’re looking for a field to break into as a writer, this may be it.

Photo credit: Money bag – 401(K)2013 (Flickr, Creative Commons)
Ghost writer – Erik Deckers

Four Ways You Can Earn Money as a Blogger

So you’ve been blogging for several years, or at least several months, and you want to start seeing a little cash for your efforts. I was recently talking about making money with blogs on a blogging forum, and shared this answer. I thought it was worth expanding on and resharing here, since it’s a question I’m frequently asked when I give talks about blogging.

1) Sell ads.

Put a Google AdWords feed on your blog. As you write content, Google will examine your content and put up ads that seems to fit what you’ve written. Then, as people show up to read what you’ve written — presumably because they’re interested in the topic — they’re more likely to click an ad, because they’re interested in a product or service about that topic.Spray painted dollar sign on street

Upside: Very passive. You don’t have to do anything extra to your blog. Set the code, and then you’re done. Just get traffic and hope they click. However, you’re always in readership gain mode, which you should already be doing. But if you’re depending on this for your income, you need to focus on getting readers more frequently.

Downside:It feels a little slimy, if you don’t want to commercialize your site. It turns your blog into a billboard. And depending on the kind of blog you have, it may not work, or it may just clash with the theme and topic of your blog. If your blog is for your business, ads will probably not work. And why would you want to damage your credibility for the sake of a few bucks in Google Ad revenue?

2) Become an affiliate marketer.

This is where you open, say, an Amazon affiliate account and link to a few books that you really enjoy. When someone clicks a link that you provide (with your affiliate account embedded in the link), you make a little money if that person orders the book. The more people who buy your affiliate product, the more money you make. You could even become a book and product reviewer. Whenever you link to that book or product, you embed your affiliate link and see if you can get people to buy the product based on your review.

You can be one of two kinds of AMs — the sell everything everywhere kind, or the kind who wins a really big audience of loyal followers who will buy anything you suggest. The former kind are usually messing around with every type of affiliate product they can find, the latter are in constant network growth mode (see #1).

Upside: Better return than ad sales. Decent rate of return, especially as you load more products onto your affiliate site and get a bigger audience.

Downside: Affiliate marketing can be hard work, and often requires you to take on several products with several websites if you want to make a lot of money (if you want to be the first kind), or work your ass off to become a rockstar with thousands and thousands of groupies. You may also open yourself up to spam tactics if you want to be one of the big-dollar affiliate marketers.

3) Become a product or service reviewer.

I need to preface this by saying you should never, ever charge a company to review their product. That’s not ethical. You’re a citizen journalist, you have a media outlet. If you charge money, then you’re writing an advertisement, not a review. However, you are completely free to accept a product or service in exchange for reviewing it.

Let’s say you’re a parenting blogger, and you want to start reviewing products. You could review baby products, toddler toys, and children’s books. Or you could take a techy turn, and review technology products and services that might be of interest to other parenting bloggers (i.e. video cameras, blog platforms, blogging conferences), which in turn helps you become a better blogger and reach an even bigger audience.

Or you could become a family blogger, which opens up other avenues, like trying out new family-friendly restaurants or vacation spots. (I do some travel blogging for my state’s office of tourism, so I get to take some trips around Indiana once in a while, but my stories always have a family angle.)

Upside: Free stuff!

Downside: No money. You do this to earn perks and benefits that you might not otherwise get, which can stretch your family’s budget, but this is a tough way to earn a living. On the upside, it could lead to other opportunities later on. I know someone who started writing a travel blog, and is now a professional travel writer who gets flown to far-off locales and gets paid to describe his experience. You also have to disclose any kinds of financial gifts or payments you received, according to the FTC’s blogging rules.

4) Become a freelancer.

Professional Blog Service is a corporate blogging services company. We write regular blog posts for corporate clients who want to have a corporate web presence. We’re ghost writers, basically. And even though our company is an agency, I know several freelancers who are ghost bloggers on their own, without being an “official” agency. We’ve even (gladly, willingly) helped a couple of our freelancers get started and become our competition.

Good writers can earn anywhere from $500 – $1,000 per month for a single client. Get 4 – 5 clients, and you’re earning a decent salary. You can work from anywhere, work your own hours, and get to hone your writing skills constantly.

Upside: This is going to be the best, most consistent way you’re going to make money as a blogger. You’re not building readership and are not in reader generation mode. You just write. However, it’s a real job with real responsibilities and work hours. You don’t get to take a “I don’t feel like doing anything today” day.

Downside:It’s hard work. It’s also not on your own blog. No one will ever know what you’re doing, because you’re a ghost, and you’re supposed to keep your involvement quiet. You will also do a lot of writing, which can cause burnout. There are days I’m so tired of writing that I slam my laptop lid down a little harder than necessary and just sit in front of the TV. And if you love writing, you may start to not love it if you’re not careful.

Bloggers, how do you make money doing what you do? Are you a full-time blogger? Or are you just earning a little extra cash on the side? Any methods or ideas you’d be willing to share? And newbie bloggers, are there any questions you have?

Photo credit: Leo Reynolds (Flickr)

Google Wants You to be a Better Blog Writer

The days of schlocky web copy and $1/post off-shore blog writing are over.

Thanks to Google’s new Panda update, your writing can no longer suck. You can’t just get by on 8th grade writing skills, or by hiring an off-shore blog writer for a buck a post anymore.

The new Google Panda update stresses usability and the user experience over whether you have the right keywords in your title and body copy, and over backlinks. Oh sure, they’re still counted, but Google is not putting as much emphasis on those as they once were, thanks to the recent JC Penney backlinking scandal.Photo of a panda

As a result of this, and other Google gaming-techniques that were being abused, Google said, “You know what? That’s it. No more trying to trick us. Now we’re going to start looking at what your users are doing.” (Watch the Rand Fishkin video at the bottom of this post for a much better explanation than I just gave.)

Now, Google is starting to pay attention to the user experience: Do they visit more than one page, which means they like what they see? Are they on for a minute or more, or do they bounce out after 10 seconds, which means you didn’t captivate them? Did they even visit your page when you were at the top of the search engine (i.e. did your page even look interesting)?

The short of it is, if your site sucks, people won’t visit. If they visit, they won’t stick around. And they certainly won’t subject themselves to more than one page of it.

So how do you get them to stick around? You’d better have great content. Not just good enough, not barely readable. Not “meh.” It needs to be awesome.
 
 
 

Wistia

Photo credit: peromhc (Flickr)

Who Would You Hire, the Rookie or the Veteran?

I’m occasionally asked by clients whether we have a writer with a specific background. Are/were they in IT, in finance, in animal husbandry?

I can usually find someone with a skill set that matches what the client is looking for, but it’s not always possible. But, it’s not always necessary either. We have two things going for us that make it unnecessary to have a solid background in the client’s industry:

    1. The client provides us with all the information first, and then they approve the final post. If anything is incorrect, they find it before it gets published.
    2. Our writers are smart enough and spend enough time working with a client that they get pretty good at the client’s issues, their value to the client’s, and the features that make the client’s business so awesome. They become marketing copywriters for that company.

So this presents an interesting problem for us. Do we hire a good writer who is smart and can learn the product, or do we hire someone from the industry and fix their writing?

Think of it this way: You’re a baseball coach, and you need to sign a hitter to your team. You have a choice between a rookie who can run from home to 1st in 3.5 seconds, and a veteran who run the same distance in the same time. Who do you pick?

Most people will pick the veteran, because he knows the game and is a proven talent. But the best pick is going to be the rookie. If he can run to 1st in 3.5 seconds right now, think of how great he’ll be if you can hone his technique and teach him a couple tricks to make him run faster.

That’s how we choose our writers. I prefer to work with writers who don’t have the industry skills, because I can teach them about the industry, and help them become better “runners.” But hiring the industry veterans who have reached their writing peak is problematic. I can’t teach them anything new. They’ve gone as far as they’re going to go as writers, unless they dedicate themselves to becoming better writers. (That’s not to say that these adults can’t become writers. It’s just that they have to make a major commitment to improving and becoming better, but I don’t have time to wait for that.)

Who would you choose? Would you go for the industry rookie and teach him or her the ropes, or would you get the industry veteran who has a wealth of knowledge on the topic? Leave a comment and let me hear from you.

Finding a Working Definition of Ghost Blogging

With all of the controversy that seems to swirl around the acceptability of ghost blogging, I realized we weren’t really arguing about the same thing. The acceptance seemed to be based on their definition of the term.

Is it writing a blog post with the full input approval of a client? Or is it writing a post that doesn’t have any input, but does have approval? As I read descriptions and arguments by Jason Falls, Lindsay Manfredi, and other blogging luminaries, I realized it was the definition that was the problem.

So we created a short little survey to figure out what the most widely understood definition of ghost blogging to be. Survey respondents were given 5 different options of what ghost blogging might entail, and then asked to rate them on a 5 point scale (1 = strongly disagree; 5 = strongly agree). These are the results out of 51 responses, out of a 5 point scale*:

  1. CLIENT writes a post, YOU proofread, edit, and publish under CLIENT’S name: 4 people disagreed or strongly disagreed (7.9%), but 43 people agreed or strongly agreed (84.3%). Rating: 4.41/5
  2. Interview CLIENT and write a post based on their answers. CLIENT approves before article is posted. 1 person strongly disagreed (2%), 47 agreed or strongly agreed 92.2%). Rating: 4.49/5
  3. Write a post for CLIENT using their ideas and past statements. CLIENT approves. 4 people disagreed 7.8%), 44 people agreed or strongly agreed (86.3%). Rating: 4.29/5
  4. Write a post on behalf of CLIENT, using their ideas and past statements. CLIENT does NOT approve post. 31 people scored SD or D (62%), while only 15 people scored A or SA (30%). Rating: 2.5/5
  5. Write a post for CLIENT, using YOUR ideas. CLIENT does NOT approve post. 40 people scored SD or D (78.4%), 8 people scored A or SA (15.7%). Rating: 1.86/5

(*These numbers won’t add up to 51 in this description, because I left the “neither agree nor disagree” out of this text for simplicity and brevity. The actual numbers are at the bottom of this post.)

Bar chart on the acceptance of ghost blogging

From these results, we can infer a few basic ideas about ghost blogging’s acceptability:

  • Ghost blogging is acceptable to most people as long as the client approves the posts before they are published. In fact, this was the most important factor in deciding whether ghost blogging is appropriate or not.
  • Ghost blogging is acceptable, as long as the client has input (#2), or at the very least, the ideas used have been addressed in the past (#3). Option #2 is akin to a copywriter sitting down with a client, and synthesizing the client’s thoughts and ideas into a piece of text. Option #3 is similar to a presidential speechwriter who is already familiar with the president’s stance on certain topics, and can write about them with authority.
  • At least 8 people thought it was acceptable to essentially put words in the client’s mouth without their knowledge. Personally, I can’t think of any instance where this would be acceptable, in business or government, let alone blogging. Even when I was writing speeches for the Indiana State Health Commissioner, everything had to follow her vision. Her administrative may have assigned the speech or project, but I had to know the Commissioner’s stand on the issues.
  • Conversely, 4 people thought it is wrong to even proofread and edit a client’s writings, and then post it on the client’s website on their behalf. While I’m a little worried that nearly 16% of the respondents thought it’s okay to pose as a client without the client’s knowledge, I can only wonder at how rigid the beliefs are of the people who are opposed to editing and then copying, pasting, and clicking “Publish.” It also worries me what they would think if they knew I had four editors poring over my book before the publishers printed it for me.

Because the first three options all scored above a 4.4, I can conclude that most people will accept the idea that ghost bloggers need the client’s input and approval before a post gets published. Anything that does not have at least the client’s approval crosses the line of acceptability, and anything that has both input and approval.

So, that is our baseline for acceptable ghost blogging. The next step is to find out how strongly people feel about it, and see if we can get a bigger group to respond. More on that later.

Ghost Blogging Survey Results