Three tools for getting a head start on the new year

tree snowThank you so much for following Writer Way in 2012. Thanks for your comments and feedback, and for telling friends who are interested in writing and online communications about the blog.

Like everyone else, I’m crazy busy (or at least I think I am). I’d like to work more efficiently in 2013, so I’m collecting a few tools I believe will help me do that. Here’s what I’ve come up with, thus far:

  • A cheat sheet for sizing images for Facebook, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter. (Courtesy of
  • Free project management software. I like the old-fashioned GANTT chart for trying to visualize and analyze who’s doing what, when, and which projects and tasks are interdependent. GanttProject lets you do that — so you can stop trying to run projects with Excel.
  • Inexpensive time-tracking, expense-tracking, and invoicing software (cloud-based). While I wouldn’t call Harvest elegant, I’d say it’s surprisingly full-featured and easy to use. For $12 a month, I get a system that lets me handle an unlimited number of clients, projects, and invoices — plus I can access the Harvest site from a browser or an iPhone/iPad app. (There’s even a free version that lets you track time and do invoicing for two projects — a great way to find out if Harvest is for you.)

Try ’em out. Let me know what you think — and what else you find that helps you get work done.

Happy Holidays! See you in 2013.

— Karen

How to lose at the social media game

Neglected social media accounts can tarnish an organization’s reputation.




I’m afraid that was the sound of my head hitting my desk. I’ve been dealing with people who have ambitious social media plans. They want to blog, start Twitter streams and Facebook pages, and run a Kickstarter campaign. They want to put forums on their organizations’ websites so their followers (what followers?) can have discussions with one another.

I go to their Twitter accounts and discover that they do, indeed, have 100 followers. However, they’ve never bothered to follow most of them back.

“Oh. Is that important?” they ask me.

Perhaps it’s just as well. Five of the followers turn out to be come-ons for porn sites.

Oh, you mean I can block those?

photo of a loserOn the one hand, I have to admire people who fearlessly wade in to Twitter and Facebook and never bother to figure out what any of the settings or tools can do. On the other hand, social media is not a game where you get points just for showing up. You have to learn how to play the game, as well.

Twitter streams overrun by spammers, Facebook pages full of leaderless followers, or social media accounts of any kind neglected by their administrators speak louder than a dozen clever posts or tweets. And, unfortunately, what they say can tarnish an organization’s reputation.

The good news is that there are solutions: Hundreds of online resources on how to do social media, most of them pretty good. The bad news is that most organizations don’t seem to realize that they have a problem.

Businesses: To Facebook, or not to Facebook?

Should your company set up a Facebook presence? Yes, if a high percentage of its customers are already active Facebook users and…

I’m still on the fence about the value of a Facebook presence for businesses.

Most companies have not yet begun to harness the power of their websites, blogs, and Twitter accounts for social media and search engine optimization (SEO). They’d be crazy to set up a Facebook page where they could make a spectacle of themselves doing yet another mediocre job of social media.

That said, there are some companies for which Facebook pages are ideal:

  • A very high percentage of their customers are already active Facebook users.
  • They have more sense than to beg or buy Facebook “Likes.”
  • They have time and resources to monitor the Facebook page 24/7, to post frequent content updates, and to respond personally to comments (no generic “autoreplies,” please).
  • They have a strategic plan for what they want their Facebook presence to accomplish and what content they will roll out on Facebook to accomplish that goal.

If you’re using Facebook, Jim Belosic of ShortStack has some great tips for writing Facebook posts with good calls to action. These tips also work well for Twitter.


Why I avoid Google+

Google+ won’t let you integrate multiple Google mail accounts into one Google+ identity, and that makes using Google+ a frustrating time suck.

Friend? See you on Facebook.

Colleague? Talk with you over on LinkedIn!

Neighbor? Acquaintance? Let’s have some fun on Twitter.

Fellow traveler? I’ll follow you on FourSquare.

But I just got an email notifying me that someone I like added has me on Google+. This fills me with dread. Why? Follow me on my journey down the surrealistic rabbit hole of Google+.

First, I click the link “Add to circles” in the email so I can add my friend. It takes me to Google+, which invites me to join.

Interesting, because I already belong to Google+. (Under two Google email identities, but more on that later.)

Unfortunately, sometime in the past few days I used a third Google email address (I have several) and now Google considers me logged in as that third identity, which does not belong to Google+ and is never going to.

I now have to log out of Google and log back in — which is requires me to refer back to the original email from my friend to see which identity she has “added” me under.

Yes, I know that Google has a system that lets you switch identities without logging out and logging in — but that “switch” only works for certain Google online apps and not for others. I use several, and can never keep straight which ones let me switch — until I try switching and a few screens later find that I am still stuck in the original unswitched identity.

So I log out and log in.

Hmmm. There is now no sign of my friend’s invitation, but I do see my Google+ stream (or ripple, or whatever they call it). There are a few posts from people I’m interested in, and several posts by some guy who just can’t shut up.

By now, I’m completely derailed. I go back to the email and tell my friend how she can find me on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Problem solved.

Sorry, Google+. Your failure to let me integrate multiple Google mail accounts into one Google+ identity makes visiting your system a frustrating time suck — and even the literate content my friends post there won’t make it worth the trouble.

Tweets that make me want to scream

On Twitter there’s just no excuse for mind-numbing teasers, drive-by rants, and self-congratulatory re-runs.

Subject + Verb (+ Object) + Hyperlink

Is it really that hard to write a decent tweet?

The way I look at it, tweets follow the same basic communications rules that journalism does:

1. Since they’re public, tweets are written in language most people can understand. If they aren’t, they read like a private Twitter message that the author, for some reason, decided to foist on a head-scratching public. When those people stop scratching their heads, they’ll tap the Unfollow button.

2. Effective tweets are usually either a news story, a reaction story, or a provocative question.

News story: “Man bites LOLcat” or “Gingrich supporters keep fundraising.”

Reaction story: “Seattle LOLcat owner bites back with $2 million lawsuit” or “Gingrich loss paves the way for a secret right-wing candidate.”

Question: “So, how many people will be lining up to buy the heavily hyped new [name of gadget]?” or “Am I the only one stuck waiting at a Metro bus stop this morning in .025 inches of snow?”

A big “thank you” to folks like Chris Pirillo, Joe Hage, Steve Sorbo, Green Ronin, and others who follow these rules and whose tweets frequently get me to click through.

A loud hiss to people whose tweets make me want to scream, cry, kick, and give up on Twitter. For example:

  • The clueless teaser: “I thought my updated and interesting blog post was worth sharing with you guys.” (Blog post about what? A tweet that sounds exactly like a spam blog comment.)
  • The spam teaser: “Whoa! Sneak peek at the specs for the iPhone 5.” (This one has a link to a site that sells off-brand iPhone cases.)
  • The stoned hipster chime-in retweet: “Really? Just sayin’, dudes.”
  • The self-congratulatory resume tweet: “So excited about getting the Dingbat Award just a month after my Zapf Award and a year after my Helvetica Prize. Thanks, guys!” (No link. Note that the news portion, sans re-runs, could have been perfectly tasteful as a retweet from the Dingbat Society’s original Twitter announcement.)
  • The drive-by rant, without link: “Stupid idiots! They. Have. No. Effing. Idea.” (And, boy, neither do we.)

What’s next for tech blogging?

Look for YouTube channels to replace blogs, and for successful bloggers to offer how-tos and paid content (my contribution to the predictions for tech blogging started by Jeremiah Owyang).

In End of an Era: The Golden Age of Tech Blogging is Over, Jeremiah Owyang pinpoints the four trends that signal a shift in blogs that cover electronics technology and the tech industry:

  • Indie tech blogs acquired by corporate media
  • Key tech bloggers exiting from major tech blogging sites
  • Audiences wooed away by channels with shorter, faster, messages: Twitter, Facebook, Google+
  • Fewer tech bloggers making a living via blogging alone

My own predictions for 2012:

  • Corporate-owned tech blogs will increasingly adopt the tools of business blogging (better keywording and other SEO elements).
  • It will be increasingly difficult for new tech blogs, even those by well-known individuals, to gain traction — especially if they focus on offering opinions rather than tools or information.
  • Some new influencers will rise to the top using YouTube channels (in conjunction with Facebook and Twitter) rather than blogs. (Check out what Chris Pirillo has been up to recently.)
  • Successful blogs will feature online education (how-tos), including video; they may offer click-throughs to inexpensive ($1 – 5) paid content modules — from online quizzes to ebooks — that expand on the blog posts.

Social media — a quick guide to doing it right

The folks over at the Search Engine Marketing Group have written a concise article on how to optimize your social media presence.

If you’ve made the first steps into social media to take control of your online appearance, or that of your product, service, or event, chances are you’ve been quickly overwhelmed and annoyed by all the work it seems to require. Post here, link here, comment here…and, face it, we all have real work to do! Which are these tasks are important for reputation and search engine ranking and which are just digital squirrel-caging?

Now, we have some answers.

Kristi Hines over at the Search Engine Marketing Group has written a concise article on how to optimize your social media presence. “How to Optimize 7 Popular Social Media Profiles for SEO” makes sure you know about the basics of social media and then gets very specific about what you can do with the SEO tools on Linkedin, Quora, Biznik,, and more.

If your online presence is due for a facelift, you couldn’t pick a better place to start.

The cross-training approach to social media marketing

Your forays into social media should be designed to enhance rather than undermine your overall performance.

I’m hearing from a lot of businesses that don’t really want to use Twitter, Facebook communities, blogging, SEO and all the shiny new online social media tools for marketing, but feel that they must take the plunge to “keep up.” A few of these folks are marketing newbies, but most have solid, successful backgrounds in traditional marketing programs.

Solid. Successful.

Let’s look at it this way: If you were a standout basketball or soccer player, would you suddenly want to devote all your energies to learning extreme mountain climbing? Not only is it the latest fad, but, because it is a fad, the mountains are now crowded with other newbies. They’re slowing down the paths and often plummeting to bad endings in crevasses. The sherpas are now charging premium prices to guide you (and schlep your expensive stuff) up the slopes.

Instead of putting all your energy into trying to catch up with the current fad, take the cross-training approach. Get into it strategically and make sure what you do is strongly integrated with and complements your current exercise (or marketing) program. In other words, what you do online should mesh with your existing, successful, use of brochures, ads, trade shows, signage, white papers, and other marketing channels. (This not only conserves your resources, it will make sense to your customer base.)

Consider this: If your competitors are sweating their way up the slopes of online marketing like lemmings, chance are they aren’t paying as much attention as they should to traditional marketing channels. What areas of opportunity are they now leaving wide open for you to take advantage of?

This is a great time to take a look at your users, buyers, and decision makers. It may be the time to do more speaking at conferences, take out a series of eye-catching magazine ads, sponsor events, ramp up sales calls, or use good old email to offer prospects a nice, substantive white paper. The point, after all, is to show customers that you do more for them and do it better (rather than you do pretty much the same thing as the other guys). Plus, those real-world activities will give you plenty to blog or tweet about as you ease your way into social media.

You can’t afford to ignore the impact of online marketing tools — but, like cross training, your forays into social media should be designed to enhance rather than undermine your overall performance.

Corporate bloggers: Stop competing against Perez Hilton

Stop competing against Perez Hilton. Instead, start using the power of a corporate blog to compete against your actual competition.

There’s blogging…and there’s corporate blogging. Today I’m going to talk about the difference.

Individuals, news organizations, and political groups blog for blogging’s sake. And those blogs live and die by their content: Quality of writing; freshness of information; originality (or outrageousness) of ideas.

Quick — name three individual blogs, news blogs, or political blogs.

Easy: Huffington Post. Robert Scoble. The Unofficial Apple Weblog. Perez Hilton. Gizmodo.

Now name three corporate blogs.


Not so easy.

Just because they aren’t wildly popular doesn’t mean that corporate blogs don’t have their place. Done properly, they can be extremely powerful tools to drive traffic, drive sales, and enhance recognition of a brand, products, or services.

What’s difficult to grasp is that, unlike non-corporate blogs, corporate blogs don’t accomplish these things through great writing, fresh information, or original or outrageous ideas.  They accomplish these results through hard work and smart SEO. Here’s how:

1. They consistently put fresh content on the top tier of the company’s website (which improves search rank for the whole site).

2. They use carefully researched keywords and keyword phrases in headlines, blog text, links, and excerpts. This eventually positions the company near the top of search results for those frequently searched keywords.

3. They link appropriately to other highly ranked websites.

4. They harness WordPress or other user-friendly blogging software to automatically send (keyworded) excerpts with links (think of them as teasers) to the company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. This makes the resources invested in the blog post go much further.

For reasons too complex and varied to go into here, few companies are willing to admit that their blogs are simply a tool. And, as a result, they miss out on the powerful results that tool can accomplish.

There’s no way that the carefully screened, days-old corporate information or flattering customer stories that make up corporate blog posts can compete with Perez Hilton or Engadget for readership. Few people read them; all people will ever see of those posts is excerpts on Twitter or on a page of Google search results. (And yet, properly written and keyworded, those excerpts can be very effective in conveying a company’s branding to thousands of viewers.)

To make the situation even worse, many companies fail to invest in the sort of professional SEO analyses that would tell them which keywords to use in their blogs (and on their websites). Instead, they guess about keywords — and often end up emphasizing keywords they already “own” via Google (such as the unique names of their products) rather than the phrases prospective customers are using to try to find their products and services. In the non-intuitive world of keywording, it can even be beneficial to violate the old taboo against mentioning the competition. By mentioning your competition or a competing product on a webpage or blog, you can end up with visitors who started off looking for the competitor’s product but got search results that lured them into viewing your product, on your site, instead. (Chances are your competition is already doing this.)

Bottom line: Stop trying to compete against Perez Hilton! Instead, start using the power of a corporate blog to compete — against your actual competition.

Twitter as paperboy: The role of distribution in online publishing

Jason Preston, VP of strategy for Parnassus Group and instigator at several Seattle online publishing startups, posted some interesting observations about the need for distribution in online publishing.

Jason Preston, VP of strategy for Parnassus Group and instigator at several Seattle online publishing startups, posted some interesting observations today about the need for distribution in online publishing.

A blog platform like WordPress, or a proprietary website, is a tool for publishing; Twitter is a tool for distribution. Using Twitter for distribution takes the published message a lot further.

This is a useful paradigm, but its limits got me thinking about the powerful role of subscription in the online world. You can subscribe to have Twitter deliver information from a blog just as you once had a paperboy deliver The Seattle Post-Intelligencer — but now you can also go directly to the publisher (blog) and subscribe by email (or newsreader), eliminating the middleman.

Whether I notice something as the teaser for it scrolls by me in the Twitter stream is pretty haphazard. However, when a post from a blog I’ve subscribed to via email appears in my inbox, I’m likely to read much of it.

Increasingly, I’m subscribing directly to the publisher and bypassing Twitter altogether.

I’ve noticed that groups like XYDO and have figured out the value of email subscriptions and allow you to subscribe to read a newsletter that displays teasers to your online friends’ favorite links. The XYDO and algorithms don’t always get it right, but, even so, I’m finding myself paying a lot more attention to the content in those emails than to tweets.

%d bloggers like this: