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October 2010

Blogging and the Candy Corn Problem

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Like most kids, I always got super excited for Halloween. By far, my favorite treat was candy corn. I’d start getting excited for candy corn as soon as summer started fading away. After all, you can get candy bars and lollipops any time of the year, but you can only get candy corn during October and, if you’ve lucky, in the clearance bin during the first few weeks of November. 

I’d get super hyped up for candy corn, and then, finally, the big day would arrive – Halloween parties, dressing up for school, trick-or-treating, and, for sure, tons of candy corn. Better still, all parents seem to look the other way during Halloween, letting their kids eat more sweets than normal.

Finally, I’d have my first handful of that sugary-sweet orange and yellow treat. Imagine me as a five-year-old, stuffing my face with candy corn, because it inevitably happened every single year as soon as I saw a bowl full of it available for the taking. And every year, half-way through chewing I would remember something.

Candy corn isn’t very good.

Don’t get me wrong; I like candy corn. But really, it doesn’t taste like much, just really chewy sugar. For some reason, though, I somehow would convince myself every year that I love candy corn. Every year, without fail, the actual candy corn wouldn’t live up to the hype I had created for it in my mind. Halloween fail.

Luckily, candy corn isn’t much of a problem, even to a kid. It was easy enough to move on to caramel apples, cupcakes with orange icing, and chocolate bars. I never had a bad Halloween because I was disappointed about candy corn.

Some adults treat blogs like candy corn.

As bloggers, we often forget just how hard it is to build up a new blog from scratch. We’ve moved past the infancy stage with the blog we have and suddenly start to get that itch, the urge to start a new one. That was so much fun, designing a blog that you love. That was so much fun, building up a readership. That was so much fun, carving out a place in a niche.

Yeah, that was so much fun. But have you forgotten how much work it was as well?

Have you forgotten how many late nights you spent tweaking your css or php to get the theme to look perfect? Have you forgotten being the new kid on the block, having to prove yourself as an authority among bloggers who are already established in the niche? Have you forgotten how it feels not to have your authority built up with search engines yet? Or about how you don’t make money right away? Or how you have no one on your list to buy your product? Or how advertisers aren’t interested yet?

Like my love affair with candy corn, if you are removed from something, like starting a new blog, you sometimes forget all the bad things and hype it up in your mind. It seems like it’s a good idea until you have a mouthful of sugary candy that you realize is actually not that great.

If you do start a new blog (or your first blog), please take some time to think about what you’re committing to do. Like with any business, it takes time to get a project off the ground, so be prepared for the time and dedication a baby blog needs to succeed.

Follow the BlogWorld Team on Twitter

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Ever since returning from BlogWorld, I’ve been bombarded with questions. Interestingly enough, the question asked most is, “How do I follow everyone on the BlogWorld team on Twitter?”  I’ve been asked if there’s a Twitter list or directory with everyone’s names. There isn’t. Yet. But I’ll share our Twitter handles with you today, if you really want to follow us. Be forewarned, though. I Tweet my lunch.

  • Rick Calvert – Co-Founder/CEO/Conqueror of Email: @blogworld
  • Dave Cynkin – Co-Founder/BBQ Connoisseur – @dave_blogworld
  • Patti Hosking- Director of Sales/Friend to all – @newmediapatti
  • Nikki Katz – Editor in Chief/Marketing/Defender of Flip Flops - @nikki_blogworld
  • Jennifer Holder – Executive Assistant Extraordinaire – Conquerer of Rick’s email – @jenjenholder
  • Allison Boyer – Blogger/Smiles for All -@allison_boyer
  • Deb Ng – Conference Director/Sometimes gets it right – @debng

See you on Twitter!

Are You Actively Trying to Make Your Blog Suck Less?

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At BlogWorld 2010, Scott Hanselman spoke about 32 Ways to Make Your Blog Suck Less. It was a presentation I had missed at the actual event – so thank god for my virtual pass, because this was one of the most entertaining sessions I’ve seen thus far. No smoke blowin’ – I actually laughed out loud at multiple points during the slideshow. Oh, and I learned a few things too.

But the biggest take-away message from this presentation, for me, wasn’t any of the (really good) tips Scott made about sucking less as a blogger. It was simply about the fact that I got half-way through before I actually grabbed a pen and started jotting down some notes for myself.

Let’s face it – bloggers have a tendency to say, “that’s an awesome idea that I need to implement on my blog…later.” We want to be better bloggers, but we get so caught up in day-to-day tasks that we don’t make time to actually use the tips we learn. These could be tips from BlogWorld, but it also applies to tips we read about on our favorite blogs-about-blogs, tips readers give us in comments or via email, or even tips that are mentioned on Twitter.

Let me ask you this: In the past seven days, how have you made your blog better?

If you answer is, “Well, Alli, I wrote some new content.” That isn’t good enough.

My challenge to you is this: Every week, do one thing to make your blog suck less that you’ve been putting off. Maybe that means making a mobile version of your site. Maybe that means getting a better comment system. It could be something small, like adding a twitter button to your sidebar. It could be something big, like launching a product. But every single week do something.

And when you’re reading online or watching Scott’s presentation or whatever and see something that makes you think, “Man, I should really do that on my own blog,” write it down. Start a list of things that you need to do to make your blog suck less. I bet there are way more than 32. One by one, cross them off the list. Like I said, doing even one per week is forward progress. If you have time for more, awesome.

It’s about being active to reach your goals. I think we all get complacent at times, allowing “I’ve been busy” to become an excuse for laziness. But this is your career. If you want to make money as a blogger, you need to start being a mediocre employee and start being the type of employee that deserves a raise. When you do that, your readers will give you that raise.

BlogWorld’s Over, Now What?

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BlogWorld 2010 was probably the most rewarding experience of my career. Being a part of this extraordinary team and helping to pull off such an important event is a rush I can’t even begin to describe. In the last few weeks before the event it was a little stressful as we did our best to make sure nothing and no one fell through the cracks. However, when show time dawned, I wasn’t stressed at all. Everyone asked if I was frantic, stressed or crazed, and I said “no” to them all. I might have had a couple of busy moments, but for the most part there was nothing to stress over. This is what happens when everyone works hard to ensure an event’s success. We had a couple of very small fires to put out, but no major episodes.

As I spoke with BlogWorld attendees, I joked that I was going to sleep late for the next few weeks and not surface for the next few months. The entire BlogWorld team fantasized about ending our work day at a decent hour or even taking a little vacation. Truthfully? Many of us took a couple of days off, but on Wednesday, a few days after BlogWorld, we were all back at work and having a Post Show Analysis or PSA meeting. As I’m the only one involved who lives on the East Coast, I was the only one who couldn’t attend the meeting in person. However with Skype it was the next best thing to being there.

I knew we’d discuss the speakers and the venue, but I had no idea of the laundry list of items we would go over. Rick and Dave are pros and they left no stone unturned. We discussed everything from schedules to food, from the bathrooms to the registration process. We talked about what went well, and what we’ll have to change for next year. There were a few specific areas, for example, keeping an accurate speaker roster (as speakers were added or dropped out) and making sure everyone made it to the schedules, signage and directories, that we have to do better for next year. There were other areas that we feel rocked. For example, we felt we had our best content ever this year.

So what are we doing now that BlogWorld is over? Well, we’re working on receiving and analyzing attendee feedback so we can better plan our next event. This means if you were at BlogWorld you’ll probably receive an email from us in the next week or so requesting you fill out a survey about BlogWorld, our speakers and sessions and your overall experience. We hope you’ll be honest with your assessment and that you won’t delete the survey before sending it to us. Without your feedback we can’t have an even better BlogWorld in 2011.

We’re also dealing with a ton of housekeeping. Just because BlogWorld’s over doesn’t mean we’re still not receiving massive amounts of email each day and they all deserve attention. Plus we’re just starting the early planning stages of BlogWorld 2011. If we want to continue to grow and get better, we have to plan early.

BlogWorld may be over, but we’re not resting on our laurels. The West Coast contingent is in the office every day and I’m working at home. We’re reading your blog posts and your Tweets and we’re so stoked that the majority of you truly dug BlogWorld ’10. We’re also reaching out to those of you who offered negative feedback to learn why your experience wasn’t positive and how we can fix it next year. For you, BlogWorld is over. For us, it never ends.

If you have any feedback on this year’s event or have suggestions on how we can raise the bar for BlogWorld please share in the comments.

Your Content is Not Your Reader’s Responsibility

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Earlier this week, Boing Boing picked up a story about The North Country Gazette, a little newspaper from upstate New York. The paper, I suppose upset that local subscription sales were declining, decided to take a really classy approach to making more money: threatening website readers.

Right now, the website is asking for an administrator’s password, so I’m guessing they’re either going offline or making some updates, but prior to this, a notice in red lettering was found on the sidebar of every post:

We allow you to read one article for free – this one that you’re on. Thereafter, to read more or to return later, a subscription is needed. Please don’t abuse the privilege. To subscribe, see the ad to the right. We provide a service to you, we deserve to be paid for it.

Let’s not even talk about the comma splice in the last paragraph. Let’s focus on the actual message they’re sending to readers. It would be like giving someone a book and saying, “But only read the introduction! After that, if you want to keep reading, send us money. We deserve to get paid for it, and we’re counting on you to do the right thing.”

It’s laughable. The content on your website/blog is never the reader’s responsibility. This isn’t a matter of wanting to get paid for your work. I fully support writers who decide they want to only offer their content to premium members who pay for access.

But if that’s the choice you make, you have to set up a premium access section of your website.

It’s not difficult. Frankly, if your webmaster can’t do it fairly easily, he or she should be fired. Requiring your readers to work on the honor system is just silly though. Actually, it’s downright rude.

Worse still is the subscription message following the previous message:

Subscription Required

Posted on Monday, 18 October, 2010 at 6:59 am

A subscription is required at North Country Gazette. We allow only one free read per visitor. We are currently gathering IPs and computer info on persistent intruders who refuse to buy subscription and areengaging in a theft of services. We have engaged an attorney who will be doing a bulk subpoena demand on each ISP involved, particularly Verizon Droids, Frontier and Road Runner, and will then pursue individual legal actions.

Again with the grammatical errors!

This message clearly tells me that either 1) they in no way hired a lawyer and are lying to readers or 2) they have possibly the worst lawyer in the history of lawyers. Their argument basically boils down to:

“Judge! We put information on the Internet and people read it! We warned them not to read our site, but they still did! WE DESERVE MONEY!”

What a joke.

I mean, let me get this straight. Rather than spending a hundred bucks or so, tops, to set up a private membership site, they’re going to hire a lawyer to collect IP address information via a court order to ISPs and then individually sue all those people for…what? A $30 subscription fee to their newspaper?

I think there’s an important lesson for bloggers here in that we can’t expect content we provide for free to earn money for us. You can put up ads, encourage readers to make affiliate purchases, or even create your own products for sale, but at the end of the day, if you’re making information available for free, as most of us are, you need to be at peace with the fact that some people simply want the free content. You don’t deserve to get paid for it. You’re only entitled to money when you make something available as premium content. Anything else you earn is a happy bonus, so remember to say thank you to your readers.

If this newspaper had an sort of community before, it likely doesn’t anymore. This is a problem I’m seeing with many print publications and businesses in general – not understanding how publishing online, social media, and community building works. The world is changing. It’s no longer about talking at a reader. There needs to be a conversation.

I’m hoping that the current take-down of the North Country Gazette website means that they’ve hired a community manager or someone else with online public relations experience to help them update their policies and understand the Internet community. It’s something every business should consider.

(Hat top to Amber Avines for tweeting about this story, which brought it to my attention!)

When to Accept Guest Posts…and When Not To

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The guest post has become a major part of the world of contemporary blogs, which are rarely written by a single person (and almost never written by a single person if the blog has commercial aspirations). Since blogs can so easily be accused of nearsightedness – featuring only a single writer or a single viewpoint, or obsessing over one thing even within the blog’s more general focus – guest blog posts can prove to be hugely useful under the right circumstances, though it takes careful editing and a good sense of judgment to make sure that the posts you choose to carry actually help your blog.

A good guest post achieves several things at once: it expands your blog’s field of knowledge without going completely outside of your reader base’s interests, it offers potential for audience crossover if your guest blogger has their own pre-established and loyal reader base, and it gives both you and your guest blogger greater exposure.

For example, if you write a blog about music and you think your audience wants to read something about an artist or a genre you’re unfamiliar with, you could have another music blogger who writes on that subject for their blog contribute a guest post. The guest blogger links to you from them, you link to the guest’s main blog (and perhaps provide a guest entry there, too), your audiences cross over, increasing hits, and you potentially get new opportunities to bring up your advertising revenues. Your audience is bigger and better informed and your brand is now more viable than it once was; everyone wins.

However, the key to this model working is simple: your guest posters need to be informative and interesting, able to bring traffic your way, and someone who isn’t going to hurt the image of your blog, either in terms of its brand or its reputation. Irrelevant, uninformative, and uninteresting material will often frustrate and alienate potential readers, which will then do the exact opposite of what a good guest post does. A bad guest post hurts your credibility as much as it the writer hurts themselves; be sure to keep up with your commenters an see what readers think of your guest posters and figure out what is and isn’t working before you give more precious screen space to someone. Do know, though, that the guest post can easily work in your favor, and to take advantage of it.

Andrew Hall is a guest blogger for Guide to Online Schools.

Get an ‘I Voted’ Badge on Foursquare for Voting!

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Heading to the voting booths on November 2nd? Don’t forget to check in on Foursquare as part of the I Voted Project for your I Voted badge!

A variety of organizations partnered up for this project – including Foursquare, Rock the Vote, Pew Center, Google and the Voting Information Project. Data will be collected for 107,000 polling places and users that check in, and include #ivoted in their hashtag, get the I Voted virtual sticker. Voters can also check the official website (elections.foursquare.com) to view interactive real-time maps and get breakdown data such as demographics.

Eric Friedman, director of business development at Foursquare said in a statement, “We’re excited to work with such an amazing group of partners to harness the power of Foursquare to drive civic engagement through the ‘I Voted’ badge. With over 4 million users, Foursquare is now at the scale where checkins communicate a larger trend and we’re excited to make this data more accessible to the public.

Jordan Raynor, president of Direct Media Strategies and founder of the I Voted Act.ly Petition, said that the project had three purposes: “To encourage civic participation through the distribution of the “I Voted” foursquare badge; to increase transparency by visualizing how many voters are checking-in, and at which polling locations; and to develop a replicable and scalable system to use for the 2012 presidential elections and beyond.

Will you be claiming an I Voted badge? And how long do you think it will be until we can just vote from our phones?

Paypal Reveals Micropayment Option to Allow Purchase of Digital Goods

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paypal_logo

Paypal has unveiled their new product, ‘PayPal for digital goods,’ which will allow for micropayments of digital goods across the web at a much reduced rate to merchants. The new fee schedule is 5% + 5 cents for payments under $12 (so $.10 on a $1 purchase, compared to the current $.33).

Perhaps of even more interest than the cost, PayPal offers merchants the ability to allow customers to complete the transaction in two clicks, without ever leaving their website. It is touted as an “in-context, frictionless payment solution that lets consumers pay for digital goods and content in as little as two clicks, without ever having to leave a publisher’s game, news, music, video or media site.

The decision to purchase digital goods and content usually happens on impulse, so the act of paying needs to be as quick as that impulse,” said Sam Shrauger, PayPal’s vice president of global product strategy. “PayPal for digital goods is an ideal solution for game developers, newspapers, bloggers, media companies, and anyone who is looking to monetize premium digital content around the globe.

My questions to you:

  • Are you currently accepting payments for digital content on your blog/website? If so, how are you doing it and would you make the switch to PayPal?

  • If you currently don’t offer digital content, will PayPal’s new pricing and implementation encourage you to do so?

The Step Between Friends and Customers

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When it comes to social media, we have friends whom we know personally and we have customers who we can always count on to buy our products. But how does that jump from friends to customers happen? Declan Dunn presented “How To Turn Friends Into Fans And Customers” at BlogWorld 2010, and he made some super important points about how we categorize our interactions with others. This is the new media game.

“Fans are people who raise their hands and say ‘I want more.'” – Declan Dunn

When you meet someone new using social networking, it is easy to become fast friends. “Oooo, he replied to me on Twitter!” “Wow, someone liked something I said on Facebook!” “Yay, he wants to connect on LinkedIn!”

The problem is that often, people don’t foster that relationship and instead hit people with a hard sell. Woah there, buddy. I just met you. I don’t want to buy your product yet. Relationships take time.

This is where Declan has come in with the concept that you have to move friends into the “fans” relationship level before they can become customers. Fans are people who are opting in to support you. This might mean a literal opt-in by signing up for your mailing list, but it could also be another kind of opt-in.

  • Friends who refer you to others are opting to become fans.
  • Friends who become a part of your blog community through comments, forum posts, etc. are opting to become fans.
  • Friends who promote your stuff on social media, without prompt, are opting to become fans.

That still doesn’t mean that they’ll buy something from you – but what it does mean is that you can approach them without worrying so much about offending them. Defining your fans means a lot less work to chase down those dollars. If you try to sell something to friends, few will make the purchase. They aren’t emotionally invested in supporting you or in need of the information you’re selling. They just like interacting with you. Fans, on the other hand, do want to support you, which often grows from a strong need for the information you’re selling.

The bottom line is this: If you try to sell your products to friends, you’re going to do a lot of work for little reward and possibly even offend a few people. If you try to sell to fans instead, you’ll see much better results.

Thanks, Declan, for a great BlogWorld presentation. His session covered a number of other topics, of course, and if you missed it or opted not to attend BlogWorld this year, consider picking up a virtual ticket to see his session.

4 Tips To Better Follow Up After a Conference

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When you go to a conference, often times it’s to learn and other times, well, all the time whether you see or not, it’s to network as well. Big events such as BlogWorld are an incredible place to network and establish some solid connections. Problem being, that’s usually where it stops and opportunity is flushed down the drain. Let’s fix that…

Mike Stenger is a Social Media specialist with a huge passion of the platforms around us. You can find him on his blog where he talks about Social Media Tips And Business Success.

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